None of your reality is really real

North Clayton Village, Clayton Ohio

This is the town center of North Clayton Village in Clayton, Ohio. It has a nice wide Main Street, store front shops, a coffee shop, a park around the corner and apartments on top of the shops. It has everything you would ever want in a village.

Only it is a fake.

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I sure do miss the smell of horse dung

typical white christian American family

Last year, an acquaintance who has a part-time firefighter job, supplemented by a full-time ambulance driver job with no health benefits had to go to the emergency room with asthma complications. The hospital ended up having to admit him for three days. The total cost of this unplanned vacation was $23,000 and some change.

He had no insurance and he did not have $23,000. He applied for Medicaid, went through some hearings, some denials, appeals and eventually Medicaid paid the bill.

He is a Republican through and through. When asked how he liked his socialist benefits provided by his government, he smiled sheepishly and looked away. He was caught in a lie and he and I both knew it. He is still a Republican. Having his medical bills paid for through no personal merit or responsibility did not change his mind one bit about his political loyalties or the argument for his loyalties.

And that is when it hit me solidly: The GOP is not about fiscal responsibility. They are entirely about social issues.

A little background
My friend was raised in the rural parts of Ohio, right outside my town of Englewood which is ten miles north of Dayton, sixty-five miles north of Cincinnati. So he wasn’t actually raised out on the farm, but enough where there is little if any diversity and no weird artsy-fartsy types with book-leraning and such. The men hunt every fall, fish in the summer, drink beer, watch football and chew tobacco. And the women tend to their men. And everybody goes to church on Sunday and if they don’t, they still believe in Jesus Christ. (Really, these places exist not too far out your front door, wherever in America you are.)

And this is also where they talk openly about “how in the hell we let a g*d**n n****r in the White House” right before they spit chew violently on the ground in disgust.

How we got here
The GOP has gotten its followers to believe and say there is a finite amount of money available and that your ne’er-do-well, slacker neighbors are taking your fair share of your hard-earned money. Only it’s not really true. It’s not what they really mean when they say “money.” Money is just code for “my white Christian culture.”

The Greatest Generation were better storytellers than they were social engineers. When the men went off to war, they brought back stories of valor, courage, bravery, camaraderie and honor. My grandfather never talked much about the War. My dad never talked about the Korean War either. All we had were photos, medals and a few stories of good times with their buddies. They never talked about the horror of seeing their friends die or body parts getting blown off. When they came home, they put the past behind them and created a narrative that was peaceful and prosperous, even though it was not the truth.

Women who went off to work in the factories did much the same thing. It was hard, back-breaking, grueling, greasy, filthy work but when it was over, it was over. They did not tell stories of workplace accidents, the long days and the restless nights. They spun yarns of achievement, honor and patriotism.

And three generations later, that is how we remember the past that never was. Families lived in harmonious, quiet neighborhoods with houses all lined up on clean streets. The dad went off to work, the mom stayed home and kept house. There were regular raises and good benefits at his job. The kids played baseball, went to school and played stickball in the middle of the street. When they grew older, the kids went out on dates, got married and had kids of their own.

Each year, the family would get together and have Thanksgiving dinner, then Christmas and celebrate Easter in the spring. There would be great news of babies and marriages and of course of deaths and funerals. Everyone married a virgin, everyone died at peace. This all played out like some great movie with a well-crafted script. There were things nobody talked about and everybody knew what those things were.

And the children forgot about the struggle the previous generations went through to build this Great Lie. The storytellers of television and the movies gladly filled in the gaps, fueling an even more memorable past that never was.

The Great Lie of our American Dream is even embedded into our future. The following is a video made by Corning. The cues of the Dream are embedded everywhere across generations. Take a look. Can you see them? Do you find yourself wanting to be there? It’s a powerful Dream.

The past is knowable and comfortable. The future is scary. I’m fairly certain in a generation back there were old men who sighed wistfully as a truck blowing smoke passed them by on a farm road. Sure do miss the smell of horse dung, they might be thinking.

Money as a mask
We use price as an excuse for almost every human behavior. If we don’t really want to buy something, we say “that costs too much” or “I don’t have the money right now.” When we really want something, we find a way to get it by charging it, putting it on layaway, leasing it or in the case of a house, commit to mortgage terms that are not in our financial best interest. We rationalize a debt to get the things that we really want.

The GOP understands this about human nature — and particularly the American culture — very well and has masterfully crafted its message around money. “The state is broke,” they rail when a program is funding issues that are contrary to the Great Lie. “Our country is going bankrupt!” “Limited government” and “Take back our country” are all very attractive catch phrases for a population that has been led to believe that the supply of money is finite and being spent irresponsibly by your drunken neighbor. After all, many of these people don’t have much left from their paychecks at the end of the week, so it all makes common sense.

Everything the GOP wants to do is masked as a money issue because they know that American culture understands money. All this other stuff about happiness and rights and liberty is so hard to quantify. But money is easy. You can count money.

The inconsistency is the key
The key to understanding why money and fiscal responsibility is not the real issue is the inconsistency between what a conservative says and what he does. He will take a Medicaid handout to keep from paying a $23,000 hospital bill. He will take a government-supplied paycheck as a firefighter. He will take a home interest deduction on his taxes, a Pell grant from the Federal government, drive on the freeway system without paying a toll, attend a public school and do all these things as if it were his right to do so all the while saying we need less government. Taxes pay for all these things that give him a standard of living yet he perceives to have gotten these things through his own hard work and initiative.

And my favorite inconsistency of all, “Keep your government hands of my Medicare.”

The GOP knows that if they keep the discussion framed as “fiscal responsibility,” they don’t have to address all those other messy issues that go along with promoting the Great American Dream that never was. All they need do is step back in shock about why someone would not want to be fiscally responsible and they win the argument. Only the argument never really was about money. It never will be.

What’s in it for the GOP?
Power, I imagine. I can’t think of any other reason why someone would care more about the state budget being balanced than the health of their own household. Maybe some of these politicians really believe the rhetoric about fiscal responsibility, but I doubt many retain it. I think most of them are angry that not only have they lost their birthright, but it was stolen from them. They see political office as a way to take it back.

The GOP may have been about fiscal responsibility at some point in their distant past, but I think they have always been more about preserving the American Culture. As they become more and more desperate about preserving the Dream, the more they are letting their mask fall away. But judging from my friend above, they may think they can now afford to do it and start being honest about who they really are. Apparently lying about their true intent bears no consequence as at least half the country is one of them.

Am I off the mark here?

Wisconsin feels like Sidney all over again

walker

Of the hundreds of soccer games I have seen my kids play, I remember that soccer game clearly. My daughter was playing U9 for Northmont and we had a game against the Sidney Bees on an unseasonably warm Saturday in April. This was her first full season with select soccer.

The game was pretty tight all the way through. We scored the first goal late in the first half, they scored the second goal early in the second. There were just a few minutes left in the game when their star had a break-away and dribbled the ball all the way to our goalie and took a shot. The goalie deflected, but not cleanly. It bounced to the side of the goal, off the pitch and through the net that was not fastened securely to the ground.

The referee called it a goal.

All the parents saw the ball roll into the side of the net. All the kids saw it. The coaches saw it. But the Sidney parents said nothing, amid the protests of the Northmont parents and coaches. All it would have taken was one brave parent to step forward and say, “We want to win, but not by cheating. We’re not going to accept that goal.”

But nobody did.

All the kids on both teams learned the real rule of soccer that day. The more games you win, the more goals you score, the more your parents will love you. And it doesn’t matter how you get them. And to this day, when I hear about how team sports build character, sportsmanship, etc. Sidney, Ohio pops into my head and I know I am being lied to.

Wisconsin feels an awful lot like Sidney, Ohio on that warm April day.

The weak link in the “ObamaCare” argument

US District Court Judge Roger Vinson just handed the Democrats a victory with his ruling against the Affordable Care Act (ACA). So did Judge Henry Hudson of the Eastern District of Virginia with his ruling on the individual mandate earlier.

Stay with me folks. I haven’t jumped to the red side of the force.

The Democrats in the House should immediately draft a bill repealing the clause requiring every American to purchase health insurance. You are right, Mr. Speaker, the 111th Congress did indeed overstep its authority. Mea culpa, mea culpa. Here, let’s fix this thing.

The Republicans would have to vote for it in light of the recent rulings in their favor. It is their central argument against the ACA and the Democrats are willing to concede they are right. Then it goes to the Senate where the Democratically-controlled body would pass it and off to the president’s desk where he would sign it.

Why?

Without the individual mandate clause, insurance companies could not afford to be in the insurance business. All the other parts of the Act would remain intact, including covering pre-existing conditions, no life-time cap, etc, etc. Shareholders would bolt from the stock and the industry would collapse. That would leave the door open for a Medicare-for-All, single-payer system based on health rather than sickness, driving down the cost of care as there would be no third-party profit motive behind medical care. Hospitals would still get paid as would doctors and drug companies.

The only industry harmed would be the for-profit insurance industry. What value do they really have now anyway, other than being in the middle collecting and distributing payments? Besides, the Federal Government could hire them back as contractors to process the billings at about 1/10 their current staff levels. That is one thing they are really good at and it would be a shame to let that go to waste.

The more elite, well-funded insurance companies can set up shop to provide expensive health care in private clinics to an exclusive client base who don’t want to mingle with the common folk. Heavily taxed and regulated, of course.

The logic of group coverage is the larger the group, the cheaper the premiums. The Republicans use this argument to justify selling insurance across state lines, another point the Democrats could concede. What bigger group can you assemble in The United States than all 300 million citizens? And we already have a universal way of billing for and collecting premiums called the IRS.

But this won’t happen because the health insurance companies need the mandate more than the Democrats do. For the Republican state’s attorneys general who are bringing lawsuits against the ACA based on the Constitutional commerce clause, the argument is short-sighted. But they’ve already committed to the path. If they win in the US Supreme Court, the insurance industry loses and collapses. They will win every battle, but lose the war.

The health insurance industry will not let that happen.

If the Democrats thought a bit faster, they could put every Republican — especially the Tea Party-backed ones — in a very uncomfortable position of having to vote against the Individual Mandate Clause repeal.

That alone would make an exciting November 2012!

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Celebrate your win not your opponent’s loss

winningsoccer

Do you strive to win in an effort to push yourself to do the very best you can, with the expectation that your best will result in a win? Or do you focus your energy solely on defeating your opponent?

The difference is subtle, but changes purpose and meaning entirely.

I think the definition of good sportsmanship comes down to one statement: Celebrate your win, not your opponent’s loss. It works for sports, politics, business and life.

There is an old joke about two campers and a bear coming upon them in their campsite in the woods. One camper immediately starts putting on tennis shoes while the other starts running away, barefoot, yelling at the other camper to run fast or he’ll never outrun the bear. He shouts back, “Never mind the shoes. Run!” whereupon the other camper retorts, “I don’t need to outrun the bear; I just need to outrun you.” Many people choose to focus on outrunning their opponent. It is the easier of the two. You can see the goal as you only need to be slightly better than him.

There is a short-term upside to focusing merely on defeating your opponent. You will probably win a lot of races early on. But, you will never, ever, ever know how fast you can run. Or how far. In short, you will never be the very best you can be.

On the other hand, winners run past the first base as fast as they can. Winners follow the ball until it is either in the goal or out of play. Winners run past the finish line at top speed and winners keep selling even when they’ve made their monthly goal. Winning for these people is organic and happens regardless of what their opponents do. A win is always because the winner is able to outrun the bear, regardless of whether or not he has an opponent.

We’re seeing a lot of “defeat my opponent” strategy in politics today. Not a day goes by when I don’t get an email encouraging me to “defeat the health care bill.” Or some email encouraging me to “stop Obama” or make him a one-term president. Why not emails encouraging me to “embrace tort reform and tax code reform to enable cost-effective insurance plans?” “You lie!” is perhaps easier to shout as a mob. “Say NO!” takes less effort to write on a placard than reasons to support a point of view.

But when you live to win by defeating your opponent, there is no plan after that. After you win, what do you do now? You didn’t plan for anything after the win, only the win itself.

What bothers me most about the tea-baggers, right-wing media screamers like Limbaugh, Palin and Hannity and GOP today is not that they may be right in their opposition, but that they are spending more energy in screaming “NO!” for the sole purpose of defeating their opponent rather than in crafting a plan.

Their whole plan is to merely outrun the Democrats. As the bear dines on the Democrats, one by one, the bear will continue to be hungry and looking for food. And the GOP will have no one else to outrun but their own.

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Saving face – What the DREAM Act was really about

The first rule any new parent should learn is: Never back yourself or your child into a corner.

Never issue ultimatums. Never be non-specific about the punishment. Never be over the top on punishment. All you are doing is setting up an environment of zero-sum discipline. Someone loses ultimately; someone wins ultimately. When your child is three years old, winning all the time is easy. When they are fifteen, success is not so guaranteed.

Always leave room to resolve the conflict so that each party is able to save face.

And that is the one lesson the Republicans have not quite figured out about the DREAM Act, which allows undocumented young people a path to citizenship provided they go to college or join the military. It is a face-saving path for both sides. The undocumented children must work for citizenship and the United States solves the problem of what to do with millions of human beings they really don’t have the resources — or the will — to box up and ship to the border.

Stopping the DREAM Act from coming up for a vote shows how immature and short-sighted the Republicans really are. Perhaps they should have spent more time parenting and less time clawing their way into the Senate. They would have learned some skills along the way.

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What Barack Obama is doing right or how he is navigating a room full of teenagers

I listened to President Obama’s press conference yesterday. I watched Chuck Todd ask questions and look really confused as he was getting a pretty straight-forward response from the president. Then, I watched as Todd was asked about the press conference later by the afternoon and evening “MSNBC Dog and Pony Show” hosts and how he went into editorial-hyperbole mode and got everything all wrong like he always does. Let’s remember, I watched the same press conference. I know what I saw and heard.

Then I watched the late night MSNBC hosts Olbermann, Shultz, O’Donnell and Maddow rip President Obama a new one for capitulating to the Republicans. Olbermann may have a point, but Maddow kinda glossed over some facts, like not every Democrat is on Obama’s team. Most are on their own “I have to get re-elected in 2 years” team so they are not really thinking clearly.

And I’m trying to figure out what the heck is going on that these otherwise really smart people just are not seeing. And here is how I can best explain it.

It is like being in a family of teenagers. The GOP is the teenager who is defiantly against anything mom and dad do. It doesn’t matter what it is, they are going to say “no” if mom and dad say “yes.” Just as simple as that.

The “professional left” is like an “entitlement” teenager who just found out that mom and dad are not really her best friends but her parents. And sometimes parents say “no” to things. Entitlement teens lash out at their parents by saying things like “you don’t love me” or “I hate you,” etc. Their “love” for mom and dad is rooted in what they can manipulate them into doing.

Now here is the kicker: The teenager is not capable of seeing past the end of their nose. They are not responsible for making the mortgage payment, keeping the water and heat on, making sure the gutters don’t leak, making sure the tuition is paid and there is food on the table. For most teenagers, food is magically produced when they open the fridge door. In short, they can afford to have me-centric opinions of the world. Someone else is paying their bills.

Parents can’t afford a me-centric view.

The GOP absolutely, positively, without a doubt would have blocked all unemployment benefits to over 5 million unemployed citizens with impunity. They are incapable of seeing beyond their own noses and view themselves as defiant for a cause, just like the defiant teenager sees his actions as noble and principled.

The Left wants it all right now and is really pissed off at her defiant brother whom she sees as manipulating mom and dad more effectively than she can, even though she is just as manipulative and devious with her false love.

Someone had to be the responsible parent, even if it meant that the defiant teen would gloat in victory and the entitled teen would be screaming “I hate you!” at the top of her lungs. And I think that is what we saw; a parent trying to do the best thing from a crappy list of options, who would risk the scorn of one teen and the vilification of another to keep the lights on for the family. At least for one more month.

Or not. You decide and comment below. I assume you care.

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