Hard Truths and the Politics of Helping the Poor

Conservatives and liberals are each only half right when it comes to helping the poor. 

That’s because their ideologies largely revolve around two different and hard facts of life. And while these truths aren’t necessarily competing — and neither is wrong — both sides seem only capable of accepting one. 

1. Government intervention often hurts the people it’s intended to help. 

Conservatives got this. They know we live in a hard, cold world. They love freedom and understand if you force companies to pay higher wages, businesses will naturally jack up prices, increase automation or reduce their level of services.

Business owners aren’t inherently evil. Well, some are surely, but they do want to stay in business. And they are certainly not more evil than consumers. In fact, they are consumers. 

Capitalism works because free people are naturally self-interested. If the price of a burger at a fast-food restaurant is too high, consumers will find a cheaper burger. Or eat less of them. Or grow their own burgers. (Yes, veggie burgers are an option, but the point here is too few know where hamburgers come from; That’s how well the free-market works). 

A new University of Washington study focused on the $15 minimum wage in Seattle unmasks this inconvenient truth. It confirms what conservatives think-tanks, salesmen and common-sense business owners have known for ages: government regulations can and do stymie the prosperity the free-market provides. 

Even if you dispute the study the Washington Post finds credible, surely you don’t have to look too far to find real examples of government overreach and its negative impact on lives.

2. The more we help the poor, the better off we all are. 

Liberals got this. “A rising tide floats all boats” is a cliche for a reason. Higher wages mean workers have more disposable income. More disposable income means more spending, which means more jobs and more prosperity for all. This is why disposable income is a key measure of an economy’s health. 

While many on the right decry the folly of higher minimum wages, those on the left argue for assisting those in need. Beyond moral arguments, did you know food stamps provide a great return on investment? According to those who track such impacts with the USDA, every $5 our government spends on new SNAP benefits generates $9 of economic activity. 

This is no shock to liberal researchers, educators and salt-of-the-earth union supporters. They know we need good schools, a robust transportation network and a strong social safety net to allow everyone a chance to achieve the American dream. Nothing wrong with a fair playing field. 

Many on the left and right have the best interests of all at heart. It’s up to us, as good citizens, to listen to both sides and give credit where credit is due. 

Now, who wants a burger? 

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United We Fall

God’s provisions to mankind surely include unending opportunities to appreciate irony.

I’m thinking about America today, what it means to be an American, and I keep coming back to a single sing-songy phrase: “United we stand; divided we fall.” I’m 42 years old, and I’ve never seen my country so divided. If the phrase is true, the future seems bleak.

Standing in this reflective space, I can’t help but return to when I was 26. In September of that year, a group of determined terrorist changed the course of America – and the world – irrevocably.

Following 9/11, I saw America at its finest. I remember the pride I felt. I was proud of our president; proud of New York; proud of first responders; proud that I could be counted by some invisible hand among the Americans. I remember flags were everywhere – on bumper stickers, on shop-house doors, in front of big houses and small.

I remember thinking, the enemy has underestimated us. Their horrific act of terror – which had to be more effective than they could have imagined with the fall of towers South and North – resulted in a nation resolved to be free. (And to wipe the terrorists from the face of the earth.)

We set aside political parties. We were unified. Briefly.

Fifteen years later, a flip of the Uncle-Sam-feeling-good coin was complete with the presidential election of 2016.

Ironically, a billionaire living in a Manhattan penthouse decorated in 24k gold and marble was the voice of the small-town “forgotten” man; the former first lady of Arkansas was the darling of New York elites.

We know how it turned out. Let me be clear on one point, however: we wouldn’t be any less divided had Mrs. Clinton won. FoxNews could see to that; Rush Limbaugh still would have a show to do. As it is, the people who would like to see single-payer health care are leading the #resist movement.

Yes, in today’s world, socialists defend a free press while Christians fight for gun rights.

And the ironies run much deeper. In the age of the Internet, with information and perspectives at every turn, people get stuck in echo chambers where they’re own positions are never challenged; we may well know strangers better than old friends; and common human interactions require a web of electronic networks.

On this 4th of July, I’m worried about where we are headed as country. Oddly enough, I think this is a sentiment we can all share.

 

Table Talk

Heavy envy envelopes objective relatives.

Persistent resistance distances verbal dancers dissing dug in positions with similar stubbornness. 

A win is immenent. 

The brethren can’t conceive concessions. 

Opponents must own their own arguments. Humble tears in tents; A clown smoking cigarettes. 

But who wins at some point with troubling anger on the table among us? Hurt hearts are contagious. 

Grab an ale and a napkin and make space for a feast, cousin. Let go this fight we’re waging. Eating time in session. On the plate is crow. 

We never got where it would have gone. Dangerous angling averted. Where’s dessert, then? 

Believer B(ee)

 Christianity IS crazy. It’s full of cracks and crackpots. It’s enthusiastic and absurd. It’s preoccupied and impractical. All of this and more is true, from certain objective points of view. This should be acknowledged up front by Christians debating those outside the faith. The core tenants of the Christian faith are, on their own, ridiculous. For example:

1. God created a son, which is actually Him and the Holy Spirit, who has to die and be born again to absolve all men (and women) of their sin (i.e. selfishness, greed, pride). Why should He have to die at all?

2. People have to believe Jesus was resurrected – a perfectly difficult thing to believe for anyone who has never seen anyone come back to life – to gain their own lives after death. Can’t God just be nice and give them heaven without the fuss?

3. God calls on Christians to, above all else, love other flawed people and Himself – a jealous God who seems, at times, far from righteous or all-powerful. Is God selfish and egotistical?

How did Noah get all those animals on the ark? Am I supposed to believe the world is only 6,000 years old? Is God a bigot? And on and on it goes; the facts on which the faith rests appear most suspicious and flimsy to the non-believer.

YouTube’s “Theoretical Bullshit” does the best job I’ve seen of pointing out objective dilemmas that too many Christians are blind to in “God’s Checklist.” 

But facts in isolation can be deceiving. If someone is reading the Bible to find fault, to judge its moral authority and proscriptions, they’ll have a mountain of evidence to back them. It’s a collection of stories from different authors; demonstrating incongruity is not hard. That doesn’t mean believers are wrong to pray, to take shelter from life’s storms in the church. Context is key. And so is perspective.  

The Bible is one moral narrative after another. It’s Aesop’s Fables, but centered on God. And Israel. Written by a lot of Aesops. A long time ago.  

Over the course of the Bible, a larger narrative takes shape. A story of redemption. Of forgiveness. Of sacrifice. Time and time again, God calls on His free-willed children to be selfless, to care more for others, to value their gifts, to rein in their darker natures and be more like Him. And He is Love. I know, it’s crazy.

And, of course, imperfect people wrote the books of the Bible. Even if you are a Christian who believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God, surely you can acknowledge that the vessels of the Word themselves were flawed.

So, it’s only natural that caring, thoughtful, fair-minded people might dismiss it as a relic. There really are plenty of reasons to do so. And Christians would be wise to acknowledge as much.

A younger me would likely be disappointed that I count myself as a Christian today. For the reasons I mention above and more, I thought Christianity was a crutch. Followers, often well intentioned, are taught the faith in a ritual setting. People like rituals. They also like believing the end of life isn’t really the end. Christianity soothes the problems of an evolving and emotional mind; it provides a measure of control; it brings meaning to an otherwise random existence.  

Logical atheists might say we evolved slowly from simpler forms of life to more complex after the Big Bang. They might say religions are a product of evolution to mitigate fear or incentivize working for the collective good. And I’m not here to tell them they’re wrong. Honestly, that all makes sense. 

Life certainly evolves. Morality itself evolves across the Bible. And fighting evolution is not only a losing proposition, it’s rude. If you would argue against logic in favor of Christianity, you’re only serving to stunt it. This, I think, is pushing people in need of love, and answers, away.

The real question I feel many atheists and agnostics want to ask is, “Why do you believe?” It seems so illogical. So they point out the inconsistencies, hoping to get an answer they learn to expect isn’t coming because defensive posturing kicks in. Ironically, I think it’s a question most Christians would love to answer.

Why do I believe?

I was saved around the age of 12. A pair of college students from a nearby evangelical school approached me and a friend at the mall. They talked to us about Jesus, and I was horrified. My friend made fun of them. What I didn’t realize at the time was they had planted a seed of fear in me. ‘If I don’t believe, I’m going to hell…’ So, after a few days of thinking about it, I asked Jesus into my heart one night before bed. I woke up the next day and felt great. I went through something of a honeymoon period as a new believer.

During this period, I remember a specific, heartfelt prayer request. Hell wasn’t my only fear. I also have always been terrified of bees and wasps. With my newfound faith muscles, I asked God to please protect me from stings until I was 40. I imagined by 40, I would be hardened by life enough to handle a bee sting. Such is a child’s way of thinking. 

While the “honeymoon” didn’t last and I questioned everything well into adulthood, my silly little covenant with God did. At the age of 41, last summer, and with my wife battling with her health, I got stung by a bee for the first time cleaning out our car. 

I can feel the pullback. Those two things don’t necessarily correlate, right? Objectively, yes. But in the context of my full life, they do. I thanked God right away and welled up with tears. … And there’s more to this I can’t unpack quickly. The big picture is: God is working with me. He’s personally involved. I can’t fully explain it, so I don’t expect you to understand. I follow Jesus because of the story of the Good Samaritan; I follow Him because of Mark Chapter 6; I follow because women found the cave-stone removed and people saw him risen and Paul and Peter were martyred in Rome; I believe because if God sent the world a lamb of peace, it figures threatened people in power would kill him; I believe because my grandmas went to heaven; and I’m a Christian because I was stung by a bee last year.  

Hello, my name is Brian. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t need them. I’m crazy. It’s nice to meet you.


 

Keep Calm and Cry Softly

Just as soon as I began to give Trump some credit for his drive and power (check my last post), more unfolding details about the firing of FBI Director James Comey rear their ugly head. 

I haven’t been this scared since “The Day After” came out it in grade school. And I know shit has officially hit the fan because even FoxNews anchors are expressing concern (check out Chris Wallace on Shephard Smith from today’s show if/when it posts). 

I’d like to say with a bubbly English accent: ‘Keep Calm: Trump is just a nincompoop.’ But I don’t believe that. 

It feels like some of my deepest fears about Trump – he only cares about power; he’s deeply corrupt – might be true. I lean left, and I don’t want to believe it. 

What we know: Trump says now it was his decision to fire Comey; Comey led the department investigating Trump associates for their ties to Russia; Trump officials originally said recommendations from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein provided the impetus for termination. 

This is enough to be troubling to any thoughtful American. There’s more, of course. It has been reported Trump had asked the FBI director for his loyalty before the pink slip; Trump has implied a private conversation with Comey may have been taped; and he threatened to release dirt on Joe Scarborough and other perceived threats. 

It’s all unnerving. And so unnecessary. Trump has all the power Obama had in 2008 with congress on his side. Why is this his focus? 

When you watch FoxNews tonight – and many of you will – do me a favor: replace the name Trump with Clinton. Would you be freaked out if Hillary had just fired the director investigating her ties to Russia?

But I don’t want to add to the fear. I’m sure this Wonka boat will land at the testing lab soon. 

‘Keep calm and cry softly.’ It’s not great, but who wants the current state of things to carry on? 

Ratings Bold: An Unfortunate Truth

Dear Resist Movement and all Americans and others rightfully concerned about our President, 

Can we have a moment? 

I want to apologize formally. You’re great people — better than me, in fact. You see, I think I like Trump. 

Yes, I know that’s terrible. No, he shouldn’t grab pussies. Yes, he’s an unashamed greedy egomaniac. He might be racist, too, which upsets me. He’s almost the Anti-Obama, and more than once I’ve been overcome by the same pangs of fear you feel … like the world is going to end, ransaked by Deatheaters.  It’s a shame. 

Also, it’s worth noting, I didn’t vote for him; his conflicts of interest are a far bigger concern to me than Hillary’s emails; his critics are right most of the time; and he probably shouldn’t be running the country.

On the last point, veteran conservative columnist George Will nails the reasons why. I can’t argue. 

But please hear me Democrats (left-leaning independent here) and other fine people: Donald Trump is to His supporters what Bill Clinton is to liberals. He’s what Kanye West is to music (Love you, Kanye!) He is, in a word, untouchable. He can say and do anything and the people who love him still will. 

And this, I admit shamefully, is part of the appeal. Maybe all of it. But if we are ever going to win power back for the good guys, I think we need to be bold ourselves and admit he’s not the boogeyman. 

When I was younger and dumber, I once wrote a blog featuring a picture of brass balls. I’d declared myself the best reporter in Springfield (Mo.) as I was exiting my first job in journalism and ready, with gusto, to take on my second. It’d be another six months before I was hired to write. 

Here’s the thing: I believed it was true. Looking back objectively, I can think of five reporters in the area who were better than me and there may have been more. But at the time, I had blinders on. That self-confidence, that belief in myself, eventually helped me secure a position with a better well-respected publication.  

While I am embarrassed now by my early swagger, my boldness furthered my resolve to be great, which helped me secure a larger platform from which to operate. “Fortune favors the bold,” said Virgil. “Freedom lies in being bold,” said Robert Frost.

Back to Trump: this guy is nothing but brass balls. For those not paying attention, here are a few (too many regrettable) examples:

1. He ran for president with no government experience.

2. He’s been involved in six business bankruptcies and ran based on his business acumen.

3. He called Sen. John McCain, a former Republican presidential nominee and war hero, “a loser” while running for the nation’s highest office. 

4. While launching his campaign, he insulted Mexicans and alienated a key voting block – Hispanics – just four years after their strong support for Obama gave him a narrow victory (no political expert I know of thought this was a good idea). 

5. He has reorganized his debts in the past based on the power of his name. 

6. He ran for president without releasing his taxes. 

7. He has bombed Syria, thumbed his nose at Kim Jong Un, and hosted several successful seasons of “Celebrity Apprentice” (a TV show premise that should have never reached the air). 

And on and on it goes. I’m not saying this is a great man. But I get it. I get why people like him. 
Oh, btw, he seems to have fulfilled every dream he could have had for himself. I can’t say that. Think about it: he sits in the most powerful office in the world; he’s married to a model; he’s filthy rich; and he’s so bombastic and charismatic that historians will be saying his name for centuries.
This week, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating Trump appointees and their ties to Russia. Already, calls for impeachment and comparisons to Richard Nixon are getting attention online. But be careful Dems: the last time Congress moved to impeach a sitting president, that president finished his second term with a 65 percent approval rating. 
Clinton’s lowest rating, in case you’re wondering, was 37 percent. It came about four months after he took office. Trump has been as low as 35 percent, according to Gallup, but he currently sits at 40 percent.   
Regarding “The Apprentice,” I wasn’t a huge fan, but I watched a few seasons like anyone else. And, yes, I mostly agreed with his takes. Here’s the problem: I can see 1,000 stories about how Trump is a nightmare, but there will still be a part of me that says to myself, ‘you know, Joan Rivers did deserve to win Season 9.’   

#justsayin 

Bold prediction: Amid WWIII, which Trump will help bring to fruition, The Donald will be viewed like Gen. Patton and leave a second term with a 67 percent approval rating. (Sorry, Dems. I need a shower.)

Death to Dinosaurs 

This poem was the inspiration for the Death2Dinosaurs blog. After months of neglect — I took a job as an adviser with three local cemeteries and thought the name seemed disrespectful — I’m jumping back into blog action. Enjoy! 

———-  ———  ———  ———  ———-  ———- 

Death to dinosaurs is what I see

in my dreams, and it seems 

fair to care why they die.

Large and leathery, wheezing,

stumbling, falling, and then

melting away. Vanishing.

They chased me, and I hid one of

the dogs they wanted to eat.

It felt like the right thing to do.
I don’t know how to make sense

of these places, these dinosaur

faces, fading away over 

entertainment centers. 

They’re random, they say. 

They’re the future, they say.

It’s gray to me, and still it seems

to be something I somehow knew. 

A place no less real than you.
In a land where dinosaurs die, or 

tornadoes fly, or a land where

I’m still in school, how do I know

where my home is? What a home is? 

What is true?

And if that passes as a home there, then

how do I remember to care?

 In those places, with those faces. 

Fading. Dying now.