50 Shades of Ferguson

“Where were you when….?”  The special we’re preparing to air on FTRRadio starts out with that question. Four-and-a-half months ago, when news of the Michael Brown shooting broke, I was returning from a typical Saturday afternoon at the soccer park, with zero realization that this would become one of those moments. It’s always disturbing to hear of a young person’s death, but sadly, not so uncommon as to seem like one of those time-standing-still moments that become fixed in one’s memory like an historical north star. Even the fact that Brown’s death came at the hands of police didn’t immediately signal to me that we’d still be talking about it as 2014 draws to a close. Nor did I foresee then that the north county neighborhood I’d always thought of as simply an older, blue-collar, racially diverse suburb would soon become a sociological Rorschach with a different meaning to each, and a hashtag with a life of its own.

When a vigil the following day gave way to a protest, and later to looting and rioting, I watched and shook my head in disbelief at the destructive forces I was witnessing. I recognized the tire store whose windows were smashed out; the parking lots from which several local newscasters were reporting. Ferguson isn’t my home town, but it’s an integral part of the St. Louis fabric, and near enough to home that seeing violence and chaos erupt on its streets rattled me in a way most news stories don’t — not in fear for my own safety, but in sadness for my community.

As the days wore on and competing narratives unfurled, it was tempting to choose a “side.” Sometimes, as new evidence came to light, and emotionally persuasive arguments were hashed out, it was hard not to, but I kept reminding myself — I wasn’t there, and I don’t know exactly what happened. Just as people who’ve never been to St. Louis or Ferguson don’t know our community. Early on, I bristled when I saw Ferguson referred to as “Selma.”  But then, I also had to acknowledge that there were problems and tensions present from which I’d previously remained somewhat shielded.  I started looking a little closer, listening a little longer.  

When I heard a rapper named Daywalker call into the Allman in the Morning Show and relate to the host, Jamie Allman, not only his experience as a protestor, but also his hope and vision that somehow Ferguson could become an opportunity for rebuilding, rather than just a tragedy, I was intrigued. On a whim, I contacted Jamie and asked if he’d be willing to put me in touch with Daywalker — I thought it might be interesting to have him on my show as a guest.  Jamie very graciously did so, and soon, what began as a one time interview turned into a regular segment on my show, featuring Daywalker as our “Northside Correspondent.” 

I quickly learned that Daywalker was bursting not only with energy, but also with ideas. When he suggested that we sit down with his Rabbi, Susan Talve, to interview her regarding her role as a clergy member who’d been part of the protests, I was unsure. I knew it would be interesting to speak with her, but I was uncertain as to how we might incorporate that into the show — doubly so when what I’d expected to be a 15 or 20 minute interview turned into 45 minutes.  The thought occurred to me that we might want to go a slightly different direction.  

When Daywalker followed that up with the suggestion we speak with St. Louis County Police Department Spokesman Sergeant Brian Schellman, the idea for a stand-alone special on Ferguson began to take shape.  Ultimately, we spoke with Sgt. Schellman and another officer from one of the North County municipal police departments. We also met with Jamie Allman to get his take on the media coverage regarding Ferguson.  Then, too, I took the opportunity to interview Daywalker — after all, he lives in the community, and it was his passion that set us on this journey.  I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised by the willingness of all of our guests to speak with us, and so openly. I felt like we ended up with some very frank and fascinating discussions, rather than canned, cautious responses.  

What my co-host, Jason Dibler, then did to piece them all together and incorporate some of Daywalker’s music, is nothing short of amazing, in my view. In the end, I believe we’ve managed to put together a very honest and compelling look at Ferguson, and what it’s meant to protestors, police, members of the media, and of the community.

For my own part, it’s taught me that each one of us has a story, and that if you give them a chance, most people will share theirs with you. Sometimes, all it takes is asking a question or two. Sometimes, all it takes is really looking another in the eye and acknowledging them as an individual, as someone who matters.  

Since we completed our interviews, the story of Ferguson — and the larger stories of police and the communities they serve and of race relations as a whole — have continued to unfold.  From the non-indictment in the Eric Garner case, to demonstrations turned into riots, to the assassination of Officers Ramos and Liu, it seems like Ferguson has become the pulled thread in an ever unraveling societal fabric. Which is why the question, “Where do we go from here?” seems such a fitting way to close out the special. 

Where do we go, indeed? I can’t say that I know for certain, but I feel like I have an idea: It starts, I believe, with remembering our humanity. 

I hope you’ll join us on FTRRadio.com this Tuesday, December 30th, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, for our special: Ferguson. 


Election Reflection

38 years ago, I was a big Jimmy Carter fan. I was 8, so maybe my adoration of the peanut farmer with the big smile wasn’t based on sound governing or political principles.  Certainly, my worldview and personal philosophies have changed quite a bit since then, so that adoration has long since abated. Still, I was very excited that November for the presidential race, and was disappointed that I had to go to bed before they called it.  When my Mom greeted me with the newspaper the following morning, she smiled and said, “Don’t gloat.”  (She knew a certain boy I liked was a Ford fan and we’d been smack-talking in the days leading up to the election in the way that 8 year olds do.)  

And she was right. It’s a bit unseemly to gloat after an election that goes the way you wanted it to.  It’s certainly unpleasant to see others do it when the shoe is on the other foot. And it feeds fully into the whole “politics as team sports” mentality which is, in my view, one of the sorriest aspects of our politics these days. In the end, all the “wins” in the world don’t guarantee that those elected will execute their sworn duties faithfully and effectively or govern in a way that benefits their constituency and/or America as a whole more than it benefits them and/or their cronies personally.  The GOP had a good night last night. The reptilian/team sport part of my brain is gratified.  The rest of me is skeptical.  

It’s impossible for me to think of politics — and particularly, election night watch parties and returns — without thinking of my parents.  They are the source of my political junkiedom.  I know I’ve written of it before, but my Dad was at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 and came home from that only to have to turn around and take my Mom to the hospital to have me.  They had me out helping them plant campaign signs as a toddler.  Later, in my early teen years, the three of us trekked to Washington D.C., where, in addition to visiting the monument-must-see’s, we also visited with Congressmen Robert Young and Ike Skelton.  Ike was my Dad’s law school roommate and generously took me with him when he was called to the floor of the House to cast a vote. He even let me push the button for him (shhhhh…don’t tell.  I wish I could remember what the vote was.)  In fact, I recently re-posted a picture of Ike and me on the Capitol steps after that visit on the one year anniversary of his passing.  

I know my folks were intent on spending last evening plunked in front of the television watching the results roll in.  But…you know what they say about those best laid plans….  Dad had a bit of a scare last night.  His blood pressure suddenly dropped very low and he passed out while he and Mom were having dinner at home. He’d come to by the time the paramedics arrived, and was feeling well enough before they left the house to remind my Mom to tape his television shows, and to take my sister’s call on his cell phone while in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Later, while he was waiting for them to get a room set up, he made sure to request one with a TV so he could watch the election returns.  (These things are so very my Dad I can’t help but smile at them all.)  He’s stable and they’re simply hanging onto him (last night and possibly tonight) to monitor things and make sure he’s okay. I’m sure he will be, but prayers for him are certainly welcome and appreciated if you’re so inclined. 

My politics are quite different from my Dad’s these days, and I imagine the outcomes that pleased me last night are the ones that displeased him, and vice-versa. That’s okay.  He’s my Dad and I love him, quirks and all, more than words can say.  



What MORE DO YOU Want?

Last week, a friend and I got into a bit of a debate on his Facebook page. The genesis of the discussion had very little to do with fiscal policy.  It actually grew out of my defending TEA Party conservatism from the charge that it is extreme and full of hateful racists and fascists. But when I pointed out that advocating for limited government, tax reform and sounder fiscal policies is not extreme, nor is it hateful, nor is it anti-Semitic, Nazi-like or fascist, my friend responded that smaller government has been happening over the past two years, spending and the deficit are both way down, and that there have been no tax increases of any kind in the past five years and taxes are at a historic low, and then asked, “What MORE DO YOU want?”  While I disagree with his premises (and will explain why below), the question itself is a fair one, and one which warrants an answer if there is any hope for meaningful discourse between those who hold opposing political and policy viewpoints.  I promised to respond when I had the opportunity to do so, as I figure to fully and fairly answer that question will require more than just a few words in a Facebook comment. Following is my attempt to do so:

First, as alluded above, I’d quibble with the premises.  1) “Smaller government has been happening over the past two years.”  This may be a definitional issue, but I’m hard-pressed to see how this is so. If we’re speaking purely in terms of spending by the federal government, this link provides a helpful starting point for analyzing that.  (Please note, I’m citing the White House itself, which I’m fairly certain my friend would consider an acceptable source.)  The first Table (1.1) lays out the “Summary of Receipts, Outlays, and Surpluses or Deficits 1789-2019.”  I didn’t ask my friend for a clarification as to what he meant by “the past two years.”  We’re mid-April, 2014, so do we look at mid-April, 2012 to present day?  Well, the table doesn’t really break it down that way — rather, it goes by calendar year.  So, do we just go with 2012 and 2013 and compare them to 2011?  If we do, we’ll see that outlays in 2011 were $3,603,059,000,000. (The numbers in the table are presented in millions of dollars.)  (Aside: Holy HELL that’s a boatload of dollars!) By comparison, outlays in 2012 were $3,537,127,000,000.  Yes. That’s a smaller number than in 2011. In 2013, outlays were $3,454,605,000,000 — an even smaller number. So, at first blush, I’ll concede that, by that measure — i.e., spending only and comparing calendar years 2012 and 2013 — “smaller government has been happening over the past two years.”  In the interest of context, I’m going to include the numbers for the five years preceding and five years following (based on the government’s estimates):

  • 2009 – $3,517,677,000,000
  • 2010 – $3,457,079,000,000
  • 2011 – $3,603,059,000,000
  • 2012 – $3,537,127,000,000
  • 2013 – $3,454,605,000,000
  • 2014 – $3,650,526,000,000
  • 2015 – $3,900,989,000,000
  • 2016 – $4,099,078,000,000
  • 2017 – $4,268,606,000,000
  • 2018 – $4,443,145,000,000
  • 2019 – $4,728,791,000,000

Couple things to note here: 1) Even if we can agree that outlays are down in 2012 and 2013, clearly, the White House is not predicting they will continue trending that way. Not by a long shot.  2) But BUSH!  Yes, indeed.  In the eight years of GWB’s presidency, outlays increased (steadily) from $1,862,846,000,000 in 2001 to $2,982,544,000,000 in 2008. (That’s an increase of 60%, for those who really like to go nitty-gritty. And it’s utterly unacceptable. Sorry, you won’t see me defending many — if any — of George Bush’s fiscal policies. That ain’t my bag, baby. That ginormous jump you see between 2008 and 2009? That’s called TARP and the Stimulus. Both of which yours truly railed about. Oh, hey, some may recall that the TEA Party movement was born long about the same time as TARP and Stimulus were enacted.) 3) I’m far from a math/econ whiz, but I do understand that there’s this thing called inflation, and, in order to make apples to apples comparisons, that may need to be taken into account.  I believe Table 1.3 sets forth the numbers in current and constant dollars for anyone who’d like to delve that deep. As I peruse it, the trends appear to correlate, but I’m sure someone will be happy to point out to me where I’m wrong if I am.  4) There’s another way to look at these numbers and that is to assess outlays as a percentage of our GDP.  Table 1.2 handily does that for us – In 2011, the percentage was 23.4%; in 2012, 22.0%; in 2013, 20.8% — certainly an arguable step in the right direction, though the predictions for 2014-2019 having it creeping back up the other way. 

All of which is to say that if we’re looking purely at spending in the calendar years 2012 and 2013 as compared to 2011 as a measure of “smaller government happening,” okay, then yes. But, as I noted above, that followed a sharp increase, and downward isn’t the direction we’re trending. And, more importantly, I interpret “government” to encompass not only spending, but regulation, action, function and not purely federal, but at all levels.  So, when I advocate for “limited government,” I’m contemplating all of those things. The ACA alone belies the notion of “smaller government happening” in the past two years. Then we have the multitude of other arenas in which government continues to inject itself into everything from land ownership to soft drink size. No. Not a fan. Step off.

But before I head off down that road, let’s take a look at the other premises my friend mentioned: 2) “Spending and the deficit are both way down.”  Well, I’ve already addressed spending in the paragraphs above, but just to review, between 2011 and 2013, outlays decreased from $3,603,059,000,000 to $3,454,605,000,000.  That’s a decrease of $148,454,000,000.  No question, that’s a LOT of dollars. But it’s a decrease of only 4%. I’m not sure that qualifies as “WAY” down. Alright, well, what about the deficit? He didn’t include a time frame for that, so it makes sense to me to compare it over the same timeframes discussed above.  From 2011 to 2013, the deficit decreased from $1,299,593,000,000 to $679,502,000,000.  Now THAT’S something to write home about – a 47% decrease! Good. I like that.  We’re still operating at a considerable deficit.  (That’s $678 billion dollars.)  We’re also carrying a gross debt of $17,152,000,000,000.  (That’s $17 trillion dollars.) Is this really something for which we ought be patting ourselves on the back?  I’m not cool with this.  Are you?  

Okay, third premise: 3) “There have been no tax increases of any kind in the past five years.”  No. This is flatly incorrect.  If we’re purely talking income tax rates, the top rate held steady at 35% from 2003-2012.  (The infamous “Bush Tax Cuts.”)  In 2013, that increased to 39.6%.  Link.  The corporate tax rate has held steady at 35%.  But income tax isn’t the only form of tax. For example, the Individual Mandate “penalty” under the ACA was held by the United States Supreme Court to be a tax. Additionally, there is a new tax on investment income: “A new $123 billion tax on investment income, which took effect in January 2013, places a 3.8% surtax on investment income on households with more than $250,000 in annual income or $200,000 for individuals.” Link. And then (from the same link) there are the following: 

  • The Cadillac Tax
  • The High Bills Tax
  • The Health Savings Account Tax
  • The Indoor Tanning Tax
  • The High Risk Tax
  • The Medicare Tax   

That HSA tax is one which has already directly affected me. (Don’t even get me started on increased premiums and deductibles, and that elusive $2,500 of savings….)   And I’ve neither the time nor patience to dissect the current status of state and local taxes, though I suspect my friend was referring purely to federal taxes.  

Last premise: “Taxes are at a historic low.”  Again, we have a clarification issue here.  Does he mean rates?  Does he mean receipts? And what does “historic” mean?  All time? Lately?  Generally not a fan of linking to Wiki, but about two-thirds of the way down this page, there’s a chart of historical income tax rates from 1913 to 2013.  (Of course, before 1913, there wasn’t an income tax, so, by definition, we can’t be talking about an all-time historic low.)  During that century, the top rate has varied from 7% to the current 39.6% — with stops in between as high as 94% (what the ever-livin hell?!)  The first bracket rate was initially 1%, and is presently 10%, reaching a high point of 23% during WWII. So, unless we’re measuring “historic” as “within the past twenty years, or so,” then that doesn’t appear to be the case. Same goes for corporate tax rates. (As you might expect, receipts have fairly steadily increased over time — they were $2,775,103,000,000 in 2013. Even adjusted to constant dollars.  (See first link provided.)) 

So, in large part, I must respectfully disagree with the premises raised by my friend. That said, what more DO I want? Where to begin?

Well, as I mentioned at the outset – I’d like to see limited government. What I mean by that is not simply “less spending.” Really, I mean less almost everything. I’m a BIG fan of the Constitution and of the role and function of our federal government as set forth therein. To that end, I’d like to see us scale back not only spending, but government involvement and oversight into what we say, with whom we associate, how we practice our faith (or non-faith), how we educate our children, whom we choose to marry, for whom we choose to work, how we choose to compensate our employees, whatever firearms we choose to own and use (or not), with whom we communicate via phone, e-mail, social media or other, what we drink, what we eat, what we smoke, what sort of health insurance we opt to purchase (or not), etc. I’m pretty libertarian on most things these days. I’m not an anarchist. I don’t advocate zero government. But limited. MUCH more limited than what we presently have. 

Tax reform? Oh yes, I’d like some SERIOUS tax reform. I’d like to see us move to a consumption tax along the lines of the Fair Tax (rather than an income tax), or barring that, a flat tax. Simplify, streamline. Do away with tax policy as a political tool to be wielded by our elected representatives. Taxes are supposed to pay for NECESSARY governmental functions. Not to fund an ever-expanding and increasingly unaccountable slush fund, and not to beat this or that segment over the head or give this group some cushy deal. 

Sounder fiscal policies? Well, they go hand-in-hand with limited government and tax reform, but to state what should be obvious: Quit spending money we don’t have! Quit setting up programs that perpetuate dependency rather than fostering independence. Quit subsidizing this industry or that interest group. Quit bailing out failed enterprises. Quit enacting policies that stifle growth. Recognize that growth is possible and preferred to simply redistributing from one group to another. Quit pitting fellow citizens against one another in order to shore up voting blocs. Quit enacting regulations and legislation that are so tangled and complex no one can figure out what the hell they even mean. Start advocating for your country rather than your political party. (Okay, those last few weren’t purely fiscal policy-related, but I was on a roll.) 

Most of all, what I want is to be able to express the above views, discuss them with my fellow citizens — be they right-leaning, left-leaning or non-leaning — and identify with a political movement which espouses them without being branded as a racist, a fascist, an anti-Semite, ignorant, rabid or extreme.  


A Narrow Stretch of Common Ground

I don’t read Sally Kohn’s work much. She and I are diametrical opposites, ideologically speaking, and usually when I do see something she’s written, it’s eyeroll-inducing.  (I’m sure she’d say the same about me if I had a recognizable byline.)  Nonetheless, she posted a piece today which caught my attention not for its objectionability, but for its recognition that conservatives are people, too.

I talked about it on our show tonight, noting that, while I’m not ready to break out the peace pipe and start singing Kumbaya, I found her realization (and her acknowledgment of it) pleasantly surprising.  Getting ideological opponents to see you as human and decent and…likable is no small thing. It opens up the possibility of constructive dialogue. Though it doesn’t guarantee it, it’s a damn sight more likely to lead to it than rhetorical bomb-throwing. There’s a flip side to that, as well. When you see another as an individual, rather than a label — when you recognize they’re more than just their team logo — you’re far more likely to approach them with decency, too. And, in turn, far more likely to be heard. 

“Who cares?” some will think. Well, I care. Because, to put it in the simplest of terms, it comes down to hearts and minds. You can’t implement the ideals you believe are most effective/helpful/beneficial without winning elections. You can’t win elections without garnering votes. You can’t garner votes without persuading voters. You can’t persuade voters by calling them ignorant morons or hateful bigots.  If your ideas derive from common sense and promote universally appealing concepts like liberty — they’ll resonate. But not if you’ve already been tuned out.  

So, I applaud Ms. Kohn for her commentary today. It may just a narrow stretch of common ground we found. But it’s a start. 


Q with a View – The Radio Show!

 A little late in posting this here, but for those of my readers who don’t already know, my good friend Josh Gillespie has hung up his broadcasting cleats — for the time being, anyway — and handed the Tuesday night 9pm Eastern time slot over to yours truly.   So now, “Q with a View” – the radio show – is a thing.  We’ve aired three episodes thus far — and had some great guests, including Brad Essex of The Essex Blog and Red State, Cecilia S. Johnson of Hood Cons & Duane Lester of The Missouri Torch and All American Blogger.  

I aim to be writing more here shortly, but in the interim, if you’re interested in listening to previous shows, be sure to check them out here:


Q with a View – Episode 1 – The Debut! – 1-7-14

Q with a View – Episode 2 – Guests: Brad Essex & Cecilia S. Johnson – 1-14-14

Q with a View – Episode 3 – Guest: Duane Lester – 1-21-14

I *think* these will also be available on iTunes at some point – working on that.  Anyway, give a listen when you can, please!


No Such Thing As a Free BCP

Earlier today, @TheDemocrats – “the official Twitter account of the Democratic Party”  – tweeted the following:  “Before #Obamacare, women spent up to $600 a year on birth control. That’s equal to 9 tanks of gas.”  Included with this tweet was a snazzy purple graphic with the same language, and “Women deserve preventive health care coverage,” underneath.  I’ll confess, it touched a nerve.  I responded with this: “And *poof* — it’s now magically free!!! Y’all are so amazing!!! #FreeStuffForEveryone”.

No, I’m not mad that all health insurance plans must now cover the cost of birth control — I’m no fan of much of anything being government mandated, but that ‘s a philosophical quibble for another day.  Nor am I mad that some employers who have religious/conscientious objections to providing health care coverage which includes birth control are being forced to litigate the issue via the courts.  I mean – these are things that irk me, but they aren’t the impetus for this post.

What I’m mad about is this:  The Democrats, with that tweet, imply that Obamacare has somehow now rendered birth control “free.”  This exposes and/or plays to a very basic misunderstanding of economics which serves as the underpinning for most of the liberal agenda, at least in the fiscal arena.  Perhaps what makes me most mad about it is that I bought into it for so many years. 

We’ve all  heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”  I heard it — and even understood it — back when my ears were still liberal.  I just didn’t give it much thought.  But it perfectly sums up the economic reality that one simply cannot get something for nothing. Always, there is a trade off of some sort.  Just as the cost for the food provided with a “free lunch,” is offset by a higher drink price, the cost of “free” birth control must be offset in some fashion.  Any business, be it a restaurant or a pharmacy, must profit in order to live. Income must exceed expense.  That does not — can not — happen when one’s product is simply doled out for free.

The cost of a “free” lunch is made up for in one of two ways: 1) It is included in the cost of other items sold; or 2) it is covered in the price of paying customers’ meals.  Likewise, the cost of “free” birth control is either made up for by higher prices for other drugs or by higher insurance premiums.  Or both.  

Strangely enough, when birth control pills suddenly became “free” under my employer’s health insurance plan, our insurance premiums also increased.  This is where the proponents of “free” birth control point out that it was the evil insurer’s choice to increase premiums.  Why, yes, yes it was.  While some might find it shocking that a business, understanding basic economics, opted to offset the provision of a “free” product, by charging more for another, I don’t.  And neither should anyone else who understands that the lack of profit creates an existential crisis for any business.  

If you choose to use birth control, you are choosing to use a product.  That product costs money.  It costs money to develop, it costs money to make, it costs money to ship, and it costs money to sell.  Interestingly enough, these days, many types of birth control pills can be obtained at your local pharmacy for as little as $9 a pack. If that’s still too much for you to afford, your local Planned Parenthood will typically provide them based on a sliding scale.  For you to just expect it to be handed to you for “free,” demonstrates a troubling level of ignorance and/or selfishness.

I’ll confess I feel right silly at the moment, explaining such a basic concept.  Anyone who actually reads this already gets it.  But the mentality which that tweet from The Democrats perpetuates is the same mentality that blithely ignores economic realities and forges ahead with policies which do damage to our economy on both a micro and macro level.  And it ticks me off!


The Libertarian Streak is Strong with This One

Upon recent reflection, I’ve come to the realization that, since 1980, I’ve been in opposition to our Commander in Chief for all but nine of those years.  (And even that’s being generous.)  By “in opposition” I mean either I didn’t vote for said office holder, or found myself becoming increasingly disenchanted with same to the point of disagreeing with his policies more often than agreeing with them.  If one were to do the math on that, one might wonder how that could be, given that a Democrat has held the office for thirteen of those years, and a Republican for twenty of them.  Well, that’s because my views have evolved over the years, and the opposition hasn’t strictly been along party lines.  In truth, I do believe I’m an anti-authoritarian.  Especially in the economic and social realm.  I’ve taken to describing myself as “Fiscally conservative, socially moderate, with libertarian leanings.”  I’m beginning to think that’s too wordy, and the leanings are no longer just that.