Sunday, April 25

Who Is the Party of the MOTR?

It appears from the conversations and so on that I've had with people who attended the Democratic and Republican Party district conventions that some didn't feel very well respected. Been there, done that. Political parties by their natures are fairly incestuous and are not really looking for new ideas, but rather new ways to sell the ideas they already have.

Let's talk about you and me. Most people are not party joiners, though we tend to affiliate to one or the other of the D or R parties at least once every few years. Every election we are told is decided by the "middle." And for this reason I would argue it is this way because the middle doesn't have a party of our own; hence the other two prevail.

Anyone who has tried to join one of these parties soon comes to realize that it is hard to accomplish substantial movement. Why? Because the parties' hierarchy know what has worked for them and, frankly, both major parties are arch conservatives when it comes to moving away from their sacred cows.

So why not just join an established third party? Once again, the doctrine is drawn. As John Mellencamp, Malcolm X, and Alexander Hamilton all sort of said, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." All parties stand for something, but none stand for what most people think is right. Hence we are a nation of flip-floppers who go back and forth generally between D's and R's.

Early in our nation's heritage, choosing between two was quite a step up from Monarchy. However, I think that many people agree that neither party really represents what main street or the mainstream think. In fact each party claims to feel our pain, but in reality, they are counting up our votes.

So why not join the Tea Party? Well, who is the Tea Party and do they represent mainstream values? According to the Tea Part Patriots' website they stand for:

Fiscal Responsibility: Fiscal Responsibility by government honors and respects the freedom of the individual to spend the money that is the fruit of their own labor. A constitutionally limited government, designed to protect the blessings of liberty, must be fiscally responsible or it must subject its citizenry to high levels of taxation that unjustly restrict the liberty our Constitution was designed to protect. Such runaway deficit spending as we now see in Washington D.C. compels us to take action as the increasing national debt is a grave threat to our national sovereignty and the personal and economic liberty of future generations.

Constitutionally Limited Government: We, the members of The Tea Party Patriots, are inspired by our founding documents and regard the Constitution of the United States to be the supreme law of the land. We believe that it is possible to know the original intent of the government our founders set forth, and stand in support of that intent. Like the founders, we support states' rights for those powers not expressly stated in the Constitution. As the government is of the people, by the people and for the people, in all other matters we support the personal liberty of the individual, within the rule of law.

Free Markets: A free market is the economic consequence of personal liberty. The founders believed that personal and economic freedom were indivisible, as do we. Our current government's interference distorts the free market and inhibits the pursuit of individual and economic liberty. Therefore, we support a return to the free market principles on which this nation was founded and oppose government intervention into the operations of private business.

Up to point number three, I could get behind those principles. In fact, taken with point number two, we really can't have a free market. Why, because the Constitution tells us we need taxes and those taxes are haggled over by those whom we elect. A so-called free market can't exist as long as we ask people to pony up money to have a government do things for us.

So, no Tea Party for me, and I doubt for many folks who are happy to have trash pickups, clean water, aid to families with dependent children, social security, etc. Also for those who aren't willing to lose arms and legs working in uncontrolled manufacturing plants and don't pay a living wage.

So what would the Middle of the Road Party look like? Beats the heck out of me. We haven't had our convention, chosen our leaders, or created our platform. There is not a party and so the climb is long and the odds are against us.

If I were to venture a guess, the MOTR party would place the future of kids at the forefront. It would tend to be hopeful, but cautious in what this country does both here and abroad. It would insist that rules were enforced, but the rules were fair in the first place. It would be a party that celebrates pragmatism--where some change would come fast and others a little at a time. It would not seek to win by putting the other parties down, but to win by articulating the things that people believe are in the best interest of the country, even if they aren't always in the immediate best interest to themselves. Yes, it would uphold the Constitution. And, of course, it would be fiscally responsible.

I also believe it would be hard to build. It would ask people to disengage from the politics they understand to be how things are done and engage in conversations with people in a way that doesn't make me right and you wrong. It would put us in a whole new place. It would be a bold venture to be sure.

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Friday, April 16

Corporate Capitalism Is Against the Greater Good

Everyone should know by now that Barack Obama is not a Socialist, not even close--c'mon look at the definition of the word.

Socialism: An "economic, social and political doctrine which expresses the struggle for the equal distribution of wealth by eliminating private property and the exploitative ruling class. In practice, such a distribution of wealth is achieved by social ownership of the means of production, exchange and diffusion." [Rius, Marx for Beginners (New York: Pantheon Books, 1976), 152.]

No matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, does this look like the country you live in? Does this even approximate the things that either Obama or the Democrats have legislated with or without bipartisanship? Not hardly.

Does it seem like the rich are being forced to sacrifice unfairly for for the collective good? Not according to uber-Capitalist Warren Buffett. Buffett told lawmakers that because of the cuts to the capital gains tax passed under former President George W. Bush, he pays taxes at a lower rate than some of his company’s employees and he doesn't think that is fair.

But let's say you think Warren Buffett, hallowed-be-thy-name, is on cuckoo pills. Just ask people earning $30,000 to $80,000 if they enjoy making tax payments; I doubt you would have a parade forming to beat the Buffett drum. Most of us see taxes as the cost of doing "business" for having the quality of life the average citizen of the US does.

If the Tea Party and other flat taxers want to get mad at anybody, why not get mad at corporate capitalists? The problem, as I see it, is it is citizens like you and I who pay most of the taxes and corporations who are supported by our welfare.

That's right, I'm saying that we the People are the "Nanny state" that is taking care of Exxon/Mobil and other firms who pay little if any US tax dollars. Corporations are the welfare "cheats" that we should be going after. The problem is that they lawyer up much more effectively than those among us who live in real poverty.

So while some folks bemoan welfare frauds and tax cheats and say "Not in My Backyard," it might pain them to know that they may be working for one. And, as much as some find it easy to blame the poor for being poor, how is it that we don't bemoan the fact that our tax dollars often go to encourage companies who don't pay their taxes to move into our neighborhoods?

In Iowa City, there are some who want those people who aren't carrying their weight to go back where they came from--well, isn't it time we say the same to those companies that aren't carrying their weight?

Corporations are like the "friends" that invite the group to have drinks with them and then walk the check. Corporate Capitalists hear us roar--No free drinks--tea or otherwise!

Friday, April 2

Why Mixed Income Housing Needs Our Help

Iowa City residents are rightly concerned that affordable housing policy changes could affect the quality of life in our community. Ironically, most concerns are founded on a misguided belief that balanced mixed income/housing stock neighborhoods are detrimental to overall quality of life.

This in the absence of state and national data that support such reasoning. However, by inaction, de facto higher density neighborhoods of concentrated lower-income housing have been built and this does have ramifications, as we have seen some Iowa City neighborhoods and schools.

The common sense notion is that when housing types are mixed, this lessens concentration areas of less than market-rate housing. Now add educational concerns that are being played out by concentrating lower socioeconomic households.

Would we really be having the discussion about redistricting if there were a balance of housing types available around town? Wouldn't schools have the mixture of all types of students that the district is attempting to move kids around to achieve?

Understandably, it has been politically hard to generate steam to tackle a public policy like voluntary or mandatory inclusionary zoning in earnest.

At the likely risk of being labeled neighborhood destroyers, can anyone fault city officials from removing controversial issues from the table? However it is exactly because of years of non-action regarding needed public policy that is more largely responsible for public outcry to "cease and desist" on some housing developments.

Enacting public policy like inclusionary zoning would likely reduce future problems.

In 2003, FAIR!, which monitors issues of importance to Johnson County residents, submitted a chart that showed a side-by-side comparison of how inclusionary zoning policy was enacted across the country and was used in work sessions by the City Council, in addition to other information that analyzed the housing needs in the Iowa City metropolitan area. In 2004, when the City Council tackled the issue of whether it was a good idea to spread affordable housing out and created a Task Force on Scattered Site Housing, one of the significant findings was that an inclusionary zoning policy was needed to be sure that high concentrations of low income housing would not coalesce in one area of town.

Mayor Hayek was the chair of that committee. To date, no action has taken place on this or other recommendations made to address affordable housing availability.

There are two significant reasons why inclusionary zoning policy has not been broached:

• It is historically unpopular with housing developers who naturally resist being hamstrung by regulation.

• It would cost money or other considerations for the city to implement.

For home builders to step up to create mixed-income developments, it stands to reason that they should be compensated in some way for their community-building efforts. There is no reason to ask the private sector to do this out of the goodness of their hearts. Through fast-tracking projects, reducing development fees and other considerations, a sensible inclusionary zoning policy would permit builders to meet their bottom line demands while allowing them to build the highest quality of affordable housing stock.

This, by all measures, would be good for the city's budget by widening the tax base, good for renters and homeowners who would have more housing choices, as well as good for the home building community.

If the City Council is hesitant to consider new policy and wishes to proceed with caution, perhaps a lesson I observed from following the Scattered Site Task Force could be applied.

If scattering housing is good for the community, why not empower the Planning and Zoning Commission -- or a separate appointed group made up of the community's stakeholders -- to explore how it can be best implemented? By carefully walking through the mechanics of what it would take and the cost-benefit of doing so, a policy that works for most may be put into effect.