The Back Fence: Art Perry And Emory Kesteloot Debate The Debt

Art Perry and Emory Kesteloot

When it comes to politics, Art Perry leans to the left; Emory Kesteloot to the right. The two are neighbors and friends in St. Louis’s Central West End and started our series of Back Fence columns in which  friends, relatives and neighbors disagree agreeably about issues in the 2012 campaign. Recently they exchanged e-mails about America’s debt problems.

Look for Art and Emory at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5 on the Nine Network where the two will air their differences in a televised editon of the Beyond November Voters’ Guide. 

Emory: This was the email I received recently, that I talked with you about at our recent coffee. It reflects an easy to understand status of our revenue/debt.

Food for thought!

Lesson # 1:

* U.S. Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
* Fed budget: $3,820,000,000,000
* New debt: $ 1,650,000,000,000
* National debt: $14,271,000,000,000
* Recent budget cuts: $ 38,500,000,000

Let’s now remove 8 zeros and pretend it’s a household budget:

* Annual family income: $21,700
* Money the family spent: $38,200
* New debt on the credit card: $16,500
* Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710
* Total budget cuts so far: $38.50

Art:  You’re right Emory this is a great illustration, but we must remember that the operative term is let’s “PRETEND.” Since the family did not participate in the credit card purchases they should not be held responsible for the DEBT.

Emory: Although it is a “pretend” example, since our government is a “signatory” on all of our “credit cards,” we do indeed owe what they spend! Whether we pay it, or our children/grandchildren do, is what keeps me up at night!

I don’t think we are better off than four years ago (23 million looking for work, declining median household income, 47 million people getting food stamps, higher healthcare costs, $5 trillion more in debt, lower GDP growth each year). But  you might have a different take. What do you think?

Art:  In order to come from under the assigned debt it is incumbent for all households to understand how they arrived in such a situation. That’s what I meant in my response. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, et al. created the debt and that’s what needs to be understood first. How to avoid another miniature oligarchy from repeating such a circumstance is our greatest responsibility.

Emory: While a bit tricky to assign the level of the debt to specific presidents, one way to look at it would be as follows:

During the 12 years of Reagan and the first Bush- Debt on January 1st 1981 was 1.028 trillion, and on January 1st 1993 when Clinton took over it was 4.177 trillion.

For the eight years of Clinton ending January 2001 the debt increased to 5.943 trillion

For the eight years of George W ending January 2009 the debt increased to 10.7 trillion

For the four years of Obama ending January 2013 the debt will stand at 16.3 trillion

So, one observation is that under Obama, in four years, the debt will have gone up more than under the eight  years of mismanagement of George W ( 5.6 trillion vrs 4.8 trillion) – not a reassuring trend!!

So, however badly managed Bush’s eight years may be, the policies of Obama over four years are producing debt increases at twice the level of the previous administration, with plans to add another 4-6 trillion of debt over the next 4 years.

Our households do need to know this and decide whether we can sustain the same policies going forward from a fiscal/ debt perspective.

Art: I definitely agree with the last line, all households do need to know the source of our enormous debt. Clinton’s eight years ended with a projected surplus of more than a half trillion dollars. Bush’s household budget gave all the legacy children an enormous tax cut and started two serious expensive out of town wars on credit cards and never made a payment on any of these expenditures. When Obama came in no budget adjustments had been made to correct the continuing spiraling debt.

That’s what I understand.

Emory: Other than the “projected surplus,”  I have no quarrel with your analysis of the Bush years, or the lack of budget adjustments when Obama came into office. This leaves the question of what Obama did with the then existing situation- and that is what I think voters are focusing upon. If there is not a plan to reverse the annual deficit going forward, we end up with a 20-22 trillion debt by 2016, and this is what the voters want to understand. Who is focused on reversing this trend??

Maybe that is where I come out on Romney and you on Obama – what do you think?

Art: On one of my business trips to Indianapolis, Mitch Daniels was there and we had a pleasant open discussion with him. You recall he was the Chairman of the Office of Management and Budget for Bush for 2 1/2 years. He said that if he had an inkling that the big tax cuts were going to cause such  deep and lasting problems for the nation and business, he would not have gone along with that process. In the recent Wall Street Journal (10/26), about 80 top Fortune 100 companies believe it’s time to reverse the tax cuts and cut a new path — one that is similar to what the president has presented over the recent 2 years. Even Romney, says his best projections and unknown plans would take eight  to 10 years. As mentioned in a prior communication, for about two years prior to the president taking office, the loss of the U.S. economic footing was sliding downward whereas most indicators for the recent years show a template of slow steady growth.

To our readers: What do you think? Post your comments below.


Posted in Commentary, The Back Fence

BACK FENCE: Republicans Mary Otto and Christine Luhnow discuss the fate of Todd Akin’s campaign

Mary Otto (left) and Christine Luhnow

Mary Otto is a housewife and mother who lives in Clayton. She has always had an interest in news and current events. But after passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, she began hosting discussion groups, and organizing and motivating others to fight against what she saw as the government’s intrusion into the private lives of ordinary citizens. A lifelong Republican, Mary leans toward the conservative end of the spectrum. 

Christine Luhnow is a mother and former television journalist. Recently she created an online blog to add a moderate Republican female voice to public debate — She says she is as far to the left as you can be while still being on the right. Her goal is to get public servants working together again and to get moms to buy in to what’s going on. 

The women are friends who started a discussion about Todd Akin and were both surprised with the path it took as the story unfolded. Events surrounding Akin’s remarks about rape and abortion changed and so did their responses to them. 

Beyond November is on the lookout for more friends, neighbors and relatives who like each other, but disagree on matters of policy and politics. If you would like to participate, send an e-mail to managing editor Dick Weiss at

Christine (12:50 p.m. Aug. 27): So, I was wondering what you think about the Todd Akin situation and whether you think he should bow out of the race? Of course, his initial comments about a woman’s ability to prevent an actual pregnancy in the case of a “legitimate rape” were incendiary and got immediate attention. And women like me were legitimately offended at the idea that a woman could control her body’s response to an assault.

But now the story has evolved to a different place where the question isn’t about what he said but whether he should resign or whether he should be forgiven.

I went to his website yesterday and saw that he has published an apology and is asking voters to forgive him. To be exact, his website says, “I made a mistake. What I said was ill-conceived. It was wrong and for that I apologize.” He goes on to say, “The people from Missouri who elected me know I am not perfect. They don’t make perfect people. We all make mistakes.”

Mary: (1:06 p.m. Aug. 27) My initial reaction to the Todd Akin statement was that he should step out of the race. But, after hearing his apology and admission of making a mistake, I am viewing the situation differently.

Most of us can remember saying things and/or doing something which we deeply regret. Yet, many of us lack the courage to admit our mistakes and to ask those we have offended for forgiveness.  I believe that asking for forgiveness shows the highest form of good character and integrity.  And, quite honestly, I think we could use much more of this in politics.

I am ready to move beyond his ill-conceived statement and focus on getting him elected.

Christine (1:16 p.m. Aug. 27): I agree that we are all human and none of us is perfect. And the truth is we do all make mistakes.

I am asking myself was it bad science, bad timing or a reflection on how Todd Akin views women and whether he could adequately represent us? My sense of things is that it almost doesn’t matter this close to the election because we can’t afford to lose that seat to the Democrats. And that for the sake of the overall effort, he should step down.

Mary (2:33 p.m. Aug. 27):

I believe it is bad timing.  I think Todd Akin has great respect for women, as he has great respect for life.  I think Missouri voters voted for Akin because they believe that he is honest and that he holds their same family values.  They like the fact that he stands up for what he believes in.  I am sure that if Akin is forced out of the race, it will be viewed by many Missourians that their voices again have not been heard.

We need to stand behind Akin and send a message to the rest of the country that we are forgiving and will not be bullied.

Christine (3:43 p.m. Aug. 27):

It will be interesting to see if Akin’s supporters only strengthen their resolve on his behalf. This could galvanize them, I guess. Do you think it was bullying to ask him to stay away from the convention in Tampa? And what do you think about the fact that he was in Tampa meeting with some of his strongest Christian supporters even after that request? I wonder if it is an attempt by Akin to portray himself as being outside of the party system the way the Tea Party once did. Can you envision a scenario where a move like that actually boosts his support?

My biggest concern is there are a lot of Republican women who like Claire McCaskill and I worry this could put them on her side of the fence. And we have so many strong Republican women in our state like (former Missour House Speaker) Catherine Hanaway, (GOP congressional candidate) Ann Wagner and (U.S. Rep.) Jo Ann Emerson.  I wonder if it isn’t time to send a message that could reverberate across the country that the Republican Party may tolerate differences of opinion on women’s issues but they won’t tolerate ignorance.

Mary (9:26 p.m. Aug. 27):

The Republican Party clearly wants to distance itself from Akin’s statement by asking him not to appear at the convention   It is interesting how the Republicans will throw their colleagues under the bus, where the Democrats embrace their colleagues and ignore their gaffes.  I am sure that since the RNC and other Republican groups have cut off all of Akin’s funding he has no choice but to appeal to his biggest supporters.  They are probably all united in Tampa for the convention so it makes sense to go there to see them.  As to whether or not they will rally for him, depends on how much pressure is put on them by the Republican Party, and if they will cave in to their demands.  It may however work in Akin’s favor since many are sick of the establishment.

I am surprised that there are any Republican voters in Missouri who like Claire McCaskill. Her vote for Obamacare and her continued support of the President and all of his policies should be reason enough for all Republicans to want her out.  I think jobs, the economy, repealing Obamacare, and national security should be at the top of the Republican agenda.  We are letting the Democrats distract voters from the larger issues facing our country by focusing the attention on women’s issues and an unfortunate misstatement.

Christine (9:50 p.m. Aug. 27):

Akin is lucky to have a strong, smart lady like you in his corner!

And I agree with you that, even though Claire McCaskill has picked up a few Republican friends over the years, this is not the year to vote for her. There is just too much at stake!

It’s hard for me to argue with a friend who is advocating forgiveness for an ordained minister. So, I guess we have to agree to disagree on whether he should step aside.

At the end of the day, it will be up to Todd Akin to listen to what his own heart and mind are telling him. My guess is he may still bow out.

Thanks for being willing to discuss this. I think it’s important for people to see there are a diversity of opinions among Republican women.

Mary (9:36 a.m. Aug. 28):

I guess like Todd Akin, I speak from the heart. In a perfect world there is forgiveness, but we are far from a perfect world.  I can see that many Republicans, conservatives included, would like to see Akin step aside, and for the good of “The Party,” he should bow out.  The Republican elites still hold the purse strings and power.  The future of our country is at stake in this election. Perhaps, this is not the year for heroes.

It is my hope, in the future, that we can return to a country of strong individuals with good moral values and get away from this collective mindset.

Thanks for listening to my position.  I appreciate your thoughtful responses.


Mary (5:57 p.m., Aug. 29):

I would be happy to start another dialog.  I am afraid Todd Akin is in too far over his head.  Without the support of the RNC, and all of the negative ads which will be out soon, it will take every Republican voter in Missouri to get him elected.  His comments have unfortunately lost women voters, and we cannot afford to lose their votes again.

Christine (8:05 p.m. Aug. 29):

Agreed. You know what one of my neighbors just suggested? That Akin step down in the race for U.S. Senate, that Ann Wagner bow out of her congressional race so that Akin can go back to the House and she can run for the Senate position. I do believe she would be a formidable opponent to McCaskill. And that way outstate Missourians, who get and support Akin, wouldn’t feel cheated out of their candidate. And the Wagner candidacy could make a statement with nationwide impact about the role of women in higher office. I like it. What do you think?

Mary (9:13 a.m. Aug. 30):

I am not sure I am ready to make that call.  I have heard they are considering a few people.  I hope that whatever happens, people realize the importance of this election, and will put aside personal grievances and look at the bigger picture.  We need to help “get this done.”

Christine (8:09 p.m. Aug. 31):

Hey, I just saw a poll listed on real clear politics that said McCaskill is only ahead of Akin by 1%. That’s amazing if it’s true given all the controversy around him right now.

I heard another name yesterday being floated as his replacement – Catherine Hanaway.

Mary (2:20 p.m. Aug. 31):

I just heard that 75 percent of Republicans have forgiven Akin.  I think most people realize that his comment was unfortunate and they still believe in his integrity.  He still may not appeal to the moderate Republican and independent women voters, but if it turns out that he does stay in, I hope those two groups will rethink the significance of keeping Claire in. The Republicans gave women center stage at their convention and they were all very impressive.  This is the land of opportunity for all.

Christine (2:07 p.m. Sept. 7):

I agree that it was a more diverse array of Republicans than we have seen in years past at this year’s Convention. I am amazed at those poll results and stunned that Akin has apparently rebounded that way. I am also still holding out hope that he will step aside and a female candidate will take his place. I am also concerned that social issues like abortion and civil unions continue to be so prominently featured on the Republican Party’s platform.

Mary (2:09 p.m. Sept. 7):

A final thought.  In all fairness, Charles Jaco should interview Claire McCaskill and ask her why she has no regard for human life by voting FOR late term abortions and the killing of babies outside the womb? That interview will never happen because we have a bias in the media.  It is their job to ask pointed questions to Republicans, to ruin their chances of being elected.


Posted in Commentary, The Back Fence

THE BACK FENCE: Pam and Craig Niehaus debate the virtues of Paul Ryan

Pam and Craig Niehaus grew up in north St. Louis County with two other siblings. Craig claims to be truly bipartisan, having spent half his adult life as a liberal and half as a conservative.  A Glendale resident, he sells real estate, writes letters to editors, and visits area bakeries. Pam retired several years ago as communications director for St.Louis Community College. After renovating two houses in Webster Groves, she hopes Craig will find her the perfect condo. The two have very different views of Paul Ryan, who could be the nation’s next vice president.

Beyond November is on the lookout for more friends, neighbors and relatives who like each other, but disagree on matters of policy and politics. If you would like to participate, send an e-mail to managing editor Dick Weiss at

Craig: Paul Ryan is an excellent choice to run with Mitt Romney. He is one of the few Republicans who can articulate the conservative message with facts and figures, and provide the ”vision thing” which is lacking in so many Republican campaigns.  Ryan may make Wisconsin competitive and will energize conservatives who still have doubts about Romney.  His attractive young family and Catholic faith will be important to some voters.  He also does well on interview programs, especially on economic matters.  All he needs to do is fix his Eddie Munster haircut.

Pam: The Eddie Munster haircut may be the one thing we agree on regarding Paul Ryan. But Craig, I have to compliment your foresight.  You spotted Ryan years before he became chairman of the House Budget Committee in 2010, and sent me a scary article he wrote on economic policy.  Now that his ideas are gushing into mainstream discourse, more and more voters may become alarmed.  You mentioned his Catholic faith will be important to some voters, and it’s true Catholics make up a large voting bloc.  Even as a “fallen away” Catholic, I admit to cheering for the Nuns on the Bus and the Catholic bishops when they point out that Ryan’s  budget will destroy the safety net and hurt the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.  Then there’s the downside for the middle class and women in general.

Craig: As I listen to the Democrat talking heads discuss Ryan I’ve decided that they sound like college students.  They appear articulate and professional, but the talking points are memorized and they fail to engage in a dialogue when challenged.  Very little of what is said has any relationship to the real world.  As usual, Democrats and the media paint Republicans as either stupid or evil.  With Ryan, who receives over 60% support in a Democrat-leaning district, they have a problem.   He can out-debate them on the issues, and Americans will see that the monster image does not match the middle class politician from middle America.

Pam: Well, we agree on Munster, not monster.  Ryan certainly isn’t evil or stupid and he comes across as a very nice, earnest guy.  The problem, of course, is his political philosophy and how that translates into legislative initiatives and votes.  Examples:  He would turn Medicare into a voucher system, ultimately costing seniors thousands more per year as vouchers would not cover rising health costs.  He is also a sponsor of a “personhood” bill that confers legal status on a fertilized egg, and opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest.  He voted against a bill requiring stronger background checks on buyers at gun shows.  And those are just a few examples in the liberal’s litany of Ryan’s extremist positions.  But I also wonder why conservatives are so excited about him.  He has spent his entire adult life in Washington D.C., which is anathema to the right wing.  He only started worrying about government expenditures and deficits when President Obama took office, having previously voted for TARP, the unfunded Medicare drug bill, and two unfunded wars.

Craig: There you go again, as Reagan would say, taking your talking points from MSNBC “B” teamers.  Ryan’s plan for Medicare does not affect you or your spoiled generation, unless you have entered a time machine and are now my younger sister by five or so years.  Seniors ten years from now would have an option of staying in traditional Medicare or picking a competitive plan from a private insurer and possibly getting a rebate.  That’s it, so go back to watching late night TCM.

As far as “personhood,” it goes along with the belief that human life begins at conception.  If you are a human from conception onward, then you have human rights in this country guaranteed by the Constitution, including the right to life (see 13th and 14th Amendments).  You may not have the right to produce a photo ID and vote or have a beer at the local bar, but you have the right to exist.  (Let’s save Akin for another day.)  No, Ryan is not perfect.  He voted for TARP like Obama did, voted for those unfunded wars like Hillary, Kerry and Dead Ted did, and voted for Bush’s Medicare Part D which you will now enjoy.  But Ryan knows a country cannot continue to spend 40% more than it takes in and not meet disaster.  Conservatives will cut some slack to politicians with experience in government so long as they share the view that it needs to be made smaller and less costly—just like Democrats like wealthy people who claim they support higher taxes, but take every deduction they can.

Pam: My “spoiled generation?”  We’ll be celebrating your big 60th birthday next January, so you’re officially a boomer too and—lucky you—one of those who would dodge the arrow in Ryan’s Medicare plan.  I started Medicare this year and so far so good.  It’s a significant savings over my previous insurance, with improvements in care.  But everyone knows Medicare will have to be revised if it’s to be available to our kids’ generation.  Shortly after President Obama took office in ’09 I heard him speak in St. Louis, and he emphasized the need for revisions, some of which are now part of the Affordable Care Act.  (This was just before the Tea Party insurgence during which demonstrators warned the government to “keep your hands off my Medicare.”)  The Republican Party has never liked Medicare except, presumably, when lawmakers access it themselves.  So, of course, Ryan is now lying on the stump about how the President “raided” Medicare by more than $700 billion when in reality no benefits were reduced.  Ryan’s voucher plan is just the latest proposal to get rid of Medicare as Americans have known it for nearly 50 years. (Trivia:  President Johnson gave Harry Truman the first Medicare card when the bill was signed into law.)

Even though Ryan looks charming as he campaigns with his mother in Florida retirement communities, he is an extremist ideologue through and through on all issues.  Currently, Rep. Todd Akin is all over the news with his appalling comments on “legitimate” rape, and Ryan is trying desperately to back away from the fact that he espouses the same views.  Ryan joined Akin as a sponsor of two House bills that tried to redefine “forcible” rape, and does not believe victims of rape and incest should have access to abortion.  Mitt Romney will have to tutor Ryan extensively on changing positions and misrepresenting facts if they’re going to get votes from women, seniors and the many others who would be hurt by their policies.

Craig: I know you’re getting forgetful senior sister, but Ryan’s plan, which was developed with Democrat Senator Ron Wyden, doesn’t affect you or me unless we choose to participate ten years from now.  Obama’s actions, taking $710 billion from current Medicare for Obamacare, may affect you, however.  He will limit the procedures and preventive tests you can access with the IPAB (Independent Payment Advisory Board) and by reducing payments to providers will limit your options.  Don’t you wonder why so many stories are showing up about how women under 50 really don’t need regular mammograms and how wonderful hospice is?  Medicare spending takes five times more of its share of the economy than it did in 1970, not long after Johnson gave Truman his card.  Obama’s plan is Sha La La La La La Live for Today, and don’t worry about tomorrow.  He’s not serious and doesn’t need to be as long as he can scare his voters.  Wonder if Michelle has written a Soylent Green cookbook?

Pam: My understanding is that Ron Wyden worked with Ryan on a “study proposal” that included some public-private recommendations plus more protection for the most vulnerable Medicare recipients. It was ultimately replaced by Ryan’s current budget which was passed in the House but defeated in the Senate with a “no” vote from Wyden.  Republicans, who vowed never to work with the Democrats hours after President Obama’s inauguration, should not be misrepresenting Ryan’s Medicare plan as a bipartisan effort.  As for medical research:  I take all of it with a grain of salt substitute, like the current study out of Canada that claims eating egg yolks is like smoking cigarettes.  I generally don’t see conspiracies around every corner—leave that to the birthers.  But I love your comment about a Soylent Green cookbook—which reminds me, who’s cooking Sunday family dinner next week?  I can’t wait to talk about Romney-Ryan at the Republican Convention and their antediluvian platform.

Posted in Commentary, The Back Fence

THE BACK FENCE: Larry Levin and Steve Pick on the Chick-fil-A controversy

Larry (left) and Steve got to know each other through a fantasy baseball league. Larry is publisher of the Jewish Light. Steve is a long-time music critic, host of Sound Salvation on KDHX 88.1 FM, and the tallest employee at Euclid Records. Larry and Steve see eye-to-eye on many things, but not when it comes to the controversy involving Chick-fil-A.

Larry: Steve, a lot of folks who support a right to gay marriage have come down strong on Chick-fil-A because its ownership not only opposes the right but also has given aid to groups that actively oppose it.  Many have advocated that those who support gay marriage should actively boycott the chain to demonstrate their displeasure. While anyone can certainly refuse to eat there, I’m not sure that a boycott is such a great idea. It once again creates a construct by which those of different political stripes can just retreat to their own corners, shout out the other side, and call it a day. Is that the best way to engender constructive dialogue and positive social change?

Steve: Larry, the groups which Chick-fil-A has donated to include the Family Research Group and especially the Marriage &  Family Unit. These groups have actively campaigned to spread anti-gay messages specifically against same-sex marriage ballot measures in states around the country, and have thus contributed disproportionately to the denial of civil rights.

There were similar groups who fought hard to deny civil rights to African-Americans in the late 50s and early 60s. Boycotts were a part of the movement then, and they can be a part of the movement now. Obviously, boycotting a fast-food chicken chain which has long been known to be affiliated with right wing causes isn’t going to achieve social change by itself. But it is starting dialogues all around the country, not between those who support gay marriage and those who adamantly oppose it, but between those who support it and those who haven’t really thought about it. Social change will not come because those on the left beat those on the right, but because those who haven’t been concerned at all become mad at the mean-spirited opposition to allowing all citizens the same rights.

Larry:  Dialogue connotes that those who disagree with each other are talking constructively. I feel a bit like we’re engaging in parallel play in a sandbox, engaged in expressing our various agendas without truly listening to one another. In that context, those who, in your words, haven’t thought about it are going to be solicited by competing viewpoints.

What I’m worried about is that the secondary issues, like whether folks have the right to boycott (they do) and whether governments can deny permits for restaurant owners whose political views they don’t like (they can’t), will drown out the focus on advancing the cause of marriage equality, which is the true goal line issue.

As for Chick-fil-A supporting the Family Research Group, yes, they’re anathema to me on these issues, but this exercise is like playing Political LinkedIn…remember Reverend Wright? That didn’t go all too well for President Obama.

Steve: Interesting points, Larry, and let’s see if I can respond to each of them. I understand the feeling that people aren’t talking constructively. But at the same time, I think it’s not right to assume equivalency on two sides of every issue. I believe the majority of people believe in fairness, and this division between those who oppose same sex marriage and those who support it is very clearly based on one side being inclusive, while the other wants to deny rights to some which belong to others. I put my faith in the average person to come down on the side of justice when all is said and done.

I don’t know whether the secondary issues you mention will drown out the goal line issue or not. Frankly, I believe exposing bigotry is always a good thing. When I saw old friends of mine on Facebook cheering for their chance to eat at Chick-fil-A, I got sick to my stomach. I suspect others did, too.

You’re absolutely right that boycotting is a tool that everybody is allowed to use – and I believe the anti-gay forces went after Oreo cookies on that front just a few months ago. You’re equally right that politicians have no business trying to prevent Chick-fil-A or any other company from setting up shop simply because they support reprehensible causes.

As for the Political Linked-In game, first of all, kudos for the image. It’s impossible to keep track of all the corporations we encounter in our daily lives who have supported something with which we disagree, but that doesn’t mean when we have an emotional response to one, we shouldn’t go with it. Right now, I think I would choke on a Chick fil-A sandwich, and probably need to go out and buy me an Oreo.

Larry: No, you’re quite right that there’s no equivalency between and among those who advocate for equality and those who don’t. And emotional responses can indeed be good; they often are what drive us in furtherance of social change.  But the tactics of affecting change vary depending on the context.

Keep in mind the relative newness of this issue in public debate versus its cultural background. By that I mean, the notion of marriage being exclusively a heterosexual realm occupied roughly the first two and a quarter centuries of our existence in the United States.  In little more than a decade of serious discussion on the matter, we’ve come a pretty long way; not far enough by any stretch, but a long way.

Contrast that with it taking a century and a half to achieve women’s suffrage, and almost a century AFTER the Civil War to eliminate government-sanctioned segregation. I actually am pretty blown away that during a time of conservative ascension in this nation, the public has changed quite dramatically on this issue. That is largely due to the bravery of so many members of the LGBT community coming out and their friends and families thus being able to see and recognize their needs, rights and aspirations.

To ascribe evil so readily to those who haven’t come on board is somewhat unfair. Yes, some of the opponents have used unconscionable tactics, which I resent and deplore. But Chick-fil-A to my knowledge serves everyone with respect and courtesy; doesn’t have any significant issue of legal discrimination (there was one report about them having been sued about ten times for discrimination, which for a company its size is quite frankly on the low side), and contributes to a variety of social service and education charitable causes. People have asked me why I’m “defending” Chick-fil-A, and I say I’m not. I’m defending our need as a culture to find common cause on social issues and build outward, rather than staking turf in our respective corners and hissing and seething toward the middle.

Steve: Larry, you’re a hard man to argue with, what with all the reasonableness and the admirable goals and whatnot. I think social change moves in fits and starts, and sometimes you have to go with the flow when something looks capable of striking a chord with the public. It’s not as though gay rights advocates spent a lot of time thinking marriage should be one of the first goals, but once it became a major battleground, the obviousness of its justice worked in its favor.

You’re right that it hasn’t been an issue as long as women’s suffrage was, or government sanctioned racial segregation. But those movements used tactics which were divisive, too. Would there have been a Woolworth’s Lunch Counter Appreciation Day if Mike Huckabee had been around back in that era?

To be clear, I don’t believe the people opposed to gay marriage are evil, but I do believe they are responding out of fears which have no basis in reality. I can find common cause with those people on the basis of our shared humanity, but when it comes to the question of allowing all people the same rights and privileges, it’s hard to see a way that we can just agree to disagree, or wait until enough time has passed. Maybe a boycott of Chick-fil-A won’t change the minds of those whose hearts have been hardened by selective Biblical interpretations. But historically, those who have been denied their rights have only gained them through loud and angry battles against those who were determined to prevent the long arc of social change from bending in the right direction. It simply won’t happen, because it has almost never happened, by finding common ground.

Larry: And that’s a very fine (though sad) place to finish. Thanks, Steve, for engaging in a very thoughtful and useful dialogue!


Posted in Commentary, The Back Fence

THE BACK FENCE: Art Perry and Emory Kesteloot discuss Obamacare

Art Perry (left) and Emory Kesteloot

When it comes to politics, Art Perry leans to the left; Emory Kesteloot to the right. The two are neighbors and friends in St. Louis’s Central West End. Recently, with our encouragement, they exchanged e-mails about the Affordable Care Act and whether the mandate to purchase health insurance is a penalty or a tax.

Art:   I thought a tax was incurred when you bought something, earned some value, sold something, or died. Otherwise a penalty is incurred. To advance a political agenda, you could call imprisonment a tax.

Emory: Addressing the question of the mandate being a tax, Chief Justice Roberts emphasized that to uphold the law it had to be considered a tax.

Hopefully the White House and others will soon stop asserting that “it really isn’t a tax”, and deal with the big issue of runaway medical care costs, the real ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM!

Art: Emory, return with me to the 1960s for a minute: When Medicare was passed, many of our caring citizens were sure that our nation and economy would suffer a terrible end due to covering so many undeserving people with the expense of good care. Actually, most of our families have benefitted from Medicare since its inception and practical application. The adjectives used to describe the so-called problems with the Affordable Care Act are patently similar but unfounded. When everyone signs on that should,the ACA will help to avoid the biggest tax that looms daily for all of us…..The tax of uninsured individuals that show up at every health care portal in America. At which time we all share in carrying the terrific expense. The Affordable Care Act as passed will allow senior citizens to continue the health services they are accustomed to and more. The ACA will allow the interception of diseases that often go untreated in some young people. When we all take part, the national benefit is palpable.

Emory:  Sounds too good to be true and it probably is. The cost of the new health care act is being offset by a series of new taxes or limitations. Many have the common theme of targeting  $250,000 income individuals and corporations. These are “in addition to” letting the Bush tax rates expire next year. Since this “high income” group is paying most of the income taxes collected already, you can see why they might get a little exercised!!

With Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and disability payments growing at a much faster rate than the economy, we need to get a grip.

The goal is to cover all, and the challenge is to make it work in our system. We currently have a program that provides access without cost – when it is free why not use it! We need our people to make choices about healthcare options, and the current plan does not encourage this. How about instituting a “co-payment” requirement, so that users of the system have some “financial incentive?”

Art:  Since the implementation of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the assistance to others thru disability assistance, here are some attendant observations: The collective wealth of the high income among us has increased four fold. No group has organized to have either one of these programs eliminated from their personal opportunities. The length of lives tables have shown terrific extensions in life expectancy for all U.S. Citizens, especially for men. In my health-care observations over the recent 50 years, I have not met one soul that has turned down one of the programs listed above.




Posted in Commentary, The Back Fence
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