Modesty trumps view

The view from our bedroom has been partially obscured, a victim of modesty.

view from bedroomI tried to assure Karla that people driving by house on that side were not looking into our bedroom. There is so little traffic on our dead end road, and I had yet to see any car stopping to get a better look at the goings on in our bedroom. Besides, I think they’d like what they see, and I’m enough of an exhibitionist and pretty proud of what I have to offer.

But Karla wasn’t convinced, so she went down to the road and had me to go to the bedroom and assume various positions on the bed, though I assured her that we hadn’t used most of them in years. But she could plainly see me in all my contortions. So she was adamant about getting a shade.

Now when I turned to the east to watch the sunrise over Kinney Peak to the right and Bear Mountain to the left, I miss the pine trees at the lower elevation just across the road.

But I guess that’s nothing compared to what our neighbors will miss.

We are a liberal country. But will we pay for it?

We are a liberal country. Socially, regarding the big issues of the day, the cultural right is constantly losing.

Gay marriage is hardly an issue anymore, despite the holdouts who try to resurrect the issue with deafeningly silent Americans. The fight over bathroom usage is a pitiful last stand.

Marijuana is widely accepted, too. In fact, people aren’t asking to be gay, but they are demanding legal weed.

Most folks seem blasé about interracial couples. They accept abortion as a right. And even Catholics support contraception.

And the conservatives’ current bete noir, immigration? By a margin of 60-32, Americans think “immigration helps the United States more than it hurts it.”

These conservative rallying cries had—and still have in some cases—liberals quaking just a few years ago.

But we’re also a liberal country when it comes to our views about government’s role in our lives. We want an involved government (see question 10). Fifty seven percent of Americans say “Government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people.” That’s a higher percentage than at any time since 1995 when the pollster began asking that question. We want government to address our concerns. Most recently we’ve seen that with healthcare. Obamacare may have been unpopular when many folks saw it as a socialist invention by an uppity black president. But once they signed up and the GOP tried to take it away, its popularity soared.

As surveys have shown, we want government involved and we want it to spend money making our lives better.

So why, then, does the GOP dominate our elected offices? It controls all of the federal government and by far most state houses and legislatures. And more important, how can we get people to vote their economic, social and cultural interests?

First, we need to address the fact that we like to think of ourselves as “conservative.” But what does that mean. The political observer Ruy Teixeira calls it “symbolic conservativism, honoring tradition, distrusting novelty, embracing the conservative label.” Somehow, conservative means you’re “more American.” This seemed to percolate during the 60’s when young folks were anti-establishment, didn’t trust anyone over 30 and questioned authority. As the pace of change quickens, many, especially those insulated from cultural changes in their cloistered rural communities, fear that change may mean an end to their lifestyle.

Fear of change and of the “other” can blind voters to their economic self-interests, especially if the “others” are convenient excuses for their own failings. No one likes to think they can’t measure up, so blame immigrants or blacks for wasting tax dollars that could be spent creating jobs for you.

Hypocrisy doesn’t bother a lot of people anymore. You can say get government out of our lives but embrace politicians injecting your mores and morals into others’ lives. Think abortion. And you can blame blacks for being wards of the state while you cash your check for a bogus disability. You earned it because government cost you your job; “they” are lazy.

Many voters find the process of deciding who best to elect too cumbersome. It’s easier to be a one issue voter. That’s not to say that people shouldn’t prioritize the issues. But if gun rights is your thing, voting for someone who will take away your health care, move your job overseas and support corporate greed over worker pay makes sense, or at least is rational. And if you’re a bigot, that’s the only issue you care about.

But what may be the biggest obstacle to enticing people to vote for the liberal agenda they want is taxes. They want infrastructure spending, but don’t want to raise taxes, even on the rich, because they think the government will eventually come after their pay check. Everyone wants more spending on schools, healthcare, opioid addiction, police, fire, and environmental protection but doesn’t want their taxes raised. Ask them how we should pay for it and 99% of the time, they say, “There’s enough waste in the budget to pay for all these things.” Or they say cut programs they don’t benefit from to pay for their priorities.

Here’s where a coordinated campaign of connecting traditional American values to progressive policies can change votes. You can’t change bigots; you can’t overcome fear of change. And one issue voters have a right to their myopia. We all have core principles we will not abandon. But people can be educated and placated about taxes.

First, we need to be clear about the impact of taxes on individuals. Here’s where the media could help. Too often, costs of new programs are described in the aggregate, not the individual cost. A $700-billion dollar program can’t avoid sticking its hand in your pocket. But if a new withholding tax for single payer healthcare would cost a family making $70,000 annually $2,000 a year in taxes but save them $10,000 in insurance premiums, I think a lot of folks would say sign me up. If you’re clear that people making less than $50,000 would pay no new taxes for an infrastructure program but those making more than $200,000 would pay more, you have a fighting chance of garnering enough votes to get elected on that platform, again with a clear vision of what the achievable metrics would be.

Remember that FDR explained the arcane issue of new bank regulations to voters listening to his fireside chats and found they responded by returning their money to the banks and saving the economy. Communication was far simpler back then, of course, but we have more ways of reaching people these days, which translates to more opportunities to sell your vision.

But a foundation must be built before we can get people to vote for the liberal programs they say they want. That is the vision upon which programs are built. Connect the dots from the Founding Fathers’ principles, our historical greatness in fostering equality, our sense of fairness and our history of shared responsibility to the programs you want to implement. We need to remind people that the government is not the enemy. Government is us.

Liberals need to be not only the grown-ups, but the optimists. And we need to not make the perfect the enemy of the good. That some Bernie Sanders supporters could not vote for Hillary Clinton and instead wasted their vote on a third-party candidate was self-destructive, not only to the goal of electing liberals but to the very idea of informed discourse and compromise that moves the ball forward.

We have always progressed to liberal ideas—Social Security, Medicare, welfare for the poor, Obamacare. And few want to turn back. But voters need to see liberalism as the way we preserve and promote conservative ideals.

Wet summer

Colorado is supposed to be a respite from the Tampa Bay summers. This morning I awoke at 7:00 to 46 degrees and sunny skies. Because the house has radiant heat, which is slow to warm, it doesn’t make sense to turn on the furnace because it will be warm in a couple of hours. So I wrap my hands around a cup of coffee, read the latest news online, and wait for the temps to hit at least 60 before I ride.

I waited until about 9:30 and put on arm warmers and an under layer. It warmed up nicely during the two-hour ride. Shortly after returning, thunder, and for the rest of the afternoon it rained, sometimes hard; sometimes you could feel it but hardly see it. At 3:30 it was 58 degrees and wet.

We’ve had a good bit of rain since we arrived in early July. We needed it. In the past few weeks the signs around town went from high risk of fires—and even a fire ban—to “low risk.”

The meadow is still green when last year it was brown by now.

Most days I can get in a ride if I want as the rain usually doesn’t start until afternoon, though yesterday it rained all day. Still, it’s often wet and too cool to sit out on the deck.

I’m not complaining, but 90 degrees and humid is looking pretty good right now.

Pine Lake, Minnesota, 2017

We spouses at family reunions, especially when we‘ve only met the people once some 26 years ago, are often looking around the room for something to distract us from conversations that have no context for us.

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Main St., Palisade, MN

We were in Aitkin, Minnesota, this weekend, commemorating the life of Irja Guinella Howe, nee Trast. She and my wife Karla’s mother Taimi were sisters. Irja outlived all her siblings, as many as a dozen when you count the ones who couldn’t survive the rough childhood on the dairy farm in nearby Palisade, a village then and now of just over 100 people. It was founded by migrating Finns who discovered that the flat terrain with rich soil and mosquitoes as large as starlings was much like their homeland. The entire town was a cooperative, a brand of socialism that they brought with them.

We gathered at Pine Lake, just south of Aitken, where the Howe family with all their cousins and the Leavelle/Trast clan would gather most summers. Taimi, with Karla, her sister Tanya and brother Jimmy, would drive from Dallas to Palisade, visit the grandparents and then settle into the Pine Lake cabin to find entertainment in the pre-digital era.

I listened to the stories, many like those we’ve all experienced with our cousins. When the cousins were young and went to the lake, there was simply too much undeveloped brain power and mischievousness for even a bevy of adults to manage. If no one drowns, all can be forgiven and laughed about decades later.

Karla had her own tales, like walking from the grandparents’ house, which was on the Mississippi River where it’s only about 30 yards wide and knee deep, to town to spend the 50 cents that was burning a hole in her pocket. Sometimes on the way back, the mailman would pull alongside and ask her if she wanted a ride home. He knew where everyone lived in town, even the visiting relatives. Today that act would get him arrested. Then, Karla accepted without hesitation.

Then there was the time Karla developed sharp stomach pains. The local doctor said it might be her appendix. Taimi, a nurse, wasn’t convinced, but said if she was to have them removed, it would be by a doctor at home. So off they went. Taimi drove straight through, a nearly 1,100-mile trip, before the interstate system and without air conditioning. As they crossed the Red River, Taimi commented, “We’ll, we’re in Texas. Almost home.” Karla’s pains ceased. Turned out, being a Daddy’s girl, she was just homesick.

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Karla by the Mississippi River on her grandparents’ farm in Palisade, MN

The old farmhouse and barn were razed long ago. The sauna, a staple of Finnish families, had collapsed. We examined it and took a brick that formed the floor to bring back. The Mississippi looked exactly as it did 60 years ago, Karla said.

As the others traded stories I tried to remember everyone’s name. They came from all over. Irja’s four children settled in Detroit, rural Wisconsin, the west coast of Australia and Ulm, Germany. The German boys live in Germany, Switzerland and Bangkok. And they had children who spoke several languages. You needed a scorecard and Google Translate.

At first on Friday, it was overwhelming. I wondered if they really wanted me there. I was another mouth to feed and a fish out of water they tried valiantly to include and save from boredom. The second generation at least I knew by name and vaguely remembered meeting them all those years ago. They third generation were all kids back then. And they now had children of their own, some of whom didn’t speak English—or more likely pretended not to so they wouldn’t need to talk to silly adults who tried to engage them.

As I listened to Irja’s three boys, Gary, Mike and Dan, and daughter Jenny talk, they had obviously processed their grief about their mom. She had died a year ago, and having lived a century, most of it in good health and indomitable spirit, there was little regret. She had expressed a readiness to join her beloved Clark who had died nearly 30 years ago.

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Pine Lake, south of Aitken, MN

What they were having a tougher time processing was knowing that they would never again see the farmstead in Palisade, as the cousin who had inherited it was now 75 and ready to settle in San Antonio. They would likely never return to Pine Lake. They would never gather along its shores, watch the summer sunset and listen to the loons standing guard.

Saturday began with the memorial service. A couple of family members sang songs, one of which was “Everything Must Change,” a 1974 tune first recorded by Quincy Jones. It seemed fitting. The pastor at the small white clapboard chapel did his best to keep it upbeat with a few well-worn but appreciated jokes. One of the German boys, who had served as both video documentarian of the weekend and the chief cook and bottle washer, presented a video of his grandmother. It was a loving tribute to a woman who loved life and laughed often. The last section featured her speaking, singing and laughing on camera and finally as the group left whatever event he was recording, she looked at the camera, waved, and said, “Auf wiedersehen.”

A few us of went to the nearby cemetery where Clark lay. They had dug a small hole for Irja’s urn. Prayers were said. She was laid to rest and covered with dirt. I’m not religious, but rituals serve their purpose. They validate our journey from dust to dust and comfort those who carbon atoms are still fighting to survive.

We went back to the cabin, and poured whiskey, beer and wine. The sun had a few hours left, but it wouldn’t be enough. This would almost certainly be their last sunset at the lake, or in Minnesota, period.

But they had a plan. They would meet to celebrate milestone birthdays of two of the third generation, number 40 for one and for the oldest of that generation, a 50th. They wouldn’t have Pine Lake. They wouldn’t see the land where their mother’s parents saw Finland. But they would meet where maybe they could plant a flag that would hold a similar special meaning, Rottnest Island off Perth, Australia, where Gary settled and his three daughters live nearby. If that didn’t work, maybe the next year it would be Ulm.

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Pine Lake, south of Aitken, MN

I found myself warmed by this family. I loved seeing how important this place was to them, but also how their time together validated the ties that bind. Karla is part of that family, I’m not, yet I gained much. Before we left, I thanked them and told them how much I enjoyed seeing them bond again.

Not everything must change. Some things will endure.

Altitude training may not be all it’s cracked up to be

My friends in St. Pete expect me to return in top shape after a couple of months at altitude. But it didn’t really happen last year, my first extended adventure riding at seven, eight, nine thousand feet and above. In fact, when I first returned I was exhausted after a relatively easy ride. The Florida air felt like a brick wall, or at least a gel I had to plow through. It took about a week to get back normal sea level riding.

So I decided to research the issue as I returned to the hills this month. When I started with a few Google search terms, most of what I found was what you would expect. At altitude your heart beats faster. (I also learned that blood pressure increases, though it returns to normal after a few weeks.)

Yet, I’ve noticed when I ride at altitude my heart rate rarely reaches beyond 145 beats per minute (bpm) for sustained efforts. (My max heart rate is about 175 bpm.) One hundred fifty beats per minute feels like I would not explode so much as fall over as my legs crumbled and I gasp for air. Even at a heart rate of 125 bpm, my breathing is fast.

Turns out that may be normal. At extremely high altitudes, researchers found that maximal heart rate decreases as much as 30 bpm. While your resting heart rate is faster, and climbing stairs can put you out of breath, you can’t get the ticker pumping as fast during hard exercise.

That seems logical because at altitude, the thin air makes it more difficult to get the oxygen you need to work hard. The heart simply doesn’t have much to work with.

But heart rate is less important since I bought a power meter. I brought it with me to the mountains. But again, at certain power levels I felt I was working harder than I do at sea level in St. Pete.  Additional research led me to several articles that suggested that power levels need to be adjusted downward to coincide with the grater exertion you experience in thin air.

The most widely cited study suggested a formula: Percentage of power held at altitude = -1.12(altitude in km)^2 – 1.90(altitude in km) + 99.9. For example, at an altitude of 2.286 km (a little lower than where I live), power zones need to be about 89.7% of what they are at sea level. My functional threshold power (FTP) would drop from 210 watts to 188 watts, and the zones based on the FTP by the same percentage.

But training at lower power levels has consequences, according to exercise physiologists Ben Griffin and Michael Chiovitti.

The issue here is that the cyclist may in fact de-train due to never actually training at the physiological level of their [anaerobic threshold]. So when this cyclist returns to sea-level after altitude exposure and tries to ride the AT @ 300W it is going to feel extraordinarily hard as they have never actually pushed 300W since prior to going to altitude.

Maybe this is why I was exhausted the first week back in St. Pete last year.

I also found that “altitude training” is not the simply a weeks-long vacation in the mountains riding your bike. There are three basic varieties of altitude training:

  1. Train high, live high, which is what I do and what I think most pro teams do.
  2. Train high, live low, which literally means ride your bike at altitudes and then come down from on high to spend the rest of your day.
  3. Train low, live high, the exact opposite of #2 and a seemingly the preferred method these days.

The idea behind train high and live low is that training at altitude increases red blood cells, or the amount of hemoglobin, but you recover better at lower levels. Train low, live high advocates say simply living at altitude increases your red blood cells but you must train at higher power outputs. More on the three methods here.

Few of us can live high and train low or vice versa. Even those of us who can spend time at altitude must make a commitment as it takes at least three to four weeks to get any benefit from altitude training. Pro racer Michael Rogers says it takes at least a week to acclimate. Virtually his entire first week was easy (for him) riding.

But given that living and riding at 7,000 feet and above as I do here for a few months may actually hurt me when I return to sea level, what training methods can mitigate the loss of power (in spite of increase red blood cells)? Acclaimed trainer Joe Friel has a couple of strategies. The first is shorter intervals with longer recovery periods.

Something on the order of work intervals of two minutes or less followed by two minutes or more of recovery intervals will allow you keep power and pace high. The intensity of these two-minute-or-shorter work intervals needs to be above anaerobic/lactate/functional threshold. Ten to thirty minutes of total high intensity time within a workout, depending on the intensity, your fitness and your purpose, is probably about all you need two to three times a week.

Secondly, Friel says, is to give yourself a break and return to lower levels to recover your sea legs.

At altitude there is a loss of muscular fitness since the workouts can’t be as intense as at sea level. Coming back down for a few days (perhaps as much as two weeks) allows this muscular fitness to be re-established by higher-intensity training.

I can’t do that, so I’ll need to pay t20170715_120523he price when I get back to my flat land habitat. So, St. Pete friends, don’t expect much. Riding the hills may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. But it sure is pretty!

The day the Garmin died

This just goes to show you. If you observe the golden rule, pay it all forward, and stop beating your wife, good things will happen.

My Garmin died the other day. For those of you unfamiliar with a it, a Garmin cyclocomputer records everything about your bike ride: speed, distance, time, heart rate, power wattage, cadence and all manner of averages and maximums. Without it, you can’t record your ride on Strava, the ride app. (Well, you can, but the phone app provides limited data.) And if it doesn’t appear on Strava, as they say, it didn’t happen.

Saturday morning the screen froze. The problem seemed to be the “enter” button wasn’t working. Which meant I couldn’t even factory reset it. I had to ride without it. Which meant, I couldn’t know whether I was having a good time. Very disconcerting.

Being the weekend, I couldn’t even call Garmin support after the ride. They’re closed. What are those guys thinking? You would think, cyclists being a generally neurotic bunch, they’d have a 24-hour hotline to prevent us from hurting ourselves in these situations.

I stared at the frozen screen. It couldn’t stay that way, I thought. It would certainly drain the battery. By Sunday morning, it did. But the “enter” button did not have that familiar soft click to it. I was able to power it up, though that took hours, leaving me in a distressed state of fear, uncertainty and doubt while it rejuvenated itself. Yet, even after it was fully charged, the “enter” button still didn’t work. So I really couldn’t do much. It was still an expensive paperweight, a light one at that.

On Sunday’s ride, still no data. How much power was I generating? What was my cadence? Was my heart still beating? Same thing this morning. I would occasionally ask they guy riding next to me, “How fast we going?” He was cruel, “Slow,” he said.

Coming back to the house and my paperweight, I tried one more time. I powered it up. I was contemplating opening the back. My technical abilities are minimal. Which is to say, none. I wasn’t sure what I’d do if I got the back off. So I tried the enter button one more time.

It worked! The click is back! I could change screens. I could see averages, maximums, wattage, heart beats. I was alive! I took it for a test ride, and it worked flawlessly.

Maybe this is temporary. Maybe it’s just playing with me. But I didn’t do a thing but hope and pray. And my Garmin is back.

Maybe being such a kind and wonderful guy pays dividends. Even my friends assure me that’s not the case. Maybe it was just dumb luck.

Chicken Marsala

Just so you know, I make the best Chicken Marsala. My brother Paul thinks so. And I’m now convinced. I, of course, use mushrooms. And I don’t like mushrooms, though I’m coming around. Just as long as they’re on Chicken (or Veal) Marsala. That’s all you need to know.

Be nice to Kristen. It’s all she asks.

I’ve got to unsubscribe from the Tampa Bay Times. It’s a good paper, but the problem is Karla reads it cover to cover. It’s fine that she keeps up on the news. That’s one of the reason I fell in love with her. As my father once said, somewhat amazed but not surprisingly given his chauvinism, “She knows things.”

But she reads everything, including all the announcements of upcoming events. And because she’s now retired and looking for something to do, she wants to go to all of them.

So Pride Week, we went. Actually, I was able to beg off a party and then the parade, but she wanted to go to the festival on Sunday. She said it was billed as an art show. It was a festival, all right, with plenty of edibles, though nothing you would call a cuisine. The art, alas, was trinkets and trash. But we got out on our bikes and strode through the sauna that was a Florida summer afternoon.

The one event I dreaded, however, was the Friday night screening of “Lady Valor, the Kristen Beck Story.” Beck is an ex-Navy Seal transgender. I was not looking forward to the movie, much less the reception with Beck beforehand. I successfully dawdled before we left, retrieving my glasses and then my wallet and then something that would get me through the evening. Once we got there, I found a reason to go back out to the car, so that by the time I set foot in FreeFall Theatre, the movie was about to begin.

I found sympathy with Beck’s mother who told her, “Why can’t you be sort of normal, like just being gay?” I know I’m not alone in this. There are plenty of guys who find transgenders just a little far a reach. Our youngest daughter is gay, so I’ve gotten passed that a long time ago. And my liberal politics help a lot. Intellectually, at least, I’m cool with transgenders.

But not really. It’s like dining formally and not knowing which fork to use. I’m just not comfortable. There’s potential for a hell of a lot of faux pas’s. And Beck’s appearance was not what I expected. She didn’t look feminine. Rather, she looked and sounded like a guy in drag—and not very convincing at it.

The movie was pretty good at first, though like many documentaries, a little too long. (Hell, most movies are too long for me!) Yet, I couldn’t help feeling sympathy for her. She apparently (because the documentary was a bit unclear of some key points) came out while working at the Pentagon. Safe to say, that’s a tough audience for a debut. She recognizes that she made some mistakes by not helping people come to grips with her journey. She suffered mightily as she not so much peeled off the layers from Chris to Kristen but ripped the scab off.

With two kids from her previous marriage cut off from her, her mother not accepting her, and the continuous hate mail, often from ex-Seals or military gung-ho types, she was alone and lonely.

But there were a few who stuck by her. Ex-Seals. Beck worked with a couple of them in various consulting assignments. She can still rip the bullseye out of a target. She is a woman. She is tough. And the ex-Seals still were there for her. Certainly not all. But how many good friends do you need?

She spoke to the audience after the movie. She is not particularly eloquent or concise, but she drove home a point: She would like everyone to accept her and understand what she’s going through, but she’s OK with folks just being nice to her.

As I listened to her speak, I began to think, hell, I can be nice to her. That in fact is pretty easy. She is a bit spiritual and new age, what we called in my generation a hippie: Peace and Love!

Yes, I could be nice to her. There was nothing not to like about her. If the Seals could do it, I could. After all, it’s about the only thing the Seals do that I can, too.

We left before we had a chance to talk to her one on one afterwards. I was OK with that.

At the festival on Sunday, I met another transgender, someone Karla had hung out with at the parade. We talked briefly. I tried not to stare at her head, which was half shaved and with hair on the other side down to her shoulder. I barely said more than, “Nice to meet you.” But I made it through without thinking, I don’t understand this. I was nice to her.

That is a step forward for me, and enough for now, thanks to Kristen.

The false dichotomy between progressive & moderate Democrats

Much of the argument following Jon Ossoff’s loss in the Georgia 6th district Congressional race suggests that Democrats need to be more progressive to win. Being a Bernie wannabe seems to be the prescription for firing up the bases to win such elections in an era when the GOP’s leader is an orange-hair baboon.

Others think it’s enough to be simply anti-baboon but that we need to ramp up get out the vote efforts, especially in off year elections when Dems don’t show up.

Others think we need to remove Nancy Pelosi who regularly appears in GOP ads against whatever Democrat is running.

Certainly, we need candidates with passion, but not the foaming at the mouth type we got from Bernie. We need to get progressives and the disenfranchised out to vote, but that’s not a matter of more phone calls. And getting rid of Pelosi, alas, is an idea whose time has come. She simply is too great a symbol for Democrats to overcome. But more important, her strategies are not working. She’s a lightning rod, but also an ineffective strategist.

But missing most is a reason to vote for Democrats.

Here’s where I think we are as a country, politically:

  • Everyone hates the others side, i.e., hyper-partisanship
  • The GOP holds one clear advantage: They appeal to people’s greed. “Cut taxes” has been a winning argument for 35 years.
  • Yet, progressive ideas are actually shared by a majority of Americans. People want government to spend more money on a host of broad budget areas.
  • The GOP holds significant structure advantages in gerrymandering districts to ensure that though they get fewer votes than Democrats for Congress, they elect more members.
  • Everyone seems to agree that government doesn’t work anymore. That meme seems to be a given, and there is no solution. Government is riddled with waste, fraud and abuse and nothing can change it.

Matthew Yglesias comes closest to a sound prescription for Democrats: Stand for something. This makes sense for one compelling reason: Americans want vision. They want to know you stand for something, even if it is anti-immigrants, poor-people bashing racism. Tell us what you think. Be bold. This is where the GOP has always held an advantage. You know what guides their thinking. They’re not afraid of their beliefs. They make no excuses for them.

Who knows what Democrats envision for Americans, other than whatever you’re identity, we’re with you? Bernie tried to lay down some markers with free college, healthcare for all and bashing “millionaires and billionaires.” But it wasn’t grounded in any philosophy, no foundation of what he wanted for America, other than free stuff. People think Democrats want to please everyone and thus have no core principles other than to spend more money.

So what to do? Not that anyone has asked me or that I have a pedigree in political campaigns. I’ve been in a few, though, and spent a career trying to impact narratives. So why not take a crack at it.

Leading Democrats in the House and Senate need to sit down and hammer out a vision of only a page or two and then figure how to reduce it to a 30-second elevator speech. I’d suggest they bring in not only politicians and political activists but also experts in communications and cognitive behavior—people who understand how people think. If I were among them, here’s what I’d suggest.

First, adhere to the Constitution’s mandate to “promote the General Welfare.” Talk about how we see Americans as “being in this together.” Americans love our Founding Fathers. Ground our principles in theirs—why they got us rolling as a nation.

Second, admit that government isn’t perfect, but talk about making government more efficient to better “protect” (not regulate) Americans. (Already we’re seeing that framing among progressives.) Be an agent of change. Part of the problem is that law making is now done hand in hand with lobbyists with so much detail in our laws that the bureaucrats tasked with implementing them have so many rules they must adhere to the process becomes tedious and inefficient.

Cite how politicians have made government less effective in order to prove their view that it doesn’t work. For example, if you cut the IRS staff to the bare bones, you can’t then complain that it doesn’t do its job of catching tax scofflaws.

Talk about making the economy work for people without a college education and making a college education affordable for more people. Talk about vocational education, teaching the trades where there are a lack of skilled workers. Embrace “free enterprise,” but point out that we don’t have free enterprise anymore. We have corporations that have successfully written the laws that give them all the advantages that protect their profits and hurt consumers and workers. It’s no longer a level playing field. Today, corporations cop out by saying they must provide “shareholder value.” That’s not the only goal they should have, just as a father’s role is not simply to bring home the bacon. They have a responsibility to their workers, the communities they operate in, and the taxpayers who provide the infrastructure they use to move their goods and services. As a simple example, if a businessman takes a prospect to lunch, he gets to claim part of the expense as a tax deduction. Why should taxpayers subsidize his marketing efforts? If it’s a good idea to have lunch, let the shareholders pay for it.

Fourth, be honest in saying that many jobs are not coming back unless Americans are willing to pay far higher prices for popular necessary goods such as clothing, autos, technology. We need to work together on making the future better for everyone. There will be upheavals as there were during industrialization at the end of the 19th century. People moved from the farm to the cities. They learned new skills. It was hard. It was a change of life style, but in the end it brought financial rewards. People who’ve lost their jobs to globalization need to make a sacrifice to adapt.

And yes, talk about taxes. Say exactly who will pay more in taxes, about how much and what benefits they will get for their higher taxes. As an example, if I said you could reduce your health care costs by $2000 if we raised your taxes by $1,000 is that a deal you’d consider? The conversation doesn’t start with taxes; it’s starts with envisioning what we want as a society and then figuring out a way to pay for it. That’s the way families work. Parents want a better future for their children and try to figure out how to get it by not only watching their spending but  looking for ways to increase their incomes and invest smartly in their children’s future.

When we talk about taxes we need to put it in terms of what will people pay, not the aggregate costs. Years ago, I tried to convince Virginia Democrats who wanted to raise the gas tax that instead of talking about the dollars they needed to raise, talk about how much the tax would increase the average car owner. It was about $126 a year. That’s a number people can understand. $1.5 billion is not.

George Lakoff has long had the right approach. Progressives spend too much time appealing to people’s reason. People don’t vote for reasoned arguments. They vote their values, which is why, for example, a Congressional district in Kentucky where a majority of the people receive food stamps, Medicaid and other benefits of the social safety net continually vote for a Congressman who wants to cut those programs.

Lakoff believes the fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans is that the latter are paternalistic and the former maternalistic. Republicans believe in a strong father who lays down the law, expects obedience and believes in pulling yourself up the bootstraps. Democrats are more nurturing, want to see all boats lifted and empathize with those struggling.

The message of inclusion, both socially and economically, needs to reach not only rural whites, but the top 20 percent of income earners (those making more than $120,000 annually), according to the author of “Dream Hoarders.” The 20 percenters think they’ve got where they are solely through hard work without a bit of privilege, mostly the white kind. Moreover, they don’t think of themselves as rich because they compare themselves to others living in their sequestered neighborhoods. Many really have no idea how the other 80 percent live, where something as simple as a set of new tires can mean they can’t pay their rent.

What are Democratic values? Can we articulate them without worrying about offending someone? Can we say that, yes, many people have succeeded due to hard work (but with good luck, too), but not everyone can find that good luck that allows them to work hard to succeed? Can we return to those days when we saw all ourselves as being Americans who were “in this together?”

Happy? Birthday

My mother would have turned 96 today, if she were alive. But if she were alive, she would not be happy about it. She was rarely happy about anything.

I am always a little envious when people pay tribute to their mother’s on Facebook. The publicStella age 10 maybe accolades my mother would have loved. Public perception was big with her. She always was bragging on us kids.

I’m envious of my “friends” affection for their moms. Be sure, she was not a bad mom. In fact, in many ways she was the perfect mom of the 50’s and 60’s. She was always there when we scrapped a knee. Dinner was on the table like clockwork. She saw to it that we went to school and insisted we do well. She provided the basics impeccably.

But that warmth, that kind word or little affection that could make all right with the world was rarely there. I’ve often wondered why.

Why have I never seen a picture of my mom as a child where she was smiling? Admittedly, the sample size is small. Conversely, friends will see a picture of my mother in her later years and comment on the bright, broad smile. But that smile masked a certain sadness. My image is more of the long face with doleful eyes.

Mom didn’t talk about her childhood much. Never did I hear anything that would suggest dark secret of abuse. I knew both of her parents. While my grandfather was a quiet but seemingly gentle man. My grandmother, who lived until I was in my 40’s, was not phlegmatic but didn’t seem to allow much to bother her and was pleasant to talk to. She certainly did not seem the worrier my mother was.

But worried my mom did. So I come to it honestly.

But people change.

My wife also has few pictures of her as a child sporting a broad smile. As a teenager, she was almost brooding. She admits to being quiet, introspective, introverted and perhaps a little lacking in confidence. Yet, when I met Karla in her late 20’s, she was hardly Pollyannish, but certainly seemed to enjoy life. And over time she often displays a playful, silly side and has for many years, to the point where I can’t fathom her as brooding—ever. And she is the eternal optimist.

I was never the eternal optimist, and perhaps never will be. But I have changed, due directly to Karla’s influence. How can you brood when someone breaks out into a jiggly dance for absolutely no reason at all, if not just to make me smile. And of course, her optimism has been well placed. For all my concern as the kids were growing up, today they seem happy, no more neurotic than me and definitely not in jail.

Meanwhile, we’re “living the dream” in St. Pete and can transport it to Colorado when it’s too hot to dream in Florida. We ride bikes to very nice restaurants, walk along the water, or picnic by it as we did on Memorial Day without a long drive and a packed station wagon.

I want for nothing and worry for not much more. There’s little reason not to smile.

Sometimes it takes a while, but maybe the best lessons you get from parents are those you finally emphatically and willfully unlearn.

So it’s your birthday, Mom. Be happy.