21st Century

Tiananmen Square and the U.S.

Tank Man 2

Tank Man waiting to confront tanks – look carefully. Photo Terril Yue Jones

Reading time – 62 seconds  .  .  . 

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars published a stunning article by Terril Yue Jones, Associated Press correspondent in China in 1989, entitled Tiananmen Square at 25 that has a shocking message for us as we continue down our slippery slope from one person, one vote.

By now you’ve heard the reports of the complete vanishing of information from the Chinese people of the protests for reform by hundreds of thousands of Chinese in their April through June, 1989 demonstrations. Those born since that time have no knowledge that anything happened then. The Communist leaders want it that way so that they stay in power. (Funny how people in power will do amazing things to stay in power.)

In addition to censoring all information about the events in Tiananmen Square, the government made certain it would retain control by buying off the people with the opportunity for upward mobility – things like an apartment or a car – and the ever-present threat of harm.

Jones reported a conversation he had just a few years ago with a worker from Hunan province about the 1989 events in Tiananmen, who told him, “If I don’t steal, swindle or kill, no one will bother me.” Jones commented,

“It’s that kind of disinterested focus on self that Chinese authorities have very effectively fostered in the years since the uprising at Tiananmen Square. Yes, the economic and social improvements for which workers, teachers and other citizens agitated in 1989 — from increased salaries and home ownership to social and economic rights — have largely been accomplished, giving rise to a massive middle class. But it’s those masses in the middle class and below who see the yawning wealth gap between themselves and China’s legions of millionaires.”

How eerily similar that sounds to America today.

Americans are afraid of losing whatever they have been able to retain and so keep their heads down to avoid harm. As a result we have that same “yawning wealth gap” between we the people and the Big Money controllers of our country.

One can’t help but wonder how bad will things have to become for people – millions of Americans – to stand up and, like Howard Beale in the movie Network, say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Perhaps it will require an American Tank Man.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

You’ll Koch On This – Chapter 2

Reading time – 41 seconds

The city of Nashville, TN is expecting major growth over the next 20 years, including the expansion of its population by about a million people. To help deal with current congestion and to get ahead of the coming glut of cars on Nashville area roads, the city is proposing a 7.1 mile bus line with a dedicated highway lane in order to reduce commute times and the frustration of everyone. What could be bad about that?

Apparently, the Koch brothers can find something bad about it. They are major supporters of Americans for Prosperity (hmmm, for which Americans’ prosperity might that be?) and that organization is working to ban the proposed bus line. They have named any number of brainlessly dumb reasons for that, but they have put their money muscle into action. That’s probably a good idea for them, because more buses means fewer cars and that might ding the profits of Koch Industries – especially if the disease of public transportation spreads to other cities and fossil fuel consumption is curtailed.

That is a bit like opposition to solar power. Sometimes the solar panels on the roofs of houses produce more electricity than is consumed. That results in the electric meter running backward, a reasonable financial credit for the homeowners. The Kochs are fighting that, too. They don’t like incentives for clean renewable energy. It’s bad for their fossil fuel business.

In these cases and in the case presented in You’ll Koch On This – Chapter 1, the Kochs are acting in their short term self-interest and in each case the interests of the rest of the American people are at risk. Screwing public workers and screwing the air we breathe is just fine with them.

Getting past that myopic vision requires thinking that goes beyond the life expectancy of the Koch brothers and any of the billionaires who fight progress to keep their claws dug into their very profitable status quo.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with self-interest. Our job, though, is to understand the unbridled greed that is harming us in a thousand ways, to wake up and take action to stop the economic bullying being done by the few at the expense of your lungs, your wallet and the planet you live on.

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

You’ll Koch on This – Chapter 1

Reading time – 29 seconds  .  .  .

The Koch brothers and other big bucks boys sponsored a pension reform seminar and invited lots of judges to attend. It was all about how we will “reform” our pension system for public workers, given the enormous “unfunded liability” held by most states. What that means is that we agreed to provide pensions for these people, often in lieu of pay raises, but we didn’t put away money into a pension pot from which we could draw later. Well, it’s “later” right now and many states are in trouble.

There is lots of weaselly pension fixing language being tossed about, like the suggestion of Amy Moynahan, University of Minnesota law professor. that, “.  .  .  changes to future pension accruals should be legally permissible absent clear and unambiguous evidence that the legislature intended to create a contract.” That is to say, states can unilaterally ditch their obligations via courtroom sleight of hand to make it look like there was no contract with public workers.

No contract? Really? Those state legislatures were just spit balling what they might do later on for workers and now don’t they have to keep their word?

Now, why would the Koch brothers care about the fate of public pensions and the future of public workers so much that they would be a major sponsor of a conference where they invite judges before whom such cases may be brought? I don’t suppose that there might be tax consequences to such cases that might affect the Kochs. Naw, couldn’t be that. Surely it couldn’t be about large corporations in the private sector and their unfunded pension programs that these corporations still don’t want to fund. For sure it isn’t about any desire to build relationships with judges who will hear their inevitable lawsuits.  Right?

No, not right.

More on this kind of craziness in Chapter 2. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, watch this video. Opposition to the Koch’s and the rest of the Big Bucks Boys who are despoiling our Constitution and stealing our democracy is growing. All it takes is you and me and a few million of our friends. Then they can’t stop us.

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

 

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Where Is That Leader?

Reading time – 1 minute, 13 seconds  .  .  . 

My friend Dr. Mardy Grothe writes a weekly blog focused on words, literature and philosophy. He is a beacon of mental light in contemporary America’s dark ocean of reptilian brain distaste of learning, the arts, science and ordinary sense.

Last week his post included several quotes that speak to our present condition.  For example,

“It is the certainty that they possess the truth that makes men cruel.” Anatole France

That, indeed, is a key driver of our national and international challenges, as various factions declare their absolute hold on the truth and righteousness. Naturally, that leaves many of us outside the in crowd and we are judged as bad, wrong, godless, evil, unpatriotic and various other negative adjectives.  That effectively produces lots of dead bodies, both metaphorically and literally.

Here’s another Anatole France quote:

“In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.”

We live in an America where some are protected from infancy from having to sleep under bridges or beg in the streets. Here, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness favor those who are born with it and the opportunities for the rest of the people are being incrementally eliminated both legislatively and by a regressive Supreme Court.

Human nature is impatient with aimlessness and we soon find actions that feed our passion. And we either have the adventure of a vision that inspires us or we resort to eating one another like too many rats in a small space. And right now there seem to be a lot of hungry rats gnawing on our national vitality.

On May 25, 1961 President John Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress and challenged America, saying,

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

His vision inspired a nation. He showed us the contrast between what had been and what could be and we put our shoulders to that task. We shared in the satisfaction of doing something meaningful and in the pride in accomplishment. And in that national effort we changed America and forged new global technologies that serve all mankind yet today.

We need a daring vision for our time and that vision will inspire us for a generation. The vision that is worthy of us will begin to release our certainties over our absolute beliefs, we will start to level our economic playing field and unleash the power and creativity that now lies dormant. And it will begin to still the voices of the complainers, the liars and the thieves of our spirit.

Now, where is that leader?

You can subscribe to Dr. Mardy Grothe’s Sunday blog by sending a blank email to [email protected]

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The Almost Perfect Dumb-pocalypse

Reading time – 54 seconds  .  .  .

For decades we have had a most efficient, self-reinforcing cycle in our politics of incrementally allowing more and more money into our political infrastructure. As we did that, the Big Money Interests gained incrementally more influence over our laws, our bureaucracy and our courts to drive ever-larger piles of cash into the hands of those same Big Money Interests. That has made it easier for them to throw even more cash into the political infrastructure, which has driven more legislation and correspondingly more cash to the Big Money Interests.

That cycle is the destruction of our democracy (origin: Greek “demos” – the people; “kratia” – power, rule), because it takes power away from the people. The Big  Money Interests simply focus on themselves and all that cash and they lubricate the machinery of elections and government for their hand-picked politicians, so our politicians do the bidding of the Big Money Interests. That means that our legislators are not focused on the needs of ordinary Americans, so our problems have become worse.

Maybe you think that the murders at Fort Hood and Sandy Hook Elementary School are problems.

Maybe you think that your spouse being unable to secure full time employment is a problem.

Maybe you think that oil spills and toxic fracking chemicals leaked into our fresh water supplies is a problem.

Maybe you think that preventing Americans from voting is a problem.

You’re right – those are problems. And our Big Money influenced politics is the reason these issues continue to get worse.

The Citizens United case allowed unlimited and undisclosed corporate and individual money to flood our election process. Now the McCutcheon decision has unleashed nearly unlimited personal funds for direct campaign contributions, so we have The Almost Perfect Dumb-pocalypse. All that is needed to make it The Perfect Dumb-pocalypse is another airhead Supreme Court decision that takes the stops off the maximum donation to a single candidate in a single election.

Coke bottle glassesBut that may not happen, because our Supreme Court thinks that unlimited donations to a single candidate might look like bribery. Actually, it’s the only thing the Court thinks of as political bribery. Maybe we should give new eyeglasses to those on the 5 side of all those democracy killing, hope and trust destroying 5-4 decisions so that the Supremes can begin to see reality more clearly.

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

A Modest Proposal

a-modest-proposalReading time: 68 seconds  .  .  .

There was a time when we Americans believed in the strength, resiliency and the fortitude of each of us. We took responsibility for ourselves and didn’t look to others to solve our problems. We were proud and independent.

Then things started to go awry.

The Sixteenth Amendment (ratified in 1913) authorized a federal income tax and that was the beginning of a non-stop grab at the wallets of honest Americans. Then the Great Depression came along and offered the perfect opportunity for bleeding heart liberals to suck dry the wealth of we self-reliant Americans. The feds used pictures of people in breadlines to increase taxes on hard working Americans and give it to poor people. Then there was an Old Age tax, as though anyone needed the government to tell them to put something away for a rainy day.  And the government gave money to widows and orphans and anybody with a sob story. And then it started paying for people’s medical care. And public television. And support for opera. Opera!

Things have gone way too far and government has stuck its nose into everybody’s business, so it’s time to turn things around, to go back to what made this country great.

It’s time to eliminate all government programs except for national defense. Correspondingly, we’ll eliminate all the taxes we collect for all those giveaway programs and instead allow strong, resilient, independent Americans to stand proud again. All those lazy people who have had their hands in the pockets of the rest of us can deal with the consequences of their decisions.

Getting the government out of where it doesn’t belong will be easy. For example, meat producers that make foods that kill people with salmonella will lose their customers, so the market will take care of policing that. Who needs the USDA? Same thing with medicines – the market will police that, too, so who needs the FDA?

There are lots of benefits to doing this, like the way we’ll end the population problems of our inner cities because those people won’t have food or medical care. And fewer people means lower oil consumption so we will end our dependence on foreign oil. Illegal immigration will end, because those lawbreakers would starve if they came here. And those other countries to which we are currently sending foreign aid can just take care of themselves and stop expecting us to be responsible for them.

Really, now, this just isn’t that difficult a problem to solve. A simple and modest proposal like this should slip right through our Congress.

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Stupi-geddon

When you elect politicians who focus solely on staying elected, they curry favor with rich people.

When politicians curry favor with rich people, they get lots of money.

When politicians get lots of money, they do really stupid stuff.

When politicians do really stupid stuff, the people suffer and America becomes weaker.

When the people suffer and America becomes weaker, we have Stupi-geddon.

When we have Stupi-geddon, government belongs to the highest bidders.

When government belongs to the highest bidders, we’ve lost America.

Don’t lose America.

Vote for politicians who will amend the Constitution to allow for regulation of money in politics.

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

How Can We Reach Them?

Just back from presenting a Money, Politics & Democracy program in downstate Illinois and the same thing became obvious once again.

My program is always well received, yet most of the people who turn out for events like mine are already believers.  And while their attending gives me the opportunity to provide motivation for their taking action to make a difference and begin to change the terrible influence of big money on our politics and our democracy, we’re not reaching enough new people.  And if we are to change the trajectory of America and get it to match our vision of what America can be, we have to reach an enormous number of new people.

This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, nor is it radical left or radical right.  It is an American issue and dealing with it properly will require a lot of Americans.  What can we do so that people get the unvarnished truth of what is going on and why it is happening?  Once they know, they invariably want to create change and the necessary steps are right in front of us.  All we need is for a lot of us to move in that direction.

How can we reach those who don’t yet know?

One of the ways is for you to ask those you know to have a look at this blog series, to subscribe and to comment on the blogs.  Go ahead and do that.

Beyond that, what ideas do you have?  Jot them in the Comments section below and help us all to figure this out.

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Propaganda

Editorial note: Before anyone goes hyperbolic, imagining that this is a comparison of anyone today to the Nazis, get that it isn’t.  The issue is propaganda, and you need to be clear about what that means to you.

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I recently visited the Field Museum in Chicago to see the exhibit, “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.” It is a special production of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and this visit was my second time reviewing the material.  I came away with a shocking realization.

The Nazis were early masters of manipulation through words and images and they managed to cow an entire nation into support of or, at the very least, indifference to their aggression and brutality.  The exhibit is about how they went about messaging that.

First, some basics about propaganda from the exhibit.

Propaganda:
 
  •      –  Uses truths, half-truths or lies
  •      –  Omits information selectively
  •      –  Simplifies complex issues or ideas
  •      –  Plays on emotions
  •      –  Advertises a cause
  •      –  Attacks opponents
  •      –  Targets [tailors its message to individual] desired audiences

A fine point about the propaganda of attacking opponents is the accusation that opponents are the ones doing the terrible things that the propagandist attempts to create.  For example, the Nazis falsely accused the Jews of trying to gain world domination.  They claimed that the German people were the poor victims of this fictitious attempt, leaving Germany the only option of all-out war to stop the takeover.  Bear in mind that this claim was made while  Hitler was leading Germany in a quest to dominate the world for 1,000 years (“Deutschland Uber Alles”).  That kind of claim allowed citizens to feel justified in supporting German atrocities.  That is to say, the propaganda of attacking the opponent  by accusation worked.

In response to President Obama’s State of the Union address this year, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) made a quick reply, emphasizing the need for jobs for Americans.  There is truth to that claim.  However, in the same breath he accused the President of being ineffective at creating the conditions to promote jobs, asking the question, “Where are the jobs, Mr. President?”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) gave the formal Tea Party response to the President’s speech and asked exactly the same question, “Where are the jobs, Mr. President?”  Interesting, that they used exactly the same words.  I wonder how that happened.

Now, that’s pretty good propaganda, accusing their opponent, President Obama, of poor performance regarding job creation.  There’s just one thing: President Obama has promoted job creation with ideas for infrastructure work, hiring incentives and several jobs bills.  Nearly every one has been shot down by – guess who – John Boehner and Rand Paul using the propaganda of attacking opponents by accusation.

President Obama has repeatedly promoted comprehensive immigration reform.  When that wasn’t possible he proposed bite-sized pieces (e.g. The Dream Act).  Now Republican leadership is blaming the President for the lack of immigration reform, this even as John Boehner has blocked any action on this issue yet again.  Once again, the propaganda of attacking opponents by accusation rears its ugly head.

In Nazi Germany propaganda helped to incrementally take away rights, property, freedom and the lives of the “undesirables,” the Jews, the Communists, the gypsies and others.  Hmmm, incrementally taking away rights  .  .  .  that sounds disturbingly familiar.

Republican state legislatures and governors are crusading to create voter ID laws in over 30 states.  They claim that their purpose is to stop the epidemic of voter fraud that plagues and pollutes our elections.  And they say that people have to show ID to get on an airplane, so why not when they vote?

They have successfully created a boogeyman for we good people to fear and hate, those who are cheating our voting system. That plays effectively on our emotions.  And that propaganda uses half-truths and lies quite effectively.  But let’s look at the truth.

Investigation after investigation has shown that voter fraud is infinitesimal, bordering on non-existent.

Of course, it is true that we all have to show a government issued picture ID to get on an airplane.  On the other hand, air travel is not a Constitutionally guaranteed right.  Voting is.  The comparison is nothing more than the propaganda of selective information and playing on emotions.

Clearly, voter suppression laws are being attempted for reasons other than to stop non-existent voter fraud.  And it has been amply demonstrated that such laws will overwhelmingly restrict the voting of poor people, minorities, the young and the elderly, all of whom but the elderly vote mostly for Democrats.

Now who do you suppose would benefit from restricting voting as these Republican controlled legislatures are attempting to do?

Actually, that’s the kind of question to ask about any of these and dozens of other propaganda-laced issues.  As always, stick to the advice of Deep Throat: “Follow the money” to find out who  benefits.

And dig through the layers, because stopping at identifying the politicians who benefit from such manipulation gives the big kahunas a free pass.  Ask who doles out cash to those legislative beneficiaries?  What do they get out of rigging the system by manipulating you with propaganda?  And to whom do those people answer and how do they benefit from the half-truths and lies?

My shocking realization following the museum visit was about how pervasive propaganda is, how it has become slicker over the years but the basics haven’t changed.  Don’t imagine for a moment that propaganda became a thing of the past with the demise of Nazi Germany and later of the Soviet Union.  It’s being played on you every day.

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Imagine . . .

Conjuring the precise and slow voice, the deliberate and accurate words, the syllables sounding as though passed through a long, reedy pipe, comes the voice of of Carl Sagan  .  .  .

“Imagine, if you will, an alternate universe with billions and billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars.  Around one of those stars can be found an Earth-like planet.  This planet is populated by people who see what is really before them, who analyze without predetermined judgment and who follow the path of evidence wherever it may lead.  They have the remarkable self-restraint and mindfulness both to refrain from bombastic rhetoric based upon fantasy and instead speak directly to issues.

“Imagine further that those who listen do so, too, for the single purpose of understanding, for clarity and learning, for greater knowledge.  And when the listeners then speak, their purpose, like that which came before, is an effort to further understand truth and reality.

“And they work together to make things better for all.”

Huh?  Wha  .  .  .  oh, it’s my alarm clock.

What an odd dream I had.

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference perhaps to be a catalyst – for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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