21st Century

Stop Pretending It’s Not Happening


Can you identify this?

Can you identify this?

Reading time – well worth it  .  .  . 

Something’s going on. You can feel it even if you can’t name it. Things are changing from what they used to be or should be or could be to what you don’t want them to be.

We humans aren’t very good at noticing small changes. Incremental stuff just doesn’t reach our consciousness until it accumulates into something big and we become aware of it well after the fact.

And that’s what is happening to America. There have been lots of changes over the past 35 years and especially since 9/11. Now, if you take a good look, eyes wide open, you won’t recognize your country.

Tom Englehardt wrote a stunning piece in his blog www.TomDispatch.com in an effort to make some sense of what you already sense but as yet have no words to describe. His piece is reprinted below with permission. Pay special attention to his last sentence: “Stop pretending it’s not happening.”

READ THE POST BELOW. IT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT. THAT’S WHY THESE SENTENCES ARE IN ALL CAPS.

Print Tom’s brilliant essay, grab your second cup o’ joe and settle into your reading chair for 15 minutes. Some things that haven’t made sense will suddenly begin to take on a solid form. Just be forewarned that you may not like it.

Thanks to JL for pointing us to Tom’s clarity.

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Tomgram: Engelhardt: Is a New Political System Emerging in This Country?

The New American Order 
1% Elections, The Privatization of the State, a Fourth Branch of Government, and the Demobilization of “We the People” 
By Tom Engelhardt

Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.

And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.

Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of “we the people.”

Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.

1. 1% Elections

Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you’ll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn’t be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests.  (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)

Take, for instance, “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,” a recent piece Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper.  A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton’s historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election.  He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present.  Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not “be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory.”  It’s the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future.  (No, Virginia, we haven’t left the world of politics in which former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)

Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary’s electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s or even Al Gore’s America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year’s primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.

The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and billionaires, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice.  So the early primaries — this year mainly a Republican affair — are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been widely reported. These “contests” involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful, and so reflect our new 1% electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a kitty of $500 million heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)

Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 Citizens United decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat.  By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, “The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending,” Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.

In the meantime, it’s still true that the 2016 primaries will involve actual voters, as will the election that follows. The previous election season, the midterms of 2014, cost almost $4 billion, a record despite the number of small donors continuing to drop. It also represented the lowest midterm voter turnout since World War II. (See: demobilization of the public, below — and add in the demobilization of the Democrats as a real party, the breaking of organized labor, the fragmenting of the Republican Party, and the return of voter suppression laws visibly meant to limit the franchise.) It hardly matters just what the flood of new money does in such elections, when you can feel the weight of inequality bearing down on the whole process in a way that is pushing us somewhere new.

2. The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third-World Nation)

In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the Clintons of yore in wink-wink, you-know-how-they-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc.  Again, the coverage, while eyeball gluing, is in a you’ve-seen-it-all-before, you’ll-see-it-all-again-mode.

However, you haven’t seen it all before. The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted.  An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications.  If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought.  But it didn’t happen in some third-world state.  It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which — even if it wasn’t the first time such a thing had ever occurred — should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it.

Though the marriage of the state and the corporation has a pre-history, the full-scale arrival of the warrior corporation only occurred after 9/11.  Someday, that will undoubtedly be seen as a seminal moment in the formation of whatever may be coming in this country.  Only 13 years later, there is no part of the war state that has not experienced major forms of privatization.  The U.S. military could no longer go to war without its crony corporations doing KP and guard duty, delivering the mail, building the bases, and being involved in just about all of its activities, including training the militaries of foreign allies and even fighting.  Such warrior corporations are now involved in every aspect of the national security state, including torture, drone strikes, and — to the tune of hundreds of thousands of contract employees like Edward Snowden — intelligence gathering and spying.  You name it and, in these years, it’s been at least partly privatized.

All you have to do is read reporter James Risen’s recent book, Pay Any Price, on how the global war on terror was fought in Washington, and you know that privatization has brought something else with it: corruption, scams, and the gaming of the system for profits of a sort that might normally be associated with a typical third-world kleptocracy.  And all of this, a new world being born, was reflected in a tiny way in Hillary Clinton’s very personal decision about her emails.

Though it’s a subject I know so much less about, this kind of privatization (and the corruption that goes with it) is undoubtedly underway in the non-war-making, non-security-projecting part of the American state as well.

3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency

On a third front, American “confidence” in the three classic check-and-balance branches of government, as measured by polling outfits, continues to fall.  In 2014, Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court hit a new low of 23%; in the presidency, it was 11%, and in Congress a bottom-scraping 5%.  (The military, on the other hand, registers at 50%.)  The figures for “hardly any confidence at all” are respectively 20%, 44%, and more than 50%.  All are in or near record-breaking territory for the last four decades.

It seems fair to say that in recent years Congress has been engaged in a process of de-legitimizing itself.  Where that body once had the genuine power to declare war, for example, it is now “debating” in a desultory fashion an “authorization” for a war against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and possibly elsewhere that has already been underway for eight months and whose course, it seems, will be essentially unaltered, whether Congress authorizes it or not.

What would President Harry Truman, who once famously ran a presidential campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, have to say about a body that truly can do just about nothing?  Or rather, to give the Republican war hawks in that new Congress their due, not quite nothing.  They are proving capable of acting effectively to de-legitimize the presidency as well.  House Majority Leader John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undercut the president’s Iranian nuclear negotiations and the letter signed by 47 Republican senators and directed to the Iranian ayatollahs are striking examples of this.  They are visibly meant to tear down an “imperial presidency” that Republicans gloried in not so long ago.

The radical nature of that letter, not as an act of state but of its de-legitimization, was noted even in Iran, where fundamentalist Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed it “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” Here, however, the letter is either being covered as a singularly extreme one-off act (“treason!”) or, as Jon Stewart did on “The Daily Show,” as part of a repetitive tit-for-tat between Democrats and Republicans over who controls foreign policy.  It is, in fact, neither.  It represents part of a growing pattern in which Congress becomes an ever less effective body, except in its willingness to take on and potentially take out the presidency.

In the twenty-first century, all that “small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats can agree on is offering essentially unconditional support to the military and the national security state.  The Republican Party — its various factions increasingly at each other’s throats almost as often as at those of the Democrats — seems reasonably united solely on issues of war-making and security.  As for the Democrats, an unpopular administration, facing constant attack by those who loath President Obama, has kept its footing in part by allying with and fusing with the national security state.  A president who came into office rejecting torture and promoting sunshine and transparency in government has, in the course of six-plus years, come to identify himself almost totally with the U.S. military, the CIA, the NSA, and the like.  While it has launched an unprecedented campaign against whistle blowers and leakers (as well as sunshine and transparency), the Obama White House has proved a powerful enabler of, but also remarkably dependent upon, that state-within-a-state, a strange fate for “the imperial presidency.”

4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government

One “branch” of government is, however, visibly on the rise and rapidly gaining independence from just about any kind of oversight.  Its ability to enact its wishes with almost no opposition in Washington is a striking feature of our moment.  But while the symptoms of this process are regularly reported, the overall phenomenon — the creation of a de facto fourth branch of government — gets remarkably little attention.  In the war on terror era, the national security state has come into its own.  Its growth has been phenomenal.  Though it’s seldom pointed out, it should be considered remarkable that in this period we gained a second full-scale “defense department,” the Department of Homeland Security, and that it and the Pentagon have become even more entrenched, each surrounded by its own growing “complex” of private corporations, lobbyists, and allied politicians.  The militarization of the country has, in these years, proceeded apace.

Meanwhile, the duplication to be found in the U.S. Intelligence Community with its 17 major agencies and outfits is staggering.  Its growing ability to surveil and spy on a global scale, including on its own citizens, puts the totalitarian states of the twentieth century to shame.  That the various parts of the national security state can act in just about any fashion without fear of accountability in a court of law is by now too obvious to belabor.  As wealth has traveled upwards in American society in ways not seen since the first Gilded Age, so taxpayer dollars have migrated into the national security state in an almost plutocratic fashion.

New reports regularly surface about the further activities of parts of that state.  In recent weeks, for instance, we learned from Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the Intercept that the CIA has spent years trying to break the encryption on Apple iPhones and iPads; it has, that is, been aggressively seeking to attack an all-American corporation (even if significant parts of its production process are actually in China).  Meanwhile, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA, an agency barred from domestic spying operations of any sort, has been helping the U.S. Marshals Service (part of the Justice Department) create an airborne digital dragnet on American cell phones.  Planes flying out of five U.S. cities carry a form of technology that “mimics a cellphone tower.” This technology, developed and tested in distant American war zones and now brought to “the homeland,” is just part of the ongoing militarization of the country from its borders to its police forces.  And there’s hardly been a week since Edward Snowden first released crucial NSA documents in June 2013 when such “advances” haven’t been in the news.

News also regularly bubbles up about the further expansion, reorganization, and upgrading of parts of the intelligence world, the sorts of reports that have become the barely noticed background hum of our lives.  Recently, for instance, Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization of the CIA meant to break down the classic separation between spies and analysts at the Agency, while creating a new Directorate of Digital Innovation responsible for, among other things, cyberwarfare and cyberespionage.  At about the same time, according to the New York Times, the Center for Strategic Counter terrorism Communications, an obscure State Department agency, was given a new and expansive role in coordinating “all the existing attempts at countermessaging [against online propaganda by terror outfits like the Islamic State] by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.”

This sort of thing is par for the course in an era in which the national security state has only grown stronger, endlessly elaborating, duplicating, and overlapping the various parts of its increasingly labyrinthine structure.  And keep in mind that, in a structure that has fought hard to keep what it’s doing cloaked in secrecy, there is so much more that we don’t know.  Still, we should know enough to realize that this ongoing process reflects something new in our American world (even if no one cares to notice).

5. The Demobilization of the American People

In The Age of Acquiescence, a new book about America’s two Gilded Ages, Steve Fraser asks why it was that, in the nineteenth century, another period of plutocratic excesses, concentration of wealth and inequality, buying of politicians, and attempts to demobilize the public, Americans took to the streets with such determination and in remarkable numbers over long periods of time to protest their treatment, and stayed there even when the brute power of the state was called out against them.  In our own moment, Fraser wonders, why has the silence of the public in the face of similar developments been so striking?

After all, a grim new American system is arising before our eyes.  Everything we once learned in the civics textbooks of our childhoods about how our government works now seems askew, while the growth of poverty, the flatlining of wages, the rise of the .01%, the collapse of labor, and the militarization of society are all evident.

The process of demobilizing the public certainly began with the military.  It was initially a response to the disruptive and rebellious draftees of the Vietnam-era.  In 1973, at the stroke of a presidential pen, the citizen’s army was declared no more, the raising of new recruits was turned over to advertising agencies (a preview of the privatization of the state to come), and the public was sent home, never again to meddle in military affairs.  Since 2001, that form of demobilization has been etched in stone and transformed into a way of life in the name of the “safety” and “security” of the public.

Since then, “we the people” have made ourselves felt in only three disparate ways: from the left in the Occupy movement, which, with its slogans about the 1% and the 99%, put the issue of growing economic inequality on the map of American consciousness; from the right, in the Tea Party movement, a complex expression of discontent backed and at least partially funded by right-wing operatives and billionaires, and aimed at the de-legitimization of the “nanny state”; and the recent round of post-Ferguson protests spurred at least in part by the militarization of the police in black and brown communities around the country.

The Birth of a New System

Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of — to use Fraser’s word — “acquiescence.”  Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be.  In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual.  Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.

While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design.  Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion.  In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention.  Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.

Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.

Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt

Reprinted by permission

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Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books).


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Chores


Raking LeavesReading time – 59 seconds  .  .  . 

Were you required to do chores around the house when you grew up? Chances are, you were. When I was a kid, chores were simply what had to be done and we all had a hand in the work.

I recall that once in an moment of teenage male iderntity seeking I balked at doing the dishes after dinner because, I had decided, that was women’s work. My dad listened calmly, then pointed out that there were no girls in the family and my mother was busy with other things and we didn’t have a maid, so get over here and do the damn dishes. That cured me of such nonsense permanently. Note that I learned to be a really good dishwasher.

And mower of lawns, shoveler of snow, taker out of the garbage and many other chores. All of that was simply the way things were.

Mom had a moment of clarity for me one time when I complained about having to do some chore. She said that was alright. But no chores, you don’t eat. I got the point quickly and it’s a point that has relevance today.

In a recent article Why Children Need Chores by Jennifer Breheny Wallace she reports on several studies that tell us that doing chores, ” . . . helps to build a lasting sense of mastery, responsibility and self-reliance  .  .  .  ” She further reports that, “Chores also teach children how to be empathetic and responsive to others’ needs.”

Can you think of a group of people who lack a sense of responsibility? Perhaps those same people seem to have no empathy and are completely unresponsive to the needs of others?

I can’t help but wonder if a lot of those in Congress got away with not doing chores when they were kids. They certainly aren’t doing their chores now, like passing budgets without self-imposed crises, voting on a new attorney general, overhauling our immigration system, passing sensible gun safety legislation, amending the Constitution to get the big money out of our politics and bringing our education system into the 21st century.

And it’s not just the current mix of slugs in Congress. This has gone on for at least the past eleven Congresses, most notably when there was a Democrat in the White House and Republicans flexed obstructionist muscles in Congress.

Somebody metaphorically hand those lazy children a rake, a dishcloth or a lawn mower and tell them to get to work. Perhaps they should be given Mom’s instruction, that they won’t be allowed to eat until they do their chores.

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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.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Our Bridge


ChurchillReading time – 69 seconds  .  .  .

You really need to take the time:

– To hear the words of John Lewis, a man who marched on Bloody Sunday and whose thanks that day was a fractured and bleeding scull. His reward – and ours – is that he has served in Congress, a representative of South Carolina, since 1987. South Carolina! That would have been impossible, unthinkable in the context of the American South of the 1960s.

– To hear President Obama, whose entire life story would have been impossible without the courage of the few hundred who marched up that awful bridge on that terrible day. Those marchers could not have envisioned a Black president, but they made a path through the darkness of hate that Barack Obama could walk.

The struggle for human rights, for voting rights, for simple human dignity is not over in America. If you doubt that, consider what it means to be a Black teen and get gunned down for carrying a package of Skittles while wearing a hoodie and for the gunman to walk free. Imagine how it feels to be unable to provide for your family because you’re the last hired and the first fired. Feel the frustration and hopelessness of a parent who knows that their kids are getting a lousy education because those with money have put their kids into private schools and when they fled the public schools they left them to rot.

On October 29, 1941 the British were weary from years of the Battle of Britain. On that day, Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the boys at the Harrow School where Churchill had attended years before. He spoke only a short time and, as he so often did, he found the words to buoy the spirits of an embattled nation, to help his people muster the strength to carry on. He told the boys,

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

We have work to do in America, because today there are people with apparently overwhelming might who are creating new obstacles to voting. They are standing on the necks of those who have come to be known as Dreamers. And they are keeping 95% of the wealth for themselves and leaving a paltry 5% for all the rest of us.

This is our bridge. This is our fight. This is our time.

Never give in.

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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.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Were You There?


fiftiethlogoReading time – 22 seconds  .  .  .

You know the tune, so sing along.

It was fifty years ago today

Dr. King taught all of us to say,

Freedom’s going in and out of style

And oppression is so very vile.

So may I introduce to you

The truth you’ve known for all these years:

You and I still have to stop the Pharaohs.

Okay, Lennon and McCartney had other things in mind when they wrote Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But the point is that the passage of time and the consistency of message run true and today the message runs through Selma, Alabama. What is significant is that the story of Selma and all that it symbolizes is exactly the same as the story of the biblical Exodus. The struggle for freedom is never over. In every day and in every age new tyrants rise up to oppress the people and today is no different.

I was just 18 and very young in 1965 and did not participate in the march. My childhood pal Frank Levy is the same age as I am but in 1965 he was older and far wiser. He was there and he writes about it in his essay this weekend and has given me permission to share it with you. I encourage you to read it – just click on the PDF link for a download – and decide for yourself if there is something calling you. Then post your comments below for the benefit of others.

[prettyfilelink size=”” src=”//cdn.bluelinermarketing.com/managed/uploads/sites/8/2015/03/Passover-and-Selma.pdf” type=”pdf”]Passover and Selma[/prettyfilelink]

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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 subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Republican Judge Hanen


Judge Hanen

Republican Judge Andrew S. Hanen

Reading time – 43 seconds  .  .  . 

Judge Andrew S. Hanen, a Republican judge in Republican Texas, heard testimony from the attorneys representing 26 Republican governors seeking to stuff President Obama’s executive order limiting deportations back into the president’s face. Republican Judge Hanen granted the Republican plaintiff’s petition on procedural grounds – i.e., a technicality – and did not deal with the substance of the executive order.

Before filing, the plaintiffs, those 26 Republican governors, went venue shopping for the best state in which to find the most sympathetic hearing, the best city in which to file their case and the best courtroom and judge to whom they would plead their case and they zeroed in on Republican Judge Hanen in Brownsville, TX. Their selection was doubly insightful, because the inevitable appeal of his limited and superficial ruling will be in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is in Republican New Orleans, Louisiana. Are you seeing a pattern here?

Republicans have been accused of having no compassion for our Dreamers or for the migrant workers who are sometimes viciously exploited. While that might be an accurate depiction of some Republicans, their apparent callousness really has nothing to do with the concerted effort by these 26 Republican governors and the Republicans in the House and Senate to thwart President Obama’s immigration efforts. There are two reasons for their actions and neither has anything to do with compassion.

First, Republicans continue to want to do everything possible to ensure that President Obama has no victories of any kind, regardless of the good sense of his proposals, so they oppose anything he supports.

Second – and this is the big one – Republicans are on their way to extinction. Here’s how TalikingPointsMemo described their coming tipping point in a 2012 piece:

The government also projects that in five years, minorities will make up more than half of children under 18. Not long after, the total U.S. white population will begin an inexorable decline in absolute numbers, due to aging baby boomers.

So, old white guys (the great majority of the Republican Party) are in the process of losing their majority and, consequently, their grip on power, money, control and domination.

Republicans have demonstrated for decades that they are bereft of new ideas for meeting America’s challenges or for grabbing hold of 21st century opportunities, so they can’t appeal to voters on the basis of their great solutions or clarity of the best way forward. The only way they can stay in power is to steal elections (like in 2000 and 2004) or to deprive voting rights from people who naturally tend to vote for Democrats, like people of color. Eliminating their votes by deporting Hispanics is a sure fire way to help prevent Republicans from being overpowered by future Democratic voters.

And that’s why Republicans want to deport over 12 million people and why Republicans oppose any path to citizenship and why Republicans want to kill the president’s executive order and send our Dreamers packing. For dinosaur Republicans who can already see that demographic meteor in the sky, it’s the species survival instinct played out in the political arena. They don’t hate Hispanics; they just want to continue to dominate them.

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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 subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

We’ve Forgotten


brainReading time – 39 seconds  .  .  .

Before the New Deal millions of Americans spent their later years, when they were no longer able to earn a wage, in abject poverty. That’s a key reason Social Security was created. We seem to have forgotten about all that suffering of our elderly.

Before Medicare millions of Americans spent years in health crisis, which often led to bankruptcy. It frequently led to having to choose between getting critical medical care and eating. We seem to have forgotten about that suffering, too.

Before the GI Bill only a small percentage of Americans went to college. That bill and the education it spawned were major contributors to the phenomenal economic growth of our nation and the personal wealth expansion that followed World War II. It lifted millions of Americans out of poverty and into middle class security. At the same time that was happening we were expanding our state colleges and universities in order to provide low cost education. That, too, made it possible for Americans to be prepared for our rapid economic expansion and to join the ranks of our middle class. But we seem to have forgotten about how those investments in education helped everyone.

Before we had food stamps millions of Americans were hungry all the time and children went to bed at night with empty stomachs. That program alleviated the suffering of our poor to a great extent, but it appears that we’ve forgotten how bad it was for them.

Actually, we’ve forgotten how bad it was for us, because the ancestors of most Americans suffered like that.

And that’s the point. We have a national amnesia about how bad some people had it before we as a nation decided that there was something we could do about it and we’ve forgotten that those people who suffered were our own families. Now many of us are comfortable, removed by multiple generations from our families’ suffering and our comfort has caused us to lose sight and to lose compassion.

If loss of compassion for others who suffer is somehow okay, we at least should recognize that pulling the plug on programs that help our own people is the same as pulling the plug on America.

But we seem to have forgotten where we came from.

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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 subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Anyone?


U of WIReading time – 47 seconds  .  .  .

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is making all the right moves to play in the Big Game. Over the past few years he has slashed support for state workers, those leaches on society who do unnecessary things, like plow snow from the highways, supply clean drinking water and ensure a safe food supply. He has even suspended state workers’ merit (as in: earned) pay raises. Now Walker has taken aim on higher education. He has proposed cutting $300 million from the budget of the University of Wisconsin. That’s right in the sweet spot for raving radicals and should play well in the early, red-meat state primaries in 2016.

Oddly, Walker’s proposal would not allow an increase in tuition to offset the reduction of state funds for the university. He seems to think that replacement money will come from some vaporous “out there,” which of course will not happen. What will happen as state support for higher education is methodically eliminated is that the university will incrementally become impoverished, unable to maintain value and will, at last, become irrelevant. That’s down from the rare air of being ranked 47th in the nation.

In other states where support for higher education has been slashed, tuition increases have and will continue to rise. That has the effect of eliminating education for many of the very people we’ll need to be educated if we are to succeed in a globally interconnected world. Think: second-tier status America.

That is to say, consider what happens to higher education, to our students and then to the future of America when we pull the rug out from under ourselves. Here’s what the folks at Bloomberg think of that.

Before you fall into complete despair and climb to the roof of the gymnasium of your local high school and scream from the edge (hoping that roof repairs haven’t been eliminated due to slashing of state funding for education), have a look at Andy Borowitz’s satire.

Meanwhile, our task is to understand Walker’s subversion of President Kennedy’s famous declaration,

“Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.”

If Kennedy was right – and he was and still is – then Walker’s gambit is the next nail in the coffin for America. But why would he pound that nail?

Think through this: If state funding for education is eliminated, who will benefit? Anyone think that it might be those who want to privatize and profit from education? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

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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 subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

We’re Solving The Wrong Problem


Reading time – 119 seconds  .  .  . 

Nobody on the right, left or center disputes that a primary job of our federal government is national defense, ensuring our security in a dangerous world. ISIS or ISIL or Islamic Caliphate – whatever you want to call it – has incrementally and brutally plunged the Middle East into a conflagration of Middle East versus West, Sunni versus Shiite, believers versus infidels and seventh century versus twenty-first century reality. We have decided that this is a clear and present danger to America and have correspondingly sent our drones on attack and our munitions to Kurd and Syrian rebels.

The debate rages, though, hawks versus others, about putting American “boots on the ground.” We cannot fight effectively or have useful intelligence without those boots on the ground, the hawks tell us. So, as we fight that Middle East war with every non-boot-on-the-ground method we can think of, we are solving the problem about how to win that war by asking if we should put boots on the ground. Why are we doing that?

And why have we paid homage to a newly deceased, despotic Saudi ruler who thought that beheading was a good idea? And why did we invade Iraq?

The answer to all those questions is the same: oil.

We are still energy dependent on oil from the Middle East and Iraq has one of the largest known reserves of oil in the world. The Saudis have a huge reservoir of oil, so we continue to support the House of Saud, the people from whom 15 of the 19 airplane hijackers came to kill over 3,000 people in America. Upheaval in that area threatens our hydrocarbon supply, so we install  ( like the Shah of Iran) and prop up (like the House of Saud) some very unusual people.

The problem about whether to send ground troops to the Middle East to defeat ISIS is the wrong one on which to focus. The right one is this: “What are the strategies that will make the United States energy independent so that we will never again get drawn into oil wars in the Middle East?

President Nixon made a big deal about the importance of weaning us off foreign oil. In 1973, the year of the so-called Arab Oil Embargo, 20% of our oil needs came from other countries. Following that event our dependence soared to over 40%, where it still stood in 2012. The number has been whittled down a bit since then, but we are still hugely dependent upon others, some of them oil-rich, reprehensible dictator states. So, we continue to endanger our military people in an effort to keep a finger in the dyke of the natural state of chaos in the Middle East in order to protect the supply of oil we covet. When we ask the question of whether there should be American military boots on the ground in that area, we are caving in to an assumption that we must remain entrapped by the angry passions of seventh century animosities so that we can have cheap oil.

We cannot continue to burn fossil fuels indefinitely, this for two reasons. First, we are cooking our planet and ourselves in the process. Second, there is a finite supply of fossil fuels. Even if we have a 100 year supply, those fossil fuels will eventually be gone. We better have good solutions well before that time.

So, again, the right problem to solve is: “What are the strategies that will make the United States energy independent?

Engineers have told us that a 100 square mile grid – just 10 miles by 10 miles – of solar collectors in our desert southwest can produce enough electricity for all of Southern California and we are doing something about that. If we were to cover around 4 percent of all deserts with solar panels, we could generate enough electricity to power the world. Germany, one of the cloudiest countries in Europe, managed to craft a program for energy independence which included putting solar collectors on the roofs of its houses and those now supply 4.5% of their total energy needs. In America we have gigantic wind farms and have good locations for many more. Smart grid technology is in our hands to dramatically reduce transmission losses and do even more than that. These are just some of the ideas that have been proposed, some acted upon, and there are other technologies in development.

The strategy we need and eventually will employ is a current day version of the Manhattan Project, an all-in program to engineer and then build a new American energy system. And sooner is way better than later.

We’ll need fossil fuels in some measure for a long time to come, so don’t completely dismiss the pretty blonde in the black pants suit who lies to you about how safe hydraulic fracturing is, because we need the gas. On the other hand, it’s way past time to find ways to do it safely. It’s way past time to figure out how to transport oil without sliming the Yellowstone River and others due to ruptured pipelines.

And it’s way past time to stop telling ourselves what we can’t do or what we can’t afford to do.

We can’t afford not to do this, because if we fail to put that stake in the ground we will be consigning our patriotic military people to endless deaths, dismemberment, disfigurement and a lifetime of post traumatic stress disorder. We will be dooming future generations of Americans to second tier status in the world and the loss of the American Dream. Those are some of the things that happen when we put boots on the ground in the Middle East to prop up despotic rulers sitting on a big puddle of oil that we want, instead of solving the right problem and taking action to change the game.

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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 subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Your Freedom


Reading time – 49 seconds  .  .  . 

For our absolutists  .  .  .

You’re an absolutist and you believe fervently in individual liberty. You don’ need no stinking gub-mint messing with your life.

It seems that we have a national epidemic of “You can’t tell ME what to do!” causing uncontrolled inflammation of amygdalas (reptile brains) across America. We have gun owners going hyperbolic, declaring something testosterony about their guns and cold, dead hands and making it clear that the gub-mint can’t have their guns or tell them what to do. Never mind that President Obama, who has been vilified by Second Amendment enthusiasts since 2008, has never proposed anything that would limit lawful gun ownership. Obamacare has been lambasted for its intrusion into people’s lives, even as it doesn’t intrude. And recently Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) announced in the name of freedom that it is government over-reach to require food industry workers to wash their hands after using the bathroom. That seems to suggest a food workers motto, “Je suis ick.” And bon appétit to everyone at the lunch counter.

Those are just a few examples of the continuing drumbeat of imagined intrusions upon freedom and a response of, “You can’t tell ME what to do!”

As you, absolutist, go explosively red in the face and cross-eyed demanding your complete freedom, it’s critical that you understand that the harsh truth is that your complete freedom stops at the tip of my nose. Go ahead and own your Glock – it just better not affect me or mine. Go ahead and refuse to buy healthcare insurance. Just don’t come whining to me about the bill you get from the emergency room, because that’s on you, buddy. Pay up. I suggest that you spend a little less time demanding what is not yours – absolute freedom – and a lot more time honoring your responsibilities.

Like getting your kids vaccinated both to protect them and so they don’t infect my kids. Yes, you have a right to stupidly leave your kids at risk. What you don’t have a right to do is to put my kids at risk. It’s that tip of the nose thing. Try being responsible this time instead of having another temper tantrum about your absolute freedom.

There. Is that absolute enough for the absolutists?

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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 subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

A New Hope For Republicans


NutsReading time – 39 seconds  .  .  .

The Republican Party has fractured along the “it’s your fault” lines and each faction is devoid of any characteristics of the Eisenhower Republican Party. It was Eisenhower who proposed and promoted the now-crazy notion that there are a bunch of things that we need to do collectively, like the Interstate Highway system.  He expanded Social Security because Americans really needed that. And in a most outrageous Republican moment by today’s standards, he raised the minimum wage because we really needed that, too. Nobody has seen anything similar from Republicans since Ike’s time.

What we have seen is a continuous march toward who-cares-about-you? Perhaps more accurately, what has been so thoroughly demonstrated by Republicans over the past four decades is an attitude of “we-don’t-care-about-you.” Today’s “it’s-your-fault” lines are just demarcations within the Republican “we-don’t-care-about-you” belief system and the American people are quite tired of that.

That is why I am formally joining the Republican Party and founding a new faction, the AWACOE party, or, Americans Who Are Capable Of Empathy. Not surprisingly, it’s pronounced “A Wacko.”

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t expect to find many Republicans who are interested in joining. Actually, I’m not confident there are many Republicans capable of clearing the basic human bar for entry. Well, to be fair, I personally know some and they are fine people. Likely, there are some in Congress and in our state houses, too. It’s just that they are consistently drowned out by the big mouths, the haters and the dividers.

Regardless of the membership numbers in this new party, you can count on me to soldier on as the flag bearer for the AWACOEs, hoping to restore the clarity that America isn’t just for those who have theirs. It’s also for those striving to achieve. And that is not a wacko idea.

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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 subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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