21st Century

Making Sense

So much is ethically wrong and even economically nonsensical.  I fight every day to keep my thinking out of the weeds, hoping to see the bigger picture and very occasionally I succeed.  There are so many battles in this seemingly disappearing experiment in democracy and so many people are suffering with little relief in sight, even for the lofty ideals to which we say we aspire.  Here are some examples of that.

Nicholas Kristof has a compelling piece in the New York Times about health and health care and the decisions we make.  Economically, it makes little sense to pay over a half a million dollars to treat disease instead of just the few dollars that are required for routine screenings.  Ethically, it makes no sense to let our citizens suffer and die because of economically driven poor choices (no medical insurance) or because of a profound lack of resources that prohibits routine health care.  The system that makes that necessary is entirely about the greed of those whose hands are on the rudder

The second half of the 1960’s was an era of radical change and it was played out in part in drug experimentation.  That flamboyant display of anti-establishment nose-thumbing resulted in draconian laws and mandatory sentencing like the “three strikes” rule that sent our young to prison for having a joint.  The establishment surely showed its muscle by trashing the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans for their youthful dalliances.  It also cost billions of dollars to prosecute and incarcerate the offenders, forcing our legal establishment to divert limited resources away from nabbing the really bad guys.  What do you think about the ethics and economics of that?

On November 6 voters in Washington, Colorado and Oregon will vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana.  That is far less odd, given the historical record, than that today’s establishment folks are in favor of legalization.  And even that is less odd than that the illegal suppliers of pot are against legalization because it will slash their profits.  Timothy Egan’s piece details this, and at root it’s all about simple human greed.

It is said that money is the root of all evil, but I don’t think that’s quite right.  It is simply the tool we use for our human instincts to focus first and foremost on ourselves, to do what we see as in our own best interests.  Frequently, human interpretations of that self-interest are quite short-sighted.  No, it’s actually nearly always short-sighted, and it leads us down a path of self-destruction.  Even the super-educated, self-protected wealthy 1% aren’t immune and they and we are sowing the seeds of our own demise because of our shortsightedness.  Chrystia Freeland has written a compelling article about this and Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson’s book Why Nations Fail gives even greater clarity.

Self-destruction is ethically absurd and economically nonsensical, yet our leaders – at least the people we so often promote and elect – seem welded to taking us down that path.  They lie to us by telling us that a voucher system isn’t a voucher system, that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, that (baby boomers will get this) we have to stop the scourge of Communism right there in Viet Nam so that we don’t have to fight them in Kansas, that we were winning that war, that Romney will cut taxes 20% but that his scheme won’t be a $5 trillion deficit, that the rich people are the job creators and the list goes on and on.  To understand why they say such things, obey Deep Throat’s dictum: “Follow the money.”  Yet so many of us believe the lies (or, at least, we don’t challenge them), largely because we are focused on our own concerns, just trying to make life work.  But that is short-sighted and ultimately does ethical and economic damage to ourselves.

We’re not going to change human nature; each of us will continue to do what we perceive to be in our own best interests.  What we can do is to look up now and then, get out of the weeds and recognized that tomorrow will come.  And when it does, we will live in the consequences of today’s decisions.

What are the ethics and economics you want?  Look up.  See that tomorrow is on its way and that we do not have to continue on a path of craziness.  Then speak up.  If you don’t make your voice heard, people who want a very different America from the America you want will be heard, because they will be the only ones talking.

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

Cacciato

In preparation for entering her freshman year in college, my daughter and her contemporaries were urged to read Going After Cacciato, by Tim O’Brien, and to arrive on campus prepared to explore the book in discussion groups just prior to the start of classes. Cacciato is an exploration of experiences of the Vietnam war, of both fear and the heroism of the human spirit. As I recall, she didn’t much care for the book, but I read it and found it enormously inspirational, perhaps even transformational. It is, in part, about coming of age, of fulfilling the destiny of our dreams. We as a nation sorely need a message of destiny fulfilling, of coming of age right now.  To that point, have a look at this excerpt from the book.

It is easy, of course, to fear happiness. There is often complacency in the acceptance of misery. We fear parting from our familiar roles. We fear the consequences of such a parting. We fear happiness because we fear failure. But we must overcome these fears. We must be brave. It is one thing to speculate about what might be. It is quite another to act in behalf of our dreams, to treat them as objectives that are achievable and worth achieving. It is one thing to run from unhappiness; it is another to take action to realize those qualities of dignity and well-being that are the true standards of the human spirit.

I am asking for a positive commitment. Live now the dreams you have dreamed. Be happy. It is possible. It is within reach of a single decision.

This is not a plea for placidness of mind or feebleness of spirit. It is a plea for the opposite.  For just as happiness is more than the absence of sadness, so is peace infinitely more than the absence of war. Even the refugee must do more than flee. He must arrive. He must return at last to a world as it is, however much in conflict with his hopes, and he must then do what he can to edge reality toward what he has dreamed, to change what he can change, to go beyond the wish or the fantasy. “We had fed the heart on fantasies,” said the poet, “the heart’s grown brutal from the fare.” I urge you to step boldly into it, to join your dream and to live it. Do not be deceived by false obligation. You are obliged, by all that is just and good, to pursue only the felicity that you yourself have imagined. Do not let fear stop you. Do not be frightened by ridicule or censure or embarrassment, do not fear name-calling, do not fear the scorn of others. For what is true obligation? Is it not the obligation to pursue a life at peace with itself?

You have come far. The journey has been dangerous. You have taken many risks. You have been brave beyond your wildest expectations. And now it is time for a final act of courage.  I urge you: March proudly into your own dream.

What is your dream for yourself and for America? What is your vision for the country you want to bequeath to your children, your grandchildren and all of our grandchildren? What is the dreamed-of soul of Cacciato as metaphor for America? It is within reach of a single decision right now and we can make it come of age.

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

Conservatives, Have You Reached Your Popeye Point?

Immediately after President Obama won the 2008 presidential election Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, Republican leaders in the Senate and House, announced to the world, “Our number one priority is making sure that President Obama is a one-term president.”  That came as quite a surprise to those of us who thought that their number one priority was to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, that they were in Washington to promote the general welfare and the other things outlined in the Preamble to the Constitution.  Not so, as we continue to be reminded.

The Republican Party has devolved into nothing more than opposing anything offered by Democrats and the President.  They have even opposed their own bills, once President Obama said he supported them.  They continue to oppose the mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act, even though it is exactly what the Republicans proposed in the ‘90’s, then accompanied by their battle cry of personal responsibility.

Since the 2010 mid-term election the Republicans have been telling us that what is most important is “jobs, jobs, jobs.”  Since that time, though, the House, led by John Boehner, has passed bills against gay marriage and women’s healthcare.  They have voted against immigration reform and have had temper tantrums against ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  None of that has anything to do with promoting jobs for Americans.  The only job related legislation the Republicans passed was one promoting jobs for our military veterans, and they had to be shamed into passing it.

Two things are clear.  First, the Republicans don’t want President Obama to have any wins, so they oppose anything he supports.  Second, the Republicans want to run in 2012 against President Obama’s record on the economy and jobs, so they stonewall any effort to make things better for Americans, completely ignoring the suffering of the people in their selfish quest for power.

They have opposed keeping our promises to creditors in hopes of blaming President Obama for a global humiliation of their own making.  They have repeatedly called the president a liar, most recently by flagrant fact falsifier Sarah Palin.  Oddly, they offer absolutely no proof of prevarication.

They call him “Mr. Obama,” instead of using the proper title, “President.”  They accuse him of being an un-American Kenyan, a socialist, a Marxist, a fascist.  In short, they have reduced themselves to being pitiful name-calling schoolyard bullies throwing taunts.

Republicans, is that all you have?  Tell us you have something more than that, because if that’s all you have, you have nothing.

There is nothing conservative about the party of personal responsibility abdicating its responsibilities.  There is nothing conservative about ignoring the suffering of the American people.  There is nothing conservative about preventing Americans from voting.  There is nothing conservative about going to war and refusing to pay for it and lying to Americans about nonexistent death panels.  In short, there is nothing conservative about today’s Republican party.  Conservatism is dead.  Radical dishonesty has taken its place.

The old Popeye cartoons had a recurring theme.  Popeye would get into terrible trouble, pummeled and nearly helpless, when suddenly he would declare, “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more!”  A can of spinach would magically appear, he would eat the contents and be revived and then go about righting the wrongs.

The question now is whether you have reached your Popeye point.  Have you had enough of the lies, the abdication of responsibility, the demeaning of the highest office in our land?  Have you had enough of being manipulated?  Is this all you can stands and you can’t stands no more?

Get your can of spinach right now.  It’s time for you to start righting the wrongs and reclaim your party.

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

It Isn’t Envy, Mitt

Mitt Romney says that the anger of the 99%-ers is based upon envy of the 1%-ers, but like so many other things he believes about “the rest of us,” he has it wrong.  We don’t hate rich people because they are rich and there is a critical differentiation that Romney and so many others simply refuse to see.

We want our kids to have it better than we did, so we believe in the American Dream and we applaud those who have lived it and prospered and earned their wealth and success.  These people are models for our kids who will inspire them to break through barriers to create the cures for diseases and the products that will make our all our lives better.  No, we don’t resent those who have followed that path and succeeded.  We admire them.

The people who are resented by the American 99% are those who have become wealthy and continue to get even wealthier by keeping others down.  And we resent the politicians who suck up and sell out to these people for their own interests at the expense of everyone else.

Be clear that these are people who have rigged the game, tilted the table against the poor, the middle class and even the upper-middle class.  They have spent every waking moment since the inauguration of Ronald Reagan incrementally inching America toward a new economic and military feudal state and have done so by impoverishing all but the top 1%.  They are creating an America of subsistence and poverty that is devoid of the American Dream for everyone but themselves.

Paul Ryan’s twice-proposed budget is designed specifically to throw more money to the 1% at the expense of our most needy people and tilt the game still further.  The Catholic Bishops weighed in against Ryan’s budget, saying that it hurts the very people – our most vulnerable – that the church seeks to protect.  They are right and he is not, regardless of the sweet face he puts on his proposal and the dismissive things he says about his detractors.

The way to reverse the upside-down world that Ryan and the 1% want to create and to stop the theft of the American Dream is to vote for candidates who will make that happen.  It is about electing people who will put a stop to the glut of influence money in politics that makes guys like Ryan propose such regressive budgets.  It is quite likely that your Democratic candidate answers that description.

So, the way to make a difference is to help the D candidate win, not because s/he’s a Democrat – that would be a dumb reason – but because s/he will vote in congress the way that makes sense to you.  So, volunteer in their campaign.  Hold an informational meeting for friends and neighbors at your house for your candidate.  Their election staff will tell you how to do that.  Volunteer at a phone bank.  Put out a lawn sign and slap a bumper sticker on your car.

The issue is to be active, because passivity will breed more of the same as we are seeing now and our children and grandchildren will inherit an America that you couldn’t possibly recognize.  I do not mean that as hyperbole; my own grandfather would not recognize America today, even as he was an ardent anti-New Deal guy and thought both the income tax and Franklin Roosevelt were the worst things on the planet.  

Actually, I take that back; he would recognize this, because the unregulated greed that hurts Americans and led to the meltdown in 2008 and the continuing decline of the middle class is exactly what he saw as a young father in the 1920’s.  He’d recognize the influence peddling in Washington, the dumb bubble economy, the spinelessness in congress and more.  He would be waving a red flag and yelling, “DANGER” because he would have seen what happens when we do dumb stuff like we’ve done and he would be asking whether there is anybody who remembers history, because Santayana was right – in our refusal to remember history we were doomed to repeat it and we have done just that.  The difference is that after Hoover, we learned our lesson and started to make things better.

Today the righties want to do things that will make things worse.  The real question is why they would want that.  The 1%-ers want that because it makes them richer and keeps them in control.  The politicians want that because that way the rich people continue to throw money to them that perpetuates their careers and their wealth building and keeps them in control, too.  As for why any Tea Partier would want that – more on that another time.

For now, just be clear that things will get worse unless we make them get better.  It is up to those with a ballot in November to stop the theft of America.  If we fail to show up, if we fail to man the barricades against this assault on the America we believe in, then the American Dream, that future we want for our children and grandchildren will be lost for generations.  Tag, you’re IT.

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

The Common Wisdom

We all know that the country is center-right.  Perhaps it’s there as a result of a pendulum swing from the socially farther left pendulum of the 60’s and the politicians and pundits now like to tell us we’re center-right almost as throw-away line.  Or maybe people just keep saying that and have done so for such a long time that we’ve come to believe it, but repetition doesn’t make the claim accurate.  Take a look at just a few issues before us.

Jobs – About 306 million of we 307 million Americans want the government to take energetic action to ramp up the economy and create jobs.  The noise from the far right is the only thing that is making it seem like there is huge opposition to that.  As a nation, we are left of center now on jobs.

Voting rights – Americans believe overwhelmingly that all of us over the age of 18, with the possible exception of convicted felons, should vote.  That’s pretty much smack dab in the center, not center-right.  On the other hand, there are Republican strategists who have openly stated that the only people they want to vote are those who will vote Republican.

In the 2010 election many states voted far right legislators into office and they have enacted laws they have fraudulently proclaimed are to protect us from a blight of voting fraud.  The thing is that voting fraud almost never happens – not even in Chicago.  These laws serve solely as an obstacle to voting for young people, the elderly, the poor and those in minorities who tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.  Let’s see, righty R’s preventing D’s from voting.  Hmmm.

Immigration – Most of us believe that if people do something wrong that they should bear the consequences.  And most of us believe that children of illegal immigrants, born in this country and who have broken no laws should not bear those consequences.  Righties don’t want to pass the Dream Act and they are completely out of step with the majority of Americans.  The R’s continue to oppose it because they’re afraid they’ll get “primaried” in the next election by a fanatic on the lunatic right fringe.  That keeps them disconnected from everyone but the aforementioned lunatic right fringe.

This issue is complex, but as a nation we’re pretty much in the center.

Taxes on the wealthy – Depending on the week and the poll, anywhere between 62 – 80% of Americans favor increased taxes on the rich.  Only the righties who signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to never raise taxes, along with some already wealthy people are opposed to that.  That is to say, the country is center-left on this issue.

Contraception – Do you really need an explanation about this?  Even 98% of Catholic women have used some form of birth control and only some fundamentalist righties have a problem with it.  It’s just that a few of them have very loud voices.  We Americans are far left in favor of contraception.

Women’s choice – The majority of Americans continue to be pro-choice, although by a smaller margin now than in past decades.  In part that’s because of the loss of institutional memory of how things used to be before Roe v. Wade.  It wasn’t pretty.  We are center-left on this.

Global warming – It’s not just all the environmental scientists; most Americans believe that the Earth is getting warmer and that mankind’s activities like burning fossil fuels is contributing to it.  The only question is why anyone denies that.  To find the answer, follow the money.  It’s way on the right.  (Ref: “And another thing” below)

Social Security & Medicare – These are the two most popular programs ever created by the federal government and America is far left on them.  Only the righties want to abolish or privatize them.

Note to budget hawk absolutist righties: We made a contract with the American people, who pre-paid for these services and we must keep our word.  I know you’ll understand that.

Education – The righties want to abolish the Department of Education at both the federal and state levels.  They are starving schools of funds, so teachers, administrators and janitors are being laid off.  School maintenance and improvement projects are being halted and the disparity between the education of our poor children and the rich kids who get to go to elite schools continues to widen.  Our children are suffering, their future becomes bleaker every day we fail them and we are putting the future of America in peril.

Americans don’t like this.  They want their children to be educated and think public education is a very good thing.  The righties are completely out of sync with America on this.  This country is way left on education.

Healthcare – Most Americans want the government to do more to fix it.  All that is standing in the way is the resistance borne of the hundreds of billions of dollars being collected every year by the medical insurance companies, big pharma, big hospitals and a few others.  We’ve tried letting the market fix this.  That has resulted in our having the most expensive healthcare in the world, while at the same time we’re getting just middling results.  Only the far righties with megaphones attached to their faces think that continuing to let the free market work is the solution.  We want affordable healthcare and are at least center-left on this issue.

The list can go on until sunrise.  Those saying that we are a center-right nation have either bought into the Big Lie or think they will benefit by making you believe it.

It turns out that the common wisdom isn’t so common, nor is it so very wise after all.

—————————————————————————–

And another thing .  .  .

Have you seen the TV commercials with the pleasant looking blonde lady in a black pants suit talking about American energy?  She tells us how plentiful it is and all we have to do is go get it.  As an example, she walks across a map of the lower 48 and tells us about, ”  .  .  . tapping Canadian oil sands for U.S. consumers.”  Sounds great.

Except the plan for the Canadian oil sands crude is to transport that heaviest, dirtiest crude oil with the greatest global warming footprint via the XL Pipeline to our gulf coast for exporting to other nations.  I need for them to explain once again how that stuff is for U.S. consumers because I’m not seeing how exporting it makes it for us.

One last comment: That ad and the others like it are sponsored by the American Petroleum Industry, the promotional organization of Big Oil.  Just so you know.

“We move through life like a man in a rowboat, looking back even as we move forward.” – William Landay

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

Meals and Deals

You’re sitting at a window table of a delightful restaurant with a companion who is both interesting and interested and the conversation is engaging.  Your waiter brings your food and drink at just the right times and everything is delicious and so satisfying that you don’t even notice your growing sense of contentment.  Your belly is full and all is right in your world.

You glance to your right through the window and notice a man looking into the restaurant.  His clothes are in poor condition, he has a plastic bag slung over his shoulder and his back is hunched as he peers through the glass.  He looks hungry, but that is something that is difficult for you to understand, because you are anything but hungry.  Indeed, empathy – feeling what another person feels – is very difficult when you are feeling the opposite and it’s almost impossible to imagine a homeless person’s feeling of hunger in that moment when you have just completed your meal.

So it is for the 1%-ers and their political pawns.  Their lives are working quite well, they are more than content and, hard as some might try, there is not even a remote chance that they can feel what the members of a family feel as Mom and Dad lose their jobs, one because of a plant closure and the other to a layoff because business is depressed.  It’s impossible for the 1%-ers and their political pawns to have even a remote understanding of the powerful feelings of the members of that family as they lose their house to foreclosure.

And when Mom and Dad join the local Occupy march, it is so easy for the 1%-ers and their political pawns to dismiss them as rabble, as lazy people and to blame them for their circumstances.  According to Herman Cain, if Mom and Dad aren’t employed or rich it’s their own fault.

But here’s the thing: Mom and Dad played by the rules.  They stayed in school and got an education.  They got jobs and worked hard, paid their taxes, coached their kids’ soccer teams and went to their holiday pageants.  They followed the American playbook, page by page, doing the right things and doing things right.  And now they have lost everything and are wondering what happened to the dream they were promised.

The answer, of course, is that it was stolen from them by the big money interests who purchased their way into power and influence and who then rigged the game.  They changed the playbook and didn’t tell anyone that they were gambling with the welfare of the entire world.  They didn’t care about consequences because they would get their payday whether their bets paid off or lost, since all the rest of us would bail them out of their failed bets.  They were confident of that bailout because they had a gun to the head of every one of us.

So much has crashed and burned and so many millions of people are suffering that it is a wonder that their cries aren’t heard.  Yet what is happening instead is as predictable as the tides.  Those 1%-ers and their political pawns aren’t even able to hear the cries of hunger of the millions because the rich have always just finished that metaphorical meal.  Furthermore, they don’t want their world challenged or changed because it works so well for them, so they have their local muscle brutalize demonstrators, as though tear gas, nightsticks and rubber bullets might somehow make the challenge to the rich go away.

But they won’t.  Swatting at symptoms never makes the root cause disappear.

The root cause is an unanswered human need for fairness.  Until the game gets un-rigged and the promises kept there will be people in the streets and nearly everywhere else with the simmering anger of having played by the rules and in return gotten screwed.

There are consequences to treating people that way.  1%-ers and political pawns beware: You may not like what’s coming.  Just know that you set it up to happen this way, whether you’re simply unable or, worse, callously unwilling to understand the hunger of the people.

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

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