Behavior

It Isn’t About a Website

HealthCare-GovIt is a great and comforting validation that people with large megaphones and big mouths have focused on the ailing website of the Affordable Care Act.  They show us that naked self-promotion of individual and collective stupidity lives on in perpetuity.

Opponents of Obamacare wail and wring hands over the website.  That dysfunctional site alone is reason enough to kill the entire program, they tell us.  And it is evidence and proof of the folly and unconstitutional core of the entire Act, they insist.  In their claimed clairvoyance they bray over what is in the heads of those who led us to such evil, although how they got into others’ heads is not explained.  And now they have fixated their mean spirited, laser beam of antagonism on the website.

I must have been absent from class when they explained that the main purpose of reforming healthcare in America was a website.  That is similar to the day I missed class when they explained all about death panels.

Full disclosure: I have not read all 2,500 pages of the Affordable Care Act, so I may be misinformed.

But my understanding is that the Act is designed to remove limitations on coverage for healthcare, this in order to promote better medical care for Americans.  I thought it was to stop insurance companies from collecting premiums and then refusing to pay for the medical care that was supposed to be covered.  I thought it was to make it so that poor people stopped using the emergency ward at their closest hospital for their primary care and instead steer themselves to primary care physicians.  That is supposed to help catch medical issues earlier in order to promote better health and to lower overall healthcare costs for everyone.

It has been my understanding that Obamacare really isn’t about medical decisions.  It is about how we fund medical care and all the changes for the better that will bring.  There are no specific medical procedures that are prescribed or prohibited by the Act.  That is between you and your doctor.

All of that is in place, with or without a facile website.

The ACA website and phone center will be incrementally improved in an ongoing program, just as such things are for most endeavors.  So, while the current website is operating at a sub-optimal level, it is quite beside the point.  That is, it’s beside the point for all of us except for the self-promoting political hystericals, locked in their rending of garments and feigned woe.  What a bummer it will be for them when the website is fixed.  They will have to find some other phantom horribleness over which to go all googly-eyed.

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

If It Isn’t a Perfect 10 . . .

Look, it’s as plain as can be that the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – was flawed from the start.   Whatever your political views, the act focuses on payment, not medical care itself.  And it doesn’t cover everyone.  Besides, the stupid website doesn’t work.  Just de-fund it, already.

And while I’m thinking of it, our interstate highways are pretty beaten up.  De-fund those, too.

Education.  Now, that’s a mess.  Our kids are way behind most of the industrialized world in science and math, so the only sensible thing to do is to just dump the system we’re using.  Perhaps funding based on real estate property taxes made sense a long time ago.  Maybe, maybe not.  But that funding mechanism isn’t preparing kids for today, much less for tomorrow.  And we’re not hiring and retaining the best teachers, either, as too many are on the “Three Years and Out” plan.  No, this isn’t working well enough to continue to throw money at it, so just pull the plug.

The Postal Service doesn’t get any money from the government, unless some bureaucrat wants to mail a letter, so we don’t have to worry about that.  But the people running it ought to be re-thinking their whole model.  One stamp sends a letter to the remotest places in the U.S. every day.  That’s crazy.  Maybe congress should increase the requirement for their pension put-away to cover people who won’t be born for another 50 years.  That would put the pressure on them to pull the plug.

And those spiffs to alternative energy companies – what’s up with that?  Those technologies only supply 2% of our energy needs, which is way too little to make a real difference.  No point in encouraging that, so we should just de-fund those loony subsidies.

What the heck is the government doing in the home mortgage industry?  Everyone knows that Reagan was right about government being the problem.  We should just let the free market do its magic.  The FHA falls well short of doing things right all the time.  Adios, FHA.  And pay no attention to those too-big-to-fail bank derivatives that nobody understands.  Let the free market work there, too, except if those guys crash and burn again and then government will be the safety net.  Everything has an exception, right?

Medical R & D – now, that’s a real problem.  We keep throwing money that way, but where is that cure for cancer?  Have you seen it?  Neither have I.  Now, that’s a really dark hole into which we throw cash all the time, but that’s a system that never delivers like it should.  De-fund that bad boy, too.

Back to Obamacare for a second.  The website is so bad that it’s embarrassing.  And President Obama did that, “If you like it you can keep it” thing, which turned out not to be true for everyone.  Those are two more good reasons for trashing the entire program.  Okay, really just one more, since I mentioned the website earlier.  But it’s that bad, though, so it should be beaten up twice.  Maybe continuously.

There are so many programs that we fund that work at sub-optimal levels.  If we are to make good choices about what to do with our scarce resources (i.e. what’s in our collective wallet), then here is the bar that must be cleared:  If it isn’t perfect, de-fund it.

There.  That was easy.

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

Jax Fablz: Where Bees Go

There were hives.  Lots of hives.  They were all over the Federation of Bee Hives.

The drones worked hard, collecting pollen and bringing it back to the hives and the queens would look upon their work and say that it was good.  But both the queens and the drones of the southern hives had too much to do and the summers were so hot and humid that they needed help.

Then one day a ship arrived with African bees.  The southern bees cheered and bought the African bees, queens, drones and all.  The African bees were made to labor for the southern bees who forced them to work very hard.  They weren’t paid for their work, and were given only enough to eat to stay alive.  The African queen bees gave birth to baby bees and they were owned by the local bees, as well, so the free bee labor pool grew and grew, but the African bees suffered and were very unhappy.

One day a group of northern queen bees told the southern queen bees that what they were doing to the African bees was terrible and that they had to stop.  The southern bees did not like being told what they could and could not do and became very angry.  They said, “We have hive rights!”

Well, the talk became angrier and angrier and hatred grew.  The southern bee queens and drones insisted that they needed the free African bee labor so that they could become even richer.  At last they said they had had enough of northern bee judgments and northern bee demands on them.   With that, they left the Federation of Bee Hives.

That caused a bee civil war and over 600,000 bees died in the fighting.  The Federation was saved and the African bees were freed, but there wasn’t a single bee anywhere who didn’t feel the pain and sorrow of loss of their fellow bees.  All of the bees vowed that such a thing would never happen again.

The years passed and the southern bee queens and drones gave way to new generations of bees.  No bee then alive had a memory of the terrible suffering of that war of long ago and not a single bee could remember the vow their ancestors had made.  Still, they carried with them the stories of how their bee ancestors were told what they could not do.  That kept a fire of resentment buzzing in their bee hearts.

They also carried a disdain for the African bees still in their midst.  Like their southern bee ancestors, they liked to think they were better than the African bees, so they did things to keep the African bees down.  The southern bees liked the feelings of power and control that gave them.  But little by little the northern bees put a stop to many of the bad things that were being done to the African bees.  That served to amplify the buzzing of the southern bees over how much they disliked being told what they could and could not do.

Finally, one day the southern queen bee of the largest southern bee hive spoke up.  She had no memory of the awful suffering of the past, or at least she acted that way, because she hinted that perhaps her hive should secede from the Federation of Bee Hives.  She was very pretty, but most bees knew that she was nothing but a pollen head.  Still, she had tapped in to the southern bee feelings of resentment, a resentment nurtured by generations of bees that liked to see themselves as victims and blame other bees for their suffering.

Then more southern bees began to speak of what they called “the good old days” when the southern bee hives left the Federation.  Like the pretty queen bee who had spoken up, they refused to acknowledge the terrible suffering that all bees had endured because of that bee civil war of long ago.  They paraded in funny bee hats and old southern bee war uniforms.  They waved the flag of those old days of hive secession and buzzed with pride.  Indeed, there were quite a few southern bees who became so puffed up with feelings of their power of resentment that their hairy bodies and especially their heads became quite swollen.

One day one of the swollen head southern bee drones said that he would stand for office to represent his hive in the Federation of Bee Hives.  If he were to win his election he would have to swear an oath of allegiance with his bee leg on the Bee Bible, promising to protect and defend the Constitution of the Federation of Bee Hives.  But he had openly declared that he was a member of a group calling for the southern hives to secede from the Federation again.

And no bee had any idea what had happened to bee integrity or even common bee sense.  They only knew that they were trapped in a downward spiral of bee fear and bee hate.

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Moral:  Both the anger of victim-hood and the pride of self-righteousness lead to the same dark place. – JA

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

Another Shot In The Foot

The recent government shutdown over a stupid power play by right wing extremists, along with their threat to cause the United States to default on its debt, were more than just political theater and more even than a showdown episode.  It was an exercise in self-destruction.

Yes, it was destructive to the Republican Party.  On the other hand, the Republicans stopped being true conservatives at least 35 years ago and instead have focused on transferring wealth to the already rich from all the rest of us, ensuring our prisons are full of chronically voiceless people and starting unnecessary wars.  So, who really cares if the Republican Party is in self-immolation mode?  Just let them burn to the ground and perhaps some sane voices will emerge from the ashes.

The self-destruction you need to pay attention to is that of the United States of America.  We have threatened the entire world with financial catastrophe.  We have demonstrated repeatedly that our primary goal is national dysfunction.  We have marginalized the majority of Americans.  We have dramatically expanded the ranks of our poor.  We have declared that we don’t want to fund the education of our children.  And we do want to arrest and torture people without so much as charging them with a crime and then keep them imprisoned endlessly.  All of this stands in stark contrast to the values we say we believe in like truth, justice, democracy, fairness, opportunity and other worthwhile attributes.

Given that contrast, what do you suppose the people in the rest of the world think when they hear the happy words but see the not-so-happy deeds?  Surely, our mixed messages pull the rug from under their trust and confidence in us.  Don’t imagine that is a small thing.

Trust is the cornerstone of relationship and we are in continuous relationship with a global society.  For many decades the standard of world trade has been the American dollar.  It is the symbol of global influence enhanced not just by military might, but also by trust and confidence in our values and our dependability.  Once those things are gone, the money of some other country will step in and be the global standard and the United States will be a second tier country.

We are in a headlong rush to hand over world leadership to China, led with daring forcefulness by crazy Americans who tell the world that the United States cannot be trusted.  They do that by paralyzing our government and threatening creditors with our default and those exercises are scheduled for a replay in the middle of January.

For more on the American Brand and the crazy messages we give the world, review Bruce Terkel’s blog here.  Then comment below with your ideas about how to stop us from repeatedly shooting ourselves in the foot.

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

The Continuing Frog Boil

Boiling FrogThe U.S. budget sequestration went into effect on March 1, 2013.  It was designed to reduce defense and certain non-defense discretionary spending by annually declining percentages through 2021.  It applies these cuts with the fine precision of a large asteroid smashing into the Earth.  It was said to be designed as a pressure on Congress and the White House to hammer out a budget agreement on a timely basis and was not supposed to go into effect because its stupidity was unthinkable.  Apparently, some of the major actors in that drama didn’t do enough thinking, because we’re living with the sequester now.  Oddly, we are not hearing much of a wail from those affected.  There are reasons for that.

First, the impact of the sequester on defense spending is small enough to be a rounding error for the agencies with nearly unlimited spending ability and which buy thousand-dollar toilet seats, tanks for fighting the non-existent Soviet Union in a land war and trillion-dollar airplanes that no one wants.  Besides, when the affected contractors are unhappy with the government they don’t march in the streets.  Their comments are given behind closed doors, so you don’t hear them.

Second, many of the domestic program cuts only affect poor people and nobody listens to them.  For example, study after study has shown that early childhood education is the cornerstone for later success in higher education and for a lifetime.  But the sequester cut 57,000 children out of the Head Start program, thus necessarily relegating them to a much dimmer future.  Understand, though, that the Head Start victims of the sequester are poor kids whose parents’ voices aren’t heard in Congress because those parents don’t make large campaign contributions, so they don’t have access.  And you can’t hear them because the corporate media doesn’t relay their brutal reality.

Here is another example.  The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicted that the sequester would produce a reduction in economic growth of 0.6%, saying that this would affect job retention for 750,000 Americans.  “Retention” is not about new jobs.  It is about employed people just keeping their jobs.  That means three-quarters of a million Americans will lose their jobs because of the unthinkable sequester.  Like the parents of kids kicked out of Head Start, the newly unemployed don’t have access, so you don’t hear their voices, either, and it is relatively easy for the rest of us to ignore the change.

Third, we human beings only become aware of change when a big WHUMP! smacks us in the head.  Most of the time we tolerate small changes quite easily and don’t even notice them.  By the time we at last notice their accumulation into a WHUMP!, it is too late to prevent the adverse consequences that we will live with forever.  That is to say, most of us are living with the unrecognized effects of small changes and, like live frogs in a slowly heating pot of water, we fail to recognize that we are being boiled alive.

Yet, metaphorically speaking, that is what is happening to Americans.  We are tolerating changes like the sequester, either because each change is very small, as they are for most of us, or we are accommodating them because we are powerless, as it is for the poor, the disenfranchised, the unemployed – the very people who don’t contribute big money to political campaigns.

And the incremental deterioration story gets worse.  The current government shutdown engineered by Ted Cruz (R-Psych Ward) and his extremist pals has already kicked another 7,000 kids out of Head Start and 19,000 more are on the way out the door.  Those kids will under-perform and we will lose the benefit of their contributions and their genius.  Some will drop out and be a weight on society and some will turn to crime for survival.  For those who don’t care about those kids, surely even the investment class understands the value of spending a buck today to get a return of two in the future.  Yet all they seem to be able to see is that they want everything now.

Head Start is just one example of incremental changes that are absorbed with barely a public whimper – there are many more – but we will all pay the price.

On the other hand, here is a happy thought: we’re saving money today because we’ve cut unemployment compensation for those 750,000 Americans being laid off this year and we won’t have to listen to them complain because they don’t have a voice powered by campaign contributions.

Come to think of it, perhaps you are not donating thousands of dollars to the right legislators every election cycle.  If that is the case, you just might want to check the thermometer in your pot.  It might be edging up the the WHUMP! mark at the top of the scale.

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Definition: The Republican Caucus – a gathering place for the clueless.

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“Let me just check my talking points, and  .  .  .  Why, here’s something flamboyant and hateful I can say to rile up the base and make them cheer for me.  And here’s another.  Wow!  There’s a whole pile of ’em!  I’ll never run out of self-serving drivel.”  Sen. Ted Cruz in an imaginary and oh-so-brief moment of honesty.

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

What Do You Want?

Uncle Sam What Do You WantA fundamental question in all negotiations is, “What do you want?”  Of course, there are other questions each party must answer but everything hinges on knowing what you want.  Absent that, all negotiations are just exercises in defeating the other guy for no clear purpose other than the opportunity to do a little chest beating.  Not much good happens from that.

Indeed, On Thursday Congressman Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) said of the government shutdown, “We’re not going to be disrespected.  We have to get something out of this.  And I don’t know what that even is.”  And, in fact, nothing good came from that, except for Stutzman’s hand getting slapped by other Tea Party  people for making them all look stupid.

The answer to the “What do you want?” question for each side in our ongoing DC dysfunction is “government.”  The Democrats want government to be an active agent in society.  The Republicans continue to follow the slick campaign quip of Ronald Reagan, “Government is the problem.”  That is to say, what Republicans want is to do away with nearly all government.  To that point, Grover Norquist has told us that he wants to reduce government in size such that he can “drown it in a bathtub.”  And, due to 2010 redistricting, the Republican extremists have managed to shut down much of the federal government and have threatened to default on the nation’s debt in pursuit of their government destruction goal.  Apparently, nothing is sacred to them in their quest – not even our national honor nor the world economy.

This is not a situation where each party is equally to blame for the mess we’re in.  This is the result of a few dozen radicals holding the United States and the world economy hostage.

The question for all the rest of us is, “What do you want?”  If you want to terminate all the things you have come to expect from government, then the extremists’ view and their Machiavellian methods are for you.

On the other hand, what you want might include the protections that only a functioning government can provide, things like meat inspection, careful review of drugs before they’re used on your children, air traffic control so that the airplane on which Granny is riding doesn’t go bump in the night with another airplane, ensuring that our kids get an education for success both today and tomorrow, building and maintaining our bridges and interstate highways, all national security functions, funding the research work at the National Institutes of Health so that when you get sick there is medical help for you and so many other important functions.  If that is what you want, then it just might be a good idea to contact your representative and senators in Congress and tell them to shape up, especially if one of them is a Tea Party zealot with his/her gun pointed at Uncle Sam (aka you).

As always, the behavior you tolerate is the behavior you get.

One more time:  What do you want?

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

The Greater Good – Part 1 of 2

America Held HostageThere is a lot of craziness that can be rationalized using the words “greater good”.  Too often the only participants are those with a bizarre and dangerous imagination and with a vested interest in the outcome.  That applies to the separate issues of America’s budget and the U.S. debt ceiling. 

There is a small band of far right wingers who are holding hostage all the rest of the Republicans.  The result of that is that together they are holding hostage the welfare of every citizen of The United States of America.  Even more, by threatening to default on our national debt they are also holding hostage the entire world economy.  Gun to the head of America and the world.  All that matters is what they want.

Perhaps these far right legislators are true believers for whom their ends justify any means, no matter the pain they to cause hundreds of millions – and to perhaps billions – of others.  Lying and bullying are okay, they believe.  Those are just tools to achieve their goals.

They are funded by unimaginably wealthy individuals for whom ever more power, money and control are all that matter.  Those legislators and their fabulously rich benefactors are all hostage takers, packed with hubris, self-interest and a complete lack of concern for others.  “They are bold and proud and certain in the way of clever children blessed with too much self-esteem,” in the words of Ben Fountain’s brilliant 2012 best seller, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The ruination of America is of no concern to them.

For these megalomaniacs, it is all for the greater good.  Theirs.

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

Deliberative Leadership

FDRGiven the current impassioned debate surrounding Syria’s use of chemical weapons, the implications of US military action and President Obama’s handling of the situation, this is a good time to revisit a lesson from World War II.

Look at the chart below (click here for a sharper image) that details war deaths.

WW II Deaths

Just to make the central point clear, here in tabular form and focused solely on military deaths, is the same information:

Russia                9 -14,000,000

China                  3 – 4,000,000

Yugoslavia          446,000

United States      417,000

United Kingdom  384,000

Romania              300,000

Hungary               300,000

Poland                 240,000

France                 217,000

The numbers for France, Poland and several other countries would be much higher had they not been overrun within days, making formal military confrontation minimal.

Although the US was a major player in what were essentially two wars waged concurrently, the number of US military deaths, while tragic, was relatively low.  For that we can thank President Roosevelt.

A great deal of the US participation in the European war was through the supply of war materiel to other countries.  Indeed, both wars had been ongoing for years before the US became involved.  Looking at the numbers above, it is apparent that we did a lot of arms supplying and proportionately far less bleeding than many of the other combatants.

That was Roosevelt’s genius in action.  He was deliberative.  No rash decisions.  Everything well thought out.  He thought about both the intended and the unintended consequences.  There are a lot of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who survived that decade thanks to Roosevelt’s thorough and rigorous thinking, and that is the lesson.

The next time you hear someone whining about President Obama’s “dithering,” about his taking time to think instead of taking immediate action, about him being too “professorial,” be sure to hear that for what it is.  It is the sound of a chest thumping, “shoot first and ask questions later” pea brain without the capacity or good sense to think before doing irreparable harm.  You’ll find that you’re listening to someone without the capacity to hold more than one thimble-sized thought in his head at once, which is exactly the kind of mental limitation that gets America in trouble, like in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We tried shallow thinking for most of the past 32 years and almost without exception it has backfired.  We need leaders who have the good sense to adjust when circumstances change.  We need thoughtfulness in our leadership performed by someone with the capacity to hold several complex ideas in mind at the same time.

Deliberative leadership.  Celebrate that, America.

Note to obstructionists:  Stop whining about people being smart.  It’s a lot more valuable than people being dumb.

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

Sometimes Conspiracy Is The Only Explanation

SensenbrennerIt is curious that the Republican National Committee decided to hold its own commemoration of the 1963 March On Washington, rather than participate in the national event on the National Mall on the 50th anniversary of the March just two days later.  And so it was that on August 26, 2013 Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) spoke at that all-R event.  He said, “The first thing we have to do is take the monkey wrench that the court threw in it, out of the Voting Rights Act, and then use that monkey wrench to be able to fix it so that it is alive, well, constitutional and impervious to another challenge that will be filed by the usual suspects.”

Hold on just a second.  This is a Republican calling for restoration of the teeth of the Voting Rights Act, insisting on reinvigorating a liberal cause?  Well, the story gets even more curious.

Following Sensenbrenner at this event was Reince Pribus, the fire breathing, absolutist chairman of the RNC, who said, “I think Jim just made some news.”  He did not counter what Sensenbrenner had said or spout far right wing propaganda about intrusive government, even though Pribus is on the “usual suspects” perps list.  This pairing and this behavior are worthy of some head scratching.  Indeed, that the RNC convened an event to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington was in and of itself more than unusual.

The Republicans have acknowledged that they have to appeal to minorities if the R’s are to avoid becoming extinct, and have been clear that they believe that to do that they must change their image.  The only thing that requires, say leading Republicans, is to craft their messages properly.  There has been no acknowledgement that they are the wrong side of nearly every issue that is important to the very people whom they must attract.  For the Republicans, it is all about the manipulation they can manage through word-smithing.  Modify their positions on issues of importance?  Not a chance.

Appropriately, the poor and those who are counted as minorities have overwhelmingly shunned the Republicans.

Now comes Sensenbrenner, committing to deliver substantive value to minorities and, oddly, the far right chair of the RNC doesn’t push back.  Very strange, but try this for an explanation.

For decades the Republicans have done everything they could think of to disenfranchise, marginalize and control anyone who isn’t an old white guy.   Now they are making noises as though they are going to be the flag bearers for restoration of a key liberal cause.  They will claim championship and insist that they are all about supporting the little guys of America, the minorities and the poor.  They will proclaim that those people should now flock to the Republican Party, the party that, no-kidding, we-really-mean-it-this-time, is really looking out for the little guys.

Crush ’em for years and then save ’em (at least a little), telling them that you’re their hero.

Brilliant strategy.

Diabolically brilliant.

Sometimes conspiracy is the only explanation.

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

Why Would They Say Those Things?

limbaugh_oxycontin

This was before Rush Limbaugh’s cruelty toward Sandra Fluke.  It was in the midst of his racism, but, of course, he’s always in the midst of racial slurs that are presented in the form of dog whistles, like his song “Barack the Magic Negro.”  These appeal to the embedded fear and hatred within his audience, people who long for the good old days when old white guys ruled everything.  Of course, the same goes for his misogynistic comments, suggesting a prehistoric view of women, of the days when men were men and women were possessions.

His vitriol flows like a poison river, snaking into the ears of the gullible, but is Limbaugh a true believer?  What is the America he believes in?

He gave us a hint a while back in an NBC interview when he was asked why he spouts his outrageous stuff.  “It’s all about the ratings,” said Limbaugh.  Not a word about American values.  Not even a nod to true beliefs.  It was the ratings and the advertising money the ratings bring to him.  Rush Limbaugh’s true belief is simple and pure: More money for Rush Limbaugh.

Lawrence O’Donnell calls Limbaugh a comedian, this not to suggest that he has comedic skills, but to separate him from people who actually know something.  That is to say, Limbaugh is in the entertainment business.  And in that spirit, he gives the people in his audience what they want, so they tune in. Advertisers are assured of many ears into which to pour their commercial messages and Limbaugh makes lots of money.  That’s it.

And it is likely the same for the rest of the hair-on-fire radio and television crazies who spout sociopathic lies and insinuations.  Perhaps some of them are true believers – there is no way to determine that.

Nevertheless, once again the advice of Deep Throat rings true: Follow the money.  Then you’ll know why they say those things.

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

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