Behavior

Special Ice Cream Edition

bjlogoWhatever your issue, budget, debt, global warming, immigration, guns, healthcare, civil rights or any other topic, the reason things aren’t getting better is because of something that controls your issue: Money.  Big money.  Big money that influences elections, politicians and distorts the will of the people into the will of the very few enormously wealthy people.  For more on that, take a look at Larry Lessig’s TED talk.

Should you doubt that big money influence is preventing the will of the people (that’s you) from being done, just recall the recent vote on background checks prior to gun ownership.  Have you ever seen an issue in the United States where 90% of the people were in agreement?  That’s highly unusual and one would expect those who represent us to get the message and vote accordingly.  Didn’t happen that way.  Enough of our politicians flagrantly voted against our wishes because of big money influence and they caused the wrong result.

The Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream guys have something to say about that.  You can read about it here on the CNN Opinion blog.  They explain it better than I do.

Just because those gun money politicians defeated the sensible gun ownership background check that you wanted doesn’t mean that they can defeat everything that we want.  We Money StampAmericans are united in opposition to big money buying our elections and our country.  So, get off your Barcalounger, get a stamp here and get the message out so that next year we will elect candidates who will begin to make things right.

Is this issue important to you?  Comment below and then email this to 3 friends.

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

For Purist Lefties and Windshields

WindshieldI’m surely talking to myself here, but this just might fit for others, too. JA

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The Radical Right provides enough material in a single sentence of extremism than can be corrected in a 750-word response.  I’ve heard as many as three fictional facts in a single short sentence.  Let them go on for two minutes and it’s such a dizzying array of fantasy that it’s impossible to know where to begin to correct the falsities.  Those guys know how to spray incendiary, divisive and destructive language.  They’re really good at demanding that everything be decided their way and insisting that that they never make mistakes.

For example, don’t you just hate it when the far righties tell us how safe George W. Bush kept us?  Try telling that to the kids whose mother or father was crushed to death in the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings.

Those far righties want to end Medicare and Social Security and they have concocted fatuous, misleading names for the programs they designed to do just that.  Then they have had the gall to tell us that they don’t want to end those programs.

When 20 little kids were gunned down in Newtown, CT the far righties made sure that we didn’t do anything to begin to limit access to the kinds of weapons that make it easy for violent people to do such things.  They insist with self-righteous fervor that they have the one true interpretation of the Second Amendment and they ignore the demands of the rest of us, as they pursue campaign cash to support their careers.

So we call these people crazy.  They are hateful and mean.  They are dishonest in sixteen different ways.  Our guts snarl and our spittle flies as we yell at our windshields.

To pull a Columbo, there’s just one more thing.

What is it that you were saying as President Obama worked toward compromise with congressional Republicans during all those iterations of budget and debt issues?  What was it you were saying as he failed to press for universal health care?  Now he’s offered chained CPI as a negotiating chip.  I’ll bet you had serious juice about those issues and your words for him might have sounded a lot like your comments about crazy righties.

Obama let the Republicans kill his jobs bill, even as they were telling us it was all about jobs, jobs, jobs.  You pilloried the Republicans, but did you also lambast Obama for his lack of leadership on the issue?

How many times did you wail that Obama gave up his negotiating leverage by caving in at the beginning of discussions with Republicans?  It seems that President Obama just won’t be the absolutist leftie some want him to be.  Maybe you’ve sprayed a coating on the inside of your windshield over that.

We can keep strolling down the path of all the ways Obama and the Democrats have failed – surely that has happened.  Yet here’s the key point:  governing is compromising and nobody gets all of what they want all of the time.

The Radical Righties have done a really good job of strong-arming America for over a decade.  Their demand that everything be decided in the far righty way is incomprehensible to many; just get that a similar demand from the far left is just as incomprehensible.

For those who get off on anger, who feel powerful by living in their disparagement of anything and anyone who disagrees with them, I have a news flash:  You are a lot like those whom you pillory.

Fight for what you believe in.  Oppose what you disagree with.  Just don’t be so certain that you have the one and only true vision of what is best, lest you become a yet another ideological roadblock and put the inside of still more windshields at risk.

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

An Island of Clarity

As a student of human behavior I have been trying to understand the craziness that is our social and political culture.  So many blatantly false things have been said with great earnestness and an odd assumption of integrity.  The absolutist behavior and mean spiritedness displayed for years has been confounding and dismaying.  What’s going on?

I feel as though I am incrementally getting a handle on our collective dysfunction, yet I’ve wanted a social scientist, someone who actually studies such things and does experiments and collects statistics – you know, science stuff leading to actual facts – to help me with this.

Happily, my pal Brian Muldoon and I were exchanging some emails following one of my essays and he pointed me to a Bill Moyers interview of Jonathan Haidt.  This is the guy I’ve been looking for.  I mean, I’ve wondered how two people can look at the same thing and have such different interpretations and reactions to it.  Turns out, they’re not looking at the same thing and Haidt explains that and lots of other things.

I invite you to watch the interview.  HIs book was released this week and I’ve just started reading it.  It’s a page turner for behavioral geeks like me.  More about that another time.

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

Human Being 101 – No, Really

83% of Americans – including NRA members – want universal background checks before gun ownership changes.  That means mandatory background checks before sales at retail stores, at gun shows, private sales and even when Grandpa tearfully hands his lovingly preserved hunting rifle to his grandchild.  We want to ensure that the recipient of the firearm isn’t a homicidal maniac.

Over 65% of us believe that climate change is both real and that human beings are contributing to it in significant measure.  Two out of three Americans believe we should be taking action to stem the tides that trash our coastal cities and the drought that is scorching our fields and limiting our agricultural yields.

99% of Americans believe public education is both right and necessary for the future welfare of our children and our nation.  67% believe we need to expand pre-school education because studies have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that early childhood education leads to greater success in life.  Not surprisingly, parents in America want that for their kids, regardless of their present economic situation.

Over four out of five Americans believe in a strong national defense, while at the same time they believe that we cannot and should not engage in continuous war.   Over 90% of Americans believe that we spend far too much on military hammers, toilet seats, and unnecessary hardware and want to see a substantial reduction in those expenditures and a lot of common sense applied to the Pentagon’s activities.

Just short of 100% of Americans believe that we should stop granting tax exemptions to the world’s most profitable entities, like big oil, big finance and big anything with idyllic island locations to park their billions of dollars tax-free.

The frog boil of healthcare cost escalation that has run concurrently with a worsening of medical outcomes relative to the rest of western civilization has at last caught the attention of the majority of Americans.  They want the system fixed, not more scary slogans.  They want reasonably priced healthcare and world-class outcomes.  They want an end to the one out of two personal bankruptcies that are caused by catastrophic medical bills.  In short, they want what so many other western countries provide.

Q.  What do all of these situations have in common?

A.  Congress refuses to act in accordance with the will and desires of the majority of Americans.

Now, why is that?  The people we send to Washington to represent us are privy to the same information as the rest of us.  They certainly aren’t so bereft of intelligence that they don’t get it.  So, what explains the refusal of congress to do our will?

Turns out that it’s all about Human Being 101 and its first imperative, preservation of self.  To see how that works, you have to step through a logic tree.  Here is how it works:

  1. Politicians very often act like people, in that they focus on self-interest, which for them is to get elected and then stay in office.
  2. A successful campaign requires lots of television and radio advertising, which is hideously expensive, so candidates must raise a lot of money.
  3. It is very difficult to raise anywhere near enough money for a successful campaign through small, individual contributions, so candidates must solicit big contributions.
  4. By far the biggest contributions come from corporations and big money individuals who can contribute unlimited “soft money” to SuperPAC’s, which will air lots of television advertising for its candidate.
  5. The money from all of those people and corporations is necessary for the next election, too, so politicians, once elected, refrain from actions and votes that might be objectionable to the big bucks contributors.
  6. Sometimes, that puts politicians at odds with the vast majority of Americans, as they vote in favor of the interests of people who are their big contributors, and against the will and interests of those who are not.

At root, if We The People want our will to be done, like the issues listed above, we have to remove the core driver of our political dysfunction.  We cannot change human nature and politicians will continue to do what is in their self-interest.  What we can do is to demand change to political fund raising, the engine of our national political dysfunction.  Until we do that, we’re just swatting at symptoms.

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Editorial note: The statistics presented in this essay are approximate due to time limitations for sourcing.  However, they are spot-on correct in their meaning.  You can look it up.  JA

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

I Hope The President Fails

That’s what he said in mid-November, 2008.  A colleague was expressing his fondest hope for the newly elected president.  What is most significant about this is that he didn’t say that he disliked the president’s policies or that he fervently wished that they would not become law.  He did not hope for a resolute senate that would moderate President Obama’s initiatives.  He stated clearly that he hoped that the president would fail.

I put my best effort into making sense of that, of seeing his comments in a constructive light.  I imagined that this colleague was simply saying that he preferred a conservative world, so he didn’t want to see progressive/liberal ideas become successful.  That thinking refused to last, though, as the full depth of this guy’s meaning sunk in.  He really wanted a failed president and presidency.

His is the point at which present day conservatism departs from traditional conservatism, and from patriotism, as well as from any semblance of good sense.  How could a true conservative want to see our institutions fail?  How could a true patriot want his president to fail?  And where in the world did good sense go in wishing for America to fail?

Weirdly, the Republicans hate President Obama more than they love America.  They killed the jobs bill, they took the country over the fiscal cliff, they threatened national default, they dragged feet on providing disaster relief from Hurricane Sandy – the list goes on and on and all of the crazy stuff that was designed to make the president fail instead hurt the economy, veterans, job seekers, homeowners, workers, the elderly and even the world economy.

Don’t bother trying to find refuge in this “hoping that the president fails” business by seeing it as solely that of my former colleague or just within the R’s in congress or the far right talking heads.  A recent poll showed that 40% of Republicans want the president to fail.  Clearly, a lot of them don’t care who else gets hurt by their destructive attitude, as they pursue their agenda of hate.

The real problem is that they don’t just hate the president’s policies.  In fact, the R’s themselves introduced and supported many of those same policies that would have helped Americans, right up to the moment when President Obama agreed with them.  Then they beat a retreat and shifted into name-calling and derision.  It wasn’t about policy at all:  It was about hating and wanting to defeat President Obama.  For the R’s, that overrode everything else.

Some say that’s race-based, and surely some of the obstruction answers that description.  The R’s did the same kinds of things, though, to Bill Clinton.  Remember that Speaker Newt Gingrich shut down the government while trying to neuter Clinton.  They launched investigations into everything that happened during the Clinton Administration, effectively tying up much of the executive branch resources and the president’s attention.

That’s the single strategy in the Republican playbook: oppose anything a Democratic president supports, national consequences be damned.  Our country is tied up in knots by people who don’t care how badly the rest of us suffer, by politicians and pundits who have lost their focus on a better America and instead are focused on destruction.

There was precious little many of us found to support during the eight years of the presidency of George W. Bush, but I never heard anyone hope for his failure.  You might want to mention that the next time you hear someone voice a belief in the equivalency of the political parties in their craziness.  That 40% of Republicans who want the president to fail are clear about what they hate.  Try asking them what in America they love and support.  See if they can get past their vitriol.  I bet they can’t.

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

Fundamentalism

Staying informed requires that we do more than exchange views with the smart people – you know, the people who agree with you.  Indeed, much more important is that we listen to the people who do not agree with us and hear what they have to say – actually seek to understand.  Often that is less comfortable than being validated by those aforementioned smart people who agree with us, but we have to listen to all views if we are to learn anything.

And so it was with great pain that I watched a piece on Fox News with Suzanne Venker telling me that boys and girls are different and that women are either less than men or should act that way, so, honey, get back in the kitchen.  Okay, she didn’t say the kitchen part.  She does, however, seem to subscribe to the same attitude modeled by Gov. Huckabee (included in her interview video) of women as “other” creatures and needing the protection of men.  It’s a “ women as less-than,” paternalistic worldview.

This seems to be yet another piece of retro thinking, the kind of simplistic, anachronistic attitude that has brought us self-justified science deniers, religious extremists, fiscal rejectionists and white supremacists.  Come to think of it, that kind of fundamentalist polarization is reminiscent of Islamic fundamentalists.  You know, the guys who strap bombs to their kids and send them into restaurants to blow themselves up, all in the comfort of religious justification; the people who learn to fly an airplane but not to land it, so they can suicidally/homicidally fly it into a tall office building and kill lots of people to promote their notion of justice; the butchers who mutilate and kill their own people in the name of Allah.

Wait – Americans are like Muslim fundamentalists?  Well, how would you characterize us when President Obama receives over 30 death threats per day – from Americans?

The head scratcher for me is not that we Americans are impassioned or that we disagree with one another.  From the time of the Articles of Confederation we’ve always had disagreements and will continue to do so.  A case can be made that we are better for our disagreeing.  What is curious is how we came to the point where we just shout at one another and don’t listen at all.  We have made this a country of self-righteous, “my way or the highway” attitudes.

Us-Them is now the flesh searing brand on the American brain.  If that is to change for the better, we have to figure out how we became this dysfunctional.  Exactly when did fear and hate take over as the official attitude of American culture?

Recently, I attended a talk by Jim Kenney, co-founder of Common Ground, and I asked him what he thought was behind our fundamentalist, absolutist fervor.  He’s a well-educated, well-informed guy and he answered without hesitation that the primary cause is The Big Lie.

That’s “Big Lie” as in Josef Goebbels-type propaganda.  It’s about a program of disinformation, telling the lie over and over until people believe what you want them to believe, like calling our president a Muslim or a Kenyan, like dividing Americans into creators and takers, like saying that people of color are not like “us” and, the ultimate, that those who don’t believe in God exactly as you do are doomed: there is neither god nor heaven for them.  There are millions of people persuaded by such messages and they eventually carry them and justify their resulting hatred with their fundamentalist fervor.  They think they are bedrock right.

Presidents Nixon and Bush II both promoted an us-them attitude by overtly saying that you’re either with us (meaning their administrations) or you’re against us.  Bush told us that you either supported the Patriot Act as originally written, including the illegal wiretapping, illegal search and seizure, perpetual detention without charges or trial (the end of habeas corpus) and illegal CIA investigations of Americans in America, or you were unpatriotic.

You can hear Big Lies any time, as they are pounded through the airwaves and online in a nonstop parade of vilification, fear and hatred.  The repetition somehow creates an altered perceived reality for many and the divisiveness is expanded.  Daniel Gardner’s book The Science of Fear will help you to understand just how easy it is to manipulate people.

Those manipulated by The Big Lie think they are adhering to fundamental truth, but maybe they’re just terrorists, like the thirty nut jobs who threaten the life of our president every day.  We can’t let them win, because if they do, America loses.

The way out of this national polarization is not through hitting back with frenzied counter-hatred.  It is through seeing those with whom we disagree as opponents, not as enemies and it surely doesn’t mean seeing them as less than.

So, the next time you hear someone saying things you passionately disagree with, observe where you go with your reaction.  Are you having an amygdala moment of fear response?  Do you instantly judge and dismiss the other person in some way, labeling them with disparaging adjectives and nouns?

Not much will get a lot better until we stop vilifying one another and start listening to someone other than the Big Liars.

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

It Isn’t About The Message

Here are some comments made by political pundits following the election.

“The Republicans will have to change their messaging if they are going to appeal to Latinos.”

“Mitt Romney had to pivot to the center in order to attract independents.”

“Republican candidates have to stop saying things like, ’A woman’s body has a way of shutting that down [in cases of rape],’ and ‘[Pregnancy from rape] is God’s plan.’”

All that “how to win elections” talk is completely misguided, wrong-headed and even dishonest.  It seems to say that all that matters is winning an election and, therefore, that manipulation of the message and of voters is what is important.

To which I say, “Nuh-uh.”  What is important is not the verbal pivot to the center, the crafted messaging and avoiding making stupid, physiologically erroneous statements.  All that pivoting and messaging is about attempting to fool people.  It is the beliefs and the values of the candidates as indicators of what they would do that is important and however you dress up those rape related statements, it’s clear what these goofballs would do.  Fixing their words to be more palatable would leave them just as radical.

Mitt Romney has shown his true value to America, that of being a finely honed example of dis-ingenuousness.  John Huntsman called him, “a perfectly lubricated weather vane,” and that makes him useful and instructive about this messaging business.

Romney was “severely conservative” during the primaries, telling far righties what they wanted to hear.  If the principles he espoused at that time are his core principles, then what are we to make of the opposite views he declared during the general election campaign?  He pointed his messaging weather vane in whatever direction he figured might be to the liking of his then-current audience, even lying about his previous statements, leaving us to wonder what his actual principles (other than getting elected) might be on issues like abortion, healthcare, the auto industry bailout, Libya, a date certain for our troops to leave Afghanistan and so many others.  That left us clueless about what he might do if elected.

The abandoning of his prior, polarized positions and then claiming a moderate middle left President Obama apparently perplexed and nearly speechless during the first debate.  If you weren’t perplexed by Romney’s pivots to moderate positions, perhaps instead you felt insulted by his apparent lack of respect for your intelligence, as though he assumed you lacked memory function.

Now that the Republicans have lost big, the hand-wringing over Latino voters has begun in earnest and the talk is all about the messaging that will be needed to attract them for the next election.  All of that misses the point.  What is important isn’t the messaging; it’s the meaning.

MESSAGE TO FUTURE POLITICAL CANDIDATES:  You need to understand that Latinos don’t care much about what you say about immigration reform; they care about what you would do about immigration reform.  They don’t care any more than any other Americans how you flap your lips about Medicare and Social Security; they care about what you would do about those programs.  What can they count on from you?  If you’re all about the hot air of your messaging, then all you are is a manipulator and Latinos are as good as any of us in sniffing you out.

This election was about many things, including voter disenfranchisement backlash, big money influence and the price to be paid for lying to Americans.  All that pivoting and crafted messaging and biological stupid stuff gets seen for what it is, sooner or later.

So, it turns out that Lincoln was right: You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.  Eventually, they will figure out who and what you are.  You may have had your way with them for a while, but if you have been dishonest with the American people they will swat you like they would an annoying housefly and flick you away.

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

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.

Murray-isms

My friend Pat Murray is one of the clearest thinkers I know in the areas of group and individual behavior and I have learned some valuable lessons from him.  See if this pairing of one statement plus two questions from Pat’s work stimulates your motivation innards.

YOU GET WHAT YOU TOLERATE – Children teach us this every day.  A major part of their job is to push the envelope to find out where the edges of acceptability are.  Those edges are often defined by some sort of pain, like physical pain as a result of attempting to defy the laws of physics while riding a bicycle or from adult displeasure over an inappropriate childhood behavior.

So it is with politics.  Our politicians will push the envelope and keep on pushing until we tell them they’ve gone too far by punishing them with our phone calls, letters and emails of displeasure and, eventually, with election defeat.  The key point is that if you tolerate their behavior, they will not only continue it but they will keep on pushing that envelope to an extreme until you actively refuse to tolerate what they are doing.   Passivity and apathy on your part will result in ever more outrageous behavior on their part.  You get what you tolerate.

WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? – Are you clear about what you stand for, what you believe in down to your bedrock, the absolutely most-not-be-violated ideals you will never compromise?  Tagging on to that question, motivational speaker Les Brown likes to say that you have to know what you stand for or you’ll fall for anything.

There are people in all areas of our lives who want to sell us something, who want to bend us to their way in order to help them to create a world that serves them.  Some of these people are quite comfortable lying to us, misleading us with flagrant, fatuous falsehoods (my alliteration for today) and many of them have very loud megaphones.  They feed us a spoonful of verifiable fact to gain our trust and then go off into their stream of dishonesty.  Unless you know what you stand for, you can be manipulated easily by these people and become a pawn to serve them while they do harm to you and everyone else in the process.  What do you stand for?

KNOW YOUR INTOLERABLES – Yes, I know that “intolerables” isn’t a word you can find in the dictionary, but you understood its meaning immediately. What is on your list of things that you will not put up with?  What are the absolutely no-go items?  Lying, cheating, stealing, dishonoring the sacred, cruelty, abandoning the helpless, disloyalty?  When you make your list, be sure to do a gut check so that you don’t write hollow platitudes, because that doesn’t serve you.  Rather, write what is actually true for you.

For example, you may find abridging the rights of fellow citizens to be intolerable, but do you believe in it so strongly that you’ll fight anyone who tries to silence those with whom you passionately disagree?  Do you believe in the rights of citizenship with such passion that you’ll stand up publicly for those whose voting rights are being stolen right now?  Do you believe in civil rights so strongly that you’ll speak out against the anti-Muslim fever that is both marginalizing and killing some Americans?  Speaking of killing, it may be an intolerable for you, but do you make an exception for those who kill abortion doctors?  Know your intolerables.

It is true that those are under-the-skin questions likely to provoke.  Are you agitated enough to take action?  A good starting place is to make two lists: HERE IS WHAT I STAND FOR and THESE ARE MY INTOLERABLES.  Your lists probably won’t be very long, but they will have great power for you.  And when you’re done, you’ll stop falling for anything and instead will be prepared to stop tolerating all that envelope pushing that violates what you believe in.  You might even exercise your citizenship by speaking out to make things better.

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

National Despair

There’s no point in waving arms, getting red in the face and snapping at the annoying tweaks that are sent only to distract and manipulate us.  If we’re to understand what is behind our national despair we need to focus on the core issue that keeps us stuck in a morass of helplessness and prevents us from the exceptionalism we’re capable of creating.

Perhaps you believe that doing the right thing is the right thing to do.  If so, this may fit for you:

I despair over the paralysis of America caused by the people who are supposed to be our leaders but who, instead, feather their own nest and ensure that their system is self-sustaining, much to the detriment of the rest of us.

I despair over the abdication of the regulatory muscle that could have prevented the banking-driven recession that has hurt so many Americans and has undermined the American brand throughout the world.

I despair over the abdication of the rule of law, like claiming that torture isn’t torture, like leading us into an unprovoked war and, every bit as damaging, by the near-complete failure of Congress and the press to do their jobs to prevent all that.

I despair over the public hatred and lies that are repeated by those in leadership positions and by ordinary, angry Americans as well, spreading the venom that has come to be tolerated and even believed by a distracted public.

I despair over angry young men who take handguns, rifles and automatic weapons to movie theaters and schools and kill innocents randomly, this while the NRA tells us that guns don’t kill and that assault weapons with 100 round drums must be legal and, by all means, let’s have 34 round magazines for those Glock semi-automatics.

I despair when the meteorologists tell us that we can expect this year’s drought to be repeated for years to come and, at the same time, people we’ve elected to be our leaders blatantly lie to us and declare that global warming doesn’t exist.

I despair when a congressman or senator shouts bigoted remarks at others and, worse, when those remarks aren’t rebuked by colleagues, the press and the public.

It’s true that we’ve always had haters and liars and that we’ve always had leaders who have twisted the truth because it serves them (and not America) well.   We have always had fools and bullies.

But it seems that the American train has jumped the track over the past 30 years, that dishonesty has become the purpose and dysfunction the goal.  For example, Ronald Reagan told us this about the Panama Canal:  “We bought it, we paid for it, we built it and we intend to keep it!”  That was a huge applause line, right up until the day he gave it away.

George H.W. Bush told us over and over, “Read my lips: No new taxes.”  Then he raised taxes.

Bill Clinton told us, “I did not have sex with that woman – Ms. Lewinski,” but, well, you know.

Now Mitt Romney is twisting himself every way imaginable to tell us that he’s always been against all those things he was always for.

And these are our leaders.

In any relationship, each has a part in the situation, so ultimately, it boils down to what we – you and I, our neighbors, your goofy brother-in-law, the retired couple down the street and everyone who works at the businesses in your town – have agreed to settle for.  We have let self-serving dishonesty penetrate our leadership as we simply went about our lives with myopic focus.  The lack of public integrity is so common now that we barely lift an eyebrow when we hear the next whopper.  It’s what we expect.  And that is the real poison of despair.

There is a glimmer of hope, though, that holds promise for us.  We can cure our national despair and it is so simple, so easy and so obvious.  We have the power to change everything and it is in our hands right now.

All we have to do is to stop settling.  All we have to do is to stop tolerating the intolerable.  All we have to do is to demand truth and call out the liars.

It’s time.

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

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