Lemmings and Leaders

It’s a common belief that those cute little lemmings follow one another over a cliff and are dashed on the rocks below to their instant demise.  In point of fact, lemmings aren’t particularly smart, but they do have enough innate mental ability not to follow their pals over a cliff and commit suicide.  That is a most useful point.

Mark Kirk has held his job as congressman from the 10th District for 10 years.  For eight of those years he just did what he was told to do by Republican leadership and voted for every Republican spending bill.  He helped to doubled the national debt, adding more to it than all previous administrations combined, from George Washington to Bill Clinton, this because Kirk was a follower.

When the issue of war, any nation’s gravest question, came before him, Mark Kirk asked not a single question in session.  He didn’t require any substantiation.  He didn’t offer any skepticism or even appear to raise an eyebrow.  He just voted in lock step with the rest of the Republicans for the wrong war, taking us over the metaphorical cliff.  He was a suicidal follower.

Here’s another, more dire way to see this.  Mark Kirk lied about his military experience, claiming he had been in combat.  He wasn’t.  Then he sent our troops over to Iraq to be maimed and killed in combat without so much as a moment of hesitation for their welfare.  That mortal hypocrisy has killed over 4,000 of our men and women, all because he wouldn’t stand up and lead.  Instead, he followed his Republican masters.

My notion is that we elect people to represent us and to be leaders for us.  Kirk cannot be a leader, though, if all he does is keep his head down and follow, just doing what he is told to do.

We need our leaders to be bolder than that and, certainly, they need to be at least as smart as lemmings and not follow anyone over a cliff.  It’s time to fire the follower because of his total lack of leadership.  It’s time to make Alexi Giannoulias our next senator.

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

Fear, Lies and Politics

According to every poll on the topic, the level of trust we Americans have for our elected officials is abysmally low – somewhere in the neighborhood of 11% for our congress people.   We’ve been fed a steady diet of lies and misleading information for so long that the truth is hard to identify and we don’t know if we can trust anyone.

The dishonesty spans the entire imagination: from the WMD’s that never were in Iraq to Senator Larry “Wide Stance” Craig in the Minneapolis airport; from adulterer Governor Mark Sanford, who never was on the Appalachian trail to Senator Chuck Grassley, who tried to play you for a fool by telling you that they’re going to pull the plug on Granny; from Senator John McCain, pressed from the far right in a primary and declaring that he never said he was a maverick, to the holier-than-thou hypocrites, like the gay bashers who turn out to be gay.  The list of lies, misleading statements and outrageous claims never ends, especially in this poisonous climate of fear that has gripped the nation.  Just knowing about that fear is your starting point for determining who to trust and how to vote.

Listen to what candidates are saying as they try to win your vote.  If they are trying to make you afraid of something – anything – that’s your clue that they are attempting to manipulate you and it’s probably being done with dishonesty.  Of course, there really are things going on in the world that are frightening, but candidates using those things or the lies they invent in order to scare you is their way of telling you that they really have nothing to offer – no new ideas and no real leadership.  All they have is the sales tactic called “scare ‘em and save ‘em,” which they are using to try to gain power for themselves.  For the manipulators, it’s all about themselves – it’s not about you and it’s not about America.

So listen for the appeal to fear.  Then run, do not walk, away from that candidate.  Your future and that of your children and grandchildren is too important to leave in the hands of manipulators and liars.

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

For Those Who Would Persuade Us

Get over your smugness – you aren’t smarter, they aren’t dumber and doing what is best for America isn’t about crushing those who disagree with you.  If you need to crush others, get that that’s about your ego and your fear.  See your therapist immediately.

Recent times have shown over and over how difficult it is to have a reasonable exchange of ideas when people are impassioned or scared. We humans incrementally lose our ability to be rational as emotion creeps into our brains and effectively dumbs us down.  All of us.

The 20% of Americans on the far right have made up their minds.  No amount of persuasion, no list of brilliantly articulated facts and no charming approaches will be so compelling that they will change their views.  And it’s exactly the same for the 20% of Americans on the far left.  So, arm-twisting any of those folks is an exercise in frustration for you and it annoys everyone else.

What remains is the middle 60% of Americans.  These are folks who are politically disaffected to the point that they don’t even want to look at the issues that will impact them significantly.  They’re weary of being told self-serving political fantasies, they are right in thinking that the screamers never listen to them and they are sick of the political bickering and demonizing that solves nothing for Americans but instead is designed to produce power bases for bickering politicians.  That is to say, elections are decided by people who don’t want to hear your political views and would rather you just went away.

So, if you want to persuade others to agree with you, start with a little humility and compassion.  And your offering facts instead of fantasies would be most refreshing.

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

How Gullible Are We?

President Bush had intelligence information in advance of 9/11 that clearly and plainly warned of a plot by al Qaeda to attack America.  He was told that they might use airplanes and that an attack was imminent.  And he dismissed all of it and even belittled an agent who brought him information, saying, “Alright, you’ve covered your ass”.  How interesting that Bush’s thinking process was about ass covering, rather than protecting and defending America.

That he didn’t read his briefings and dismissed critical national security information merely provides more examples of his lifelong unwillingness to learn.  Some are dedicated to ignorance.  That’s not shocking.  Here’s what is.

After over 2,800 of our countrymen and scores of foreign nationals were killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania, Bush and Cheney actually told us that they had protected America from terrorist attacks.  Yet not even that oft-repeated lie was not what was most shocking.  The truly shocking part is that the majority of Americans believed them.  How gullible are we?

They told us that they didn’t authorize torture.  Yet on February 14, 2010, the former Vice President admitted in an interview that he did authorize torture and that he had directed his aides to manipulate the legal issues so that he could get away with it.  Before that, though, he told the lie that, “America doesn’t torture,” even after it was public knowledge that prisoners who had been convicted of nothing at all were being waterboarded, something that has been recognized as torture since the Spanish Inquisition.  And the majority of us bought the lies.  How gullible are we?

Dick Armey, Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty are high on their Tea Bagging fantasies.  They’re playing on peoples’ sensibilities, demanding small government and low taxes and they rally their true believers in hatred of anything that isn’t them, which attracts a generous sampling of white supremacist groups and immigrant and gay haters.  Disappointingly, mainstream Republicans are sucking up to these extremists for fear of losing a few votes.  That’s because what is important to them is staying in power, not what’s best for America.

Many people buy the extremist arguments, talking about the stimulus package as though there would be no adverse impact of doing things differently.  But there would be.

If we end the stimulus, the programs that the money would have funded will end.  People will lose their jobs, as will all the people who make the things those then-unemployed folks would have purchased.  It’s a multiplier effect of job losses.

So, let’s try a little test of their dedication to the Tea Bag.  We’ll get a bunch of Tea Baggers together and ask to see a show of hands of everyone who is willing to lose his or her job so that we can shrink the size of government and lower taxes for everyone.  Note that we’ll want to do our very best work at minimizing government, so we won’t supply any unemployment benefits to them.  Do you think anyone will raise a hand?  Likely not, but hundreds of thousands of Americans are having temper tantrums over government spending anyway.  How gullible are we?

178 Republican representatives voted against the stimulus package.  That’s all of the Republican representatives.  At least 111 of the NO voters have gone home to their districts and smiled at ribbon cutting ceremonies and at the handing out of oversized checks, bragging about the jobs that will be generated for their constituents because of the stimulus money they brought with them.  They were proud to bring home the bacon, this from a bill they voted against.  And most of those hypocrites will be reelected.  How gullible are we?

Democracy requires an enlightened citizenry, Thomas Jefferson told us.  Unfortunately, those with the loud megaphones are interested only in themselves and their power, so they play us by filling our ears with lies and misinformation.  They manipulate us and play us for fools.

One last time: Just how gullible are we?

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

I’m A Christian

That’s what the caller said to the talk radio host.  Then he proceeded to make his comments about health care reform.

I can’t help but wonder what, “I’m a Christian,” means or why he invoked his faith as preface to his comments about a hot political issue.  Actually, I’ve heard many people declare their Christianity as part of their expression of their opinions, which, as it turns out, were mostly offered as absolute facts rather than their personal opinions.  What does the caller’s thinking he’s a Christian have to do with health care reform?  Sure, we can manufacture a connection; still, the more interesting part of this is his intent of saying, “I’m a Christian.”

Does he want us to ascribe certain values to him because of his pronouncement of his religious beliefs?  Are we supposed to see him as merciful or generous or caring?  Of course, I’m making up those qualities, since the caller didn’t explain the meaning behind his declaration, but that was the sense I had.  And isn’t it odd that he would find it necessary to make this religious declaration, as though we would then know something useful about him?

James Earl Ray said he was a Christian and then he murdered Dr. Martin Luther King.  Robert Chambliss was the ringleader of the gang who blew up the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, killing four little girls as they sat in their Sunday school class.  He said he was a Christian, too.

Less dramatic but insidiously damaging are the fervent Evangelicals and people on the religious far right who are certain in their beliefs, clearly unable to discern the difference between their beliefs and truth.  They have a satisfyingly simple view of the world: They got it right and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong.  Unfortunately, there are, they believe, consequences to being in the group they call “wrong”, as they announce with impassioned, vaguely compassionate certainty that all who don’t believe as they do are damned and will go to hell.  What a bummer for so many of us.  They may pray for the salvation of the wrong-ies, but either way they call themselves Christians as they marginalize and sometimes demonize all who are not just like them.

King Ferdinand II of Spain was the 15th century poster boy for that kind of thinking and he was all about action in support of it.  He murdered everyone who would not declare themselves to be a Christian. He, too, it seems, saw himself as a Christian.  There were a number of popes like him, some of whom sent armies to kill the non-Christians in the middle-east.  What could be more Christian than that?  It turns out there is something.

Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, Inc. (now called Xe Services LLC), the “contractor” hired by Cheney-Bush to kill Iraqi’s, thinks he’s a most devout Christian.  He wants to eliminate Islam and kill all three billion Muslims in the world.  He must really be a Christian.

When people invoke their Christianity as some sort of placeholder for values they think ascribe to them by such a declaration, rest assured that they’re only creating a smoke screen, something to hide behind while they believe whatever they believe and go about doing whatever they do, either good or evil.  So, if you’re inclined to preface your opinions by declaring you’re a Christian, you can save the pious label, because, knowing that it’s used to justify nearly anything, I have no idea what it means.

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

Grant Park

Yes, that Grant Park.  The one that the world remembers from the 1968 riot that happened concurrent with the Democratic National Convention.  It was defined by the Kerner Commission as a police riot, which infuriated Hizzonor The Mayor (Daley the First) and confirmed for much of the world that Chicago was still a frontier town.  It also made for a stunning visual image of radical kids seeming to be connected to the Democratic Party.  The spectacle assured doom for the Democrats for decades to come and Grant Park has been remembered ever since as the site of a riot.

I was of an age that I might have been in Grant Park on that dreadful August night in 1968.  I wanted to be there, but I wasn’t.  I followed a more conservative path, starting and running a business for 25 years.  So, what was I doing in Grant Park this time?

Forty years can change a lot.  Now, two generations later, the crowds were back – somewhere between 250,000 and 400,000 in Grant Park on a November evening.  There were no protests.  There were no police in riot gear.  There were, instead, police eating pizza.  And police guiding visitors.  The most aggressive show of force by the police was a phalanx of cops astride those gorgeous thoroughbreds just watching, as if to say, “We’re here if we’re needed.”  They were never needed.  Not this time.  Not in this place.

This was a singular night of celebration.  The energy was entirely joyous and periodically exuberant.  It was a gathering of a long separated family, come from distant places to rejoin in a communion of belief.  It had been so very long and the night so dark.  And there we were, witnessing together the first rays of light to break across the sky of the future.

We’ve suffered the lies and wrong wars, from repeated attacks on the Constitution and from the crush of a falling economy and the nonsense of no accountability.  This night the message of change was overwhelming and the energy in Grant Park felt like enormous relief.  Hurray for the Obama house that fell from the sky and landed on the Wicked Witch of the West!  Let the joyous celebrations begin and we’ll start the journey down the yellow brick road back to the America that has seemed lost in an eight-year fog.  Ding-dong, the witch is dead.

And, of course, there was so much more.  Did I mention that Barack Obama is black?  Well, half black.  Logic would suggest that he is also half white, except we probably still carry around the hateful “one drop” notion that helped to perpetuate racism for 400 years, so he’s commonly referred to as black.  Setting aside the multi-layer stupidity of that, consider the messages we have delivered to ourselves and to the entire world: about possibility and hope; about belief in ourselves; about change that has taken not years, but generations, even centuries; and that we have put a stake in the ground to declare that something profound has occurred.  The racial tectonic plates have shifted.  Even the political hate mongers cannot sway us from taking yet another step in the direction of the true promise of America.

After Barack Obama won the Iowa (that’s the 95% lily white Iowa) primary, Rachel Maddow said it best: “This is the kind of America I want to live in.”

I never lost my 60’s idealism and still get a lump in my throat at the Memorial Day ceremony on the Village Green.  I sing the National Anthem out loud at ball games and write letters to the editor over our government abandoning so many of our tribe in New Orleans.  I still have stars in my eyes for America.

And so do several hundred thousand of my friends who gathered in Grant Park on a balmy November evening in 2008.  This is the kind of America we want to live in.

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

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