Big thinking

The Greater Good – Part 2 of 2

Situation RoomBooks have been booked and blogs have been blogged.  Pundits have pundited and liars have lied.  The consensus seems to be that the invasion of Iraq was about oil.  Clearly, it wasn’t about WMD’s or Saddam’s non-existent links to al Qaeda.  So, let’s play with the oil theory.

We are now in the Situation Room.  Seated around the table are President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and the head of the CIA, George Tenet.  The topic is global energy stability and U.S. national security.  The concern is that Saddam is a loose cannon with the second largest known reserves of oil on the planet and he could upset world order.

President Bush declares, “This is about Amer-ka and we have to focus on the greater good.  Besides, I don’t like that guy.”

Rumsfeld raises his hand.  “You’re right, Mr. President.  If Saddam gets any more unpredictable the world oil markets could become crazy and force major disruptions to our national well-being and even threaten our future economic and political stability.  We must devise a plan to protect us from the ‘known unknown’ outcomes.

“We’ll invade Iraq,” snarls Cheney.  “It’s simple, plus it will be quick and easy.  We’ll just apply massive force, topple Saddam’s regime and install a new U.S.-friendly leader.”

Rumsfeld lights up upon hearing Cheney’s idea, “Our soldiers will be greeted by Iraqi citizens tossing flowers to them.  Best of all, the war will only last a few weeks and will cost just $300 million.  And, get this:  we can pay for it with Iraqi oil.”  There are big, self-satisfied smiles all around the table.

President Bush is really getting into it now and says, “That’s a great stratergy, Dick.  Oil market confidence’ll soar, we’ll have a continuing supply of cheap oil and the Amer-kn way ‘a life and our national secur-ty will be assured.  Plus, we can make ’em into a democracy just like us.  It’s all ’bout the greater good, get it?  And don’t you just love simple solutions to complex problems?”  Everyone at the table agrees with the boss.

“But wait,” Rice says.  “We can’t just tell the world that we’re going to invade Iraq because we want their oil.  We have to come up with a cover story for the invasion.”  That is when they begin to craft a lie about the smoking gun being a mushroom cloud.  And, because this conversation happens just months after 9/11, the tie between secular Saddam and Islamist al Qaeda is fabricated and, voila!  An American hunger for retribution is served by providing the lynch mob with someone to lynch.

George Tenet has been quietly scheming as he listens and can no longer contain himself.  “We can get real creative here.  We’ll make up a story about yellow cake from Nigeria, telling everyone that Saddam is making the yellow cake into weapons grade uranium. We’ll tell everyone that Joe Wilson is a liar and we’ll out his wife, Valerie Plame.  How ’bout you handle that, Dick?”  Cheney grunts.

“Oh, wait!” continues Tenet.  “I just thought of the best part.  You known those flimsy little aluminum tubes we found in that abandoned trailer in the desert?”  A few heads nod affirmatively.  “This is great.  We’ll tell everyone that Saddam’s going to pack his enriched uranium into them.  Hey, Colin – how ’bout you spout that one at the UN?”  Powell looks at Tenet, then to Bush, his brow furrowed.

“Look, Colin,” continues Tenet, “We’ve got the intel and we can spin it any way we want.  We can make it sit up and bark, if that sells the program.  It’ll be a slam-dunk.”  Powell acquiesces.

Cheney blurts, “We’ll probably take some heat for this, but we can sidetrack criticism by doing some illegal stuff.  We’ll call it legal and then we’ll stonewall critics by saying, ‘So?’  This is a no-brainer.”   Cheney snarls again.

Let’s leave that imaginary meeting and scratch our own heads about “the greater good” and other paths that might have served it.

If the issue was fossil fuel energy, we could have pursued a path like the one we’re on now, poking more holes into the ground in America and in different ways than ever before.  In fact, we are now extracting more fossil fuels domestically than at any time in our history.  Our dependence on foreign supplies has dropped from 60% a few years ago to 36% now and none of that domestic extraction cost the life or limb of any military personnel, nor did it cost the U.S. Treasury even a buck.  And we didn’t become even more hated throughout the Muslim world as a result of finding our own oil.

If the bigger picture of energy (i.e. beyond just burning more hydrocarbons) and its impact on national welfare and security were the issue, there is far more that we could have done.  We could have elected to take some of the billions we spent on war materiel, resources and personnel and instead put that into research and development of alternative, renewable energy sources, as well as a better battery for electric automobiles.  Indeed, just imagine what we could have accomplished with 12 years of well-funded research and Yankee ingenuity.

There is a lot of craziness that can be rationalized using the words “the greater good”.  Too often the only participants in discussions about the greater good are those with a limited or bizarre imagination, capable only of short-term thinking and with a vested interest in the outcome.

There are wacko-birds in congress right now who think that the greater good will be served by the United States of America, the bedrock upon which the world economy rests, defaulting on its debt.  Never mind the global catastrophes that will be visited upon us.  Ignore the massive economic depression that will put tens of millions of Americans out of work.  Just take it on faith that the crazies wearing the propeller hats of the Tea Party, the new American terrorists, understand “the greater good”.

But once again those controlling power have a limited and bizarre imagination capable only of short-term thinking and with a vested interest in the outcome.

We need better than that.

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.

The American Disease

We have an advanced case of The Stupids.

This disease can be contracted by constant exposure to public officials saying and doing idiotic things.  It results in eventual Stupids fatigue, marked by lack of reaction to outrageous behavior.  Here are some common causes of this nationally debilitating disease.

  1. Bible-thumping zealots tell us that 9/11 happened as God’s punishment for our nation’s sins.  They say we deserved it.
  2. Deeply repressed homophobes wail in their self-righteousness and tell us how we should live our lives, as they thump bibles from atop their moral superiority.  Then we find out that they are homosexuals.  Worse, we tolerate their hypocrisy because later they “repent.”  Same for governors who hike the Appalachian Trail – in Argentina – and serial cheats who run the Christian Coalition.
  3. Fools blabber constantly about rape, somehow inventing a concept of “legitimate rape,” with its implication that some rapes are not real rapes.  We are left to guess at what that means, but it sounds like they think some rape victims were “asking for it” and don’t deserve to be seen as victims of criminal assault and battery.  Other fools tell us that in the case of pregnancy due to rape, “A woman’s body can shut that down.”
  4. Michele Bachmann can’t figure out in which state Paul Revere made his historic ride, or distinguish between John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy, yet she got re-elected.
  5. Our elected officials have kept us in a near-constant state of war for over 30 years – some argue that the number is 60 – and we tolerate the dead kids and the dead economy.
  6. Richard Nixon declared his resistance to exiting the war in Viet Nam saying, “I’m not going to be the first American president to lose a war.” (October, 1969)  So, 45,000 more American men and women were killed before America inevitably lost that war.  That set the stage perfectly for all politicians to make every issue about themselves and their welfare and not about the welfare of America and Americans.
  7. John Boehner wants to lock up IRS people before an investigation is even attempted or charges filed.
  8. Chuck Grassley still thinks that, “They’re gonna pull the plug on Granny” and nobody calls him on his lie.
  9. Rand Paul still thinks that we should not aid hurricane victims.
  10. Paul Ryan still tells us that privatizing Medicare is not privatizing Medicare and half the country believes him.
  11. We now have two Governor Ultrasounds, as the Republican legislature of Wisconsin and its Governor, Scott Walker, have joined Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia and have decided that they know better about medical care than a woman’s doctor, so they require a vaginal ultrasound before any abortion.  And the OB/GYN has to read a statement to the patient that forces the doctor to lie to his/her patient.  Then the patient gets to pay for all that fraud.
  12. The gun bill failed, even though 90% of Americans wanted it to pass.   Perhaps a cover reason for it can be found in the bazillion amendments to the bill, most of which have nothing to do with firearms and many of which are stupid on their face.  And once again Americans have tolerated their elected representatives caving in to the NRA.
  13. Global warming deniers base their claims on complete bunk and the corporate run media, in its fair and balanced way, continues to let them air their views.  Worse, we’ve done next to nothing to deal with the looming danger that global warming will bring, largely driven by our voracious appetite for burning fossil fuels and our corresponding willingness to enrich the oil companies at the expense of planet Earth and its inhabitants.
  14. Congress actually passed a law that protects Monsanto from prosecution if its genetically modified seeds prove to harm or kill people.  This is the same congress that bemoans lack of accountability in our education system.
  15. We continue to pull money out of education, even though our future national welfare depends upon our kids being educated and prepared to compete.

We are distracted by these circuses and, clearly, this barely scratches the surface of the idiotic stuff that has been going on for so long.  Here is the key:

Re-read Number 6.  It is all about the self-interest of the politicians to advance their careers.  In order to do that they need big money.  To get big money, they have to do the bidding of people who have big money, meaning extremely wealthy individuals and corporations.  When they do that bidding, they are working for the monied interests, not for the interests of America and Americans.  That keeps us from dealing with our very real issues, like global warming, for example, because the oil, coal and gas industry people want to ensure the continuation of their gravy train.  Same logic for guns, healthcare and the lot.

We cannot change human nature and politicians will always look out for their own best interests.  So, until we deal with big money in politics, not much will get better.  Not any time soon.  Not until disaster strikes.  Maybe not even then.  Think:  Sandy Hook Elementary School followed by the failed gun bill, that failure being courtesy of threats to lawmakers from the NRA.

Most of us don’t feel disaster until it is in our faces and it becomes personal.  That is simple human nature at work and it is why, for example, we fail to stand up to the big money bullies who would allow an assault rifle in the hands of the fool next door.

Have you stood in a line for eight hours to vote?  Hundreds of thousands of Americans have had to do that and that is disaster.  Has a vaginal ultrasound been forced on you or someone close to you?  That is disaster.  Have you felt the bottomless depth of pain over children being gunned down?  That is disaster.  Does it bother you that you might be targeted by the NSA? It should, because that is a disaster.

The America you believe in is being stolen from you bit by bit, and it will be gone unless you and I disengage from the boob tube and the rest of the distractions that gobble our time, energy and attention and we at last speak up.  Speak up to get big money out of politics.  Everything turns on that.

The Stupids is a curable disease and you and I hold the cure.

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

A New American Award

"Reitender Urzwerg" kleinstes Lebewesen der WeltNanoarchaeum Equitans Virus
The smallest known organism


There are scientists who feel that viruses are not the smallest organisms because they lack a cellular structure.  Others believe that this condition is not disqualifying and it is this group of scientists whose views are invoked for this noteworthy recognition, The Virus Trophy.

Our nation has been poorly served by many of our leaders.  They have engaged in debates over issues designed solely to distract and polarize us.  They have refused to do the work to create the actions our nation truly needs and have instead concentrated their efforts on what serves themselves.  In short, they have focused on making us small at a time when we desperately need big thinking.

Our country wasn’t built on small thinking or by small men and women.  It was built by leaders who were giants and by the American people who worked hard, looked after one another, sacrificed and did the right thing.  There was a shared belief in doing whatever it took.  We built a country.

Now we find our leaders telling us all of the things that we cannot do.  They teach us to lie and to be hypocritical, to diminish one another and to defeat ourselves by rejecting learning and science.  They tell us to be afraid of one another.

They say stupid things, like telling us that the way to stop the killing of 33,000 of us every year with guns is for more people to be packing heat.  Actually, we tried that.  It was called the Wild West and a lot of innocent people got killed, until at last we figured out that it was counterproductive to safety for angry people to be running around with loaded guns.  Of course, more people having guns serves the gun manufacturers quite well and it serves those who receive campaign contributions from them, too, but it’s small, selfish thinking.

And so it is  .  .  .

– for bible thumping haters of all stripes

– for social program haters who lie to us

– for those who tell us that austerity will lead to prosperity, this in the face of well known economic principles that make it clear that austerity leads to contraction of the economy and poverty for the people

– for self-serving fools who tell us to “Drill, baby, drill” when doing that is a certain trip to climate catastrophe.

It’s time to stop thinking small.

We need to rebuild America so that our bridges are strong and safe.  We need to rebuild America so that we transmit electricity with minimal losses of the power that we generate with renewable resources.  We need to embrace all Americans, even those who are different from ourselves, both because our diversity is our strength and because it’s the right thing to do.  We need to reaffirm that our true international power cannot be found in unnecessary, punitive wars, but in the strength of our influence, the juggernaut of our culture and the power of our economy.  We need to stop pretending that we can kill our way to security and instead take action to make friends.  We need to deal with the displacement that will occur when we stop building unwanted and unneeded weaponry and repurpose those skilled workers for building 21st century America.

It’s time to think big.

That is why the first awarding of The Virus Trophy goes to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.  He has spent over four, small-thinking years focused on just one thing:  “To make sure that Barack Obama is a one-term president.”

Oddly, I had thought that a senator’s job was to represent the people of his/her state and to provide leadership to move America forward.  I had thought that the oath of office required our leaders to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.  For McConnell, though, those things seem to have been secondary at best.

There are other stupid, distracting, small-minded things that he has focused his energy upon in order to un-focus us from what is truly important and to keep us small.  Most of his energy has gone into opposing anything that President Obama promoted, regardless of the devastating effect of his actions on America and Americans.  All of that in the aggregate is what demonstrates McConnell’s true smallness and the richness of his deserving of the first Virus Trophy.  Congratulations, Senator McConnell.  However, you’re too small for America, so please take your award and go away in 2014.

Perhaps you’d like to extend your congratulations to Senator McConnell for winning this smallest of awards.  You can do that here And be sure to pass this along to the Kentucky voters you know – so that they know.


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

Other Than Your Mother

President Obama laid out offers to curb government spending two years ago by declaring that he is open to discussions around cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, much to the dismay of most Democrats and to left-of-center Americans of all colors.  The programs have been on the table, yet Republicans have been complaining since then that the President has not offered a single spending cut.  John Boehner, speaking out of the far right side of his mouth, has repeatedly declared this to be so, as has Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.  Weren’t they in those very same negotiating meetings that they both attended at the White House?

Their denials of reality are a mini-example of the Republican Big Lie strategy.  They repeat a falsehood enough times that people begin to believe that it is true.  Even the rank and file Republicans in congress have come to believe that the “no spending cuts on the table” lie is true.  Many of them have not heard directly from their leaders about the doings in those negotiating meetings with the President and apparently they don’t read newspapers or watch the news on TV, either.

That does not change reality, though, and if you live in a fact-based world where 2 + 2 = 4 and up and down are not the same things, you’ll recognize the Big Lie for what it is.  Boehner and McConnell protestations notwithstanding, President Obama really did lay two big ones on the table two years ago.

Related to that is a recent comment by failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who said, “What we’ve seen is a – the president out campaigning to the American people, doing rallies around the country, flying around the country and berating Republicans and blaming and pointing.”

That’s an update of the attempt to diminish Obama by John McCain and Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign.  They blasted him for giving great speeches at big rallies.  That is what Saxby Chambliss (R. GA) did to Max Cleland (D, GA, Ret.), when he questioned Cleland’s patriotism during the 2002 senate campaign. Cleland lost both legs and an arm in Viet Nam, while Chambliss was getting deferments from military service and partying in civilian life, but that didn’t stop Chambliss from his dishonest attacks.

Similar to Chambliss, George W. Bush attacked the patriotism of John McCain during the 2000 Republican primary and that of John Kerry in the 2004 general election.  I guess he is sensitive over the cushy fun he had flying jets around Texas and doing a lot of drinking with his buddies while those other guys were out risking their lives for their country.

The ploy is to attack a rival’s strength, to diminish his advantages by accusation.  That is what Romney, McCain, Chambliss and Bush did and it is exactly what Republican leaders and other Republican mouthpieces have been doing to President Obama all along.  Now Obama is making his case to the American people and is succeeding, so the congressional Republican mouthpieces are attacking him, accusing him of failure and saying that he should be in DC schmoozing them, the same people who deny reality.

Obama, they say, should be having Republicans over to the White House for movie night.  He should be phoning them directly, each and every one of them, so that they feel important.  Then they wouldn’t claim that they don’t know about the budget cuts he’s placed on the table because they would have heard about them directly from the President.  But President Obama did not reached out to each and every one of them personally and their feelings were hurt.

But now he’s taken them out to dinner at a nice restaurant.  They feel special.  Now they’re all puffed up with self-importance.

Well, here’s a news flash for Republican legislators: Other than your mother, nobody cares if your feelings were hurt.  We didn’t send you to Washington so that you would be stroked and told how important you are or so that you would be patted on the head and made to feel special.  We hired you to do a job and that job does not include paralyzing the United States of America and it does not include undermining international trust in our country.  Get over yourself.  We’re not here for you – you’re there for us.

Are your feelings hurt?  Do you feel like you haven’t received enough special attention?  We don’t care.  Not a bit.  Come to think of it, your mother likes her Medicare and she probably doesn’t care, either.

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

America in 2083

It is nearly unthinkable today that we legally enslaved people right here in America until just 150 years ago.  It is similarly unthinkable that only wealthy, white landowners were allowed to vote for a very long time and that women gained that right just 93 years ago.  It took over 50 years of focused struggle to fix something as obviously broken as that.  Unthinkable.

It was only 48 years ago that African-Americans gained full voting rights and the beginning of their relief from voicelessness.  It was around that same time when we at last decided that discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin was not okay.  It is unthinkable that it took that long.

This is not ancient history.  This is recent stuff remembered well by most Baby Boomers and it shakes our sensibilities today that our American forebears could have tolerated, much less practiced such amazing discrimination.

How do you suppose Americans seventy years from now will see us?  Will they be as baffled at our practices as we are in viewing history from our perch today?  Here’s a list of predictions of how adults seventy years from now will see us.

  • They will be astonished at our national polarization and the fear and hate that spawned it and which has resulted in our national dysfunction.  Historians then will struggle to piece together a narrative to explain our penchant for shooting ourselves in the national foot.

Americans in the last quarter of this century will wonder why there was a debate over private ownership of people killing machines, like assault rifles and large capacity ammunition magazines.  And they will shake their heads in astonishment that we had a low prohibiting the purchase of such killing machines and then allowed that law to lapse.

The people of tomorrow will find it unthinkable that we had a law that required background checks of citizens purchasing guns through retail stores but required no such background check of purchasers of guns sold at gun shows or through personal exchange.  Future Americans will wonder at the spinelessness that created such a law.

People will find it unthinkable that we had a healthcare system that was driven primarily by a profit motive, rather than a public health motive.  It will likewise be unthinkable to future Americans that we had a system where significant health crises caused half of all personal bankruptcies and where millions of Americans had to make tradeoffs between medical care and food.  And people tomorrow will wonder how it was that we tolerated the decades-long escalation of healthcare costs resulting in the most expensive healthcare in the world.  They will shake their heads in confusion over how, at the same time, we allowed our healthcare outcomes to deteriorate relative to the rest of the world.  A common refrain will be, “What were those people thinking as Americans suffered?”

Parents of children in 2083 will scratch their heads trying to figure out what people of today were thinking when they allowed their elected officials to cut funds for public education and incrementally destroy it.

Americans will be aghast that we allowed corporate and special interest money to poison our politics in such a way as to make otherwise sensible politicians behave in reprehensible ways.  They will wonder why we tolerated the dishonesty that served to perpetuate the careers of those same politicians and enrich their benefactors, while impoverishing the rest of America.

Late in this century voters will shake their heads at our 8-hour lines to vote.  They will ask if we really did tolerate that attempt to disenfranchise Americans.  It will be unthinkable.

American children will read in their history books that we had national debates about whether we Americans should torture people and that we actually did torture people.  Children will wonder if there are printing errors in their e-textbooks.  They will hope in vain that the torture was actually done by the Soviet Union or during the Spanish Inquisition and will wonder how such a thing could have ever happened in America.

Future Americans will ask how we could imprison people and charge them with no crime, refuse them due process of law, deny them legal aid and imprison them without limit.  They will ask, “Did we do that in America?”

Americans in the last quarter of this century will be damning us for our national refusal to deal with the reality that the Earth is warming and bringing with it catastrophe.  They will be angry that the sea has risen to the point that we will have lost much of Florida, that the Great Plaines, the greatest food engine the world has ever known, will have become a Great Dust Bowl and that the residents of lower Manhattan all have fins.  They will be furious at us for our shortsightedness, our greed and our outright stupidity.  It will be unthinkable to them that we missed the obvious.

Of the 172 democracies on the planet, America now ranks 138th in voter participation.  Tomorrow’s Americans will wonder why we sat stupefied in front of our televisions and let others’ short-sighted self-interest rule the day and ruin America.

It might be worse.  People in 2083 may take for granted the path that led to their pitiful lives, and that they, like we, are polarized and unable to accomplish anything.  They will say that of course there are the fabulously wealthy few, and then there are the rest of the citizens scrambling for crumbs.  They’ll say that’s just the way it is.

They may assume that torture and unlimited detention should always have been okay and that every household needs assault weapons and a huge cache of ammunition.  Healthcare and education will be only for the rich then, so the people of tomorrow may not wonder at all about the destructive path we’re on today because it will have led to the woeful America that is painfully familiar to them.

And that’s the way it will be unless we Americans take action right now.  Not next year or in the next administration or in any particular administration.  Right now. Our grandchildren are counting on us.

“If someone like you doesn’t care a whole lot, 

“Nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”  – Dr. Seuss

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.


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.


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.

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.

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