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What Has Changed?

VIetnam War picReading time – 77 seconds  .  .  .

America’s military involvement in Vietnam began by sending a few advisers, this just a few years after the end of the Korean conflict (read: undeclared war). We all know how that war ramped up and cost the lives of over 58,000 Americans and untold numbers of Vietnamese. Actually, it’s still killing and maiming people, due to violently re-discovered landmines and the long term consequences of aerial applications of the toxic, carcinogenic defoliant, Agent Orange.

Since then we’ve sent our men and women to undeclared wars in Kosovo, Grenada, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan – where else? We’ve engaged in near-constant war for so long that most Americans now living will be unable to identify more than a small period of time when we weren’t at war, this in spite of the complete absence of the ability to rationally justify most of those wars on the basis of real facts (in contrast to hawkish fantasy facts).

Our men and women are always in harm’s way. That glib term means that others are shooting at them, trying to kill them and sometimes succeeding. When that happens, a piece of the rest of us dies, too. Some of us feel it deeply; others refuse to acknowledge the reality and become ever more inured to it and apathetic, thereby enabling the next war.

As our troops were engaged in the unnecessary George W. Bush/Dick Cheney wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I penned the poem below. On this Memorial Day when we remember our military dead, consider how much lasting good those wars have done for America and the world. Then consider who has benefited – that is to say, follow the money.

Be sure to attend the Memorial Day ceremonies in your town. It matters that you show up.

    Where Did the Sixties Go?

Well, some of us were lucky then,
Some not so lucky, went to war
And some of them came back in bags
And we died just a little more.

America was torn apart,
As war drained drafted blood away.
With no draft now the howls are gone,
And men die just the same today.

What's happened to us all since then?
Have we become what we protested?
We got our houses, made our cash
And made the choices we elected.

Yet we're the leaders now, the ones
Who  move and shake and set the sails.
How can it be the ship of state
Seems once again steered on to fail?

The things we knew were wrong back then
Are still as wrong, can't make them fly.
And doing more won't make them right,
Nor twisting truth to justify.

That credibility gap is here.
We know when we are being snowed.
Perhaps we're just too cushy now,
To protest all the lies we're told.

We humans are the only ones
To rationalize, to sing false songs,
Or need to do it to protect
Our fragile selves from being wrong.

Well, some of us are lucky now,
Some not so lucky, gone to war.
And some of them come back in bags,
And we die just a little more.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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

Get Government Out of Our Lives

ChaffetzReading time – 47 seconds  .  .  .

On April 15 Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) proposed H.R. 1563, a bill that would require federal workers to certify that their tax records aren’t delinquent, this under threat of dismissal. Chaffetz wants to make sure that those hoards of federal employee tax evaders with debt so large and so delinquent that, ”  .  .  .   [it] may be collected by the Secretary [of the Treasury] by levy or by a proceeding in court,” are brought out of the shadows and put in stocks in the public square. Alright, Jason. You are one tough dude!

And his bill flies in the face of workers’ rights to keep their tax records private and wholly ignores the fact that another department of government – the Treasury – is already monitoring and collecting delinquent taxes. Chaffetz’s bill appears to duplicate efforts, burden citizens, violate rights and is punitive. So, why would he introduce such apparently lame brain legislation that appears to run counter to the Republican “less government” mantra?

It turns out that, “.  .  .  the bill’s requirements apply to employees of the executive and legislative branches, as well as to those in the U.S. Postal Service and the Postal Regulatory Commission.” Hmmm, the U.S. Postal Service is included. Could that be a clue?

Just a few years ago our insightful and ever-vigilant Congress drafted a bill that requires the Postal Service to amass billions of dollars to ensure the pensions of postal workers. It projects the need so many decades into the future that the U.S. Postal Service is putting away retirement funds for workers who have not yet been born. That bill was designed to burden the Postal Service with such a crushing load of debt that it would become bankrupt; then the Republicans’ favorite free marketers could privatize it, cut services, raise rates and make lots of money.

Chaffetz’s bill is just another Republican effort to drive the privatization of all of our government functions in order to enrich their pals. Any time you want to understand this kind of stupid stuff, just follow the money.

And here’s the kicker: The rate of tax delinquency of postal workers is less than half that of the general public. These are solid citizens paying their fair share, but Jason Chaffetz, resolute soldier in the Republican war on government (this primarily for the benefit of rich people), wants to use government muscle to double up on efforts to humiliate and penalize these people.

Jason, your mother must be very proud.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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

Piñatas

Ed. note: Please help – see the note below and pass this along so that we make the kind of difference that needs to be made. America thanks you.

Reading time – 41 seconds  .  .  .

There they stand, the hopeful – hopeless? – wielders of sticks, lurching and whacking at the piñatas of political issues, wishing that their mighty blows will crack open and let drop at their feet an action figure costume. They believe that costume will grant them unlimited power and control and that the Oval Office will magically be theirs.

Say hello to today’s pretenders to the throne in 2016. And pay special attention to their ultra-crafty remaking of themselves, frequently in perfect contradiction (“to say against”) of other intentionally misleading, ultra-crafty things they’ve said to some different audience. Perhaps they believe that recording devices have not yet been invented. More likely, though, they believe we are too ignorant, lazy or stupid to notice. But notice we will, as the fact checkers have their way and the action figure costumes fall apart, revealing the disingenuous self-promoter beneath who doesn’t want to serve, but only to denigrate, bully and line others’ pockets with cash at your expense.

The whacking at piñatas would be humorous and entertaining, were it not for the destruction it causes.

The key as you endure the inane political rhetoric of this hyper-extended (make that “never-ending”) election season is that nearly all of the blather is about the self-serving candidates, never about you nor about America except in some childish idealistic or apocalyptically frightening way. Our job is to find one who speaks to our circumstances and to the betterment of America. If you and I fail in this we will be kicking The Dream to the gutter for a sackful of nothing and relegating America to suffer a self-deluded figurehead and all the abandonment of the American people that implies.

Get up and get active.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

Poison Pills

Reading time 49 seconds  .  .  .  .

We the People paid for all the losses (and far more) from the big banks having gambled with government guaranteed funds and plunged us into a recession from which we may never fully recover. Of course, we are wanting to ensure that such a thing will never happen again, so naturally our legislators, those in the People’s House whom we elected to represent us, are out front leading the battle to protect against funding the banks’ gambling addiction, right? Any governmental protection for those banks from their gambling losses would be a legislative poison pill to our representatives because they represent you, right?

Wrong and wrong. The House of Representatives passed a budget bill that ensures that you foot the bill the next time Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, gambles and loses.

And don’t think that it’s just those corrupt, bought-by-big-business Republicans ensuring a banking free pass. 57 Democrats voted for that idiotic budget, too. That’s how deep Big Money reptilian fangs are embedded into the neck of your country.

The four biggest banks handle 90% of all derivative action, so this damnable banking amendment to the budget is not designed to protect the thousands of mom and pop banks in America. This amendment is solely for the benefit of those four hideously large special boys who are too big to fail and which we ensured with wimpy Dodd-Frank legislation will continue to be too big to fail.

Too many of our legislators are focused on their own short term self-interest and that is inextricably tied to the interests of Big Money. Unless you’re a member of that club, a majority of our legislators don’t hear a word you’re saying. And that should be a poison pill for you.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

I Just Want You To Know . . .

Reading time – 57 seconds  .  .  . 

The Forbes 400 was recently posted and we are told that the 400 richest people in America are worth about $2.29 trillion. That is more than the bottom 150 million Americans combined, or about half of all Americans. And that $2.29 trillion is up 13 5% over last year. Your wealth increased 13.5% over the last 12 months, too, right? Let’s look at this another way.

The television and radio ads that end with a candidate saying, “I’m [CANDIDATE NAME] and I approved this message,” are paid for by the candidate. If you don’t hear those words – and that accounts for the vast majority of the ads that are pumped into your head – the ad was funded by outside money through PACs, Super PACs and 501(c)4 organizations.

These outside money message manipulators have already spent over $390 million in this election cycle to twist your brain and, more important, twist the brains of low information voters. What that means is that people who aren’t tuned into politics and are just going about their lives are hearing misleading, false, disingenuous, just-this-side-of-outright-fraudulent messages and they don’t know it, so they get manipulated. They aren’t aware that they are voting against their own best interests. What you know is that they are voting against your interests and against your vision of what America should be.

About those outside money groups – 94% of the money they spend to twist voters’ brains comes from just 200 fabulously wealthy people and corporations. Now, why would these rich people contribute all that money?

Because doing so means that they keep on getting richer. They get what they want, but you don’t get what you want. You don’t get gun safety legislation, a climate bill so we stop hard boiling our planet, legislation that would create good paying jobs, healthcare reform, student loan reform and issues all the way down to pothole repair.

If that isn’t okay with you, you better do something about it. You better vote on November 4 for people who will legislate for reform. You better bring your disengaged neighbor and your crazy brother-in-law to the polls with you. You better volunteer at a call center to remind voters to show up and vote.

The big money people have a really big megaphone and they know how to use it. That means that we small money people have to band together and collectively overpower the big megaphone people to make your American dream possible for you and your kids. Watch this.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

What We Need

Granny DReading time – 126 seconds  .  .  .

Doris Haddock is not a well known name, but you might know her as Granny D. She saw clearly the corrupting influence of big money in our politics and on our country and determined to do something about it. To draw attention to this issue she set out on a 3,200 mile walk across America, from California all the way to Washington DC. When she began this brave journey on January 1, 1999 she was 88 years old. When she completed it on February 29, 2000 she was 90.

Granny D saw something that ever-more Americans are seeing, that our democracy is in grave danger due to the dishonesty and inequality inherent in our present election system. Whatever issue is of greatest importance to you, be it global warming, gun safety, human rights, international trade, voting rights, immigration, fracking or any of the vexing challenges before this nation, big money in our politics is the mother of the dysfunction that prevents solutions from being implemented and allows things to steadily get worse.

We have massive unemployment and, every bit as bad, massive under-employment. We have brilliant people who cannot find a job. Perhaps that is an issue that you don’t deeply feel just now, but when your knees go bad, you will wish that some truly gifted person had been working in a lab and had found a way to re-grow the cartilage in your joints. When you contract cancer, as so many of us will, you will wish that one of our people with a head full of amazing potential had been able to get the education that might have led to a cure. When your adult children are living in your basement, burdened by overwhelming school debt and without a chance for a job, you will wish that our politicians did more than tell us that it’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs. You’ll wish they had done something about it.

Both Pew Research and the Gallup Organization have done polling on how we Americans feel about our government. The staggering truth is that 81 of every 100 Americans does not trust our government. In recent years one of the biggest trust killers has been the growing economic disparity between the rich and all the rest of us and that is aggravated largely by money-driven political actions and inaction.

Elections are insanely expensive, largely due to the cost of television and radio advertising. The 2012 presidential contest alone cost $2.1 billion. The senate contest in Massachusetts between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown cost $77 million and the current senatorial contest in Kentucky looks like it will cost over $100 million. About 75% of that money will come from outside the state, meaning that the decision on the next senator from Kentucky will be driven largely by very rich people who don’t even live in Kentucky but who want to ensure a senate that does their bidding.

Don’t imagine that all politicians are dishonest because that simply is not true. On the other hand, it is impossible to raise enough money to mount a serious campaign in most federal elections if money is raised solely through small contributions from local citizens. That leaves candidates having to solicit large contributions from big donors. Another way to say that is that the system requires that anyone who wants to serve must put themselves in a position of becoming beholden to rich benefactors. And that is the problem.

In a study done by Larry Bartels of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, it was found that only wealthy constituents gain the ear of their elected officials. Nobody is listening to the rest of us, so rich people get what they want and everyone else goes wanting.

A study done by Gilens and Page found exactly the same thing about policy making. And these studies have proven with research what every American has known for decades. The problem is that the situation continues to become worse and is bringing us to an America that almost none of us wants.

People in power rarely give up their power unless they have no alternative – that’s just human nature. They have engineered a system that keeps people afraid of speaking up for fear of losing what little they have managed to secure for themselves. But while part-time work at minimum wage and with no benefits can be tolerated for a while, there will come a time when the patience of the American people will run out, when people simply won’t have it any longer. We the people will let the politicians know that if they want to serve, they must serve us.

If 81% of us don’t trust our government, that is not a partisan issue. If 90% of us believe that there is way too much money sloshing around our political system, that is not a partisan issue. If for many years nearly all the economic gains have gone to the richest 1% of Americans, that is not a partisan issue. We really are all on the same side of this.

It is time to wake up. It is time to stop ridiculing the Occupy Wall Street crowd just because they don’t have a formal hierarchy and a central organization. It is time to stop ridiculing Tea Party people just because some of them are flamboyant. The words may sound different, but the demands of those two very different groups are remarkably similar regarding money in politics. It is time to unite as Americans, left, center and right.

Granny D was correct: When we solve the big money problem, we’ll be ready to solve all the rest. And that is what 99% of Americans want.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

Action Alert – TODAY!

Senate LogoReading time – 19 seconds .  .  .

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) has sponsored a bill to amend the Constitution and has 37 co-sponsors. His bill will overturn corporate rights and begin to get democracy killing big money out of our politics and start us on the road to solving the complex problems that are keeping you from getting what you want. The bill is in committee and is scheduled for debate and a vote on the language of the bill on Wednesday, June 18. The members of the committee need your voice to ensure that they offer an amendment to the full senate that actually makes for positive change we need.

Go to the MoveToAmend.org website here and just follow the instructions. Fast and simple. Make some calls, per their instructions.

I know the frustration and reasonable belief that this won’t change anything, but I assure you that doing nothing is certain not to make things better. So set aside your skepticism for just a few minutes and do this now, because you want this mess of stagnation fixed for you, for your children and for your grandchildren.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

Breakfast With an Old Friend

Reading time – 52 seconds  .  .  . 

He lives in Santa Barbara, so of course our catch-up conversation included discussion about the homicides at UCSB – he lives just 3 miles from where the murders took place. He’s a bright and inquisitive guy and he asked me what I think the core issue about gun violence is and I could not come up with one; I came up with a list and he added more. Before blaming everything in the NRA, consider this:

  1. There are many deeply patriotic people who read the Second Amendment as an absolute right to gun ownership and they are very vocal about it. While you may disagree with them, just understand the depth of honest passion others have.
  2. We as a nation have never treated mental illness with the same depth of view or finances as we have for people with obvious physical ailments, so often people don’t get the help they need. Back in my CEO days there was an insurance cap of $10,000 coverage for mental health – lifetime limit!
  3. We have severe limits on involuntary hospitalization, which often leaves mentally ill people on the streets and suffering. Some of them go on to make others suffer. It is probably right that we make it hard for anyone to be locked up without their consent, so this is a gnarly issue.
  4. The determination of whether someone is mentally incompetent is often relegated to the police who do not have the skills for the task.
  5. We have a violent national culture compared to other first world countries, there is almost one gun in private ownership per citizen in the United States and having a gun available makes impulsive murder easy.
  6. Big money doesn’t want any curtailment of firearms ownership because any limitation is bad for business. And that is more important to them than six dead kids in Santa Barbara.
  7. We have a political system that requires candidates to raise enormous sums of money to get and stay elected, which means that they become beholden to big money contributors. This is a bi-partisan issue because that’s the way the game is played and that means that most legislators don’t want to vote against big money interests, including that of the arms manufacturers. Distasteful as it is to write these words, getting and staying elected is more important to some of these folks than six dead kids in Santa Barbara.
  8. The NRA is at least a twofold problem. First, they are the lobbying arm of the gun industry, so they are all about maximizing gun sales and twisting congressional arms to make that happen. Second, they like their own power and will do whatever it takes to retain it, so they twist those congressional arms even harder. And all of that is more important to them than six dead kids in Santa Barbara.
  9. Firearms are manufactured in many states and legislators don’t want jobs to disappear from their districts because that might cause them to lose their next election, so they vote against gun safety legislation. That is to say, legislators keeping their jobs is more important to them than six dead kids in Santa Barbara.
  • There are so many simple, common sense things we can do to begin to reduce gun deaths in America, like:
  •     – Universal background checks for the sale or transfer of any firearm
  •     – Laws that prevent convicted violent criminals and mentally unstable people from purchasing, owning or possessing a firearm
  •     – Mandatory trigger locks
  •     – A total ban on assault rifles and other strictly military hardware

None of these – not even all of these – will stop all gun murders in the US. But they will begin to stop the carnage and some of our kids will lose the bulls eye that is now on their backs. Tragically, none of these things has happened because of the dreadful numbered list above. Not even after Sandy Hook Elementary School.

This list is just what came to mind during an informal conversation with a friend. What are we missing in this complex issue?

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

O’, The Irony!

Irony

Reading time – 111 seconds  .  .  .

In my Money, Politics & Democracy presentations I’m careful to avoid any of the demonizing of individuals that is sadly so common in our politics. Instead, I focus on the dysfunctional system that forces good people to compromise themselves. The engine of that is the insanely high cost to run a political campaign, driven primarily by the crazy high cost of television advertising.

Over $10 million was spent in the Illinois 10th Congressional District race of 2012. That was for one House seat for just two years and represents only the money spent by the campaigns. Between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown over $80 million was spent for that Massachusetts Senate seat. In 2012 over $2 billion was spent in the presidential race and over $10 billion was spent in total for all federal elections.

The message in that is that to get elected and stay elected, people have to do fundraising continuously. As much as 50% of politicians’ time in office is spent grubbing for dollars for the next election. Further, small contributions won’t get the job done, so they have to suck up to the big bucks donors. And that leaves them beholden to those big funders.

SuperPACs are funded by already crazy wealthy people and corporations. They spend their money primarily on negative television advertising and, generally speaking, it is pretty effective. The result is that our democracy is held hostage to the big funders of political campaigns and SuperPACs.

The only way to change that and reclaim democracy – rule by [all] the people – is to enact a 28th Amendment to the Constitution that will do two things: first, allow for the regulation of money in our politics; second, make it clear that corporations are not people, nor should they necessarily have all of the rights of people and that the rights of corporations may be outlined and limited by government. The only way that amendment will get passed is for us to elect legislators who will make that happen.

Senator Tom Udall (D – NM) has proposed such an amendment and expects that there will be a vote in the Senate. Of course, we don’t know whether it will pass with the necessary 2/3 majority – it might – but prospects for it to even be put up for a vote in the House seem dim, considering the obstacle mentality of House leadership. Clearly, it will require a bunch of reformer types to be in Congress to get this done. That is where Lawrence Lessig comes in.

Lessig is one of the clearest thinkers about the issue of big money stealing our democracy and I recommend any of his YouTube (here’s one) or TED (here’s one) videos. Now, though, he has identified that to make change it is necessary to play the political game and get a little dirty, to wallow in some of the same mud we want to eliminate in order to effect reform. O’, the irony of that!

To that end – to get big money out of our politics – he is organizing a SuperPAC to help to elect reformer types who will get that amendment to happen. Take a look at his video about this and watch all 5 minutes – see what you think of what he is doing.

I strongly recommend giving your full consideration to the dreadful state of our democracy – which is just this side of a full oligarchy (rule by the wealthy few) – and then take appropriate action. Just thinking about this issue isn’t enough. We – you and I – must take action.

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

Upcoming Calendar

Reading time – 21 seconds  .  .  .

About a year ago it became clear to me that, while 4 out of 5 Americans who knew about the catastrophic Citizens United case wanted it reversed, too few of us knew about it. Education, it became obvious, is a must if we are to turn the country back in the right direction. And because I do keynote speeches and workshops with a focus on leadership in my day job, I took it upon myself to put together a presentation for the purpose of educating and motivating people to take action.

The program is entitled Money, Politics & Democracy and I’ve delivered it around Chicagoland and also in the St. Louis area. The comments have been strongly positive and I’m wanting to reach out to others, so if you have a venue where a speaker delivering a strictly NON-PARTISAN message to restore some sanity into our government, please connect me to that venue. And no, I don’t charge for doing these presentations. Like this blog, it is about making a difference.

Want to find out what it’s all about? Here are a couple of upcoming public presentations:

I will be presenting to NorthWest Suburban Organizing For America (NWSOFA) at 7:00PM on Tuesday, April 22. Here is a link to information on the session.

The next public session will be at the DuPage Coffeehouse on May 7 starting at 7:00PM. Information for my presentation isn’t up on their website yet, so click on this link for a PDF with program information.

Will you be there? Drop me a line so that we’re sure to connect.

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

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