Old Posts

The RNC Has . . .

izzy_santaIzzy Santa, RNC Hispanic Communications Director as seen on MSNBC Weekends with Alex Witt, July 27, 2013.

Here is a shortened and pretty accurate transcription of dialogue:

Witt:  The president indicated that there are Republicans who agree with him in private.  Is that true?

Santa:  The President’s programs have failed and Democrats are abandoning him.

Witt:  In talking about Obamacare, the President said that the Republicans can’t just be against; they have to be for something.  What are the Republicans for?

Santa:  Obamacare has failed.

Witt:  How do you think the President’s immigration plan will work for Hispanics?

Santa:  The President’s immigration plan is a complete failure.  (Ed. Note: There is no plan in place yet, so nothing has failed except the passage of the bill.  It is bottled up in the Republican controlled House.)

Witt:  Another question.

Santa:  Attack Obama, blah, blah, blah.

Here are the observed RNC Rules, as consistently obeyed by Michael Steele when he was RNC chairman, Rience Pribus, current RNC chairman and Izzy Santa:

  1. Always attack President Obama and Democrats.
  2. Never answer a question or offer anything creative, new, constructive.
  3. Always attack President Obama and Democrats.

Memo to RNC:  That’s all ya got?  Ya got nuthin’.

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

An Island of Clarity

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Conservatism Today

Conservatism can be defined in many ways, although dictionary definitions typically use the word itself as a descriptor: We should conserve the values and ideas of the past.  Surely, there is some good sense in that.

Another definition, the attribution to which I have not found, defines today’s conservatism this way: Conservatism has become the search for a superior moral justification for self-interest.  That certainly fits well with Paul Ryan’s budget, which calls for $1.1 trillion of tax cuts for wealthy and super-wealthy people.  That’s a lot of self-interest.

Conservatism has evolved from traditional bedrock values to something hateful and uncaring.  It is an expression of the vitriol that permeates society today, the pervasive view that if someone disagrees they must be some form of low life and perhaps unpatriotic.  The focus of today’s conservatism is fiscal, along with a testosterone fueled national defense and war making capability.  That’s it.

Today’s conservatives seem to have strange ideas about why they lost the last presidential election, lost seats in the House and lost the congressional popular vote count.  They don’t think it was because their ideas were unpopular, nor because they were disrespecting of huge segments of the American public and not because they lied and got caught.  They think it was because they didn’t couch their message in the right terms.  They just don’t get it.

People don’t want what they are selling.  It really is that simple.  Their trying to win upcoming elections by “enlarging the tent” to include people of color makes no sense, because once those recruited are in the tent the conservatives are going to metaphorically club them over the head and steal their wallets.  Here’s an example.

As mentioned, Ryan’s new budget proposes $1.1 trillion in tax savings for the wealthy, revenue that would be lost to the federal government.  What is interesting is that when Ryan is questioned about the cost to the government of his gift to the wealthy he declares that it will be paid for through some undefined magical process, perhaps a deus ex machina contraption from days gone by.  That’s what Reagan sold to the American people as “supply side economics” 33 years ago and which was described by President Bush the First as “voodoo economics.”  Bush was right.  It was voodoo then and it is voodoo now.  There is no deus ex machina that could restore that loss of revenue and save us from our self-inflicted national impoverishment.

All that would be accomplished would be to make fabulously wealthy people even wealthier and cut funds for critical national needs.  That is exactly what Ryan proposed and which was overwhelmingly rejected by Americans in the last election.  Regardless, Ryan plods on with his same tired ideas, now in a nifty new green wrapper.  His sleight of hand, though, hides his mean ideas, that taxes and costs will inevitably go up for all but the rich, including the newbies in that conservative tent.  That’s the wallet theft.

Meanwhile, there are other provisions to Ryan’s budget.  Everyone agrees that at some point Medicare will become too expensive.  Ryan’s plan to deal with that is to give each senior a voucher to go to the private healthcare insurance market and buy their own medical insurance policy.

  • Never mind that seniors are, by definition, older and therefore a poorer risk for those insurance companies who may not offer them coverage at all.
  • Never mind that many of our seniors will have pre-existing conditions that insurance companies will refuse to cover.
  • Never mind that those vouchers couldn’t possibly cover the cost of a medical insurance policy and will necessarily mean that seniors will have to take a lot of money out of their piggy banks to pay for their policies.  That assumes that they have enough in those piggy banks both to pay for their policies and also to eat.

Ryan offers absolutely no detail about how his proposal that would kill Medicare is not a proposal to kill Medicare.  Apparently, we should just trust him.  How well did that trust process work for us when President Bush started the war in Iraq on disinformation?

This third iteration of Ryan’s budget proposal is just another effort to kill social programs that so-called conservatives have been trying to kill for decades.  Doing that and making wealthy people even wealthier while leaving everyone else to scramble for crumbs is today’s conservatism.  There is nothing remotely conservative in the historical sense of the word in Paul Ryan’s budget thumping or in the hearts of today’s self-interested conservatives.

Copyright 2017 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 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Human Being 101 – No, Really

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2017 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 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

I Hope The President Fails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Non-Option Number 1: Education

My friend and futurist David Houle writes an interesting blog about tomorrow.  You know – that pesky day that keeps coming around?

He wrote recently about one of the things that is coming tomorrow: the transformation of education.  It has to transform, because the present model is based on a societal structure that has not existed for the better part of a century.  It is unsustainable, yet America will continue to require an educated citizenry ready to compete in a far better educated global society.  That means that we must change to a sustainable and effective model if your kids and grandchildren are to have a chance at the American Dream, rather than an American nightmare.  You can read David’s comments here and have a look at his new book here.

The remaking of the education field is not going to be a battleground; it is going to be a war.  It is structurally like the healthcare field, in that there are powerful entrenched interests more focused on themselves than on the outcomes for customers (i.e. students and patients).  For example, there are the recipients of endowment money, tenured faculty, book publishers, housing interests, food service companies, insurance companies, the construction industry – the list is long and all are welded to their self-interest in the status quo.

If you doubt the resistance to change that you’ll see as transformative forces on education increase, just recall the attempt at healthcare reform in 1993 led by Hillary Clinton.  To be sure, part of the resistance was the early stages of the now familiar M.O. of Republicans, opposing anything proposed by a Democratic president, even if they think it is a good idea and even if they had sponsored identical legislation.

The biggest resistance, though, was from the entrenched interests in the industry, like Big Pharma, hospitals, the AMA and the most powerful resistors of all, the medical insurance giants.  The reprise of that resistance was played out in the first Obama term over what came to be known as “Obamacare.”  (Side note:  Republicans will live to regret having coined that term, intended as a mean-spirited, derisive moniker.  That is because Americans will come to embrace Obamacare as a wonderful first step of healthcare reform that serves them well.)  Those special interests don’t want their boat rocked because it carries a never-ending cargo of gold to them.  So it is for those affiliated with education.

Furthermore, even those who are a part of the education industry and who put the best interests of students first will be stressed when evicted from their comfort zone, because the fundamental human reaction to change is fear of the unknown and resistance.

But, like healthcare, education needs a do-over, if for no other reason than because costs have escalated to such a high level that it is priced out of reach of too many of the people it is supposed to serve.  And for the lucky ones who get a college degree, too many are left with crushing debt equivalent to the price of a house you bought, this coupled with un- or under-employment.  Here’s a parody of what our graduates are facing, link courtesy of David Houle.

That leads us to the question once again: What America do you want?  Yesterday’s America in all venues including education is not an option and tomorrow will come.  Now is the time to decide what we want our future to be and what we need to do to in order to create that America.  If your kids and grandchildren are to have a chance, our failing to reform and enhance education is a non-option.

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Fundamentalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

O’ That Darned Long Term Reality

Nice election, but what if the real prize isn’t won?  What if we have to do something more or we’re all screwed?

Look, it’s a fairly simple thing.  George Will explained it years ago in clear terms, saying that we want about $300 billion per year more in services than we’re willing to pay for.  Even 70% of self-proclaimed, hair-on-fire Tea Partiers want low taxes, our budget balanced, our debt reduced, Washington made irrelevant except for national defense and, oh, by the way, they want their Social Security and Medicare, too.  Sadly, most of us are similarly wired.

We’ve been doing that kind of free lunch fantasizing for decades and have the national debt to prove it.  While there always have been huge spenders and creators of enormous debt in Washington, we can attempt to point the finger of blame in any direction we like and it will always be a divining rod that points to us, because we as a society voted for the people who legislated the debt.

Now that debt is causing otherwise (sometimes) sensible people to suggest crazy things.  It’s time for a national “get real” conversation about priorities and perhaps that is what is starting in DC.  But we have to do more than hope that’s happening, which means that we all have to participate.

America needs a tax system that is congruent with what we decide to spend.  Given that historically we’ve had top rates as high as 90% and still grew as a nation, a few points over the current marginal rate aren’t going to kill the golden goose and, really, they won’t make a dent in the lifestyles of the richest 2%.

Comment for the richest 2%: Please stop trying to sell the fiction that you’re the job creators and that trickle-down economics is anything other than a fraud.  And tell your legislative buddies to do the same.  The rest of us are tired of your 30-year attempt to manipulate us with those fictions.

We really don’t need to spend more on national defense than the next 17 countries (some say all the rest of the world) combined.  The Cold War is over and we don’t need to prevent a Soviet invasion of Europe.  WW II has been over for 47 years and we don’t need to prevent a Japanese invasion of anywhere.  The people in the Pentagon don’t want the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that they have refused every time they were asked, so congress can stop authorizing still more billions for it.  You get the idea – we have to stop defending against threats that no longer exist and buying toys we don’t need.  That’s just a starting short list for pruning our absurd national defense budget.

That “get real” conversation has to include our willingness to shift our national priorities from lots of guns to a reasonable consumption of butter.  And as unrealistic as we Americans can be, we need to recognize that there are a few things we must do – these are not optional.

We absolutely have to encourage, support and advance education.  Were we to follow through with the outrageous cuts that have already been made and make the other proposed cuts to our education system, we would be metaphorically eating our seed corn.  We would be ensuring that we will be unable to compete in a world that is increasingly better educated than us, sentencing our young to a dismal future.  And enough already with the bashing of teachers and teachers unions.  It’s way past time to stop looking for a boogeyman and instead construct an education system that serves our young for generations to come.

We cannot let our infrastructure continue to deteriorate.  If you have doubts about such a statement, check with Minneapolis residents about the importance of maintaining bridges for our interstate highways.  All of the survivors and all the loved ones of those who died as a result of the I-35W bridge collapse a few years ago wish that we had done a better job of upkeep.  You’ll wish the same if a bridge collapses near or on you, like one did on the Fourth of July this year in Northbrook, IL, killing a couple in their car beneath the bridge.

Here’s another way to look at our infrastructure: We can’t afford the 25% loss of electricity traveling through our grid.  We need to build a smart, efficient way to transmit electricity.  It’s a national priority if you’re going to be able to plug in your electric car, your computer, your blender, your cell phone, your lights, your dishwasher and everything else that runs on electricity and have them work at an acceptable power cost.  And it’s critical to have that smart grid if we are to shift away from fossil fuels and stop hard boiling the planet.

About the global warming denial thing – the flat-Earthers need to get a handle on reality, because if we don’t do what is necessary to counter that global threat, we can kiss good-bye all of our cities along every seashore and much of our arable farm land.

Memo to those who want to curtail, cut, eviscerate, bend, fold and mutilate Social Security and Medicare:  We as a society are going to pay those costs one way or another.  If we kill Medicare we’ll take our seniors away from practitioners who would provide early treatment for seniors’ ailments.  Instead we will send them directly to the emergency room.  That way we will provide healthcare in the most expensive and least effective method on the planet.  In addition, lots of those seniors will die much younger than they would have had Medicare continued to be available.  Think: Pulling the plug on Granny.  Social Security cuts will produce parallel results.  If you want America to save money, forget about abandoning those programs.

Final question about Social Security and Medicare:  Why are the richest people in America contributing $43 million to lobby against those programs?  Crank your brainpower on that and get back to me with an answer that is sensible for America.  Yeah, right.

All of those issues require our thinking beyond the near horizon.  The upcoming sequester business is the foolishness of trimming a budget with a meat cleaver.  We have to stop focusing on the short-term stuff that tweaks our current senses and instead we must do our best to imitate reasonable adult behavior and plan for our future, as this petition and this petition call on us to do.

Get real, America.  Demand grown-up behavior from your legislators.  Tell them to leave their tantrums behind them and start having the conversation about the future of America and do it on an adult level.  Tell them you require them to make good choices for tomorrow, because it most assuredly will come.  The only question is whether we’ll be ready for it.

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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