Doing More of What Doesn’t Work

Colin PowellReading time – 79 seconds  .  .  .

General Colin Powell is one of our most decorated soldiers and a most respected American. He is also a student and has learned a thing or two along the way, some of which were learned at the cost of the blood and the suffering of many.

The Powell Doctrine presents a series of questions, all of which must be answered affirmatively before U.S. combat troops are deployed. These questions are:

  1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
  2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
  3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
  4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
  5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
  6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
  7. Is the action supported by the American people?
  8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

Note that Powell has amended these questions to include the use of every tool and resource available to achieve decisive military victory, minimum U.S. casualties and the rapid ending the conflict, should military force be employed. The Powell Doctrine is broadly supported by our military because it makes sense.

These questions are straightforward and clearly many of them would have been answered in the negative prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, had the Powell Doctrine been considered. That escapade, though, is over. Now we are faced with a different dilemma in Iraq.

There is sense to the statement, “You broke it, you bought it,” and we surely did break Iraq. There is sense to the claim that an Islamic caliphate stretching across the entire Middle East may become a clear and present danger to the security of the United States. And there is sense in having concern for the safety of ordinary people in the region, this because of the brutal and barbarian tactics of the ISIS fanatics.

All of that is true, but:

1.   It is not yet clear that a vital U.S. national security interest is threatened.

2.   We do not have a clear attainable objective.

5.   There is no plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement.

7.   The action is not supported by the American people.

8.   We do not have genuine broad international support.

If we cannot meet these five (and maybe more) of the eight criteria, all of which must be met in order to decide to go to war, then why in the world would we re-engage militarily in Iraq?

We have now sent 300 advisers to Iraq. What if they aren’t enough to accomplish whatever it is the advisers are supposed to do? Regardless of the number we send, doing more of what doesn’t work won’t make it work. We should have learned that lesson after incrementally increasing troops deployed to Viet Nam to over half a million. Doing more of what didn’t work served to produce thousands more dead troops and hundreds of thousands more dead Vietnamese. And perhaps it produced one other thing.

Truty, Justice and the American WayHow come we seem to be in nearly perpetual war? We would love to believe it is to maintain national security and for truth, justice and the American way (cue George Reeves in his Superman suit, arms akimbo, standing in front of a waving American flag). Instead, let’s try reality: Follow the money.


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.

A Little Help For Wild West, USA

Reading time – 63 seconds  .  .  .  

Scene 1: Cliven Bundy has refused to pay the bill for grazing his cattle on federal land for the past 20 years and is holed up on his ranch, hiding from the Feds. He is surrounded by his cattle and an army of white supremacists toting automatic weapons, a chip on their shoulders and gallons of testosterone. They don’t recognize the government of the United States or the State of Nevada. The only law they recognize is the county sheriff. The good news for the county sheriff is that Bundy’s is a federal offense, which means the sheriff isn’t the one who has to face down Bundy and his army of loonies. I bet that helps the sheriff to sleep better.

Scene 2: On his MSNBC program of May 5 (click on “The NRA Hates This Gun”), Chris Hayes presented Andy Raymond, a gun dealer in Maryland who wanted to start offering for sale the Armatix Smart Gun, a pistol that is specifically designed to help prevent accidental shootings. The gun crazies went nuts, imagining that this product would be the start of government mandated control of firearms. Once Raymond’s intentions became known to the gun totin’ public he started receiving death threats, his Facebook page was flooded with hate mail and, self-preservation being what it is, he quickly backed down, declaring that he won’t sell the gun. A gun dealer in Los Angeles recently went through a similar experience.

We have a serious problem: America is rapidly devolving into the Wild West, where everything is controlled by whoever has the biggest gun. That is not a metaphor. This is about real guns and live ammunition in the hands of absolutist people with hate and revenge in their hearts and heavy starch in their brains. It is of a piece with Sharron Angle calling for “Second Amendment remedies” as a cure for “the Harry Reid problem.” That’s serious stuff. What are we going to do about it?

I think it’s time that we agree with tough guy conservatives like Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who know that there is a military solution for everything. They seem, for example, to admire their new fair-haired boy, Vladimir Putin. They like his muscular ways, like riding a horse without a shirt and posing with a tiger that someone else shot. They like his boldness, even as they want the US to send arms to non-Russian Ukrainians so they can fight the Russian army, so let’s get bold.

Let’s hear more of that “military solutions for everything” talk from those guys, but this time aimed at the Bundy radicals. Send in the Marines to arrest the lawbreakers at the Bundy ranch and put an end to rule by automatic weapons and death threats. Let the world know that America will not be held hostage by Islamic terrorists or by American terrorists.

And if McCain and Graham can’t get the Marines, maybe they can call on Vladimir Putin.

But seriously, exactly where is the outcry from conservatives over Americans breaking the law?


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.

What Your Bloodhound Knows

Reading time – 77 seconds  .  .  .

In a most accessible essay entitled The Umwelt, David Eagleman gives perspective to a 1909 concept of Jakob von Uexkull explaining the varied perceptions different animals have to their environmental signals. Snakes, for example, are practically blind to what humans see, but they have amazing vision in the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum where we can’t see a thing. Were we without special scientific equipment, we would never know that it exists. In fact, we are only able to see about one ten-trillionth of the electromagnetic spectrum, so limited are we. And we go about our daily lives largely ignorant of even the possibility of so much more to be seen.

And that is the point.

Cliven Bundy is a cattle rancher in Nevada who has refused to pay his bill for grazing rights on public lands for over two decades. By definition, he is a cheat and a thief. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at last decided that enough was enough and sent some people to confiscate his cattle. They were met by an army of angry white supremacist radicals equipped with automatic weapons and threatening to kill the BLM people. Interestingly, those belligerents brought their women and children and placed them in front of themselves so that if there were a firefight, the BLM folks would wind up shooting innocents. Such is the courage and integrity of Bundy’s extremist pals.

(Side note: If the Black Panthers had greeted law enforcement officials that way in the 1960s, how would they have been treated? Actually, we know the answer to that question, as do the survivors of the Cook County state’s attorney’s police raid that killed Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in their beds. But, of course that doesn’t matter any more, as the Supreme Court has recently assured us that ours is a post-racial society, where, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” – Chief Justice John Roberts. Gosh, that sounds easy – let’s all just do it.)

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/education/Has_the_Supreme_Court_ended_affirmative_action_at_the_college_level.html#Xg7uUszwidafvzHS.99
“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/education/Has_the_Supreme_Court_ended_affirmative_action_at_the_college_level.html#Xg7uUszwidafvzHS.99
“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/education/Has_the_Supreme_Court_ended_affirmative_action_at_the_college_level.html#Xg7uUszwidafvzHS.99

On April 24, 2014 Bundy held a news conference and reiterated that he doesn’t believe that the U.S. government even exists. Furthermore, he told the attending reporters and his sycophants about “The Negro” on welfare and wondered aloud if blacks were better off being slaves picking cotton. Oddly, that brings us back to Eagleman’s essay – by way of your dog.

The olfactory capability of a bloodhound is a thousand times more powerful than that of a human being. We humans recognize the smell of fresh baked bread, the delight of a rose and the odor of a freshly relieved skunk and it would be common for us to assume that we know all of what is available to be smelled. But if your bloodhound had the intellectual capability for such an analysis, he would laugh at us for that.

Back to Cliven Bundy. He is certain that he knows the truth. He is not just an extremist; he is an absolutist. He knows. Yet to borrow from Eagleman’s essay, what if Bundy and his white supremacist buddies, ”  .  .  .  could be infused with the proper intellectual humility that comes from appreciating the amount unseen?” Bundy and his blind army of hate haven’t a clue what resides outside their bigoted view and your bloodhound would laugh at them for their ignorance.

There are a lot of people in positions of power and there are also many in other positions that provide them with a very loud megaphone, like Sean Hannity at FoxNews. Even with their severely limited vision, myopic as Bundy’s army, they are certain that they know the truth. What if they could be infused with that intellectual humility and they could acknowledge that there might be more in the universe than the tiny slice they know? What if all of of the absolutists could?

Yeah, I know. That’s just too crazy a dream.


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.

Frog Boil

Boiling FrogThe news was broken by Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian and also by The Washington Post that FISA court Judge Roger Vincent approved a warrant drafted by the National Security Agency (NSA) to require Verizon to turn over all of its records of calls made to and from the US and any foreign telephone.  It was done under the provisions of FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  

FISA was designed to enable the gathering of – guess what – foreign intelligence.  It works in secret and is accountable to nobody, so we have no way to know if its actions are justified or appropriate and its provisions and restrictions are not well understood by the public.  Not surprisingly, our government has a way of stretching the meaning of the act to suit its purposes.  Here is an example of that stretching.

In addition to Verizon’s domestic-to-foreign calls being reported, the NSA also requires Verizon to turn over its records for all completely domestic calls.  Remember that part about FISA being about gathering foreign intelligence?  How a call from a domestically registered phone to another domestically registered phone is foreign is an unholy stretch, but that is what our government is doing.  And it gets worse.

The Washington Post broke the story that the NSA has a surveillance program called PRISM.  It is a another lovely piece of FISA stretch that delivers to the NSA all of the records of all the big online servers, like Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and more.

With the Verizon intelligence grab the NSA knows every call you’ve made and all the  calls made to you, the duration of the calls and the number your phone was connected to, the location of both phones and all of the records are delivered to the NSA daily.  With the PRISM program, the NSA can dig into anything you’ve ever done online, including your used-to-be-private emails and web surfing history. 

As reported in The New York Times, “James R, Clapper, Jr., director of national intelligence, “.  .  .  the government ‘does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers’ of telephone and Internet providers, saying that information is turned over only under court order, when there is a ‘documented, foreign intelligence purpose for acquisition’ of the data.”

Sounds reassuring.  And not confidently believable, if there is anything substantive to what whistle blowers Edward Snowden and William Binney have said.

These kinds of “data mining and harvesting” were supposed to be do-able only as part of a specific investigation that the NSA was conducting, not as a “grab the entire universe of information” fishing expedition.  Further, the warrant that is required for the NSA to dig its tentacles into you was supposed to be authorized by a FISA court judge using a very hairy eyeball, but nearly ever warrant requested has been allowed.

You may have committed no crime nor even have known anyone who has, but the NSA has all of your records, phone, emails and web surfing history, and is looking at them, even though you are not part of an ongoing investigation.  Honest person that you are, you are being snooped and groped.  Every day.

Let’s see – is there more?  Well, we’re killing people overseas with drones and we have a most strange way of quantifying the effect of these machines.  We identify the people we kill in various categories, including al Qaeda, militant, civilian and unknown.  Strangely, we’ve killed thousands classified as unknown yet our government has claimed that there were very few civilian casualties.  If we don’t know the identity of the people we killed, how can we know they weren’t civilians?

And, by the way, surveillance drones are already flying inside the U.S.

This is just the most recent few outrageous things our government is doing under the cover label of national security.  What is disturbing is that these kinds of government power grabs, this taking control of our privacy, our freedom and our lives is exactly what we used to abhor about the Soviet Union.  That government robbed its people of their freedom and millions of Soviets were killed by the state.  Indeed, our rendition programs are functionally identical to the Soviets sending their people to die in labor camps in Siberia.  Put any face, label or justification on it that you like; stealing your freedom is stealing your freedom.

It is said that if a live frog is suddenly thrown into a pot of boiling water that it will thrash violently and do everything it can to get out of the pot.  On the other hand, if a frog is thrown into cool water and then the heat is turned up so that the water warms gradually, the frog will swim about calmly until it is boiled dead.  That is to say, slow change doesn’t seem to get the frog’s attention, and then suddenly it is too late.

We’re a lot like that frog.  Our government has incrementally changed at a pace that doesn’t seem to get our attention, but we are gradually losing the America you believe in, as we plunge headlong into totalitarianism.

“Americans are living in a totalitarian state.  They just haven’t figured it out yet.”  Russian immigrant.

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

Forehead Slapper

Water On Road During RainSome things are rather obvious, like the message on this highway sign.  And some things are just as obvious in The Constitution.

Here is the Second Amendment in its entirety:

“A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

Imagine the environment during the days when the Bill of Rights was being written.  We had just won our independence from the British through the efforts of an amateur army.  We had no standing army, nor the money to fund one if we needed it.  Furthermore, we were afraid we’d have to fight the British again (that happened).  Now reread the Second Amendment.

It is rather clear that the focus was on having men ready to fight a war (a militia) and that it was their job to fund their own equipment.  That is to say, the key point is not about stiff-arming an intrusive or abusive United States government; it is about national defense being handled by amateurs armed with their own muskets.

Times have changed and we now have a standing army.  There is no national defense reason for civilians to be ready to serve in a militia or to have their own muskets.  Billy Bob may think that the arsenal in his basement is his protection against an abusive government, but he’s going to have a really bad day when it’s learned that he’s been conspiring to do something nefarious to make his voice heard, like the bombing at the Boston Marathon or the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building in  Oklahoma City, both done by American terrorists.  The ATF guys and the FBI will arrive at his door with enormous firepower and his AR-15 and illegal Browning automatic rifle won’t be of much value to him.  So much for household defense by firearms against an abusive government.

That pesky “shall not infringe” business – does that mean that the government cannot place limits on the firearms a citizen may own?  No, we as a society have decided that it does not and we already have such limits.  You cannot legally own any automatic weapon.  You may not legally own field artillery or an M-1 tank or a fully armed F-18 or torpedoes or Hellfire missiles or an atomic bomb.  Yes, we decided long ago that the right of people to bear arms really can be limited.  And that’s a good thing.

It is also an obvious thing, a real forehead slapper.  The trick is getting gun stalwarts past the arrested development stage, during which they chant ceaselessly, “You can’t tell ME what to do.”  Well, yeah, we can.

So, get over your testosterone rush, “cold, dead hands” rant rifle-thumper, and recognize that there really is water on the road when it rains, and we can and should place limits on the firearms any of us may own.  Those limits help our six-year-olds to make it to age seven.

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


Pogo 2As the heat subsides from the immediacy of the Boston Marathon bombings and shootings, our national dialogue naturally turns to more contemplative issues, like preventing such attacks in the future.  Concurrently, we continue to wade in the morass of Sandy Hook and our elected leaders blather ineffectively over action to prevent more gun massacres.  The connective tissue between those seemingly different situations is angry people acting out violently to, in their minds, right a wrong or to make a statement and be heard or because some mental illness led them to kill.

Setting aside mental illness as a motivator, what we have are people who do horrific things, yet those very same things seem sensible – even mandatory – to them.  The popular saying is that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

It is never popular to suggest that we have a part in what goes on elsewhere.  We’re more comfortable pointing fingers at the crazy, violent people.  But what if there are things we can do so that we don’t spawn so many people who see violence as their only option?

Here’s Human Being 101 on this: every one of us has a fight or flight response ready to be triggered instantly.  It’s located in the so-called reptile brain, the oldest component inside our skulls, and its operation isn’t ruled by notions of consequences, fairness or reason; indeed, it isn’t ruled by conscious thought at all.  It is survival level stuff as practiced by alligators and it works really well for – guess what? – survival.  It isn’t good for much more than that and that’s the problem when we humans feel threatened or wronged.

Impulses from the reptile brain flood our system ten times faster than thoughtful deliberation and we go primitive quicker than the snap of fingers.  This is the kind of stuff that is handy for recruiting members for militias, for white supremacists and for al Qaeda.  All those recruiters need to do is to smear “others” as threatening what the recruited hold dear, like their loved ones, their country, loyalty, right over wrong – you can make up your own list – and the sign-up is easy.  All that fierce reptilian stuff feels good, because when it’s engaged we feel powerful.  That’s especially useful for manipulating those who have felt disempowered, ignored or bullied.  Violence feels to them like strength and, perhaps, like it is their only remedy.

Next thing you know the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City is blown up, 6-year-old children are blasted apart by 10 bullets each in Newtown, CT and Americans are blown up at the Boston Marathon.

We have an unlimited supply of people exhorting us to primitive, violent redress to every conflict.  Their chest thumping and their simplistic solutions appeal to our desire for quick resolution and to make us feel safe.   Indeed, our war drum beating legislators seem to believe that most problems should be resolved through military means.

For every Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. insisting that we be non-violent in dealing with our grievances, there are hundreds of others rattling sabres.  Humankind has always been short of peacemakers.  Actually, it is a hazardous profession, as those folks have a way of becoming prematurely dead, thanks to ever-present violent people who feel threatened.

Just get that clobbering other people will not convince them not to attack us.  That applies to the Muslim world, the various places where we expend ordnance in order to prove to ourselves that we’re Number 1, as well as to our neighbors across town who may be somehow different from you and me.  Come to think of it, I’m not too sure of you.

That last was, of course, tongue-in-cheek.  It is meant as a placeholder for all the ways we “other” people who seem, well, other.  We can succumb to fearing whoever might appear to be different or we can get past that.  John Lennon said it well:

“If you want money for people with minds that hate,

“All I can tell you is brother you’ll have to wait.”

We have to figure out that we cannot dominate and kill our way to security and comfort because that just leads to the next generation of people who want to attack us.  Nothing is going to get much better until we figure that out.  Pogo said it best:  “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The way we have been is not who we have to continue to be.  Perhaps – just perhaps – we can find remedies to our individual and collective challenges.  We’ll all need to do our part in that.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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