Fire, Hijacking and Teaching Moments

“We’re living in an extraordinary teaching moment,” said Thom Hartmann to a Tenth Dems crowd Friday evening, “ .  .  .  [with] the issues of the commons writ large.”  That’s “commons” as in what is common to all of us, like our humanity.

Case in point: Have you heard the names of the 11 men who were killed when BP’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig exploded?  That you likely have not is significant.  Next case in point:  In a criminal prosecution, Pfizer Pharmaceutical was penalized $1.7 billion for drugs they marketed that killed people, and no one at Pfizer was held accountable for their criminal assault on humanity.  That’s significant, too, as we publicly ignore human suffering.

There are countless examples of what is at stake – in common – and the lessons they submit to everyone are what make this a teaching moment.  They offer the possibility of drawing all of us toward what Hartmann calls the Radical Middle.

One practical outcome of the Gulf oil spill crisis is that we are going to be paying a lot more for shrimp and fish, if we can get them at all.  Another practical piece is that the beaches where we like to vacation may be paved with tar.

The more important and immediate common piece is that people all along the Gulf coast are scared out of their skins as they envision their way of life disappearing under BP’s oil slime.  These are our family members, our friends, our neighbors and our fellow Americans.  At stake, too, is the American eco-structure.  Do we care?  Our brains are wired to care.  That’s what makes us human and makes this a teaching moment.

We’re in this – all of this – together.  That’s why Rand Paul does such harm to all of us when he verbally dances around his opposition to the piece of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits private companies from discrimination based on race, gender and the rest.  Taking him at his word that he abhors bigotry, his idealistic notions miss the most important part.  He thinks that everyone should be able to do whatever they think is in their best interests without interference from government.  That is blind to the fact that people acting solely out of selfishness sometimes act cruelly and for the most hateful of reasons and they do harm to others.  Worse, it seems that Rand Paul is the best that the Republicans can offer.

Mainstream Republicans  – remember them? – seem to have run out of new and good ideas for America when they embarked on their southern strategy following Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.  First, they appealed to people’s basest instincts around race and class and they have continued to offer just two things.

The first is yelling really scary stuff, which often prove to be complete fabrications.  In the world of sales this is called the “scare ‘em and save ‘em” tactic.  They yell “fire,” tell you who’s to blame and then sell you an empty fire extinguisher.

The second is to say no.  To everything.  All the time.  And they do it with a tone of indignation and self-righteousness.  There really is a certain satisfaction that comes from braying absolutes and labeling anyone who disagrees as being both wrong and unpatriotic.  Unfortunately, that’s just crass manipulation and it isn’t useful for solving our very real national challenges.

That’s it.  Division based on prejudice, phony fear mongering and having “no” temper tantrums.  Mainstream Republicans are bankrupt of ideas.

Which is one of the reasons the Tea Bagger far right has been able to steal the show from the Republican Party.  What that says is that Republicans have been bankrupt of useful ideas for so long that their party has been hijacked by radicals.

The message – the teaching moment – for us is that sitting on our Democratic hands will produce more of exactly the same result – crazy people taking power.

It is critical that we get beyond yelling at one another and start to find common solutions.  That can only happen if we keep radical, crazy people’s hands off the reins of power.

So, use this teaching moment to wake people from their apolitical slumber.  Start the conversations right now.  Go ahead and teach them in this moment about the truth that will affect them personally.  Urge them to vote on November 2.  Our decisions today will affect our shrimp prices, our civil rights and our very humanity and it’s up to us to ensure our future.  Don’t let the crazies take over.  Do it for our common good.

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

For Those Who Would Persuade Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Gullible Are We?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One last time: Just how gullible are we?

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

Grant Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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