For Righties

You say you’re a strict constitutionalist and you believe deeply in the principles of that marvelous document.  Let’s have a look at that

Of course, you’re a firm believer in freedom of speech.  Yet, did you howl in protest when the Republican Party set up “free speech zones” far away from their 2008 convention in Minneapolis and prevented any display of dissent that might become visible to convention attendees or television cameras?  How about when Mayor Rahm Emanuel attempted to stifle protests around the then-upcoming NATO and G-20 conferences this year with his “Sit Down and Shut Up” law?  I thought all of America was a free speech zone and so did you.  “Free speech zones,” indeed

Of course you believe in freedom of religion as outlined in the Bill of Rights, but do you tolerate those who insist that America must be governed according to their interpretation of the Christian Bible?  That religious turf grabbing has the practical effect of establishing a national religion and marginalizing anyone who is not a Christian in their mold.  And did you hit the Send button to communicate with your representatives in Congress about your disgust with the anti-Muslim hatred that now is masquerading as patriotism?  Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion or from any particular religion.

The second amendment was crafted to ensure that immediately following our revolutionary days civilians could quickly be conscripted into an army in case the British invaded again.  The second amendment wasn’t and isn’t about the right to own an unlimited stockpile of weapons of war.  Since you probably don’t think the British are going to invade any time soon, why exactly do you think you’re guaranteed the right to own those assault weapons?  Charleton Heston’s “cold dead hands,” testosterone-filled declaration may give you a dark side thrill of self-righteousness and cause your blood to boil, but your weapons cache is far more likely to make some innocent person’s blood spill.

If you’re a strict constitutionalist, are you taking action to stop Republican state legislatures from stealing the right to vote from millions of our fellow Americans?  You should be in the front lines fighting that unconstitutional threat to our democracy.

The framers of the Constitution had a well-founded and deep seated distrust of excess power in a few hands.  So, as a strict constitutionalist, you must be outraged over fabulously wealthy people stealing our elections from you and our fellow Americans.  What action are you taking to counter that theft of democracy?

If you’re a strong supporter of our military, you probably thank soldiers for their service and perhaps you attend parades in their honor.  But did you scream at George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld when they sent our soldiers into battle without personnel and vehicle armor, leaving them vulnerable to being blown to bits or left with debilitating brain injuries from roadside bombs?  Are you sending checks to the VA so that we provide the after-action medical help our injured military people need, rather than making them wait a year for medical help?

Surely, you’re marching in protest against the war in Afghanistan, where most of our military deaths are due to bullets fired by the very Afghan security forces our soldiers are training.  Part of “provide for the common defense” – that’s from the Preamble to the Constitution – means protecting our military people from pointless conflicts that produce little more than dead soldiers.

The Constitution that you hold as sacred is just as sacred to the rest of us, so here’s my proposition for you:  Take a break from waving flags and slinging epithets and start taking action to protect the Constitution.   It is long past time that we stop the outrageous screeching that serves only to make us feel powerful for a moment and instead start honoring our duties as Americans.  That’s where the real power of the Constitution lies.

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

It Isn’t Envy, Mitt

Mitt Romney says that the anger of the 99%-ers is based upon envy of the 1%-ers, but like so many other things he believes about “the rest of us,” he has it wrong.  We don’t hate rich people because they are rich and there is a critical differentiation that Romney and so many others simply refuse to see.

We want our kids to have it better than we did, so we believe in the American Dream and we applaud those who have lived it and prospered and earned their wealth and success.  These people are models for our kids who will inspire them to break through barriers to create the cures for diseases and the products that will make our all our lives better.  No, we don’t resent those who have followed that path and succeeded.  We admire them.

The people who are resented by the American 99% are those who have become wealthy and continue to get even wealthier by keeping others down.  And we resent the politicians who suck up and sell out to these people for their own interests at the expense of everyone else.

Be clear that these are people who have rigged the game, tilted the table against the poor, the middle class and even the upper-middle class.  They have spent every waking moment since the inauguration of Ronald Reagan incrementally inching America toward a new economic and military feudal state and have done so by impoverishing all but the top 1%.  They are creating an America of subsistence and poverty that is devoid of the American Dream for everyone but themselves.

Paul Ryan’s twice-proposed budget is designed specifically to throw more money to the 1% at the expense of our most needy people and tilt the game still further.  The Catholic Bishops weighed in against Ryan’s budget, saying that it hurts the very people – our most vulnerable – that the church seeks to protect.  They are right and he is not, regardless of the sweet face he puts on his proposal and the dismissive things he says about his detractors.

The way to reverse the upside-down world that Ryan and the 1% want to create and to stop the theft of the American Dream is to vote for candidates who will make that happen.  It is about electing people who will put a stop to the glut of influence money in politics that makes guys like Ryan propose such regressive budgets.  It is quite likely that your Democratic candidate answers that description.

So, the way to make a difference is to help the D candidate win, not because s/he’s a Democrat – that would be a dumb reason – but because s/he will vote in congress the way that makes sense to you.  So, volunteer in their campaign.  Hold an informational meeting for friends and neighbors at your house for your candidate.  Their election staff will tell you how to do that.  Volunteer at a phone bank.  Put out a lawn sign and slap a bumper sticker on your car.

The issue is to be active, because passivity will breed more of the same as we are seeing now and our children and grandchildren will inherit an America that you couldn’t possibly recognize.  I do not mean that as hyperbole; my own grandfather would not recognize America today, even as he was an ardent anti-New Deal guy and thought both the income tax and Franklin Roosevelt were the worst things on the planet.  

Actually, I take that back; he would recognize this, because the unregulated greed that hurts Americans and led to the meltdown in 2008 and the continuing decline of the middle class is exactly what he saw as a young father in the 1920’s.  He’d recognize the influence peddling in Washington, the dumb bubble economy, the spinelessness in congress and more.  He would be waving a red flag and yelling, “DANGER” because he would have seen what happens when we do dumb stuff like we’ve done and he would be asking whether there is anybody who remembers history, because Santayana was right – in our refusal to remember history we were doomed to repeat it and we have done just that.  The difference is that after Hoover, we learned our lesson and started to make things better.

Today the righties want to do things that will make things worse.  The real question is why they would want that.  The 1%-ers want that because it makes them richer and keeps them in control.  The politicians want that because that way the rich people continue to throw money to them that perpetuates their careers and their wealth building and keeps them in control, too.  As for why any Tea Partier would want that – more on that another time.

For now, just be clear that things will get worse unless we make them get better.  It is up to those with a ballot in November to stop the theft of America.  If we fail to show up, if we fail to man the barricades against this assault on the America we believe in, then the American Dream, that future we want for our children and grandchildren will be lost for generations.  Tag, you’re IT.

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

O’ See Can You Say?

Scratch any neo-con and you’ll instantly hear the vision: “We want small government, low taxes and the government out of our lives.”  Clear, crisp and compelling.

Scratch a progressive and you’ll hear paragraphs of theory and a rant that will make your eyes cross and will hurt your brain.  And the message will change with each progressive you listen to, leaving you confused and reaching for something solid on which to steady yourself.

The righties have been selling their message consistently at least since Richard Nixon.  He wanted to discredit the press – he called them the “eastern liberal press.”  They were the people he saw through his paranoia as always attacking him.  So, he had his felon vice-president Spiro T. Agnew call them “nattering nabobs of negativity” and Agnew used that moniker over and over.  It didn’t matter whether people knew what a nabob was, because the message that the press can’t be trusted got through.  And it is continuing to get through.

The attack on the press (now the “media”) has most recently and shrilly been blared through the snarling lips of Sarah Palin, who calls the press the “lamestream media,” which is odd, since she is a regular on Fox News, making her part of the “lamestream media.”

The press used to be called the Fourth Estate.  It was seen as a de facto check on government and was trusted to do that job.  Not so much any more, though, after 44 years of being slimed by the self-appointed Republican attack machine.

Ronald Reagan was up front in selling distrust of government.  He told us that the nine most feared words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”   He played into people’s stereotyped attitudes and frustrations and got himself elected as the head of the government, strangely doing this by denouncing government.

He told us he was for small government, low taxes and the government out of our lives.  Then he set about massively increasing government, raising taxes twelve times and building national debt that surpassed all other presidents combined.  Yet strangely, he’s still remembered as the president who was for small government and low taxes.  That disconnect can be traced to neo-cons selling the Reagan image (not the substance) consistently for twenty-four years, so that few Americans hear the lie and realize that the Republicans are largely responsible for the terrible economic situation in which Americans find themselves and their country today.

At the most recent Republican primary debate one of the candidates used the post office as an example of government failure and illustrative of how we don’t want government running our healthcare.  The South Carolina Republican audience loved it, even though the post office is a model of low cost mail delivery that consistently produces excellent results.  It was fiscally solvent until the Republicans required it to fully fund the pensions of workers not yet born.  Furthermore, the government runs Medicare and nobody on Medicare – not a single person – will say they don’t like it.  Still, the image of government bungling and inefficiency sells to an already jaded public.

The point is that the Republicans have had great success in keeping their hands on power by selling a clear, crisp and compelling vision in a clear, crisp and compelling way.  And they have done that while pursuing exactly the opposite of what they promise.  To be sure, that dichotomy is not solely the province of Republicans; however, what is most important to learn is the excellence of their messaging.  It sells.  It gets votes.  It wins elections.

People have chuckled for decades over Will Rogers’ declaration, “I’m not a member of an organized political party.  I’m a Democrat.”   Somehow, that isn’t quite as funny today, when America is desperate for organization around a clear, crisp and compelling vision that is worthy of us and doesn’t pander to extremists.

We’re struggling through the largely fact-free world of politics with little but lies and distortion to be seen.  It’s time the progressives got it together to produce a clear, crisp and compelling message to go along with a clear and vibrant strategy.  The best products don’t always win, but the best marketing does.

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Not Very Brave New World

During one of the Republican primary season debates Wolf Blitzer posed a question to the candidates about healthcare.  He imagined a young fellow who was significantly ailing and was in the emergency room of a hospital where they determined that he would die if not treated immediately.  Blitzer further said to imagine that his hypothetical subject was without financial means and did not have healthcare insurance.  His question was about what the hospital staff should do.

After a couple of beats someone in the audience shouted, “Let him die.”  There were cheers from others in the audience.  And every one of the Republicans running to be the party nominee for the office of President of the United States went silent.  Not a single one of them stood up to the hate, nor chastised the meanness of the shouted comment.  Not one had the spine to display compassion for a fellow human being.

They displayed that same kind of spinelessness at another debate when a gay serviceman was shown on video with a question about gays serving openly in the military.  Audience members booed him and once again these would-be leaders were silent.  Be clear that this soldier is a man who puts his life on the line every day to protect those very same candidates and audience members, yet the candidates displayed neither spine nor compassion for him or for others like him.

Those yelling the loudest today are the far right radicals and they are not conservative.  They are not even defenders of the Constitution.  They are short sighted and closed-minded bullies masquerading as bible thumping Christians.  America is suffering through an aggravated case of absolutist minds and it is killing our democracy.

In the early part of the last century one of the hateful signs hung on the doors of some companies read, “No Irish need apply.”  There were signs all over the Jim Crow south that read, “Whites only.”  And for decades and perhaps centuries there was and, in some places there still is, a “gentlemen’s agreement” to exclude Jews.  That’s rapidly metastasizing to include Muslims.  It’s more complicated than this, but at root it is a discrimination against anything that is not “us.”

We are seeing a willful brain numbing that says that anything that is not just like “us” is wrong, unpatriotic, godless and perhaps evil.  How odd that is in a country that draws its strength from its diversity.  We’ve always had that schizophrenic duality, but now the hateful side, the Mr. Hyde personality, is dominating the landscape in a razed earth war against everyone and everything that is not just like him.  Worse, those who would be leaders are spineless against Mr. Hyde’s voice of hate and exclusion.

This is America, so the haters have the right to their hate and the candidates have the right to their cowardice.  The key question is this:  How long will you tolerate the hate?

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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 2019 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 2019 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 2019 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 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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