Vision

Guest Essay: What Ails Us


Reading time – 5:55  .  .  .

David Norman is a truly gifted executive coach and a good friend. He is also an erudite cynic, although he doesn’t use the word “erudite” to describe himself. Of course, that’s misplaced humility, because he’s an informed and insightful guy. And as you’ll see, he does use the word “cynic” to describe himself and does so quite deliberately.

He is a careful analyst of reality and has offered the essay that follows. Read his comments with your best critical thinking, because this is a challenge that we are going to have to face. To quote Gene Kranz, Mission Director of the imperiled Apollo XIII flight, “Failure is not an option.”

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First, and as a backdrop, I see myself as a cynic, at least in George Bernard Shaw’s estimation: “The power of accurate observation is called cynicism by those who don’t have it” (The World). It is from this perspective that I opine.

Well known is:

In 1920, H.L. Mencken wrote in the Baltimore Sun, “Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” 

This was quite prescient, especially considering it was written some 96 years ago.

Lesser known, but often being quoted following Trump’s election:

In this 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman critically examines TV and how, in his basic thesis, it has negatively affected the level of public discourse. In the foreword, Postman examines two dystopian visions, Orwell, in 1984, and Huxley, in Brave New World, who depicted a population too amused by distractions to realize that they had been made powerless. In Chapter 9, “Reach Out and Elect Someone,” Postman examines how political elections have simply become a battle of advertisements, in which candidates develop images meant to work in the same way that commercials do, by offering an abstract image of what the public feels it lacks. “As a result, people no longer vote what is best for them, but rather vote what they are told they lack in their lives” [emphasis added]. Postman ends his work with “The Huxleyan Warning,” in which he returns to the basic premise that Aldous Huxley was right; i.e., that we are too amused by distractions to realize we have been made powerless (excerpts from here).

Amusing Ourselves to Death was published 32 years ago.

One Other Major Influence:

Ronald Reagan, in 1987, eliminated the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was honest, equitable and balanced. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented.

It is not a coincidence that Fox News was started nine years later by Roger Ailes, ex-media consultant for Reagan, Nixon, and others.

Putting it Together:

The U.S. Population, as a whole, has become desensitized and avoids asking piercing, thought-provoking questions, choosing instead to be led (by the nose ring, as it were) by a TV “talking head” of their preference, one or more who support our limited world view (yet, interestingly enough, we don’t even realize that “our world view” is limited!). We listen, we accept and believe. As a population, we can’t parse actual reality from “reality TV.” Not only do we not turn against TV, we actually become further hijacked by “technologies” (as Postman describes TV, even before social media, et.al.) and worship the words. Facts or alternative facts; it really doesn’t matter. “It” was said on TV; therefore, it is perceived as the truth.

[Quick sidebar: (1) Last year in my role as an executive coach, one business owner stated outright to me, “I hate my wife.” While shocked at the force and brevity of the statement, I asked several open-ended questions to get at the substance. In short, his wife, a stay-at-home-mom, would watch Fox News all day, live in her social media tribes into the late hours and “come to bed angry” every night. (2) Almost five weeks later, another business owner, in our coaching session, said, “I hate my wife .  .  .”  Identical reasons as stated above. Note: Two different wives!  But what a coincidence from a small population, my client base. And how illustrative of our TV-guided mounting anger.]

So, What Does This All Mean Now?

We should not have been surprised by the election results, but we (read that as, my wife and I) were shocked.

My contention and belief is simple: as a population we are not doing any critical thinking. Note that The Texas GOP, in their 2012 platform, “opposed the teaching of Higher Order Thinking (HOTS) .  .  .” We wouldn’t want our citizenry asking critical questions, would we? Yet people are not incapable of learning; many simply refuse to be informed – a willing and perhaps gleeful ignorance, if you will. I do believe, as does Postman, that we have dumbed-down American citizenry to a point that “they” (the ubiquitous, “they”) sit slack jawed, empty-minded in front of the TV believing that (1) Survivor is real, and, (2) listening to those “talking heads” who support their limited view of the world, thereby simply amplifying the noise and static in their heads and anger in their gut.

If, however, you are willing to learn and be informed, and have critical thinking skills (and, apparently, not associated with the Texas GOP), then you could not have mentally transposed Trump’s pre-election rhetoric and proven, egregious behavior into a possibility of him being successful as president. In the run-up to the election I simply dismissed his election as a non-plausible circumstance – it simply couldn’t happen in the U.S., I said multiple times out loud, “Don’t worry, I have more faith in our population.” Yikes! Yet, the signs were in front of me/us all the time, and was I ever fooled.

In summary, and to paraphrase Postman, we have dumbed-down ourselves to death, and have doomed ourselves to have an Orange-Marmoset-On-Head-In-Chief (OMOHIC), armed with Twitter as a megaphone, encouraged by White Supremacists (Bannon and Miller) as earwigs and backed up by three generals as Next-Line-in-Charge.

This is the fire under the boiling cauldron of today’s politics.

Throw into this cauldron an evil witches brew of a public that is increasingly vengeful, fragmented, scared, voiceless and hateful (as not only encouraged by, but also condoned by our OMOHIC). Flavor the mixture with a heavy dose of legislative and, to a certain degree, judiciary dysfunction. What possibly could go wrong?

How could this cauldron of acidic, epic ingredients not boil over into national and/or international conflict?

What’s your answer that question?

“Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite.” Joseph de Maistre

Tighten your seat belt; this will be quite a ride!

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Ed. comments:

Following the French Revolution, Joseph de Maistre told us over 200 years ago:

“Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite.”

“Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

What government do we in America deserve? Have we done the work of citizenship that is required for a representative democracy to function well for the people? As you’ve seen, our guest essayist suggests we have not. Roger Cohen agrees.

I entitled this offering What Ails Us because it is insufficient to swat at the symptoms of our dysfunction; we must deal with what is causing our national ailing. Don’t imagine for even a moment that Donald Trump is what ails us. He is a symptom, an unavoidable outcome of what we Americans together have put in motion. Figuring this out and repairing it will require critical thinking from everyone, including citizens of Texas, and especially including you. Share your best thinking below.

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

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA


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

Worthy of You


Reading time – 1:22; Viewing time – 2:30  .  .  .

When one of us is victimized, we are all victimized.

Is it alright that some of us are being diminished? We better figure out really fast that everyone is somewhere on the list of those who will be diminished sooner or later unless something powerful happens.

You must take action. You must get up and speak out.

Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter. And we all better be demanding that. Otherwise, nobody’s life matters.

There are people who would take from you whatever you hold dear. The only way to stop that is to stand up for what you believe in.

Are you dispirited? That’s not enough.

Are you sad? That’s not enough.

Are you enraged? That’s not enough.

You must take action. You must get up and speak out.

Sometimes the threats we face are right in our faces and they are easy to see and easy to fight. Sometimes they’re hard to see, like global warming, but they’re here just the same. And they will harm you and the people you love unless you do something to stop them.

You must take action. You must get up and speak out.

Do you care? That’s not enough.

“I’m no longer Accepting what I cannot change . . . I’m changing the things I cannot Accept!” Chicago Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Do you worry? That’s not enough.

You must demand the world you hope to see.

You must vote.

You must demonstrate.

You must protest what you know is wrong.

You must take action. You must get up and speak out.

Are you smart and clever? That’s not enough.

Do you want better? That’s not enough.

You must take action. You must get up and speak out.

It’s hard work. It is full of disappointment and frustration. But you already know that nothing that is worthy of you is easy to achieve.

You must take action. You must get up and speak out.

Do this.

And this.

Your children and grandchildren are counting on you. So take action. Get up and speak out because that is worthy of you.

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

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA

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

Hiding In Plain Sight


Reading time 3:02; Viewing time – 4:38  .  .  .

In Ronald Radosh’s essay in the Daily Beast last August, recounting his conversation with Steve Bannon shortly after Bannon become CEO of Trump’s presidential campaign, he wrote:

Then we had a long talk about his approach to politics. He never called himself a “populist” or an “American nationalist,” as so many think of him today. “I’m a Leninist,” Bannon proudly proclaimed.

Shocked, I asked him what he meant.

Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” [emphasis mine]

As recently as February 23, 2017 at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Bannon declared the top three priorities of this administration, one of which is “deconstruction of the administrative state.”

Perhaps you have significant dissatisfaction with “today’s establishment,” the “administrative state.” I surely do – but do you really want to bring it all “crashing down“? Apparently, Steve Bannon does.

Whatever Bannon’s reasons for his desire for national anarchy and chaos, no matter his rationale for destroying the American firmament, if Bannon has his way, a lot of people are going to get hurt, and I don’t mean the gold plated set; I mean ordinary Americans for whom their country will no longer work, and you just might be one of those people.

Here’s the scary part: Bannon has the president’s ear in everything, including national security and nuclear weapons. Consider that the president has a loose affiliation with facts and reality and has demonstrated with his Muslim Ban Executive Order that he has a ready-fire-aim mentality. Plus, he has the unique ability to contradict himself three times in a single sentence, so it’s not at all clear if he has any firm convictions. And Steve “burn-it-down” Bannon has this malleable-fact president’s ear on all issues.

What could possibly go wrong?

If your goal were to “destroy all of today’s establishment,” your first steps would be to take power away from whatever might challenge you. That is to say, you’d want to undermine public confidence in the very establishment you want to destroy.

For example, you might attack our intelligence communities by comparing them to Nazis. That way, when the CIA, FBI and NSA present incontrovertible proof of Trump conspiring with the Russians to hack and steal the election, Americans won’t believe them.

You would continuously vilify reporters, newspapers and broadcast, cable and online news organizations so that when their investigative journalists uncover the blackmail that Putin has on Trump, people won’t believe the actual, reality-based facts those organizations bring to them.

You would have your Attorney General attack freedom of the press by subpoenaing a journalist who simply reported on the Malheur Natural Wildlife Refuge occupation case for Oregon Public Broadcasting.

And you would work to delegitimize the courts and our judges by attacking Judge Gonzalo Curiel and by calling Judge James Robart a “so-called judge” and blaming any future terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Robart. Likely, you’d also attack the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th District with a threat of “see you in court,” which arguably is a dumb thing to say, since the Court of Appeals is a court, plus Trump had already lost his case. Nevertheless, the drumbeat of attacking and undermining our institutions goes on.

I’ve speculated in these essays (here and here and here) about what Trump really wants and more than once have suggested that Trump is looking for an excuse to declare martial law, much the way George W. Bush came to the White House looking for an excuse to invade Iraq. I have supposed that Trump’s true objective has been to make himself a de facto dictator. That may be accurate, but what is hiding in plain sight is that Trump and the evil angel constantly whispering into his ear want to bring America crashing down. They are engineering revolution that will kill our democracy.

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

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA

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

What If There’s a Reason?


Reading time – 1:54; Viewing time – 3:12  .  .  .

Candidate Trump carried on an unrelenting war on the “dishonest press.” He declared that they are all liars, that they can’t be trusted. Now, as president, he has made the stunning pronouncement that the press is the enemy of the American people. Note that’s the same message V.I. Lenin delivered in establishing communism in Russia. All of Trump’s claims are true, he admonishes, except, of course, for those few who report favorably about him.

Clearly, there are some in the press who have an agenda other than simply reporting the news and calling out that behavior has some merit. On the other hand, that describes only a very small percentage of reporters (can you name even one?) and certainly doesn’t describe those from major outlets, like The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Still, Trump has pummeled those and others with a continuous blistering attack of vague, vitriolic accusations.

But what if there is more to this than Trump’s mental pathology? What if there are practical explanations for his fusillades? Let’s see if we can conjure what those might be. I have two to offer.

First, this is a time of populist anger at anything that might fall into the category of “establishment,” so attacking such things as the mainstream press both gives voice to the anger of the people and establishes Trump as one of the people. Really, how else would a farmer in Nebraska be able to identify with a gold-plated elitist from New York? That’s a powerful ploy, powerful enough to get him elected.

Second, and this is the truly pernicious one, imagine what is to come. There already has been a great deal of reporting on Trump’s business activities and the specter of conflict of interest and perhaps outright law breaking is more than a shadow on the horizon. To expect further revelations from determined investigative journalists is realistic and Trump won’t like that reporting. His only defenses will be to lie about it and to attack the reporters. If journalists are held in low enough esteem by then (and the national approval rating of the press is currently about the same as that of Congress), he may be able to get the people to ignore or even oppose adverse accusations about him. He may be able to yet again portray himself as an innocent victim of a dishonest press. Without that Fourth Estate to protect us, he may be able to spark a populist uprising against Congress itself. Who knows what will happen from that?

What’s your notion of why Trump maintains the drumbeat of attack on the press? Enter it in the Comments section below so we can think about this together.

As a corollary to this question, you must read Bret Stephens’ comments delivered at the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at the University of California, Los Angeles (here in print and here in video, which includes additional discussion). In this age of “alternative facts” and the mind numbing acceptance of what should be found abhorrent, Stephens will restore your belief in integrity and make you believe that it still lives.

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  • Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.
  • YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA

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

We Need a Fix


Reading time – 5:15; Viewing time – 10:46  .  .  .

We’re politically polarized to an extreme not seen since the Civil War. We’re in debt to a level that most people cannot even comprehend and we have no plan to make things better. We have the highest cost of medical care in the world and only fair results compared to other industrialized countries. Congress is perpetually locked in a battle for stagnation and our infrastructure is crumbling. We wring hands over the hard-boiling of our planet and steadfastly not only refuse to make things better, we actually do things that make things worse. We honor our military people but continue to get them killed for dishonest reasons in perpetual wars. And we are angry all the time.

I’m a card-carrying member of the Baby Boomers, lodged in the leading edge of that group. I grew up in the late 1940s and 1950s, which was itself a rather odd time. We had won the war and America had the only fully functioning industrial economy in the world. Being number one was a pretty easy thing to do and we dominated the world economy and expanded our belief in American exceptionalism as the natural order of things.

We were steeped in the culture of stability, of conformity and of reverence for authority – after all, that had worked. Then Elvis wore his hair long and wiggled his hips and the Greatest Generation didn’t like that. The electric guitar put an end to big bands and music changed to something that was called everything but music by anyone who was part of the establishment and that rocked the boat even more. And we sent our military people to Vietnam and suddenly everything changed.

We were raised with the expectation that all men had an obligation to serve at least two years in the military, but the military was being sent to do something that was simply unacceptable to those who would be drafted. It was a war we were lied into (ref: the phony Gulf of Tonkin attack), a war that was never declared by a cowardly Congress and a war that eventually cost the lives of over 58,000 American men and women before we left that country.

Even larger were the lies President Johnson told us. We were told by the press that he had a “credibility gap.” That was polite speak for saying that he lied. We’re only now getting to the point where the press is willing to name it directly when a president lies – odd that it took so long. But lie he did.

So did Richard Nixon, who told us he had a secret plan to end the war, but instead was driven to continue it because, in his words, he refused to be, “the first American President to lose a war.” The plain translation of that is that his reputation as a winning war president was more important to him than the lives of the 28,000 military personnel who died while he was in office and continuing that war.

And, of course, there was Watergate. Yes, our president really was a crook, and our sense of trust ratcheted down even further.

Gerald Ford should have been a calm respite from the torrent of deceit coming from Washington, but then he pardoned Nixon for crimes he committed or might have committed. So not only did Nixon betray our trust, but the next guy in the Oval Office ensured that he got away with it. What happened to the notion of penalties for doing wrong? We couldn’t even trust those who were sent to restore our trust.

Jimmy Carter may be best known for having been the leader who couldn’t lead our 52 citizen hostages out of Iran. We trust our leaders to keep us safe, but he was unable to find a way to do that.

Ronald Reagan brought us the glamour of a Hollywood actor, with all the performance chops that implies. He told us it was morning in America and that this country was the shining city on the hill. He promised smaller government and then he tripled the size of our debt.

And he was in charge of the masterly deceitful Iran-Contra affair, which broke multiple laws. And he got away with it. His operatives barely got a slap on the wrist. How could we trust our justice system after that?

George H. W .Bush told us over and over, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Then the burden of his and Reagan’s spending caught up with him and he had to raise taxes. Who can you believe?

Then the Clinton era began, bringing with it things we simply had not seen before. Even before Clinton first sat down in the Oval Office the Republicans started smearing him with immorality-laced charges. Ken Starr spent millions of dollars looking for Clintonian malfeasance and couldn’t find a single example. But that didn’t stop the accusers in Congress, who continue that drumbeat to this day.

Once Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House he managed to stop Congress and the government from functioning at all. He was trying to strong-arm Clinton, but instead strong-armed the country. That was before Gingrich was found to have illegally used a tax-exempt organization for political purposes and provided false information to the House Ethics Committee. He was forced to resign. So much for trust in Congress.

And, of course, Bill Clinton assured us that he, “didn’t have sex with that woman – Ms. Lewinsky.” But he did, regardless of what the meaning of “is” is.

Then we got George W. Bush. He refused to listen to the experts and 9/11 happened. His spin-meisters then spent the next seven years telling us how Bush had kept America safe. Go to the 9/11 Memorial in New York and repeat that phrase as you walk around the reflecting pools and read the engraved names of the 2,996 people who died there on that day when Bush was keeping America safe.

Bush lied us into two wars that continue in one form or another and have destabilized an entire region of the world, killing hundreds of thousands of people and displacing millions more and with no end in sight. He was all about deregulation and lower taxes (especially for those already wealthy). The wars were put on the national credit card, making this the first time our country went to war and refused to pay for it, leaving us with trillions of dollars of debt, an amount that continues to grow.

And Bush presided over the largest crash of our economy since 1929. Presidents are supposed to have the best experts advising them about what to do to avoid catastrophe, but Bush utterly failed to protect America or Americans. At the end of his presidency over 700,000 Americans were losing their jobs every month.

The banking industry had managed to make itself doomed to collapse thanks to brainless deregulation and in the process harmed a lot of people, including the thousands of Americans whose home mortgages were foreclosed, many illegally. The entire banking industry showed itself to be untrustworthy.

The entire mess – the loss of employment for millions of Americans, the foreclosures, the banking collapse Bush poured money into and his two wars – fell into Barack Obama’s lap.

We needed a national stimulus to get the economy going, but the Republicans had dedicated themselves to making job one, “Making sure that Barack Obama is a one-term president.” That is to say, America and Americans came second.

So, the stimulus was half the size it needed to be and Republicans made sure that one-third of the money wound up in the pockets of wealthy people rather than stimulating the economy. Then they blamed Obama for a stimulus plan that failed.

In fact, they blamed Obama for everything. They opposed bills that they themselves had offered prior to Obama taking office, once Obama supported them. They opposed a healthcare plan that the very conservative Heritage Foundation and Republicans had been proposing for decades. All of the blaming and demonizing put yet more stress on Americans’ trust in our institutions, trust which was further eroded by yet another Congressionally led governmental shutdown, this time over whether we would pay our debts. How could anyone trust when we threaten to default?

The Supreme Court is supposed to be the arbiter of disputes and laws and keep us in line with the Constitution, but in 2010 Chief Justice John Roberts contorted the Citizens United case into something that was not in contest and produced the legalization of big money influence of our elections and our government. With that, all three branches of government were plainly untrustworthy.

Now we have a president who makes baseless attacks on the press, calling them the most dishonest people in the world, so now trust in the press is in question.

The list of examples of trust killing events could be many times the length of this list, but the point is that we have repeatedly been lied to, undermined, betrayed, robbed, our rights have been stolen and our needs ignored, our standard of living is dropping, the rich get richer and the number of our poor expands. And that is why:

  • Everyone knows the system is rigged
  • Over 40% of our citizens don’t bother to vote
  • We’re a nation of apathetic, disinterested citizens
  • We’re a nation of angry people
  • We are politically polarized and haven’t a clue how to have a conversation with one another

Our toxic symptoms have come about through our decades-long decline in trust in our institutions and that loss of trust is because of the untrustworthy things our leaders have done. Failing to fix that will be catastrophic for all of us. The challenge before us right now is to figure out how to do that and then get to work.

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

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA


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

Herbie


Reading time – 1:47; Viewing time – 3:45  .  .  .

NOTE: WordPress is the utility I use to craft and offer these posts and it has gone mad. It is misbehaving in strange and limiting ways, which accounts for why this post is late, why there isn’t much in the way of pics in this offering, as well as why there may be typos, irregularities and writing that looks like something from my iPhone, whicno-place-forh often prints whatever comes into its silicon brain.

We were proud and humbled to participate in the Women’s March in Chicago on January 21, along with 250,000 others locally (they had been expecting just 20,000) and 3,500,000 people around the world. It’s curious that so many non-Americans were so interested – invested, really – that they would give up a day to demonstrate over what is happening here.

yes-we-canThere are reasons why so many demonstrated, so get this: We must stand up and be counted. Then we must do it again. And again and again. We must make our voices heard. Our elected officials must feel the hot breath of our collective voices so that they ignore us at the peril of loss of their jobs.

Get this, too: This (the marches) is what democracy looks like when people see tyranny on the way. Look for more pictures of the Chicago march as soon as WordPress fully comes to its senses.

On to today’s (Sunday’s, really) opinion piece.

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the-goalIn Eliyahu Goldratt’s book The Goal the author depicts a troop of Boy Scouts on a long march. One of the boys – Herbie – is overweight and soon has to slow down, unable to keep up with the rest of the boys. Given that the boys must stay together, the entire troop can march no faster than the speed which Herbie can maintain. That is to say, Herbie is the primary constraint for the troop of Boy Scouts that precludes completing their march and going for a swim sooner.

Thus, Goldratt introduces the Theory of Constraints. It’s a most useful scientific approach to problem solving, finding root causes and optimum solutions, strategic planning and more based upon identifying and dealing with the lowest performing factor. And, entertainingly, analysis and planning can be done with a pen, a pad of sticky notes and a wall.

I participated in a two week course to learn to do this kind of analysis along with a half-dozen colleagues several years ago and came away with an elegant plan for my business and several profound revelations, one of which is that I’m more of a big picture guy and not so much a detail guy. That was both useful and painful to realize. Nevertheless, I learned that whatever the endeavor, there is always a Herbie, a constraint that prohibits further improvement and it is the pinch point that must be dealt with first if things are to get better.

That leads me to wonder what our national Herbie is right now. You may be tempted to say it’s Donald Trump, but that might be both of little value and factually incorrect, because something put Donald Trump into the White House. Something created the political polarization in which we live and something created the problems we refuse to deal with. It is the key challenge to us in moving forward.

If you agree that we are well short of where we could and should be, I offer this question to you: What is our national Herbie? What is the key constraint that prevents us from having a healthy democracy? Give this some thought and pen your ideas in the Comments section below.

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

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA

 


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

The Question


Reading time – 1:56; Viewing time – 3:48  .  .  .

amer-united-1-10-17

No email link is available, so copy/paste [email protected] into an email and say you’ll be there.

I’ve been in dialogue with a small group of smart people, many of whom read and contribute to this series. They have offered great clarity and insight and have pushed me to refine what I now see as the key question of our time. The question I pose is in service of something much larger and which requires naming in order for the question to make full sense. It is about our acute political polarization and how we can bring people together so that we have the muscle to demand the change – the democracy – our country needs.

Over most of the decades of my adult life I have seen what looks to me to be an incremental loss of democracy in America, with the people losing power and an elite few gaining it. Most Americans are centrists, but most of our elected officials are either partisan zealots or they cower before the zealots, resulting in governmental outcomes we the people don’t want and helping to polarize our citizenry. For example, 80% of Americans want universal background checks on sales of firearms and a ban on assault weapons, but the legislative extremists and the powerful, well funded lobbying groups ensure that there is never even a vote on the issue. There are many other examples of how we the people (as in democracy = “rule by the people”) are not getting what we want, all of which is to say that democracy has been sorely compromised.

What requires naming for The Question to make full sense is that we must save our democracy. Perhaps you prefer “restore” our democracy. Either way, just stopping the thieves is insufficient.

So, my question is:

How can we politically polarized Americans find a way to talk with one another, not scream past one another, and come together in the common cause of democracy?

Just asking the question unmasks me as the 60s idealist I remain, but I believe that it is the question we must answer in order to change our course. I went out on a limb with my article ringing the alarm of fascism staring us in the face and I expect substantial push-back. So, too, did those ringing the alarm in Mussolini’s Italy, in Hitler’s Germany, in Stalin’s Russia and in Pol Pot’s Cambodia (yes, I know those last two were communists – the same democracy robbing principles hold) and many other places where authoritarians ruled. The danger usually isn’t obvious when change is made incrementally, but now you need only look at the cabinet and advisor picks of our President Elect, match that with his extremist promises, flagrant lies, pathological need to be powerful, his thin skin and cruelty, his obvious contempt for our laws and the Constitution and you should be able to see the fascist freight train at the other end of the tunnel barreling down on us.

It is possible that you don’t and won’t share my view of the dire future we face if we sit back and let others make our decisions for us. That’s okay, because you likely share my view that we have lost key elements of democracy and that we have to re-secure them or we will lose all.

Abraham Lincoln said it best: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” We must stand together – righties, centrists and lefties –  if we are to restore our democracy.

So, back to my question:

How can we politically polarized Americans find a way to talk with one another, not scream past one another, and come together in the common cause of democracy?

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

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA


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

Danger – There’s Bad Stuff Coming


New York Times, April 9, 1944

New York Times, April 9, 1944. Click the graphic to download the full article as it appeared.

Reading time – 2:55; Viewing time – 5:35  .  .  .

We need a good and optimistic start for the new year. That message is for next week. Let’s first establish in a blinding flash of the obvious and in a compelling way why we need that good and optimistic start.

You don’t need a pundit, a pol or a blogger to tell you that American institutions are at risk and look shaky. There is bad stuff staring us in the face in so many venues and there is a chance you’ve wondered how bad it can get. The answer is, very bad. Here are some examples.

Under the ultra-thin, see-through veil of ensuring decorum, Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House and beloved Republican brainiac, the proposer of changes to Medicare and Social Security that he says don’t privatize those programs, except they really do, has proposed banning live streaming and photos from the floor of the House. This comes as a knee-jerk reaction to Republicans having been sucker punched by Democrats who demanded an up or down vote on universal registration of sales of firearms. Ryan ignored them and they responded witih a sit-in. Ryan tried to quash the event by closing the House session, which turned off the CSPAN cameras, but smart phone live streaming foiled his attempt at abridging free speech. Now Ryan and Republican hissy-fitters want to further restrict speech by fining Democrats and perhaps telling their mommies on them. Start thinking about abridgement of rights and be clear that practice will extend to your rights.

President Elect Trump notoriously retweeted hate group tweets and offered mealy mouthed responses to calls that he repudiate hate groups. During his campaign rallies he repeatedly called for protesters to be beaten up and demeaned them as though they were sub-human. He continues to refuse to repudiate hate groups and has brought Steve Bannon, alt-right hater of all things not white and anyone not worshiping male dominance, to be his chief strategist. Oh, and he wants to deport 11 million Hispanics and register Muslims. Start thinking discrimination and scapegoating.

Trump has hired lunatic fringe Mike Flynn to be his National Security Advisor. This is the same Mike Flynn who retweets phony stories and conspiracy crap, one example of which motivated North Carolina resident Edgar Welch to drive from his home to DC to invade a pizza parlor, believing he was rescuing sexually abused children from the basement. He believed that because Mike Flynn brainlessly retweeted the bogus story. The good news is that the bullets Welch fired into the floor of the pizza restaurant didn’t hurt anyone. The bad news is that Mike Flynn, the fool who didn’t have the sense not to retweet this blatantly false story, is and will be advising the new president on when and where to use America’s military might, including nuclear weapons. Start thinking about military adventurism giving rise to horrific catastrophes.

There are many more examples of the democracy killing efforts underfoot, including Trump’s ridiculing and criticizing of the press so that you won’t find credence in reports from investigative journalists who report on Trumpian malfeasance.

To bring this to a focus, let’s check in with President Franklin Roosevelt’s Vice-President, Henry Wallace. He knew something about the harm that authoritarian regimes do to democracy and the world and has agreed to speak to you from his day and explain this fully and clearly. Click here to download a PDF copy of his comments as originally published in the New York Times on April 9, 1944. Click here to download a highlighted, easier to read version. Read it, especially the highlighted parts and you just may see a parallel between then and now and you’ll begin to realize just how bad the bad stuff we’re facing really is.

No one knows who said it first, but it’s often attributed to Sinclair Lewis:

When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.

appoint-merrick-garland

Click me and sign the petition – because you can fight fascism right now.

Fascism? In America? Do the reading. Do an online search of fascism in America. The alarm rang a while ago, the snooze button is broken from our banging on it, hoping the alarm would go away and we all have to wake up.

I’ve heard it said and am beginning to believe that we are one or two ISIS-related terrorist attacks in America away from Mr. Extremist, everything in the false language of unearned greatness President Trump declaring martial law and suspending civil liberties. Just look at those he surrounds himself with, consider his absolutist, power-grabbing, self-congratulating nature, factor in his pathologically thin skin and the retaliatory abuse he heaps on innocent people. This just doesn’t look good for our nation.

If you had already caught a glimpse of this you likely have wondered what can be done and who will stand up to the bullies. Start with this: It’s up to us.

In addition, both some help and some hope are on the way and will be in the next post. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, it’s your turn now – in the Comments section below.

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

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA


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

Eye Opening


Reading time – 3:13; Viewing time – 5:30  .  .  .

I’m still trying to figure this out and I think I’m making progress. Reality keeps telling me that I better hurry it up.

Why did people vote for Donald Trump even when he promised to do things that would harm them?

It’s easy to dismiss such people as ignorant or stupid. It’s also both factually inaccurate and counterproductive. First, nobody wakes up on election day and decides to do something harmful to themselves. We all act in what we perceive to be our best interests and feel we have good, sensible reasons to back that up. Second, if you want to encourage someone to see things in a different way, starting with, “You’re stupid,” probably won’t be useful, so a different approach is called for. In very short order that is going to become critically important. Stay with me to see why.

Sarah Kliff wrote a most interesting article in Vox entitled Why Obamacare enrollees voted for Trump. The sub-head is “In Whitley County, Kentucky, the uninsured rate declined 60 percent under Obamacare. So why did 82 percent of voters there support Donald Trump?” Good question.

The short answer comes from a woman living in the area who signed up thousands of people for Obamacare and then voted for Trump. Interviewed by Kliff, she said, “I found with Trump, he says a lot of stuff. I just think all politicians promise you everything and then we’ll see. It’s like when you get married — ‘Oh, honey, I won’t do this, oh, honey, I won’t do that.’” Kliff later reports, “I kept hearing informed voters, who had watched the election closely, say they did hear the promise of repeal [of Obamacare] but simply felt Trump couldn’t repeal a law that had done so much good for them. In fact, some of the people I talked to hope that one of the more divisive pieces of the law — Medicaid expansion — might become even more robust, offering more of the working poor a chance at the same coverage the very poor receive.”

In other words, they heard Trump’s message that he would repeal Obamacare and simply didn’t believe it. Here’s another example.

Watch the “Bernie Sanders in Trump Country” discussion that was aired on Chris Hayes’ program on MSNBC on December 12 and pay special attention to the panel members. They consistently expressed the same views as Kliff’s interviewees in Kentucky. They just figured that Trump was saying what he needed to say to get elected and, once elected, would do whatever these people viewed as the right thing, even when the right thing was in conflict with what Trump said he would do.

Before you slip into smug mode, wondering what kind of fools these people might be, consider what you expected from Barack Obama in 2008. There’s a good chance that you imagined that he would consistently do the right thing. Later it’s possible you were disappointed in him for failing your right thing test.

There’s a psychological term for hearing what we want to hear and dismissing as insignificant what we don’t want to hear. It’s called confirmation bias and we are all subject to our own version of self-delusion powered by that bias.

Here’s the bottom line to this: Be slow to ridicule Trump voters as stupid or ignorant or racist (yes, clearly some of the really loud ones are that). All that most of them were doing in this past election was being human. And they will respond to you a lot better when they realize that you respect them. In fact, that may be the key both to understanding what happened in this election and, more important, the key to a better future for you and our democracy.

Millions of voters have buyer’s remorse right now because they really voted against establishment Hillary, not for Trump. And they got Trump and now they are horrified. It’s time to respectfully invite them to join you and others to do something to stop the extremist agenda of the oligarchs and generals who are about to take the reins of power.

Not convinced that’s happening? Go here and here and click through the links there to learn what this open season of American hatred looks like. And as you do that, recognize that this brutality is sanctioned from the top. Protections you take for granted are on the edge of being eliminated by Presidential cabinet appointments, people who are dedicated to eliminating the agencies they will lead, the ones that now provide those protections you take for granted.

There is extreme danger on the very near horizon and we better make our voices heard. And we better reach the millions of Americans who voted for Trump and are now horrified so that they make their voices heard along with ours.

On a livestream on the 19th there was a critical clarity that was offered: Love doesn’t trump hate; Organizing trumps hate. As I have written repeatedly, if things are to change for the better, we’ll actually have to do something.

So, now that you see the looming danger and understand Trump voters a little better, get up, get involved and get organized – while we still can.

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

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA


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

A Reflecting Sphere


Hand with Reflecting Sphere, M.C. Escher, 1935

Hand with Reflecting Sphere, M.C. Escher, 1935

Reading time – 1:31; Viewing time – 3:00  .  .  .

What do you suppose the reflection in Escher’s sphere would look like to Donald Trump, were he holding it? Surely, he would describe the image with superlatives, but that’s neither useful nor is it new information; neither is it important.

The far more important question is what would we, the American people, see were we to hold Escher’s reflecting sphere? Would we see ourselves steeped in democracy and freedom? How about liberty and justice for all? What about freedom of speech and of the press and freedom of and from religion? Are we a people who love peace and believe war is the last and worst option? Do we still reach out our hand, saying, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”? And do we still tell those looking to us as their last best hope, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”? We have a Declaration of Independence, a Constitution and a Statue of Liberty that say that we should see those things as we look at ourselves.

But what if some of us aren’t exactly like “us”? What if they don’t speak English yet or are sleeping on a sewer grate for warmth this winter? What if the brains of some are a bit scrambled because their mothers were druggies while they were pregnant? What if some have lived nearly all their lives in this country, they were good students and helped the high school basketball team win and America is the only country and culture they know, but they and their parents were born in Guatemala and entered this country illegally? Do these other “us” people deserve liberty and justice for all and the rest?

In point of fact, we don’t agree about that and quite a bit more and it gets even more complicated when we’re angry or afraid and need to feel muscular.

The challenge before us now and extending far into the future is to find the things that unite us instead of finding things that divide us. The challenge is to stop racing to judgment about those who don’t agree with every nuance of belief we hold, to stop knee-jerk demonizing others as stupid or ignorant, hateful or unpatriotic. The challenge before us is to start asking questions, seeking to understand, rather than trying to cram our views down anyone’s throat, because that cramming guarantees unnecessary conflict.

Get over your certainties and I’ll get over mine and perhaps, in some future with a bit more hope in it we can find a way forward that has room for all of “us” and we see in that reflecting sphere the things that unite us.

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

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA


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

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