Conservatism

Education

Iran DealReading time – 53 seconds  .  .  .

Robert Dold (R-IL) represents the 10th congressional district of Illinois and it is quite obvious that he not only took a speed reading course, but he may have invented a hyper-eyeball version of it. I say that because he delivered a blistering rejection of the Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a 159-page document, on the floor of the House of Representatives mere minutes after it was released. As you know from reading this column, Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) verbally blasted the agreement on Morning Joe on MSNBC immediately after it was announced. How do these guys absorb so much complex material instantaneously?

Of course, the answer is that they don’t. What they do is to prepare in advance carefully worded, vacuous attacks for the purpose of their own self-interest and especially in order to ensure the goal named by the 15 Republicans who met the night President Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009 – that he would be a one-term president. Oh, wait – that didn’t turn out too well for them. Regardless, the tactic of opposing anything President Obama supports, the strategy decided by the 15, is still in play, the needs and best interests of America be damned.

The point is that a lot of Rs are slinging partisan red meat into the cages of their “base.” I love that term, as though it forms some kind of foundation. Its true identity is a bunch of knuckle-dragging angry guys who believed Ronald Reagan when he told them that government is the cause of the problems in their lives and who fondly remember good old days which actually never happened.

Don’t bother yourself with the noise of the hyperbolic rhetoric of bloviating politicians. Instead, listen to this podcast from the Wilson Center and consider what a group of well-informed and thoughtful people have to say about the Iran deal. If you’re feeling ambitious, read the deal yourself and make up your own mind. Free yourself from Washington bumper sticker talking points and doomsday idiocy crafted for election season.

This is all about your own education about one of the most important international agreements of the past 50 years, one destined to have critical long term impact for the United States and the world.

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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.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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

Understanding Charleston and That Flag

Confederate Battle FlagReading time – 4 seconds  .  .  .

If you want to understand Charleston, the Confederate battle flag and U.S. history, read this.

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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.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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

Stop Pretending It’s Not Happening

Can you identify this?

Can you identify this?

Reading time – well worth it  .  .  . 

Something’s going on. You can feel it even if you can’t name it. Things are changing from what they used to be or should be or could be to what you don’t want them to be.

We humans aren’t very good at noticing small changes. Incremental stuff just doesn’t reach our consciousness until it accumulates into something big and we become aware of it well after the fact.

And that’s what is happening to America. There have been lots of changes over the past 35 years and especially since 9/11. Now, if you take a good look, eyes wide open, you won’t recognize your country.

Tom Englehardt wrote a stunning piece in his blog www.TomDispatch.com in an effort to make some sense of what you already sense but as yet have no words to describe. His piece is reprinted below with permission. Pay special attention to his last sentence: “Stop pretending it’s not happening.”

READ THE POST BELOW. IT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT. THAT’S WHY THESE SENTENCES ARE IN ALL CAPS.

Print Tom’s brilliant essay, grab your second cup o’ joe and settle into your reading chair for 15 minutes. Some things that haven’t made sense will suddenly begin to take on a solid form. Just be forewarned that you may not like it.

Thanks to JL for pointing us to Tom’s clarity.

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Tomgram: Engelhardt: Is a New Political System Emerging in This Country?

The New American Order 
1% Elections, The Privatization of the State, a Fourth Branch of Government, and the Demobilization of “We the People” 
By Tom Engelhardt

Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.

And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.

Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of “we the people.”

Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.

1. 1% Elections

Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you’ll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn’t be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests.  (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)

Take, for instance, “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,” a recent piece Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper.  A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton’s historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election.  He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present.  Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not “be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory.”  It’s the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future.  (No, Virginia, we haven’t left the world of politics in which former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)

Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary’s electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s or even Al Gore’s America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year’s primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.

The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and billionaires, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice.  So the early primaries — this year mainly a Republican affair — are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been widely reported. These “contests” involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful, and so reflect our new 1% electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a kitty of $500 million heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)

Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 Citizens United decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat.  By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, “The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending,” Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.

In the meantime, it’s still true that the 2016 primaries will involve actual voters, as will the election that follows. The previous election season, the midterms of 2014, cost almost $4 billion, a record despite the number of small donors continuing to drop. It also represented the lowest midterm voter turnout since World War II. (See: demobilization of the public, below — and add in the demobilization of the Democrats as a real party, the breaking of organized labor, the fragmenting of the Republican Party, and the return of voter suppression laws visibly meant to limit the franchise.) It hardly matters just what the flood of new money does in such elections, when you can feel the weight of inequality bearing down on the whole process in a way that is pushing us somewhere new.

2. The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third-World Nation)

In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the Clintons of yore in wink-wink, you-know-how-they-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc.  Again, the coverage, while eyeball gluing, is in a you’ve-seen-it-all-before, you’ll-see-it-all-again-mode.

However, you haven’t seen it all before. The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted.  An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications.  If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought.  But it didn’t happen in some third-world state.  It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which — even if it wasn’t the first time such a thing had ever occurred — should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it.

Though the marriage of the state and the corporation has a pre-history, the full-scale arrival of the warrior corporation only occurred after 9/11.  Someday, that will undoubtedly be seen as a seminal moment in the formation of whatever may be coming in this country.  Only 13 years later, there is no part of the war state that has not experienced major forms of privatization.  The U.S. military could no longer go to war without its crony corporations doing KP and guard duty, delivering the mail, building the bases, and being involved in just about all of its activities, including training the militaries of foreign allies and even fighting.  Such warrior corporations are now involved in every aspect of the national security state, including torture, drone strikes, and — to the tune of hundreds of thousands of contract employees like Edward Snowden — intelligence gathering and spying.  You name it and, in these years, it’s been at least partly privatized.

All you have to do is read reporter James Risen’s recent book, Pay Any Price, on how the global war on terror was fought in Washington, and you know that privatization has brought something else with it: corruption, scams, and the gaming of the system for profits of a sort that might normally be associated with a typical third-world kleptocracy.  And all of this, a new world being born, was reflected in a tiny way in Hillary Clinton’s very personal decision about her emails.

Though it’s a subject I know so much less about, this kind of privatization (and the corruption that goes with it) is undoubtedly underway in the non-war-making, non-security-projecting part of the American state as well.

3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency

On a third front, American “confidence” in the three classic check-and-balance branches of government, as measured by polling outfits, continues to fall.  In 2014, Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court hit a new low of 23%; in the presidency, it was 11%, and in Congress a bottom-scraping 5%.  (The military, on the other hand, registers at 50%.)  The figures for “hardly any confidence at all” are respectively 20%, 44%, and more than 50%.  All are in or near record-breaking territory for the last four decades.

It seems fair to say that in recent years Congress has been engaged in a process of de-legitimizing itself.  Where that body once had the genuine power to declare war, for example, it is now “debating” in a desultory fashion an “authorization” for a war against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and possibly elsewhere that has already been underway for eight months and whose course, it seems, will be essentially unaltered, whether Congress authorizes it or not.

What would President Harry Truman, who once famously ran a presidential campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, have to say about a body that truly can do just about nothing?  Or rather, to give the Republican war hawks in that new Congress their due, not quite nothing.  They are proving capable of acting effectively to de-legitimize the presidency as well.  House Majority Leader John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undercut the president’s Iranian nuclear negotiations and the letter signed by 47 Republican senators and directed to the Iranian ayatollahs are striking examples of this.  They are visibly meant to tear down an “imperial presidency” that Republicans gloried in not so long ago.

The radical nature of that letter, not as an act of state but of its de-legitimization, was noted even in Iran, where fundamentalist Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed it “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” Here, however, the letter is either being covered as a singularly extreme one-off act (“treason!”) or, as Jon Stewart did on “The Daily Show,” as part of a repetitive tit-for-tat between Democrats and Republicans over who controls foreign policy.  It is, in fact, neither.  It represents part of a growing pattern in which Congress becomes an ever less effective body, except in its willingness to take on and potentially take out the presidency.

In the twenty-first century, all that “small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats can agree on is offering essentially unconditional support to the military and the national security state.  The Republican Party — its various factions increasingly at each other’s throats almost as often as at those of the Democrats — seems reasonably united solely on issues of war-making and security.  As for the Democrats, an unpopular administration, facing constant attack by those who loath President Obama, has kept its footing in part by allying with and fusing with the national security state.  A president who came into office rejecting torture and promoting sunshine and transparency in government has, in the course of six-plus years, come to identify himself almost totally with the U.S. military, the CIA, the NSA, and the like.  While it has launched an unprecedented campaign against whistle blowers and leakers (as well as sunshine and transparency), the Obama White House has proved a powerful enabler of, but also remarkably dependent upon, that state-within-a-state, a strange fate for “the imperial presidency.”

4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government

One “branch” of government is, however, visibly on the rise and rapidly gaining independence from just about any kind of oversight.  Its ability to enact its wishes with almost no opposition in Washington is a striking feature of our moment.  But while the symptoms of this process are regularly reported, the overall phenomenon — the creation of a de facto fourth branch of government — gets remarkably little attention.  In the war on terror era, the national security state has come into its own.  Its growth has been phenomenal.  Though it’s seldom pointed out, it should be considered remarkable that in this period we gained a second full-scale “defense department,” the Department of Homeland Security, and that it and the Pentagon have become even more entrenched, each surrounded by its own growing “complex” of private corporations, lobbyists, and allied politicians.  The militarization of the country has, in these years, proceeded apace.

Meanwhile, the duplication to be found in the U.S. Intelligence Community with its 17 major agencies and outfits is staggering.  Its growing ability to surveil and spy on a global scale, including on its own citizens, puts the totalitarian states of the twentieth century to shame.  That the various parts of the national security state can act in just about any fashion without fear of accountability in a court of law is by now too obvious to belabor.  As wealth has traveled upwards in American society in ways not seen since the first Gilded Age, so taxpayer dollars have migrated into the national security state in an almost plutocratic fashion.

New reports regularly surface about the further activities of parts of that state.  In recent weeks, for instance, we learned from Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the Intercept that the CIA has spent years trying to break the encryption on Apple iPhones and iPads; it has, that is, been aggressively seeking to attack an all-American corporation (even if significant parts of its production process are actually in China).  Meanwhile, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA, an agency barred from domestic spying operations of any sort, has been helping the U.S. Marshals Service (part of the Justice Department) create an airborne digital dragnet on American cell phones.  Planes flying out of five U.S. cities carry a form of technology that “mimics a cellphone tower.” This technology, developed and tested in distant American war zones and now brought to “the homeland,” is just part of the ongoing militarization of the country from its borders to its police forces.  And there’s hardly been a week since Edward Snowden first released crucial NSA documents in June 2013 when such “advances” haven’t been in the news.

News also regularly bubbles up about the further expansion, reorganization, and upgrading of parts of the intelligence world, the sorts of reports that have become the barely noticed background hum of our lives.  Recently, for instance, Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization of the CIA meant to break down the classic separation between spies and analysts at the Agency, while creating a new Directorate of Digital Innovation responsible for, among other things, cyberwarfare and cyberespionage.  At about the same time, according to the New York Times, the Center for Strategic Counter terrorism Communications, an obscure State Department agency, was given a new and expansive role in coordinating “all the existing attempts at countermessaging [against online propaganda by terror outfits like the Islamic State] by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.”

This sort of thing is par for the course in an era in which the national security state has only grown stronger, endlessly elaborating, duplicating, and overlapping the various parts of its increasingly labyrinthine structure.  And keep in mind that, in a structure that has fought hard to keep what it’s doing cloaked in secrecy, there is so much more that we don’t know.  Still, we should know enough to realize that this ongoing process reflects something new in our American world (even if no one cares to notice).

5. The Demobilization of the American People

In The Age of Acquiescence, a new book about America’s two Gilded Ages, Steve Fraser asks why it was that, in the nineteenth century, another period of plutocratic excesses, concentration of wealth and inequality, buying of politicians, and attempts to demobilize the public, Americans took to the streets with such determination and in remarkable numbers over long periods of time to protest their treatment, and stayed there even when the brute power of the state was called out against them.  In our own moment, Fraser wonders, why has the silence of the public in the face of similar developments been so striking?

After all, a grim new American system is arising before our eyes.  Everything we once learned in the civics textbooks of our childhoods about how our government works now seems askew, while the growth of poverty, the flatlining of wages, the rise of the .01%, the collapse of labor, and the militarization of society are all evident.

The process of demobilizing the public certainly began with the military.  It was initially a response to the disruptive and rebellious draftees of the Vietnam-era.  In 1973, at the stroke of a presidential pen, the citizen’s army was declared no more, the raising of new recruits was turned over to advertising agencies (a preview of the privatization of the state to come), and the public was sent home, never again to meddle in military affairs.  Since 2001, that form of demobilization has been etched in stone and transformed into a way of life in the name of the “safety” and “security” of the public.

Since then, “we the people” have made ourselves felt in only three disparate ways: from the left in the Occupy movement, which, with its slogans about the 1% and the 99%, put the issue of growing economic inequality on the map of American consciousness; from the right, in the Tea Party movement, a complex expression of discontent backed and at least partially funded by right-wing operatives and billionaires, and aimed at the de-legitimization of the “nanny state”; and the recent round of post-Ferguson protests spurred at least in part by the militarization of the police in black and brown communities around the country.

The Birth of a New System

Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of — to use Fraser’s word — “acquiescence.”  Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be.  In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual.  Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.

While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design.  Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion.  In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention.  Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.

Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.

Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt

Reprinted by permission

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Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books).

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

Your Freedom

Reading time – 49 seconds  .  .  . 

For our absolutists  .  .  .

You’re an absolutist and you believe fervently in individual liberty. You don’ need no stinking gub-mint messing with your life.

It seems that we have a national epidemic of “You can’t tell ME what to do!” causing uncontrolled inflammation of amygdalas (reptile brains) across America. We have gun owners going hyperbolic, declaring something testosterony about their guns and cold, dead hands and making it clear that the gub-mint can’t have their guns or tell them what to do. Never mind that President Obama, who has been vilified by Second Amendment enthusiasts since 2008, has never proposed anything that would limit lawful gun ownership. Obamacare has been lambasted for its intrusion into people’s lives, even as it doesn’t intrude. And recently Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) announced in the name of freedom that it is government over-reach to require food industry workers to wash their hands after using the bathroom. That seems to suggest a food workers motto, “Je suis ick.” And bon appétit to everyone at the lunch counter.

Those are just a few examples of the continuing drumbeat of imagined intrusions upon freedom and a response of, “You can’t tell ME what to do!”

As you, absolutist, go explosively red in the face and cross-eyed demanding your complete freedom, it’s critical that you understand that the harsh truth is that your complete freedom stops at the tip of my nose. Go ahead and own your Glock – it just better not affect me or mine. Go ahead and refuse to buy healthcare insurance. Just don’t come whining to me about the bill you get from the emergency room, because that’s on you, buddy. Pay up. I suggest that you spend a little less time demanding what is not yours – absolute freedom – and a lot more time honoring your responsibilities.

Like getting your kids vaccinated both to protect them and so they don’t infect my kids. Yes, you have a right to stupidly leave your kids at risk. What you don’t have a right to do is to put my kids at risk. It’s that tip of the nose thing. Try being responsible this time instead of having another temper tantrum about your absolute freedom.

There. Is that absolute enough for the absolutists?

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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. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

Breaking News

lightningReading time – 74 seconds  .  .  . 

In what some are calling a bold move, President Obama held a press conference today and declared, “Political silly season is officially over. No more of it. Not on my watch.” Then he grounded all Republican extremists in Congress, mandating that they report to detention hall every day from 4:00 – 7:00PM. “That should help to reduce the number of dumb things they say on cable news while standing in the Rotuda, acting as though they are saying something intelligent,” President Obama explained.

He further said that the detentions are to be enforced in perpetuity or until an detention inmate writes one thousand times, “I will never again promote extremist propaganda, not even on Fox News, and I will say ‘I’m sorry’ to every American I’ve offended.” After that, if they go back to their former ways, the President said he will invoke his executive authority to re-start the entire process, but that he will double the penalty to two thousand written apologies and two consecutive lifetime sentences in detention hall.

Interviewed by Sean Hannity on his Fox News program, Sarah Palin was wild-eyed and speaking at a pitch audible only to dogs. She said that she was devastated by this news, exclaiming, “Who will I play with after school?”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) looked particularly vexed after hearing the President’s announcement. Fresh from the recent Iowa “Look At Me” event sponsored by self-promoter Steve “calves like cantaloupes” King (R-IA), Cruz made the letter Z with each of his eyebrows in perfect mirror image of one another and announced that he was going to tell on the President. Said  Cruz,”The President is gonna be sorry.”

Question by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer if his objection to the President’s actions was just the standard Republican opposition to everything the President favors or if it was possibly racially motivated, Cruz responded, “This is America and we believe all presidents should be born in this country, not in Kenya.” Blitzer apparently thought the segment was over, but was heard to say, “Huh?”

After lurching for his bottle of water, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) reached over and patted Cruz on the back, congratulating him for his comment, all the while staying in front of the camera. Rubio cautioned that he is, ”  .  .  .  not a scientist, but if 97% of political scientists say that political stupid stuff is man made and is on the rise, there might be something to that.” He cautioned, though, that, “Such things require more study but we shouldn’t divert federal funds into that sinkhole while the needs of large banks are going wanting.” He also said, “Diplomatic recognition of Cuba was  .  .  .  ” His voice trailed off and became nearly inaudible as he was looking over his shoulder and saw that President Obama was watching him and mouthing the words, “I see everything you do.”

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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. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

Hogs and Bread

RJoni Ernsteading time – 51 seconds

Freshman Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) delivered one of five Republican responses to the President’s State of the Union address on January 20, 2015, and it’s a good thing she did. Mitch McConnell told us that she was the perfect person to deliver the establishment Republican rebuttal and, clearly, he was right.

Bear in mind that this is the same woman who campaigned vigorously to win her Senate seat and convinced Iowans that she has the necessary experience for that job by reminding them that she grew up castrating hogs. See the connection?

Okay, no you don’t because there isn’t one. It appears that she was trying to show herself as “just plain folks,” someone Iowans, overwhelmingly farmers and ranchers, could relate to. Don’t you want someone like to you represent you in the Senate? Of course you do, and so do Iowans. So they sent the Iowa Castrater-in-Chief to Washington, bringing along all the legislative and leadership abilities her well established personal skills imply.

In her perfect-person-to-deliver-the-Republican-rebuttal function, she continued to help us to relate to her by telling us that in growing up she only had one good pair of shoes and that Mom would tie bread wrappers around her shoes and ankles during wet weather to protect her footwear. That leaves us with an unusual visual of her in the hog pen while wearing bread wrappers.

After that she told us that the Keystone Pipeline project is a jobs bill – she actually called it “the Keystone jobs bill” – never mentioning that it is an oil pipeline proposal designed solely to benefit a Canadian oil company. She failed to acknowledge that the plan is for all the oil to be exported from our Gulf Coast, so it will never provide for American energy needs. She also failed to mention that at most there would only be 35 permanent jobs created by this “jobs bill.”Wonder Bread

That’s what you get when the perfect person to deliver the establishment Republican rebuttal is a person whose qualifications are that she castrated hogs and wore bread wrappers on her feet.

For more on Sen. Ernst, read Andy Borowitz’s satire here. (Thanks to FL for pointing me to Borowitz.)

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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. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

We Had No Choice

Ed. note: Please help – see the note below and pass this along so that we make the kind of difference that needs to be made. America thanks you.

Reading time – 57 seconds  .  .  . 

“We have no choice,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zyhri in rejecting a cease fire proposal. Hamas had been launching rockets into Israel for years and nothing, it seemed, got the Israelis’ attention in the same way. Certainly, a cease fire wouldn’t help make the Israelis do what Hamas wanted. What else could they do but continue to fire rockets into Israeli cities? They had no choice.

Saddam Hussein was a really bad guy, President Bush told us. He killed his own people and was interfering with the work of the UN weapons inspectors as they searched for weapons of mass destruction. Condoleeza Rice, Bush’s national security adviser, presumably speaking for the president, told us that, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” We had no choice but to invade.

And we had no choice but to bail out the big banks and refuse to prosecute the perps.

And we had no choice but to torture prisoners.

That’s the phrase people use so very often to explain their actions. Somehow, it seems, they were backed into a corner from which there was only one course of action.

Oddly, the facts suggest that sometimes there are alternatives other than the absolutes that are brainlessly invoked. Sometimes life and death hang in the balance awaiting our more thoughtful, wise judgment. Too bad the leadership in the House of Representatives can’t figure out such things and instead constantly regurgitates the non-scandals of Benghazi, IRS-gate and Obamacare. Too bad they have no choice. The new Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has told us that he intends to regurgitate those issues in the Senate, too. Apparently, he has no choice, either, any more than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) saw any choice other than shutting down the government and making innocents suffer.

The next time you hear someone invoke, “We had no choice” to explain their actions, I invite you to consider a new meaning for that sentence: It is an admission of a complete failure of diplomacy, negotiation, thoughtfulness, creativity wisdom and leadership. It is the abject failure of the very things our leaders are supposed to do, practices in which they are supposed to excel. It is incompetence run amok.

We need better than that.

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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. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

Guns & Best Places: Final Exam

NilesReading time 37 seconds  .  .  . 

I have received requests from readers wanting to know what the three tests are that an applicant must pass in order to receive a zoning variance in Niles, IL. Mr. Bruce Sylvester, Community Planner for the Village of Niles kindly forwarded the information to me. The test is as follows:

“Standards. No special use shall be granted by the Village Board unless the special use:

“(a)    Is deemed necessary for the public convenience at that location;

“(b)  Is so designed, located, and proposed to be operated that the public health, safety, and welfare will be protected; and

“(c)  Will not cause substantial injury to the value of other property in the neighborhood in which it is located.”

That’s it. That was what was in contest at the Village Board meeting regarding a proposed new gun shop and shooting range in Niles, IL.

The applicant-owner knows nothing about gun shops – apparently, he is simply a businessman who sees an opportunity. His plan is to hire a manager from a nearby gun shop and shooting range to run day-to-day operations at his new shop. It is important to note that a substantial percentage of the guns sold by the shop where that soon-to-be new manager now works have made their way into the hands of people who killed others in the area with guns purchased at that shop. We don’t know if there is a connection between that gun shop manager’s capabilities and guns falling into the wrong hands. What we do know is that such things happen. I have seen no evidence of a plan to prevent that from happening at the now-approved new gun shop in Niles. That’s the gun shop where there are three schools within one mile of its location.

I made a comment at the public hearing on this issue because I’m close to this situation. My daughter is a dean at Niles West High School and, as such, deals with a few troubled kids. These are kids who go to school within one mile of that gun shop, whose parents just might buy a gun there and we don’t know how careful and responsible they will be with their new gun.

I said that we don’t need another University of Texas or Virginia Tech shooting, or another U.C. – Santa Barbara or Sandy Hook shooting. I especially don’t want that to happen at Niles West High School. This is no esoteric issue for me: It’s personal.

So I urged the Village Board to take a stand and to vote down the application for a special use permit. That did not happen. The new gun shop will be built. And recall that Niles, IL is a “Best place to raise a family.”

Have a look at the original post about this and be sure to review the comments. See what you think.

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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. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

Father Flannigan in Texas

Skip LeveThis is a guest essay from reader Frank Levy of Houston, TX. It was submitted as a comment to an earlier post, Father Flannigan, Your CEO and the Supreme Court, and was deemed too important to bury at the bottom of the Comments section. It is offered here for your consideration and comment.

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In Texas we are very accustomed to the “Father Flannigan phenomenon,” and much worse. Not only do we have the usual school day, pre-game, and government pre-meeting prayer, the state Republican Party primary ballot includes a statement that reads, “America is a Christian country, and Texas is a Christian state.” Voters get to agree or disagree. The “initiative” carries by over 95% every 4 years.

It is fundamentalist Christian beliefs like this that are part and parcel of the religious civil war going on across the country. The Hobby Lobby decision is but one of the skirmishes in this religious civil war.

The Hobby Lobby decision by the “Fab 5” – the 5 Catholic men on the Court – is deeply disingenuous and sharply at odds with American law and legal precedent, and imposes very real long-term negative impacts on American democracy and on Americans who believe in real freedom of religion.

On the subject of the disingenuous nature of the Hobby Lobby suit and decision – as Stephanie Mencimer noted in Mother Jones in March 2014, “a neglected aspect of the Hobby Lobby case is the fact that Hobby Lobby’s self-professed belief appeared out of nowhere just in time for them to file suit. The company admits in its complaint that until it considered filing the suit in 2012 its generous health insurance plan actually covered Plan B and Ella (though not IUDs). The burden of this coverage was apparently so insignificant that God and Hobby Lobby executives never noticed it until the mandate became a political issue.”

It should also be noted that Hobby Lobby owners held significant investments in the companies that manufactured the exact abortifacients and birth control products that were the basis of the law suit.

In short, Hobby Lobby’s “deeply held beliefs” claims are transparently bogus — as well as being scientifically invalid, since none of the methods involved are abortifacients, as Hobby Lobby claims.

In Hobby Lobby the Court handed corporations religious rights for the first time in history. As Norm Ornstein points out in the National Journal, “For the majority on the Roberts Court, through a series of rulings that favor corporations over labor or other interests, it is clear that corporations are king, superior to individual Americans — with all the special treatment in taxes and protection from legal liability that are unavailable to us individuals, and now all the extra benefits that come with individual citizenship.”

The Hobby Lobby decision also lends support to the Christian Right’s (they are neither) efforts in the new religious civil war to create a Christian theocracy in America, and to further their erroneous claims that their religious rights are being suppressed, or even outlawed.

Led by the dominion theology of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), those seeking the creation of America as an evangelical Christian nation seek to block any and all legislation that promotes real equality, as well as seeking to block legislation that opposes discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or race, especially in the areas of voting rights, access to health care, birth control and abortion and marriage, among others. These self-proclaimed Christians also oppose social programs like food stamps, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and Social Security, this based on their proclaimed religious beliefs.

These new religious warriors want an America built on their repressive and narrow understanding of Christian theology. As researcher Rachel Tabachnick explains: “Instead of escaping the Earth (in the Rapture) prior to the turmoil of the end times, they [the NAR] teach that believers will defeat evil by taking dominion, or control, over all sectors of society and government, resulting in mass conversions to their brand of charismatic evangelicalism and a Christian utopia or ‘Kingdom’ on Earth.”

Their favorite, and most powerful lie used to gather fellow warriors is their lament that their religious rights are being eliminated or oppressed. A. Jay Michaelson writes in, ”Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights” published by Political Research Associates in March, 2013, “While the religious liberty debate is a growing front in the ongoing culture wars, it is actually an old argument re-purposed for a new context. In the postwar era, the Christian Right defended racial segregation, school prayer, public religious displays and other religious practices that infringed on the liberties of others by claiming that restrictions on such public acts infringed upon their religious liberty. Then as now, the Christian Right turned anti-discrimination arguments on their heads: instead of African Americans being discriminated against by segregated Christian universities, the universities were being discriminated against by not being allowed to exclude them; instead of public prayers oppressing religious minorities, Christians are being oppressed by not being able to offer them.

In the “religious liberty” framework, the Christian Right attacks access to contraception, access to abortion, same-sex marriage, and anti-discrimination laws—not on moral grounds (e.g., that contraception is morally wrong or that LGBTQ rights violate “family values”) but because they allegedly impinge upon the religious freedoms of others (e.g., by forcing employers to violate their religion by providing contraception coverage).

In fact, there is not a single “religious liberty” claim made by the Christian Right that does not involve abridging someone else’s rights.

When any religious group tries to impose its beliefs on others we ought to be afraid and strenuously oppose such efforts. We need to be extremely vigilant in opposing any effort by one group to impose its beliefs on anyone else, no matter how light or innocent that imposition might be claimed to be. If you don’t want your religious beliefs questioned, then don’t impose them on others. When push comes to shove, real religious freedom can be just as simple as that.

I wonder how the Court would have voted if the Hobby Lobby suit had been filed by a Muslim, or Jewish, or Buddhist, or Hindu owned business instead of the Christian owned Hobby Lobby.

Frank Levy, M.A., MFA. is Director of Outreach Resources, which provides consulting services to local and statewide disaster and public health preparedness and response agencies and to non-profit agencies engaged in improving the lives of the most vulnerable and at-risk residents. Frank currently lives in hiding from the thought police in Tom “the Exterminator” DeLay’s Congressional district outside Houston, TX.

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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. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

Father Flannigan, Your CEO and the Supreme Court

Prayer Meeting

Town Board meeting, Greece, NY, June, 2013. Photo, Bloomberg News

Reading time – 79 seconds

“And now Father Flannigan will lead us in an invocation that will be meaningful and appropriate for all of us.” With that the head coach of our public high school varsity football team opened the season kick-off meeting for parents and team members on that warm August evening in 1963. Father Flannigan stepped up to the microphone and in his deep baritone voice said, “We pray together  .  .  .” and he invoked and intoned for a couple of agonizingly long minutes, at last ending with, “This we pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”

My father and I looked at each other with a “Huh?” expression. Father Flannigan’s invocation was something other than appropriate for us. Indeed, it was inappropriate for any non-Christian and even some Christians. So much for “appropriate for all of us.”

The First Amendment to the Constitution tells us, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Of course, our public high school was and is a government institution and Father Flannigan’s very specifically Christian Catholic words were part of an official school function. His prayer – indeed, any prayer –  was not appropriate for the occasion, as it clearly expressed religious favoritism, the very thing the Pilgrims left Europe to escape. That tacit favoritism is what “prohibits the free exercise thereof” of any religion other than the one mentioned and it also prevents the free exercise of no religion. And today’s Supreme Court, that interpreter of the Constitution and the intent of the Framers, can’t seem to figure that out.

They ruled in a 5-4 decision on May 5, 2014 that governmental meetings may include Christian prayer. The picture above shows members of the town board in Greece, NY bowing their heads in prayer at the start of their meeting in June, 2013. They were the plaintiffs in this lawsuit seeking effectively to establish a government sanctioned religion – Christianity – for their town. That would necessarily mean a concurrent prohibition of the free exercise of any other religion. In the past the Court has ruled that prayer in public schools isn’t kosher (had to throw that in), primarily because the school children are effectively captive and cannot escape the drubbing of another’s version of religion. And it is the “captive” part that, for this court, is the critical issue, rather than the “Congress shall make no law  .  .  .” part. Apparently, the Greece, NY town board members and other meeting attendees are not captive, which means that government sponsored Christianity – specifically Christianity – is okay, this according to 5 male, Roman Catholic members of this Supreme Court who ruled as such.

This is a companion piece to the fundamentalist surge that, for example, makes idiot Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore declare that the First Amendment only protects Christians.

So, go ahead, Father Flannigan, and offer prayers in church and in your Sunday School classes and in your parochial school. Those are expressly for that purpose and your prayers are appropriate there. But keep your benedictions out of our government, our public institutions and our laws. They aren’t appropriate there, regardless of the wrong-headed decisions of our inappropriate Supreme Court.

The next step toward theocracy just happened, as those same 5 all male, Republican, Roman Catholic old guys decided in the Hobby Lobby case that employers can cite their religion as sufficient reason for withholding insurance coverage for birth control from their employees. Surely the next step will be a Christian Science CEO claiming he doesn’t have to supply medical insurance for his employees at all and those same 5 Justices will go along with that First Amendment tarnishing, protection destroying foolishness, too.

There are quite a few million Americans – including many religious leaders –  who believe there really is supposed to be a separation of “church and state” and a freedom from anyone else’s religion. If only the Supreme Court could figure out this simple concept.

One last thing: As you can see, the righty majority five keep legislating from the bench, this time by warping the First Amendment. How come we’re not hearing a howl from conservatives about that?

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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. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

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