freedom

I Get It – At Last

Why would senators and congressmen intentionally force the United States to the brink of financial disaster?

Why would legislators drive us to default on our national debt and tell us that default will be a good thing?

Why would billionaires fund grass roots organizations that have their members wave Confederate flags and spout hateful lies?

Why would Bible thumping go on everywhere, such that no speech can end without invoking God?

Why would otherwise sensible people in Kansas, Texas and elsewhere deny verified facts and long proven theories and instead be promoting science as seen through the eyes of relatively ignorant people of thousands of years ago?

Why has congress been gridlocked for so long?

The answers to those questions and more can be found by taking a step back from vilifying the (insert your own epithet here) extremists and railing at the stupid things they say and do.  Instead of thinking they are (re-insert your epithet here) irrational, assume that they are sensible and determined warriors fighting for their desired goal.  What would their goal be?

That is the answer I found in reading Deborah Caldwell’s article in the Huffington Post.  The insanity of current events disappeared with the clarity that hordes of powerful people want to eliminate our government and put in its place a Christian theocracy.

Doubt that?  First read Caldwell’s article.  Follow through to the links she provides.  Then test it all with your experience of hearing Ron Paul tell us he wants to eliminate government support of public education (what would that leave for our children?) and Grover Norquist wanting to shrink the government so that it can be drowned in a bathtub (what would take its place?).  Test it against Michele Bachmann glorying in the coming end times that will be hastened by the destruction of our American structure.  Don’t dismiss that just because Bachmann says crazy things most of the time, because there are thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of Americans who agree with her and 50 of them are in congress right now and they are destroying our government.

I had long thought that they did that because they got off on the power trip and the attention they received that fed their self-promotion.  I had thought that the people in the streets spouting radical stuff were just venting their anger and hoping that finally someone was listening to them and that for a brief moment they had a little bit of control.  I may have been right, but that is not the big story.

The big story is that there is a huge number of Americans who want this country to be a Christian theocracy.  They will say and do anything to make that happen and they care not at all about the destruction they will cause to America and the world with their fundamentalist, literal interpretation zeal.  They think that our Founders wanted America to be that way, this in spite of the fact that the Founders specifically designed the Constitution to prevent America from being a theocracy and they wrote about the importance of that extensively.  And that perfectly captures the denial of reality that goes on for our current day extremists.

Now imagine if the zealots had all the power, that the only law of the land was the Christian Bible and that those in charge believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible.  America would look a lot like fundamentalist, theocratic Iran.  Get ready for public stonings.

Are you scared yet?

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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 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.

Droning On

I recall seeing the first drones.  Unmanned aircraft.  I’m a pilot and thought the technology was nifty.  I also admired the surveillance capabilities of those things.  Protect the troops without endangering AWACs and helo crews.  Find the bad guys.  Like that.

Then we started using these things to kill people at weddings.

Now my friend and futurist David Houle has pointed out that Grumman has a programmable 330-pound robot.  This thing is cool and can trek where no man has gone before or ever should go and has capabilities no human will ever have.  Major geek factor.

They also have a surveillance “bat” airborne drone – also a major cool and high geek factor item.  While watching the video I couldn’t help but notice how its superb surveillance eye was able to find a human “target”.  That is the label Grumman pasted on some guy walking on an airport tarmac.

We truly do have the capability to make a weapon out of anything, perhaps even a lampshade.  It’s just what the fertile minds of our war materiel contractors, the military and our secret CIA army dream up to do with that stuff that scares me, because the power and the decisions seem to be unbridled and even unchecked.

The NSA is supposed to get warrants for its spying, but it often doesn’t.  The CIA is prohibited by law from engaging in activities within the US, but it does so all the time.  The FBI is legally limited in its spying efforts, but it reads your email without a warrant, even going beyond the lawless powers of the so-called Patriot Act.  Now we have a programmable 330 pound robot that “they” will be able to program to do whatever they want it to do.  Look for a knock at your door soon.  And have a nice day.

For David Houle’s comments on privacy, have a look at his new e-Book, Is Privacy Dead?.

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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 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.

George Orwell Was an Optimist

The NSA is spying on everyone and there is no privacy.  The government lies about who it spies on, the things they look at and who has access to all that information.  Although the NSA is minimally limited by law in what its spooks can do without a warrant from a FISA court, even then they routinely ignore the requirements of the law and instead spy with impunity on anyone and anything they like.  When the NSA does go to court for a warrant, only the government’s case is presented – there is no challenge to its claims – so  the FISA court approves NSA requests more than 99% of the time.  And there is next to no congressional oversight exercised over the FISA court, much less over the NSA.  Nobody is watching the watchers.

We enacted laws to protect whistle blowers, because we want to encourage citizens to call out wrong-doing and wrong-doers.  Then we routinely shame and humiliate the whistle blowers, calling them traitors, spies and quite a few other names that would be expected if they came from a 12-year-old brat on a playground.  We also end the careers and prosecute those same whistle blowers, this in order to discourage others from blowing whistles, lest actual wrongdoing be cast in sunlight and we expose the nefarious behavior of legislators and bureaucrats.

It may be comforting to say, “I obey the laws so I don’t care about the ubiquitous snooping,” but that myopic and self-focused attitude is, well, myopic and self-focused, even to the point of self-destruction.  Today they may be coming for the neighbor whom you don’t care about, but they will be at your door tomorrow and you will be presumed guilty.  Not officially, of course.  It’s just the way things will happen.  Who will stand up for you?

Shift for a moment to something that may seem to be a separate topic.  I promise that it is not.

I’ve been saying for years that we still haven’t learned all the lessons of our war in Vietnam.  We intruded there on someone else’s civil war, arguably on the wrong side, and stayed involved for almost ten years, leaving the imprint on US history of this being the first war we lost.  The stated reason for our intrusion was a lie – fighting the Communists there instead of in Kansas – and we further excused our invasion by claiming an attack on a US Navy ship, but that attack never happened.  The war took over 58,000 American lives and well over a million Vietnamese lives.

The one lesson of the war in Vietnam that politicians did learn is that they could not wage dishonest wars by means of a military draft.  That was made clear by mass demonstrations during that vastly unpopular war.  So, the draft is gone, replaced now by a volunteer military supplemented by civilian “contractors.”  That word does not mean plumbers and carpenters.  It means mercenary armies and ours are accountable to no one and they kill with impunity.

Fast forward to 2003 when we inserted ourselves into Iraq for two lies – non-existent WMD’s and Saddam’s non-existent ties to al Qaeda – and we stayed there nearly nine years.  That took over 4,500 American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives.  It also teed up an Iraq civil war that continues today with no end in sight.  The killing goes on.

There was just a handful of al Qaeda terrorists who attacked America.  In order to bring them to justice “dead or alive” we sent battalions of our troops to Afghanistan to wage war on that entire country in 2001.  As of this writing, we’re still making war there, with tens of thousands of people dead – nobody has a clue exactly how many – and over 4,000 “on our side” dead.  It is not clear if the US will win this war, since the goals have shifted repeatedly.  The original goal was the elimination of al Qaeda.  Then it shifted to the removal of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. Neither of those goals will be fully met.  In fact, it is not clear what will be achieved.  However, it is clear that we will have a very long term involvement there, well past the oft-declared 2014 “end of combat operations” date.

  • What these three wars have in common are:
  1. Each was started under false pretenses – i.e., lies.  Not mistakes.  Lies.
  2. The goal posts were in constant motion.
  3. A lot of troops were wounded or killed without ever knowing what they had served.
  4. A lot of civilian contractors became extremely wealthy.
  5. A lot of politicians won office and stayed there thanks to contributions from wealthy war materiel contractors.
  • The real question is why all of that happens and that “why” is the connector between unbridled spying and endless war.  It is about pills.

We as a people have accepted that the solution to our problems can be found in a pill.  The biggest selling pharmaceuticals in America are psychotropics – Zoloft, Ambien and the rest.  We are, to some degree, a continent of zombies.  We cope by means of decreased sensitivity to what goes on around us.  That’s good for Big Pharma.  Not so good for the rest of us.

“Pill,” of course, is a placeholder for all the ways we disengage, tune out.  It includes the vague assumption that someone else will step up and handle the situation or that our little contribution won’t make a difference, a key rationalization for why only 37% of eligible voters will show up to vote on November 4, 2014.

We as a people have been fed such a torrential river of lies, false innuendo, public stupidity and hollow promises for so long that we no longer believe in our government and we have dropped out.  Indeed, public trust in government is at 19% and falling.  We don’t engage with the things that fail to poke through the tough barrier of our own narrow vision.  That lets those in power get away with making laws that promote terrible things, breaking laws on a whim and without consequences and with waging dishonest wars for decades.  We are treated with sleight of hand so that we do not focus on the official unpatriotic actions and instead are exhorted with disingenuous pleas to “support our troops,” as though that is the only worthy test of patriotism. 

If you and I don’t all drop back in soon, all of that will continue until you have no privacy, no freedom and no safety at all.

George Orwell was an optimist.

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

It Is Time

Kennedy MotorcadeIt has been 50 years, so the shock is gone, of course.  The grief has passed for some and lingered for others, but the sense of loss remains palpable for most of us who remember.  It was a loss of hope and of innocence for an entire generation and the blinding of a dream of something lofty.

All of us of a certain age remember where we were and what we were doing when we learned what had happened.  We stayed glued to the the tube for days and our vocabulary was irrevocably altered by that day.  Indeed, the term “grassy knoll” now means only one place on Earth.  “School book depository” is a term for use solely in Dallas, Texas.

The initial furor ended and we were left with a permanent itch we cannot scratch.  We crave the satisfaction of full explanation, of the ascribing of responsibility and of the meting of consequences to all guilty ones.  Even after 50 years that simply has not happened.

The Warren Commission was designed to soothe the nation with a simple explanation.  And it was a fine investigative body, except for its complete incompetence, its refusal to admit crucial evidence and testimony and the predetermined conclusion it carefully crafted.  We Americans know a snow job when we’re in one and we resent being treated as simpletons.  We want answers.

There remain so many critical questions.  For example, if the whole thing was done by a lone gunman, how did a mediocre marksman manage to accurately fire three shots in four seconds, something even the best marksmen are unable to do with that model rifle?

Here is another.  Acoustics engineers have studied audio records of those seconds of American history and developed various theories to explain the contradictory statements from people who were on the scene.  They examined echoes from the surrounding buildings and some concluded that all sounds of gunfire came from one place.  That is unconvincing to people who were in Dealey Plaza that day and who heard a shot and turned toward the sound by the fence bordering the plaza and saw a puff of smoke as from a firearm.

The result of all the official soothing, disingenuous explanations and denial has been a terrible addition to the loss of innocence of a generation.  That addition is a loss of trust in government itself.  Even now 61% of Americans distrust official explanations and instead believe there was some sort of conspiracy to kill President Kennedy, that an ideological loser would not have been able to do this on his own.  Note that the 61% includes Americans who had not yet been born when the murder happened, so they are immune from the trauma of that moment and in a position to be clearer of mind about this entire chapter of our history.

One of the last actions of the Warren Commission was the sealing of evidence brought to the commission but which was shielded from the public.  We were told that it would be unsealed and made public in 50 years.  Well, that is where we find ourselves today.  It is time to unseal and deliver the rest of the information to us and let the chips fall where they may.

Our distrust of government, borne of the Kennedy assassination whitewash, has been fueled through the intervening years by an ongoing parade of lies and disinformation from our government.  Our current DC dysfunction continues that, in part because so many of us have dropped out, wishing a pox on all their houses.  That dropping out allows the crazy people to expand the debilitation of government and that actually exacerbates the very thing we loathe.

It is time for we Americans – and especially those who remember – to drop back in.

It is time to end our willful apathy, cynicism and disinterest and take the bold step of reinvesting ourselves in our country.

It is time for us to again be moved as we were that day in 1961, to pick ourselves up and,

“Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.”

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

Slogans

WizardAt the National Speakers Association convention earlier this year, Bruce Terkel delivered a powerful keynote presentation on marketing.  During that speech he explained that President Obama’s 2008 slogan “Yes we can” was the second best marketing slogan ever.  It is positive, it is inclusive and it is enabling.  Sadly, Republicans utilize a different slogan strategy.

Tom Coburn (R–OK), Ted Kruz (R-AZ), Michele Bachmann (R-Mars) and a bunch more Republicans want President Obama impeached.  They offer no high crimes or misdemeanors of which they think he is guilty.  They just want the sentence carried out without bothering with an indictment or conviction.  Their slogan seems to be, “Say anything to marginalize him.”

Paul Ryan continues to promote his Republican budget – only it isn’t a budget.  It is a plan to privatize nearly all of government.  This is just another example of Republicans putting lipstick on a pig and telling us it isn’t a pig, like the original Patriot Act that actually was unpatriotic and like Operation Iraqi Freedom that didn’t free the Iraqis but did chain us to perpetual war.  Their sleight-of-hand slogan is, “Fooling you with a lying label.”

I wrote here recently that the Republicans got nuthin’ because they propose nothing that will benefit America or Americans, other than the billionaires to whom they are indentured.  They lambasted President Obama at every opportunity regarding a budget.  Then Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Tanning Salon) presented the 2010 Republican budget that had no numbers in the entire document other than page numbers.  (Accounting note: If there are no numbers, it can’t be a budget.)  On the infrequent occasions that congress does manage to pass legislation to make things better, like the Dodd-Frank bill, Republicans immediately start the process to dismantle it piece by piece.  This slogan is obvious:  “Whatever it is, we’re against it even if we used to be for it.”

The House did pass a farm bill.  It gives Big Agri-Business multi-billions of dollars.  That same bill eliminates support for food stamps.  One in six American children lives in poverty – it is double that number for people of color – and The House intends to take the food out of the mouths of those kids.  The slogan: “Starvation makes children more self-reliant.”

Two of three poling places in North Carolina are being closed, leaving local college students with obstacles nearly impossible to overcome in order to vote.  A pregnant woman in Kansas, victim of a brutal rape, cannot do anything about it.  The school teachers in Wisconsin, who have sacrificed pay over and over in exchange for the promise of an adequate pension when they retire, are now having their pensions stolen from them.  None of that is an accident.

The Republicans are so bereft of offerings that they are putting the majority of their effort into stopping Americans from voting in order to win elections and cram through legislation to produce results like the examples above.  If they can’t stop people from voting, they use district gerrymandering to make votes inconsequential.  For example, Texas is 45% white but the Republican controlled state legislature has ensured that 70% of the districts are white Republican, thus marginalizing people of color.

Perhaps this kind of Constitutional blasphemy has not permeated your world yet.  Just understand this:  it will.  Right now they are coming after people of color, poor people, first time voters, the elderly and the infirmed.  After that it will be another group, then another, because a power hungry minority will never have enough control to satisfy themselves. Look to history and you will see the repeated story of incremental loss of rights concurrent with the rise of totalitarianism.  That is what voter suppression accomplishes, so “Coup by disenfranchisement” is the Republican slogan.

“You know, I would have at least some respect for the Republicans who pass these laws if they would just come clean and admit they are trying to keep everyone but old white guys from voting like it used to be in the good old days.  But instead, they make up stuff.”

Gaylard French of Waxahachie, TX
The Dallas Morning News
Letters to the Editor, August 18, 2013

We can sit back and pretend that our country is not being stolen from us, but sooner or later we’re going to have a very bad day.  The Republican slogan for that is, to quote Dick Cheney, “So?”

Bruce Terkel was asked the obvious question by a member of the audience at the close of his keynote to the National Speakers Association convention.  “If ‘Yes we can’ is the second best marketing slogan ever, what is the best one?”  Terkel didn’t miss a beat, replying, “See your doctor for an erection lasting longer than four hours.”

Are we that easy to manipulate – with just a slogan?

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

Bankruptcy

Jailed-protesters-vs-jailed-bankers-editorial-cartoon-300x228No, not that kind.

This is about political bankruptcy.  It is about a Republican Party that doesn’t make decisions based on fact and, in fact, ignores fact and instead creates fatuous fantasies.  It is a party that brought us a president who doesn’t read, who ignores facts and who makes decisions based on gut hunches.  No, I didn’t make that up.  It is what President George W. Bush told us about the way he makes decisions And, yes, he had the “football” and could have pushed the button to send nuclear missiles to annihilate millions based solely on his “gut hunch.”

This is a party that is legally bankrupt, as it seeks to institutionalize discrimination with a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.  This is a party that is legally bankrupt as state house after state house finds diabolical ways to prohibit from voting American citizens who are not white or who are poor.

This is a party that is morally bankrupt, as it chants the same mantra year after year, that it is all about jobs, jobs, jobs, but every opportunity to stimulate job growth has been filibustered by Republicans on the floor of the Senate or voted down by the Republican dominated House.  Okay, there was one bill – the veterans jobs legislation – but the Republicans had to be shamed into passing it.

But let’s be fair.  The Democrats took over in 2009 and have steadfastly refused to prosecute Wall Street bankers who defrauded the public with their swamp of mortgage derivatives.  The same Justice Department has refused to prosecute bankers for their millions of fraudulent home mortgage foreclosures.  This is the same Democratic Party that refused to create legislation to prevent another round of “too big to fail” and, guess what, once again the banks are too big to fail.

This is the Democratic administration that has refused to prosecute the prior administration for its blatant lawbreaking by torturing prisoners and for illegal detention.  And it is the same party and administration that has expanded the war in Afghanistan, a war that plainly cannot be won.  History would have told President Bush that fact before he commanded an invasion, but he would have had to have read a history book to know that.

This is a war with ever-morphing goals, no strategy for success, with a continuing supply of dead bodies and an economic cost that will eventually reach $4 to 6 trillion dollars And this is a war that President Obama has continued and expanded, notwithstanding his pledge to end American military involvement by the end of next year.  How many more dead Americans will we have created between now and then?  Would you like to be the last soldier or marine to die for that unholy cause?

The far righties hold dear a deep distrust of government.  They are right to do that, because they continue to champion and elect untrustworthy legislators.

The far lefties are never happy because government continues to eviscerate the values and rights they hold dear.  But they sit on their recliners on election day or fail to jump through the hoops necessary to register to vote or they just drop out entirely and complain loudly.

We get the government we deserve – or do we deserve the government we get?  Either way, we’ll continue to get what we are getting now until we require better.  Until then, you can expect a government in the pocket of corporations and fabulously wealthy people who crave money and power above all else.  They are the ones who pull the strings of the Marionette America and bringing to us our national bankruptcy.  We are the ones who tolerate that.

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

Frog Boil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Means, The End and Freedom

I was reading a news magazine recently about Pat Robertson, former candidate for President of the United States, owner of the Family Channel on cable TV, and head of the very conservative Christian Coalition.  It said that he plans to go to Congress and introduce an amendment to the Constitution that would allow “moments of silence” in public schools.  It said he figures this should be acceptable because he thinks it doesn’t violate the principle of separation of church and state in that it doesn’t prescribe prayer in school, just moments of silence.  That scares me.

I remember my mother telling me when I was young that the end doesn’t justify the means.  I think there’s sound wisdom in that.

Don’t  get me wrong:  I like the idea of instilling family values.  I like the idea of mom and dad marrying and raising children to be positive, healthy, contributing members of society.  These are good things, as I see them.  And, as I understand the people of the religious right, I think these are the kind of family values that they want and which most of us agree with.  But achieving the end of instilling family values does not justify whatever means are used to achieve them.  History teaches us that from such well intentioned actions have come some of the cruelest hatred and oppression.

In Sam Keen’s new book, Hymns to an Unknown God, he says that when people,  “ . . . claim to possess the only true revelation of God, they provide themselves with a theological justification for war.  There is a high degree of correlation between true believers, known gods and high body counts.”  If you have trouble with that, review your history book for what happened in the Roman Empire, during the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades, and even today in Rwanda and Bosnia.  In each case, the true believers started with what seemed like good intent and eventually used it to generate high body counts.  Somehow we humans always seem to gravitate that way and I don’t think that we in the United States are somehow immune to that terrible gravity.

So far, we’ve managed to avoid legally declaring this to be a country of one particular religion, thus leaving room for all of us and our potpourri of beliefs.  We’re all the richer and safer for it.  Our Constitution mandates that there be no laws restricting freedom of religion.  That prohibition is there because the people who crafted the Constitution came from places where there was no such protection and they knew full well the terrible price that is eventually paid when religion and the state are mixed.

We as a nation have consistently said that freedom of religion also means freedom for all religion and from religion.  That specifically means that we have the right to practice religion as we see fit, but that freedom does not give us the right to force others to do as we do.  Institutionalized “moments of silence” in our public schools would violate that freedom with a tacit instruction to pray in the prescribed manner.

The place for formal prayer in schools is in private institutions; prayer doesn’t belong in the state arena.  I don’t want prayer in public schools forced on anyone’s children.  I don’t want us to take this step backward to having a state-endorsed We and They society.  Indeed, it’s taken decades of civil rights work for us to agree that we can all eat at the same restaurants, use the same seats on busses and not be subject to employment discrimination based on gender and race.  Let’s continue to break down the We versus They mentality, not build it up again.

I don’t want those who want us to conform to their views to use principles that most of us support to manipulate us because it will inevitably lead us into a downward spiral.  The end does not justify the means.  What history teaches us is that when true believers attempt to force us to their way, their means will likely separate us and become the beginning of the end.  And that end is cruel and, ironically, even god-less.

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

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