money in politics

Love Thy Who?

Reading time – 3:43; Viewing time – 5:41  .  .  .

At an evening meeting on April 20th the discussion drifted to the issue of our political divide. The characterization of Trump voters included words like moron, racist, ignorant and a few other choice descriptors. The demonizing fell from lips as easily as rain from the sky – or manure from a barnyard animal – my protestations notwithstanding.

It’s just a guess on my part, but I don’t think character assassinations will be anything but destructive, this in a time when more than ever we need to come together to solve perhaps the largest accumulation of Gordian knot challenges we have faced.

Our vexing political divide is the focus of this post.

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Ezra Klein and Alvin Chang did a report on the issue of political identity – our political divide – for Vox entitled “Political identity is fair game for hatred”: how Republicans and Democrats discriminate. They found what you already know to be true, that we politically polarized Americans seem to be unable even to talk with our neighbors who hold political views different from our own. People are even selecting where they will live based upon whether the neighbors are politically aligned with them. And woe be to a daughter or son who marries someone with membership in the other political party.

The dysfunction we see among politicians is exaggerated because we tend to elect zealots; however, we’re not doing a very good job ourselves of even tolerating our “other party” neighbors, much less loving them. Indeed, we seem to be in an age where “other-ing” is not just accepted, but is encouraged.

In my pal Brian Muldoon’s book, The Heart of Conflict, he identifies what he sees as the fundamental reason people are so often unable to talk about differing religious beliefs without the conversation devolving into conflict. He says that it’s because any challenge to our fundamental beliefs challenges our sense of identity and that shakes our tectonic plates, so we go into fight-or-flight mode the same way our caveman ancestors treated threatening saber tooth tigers.

It appears that our political views have reached the same kind of base-of-the-skull level. As Klein and Chang write in their article, “  .  .  . rising political polarization was showing something more fundamental than political disagreement – it was tracking the transformation of party affiliation into a form of personal identity that reached into almost every aspect of our lives.”

It seems to me that invites fight-or-flight into arenas where there are no actual mortal threats; nevertheless, we treat ordinary opinions – like political differences – in the same life-or-death manner we do religious differences.

In the face of this we’re told to love our (“different from me”) neighbors. That’s a tough assignment for we human beings.

Nevertheless, that is the assignment. Should we fail to complete the assignment and get a great grade, our democracy will be at mortal risk. We better figure out how to do something other than fighting or fleeing.

In other news

House Joint Resolution 48 is what we need. It’s what I’ve been calling for in my presentations to groups all over the country since that dark January day in 2010. This is a cure for the deepest ailment of our democracy.

HJR 48 is a bill to reverse the tsunami of corporate and fat cat cash in our politics that was unleashed by the disastrous Citizens United decision. The bill currently has 23 cosponsors; that’s where you come in.

Call your representative now and request that s/he cosponsor this critically important bill. Do this even if your representative is already a cosponsor – they need your support for this.

To find your rep’s phone number, go to www.House.gov and enter your zip code in the box in the top-right corner of the page. Then pick up your phone, dial it and tell the nice staffer who answers that you are a constituent and you want your rep to cosponsor HJR 48.

Do it now, and we’ll slay this mother of our political dysfunction.

Finally, we have a whole new level of stupid coming from Washington. From The Root:

Paul Reickhoff

According to the Military Times, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) has drafted legislation that would charge soldiers $100 a month for access to the GI Bill. The bill would deduct a total of $2,400 from each soldier’s paycheck to make them eligible.

“Pushing this GI Bill tax proposal on troops in a time of war is political cowardice,” said Paul Reickhoff, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America “Some politicians would rather make backroom deals than raise taxes or find other ways to support our troops as bombs continue to fall overseas.”

Let’s see, the geniuses in DC want to send our young off to fight and die for the oil we have to stop using if we’re to avoid hard boiling the planet, and also in order to fill monstrous political egos. As a way to say thanks, our legislators want to tax our troops.

Yes, really.

Bonus Section

Watch this Vox piece for clarity about cable news manipulation and the advancement of “alternative facts.”

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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.

Sir Isaac Newton and You

Reading time – 3:51 seconds; Viewing time – 5:57  .  .  .

The press is under attack, and rightly so, according to Donald Trump. He has let us know in no uncertain terms and repeatedly that those in “the media” are dishonest – so dishonest – they lie. I’m guessing that “he’s been hearing” that most are devil worshipers with unpatriotic foreign stuff in their attics. I’m sure he’s hearing that “people are saying” they may not be real Americans. Some might be black. Or Muslim. Or both black and Muslim. Bad. Sad.

President Lying-78%-of-the-Time has a penchant for falsehood. Trump’s integrity outages may have been of relatively small consequence during the campaign (except, of course, to rally attendees who got beaten up at his direction), but his dishonesty has huge consequences on the national and international stage now that he’s the president.

You need to read the Los Angeles Times 4-part editorial series The Problem With Trump. These  essays provide a level-headed and shocking analysis of what’s really going on – it’s big and everything we hold dear is at risk.

Trump’s dishonesty is happening during an era of vitriolic, polarized politics, especially in Congress, which makes constraining the worst of Trump’s lunacies next to impossible. In large measure, that is what puts everything at risk.

I’ve written several times about looming fascism in America (click on Fascism in the Categories list to the right) because of the bully in the White House and the extremists in Congress. I have seen nothing to mollify my concerns. While I don’t know if Trump is even capable of planning such a thing, I’m confident that Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner are capable of that and their influence only grows. And, no, don’t imagine for an instant that because Kushner is Jewish that he’s not capable of driving our nation to fascism. Not Nazism; fascism.

From How I Became an American by Yascha Mounk:

“Like Mr. Trump, democratically elected dictators have often believed that they don’t owe political consideration to the minorities they vilify. And, like Mr. Trump, they have often claimed that all those who challenge their rule – independent judges, critical journalists – are enemies of the people. For anybody who has studied how democracies die, the president’s dark rhetoric sounds familiar.”

Read the Los Angeles Times pieces – all 4 editorials. Now let’s connect this to a broader reality.

In a stunning piece by David Roberts for Vox.com entitled Donald Trump and the Rise of Tribal Epistemology*, Roberts lays bare the erosion of our institutions that were designed to provide the foundation upon which our society is built. He’s talking about truth, science, democratic systems and a clarity of the difference between right-doing and wrong-doing. He’s talking about the very things Trump and Bannon want to take down. And they’re not alone in their efforts toward destruction; witness how the right wing has,

  • Rejected the consensus of the world’s scientists on climate change
  • With a Democrat in the White House, the Republicans filibustered every bill
  • House Republicans routinely threaten the solvency of the country by refusing to raise the debt ceiling
  • The Senate refused to even have hearings on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee
  • Republicans united behind a serial swindler and self-confessed sexual predator – what happened to their spine?

Roberts’ piece specifically focuses on journalism and what it can do in this post-truth, post-fact, post-norms era. He writes,

“At a deeper level, healthy journalism relies on the basic institutions and norms of liberal democracy – on transpartisan authorities capable of establishing a common bedrock of facts and rules. As we’ve seen in other democracies around the world that succumb to autocracy (think Russia, Hungary, Turkey, Venezuela), the decline in institutions is both cause and consequence of authoritarianism.”

So, chicken or egg first? It really doesn’t matter if nothing is solidly reliable.

Sir Isaac Newton

Recall your 8th grade science class, where you learned about Sir Isaac Newton and his Laws of Motions, the first of which (paraphrased) was, “A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.” Your teacher may have demonstrated that law with a thrown ball, which would have carried out to the most distant reaches of the universe, but for that pesky gravity thing, the immediate outside force. Gravity changed the trajectory of the ball and made it accelerate in an arc toward the center of the Earth. Yes, I know that’s more science than you were looking for in a political commentary, but perhaps you remember some of that – surely you remember that Law of Motion, and that’s the main point.

Unaffected by an outside force, everything keeps going on its trajectory, and that’s true of politics, as well. So, if there is a different future that you want to see than the one we’re headed toward, there better be some force acting upon it.

YOU’RE THAT FORCE!

Get off the couch and get on the streets. Protest. Resist. Recruit. Call, text and write to your congressperson and senators. Show up at their doors. Join with others at MoveToAmend.org, CommonCause.org, Represent.US, Mayday.US and kick in a few bucks to save your democracy.

GET A POLITICAL BULLHORN AND MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!

*Epistemology – The theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.

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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.

Values Bankruptcy Machine

Reading time – 3:09; viewing time – 4:58  .  .  .

There are conservatives who espouse worthwhile conservative ideas; however, not even one of those ideas includes Trumpian behavior, like:

Cabinet picks and agency bosses who are determined to take down everything in their control

A secretary of state with financial ties to our most dangerous adversary

Treating immigrants cruelly

Insulting our closest allies

Mocking the disabled and selling out the disenfranchised

Mocking our war dead and our war heroes

Trashing the regulations that ensure safe, clean air and water

Refusing science and demeaning learning and wisdom

Calling for our most dangerous adversary to hack our elections

Repeatedly attacking the judiciary, our intelligence community and the press

Lying – not being mistaken or misdirecting – lying 78% of the time


You’ll never hear a true conservative support an idea or policy that includes Congressional actions, like:

Allowing mentally unstable citizens to own guns

Refusing to vet a Democratic president’s nominee for the Supreme Court

Allowing internet service providers to sell your personal information

Claiming to be pro-life but advocating for the death penalty

Voting against anything a Democratic president supported solely to prevent him from having a win and regardless of the cost to our country

Somehow “conservative” and “Republican” have come to mean ensuring that the maximum amount of money flows to rich people, including our congressmen and senators. Those labels mean that all regulations must be eliminated, no matter how many West Virginia rivers get polluted or towns destroyed or our planet hard boiled. Every obstacle to greater wealth and power must be removed for the benefit of the wealthy and they leave it for others to pay the price with yet more suffering. Nothing else seems to matter to them. Today’s Republicans have made their party into a values bankruptcy machine.

Talkin’ ’bout you, Republican!

I have conservative friends – people who are true conservatives, not just those who assume the label for their own benefit – who abhor what today’s Republicans have done to their party and are doing to our country and who are disgusted by the lack of Republican will to stand up to this tyrant president. Such patriotic folks really do exist – actually, there are a few are in Congress.

I want center-right Republicans to stand up and be counted. The time for head down silence doesn’t exist. I want them to speak for what really is conservative, not the hateful, unpatriotic stuff we’ve suffered since Newt Gingrich, in a self-important hissy fit, shut down the government in the 90s.

Do you know centrist Republicans? Tell them to stand up, to speak up and to run for office. Our country needs them now more than ever.

In Other News

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has asked for immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and the FBI. President Trump has weighed in on Flynn’s bargaining, tweeting,

The thing is, when you hunt for witches, sometimes you find a witch. And if there’s a witch discovered in this hunt, their actions won’t be found to be of the magic wand, fairy tale type; they will be found to be treasonous.

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Finally, I send many thanks to the good folks at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Evanston for your wonderful hospitality at our meeting last week where I presented Money, Politics & Democracy: You Aren’t Getting What You Want. I’m grateful for your insightful questions and comments and enthusiastic engagement.

We need to spread the word so we can reclaim our democracy. If you’re connected to a group of concerned citizens who will benefit by learning about the enormous and corrosive effect big money has on our politics and our democracy and who want to know what we can do about it, call or drop me a note. I’ll do a presentation for your group – freebie. I don’t want money. All I want to do is to save democracy for our children and grandchildren. They’re counting on 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.

Busted Link

HBO pulled links to Bill  Maher’s program of 3/24/17 not long after Sunday’s post went live, so when you clicked the link, instead of a video you got a metaphorical bowling ball dropped on the floor. To extend the metaphor, here’s a resetting of the pins.

This is a link to a clip that’s available now without you having to give HBO your personal information and a credit card. The audio is a bit funky but it’s passable. Listen for the content. I’ve transcribed the discussion and you can download a PDF of a lightly edited version (a little less humor) by clicking on this link:

Professor-Timothy-Snyder-on-Bill-Maher

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REMINDER:

I’ll be presenting Money, Politics & Democracy: You Aren’t Getting What You Want at the Evanston Unitarian Church, 1330 Ridge starting at 7:00PM on Wednesday, March 29. This topic is critical to our democracy and the flood of big money into our politics is the mother lode of our national dysfunction. Come join us for the discussion and bring two friends, because they need to know, too.

 

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

BOHICA

Reading time – 3:45; Viewing time – 6:41  .  .  .

Critical Action Step – just 4 minutes completion time

This is about dealing with the mother lode of our political dysfunction, so first things first. Click here and read the short, clear text of the proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution – the We The People Amendment. It’s designed to stop corporate and big money control of your government. Then click here and send the MoveToAmend message to your representative to co-sponsor this vitally important legislation.

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It was just five years ago – maybe you remember when Darrell Issa (R-CA) was chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and he held hearings on the Affordable Care Act requirement to offer birth control as part of the ACA. That the hearings took place is anything but remarkable. What is noteworthy is that Issa refused to call any women as witnesses. Not one. And, no, Sandra Fluke did not testify for Issa’s committee. He refused her, this at the same time Rush Limbaugh was calling her a whore. That no women were included in discussions about birth control is outrageous for at least three reasons:

  1. The birth control in question is entirely that which applies to women. The ACA did not contemplate covering vasectomies. Clearly, women have standing in this discussion.
  2. Because women carry most of the burden of birth control, their views offer insight that men simply cannot provide.
  3. Women represent more than 50% of the American population. When you figure out why over half the citizens of the U.S. should be ignored, be sure to let me know.

That’s just the way today’s Republicans roll and it’s continuing today in House Resolution 610, which they label as a two-parter:

  1. The Choices in Education Act of 2017
  2. The No Hungry Kids Act

What could be bad about choices and well fed kids?

Well, it turns out that this bill is actually designed to do exactly the opposite of the claims its title suggests, so here is a more accurate moniker: the Screw the Constitution and Let the Kids Eat Crap Republican Initiative of 2017.

There are two problems with this legislation. The first is that “choices” means that this is a voucher program that will give public funds (that means your money) to private schools you just might not want to directly support. It also means that your money will go to parents who home school their kids, too. Public money will be diverted from our public education system (the school in your neighborhood) to make these “choices” possible.

Be clear that many of these private schools are parochial. And overwhelmingly, people who home school their kids do so to integrate their religion into basic education. So, to sum that up, the House Resolution is designed to send your money to the pockets of owners of for-profit schools and to religious institutions, while at the same time starving our public schools to death. Good-bye to public education and good-bye to separation of church and state.

The second part of House Resolution 610 removes the requirement that food being offered to kids in school be nutritious, like fruits, vegetables and low fat protein. Instead, the schools that your money will go to will be allowed to stuff any kind of cheap crap down our kids’ throats. This should be a boon to the sugar and saturated fat industries. Really, though, kids don’t make campaign contributions, so who cares about them anyway?

The most egregious part of this is that President Trump, Vice President Pence and Education Secretary Betsy De Vos held a so-called listening session with 10 representatives from the field of education. Only two represented public education full time. It’s the same warped thing that Darrell Issa did regarding birth control.

All of which is to say that the Republican method for investigating any topic and providing solutions to our significant challenges is to decide in advance the outcome they want and then make a sham of the entire process of investigation and sound decision making, to which I say, BOHICA – “Bend over, here it comes again.”

Watch the short video What is HR 610 and How Will It Affect Education? Then follow the simple instructions in the video. At stake is the Constitution and the future of our kids. They shouldn’t be forced to eat crap. Metaphorically, neither should you.

In Other News

What if the blizzard of organizations vying for your attention, action and money could be aggregated under an umbrella that can connect you where you want to be connected and which can help your organization achieve far greater reach?

And what if you want to be better informed without totally disrupting your life?

Say good-bye to the what-ifs, because if you live in the Chicago area your solution is at hand. Come to the information-packed United for Democracy Now meeting on March 25 at 1:00PM and get it all – here’s a link to the FaceBook page. Then just click the GOING button so we reserve space for you and your friends who will accompany you. There’s no cost to attend the meeting, you won’t be hit on for anything and you’ll have a way to get your organization way better connected. Plus, you’ll walk out better informed by the wonderful presenters, who will talk about:

An overview of what’s really happening – like about small business, the ACA and more.

Healthcare – betcha you want to get a handle on what’s really going on and what can be done.

The tar sands oil pipeline – coming soon to an Illinois near you. These things only leak sometimes.

The craziness is unremitting and, as David Corn said, you can’t fact check crazy. But we can be better informed, so this is the meeting you want to attend. And you just might leave a bit more hopeful. Wouldn’t that be refreshing!

BTW: I’m the MC for this meeting – come say hello. I’ll look for 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.

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.

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.

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