patriotism

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 2017 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 2017 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 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Another Shot In The Foot

The recent government shutdown over a stupid power play by right wing extremists, along with their threat to cause the United States to default on its debt, were more than just political theater and more even than a showdown episode.  It was an exercise in self-destruction.

Yes, it was destructive to the Republican Party.  On the other hand, the Republicans stopped being true conservatives at least 35 years ago and instead have focused on transferring wealth to the already rich from all the rest of us, ensuring our prisons are full of chronically voiceless people and starting unnecessary wars.  So, who really cares if the Republican Party is in self-immolation mode?  Just let them burn to the ground and perhaps some sane voices will emerge from the ashes.

The self-destruction you need to pay attention to is that of the United States of America.  We have threatened the entire world with financial catastrophe.  We have demonstrated repeatedly that our primary goal is national dysfunction.  We have marginalized the majority of Americans.  We have dramatically expanded the ranks of our poor.  We have declared that we don’t want to fund the education of our children.  And we do want to arrest and torture people without so much as charging them with a crime and then keep them imprisoned endlessly.  All of this stands in stark contrast to the values we say we believe in like truth, justice, democracy, fairness, opportunity and other worthwhile attributes.

Given that contrast, what do you suppose the people in the rest of the world think when they hear the happy words but see the not-so-happy deeds?  Surely, our mixed messages pull the rug from under their trust and confidence in us.  Don’t imagine that is a small thing.

Trust is the cornerstone of relationship and we are in continuous relationship with a global society.  For many decades the standard of world trade has been the American dollar.  It is the symbol of global influence enhanced not just by military might, but also by trust and confidence in our values and our dependability.  Once those things are gone, the money of some other country will step in and be the global standard and the United States will be a second tier country.

We are in a headlong rush to hand over world leadership to China, led with daring forcefulness by crazy Americans who tell the world that the United States cannot be trusted.  They do that by paralyzing our government and threatening creditors with our default and those exercises are scheduled for a replay in the middle of January.

For more on the American Brand and the crazy messages we give the world, review Bruce Terkel’s blog here.  Then comment below with your ideas about how to stop us from repeatedly shooting ourselves in the foot.

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Are You an Old, Rich White Guy?

Rich white guyPollution is an ordinary part of manufacturing.  For example, those shiny, chrome plated gizmos like your ballpoint pen and the reflectors of the tail lights of your car are bathed in toxic chrome when they are made and they drip chrome into the water that rinses them.  Capturing that residual chrome is much more expensive than just flushing it down the drain, so chrome platers don’t much like EPA regulations that make them install expensive waste water treatment facilities.  Those who own and run other companies subject to EPA regulations feel pretty much the same way.

Come to think of it, lots of companies don’t much care for OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, either.  That government bureau makes companies do expensive things, like install safety devices that prevent people from being decapitated or electrocuted or having their hands chopped off in manufacturing machinery.  OSHA requires construction companies to ensure that their employee wear hard hats so that their heads don’t get sliced or crushed.  All of that costs money that companies don’t like to spend.

Those pesky state legislatures have passed laws that require that your children be in child safety seats and that you be belted in and air bagged.  All of that costs money that car manufacturers don’t like spending.

Old, rich white guys like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson and others who own the companies that we force to spend extra money in order to protect all of us want to do away with lots of government driven protection.  They want that precisely because that protection costs old, rich white guys money.  Indeed, over the years the car companies resisted pollution controls, safety glass, turn signals, safety belts and more because those things cost money.  If you’d like to know more about the thinking of such people, those who seek money and power over all else, have a look at the words of Vice President Henry A. Wallace, Franklin Roosevelt’s number two from 1941 – 1945.  He wrote a blistering Op-Ed for the New York Times on April 9, 1944 focused on American Fascism, the blending of government and business. You will likely find that the description in his essay is stunningly and disturbingly similar to our socio-political circumstances today, including the lying, the cheating, the demonizing and, worst of all, greed masquerading as patriotism.  The bulk of that comes from old, rich white guys.  You can find Wallace’s article here and here.

The old, rich white guys are thankful that elections are so expensive that candidates have to continuously grub for cash, especially big pots of it, because then those who are elected become indebted to those old, rich white guys.  That stimulates those politicians to take every measure possible to thwart legislation that might be good for most Americans who are not old, rich white guys.

Those politicians do things like make it harder for non-rich, non-white Americans to vote, because doing so keeps the old, rich white guys in power and in the money and that keeps the politicians well funded and in office.  The flow is so pleasingly circular.  Our national history is replete with egregious examples of voter suppression and the current voter ID laws about to be enacted in Texas, North Carolina and Ohio are the newest.  Those laws will disenfranchise millions of non-rich , non-white Americans and will have the effect of being the final nail in the coffin of democracy.  Hail to the John Roberts Supreme Court for enabling those voter suppression laws through its democracy killing decision in the Citizens United v. FEC case.  That completed the task of ensuring that old, rich white guys control all the money and all the power, a task started with naked hypocrisy by Ronald Reagan in 1981.

In the not-too-distant future history may be written with deference to the old, rich white guys – after all, history is always written by the victors.  But the multitudes who live in subsistence because of the loss of American democracy will not stay there willingly.

The fight for freedom and liberty is never ending and we are at a tipping point in America right now.

Are you an old, rich white guy?  If so, things are working quite well for you and you like the path we’re on.  On the other hand, if you are not an old, rich white guy you will care deeply about this far sooner than you might imagine.  When it starts to pinch, you will squeak and you will fight back.  What do you suppose it will look like when 310 million Americans who are not old, rich white guys are doing that?  I fear for us, because we always seem to wait too long to act and we have always been a violent society.

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Forehead Slapper

Water On Road During RainSome things are rather obvious, like the message on this highway sign.  And some things are just as obvious in The Constitution.

Here is the Second Amendment in its entirety:

“A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

Imagine the environment during the days when the Bill of Rights was being written.  We had just won our independence from the British through the efforts of an amateur army.  We had no standing army, nor the money to fund one if we needed it.  Furthermore, we were afraid we’d have to fight the British again (that happened).  Now reread the Second Amendment.

It is rather clear that the focus was on having men ready to fight a war (a militia) and that it was their job to fund their own equipment.  That is to say, the key point is not about stiff-arming an intrusive or abusive United States government; it is about national defense being handled by amateurs armed with their own muskets.

Times have changed and we now have a standing army.  There is no national defense reason for civilians to be ready to serve in a militia or to have their own muskets.  Billy Bob may think that the arsenal in his basement is his protection against an abusive government, but he’s going to have a really bad day when it’s learned that he’s been conspiring to do something nefarious to make his voice heard, like the bombing at the Boston Marathon or the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building in  Oklahoma City, both done by American terrorists.  The ATF guys and the FBI will arrive at his door with enormous firepower and his AR-15 and illegal Browning automatic rifle won’t be of much value to him.  So much for household defense by firearms against an abusive government.

That pesky “shall not infringe” business – does that mean that the government cannot place limits on the firearms a citizen may own?  No, we as a society have decided that it does not and we already have such limits.  You cannot legally own any automatic weapon.  You may not legally own field artillery or an M-1 tank or a fully armed F-18 or torpedoes or Hellfire missiles or an atomic bomb.  Yes, we decided long ago that the right of people to bear arms really can be limited.  And that’s a good thing.

It is also an obvious thing, a real forehead slapper.  The trick is getting gun stalwarts past the arrested development stage, during which they chant ceaselessly, “You can’t tell ME what to do.”  Well, yeah, we can.

So, get over your testosterone rush, “cold, dead hands” rant rifle-thumper, and recognize that there really is water on the road when it rains, and we can and should place limits on the firearms any of us may own.  Those limits help our six-year-olds to make it to age seven.

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

It’s Personal

August 6 is the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and it is appropriate to remember in the ways that we can.  There are millions of stories connected in various ways to that event and two are very close.  They are quite different from one another, yet at root they bear the same message.

Even in the early 1940’s, when an atomic explosion was only a theory and had never been witnessed, the conflagration that would be produced was well understood.  That was a different time, though, and the imperative was to win the war with a minimum of American casualties.  Estimates ran north of a million dead and injured, should we attempt a land invasion of Japan, so, awful as it was even to contemplate, using an atomic bomb to subdue the enemy looked like the better option.  Indeed, in those days, there was little controversy over whether to use such a weapon if doing so would avoid suffering 25,000 marines killed on every island in the Pacific on the way to Japan.

My father-in-law was a scientist, a chemical engineer Ph.D and for decades was a go-to guy for making chemical manufacturing plants operate well.  He was so talented that he was called to serve on the Manhattan Project during WWII.  What that meant for him and all the scientists working on the Manhattan Project was that in order to honor their duty and responsibility as Americans to help win the war, they would have to set aside their concerns over the moral dilemma of dropping a bomb on Japanese cities.  Some, like my father-in-law, had to compromise a piece of their souls to do that, a compromise they came to deeply regret.

While the construction of that new and terrible weapon was ongoing, my father was posted in England and flew a P-47 fighting the Nazis, escorting bombers, dodging bursts of flak, getting shot at and shooting back, sortie after sortie.  In today’s more gentle terms, he was in harm’s way, but there was nothing gentle about what was happening.  He lived in a world of brutality every day, a world of sudden death and long suffering, a world where human beings saw and did unspeakable things.  Indeed, like so many vets, even years later he was unable to speak the raw truth of those days and most of his terrible secrets died with him.

He did not entertain the post war moral analysis made from the comfort of peacetime over the dropping of the bomb.  He had completed his tour of duty before that bombing, had served as an instructor to new recruits after his combat days and was on inactive status with the army.  Had a land invasion of Japan been mounted, he would have been called back into active service and sent to the Pacific to wage war once again.  Dropping the bomb made good sense to him, yet he was anything but absent of regret over those terrible days.

He had been raised to be a good boy and not do harm to others, but it had been wartime and doing what he did was his duty and responsibility, so he, like my father-in-law, did what had to be done.  And he, too, had to compromise a piece of his soul, a compromise that came with deep regret.  There are literally millions of stories like these from that awful time.

Today we use the word “sacrifice” to describe what our military people have to do.  Yet in this country where less than 1% of our people shoulder our military burden, most of us don’t really understand what that means.  My father-in-law and my father understood quite well.  They did their duty and honored their responsibility for their loved ones and for our country.  Their sacrifice was enormous, as both men shouldered a weight that they carried throughout their lives as a continuing torment to their souls.  They paid an enormous price for us.

In their sacrifice they left us a country that remains free.  Over the years they let me know in countless ways that they believed in personal responsibility and that they expected me and all of us to honor our duty and the responsibility that is inextricably bound to our freedom, just as they did.  It’s likely that all of those brave men and women of that greatest generation would expect us to do that.  Part of the keeping of our freedom is to sacrifice a piece of our convenience every four years and vote.

It’s personal.

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The Common Wisdom

We all know that the country is center-right.  Perhaps it’s there as a result of a pendulum swing from the socially farther left pendulum of the 60’s and the politicians and pundits now like to tell us we’re center-right almost as throw-away line.  Or maybe people just keep saying that and have done so for such a long time that we’ve come to believe it, but repetition doesn’t make the claim accurate.  Take a look at just a few issues before us.

Jobs – About 306 million of we 307 million Americans want the government to take energetic action to ramp up the economy and create jobs.  The noise from the far right is the only thing that is making it seem like there is huge opposition to that.  As a nation, we are left of center now on jobs.

Voting rights – Americans believe overwhelmingly that all of us over the age of 18, with the possible exception of convicted felons, should vote.  That’s pretty much smack dab in the center, not center-right.  On the other hand, there are Republican strategists who have openly stated that the only people they want to vote are those who will vote Republican.

In the 2010 election many states voted far right legislators into office and they have enacted laws they have fraudulently proclaimed are to protect us from a blight of voting fraud.  The thing is that voting fraud almost never happens – not even in Chicago.  These laws serve solely as an obstacle to voting for young people, the elderly, the poor and those in minorities who tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.  Let’s see, righty R’s preventing D’s from voting.  Hmmm.

Immigration – Most of us believe that if people do something wrong that they should bear the consequences.  And most of us believe that children of illegal immigrants, born in this country and who have broken no laws should not bear those consequences.  Righties don’t want to pass the Dream Act and they are completely out of step with the majority of Americans.  The R’s continue to oppose it because they’re afraid they’ll get “primaried” in the next election by a fanatic on the lunatic right fringe.  That keeps them disconnected from everyone but the aforementioned lunatic right fringe.

This issue is complex, but as a nation we’re pretty much in the center.

Taxes on the wealthy – Depending on the week and the poll, anywhere between 62 – 80% of Americans favor increased taxes on the rich.  Only the righties who signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to never raise taxes, along with some already wealthy people are opposed to that.  That is to say, the country is center-left on this issue.

Contraception – Do you really need an explanation about this?  Even 98% of Catholic women have used some form of birth control and only some fundamentalist righties have a problem with it.  It’s just that a few of them have very loud voices.  We Americans are far left in favor of contraception.

Women’s choice – The majority of Americans continue to be pro-choice, although by a smaller margin now than in past decades.  In part that’s because of the loss of institutional memory of how things used to be before Roe v. Wade.  It wasn’t pretty.  We are center-left on this.

Global warming – It’s not just all the environmental scientists; most Americans believe that the Earth is getting warmer and that mankind’s activities like burning fossil fuels is contributing to it.  The only question is why anyone denies that.  To find the answer, follow the money.  It’s way on the right.  (Ref: “And another thing” below)

Social Security & Medicare – These are the two most popular programs ever created by the federal government and America is far left on them.  Only the righties want to abolish or privatize them.

Note to budget hawk absolutist righties: We made a contract with the American people, who pre-paid for these services and we must keep our word.  I know you’ll understand that.

Education – The righties want to abolish the Department of Education at both the federal and state levels.  They are starving schools of funds, so teachers, administrators and janitors are being laid off.  School maintenance and improvement projects are being halted and the disparity between the education of our poor children and the rich kids who get to go to elite schools continues to widen.  Our children are suffering, their future becomes bleaker every day we fail them and we are putting the future of America in peril.

Americans don’t like this.  They want their children to be educated and think public education is a very good thing.  The righties are completely out of sync with America on this.  This country is way left on education.

Healthcare – Most Americans want the government to do more to fix it.  All that is standing in the way is the resistance borne of the hundreds of billions of dollars being collected every year by the medical insurance companies, big pharma, big hospitals and a few others.  We’ve tried letting the market fix this.  That has resulted in our having the most expensive healthcare in the world, while at the same time we’re getting just middling results.  Only the far righties with megaphones attached to their faces think that continuing to let the free market work is the solution.  We want affordable healthcare and are at least center-left on this issue.

The list can go on until sunrise.  Those saying that we are a center-right nation have either bought into the Big Lie or think they will benefit by making you believe it.

It turns out that the common wisdom isn’t so common, nor is it so very wise after all.

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And another thing .  .  .

Have you seen the TV commercials with the pleasant looking blonde lady in a black pants suit talking about American energy?  She tells us how plentiful it is and all we have to do is go get it.  As an example, she walks across a map of the lower 48 and tells us about, ”  .  .  . tapping Canadian oil sands for U.S. consumers.”  Sounds great.

Except the plan for the Canadian oil sands crude is to transport that heaviest, dirtiest crude oil with the greatest global warming footprint via the XL Pipeline to our gulf coast for exporting to other nations.  I need for them to explain once again how that stuff is for U.S. consumers because I’m not seeing how exporting it makes it for us.

One last comment: That ad and the others like it are sponsored by the American Petroleum Industry, the promotional organization of Big Oil.  Just so you know.

“We move through life like a man in a rowboat, looking back even as we move forward.” – William Landay

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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