responsibiliy

Morale, Knees and Common Elements

Obese Airline PassengerI was on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to San Diego and somewhere over the Rockies I just couldn’t sit any longer, so I took a stroll to the galley at the back of the plane.  Half-squats, twisting and tugging this way and that restored circulation, and I felt considerably better.

This happened about a year after the first United Airlines bankruptcy filing, so after my physical contortions I struck up a conversation with a flight attendant.  I asked about morale, now that all the employees had taken a 20% blow to their wallets.  She rolled her eyes and said, “Not good.”

She continued, telling me that the CEO had just taken a multimillion dollar bonus, while none of the employees had received back pay, nor restoration of pay rates, both of which had been promised.  That pretty much killed any “we’re in this together” spirit.  Employee give-a-damn level was down here, she reported, with an ankle level gesture and a glare that could laser cut her CEO’s investment statements.

I travel quiet a bit, delivering workshops and keynote presentations all over the United States and Canada, so I have the opportunity for lots of, shall we say, airplane adventures.  Some are influenced by airline employees whom I encounter directly, like that flight attendant.  Some of those adventures are influenced by airline employees whom I will never meet but whose work products affect me on every flight.

For example, when I cannot get a preferred seat as a perk of my frequent flyer status, I sit in aluminum tube steerage.  I’m not a big guy, but I do want half of the elbow rests and 100% of my seat width.  Both of those are compromised when a 370 pound seatmate shows up.  Fully 15% of my seat back is occupied by his shoulder and the armrest has disappeared into a sea of flesh.  I have lots of stories about trips with interesting seatmates.  They encompass all the senses and are not uniformly pleasant.

It is well known that we Americans are an overweight bunch.  So, while the FAA standard human being weighs 170 pounds, that number is exactly that – a standard – meaning some people weigh lots more than that.  The seat designers know that, but they engineer the seating in their planes as though we all weigh 170 pounds, which gets me buried by my over-sized seatmate.  The designers also engineer leg room as though we were all no taller than 5’8″, which makes my greatest fear of flying that the guy sitting in front of me will recline his seat back and smash my knees.  Memo to commercial airliner design people: Some of us are taller than your standard and some of us are wider and that impacts lots of people.

Here is the connection between flight attendants’ low morale, portly seatmates and the knee crushing machine: These conditions continue because we tolerate them.  The flight attendants continue to work for less and the flying public continues to reward the airlines for stuffing us into insufficient space.  That is to say, corporate management does what it does because it can.

It is exactly the same with our government and our politics.  The NSA is snooping on you and will continue to do so because you allow it.  Congress acts as though confrontation and stagnation were virtues.  They do that because we tolerate their behavior by electing those who create the confrontation and stagnation.  The NRA strong-arms congress and everything is voted as they like and not as you like.  That happens because we elected the fools who would do that and we will continue to get exactly the same kinds of results as long as we tolerate it.

“The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity,” advises Harlan Ellison.  We have to be smarter than the people who do the things we don’t want them to do and strong enough to stop tolerating their behavior.

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

Special Ice Cream Edition

bjlogoWhatever your issue, budget, debt, global warming, immigration, guns, healthcare, civil rights or any other topic, the reason things aren’t getting better is because of something that controls your issue: Money.  Big money.  Big money that influences elections, politicians and distorts the will of the people into the will of the very few enormously wealthy people.  For more on that, take a look at Larry Lessig’s TED talk.

Should you doubt that big money influence is preventing the will of the people (that’s you) from being done, just recall the recent vote on background checks prior to gun ownership.  Have you ever seen an issue in the United States where 90% of the people were in agreement?  That’s highly unusual and one would expect those who represent us to get the message and vote accordingly.  Didn’t happen that way.  Enough of our politicians flagrantly voted against our wishes because of big money influence and they caused the wrong result.

The Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream guys have something to say about that.  You can read about it here on the CNN Opinion blog.  They explain it better than I do.

Just because those gun money politicians defeated the sensible gun ownership background check that you wanted doesn’t mean that they can defeat everything that we want.  We Money StampAmericans are united in opposition to big money buying our elections and our country.  So, get off your Barcalounger, get a stamp here and get the message out so that next year we will elect candidates who will begin to make things right.

Is this issue important to you?  Comment below and then email this to 3 friends.

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

For Purist Lefties and Windshields

WindshieldI’m surely talking to myself here, but this just might fit for others, too. JA

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The Radical Right provides enough material in a single sentence of extremism than can be corrected in a 750-word response.  I’ve heard as many as three fictional facts in a single short sentence.  Let them go on for two minutes and it’s such a dizzying array of fantasy that it’s impossible to know where to begin to correct the falsities.  Those guys know how to spray incendiary, divisive and destructive language.  They’re really good at demanding that everything be decided their way and insisting that that they never make mistakes.

For example, don’t you just hate it when the far righties tell us how safe George W. Bush kept us?  Try telling that to the kids whose mother or father was crushed to death in the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings.

Those far righties want to end Medicare and Social Security and they have concocted fatuous, misleading names for the programs they designed to do just that.  Then they have had the gall to tell us that they don’t want to end those programs.

When 20 little kids were gunned down in Newtown, CT the far righties made sure that we didn’t do anything to begin to limit access to the kinds of weapons that make it easy for violent people to do such things.  They insist with self-righteous fervor that they have the one true interpretation of the Second Amendment and they ignore the demands of the rest of us, as they pursue campaign cash to support their careers.

So we call these people crazy.  They are hateful and mean.  They are dishonest in sixteen different ways.  Our guts snarl and our spittle flies as we yell at our windshields.

To pull a Columbo, there’s just one more thing.

What is it that you were saying as President Obama worked toward compromise with congressional Republicans during all those iterations of budget and debt issues?  What was it you were saying as he failed to press for universal health care?  Now he’s offered chained CPI as a negotiating chip.  I’ll bet you had serious juice about those issues and your words for him might have sounded a lot like your comments about crazy righties.

Obama let the Republicans kill his jobs bill, even as they were telling us it was all about jobs, jobs, jobs.  You pilloried the Republicans, but did you also lambast Obama for his lack of leadership on the issue?

How many times did you wail that Obama gave up his negotiating leverage by caving in at the beginning of discussions with Republicans?  It seems that President Obama just won’t be the absolutist leftie some want him to be.  Maybe you’ve sprayed a coating on the inside of your windshield over that.

We can keep strolling down the path of all the ways Obama and the Democrats have failed – surely that has happened.  Yet here’s the key point:  governing is compromising and nobody gets all of what they want all of the time.

The Radical Righties have done a really good job of strong-arming America for over a decade.  Their demand that everything be decided in the far righty way is incomprehensible to many; just get that a similar demand from the far left is just as incomprehensible.

For those who get off on anger, who feel powerful by living in their disparagement of anything and anyone who disagrees with them, I have a news flash:  You are a lot like those whom you pillory.

Fight for what you believe in.  Oppose what you disagree with.  Just don’t be so certain that you have the one and only true vision of what is best, lest you become a yet another ideological roadblock and put the inside of still more windshields at risk.

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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