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Tiananmen Square and the U.S.

Tank Man 2

Tank Man waiting to confront tanks – look carefully. Photo Terril Yue Jones

Reading time – 62 seconds  .  .  . 

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars published a stunning article by Terril Yue Jones, Associated Press correspondent in China in 1989, entitled Tiananmen Square at 25 that has a shocking message for us as we continue down our slippery slope from one person, one vote.

By now you’ve heard the reports of the complete vanishing of information from the Chinese people of the protests for reform by hundreds of thousands of Chinese in their April through June, 1989 demonstrations. Those born since that time have no knowledge that anything happened then. The Communist leaders want it that way so that they stay in power. (Funny how people in power will do amazing things to stay in power.)

In addition to censoring all information about the events in Tiananmen Square, the government made certain it would retain control by buying off the people with the opportunity for upward mobility – things like an apartment or a car – and the ever-present threat of harm.

Jones reported a conversation he had just a few years ago with a worker from Hunan province about the 1989 events in Tiananmen, who told him, “If I don’t steal, swindle or kill, no one will bother me.” Jones commented,

“It’s that kind of disinterested focus on self that Chinese authorities have very effectively fostered in the years since the uprising at Tiananmen Square. Yes, the economic and social improvements for which workers, teachers and other citizens agitated in 1989 — from increased salaries and home ownership to social and economic rights — have largely been accomplished, giving rise to a massive middle class. But it’s those masses in the middle class and below who see the yawning wealth gap between themselves and China’s legions of millionaires.”

How eerily similar that sounds to America today.

Americans are afraid of losing whatever they have been able to retain and so keep their heads down to avoid harm. As a result we have that same “yawning wealth gap” between we the people and the Big Money controllers of our country.

One can’t help but wonder how bad will things have to become for people – millions of Americans – to stand up and, like Howard Beale in the movie Network, say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Perhaps it will require an American Tank Man.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

You’ll Koch On This – Chapter 2

Reading time – 41 seconds

The city of Nashville, TN is expecting major growth over the next 20 years, including the expansion of its population by about a million people. To help deal with current congestion and to get ahead of the coming glut of cars on Nashville area roads, the city is proposing a 7.1 mile bus line with a dedicated highway lane in order to reduce commute times and the frustration of everyone. What could be bad about that?

Apparently, the Koch brothers can find something bad about it. They are major supporters of Americans for Prosperity (hmmm, for which Americans’ prosperity might that be?) and that organization is working to ban the proposed bus line. They have named any number of brainlessly dumb reasons for that, but they have put their money muscle into action. That’s probably a good idea for them, because more buses means fewer cars and that might ding the profits of Koch Industries – especially if the disease of public transportation spreads to other cities and fossil fuel consumption is curtailed.

That is a bit like opposition to solar power. Sometimes the solar panels on the roofs of houses produce more electricity than is consumed. That results in the electric meter running backward, a reasonable financial credit for the homeowners. The Kochs are fighting that, too. They don’t like incentives for clean renewable energy. It’s bad for their fossil fuel business.

In these cases and in the case presented in You’ll Koch On This – Chapter 1, the Kochs are acting in their short term self-interest and in each case the interests of the rest of the American people are at risk. Screwing public workers and screwing the air we breathe is just fine with them.

Getting past that myopic vision requires thinking that goes beyond the life expectancy of the Koch brothers and any of the billionaires who fight progress to keep their claws dug into their very profitable status quo.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with self-interest. Our job, though, is to understand the unbridled greed that is harming us in a thousand ways, to wake up and take action to stop the economic bullying being done by the few at the expense of your lungs, your wallet and the planet you live on.

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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.

You’ll Koch on This – Chapter 1

Reading time – 29 seconds  .  .  .

The Koch brothers and other big bucks boys sponsored a pension reform seminar and invited lots of judges to attend. It was all about how we will “reform” our pension system for public workers, given the enormous “unfunded liability” held by most states. What that means is that we agreed to provide pensions for these people, often in lieu of pay raises, but we didn’t put away money into a pension pot from which we could draw later. Well, it’s “later” right now and many states are in trouble.

There is lots of weaselly pension fixing language being tossed about, like the suggestion of Amy Moynahan, University of Minnesota law professor. that, “.  .  .  changes to future pension accruals should be legally permissible absent clear and unambiguous evidence that the legislature intended to create a contract.” That is to say, states can unilaterally ditch their obligations via courtroom sleight of hand to make it look like there was no contract with public workers.

No contract? Really? Those state legislatures were just spit balling what they might do later on for workers and now don’t they have to keep their word?

Now, why would the Koch brothers care about the fate of public pensions and the future of public workers so much that they would be a major sponsor of a conference where they invite judges before whom such cases may be brought? I don’t suppose that there might be tax consequences to such cases that might affect the Kochs. Naw, couldn’t be that. Surely it couldn’t be about large corporations in the private sector and their unfunded pension programs that these corporations still don’t want to fund. For sure it isn’t about any desire to build relationships with judges who will hear their inevitable lawsuits.  Right?

No, not right.

More on this kind of craziness in Chapter 2. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, watch this video. Opposition to the Koch’s and the rest of the Big Bucks Boys who are despoiling our Constitution and stealing our democracy is growing. All it takes is you and me and a few million of our friends. Then they can’t stop 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.  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.

O’, The Irony!

Irony

Reading time – 111 seconds  .  .  .

In my Money, Politics & Democracy presentations I’m careful to avoid any of the demonizing of individuals that is sadly so common in our politics. Instead, I focus on the dysfunctional system that forces good people to compromise themselves. The engine of that is the insanely high cost to run a political campaign, driven primarily by the crazy high cost of television advertising.

Over $10 million was spent in the Illinois 10th Congressional District race of 2012. That was for one House seat for just two years and represents only the money spent by the campaigns. Between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown over $80 million was spent for that Massachusetts Senate seat. In 2012 over $2 billion was spent in the presidential race and over $10 billion was spent in total for all federal elections.

The message in that is that to get elected and stay elected, people have to do fundraising continuously. As much as 50% of politicians’ time in office is spent grubbing for dollars for the next election. Further, small contributions won’t get the job done, so they have to suck up to the big bucks donors. And that leaves them beholden to those big funders.

SuperPACs are funded by already crazy wealthy people and corporations. They spend their money primarily on negative television advertising and, generally speaking, it is pretty effective. The result is that our democracy is held hostage to the big funders of political campaigns and SuperPACs.

The only way to change that and reclaim democracy – rule by [all] the people – is to enact a 28th Amendment to the Constitution that will do two things: first, allow for the regulation of money in our politics; second, make it clear that corporations are not people, nor should they necessarily have all of the rights of people and that the rights of corporations may be outlined and limited by government. The only way that amendment will get passed is for us to elect legislators who will make that happen.

Senator Tom Udall (D – NM) has proposed such an amendment and expects that there will be a vote in the Senate. Of course, we don’t know whether it will pass with the necessary 2/3 majority – it might – but prospects for it to even be put up for a vote in the House seem dim, considering the obstacle mentality of House leadership. Clearly, it will require a bunch of reformer types to be in Congress to get this done. That is where Lawrence Lessig comes in.

Lessig is one of the clearest thinkers about the issue of big money stealing our democracy and I recommend any of his YouTube (here’s one) or TED (here’s one) videos. Now, though, he has identified that to make change it is necessary to play the political game and get a little dirty, to wallow in some of the same mud we want to eliminate in order to effect reform. O’, the irony of that!

To that end – to get big money out of our politics – he is organizing a SuperPAC to help to elect reformer types who will get that amendment to happen. Take a look at his video about this and watch all 5 minutes – see what you think of what he is doing.

I strongly recommend giving your full consideration to the dreadful state of our democracy – which is just this side of a full oligarchy (rule by the wealthy few) – and then take appropriate action. Just thinking about this issue isn’t enough. We – you and I – must take action.

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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.

Elephants

Reading time: 64 seconds  .  .  .

A guy is walking down the sidewalk when he spots his friend Ralph standing at the corner. He notices that Ralph is snapping his fingers.

“Hey, Ralph,” he says.  “What’s with the finger snapping?”

“I’m keeping the elephants away.”

“Ralph,” the guy says, “there aren’t any elephants around here.”

Ralph looks at him and calmly says, “See? It’s working.”

That, of course, was a knee-slapper back in 4th grade, but the behavior lives on, just as though there is always a direct cause and effect as well as good sense to our actions. But it ain’t necessarily so.

The Tea Party types think that threatening national default on America’s debt will reduce government spending.  There is absolutely no connectivity between the two, but they continue to snap their fingers for that.

President Reagan sold the nation “supply-side,” aka “trickle-down” economics. The idea was that enriching already rich people and corporations would create a “trickle-down” of wealth to all other Americans. That trickle has never even been a drip and that experiment in what President George H.W. Bush called “voodoo economics” has failed miserably. Nevertheless, there are self-labeled conservatives who continue to snap their fingers for that ongoing catastrophe as though it is good for everyone. Side note: There is nothing conservative either in that policy or in that behavior.

We have people telling us that Benghazi is a scandal and that the IRS doing its job of ensuring that not-for-profits play by the rules is a scandal. They tell us that killing the Jobs Bill was best for producing jobs. They say that additional sanctions are needed against Iran, even though the Iranians at last are playing by interim rules designed to lead to a non-nuclear Iran and additional sanctions would violate the agreement that led to the present negotiations. Finger snappers all.

Snap away, you guys living in Fantasy Land, where cause and effect are magically found in your vaporous thinking. Just get that there won’t be any elephants, regardless of what you do with your fingers.

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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.

Meals and Deals

You’re sitting at a window table of a delightful restaurant with a companion who is both interesting and interested and the conversation is engaging.  Your waiter brings your food and drink at just the right times and everything is delicious and so satisfying that you don’t even notice your growing sense of contentment.  Your belly is full and all is right in your world.

You glance to your right through the window and notice a man looking into the restaurant.  His clothes are in poor condition, he has a plastic bag slung over his shoulder and his back is hunched as he peers through the glass.  He looks hungry, but that is something that is difficult for you to understand, because you are anything but hungry.  Indeed, empathy – feeling what another person feels – is very difficult when you are feeling the opposite and it’s almost impossible to imagine a homeless person’s feeling of hunger in that moment when you have just completed your meal.

So it is for the 1%-ers and their political pawns.  Their lives are working quite well, they are more than content and, hard as some might try, there is not even a remote chance that they can feel what the members of a family feel as Mom and Dad lose their jobs, one because of a plant closure and the other to a layoff because business is depressed.  It’s impossible for the 1%-ers and their political pawns to have even a remote understanding of the powerful feelings of the members of that family as they lose their house to foreclosure.

And when Mom and Dad join the local Occupy march, it is so easy for the 1%-ers and their political pawns to dismiss them as rabble, as lazy people and to blame them for their circumstances.  According to Herman Cain, if Mom and Dad aren’t employed or rich it’s their own fault.

But here’s the thing: Mom and Dad played by the rules.  They stayed in school and got an education.  They got jobs and worked hard, paid their taxes, coached their kids’ soccer teams and went to their holiday pageants.  They followed the American playbook, page by page, doing the right things and doing things right.  And now they have lost everything and are wondering what happened to the dream they were promised.

The answer, of course, is that it was stolen from them by the big money interests who purchased their way into power and influence and who then rigged the game.  They changed the playbook and didn’t tell anyone that they were gambling with the welfare of the entire world.  They didn’t care about consequences because they would get their payday whether their bets paid off or lost, since all the rest of us would bail them out of their failed bets.  They were confident of that bailout because they had a gun to the head of every one of us.

So much has crashed and burned and so many millions of people are suffering that it is a wonder that their cries aren’t heard.  Yet what is happening instead is as predictable as the tides.  Those 1%-ers and their political pawns aren’t even able to hear the cries of hunger of the millions because the rich have always just finished that metaphorical meal.  Furthermore, they don’t want their world challenged or changed because it works so well for them, so they have their local muscle brutalize demonstrators, as though tear gas, nightsticks and rubber bullets might somehow make the challenge to the rich go away.

But they won’t.  Swatting at symptoms never makes the root cause disappear.

The root cause is an unanswered human need for fairness.  Until the game gets un-rigged and the promises kept there will be people in the streets and nearly everywhere else with the simmering anger of having played by the rules and in return gotten screwed.

There are consequences to treating people that way.  1%-ers and political pawns beware: You may not like what’s coming.  Just know that you set it up to happen this way, whether you’re simply unable or, worse, callously unwilling to understand the hunger of the people.

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

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