suffering

Things Could Be Worse

Reading time – 2:13; Viewing time – 4:15  .  .  .

In a most accessible article in the November 10, 2014 Christian Science Monitor, author Henry Gass reviewed a fresh examination of wealth inequality, comparing 1929 America to today. Here are selections of Gass’ writing:

In the late 1920s, the top 10 percent of Americans possessed 84 percent of the country’s wealth. Since then, wealth inequality in America has followed a U-shaped trajectory, declining through the Great Depression until the mid-1980s, then steadily increasing since then.

Professors Saez and Zucman found that the richest 0.1 percent of Americans [today] have as much of the country’s wealth as the poorest 90 percent. Both groups control roughly 22 percent of total wealth .  .  .

While the bottom 90 percent of Americans and the top 0.1 percent control about 22 percent of the country’s wealth each, the top 0.01 percent of Americans now control 11.2 percent of total wealth. That share of the wealth held by the country’s richest 0.01 percent .  .  .  is the largest share they’ve had since 1916, the highest on record, according to the study.

Wait a second: the study’s authors said that, ”  .  .  .  wealth inequality in America has followed a U-shaped trajectory, declining through the Great Depression until the mid-1980s, then steadily increasing since then.” What do you suppose happened in the 1980s to cause that shift? Could it be trickle-down economics that really only trickles up? Could it also have something to do with blind faith in unregulated free markets, with Adam Smith’s invisible hand blessing only the already wealthy?

Perhaps it’s pleasant to have so much power that one can influence laws and regulations in order to continually expand one’s power and wealth. On the other hand, this is exactly why the Founders abhorred monopoly (it had been forced on them by the Crown) and it is why we passed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890. “Trust” was what monopolies were called then, and the last time that law was invoked was in 2000 in a case involving Microsoft and its bundling of apps that unfairly restricted competition (Read: put other companies out of business, kept prices unnaturally high and Americans lost jobs). The time it was invoked before that was before Reagan was elected. He refused to use the Act and that hands-off approach and absolute faith in “the market” has led to the enormous roll up of companies in industry after industry, with the result that competition is severely limited and, prices escalate and wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of a very few Americans.

For example, we used to have seven major air carriers in the U.S. Due to mergers, we now have only three. American Airlines just completed the purchase of US Air, claiming that doing so would have no adverse effect on competition. But it is reported that they will be devaluing their Frequent Flyer program in the second half of 2016. And, in a January 29, 2016 conference call, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker explained how American will be increasing revenues by charging more for things like room for your knees and things that they haven’t charged for before. That is to say, now that they own a former competitor, prices are going up.

That’s just one small example of how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in today’s rigged economy.

Given enough economic jabs, people will become angry, and that Chinese water torture of wealth inequality expansion could lead to something ugly. It certainly has given us a crazy election season, the essence of which was captured by one South Carolina supporter of Donald Trump, who explained, “We’re voting with our middle fingers.”

Things could be worse. Unfortunately, we keep proving that to be true.

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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.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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

How To Stop Talking Past One Another

I hear you but I'm not listening t-shirtReading time – 3.1 minutes; viewing time – 4:58  .  .  .

Gotta wonder how righties and lefties can stop talking past one another and join in order to start solving some of our vexing challenges. Here’s a key piece of what has to happen if we are to progress. First, some context.

The pundits have consistently been either wrong or clueless about the reasons for Donald Trump’s success at conniving support. Actually, he and all the Republican candidates (with the possible exception of Rand Paul) get righty support for some solid and important reasons.

There are millions of Americans who feel disrespected and forgotten by their government and their country and they are largely correct. For example, we are decades into supply side economics that has abandoned them and stolen their American dream. They have had catastrophic lies shoved down their throats and nobody in power is listening to them. The Republican presidential candidates play up to their anger, telling them they are right and mouthing various forms of “screw you” at government, which is pretty much what all those people want to say to our government. These folks are supremely angry and, like most people who have been wronged, they want to hit back. Here’s a metaphor for that.

Think for a moment of the people you know who have gone through a messy, painful divorce. They lash out irrationally and meanly at the same person they posed with in loving wedding photos just a few years earlier. They run up horrendous expenses and drain the savings just so that it hurts the other, even as their actions hurt themselves. They feel wronged and want to “hit back,” regardless of the price they themselves must pay. Think: people voting against their own interests.

The far right has spent decades demonizing government. Reagan campaigned and won telling us that government is the problem. That Big Lie lives on and now millions more Americans hate their own government and want to cripple it, so they vote for candidates who shut down the government, which curtails services righties themselves want. The Republicans go googly-eyed over national debt and screech their demands for lower taxes and small government (“small enough to drown it in the bathtub”). Then they enlarge government and either raise taxes, increase debt or both. Government isn’t the problem; lying, disingenuous, self-serving politicians are, and righties are way past being fed up with them. Think: hate for insiders and support for outsiders.

These emotionally charged righty voters do not and will not respond to logical arguments because they are consumed by fight-or-flight messages overwhelming their brains. That’s what causes Trump rally attendees to assault protesters, chant “Seig heil!” and wave Confederate banners. Forget about appealing to these folks with talk of compassion. They have to be approached with a message they can hear, so the first step is to find a way for us to hear one another.

We humans make decisions emotionally and justify them rationally. (Read Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence for  more on that.) That’s critical to know, because those angry righties are incensed and, like everyone in such a state, reasoning doesn’t exist for them. It’s not that they don’t want to hear or that they are tone deaf. It’s that they cannot hear.

Perhaps righties can hear that they are being lied to by righty politicians, being sold out yet again. Maybe they can hear that their kids are the ones who are going to die in the desert when the next Republican president decides to invade yet another middle-east country. Tell them that will happen while the politicians’ kids are partying, playing X-Box games of world domination and ignoring those poor and middle class kids bleeding in the sand. That inherent lack of fairness is a powerful message that angry people can hear.

It’s possible righties will respond to hearing that if the Republican politicians have their way and revert healthcare to the way things were, that when these righties get cancer nobody will care. They’ll get minimal help and they will die in pain and way too young. But the pharmaceutical and insurance companies will have made billions off their suffering because the politicians have set it up to work that way.

They’ll really hate it when they learn that Republicans are trashing our education system through funding cuts, so now their kids won’t get an education that helps them to succeed in a vastly changed world. Their kids will live in the Chinese century, because there will no longer be exceptionalism in America. That’s a gut-wrencher for righties.

They, like every human being, make decisions emotionally and justify them rationally, so we have to speak to their gut, first, last and always if we are ever to stop talking past one another.

Just be clear that, because we’re human, you and I function with the same limitations. And we all need to adjust and connect if we are to stop the insanity and begin to fix our problems.

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

Issues Separation Anxiety Disorder

Issues Separation Anxiety Disorder - a Republican affliction

Issues Separation Anxiety Disorder – a Republican affliction

Reading time – 77 seconds  .  .  .

I heard a comedian explaining that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who laugh and those who make people laugh. Hard to argue with that.

And it turns out that there are always two kinds of people in the world. For cabbies it’s people who drive and people who need a ride. For children it’s kids who are fun to play with and kids who aren’t.

My view, too, is that there are two kinds of people in the world: people who divide people into two groups and those who don’t. And that is the most important difference we’re being shown by the presidential candidates.

The Republicans – every one of them – are dividing us into two kinds of people:

  • – We good Americans and immigrants who are taking our jobs.
  • – The makers and the takers.
  • – The straights and the gays.
  • – Those who know that military solutions are best and the weak-knee wimps.
  • – We good Americans and the terrible government.
  • – The gun-toters and those who would take their guns from them.
  • – The Christians and all those who are wrong.
  • – Good Americans and the “lame stream media.”
  • – The cops and the Black Lives Matter people who incite the murdering of cops.

In all these cases Republicans tell us that the cause of the problems of the first group is all those in the second group. No need here for personal responsibility or even good sense. As Church Lady would say, “How convenient.”

At the last Republican debate, divisions like these and attacks on those in the “other” group are all we heard. Okay, that’s not entirely true. We also heard about taxation plans based on math with rounding errors in the negative trillions of dollars, but which would put trickle-down economics on steroids, thus accelerating the transfer of all money in this country to 158 families.

In contrast, at the Democratic debates we heard about bringing us together:

  • – Healthcare for all Americans as a right.
  • – Economy-stimulating infrastructure rebuilding that will create millions of good paying jobs.
  • – Ending income inequality so that everyone benefits from a growing economy.
  • – Ending our corrupt election finance system and driving special interests out of control of government.
  • – Common sense gun safety laws so that we begin to end our self-inflicted, ongoing massacre of innocents.
  • – A shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy so that we don’t all die on an uninhabitable planet.

This list could be much longer, but you get the idea. It’s about all of us, not a dividing of us.

Again, and with a few extra words this time, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who try to manipulate us with fear and hate in order to divide us from one another; and those who don’t.

The key is this: Fearful, angry people are motivated, so they vote. They may vote in self-destructive ways, but they show up on election day and vote. People who aren’t fearful and angry aren’t as motivated, so they don’t bother to vote. That distinction is exactly what led to a Tea Party wacko getting elected governor of Kentucky last week.

The Republicans are affected with Issues Separation Anxiety Disorder (dividing us over mostly bogus issues) which they spread to unaware Americans via media contact. The acronym is ISAD, and I assure you that I am sad over this debasement of America.

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who vote and get what they think they want; and those who don’t vote and are willing victims of the manipulators who divide 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.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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

What Should We Do?

Reading time – 121 upsetting seconds  .  .  .

WARNING: People are being murdered, but you might not care. Have a look at this and you’ll understand. Then come back here for an eye-opener.

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I’m a curious guy, so when a horrific event unfolds, one of my first reactions is to wonder what’s behind the event, pushing it to its terrible end. It’s the “Why?” question we all ask when yet another killer snuffs out the lives of innocent people. It turns out that some smart people with the resources for research have looked into this question extensively and it’s pretty easy to get information.

For example, in a summary article on sott.net they report,

Nearly every mass shooting incident in the last twenty years, and multiple other instances of suicide and isolated shootings all share one thing in common, and it’s not the weapons used.

The overwhelming evidence suggests the single largest common factor in all of these incidents is that all of the perpetrators were either actively taking powerful psychotropic drugs or had been at some point in the immediate past before they committed their crimes. [emphasis added]

Most shooters are male, in their teens to early 20s and they are on drugs – prescription drugs, legally prescribed and obtained. Some side effects of these SSRI drugs (Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors ), like Zoloft, Ritalin and Prozac, are suicidal tendencies and violence.

We are a drug-taking society and we carry the expectation that a pill will solve our problems. This from AntidepressantAdverseReactions.com,

In addition to depression, SSRIs are marketed for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (“OCD”), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”), Social Anxiety Disorder (“SAD”) and Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (“PMDD”) and Panic Disorder.

See? Just take a pill and all those nasty symptoms go away.

And we’re taking ever more of these drugs. In a 2014 Scientific American article, they wrote,

Antidepressant use among Americans is skyrocketing. Adults in the U.S. consumed four times more antidepressants in the late 2000s than they did in the early 1990s. As the third most frequently taken medication in the U.S., researchers estimate that 8 to 10 percent of the population is taking an antidepressant.

We throw pharmaceuticals at ourselves willingly – we like quick fixes – and sometimes we do so inappropriately. Just do a search on “SSRI overprescription” and read any article (here’s one from Psychology Today and here’s one from the American Psychological Association) and you’ll see that’s true. But the story is worse than that.

The pharmaceutical companies actively, enthusiastically and artfully tell the happy tale of how their products make life better. They are far less prone to put out front the downsides, the side effects. In fact, they go out of their way to soft-peddle and sometimes suppress them. (Same deal: just do a search on “suppression of SSRI side effects” and read any article – here’s one.) The pharmaceutical companies make a profit of over $6,000,000,000 per year on SSRIs; little wonder they don’t want to tell us the risks of violence from giving acting-out little Johnny some pills.

But then Johnny grabs the legally purchased guns from dad’s house and goes to the movie theater or the local school and kills a bunch of people, then himself. And we’re all shocked and surprised.

In a 2013 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice, they found what you’ve felt all along, that things are getting worse, that there are more and more mass shootings. Here’s a chart of 160 active shooting incidents by year where 3 or more people (not counting the shooter) were killed:

Blair, J. Pete, and Schweit, Katherine W. (2014). A Study of Active Shooter Incidents, 2000 - 2013. Texas State University and Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington D.C. 2014

Blair, J. Pete, and Schweit, Katherine W. (2014). A Study of
Active Shooter Incidents, 2000 – 2013. Texas State University and Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of
Justice, Washington D.C. 2014

As you can see, you were right: there really are more and more mass shootings.

To be sure, some people have a medical need for pharmaceuticals. But perhaps we’ve taken the lazy way, throwing pills at symptoms instead of dealing with root causes, and in the process, and likely unknowingly, invited increasing horrors upon ourselves.

Surely, gun safety has to consider the mental stability and competence of those who want guns. At the same time, we don’t have to invite greater mental instability by so often feeding our kids and young adults the very drugs that make them suicidal and violent. Maybe a pill isn’t always the answer. Maybe we should be directly dealing with mental health issues. Good idea, right?

There’s a problem with that: we’ve dramatically reduced the resources we deploy to deal with mental health. From a 2013 Forbes magazine article,

From 2009 to 2011, states cut mental health budgets by a combined $4 billion- the largest single combined reduction to mental health spending since de-institutionalization in the 1970s.

Ronald Reagan championed the curtailing of the “welfare state” and he cut funding for a slew of social programs, among them resources for treating mental illness. From Sociology.org,sidebar

.  .  .  Ronald Reagan pursued a policy toward the treatment of mental illness that satisfied special interest groups and the demands of the business community, but failed to address the issue: the treatment of mental illness.

What are the special interests and business community that were satisfied by Reagan’s policy? The pharmaceutical industry at every level. For those folks, doing anything that drives the sale of more meds is good for business. The real needs of people with mental illness just isn’t their problem.

So, now that we have an undisputed, ever-increasing series of mass shootings, as well a clarity about what’s causing so many of them, what do you think we should do: give more pills with potentially lethal side effects in order to mask symptoms; or treat the real mental health issues of our people? Consider your answer to that question in the context of sending your kids off to school and wondering if their going to class will be a life-threatening act.

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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.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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

Vice

Reading time – 67 seconds  .  .  .

Happy Columbus Day, as we celebrate some guy who found an island over 500 years ago and we have no clue about the reason we remember and celebrate, a reason which has been lost for over 100 years. It’s just another day off work for some. So, the message today is, “Who cares?” Read on.

The vices of the rich and great are mistaken for errors,
and those of the poor and lowly for crimes.
– Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington)*

And so we jail young black men for possession of a small amount of marijuana, but we allow government torturers to go unindicted.

Banking swindlers foreclosed fraudulently on the home mortgages of millions of Americans, forcing them onto the street and nobody went to jail for fraud or conspiracy. At the same time our legislators cut funds for food stamps that took food from the mouths of millions of kids, as those legislators congratulated themselves on their fiscal prudence. None was held to account for the empty stomachs of poor kids.

Goldman Sachs aggressively and fraudulently sold collateralized debt obligations (“CDOs”) to its clients, while at the same time dumping their own holdings because they knew those CDOs were worthless. No one went to jail for their SEC violations, fraud or conspiracy. They just got a slap on the wrist. Gotta wonder if the absence of Goldman asses in federal prison has something to do with the revolving door between Goldman and the FED.

Adding the $600 billion given to the Pentagon annually to the hundreds of billions thrown at the NSA and the rest, our annual defense spending is about $1.5 trillion, which supports our state of perpetual war, often on the wrong side of other peoples’ conflicts. That’s very profitable for the war matériel manufacturers, for so-called contractors (read: mercenaries) and others. It’s homicidal for people underneath our drone-launched rockets. Clearly, the profiteers care more about their profits than the lives of those they kill, yet no one is held to account.

Our leaders lied us into wars (think: Viet Nam and Iraq), nothing good came of it for the people of those countries or for the US, monstrous bad things happened and none of our leaders has been held accountable for the lying that resulted in millions slaughtered. Then a guy in New York got busted for selling cigarettes illegally, cops strangled him to death and no one called paramedics or attempted to resuscitate him. They just got put on administrative leave for a while. Makes me wonder: Black lives matter, but to whom?

We keep our privately run prisons full of people guilty of not much (sometimes guilty of nothing at all) because it’s profitable for our prison industry and helpful to “tough on crime” politicians. At the same time, the rich and powerful torturers, defrauders and even murderers go free.

Sadly, accountability is applied in inverse proportion to wealth and power.

So, many of the rich and powerful get away with their vice, largely because the laws are made by the rich and powerful; the rest of us are subject to the law. It’s that way in most places, so in this respect, America isn’t exceptional.

But we could be.

So, who cares? If we don’t care enough, things are certain to get worse.

*Thanks to MG for the quote.

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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.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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

Just So You Know All of What It Means

Reading time – 96 seconds  .  .  .

You know about mass shootings, of course, but a review is useful, so have a look at the partial list below.

DATE                    LOCATION                 PEOPLE KILLED             PEOPLE INJURED

Oct 1, 2015        Roseburg, OR                         10                                    10

Jun 18, 2015      Charlston, SC                           9                                      0

May 23, 2015     UC Santa Barbara                    7                                      7

Apr 2, 2015         Ft. Hood, TX                            3                                     16

Sep 16, 2013      Washington Naval Yard          13                                      3

Jun 7, 2013         Santa Monica College             5                                       0

Dec 14, 2012       Sandy Hook Elem. School     27                                      1

Oct  21, 2012       Brookfield, WI                          3                                      4

Sep 28, 2012        Minneapolis, MN                     6                                      2

Aug 5, 2012          Oak Creek, WI                         6                                      3

Jul 20, 2012          Aurora, CO                             12                                    58

Jan 8, 2011           Tucson, AZ                               6                                    11

There have been many more mass shootings, of course, including Virginia Tech, Texas Tech, Columbine, as well as the every day, garden variety homicide-by-firearm – about 30 per day. The list is endless and we can proudly proclaim that we lead the world in mass shootings, with 90 of them between 1966 and 2012. That doesn’t count murders like the on-air assassination of Allison Parker and Adam Ward in Virginia this year – just the high body count shootings.

There have been over 406,000 deaths by gun violence in America since 2001. Compare that to 3,380 American deaths by terrorism in the same period and you may want to reconsider how you react to fear mongering over terrorists and focus instead on a far more likely threat to your well being.

Requiring universal background checks would not end gun massacres this year or next year or the year after that. It would, though, start the process of keeping firearms out of the hands of mentally unstable people and those convicted of violent crimes, of whom it can reasonably be said that they are violent by nature and should not have easy access to tools of murder. Clearly, requiring universal background checks is part of the solution and it is an easy one to implement, too. But consider the perverse truth about the resistance to sensible gun safety laws:

  1. The National Rifle Association (NRA) exists primarily to promote the sale of firearms in order to protect the revenue and profit of the corporations that make up the firearms industry. Because universal background checks would put 66% more gun sales under scrutiny, it would likely put a damper on gun sales. Firearms manufacturers don’t want that to happen, so they send their lobbying arm – the NRA – to oppose background checks. And this is where it gets nasty, because that means that gun manufacturers value their profits more than they value the lives of the nine students who were just killed at Umpqua Community College.
  2. Politicians want to keep their jobs. Doing that requires lots of campaign cash and the NRA is a big campaign donor. The contributions the NRA makes to politicians makes those politicians beholden to the NRA. Indeed, if they don’t do the bidding of the NRA, the NRA will see that they get primaried by someone who will do the NRA’s bidding. And this is where it gets nasty again, because what that means is that many politicians care more about their careers that they do about the 19 little kids and 7 teachers who were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
  3. There are ardent Second Amendment supporters who believe in what they see as the principles of that amendment. They loudly proclaim that we have to have guns in order to protect us from tyrannical government. This is where it gets nasty yet again, because what that means is that those ardent Second Amendment types are implicitly saying that regular massacres like those listed above and all the rest of our gun violence, including what can happen to you the next time you go to a movie theater, is simply the price we must pay for liberty. They think you volunteered to wear a bulls eye.

Offered just so you know all of what it means.

In other news: As of this writing both North and South Carolina are experiencing torrential downpours, with some areas receiving well over a foot of rain. It is catastrophic in its effect and meteorologists have described this as a once in 500 years event. Drenched and drowning in all that rain and flooding, residents of the Carolinas can at least celebrate the good news there is no such thing as global warming.

Finally, it’s always a real mind-blower when anyone from far right Wackoville forsakes its propaganda, abandons the hyperbole that contains no more than 0.5% fact and instead tells the truth. I’m wondering if doing just that might disqualify Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) from becoming the next Speaker of the House. Recall that you were warned that, “You can’t handle the truth,” (from A Few Good Men).

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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.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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

It’s Obvious

Reading time – 76 seconds  .  .  .

Long time reader DL offered in a private email that he sees me as an iconoclast and that I help people to realize the obvious. That’s a compliment, right?

iconoclast –  a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions. – Apple Dictionary, v2.2

I’m not confident that I attack cherished institutions, as I’m not sure that any institutions are cherished any longer. Okay, perhaps that last sentence did attack cherished institutions.

On the other hand, and as you already know, I commonly attack cherished beliefs, like the notion that there is anything of benefit to trickle-down economics, except to further stuff the pockets of the already wealthy. That cherished belief and many other common wisdom, common knowledge notions deserve to be skewered. We need for them to be sliced and diced and dumped into a landfill for ultimate decomposition so that they cannot be brought back and used to harm those in the future who will be sadly unaware of the destructive power of these harmful cherished beliefs.

And there are other cherished beliefs that I stab, like all religious extremist beliefs. People who hold these cherished beliefs are guilty of the murder of hundreds of millions of people and, oddly, people of most major religions are guilty of these atrocities. There is no more effective and motivated killer than one whose cherished belief is that God wants him to kill all who don’t see things in the killer’s delusional way. There are plenty of people who screech the message to kill, literally or politically, doing it from the pulpit and the airwaves and the halls of government.

Another favorite is the cherished and arrogant belief that, “I got it right, so if you disagree, you’re wrong. Maybe bad, too.” For clarity about the ultimate outcome of such thinking, refer to the paragraph above.

Consider the politics of destruction. And the rejection of science and learning. And the refusal to solve problems and instead to allow people to suffer and to die in favor of self-centered jockeying for political advantage.

And allowing big money interests to poison and subvert our democracy. We’ve gone through many iterations of learning this lesson, then forgetting and then re-learning it, then forgetting the lesson yet again. We don’t seem to be able to keep in mind how very harmful it is and to take steps to permanently slay this ruinous beast. There is more.

Like the much-too-human and completely predictable “it’s all about me” attitude of politicians and the certainty of the corruption of politicians by big money.

And the craziness of self-destruction through citizen laziness, sub-consciously assuming that someone else will handle things to our liking. Or that they won’t, but that we’re powerless, so there’s no use in taking action. Or that just being disinterested in broader issues and instead being focused solely on our over-filled lives somehow makes sense.

These cherished beliefs are the things I write about and they are real and they are harmful to us all, but you already realize that, because it’s obvious.

Thanks, DL, for your comments. To you and to all readers, put your thoughts in the “What Do You Think?” section below both today and in response to future posts (freebie subscribe on the right side of this column) in order to help all of us be better informed and to gain a clearer perspective on reality.

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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.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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

The Question

Pope Francis arriving in US - CBS News

Pope Francis arriving in US – CBS News photo

Reading time – 72 seconds  .  .  .

Pope Francis is visiting the United States this week and there is a question that begs an answer. Here are the facts.

  • By the time his visit is complete he will have been received at the White House and will have visited the homeless.
  • He will have addressed both a joint session of Congress and the United Nations.
  • He will have said mass multiple times for well over a million people, doing so both in English and in Spanish and he will have visited the birthplace of American democracy in Philadelphia.
  • He will have been serenaded by both Andrea Bocelli and Aretha Franklin and he will have visited prisoners in the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.
  • He will have gone on parade through Washington DC and Central Park in New York and hundreds of thousands of Americans will have seen him.

Not all the people who show up to see the pope will be Catholic. They are not all there to pay homage to their religious leader, yet they come by the hundreds of thousands. They inconvenience themselves, standing and waiting for hours, often in profound discomfort – some overnight – just to catch a glimpse of him.

The question is: Why do people do that?

The answer: hope.

You don’t have to be a Catholic to want a piece of what this pope represents. You just have to have a hunger for something that you can’t seem to find, something that gnaws at you and creates a hollow spot within that is frustrated for something substantial.

We’ve come to a time in America and in much of the rest of the world when our challenges seem overwhelming, when cooperation has been displaced by crude hostility. Neither our politicians nor those in Great Britain, Israel, Greece and many other countries seem to be able to carry on a civil conversation, much less solve problems.

We are far more than weary of the selfish, greedy posturing of politicians, lobbyists, and of slick marketing lies. We are far more than weary of self-destructive denials of reality and the rejection of learning. We are far more than weary of being marginalized and of seeing the hopes for our children crushed under the heel of brutes. Little wonder we feel nearly hopeless.

Pope Francis arrived in America with a message. It isn’t one of proselytizing or bible-thumping and, in fact, other than the masses he will say, his message isn’t particularly religious.

Even without saying a word his message is one of hope. It is a message we hunger to hear. It is a message we want our leaders to hear and act upon.

We need hope for a better tomorrow. It is the only way forward and every one of us knows that in our bones.

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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.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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

Congressional Monkeys

Rhesus monkey

Rhesus Macaque

Reading time – 1 minute, 19 seconds  .  .  .

My brother recently sent along a story (thanks, JHA) that is an adaptation of the findings of a 1967 ground-breaking experiment with rhesus monkeys performed by Gordon R. Stephenson. It is presented here for your review. See if you can read this without nodding your head in fundamental agreement at the end.

Start the experiment with a tall cage containing four monkeys. Hang a banana on a string dangling from the top of the cage, out of the reach of the monkeys. Then place a set of stairs under the banana. Before long a monkey will go to the stairs and climb toward the banana. As it does so, spray all the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey will make an attempt to reach the banana. When the second monkey starts up the stairs, spray all the monkeys with cold water. The next time a monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will assault and stop it. There is no further need for cold water.

Next, remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new monkey. The new monkey, having no experience with the cold water spray, will see the banana and attempt to climb the stairs to reach it. Immediately, all of the other monkeys will attack him to keep him off the stairs in order to avoid another spray of cold water. After another attempt and attack, he will know that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted and he will not try again.

Next, remove another of the original four monkeys, replacing it with a new monkey.  The newcomer will head for the banana and will then be attacked by the other monkeys. Note that the previous newcomer will take part in the punishment and do so with enthusiasm.

Then, replace a third original monkey with another new monkey, followed by a fourth.  Each time the newest monkey takes to the stairs in an attempt to get the banana he will attacked by all the other monkeys and will not try to reach the banana again.

Having replaced all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, none of the monkeys will try to climb the stairs for the banana, because in their experience, being attacked while trying to get a banana is the culture of the group. It’s the way it has always been.

And that is how today’s House and Senate operate, with no members having a memory of a time when hard negotiations led to compromise for the betterment of the country. Instead, we see near-universal demand that, “It’s all about me and my getting my way and I’ll attack you if you disagree with me because I’d rather get nothing done than to compromise.” (Look for a Disambiguation on this topic soon.)

And that is why, from time to time, we need to replace all of the monkeys at the same time.

Note: This narrative is meant as no disrespect to rhesus monkeys.

Here is a link to the publication of the original work by Stephenson.

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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.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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

Spirit

Reading time – 47 seconds  .  .  .

Religion is all about rules laid down by people who lived a long time ago, rules commonly called dogma. Those people said (or somebody else said) that the words of their dogma were given to them by God or inspired by God. It is an act of faith to believe what cannot be proven, like the holiness of those written words. Billions of people make that leap of faith willingly. That is their religion.

Spirituality is different. It has no rules. There is no dogma and it requires no faith. It is simply about how we live our lives and the energy and passion we put into the world. Whether we’re living in the tiny cracks of life or on the mountain tops, we are all spiritual. The only question is whether we recognize it and the effect of our spirit on ourselves and on others.

And that is what has me troubled these days, as we see that about 30% of people who self-identify as Republicans say that they support Donald Trump. He lashes out in mean spirited ways and declares his judgment of doom on those he doesn’t like. He has simplistic and misleading answers for any question and everything is metaphorically punctuated with a middle finger. The more he does his crazy, angry dance, the more Republicans seem to like him. Compounding that are the other candidates who carpet bomb the country with their negativity, their mean attacks and their outright lies. Each of them has followers, too.

What is that saying about the spirit of all these followers? Not their religion. I’m talking about the spirit in them. It’s looking pretty mean and angry, judgmental and vindictive.

Spirit is about how we live our lives. We demonstrate our spirit in that way and it appears that a lot of Americans are living in very dark ways. That’s an evil spirit that affects all of 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.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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

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