suffering

We’ve Forgotten

brainReading time – 39 seconds  .  .  .

Before the New Deal millions of Americans spent their later years, when they were no longer able to earn a wage, in abject poverty. That’s a key reason Social Security was created. We seem to have forgotten about all that suffering of our elderly.

Before Medicare millions of Americans spent years in health crisis, which often led to bankruptcy. It frequently led to having to choose between getting critical medical care and eating. We seem to have forgotten about that suffering, too.

Before the GI Bill only a small percentage of Americans went to college. That bill and the education it spawned were major contributors to the phenomenal economic growth of our nation and the personal wealth expansion that followed World War II. It lifted millions of Americans out of poverty and into middle class security. At the same time that was happening we were expanding our state colleges and universities in order to provide low cost education. That, too, made it possible for Americans to be prepared for our rapid economic expansion and to join the ranks of our middle class. But we seem to have forgotten about how those investments in education helped everyone.

Before we had food stamps millions of Americans were hungry all the time and children went to bed at night with empty stomachs. That program alleviated the suffering of our poor to a great extent, but it appears that we’ve forgotten how bad it was for them.

Actually, we’ve forgotten how bad it was for us, because the ancestors of most Americans suffered like that.

And that’s the point. We have a national amnesia about how bad some people had it before we as a nation decided that there was something we could do about it and we’ve forgotten that those people who suffered were our own families. Now many of us are comfortable, removed by multiple generations from our families’ suffering and our comfort has caused us to lose sight and to lose compassion.

If loss of compassion for others who suffer is somehow okay, we at least should recognize that pulling the plug on programs that help our own people is the same as pulling the plug on America.

But we seem to have forgotten where we came from.

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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 subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

Every Life is Precious

Reading time – 71 seconds  .  .  .

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal  .  .  .” My life is precious and if we’re all created equal, then all lives are precious. It’s a simple syllogism and we all believe it. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Really?The Nation Tweet

The city of New York officially observed several minutes of silence starting at 2:07PM on December 23, 2014 for Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, cops assassinated in Brooklyn, NY by a mentally ill man with a gun. They also dimmed the lights of Christmas trees in New York for five minutes starting at 9:00PM that night, this, too, in honor of those slain officers. Oddly, the city did not similarly honor Eric Garner, who was choked to death by a gang of New York City cops and whom the New York City paramedics didn’t so much as touch, much less try to resuscitate. Perhaps we have a sliding scale of preciousness.

Back in the days when Chevy Chase did the Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live!, one bit went roughly like this:

“This just in: A Japan Airlines 747 crashed on takeoff from Tokyo International Airport, killing all 379 passengers and crew. But it’s okay, because there were no Americans on board.”

It’s always a relief when it isn’t us, as when we find that the fire trucks are parked at someone else’s house or that the tsunami struck half-way around the world. While we care about the suffering of the relatives of the 747 crash victims and the people living where the fire trucks are parked and the survivors of the tsunami, the farther away from us geographically and relationally, the less invested we human critters tend to be – the less precious those lives seem to be to us. That’s why those television commercials imploring us to donate money to help malnourished, pathology stricken children are so graphic and have that wailing music playing in the background. It’s what it takes to get through to us.

So, to be accurate, we don’t care to the same extent about every life until we can at least relate in a personal way or imagine ourselves in similar circumstances. For any of us to be moved to action we have to feel it – the preciousness of life – maybe our own – and that presents us with a challenge that we must overcome if America is to solve its problems.

So many young people today are disinterested in current affairs and tune in only to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for their news, and then really only for the humor. A tiny fraction of them vote, even as many of our elected officials act for self-aggrandizement instead of for the benefit of those same disinterested young people. Their preciousness seems to be less important to elected officials than it should be and that puts our next generation at risk.

We’re not going to change human nature, so young people today who are disinterested in current affairs are going to stay that way unless something precious to them is at risk, like themselves. Likely it’s opaque to them how today’s affairs dramatically and sometimes diabolically limit their future lives. But they will run this place in just a few short years, so it falls to us to figure out how to get through to them so that they feel it enough to take action.

We must do that because every life is precious, including the lives of people who will inherit what we leave to them and who don’t yet feel the peril that’s right around the corner.

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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 subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

Backlash Quiz

Reading time – 127 seconds  .  .  .

Mohammed Mosaddegh was the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. In 1953 he was deposed in a coup d’état orchestrated by British MI6 and the American CIA, along with foreign oil firms. They established Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi as the absolute ruler of Iran. That was a handy thing for the Brits and the Americans, as it ensured an uninterrupted supply of cheap Iranian oil. On the other hand, the Iranian people did not like that very much.

The Shah turned out to be a brutal dictator. Not surprisingly, his people did not care for that either, and in 1979 he was shoved out of the country as part of the Iranian Revolution. To express their displeasure with America for forcing this monster on them, the Iranian Guard took 52 people from the American embassy and held them hostage for 444 days. Today the Iranians are making atomic bombs. Funny how pissing people off has a way of producing backlash.

The west and most notably the United States has maintained an enormous footprint in the Middle-East for over one hundred years. For example, we have provided the assurance of control of Saudi Arabia by the House of Saud. That has kept American oil interests firmly established and has ensured – guess what? – an uninterrupted supply of cheap Saudi oil, often to the detriment of the local population. Come to think of it, Osama bin Laden was a Saudi. Hmmm. Funny how pissing people off has a way of producing backlash.

In addition, over those decades the cultural imprint of the U.S. has been both enormous and anathema to the locals. Again not surprisingly, the locals haven’t liked that and that, in part, led to al Qaeda. Those people want their section of the world to themselves and have devised a strategy to get it back. Here is a part of their strategy:

  1. Provoke the United States and the West into invading a Muslim country by staging a massive attack or string of attacks on US soil that results in massive civilian casualties.
  2. Incite local resistance to occupying forces.
  3. Expand the conflict to neighboring countries, and engage the US and its allies in a long war of attrition.
  4. Convert al-Qaeda into an ideology and set of operating principles that can be loosely franchised in other countries without requiring direct command and control, and via these franchises incite attacks against the US and countries allied with the US until they withdraw from the conflict, as happened with the 2004 Madrid train bombings, but which did not have the same effect with the July 7, 2005 London bombings.
  5. The US economy will finally collapse by the year 2020 under the strain of multiple engagements in numerous places, making the worldwide economic system which is dependent on the U.S. also collapse leading to global political instability, which in turn leads to a global jihad led by al-Qaeda and a Wahhabi Caliphate will then be installed across the world following the collapse of the U.S. and the rest of the Western world countries.

Funny how pissing people off has a way of producing backlash.

Which brings us to ISIS/ISIL. They are barbaric. They rape, torture and kill indiscriminately. They have beheaded two Americans and a Brit and we want revenge, our pound of flesh. While that may be a normal human reaction, think about the consequences of killing more Muslims. Those still living would not like that and, well, it’s funny how pissing people off has a way of producing backlash.

This post touches on just a few examples of predictable retribution for our long history in the Middle-East and of course there are more. The point is that when we do things that produce impoverishment, suffering and death for others, those remaining want to hit back, just like we want to hit back at ISIS/ISIL right now. If we do that, if we allow ourselves to be sucked into that rope-a-dope, we will be playing right into the strategy outlined by al Qaeda and ensuring the next atrocity that will be visited upon Americans.

If you always do what you’ve always done,

you’ll always get what you always got.

I understand muscular chest-thumping and I appreciate the desire for simple solutions to complex problems. But, really, we’ve seen this movie and we know how it never ends.

Pop Quiz

  1. Are we dumb enough to set ourselves up like that again?
  2. Exactly who will benefit if we stay at war in the Middle-East? Hint: Follow the money.
  3. Bonus question: The Soviet Union collapsed in large measure because they had to keep up with U.S. militarily expenditures and at the same time they bogged themselves down in a long term war in Afghanistan. In the process, they spent themselves into economic collapse. Is there anything in that for us to learn? If so, what is it?

You get 10 points for each correct answer and a perfect score gets you entered to win an all expense paid trip to the next Ground Zero.

Insert your answers below.

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

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

Ferguson, O’ Ferguson

Reading time – 87 seconds  .  .  .

“They’re just protesting and rioting so that they can loot the stores and vandalize other people’s property.” That’s what the woman said to the radio talk show host about the people in the streets of Ferguson, MO. My reply is a double, “Huh?”

If I understand her correctly, she is saying that thousands of people are in the streets protesting so that a few people can loot stores, vandalize property and shoot guns. If that were true, it would be an astonishing coordination of activities – far too astonishing to be true. Yes, some people are looting and vandalizing, yet there has been very little of that, considering the depth of the rage and sorrow that blankets that community. Suggesting that looting is the purpose of the demonstrations and protests requires a willful self-blinding to the suffering of others, this on an epic level.

Nearly all the people in the streets are there not just because Michael Brown appears to have been murdered by an angry cop, but because Brown is just the latest black male to be killed in a string of violence visited upon people of color by “the authorities” – the ones who are supposed to protect all of us from violence. Brutality like that goes back hundreds of years in America. There are too many dead kids who were treated as guilty until proven innocent and then given a trial and sentencing by Judge Service Revolver. There have been too many anguished mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. Whatever Michael Brown was, he did not deserve a hail of bullets as his hands were raised in surrender.

So, that lady who called the talk show is probably wrong in her assumption of why people are in the streets of Ferguson, MO. But why would she make such a huge leap beyond good sense? That is the second part of the double “Huh?”

We human beings have a natural fear of those who are different from us. It’s a tribal instinct born of the ancient, existential imperative to survive. Back then those who were known were presumably safe, while those who were unknown seemed different and might have been lethal to us. That was a valuable attitude 20,000 years ago. It’s not as valuable today, amidst the conglomeration of people in our urban and suburban settings.

Every one of us is uncomfortable with not knowing, so we make up stories to fill in the blanks. If you pay attention, you’ll find yourself doing it multiple times a day. The corollary to that is that when we are anxious, the stories we make up are always negative. And it is only a small, self-protective leap from not knowing someone to wild assumptions about them.

Apply that to caller lady and you might get this knee-jerk progression:

– Those people are rocking the stability of my world and that makes me feel anxious.

– They don’t live in my neighborhood and they look different from me. In fact, they look like a lot of the perps I see in mug shots on the evening news. I’m afraid of them.

– I don’t know why all those people are in the street but they look angry and scary.

– Some of them are looting and vandalizing.

– They’re probably all crooks and they’re protesting so that they can loot stores and vandalize other people’s property.

It takes just a few short steps to jump from anxious near-ignorance to the comfort of “knowing” crazy stuff. Worse, in doing so there is no need to stretch ourselves and find compassion for people in pain.

Ferguson, o’ Ferguson, I hurt for you and for all the Fergusons with different names but with the same torment. I even hurt for caller lady and her self-imposed tribal limitations that keep her small and extend the hate in America. But, honestly, not much.

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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 subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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

Who Cares About Buffalo?

Reading time – 75 seconds  .  .  .

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine:

– that you live in Buffalo, NY;

– that a militant group in Toronto was firing rockets into Buffalo;

– that the rockets and other war materiel were stored and launched from the homes of civilians, from hospitals and from schools in Toronto;

– that the Canadian authorities did nothing to stop the militants;

– that the militants had dug tunnels that ended in Buffalo and they were murdering Buffalo residents from the exits of those tunnels (ignore the geological impossibility of this thought experiment tunnel);

– that the militants were committed only to the destruction of Buffalo, NY and driving its citizens into Lake Erie;

– that the militant group refused to discuss its grievances or to negotiate for any non-violent solution;

– that the entire world community was indifferent to all of that/

As a citizen of Buffalo living with a rain of rockets that kill your people every day, what would you do? You would do exactly what the Israelis are doing now as they endure the conditions listed above. You would do whatever is necessary to stop the murdering of your people. Yet none of that is what we’re shown by the world media in today’s coverage of the Middle-East conflict.

The sensation-seeking world press is playing into the hands of the Hamas murderers, who seek to become the world’s greatest victims, as the reportering media seek ever more gruesome pictures to tweak us into subscribing to its offerings. We are shown images of dead and maimed Gazans, children and women, tragedies every one. And none of those deaths had to happen.

We are not shown Hamas militants encouraging or ordering people to stay where they are, living with rockets ready to be fired from their midst, but that’s what happens. They are told to stay even after the Israelis have dropped pamphlets from airplanes and sent text messages warning the people to leave because an attack to destroy Hamas rockets is coming. The children and the women – all the non-combatants – die because they weren’t allowed to leave – and because they allowed Hamas to dig tunnels into Israel from their houses and to store rockets in their schools. And we are shown interviews of people complaining about their deaths and the brutality of the Israelis.

We never feel or hear of the terror that visits the people of Hebron and Tel Aviv, as they repeatedly get alerts to incoming Hamas rockets and have 15 seconds to find shelter. And we don’t know what it feels like to live with the knowledge of the imminent violence of over 2,700 rockets already fired at Israeli civilians and 8,000 more awaiting a Hamas militant to light still more fuses because that image doesn’t sell TV advertising. We don’t know what it’s like to live just a few miles from Islamic terrorists who are dedicated solely to killing us, because the world press has largely ignored this truth for decades.

So grieve for the wailing mothers and ailing children, of course. But don’t imagine for a second that their pain stands in isolation or that it was necessary. The world should be careful about condemnation of Israel as its government seeks to protect its citizens. They are doing what you would do if this were happening in Buffalo.

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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