tolerance

The Challenge of 1776


Continental Congress

Second Continental Congress

Reading time – 1:33; Viewing time – 2:39  .  .  .

Actually, they tiptoed up to the Declaration of Independence. There wasn’t a mad rush to shove parchment in King George’s face and everyone was aware of the self-imposed threat to life and property, should they, ”  .  .  .  assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,” and , ”  .  .  .  declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Yet they did that, even with only tepid support of some of the states. We are left to deal with that separate and equal station, this collection of individual states – and deal with leaders who now seem destined to continuously knock heads against one another.

Our present lunacy is not without precedent, yet that is scarce comfort, as our politicians frantically race to the bottom of human disgust. Those debating independence during that blisteringly hot summer of 1776 in Philadelphia argued with passion, but they did not pour their energies into rank personal attack devoid of meaning, nor could they have contemplated our politics as snake oil salesmanship.

And here we are, 240 years later, a divided United States.

We all value loyalty, personal independence, toughness, honor, safety, collective pride, respect, fairness, caring, inclusion and more. The sociologists explain that our problem is that we individual humans place different emphasis on those things and that leads to very different behaviors. And each of us is certain that we got it right and cannot fathom how anyone would disagree with us and we are annoyed by and intolerant of the idiots who foolishly don’t see it our way.

Surprise: The Founders had to deal with those same human dynamics. Yet, somehow they managed to create a new and united country.

If they could do that, exactly what is our problem right now?

FranklinGo to your community parade tomorrow and, as the fire trucks, clowns and floats, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops and the politicians vying for your vote pass by, recognize that we’re all feeling our way forward, just as they did in Philadelphia all those years ago. As Benjamin Franklin said to the signers, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

We have big challenges right now, so it’s time for us to hang together.

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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.

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


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The Real Problem With America


Reading time – 54 seconds; Viewing time – 2:39  .  .  .

The insults hurled about in what passes for our politics are flagrant judgments that polarize us. As harmful to our republic are the insidious accusations buried in attack speak by those seeking to steal power for themselves.

Just the other day Republican candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL) went on another robotic rant, saying that one of his first acts as president, should he become that, will be to cancel all of the unconstitutional executive orders of President Obama. That, of course, was raw meat dripping blood for his angry followers and it was a great power trip for all. The only problem with it is that President Obama has not invoked a single executive order that is unconstitutional. Not even one. Perhaps Rubio doesn’t like any of them. That’s fine. His declaration of their unconstitutionality is not fine, and for more reasons than that he knows that what he’s saying is not true.

That kind of attack is exactly what puts more gasoline on the fire of distrust in government, which is now at 81%. So, too, are the repeatedly invoked descriptors of incompetent, loser, feckless, unlawful and others. When former senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) was interviewed on MSNBC last week she sneaked in a barb – really an assumptive “everybody knows” comment – about the unlawful Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). It might have been politically useful to make that accusation, but it was just as wrong as Rubio’s false accusation, as Obamacare has been challenged all the way to the Supreme Court repeatedly and with only one narrow exception, has been found to be quite constitutional.

These statements, along with the googly-eyed blathering of talk radio wing nuts are powerful forces for anger, hate, distrust and dysfunction. They represent the Big Lie told so often that people hearing it truly believe the anti-government, anti-anybody who disagrees with them talk. It polarizes our country even more, making it next to impossible for our government and our country to work and even for us to be civil with one another. It incrementally destroys America.

Read David Brooks’ essay The Governing Cancer of Our Time. His explanation is as insightful and powerful as any I’ve seen of the political polarization we’ve endured for at least three decades. Note especially his final point about what all the dysfunction leads to. Then come back here and offer your comments about what we can do to stop us from going further down this self-destructive path.

Late addition to this post: Read Paul Krugman’s piece, Twilight of the Apparatchiks for greater understanding of the institutionalized undermining of government and politics. Click through the despise government link and listen to the audio, too. Prepare to be shocked, but perhaps not surprised. JA

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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 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The System Is Not Supposed to Work


NY Times 12-19-15On December 19, 2015 The New York Times ran an opinion piece by Kevin Baker entitled Political Party Meltdown, which put perspective and a smidgen of clarity to the opaque and toxic swamp that is our Congress. I urge you to read his insightful essay now. Then have a look at the exchange between my friend Dan Wallace and Kevin Baker. Whatever comes up for you in reviewing the words of these smart and informed guys, put them in the Comments section below. Help us all to learn even more. And perhaps the frustration we feel over our dysfunctional and often non-functional government just might abate just a bit.

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Dan Wallace wrote:

Kevin – I loved your essay in the NYT, and I had a thought/question on which I’d love your opinion.

I worked for a moderate Republican senator in the early 80’s (about when I think the shift from 4 “parties” to 2 really started – the Reaganites were very intolerant of anyone to their left). I left Capitol Hill believing that the Founders had intentionally designed the institutions of the Federal government, and especially Congress, to require lots of horse trading because that would ensure that resources were apportioned reasonably fairly over time. It seems to me that it worked beautifully as long as resources were growing, which is all the Founders could have imagined they would do, but that it stopped working around 1975, which is the last year the US ran a trade surplus and therefore, I would argue, marks the point at which the US actually became intrinsically non-competitive in the global economy. Our political institutions simply have no capacity to take things away from people, which is really what they’ve needed to do for 40 years, and so they have behaved in a very distorted fashion. The main form of distortion has been to paper over our lack of competitiveness with massive deficit spending. “Conservatives” (and remember, my instincts are those of a moderate Republican, not a liberal Democrat) don’t like to remember this, but the deficit spending was kicked off in earnest by Reagan. We were running deficits of $50-60 billion/year until the tax cuts passed, at which point they jumped to about $350 billion/year, which is pretty much where they’ve stayed ever since, except for ’98-99 surpluses, and 2008-present, when they’ve been closer to $1 trillion/year. And the latter, I think, can be seen as simply one piece of reckoning for the can having been kicked down the road by institutions (not just people) who intrinsically don’t have the capability to do anything else.

The discourse certainly was much more civil in 1983 than it is now, but my experience tells me that Congress was no better at actually solving a difficult problem then than it is now. It just failed at lower volume.

That’s my 30,000-foot view of how this has played out. I would be REALLY interested to know where you agree and disagree.

Warm regards,

Dan Wallace

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Kevin Baker’s reply:

Dear Dan,

Thanks for reading—and writing.  You make some interesting points. Just some quick reactions to them:

—While I’m hardly an expert on them, I’m not sure that the Founders, for all their virtues, really did foresee a lot of constructive horse trading.  They never seemed that at home with a party system; I sometimes [think] they envisioned high-minded debates in which the overwhelming logic and beauty of their arguments swept all away.  When that situation failed to materialize, they turned immediately to scandal sheets and pistols.

—I don’t think I’d agree that our institutions are incapable of taking things away from people.  I think Americans have a generally good record of sacrifice in times of war, and I would say that decades of generally stagnant incomes mean that many people have had a lot taken away from them. For that matter, the minimum wage still is not the equivalent of what it was in 1968, and didn’t the famous Reagan-O’Neill deal on “entitlements” entail a payroll tax increase on the vast majority of Americans?

—Did the trade deficit really mean we were inherently unable—or less able—to compete in the world economy?

I would question that.  I think the increased competition with the likes of Japan and Western Europe then was generally a good thing, which forced our companies and workers to get better.

But competing with a host of other nations, all over the world, that employed such tactics as using child labor, outlawing unions, banning civil liberties, and erecting tariff barriers?  I think that was, and is, crazy—and also, as I’m sure you know, very much an anomaly in our history.

William McKinley, for instance, would never have contemplated the idea that Americans should have competed against, say, labor from Italy in his time, much less from China.  But now, for some reason, both parties generally embrace it.

—Beyond that, I’d say our economy, and our society, both have deeper structural problems.  My thoughts on this are far from original, but in general I would say that these include doing much too little to support wages for the 70 percent of the population who still do not get a bachelor’s degree; shifting more and more of the tax burden onto the working and middle classes; and so structuring tax codes and financial regulations [such] that, more and more, the best minds of our nation are lured into the mere manipulation of money.

I don’t think most people aren’t sacrificing enough.  Instead, they are in overdrive:  scrambling to work 2-3 jobs, working desperately to send their kids to private schools and universities that charge ungodly amounts of money, and at the same time trying to take care of aged parents who now live longer than ever, with less and less capacity.

It’s a big reason why, I think, the establishment narrative from both parties—work hard, obey the rules, get an education, and you’ll be fine—seems increasingly absurd to them.

Anyway, nice corresponding with you.  Just out of curiosity, which Republican did you work for?  Many in my family were Rockefeller Republicans, and I’ve always had a certain admiration for old Rocky.

All the best,
Kevin Baker

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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 2019 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 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Who Should I Vote For?


Reading time – This guest essay is longer than typical Disambiguations & worth it. Grab a second cup o’ Joe and settle in for some thinking  .  .  .

Following a recent post about a Wall street guy who supports Bernie Sanders I received a private email from boyhood pal Frank Levy (boyhood nickname: Skip). That’s him in the pic. I don’t know how he got to look so old.  The Skip Levy I knew looked much younger.

He expressed some concerns about who can actually win a general election and that resulted in some back-and-forth across the email machine. The meat of his concerns were substantive and I asked for and received his approval to offer them to you in the guest essay that follows. The views expressed are his own and you just might find that some could be yours, too.

You should know in advance that Skip is an irritating blend of idealist and pragmatist, so be forewarned that if you possess an idealist’s purity of progressive ethic, your purity may be about to get tweaked by his pragmatism.

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Skip LevyJack – Here is my reply as to who to vote for.

in the primary, vote for who you feel best meets your sense of what America can and should be and who can beat ALL of the Republican candidates still standing at primary time. Then work for and vote for the Democratic Party nominee, whoever that may turn out to be.

One tactical concern about Bernie is that while he generates enthusiastic crowds and a reasonable small-donor base, I don’t think he will be able to generate enough black and brown supporters to win the national election. Right now Bernie’s support among non-white democrats/voters is slim to almost non-existent and he does not seem to be working to change the situation. Bernie and his supporters truly believe that his economic and climate change message will be heard and responded to by black and brown voters like it is by old white voters. So far that is simply not the case.

The black and brown voters I talk with want to hear a message from candidates that speaks directly to them and their specific concerns. They rightfully demand that Bernie or Hillary or Martin listen to them and respect and understand their needs and issues. They are not looking for a “translated” solution to white America’s problems. They want and deserve solutions to the injustices, intolerance, segregation, racism, joblessness, incarceration, lack of quality educational and educational opportunities, and to the violence they live with every day. I do think that Bernie and Martin are still tone deaf when it comes to the issues of non-white voters.

Just looking at the fundraising needed to run a 50 state national election campaign I think Bernie is in trouble. His supporters are mostly our old hippie friends – old, white, and middle-class – not big donor class. And while I long for the day when small donors are the financial engine that drives elections, the ugly reality is that today candidates need major donor-class donors to win elections. That is where Hillary is being pragmatic. She is building an Obama-like donor base of small donors AND taking large donations from big donors while calling for the end of Citizens United. That is not hypocritical; it is pragmatic. You cannot change things unless you get elected.

I am also not convinced that the young people who attend Bernie’s rallies will work for his election or come out on election day. I see a lot of rallies that are well attended but I do not see a lot of ground campaign infrastructure being built in 50 states. I think he is counting on the “revolution” taking hold and providing the motivation and financial support to win. History reminder: revolutionaries have a tendency to be passionate, motivated, poor and not particularly good at recruiting people to the cause, raising money or governing. Unfortunately, ISIS may be the exception to that rule. Revolutions typically take a long time to build and even given all the anger and frustration we all feel, I am not sure we are there just yet.

I am very worried about the 14% or so of Democrats who say they will sit out the election (in essence giving a vote to the Republican candidate) rather than vote for Hillary (bold mine – Ed.), as if she were some evil spawn of the devil. No party has ever nominated a perfect, pure and totally honest candidate.

I do not understand this cloud in the air that makes people say they do not trust Hillary. Hillary is what she has always been – a political animal. She is a pragmatic, driven, type-A, a calculating, intelligent, woman who has more times than not taken the right side of the issues that are important to progressives. As a senator and Secretary of State she got things done, which requires knowing how to work with the opposition party. Personally, I am not interested in a president who, by his or her very nature is such an idealist that they cannot grasp a win when it presents itself just because it is not a perfect win.

It makes a difference, a big difference, who is the White House. All three Democratic candidates are significantly better for the country than any of the Republican candidates. If we fail to work for and vote for the Democratic nominee we will assure the next SCOTUS nominations (as many as four of them) are conservative Republican judges.

I am not willing to see SCOTUS become a conservative Republican court that will never rule in favor of a woman’s right to choose, that will never rule against voter suppression, that will never rule in favor of LGBT rights, that will never rule in favor of religious tolerance, that will never rule in favor of the 1st Amendment or against Citizens United, for sensible guns laws or for equal pay for equal work, or in favor of the best interests of the American people over the gun lobby and the money and corporate class.

So, back to your original question. If you think Bernie or Hillary or Martin can beat ALL of the Republican candidates still standing at primary time, then vote for the candidate who best represents you and your ideals. If, on the other hand, there is only one candidate who appears to be able to beat ALL of the Republican crazies, then vote for that person because we cannot afford a Republican president. Then go out and work for, donate to and vote for the Democratic Party candidates (local, state, and national) on November 1, 2016 and in 2018.

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That is the end of Skip’s comments.

If we sit on our idealism and fail to vote, it will be especially dangerous when in 2017 Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is sending his “privatize Social Security” bill to the President for his signature and the president is a Republican because we – let me say this delicately – sat on our self-righteous, idealist asses and didn’t vote. And when the lawsuit is brought to challenge that law, it will wind up in front of a Supreme Court that is no longer 5-4 conservative; it may be 7-2 and stay that way for a really long time. So, we may have to hold our idealistic noses and vote for the best flawed candidate in the race.

Go ahead. Write your response below. I know you have one.

And Skip, thanks for continuing to care about America and to work to make it better for all of us.

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P.S. From the email signature of a colleague: “Be a good ancestor.” I just might adopt that for these Disambiguations. Be a good ancestor, indeed.


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Trump and Us


Reading time – 39 seconds  .  .  .

There is only one reason I would give any e-ink to Donald Trump. It isn’t to examine and refute the flamboyant, xenophobic, homophobic, baseless, factless, insulting, unconstitutional (see cartoon tweet below) things he’s saying. That’s being handled to excess by our broadcast people. In fact, yesterday I wanted to find out what was going on other than in the despicable world of Trump and had to go to non-U.S. media to find out. What can we learn from that?

New York Daily News Tweet, December 9, 2015

New York Daily News Tweet,
December 9, 2015

No, the real reason to comment about Trump is because of what it says about us that 28% of Republicans like what he’s saying and will vote for him. And it is because there are a bunch of Democrats who like his unconstitutional discrimination of Muslims and they, too, intend to vote for him.

Donald Trump is showing us who we really are and what I see is terrifying.

No, I don’t think he can win a general election. That isn’t the point. The point is that it has become reasonable to ask whether in this blizzard of sensationalism he could. And that’s so because, through their support of Trump, so many Americans are displaying their fear and hate and anger and are eager to support a candidate who plays to their basest instincts.

We better get to the bottom of our self-destruction or we will become something that is very un-American and very dangerous to every one of us.

To understand more of Trump’s “sell,” look at what master marketer Bruce Terkel has to say.

Recorded live in a hotel room in New Jersey.

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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 2019 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 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

President Bush Got One Right


Doofus George at the DoorReading time – 44 seconds  .  .  . 

I was frequently embarrassed by the way George W. Bush presented the United States to the world. He said some inane things. He mispronunciated [sic] words. He displayed his doofus look with regularity, making me wonder what, if anything, was going on inside his head.

One of the things he said that seemed patently stupid was his claiming that Islamic fundamentalists hate us because of our freedom. Really? It wasn’t because we had spent decades supporting despotic middle-east rulers who made the lives of their people miserable and often too short? It wasn’t because Palestinians, their religious brothers, were suffering and, as the Islamists saw it, because we support Israel? It wasn’t because they wrapped their politics in their violent religion and saw us as infidels?

Interestingly, while all those reasons are true, we in the West really are hated for our freedom – in a certain sense.

Islam is an absolutist religion. You either believe and obey or you are an infidel. There is no middle ground, no wiggle room for changed circumstances or new information. Qur’anic  law mandates harsh penalties, so for true believers, their explanation (not justification, but their explanation) for brutality and murder is, “Allah requires me do it.”

Their personal responsibility is solely to obeying directives from 7th century Arabia, as recorded 150 years after the Prophet Muhammad died. You  might want to read any of the books by Ayaan Hirsi Ali for clarity about that and on the drivers of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The point is that the 9/11 killers and the ISIL members now committing atrocities believe that they are doing God’s work. They see themselves as holy. They are motivated by their notion of right as spelled out in the Qur’an and interpreted literally. Because what they do is for Allah and is at Allah’s direction, there can be no compromise. And that’s exactly why they will be ever-dangerous to people in the west and why there is no room for negotiation with them.

To them we are infidels, unholy, dirty and perverse in the eyes of God because we afford ourselves the freedom to believe as we choose, to live with individual free will – personal freedom. That is why, oddly enough, George W. Bush actually got this one right.


Copyright 2019 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 2019 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 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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