Were You There?

fiftiethlogoReading time – 22 seconds  .  .  .

You know the tune, so sing along.

It was fifty years ago today

Dr. King taught all of us to say,

Freedom’s going in and out of style

And oppression is so very vile.

So may I introduce to you

The truth you’ve known for all these years:

You and I still have to stop the Pharaohs.

Okay, Lennon and McCartney had other things in mind when they wrote Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But the point is that the passage of time and the consistency of message run true and today the message runs through Selma, Alabama. What is significant is that the story of Selma and all that it symbolizes is exactly the same as the story of the biblical Exodus. The struggle for freedom is never over. In every day and in every age new tyrants rise up to oppress the people and today is no different.

I was just 18 and very young in 1965 and did not participate in the march. My childhood pal Frank Levy is the same age as I am but in 1965 he was older and far wiser. He was there and he writes about it in his essay this weekend and has given me permission to share it with you. I encourage you to read it – just click on the PDF link for a download – and decide for yourself if there is something calling you. Then post your comments below for the benefit of others.

[prettyfilelink size=”” src=”//” type=”pdf”]Passover and Selma[/prettyfilelink]


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

Republican Judge Hanen

Judge Hanen

Republican Judge Andrew S. Hanen

Reading time – 43 seconds  .  .  . 

Judge Andrew S. Hanen, a Republican judge in Republican Texas, heard testimony from the attorneys representing 26 Republican governors seeking to stuff President Obama’s executive order limiting deportations back into the president’s face. Republican Judge Hanen granted the Republican plaintiff’s petition on procedural grounds – i.e., a technicality – and did not deal with the substance of the executive order.

Before filing, the plaintiffs, those 26 Republican governors, went venue shopping for the best state in which to find the most sympathetic hearing, the best city in which to file their case and the best courtroom and judge to whom they would plead their case and they zeroed in on Republican Judge Hanen in Brownsville, TX. Their selection was doubly insightful, because the inevitable appeal of his limited and superficial ruling will be in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is in Republican New Orleans, Louisiana. Are you seeing a pattern here?

Republicans have been accused of having no compassion for our Dreamers or for the migrant workers who are sometimes viciously exploited. While that might be an accurate depiction of some Republicans, their apparent callousness really has nothing to do with the concerted effort by these 26 Republican governors and the Republicans in the House and Senate to thwart President Obama’s immigration efforts. There are two reasons for their actions and neither has anything to do with compassion.

First, Republicans continue to want to do everything possible to ensure that President Obama has no victories of any kind, regardless of the good sense of his proposals, so they oppose anything he supports.

Second – and this is the big one – Republicans are on their way to extinction. Here’s how TalikingPointsMemo described their coming tipping point in a 2012 piece:

The government also projects that in five years, minorities will make up more than half of children under 18. Not long after, the total U.S. white population will begin an inexorable decline in absolute numbers, due to aging baby boomers.

So, old white guys (the great majority of the Republican Party) are in the process of losing their majority and, consequently, their grip on power, money, control and domination.

Republicans have demonstrated for decades that they are bereft of new ideas for meeting America’s challenges or for grabbing hold of 21st century opportunities, so they can’t appeal to voters on the basis of their great solutions or clarity of the best way forward. The only way they can stay in power is to steal elections (like in 2000 and 2004) or to deprive voting rights from people who naturally tend to vote for Democrats, like people of color. Eliminating their votes by deporting Hispanics is a sure fire way to help prevent Republicans from being overpowered by future Democratic voters.

And that’s why Republicans want to deport over 12 million people and why Republicans oppose any path to citizenship and why Republicans want to kill the president’s executive order and send our Dreamers packing. For dinosaur Republicans who can already see that demographic meteor in the sky, it’s the species survival instinct played out in the political arena. They don’t hate Hispanics; they just want to continue to dominate them.


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 2018 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.


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

Father Flannigan in Texas

Skip LeveThis is a guest essay from reader Frank Levy of Houston, TX. It was submitted as a comment to an earlier post, Father Flannigan, Your CEO and the Supreme Court, and was deemed too important to bury at the bottom of the Comments section. It is offered here for your consideration and comment.


In Texas we are very accustomed to the “Father Flannigan phenomenon,” and much worse. Not only do we have the usual school day, pre-game, and government pre-meeting prayer, the state Republican Party primary ballot includes a statement that reads, “America is a Christian country, and Texas is a Christian state.” Voters get to agree or disagree. The “initiative” carries by over 95% every 4 years.

It is fundamentalist Christian beliefs like this that are part and parcel of the religious civil war going on across the country. The Hobby Lobby decision is but one of the skirmishes in this religious civil war.

The Hobby Lobby decision by the “Fab 5” – the 5 Catholic men on the Court – is deeply disingenuous and sharply at odds with American law and legal precedent, and imposes very real long-term negative impacts on American democracy and on Americans who believe in real freedom of religion.

On the subject of the disingenuous nature of the Hobby Lobby suit and decision – as Stephanie Mencimer noted in Mother Jones in March 2014, “a neglected aspect of the Hobby Lobby case is the fact that Hobby Lobby’s self-professed belief appeared out of nowhere just in time for them to file suit. The company admits in its complaint that until it considered filing the suit in 2012 its generous health insurance plan actually covered Plan B and Ella (though not IUDs). The burden of this coverage was apparently so insignificant that God and Hobby Lobby executives never noticed it until the mandate became a political issue.”

It should also be noted that Hobby Lobby owners held significant investments in the companies that manufactured the exact abortifacients and birth control products that were the basis of the law suit.

In short, Hobby Lobby’s “deeply held beliefs” claims are transparently bogus — as well as being scientifically invalid, since none of the methods involved are abortifacients, as Hobby Lobby claims.

In Hobby Lobby the Court handed corporations religious rights for the first time in history. As Norm Ornstein points out in the National Journal, “For the majority on the Roberts Court, through a series of rulings that favor corporations over labor or other interests, it is clear that corporations are king, superior to individual Americans — with all the special treatment in taxes and protection from legal liability that are unavailable to us individuals, and now all the extra benefits that come with individual citizenship.”

The Hobby Lobby decision also lends support to the Christian Right’s (they are neither) efforts in the new religious civil war to create a Christian theocracy in America, and to further their erroneous claims that their religious rights are being suppressed, or even outlawed.

Led by the dominion theology of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), those seeking the creation of America as an evangelical Christian nation seek to block any and all legislation that promotes real equality, as well as seeking to block legislation that opposes discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or race, especially in the areas of voting rights, access to health care, birth control and abortion and marriage, among others. These self-proclaimed Christians also oppose social programs like food stamps, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and Social Security, this based on their proclaimed religious beliefs.

These new religious warriors want an America built on their repressive and narrow understanding of Christian theology. As researcher Rachel Tabachnick explains: “Instead of escaping the Earth (in the Rapture) prior to the turmoil of the end times, they [the NAR] teach that believers will defeat evil by taking dominion, or control, over all sectors of society and government, resulting in mass conversions to their brand of charismatic evangelicalism and a Christian utopia or ‘Kingdom’ on Earth.”

Their favorite, and most powerful lie used to gather fellow warriors is their lament that their religious rights are being eliminated or oppressed. A. Jay Michaelson writes in, ”Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights” published by Political Research Associates in March, 2013, “While the religious liberty debate is a growing front in the ongoing culture wars, it is actually an old argument re-purposed for a new context. In the postwar era, the Christian Right defended racial segregation, school prayer, public religious displays and other religious practices that infringed on the liberties of others by claiming that restrictions on such public acts infringed upon their religious liberty. Then as now, the Christian Right turned anti-discrimination arguments on their heads: instead of African Americans being discriminated against by segregated Christian universities, the universities were being discriminated against by not being allowed to exclude them; instead of public prayers oppressing religious minorities, Christians are being oppressed by not being able to offer them.

In the “religious liberty” framework, the Christian Right attacks access to contraception, access to abortion, same-sex marriage, and anti-discrimination laws—not on moral grounds (e.g., that contraception is morally wrong or that LGBTQ rights violate “family values”) but because they allegedly impinge upon the religious freedoms of others (e.g., by forcing employers to violate their religion by providing contraception coverage).

In fact, there is not a single “religious liberty” claim made by the Christian Right that does not involve abridging someone else’s rights.

When any religious group tries to impose its beliefs on others we ought to be afraid and strenuously oppose such efforts. We need to be extremely vigilant in opposing any effort by one group to impose its beliefs on anyone else, no matter how light or innocent that imposition might be claimed to be. If you don’t want your religious beliefs questioned, then don’t impose them on others. When push comes to shove, real religious freedom can be just as simple as that.

I wonder how the Court would have voted if the Hobby Lobby suit had been filed by a Muslim, or Jewish, or Buddhist, or Hindu owned business instead of the Christian owned Hobby Lobby.

Frank Levy, M.A., MFA. is Director of Outreach Resources, which provides consulting services to local and statewide disaster and public health preparedness and response agencies and to non-profit agencies engaged in improving the lives of the most vulnerable and at-risk residents. Frank currently lives in hiding from the thought police in Tom “the Exterminator” DeLay’s Congressional district outside Houston, TX.


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

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

Morale, Knees and Common Elements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melting Pot?

Melting PotSince the first immigrants arrived this has always been a Euro-centric place.  Surely that’s understandable, since it was Europeans who were the primary immigrants for a very long time.  Of course, after a while we started importing Africans to be our slaves, but there was no need to change our orientation, since Africans weren’t considered full human beings.  Some time later people began to arrive from Asia, Mexico and Central America, but the Euro-centrics were the huge majority of the population and continued to be the powerful, the culture controllers.

The Euro-centrics were something else. too: they were mostly Protestant.  The Founders and most of the immigrants and most of their descendants where Protestant, so that has been the dominant religious orientation from the start.  That the Founders inscribed freedom of religion into the Constitution (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof: .  .  .  “) had no impact on that, so white, European Protestants have been the dominant force in America.

In the early 1960’s I overheard a conversation between two men.  One was saying with obvious concern, perhaps anger, that Ernie Banks, the Chicago Cubs star, had purchased a house a couple of blocks from where he – the speaker – was living.  This was in Chicago, a starkly divided city of neighborhoods where Poles, Italians, blacks, Jews and others pretty much stayed in their own area.  It was birds of a feather flocking together for safety.  And here was good ol’ Ernie, a black man, purchasing a house in a white area.  So, I asked what seemed to me to be an obvious question: “Are you going to picket his house with your neighbors, or ask for an autograph?”

My question wasn’t received well, as you might imagine, as my irreverent attempt at humor was a poke in the eye to this fellow’s quite serious, “He’s not like us and I don’t like him and don’t want him living down the street from my children” attitude.  His ignorance led to fear, which led to hate.  He was not alone in his behavior, nor has that ever been unusual.

Seema Jilani wrote a stunning and deeply disturbing piece for the Huffington Post about American racism today.  Read this piece with the knowledge that your sense of right and wrong, fairness and even simple courtesy are at risk of feeling violated.  And know that hers is similar to the day-to-day experience of millions of non-white or non-Protestant Americans.  If you’re feeling really courageous, do a gut check on your own prejudices.  Unless you’re somehow immune to the messages that bombard you daily to fear what is different from you, stoked continuously by political manipulators, you may find something there.

We humans do reasonably well with what is known to us and typically fear what is not known.  It’s a survival instinct and it worked well when our ancestors were living in caves and every day brought existential threat.

Almost on our doorstep is something that is not known – what American life will be like when white Protestants are a diminishing minority, incrementally losing power and control.  Just imagine all that racism reversed – shoe on the other foot, so to speak – and having to endure the slicing and bleeding of discrimination a hundred times a day just to function in every day life.

Did you say that you just want to be tolerated by those who are different from you?  No, you did not say that.  Nobody wants to be tolerated.  Other than Dick Cheney, we all want acceptance.  Toleration, by definition, suggests that others are willing to hold their noses in your presence, as though that is somehow better than beating you up.

So I’ll tell you what: I won’t tolerate you and you can stop trying to tolerate me.  Let’s instead pull a Rodney King: “Can we all just get along?”  King didn’t live long enough to see that happen.  We haven’t yet either, but perhaps we can do something about it now.

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

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