Three Americas

Elected officials having private email servers:

 First America: That should be punished with prison time!  Unless the official is a Republican.

Second America: It’s pretty stupid, but not really a big deal.

Third America: What’s email?

Assigning blame when diplomatic missions are attacked:

 First America: That’s disgraceful! “Those responsible” should be in prison! Unless “those responsible” are Republicans.

Second America: That’s a terrible tragedy. What can we do to avoid such things in the future? Why weren’t the requested funds for security approved by Congress?

Third America: Is that like having a private email server?

“We need to exclude every person from entering this country who belongs to X religion or is from the Y region of the world!”:

 First America: Yeah, baby! Fuckin’ terrorists!

Second America: Isn’t that a betrayal of some of our highest ideals and the principles upon which this country was founded?

Third America: I don’t know. That’s just so confusing!

“We need to build a border wall to keep out all the rapists, killers, and criminals!”:

First America: You betcha! Fuckin’ wet**** motherfuckers!

Second America: A border fence is impractical, ineffective, and incredibly  expensive to build and maintain. How about we change our own foreign policies that prompt people to leave their country and come here?  Besides, our borders are not being overrun. Net undocumented immigration is zero.

Third America: I don’t know. I like inexpensive produce, but there are so many of “those people” at Home Depot these days.

“I say we bomb the shit out of them. Why don’t we use nuclear weapons?”:

 First America: That’s right! Right on back to the Stone Age!

Second America: Uhhh…no. Just, no.

Third America:  Tell me about that private email server again.

“The elections are rigged, unless I win. We need to monitor election places were ‘those people’ vote because they commit widespread voter fraud.”

First America: The system is rigged! If we don’t win, we’ll get our guns!

Second America: The American voting system is overwhelmingly secure. Stealing a national election is nearly impossible. In-person voter fraud is virtually nonexistent.

Third America: Again…what’s a private email server?

“They’re coming for your guns and your rights!”

First America: We’re America’s last hope! We have to keep “those people” from voting! We need to shutdown media outlets and reporters! Only our religion is valid!

Second America: Didn’t Obama already take all your guns and lock you away in FEMA death camps? Oh, right…never happened and won’t happen now. And why don’t you want people to vote, or the media to exercise Freedom of the Press, or all people to practice their religion – or no religion – as they choose without government interference as long as they don’t impose their religion on others?

Third America: They’re both the same! Both sides are equally disgusting!!!!

On Empathy

A friend of mine, who on the whole is a wonderful, good-hearted person, voiced a rather ugly opinion of people who frequented the local Walmart.  He made a comment about how much in-breeding must be going on in the area.  Others have wondered what my views about the same people might be, given that I am a frequent critic of others.  What they have failed to understand is that my criticisms are focused on social justice and supposedly intelligent people consistently showing their ignorance.

What do I see when I go to the Walmart where I live?  First of all, I wish I didn’t have to shop there because of the company’s approach to its employees and suppliers, but it is the only place I can find a few of the items I need on a regular basis.  As for the people, I see a mixed bag.  I see middle class people taking advantage of the company’s approach to slave labor overseas and poverty-level wages at home.  But the majority of people there, both employees and the working class people who really must shop there, are an entirely different thing altogether.  I see people beaten down by an economic system that devalues their work and their worth as sentient beings.  I see people forced to live on the periphery of society, robbed of their fair share of the wealth produced by their labor by parasitic executives, corporations, and their bought politicians.  When I go into Walmart, I see the epitome of the failure of capitalism to live up to the mythologized hype of its disciples as a “leveling, democratizing force for good”.

The source for my views is part logic and part emotion.  An economic system that perpetuates such inequality will not survive for long, and its death is usually violent.  Then there is the emotional side: empathy for those who are in some way suffering, even if they do not realize the true source of their predicament.  Empathy is not simply the ability to feel sorry for others and the situation they may be in.  That is sympathy.  Empathy is much more than that.  It is feeling their pain in a very real, physical, and psychological sense.  It is understanding that the conditions they are facing can seem insurmountable from their perspective.  It is knowing that their perception of their reality is unique, a result of the genes they inherited from their parents, the experiences life has brought them up to this point,  and the individual chemistry of their brains.  It is recognizing their individual sentient existence, both with its similarities and differences to yourself.  And possibly most importantly, you have to have this capacity with people who are very different from yourself, of other ethnicities, gender identification, religious persuasion, and sexual orientation.

My son and I independently came to the same conclusion about the cause of many of our society’s problems:  a lack of empathy.  His approach is that people need to look inside themselves, come to recognize who they are through careful self reflection, and then they will see themselves reflected in others and able to be more empathetic.  My approach is almost the polar opposite.  Life experience has shown me that most people lack the ability for real self-reflection, living lives of self-denial.  To me, these people will look inward and self-justify their ongoing prejudices and hate.  I believe people should truly look at others as individuals, as independent sentient beings who face their own trials and tribulations while they walk a path both similar and dissimilar to our own.  When we come to see others as individuals facing unique challenges and a social system that treats us differently based on race, ethnicity, gender identification, sexual orientation, and religious persuasion then we can step away from judging them based on our prejudices.  We can change ourselves and the social structures that value some more than others.

Either approach is probably valid, in its own way, and may be complementary.  As we are all individuals facing our own unique path, perhaps both work in their own ways.  There are likely many other approaches to the same goals.  One approach that is unlikely to consistently lead to those goals is religion.  Religion usually divides us.  It promotes tribal thinking.  It focuses on defining “us” and “them”.  “We” are chosen and will live in some eternal paradise in a life after death while “they” are heathens (or worse, apostates) and will never know the “love” of our “god”.  For example, the actual teachings of Yashua bar Yosef (Jesus, for those who don’t know his real name) promoted understanding, love, and acceptance of the “other”, but you would never guess it from the beliefs and actions of many who profess to “follow” him.  When the leader of the largest denomination of his followers tries to actually promote those teachings in the best traditions of the religion and Catholic teachings, he is criticized by conservatives and fundamentalists who prefer to maintain their privileged positions in society and their sense of superiority.  Their reactions speak to the challenges we face as a species if we are going to transcend our baser instincts and really see the value in other sentient beings.  I firmly believe our survival as a species depends on it.

I have consistently used “sentient being” throughout this post instead of “human being”.  I do not believe the value of an individual is limited to the human species.  There are other species who have self-awareness and a sense of self on this planet.  Like it or not, and if we do not destroy ourselves before our technology reaches this level, but we will someday create human clones and mechanical, artificial intelligence.  Will they be less worthy of respect as sentient beings because their creation did not come from sexual reproduction or because they are silicon-based?  And despite the vast expanse between star systems, I am sure we will someday encounter extraterrestrial sentient beings who are also worthy of respect as individuals.  We should prepare ourselves and our society now for these eventualities…again, if we don’t destroy ourselves first.

Religious Pluralism and the Niggling Test


By Mike Appleton, Weekend Contributor

“The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.”

-Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 104 (1968)

“This commission chooses to stand by the tradition of opening its meetings in a manner acknowledging the beliefs of a large segment of its constituents.”

-Brevard County (Florida) Commission Chair Mary Bolin Lewis (August 15, 2014)

On August 19th the County Commission in Brevard County, Florida voted unanimously to reject a request by the Central Florida Freethought Community, an organization of atheists, agnostics, humanists and free-thinkers, to be added to a rotating list of groups invited to give the opening invocation at commission meetings. Instead, the commission approved a letter drafted by the county attorney offering the group three minutes to speak during the public comment portion of its meetings. According to the letter, the rejection was appropriate because, “The prayer is…

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Supply Side Kansas and ALEC


Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw) Weekend Contributor

In these post Recession days, we have seen various stories of state and municipalities economies make positive strides toward recovery.  According to economist Paul Krugman, the state of Kansas is not one of those success stories.  If you don’t recall, the Republican Governor, Sam Brownback, signed legislation granting huge tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.

Brownback crowed that these tax cuts would lead Kansas into the promised land of economic nirvana.  Unfortunately for regular, non-wealthy Kansans, the recovery has not materialized.  As Krugman states, the economy in Kansas tanked.

“Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the legislation — in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year any state has ever enacted — in close consultation with the economist Arthur Laffer. And Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start an economic boom — “Look out, Texas,” he proclaimed.

But Kansas

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Public high school principal prays at graduation

Why Evolution Is True

Here’s Kevin Lowery, Principal of Lebanon High School in Lebanon, Missouri, giving an address at his school’s graduation. This extended riff on the religious nature of the U.S. is an apparent protest of court decisions deeming it illegal for school officials to pray at school functions.

Lowery brandishes U.S. paper currency to flaunt its “In God We Trust Motto,” and then, at 2:00, offers a moment of silence (a common way around prayer restrictions). After breaking the silence, he tells the audience that during his moment of silence, he gave thanks to God.

This is clearly a violation of the First Amendment. Since I’m the Discovery Institute’s official Censor of the Year, I might as well tell you that I’ve contacted not only Prnicipal Lowery, but also members of the Lebanon School Board and the Superintendent of Schools (see my email below). Oh, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation as well.

Remember, this is truly…

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Three Theses (not really: more like two graphs and a link) on Nazism and Capitalism

Corey Robin

Commenters on my little Nazism and capitalism post are claiming that the graph tells us nothing about the Nazis and capitalism; it only tells us that the economy improved under the Nazis. As it did in the United States under FDR. So maybe the graph plotting capital’s return under Nazism just shows general improvement in the economy in the 1930s, an improvement widely shared throughout the industrial world?

Luckily, Suresh Naidu, the kick-ass economist at Columbia, supplied me with the following graphs.

This first graph, which comes from Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, compares the share of national income that went to capital in the US and in Germany between 1929 and 1938. Suresh tells me that the share roughly tracks capital’s rate of return. Long story short: capital was doing better under the Nazis than under FDR. Not because of overall increases in…

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