A Trend Towards Dehumanization

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On January 9th, a chemical leak from Freedom Industries* contaminated the water of nine counties in West Virginia, depicted above in red. School closed in some places. Residents cleared out packaged water from stores. A state of emergency went into effect. The Kanahwa-Charleston Health Department ordered any business with a health permit to close immediately (1,500 businesses in the two counties affected by this ruling shut their doors). All this was triggered because the Department of Environmental Protection noticed an issue with air quality near the Elk River.

Only a handful of people were injured by the chemical contamination. The culprit, a “sudsing agent” used in the coal mining process, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, does not typically kill people, although it is a severe irritant and should not be ingested.

Today, the 13th of January, West Virginia American Water* announced that water has begun to flow again in West Virginia, starting in the capital city of Charleston. West Virginia has an unlucky history with chemicals and water safety. Films like Gasland made mega-hay out of tap water spouts that caught on fire. There’s this video from 2010 of a CNN Story about a WV family who strike a flame on a water bottle full of their tap water.

In November of 2010, Rolling Stone published an article about a lot of the back dealings in the coal industry that have made resident’s health not even a tertiary concern when dealing with profits.  After the article was published, and due to numerous other scandalous accusations made of Massey Energy, then-CEO Don Blankenship’s retirement was announced by the board at Massey. Yes, that grammar is deliberately awkward. Blankenship was retired by his company, he did not retire himself.

Getting back to Gasland: it made clear the accusation that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas has just as bad of a track record at keeping water safe to drink. Many residents in the film were forced to switch to complicated filtration systems or were receiving a regular supply of clean water from local mining outfits. Despite these similar problems, natural gas is still much cheaper than coal and has put the fiscal hurt on its competitor in the fossil fuel industry.

Approaching this from another angle, books like Eating Animals dealt with another aspect of business that takes advantage of the health of West Virginia’s citizens. Reports like these and others cited at the time by author Jonathan Franzen explained the damage that large scale slaughterhouses and feed lots have on the environment. Specifically, fatalities from the practice of spraying fields with the abundance of manure from feed lots or from making cesspools of pig shit. These deaths occurred because people were overcome by the toxic air surrounding the cesspools, or from falling into the cesspool (because of the smell and high SO2 and H2S content of the air). At other times, the runoff from storms or overflow of cesspools into rivers contaminates large swaths of water, affecting hundreds of thousands of families. This runoff issue has drawn concern from some doctors – and take this with a grain of salt – for the increased incidence of asthma, autism, allergies, and other respiratory or developmental issues in commonly affected regions.

The trend to take away from this, and I am going to leave this very simple: what’s wrong with West Virginia and the numerous other states that take part in the mining of coal and natural gas? And why do the profits from one industry outweigh simple Western Society stuff like drinkable water?

I don’t have the answer, but I hope someone does because I can’t imagine these people would stand for it that much longer.

*Hilarious.

Evangelicals Embrace Mockery of Transcendent Faith

Three years ago, I had the pleasure to interview Terry Kemple, who (by the way) will be on the ballot this year for Hillsborough School Board District 7. Back when I interviewed him, Kemple had helped organize a series of billboards1 around Hillsborough with misleading quotes about the religiosity of America’s founding fathers. Kemple rebutted my point that no historian I had spoken to agreed with the context Kemple’s billboard’s were promoting. “The United States was not founded as, nor was it intended to be, a secular government,” Kemple argued. This disease of America’s evangelical religions makes a few fatal flaws, notably for one, the above assertion that America ought to have a theocratic government. 2 But, Kemple is just a symptom of a larger disease in American evangelical Christianity. A disease that seeks to overturn the Separation of Church and State or, as Kemple said, there is no Separation of Church and State.3

Yet, litigating the constitutional principle of separation and church and state has developed into a fringe movement, not unlike radical animal rights groups (ALF, PETA) or 9/11 truthers. These anti-separationists have self-sustaining forums and websites that aggregate news and re-distribute it through a filter that always argues against the validity and the existence of Separation of Church and state. Behold, this typical gem from SpeakUP, a church rights group:

The Johnson Amendment, upon which [Americans United for Separation of Church and State] bases its letter, is blatantly unconstitutional.  Under the First Amendment, the pastor has the right to determine what is said from the pulpit, not the IRS.

It’s ironic that an organization committed to the “separation of church and state” is arguing for more governmental monitoring and control of churches and pastors.

This is the territory this fringe group wants to carve out. Defend your rights by insisting upon the unconstitutionality of limiting a pastor’s speech. Attack the other side by insisting that by fighting you they are undermining their own pro-separationism. Hold on, you’ll soon see the problem with their argument.

I heard about the Pulpit Freedom Sunday event on the Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert summarizes the Johnson Amendment here and then rips Kemple-clone Jim Garlow a new prayer hole. It turned into a character-breaking moment around 2:57 for Colbert when he attacked Garlow from a pro-religious and pro-separation angle. Its pure gold. Although, I will tackle this issue differently. Just keep Garlow’s words in mind.

The anti-separation fringe takes two points that I find hilariously silly. First, they argue that for 166 years before the Johnson Amendment, pastor’s had unrestricted free speech from the pulpit. Garlow indicates the arbitrary nature of the 50 year old Johnson Amendment is a point against it. Essentially, Johnson wanted to punish two Texas businessmen who manipulated tax-exempt organizations to politick against him.. That’s pretty interesting to me. Because another relic of the Soviet era, the legislation of God onto our paper currency, came out of that same period. At nearly 48 years old, its in some ways an even more nonsense government intrusion into religious affairs. Yet, atheists are regularly rebuffed by similar Garlow and Kemple types when they make that very same argument about the ludicrous national mood that gave us “In God We Trust” on our bills.

Additionally they claim that if the Johnson Amendment were enforced, if churches had taxed status forced on them for their politicking, then the IRS would be violating the Separation of Church and State4. Yet they simultaneously argue that the free speech of pastors ought to be subsidized by the government’s bestowed tax-free status. Essentially, that in addition to their tax-free status, Churches ought to go beyond the stated nature of taxed-free organizations “to promote the common good” and shift into the territory of a political action committee.

However, it’s obvious that both moves compromise the integrity of the speaker and violate separation in its purest form. Either a church is punitively taxed for endorsing a candidate, thus having the government’s hands in its coffers and losing separate status or it speaks freely in favor of candidates with tax-free subsidy, thus having transformed into a tax-free political action committee. Both of these options are having your cake and eating it to.

The only pure Separation argument, if religionists really care about being separate from govermnet interference, results from the status quo this whole event means to undermine: taxed-free status and non-involvement in government. No other option is logically possible. This is what Colbert was getting at in the first place. For many Americans, religion offers the only non-secular refuge from the bombardment of politics into every facet of the American experience. It offers the only place for the average American to seek out the transcendent, a necessarily non-Earthly concern. But, by lumping spiritualism with earthy affairs, Colbert thinks, and he’s not wrong, that these Evangelicals are cheapening not just their faith, but capital-f Faith at large.

References:

http://www.treasury.gov/about/education/Pages/in-god-we-trust.aspx

http://blog.speakupmovement.org/church/churches-and-politics/americans-united-for-separation-of-church-and-state-tries-to-scare-churches/

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/09/23/more-than-1000-pastors-plan-to-challenge-irs-by-endorsing-presidential-candidate/

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57526079/the-message-behind-pulpit-freedom-sunday/


[1] Billboards stating: “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. –George Washington” “…we all agree on our obligation to the moral precepts of Jesus. – Thomas Jefferson.” “God who gave us life, gave us liberty. – Thomas Jefferson”

If that last one reads funny to you, it’s because it has a hidden ellipses that Kemple’s group left out of the billboard. The full quote in the originating text reads: “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.” Notice how the imposition of “the” changes the meaning from a specifically Abahamic God to a probably more Deistic God, or even god in forbidding lower-case.

[2] Can a government not be secular and avoid becoming actively and specifically religious? Wouldn’t it be secular if it were not religious, even if this was just an accident and not a stated fact of the Constitution, for example?

[3] Then why argue about it? If its not there. This seems to be a consistent problem with this group. They both argue against the Separation of Church and State and that the Separation of Church and State doesn’t exist anyways in the Constitution.

[4] (which, you don’t think even exists, so does it or doesn’t it? It can’t well be violated by the IRS if it’s not an actual violable constitutional principle, right?)

Masterful Bait and Switch

Rolling Stone did a profile on Rachel Maddow a few issues back. The thing about Maddow is that she’s a polemicists polemic. She utilizes thought-judo like a good Socratic thinker, realizing that bludgeoning political enemies won’t help your cause. If you really want to convince someone, you walk them all the way over to your side with small points that they all agree with. Cognitive dissonance studies suggest that while that method does not immediately sway a person’s opinion, it plants seeds that eventually grow into very disruptive tumors of cognitive dissonance (this is because a lot of cognitive theory suggests we personify our ideas, that is, we don’t have ideas, we meld our selves with our ideas, so that changing an idea about, say, climate change, involves more than just accepting facts, it has to do with self-image as an anti-climate change truther, for example). For more on that, read Sam Harris’ “The Moral Landscape”, I couldn’t pull the exact quote because I only have the audio book version. (FN1)

Here’s how RS summed up Maddow’s style:

Bill O’Reilly, on Fox News, is a combatant and a champion. Maddow is a guide. O’Reilly’s show says, Look at me. Maddow’s says, Picture this.

The perfect Maddow segment, he says, begins with some obscure image from the fringes – “a bird covered in oil in 1979,” say – and then slowly winds its way into the heart of the political debate. “Eventually, you realize that the story of that bird is all about Mitt Romney,” he says, “and it fucking blows your mind.”

This kind of indirection – starting with the obscure and working toward the headlines – goes against the most basic rules of television, but for Maddow it can have a rare seductive power. “It’s really important that in the top third of the segment you don’t say ‘Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,’ or ‘military tribunal,’ or ‘Guantánamo,‘” Maddow says. “Because as soon as you say those things, people think they know what the story is. If you don’t edit mercilessly to keep out all of the words that make people leap to conclusions about what you’re going to say, you’ll never persuade people that you’re going to tell them something they don’t already know.*

I personally had my head blown right off this morning. This clip is worth your time. It’s an opening segment, a long political essay in RS’s words, and unconventional for televised punditry. If you haven’t been seduced by Maddow’s inimitable style, this will surely do it:

Video: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/vp/49309746#49309746

(FN1) Although, of course, if you found it disagreeable that I told you to read Sam Harris’ book because of your own opinions about Sam Harris, you’ve just proved my point and really don’t need to bother going to read Sam Harris anyhow. Since you don’t disagree with him on this point at least.

*My emphasis.

Tackling Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac

Radiolab did a fantastic piece a few years back on the story of Abraham sacrificing the only son he loved – he had two sons, God said kill the one you love which is Isaac, Abraham – being kind of a dick dad – had a favorite son. Its very confusing, but the Radiolab show makes it clear. In doing so they shed some light on tragedy and the human condition in our own time.

Give it a listen and then come back and read the below response.

Although, Robert Krulwich accepts the religious intention of the tale, I think Thomas Paine puts a nice cap on it with his view on the goodness of murder and sacrifice in The Bible.  Krulwich definitely struggles with wanting to conclude with Paine, but makes the fatal error common to all religious minds of “prostituting one’s Reason” as Paine puts it., thus “[preparing] himself for the commission of every other crime.”

As written by Thomas Paine, in “The Age of Reason”.

It seems as if parents of the Christian profession were ashamed to tell their children anything about the principles of their religion. They sometimes instruct them in morals, and talk to them of the goodness of what they call Providence, for the Christian mythology has five deities- there is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, the God Providence, and the Goddess Nature. But the Christian story of God the Father putting his son to death, or employing people to do it (for that is the plain language of the story) cannot be told by a parent to a child; and to tell him that it was done to make mankind happier and better is making the story still worse- as if mankind could be improved by the example of murder; and to tell him that all this is a mystery is only making an excuse for the incredibility of it.

There’s an online version of The Age of Reason and “ctrl+f” makes my life super easy. Check it out if this interests you.

Misleading Math in the Liberal News

Today, this story ran on NPR’s Morning Edition. In it, a high-paid and self-admitted overworked emergency room doctor that exclusively works overnight shifts bemoaned the potential impact of the Busa era tax cuts expiring. NPR avoided talking openly about the math and went for a dumbed-down story that presents the issue in a misleading way.

Doctor Hamilton Lempert works 40-70 hours a week, in the ER, on the overnight shift. For our purposes we can assume he’s well-paid and recieves bonuses on top of his regular pay because of overtime and incentive pay for both the ER and overnight shift.

This is how NPR covered his taxes:

When he runs his financial information through an online calculator to figure out how his tax bill would change if the Bush-era tax cuts are allowed to expire, he gets a shock.

Lempert would take about a $20,000 tax hit.

That seems like a lot. But given the doctor’s information and what we know about the Bush tax cuts we can assume he earns more than the average American family – more than $250,000.00. We also know the Bush tax cuts range around three to five percent.

So we divide $20,000.00 by .03 and .05 (the range of the tax rate) to estimate his income.

That means Dr. Lempert earns between $400,000.00 (if his taxes increase by five percent) and $666,667.00 (if his taxes increase by three percent).

Which presentation of the data is more reasonable? Does the doctor seem underpaid or overpaid? Yes, $20,000.00 is a lot of money. But so are $400,000.00 and $600,000.00 dollars. Maybe the doctor didn’t want to give his income, but NPR could easily have surmised a range for his income.

Instead, they scrub the income. That’s tantamount to reporting how outrageous Mitt Romney’s taxes would increase if his went from 15 percent to where most Americans pay around 23 percent. The presidential candidate would face an increase of $1.6 million on his taxes, or if you prefer zeros: $1,600,000.00.

Boo-fucking-hoo. Let’s hear him whine about putting off vacation or a new car like the good doctor.

In fairness, NPR reached out to a tax expert who put a nice cap on it, although I don’t think this is anywhere near as clear as just stating his income.

Virtually everyone in his income category will see their taxes rise in average about $14,000,” says Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. “That’s about a 5 percent reduction in their after-tax income, and 5 percent is something that even at that income level [is] noticeable.

http://www.npr.org/2012/10/01/162056898/for-high-earners-expiring-tax-cuts-would-hit-hard

Mars Landing (Must Watch in HD)

False Narratives of an Atlas Shrugged Variety

“I manage a mid-size company here in Dallas. We have weathered this recession pretty well. And actually, we’re looking to expand now. We have the capital to invest in a new manufacturing center to employ about 65 people and we’re looking at hiring at an average of about $43,000.00 a year. Now, we’re holding on making this expansion because of the Obamacare. The regulations, the costs on insurance for our employees is making us hold back. Otherwise we’d be putting these people back to work.”*

That’s a story you hear a lot if you have any interest in politics. Sometimes this pitch goes so far as a business manager threatening to shutter his shop if President Obama wins reelection.  We can disregard those as just as solipsistic and childish as the quadrennial oaths to flee to Canada or France by some self-righteous liberal Hollywood type.

The narrative, however, of a business too timid to expand sounds like a lie, even when it can avoid the accusation of base politicking. A business is selfish. Period.

If a businessman sees the opportunity to make an investment that will make him more money, he will make it. No capitalist will skip expanding their business and increasing their profit. No more than they would seriously entertain the idea of shuttering their business to spite the American people for allowing Barack Obama’s reelection.

Various callers to public radio shows and talking heads filling time on television make the seemingly more reasonable argument. They do not see it as profitable to expand, given the regulations by Obamacare. That is where it stops. There are too many regulations in Obamacare to expand manufacturing or hire more than 50 workers. No more specific than that. Just the vague governmental threat of having to pay for healthcare for your lower-middle class salaried workers causes these titans of industry to shrivel with repulsion. Where’s the true capitalist response to this? It seems obvious.

These people are not capitalists. There’s nothing capitalist about avoiding a profitable move.

Guess what, if paying a pittance for your workers to have basic healthcare coverage ruins your business plans, then you really didn’t have serious plans, did you? This is bluster and we have seen it before.

Recall Joe the Plummer – the unlicensed contractor who would have owned his own company if it weren’t for vague regulations and that same 3% increase in taxes that he wasn’t even in the tax bracket to have to suffer. The lie of Joe the Plumber unfurled too late after it broke. We now know that he was not a licensed plumber. He did not have enough money to buy the business he was swearing then-candidate Obama would prevent him from buying. He was not even really middle class. He was a working-class dreamer with a common case of Lotto Brain.

My suspicion is that all these would-be tycoons are suffering the same disorder, telling themselves that the one thing keeping them back are the machinations of the proposed (key word) center-left policies of one individual. They overlook their lack of capital, or lack of qualifications to even have that type of business in the first place.

I call bullshit on these news makers. Put up or shut up, let’s see these business plans. Let’s see your actuarial tables and how the President’s proposals make it impossible for you to make investments. This is opportunistic bluster at its worst. It’s happened before with Joe the Plumber, and until we call these people to account, they’ll continue to get away with making the claim that vague regulations are preventing a monumental recovery spear-headed by America’s famed business community. A community who apparently are in an Atlas Shrugged-like hibernation to punish the Looter -in-Chief and his cadre of parasitic supporters.

Bollocks.

*A paraphrase of a caller to the Diane Rehm show at the 10 a.m. hour on Sept. 10, 2012.

Ayn Rand’s Subversion of the GOP

The discussion about the face of modern conservatism during this week’s Republican National Convention will inevitably avoid the looming problem of Ayn Rand. The vice presidential nominee, up until his consideration for that position, praised Ayn Rand. He credited her ideology with spurring him into politics and required his staff to read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

Curiously, it seems Rand’s masterpiece has a habit of drawing in younger conservatives, as it did for Paul Ryan. Like communism for college liberals, Rand’s trumpeting prose comes off as revelatory. This message often appeals to misguided anarchists and conservatives trying to find real answers that America’s two parties fail to provide. Yet, in drawing in such audiences, Rand devotees often put themselves in danger of obvious conflicts of interest.

When Randist-Republicans like Paul Ryan abandon Rand’s atheism and her contempt for America’s two parties, they make a mockery of what Rand’s brand of conservatism really embodied. Rand summed it up like this: “There is no party, are no voice that offer a pro-capitalism, laissez-faire, economic freedom and individualism [sic].”

One philosophy Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand considered evil to her system of politics and economics was altruism. The one redeeming value of Christianity is its message of love, charity, forgiveness and its inescapable message of caring for the poor. Rand was crystal clear in Atlas Shrugged that Christian ethics had no place in her society. Modern Republican interpretations opportunistically shift this outright rejection of altruism towards an argument against legislating altruism: food stamps, subsidized healthcare, and so on. But in her words, Rand hates even the private act of giving where the motive is not self-interest, or to be less circuitous, one’s own personal monetary gain.

The RNC is missing the opportunity to have a debate about whether we as a people will continue to care for our poor. Does the Republican Party want to stand with altruism? It seems problematic for Ryan, a Christian, to advocate abandoning state-sponsored altruism. Imagine a Catholic trying to make that argument to the American people. This might not be a problem if Ryan was not a member of the flock of Christians who have ignored the American tradition of keeping religion and politics separate – which his views on the female body indicate.

It seems like a fatal case of cognitive dissonance. Christ was nothing if not an altruist. Yet Ryan’s budget relies on heavy reductions in altruism. I assume Ryan has America’s Christianity in mind based on his record. Yet, he’s either lost himself in his mutually contradictory views or is utterly insincere about either his Randian conservatism or his Catholicism. But, his proposed budget gives him an alibi for his sincere attachment to Ayn Rand and his social views do the same for his Catholicism.

Attempts for Randists like Ryan to hold on to their Christianity have already led to embarrassing exposes of this fatal cognitive dissonance. During an early Republican debate, fellow Randist and Christian Ron Paul, when asked what the role of the state was for an uninsured man dying in a hospital, was essentially to let the man die.

Ayn Rand was and will continue to be an albatross in the Republican Party. She had no place in either party and she knew it. Yet, in their desperation, the Republican candidates are setting themselves up for more embarrassing examples of their utter insincerity, or worse, their blatant idiocy.

Might be Relevant

I was working on this list and figured now that Paul Ryan secured Romney’s nomination, it might interest some people. The link goes to a list containing avowed Rand ideologues and why you ought to run screaming away from them.

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Greatest. Headline. Ever.

 

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