Friday, October 30, 2015

The Myth of Christian Persecution Meets Chi Square and the Founding Fathers

By Bob Ferris
When I took my first class in Statistics one of my favorite statistical tests was the one called Chi- Square.  The test involves some calculations, but at its core it asks the question whether two populations are the same or different based upon the observed and expected frequencies of a particular factor.  I think about this now as I look at all the rhetoric surrounding our purported founding as a Christian nation as argued by the Dominionists, Christian Reconstructionists and others of similar ilk and this whole manufactured myth of Christian persecution.

This simple test comes to mind when looking at the personal writings of our Founding Fathers, which mention God and the Bible fairly frequently, and trying to reconcile those documents and that thinking with the US Constitution which does not mention either even once in its 4,400 words.    A Chi-Square analysis of these personal writings versus the Constitution would indicate that they are in a word: Different.  In point of fact (and a little irony), those holding up more and more God and Bible-laced documents indicating the personal Christianity of those who wrote or signed the Constitution are only exacerbating this difference and further building the case that the Constitution was different than these personal writings and therefore not written to create a Christian state or even one ruled primarily by Christian laws.  It is as simple as that as it neither walks like a duck nor quacks.

Mike Huckabee (here with Kim Davis) is one of the biggest boosters to the idea of Christian persecution.
If you see Statistics as some sort of mumbo jumbo then how about thinking about this:  What are the chances of any body of folks founding a form of government based on Christianity not mentioning God, the Bible or even Jesus Christ in the foundation document?  You would think that one of the 49 signers would have raised alarm bells and called for edits that included mention of these figures or this text as well as the Ten Commandments.  But they did not and there are good and obvious reasons for that.  So please stop with these specious arguments that we were founded as a Christian nation, because we were not.

And once one crosses this we-were-founded-as-a-Christian-nation Rubicon then other untruths and miss-characterizations seem easier and easier with one being the idea of Christian persecution.  When one looks at this idea of Christian persecution and the examples given it is really, really hard to not see that all the examples of “persecution” seem tightly tied to Christians attempting to force their values on others essentially denying the others their Constitutional rights.   This myth appears more based on persecution by Christians rather than persecution of Christians.

Bobby Jindal awarded a sword by Louisiana Family Forum President Gene Mills.  Governor Jindal is evidently one of the ambassadors of Dominionism.  
I think that I would see this transparent action to protect the Christian "brand" in a better light if we saw the likes of Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal and others arguing for the US to become a theocracy, if they balanced their Christian persecution rhetoric by also condemning the varied abuses of Christianity such as the beating death of the teenager in New York, the abuse to young women handed out by Warren Jeffs’ twisted sect, the avoidable death of the child in Oregon denied medical treatment, and the constant violence and other abuse ladled out liberally by the KKK and other Christian-based hate groups.  It is hard to balance the headliner “tragedy” of Kim Davis’ near-country-club-like jail experience with being whipped by a rope, raped at an early age, dying when you shouldn’t or being lynched or dragged behind a truck for the “sin” of being black.   To stand up and make a big deal of one while ignoring the other strikes me as decidedly un-Christian.
Climate change is not science, it’s religionSenator Ted Cruz on Glenn Beck 
In closing, I look at the above quote by Senator Ted Cruz as telling and another nail in the coffin of this revisionist group’s credibility.  For the good Senator and others of his sort climate change is all about religion as their opposition to the idea that it is caused by humans or that it needs regulatory attention is clearly based on faith rather than evidence or logic.  But for the rest of us we live in the land of logic and evidence and those indicate that our country was founded purposely as a country that separated religion from governance, was against persecution from all quarters, and if it embraced any Christian principles per se they are embodied by the ideas of tolerance, broad charity, and looking after the welfare of our fellow citizens which—ironically—seem to be some of the first victims of this crowd.  Go figure.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Danger of Trophy Capitalism in the US

By Bob Ferris
The legend of Robin Hood introduces the peril of Trophy Capitalism as well as hope for a solution (N.C. Wyeth). 
Much ado was recently made about a US dentist who illegally shot a lion in Africa as a trophy.  Now many would argue that killing anything is evil, but as a hunter I am not of that camp.  For me, killing something illegally or unethically—either through method or lack of need—is what gets my blood boiling.  In this instance, as with the woman who shot a giraffe because it was “dangerous,” my sense is that flying across an ocean to kill something that is rare simply so you can hang it up on a wall or make a check mark on your life (death?) list is unnecessary on so many levels and should be treated as such.  

The “need” issue in this is core for me, because I frequently get into discussions with the anti-wolf crowd who sneeringly (and incorrectly) refer to wolves as surplus predators killing more than they need and wasting the rest—a position which seems strongly inconsistent with their support for trophy hunters who frequently do this when not eating that lion, giraffe, elephant or wolf they just shot.  My sense is that these concepts of surplus and trophies should also apply to economics and wealth as what is a billionaire or multi-billionaire other than a surplus predator on economic activity bent on collecting more wealth not out of any need, but rather for the trophy it represents?

Now before I continue let me say a few things.  I believe in the American Dream and I do not have a beef with capitalism per se.  My issues arise when the American Dream is viewed by some as a Buzz Lightyear “to infinity and beyond” journey rather than a reasonable destination.  Moreover, I also do not believe that those farther along on this “journey” should be able to use their positions or accumulated wealth to put limits on the dreams of others.  Admittedly this latter part stems from my personal aversion to bullies, but I am OK with that.  
“[D]ream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” Historian James Truslow Adams defining the American Dream in his 1931 book, "The Epic of America."  
For the above construct to operate and have meaning “reasonableness” needs to be defined.  What is rich enough?  How much is too much?  What level of economic harvesting would transition someone from legitimately pursuing the American Dream to becoming what should be termed as a "Trophy Capitalist" focused solely on collecting zeros rather than enriching their quality of life or the lives of others?  It is interesting that we as a nation seem to be able with reasonable precision to tell when pass interference happens during a football game, but lose those discernment skills when looking at someone or a family that has taken so much of our collective resources that they are infringing on the dreams of others.  So let me help a little.

I think in its most generous version the American Dream means “having it all.”   So let’s go extra-large and say that this expansive version of the American Dream includes having a bomb-proof income of say a $1 million annually; providing luxury for your two children ($10,000 per month each until 18); being well-endowed materially with multiple cars and houses in the city, mountains and beach (four $80,000 vehicles and three $5 million dollar homes); as well as putting your children through a quality four-year college.  The price tag for this extravagant dream would be about $100 million dollars or roughly 166 times the average net worth of an American couple or more than 1000 times the median net worth of an American couple (this skewed distribution should give you an idea of problem).  Right now there are about 5000 families in the US that meet this level of American dreaming.

Now before the cards and letters start flowing I will say that having a net worth of a hundred million dollars is really not about achieving the American Dream, but rather about perpetrating a ridiculously selfish act.  Which puts those people—i.e., billionaires—who have achieved a hundred times or more of this “more-than-you-could- possibly-ever-need” scenario in a position of transitioning from super-saturated success to serious sickness, because it is not about providing for actual needs or wants at this point.   

Much of this issue came home to me the other night when my wife and I watched the movie “Unbroken.”  In this film there is a scene where three World War II US Army Air Corps bomber crew members are in a life raft after surviving a crash at sea and they wake up to find that one of their raft mates has eaten their entire supply of chocolate by himself and in secret.  This scene was likely written for the 535 billionaires we have in the US right now—at least those unrepentant members of that group that have not signed the billionaire pledge or taken other similar actions.  

But this “don’t gobble up all the resources and think it is cool” messaging and the rightful consequences of this behavior are not new.  They are repeated in the Bible passage about camels (or ropes) and needle eyes, the Robin Hood legend, Disney’s 1937 classic “Pigs is Pigs” (see full cartoon here), Roald Dahl’s Willie Wonka  and in Monty Python’s dining scene in “The Meaning of Life.” (I wonder if Donald Trump understands that many of us think about Mr. Creosote and his buckets when Mr. Trump is going on and on and on about how rich he is.)

I mentioned sickness above in regards to Trophy Capitalism as I think that there is a deep psychological aspect to this behavior.  I am not a psychologist, but my sense is that the Koch family is a prime example of this.  Grandpa Koch came to this country in the late 1800's and sought his fortune, in part, because he felt neglected and ignored by his father who had remarried and had a second family.  His son Fred who made a fortune working for Stalin’s communist regime in Russia and later helped co-found the anti-communist John Birch Society seemed to perpetuate this pattern of sons using wealth as a way to gain fatherly approval and attention.   And skimming biographies of the current crop of Kochs we see distant parents and a father that never seemed satisfied acting as an engine for hyper-competitiveness and accumulation of wealth in the four boys molded by the manipulative Fred.

Excerpt from "Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty" by Daniel Schulman. 
Now in these tellings of the Koch boys’ youth there is much talk about having to do chores like mucking out horse stalls on their huge estate or other properties held by the family.  But it is hard in this to reconcile these tales of deprivation with living in a house that had a Renoir on the wall (see above excerpt). And, trust me, I get the father resentment that a shovel can bring as I spent a good portion of my free time in high school hand-digging a new drain field for the family’s septic system and moving with shovel and contractor's wheelbarrow the mountain of dirt excavated for the pool my father had put in but was too thrifty to have the dirt hauled away.  But most of us navigated our way through these “I’ll teach you responsibility” exercises without debilitating harm.

I have taken us down this psychological side tunnel because I want folks to grasp the possibility that our country, our political system, and the future of our Planet might be in jeopardy because some small section of society was not loved enough at some point in their lives.  When we look at the gaming of our economic system including the massive migration of wealth away from the middle class, our artificially paralytic response to climate change and the purposeful dysfunction injected into Congress by what is essentially a cabal of billionaires it seems bizarre that we could have let this happen.  

Writer Naomi Klein in her fine book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate” lays much of this at the feet of capitalism.  I am not entirely convinced as I think the adjustments needed at this point have to deal with the abuse of capitalism rather than the institution itself.  Perhaps what we need to do as folks come nearer to this hundred million mark is tax them like we did in the 1950s and use part of that money to provide them therapy to uncover and deal with the underlying causes of their trophy capitalism.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

NOTE: I wrote this last fall and it was directed more towards the Koch Brothers, but it could just as easily be directed towards the Trumps who are Trophy Capitalists and Trophy Hunters.  It is hard for me to differentiate between  Donald Trump Jr's act of "conquering" and demeaning a dead elephant by cutting off its tail (see above) as any different than his father's coating their home garishly in gold and demeaning the economic suffering they and others have inflicted on the rest of us.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

On Radio Rage

By Bob Ferris

Cruising in the old truck down to Florida a few years ago/.
I suppose that since I am a senior I can have senior rants. This one is about the radio in my nearly 20 year-old truck.  Before starting I will say that I compare all car radios to the one that I had in my 1967 Ford Mustang my impression of which was probably enhanced by the newness of stereo in a heretofore mainly monaural world, but I seriously digress.

This is basically what I had in that 1967 Mustang.
I should also point out that the “radio” in question is not the radio that came with the truck in 1997 but rather one that we replaced after we got tired of having a CD player on the seat and a funky adapter stuck in the cassette slot.  Let’s make it clean and simple; that was what we were thinking.   So we installed a sleek and stylish name brand radio complete with CD slot, USB port and a remote.  This was the simplest unit we could find on the lower end of the cost scale.

So what could go wrong?  The first thing is that it startles the crap out of me each time I start the car because instead of having it the radio off until asked to join in the driving experience it is always on when you turn the key.  This is particularly weird when you have stopped and are starting again and the audio book CD that you have turned up because you were driving on a noisy freeway booms out of the speakers just as you are pulling out of a parking place and hoping to Hell that you do not hear a loud, scraping sound.  I also suspect that I miss the super satisfying counter-clockwise click one got from the volume/power knob.

My second gripe are the presets.  I guess I really long for the big, clunky mechanical buttons that you pulled out when you liked a station and it stayed right there until you wanted to change it.  Now you need to pull off the road and grab the instruction manual in order to take a seminar in station changing and setting only to lose that station pre-set because your finger inadvertently hit the wrong button or combination of buttons when you encountered a bump while pulling into a parking lot or smacked a pot hole because the “new” method is maybe not as ergonomic as the designers think it is.
Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob Smith 
This rant could go on as long as a Ginger Baker drum solo, but let’s cut to the quick.  No one designing these more advanced mobile entertainment systems ever tried to use them while driving at high speed wearing progressive lenses.  If they did then this is one of the biggest practical jokes ever played on the “we-remember-Howdy-Doody-set” who cannot possibly read bouncing and blurry 6 point type labeling at a side angle while at the same time trying to keep the rest of America safe on the road.

Now I am all for progress that is progress and I am big time proud that my 94 year-old mother is on Facebook, but progress is not progress if it makes things worse for a large segment of the population. We had something that we could use and love only to have that replaced with an expensive item we often consider using as fishing weight.  

The navigator and co-driver in Florida.
The burning tragedy here is that we are starting to download audio books from the library on our i-phones and plugging them into the USB port giving us the same situation that prompted us to get the new device in the first place.  All of this creates the very real need for co-drivers to deal with electronic navigation and in route entertainment.  And that upon consideration is probably not all bad.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Maybe Next Time FOX News Should Try Richard Simmons Instead

By Bob Ferris

Fox News CIA and terrorist expert Wayne Simmons was recently arrested  for committing fraud against the United States.  Not the least of which is padding his resume and claiming that he is former CIA operative.  Fox News defends their frequent use of Simmons by saying that they did not pay him for his appearances.  The Fox response is weak and inadequate and once again reinforces the reason why they say fair and balanced rather than accurate and truthful.

What I really think that Fox News does not get is that while Mr. Simmons’ actions reflect poorly on him, the fact that Fox used him repeatedly reflects also on the network’s ability to tell truth from fiction.  What was the process there?  Who made the decision to put this non-expert on the air and was it just that he was the only huckleberry in the crowd that was saying what Fox wanted to hear and wanted their complacent audience to absorb?  Mr. Simmons’ expertise—if one exists—seems to be telling stories that are not true and he certainly landed where that skill is not only useful but takes seed.

But Fox is not the only victim here.  Mr. Simmons was also a featured speaker at Accuracy in Media’s Benghazi panel in 2013 (see above video screen shot).  AIM is a non-profit dedicated fairness, balance and accuracy in the media.  According to Source Watch funding  for AIM has come from the following sources with many of these being the very oil companies (see bold below) that we discussed in one of my previous pieces called Pirates of the Carbon Era.

Bethlehem Steel - Carthage Foundation - Scaife Foundations - Chevron - Ciba-Geigy - Coors Foundation - Dressor Industries - Exxon - Lawrence Fertig Foundation - Getty Oil - Horizon Oil and Gas - IBM - Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical - F.M. Kirby Foundation - Mobil Foundation - Pepsico - Phillips Petroleum Company - Smith Richardson Charitable Trust  - Texaco Philanthropic Foundation - Union Carbide

I am not going say anything more because this situation and the problems it represents are self-evident.  I hope that we are coming to a time when Americans will suddenly wake up from their intellectual torpor and once again desire facts and truth rather than settling for something else simply because it is entertaining or the graphics are good.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Candidate Buyers Club and the Anchor of America

By Bob Ferris
This country pushed our way out from under the thumbs of a ruling elite nearly two and half centuries ago and it looks like we may have to go through that exercise again. 
The New York Times recently published an eye-opening piece about how there were approximately 120 million families in the US and 158 of them had provided about 50% of the support poured into the coffers of presidential candidates.  Crunching these numbers a little bit we see that this is not the fabled 1% we hear so much about but rather the 0.0001 percent who now seem to own half interest in or are at least purchasing shares in a potential future president.  All of these donations appear legal and are mostly allowed because of the 5-year old Citizens United ruling which equated money to free speech and seemed to give corporations the same standing as those with a real heartbeat.
Split of Republicans versus Democrats in the super donor roles (from NYT)
Now we keep hearing from conservative apologists that there is a political balance in these large campaign investments with some beating the Soros drum as often as others ring the Koch bell, but as we see from the above graphic included in the New York Times article large donor families are nearly seven times more likely to support Republicans than Democrats.  This makes sense as one looks at the long-standing tastes-great versus less-filling debate of whether we are a republic ruled by a few deciding our fate versus a democracy where we all have at least some say (1,2).  It is an interesting debate, but we are kind of both.

When I think about this wonderful and delicate balance between republic and democracy I remember a night two decades ago when my brother-in-law and I were sailing in the Caribbean on a family vacation with my sister and their three children.  That evening we set two anchors when we moored in a beautiful albeit exposed cove.  He and I slept little that night because the flukes of the anchors felt like they were constantly slipping in the loose, gravelly seabed and with each roll of a swell we sensed that we were drifting more and more towards the shore and disaster.

In the above analogy democracy is the anchor that holds us relatively in place and the republican forces are the swells and currents that swing us back and forth as needed or wanted.  Our inability to sleep is also very much like the vigilance necessary to keep this great nation afloat and off the rocks or shore. In this analogy Citizens United is a tsunami that makes both the anchor and oceanic movements irrelevant.

Tsunamis are incredibly destructive forces (Japan 2011)
Citizens United is a virtual wrecking ball for a modified democracy such as ours slamming us clear past a republican construct directly into an oligarchy or plutocracy (1,2,3).  In a very real sense Citizens United rips our governmental fabric to shreds allowing in the three hobgoblins of tyranny—classism, corporate influence and religious abuse (1,2,3)—so effectively eschewed by our Founding Fathers nearly 240 years ago.  We may still have the vote—and I say this guardedly as I watch disenfranchisement flourish (1,2,3)—but what value is that vote if billionaires set the menu of candidates (1,2,3,4,5,6) and ultimately hold the leashes of their creations once elected?

As alluded to above Citizens United has essentially enabled a billionaire buyers club for candidates.  I am calling this the Candidate Buyers Club but could have just as easily called it WASH-MART or Politics R-US with an emphasis on the "R."  The point being that because of this cash tsunami we (the average voter) have lost any semblance of connection with or control of the system.  This is a degradation process that has been on-going but likely started in earnest during the Reagan Administration with the loss of the Fairness Doctrine and the immigration to our shores of a certain Australian media machine.

Tsunamis once created are unavoidable.  When these massive waves are promulgated all that is left to do is to head for high ground and come back later to pick up the pieces.  This is where Citizens United differs from a true tsunami in that we can stop Citizens United legislatively (1,2,3) or constitutionally (1,2,3).
"This was not just the work of the Freedom Caucus or Ted Cruz or one month’s activity. The Republican Party’s capacity for effective self-governance degraded slowly, over the course of a long chain of rhetorical excesses, mental corruptions and philosophical betrayals. Basically, the party abandoned traditional conservatism for right-wing radicalism. Republicans came to see themselves as insurgents and revolutionaries, and every revolution tends toward anarchy and ends up devouring its own." New York Times Conservative columnist David Brooks commenting on the current state of the Republicans in Congress October 13, 2015 (my parallel take in July)
In the childish government shutdown in 2013 (1,2,3), our current Congressional dysfunction (1,2,3,4), and the hot-potato, Speaker of the House situation (1,2,3) we see hints of the damage already injected by the bullying billionaires (1) and their ilk.  This should scare us sufficiently to act, but the going will be tough and we will need people of principle to perform extraordinary feats.  But that is how it has always been and is likely the hallmark of a successful democracy.

So before a candidate tells you how they are going to make America more financially secure or stamp-out ISIS single-handedly, ask them what legislative or constitutional fix they are going to pursue to bring balanced democracy back to America.  If they stutter, stall, or demure move on to the next townhall meeting, stage, or booth and ask the question again.  Keep asking until you get the right answer because that will be the person who has either slipped the traces of this tyranny or never was a thrall.  The cost of failure in this regard is too high to consider.


P.S. There are a great number of groups working for a Constitutional amendment to fix this situation. They include:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Pirates of the Carbon Era

By Bob Ferris

NC Wyeth illustration from Treasure Island
I often am amazed, disappointed, and sometimes angered when I see the “who-knew-what-when” pieces about climate change that are treated as hot-off-the-presses news.  After all it has been well-documented that Exxon-Mobil (1,2,3,4) has known about climate change for decades.  In fact, I and many others in the environmental community had extensive discussions with energy executives more than 20 years ago about the need for carbon sinks and mitigation to offset carbon emissions.  Along these same lines, it seems counter-intuitive for C. Boyden Gray a lawyer working in the Reagan Administration in the early 1980s to conceptualize emissions trading (what we now know as Cap and Trade) if there was not an understanding that smokestack and tailpipe emissions—including carbon—were a problem.

It has also been reported repeatedly that the Johnson Administration and Congress were told about this issue in the 1960s.  And legendary film director Frank Capra of It's a Wonderful Life fame even made a movie about the danger of carbon emissions and climate change in the late 1950s (see above video). That anyone expresses astonishment that any informed party “knew” about climate change seems a little like someone arriving home to a street filled with cars on their birthday and then struggling to find their “surprise” face when folks and balloons emerge enthusiastically from behind the furniture.

My disappointment too comes from the idea that people would be shocked to discover that the fossil fuel interests knew about climate change and yet did not tell us their product was killing the planet.   In terms of this Boy Scout-like expectation of the energy industry, my only logical response is that in the very truest sense the folks at Exxon and their allies are basically modern day pirates.   Their goal is to pay the lowest price for assets owned by all of us—cheating us when they can (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)—and then selling back to us our own processed resources at the highest price possible.  In this they often play games in terms of making something plentiful appear scarce until their ability to stockpile that product is exceeded (1,2).

And elements of the fossil fuel industry are certainly not above corrupting officials (1,2,3) or commandeering a political party (1,2) to get blind eyes turned in their direction by the folks who should be regulating them or to stop Congress from actively leveling the playing field with measures like windfall profits taxes or reduced subsidies when the abuses get entirely out of hand.  (And if you are under 40 or so and the idea of a windfall profits tax is foreign to you, these are taxes on extreme profits that Congress used back when they were only rented rather than owned by the fossil fuel industry.)

In thinking about the fossil fuel industry as a pirate one might look towards Jean Lafitte (pictured above) as a model.  Certainly not good but not all evil either when it suited him.
I bring in the “pirate” imagery above to make clear the folly of expecting self-destructive openness or even truth from this sector.  The pirate’s flag is not a smiley face or heart sign but rather a skull and crossbones that they only show when they are close enough that their victims knowing the true nature of their intent is pretty immaterial to the outcome.  This is not to say that these “pirates” do not bring some benefit to society through product and economic activity, but it is to say that our eyes should be open and our hands on our wallets in our dealings with them as they are neither trustworthy nor altruistic in spite of their claims to the contrary.  And they surely should not have a hand on the reins of this country in any way.

And now on to my anger.  The source of my anger comes from American voters who seem to believe that periodically checking a box on a ballot without questioning party platforms, legislative performance or the consequences of regulatory trajectories is adequate effort to protect our collective interests regarding climate change or even our democracy.  I grow irate when I watch these reflex voters fumble their democratic responsibility so nimbly while gripping tightly to a flag they hardly understand.

While I am certainly quick to criticize, I am not generally a name-caller per se.   But it is really hard not to use pejorative words like stupid, lazy or irresponsible when referring to this large chunk of our citizenry.  Now I understand that propaganda outlets such as Fox News and small market papers tend to distort reality and control the information flow—particularly about climate change.  Anyone who has driven across the United States understands that the quality of journalism and the federal-politics-to-pork-bellies content ratio of newspapers changes appreciably as one goes farther from urban centers and the coasts.  It all tends to confuse and make it more difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff and don’t even get me started on industry supported think tanks or their associated minions spreading myths and rumors (1,2,3).

Drawing of Valley Forge during the winter of 1778.  
The above really makes me wish that I had some sort of time machine where I could put a few of these misinformation-sponge, Tea Party patriot, climate change deniers around a campfire at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778 to share with the soldiers serving there the severe hardship of sorting fact from fiction and being vigilant of the democracy these brave lads handed us nearly 240 years ago.   My sense is that it would be exceedingly hard to walk very far or fast with a frost-bitten foot or a Scrimshawed powder horn firmly and forcefully placed where the sun does not shine.

Revolutionary era powder horn engraved with a map of New York.
I suspect that some of my peripheral anger at the above stems from talking with those who want so badly to emulate and honor our Founding Fathers without understanding that these leaders had incredible minds and were scholarly (1,2,3).  They ate information, often spoke dead languages and debated vigorously drawing frequently on the religious, political and moral philosophers of their time and the distant past.  They drew heavily on these ancient writings and even some Native American sources when they designed their new country based on a governance system never once mentioned or alluded to in the Bible.

I fully understand that high school and college can be challenging environments, but you certainly cannot paint yourself as patriotic or lay claim to any share of whatever American Exceptionalism we still possess if simply exiting the education system is your end intellectual goal.   In this regard I am stunned by irony when I meet someone who did not take calculus, chemistry or physics in high school rage about immigrants from China or India who did.  If those who complain about these immigrants really want to identify those who are dragging this country down and keeping them from the jobs they want, they have only to walk in front of a reflective surface to see the responsible party.  But I digress.

With climate change we face a massive crisis made worse because the “pirates” among us and their allies have been far too successful at creating and then confusing an increasingly gullible public (1,2,3) that should be better informed and more vigilant in their efforts to protect the governmental gift given them by past generations.  In many ways we have essentially let the pirates take over our country and convince us that we need to reduce the restrictions on piracy.

In Robert Lewis Stevenson’s immortal, coming-of-age-novel Treasure Island young Jim Hawkins pays often and dearly for his trust of the pirate Long John Silver (see above video trailer of Disney's 1950 version of the novel).  In the end he sees Silver for what he is—both good and bad—then deals with him fairly, justly and with compassion.  Jim and the United States have much in common for we too must come to terms with our pirates treating them fairly and honestly but with the understanding that they are indeed pirates not deserving of our trust.  We must radically readjust the current relationship with the fossil fuels industry and exercise caution to prevent their tall tales or actions from causing us further harm.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Aversion Training for Wolves or Sensitivity Training for Ranchers?

By Bob Ferris

I have been pretty ensconced of late in politics because it is the “moving train” of the moment and because of the importance of this next election cycle.   But then this headline shared on Facebook by friend and Wolfer author Carter Niemeyer caught my eye:  ‘Wolf-friendly beef’ Idea Patronizing to Ranchers.  Hmm...

Now I am really sorry that ranchers feel that the idea of “wolf-friendly beef” is so patronizing as I hate to unnecessarily hurt the feelings of any group.  But I wonder in this context if food stamp recipients like the term “food stamps” or do they find that patronizing or demeaning?  And I wonder if ranchers are as annoyed about “wolf-friendly beef” as the rest of us are about the idea of subsidized, public lands grazing in the West or the fact that taxpayers absorb something on the order of a $123 million a year in direct costs for that program?  And when you include other direct and indirect costs such as predator control and environmental consequences including decreased water quality and compromised wildlife habitat the societal cost of ranching become much higher.    

I have worked for many, many years in the area of economic incentives for wildlife conservation on public and private lands.  Part of that process has always been empathy and a well-developed sensitivity to the issues faced by others sitting across the table from you.  Concepts like “wolf-friendly beef” are born out of the process.  Those activities work best when all parties come to the table with self-awareness and a willingness to look for solutions and fail when one side feels entitled or oppressed without acknowledging their true part of the total equation.  Perhaps we should invest some in sensitivity training for ranchers or make it a precondition for grazing on public lands?  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Jason Chaffetz and the Ten Percent Pollution

By Bob Ferris

Controversial Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Planned Parenthood fame wants to be Speaker of the House.  Jason Chaffetz is a so-called Tea Party Republican who holds views consistent with about twelve percent of the US population.  Let that sink in for a little bit—the views of twelve percent of the population forced on the eighty-eight percent of the rest of us.  Regardless of whether you think of the US as a democracy or a republic there is something patently wrong about this decidedly minority vision being the ruling force of the land.  Yet it could be so.

Although the US is a country that has historically tried—with some success and many failures—to be sensitive and protective of minority views, my sense is that the intention of the Founding Fathers was not to have minority views drive governance.  This is likely particularly true of conservative views which stood in the way of the formation of this country in the first place, then tried to rip it apart during the Civil War, and are continuing that track record with this present divisiveness.

If we are a Democracy, why are there twice as many conservatives in Congress than there are the general population?
I look at these things political the same way I look at pretty much any system.  That we have 12 percent conservatives in the general population and roughly 25 percent in Congress must have taken something un-natural such as what we are seeing in terms of an influx of biased media, gerrymandering, or disenfranchisement via monkey-business at polling places or in the registration process.  I suspect that "king-making" by the rich and famous plays a role as well.

We only have to look in the news and at internet resources to see obvious media biases, lawsuits in Arizona, Florida, Maryland and Texas and Virginia trying to overturn gerrymandering, and the current fight in Kansas for voter records along with the proposed closure of rural (red black) Department of Motor Vehicle offices (i.e., voter registration options) in Alabama to know these forces are clearly at work.  The news also points to undue influence from the rich and privileged driving us ever farther from a one-vote-one-person model (1,2,3).

I call this un-natural because it is illogical also.  Any political party wanting a larger share of the electorate should devise strategies targeting voters in the middle of the spectrum (see chart at beginning of piece) where there are more Americans rather than on the fringes where there are fewer. So-called big tent strategies that ultimately create political environments where very few are comfortable cannot last or do much. (Bring anything to mind?)

I am not certain whether or not I want Mr. Chaffetz as Speaker of the House or not.  If he gets the job my sense is that needed change and correction will come quicker and with McCarthy slower.  Now many might point to our current situation with our bumper crop of ridiculous candidates and all that is alluded to above as indications that the system is seriously broken and probably ill-designed.  I believe that those making these comments are mostly wrong and the dysfunction in Congress and these 50 Congressmen mentioned in the CNN piece (along with their allies) childishly digging in their conservative heels and blocking all but exactly what they want is only part of a corrective cycle in a purposely elastic system.   I trust that this condition will ultimately force Republicans concerned about maintaining political parity as well as moving their agenda along to work to correct.

I think I am like many who long for the days when it was a tough decision whether to vote for a Republican or Democrat and the only difference between the two basically being their particular pathway to optimize public good for all their constituents.  For this hopeful event to happen,however, we have to return to those "system doubters" and the three main areas where they are correct in their assessment.  Those three areas boil down to a need to: 1) return fairness in the media; 2) bring about campaign finance reform starting with a Constitution amendment or legislative fix to Citizen United; and 3) end to the idea and practice of trickle-down economics.

Mr. Chaffetz is a great symbol for the 10 percent Congressional pollution that is upsetting the legislative apple cart, because he is a prime example of the extra 10 percent conservatism, mainly via the Tea Party, that has been forced into Congress by external forces and energies wanting to game the system for their own monetary or political gain.

I wonder if the cot-surfing Congressman from Utah truly understands how many US citizens wish that he would drop support for witch hunts directed a Planned Parenthood and Benghazi (1,2,3) and look after the broader interests of all of us by investigating the impacts of the influx of politically biased media on our shared airwaves and bandwidths as well as the untoward political influence and perversion of science by a select few who have benefited far too much for far too long from the transfer of wealth from the middle class to the upper one percent.   If Mr. Chaffetz is that concerned about cancer (see video here), that is the "cancer" that is infecting America and we need some leaders to do something about it.