Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The On-Going Debate: Atheism or Theism as a Basis for Law

I don't personally care what people believe in the privacy of their own homes and hearts. What I care about is ensuring that we all have freedom of conscience. No one religion should ever have dictatorial power over public policy.

Some say "Atheism is a religion too," but that's only true if you define "religion" as "way of life".  Otherwise, it has none of the hallmarks of organized religion.  Being someone raised in an Atheist home, I'd define "Atheism" as exactly what it is -- absence of deity, hard stop.

The major difference between a governmental policy based on religion vs one more secularly-based is that Atheism concerns itself with the concrete here and now, based on verifiable scientific evidence. To me, that's a far stronger foundation for law than any unverified personal belief.  Just like in a court of law, hard evidence is the standard, rather than some person in a collar saying "God told me so," so too must our laws be held to a standard that treats everyone on a level playing field.

Ultimately, a secular basis for law is the most equitable, because it is based in concrete evidence. As I've stated before, the moment we start giving preferential treatment under the law to any one organized religious sect -- a sect based in magical, rather than evidential thinking -- all other religions' freedom of conscience is endangered.  This was the whole reason behind the Constitutionally-enshrined Separation of Church & State.

Now, a common counter-argument is the mistaken belief that Atheists, lacking a Deity figure to dole out punishment for bad behavior, have no morals.  This argument, while I'm sure is appealing to the more Regressive Religious crowd, is also entirely false.  

A good example of this line of questioning -- "What scientific reason can be given for say helping out your fellow human being that's stuck under a car especially if it puts your life in danger?" -- is very easily answered with the simple litmus test of reversing the circumstances. If I were stuck under a car, I'd want someone to help me out.  Therefore, I help out when I see someone else stuck under a car.  No need for deities in that equation, just simple empathy and the ability to put myself in someone else's shoes.

What I find interesting in many of the conversations I get into is how threatened Theists are by the very existence of Atheists. Why is a person saying "there is no God" such a threat, unless on some level of the Theistic mindset there's an agreement with that statement -- or the fear that, because such beliefs could be mere products of thought and thus erasable by the appearance of a contradictory thought?  Can truly deep-seated beliefs be so easily uprooted by someone else saying, "it ain't necessarily so"?  What is it about one person's refusal to believe in a particular tradition that so threatens those who do?  There's a very real insecurity going on here.

I suspect it's from a knowledge of history -- Theistic religions have for generations literally burned Atheists at the stake for disagreeing with the State Religion. I think there's an inherent fear that Atheists will return the favor.  If empathy holds as a human trait, I highly doubt that will be the case.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

On Double-Standards

More and more, I see an increasing double-standard in the media between Progressive and Regressive rhetoric and behavior.  

Where Progressives must rely on factual evidence of the highest standards, Regressives can literally make stuff up.  Behavior that is accepted as business-as-usual in Regressive circles gets Progressive pundits sacked.

Again and again and again, we see the Regressive Camp get all up in arms over the President doing the exact same thing that their own people do -- and yet still insist that it's OK, even virtuous for Regressives to do what they condemn the President for doing.  

We see it when they refuse to allow religious groups other than Christian Domionists to do the exact same things that they insist on doing in the name of Christianity.  We see it again and again and again, and yet Progressives are continually blasted, harassed, punished and attacked for calling it out.  Progressives are constantly held to a higher standard while Regressives are held to practically none.

As Nelson Mandela realized, there comes a time when holding to the higher standard fails to achieve the goals we fight for.  He also realized that there comes a time when the higher standard must be held to.  Distinguishing between the two is the hard part.

For me, this double-standard only reinforces my assertion that lies and propaganda are the only weapons left to the Regressives -- who consistently lack any substantial evidence to back up their outlandish claims and demands for absolute control over our nation.  The evidence that we've seen for the past 30 years is that their world is a utopia only for rich white christian theocrat men and a nightmare for the rest of us.  

I urge everyone to think critically about the direction of our nation -- to use our inborn ability to reason to determine what is empirically proven to work to bring our nation back from the brink.  In order to do this, we have to agree on a single standard for all rhetoric -- and punish severely those who insist on breaking that standard.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Corporate Feudalism

We like to think of things in the USA as a giant football game between two parties.  

There is a comfort in the familiar back-and-forth between small-state Regressives who hate women and minorities and want to create a White Man's Theocracy and the central Progressives who want an open society where everybody has a fair shot at the American Dream.  The sense of the familiar rivalry in a sports arena gives the average citizen comfort.  It's easy to see this by how incessantly it's promoted by our media machines.  

GOP vs Democrats, Fox vs MSNBC, Christians vs Muslims, Capitalism vs Socialism, Yankees vs Red Sox.  It's all very familiar and very comforting at the most basic level to the American Psyche.

And it's all a lie.

From the beginning of Western Civilization, we've always had a hierarchy of citizens, usually with a small number at the top of the proverbial food chain who had all the rights and a very large number on bottom who had none.  We know it today as Feudalism, but the same system can be seen in every major organization from the basest street gang to the largest multinational.  The Class System of society is evident to this day.

Since the creation of the United States and the French Revolution, this official class-trend of Aristocrats and the rest of us has been under attack as new ideas of individual self-determination took root around the world.  The idea that those on the bottom have the same natural rights and abilities as those born into the upper strata is nothing short of revolutionary and has spawned a myriad of social and economic systems that have attempted to level the playing field.  Democracy, Socialism, Egalitarianism, Consensus Anarchy, have all to varying degrees tried to deal with this issue.  

Other systems, such as Totalitarianism and Fascism have attempted to re-cement the old class systems by force.  It's a good thing that such systems have been kept in check, at least in the public eye.  But that is changing.

It's happening slowly in the USA, but for the past 30 years, if not for the past 80, it's been quite steadily heading back to the solidified class system of the middle ages.  Corporate power over our government, legitimized by Citizens United, has allowed the wealthy unfettered power to literally buy governmental policy to their advantage and to the average person's detriment.  Every President has gotten into power with the backing of Wall Street, no matter what their social positions.  Why?  Because every President since Reagan has done their utmost to promote Corporate expansion of power.  Just look at the Affordable Care Act.  In essence, it guarantees that the Private Insurance Industry by law has the entire population of the USA as customers.  

Even when that power runs our nation into the ground, those powerful interests are left untouched.  And whenever corporate power is really challenged, that challenge is squashed with brutal force.  Just look at Kent State.  Or Occupy Wall Street's failed protests.  New laws are being passed in state houses every day to tighten the restrictions on how, when, where and under what circumstances citizens can protest for a redress of grievances -- a right supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution.  

But that's just the obvious part.  As the disparity between rich and poor continuously widens, the average person loses the ability to focus on their own larger destinies as they're forced to focus more and more on putting food on the table.  The minimum wage argument is about this.  The more chance people have to move above subsistence level, the greater their ability to have a say in the government.  This is something the owners, shareholders and managers of the Corporate State fear.  That's why -- that, and the relentless pursuit of new ways to squeeze out a profit -- the inundation of Corporate attempts to control our lives is endless.  Our computers are tapped.  Our phones are tapped.  Our movements are monitored endlessly.  And it's not Big Government doing it.  It's Google and Verizon and Facebook.  

The fact is that increasingly, the average person is cut off from having a say in their lives by economics.  Without financial independence, people simply cannot afford to move up the social ladder -- the hallmark of the American Dream.  This trend is quite deliberately set up to keep the status quo.  The richest among us gain the privileges of Aristocracy, while the rest of us scrape by with fewer means, fewer rights and fewer paths towards a better life.  The only weapon the People are left with is the vote -- the ability to choose who they employ in government.  

It's very telling that the average person thinks of Congress members as "leaders" rather than "public employees".  We defer to them because we see them in sharp suits on TV, because they can afford to have good PR teams and stylists and handlers who train and rehearse them, like actors, to put on a show.  And we, poor uneducated hopeless sods that we are, buy into it again and again each election cycle.  

We're already all-but serfs in our own land -- and unless we take back the reigns of our government, unless we, the average citizens on bottom use our meager power of the vote to replace the Corporate-owned government that threatens to strand us in place for the rest of our lives with representative employees truly accountable to the average person, it is this reality that we'll be forced to endure.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mandela's Wider World Legacy

The World lost one of its brightest lights with the death of former South African President and Civil Rights leader, Nelson Mandela.  

A living symbol of the evils of apartheid and the power of people to overcome a system designed to keep them low, much has been said of his life and his legacy.  As a child in the 80's, I was raised and educated thinking of him as a hero, and cheered with the rest of the world at his election as the first non-white president of a country that until that point was the perfect picture of what leaders like King were fighting against here in the USA.

What scares me most here in the States, though, is the rush of Regressives to co-opt the legacy of a man who stood against everything they push for.  White men doing everything they can to legally suppress the natural rights of non-white citizens, who push for expanding a draconian and heavily-racially biased prison system -- in which over 1.5 million people are currently kept under lock and key.  The highest per-capita prison population in the world! --, who deny basic human dignity to womenwho promote only the the privileges of the upper class and who have done everything in their power to undermine and unseat the American result of Mandela's work cannot in good conscience or with any validity lay claim to the promotion of the liberty and self-determination of the downtrodden championed  by this great man.

Though few can go to their peace with as clean a conscience as Mandela, who achieved more than his original goals in his long life, the struggle continues around the world.

Would that the so-called Land of the Free would take up the banner in earnest, instead of using it as soiled window dressing for more political power-games among the American Aristocracy.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


What is Propaganda?

The term is thrown about frequently these days.  Infotainment channels, from CNN to Fox spew talking points and repeated stories at us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Defined by Merriam-Websters as "ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc," it is a subtle art form to which many Americans are easily susceptible in our modern media-saturated environment.

But how does it manifest?  How do we recognize it?  How much of it has already tainted our national discourse and how do we see through it to the actual facts?  To do this, we must briefly examine the methods of its greatest designer.

Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Public Enlightenment outlined several principles in what it is and supposed to do.  Let's examine a selection of it below and see where we stand.

Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority & Propagandist must have access to intelligence concerning events and public opinion.  In our case, rather than a Totalitarian State, we have many, many authorities making many many statements, day-in-day out.  We can see from this statement that it's imperative for a well-informed citizen to get their information from multiple sources, but considering that Fox News is rated as the most-watched information source on TV, it could easily be argued that it fits the mold of propagandist best in our nation.

The propaganda consequences of an action must be considered in planning that action and it must affect the enemy's policy and action.  Take, for example, the outcome of the 2000 Election.  With results too close to call, Fox was the first and only network to call it for Bush.  They hammered the airwaves with their own results, contrary to the facts, and eventually forced public opinion towards Bush's direction so completely that the Supreme Court itself took the unprecedented move of deciding the election for us.  By sticking to their chosen candidate, Fox itself determined public policy.

To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium.  Unlike the 1930's, when radio and newspapers and posters dominated the media scene, our current culture has TV and the unprecedented power of the Internet, bringing vast amounts of information to our fingertips with very little effort on the consumers' part.  The ease of receiving propaganda and mistaking it for fact cannot be underestimated.

Credibility alone must determine whether propaganda output should be true or false.  "Take our word for it".  Take, for example, the reaction on Fox during the 2012 election.  So sure were they in their own narrative spin that when the results didn't actually bear out, they attacked their own number crunchers' integrity.  Time after time, Regressive narratives are proven factually false, and yet they continue to push the same narrative.

Propaganda must be carefully timed and on the home front must create an optimum anxiety level while diminishing the impact of frustration.  Did anybody else notice that nearly every time Bush was in political hot water, suddenly his administration would issue another terror alert?  Dan Rather certainly did.  It inevitably shifted attention away from the Administration, keeping the population at home constantly off-balance.  Fear-mongering is a hallmark to watch out for -- especially when it makes sure that the population is distracted from the real problems facing them.    

Declassified, operational information must be available to implement a propaganda campaign and must prevent the raising of false hopes which can be blasted by future events..  In other words, the best lies are mixed with truth and the lies must not be vulnerable when the facts refute them.  The more facts can be obscured and remixed, the more credible the propaganda seems.  Often, keeping the messenger in the dark can ensure that the messenger delivers a message they truly believe, even when it turns out to be blatantly untrue.  

Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans.  "Support our troops."  "Freedom isn't free."  Bill Maher wasn't wrong with his assessment of sloganeering.  Slogans are catchy and are increasingly being used instead of logic, reason and factual critical assessment.  I continue to deal with this in my dealings with Regressives, who insist on parroting propaganda even when confronted with evidence that directly contradicts the slogans they repeat.

Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.  Ascribing to one's enemies one's own faults, plus the usual tactic of scapegoating fall under this category.  Consider the renewed focus on the Right towards blaming the President whenever the repercussions of the Right's own policies are brought up.  Also consider the rampant Xenophobic rhetoric and policies promoted by Regressive governors.  Blaming outsiders is a classic method of promoting a Right-Wing agenda.

Propaganda cannot immediately affect strong counter-tendencies; instead it must offer some form of action or diversion, or both.
must prevent the raising of false hopes which can be blasted by future events.  In other words, when propaganda is confronted with factual evidence that refutes it, it invariably will change the subject to something "safer", where these is less evidence to defend against.  The GOP's obsession with the tragedy at Benghazi is a perfect example of this.  You'll notice that they'll invariably go back to that when all their other talking points fail.  

Now, this isn't to say that propaganda is solely used by the Right.  Its methods appear from all corners today.  From Left and Right to Advertising to the handbooks given out on the first day of a new job, propaganda is everywhere in our nation today.  It is imperative to all of us who still love our Democratic Republic to check our sources, to do our research and to be truly well-informed via multiple credible sources.   Then, and only then, will we be in a position to determine the best course of action for ourselves and our nation's future.  

If we fail in that responsibility, then we truly are lambs to the slaughter.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Fake War on X-Mas

It's that time of year again.  

The time of jingle-bells, fat guys in red suits and constant Bing Crosby songs piped through the speaker systems of every store that you're liable to walk into.  The weird thing is that according to many retailers, the X-Mas season began nearly 4 months ago.  

It seems that every year, X-Mas creeps further and further backward on the calendar, like a Black Hole sucking in everything in its path.  Chanukah, the relatively-minor Jewish celebration of an ancient, successful uprising against the Greek Empire, has, I suppose in competition and/or over-compensation, morphed from being a few nights of singing songs, lighting candles and ritually gambling tiny sums of money to a bizarro mirror image of X-Mas, including ever-increasing amounts of presents and Chanuk-ized versions of X-Mas paraphernalia.  Thanksgiving, once a national holiday in its own right, has for the past few decades become nothing more than the day before opening day of the official holiday shopping season, Black Friday, the day that retailers dream of every year as their last hope of getting out of the red and into a healthy profit.  Hell, I've even heard X-Mas music piped in during Halloween Sales and have seen X-Mas commercials on TV as early as Labor Day.  Corporate America should be commended for their ingenuity in creating such an ingrained, almost Pavlovian means of getting nearly everybody in the country to buy expensive somethings for everybody they know all at once.  It's a great con, and it's been working well enough to base an entire retail economy around.

Now, I've never celebrated the holiday of X-Mas myself.  Nor have I any personal desire to. Growing up a Jewish kid and having to explain that fact again and again to total strangers in response to the question of "and what's Santa bringing YOU...?" and being looked at as if I'd just said something criminal hammered home to me at a very young age the harshness of having an entire culture dismiss me as "other" at every turn.  To me, X-Mas is -- at best -- a birthday party for some stranger I don't know and will likely never meet.  As such I tend to boycott the economic side of it every year.  I tell all my friends and family to refrain from buying me anything, because I'm certainly not buying anything for them.  

That said, I don't begrudge other people the right to privately celebrate with friends and loved ones any holiday they connect to.  If people want X-Mas trees. Menorahs, Wiccan bonfires or a blow-up Flying Spaghetti Monster effigy in the privacy of their own homes (or outside, in the case of the bonfires), I have absolutely no objections.  My objection is to the constant bombardment of insistence that I MUST celebrate it too in public.  

Which brings me to the so-called "War on X-Mas".  There's been a massive Regressive push in the past few years against all cultural reflections of our multi-ethnic, multi-denominational heterogenous society and to cement once and for all X-Mas as the only winter holiday anybody can ever celebrate.  

Christian Regressive objections to having to take the possibility of non-Christians in their midst into account, even down to saying "Happy Holidays" in public instead of "Merry X-Mas" shows once again the subtle, often-unacknowledged Dominionist side of American Christian Regressives.  "Peace on earth & goodwill towards men" has turned into "Bend over while I shove some X-Mas where the sun don't shine".  As I examined in a previous post, this has all the hallmarks of everything the Regressives champion:  Greed, bigotry, the glorification of bullying and an aggressive theocratic desire to publicly dominate everybody else's private life.

But, in their zealous attempt to legitimize their desire for an American Theocracy, Christian Regressives miss the Black Hole Effect that X-Mas already has.  It has grown exponentially from the 12 days it once was into the massive 4-month juggernaut I've just described.  If there is a "War on X-Mas", X-Mas is winning.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

"12 Years a Slave" -- Life, Liberty and Property

As a SAG member, I have the honor of being on the nominating committee for awards for this year's crop of films.  Last night, I pulled out the DVD screener sent to me of 12 Years a Slave and was blown away by its power, hard-hitting historicity and story of human survival amid what's arguably the greatest national crime and shame of USA.  Like Amistad, Glory and other films documenting that particular era, it was clearly well-researched and I can only imagine the brutal intensity of being on that set.

So when I subsequently read a Regressive review of the film, deriding it as "abolitionist porn" -- as if the abolition of the forcible enslavement and debasement of human beings was somehow a bad thing --  I was understandably taken aback.  The writer of the article downplays the horrors of human slavery as if it was merely "business as usual", no different than the requirements of any job and where slaves were considered as "family" by their benevolent owners -- completely ignoring account after account of former slaves of their more-often-than-not inhumane treatment, not to mention the inherent inhuman brutality of owning another human being.  To me, this attitude shows an appalling lack of basic human decency, but upon examination is very enlightening to the state of mind of so many in this land.

It's long been a rallying cry among Regressives that our founding principle of "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" was originally conceived by philosopher John Locke as "Life, Liberty and Property", with "property" often given the most emphasis.  Under the banner of "property", for the first half of our nation's history, the Fugitive Slave Laws defined all slaves as chattel -- no different than farm animals -- to be legally returned to their owners, no matter where they went to when escaping their bondage.  Hefty bounties were awarded to those enterprising individuals who returned escaped slaves to those who enslaved them, and eager hunters often didn't particularly care whether or not they returned the right person when profit was on the line.  Kidnapping of free people of color was highly commonplace and most were not so fortunate as the film's protagonist, Solomon Northrop in regaining the Liberty that was rightfully theirs.  

Now, as then, the Regressive camp places higher emphasis on "Property" rights over those of "Life and Liberty".  It is upon that basis that the cries against the Taxation of Corporate Profits and the statements "Corporations are People" and Citizens United's "Money = Speech" come into play.   Once again, we're faced as a nation with the promotion of Property and Profit over People.  Whether we're talking about the current trend towards a second era of Robber-Barony or the Prison-Industrial Complex,  this continued insistence by the Right is the dark heart of all that's ever been wrong with the USA.  

Regressives continue to flinch under the moniker of "racism", claiming that it's an overplayed hand in a proverbial poker game, but the far greater shame which they fear to face is the one of simple inhumanity towards their fellow creatures.  It would be interesting to see their reaction were our nation's history reversed and the proverbial shoe on the other foot, where whites were suddenly less-than-human under a powerful black community.  It's a shame that the Regressive community lacks the necessary imagination and empathy to be decent.