Archive for September 5th, 2009

David Attenborough illustrates the tree of life in six minutes

| September 5, 2009 | 2 Replies
David Attenborough illustrates the tree of life in six minutes

In this six minute Youtube video, David Attenborough illustrates this deep truth: All Life is Related. This is an especially elegant story these days, where so many people are looking for so many ways to divide humans from the other animals, and to divide many groups of human animals from other groups of human animals.

BTW, for anyone who hasn’t yet viewed any of David Attenborough’s nature DVD’s they are all thought-provoking and beautifully filmed. They aren’t just spectacular videos of animals in the wild; they also contain Attenborough’s elegant descriptions and explanations of what you are viewing. One of Attenborough’s more recent efforts is Planet Earth (a STEAL for $36). I have just ordered, but have not yet viewed his most recent series, Nature’s Most Amazing Events.

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U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether Corporations have the same First Amendment rights as individuals.

| September 5, 2009 | 5 Replies
U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether Corporations have the same First Amendment rights as individuals.

On September 4, 2009, Bill Moyers hosted Trevor Potter, president and general counsel of The Campaign Legal Center (and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission), and Floyd Abrams, a First Amendment attorney. You can view the entire discussion here. The topic is whether longstanding federal election laws should be held unconstitutional so that corporations can freely spend unlimited amounts of money (e.g., in the form of movies, books, and other private initiatives) in order to directly affect the outcome of federal political campaigns. The case is Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission.

Many legal commentators are suggesting the Supreme Court has already suggested that it leaning in favor of the corporations on this issue. And we can almost guarantee how Chief Justice John Roberts is going to vote on this issue (and see here). I highly recommend viewing this discussion. I thought that Abrams looked very much like a man who was being paid big money to take position he knew to be reprehensible. On the other hand, Trevor Potter is taking a position that looks out for people like you and me. I realize that powerful corporate interests have already made puppets out of Congress, the SEC, the FDA and many other federal agencies (see these recent examples regarding tobacco legislation and the rejection of the bankruptcy cram-down option).

With this as the context, I believe that Citizens United boils down to a simple question: Should our government be at least somewhat run by ordinary people or should corporate money flow even more freely at election time (much more than it flows already), allowing our federal government to be taken over entirely by powerful corporations driven almost entirely by the profit motive?

Here are a few excerpts from Moyers’ discussion with Potter and Abrams:

TREVOR POTTER: This is a case about corporate money. If this case is won by the corporation, we will be in the ironic situation where corporations will have no limits on what they can spend in elections and unions still will. So, it’s important to remember we’re talking about corporations. Corporations exist solely to make money. Amassing economic power. They want, if they could get it out of government, monopolies. They want the ability to defeat their competitors. And if they can use government to do that, they will. Individuals have a whole range of interests. Individuals go to church, they care about religious and social issues, they care about the future of the country. They’re voters.

So, they have a range of issues at stake that corporations don’t have. Corporations just want to make money. So, if you let the corporation with a privileged economic legal position loose in the political sphere, when we’re deciding who to elect, I think you are giving them an enormous advantage over individuals and not a healthy one for our democracy. . . . [C]orporations have a different status. And they ought to be focused on the economic marketplace and not the political marketplace.

FLOYD ABRAMS: You’re opening the faucet, so to speak, so that more speech can occur. I don’t think it’s a can of worms to say that corporations, and it is unions as well, ought to be able to participate in the give and take of the democratic processes in the country. From my perspective, at least, the notion of saying that corporations and unions should be out of the picture either because they’re too powerful, or because of the way their money has been created, is so inconsistent with the sort of First Amendment approach that we take in everything else, where we say over and over again, we don’t care who the speaker is, we don’t care where the speaker’s coming from. And speech, we think, is, as a generality, a good thing . . .

BILL MOYERS: But we’re not talking about free press issues here. We’re talking about the power of an organized economic interest to spend vast sums of money that individuals can’t spend . . . Would you disagree with the claim that big business dominates the political discussion today? Whether it’s the drug industry or the health insurance industry? Big business is the dominant force in Washington. I mean, I see that as a journalist . . . we’re not talking about free press issues here. We’re talking about the power of an organized economic interest to spend vast sums of money that individuals can’t spend.

It is important to deny powerful profit-seeking organizations the right to skew federal election results even more than they do currently. If the Supreme Court goes the wrong way on this issue, it would even make a mockery out of clean-money initiatives, such as this plan being promoted by Common Cause and this plan by Public Citizen.

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An alternative to paranoia regarding the safety of your children: Free Range Kids

| September 5, 2009 | 8 Replies
An alternative to paranoia regarding the safety of your children: Free Range Kids

Remember the woman who was criticized for allowing her highly competent 9-year old boy find his way home on the Manhattan subway? Her name is Lenore Skenazy. She’s a syndicated columnist and she’s not retreating a single inch. She has created a website called Free Range Kids. In April, 2009, she published a book called Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry. Here’s how she sums up the widespread American problem:

Somehow, a whole lot of parents are just convinced that nothing outside the home is safe. At the same time, they’re also convinced that their children are helpless to fend for themselves. While most of these parents walked to school as kids, or hiked the woods — or even took public transportation — they can’t imagine their own offspring doing the same thing. They have lost confidence in everything: Their neighborhood. Their kids. And their own ability to teach their children how to get by in the world.

Lenore reminds us to consider our own “dangerous” childhoods when thinking of extending your own child’s leash–and she has drawn hundreds of lively comments. What is general solution?

We do NOT believe that every time school age children go outside, they need a security detail. Most of us grew up Free Range and lived to tell the tale. Our kids deserve no less. This site dedicated to sane parenting . . .

I started this site for anyone who thinks that kids need a little more freedom and would like to connect to people who feel the same way. We are not daredevils. We believe in life jackets and bike helmets and air bags. But we also believe in independence. Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage. The overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned. So here’s to Free Range Kids, raised by Free Range Parents willing to take some heat. I hope this web site encourages us all to think outside the house.

This is a well-considered site with lots of ideas for tempering our paranoia about child abductions and sexual predators. Here are a few additional Free Range Children stories that I recommend from Lenore’s site:

The end of the Super-Mom Era.

How cell phones can stunt your children’s emotional growth.

Here’s another article detailing the subway adventure. And here’s Lenore’s three-minute video describing her approach.

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Atheist billboards spring up in St. Louis.

| September 5, 2009 | Reply
Atheist billboards spring up in St. Louis.

The “Religion” section the local newspaper (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch) has reported that a new billboard has sprung up smack dab in politically and religiously conservative west St. Louis County:

“Imagine no religion,” it reads in a medieval-looking font, framed in a colorful stained-glass window pattern. The small billboard, on a strip of Manchester Road crowded with retail outlets, also gives the Web address for its sponsor, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Post-Dispatch article includes an interview with the founder of FFRF, Annie Laurie Gaylor. She was asked about the inspirational aspects of religion:

What about the message behind the Beatitudes that Christ delivered in the Sermon on the Mount? The meek shall inherit the earth, blessed are the peacemakers, etc.

“I have a lot of objections to the Beatitudes which encourage meekness, docility and not changing this world,” Gaylor said. “That’s a good message for rulers to give to those who they rule over.”

The stated purpose of FFRF is to promote:

the separation of state and church. Its purposes, as stated in its bylaws, are to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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