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Many holidays are celebrated in such a way that their celebration has nothing to do with the theory behind the holiday. Case in point: Easter.Jesus on Cross - last request

I found this unattributed cartoon image on Facebook.

April 17, 2014 | By | Reply More

Matt Taibbi: Bush I and Bush II tougher on corporate crime than Obama

TPM reports on Taibbi’s latest book, “The Divide,” which explains that America’s wealth gap has created injustice throughout the country’s judicial system.

AMY GOODMAN: Who was tougher on corporate America, President Obama or President Bush?
MATT TAIBBI: Oh, Bush, hands down. And this is an important point to make, because if you go back to the early 2000s, think about all these high-profile cases: Adelphia, Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen. All of these companies were swept up by the Bush Justice Department. And what’s interesting about this is that you can see a progression. If you go back to the savings and loan crisis in the late ’80s, which was an enormous fraud problem, but it paled in comparison to the subprime mortgage crisis, we put about 800 people in jail during—in the aftermath of that crisis. You fast-forward 10 or 15 years to the accounting scandals, like Enron and Adelphia and Tyco, we went after the heads of some of those companies. It wasn’t as vigorous as the S&L prosecutions, but we at least did it. At least George Bush recognized the symbolic importance of showing ordinary Americans that justice is blind, right?

Fast-forward again to the next big crisis, and how many people have we got—have we actually put in jail? Zero. And this was a crisis that was much huger in scope than the S&L crisis or the accounting crisis. I mean, it wiped out 40 percent of the world’s wealth, and nobody went to jail, so that we’re now in a place where we don’t even recognize the importance of keeping up appearances when it comes to making things look equal.

An anti-poor person attitude permeates courtrooms: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/16/matt-taibbi-the-divide_n_5159626.html

“If a poor person without means comes into a court room, the judge doesn’t want to hear anything that the defense attorney has to say for that person,” he explained.

“Whereas when I went to watch these white-collar cases,” Taibbi continued, “there’s almost an admiration that you see when the judges talk to the lawyers of the white-collar defendants.”

April 17, 2014 | By | Reply More

Giving up all hope of saving the environment

A fervent long-time environmentalist decides that there is little that we can do to preserve the environment. All is lost:

“Whenever I hear the word ‘hope’ these days, I reach for my whiskey bottle,” he told an interviewer in 2012. “It seems to me to be such a futile thing. What does it mean? What are we hoping for? And why are we reduced to something so desperate? Surely we only hope when we are powerless?”

Instead of trying to “save the earth,” Kingsnorth says, people should start talking about what is actually possible. Kingsnorth has admitted to an ex-activist’s cynicism about politics as well as to a worrying ambivalence about whether he even wants civilization, as it now operates, to prevail. But he insists that he isn’t opposed to political action, mass or otherwise, and that his indignations about environmental decline and industrial capitalism are, if anything, stronger than ever. Still, much of his recent writing has been devoted to fulminating against how environmentalism, in its crisis phase, draws adherents. Movements like Bill McKibben’s 350.org, for instance, might engage people, Kingsnorth told me, but they have no chance of stopping climate change. “I just wish there was a way to be more honest about that,” he went on, “because actually what McKibben’s doing, and what all these movements are doing, is selling people a false premise. They’re saying, ‘If we take these actions, we will be able to achieve this goal.’ And if you can’t, and you know that, then you’re lying to people. And those people . . . they’re going to feel despair.”

April 17, 2014 | By | Reply More

Tax revenue lost because of overseas tax havens

According to Bloomberg, Americans and American companies are hiding their money overseas and this is costing us immense amount of money.

U.S. taxpayers would need to pay an average of $1,259 more a year to make up the federal and state taxes lost to corporations and individuals sheltering money in overseas tax havens, according to a report.

“Tax haven abusers benefit from America’s markets, public infrastructure, educated workforce, security and rule of law -– all supported in one way or another by tax dollars -– but they avoid paying for these benefits,” U.S. Public Interest Research Group said in the report released today, the deadline for filing 2013 taxes.

April 17, 2014 | By | Reply More

Retired Justice Stevens: Add five words to the Second Amendment

In recent years, court decisions concerning the Second Amendment have lost any attachment to the “militia,” making the mention of “militia” in the amendment superfluous. Justice Stevens, who retired from the United States Supreme Court in 2010 recommends that we reestablish that connection by adding five words to the Amendment:

As a result of the rulings in Heller and McDonald, the Second Amendment, which was adopted to protect the states from federal interference with their power to ensure that their militias were “well regulated,” has given federal judges the ultimate power to determine the validity of state regulations of both civilian and militia-related uses of arms. That anomalous result can be avoided by adding five words to the text of the Second Amendment to make it unambiguously conform to the original intent of its draftsmen. As so amended, it would read:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”

Emotional claims that the right to possess deadly weapons is so important that it is protected by the federal Constitution distort intelligent debate about the wisdom of particular aspects of proposed legislation designed to minimize the slaughter caused by the prevalence of guns in private hands. Those emotional arguments would be nullified by the adoption of my proposed amendment. The amendment certainly would not silence the powerful voice of the gun lobby; it would merely eliminate its ability to advance one mistaken argument.

April 12, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

Conversing in a public library

Once a month I teach English as a Second Language at the St. Louis Public Library. I’m assigned a small corner of a big library and I teach English conversational skills to a group of up to eight adults at a time, people from all over the world. During this afternoon’s class, a group of talkative men sat 20 feet away from our table. They weren’t part of any group, just guys talking with each other. Those men made it somewhat difficult for my students to hear each other, forcing us to be louder than normal. Eventually the Library Security Guard briskly walked up to the table where I was teaching and told my class to stop talking. I told him I was teaching ESL, but he said he didn’t care. He told me to quit talking. I showed him the sign designating our space (see the photo – “Conversation Practice”) and told him “It is my JOB to converse with these students.” He said that if I didn’t stop talking he would throw all of us out of the library.

ESL sign

I found the librarian in charge, convincing him that the unauthorized loud talkers nearby should be quiet, so that we could continue with our class. Eventually, the librarian agreed while the security guard sulked. My English conversation lesson for the next 15 minutes was focused on making fun of the ignoramus security guard.

April 12, 2014 | By | 2 Replies More

David Koch’s 1980 Insane Libertarian Platform

When he ran for VP of the United States, David Koch wanted to outlaw mandatory seatbelts, and a whole lot more insanity.  This is free market fundamentalism at its absolute destructive worst.

Here are some more positions he took (this list is from the Office of Bernie Sanders):

Here are just a few excerpts of the Libertarian Party platform that David Koch ran on in 1980:
“We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws, and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission.”

“We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.”

“We oppose any compulsory insurance or tax-supported plan to provide health services, including those which finance abortion services.”

“We also favor the deregulation of the medical insurance industry.”

“We favor the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system. Pending that repeal, participation in Social Security should be made voluntary.”

“We propose the abolition of the governmental Postal Service. The present system, in addition to being inefficient, encourages governmental surveillance of private correspondence. Pending abolition, we call for an end to the monopoly system and for allowing free competition in all aspects of postal service.”

“We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.”

“We support the eventual repeal of all taxation.”

“As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.”

“We support repeal of all law which impede the ability of any person to find employment, such as minimum wage laws.”

“We advocate the complete separation of education and State. Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.”

“We condemn compulsory education laws … and we call for the immediate repeal of such laws.”

“We support the repeal of all taxes on the income or property of private schools, whether profit or non-profit.”

“We support the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.”

“We support abolition of the Department of Energy.”

“We call for the dissolution of all government agencies concerned with transportation, including the Department of Transportation.”

“We demand the return of America’s railroad system to private ownership. We call for the privatization of the public roads and national highway system.”

“We specifically oppose laws requiring an individual to buy or use so-called “self-protection” equipment such as safety belts, air bags, or crash helmets.”

“We advocate the abolition of the Federal Aviation Administration.”

“We advocate the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration.”

“We support an end to all subsidies for child-bearing built into our present laws, including all welfare plans and the provision of tax-supported services for children.”

“We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and ‘aid to the poor’ programs. All these government programs are privacy-invading, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient. The proper source of help for such persons is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.”

“We call for the privatization of the inland waterways, and of the distribution system that brings water to industry, agriculture and households.”

“We call for the repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.”

“We call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”

“We support the repeal of all state usury laws.”

April 11, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

New on PBS: Neil Shubin’s “Your Inner Fish.”

Back in 2008, I read Neil Shubin’s book, “Your Inner Fish.” I posted on it here. PBS has worked with Shubin to present a documentary that covers and expands on Shubin’s work. What a great compliment to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos. You won’t want to miss this. It’s a story about plasticity, about how your body is bursting with evidence of your animal ancestors.  Another reason to watch this: Shubin’s enthusiasm is contagious.

April 10, 2014 | By | 2 Replies More

Why atheists need (parts of) religions

According to Alain De Botton, Atheists should steal the best parts about religion and ignore the rest. If religions are, indeed, cultural products, things made by humans, then there is nothing wrong about atheists selecting the good things offered by each of religion and leaving the rest. “Pick and mix” without guilt as we do with any other creations of culture. “We naturally rifle through the buffet of cultures.” We can create our own cultural “playlist” and this can include some things offered by religions. At the 7 min mark, De Botton mentions that he likes the perspective of education that it is more than an attempt to feed the capitalist machine, but we also value it insofar that it makes us “better persons.” Check out the 10 minute mark, where he criticizes the common view that education can be narrowly construed because it is ASSUMED that we all know how to navigate the ethical dilemmas of life–he criticizes the view that proper university academics don’t soil themselves with the notion of how to live a good life. Religions take a very different view — that we are all broken creatures barely holding it together and we need constant help and guidance. Consider the notion of original sin, that we are all fragile and broken. DeBotton doesn’t agree with most of the advice religion offers regarding this fragility, but he agrees that we are all largely in the dark, struggling with what we should be doing with our lives, and it is important to recognize the human condition as such.

At 14:30, he touches on weakness of will, the fact that we are so often unwilling or unable to conform our behavior to what we know we should be doing. Religions recognize this as part of the human condition, and offer suggestions for strengthening the will. Secular approaches scoff at the repetition of moral lessons encouraged by religions, assuming that once you “learn” something there is no need to revisit it. But, as he points out, we are incredibly forgetful beings, and we need repetition. “Our minds are like sieves.” We totally forget the inspiring books and movies we read and see. Many of our ideas are “theoretical possibilities that get left along the wayside.”

Religions reinforce their central ideas through repetitive rituals. An example is the springtime ritual of Judaism, Zen Buddhism offer calmness in the form of an annual appointment whereby one is looks and celebrates the moon to put life in perspective.

Another mechanism for reinforcing is the repetitive oratory of religion, which often drives in the message deeply with an emotionally engaged audience, especially compared to the “dry oratory” of academia. (min 21).

I’m only at the 25 min mark, but I’m very much enjoying this presentation. De Botton offers many clearly expressed ideas delivered with humor and conviction.

April 9, 2014 | By | Reply More