Friday, December 4, 2015

(Dear readers; this is the entire letter to the editor that Newsday severely edited when they printed it last week on Tuesday, November 24, 2015.)  

Although a military response to the Paris atrocity on 11/13/15 seems inevitable and probably necessary, I believe it alone will not stop the spread of the dangerous theology of ISIS or similar groups, and therefore not prevent future attacks.  We, the U.S. and its allies, are doing absolutely nothing to counter the ISIS theology effectively.   Some in public life even hesitate to call the ISIS ideology a religion or theology – this is only a form of denial.  This theology is really the only thing ISIS has to offer – in no way does ISIS have an economic program to offer its followers nor does it offer any other program peculiar to its theology that would make the lives of its followers better.  It only offers one thing; paradise after death, with the easiest path to paradise being martyrdom on the battlefield against infidels.

Many theologies offer salvation after death, including Christianity and Islam.  It is a problem for humanity as a whole when a believer then comes to the conclusion that perpetrating harm on others is the will of their god or a requirement of their religion.  Fortunately for humanity, the vast majority of the various forms religion do not concentrate on the benefits of martyrdom but many religions do allow for unethical behavior and thus causing harm if their god or scripture demands it.  The harm, for example, can consist of making the lives of gay persons miserable; and the harm they believe their religion requires can escalate to the point to where they can theologically justify the execution of non-believers.  Such executions have occurred within Christianity for centuries in the past such as during the Inquisition and apostasy is still the law of the land in a number of Islamic nations today.  This danger for humanity is multiplied if believers are also certain that what they believe is true, as if their opinions on the question of the existence of god and his requirements were infallible.  If someone then makes the claim that their god would never require them to do something that is wrong, do not be surprised when they come to believe that causing religiously justified harm and misery somehow is, to them, the “right” and “moral” thing to do.

The beginning of the battle against the ISIS theology must be the promotion of the idea that right and wrong depends on whether a behavior causes harm or well being and whether misery or happiness is the result of that behavior.  The argument against a harmful terrorist theology must also include the idea that we, as humans, are fallible and our opinions on the existence of god, and our knowledge of god’s intentions and requirements are our opinions of the facts and that our opinions are not facts themselves.  Let me summarize; causing harm is wrong, increasing well being is right, and we are not infallible in our opinions.

Why do we not do promote these ideas?  Why do politicians, public officials and religious leaders rarely, if ever, say these kinds of things?  The answer is because this argument against the terrorist theology of ISIS also discredits any belief system that assumes that “right” and “wrong” are determined by god, scripture or religion instead of whether a behavior harms others or increases the well being of others.  If right and wrong are not the province of god and religion, the need for god and religion no longer exists.  This conclusion, even though it is correct and even though religious morality can be replaced by a humanistic system of ethics, is a conclusion that the religious and fanatically ideological have not yet been able to accept.

Addendum, 12/4/15;

I wrote the above letter a couple of weeks ago, well before the atrocity in San Bernardino where it seems likely that a radical jihadist married couple decided it was the will of their god that they kill as many others, presumably infidels, as they could for no other reason than it was their god's will.  Since the victims were infidels, this was a moral act, they most likely believed.  The benefit to the now deceased married jihadists is that they would go to paradise for their obedience and martyrdom.

The husband was a member of the local mosque and was considered devout but other members of the mosque have expressed shock that he could be so murderous.  I believe that their shock is genuine but this shock leads to a troubling conclusion; he was not much different from a non-murderous religious person UNTIL he privately decided he could no longer compromise the word of his god and that he REALLY REALLY believed in a paradise after death and that he was certain of all these beliefs.

The thing that is troubling is that most believers, moderate or radical, believe in the afterlife, believe that obedience to scripture, god, their religious tenets or religious leaders is moral and that they are certain of their beliefs.  The thing that differentiates extremists from others is the extremist's unwillingness to compromise the word of their god.  Most believers do NOT completely comply with their religion's requirements and allow others, for the most part, and to varying degrees in various societies, to live and let live.  (However, please note how often the idea of not compromising one's ideology is seen as a virtue in the public square.)

The idea that one can be uncertain and willing to consider other ideas, actually, is the essence of secularism, which a form of public and governmental neutrality on matters of religious and other ideological belief.  Religious morality is replaced by an ethics in which allowable behaviors are those that make life better and behavior to be moderated are those behaviors that harm others.  Religious beliefs can carry no weight here since there is no way to reconcile them.  Secularism's goal is not to end religion - it's goal is to allow diverse peoples to live together and thrive together.

But you can see the problem; it is difficult if not impossible for many persons of faith to come to grips with the idea that the only way a world of diverse believers and non-believers can live happily together is to compromise their obedience to the word of their particular gods and embrace a secular society and government.  Although our Founding Fathers devised this brilliant system of secularism to separate ideology and government, and secular ethics has chipped away at religious excesses in many societies, secularism is still not fully accepted, and this is why the world continues to struggle in the battle against religious extremists of all kinds.

The War on Religious Freedom

Starbucks recently introduced their 2015 holiday coffee cup and it's a simple red cup with the usual Starbucks mermaid logo.  Some people are outraged, such as a former pastor, Joshua Feuerstein, who said Starbucks "removed" Christmas from the cups because they "hate Jesus."  Donald Trump apparently also thinks this is a problem that he, as president, would be able to "solve."

Never mind that Starbucks has not used the word "Christmas" on their cups in recent years and has typically used seasonal symbols, such as snowmen or snowflakes on the cups.  In reality they've "removed" nothing.  Never mind the facts; this is an election cycle and facts are irrelevant.

So here is what Mr. Trump said in regard to Starbucks' cup; "If I become president, we're all going to be saying, 'merry Christmas' again. That I can tell you."

Is this a threat by Mr. Trump to end religious freedom in the U.S. if he becomes president?  Exactly how will enforce this edict?  Will he put people in jail for failing to say Merry Christmas? And will he be putting people in jail for failing to wish Muslims a  Merry Ramadan or Jews a Merry Yom Kippur?  And what will he do to or for atheists?  Is Trump proposing to turn the U.S. into Iran?  Does anyone care that he is proposing the destruction of the First Amendment?

Monday, October 5, 2015

The First Step to Reducing Mass Gun Violence

This may sound random but the first step that must be taken in order to reduce the kind of mass gun violence such the crime perpetrated  recently in Roseberg, Oregon, and the ongoing everyday slaughter of Americans by guns is an obvious step and yet it is a step almost no one ever suggests when asked about the problem.  The step is - Campaign Finance Reform.

Right now I am sure many readers are nodding in recognition of this simple, obvious and never spoken of truth!

There is no chance anything can change if lobbying efforts and campaign donations continue to influence elected officials one way or the other on the issue of gun control and any other issue where billions and billions of dollars are at stake.  Gun control is not even remotely the issue that is most influenced by donations and lobbying; health care has that distinction, followed by the military industrial complex, and competes with numerous other lobbies, including agriculture, banks, union activists, anti-union activists and, well just about everything that involves profits or paychecks.  If  you want to know why the obvious never gets done in the U.S. despite the overwhelming desire of a vast majority of Americans, the explanation starts with the way we finance political campaigns.

The things that need to be done are pretty obvious; eliminate all donations over a modest dollar amount that almost any American could afford to donate and yet would be too small by itself or in total to influence an elected official.  That could be as low as $100 for a Senator or House Representative.  If a  candidate obtains a threshold number of donations they then qualify for public financing that would dwarf what they could raise privately $100 at a time, and that is all the would be allowed to spend, period.

All other donations would be considered attempted bribes, which in reality, is exactly what they are.

Independent fundraising PACs may not be possible to eliminate BUT they should be held accountable for mis-information and can be sued as an institution and the suit should extend to donors as well if a Court finds that they lied or libeled a candidate or lied about an issue.  Currently, as far as I know, PACs can accept donations privately and tell any lie they choose with impunity and face no consequences, or at least they have faced no consequences so far.  Perhaps criminal liability for someone within a PAC who interfered with an election by promoting false information to the Public would do the trick.  The difference from the  average citizen who ignorantly spread lies is money - the PAC was paid to spread the lies, an average voter was just expressing an incorrect opinion. The difference is the monetary motive.

In any other business, if a product causes damage or is defective, the producer of the product is liable.  If the producer of the product knowingly sold a defective or dangerous product, the producer is criminally liable, or should be.  PACs should be treated no differently.

The next thing to do would be to institute term limits at every level of government, generally 8 years for executives, 12 years for legislators and 20 years for judges.

Then we can outlaw gerrymandering and, instead, with computers we can draw electoral districts objectively.

Finally we can stop trying to pass laws restricting voting rights aimed at the voters of the opposition party.

ONLY at that point can the intractable problems of gun violence, health care, the deficit and so on can even be thought about.  My proof is the current state of affairs.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Pope's Prison and His Attempt to Escape

Pope Francis has been visiting the U.S. in September 2015 and it is safe to say he is far more personable and human than most of his predecessors.  In fact, it would be easy, even as a non-believer, to sympathize with his plight - he is a prisoner of the pronouncements of the supposedly infallible Popes of the past.  A word about Papal infallibility; it became official only in 1870 although the concept had been articulated centuries before.

In any case, among the past pronouncements that a Pope has to deal with are those against all forms of contraception, including condom use, the pill and even non-vaginal sex.  Oddly the Catholic Church opposes these forms of birth control even though these methods would reduce the number of abortions performed, legal or otherwise, a form of birth control which the Church really, really opposes.  As a result of the Church's opposition to the preventative measures for contraception, Catholics, in fact, have more abortions than non-Catholics on average.  An ABC poll says 22% of Americans are Catholics, yet the Alan Guttmacher Institute says Catholics have 28% of the abortions.  That's about 27% more than to be expected.

If the Pope and social conservatives truly wanted to reduce the number of abortions, they would embrace and promote the use of condoms, the pill, etc.  They would NOT oppose Planned Parenthood whose first mission is to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies.

If Pope Francis has as much common sense as he seems to have, then he must know the Church's position increases the number of abortions.  He also must then realize what the real motivations are for continuing down this contradictory path; the motives are an inability of the Church to deal with all matters sexual in an adult manner and a desire by the Church to uphold the tattered idea of Papal infallibility and the dogma of the Church as the Body of Christ on earth.  Since the Church has held that all forms of sex that cannot lead to conception are mortal sins, all forms of birth control are forbidden.  Any admission of being incorrect at any point, even in the distant past, cannot be tolerated by the Church.  The Pope is prisoner to these incredibly self destructive  concepts.  It's as if the Church cannot be improved, cannot learn and cannot become better and wiser.  And so it does none of these things.

The Pope does say some things that gives one hope that he can moderate the worst traits of the Church, although I would suggest no one hold their breath.  Here is what Pope Francis said to our Congress on September 24, 2015: "Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind," he said.

The pope noted that when working to combat extremism, people must not view the conflict through a black and white lens and must protect religious freedom.

"A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners," Pope Francis said. "The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps."

He called on people not to take on the anger of extremists.

"We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject," he said."  Go to

This statement is very similar to one that President Obama uttered to much criticism not long ago and of course, is a sentiment that secular humanists, and this writer in particular have been promoting pretty much forever.  If there is anything that secular humanism stands for it is for being dogma-free and always judging a behavior or policy, religious or secular, on whether it uplifts the human condition.

On Saturday, September 26, 2015, a mere 2 days after the Pope gave the above noted speech, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League said the following on CNN's Smerconish: "I think that he's (Pope Francis) engaged in outreach in pastoral changes, some stylistic changes, to soften the church's approach.  But in terms of substantively changing doctrine, he's referred to the idea of gay marriage as the work of the devil. I mean, why don't people read what he has said?

Why doesn't Bill Donohue listen to everything the Pope says including the line about "simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil?"

Now I haven't actually found a quote of Pope Francis where he's said that gay marriage is "the work of the devil" - this is Bill Donohue saying the Pope has said that.  But the Pope, as  a Bishop, DID oppose the legalization of gay marriage in Argentina, his home country.  He surely had no choice if he wanted to continue within the Church.  That is unacceptable but it may be a case where the Pope, once again, is a prisoner of his own Church.

Tragedy at the Hajj and the Irrelevance of Religious Morality

Once again hundreds of religious pilgrims died from trampling each other at a "holy" site in Mina, near Mecca, Saudi Arabia.  The actual death toll was over 700 as of last week.  The trampling took place near the location where the ritual of throwing pebbles at the "devil" takes place.  In 1990, 1426 died in a stampede associated with the pilgrimage, that time in a tunnel leading to "holy" sites in Mecca.

It is an obligation to make the pilgrimage at least once in one's lifetime if one is able to arrange it.  Since there are over a billion Muslims, this means many converge upon Mina and Mecca, particularly during religious holidays, and the crowds have become unmanageable leading to stampedes and the deaths of innocent people, despite the efforts of the Saudis.  Please note that this pilgrimage is entirely a religious exercise - nothing is accomplished as far as I can see that could not be accomplished without this pilgrimage, except for the pilgrimage.

It is instructive to read how a Muslim, Nima Elbagir of CNN, views the Hajj: " For Muslims to complete the Hajj is to be reborn. To die in the Hajj is a blessing.  You are considered to have been martyred, cleansed of sin.  In the space of less than a week, during the Hajj, millions of Muslims stream along prescribed routes, undertaking the same rituals within the same narrow window of time. Islam requires the rites of the Hajj be completed only once in a lifetime and even then only if you are able.  There's a reason for that -- the Hajj is hard.  I've done it only once.  It was one of my first big assignments when I joined CNN.  As a practicing Muslim, it was an almost indescribable experience. As you walk for hours among Muslims of every possible color and nationality, the physical toll of the Hajj is meant to humble you. And it does.

In the press of humanity, it doesn't take much to spark panic.  Muslims believe the rite of "stoning the devil" is a re-enactment of the temptation of the prophet Abraham by Satan on the same site.  As you throw the stones, you are conjuring your own personal demons...  

When pilgrims set off, they know there is a real possibility that they might not come home.  Many truly hope they won't...  As the families of the victims of this tragedy struggle to come to terms with their loss, they will also be struggling to come to terms with the knowledge that the risk was always there.  As they grieve, they'll be told these were the lucky ones.  And some will pray that they will be lucky, too..."

If I understand the situation correctly, some, if not many Muslims believe, or claim to believe that dying during a Hajj is a blessing and they are "martyred."  This is not unlike hearing, at a Christian funeral for example, that the deceased is "in a better place" or that God "wanted them" in heaven for some undisclosed purpose.  Many Christians who died for their beliefs, and their beliefs alone, were considered "martyred" and many have been "sainted."  They are revered by many and their deaths are seen as heroic, not futile.

These are the problems with religious belief, religious morality and religion itself; the belief in the afterlife distorts our view of our life while we're alive; and what is considered moral may have no relationship to human well being and may even be very bad for us.  If there is an eternal afterlife, our real lives on this earth in this lifetime are almost irrelevant.  What is less than 100 years in life on earth compared to an eternity in heaven?  The answer is basically NOTHING - unless heaven does not exist and/or the believer's version of the divine is in error, and then our earthly lives becomes all important and worthy of cherishing.  With an afterlife, however, dying pointlessly for some supernatural purpose otherwise becomes all important, again, unless it is in error, of course.  Please keep in mind however, that non-Muslim religious persons see no point in dying  in the Hajj while non-Christian believers see no point  in dying defending the idea that Jesus is God.  To the vast majority of humans on this planet, dying for someone else's mistaken belief system is a tragedy not a blessing and not martyrdom.  In actuality almost everyone agrees on this subject with the exception being when their own beliefs are considered.

If we want to promote a better life for humanity on this earth in our lifetimes, a humanistic approach is a requirement.  Caring about others is the source and starting point of a real morality, not belief in one or another supernatural myth.  We need to get past the martyrdom that helps no one.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Greed, the American Health Care System and Campaign Finance Reform

One of the things most people just don't understand about the American Health Care System is the how the game is rigged in favor of pharmaceutical companies, medical equipment makers and hospitals, and who is rigging it this way.

This past week it came to light that a older drug, acquired by a new ownership group, had its price raised by over 4000%, from $13.50 per pill to over $750 per pill.  "Shkreli is the founder and chief executive of the pharmaceutical company Turing. He and his company have, of course, been the subjects of widespread news coverage this week after the New York Times highlighted Shkreli's decision to boost the cost of the more-than-60-year-old drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 after the company purchased the drug in August. The drug, developed long ago (i.e. the research costs were borne by a previous owner of the drug), is not exactly a frequently used medication but is considered the most effective drug and therefore the standard of care for people suffering with an infection called toxoplasmosis."  This was a completely legal move.

This is not an isolated situation and in fact it is the rule, although in most cases, the price increase is nowhere near 4000%.  Consider, however the case of "Sovaldi," a drug made by Gilead, that cures a form of hepatitis.  "In the United States, Sovaldi costs $1,000 a pill, or $84,000 for a typical 12-week course of treatment. It is likely to be sold for less than $1,800 for a 24-week course of treatment in India, where people are generally infected with a different form of the virus and treatment regimens can take twice as long.  Gilead plans to introduce the drug in India for about $10 a pill — 1 percent of the price in the United States, Gregg H. Alton, Gilead’s executive vice president, said at a news conference."  How can this be?  Why would Gilead sell the drug in India at $10 per pill while charging $1000 per pill in the U.S.?  If it's profitable in India at $10 per pill, why can't that be the price here as well?

The answer is that the game is rigged and its rigged by Congress and the Big Pharma lobby.  If you did not know, the Health Care Lobby is the largest lobby in the country, larger than military-industrial complex or any other lobby group.  They donate incredible amounts to campaigns and their support is crucial to may legislators financially.

Congress, the beneficiary of the huge campaign donations, has actually passed laws that prevent Medicare from negotiating the pricing of drugs with drug makers!  Medicare cannot use its enormous leverage to get the best prices out of the drug makers in the same way that other countries do within their single payer nationalized health care systems.  No, in the U.S., Medicare can only pay a premium over an average cost for drugs and that average is pretty high when the rest of the market consists of drug makers with monopolies on their drugs and a very fragmented market of numerous health insurance companies.  All the leverage is on the side of the drug makers.

Obviously the solution is to take the handcuffs off of Medicare and in fact, go to a 100% single payer system, a Medicare for All system, in the U.S.  To do this, we have to have a revolutionary campaign finance reform movement so that Congress is not in the pocket of their big donors.  Good luck with that!  Still, the first step to a better health care system, and solving numerous other problems, is campaign finance reform and  as difficult and hopeless as it seems to be, reform must begin.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton expressed outrage over the costs of the above drugs mentioned this week made some recommendations to prevent this from happening were she elected President.  "Under Mrs Clinton’s proposals, partially unveiled on September 22nd, Medicare, the government health scheme for elderly Americans, would be allowed to negotiate prices directly with drug companies—something the firms would fight tooth-and-nail. She also wants to stop drug firms treating the cost of direct-to-consumer advertising as a business expense allowable against tax; such ads encourage patients to demand specific drugs when there may be cheaper alternatives that are just as effective. And Mrs Clinton would require drug companies that benefit from government spending on research and development to invest a “sufficient amount” in R&D of their own. If she were elected president however, she might struggle to get much of this through Congress, and even then it might have only a marginal effect on the unrelenting rise in the cost of medicines." 

This is a good proposal but it will not pass through Congress UNLESS Congress is no longer owned by the Health Care Lobby and greed is no longer rewarded in the American Health Care System.  Job Number One is Campaign Finance Reform.

Note: After Secretary Clinton's comments, Turing, the company that owns Daraprim, announced it would roll back the price to some as of yet unspecified lower price and the stock prices of many large pharmaceutical tanked on Wall Street.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Socialistic Capitalism, the Probablistic Nature of the Universe, Cigarettes and Volkswagen

One of the problems with our Capitalistic economic system is its "convenient" Socialism.  By "convenient" socialism, I mean the situation where a company gets to keep its profits even as its products cause unbelievable damage and great expense to society at large.  Instead, the costs are borne by all of us, but not by the business that caused the mess, even it it deceitfully and willfully caused the damage and misery.

For example, for years tobacco companies knew that their products were dangerous.  As per Robert N. Procter, "The American Tobacco Company in the summer of 1953 took the extraordinary step of sponsoring a series of secret animal tests in the laboratories of the Ecusta Paper Corporation, makers of much of the world’s cigarette paper, with the goal of finding out whether it was the tobacco leaf or the cigarette paper that was causing all this cancer. Their conclusion, distributed only privately, was that tobacco—and not the paper—was the culprit... Tobacco industry insiders by the mid 1950s clearly knew their product was dangerous. In December of 1953, when Hill and Knowlton was exploring how to respond to the uproar surrounding the publication of carcinogens in cigarette smoke, one tobacco company research director commented in a confidential interview: ‘Boy! Wouldn't it be wonderful if our company was first to produce a cancer-free cigarette. What we could do to competition!’ Another remarked on how fortunate it was ‘for us’ (ie, for cigarette manufacturers) that smokers were engaging in ‘a habit they can't break.’  The mid-1950s cancer consensus was clearly (albeit privately) shared by the companies; and the reality of addiction was also starting to be conceded—at least in internal industry documents..."

The tobacco companies then went on to deny or claim disbelief in the cigarette/cancer link for decades after.  Procter reports, "As late as 1994 the CEOs of the nation’s seven leading manufacturers—the “Seven Dwarfs”—all stood up before theU.S. Congress and swore they did not believe that cigarettes caused cancer or were addictive. Then again, in 1998, PhilipMorris CEO Geoffrey Bible testified under oath, “I do not believe that cigarette smoking causes cancer.” Bible conceded a “possible risk” but not a “proven cause,” the distinction lying in a kind of legal having-it-both-ways: an admission strong enough to ward off accusations of having failed to warn, yet weak enough to exculpate from charges of having marketed a deadly product."

Now you could argue that the tobacco companies have paid for their transgressions in the form of taxes which are now above and beyond ordinary sales taxes.  I don't think so.

An ordinary citizen criminal would have been stripped of everything they had if they had caused the same amount of damage and misery to society - they would have been left penniless if they had caused the death of millions of persons - all for the sake of gaining wealth.  They would have gone to jail and possibly been executed.

Consider that people DIED because of the denial and misrepresentations of the tobacco industry, yet no one was convicted of murder.  The tobacco companies and their executives got away with it because of the law's lack of understanding of the probabilistic nature of the universe - cigarettes don't ALWAYS cause cancer, they merely drastically increase its chances.  Cigarettes can only be said to have killed a percentage of smokers who got cancer, but not WHICH smokers got cancer from cigarettes.  Our willfully ignorant laws do not account for the certainty that cigarettes killed millions because the laws assume a deterministic universe - the law irrationally requires more information than the  universe can ever supply.  So tobacco executives and companies got away with killing millions because cigarettes did not kill every last smoker.  The tobacco company costs were conveniently "socialized."

Other industries and companies have taken their turns reaping great profits while costing society plenty.  It's currently Volkswagen's turn.  It has been discovered that Volkswagen, the world's biggest producer of cars, has deliberately planted software to reduce the emissions of some of their diesel cars during emissions testing only, but not during its use by drivers!  Yes, their clean diesels are actually up to 40% dirtier than the law allows in actual use.

"In May 2014, ICCT alerted the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board about their findings. On Friday, EPA said VW could be liable for up to $18 billion in penalties for using software on almost 500,000 VW and Audi diesel cars that circumvented emissions regulations, unleashing a controversy that threatens long-term damage to VW's finances, leadership and reputation."

True, they are subject to $18,000,000,000 in fines but what will become of the pollution their cars spewed into the atmosphere?  What will happen to the cars owned by drivers, many of them, presumably. who bought them because they were "clean" diesels?  And of course, what burden will Volkswagen and its executives bear for perpetrating this hoax, increasing pollution that undoubtedly led to at least one person's death from some form of respiratory disease - that is the problem with pollution after all - isn't it?  Will anyone in Volkswagen answer for the certain death and disease that their fraud has caused?

Although Volkswagen's decision to commit fraud, without a doubt, led to someone's disease and death, no one will be charged because the law does not understand or recognize the probabilistic nature of the universe.  The costs will be conveniently socialized.

Addendum, 10/3/15: The Associated Press did some research and here it is:

Freedom of Speech or Cowardice?

By now, you probably have heard about the Trump supporter who asked the candidate a question at a campaign event, and in the process revealed some startling information.

As per CNN:  "We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims," an unidentified man who spoke at a question-and-answer town hall event in Rochester, New Hampshire asked the mogul at a rally Thursday night. "You know our current president is one. You know he's not even an American."

A seemingly bewildered Trump interrupted the man, chuckling, "We need this question. This is the first question."

"Anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us," the man, wearing a "Trump" T-shirt, continued. "That's my question: When can we get rid of them?"

"We're going to be looking at a lot of different things," Trump replied. "You know, a lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening. We're going to be looking at that and many other things."  (

In my opinion, if someone asks you "how long have you been beating your wife?" you can properly object that it's a loaded question which assumes the conclusion (unless it's true, of course).  The man's question assumes that Obama is a Muslim, that he's not an American, and oh yes, that there are training camps, apparently well known to the man asking the question and therefore well known to the government as well, and that no one is doing anything about them.  And that our country's "problem" are "Muslims."  Not radical jihadist Muslims, no; not terrorist Muslims, nope.  Muslims, period, which, if words mean anything, means ALL Muslims since no distinctions of any kind are made.

Mr. Trump's response accepts all of this by being silent; it is my recollection that when Mr. Trump disagrees with something he hears, he is not bashful about mentioning it. He has been known to interrupt persons who say something he believes is untrue; in fact, it is a trait for him to interrupt others in this way.  Does he not object to anything the man said; wasn't at least some of it untrue as far as Trump knows?

So are we to understand that he really doesn't think Obama is a Muslim and that he does believe Obama is an American.  Or does my memory deceive me?  Wasn't Donald Trump the most vocal and well know "birther" in the world?  Are Muslims the "problem," Mr. Trump?

Trump's explanations in his own tweets later on are a wonder of misdirection and irrationality.  Here are a couple:

"If I would have challenged the man, the media would have accused me of interfering with that man's right of free speech. A no win situation!" )

This is a joke, right?  The Trump supporter had his say, and others have the absolute right to say that, in their opinion, he is wrong.  The First Amendment is NOT immunity to disagreement or criticism of what you've said.  In fact, it is the protection of the right to disagree and criticize to what anyone has said.  Does Donald Trump have any understanding of this?

Here is the other amazing tweet: "Am I morally obligated to defend the president every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him? I don't think so!"  Actually the problem wasn't just that what was said was "bad" or "controversial" - it was that it was untrue and/or bigoted.

When a questioner called Obama an "Arab" at a John McCain campaign event in 2008, McCain DID correct the woman who said it.  He did it politely but clearly and he went as far to say that Obama was a good man and good American.  He was lauded in the press for this correction.  McCain earned much respect with his response.  What negative consequences did he suffer?

Well, apparently McCain DID suffer some consequences.  I suspect that with his reasonable response McCain LOST some of the enthusiasm and votes that Trump has garnered because McCain was not a coward, not a bigot and not a fraud.  Trump, on the other hand, has no problem accepting a statement that paints "Muslims"without any disqualifier as the "problem," that paints Obama as one of those problem Muslims and states that the President of the United States is not an American.  To hold one's tongue in the face of such a question is not free speech - it's cowardice.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Opposite Think; Religious Freedom is the Opposite of What They Think It Is

On September 8, 2015, a Kentucky County clerk who had been refusing to issue any marriage licences ever since same-sex marriage was upheld was let out of jail after marriage licences began to be issued to all qualified applicants, including same sex couples by the office in which she works.  A judge ordered her deputy clerks to issue the licences.  It remains to be seen whether she will interfere with the issuance of these licences now that she is out of jail.  Her current objection is that same sex marriage offends her religious sensibilities and that her name appears on the paperwork implying her approval even if she does not issue the licence and she is appealing the case based on that objection.

While it was probably ill-advised for the judge to give this clerk the martyrdom she had been seeking by sending her to jail, her obstinate behavior was proving difficult to counter.  How could the judge force her to obey the law after all?  Fines would probably have been a good idea even though they would have been paid easily by her supporters on her behalf.  The licences still would not have been issued.

Tactics aside, the situation raises a number of questions such as "should she be made to violate her 'religious conscience' so that the rule of law is upheld?"  This generally is a argument whose conclusion depends on how you define "religious freedom" as enumerated in the First Amendment.

The quick and easy answer is the rule of law must prevail BUT if it violates your conscience, religious or otherwise, and you defy it, you must be prepared to accept the consequences of its violation.  This does not mean you can break other laws to signal your opposition to the law in question; no, it means you violate the law in question and hope that the application of the consequences awakens the conscience of the nation in opposition to the supposedly odious law.

This is what Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters did when they broke the Jim Crow laws, tried to vote or tried to defy any of the racist segregation laws.  He did not break other laws and he did not commit violence.  He also spent much time in jail suffering the consequences of the laws he broke.  His cause ultimately prevailed in the sense that laws enforcing segregation were eventually outlawed because he indeed did awaken the conscience of the country.  Thank goodness for Martin Luther King, Jr.

So in this sense the County Clerk is working from the Civil Rights playbook.  The question then becomes is whether she is indeed fighting for Religious Freedom and against tyranny.  The answer to this is, pretty much obviously, no, she is not fighting for Religious Freedom.

The comparison to the Civil Rights era is again very useful. First of all, this case actually has nothing to do with religion on a legal level - no one cares why the Clerk is not issuing marriage licences to all qualified applicants.  Her reasons could be arbitrary and capricious or well thought out.  Her reasons are irrelevant.  If an atheist or Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Catholic  or Jedi Knight were to refuse to issue the licences, they would all be in trouble.  The problem is NOT what she believes, it's in her behavior.

That makes all the talk about religious freedom totally bogus since her religious beliefs are simply irrelevant to her being jailed.  An atheist would be heading for that same jail if they did the same thing.

We then come down to whether a person has a right, as a government employee and County Clerk, to not give out marriage licences to mixed race couples (for whatever reason) as occurred pre-Civil Rights or to same sex couples (for whatever reason) as is occurring here.  Obviously the answer is no, there is no such right.

And no, this County Clerk does not want religious freedom; she wants Religious Privilege.  She wants to obey the laws she wants to obey according to her religion in a way the violates the religious beliefs of others.  That is the definition of privilege and is the opposite of Religious Freedom.  Yes, this is Opposite Think.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Explaining Donald Trump and Why Most Media Outets Will Not Do This

Why is Donald Trump leading in the polls for the Republican race for the presidential nomination?  Is it his focus on brilliant solutions to our most pressing problems?  Is it his personal demeanor which gives his supporters the confidence that he has the temperament to be the leader of the free world?


It's because his supporters are mostly birthers who believe that President Obama is a secret Muslim.

In other words his supporters support Trump because they identify with his outspoken ignorance, his inability to admit mistakes and his trait of speaking in very angry ego-maniacal tones.  These supporters gravitate towards people who are certain even if they're certainly wrong.  For many, certainty is a virtue while doubt is a vice.

Now here is something that certainly will not bother Trump supporters although it may interest others; the evidence for the above conclusions.  A poll from the Public Policy Polling group on 9/3/15 asked some very good and timely questions.  Go to 

66% of Trump supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim.  Only 12% believe he is a Christian.  Yup, Obama is one of them gay-loving liberal Muslim jihadists!  Only 21% of Trump supporters believe Obama was born in the United States while at the same time 40% of them actively believe that Sen. Ted Cruz WAS born in the U.N. (Cruz was born in Canada.)

Check that out - birthers were totally aghast that Obama became President since he was a Muslim foreigner while ignoring the undisputed fact that Ted Cruz was indeed born abroad and is only a natural born citizen by virtue of the fact that his mother was born in the U.S., which would also be true of Obama (if indeed he was born in Kenya) since no one argues that Obama's mother was born anywhere but in Kansas!

So why will the Media ignore the above?  Why do they almost never mention the fact that Trump, for a while, was birther #1?  The answer is simple; because to point this out would be to insult the intelligence and sanity of most of his supporters and perhaps a majority of Republicans, which is a large portion of the Media's audience/customers.  Please keep in mind that this does not mean ALL Republicans are willfully ignorant and of dubious sanity - John McCain certainly does not fall into this camp, for example.  Oh yeah, is it any coincidence that Trump turned on McCain much to the delight of Trump's supporters?  I guess that is the price John McCain has to pay for not being totally ignorant or insane.