The Cognitive Dissonance of Christian Climate Change Deniers

Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina

Most of the climate change deniers that I encounter are Christian. Not all but most. Many of them are devout followers. Yet when I bring up the environmental toll that humanity is taking on the planet — at the detriment to not just natural ecosystems but our species as well — they seem to let it roll off their back, taking no ownership of the issue.

What sort of cognitive dissonance must one undergo in order to believe that A) God created the Earth; B) humanity is responsible as a steward of the planet; and C) it is okay to ignore the severe environmental impacts that man has wrought through the exploitation of fossil foils? It’s hard to understand.

Tar sands extraction in northern Alberta
Canadian tar sands

Even more difficult to comprehend is the lack of logic that they exhibit. Let me get this straight: I should accept as literal truth several thousand year old text translated from multiple languages, heavily redacted by a patriarchal Church obsessed with maintaining its hierarchical political structure, re-translated by a church founded for the sole purpose that its king could divorce and re-marry five times (you know, “traditional marriage”), contains multiple inconsistencies and illogical assertions, yet I should not accept peer-reviewed climate science supported by 97% of experts in the field?

This is not an attack on Christianity but on blind followers who ignore science. Surely if Jesus were around he would be just as troubled by the overwhelming body of evidence presented but he would undoubtedly be more concerned with the human impact. Doing nothing — or making matters worse by going down a path of self-destruction with plans such as tar sands extraction — will result in countless deaths over time. It’s already estimated that 150,000 deaths occur each year as a result of climate change, a statistic that is likely to get much worse as severe weather events multiply throughout the century.

If we accept the science as true, do we not have a moral obligation to do something? Or is our denial just a convenient way to wipe our hands clean of what has the potential to be the largest man-made disaster in our history?

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Prop 8, DOMA Decisions Expected Tomorrow

The Supreme Court is expected to rule tomorrow on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8. The rulings are expected at 10 a.m. Eastern Time.

I’m nervous. A conservative majority is definitely not the ideal court to rule on this issue. While Justice Kennedy has a good track record on gay rights (one of his few redeeming qualities in a tenure otherwise marred by decisions such as Citizens United) but his conservative leanings give me pause. Kennedy himself seemed sympathetic during arguments but will he pull the trigger?

My prediction: DOMA will be struck down and Prop 8 will be dismissed on a technicality of standing. The justices will leave unaddressed the issue of marriage as a constitutional right. Hopefully I’m wrong. It’s time that we have full equality under the law.

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Extremists Steal the Show at NRA Convention

It’s almost always a bad idea to compare your political opponents to Nazis. Not only does it show an utter lack of suitable historical reference, it’s also often wildly off the mark. So when Glenn Beck — the keynote speaker at the NRA’s recently completed convention — compared New York City’s mayor to Hitler, it was more than an eyebrow raiser. (For those interested in historical context, it’s ironic that a Jew, whose most infamous “authoritarian” transgression for the right was a ban on excessively sized pop, would be pilloried as the second coming of the Third Reich, but I digress.)

The audience reaction of laughter and applause confirmed that this once bipartisan group of hunters and reasonable gun owners has devolved into a cesspool of far right-wing craziness. Also speaking before the convention were a slew of discredited figures: former half-term governor Sarah Palin; failed presidential candidate and noted homophobe Rick Santorum; and rocker Ted Nugent, who last year predicted, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” It goes without saying that Nugent is neither in jail nor dead.

Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president who cited the Boston bombing as a reason to own a gun, told the irrational faithful that “there is nothing the president will not do to get something, anything, through Congress to advance his agenda to destroy the Second Amendment. Nothing.” Certainly his language can rile up a crowd but it has no basis in reality.

This is the same man who blamed the video game industry in the wake of twenty dead kindergarteners at Newtown. “There exists in this country a callous, corrupt, and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people,” he said in December.

Getting back to Glenn Beck, though, illustrates the paranoid schizophrenia of the NRA. In his speech, he claimed that it was not just the president that was out to get people’s guns; it was a mass conspiracy on virtually every level of society:

“Charlton Heston’s words were meant to wake people up. He needed to shock us into realizing who our opponent really was: an out of control growing government under Jimmy Carter.

Today we are in a different place than we were in 1976. The problem is worse today. It wasn’t just Jimmy Carter, just as it isn’t just this president. It’s not just the Democrats either. It’s the Republicans, too.

The problem is everywhere.

It’s in our media, churches, educational systems, in our own homes. It is the Progressive ideology, which is antithetical to our Constitutional Republic. They want to fundamentally transform the country.”

Beck, of course, was referring to Heston’s famous line, “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!” which the now-deceased actor repeatedly employed to push back any measures to regulate guns. Beck goes on to use more alarmist rhetoric, saying that, “Our Constitution, our rights, our way of life is at stake. The freedom of all mankind is at stake. And because of that, so are our souls.”

Got that? Glenn Beck and the NRA faithful see themselves as revolutionaries in a fight against an oppressive government under Barack Obama — and they haven’t ruled out using force. The gun owners of America — not its peaceful citizens — are the last vanguard of freedom. Anyone familiar with this country’s violent history of political assassinations (four presidents have been murdered at the barrel of a gun) would recognize that this type of fiery rhetoric is dangerous.

(As an aside, if you don’t share the same trembling fear of philanthropic former president Jimmy Carter, you’re not alone. The Carter Center has literally facilitated the near eradication of the guinea worm parasite that once afflicted millions. In the United States, he’s built homes with Habitat for Humanity every year since 1984. President Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for his Center’s efforts “to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” His recent political criticisms have been against the use of torture and the invasion of Iraq, hardly controversial.)

The majority of Americans disagree with Beck — as do the courts who are the arbiters of our system of government. Not only are measures to curb gun violence popular, they’re perfectly constitutional. The Supreme Court has upheld gun control measures short of a blanket ban on all guns. Just as no one claims there is an absolute right to free speech (i.e. you cannot threaten people, slenderize, or even hold demonstrations without a permit), there is not an absolute right to gun ownership.

Except for NRA fanatics.

They believe that gun ownership is a fundamental right that cannot be infringed under any conditions. Even the most modest measures to prevent guns from being purchased by criminals, the mentally ill or terrorists are rejected by the NRA. “Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools,” they said in a statement.

Their logic, if you want to call it that, is baffling. Unless you prevent all violent gun crimes, a law is not worth passing. What if we applied this to any other crime? For instance, speed limits. People speed all the time but I think generally everyone would agree that they are in place as a deterrent AND are justified. To take the NRA’s position to its logical end, why even have any laws since none of them will ever prevent all crime?

Of course we could apply any number of logical tests to their positions but none of them would stand up to scrutiny. More important than discrediting their ridiculous positions is discrediting their organization in the minds of not only politicians who write laws in Washington and state houses across the country, but also amongst the general public.

The NRA does a good job of this on their own, especially when they select a new president who has called the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression”. The company that they keep amongst some of the most ill-reputed people in and outside of Washington — and the organization’s leadership that releases outrageous statements on serious policy matters — is more than enough to soil their credibility. Respectable individuals who care about their reputation would be crazy to associate themselves with the NRA.

The Republican Party can either allow the NRA to continue to attach itself like a parasite, voting in lockstep with an organization that is wildly outside of mainstream American politics, or they can burn it off before it sucks them dry of what little credibility they have left with the voting public. It’s one of multiple elements that they will need to jettison in order to be competitive in future elections. Thankfully for them, many of those far right voters overlap and can be severed without doing long-term damage to the party. The long-term damage would come from continuing a relationship with an organization as toxic as the NRA. And as for gun owners, if they want to actually protect their right, they shouldn’t support such an extremist leadership. The NRA is an organization that has come to burn bridges rather than build them.

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A Progressive America Would Look Like This

Maryland is a progressive model for the nation. Their unemployment rate is nearly a full point lower than the national average, they increased spending on infrastructure and mass transit, lowered the penalties for marijuana possession while legalizing medicinal use, eliminated the death penalty, kept down the cost of college tuition, passed a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, funded an offshore wind farm and did it all while balancing their state budget. This is what progress looks like.

Maryland Statehouse

Meanwhile the federal government spends money on the military as if we’re in the middle of World War III. “Defense” spending has increased by 81 percent over the past ten years to the point that today we spend nearly a trillion dollars a year on it — a third of the federal budget. This includes spending dedicated to war, expensive weapons systems and necessary expenditures to veterans who were injured fighting for our country. Our veterans deserve good care and we should fund it fully but our continued presence in Afghanistan only guarantees that more Americans will die and get badly injured. It exacerbates the ballooning military debt while doing nothing to enhance American interests.

Instead of investing in the future with funding for education, infrastructure, and science (i.e. energy and medical research, as well as space exploration), we put all of our eggs in aggressive military policies that do not reflect the threats that we face. Combating terrorism does not involve armies of hundreds of thousands of troops. It’s as much about building relationships with foreign countries as it is using a military option. Likewise, the threats that we face from actual nations are fairly limited. North Korea can barely get missiles off the ground without them failing and Iran’s economy is completely tied to exporting oil. Any conflict with them would immediately result in a crippling of their economy.

At the end of the day, Americans have a choice to make. We can make the necessary investments in the future or we can be beholden to the military industrial complex that has strangled the U.S. Treasury to the point that we have annual deficits that are near or in excess of a trillion dollars. It’s not a coincidence that the budget deficit is about the same amount that we spend on the military.

Personally, I’m tired of the headlines that say we don’t have the money to make the investments that are so badly needed to build a 21st century economy. States like Maryland have given us a blueprint for building a thriving economy. We need politicians who will stand up to defense lobbyists or else our economy is looking at falling permanently behind our foreign competition. The money is there to wisely invest in the future. We just spend it on the wrong priorities. It’s time that we change that.

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Background Check Bill Highlights Need to End the Filibuster

I’ve long been a critic of the filibuster. The Senate’s rules that sixty percent of its members vote in favor of a measure is an onerous requirement for a democratic society accustomed to majority rule. Today, the chamber once again showed how ineffective it is at governing when a 55-45 majority voted in favor of expanded background checks. You read that correctly. Fifty-five senators voted “Yes” and the amendment still failed because of the archaic rules of the Senate.

United States Senate Chamber

The universal background check proposal negotiated between conservative Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Blue Dog Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia was a watered-down amendment that would have required a background check for purchasers at gun shows and online. Previous proposals offered by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York would have also included private sales between friends, neighbors and family. The Toomey-Manchin amendment stripped this language to accommodate conservative senators.

The reason that the measure failed to reach the sixty vote threshold is clear: the NRA opposes any attempt to thwart gun purchases, even if it means allowing criminals and the mentally ill to purchase a gun. They continually lied about the bill in alarmist fashion, saying that it would lead to a gun registry and eventually to confiscation. Then they used threats against senators: a vote in favor of common sense background checks would be considered a vote against the Second Amendment, promising to unleash hordes of cash to defeat their re-election bids.

I’ve argued in the past that the filibuster is itself unconstitutional and should be abolished. The Constitution calls for a majority vote in the House and a majority vote in the Senate with the Vice President acting as the tiebreaker. The Vice President never needs to fulfill his role, however, because the rules of the Senate simply allow minority members to bottleneck any action with as few as 41 senators. This practice must end. Contact your senator and tell them that you support eliminating all filibusters. We cannot allow a small minority of extremists to grind our democracy to a halt.

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Obama Backstabs Seniors with Proposed Social Security Cuts

Voters who cast their ballot for Barack Obama in November have a right to be angry. After criticizing Mitt Romney as a “reverse Robin Hood” and deriding Paul Ryan’s budget plan as “social Darwinism” (a plan which would privatize Medicare, costing the average senior an extra $6,350 in out-of-pocket medical expenses), the president has proposed a “compromise” budget that would take the ax to Social Security.

“Disguised as [a] deficit reduction plan, it’s really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It’s nothing but thinly-veiled Social Darwinism. It’s antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everyone who’s willing to work for it — a place where prosperity doesn’t trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class. And by gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last — education and training; research and development — it’s a prescription for decline,” the president described Paul Ryan’s budget during the campaign.

Now the president takes his own swing at social Darwinism. Politicians in Washington have found a nice new term for cuts to Social Security. They call it “chained CPI“, which would reduce cost of living adjustments (COLA) to less than inflation. The chart below reflects different COLA projections: blue represents a more generous COLA for the elderly due to higher health costs, red is the current model, and green represents chained CPI.

The president pretended to be a defender of the poor and middle class in the campaign, declaring that “no current beneficiaries should see their basic benefits reduced” and “the administration will not accept an approach that slashes benefits for future generations.” Now that he has won re-election on a mandate to preserve both Social Security and Medicare, the president has reversed course and is looking to strike a “grand bargain” with Congressional Republicans on deficit reduction. The problem is that he plans on doing so not by addressing the main drivers of our deficit – the bloated military budget which is rapidly approaching an unsustainable trillion dollars a year or historically low tax rates – but instead by targeting the very program that defines the modern Democratic Party.

President Obama AARP

Forty-four percent of seniors would live in poverty if Social Security were not in existence today. It is a vital program for the well-being of this nation’s most vulnerable citizens. It has greatly reduced the incidences of homelessness and premature death.

Any tampering of the Social Security system should keep these facts at the forefront of discussion. But in Washington, the impact that cuts have is often one of the least concerns. Many politicians, especially on the right, see Social Security as just another line on the federal budget.

This is a problem for a number of reasons. Social Security is a program that is fully financed by beneficiaries. Social Security is a retirement insurance program that you pay into your entire life. It is a guaranteed benefit, a social contract that our government has had since the New Deal.

Second, a quick look at the budget will show that Social Security does not contribute to the budget deficit and has not for decades. In fact, the federal government has raided the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for things such as wars, tax cuts and stimulus measures. Amazingly, $2.7 trillion was owed by the federal government to the Social Security Trust Fund in 2011, according to a Trustee report.

In other words, the government has taken your retirement money to pay for its pet projects. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars, for instance, are estimated to cost a stunningly high $4 to $6 trillion over the long haul due to veteran medical costs and interest on the debt. Now politicians in Washington want to add insult to injury by cutting benefits to retirees after they blew their life’s savings on everything except for Social Security.

As is typical in Washington parlance, instead of calling chained CPI what it is – a benefit cut – they are instead referring to it as “savings”. And for his part, President Obama says that his proposed budget is a “compromise” which includes chained CPI as a component to deficit reduction.

The problem is that Congressional Republicans weren’t even at the bargaining table. Speaker Boehner rejected the plan out of hand on the basis that it includes any tax increases at all. In fact, it’s a remarkably generous proposal that offers $2 in spending cuts (to Social Security and other cherished programs of Democrats) for $1 in tax increases.

“If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes. That’s no way to lead and move the country forward,” Boehner said.

Once again, the president has negotiated with himself. Boehner can now turn around and say that Obama’s “compromise budget” is the starting point for negotiations and we end up near the Ryan budget as an end point. This is not how a negotiation is supposed to work.

The president has failed voters who believed in his message of fairness. He has thrown seniors and future retirees under the bus in favor of an ever-elusive “grand bargain”. Let the Republicans be the ones to call for cuts to a program that is vitally important for seniors. They’ve been doing it since the program was founded nearly a hundred years ago. We’re Democrats. We believe in strengthening Social Security, not leaving seniors at the mercy of overzealous bean counters who harp about the deficit but ignore its true causes. President Obama, we deserve better.

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Dusk Before Dawn

A presidential election to replace a corrupt U.S. government is upended by a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Agent Ethan Clark and the CIA investigate a possible coup in Moscow while monied interests at home threaten American democracy itself. The sequel to 2012’s spy novel Operation Bald Eagle promises to thrill readers while posing troubling questions about the fate of self-government.

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Operation Bald Eagle

Agent Ethan Clark faces one of the most challenging missions in his thirty year career working for The Agency. A Chinese businessman attempts to acquire a highly valued American technology company with sensitive U.S. government contracts. Intelligence suggests a possible cyber attack is in the works, but all is not as it seems. A thrilling adventure across the globe awaits.

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The James Bond Movie Guide

The James Bond Movie Guide is the ultimate source for this renowned movie franchise. With a collection of reviews and summaries for the 22 films, you will learn about each in detail and without fear of spoilers. A list of facts and cast for each film is included, along with series-wide facts, trivia, figures, and charts. Adding to the value are reviews for James Bond video games dating back to GoldenEye 007, some of the best Bond quotes from each film, as well as a list of the top 10 greatest James Bond theme songs.

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Ozzy is the short story of a cat and his master. After losing his beloved wife, the man struggles to cope with a lonely life, a troubled son, and the nightmares of his past.

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