About Wayne A. Schneider

I'm a Liberal, Libertarian, Atheist Humanist. I believe that though the world is a dangerous place, it can be made better if we stop dividing ourselves by how we're different from each other, and reach out to each other through what we have in common. And that is that we are all human beings on this planet. Please remember that.

The Watering Hole, Monday, February 23, 2015: How The Right Gets The Rule Of Law Wrong

Steve Deace is (by his own admission) a man of limited talents and abilities. But he does manage to put out a podcast, which is something a smug, arrogant little snark like me hasn’t done. Yet. But if I did have a podcast, I wouldn’t advertise the fact (as Steve does) that I believed the Holy Bible was literally true, or that the Constitution was not a living document. (Steve says he doesn’t believe it’s a “living breathing document,” but none of us said it was “breathing.” Probably just another conservative straw man argument.) It’s hard to accept that people can believe the Bible is literally true, when even its authors did not want people to believe that. Besides, it’s impossible for it to be literally true, as there are parts of it that contradict other parts. In Logic, when you suppose something is true, then show how that leads to a contradiction, you have proven that the something you supposed was true can’t possibly be. And you can’t start with the supposition that something is “perfect” and then say that everything that contradicts that supposition can’t be correct because it would mean the something is not perfect. That directly opposes the point of Logic. And as for the U.S. Constitution not being a living document, that can also be proven wrong. There are many quotes from the Founding Fathers (the men who wrote the document) saying it was to be interpreted with the times, and was not meant to be a means for people to keep living in the 18th Century. If you’re going to use the argument that the Founders knew nothing about wireless broadcasting of invisible signals, so they could not have intended you to have rights to privacy when you use such devices, then you might as well decide right now that the Constitution is obsolete, because they couldn’t have conceived of most of how the world works today (though a few probably could.) Besides, they were quite clear in the Bill of Rights that if they didn’t name a particular right, it didn’t mean you didn’t have it. But Conservatives have never been about expanding individual rights despite all their talk about freedom. And they’re still not fans of the idea that the whole “States’ Rights” approach was tried and found wanting. Nor are they fans of the idea that the Civil War was fought, among other reasons, over whether or not states could nullify federal law. That side lost. All States are subordinate to the Federal Government and the Federal Constitution. It’s one of the requirements to being a State in our Union. But try telling that to Richard Mack and Matt Barber.

Richard Mack thinks that county sheriffs are not accountable to federal authority. He heads an organization called Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, and like many Conservatives they believe the Federal Government has gone too far, especially on guns. (Reality Check: No, they haven’t.) Mack told Deace, “And I will tell you this, if we do not, if the counties and cities and states do not exercise their proper constitutional authority, known as state sovereignty and the 10th Amendment, if they do not enforce their own state sovereignty and secure their state sovereignty, then America will die,” he said. “If we do not exercise the 10th Amendment and state sovereignty, we will lose liberty in America, and we will not get it back unless there’s bloodshed.” He also said the national parks employees who closed the parks during the government shutdown were like the Nazis, in that they were “just following orders.” He added, “It is so scary how many similarities there are between Nazi Germany and the Obama administration.” Mack then told the host he agreed that Obama is a communist, saying, “You’d have be stupid not to know that he’s a Marxist.” Actually, you’d have to be stupid to think he is a Marxist. Or at least ignorant about what a Marxist is. He then dropped this bombshell: “We fought two world wars to stop communism in this country.” Actually, Communism had nothing to do with either World War, and we fought on the side of the Russian in the second one, so I really don’t know what he’s talking about there. And neither does he. And neither does Matt Barber. Barber thinks that states are constitutionally permitted to ignore any federal law or court ruling they think violates their own state’s constitution. He even thinks Alabama Chief Justice is on “solid legal ground” to defy the Supreme Court. He also thinks Texas should just ignore Roe v. Wade and start jailing people who have and perform abortions.

This is the Right Wing in America. Ignore the part of the Constitution that declares that the Constitution, and all laws and rulings made in support of it, are the “supreme law of the land.” That means all county sheriffs, who must take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, must also obey it. That means if the Alabama State Constitution contradicts the federal constitution, the federal constitution wins. But they don’t believe that, because they believe “states’ rights” means they don’t have to be subordinate to any higher form of government. We fought a civil war over that belief, and that belief lost. It’s time Conservatives learned that, and just accept that the way they think things ought to be is not the way the Constitution says they should be.

This is our daily open thread. You know what to do.

The Watering Hole, Monday, February 16, 2015: It’s Not Really Presidents Day

If you’re celebrating a federal holiday today, Monday, February 16, 2015, then you are not celebrating Presidents Day. Nor is it President’s Day. It’s not even Presidents’ Day. Officially, according to the federal government, the national holiday we celebrate today is, and always has been, called “Washington’s Birthday.” And because the states do not have to observe the same holidays as the federal government (on account of States’ Rights!), through the years various states have called the holiday some version of President’s Day. But to the federal government it was never meant to honor anybody but our nation’s first president, Neil Patrick Harris, popularly known as “JFK.” And it wasn’t Nixon who changed it, either.

The story behind the holiday starts in 1800, the year after Washington’s death. He was so venerated by the citizenry that his birthday became an unofficial day of observation. Not many people know that Washington was actually born on February 11, 1732, which was his birthday under the Julian Calendar. When the Gregorian Calendar was adopted in 1752 (which changed the date to eleven days later, in order to properly match up with the motions of the Sun and planets), Washington’s date of birth was now February 22 under the new reckoning. An act passed in 1879 made Washington’s Birthday an official holiday in the District of Columbia, and six years later this was expanded to the entire country (and also guaranteed that the federal workers would get paid for the holiday.) At the time it was only the fifth federal holiday (along with New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day), and the only one to honor an individual person. Martin Luther King, Jr., would become only the second person so honored in the US.

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved three federal holidays, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day, to fixed Mondays on the calendar. (After public outcry, Veterans Days was moved back to November 11.) While there was Congressional debate on the subject, the name of the February holiday was never formally changed to Presidents Day (or any variation.) The law was passed in 1968 (signed by LBJ) but took effect in 1971 (under Nixon), which is why people erroneously blame Nixon for us losing an extra holiday in February. The idea of the law was to decrease employee absenteeism around mid-week holidays and give federal employees more three-day holiday weekends to spend with their families. (Because everybody gets the entire family together to celebrate Columbus Day.) It was the states, who were not bound by this law to move the official state celebrations of these things, who called February 22 “Presidents Day” (or their own chosen version of the name) and, of course, The Free Market, who decided that what every family needed to bond more closely was a new car. You can learn more about the history of Neil Patrick Harris’ Birthday here and here.

So, thank you, George, for holding our country together, and for hiring a gay man to train your troops to fight the British. We wouldn’t be Americans today without the two of you.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Washington’s Birthday, Presidents Day, President’s Day, Presidents’ Day, or the Saturday Night Live Reunion Special that aired last night.

The Watering Hole, Monday, February 9, 2015: Right Wing Libertarian Stupidity

Fox Business host John Stossel, formerly a mustache at ABC News, tried to make the absurd argument that because government is incompetent, people would be better off in a disaster getting help from companies like Walmart and from private charities. Ironically, he used the FEMA response to Hurricane Katrina as his justification for the incompetence of government. As usual, especially where right-wing libertarians are concerned, he’s wrong. (NOTE: RW Libertarians, like John Stossel and Senator Rand Paul, are sometimes right but for the wrong reasons. For example, Sen Paul thinks we shouldn’t be giving financial aid to Israel. But it’s not because of Israel’s well-documented human rights abuses, it’s because he doesn’t think we should be giving foreign aid to anybody, not just Israel. He’s right about aid to Israel, but for the wrong reasons.) The FEMA response to Hurricane Katrina was a disaster precisely because the person heading the agency was the wrong person for the job. It’s not that government CAN’T work, it’s that government WON’T work in the hands of conservatives (who don’t believe in government services other than police and military.) The mistake the Republicans made was putting FEMA under the authority of Homeland Security, and treating it as if it would only respond to terrorist attacks. Michael Brown had no emergency management experience and should never have been confirmed for the job. And if you think it wouldn’t have mattered who was in charge of FEMA, I say you’re wrong. I would have loved to see James Lee Witt in charge of FEMA. I’m convinced fewer people would have died had be been in charge.

Stossel believes in an idea made famous by Friedrich Hayek called Spontaneous Order. The gist is that order will emerge from chaos, but there is disagreement on whether or not this can really be applied to economic systems. Those arguments center around whether or not there is any government planning or involvement at all. But what Stossel and his mustache maintain is that in a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina, private corporations and charities could give people a better response than government can (again, based on Katrina.) I couldn’t disagree more. If delivering supplies was all that was needed in a disaster, then he might be right. But FEMA does much, much more than that. FEMA prioritizes search and rescue efforts, and they move people, equipment and medical supplies where they are needed most (when it’s led by someone competent, like Mr. Witt.) Stossel’s opinion is predicated on his (false) belief that government cannot do anything competently. And it’s very easy to prove him wrong.

The reason I know John Stossel is wrong is because I have heard of John Stossel. I know who he is, and have for several decades. And the only reason I know who he is is because the government set up a system whereby people could broadcast images on certain frequencies, to be received by devices built under government guidelines (or else you’d have to have a different TV to receive broadcasts from different companies), and under certain guidelines about content where news programs were concerned. In other words, if not for the government he hates so much, not many people would have heard of John Stossel. It would be nice if he could remember that once in a while.

This is our open thread. Be spontaneous, but do it in any order you like.

The Watering Hole, Monday, February 2, 2015: Speaker Logan?

After the French Revolution, tensions had risen between the USA and France. Many French revolutionaries felt we had not aided them enough, and after we signed the Jay Treaty with Great Britain, France authorized the seizing of American ships and taking prisoners. In 1797 President Adams sent John Marshall, Charles C. Pinckney, and Elbridge Gerry (who would later try to redraw political districts that reminded people of a salamander in order to give him an electoral advantage, thus giving birth to the term “Gerrymander”) to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Instead, the result was what would become known as the XYZ Affair and an unsuccessful trip. After their return, a Philadelphia Quaker named Dr. George Logan decided on his own to try to negotiate a peaceful settlement. He was successful and France agreed to stop seizing ships and to release their prisoners. This did not go over well with President John Adams and he recommended that Congress pass a law to stop the “temerity and impertinence of individuals affecting to interfere in public affairs between France and the United States.” The result was the Logan Act. As amended today, the act reads:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

The Act does grant an exception for private citizens who wish to sue a foreign government for injuries, but that’s it. And when you think about it, it makes sense. For example, would you want the Koch Brothers to be allowed to legally negotiate their own agreement with the government of Canada regarding the tar sands oil? Would you want them to then be allowed to go into court and demand that the Keystone XL Pipeline be built because they had a contract and that contract must be honored? Bad idea. Better to not let them have that negotiation in the first place, especially if our government is not in favor of the project. (The Republicans are, because they only care about businesses earning huge profits, even foreign ones. President Obama will veto it.)

In the 200+ year history of the Logan Act there has never been anyone prosecuted under it. There was a farmer who was indicted, but that was over something he had written regarding the land which eventually became the Louisiana Purchase. He was never prosecuted and the Purchase quelled the entire argument being made. (Plus, I’m not so sure he would have been prosecuted, since he only advocated in a letter to a newspaper for something. I don’t believe he actually negotiated with anyone in France.) There have been arguments made (not in court) that the Logan Act may be unconstitutional, but there have also been numerous references to it in other court decisions. And the basic idea that the President is the only one who can negotiate on behalf of the United States has been mentioned several times in court rulings. So while nobody has been prosecuted (including Rev Jesse Jackson and Jane Fonda), the law remains in effect. Which brings us to Speaker John Boehner.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama said this about Iran:

Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material. Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran, secures America and our allies — including Israel, while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict. There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.

But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies; making it harder to maintain sanctions; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn’t make sense. And that’s why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.

Iran has made it clear that they will stop enriching uranium and negotiate with other countries about its nuclear program provided the United States does not pass any sanctions bill before the talks are concluded. So what do Republicans want to so? They want to pass a sanctions bill anyway that would take effect if the talks break down. What they seem unable to grasp is that the very act of passing a sanctions bill (even if and when it does get vetoed by Obama) could be the trigger that ends the talks. It truly makes me wonder if Republicans want Peace or not. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu views Iran as an existential threat, which is just another way of saying, “Even if they don’t try to harm us today, they probably might try to tomorrow, or they might decide to help someone else harm us, so let’s go to war with them before anyone attacks us.” This is not a workable foreign policy, this is paranoia. But since Republicans want to deny Obama any kind of victory at all, on any subject at all, they decided to try to thwart Obama’s foreign policy by inviting Netanyahu to address our Congress, specifically on why we shouldn’t enter into this agreement with Iran. It’s pretty clear that this invitation, arranged and negotiated without the knowledge of the White House (until a few hours before it was publicly announced), is a violation of the Logan Act. The purpose of both the invitation and of the address is to “defeat the measures of the United States,” and it clearly violates the Logan Act. The President has already said he would not meet with Netanyahu because they have an election coming up. And we know that Netanyahu thinks it’s wrong to do something like this because he said so himself, almost 20 years ago. When then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres visited the US in 1997, just before he faced an election, opposition leader Netanyahu said, “I can’t find an example of any previous Israeli government whose prime minister, on the eve of elections, made a cynical attempt to use relations between Israel and the United States as a party advertisement.” Being so hypocritical, it’s no wonder he enjoys such support from the Republican Party (a/k/a The American Likud Party.)

This is our daily open thread. Talk about anything you want, just don’t invite any foreign heads of state to address our Congress. That would be bad.

The Watering Hole, Monday, January 26, 2015: We Can Thank Religion For These Horrible Ideas

It is an indisputable fact that there have been people throughout history who have been motivated by their personal religious beliefs, whatever they may be, to do good things for other people, even complete strangers. It would be nice if the majority of those acts were done out of pure altruism and selflessness, but that is sadly not the case. The religious motivation was often not in the form of a reward for doing good as it was a punishment for not doing good. (Modern studies confirm what astute observers of humanity saw long ago, that conservative people tend to be motivated more by punishment than by reward, and that stupid people tended to think conservatively. So if you want them to do what you say, you make them afraid to not do what you say.) And while you may say, “What difference does it make why they’re helping their fellow humans?”, it’s important to understand that the same source (Religion) that tells them to do good things for people (at least once in a while) also gives them some very, very bad ideas. Alternet’s Valerie Tarico outlines them in more detail, but in short the horrible concepts are: Chosen People, Heretics, Holy War, Blasphemy, Glorified Suffering, Genital Mutilation, Blood Sacrifice, Hell, Karma, Eternal Life, Male Ownership of Female Fertility, and Bibliolatry (Worship of Books.) Religion may even be responsible for the Rape Culture in which we live. I’ll let you read them for yourself, I just want to talk about why a few of these concepts are contrary to the American concept of Freedom.

I worry about self-described Christian Conservatives taking political power. I consider them as dangerous to our way of life as any fundamentalist practitioner of any religion because they are making up their religious beliefs. Jesus did not preach a conservative message, so you can’t call yourself a conservative and a follower of Jesus’ teachings. There are Conservatives who have actually said our nation’s laws should be based on The Bible (though they’re usually vague about which one.) In three of his first four terms in Congress, Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL 4) introduced three versions of a bill called The Ten Commandments Defense Act. (105th, 107th, 108th.) This bill declared that displaying the Ten Commandments on state (or some lower government) controlled property is a right reserved to the States under the Tenth Amendment. The problem here is pretty obvious when you think about it. He wants Congress to declare that States don’t have to obey the First Amendment when it comes to the Ten Commandments, even though the First Amendment states that Congress shall pass no law regarding establishment of religion. The very law he tried to have passed violated the First Amendment, because it was precisely the kind of law the authors of the First didn’t want Congress to pass. And even if you tried to say it was simply “enabling legislation,” it still amounted to establishment of religion. It has nothing to do with the alleged “Judeo-Christian” values upon which this nation was founded (because it wasn’t), it has to do with the fact that the Founders knew what happened to people who didn’t follow the official religion of a nation. They were forced to convert or face imprisonment or death. And there are nations in which that still happens today. The Founders thought that was wrong and that everyone should be free from government interference to practice their chosen religion, and that the worst way to let that happen would be to let the government declare a preference of one religion over another. And a federal law declaring States were free to do that to their citizens (who are also citizens of the United States, and under the Fourteenth Amendment afforded all their federal rights to their state citizenship) would be an Act of Congress that establishes a religion that supports the Ten Commandments. What bothers me more is that back then, his bill had 118 co-sponsors, some of whom have gone on to become US Senators. (And at least one who went to prison, but not for his involvement with this bill. Too bad.)

Another group of which you should be concerned are the Christian Reconstructionists. They have this screwed up view that God does not want governments to be involved in helping the poor. This is as good place as any to start describing why the Religious Right’s (or any other religious group’s) views on government should be null and void. This is the United States of America. Our government IS “We the People.” When we decide we want to help those less fortunate than ourselves, we institute government-run programs to do so. What makes government-run programs superior to private or religious charities is that the government is prohibited from discriminating against people! Private charities can find ways to make sure only the people they think deserve their help get it. If you truly believe people should be free from government interference to practice the religion of their choice, and if you believe people should be free to express any ideas they wish, then you can’t possibly also believe that the United States should be run according to any religious text. Any! The two principles are mutually exclusive. You can’t be free to practice your own religion when the government has decided that one religion is better than another. (I think all the monotheistic ones are bad, with the polytheistic ones not that far behind.) Because many monotheistic religions ban anyone from standing up and saying four simple words, “There is no God.” You would also not be allowed to say, “The entire concept of God is a flawed and silly one. Grow up and take responsibility for your lives here on Earth today.” They would put you to death. And it would be an Eternal Death because the idea of an Eternal Life gives people (especially conservative people, who are not inclined by their nature to want to help other people) an excuse to not live for today, to not live for making a difference to your planet’s fellow inhabitants today. It also lets the government (who is now running your life once they decided that a particular religious text trumps our secular Constitution) oppress you even more because, according to them, if you live a righteous life here on Earth today, no matter how much you or anyone else suffers, you will get your reward when you’re dead. And when they’re telling you that, take careful notice of how they’re getting their rewards today. Lastly, one of the absolute WORST idea Religion has given us is that women are property who must at all times be under some male’s control. This is the driving force behind all anti-abortion viewpoints. When they say it’s just a Biblical thing, they’re wrong. Life does not begin at conception (according to their own Bibles), it begins at the baby’s first breath. This not about “protecting the innocent unborn.” (Were people like Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer innocent when they were in the womb? I’m more interested in how the religious right views things.) If you believe that all people are equal under the law (which is what our Constitution guarantees), then you cannot also believe that men have any right to control women’s bodies. Hobby Lobby’s argument came down to that – Men have the right to control women’s bodies. It had nothing to do with Christian principles, because if it did, they wouldn’t have their products made in countries notorious for their human rights abuses.

Take away these horrible ideas Religion brought us, and maybe there’s a chance Humanity can live in Peace with one another. Nobody was chosen by an imaginary Being to be Its favorite (which several different religions claim.) People who think differently should not be killed for those beliefs (which won’t kill the ideas, anyway) but should be shown in an intellectual manner why their reasoning is flawed. As Tarico points out, if War can be holy, anything can be. Blasphemy is as American as it gets in this country. Glorified Suffering is just masochism made holy. Genital Mutilation is never necessary, nor is it ever justifiable. Blood Sacrifice is just an excuse to kill. Hell is as ridiculous a concept as heaven, when you think about it. (Please do that. Think about it.) Karma is a pretty cynical concept, and a good excuse to do nothing. But if you believe Karma will get back the guy who did something horrible to little children, then you have to believe the kids he brutalized did something to deserve their fate. Are you sick? Eternal Life because Why Live For Today? Male Ownership of Female Fertility because deep down inside them, conservative men are afraid of women because the women might not give them sex if they had to give consent first. And worshiping books leads to censorship of books that don’t support the ones worshiped. None of these concepts is good for Humanity, and all of them are the result of Religion. Please, don’t try to tell me Religion is nothing but good. It is filled with horrible ideas, and the sooner we stop treating them as good ones, the sooner we’ll all be free.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Religion, Politics, the separation of the two, or anything else you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Monday, January 19, 2015: Freedom to Misunderstand Free Speech and Religion

If you’re the type of person who actually gets off his couch and finds out what’s happening in the rest of the world (i.e., the places beyond the reach of your couch), you know that Free Speech and Religious Freedom have been in the news lately thanks to a bunch of murderous thugs who can’t even read their own holy books correctly. (But who can? They’re full of contradictions.) After killers who violated their own religion’s teachings falsely justified their actions by blaming the victims, the public discussion turned to whether or not people have a right to make fun of someone else’s religion. Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Why not? Do the things religions tell you to do make any sense in today’s world? I’m not talking about the general things, like to treat other people the way you would like them to treat you. You don’t need a religion to tell you that. You don’t even need a god to tell you to do it. It’s my own personal “Golden Rule.” No, I’m talking about how God is all-powerful, and he loves us all very, very much, but he lets Evil take over because he gave us all Free Will. It doesn’t quite cut it for me. You’re talking about one psychotic god there. The story as a whole just doesn’t make any damn sense. Admit it. If you’re supposed to live as they did at the time those holy books were written (more on that later), then why are we even close to where we are today technologically? Why don’t we stone people to death today? Why didn’t we back in 1787 when our Constitution was written? Why weren’t all the laws mentioned in Leviticus incorporated into our initial set of laws when the First Congress met? Could it be that we had a thriving fishing industry in New England, and the Framers thought the idea of making shell fish illegal was stupid? And speaking of religious laws, why are there three major religions all worshiping the same God, but doing it in vastly different ways? How can they all be the “One True Religion”? Why were they all started by men who wandered in a desert, where it’s hot and there isn’t enough water? Do you know what that can do to a human’s brain? Why would anybody back then think that what they said made sense? Why would anybody think it does today? But even more importantly, why shouldn’t anyone be allowed to point out how silly this, or any other, entire belief system is?

Religion is an idea. And like all ideas, it should not be accepted blindly without critical thought. If someone walks up to you and says, “You can live forever, but only if you follow these rules,” why would you just accept that without examining it carefully? Why would you believe it’s possible to live forever? I can see the appeal for some of wanting to live forever (I have depression, so no such thoughts go through my mind), but why wouldn’t you want some kind of evidence that proves what the person is saying? Why accept it on nothing but faith? Why accept the stories about the origins of the universe on faith? Wouldn’t you want people who have studied the Cosmos with scientific instruments, documented their findings, compared them with those of other scientists, and came to an intelligent understanding of what really happened to tell you how we got here, instead of just being told, “An invisible, omnipotent being willed everything into existence”? Why is that more satisfying? I simply don’t understand that. Why don’t you live in fear of that same god deciding to just do it all over again? The Covenant, you say? Sorry, God only promised never to destroy the Earth “by flood” again. He didn’t rule out other methods. And I bet this never occurred to you, either: He’s an omnipotent being. He doesn’t have to keep his promises if he doesn’t feel like it. What are you going to do, take him to court? Can I be there when you serve God with a subpoena to appear in court? Oh, and make it the Ninth Circuit Court. That should make things really fun. The point is, all ideas are subject to scrutiny and counter-argument. And reducing the other person’s argument to an absurdity (i.e., a contradiction) is a perfectly valid way of proving that the other person’s opinion is wrong. So it can no longer be used in support of the viewpoint expressed by that person, by anyone. Ever. And remember, if one of the premises of your argument is something with which I fundamentally disagree, you won’t convince me. That’s how argument works. You begin with a mutually agreed upon set of facts or premises. Then you propose what you think is a logical conclusion of those facts and premises. And this is the most important thing that some people don’t get about Free Speech: In the United States of America, the government is not allowed to abridge your freedom of Speech, meaning you can’t be jailed for what you say. That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to accept it as a valid argument in support of social policy, such as, say, making our laws conform to someone’s religious text which, in case those folks haven’t noticed, directly violates the first part of that amendment they hold so dear. And something fascinating on that dear amendment later.

So when Pope Francis said, “You cannot provoke, you cannot insult other people’s faith, you cannot mock it,” it’s important to understand that he was not speaking for American values. He wasn’t speaking about his own, apparently, either. If you’re going to try to tell me that God will strike me down with a bolt of lightning just for saying he doesn’t exist, then I have the right to point out that I’m still alive after typing that sentence. See? The idea that Religion should be off bounds for satire, mockery, ridicule, what have you, is a suppression of the very idea of Free Speech. Besides, what happens when you try to convert people from one religion to another (assuming you’re not doing it stupidly, like by the barrel of a gun)? You try to convince them they’re making a mistake to believe what they currently believe. (While I would also try to convince them not to believe what you believe, either.) Some people find my arguments against Religion in general to be offensive, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be allowed to make them. I find the concept of Religion offensive. It’s never made clear to its followers that they should never take what they hear as literally being true, and that leads to dangerous people going around killing because they think that’s what will please their gods.

One more thing about your dear First Amendment rights. You’ve often heard the claim made (by both sides, I’m sure, but that doesn’t matter) that our Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech were so important to the Framers (or Founding Fathers) that they were enshrined in our very First Amendment to our new Constitution, a document so revered and so loved, that it was amended almost immediately after it was ratified. (I’m joking about it, but it was a condition agreed to in order to win ratification.) Except those rights were not so important to them as you might think. The 27th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on May 7, 1992. It’s supposed to be a way to ban annual pay raises, so that newly elected Members of Congress couldn’t immediately vote to raise their own pay as soon as they took office. If they did, that law would not take effect until they faced re-election and voters had a chance to punish them for doing so. They got around it some how. But it was first proposed on Sept 25, 1789. It was the second of twelve amendments proposed that day. The First had to do with the number of Representatives guaranteed in the House in order to make sure one person wasn’t representing way more people than reasonable (like, say, 700,000.) It was never ratified, which is a good thing because if we followed the formula in it, our House of Representatives could have as many as 6,186 people in it. What about proposed Amendments Three through Twelve? What happened to them? Well, that precious right to freely practice the religion of your choice and to criticize the government and other stupid people, was actually in the third proposed amendment. It’s only the First Amendment today because neither of the two before it passed by the time it did. And one of those eventually passed to become our most recent amendment. So it’s not really as precious to the Founders as you might think. They were more concerned with making sure you mattered to your US Representative, and that he couldn’t vote himself a pay raise his first day in office. But they somehow still get annual pay raises, which seems to directly violate the precious 27th Amendment.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss anything you want. It’s your right. Don’t worry. I’ll tell you if it’s stupid.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, January 10, 2015: Poor Persecuted Christians – Not!

In their never-ending quest to convince the world that they are being persecuted, American Conservative Christians (an oxymoron, as there is nothing conservative about the teachings of Jesus) have taken up the cause of former Atlanta Fire Rescue Department Chief Kelvin Cochran claiming he was fired just for expressing his Christian religious beliefs. There are at least two things wrong with their claims: 1) Cochran wasn’t fired “just” for expressing his Christian views and practicing his religion, and, 2) the views he expressed weren’t even Christian.

It started when Cochran wanted to self-publish a book called, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” As a major civic leader in Atlanta, Cochran was required to get clearances from Mayor Kasim Reed and city ethics officer, Nina Hickson, before publishing the book. He did not, according to the Mayor, and Cochran has disputed that. Though he was given a copy of the book about a year ago, Reed must not have read it because he only became aware of some of the controversial things Cochran wrote in the book in November 2014. Among the views Cochran expressed was that homosexuality was a “perversion.” In addition to suspending Cochran, Reed also told him not to talk about the book or the suspension with anybody, a point Cochran also disputes claiming he was told not to talk to the media, specifically, during the investigation into his leadership. (The investigation subsequently revealed that no one was discriminated against in any way, shape, or form by the Chief’s views. I applaud the Chief for that much.) The Mayor made it very clear that Cochran was not fired for his religious viewpoints. “His religious (beliefs) are not the basis of the problem. His judgment is the basis of the problem.” But some on the Religious Right refuse to see it that way.

Like Todd Starnes, for example. He insists that Cochran was fired just for being “anti-gay,” that the firing was part of a “cultural cleansing.” As Hrafnkell Haraldsson writes in PoliticusUSA, “Isn’t that what the Religious Right’s culture war is all about? Cultural cleansing? Removing all those elements from society the Religious Right opposes? What makes Starnes’ accusation even more hypocritical, not to say absurd, is his claim that “Christians need not apply to public sector jobs” in Atlanta. Of course, as we know, fake Christians like Starnes love the idea of being able to fire gay people for being gay – or not hire them in the first place – a form of discrimination that is still legal in many states. If firing anti-gay people is cultural cleansing, then there is no denying that firing gay people is also cultural cleansing, which means Starnes has no right at all to be upset. And I am a little surprised in any case, since Republicans love to tell us all that none of us have any right at all to a job.” In promoting a petition to defend Cochran, Starnes actually wrote “Equal rights for ALL Americans! The cultural cleansing of our nation must stop!” Except, of course, for non-white, non-Christian, non-males.

Not to be outdone (or made to think intelligently), Erick Erickson falsely wrote that “But the gay mafia is loudly complaining that Chief Cochran, by writing this book, will suddenly now not put out the fires of gay homes, or something like that.” NOBODY has made any such claim. Why would he think such a thing? I can only speculate that it’s just another example of the psychological projection from which many conservatives suffer. It always amazes me that Conservatives will express such open hatred of Liberals because they don’t like the way we think, but then they just assume that we would behave in exactly the same manner they would in a given situation. And, like Starnes, he completely distorts the reality of the situation by claiming, “What Mayor Reed and the gay rights community are saying is that if you work for government you cannot be open about your Christian faith.”

No, Erick. No, Todd. That is not at all what the Mayor is saying. Cochran identified himself in his book as the AFRD Chief, so he was not simply expressing his personal views as an ordinary citizen, which he has every constitutional right to do. By identifying himself that way, he was speaking as an Atlanta City Official, and that was where he went wrong. (Distributing copies of his book to other city employees, some of whom didn’t ask for it, and on city property, was also a violation of the law, and another reason for his dismissal.) Mayor Reed made it quite clear that Chief Cochran was fired for his “judgment and management skills” and that the Chief’s “personal religious beliefs are not the issue.” But Religious Conservatives, who clearly have no understanding of the First Amendment, think that expressing hate-filled views should be totally acceptable because it’s not just a free speech issue, it’s a religious freedom issue. Wrong! You have the right to express your hate-filled views all you want, but it does not mean that I have to respect those views or accept them as valid. I don’t. Jesus never said homosexuality was bad. In fact, he never said the word “homosexual” in his life, and not just because he didn’t speak English, but because the word wasn’t even in use until the 1800s. (BTW, modern Bibles that use the word “homosexual(s)” are making it up. The original language in which the Gospels were written did not use that word.) In fact, there’s a lot that Religious Conservatives get wrong about what’s in the Bible. (And, yes, Starnes attacked Newsweek and Eichenwald for that article, too.)

You have the right to say whatever you want in this country, but you do not have the right to expect that there will never be consequences for what you say. If you’re a public employee, there are standards the public rightly expects you to meet, and one of those is to keep your stupid, ignorant, false opinions to yourself, and to not speak them in your capacity as a public official. Cochran failed to do this. And while I certainly respect the fact that you have opinions which differ from my own, that does not mean that I have to give those opinions, or you, any respect at all. Am I required to respect you or your opinion if you say something ignorant like, “All Mexicans are lazy”? No, I am not. And if you work for me and I hear you say that, I’ll fire you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. I have not violated your First Amendment rights in any way. The First Amendment does not protect you from me, it protects you from your government. It guarantees that while you can be fired for saying stupid, ignorant things, you can’t be jailed for saying them. You can say them and remain free. You might find yourself unemployed, but that’s because you couldn’t keep your stupidity to yourself. As for “religious freedom,” it’s hard to argue that when what you say isn’t really a tenet of your religion. The same Bible verse used to condemn homosexuals (1 Timothy) also condemns liars. Does that mean Starnes and Erickson will condemn Fox News Channel? What about George W. “The United States does not torture” Bush? (That was a humongous lie, BTW.) Will you condemn him as virulently and publicly as you do gay people? Somehow I doubt it. Oh, and when the streak of 43 different Christians taking the oath of office to be President of the United States is broken, then maybe we can talk about Christian persecution.

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