Friday, July 5, 2013

Media's confused on the Casey Guernsey story

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes:
            Happy Fourth of July weekend…or as we like to say on the farm, “Hope none of those glowing ashes from the fireworks from town fall on my super-dry hayfield.”
            Not that we don’t have fireworks of our own, of course, but we don’t count those as dangerous.
            Just before the weekend began, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon vetoed a couple of bills that the Republican General Assembly passed in a fit of hubris at the end of the session. Each included that ridiculous and irresponsible promise to foreign corporations to sell Missouri land to them. This insertion, sponsored by Representative Casey Guernsey, would have given China the right to buy all the land owned by industrial ag in Missouri. China has its eye on Smithfield, a corporation that was allowed to buy land in the northwest part of the state despite laws against corporate ownership of land. Back in the 1970s, see, the General Assembly worried that losing our land meant the end of free enterprise and property rights. Today, Casey Guernsey doesn’t understand that.  
The media has run ever so many stories accusing the governor of vetoing “agriculture bills.” “Nixon vetoes two agricultural bills,” say the headlines, as if these bills would have helped farmers. But, in truth, these bills (SB 9 and SB 342) had sections that Guernsey snuck in at the end of session when there was no chance for farmers to think about or comment on them.
The media also frets that Shanghui International Holdings, China’s leading pork producer, will abandon their offer to buy Smithfield in a $7.1 billion deal. Like the sale, which would put more CAFOs on our land, sucking up our water and polluting our air, would be a positive for the state!
The GA has a veto override session in September, and we can be sure Smithfield is distributing dollars around the heartland, so we’ll see where the Casey Guernsey story leads us next.

That’s it for today! July 5, 2013.

National atheist association shouldn’t resort to cheap rhetorical tricks

By Marc Jampole

The full-page ad by the Freedom from Religion Foundation in the July 4th edition of many national news media, including The New York Times (where I saw it) does a great job of reminding us that our founding fathers were not religious men; and that to the extent that they did have religious beliefs, they tended towards deism, which rejects revelation and faith as the essence of religion in favor of reason and empiricism. 

With so many right-wing politicians falsely claiming that Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Paine, Franklin and the others were devoted bible-thumping Christians, it’s good to see what they actually said in print. The FFRF ad demonstrates that, in fact, the founding parents questioned the existence of god, disdained organized religion and believed neither in miracles nor in the truth of the Bible.  FFRF chose an auspicious day—July 4th, a favourite time for wrapping the American flag tightly around the Bible. 

The headline of the ad says it all, “Celebrate Our Godless Constitution.”

The call to action in virtually all issues advertising is to send viewers to the website. Here FFRF disappoints by telling us an extended fib in its mission statement:

The history of Western civilization shows us that most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion.  In modern times the first to speak out for prison reform, for humane treatment of the mentally ill, for abolition of capital punishment, for women's right to vote, for death with dignity for the terminally ill, and for the right to choose contraception, sterilization and abortion have been freethinkers just as they were the first to call for an end to slavery.”

What? Most social and moral progress brought about by atheists?

Was Gandhi free of religion? Was Martin Luther King free of religion? St. Thomas Aquinas? The Quakers in the abolition movement? Erasmus? Epictetus?

Believe me, I’m no fan of organized religion, which has been used to inflict a lot of harm on people and countries.  But that does not mean that people with religious beliefs have not made major contributions to ending slavery, having a secular government, giving women and minorities the vote, curtailing discrimination, enfranchising LGBTs and all the other steps we humans have made towards moral and ethical perfection.

Both atheists and the religious have contributed to our moral progress, and in implying otherwise, FFRF overplays its hand.

The second and more disturbing overplay is to use the term “free-thinking” in opposition to “religious.” FFRF wants us to be free-thinking, by which they imply that only people free of religion can be “free-thinking.”

But free thinking refers to a mode of thinking that atheists, agnostics and the religious can all have. To my mind, the free thinker can see into the minds of others; take the point of view of others; look for new ways to solve a problem when old ways aren’t working; appreciate new music, cuisine and other entertainments; and have opinions that continually evolve as opposed to being set in stone at the age of 21.

A free-thinker often thinks situationally, as do the many Catholics who condone abortion if a woman is raped or if it’s a 13-year-old girl with mental disabilities.

While it may be more likely for a religious person to have a rigid thought process, I have known more than a few atheists who have been such rigid thinkers that they could not see the value that ritual plays in organizing the lives of people simply because rituals usually reflect a religious context. 

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud the efforts of FFRF to make sure that our government spends no money promoting any religion. But while protecting the separation between church and state, FFRF does not have resort to distorting the role of atheists or the religious in pursuing social change.

Instead, FFRF should tell us what it does best.  The website features an impressive list of accomplishments in defending the public and public spaces from the intrusion of religion. Listed among FFRF wins are:
  • Winning the first federal case challenging “faith-based funding” of a pervasively sectarian social agency
  • Winning the first court order to a U.S. Cabinet revoking federal funds to a pervasively sectarian agency
  • Halting federal funds to a bible school offering no academic classes
  • Ending “parish nursing” faith/health entanglements at two state universities
  • Halting a government chaplaincy to minister to state workers
  • Winning a legal challenge ending 51 years of illegal bible instruction in Rhea County (Dayton, Tennessee) public schools
  • Winning a federal court decision overturning a law declaring Good Friday a state holiday
  • Barring direct subsidy to religious schools, in a federal lawsuit upheld by an appeals court
  • Declaring unconstitutional the creation of a state post to “assist clergy” to save marriages
  • Stopping public financing of an annual nativity pageant at a state capitol
  • Ending commencement prayers at a Top Ten University
  • Halting religious postal cancellations
Note that in all these cases, the organization did not promote atheism or agnosticism, but rather defended all of us against those who would use public funds and public venues to proselytize their beliefs.  It promoted free-thinking by removing the official stamp of approval from one type of thought.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Our best move in Egypt is to back no one until there is a stable government

By Marc Jampole

It’s hard to know what to wish for in Egypt.

Morsi and the Muslim brotherhood have reneged on their promises to steer the country towards a middle course in social matters, such as women’s rights. What’s worse, the economy is a mess. On the other hand, Morsi is the legally elected head of state, thanks mostly to the fracturing of the large secular humanist population into several parties in national elections.  

No one wants a military takeover—and yet, if the military pushed Morsi out, installed a technocratic government of the Egyptian meritocracy headed by the highly competent and apparently honest Mohamed ElBaradei, wouldn’t that give Egypt some stability? Couldn’t the land of pyramids then engage in Democracy 2.0, another chance to get it right?  Hasn’t a similar process of military-induced governmental reset taken place in Turkey and a few South American countries?

National Public Radio intimated this morning that the new generation of Egyptian generals is not blood-thirsty, suggesting that if the military took over, there would not be a lot violence. It sounds like the kind of wishful speculation in which the American major media love to engage when it comes to foreign countries. Through the years, the major media has been ready to swallow “the light at the end of the tunnel,” “the people will rise up in democracy” and “the war will be over in a few months.” We heard that last claim about both the Civil War and Afghanistan…and it’s what the British generals told King George. 

Violence can come from many sources. Thus, even if the Egyptian military managed to enforce constraint, that leaves a small but blood thirsty fragment of extreme right-wing Islamists who could inflict a lot of damage with a few bombs.

One group we all should admire are the protesters. Imagine, they are risking their lives to gather and make their voices heard. They are sick and tired of the economy floundering, sick and tired of bread lines and gas lines, sick and tired of unemployment and underemployment, sick and tired of government corruption and corporate-government cronyism.

Sounds just like the Occupy Movement protesters on Wall Street and all over the world. While I would be delighted to have the protesters play a major role in the Egyptian government, it is therefore highly unlikely that our leaders agree with me. The history of American statecraft is to prefer to do business with authoritarian governments—they’re stable, they’re hard to vote out of office and their leaders tend to want to enrich their own pockets, making them open to business deals with large American corporations.  Whatever they say, be it Bush or Obama, our leaders care more about Egyptian cotton and Egyptian markets than they do about Egyptian civil liberties and Egyptian democracy.

The United States and Egypt have been economically entwined for decades. Whoever ends up leading Egypt will quickly see the folly of trying to change that.  To protect the economic interests of its large corporations, the U.S. government will be inclined to deal with any Egyptian government.  Even if Egypt took a wide swing to the right as Iran did, there is just too much money on the table not to come to some sort of an agreement.

That is, unless either the United States or the Egyptian government does something real stupid. 

We can’t control extremists of any stripe, but we can control our own actions. That’s why the best thing the United States can do right now is to stay completely out of Egyptian affairs. And when things settle down, let’s make sure that whichever faction ends up on top—military authoritarians, secular humanist democrats or Islamists—understands the very minimum in civil rights, environmental regulation and workplace safety that we demand from our trading partners.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Food sovereignty vs. GMO crops

Interestingly, the World Food Prize, which will  honor Monsanto scientists that developed GMO crops, isn’t getting much buzz in the media, while the discovery of GMO wheat in Oregon, which points out the dangers to our food system, is. Both involve Monsanto, but maybe the media is catching on and not giving the seed corrupters the positive attention they crave.  There’s even a little comic strip following the GMO wheat story. In one strip, a wheat plant is sobbing out its sad story to a field of other wheat plants. He says he doesn’t know where he came from, who his parents are, and the other wheat plants are sobbing along with him.

Meanwhile, a few organizations are following the Food Sovereignty Alliance, a group that gives out an alternative food prize to draw attention to the problems our food system is causing. Last week, WhyHunger and Food First issued a joint statement that says, “Honoring executives of biotechnology giants Monsanto and Syngenta with this year's World Food Prize sends precisely the wrong message about sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty.”

Their press release continues: The World Food Prize has disregarded well-documented evidence from the United Nations and other sources that small-scale diversified farming is the most effective way to end hunger, the Alliance. Reliance on genetically modified crops and industrial agriculture creates crippling debt for farmers, produces herbicide-resistant ‘superweeds,’ and keeps control of our food system in the hands of large corporations.

Last year, the Food Sovereignty Alliance honored a group of women peasants from Korea who are keeping the traditional seeds and recipes alive in food for their children in schools. Next month, the alliance will announce their winners for 2013. This group, a bunch of faith organizations and farm organizations, network with labor groups and other social justice thinkers. They say:

Unlike the World Food Prize, which promotes increased industrial food production through technologies such as genetically engineered seeds, the Food Sovereignty Prize champions proven solutions to hunger that empower those most impacted by the injustices of the global food system. While the World Food Prize recognizes individuals, the grassroots organizations honored by the Food Sovereignty Prize are led by their members, and most organizations count over 20,000 families as members and leaders.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) has also released a statement: "GMO crops have led to the loss of food security worldwide and for small farmers, they have led to the development of factory farms and have destroyed biodiversity in food we do produce and consume," said David Goodner, a community organizer for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, an environmental and human rights activist group that opposes corporate farming. "The World Food Prize by selecting these people to honor shows that it cares more about corporate profits than it cares about truly feeding the world with healthy food."
You can learn more at: and