Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Modern Society's Bass Ackward View of Government and Religion

White smoke rising from chimney in Rome,
signifying the election of a new pope.

With the recent selection of a new pope, many commentators from without and members from within discussed what type of pope the Papal Conclave would select. Would he be a progressive pope? Many of them had hoped so. Projections of eventual female priests began to take over the airwaves of public radio. A lot of those same commentators and a bunch of others pondered whether or not the new Bishop of Rome would embrace homosexuality and birth control.

Salt Lake Temple for the
Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter Day Saints.
Salt Lake City, UT
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and several years prior, advocates of California's Proposition 8 - a measure relating to same sex marriage - chastised churches for standing in the way of its passage and demanded that the IRS rescind the offending churches' tax exemption status. The majority of the complainants cited the 'wall of separation between church and state' as their grounds for opposing religion's opposition to the proposition. Unfortunately, those who take this approach fail to realize this wall of theirs protects the rights of the church and the rights of the citizens from having a state-imposed religion forced upon them. Nothing else. Any other interpretation is outside the construct of the United States Constitution. When the government involves itself in the moral sphere, it is stepping on the toes of religion.

Recruitment poster for
the 7th Indiana Cavalry.
Church and government are two real and powerful entities within human society. But in order for the two institutions to benefit the individual within society, he or she must understand the role of the state and the role of the church. Within that understanding, one must also understand how and why the one occasionally operates inside the other's realm. In addition to grasping the purposes of each universe, the individual needs to grasp the concept of his or her responsibility within both the state and the church and his or her relationship with each.

Religion is a realm of faith and government is a realm of reason and deliberation. Reason and deliberation require an exchange of ideas and opinions, which also requires compromise. Faith, on the other hand is something that is accepted. In government, if something seems out of place, one can effect change within government through the apparatus that exists in that sphere--namely voting or participating in committee hearings or speaking at council meetings. If something is off in a faith-based sphere, it is supposed to be the individual who changes himself or herself to bring spiritual harmony into his or her life.

Let's explore it a bit more.

Dallas City Hall by night. Dallas, TX
What is government? It is a body that directs and oversees the business of a state. In the United States, it is a democratic republic at the top, with some variation of the same concept down through state and municipal bodies. It is made up of citizens who represent themselves and other citizens. Citizens deliberate and debate to decide which laws and regulations will govern their conduct and the conduct of their fellow citizens. In principle, the laws of a state deal with private property rights, commerce and transactions, defense and how to address grievances between citizens.

Washington Monument.
Washington, DC
Active citizens in a state use reason and/or emotion to try to persuade others to support the same legislation or policies that they themselves support. Sometimes the movement is successful, other times it is not. This is the way it is supposed to work. It is individuals putting their ideas on how to better society out there, hoping to gain the support of others.

National City Christian Church
Washington, DC
Now, lets contrast that with religion. What is religion in general? A belief system. More specifically, a religion is a specific set of beliefs to which one adheres, usually in union with a number of other people. It is based wholly on faith. Through the exercise of this faith, the adherent gains strength to better himself or herself internally by accepting guidelines that suppress some natural desires and behaviors. But regardless of the specifics from one denomination to the next, religion operates in the realm of faith.

What is happening more and more in the modern era is that people are doing exactly the opposite of what they ought to be doing. Citizens are faithfully trusting government for their sustenance and to make up for their own shortcomings, while members of churches are trying to tinker with their churches' doctrines and traditions.

Catholic Church
in Victoria, KS
If a church disagrees with contraception, but an individual member supports the use of contraceptives, he or she must accept the difference, change his/her opinion or find another church that better suits his/her set of beliefs. Of course, if that doesn't work, one could organize a new church or give up religion all together.

Regardless of your politics or religion, being able to understand the purpose of each entity will bring a better understanding to your mind, on a small scale, and a better balance with more respect in society, on a large scale.You don't put faith in government, faith belongs to the spiritual and religious realms. You don't try to use reason and debate to alter a religion. Reason and consensus-building belong in the realm of government.

Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial.
Washington, DC
If you want to effect change somewhere, do it in the proper place--do it in government. If you have a disagreement with your church's theology or its exercise of tradition, then change your mind or leave your church. Trying to change the structure of a church is not your role, because through your attempt to change the faith, you infringe upon the rights of other members of the congregation. If you have a problem, and it relates to a church, change your personal stance or go somewhere else. If your problem is governmentally based, get yourself out into the public sphere. Grab your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues to help you. Effect the change that is appropriate to effect.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Crisis Jockeying: Sensationalizing situations to manipulate feeble thinkers

Ladies and gentlemen, lets look at and come up with a solution to a dilemma that has been occurring throughout human history and continues strongly today... I will call it crisis jockeying.

This is just like it sounds.

The horse and its jockey are
representative of a public crisis and a
Crisis Jockey, who rides the crisis and
tries to guide public opinion of the
crisis to maximize his or her cause's power
It is when people and institutions ride a crisis as if it were a sport, hoping for a big payout at the end. In crisis jockeying, as in horse racing, the jockey is only a small part of the team (pun intended). There are breeders who get a large share of the spoils of victory, as well. In the game of crisis, the breeders help instigate and proliferate a specific event or condition with the sole purpose of having their jockey ride it out to win the pot.

Crisis jockeys and their groups rely on hysteria to grant them power and/or money. They are the benefactors of windfall profits. Unlike big oil companies who had been getting a bad PR rap several years ago for 'windfall profits' the big crisis companies actually take windfalls. The oil companies had invested capital in their infrastructures and personnel for years. Then when market conditions shot the price of their goods upward, they were able to see an increase in profit. Rather than windfall, their profit was normal, market-based profit. The kind of profit that comes to all companies that invest money, time and manpower into an industry and are still functioning well when the market graces their industry with a boom.
Profit: 9.38% of Revenue.
Governments' cut: 22.98% of Revenue.
 Percentage of revenue put back into the economy: 67.63%.

Big crisis companies (cause-specific activists, political candidates and parties, etc.) become windfall profiteers when a storm hits or an earthquake rumbles. Their profit comes from blaming a natural disaster on an opponent or one of their adversaries. After they give blame, they begin to take donations. These donations are not necessarily just monetary contributions. It can also include face time on news programs or any other platform that enables that entity or individual to evangelize for their cause. Most of them are unrelated to the actual issue about which they are talking, but they find some obscure point or undertone to link the event or condition to their cause.

Sometimes the crisis jockeying involves jockeying for political position. Since it is so fresh, think of the sequester. The sequester was a proposal offered by President Obama a year and a half ago. It was designed to push Congress into coming up with a budget (something that hasn't really happened in years). Officials in the Obama Administration claim that at the time the sequester was proposed, they never expected it to go into effect. Taking their claim at face value, we will say that their intention was to scare Congress into action. Speaking glowingly of his sequester to the Des Moines Register, President Obama referenced the program and lauded the fixing power it would grant him. However, advisers must have determined that they would be taking a different stance publicly on the sequester and asked the Register to not print certain parts of the interview. They wanted to use it as a tool against Republicans from that point onward.

Fast forward to February/March of 2013. The period of sequestration was upon us. Members of Congress and even the president went out claiming that if the sequester goes through, lines at airport security will grow dramatically, unemployment will tick up significantly (Rep. Maxine Waters claimed the sequester would cost the US economy 170 million jobs, an economy that currently only has 140 million jobs), among other dramatic and drastic things.

We were told teachers would be laid off, policemen, firemen and all sorts of other kinds of public sector employees would be let go. To the casual listener, they would hear that and immediately think of their kids' teachers or their police force. Then they would think, heaven forbid, that if their house were to catch fire, without firemen, what would be their chances? The casual listener would willingly pay more of the income they earn to save these public servants. But you aren't the casual listener, are you?

You realize that the money to pay police officers and fire fighters come from local taxes. Teachers salaries come from state level boards of education, primarily funded by local taxes (some are subsidized by the federal Board of Education, but that largely goes toward operational and curriculum-related costs). You also realize that the sequester doesn't eliminate budgets from last year's levels, rather it cuts money from this year's projected budgets. We are still spending more money under the sequester than we did last year. Yet the world is still in the process of ending.

Madam Secretary Janet Napolitano
Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Home Land Security, was asked which airports were reporting longer wait times at TSA checkpoints. She started her list off by saying: "I want to say...". However, after calls were put in to the airports she mentioned, it was clear that she was lying. Rather than reporting longer lines, each of the airports cited by Secretary Napolitano as being delayed confirmed that there were no additional delays.

The Department of Homeland Security's ICE began releasing illegal immigrants from prison (note, these were not just illegal immigrants going through the process of exportation, they were criminals serving time in prison, not jail, for prison-worthy crimes) before the sequester even became law. The releases were done in anticipation of possible budget cuts. The Arizona Daily Star reported that all 300-500 released the first day were in Arizona. Department officials have since suggested they would have to release up to 32,000 criminals back into the streets.

Also ahead of the sequester, Secretary Napolitano's department approved $50M for new uniforms for TSA agents. The math amounts to about $1,000 per uniform. As a cub scout, I had more patches than TSA agents wear and they, too, were sewn onto a blue shirt. The whole thing probably ran about $45-50. That included a hat and bandanna. Can the lighter shade of blue possibly push the cost up to $1,000?

At the White House, tours of "the people's house" have been cancelled. President Obama blamed it on the Secret Service and said he did not know about it in advance and would work tirelessly to get them back on. However, his press secretary Jay Carney didn't get the message and asserted that the White House had made the decision to cancel the tours, in association with the Secret Service. The staff that ran the tours office consisted of seven employees. Seven employees and the tours they had offered to students and tax payers had to go because of sequestration. This announcement came the same day that Secretary of State John Kerry announced an additional $60M in aid to the Syrian rebels (in addition to the $55M already pledged to the group). So, tax paying Americans visiting the nation's capital can no longer go see the inside of the White House because of budgetary shortfalls (private donations have been offered to fund the resuming of the tours, but the White House has refused), but the tax dollars the tax payers are paying gets sent off to fund opposition to Syria's brutal regime? Even if we assume the seven staffers that ran the tours are overpaid, why is that one of the first things to go?

The last piece that we will touch on is the issue of immunizations to kids in Maryland. Because of sequestration, the CDC had to cut the number of available vaccines in Maryland by about 2,050 doses. That is 2,050 fewer children getting vaccinations than would have otherwise received them. The director of the CDC, Thomas Frieden, found himself in an uncomfortable position while testifying at a congressional subcommittee hearing on the cuts. Because of some direct questioning from Maryland Rep. Harris, Frieden was forced to admit that the sequester, which cut $30M from their projected budget, forced them to cut the immunizations, BUT with the president's proposed budget's cut of $58M, the immunizations would have been saved. Do the math folks. With $28M less to spend in the budget, the CDC would have saved the vaccinations? How does that work?

The bottom line is this: people in power love being in power. The second to bottom line is this: manipulation (mass or otherwise) is the favorite tool of the powerful to stay in power. Today, the manipulation is executed with soundbites through news reports. A few centuries ago, as Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in The Prince, it was executed through raw force. Random killings in the town square would scare people into submission. Think of the Spanish Inquisition, the expansion of Ottoman Empire, Nazi and Soviet rule. The success of each of these movements was based on the exercise of power to instill fear. It has always happened and will, no doubt, continue to plague human society. Today the practitioners of this technique send experts, advisers and even celebrities into newsrooms to tell everyone how bad life will be if xyz doesn't happen. Then they say that if, by some off chance, the bad thing does happen, everyone needs to blame Company X, or the X party, or John/Jane Doe for the unavoidable misery that will follow.

To avoid being manipulated, all we need to do is think things through a bit. Who is making this claim? Why is he/she making the claim? Do all of the claim's premises add up? Is the conclusion made within the claim sound? If there is a red flag that comes up as a result of the answers to any of these questions, chances are someone is trying to dupe you. The second thing to do is be vocal about the facts surrounding the attempted duping. Speak to friends and family, colleagues and neighbors. Be the voice of reason. Without being overbearing, discuss whatever the situation may be and review the actual facts together. Then soon, you/we won't be so easily played by these crisis jockeys.