The Eleventh Hour For Earth.

Half of all the species on Earth have disappeared in the last 40 years. In Malaysia, Indonesia, Africa and Brazil, the destruction of rain forests continues almost unabated endangering thousands more species of plants and animals while belching tons of carbon and methane into the atmosphere. The resulting increase in world temperatures from deforestation, gas and diesel-powered cars, and coal-fired power plants is causing the Greenland glaciers to lose 17 feet of elevation every year. Likewise, the Antarctic ice shelves and glaciers are melting at alarming rates. In addition, the Arctic sea ice is disappearing putting the future of Polar Bears, even indigenous people in jeopardy.

Greed has led to the near extinction of Northern White Rhinos with only 5 now left on the entire planet, and they’re only alive because they’re guarded 24/7 to protect them from poachers. Ivory poachers are killing African elephants at the rate of more than 33,000 per year. If that continues, wild African elephants will become extinct within 12 years! Tigers and many other species are also nearing extinction in the wild. Even bees and butterflies are endangered by our overuse of pesticides.

We have destroyed most of our great ocean reefs and we continue to dump oil, agrichemicals and trash into the oceans creating large dead zones and “islands” of plastic. Hundreds of large factory ships scoop up anything that swims into nets 24 hours a day, keeping those species that are valuable for sale and killing the rest.

Factory farming of cattle, pigs and poultry has led to the overuse of antibiotics that pollute our bodies and make bacteria increasingly immune to medicines. Dairy cows are treated like milk factories, fed a steady diet of hormones intended to cause them to give more milk. And most of the animals are confined in pens with little room to turn around. Moreover, the waste from these meat and milk factories pollutes our ground water and the animals create enormous amounts of methane released into the atmosphere to add to the greenhouse gases. At the same time, corporate farming of grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts have incorporated more herbicides and pesticides while stripping the flavor and nutrition from our food supply.

Oil companies, subsidized by US taxpayers, are searching farther and deeper for oil and gas while polluting the land and water wherever they go. Not only are they responsible for massive spills in our oceans. They are pumping millions of gallons of benzene and other chemicals into the ground which pollutes our ancient underground aquifers. Coal companies are removing entire mountaintops in Appalachia while destroying forests and streams. Manufacturers and refineries quietly dump their toxic waste into our streams or, if it is so toxic that it might raise alarms in the US, they ship it to third world nations for disposal.

At the same time we are destroying the planet with our greed, holy wars are being waged around the globe displacing millions of people in the name of God and Allah. The destruction is spurred on by military contractors who pump out weapons by the millions then traffic them globally in the name of “defense.”

Given all of these crises, you might expect that Congress is working overtime to find ways to end the destruction. But you’d be wrong. While the planet is quite literally melting down, our crack politicians are playing golf with the polluters; vacationing with the weapons manufacturers; sucking up to billionaire campaign donors; doling out subsidies to corporate farmers. And, instead of addressing the real issues, the GOP and its propaganda arms (Fox News Channel and talk radio) have voters in a tizzy over such issues as the religious freedom to discriminate against others, the imaginary “war on Christians” and the false narrative that “tree huggers” are standing in the way of job creation and higher wages.

And when GOP leaders are asked about climate change, they begin their denial with “I’m not a scientist” or “climate change is unproven.” Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But I have eyes and ears. I can see the effects of pollution. I can see films of rampant deforestation. I can read reports from climate scientists and environmental scientists. And I can listen to experts who flatly state that 2015 may be our last chance to begin the necessary changes to head off the cascading effects and downward spiral of climate change.

So what is the downside of committing to policies that will slow and eventually reverse the destruction of our planet?

There is none. Certainly, some industries and jobs will be negatively impacted. But far more will be created. Making positive changes such as reducing our consumption, changing to a more plant-based diet, and switching from carbon fuels to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biofuels should not be difficult. And the new industries these changes create will be the economic engines that drive our future…if we are to have a future on this planet.

An Informed Voting Public?

Our Founding Fathers created a democracy based on informed voters carefully selecting a representative government. The reality is that, after nearly 240 years, we have neither an informed public nor a representative government. The most recent election is a case in point.

After six years of Teapublican obstruction, the approval rating of Congress was lower than the approval of cockroaches. So what did our “informed” voters do? They re-elected the vast majority of the incumbents and gave extra seats to members of the party that was responsible for the obstruction. Our national political pundits explained this phenomenon as the result of a low voter turnout and massive spending of “dark money” to elect candidates who would repay their benefactors with fewer regulations and more tax cuts. I explained that it was the result of the failure of the Democratic Party to promote its record of pulling our economy out of perhaps the biggest hole in history, making affordable health care available to most Americans, improving our nation’s standing throughout the world, expanding consumer protections and attempting to expand civil rights to all segments of our population.

There’s a better explanation.

This past Sunday, Fareed Zakaria, on his CNN show Global Public Square, featured an Ipsos MORI international study that measured the political ignorance in 14 western nations. The study asked respondents from those nations about various issues ranging from unemployment to immigration. While Italy ranked number one as the least informed citizenry, voters in the US ranked a close second. For example, when asked about unemployment in the US, our respondents guessed that the figure was 32 percent when the real number is less than 6 percent nationwide. When asked about the number of recent immigrants in our country, Americans guessed that they make up 32 percent of our population, when the real number is about 13 percent. Asked about the number of Muslims in our country, Americans guessed that Muslims comprise 15 percent of our population, when the real figure is 1 percent.

The large number of poorly informed voters explains why voters continue to vote against their own self-interests; why poor people vote for officials who give large tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations; why they vote for officials who refuse to raise the minimum wage; why women vote for officials who refuse to demand equal pay for equal work; why the retired and near-retired vote for representatives who want to eliminate Social Security and Medicare.

Of course, we also have to ask ourselves why so many Americans are so poorly informed. The answer can be summed up in two words: schools and media.

Many of our schools no longer teach civics. As a result, many of our young people have never read the Constitution. They don’t even know how our government works. In addition, many of our nation’s textbooks are edited and approved by Texas conservatives so that they more resemble Christian and military propaganda than American history or science. For instance, we are still teaching children that Christopher Columbus discovered America when historians agree that he didn’t. And many of our schools are forced to teach “creationism” as an alternative to evolution, even though evolution is a fact as established as the theory of gravity.

Further, our so-called news media have placed an emphasis on entertainment and sensationalism to drive ratings at the expense of real news and information. As a result, we all know about the latest murder trial or the marital status of celebrities. But we don’t know the beliefs and agendas of the candidates on our ballots. Neither do we know world events that will ultimately affect us. We don’t even know that the US has been fighting wars for all but 13 years of our nation’s history. And we don’t know that our own actions led to most of them. Worse yet, we don’t know that our nation is no longer a democracy. Numerous political scientists and economists have proven that, by definition, it has become an oligarchy. (Of course, our poorly educated public likely doesn’t even know what an oligarchy is.)

The point of all this is to say that, if you don’t like our government, it’s not entirely the fault of those who were elected. It’s not necessarily the fault of one political party or our political system. The fault is our own, because we voted the scoundrels into office without ever bothering to ask what they will do. We’re only interested in which tribe they belong to – red or blue.

The Real Threat From Ebola.

Fox Noise Channel and other right wing media pundits have cranked up the scare-o-meter, and it has nothing to do with Halloween. In fact, it has more to do with the upcoming mid-term elections. They want us to believe that we’re all going to die from Ebola-carrying terrorists from ISIS, aka ISIL. And, of course, they’d like you to believe that it’s all Obama’s fault.

Never mind that the only things that ISIS and Ebola, thus far, have in common is that they both originated halfway around the world and that President Obama has ordered the US military to help combat them. Aside from that, they’re worlds apart. ISIS is in Syria and Iraq in the Middle East. Ebola is infecting Liberia and Sierra Leone in Africa.

Infectious disease experts continue to reassure us that Ebola is not easily communicable; that protective garb, alcohol, soap and access to health care can stop it in its tracks; that other viruses, such as some types of influenza pose a far greater threat. However, the experts have pointed out that other countries like Canada and the United Kingdom are far better-equipped to deal with the spread of Ebola. Why? Because they have universal health care.

Some say that, if Ebola was able to gain a foothold in the US, it’s likely that the approximately 40 million Americans who still lack affordable access to health care would ignore the early symptoms, afraid to spend the money to seek medical care. The same is true for another 20 million or so who have low-paying jobs and insurance with high deductibles and large co-payments and can’t afford to lose time at work.

And where do most of these people work?

In restaurants where they prepare and serve your food. In retail stores where they take your payments and dispense change and/or receipts. In schools where they are surrounded by children.

I trust the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) when they say that they will stop Ebola in its tracks. But, in the unlikely event that they are wrong (and the scaremongers at Fox are right), we will have the best case yet for what the president and Democrats really wanted instead of Obamacare…nationalized health care.

Drill, Baby, Drill? No, Baby, No!

In order to fuel our energy habit, there are now more than 1.8 million oil wells worldwide. We know that 36 percent – 648,000 – of them will leak. In addition, we know that all of the oil and gas pipelines that crisscross our country will leak. Yes, all of them! And they’ll leak, not just once, but on multiple occasions. Imagine the combined impact to our environment. Imagine the oil fouling our aquifers, streams, rivers, lakes and oceans. Imagine the carbon being released into our atmosphere.

Yet almost all of this oil and gas production is an unnecessary risk. We already know of many non-polluting, renewable forms of energy – wind, solar, hydroelectric, fuel made from algae, and fuel from grasses. Indeed, scientists tell us that we can fuel our entire planet, including our automobiles and trucks, with wind energy alone.

We don’t even need oil and gas to make the plastics that have become the basis of modern manufactured goods. A scientist recently proved that plastic can be made efficiently and economically from carbon sucked from the atmosphere – a process that will both meet our manufacturing needs and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change. Even a 16-year-old science student in Istanbul has proven that plastic can be made from something we throw away every day – banana peels.

So, then, someone please tell me…exactly why do we continue to pollute our planet? Why are we risking the future of our planet by continuing to belch greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? Why are we going ever deeper into our oceans in search of oil? Why are we risking the pristine beauty of the Arctic and the few unspoiled places left on Earth? Why are we mining high polluting tar sands that will give us little more energy than is required to refine them? Why are we even considering allowing a foreign-based company to build a dangerous pipeline across the nation’s largest aquifer? Why are we endangering our fresh water supplies by pumping pollutants into the ground in order to fracture rock formations and cause them to release oil? An even better question is why do we continue to subsidize Big Oil companies enabling them to make spectacular profits while paying remarkably little in taxes?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is greed. The oil and gas companies and their associated industries exercise great power in Washington and the oil-producing states. They generate billions in profits. As a result, they can afford to hire powerful lobbyists. They can spend millions in misleading advertising campaigns. And, since the Supreme Court decision on behalf of Citizens United, they can contribute millions to political campaigns.

It’s time for the public to demand better; time for more transparency in government; time to stop the subsidies to Big Oil and increase subsidies for sustainable energy; time to pass legislation to overturn Citizens United.

The next time you hear someone say, “Drill, baby, drill” or “Frack, baby, frack,” tell them to go suck on an exhaust pipe. Tell them to get out of the way of the future…because it’s clear that our planet has no future with oil.

Why Does The Right Feel Free To Interpret Science But Not The Constitution And The Bible?

If anything, it should be the other way around. The Bible is not only full of contradictions. Most of it was written hundreds of years after the events it portrays, and it has lost meaning with each translation. As for the Constitution, not even its authors thought it was infallible. Indeed, the Founders expected it to be modified regularly. Jefferson even suggested that it be revisited every generation. And the Constitution addressed the principles and issues of the time. The Founders could not have imagined the issues of today.

As a result, both the Bible and the Constitution may be interpreted in a myriad of ways.

Science, on the other hand, is based entirely on evidence. Science takes a hypothesis and tests it in order to determine if the principle is correct. Only when the results have been repeated on multiple occasions does science accept the hypothesis as fact. For example, gravity was once considered a theory, but every experiment and observation proved it to be true, so it is now accepted as fact. The same is true of evolution and human-caused climate change. In each case, there is an abundance of evidence. Yet conservatives continue to challenge the principles with a few anecdotal experiences based on personal opinion.

In other words, on these issues and many others, conservatives have things backward.

Conservatives continually want to replace science and other evidence with opinion to suit their own ideologies. For instance, they deny the positive impact of Keynesian economics which has been proven by economists on multiple occasions. Instead, they want to rely on Reaganomics which has never proven to work. Even the two architects of Reagan’s trickle down theory have abandoned the concept as a failure and a fraud.

Conservatives actually believe that the poor are lazy despite the fact that most work full-time jobs. Conservatives believe that giving tax breaks and subsidies to large corporations will actually increase federal revenue and create jobs. Conservatives believe that using contraceptives makes women sluts. They believe that preaching abstinence to teens prevents unwanted pregancies despite all evidence to the contrary. They believe that defunding abortion, denying food stamps and school lunch programs for children and declaring war halfway around the world makes them “pro-life.”

Conservatives deny that our national obsession with coal, gas and oil is destroying our planet despite the findings of the world’s most respected climatoligists and evidence of the rapid melting of the planet’s largest glaciers. Conservatives believe that allowing industries to police themselves will maintain our environment. Conservatives believe that allowing the wealthy and large corporations to influence elections is protecting freedom of speech.

There’s a word for such people…and it’s not conservative. It’s delusional!

Conservative “Values.”

Whenever I hear someone talk about “values,” I silently prepare myself to endure yet another lecture about religion, hard work, freedom and patriotism. That’s because conservatives assume that they are the only ones who appreciate such things – the only ones who admire hard work, dedication to family and the benefits of living in the US.

Conservatives talk about religion, but they spout hateful ideas. They talk about freedom, but they want to discriminate against those who look different and those with whom they disagree. They talk about hard work, but they refuse to see others rewarded for it. They talk about getting the government off their backs, but they don’t want anyone to touch their Medicare or Social Security. They rail against illegal immigrants while denying equality to the First Americans. They spout quotes from the Founding Fathers, but ignore the statements from those Founders with whom they disagree.

They talk about patriotism, even as they are at war with our federal government.

For the so-called “values voters,” everything is black or white; us against them; Christians against heathens; fiscal conservatives against spendthrifts; cut-and-save against tax-and-spend. There simply is no room for middle ground. As stated by former president George W. Bush, “you’re either with us, or against us.”

I suspect this will fall on deaf ears, but here’s some news for conservatives. Caring for and helping others is a value. Negotiating peace is a value. Showing compassion for those less fortunate than yourself is a value. Leaving the environment in the same shape you found it is a value. Helping to educate others is a value. Honoring knowledge and accomplishment is a value. Tolerance for other lifestyles, ideas and religions is a value. Moderation and compromise are values. And you can be patriotic without waving the flag, shouting “USA” or supporting yet another war.

I understand, dear conservatives, that these may be distasteful and foreign concepts to you. But these are values shared by most of the developed world. In fact, your “values” of greed, anger, hate and intolerance are reviled by most of those who are educated and enlightened. You remember who used those words to describe themselves and their aspirations, don’t you? We refer to them as the Founding Fathers.

The Teapublican Zombie Apocalypse.

Following eight years of the George W. Bush administration, which included two wars (including one pre-emptive war of choice), the failures of FEMA to give aid for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the crash of the housing market, the nation’s second-largest stock market crash, the bailout of the nation’s largest banks, soaring debt, thousands of home foreclosures and skyrocketing unemployment, the general public was understandably outraged. The Democratic Party stood a good chance of tapping into that outrage thereby ensuring its dominance for generations.

Not only did it fail to do so, it allowed the Tea Party to capture the voters’ anger and help the GOP seize the House of Representatives in 2010.

Was that outcome the result of astute planning and insightful strategies by Republicans? No, it was the result of the stupidity, timidity and outright cowardice of Democrats! Instead of charging Bush officials for the war crimes they committed, Democrats allowed them to profit from the speaker’s circuit and to rewrite history with their inevitable memoirs. Instead of pursuing criminal charges against the banksters who defrauded ordinary Americans, the Department of Treasury and the Justice Department allowed them to give each other six and seven-figure bonuses for their misdeeds. Instead of rewriting the tax code to prevent corporations and individuals from avoiding taxes by stashing profits in off-shore accounts, they bowed to Teapublicans making the Bush tax cuts permanent.

By 2010, the populist outrage created by Teapublican policies was re-directed toward Democrats – not so much for what they had done, but for what they had NOT done. They have not established a brand, making their core values clearly understood. They have not embraced those who joined the Occupy movement and the 99 percent. Too few have stood up against big money and big business. They have not fought hard enough for what they claim to believe in. And, instead of staying focused on solutions to our nation’s problems, they have too often and too easily buckled to criticism.

Now we are heading toward yet another seminal moment in politics and the analysts are suggesting that the Teapublicans will not only hold onto the House. They are likely to take over the Senate! In other words, voters are likely to reward the party that blocked the regulation of financial institutions; the party that panders to large corporations and billionaires while demeaning and dismissing nearly half our population; the party whose policies have hollowed out the middle class and transferred trillions of dollars of wealth upward to those who least need it; the party that took us to war based on a series of lies; the party that has repeatedly tried to cut Social Security and Medicare; the party that refused to allow the duly-elected majority to legislate through a record number of filibusters; the party that prioritized the profits of large corporations over jobs; the party that ignores the needs of small businesses; the party that has destroyed labor unions; the party that underfunds Veterans Affairs then howls when it can’t meet demand; the party that believes that climate change and environmental conservation are based on flawed science.

If you’re a small business owner, a white collar worker, a blue collar laborer, a woman, a retiree, or anyone who wants to breathe clean air and drink clean water, the GOP has made it abundantly clear that they don’t care about you. By the same token, many in the Democratic Party have shown an unwillingness to fight for you. And their election strategy seems to consist of, “A Republican said (or did) something stupid, send us money.” Maybe that explains why so few Democratic voters show up at the polls during midterm elections.

Indeed, the two parties can best be summed up by two quotes. In the HBO series The Newsroom, Jeff Daniels’ character stated, “You know why people don’t like liberals?…cause they lose. If liberals are so f***ing smart, why do they lose so goddam always?” And conservative author P. J. O’Rourke famously wrote, “Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it.”

Unfortunately, I believe they are both right.

A New Understanding Of Life And Death.

After studying ancient Hebrew with an old Jewish rabbi, a friend once told me that the ancient term for God or Yaweh is pronounced “huuah,”…similar to the sound one makes when exhaling forcefully. He said that, in addition to being defined as God, it also means “breath.” My understanding of the Buddhist tradition is that consciousness is centered on the self; that by focusing on the consciousness, individuals may become one with the universe and choose the circumstances of their reincarnation. And my understanding of the Taoist tradition is that individuals do not exist on their own, but that they are part of the greater whole.

Each of these ancient traditions seem to align with a scientist’s new-found understanding of life and death.

In his book “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the Nature of the Universe,“ Dr. Robert Lanza offers a new concept of life, theorizing that life does not end when the body dies. It can last forever. And Lanza is most certainly not a mad scientist. In fact, he was voted “the 3rd most important scientist alive” by the NY Times and he was named “one of the 100 most influential people alive” by Time magazine. An expert on regenerative medicine and scientific director of Advanced Cell Technology Company, Lanza achieved recognition for his research on stem cells and cloning. More recently, he has focused on the connection between biology, physics, quantum mechanics and astrophysics.

This led Lanza to develop the theory of “biocentrism,” which holds that, rather than life and consciousness being a product of the universe. It’s the other way around. The universe is actually the product of consciousness. He theorizes that intelligence existed before matter…from the beginning of time. Without delving too deeply in the most wonkish details of Lanza’s presentation, I’ll try to summarize it by saying that some scientists have determined that consciousness exists within the microtubules of our brain cells, which process information. They argue that our experience of consciousness is the result of the effects of quantum gravity on these microtubules. When you die, the information is released from your body. But rather than vanish, the information simply dissipates into the universe.

Lanza’s theory holds that most people identify too closely with their bodies. They believe that when the body decays, their consciousness disappears, too. But Lanza theorizes that the body is more like a radio receiving programming signals. When the body (the radio) dies, the information and consciousness (the signals) still exist…much like the Taoist belief that when living things die, they remain part of the whole.

In addition, Lanza believes that there are multiple universes; that the body can be dead in one universe and continue to exist in another. The thought is that, rather than going to a heaven or hell, upon death our consciousness (or soul) may travel to a parallel universe…that we live on indefinitely in one universe after another similar to the Buddhist belief in reincarnation.

All of this may seem like science fiction. But Lanza’s theory is supported by other physicists and astrophysicists who contend that no physical laws exist which would prohibit the existence of parallel worlds. And corresponding with western religious traditions, some scientists even believe that our actions may determine the future and destination of our consciousness.

For as long as I can remember, people have thought that religious philosophy and science are irreconcilably at odds. But, as it turns out, they may share many of the same ideas. They simply arrive at them in differing ways.