I am Pagan

I am interrupting my blog, on the explanation of the 1st Amendment, for something which I feel needs to be said. This stems from hearing a certain ex-presidential candidate’s speech at CPAC yesterday. Another part of what spurred this is my reaction to the loss of a leader in the Denver Pagan community; someone I have known and respected for over thirty years.

This morning on my Facebook page I called for everyone who is not Judeo-Christian to raise their voices and let the people of this country recognize the true diversity of our culture.To lead the way I’ll offer myself up as an example.

My mundane name is Greg Robinson. I have never really cared for my first name (no offense Greg B), but I accepted it. Then a lady I was seeing told me that I didn’t look like a Greg. She said that I looked like a Marc and started calling me by that name. Pretty soon everyone was calling me Marc. And it felt right to me.

My last name is shortened from what it was originally, as well as what it became later in the SCA (the Society for Creative Anachronism.) I originally adopted the name of a town here in Colorado: Silverthorne. It fit because I was a fencer. It soon evolved, in the SCA, to the long French name of Marc de la Lame` d`Argent which means Marc of the silver blade. For ease of use as a nom de guerre (pseudonym) I shortened it to Marc Sylvir.

I have been a Pagan for about twenty years. I have been out of the proverbial “broom closet” for quite some time. I am also a participating citizen of the United States of America. I vote in every election. I do so,  not with a knee-jerk reaction, but with great care and thoughtfulness; I take the time to do my research on issues and politicians. I love this country but I consider myself a part of the greater whole of humanity, and a steward of the Earth, as well.

I believe that the hypocrisy and injustice in this great country needs to be revealed and resolved. This is not a country made for the rich. This is not a country made for one race, belief or sexual orientation. We are a nation of individuals with individual values. As the historian Carl Degler said: “The metaphor of the melting pot is unfortunate and misleading.  A more accurate analogy would be a salad bowl, for, though the salad is an entity, the lettuce can still be distinguished from the chicory, the tomatoes from the cabbage.”

We need to recognize and accept this. We need to provide for the poor and the sick. We need to be able to spread our artistic wings freely. And we need to recognize that there are many ways to look at all these problems, which is why we need to be able to have open conversations free from rhetoric. We must be able to state our positions intelligently and not fall back on sound bytes or generalities. By doing so we can maintain a civil society that will be helpful to all.

I state my positions on issues quite strongly, but I do not believe myself to be infallible. I am not all good or all evil. As a human being I am a mix of both. The balance which I’ve achieved was the result of a lot of hard work and personal introspection on my part, and it is not yet finished. As an individual I am constantly evolving. And I will, occasionally, find myself put off of that balance. But with help from others, and more hard work on my part, I always find my way back to my own center.

Now it is time for all of us to speak up. We have this wonderful tool of free speech called the Internet. Use it. If you are a member of any of the Neo-Pagan or New Age religions out there, stand up and say so. If you are an Atheist or an Agnostic, stand up and say so. If you are Christian, Muslim,  Jewish, or of any religious persuasion and you feel that all religions have their own validity, stand up and say so.

You may be Black, Hispanic, Anglo, Asian, Native American, Arabic, Indian, or of mixed heritage. You may be a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, a member of the Green Party (as I am), or a member of any other political organization. You may be an Occupy supporter or a Tea-Partier. You may be hetero, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, trans-gender,queer or you may identify your sexuality in other terms. You can identify yourself in any way you choose but, please, stand up and say “I want to be part of the conversation! I believe that each living person is entitled to everything that this country has to offer.”

If you want to do so in response to the notification of this blog post on my Twitter or Facebook, feel free to do so. If you want to do this on your own blog, twitter, or Facebook page, then do that. I respect your decision if you don’t want to come out of whatever closet you find yourself in. But you should find in yourself the fortitude to stand up for the others who are willing to do so. Please don’t stand there and say “Well, that’s just the way it is.” It doesn’t have to be that way.

If we stop caring about other individuals and remain fixed only on our opinions, or our own sphere of influence, we will become a nation of sociopaths. I am fearful that we are already on our way to becoming that nation. And the only way that we may be able to stop this trend is to speak up.

We can be one nation composed of individuals only if we care enough to make it so.

Hail to the 1st

With the many references made to the 1st Amendment, I thought that maybe a refresher course was due on this topic. The Bill of Rights (as the first ten amendments are collectively referred to, were introduced to the Congress by James Madison in 1789 and formally adopted in 1791.

The 1st amendment reads. in toto:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I’ve casually mentioned the first amendment in my posts, but I’ve never gone into the reasoning of it. More often than not I refer to the first 2 pieces which read:
1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion
2. or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

Even though they are actually one phrase grammatically, they are two separate concepts. At first glance it would seem that the two pieces of the phrase are stating the same thing in different ways, but it is clearly not the case. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” points to the Church of England being the official religion of England. It basically says that we were not going to make the mistake of saying that any one religion has precedence over any other religion according to the United States Government.

When the Pilgrims came here, in 1620, they were escaping religious intolerance from that church. The first two pieces directly relate to that persecution. The framers of the Bill of Rights were trying to be both inclusive and exclusive of religious freedoms when the 1st was written. Of course they conveniently ignored the fact that those self-same pilgrims were trying people for witchcraft 70 years after they arrived on the shores of Massachusetts.

So, no matter what the right-wing evangelicals say, Christianity (or mono-theism which is in my mind the encapsulating concept of the Judeo-Christian nature of religion here) is not the official religion of this country. We have all heard the views of Franklin and Jefferson on the separation of church and state so I will not belabor that point. However, in the interest of that point, I should note that the phrase “In God We Trust” did not appear on US coins until 1864 and on paper currency until 1957.

The second piece, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, is where it gets really sticky. It is why I blogged that I was torn on the issue of the HHS ruling on birth control coverage. I will concede this point in the favor of HHS, and will say that it is also due to input by others. It is true that the institutions referred to employ more than just Christians or Catholics (to be more specific) so that denying them this coverage is denying them on the basis of the religion which employs them rather than on their own religion.

What it basically says is, while there is no official religion, the government cannot establish laws restricting the practice of any religion.  Contrary to popular opinion, this is not the reason that all churches receive tax-free status. In actuality, this was due to a series of Supreme Court decisions from 1861 to 1877, that declared that churches were charitable institutions.

Of course, this is not even close to being true now; today’s mega-churches are evidence of that. In my humble opinion, churches should be required to submit income tax deductions only on those pieces which can be attributed directly attributed to charitable work such as food banks. The rest of their income should be taxed at the normal corporate rate (this does not mean GE’s current rate…). But this is also something which would now, because of those SCOTUS decisions, require a constitutional amendment. And in today’s environment, that would be impossible.

If we look closely at this piece, an interpretation of it would mean that any restrictions which we make on churches should only apply to the separation of church and state as defined by the first piece. We can restrict them according to laws which apply to all, such as the Civil Rights Act or open employment (EEO), but we need to watch anything that would restrict practices of worship.

Any restrictions on worship itself, could be equally applied to us as Pagans. This is where I see the too often used cliche` “slippery slope” to be entirely pertinent. And I believe this is what Madison was referring to in crafting that wording. As much as I complain about the religious right it is the opinions they push which I abhor, and the influence they have over many politicians, not the way in which they worship.

I am sometimes overcome with my own version of hyperbole on religion, and I need to be more responsible and precise in my wording. This is not to preserve the interest of being politically correct, but to be honest and non-hypocritical in the expressions of my opinions. As Pagans we all should think carefully on our own expressions for that reason. If we are to be respected for our own beliefs, we need to respect the beliefs of others. This is not to say that we cannot point out the inconsistencies, but we need to be prepared to face criticism on those points as well.

I will be examining the rest of the 1st in the next post.

An interesting side note: In regard to the Pilgrims there are no references to Plymouth Rock until 100 years after the landing ( http://www.pilgrimhall.org/Rock.htm )

Political Realities?

I was watching last night’s War Room with Jennifer Granholm this morning (on Current TV which is run by former VP Al Gore). They were having a small debate on whether or not the President should be going with a super PAC. The quote that struck me in this was from Governor Granholm who said: “I want to make sure we have the best opportunity to get a constitutional amendment <re: getting money out of politics> and I think that lies with President Obama rather than the Republicans.”

I definitely agree with the point that the Republicans would do nothing about it. But do you really think the President will? His progressive credentials are sketchy at best. The Health Care Reform act was one of his biggest accomplishments, and I support the main part of it. It is awesome that people will no longer be denied health insurance based on an existing condition.

But in the end he acceded to the wishes of the insurance companies and went with an individual mandate instead of a universal option which would have forced them to become competitive. And their opposition to the plan in general was half-hearted. It gave the administration something to point to and say: Look, if the insurance companies are opposed to it, it must be good. Meanwhile the potential customer pool of those companies skyrocketed.

It is only now that they are realizing that their faux opposition caught on a little too much. The mandate piece of it is what’s being challenged by state attorneys general across the country. So the advantage they gained in the act is in danger of falling to their own rhetoric.

He did get rid of DADT, but it was only after considerable pressure from human rights groups. Read Matt Taibbi’s analysis in Rolling Stone of the Wall Street Reform Act and you will see that those reforms are weak and ineffectual.

There are several areas where he has managed to back, successfully, progressive issues. But he has done so reluctantly and only after being reassured that there was enough general support for him to safely do so.

And when it comes to the environment he has failed miserably. He continuously, as I have pointed out before, backs the interests of big energy. The Department of the Interior is issuing oil permits for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico with “safety features” that are exactly the same as the ones which failed in the BP spill. I guess they feel that enough time has passed for the general public to forget the horrifying scenes of oil burbling freely out of the rupture into the no-longer pristine waters of the Gulf. Meanwhile the cleanup is ongoing. “Drill Baby Drill” may be a slogan for the Palins of this world, but it is an actuality for this administration.

Now, with the administration backing a pro-Obama Super PAC, he has abandoned the cause of getting money out of politics. Many of his supporters are saying “Well, you can’t bring a knife to a gunfight” (and how cliche` is that anyway?),  but if you think that this is a temporary capitulation, think again. Temporary has a bad habit of becoming permanent. The administration says they must bow to political realities. And that is the point of all of this.

Political reality is what has gotten us to the point where money rules the system. The American public pays little or no attention to the long-term plays of politics. And those plays are destroying the system of support for the people of this country, and for the environment.  Republicans and Democrats have forgotten what true principles are. And that is the real political reality.

I am, by no means, a spokesman for the Occupy movement although I am a supporter. But I believe I am safe in saying that the purpose of the movement is to expose these political realities for the sham that they are. We no longer have a true representational government; we have a system rigged to ensure that the rich get richer. The politicians, for the most part, care about nothing more than power grabs.

It’s past-time for the American people to stand up and say that we reject the concept of “political reality.” If we don’t do so soon, it will be too late.

Can you identify?

I, and most Americans, have made fun of presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s recent statements such as:

1. “I know what it’s like to worry about whether you’re going to get fired.”
2. “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it,”
3. “I’m also unemployed”

All of the above statements show that he has no empathy for the plight of common Americans. In his defense, how could he? He has never had to struggle with paying his bills on time. He has never been on the streets. He has never had to face losing his home. According to Politifact the values of the three properties he and his wife own is about $17 million.

Newt Gringrich, though usually more adept at playing down his less considerable wealth, said that his speaking fees were “not much.” That would be $60k per speech worth of “not much.” Although I have not been able to find an exact figure, he made at least 5 of those speeches during the tax year he was referring to.

President Obama can make claim to being somewhat empathetic to the common people, having started out as a community organizer, but since being elected President he has surrounded himself with Wall Street insiders such as Timothy Geithner. I’m sorry but being able to sing the first few lines of “Let’s Stay Together”, however nicely he did it, does not make him one of us. I will say that if the Presidency were to come down to the ability to belt out a tune, he has it all over Romney’s out of tune warbling of “America the Beautiful.”

According to mcclatchydc.com Senators had a median reportable net worth of $1.79 million in 2008 and House members’ median net worth was $645,503 in 2008. Oh yeah; I bet that they really feel the plight of the average American. That would be why they didn’t worry about it too much when they voted down their automatic pay increase recently.

I know that radical changes are on the way, and that the world is in transition. If I had a way to do it, I would love to make a gestalt of human minds. If Romney and the other politicians were to suddenly be able to see what we experience first hand, their attitudes would change immediately. I pick on him quite a bit, but he is just the most visible example; he is representative of the symptom.

The true problem is indifference. And the true solutions are empathy and generosity. Be willing to share what you have with others. Express your ideas and you may be surprised at the number of people who agree with you. Talk to others about their problems. Understand that you are not alone.

OWS is important. Independent journalism, such as you see on Current TV, in The Nation Magazine, and on blog posts across the country are important. The voice of the people is important. We may not all agree on the best solutions, and some of us may not be able to express a specificity, but we are more in touch with our fellow Americans than any of these politicians can ever hope to be.

We all need to raise our voices, and in turn, raise the level of the discussion about what we, as a whole, are responsible for: the future of the human race and the continued sustainability of our planet. We need to make them listen, not through violence, but through reason. If the gestalt I mentioned earlier comes, that would be a boon to us as a whole. Until then, it is up to us to make ourselves heard, and to spread caring and empathy across the country and the globe.

 

Energetically Speaking

So, if no is the short answer, what is the long one? All of the above; and my “all of the above” does not include oil, coal, or nuclear energy. It could possibly include natural gas if they can find a way to extract it without the currently used method of fracking (toxic environmental emissions and water catching on fire is not my idea of clean energy).  But I can hear the objections to my conclusions already. They will go through each of the clean energy possibilities, one by one, and explain why they wouldn’t work as a solution. And, surprise, I agree with them!

The difference between what they say, and my proposal, is that I don’t deal in sound bytes. I read news magazines and watch political shows. I read the research available. I get as much information as I can before making a decision on how I vote. The result is that I can see a combination of solutions to any problem. And that is what it will take: a combination of the clean energy technologies.

Anyone who really knows me, recognizes that one of my main interests is cars. When I was young I was totally envious of a friend’s Corvette which ge got at a discount because he worked at the Fischer body plant. My sister had a 67 Cougar with a 351 Cleveland which she took to the amateur drags at Quaker City Drag Strip. As an aside, it was quite the surprise to my Mother when she found out about it 30 years after the fact.

I had two fondly remembered cars back then: a beat-up 65 Dodge with a brand new 383 under the hood, which caused severe shock symptoms to several people in Mustangs and Camaros, and a 69 Fiat Spider which is what I learned to drive a stick in…in the middle of winter…in Ohio. My next car will probably be a replacement for that one; albeit 10 years newer.

But if I had the money my dream car would be a Tesla Roadster. It is the first car to prove that electric vehicles could appeal to car nuts like me. And here comes the first argument: What about the electricity it uses? You’re not saving any natural resources because it has to draw from coal-fired, or nuclear energy plants. Wow, that’s it! I’m giving up on electric cars!

Yeah, right. Here in Colorado we get over three hundred days of sunshine a year. Take a drive around Denver and you’ll see solar panels popping up everywhere. Here, at least, solar panels are a clean energy source which makes sense. Buy a home on the eastern outskirts of town , and put up a couple of wind turbines in tandem with a solar array, and you can produce enough energy to not only provide for the car, but to take your home off the grid as well.

Take that same home, bury it halfway into the ground to take advantage of the insulating properties of the Earth and add an envelope around it for a heat exchange system, and you could end up selling electricity back to the power company. Problem solved with American ingenuity!

You may not be able to take advantage of all of these technologies in your area; for example solar panels in Portland would not be a very efficient alternative energy source. But look around and I’m sure you could find a combination of technologies that would work for you. Even if you can’t go as extreme as I mentioned, you can make your household more energy efficient in a number of ways.

And the more people who invest in these true alternative energies, the lower the cost will be for everyone; which, handily, answers  another complaint about clean energy: it can be too cost-prohibitive. As an added benefit it will drive the Koch Brothers, the API,  and all of the other corporate cronies who have bought the politicians, crazy. By the way, Solyndra is not only green energy company who benefited from the clean energy initiatives, but you wouldn’t believe it if you only listen to the right-wing press and politicians.

I believe that it is not too late for the majority of Americans to wake up to the crisis the Earth faces. Solar, geo-thermal, wind, water turbines, and even hydrogen power concecpts being currently developed could save this planet, and provide jobs for many of the people who are unemployed. Money provided for scientific research into energy could even provide more green energy sources that we may not be able to conceive of right now. This could make our country a true leader of the world again.

These solution call for a major shift in our ways of thinking about energy. Do not believe the bought and paid for politicians who will proclaim that one negative thing damns the whole concept. Think outside of the box and tell the energy industry to take their money and shove it.

Energy Wise

In the State of the Union President Obama said that he wants an “all of the above approach” to energy. Speaker Boehner’s response? He said that the president was impeding oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy. If only he were. His lack of action on them is astonishing.

Shell has been approved for deep-water wells, and the Interior Department has even approved BP to do exploration for more wells in the Gulf! The excuse: The problem with Horizon was human error! At the same time, they have no new requirements for safety, including the problem with the valve that screwed up to begin with.

On natural gas, anyone who is paying even the smallest amount of attention would know that fracking is putting people’s health and lives in danger. And there is speculation that the number of gas wells in the Youngstown, Ohio area caused the earthquakes they experienced recently. Having grown up there I can guarantee you that area is not an earthquake zone. It has plenty of other problems, a combination of which is why I live in Denver now, but earthquakes were never among those.

If the coal companies are indeed using “clean coal” tech to reclaim Co2 emissions, more power to them. But remember where I said I grew up? Do a Google Earth search and you will see where Y-town sits. I know what coal mining does to the environment and the people who work in those mines. And the current tactics of the coal companies is to blow the tops off mountains to get to the coal reserves under them.

I am a believer in science, so I do see where new nuclear power plants are safer now than ever before. I emphasized “new” because the NRC is extending the permits of 40 year old plants. Those plants, when they were built, were designed to have a 40 year life span. Why is it acceptable to extend the permits to twice their life-spans?

But the two main problems with this can be summed up with the following: Fukashima Daichi  and storage. There are nuclear plants in California (you may recall that quite a bit of that state is earthquake country) which have the exact same design and safety plans of the Japanese plant that failed with such disastrous consequences.

And there is no real plan to deal with nuclear waste except to bury it. But state legislatures, in their best NIMBY mode, are fighting against that storage in their states, as well as transportation of the material through them. So the used rods in many plants sit in pools: exactly the way they were situated in F.D. And that worked out so well…

So, what is the alternative: wind, solar, electric? The short answer is no. I’ll explain tomorrow.

Not About Newt

In the CNN debate John King opened up the debate by asking Newt Gingrich about his ex-wife’s claim that he had requested an open marriage. By not allowing it to come up naturally (because you know that in any Republican debate one of the candidates is sure to bring up “character) he gave Newt a platform to rail against the media. This was a mistake in my estimation, but I am not a journalist.

I am also not the person who will launch into a tirade of my own about Gingrich’s personal life (glass house, stones…) While he has made mention of “family values”, as any republican since the days of Reagan has, he has never been one to push that point. He let others lead the charge on Clinton’s Monica moment; he simply took political advantage of it.

This is not to say that Gingrich does not engage in his own brand of hypocrisy. For evidence of that take a look back at his call for prosecution of Barney Frank for his role in legislating the housing market while, at the same time, Newt’s own company was taking money from Freddie Mac.

The amusing news about this is that some right-wing talking heads are saying that the affairs, and request for an open marriage, are evidence of his eligibility for the office of the President of the USA. Really?!? Yes, Rush Limbaugh and others are saying exactly that. And as much as I am truly disdainful of Fox News they are not, so far, leading with that particular tack.

What Rush, and a few others, are saying boils down to one thing: Newt is a “man’s man” whose honesty with his wife is refreshing. This is the same person who said, in the past, that Bill Clinton is a sex addict. I guess if anyone knows about addiction it would be Rush.

This is the type of hypocrisy which I have talked about in the past, and will continue to point out whenever I see it. “Family Values” seems to be a matter of convenience. It only applies to those whom the right wing dislike. When a politician who is on their side falls into a situation where their so-called values should be applied, they either ignore the situation or defend that politician in contradiction of those same “values.”

You are morally bankrupt if you are against them, but if you are on their side, any transgressions are shrugged off. What is your belief based on if it can be bent that easily? If you are a fan of Rush Limbaugh, apparently not much.