How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Enough is Enough

“but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing (Mark 4.18)”

How much is enough? A recent Princeton University study contends the income required for optimum happiness is $75,000/year. Up to that figure, people tend to worry about financial security and making ends meet, but at $75k most people feel like they are financially set. They have enough disposable income to enjoy leisure activities like eating out and taking vacations.

However, when a person makes more than $75k/year, the Princeton study indicates the increase in wealth does not appear to make individuals any happier. The facts on the ground seem to bear out this truth. Lottery winners experience increased rates of divorce and after the initial flush of the win, no increases in overall happiness are maintained. The Maasai bushmen, probably the individuals with the least amount of material wealth on the planet, report happiness levels equivalent to the Forbes 400 wealthiest people on earth. It would seem that enough really is enough.

Everybody on earth should have access to $75k/year or the equivalent value for their cultural variables and exchange rate. The Maasai probably wouldn’t need or even want that much to maintain their currently level of contentedness. But most Americans want more than $75k, they want to be rich. We think money will solve all our problems, and our cultural programming reinforces this belief. The consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, skin care products, toys, electronics, diet food, hot tubs and McMansions that are flashed across our conscious and unconscious realities on a daily basis, promise health, beauty, security, status, entertainment and of course happiness.

Jesus said that a rich man had as much chance of entering the Kingdom of Heaven as a camel has of passing through the eye of a needle. Why is being rich evil or at the very least, a detriment to heavenly salvation? With values that contradict our expressed Christian majority, Americans admire the obscenely rich. We make television programs about them, their yachts, their homes and their decadent shopping behaviors. We tend to believe they have worked hard to get where they are and harbor secret hopes to one day join their ranks, even though we aren’t supposed to covet. But Jesus clearly does not share our admiration and for good reason.

The truth is, most rich people don’t work any harder than you or I do. Most do not possess any great intelligence, and few have contributed anything of real value to society as a whole. The Forbes 400 for 2010 lists 400 American billionaires (that’s more than $1,000 million each in net worth). In the United States, while record numbers of children join the ranks of third world-like poverty, 400 people possess more than enough wealth collectively to house and feed them all.

What did the Forbes 400 do to deserve such wealth? Of course, Bill Gates, as always, tops the list with a net worth of $54 billion. Bill Gates did contribute something of value to the world, but it isn’t what most people think. While he is often attributed with being the author of the MS DOS and Microsoft Windows software that revolutionized home computing, he was primarily just a savvy investor. Microsoft’s first big break in 1981 was supplying the MS DOS operating systems for the new IBM personal computers. Gates and his partner Paul Allen didn’t write that software, they purchased it from an obscure and little known company called Seattle Computer Products. The rest is history. Through restrictive, monopolistic marketing practices, Bill Gates and Paul Allen amassed an empire and revolutionized home computing. Actually, the home computing thing was destined to happen anyway, but by cornering the market early on, Microsoft ruthlessly crowded out competitors leaving consumers with few other viable software options.

Nowadays, Bill Gates has retired as CEO of Microsoft and spends his time as a humanitarian. He famously pledged to give half of his wealth to his own charity, and most people think he’s just a swell guy. He certainly looks benign with his nerdy glasses, mild slouch and soft-spoken manner. And, Gates has definitely done some good in the world. The Gates Foundation has almost single-handedly wiped out a couple of nasty bugs in Africa, and he donates a lot of computers to school children. Gates is obviously a smart guy and he can continue to put his smarts to good purpose to the benefit of the world. It is not surprising the good one can achieve with billions of dollars. The question is, why stop at half Bill? Why not decide to give it all away to good causes. Keep a million or billion or two. There is still a lot of dosh in Bill Gates’ bank account that seems to be doing little other than making Mr. Gates feel good. Does he really need all those billions of dollars to feel secure? And is it fair for him to keep so much for himself when so many people are literally starving to death? I pick on Bill Gates, but really, most of the Forbes 400 are far worse.

4 of the top 10 are heirs to Sam Walton’s fortune. Collectively, the WalMart heirs have a net worth of $83.8 billion. It is doubtful they have ever done a meaningful day’s work in their privileged lives, but they are happy to enslave people across the globe. Women and children in filthy sweat shops in Bangladesh and minimum wage-earning, hard-working associates who have to apply for food stamps and Medicaid to feed and provide for their families all toil to line the pockets of Mr. Walton’s progeny.

A large proportion of the 400 Forbes American elites are Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers (you know, the one’s who bankrupted our country), energy moguls (turtle and pelican slickers), internet geniuses (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.) and Casino magnates (I don’t know why I separated them from the Wall Street guys). The rest of the field is rounded out by several consumer product giants, pharmaceutical industry executives and the Cargill heirs (the guys who brought us high fructose corn syrup). 14 of the 400 made their billions on something called “leveraged buyouts,” otherwise known as the hostile takeover. Although a broad diversity of skills is to be found on the Forbes 400 list, one can safely say that not one of them has worked as hard in their lifetime as the single mother WalMart employee or a 16 hour a day factory worker in China.

One billion dollars is more than 500,000 times the annual salary of the average Chinese factory worker. It is almost 50,000 times the annual salary of a WalMart employee. In 2010, Forbes reports the world has 1,011 billionaires. Their combined wealth is greater than half of the world’s population combined (3,400,000,000 people).

Any one of the billionaires could give away at least nine tenths of their wealth, continue to lead a very decadent lifestyle and make the world a much better place, but they don’t. Instead, the vast majority whine about losing the tax cuts they obviously do not need and make extravagant campaign contributions to candidates that would cut social programs, making the lives of the poor and miserable even more so.

How did we as a culture come to view such abject greed as something virtuous? Jesus is after all correct in his assumptions about the obscenely wealthy. Americans need to wake up and smell the coffee. The vast majority of the wealthy elites are evil pigs and we need to tax them extensively and redistribute their wealth to where it is needed in our society. The few of the wealthy who aren’t greedy bastards won’t mind in the least.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

GOP Pledges to Move America Back to Bush II and the Stone Age

Today the GOP released its Pledge to America.

The Pledge begins by making lofty references hearkening back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Our democracy has been overtaken by “an arrogant, out of touch government of self-appointed elites.” And, it is the patriotic duty of all Americans to overthrow said government and reinstate true democracy. Apparently the record numbers of voters who showed up on November 4th, 2008 to elect our first African American President were imposters, and our current dictatorial state appointed itself.

The GOP pledges to “honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values.” Translation – the GOP will trample the civil rights of people based on their sexual preferences, legislate governmental control over women’s reproductive rights, and transform a government based on the separation of church and state into a corporate theocracy. Most offensive about the above statement is the GOP claims the above actions would represent “our American values.” At least half of the people in this country do not subscribe to the above values and in fact, view them as un-American.

First and foremost, the GOP returns to its well-worn mantra of tax cuts. Economists almost universally agree that tax cuts for wealthy Americans do almost nothing to stimulate the economy. We also have the recent case study of President Bush’s tax cutting economic policies that plunged our country into the darkest economic disaster since the Great Depression. As President Obama recently noted, giving Warren Buffet more money in his pockets is not going to change his spending patterns.

The GOP further pledges to reduce the deficit. Any sentient being should be able to see the logical flaw with the GOP’s conflicting promises. Reagan was the first Republican President to administer massive tax cuts for the wealthy. During his administration, the federal deficit rose from $1 trillion to over $2.6 trillion. President Clinton managed to reverse the trend, but then President George W. Bush called for more tax cuts and the deficit once again ballooned. Nonpartisan Politifact estimates Bush II added $5 trillion to our national debt (1).

There is absolutely no evidence anywhere in our history to suggest that tax cuts will miraculously decrease the deficit, or that Republicans are really the fiscal conservatives they claim to be. Americans need to wake up and examine the facts. There is a lot of conservative rhetoric flying around about how President Obama is saddling our children with debt, and he is. Obama has been forced to stimulate the economy and rescue the jobs of teachers, firefighters and policemen because President Bush destroyed our economy. On the other hand, Republicans have saddled future generations with enormous debt in the name of lining the pockets of the already rich. Our children and grandchildren will pay for the dramatic increase in wealth of a few lucky Americans. The question is, will Americans fall for the GOP’s distorted version of the truth once again, or will we wise up?

The GOP Pledge is entertaining reading and should be required for analysis in all college Logic classes across America, as it clearly demonstrates almost every kind of logical fallacy imaginable. A starker reality may be realized on November 2nd, 2010, if American voters embrace the lofty, albeit incongruous rhetoric outlined in the GOP Pledge, and the GOP take over the United States Congress based on the impossible financial claims, cloaked bigotry, lies and innuendo displayed in their Pledge. The truth, facts and reality are that the Pledge offers nothing new or different than the policy enacted under President George W. Bush. Nothing. Do we really want to go back there?


Friday, September 17, 2010

An Open Letter to the President of the United States

September 17th, 2010

Dear President Obama,

Although the mainstream media never reported on it, Friday, September 10th was one of the lowest points in your Presidency. With all the campaigning you have been doing lately and since you were not present at the meeting between representatives from your administration and American hero climate advocates Bill McKibben, Jean Altomere, Amanda Nelson and Jaime Nemecek , you may not realize the significance of that day. September 10th was the day your administration refused to make the powerfully symbolic commitment to clean energy by reinstalling the Carter White House solar panels.

September 10th was the day the Democratic base of progressive voters came to realize they no longer have any representation in the United States government. The shocking reality that true liberal representation in our “democracy” might be a thing of the past has been nagging progressive voters for a while. Your feeble display at Copenhagen, your unwillingness to push for single payer or even a viable public option in healthcare, your escalation of the war in Afghanistan, your advocacy for oxymoronic “clean” coal and nuclear energy and last but not least, your massive bailout of Wall Street contrasted to your tepid response for the record numbers of the new American impoverished had already just about wiped out any hope we had for change. But, this latest gesture, or lack thereof, has finally sealed our disillusionment.

Your hero and mine Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” While your level-handedness might be charming and serve you well in the polite society of Harvard Law School graduates, there is no place for your equanimity in the current political, economic and environmental crises that currently face our nation. As the progressives in government compromise and remain silent, the increasingly radical right voices get louder and louder, taking over the political discourse with the end result being a slow but steady movement of the national psyche towards conservatism. The right has been very successful not by being polite but by pushing relentlessly and vocally for their agenda. The recent political success of extreme right Tea Party candidates proves that he, who shouts the loudest in our country, wins.

The few 30-year old, still operational solar panels seem like a small token in terms of climate change, but their symbolic value is enormous. Republicans recognize the importance of symbolic gestures. After all, it was President Ronald Reagan who removed the panels 30 years ago, ushering in an era of unprecedented exponential growth of fossil fuel consumption in this country. Reagan wasn’t afraid that his actions would appear too conservative or offend moderate voters, and his decisive actions made him the unlikely darling of the majority of Americans, even those with contrasting political ideologies.

In case you missed the point, here’s what the solar panels mean to progressive voters: Progressive voters can draw a line to what we feel has been the downfall of our great nation coinciding almost exactly to the time when the solar panels were removed from the White House roof. The rise in greenhouse gasses since that time also parallels with a decline of the middle class. As our life-sustaining atmosphere chokes on the profits of the wealthiest corporations on Earth, record numbers of everyday people lose their homes, go bankrupt because of medical expenses and fall into poverty because of the conservative policies that have a stranglehold on our democracy. Good or bad, Ronald Reagan was a President who changed history.

Great Presidents do not achieve their place in history by being passive. Abraham Lincoln enjoyed popularity ratings lower than your own. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was so despised by the fascist right they plotted a military overthrow, but his legacy was the middle class that now begs for your action.

In an April 7, 2008 Science magazine article, leading climate scientist from NASA’s Goddard Institute, James Hansen and his associates, remarked “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm…If the present overshoot of this target CO2 is not brief, there is a possibility of seeding irreversible catastrophic effects.”

2010 is not just an election year. 2010 has the unfortunate distinction of marking the hottest summer, year and decade in recorded history. Do not let your Presidency pass into history as the point in history when a good man did nothing thereby passing an uninhabitable planet onto our children. Invite Mr. McKibben and his college student associates back to the White House to install those solar panels and commemorate the day in history when the President of the United States began the sustainable energy revolution that saved the Earth.

Yours sincerely.
Kathleen McNary Wood
Franklin, NC

(note to bloggers: to read McKibben's account of the events of September 10th, please read his article at:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Apes and Men

People are apes. Although the monotheistic religions of the world like to place Homo sapiens in a unique and godlike classification of his own, evolutionary genetics paints a roadmap to our ancestors swinging from the trees. In fact, we can learn a lot about our behavior from studying our closest cousins – chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos.

In the book Demonic Males, Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson outline an impressive genetic and cultural history of the world’s extant apes in an effort to determine a possible link between man’s aggressive nature and his genetic evolution. The discussion is thought provoking.

For decades, anthropologists lumped our primate cousins on one branch of the evolutionary tree and humans on another, assuming at some time in the distant past, we shared a common ancestor, but that people essentially evolved along a distinctly human branch. Modern advancements in genetic testing technologies put this delusion to rest. While Homo sapiens did indeed diverge from orangutans and gorillas about 13 and 10 million years ago, respectively, it wasn’t until about 5 million years ago that we diverged from our common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos. The startling revelation from these findings is that chimpanzees and bonobos are more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas and orangutans. In fact, humans evolved from a distinctively chimpanzee-like relative.  To see where we came from, we need to look at them.

And they are like us in ways other than those that immediately meet the eye. It turns out humans, bonobos and chimps have more in common than opposable thumbs. Out of all the trillions of organisms that inhabit the globe, humans and chimpanzees are the only known species that will raid and murder their own species without provocation or in the interest of self preservation. Humans and Chimps are the only known animals who actively engage in warfare.

At a basic level, human and chimpanzee warfare is strikingly similar. Both species never initiate attack unless they are convinced their numbers and probability for success are ensured. In both species, it is commonly only the males that initiates and engages in battle. For both species raping, abusing and kidnapping of rival and related females is a common practice. Both species arrange their societies by patriarchal hierarchies.

Our similarities with cousin booboo are markedly different than those we share with chimpanzees. Human and bonobo females are the only known mammals that do not display obvious visible signs of ovulation. Bonobos also enjoy face to face sex with orgasm and a variety of sexual partners, including members of their own sex. But bonobos are peaceful and do not kill each other as we do. Violence of any kind against females is virtually unknown, and bonobo females appear to have the societal upper hand.

What accounts for these remarkable differences? Behavioral scientists believe that relatively peaceful bonobo societies are directly related to feminine authority and autonomy. Female bonobos form a united front, and alliances among all the female members of a group further reinforce feminine authority. Males gain position based on their mothers’ status, and the threat of maternal rejection is enough to keep most of the male members of the tribe in line. Males who lose their mothers never advance in bonobo society.

Humans share so much in common sexually and genetically with bonobos, one wonders why our cultures have evolved so differently. The answer lies in feminine cooperation. Human females, while often forming intense and permanent bonds with one another, find it hard to cooperate as a group. The back-stabbing, cat fighting, nastiness often attributed to high school “mean girls,” is unfortunately endemic to broad range of the human feminine gender.

Rather than working together to achieve the common shared goals of equality, reproductive freedom and creating a better planet for our offspring, women form divisive groups that reinforce the opposite. Some misguided women, like handmaiden Sarah Palin, even jump on the bandwagon of patriarchy and join in the voices that seek to strip women of their hard won freedoms, particularly reproductive knowledge and freedom.

The side by side analysis of humans and their closest primate kin provides fodder for thoughtful discourse. Clearly, humans have the inherent capacity for a variety of cultural behaviors. We can choose to succumb to our baser instincts and continue on the destructive path of violence, or we can form alliances to promote peace and cooperation. If the women of the world unite, who knows what we can accomplish?

Anybody interested in reading more on this subject should read Demonic Males. The link appears below: