My comments at a recent Town Hall Meeting in Syracuse, NY

Photo taken by Mark Rupert. Copied from WAER article linked to below.

A group called the Central New York (CNY) Solidarity Coalition arranged a town hall meeting on March 18 to let residents of our Congressional District speak and share on their concerns.  We hoped our Member of Congress, Rep. John Katko, would be there, but he wasn’t.  The event was hosted by our local public radio station, WAER, which wrote up this article about the event (including an audio summary).

Here’s what I said in the 2 minutes allotted to each person who wanted to speak.  This post serves as an intro of sorts to some posts I’ll write next on overcoming polarization, talking with Trump supporters, and looking at elements of gun control that aren’t helpful or useful.

____________________________________________________________________

My name is Ethan Bodnaruk and I’m a proud resident of Syracuse, in the NY 24th district.

I’m here because I’m deeply worried about the actions and rhetoric of the Trump administration.  Healthcare, the existence of climate change, immigrants and refugees, schools, the State Department, the EPA and others are under attack, being cut, or negatively impacted.

Representative Katko, we need you to be bold and brave and principled.  During the election you eventually spoke out against Trump the candidate and reacted to beingo n the same ballot as Trump by saying “that’s why God made Scotch”.  We need more of this from you, we need you to put the people you represent here first – above your party.

I think many everyday, ordinary people have many common interests and needs, but we’re divided by lies and propaganda.

There are ways we can work together to find solutions to the problems we face.  You’re doing and saying some good things – thank you, but we need more.

I’m a very liberal person, and I want to show I’ve got some skin in the game.  People on the Left need to do more to help diffuse the polarization, by being open to questioning our views, being self-critcial, having more empathy for others, and getting outside our bubble and echo chambers.

I’m an engineer and in a new position I spend a lot of time on construction sites with construction workers, many of whom enthusiastically voted for Trump.  When I talk to them and say the NY SAFE Act* doesn’t actually make us safer and isn’t tailored to the actual problems of gun control… When I say that many arguments against nuclear power ** are based on incorrect information about safety and radiation and are fear mongering, they do listen I push back and say “No, Hillary didn’t want to take your guns.  That makes no sense!” “And no, Trump doesn’t care about everyday people, haven’t you heard of Trump University?”

So we can all do more, but Representative Katko, we need you to stand up for us and for democracy itself.

That’s me on the right, up next to speak!  Unfortunately, it looks like I’m sleeping.  

Notes:
*  As I’ll explore in my next post, the NY SAFE Act (a gun control law) does do some good things but it also has provisions that are unnecessary and don’t do anything to help make people safer.  I hear this a lot from people much more familiar with guns than I am.  Poor provisions fan the fires of polarization and fear that guns will be even further and pointlessly regulated.

**  I mentioned nuclear not only because I have some specialized knowledge in the field of nuclear engineering and there is a lot of fear mongering on the topic, but also because there’s a nuclear power plant in a small town here in Central New York that is the subject of much controversy over whether or not to keep it open.

Hedge funds and big barns

Just because I’m a superman nerd, why not use a picture of the Kent family barn from the TV show Smallville??

This is a quick summary and reflection on an excellent NPR piece about hedge funds and illegal insider trading.  Give it a listen!

The concept of hedging your investments is pretty common.  Don’t put all of your money into one type of investment.  Diversity is good: in case some types of investments do poorly, all your money won’t be lost.

Hedge funds came about as an investment for the ultra wealthy to hedge against downturns in the market.  They could give a bunch of money to financial firms who would have wide latititude over how to invest it.  They could rapidly make trades that were potentially risky but with high potential for reward, including short selling, which is basically betting on downturns in stocks.  These types of investments would come with high fees that the hedge fund managers collected for the very hands-on management, research, and networking that goes into it.  Financial regulators decided to approve hedge funds because only the super rich were contributing to them, and could afford the risk and potential losses.

Over time, these hedge funds were extremely successful, with some firms posting such astronomical results that many (including the FBI) started asking questions about inside information and other types of illegal trading.  It’s easy to imagine how the combination of big money and flexibility would encourage traders to gain inside information or at least blur the lines of it.  Hedge funds are now one of the largest types of financial investments, increasing volatility in the entire financial system.  Trading in huge amounts of money is now being performed based on tiny tidbits of information and day-to-day developments in news and sources coming out of corporations.  What are the effects of incredible amounts of wealth creation based on no tangible production of goods?  This has to trickle down and hurt the average person.

When I listened to this story, the thought occurred to me that these hedge funds are the modern day equivalent of Jesus’ parable of building bigger barns.  Why is it that the super rich seem to be obsessed with gathering even more wealth when they clearly have more than they could ever need?

Here’s the parable:
Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:13-21)

There’s a limit to how literally this can be taken, but it helps raise the questions of what is the point of our lives, and what should we do with excess money.

Religion as Pearls and Ashes

Finding the truly transformative aspects of religion isn’t this hard, but it does take a significant effort!

We humans have a remarkable ability to compartmentalize parts of our lives: to simultaneously hold conflicting sets of worldviews or perspectives.  This is useful because the world Is a complex place.  We need multiple tools and approaches for coping with life and pursuing wholeness.  But this kind of compartmentalization can be extremely frustrating when it comes to discussing and analyzing the relationship between, say, science and religion.  One example is Francis Collins, an atheist/agnostic turned Christian apologist, head of the National Institutes for Health, and a highly regarded scientist in the human genome project.

Collins is a prolific writer on science and religion, with titles like The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.  But according to his own words, what ultimately resolved his search is that he was hiking and saw a really striking three-part waterfall.  It reminded him of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (God = God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit).  Boom, his searching, wondering, and struggle was done.  He was a Christian.

I’d never knock this story as forming part of someone’s spiritual journey.  I recognize he went through a long process of figuring out what he believes and why.  But if you’re then going to become an apologist and make it your point to argue in the public sphere why Christianity is right (and for him, implicitly why other religions are “wrong”) then that story really doesn’t cut it, especially running with the scientist angle!  I completely sympathize when atheists get flummoxed by such a subjective explanation of religious belief.

Some of my own views on religion align with those of two prominent personalities: Leo Tolstoy (not many seem to know he wrote extensively on religion!), and the American physicist Richard Feynman.  Tolstoy described religions using a metaphor – they are each like a sack containing pearls of infinite worth mixed up with and often hidden by a lot of ashes.  In other words, religion comes with its own baggage: all sorts of corruption, in-fighting, violence in the process of creating doctrine, hypocrisy, and forms of “idolatry” that infiltrate scriptures, such as nationalism, tribalism, and sexism.

My own journey resonates with this.  When I read that Jesus says to “knock and the door shall be opened to you” and “search and you shall find” I think of this metaphor.  It makes sense that there’s a lot of sifting and sorting to do.  There are pearls to find, but it’s an ongoing process, not a quick journey that’s over all at once.  Through a lot of searching over a decade or so (questioning my beliefs, exploring contemplative Christianity, living in a couple of monasteries, learning about other religions, being involved in interfaith groups), I came to see some of the pearls within Christianity, and to understand its limitations and the problem areas: the ashes.

During part of Richard Feynman’s career, he was a professor and mentor of graduate students.  Some of his students struggled the conflicts between their religious Christian upbringing and the science they were learning.  Feynman ultimately came to describe the challenge of the science vs. religion debate as one of being able to distinguish and preserve the wonderful moral teachings and inspiration of religion while being able to challenge specific worldviews or claims about objective, scientific reality that they make.  I think this is an especially important point for prominent atheists to engage in.  I think much more progress will be made extending the conversation to the pearls of religion and the many internal tools and teachings they contain to weed out the good from the bad and point to the dangers of hypocrisy and power.  Many atheists are motivated by a humanist desire to decrease suffering related to religious belief, so this could be a fertile ground of exploration.

I believe Sam Harris, despite my disagreements with him on some topics, is one of these.  I love his metaphor of the Moral Landscape, in which he envisions a 3-D map with many different peaks and valleys, where the peaks correspond to different ways of human flourishing and the valleys correspond to the many ways we can make ourselves and others suffer.  He could contribute to the transformation of religion by focusing more on the peaks of well-being specifically within religious traditions.

As Feynman’s viewpoint alludes to, religion often makes claims about the world or universe that it isn’t qualified to and doesn’t need to make such as the idea that Earth is the center of universe, back in Galileo’s day.  That was (taken to be) an important theological idea then, but come on, it’s not actually essential to Christianity.  Something similar today happens over topics like evolution.

My own experience in the interfaith group Religions for Peace, exposure to monastic interfaith religious dialogue, and love for food has led me to my own metaphor.  Each religion (with exceptions like Scientism) is like a culinary tradition from a nation or region of the world.  Each has many things beautiful, tasty, and wonderful to offer.  While foods are clearly different across the world, they are also the same in many fundamental ways (nutrition, chemistry, aesthetics and creative pursuits, etc) as well.

Each cuisine of the world also has its own types of junk food.  I think the discourse on religion, science, atheism, and ethics will improve as we increasingly recognize that the world’s religions have tremendous and wonderful commonalities, and when we are also keenly aware of and open to talking about their limitations – most especially the ways that they can be and are used (or abused/warped) in ways that cause tremendous pain and suffering.  It’s especially important to have a deep understanding of a religion in order to understand if negative actions or beliefs ascribed to the religion are an integral part of it or are instead a parasite, addition, or perversion of the original teachings and spirit of the religion.

On its own, I recognize that many people will find my food metaphor too simple.  I look forward to getting into more depth on all of this!

As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions!

The devil at work in the climate change “debate”?

A wolf in sheep’s clothing: another metaphor or image of Satan, the father of lies

A couple of weeks ago, my city’s newspaper, the Post-Standard, published an article framing climate change as a debate, with side-by-side columns arguing climate change is real and is not real.  This article was nationally syndicated: sent to newspapers across the country for publishing.  Much of the media has rejected the so-called “equal time” policy giving both sides of an argument a voice when one is simply false.  But not the Post-Standard, apparently.  A few letters to the editor were published expressing displeasure with this action, and I decided to write one from a religious angle.  It didn’t get published, so I’m sharing it here. It’s a bit of an unusual approach, but I think it’s accurate and important to say.

To the Editor:

As an environmental engineer, person of faith, and Coordinator of the interfaith Religions for Peace International Youth Committee, I am shocked and dismayed that the Post-Standard published a prominent article giving credence to the view that human actions – most notably burning of fossil fuels – are not causing climate change. (Should Congress defy Trump and move quickly on climate change,” February 5). This is a truly Satanic – yes Satanic – action by both the author William Happer and the Post-Standard.

Although I don’t believe Satan is a literal being, the concept is nonetheless powerful and profound. Satan is the father of lies, a master deceiver who parades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).  The article in question pits a mere “progressive commentator” who argues climate change is real versus William Happer, an emeritus physics professor who is knowingly or unknowingly acting as a mouthpiece of the devil.  By the contrast of credentials, the article wants us to believe that Happer is an “angel” representing science, knowledge, and truth while the progressive commentator is wrong and climate change is a lie.  We must see past this devilish deception.

We have known since the 1860s (John Tyndall) that CO2 traps heat from sunlight.  In the 1980s, simple calculations by scientists showed that humanity’s fossil fuel use would lead to higher CO2 levels than the Earth has experienced in hundreds of thousands of years, and was increasing at a rate thousands of times faster than natural change.

All people of good will, of all religions and no religion, must resist lies denying climate change.  Further, we need to demand practical and bi-partisan solutions that will also help the economy, such as a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend.

Counting the cost, climate change, and carbon fees (Part 2 of 2)

Source: http://grist.org/article/2010-09-27-a-price-on-carbon-is-a-must-says-delaware-senator/ (also a good article!)

Source: http://grist.org/article/2010-09-27-a-price-on-carbon-is-a-must-says-delaware-senator/ (also a good article!)

Today humanity faces the threat of global climate change based on our use of fossil fuels. At first we didn’t know their use would have such negative consequences or costs. It generally seemed that they were great and amazing, and some thought of fossil fuels as a gift from God. Governments subsidized their extraction and use because it makes sense to encourage good things. We flourished, expanded, and got used to spread out cities, long commutes, and long-distance travel enabled by cheap fossil fuels.

But now we know that fossil fuels are causing climate change that will increasingly affect us all, but especially the poor, vulnerable, and those living on coasts.

We know that fossil fuels have a significant and increasing cost. But we don’t actually count their costs in a meaningful way, within the framework in which so many of our decisions are made everyday: the economy. So we continue to make bad decisions like the tower builder in Jesus’ parable. Even when we subsidize renewable energy, our fossil fuel infrastructure and subsidies for fossil fuels are still there. Fossil fuels stay cheap despite their huge cost.

Our failure to count the cost of fossil fuels in a real and meaningful way will only ensure that we continue to use them. If it’s more profitable to use fossil fuels than other sources, or it’s still profitable to use a significant proportion of them in our energy mix, we’re in trouble.

A fundamental “counting the cost” solution is a carbon fee. If we make fossil fuels more expensive proportional to the amount of emissions they release, we will count the cost of fossil fuels in the way the world works: money. If it becomes clear that the nations are making all fossil fuels more expensive (not just picking and choosing certain types), businesses, entrepreneurs, researchers, investors in power plants, and every day people will have a major incentive to implement and further develop alternatives to fossil fuels.

If we start the carbon fee low, it won’t be a big shock to the system. If we make the carbon fee increase every year, then this is predictable and transparent, incentivizing the whole world to start planning now in a meaningful and realistic way to transition away from fossil fuels within the next couple of decades.  The fee would be paid by the corporations that extract fossil fuels or import them into our country.  This is simple, easy to manage, and avoids the complication of determining each person’s carbon footprint.

This type of fee wouldn’t shut down any power plants tomorrow (easing the worry of lost jobs and shocks to families). But you better bet that we’ll stop building new fossil fuel power plants in a hurry because business people would see that fossil fuel profits will decrease every year and eventually become zero. In the US in 2015, electricity from new power plants was about 68% from natural gas, 26% from wind, and 6% from solar. This is still too much fossil fuels, especially since a good chunk of the natural gas comes from hydrofracking which has major methane leakage issues.

Finally, the carbon fee should be revenue neutral, which means that the government does not keep and spend the money raised. Instead, the money is returned evenly to US households. This does two things: first, it ensures that the poor and middle class aren’t burdened by the fee since price increases of fossil fuels and products based on them or their energy would occur.  Importantly, because of the refund or dividend, the poor would make money overall and on average the middle class would break even.  People would also be incentivized to reduce their use of fossil fuels, in which case a larger portion of their carbon refund is profit.

Second, a revenue neutrality (the refund or dividend) makes the carbon fee much more politically feasible in the United States: the economy would grow from investment in alternative energy and from increased spending due to the dividend. Further, revenue neutrality is attractive to conservatives since it’s a market based solution and not an actual tax or regulation. If the United States can lead on this, and show that it is beneficial, then other countries will follow!  France and Victoria, British Columbia (Canada) have implemented very similar proposals to great success.

Jesus’ parable about counting the costs simply makes sense.  If we don’t count the cost of our actions it’s far too easy to make bad decisions and be unprepared.  This is a spiritual and moral matter.  Will we find ways to make our systems reflect the reality of the growing costs of fossil fuels?  Are we serious about root cause solutions to get off of fossil fuels?  Are we serious about the real impacts of climate change to people all around the world?

Any questions on this so far? There’s a lot of information here, and I remember when I first heard about carbon fees I had a ton of questions. I’ll follow up with further posts going into more details about how it would work, and common questions. But in the meantime if you want to do your own research, a good place to start is Citizens’ Climate Lobby or the Carbon Tax Center.

Counting the cost, climate change, and carbon fees (Part 1 of 2)

Record breaking global temperatures for 2015 as reported by NASA. Source: http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-noaa-analyses-reveal-record-shattering-global-warm-temperatures-in-2015

Record breaking global temperatures for 2015 as reported by NASA. Source: http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-noaa-analyses-reveal-record-shattering-global-warm-temperatures-in-2015

In this 2-part post, I’ll give some background and reflection on one of Jesus’ parables and in the next post I’ll tie it in to the topic of climate change.

Jesus told a parable about counting the cost:

A king is thinking about going to war with another country. You better bet the king will send some scouts or spies to figure out how big the other army is. Do his forces even have a chance? If not, the costs are far too high and he’d be foolish to wage war.

A builder wants to build a tower. A competent builder would sit down and figure out how much it costs to build the tower, and only build it if he can afford it. Otherwise, the builder will run out of money, the tower will only be partially built, and people will see it and laugh.

Counting the cost is simply good common sense. It helps you make good decisions.

Without counting the cost you might honestly not know how to choose between 2 options. If you’re already leaning toward the bad option and you don’t count the cost, you’ll probably pick the wrong choice!

Being a follower of Jesus back during his day wasn’t easy. He had an alternative view of how human relations should work, one based on love, forgiveness, and justice. He used an analogy of a godly kingdom founded on these values, one that was blasphemous to the actual kingdoms of his day because those kingdoms were founded (partly? mostly?) on power and oppression. Even more, kings justified their power and authority by claiming it was from God. As a result, they couldn’t stomach any competing kingdom or authority within their own kingdom. Jesus’ view of a godly kingdom was also blasphemous to those who insisted that religious rules were more important than love, or who coveted their religious leadership mainly because of the power it gave them over others.

The movement Jesus started was difficult, and dangerous. Friends might stop being your friend. Family might disown you. Religious or state authorities might kill or imprison you.

But there were also perks: a new way of life, a deep sense of peace and purpose, and forging bonds of friendship and new family deeper than blood.

Today, Christianity is generally an accepted part of our culture. It’s often associated with privilege, respect, or power. I personally believe that institutional Christianity has forgotten, ignores, or explains away many of the deepest, most profound, and most difficult of Jesus’ teachings, especially those on power, violence, justice, and self-giving love.

But getting back to Jesus’ time and the original context of the parable, counting the costs of discipleship.  Being aware of the costs – acknowledging and facing them – was actually better than ignoring them. By counting the cost in advance, a potential follower of Jesus could decide if the path was really worth it. When or if suffering came later on they would be ready and could accept it.

Stay tuned for next time, when I apply this to our current challenge of climate change and weaning ourselves from fossil fuels.

The digital clock

Muslim teen builds device to detect islamophobes
By now, almost everyone is bound to be aware of the story of Ahmed Mohamed, the digital clock he built and brought to school, and the #IStandWithAhmed response.

The cartoon obviously portrays this as an example of Islamophobia, but is it, and how can we tell or be sure?

There was a history of Islamophobia in Irving, Texas stemming from February 2015 when right wing Christians and others stirred up fear about Shariah Law Courts being set up.  In reality, there was a non-binding, voluntary arbitration service provided by a local mosque and other mosques in the Dallas area.  Such arbitration services have been common in Jewish and Christian practice as well, so they are nothing new [1,3]

The mayor, Beth Van Duyne spoke with various conservative pundits, stating that Shariah courts had been set up and touting her support of legislation, “American laws for American courts”, that would prevent Shariah law from being applied in her community.  She gave interviews to Dana Loesch and Glenn Beck. She also spoke with Frank Gaffney on the subject, “the founder of the anti-Muslim think tank Center for Security Policy” [1] [I’m not familiar with this group’s work].   Other articles give more details, including how she benefited from increased fundraising after becoming a national figure because of this issue and how the editorial board of her local paper that had endorsed her called her out on Islamophobia [2, 3, 4].

I think the English teacher who reported the clock as a potential bomb because she was scared was within her rights and duty.  I would like to think that she shouldn’t have been scared, but apparently she was so I suppose she had to do something.  But, I don’t understand how the situation wasn’t cleared up more quickly without involving the police or at least without resorting to handcuffs, detention at a juvenile facility, and fingerprinting.  To be clear, the police said they quickly knew it wasn’t a bomb and they were instead investigating whether or not Ahmed intended to scare people with a fake bomb, which is illegal.

The Irving police chief, Larry Boyd, gave an interview on CNN and said that the police weren’t initially aware that Ahmed had told multiple people about his clock project that day and that his engineering or robotics teacher had seen it and understood what it was.  Once they had these facts, they were able to determine that there was no bomb hoax and that Ahmed did not do anything to make people afraid [5].

I’m not sure why they didn’t have these facts right away from the principal’s and other school staff’s inquiries. Quoting Police Chief Boyd:

“There were factors and details to this that for whatever reason weren’t shared with the officers who were there initially.  So as we pursued this investigation further — as you know we didn’t file any charges on him — we dropped those charges because we were able to find out those facts that you’re [the CNN host] referring to.  Yeah, he did talk to people earlier and presented it as you described [as a clock, an engineering project].  Those were the kinds of things that allowed us to settle the matter” [5].

Another interesting take on this comes from [6] which asserts that public schools all over the country are becoming too strict and paranoid, with zero tolerance laws that unfairly mete out severe punishment to both white and minority kids.  It also makes the case that liberals tend to jump to explanations for severe punishment based on race or Islamophobia when the larger problem of zero tolerance and safety paranoia is to blame.

That author writes

I accept that it’s perfectly plausible—if not yet definitively proven—racism played a role in the specific case of Ahmed Muhamed [sic]. And it’s certainly true that poor and minority youths are at greater risk of mistreatment. Studies show schools discipline black and Latino kids more harshly and more frequently than white kids who commit the same offenses. [My note: also see references 7,8]

But it would be a grave mistake to zero-in on racism as the main problem here, because ridiculous over-enforcement of school disciplinary policies is only partly a race issue. No child is safe from having his or her rights’ trampled by assertive cops at school as long as paranoia about school safety and petty rules outlawing perfectly safe, normal teen behavior remain in place. Cops arrest kids for bringing harmless toys that vaguely resemble weapons to school. Schools suspend kids for talking, writing, or merely just thinking about said weapons while on school premises, or near school premises, or even just near the bus stop on their own front lawns.” [6]

So basically this article is saying that Islamophobia or race could be a contributing factor, and I think it was.  I think it’s a distraction to argue whether this incident was purely about Islamophobia, but I just can’t fathom the thought that Islamophobia or fear of another culture, religion, or skin color played absolutely no part somewhere in the whole chain of events.

Fortunately, Ahmed has been receiving a lot of support from notable people including the President, and has even gotten some sweet swag for his troubles.

ahmed swag

Finally, I want to end on a quick note about Islamphobia and racism.  People argue over these terms as applied to cases like this, noting Islam is a religion, not a race, so Islamophobia is different from racism.  I think they’re related because some roots of Islamophobia stem from the fact that many Muslims are from the Middle East and are not white.  Fear is often based on differences between people and unconscious or conscious labeling of people as “the Other”.  People are “Others” because of differences in culture, race, appearance, religion, and other factors.

[1]  http://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/ahmed-mohamed-beth-van-duyne-sharia

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/09/16/the-history-of-anti-islam-controversy-in-ahmed-mohameds-texas-city/

[3] https://www.slantnews.com/story/2015-09-19-islamophobia-in-irving-texas-is-more-pervasive-than-ahmed-and-his-clock

[4] http://irvingblog.dallasnews.com/2015/02/irving-not-supportive-of-islamic-group-mayor-tells-glenn-beck-but-city-hall-says-something-else.html/

[5] http://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2015/09/18/ahmed-clock-muslim-irving-police-chief-intv-newday.cnn/video/playlists/ahmed-mohamed-clock-arrest-controversy/

[6] https://reason.com/blog/2015/09/16/liberals-making-istandwithahmed-about-ra

[7] http://www.mintpressnews.com/black-and-hispanic-students-punished-more-severely-than-white-counterparts/191496/

[8] http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2012/0306/Minority-students-are-punished-more-than-whites-US-reports.-Is-it-racism

Hypocritical opposition to Iranian nuclear deal

Republican opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal is at best willfully ignorant and at worst is hypocritical, as they brand themselves champions of national security yet for political and ideological reasons oppose an excellent deal.

A huge consensus of experts praises the deal. Twenty-nine prominent nuclear scientists sent President Obama a letter praising the deal, over three dozen retired generals and admirals endorsed it in a letter, and nuclear security and nonproliferation experts also praise it.

The letter by the retired generals and admirals entitled “Iran deal benefits U.S. national security” calls the deal “the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” explaining that it “provides for intrusive verification … and is not based on trust; the deal requires verifications and tough sanctions for failure to comply.”

The letter from the 29 scientists describes it as “the most comprehensive verification ever obtained,” including monitoring of uranium mining, milling, conversion to uranium hexafluoride, centrifuge manufacturing and R&D, and real-time monitoring of active centrifuges and spent fuel. Furthermore, it allows challenge inspections for any suspected clandestine operations.

Finally, “the deal includes important long-term verification procedures that last until 2040, and others that last indefinitely under the Nonproliferation Treaty and its Additional Protocol.”  The deal “will make it much easier … to know if and when Iran heads for a bomb, and the detection of a significant violation of this agreement will provide strong, internationally supported justification for intervention.” [still quoting frmo the scientists’ letter]

I feel strongly about this topic because I worked for the National Nuclear Security Administration before I began pursuing my PhD in Ecological Engineering.  I’ve heard my former colleagues’ frustration that politics threaten a deal that will increase the safety of our country.

The deal will also end the suffering of everyday Iranians under the sanctions, as they have played a major role in harming the economy and leading to massive inflation.  Some articles on this are here (AlJazeera), here (PBS), and here (NY Times).

Far too often, Republicans are proving themselves to be the party of “no,” aiming to block everything and anything Obama does in a zero-sum race to the bottom.

Finally, here’s an video an Iranian friend shared with me, showing how much everyday Iranians know about our Republican candidates for president!

http://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2015/09/17/republicans-iran-mos-pleitgen-orig.cnn

Fighting climate change interfaith style: divestment, reinvestment, and personal action

Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith in a webinar about fighting climate change, interfaith style!

Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith in a webinar about fighting climate change, interfaith style!

Check out this 30-minute webinar hosted by Religions for Peace on fighting climate change with Fletcher Harper, executive director of an organization called Green Faith.  They’re focused on building practical action on climate change on both a local scale and also a national/global scale through divestment and reinvestment.  He’s a great speaker and it’s really encouraging to hear what he has to say.

I’m a young adult leader in Religions for Peace so I had to opportunity to have some conversation with him at the end!  I could use a bit more polish in my speaking 😉

Check it out!!
http://www.rfpusa.org/religions-for-peace-webinar-gearing-up-to-fight-climate-change-with-fletcher-harper-may-29th/

 

Day after Memorial Day reflection

It’s hard to have a rational, compassionate discussion about violence on Memorial Day, the day after, or any day in a country in which we strongly believe that violence solves problems without creating new ones.  It is uncomfortable for many when we question the role of our military in foreign affairs and the way we have supported dictators, toppled democratically elected governments, and created false pretenses for war.

The focus should never be on criticizing the rank and file of our armed forces.  They are indeed brave and courageous people, most of whom have noble reasons for joining the military such as fighting for freedom.

The questions we have to ask are those directed to our leaders.  Are our leaders’ motivations for war accurate and true?  Is the worldview their motivations stem from actually supported by evidence (i.e. do their wars actually solve problems they say they will, or any problems at all)?  Are they really just interested in establishing and broadening control over other countries?

And more broadly, how does power tend to corrupt people?  What is the role of power in bringing peace?  Is there a role?  If so, what is the potential role of armed or unarmed peacekeeping forces as opposed to invading forces?

And let’s look for parallels in our own lives, because all around the world people are people, are human beings.  So maybe people in other countries respond to violence similarly to how we might.

Does force solve disputes, problems, and differences within our families and friendships, with people who are close to us and understand us pretty well?  I don’t think so.  Will force then work in other countries, where people don’t understand us well and there are pronounced differences in race, religion, and culture?  Sounds worse to me.

It’s difficult to have our worldviews shaken, and to see that the United States has a very real dark side in addition to the freedom and prosperity many of us experience.  But recognizing and addressing this dark side is actually more patriotic than ignoring it, because we can express our love of country by making it better.