Post #300: A Year in Review

I wrote my first post on this blog in July, 2007, and in the following year wrote almost 300 short posts related to economics, religion, and politics in the United States.  In that time, this blog has received tens of thousands of views.  It’s a modest number, but considering the small amount of time I spend maintaining the site and a complete lack of advertising and marketing, it’s not unexpected.  The most popular posts have remained fairly consistent and can be found in the “Top Posts” sidebar.

I have been wondering whether I would consider this blog to be “successful”, but I don’t think there’s a clear answer.  I originally started writing as an attempt at catharsis.  Seeing the state of American politics, religion, and a general disdain for rational thought was more than I could bear in silence.  It was (and is) difficult to find people with whom I can speak on a rational and intellectual level.  Yet, I had to do so, even if only for my own sanity.  I thought about questions like, how could I justify sitting idly by when the worst administration in the history of the U.S. escaped from accountability?  What would I tell kids and future generations that would be bound to ask?  Had I never received a single page view on the site, by that measure, I might still have considered it to be useful.  In any case, this would be a good time to thank those of you who have visited the site and those of you have commented.  Hopefully, there will be more to come in the future…

The U.S. "Balance Sheet": $75 trillion in Debt

It seems that American government functions very similarly to its people when it comes to economics: We spent far more than we have and don’t even worry about calculating the related costs.  The consequences of the Bush Administration’s seemingly never-ending bungling are staggering.  Still, few Americans have any idea of the magnitude of the problem.  Perhaps we’re too busy focusing on having to pay an extra dime or dollar per gallon of gasoline.

A recent MarketWatch article tries to get us to focus on what’s really important.  From A $75 trillion fright fest: Eight megahorror debts chilling America:

ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. (MarketWatch) — America’s out of control, drowning in debt, gorging: $75 trillion and getting worse. Now we’re dumping Fannie and Freddie on America’s balance sheet. Every year we pile trillions more on future generations.

Can’t trust McCain? Obama? Time for new leadership! The best qualified for president is the same great American hero we picked as our favorite write-in candidate for the 2006 elections: David Walker, former comptroller general, chief auditor of the U.S. Government Accounting Office for a decade before resigning last spring. He is ready. See previous Paul B. Farrell.

Walker was the “voice of reason” in Washington while Congress and the White House kept wasting trillions like out-of-control drunks, digging America deeper into debt. Nobody listened. Politicians ignored Walker’s warnings, making matters worse as we went from a surplus of $5 trillion in 2000 to crushing debt that’s now $9.6 trillion.

Puns and cliches aside, I found the article to be entertaining and well-written.  keep in mind that this excessive spending that focuses on war, oil, corporate profits, and broken and corrupt systems such as our for-profit healthcare system will take their toll in time.  If you want to see some near-real-time numbers, see the U.S. National Debt Clock

Most of these problems are solvable, but unfortunately they’ll require people to actually think about the costs of our investments and expenditures.  History has proven that fighting issues like materialism, greed, fear, and a thirst for war are often losing propositions.  Americans seem to have drifted so far away from rational thought and have migrated toward religious superstition and “thinking” based on emotions rather than facts.  We continue to support catastrophic policies that have proven to fail time and again.  We pretend that our failing economy needs only a “few tweaks” to get it back on track.  Clearly, it will take a lot more than that.  Unfortunately, I suspect there will be no shortage of related articles for this blog in the coming years.

Breaking Down American Consumer Spending

It seems that the United States is often seen as unique in many different areas of life.  We tend to be far more violent than other nations and have an increasing disparity in wealth.  But where to we stand on consumerism?  While I I would have guessed that per capita spending in the U.S. is among the highest in the world (and, accordingly, our savings rates are among the lowest), it’s interesting to look at where that money is going.

A New York Times interactive page, What Your Global Neighbors are Buying, provides some interesting statistics.  Here’s a sample view of spending on “Clothing and Footwear”:

InternationalSpending

Without having drilled down into the statistics all that much, the only overall obvious conclusion is that we’re big spenders: In all areas, the United States has the highest per capita spending in every category.  While this might be a dream-come-true for marketing organizations, I wonder where it will leave us in the future.

Welfare for the Wealthiest

I hope it’s no secret that the Bush Administration has consistently and routinely provided large tax cuts and handouts to those who need it least.  In fact, more progressive individuals such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have publicly criticized these moves, stating that no one even asked for the tax breaks.  Yet these policies continue, as America seems be losing its middle class.  MSN Money reports on the latest statistics in Ranks of the ultrawealthy soar:

New IRS data show a 62% increase in the number of people with a net worth of $20 million or more between 1997 and 2004. Separate data list the ‘Fortunate 400.’

One of the most exclusive clubs in the U.S. has picked up more members.

About 47,000 people had a net worth of $20 million or more in 2004, the latest year for which data are available, according to new estimates by the Internal Revenue Service. While that was up only slightly from 46,000 in 2001, it was up 62% from 29,000 in 1998.

The IRS also reported increases in the number of people with a net worth between $10 million and $20 million: 79,000 people qualified for this group in 2004, up from 77,000 in 2001 and 51,000 in 1998.

Another MSN Money article, Taxpayers give fat cats $20 billion looks at the rates of pay for America’s richest people:

At the expense of you and me, tax breaks help companies hand ever-bigger paychecks to CEOs. What are the presidential candidates doing about it? Almost nothing.

As our national debt reaches new heights, some elite wealthy taxpayers get a pass when it comes to footing their share of the bill:

Those lavishly paid CEOs in their corner offices.

Thanks to five tax breaks cooked up by their friends in Washington, D.C., top executives and their companies enjoy at least $20 billion a year in income-tax breaks that are unavailable to the rank and file, according to a new study from the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy.

The cost to you, me and ordinary workers around the country is easier to figure out. Every household filing a return pays about $192 extra in taxes to cover these breaks, by my calculation.

For a lot of Americans, that’s real money. But not for this elite group.

While we’re held footing the bill for these costs, it seems that everyone is much more focused on the price of a gallon of gas.  Never mind that we’ve spent trillions on attacking Iraq and that over a million people are dead.  Never mind that our deficit is staggering and the United States’ credit rating has dropped for the first time in history.  We’ve got to focus on the gas pumps as the nation’s biggest issue.

Perhaps part of the problem is that Americans, as a whole, truly respect greed and excess.  We tend to look up to CEOs that make tens of millions of dollars in official compensation each year.  We dream about purchasing our tenth house and owning a fleet of cards and personal airplanes.  With attitudes like that, perhaps it’s no surprise that greed has become a richly rewarding national pastime.  Of course, all of this clearly defies all research on the topic that shows that money just doesn’t buy happiness. 

McCain: Lies and [Lack of] Consequences

So here’s a shocker: Politicians sometimes tell lies!  OK, so perhaps no American would be surprised by this statement.  In fact, we reward candidates handsomely for outright deceit.  However, our sense of balance seems to be off.  Around a decade ago, we impeached a President for lying about his private life.  Today, we won’t even press the Commander in Chief of one of the largest militaries in the world to even answer questions about leading us into a manufactured and self-serving war.  The list seems endless, and Americans are getting no better at asking for truth and accountability.

A case in point is John McCain.  While there’s plenty to dislike about his decisions and checkered past, recent ads seem to have crossed some kind of line.  A New York Times Editorial titled Blizzard of lies attempts to look at the the most recent issues:

Did you hear about how Barack Obama wants to have sex education in kindergarten, and called Sarah Palin a pig? Did you hear about how Ms. Palin told Congress, “Thanks, but no thanks” when it wanted to buy Alaska a Bridge to Nowhere?

These stories have two things in common: they’re all claims recently made by the McCain campaign — and they’re all out-and-out lies.

Dishonesty is nothing new in politics. I spent much of 2000 — my first year at The Times — trying to alert readers to the blatant dishonesty of the Bush campaign’s claims about taxes, spending and Social Security.

But I can’t think of any precedent, at least in America, for the blizzard of lies since the Republican convention. The Bush campaign’s lies in 2000 were artful — you needed some grasp of arithmetic to realize that you were being conned. This year, however, the McCain campaign keeps making assertions that anyone with an Internet connection can disprove in a minute, and repeating these assertions over and over again.

To be fair, there are some people that try to call politicians out on outright fabrications of the truth.  This article is one example, as is one from The Huffington Post about John McCain on The View.  While mainstream media continues to overlook real issues and to hold candidates accountable, it seems within reason to expect Americans to wake up, start thinking, and to stop rewarding lies. 

The Source of American Economic Anxiety?

I have often written about the impact of a growing disparity in wealth in the United States, leading to a shrinking middle class.  The Bush Administration have been open and vocal proponents of tax cuts for corporations and the extremely rich while barely hiding their complete contempt for average working people.  If one looks at history, there’s nothing shocking about – an aristocracy seems to be the inevitable by-product of unbridled government.  But what surprises me is how the American people, in general, seem OK with this.  It feels strange that a Republican candidate could even run for what threatens to be, in the words of Barack Obama, “The Bush Administration’s third term.”  So what’s really going on?

In Where did our financial stability go?, author Jim Jubak provides some interesting insight and theories.  First, some facts from the article:

What’s so extraordinary is that this tide of anxiety has risen during a period of extraordinary national economic growth.

In the past 10 years, from 1997 through the end of 2007, the U.S. economy has grown to $11.6 trillion from just $8.7 trillion, adjusted for inflation. That’s real economic growth of about 2.9% a year. The picture looks much the same when you adjust for a growing population. Real per capita gross domestic product, which equates pretty well with per capita income, has climbed 2% a year, on average, from 1997 to 2007.

In other words, if you look at the national averages, we’re somewhere between 20% and 33% better off than we were 10 years ago. So why aren’t we dancing in the streets?

The pundits, yours truly included, have offered a variety of reasons:

  • Incomes are a lot less equal than they used to be. In 1979, for example, the top 1% of earners had an income 9.4 times that of the average person in the bottom 90%, according to the Economic Policy Institute. By 2006, that ratio had climbed to almost 20-to-1.
  • The economy has become more uncertain, with give-backs, outsourcing, off-shoring and downsizing of jobs. And that’s been especially true for the relatively well-paid workers in the manufacturing economy.
  • Growth in national income in the past decade went disproportionately to corporate profits and not to worker incomes. Even though nonfarm productivity rose at an average rate of 2.63% from 1997 to 2007, the average hourly wage for production workers climbed just 0.79% annually. Corporate profits captured more of the national income in 2006, the peak of the recent economic cycle, than in any other year on record.

The answer?  I’m not going to steal Jim’s thunder completely, but the article talks about the variability in income and its effects on human psychology.  It’s good reading and perhaps will serve as a warning to people that can’t seem to manage their own finances responsibly.

American Imperialism: Military Bases

Perhaps it’s a good thing that people outside of the United States tend no to associate American individuals with American politics.  Despite “homeland” marketing initiatives about how great our nation is, it’s clear that our spending on war and interfering with other nations’ policies is nearly unprecedented.  We spend many billions of dollars on a manufactured war in Iraq every month.  To get the same amount of funding for basic needs such as healthcare or education is almost unheard of.  Yet, Americans seem to be satisfied (or, more accurately, blissfully ignorant) of this.  We engage in “fund-raisers” for aspects of American life that clearly should be the responsibility of government.  The goal: to scrape together a few thousand dollars for causes that actually will help people.  We even have a presidential candidate who feels it’s acceptable to remain in Iraq for another 1,000 years.

AlterNet has provided some details that highlight our ignorance in The US Has 761 Military Bases Across the Planet, and We Simply Never Talk About It.  From the article:

At the height of the Roman Empire, the Romans had an estimated 37 major military bases scattered around their dominions. At the height of the British Empire, the British had 36 of them planetwide. Depending on just who you listen to and how you count, we have hundreds of bases. According to Pentagon records, in fact, there are 761 active military “sites” abroad.

The fact is: We garrison the planet north to south, east to west, and even on the seven seas, thanks to our various fleets and our massive aircraft carriers which, with 5,000-6,000 personnel aboard — that is, the population of an American town — are functionally floating bases.

And here’s the other half of that simple truth: We don’t care to know about it. We, the American people, aided and abetted by our politicians, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media, are knee-deep in base denial.

Now, that’s the gist of it. If, like most Americans, that’s more than you care to know, stop here.

Of course, most Americans seem to have little respect for facts, statistics, and evidence.  It’s much easier to just stand in front of (or behind) an American flag and to get bumper stickers requesting God’s support for our great nation (or at least some extremely conservative part of it).  Just don’t expect to see any mainstream media coverage about these bases.

McCain vs. Obama on Economic Issues

With all of the standard political rhetoric we’re used to hearing, it’s often difficult to find out exactly what specific candidates are suggesting.  The U.S. is in no shortage of serious economic problems thanks to the unbridled spending of the Bush Administration and enormous tax breaks for our wealthiest individuals and corporations.  So how do the 2008 candidates plan to address these issues? 

CNNMoney.com provides a brief and well-organized breakdown in Your Money- McCain vs. Obama.  This section includes 21 brief summaries of major policy stances by the two leading candidates.  I’ll hold off on making detailed commentary, as the purpose of the site is to inform readers to do that themselves.  As an overall note, though, it seems perfectly clear that McCain supports reduced taxes for the rich and for large corporations while Obama actually favors supporting those who need it (something that U.S. voters haven’t heard in quite a while).  As a case in point, see the Taxing Wealth page.  You can also find a lengthy list of news articles in a special section of the site called Election 2008: The candidates and your money

BusinessWeek has also posted an article that focuses on economic issues.  From Obama vs. McCain: Taxing and Spending:

So where does the reality lie? According to a new analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a joint venture between the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, two Washington think tanks, this round goes to Obama. The TPC took a look at the various tax proposals put forth by the two candidates and estimated that Obama’s plan would lead to a boost in aftertax income for all but the highest earners, while taking a smaller bite out of government tax revenues than would McCain’s plans.

So we all have access to important information about economic plans.  Of course, these are only promises.  If the Bush Administration has taught us anything, all bets are off once a new regime takes office.  The question, as always, is whether people will use facts and statistics to inform their votes and opinions.

Palin: Hard to Digest

It looks like we have all become so accustomed to controversy and egregious violations by our elected officials, that it hardly seems to make the news any more.  We routinely ignore or overlook important facts like the millions of deaths that have occurred since our invasion and plunder of Iraq.  Nowhere does this seem to ring more true than in the case of Sarah Palin.  There are so many potential issues with her nomination and her background that it’s almost impossible to keep track of the facts.  Much of the “news” from mainstream media will add to the confusion by implying that there are some good sides to her candidacy (though they will rarely mentioned what those are).

Fortunately, ThinkProgress has attempted to distill down the important facts, quotes, and details related to McCain’s VP pick in The Sarah Palin Digest.  The issues are clearly grouped based on areas of concern.  Here are some highlights (with sources):

Palin Believes That The Iraq War Is A Task ‘From God.’ Speaking at the Wasilla Assembly of God church in June, Palin said that “our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God.” [Huffington Post, 9/2/08]

Palin Supported The Bridge To Nowhere. During her unveiling as McCain’s running mate, Palin claimed that she said, “Thanks, but no thanks” to federal funding for the Bridge to Nowhere. But in her 2006 campaign for governor, Palin repeatedly expressed support for the bridge project, saying Alaska should take advantage of earmarks “while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist.” [Anchorage Daily News, 10/22/06; Ketchikan Daily News, 8/9/06, 11/21/06]

Palin Denies Man-Made Global Warming. When asked for her “take on global warming,” Palin replied, “A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.” [Newsmax, 08/29/08]

Palin Believes It Is ‘God’s Will’ To Build A Natural Gas Pipeline. Speaking to the Wasilla Assembly of God church in June, Palin said, “I think God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that,” referring to a $30 billion national gas pipeline project. [Huffington Post, 9/2/08]

Palin Opposes Abortion Even In Cases Of Rape Or Incest. In 2006, Palin said that even if her daughter were raped, “I would choose life.” She said that she would support abortion only if the mother’s life were in danger. [Anchorage Daily News, 11/3/06]

Palin Believes The Founding Fathers Wrote The Pledge Of Allegiance. In 2006, when asked by the Eagle Forum Alaska if she found the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance offensive, Palin replied, “Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me.” But the words “Under God” didn’t appear in the Pledge until 1954. The Pledge itself wasn’t written until 1892. [Huffington Post, 9/1/08; Slate, 6/28/02]

Palin Left Wasilla $20 Million In Debt. As mayor of Wasilla, Palin cut taxes while simultaneously expanding the town’s operating budget by almost $2 million. She ended her term in 2002 with Wasilla $20 million in debt. [Anchorage Daily News 10/23/06; the Politico, 8/29]

Keep in mind that all of this is just what we know now.  There’s no telling how much more will be uncovered.  The question, of course, is how Republican voters people will find a way to ignore these facts.  And, don’t worry: It might take a lot of ignorance and creativity, but they’ll find a way.

Palin to Rival Bush’s Lack of Communication?

Perhaps one of the reasons people have tolerated George Bush’s bungling for so many years is that mainstream media seems to be OK with his refusal to talk to the American people.  His administration has been, by far, one of the most secretive in the history of the United States.  He’s often not even at the White House at all.  I’d assert that this works in his favor, and his advisors are providing good advice.  Listening to King George is downright painful, and much of what he says is truly an embarrassment to U.S. voters’ lack of judgment.

But what about the future regime?  It looks like we’re in for more of the same with McCain and Palin.  ThinkProgress reports in McCain Campaign Plans To Keep Palin Away From The Press:

The McCain campaign reportedly told the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder not to expect any one-on-one interviews with Palin any time soon. Despite McCain’s pledge of transparency — even proposing a regular President’s question time with Congress modeled after the British version — he has been shutting off press access for months. Yesterday, a Time reporter explained that McCain bizarrely refused to answer his questions, “like he’d been body-snatched.”

Davis insisted that “there are no strings attached” to media access to McCain. Yet just this week, McCain abruptly canceled an interview with Larry King as punishment for a tough CNN interview with one of his spokesmen. What’s more, top McCain aide Mark Salter said that “only the good reporters” would get the best seats in the new campaign plane. “You have to earn it,” he said.

Davis told MSNBC that Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) “didn’t do a single interview until a week after his nomination,” but the assertion is false. Biden and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) sat for an interview with 60 Minutes “just moments after” Obama left the stage at the Democratic convention.

Of course, the real problem here is that most American people will accept this.  They’ll vote with their stomachs, and there’s less to upset said organ if people like Palin keeps her mouth shut.

On Santa and Ghosts (Holy or Otherwise)

Recently, while scouring the Internet for something not even remotely related, I found an article that struck quite a chord with me.  It’s a couple of years old, but it seemed to resonate.  The news piece, ‘Santa Claus does not exist’ school tells stunned kids relates the horror experienced by parents (and, perhaps, some children) when they were told be a teacher that Mr. Claus does not, indeed, exist.  Perhaps it’s offensive to teach children certain truths, but the “outcry” (remember, this is just a random news article) was quite ridiculous.  Quotes from concerned parents seemed to focus on the horrors of this atrocious act of the dissemination of truth.  Some quotes:

“What gives the school the right to decide when children should know the truth about such a harmless matter when knowing the truth does take away that little bit of magic?”

Amanda Piovesana, whose daughter is in Year 5, said: “I am upset because it has taken away a magical part of Christmas for my daughter and a teacher should not have the right to do that. My little girl was very upset.”

Angry parents at Calcot Junior School in Berkshire said the teacher had ‘ruined’ Christmas for their children.

“As parents it is for us to decide when we tell our children and some of the parents in that class could have got away with it for another year and now they can’t.

“I just hope my little girl does not twig because she is in the year below.”

“It is like a loss of innocence. Children should have the right to stay innocent for as long as possible.”

Perhaps the last one sums it up well, as I believe it’s confusing innocence with ignorance.  Where’s the “guilt” in knowing the truth?  Keep in mind that teachers have been fired over this. 

The issue, to me, is that this culture of teaching children flat-out lies is not only acceptable, but to even suggest that people be exposed to the truth is a source of great exception.  Does this sound roughly analogous to other popular myths? 

Religion is a perfect example of this thinking.  Here’s where otherwise intelligent and rational human beings can abandon all reason.  They have no need for evidence and fight viciously against those that claim that their make-believe characters are not real.  Many of these same people have no problem teaching their children that a God who knows and loves them will not hesitate to sentence them to an eternity of torture simply because they choose to question his existence.  Of course, it’s good to question everything else…  Just not Jesus… Or Father Christmas. 

We all learn many “lessons” from an early age that are hard to let go of.  These lessons can include emotions related to love, compassion, hatred, fear, racism, and just about everything in between.  But as we grow older, most of us learn to question what we’re taught.  We simply can’t grow as a species if people cling to superstitions, ghosts, and good ol’ classic fear of the unknown.  Religion looks to be one of the last of these areas to fall, but I predict that it’s inevitable.

And for those who still might be interested in some scientific issues posed by the presence of St. Nick and his merry band of characters, I invite you to review The Physics of Santa Claus.  And to all a good night!

Colbert’s Greatest Hits: Atheism

I often find it refreshing to hear intelligent commentary in near mainstream media.  Stephen Colbert is a good example.  While I don’t often watch his show (perhaps because I can’t handle laughing at the neve-rending stream of disasters created by the Bush Administration), I do respect the show overall.

Comedy Central Insider recently posted a page that links to Colbert’s 8 Best Atheist Moments.  In the various videos, he talks to well-know atheists, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others.  Here are some samples:

Most of the comments are both witty and thought-provoking (especially for those who haven’t given any serious consideration to these topics).  However, it’s kind of sad to see that Colbert himself often cuts off some of the more interesting comments.  He seems to straddle the popular middle ground that despite all of the ridiculous assumptions about the theory of a God, that somehow it’s a plausible theory. 

More Atheist Quotes

I have posted numerous times before about quotes related to atheism.  Some of these are so well written, that it’s difficult to ignore the ideas (although most Americans seem to have found a way).  Overall, I hope that readers will be provoked to think and question their beliefs instead of being overtaken by the more base emotion of feeling offended.  AtheistBlogger.com has a new collection, 101 Atheist Quotes.  While I’ve read most before, here are some of my favorites:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. – Richard Dawkins

Faith means not wanting to know what is true. – Friedrich Nietzsche

We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes. – Gene Roddenberry

If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul. – Isaac Asimov

The world holds two classes of men – intelligent men without religion, and religious men without intelligence. – Abu’l‐Ala al Ma’arri

What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof. – Christopher Hitchens

It will yet be the proud boast of women that they never contributed a line to the Bible. – George W. Foote

I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. – Stephen Roberts

God should be executed for crimes against humanity. – Bryan Emmanuel Gutierrez

To say that atheism requires faith is as dim-witted as saying that disbelief in pixies or leprechauns takes faith. Even if Einstein himself told me there was an elf on my shoulder, I would still ask for proof and I wouldn’t be wrong to ask. – Geoff Mather

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God? – Epicurus

Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a God superior to themselves. Most Gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child. – Robert A Heinlein

I refuse to believe in a god who is the primary cause of conflict in the world, preaches racism, sexism, homophobia, and ignorance, and then sends me to hell if I’m ‘bad’. – Mike Fuhrman

Faith does not give you the answers, it just stops you asking the questions. – Frater Ravus

If we expect God to subscribe to one religion at the exclusion of all the others, then we should expect damnation as a matter of chance. This should give Christians pause when expounding their religious beliefs, but it does not. – Sam Harris

Most religions prophecy the end of the world and then consistently work together to ensure that these prophecies come true. – Anonymous

The list obviously includes some famous names – people who have really advanced the field of human thought.  I hope their contributions will help open more peoples’ eyes in a world that seems to cling to superstition and mystical beliefs.

The Mystery of WTC Building 7

Despite all of the “We will always remember” bumper stickers, it seems that Americans have largely forgotten that three buildings were destroyed on September 11th, 2001.  World Trade Center Building 7 mysteriously collapsed many hours after buildings 1 and 2 fell.  It’s understandable that the Bush Administration would fail to investigate this – secrecy and cover-ups are daily operating procedures for them.  But shouldn’t people be asking for an explanation?  I posted about this topic a little over a year ago (see 09/11/2001: We Will Never Know?).

It does seem that now, nearly seven years later, some information has emerged.  Of course, it’s just as unbelievable as some of the more extreme conspiracy theories.  TheRawStory reports in As federal agency declares ‘new phenomenon’ downed WTC 7, activists cry foul about some opposition to the theory that thermal expansion cause the collapse:

However, Richard Gage, founder of Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth and a member of the American Institute of Architects, doesn’t believe a word of the theory.

His group, which has swelled to over 400 architectural and engineering professionals, immediately responded to the Institute’s claim in a press conference.

“Tons of [molten metal] was found 21 days after the attack,” said Gage in an interview with a Vancouver, Canada television station. “Steel doesn’t begin to melt until 2,700 degrees, which is much hotter than what these fires could have caused.”

“There are holes in this story that you can drive a truck through,” Gage added during the press conference. His group asserts that thermite, a steel cutting agent, was used to bring the building down.

Unfortunately, few Americans will pay attention to this (we have a “War” in Iraq to focus on).  People will happily live on without any credible explanation, much as they’ve accepted the many transgressions by Bush and his cronies.  I wonder, what will we “always remember”?

More Proof of Bush 2.0

The comparisons between George Bush and John McCain are hard to overlook, though it seems that most Americans have found a way.  The evidence seems to show that McCain will carry on the Bush legacy of bumbling and ignorance.  As with Bush, we have always had all the information we need to see that McCain is not a very intelligent man.  His mind seems to be clouded by religion, and he seems to have no interest in learning about things he doesn’t understand. 

It’s refreshing to see a mainstream media outlet like CNN post a valid opinion on what could be our nation’s second greatest disaster.  Jack Cafferty asks some important questions in Commentary: Is McCain another George W. Bush?:

It occurs to me that John McCain is as intellectually shallow as our current president. When asked what his Christian faith means to him, his answer was a one-liner. “It means I’m saved and forgiven.” Great scholars have wrestled with the meaning of faith for centuries. McCain then retold a story we’ve all heard a hundred times about a guard in Vietnam drawing a cross in the sand.

He was asked “if evil exists.” His response was to repeat for the umpteenth time that Osama bin Laden is a bad man and he will pursue him to “the gates of hell.” That was it.

He was asked to define rich. After trying to dodge the question — his wife is worth a reported $100 million — he finally said he thought an income of $5 million was rich.

One after another, McCain’s answers were shallow, simplistic, and trite. He showed the same intellectual curiosity that George Bush has — virtually none.

John McCain graduated 894th in a class of 899 at the Naval Academy at Annapolis. His father and grandfather were four star admirals in the Navy. Some have suggested that might have played a role in McCain being admitted. His academic record was awful. And it shows over and over again whenever McCain is called upon to think on his feet.

The conclusion is concise, well-written, and terrifying:

George Bush’s record as a student, military man, businessman and leader of the free world is one of constant failure. And the part that troubles me most is he seems content with himself.

He will leave office with the country $10 trillion in debt, fighting two wars, our international reputation in shambles, our government cloaked in secrecy and suspicion that his entire presidency has been a litany of broken laws and promises, our citizens’ faith in our own country ripped to shreds. Yet Bush goes bumbling along, grinning and spewing moronic one-liners, as though nobody understands what a colossal failure he has been.

I fear to the depth of my being that John McCain is just like him.

Sadly, history shows that these “qualities” are what will make McCain a serious candidate in the 2008 election.

Rich Corporations for McCain

In an earlier post, McCain’s Lobbyists- An Interactive Guide, I linked to a site that shows how much money John McCain has accepted from lobbyists.  Americans seem to be rather tolerant of having corporations and private interests run our government.  This is most obvious in tax-related issues, where voters have passively accepted George Bush’s numerous tax cuts for the richest members of the population (some applied to only the .1% of the richest people in the U.S.)

A recent article from ThinkProgress shows that McCain will carry on that legacy.  From Top CEOs Give 10 Times More To McCain Than Obama; McCain Promises Huge Tax Breaks For Them In Return:

McCain has cultivated support from mega-corporations by promising to dole out huge tax breaks in return should he win the presidency. As the Wonk Room reported in June, McCain’s plan to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent would yield $45 billion in tax breaks for the 200 largest corporations:

Eight companies — Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Bank of America Corp., AT&T, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Microsoft Corp. — would each receive over $1 billion a year.

McCain would deliver about $4 billion in tax cuts to the five largest oil companies. He would also hand over $2 billion to the top 10 health insurance companies. Unlike the highest-rung of the corporate ladder, much of the rest of Wall Street refuses to be bought off. Those employees are giving more to Obama than to McCain.

Perhaps the most annoying part of this information is that voters won’t even challenge McCain on this.  They’ll either remain ignorant, or will passively approve of the selling of the United States to large corporations.  Perhaps it’s for the better.  If American voters were a little smarter, McCain would have to manufacture new wars and create irrational fear to divert the spotlight from his actions.

The Case of Bush v. Vacation Time

Mentally speaking, I think it’s safe to say that Bubba Dubya is always on vacation.  People who have been paying attention know that Bush rarely shows up to work, and is famous for taking time off at his ranch.  Of course, that hasn’t stopped him from criticizing others of shirking their responsibilities. ThinkProgress reports in After Returning From Four Days At The Olympics, Bush Criticizes Congress’s ‘Vacation’:

Bush’s dig at Congress for being on vacation is ironic, as he rivals Ronald Reagan for the title of “presidential vacation-time record holder.” Some highlights of Bush’s time away from the office:

  • – Attended 95 sports-related events.
  • – Made 74 trips to his Crawford ranch, for a total of 466 days.
  • – Made 142 trips to Camp David, for a total of 450 days.
  • – Attended 327 fundraising events for Republican candidates and causes.

Over the course of his presidency, national catastrophes have taken shape while Bush has been on vacation. When he was in Crawford before 9/11, Bush ignored an infamous memo about an impending bin Laden attack. Similarly, Bush brushed off warnings of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 while at the ranch.

I think it could be argued that having no one in charge of the United States would be far preferable to the decisions made by our current regime.  Unfortunately, “no one” isn’t on the ballet.  I wonder: Can you add a write-in vote and leave it blank?

Kinky Sex Stories – According to God

Of the Bible’s many failings related to accuracy and consistency, perhaps its treatment of the topic of sex is the most entertaining.  Apparently, the supreme creator of the Universe finds little issue with slavery and the treatment of women as property.  But, the topic of sex (which is most often portrayed as a heinous taboo) shows some clear signs of repression.  Leave it to the team at Cracked.com to discover some examples from their religious studies.  A summary from The 6 Raunchiest, Most Depraved Sex Acts (From the Bible):

#6. Lot Has Drunk, Drunk Sex in a Cave. With His Daughters.

#5. Jacob, Two Sisters, And What the Hell, a Handmaid

#4. God Gives You Tips on How to Hold Your Load

#3. I Thought She Was a Prostitute, But She Was My Daughter-in-Law!

#2. Solomon Gives Boobies 10 Fingers Up

#1. Gods and Girls

If you thought that porn scripts seemed overly contrived, be sure to check out the staring role that dark rooms and veils seem to have on the otherwise good sense of the denizens of Godland. 

OK, so perhaps the team at Cracked.com is not comprised of poets.  Still, they do a good job of exposing what a disturbing number of people consider to the literal word of God.  “The Good Book”, indeed.

The Terms of Afterlife

The obvious apparent purpose of many religious myths is to give people some form of peace about a future after they or a loved one dies.  The need for some kind of comfort seems so extreme that people will accept just about any wacky idea.  For example, Christians believe that a God that created, knows, and loves them, wouldn’t think twice about sentencing them to an eternity of torture.  But, as long as they accept him as a savior, all will be well.  Others, of course, can [literally] go to Hell.  Potentially thorny issues, such as children who die early and haven’t (and actually cannot rationally) accept Jesus going to Hell are conveniently swept under the rug.  The same applies to questions about how a loving and just God (who would know where everyone’s going to end up) justify the mass-torturing of approximately half the population of Earth. 

Of course, Christian beliefs are the only game in town when it comes to crazy theories about the unknown and what’s beyond.  Cracked.com has a post about The 5 Most Ridiculously Unjust Religious Afterlives.  These are all actually based on real beliefs and most are hilarious at face value (Cracked’s often childish translations are entertaining but also superfluous).  Here are some examples:

Regarding Zoroastrianism:

Judgement is decreed by the individual’s ability to cross the Bridge of Chinvat, the account keeper (a St. Peter type person). Cross the bridge and you’re in paradise, sitting on your golden stool in Mazda’s house of songs. Fall off and you’re dropping to hell.

Aztec Beliefs:

The Aztecs did not believe your fate was based on whether or not you lived a moral life. Instead, they believed that whichever of the three afterlives you got depended largely on your role in society and the manner of your death. So you could be a total shit who spent their adult life breaking into blind people’s houses to move their furniture around, and depending on how you died, you could still find yourself sitting by the side of some god in the late afternoon sun, eating cheese and drinking wine with your feet in the pool.

Tribal Ancestor Worship:

For some tribes, the souls of the deceased just mill around in a happy state, so long as the skulls or bodies they previously belonged to were looked after. Basically if you had a family who was good at looking after your skull, times were good. If your offspring were lazy assholes who turned your skull into a bong, then you were in for a pretty tough time

Egyptians:

The Egyptians believed that mummification was an essential part of a journey towards a good afterlife, and mummification was expensive. It took seventy days, and after that, you had to be buried in a tomb which was acceptable in the eyes of the Gods. Which was, again, expensive. Basically, if you were a horrible little poor person, the Gods extended a middle finger in your direction and packed you on your way to eternal oblivion.

Of course, the typical religious mind can quickly and summarily reject the absurdness of these beliefs, unless they are from their own religion. 

Republicans vs. Democrats: Spending Statistics in Cartoon Form

One of the most popular posts on this blog was related to the myth that Democratic presidents spend more than Republican ones.  The facts show that nothing could be farther from the truth.  The original post, Spending Statistics- Republicans vs. Democrats, links to some interesting statistics.  Of course, some people can’t be bothered with that kind of information, so here’s a quick visual recap of recent U.S. Spending:

greenberg21

President Bush is projected to run up a national budget deficit of $482 billion, possibly a lot more. This is a fiscal conservative? In fact, the only president in the last 25 years to not only not run up a deficit, but to actually leave a surplus, was one of them thar “tax-and-spend” Democrats.

You can see more cartoons and blog posts at Steve Greenberg’s Blog, hosted by the Ventura County Star.  If I could start blogging all over again, I might invest in developing my cartoon-drawing skills to get my points across.

McCain’s Lobbyists: An Interactive Guide

Laws exist in the United States that allow us to at least monitor the amounts and types of political contributions that are received by politicians.  Unfortunately, few people (myself included) take the time to look at the magnitude of the issue.  While there’s some talk about the issue in the lead-up to the 2008 Elections, at least John McCain seems to be profiting handsomely from his benefactors. 

While a table or chart might be compelling enough, the McCainLobbyists.com web site provides an interactive guide to how much money the Republican candidate has received.  You can read about he details from the site’s Welcome Page:

Welcome to McCainsLobbyists.com, a Web site we hope will become a resource for anyone — voter, reporter, blogger or activist — who wants to explore John McCain’s numerous connections to powerful Washington lobbyists and the complicated web that connects all of them together.

We decided to launch this site after seeing John McCain tout himself as a campaign reformer all while building a presidential campaign by relying on a who’s who of big money interests and lobbyists. These lobbyists have earned millions working on behalf of their clients, including Big Oil, brutal dictators, and other special interests. After sifting through the data, we’ve chosen 40 lobbyists we think best illustrate John McCain’s immersion in Washington’s pay-to-play culture.

The Internet has brought us unprecedented access to information such as federal spending, political bribes and conflicts of interest.  Now there’s one major challenge left: To find someone who’s interested enough to read (and write) about them.

Church Signs Gone Wild

While few things related to religion actually shock me these days, there’s seems to be no bounds to the ridiculousness of church signs.  Most of these make even less sense than the religions they’re trying to peddle.  Even so, it’s amazing how poorly-written some of the statements can be.  HolyTaco.com provides a small smattering of signs in Church Signs That Won’t Make You Go To Church.  From the article:

Driving across the rural parts of America you’ll undoubtedly notice the large number of churches that use their signs to try and draw people into their church with a joke or a pun or some good old fashioned fire and brimstone fear. The problem is, the comedy stylings of most church pastors is kind of like a combination of Yakov Smirnoff and Rush Limbaugh. You either get the world’s crappiest puns or some sort of evil, hate filled message that’s supposed to scare you into attending, or a totally awesome unintentional double entrendre. Either way, these signs are the only interesting thing to look at when you’re driving from Pennsylvania to Colorado.

Here are two highlights.  The first refers to how God apparently chooses to communicate with us.

 JesusSaves

Of course, causing all of this pain and suffering is far easier than actually providing any evidence for his existence.  I especially like the “Welcome” at the end – it really makes me want to check it out.  Note how the statement is attributed to “God”, as if there were any doubt who could be so malicious, cruel, or capricious.

But wait, there’s more:

JesusSaves2

… And probably the less said about the second one, the better.

Morality and Politics

I realized several years ago that one of the primary points of frustration for me occurs when dealing with people who are irrational.  I also learned that it’s futile to attempt to address an irrational idea using rationality.  If people don’t understand the power and value of logic and reason, it’s not a problem that I can solve.  At least in the United States, the political and social climate has clearly empowered the irrational members of the country.  Those are the people who openly choose not to elect a “smart” President and that feel that it’s OK to impeach a President for lying about his private life while letting an alleged war criminal run the nation, no questions asked.  It often seems that the inmates are running the asylum.

So where do these ideas come from?  The topic of morality is one that is often thrown about in the media.  It doesn’t matter if people are criticizing Britney Spears’ latest escapades or if it’s an issue of imprisoning and torturing hundreds of innocent people.  There are many who suggest that morality comes from religion, but all research points the in the opposite direction.  In fact, most thinking adults would be aghast if they only read books like the Bible (especially the Old Testament) or the Koran. 

The New York Times posted an article earlier this year that attempts to explain the basis of morality.  Steven Pinker writes in The Moral Instinct about the basis of these ideas.  For example, how can people respect the ignorance an suffering peddled by Mother Theresa while overlooking actual humanitarians?  The article is very long, but I found it to be thought-provoking.  Pinker often cites studies and thought experiments which are both entertaining and information.  Here’s an excerpt:

All this brings us to a theory of how the moral sense can be universal and variable at the same time. The five moral spheres are universal, a legacy of evolution. But how they are ranked in importance, and which is brought in to moralize which area of social life — sex, government, commerce, religion, diet and so on — depends on the culture. Many of the flabbergasting practices in faraway places become more intelligible when you recognize that the same moralizing impulse that Western elites channel toward violations of harm and fairness (our moral obsessions) is channeled elsewhere to violations in the other spheres. Think of the Japanese fear of nonconformity (community), the holy ablutions and dietary restrictions of Hindus and Orthodox Jews (purity), the outrage at insulting the Prophet among Muslims (authority). In the West, we believe that in business and government, fairness should trump community and try to root out nepotism and cronyism. In other parts of the world this is incomprehensible — what heartless creep would favor a perfect stranger over his own brother?

The ranking and placement of moral spheres also divides the cultures of liberals and conservatives in the United States. Many bones of contention, like homosexuality, atheism and one-parent families from the right, or racial imbalances, sweatshops and executive pay from the left, reflect different weightings of the spheres. In a large Web survey, Haidt found that liberals put a lopsided moral weight on harm and fairness while playing down group loyalty, authority and purity. Conservatives instead place a moderately high weight on all five. It’s not surprising that each side thinks it is driven by lofty ethical values and that the other side is base and unprincipled.

Of course, there’s a strong current in modern thought that seems to imply that we should “think” with our guts rather than with our brains.  If something feels bad, we should avoid it.  And, if we can somehow rationalize it (e.g., to attack a country with no evidence or reason), then it’s OK.  Towards the conclusion of the article is another example:

Though wise people have long reflected on how we can be blinded by our own sanctimony, our public discourse still fails to discount it appropriately. In the worst cases, the thoughtlessness of our brute intuitions can be celebrated as a virtue. In his influential essay “The Wisdom of Repugnance,” Leon Kass, former chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics, argued that we should disregard reason when it comes to cloning and other biomedical technologies and go with our gut: “We are repelled by the prospect of cloning human beings . . . because we intuit and feel, immediately and without argument, the violation of things that we rightfully hold dear. . . . In this age in which everything is held to be permissible so long as it is freely done . . . repugnance may be the only voice left that speaks up to defend the central core of our humanity. Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.”

There are, of course, good reasons to regulate human cloning, but the shudder test is not one of them. People have shuddered at all kinds of morally irrelevant violations of purity in their culture: touching an untouchable, drinking from the same water fountain as a Negro, allowing Jewish blood to mix with Aryan blood, tolerating sodomy between consenting men. And if our ancestors’ repugnance had carried the day, we never would have had autopsies, vaccinations, blood transfusions, artificial insemination, organ transplants and in vitro fertilization, all of which were denounced as immoral when they were new.

If only we would invest more time and effort in actually learning about human nature rather than trying to defend absurd, illogical, and irrational conclusions, the world would be a far better place.  I’m not holding my breath for a positive change, but it would be a pleasant change from our current culture of ignorance.

Religion and Imaginary Friends

It’s a simple fact that the overwhelming majority of people that claim to be religious know extremely little about what they believe.  In previous posts, I’ve cited statistics related to how little American “Christians” know about their Bible.  I doubt most of them could explain away the questions of a ten-year-old.  But, I can understand that group of people – they’re either not interested or are otherwise unmotivated to examine (let alone question) their beliefs. 

What tends to surprise me more are those who claim to actually research their religion and still appear to believe in it.  Just about all religious texts are filled with obvious contradictions.  They’re internally consistent (let alone completely inaccurate with respect to the real world).  Still, the majority of humanity professes to believe in a supreme creator of the universe.

Thanks to a link from RichardDawkins.net, I ran into a web site called God is imaginary.  As the title suggests, the site includes a list of “50 simple proofs” that God does not exist.  It focuses on Christianity, but many of the proofs apply just as well to any religious beliefs.  Here’s a list from the site’s Table of Contents:

    1. Try praying
    2. Statistically analyze prayer
    3. Look at all historical gods
    4. Think about science
    5. Read the Bible
    6. Ponder God’s plan
    7. Understand religious delusion
    8. Think about Near Death Experiences
    9. Understand ambiguity
    10. Watch the offering plate
    11. Notice that there is no scientific evidence
    12. See the magic
    13. Take a look at slavery
    14. Examine Jesus’ miracles
    15. Examine Jesus’ resurrection
    16. Contemplate the contradictions
    17. Think about Leprechauns
    18. Imagine heaven
    19. Notice that you ignore Jesus
    20. Notice your church
    21. Understand Jesus’ core message
    22. Count all the people God wants to murder
    23. Listen to the Doxology
    24. Ask why religion causes so many problems
    25. Understand evolution and abiogenesis
    26. Notice that the Bible’s author is not “all-knowing”
    27. Think about life after death
    28. Notice how many gods you reject
    29. Think about communion
    30. Examine God’s sexism
    31. Understand that religion is superstition
    32. Talk to a theologian
    33. Contemplate the crucifixion
    34. Examine your health insurance policy
    35. Notice Jesus’ myopia
    36. Realize that God is impossible
    37. Think about DNA
    38. Contemplate the divorce rate among Christians
    39. Realize that Jesus was a jerk
    40. Understand Christian motivations
    41. Flip a coin
    42. Listen when “God talks”
    43. Realize that a “hidden God” is impossible
    44. Think about a Christian housewife
    45. Consider Noah’s Ark
    46. Ponder Pascal’s Wager
    47. Contemplate Creation
    48. Compare prayer to a lucky horseshoe
    49. Look at who speaks for God
    50. Ask Jesus to appear

While there’s nothing revolutionary about many of these ideas, I found them to be particularly well-written.  I hope they’ll have the intended effect on readers, but somehow doubt it.  After all, if something is taken “on faith”, then proof really doesn’t have anything to do with it.

Bush’s Legacy: Record Deficit

There seems to be no end to the damage that the Bush Administration and associated conspirators.  The Huffington Post reports about yet another national “record” set by King George and his merry men in Bush Leaving Next President Record Federal Budget Deficit.  From the article:

WASHINGTON — The government’s budget deficit will surge past a half-trillion dollars next year, according to gloomy new estimates, a record flood of red ink that promises to force the winner of the presidential race to dramatically alter his economic agenda.

The deficit will hit $482 billion in the 2009 budget year that will be inherited by Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain, the White House estimated Monday. That figure is sure to rise after adding the tens of billions of dollars in additional Iraq war funding it doesn’t include, and the total could be higher yet if the economy fails to recover as the administration predicts.

The result: the biggest deficit ever in terms of dollars, though several were higher in the 1980s and early 1990s as a percentage of the overall economy.

Unfortunately, this sets our next President up for an apparent failure.  Even if we can remove Republicans from power, it will take a lot of effort to address the core issues.  I hope that it will be done and that the American people will place their blame where it belongs.

More (small) Steps Towards Impeachment

I often feel that I’m the only one that’s frustrated by the lack of accountability for what clearly is one of the most destructive administrations in the history of the United States.  Of course, polls show that I’m not alone and a large majority of Americans (finally!) support impeachment.  Some members of Congress are, however, working on our behalf.  TheRawStory reports in Impeachment a hot topic at ‘not Impeachment’ hearing:

After spending long hours, sometimes late into the night, making his case for impeachment before a nearly barren House chamber, Rep. Dennis Kucinich finally got more of an audience for his case against President Bush Friday.

Even though Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers insisted early on that the panel’s evaluation of Bush’s “imperial presidency” was decidedly not an impeachment hearing, the prospect was not far from many minds during the six hours of testimony.

Kucinich formally introduced his articles of impeachment into the record of the committees proceedings — although he did not utter the dreaded I-word, instead referring to the resolutions by their more legalistic titles “H. Res. 333, H. Res. 1258 and H. Res. 1345.”

The article includes numerous quotes, many of which attempt to directly call out the Bush/Cheney machine for high crimes, but that have to stop short due to rules of the hearing.  There’s some hope (however small) for accountability here.  At the very least, these politicians will have a response when future generations ask how we could all stand idly by as the United States was systematically dismantled from within.

The Bush Administration: Crimes Without Punishment

Hopefully, by now, there are few thinking people in the United States that don’t agree that George Bush, his cronies, and his controllers, should be asked to answer for their numerous crimes.  There are so many violations, in fact, that it’s hard to keep them all straight.  Slate reports in Crimes and Misdemeanors: Who in the Bush administration broke the law, and who could be prosecuted?  From the introduction to the article:

What kind of lawbreaking has happened on President Bush’s watch, among his top and mid-level advisers? What hasn’t? Who is implicated and who is not? Despite the lack of oral sex with an intern, the past seven years have yielded an embarrassment of riches when it comes to potentially prosecutable crimes. We have tried to sketch out a map of who did what and when, with links to the evidence that is public and notes about what we may learn from investigations that are still pending.

We looked specifically at the White House, the office of the vice presidency, the Department of Defense, the Justice Department, and the State Department. We started with a question about whether anyone could be prosecuted for war crimes relating to the torture identified by the International Committee of the Red Cross. We soon spiraled out to trace related loops: warrantless wiretapping and the destruction of CIA tapes of the interrogations of two high-level suspects. And then we added in scandals that involve many of the same players and that have spawned investigations: the firing of the U.S. attorneys in 2006 in the Justice Department as well as politicized hirings there. In the main, the laws and treaties we concentrated on were the Geneva Conventions, the War Crimes Act, the Convention Against Torture, obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence, perjury, lying to Congress, the Civil Service Reform Act, and the Hatch Act.

You can access the Interactive Crimes and Misdemeanors Page to view the details.  It’s a bit overwhelming, but it’s a good testimony to the numbers and types of crimes committed during the last eight years.

The Soaring Minimum Wage

The Consumerist reports on the pathetic state of minimal living wage laws in the United States  The article, Minimum Wage Soars To $6.55, Working Poor Still Too Impoverished To Celebrate quotes the Associated Press article Federal minimum wage rises to $6.55 today.  From that article:

Last week, the Labor Department reported the fastest inflation since 1991 — 5 percent for June compared with a year earlier. Energy costs soared nearly 25 percent. The price of food rose more than 5 percent.

So the minimum wage hike is “a drop in the bucket compared to the increases in costs, declining labor market, and declining household wealth that consumers have experienced in the past year,” Lehman Brothers economist Zach Pandl said.

The new minimum is less than the inflation-adjusted 1997 level of $7.02, and far below the inflation-adjusted level of $10.06 from 40 years ago, according to a Labor Department inflation calculator.

Keep in mind that the increase to its previous level – $5.85/hour – was resisted by Republicans for a decade.  It wasn’t until a Democratic majority in Congress made the increase top their agenda that this was affected at all.  Of course, state federal minimum wage laws often exceed these paltry amounts.  But the United States is (or recently used to be) one of the richest nations in the world.  We’re clearly losing the middle class, and the poorer “working” class seems to be almost completely out of sight and out of mind.

Bush on the Consent of the Governed

ThinkProgress reports about the all-too-obvious irony in a recent statement by King George.  From Bush- ‘No regime should ignore the will of its own people.’:

In a statement regarding new sanctions against Zimbabwe today, President Bush declares that “no regime should ignore the will of its own people“:

The regime has also continued its ban against NGO activities that would provide assistance to the suffering and vulnerable people of Zimbabwe. No regime should ignore the will of its own people and calls from the international community without consequences.

TPM’s Eric Kleefeld notes the irony of the Bush administration, which proudly ignores public opinion in the United States, instructing other countries to listen to “the will of its own people.” Kleefeld suggests that the administration look at “the direction of polling data at home — not to mention international opinion — showing that people want a timetable to withdraw from Iraq.”

Perhaps it would have been more appropriate if he had added “other” before the word “regime”?

A True Challenge: Hurt America More than the Republican Party

I have to admit that I’m still surprised that the Republican Party in the United States can even have a candidate run in the 2008 elections.  The devastation caused by George Bush and his cronies is unparalleled, and it’s surprising that Americans still seem to be largely OK with it.  While polls show that the overwhelming majority despise Bush, there’s little chance that he will ever be held accountable for high crimes.

CounterPunch recently published an article titled The Mother of All Messes.  It’s easy to guess what this one’s about:

Republican deregulation brought about fraud in mortgage lending and dangerous financial instruments which have collapsed the housing market, leaving a million or more homeowners facing foreclosure. The financial system is in disarray and might collapse from insolvency.

The trade and budget deficits have exploded. The US trade deficit is larger than the combined trade deficits of every deficit country in the world.

The US can no longer finance its wars or its own government and relies on foreign loans to function day to day. To pay for its consumption, the US sells its existing assets–companies, real estate, toll roads, whatever it can offer–to foreigners.

Republicans have run roughshod over the US Constitution, Congress, the courts and civil liberties. Republicans have made it perfectly clear that they believe that our civil liberties make us unsafe–precisely the opposite view of our Founding Fathers. Yet, Republicans regard themselves as the Patriotic Party.

The Republicans have violated the Nuremberg prohibitions against war crimes, and they have violated the Geneva Conventions against torture and abuse of prisoners. Republican disregard for human rights ranks with that of history’s great tyrants.

The Republicans have put in place the foundation for a police state.

I am confident that the Democrats, too, will make a mess. But can they beat this record?

We must get the Republicans totally out of power, or we will have no country left for the Democrats to mess up.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that many people who say that they support this party couldn’t give any kind of logical explanation.  It will probably remain a mystery for quite some time, and historians are likely to analyze what happened to what used to be a Democracy as a case study in human responsibility.

Progress on Impeachment

In a bright ray of hope in an otherwise dismally black scene, Dennis Kucinich is continuing his fight for the impeachment of George Bush and his master Dick Cheney.  After all these years, it seems that the American people are satisfied with an endless stream of unanswered questions.  We’re completely willing to impeach a President for lying about his private life.  But one that clearly led us to war to support private interests isn’t even required to respond to question. 

Keep in mind that the term “impeachment” (from a legal sense) only means that we’d be bringing charges against the Bush Administration.  Basically, we’d require him to start answering some questions.  There’s little harm that could be done by this process, and the United States (and, perhaps, the idea of democracy in general) has everything to gain.

Kucinich on Impeachment

I completely agree with him in the statement that we’re in danger of losing our country.  We have done little to nothing to even request accountability.  Few Americans could give any reasonable explanation for why the United States is at war.  Poll after poll shows that the overwhelming majority of people support impeachment.  Yet, a Democractic majority in Congress has refused to even hear of it.

You can also show your support for impeachment by visiting Dennis Kucinich’s web site.  Perhaps we can reinstate some hope for accountability and consent of the governed.

Bush Sends an F-U to Environmental Conference Leaders

Not that we should be surprised by the latest Bushism…  It’s really just another feather in this guy’s cap.  The Telegraph reports on Bush’s remarks at the G8 Summit, an environmentally-focused event.

The American leader, who has been condemned throughout his presidency for failing to tackle climate change, ended a private meeting with the words: “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter.”

He then punched the air while grinning widely, as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy looked on in shock.

McCain’s Amazing 61 Full-Reversals

When it comes to politics, it seems that the American electorate is willing to accept just about anything.  Politicians can show a complete lack of care for human beings, total disrespect for the law, amazing ignorance, and complete incompetence.  Yet, people will still vote for them.  There’s one possible exception to the rule, though: Even relatively minor indiscretions of a sexual nature, seem to be able to lead to the downfall of even the nation’s highest official. 

In any case, John McCain is an excellent case in point.  AlterNet reports in John McCain — 61 Flip-Flops and Counting.  From the introduction:

McCain argues that flip-flops are an example of a political leader who can’t be trusted — so he might as well drop out of the race.

Editor’s Note: Writer Steve Benen has graciously compiled a comprehensive tally of John McCain’s flip-flops on issues ranging from national security to energy. The following is Benen’s list of 61 clear 180-degree switches by McCain on the biggest issues of the day.

The list provides brief points (a necessity based on the long list), but also provides links that prove his reversed standing on issues.  Here are some of my favorites (they’re all related to what should be an important topic – National Security):

1. McCain thought Bush’s warrantless wiretap program circumvented the law; now he believes the opposite.

2. McCain insisted that everyone, even “terrible killers,” “the worst kind of scum of humanity,” and detainees at Guantanamo Bay, “deserve to have some adjudication of their cases,” even if that means “releasing some of them.” McCain now believes the opposite.

3. He opposed indefinite detention of terrorist suspects. When the Supreme Court reached the same conclusion, he called it “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.”

4. In February, McCain reversed course on prohibiting waterboarding.

5. McCain favored closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay before he was against it.

6. When Barack Obama talked about going after terrorists in Pakistani mountains with Predators, McCain criticized him for it. He’s since come to the opposite conclusion.

There’s still time to go before the election.  That gives more voters plenty of time to ignore all of this (and the flip-flops that are sure to come).

The Case of Bush v. War Crimes

One of the seemingly inexplicable aspects of modern American politics is how a monster like George Bush has escaped all accountability for his actions.  His Administration has clearly been responsible for a long and sordid list of affronts against our Constitution and even against international law.  A recent article in The Guardian tries to explain.  From Should Bush be tried for war crimes?:

We are less than a decade removed from impeaching a president and nearly relieving him of office because of a lie in a civil deposition about blowjobs. Yet when congressman Dennis Kucinich recently attempted to impeach Bush over torture, extraordinary rendition and other grotesque constitutional abuses, Kucinich’s embarrassed fellow Democrats couldn’t kill the measure quickly enough.

Why? Top Democrats are so complicit in what has happened since 9/11 that my guess is they dare not travel down that road. From voting in favor of the war in Iraq to holding the telecommunications companies guiltless for their role in spying on Americans (Barack Obama infuriated much of his progressive base by voting for immunity), the Democrats have often acted more as enablers than as a true opposition party. From their point of view, no doubt it’s best to move on.

And yet we can’t move on. Everywhere you turn, there are reminders of the demons that have been unleashed in the name of fighting terrorism. We are less democratic and less free than we were before Bush and Dick Cheney entered office following an election that they demonstrably did not win. If we don’t come to terms with what happened, there’s little chance of reversing our slide into authoritarianism.

I truly think that people (even those that are living today) will look back at this situation and wonder how we could all have let it get this bad.  I call for accountability for all of us, as well.  What will we tell our children?  How will we explain that we let Bush get away with it all?  Somehow, people will find a way to talk around it, as did supporters of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin before them.  And, like a politician being confronted by a Senate investigation sub-committee, we’ll conveniently experience amnesia.  Yes, that should work nicely.

Evidence of the Erosion of Freedom

The United States has experienced a culture of irrational fear and prejudice at levels that rival those of our sad history.  News stations frequently misreport details, berate objectors, provide biased coverage and even manufacture their own stories (for which they briefly apologize the next day).  Regular citizens are routinely shut up for speaking against the government, even when it’s done peacefully.  And everything seems to this this is OK.

Perhaps what’s most shocking is that these actions are not shocking at all to most people.  In fact, it seems that we take it for granted that people who exercise their rights (as guaranteed in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights), should be punished.  One case in point comes from a Progressive.org article titled Tenant Banned from Flying Flag Upside Down, Gets Death Threat.  From the article:

When Decker asked for the statute criminalizing this, he says Officer Delsman responded: “I’m sure that it is somewhere.”

According to Decker, the officer also said: “You fly your flag at night with no light on it. The next time I see that I’ll have to do something about it.”

Decker says he stood his ground: “I told him, ‘I know I’m not breaking the law, but if you can come to my house and show me the statute, I’ll take my flag down. Otherwise, I’ll keep flying it.’ ”

“I didn’t know that in the land of the free that a peaceful act of patriotism could bring out such violent tendencies in people,” he says. Decker says he’s been called “asshole, dickhead, cocksucker,” and a lot of other names.

He says one man, with a kid between the ages of 8 and 11, went after him in the parking lot at McDonald’s, saying, “I’m going to come over to your house and kick your ass right now.” The man also said, according to Decker, “If you keep up what you’re doing, a vet is going to find you and put a bullet in your head.”

There used to be a time when people realized that dissent against the government is the fundamental basis of democracy.  It’s not something that we should suppress just because it annoys us.  What would our society be like if we prevented Martin Luther King from speaking out against black subjugation?

Another sad example comes from an article titled, “Librarian carrying McCain=Bush sign kicked out of McCain Event“.  It’s hard to imagine a more benign message, and it should be one that at least some people take as complimentary (yes, there are still people that believe that Bush is a good President).  From the article:

DENVER, Colo.-On orders from Senator John McCain’s security detail, Denver police escorted a 61-year-old woman away who was waiting in line to attend a so-called  town hall meeting with McCain that was billed as open to the public.

Carol Kreck, who works as a librarian in Denver, held a homemade sign reading “McCain = Bush.” On orders from McCain’s security detail, police cited her for trespassing and escorted her to the sidewalk. She was told if she returned she would be arrested.

“And all I did was carry a sign that said McCain = Bush,” Kreck said. “And for everyone who voted for Bush, I don’t see why it’s offensive to say McCain = Bush.”

This episode by McCain’s Secret Service appears to be a rerun of McCain’s 2005 town hall in Denver with President Bush in which the Secret Service had three Denver citizens removed from an “open” event where McCain was campaigning with Pres. Bush for his plan to privatize social security.

The list of facts that show that McCain would simply be Bush 2.0 is a long one (the article includes a few references).  My question (and I wonder if it should be taken as rhetorical), is: Which freedoms should we curtail next?  And, would we be better off getting rid of the protections granted by our founding documents?  If I were more curious, I’d consider voting Republican…

Bush’s Greatest Misses: The Top 10

For the most part, it’s finally no secret that the Bush Administration has a largely unmitigated disaster.  One must think really hard to find examples of something that this guy has done that isn’t outrageous (in a bad way).  AlterNet takes a shot at limiting Bush’s Bungling to a short list in The 10 Most Awesomely Bad Moments of the Bush Presidency:

In a lot of ways, choosing the Bush administration’s 10 greatest moments — disastrous failures, all — is about as pointless as picking out your 10 least favorite hemorrhoids: There are entirely too many of them, and taken together they all add up to a throbbing mass of pain. But unfortunately, history demands that we at least make the effort so that future generations will understand why we perform voodoo rituals cursing Bush’s memory before we go to bed every night.

Narrowing down the Bush administration’s various debacles to a mere 10 was no easy feat. In fact, I expect that many people will express dismay that their least favorite moment was left off the list. “How could commuting Scooter Libby’s sentence not even make the top 10??!!” I can hear some of you shrieking already. Well, I’ll tell you. Essentially, I tried to rate each Bush disaster by two main criteria: its body count and its damage to the country’s reputation. So while Bush’s awkward groping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel may be personally humiliating to everyone, it doesn’t have the same heft as, say, the Iraq War.

In a more sane and rational world, any one of these things would have been enough to at least confront our government.  That should be especially true for a nation that barely hesitated to impeach a President for lying about his private life.  I think this list also reads as a testimony to the dumbing-down of America and it’s a huge warning sign for the many evils that can be done in the name of Democracy when the governed take a prolonged nap.

Fox News Alters Reporters’ Photos

fox-20080702-steinbergIt seems that many Americans still consider the Fox Network to be a credible source of information.  Fox News has been caught misleading the public and even manufacturing false stories about Obama.  Yet, people still trust this network as a source for “news”.  Here’s another, more visual, issue of Fox’s journalistic integrity.  From MediaMatters.org’s article Fox News airs altered photos of NY Times reporters:

Summary: During a segment in which Fox & Friends co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade labeled New York Times reporter Jacques Steinberg and editor Steven Reddicliffe “attack dogs,” Fox News featured photos of Steinberg and Reddicliffe that appeared to have been digitally altered — the journalists’ teeth had been yellowed, their facial features exaggerated, and portions of Reddicliffe’s hair moved further back on his head.

This is, at best, biased and insulting (to everyone involved – especially viewers).  I wonder, how long will it be until Fox News starts showing doctored photos of Obama?

McCain: Carrying on the Bush-ism Tradition

After eight devastating years, it looks like King George will finally be leaving the throne.  I, for one, won’t miss his babbling, bumbling ways (this stuff is much more entertaining when it comes from evening sitcoms than from our nation’s highest elected officials).  But wait – who will carry on the tradition?  A blog post on EyesOnObama.com gives us a great preview.  From McCain’s Eight Most Inappropriate Jokes:

If you’ve ever seen Ricky Gervais’ BBC series, The Office (the overseas predecessor to the hit US show), you’ve already met David Brent. The miscreant man-in-charge is a serial joke-maker, though his workplace rubes almost always tend toward the inappropriate and insensitive.

Jump to the real-life political David Brent: John McCain. The Arizona Senator and GOP nominee has taken a number of stabs at humor on the campaign trail. Some have hit the spot. Others have missed the mark completely, garnering a gaggle of negative media attention as a result.

Now, as a general rule, I make a policy of not relating television to politics, or to anything in real life for that matter. But if the shoe fits…

From making fun of war, singing bastardized lyrics as a form of saber-rattling, and making fun of an 18-year old girl, McCain is a real class act.  You would think that Bubba Dubya would be a tough act to follow, but many Americans are considering electing yet another jack-ass to the White House.  This stuff might be funny, except it’s true.

The Bush Administration vs. the Truth About Iraq

By now, it would be hard for anyone to pretend that the Bush Administration did not knowingly and intentionally lie to the American public about Iraq.  Bush and his cronies introduced us to such terms as yellow-cake Uranium, dubya-ed-dees, nucular assaults, along with a general fear of brown people.  Now, it seems that even Congress won’t hold the President accountable.  In fact, people seem quite willing to let past “indiscretions” slip away without any repercussions.  We have people ranging from the CIA to the our Armed Forces that have quite their often-illustrious careers because they were forced to lie and manufacture evidence. 

The L.A. Times attempts to provide some perspective for those of us who tend to forget (or even forgive) far too easily.  From the commentary piece, How does President Bush lie?:

A month later, in August 2002, the administration set up the White House Iraq Group, designed solely to sell the public on the imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein. In essence, it was a marketing campaign to sell the war by escalating the rhetoric and misleading the public. And lying.

And boy, did they. Here are statements from the administration in 2002 as they beat the drums for war. Dick Cheney said: “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use … against us.” Condoleezza Rice: “We do know that [Hussein] is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon.” Donald Rumsfeld: “[Hussein's] regime has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons.”

These statements were designed to cultivate in Americans fear of Iraq’s imminent threat, the keystone of Bush’s push to war. They were grossly and intentionally misleading, suggesting that the administration possessed incontrovertible facts on which were drawn these definitive conclusions. In reality, the facts were known to be ambiguous at best. Absolutely no intelligence existed at the time that would allow anyone to reach such concrete conclusions.

Americans seem to be very forgiving when over a million deaths have resulted from an engineered invasion and plundering of a nation.  But, if sex is involved, it’s a whole different story.  Can anyone explain how we could impeach a President for lying about his private life while people like Bush and Cheney aren’t even pressed to answer any questions at all.  It’s not a good sign for the future of what should have been a democracy based on accountability.

Bush vs. the Economy

People in the United States often seem to be surprised at the deterioration of the United States in most important measurable ways.  Our debt is astronomical, we have gone to war based on manufactured evidence with no graceful means of extraction, education is worse off, and the economy… Well, Americans have finally found something about which they can’t remain comfortably numb.  Apart from the dismal outlook of the overall stock market, analyst predictions, the housing market, and rising costs overall, Americans seem to focus on gasoline prices as the biggest issue.  This when, for example, more than a million Iraqi people have died since we invaded and plundered their country (almost all are civilians).  I hope I don’t even have to question out priorities…

In any case, the L.A. Times provides some encouraging news – that people finally “get it”.  From 75% blame Bush’s policies for deteriorating economy:

WASHINGTON — Three out of four Americans, including large numbers of Republicans, blame President Bush’s economic policies for making the country worse off during the last eight years, according to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll released Wednesday, reflecting a sharp increase in public pessimism during the last year.

Nine percent of respondents said the country’s economic condition had improved since Bush became president, compared with 75% who said conditions had worsened. Among Republicans, 42% said the country was worse off, while 26% said it was about the same, and 22% thought economic conditions had improved.

All together, 82% of respondents said the economy was doing badly, compared with 71% who felt that way when the question was asked in February. And the pessimism has intensified: Fifty percent of respondents said the economy was doing “very badly,” compared with 38% in February.

The Times/Bloomberg poll, conducted June 19-23 under Pinkus’ supervision, interviewed 1,233 adults nationwide. The poll’s margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The article provides some interesting charts and graphics that illustrate the results of the survey.  My only issue is that people seem to be surprised.  But what did we expect?  The U.S. elected (or, more correctly, the Supreme Court appointed) a bumbling fool as our highest-level elected official twice. This guy routinely talks about “evil-doers”, messages from God, and shows a lack of knowledge that is staggering.  His administration talked about bombing Iraq back to the Stone Ages.  But what effect has it had on the United States?  By most measures, we’re poorer, less educated, less competitive in the field of science, and most of us think (know?) that things will get far worse before they get better.

Super Powers in The Bible

BiblePowersIt has always been interesting to me how people often seem to put a lot of stock in the most absurd of stories. We tend to believe in hidden weapons of mass destruction that no one seems to be able to find.  We think everyone’s out to get us (just leave your front door unlocked for a single night, and who knows what evil might get in).  And phrases like “Evil-doers” are now part of our standard language.

Of course, you’d be hard-pressed to find any fiction that’s more outrageously unbelievable as The Bible (with special commendations to the Old Testament).  Even highly-selective excerpts and numerous revised translations can’t hide the absurdity of a talking snake (which, incidentally, was involved in the downfall of humanity).  Many of the myths focused around nature, or “borrowed” heavily from other religions.  While there’s almost no chance that any of this stuff is true, it’s still entertaining.

And on the topic of entertainment, I highlight recommend Cracked.com’s 5 Superpowers From the Bible That Put Marvel and DC to Shame   Cracked.com.  You learn about zombies, snakes, and magical powers that can be used to control the flow of water.  It’s great stuff that even Superman might envy.  Check it out, but I recommend you stay away from the original source material.

The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos

A commonly argument for religion is that, without it, humanity would have no basis for morality.  The world would devolve into chaos and a seemingly endless stream of bad thins would happen.  I find this argument to be exceptionally annoying in that it ignores all evidence, research, and reason to the contrary.  Sam Harris addressed this issue in a brief but thorough examination of the issue in The Myth of Secular Chaos (you can find a better-formatted version on RichardDawkins.net).  In the article, Harris addresses some of the most common arguments:

1. If a book like the Bible were the only reliable blueprint for human decency that we had, it would be impossible (both practically and logically) to criticize it in moral terms. But it is extraordinarily easy to criticize the morality one finds in the Bible, as most of it is simply odious and incompatible with a civil society.

The notion that the Bible is a perfect guide to morality is really quite amazing, given the contents of the book. Human sacrifice, genocide, slaveholding, and misogyny are consistently celebrated. Of course, God’s counsel to parents is refreshingly straightforward: whenever children get out of line, we should beat them with a rod (Proverbs 13:24, 20:30, and 23:13–14). If they are shameless enough to talk back to us, we should kill them (Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18–21, Mark 7:9–13, and Matthew 15:4–7). We must also stone people to death for heresy, adultery, homosexuality, working on the Sabbath, worshiping graven images, practicing sorcery, and a wide variety of other imaginary crimes.

Most Christians imagine that Jesus did away with all this barbarism and delivered a doctrine of pure love and toleration. He didn’t. (See Matthew 5:18–19, Luke 16:17, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 20–21, John 7:19.) Anyone who believes that Jesus only taught the Golden Rule and love of one’s neighbor should go back and read the New Testament. And he or she should pay particular attention to the morality that will be on display if Jesus ever returns to earth trailing clouds of glory (e.g., 2 Thessalonians 1:7–9, 2:8; Hebrews 10:28–29; 2 Peter 3:7; and all of Revelation).

It is not an accident that St. Thomas Aquinas thought heretics should be killed and that St. Augustine thought they should be tortured. (Ask yourself, what are the chances that these good doctors of the Church hadn’t read the New Testament closely enough to discover the error of their ways?) As a source of objective morality, the Bible is one of the worst books we have. It might be the very worst, in fact—if we didn’t also happen to have the Qur’an.

It is important to point out that we decide what is good in the Good Book. We read the Golden Rule and judge it to be a brilliant distillation of many of our ethical impulses; we read that a woman found not to be a virgin on her wedding night should be stoned to death, and we (if we are civilized) decide that this is the most vile lunacy imaginable. Our own ethical intuitions are, therefore, primary. So the choice before us is simple: we can either have a twenty-first-century conversation about ethics—availing ourselves of all the arguments and scientific insights that have accumulated in the last two thousand years of human discourse—or we can confine ourselves to a first-century conversation as it is preserved in the Bible.

In addition, here are the other two points addressed in the article:

If religion were necessary for morality, there should be some evidence that atheists are less moral than believers.

If religion really provided the only conceivable objective basis for morality, it should be impossible to posit a nontheistic objective basis for morality. But it is not impossible; it is rather easy.

Obviously, few Christians (at least in the United States) read their Bibles.  And extremely few actually questions its teachings.  I contend that the majority of the world’s problems (at least ones that are human-made) stem from religion.  The Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition clearly could have been handled better (or, best of all, would not have occurred at all).  We have a President in the White House – one that is widely considered the worst in the history of the United States – who claims that God guides his decisions.  And no one seems to question that.

Intelligence vs. Religion

Several studies have shown that there’s a strong positive correlation between intelligence and atheism.  In fact, the U.S. is somewhat of an anomaly in the fact that we have a fairly decent educational system (at least when compared to the entire world).  We have elected (or appointed, as the case may be) a President who says that God comes to him in dreams and has commanded him to attack Iraq.  Yet people, for the most part, seem to be OK with it.  After all, how can you question an irrational belief?

The Telegraph has posted another article that draws what shouldn’t be a surprising conclusion.  From Intelligent people ‘less likely to believe in God’:

He told Times Higher Education magazine: “Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God.”

He said religious belief had declined across 137 developed nations in the 20th century at the same time as people became more intelligent.

Dr David Hardman, principal lecturer in learning development at London Metropolitan University, said: “It is very difficult to conduct true experiments that would explicate a causal relationship between IQ and religious belief. Nonetheless, there is evidence from other domains that higher levels of intelligence are associated with a greater ability – or perhaps willingness – to question and overturn strongly felt institutions.”

I have written previously about the strong correlation between religiosity and rates such social issues as teen pregnancy and violence.  You can see that within the U.S. (e.g., in the Bible Belt and in Republican States) as well as throughout the globe.  Yet, people seem to cling to the idea that religion is good.

A common response to this kind of evidence (when there’s even one at all), is that the belief in God is fundamentally good, but people just seem to always get it wrong.  That is, it’s the people that are the problem – not faith itself.  I clearly disagree.  If faith is generally defined as the belief in something without evidence, then how can it be considered a good thing? 

And then there are those who maintain that religious beliefs should be personal.  I disagree there, as well.  If the goal is the search for truth, then we should treat religious claims like any other.  We should demand evidence and research the claims that are being made.  The truth is, of course, that there is no reliable evidence whatsoever for the existence of a supreme being of any sort.  Those that choose to believe in one should admit at least that much. 

Finally, it’s always interesting to me how most religious people can quickly dismiss any religion other than their own.  They readily see the internal and external contradictions and hypocrisy associated with any God other than their own (or, in some cases, even within different interpretations of their own holy books).  Richard Dawkins sums it up nicely in stating that most humans have chosen to disbelieve in thousands of religions (past, present, and most likely, future).  Some of us just go one further.

Also, as Dawkins has expressed in his book, The God Delusion, we should stop being “polite” to people who have indefensible views.  Just as we would correct people that make any wild assertion about math or science without any background, we should ask for more from those that claim to be faithful.  I’d like to think that the tide is turning (in the direction of rationalism), but the last decade or so in the United States is not a good sign.

Hunting for Lost Billions: War Profiteering

BBC News posted a recent article that provides some (though limited) information about some of the profiteering that has been encouraged by the Bush Administration.  From BBC uncovers lost Iraq billions:

While George Bush remains in the White House, it is unlikely the gagging orders will be lifted.

To date, no major US contractor faces trial for fraud or mismanagement in Iraq.

The president’s Democratic opponents are keeping up the pressure over war profiteering in Iraq.

Henry Waxman who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said: “The money that’s gone into waste, fraud and abuse under these contracts is just so outrageous, its egregious.

“It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history.”

In the run-up to the invasion one of the most senior officials in charge of procurement in the Pentagon objected to a contract potentially worth seven billion that was given to Halliburton, a Texan company, which used to be run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president.

Unusually only Halliburton got to bid – and won.

It’s refreshingly objective (and it’s written very much unlike anything that would be published in the U.S.)  Considering Dubya’s seemingly endless list of transgressions, though, I wonder if he or his cronies will be held responsible for any of this.

Reasons for Supporting Republicans

VotingRepublicanCourtesy of Digg, I just saw a very well made video titled I’m Voting Republican.  In just three-and-a-half minutes of YouTube content, the video captures the essence of most Pro-Republican arguments.  It’s entertaining and information.  Here are some quotes (apologies in advance for minor typos).  I’m voting Republican because…

“… if the major pharmaceutical companies’ bottom lines are healthy, then I feel healthy, too.”

“… women just can’t be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies… never, ever, ever.”

“I just don’t feel I deserve health insurance”

[Black couple]: “… because we like a conservative majority in the Supreme Court…”

[Gay woman] “… because I need to be told who I can love”

“… I really enjoy being screwed by utility companies.”

“… we need more minorities in prison.”

“… because Texas needs more billionaires.”

“… sometimes the Constitution is just one big inconvenient headache.”

“… I think the whole world should be run by one big corporation…”

“… because all other countries are inferior to us, and we should start as many wars as we need to keep it that way.”

It’s good stuff, but not quite good enough to keep John McCain from running as a serious Presidential candidate.  The end of the video is a great call to action. The site allows you to register to vote and provides links to some excellent books and the Get Involved page provides some good recommendations.  Now, let’s see if Americans can truly get what we deserve.

MSNBC Poll Shows an Overwhelming Majority Supports Impeachment

At present, an MSNBC Poll is collecting public sentiment about the impeachment of George Bush.  Currently, the overwhelming majority of of the ~660,000 respondents say “Yes”.  For reference, here’s the question:

Do you believe President Bush’s actions justify impeachment?

  • Yes, between the secret spying, the deceptions leading to war and more, there is plenty to justify putting him on trial.
  • No, like any president, he has made a few missteps, but nothing approaching “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
  • No, the man has done absolutely nothing wrong. Impeachment would just be a political lynching.
  • I don’t know.

The “No” options are almost funny – how could anyone believe that the Bush Administration is not responsible for numerous disasters and mismanagement of the United States?  Thankfully, the total “No” responses add up to less than 10%. 

If nothing else, the results of this survey (which is, admittedly, non-scientific), this illustrates the huge disconnect between a supposed democracy and the people that are governed by it.  I hope it makes it obvious that a government “Of the People, By the People, and For the People” requires us all to hold our elected officials accountable.  If justice prevails, Bush won’t be able to sneak away without having to answer for his many crimes.

The Case Against George Bush: Articles of Impeachment

I recently found a compact list of Dennis Kucinich’s Articles of Impeachment, presented to Congress a few days ago (I can’t find the original source, but thanks to whoever typed up the list).  The list is a sad recap of the last ~8 years under the yoke of the Bush Administration:

35 articles of impeachment introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) on June 9, 2008:

  • Article I: Creating a Secret Propaganda Campaign to Manufacture a False Case for War Against Iraq.
  • Article II: Falsely, Systematically, and with Criminal Intent Conflating the Attacks of September 11, 2001, With Misrepresentation of Iraq as a Security Threat as Part of Fraudulent Justification for a War of Aggression.
  • Article III: Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction, to Manufacture a False Case for War.
  • Article IV: Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Posed an Imminent Threat to the United States.
  • Article V: Illegally Misspending Funds to Secretly Begin a War of Aggression.
  • Article VI: Invading Iraq in Violation of the Requirements of HJRes114.
  • Article VII: Invading Iraq Absent a Declaration of War.
  • Article VIII: Invading Iraq, A Sovereign Nation, in Violation of the UN Charter.
  • Article IX: Failing to Provide Troops With Body Armor and Vehicle Armor
  • Article X: Falsifying Accounts of US Troop Deaths and Injuries for Political Purposes
  • Article XI: Establishment of Permanent U.S. Military Bases in Iraq
  • Article XII: Initiating a War Against Iraq for Control of That Nation’s Natural Resources
  • Article XIIII: Creating a Secret Task Force to Develop Energy and Military Policies With Respect to Iraq and Other Countries
  • Article XIV: Misprision of a Felony, Misuse and Exposure of Classified Information And Obstruction of Justice in the Matter of Valerie Plame Wilson, Clandestine Agent of the Central Intelligence Agency
  • Article XV: Providing Immunity from Prosecution for Criminal Contractors in Iraq
  • Article XVI: Reckless Misspending and Waste of U.S. Tax Dollars in Connection With Iraq and US Contractors
  • Article XVII: Illegal Detention: Detaining Indefinitely And Without Charge Persons Both U.S. Citizens and Foreign Captives
  • Article XVIII: Torture: Secretly Authorizing, and Encouraging the Use of Torture Against Captives in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Other Places, as a Matter of Official Policy
  • Article XIX: Rendition: Kidnapping People and Taking Them Against Their Will to “Black Sites” Located in Other Nations, Including Nations Known to Practice Torture
  • Article XX: Imprisoning Children
  • Article XXI: Misleading Congress and the American People About Threats from Iran, and Supporting Terrorist Organizations Within Iran, With the Goal of Overthrowing the Iranian Government
  • Article XXII: Creating Secret Laws
  • Article XXIII: Violation of the Posse Comitatus Act
  • Article XXIV: Spying on American Citizens, Without a Court-Ordered Warrant, in Violation of the Law and the Fourth Amendment
  • Article XXV: Directing Telecommunications Companies to Create an Illegal and Unconstitutional Database of the Private Telephone Numbers and Emails of American Citizens
  • Article XXVI: Announcing the Intent to Violate Laws with Signing Statements
  • Article XXVII: Failing to Comply with Congressional Subpoenas and Instructing Former Employees Not to Comply
  • Article XXVIII: Tampering with Free and Fair Elections, Corruption of the Administration of Justice
  • Article XXIX: Conspiracy to Violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • Article XXX: Misleading Congress and the American People in an Attempt to Destroy Medicare
  • Article XXXI: Katrina: Failure to Plan for the Predicted Disaster of Hurricane Katrina, Failure to Respond to a Civil Emergency
  • Article XXXII: Misleading Congress and the American People, Systematically Undermining Efforts to Address Global Climate Change
  • Article XXXIII: Repeatedly Ignored and Failed to Respond to High Level Intelligence Warnings of Planned Terrorist Attacks in the US, Prior to 911.
  • Article XXXIV: Obstruction of the Investigation into the Attacks of September 11, 2001
  • Article XXXV: Endangering the Health of 911 First Responders

All of this makes me wonder, though: How much more will it take before we hold our government responsible and accountable?  Perhaps it’s too late to significantly limit the damage done by Dubya and his cronies, but what about the future of the United States?  If Bush can get away with this (while we impeached a President for lying about his private life), what won’t Americans tolerate?

Urging Congress to Impeach Dubya

Subsequent to Dennis Kuchinich’s presentations of 35 Articles of Impeachment to Congress, it’s encouraging to see some progress being made toward pressuring our government to take action and to hold our President and his cronies accountable.  One example of how people can get involved is the American Freedom Campaign’s American Freedom Pledge.  You can access also access the Impeachment Petition directly. In better times, citizens wouldn’t need to go to these lengths to get government to enforce laws.  But, these clearly aren’t “better times.”

Kucinich Proposes 35 Articles of Impeachment Against George Bush

For those of us that are bewildered by the fact that Dubya and his cronies have seem to act beyond the reach of any laws (or even the Constitution of the United States), there’s finally some hope on the horizon.  Raw Story reports in Kucinich presents Bush impeachment articles:

“Resolved,” Kucinich then began, “that President George W. Bush be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, and that the following articles of impeachment be exhibited to the United States Senate. …

“In his conduct while President of the United States, George W. Bush, in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and to the best of his ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has committed the following abuses of power…”

The site includes video and a brief (and difficult-to-read) transcript of a portion of it.

AfterDowningStreet.com also provides some interesting links in Impeachment Happening in Congress Right Now!

I have always wondered how those of us that are living today will account for letting the Bush Administration sell out the United States (not to mention human rights, the environment, and a seemingly endless list of global issues).  How will parents respond when their children ask, “Why didn’t anyone do anything?”  There are many people alive today that actively participated in, for example, the Nazi Holocaust.  Unfortunately, I think Americans will use the same standard responses: “Those were different times”, and “No one really knew what was going on.”

Keep in mind that, in saner times, even a few of these accusations would have been taken seriously.  It remains to be seen whether this move will have any impact.  To ask for accountability for the crimes of the Bush Administration seems almost too much to hope for.

Learning at the Creation Museum

American ignorance is, perhaps, at an all-time high.  In the past, I posted about The Creation Museum – a landmark that provides testimony to this fact.  A new article, Exploring the Creation Museum: American’s New Meccas of Fanatical Ignorance provides a powerful (though wordy and highly opinionated) review of a visit to the museum.  From the article:

For those of you who haven’t heard about this yet (and I’m surprised how many people still haven’t), The Creation Museum is the crowning achievement of religious stupidity – a shrine of ignorance that only America’s chewy center could play host to. It’s a $27 million dollar, 60,000 square foot state-of-the-art complex in Kentucky, designed to look and feel exactly like a science/natural history museum. It has elaborate dioramas of animals and nature, audio-visual presentations, animatronic dinosaurs, fossil replicas, diagrams of geological formations, and even a gift shop. But one small detail sets it distinctly apart from other science museums you’ve probably visited: There is not a single shred of science on display within its walls. Worse still, its very existence is a bold mockery of science itself.

The “exhibits” show dinosaurs coexisting with humans, and provide “science-like” explanations for things that science has clearly explained to thinking peoples’ satisfaction.  Ironically, this really does test visitors’ faith: They can just to believe in a supernatural world, or they can choose to think study it and find real answers.  It seems that the implicit answer for most people (at least those in the Bible Belt) is obvious.

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