Upcoming Film: Religulous (Bill Maher & Larry Charles)

Slashfilm reports on an upcoming documentary, titled Religulous.  This looks like it’s sure to be entertaining and informative.  You can see a trailer at the Religulous Movie Trailer post.  Also, check out the poster.

Larry Charles had this to say:

Comedian, acerbic commentator, raconteur, skeptic, seeker Bill Maher and I set off in search of answers to these questions in a raunchy, rude, irreverent, outrageous, and shocking nonfiction film about the greatest fiction ever told.

Set to the rhythms of “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Jesus Walks,” from the Western Wall to the Vatican, from self-professed messiahs to self professed Pariahs, we will not only expose the hypocrisy and corruption in organized religion but the absurdly hilarious logic that holds it together.

… and, from Bill Maher:

Since starting on Politically Incorrect in 1993, it has been my pleasure over the last decade and a half to make organized religion one of my favorite targets.  I often explained to people, “I don’t need to make fun of religion, it makes fun of itself.”  And, then I go ahead and make fun of it too, just for laughs.

With religious fanatics like George Bush and Osama bin Laden now taking over the world, it seemed to me in recent years that this issue — this cause of debunking the man behind the curtain — needed to have a larger, more insistent and focused forum than late night television.  I wanted to make a documentary, and I wanted it to be funny.  In fact, since there is nothing more ridiculous than the ancient mythological stories that live on as today’s religions, this movie would try to be a real knee slapper.  Unless, of course, you’re religious, then you might not like it.

Perhaps the only problem is that we’ll have to wait until October to see the film.  By then, Jesus Freaks might have taken over the world and have suppressed the film.  Perhaps we should pray for an early release of the film?


The Pursuit of [too much] Happiness?

CNN Money recently posted an article that I found to be fairly interesting.  The studies (and debate) over achieving happiness seem to continue, but there’s some new evidence covered in the article, Want to be rich? Don’t get too happy.  The idea is that, while humans tend to want to achieve the “ultimate” level satisfaction with life, that’s not necessarily a good goal.  From the article:

Why is it better to be happy but not euphoric? Diener’s take is that happy – but not too happy – people are strivers. They’re interested in making the sorts of changes necessary to get ahead in life, including engaging in competition (not always a happy pursuit), obtaining more education and changing their behavior when what they’re doing now isn’t working. The 10s, on the other hand, are too complacent to adjust enough.

“When you compare moderate optimists with extreme ones, one of the biggest areas of difference is in self-control,” says David Robinson, a lead researcher on the Duke study. The extreme optimists overspent. They accumulated debt. They didn’t save. They were more likely to be day-traders. On the other hand, moderate optimists, recognizing the possibility of a run of bad luck, saved more than extreme optimists did.

To me, it sounds like this research sheds some light on the unbridled greed we tend to see in the United States.  The Bush Administration is probably the prime example, with the manufacturing of war and the selling of our nation to private interests and foreign powers.  We also have a long history of abuses, of which Enron certainly must be included.  Most of the people responsible for these transgressions are rich (ridiculously rich, if there ever were such a thing).  Yet, they seem all too ready to compromise their morality (not to mention laws) to get more money and power.  If only we would all get off of the happiness “treadmill” and settle for less-than-perfect…

Voting Record Shows: McCain = Bush 2.0

It’s surprising to me that, after the fiasco that was the Bush Administration, a Republican candidate can be taken seriously in the United States.  In showing that Americans have learned very little from the past eight years, it looks like John McCain actually has a chance at winning the Presidency.  What will this mean?  In short, more of the same.  ProgressiveMediaUSA provides some statistics in an article titled John McShame:

CQ’s Presidential Support numbers do not include votes that legislators miss – in other words, missing a vote on an issue Bush supported did not lower McCain’s score. Now, it is a well known fact that Senator McCain misses the most votes in the Senate. In fact, he was crowned the most absent Senator in 2008. Therefore, when John McCain even bothered to show up and vote in the Senate – which wasn’t often – he voted with Bush 100% of the time.

John McCain and George Bush believe the same things on virtually every issue – the list of their agreements goes on for pages. But a better judge of a politician’s views is not how he talks, but how he votes. John McCain – when it counted and when he showed up in the Senate to do his job in 2008 – never deviated from George Bush’s position. Not once. 100%.

I hope no one needs to ask why siding with Bush is disastrous.  Keep in mind that this guy believes in creationism, has given numerous tax cuts to the rich and is practically owned by private interest lobbyists.  He unapologetically wages war based on manufactured evidence, cares little about the environment and seems completely ignorant of our economy and its direction.  Bush believes in faith-based programs and that God talks to him personally.  He is generally regarded by historians as either the worst President in U.S. history (most others rank him second worst).

McCain has quite a legacy to support here.  Of course, the real blame should go to American Republicans.  I wonder: What more would this party have to do to the U.S. in order to for the electorate to ask for some kind of accountability?  Smaller empires have crumbled under far less strain.

[Even More] Bored of Education: Teaching of Creationism in Schools

While it’s tempting to dismiss creationists (also known as those that subscribe to the belief of “Intelligent Design”), the sad truth is that they’re hardly the lunatic fringe.  Rather, beliefs in mystical, supernatural forces that tinker with the world (perhaps to trick us into believing falsehoods like evolution) are commonplace.  Popular Science reports on recent findings in One in Eight U.S. Biology Teachers Teaches Creationism.  Keeping in mind that this practice is illegal (and for good reason), here are the results as stated in the article:

The results of the first national survey of teachers about evolution in their classrooms are in. Darwin would quiver in his boots to learn that in this day and age, one in eight American biology teachers teach creationism and intelligent design as a sound alternative to his theory. In fact, 13 percent of the country’s teachers think they can run an excellent biology class without even mentioning Darwin or evolution. A few findings of note:

  • The surveyed teachers spent an average of 13.7 classroom hours per year on general evolutionary processes in their biology classes.
  • The majority spent no more than five hours a year on human evolution, and 17 percent did not cover it all.
  • Only two percent of teachers did not teach about evolution, human or otherwise, at all.
  • Thirteen percent of teachers thought an excellent biology course could exist without mentioning Darwin or evolutionary theory.
  • Twenty-five percent of teachers said that they devoted at least one or two classroom hours to creationism or intelligent design. About half of this subset—one in eight biology teachers—taught it not in critique but as a “valid, scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species” and one that “many reputable scientists” endorse.
  • Sixteen percent of all teachers surveyed believe personally in the “young earth” story of origins: that human beings were created by God in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. About 48 percent of the general public believes this.

The survey, which was conducted by a team of Penn State political scientists last spring, assessed 939 randomly sampled U.S. biology teachers. It appears in PLoS Biology.

Texas: Bored of Education?

Whenever you’re in the mood for a good laugh, you need look no further than the United States educational system.  A nation that can spend trillions on a manufactured war puts so little into (and gets so little back from) it’s educational system.  As a case in point, a post from Bad Astronomy helps outline the sad state of affairs.  From That’s it. Texas really is doomed:

Well, it’s truly official: Texas is doomed.

Why? I’ve talked before about the guy that’s the head of the State Board of Education. His name is Don McLeroy, and he’s perhaps the least qualified guy on the planet to head a BoE. He’s a creationist. He thinks science is evil. The list of his disqualifications to be in charge of a BoE would be so big… well, it would be Texas-sized big.

I predicted nothing but doom and shame for the BoE this year, and it brings me no joy at all to say I was right. McLeroy’s latest antic — though I would call it the first shot fired in a war, a war on reality — was over, of all things, the English standards. According to an article in the Dallas Morning News, teachers and experts had worked for two and a half to three years on new standards for English. So what did McLeroy do? He ignored all that work entirely, and let “social conservatives” on the board draft a new set overnight.

Overnight? Think that’s better than Standards teachers and experts spent nearly three years on?

We know where McLeroy stands there. Texas is actually and seriously looking down a cliff of educational repression that will doom the children there for the next decade. I really can’t be more serious about this. If I were a parent of a young child in Texas right now, I’d move out rather than let her be educated there.

The result?  The Board approved the measure, 9 to 6.

Well many might laugh at this (and we really should, at least a little), the truth is that we’re breeding even more ignorance in this nation.  On a side note, many of the comments for the post offer some interesting views on the issue.

U.S. High Schools Schools Still Teaching Creationism

There’s probably no better indicator of the United States’ slide into irrationality and a world clouded by religion than the controversy over the teaching of creationism (aka, “Intelligent Design”) in American schools.  While the legal rulings are clear (that Creationism and ID are religious views that should not be taught in public schools), the ignorance of teachers seems to dominate what’s really being taught.  LiveScience.com reports in Creationism Creeps into U.S. Classrooms

One in eight U.S. high school biology teachers presents creationism or intelligent design in a positive light in the classroom, a new survey shows, despite a federal court’s recent ban against it.

And a quarter of the nation’s high school biology teachers say they devoted at least one or two classroom hours to the topics, with about half presenting it favorably and half presenting it as an invalid alternative.

Those results are part of a nationally representative, random sample of 939 teachers who filled out surveys between March 5, 2007, and May 1, 2007 on questions concerning the teaching of evolution. The figures have a 3 percent margin of error.

The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, also revealed that between 12 percent and 16 percent of the nation’s biology teachers are creationists, and about one in six of them have a “young Earth” orientation, which means they believe that human beings were created by God in their present form within the past 10,000 years.

Scientists, on the other hand, agree that humans evolved from a common primate ancestor in a process that stretches back tens of millions of years. The theory of evolution on which this is based is one of the most well-supported theories in science.

The remainder of the statistics and information paint a scary picture.  For example, 38% of adults believe that superstitious theories should be taught in schools.  It’s sad that, despite the clear outcome of the Dover Trial, so many Americans remain in the Dark Ages.  It all makes a return to rationality and reason to seem more distant than ever before.

Wanted for Murder: G. "Dubya" Bush

The American people, as a whole, seem to be either accepting or ignorant of the many crimes committed by the Bush Administration.  The evidence is clear, yet no one seems to have demanded any kind of explanation from Dubya and his cronies (at least not successfully).  The rest of the world does seem to get it, though: There are nations that are calling for Bush to be tried as a war criminal and small groups in the U.S. that are calling for some level of accountability for this disastrous Presidency.  On that point, the Huffington Post reports in The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder.  From the article:

Perhaps the most amazing thing to me about the belief of many that George Bush lied to the American public in starting his war with Iraq is that the liberal columnists who have accused him of doing this merely make this point, and then go on to the next paragraph in their columns. Only very infrequently does a columnist add that because of it Bush should be impeached. If the charges are true, of course Bush should have been impeached, convicted, and removed from office. That’s almost too self-evident to state. But he deserves much more than impeachment. I mean, in America, we apparently impeach presidents for having consensual sex outside of marriage and trying to cover it up. If we impeach presidents for that, then if the president takes the country to war on a lie where thousands of American soldiers die horrible, violent deaths and over 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians, including women and children, even babies are killed, the punishment obviously has to be much, much more severe. That’s just common sense. If Bush were impeached, convicted in the Senate, and removed from office, he’d still be a free man, still be able to wake up in the morning with his cup of coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice and read the morning paper, still travel widely and lead a life of privilege, still belong to his country club and get standing ovations whenever he chose to speak to the Republican faithful. This, for being responsible for over 100,000 horrible deaths?* For anyone interested in true justice, impeachment alone would be a joke for what Bush did.

Al Franken on the David Letterman show said, “Bush lied to us to take us to war” and quickly went on to another subject, as if he was saying “Bush lied to us in his budget.”

In Bush’s two terms as Texas governor, he signed death warrants for an incredible 152 out of 153 executions against convicted murderers, the majority of whom only killed one single person. The only death sentence Bush commuted was for one of the many murders that mass murderer Henry Lucas had been convicted of. Bush was informed that Lucas had falsely confessed to this particular murder and was innocent, his conviction being improper. So in 152 out of 152 cases, Bush refused to show mercy even once, finding that not one of the 152 convicted killers should receive life imprisonment instead of the death penalty. Bush’s perfect 100 percent execution rate is highly uncommon even for the most conservative law-and-order governors.

[Note: The article is excerpted from a book: The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder by Vincent Bugliosi Published by Vanguard Press]

I think the commentary is right on, and hits on some important points.  For one thing, Americans seem to just laugh off high crimes against humanity.  Just about every comedian has taken a stab at Bush for orchestrating torture in secret prisons.  The result?  Laughs.  I’m not sure when or how this became funny, but it keeps me from watching shows like Jon Stewart (an otherwise intelligent and entertaining show).  As mentioned in the article, most of the responses from even enlightened writers is, “So what?”  Many of these are the same people that ridiculed Bill Clinton and tarnished his name in history.  We’re no strangers to impeachment, but it seems that killing brown people that are far away takes second stage to gasoline prices.

Sadly, it’s looking increasingly like no charges will be filed against Bush.  He won’t even be questioned (and if he is, Americans will be satisfied with his refusal to answer questions).  This isn’t a small issue, and it’s one that calls into question the responsibilities of individuals in a democracy.  Perhaps we should change the oft-repeated slogan to “…and justice for some.”

Helping Troubled Mortgage Owners

If there was ever any question about the Bush Administration’s motives, perhaps the treatment of the sub-prime mortgage disaster would help clear up the issue.  We have already seen the architects of this abuse of power receive record bonuses.  And Bush was quick to make sure that the mortgage companies’ profits were protected.  It took months before he even thought about helping actual people affected by unbridled profiteering.  But certainly it would be expensive to help people who really need it, right?  That doesn’t seem to be the case.

MSN Money reports in A bailout that wouldn’t cost you a dime.  From the article:

Congress is considering a plan that could prevent foreclosures for about half a million homeowners. The legislation, which passed the House earlier this month, would do the following:

  • Allow strapped borrowers to refinance into more-affordable, federally guaranteed mortgages.
  • Aid only homeowners, not investors or speculators.
  • Require those homeowners to split any future home profits 50-50 with the government.
  • Cost taxpayers an estimated $1.7 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

That price tag isn’t as hefty as it seems when compared with how much the rest of us could lose because of foreclosures. Homeowners who keep their houses, but who live in areas where foreclosures are rising, are expected to lose $356 billion in home-equity wealth in the next two years as neighborhood foreclosures whittle away at the value of their homes.

What’s frustrating is that lawmakers had a solution that could have helped even more homeowners and would have cost you, the taxpayer, exactly nothing. This free-to-you plan would have allowed bankruptcy judges to modify mortgage terms and helped as many as 600,000 homeowners avoid foreclosure.

Who talked Congress out of this solution? Why, the very lenders and mortgage brokers who got us into this mess.

None of this should come as a big surprise to anyone that has been objectively watching politics in the United States.  The people are left to fend for themselves while organizations are allow to abuse their power and seem to have a right to receive rewards for it.  Clearly, few people are blameless in this situation, but mortgage borrowers were clearly mislead.  Brokers have been unethical in their lending practices, but there’s little chance that they’ll pay for their actions.

A common tactic used by dictators throughout history is to keep people poor and ignorant – a goal on which the Bush Administration seems to be working quite diligently.  The only risk, of course, is when the disparity in wealth becomes too great.  I can only guess what Dubya’s version of Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake!” affront would be.  You can be sure it won’t be grammatically correct (assuming he writes it), but Americans as a whole will still likely ignore or tolerate it.

Tales from the Dark Side of Human Psychology

Psychological experiments can reveal a lot about how we, as a species, think and act.  You only have to look at politics in the United States to see how the general populace (the majority of which can be considered educated) can condone violations of the Constitution, circumvention of the Bill of Rights and unprovoked wars based on manufactured evidence.  Even so-called “modern” views of human psychology seem to peg it as something nebulous and inexplicable and irrationally seems to reign supreme. 

I have written before about several enlightening psychological experiments that elucidate how human beings really think about situations.  Crack.com, of all sites, provides a great summary of some of the most interesting and relevant research in 5 Psychological Experiments that Prove Humanity is Doomed.  The article highlights research that shows that humans tend not to help others.  It shows how people will actually torture and murder others based only on the mere suggestion of someone in a lab coat (and who has no authority over the subject whatsoever).

My only issue with the article (other than it’s shock-based writing style), is that it assumes that we won’t learn anything from these studies.  Humanity is clearly doomed if that’s the case, and the recent transgressions in American foreign policy are but one small example.  I’d like to think that rationality will eventually prevail, and that we’ll find ways to understand and tame the human propensity for apathy and violence.  I just wonder how bad things will have to get before we start to make that move.

McCain Supporter: Islam Must Die

In recent months, even the mainstream media hasn’t been able to ignore the horrific impacts of religion on American politics.  To me, it seems clear that Bush’s Holy War in the Middle East is something that the majority of Americans agree with (or at least choose to allow).  But certainly there should be a backlash against this, right?  In most ways, McCain seems to be every bit as fueled by war-related fantasies as is Dubya.  Therefore, I think it’s important to consider the views of his supporters and influencers.

BraveNewFilms.org reports in McCain’s “Spiritual Guide” Wants America to Destroy Islam:

You may have heard of Rev. John Hagee, the McCain supporter who said God created Hurricane Katrina to punish New Orleans for its homosexual “sins.”   Well now meet Rev. Rod Parsley, the televangelist megachurch pastor from Ohio who hates Islam.  According to David Corn of Mother Jones, Parsley has called on Christians to wage war against Islam, which he considers to be a “false religion.”  In the past, Parsley has also railed against the separation of church and state, homosexuals, and abortion rights, comparing Planned Parenthood to Nazis

Since the media won’t question McCain about his deeply bigoted pastor, it’s up to you to call attention to this issue.  Make McCain’s pastor problem a major story by forwarding this video to your family, friends, and colleagues.

We can’t let McCain get away with aligning himself with a religious leader who’s called for an all-out war on Islam, someone who draws no distinctions between Muslims and violent Islamic extremists.  Now is the crucial time to act.

Most Americans seem to believe that Islam is a violent religion and is a threat to their own views.  Surprisingly, most of these people seem to be able to overlook the horrific acts in the Old Testament and the amount of violence in the New Testament.  Studies have shown that few Christian Americans read the Bible, and that gives hate-mongers clear reign to influence politics.  At the very least, we should be asking questions about what McCain – someone who has stated that the doesn’t think Americans would mind another 1,000 years of war in the Middle East – really thinks.

War Profiteering: The Private Military

The idea of having private militaries under the employment of the United States is scary enough.  But what about the way in which these contractors are milking old-fashioned cronyism?  Mother Jones reports in Contractors Gone Wild:

Allegations of widespread mismanagement and corruption among private contractors in Iraq are nothing new; if anything, tales of cronyism, over-billing, and embezzlement have become so frequent that our national tolerance for them seems only to have increased as the Iraq War has drawn on. Even so, the testimony earlier this week of three whistleblowers before the Senate’s Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) stands out for the sheer outrageousness of their accusations—namely that U.S. private contractors looted Iraqi palaces and ministries, stole military equipment, fenced supplies destined for U.S. troops, and even operated a prostitution ring that may have contributed to the death of fellow contractor. Yet despite its focus on such salacious matters as sex and corruption, the session earned little media attention.

The article continues with some truly outrageous actions, including embezzlement and profiteering.  It sounds like the American people are OK with this – after all, war seems to have become part of our culture.  Sadly, there’s little chance that any of these criminals will be made to answer for their actions (much less receive what they really deserve).  It’s just business as usual in Bush’s America.

McCain: Iraq War was for Oil

It seems to be difficult to continue and perpetuate lies and misleading statements.  Perhaps that’s why George Bush says so little to the American public – the less he talks, the less chance there is of another visible blunder.  Crooks and Liars reports on John McCain finally “slipping” and telling the truth in John McCain admits Iraq War was over oil.  McCain’s statement:

“My friends, I will have an energy policy which will eliminate our dependence on oil from Middle East that will then prevent us from having ever to send our young men and women into conflict again in the Middle East.”

And related commentary:

Think about how amazing this is. McCain is essentially saying that our quest to “spread democracy” throughout the Middle East is a sham. It has nothing to do with freeing oppressed people, or protecting Israel, or defending ourselves against future attacks. It’s about gaining control of foreign oil. Stunning. Will this get any significant media play?

It’s unlikely that this will have any impact on the majority of voters, most of whom can’t be bothered with facts, evidence and reason.

The Value of a Bachelor’s Degree

I have often question the value of a college degree.  While I have one (and do think I have benefited from the education), the soaring costs of four-year colleges raises questions related to the Return on Investment of making the choice to go to college.  A well-written essay, America’s Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor’s Degree provides some very interesting statistics.

I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later. That figure is from a study cited by Clifford Adelman, a former research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education and now a senior research associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Yet four-year colleges admit and take money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year!

Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education. So it’s not surprising that when you hop into a cab or walk into a restaurant, you’re likely to meet workers who spent years and their family’s life savings on college, only to end up with a job they could have done as a high-school dropout.

Such students are not aberrations. Today, amazingly, a majority of the students whom colleges admit are grossly underprepared. Only 23 percent of the 1.3 million high-school graduates of 2007 who took the ACT examination were ready for college-level work in the core subjects of English, math, reading, and science.

The opinion also provides some excellent recommendations for trying to make colleges more accountable.  Clearly, universities make money (and increasing amounts of it) regardless of the quality of their “product”.  With some of these suggestions, it’s hopeful that we can make a more educated decision about four-year college education and it’s potential benefits and drawbacks.

Quantifying Excessive Pay for CEO’s

In recent years, we have seen an explosion in the amount of pay given to company leaders vs. compensation given to their employees.  In some countries, this ratio is capped.  In Bush’s America, however, the apparent disregard for maintaining equity and a middle class seems to have taken over.   Conde Nast Portfolio.com helps readers visualize the numbers in What Excessive Pay Package? 

To spare any suspense, in 1970 U.S. CEO’s were paid 28 times more than the average worker.  In 2005, it has increased to 465 times.  Personally, I wish that our society would look down on people that seem to want or need ludicrous amounts of cash.  Instead, we reward the same CEO’s that have caused the downfall of numerous companies and have led us to national crises such as the sub-prime mortgage situation.  Perhaps if we gave all of our money to CEOs, there would be nothing left for them to lose?

Update (05/04/2008): A related story from ABC News, CEOs Rake It In When Their Companies Tank, provides some more statistics of how much CEOs (even the worst ones) make in income.

MapLight.org: Tracking the Best Politicians Money Can Buy

Money and politics in the U.S. are almost inextricably related.  Even the most optimistic among us realizes that political decisions are bought by private interests.  There’s perhaps no better example in history than that of the Bush Administration.  Laws and policy are created to favor the few (but rich), who end up having a profound impact on the entire nation. 

We all know this, but when it comes time to look at details, they’re extremely difficult to quantify.  For example, does a particular representative really believe that we shouldn’t protect the environment, or did someone pay her/him to state that?  And how often to politicians flip-flip on issues, driven by currents of cash?  The majority of the data we need to dig up the truth is freely available (often by law), but it’s notoriously difficult to make correlations.

A new startup, MAPLight.org is hoping to change all that.  Its small group of developers provide valuable (and often shocking) insight into the effects of contributions on politicians’ voting records.  From the site:

MAPLight.org brings together campaign contributions and how legislators vote, providing an unprecedented window into the connections between money and politics. We currently cover the California Legislature and U.S. Congress.

You can find out much more about this organization in eWeek’s article, Public Interest Mashup Follows Political Money Trail.

The information is extremely insightful and should be used by every voter to help make decisions.  I could even see the evolution of an “honesty score” based on voting records vs. campaign contributions. 

There are two challenges, however, that I see with this.  First, the American people are just not accustomed to using facts and evidence to make their decisions.  They’ll vote for George Bush, knowing full well that the guy is an idiot (and even after he had sufficiently proven it in his first term).  They’ll listen to religious zealots scream and yell about minor scientific research issues.  They believe that God is the answer to our problems.  No amount of research will help resolve that issue.

The other challenge is one related to gaining support for this initiative.  In a more progressive nation, this would be a government program.  One or more politicians would decide to support transparency and even the most crooked officials would have a hard time disagreeing with it.  The total cost would be far less than what we spend on Iraq every minute of every day. 

Unfortunately, if recent history is any teacher, I wouldn’t hold out hope for an initiative like this to change the face of American politics.  We have gone too far in the wrong direction, and restoring rational thought will likely take decades (assuming that it ever happens).  Still, it’s great to see innovative groups light MAPLight.org try to address the problem.

Locked Up in the U.S.A.: Record Numbers of Inmates

It’s no secret that the United States is engulfed in a culture of fear.  From Amber Alerts to a resurgence of homophobia, we seem to be scared of everything.  Local news stations in small towns will go far out of their way to report on any death that might have occurred.  And it’s not uncommon for violent news to dominate the airways.  Unfortunately, this often trumps more important and relevant news, like tax cuts for the rich and scientific research.

Could this be one of the reasons for the large numbers of Americans that are in prison?  The New York Times reports on statistics in American Exception: Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations’:

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. 

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

Criminologists and legal experts here and abroad point to a tangle of factors to explain America’s extraordinary incarceration rate: higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net. Even democracy plays a role, as judges — many of whom are elected, another American anomaly — yield to populist demands for tough justice.

We have far fewer prisoners that the entire nation of China.  A lot of this information seems consistent with statistics cited in Michael Moore’s movie, Bowling for Columbine.  That movie explored Americans’ obsession with violence.

The sad thing is that imprisoning people should be a last resort.  The cost of housing a prisoner is tremendous (not to mention the lost opportunity cost of having an individual that cannot contribute to society in any way).  So what’s the cause?  The article offers some theories, but I think the rise of religion in the United States is partly to blame.  We showed how cowardly and blinded we could be after the September 11th attacks.  We follow a leader who says that God told him to attack a nation, completely unprovoked.  We watch for Amber Alerts that state that a “Gray Volkswagen” was involved in a kidnapping (how could that help anyone?).  Christians fear that a God that supposedly loves them would torture them for all eternity if they break some arbitrary rules.  When we can identify these people, why not lock them up to keep them away from the “good” people?

Living in any society comes with risks.  Unfortunately, it looks like Americans are so terrified of crime, that we would spend amazing amounts of money on removing people from society.

BushCheney’s Bungling: By the Numbers

HightowerLowdown.org has recently published an excellent article that provides a breakdown of the State of our Union before and after the disastrous Bush/Cheney administration.  You can read about the details in What 8 years of BushCheney have done to our economy.  I have been paying attention to many of these numbers over the past several years, but some of these stats are just amazing.

  2001 2008
Corporate profits before tax $719.2 billion $1,769.5 billion
Corporate profits after tax $503.8 billion $1,351.9 billion

U.S. trade deficit per year

$380 billion

$759 billion

Net worth of the wealthiest 1%

$186 billion

$816 billion

Median pre-tax household income



Americans without health insurance 38.4 million 46.9 million
Average cost/year at a public 4-year college $8,400 $13,000
Average price of a gallon of gas $1.47 $3.14

Other “greatest hits” on the list, include an increase in military spending of 7.5%.  That’s astronomical.  Keep in mind that the U.S. was at peace before our manufactured invasion of Iraq. 

We can sum up most of these statistics by observing that just about anything that would be considered progressive or good for the citizens of the U.S. (healthcare, reasonable wages, cost of living) have suffered tremendously.  On the other hand, we’ve got another military disaster on our hands.  Is it worth the cost?

No More Doubt: The Bush Administration Approved Torture

It seems that George Bush and his cronies have been able to stay in power, at least partially, thanks to some invisible level of doubt.  Perhaps he didn’t really violate the terms of our Constitution.  Or perhaps he has some (sane) reason for waging war on nations based on manufactured evidence.  Even Bush himself seems to think that history will remember him as a hero (an idea that’s as ludicrous as his foreign policy failures). 

In recent days, however, clear testimony and evidence has [re]surfaced about King George and the use of torture.  From EmptyWheel’s post, Remember the Torture Tapes? :

In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.

The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of “combined” interrogation techniques — using different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time — on terrorist suspects who proved difficult to break, sources said.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Daily Kos also reports in Signed By Bush, ALLOWING TORTURE, Memo Shows Bush NOT ‘Insulated’.  One of the most relevant quotes, in my opinion, is from George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley.  From the post:

On Countdown last night, George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley emphasized that there was a torture program and that it was authorized “AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL”.

Turley said, about the “NSC Principals Committee” that discussed torture at a grotesquely specific level of detail, “this is like a meeting of the badda bing club”.

Turley stated, bluntly,”This was a torture program… and it goes right to the President’s desk.

But Turley went even further than that:

Olberman: You said it goes to president Bush’s desk here… Is it the smoking gun that president Bush authorized torture by the United States of America ?”

Turley: “We really don’t have much of a question about the president’s role here. He’s never denied that he was fully informed of these measures. He in fact, early on in his presidency, he seemed to brag that they were using harsh and tough methods. And I don’t think there’s any doubt that he was aware of this. The only doubt is simply whether anybody cares enough to do something about it.”

The last statement is the most relevant.  We all know how wrong all of this is, but a nation that impeached a President for lying about his personal life seems unwilling to test whether our current leader is a war criminal that is responsible for crimes against humanity.  In keeping with recent American patterns of fear and a rejection of logic and evidence, it seems unlikely that anything will come of this.  Perhaps other nations would have to call for Bush to stand trial for his crimes before anything is done.  Even then, it seems that we have let him get away with it.  And, of course, we have paved the way for future Presidents (or dictators) to destroy the United States.

Update (04/24/2008): It looks like at least one member of the press isn’t afraid to ask direct questions about Bush’s war crimes.  ThinkProgress reports in  ‘Thomas Breaks Press’s 14 Day Silence On Bush’s Torture Approval.

Checking National Priorities: The Cost of Bush’s War

While kings, dictators, and ruthless monarchs throughout history have often bled their nations dry by creating needless and pointless wars, there have always been people that stood against these actions.  In the United States, the Bush Administration has pushed the country into a tremendous amount of debt over a manufactured war that has left their friends rich and the majority of their electors in a national crisis.  In many previous posts, I have highlighted the staggering cost of the War in Iraq.  As the situation shows no signs of improving, I feel compelled to post additional resources.

The National Priorities Project provides a counter of the The War in Iraq Costs.  It serves the noble purpose of trying to illustrate to a largely ignorant population the vast damage that has been done to the United States within the last decade.  In order to help “localize” these effects, visitors can choose a location (such as U.S. city or state) and see a comparison of the costs of our war-mongering.  For example, here’s a result of the “trade-off” we’ve made when comparing total Iraq War spending approved to date against positive things that could have been done with the money:

Taxpayers in New York City, New York have paid $17.5 billion for the Iraq War thus far. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided:

  • 3,219,103 People with Health Care OR
  • 32,680,970 Homes with Renewable Electricity OR
  • 336,904 Public Safety Officers OR
  • 265,842 Music and Arts Teachers OR
  • 2,848,538 Scholarships for University Students OR
  • 919 New Elementary Schools OR
  • 99,228 Affordable Housing Units OR
  • 6,099,879 Children with Health Care OR
  • 1,988,816 Head Start Places for Children OR
  • 202,181 Elementary School Teachers OR
  • 262,346 Port Container Inspectors

Keep in mind that these numbers are for one U.S. city (albeit the largest one). It’s also based only on funds that have already been approved for attacking Iraq (the Bush Administration is constantly asking for more money, with no end in sight).

Of course, Bush’s disasters are hardly confined to the area of old-fashioned violence.  Here are results based on “tax cuts for the riches 10% in FY 2009”:

Taxpayers in Texas will pay $8.8 billion for tax cuts for the richest 10% in FY 2009. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided:

  • 2,006,539 People with Health Care OR
  • 6,691,523 Homes with Renewable Electricity OR
  • 203,516 Public Safety Officers OR
  • 154,256 Music and Arts Teachers OR
  • 1,151,612 Scholarships for University Students OR
  • 799 New Elementary Schools OR
  • 104,757 Affordable Housing Units OR
  • 3,773,943 Children with Health Care OR
  • 1,259,575 Head Start Places for Children OR
  • 164,778 Elementary School Teachers OR
  • 141,210 Port Container Inspectors

Sadly, the American people have stood by and allowed all of this to happen.  It’s like we can’t even imagine what beneficial social programs could (or used to) do for the benefit of people. 

My Personal Experience: A Message from God

There’s no shortage of funny and relevant quotes about atheism (I’ll post more in the near future).  Recently, I was thinking about something that several of my “faithful” (that is, religious) friends tend to say: “Open your heart and listen to what God is trying to tell you.”  They then allude to conversations with the Almighty – a benevolent being who apparently wouldn’t hesitate to torture you for all eternity if you question his existence. 

Of course, this one-way “conversation” can apply to just about anything, from making financial decisions, to acceptance of violence and torture, and to deciding on one’s outlook on the world.  All reason, logic, and evidence points to the fact that there is no such creature.  But, assuming that one did exist (admittedly, a huge leap), this God would have given free-thinking humans not only the ability and motivation to question it, but also the backing facts and evidence. 

So, in response, I’d like to propose the following:

Religious people often tell me to listen to what God is trying to tell me. Assuming that such a Supreme Being exists, the message appears to be clear: “I don’t exist.”

I can only hope someone finds it clever enough to quote me. After all, if people can take their cues from the Bible…

Historians: Bush is Worst President in History

It’s always amazing to me that people continue to tolerate George Bush’s Presidency.  Perhaps some Americans think that he’s almost out of the White House, and that we should just sit back and wait it out.  But there’s still an incredible amount of damage that he and his puppet-masters can do, and the thought that King George will get away with all of his many crimes is appalling to me.

While most of us seem to hope that Bush was history already, it appears that historians can agree that his administration has been a disaster.  The History News Network reports in HNN Poll: 61% of Historians Rate the Bush Presidency Worst:

A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that the share of the American public that approves of President George W. Bush has dropped to a new low of 28 percent.

An unscientific poll of professional historians completed the same week produced results far worse for a president clinging to the hope that history will someday take a kinder view of his presidency than does contemporary public opinion.

In an informal survey of 109 professional historians conducted over a three-week period through the History News Network, 98.2 percent assessed the presidency of Mr. Bush to be a failure while 1.8 percent classified it as a success.

Asked to rank the presidency of George W. Bush in comparison to those of the other 41 American presidents, more than 61 percent of the historians concluded that the current presidency is the worst in the nation’s history. Another 35 percent of the historians surveyed rated the Bush presidency in the 31st to 41st category, while only four of the 109 respondents ranked the current presidency as even among the top two-thirds of American administrations.

Those are the statistics.  Hopefully the complaints are fairly obvious.  However, here’s one particularly well-worded summary:

“No individual president can compare to the second Bush,” wrote one [historian]. “Glib, contemptuous, ignorant, incurious, a dupe of anyone who humors his deluded belief in his heroic self, he has bankrupted the country with his disastrous war and his tax breaks for the rich, trampled on the Bill of Rights, appointed foxes in every henhouse, compounded the terrorist threat, turned a blind eye to torture and corruption and a looming ecological disaster, and squandered the rest of the world’s goodwill. In short, no other president’s faults have had so deleterious an effect on not only the country but the world at large.”

But that’s just one “review” of his presidency.  I would encourage people to read the others to see if there’s any part of it with which they disagree.

Of course, Americans have grown into a habit of ignoring professionals and experts.  Along with reason, logic, and a reliance on evidence, these things seem to be just annoying aspects of living in our universe.  It’s safe to assume that few Americans will care about what historians say.  Still, the fact that we’ll allow the Bush Administration to continue to damage the nation makes me wonder: What won’t American accept or tolerate?  The list is getting shorter…

The OUT Campaign: Support Atheism


Part of the challenge with atheism is that many of us are too scared to speak up in public (does this sound familiar?).  If you’re interested in voicing your opinion on atheism, please visit The OUT Campaign, an organization that encourages atheists to Come OUT, Reach OUT, Speak OUT, Keep OUT, and Stand OUT.  I strongly agree with the site’s message that there are far more atheists out there than most people would like to recognize.  If you have a blog consider adding the Scarlet Letter of Atheism to your site and adding it to the Campaign’s BlogRoll.

Most Americans Finally Understand: 4 out of 5 Think America is Off Track

From the “better late than never” department, Reuters reports in 81 percent of Americans think country on “wrong track”.  From the survey of approximately 1,400 people:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Four out of five Americans believe things are “on the wrong track” in the United States, the gloomiest outlook in about 20 years, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll released on Thursday.

The poll found that 81 percent of respondents felt “things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track.” That was up from 69 percent last year and 35 percent in early 2003.

Only 4 percent of survey respondents said the country was better off than it was five years ago, while 78 percent said it was worse, the newspaper said.

The Times said Americans were more unhappy with the country’s direction than at any time since the survey started in the early 1990s.

I can only wonder what took the majority of the United States to come to this startling conclusion.  It seems that the state of the economy is the most important concern for most Americans.  Never mind that we invaded a nation for no real reason and based on manufactured evidence.  It doesn’t really matter that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died since our attacks.  And we should probably sweep the trillions of dollars that the war will cost under the rug.  What about all of the bail-outs and record-setting bonuses for oil company and sub-prime lending organizations’ CEOs?  The Bush Administration has given dramatic and sweeping tax cuts to the extremely rich and has worked hard to all but eliminate the middle class.

But, when gasoline prices start to rise and average home prices fall, people seem to finally get it.  It’s sad, really, that personal finances seem to be the most relevant motivators for public opinion. 

PBS Frontline: Bush’s War

Even now, when it’s overwhelmingly obvious how disastrous the Bush Administration’s policies have been, mainstream media seems to avoid exposing the truth.  Indeed, it appears that Bush and his cronies will avoid impeachment.  Perhaps we’re willing to let “little things” like violating the terms of the Constitution, spying on Americans, advocating torture, and attacking other nations based on manufactured “evidence” slide.  After all, we need time to focus on the latest sex-related scandals, and paying attention to things like this will only reduce our available time.

PBS Frontline recently released a two-part series titled Bush’s War.  It describes the truth of what lead us to invasion.  From the introduction:

From the horror of 9/11 to the invasion of Iraq; the truth about WMD to the rise of an insurgency; the scandal of Abu Ghraib to the strategy of the surge — for seven years, FRONTLINE has revealed the defining stories of the war on terror in meticulous detail, and the political dramas that played out at the highest levels of power and influence.

Now, on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, the full saga unfolds in the two-part FRONTLINE special Bush’s War. Veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk draws on one of the richest archives in broadcast journalism — more than 40 FRONTLINE reports on Iraq and the war on terror. Combined with fresh reporting and new interviews, Bush’s War will be the definitive documentary analysis of one of the most challenging periods in the nation’s history.

While it’s understandable how many Americans could be fooled by the Bush Administration’s tactics, it bothers me how easily people have been misled.  Clearly, we’re predisposed to creating wars, supporting policies that are driven by private interests, and outrageous profiteering.  The fact that there are hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and thousands of dead U.S. soldiers doesn’t seem to be enough to cause people to hold our leadership accountable.  Perhaps King George’s Reign of Terror will soon be over, but I find it hard to optimistic in the long run.  Hopefully documentaries such as this will help open Americans’ eyes and minds to the real damage that can result from apathy.

Obama on Religion and Atheism

In general, I would consider myself a supporter of Barack Obama.  He seems to be a rational man that’s not blinded by the “political” side of politics.  One part that does bother me, however, is his emphasis on the fact that he’s a Christian.  Even without the recent fiasco related to his preacher’s hateful comments, the idea that someone that believes in a supreme being doesn’t sit well with me.  After all, we’re living in a nation where the President states that God has told him to attack a nation, completely unprovoked.  And Americans seem to be fine with that (those that aren’t completely ignorant of it, at least).

But, assuming that a political candidate must profess (or at least, pretend) to believe in some magical Creator of the Universe in order to have a chance of being elected, Obama is probably the least of numerous evils.  At least the Mormon guy is out of the race. 

On the topic of his religious beliefs, I ran into a June, 2006 article by Obama titled Call to Renewal Keynote Address.  From the article:

And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their bibles.

This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

So it sees that he’s at least capable of thinking about religion rationally.  And he’s not afraid to draw a line between absurd claims and the laws that govern the United States.  That alone is a huge step forward from the reign of King George. 

But I wonder if Obama really sees the many contradictions he pointed out.  The Bible is filled with tons of garbage that’s absolutely unconscionable by today’s standards.  Imagine if we had laws that made it acceptable to own slaves or murder children.  Yet, many Americans claim to believe in the literal truth of The Bible.  The other stories and examples of comments and statistics in this article should be terrifying.  But, because they’re based on “faith”, people accept these horrific views of the world. 

I truly hope that Obama can help save religious Americans from themselves.  Today, that seems to be a problem that God – even if one did exist – couldn’t solve.

More Welfare for Subprime Lenders

Most of the Bush Administration’s policy-related decisions have been unmitigated disasters.  Therefore, it comes as no real surprise that the current state of our economy is a direct result of it.  However, Bush and his cronies continue to protect only the financial institutions that caused this mess while leaving consumers completely out in the cold.  MSN Money’s John Marman reports in Why the Fed cuts won’t help you.  From the article:

In its efforts to keep irresponsible bankers on Wall Street afloat, the Federal Reserve is spurring inflation, crippling the dollar and cutting into retirees’ incomes. And mortgages and car loans won’t get any cheaper.

If that sounds unfair, welcome to the latest episode of a brutal new American business ethic, in which the government bails out bad bets by risk-taking banking executives in New York with money that it borrows from middle-class families and foreign investors. The effort is gilded with fancy financial language and cloaked in the guise of a rescue that helps all citizens, but the reality is that Washington is essentially robbing the poor to help the rich.

Sadly, the American people seem to be standing idly by why an out-of-control government continues its profiteering.  It makes me wonder how they can get away with this.  It looks like the level of pain will have to get much higher before people start considering the removal (or imprisonment) of King George.

As mortgage holders face foreclosure and shareholders take a bath, troubled Washington Mutual takes action — to protect executive bonuses. It could be a trend.

Around the country, Washington Mutual (WM, news, msgs) regularly plays the tough guy with homeowners who fall behind on mortgages. This as foreclosure filings overall rose 60% nationwide in February.

And its involvement in the subprime mess has been tough on stockholders. Since last summer, the company’s shares have lost nearly 80% of their value.

But the bank is a softy when it comes to bonus pay for top brass.

After CEO Kerry Killinger and other top executives missed all or a big part of their bonus pay last year, Washington Mutual wasted little time taking steps to apparently make sure it won’t happen again — even if the mortgage market and the company remain in the tank.

China Highlights U.S. Hypocrisy

While China is hardly a worthy model when it comes to human rights and equality, a recent post highlights some completely valid points about what the United States has become.  From China hits back at US on rights, says Iraq war a disaster:

“(America’s) arrogant critique on the human rights of other countries are always accompanied by a deliberate ignoring of serious human rights problems on its own territory,” said the report, released by the state Xinhua news agency.

“This was not only inconsistent with universally recognised norms of international relations, but also exposed the double standards and downright hypocrisy of the United States on the human rights issue, and inevitably impaired its international image.”

The US-led war in Iraq that began in 2003 was one of the many issues of concern highlighted by China in the report, entitled “The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2007.”

“The United States has a notorious record of trampling on the sovereignty of and violating human rights in other countries,” it said.

“The invasion of Iraq by American troops has produced the biggest human rights tragedy and the greatest humanitarian disaster in modern world.”

It also criticised civilian deaths in Afghanistan, secret prisons and torture of detainees.

“‘Secret prison’ and ‘torturing prisoners’ have become synonymous with America,” the report said.

The report added that US citizens’ right to join unions had been restricted, prisoners’ rights had been violated, and authorities attempted to manipulate the media.

The report launched attacks on the United States’ inability to tackle poverty, fight crime and even the exorbitant cost of running for president.

Few Americans will ever read a foreign newspaper or even (nowadays) get information from outside our tightly-controlled mainstream media.  At least other nations are taking an objective look at Americans’ actions.

Modern America: Number of Hate Groups Rises

Americans now live in a country where our leader claims that God commands him to make some of his most important (and devastating) decisions.  Rather than being shock and awed by the this unjustifiable belief in commanding voices in his head, we seem to just go along with it.  After all, how could anyone question “God”?  Never mind that hatred, injustice, cruelty, and economic ruin that it includes.

It should, perhaps, come as no surprise that extreme views are becoming increasingly common in the U.S. The Washington Post reports some statistics in Hate Rises.  From the article:

HateGroups-KKKThe dwindling Ku Klux Klan may seem like a relic of crueler times, but the number of hate groups operating in the United States has actually jumped a staggering 48 percent since 2000. Many of these groups have sprouted along the border in Arizona, California and Texas, where their ringleaders have often hijacked the immigration debate. – Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.

This seems to be fairly typical of situations in which “faith” starts to control societies.  While the religious seem to preach incessantly about tolerance and openness, they’re messages (and the teachings of their God) are often exactly the opposite.  Today, homophobia is clearly on the rise (didn’t we get over this in the late 80’s?) and Americans accept that torture is necessary (despite the fact that the action is considered a crime against humanity).  Over a million Iraqis are dead subsequent to our baseless attack on the nation.  Yet, we have a leader that claims that God commanded all this, and he’s still in power.  The correlation between religion and the many things most faiths claim to oppose is staggering.  Until he can free ourselves from the tyranny of Dark Ages thinking, hate in America will continue to rise.

U.S. Terrorist List: Almost 1 Million Strong

Based on recently-passed laws in Bush’s America, any one of us could be labeled an enemy combatant.  We could be picked up and detained indefinitely, without any charges, and we’d be unable to tell our families about it.  Furthermore, we wouldn’t even be able to talk to a lawyer about our rights.  It might be irrelevant, as it seems like we’d have none at this point.  So most Americans must think that the list of suspected terrorists or those on the watch list must be fairly short, right?  After all, suspending the Bill of Rights and guarantees of the U.S. Constitution must be a rare honor, reserved for only the scum of society.  Sadly, that’s not the case.

The ACLU Watch List Counter provides an approximate running count of the number of people on the government’s terrorist watch list.  From the article (which was written about a year ago):

In September 2007, the Inspector General of the Justice Department reported that the Terrorist Screening Center (the FBI-administered organization that consolidates terrorist watch list information in the United States) had over 700,000 names in its database as of April 2007 – and that the list was growing by an average of over 20,000 records per month.1

At that rate, our list will have a million names on it by July. If there were really that many terrorists running around, we’d all be dead.

The uncontroversial contention that Osama Bin Laden and a handful of other known terrorists should not be allowed on an aircraft is being used to create a monster that goes far beyond what ordinary Americans think of when they think about a “terrorist watch list.”

This is not just a problem of numbers. The numbers are merely a symptom. What’s needed is fairness. If the government is going to rely on these kinds of lists, they need checks and balances to ensure that innocent people are protected. (See ACLU Backgrounder on Watch Lists for more)

The remainder of the article includes examples of names that are on the list.  Note that many of them are dead (a fact that most members of the public would know).  Members of Congress (mostly Democrats, of course) also made the list.

Of course, the problems with the list are numerous.  The lists tend to be secret, and the way you get on them is just silly.  Often, it’s just based on name matches.  As someone who has been on the list and has been asked to go through “alternate procedures” at airports, it’s annoying to say the least.  And how can one get off of the list?  I was given a packet of documentation that required me to reveal just about every aspect of my personal life.  If I provided that information to DHS, they’d be able to track me for life. 

None of this should be legal in the United States.  In a few years, I think most Americans will be shaking their heads in disbelief and will ask what they were thinking at the time.  The Bush Administration’s anti-terrorism rhetoric will be remembered in the same way as we call McCarthyism and the Salem Witch Trials.  Until then, the typical American will remain asleep at the wheel and will let Dubya and his puppet-masters trample individuals’ rights with no check, balance, or due process.

God and Bush: War was the "Right Decision"

One might hope that, with all of the violence caused by religion, that people would start to learn that there’s a strong correlation between the two.  But not in the United States: We have a leader who claims that God told him to attack Iraq.  Apparently, this all-powerful and “good” deity didn’t mention anything about torture or the complete lack of evidence for creating a new war that has killed over a million people (I guess they were destined for Hell, anyway). 

But the greatest hits don’t stop there.  Dubya’s at it again.  The Raw Story has posted an article, Cheering God, Bush says war with Iraq ‘will forever be’ the right decision, that presents some truly scary thoughts:

Speaking Tuesday to the National Religious Broadcasters’ convention, President Bush declared the decision to “remove” Saddam Hussein in 2003 the “right decision at this point in my presidency, and it will forever be the right decision.”

The 42-minute speech, covered in the New York Times, drew rousing applause, “mixing faith and foreign policy as he told a group of Christian broadcasters that his policies in the region were predicated on the beliefs that freedom was a God-given right and ‘every human being bears the image of our maker.'”

“The effects of a free Iraq and a free Afghanistan will reach beyond the borders of those two countries,” Bush said. “It will show others what’s possible. And we undertake this work because we believe that every human being bears the image of our maker. That’s why we’re doing this. No one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave.”

In another political and intellectual time, people would be horrified to hear this kind of thinking.  Sadly, in the U.S. it’s all just part of “business as usual.”  Let’s just hope that King George’s Holy Wars are nearing an end.

A "Comical" Look at American Policy in Iraq

The unmitigated disaster of the United States unprovoked attack on Iraq is anything but funny.  Salon.com recently posted a comic that seems to sum it up nicely:See This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow for a great summary.  For those who have been paying attention over the last the last several years, here are some interesting statistics (in comic form):


Of course, there are some people who should be laughing.  Terrorists certainly far exceeded their goals – the Bush Administration does far more damage to the United States than could an army of suicide bombers.  Sadly, like the terrorists, it looks like Dubya and his cronies are going to get away with it. 

More Estimates on the Costs of War

Even if Americans can find some way to justify our baseless attack on a nation which posed no threat whatsoever to the United States, they should have trouble denying the staggering costs of such a fiasco.  The New York Times reports on some sobering statistics that underscore the costs to our society in The $2 Trillion Nightmare.  From the article:

On Thursday, the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by Senator Chuck Schumer, conducted a public examination of the costs of the war. The witnesses included the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz (who believes the overall costs of the war — not just the cost to taxpayers — will reach $3 trillion), and Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.

Both men talked about large opportunities lost because of the money poured into the war. “For a fraction of the cost of this war,” said Mr. Stiglitz, “we could have put Social Security on a sound footing for the next half-century or more.”

Mr. Hormats mentioned Social Security and Medicare, saying that both could have been put “on a more sustainable basis.” And he cited the committee’s own calculations from last fall that showed that the money spent on the war each day is enough to enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start for a year, or make a year of college affordable for 160,000 low-income students through Pell Grants, or pay the annual salaries of nearly 11,000 additional border patrol agents or 14,000 more police officers.

I have posted these types of statistics and details many times before.  Even though we have a seriously flawed economy, people just don’t seem to place the blame where it should be: On the hands of an administration that has squandered our money on pointless aggression.  As always, I have to wonder how American adults will explain this to their children.  Most likely, they’ll claim that “those were different times”, and “we had no idea what was going on.”  That excuse has certainly been used before, but it’s hardly a feeling that will keep people warm in unemployment lines or entertained while they’re in hospitals recovering from war injuries.

Bush Sets Vacation Record: 452 Days at his Ranch

It’s clear that George Bush has been one of the worst Presidents in the history of the United States.  Among the many reasons for this is his tendency to not show up to work.  ThinkProgress reports in “452“:


Number of days President Bush has spent at his ranch in Crawford, TX. His stay there this past weekend with the the Danish prime minister marked Bush’s 70th visit as president. President Ronald Reagan, one of the modern presidency’s most “famous vacationer[s],” spent just 335 days at his ranch in Santa Barbara, CA.

I wonder, though: Would our nation be better off if he had spent more time at the ranch?

Education: Finnish First

Personally, I find that one of the biggest challenges facing the United States is our complacency.  In recent years, we have undeniably fallen behind the rest of the world in education.  Our debt levels are staggering, our economy is sinking, and we have a President that wages war for now reason.  Still, any criticism seems to be greeted with hostility.  We tend to think that if people don’t support our violent or arrogant ways, they’re against us.  We should, instead, try to learn from the rest of the world.  Most of the planet has learned how to make healthcare fair, yet we continue to make futile attempts to “tweak” a system that is fundamentally flawed and serves only private interests and profiteering.  Education, in my opinion, is a potential solution.

The Wall Street Journal recently posted an interesting article titled What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?  From the introduction:

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don’t start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world’s C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they’re way ahead in math, science and reading — on track to keeping Finns among the world’s most productive workers.

And an interesting anecdote / “case study”:

Finnish high-school senior Elina Lamponen saw the differences firsthand. She spent a year at Colon High School in Colon, Mich., where strict rules didn’t translate into tougher lessons or dedicated students, Ms. Lamponen says. She would ask students whether they did their homework. They would reply: ” ‘Nah. So what’d you do last night?'” she recalls. History tests were often multiple choice. The rare essay question, she says, allowed very little space in which to write. In-class projects were largely “glue this to the poster for an hour,” she says. Her Finnish high school forced Ms. Lamponen, a spiky-haired 19-year-old, to repeat the year when she returned.

Lloyd Kirby, superintendent of Colon Community Schools in southern Michigan, says foreign students are told to ask for extra work if they find classes too easy. He says he is trying to make his schools more rigorous by asking parents to demand more from their children.

You can also access a chart that shows the results from the survey.  The U.S. is pretty far down on the list (behind Croatia, Iceland, and many other nations).

Hopefully we can learn something by some of these teaching techniques.  Certainly, no system is perfect, but Americans can benefit tremendously by learning about what does work in other areas of the world.

America the Indebted

Many years ago, I started feeling really astonished at the amount of money that the United States would pour into “investments” that provided little (if any) return.  One case in point is our unprovoked attack on Iraq.  As I have mentioned in earlier posts, the costs of this war clock in at trillions of dollars, and we’re not borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars per day.  At the same time, the Bush Administration has dramatically cut (or diverted) funding from education, science, the environment, and truly important issues that could improve our world.  It’s difficult to justify, yet Americans still seem to be largely ignorant of the magnitude of these issues.

Michael Hodges has created a site titled the Grandfather Economic Report series.  While the site layout and graphs are unlikely to win any presentation-related awards, the information is interesting (and sobering).  Here are some statistics from the introduction:

America has become more a debt ‘junkie’ – – than ever before
with total debt of $48 Trillion – – and the highest debt ratio in history.

That’s $161,287 per man, woman and child – – or $645,148 per family of 4,
$45,514 more debt per family than last year.

Last year total debt increased $3.9 Trillion, 5 times more than GDP.
External debt owed foreign interests increased $1 Trillion;
Household, business and financial sector debt soared 9%.

72% ($35 trillion) of total debt was created since 1990,
a period primarily driven by debt instead of by productive activity.

And, the above does not include un-funded pensions and medical promises.

Sadly, the fact that we’re putting such little money into education means that most Americans are completely helpless to understand the magnitude of these numbers and their potential impact on society.  Many seem to barely understand the costs of personal debt, even with credit card interest rates that are nearly 30%. 

What bothers me most, however, is that very few Americans are even aware of this problem.  They’ll complain incessantly about gasoline prices while the financial foundation of this country could be on the verge of crumbling.  They’ll support pointless wars while funding for children’s healthcare is slashed.  I don’t see any of this changing anytime soon, but a step in the right direction would be to elect an intelligent President.  One ray of hope is that just about anyone would be smarter than George Bush.  Still, just paying off our current debts seems almost insurmountable, even if we enjoyed decades of prosperity.  If only there were an international bankruptcy law…

A Timeline of Bush’s Exploitation of Terror: 2002 – 2008

While the 2008 elections look to be signaling at least some change from the one of the worst administrations in the history of the United States, it’s probably worthwhile to reflect on the damage that has been done.  I’m definitely not one to “forgive and forget” when it comes to the seemingly endless stream of disasters caused by Bush and his cronies.  To help put thigs in perspective, The Huffington Post reports in Olbermann Timeline- How The Bush Administration Exploited Terror Threats For Political Gain, 2002-2008  From the article:

In case you missed it, on Thursday night’s “Countdown” Keith Olbermann presented an impressively detailed timeline he called “The Nexus of Politics and Terror,” in which he chronicled the Bush administration’s exploitation of terror threats for political gain. Olbermann’s exhaustive account weaves from each revelation of an intelligence failure or a Democratic political victory to an almost immediate orange alert or “new threat” from al Qaeda.

The clip is 17 minutes long and entirely worth it, and its conclusion — “what we were told about terror, and not told, for security reasons, has overlapped considerably with what we were told about terror, and not told, for political reasons” — is a dutiful summary of the past six years.

You can view the entire video on the site.

One of the interesting (and perhaps eery) aspects of this is that’s a whole different kind of “Reign of Terror” – the manipulation of the American people based on fear.  It’s just disappointing to me that so many otherwise well-educated people could have been so easily misled.

Majority of British Claim "No Religion"

It’s really easy to see the effects of religion in just about every aspect of American life, and I can hardly think of any positive effects.  The President of this country apparently believes that God has ordered him to create wars (and also has no problem with torture), and the American people seem to be quite content with that.  Fortunately, it looks like there’s some hope in the rest of the world.  The UK Times Online reports in Over half of Britons claim no religion.  From the article:

In a 23-page report published this evening, a UN rapporteur claims the 2001 Census findings that nearly 72 per cent of the population is Christian can no longer be regarded as accurate. The report claims that two-thirds of British people now do not admit to any religious adherence.

The report also calls for the disestablishment of the Church of England. The role and privileges of the established Church are challenged because they do not reflect “the religious demography of the country and the rising proportion of other Christian denominations.”

I’m really encouraged by this, and I hope we have seen the last time that the “pendulum” will swing toward religion.  I also suspect that the number of Christians is actually lower than reported here.  While statistics show that most people don’t lie on anonymous surveys, I wonder if that holds up when people thing that some God (who reportedly loves them) will sentence them to an eternity of torture if they don’t say that they believe. 

On a side note, the site also has many interesting links related to atheism and religion, including some interviews and commentary on Richard Dawkins.  Personally, I find listening to Dawkins to be extremely “enlightening” and refreshing, especially in the wake of the tragedy of the Bush Administration.

Bush: Spending on War Not Linked to the Economy

Well, here’s a relief: ThinkProgress reports about one brilliant financial mastermind and his opinion on the cause of the poor state of the U.S. Economy: Bush Dismisses Iraq Recession: The War Has ‘Nothing To Do With The Economy’.  Here’s the transcript, as posted in the article:

Some Americans believe that they feel they’re carrying the burden because of this economy.

G. BUSH: Yeah, well…

CURRY: They say we’re suffering because of this.

G. BUSH: … I don’t agree with that.

CURRY: You don’t agree with that? It has nothing do with the economy, the war — spending on the war?

G. BUSH: I don’t think so.

I think actually the spending in the war might help with jobs.

CURRY: Oh, yeah?

G. BUSH: Yeah, because we’re buying equipment, and people are working.

I think this economy is down because we built too many houses and the economy’s adjusting.

For full effect, be sure to watch the video (keep the antacid close).

Overall, to me, this is a real relief.  And to think – this morning I was afraid that the $300 million per day we’re borrowing to finance our groundless war on Iraq had something to do with the fact that the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at below 12,300 points today.  What was I thinking?

Update: In completely unrelated news, ThinkProgress also reports that Bush’s Approval rating is now down to 19 percent.  From the article:

President Bush’s latest approval rating, according to an American Research Group poll, down from 34 percent just one month ago. Seventy-seven percent of Americans disapprove of the job he is doing, and 79 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy.

Anti-Intellectualism in America

In recent years, it has become increasingly obvious to me that ignorance in America has become a way of life.  People in the United States have moved down a path that rejects logical, rational thought.  In its wake, we can easily see the rise of a lot of negative things.  The long list must include the state of education, the election of George Bush, creating needless and costly wars, and advocating war crimes like torture.  But are these valid opinions?  I don’t think so.  Ask someone why they voted for George Bush or why we attacked Iraq, and it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll receive a thought-out rational response. Rather, you’ll experience people that are thinking with their “stomachs” – driven by unbridled emotions.  They’ll reject candidates that seem intelligent and capable, while seriously considering (and electing) those that don’t believe in evolution. 

It should be somewhat ironic that, in a time when most people have nearly free access to all of the information in the world, most Americans are glued to the latest celebrity gossip.  We don’t really care about the suspension of habeas corpus in the United States, as long as we know what Britney Spears is up to every minute of the day.

Susan Jacoby writes about the American brain drain in a WashingtonPost.com article titled The Dumbing Of America.  It has the subtitle “Call Me a Snob, but Really, We’re a Nation of Dunces”.  I couldn’t agree more with this premise.  From the article:

Americans are in serious intellectual trouble — in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.

This is the last subject that any candidate would dare raise on the long and winding road to the White House. It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an “elitist,” one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just “folks,” a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980.

And from the article’s conclusion:

The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it’s the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism — a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation.

There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism; rote efforts to raise standardized test scores by stuffing students with specific answers to specific questions on specific tests will not do the job. Moreover, the people who exemplify the problem are usually oblivious to it. (“Hardly anyone believes himself to be against thought and culture,” Hofstadter noted.) It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality. If this indeed turns out to be a “change election,” the low level of discourse in a country with a mind taught to aim at low objects ought to be the first item on the change agenda.

Being “dumb” is one thing.  If we define that term as a lack of knowledge or reduced intellectual capacity, it’s a problem that we can address.  But what happens when people are proud of being dumb?  You see this all the time in sitcoms and other popular media.  Most womens’ magazines have articles that barely span an entire page.  The space is covered with ads and arbitrary pictures of models doing random things.  What little editorial content there is often focuses on extremely shallow coverage of some otherwise important topics.  Yet these magazines far outsell, for example, Popular Science or National Geographic.

Hopefully, the damage caused by the dumbing down of America is self-evident.  We’re easily one of the most violent nations in the world.  A President that lead us to a war based on manufactured evidence has never responded to how and why we made that mistake.  He’s even on the warpath to attacking another nation.  Yet, he remains in office.  Keep in mind that we impeached President Clinton for lying about his private life.  Now, it seems OK to hire private military firms to police the United States and to elect Presidents that can barely compose a clear sentence, even when reading from a script.

Personally, this is a huge problem for me.  At the risk of sounding elitist, I feel extremely alienated by many friends and acquaintances.  While it’s fun to get a beer and talk about mindless topics every once in a while, I have recently run into many situations where people are openly racist, sexist, and just plain close-minded.  I don’t see this view as opinion – I see it as fact.  I’d love to be proven wrong, but ignorance certainly drives many people, and they’re either unaware of it or are not inclined to see any value in improvement.  I’m not sure what will reverse the trend (assuming it’s possible), but a solution doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the horizon.

If you get a chance, I recommend reading through the comments from the article (the count is currently at 772).  Clearly, this is a topic that has solicited a lot of response (and, hopefully, thought).  I just hope it’s enough to cure a few people from chronic “dumbness.”

Thoughts on "The End of America"

In earlier posts, I discussed an interested idea that draws parallels between the current political forces in the United States and those that lead to the closing of other societies.  There are so many commonalities between Hitler’s Nazi Germany, tactics used by Mussolini, and the approach used by Stalin to overtake their nations.  The Bush Administration is clearly following this same formula.  Naomi Wolf describes the details in The End of America: Letters of Warning to a Young Patriot.  I wrote about the topics in two posts: Fascism in the United States? and Naomi Wolf on Colbert.

At first, the title might seem alarmist.  However, after reading the entire book, I think the title and the overall content are dead-on.  Without rehashing the details I discussed in earlier posts, I wanted to share some observations and thoughts I gained from reading the book. 

  • Advertising Torture: The Bush Administration has been extremely successful in manufacturing fear.  By creating an invisible and never-ending threats (terrorism), he has mirrored the moves of leaders like Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and their South American counterparts.  Americans never knew of “waterboarding” and I’ll wager that most had never even heard of the Geneva Conventions which outlawed torture.  Bush, Cheney, and the gang have brazenly defended the use of hostile and futile interrogation techniques.  They have almost nothing of value to show for it, other than harassing and even killing large numbers of innocent people.  But, we’re so desensitized to it that we have to go along. 
  • New enemies and no oversight:  The “War on Terror” is absolutely ridiculous.  You might as well start a “War on Violence” (we could kill everyone, so they couldn’t kill anyone else), or a “War on Bad People”.  Apart from the definitions being vague and subjective, terrorism will always be present.  Like Hitler, in his vilification of Jews, Bush has created an invisible enemy on which we must declare war.  “Evil-doers” are afoot, and we can’t let them win.  Now, Dubya and his pals can declare anyone in the United States an enemy combatant.  It’s a relatively new term, but it could apply to a journalist that advocates ending the destruction of Iraq.  There’s no legislative oversight whatsoever.  That alone is enough to shut us up and pretend we love what’s happening to our country.
  • Social Issues: In talking with friends, I have often felt like a complete outsider when I mention details about new legislation or the current outrages created by the Bush Administration.  Invariably, people will assume that it just can’t be true.  Yet, when I ask, they say that they don’t think I’m misinformed or that I’m purposely lying.  They have reasons to believe what I say and no reason not to.  But still they don’t do anything.  In a work environment, I would clearly be discriminated against for raising the issues, and it could easily damage by career.  Both are reasons that, for the most part, I am trying to keep this blog anonymous.  Sadly, that’s hardly possible these days with government wire-tapping and e-mail surveillance.
  • Apathy and Acceptance:  While I try to avoid this as much as possible, I’ll occasionally mention some current political issue when talking with friends.  The vast majority of them choose to be apathetic.  They prefer ignorance over thinking about a problem.  Or, they simply state that they don’t believe it (even when evidence is clearly presented).  That’s bad, but it’s somewhat worse with others: They’ll admit that there’s a serious problem, but they think “society” or some other invisible force will cause the pendulum to swing back in the other direction.  History has shown that that doesn’t happen magically.  Rather, people have to fight and lives must be lost before transgressions of the magnitude we’re seeing today are reversed.  Clearly, our Founding Fathers didn’t sit around and think that problems would work themselves out.  We’re now ignoring their work and refusing to do any of our own to preserve hard-won freedom.
  • Suppression of Media: There have been numerous, well-documented cases of where journalists, bloggers, and other writers have been jailed or even killed for expressing their views against the Bush Administration.  Their respective media outlets tend to shut up, as they’re scared of making things worse or of themselves being implicated and targeted.
  • Impeachment: How is it that Bush and Cheney have avoided impeachment?  There’s clearly far more evidence against these guys than there was for impeaching Presidents Nixon and Clinton.  And unlike those two people, Bush’s lies are founded in national security.  He should be seen as a traitor to the American people and as a war criminal.  Yet, no one – least of all, it seems, a Democratic Congress – is even asking him for an explanation.  The reason?  I suggest that everyone is already too scared to speak up.  Congress see that, through the use of signing statements, Dubya and his cronies are completely ignoring any authority of our legislative branch.  So who wants to stick their neck out and risk a smear campaign, humiliation, or the loss of their jobs in a futile attempt to take back the nation?  The answer is simple: Not enough.
  • Parallel Tactics: The actions of the Bush Administration are eerily similar to that of other dictators that have overthrown their own governments.  Amazingly, Hitler’s rise to power was based on legal actions.  He basically changed the laws to his favor through fear and intimidation.  Bush takes it one step further: Many of his actions are clearly against the highest law of our country – The Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  Even publicity stunts like Dubya’s landing on an aircraft carrier to proudly state his message of, “Mission Accomplished” are nearly identical to propaganda that was used to make Hitler look like a hero.

I could certainly go on with many more thoughts, but I’ll leave that to future posts.

A lot of this made me think back to what really scared me shortly after George Bush was elected.  Using the September 11th attacks as a catalyst, we started to hear the leader of a First World nation talking about “evil-doers”.  He was out to rid the world of “terror” (more accurately, terrorism).  It was America’s responsibility to rid the world of Saddam Hussein, not because of Dubya’s personal grudge, but to “liberate” them.  No logic, evidence, or reason was necessary.  After all, our goals were to “smoke them out of their holes” and “shock and awe” them.  And the American people, as a whole, bought it.  We didn’t have any significant debate.  Congress signed the PATRIOT Act – legislation that would have been so offensive to any democracy that it should have been struck down immediately (indeed, many members of Congress have apologized to their constituents saying that they never read or understood it).  However, our laws have become increasingly restrictive.  We have a President how barely acknowledges any responsibility to the country (and much less to Congress).  And we have a population that sits idly by as they watch the latest escapades of Britney Spears.

Overall, I’m glad to see that the book is a New York Times Bestseller and I truly hope it can provoke more Americans into defending their country and their freedom from real threats: apathy, acceptance, and fear.

American Prejudices: By the Numbers

I have often quoted numbers and statistics related to the bigotry and close-mindedness of the American people.  Of particular concern to me is the relatively large numbers of people that they would never vote for a person based on certain factors (examples include being black, being a woman, being homosexual, or being an atheist).  PollingReport.com’s Politics page provides a summary of the various findings from the many different polls that are taken. 

Of particular interest to me is the result of a fairly recent Gallup Poll.  Here are the details and the question asked to over 1,000 adults in the United States:

“Between now and the 2008 political conventions, there will be discussion about the qualifications of presidential candidates — their education, age, religion, race, and so on. If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be [see below], would you vote for that person?” Trend includes slight variation in wording.

Note: The left-hand column in the charts is used to express the dates of the results.  It’s extremely difficult to read, but it does convey the data.

There are many results in the list that I find disheartening (and others that I find downright scary).  For example, Atheists rank at the absolute bottom of the list.  Put another way, no single group is more despised by American adults.  Anyone who planned to run for President would at least have to pay lip service to religion (read: Christianity) in order to have a chance of leading the country. 

Note, however, that almost anyone would vote for a Catholic.  Apparently, issues such as hypocrisy in the church and widespread, organized child sex rings aren’t much of a detractor as long as one claims to adhere to these bizarre, outdated, and backwards practices.  People report that they are much more likely to vote for a Mormon or a homosexual than an atheist.  I have to wonder, though, how many of these people have any idea what it is that Mormons actually teach and believe.

On the bright side, the general trends are positive.  A large majority of people would vote for a black or female candidate (compare this to the early numbers, and we’re clearly headed in the right direction).  Still, it’s extremely frustrating to me that there’s so much outstanding prejudice in areas such as race and beliefs. 

Apparently, it’s fine for the leader of our nation to wage war on another country without evidence.  No one seems to care about his claim that God told him to do it.  Yet someone who chooses not to believe in supernatural forces, mysticism, miracles and superstition stands little or no chance of ever running the United States.

Note: The Polling Report page that I linked to earlier is a wealth of information from numerous other polls and studies into Americans’ attitudes.  Upon reviewing some of them, it looks like the Gallup Poll results were actually optimistic.

The Freedom From Religion Billboard Campaign

It’s quite difficult to drive a mile in most major American cities without seeing at least a few churches, bumper stickers, or billboards that advertise how much Jesus loves us.  Christian-related messages (no matter how poorly stated or taken out of context) seem to be all around us.  It hints that it’s somehow good to believe in something without evidence, reason, or logic.  Clearly, American policy under the Bush Administration has been shaped by this level of ignorance.

That’s why it’s good to see an organization actually fighting back.  BBSNews reports on the effort in Free Thought Takes on Organized Religion in National Billboard Campaign.  Below is an image of the sign along with a quote from the article:


The national campaign is an effort to let Americans know that there is room for reason and clarity of thought, free from the dogma that organized religion uses to keep its flock in line; as well as donating.

Dan Barker, Foundation co-president and author of ‘Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist’ said “Many of our members, including generous sponsors in Ohio, want to balance all that religion on the roadside with some reason on the roadside.”

According to the FFRF, one of the local Ohio donors to the new nationwide sign campaign said, “Gov. Ted Strickland apparently needs to be reminded that many wonderful, patriotic, hard-working Ohioans do not ‘support churches.’ In fact, they believe that too much religious influence over state government is harming the state. In recent years, state officials have caved to the religious right on issues such as gay rights, the right of other consenting adults to live as they wish, and the display of Christian symbols on state property. These divisive actions have driven people from Ohio and distracted the state from the serious economic problems it faces.”

Obviously, we can expect a backlash against this type of “advertisement”.  It seems that many people who are reluctant to think for themselves have a problem with advertising the importance of free thought.  For some typical reactions, read some of the comments.  It’s always strange to me how threatened people feel by the mere suggestion that they question their “faith”.  If faith is the belief in something without evidence or reason, then shouldn’t we question (and, hopefully, reject) it?  For more information, see the Freedom From Religion Foundation‘s web site.

The U.S. Track Record: Ending Democracy in Iran

While the Bush Administration and the corporations that control it would love for the United States to be seen as liberators, promoters of peace, and agents of Democracy, it’s hard to imagine how these idea could be any more hypocritical.  The U.S. routinely starts wars (often based on manufactured evidence), and the people seem to buy the marketing messages that claim that we’re somehow doing something great for the world.  As if Iraq wasn’t enough evidence our bungling fiascos and their crushing expenses, Bush is now on the warpath to attacking Iran.  Again, he has no reason, but again people are listening to him.  Perhaps a history lesson would help…

Apparently, we’ve been down this path before.  The Huffington Post reports in an article and an accompanying video: If Americans Knew What We Did to Iran, Would We Still Talk About Using Force?  From the text:

If more Americans knew about this history, could our leaders blather on about supporting freedom and democracy in the Middle East they way they do? Would news media take them seriously if they did so? Would American pundits be so cavalier about the idea of bombing Iran, in flagrant violation of international law? Could people make fun of Senator Barack Obama for supporting real diplomacy with Iran and get away with it?

I don’t claim that it would be impossible for U.S. politicians to talk about bombing Iran if “every schoolboy knew” what the United States did in Iran in 1953. But surely it would be more difficult.

Perhaps the most relevant quote is at the end of the video: “We need to understand that it doesn’t have to be like this.”  True, of course, but the American people (and our “leadership”) seem to think otherwise.

Ignorance is clearly one of our greatest motivators.  Sadly, history shows that the American Empire will continue its path of conquest.  I just hope the election this year isn’t too late to change that course.

Obama on Religion

Religion will be an important topic for many votes in the 2008 elections.  We have some candidates that believe in some of the most outrageous and extremist views (even for religion) that are candidates for the highest position in the nation.  We already have a President that believes that God talks to him in dreams.  We have Republican candidates that believe in Mormonism and that think that God has chosen them to lead the United States.  In some ways, it seems like these people are almost ashamed of their beliefs (as I believe they should be).  They try not to talk about their ideology (which is often indefensible anyway) and cast enough doubt so the religious sheep of America overlook the plain contradictions in what they’re saying.

Much of that is expected nowadays from conservative Republican candidates.  But what about the Democracts?  Several months ago, Barack Obama spoke on the topic.  You can read the entire contents in Call to Renewal’ Keynote Address.  From the beginning of the article:

But today I’d like to talk about the connection between religion and politics and perhaps offer some thoughts about how we can sort through some of the often bitter arguments that we’ve been seeing over the last several years.

I do so because, as you all know, we can affirm the importance of poverty in the Bible; and we can raise up and pass out this Covenant for a New America. We can talk to the press, and we can discuss the religious call to address poverty and environmental stewardship all we want, but it won’t have an impact unless we tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America.

Later, Obama presents the following, highlighting the standard view of many religious people:

For some time now, there has been plenty of talk among pundits and pollsters that the political divide in this country has fallen sharply along religious lines. Indeed, the single biggest “gap” in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called Red States and those who reside in Blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don’t.

Conservative leaders have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design.

He also recites some statistics that I have also posted on this blog in the past:

And if we’re going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.

And later he talks about the difficulty and risk of trying to define public policy based on religion:

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their bibles.

Overall, I have mixed feelings on these statements.  On one hand, it finally restores a sense of separation between church and State (something that shouldn’t be optional in our current government).  However, I wish Obama would have gone further.  I wish he would have pointed out that there’s no evidence whatosever for the believe in a magical, supreme being (despite what the majority of under-educated people might claim).  I wish he had drawn the parallels between violence and religion.  And I wish he had said more about encouraging people to really question their faiths.  (On the last point I quoted, I do agree with Obama: If Christians were to read their bibles, I think there would be far fewer religious people.)

Then again, the most important thing for this country is to get religious zealots that manufacture wars out of office.  In that respect, Obama is a step in the right direction.  I just hope I live long enough to see nations abandon these silly notions of religion and start to thing logically, rationally, and based on study and evidence.  It’s a real long-shot based on the recent history of the United States, but I’m holding out hope.

Comic: God vs. Gays (for children)

While very few people seem to have any objection to it, religious indoctrination is worst when it’s aimed at children.  Children will instinctively accept most information from parents and teachers.  In some ways, this is for good reason.  But in other cases, that trust is clearly betrayed.  Chick Publications has a comic strip that does a great job of illustrating this.  In a comic strip called Birds and the Bees, author Jack T. Chick presents some truly scary ideas, apparently aimed directly at children.  Here’s are some excerpts from the comic strip (click on the images if they’re hard to see – the facial expressions and homophobic imagery will make it worth it).

First, the setup:


Apparently, Satan is far more tolerant than God (as is evidenced by his not-so-attractive agents in the background).  The teacher’s not looking all that great herself.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say that she’s going to Hell for sure (although God loves her and really doesn’t want it to come to that).  It gets far better.  These children – whose education is unfairly restricted by laws – start to discover the “truth” for themselves…

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There are so many comments to be made from just these few panels.  First off, these children are learning (indirectly) from one girl’s grandfather.  I think it’s same to assume that this guy isn’t the best source for objective information about morals (or even the Bible). 

The fear element, to me, is both the most effective and the most offensive.  Kids want to be good, right?  And Hell is bad, of course.  So, they must do whatever they can – no matter how immoral or unconscionable – to stay out of there.  Note how much anger and hatred God seems to have.  I don’t even need to get into the details of the paradoxes and logical contradictions here (God clearly created “the Gays”, and he’s awfully frustrated for someone who’s supposed to be all-powerful). 

If you find yourself convinced by the comic strip, you should consider filling out the little form at the bottom of the page.  For the rest of us, I guess we’ll have to keep supporting our Godless ways of tolerance, acceptance, and non-religious education.

Bush’s $3.0 Trillion Budget

The Raw Story recently reports on another Dubya achievement: Bush’s $3 trillion budget is US first.  From the article:

In the nation’s first-ever $3 trillion budget, President Bush seeks to seal his legacy of promoting a strong defense to fight terrorism and tax cuts to spur the economy. Democrats, who control Congress, are pledging fierce opposition to Bush’s final spending plan — perhaps even until the next president takes office.

The 2009 spending plan sent to Congress on Monday will project huge budget deficits, around $400 billion for this year and next and more than double the 2007 deficit of $163 billion. But even those estimates could prove too low given the rapidly weakening economy and the total costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which Bush does not include in his request for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.

So where’s the money going?

As in past years, Bush’s biggest proposed increases are in national security. Defense spending is projected to rise by about 7 percent to $515 billion and homeland security money by almost 11 percent, with a big gain for border security. Details on the budget were obtained through interviews with administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity until the budget’s release.

And where is it coming from?

Bush’s spending proposal would achieve sizable savings by slowing the growth in the major health programs — Medicare for retirees and Medicaid for the poor. There the president will be asking for almost $200 billion in cuts over five years, about three times the savings he proposed last year.

While some might hope that Bush would fade into obscurity quickly and painlessly in his last year, it looks like his legacy will be solidified with even more financial mismanagement. 

As could be predicted, Republicans support this “plan”.  Keep in mind that Bush has successfully vetoed Childens’ Health Insurance (CHIP) funding and has spend what will easily be trillions of dollars on attacking Iraq.  Of course, the American people should really take a lot of the blame.  Ruthless leaders have been trying this stuff for centuries.  In the past, people would try to stop them.  Now, it seems that budgets like this are almost welcome.

Old News, But Still Relevant: Bin Laden wanted to Bankrupt the U.S.

The damage done on September 11, 2001 is extremely small compared to the amount of damage the Bush Administration has done to the U.S.  From advocating torture, to suspension of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, the President and his cronies used this tragedy as a catalyst for private gain.  We are now experiencing tremendous losses and economic problems that will haunt us for decades.  The Bush Administration is more than than any terrorist could hope (or pray?) for. 

Courtesy of Digg, I recently ran across an old post from CNN.com: Bin Laden: Goal is to bankrupt U.S.  The entire article is worth reading in that it really outlines the true magnitude of damage caused by our so-called leadership.  Some of the better quotes:

“We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah,” bin Laden said in the transcript.

“All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations,” bin Laden said.

“Every dollar of al Qaeda defeated a million dollars, by the permission of Allah, besides the loss of a huge number of jobs,” he said. “As for the economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbers estimated to total more than a trillion dollars.

The total U.S. national debt is more than $7 trillion. The U.S. federal deficit was $413 billion in 2004, according to the Treasury Department.

“It is true that this shows that al Qaeda has gained, but on the other hand it shows that the Bush administration has also gained, something that anyone who looks at the size of the contracts acquired by the shady Bush administration-linked mega-corporations, like Halliburton and its kind, will be convinced.

“And it all shows that the real loser is you,” he said. “It is the American people and their economy.”

While bin Laden is clearly no saint or hero, his words couldn’t be much more true.  The only puzzling part is how Americans have wholeheartedly swallowed this perceived threat of terrorism.  Even today, it’s evident that many people thing that we should continue the “War on Terror”.  Sadly, the real enemy is a lot closer, and there are quick, safe, legal methods of removing him.

Banking on Britney

American interested in celebrity gossip and tabloid trash seems to be at an all-time high.  While I can’t cite any specific statistics, it’s a safe assumption that people are far more concerned with every minute detail of Britney Spears’ life than on issues related to our quagmire in Iraq and the millions of people that have been directly affected by it.  CNN reports on some details in Many make millions off Britney’s escapades.  From the article:

In the days after the Britney Spears soap opera rode a police-escorted gurney to its apex, celeb-mag sales spiked, traffic jammed gossip Web sites, tabloid TV ratings rose and paparazzi photo prices surged.

Britney Spears generates enough interest — and money — to keep a whole industry afloat.  For a growing number of people and businesses, Britney’s saga is about money: Every time she sinks to new lows, cash flows. And these days, no one is above the fray.

When a custody dispute devolved into a three-hour standoff at Spears’ home January 3, police officers and firefighters were pressed into duty. Television stations sent up helicopters, and cable news anchors reported the unfolding drama in real time. The Associated Press had two reporters working the story, with editors on both coasts updating it seven times throughout the night.

What bothers me most about this is that I have friends that claim to be annoyed by the quantity and frequency of tabloid gossip coverage in mainstream news.  These are the same people, however, who have watched it for hours and constantly bring it up in conversation.  They refer to Britney Spears as if she were a close relative and gain huge levels of self-satisfaction from their feelings of superiority. 

The biggest issues in the United States aren’t happening in Hollywood Rebhab or wherever Ms. Spears is currently residing.  We have a whole different level of B.S. to deal with, as evidenced in Bush’s State of the Union speech.

Statistics from the State of the Union

While it might not be a statistically valid method of determining the content of George Bush’s final State of the Union Address, Time Magazine has an article titled State of the Union by the Numbers.  The article provides a visual depiction of the frequency of specific words used in the address.  While the site itself is probably the best source for visualizing the information, here’s a brief run-down of the frequency of the most-used words:

America: 65

Iraq: 39

people: 29

Congress: 27

Nation: 24

Terror: 23

Trust: 17

Tax: 16

Agreement: 14

Fight: 13

Forces: 13

Future: 13

Security: 13

Some of those words are understandable, but the rest are really concerning.  For example, should “terror” still be a primary focus of the nation?  I could easily argue that terrorism was never one of the most pressing issues that faces the United States.  It’s certainly less so today, yet it seems to be a preoccupation in the “state of the Union”.  Other terms such as Iraq (second only to America), and “fight” (still pretty high on the list) should also be considered.  Is fighting and a completely unjustified war a part of our status as a nation?  If so, shouldn’t this change?  At least “faith-based” is low on the list.

It’s increasingly looking like the Bush Administration is going to get away with all of its many crimes while the nation continues its focus on violence.

Obama Responds to Bush’s State of the Union

The State of the Union address is the only time that one of the most secretive administrations our country has ever seen is required by law to speak to the American people.  Listening to yet another State of the Union from Bush proved to be far more than I could stomach.  It is good to see people like Barack Obama provide his opinion.  There was a time when the American people would have vocally and vigorously opposed permanent tax cuts for the rich, promises of endless war, and a general disdain for the middle class.  The following video shows Obama’s response which provides some excellent feedback.

Best of all, it helps remind us that leaders of this country can care about the common person and can improve life by addressing important issues.  The challenge now becomes in trying to get Americans to think enough to elect a new President that meets these requirements.

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