God and the U.S. Constitution According to Huckabee

The term “standards” seems hardly fitting when we evaluate the quality of political candidates in the United States.  We have a President who wages war with no evidence (other than, apparently, God’s voice in his head), and a population that seems to be just fine with that.  Worst of all, it seems that we’ve learned nothing, and these people are still able to run for office.

TheRawStory reports on another example in Huckabee: Amend Constitution to be in ‘God’s standards’.  From the article:

The United States Constitution never uses the word “God” or makes mention of any religion, drawing its sole authority from “We the People.” However, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee thinks it’s time to put an end to that.

“I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution,” Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. “But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.”

Perhaps it’s worth reminding people that this kind of change is exactly what the authors of our Constitution wanted to prevent against.  Religion tends to pollute everything it touches, and government is no exception.  If this were some backwoods, uneducated, country preacher speaking, it would be easier to dismiss.  But this guy is actually in the running to lead the United States!

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More Grim Statistics on the State of Healthcare in the U.S.

It’s surprising to me that many Americans still tend to think that we have a good (or even working) healthcare system.  They ignore vital statistics and research studies that show that we’re in real trouble.  The percentage of our population that is uninsured is astronomical, and numerous studies have shown that the quality of our healthcare system is extremely low when compared to that of the rest of the world.  Still, the United States spends more money per capita for healthcare in the entire world.  So, we have an expensive system that just doesn’t work.  Some cases in point…

MSNBC reports today in ER wait times getting longer, study finds.  From the article:

WASHINGTON – Patients seeking urgent care in U.S. emergency rooms are waiting longer than in the 1990s, especially people with heart attacks, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday.

They found a quarter of heart attack victims waited 50 minutes or more before seeing a doctor in 2004. Waits for all types of emergency department visits became 36 percent longer between 1997 and 2004, the team at Harvard Medical School reported.

Especially unsettling, people who had seen a triage nurse and been designated as needing immediate attention waited 40 percent longer — from an average of 10 minutes in 1997 to an average 14 minutes in 2004, the researchers report in the journal Health Affairs.

So what’s the problem?  I think we can blame it on unbridled greed and profiteering.  Remember, our healthcare system is designed to make corporations and hospitals rich (even if it’s at the expense of patients).  Also from the same article:

They used other surveys to calculate that the number of emergency room visits rose from 93.4 million in 1994 to 110.2 million in 2004.

During the same time, 12 percent fewer hospitals operated emergency rooms, according to the American Hospital Association.

“EDs close because, in our current payment system, emergency patients are money-losers for hospitals,” Wilper said in a statement.

But, wait!  There’s much more.  I’ll add some of the more interesting updates in future posts.

Texas License Plates & Jesus

I recently saw the following paper included with a vehicle registration renewal form for Texas license plates:

Texas License Plates

Incase the text is a little hard to read, the statements include:

Fight Terrorism

God Bless America

God Bless Texas

I have always wondered exactly what kind of message these license plates are supposed to convey.  If you really believe that some omnipotent being is watching over the entire universe, then why should this person bless only America or Texas?  And what about “fight terrorism”?  What exactly should we do – live in fear or continue unbridled funding for the Bush Administration’s pointless wars? 

It’s not much of a surprise that this comes from Texas (I’m sure other states have similar offers), but it’s actually quite embarrassing.  It looks like the irony is completely lost on drivers of 5,000-pound SUVs that have stickers suggesting that we should “fight terrorism”.  Ugh…

Top 50 Quotes on Atheism

Courtesy of Digg, here’s an interesting list of the Top 50 Atheism Quotes.  All of these are from people who are generally well-respected intellectuals.  A classic (and of my favorites) is the first one by George Carlin:

Religion easily has the best bullshit story of all time. Think about it. Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man…living in the sky. Who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer, and burn, and scream, until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you. He loves you and he needs money.

What I have always found very interesting about religion is who people come to trust.  Rather than trust educated people who have contributed greatly to humankind, people tend to turn to tele-evangelists for their religious information.  The vast majority of these people are worth many millions of dollars and have committed numerous crimes.  Their formal education (if any) is limited, and the routinely speak about things they barely understand (for example, the science behind evolution). 

Furthermore, children are often told by their parents (at an early and impressionable age) that it is good to be faithful.  They are told that God is good and that believing in God is the right thing to do.  It is only in this one case that faith – the belief in something without reason – is considered a good thing.  The same logic used in any other area of life would be considered insanity.

Why should we use a different set of standards for testing religion?  And why do the masses ignore people that we would trust with other important decisions in the area of religion?  We should be listening to Richard Dawkins and others that base their beliefs of logic, reason, and evidence. 

U.S. to sell Arms to Saudi Arabia

As if the United States’ self-made military fiascos weren’t enough, it seems that we’re going to continue stocking the fires of violence in the Middle East.  MSN Money reports in US announces arms sale to Saudi Arabia:

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Democratic-led Congress is unlikely to block U.S. plans to sell $123 million worth of sophisticated precision-guided bomb technology to Saudi Arabia, despite concerns from some members that the systems could be used against Israel.

The Bush administration on Monday notified Congress of its intent to sell the bomb-delivery systems as part of a multibillion-dollar arms package to bolster the defense of U.S. allies in the Gulf.

The proposed deal follows notification on five other packages to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, and brings to $11.5 billion the amount of advanced U.S. weaponry, including Patriot missiles, provided to friendly Arab nations under the Gulf Security Dialogue, spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

The proposed deal follows notification on five other packages to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, and brings to $11.5 billion the amount of advanced U.S. weaponry, including Patriot missiles, provided to friendly Arab nations under the Gulf Security Dialogue, spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

There was a time when Americans were considered the police force of the world.  I think even an optimist would have a hard time saying that we’re even a “vigilante” these days.

Fundamentalist Quotes: What [Some] People Believe

Even in light of the many surveys and studies that show the obvious ignorance and prejudice of a large portion of the United States, I still run across things that surprise me.  I recently read a post on Digg titled 100 Greatest Quotes from fundamentalist Christian chat rooms.  The site which hosts the original source document is currently inaccessible (due, no doubt, to bandwidth limitations).  You can read the Google Cache version of the article if you can’t get to the primary site. This Top 100 list features so many logical fallacies and ignorant statements that it’s hard to pick out the best.  You can choose from racism, general bigotry, a complete misunderstanding of science, and just good ol’ stupidity.

Some might argue that this post tends to target a Straw Man (that is, it picks about arguments from the most unqualified people to represent religion). I could agree with that to some extent, but I don’t think it’s a good generalization.  I have friends that are educated but believe in the literal truth of the Bible (including stories such as the one about Noah’s Ark) and feel that it’s just fine to attack, murder, and torture Muslims with no need for evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever.  I maintain that these people aren’t just “religious freaks” – they reflect much of the standard beliefs that are prevalent in our society.  They also give some helpful insight into how people could let the United States devolve into its current state so quickly and with little or no debate whatsoever.  We’re on a dangerous track, and I think this post helps create a “hit list” of ideas we must address.

U.S. Judge: Torture’s OK Since Detainees are Less than Human

I have always hoped that our leaders who actively advocate torture would someone be asked to answer for their crimes.  Unfortunately, it seems highly unlikely that anything of the sort will happen.  We’ll have strings of cover-ups, denials, and granting of amnesty to people who should be war criminals.  While I have grown somewhat accustomed to that, information about a recent judicial ruling is really disgusting.  Presscue reports in Guantanamo detainees are not human beings – US judges.  From the article:

On the sixth anniversary of the imprisonment of detainees at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, a United States judge threw out lawsuit brought by four former British detainees against Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officers for ordering torture and religious abuse, ruling that th the detainees are not “Persons” under U.S. Law, which according to another judge, means that they are less than “human beings”.

In a 43-page opinion, Circuit Judge Karen Lecraft Henderson found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute that applies by its terms to all “persons” did not apply to detainees at Guantánamo, effectively ruling that the detainees are not persons at all for purposes of U.S. law.

The Court also dismissed the detainees’ claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Geneva Conventions, finding defendants immune on the basis that “torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants,” and ruled that even if torture and religious abuse were illegal, defendants were immune under the Constitution because they could not have reasonably known that detainees at Guantánamo had any constitutional rights.

I’m not even sure what I can add to this.  I would hope that the nature of the ruling would speak for itself (and would invite public outcry).  Perhaps the conclusion of the article says it best:

“We are disappointed that the D.C. Circuit has not held Secretary Rumsfeld and the chain of command accountable for torture at Guantánamo,” Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, co-counsel on the case, commented. “The entire world recognizes that torture and religious humiliation are never permissible tools for a government. We hope that the Supreme Court will make clear that this country does not tolerate torture or abuse by an unfettered executive.”

A few years ago, something like this would have made for great fiction (or a huge national uproar, at the very least).  Nowadays, it’s completely commonplace and has become part of the American way of life.  Sadly, it’s likely that many people will devote far more attention to the latest escapades of Hollywood celebrities than to outright travesties of justice such as this.

The Impact of "Stuff"

Many Americans tend to think that all of the resources we consume magically appear from Earth’s resources.  And the wastes that we create seem to magically disappear.  In reality, of course, much of what we take for granted comes from non-renewable resources.  The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard is an entertaining and very informative view of the real costs of all of the material goods we use every day.  The video does a great job of examining the entire “life cycle” of products and what it takes to get them to rich consumers.  The video can do a much better job of explaining the details than I could hope to, so I’ll stop here. 🙂

PollingReporting.com: Survey Says…

There are numerous web sites and survey businesses that attempt to get their finger on the pulse of our population.  Sadly, it seems that there’s no shortage of completely ignorant people in the United States.  Topics such as approval of Bush’s disasters in Iraq (over 25% of people still approve of his approach) to religion and politics are all covered.  PollingReport.com claims to be An independent, nonpartisan resource on trends in American public opinion. 

The site collects information from dozens of polls and studies compiled by organizations such as the Gallup Poll, NBC, CNN, and other researchers.  Personally, I think it’s really important to keep an eye on this information.  It’s easy for people to believe that everyone thinks like them.  That’s a common mistake and seemingly more frequent with educated people.  I’m a lot more pessimistic now than I have been in the past, but I’m still surprised at how ignorant and misinformed people seem to be.  Still, if we’re ever going to address these issues (a longshot in itself), it’s good to keep an eye on misinformation.

Impeachment Facts and Articles

Considering that Bush, Cheney, and their cronies are still running this nation, there’s a good chance that a lot of American people have just buried their heads in the sand.  They likely think of those who call for impeachment as “hippies” that should be summarily dismissed.  The facts, of course, lead to a very different conclusion.  I recently found a blog forum post (courtesy of Digg), that helps illustrate some particular details.  Evidence for Impeachment – 2007 provides dozens of links to news articles and other documents.  From the posting:

The past year has seen the public exposure of enough evidence of old, ongoing, and new crimes, abuses of power, and impeachable offenses by George Bush and Dick Cheney that in any remotely representative democracy, these two thugs would be out of office and behind bars. The chief reason this does not shock us is that the same could be said, and was said, of each of the previous six years. It’s been quite a millennium so far for Washington, D.C.

Some of us began this year expecting something different. We had worked to elect Democratic majorities in Congress so that we might move in the direction of impeachment. If we didn’t get to impeachment right away, we thought, at least real investigations with the power of subpoena would push a reluctant Congress in the right direction. With House committees having come within a vote of starting investigations, with the Democrats having shut down the Senate to try to force an investigation, with Chairman-to-be John Conyers having published a book on Bush and Cheney’s crimes and held unofficial hearings in the basement, we had reason to be hopeful.

The links provide some little-needed evidence that highlights the dealings of the Bush Administration.  This “Greatest Hits” list covers such topics as Secrecy and Coverups, Signing Statements, Election Fraud, Spying, and (my personal favorite) Torture.  Sadly, you won’t see any of this stuff on Fox News, so the American public will likely continue to ignore the abuses of our current administration.  If only we had a stained black dress for evidence.  Maybe then we could impeach Cheney and Bush.

Hollywood’s Portrayal of the Arabs

One of the things I really liked about the TV show Heroes is that it portrayed non-white people as actual normal human beings.  You had Asian people who weren’t just bumbling extras.  Hiro was a friendly and good-natured guy who was just out to save the world.  And, you had Indian characters who weren’t just people with funny accents to be ridiculed by the rednecks of the nation.  Sadly, that’s certainly the exception.  The overwhelming majority of movies and TV (and, consequently, public opinion) in the United States is stacked against brown people.

Thanks to Digg, I recently cam across a 9-minute YouTube video titled Planet of the Arabs helps highlight some of the details.  The original Digg post provides some interesting statistics:

Planet of the Arabs is a powerful 9 minute collage of racist stereotyping of Arabs in movies.Out of 1000 films that have Arab & Muslim characters (from the year 1896 to 2000) 12 were positive depictions, 52 were even handed and the rest of the 900 and so were negative. A montage of Hollywood’s relentless dehumanization of Arabs and Muslims.

What’s saddest is that a lot of Americans think this is just fine.  After all, it’s not just a few masterminds in Hollywood that are coming up with this stuff – there’s a true demand for it.  Even friends of mine will start to giggle when they see any non-white person enter a scene on a TV show or movie.  I don’t see these stereotypes changing anytime soon, though. 

New York Times: Looking at America

I suppose there’s no better day than today to reflect on the state of our nation.  Certainly, there’s no shortage of things to dislike about what has happened to the U.S. in recent times.  The New York Times recently posted an editorial entitled Looking at America.  From the article:

Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.

In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse, sexually humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few have been punished, but their leaders have never been called to account. We have seen mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution. We have seen the president, sworn to defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own citizens, authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a warrant.

We have read accounts of how the government’s top lawyers huddled in secret after the attacks in New York and Washington and plotted ways to circumvent the Geneva Conventions — and both American and international law — to hold anyone the president chose indefinitely without charges or judicial review.

All I can hope is that all of this is an anomaly – a time when Americans were caught sleeping at the wheel and let their politicians do whatever they pleased.  It seems like a long shot now, but hopefully we’ll see some change starting in 2008.

The Fall of the American Empire?

The events of the last several years has often made me thing about America’s empire.  With the reckless spending, needless and unjustifiable wars, and a general lack of accountability in government, it seems that the stage is set for this nation’s downfall.  Add in the general apathy and ignorance of American voters, and it’s hard to see how things could change for the better.  Historically, numerous empires have toppled, seemingly soon after the height of their success.  The United States recently lead the entire world’s economy, but our position is fading fast.

Ian Welsh at FireDogLake seems to agree in an article entitled American Parallels.  The first comparison is with the British Empire:

History, they say, does not repeat – but it does echo. Looking back at other situations, other republics and empires, one is tempted to draw parallels between then and now. The parallel drawn most often is the decline of the British Empire.

American world dominance, as with British, was based on a military dominance that came out of economic dominance. From about 1890 on America had the world’s most powerful economy, outproducing Britain industrially, and backed moreover by a continental resource base. At the end of World War II the US was producing about half the world’s goods. Since then there has been a gradual decline, and the rise of larger powers – China and India, whose populations are significantly larger than that of the US. As in the decline of Britain, capital is fleeing the old empire, heading for the rising powers.

The article also compares the U.S. with Spain, Rome, and Athens.  All of these economies tumbled relatively quickly.  It makes me wonder – were all of the people that lived during these times caught off-guard?  Or, did some of them see it coming?  Clearly, the outcome wasn’t inevitable, but people didn’t do enough to stop it.  I also agree with the article’s conclusion, which is somewhat more optimistic:

In the end America will follow its own unique path. All Republics end, and so do all Empires. There is, in human history, a series of cycles of renewal, decay and renewal. Each one ends in a crisis period, and each crisis must be overcome. It is never inevitable that you’ll fail – but it’s never guaranteed you’ll succeed either. It is this generation’s task to renew the tree of liberty and keep the American experiment going – to remain true to the ideals that made America and have driven it since 1776. It is my profoundest wish, as we come up on the New Year and look both back and forward, that you are successful in doing so, and that America once again becomes the beacon of liberty and hope that its founders wanted it to be.

In any case, this is probably a suitable last blog entry for 2007.  Let’s hope that 2008 has some more encouraging news!

Naomi Wolf on Colbert

On the topic of , Naomi Wolf was recently interviewed on The Colbert Report.  You can watch this in the YouTube video Colbert: Naomi Wolf and Fascism in America.  She has also done a lot of other other interviews (see the YouTube suggestions).  A longer and more in-depth one is in the YouTube video Naomi Wolf Celebrated Author of “The End of America”.

Sadly, not many of “interviewers” give her a chance to actually talk about her topic.  Still, I think she does a great job of getting her point across (in most cases) while rolling with the punches.  I really hope that mainstream media will take an objective look at her arguments.  For a brief summary of the ideas, see my earlier post, Fascism in the United States?.

YouTube Video: Signs of Fascism

A brief two-minute YouTube video title Top Ten Signs Your Country May Be Going Fascist does a great job of summing up what’s going on in the United States.  I’d be interested to hear from readers who do not think that this is something to be scared of.

The 2008 Budget Poster

TheBudgetGraph.com has an interesting (and artistic) view of the United States’ 2008 budget.  The Death and Taxes 2008 Poster provides a quick view of what we’re blowing our cash on and the changes over the previous year.  Overall details are located in the lower-right corner.  I’m willing to bet that few Americans would have any idea of how much we’re spending on interest, the “Global War on Terror”, or even what a billion dollars really is (let alone a trillion).  If only people could think about this when Bush places drastic cuts on children’s healthcare while spending trillions on the destruction of Iraq.

More Laws Curtailing Free Speech

The Bush Administration’s steps against freedom seem to have no bounds.  This time, it’s the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007.  While the name is not quite as catchy as that of the PATRIOT Act, it’s at least as damaging to democracy and freedom.  And that’s saying a lot.  The Washington Times provides some commentary in Police in thought pursuit.  From the article:

The Pope had his Index of Forbidden Books. Japan had its Thought Police against subversive or dangerous ideologies. And the United States Congress and President Bush have learned nothing from those examples.

Congress is perched to enact the “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 20007 (Act),” probably the greatest assault on free speech and association in the United States since the 1938 creation of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Sponsored by Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat, the bill passed the House of Representatives on Oct. 23 by a 404-6 vote under a rule suspension that curtailed debate. To borrow from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, the First Amendment should not distract Congress from doing important business. The Senate companion bill (S. 1959), sponsored by Susan Collins, Maine Republican, has encountered little opposition. Especially in an election year, senators crave every opportunity to appear tough on terrorism. Few if any care about or understand either freedom of expression or the Thought Police dangers of S. 1959. Former President John Quincy Adams presciently lamented: “Democracy has no forefathers, it looks to no posterity, it is swallowed up in the present and thinks of nothing but itself.”

It’s perhaps pointless to point out that the invisible threat of terrorism is the source of this previously-unimaginable legislation.  Few people will even consider the fact that terrorism (especially domestic terrorism) is extremely rare in the United States.  Also from the article:

The Act inflates the danger of homegrown terrorism manifold to justify creating a marquee National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Ideologically Based Violence (Commission) in the legislative branch. Since September 11, 2001, no American has died from homegrown terrorism, while about 120,000 have been murdered.

In the so-called post-September 11 “war” against international terrorism, Mr. Bush has detained only two citizens as enemy combatants. One was voluntarily deported to Saudi Arabia; the other was indicted, tried and convicted in a civilian court of providing material assistance to a foreign terrorist organization. And employing customary law enforcement tools, the United States has successfully prosecuted several pre-embryonic terrorism conspiracies amidst numerous false starts.

The logical question should be related to why we’re giving up so much freedom and granting so much power to our politicians when these laws supposedly address a problem that doesn’t even exist.  We have certainly gained a lot of momentum in sliding down this slippery slope.

Robert Wexler Calls for Cheney Impeachment

In one of those “why didn’t this happened sooner?”-type things, Congressman Robert Wexler has recently called for a petition to impeach Dick Cheney.  The online petition is available at WexlerWantsHearings.com.   So far, the respond has far exceeded expectations (140,000+ people have signed it).  It’s quick and easy to register your dissent for our current administration.  At the very least, impeaching Cheney will finally force one of the most secretive governments in U.S. history to start revealing some facts.  It should never have to come to this, but if we can impeach a President for lying about his private life, I don’t see how we can tolerate the seemingly endless list of crimes committed by the Bush Administration.

An Early Christmas Present for Bush

No, it’s not more money for his cronies (although that’s almost certainly in the works).  AlterNet reports: Santa Delivers 37,000+ Copies of Constitution to Bush.  From the article:

Responding to an urgent request from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Claus stepped in to bring messages from Americans who felt the President might need a refresher course in the Constitution. Citizens want to remind President Bush that the Constitution forbids torture and spying on Americans without a warrant, requires that prisoners get a fair hearing of the charges against them before a real court and makes the government’s treaty obligations, such the Geneva Conventions, the law of the land.

“These Constitutions will make great holiday reading,” Claus continued. “I want to be sure that the President has plenty of time to look at them before he decides on his New Year’s resolutions.”

Assuming that Dubya will read any of these copies (a longshot in itself), it’s highly unlikely that any good will come from this.  After all, this is the guy who doesn’t hold this document in much regard (see my earlier posts, Bush- [The Constitution] is just a goddamned piece of paper and Leisure Reading for Dubya- The Constitution).  Of course, this guy is still running the country.  I guess he’s not the only one that really doesn’t care about what our Founding Fathers had in mind.

Tracking Trillions in Federal Spending

One of the hallmarks of the Bush Administration is its secrecy about spending.  Money is routinely discovered to be “missing” or diverted to private interests like Cheney’s company, Halliburton.  Sadly, while some Americans seem to agree with Bush that we can’t afford to pay for children’s healthcare, it’s fine for hundreds of millions of dollars to go to Bush’s cronies.  Fortunately, there’s some visibility on the horizon.  Daily Kos reports in Obama helps us track $1,000,000,000,000 of federal spending.  From the article:

Americans had a hard time finding out where their hard-earned tax dollars went.  Until 2 days ago.

Now, thanks to USAspending.gov, a site created by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 by Tom Coburn and Barack Obama, anyone can discover the pockets of federal dollars.  The site tracks contracts, grants, earmarks, and loans.

What can we dig up?  Read on for 7 examples (contracts with KBR/Halliburton, Tom Delay’s pork, no bid contracts with defense contractors and even the government of Canada, spending on guided missiles, maintenance of dams, and stranger things including flags, perfumes, and hand tools).  I also talk about how this fits into Sen. Obama’s broader plans to make government transparent.

The article provides numerous examples of widespread corruption and a total lack of accountability.  Again, these are things that have come to be expected (and are accepted) from the Bush Administration.  I particularly like the reader quote that mentions that destroying the Republican stranglehold on the U.S. is not nearly enough.  The true goal must be to restore the protections of our government and to prevent things like this from happening again.

Posting expenditure-related data on USAspending.gov is a great step forward for us, and we can thank Obama for finally doing it.  You can view such information as the Top 100 Contractors of 2007, along with how much many they have received.  In fact, with all of the technology available online, I can’t believe that it wasn’t done earlier.  The information is (and must remain) public, so putting it on the web is a great idea.  The problem, however, is the the American people are no longer accustomed to using facts, figures, and rationality to make decisions.  This site will be overlooked while our focus turns to celebrity weddings and mishaps.  Still, I’m happy to have an “official” site from which I can gather statistics to verify and support the information in this blog.

Bush and Signing Statements

Hopefully, it will come as no surprise to most Americans that the Bush Administration’s reckless disregard for the United States law has been unsurpassed in history.  Recently, the fact that Bush has been using “signing statements” – originally intended for clarifications of passed laws – at an alarming rate.  RawStory provides a link to the video in How many laws has Bush broken?  The MSNBC video states that bush has nearly doubled the number of signing statements used by all 42 previous Presidents combined

These statements allow things like torture and are often in stark contrast to the intent and purpose of Congress’s law.  These actions should clearly be illegal as a clear abuse of power.  The video provides some great insight from analysts about the true impact of these moves.  It’s just one more in a long list of offenses by the Bush Administration.  Sadly, it’s also yet another thing that the American people will either ignore or accept.

The Candidates on Science

I was happy to hear that at least some individuals and groups are pressing the 2008 candidates on topics that actually matter.  To me, views on sciences are extremely important.  Wired reports in Scientists Push Presidential Candidates for Positions on Science.  From the introduction:

A Who’s Who of America’s top scientists are launching a quixotic last-minute effort this week to force presidential candidates to detail the role science would play in their administrations — a question they say is key to the future of the country, if not the world.

“Right now we have a confluence of issues facing candidates: embryonic stem cell research, global warming, science and technology education, biotechnology and energy policy — it’s just becoming an avalanche,” says Lawrence Krauss, a physics professor at Case Western University, and author of the bestselling The Physics of Star Trek. “I think at some level, you have to get some insight into what the candidates know, or what they’re willing to learn.”

Behind the call is a growing fear that the United States is falling behind in science and technology education, and that a leader who is scientifically illiterate won’t be able to keep the United States ahead in the global economy.

Americans seem to have developed a distaste for rational and logical thought.  We focus on the latest escapades of Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and the like.  The only time real issues seem to come up is when ultra-religious-types oppose things like stem cell research and the teaching of evolution.  It’s certainly time to get some more intelligence in our government.  Another Dubya might sink this nation into another Dark Age.

One Step Toward Reducing U.S. Torture Tactics

ThinkProgress reports: The House passes ban on waterboarding. This site includes a video and a summary:

In a 222-199 vote, the House today passed the FY2008 Intelligence Authorization bill, which bans waterboarding and confines the CIA “to the interrogation tactics permitted by the Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations. Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s (D-NY) remarked, “[This] means no more torture, no more waterboarding, no more clever wordplay, no more evasive answers, no more dishonesty.”

There’s also a link to the full voting roll call.  Am I the only one that’s surprised that 199 members of Congress voted against this measure?  It’s a step in the right direction, but the voting record is far from encouraging.  Of course, it’s extremely likely that Bush will veto the legislation.  Combined with his administration’s attempts to absolve all companies and individuals from responsibility for torturing others, it looks like this will have very little influence on American “policy”.

Anti-Bush T-Shirts (w/Free Bushisms!)

Courtesy of Digg, here’s a listing of Anti-Bush T-Shirts from an online store called BCheap.  While the shirts themselves are rather entertaining, I find the quotes from Bubba Dubya to be even more so.  Here they are:

“Those who enter the country illegally violate the law.”
—Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 28, 2005

“You work three jobs? … Uniquely American, isn’t it? I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that.” –to a divorced mother of three, Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005

“In this job you’ve got a lot on your plate on a regular basis; you don’t have much time to sit around and wander, lonely, in the Oval Office, kind of asking different portraits, ‘How do you think my standing will be?’ “—Washington, D.C., March 16, 2005

“It’s in our country’s interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm’s way.”—Washington, D.C., April 28, 2005

“It’s important for us to explain to our nation that life is important. It’s not only life of babies, but it’s life of children living in, you know, the dark dungeons of the Internet.”
— Arlington Heights, IL, Oct. 24, 2000

“I was raised in the West. The west of Texas. It’s pretty close to California. In more ways than Washington, DC, is close to California.”
— As quoted by the Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2000

“My administration has a job to do. We will rid the world of evildoers.”
— Preparing for a Batman-like role. Washington, D.C., Sept. 16, 2001

… and my favorite (it wasn’t an easy choice):

“You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror.” — interview with CBS News’ Katie Couric, Sept. 6, 2006

Voting in the Texas Legislature

A lot of people probably wonder exactly how much voting fraud occurs in the United States.  Is it the exception, or is it he rule?  By just about all measures (except from the Supreme Court’s opinion), Al Gore should have won the Presidency over George Bush.  The latter got in on a technicality, and one that is not supported by the numbers.  Yet, very few people seemed to object.  We’re clearly not a very “by the numbers” society.

Another great example is shown in this local news video on the Texas Legislature.  It clearly identifies numerous state representatives placing votes for others while they are away.  It’s a lot like watching little children getting away with stealing candy.  In fact, they’re so blatant about it, that no one even tries to cover up what they’re doing.  Sadly, these people run State laws and their enforcement.  The worst part of all, and one that has become increasingly common in all areas of U.S. politics, is that the explanation is that legislators are busy.  I wonder – do they do nearly as much work as the average person they’re representing?  And, shouldn’t we expect more from these elected officials.  It’s unlikely that this video will make much difference, but I think “voting reform” needs to start a lot closer to our government representatives.

Bush Wars, Act II: The Iran Menace

bigfinalbushroveadDespite all of the evidence to the contrary, the Bush is still clamoring for creating a new baseless war.  This time, the enemy is Iran (which, coincidentally is in the Middle East, is not Christian, and has control over a lot of oil).  People who have been closely following American politics over the last decade or so probably won’t be all that surprised by this. What bothers me most, though, is the total lack of rationality here.  First, Bush says that we should attack Iran because of their nuclear (or, more accurately, “nucular”) capabilities.  When it’s clearly communicated that there’s no such thing, he continues on, anyway.  MoveOn.org has published a cartoon that highlights the typical pattern. From the e-mail in which this was announced:

How did President Bush respond to the bombshell last week that Iran had stopped its nuclear program? Here’s how one of his top military commanders put it: “There has been no course correction.1

For years, Bush and Cheney and Rove have governed using fear—talking up war and terrorism to win elections and push their agenda. They used this method to get us into the war in Iraq, and now the President’s at it again—trying to rally support by marching the nation toward war with Iran.

Consider this: Days after the White House’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) reported that Iran stopped developing nuclear weapons years ago, President Bush and his proxies are still out stumping for war.

To me, it’s surprising how little it takes to “fool” the American people.  Actually, I don’t think that’s it at all.  Perhaps we have come to actively reject science, logic, rationality, and research.  But I think this goes deeper: Americans want to wage war on the “damn Middle East”.  This is just a thinly-veiled cover story to make it seem that we’re justified.  Whether or not we go to war is a secondary issue – the fact that a President can continue to advocate another unjustified military action should be the real shocker.

Vacation Time: Pay or Play?

Many statistics show that, among First World countries, Americans work extremely hard.  We generally have fewer work-related benefits and less time off than our counterparts in Europe.  Even so, it looks like we’re not much more productive.  A fairly recent study, “Usable Productivity” Growth in the U.S.: An International Comparison, 1980-2005 concludes with the following statements:

After making these adjustments, the productivity performance of the United States look substantially worse relative to other OECD countries than what the conventional data indicate in both the period 1980-1995 and in the period 1995-2005. While productivity growth in the United States lagged behind the OECD average in the first period even by the conventional measures, the gap is considerably larger once these adjustments are made. In the more recent period, the United States goes from being one of the leaders in productivity growth to one of the laggards, with an average annual rate of sustainable productivity growth that is almost a full percentage point below the other countries in the sample.

So, in general, we work harder, but we don’t accomplish much more.  That seems to be quite consistent with the American culture of materialism and being overly-driven.  This morning, I started reading a discussion thread on MSN Money, entitled Time vs. Money.  The original poster asked how readers felt about people cashing in their unused vacation (that is, accepting money for the time, rather than taking the time off). 

The lengthy list of responses is interesting, and seems to provide a lot of insight into how a random sampling of workers think about vacation.  Many of the responders agreed that enjoying life and taking vacations should be higher priorities.  Many others, however, mentioned that fear of losing job status, promotions, and dealing with additional work upon returning from vacation were big issues.  Sadly, these should be management issues: We should value the quality of work, rather than the quantity.  And, if employees don’t have enough time to reasonably finish their work, business owners should staff adequately.  Overall, the U.S. could learn a lot from other developed countries.  I’ll do my part by urging people to place work lower on their list of priorities.  Unfortunately, with very little government support (at least under the Bush Administration), it seems like this problem will only get significantly worse.

Science vs. Popularity on YouTube

People have always been easily impressed by completely made-up information or suggestions that lack any valid source of information.  Simple examples include religion and claims that are made in typical everyday marketing.  And, I’m not even getting into the effects of direct-to-consumer drug advertising, fad diets, and media outlets like Fox News.  It seems that everyone’s OK with spending a million dollars per minute on the war in Iraq, but if someone like Anna Nicole Smith dies, our entire nation is paying attention.

In many ways, the Internet can make it much easier for crackpot theories, hatred, prejudice, and the like to become commonplace.  In the past, most media outlets would provide a filtering/editing function.  Now, anyone with access to a computer can create and post on a blog.  That’s good in many ways, but it makes it difficult for people who have never tried to use critical thinking skills to determine credibility.

ArsTechnica reports in YouTube users prefer lousy science over the real deal:

The big message in the data, however, appears to be that viewers don’t find the information being put out by public health authorities compelling at all. Even among the positive videos (which were poorly viewed and rated), public service announcements grabbed the smallest audience and the worst ratings; even among videos with a small audience, they stood out as being ignored.

Even without this data, it was obvious that the effort involved in producing a video is not a significant barrier to entry. Anyone with strange ideas and the urge to have them heard can easily reach the public via YouTube. What is clear from the data is that those with a vested interest in making sure accurate information is available, such as the public health community, need to make sure that their message is packaged in a compelling manner, so that it drowns the bad information out. Simply dumping the movies we ignored during high school health class on the Internet isn’t going to cut it in the YouTube era.

This article is based on a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Freedom of speech and expression are extremely important today (especially under the reign of the Bush Administration).  However, consumers of information must be able to critically evaluate data and separate facts from overly-dramatized speculation.

Fighting the War on Greed

One of the topics that I have very rarely seen covered anywhere is related to why Americans seem to be so greedy.  You can ask multi-billionaires what they want most, and it’s likely that they’ll want more money (or power, which they would buy with money).  Even for most “typical” individuals, the goals is to get raises so they can spend more.  And people often spend far more than they have to begin with.  Yet, no one seems to question about of this.  Why would someone who makes millions per year not retire?  Isn’t that enough money?  And, wouldn’t retirement be a great goal?  Sadly, it’s rare.  Our media tends to glamorize the rich, regardless of how they made their money.

WarOnGreed.org has a video that highlights Henry Kravis’ possessions and those of his company, KKR.  To get an idea of how much money this guy has, the video mentions that his company pulls in more cash than Coca-Cola, Disney, and Microsoft.  Here’s some information from Brave New Films:

Henry Kravis is a billionaire, the 57th richest person in America. He acquired this wealth by purchasing public companies with borrowed money. To pay off the debt, he cuts benefits at the company, sells its assets, and lays off employees.

This get-rich-quick scheme made him $450 million last year. Meanwhile, his tax rate is lower than teachers, firemen, nurses, even his own cleaning staff!

Henry made approximately $1.3 million dollars per day, every day, last year.  KKR has been involved in 160 take-overs, many of which have dollar values that are far more than the GDP of most countries on the planet.  So how did he make that much money?  He tends to purchase companies, cut benefits, and basically milk the employees for all they’re worth.  And, he enjoys huge tax breaks.  You can see the same thing within the Bush Administration – you’ve got a bunch of Dubya’s cronies (who are filthy rich to begin with) getting richer (and filthier).  This often done at the cost of thousands (and perhaps millions) or lives.

What bothers me most is that a lot of people would consider this guy to be a hero.  I’m not implying that all rich people are the problem.  However, I think our society would benefit from being far less materially-driven.  We should look down on people that buy fleets of 5,000-pound vehicles.  We should make fun of people who have more than one McMansion.  And, we shouldn’t take it for granted that everyone should be in debt.

Plundering Homeland Security

I remember several years ago thinking that Bush’s creation of the Office of Homeland Security would be one of the most expensive examples of government mismanagement in the history of the United States.  From the early days, it was obvious that this organization would help spread the hysteria about terrorism that was (and still is) common in the media.  From a rainbow of meaningless and useless “alert levels” to amazingly large government contracts handed to Bush’s cronies, DHS would probably be a symbol of corruption and little else. 

HomelandSecurityForSale.org has a video that provides some of the highlights (if you can call them that).  I’m always surprised that, while people are looking at immigration and other relatively minor distractions, our government is being flat-out plundered by no-bid contracts and hundreds of billions of dollars granted with almost no tangible return on investment. 

If an elected official from a neighborhood association did something like this, it’s likely that he or she would face criminal charges.  When done on a large scale, however, it seems that there are no repercussions whatsoever.  It’s fairly typical of the Bush Administration: we have a few people getting extremely rich off of the money paid by the masses.  Sadly, it’s very unlikely that the people responsible for the DHS mess will ever have to atone for the corruption.  Rather, they’re likely to get high-paying positions with the very companies they benefited.  And, it’s likely that a lot of people will start to think that if you can’t beat them, you should join them.

Iraq: The Cost of "Success"

American people seem to be quite quick to forget (and forgive?) statements like Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished”.  To get a better idea of how Bush thinks, he recently asked for even more money to throw into this failed venture, “especially when we’re seeing the benefits of success.”  A newsletter form Democrats.com offers the following response:

Bush’s “success” unleashed chaos that murdered 1 million Iraqis and drove 4 million more out of their homes into desperate poverty. Bush’s “success” created a sectarian Shia government that ethnically cleansed Baghdad of Sunnis and Christians and corruptly lined its pockets with our tax dollars. Bush’s “success” killed nearly 4,000 brave young Americans and maimed tens of thousands more, both physically and mentally, leading to 120 veterans’ suicides each week. Bush’s “success” broke our military, corrupted our intelligence agencies, and embraced torture as official U.S. policy.

Bush’s “success” empowered Osama Bin Laden and handed half of Afghanistan back to the Taliban. Bush’s “success” empowered dangerous dictators in Russia, Pakistan, Burma, Iran and Venezuela. Bush’s “success” increased global terror and hatred of the United States.

Bush’s “success” wasted $500 billion on Iraq, with trillions more to come. Bush’s “success” added $4 trillion to our national debt and trillions more in future debts. Bush’s “success” drove the price of oil from $16/barrel to nearly $100/barrel, and tripled the price of gasoline from $1.06 to $3.11.

America – and the world – cannot afford any more of Bush’s “success.”

Personally, I think that’s a pretty complete summary of the last several years of U.S. foreign policy.  For the few people that still support Bush and his regime, I’d be interested in hearing responses that overlook all of these facts.  You can sign the Out of Iraq petition on Democrats.com.

Bush and Spying on Americans

One of the many outcomes of the hysteria related to terrorism has been the blank check that the PATRIOT Act and other legislation has given the Bush Administration to perform illegal acts.  While so much of it is done covertly, some information is finally surfacing.  The YouTube video, How Many Illegal Wiretapping Programs Does Bush Have? provides some basic details on wiretapping and data mining.  PBS has created an entire series of videos on the topic called Frontline: Spying On the Home Front.

To be clear, these aren’t just conspiracy theories that were created by people who have nothing better to do.  Much of the interview footage is from knowledgeable experts who have researched the topic.  And, consider the sources: Unlike Bush and his puppet-masters, these people have little to gain from telling their views.

In the past, the Bush and his cronies have hidden behind the guise of preventing terrorism.  I sincerely hope that this ridiculous story doesn’t hold up in most peoples’ minds.  The very freedoms we’re supposedly trying to protect from the “evil-doers” of the world are suffering most at the hands of our own government.  While I think it’s unlikely that there will ever be any real accountability for these transgressions, I hope we can reverse some of the damage before the U.S. becomes a police state.

Answers from Atheists

Perhaps one of the reasons that people seem to fear or discount atheism is that they don’t understand it.  One of the reasons I started this blog was to provide some responses to common questions.  In some cases, the questions themselves are so ridiculous that I would find it inappropriate to answer.  Others, however, seem of reflect a lack of knowledge about atheism.  Recently, a commenter on this blog, Joel Justiss, lead me to find an interesting site: FriendlyAtheist.com. The author has posted numerous observations that help show the plight and struggle of atheists (as well as all-too-common examples of religiosity in the United States).

Of particular interest is the posting Keep Them Short and Sweet – a series of questions for atheists.  A few examples:

  • Why do you not believe in God?
  • Where do your morals come from?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Is atheism a religion?
  • If you don’t pray, what do you do during troubling times?

The comments section includes many responses, as does Joel’s “Forest Trail” page.  Some of my personal favorite responses include:

What is the meaning of life?
The meaning of a person’s life is the message communicated to other people by that person’s words and actions. The idea that a particular message is intended by someone or something outside of that person is a natural consequence of belief in gods, but it implies that people are not responsible for their own lives.

Shouldn’t all religious beliefs be respected?
All people should be respected. Beliefs deserve respect to the degree that they are supported by evidence, not merely because someone holds to them.

Would the world be better off without any religion?
The world would be better off with more focus on truth—without religion or superstition in any form.

While there are certainly no canned or standard answers to these questions, I have found most responses to be well thought-out.  And, to my pleasant surprise, it has been rather rare for me to find a comment with which I completely disagree.  In the future, I’ll try to develop my own list of short and sweet responses and post them here.

Humans and Morality

A recent Time Magazine article, What Makes Us Moral, investigates the issue of human behavior.  From the introduction:

If the entire human species were a single individual, that person would long ago have been declared mad. The insanity would not lie in the anger and darkness of the human mind—though it can be a black and raging place indeed. And it certainly wouldn’t lie in the transcendent goodness of that mind—one so sublime, we fold it into a larger “soul.” The madness would lie instead in the fact that both of those qualities, the savage and the splendid, can exist in one creature, one person, often in one instant.

Morality may be a hard concept to grasp, but we acquire it fast. A preschooler will learn that it’s not all right to eat in the classroom, because the teacher says it’s not. If the rule is lifted and eating is approved, the child will happily comply. But if the same teacher says it’s also O.K. to push another student off a chair, the child hesitates. “He’ll respond, ‘No, the teacher shouldn’t say that,'” says psychologist Michael Schulman, co-author of Bringing Up a Moral Child. In both cases, somebody taught the child a rule, but the rule against pushing has a stickiness about it, one that resists coming unstuck even if someone in authority countenances it. That’s the difference between a matter of morality and one of mere social convention, and Schulman and others believe kids feel it innately.

… and from the conclusion:

For grossly imperfect creatures like us, morality may be the steepest of all developmental mountains. Our opposable thumbs and big brains gave us the tools to dominate the planet, but wisdom comes more slowly than physical hardware. We surely have a lot of killing and savagery ahead of us before we fully civilize ourselves. The hope—a realistic one, perhaps—is that the struggles still to come are fewer than those left behind.

While the general question is certainly an interesting one, I find it particularly relevant with relation to religion. People seem to have this idea that (at least for religious people), morality is defined in their ancient texts.  It follows, then, that the rest of us (atheists, for example), have no reason to follow generally-accepted moral teachings.  Personally, I feel this is complete garbage.  There’s little evidence that religion has anything to do with morality, and many of the teachings of books such as the Christian Bible are filled with immoral acts performed by none other than God himself.

Evidence and studies show quite the opposite: Human beings (and other animals) exhibit traits and behaviors that are inline with what we consider “morality.”  Much of this is independent of learning, and has roots elsewhere. Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, describes studies that show that there’s no correlation between religiosity and the decisions people will make when presented with difficult decisions.  The Brights organization has also started a project to investigate the same.  For details, see “Action Arena #1: Reality about Human Morality.” 

Overall, I hope that these studies will have some impact on making the human race less violent (especially in the name of religion).  History shows that it’s unlikely to help, but there’s always hope.

Accountability for Iraqi Deaths

I have written before about how it seems exceedingly rare to find any U.S. news related to the condition of Iraqi people (you know, the ones we supposedly liberated).  Most non-American news outlets have exposed the poor living conditions of the Iraqi people – something that you’re not going to see on Fox News (unless, of course, there’s a picture of a menacing, turban-wearing Islamic person with a grenade in one hand and a machine gun in another). 

AlterNet has recently posted a good reminder of the details in Holocaust Denial, American Style.  From the article:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s flirtation with those who deny the reality of the Nazi genocide has rightly been met with disgust. But another holocaust denial is taking place with little notice: the holocaust in Iraq. The average American believes that 10,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the US invasion in March 2003. The most commonly cited figure in the media is 70,000. But the actual number of people who have been killed is most likely more than one million.

This is five times more than the estimates of killings in Darfur and even more than the genocide in Rwanda 13 years ago.

The estimate of more than one million violent deaths in Iraq was confirmed again two months ago in a poll by the British polling firm Opinion Research Business, which estimated 1,220,580 violent deaths since the US invasion. This is consistent with the study conducted by doctors and scientists from the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health more than a year ago. Their study was published in the Lancet, Britain’s leading medical journal. It estimated 601,000 people killed due to violence as of July 2006; but if updated on the basis of deaths since the study, this estimate would also be more than a million. These estimates do not include those who have died because of public health problems created by the war, including breakdowns in sewerage systems and electricity, shortages of medicines, etc.

Of course, it’s much easier to pretend that the U.S. has nothing to do with this.  It’s just the damn Iraqi’s killing each other.  They should just willfully accept our invasion and plundering of their nation.  I hope that this information becomes better known and that we will force the Bush Administration for some answers.  History, unfortunately, shows that nothing like that will occur.  Instead, we’ll pretend that none of this ever happened.

Update (01/31/2008): Crooks and Liars reports about a confirmation to the death toll in Iraq: New UK Survey: Iraq Conflict has Killed a Million Iraqis

Fascism in the United States?

I’ll bet that most readers will find the title of this post to be either surprising or annoying.  But, based on recent events in the United States, I have often wondered about the similarities between our current regime and the rise of Hitler or Mussolini.  Certainly people in Italy and Germany went along with some of the most violent and disagreeable leaders history has ever known.  Many of them were well-educated.  Yet, the advocated and assisted in the systematic murders of millions.  I don’t think we’re all that far off in America.

AlterNet has recently posted an interview that focuses on the same topic.   The End of America? Naomi Wolf Thinks It Could Happen.  From the introduction:

If you think we are living in scary times, your worst fears may be confirmed by reading Naomi Wolf’s newest book, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. In it, Wolf proves the old axiom that history does repeat itself. Or more accurately, history occurs in patterns, and in order to understand where our country is today and where it is headed, we need to read the history books.

Wolf began by diving into the early years leading up to fascist regimes, like the ones led by Hitler and Mussolini. And the patterns that she found in those, and others all over the world, made her hair stand on end. In “The End of America,” she lays out the 10 steps that dictators (or aspiring dictators) take in order to shut down an open society. “Each of those ten steps is now under way in the United States today,” she writes.

The 10 steps that are mentioned sound dead-on to me:

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

2. Create a gulag

3. Develop a thug caste

4. Set up an internal surveillance system

5. Harass citizens’ groups

6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release

7. Target key individuals

8. Control the press

9. Dissent equals treason

10. Suspend the rule of law

The list, to me, reads like the Bush Administration’s playbook.  It has somehow become subversive (both legally and from a social standpoint) to criticize our government.  That’s one of the many reasons that I decided to keep this blog anonymous.  The impact of the “phantom menace” (terrorism, of course) has lead us to abandon the very rights that our Constitution was designed to protect.  We don’t have open debates on issues, and people are often kept in the dark.  The interview does a great job of exposing these ideas.  While they may not be comforting, I hope it will motivate more people to see the seriousness of declaring unprovoked wars based on falsified information.  I found this round of Q & A to be particularly relevant:

DH: So let’s talk about what could happen here. Is America in denial? Or is avoidance an attitude that seemed to be present in all historical examples? That people assume it’s not going to happen to them. Does the Americans’ denial at this point run parallel with the denial of Germans and Italians? Or do we have our own version of denial here?

NW: That’s a really great question; both are true. It’s really instructive to read memoirs and journals from Germany. People writing, “This can’t last … we surely will come to our senses”; “they can’t gain any ground in the next election … you know, we’re a civilized country”; “this is ridiculous, they’re a bunch of thugs; no one takes them seriously.”

History is particularly instructive in the early days of the fascist shifts in Germany and Italy, when things were really pretty normal. People go about their business, just like we’re doing now. It’s not like goose stepping columns of soldiers are everywhere. It looks like ordinary life. Celebrities, gossip columns, fashion, before getting caught up in a snare. People kept going to movies, worrying about feeding the cat. (laughs) Even while you watch the sort of inevitable unfold.

For more information on Naomi Wolf’s book, see the web site for The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot.  She has already made quite an impact with her previous books, including The Beauty Myth, and this one seems no less relevant or pertinent.  I’m planning to read it soon, and would love to hear others’ opinions on it.  I just hope that people can argue with Wolf based on facts, reason, and logic.  There are some interesting comments on the Digg link to the interview.  I’m sure many will just label her a “traitor” or focus on standard ad hominem attacks. 

There is some potentially good news: It’s not too late to start limiting or correcting some of the damage that has already been done.

Update: If you can stomach it, Fox News has done an “interview” with Naomi Wolf.  For a link to the video, see Naomi Wolfe Unnerves John Kasich on O’Reilly Factor.  It’s barely an interview, as Wolf is rarely allowed to complete her thoughts or ideas.  It’s more like verbal abuse, thinly veiled as “news”.

Fox News: Unfair and Unbalanced?

Much of the America peoples’ ignorance of politics in their own country can be attributed to the lack of unbiased, fact-based, rational media outlets.  Much of the “news” is manufactured by just a few corporations in the United States, and while “alternative” news sources are available on the Internet and on non-mainstream stations, few people seem to bother.  I still talk to friends who get their political information from Fox News (and they claim that they think it’s fair and unbiased).  I’ve posted about this before, but the Guardian Unlimited has published an interesting article on the topic.  A myth in the unmaking begins with:

Britons may be familiar with Rupert Murdoch, but I don’t think the UK has a beast quite like the American Fox News Channel. Celebrating its 11th year on the air, Fox is a breathtaking institution. It is a lock, stock and barrel servant of the Republican party, devoted first and foremost to electing Republicans and defeating Democrats; it’s even run by a man, Roger Ailes, who helped elect Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior to the presidency. And yet, because it minimally adheres to certain superficial conventions, it can masquerade as a “news” outfit and enjoy all the rights that accrue to that.

The writer mentions that he supports Democratic candidates’ refusal to appear on the network.  I would probably do the same, but I think that the root of the problem is with the viewers.  Shouldn’t Americans demand more, or choose another news source?  None of the networks are completely unbiased (I’d argue that no human being is either), but certainly we can do better than Fox.

[Yet Another] Church Scandal

I’m not usually inclined to further gossip and stories that tend to be blown out of proportion, but I found a story on MSNBC to be relevant to the topic to the focus of this blog.  That article, Megachurch leader in mega-sized sex scandal, provides details about another church-related scandal:

DECATUR, Ga. – The 80-year-old leader of a suburban Atlanta megachurch is at the center of a sex scandal of biblical dimensions: He slept with his brother’s wife and fathered a child by her.

Members of Archbishop Earl Paulk’s family stood at the pulpit of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Chapel Hill Harvester Church a few Sundays ago and revealed the secret exposed by a recent court-ordered paternity test.

In truth, this is not the first — or even the second — sex scandal to engulf Paulk and the independent, charismatic church. But this time, he could be in trouble with the law for lying under oath about the affair.

I’m guessing that most people won’t be shocked by this (I’m certainly not).  However, it makes me wonder: If these religious “leaders” really believed in anything that they preached, wouldn’t they be less likely to commit these kind of offenses?  We have some of the richest organizations in the world that claim to be devoted to religion.  They don’t have to pay taxes and, in many cases, don’t even have to report where their money goes.  The leaders of these rackets have been found hiring prostitutes, covering up organized pedophilia, and so many other bizarre acts that a complete account would be even wackier than most of the stories in the Bible.  Still, this doesn’t seem to hurt their popularity all that much.  Here’s more from the article:

At its peak in the early 1990s, it claimed about 10,000 members and 24 pastors and was a media powerhouse. By soliciting tithes of 10 percent from each member’s income, the church was able to build a Bible college, two schools, a worldwide TV ministry and a $12 million sanctuary the size of a fortress.

Today, though, membership is down to about 1,500, the church has 18 pastors, most of them volunteers, and the Bible college and TV ministry have shuttered — a downturn blamed largely on complaints about the alleged sexual transgressions of the elder Paulks.

In 1992, a church member claimed she was pressured into a sexual relationship with Don Paulk. Other women also claimed they had been coerced into sex with Earl Paulk and other members of the church’s administration.

My theory: Much of what religions state as “good” from a moral or behavioral standpoint are flat-out contradictory to human nature.  From the promotion of abstinence-only programs to general sexual repression, it’s really no surprise that religious people run into these types of problems.  What is (or at least should be) surprising, is that no one ever seems to learn from these failures. 

Despite the fact that there’s no verifiable evidence of miracles, Hell, or events in religious texts, people still follow these teachings.  It does seem consistent with the nature of religious belief.  Many people I’ve talked to feel that facts and evidence are only useful if they agree with their preconceptions and prejudices.  I’d like to think that some good might come from this latest “scandal”, but I doubt it will have any effect on the typical religious mind.

Angry at Non-Atheists

I recently read a post on Greta Christina’s Blog titled Atheists and Anger that attempts to address the issue.  Among the many examples of infuriating issues cited by the author are the following:

I’m angry that according to a recent Gallup poll, only 45 percent of Americans would vote for an atheist for President.

I’m angry that the 41st President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, said of atheists, in my lifetime, “No, I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.” My President. No, I didn’t vote for him, but he was still my President, and he still said that my lack of religious belief meant that I shouldn’t be regarded as a citizen.

I’m angry that it took until 1961 for atheists to be guaranteed the right to serve on juries, testify in court, or hold public office in every state in the country.

I’m angry that women are dying of AIDS in Africa and South America because the Catholic Church has convinced them that using condoms makes baby Jesus cry.

I get angry when advice columnists tell their troubled letter-writers to talk to their priest or minister or rabbi… when there is absolutely no legal requirement that a religious leader have any sort of training in counseling or therapy.

I’m angry at preachers who tell women in their flock to submit to their husbands because it’s the will of God, even when their husbands are beating them within an inch of their lives.

I’m angry that so many parents and religious leaders terrorize children — who (a) have brains that are hard-wired to trust adults and believe what they’re told, and (b) are very literal-minded — with vivid, traumatizing stories of eternal burning and torture to ensure that they’ll be too frightened to even question religion.

I’m angrier when religious leaders explicitly tell children – and adults, for that matter — that the very questioning of religion and the existence of hell is a dreadful sin, one that will guarantee them that hell is where they’ll end up.

I’m angry — enraged — at the priests who molest children and tell them it’s God’s will. I’m enraged at the Catholic Church that consciously, deliberately, repeatedly, for years, acted to protect priests who molested children, and consciously and deliberately acted to keep it a secret, placing the Church’s reputation as a higher priority than, for fuck’s sake, children not being molested.

I’m angry that huge swaths of public policy in this country — not just on same-sex marriage, but on abortion and stem-cell research and sex education in schools — are being based, not on evidence of which policies do and don’t work and what is and isn’t true about the world, but on religious texts written hundreds or thousands of years ago, and on their own personal feelings about how those texts should be interpreted, with no supporting evidence whatsoever — and no apparent concept of why any evidence should be needed.

I’ll add one more of my own to the list: I’m angry that people seem to think that they’re the exception to the rules of religion.  Their believes (no matter how horrible or dangerous) are acceptable, as long as they feel that they are acting based on God’s will.  They distance themselves from other religious believers who claim the same thing and do thing with which they might not agree.  People need to be accountable and should oppose pointless wars and social injustice – whether it’s purportedly God’s will or not.

It was tempting for me to copy the entire article, but I highly recommend reading the entire article.  I have written about many of these issues in past blog postings, and I hope that they help inform people of America’s position on religion and those who do not believe in superstition.  I would have hoped that important events like the freeing of slaves and the Civil Rights movement in the United States have taught us something about what we should and should not tolerate.  Personally, I find it surprising that people would not be angry at some of these things. 

I would ask: If anger is not the most appropriate reaction to these outrages, what is?

Homophobia vs. Microsoft

A Redmond, WA conservative preacher is attempting to take on Microsoft’s “sinful” ways.  Could this be about anti-trust or anti-competitive actions?  No.  This guy’s talking about Microsoft’s acceptance of gay people.  The Telegraph reports in Pastor in Microsoft ‘gay rights’ share bid:

“There are 256 Fortune 500 companies alone pouring millions upon millions of dollars into pushing the homosexual agenda,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

“I consider myself a warrior for Christ. Microsoft don’t scare me. I got God with me.

“I told them that you need to work with me or we will put a firestorm on you like you have never seen in you life because I am your worst nightmare. I am a black man with a righteous cause with a whole host of powerful white people behind me.”

Mr Hutcherson’s office is decorated with the heads of deer, elk and a buffalo – “when I run into animals, I kill them and bring them home and eat them” – as well as invitations to the White House and signed pictures of himself with President George W. Bush.

His ambitious plan signals a new offensive in his two-year battle with Microsoft after it abandoned its neutral stance on gay rights legislation, which he says he helped secretly negotiate before outraged gay employees intervened.

By trying to become a political player in Washington state, he said, the company was trying to impose its sinful ways on others.

This is just but one more example of how neo-conservatism can make outrageous claims against progress.  Thousands of people apparently believe (or will at least listen to and pay) this guy.  From treating homosexuality as a choice (I’m sure lots of people want to line up to be persecuted) to seeing his mission as a Crusade against “sin”, this would have been rather shocking a few years ago.  Now, it seems to be the norm.

The Most Violent Cities in America

It seems that violence is a commonly-excepted for of entertainment in the United States.  You can regularly find grotesque pictures of severed heads and limbs on just about every major network’s prime-time programming.  Gruesome, grisly murders seem to dominate the airways, and the ratings can be amazing.  The worst offender, in my opinion, is TV news.  It’s seemingly impossible to watch even a few minutes of coverage without a full story (or at least an annoying scrolling text message) talking about someone who was “brutally murdered”.  It’s effective, though.  I know many people who are terrified of living in the United States.

Forbes.com attempts to put some of this in perspective in America’s Most Murderous Cities:

Americans are accustomed to turning on the local TV news and seeing images of mayhem and murder. The world outside, it would seem, is a violent, wrathful, dangerous place.

Of course, television doesn’t always tell the whole story. The average American is 36 times more likely to die from heart disease than be murdered, six times more likely to die in an accident and four times more likely to die from Alzheimer’s disease, according to data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

But homicide does result in many thousands of deaths every year. And a comparison of the 72 American cities with a population over 250,000, using data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, reveals that some places are definitely more murderous than others.

The focus of the article is on ranking the most dangerous cities (if you have the patience for one of those web-based slideshows, you can see the statistics in In Pictures- America’s Most Murderous Cities). 

While the details might be interesting to some, I think the overall conclusion is much more important.  As a whole, Americans are far more scared of everything today.  We have the past and current sensationalism related to date-rape drugs, stalkers, pedophiles, sex offenders and, of course, good old-fashioned murders (serial killers get bonus points).  The facts, however, show that we’re actually far safer today than we have been in the past.  From the article’s conclusion:

It’s important to note that even though some cities may have comparatively high murder rates, crime is, on the average, down in the U.S over the last two decades. Over that period, the homicide rate in the U.S. has fallen from a 1991 peak of 9.8 murders per 100,000 people, to just 5.7 in 2006.

There’s always some chance that any one of us will be the victim of a violent crime – that’s just part of existing in a society with other human beings.  I’d argue, however, that people living in fear are losing out every single day.  You won’t see those victims on the news – they’re on the wrong side of the television screen.

The Road to War with Iran

I’m sure that are some Americans that truly wonder how the United States could have attacked a company completely unprovoked and in the absence of any information.  One might have hoped that we would have learned something from this.  But, Bush and his cronies were re-elected, and it looks like it’s time for yet another way.  Alternet reports in Bush-Cheney Really Are Planning to Attack Iran!:

Look out — here they come again! Bush & Buckshot are riding their little stick horses, waving the bloody flag of 9/11, demonizing another Muslim nation, shouting warnings about weapons of mass destruction, bellowing for regime change, and generally trying to whoop up a new war. Having done so well in Iraq, George W and Cheney are pushing feverishly to hype up a national-security threat and commit our nation, our bedraggled military, our depleted treasury, and our country’s already-tarnished name to another of their fantasyland, neocon, preemptive invasions of a sovereign people who are doing no harm to us. Their target this time: Iran.

You might be thinking, oh, come on, Hightower, surely not. You’re paranoid — even the Bushites aren’t that crazy. I wish.

While the title of this article might not seem shocking when compared to Dubya’s other blunders and falsehoods, the facts should be appalling.  Just the fact that the leadership of our nation can suggest another war should be outrageous.  But, Republicans and their flock will definitely follow Bush’s holy war to destroy the Middle East. 

The end of the article offers some suggestions about what people can do:

  • First, connect with our allies in Congress, including the 22 senators who voted against the Kyl-Lieberman surrender to Bush (list available here). Let antiwar lawmakers know you’re behind them, ask them to get still noisier on this, and ask that they develop an inside-outside strategy to rally and focus our national outrage against expanding Bush’s Iraq disaster into Iran.
  • Second, demand that your Congress critters (whatever their stripe) use all their congressional powers (to control spending, launch investigations, declare war, etc.) to say that the president can take no preemptive military action against Iran without a full, constitutionally mandated declaration of war by Congress.
  • Third, connect with any and all of the savvy grassroots groups in this issue’s “Do Something” box. Use their information, sign all of their petitions, spread their materials, and join their actions.
  • Fourth, talk, talk, talk, and talk some more — in church, at school, with your neighbors and coworkers, at town hall meetings, in family phone calls or visits, on talk radio, at candidate forums, in supermarket check-out lines… wherever you can find an ear. The vast majority of Americans have not heard what Bush is up to, and they won’t like it. The most effective way to reach them and activate them is by personal contact — i.e., you. Talk to someone about it every day.
  • Fifth, don’t let Democrats waffle. Iraq was Bush’s war (and his political debacle), but Iran would be a product of a Democratic-controlled Congress, and they will be responsible either for allowing it…or for stopping it.
  • Sixth, come up with your own action idea, and let the rest of us know how we can support and spread it.

Really, I think our only hope is to force Democrats to take action – the Republican Party is too far gone.  Next year’s election might help, but I’m personally not very optimistic based on recent decisions made by U.S. voters.

Leisure Reading for Dubya: The Constitution

The best type of gift is one that can help people improve their lives and the lives of others.  For Bush and his Administration, I think the decision is simple.  The Raw Story reports in Group hopes to ‘flood the Oval Office’ with 25,000 copies of the Constitution:

The Center for Constitutional Rights plans to “flood the Oval Office with copies of the Constitution this holiday season … as a seasonal reminder that the Constitution needs to be upheld; not destroyed.”

Those interested can also sign an accompanying letter addressed to President Bush, which poses a multitude of questions reminding the president “that he swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.”

“I would have hoped that you’d be pretty familiar with [the Constitution] already,” writes the anonymous author, “because you have at least three times in your life taken a solemn oath to uphold, protect and defend it, but all the signs indicate that you either don’t know what’s in it, or you don’t care.”

The diatribe covers controversial topics such as habeus corpus and torture, and beseeches the President to “uphold, protect and defend [the Constitution], like you swore you would.”

Interested parties can donate money to help cover costs if they wish, but the offer itself is completely free. The CCR hopes to send the President more than 25,000 copies of the Constitution by January 2008.

It’s easy to argue that the Republican Party has given itself far too many gifts already.  From corporate kickbacks to no-bid contracts for plundering Iraq, it’s unlikely that Bush will treasure this keepsake.  After all, Bush doesn’t seem to be all that found of this work (see Bush- [The Constitution] is just a goddamned piece of paper for details).  I only wish I could believe that he’d read and consider the Constitution.  But, it appears that in the United States, that’s asking far too much of the President.

No Telecom Wiretap Immunity

Many of us have come to expect our government violate civil rights in secrecy.  When these issues are exposed, there’s rarely any intelligent response or explanation.  In the past, violations like this would have been major scandals.  But against the backdrop of our current war and the many other crimes committed by the Bush Administration, they seem to fade into the background.  Many companies have also participated with the government when they had the legal resources to fight against it.  Wiretapping is one such issue. 

Ars Technica reports on the Restore Act, which recently passed the House of Representatives without providing immunity to the telecom companies that assisted our government in violating civil liberties and privacy assurances. From the article titled House passes Restore Act with no telecom immunity provision:

Critics of the NSA’s wiretapping program argue that retroactive immunity grants would elevate the companies above the rule of law and block efforts to hold the telecoms and the government accountable for past misdeeds. Congress has opted not to compel the telecommunications companies to reveal the scope of their involvement with teh NSA program and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has declined requests from privacy groups to evaluate whether or not the telecommunications companies have violated the law by supplying data to the NSA. Many critics of the program believe that the court system is the only venue left where the details of the matter can be brought to light.

The Bush administration claims that permitting litigation against the companies would risk exposing too many details about the program. Bush has vowed to veto any surveillance reform bill that does not include immunity grants.

It seems unlikely to me that this legislation will ultimately go into effect as-is.  Republicans will do everything they can to protect telecom companies (and the lobbyists that fund their reelection), even at the expense of justice.  Still, it’s good to see at least some attempt at maintaining accountability.  Now if we could only do the same about falsified military intelligence, misleading the public, and advocating torture…

Materialism vs. Self-Esteem

Unbridled materialism and consumerism have always been topics that interest me.  Numerous studies have shown that money can’t buy happiness, yet it’s the basis of the economic model in “rich” countries.  The Daily Galaxy has posted an interesting article titled The Consumer Paradox: Scientists Find that Low Self-Esteem and Materialism Goes Hand in Hand.  From the article:

“By the time children reach early adolescence, and experience a decline in self-esteem, the stage is set for the use of material possessions as a coping strategy for feelings of low self-worth,” they write in the study, which will appear in the Journal of Consumer Research.

The paradox that findings such as these bring up, is that consumerism is good for the economy but bad for the individual. In the short run, it’s good for the economy when young people believe they need to buy an entirely new wardrobe every year, for example. But the hidden cost is much higher than the dollar amount. There are costs in happiness when people believe that their value is extrinsic. There are also environmental costs associated with widespread materialism.

On the topic of happiness, the article mentions the following:

In the book “Happiness: Lessons From a New Science”, Richard Layard exposes a paradox at the heart of our lives. Most of us want more income so we can consume more. Yet as societies become richer, they do not become happier. In fact, the First World has more depression, more alcoholism and more crime than fifty years ago. This paradox is true of Britain, the United States, continental Europe and Japan.

Statistically people have more things than they did 50 years ago, but they are actually less happy in several key areas. There is also the considerable cost of what materialism does to the environment. We don’t yet know what final toll that could take in terms of quality of life and overall happiness. What many people don’t understand is that if we want to save the environment then at some level we have to buy and consume less. We don’t need to buy so much bottled water, for example. Studies have shown it’s usually not any purer than city tap water, which doesn’t leave mountains of plastic bottles strewn across the nations landfills. It also wastes energy and resources to make those plastic bottles and the many other unnecessary things that both youth and adults alike believe they need to have in order to enjoy life and feel good about themselves.

I’m happy to see the bottled water example.  Add in SUVs and other unacceptably wasteful uses of the money (not to mention the environmental effects), and hopefully the paradox is quite evident.  It’s really difficult to get off of the materialism treadmill.  Personally, I find myself actively resisting the urge to buy “better” (i.e., more expensive) things, even though I can easily afford them.  Few people, it seems, would ever be satisfied with any level of possessions.

For anyone that’s more interested in the topic (and a fun read), I highly recommend Barry Schwarz’s book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.  I’m cautiously optimistic that people in the United States will one day realize this.  It might not be good for the stock market, at least in the short run, but I think we’d all be much happier.

The Bush Effect: Economic Impacts

Several historians have referred to Dubya as one of the worst presidents in the history of the United States.  I have no doubt that this will be his legacy in the eyes of objective, rational people (the religious “Right” and conservatives need not apply to that group).  Vanity Fair has provided some statistics and projections in The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush.  From the introduction:

When we look back someday at the catastrophe that was the Bush administration, we will think of many things: the tragedy of the Iraq war, the shame of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, the erosion of civil liberties. The damage done to the American economy does not make front-page headlines every day, but the repercussions will be felt beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this page.

By the way, that’s just the “short list” of Bush’s disasters.  Regarding economics:

The world was a very different place, economically speaking, when George W. Bush took office, in January 2001. During the Roaring 90s, many had believed that the Internet would transform everything. Productivity gains, which had averaged about 1.5 percent a year from the early 1970s through the early 90s, now approached 3 percent. During Bill Clinton’s second term, gains in manufacturing productivity sometimes even surpassed 6 percent. The Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, spoke of a New Economy marked by continued productivity gains as the Internet buried the old ways of doing business. Others went so far as to predict an end to the business cycle. Greenspan worried aloud about how he’d ever be able to manage monetary policy once the nation’s debt was fully paid off.

But the Bush administration had its own ideas. The first major economic initiative pursued by the president was a massive tax cut for the rich, enacted in June of 2001. Those with incomes over a million got a tax cut of $18,000—more than 30 times larger than the cut received by the average American. The inequities were compounded by a second tax cut, in 2003, this one skewed even more heavily toward the rich. Together these tax cuts, when fully implemented and if made permanent, mean that in 2012 the average reduction for an American in the bottom 20 percent will be a scant $45, while those with incomes of more than $1 million will see their tax bills reduced by an average of $162,000.

The American government now runs much like the American – we’re not even living paycheck-to-paycheck, and we barely think of budgets when we contribute billions of dollars to disasters such as the unprovoked attack on Iraq.

Perhaps the American people are to blame.  While we’re watching the latest antics of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, parts of our nation our crumbling under the weight of inept leadership.  And, studies have shown that we’re getting significantly dumber.  I see a lot of opportunity here – for nations other than the United States.

Torture: Kickin’ It Old School

People often seem to be quite accepting of the savagery of the human race.  We tend to forget how many horrible acts have been committed to millions of human beings at the hands of another.  I firmly believe that there are many, many things that are far worse than dying.  For some examples, see The Most Painful Torture Devices of All Time.  As a warning, the text and images here are likely to really disturbing.  Personally, I was unable to finish readhing the article.  But if you look at unbridled religious beliefs, political agendas, and just good ol’ fashioned cruelty, it seems that humans are capable of just about anything.

My point in all this is not just a history lesson.  While I would love to be able to say, “Look how far we’ve come!”, I can’t.  I’m paying taxes in a nation where our leader states that God told him to attack Iraq.  He advocates the torture of prisoners of a war he created based on no evidence.  The use of psychological torture has been proven to be far worse than physical torture in many cases. It has also been proven to be ineffective, and inflicts cruelty upon the torturer, as well.  It seems simple: Little benefit, at a tremendous cost to everyone involved.  Does this sound like a familiar pattern for the United States?

And, while another President was impeached for lying about his private life, Bush and his cronies haven’t faced a single official charge for these atrocities.  As long as people like this are in charge (and we tolerate it), the referenced web page might serve more people as an instructional How-To guide.

Infant Mortality in the U.S.

It would be reasonable to think that in the U.S. – one of the richest and most educated nations in the world – problems like infant mortality would be almost unheard of.  We have one of the most expensive healthcare systems in the United States, but according to a Yahoo! News article entitled US among worst in world for infant death:

Babies born to black mothers died at two and a half times the rate of those born to white mothers, according to the CDC figures.

The United States ranks near the bottom for infant survival rates among modernized nations. A Save the Children report last year placed the United States ahead of only Latvia, and tied with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia.

The same report noted the United States had more neonatologists and newborn intensive care beds per person than Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom — but still had a higher rate of infant mortality than any of those nations.

I’d wager that very, very few Americans know this (I had heard the statistics only recently).  Strangely, the current administration seems to have little problem with out healthcare system and can even find trillions of dollars to spend on attacking a nation with little evidence.  Perhaps our priorities are slightly askew?

Top 50 Bush-isms

While these lists are hardly rare, About.com lists The 50 Dumbest Things George W. Bush Has Ever Said.  The title might be a bit misleading.  As long as this guy can still talk, it’s quite likely that the list will need revisions.  Still, it gives us a good idea of how (or whether) the highest-ranking public official in the United States has the ability to think clearly.  Here are some examples from the list:

45. “I couldn’t imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah.” –at a White House menorah lighting ceremony, Washington, D.C., Dec. 10, 2001 (Listen to audio clip)

43. “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th.” –Washington, D.C., July 12, 2007
42. “I’m the commander — see, I don’t need to explain — I do not need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being president.” –as quoted in Bob Woodward’s Bush at War

36. “Do you have blacks, too?” –to Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, Washington, D.C., Nov. 8, 2001

34. “We need an energy bill that encourages consumption.” –Trenton, N.J., Sept. 23, 2002
33. “My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we’re going to run out of debt to retire.” –radio address, Feb. 24, 2001

32. “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.” –on “Good Morning America,” Sept. 1, 2005, six days after repeated warnings from experts about the scope of damage expected from Hurricane Katrina

26. “This is an impressive crowd — the haves and the have mores. Some people call you the elite — I call you my base.”

21. “I wish you’d have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it…I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with answer, but it hadn’t yet…I don’t want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t — you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.” –after being asked to name the biggest mistake he had made, Washington, D.C., April 3, 2004

18. “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” –State of the Union Address, Jan. 28, 2003, making a claim that administration officials knew at the time to be false

15. “Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?” –Florence, South Carolina, Jan. 11, 2000

11. “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” –speaking underneath a “Mission Accomplished” banner aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, May 1, 2003

8. “If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.” –Washington, D.C., Dec. 19, 2000 (Listen to audio clip)

5. “Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.” –Poplar Bluff, Mo., Sept. 6, 2004 (Watch video clip)

4. “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” –Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004 (Watch video clip)
3. “You work three jobs? … Uniquely American, isn’t it? I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that.” –to a divorced mother of three, Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005 (Listen to audio clip)
2. “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” –to FEMA director Michael Brown, who resigned 10 days later amid criticism over his handling of the Hurricane Katrina debacle, Mobile, Ala., Sept. 2, 2005 (Listen to audio clip; watch video clip)
1. “My answer is bring them on.” –on Iraqi insurgents attacking U.S. forces, Washington, D.C., July 3, 2003

Lest you think that this is just “liberal propaganda” (a seemingly popular term for facts these days), you can hear the audio clips yourself.  Of course, everyone’s entitled to making mistakes.  But this is a repeated pattern of a heinously distorted ability to communicate.

I’ll bet that I’m not alone in wanting a return to a time when leaders could speak clearly and in complete sentences.  Remember past American presidents that were quoted for their eloquence?  The worst part, perhaps, is that American votes knew all this about Dubya before he was elected the first time.  Americans seem to be quite resistant to intellectualism, but this is going way too far.

War Spending Alternatives: What else we could do with $611 Billion

The United States seems to have little problem with spending billions of dollars – as long as it’s for war.  When it comes to issues like healthcare for children or education, it seems that we just can’t afford it.  The Bush Administration seems to think this is fine.  Recently, Dubya has requested even more funding for continuing our disasters in Iraq.  That would bring the current toll to $611 billion (current estimates show that the “real” cost will amount to at least 2.5 trillion dollars).  Most Americans would have a hard time trying to understand these numbers.  So it’s always good to see articles like Boston.com’s What can $611 billion buy?  From the introduction:

If the Bush administration succeeds in its latest request for funding for the war in Iraq, the total cost would rise to $611.5 billion, according to the National Priorities Project, a nonprofit research group.
The amount got us wondering: What would $611 billion buy?

If you want the quick version (without stock photos), here are highlights from the list:

    1. Nearly 4,000 Newton North High Schools
      Tagged as the most expensive high school in Massachusetts, at $154.6 million, the construction design for the new Newton North High School could be replicated almost 4,000 times using the money spent on the war.
    2. 3. Almost 18 months’ worth of free gas for everyone
      US drivers consume approximately 384.7 million gallons of gasoline a day. Retail prices averaged $3.00 a gallon in early November. Breaking it down, $611 billion could buy gasoline for everybody in the United States, for about 530 days.
    3. Many, many environment-friendly cars on the road
      With $611 billion, you could convert all cars in America to run on ethanol nine times over.
      TheBudgetGraph.com estimates that converting the 136,568,083 registered cars in the United States to ethanol (conversion kits at $500) would cost $68.2 billion.
    4. Nearly 14 million years’ worth of tuition, room, and board at Harvard
      At published rates for this year, $611 billion translates into almost 14 million free rides for a year at Harvard University.
      Tuition and fees at the University of Massachusetts-Boston could be paid for over 53 million years.
    5. More than a year’s worth of Medicare benefits for everyone
      In fiscal 2008, Medicare benefits will total $454 billion, according to a Heritage Foundation summary. The $611 billion in war costs is 17 times the amount vetoed by the president for a $35 billion health benefit program for poor children.
    6. A real war on poverty
      According to World Bank estimates, $54 billion a year would eliminate starvation and malnutrition globally by 2015, while $30 billion would provide a year of primary education for every child on earth.
      At the upper range of those estimates, the $611 billion cost of the war could have fed and educated the world’s poor for seven years.

What a tough decision:Fighting poverty or attacking countries unprovoked?  In fact, I think a better question might be whether there’s a worse way to spend this amount of money.  Sadly, history shows that the United States will likely get involved in yet another disaster like the war on Iraq.  Media companies have spun up their dramatic logos and theme music for attacking Iran. 

It seems unlikely, but if enough people start to realize the financial burdens and opportunity costs of going to war, perhaps the U.S. could become a more respectable nation.

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