Thursday, August 31, 2006

Religion, what is it good for?

Religion: we all pay for it in many ways. If you ask me, its part of the reason our children are falling behind intellectually … Its fostering a fatalist attitude in this nation that’s (at least) partially responsible for the populace’s complacence with our foreign policy … It’s a financial drain on government (in terms of lost revenues).

I’m thinking of the subject because of some recent news.

Some of you may have heard that the head of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, Warren Jeffs, was picked up outside Vegas the other day. What most of you probably don’t know was that this church leader was on the FBI’s top-ten most wanted list.

How can a church leader be on the FBI’s most wanted list you ask? If you think there’s more to it than polygamy you’d be right.

Let me get one thing clear before the bashing begins: I strongly believe in the right of any person to believe in whatever god they want to believe in. If you want to pray to Zeus or the comet kohoutek I don’t care. I think it’s intellectually and spiritually bankrupt to believe in such unsubstantiated non-sense… but it is your right. What I do care about is my tax dollars – and in general – my government -- promoting religion. As Jefferson said:

To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

It seems that far too many people in this world are ready to grasp at the teaching of certifiable loonies – all because they stand up and spew their ridiculous teachings with verve.

Back to Warren Jeffs: here’s what the nice folks up in AZ/UT are up too –

In its spring 2005 "Intelligence Report," The Southern Poverty Law Center named FLDS to its " Hate Group" listing because of the church's racist teachings, which include, among other things a fierce condemnation of interracial relationships. "Prophet" Warren Jeffs has said, among other things, "The black race is the people through which the devil has always been able to bring evil unto the earth."

Ah racism – the refuge of the ignorant. Why blame yourself for your lot in life when you can find an appropriate scapegoat? But hey, it’s church – they can teach whatever mean-spirited, counter-productive trash they like.

Critics claim that Warren Jeffs has indicated his desire to reintroduce the 19th-Century doctrine of "blood atonement", in which serious sins can only be atoned by the sinner's death. Former church member Robert Richter reported to the Phoenix New Times that Jeffs repeatedly alluded to this doctrine in church sermons. Richter also claims that he was asked to design a thermostat for a high temperature furnace that would be capable of destroying DNA evidence if such "atonements" were to take place.

Lovely: our own miniature group of Taliban right here in our own backyard – ready to kill sinners since god doesn’t seem to be doing the job right.

Worse: The local news has reported on the stream of excommunicated boys which flows into Phoenix from northern AZ and southern Utah. You see, “excess” young boy are seen as competition for the young girls by the older men. From the Guardian:

Up to 1,000 teenage boys have been separated from their parents and thrown out of their communities by a polygamous sect to make more young women available for older men, Utah officials claim.

Many of these "Lost Boys", some as young as 13, have simply been dumped on the side of the road in Arizona and Utah, by the leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), and told they will never see their families again or go to heaven.

Most of the Lost Boys were between the ages of 13 and 21 when they were banished or pressured to leave.

Isn’t it good to see the caring side of religion come out with such gusto?

On to the more mundane costs of this particular sect’s existence: Because polygamy isn't recognized by law, all "plural wives" are listed as single mothers for tax purposes - almost 50% of the 8000 residents of Hildale and Colorado City are on public assistance.

Talk about your family values: A sanctioned and institutionalized method of bilking the government while simultaneously keeping women in near poverty and financing your operation.

Oh, by the way, members of the 10,000+ member church are expected to deed over all property to the communal organization… so those welfare payments might as well just go into the churches coffers.

While this sect may commit some of the more egregious sins, don’t think the other major religions are immune. Take the Catholics. They enjoy tax exempt status. They reportedly do much for the poor. If that’s true, why is the Catholic Church sitting on more cash, investments and real-estate than Bill Gates? If the function of god’s organization here on earth is to help people why isn’t that money being used to that end?

And who needs to be reminded of the priest sex scandal – where church leaders shuffled known pedophiles from church to church – dealing with a serious crime as if it was an internal matter.

Organized religion: its little more than a series of social clubs where people get together to feel good about the truly least they can do to help humanity.

What percentage of church-goers attend services at “mega-churches”? What percentage drive up in their Mercedes or sporting their latest attire?

Organized religion is a sham. It’s the organization for people who need to be told what their life means… how to live it… and that they are important. It’s packaged and sold just like any other commodity in our society: except those buying have been duped more so than the late night QVC viewer… “You need this” … NOW.

Do I doubt people “find strength” in their religion and beliefs: no … Muslims, Christians, Jews… all attest to the “power of their faith” to help them through tough times in their life. The Christian Scientist (don’t get me started) and the Hindu alike attest to the power of their god(s) to see them thru such times – and they use such evidence as justification for their god’s existence. Well, the opposite is true: since ALL people of faith make this claim we have to look elsewhere for the explanation as frome whence this “inner strength” comes… (giving responsible for your situation over to an all-powerful imaginary friend is apparently a strong tonic).

To such people the thought of living, working and dying in a 100 square mile plot on a tiny planet in the midst of thousands of galaxies -- each beyond our imagination to comprehend – is far too mundane. They must be important… cuz someone says god says so…

And if you’re important in god’s eyes, you can justify almost any behavior, belief or sacrifice (including your or someone else's life). What a bonus.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Full Circle

Support for our “mission” in Iraq is still somewhere near 35%. What that mission really is has been unclear since the first months. Looks like another shift is on the way.

As the need to disarm Iraq disappeared (Iraq does not and did not possess WMD) the focus shifted to a Wilsonian version of democratization for the Middle East and a panacea for terrorism. People naturally long to be free, in the democratic sense, we were told… all we need to do is uncork the bottle: after which, a free and democratic society will naturally arise.

Simplistic reasoning… wrong of course, but easily digested by the throngs who want an everyday guy as their commander and chief.

So here we are: countless thousands of Iraqis dead, 2500+ American soldiers dead, 20+ THOUSAND wounded all to help put an Iraqi parliament in power that unanimously resolved to support Hezbollah in their latest conflict with Israel. Yet the adminstration still maintains that operations in Iraq will reduce the likelyhood of terrorism eminating from that state.

Sounds like it couldn’t get much worse right? American’s dying to ensure Shia fundamentalists have the right to support a terrorist organization…

But wait, both the NYTs and Time Magazine online report that the administration is coming to the realization that the civil war in that country will likely preclude that outcome:

[…]an anonymous “military affairs expert” attended a White House briefing and reported: “Senior administration officials have acknowledged to me that they are considering alternatives other than democracy. Everybody in the administration is being quite circumspect, but you can sense their own concern that this is drifting away from democracy.

While I actually applaud the administrations nod to reality, it underscores the shear incompetence of our leadership.

(BTW, if you take offense to my use of the term “civil war” please suggest another term for a situation in which more than 3000 people a month are killed in sectarian violence. Iraq’s population is approx 25 million – about 8 million less than the state of California)

“The insurgency has gotten worse by almost all measures, with insurgent attacks at historically high levels,” said a senior Defense Department official who agreed to discuss the issue only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution. “The insurgency has more public support and is demonstrably more capable in numbers of people active and in its ability to direct violence than at any point in time.”

Its too much to expect, but a sane leader would realize – since this debacle’s inception – that our presence has made the Middle East less stable; has made Iraq a far more dangerous place – not only for Iraqis but for us (as a breeding ground for anti-Americanism) and has strengthened the influence of terrorist groups around the world.

The icing on the cake is that approx 30-40% of our populace agrees with the stay-the-course mentality… As if ensuring fundamentalist rule in Iraq makes all the sacrifices of our servicemen worth it. What will they say when the administration accepts a psuedo-theocratic state where the mullah's have more influence on the populace than the president (of Iraq)?

They'll likely fall in line behind fearless leader like they always do... its the nature of insecure, authoritarian types to run back to an abusive spouse no matter what the crime.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Experienced voices point out we're less safe under Bush's policies

Twenty-one former generals and high ranking national security officials have called on United States President George W. Bush to reverse course and embrace a new area of negotiation with Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. In a letter released Thursday, the group told reporters Bush's 'hard line' policies have undermined national security and made America less safe.
The letter points out the obvious (to anyone who thinks about it):
"When you announce an axis of evil of three countries and invade one and then say that Iran should take that as a lesson, it does seem that it may give them an incentive to do precisely what they don't want them to do," Guard said, "develop a nuclear weapon."
This is what happens when you have a president who views the world in black-and-white: good and evil... of course, he gets to define those terms.

Don't get me wrong: there are a lot of truly evil people in the world... but our president brings a biblical aspect to the characterization -- along with the requisite obligation to act.

Sometimes, I think he believes we're in a movie -- where the characters all fall into perfect stereotypes.

Yeah, there is evil in the world. But dealing with it involves more than a Hollywood script where the good guys rush in and subdue the evil-doers.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Rule of Law wins -- for now...

Federal Judge Orders End to Warrantless Wiretapping

Looks like the people and US Constitution win this round. However, I'm sure fearless-leader will spin this to the Repug's advantage. Especially with the mid-terms around the corner.

American Taliban: or how to destroy civilization

Why bother with the old scientific method of gathering data, analyzing it, making hypotheses as to the underlying cause and testing those hypotheses? Seems like religion has it all answered for us – neatly tied up in a (mostly) 2000+ year old book brought to you by the same folks that are still trying to turn the clock back in the Middle-East to the time of Moses.

That's what most Republicans and the religious right would have you believe: and the concept is undermining the very foundation of our society and way of life.

A recent study posed the statement: "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals."

Here’s what the populations of the world’s countries have to say about that statement:



The study goes on to postulate the reason why the US scored so poorly.
The total effect of fundamentalist religious beliefs on attitude toward evolution (using a standardized metric) was nearly twice as much in the United States as in the nine European countries (path coefficients of -0.42 and -0.24, respectively), which indicates that individuals who hold a strong belief in a personal God and who pray frequently were significantly less likely to view evolution as probably or definitely true than adults with less conservative religious views.

The number two problem?
Second, the evolution issue has been politicized and incorporated into the current partisan division in the United States in a manner never seen in Europe or Japan. In the second half of the 20th century, the conservative wing of the Republican Party has adopted creationism as a part of a platform designed to consolidate their support in southern and Midwestern states—the "red" states. In the 1990s, the state Republican platforms in seven states included explicit demands for the teaching of "creation science". There is no major political party in Europe or Japan that uses opposition to evolution as a part of its political platform.

Further:
"American Protestantism is more fundamentalist than anybody except perhaps the Islamic fundamentalists, which is why Turkey and we are so close," said study co-author Jon Miller of Michigan State University.
The politicization of science in the name of religion and political partisanship is not new to the United States, but transformation of traditional geographically and economically based political parties into religiously oriented ideological coalitions marks the beginning of a new era for science policy. The broad public acceptance of the benefits of science and technology in the second half of the 20th century allowed science to develop a nonpartisan identification that largely protected it from overt partisanship. That era appears to have closed.

And there you have it. The Republican Party - Religious Right marriage has successfully conspired to dumb-down the American populace over the last several decades. I shutter to think where this is going…

Amazingly, this “couple from hell” simultaneously screams about radical Islamic fundamentalism. They decry the tyranny and oppression such belief systems inevitably impose on their citizenry (especially when they are used as the basis for government) and argue that such oppression results in the types of failed societies we see... Hence fearless leader’s call for ‘democratization’ of the Middle East as the panacea.

Of course, the solution they propose for the ills they see in our society is beginning to bring about the conditions they decry abroad. While democratization is helping to entrench fundamentalism in "legitimate" government.

Could our world be on a more devastating course?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Where are these people?

President Bush's Approval Ratings (washingtonpost.com)


Bush's approval rating is sitting around 40%... Who the hell are these 4 out of 10 Americans?

More importantly, what the hell are they thinking?
  • Thousands of Americans dead in the Middle East ensuring that Islamic fanatics will rule in Iraq...
  • Federal debt as far as the eye can see -- financed by the Chinese and other powers who are growing so fast they'll be eating our economic lunch after a couple more decades: financed by us!
  • An energy policy founded on a resource (oil) that ensures the wealth and power of some of the most anti-American tyrants in the world.
  • Congressional malfeasance at an all-time high.

as you know I could go on and on...

Where is the leadership?

Time for a bit of rambling...

Our schools are turning out increasing numbers of paper-pushers who chase Wall Street $$$ while more than 50% of college graduates in India have science, math or engineering degrees.

Sorry to all you business/finance types out there: yeah, you have a necessary skill, but its technological progress (innovation) that drives the standard of living and the fact that we became a super-power. Finance and financial markets are support systems for economic and social growth: which is brought about by scientific and technological innovation. Somehow this country has turned moving money around into an end unto itself... one that is rewarded more richly than the cancer researcher, the teacher or the engineer who designed the materials used in your home.

If you don't like the idea of labor from south of the boarder picking your fruit just wait for Act II: that's when Chinese and Indian firms come to America to repair our infrastructure. Of course, this time around the engineers and bosses will be the foreigner, while the laborers will be Americans.

What would it take to get this other 40% to abandon their hero? Would he have to be caught punching babies?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Financial Disaster - Coming to country (very) near you


I usually don't get the chance to quote from NewsMAX, but this one is so depressing I have to pass it on:

U.S. Comptroller General Warns the Nation of Economic Calamity

Here's the reader's digest version:
The Comptroller General [Walker] of the United States warns the nation will go broke within a generation - unless it takes radical steps now to rein in out-of-control federal spending.

Walker has revealed America's collision course in computer simulations that show balancing the budget in 2040 (under the status quo of spending like there's no tomorrow) could require cutting total federal spending by an incredible 60 percent - or raising federal taxes 200 percent over today's level.

Among his key assessments:

  • Prescription Drugs:: Walker says that the prescription drug plan is the "poster case for what is wrong with Washington."

    He notes that when Congress first took up the matter of Medicare prescription drugs, estimates placed the cost at $300 billion.

    But he argues that both Congress and the administration simply downplayed or ignored the true costs of the program. Today, the nation will have to pay out for the program $8 trillion-plus in current dollar terms.

    Walker also detailed that when the Medicare actuary of the Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services calculated the true costs of the program, he "was told he could not tell the Congress or else he might lose his job."

    "That not only was unethical but it was illegal, and nobody has been held accountable for it," an angry Walker said.

  • Defense Budget: Walker argues that Defense Department simply is out of control and that basic rules of accountability don't apply.

    He said that although it received a whopping $500 billion in appropriations, the Defense Department "is the only agency in the federal government that cannot adequately account for its assets and its expenditures - and cannot withstand an outside financial statement audit."

    Walker grades the agency with a "D" on "economy, efficiency, transparency, and accountability." He added, "And it has not been held accountable."

  • The Nation's Debt: Walker says the United States risks losing its pre-eminence around the globe because of its growing status as a debtor nation.

    He ominously notes that "last year was the first year since 1933 that Americans spent more money than they took home and, as you probably recall, 1933 was not a good year for the United States."

    Because the United States has to rely on foreign central banks to finance its deficits, it places itself in a high-risk situation.

    "It means that other players hold an increasing percentage of our nation's mortgage; and it means the debt service is going to go overseas rather than domestic; and it means that we will have less leverage on them with regard to economic, foreign policy and national security issues - and they will have more leverage on us."

  • All this brought to you buy the Bush administration and their special brand of conservatism...

    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    What the Flock?


    Organized religion: history has shown time and again that it'Â’s simply a cancer on society.

    How can any organization, let alone one that claims to be doing god'’s work on earth, aid and abed child molesters?
    PHOENIX (Reuters) - A fugitive Catholic priest ordered back to Phoenix from Rome
    to face child sex charges has vanished, authorities in Arizona said on
    Wednesday.

    The Rev. Joseph Henn, 57, could not be found at the headquarters of his religious order in the Italian capital when authorities arrived with an extradition order issued by the Italian Supreme Court, Arizona prosecutors said.

    Henn, accused of molesting three boys from 1979-1981, had been under house arrest for the last year at the Society of the Divine Savior and was trying to block his return to Phoenix when he disappeared about two weeks ago, they said.
    Why shouldn't church leaders protect someone who just liked diddling young boys? That's literally child's play!

    This shouldn't surprise anyone who thinks about it: these are the same people that killed Jews and other non-believes by the thousand in Europe... and created very painful and creative ways to do it. Remember: they did all this in "god's name".

    Don't think such crimes are possible today? Just listen to the prominent preachers of the day (James Dobson, Falwell, Robertson) talk about gay people... These are the church leaders that our society has given the biggest mouthpiece. If they had their way gays would be rounded up and subjected to "conversion therapy".

    Sound familiar?

    Anytime a group of people is willing to take something as important as "god's will" on the word of a leader who's basing his information on the unsubstantiated ramblings of the ancients has got to be watched.

    Of course here in America we elect these types of people to the Presidency.

    Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    The Toll

    More people are killed in a month in Iraq than in 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland. In two months, more are killed than in the first world war's Battle of Jutland, the biggest naval battle of all time.

    More are killed in 10 weeks than were killed in the Halabja poison gas attack, Saddam Hussein's single most brutal assault on his people. And in 12 weeks, more are killed than died in the Srebrenica massacre.
    Ref the UN Human Rights Report May - June 2006


    It's a tragedy, but there isn't much we can do about the situation in Iraq now -- not without committing another 100k to 200k troops.

    As our leader is so fond of pointing out, we can't let a foreign country dictate our foreign policy: but that's exactly what we're doing in Iraq with the "we'll stand down when they can stand up" mentality. We're simply trying to keep a lid on this boiling pot when our presence is part of the "heat".

    Tribal and religious identities have been brought to the fore-front. They are driving the civil war we're witnessing. Our military posture and strategy in Iraq has been to designed to "stomp out brush fires" ... however, we have a full-fledged conflagration in the area. Our force is simply not designed to deal with it.... and our foreign policy leaders aren't in a position to call for what's needed if we really want to stop the violence.

    This is why fatalities have increased each month... for the last 3 years. Our policy, both strategically and tactically, is simply wrong. Don't take my word for it: listen to our generals who have served in the field: LT Gen. Greg Newbold, Gen. Anthony Zinni, Maj. Gen. John Batiste, and others. Many are calling for Rumsfeld to resign.

    The reasonable policy is the one advocated by John Murtha: announce a redeployment... set a date; Tell the Iraqis they have to be ready to secure their country from that day forward. Right now, with the American's doing the heavy lifting, they have little reason to put that target on their back -- the one that says "police" or "infantryman".

    I'm a realist: this won't solve the problem. But it may remove one of the forces behind the violence, namely our presence. A redeployment will most definitely get American soldiers out of harms way.

    Besides, why are we fighting and dying to ensure a fundamentalist regime is established in Iraq? If you don't think that's true, read the first line of the Iraqi constitution.