Jul 31, 2008

Ideas & Speeches that Build Consensus & a Movement Forward

I've heard mostly from conservatives that Barack Obama delivers general speeches without many specifics, but I guess they haven't been paying attention to McCain's speeches. Look, many politicians make general speeches and some do offer details, as I think Sen. Obama has done. Their speeches also reveal their philosophy about government, priorities, and the vision for the future. Don't tell me that you haven't noticed a real & profound difference between McCain and Obama!

Check this video and tell me if you don't see something that distinguishes Obama from his opponent. I see a fundamental difference of view regarding the role of government: to protect and empower the people, especially those who are denied equality of opportunity by the system as it exists in the US today.

The president's most important political power is the power to convince. He has to convince the Congress and the American people that his policies are good for the country. Therefore, we do have an important role to play. Every citizen, I believe, has to know enough to make an informed & responsible decision. The basis of democracy is the demos: the people. Conversely, the quality of our democracy, indeed the quality of our lives, greatly depend on our ability to think rationally and elect the right leaders for the job at hand.

Now, the progressive community has to maintain its momentum and apply pressure on Mr. Obama to uphold the principles he articulated during the Democratic selection contest. Here's a letter, published in The Nation magazine, titled, A Change We Can Believe In.

"We recognize that compromise is necessary in any democracy. We understand that the pressures brought to bear on those seeking the highest office are intense. But retreating from the stands that have been the signature of your campaign will weaken the movement whose vigorous backing you need in order to win and then deliver the change you have promised."
Excerpt from the open letter to Sen. Obama [you can add your name too]

Jul 24, 2008

Biblican Heroes not as Perfect as Greek Gods! And, a Way to Lower Gas Prices!

Update 7/30/08

Lieberman defends Hagee: His Holocaust comments were ‘taken way out of context.’

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody today, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) defended radical pastor John Hagee’s late 90s comment that “Hitler was a hunter” sent by God in order to get “the Jewish people” to “come back to the land of Israel.” “A comment Pastor Hagee made about the Holocaust was taken way out of context,” Lieberman told Brody. Lieberman, who compared Hagee to Moses at the Christians United For Israel conference last week, added that Hagee’s “a dear friend” for whom he has “the greatest admiration.”

I think certain statements can stand on their own, regardless of the context in which they were used.

[Original post below]

<--Adam, Eve, and dinosaurs having a picnic outing [according to the belief by millions of Americans who know these "all-vegetarian species" lived together in harmony]

When a US Senator says something about the Hellenic gods, I notice--even if that senator is uninformed and often acts like a barbarian. According to Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the Biblical heroes, unlike the demigods of Greek mythology, "are humans--great humans, but with human failings."

First, I'm glad to hear that the old Hellenic gods were superior, but the fact is that they were far from perfect. What made the Hellenic religion more humanistic was that the gods, except for immortality and other super powers, weren't all that different than the people. Even Zeus, the god of gods, was notorious for exhibiting human emotions and committing errors in judgment. But, something has to be said for a religion that had a god of love (Aphrodite & her cohort, Eros), and of wine (Dionysus). Not to mention, all the other gods involved in pursuing pleasurable activities and showing humans how to have fun! Or was it the other way around? Anyway, perhaps the ancient Greeks were also the first ones to try to trick the gods, and even question their existence!
This reminds me of the Ibo tribe in Africa who created their own gods, built temples and made offerings to them. But, once a god became unreasonable, like asking for human sacrifices, then the Ibo destroyed his temple and image--never to be spoken of again! Nice!
The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) have much in common. All seem to believe that it's a great moral act when a father who hears voices proceeds to put a knife to the throat of his son in order to prove his faith to his maker!

What's the occasion for Lieberman to be making another idiotic reference to religion? Well, as you may have heard, the US has many, many totally delusional lunatics who faithfully follow bigots like pastor Hagee! [check the link for more info & video about Hagee] Hopefully, after the coming election, the Dems will increase their Senate numbers so Lieberman can be deemed useless [he caucuses with the Dems as an Independent, so the Dems are in the majority; otherwise there would be a 50-50, and Cheney would give the Repubs control of the Senate]

Even though I believe in the separation of church and state, and that creationism or intelligent design "theories" [don't even qualify as theories because they don't really explain anything, except by making references to some ..magical events] have no place in a science class, I think it is a good idea to teach comparative religion in schools. Religion should be taught as part of human civilization, anthropology, culture, and ideas. Of course, religion (many versions of the definition about god) should not be an indoctrination but a critical approach to understanding the forces that have shaped human societies.

It's about time the people--especially the ones who profess an absolute conviction that their god is the only true god--really learned what's in the holy scriptures they hold so dear, and why others equally profess different religious beliefs. As you may have suspected, I'm not a religious person, but what I find truly astonishing is that 99% of the religious persons I had a discussion about faith do not know much about their own faith.

It's no coincidence, that the vast majority of people accept the religion of their parents or the prevailing faith of their locality. The accident of the birthplace
determines the flavor of faith. This fact alone should offer some pause for thinking. I mean, even if we accept the existence of GOD, his nature is extremely important. What kind of god he is, what are his reasons, his expectations, his imperative laws, etc. Obviously, people strongly disagree among themselves about God's qualities and many are willing to kill the infidels, in the name of their God--as the Christian God, for example--commands. [link, here]

At any rate, if we are to discuss the reality, to evaluate certain choices, make public policy, debate the national priorities, we have to do with using reason--which should be the currency of understanding; it's better to avoid references to the supernatural since we cannot agree how may angels fit on the head of a pin.

UPDATE, 7/28/08

It's my belief that humans should look for answers by using the scientific method and to take personal responsibility for their actions. I happen to think that asking a deity to do things for you is not a good thing, even if it makes you feel good. Such an activity adds to a delusional belief that a conscious entity out there is aware of you and can take care of you, if you follow a prescribed set of rules--which include shutting off your critical mind.

This video of people praying for lower gasoline prices may not represent the majority of Americans, but please start paying attention to the absurd beliefs our fellow countrymen hold. Just look around at all those ridiculous claims (bolstered by "divine revelation") certain leaders make and the millions of people who willingly become their flock!

When I pray to Zeus and ask for something, he has three answers: 1. Yes, 2. No, 3. Wait. Of course, I don't know which one it is, but it's always one of the three! George Carlin used to pray to the Sun or to Joe Pesci (can't remember which one), but Carlin said he got the same results!! Wow!

Jul 21, 2008

US Healthcare: Poor or No Choices for One in Three Americans

When people organize themselves into a civil society they expect certain benefits according to the abilities of their commonwealth and the historical circumstances. We hear a lot about freedom and choices in this market economy, many of the arguments coming from the conservatives and the ruling elites. The market economy, capitalism, competition, reward for one's efforts, innovation, private profit, efficiency, rationalism, etc, are all good things. But, it helps to examine the details, because as it is said, the devil hides in the details.

Adam Smith is an icon of capitalists, though I doubt many have read his Wealth of Nations carefully enough. Who needs public schools, he asks. The wealthy can purchase their own education, and the "free" choice the poor can exercise is to go to work in the factories. Same scenario with the health care in this country. The market forces and our government have failed to provide a good solution to the nation's ailing population. About 1 in 3 Americans either lacks health care insurance or is under-insured.

This is the only industrialized country where a person can be driven into bankruptcy because of medical expenses. In addition, despite all the militaristic culture and the huge outlays on security, more Americans die every year (6 times more) that all those Americans who were killed by terrorists on 9-11. The American Cancer Society estimates that cancer deaths in the US can be cut in half if everyone has access to care and early detection! The only solution, of course, is to provide universal coverage.

So, next time you hear the politicians talk about choice, freedom and the ..American way, speak up, ask questions, think for yourself, define what the American dream is all about. For freedom to be meaningful it has to be practical and available. You're not really free, if you're free to think & say whatever you want in solitary confinement! You also have to be alive to have freedom. In this dangerous world, we have to ask smart questions about safety, and be ready to form majorities to demand real, practical safety, and access to all the services a wealthy, advanced, democratic society should provide to its people. That's a progressive culture or life!

Sharks are dangerous to humans for they kill a few dozen people a year world-wide;. Yet, this is not a risk most of us have to be afraid of, because we can reasonably escape it. Talking about the sharks and spending billions upon billions to protect ourselves while practically ignoring the most dangerous animal* (that injures 200 million and kills 3 million humans every year) is absurd. Let's put a few things into perspective here. The absence of a public safety net is what kills more people and brings so much suffering.

Oh, one more thing. It's shameful that the wealthiest country on the planet has really bad health statistics as ranked by the World Health Organization. It's a travesty that there is a gap of 30 years in the average life span between the people in the Northeast and those in several states in the South!

* mosquito!!!

PS>In an earlier post, I discussed Bush's statement that the US has a better health care system that other countries... Click here to jump to that page.

Jul 5, 2008

Independence Day Could Be Happier Without King George [and his cohorts & enablers]

It's a nice, long holiday weekend, and even though the weather isn't all that great in the northeast these days, nevertheless the summer is in full swing. During this patriotic holiday it's kinda hard to wear those lapel flags, so if you're unsure of the level of your patriotism--and don't want to spend too much time thinking about it-- there a few things you can do to show your patriotism. So, go ahead, use the flag as underwear & bathing suits, have it plastered on sandals, napkins, and pizza boxes. Promote the use our national flag for any possible commercial reason except free speech. Yet, whatever you do, you can't possibly compete with the patriotism of car dealerships that fly a 20-acre flag! You may want to compensate though. Buy a bigger, gas-guzzling car and put a Chinese-made ribbon on it, "Support the troops". You can help kill dissent--because you know those who criticize el presidente are un-Americans. Above all, vote for politicians who are conservative Republicans!

I don't know why, but I just re-read the Declaration of Independence, and I read further than the first paragraph and these lines:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Look what I found:
  • He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers...
  • He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation...
  • For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury...
  • In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people...

Thankfully, we can change our ..prince and deliver a resounding defeat to him and his cronies this November.

McCain: A Military Hero Who's Got it Wrong!
On another subject, has anyone really examined Wesley Clark's statement about McCain? Clark praised the conservative senator but he just pointed out the obvious: that being shot down by the enemy and being a POW does not necessarily mean you can make the right decisions as the commander in chief of our military! McCain has served in the military and sacrificed for our country, and that's a fact. What did he learn from his military experience? We perhaps don't know all of it, but we do know that he won't hesitate to sacrifice many more Americans in a pointless, stupid, very expensive war in Iraq, even for another hundred years more! McCain has flip-flopped on torture, has refused to extend medical benefits to veterans, and even objected to GI Bill to boost veterans college education proposed by Sen. Webb (D-VA)! We're are not disputing his service (unlike the conservatives with John Kerry's record), but we can challenge his views!

Judging from McCain's public record, we can see that he has learned the wrong lessons from his military experience. Again, he is a conservative after all, supporting policies and promoting a ideology that belong to the past. He represents a Bush third term, and a threat of judicial reactionism--yes, here is a change for the worse. Think of the Supreme Court when you vote this November!

Conservatives Hail Jesse Helms Ideals

I can remember who said this, but to paraphrase it a bit, my mother told me to speak well of the dead... Jesse Helms is dead. That's good! Have you seen the praise conservatives have laid out for their departed friend? I almost gagged every time I heard a talking head offer good words for the bigoted former North Carolina senator, like this from a current Republican leader, Trent Lott: "He had a philosophy, had principles he believed in, and he stood and fought for them,” Lott said, adding that he admired that Helms accomplished his work without being "mean-spirited and disrespectful." Really??!!!

Why, I can think of many horrible persons who stuck to their principles! That's not a good attribute by itself! Stalin, by the way, was a very principled man! Helms, indeed, maintained his bigoted views throughout his life. Here's a FAIR article from 2001 when Helms was the conservative icon in the Senate.

  • "White people, wake up before it is too late. Do you want Negroes working beside you, your wife and your daughters, in your mills and factories? Frank Graham favors mingling of the races." Another ad featured photographs Helms himself had doctored to illustrate the allegation that Graham's wife had danced with a black man. (The News and Observer, 8/26/01; The New Republic, 6/19/95; The Observer, 5/5/96; Hard Right: The Rise of Jesse Helms, by Ernest B. Furgurson, Norton, 1986)
  • The University of North Carolina was "the University of Negroes and Communists." (Capital Times, 11/22/94) Black civil rights activists were "Communists and sex perverts." (Copley News Service, 8/23/01)
  • Of civil rights protests Helms wrote, "The Negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that's thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic, and interfere with other men's rights." (WRAL-TV commentary, 1963) He also wrote, "Crime rates and irresponsibility among Negroes are a fact of life which must be faced." (New York Times, 2/8/81)
  • Over the years Helms has declared homosexuality "degenerate," and homosexuals "weak, morally sick wretches." (Newsweek, 12/5/94) In a tirade highlighting his routine opposition to AIDS research funding, Helms lashed out at the Kennedy-Hatch AIDS bill in 1988: "There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy." (States News Service, 5/17/88)
  • Sen. Jesse Helms says the government should spend less money on people with AIDS because they got sick as a result of "deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct," The New York Times reported Wednesday.... "We've got to have some common sense about a disease transmitted by people deliberately engaging in unnatural acts," Helms told the Times.
  • A year before the election, when public polls showed Helms trailing by 20 points, he launched a Senate filibuster against the bill making the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. a national holiday. (David Broder, Washington Post, Aug, 29, 2001)

Also, the Guardian got it right! Among other points,

In domestic politics he denounced the 1964 Civil Rights Act as "the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress", voted against a supreme court justice because she was "likely to uphold the homosexual agenda", acted for years as spokesman for the large tobacco companies, was reprimanded by the justice department and the federal election commission for electoral malpractice, and compiled a dismal personal record as a slum landlord."

Helms was a person that made our country worse by prolonging discrimination, racism, and sexism, among other regressive policies he promoted. I can't see why praise is appropriate here, except by those who share his convictions--in which case, we should take note who identifies with whom! Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, you know what I mean?

Jul 1, 2008

An Announcement that Changed the World: Charles Darwin's Discovers Natural Selection

On July 1st, 1858, Charles Darwin announced his discovery of natural selection--a major force behind the theory of evolution. So, this year, a celebration of sorts begins that will last well into next year. His 200th birthday is on Feb 12, 2009. His Origin of the Species was first published in November of 1859. It wasn't flawless, but that's the beauty of science: through inquiry revision is welcome. Science is a process. It's also the best tool we have to understand the world around us.... and those worlds very far away!

This scientific theory is one of the strongest we have, yet, most Americans believe that God made us in our present form a few thousand years ago when the earth was created! In other words, more people accept creationism than evolution. Why is that? Is it the failure of schools to teach proper science, or is it the religious influence that propagates myths? Or, is it people's preference for wanting to be the center of the universe? That all exists for humans--as God's greatest creation?

I find it disturbing that in an age of abundant information and scientific knowledge, the US has such widespread ignorance about everything important. Isn't worth learning how we got here, why things work they way they do through the physical laws?

Here's a recent Richard Dawkins interview on Darwin and the theory of evolution.