Monday, July 2, 2012
As time progresses, so do policies. I think someone forgot to tell the GOP, unfortunately. Reversing "Obamacare" - or the Affordable Care Act as it's properly called - is just one aspect of the Republican platform for keeping America...well...how it is. But the policies being called for by the Right aren't just "old school," they're hypocritical and out of touch.
So let's take a look at a couple of the GOP and Mr. Romney's 2012 platforms and see just how silly they are, shall we?
The very, very first topic the GOP wants the voting public to think about in the polling booth is National Security. They go on to list combating global terrorism, ballistic missiles, you know, important stuff. I have to say, this is probably the easiest to prove hypocritical. The American defense budget is higher than the next 26 (TWENTY-SIX) countries on the list, but Republicans want more. At the same time, they want to lower taxes. More money to a government agency, less money to the government. Hm.
Mr. Romney's plan for Russia is even more absurd. Again, he claims he wants to lower taxes across the board. While that's all fine and dandy, he claims he wants to "rebuild our military strength" but then adds "this will not be a cost-free process." All of his stances regarding Russia, then, are to poke and prod the old bear. Where relations have been tenuous since the fall of the USSR, Mr. Romney seems fine with throwing tennis balls into their backyard to show how far we can throw. The missile plan President Bush implemented in Poland and the Czech Republic was voided by President Obama, the right move to improve relations with Russia, and Mr. Romney is keen on restarting the program.
Of all the problems the GOP would like you to believe in and support, their obsession with the military is priority #1. China, a country of over one billion people, spends just over $114B on their military. We Americans spend over $685B. No one should or will debate the need for a military, or even the need for our military to be well suited and well funded. But if we HALVED the amount of money we put into our "Defense Budget," we would have $330B for things like, to name a few important things, healthcare, education and alternative fuels. Basic reasoning follows that an increase in the overall health and well being of our citizens, maybe those same citizens could increase their own productivity in society. Instead, we're focused on building bigger bombs while taking money from more deserving areas of the government.
Apparently the GOP would like you to believe they support "maintaining a world-class system of primary and secondary education." Hypocrisy strikes again. Republicans in Congress tried to vote down a measure to keep student loan rates low. Mr. Romney insists Americans should have as much of a college education as they can afford. Now, the US isn't exactly the most educated country to begin with, no matter what Republicans say. In 2009, 15 year olds in the US rated equal to or below Korea, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Estonia, Switzerland, Poland and Iceland in Reading Literacy scores (per the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA). Numbers were far below average for Mathematics where the US scored above just a handful of countries. Science figures show us in the middle again.
As for revamping the system we all know is broken, Republicans again just don't get it. The National Education Association, you know, the big group of teachers that was founded in 1857, is more than against vouchers. Not because they're a huge bunch of socialist hippies, but because they're experts in the field. (Doctors against cigarettes aren't that way because they hate big business, after all.) But the GOP refuses to listen. Again they go about their merry way taking money away from the institutions that need them, wondering why things aren't getting any better. That's not to mention policies like No Child Left Behind that LITERALLY takes money away from the schools that need it most.
So lets go back to National Defense for a moment. The government makes a set amount every year. Let's say that number is a nice and easy $100. For Fiscal Year 2012, $24 of your tax dollars went to the federal government's Defense budget, while $4 went to education. Finland on the other hand spent $5 of these theoretical dollars on their Ministry of Defense and $13 on their Ministry of Education, finishing second in Reading Literacy and Math scores and first in Science. We're funding the wrong programs.
Oh boy, here we go. What ISN'T there to say. Despite the fact that many "99%ers" are just a bunch of dirty hippies, they bring up a realistic point. While many on the right shout "CLASS WARFARE" and "YOU CAN'T TAX THE RICH TO PAY THE WEALTHY," they're missin the point. No one, at least that has any rational argument, thinks everyone should have the same amount of money. Especially here in the United States, people get "Socialism" and "Communism" confused. Businesses will exist. Money will be made. Some jobs pay more. Fine. Great.
The problem with the 1% doesn't lie in that they exist, it's how much wealth they control. The most money the top 1% has controlled in the history of America was 23.9% in 1929. Businesses were rampantly producing whatever they felt like, and lassiez faire economics was king. That's what the GOP wants, and they say so right on their website. But the hypocrisy of the right is ever present. They command us to look at history, learn from the detriments of social programs and see how terrible the European economies are doing. Well, right here in America, things are pretty bad. Under President Bush and his tax cuts, American money grabbers made their way back to 23.5% of the total wealth in the United States. Yes, 3,000,000 Americans control one quarter of the money in the US. The last time that happened, the government had to step in to fix the problem. Banks broke the shackles of "big government" and toppled. The housing market bombed after it overstepped its abilities. The auto industry crashed and burned on their own as well. And how were they fixed? Government intervention.
It is a historically proven fact that when this kind of stratification takes place, there is something bad following. The GOP continues to blame the "Socialist Left" despite the reality of the situation.
Now here is a funny one. The GOP claims, and I mean this seriously, it's right on their website, that the Court's role is to interpret the law, nothing more. Hell, it's right there in the Constitution! But when the ACA ruling came down, Republicans everywhere went bananas. They seem to think the Supreme Court wrote, drafted, and perfected the law. They absolutely did not respect in any way the ruling of the Supreme Court that the ACA was Constitutional.
The GOP vs Strict Constitutionalists
There is something to say for the difference between people who simply see individual states as in charge of these policies and the people who think they're asinine. There is absolutely no doubt that there are major problems that could be solved by working together. I can agree with the Strict Constitutionalists in that they have an argument. Where I see Federal Government intervention, they see State. Great. But to say there isn't an issue to be resolved as most in the Republican party do - or to be so hypocritical about the issues - is insane.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
As a young man, I always used to question things. Why did the ball roll down the hill instead of up it? Why can't I eat candy from the supermarket without paying for it? And, of course the big one, why is there God?
The other answers seem to be fairly well agreed upon, the ball rolls because its mass is smaller than the mass of the earth, and when gravity acts on the ball it moves down the hill. You can't steal because of a different kind of law, one that will put you in jail - or at least get a little boy grounded to his room. It soon became obvious for me: The world, as well as the solar system, galaxy and universe it all sits in, is ruled by laws. These laws, man-made or those of physics, all seem to have a purpose. A ball goes up because of a force but because of the law of gravity it comes back. So, in turn, God should be governed by law as well. Not biblical law, these were all written by man (and if you don't believe me, please open a history book because you're sorely mistaken). But the laws of physics, the laws that bind all things in the universe or plethora of multiverses.
The first answer I came to when asking this question was "God is above these laws." Well, how can that be true? Did God invent physics? Is God really that transcending that He alone acts above and beyond? Maybe. I mean, really, how can anyone know for sure?
Well, there is one way. Test the universe. Test physics. If everything can be explained, maybe there is no need for God. Or gods, if you'd rather. In more simple terms, if the universe is capable of creating itself, no one needed to create it. Many try to compare the universe to a mousetrap. They say that, even if all of the parts of the trap were somehow magically created, someone would have to assemble and set the trap for it to work. But mousetraps aren't found in nature.
"Liberal" followers of religion will likely agree that the universe was formed by the Big Bang, a sudden explosion from the quantum level outward, thrusting the entire universe away from a single point. But all seem to claim that the only possible way any the Big Bang could have occurred would be by divine intervention. Something must have existed to create such an instance, right?
You see, science is proving that the Big Bang was, in all likelihood, caused by something called the Big Crunch. While many explain the universe away as "infinite," the reality is that can't be true. Einstein showed us the fabric of Spacetime can be altered, warped by gravity and changed throughout space by objects like black holes. Following the same logic, scientists and astro-physicists have come to the conclusion that space, eventually, runs out. That there is a wall, marked by observable radiation from the Big Bang, that marks the edge of the universe.
The outward motion of the universe is also speeding up. Distance measurments such as Hubble's Law are obscured the farther out in the universe you travel because, despite moving at a steady rate around the Milky Way, in the depths of space things move faster away from us. Much like a giant tidal wave moving away from the site of an earthquake, the distant waves crash onto the shores of the unexplored nothing while, closer to the epicenter, things remain relatively calm.
With all of this information, scientists discovered that, eventually, the fabric of Spacetime would run out. Eventually things would get so spread apart that the universe would rebound and shoot back inward, probably just as fast as it was moving in the opposite direction. This wouldn't destroy planets or matter as it moved along, but instead, like a rubber band, would simply bring the material closer togetherr until, you guessed it, everything compressed in on itself. As everything gets smaller and smaller, the crunch reaches its maximum "tininess" and *BANG* everything shoots outward.
Of course there are other theories as well but the argument of "intelligent design" has all but been silenced by scientists. There is absolutely zero sienctific evidence supporting the claim and, as one article puts it, "(ID) is an 'argument from ignorance,' as it relies upon a lack of knowledge for its conclusion," (Scott and Branch, 2002). Yes, science doesn't have it "exactly" right yet, but to say that lack of knowledge or perfect reasoning means that ID is a must is irrational at best.
It's easy to dismiss people as dumb or un-read, but I don't think that's a fair shake for those who still believe in ID or even the Bible (or other creation story) word for word. I think it comes from an inate human fear, the fear of insignificance. We all suffer from it in one way or another. Religion is one manifestation of this fear, jealosy is an easily pointed out second. We fear what we don't understand, or even what we can't comprehend, so we disguise it in something else. When we look to the sky and see shimmering stars, it appears we (as humans) decided there must be a reason for our existence. We must have a purpose above the animals around us, better than bees spreading fertility as they fly into flowers. Shouldn't we?
This comes from our higher state of consciousness. We are, for all intents and purposes, higher life forms than bees, so we have the ability to ask "why," just like I grew up doing. But many refuse to accept that we just simply live and die. The common argument comes from those saying "I was meant for more" when, in reality, we were meant to live and die. Religion fills that void caused by fear. Religion allows humans to escape the possibility that we have absolutely no control over ourselves, our actions or the world around us.
It's a scary thought, I know. Why live if there is no life after death? Well, because. The meaning of life is simple: Be a human. Bees are bees. Trees are trees. Water is water. We are, in the end, just a fancy set of molecules that happened to gain cognizance because, yes, the earth is billions of years old and there is time for that. Religion is a way to allow us to feel warm and fuzzy.
Harsh? Probably. But it doesn't have to be that way.
You see, an amazing thing happened when I bucked the saddle of religion. It no longer was necessary for me to live for someone else. I didn't thank a particular person for making a sunset beautiful, I didn't have to pray for something to happen and curse someone when life worked out in someone else's favor. Because the meaning of life isn't worshipping a diety, it's not about sacrificing human hearts to make the sun rise and it's definitely not about facing a city five times a day. Life is about living. Seeing a beautiful sunset and knowing how lucky you are to be alive. If you were brought into consciousness 500 years before, the probability of you surviving childbirth alone would be a fraction of what it is today. There is no need to pray for something good to happen because you can do it. God, Buddah, Allah, Ramtha, they are not responsible for making you happy, you are. In the same vein, when something goes wrong, that's just how life works. Praying more won't make the bills or sickness go away, working hard and taking medicine will.
But my biggest complaint about religion - all of them - comes from their inclusiveness. I understand that each says they're right and others are wrong (except Islam, sort of, but that's another post in the future). Religions take what they see to be true and create a clique. Yes, just like in grade school, these groups are the cool kids on the block and everyone else is just dumb for their dumb beliefs. One groups finds their totally unrealistic story totally true and another group's equally totally unrealistic story laughable. Religions are likewise racially motivated. Think about it, how is Jesus depicted? White, European...Two things he was, without a doubt, not. The Quran is only in Arabic, and while you can get versions in other languages, Muslims preach that the only true Quran is in Arabic and in heaven with Allah. Jews have circumcision which, again, is a way to separate themselves from the unholy. Religion isn't simply about being saved, but it's actually about proving others wrong. Being right is more important than living right.
I'm told all the time that you have to do certain things to be saved. But what if being saved is an earthly goal? What if leading a proper, meaningful life here on earth is all we have? I'm sick and tired of people using the afterlife to justify their beliefs. You're a bigot. You're exlusionary. You're hateful. You're promoting injustice. You're cruel. You're all of these negative things that you say are simply part of your religion. Now, not all people of faith are this way, clearly, but it's now the vast majority. Christians in the United States are using the Bible to exclude vast numbers of people from everything - marriage is the big one now - for what? What is it helping? I was actually, truthfully told that people in the world cannot do anything helpful for anyone unless they are following Jesus Christ. Really? Feeding the hungry, building homeless shelters, hell, holding doors open...All meaningless without being a Christian?
It's time for us Atheists to stop letting "people of faith" push us around. When it comes to religion, people get afraid. People clam up, no wanting to offend anyone. Atheists and Agnostics, as well as people of religions besides Christianity (the most universalizing religion in the world), are seen as crazy, always told "well if you'd just read the Bible, then..." But that's not the case. Instead of people of faith constantly standing on their pedestals of scripture, they should be questioned and interrogated for their beliefs the same way we are for ours. Don't be afraid to ask someone "why," especially when they're asking you. Religion must not be taboo anymore.
It's simple common sense. Religion is used for explaining what is unexplainable as well as finding purpose in life. If you would rather believe your sacred texts, by all means please do, and I mean that honestly. It is your right to do what you like and to believe what you want. But when I look at the facts, the true, undeniable facts of the universe, I'm not scared because I don't have a god to turn to, I'm excited because I have myself to count on. I know that as a strong human, I can achieve the goals I set out for myself. I find explanations for the confusing questions in life in science. I find purpose in my own life and I never sit around waiting for something to fall into my lap. Common sense allows me to make the connections I need to lead a happy, fulfilled life free of the need for religion.
Friday, May 11, 2012
For starters, my father's family is about as Republican as a group can get. Without getting into specifics, Fox News is on constantly, and I would never imagine my grandparents, or even aunts or uncles, voting for any Democrat, no matter what the Republican candidate was like. On my mother's side, it is the exact opposite. My grandfather, and each of his three wives (not at the same time...) are and were all Democrats, or Liberals if that suits the concept more aptly. A Unitarian Universalist minister, my grandfather has marched for civil rights, protested wars and even rubbed elbows with the likes of Howard Zinn. But on each side there is religion. Including my parents, I can't imagine seeing a single member of my family being unreligious except maybe a various aunt or uncle. They may not all be Conservative Christians, and they're far from being Catholic, but instead my family is comprised of your typical, every day American Protestant. Growing up, I attended Sunday School and youth group events, was taught the major stories of the Bible and even participated Church functions such as "hunger awareness" fasts and homeless shelter construction.
It should probably be mentioned where I grew up as well, as that adds even more confusion to the mix. Despite my heart lying over the ocean (or at least a vast body of land) in western Washington state, I've spent the majority of my years in Indiana, both "The Region" and its state capital. Despite what many thing, Indiana does have "blue" areas, especially in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties in the northwest where I spent my first stint, in addition to pockets around central Indiana where I make my home currently. But, for the most part, Indiana is about as Republican as it comes. Conservatives have dominated the political landscape dating back to the state's inception in the early 1800s, but I feel it is necessary to note Indiana is a shell of the D.C. Stephenson era (luckily).
So, I am a Hoosier boy raised in a Protestant Christian household with influences from both sides. The question still remains, how did I end up where I am today? The answer to me is simple: Question everything.
I was always known as "Mr. Replay" when I was a youngster. My mother and father are both huge sports fantatics, and with replay in sports so common, it became a part of life for me. A NASCAR race would have angle after angle of a wreck, so when I played with my Matchbox cars (and oh did I play with them...) I would reset them after creating a crash, only to place my head in a different location to replay scripted event. While watching baseball, I would get my parent's attention to recreate the "homerun hop" of Sammy Sosa or Mike Cameron, even though the television did an ample job of showing the replay. So, as I grew older, it became natural for me to replay events and deicision to figure out exactly what happened. I know it sounds silly, but even ordering food (to this day!) goes through the review process. "If I had just seen the burger on the menu...No, this is the best choice...Well, look at how the fries are cooked..." The process is endless.
Some call it second guessing, but I like to think it is more of just being a rational human. So when I became cognisant of this, shall we say, feature of my brain, life took on a new meaning. I was about thirteen years old when I realized nothing was the same anymore. Going to youth group didn't make any sense, religion wasn't the answer to life's questions. Why bother accepting the results of an election when there was so much subversive activity? Why are there billionaires who can literally burn their money and others in the same city with absolutely nothing?
It began with religion. I knew my parents believed in the Christian God, but the only reasons that came to light from them, or anyone for that matter, were based in faith. Then it clicked in my head, the same was true for politics. Even economics. People had faith that those elected would do the right thing, but they never seemed to. The humans in charge of giant organizations were allowed their wealth because of the faith the shareholders placed in them. Even when no tangible good came from their paychecks, the faith remained.
So I ditched the mantra of faith forever. Sure there is still a bit left over for my sports teams, but sports are completely different than anything else on the planet. In the "real" bits of life, common sense just took over all together. Everything I thought religion explained so well was crushed by the weight of science when compared next to each other. I realized that God was no artist, but a figured created by primitive man to better explain the world around him. It all makes sense, why religion would be important. Humans overall seem to have this urge to know "why." And, becaue there was no rational explanation why the sun rose or why there were so many types of creatures, religions stepped up to the plate to explain it away.
The most difficult part came for me when I dove headlong into politics. As my mother can attest to, the whole process was quite overwhelming. I was about fourteen when a wave of confusion and pain hit me, and looking at the past (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, et all) I was confused how anyone, anywhere could ever feel superiority over his fellow man. Surely there are those among us who are smarter, faster, stronger, but at our core we are all humans. It came to me that, no matter what, we are always supposed to look after the well-being of our planetmates, focusing most importantly on equity for all. A person's skin color, national origin, sexual identity, religion or any other inhereted or acquired tendancy should ever exclude them from basic human rights. So why did it take so long for humans to realize that?
This question led me to the third and final area of realization, that economically the world is one seriously messed up place. Of course Communism is a great idea, I loved it until I realized that maybe it just doesn't work in reality. Not everyone should have exactly the same amount, and the government should definitely not have enough power to decide who gets what jobs. But the bigger issue still remained: Why do so many have so little while so few have so much? It can't be because they worked harder. Chief Executive Officers are known far and wide as some of the laziest members of the working class. They make millions or billions for sitting in an office letting others make deicisions while the men and women in factories suffer with small wages and horrible benefits. There is absolutely no way everyone should have the same amount of money, and before someone accuses me of wanting to "redistribute the wealth" or something classic like that, let me defer you to the idea of human rights. Yes, people in charge of large companies have a lot on their plate. Yes, some people do make more money than others and they deserve to do so. But why does that mean the rest of us some how are not worthy of basic human rights?
The days of "Life, liberty and property" are long gone. The modern world demands things like proper access to affordable medical care and the opportunity to further an education. Modern Republicans insist on people figuring these things out for themselves, because in America everyone clearly has the opportunity to do so. But I don't have to look as far as the woman I wake up to every morning to see that's not the case. My fiance worked a job through high school, eventually being accepted to an incredible university to prepare her for the only job she had ever wanted. She worked 39.5 hours a week for just over minimum wage while taking the maximum 21 credit hours at her university, but was still unable to afford her tuition. So after some financial setbacks, this extremely hard working young woman was relegated to the world of retail as a manager. There she worked 40 hours and made 25% more than she had made before, but was still forced to pony up half of her paycheck for medical insurance, a proposition that was impossible to meet. When she became ill, her medical bills began racking up as well. All in all, Republicans have it horrifically wrong. People have the right to attend a university to better their job prospects. The same people have the right to basic healthcare to keep them alive and out of massive amounts of debt. It is as simple as simple comes. The ideal world where everyone works just hard enough to get what they need doesn't exist. Humans across America work their tails off every day and, despite it all, are unable to obtain these basic human rights.
So, there you have it. A Hoosier boy raised in a Protestant Christian house chose an option farther left than he was given, and along the way the entire road was paved with ideas penned by common sense. But the story doesn't end there. This average, everyday American twenty-something has plenty more story to tell. So follow along and try to keep an open mind. You might just learn a thing or two about the real world.