#174 Let Them Vote Honestly

Republican voters have been cheated for at least a century. The Republican Party represents the interests of corporations and corporations have all of the rights and privileges of individuals, except the right to run for office. Why aren't these corporate "individuals" allowed to run for office? After all, we allow them to control the "information" that determines the vote. They might as well be able to directly run for office, while they are at it.

The current system probably better serves the Greater Bad and it's dishonest. By nominnating a human representative, every corporation has a chance to "own a piece of the President" or a congressman or mayor or whatever. But our last two Presidential elections put the lie to that farce when Republicans elected two top officers and shareholders of a single corporate entity, Halliburton/Dressler, for the nation's top offices. In 2000, the pretense became so thin that we individual citizens might as well admit defeat and move on to a more rational, honest system: electing corporations to political offices.

Think about it. Halliburton had demonstrated total corporate incompetence in every area except one, military-industrial pork barrel diving. Halliburton's foolish attempt at digesting the smaller, but more ruthless Dressler (owned by the Bush family and headed by George I who will be soon replaced by Little George) was turning into a disaster until the political representatives of that corporation, Little Bush and Cheney, came up with an invasion and occupation that provided their company with endless opportunities for dumpster diving in the nation's pork barrel. The federal government practically single-sourced all of the profitable activities of this invasion to Halliburton. Even in activities where Halliburton had no identifiable skills or experience, they were allowed to put a few fingers in to rake off unearned profits.

Imagine what Microsoft or General Motors or IBM could do with a similar opportunity. If a mismanaged, totally incompetent, technology-free, corporate disaster zone like Halliburton can do this much damage, what kinds of havoc could a company with actual skills inflict on the nation's institutions and economy? Microsoft could declare war upon the European Union for supporting open source software and rearrange the "intellectual property" laws so that all thought would be their property. General Motors could take the country to battle against Japan, Europe, and China's better quality  automotive products and skilled management and engineering personnel and return the world to the Golden Age of 4 miles/gallon rust buckets. IBM could . . . I don't know what IBM's management could do, but I bet they could do something if they had the entire nation's resources and power behind them. 

This more honest system would allow voters better information, too. Currently, politician's purposes are sometimes divided among the many corporate interests that fund our elections. Allowing corporations to run against these piece-of-the-pie candidates would make it clear to voters whose interests they are voting for. We could call it the "Truth in Voting Act," or something almost as misleading as the Patriot Act or the other bills that have been passed in the last decade that do exactly the opposite of their title.

December 2007


#173 The Interstate Came Falling Down

Like the London Bridge, the Minneapolis bridge--the one that crossed the Mississippi River--came down this week. At last count, seven people died, hundreds were injured, and five are still unaccounted for. For all we know, dozens more could be among the lost in this catastrophe. Of course, as a nation we're still pretending that the king isn't naked, brainless, and being led by a pack of greedy gangsters who would make the Mob seem benign. We're waging a "War on Terror" using all the terrorist tactics that the world's most powerful military can provide. We're squandering our nation's wealth building roads, bridges, hospitals, and oil wells in a country that only wants to knock down these structures as fast as we can build them. In the meantime, the United State's infrastructure is rotting and falling down on our heads. If this isn't a picture of a nation in the last throes off decline, I need to read more history to find a single example of a great culture that hasn't failed its citizens following exactly this same path..

After September 11, 2001, the Bushies and the clowns who posed as the front line managers of our pitiful excuse for a national defense all claimed that "nobody" could have predicted that terrorists could use our airlines as weapons against us. Never mind that there were at least two best seller novels that predicted almost exactly the scenario that occurred. These politicians and military leaders (as if there is a difference?) provided us with a huge collection of excuses for failing the nation in such a spectacular manner and demonstrated a collective sense of pride and arrogance in their failure. Any real soldier or leader would have gutted himself for neglecting his duties so miserably. These criminals gave themselves a pat on the back and a huge pay raise for their failures. I guess they are following the corporate model well established in US companies; the worse you do, the bigger your reward.

We're reliving the incompetence of 9/11 in Minnesota this August. Our Republican gubernator and his congressional henchmen are all claiming that nothing could have prevented this disaster and that no one could have predicted the collapse of the I35W bridge. Of course, in making this argument they have to contend with the US DOT's 2005 evaluation of the bridge that deemed the bridge "structurally deficient." They have to wave off the low 50 out of 120 points safety rating of this bridge. They have to ignore the fact that this bridge which was designed for a max capacity of 30,000 vehicles a day has been carrying five times as much traffic as it was designed to carry for a decade. In fact, there is an incredible collection of warning signs that the politicians and media have to ignore for this profession of ignorance to look like something other than the gross negligence, incompetence, and corruption that it really is. Just like 9/11.

This level of incompetence and corruption ought to be interpreted as treason. A rational society would not just be pointing fingers at the perpetrators of these murders, we'd be deciding what kind of execution they'd be enjoying.

I never thought I'd be envying the Chinese for their government, but when one of their politicians botched the management of shipping lead to the US concealed in children's toys, he was executed for his failure and the reflected dishonor on his country. Being stood against a wall by a firing squad isn't as honorable as offing himself might have been, but it was far better than going on to more power and even greater debauchery, in the way of George W. Bush, Carl Rove, Pawlenty, and that collection of characterless white men and women.

August  2007


#172 Conservation, Conservatives, and Our "Children's Children"

Theodore Roosevelt reminded United States' citizens that, "We are not building this country of ours for a day. It is to last through the ages." Roosevelt was an enlightened conservative of the last century. Today, there appears to be no such animal in politics, particularly in Republican politics. Roosevelt took pride in knowing that he created the National Park System, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, and more than a dozen national forests. His opinion of wilderness was "You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it--keep it for your children, your children's children, and for all those who come after you."

Modern conservatives--more accurately described as right wing radicals--think they know better than did Roosevelt, nature, and even their gods. They believe they know when the world is going to end, since they are actively taking a hand in bringing on that end, and have no worries about the futures of their "children's children." They hope no such generation comes to be. Under the same delusions that allows radical Muslims to send their children off to school with a bomb strapped to their chests, Christian Conservatives are happily sacrificing the future of their children out of primitave superstition. The craziest of these radicals hope for a Rapture followed by Armageddon and have taken their gross biblical misreading and lack of historical context to new superstitious depths. The more common cynical right wing radicals are the basest of humans, without a care for their fellow citizens, let alone future generations. They just want to be as rich and powerful as possible without regard for future generations.

Teddy Roosevelt was, by no means, a far-seeing, futurist, but by today's poor standard of leadership he seems so. Roosevelt warned the nation that "We should not forget that it will be just as important to our descendants to be prosperous in their time as it is to us to be prosperous in our time." Roosevelt promoted and protected the nation's natural resources, he tried to contain the period's huge (for the time) corporate trade-restraint conspiracies, and he occasionally used the military to preserve world peace and stability. At the time, many thought that Roosevelt was a radical imperialistic militarist, but he started no wars, acted as a neutral arbitrator to resolve at least three foreign wars and revolutions, and used the build-up of the United States' navy to offset and balance the other world naval powers, particularly Germany and Japan. By today's poor standard of leadership, Roosevelt looks idealistic and farseeing.

The thing that Roosevelt and many of us know is that the banking class has no national loyalty. Their pledge is to money, not society. Money is, regardless of the claims made on its paper, not patriotic and flows as easily into one country as another. Today's powerful ownership class is completely aware of the long-term damage they have done to this country and they could not care less. If things get bad enough here, they can always move to one of their financial islands. If they completely destroy the US economy, there is always someplace where money is unashamedly welcomed and where cold cash can buy the luxuries and power they crave. To the rich, one location is as good as another until they completely spoil one so that is no longer true. Again, Roosevelt referred to them as "the most dangerous members of the criminal class--the criminals of great wealth." Today's radical right is controlled by the "criminals of great wealth" and their expressed "moral" motives are nothing but a mask for their real purposes; the pillaging of the national treasury.

As a nation, we're experiencing record movement of money. Canada has been flooded with US speculation, to the point that Canadians are reconsidering foreign ownership of Canadian property. Unencumbered by the conservative Canadian fear of speculation, Mexico is experiencing a similar invasion of US wealth. Even popular media and literature off-handedly refers to the "off-shore bank" account anytime anyone with money wants to escape taxes, financial responsibility, or insists on economic security. The last place a truly rich person would put hard cash is in a US financial institution.

Technical skills are leaving the US, also. While US companies and the leisure class are politicking for cheap immigrant labor, they are alienating the most skilled graduates of our technical schools. Of course, we're not losing any lawyers or MBAs, no one else would have them, but we are losing scientists, engineers, and manufacturing skills. These talents are the tools the nation will need to build the future.

It's important to remember that "the rich are different from the rest of us, they have money." In other words, the wealthy aren't particularly intelligent, creative, or insightful, they are simply lucky. They are, often, as dumb as Paris Hilton and as foolish. Business trusts have been terrible creations in the history of US business. While the rich who own and control those illegal collaborations have done well, personally, the businesses they have controlled have suffered. Their selfish interests are always short-term and short-sighted. Luck of birth doesn't always mean luck in life. Many of the inherited rich have found ways to squander their wealth and power, aimlessly and pointlessly. An incredible few actually intentionally spend their unearned wealth attempting to improve the country that provided that opportunity. The majority hire intelligent employees to manage their trust funds, inheritances, business and political interests. Those employees soon join the wealthy class and begin their own decay process.

TR campaigned for an aggressive inheritance tax, a social security system, unemployment insurance, an employers' liability law, natural resources conservation, and many other social reforms to protect the nation from the "criminal class." Those criminals were largely successful in subverting the Congress of their day, preventing Roosevelt from forcing them to participate in the democracy from which their wealth was derived. Today's Congress is an even cheaper purchase for the ruling class, but at least we can actually vote the bums out of office. In 1908, the Senate was "elected" by state governors, not by popular vote.

Every generation has its collection of "canaries in the mine" who warn that critical times lay ahead. Almost every generation has suffered critical times that could have been avoided if they had paid attention to their warning signs. The balance of world power is shifting away from the United States. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it will be if we allow the idle rich to squander the nation's resources in a generation or two.

July  2007


#171 Conserapedia, A Place for All of Your Dumbest Ideas

There is a new place for morons to look for "information." It's called Conservapedia. You'll find brilliant bits of nutty misinformation such as this description of "kangaroo": "Also according to creation science theories, after the Flood, kangaroos bred from the Ark passengers migrated to Australia. There is debate whether this migration happened over land[2] -- as Australia was still for a time connected to Europe by a land bridge similar to the one that connected Asia to America[3] -- or if they rafted on mats of vegetation torn up by the receding flood waters.[2] Another theory is that God simply generated kangaroos into existence there."

Is that freakin' hilarious, or what? You'd think this was a National Lampoon joke, but conservatives aren't bright enough to have a sense of humor. It's not a joke, it's too stupid to be really funny. In case the site was in some way consistently wacky, I did a search on "monkey," "zebra," hippopotamus," and "panda," but found that conservatives have no opinion or information on those animals. Their entry on "gorilla" is predictably hilarious, though.

There's more. Here's the mission statement for the site, "Conservapedia is an online resource and meeting place where we give full credit to Christianity and America. Conservapedia is student-friendly. You will much prefer using Conservapedia compared to Wikipedia if you want concise, clean answers free of 'political correctness'." The incorrect use of punctuation is directly lifted from the geniuses at Conservapedia.

"Concise" it is. Some entries are so brainless that you'd think they were written by simpleminded children. This is the place where geniuses like Rush (da Doper) Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Willy O'Reilly go for reference material. Of course, no one is more politically correct than conservatives. With their thin skins, tiny minds, terror of everything complicated or real, and superstitions,

There is an upside to all of this, though. I was exposed to Conservapedia through a particularly stupid NPR interview with the doofus who funded the site. As you might expect, he's an idiot. However, he chanted some statistics that give me hope. The reason, he claims, for starting Conservapedia is that he claims Wikipedia's editors are 80% "liberal." Based on the nutty description of the kangaroo, we can all guess what his parameters for liberal might be: scientific, intelligent, sane, educated, and so on? 

The Conservapedia wacko said that the nation needed a conservative information resource because studies show that "two out of three Americans are conservative." Tending toward pessimism, I would have figured that nine out of ten of everyone is an idiot, so two out of three is substantially less depressing than my estimate. Public education must be doing some good if the country is 24% smarter than I expected.

religionBe honest and you'll know that conservatives don't want information, they want their pet fantasies repeated as often as possible. Conservatives don't have "theories" (as in "creation science" theories or God theories), they have dogma. They look at the world, see swirling shapes and colors, and interpret all that confusion in simple,  fantastic stories, in the same way their ancestors explained the earth, the stars, and space in terms of magic, irate and jealous gods, and sentient inanimate objects. Humans have been religious as long as we have had the ability to think about death, the past, the present, and the future. There must have been a million religions on earth by now and they've all been based on fear and ignorance. Until the next comet strikes the earth, wiping humanity from existence, I expect that we'll continue inventing gods and such. As long as there is a market for stupid ideas, there will be people to sell them. And Conservapedia will be there to document whatever insane meanderings that issue forth from those stupid ideas.

As a parting note, I thought I'd leave you with a few word definitions. Words are important. Their meanings are often lost in propaganda and political gibberish, but the actual meaning of words are more permanent.

Webster's Definitions:

Superstitious: 1 a: a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation b: an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition 2: a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary

Religion: 1 a: the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion> b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

Insanity: 1: a deranged state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder (as schizophrenia) 2: such unsoundness of mind or lack of understanding as prevents one from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or as removes one from criminal or civil responsibility

Science: 1: the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding 2 a: a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study <the science of theology> b: something (as a sport or technique) that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge <have it down to a science> 3 a: knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method b: such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena : natural science 4: a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws <cooking is both a science and an art>

All study comes with homework. A word that gets drug through the mud an awful lot is "theory." On your own, I'd like for each person who reads this column to look up the word "theory" this week.

March  2007


#170 Really, Really Dumb Ideas

What does it take to beat down a really stupid idea? Apparently, the dumber the idea, the harder it is to kill. The "benevolent dictator" fantasy appears to be a suicidal concept that is founded in charisma and fairy tales and doesn't seem to be any less popular today than it was 2,000 years ago. Conservatives and libertarians are incapable of getting more than a few feet from that wet dream every time democracy shows the slightest sign of stumbling. Religion is another example of humanity's love for stupid ideas.. The more fantastic the concepts behind a religion, the harder it is to defeat.

When my kids were infants, one of the first arguments my wife and I had about child raising was about the inclusion of traditional holiday fantasies in our nuclear family celebrations. Obviously, I opposed this indoctrination into stretched credibility. Easter Bunnies, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, ghost stories, the Boogie  Man, and honest politicians all belong in the history books that chronicle variations of child-abuse activities. We compromised. She brought these fantastic tales into our home, I ridiculed them. I'm doing the same routines with my grandchildren, much to my daughter's mother-in-law's disgust. She's Catholic and the rest of us are agnostic, including the grandkids.

I suspect that much of human gullibility is rooted in these pre-religious rituals. I'm not even in the running to be considered an early discoverer of the link childhood fantastic characters and rituals to the foundations of religion and conservative thinking in adults. If you can convince a kid to believe that a fat man and a dozen reindeer can deliver thousands of tons of gifts to rich little kids of the industrialized nations, introducing that same kid to gods and angels is a small step into irrational "faith." Still, it's amazing how strongly people cling to these incredibly stupid ideas and how well they defend the most unbelievable of their strange fantasies.

Let's be honest, if we can manage that for a moment. The best argument that followers of the god fantasies can provide is "you can't prove he doesn't exist." Science is all about disproving theories, but some theories are simply too dumb to bother with. This is one of them. To disprove the existence of the several dozen variations of god descriptions roaming around this earth with approximately 4 billion unevenly distributed subscribers to those variations, all of science could be tasked to invalidate these whacko fantasies until life on the planet vanished and we'd still be without absolute proof.

We can't disprove the existence of the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, or the Boogie Man, either. Hollywood constantly reminds us of that inability by repeating the same tired cartoon plots every generation. However, almost no one asks scientists to dedicate time to that foolish pursuit. The violent, fantastic, irrational accomplishments credited to gods and goddesses are no less impossible than the Santa Claus or Easter Bunny stories, but some folks appear to swallow those more somber fantasies without a moment of reflection or the slightest application of logic. Childhood conditioning must play some part in that inability to apply common sense to religious stories.

There is no more primitive urge than the tendency to suspect that magic is involved in the things we don't understand. The earliest cultures sacrificed animals and each other to a huge variety of gods and goddesses. Practically from the start of our species, we've created idols and other artworks, sang songs, burned, drowned, and skewered disbelievers, and paid witchdoctors and priests to interpret bones, tea leaves, weather signs, and literature. You'd think that we'd have grown out of this silliness by now, but I've recently read that as many as 90% of the world's population believes in some kind of afterlife or supreme being. Of course, many of those folks are so dumb that they ask their priests to find a page, in whatever holy book they subscribe to, describing ailments similar to those they suffer so they can tear out the pages and boil them for medicinal tea. "Faith" of that sort is comical and irrational, but I don't see anything in that to be particularly admirable or evidential. The overabundance of stupid, ignorant, superstitious people is not proof of a supreme being. It's certainly not evidence that evolution was guided by some clever, divine engineer. It is proof that the human animal is exceptionally gullible.

Otherwise seemingly rational people appear to believe in incredibly irrational fantasies. That seems to require many non-believers to ask for tolerance and accommodation of these beliefs. Now that is clearly a non-scientific response. If I tell you that I think the Tooth Fairy is the Lord Almighty and that losing baby teeth before the age of three is a sign that a child is a non-believer and a heretic, would you allow me to sacrifice your early-tooth-maturing child? If I decide that L. Ron Hubbard was the second coming of the Son of God and that his Dianetics drivel is the "new word of God," requiring me to strap on explosives and blow up the nearest Catholic (non-believer) grade school, would you think I might be insane? No? If so, you might be too tolerant to survive.

If not, why, then, is similarly insane belief, action, and sermonizing in the name of Christ, Mohammad, or Abraham more respectable? Clearly, it's not. Not that many years ago, it was considered poor manners to discuss any aspect of religious belief in polite company. People weren't less insane during that brief period of American civility, we just weren't as proud of our insanity as we are today. The fantasy and fiction of 2,000 year old sheepherders and priests is no more believable or holy than today's Harry Potter books and movies. They are just stories, some good, some godawful. Some of those stories are interesting enough to be considered valuable moral guidance, some are so violent, evil, and inhuman that they should be all the evidence a sane person needs to know these books are absolutely not the word of a supreme being. They aren't even up the literature standards established at the founding of this once-democratic nation.

February  2007