Friday, March 28, 2008

The Truth, Expelled.

As we know, one picture is worth a thousand (misleading) words.

(This brilliant picture is from,
but I first spotted it on the brilliant

So much for the ID camp's attempt to blame the Holocaust on the Theory of Evolution.

Remember this picture when an ID supporter blathers on about the perils of believing in the theory of evolution (or Darwinism, as the ID camp prefers to call it; two distinct things, really, but who's paying attention...). Refocus the conversation on the perils of believing what you are told about the theory of evolution by people whose source of scientific knowledge is a(ny) sacred text, and provide this link as a starting point for refutation of common misleading/false claims that IDers and Creationists make.

Guess Which Country...

David Michael Green is talking about? (via Alternet).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Administration That Brought You Camping

Another feather in the cap of the current administration. You know, the one that according to vicepresident Cheney brought you more than five years of uninterrupted economic expansion (which, might I add, did very few people any good)? Yes, that one. That same administration that also looked away while Tent City rose from the rubble of the mortgage crisis. But that is news only in Europe. I will personally remember it as the administration that did more to socialize risk and privatize profits than any other in history.

Now I know many people have been irresponsible in how they handled their finances and that they reached well beyond their limits, but isn't this the administration that says we should give tax breaks to everybody because, after all, the people know best? Do they or don't they? Perhaps relaxing government regulations, slashing government oversight of big business, and leaving the free-market to work unfettered, in exchange for a tax break, is not so good for everybody after all...

Oh, and by the way, guess who's bailing out irresponsible lenders and, as the English language-mauling president himself actually said, "lendees"...(If you have attended a much maligned public school, you may know them as "borrowers").

P.S. I thought of capturing this screenshot of the search because I am sure it is only a matter of time before Neil Cavuto and Faux News realize that they must take the article down, lest there should be one more reminder that being ruled by an illiterate moron in the 21th century is not a good thing.

Religion Still Kills

Fortunately, such cases of blatant stupidity as the one that led to the death of an 11 year-old girl are not too common.

This kind of stupidity is precisely the one that Mike the Mad Biologist talks about in his blog, when he correctly says:

The other thing we evolutionary biologists don't do enough of, and this stems from the previous point, is make an emotional and moral case for the study of evolution. Last night, I concluded my talk with a quote from Dover, PA creationist school board member William Buckingham, who declared, "Two thousand years ago someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?"

My response was, "In the last two minutes, someone died from a bacterial infection. We take a stand for him."

And yet, you have to admire the dead girl's parents for their foolish, criminal consistency. In fact, they are more rationally consistent than people like Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo, and Sam Brownback, just to mention three illustrious evolution-deniers who are not loath to receive advanced medical treatment funded with taxpayers' money. We should hope more would be as consistent in their faith.

We should hope that those who believe that God created the earth six thousand years ago were as consistent.
We should hope that those who believe that dinosaurs boarded Noah's ark, and who use field-trips to the science museum to taint (home-schooled) children's brains with lies, were as consistent. We should hope that those who slam evolution as the root of all evil and who, in order to perpetuate that myth, make the ridiculously slanted claim that Darwinism aided Hitler's genocide of the Jews (even though the Bible prescribes genocide and Darwin never did), were as consistent.

Then--when enough such Christians (or similarly deluded believers) are as consistent as these two parents were in their ridiculous belief, and a few bacterial infections later--we could be rid of dangerous ignoramuses in a matter of few generations.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Expelled from... Expelled! The Movie

Not only did the makers of Expelled! resort to lying in order to get scientists to participate in their movie. On Good Friday, they actually expelled one of those scientist from a viewing of the movie (the irony is probably lost on their intelligently-designed brains), and are now spreading the lie that PZ Myers (the expelled scientist) and Richard Dawkins (the British biologist) were gatecrashers.

So that your head does not start spinning like the producers of the movie would like to happen, read the articulate, if a little peeved, review that Richard Dawkins wrote on his website. It is appropriately called "Lying for Jesus?". Because nothing on Easter weekend honors the producers' Lord and Saviour more than their spreading lies.

P.S. I thought I was going to have to see the movie because a) I had promised a kind college professor of the ID belief that I would go and discuss the movie with him, and b) because I thought I would need to see it to... disbelieve it. Now that this incident has surfaced, though, I hate the very thought of rewarding the movie producers with nine of my hard earned dollars. I might have to renege on a promise I made.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

President Blush

Last night, the hypocrisy-sniffing machine that is Stephen Colbert was on top of his game. It highlighted a new, unprecedented low for president blush, a man who has done more to redefine the dictionary definition of dishonor than anyone I have had a chance to witness in my lifetime.

An example of cowardice for future generations of con-passionate con-servative politicians.

The (Final) Word on Obama's Pastor Controversy

This is the definitive word about Pastor Wright and Obama being constantly under attack. By Stephen Colbert, no less.

As usual, Colbert knows best.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A People's Budget

If you are not happy with how Congress has performed over the last ten years, you are not alone. From the days of Clinton’s dotcom economy to today, approval ratings for the job Congress has done have plummeted from roughly 50% to as low as 18% (they now hover around between 20 and 30%, depending on the polling house). One of the reasons for this statistic is that an increasing number of people do not feel represented by Congress, whose priorities are out of touch with those of real America. At a time when the nation is spending billions and billions of dollars every year in Iraq, the government cannot find the money or the political will to provide satisfactory education for many children, or healthcare for 47 million uninsured citizens (including, again, millions of children). If it were up to me to come up with a plan to put Congress back on track, I’d say hit them where it hurts the most: the wallet. Transfer (some) spending power from Congress to “We The People.”

Your immediate reaction might be: hold on a second! Are you advocating more tax cuts, just like President Bush would? You know me better than that, I hope. I am suggesting that we should amend the Constitution of the United States to transfer (some of) the spending power from an obviously inadequate Congress to the People of the United States of America. After all, don’t politicians always tell us that no one knows how to spend hard-earned money more wisely than American families? Well, here’s the president’s and Congress’s opportunity to support in practice those principles they advocate in theory so often.

The “Why”

The Constitution of the United States of America delegates spending power to Congress, and Congress is more and more controlled by special interests more often than not in conflict with the people's best interest. If you want a measure of the control that money exerts on politics, you need to look no further than the current presidential campaign, where candidates have already raised (and spent) hundreds of millions of dollars.

When April 15th comes around, we file our tax returns and pay our taxes on the understanding that that money will be spent for the good of the Commons and of “We The People”. We expect infrastructure to be updated and maintained. We expect that the government will provide national defense. We expect a certain level of public education. We want everyone to have access to healthcare, for many good reasons, and not least because it provides protection for society against the spread of diseases. But what do we really get in return for our tax dollars? Tax breaks for energy companies who have just reaped the highest profits in the history of the world. Bridges to nowhere. Tax breaks for corporations located on tropical islands. Attempts to limit corporate liability for non economic damage awards or awards for pain and suffering to $250,000 per individual, in spite of ample evidence that the only way to change a corporation’s behavior when society has been hurt is to assess exemplary damages. Budget decisions made by representatives in name only are driven mostly by consideration of personal convenience for politicians and their corporate sponsors.

If we want to change the way business is transacted in Washington, we are up against gigantic odds. We will have to fight a system that has developed intricate ways to maintain, and to profit from, the status quo, and that has law (the Constitution of the United States and our legal system) on its side. It is an almost impossible fight, but it would not be the first almost impossible fight that The People have won. So was the fight of this nation’s Founding Fathers against the surging British Empire. Historic change is worth fighting for, no matter what the odds against it, and, as Booker T. Washington correctly said, “Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.”

In this spirit, I propose that the Constitution of the United States should be amended to transfer (some of) the spending power from Congress to “We The People.” I believe that it is the only way to realign Congress with the People’s priorities, and to begin curbing corruption and financial mismanagement of taxpayers’ money.

The "How"

The financial year of the United States government starts every year on Oct 1st. The President must submit a budget to Congress between the first Monday in January and the first Monday in February. Currently, the President’s budget proposal is based on 100% of revenue. I propose that the budget submitted to Congress should cover only 80% of revenue, with the remaining 20% being set aside for popular allocation.

After the House and the Senate have approved the budget resolution, each taxpayer, including those who owe no tax because they do not meet necessary income levels, would be sent information about budget outlays by category/department (Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, etc.), as well as matching information for a number of prior years. This would give taxpayers a measure, at a glance, of the spending priorities set by Congress and the President.

With this information in hand, taxpayers would select a number of departments they would want to provide additional funding for (perhaps between three and five). This submission process could happen either electronically or by mail. The process would be optional. If a taxpayer chose not to reply, he would simply lose the opportunity to influence budget allocation.

When all returns are in, the popular 20% of the budget reserved for popular allocation would be divided among the various department and agencies in proportion to popular allocation results. So, for example, if 12% of respondents said that they wanted to increase education funding, 12% of the popular budget (20%) would be allocated to the Department of Education. If 20% of respondents said they want to allocate additional funds to health and human services, HHS would get 20% of the slice of the budget to be allocated by popular vote.

The trick would be to synchronize the popular allocation process with the current budgetary process (which would have to be modified). But, if there’s a will, there’s a way.

So now, let’s take a look at the foreseeable pros and cons.

Is this system too complicated?
This would be the first, foreseeable objection of those interested in preserving the status quo.

Perhaps it would be too complicated for some people. Perhaps some people would not care to answer. If so, their non-preference would simply be disregarded (which would have no influence on percentage totals). As stated earlier, the greatest difficulty would be to make the process fit in with the Congressional budget schedule, but that can be accomplished.

Why 20% (not more, not less)?
In deference to the empirical (if somewhat rough) rule that you achieve 80% of results with 20% of the effort, and viceversa. Also, to guarantee that all departments have an adequate level of minimum funding to function.

Would all taxpayers have this opportunity?
Only individuals. Corporations and special interest groups would not get the chance to interfere with the allocation process. They already do anyway, through lobbying. They get their say in the allocation of the 80% of the budget that is managed by Congress.

What are the risks of such a system?
Congress might be tempted to completely defund a department, the reasoning being that if people really care about certain departments or agencies, they will select them for additional funding. Since this is an all too real possibility, a provision must be added to Congressional budget funding that no department can lose (or gain) more than twice the rate of inflation (currently, for example, that would be two times roughly 3%, or 6% roughly).

Another potential risk comes from sudden emergencies (like 9/11) that might cause Congress to want to shift its budget allocation priorities. In such a case, it could go and get the money where it should anyway: by repealing tax cuts for the wealthiest individual and corporations. After all, the share of total federal receipts from corporations has dropped from 27% in the 50's to 9.6% of total revenues in the current decade. Also, the effective marginal tax rate for individuals (the highest tax rate paid on the “last dollar earned”) for the wealthiest 1% of the population is now only 39,6%, versus 51.5 in 1960. (In the 50’s it was 91%). Conversely, the share of national income owned by the top 1% (pdf) has gone from 8% in 1960 to 17% in 2000.

Call it a Patriots’ Tax, if you want. That would be the way for the richest people in the nation to give back at a time when the nation needs it most, and when the children of the have-nots are already fighting for their lives in foreign lands.

What effects might such a system have on our budget and on our spending?
People would have a bigger say in how Congress prioritizes expenses, and would benefit or suffer in direct proportion to their wishes. After Katrina, for example, the budget for the Department of Commerce, which includes NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), remained the same, and Congress cut the budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1.7 to 1.6% of the overall budget. They did so in spite of the destruction wreaked by nature and men on one of America’s most beloved cities. It is unthinkable that the people would have been as insensitive and as callous in allocating funds as Congress was, while the Administration was squandering billions of dollars in Iraq (where billions of dollars have literally gone unaccounted for).

What difference would it make?
Those who would make this argument cynically assume that Congress would find a way to simply misuse popularly allocated funds to different cronies and patrons. This may be a valid concern, but the real goal of the proposed system is not to prevent fraud or misuse of funds (the safeguard against such problems being criminal prosecution by state and federal attorneys). Rather, the proposed system seeks to produce more alignment between the popular will and the way Congress and the Administration allocate funds. It would teach them the value of prioritizing, since they would not have direct control on the full pie, but only of 80% of it.

Politicians are right when they tell us, albeit with entirely different goals, that there is power in controlling our own money. But their words are empty rhetoric, when their idea of people controlling their money is to send us $600 tax rebates to stimulate the economy. If we really want to change the way business is done in Washington, we have to get involved. Having control of a significant slice of the federal budget pie is a very tangible way to get involved. It would give us a place at the table our Founding Fathers built for us, and from which we have long been excluded. No proposed solution is a silver bullet, but we need to start somewhere.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Pastor Wright's Statements, In Perspective

If you have been swayed by the Con-men's incessant drumbeat to think that Sen. Obama's pastor is the Antichrist's motivator (being that a few Con-men's have thrown that label at Obama to see if it stuck. By the way, I disagree with the author's premise: Glenn Back is jackass, not a serious newsman), you need to read this article. It puts things squarely in perspective, while not condoning some of the statements made by Pastor Wright.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Spitzer v. Bush Administration

This week, the mainstream media kept us well focused on Elliot Spitzer's sexually charged downfall. Certainly it was newsworthy, particularly because Spitzer had risen to the office of the Governor of New York after a "knight in shining armor" type of career as the AG of that state, during which he--quite ironically--prosecuted many who were guilty of the charges he is now being investigated for.

Bill Moyer, the veteran PBS journalist and commentator, has different ideas about what constitutes a moral tragedy. Watch the March 14th edition of Bill Moyer's Journal, and thank your lucky stars he is alive and well. Then, rise up, let your lefteous outrage take over, and mark your calendars. Nov 4th, Liberation Day, is less than eight months away.

Republican Gag Rule

Republican gag rule. Read it, it'll make you wanna gag. This is why, even more than reclaiming the White House, we need Democrats to gain a filibuster proof, veto-proof majority in the next election cycles.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Our Pro-Life Hypocrisy

I recently responded on another blog to a Denver professor of philosophy who attached the pro-death label to Obama for his pro-choice stance. Further in that thread, he made the (incorrect) statement that abortion laws in the United States are more liberal than in Europe. This was my response...

Dr. Groothuis:

In some European countries abortion is allowed also for fetal impairment (abnormalities), which none of the most restrictive state laws in the United States allow. And nowhere in Europe did a legislature ever try to pass a law that did not include exclusions for rape and incest (like South Dakota did a few months back).

Also, I object to your continued characterization that first and second trimester abortions can be performed for no reason. Once again, you may be technically right, but do you really think people seek abortions for no reason? The wrong reasons is more like it. And, unfortunately, some of those wrong reasons take on a legitimate air, for example when pregnant women resort to abortions because they cannot leave work or afford the costs of the pregnancy.

Think about it: The United States, the best country in the world (or so I hear), has no federal law that mandates paid leave for pregnant women. (See this article in USA Today.) How shameful is that, in a country where a woman cannot enter an abortion clinic without being greeted by throngs of protesters with photos of fetuses on picket signs? Wouldn't their time be better spent lobbying their members of Congress for a paid maternity leave law?

This is a country that, for all its rhetoric about the sanctity of life, treats life as a commodity, where giving birth is a privilege for those who can afford it and have broad enough shoulders to weather all sorts of economic assaults. In what other country in the world does your insurance pay only 80% of the cost of delivering a baby, leaving the family to pay thousands of dollars to take their newborn home? Are you kidding me? America is not pro-life. It likes to call itself pro-life, because it sounds nice, and it is godlike, but it is a rather empty moniker, don't you think? When the majority of the people are more concerned with the preservation of the free market than with human rights, you don't live in a country that fosters the culture of life. You live in corporate Disneyland!

Check these data:
  • Sweden, a socialist (boo-hoo) country: 16 months, 80% paid leave -- per child.
  • Estonia: 140 days, 100% paid leave.
  • Bulgaria: 120-180 days, 100% paid leave.
  • France: 16 weeks, 100% paid leave
  • Canada: up to 50 weeks of paid maternity leave (55% of pay up to $413 weekly.).
  • U.K.: one year maternity leave (39 weeks paid).
  • Italy: 22 weeks at 80% pay.
  • Chile (the land of Milton Friedman's economic coup): 18 weeks, 100% paid leave
  • United Nations (headquartered on U.S. soil): 16 weeks, 100% paid leave.
These countries are just examples, and many include--hear, hear!--paternity leave as well. Most countries around the world have some sort of paid maternity leave.

The Mighty USA? 0 (zero, zilch, nada) days of paid maternity leave, just like those other beacons to the world: Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. Some company!

Could that perhaps have to do with the rates of abortion in this country? No: It is much easier to hold up a sign in front of an abortion clinic or call the other side "pro-death".

Too many of those who oppose abortion are not pro-life, they are pro-diatribe. We pro-lifers are more to blame for the current situation than pro-choicers, because the stakes are higher for us, and our goal is, I believe, more important. And yet we are too caught up in the righteousness of the cause to see the harm we do to it by failing to give adequate consideration to all the root causes and contributing factors. If we do not stop thinking ideologically and start thinking practically, we deserve to be called hypocrites.

We talk so much about the culture of life that we have started to believe the sound of our own voices. But when it comes to pitching in for the cost of other people's babies, that’s where we draw the line: God forbid we should interfere with the idol of free-market economy. God forbid we should abandon the American myth of individualism. Go ahead, have your wonderful little baby. If you can afford it.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Media's Liberalism

I remember seeing a bumper sticker once that said: "The media are as liberal as the conservative corporations that own them".

This excellent analysis on Media Matters is a good reminder of the truth in that bumper sticker.

Justice, Bush Administration Style - Part 2

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Justice, Bush Administration Style.

In that case, the perversion of justice was repulsive even to some Republicans. But in the quasi-forgotten case of the nine U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush Administration for failing to bring prosecutions against Democrats in contested districts, Republicans have shown no such qualms. Now, David Iglesias, one of the fired prosecutors, has written a book. Can't wait 'til it's out. Hope you read it before you go vote in November.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Closer Look At Pastor John Hagee

You would think that with Reverend Falwell's death the world would be rid of nutjobs who claim that natural disasters are God's retribution for our sinful ways. You'd be wrong of course. It is time to accept the fact that one (super)natural resource the world has in no scarce quantity is sanctimonious, masturbatory, and destructive delusion.

Introducing John Hagee, the Texas Pastor whose recent endorsement of John McCain for president has been warmly received by the Arizona senator. Besides calling the Catholic church a false cult and "the great whore", and not missing a chance to tie the Holocaust and Hitler's design for Jews to the history of the Catholic Church, Pastor Hagee made some typical pronouncements, which it bears repeating here because Sen. McCain had no obvious qualms about accepting the reverend's endorsement.
God will unleash terrorists on America for supporting a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine.
I want those of you in the State Department and in government in Washington to hear this: If America does not stop pressuring Israel to give up land, I believe that God will bring this nation into judgement, because I believe what [the Bible] says. And if God brings this nation into judgement He will very likely release the terrorists that you've already let get here through the ridiculous immigration policy you refuse to stop and this nation is going to go through a bloodbath that you will have permitted because of what you have done.
It is time for America to embrace the words of Senator Joseph Lieberman and consider a military preemptive strike against Iran to prevent a nuclear holocaust in Israel and a nuclear attack in America.

On Katrina:
I want to ask Washington a question. Is there a connection between the 9,000 Jewish refugees being forcibly removed from their homes in the Gaza Strip now living in tents and the thousands of Americans who have been expelled from their homes by this tremendous work of nature? Is there a connection there? If you've got a better answer, I'd like to hear it.

More on Katrina, from NPR's Fresh Air:
Terry Gross: Do you still think that Katrina is punishment from God for a society that's becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah?

Rev. Hagee: All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God and they are... were recipients of the judgement of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that Katrina came. The promise of that parade was that it was to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other gay pride parades. So I believe that the judgement of God is a very real thing and I believe that the hurricane Katrina was in fact the judgement of God against the city of New Orleans.

Terry Gross: You think that the whole city was punished because of things like the forthcoming gay pride parade?

Rev. Hagee: This is true. All of the city was punished because of the sin that happened there, in that city.

These last pronouncements, that Katrina was God's way to strike New Orleans for its sinfulness, or that it was retribution for removing Jewish "refugees" from the Gaza strip (which is which, Pastor?) beg a follow up question, which unfortunately Terry Gross failed to ask, perhaps because of deference to religion, even when it is so obviously deranged:

Since God controls the heavens, can you please explain to us what he meant when the following churches were destroyed by tornadoes:
  • Sharon Baptist Church, Savannah, GA. March 4, 2008.
  • Third Baptist Church, Owensboro, KY. Oct 18, 2007.
  • United Methodist Church, Greensburg, KS. May 4, 2007.
  • St. Joseph Church, Dodge City, KS. May 4, 2007.
  • Valley Missionary Baptist Church, Forth Worth, TX. Apr 2007.
  • Church of God, Lady Lake, FL. Feb 2, 2007.
  • Metro Baptist Church, Goodlettsville, TN. Apr 8, 2006.
  • Montgomery Community Baptist Church, Symmes Township, OH. Apr 9, 1999.
  • United Methodist Church, Goshen. March 27, 1994 (Palm Sunday).

I could go on and on, of course. Finding these churches took me half an hour. So send a letter to

Rev. John Hagee
c/o John Hagee Ministries
P.O. Box 1400
San Antonio, TX 78295-1400

and ask him to explain what God, whose control of the heavens is most likely not limited to hurricanes but extends to tornadoes as well, could possibly have meant to punish when he chose to destroy several temples erected in his name and kill some of the congregations that had gathered to worship him.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Meek the Press

During the latest Democratic debate, Tim Russert made much of the fact that Louis Farrakhan's endorsed Sen. Obama's presidential run. He relentlessly pressed on, until Sen. Obama both denounced and rejected Farrakhan's endorsement.

I can only hope that in the months leading to the election he will be as relentless on Rev. Hagee's endorsement of Sen. McCain. Watch the video below to understand why it would be suitable for Mr. Russert to pursue the same line of questioning with Sen. McCain that he already used on Sen. Obama.

Will Russert, a devout Catholic who had private audience with Pope John Paul II, go after Sen. McCain the way he went after Sen. Obama about Farrakhan's endorsement? So far, he has chosen not to.
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