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Tea Party Theology (or “Tea-ology”)

March 31st, 2010 No comments

That Christianity is a major influence on Tea Party conservatives is a truth so obvious it almost goes without saying, but if we’re to figure out the best approach for dealing with these people it might be worth a closer examination of religion’s role in their worldview.

Before I list some of the ways in which Christianity feeds and reinforces Tea Party ideology, I have to get two objections out of the way. First—not all Tea Partiers are Christian. Many of them are Ayn Rand objectivists, an atheist ideology that in many ways is much worse than Christianity. But at least the objectivists don’t have to answer charges of hypocrisy, as whereas selfishness is their core virtue it stands in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus, and the Christian Tea Partiers who scoff at ideas of social justice and adopt an every-man-for-himself attitude are completely ignoring those teachings. At any rate, atheists in the Tea Party are by far the minority.

The second objection is the inverse—not all Christians are Tea-Partiers. Very true. Many Christians actually live by what Jesus actually said in the Bible as opposed to what their preacher tells them Jesus really meant. As I used to be such a Christian I can tell you that they hate having their Lord hijacked by ignorant bigots and used to justify vile racism and hatred. Unfortunately, while the moral teachings of Jesus are certainly anathema to Tea Party ‘values’, much of the core theology of Christianity is fundamentally detrimental to human moral progress, and the harmfulness of these doctrines shines through very clearly in Tea Party protests. Here are a few of these doctrines:

1- Faith without evidence

No matter what kind of Christian you are, it’s absolutely fundamental to your religion that you accept certain propositions without any kind of empirical or rational justification whatsoever. There is no scientific evidence or logical proof of God’s existence, but you simply must believe it. You can have all the doubt you want, but at the end of the day you have to accept it as true and act accordingly. Sit in your church, partake in communion, recite the Nicene creed—you may not be sure that any of this means anything, but you keep doing it, and this is celebrated as a virtue.

Tea Partiers subscribe to certain political propositions with the same level of religious zeal as they subscribe to propositions about God and Jesus. Big Government is the enemy, the Constitution is sacrosanct, Socialism is pure evil, and so on. These ideas are accepted as basic—just as basic as the idea of an omnipotent God—and any challenge to them is met with sheer indignation. If you ask them, “Why shouldn’t it be the government’s responsibility to provide certain goods that can only be done collectively rather than individually?” they won’t even stop to consider what you’re saying. It’s like some internal alarm bells go off in their mind ringing “Heresy! Socialism! Fascism!” and the idea is never given any actual consideration.

Christians, especially fundamentalists, are taught these mental techniques for suppressing doubt from their early childhood, as doubt is seen as the biggest threat to salvation. They won’t even listen to anyone who argues that religion is all made up and God doesn’t exist, as they’ve been taught that such ideas are evil and anyone spreading them is evil for doing so. These same mental techniques are applied to political propositions, and anyone who challenges the conservative beliefs they were taught in childhood must be evil and should be ignored. Even so much as considering that the other side may have a point is frowned upon in Christianity. You just have to accept certain things as fundamental Truths, and that the fact that you have no evidence for these beliefs is actually seen as endowing them with greater value than beliefs based on evidence.

The virtue of unjustified faith is one of the most detrimental aspects of religion and it is absolutely pervasive in the Tea Party. It’s the biggest reason that trying to change their minds is so hopeless. They are taught to trust their gut before they trust their brains, and their gut tells them they’re right. And that’s all there is to it. Amen.

2- Divine favoritism

According to the Old Testament, the Hebrews are described as God’s “chosen people”, an idea which, when closely examined, is actually far more terrifying than it is at first glance. This means that the creator of the entire universe, of the world and all the people in it, actually prefers certain ethnic groups over others. This provides these groups with the justification to do anything short of defying God. They are free to ransack villages, conquer and occupy, pillage and plunder, and murder every man, woman, and child of any other tribe because they are of lesser value to God. And this is indeed what the Hebrews of the Old Testament did.

Today, you’ll hear Jews try to excuse the ‘chosen people’ idea by saying this doesn’t mean God favors the Jews—He simply ‘chose’ them to be the ones to keep the sacred covenant. Just as He ‘chose’ the Egyptians for their purposes and ‘chose’ the Greeks for theirs, He ‘chose’ the Jews for the purpose of…having the one true religion. This is indeed a lame excuse. “He doesn’t favor us, it’s just that we’re the only ones who worship Him correctly.”

You’ll hear the same kind of lame excuses from Tea Partiers to deny charges of racism. “I have nothing against black people. It’s just that they’re inferior.” I’m sure not all Tea Partiers are racist, but given all the racial and ethnic slurs you see written on their signs and hear them shouting out, it’s a safe best that a great deal of them are. And I’m sure most of them share the sentiment that they are the ‘real Americans’ and their country is being taken from them. Such sentiments are directly related to the idea found in Scripture that God favors certain groups over others and therefore some people are inherently more valuable than others. Namely, whites are more valuable than blacks, Hispanics, and Arabs. After all, Jesus was white…wasn’t he?

3- Demonization of abortion

Jesus never once said anything about unborn fetuses, yet Christians know with absolute certainty that Jesus would have found abortion to be the most evil thing imaginable and condemned anyone to Hell who would justify or make it easier for such a thing to happen. To be fair, I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t be too thrilled with the idea—but neither are most liberals. Not too many people really love abortion and think it’s a great idea and everyone should do it—but hearing the Tea Partiers go on about it you’d think they’re fighting an army of blood-thirsty sadists hell-bent on killing as many babies as possible.

It’s a perfectly legitimate political opinion to be opposed to abortion, but when you add Christian zeal to it, it becomes dangerous and harmful. Doctors who perform abortions are murdered and their killers are celebrated as heroes. Any lawmaker who might even make it slightly less difficult for a woman to have an abortion is treated with just as much contempt and disdain as Hitler or Stalin. Thus any chance we have of actually having a rational, productive debate over policy—of asking whether or not the government should have the power to prevent women from ending unwanted pregnancies—is hopeless. Even an argument you’d think might work on such anti-government zealots: “Abortion may be the wrong choice but shouldn’t a woman be free to make the wrong choice and let God judge her?” is met with closed ears because to them it would just be downright evil to reflect on and modify their beliefs in any way.

4- Demonization of homosexuals

I can point to Leviticus 18:22 as the exact Bible verse at which I gave up on the Bible altogether. My faith was already wavering when I tried to reinforce it by actually reading the Bible cover-to-cover, but I couldn’t make it past the third chapter. I couldn’t believe the kind of vile nastiness coming from the mouth of the supposed benevolent creator of the universe. I’m not gay but I have lots of sympathy for gays—as I’ve always had for any oppressed minority—and when I came to the verse in which God declares it an abomination for a man to lie with another man, I knew in my heart that this was not the word of God at all, but words written by men just as ignorant and prejudiced as those who are around today.

As with abortion, there is just no room for compromise on the anti-homosexual stance among the Tea Partiers. If God hates gays, they are perfectly justified in hating gays and standing in the way of their right to get married or to serve in the military. Some even go so far as to repeal legislation that protects homosexuals from discrimination (it is now legal in the state of Virginia to fire someone just for being gay) and they’ll oppose hate crimes legislation that specifically protects gay people—not because they’re opposed to hate crimes laws in general—but because they see gays as legitimate targets for violent crime. If God specifically said that He hates them, it’s fair game.

To be fair, these last two points are not fundamental aspects of Christian theology, and I think the majority of Christians are probably quite rational when it comes to issues of abortion and homosexuality, but it is within the fundamental nature of religion to see certain things as pure evil, and as such to destroy any hope of genuine reflection and examination of such things.

5- End of the world

Again, not all Christians take the Book of Revelations literally, but you can bet that most Tea Partiers do. This world, they believe, is a temporary one. As such, any attempt on the part of lawmakers to protect the environment is seen as pointless at best, or an encroachment on Freedom at worst.

It’s all going down anyway, so why bitch about global warming or the extinction of species? You want to regulate carbon emissions or prevent off-shore oil drilling? How dare you! Humans need that oil—and if God really gave a damn about the whales He would have sent them a Whale Jesus to save them like He saved us. And who cares how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere? So there are a few droughts here and there which kill a bunch of starving people in the third world. They were going to die anyway, and this way they at least get spared the horror of the post-apocalyptic nightmare that awaits all those unlucky souls not pure enough to raptured away like these good Christians know they will be.

Belief in an Armageddon is probably the single most destructive belief in all of Christianity, and it stands to reason that the more people in power who actually believe it, the less hope there is of humanity surviving through the next millennium, or even the next century. If the Tea Party had its way and filled the U.S. government with only like-minded individuals, they’d absolutely do their best to see to it those prophecies are fulfilled. And that would probably mean a few mushroom clouds in the Middle East. There are Christians who salivate at the very idea of a nuclear world war, as they expect it would mean the Second Coming is at hand.

Finally, seeing as how a recent poll showed that one of every four republicans think Obama may be the Anti-Christ, you can be sure that they’ll accept absolutely no compromise with him among their own leaders. I don’t care how many jobs he wants to create, how many sick children he wants to cure, or how many peace treaties he wants to ratify—you just don’t make deals with the Devil.

Conclusion

And that’s where things stand right now. Obama and the democrats find it nearly impossible to accomplish anything because they can get no cooperation from republicans. The republicans are held hostage by their Tea Party base, which is hostage to the Christian theology so deeply ingrained in their minds. Not only does it bring with it destructive beliefs such as end times prophecies, radical demonization of certain groups and actions, and justified racism and bigotry, but the core principle of religion itself—faith without evidence—prevents them from re-examining any of these ideas.

As of now, Obama and the democrats still have large majorities and they’re capable of getting things done without any cooperation from republicans, but this Tea Party movement could very easily reduce those majorities. At that point, the entire government could become just as incapable of doing anything without Tea Party support as the Republican Party is now. We have to recognize and understand this Tea-ology, and push back against it as hard as we can.

The Great Republican Strategery Fail

March 28th, 2010 No comments

I have to confess that I couldn’t hold back a huge grin when I heard the angry, threatening phone messages left for Bart Stupak after he gave up his pledge to kill the health care bill if it didn’t go far enough in restricting abortion. One guy called him a “baby-killing motherfucker” and said he hoped Stupak would bleed out his ass. Another woman said “There are millions of people across the country who wish you ill, and all of those thoughts that are projected on you will materialize into something that’s not very good for you.” You’ve got to love it. She’s going to destroy him with the awesome, unstoppable power of “The Secret” (which you’d think she could have used to kill the bill before it passed).

What makes these calls so amusing to me is that Stupak is the farthest thing from a baby-killer you can imagine. Because he pushed so hard to make abortion restrictions a part of the health care bill, the final bill does contain language that will make it almost impossible for some women in the country to have an abortion if they can’t pay out-of-pocket. His only failure was not being able to make it even more difficult.

Stupak is just one piece of collateral damage in the Great Republican Strategery Fail of 2009-2010. Stupak, a democrat, told everyone that the health care bill forced taxpayer-funded abortions, and that his amendment was the only thing standing between the Evil Government and millions of dead fetuses. He was adopting the republican strategy of lying about what’s in the bill for the sake of scoring political points. He took a risk, hoping that either his amendment would be passed or the bill would fail, so he could go out and claim a major victory for the pro-life cause, or at least say that he fought the good fight. But his amendment failed, the bill was passed, and now all those people who a week ago saw him as the Lone Good Democrat now see him as a back-stabbing baby-killer. It’s pure poetic justice.

The wingnuts are furious that this bill passed, and this is a huge problem for the Republican Party, who gambled big on the bill’s failure and lost. The wingnuts were told by their cheerleaders in the conservative media for an entire year that this bill had no chance of passing. Locked in their self-made bubble of Tea Parties and Fox News, the wingnuts had no way of knowing that over half the country actually wanted health care reform, as everyone they talked to and everyone they saw on TV were vehemently against it. Suddenly, the bill passes and to them it seems like Obama, megalomaniacal tyrant that he is, single-handedly forced this bill down the country’s throat over the objections of every American—at least every ‘real’ American. Now the republicans are left with a base of insane, frothing-at-the-mouth gun-toting redneck racist militants who will no longer be satisfied with mere political opposition, but who are downright howling for blood.

The republicans decided on their strategy at the very beginning of the Obama presidency, when Rush Limbaugh declared that he hoped Obama would fail and any republican who dared challenge that declaration—anyone who said it might be wiser to work with the president to get things done for the American people—was promptly chastised and forced to apologize to Lord Limbaugh. It would seem that the only way to maintain the support of their right-wing base would be a strategy of 100% opposition, leaving absolutely no room for compromise of any sort.

And as the fight went on, they found themselves having to move further and further to the right, adopting each new crazy talking-point put out there by their craziest members lest they be considered not-crazy enough to be a republican and viciously attacked as a collaborator or traitor. The health care bill will make everyone’s taxes skyrocket. The bill will take away your doctor and force you into a government-run system that will let you die if you’re seen as too expensive. The bill will mandate federal funds for abortion. The bill will set up death panels to issue end-of-life orders to the old and handicapped. Every crazy charge leveled against this bill was met with silence by most republican lawmakers, while some actually encouraged and propagated these falsehoods for fundraising purposes. Nothing like good old-fashioned fear-mongering to open up those wallets.

Now the bill is law and the wingnuts are in a frenzy, afraid to go see their doctor lest they discover he’s been taken away and thrown into the assembly-line of that evil Government Health Care factory where children with Down’s Syndrome go to die. They’re lying awake at night with loaded gun in hand, dreading the moment that government bureaucrat is going to show up at the door and order them to report for execution. Freedom is dead, tyranny has arrived, and now it’s every man for himself.

Naturally, there are those on the right who believed all this bullshit who are now openly calling for the assassination of Obama, or at least tacitly endorsing violence against lawmakers. One conservative blogger who believes that someone from the government is actually going to show up at his house to kill him is calling for people to throw bricks at the windows of local Democratic Party headquarters, and some of his fans are doing it! I’m shocked that so far no one has taken a shot at the president, but that can’t be too far off.

So how are republicans reacting to the overreactions of the beast they helped create? Eric Cantor got on TV and blamed the democrats for using the instances of violence for political purposes! He said he gets all kinds of threatening phone-calls, people attack him for being a Jew, and just the other week somebody took a shot at his office (it was actually just random gunfire) but that he never blamed the other party for this (never mind that no one in the other party accused him of wanting to kill senior citizens) and he didn’t even mention his office getting shot at (at least until the press conference where he mentioned his office getting shot at). Shame on the democrats for using these instances of violence for political purposes. Eric Cantor would never use an instance of violence for political purposes…except in the present circumstance.

Turning the blame for the violence around and pointing their finger at the democrats—I’ll bet he and Boehner erupted with laughter when they came up with that move. There’s nothing they can’t use against the other party, even the stuff that’s entirely their fault. It’s the other side’s fault for blaming them for the stuff that’s their fault.

But this tiny piece of political gamesmanship is inconsequential in the big picture. The republicans aren’t hurt by the wingnut rage because people blame them for stoking it—they’re hurt by the rage because they have no choice now but to submit to it and follow where it leads. They spent an entire year painting the president as some kind of tyrannical dictator hell-bent on destroying America, so they sure as hell can’t negotiate with him now. David Frum, a republican spin-doctor, pointed this out in a column and was promptly fired from his job at a conservative think-tank. All voices of reason will be purged from the party.

As such, the party will get smaller and smaller and any hope of a republican resurgence like they had in 1994 will be tossed out the window. Plenty of democrats disillusioned with Obama will stay home in November and it’s likely the republicans will pick up a few seats, but if their angry base pushes their candidates too far to the right—threatening not to vote for them unless they pass an ideological purity test—the 60 to 70 percent of the population who are not crazy won’t vote for them.

But as much schadenfreude as I derive from seeing the Republican Party reap what it’s sewn, there are negative consequences for the country as a whole that can’t be overlooked. If democrats do indeed maintain large majorities after this Fall’s mid-term elections, they’ll know that catering to corporate interests at the expense of the public has no real electoral cost. Because the opposition party is so ridiculously far to the right that it’s teetering on the brink of the ideological cliff, the Democratic Party is free to move as far to the right as it likes, as those on the left will have no other real choice. That’s the way it’s been for quite some time and thanks to Tea Party rage, it’s going to be even worse. Which candidate will you vote for? The conservative or the ultra-conservative? Do you want a corporate sell-out or a bat-shit crazy fundamentalist? Take your pick.

The system is so horribly broken that change can’t come from within it. If progressives want change, they have to get loud and angry and demand it. But with conservatives already so loud and angry that it looks like the kettle is boiling over, progressives are forced to take the moderate position, and basically say “Calm down, it’s not that bad. Let’s go about this in a calm and orderly fashion and work within the system to slowly bring about the changes we need.” We should be just as angry as the wingnuts, and many of us are, but if you’re shouting next to someone who’s screaming his head off, your shout will sound like a soft whisper.

Over the next few months the wingnuts will no doubt be surprised to find that nothing has happened to their health insurance, that their doctor is still around, grandma is alive and well, and no government bureaucrat is showing up at their doors to kill them. Some of this rage will undoubtedly subside. But the anger goes far deeper than the fight over health reform, and as Frank Rich pointed out in his column in the New York Times, we’d have seen the same thing had the legislative fight been over financial reform or climate change. Whatever Obama does is going to be seen as Armageddon, and wingnuts will never let reality stand in the way of their delusions. If there are no death panels it’s only because they fought hard to keep them out of the health care package, but Obama will just find a way to stick them in the immigration bill.

Meanwhile, republicans will continue along with their doomed strategy, unable to change course because they’ve tied their hands and feet to the base they’ve allowed those in the conservative media to rile up so effectively.

The big winners are Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Fox News. As long as the republicans are out of power, their ratings will continue to soar as they prey on the fear and anger of those who can’t stand the sight of a democrat—let alone a black one—in the white house. As Frum pointed out, Fox News used to work for the republicans, but now the republicans work for Fox News. Sadly for them, Fox News does better when the republicans are out of power.

They went with a colossally bad bit of strategery, and now they’re stuck with it. And so are we.

Religion vs. Spirituality vs. Materialism

March 27th, 2010 No comments

It’s a painfully slow process, but religion does seem to evolve over time. Just a few hundred years ago, nearly everybody in the Western world believed that God created the earth over a six-day period about six thousand years ago, that it was at the center of the universe and designed specifically for humans, whose lives were a kind of test to determine which of the two afterlife locations—Heaven or Hell—they would spend eternity in. In spite of all the dogma about angels and demons, saints and saviors, the so-called ‘mystery’ of the trinity, and mathematical formulas to determine the length of your stay in purgatory, it was a remarkably simple, comprehensible view of the cosmos.

But in spite of its best efforts, the Church ultimately failed to hold back the advances of science, and today we know that the earth formed over billions of years, is merely one speck of dust in an unprivileged location within an incomprehensibly vast universe, that humans evolved from other species over eons of time, and that Heaven and Hell can’t be found by looking through a telescope. Religion has done its best to accommodate itself to these facts, going to great lengths to try and reconcile scientific truth with Scripture. But in spite of its best efforts, and in spite of the fact that plenty of people simply ignore science and cling to the old dogma, more and more rational people are turning elsewhere for answers to their questions about the underlying nature and purpose of existence.

Recently there has been an explosion of what some might call the “Deepak Chopra” approach to religion—an approach that sheds itself of the term ‘religion’ altogether and instead adopts the word ‘spirituality’ for its self-description. In contrast to religion, spirituality does not purport to have all the answers, but claims that if we look inside ourselves we can at least know enough about the meaning of our own lives to figure out how best to live them. It casts off the language of saints and sinners, prophets and messiahs, and adopts the scientific language of atoms and quarks, big bangs and quantum probabilities. It is humanity’s attempt to embrace science without letting go of God.

Clearly, spirituality is far superior to religion in terms of a fundamental worldview. It is far more rational to believe that God is some kind of universal consciousness manifesting itself through the laws and properties of nature than to believe God is an old man with a beard who manifests Himself by placing the image of His son’s face on a grilled cheese sandwich. Most forms of ‘spirituality’ involve some form of reincarnation, and it is far more rational to believe that our consciousness takes other forms after bodily death than that it spends a few thousand years in a waiting room and then gets bumped upstairs to paradise for the rest of all eternity, presumably to pass the time by eating as much chocolate as it desires without getting fat.

But many people would say that spirituality is just the same old hogwash, only dressed up in modern clothing. The idea of a universal consciousness, they say, is just as silly as the idea of a personal creator God and ought to be treated with as much disdain. The idea of any kind of immortal soul, whether it spends eternity in one place after death or is reincarnated again and again, is simply a fantasy. Everything can and will eventually be explained scientifically, purely in terms of material and the mechanics of natural laws.

This view is called materialism—not to be confused with ‘materialism’ in the everyday-language sense of placing too much value on material possessions—and its core hypothesis is that everything in the universe can be reduced to material substances and natural laws. And that perhaps these material substances can be reduced to natural laws as well, making the entire universe nothing more than various energy fields interacting with one another. To put it simply—it’s all just particles and forces, and the particles are just a special type of force.

To get a clearer understanding of what each of these views really says about the nature of existence, let’s narrow our scope to one object—the human brain. Religion says that God designed this object as a vessel for the soul, which will depart from it once it no longer functions and fly away to another plane of reality. Spirituality admits that this brain is the product of an evolutionary process, but insists that there is some conscious force guiding this process towards a specific end, namely the coming into being of an object capable of processing rational thought, a kind of window into the material world for a soul which transcends it. Materialism sees this as a clump of matter developed over billions of years through blind natural selection, the extreme level of complexity of the electrochemical processes taking place inside it giving rise to the illusion of consciousness which passes completely out of existence once these processes cease.

Because we still know very little about the brain and even less about consciousness, there is still plenty of room for debate between spirituality and materialism when it comes to the human mind. Materialists have the daunting challenge of explaining how exactly a bunch of electrical sparks in a clump of matter can produce consciousness. Just try thinking about that for five minutes and see if your head doesn’t start to hurt. But materialists insist that such an explanation can be found, and we just need to keep running experiments until we figure it out. And once we figure it out, it’ll be perfectly clear that consciousness and brain matter are simply two aspects of the same phenomenon, that at its core it’s all just interactions among energy fields.

Many philosophers insist that such an explanation simply can not, in principle, be found. You can explain every element of the electro-chemical process in the brain which produces the sensation of ‘red’, but you still haven’t explained what ‘red’ is because the only way to know such a thing is to actually consciously see red. Just think about how you would explain what ‘red’ is to a blind person. You simply can’t do it.

So materialists run into a problem when it comes to consciousness. Just about everything else from the Big Bang on down can be comfortably explained in terms of forces and particles, but when you get to everyday human experience the scientific explanations become much less satisfactory. Materialists insist we just need to learn more, but there are plenty of good arguments to be made that science just can’t and won’t explain certain things.

And so it appears that spirituality will be with us for quite some time. I certainly welcome this as a good thing, a sure-fire improvement from the old dogmatic religious ways of looking at things. While plenty of atheists will blast Deepak Chopra and those like him for simply dressing up religion in new clothing, I for one see it as a positive thing that people are providing an avenue to those unready or unwilling to give up God altogether to at least give up the characterization of God as the Divine Judge who favors certain groups over others and condemns people who disobey Him to eternal torture. The sooner humanity rids itself of the belief in that kind of God, the better.

But the question remains as to whether the slow evolution of religion eventually leads beyond spirituality and finally embraces cold materialism in the end. Do we keep making God more and more abstract until the idea finally disappears altogether, or do we just keep coming closer and closer to understanding God’s true nature?

I simply haven’t decided yet, though I’m currently leaning towards the belief that nothing exists whatsoever that could be justifiably called God. I’m uncomfortable believing anything that can’t be tested scientifically, so as much as I like the ideas of reincarnation and universal consciousness—ideas which I came to on my own during many sleepless nights of my youth undergoing my own personal process of religious evolution—I just don’t want to accept them on the basis of intuition alone.

Luckily, I don’t have to. By contrast with religion, spirituality does not insist that you pay a penalty for lack of belief. The only thing you lose by not adopting a spiritual worldview is the missed opportunity to learn some kind of lesson, if the purpose of each life is in fact to learn a lesson. My soul is in no danger of eternal damnation, so I’m perfectly free to accept or reject any claims of theosophy—a luxury that theology does not grant so freely.

Still, I want to acknowledge that I find many of the ideas of spirituality not only appealing but logical, perhaps even more logical than materialism. Could it be that everything exists purely by accident, that the marvelous complexity of life and the miraculous properties of consciousness such as love and the appreciation of beauty are simply here because given infinite time and infinite universes, these things are simply bound to come into being at some point? Did natural selection really produce beings capable of self-reflection after billions of years of chance mutations without any kind of invisible hand guiding the process? It would seem you’d need trillions upon trillions of years to get from micro-organisms to human beings if the only forces at work are genetic mutation and natural selection. And is consciousness really just a peculiar side-effect of certain clumps of matter being arranged a certain way, of billions of tiny electrical charges firing simultaneously in very specific patterns, or is there something far more fundamental to awareness, something which extends beyond the brain and touches the very fabric of reality itself?

I honestly don’t know. It could be. It might not be. But that, I believe, is the most important advantage that both science and spirituality have over religion—there is no claim to absolute certainty. It’s not the silly beliefs that make up religion (or the silly beliefs that make up spirituality in some peoples’ opinion) that leads to evils such as child abuse, invasion, occupation, oppression and genocide. It’s the belief that one way of looking at the world, that your way of looking at the world, is the one True way, and that you need have no justification whatsoever to believe—and not only that but to know for certain—that you are right and everyone else is wrong, that leads to all the problems associated with religion.

So let’s hope religion keeps evolving, and more religious people let their uncertainty lead them to spirituality or even all the way to materialism. I think both of these views can co-exist quite comfortably. It’s the unjustified certainty of religion that has to go.

Obama’s “Mission Accomplished”

March 25th, 2010 No comments

For those of you who get most of their information about the health care reform situation from my blog, I’ll start with a quick explanation of what’s going on right now.

In spite of all the celebrations, it’s not quite over yet. The Senate has to pass the portion of the bill that the House amended, and then it has to go to the president’s desk for a final signature. If anything that passed the House gets changed by the Senate, it has to go back to the House once again for another vote. But it’s unlikely that Senate democrats, who now just want this thing to be over, will allow any new amendments in. But if they do, it’s extremely unlikely that any House democrats would suddenly turn around and change their vote, thus killing health reform. At this point, it’s a political certainty that the thing is going to pass.

The most important thing going on right now is the reaction from the left. Much of the left is raving about what an amazing accomplishment this is, which only emboldens democrats to continue doing what they’ve been doing, which is ignoring the wishes of their progressive wing and catering to the wishes of their corporate donors instead. As long as they can count on progressives to put their disappointment behind them and continue to rally around them in spite of everything, they won’t have to bother satisfying any of their demands.

Every single democrat who held back on their support for the bill because it wasn’t progressive enough eventually folded. Even Dennis Kucinich changed his vote at the last minute, though I can’t be too angry with him because I also ultimately decided that something was better than nothing. It would just be nice if occasionally the democrats who draw lines in the sand would actually remain behind those lines. When republicans draw lines, that’s it. They’re not budging because they don’t give a damn if the whole thing fails. But when a democrat draws a line in the sand you can take it with a grain of salt because as we’ve seen time and time again, when all is said and done the advocates of reform would rather have something than nothing.

Once again it comes down to simple Game Theory. You don’t negotiate with someone you know will accept any offer you give them. If you know your opponent is going to fold no matter what you do, why give them anything? This is exactly why bills always move further and further to the right. Obama should have begun with a far-left bill, demanding single payer and then reluctantly capitulating until we were left with nothing more than a strong public option. Instead he started by offering a strong public option and then let it grow weaker and weaker until it disappeared altogether.

It’s a disastrous strategy for liberal supporters of the president to throw a victory party for him. Democrats look at that and say, “See, throw the plebs a few coins and they’ll be dancing in the streets. You don’t have to give them what they want, just give them some of what they need and they’ll reward you for it.” As for the corporations, just give them everything they want so they’ll keep giving you the money you need to pay for ads that continue to convince the people that you’re really on their side. For liberals, the proper strategic response to this bill is to say, “Fine, thanks for passing it. Congratulations. Now fix it. And don’t expect us to vote for you unless you do.”

How should they fix it? Very simple. Open up Medicare for anyone who wants to pay for it. You don’t have to give free health-care to everyone, just let people buy this government-run plan if they can afford it. The money won’t come out of taxpayer’s wallets, and the insurance companies will actually have real competition.

Anyone unfamiliar with Cenk Uygur of the web-based, totally independent news commentary show “The Young Turks” really ought to check him out. Cenk has been making the extremely good point that the celebration of democrats right now has a very unsettling “Mission Accomplished”-banner feel to it, in that they’re selling the American people on the idea that the problem is solved and we can all go home now, when in fact the problems are just beginning.

Here’s what’s going to happen unless they fix the cost-control problem: Without a non-profit, government-run competitor to the private insurance companies, they’re just going to keep raising the rates higher and higher, which will actually lead to more uninsured people. There’s really nothing in this bill to stop them from doing that. Rates will go up and people will wonder what the fuck is going on since they were told that everything was fixed.

Now that the bill has passed, republicans are very worried that all of the lies they told are going to be exposed as the utter bullshit they were. When people notice that the government has not in fact taken over the system, that they can keep their doctor, that no bureaucrat is knocking on grandma’s door to pressure her into committing suicide, they might start to realize that the republicans were full of shit.

BUT these people have incredibly short memories and as long as there’s something wrong, they’ll follow their leaders blindly. Insurance companies will raise their rates, and the republicans will blame it on reform. “The democrats told you they solved the problem, but it just forced the insurance companies to raise their rates and now the American people are suffering. Vote for us and we’ll repeal it!” And the Tea Party wingnuts will just fall into line. No government death panels necessary—you won’t hear the phrase “death panels” at all anymore, and everyone will act like that claim was never made. Whatever happens, the republicans will just say “We told you this would happen” and they’ll have an entire news network to back them up on it.

Everyone who thinks this is over is sadly mistaken. Health care will remain an issue going into the elections, and the democrats are at a major disadvantage as long as there are no real cost controls in the bill. Sure, a few kids with pre-existing conditions will get health care, a few college students will be able to remain on their parents’ plans, and a few people here and there will see benefits immediately. But there’s nothing to stop the insurance companies from raising their rates across the board, and this will affect everybody.

The thing is, I don’t know if I give a damn at this point. The November mid-term elections will be a disaster no matter what the outcome. Both sides will get the wrong message from the results, whatever they may be. If republicans pick up seats, they’ll see it as a vindication and endorsement of their block-everything strategy and they’ll double-down, making it impossible for Obama to do anything at all for the rest of his presidency. Democrats will assume they have to move further to the right, and the bills they propose will become more and more conservative even though they won’t pass anyway.

But if democrats win, the results won’t be much better. If the democrats maintain their large majorities they’ll see it as tacit permission from their supporters to continue on with their strategy of watering-down every bill and making every piece of legislation as corporate-friendly as possible. If they know they can cater to their corporate sponsors and still count on the people they’re screwing over to vote for them, there’s no chance in hell of them changing course.

American voters are faced with yet another awful decision. Either reward the republicans for their strategy of obstruction, or reward democrats for their strategy of capitulation. Either way, we lose.

Happy Healthcare Day

March 21st, 2010 No comments

So they’re finally going to pass the bill today. I just had some fun on the Huffington Post’s live update page in the comments section getting blasted from both the right and the left. The lefties think I’m too pessimistic about the bill. The righties are ranting about the encroachment of socialism and the death of freedom…also illegal immigrants.

Luckily I have this blog where I can state my opinion without anyone responding at all! So here’s what I think:

I’m glad they’re passing the bill. I’d rather see something get passed than nothing at all. It will help a handful of people out there. Some might live who would otherwise die, particularly some children with pre-existing conditions.

And that’s about all the positivity I can muster over this legislation. I can’t even be too happy about the ban on excluding people for pre-existing conditions, because the fine for violating that ban is a paltry $100 a day. Obviously, in most cases it’ll be less expensive to pay the fine than to pay for the sick person’s treatment. Just as polluters find it cheaper to pay fines for polluting than to spend money actually improving emissions standards, the private health insurance companies will do whatever is best for the bottom line no matter how many children they let die.

On the opposite end, you now have a mandate for individuals to buy health insurance. So individual people too will have to decide between paying the fine and paying for insurance. Obviously, in most cases it’ll be less expensive to pay the fine than to pay for coverage. The government is telling you to buy something and charging you a fee if you can’t afford it. It’s a little insane if you ask me.

And let’s not forget about the icing on the cake—the rolling back of a woman’s right to choose. Luckily Stupak won’t have his way, but even the current language makes it harder for women to get health insurance that covers abortion. As far as I understand, anyone who will get their insurance through the exchange would have to buy a separate plan if they want coverage for abortion because none of the providers listed in the exchange will be able to provide that service. And who the hell is going to buy a separate plan for abortion? The very nature of unplanned pregnancy is that it’s unplanned. And the people participating in the exchange will probably be those less well-off financially anyway, so of course they’re not going to buy a separate plan. There will be children born in America who will owe their entire existence to a few lines of legislation that made it impossible for their mothers to abort them. Crazy.

So that’s all I have to say to those liberals who want to celebrate this as some kind of major achievement of the Obama administration. I hope you like watered-down industry-friendly legislation cloaked in the guise of reform and celebrated as a victory when the corporations allow it to pass, because we’re in for another three to seven years of the same.

As for the Tea Party crowd who are up in arms about how this socialist government takeover is being rammed down our throats, I have some choice words for you:

Wake the fuck up already! What kind of alternate reality are you living in? Is there some kind of parallel dimension where Obama is actually a liberal, where the government has more power than Big Finance, where a 35% income tax is brutal oppression even though that’s among the lowest tax rates of the last hundred years and among the lowest among all industrialized nations? Did I miss something?

These people are ranting and raving about this imaginary socialist takeover as though armies of ACORN employees are marching through the streets holding up signs of the “Dear Leader” (one of these wingnuts actually referred to Obama as the “Dear Leader”) and personally redistributing wealth from hard-working white men to black welfare queens and Mexican immigrants. They somehow believe that Obama is actively trying to shred the constitution and take away their rights to own a gun, to go to church, to watch Fox News, even to go fishing! Seriously—fishing.

If they would just change the channel from Fox News for one instant, they might get momentarily exposed to an actual fact or two. They might see that Obama is actually not some All-Powerful dictator who would have succeeded in mandating abortions and raising the tax-rate to 100% had Glenn Beck not been standing in his way. It boggles my mind how these people perceive our current president as some kind of demagogue who is slashing and burning his way to impose freedom-killing policies on all of us.

Did they miss the entire debate last year? Do they not remember all those months spent trying to compromise and continuously water down the bill in the hopes of picking up a handful of Republican votes that never materialized?

Or in their history books did all the bloodthirsty fascist dictators behave the same way? How much time did Hitler spend trying to gain opposition support for concentration camps? Did he water it down from the original intent of simply throwing all of the Jews on a pile and burning them? Was allowing them to live for a short time in labor camps a compromise he made with the liberals? How many compromises did Stalin and Mao make to their own socialist agendas? I’m sure Pol Pot was constantly trying to reach out to his rivals and build a consensus that everyone could live with.

Seriously, it’s enough to make me throw up my arms in despair. After today, you’re going to see democrats patting themselves on the back and congratulating themselves as though they are Champions of the People, and republicans decrying this as the End of America as we know it. Both sides are full of shit, and the people will just go on eating it.

Happy Healthcare Day, America.

The Sun Shines But I Don’t

March 18th, 2010 No comments

Today was the first warm-weather day of the year, at least 15˚C but it felt like more. People are walking around outside without jackets, some even in T-shirts. The vibe of the city is noticeably different, with smiles on people’s faces as they walk, roller-skate, or ride their bicycles with their little cliques of friends. I just got back from a jog, the first of the year in just a T-shirt. The pleasant vibe almost affected me a few times and I almost felt good about myself during a few moments when whatever song on my I-pod reached an emotional climax, but for the most part I still felt a zombie, the way I’ve been feeling for weeks now and especially over the past few days.

Last Wednesday I finally sent my application to the James School of Japan, and the following day I got a message thanking me for applying and notifying me that selected applicants would be contacted by e-mail. Nothing about when I should expect to be contacted or what my chances are of being selected. It could happen tomorrow, it could happen months from now, or it could never happen. I feel like I haven’t done enough, but the ball is in their court. My only current plan is to give it a few more days and then e-mail them asking when I’ll be able to know if I was selected or not.

Other than that, over the last few weeks all I’ve been doing is working, paying one visit to Oliver in Celle last weekend, jogging roughly three days a week, and writing crap that nobody cares about. I haven’t seen Amanda in weeks, and now she’s gone for a month on vacation with her folks who are visiting from Australia. Lena is doing some kind of program with her communist friends that involves leaving for weeks at a time, and when she’s around she wants to spend it alone with Oliver. Since last weekend in Celle I haven’t had any social interaction whatsoever outside of work, and while I have the highest tolerance for isolation of anyone I know, it’s starting to get to me.

This morning my first lesson began with just myself and Mandy, as two of the other students were too busy to come and one arrived about a half-hour late, so I was alone with her for longer than I’ve ever been before. Mandy, you’ll recall, is the very young-looking woman whom I thought I might develop some kind of mild infatuation towards, and it looks like that’s happening. The warm-weather vibe was clearly in effect on her mind as well, so for the first fifteen minutes we were able to have a pleasant conversation. One of the [many] reasons I know it can’t work with her is that her English is just as poor as my German, so communication would be nearly impossible, but we seemed to get by okay this morning. It was enough to get me to consider maybe starting to perhaps think of some way I might possibly in the future ask her out. I won’t do it, but I was definitely thinking about it.

At any rate, I had plenty of time to admire her adorable facial features and picture myself lying next to her, stroking her hair, kissing her ears and whatnot. She has a perfect little body too, but apparently I’m the kind of guy who is more prone to fantasize about physical intimacy than sex. I think there’s a name for that. Oh yeah—a pussy.

But of course that’s never going to happen anyway because of the communication thing, because it’s ever-so-slightly unethical due to our student-teacher relationship, because I get no impression from her that she’s interested in me, and because I hope to leave the country later this year. Of course if anything were to happen with her, I’d gladly stay, but it won’t. It would be great if it could though, as today I found out her actual age. She was telling me about visiting a two-year-old nephew of hers and I asked her if she ever wanted kids and she said she wasn’t sure but maybe later. That seemed as natural a point as any to ask her how old she was and apparently she’s 30. I said she looked much younger and she said she knows, and I asked her if she ever gets carded for alcohol and she said all the time. But seriously, a 30-year-old who looks like she’s 16 is exactly what I need. I guess it’s nice to know that such people exist, although I’m sure most are taken. Mandy has never once used the word ‘boyfriend’ and she seems like that kind of shy, quiet person who could easily get someone if she tried but she must not try. So it seems we at least have something in common.

Oh, I hate what the warm weather does to me. Every spring the loneliness seems to affect me much more deeply than the rest of the year. Now that I hardly ever feel loneliness at all anymore, it sucks to even feel it at all, mild as it is. During my jog I saw a few attractive young women and it actually bothered me this time. I suppose I’m improving—I used to be bothered every time I looked at an attractive girl, understanding that I’ll never get to be intimate with any of them. Now I understand that if I ever do experience real intimacy, it’s just going to get worse because when I lose it I’ll really know what I’m missing. As of now it’s just kind of an abstract idea. A “that must be nice” kind of thing that I can deal with by pleasuring myself. As long as I never have sex, each time I masturbate stands a chance of being the most pleasurable sexual experience of my life. A single solitary real sexual experience and from there on out the best I’ll be able to hope to reach on my own is second-best. So life-long virginity at least has its advantages. Really stupid advantages, perhaps, but advantages nonetheless.

I feel like I’ve written all this a thousand times before. I suppose I’ll stop wasting your time. I just wanted to record where I’ve been mentally in general at this time of my life, and the basic overall feeling I have about my current situation. I’m tired of Hannover, I feel like I’ve worn it all out, so it’s time to go be lonely in another part of the world. At least it’s one way to pass the time before I die that doesn’t involve having a family, and a family for me is not an option. But I’d seriously rather just die now and be done with it. My life may be somewhat interesting and even downright enjoyable, but there’s nothing about it that makes it worth living.

Capitalism: A Tea Party Story

March 17th, 2010 No comments

Last night I finally watched Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. I watched it for free, streamed from one of many video-hosting websites that enable those of us with no moral qualms about obtaining entertainment illegally to do so. If capitalism is a system in which the best products earn the most profit, people like me are totally fucking things up.

But apparently capitalism has been fucked up from the very beginning, and Wall Street has done more damage to the underlying principles of capitalism than online pirates could ever do. It’s the story of capitalism and its hijacking by giant financial institutions that Moore tells in his film. It’s a story I’m already quite familiar with, but told in Moore’s unique style of film-making whereby you find yourself laughing and shouting in anger at the same time. The problem is that the story is incomplete, and what happened after the film was shot has destroyed its chance of having an effect. I’ll briefly tell the story in my own words, then explain why Moore’s call to action has failed.

Basically, America had a good run for a few decades after World War II, generating all kinds of wealth due to a lack of competition from the world’s other great powers who were busy rebuilding their war-torn nations. The rich had a tax-rate of a whopping 90% and all that money went into infrastructure and improving the quality of life of a thriving Middle Class. An average family could actually get by with just one source of income, freeing up mothers to stay at home and actually raise their children. Unthinkable today, I know, but it really happened. Just ask grandma.

Then along came Ronald Reagan, the perfect corporate spokesman, who sold America on the idea that if we took less money from the rich to pay for social goods, it would somehow benefit everybody. The more wealth the wealthy had, the more would trickle down to the rest of us. Never mind that before it didn’t need to trickle at all—we just took it. But everyone went along with the idea because, after all, Free Enterprise = God’s Way, and if we just work hard enough don’t we all have the opportunity to become multi-gazillionaires? And why should the government take 90% of our gazillion dollars, leaving us with only 10% of a gazillion, which is just a petty zillion or so. How could anyone truly be happy with only a zillion dollars? The government was punishing people for their success!

Well, there’d be no more of that. Reagan completely transformed the American economy to one that favors those at the top, and over the next two decades the Upper Class got richer and richer while the Middle Class somehow, inexplicably, got poorer and poorer. How did that happen? Must be the government and all those regulations on the financial industry. We should keep deregulating so the wealthy can get wealthier and more of that sweet sweet wealth can trickle down to us!

Removing regulations such as the Glass-Steagall Act, which basically prevented banks from gambling with our money, somehow led to banks gambling with our money. Who woulda thunk? The country’s smartest minds went into finance because that’s where the money was, and the methods of gambling got more and more sophisticated until, lo and behold, one day the bubble burst. And it just happened to burst two months before an election in which a candidate promising fundamental changes and a return to an America in which “spreading the wealth” was actually acceptable looked like he was going to win. I’m sure this was a complete coincidence. I’m sure that the 700 billion dollar bailout was, as they said, absolutely necessary to prevent the economy from crumbling into oblivion, forcing us all out on the street to eat from garbage cans for the next hundred years. I’m sure that tying the new president’s hands around his back before he could take office, demonstrating that if he didn’t play ball Wall Street could plunge the nation into Great Depression 2.0 at the drop of a hat, was merely an unintended consequence of the financial bubble bursting when it did.

So Obama gets elected and everyone is jumping up and down and shouting in excitement that things are finally going to change. Economic and social justice was finally making a comeback. All we had to do was get behind the new president as he led us towards that bright and glorious future where every child born in America could once again hope to enjoy a higher standard of living than their parents, where the promise of a home, a well-paying job, decent health-care, and plenty of money for retirement would once again be available to anyone who worked hard and played by the rules.

That’s where Moore leaves off. I can’t wait for his next film, where he explains what went wrong.

But since that won’t come for a few years, I’ll just tell you now. The power-elites who rigged the system so brilliantly came up with their most diabolically brilliant idea to date. They knew there was a growing unrest in the country, an anger brewing over the loss of the old America that threatened to destroy them if it got out of hand. They had to do something, and that something was not going to be submitting to regulations again and giving up the gambling, especially now that the precedent was firmly set that all gambling losses would be subsidized by the taxpayer. Luckily, the script was already in place. It’s what they’d already been doing for decades, only now they had to step it up a knotch because the anger was so much greater.

And thus the Tea Party was born. Conceived by corporations, born of faux-grassroots websites, nurtured by Fox News and strengthened by religion, conspiracy-theories, and racism, the Tea Party movement is the perfect antidote to populist rage. It takes that rage and directs it away from those truly responsible for their suffering and squarely at those who might actually try to alleviate it.

Angry at Wall Street for wrecking the economy and rewarding themselves for it? Well, turn that anger towards those who are trying to regulate it. They’re enemies of freedom! Angry at private health insurance companies for taking more and more and paying out less and less? Well, turn that anger towards those who want to introduce a public option to take the profit-motive out of medicine. They want to kill your grandmother! Angry that you and your wife have to work two jobs each and still can’t afford to pay your mortgage? Well, turn that anger towards those who would raise the minimum wage. They’re socialists! Angry that people are being tossed in prison without due process because it boosts the prison industry’s profits? Well, turn that anger towards anyone advocating judicial reform. They’re destroying the constitution!

Of course it’s much more than that. Angry that there’s a black president? Did you know he’s not even American? Did you know that he’s actually a Marxist and a fascist and a Stalinist communist Maoist? It’s true! He also hates the constitution and sympathizes with terrorists. He’s actually a secret Muslim. It’s a fact! Also, he hates white people. His agenda is basically to take all the money from hard-working white people and give it to fat black ladies who spend all day on the couch and all night making babies. Oh, and speaking of babies, he hates them too. He wants to make abortion mandatory. It’s right there in the health care bill—look it up! And speaking of the health care bill, that’s actually a plot to eliminate society’s weakest members, just like Hitler tried to do. Obama and Hitler actually have an identical political philosophy. I heard it from Glenn Beck—it must be true. After all, he’s on the only fair and balanced network on television. I don’t even bother getting my news from any other source, except my church pamphlet. Did you know that Obama is also the Anti-Christ? Yep, he’s secretly planning to help Muslims destroy Israel, at which point Armageddon can finally begin. There’s no doubt about that—it’s right there in the Bible.

I could go on. But you get the point. Legitimate anger + lies from politicians + lies from the media + racism + religion = 0. Anger alone might accomplish something, but anger mixed with all that other crap will get us nothing.

Michael Moore ends his film by calling on everyone to stand up and do something, to get out and fight the powers-that-be, the people who destroyed the middle class and got extremely wealthy and powerful in the process. And we’re all mad about that. At least, the 95% of us who have less money than the richest 1% combined. We’re all angry at that 1% and if we all joined together and got out there and marched on Washington, marched on Wall Street, demanding a return to economic justice, they would not be able to stop us. The people, when united, always have more power than the institutions that preside over them.

But we are prevented from uniting because half of us have been duped into believing crazy horseshit, and they won’t even allow themselves to listen to reason. As long as the only ones out there marching are those who are calling to block the reforms that would help them, the people are losing the fight. The Tea Party is often looked upon as some benign curiosity, often treated as a source of amusement for liberals, but it’s actually much more insidious, much more significant, much more destructive than that. It is the biggest thing standing in the way of the America we have now—of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation—and the America that once existed, the America that they themselves long to have again.

This story will continue, and it can go either way. Perhaps the wealthy will one day go too far and the bubble will burst, Fox News will be exposed for what it is and the right-wing Bible-thumpers will come around and realize who’s side they should have been on all along. These people are not our enemies—they’re victims just like us. Maybe if we keep reaching out and seeking new ways to explain to them what’s really going on, they’ll redirect their anger back where it belongs.

Or maybe that will never happen, and they’ll continue unwittingly serving the interests of the very people who are making their lives miserable, and their misery along with ours will continue in perpetuity as earning a living becomes harder and harder, our rights and freedoms diminish further and further, and we slide ever so gradually into serfdom.

Capitalism, when all the players are honest and have society’s best interests in mind, may actually be the best social system. But when all the key players are dishonest and have only their own best interests in mind, capitalism leads inevitably to slavery.

Is Israel Trying to Start WWIII?

March 13th, 2010 No comments

This past week, Israel made two announcements. First, they intend to develop nuclear energy. Second, they will build 1,600 new homes in disputed east Jerusalem and forcibly keep the Palestinians out.

For a country surrounded by enemies who want to obliterate them, they sure have a lot of balls…or rather, chutzpah. On the one hand they call for sanctions on Iran for developing nuclear energy, while on the other hand they say, “By the way, we’re developing nuclear energy.” On the one hand they condemn the Palestinians for not talking peace, while on the other hand they continue to encroach on Palestinian territory and ignore international calls to stop the settlements so that peace talks can ensue.

The 1,600 new homes are just the latest incursion into disputed territory that Israel is embarking on. The settlements on the West Bank, which former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon very bravely called to be removed and given back to Palestine (and it cost him his job) were not removed and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t even go so far as to freeze the development. “We’re willing to talk peace, but only if you are willing to accede to 100% of our demands, including letting us continue to take your land.”

Netanyahu and the current right-wing Israeli government don’t seem interested in peace at all. The announcement to develop nuclear energy also seems like pure muscle-flexing, practically goading Iran into a conflict. “Hey Iran, we’re going to build nuclear power plants and probably more bombs to add to the ones America already gave us. What are you gonna do about it? Huh? What are you gonna do?”

Now I’m not one of those ultra-ultra-lefties (at least on this issue) who say that if America and other nations can have nuclear capabilities, why not Iran? Yeah, it would be one thing if was just safe nuclear energy for building power plants, but it’s not too many steps from nuclear power plants to nuclear bombs and a nuclear Iran in its current political state could be potentially catastrophic. The other nations which have nuclear weapons are run—at least for the time being—by relatively reasonable people with no interest in starting World War III because they stand nothing to gain by it. But the Iranian government consists of ultra-religious ideologues who believe that their God, Allah, wants Israel wiped from the map, and if they had a nuclear bomb the odds are that they actually would use it. In this case, the principle of fairness is greatly outweighed by the potential consequences. While I believe that security should almost always take a back-seat to justice, I’m willing to make an exception when dealing with the potential annihilation of the human race.

But it’s not just Iran that threatens to bring about a nuclear holocaust—it’s Israel. Their government also consists of ultra-religious ideologues who believe that their God, Yahweh (don’t get me started on that evil bastard) has promised them that land and they have every right to kill whoever stands in their way of keeping it. The religious texts they adhere to are filled with stories of war and conquest, of totally annihilating the enemy down to the last woman and child.

Israel has the backing of the United States, the world’s most militarily powerful nation, which also happens to have a government filled with ultra-religious ideologues, many of whom believe that their god, Jesus, wants the Jews in Jerusalem so that the Second Coming prophecies can be fulfilled and Armageddon can take place. As long as America has Israel’s back, Israel knows it can do whatever it wants. They’d be happy to be attacked by Iran, as they and America would then respond by turning Iran into a radioactive wasteland. The “chosen people” will have their glorious triumph, assuming Israel gets through the conflict unscathed. And of course they will because Yahweh will protect them—He’s never let bad things happen to them in the past, right?

The whole thing is a little frightening, but a hell of a lot of religious people have a hard-on for the prospect of a nuclear conflict in the Middle East. As soon as the first mushroom cloud appears, they believe, Jesus will come down and rapture their asses straight to Heaven where they can watch and laugh as all those brown people get blown to smithereens and cast into Hell where they will burn for all eternity for the crime of not realizing the religion they were raised in was false and the Americans had it right all along. It’s such an incredibly just scheme of things God has going, isn’t it? Seriously, the more I think about God and what one has to believe if they accept the truth of Scripture, the more baffling it is that so many people still believe it.

Just look at Israel as a whole. The Palestinians were living there for centuries until all of a sudden they get driven out in 1948 as millions of displaced Jews decided to go back to the homeland. Now, I don’t want to come across as anti-semitic, although it’s probably way too late for that. I think the Jews have just as much a right to a state as any other ethnic group that wishes to insulate itself from all other ethnic groups (there I go again), but you can’t just take a state that already exists and claim it’s yours now. That’s called invasion and occupation.

I didn’t always see it this way. In fact I used to feel the exact opposite. My first exposure to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came through Leon Uris’s novel Exodus which is radically pro-Israel. When I read that book in high school I was so moved that for awhile I actually intended to convert to Judaism and move to Israel to help them fight the good fight. Seriously. Of course back then I also believed that the Bible was really the word of God and the most moral thing a person could do was fight, kill, and die for one’s religious convictions.

But as I gradually shed my religious beliefs and began to look at the conflict more objectively, I began to see that the Muslims might have some legitimate grievances. Eventually I decided that the Palestinians were actually in the right and Israel was in the wrong, but that since they’re all there now you might as well have a two-state solution. But with the way Israel has been behaving lately, I’m tempted to just say the whole damned nation should be dissolved and Palestinians should get back everything.

Seriously, what gives Israel the right to exist where it is? They just invaded and occupied that land and declared it a country. Their justification? God said it was theirs. Sure, the Palestinians claim that Allah said it’s theirs, but Allah isn’t real. Yahweh is obviously real because…because…well, because the Torah says so, and since the Torah is the word of Yahweh it must be correct. Simple logic.

Sorry, but “Yahweh said so” is not justification for anything. If we did everything Yahweh ever told us to do, we’d be executing homosexuals, adulterers, people who work on Saturday (oh shit, it’s Saturday right now…but I doubt God would consider blogging ‘work’) and abiding by all kinds of crazy laws about the proper way to sacrifice oxen.

Still, I won’t go so far as to join those right-wing Islamic militants who want Israel wiped from the map. Its government may be reprehensible, but so are most governments. The people are, for the most part, blameless. Most of the people want peace. They shouldn’t be punished because their grandparents decided to invade and occupy another people’s territory. That would be like saying all Americans should either leave the continent or be executed so we can give back the land to the few Native Americans who remain. No, what’s done is done and while apologies are certainly in order we have to find the best way forward.

And the best way forward is not starting World War III and relying on God to bring you victory. The best way forward is to leave God out of it altogether, to be willing to settle for less than 100% of your demands, and to actually make a good-faith effort to end this world-threatening conflict once and for all.

DISCLAIMER: Because anyone who is anti-Israel is assumed to be anti-Jew, I just want to be absolutely clear that I have the utmost sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust and I believe it was one of the worst crimes in human history. The Jews are entitled to see themselves as a victimized group because they were in fact victims, persecuted as a group and nearly annihilated as a group. However, that does not give them the right to invade and occupy the territory of a people who had nothing to do with that persecution. That would be like a group of Navajo suddenly invading Turkmenistan.

9/11 Truth

March 11th, 2010 No comments

Only one thing is certain about 9/11 conspiracy theories: you won’t find the truth on the internet.

Whatever you believe about the events of 9/11, there are countless websites that will back you up and countless websites that will argue against you. For every aspect of the terrorist attacks which brought down the World Trade Center buildings and hit the pentagon, you can find explanations supporting the official story or explanations that suggest a conspiracy. It would be useless for me to waste any time going into detail on this blog post. Here I only wish to look at the big picture and ask: Is it reasonable to believe that 9/11 was an inside job?

First, a little about my own history regarding “9/11 Truth”. I was not one of those people who, on September 11, immediately thought that the government must have been involved. I accepted the official story that Islamic Fundamentalist hijackers had taken over the planes with box-cutters and flown them into buildings. It certainly seemed, and still seems, plausible that such an attack could work. I found it amazing that they were actually able to pull it off, but I didn’t think it was impossible.

But the very first time I heard someone suggest that Dick Cheney and the American power-elite were behind the attack—a couple of guys at a music festival shouting at the crowd—I immediately went up and talked to them because this did not seem at all absurd to me. In fact, I barely had to speak with them for five minutes before I was completely convinced it was true. At that time we were well on our way to war in Iraq, and it was clear that the government was willing to lie in order to win support for this war that they’d seemed hell-bent on starting. If they desperately wanted war, and they obviously did, what could be a more perfect way to gain support for that war than inflicting a massive attack on our home soil and blaming it on Islamic terrorists from the Middle East?

For awhile I accepted the conspiracy theory. What turned me around, ironically, was watching Loose Change for the first time. Having the conspiracy theory spelled out like that in all of its minute details actually made it seem more absurd than when it had just been a vague idea of government involvement. But this film was saying that bombs had been planted in the towers before the attacks, that it wasn’t actually a plane but a missile that hit the pentagon, that the collapse of WTC Building 7 was a controlled demolition, and all kinds of other theories about the attack that made it seem way more complex than it needed to be. I did a little online research, found a few websites that debunk the conspiracy theory, and was satisfied that it wasn’t a conspiracy after all.

That was about five years ago, and since then my basic stance on 9/11 is that there may be some flaws in the official story, some government officials such as Cheney and Rumsfeld might have known the attack was coming, but at the end of the day the perpetrators of the attack were Islamic Fundamentalists organized by Al Quaeda and led by Osama bin Laden.

I had two basic questions which justified this belief: 1- Why would they go through so much trouble planting bombs in the towers, firing missiles, demolishing Building 7 and so on, if their only goal was to justify a war in the Middle East? Specifically, if they wanted a war in Iraq, why not claim at least some of the hijackers were Iraqis? 2- If there really were bombs planted in the buildings beforehand and people throughout the government and intelligence agencies were complicit, why haven’t people come forward? The government sucks at keeping secrets. The Bush administration was enormously incompetent in just about everything it did. The idea that these idiots could pull off such an incredibly successful attack in secret and get away with it just didn’t jive with my political perceptions.

I recently re-watched Loose Change, along with the Alex Jones documentary Terrorstorm, and opened my mind again to the possibility that Americans, not Islamic terrorists, carried out the attacks. Alex Jones does a good job of pointing out just how often in history a country carries out an attack on itself in order to justify military aggression. From Hitler’s burning of the Reichstag to Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin, such “False Flag” operations have happened repeatedly and usually to great success.

All details aside, just consider the possible motives behind the attack if it was an inside job. We know that Bush wanted to kick some ass in Iraq because his daddy didn’t finish the job. We know that Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and the rest of the neocons were thirsty for war long before Bush was even elected. Not only would it make their buddies in the military industrial complex very rich, but a permanent war waged against an unstoppable foe (no matter how many terrorists you kill, you can never stop terrorism) would allow the powerful to get a lot more powerful. Not only do you increase your power over your own citizens via initiatives such as the Patriot Act which would never have passed during peaceful times, but you increase your power on a global scale by putting troops on the ground in the most oil-rich area of the planet. Putting them in Afghanistan would be easy. Iraq would be trickier. The real prize is Iran, which is the most difficult. But if you’ve got troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran is surrounded and you can go after it more easily somewhere down the road. You just need to get public support behind you, and the best way to do that is to make everyone afraid, angry, and thirsty for vengeance. You need something to avenge—an assault on your country. And what could be more symbolic of America than those two towers standing in New York City? And while you’re at it why not hit a couple of targets in Washington as well including the pentagon to throw off suspicion of CIA involvement? And when should you do this? Early in the presidency, obviously, so you have plenty of time to carry out your plans for war. Why not right after the summer, when everyone is back from vacation and paying attention to the news again?

You see, it just makes so much sense. It made sense to me when I first heard the idea and it still makes sense now. Anyone who says that no American would ever inflict this damage on their own country is hopelessly naïve. What was really damaged? A few buildings were destroyed and a few thousand lives were lost. But America wasn’t damaged. If anything, it gave America the opportunity to increase its power, and they began to abuse that power immediately after the attacks. Besides, it’s not really “America” anyway but the powerful elites who run the corporations that run America.

What doesn’t make sense is the level of complexity and elaborate planning that had to have gone into the attacks were it really an inside job. Why put bombs in the buildings? Why destroy Building 7? Why fire a missile into the pentagon instead of crashing the plane there? If your only goal is to justify war, why not keep it simple? Previous False Flag operations have been incredibly simple. Johnson justified an escalation in Vietnam due to a False Flag attack on a single boat. Wouldn’t Americans have rallied behind Bush and supported a war if only a single plane had crashed into a single tower? Did they really need to demolish the buildings entirely? And what’s the point of blowing up Building 7? Nobody even knows about Building 7! How many people who supported the war did so because of Building 7? “Man, it pissed me off when they got the first two Trade Center buildings, but I was ready to forgive them until they took out Building 7. That was just one building too far, my friend.”

Okay, to be fair the whole Building 7 thing is the weakest sauce in the whole conspiracy theory. Both Loose Change and Terrorstorm spend way too much time dwelling on the collapse of Building 7, showing clips of news reporters talking about how the building was going to collapse before it actually came down. So I guess those reporters were in on it too! No, I remember watching TV that day and keeping my eyes glued to the screen because they were talking about how everyone expected that building to come down. It had taken massive damage when the other towers collapsed and everyone expected it would come down as well. That doesn’t mean they had foreknowledge of a plan to take it down.

I said I wouldn’t get too deep into detail, but that’s just the biggest example I have of why I’m still skeptical about the conspiracy theories. They raise a hell of a lot of really good questions—like why were no fighter jets scrambled as soon as the government realized what was going on—but they also raise a lot of stupid points that lead you to believe they’re just grasping at anything to justify their theory. It’s easy to believe that they came up with the conspiracy theory first and then just went looking for whatever evidence they could find to back it up.

So for the most part, my first major question—why go through so much trouble—remains largely intact. But in my online research I did come across a few somewhat plausible explanations for demolishing the towers. They weren’t looking to escalate a war that was already happening like Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin—they were looking to start a brand new war. And not just a war, but several wars which would stretch across the Middle East and last indefinitely. You’d need a really serious national trauma to justify that, and one plane in one building wouldn’t have been enough. The buildings had to come down to justify the whole “This country will never be the same” idea that the administration propagated as soon as the attacks took place. Okay, I suppose that’s reasonable. There are also a few possible explanations about how the owner of the buildings wanted to avoid asbestos lawsuits or something, but that seemed rather trivial.

As for the fact that none of the hijackers were Iraqi even though they supposedly wanted to use the attacks to justify the invasion of Iraq, I haven’t found an answer. They certainly went through a lot of trouble trying to find a connection between Iraq and 9/11—even waterboarding detainees to try and extract false confessions—but if they manufactured 9/11 you’d think they would have manufactured that connection as well.

And what about my second question—why has nobody come forward? Well, I suppose the most fruitful outcome of my online search was discovering that a number of people actually have come forward but nobody takes them seriously. Some websites offer explanations of how the whole thing could have been pulled off with less than a dozen people actually being completely in-the-know about the operation. And of course lots of people could be keeping quiet due to bribery, blackmail, or intimidation. And we can’t forget that if anyone did knowingly participate in this operation they probably believed in the cause and thought it was the right thing to do. Why blow the whistle on your actions if you feel your actions are justified?

Nevertheless, I can’t be swayed completely. There are real terrorist organizations who really do hate us. They could have come up with this plan and carried it out successfully not because of the administration’s complicity but merely because of its incompetence. Bush might really have though at the beginning of his administration that he was going to be remembered for education and tax cuts, not paying much attention to Al Quaeda until the attacks that changed everything came and took him by complete surprise. I’ve seen no evidence that proves otherwise, as every argument by the conspiracy theorists has a rational counter-argument from the debunkers.

If anyone reading this has more information or additional arguments either way, please share in the comments. I’m not on one side or the other, and I’m perfectly willing to be swayed in either direction. I just highly doubt that I’ll ever be completely convinced. Both explanations for 9/11 seem completely plausible to me, and there is so much bullshit surrounding the events that it hardly seems likely we’ll ever know the truth.

But I am glad that people are asking these questions. It’s nice that people in America can still openly question whether their government murdered thousands of its own citizens to justify a war. I would not put it past the powers-that-be to do something like that, and the fact that they got everything they wanted from the attacks strongly suggests complicity or foreknowledge at the very least. If these are the kind of people who really are in control, it won’t be long before such questions wouldn’t be tolerated, and I’d be locked away just for raising them.

Stupak is as Stupak does

March 10th, 2010 No comments

So let me get this straight. You’re going to kill the health care bill, which you purportedly support, because the abortion-restricting language is not restricting enough? It’s not enough that no taxpayer money can be used to fund abortions—you have to make it so that women can’t even use their own money to pay for abortions?

Okay, I guess that’s a mischaracterization of the Stupak-Pitts amendment. Women can still pay for their own abortions if they can afford it, but anyone receiving government subsidies to pay for their health-insurance (which will now be mandated by law) won’t be able to use that insurance to pay for an abortion.

It would seem that Stupak wants more babies born to poor parents. The rich and well-to-do can continue to keep their families to a manageable size, but poor people just have to pray the birth control doesn’t fail. Oh, but Stupak is a catholic? And catholics oppose birth control too. So either Stupak wants poor people to stop having sex altogether, or he wants to see an explosion in the number of poor, poverty-stricken children.

How moral of him! He’s sticking to those principles all right! Jesus must be smiling down upon him. Now all those fetuses who would have otherwise been aborted will be able to grow into unwanted children of parents who can barely afford to feed them! Just as the good Lord intended! We all know how much He loves the poor, so he must want more of them!

But this isn’t really about abortion, is it? It’s about killing health care reform by dropping a poison-pill into the mix that progressives in congress simply can’t support. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to work, but it might. In any case, it’s a brilliant strategic move. Shameful, outrageous, and pure evil, but brilliant.

Stupak, I believe, is one of those rare individuals (like Dick Cheney) who is evil and who knows that he’s evil and delights in his evilness. He did live at C Street, a house in Washington run by the secretive religious organization known as The Family, who believe that what Jesus really meant by all that ‘caring for the poor’ stuff was that powerful people were blessed by God with their power and should rule over the ignorant masses with an iron fist like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot. Joseph Pitts, the lesser-known architect of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, is also associated with The Family but gets less attention because he’s a Republican and therefore already assumed to be evil.

This whole thing was orchestrated as a way of killing health care reform, and if it works it will be almost too outrageous to get angry about. It’ll cross that line between infuriating and hilarious, and all I’ll be able to do is laugh hysterically at the absurd level of ineptness of our governing institutions. If health care reform dies because of a squabble over abortion—and not even about whether abortion should be legal but over nitty-gritty details of how abortions are paid for—that will prove once and for all that America is no longer a country but a joke.

The only people worse than you, Stupak, are the mystery congressmen who are apparently going to follow your lead in voting against the bill if you decide you aren’t satisfied with the abortion language. At least you can claim to be doing this on principle, but what about those others? They’re just going to vote however you vote? How is that principled? In fact, that’s the very definition of not being principled!

It’s like saying I’m completely and utterly against the death penalty…unless my boss supports it. I’m totally opposed to pornography…unless my co-worker says it’s okay. I will not, under any circumstances, have sex with an underage minor…unless my friend tells me to. I firmly believe in the core of my being that all races are equal and that every person has equal value in God’s eyes…but if my friends are going to go around beating up black people I might as well join them.

Seriously, who are these mysterious congressmen who are prepared to vote against the health care reform bill if Bart Stupak tells them to? They seriously believe in the need for health care reform…unless Bart Stupak isn’t happy with it. They firmly believe that abortion is wrong and will vote against any bill that doesn’t severely restrict women’s access to the procedure…unless Bart Stupak says it’s okay.

What the fuck? I want names, damn it! Who are these spineless, soulless people? How did they get into my congress? More importantly, how do we get them out?

The current health care bill is a massive piece of lobbyist-written garbage, a huge gift to the insurance companies which will force Americans to buy their shitty products and I’m just barely, barely in favor of passing it. It may be a god-awful bill, but it will save a handful of lives, which is better than nothing. Stupak and his mindless followers are willing to let people die because the bill doesn’t make it hard enough for poor women to end unwanted pregnancies.

That’s our government for you. We get what the corporations pay for.