Avoid 21st Century Crusades

According to a report published in the New York Times on February 25, 2007, 44% of Americans have changed their religious affiliations at least once. You can read the article HERE. This information comes to us as a result of a study done by the Pew Forum and the entire study can be found HERE.

The US Constitution guarantees freedom of religion in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Contrary to what some conservatives allege, and based upon case law developed as a result of decisions by the US Supreme Court, this includes belief in no particular religion and thus, freedom from any particular religion.

Beside the obvious thought that no religion equals atheism and/or agnosticism, fully twelve percent of Americans claim to believe in a God or similar Supreme Being, but follow no set organized religion, according to the Pew Forum report. Those folks are guaranteed freedom from any religion, and they have proactively decided to avail themselves of that freedom.

Another four percent are atheist or agnostic. That totals sixteen percent considered to be “unaffiliated”.

This is an interesting statistic. At least half of these religiously unaffiliated Americans changed from an affiliated and formally organized religion as adults. It begs the question as to what motivated them, and why this number is growing, according to the report.

According to some reports, many or most of the 16% unaffiliated that chose this road in adulthood became disenchanted with their former organized religion, as did the remaining 28% who simply changed to a different religion. Of course, some of those latter folks changed due to marriage or other logistical reasons. But the majority had “issues” with where they were, and chose to go elsewhere.

One has to wonder, with so many religions practicing world-wide, how anyone could possibly know when switching from one religion to another, which one is the right one. Obviously, no one would say, “I practice ABC religion, but I know that XYZ religion is really the right one.” It seems logical to project that if one is a member of a certain religion and one chooses to continue being a member, it is because one believes that this one is the really right one, and the others are somehow flawed in some way.

This situation becomes even more pronounced when dealing with religions that believe in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim concept of a single deity, vs. some of the eastern religions that believe in something completely different. It is probable that members of each type of religion believe that they are right and the members of the other religion are wrong.

Considering this, it is not hard to understand how sixteen percent of Americans are “unaffiliated”. In this manner, they can avoid the traditional conflict about whose religion is the right one.

This is usually not a big program in a civilized environment until it comes to politics. Some conservatives advocate that the United States be declared a “Christian” nation primary because Christianity in its several hundred forms is the majority religion in the US. Others advocate the reverse, stating that this would be tantamount to establishing a “state’ religion in violation of the First Amendment.

One thing is certain: no American seems to think that Islamic republics are a good thing, and yet what these Islamic countries have done in folding their religion into their politics is exactly what some here in the US want to do with their own brand of the “right” religion.

It is not outside the realm of human events that if countries declaring themselves affiliated with one certain religion or another were a commonplace event, there would be far more killing and conquering in the name of religion than there is now. One only has to study the Crusades of the middle ages to see what kind of violence is justified in the name of one religion that seeks to dominate another. Placing a religious stamp on a country with a military force is an invitation and temptation for just such actions to occur.

One only has to note that most of the conflict in the world today is flamed by religiously motivated countries and organizations. Even in Europe, considered to be civilized and above such things, religion-based differences resulting in genocide occurred as recently as the 1990’s in the former Yugoslavia.

John Lennon wrote and sang the song “Imagine”. One of his lines was “no religion, too”. That is not to say that people shouldn’t be free to practice the religion of their choice in total freedom. The US Constitution, as well as the constitutions of most countries today guarantee freedom of religion, and that freedom should be defended as much as the freedom to speak freely. However, once that freedom conflicts and/or interferes with the right of someone to practice a different religion, which can happen when religion and politics are mixed together, the first microscopic spark of a new crusade can get ignited.

Those unaffiliated sixteen percent of American adults presumably don’t have that problem. After all, without the organization of a formal affiliated religion, where would those practicing such a thing get funding to fuel their political action committees or lobbying efforts?

Cuba Or Not?

For forty-seven years, the United States of America has enforced a trade and travel embargo against Cuba. This policy harkens back to 1962, when JFK was president of the USA, the USSR was our bitter cold-war nuclear-armed enemy, many Americans thought there was a communist hiding under every rock, and the US military involvement in Vietnam was still growing but still reversible.

Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles and refugees had recently fled to Miami and were starting a new life as Cuban-Americans. They would also become a future political force in the USA, as will be explained below.

Actually, the original embargo against Cuba has its origins in October 1960, when Eisenhower was still president and the USA was upset that Fidel Castro was appropriating American commercial land interests in Cuba. You can find out more HERE.

The purpose of the embargo was initially to punish Castro for expropriating property belonging to American companies in Cuba, such as land and machinery used to produce (with cheap Cuban labor) huge agro-profits for these corporations such as the United Fruit Company. Years later the embargo morphed into the stated purpose of “bringing democracy to the Cuban people”.

After forty-eight years, it’s fair to say that the embargo has been an utterly miserable failure in its attempt to achieve its stated goal. But what is more incredible than the stupidity of this policy is the fact that the USA continues to support it, as though forty-eight years of failure is invisible to the powers-that-be.

Adding to this lack of logic regarding the continuing of the embargo against Cuba is the fact that the US trades with other communist governments such as China (which essentially owns the US from a financial point of view), North Korea, and that place where the US fought for ten years and lost over 55,000 US soldiers: Vietnam.

Not included in the above list is the now-defunct USSR, a.k.a. the former Soviet Union. For decades the US traded with the Soviets. As told today, the more American goods the Soviets were exposed to, the more they wanted. An argument can certainly be made that our trading American goods to the Soviets, including blue jeans, rock music and the American spirit through our goods, helped in no small part to bring down the Soviet Union in the late eighties and early nineties.

Why then, continue a clearly failed policy of embargo with Cuba? Well, the Bush administration will never allow a relaxing of the embargo because its policy is to ignore anyone it doesn’t like, unless they have oil. But another group is also dead-set opposed to relaxing this policy: the Cuban-Americans.

Those Cuban-Americans, most of whom are located in southern-eastern Florida, are still bristling over having to leave Cuba when Castro came into power, but the original adult exiles and refugees who fled Cuba by 1963 are getting pretty elderly in 2008. Most of today’s Cuban-American population is probably first or second generation American.

It’s clear that the originals and their immediate offspring would consider relaxing the embargo an act of betrayal on the part of the US, and as a result they are primarily republican supporters. They believe the republicans are much more committed to continuing the embargo than the democrats are, and they’re probably right.

Additionally, keep in mind that Bush won Florida in 2000 (if he even won it at all), by a reported 635 or so popular votes. It’s easy to justify that perhaps 635 Cuban-Americans who may have considered voting for Gore changed their vote to Bush because they were mad at Clinton-Gore for allowing Elian Gonzalez to be returned to his Cuban-residing father in 2000 instead of being kept here in the US by his Cuban-American relatives..

Today, however, another group of Cuban-Americans, third-generation Americans, have a view that differs from the hate-ridden opinion of their parents and grandparents: End the embargo.

Anyone studying history will learn quickly that economic sanctions historically have a very short shelf life. The embargo against Cuba stopped being effective the moment the Soviet Union started filling the void within months after the embargo was implemented. Today, it only serves to demonstrate to the rest of the world that US doesn’t learn from its own history or mistakes (Cuba), OR its successes (USSR, Vietnam, China, and maybe North Korea in time).

The time has clearly come, and in fact is overdue, that we end this stupid embargo against Cuba, which incidentally turns ordinary Americans visiting Canada and other places into smugglers of Cuban cigars into the USA. We should be exporting American goods and services into Cuba as fast as we can. The Cubans are no different than the Soviets. They will become addicted to all things American, including our freedom, and eventually will force the change in Cuban government that USA, with all of its nuclear power, technological prowess and massive resources has been unable to accomplish in 50 years of trying: Cuban democracy.

Havana vacation, anyone?

Meanwhile, Back at the White House…

While the USA is engaged in political presidential nominee selection, which in itself is proving to be unexpectedly exciting this season, the Bush administration has been quietly going about “business as usual”.  According to today’s New York Times (2-14-08),  GW Bush remains intent upon defending the use of water-boarding at all costs, even to the point of emphatically vowing to veto anti-water-boarding legislation that passed the US Senate last night by a 51-45 vote. See the article HERE.  This, of course, is coming from the man who publicly has proclaimed on numerous occasions that the USA does not torture.

What’s really interesting about this situation is that certain members of the Bush administration, perhaps sensing that the democrats may well take control of the White House in eleven short months, are beginning to break with Bush’s view that waterboarding and other torture-related techniques are just fine if you can justify them in the name of national security.

Consider, for example, the testimony of Steven G. Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.  Testifying at a hearing in the US Congress, he states that “There has been no determination by the Justice Department that the use of waterboarding, under any circumstances, would be lawful under current law,’’

This is quite a departure from the position of the Bushies, which is that waterboarding and other “harsh” interrogation techniques, including but not limited to exposure to extremes in heat and cold, head-slapping (punching?), sleep deprivation, and others are justified in the name of national security.  In fact, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey (Bradbury’s boss) recently told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a written document that the technique was not clearly illegal!

It is noteworthy that many people in the USA believe that the democrats will not only win the presidency but also solidify their control of Congress in the forthcoming November elections. The Bush administration’s joy ride is nearly at an end, and there are folks within that selfsame administration who are beginning to realize that GW Bush, with an approval rating currently standing at 31%, (see the polls HERE) is neither capable of providing them much cover now, nor capable of providing them any cover after January 20, 2009.

As a result of that realization, one can expect more and more administration officials to jump off the Bush Titanic before it sinks completely.  These folks may well decide that falling on the sword for the Bush Syndicate the way Scooter Libby did is not only an exercise in futility, but downright dangerous to one’s future freedom.  Bush simply won’t be there to commute prison sentences after January.  In fact, there will be folks in Washington and elsewhere who will be chomping at the bit to launch full-scale probes into the doings of GW Bush and his side-kick “Tricky-Dick” Cheney after they leave office.

Of course, if republican McCain actually wins the White House, all bets are off. McCain was a POW in Vietnam and has first-hand experience with torture.  He is on record as being totally against waterboarding or any other form of “harsh” (read: torturous) interrogation techniques.  Nonetheless, he way well protect those aforementioned republican Bush administration staff operatives, justifying such preferential treatment by rationalizing “they were just following orders like the good soldiers they are”.  Keep in mind that in the senate vote described in the first paragraph above, most republicans voted against banning waterboarding.  In other words, they voted to allow it.

But as previously stated, many Americans think the democrats have a really good chance of winning the White House.  And coupled with a stronger democratic Congress, there is little question that someone somewhere will be found to have violated federal and international laws regarding torture and will ultimately have to pay the full legal penalty.

It is crystal clear that Steven G. Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel doesn’t want it to be him.

And Super-Tuesday’s Winner is…

Anyone paying attention to the political happenings in the United States knows that yesterday was Super-Tuesday, when twenty-two states and two American territories were involved in voting for their favorite candidate for each of the two major political parties in the country.  Most people who follow this process have this basic knowledge of the process, but little else.

One curious factor is that not all states conduct the straight-forward ballot election process that most are familiar with.  Several states, among them Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, instead held “caucuses”. The exception was that Idaho and Kansas don’t conduct their contests for the republicans until later, and Montana won’t conduct their contest for democrats until June 3, 2008.  So with those known exceptions, we will deal for now with those listed above.

The caucus process is a situation whereby citizens assemble at some prearranged place and prearranged time, and essentially cast the votes by standing in a corner or raising their hands or some other demonstration.  If you want to participate, you have to be there.

In each one of the conducted caucuses listed above, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney won for their respective parties. In other words, both candidates somehow capitalized on the caucus process, to the tune of six wins each out of six caucuses conducted.  That’s quite a record, and also quite a coincidence.  And there is something eerie about Obama winning where Romney was winning.

These two candidates didn’t do nearly as well in the primary voting, where folks have all day to vote by secret ballot, can vote early or by absentee ballot, and it is much harder to nail them down. Romney won in his home state of Massachusetts, just as Obama won in Illinois, McCain won in Arizona, and Clinton won in both her home states of Arkansas and New York.

However, If one removes the caucus results completely, the results look quite different.  Instead of thirteen wins, Obama now has seven, while Clinton still has eight.  Romney ends up with one win, his home state.  As of this writing, New Mexico which conducts a primary and not a caucus, is still too close to call for the democrats,

This is not to take anything away for either Obama or Romney.  They won the caucuses fair and square, and are to be congratulated.

But the caucus results are haunting in their uniformity of result, regarding both the winners and the percentages by which they won. There is no explanation for this other than what a reporter on CNN said very late last night (early this morning, actually):  that these two guys had a more effective organization on the ground in this states and were able to influence the results.

It would seem the fairest way to conduct these nominating selections for president would be to conduct a nationwide state-by-state primary voting process on the same day, under the same rules. That way, we, the people could chose our nominees for president and know at the end of the day whom would be representing the respective political parties.  Millions of dollars could be saved because the process wouldn’t drag on for up to nine months.

However, despite the quirks in the primary/caucus system, one has to admire the entire process itself, and the fact that, this time around, it is actually working as designed for the whole world to see.  And it’s happening without the influence or participation of the Bush administration.  In fact, perhaps it is working so well because for the first time in eight years, Bush is not part of this process.  And it’s a sight to see.

So who’s Super-Tuesday’s big winner?

We, the PEOPLE!!!   🙂