Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The sorry state of the Union

As the clock winds down on Bush's presidency, the United States undoubtedly will need to consider its options on how to carry on once he's left and who of all people would do it the best. The war in Iraq was a costly mistake, global warming is making waves (pun intended) across the political spectrum, and traditional values are the foci of concern. With these issues coming to a head as the spectre of Islamist-fuelled Armageddon looms, we have been wishing, hoping, and praying for someone to see us out without bumbling through.

What we got were rock stars.

Ladies and gentlemen of the United States: Those of you over the age of eighteen and registered to vote will unwittingly make a lot of choices when you cast your vote. Some, like myself, are wise enough to watch the news every so often and give thought to who the candidates really are. And I've realised that the lot we have offer little promise. Right now we have Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Rudolph Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney, and others hogging the limelight, at least four of whom have attained rock star status through either breaking the trend or just being too well known. Obama has only been a senator for two years, yet his status as an African-American* has people believing him to be the Saviour of the Democratic Party. Giuliani has been hailed a hero for his swift actions following 9/11. Clinton has kept a dizzyingly high profile ever since her husband was in the White House, and she would be the first female executive to run the United Sates if elected. Romney was known for mandating health insurance in Massachusetts. Thompson was an actor who played the role of an American president. Few are actually known for their credentials in government more than what the tabloids report.

Worst of all, many of the problems I see with this country seem to be gravely mishandled — government handouts (tax-and-spend liberalism in a nutshell), the Islamism situation in the Middle East, and personal responsibilities. Many of these problems politicians skirt around just to get a voting base or two. However, the public has realised that pandering to a voting base will solve nothing. In order to get these issues down, you need to use your head:

Government handouts

Had I posted, say, six months earlier, I would have cast my vote for Hillary Clinton. One of her plans is to give each child $5,000 plus interest to pay college tuition or perhaps a mortgage. However, I now realise that that money is just a lump sum; it's not going to be earmarked for anything, so it can be spent willy-nilly if desired. The same I say for a Labour Party initiative to give £200 to each pregnant woman in the hopes that she'll eat well: Even though she'll have to see an obstetrician to get the grant, the money's not going to be earmarked. This means that the beneficiary could just dip into the account and cash out for booze and drugs. For the full gist of this argument, I refer you to the Have Your Say page on the subject; to summarise, with the poor and undereducated having more and more kids and seeing sex as a form of recreation, what better way to get money to blow on drugs or an expensive television set than to get knocked up?

Right now, people in the US on low incomes but with large families can use food stamp cards** or, if they're pregnant or their child is under the age of five, WIC checks to cover the cost of food. As a supermarket cashier, I see first-hand the most common abuse of the food benefits system: Even though they're given cash in the hopes that it'll go toward food that's actually good for them, not only do recipients not keep track of how much they're getting before they reach the till, but they use their credits on junk food. Instead of buying fruits, bread, milk, cereals, or the other basics for cooking and preparing, they opt for sugary juices, candy, and chips, much of which is subject to tax in New Jersey because of their content.

Solution: The WIC programme is nearly scotch-free because of its strict regulations on what can be bought. Such restrictions should also apply to food stamps. As a start, any food that can be taxed for its sugar content or lack of nutrition, i.e. soda or sweets, should not be covered by food stamps. Then, you move on to anything with more than 1 gram of trans fat per serving, or foods with high levels of sodium or carbohydrates (excluding fiber). Either way, only healthy foods should be eligible; if the parents want to buy soda or Li'l Hugs for their kids, they should work for it. That way, not only do the kids start to realise what little nutrition such things have anyway, but you also advance your assault on obesity.


Conservatives love to point out that Islam isn't quite the loving and peaceful religion it's purported to be. Add to the mix the fact that most of said conservatives are Christian. The result is the notion that Islam is a spectre that needs to be vanquished in the name of Jesus Christ.

One thing is correct: Islam isn't exactly a peaceful religion — when the Qu'ran is taken to heart. But Christianity has been the same way — before World War I. From the inception of the Catholic Church to World War I, Europe was embroiled in religious warfare, and all partakers were Christian. The first wars — the Crusades — were fought for control of Jerusalem, as the Christians and Muslims had spiritual stake in the city. Eventually the Syrian sultan Saladin defeated a crusade led by King Richard, but he opened the city to Christian pilgrims.

Then came Martin Luther. As soon as he nailed the Ninety-Five Theses, Europe was up in arms, with the Catholic Church struggling to counter the newly-conceived Protestant movement. For hundreds of years, the struggle for ideological control of Europe would carry on. In fact, the United States was founded on principles that its founders learnt from the warfare in Europe: People needed their freedom of religion, press, speech, assembly, and redress, which no religious faction in Europe could offer. The whole point was to avoid religious and ideological oligarchy — a point many Christians in this country fail to realise as they champion those who champion 'traditional family values'.

The Middle East has been fraught with religious warfare long before Europe has — from the death of Muhammad's grandson. One group thought the next holy ruler had to be a direct descendant of Muhammad — the Shi'as. The other, the Sunnis, considered any righteous person eligible. They have been fighting ever since they split over whom should be the unifying force, trading blows to push what they believe is true Islam. This has only been aggravated with the discovery of oil, a commodity the West has pursued ever since the birth of the automobile.

It would eventually take two world wars and a Holocaust to slap Europe awake to realise that religious rule was not the answer.

Solution: The Middle East needs a World War of its own — and the West must stay out. First thing to do would be to finish up what we need to do in Iraq and withdraw our troops gradually. Then, we sit back and watch the sparks fly as the Muslims kill each other off in the name of the Qu'ran. Soon, once their populations have dwindled and their economies have been torn to bits, they'll come out like Europe.

'Family values'

Is the United States a 'Christian country'? Is it based on the 'family'? Those who feel sentimental would be quick to say yes to either question. Many groups, such as the Family Research Council, want a country to which 'traditional family values' are central; to do this, they say, a Biblical code should be implemented. The argument here is that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, suggested by the presence of terminology such as 'our Creator' and 'divine Providence' in the Declaration of Independence. It should be considered, though, that such language was the best to be had in the day; you didn't have science, and you needed some outlet for ideas. Even Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, was atheist; the truth was that the terms so lovingly cited by the Christian right were purely metaphorical.

As stated above, the whole idea behind the Constitution was to distance the country from religious oligarchy. The Christian government these conservative groups want so badly simply defeats the point of the nation's existence. If you're not convinced, examine the row in the Anglican Church over the consecration of gays. When the Episcopal Church, the American arm of the Anglican Church, consecrated the openly gay Gene Robinson, Anglican factions in Africa cried foul. Last year, members of the Church met in Tanzania and gave the Episcopal Church an ultimatum: Stop dealing with gays or get out. If that's not enough, imagine that you find in the Bible cause to treat gays as your equal and the country's laws prohibit homosexuality — you'll have a rough time gaining a following. Even the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints faces pressure, even after the Short Creek fiasco, because of their supposedly divine support of polygamy, counter to federal law still supported by the pro-family lot. The point is that running a Christian nation would only cause friction through the many denominations present in the country who claim that their way is the way to go.

The issue of family is, in effect, something that the government should have no business in. What defines the family is something that the people should decide on their own terms — it is not to be dictated by law. We all know by now that the 'family' the Family Research Council has in mind consists of a bundle of children raised in a household supported by a man married to one woman. This is a decent family — for those kind of Christians. However, you have homosexuals who, bereft of attraction to the opposite sex, miss out on the love said to be needed to keep a household together. These people would love to have their own children themselves, but at the same time they don't find a woman that appealing. Imagine the case of former New Jersey governor James McGreevey: He seemed to be this happily married family man, with a wife and kids. As soon as lover Golan Cipel threatened to expose him for his vapid appointment to the state's homeland security department, the house of cards collapsed, and Dina Matos McGreevey ended up demanding hefty amounts in alimony. McGreevey and Cipel have now entered a civil union, and I can bet that one of the things on their mind is raising a few kids of their own.

If you need a more convincing argument: China has a policy that requires that families have no more than one child. This has resulted in a severe disproportion of males over females, even after gender selection has been outlawed. If you abhor the government there taking control of families, why would you want it over here?

Solution: The answer to the two questions is no. For my full take on abortion and same-sex marriage, both of which I support, I refer you to my televangelism piece. The point is that the family is only what the ones involved make it out to be. Christians can raise their families as James Dobson recommends; that's their choice. They cannot, however, impose this on those who don't agree with Dobson or his so-called research council.

* Obama's father was Kenyan. When I say 'black', I refer to African-Americans who have American lineage going back to times of slavery.

** Electronic food stamps were introduced after paper food stamps found themselves on the black market, usually pawned or exchanged for drugs.

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