Thursday, April 16, 2015

#184 - The Circus is Back in Town

(imagine calliope music in the background)

Step right up folks! See the amazing tap dancing presidential candidates. Watch in wonder as they spout platitudes and verbally slam one another with half-baked innuendo and overwrought criticism.

Yes, the political circus is back in towns all across America as the political machine gears up for the 2016 presidential campaign. Yes, I know the election itself is not for another 18 months or so, but the pollsters, strategy architects, and political pundits have to justify their existence somehow.

So far, the race is shaping up to be some Republican against Democrat Hillary Clinton, a polarizing figure even to many in her own party. Not that any of the GOP candidates so far are great unifiers.

Entered into the fray thus far for the Republicans: Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who is categorized as pro-life, anti-same-sex marriage (leaving it to the states to decide), anti-gun control, against the Affordable Care Act, anti-IRS, pro-Israel, and anti-net neutrality. Cruz is also widely seen as one of the main forces behind the 2013 government shutdown, in large part because of his efforts to include de-funding and removal of the authorization for the Affordable Care Act in any stop-gap funding measure. He also support abolition of the IRS and believes in climate change, though not in the role of humanity in global warming.

We also have Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a pseudo-libertarian who nonetheless wants to restrict a woman's right to an abortion (something of an oxymoron there, someone who wants to reduce the influence and reach of government yet wants to increase it, at least in this area). He has also proposed gutting the Department of Education and eliminating the Department of Housing and Urban Development, played a leading role in blocking a treaty with Switzerland that would have allowed the IRS to conduct tax evasion probes, and been accused on a number of occasions of plagiarizing speech and article material from other sources. Like Cruz, he is opposed to gay marriage but would leave the issue to individual states to decide, and he is against all forms of gun control.

Then we have Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Like Cruz and Paul, he is pro-life. He also supports raising the age for Social Security benefits eligibility and opposes same-sex marriage, suggesting (like Cruz and Paul) that it be left to individual states to decide. He supports extension of the Bush tax cuts as well as elimination of both capital gains taxes and the estate tax. Unlike the other two announced GOP candidates, Rubio held elected office prior to becoming a U.S. Senator, serving nine years in the Florida House of Representatives.

These are the three GOP candidates announced so far. They have one thing in common aside from many of their political views - they are all considered Tea Party activists. Both Cruz and Rubio are under age 45.

Other likely and potential Republican candidates include retired surgeon Ben Carson (expected to announce May 4), largely identified as a conservative who opposes same-sex marriage and does not believe in evolution but who at one time stated that for-profit insurance companies should be eliminated and has said that semi-automatic weapons should be better regulated in large cities and high-crime areas.

The GOP field could become even more crowded if former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorino, U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker decide to run.

Then there are the usual Republican suspects, who have run before and could decide to run again: former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and business magnate Donald Trump of New York.

So far, the circus is primarily restricted to the GOP, as the Democrats have only one announced serious candidate to date: former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady Hillary Clinton. Unlike her GOP counterparts, who appear to have always been politically conservative, Clinton was not always a liberal. She campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964 and was president of the Young Republicans for a time while a student at Wellesley College. At the time, she was a moderate Republican but left the GOP after the 1968 national convention.

Clinton has supported repeal of the Bush tax cuts (announced as temporary when first enacted), release of oil reserves, exploration into alternative energy sources, including hydrogen-powered vehicles (along with tepid support for nuclear power), campaign finance reform, and a retention of the Social Security tax cap (unlike many of her fellow Democrats), and health care reform somewhat similar to the Affordable Care Act.

She has also faced criticism for her role as an advisor to her husband while he was president (perhaps an argument by some that a First Lady, much like a child, should be seen and not heard) and for sitting on the Board of Directors of Wal-Mart. Unlike her GOP challengers, Clinton is identified as pro-choice. While initially opposed to same-sex marriage (but in favor of civil unions), Clinton appears to have changed her view over time. She also supports net neutrality.

I'm not going to get into the entire Benghazi thing as that has been beaten to death by so many others and will no doubt come up again during any presidential campaign.

It is still possible that Clinton could face challengers for Democratic nomination. Former Rhode Island Governor (and Republican U.S. Senator) Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, and former U.S. Senator (and former U.S. Navy Secretary) Jim Webb of Virginia (another former Republican) are all said to be exploring a possible run.

Other possible candidates who have expressed interest or who have been speculated about include: current Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders (who runs as an independent), former Vice President Al Gore, former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, current Delaware Governor Jack Markell, and current U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

All in all, it promises to be another overwrought, over-analyzed, over-advertised, overreaching, over-attacking, over-criticizing campaign, generally lacking in substance from either the candidates or those who report on them. In the end, the nominations and ultimately the general election itself will likely be decided by which candidate wins the most favor with the Super PACs and garners the most money in campaign contributions from said shadowy political organizations. This truism is perhaps never more true than when it comes to political campaigns; "money talks."

Thursday, April 2, 2015

#183 - Moving Toward a Post-Christian World

I have debated writing this post for some time because I suspected I might disappoint some of my friends or cause them to distance themselves from me. However, in light of recent events and discussions, I've decided to no longer worry about that.

A number of my friends identify themselves as Christian, (Many of them go further and also identify themselves as Catholic.) I used to be one of them. I am no longer.

I was baptised a Catholic at Easter, 1984. For 20-some years, I tried to be a good Catholic. Yet something about the Catholic Church did not feel right.

So I tried other churches, but I always came back. If nothing else, the rituals of the Catholic Church felt safe. And yet, something did not quite seem to fit.

Something about the Catholic Church in particular and about Christianity in general struck me as contradictory. I had trouble identifying it an making sense of it until I began reading the Conversations With God series of books by Neale Donald Walsch.

I can't pinpoint it specifically, but something in Neale's depiction of God resonated with me. After reading several of his spiritual books, I concluded that none of the faiths with which I was familiar truly understood the nature of God. Many of them had some aspect of God, but none was complete.

I have also come to realize than many so-called Christians cherry-pick Bible verses to fit their faith's view (and by extension, their view) of the world, all the while forgetting that the Bible was written or related by one group of men (mostly), translated by another group of men (mostly), and interpreted and explained by yet another group of men.

In the last several years, I have come to the conclusion that all religious groups may have some understanding of God, but no religious group can claim to be The Way. Not Judaism, not Christianity, not Islam. Each has at least one fatal flaw.

That fatal flaw is that each kills in the name of God. Yet Christianity says "Thou shalt not kill" and claims that the ways of God are not the ways of man. By extension, that would seem to imply that Christians do not understand God since they kill in God's name. (The same could certainly be said for many of the other major faiths.)

Reading through a number of books of Neale Donald Walsch, I feel I have come to a better understanding of God and of the contradictions inherent in many of the organized religions now in existence. For instance, it never made sense to me that we would be called upon by the Bible to love our neighbor as ourselves even as we are trying to bomb them into oblivion.

Another contradiction is the call to love God and fear God at the same time. One cannot fear and love together; they are mutually exclusive.

I'm sure there are some who will begin praying for my soul or will begin worrying that I am headed to Hell. Don't. I truly believe God is bigger and is more than any faith can express. Because of that, I don't believe any faith does God justice. I don't think any organized faith can.