Saturday, February 18, 2006


Sorry for the lack of recent posts, I know I was on quite a spree there. Anyway, I got my first acceptance letter for PhD programs today. It's for the University of California at Santa Barbara. So this means that I am definitely going to be continuing my schooling. Maybe not there, but at least now I know that I have at least one option. Alright, maybe more later.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Of States and Unions

Last night President George W. Bush addressed Congress and the nation while giving his annual "State of the Union" address. There were a few things I agreed with and a few things I disagreed with. So I guess we should start with the things I thought he had correct.
First off, his ideas on energy reform are amazingly progressive:
Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.
The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly 10 billion dollars to develop cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative energy sources – and we are on the threshold of incredible advances. So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative – a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants; revolutionary solar and wind technologies; and clean, safe nuclear energy.
We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips, stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025

This is amazing coming from the mouth of any politician, but even more so from a conservative who has made money in oil. Bush's track record on environmental concerns set no precedent for what he said last night, and for that we should all be glad. Yet another shining moment of his speech came when he stated, "America is a great force for freedom and prosperity. Yet our greatness is not measured in power or luxuries, but by who we are and how we treat one another. So we strive to be a compassionate, decent, hopeful society."
He echoed this sentiment in the following statement:
A hopeful society acts boldly to fight diseases like HIV/AIDS, which can be prevented, and treated, and defeated. More than a million Americans live with HIV, and half of all AIDS cases occur among African-Americans. I ask Congress to reform and reauthorize the Ryan White Act … and provide new funding to states, so we end the waiting lists for AIDS medicine in America. We will also lead a nationwide effort, working closely with African-American churches and faith-based groups, to deliver rapid HIV tests to millions, end the stigma of AIDS, and come closer to the day when there are no new infections in America.
Brilliant, Bush, brilliant. If we are to trust what he said, it sounds like good news for those suffering from AIDS. Finally, I think his stance on certain issues in bio-ethics is indeed deserving of applause:
A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners, and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research – human cloning in all its forms … creating or implanting embryos for experiments … creating human-animal hybrids … and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our Creator – and that gift should never be discarded, devalued, or put up for sale.
As far as my criticisms of the speech go, I believe that we should start exactly where the praise left off. It should be noted that what is not said in a speech is often times more revealing than what is actually said. In the final statement that I have quoted Bush said that the gift of human life "should never be discarded, devalued, or put up for sale." NEVER. I wonder if the families of those who have received the death penalty under Bush would think that he is consistent with this statement. I wonder if those who are currently being tortured in American prisons would think that Bush is consistent with this statement. Finally, I wonder if the people whose lives are being ripped apart by American imperialist wars would believe that Bush has acted consistently. If we are going to say that we must never discard of devalue the sanctity of human life, we must act in accordance with this belief in all situations. We cannot say that because of the crimes an individual has committed justice demands that we take their life. Justice demands exactly the opposite. Justice demands that we uphold the sanctity of human life even when that particular human has thrown such notions to the wind. We cannot say that national security and the spread of democracy demands that we torture our prisoners of war. Torture has been condemned by the Geneva Convention, yet our leaders call such notions "quaint." Torture is the transformation of a human being from an end into a means. Either a means to gather information, a mean to gain "security," or a means to release the sadist desires within the one performing the act. Whatever way you look at it, if Bush is to remain consistent with his purported views on the dignity of every human life he must outright condemn torture, demand that those carrying out such acts (and those who allowed such acts to be carried out) be punished, and step down from office for allowing such acts to occur with his knowledge. Finally, America's imperialist efforts in the Middle East again transform the human being into a means toward an end. Even in the name of freedom and democracy, justice demands that we do not accept so-called "collateral damage." There is no such thing as proportionality when human life is concerned, and I refuse to accept any arguments to the contrary as they necessarily render Bush's statement false.
The next item that I must call attention to is the following statement by Bush regarding medical care in America:
Keeping America competitive requires affordable health care. Our government has a responsibility to help provide health care for the poor and the elderly, and we are meeting that responsibility
I would really like to know in what ways Bush thinks that the government is meeting that responsibility. The threshold must be really low if he thinks that the current system is satisfactory. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine responded to Bush's claim in the following way:
The White House has made efforts to cut Medicaid funds for our most vulnerable citizens. Seniors were promised that the new federal Medicare drug plan would make it easier and cheaper to obtain their medication. Instead, many are falling victim to the program's poor planning. They find getting their medicine to be more complex, more expensive, and less reliable.
Maybe this is what Bush considers meeting that responsibility. His administration has consistently made efforts to downsize the role that the government plays in caring for the health of its neediest citizens. I know several homeless men that would strongly disagree with Bush's remarks. I know several young families that would strongly disagree with Bush's remarks. I also know several grandmothers that would VERY strongly disagree with Bush's remarks. If he would take one minute to recognize the plight of the average American, one minute to realize that the fact that America is the only idustrialized nation without socialized healthcare is not a good thing, then maybe Bush could see that the government is in fact not meeting its responsibility to care for the health of its citizens.
Another troubling aspect of Bush's speech is his view of education:
We need to encourage children to take more math and science, and make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations. We have made a good start in the early grades with the No Child Left Behind Act, which is raising standards and lifting test scores across our country. Tonight I propose to train 70,000 high school teachers, to lead advanced-placement courses in math and science … bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms … and give early help to students who struggle with math, so they have a better chance at good, high-wage jobs. If we ensure that America’s children succeed in life, they will ensure that America succeeds in the world.
Besides the fact that No Child Left Behind has proven to be a disaster in almost every case, it is sad to see that Bush believes the purpose of education to be preparation for competition. This theme of competition was the driving factor of Bush's speech last night -- and this is also quite troubling. Whenever speaking of the global economy, it was in terms of competition and survival. What Bush (and most politicians) fails to recognize is that neo-liberal economics reduces human life to survival while at the same time necessarily eliminating the chance of survival for a large portion of the global population. In today's society we can no longer think of other nations and their citizens as our competition, we must think of them as our co-workers. This competitive mindedness is perhaps the greatest threat to the dignity of human life that Bush claims to hold so highly. It forces wages down so that profits can increase for a few individuals. Furthermore, when applied to education, I am scared to even think of the effects. That is not to say that I am surprised. The arts have been threatened in education for decades, it is only now that Bush has come out and said what everyone has been thinking all along. Culture has no place in the type of society that Bush would have us live in. This is not to say that I am openly embracing all bourgeois culture, rather I think it is essential to teach children their history through the arts so that they can hopefully create their own history. Math and science can be used to create more efficient vehicles, but it can also be used to create more efficient weapons. Don't get me wrong, math and science have their place, but only as tools within a certain framework. By neglecting art, literature, and philosophy we deny our children the right to create this framework. Bush speaks of ethics yet he only has one ethic in mind -- that of total competition. He speaks in terms of survival, yet any society that disregards culture as a decadent luxury has no right to survival in my mind. The compassion and hopefulness that Bush speaks of cannot thrive in an environment where our children are taught to be computers.
I'm sure enough people have commented on Bush's stance on national security in the past few years to render anything I would have to say on the subject superfluous, so I will leave that subject alone.
I guess that means that this is all I have to say on the subject, but please feel free to comment and discuss these issues (or whatever issues you found most troubling or worthy of praise).