Monday, March 30, 2009

Death Penalty Update

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. The big news is of course the abolition of the Death Penalty in New Mexico. Elsewhere on the abolition front, Colorado looks as if it’s making some progress toward abolition. Abolition attempts in Maryland and Kansas appear to have been derailed and an attempt in Utah was flat out defeated.

There have been 20 executions in the first three months of 2009. Twelve of these executions have been in Texas and all have been in the South. This brings the total number of executions in the U.S. since the reinstatement of the Death Penalty to 1,156, 435 of which have been in Texas, and 956 of which have been in the South.

According to Amnesty International, the U.S. made the top six list in executions again in 2008. Get a load of the company we’re keeping.

#1 China - 1,718
#2 Iran – 346
#3 Saudi Arabia – 102
#4 U.S. – 37
#5 Pakistan – 36
#6 Iraq – 34

The only saving grace is while we can be pretty sure of the number of executions in the U.S., in the other top six Amnesty International suspects the number is actually higher and in some cases, much higher.

You will excuse me if I have a serious problem being in a list with nations like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iraq.

Of course it could always be worse. AI notes that in 2008 a new law was passed in Iran that allows the application of the death penalty against people convicted of illegal audiovisual activities (pornography) and that there is a proposed law prescribing the death penalty for apostasy, heresy and witchcraft and for certain internet-related crimes that “promote corruption and apostasy” being drafted.

Witchcraft? WITCHCRAFT? They believe in Witchcraft? Imagine getting the death penalty for the generation and/or viewing of dirty pictures? What planet, or more to the point perhaps, what century, are these people from?

Now explain to me again how religion is a good thing? I'm sure it's not the secular folks that are worried about things like pornography, heresy and apostacy. Take a good look at Iran because that's what the Religious Right would like to move the U.S. towards.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Obama’s Budget

There may not be many things I know, but one thing I do, is that the further out you go in time, the much harder it is to make accurate projections.

All of this moaning and groaning about apparent budget deficits six or seven years out is total nonsense. Before we come to that bridge it will be possible to see whose growth assumptions are the best and make the appropriate adjustments.

Every long range plan I’ve ever been involved in begins to fall apart five or six years down the road. Typically you can’t identify revenue accurately that far away and any cost or growth extrapolations you do become more and more problematic.

Every long term manning plan I’ve ever done shows everyone out of a job three to five years out. Of course that never happens because things you can’t rely on at the moment appear.

Obama is trying to establish a long term plan. Spend today and get the benefits sometime in the future. That can be risky, but it’s the right thing to do. It’s a plan to build a solid foundation for ongoing prosperity rather than simply aiming for short term low hanging fruit.

I’ve said for a long time that the American economic outlook focuses too much on the next quarter at the expense of long term planning. Its part of what got us into this mess and I’m glad to finally see a leader that has the intelligence, and the courage, to take the longer view.

How he’s going to get the morons on Capital Hill to go along with it I don’t know. It’s not without its risks and you have to be realistic about how things are going and be prepared to make the necessary adjustments. Wishful thinking of any form can be catastrophic with this type of approach.

Obama and some of his advisers may have the fortitude and vision for this kind of road but I guarantee you the average congressman doesn’t. It’s going to be a long hard battle even with other Democrats. As for the Republicans, even if they realize the road he wants to take is the right one, they’ll oppose it tooth and nail.

The Republicans would rather see the country burn than have Obama succeed. They're not interested in what's right for the coutry, only in what's right for them.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New Mexico Eliminates Death Penalty

With Governor Bill Richardson's signature New Mexico has followed New Jersey and repealed its Death Penalty statute.

Let the lights on the Coliseum in Rome shine tonight.

Monday, March 16, 2009

AIG does it Again

I don’t believe the arrogance of these people. Now it appears our least favorite financial incompetents are on the verge of dealing out another $165 million in bonus and retention pay to employees of the Financial Products division, the division that underwrote all those risk laden subprime mortgages that blew up in AIG’s face.

WTF? AIG CEO Edward Liddy claims that the company is legally obligated to honor the bonus payments which were established in early 2008 before it hit the fan. Then Liddy went on to make this incredible statement, “We cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest talent to lead and staff the A.I.G. businesses — which are now being operated principally on behalf of American taxpayers — if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury.”

Best and brightest? You lost $61.7 billion (yes that’s right, with a “b”) last year you incompetent SOB. If what you have is the “best and brightest” I’d hate to see what you call the bottom of the barrel.

Did I mention that the AIG Financial Products division is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office? Oh yeah, those bozos definitely deserve bonuses and retention pay. We wouldn’t want to lose them would we?

I say we line up all the AIG executives from Financial Products, and any considered above the division level like Liddy, choose one out of ten and either (a) execute them by suffocation in a vat of $1 bills or (b) confiscate every penny they have including the money hidden in family member accounts. Their choice, I’m willing to be flexible.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ARIS 2008

The latest installment of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) was released this week. Its findings confirmed the findings of other surveys that Religion in the U.S. is on the decline and contradicts the infamous Baylor Survey which concluded that the U.S. is as religious as it ever was. The initial ARIS Survey was performed in 1990 and a follow-up was done in 2001.

A major difference this year was a question addressing actual belief rather than simple identification. The results imply there are a lot more actual atheists, agnostics, and even deists, than those who identify themselves as such.

While only 0.7% of the population identify themselves as atheist and 0.9% identify themselves as agnostic, fully 12% of the American population express atheistic or agnostic beliefs. Another 12% express deist views.

Only 69.5% of the population expresses belief in the traditional monotheistic Personal God despite 76% still identifying themselves as Christian (down from 86% in 1990), 1.2% as Jews and another 0.6% as Muslims. The survey concludes from this that many people who identify themselves with a religion don’t actually fully subscribe to its theology.

Even so, there are now more professed atheists and agnostics in the country than there are Mormons, religious Jews (as opposed to ethnic Jews) or Muslims.

What ARIS calls the “Nones,” those with no religious affiliation, atheists and agnostics, has grown from 8.2% in 1990 to 15% in 2008. Only Catholics (25.1%), and Baptists, (15.8%) are more numerous.

Demographically women continue to be more religious than men. In the Christian categories women number between 52% and 58% of the adherents while fully 60% of the Nones are male.

Regionally the West is the least religious region with 20% Nones, followed by the Northeast with 17%, the Midwest with 15% and, of course coming in as the most religious region, the South with 12%. The sub-region with the highest percentage of Nones was New England with 22%. The state with the highest percentage was Vermont with 34%. The sub-region with the lowest percentage of Nones was the East South Central Division (AL, MS, KY, TN) with 10% and the state with the lowest was Mississippi with only 5%.

In terms of education, the groups with the lowest percentage of college graduates are the Pentacostals/Charasmatics with only 13% followed by the Baptists with 16%. Groups with the highest were Jews (57%) and Eastern Religions (59%). Catholics had 25%, Mainline Protestants 35% and Nones 31%. The U.S. National Average is currently 27%.

In terms of age, of the three largest groups, Catholics, Baptists and Nones, Baptists are by far the oldest with only 42% under the age of 50 (only 11% under the age of 30) and 21% over 70. Catholics have 59% under the age of 50 (21% under the age of 30) and 13% over 70. By comparison Nones have 70% under the age of 50 (29% under the age of 30) and only 7% over 70. The U.S. National Population is 60% under the age of 50 (22% under the age of 30) and 12% over the age of 70. Mainline Protestants have 53% under the age of 50 (18% under the age of 30) and 14% over 70.

So the non-religious segment is younger as well. This implies a continuing erosion of religion. A conclusion of the report was “The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.”

You got that right bro’. Let’s hear it for the Big Red A.

Note that this survey was not done by a bunch of militant atheists. It was performed under the auspices of Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut by folks at worst neutral, and potentially friendly, toward religion in general.

The bottom line is that slowly, but surely, the U.S., despite Baylor University’s protests to the contrary, is undergoing the same decline of religion that Western Europe experienced. With the wider access to education and to the ideas propagated by the Internet, religion is loosing its grip. If it’s not already dead, it’s dying; it just doesn’t know it yet.

That’s not to say something might not happen to give it a boost now and then but, in the long run, the decline is inevitable. It will probably never die out entirely. It’s too good a meme and there will always be the young, the ignorant and the desperate that will cling to it but maybe, just maybe, my children will live to see the numbers dip below 50%.

It couldn’t come fast enough if you ask me. Religion is a millstone around the neck of civilization and, with the emergence of nuclear and biological weapons, a very dangerous millstone. One that is capable of leading to catastrophic damage to the human race. The sooner it is relegated to the junk heap, the better.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Obama Gets High Marks (so far)

In a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll 68% of the American people expressed a favorable opinion of President Barack Obama, 67% say they feel more hopeful with his leadership, 60% approve of his job in office and 54% approve of his policy decisions.

The sliding scale, from 68% personal approval to 54% policy approval, indicates that the Prez still has some convincing to do.

The biggest eye opener in the poll however was the growth from 26% to 41% in the number of people that felt the country was headed in the right direction. Better, but still not where that number should be.

A whopping 84% understand that Obama inherited the current economic crisis. One has to wonder what planet the other 16% live on.

As for the GOP, ouch, the party has an all time low favorable rating of only 26%. The Democrats managed only 49% themselves despite all the good numbers for Obama.

So what do I think? I think we’re in big trouble and it’s going to take some doing to turn things around, two, maybe three years or maybe even longer. The big question is how much patience will the traditionally impatient American public have?

In the meantime General Motors appears headed for bankruptcy. When I was a youngster in high school if you had told me that I would live to see General Motors, the bluest of the blue chips stock, a junk bond on the verge of becoming worthless, I would have said you were out of your mind.