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Mars Report:

Recognizing Self-Evident Truths

Published September 18th, 2008

This being that most political of years, serious issues of national significance have been on my mind. Sadly, judging from the typical discourse I see Americans engaged in, I can only conclude that most humans seem to think it's best to just ignore serious issues. Why is it that people read body language more seriously than they do written language? And why is it, after so many years of evolution, a pretty face or the color of one's skin is more influential than what that candidate has to say about--oh, you know, energy policy, health care reform, global warming and environmental concerns, economic insecurities, abortion, and so on.

There was an article in the Washington Post recently that finally expressed what has been obvious to me for many years now: Humans have become so cynical that they honestly believe everything is an opinion. There are no facts. If you don't like a particular fact someone presents you with, you simply respond, "Oh, you think everyone should just agree with you!" And likewise, if someone presents you with a lie that you like, you are quite willing to take it as gospel.

There's no facing reality... no desire to really debate issues using facts. Heck, I'm beginning to think that too many Americans don't even know what a fact is. Here's a simple definition:

Fact: The truth about events as opposed to interpretation.

Ah, but now we enter a realm that, for many humans, presents great difficulty: What is Truth?

It is a question that has reverberated throughout the Western world ever since Pontius Pilate asked the question of Jesus. Jesus had referred to a truth, and Pilate's question suggests that he doesn't believe there is such a thing.

But of course, there is. That my cat ran away the day we moved to our new house is a fact. That my wife and I have been married now for almost 25 years is a fact. I have two sisters. That is also a fact.

Extending these to more difficult lines of inquiry, it's clear that changes in earth's atmosphere are causing global temperatures to rise, for the Arctic ice cap to melt, for glaciers around the world to disappear, and for the incidence of hurricanes and droughts to increase. These are facts, and nearly all scientists today agree that the inference from these facts is that Global Warming is a fact. It is the truth, even if it's extremely inconvenient.

On Presidential Lies

Likewise, it is a fact that the Republican candidate for Vice-President, Sarah Palin, did not oppose the "Bridge To Nowhere," as she claims. She ran for Governor on her support for the bridge, as a matter of fact. Only after Congress tabled the earmark Palin wanted for the bridge did she switch sides. Can you say "disingenuous?" She also didn't sell the Governor's jet on eBay, as John McCain has claimed.

In fact, Sarah Palin and her fellow candidate, John McCain, are going down as the most dishonest folks who ever ran for the Presidency (in my lifetime, at least). Think that's hyperbole? I'm sorry to say that it's not. Every day, more evidence of their willingness to bend the truth backwards is showing up, resulting in nearly daily outcries in U.S. newspapers:

And the list goes on and on... just search through Google News some time, and you'll see what I mean. Even though this year's persistent falsehoods are the worst yet, there have been plenty of the same by previous Presidents and their staffs. In fact, I'd argue that it's Presidential Lies that got us where we are in the first place. It all started with President Johnson lying about the Vietnam War, followed closely by Richard Nixon lying about the Vietnam War. And then the real whopper that really made Americans suspicious of their leaders: Watergate. But those observations lead to a huge digression that I should leave for another time.

Here are a few examples of lies told by recent U.S. Presidents:

Disingenuous: Not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.

  • John McCain: He continues to repeat the plain untruth that Barack Obama's tax plan would raise everyone's taxes. This scare tactic usually works, whether it's true or not. In this case, McCain knows it's a lie, yet he keeps saying it. As a matter of fact, Obama's tax plan would only raise taxes for the top 1% of America's richest. For every household that makes less than $250,000 a year, Obama's plan makes quite substantial tax cuts, whereas McCain's plan does not. As with Bush's deficit-busting tax cuts early in his term, McCain's cuts would benefit only the very rich and the corporations they run.
  • George W. Bush: Hmmm... Let's see, there have been so many lies, told so well, that on Mars we've determined he's lied more than any President in U.S. history. Everyone knows by know---as a fact---that Iraq never had "weapons of mass destruction," nor did Saddam Hussein have anything whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. There are hundreds of documented lies by Bush and his administration in support of the larger one, but here's a good one. On October 22, 2002, as the public relations effort to sell the Iraq war to U.S. citizens was heating up, The Washington Post published an article whose title says it all: For Bush, Facts Are MalleableFor Bush, Facts Are Malleable, which cited two lies in two paragraph:

    In the president's Oct. 7 speech to the nation from Cincinnati, he introduced several rationales for taking action against Iraq. Describing contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq, [David, Bush] cited "one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year." He asserted that "we have discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet" of unmanned aircraft and expressed worry about them "targeting the United States."

    Bush's statement about the Iraqi nuclear defector, implying such information was current in 1998, was a reference to Khidhir Hamza. But Hamza, though he spoke publicly about his information in 1998, retired from Iraq's nuclear program in 1991, fled to the Iraqi north in 1994 and left the country in 1995. Finally, Bush's statement that Iraq could attack "on any given day" with terrorist groups was at odds with congressional testimony by the CIA. The testimony, declassified after Bush's speech, rated the possibility as "low" that [Saddam Hussein] would initiate a chemical or biological weapons attack against the United States but might take the "extreme step" of assisting terrorists if provoked by a U.S. attack.

  • Bill Clinton: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." Yes, that was a lie, unless you don't consider oral relations "sexual." And wow, did Bill pay for that one! Indeed, he was actually impeached for that lie... which, unlike the lies of the Presidents who preceded and successors, had zero impact on the health and welfare of the Nation. From my perspective on Mars, it's inconceivable that one President could waste $500 billion on a war the rationale for which he brazenly lied about, and yet receive no punishment whatsoever, while another President had a brief sexual liaison with another consenting adult and lied about it, a sin that led to his being impeached, for only the second time in U.S. history.
  • George H.W. Bush: George H. W. Bush's best known lie is, of course, "Read my lips, no new taxes." He said that during the campaign for President, and then proceeded to break that promise. But a far more serious lie is the one he repeatedly told the American people about negotiating with terrorists:

    Today I am proud to deliver to the American people the result of the six months effort to review our policies and our capabilities to deal with terrorism. Our policy is clear, concise, unequivocal. We will offer no concession to terrorists, because that only leads to more terrorism. States that practice terrorism, or actively support it, will not be allowed to do so without consequence.

    Only problem is, even as he made such pronouncement, he and the Reagan administration were secretly selling arms to Iran, in exchange for the release of hostages. They then turned around and supported the Nicaraguan Contra rebels with the profits from the secret Iran sales. This is all a matter of public record... it is fact, and yet, perhaps because of the complexity of the issues, or perhaps because of the popularity of Ronald Reagan and the transition of his administration to that of George H.W. Bush, the lie and the secret deal managed to wash over Americans' minds without really registering.
  • Ronald Reagan: On Mars, we found it hard to believe that anyone so misinformed could rise to become President of the most powerful country on Earth. We debated among ourselves whether Reagan's many factual errors were truly lies, or whether they reflected a fundamentally weak brain. Ultimately, we determined that Reagan was actually smart, and that he told lies in such an aw-shucks manner that the average American not only would believe him, but would never suspect he was lying. Besides lying about the Iran-Contra affair, like Bush, there are so many examples it's hard to narrow the list down. Here's one of our short favorites:
    "All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk." --Ronald Reagan (Republican candidate for president), quoted in the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press, February 15, 1980.
    As a matter of fact, even taking an estimate from nuclear industry sources, the typical nuclear power plant produces about 500 pounds of waste each year. I don't think that would fit under Reagan's desk, do you?

This year, the spreading of lies and innuendo about the candidates--particularly, as usual--has become more brazen than ever. An example of this came to my attention a few weeks ago when someone on a mailing list I (used to) follow sent everyone a column spreading demonstrably false information about Barack Obama. This is only one such rumor that's been spreading virally through the web in attempts to smear Obama. Perhaps the dirtiest is the assertion that Obama is Muslim, because his middle name is Hussein. Well, no. If you read Obama's biography that will be clear, but the folks who make this up aren't trying to spread facts... they're trying to spread fear. I only wish more humans would see through their lies and punish the candidate who abides such evil to an extent that future candidates will think twice before adopting lies as a method of campaigning for President.

On Obama

All of which leads me to the lies taking place in 2008, nearly all of which are directed from the Republican candidates toward Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for President. A particularly inflammatory lie that has been making the rounds of right-wing religious groups on the Internet is the one that passed through my email recently. As part of an anti-Obama, viral web campaign, someone called Matt Barber of the Liberty Council published an article called "Obamacide." (Nice title, don't you think, for someone claiming to be a Christian?) The article accuses Obama of supporting "partial birth" abortion, using language that refers to Obama's "love affair" with the practice, which even Pro-Choice supporters do not condone. Here's an excerpt from Barber's libelous diatribe:

While serving in the Illinois state senate, he led the fight against a state version of Born Alive that was substantively identical to the federal BAIPA. In 2002, BAIPA passed the U.S. Senate with unanimous, bipartisan support; yet, Obama vehemently opposed its Illinois twin. This places him on the furthest fringe of pro-abortion extremes. The man's devotion to the pro-abortion industry is so fixed that he would rather allow the murder of newborn babies than give an inch to the sanctity of human life.

And Barber was just warming up at that point... there's much more in the article.

If I may say so, this is precisely the kind of character assassination that Barack Obama is trying to eliminate from our national discourse.

First of all, to oppose Obama strictly on the issue of abortion is to ignore the many other important issues the United States faces. My impression is that even many anti-abortion Christians are beginning to understand that.

Most important, the charges made in Matt Barber's opinion piece are false. They are being spread around the web simply to make Obama look bad, and unfortunately many otherwise intelligent Americans are buying this baloney without question.

After researching the source documents for what really happened, I determined the facts are as follows:

  1. Obama's Illinois senate votes in 2001-02 were on legislation that was radically different from the U.S. Senate's Born Alive Infants Protection Act (BAIPA) in 2002. How?
    • Illinois already had in place a ban on partial birth abortions, dating back to 1975. If you don't believe me, check out the Illinois code on this law.
    • Therefore, the Illinois bills were not, in fact, geared to providing the protection against partial-birth abortions that the Federal law was. To compare the two is simply deceitful on the part of writers like Barber.
    • The Illinois votes, which were joined by 40% of the Senate including several Republicans, were against proposals that would:
    • Provide damages to the family to the cost of raising the child, an obviously irresponsible open-ended liability. This included punitive damages against the hospital that delivered the child. Keep in mind that we're talking about a live birth that is protected under the law... not an abortion.
    • Redefine "live birth abortion" to include any non-viable fetus that showed signs of life after abortion. This would effectively ban abortion, since it's not restricted to the third trimester of pregnancy. The Federal BAIPA law requires that the "live birth" be a viable child... one that is capable of living outside the womb.
  2. Obama's statement that he would have supported BAIPA if he had been in the U.S. Senate in 2002 is not at all disingenuous. Although Barber calls BAIPA the "twin" of the Illinois votes, if you bother to learn the facts it's clear that they are not. To call them "twin" votes is to merely try to make Obama look bad. Is Barber and his ilk really the kind of authority you want to base your opinions on?
On Communists

In reaction to this obviously false information from Matt Barber, another reader of the email thread reacted this way:

The last times we had the Communist party try and put a person in the white house, she was black. Now they are doing it again with a man of color and the blessing of the media. We've gotten worse than Sodom and Gomorra with trying to get someone to represent us in the white house who is left of left with a Marxist attitude and no respect for life.

In a followup email, this person clarified his belief that "Communist = Socialist = Liberal."

For a few minutes, my mind was in a state of serious cognitive dissonance as a result of that paragraph, because it so flagrantly violated my understanding of U.S. history and of its political realities. Here was someone I had exchanged numerous emails with opining that Obama and the Democrats were Communists.

The notion that Obama is a Communist or Marxist is clearly a lie, a propaganda-motivated scare tactic at its very worst. It's the same sort of charge that was leveled against Franklin D. Roosevelt by Republicans during his term(s). To the hatemongers who spread this kind of crazy talk, folks from Obama's and Roosevelt's side of the aisle are guilty of one major, unforgivable sin: They believe that U.S. citizens deserve better living conditions than most of you have, and they believe the Federal Government can actually do something to help. There's nothing whatsoever Marxist, or Communist, about this approach. If those who spread such lies would ever bother to read Karl Marx, they would understand that. But they never will, because (I think) they believe Marx's writings were the work of the Devil himself.

Cognitive dissonance: An uncomfortable feeling or stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a fundamental cognitive drive to reduce this dissonance by modifying an existing belief, or rejecting one of the contradictory ideas.

Chief among Obama's "Marxist" ideas is that the U.S. should join the rest of the developed world in having universal health care. If you haven't seen Michael Moore's Sicko, you should. Even if you don't like Michael Moore or think he's some kind of left-wing nut, humans who want to form an opinion of him and of his movies like "Sicko" should really take the time to see them and judge for yourselves. Don't just take some right-wing nut's word for it.

Obama also believes the Federal Government should be investing heavily in alternative (non-carbon) energy in order to become free of dependence on foreign oil in 10 years. Ridiculous? Perhaps... but at least it's a goal worth pursuing. One historical parallel you should recall in determining the idea's ridiculous-ness is the Federal Government's investment in the Interstate Highway System.

Can you imagine our country without such a vital transportation network? And yet, if the government hadn't built it, who would? It was a huge investment, championed by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, that changed the lives of all Americans for the better.

By investing in solar and other alternative technologies, the Federal Government, as the nation's largest consumer, has the ability to vastly expand that market, thereby lowering prices, increasing production, and improving the technology. Isn't this worth doing in order to make the United States less dependent on foreign oil? After all, would you have invaded Iraq if it weren't one of your biggest oil suppliers? Just consider how much money that war has cost, and the many better ways the government could have spent that money. I don't know about you, but the thought makes us Martians feel not only incredulous, but also incredibly angry.

Incredulous: Unwilling to admit or accept what is offered as true.

Incredibly: To a great degree; extremely or unusually

Another major goal of Obama's is to address the issue of Global Warming. Don't you think this problem trumps abortion on the list of the Earth's ills? By abandoning carbon fuels, and enacting legislation like the one Bush vetoed recently that would have required reduced emissions, humans might have a chance to turn this around.

On Abortion

Regarding Christianity and one's position on abortion, it's clear that Christ would not have approved of the practice, as neither do the Catholic nor Protestant churches. However, it's important to understand and respect the fact that one of the singular, founding principles of the United States was--and is--the separation of Church and State.

This means that the Government cannot pass laws that enforce the views of any particular religious group, and since opposition to abortion stems primarily from religious beliefs about the point in time when a zygote/embryo/fetus becomes a "person," anti-abortion laws such as those supported by Right To Life groups are clearly unconstitutional.

The Religious Right, however, does not believe that the Separation of Church and State was ever a constitutional principle. In some ways, such an argument is in the same league as a belief that the Holocaust never occurred, or that the Earth is flat, or that humans have been abducted by Martians for scientific experiments. Poppycock! We would never do such a thing, my friends. Ours is a thoroughly peace-loving, generous, and thoughtful society. If we needed to learn something from a human's body, we'd ask them to participate in one of our studies: By choice, not by deceit.

That said, there is certainly a great deal of interpretation that goes on in understanding when and how the principle of Separation became part of the U.S. Constitution. It's true that the literal phrase 'separation of church and state' does not appear in the Constitution, but clearly the concept is there, ingrained in the American psyche through its founders' strong belief in religious liberty. The First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."

Two of the great thinkers at the time the Constitution was enacted had this to say on the subject of religious liberty. In making these declarations, the United States became the first country in the history of the world to propose religious liberty as a founding principle of a Nation:

In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote, in his famous pamphlet, Common Sense:
"As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of all government, to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith"

In 1779, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, written by Thomas Jefferson, proclaimed:
"[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

Later, as President, Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury (Conn.) Baptist Association that is the origin of the controversial phrase itself:
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. "

I think it's also important for Christians, as well as all humanity, to consider the many other forms of violence that occur in the world. There are many examples I could choose from -- human rights abuses, genocide, starvation, eviscerating the environment -- but a very pertinent one to the debate over abortion is the rate of child abuse in the U.S.

Eviscerate: Deprive (something) of its essential content.

One could easily argue that the violence inflicted on living children as a result of parental abuse inflicts far more damage on society than the violence of abortion. Not only are these children themselves the victims of often horrifying violence, but the impact of this violence on these children's' personality development will live on for years. Studies show that nearly all of the adults who victimize others--their wives, husbands, children, or others--were themselves the victim of violence as children. Thus, beating up your chienvironmentld causes a chain reaction of events that reverberates far beyond that single incident. According to Health and Human Services (HHS) statistics, there were 3.6 million referrals for incidents of child abuse in the U.S. in 2006--about 3 times the number of abortions. After investigation of all the referrals, it was ultimately determined that about 1 million children were the victims of abuse that year.

There are many causes for outrage among those who abhor violence in this world. Abortion is one of them, child abuse another. But there are many others as well. My original point was that as Christians it's a mistake to make political decisions based on abortion alone, since it's not the only thing Christ cares about. I'm sure Jesus Christ would also abhor the alarming economic disparity between rich and poor in this country and many others throughout the world. As an anti-materialist philosophy at heart, Christianity has too often been mute to the economic violence meted out by greed, and has failed to join the battle against those who celebrate greed and become successful from it. Do Christians who stand by in the face of such injustice assume that the meek won't get their due until the Second Coming? If so, it's hard for us on Mars to understand how such seekers of monetary wealth can call themselves Christians. We fear that these are the same hypocrites who can't recognize a lie when they hear one, or, on learning it's a lie, continue to believe it true.

I fear for Mankind, and for all of God's glorious creation, if these are the people who will inherit the Earth.

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