Thursday, October 27, 2005

Exxon Mobil's Corporate Greed Revealed

Prepare yourself for this one.

Exxon Mobil hauled in a remarkable $100 billion in just three months, and $10 billion of it was pure profit.

Astonished? Well consider this; Exxon Mobil's profit actually exceeded Microsoft's first-quarter sales. And how about this mind-boggling nugget; the company earned $4.48 million an hour -- in profit -- during the quarter.

The oil company's third-quarter revenue and profit were both records for any publicly traded company. Given the current climate of high gas prices, the company's gains were so gigantic that even Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican, called for hearings on the higher fuel prices.

The company is quite concerned that Congress will level a windfall profit tax on the industry, which would spoil the party. In an effort to fend off the likely political backlash, not to mention the PR mess that will surely ensue, the company took out full page ads in newspapers claiming that its profit is not all that different from other industries.

You buying that?

Exxon Mobil's reported earnings were up 75 percent from the same quarter a year ago.

Feeling gouged?

With gas prices exceeding $3 per gallon in many states, it's little surprise if you are. The Exxon Mobil earnings report destroys the argument that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were the sole reasons for the severe gas price hikes that followed in their aftermath. Apparently Exxon Mobil, and perhaps other oil giants as well, was the primary reason.

Providing a fine example of Wall Street's schizophrenic nature and obsession with expectations, despite this eye-popping earnings report, Exxon Mobil's stock price actually fell 1%. That's because the $1.32 per share earnings were below the $1.38 per share that had been anticipated. Go figure. But I'll bet the execs aren't complaining.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.
WAITING FOR THE HAMMER TO FALL

Texas Congressman Tom Delay has faced so many legal problems over the past few years that he actually set up a legal defense fund to take contributions for his legal bills. Like many politicians, Delay loves contributions - and that's what's gotten him inso much trouble...again.

Already facing two indictments for violating Texas campaign laws, Delay has now acknowledged that he failed to comply with House rules which require him to disclose all contributions to his defense fund . According to Delay, $20,850 contributed in 2000 and 2001 was not reported.

The "Hammer", as he is known, did remember to include another $17,300 in the defense fund's quarterly report, but he forgot to list it in his 2000 annual financial disclosure report -- a separate requirement. Other donations were understated as totaling $2,800, when the figure should have been $4,450.

All of this occurred during a period when DeLay was the subject of several House ethics investigations. During such a period, one would expect a government official to be squeaky clean while avoiding all legal and ethical troubles or any potential conflicts of interest.

But not Delay. His sense of entitlement and grandiosity are remarkable even in the world of American politics. Now facing two felony charges, Delay's current legal woes forced him to step down from his position as the powerful House Majority Leader.

And those aren't all of of Delay's problems.

The House Ethics Committee is also reviewing allegations that Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a man Delay once described as "one of my closest and dearest friends," may have paid, or arranged payment for, some of DeLay's overseas travel expenses - a violation of House rules. Abramoff raised more than $100,000 for President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, and thousands more for DeLay and other Republican members of Congress. One hand washes the other.

Delay's "close and dear friend" Abramoff is also facing bank fraud charges alleging that he and his business partner, New York businessman Adam Kidan, 36, used a fake wire transfer to defraud two lenders out of some $60 million. The money was to be used to finance the purchase of a fleet of gambling ships from entrepreneur Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis in September 2000. But the deal soon fell apart when the parties became involved in a bitter legal battle over the sale.

Five months later, Boulis was shot to death in what police described as a hit. Last month, three men were charged with his gangland-style murder. Court papers allege that, for unspecified reasons, Kidan - Abramoff's partner - paid $240K to two of the accused killers. That doesn't sound good, but maybe there's a perfectly good explanation. I'm sure Kidan is working on one right now, and I wonder if it involves Congressman Delay's dear old pal.

But that's not all. Abramoff is also under federal investigation by a Washington grand jury looking into whether he and a lobbying partner overcharged Indian tribes by millions of dollars for their work.

Abramoff's extraordinary access to Washington power brokers, like Delay, earned him millions for his work on behalf of groups as disparate as Indian Tribes, Fortune 500 companies, and foreign governments. Power and money always seem to go together like hand and glove, and Delay was the hand doing much of the back room dealmaking and manipulating that allowed Abramoff to operate so freely and smoothly in Washington.

Like a moth to a flame Delay seems to be drawn to scandal.

Last year, Delay was rebuked by his House colleagues three times in one week for ethical reasons. And in 1999 he was rebuked by the same House panel for threatening a Washington trade association that planned to hire a Democratic lobbyist. Delay is widely viewed as a bully, hence his nickname - the "Hammer."

It was just a year ago that Delay's colleagues chastised him for facilitating and participating in an energy company golf fundraiser that benefited his political action committees. Delay had the audacity to hold the event as House and Senate negotiators were about to meet in conference on major energy legislation in June of 2002. Say what you will, but the man's got balls.

Delay is so megalomaniacal that he apparently believes he's beyond reproach, and that he's untouchable. But like many who came before him, Delay may soon find out that he is indeed accountable to the people, his colleagues, and the legal system. He's made a mockery of his office and his duties as a lawmaker because he sees himself as being above the law. He hasn't chosen his friends very wisely either, and all of this may soon come back to haunt him - in spades.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

IN IRAQ: 2K KIA

Though the caskets have been ordered hidden from view by a White House desperate to diminish the affects of war, today marked a sad passing with the announcement that 2000 U.S. military personnel have now been killed as a result of fighting in Iraq. Though the U.S. military does not publish a cumulative tally of war deaths, news outlets have kept their own records.

According to the Defense Department, more than 15,000 American service members have been wounded since the start of the war in March 2003.

President Bush responded to the deaths by saying, "We've lost some of our nation's finest men and women in the war on terror.... each of these patriots left a legacy that allowed generations of their fellow Americans to enjoy the blessings of liberty."

Many of us had no idea that our liberty was actually being defended in Iraq, or that it ever needed to be defended there in the first place.

Actually it's been quite disheartening to hear key military leaders say that the U.S. presence is actually fueling the insurgency and drawing foreign fighters from throughout the Muslim World. Insurgent attacks have swelled to as many as 80 a day.

The war shows no signs of ending any time soon. Even with U.S. elections looming next year, the Bush Administration says it is poised to stay the course.

At last week's Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insisted that rebuilding the entire Middle East has been the Bush Administration's mission ever since 9/11. That's a very noble goal, though perhaps quite unrealistic. It's especially odd given that the President spearheading this very effort is the same man who said, during the 200 Presidential campaign, that he was opposed to "nation building." Well region building dwarfs nation building in the same way that rebuilding New Orleans dwarfs rebuilding a few houses. As a result, the mission in the Middle East appears quite open-ended.

The Bush policy in Iraq has been an abject failure. Current and former intelligence officials have concluded that the Administration clearly didn't anticipate or adequately prepare for the insurgency, sent soldiers into combat with insufficient resources, and never put enough troops in Iraq to win the war from the beginning. That's still the case.

If that's the best this administration could do up until now, just imagine how much worse it could get with the amount of pressure now building on the White House from so many angles. Presently, the White House is dealing with the CIA leak investigation, the looming Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination hearings, and the ire of disappointed conservative leaders, groups and publications. That's not to mention the eventual fallout from the federal deficit, the trade deficit, the health care problem, the exporting of millions of jobs overseas, rising interest rates and the subsequent weakening of a housing market that has sustained the economy for the past few years.

No key players in the war effort have been fired, with the exception of Gen. Eric Shinseki, the former Army Chief of Staff who had the courage to tell the administration that they didn't have enough troops to successfully fight the war. He's since been vindicated, but that surely wasn't what he was hoping for. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has bungled and misjudged this war from the outset, still has his job and that isn't building confidence in anyone, except for those who are equally inept and hoping to keep their jobs as well.

Now that the alleged Sadddam / al-Qaeda link has been dispelled, and the Administration seems to have "cooked the intelligence" on Saddam's alleged nuclear weapons program, people are asking the obvious question: why have 2000 of our military people died in this escapade? As of today, the appropriate qustion might be Y2K?

It's like the blind are leading the blind in this war, and we Americans have never been given an honest account of the war's true costs in both dollars and lives. That's shameful and reprehensible. It's hard to know who to trust or believe in our government. But one thing we should all count on is that things will continue to get worse in Iraq before they get better. If they ever get better.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Clock Is Ticking

According to an Oil Daily report issued prior to Hurricane Katrina, the ten major oil companies are on pace to post an astounding $100 billion plus in profits in 2005.

While the oil companies are reaping record profits, Americans are paying 50% more at the pump than they did one year ago. That's called price gouging.

In a free market economy, prices are directly correlated to supply and demand. As demand increases, supply must keep pace or else prices will inflate.

In the past four years, the worldwide demand for oil has increased by 8.6%. Meanwhile, worldwide production has essentially kept pace, increasing 8.3%. Despite this, crude oil prices have spiked an incredible 242% during the same period. Again, that's price gouging.

While some Americans might believe that the U.S. gets almost all of its crude oil from overseas, that is not the case. The U.S. produces 42% of its own oil and our neighbors Canada and Mexico are tied as our number one sources, each providing 11% of U.S. oil imports.

By contrast, Saudi Arabia is the number two exporter to the U.S., accounting for just 9% of U.S. oil.

Our appetite for oil seems to be nearly insatiable. Presently, the U.S. consumes 21 million barrels of oil each day, or 400 million gallons. That's a quarter of all the oil used around the world each day. And experts predict that U.S. consumption will increase 32% by 2025.

But we are not alone in our demand for oil. China and India, each with populations of over 1 billion people, are home to two of the world's most rapidly developing economies. And, as such, the demand for oil in those countries is also developing rapidly.

China's oil consumption is projected to rise 119% by 2025. But even then, they'll still be using only about half as much as the U.S. will be. At that time, it's anticipated that worldwide oil usage could increase to 120-130 million barrels a day, up from 85 million barrels today.

The question most experts ask is, where will all of that additional oil come from? Many have supposed that Saudi Arabia's giant oil fields would account for much of the supply.

But according to Matthew Simmons, the author of "Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy," that's highly unlikely.

Simmons believes that Saudi Arabia, now producing around 9 million barrels a day, may soon begin to lose production capacity. According to his research, the Saudi oil fields have matured, leading to their inevitable decline.

As a result, Simmons concludes that worldwide oil production has peaked and instead of increasing to 120 million barrels a day by 2025, it could in fact be half that rate — meaning less than what it is today.

Some have concluded that the U.S. must, in the effort to achieve oil independence, begin drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. But unfortunately, experts have countered that such a tactic would result in 250-800 million barrels a year, the amount the U.S. currently consumes in just 12-38 days.

Obviously, that's not the answer.

Simmons asserts that the world needs to considerably reduce its consumption of transportation fuels to fend off a potential crisis, a contention other experts in the field support.

Since 70% of the world's oil is used as transportation fuel, new forms of fuel are required, as well as a reduction in the number of people and goods moved by cars and trucks. Simmons calls for an increase in the use of trains and ships to make shipping more efficient and to reduce worldwide oil consumption.

Obviously, the U.S. oil industry has a huge stake in seeing to it that American consumers do not decrease the gluttonous consumption of their product. But if Simmons is correct, the clock is ticking on world oil supplies, and the time to act is now.

Biodiesel, which is manufactured from vegetable oils, recycled cooking greases and oils, or animal fats, is one possibility. It can be used in any diesel engine, usually without any engine modifications, and is the safest of all fuels to use, handle, and store. It's also non-toxic, biodegradable, and free of sulphur.

Soybeans, one of the largest and most abundant U.S. crops, are one of the principle sources. And believe it or not, biodiesel is already being used in busses and other municipal vehicles in numerous U.S. cities such as St. Louis, Phoenix, Cincinnati, Portland, Oregon and Lexington, Kentucky.

The Department of Energy calls biodiesel the fastest growing alternative fuel in the nation, as it's use has increased 5000% since 1999.

One way or the other, it's time to start exploring alternatives to crude oil for a variety of reasons: its limited, and perhaps dwindling, supply; various environmental factors; and the economic prospects from a new industry, including jobs.

There are lots of good reasons to wean ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil, not the least of which is our national security, so we shouldn't let U.S. oil companies stand in our way. In fact, if they're wise they'll recognize the opportunities at hand and lead the way themselves.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

IN A RACE AGAINST TIME



Between 1347-1350, a time known as the Middle Ages, approximately 20 million people, a third to half of Western Europe's population, died in what became know as the Black Plague or Black Death.

That calamity had an enormous impact on the European economies. It created a widespread morass of dread and futility, inspired long-lasting fear and panic, and forever changed European history. It took hundreds of years for European population levels to recover.

Yet, the last century saw three separate pandemics, or worldwide epidemics.

The 1957 outbreak began in China and was a hybrid of a human and an avian, or bird, flu. Because humans had no immunity for a bird virus, the strain was particularly lethal, killing approximately 2-4 million people worldwide.

Then, in 1968, another hybrid virus emerged from China and killed about one million people around the globe.

While the latter two events paled in comparison to the Black Death of the Middle Ages, that epidemic pales in comparison to the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918. That particular outbreak created panic, prompting widespread quarantines.

Nonetheless, the pandemic ended up killing as many as 50 million people worldwide.

Those infected during the 1918 outbreak died very quickly, usually within two to four days of the onset of symptoms. People without symptoms could be struck suddenly and be rendered too feeble to walk within hours; many would die the next day.

That virus was closely related to the kind of influenzas that infect swine, suggesting that it entered the human population through pigs.

The Spanish Influenza is estimated to have infected up to one billion people — half the world's population at the time — and to have killed more people than any other single outbreak of disease, surpassing even the Black Death.

Now scientists around the globe are concerned about another possible pandemic. They are particularly concerned that it could be triggered by a strain of the avian flu called H5N1.

At present, H5N1 is mostly passed directly from bird to human, but health experts have warned that it is just a matter of time before it mutates into a form that is easily transmissible between people. When that happens, it could result in as many as 150 million human deaths.

So far, the virus has only killed about 60 people — mostly poultry workers — because as of now it doesn't spread easily from person to person. The fear is that H5N1 will mutate to spread easily, which would be catastrophic. Because it is so different from annual flu strains, humans have no natural immunity to it.

Whereas the global mortality rate from the 1918 outbreak was estimated at 2.5 percent–5 percent of the population, the avian bird flu presently has a 50 percent mortality rate.

World heath officials appear to be genuinely concerned.

This week President Bush commented on the worrisome potential of H5N1. Then Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, the administration's top health official, said that "no one in the world is ready" for a potentially catastrophic outbreak of Avian bird flu. He added that U.S. officials and their counterparts around the globe recognize that a pandemic is possible and are working hard on ways to protect people from it.

Apparently the world is taking this threat seriously. More than 65 countries and international organizations participated in discussions on Thursday at the State Department about preparations for the possibility of an outbreak of bird flu.

According to a federal plan, U.S. health officials would rush overseas to wherever a bird flu outbreak occurred and work with local officials to try to contain it. If that fails, the plan calls for closing schools, restricting travel and other old-fashioned quarantine steps, depending on how fast the super-strain was spreading and the degree of its virulence.

Unfortunately, Leavitt says that state and local authorities aren't prepared to deal with the prospect of a quarantine — isolating the sick and closing large gatherings where diseases might spread.

To prepare for a potential outbreak, last month HHS began spending $100 million for the first large-scale production of a bird flu vaccine. But the department has been criticized because there isn't nearly enough of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu to treat the potential threat.

Tamiflu is the primary antiviral drug that countries around the world are now stockpiling to fend off the looming threat. Last week, the Senate passed legislation that would increase those purchases by $3 billion. Presently, U.S. health agencies have about 2 million doses of Tamiflu — enough to treat only about one percent of the population.

Leavitt cautioned that while there is a vaccine for H5N1, officials do not currently have the ability to mass produce it or get it to people quickly. Officials are concerned about a lack of ability to quickly create a vaccine to match whatever pandemic flu strain erupts.

That process currently takes months. If an outbreak were to occur, such an amount of time would be disastrous. Whereas AIDS killed 25 million in its first 25 years, the Spanish flu may have killed an equal number in just 25 weeks, beginning in September 1918.

Leavitt says the government's new plan will focus on refining vaccine production to speed the process.

There is also a real concern that as the virus mutates, the vaccines may continue to lose their effectiveness. Already a strain of the H5N1 virus is showing resistance to Tamiflu. Two reports in The Lancet medical journal this month said that resistance to anti-flu drugs was growing worldwide. In places such as China, drug resistance exceeded 70 percent.

Drug manufacturers are being urged to make more effective versions of an inhaled antiviral called Relenza, which is also known to be effective in battling the much feared H5N1.

In an effort to help them better understand and develop defenses against the threat of a future worldwide epidemic, scientists have made from scratch the Spanish flu virus that caused the 1918 worldwide outbreak. It is the first time an infectious agent behind a historic pandemic has been reconstructed.

Scientists hope their efforts will lead to effective vaccines that can thwart a global catastrophe.

Officials around the world share that hope, but many fear that they are in a race against time.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

THE PARTY'S OVER

There are a number of things about the Republican platform that I've traditionally favored; personal responsibility, individual enterprise, fiscal responsibility, a tough anti-crime stance, and a strong national defense.

But lately I've been wondering what happened to the Grand Old Party. The party that came to power behind the Contract With America, during the Republican Revolution of 1994, has become as entrenched, as bloated, and as corrupt as the system it vowed to change.

With former House Leader Tom Delay under two criminal indictments - one for money laundering and one for conspiracy relating to illegal campaign donations - Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist under investigation by Securities and Exchange Commission for insider trading, and the President's chief advisor Karl Rove being investigated by federal prosecutors for his role in the leak of a of a CIA operative's name, the Republican leadership is in crisis. The party has major problems, not the least of which is ethics, the very thing they claimed made them different from Democrats, and which they swore to uphold.

But thats not all. The Republican Party has quietly paid nearly three quarters of a million dollars to provide private defense lawyers from a high-powered Washington law firm to James Tobin, President Bush's 2004 campaign chairman for the northeastern U.S. Tobin is charged with four felonies accusing him of conspiring to keep Democrats from voting in the 2002 New Hampshire Senate race. Republican John Sununu won a close race to become New Hampshire's newest senator. A top Republican Party official in New Hampshire and a Republican consultant have already pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors. Their testimony directly implicates Tobin, who has pleaded innocent.

The Republican party has gotten far too close, uncomfortably close, to Big Business. The Republicans allowed Big Energy to help draft energy legislation, and they let the pharmaceutical industry have their way with the Medicaid Prescription Drug Bill. It's just more of the same that we've come to expect from Washington politicians. They're bought and paid for by business interests, while the needs and concerns of ordinary Americans are ignored. That's not a revolution.

But Big Energy and the pharmaceutical industry aren't the only big businesses to get special treatment. Farm interests, mining interests, timber interests and other well-heeled, well-connected industries get enormous tax subsidies that amount to corporate welfare. Even the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, calls agriculture subsidies the nation's biggest corporate welfare program. However, that's debatable now that Big Energy has been granted $14.5 billion in tax breaks in the new energy bill. The Republicans railed against welfare mothers sucking off the system, but that money was a pittance compared to what these multi-billion dollar industries receive in tax breaks. Where is the justice? Where is the outrage?

The Republican Party also panders to the religious right, which hopes to use government to enforce their moral viewpoints on the country. However, they don't speak for millions of Americans. While the U.S. is facing is largest federal debt in history, continuing budget deficits, an ill-advised war in Iraq which has become an unmitigated disaster, spiraling health care and energy costs, the siphoning of jobs overseas, and a global warming threat, the religious right is concerned with gay marriage, stem cell research, abortion, and the private family matters of Terri Schiavo.

What happened to Republican priorities? What happened to smaller government and fiscal responsibility? Under President Bush, the federal government has grown larger, and at a faster rate, than any President in history. More than President Johnson, the classic big-spending liberal! He was the guy Republicans loved to hate, and he represented everything that Republicans have fought against for over 30 years. According to the Office of Management and Budget, spending growth under Bush has been more than twice that of Clinton. Imagine that - a Republican outspending his Democratic predecessor. And don't be fooled. It's not all because of Sept. 11, as Bush supporters love to claim. That event was responsible for less than half of new budget growth. The fact is that over half of all new spending in the past two years is from areas unrelated to defense and homeland security.

Based on budget data, the number of full-time federal employees in fiscal 2006 will be 8% higher than when the president took office. In fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1, the executive branch, excluding the Postal Service, will have nearly 1.9 million employees. In fiscal 2006, executive branch payrolls will require $129.4 billion, an 8.9% increase from 2004. Annuity payments for federal retirees are projected to reach $60 billion in fiscal 2006, a 12% increase from 2004. Retiree health benefits will cost $8.4 billion in 2006, a jump of 14.7% from two years earlier.

Democrats frequently complain that too many Americans have no health care. The number of people without health insurance grew from 45 million to 45.8 million last year. At the same time, the number of people with health insurance coverage grew by 2 million. You know why? It's because 1 in 3 Americans now have their health care covered by the U.S. government via Medicaid, Medicare, federal employee plans, or the military. And Republicans claim to despise the notion of a national health care system. Well, a third of Americans are already covered by one.

Health care costs have spiraled out of control and beyond the reach of millions of Americans. It's not a new problem. It's an old one that's been ignored for far too long. But Republicans don't want to disrupt the free market. In 2003, health care spending was 15.4% of the US economy and it's predicted to reach 19%, or $3.6 trillion, in 2014. That's an untenable situation. By that time, Medicare and Medicaid will represent 49% of health care costs, up from 45.6% in 2003.

Many Republicans contend that tort reform is necessary to curb the soaring costs of healthcare. Yet, the 15 leading insurance companies had a 5.7% increase in malpractice payouts from 2000 to 2004, while increasing premiums by 120% during that same period. It's just thievery and lies.

This is not a shrinking government, and it's certainly not fiscally responsible government. Republican priorities are out of line and need to be reconsidered. Ronald Reagan, if he were alive and well, would be quite disappointed by what has become of his beloved party. Republicans have come to represent many of the things they claimed loath, and vowed to fight. Right now, with the way things look, it seems the party's over.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Difference Between Science and Faith



I believe in God and I believe that through God's will, the Universe was created. I can't prove it, but still I believe it.

Some people speak of a personal relationship with God. I wish I had that same experience. So far it's been a very one-sided relationship: I talk to God and, as of yet, he/she hasn't talked back. I'm a rational person, yet this hasn't deterred me.

No one I know has died, gone to heaven and returned to tell me about the experience. Yet, I still believe in Heaven.

Why do I believe? It's called faith.

The belief in God, Jesus, or any other Higher Power is an article of faith and, as such, is improvable. Faith is an illogical act, and possibly one that is purely emotional or instinctual.

I like to believe that we are all accountable to a Higher Authority in this life, and that there is a God in the Universe who is responsible for us being here, as well as for giving order and reason to the universe.

I don't believe our existence, the known universe or the world that we live in are random.

Despite being a person of faith, I'm very disturbed by the trend of "intelligent design," which is simply creationism in disguise.

Presently there are battles going on in Pennsylvania and Kansas over the science curriculums taught in those states, and the outcome could have national ramifications.

Faith is not science. They are not the same thing. In fact, they are polar opposites.

According to the dictionary, science is defined as 1.) The state or fact or knowing knowledge. 2.) Systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied.

By it's very nature, science is objective. It is not arbitrary, it is not prejudiced and it is not biased. It is empirical.

Science is not subjective. It does not pre-draw its conclusions and maintain them despite evidence to the contrary. Science seeks to establish facts. Science is systematic and exacting.

Faith is everything that science is not.

Faith is defined as unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence. Faith is a complete reliance, trust and confidence in the absence of proof or evidence.

This is the Jewish New year. Happy Rosh Hashana to my Jewish friends! According to the Jewish calendar, the one that corresponds with the Book of Genesis and the alleged creation of the world in just six days, the year is 5766. By that account, the world is less than six thousand years old.

Of course not all Jews believe this -- just the ones who are literalists, the ones who accept the entire Old Testament as fact. Those Jews are not alone. There are millions more fundamentalist Christians who share that same absolute faith, who believe that everything in the Bible is literal and true.

The only problem with this is that science has proven that the world is older than six thousand years. Much older.

Using radiometric dating methods, scientists have discovered rocks on the Earth that date to about 3.8 to 3.9 billion years ago. And it is scientific consensus that the earth is approximately 4.55 billion years old -- give or take 1 percent. Fossilized dinosaur embryos recently discovered in South Africa have been dated at 190 million years. They are the oldest ever found.

A new study has revealed that humans and chimpanzees share 96 percent of the same genomes. That's a pretty close cousin. Sounds like evolution to me. Scientists have also discovered that even fruit flies share nearly 60% of human genes.

This sort of evidence should shake the biblical literalists, but it doesn't. Upon further reflection, why should it? They believe what they believe, despite evidence to the contrary. Remember, it's called faith.

Evolution is heresy to these biblical literalists and, by the way, they are not small in number. According to a Harris Poll, 54 percent of Americans do not believe that humans developed from a earlier species.

But scientists know that Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons and humans existed at the same time, and that they are separate species within the genus Homo -- meaning we are all related cousins.

Neanderthals reigned from about 230,000 to 29,000 years ago, Cro-Magnons existed from 35,000 to 10,000 years ago, and anatomically modern humans are known to have developed around 100,000 years ago.

Both Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons used language and had larger brains than humans. They crafted tools, made jewelry, built huts, wove clothing and painted cave walls.

It is believed that Cro-Magnons created the first calendar around 32,000 B.C. and Neanderthals buried their dead in a ritual manner. Primates aside, these other species -- our human cousins -- are fine examples of evolution.

Science is best taught in schools. Faith is best taught at home, and in churches, temples, and other places of worship.

Faith is not science and should not masquerade as such. Faith should not be taught in public schools as science. If parents want to send their kids to religious schools to get that sort of education, then that is their right. But their children will not be getting a genuine education in science and, therefore, they will not be America's next generation of scientists.

Copernicus was considered a heretic by Christians because he had the audacity to propose the then controversial and offensive notion that the sun revolved around the earth -- not the other way around. Other scientists were burned at the stake for adopting and furthering his observations.

The educated world once believed that the earth was flat; this was common wisdom 500 years ago.

Many natural phenomena (thunder, lightning, floods, earthquakes etc.) were once explained by superstition and myth, but have long since been provided a rational explanation by modern science.

Regarding these matters, religious fundamentalists have since changed their tune in the intervening centuries, but they are still stuck in the Middle Ages when it comes to evolution.

For the sake of promoting creationism, the Kansas state board of education is actually seeking to change the basic definition of science to include the supernatural.

Evolution and a belief in God are not mutually exclusive. You can believe in both without conflict. In my opinion, as well as that of millions of other people -- including many leading scientists -- God is the intelligent designer of all things, including evolution.

It was through divine intervention that evolution was allowed to proceed. So, man may not have been created in God's image, but then again, Adam was not created from dirt and Eve was not created from one of Adam's ribs either.

That is not science and neither is creationism, or what is now conveniently being referred to as "intelligent design" by religious fundamentalists.

We've come too far for this kind of pseudo controversy, or for such primitive ideas to be promoted and promulgated.

For the sake of science and reason, for the good of our country, and the advancement of learning and knowledge, lets please keep science and religion distinct and separate.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

SPIN CITY

During Congressional testimony this week, military commanders revealed that the number of battle-ready, or "Level-1", Iraqi battalions had shrunk from three to merely one during the course of the summer. Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told Congress that only one Iraqi army battalion is presently ready to go into combat without U.S. support. Strangely, Casey said he did not know the specific reasons for the decline in Level 1 Iraqi forces. Admissions of this type are unusual during war, and estimates of troop strength and preparedness are normally classified. The revelation stunned members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who were in attendance.

Casey said that one brigade and two battalions had originally been rated in the top category, but that there is now just a single battalion with a Level 1 rating, and it is not even one of the three original units.

Congressman Harold Ford of Tennessee recently returned from a briefing in Iraq where he was told that the Iraqis need 107 battalions of combat-ready, trained soldiers to fully take over the military duties in their country. By that indication, it seems there's a long way to go.

Despite Casey's testimony, the very next day Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld angrily insisted, "The important fact is that every day, every week, every month, the Iraqi security forces are larger, they're better equipped, they're better trained and they're more experienced."

Initially labeling the decline in Level 1 units as "irrelevant", minutes later Rumsfeld retracted the remark, saying that "its relevance is minimal" compared with other factors.

Also during his testimony, Gen. Casey made it clear that aside from the Iraqi troop inefficiencies, Sunni Arab opposition to Iraq's draft constitution has increased the potential for instability and lowered the possibility of substantially reducing U.S. troop strength next spring.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released last week revealed that 63% think that U.S. troops should be partially or completely withdrawn, up 10 percentage points from August. But while at his Crawford, Texas ranch this August, President Bush said that "when the mission of defeating the terrorists in Iraq is complete, our troops will come home."

Bush's plan for bringing US troops home from Iraq is tied to training the Iraqi military to handle their own security matters. And on Saturday, in the face of Casey remarks, Bush said he is encouraged by the increasing size and capability of the Iraqi security forces.

"All Americans can have confidence in the military commanders who are leading the effort in Iraq, and in the troops under their command," Bush said. "They have made important gains in recent weeks and months; they are adapting our strategy to meet the needs on the ground; and they're helping us to bring victory in the war on terror."

The President's comments came at the end of a week in which more than 200 people were killed in Iraq - including 13 U.S. servicemen - and the total number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq is now approaching 2000. As has become customary, Bush's remarks directly conflicted with the news from Iraq and the assessments of his top commanders.

"We are constantly adapting our tactics to the changing tactics of the terrorists, and we're training more Iraqi forces to assume increasing responsibility for their country's security," said the President on Saturday.

Oddly, whereas the President claims that maintaining a strong U.S troop presence on the ground in Iraq is critical to building and adequately training the Iraqi military, Gen. Casey insists that U.S. troop reductions are necessary to "take away one of the elements that fuels the insurgency - that of the coalition forces as an occupying force."

The General made the case that a smaller U.S. presence could diminish some of the anger that feeds the insurgency. Casey also said that reducing American forces is essential in order to force more Iraqi troops onto the front lines and to encourage a greater self-reliance among them in their fight against an an insurgency that could last a decade or more.

A Central Command advisor said that U.S. commanders were concerned that Iraqi troops could become too dependent on American forces. "There's a line between what constitutes casual dependence and what constitutes not being ready to fight," he said. "For the most part, [Iraqi troops] are not ready to do the job. And stepping back is just going to leave them vulnerable to a battle-tested army of insurgents."

The U.S. is effectively caught in a catch-22. Because the Iraqis are not yet capable of battling the insurgency on their own, U.S. troops must stay and fight for them. But the mere presence of U.S. troops is actually compelling and nurturing that very insurgency.

The President's sinking approval ratings have resulted in constant damage control by the White House, and a twisting and distorting of truth and facts.

There is so much inconsistency among the players that the public's confidence has been lost. In August, White House officials admitted that their aims for a model democracy in Iraq, a self-supporting oil industry, and a secure and economically stable society have essentially been dashed. Furthermore, the administration also admitted that it no longer expects to be able to defeat the insurgency before withdrawing, but just to weaken it. You may not have heard any of this, bit that's because the contradictions are constant and unyielding. In fact, during a Rose Garden speech earlier this week, Bush claimed he had a "plan to win" in Iraq.

The President and Secretary Rumsfeld make arguments about U.S. and Iraqi troops that fly in the face of commanders on the ground. During a visit to iraq this summer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tells troops, "This war came to us, not the other way around." Vice President Cheney says that the insurgency is in its last throes, while Donald Rumsfeld asserts that it could go on for a long as 12 years.

The contradictions are as disturbing as they are disheartening, and the deviations from truth (some would less politely call them lies) have bred a national cynicism regarding this war and the Administration that has waged it. From its outset, this has been a war built on lies and deception, and like a house of cards, the walls of denial are starting to crumble. When and how to get out of Iraq, no one seems to know for sure. But one thing seems sure; the trust and patience of the American people is waning, if not already gone. And trust is a very difficult thing to get back one it's been lost.