Obama and the Presidency
I agree with the principles for guiding government listed by Paul Kurtz and Tom Flynn in “Bravo, President-Elect Obama!” (FI, December 2008/January 2009). However, I disagree with the two points in the Postscript, especially the first regarding changing the primary structure from a state-by-state to a regional basis. One of the greatest things that happened in this election was the enthusiasm generated among the young and new voters. I think the state-by-state primary system had a lot to do with this, especially because it was such a hard-fought battle for the Democratic nomination between President-elect Obama and Senator Clinton.
Regarding their comments on the process of selecting vice-presidential candidates, I think it would be a mistake to put this in the hands of the primary voters. Granted, Senator McCain made an unwise choice, but I think the presidential candidate has a better position from which to choose the person who will best compliment his/her administration. The delegates at the convention still have the power to reject that choice.
Reba Boyd Wooden
Center for Inquiry/Indiana
Paul Kurtz and Tom Flynn recommend that the vice-presidential candidate not be chosen by the presidential nominee. However, in reality, the vice president is an assistant to the president, and the president would know better than anyone else who he/she would be most comfortable with as his/her assistant, one who is compatible but well qualified to step in when needed. That person should be a participant in all important decisions or discussions, in an advisory capacity only, and should be ready at all times to fulfill the role of president on a moment’s notice.
The people have no better idea how anyone they might select would compliment and support the president more than the president him/herself. When the early presidents were chosen, the vice presidents were the runners-up. This system did not work well and soon was abandoned in favor of the present method.
Paul Kurtz and Tom Flynn have suggested an end to public support of faith-based charities and urge the maintenance of the separation of church and state. They ask, when will a nonbeliever be elected to high office?
Concerning the last, it is likely that a justice of the Supreme Court will retire during the new president’s first term in office. Can we hope that President Barack Obama will appoint a nontheist to the Supreme Court?
There are five Catholic justices (55.55 percent) and one Jewish justice (2 percent) but no nontheist on the Supreme Court. With each of the nine justices representing 11.11 percent of the population, or 34 million each, one future nontheist justice would theoretically mirror the nonbeliefs of a like 11.11 percent. Since there are 40 to 50 million (13 percent to 16 percent) nonbelievers in America, this would be a small step toward creating equality. Considering the content of the Constitution, this is what the framers may have written in had they thought of it.
Eric A. Howard
Without a doubt, the team of Barack Obama and Joseph Biden is the best choice to lead this country. Millions of us, I’m sure, are relieved about the election’s outcome.
Unfortunately, Obama has already promised organized religion our tax dollars for their faith-based programs. When he takes office, however, he’ll be compelled to uphold the Constitution—or he’ll disregard it and keep his promise to his organized religious base.
Whichever course of action Obama takes, he’s a dishonorable man in my opinion—a cynical politician who tells lies and breaks promises to gain power.
He missed a golden opportunity during his presidential campaign to tell the nation in general, and self-inflated preachers in particular, that a candidate’s religion or nonreligion is a personal matter—and that the Constitution, which it is his duty to uphold, forbids a religious test for elected office.
Temple City, California
Science, Pseudoscience, and Entertainment
I was disappointed at the glowing portrayal of Bill Maher in Jim Underdown’s review of Religulous (FI, December 2008/January 2009). Perhaps Maher has a “razor-sharp mind” in the arena of satire, but ideology trumps biology for him on medicine just like it does Ben Stein on evolution. Underdown acknowledges Maher’s controversial statements about the September 11, 2001, hijackers, but Free Inquiry readers might be more concerned to hear Maher on toxins and vaccines. Because Maher espouses dangerous pseudoscience on his popular television show, I have decided not to spend my money to see his movie.
Furthermore, many in our community decried Stein’s Expelled for misleading interview subjects about the film’s bias. Maher gets much milder treatment from Underdown for presumably similar behavior. Is deception acceptable when we approve of the movie’s message and none of our favorite thinkers are among the duped?
Belleville, New Jersey
Planetary Ethics and an Unfruitful Plea
Did anyone else catch the glaring inconsistency between Paul Kurtz’s plea for ending world poverty (“The Two Imperatives of Planetary Ethics,” FI, December 2008/January 2009) and the harsh reality of a planet in extremis due largely to population growth as outlined in Tom Flynn’s piece, “An Unfruitful Plea” (same issue)? I have great respect for both men, but Kurtz’s understanding of the planet’s ecological crises is limited at best and dangerous at worst. There can be no question that it is long past time for the emergence of planetary ethics as Kurtz proposes, but it must be recognized that humanity has dug itself into such a deep hole that only immediate population stabilization, followed by population reduction, can avert the calamities Flynn and others indicate are imminent. Global climate change and peak oil have greatly shortened the necessary response time. According to Lester Brown (Plan B 3.0), corrective measures must be implemented at wartime speed. Elimination of world poverty, while a laudable humanitarian goal, is—tragically—unrealistic because of the environmental cost, viz., further energy input, CO2 emissions, resource depletion, loss of habitat, etc.
In the United States, we must pass a moratorium on legal immigration, stop illegal immigration, and grant no amnesty. As Flynn observes, “population levels are ecologically unsustainable.” To welcome more people is to condemn our children and their children to inevitable misery. As the late biologist Garrett Hardin has said, “If we don’t control our borders we will end up sharing not our prosperity but our poverty.” The signs of excessive per-capita impact are all around us as the lists of inconvenient truths and convenient lies increase. We must learn to live within the limits of our resources and reduce our individual impact and our numbers. This is also the prescription for all other countries; because natural resources are distributed unevenly over the planet, each local area must strive to live in balance with its local ecosystem.
Sadly, there is no practical way to eliminate world hunger without dire consequences such as further irreversible environmental damage. That effort and the resources required would seal planetary catastrophe for civilization as we know it. The human enterprise (our numbers and our individual impacts) has simply become unsustainable. Regarding other beleaguered countries, we
should share our ideas and suggestions to aid them in coming to grips with their own population and resource imbalance, but in no case should we send massive material aid. We have tried this many times since World War II, only to see population and misery expand to overwhelm that aid. Haven’t we saved some only to inadvertently create even more misery? When we practiced this excessive largesse (read: intervention), we did not ask the critical question, “. . . and then what?”
It is time that we recognized that we have squandered much of our own natural resources and biological wealth—to say nothing of the planet’s—and now the United States is a huge debtor, i.e., “poor,” nation to boot. Our position is precarious. Our obligation now must be to our children. Nothing less than an immediate and intensive program to reduce population levels and per-capita impact through education, political incentives, and targeted population-control aid is justified. For a reality check, all humanists should read Garrett Hardin’s classic, Living Within Limits (1993).
Jane R. Shoup, Ph.D.
Big Falls, Wisconsin
In the December 2008/January 2009 Free Inquiry, Paul Kurtz and Tom Flynn touch upon environmental degradation, extreme poverty, and population. What they don’t mention is how the world’s women are linked to all three. Women, as the givers and keepers of life, suffer the most from environmental degradation and toxins. They represent about 60 percent of the world’s extremely poor. And the birthrates in the poorest countries, where about 98 percent of the growth to 9 billion people will come, is where family planning is sorely lacking, fertility is high, abortion is off the charts, and women’s status is low.
The family planning proportion of the world’s reproductive health budget has fallen from 55 percent to only 7 percent in recent years. Two hundred million women lack access to family planning, which was recognized as a human right at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt. Readers of Free Inquiry should visit the Web site of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and download the statistics about present and projected population levels in countries and areas of the world. They are very discouraging.
President Barack Obama will certainly make sure that the United States again contributes to UNFPA and supports women’s reproductive health and rights. Americans who want to take a stand can join our grassroots movement for UNFPA, called “34 Million Friends” (www.34millionfriends.org). I wrote about this in your August/September 2004 issue (“34 Million Friends Support Women’s Health Initiatives”). By joining 34 Million Friends, Americans can actually help a woman plan her family!