The American Way

I really love my country. I still get that cliché lump in my throat when singing the Star Spangled Banner and thinking of great American icons like Martin Luther King Jr., Harvey Milk, Cady Elizabeth Stanton and Frederick Douglas. Our constitution and the form of government it has produced are, by far, the best in the world, after all, countless other nations have emulated it. I love the United States of America. E pluribus unum.

Now that I got that out of the way, let me say one thing: My nation is incredibly stupid. We are in the 13th year of the 21st century, you know, that magical time when most of our problems were supposed to be solved, we’d be living like the Jetsons, and shit would be great for everyone? Despite the fact that information and knowledge is literally at our fingertips (and free), there are massive amounts of ignorance in America.

Income inequality – that huge gap between the richest and poorest among us – has increased to historic levels as the wealthy and the most profitable corporations in the history of mankind continue to pay little to no taxes (thank you, tax code and loopholes). The poorest continue to be hit the hardest by economic hardships and the middle class is continuing to shrink. Our leader’s solution to this problem: more trickle-down, austerity magic! Shame on us.

Climate change is a globally recognized, scientifically accepted fact of life on Earth now. Our science has only gotten better and the cause of accelerated, devastating climate change is us, humanity, burning the remains of dinosaurs and other Cretaceous plant and animal life. Storms, floods and droughts are worse than they’ve ever been and the global average temperature has continued to climb. The oceans are more acidic, a result of absorbing more carbon dioxide than they should naturally be absorbing. Nasty feedback loops have eaten away a shocking amount of the planet’s polar ice caps. Several animal species are approaching the point of extinction. Agriculture and other industries reliant on the Earth itself are already seeing the devastating results of a planet less hospitable to their business, where areas that were once fertile and green are becoming barren, arid wastelands. Parts of the planet that have been traditionally cold are becoming more tropical. Tropical diseases are becoming more common globally. The effects of these catastrophic phenomena have already displaced or killed several million people around the globe.

And yet, nations like the United States and China continue churning out billions of tons of carbon dioxide from dirty sources like coal because, apparently, that’s what “progress” looks like. True, natural gas produces half the emissions coal does and while it is a good thing that more focus is being placed on it as one of the major alternatives to coal, we are still releasing far too much carbon dioxide than the planet can naturally and safely absorb. Renewable energy? We’re investing more in it than we ever have before and that is a very good thing. But to combat a warming planet and ensure our survival sustainably we need to lead the world in massive investments into renewable energy sources like we once did with the interstate highway system decades ago.

Despite the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence and natural disasters stemming from climate change, a large portion of the American public thinks it’s all a hoax (most likely because they heard it on talk radio and saw it on Faux News). There IS  silver lining, however: a majority of Americans agree that climate change is something our leaders should be doing more to address and alleviate. But it should be a vast majority because remember, the information and research on climate change, not to mention the news reports of devastation, are instantly accessible. Shame on us.

We also elect disgraceful excuses for leaders; After the 2010 midterm election, the once-great Republican Party – poisoned by the religious right and purchased for several billion dollars by corporate America – picked up a supermajority of the House of Representatives and state legislatures across the country, as well as governorships in many states.

The philosophy of this terrifying brand of conservatism sees government and taxation of any kind as oppressive. The social safety net? It’s the makers vs. the takers! Investments in education and infrastructure? It’s a commie plot to destroy America! Don’t even mention raising government revenue via tax raises on the super wealthy! Nut jobs like that used to be relegated to the fringes. Now they’re running the party.

The result of electing these jokes to office:

The use of the filibuster exploded to dizzying heights, grinding the process of governing and government itself to a halt; the economic recovery and the transition to a more sustainable, greener future is being painfully suffocated by severe budget cuts, sequestration and a dogmatic refusal to pass anything resembling a job program; restrictions on abortion that would effectively outlaw many forms of birth control and fertility treatments flood state legislatures; the Defense of Marriage Act  (DOMA) – prohibiting all same-sex couples in the nation from having the 1,100 federal benefits that straight couples have – was ruthlessly defended at a cost of millions of dollars to the American taxpayers, despite the fact that the majority of those taxpayers think DOMA needs to go; members of the LGBT community can be fired for being who they are in several states because of Congress’ refusal to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA); new restrictions on voting rights were passed in battleground states controlled by Republicans, restrictions specifically targeted at young people, African-Americans, and the poor (groups that usually vote Democratic); the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposed cross-country pipeline that would expose millions of Americans to filthy tar sands oil spills (like the recent one in Arkansas) and would also act as an exacerbator of climate change has been pimped and promoted by all Republicans and several Democrats in both the House and Senate; and mass shootings have increased in frequency thanks to successful lobbying by the National Rifle Association and the fact that an assault weapons ban, high-capacity magazine bans, and universal background checks aren’t federal realities.

Shame on us for voting in this insanity.

Even Republicans are stunned, and not in a “look at the pretty fireworks” kind of way. Mark McKinnon, a former advisor to President George W. Bush and lifelong Republican, captured the sentiment in a single quote:

“…the party, by refusing to recognize reality, is going to end up looking like the ‘stupid party’ that fails to adapt and evolve to changing circumstances in our society…On issues where the physics are moving irre…vocably forward, like immigration, gay rights, and guns, the Republican Party continues to look backward. And backward is a sure path toward irrelevance.”

Because of gerrymandering after the 2010 GOP landslide, ousting this far-right crop of Republicans is harder than ever. For example, Democrats received over one million more votes in congressional elections in the 2012 election than Republicans did. But because gerrymandered congressional districts are an affliction effecting many states, the GOP still holds a *slim* majority and majorities in too many state assemblies and senates.

But there’s another silver lining: thanks to rapidly changing demographics and the insanity of their current positions, Republicans will possibly lose their majority in 2014. Until then progressives (not all Democrats, including President Obama) in Congress must hold true to their convictions of advocating for all Americans, not just the wealthy, and helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The nation that is supposed to be that Shining City on a Hill, that beacon of hope to all the world, the global example for what democracy looks like, has descended into utter chaotic stupidity. Until Americans become more concerned with the state of the country and planet rather than the vapid lives of celebrities and the latest results from reality television shows, this epidemic of stupidity will continue. Until we demand that our leaders govern in reality and in our interests at the ballot box, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Mitt “Out of Touch” Romney

You are a lazy, irresponsible moocher feeding off of the successful in this country and don’t you forget it!

Earlier this week, it was revealed via video leak that earlier this year, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a room full of wealthy donors that 47 percent of Americans are essentially lazy and “entitled” because they don’t pay income taxes. He said he wasn’t even going to try to get their votes because they were going to “vote for this president no matter what” (said with disdain).

“I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” Romney told the donors.

Despite the fact that insulting half the country probably isn’t the best campaign strategy, Romney’s comments highlight just how disconnected and out of touch with average Americans he is.

If you go to college, you are a part of the 47 percent. As a college student (assuming you work a minimum wage job part-time and go to school full-time), you pay no federal income tax.

The other groups of people who don’t pay income taxes: the elderly and the poor. Elderly tax benefits make up 44 percent of that 47 percent figure Romney mentioned. Tax credits for children and the working poor make up another 30.4 percent.

A large majority of the 47 percent is made up of households earning less than $20,000 a year. That number has grown the past few years in light of the economic downturn. The poor, more than any other group, have been hit the hardest.

Social mobility (the ability to climb the economic ladder into success) is at an all-time low. Inversely, the amount of wealthy households paying no federal income tax is at an all-time high.

With economic policies that have solely benefitted the richest in America, the past decade has seen the number of wealthy households NOT paying income taxes skyrocket. Last year alone, 110,000 households making over $200,000 a year paid $0 in federal income taxes. That number includes 7,000 households that made over one million dollars.

Another interesting fact: Eight of the ten states with the highest amount of those who paid no federal income taxes are “red” states, meaning they vote Republican during presidential elections.

What exactly is Mitt Romney trying to accomplish by insulting half the country, including many of his own supporters?
No candidate is perfect and all of them make mistakes or say things they probably should not say. That’s politics and the ugly truth of campaigning.

However, trashing half the country as lazy and entitled is not only the worst campaign strategy, it’s offensive.

We’re slowly coming out of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. Families are hurting. Many have been laid off. The prospects have been dim.

Romney’s tax plan calls for massive tax cuts for the wealthy and massive tax hikes for the poor and middle class. If you object, it’s because you’re some kind of parasite. It’s only fair, people!

Mitt Romney doesn’t care about those who have the audacity to be poor or elderly (see the Romney/Ryan Medicare “plan”). His robotic callousness towards the nation’s vulnerable shows what he really thinks of America.

In Romney’s America, only the wealthy deserve the rewards of living here. The traditional idea of everyone being given an equal opportunity to succeed is radically foreign to Mitt Romney. It doesn’t compute.

photo credit: AP

By the way, this blog post was also published as an opinion piece in my university newspaper, The Collegian (CSU Fresno). Feel free to see it here. I’ll be writing opinion pieces for The Collegian every two weeks…I’m pretty excited 😀

The Ultimate American Ideal

“The independence of America, considered merely as a separation from England, would have been a matter but of little importance, had it not been accompanied by a revolution in the principles and practice of governments. She made a stand, not for herself only, but for the world, and looked beyond the advantages herself could receive.”

– Thomas Paine

All  are equal…that is the ultimate human ideal.

Liberty Enlightening The World (Lady Liberty’s original, brilliant name). She will be 126 years old on October 28th.

Happy 236th Birthday, America. We may be hypocritical at times and we may get some important things horribly wrong, but by and large, we are the greatest nation on Earth. What we don’t get quite right, we eventually make right. We may not always learn from our mistakes, but we become stronger with every challenge or adversity. We cherish our lives, liberty and pursuit of what ever happiness we want for ourselves. We die to protect our equality.

I love my country and am optimistic about her future, no matter what challenging times we face. Our simple yet powerful constitution, with its promise of freedom and equality for all, our people, national spirit and pride are what make this incredible democratic republic work (which is why it is vitally important that every one who is able to votes). Here’s to another 236 years, and countless more! I hope you all had a great 4th of July. 🙂

Tall, Taller, Tallest

It’s hard to imagine large metropolises without thinking of their accompanying skyscrapers. However, until the late 19th century, the only tall buildings in large cities were churches and cathedrals, which ranged anywhere from a couple dozen to a few hundred feet. Once it was discovered that steel could be mass-produced at a relatively low cost, humanity began a race into the troposphere. Lightweight (compared to brick and stone) steel skeletons rose to dizzying heights all over American cities.

It’s hard to believe that within the span of about a hundred years, skyscrapers have literally become thousands of feet taller. Philadelphia City Hall, completed in 1908, barely scraped the sky at only 548 ft. By 1931, the Chrysler Building became the first building to exceed one thousand feet. However, it was soon dethroned as king of the tallest a year later when the Empire State Building went a few hundred feet higher, 1,250 ft (not including pinnacle and antenna, which brings the height to 1,454 ft.). The original World Trade Center, completed in the early 1970s, rose about one hundred feet higher than the Empire State Building, taking the title at 1,368 feet (not including antenna – 1,727 ft.). The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center didn’t even hold the title for a year; Sears Tower overtook the twin towers at 1,450 feet a few months later in 1973, the same year the World Trade Center was completed. In 1998, the Petronas Towers were completed, snatching the ever-moving title of tallest building to 1,483 feet. By the end of the 20th century, it seemed as if buildings had a limit of around 1,500 feet. Then in 2004, Taipei 101 opened to the public and was declared to be the tallest building in the world at 1,671 feet. Perhaps we could go above the 1,500 ft. cap the 20th century seemed to put on skyscrapers.

As building materials continued to improve – lighter and stronger – man built higher and higher.

Fast forward to 2010. The 2,717-ft.-tall Burj Khalifa broke records. Not only is this supertall building the tallest skyscraper, it’s also the tallest man-made structure (higher than a few ugly radio towers that previously claimed the title). Within the span of a single decade, the record for tallest building dwarfed previous records, exceeding another thousand feet. Seeing pictures of the long, thin structure puncturing the upper atmosphere makes one dizzy…I can’t imagine the thrill of being atop the structure, over a half mile in the sky with nothing but human ingenuity beneath me.

Aside from the crazy-tall height of Burj Khalifa, it’s interesting that Asia and the Mid East now house most of the world’s tallest buildings. America’s dominance in skyscraper construction appears to have floundered. However in a world of globalization and advanced technology, the picture becomes much clearer.

China, for example, is building supertall structures, investing like crazy in green technology and consuming more and more of the world’s rare materials, oil and coal. Capitalism is becoming more prominent. Three of the ten tallest building on Earth are in China (soon to be four). In other words, China is rapidly ascending to first-world status.

The following ten buildings, both completed and under construction, will be the tallest buildings in the world by 2016:

1. Burj Khalifa – Dubai, UAE – 2,717 ft. – 163 floors – completed 2010

Burj Khalifa

 

2. Pingan International Finance Centre – Shenzhen, China – 2,126 ft. – 115 floors – scheduled completion: 2015

Pingan International Finance Centre

 

3. Shanghai Tower (on the left) – Shanghai, China – 2,073 ft. – 128 floors – scheduled completion: 2014

Shanghai Tower

 

4. Araj Al Bait – Mecca, Saudi Arabia – 1,972 – 120 floors – scheduled completion: 2012   *next year, it will be the second tallest in the world*

Araj Al Bait

 

5. 151 Incheon Tower – Incheon, South Korea – 1,972 ft. – 151 floors – scheduled completion: 2015

151 Incheon Tower

 

6. Goldin Finance 117 – Tianjin, China – 1,959 ft. – 117 floors – scheduled completion: 2015

Goldin Finance 117

 

7. Lotte World Premium Tower – Seoul, South Korea – 1,821 ft. – 123 floors – scheduled completion: 2015

Lotte World Premium Tower

 

8. One World Trade Center – New York, NY, USA – 1,776 ft. – 105 floors – scheduled completion: 2013

One World Trade Center

 

9. Busan Lotte World Tower – Busan, South Korea – 1,673 – 107 floors – scheduled completion: 2016

Busan Lotte World Tower

 

10. Taipei 101 – Taipei, Taiwan – 1,670 ft. – 101 floors – completed: 2004

Taipei 101

 

 

After the 2008-2009 recession, the financial world was devastated (and obviously is still recovering). As a result, many supertall skyscraper projects were put on hold or even cancelled. The following list of five buildings have been put on hold by their developers because of the global financial crisis. If construction is resumed and the buildings completed on their scheduled dates or later, they will join the list of tallest of the tall.

 

1. India Tower – Mumbai, India – 2,300 ft. – 126 floors – completion: 2016?

India Tower

 

2. Doha Convention Center Tower – Doha, Qatar – 1,808 ft. – 112 floors – completion: 2012?

Doha Convention Center Tower

 

3. Chow Tai Fook Centre – Guangzhou, China – 1,740 ft. – 116 floors – completion: 2013?

Chow Tai Fook Centre

 

4. Pentominium – Dubai, UAE – 1,693 ft. – 122 floors – completion: 2013?

Pentominium

 

5. Burj Al Alam – Dubai, UAE – 1,673 ft. – 108 floors – completion: 2012?

Burj Al Alam

 

If all goes according to plan, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia will be home of the tallest man-made structure ever made. Known as Kingdom Tower, the project has been approved and construction started. Once it is completed, assuming global economic conditions are better, Kingdom Tower will be the first kilometer-high building…that’s about 3,280 ft…over three times taller than the good ole Chrysler Building.

Kingdom Tower

Technological innovation, better materials and human ingenuity continue to stretch skyscraper heights all over the world. In less than a decade, the record height for tallest building jumped over a thousand feet. Only time (and more global financial stability) will tell if another great leap is made in the second decade of the 21st century.

There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow…..If You’re A White Heterosexual Male

As a sci-fi fan and history geek, I hold the “what-could-have-been-the-future” genre near to my heart.

Okay, so I don’t feel all mushy like that. But I do find it incredibly fascinating.

It’s called the “paleofuture.” Essentially, it’s what the past (mainly the mid 20th century) thought the future would be like. This is where the concept of flying cars and Jetsons-esque buildings come from. The visual art and creative genius from writers and artists in this genre is priceless.

A concept for a driverless car (1957)

One of the most fascinating things about paleofuture art and film is that while the technology depicted was exotic and futuristic, the social values were the same. In the year 2000, we’ll have rockets to the moon, bases on Mars, mile-high skyscrapers…and only white (heterosexual) men will be able to enjoy the future’s full potential!

The Disney short Magic Highway USA is a classic example. This 1958 gem of ’50s optimism makes some interesting predictions for the 21st century, including fog resistant “expressways” and see-through freeway tunnels at the bottom of the world’s oceans.

Take a look:

Several things stand out. Aside from the large amounts of new and fantastic (and rather useless) technology, 1950s American society remains the same in this vividly pictured future. It seems that in 21st century America, children only exist in homes with a subservient mother and a bread-winning father. Father goes to work and mother and child go to the shopping center because, you know, women can’t run companies because they aren’t smart enough!

A housewife waits for the jetpack mailman. The future of suburban life as seen in 1958

One can only imagine the environmental nightmares and global fuel shortages that would result from having personal gas pumps in the garages of average families, as is predicted in the short. It’s bad enough that almost all major cities are designed around the automobile and suburban sprawl. Now we’re supposed to have what appear to be unregulated gas stations in millions of American homes? What could possibly go wrong?!

Man has always fallen short when it comes to predicting the future. Just turn on the TV late at night and you’ll see poor saps calling (and paying) in to self-proclaimed psychics. Humans have large, complex brains so we like pondering our existence and future. It’s what we do.

Yes, we have come a long way and in fact surpassed many of the predictions of generations past. Had you told someone 50 or even 30 years ago that in the early 21st century, your entire music library, along with several movies and television shows, will be stored in a small, wireless, hand-held device, they would have either labeled you a science fiction visionary or a crazy communist or something. If you really wanted to up the ante, you could also tell them that in the near future, average people will communicate instantaneously across the world via video chat. More Valium for the nutjob!

Someone get this guy an iPhone 4 or Skype account...

Most futurists and visionaries of the past seemed to forget that societal attitudes and culture are fluid. Even the 1950s were more progressive than decades earlier when women in most parts of the United States could not even vote. Societies and cultures change and evolve. They have to in order to survive. Cultures that don’t change and adapt end up decaying and dying. We learn from our mistakes (although not all the time) and move onward. New discoveries in science and debates in philosophy challenge humanity’s past assumptions. It was only centuries ago that people with mental illness were diagnosed with demons. Mankind used to think gods and other supernatural beings were in the heavens when they looked up into the night sky and named the constellations.

As humanity has evolved, it has shed many of its previous superstitions and old habits. As we continue to evolve into a global civilization, the journey of discovery and reassessment of values also continue. We will become more technologically advanced and innovation will continue to open new horizons. However, our only real hope lies in adapting to new ways of thinking and doing things. Equality in the eyes of a democratic government and tolerance of different ways of life seem to be the wave of the future. We have no choice but to ride that wave.

Rich/Poor Gap Widens, America Declines

Poverty in the United States is on the rise. According to the 2010 US Census, the poverty rate in the United States rose to 15.1 percent, the highest it’s been in 17 years. Obviously, this means the median annual income also dropped…by 2 percent and down to $49,445. In fact, during the past decade, the Middle Class saw rather mediocre income growth, the poor saw virtually none and the rich saw a steady rise (in the face of large tax cuts for America’s wealthy).

The 2001 Bush Tax cuts brought the highest marginal tax rate down from 39.6 percent to 35%. During President Bush’s term, America also entered two expensive wars….and did not raise taxes to help fund them. We lost several thousand American troops in the fight to weaken al-Qaeda and take out Osama Bin Laden. We’ve done that and yet the war(s) rages on. Rather than end the wars (or at least vastly reduce the number of service members),  Uncle Sam decided to cut services. Oh, we also [still] have service members in Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and South Korea. The last time I checked, WWII and the Korean War ended.

Had it not been for unemployment insurance, the poverty rate would undoubtedly be higher.

I am not trying to instigate a class war. To the contrary: I hope to be rich some day! The ability to reach one’s dreams through hard work and talent is one of the greatest things about this country. Millions flock to America for the chance at making it big. However, I am against policies and actions that make things better for the well-off at the expense of everyone else. That is the very definition of irresponsible.

It is irresponsible to maintain the status quo in healthcare availability, for example, while entire families go uninsured because they cannot afford even basic care. It is irresponsible to leave a person’s teeth to rot in their mouths because they cannot afford a procedure at the dentists’ office. It is irresponsible for intelligent and hard-working young people to have to drop out of college because they cannot afford it. I have personally witnessed all of these situations (and lived through the last one – thankfully, I’ll be returning to college this coming Spring 2012 semester).

I’m not an expert and I don’t have all the answers. However, I do wonder where our government’s priorities have gone. My simple proposal is this: return tax rates to what they were under President Clinton (39.6% as the highest marginal tax rate), end the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and actually bring the service members home and invest in extremely valuable things like education, jobs programs, infrastructure and science and technology. Poets and authors predicted that the 21st century would be golden. Let’s fulfill their prophecies.

The Not-So-Modern Housewife

I love watching television shows made decades-ago. As a member of Generation Y, it fascinates (and saddens) me to think that women were once confined to housework and jobs they had no chance to advance in. What’s most peculiar: the women look absolutely thrilled to be inferior to their sexist husbands and bosses…at least that’s what media propaganda of the time portrays.

I Love Lucy is quite interesting. Lucy may be a WASP housewife but she’s also smart and sassy. She frequently disagrees with and challenges her Hispanic husband, Ricky…in the early 1950s! Oh yes…the whole television show is essentially about her, a female, in a male-dominated industry in the middle of the 20th century.

In the episode, “Job Switching” (the famous chocolate factory episode), Lucy challenges Ricky by switching household positions – he the housewife and she the breadwinner. Scandalous. Lucy’s girlfriend, Ethel, makes the same deal with her sexist husband, Fred.

Initially, both men make fun of the women and vice versa. Both parties think the other “has it easy.” By the end of the episode, Fred and Ricky have failed at all their domestic chores and Lucy and Ethel have been fired from their first job (with plenty of laughs in between).

That’s a good display of fairness for 1950s America. In a time when women, African-Americans, homosexuals, and other minorities were shoveled to the outskirts of society and made to feel like outsiders, a show like I Love Lucy came along and contributed to changing attitudes.

My two cents while watching I Love Lucy. 😉