Tuesday, June 26, 2012

God-made man, or man-made gods?

Beleif or non-belief in religion ultimately boils down to the question of whether you think a god made humans or whether humans made gods. If you are in the former camp, then you pretty well have to be an atheist or at least an agnostic. There might be a few people in a fringe group who accept that humans made the gods, but who still want to believe they exist and worship them, but that would be an unusual position. If you think that human beings are responsible for creating all the gods, including the Christian god "God", then it is probably only a matter of time until you reject religion and embrace atheism.

So, how do we answer that question? As the old AC/DC song goes: "Who made who?" It's a question which cannot be proven one way or the other, at least scientifically. Since there is no way to disprove the existence of God scientifically, many Christians take that to mean that he must exist or that his existence is likely or even plausible. It is not. The scientific approach to things shows us no evidence for any gods. When there is no evidence for something in science, despite our best efforts to find it, it almost certainly doesn't exist.

Let's think for a minute about the option of God creating humans. While we have to allow that it is technically possible, it is more important to examine the question of whether it is a plausible concept. What would we expect if God had created the world and everything in it, us included? God is love, so say Christians. Above all else he is a loving god. It's all they sing about in their hymns. While sermons and lessons also include a fair bit about judgement and power, Christians almost all agree that their god is loving. Yet, what do we see through history and pre-history in terms of humanity? The vast majority of humans have died a premature, painful, and lonely death. All through pre-history, humans were mostly dying off as infants without a chance to enjoy anything in life. The few that survived to adulthood could expect a primitive, painful existence of hunger, disease, fighting off predators, and a death by age 30 at the latest. Is this really they system of life you would set up if you were an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving god? Imagine you were sitting there with no universe in place yet. You get to choose everything about the universe. You can create it any way you want, and you can fine tune it any way you want. Plus, you get to foresee all the possible outcomes of any universe you decided to create before hand. You would go ahead and create one in which your chosen species, molded in your image, whom you loved so dearly you would sacrifice your only son for, that species would suffer tremendously every day? The newborns of that species that you love would mostly die off shortly after birth through some disease, caused by a microorganism that you also created. Really?

OK, so let's assume that God knows more than we do. Perhaps he knows that dying is actually the easy way out because it leads to heaven. Maybe he's actually doing us all a favour by creating a world where, for most of our existence we've scratched out a meager existence full of pain, disease and death. Doesn't that then beg the question of what about all those people who don't hear about Jesus (i.e. the vast majority of humans throughout pre-history and history). They all just get shuffled off to hell forever. Congratulations, you survived infancy and childhood, you lived to age 18 and then got picked off by a sabre-toothed tiger. But, unfortunately it is the nature of the universe that you now get to spend an eternity of pain and misery in hell because you didn't accept Jesus Christ as your personal saviour. So sorry about that. Does this sound like the all-loving Christian god?

Let me pause at this point and state that I am aware that many or most Christians would object to this line of characterization of their religion, that I am focusing on things that are not really relevant or part of their loving god. Jesus is all about love and forgiveness, he brought light and salvation to the very dark and cruel world that I've just described, right? Well, to me that attitude it nothing more than a particular brand of patriotism. I hate patriotism because it blinds people to the objective facts about their country. Patriotism also insists that one's country is better than everyone else's, and it leads to all sorts of nastiness like wars. Patriotism over one's religion is no different. It is easy to turn a blind eye to the darker side of one's beliefs, to the assumptions that must co-exist with your established beliefs, but which no Sunday School teacher really spends any time on. Consider Nazi Germany for a minute. Almost everyone, except for a few punk skinheads, will agree that Hitler was the embodiment of evil, that his Third Reich was a ruthless and evil empire. Yet, it would not be hard to imagine a poor German in the 1930s and early 1940s being quite in awe of Hitler. It would not be hard to imagine a German peasant praising him for re-igniting the German economy into a world power, for re-claiming the German territories that were unfairly taken from them at the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. Hitler brought in autobahns, Volkswagen, and gave people jobs (the all important mantra of today's politicians). You might even say he was Germany's saviour. Yet, his evil deeds cannot be ignored or glossed over. All the good he did for Germany came at a terrible cost to the rest of humanity. Similarly with the Christian god Yahweh. He does so much good for Christians, offering them love, hope, forgiveness, and jobs, and yet punishes the rest of humanity eternally. No Nazi concentration camp could come close to the horrors of the Christian hell.

But I digress. The point of this post is not to compare Hitler and God. God wins that comparison hands down. No, rather I am trying to point out how ridiculous the notion is that God made humans. God is so human in character and temperament that he really offers nothing that humans cannot offer. He is fickle, jealous, unforgiving, and ruthless. He is also capable of great love, friendship, forgiveness and hope. What could be more human? We are all capable for such good and such bad. God is definitely made in man's image, both good and bad.

Another thought that must be examined, if you believe that God created humans with the intention of relating to them, of having humans come to know him fully and entering into an eternal relationship. One must consider his communication with humanity. Apart from those momentous occasions in the Old Testament when God actually spoke out loud, appeared as a pillar of fire or a burning bush, or walked about as a human being for a few years in the time of the Romans, God's only realy communication with humanity is through his book, the Bible. So, how effective of a book is the Bible, considering it is authored by an omniscient, omnipotent creator of the universe? How effective is it at helping humans get to know God and come to love him and want to relate to him? What would you write in a book if you wanted your human children to have a long-lasting and loving relationship with you?

Well, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be the Bible. Imagine you were having a child of your own. You knew you wouldn't be around physically to guide and teach your child as they grow up, so you write a book for them to read, to help them learn about the nature of the world, about your character, and about how much you love them and want to relate to them. Would you spend the first two thirds of the book basically outlining your personal history, complete with all your vindictive little stories about how you screwed over everyone who ever crossed you or made you mad? Would you spell out in intimate details all the little rules that you want your child to follow, including how they should cut their hair and precisely what foods they should and shouldn't eat? Would you point out what a worthless piece of shit they are, and how their whole life is full of evil deeds and sin, and how the only way to really make it up is to try to spend the rest of their lives finding you and asking for forgiveness for being born? Would you pour a huge guilt trip over them, all about how you sacrificed so much for them so that they could have a life, how you basically gave up your life completely just so that they could have a life? How do you think that would go over it you wrote a book like that to your child? Just a hunch, but I don't think once they reached adulthood they'd be setting out on a mission to find you and spend the rest of their lives relating to you (when "relating to you" actually means begging forgiveness on a regular basis and having hope that you'll still forgive and love them, because you did include that part in your book to them as well).

So, the more realistic examination of what kind of person God is really doesn't leave much doubt that he's a human-created phenomenon. There is no god. God is a concept we created in the infancy of our history as a species to help us deal with our fear of the dark, of the unexplained, and of death.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Consequence Free Living

It must be so nice to live without considering any long-term consequences. To make decisions based purely on the here and now, without worrying about your long-term future, or that of future generations. When it comes to many modern conservative governments and the voters that support them, that is the way I think they must feel given their complete disregard for the reality of the environment they live in.

Most species live this way. Most species do not plan ahead to ensure that there are enough resources left for the long-term future. Most species, in fact, aren't even aware that we live in an ecosystem that needs some balance. We humans are unique in that knowledge, but we don't seem very good at applying that knowledge. Biological organisms require an ecosystem. Whether we are talking about the bacteria that live in your gut, penguins in the antarctic, or humans, all life requires an ecosystem which provides the resources upon which that life survives. There is simply no question that humans need water, oxygen, and food for survival, and we also require those things to be relatively clean (i.e. free of heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers, high levels of acidity, or other pollutants) in order to have a long, healthy life. That is not in question. What some people have a hard time understanding is that our actions as a species have profound effects on the cleanliness of food, air, and water. When you shrink down your environment small enough, everyone is an environmentalist. Within the confines of their own home, everyone understands the need to keep sewage and drinking water separate, to not run their car exhaust into their bedroom, etc. Yet, for some reason, when we expand that environment to a global scale, many people seem to think that something magical happens: the earth just deals with all our pollutants and they somehow disappear. They don't.

There are consequences to all human activity, especially on the massive industrial scale that we have been engaged in for the past couple hundred years. We are slowly starting to see the effects of these consequences. In the past few decades, "environmentalism" (really just a term to denote the expansion of everyone's understanding of their local environment to a global one) has become an important issue. But, we have genearlly ploughed ahead with almost no concern. Success stories when it comes to preventing environmental destruction are few and far between (e.g. the reduction of ozone-depleting substances in aerosol accelerants). For the most part, we have simply accelerated pollution, carbon emmisions, water contamination, and industrial farming in the past 30 years. This is not consequence free by any means. And yet, many modern governments (and particularly the ones that claim to be conservative) seem to think that our actions are consequence free.

I have read that the estimated global costs of environmental destruction are approximately $50 - $60 trillion annually. This is roughly equal to the entire world's annual GDP. Another way of putting this is that, we are only paying roughly half the cost for everything we do and everything we buy. You might think gas prices are high right now, but the true cost is actually double whatever you pay at the pump. If you go to the movies and pay $30 for a night out, you would actually be paying $60 if the system was set up so as to have no long-term consequence on the environment. Lately, much has been made of carbon taxes and the like. Conservative voters seem to invariably protest them as a leftist sneaky way of socialism, or a United Nations conspiracy to grab even more money for no reason. The reality is, if there were a carbon tax of 5% on everything you buy, we would still be 95% short on the actual amount required to ensure long-term sustainabilty for future generations.

The real dire picture comes when you look at the cumulative effects. If we doubled the price of everything (which in itself would grind the economy to a halt having catstrophic results), we would only be making the change required for one year. We would not even begin to be chipping away at the environmental debt that we've accumulated over the past 200 years. If you're an American and you feel that your country will never be able to balance the budget, let alone pay off the federal debt (and you are probably right on this), then that is absolutely minor in comparison to the long-term issue of environmental debt. To put it bluntly, our grandparents and parents have lived cheap on our future. They have mortgaged the environment, our necessary ecosystem, so that they could have cheap cars, gas, clothing, and food in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and so on. And, we're doing so on an even more massive scale today.

I look at children and I always feel that they should inherit a neutral earth that they can make their own opportunities with. Not an earth in which drinking water is scarce, air pollution is rampant, and food is generally carcinogenic. I will never understand how so many people seem to think those consequences are non-existent. It must be nice living without that burden. Just worrying about when you can buy that next huge-ass screen TV, without worrying about how the half-price discount you paid was an act of direct theft perpetrated against your grandchildren.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why Even Have Members of Parliament Anymore?

This past week in Canada, the budget vote went through. Bill C-38 was an omnibus bill, over 400 pages long, that included many issues that really don't traditionally belong in a budget. One of the major changes is a sweeping reduction in environmental reviews for major industrial projects. Everyone in Canada, the governing Conservatives included, knows that this strategy was a way of getting unpopular legislation through all at once in a bill that pretty much has to pass. If it doesn't, then the government falls and the country goes to an election. But, the only way the legislation would not pass was if at least 10 conservative members of parliament (MPs) voted against their party, and that is not going to happen because then those very MPs would risk losing their seat in a forthcoming election. I'd be willing to bet money that there were some Conservative MPs who did not agree with everything in the bill, and who would have voted against certain issues had they been able to in separetly debated bills passing through the House of Commons, as is the norm. But, the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is a very shrewd and ruthless politician. He recognized the opportunity to ram through a bunch of legislation at once, force his party to vote for it, and get what he wanted a whole lot quicker and with less fuss (i.e. informed debate) than usually occurs.

So, the question is, why do we even have MPs? I mean, my Member of Parliament is a Conservative, and he voted in favour of the budget bill at every vote. I knew he was going to do so, he knew he was going to do so, and his party knew he was going to do so, no matter what debate occured in the House of Commons during the process. Isn't an MP supposed to listen to the debate and then vote accordingly? Wasn't there even one issue in there that my MP felt wasn't the greatest for his constituents? Doesn't matter. He was instructed to vote with his party and did so. So, why do I have a Member of Parliament representing me? Why not, in the next federal election, just vote for different coloured pieces of paper that represent each of the political parties in Canada? Then, the party that wins the most coloured pieces of paper can form the government and each piece of paper can sit on a seat in the House of Commons and be assumed to vote in favour of that party at every single vote. It would save a lot of time. It would save a massive amount of money in salaries, benefits, perks, and pensions. And, we'd end up with the same result: a system of government that does not serve the constituents at all, but buys votes once every 4 years with empty promises of "jobs" for peopel who already have jobs, and then does whatever they want (read: raises taxes and spending) for the next four years.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

There's something missing somewhere.

It seems to be a common attitude for older generations to complain that things aren't as good as they used to be. My grandparents were always complaining that society was falling apart, that crime wasn't nearly as bad when they were young. I'm not sure that this is true, there is the argument that negative things are just reported more now than they used to be, but certainly society has changed a lot in the past century, and not all of it for the better. One thing that has changed from the Baby Boomer generation to Generation X is the seeming cost of living. As a "Gen-Xer", most of my peers had only one parent that worked while the other one (usually the mother) stayed home. Single income families were the norm, and somehow people managed to afford a mortgage (at double or triple the current interest rate), groceries, household bills, and vacations. Yet, most Gen-Xers themselves seem to be in a situation where they are married to a spouse that works, and yet with a double income household are still finding it challenging to make ends meet in terms of all those same expenses. Part of the problem is all the crap people buy these days that they never used to. Cutting out consumer electronics alone would probably solve many people's budget problems. But, there seems no doubt that money is tighter than in the previous generation.

The other thing that seems different in my generation compared to my parents' is the reduction in service. Things that my parents took for granted, like mail and milk being delivered to the front door are long gone now. Usually when you check in at an airport these days, you have to do the work yourself and you typically have to pay extra if you take more than one small bag, something my parents' generation would have rebeled at, and refused to fly. Why are things getting more and more expensive and yet the service is getting cut further and further back?

When it comes to private corporations, I think the answer is quite simple: increased profit. Corporations have figured out that they can spend much less on service than they did 40 years ago and still manage to sell the same amount of product. I suspect there has been some collusion between corporations in this regard. In a truly compettive market, no one would fly on an airline that made you do all their work if there were other airlines who offered better service for only a marginally higher price. (Also, notice that the price never decreases when service is dropped, indicating that the claim by corporations that the reduction in service is a cost-saving measure is false - it is simply a profit maximizing measure). I don't like this trend, but it is part of the capitalist way, and you can't really blame a corporation for maximizing their profit, even if it means they are essentially often selling you little more than an expensive dream. But, what about when this happens in government run services?

Governments are not in business to make money, or at least they shouldn't be. They take their citizens money to provide services for those citizens that the citizens themselves cannot afford unless purchased en masse. Yet services seem to be cut regularly without any financial return to the citizens. Take the example above of mail delivery. Almost no new neighbourhood in Canada offers delivery of mail to the front door. Virtually every new sub-division of houses has a centrally located set of mailboxes to which people have to walk or drive to pick up their mail from a de facto local post office box. This is a reduction in service in comparison to the previous generation in which all mail was delivered to the front door. So, one has to assume that this cut back in service has happened to reduce cost. Yet, where has the money gone that was saved by reducing that cost? Do I pay less tax than my parents' generation? No. I probably pay more when you include all taxes including sales taxes. So, how has government revenue (tax) gone up while expenditures have gone down?

Where did the money go?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Conservative Party of Canada Getting it All Wrong So Far...More Science Please

Anyone who reads my writing knows that I am a fan of the scientific process. Science leads us to truth. Not always immediately, nor even as quickly as we may like, but it does eventually lead us to the truth and realities of the world we live in. Hence, the best approach to any and every issue humanity ever faces is to examine the evidence with an open mind and then form your conclusion from the evidence, whether you like the conclusion or not. The history of humanity is full of examples of people going about things in exactly the opposite manner: having an agenda and trying to find evidence to fit that agenda. Religion is an obvious example: no religion would have ever sprung into existence if people had objectively examined the evidence in the world around them without agenda or assumptions. Modern governments appear to take the same flawed approach: they have an agenda, ram that agenda into action, and then find evidence to sell it to voters. Inevitably this leads to decisions being made that are not in the best interest of the citizens of the country. All parties do this. But some parties seem particularly apt at ignorning the evidence and seeking their agenda. Or perhaps another way of looking at it is that some parties have an agenda that seems particurarly bent on ignoring the stark realities of the world we live in, as established by the scientific process.

The Conservative Party of Canada currently in power, has a Minister of State for Science and Technology that does not understand the basics of science. He has openly denied evolution and then when pressed on the issue, has shown that he doesn't understand the most basic facts about the process of evolution. This is the best example of the Conservatives simply ignoring the realities of the world we live in. Evolution happens. It is a reality long since established and overwhelmingly supported by facts and data. Continuing on as if it doesn't happen is to put blinders on and pretend we live in a fairy tale. But more importantly, this is an example of the same attitude of ignoring the facts that the Conservatives take on every other issue. If one denies something so established as evolution, then one can easily also dismiss the notion that humans (and other species as well) require clean water, food, and air for survival, that chemicals introduced into our bodies will cause diseases such as cancer, and that more money and jobs is not the answer to every problem faced by Canadians.

All of this is to say, it is easy to simply disagree with everything a political party does when in power. Seemingly that is the position the official opposition, the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Canada, takes. But, more important is to oppose those decisions and policies that go against or ignore the realities of the world we live in. In that light, let's take a look at some of the decisions that the Conservative Party has taken since winning a majority in the spring of 2011, and examine why they are poor and uninformed decisions based on ignorance of the facts.

1. The new crime bill C-10.
The bill introduced to the House of Commons and labeled colloquially as "Safe Streets and Communities Act" purports to make Canadians safer (from crime) by taking a number of steps including longer mandatory sentences for certain drug related offences, increasing prison sentences for marijuana offences, and increase the power of government in monitoring its citizens through online activity (though this portion has since been reduced). The reality of the bill is that it will increase the provincial costs of incarceration though greater nubmers of convictions. The bill is expected to cost Canadian taxpayers tens of billions of dollars in the coming decade, all in an attempt to make our streets and communities safer. But, what is the greatest safety risk that most Canadians face on a daily basis? What is the activit that is most likely to lead to a parent losing a child or vice versa? What do most Canadians take part in on a daily basis that is most likely to cause pain, turmoil, loss of money, and long-term damage to their lives? Traveling in a motor vehicle. Making streets and communities safer from the gravest risk we all face on a regular basis should focus on making the daily commute safer. Most of know someone who has lost a loved one to a motor vehicle accident. How many of us know someone who has lost a loved one to a drug-related murder? Now, proponents of the bill argue that, just because crime rates are at their lowest rate in Canada in four decades, doesn't mean we can't do better and reduce crime even more. That is true, and as a society we chould always strive for better ways to keep each other safe, but the problem is that there is a finite amount of resources to do so. There are only so many billions of dollars to go around. If we spend the money on reducing the little bit of crime that we face, the money won't be there to actually make our streets and communities safer from the biggest risk we all face on a daily basis. Facts be damned though, fighting crime (whether it exists or not) looks good come election time.

2.Northern Gateway Pipeline
The Northern Gateway Pipeline is a proposed oil pipeline to run from northern Alberta to the northern coast of British Columbia (Kitimat, BC). The pipeline will move bitumen from the oil sands in northern Alberta to the coast for shipping across the Pacific Ocean, mainly to China. China is a huge energy market. If Canada is going to continue to access the oil resources available in the oil sands (which undoubtedly the country will), then movement of this oil to China makes sense economically. But, there are significant concerns over shipping it by pipeline across the Rocky Mountians, approximately 7,000 streams, creeks, and rivers, and to the coast where supertankers will travel up one of the most pristine and beautiful fjord systems in the world (and also one of the most violently stormy in the winter) to dock and load their toxic cargo. It is inevitable that and oil spill will occur if the pipeline goes ahead. Enbridge, the company proposing the pipeline, has a massive record of oil spills. Between 1999 and 2010, 804 oil spills occured on Enbridge pipelines, releasing over 168,000 barrels of toxic hydrocarbons. Given that each gallon of oil contaminates approximately 250,000 to 1,000,000 of water, that translates to up to 42,000,000 gallons of water contaminated by Enbridge in one decade. If the average North American human goes through 100 gallons of water per day (which is a reasonable estimate for showering, washing dishes and clothers, drinking, etc.), then between 1999 - 2010 Enbridge was responsible for contaminating the water for 1,150 people for a whole year. This is miniscule in comparison to the damage an oil tanker spill on the coast would do.

So, there are some significant disadvantage to this proposed pipeline. There are also some significant economic benefits. Why look at only one side of the equation though? Why only examine the economic benefits and ignore the ecological downside and risk? We all require clean air, food, and water on a daily basis. That is not negotiable or debatable. Yet, the Conservative government has already decided to support the pipeline before any of the discussion has taken place. Over the next two years, a government appointed committee will hear from all those with vested interests in the proposed pipeline, including a significant number of First Nations people who live in the areas most affected. Yet, even before this government appointed committee has heard any of the issues, the government itself has already made up its mind that the pipeline is a good idea. Talk about putting an agenda before evidence. Maybe the pipeline will be a benefit, maybe it won't. Maybe we should allow it, maybe we shouldn't. But the decision should not be made before the evidence has even been examined.

3. Plans to spend tens of billions on F-35 fighter aircraft.
Canada is a huge country. Defending it from invasion would be a huge and impractical problem for a population of only 35 million. I'm not suggesting that Canadians, like any other nation, would not try to defend their country valiantly if invaded, but I think it is safe to say that Canada is not actually defendable by Canadians for a few fundamental reasons. Firstly, there are only 35 million of us stretched over a huge area. Strategically that would spread any defence forces very, very thin. Secondly, no nation is ever going to get close to invading Canada unless the United States allows it to. America will never allow any country to invade and occupy its neighbour to the north unless it is in American interests to do so. This brings me to my third point which is to look at the only countries that have any hope of invading Canada. Though unlikely, America is at the top of the list. Geographically it would be easy for Canada to be invaded by the U.S. Canada would be completely overpowered by the huge military might of the United States. Due to my second point above, any country that invades Canada is going to do so either with America's blessing (and presumably with their help), or they are going to have to take on both Canada and the United States. In either scenario, 65 fighter aircraft are going to make not one bit of difference in the defence of the country. Yet, Canada wants to spend tens of billions of dollars on 65 F-35 fighter aircraft. The price quuotes have been all over the map. The goverment will never give a real appraisal of what the cost will be. But it is likely to be $25 - $35 billion dollars up front with another $20 - $40 billion in maintenance and ongoing costs over the next 20 years. Crazy money. And all for naught. The up front costs alone would wipe out the entire federal deficit. Yet, the Conservative Party wants to forge ahead with this unecessary and wasteful expenditure that is not based in evidence or facts.

4. Development of the Tar Sands
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems to think that Canada is the next Saudi Arabia. We have a massive amount of oil in Canada, some say second only to some large deposits in the Middle East. Canada is now the greatest supplier of oil to the United States, which is surprising considering the magnitude of the oil thirst of that nation. The problem is that most of the oil in Canada is located in Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, mixed in with sand. It is not a traditional oil field in which you can pump the crude out of the ground for processing. The tar sand must be processed at a much higher energy cost and with much greater waste products than traditional oil. In addition the process takes a massive quantity of water, leaving the water impure and unusable. In decades past one could hardly blame a Prime Minister for wanting Canada to devleop its oil resources no matter the environmental cost. The amount of money available to the country is massive. But, we are not in the 1970s here. We know a lot about how the ecosystem is fragile and necessary. We know a lot about how fossil fuel use alters the environment very drastically and dangerously quickly. What should we do? Should we just leave all that oil lying in the sand in Northern Alberta? Perhaps not. But should we accelerate the extraction, build pipelines through the mountains and over rivers to the sea for export to China? Perhaps not. Isn't there a moderate approach that might be a little more carefully thought out? Yet, this Conservative government is trying to accelerate the process of selling Canada's raw resources abroad. No one seems to stop and consider the question of what happens when those resources are gone. Where will Canada be in 30 years from now when most of the oil is gone? We will have a huge economic crash if we don't start planning for that now. Prime Minister Harper will be dead by then (though his kids will be very wealthy), so he perhaps doesn't really care.

Friday, June 1, 2012

An Honest American Election

Imagine if we could get politicians to tell the truth. It's something we all pretend to long for. We all complain about how politicians go back on their promises after they are elected, about how they aren't very honest about what they can achieve while in office, or about their motivations. But, would we really want politicians to be completely honest? Perhaps their dishonesty is a comfortable curtain that keeps the ugly and frightening truth hidden from us. Perhaps we want them to sell us a nice little bed time story about how everything is going to be OK. What are politicians actually hiding from us? What would they sound like if they were forced to be totally honest? Let's fantasize about what the upcoming American presidential election might be like with honesty. Let's imagine a televised debate between Obama and Romney in which they had both been administered a truth serum, forcing them to tell the absolute truth no matter the consequences:

Moderator: Good evening. We are coming to you live from Stanford University in California where President Obama and Governor Romney, the candidates for president in the 2012 presidential election will debate the issues honestly in front of you this evening.

Before the show we flipped a coin to determine the order of the first question and Mr. President, we are starting with you. Mr. President, you have led this country for the past four years. Tell us why voters should send you back to the White House for another four years?

Obama: Good evening. Let me just start by saying I really don't want to be here. I'd rather be chain-smoking in front of the White Sox game this evening on the huge screen in the White House situation room. That TV is just enormous. But you've asked why people should vote for me. I'm smart. I might be the smartest black man this country has ever produced, and I can also give a really good speech. I think people want to know that their president is smart and I think they want to know that he'll read out a good speech on TV when they want him to.

Moderator: Thank you Mr. President, but if you could elaborate a bit more, what policies would you like to continue or implement in the next four years?

Obama: I don't think too many second term presidents think about policy too much. The second term is the time when you really get to pad your wallet. I've put in my time, I've worked really hard for the past eight years to get to where I am, and now I think it's time for me to profit from that hard work. You know, when I came to the White House in 2008, I had a net worth of only $3 million. I'm now worth about $7 million. But by the end of my second term I expect to be worth about $17 million. Once I sit on a few boards after my second term for a while I think I can reach $50 million of personal fortune. The second term is critical to a president's financial success though. That's the time when a president can help out the special interest groups and lobbyists the most since there's no accountability anymore. With no more elections to worry about, a second term president can just take care of all those wealthy corporations, removing regulations and red tape. They profit massively during a second term, and they always kick back a significant sum to the president once he retires.

The other reason I want to be re-elected is for my ego. Everyone knows that an American president's legacy is judged by whether he is a one-term or a two-term president. It's better never to be president than it is to be a one-term president, we all know that. I need that legacy to feel really good about myself. 

Moderator: OK, thank you Mr. President. Turning to you Mr. Romney. Can you tell us whey people should vote for you in 2012?

Romney: Hi everyone. Let me begin by mimicking the President's feelings that I really don't want to be here. I'd rather be back at the hotel surfing the adult TV channels. My wife isn't on this part of the campaign with me, so I've got a few hours of privacy to watch some really good porn on TV. The Mormon religion really confuses the issue of sex. I'm not sure why God gave people such a strong sex drive if we aren't allowed to use it all the time. Anyway, I find that porn is a good alternative to adultery. And, it's much safer politically.

Moderator: The vote, Mr. Romney?

Romney: Oh yeah. OK, well listen, people should vote for me because I'm a white guy and I deserve it. Simple as that. I'm a white guy who people want to vote for. There's a lot of people in America who don't trust a black man in the White House, so they can vote for me and we'll get things back to normal that way. I also agree with Obama that there's a whole lot of money to be made in the White House. I'm worth about $230 million right now, but after a couple of terms in the White House, I'm pretty sure with all my business connections I can get that up over $1 billion. I'd like to be the first billionaire president. Plus, I'm entitled to be president. I've been really good at every business I've ever run, so I kind of deserve this now.

Moderator: Mr. Obama, how do you see international relations developing over the next four years with you as president?

Obama: More of the same. More of the same slow steady decline for America. Listen, America can't compete anymore. Our workers suck compared to the Chinese, the Indians. We don't really make anything in this country anymore, and a country without manufacturing is doomed. Just look at what happened to England 100 years ago. They ruled the world but slowly their manufacturing industries died out and then their economy slouched and they faded into irrelevance. The 21st Century is going to belong to China. There ain't nothing we can do about it. China will do whatever they want in the world in the next 50 years. We can keep ruling the world for a little bit longer because we spend so goddamn much on our military that everyone is kind of scared of us. But the Chinese have got it figured out. They're biding their time and not spending that much on military. They're building economic strength first and buying up debt in other countries, then when they are the economic superpower of the world, they'll start flexing their military muscle and doing whatever they want. We all know they'll take back Taiwan first, then probably unite North and South Korea. They'll take over the oil in the Middle East and all the natural resources in Africa. Basically we're fucked, and there's nothing the president can do about it.

Listen, folks, the Chinese already own America. When you become president they brief you on a bunch of national security issues like how to use the nukes. They also brief you on a whole lot of other top secret information that the public shouldn't know about. One of the first things I learned in early 2009 when I became president, was that the Chinese already own 70% of America's debt. The public thinks it's way less than that, somewhere around 15%, but it's not. They own us. While I remember, the other thing I'd like to say here today is that the government did kill Kennedy.

Moderator: OK Mr. President, I think we're getting a bit off topic. Let me bring it back to Mr. Romney. Governor, I'll ask you the same question. How do you see international relations developing over the next four years with you as president?

Romney: Listen, once I become president, I'll sit down with my good friends the Rothschilds and hear what their plan is over the next few years. Maybe it'll be another war in the Middle East, maybe it'll be just building up the military, that's up to them. Whatever they have on the agenda we'll make sure we get 'er done. See, the president really isn't the most powerful man in the world. The president is just a puppet. Like Mr. Obama just said, we all know what happened to JFK when he tried to flex his presidential muscle too much. He actually thought he could change the world for the better and so they got rid of him. Showed everyone who was boss.

Moderator: OK, thank you Mr. Romney. Let me conclude here by asking each of you to sum up your policies over the next four years if you become president.

Obama: Like I said, a second term president doesn't really have policies. It's all about money and legacy, and a few political favors like pardoning the right people so that you'll get taken care of later on. But I guess if I'm going to be really honest here tonight, I need to let you know that Michelle wants to be the first woman president. That's right folks, I was the first black president and my wife is going to be the first woman president. Now, the Clintons, they tried this hand-off, but they fucked up. We're learned from their mistakes. We've got a plan so that Michelle will be president 8 years after I leave office.

Romney: Is this thing over yet? I really want to get back to the hotel. Well, OK, let's see. Oh yeah, my main things is that there is a ton of money to be made in health care. Everyone thinks it's about oil. Oil is nothing compared to health care for making money. Oil is gonna run out pretty soon and then the money will dry up. But people are always going to get sick. That's why I brought in universal health care in my state. I made a pile of money off that too. If I get elected I'm going to ram in this Obama care thing for keeps, but I'm going to put my name on it of course. Then I'll truly be the richest president ever. Say, does anyone else feel their underwear tingling?