Saturday, August 1, 2009

Abolsh The Senate

In my last post I made the argument for abolishing the senate because it is an anti-democratic institution. I’d like to examine other reasons for abolishing the senate now.

As I said last time, the founders designed the senate to represent the few. Senators were chosen by state legislatures under the control of monied interests until the constitution was amended in 1912. In Washington the railroad interests controlled the selection of U. S. Senators for decades. In 1789, all of the state legislatures had steep property qualification for membership so those who were given the responsibility to choose senators were among the wealthiest members of their states. As opposed to House members who served for two years, senators terms are six years. The founders designed the Senate to move at the pace of molasses and insulate senators from their decisions.

Even though the property qualification to run for office were abolished long ago, different property qualifications are now in effect for the exclusive millionaires club that is the senate.

Most of us know that the ancient Roman senate was corrupt but they were pikers when compared to the current bunch who control our Senate. It was said of the Roman senate in the late republican period that no legislative body “in history has ever devoted itself so wholeheartedly to fleecing its subjects for the private benefit of its ruling class as Rome of the last age of the Republic.” But that historian had no experience with our current senate. And it seems that our senate has more in common with the Roman senate than there are differences.

Michael Parenti in his revisionist history, The assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome, points out many similarities. When writing about the “mystifying tenets of all ruling propertied classes throughout the ages,” Parenti identifies significant connections between our senators and those of Rome.

“The oligarchic clique represents it own privileged special interests as tantamount to the general interest,” Parenti writes. These shameless self-promoters in our Senate, those Bacuses, or Spectors, or Grassleys, or Reids, or Murrays or Cantwells, like their Roman counterparts are climbers who seek above all else to promote themselves and in the process become a ready tool of wealth.

Oligarchs in the Senate of the United States and in Rome represent “its own privileged special interests as tantamount to the general interest.” How else can we account for the constant drone by members of our senate about how the American people believe X or the American people believe Y or Z? These senators confuse their financiers with the people of the country. Senators “argue that the well-being of the Republic and the entire society depend on the well-being of the prominent few who preside so wisely and resplendently over public affairs and whose high station give proof of a deserving excellence. How else explain trillions in bank bailouts handed out by our senate to the financial industry, the wealthiest people in the country, while home foreclosures mount for common people, and millions loose their jobs and health care and are denied two of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: freedom from fear and want? How else explain that there is always money enough for war and massive public subsidies to the ruling class but not enough for unemployment, rent caps, debt cancellations or the general welfare?

Michael Parenti sums up the situation in ancient Rome and in the United States: Whatever its republican trappings, aristocratic liberty is essentially blue-blood plutocracy, the rughless liberty of wealth that remains to this day inhospitable to any modicum of economic democracy.”

It’s time to get rid of our aristocratic senate.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Abolish the Senate of the Unted States

Isn’t time we got rid of that eighteenth century anachronism, the United States Senate?

Supposedly, we Americans believe in the idea of democracy but of course the country is not, strictly speaking, a democracy and the senate is a decidedly anti-democratic institution designed, the cultural critic Richard N. Rosenfeld wrote several years ago, “to prevent the unfettered expression of the people’s will. In fact, the founders of this country were decidedly hostile to democracy and the constitution “was meant to prevent democracy in America” and the senate has always fostered a politics of minority rule “in which our leaders must necessarily pursue their unpopular aims by means of increasingly desperate stratagems of deceit and persuasion.”

Our congressional and executive branches reflect the British system after which they were modeled. The British parliamentary system recognized “the king, Britain’s largest property owner, the hereditary House of Lords (Anglican bishops and titled aristocrats, . . . and a House of Commons (which represented a rising mercantile class of property owners who demands for representation gave rise to” the Glorious Revolution. In our system, the president represents the rule by one (monarchy), the senate represents rule by the few (aristocracy), and the house, the most democratic branch, rule by the many (democracy). The Roman philosopher Polybius, who laid out this division of government, “insisted that each of these forms, unless balanced by the other two, would degenerate into tyranny, oligarchy, or mob rule, respectively.

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine “urged that any American government consist of only one democratically elected legislative chamber, with no aristocratic or kingly branch to veto its decisions.” And in fact, the first government of the United States, the Articles of Confederation adopted just such a system. Unfortunately, the Congress gave each state in the Confederation only one vote in Congress rather than apportion votes by state population. Benjamin Franklin too argued for a one-house legislature which he “likened to ‘putting one horse before a cart and the other behind it, and whipping them both. When the ruling class decided that the Confederation no longer met their interests, they dissolved the Articles of Confederation and replaced them with the Constitution with its rule of one (the president), few (the senate), and many (the House). For Paine and Franklin, wrote Rosenfeld, “two legislative chambers were a prescription for deadlock, and, with the advantage of hindsight, who among us would disagree?”

In the United States today, “U. S. senators from the twenty-six smallest states, representing a mere 18 percent of the nation’s population, hold a majority in the” Senate, and therefore, under the Constitution, regardless of what the President, the House, “or even an overwhelming majority of the” citizens want, “nothing becomes law if those senators object.” “The nine largest states, containing a majority of the American people, are represented by only 18 of the 100 senators in the senate.” Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, New Hampshire, and several other states have only 600,000 or so residents. Each of those states has two senators. California, with 33 million residents, or Washington with 6 million residents each has two senators. Why is it that the 600,000 residents of Alaska have equal votes in the senate as the 33 million residents in California?

Because, as Rosenfeld wrote, the U.S. Constitution was deliberately designed to prevent the unfettered expression of the people’s will.

It’s time to get rid of the senate and institute a one-house, unicameral legislature in the United States.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Democrats War Now

Yeah, it’s official - - What once Democrats could argue was “Bush’s war,” is the Democrats war now. On June 16th, “in a vote that should go down in recent histories as a day of shame for the Democrats,” according to the writer Jeremy Scahill, 221 Democrats and 5 Republicans backed the Obama administration’s $106 billion supplemental appropriation bill to maintain the occupation of Iraq, escalate the quagmire that is Afghanistan, enlarge the bombing and death into Pakistan and “fund the International Monetary Funds anti-social policies of forcing developing countries to sacrifice programs for the poor in order to bail out big banks.

It was quite a day for Obama and Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership. Only 32 Democrats, most associated with Progressive Democrats of America, had the courage to vote their convictions. Not one of the 32 was from the state of Washington, certainly not our war-mongering Congressman, Norm Dicks. Those 32 Democrats faced “significant threats to their political future from the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.” “The White House and the Democratic Congressional Leadership played a very dirty game in their effort to ram through the funding,” reports Scahill. Representative Lynn Woolsey of California, a leader of the antiwar Democrats, said the White House is threatening to withdraw support from freshmen who oppose the bill, saying, “you’ll never hear from us again.” She said the House leadership was also targeting freshmen. Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, the right-wing, former congressman from Illinois, was reported “cutting deals with Republicans to go easy on them in the 2010 elections in exchange for votes,” supporting the supplemental war funding.

Anybody remember the 2006 elections? That was the election when Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi asked us to vote for Democrats because the Democrats would end the war. Democrats took over the Congress in that election and then pulled a bait-and-switch by not only not ending the war but escalating it. They voted for war funding supplemental after war funding supplemental. They told us they could not overcome the unpopular Bush. Well, Bush is gone so what is their excuse now? “We’ve got to give Obama’s war a chance?” “This vote,” Scahill writes, “revealed a sobering statistic for the anti-war movement in this country and brought to the surface a broader issue that should give die-hard partisan Democrats who purport to be anti-war reason for serious pause about the actual state of their party.” “Under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the Democratic-controlled Congress has been a house of war. Unfortunately, it is not a house where the war is one of noble Democrats fighting for peace, freedom and democracy. . . . Instead, it is a house void of substantive opposition to the ever-expanding war begun under Bush and escalating under Obama.”

If the first casualty of war is truth, the second should surely be the destruction of “patriotic slogans, calls for sacrifice, honor and heroism and promises of glory” in which war comes wrapped. Except for the 32, the hands of the Democratic members of Congress who have made Bush’s wars their own will now be forever stained by the blood of those whom they sent to die and those who will be killed by our soldiers. “War from a distance,” writer Chris Hedges recalled recently, “seems noble.” But, “war is always about betrayal,” Hedges concludes. “It is about betrayal of the young by the old, of cynics by idealists, and of soldiers and Marines by politicians.”

Monday, June 8, 2009

Permanent War and Empire

Former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges published an essay recently titled, “The Disease of Permanent War.” The subject has been on my mind for several weeks as I have been re-reading Chalmers Johnson’s book, The Sorrows of Empire and Joel Kovel’s, Red Hunting in the Promised Land.

While it seemed that the United States had been in a continual state of war throughout the 20th century, it was not until 1948 that U.S. foreign policy elites devised a rationale for permanent war. George Kennan, head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff penned two of the most crucial Cold War documents outlining permanent war. “We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth,” Kennan wrote in a 1948 memo, “but only 6.3 percent of its population. . . . Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; . . . We should cease to talk about vague and - - for the Far East - - unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. . . . The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.” Kennan’s memo is a recipe for empire and that is exactly what the United States created. The sentimentality and unreal objectives, the Puritan ideals, were brought out of the closet as needed over the next six decades - - most notably as alternative reasons for invading Iraq after no WMD were found - - but only to mask the naked economic interests inherent in U.S. war-making. “ . . . Since the end of the Second World War, the federal government has spent more than half its tax dollars on past, current and future military operations. It is the largest single sustaining activity of the government. It is gilded corporate welfare.

As a society focused on permanent war, with massive war spending, nearly a trillion dollars this year, what have we won? “Bridges and levees collapse,” Hedges wrote in his essay. “Schools decay. Domestic manufacturing declines. Trillions in debts threaten the viability of the currency and the economy. The poor, the mentally ill, the sick and the unemployed are abandoned. Human suffering, including our own, is the price for victory.”

After the attacks on 11 September 2001, many people asked the question, “Why do they hate us?” Not knowing our own history and seemingly oblivious to the permanent state of war already controlling our country, the questioners did not know that we taught state terrorism to thousands of Latin American military and police officials at the School of the Americas. That presidents used their own private army, the CIA, to bring about “regime changes” around the world through coups, assassinations, or economic destabilizations. The we have bombed or invaded countries that have openly broken with or opposed our hegemony. Just ask the people in Guatemala, Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Iraq Afghanistan or Pakistan to name a few. We have made ourselves the most belligerent people on earth who, as President Kennedy presciently noted, have made peaceful revolution impossible and violent revolution inevitable.

One wonders what the founders, who knew full well that no republic in history had lasted more than 300 years, would make of the country we have become. Would they be “dismayed by a society that that no longer had the moral fortitude to confront the fools,” these fools who are leading us over the precipice?

What kind of government do we have, a citizen asked Benjamin Franklin as the Constitutional Convention ended? A republic, Franklin replied - - if you can keep it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Congress: Bought and Paid For

After watching two of the three senate committee hearings that dealt with heath care, I was reminded of a saying I once heard but for the life of me I can’t remember where I heard it: There is nothing more reliable than a man whose loyalty can be bought for hard cash.  That pretty much sums up what passes for democracy in the United States at this time.  I often tell my students, half in jest (although the humor often escapes them) that if democracy worked for the benefit of the people it would be illegal.


Some background is in order in case you missed the hearings. 


President Obama and the Democratic congressional leaders have promised that they are going to fix our broken health care system.  Finally.  After all, it has only been sixty years since President Truman tried to initiate a system that would cover every person in the country rather than leave 45 million people without health care and another 50 million underinsured.  23,000 people die every year in the United States because they do not have health insurance.  Millions of people have said, “enough is enough.  We must have a system that covers everyone.” 


Health care is the talk of Washington and the airwaves.  Obama and the insurance companies announced at the White House that the benevolent health care industry has agreed to cut health care costs by 1.5 percent over the next decade, saving $2 trillion.  Mind you they also exacted a price:  government will keep its hands off health care’s billions and billions of profits. 

On capital hill the congress is holding hearings to devise ways to expand the broken system we have now: higher premiums; higher co-pays; higher deductibles while 14,000 workers loose their health care every day in this depression.  Congress invited representatives of the health care industry, insurance companies, big pharma, and just about anyone who would reap profits from maintaining the current system to speak.  They talked, and talked, and talked.


But some alternatives were not being talked about at all except by demonstrators whom the capital police hauled away and arrested.  Their crime?  To demand that representatives who favor a publicly financed, single-payer health care system be allowed at the table.  Those filthy pinko, commie, fags.


Why is single payer not at the table?  Members of the House and Senate are being loyal.  The loyalty of members of the House and Senate have been bought for hard cash.  The health care industry, which spent more than $500 million dollars in the last year on lobbying and campaign contributions, has great faith in the reliability of  the members whom they have bought.  Max Baucus, the chair of the Senate committee, received more money from the health care industry than any other member of congress.  Every other member of the committee also received money from the industry.


“In 2003,” Bill Moyers reported last week, “a young Illinois state senator named Barack Obama told a local AFL-CIO meeting, ‘I am a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program.’  There was only one thing standing in the way, Obama said six years ago:  ‘all of you know we might not get there immediately because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate and we have to take back the House’”


Democrats now have the White House and the Senate and the House.  What the hell happened to single-payer universal health care?


Change we can believe in I guess.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Obama's War

Miracles will not happen,” the president said,  “. . . but with a common focus, we can make strides.”  “ . . . the path to success is slow and unsure.”  The United States, the national security advisor pledged, would do “whatever we could, to do what we can as quickly as possible to help . . . .”  “There will be more violence, and there will be setbacks.”  Too bad the officials did not invite Washington State House leader, Representative Lynn Kessler, to comment because she would surely have supplied the only cliché missed by the assembled notables:  “there is light at the end of the tunnel.”  Isn’t this a bit of deja vu all over again?  The speakers were president Obama and national security advisor Jones not Bush and Rice.  Otherwise, who could notice the difference?


Last week the United States, We The People, killed more than a hundred innocent Afghani civilians.  We bombed them, as Curtis LeMay would have it, back to the stone age, “their corpses,” wrote Chris Hedges, “blown into bits of human flesh by iron fragmentation bombs. . . .”  We denied it, naturally, just as we have denied the last 5,000 Afghani civilians we have killed.  We will investigate, of course, but already, as The Daily World reported on 7 May, “the top U. S. commander in Afghanistan suggested the Taliban might be to blame.”  Eventually we will apologize, just as we have done for the other 5,000 innocent men, women and children we have killed:  Terribly sorry;  the tragic cost of war; so regrettable, but it is the price that must be paid; “We think,” as Madaline Halfbright said some years ago, “that the price is worth it.”  And then we will go on killing. 


We pull the trigger in Nevada.  We fly pilot-less drones - - the reaper and the predator and other iterations of unseen death.  They zoom in.  The killers are thousands of miles away.  They are stimulated by the death they bring according to one pilot in a recent interview.  The remote pilots don’t have to see the bodies, the blood.  They see a flash and move on.  “We don’t get it wrong” one pilot said on 60 Minutes recently.  A wedding party - - terrorists.  Nothing wrong.  A funeral - - terrorists.  Nothing wrong. 


Too bad. 

So sorry. 

Obama expresses regret and promises to “make every effort” to avoid further “tragedies.” Already in Afghanistan and Pakistan we are covered in blood.  Rivers of blood.  Oceans of blood.  The pilots of the drones kill the mourners or the celebrants and then go home to breakfast with the wife and kiddies.


This is computer-game killing.  Targeted.  Ruthless.  Anonymous.  Value free.  Movements on a computer screen.  Voiceless, virtual humans - - obliterated.


Push the button. 


Time for my shift to end.  Got to get home to the wife and kids who move about the world without the faintest inkling that someone, somewhere could be watching, waiting, plotting.  Armed.  Lethal.  Our brothers, sons, fathers, mothers, sisters, aunts. 


Is this the kind of country we want to be?  “We are morally no different from the psychopaths within the Taliban,” Chris Hedges wrote on the 11th, “who Afghans remember we empowered, funded and armed during the 10-year war with the Soviet Union.  Acid thrown in a girl’s face or beheadings?  Death delivered from the air or fields of shiny cluster bombs?  This is the language of war.  It is what we speak.  It is what those we fight speak.”


  This is not change we can believe in.


Millions, tens of millions of people voted for candidate Obama in November, willingly suspending disbelief, hoping, yearning for someone who would change the trajectory of the militarist, imperialist country we have become under presidents and congresses for the past sixty years.  They believed brand Obama.  But the brand was a marketing tool, a way to elect a more acceptable representative of the ruling military-industrial-congressional complex. 


Where are the Democrats?  Unfortunately, and tragically for our future, they are all with Obama and the empire.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Christians and Torture

A recent letter to the editor at the Aberdeen Daily World reminded me of a story told about Mahatma Gandhi.  Gandhi, a Hindu, studied the Bible and found an interest in the Christian faith and the teachings of Jesus.  To learn more he decided to attend a Christian church in white South Africa.  When he attempted to enter a church one of the church elders barred Gandhi’s way.  “Where do you think you’re going, kafir?”  “I’d like to attend worship here,” Gandhi replied.  “There’s no room for kaffirs in this church, the elder said, “so get out of here or I’ll have my assistants throw you down the steps.”  Sometime later the missionary E. Stanley Jones asked Ghandi why, although Gandhi often quoted the words of Christ, he adamantly rejected becoming a Christian.  “Oh, I don't reject your Christ” Gandhi said. “I love your Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ."

As a teenager I once contemplated becoming a minister.  That all vanished on the day I was physically removed from the church I had grown up in because I attempted to shout down the minister who had just urged the congregation to support the war in Vietnam.  That I did not enter the clergy probably comes as a relief to some of the listeners to the program.  Nonetheless, like Gandhi, I too discovered that too many Christians were unlike their Christ.  Now, research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has pointed out more differences between me and the conspicuously pious sky-godders who loudly proclaim themselves so righteous, moral and just.  The study confirmed that the more often you go to church, the more you approve of torture.  Why do you suppose that’s true?  Wouldn’t you expect exactly the opposite - -  that support for torture would be stronger among the non-religious than among the most frequent church-goers?

Not so in the United States today.  Only 42% of people not affiliated with a religious organization approved of torture while 54% of people who attend worship at least once a week agreed that using torture was “often” or “sometimes” justified.  “White evangelical Protestants were the church-going group most likely to approve of torture,” wrote Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite in The Washington Post.  Thistlethwaite went on to write, “I think it possible, even likely, that this finding has a theological root.”  Christians base their theology on salvation through Christ’s suffering - - his flogging and crucifixion.  “For Christian conservatives,” Thistlethwaite concluded, “severe pain and suffering are central to their theology.”  Think Mel Gibson’s S & M violence fest, The Passion of the Christ.  “God wanted Jesus tortured for the sins of humanity” therefore torture of one human by another is OK - - redemptive even for Christians who have adopted this “penal theory of atonement.”

One wonders just how may of the torturers themselves were good Christians.  Torture, religion, proselytizing, God.  “They’re all part of the mixed-up horrific business that George Bush unleashed in the Middle East and Central Asia  “Christians were a favored constituency when Bush was in power,” Cynthia Tucker reminded us recently in The Daily World.  “Their enthusiasm powered his campaigns; their votes helped usher him in; their leaders helped push through his agenda, including his unfortunate war of choice in Iraq.” 

Americans have conflated U. S. military forces with “Onward Christian Soldiers” before in our history - - especially in China during the Boxer Uprising in 1900.  U.S. military forces were sent to China to rescue the haughty Christian missionaries whom the Chinese so detested.  Now the forces of a militarized Christianity have almost seized control of our military.  “The special forces guys - - they hunt men, basically,” said Lt. Col. Gary Hensley, the chief of U. S. military chaplains in Afghanistan, in a videotaped sermon shown on Al Jazeera across the Middle East a few weeks ago.  “We do the same things as Christians,” Col. Hensley went on,” we hunt people for Jesus.  We do, we hunt them down.  Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom.”  Or at least onto the waterboard.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tea Bagging

The tea-bag revolt of a few weeks ago had me thinking of Chester A. Riley [look him up if you are too young].  “What a revoltin’ development this is,” Riley used to say in one of the most iconic phrases created on radio and the early years of television.  I wish I knew what it was that the tea-bag movement was a protest against.  Revolutionaries carried out the original Boston Tea Party to protest a tax on tea but how that event related to this one I have no idea.  

For the last eight years I’ve waited for angry citizens to take to the streets to protest the proto-fascist Bush government which, with the connivance first of a Republican and then a Democratic Congress, gutted the Constitution by removing the right of Habeas Corpus; made a mockery of the First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments; rolled over the concepts of the right to privacy; violated the rights of due process; appropriated more than $1 trillion to fight an immoral and illegal preemptive war; allowed unregulated banks and Wall Street oligarchs to bring the country to its knees; put millions of people around the world out of work; caused millions to lose their homes to foreclosure.  But masses of people certainly did not do that then nor did the tea-bag protesters do that now.  

What a revoltin’ development this is. 

No, what they protested, I guess, was taxes.  The protestors carried signs that said,  “Give me liberty, not debt,” “No more spending,” and “Taxation is Piracy.”  The “official” website for the movement “attacked the government for ‘spending trillions of borrowed dollars, leaving a debt our great-grandchildren will be paying.’”  

Excuse me?  While I have been a critic of President Obama’s financial stimulus plan because, as Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has pointed out, the plan does not spend enough nor on the right things, I’m astonished that the tea-baggers could possibly be protesting their own rescue.  Where do they think the current tax cut for 95 percent of people came from?  Bush? Do these people think the ruling oligarchy is going to end the new depression?  They can’t.  Wall Street and the major banks are broke, busted, kaput.  Where were these people for the last eight years when the Bush administration ran up the nation’s largest deficit in history in pursuit of empire?  

I know where they were: I can answer my own question.  They fell in line with Bush.  They supported his policies.  Remember when the Iraq war had 85 percent approval ratings?  I do; many of us were in that 15 percent minority.  We were out on the streets.  It was us at whom those middle fingers were raised.  Now those middle-finger waving war supporters are loosely throwing around concepts - - fascist, socialist, Communist that they are unable to define, understand or differentiate among - - hoping that some name, any name, will stick to Obama.  Unbelievably, some of these people are also calling for Obama’s impeachment something they never called for in the previous eight years, as commentator Walter Brasch recently pointed out. 

Ironically, the idea for the Tea Party originated with CNBC commentator Rick Santelli and was promoted by the likes of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly Glenn Beck and “dozens of other conservative talking mouths who are among the” richest   1 percent in the country.  It is that ruling class who are the real target of tax increases that Obama may institute next year.  “May” being the operative word.  I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Nice.  The richest 1 percent stir up the pitchfork crowd to save their own bank accounts.  As Chester A. Riley said, “What a revoltin’ development this is.”

Monday, April 27, 2009

Meaning In Life

After a cheap shot claiming I want to abridge the right of a free press to print what it deems news, and a false claim that I said “the Easter celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a concoction of the Bronze Age mentality that arose out of ignorance and superstition,” [which of course it is], George Vavrek in a recent “My Turn” op-ed in The Daily World got down to his point: in essence the writer claimed that I and other atheists believe there is no meaning or purpose to our existence.  He made this claim so that he could put in a plug for the wonders of Easter and his belief that “the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . is the key to knowing the answers to life’s most important questions. . . .”  In other words, the writer is yet another delusional, sky-god, true-believer.  Certainly he is entitled to his delusions but I wish the sky-goders would stop telling those of us who do not adhere to their theistic delusions what we believe.  In fact, contrary to what Vavrek claims for me, I know that there is meaning and purpose to our existence - - not in the sense that Vavrek means when he uses those terms, that some sky-god will provide answers in an afterlife and for Vavrek and other sky-goders the meaning and purpose in life is to serve their god, obey authority and await His revelations after death.

No, the meaning and purpose to our existence comes from life itself.  The universe, life on this planet is wondrous, lush, mystifying and amazing, full of aesthetic inspiration and existential feeling.

One need not have Jesus to experience the joy of living.  There is a “sense of amazement, and [a] deep, almost mystical appreciation,” says atheist Phil Zuckerman, a “sweetly, wistfully, mournfully churning” when one sees crocus pushing their leaves out of the ground after a hard winter, the buds on the fruit trees swelling as the weather warms, when one hears a Mozart concerto late at night or sees a magnificent Broadway musical, remembering my grandmother, smelling dirt in my hands as I garden, read a good book, watch the waves break over the cliffs during a storm on the Oregon coast, “act altruistically” or attend an anti-war march.  Meaning and purpose for existence come through these sensations “not to mention a deep sense of the profound mystery that is existence, the beauty that is creativity, and the power that is justice.”

Contrary to what sky-goders claim, being an atheist does not mean that a person does not have morals or that one believes in nothing.  I believe in a lot of things:  single-payer health care for all citizens; the prohibitions enumerated in the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments; the rights of people to live free from fear and free from want; protecting the environment; the right of marriage for gay people; economic justice fighting racism.  Many of the things in which I believe sky-goders have opposed - - women’s rights, gay rights, the rights of Black people to live as equal citizens.  Many things sky-goders believe in I have opposed; the death penalty; torture; preemptive war; McCarthyism.

I believe, as do secular humanists, “in the potential of humans to solve problems and make a world a better, safer, and more just place . . . reason, science, and rational inquiry . . [a commitment to] democracy, tolerance, open debate, human rights.”

Life and living are far from meaningless.  “Existence,” Zuckerman writes, “is ultimately a beautiful mystery: being alive is a wellspring of wonder, and the deepest questions of life, death, time, and space are so powerful as to inspire deep feelings of joy, poignancy, and sublime awe.  Atheists ask those deep questions; examine themselves; seek answers although I suspect that most of us know we will never find the answers.  It’s enough to ask the questions.  I wish the sky-goders would ask more questions rather than proclaim their hubristic knowledge in the answers.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Prosecute War Criminals

I know this is going to piss off some of my friends but here goes anyway.  I wish President Obama would just get on with it.  “Governing,” wrote commentator Mike Whitney recently, “is more than just gliding from one teleprompter to the next pointing at rainbows and promising Utopia.  There has to be action, accountability, and justice.”  

I’m sick to death of Obama protecting W and Cheney and Alberto Gonzalez and John Yoo and Doug Feith.  These guys are war criminals and Obama needs to recognize that fact and get on with the business of living up to his oath to preserve, protect and defend the constitution.  Title 18 of the U.S. Code, our national laws, “our red-white-and blue tough-on-crime book of books has a little section called 2441 that prescribes prison or death to any American who commits or conspires to commit a war crime, including torture or cruel or inhuman treatment.”  Title 18 “also contains section 2340, which - - like 2441 - - defines torture with clarity and sanity, and prescribes prison or death for those who engage in it, and prison for those who conspire to commit it.”  Feith and Cheney have been thumbing their noses at Obama since January 20th.  Cheney has given several interviews admitting to authorizing and ordering others to commit torture.  Feith, in a Wall Street Journal column earlier this month, argues “that Spain as no right to put Americans on trial for torture, at least not second-tier officials who provided pseudo-legal justifications for torture and advocated its use, actions that Feith believes should be immune from prosecution, unlike ordering torture or engaging in it.”  

Prosecuting these scum-bags is not a choice or an option.  The attorney General and the President are legally required to prosecute anyone who “engaged in, ordered, or otherwise facilitated torture.”  Bush and Cheney and Feith have all admitted to authorizing torture.  Fortunately, Spain may force the hand of our Justice Department.  Officials here are not doing what they are legally required to do, what the law says they must do, but a courageous judge in Spain is now investigating Yoo, Feith, Gonzalez and three other second-tier conspirators.  This is the same judge who put out a warrant for Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean mass-murderer.  

Unfortunately, the Obama administration is engaged in co-mmissions almost worse than their omissions.  Obama is engaged in putting forward extremist Cheney/Addington/Yoo arguments “in order to shield Bush lawbreaking from disclosure and judicial review.”  Candidate Obama “unambiguously vowed to his supporters that he would work to ensure ‘full accountability’ for ‘past offenses’ in surveillance lawbreaking.”  Now that he is president, Obama has another tune to sing.  He has, as Glenn Greenwald wrote at, “become the prime impediment to precisely that accountability, repeatedly engaging in extraordinary legal maneuvers to ensure that ‘past offenses’ both in the surveillance and torture/rendition realm - - remain secret and forever immunized form judicial review.”  As Greenwald pointed out, “Obama has repeatedly done the exact opposite of what he vowed he would do:  rather than ‘seek full accountability for past offenses,’ he has been working feverishly to block such accountability, by embracing the same radical Bush/Cheney views and rhetoric regarding presidential secrecy power that caused so much controversy and anger for the last several years.”

Like the criminals who looted the economy, the criminals who looted our constitution, shredded the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, and shattered our national consensus against torture, the criminals who fashioned en-ending war are walking around scot-free.  I want to see a cop on every corner of lower Manhattan and across Washington D.C.  I want regulators snooping through emails and “digging through trash cans to uncover any scrap of evidence that will build a case for investor fraud” and violations of our torture treaties and laws.  I want to see “the Pinkertons . . . swarming the investment houses right now,” swarming over the Bush and Cheney compounds “thumbing through . . . paperwork, overturning filing cabinets and tasering bloated banksters” and smarmy Bush administration slimebags.”

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Just How Stupid Are We?

In an email exchange with Rick Shenkman, historian, New York Times best selling author, founder of History News Network (, who will make a public presentation in Grays Harbor on May Day, Rick told me that we could get copies of his book, Just How Stupid Are We, at our local bookstore to sell at the event.  “Local bookstore?,” I responded.  “This is Grays Harbor, we don’t have a local bookstore.”

As our economy has fallen through the toilet and the state senate produced a budget slashing services for the most needy, I got to thinking about that email exchange and the ramifications for democracy of not having a bookstore in our area - - especially so after reading Shenkman’s book, the subtitle of which is:  “Facing the truth about the American voter.”  Granted “politics in the U.S. [has] come to be dominated by people who make a virtue out of ignorance,” as George Monbiot commented in an essay last November in The Guardian, but as Shenkman points out in his book, a great share of the responsibility for the sorry state of our politics rests with us.  “We have allowed the myth of The People to warp our politics,” Shenkman writes, “limit the choices of our leaders, . . . putting our democracy, and possibly even our lives, in danger.”

Hw did this happen?  “Was it charity that has permitted mankind’s closes living relative to spend two terms as president?, Monbiot asks.  “How did the project” launched by Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Hamilton - - “among the greatest thinkers of their age . . . degenerate into George W. Bush and Sarah Palin?”

The situation could not be more dire.  Only “1 in 4 Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition for redress of grievances.  But more than half of Americans can name at east two members of the fictional cartoon family” the Simpsons and 22 percent can name all five.  Just for the record, I’m a dud because I do not know the names of any Simpsons. 

It gets worse.  “In the most powerful nation on earth, one adult in five believes the sun revolves around the earth; only 26% accept that evolution takes place by means of natural selection; two-thirds of young adults are unable to find Iraq on a map; two-thirds of US voters cannot name the three branches of government . . . .”  “How did so many US citizens become so stupid,” Monbiot asks, “and so suspicious of intelligence?”  How is it possible that people in the state of Washington do not know that a progressive income tax is a fairer system of taxation that provides a more steady stream of income for the operations of government than a regressive sales tax that hits working people and the poor much harder than the rich?  Our legislators know it.  Why do they refuse to act, to put the finances of the state on a more reasonable basis? 

“There are over 42  million American adults, 20 percent of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth – or fifth-grade level.  Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate.  And their numbers are growing by an estimated 2 million a year.  A third of high school graduates, along with 42 percent of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school.  Eighty percent of the families in the United States last year did not buy a book,” Chris Hedges wrote recently at 

Why does it matter that we are so stupid?  “The core values of our open society are disappearing,” Hedges writes, “the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense indicate something is wrong, to be self critical, to challenge authority, to understand historical facts, to separate truth from lies, to advocate for change and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways of being, that are morally and socially acceptable, are dying.”

No bookstore?  An awful reality awaits us. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

No More Dicks in Congress

I gotta tell ya, when I decided to run for Congress last year I had no idea how our sainted Congressman, Norm Dicks, is beloved around the country - - from our little corner of the Pacific Northwest all the way to, well, take Florida, for instance.  Who could have guessed that our humble, folksy, member of Congress has worked his way into the hearts of common, work-a-day guys in Florida - - working people like Amelia Island, Ritz-Carlton sommelier, John Pugliese.  Amelia Island is in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida near Jacksonville.  For those of us who don’t dine regularly at the Ritz-Carlton, a sommelier is a French term for a waiter who is in charge of wines.  Now waiters in Florida, waiters at the Ritz-Carlton must make a lot of money - - further proof that I may have chosen the wrong profession - - because since the summer of 2005, John Pugliese has given $77,000 to members of the Senate and the House.  Or how about Jon C. Walker, another Floridian, who works at both the Ritz-Carlton and the Amelia Island Golf Club.  He must put in a lot of overtime at both jobs.  At any rate, he still had time to read up on, and, like Pugliese, evidently really come to appreciate the hard work of our Norm.  On 25 May 2006, Pugliese and Walker donated $4,000 to Dicks campaign.  Not long after those donations our Norm told the Seattle Times, “People, if they want to support me, they support me,” while a spokesman for Dicks, George Behan, said he found nothing suspicious about the donation. 

Suspicious?  Why would anyone find $77,000 in donations from a Ritz-Carlton sommelier suspicious?  All in a day’s donations for our Norm.  As it turns out, the FBI and Justice Department prosecutors actually finds those donations suspicious.  It seems that the powerhouse lobbying firm PMA Group, which is closing its doors next week,  is under suspicion for having used “straw campaign contributors” - - sirs Walker and Pugliese for instance, to funnel large sums of illegal cash to members of Congress - - a felony that could carry a minimum sentence of five years.  Senator Patty Murray, who also accepted cash from the Florida Two and Dicks will probably walk away unscathed but their involvement in this shady business is a timely reminder about the corrupt nature of the whole campaign finance system. 

As I mentioned repeatedly during the campaign and as the Seattle Times David Heath wrote recently, “Congressman Norm Dicks has never been shy about accepting campaign donations from favor seekers.”  Between 2001 and 2007 Norm Dicks landed $434,800 in campaign contributions just from military-related contractors and many PMA clients -- businesses for which he then put earmarks in the federal budget.  The list of companies involved in this disgusting legalized bribery reads like a who’s who of the military-industrial-congressional complex:  Boeing, $49,500; Science Applications International, $27, 750; Lockheed Martin, $27,000; General Dynamics, $26,500; Raytheon, $21,000; Northrop Grumman, $20,000; and on and on and on. 

This system of contributions for earmarks is a betrayal of the public trust.  No member of Congress should ever accept a campaign contribution from an individual or a company or a lobbyist for a company that receives federal funding.  That’s bribery and it should be illegal.  We must establish a system of public financing to destroy the influence of dirty money.  

I’m not sure why Democrats keep supporting our Norm who has been in Congress way to long.  “We have to be loyal to what we believe,” the comedian Bill Mahar said recently, “not to people.”  

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Obama as Marxist-Socialist

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that two charges hurled at President Obama were driving me crazy - - class warfare and Marxist Socialist.  I dealt with class warfare so now I’d like to turn my attention to the charge that Obama is a Marxist Socialist. 

You’d think, to hear the corporate media, Republicans and conservatives tell it, that the Obama administration is beginning, as Lenin once said,  to construct the socialist order.  “We are all socialists now,” shouted Newsweek not long ago.  “ We are creating ‘socialist republics’ in the United States says Mike Huckabee, adding, on reflection, that ‘Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.’”  “European socialism transplanted to Washington,” proclaimed Newt Gingrich.  SOCIALIST, said McCain and Palin. Of course all of the shouting is done with, as socialist Billy Wharton wrote in the Washington Post, “the hysterical tone of a farcical McCarthyism.”   “Conservatives have never bashed socialism because its specter was actually stalking America,” Harold Myerson wrote recently, rather, they’ve wielded the cudgel against such progressive reforms as free universal education, the minimum wage or tighter financial regulations.  Their signal success is to have kept the United States free from the taint of universal health care.” 

Take it from me, from a person who is a socialist, and said so, proudly, in this community for years, Barak Obama is many things but socialist is not among them.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the new found attention being paid to socialists and our ideas and the opportunity to have a seat at the table again after decades of inattention.  But socialists know that Obama is not one of us.  “Not only is he not a socialist,” writes Wharton, “he may in fact not even be a liberal.  Socialists understand him more as a hedge-fund Democrat - - one of a generation of neoliberal politicians firmly committee to free-market policies.  Like his predecessor Franklin Roosevelt, Obama is in the unenviable position of having to save capitalism from itself and to do so he is employing some, and I emphasize some, left of liberal solutions.  He has to.  The proponents of free-market capitalism have, perhaps, struck a mortal blow at themselves.  They have blown up capitalism and taken most of the known world along. 

What would a socialist propose for real revolutionary change?  Here are a few items proposed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the Communist Manifesto. 

  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
  2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
  3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.
  4. Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
  5. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
  6. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State
  7. Free education for all children in public schools
  8. In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. . . . They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.  Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution.  The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.  They have a world to win. 

Now perhaps I’ve missed something but I don’t recall Obama issuing a rallying cry for proletarian revolution.  His efforts so far have been tepid and half-hearted.  Perhaps more is in the offing.  Opportunity is there,” wrote Alexander Cockburn on, “to be seized from the jaws of capitalism’s shattering reverses. This is a chance richer than the opportunity offered and annulled in the mid-70s.  Circumstances will in all likelihood push Obama’s government to the left, just as they did FDR when orthodoxy failed.”  Almost certainly we will not end up with socialism but as Cockburn says, “the left should not be shy about pressing the challenge out of some misguided notion of preserving a polite progressive consensus.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Religion as News

A couple weeks ago, John Stewart pulled back the curtain on the wizards of the Ozians at the cable business channels revealing, to mix the metaphore, that the emperors had no clothes.     “They were part of the broken system,” commented Cank Uygur, “There was no journalism going on at CNBC.” 

Last Saturday, in our own little corner of the world here on the Olympic Peninsula, The Daily World,  our local newspaper, proved that “no journalism going on” is not unique to the big city folks.  On the back page of the main section of the paper, in a spot where one usually finds state-wide or national news, The Daily World ran a story with the headline, “It’s Lent - - So What?  So What, indeed!, under the byline Faces of Faith, Dale McQueen.  To the left of the McQueen piece the paper printed information from the stock market from Friday and to the right a story headlined, “Suspect had a knife at police station,” from Perugia, Italy

Now, the last time I checked, a story about how “we prepare our hearts, minds and souls for the sacred observances of Christ’s death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter,” did not qualify as news.  Since when does a celebration of belief in a deity, concocted in the Bronze age, that arose out of primitive ignorance and superstition, qualify as news?  The only thing crazier than the belief itself, is, as Dennis Rahkonen wrote recently, “to believe said deity created us, governs our affairs, and deserves our blind obedience.” 

A quick glance at the most recent studies about religious belief in the United States should give the editor at The Daily World pause the next time he wants to publish this religious opinion as news.  

According to the latest research, you are “certainly friends with at least one atheist, agnostic, nonbeliever, skeptic, or unaffiliated humanist, whether you know it or not.  Your friend certainly endures prejudice and unequal treatment, whether you know it or not.  And your friend is roughly as decent, good, loyal, honest, courageous, and generous as your other friends, and you know it.”  In Grays Harbor County 30 percent of us are atheists, agnostics unbelievers, people who don’t care or want to know, undecided or just plain have no opinion.  That amounts to a significant number of people. 

To have our local newspaper print religious propaganda masquerading as news is insult added to injury.  “Those who get along without God are noy lynched or stoned in this country,” David Swanson wrote recently, “but neither do they have equal rights or acceptance.  They encounter prejudice and cruelty on a personal level often.”  We saw our taxes used to establish an office in the Bush White House pushing religious-based initiatives and now President Obama has not only continued that unconstitutional program, he has enlarged it.  All around the country we see “religious based, pseudo-science imposed” on children in schools.  While there are, according to Swanson, “probably 20 atheists in Congress,” only one member has the courage to admit his position.  I’m convinced that President Obama is an atheist but he made a pragmatic political calculation, years ago, recognizing that no open atheist could be elected to office, to find himself the most politically advantageous church and join it.  Unfortunately that decision later came back to bite him when the remarkable Reverend Wright became a political liability. 

Since, as Frank Rich pointed out in the New York Times, the almighty has fallen significantly - - organized religion being “in a dead heat with banks and financial institutions on the confidence scale,” I’d like to make a suggestion to The Daily World:  keep you religion page if you must but please, please don’t try to pass off any more religious stories as news.  It really turns off those of us who do not hold religious views and also read your paper. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Six Years of War

Three days from now, on the 19th of March, the United States invasion of Iraq will mark its sixth year.  A million dead Iraqis, more than 4,000 dead U.S. military persons, an eventual cost, according to the economist Joseph Stiglitz, of 3 trillion dollars.  For what?

Many people who voted for President Obama believed, quite irrationally as far as I’m concerned, that once elected, Obama would remove all U. S. troops from Iraq within sixteen months.  I said many times on my radio program that Obama was being too clever by half with his semantics about withdrawal.  He said then, and he confirmed my worst suspicions a couple weeks ago, that he would remove “combat” troops from Iraq, as if every service person there is not in combat.  His intension during the campaign, confirmed in a late February speech, was to leave thousands of U.S. military personnel in Iraq beyond the now 19 month period of his supposed withdrawal.  50,000 troops to be exact.  Non-combat troops to be sure.  I suspect that by the time August 2011 rolls around the 50,000 will have grown considerably, more in line with the 60 to 90,000 I predicted during the campaign. 

According to the withdrawal agreement drawn up by W. and his puppet in Iraq, the United States must have all troops out of Iraq by the end of 2012 - - just in time for the November 2012 election.  Don’t count on it.

The speech Obama gave at the end of February could very well have been delivered by W.  We found no mention in the speech of the on-going and worsening conflict between the Shia and the Kurds that will undermine any Iraqi government.  We heard no mention of what is now to happen to the Suni forces the United States has been paying not to kill U. S. soldiers for the last two years. 

According to the highly respected military correspondent Tom Ricks, author of The Gamble, Obama’s plan for exiting Iraq is the “sixth plan he has covered that attempts to get U. S. forces out of Iraq.”  Mr. Ricks warns in his book that tBush’s war is about to engulf Obama.  He writes that the United States will be in Iraq for many years to come, “and that in the end, we will be the losers.”  What will emerge, Ricks told MSNBC’s Keith Olberman, “is not a democracy, not an American ally, run by a strongman, probably tougher, smarter and more adept than Saddam Hussein and who is, ironically, an even worse guy.”  The winners, as far as I’m concerned, are the mullahs in Iran who will be quite content to have the war continue to bleed billions from the United States every month.

If you are concerned about the continued occupation of Iraq and the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, join with your fellow citizens for an anti-war vigil on Thursday, 19 March, from 4:30 to 5:30 pm at Zelasko Park. 


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Class War

There are, right now, a couple of terms floating around in the corporate media and right-wing blogosphere that are driving me crazy:  “class warfare” and “Marxist Socialist.”  I’ll have to deal with “Marxist Socialist” in a later commentary but for now let’s turn to “class warfare.”

In the LA Times from late last month: “Obama’s budget: Taxing for fairness or class warfare?  The reactionary, David Horowitz, changed the question to an inflammatory accusation on his web site:  "The Budget as Class Warfare."

Funny how, whenever the oligarchic rule in this country is questioned, suddenly there are rumors of class war in the air and Bolshevism is only just around the corner. 

Now, I’d agree that there is class warfare going on, has been going on in the United States for more than a century, but it certainly is not the kind where the proletariat rises up to overthrow the bourgeoisie. 

In the late nineteenth century the wealthiest 1 percent of families owned 51 percent of the real and personal property in the United States.  The 44 percent of families at the bottom owned only 1.2 percent of the property.  Together, the ruling class, the top 10 percent of families owned 86 percent of the wealth.  The working class, the 90 percent of families, owned 10 percent of the wealth.  As you might suggest, this inequality of wealth sparked numerous uprisings among the working class and led to the rise of the Populist Party.  The ruling class, who understood their position and had achieved class consciousness, was able to use force of arms and the political system to repulse the class warfare undertaken by the less-conscious working people and farmers.

Throughout the 20th century the ruling class well understood their place in society and waged an unrelenting war on working people to maintain oligarchic supremacy: in other words, class war by the ruling class. 

By the 1980s, writes Felice Pace, “the chief concern of the ruling elite became making sure that when the reckoning finally came,” when the economic reality of their recklessness could no longer be hidden from working people,  “it would be working [people] - - not the rich - - who would bear the brunt of the adjustment.  That required transferring wealth from working people to the rich in advance of the reckoning.  This has been the main projects of the ruling class since the election of Ronald Reagan.”

The transfer of wealth to the ruling class in the late 20th century, the rich’s class war, “has been spectacularly successful.”  While worker’s wages have gone down every year since 1973, the rulinhg class consolidated their share of the national income.  “Since 1979 through 2005, the income of the top one percent skyrocketed by 228 percent.  The Wall Street Journal reports that the top one-tenth of one percent of the population, or 14,000 families, hold 22.2% of the nation’s wealth . . . ,” 10 percent of families own 96% of the wealth, “while the bottom 90% [of families], have just 4%.” 

Yes, there is class war going on in the United States.  The ruling class has been remarkably successful in maintaining their position for more than a century.  What really surprises me is how docile the working class is, how seemingly helpless the working class has been to bring about a redistribution of wealth.  If Obama really wants to redistribute wealth then I say bring on the class war.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Third Parties and Mass Movements

Whenever I see the by-line of Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist Dave Lindorff, I know that I’ll find something provocative and useful to read.  While I usually agree with Lindorff’s opinion, I picked up an article of his the other day that prompted my immediate disagreement.  So, using the tactics of many letter writers in The Daily World, I thought I’d make a public comment about Lindorff’s article.

That dirty, commie, pinko, faggot Lindorff!!!  That low life has no conscience and is an un-American slob who should be fired from his job, tarred and feathered, and run out of town on a rail!

On a more rational note . . .

While I did have that immediate disagreement with Lindorff, I later realized that his article did make a very pertinent point on which we both agreed.

Lindorff wrote about being bombarded with criticism from the radical left for “calling for pressure on Democratic politicians to do the right thing, whether that is impeaching the last president and vice president for war crimes or in the case of our new president, standing and fighting for a people’s bailout, instead of a Wall Street bailout.”  Lindorff dismisses, too easily I think, the radical’s claim that the Republicans and Democrats are the same.  That is an old argument from the radical left and correct as far as I’m concerned.  The great W. E. B. Du Bois called the Republicans and Democrats the right wing of the one party in the country. 

Nonetheless, Lindorff’s critics then castigated him, and other leftists who voted for Obama as being part of the problem.  Radicals claim that a principled leftist should have voted for third-party candidates like Ralph Nader or Cynthia McKinney. 

While claiming to have nothing against McKinney or Nader, “that ticket would make for a wonderful administration,” Lindorff wrote, “third parties have not played a significant role in American politics since the 1930s and earlier, when the Socialist Party . . . managed to make a significant dent in the political equation, though even it had no shot at winning.”

In fact, we do have, in our history, a stunning victory by a relatively new third party.  In 1860, after only six years on the scene, the Republican Party captured the presidency and solidified its place and the “other” in our two party system.  Obviously, in 1860 the country was in a state of catastrophic social, political and economic turmoil over the issue of slavery.  The Republican and Democratic parties really stood for something and, while most members of both parties were deeply racist, one did have a definite choice.  - - there was no mistaking the philosophical differences between the two directions the parties would take the country. 

Certainly Lindorff would not disagree that the parties today really are dominated and controlled by the same corporate sponsors.  They are pursuing the same end, capitalist, imperial hegemony, just by different means.  He sympathizes with third parties while noting that “the system of winner-take-all elections is structured against them . . . but calls to change that system so that third parties might have a chance bump up against the reality that the two parties that have a duopoly on power have no interest in changing the rules of the game to make it easier to bump them off.”  Says Lindorff, “it simply ain’t gonna happen.” 

Well, maybe or maybe not.

And here is where Lindorff and I agree.  Later in the article he recalls the great progressive triumphs in U.S. history, triumphs brought about by mass movements that have forced change that the major parties resisted almost to the death.  Universal man and woman suffrage, the end of slavery, the initiative process, progressive income taxes, civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, Social Security, labor unions, the end of the Vietnam War - - the list goes on.  These victories did not come about because power decided to relinquish itself.  These changes came about because people took power and demanded change.

Where Lindorff at one point in his essay encourages working with Democrats, his most powerful point, at the end of the essay, rests in his call for a new mass movement demanding progressive change.  The movement has to confront the Republican and Democratic duopoly - - in the streets - - demanding “an end to this country’s pointless wars, a huge cut in the military budget,” single payer health care, “a jobs program, a break-up of the large banking and other corporate monopolies, an end to the national security state, reform of the labor laws, and a restoration of a real progressive tax system.”

Lindorff is right - - mass movements make history.  “We need one badly.”