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.”