Archive for May, 2010

GULF DISASTER Breaking News

May 21, 2010

Gulf Dead Zone - NASA-NOAA

 KEITH OLBERMANN:

GULF FACES ECOLOGICAL DISASTER – VIDEO

CENTER for BIODIVERSITY:

GULF DISASTER Breaking News

“The Supreme Court says that corporations have the same rights as individuals. When they misbehave, shouldn’t they face consequences as serious as those imposed upon an individual?

“It goes without saying that a person who commits a crime ought to face punishment proportional to the offense. Large and midsize corporations, which employ thousands of employees, have far vaster reach and power than even the wealthiest ordinary citizens. So their crimes can be breathtaking in scope. The 1984 industrial catastrophe at a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India killed 15,000 people. An additional 200,000 have since suffered serious injuries. Compared to the boards of directors of Union Carbide and Dow Chemical, which bought the company in 2001, Ted Bundy was small potatoes.”

Nationalize BP and Other Criminal Corporations by Ted Rall

This may well be the environmental crisis that tips the giant snowball off the cliff.  Why in the hell doesn’t Obama declare dog-pile on the rabbit?  Every available resource and every affected and concerned country should be invited to help plug the oil leaks in the Gulf.  BP either criminally wants as much of the oil as they can salvage, or they’re criminally incompetent.  Whatever the case, we can’t afford anymore of these sucking super corporations!

Not so dumb now, huh?

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WAR and TOXIC TEXAS TEXTBOOKS

May 20, 2010

A Decent World

WAGING WAR FROM A BURNING HOUSE

No More Troops to Afghanistan

Dear President Obama,

Stop sending troops to Afghanistan.

I am a Vietnam Era veteran.  We stood nearly twenty years while our military-industrial complex ruined Vietnam.  Our prolonged stay, and side invasions of Cambodia and Laos, generationally disrupted and destabilized Southeast Asia, distorted America’s rule of law, and led directly to the present Reagan-Bush corporatist neo-conservative miasma.

Look at how the radical right Republicans have warped the nation they want us to fight for, die for, and honor.  The self-destructive insanity of the radical right Republican way of war makes it looks as if the bad guys have already won.  We are fighting a war for the life of the republic, as a result. 

These are politically motivated corporatist wars, fought to extremes because of ill-informed egos and profit.  These bloody-handed murderers-by-proxy began their plunder of the American nation by taking the Peace Dividend away from us after the Berlin Wall fell.  They shifted to terrorism as the object of their monolithic war machine, and plunged the whole world into wrack and ruin.  Bush’s indefensible “give war a chance” was disgusting; so is Obama’s continued pursuit of it.

End the war now, no matter how wimpy it looks to arrested-adolescent bullyboys, or corporatist oil barons and banksters.  We’ve got a lot of positive work to do, and one dollar spent on peace really is worth ten wasted in war!

Blackwater is just the tip of the iceberg.

President Bush opened the floodgates for outsourcing government jobs, and we’re still reeling from the effects.

Blackwater (now known as Xe), Halliburton, DynCorp, KBR, and Triple Canopy are just some of the multitude of private, for-profit corporations that became integral parts of the American war machine during the simultaneous Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

There is already legislation that has been introduced to tackle some of this problem. The Stop Outsourcing Security Act would prohibit the American government from using mercenaries to fight our wars.

But military contractors are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reckless government outsourcing.

We have an opportunity to change direction. The Obama administration is seeking public comments on the definition of “inherently governmental” functions, which sets the parameters government-wide for what can and cannot be outsourced.

Submit a public comment to the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

It’s vital that we speak out to make sure the federal government steps back from the Bush-era practice of dismantling our government and giving free rein to Blackwater and companies like it.

The role of Blackwater in Iraq and Afghanistan offers a clear picture of the rot that infects our government when we outsource important functions to private entities that only care about their own bottom lines.

When we use private contractors, we sacrifice even the insufficient transparency and accountability we have over our military. Meanwhile, our reliance on greedy and shameless entities magnifies both the human and monetary cost of war.

In 2007, Erik Prince, the former head of Blackwater, testified before Congress that over 90 percent of Blackwater’s contracts were with the federal government (and publicly available data shows over 2/3 of those government contracts were awarded as no-bid contracts).

Weeks before Prince’s testimony, Blackwater mercenaries needlessly slaughtered 17 civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad while guarding American State Department officials. Despite massive and widespread outrage in Iraq and elsewhere, the State Department still has a contract with Blackwater to provide protection for its personnel.

There’s no justifiable reason why our government ought to outsource the decision to pull the trigger and take another life in our name. And what’s true for shooting a gun and taking a life is also true for a whole host of broad areas where our of government should act directly, not through a company looking to squeeze a buck out of the process.

Speak out and submit a public comment about the definition of “inherently governmental” functions.

This issue is, of course, about more than Blackwater, and it’s about more than military contractors. The lack of clarity about what can and cannot be outsourced and the willingness of the American government to outsource as much as possible has allowed the role of federal contractors to metastasize and transform in horrific ways.

It’s even gotten to the point that we cannot adequately oversee contracts and have contractors evaluating the performance of other contractors on behalf of the American government.

We can no longer allow the government to abdicate responsibility of core government functions based upon the unfounded hope that the profit motive will somehow ensure everything will turn out okay.

We need to speak out. There are some things that only the government should do. This outsourcing craze needs to come to an end. Submit your public comment about “inherently governmental” functions today!

MY TWO-BITS to OFPP:

Quit outsourcing government jobs to private contractors.  The People can get the job done better for less cost and for the community’s and not just a few individuals’ profit.

The performance of mission critical security functions by profit-driven contractors is counterproductive and often immoral and criminal.

It’s bad for the morale of our real American troops to see these overpaid and pampered bought-and-sold mercenaries.  I know because I have nephews and nieces who have served in our military in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Talk to real American troops to hear it.

OFPP’s list of inherently governmental functions that these mercenaries must not perform should include: guard services, convoy security services, pass and identification services, plant protection services, the operation of prison or detention facilities, and any security operations that might reasonably require the use of deadly force; and, from support of intelligence activities (including covert operations), interrogation, military and police training, and repair and maintenance of weapon systems.

Machiavelli famously wrote that mercenaries might be trusted for only two things: to demand more money; and to run out when the chips are down.  Don’t buy champagne for mercenaries, use our money wisely to equip and protect our real American troops.

Finally, have you given any thought to what is to happen if these mercenaries decide they’ve got a better business proposition from our archenemies?  Or, face unemployment?  In Europe unemployed mercenaries set off the Hundred Years’ War, which might properly be called the “Rape, Murder and Plunder Crusade.”  The “Holy Crusades” were invented as a safety vent to send them packing out of town to do their dirty deeds.

Let’s not foment a restive and brutal gaggle of banditti.  Send these mercenaries packing out of town, without so much as one Federal bullet.

http://www.change.org/credoaction/petitions/view/tell_congress_stop_outsourcing_our_security_to_blackwater_and_private_mercenaries

http://act.credoaction.com/campaign/inherently_gov/?r_by=9248-1645255-CIMijKx&rc=confemail1

Stand up to the Texas Taliban

We can’t allow a small group of extreme ideologues on the Texas State Board of Education to re-write history. Tell textbook publishers to stand up to the Texas Taliban.

Stand up to the Texas Taliban

If you thought that decisions made by the Texas State Board of Education don’t affect you, think again.

Led by far-right ideologues, the Texas SBOE recently gave preliminary approval to a plan that would radically change what children across the country learn in history class.

The ultra-conservative majority on the board (none of whom are experts in any academic discipline and many of whom are explicitly anti-science) took the curricula proposed by teachers and made more than 100 changes to “correct” the perceived left-wing bias.

But it gets worse. Since Texas is one of the largest textbook markets in the country, material written to cater to the Texas curricula will find its way into textbooks across the country unless textbook publishers take a stand.

We can’t allow a small group of extreme ideologues on the Texas State Board of Education to re-write history. Tell textbook publishers to stand up to the Texas Taliban.

Children who use textbooks conforming to the new standards will not learn anything about Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophy or his thoughts on the separation of church and state. When they learn about the Civil War, they’ll have to study Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address alongside Abraham Lincoln’s. And when they study the civil rights movement they’ll have to learn about the “unintended consequences” of Great Society programs, affirmative action and Title IX. Oh — and Joe McCarthy was right all along no matter what historians actually say about it.

It’s outrageous. Education will fail if we can’t teach our children history. We can’t let these far-right ideologues co-opt our educational system.

Tell the textbook publishers: Don’t let the Texas Taliban rewrite history.

For more information, read these two New York Times articles: How Christian Were the Founders? and Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change.

"Honey, I'm Home!"

DRUNK CALLS and COVER-UPS

May 19, 2010

DON’T DRUNK-DIAL the Tea Party or FreedomWorks, D.C. Douglas Video 

http://www.commondreams.org/

GOP Running Out Clock on Wall Street Reform
http://act.commondreams.org/go/683?akid=62.63000.-_katv&t=8

Criminals and Cover-ups

Daydreams.

Holder Harbors Siegelman Frame-up Culprit.

[Background: Don Eugene Siegelman (born February 24, 1946) is an American Democratic Party politician who held numerous offices in Alabama. He was the 51st Governor of Alabama for one term from 1999 to 2003. Siegelman is the only person in the history of Alabama to be elected to serve in all four of the top statewide elected offices: Secretary of State, Attorney General, 26th Lieutenant Governor and Governor. He served in Alabama politics for 26 years.

After the expiration of his governorship, two of Alabama’s United States Attorneys began a criminal investigation against him on accusations of corruption while in office. Indictments came in 2004 and again in 2005, and in 2006 he was convicted on corruption charges. There has been an ongoing controversy due to counteraccusations that his prosecution was intentionally wrongful, engineered by presidential advisor Karl Rove and officials of the U.S. Department of Justice to gain political advantage. National news media have published investigations into this claim and at least 50 U.S. legislators and officials have publicly expressed their skepticism over Siegelman’s prosecution. The treatment of Siegelman pending his sentencing was so harsh that it prompted an intervention by 44 former Attorneys General of various states.]

Scott Horton, Legal Affairs writer for Harper’s Magazine, exposes further misconduct in the Siegelman case quoting one member of the prosecution as saying that he would not come forward to expose government misconduct because:

–“you don’t understand, these people would kill me if they have to to keep the lid on this.” And Main Justice? “They’d be happy to learn that I was dead.”

Horton says the person responsible for subverting justice is David Margolas, Deputy Attorney General and the right hand man to Eric Holder. (Who is David Margolas? See Scott Horton’s speech below, 4th page, 3rd full paragraph.)

Please read this article and Horton’s speech linked in The Legal Schnauzer. It is chilling!

INSIDER ON SIEGELMAN PROSECUTION TEAM FEARS FOR HIS LIFE

A member of the team that prosecuted former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman says he witnessed rampant misconduct in the case but is afraid to come forward out of fear for his life.

Scott Horton, legal-affairs contributor for Harper’s Magazine, made the revelation in a speech last week to the Rotary Club of New York and the American Constitution Society

Horton says that one Justice Department whistleblower–Tamarah Grimes, of Montgomery–had come forward about misconduct in the Siegelman prosecution and wound up losing her job. A second, unnamed whistleblower fears a similar fate, or worse, if he comes forward.

Horton says he has interviewed both prosecution insiders, and they corroborate statements by key witness Nick Bailey that he was heavily coached and threatened with being outed as a homosexual. Says Horton.

As I note, two members of the prosecution team were appalled by the misconduct that drove the case against Siegelman. One of them filed internal complaints inside the Justice Department. The result? Her name is Tamara Grimes. She was persecuted, hounded, and finally dismissed from her position–in direct violation of the federal whistleblower protection statute.

And what about the second member of the team?

(He) tells me he will not step forward because he knows he would face the same fate. He even indicated the fear of a mob type–“you don’t understand, these people would kill me if they have to to keep the lid on this.” And Main Justice? “They’d be happy to learn that I was dead.”

Horton goes on to summarize the Justice Department’s disgraceful handling of the Siegelman case:

So today, even though the Siegelman case has been torn to shreds in the public and 104 state attorneys general, led by Grant Woods, the national co-chair of the McCain for President campaign, have formally complained about the Justice Department’s gross and abusive handling the case, the Justice Department admits no wrong. It’s even issued a series of brazenly false public statements in an attempt to cover its tracks.

The Siegelman prosecution hardly is an isolated instance of abuse. Horton discusses other justice-related matters, and the full speech can be viewed here. May 17, 2010 by Huffington Post

NOT SO SAD SACHS

Just Say, "Yes!"

Goldman Sachs Publicly Backs Financial ReformWhile Dispatching Army of Lobbyists.  Amid Attempts to Rein in Wall Street, Persuaders Safeguard Bank’s Interests. by Adele Hampton.

For all of Goldman Sachs’ professed support for an overhaul of financial regulations, the megabank hasn’t exactly withdrawn its army of lobbyists. Far from wearing out its welcome, the firm is busier than ever safeguarding its interests while a Wall Street crackdown takes shape in Washington.

Goldman has an unrivaled and influential network of lobbyists, including about 50 people with close ties to Congress and past White Houses, a Huffington Post Investigative Fund analysis of lobbying and campaign records shows. The lobbyists are challenging reforms aimed at Goldman’s profit centers, including the trading of complex contracts known as derivatives. The Senate this week will continue debating proposed regulations of derivatives, which are blamed for fueling the financial crisis.

Perceptions of Goldman’s role in the crisis, along with a civil fraud case brought against the bank last month by the Securities and Exchange Commission, have already spurred predictions of a less dominant future. But all is not lost for Goldman, which still stands out as perhaps the most influential of the nation’s top six banks — a remarkable feat given a crowded field of well-connected institutions.

Goldman’s more immediate concern, meanwhile, is the SEC’s accusations of fraud and potential criminal charges that could ensue from that case.

In response to the commission’s accusations, Goldman is beefing up its legal team. The megabank is projected to hire Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, a prominent corporate law firm, according to a Financial Times report. An SEC spokesman said he could not comment if Goldman, after hearing about the civil fraud investigation, dispatched lobbyists to dissuade the commission from pursuing the case.

Staff Reporter Ben Protess contributed to this report READ MORE: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/05/17-4

We really need the immediate suppression and re-education of all Big Guys, and re-distribution of property and money.  Old banks to be required to hand over all of their assets and accounts to new community banks and credit unions; old bankers to fold their tents and look for honest and modest human employment.  The entire Health Insurance Industry should be closed down and put out to pasture – some nice place such as Angola.

Have you ever seen such bluster and fuss?

A SOCIETY SO FREE

May 13, 2010

George Washington

George Washington 

 Dr. James Abercrombie, pastor of Philadelphia’s Christ Episcopal Church, looked out at a congregation that included George Washington the first President of the United States.  Everyone knew that the President walked out of church on communion Sundays, just before administration of the sacrament.  Dr. Abercrombie mentioned no names, but he pointed out the grave responsibility of “those in elevated stations” to set good examples for lesser folk.  His message did not pass Washington’s ears unheeded.  Thereafter, the Father of Our Country didn’t go to church at all on communion Sundays.

Washington was a professed Christian with regular church attendance, but he did not partake in the Lord’s Supper.  The European Enlightenment shaped his religious ideas.  He favored an intellectual atmosphere unfavorable to symbolic rites.  He was far from unique among the Founding Fathers of the American republic.  All Washington’s educated contemporaries were more or less children of the Age of Reason (as Tom Paine called it).  The acknowledged political leaders among them were its eminent sons.

There was no uniformity of opinion among the Founding Fathers on religion or philosophy, but a broad spectrum of sects and creeds, a reminder of the Enlightenment’s respect for dissenting opinions.  Full freedom of belief was not legally protected pre-Revolution; most colonies had an established church supported by the government, but minority groups and nonconforming individuals were guaranteed wide leeway.  Whatever their religious differences, all the Founding Fathers were political revolutionaries, determined to create a new model of government by consent of the governed. 

 Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson’s New Testament

Thomas Jefferson had an intense interest in religion’s relation to government.  In his second term as President (1805-09) he composed for his own satisfaction a version of the New Testament called “The Life and Morals of Jesus.”  He left out the Last Supper.  He said he wrote it to rescue the moral teachings of Jesus from “the crazy speculations of crazy theologists, abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried.”

Jefferson called himself Christian, but rejected “the immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity, original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, etc.”  He thought Christ was a great reformer, author of a “system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man” – but human not divine.  To be Christian one had only to follow Christ’s system of ethics, uncontaminated by additions, adulterations, and distortions of those who came after.  The “free exercise of reason” was all one needed to tell Jesus’ original teaching from the dross.  Orthodox clergy called this heresy; a cheap disguise for atheism; and an easy target for Federalists in the campaign of 1800.

Yet Jefferson held a belief in a Supreme Being based on reasoned conclusions drawn from evidence and deduction, not implicit faith.  He wrote to John Adams, “I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the universe, in its parts, general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of its composition.”  Newton and his contemporaries demonstrated that man lived in a universe of precise mathematical law and order; it seemed scientifically evident that such cosmic design could only come from the hand of a divine Creator.

It was not traditional Christianity, this idea of an invisible but demonstrable God whose existence was proved only by His handiwork; for “He” was now a nearly impersonal power, responsible for the origin and laws of the universe, but not interfering in its operation once the myriad wheels of the great machine had been set in motion.  This was “Nature’s God,” as Jefferson phrased it in the Declaration of Independence; and to him and many others the religion appropriate to Nature’s God must be natural, not supernatural.  Deism, or “natural religion,” expressed their theological creed, not a Christianity based on revelation, mystery, and miracle.

Atheism and Natural Morality

Prominent in France, Diderot, d’Alembert, Condorcet, and the Baron d’Holbach postulated an automatic universe, operating by inexorable natural laws, but utterly devoid of God or God’s purpose.  Jefferson resisted such atheism, but he was not an absolutist, even on the question of God’s existence.  His creed of intellectual freedom was too firm for that, and he saw no threat in atheism.  He wrote: ”It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty Gods, or no God.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”  He urged his nephew to make reason his guide, “call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion.  Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”

Jefferson saw moral and material degradation in France caused by a combination of religious persecution and tyrannical government.  Voltaire wrote that atheists, deplorable as they might be, made better neighbors than religious fanatics.  Jefferson knew French atheists as friends, not monsters.  “Diderot, d’Alembert, Condorcet, and d’Holbach,” he wrote, “are known to have been among the most virtuous of men.  Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.”  The basis of human morality and government intrigued Jefferson all his life.

Its essence was natural morality.  “Man was destined for society,” he wrote. “He was endowed with a sense of right and wrong, merely relative to this.  This sense is as much a part of his nature as the sense of hearing, seeing, feeling; it is the true foundation of morality.  The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm.”  A gift of the Creator, acknowledgement of its source was not necessary to its function.  If one chose to be an atheist, “you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure for you.”

The Rock of Democratic Faith

Natural morality was the rock of Jefferson’s democratic faith.  The doctrine of original sin was anathema; human nature could be trusted: all normal men were endowed by their Creator not only with unalienable rights, but also unalienable instincts, including a natural moral sense.  Except in conditions of ignorance, poor education, poverty and bad social conditions, the mass would gravitate toward what was right on fundamental issues, if allowed complete freedom of conscience.  Majority rule – a sacred principle to Jefferson – depended on a well-informed public, each member of which could choose among moral or political alternatives with absolute freedom from mental coercion.

An organized church was unlikely to leave men’s minds completely free.  Each sect claimed special revelation of God’s will directly to its prophets or priests, or recorded in a “bible”.  Religions were unwilling to give up moral (and, political) choices to the untrammeled conscience of the individual citizen.  The Declaration of Independence envisaged a free society ruled by consent of the governed.  Informed decision and consent needed good public education based on complete freedom of mind.  Religion made the first fundamental challenge to the republic’s freedom of mind.

James Madison

Madison and Freedom of Conscience

In 1776, James Madison served on a committee to draw up Virginia’s bill of rights.  The chairperson was the great George Mason, major author of the bill, which was prototype for the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.  Madison and Jefferson thought Mason’s statement on religious freedom fell short in two respects: it allowed continuation of a state-supported church, and spoke of “toleration in the exercise of religion” rather than absolute freedom of conscience.  Madison let the disestablishment issue pass for political reasons, but proposed wording to move forward from mere toleration (which implied the state’s right to grant or withhold religious freedom) to that of freedom of conscience as an unalienable natural right.  It read: “All men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience.”  It was a quiet yet important triumph in the struggle for complete liberty of thought in America.

In 1779, Jefferson and Madison worked for abolition of state financed religion.  Government salaries for Anglican ministers were suspended, but the church still functioned as the official one in the state of Virginia, it was impossible to be legally married unless an Anglican performed the ceremony, and heresy against the Christian faith was still a crime.  Jefferson’s “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom” would have swept aside all such restrictions, but it ran into fierce opposition and failed to pass.

In 1784 Virginia’s Anglican hierarchy pressed for new tax funds for church support; Patrick Henry proposed an annual assessment for “support of the Christian religion or of some Christian church,” without naming a specific sect, trying to shift from the traditional single church form of establishment to the multiple, embracing several denominations, a trend in several states.  This defensive strategy has been used for over two centuries to resist government sanction for religion that has moved to a broader and less sectarian base.  In 1784 Virginia Presbyterians, formerly anti-establishment joined to demand the broader form.  Madison said they were as ready “to set up an establishment which is to take them in as they were to pull down that which shut them out.”

He wrote “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” (1785) to generate thousands of petition signatures to show that the majority were in no mood to forsake the religious freedom promised by the 1776 Declaration of Rights.  The surprised assessment sponsors dropped the bill.  Every man’s religion, Madison wrote,

“…must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right…because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men…. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society, and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance… Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in the exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?… Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess, and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence that has convinced us….”

Important to the First Amendment, Madison and the Virginia petitioners understood “establishment of religion” as any government sponsorship of any or all religions, and not just the European pattern of an exclusive, official state church.  They wanted a solid “wall of separation between church and state,” in Jefferson’s later phrase.

A last minute opposition effort to confine the law’s benefits to Christians instead of protecting even (as Jefferson noted) “the Infidel of every denomination,” failed.  In 1786, Madison sent news that the most sweeping guarantee of freedom of conscience in the history of the western world was a statute of Virginia; its provisions, “have in this country extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human mind.”

A National Bill of Rights

Revolution had blown away much restrictive custom and legislation.  Most of the states passed bills of rights honoring religious freedom, although, excepting Rhode Island, New Jersey and New York, they had church establishment in multiple form.

The national Constitutional Convention in 1786, ignored religious freedom as “state” business.  However, the Constitution was so more powerful than the Articles of Confederation, the rights of people had to be “the polar star of political conduct,” George Mason said.  Delegates began arguing for rights and guarantees.  Charles Pinckney of South Carolina urged a federal Constitutional ban on religious tests for federal officeholders; aware of their own diversity, delegates quickly adopted it as Article VI.

Madison’s amendment on religion became the First Amendment with much rewording.  He first introduced it as, “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, abridged.”  It goes straight to the center of Jefferson and Madison’s agreement on the relationship of religion to democratic government.  The heart of the matter was absolute freedom of thought for the individual citizen without government pressure toward any system of belief whatever.  Had Madison’s suggestion been adopted, official sanction for even vague theism (such as the phrase “In God We Trust” on our money, or “under God” in the national oath of allegiance, would be unconstitutional.  It is sure that his wording would have supported Supreme Court decisions against the devotional use of prayers or Bible reading in public schools.  It may not have shed equal light on controversial church-state issues, e.g. payment of chaplains for service in the armed forces.

In 1789 Madison unsuccessfully opposed appointment of official chaplains for Congress, because “these are to be paid out of the national taxes”; and Jefferson, as President refused to follow Washington’s and Adams’ examples in proclaiming certain days for religious observance.  “I do not believe,” he wrote, “it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines.  Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining of them an act of discipline.”

Fearing that it might outlaw or discourage religion altogether, the amendment was tinkered in the House and sent to the Senate worded, “Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or to prevent the free exercise thereof, or to infringe the rights of conscience.”  The phrase “or to prevent the free exercise thereof” indicated a desire that the prohibition of establishment should not be interpreted as hostile to religion; conventional Christian sects were still dominant in America, despite inroads by deism.

Madison’s sharp focus on utter freedom of thought and expression as the essence of what is now the First Amendment is shown by another amendment he advanced specifically forbidding any state to infringe the rights of conscience, freedom of speech, and a free press.  This addition, he thought, was “the most valuable on the whole list.”

Madison’s “most valuable” one was dropped by the Senate.  They struggled over imposing neutral policy on the government, not merely preventing one sect from gaining government favor at the expense of others.  The emphasis on “establish” leans toward the idea of government infringement on the “rights of conscience” although that phrase was dropped.  A joint committee was formed to write the wording now part of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  Madison was not pleased to see his key phrase “rights of conscience” abandoned, but he was convinced that the Bill of Rights could be reasonably interpreted as prohibiting federal support of religious activities in any form.

A Society So Free

He and Jefferson interpreted it that way during their presidencies and for the rest of their lives.  They led a successful campaign for separation of church and state as an essential for democracy, but their theoretical reasons for doing so were grasped by relatively few of their countrymen.  They knew their ideal was still remote: a society so free that its only ideological commitment would be to freedom of the mind.  Much of the support they rallied for a wall between church and state had other sources; in part a native intellectual current against absolutism which has never – or not yet – failed to flow in America despite counteracting currents of great force.  In part, from the mutual competitive mistrust of the religious sects toward one another.  Always pragmatic, Jefferson and Madison saw the value of this, despite their own rejection of revealed religion.  Variety of belief was a useful insurance against tyranny.

Since ratification in 1791, the First Amendment has had fluctuating interpretation.  In the last half of the Twentieth Century, the Supreme Court found that the Fourteenth Amendment enjoins the guarantees of the First upon the states, for the protection of every citizen.  There has been confusion and inconsistency; school children pronounce “under God” in the daily Pledge of Allegiance, but may not be led in official school prayers.  Over the years the trend has been toward strict separation of church and state.  The Justices have shown a strong penchant for citing Jefferson and Madison as champions of freedom in explaining and supporting Court decisions on the First Amendment.

There is nothing sacred about our founders’ ideas, but whether one agrees or not about how high and impassable the wall between church and state ought to be in a free society, they deserve to be remembered and understood as the two Founding Fathers who devoted more of their minds and lives to this great problem than anyone else.  They were the center of a high-pressure area in the climate of opinion of their time, and their conclusions are strongly reflected in the Constitution as it was finally adopted.

Emerging from the matrix of the Enlightenment with such men as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, James Monroe, and even George Washington and John Adams, they were its intellectual offspring.  The impact of “natural religion” on the genesis of democratic liberty, through their influence, has too often been ignored.

Writing to Dr. Benjamin Rush in 1800 before he became President, Jefferson alleged certain clerical “schemes” to breach the religion clause of the First Amendment.  He would oppose them with all his power, he said, “for I have sworn on the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”  It was “Nature’s God” that he was thinking of; and for that vow above all others the altar was not to be found, he believed, within the limits of any dogmatic creed.

ABSTRACT: E.M. Halliday, “Nature’s God and the Founding Fathers,” American Heritage. READ THE FULL ESSAY at: http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1963/6/1963_6_4.shtml

FREE THE SIDEBAR!

May 8, 2010

Nature

Dear President Obama,

As the Gulf of Mexico spill shows, industry claims about the safety of their operations are simply untrue. There is no safe way to drill for oil in Alaska’s seas, and no way to clean up spilled oil in broken ice conditions.  

I urge you to immediately withdraw your approval for Shell Oil to drill this summer in the Arctic. In order to truly protect the people and environment of the Arctic, you must not allow exploration and development of the current leases in the Arctic.

The selfish idiocy of the oil barons is painfully apparent.  Greed not need fuels the oil companies’ grab for the world’s oil resources.  The precarious livability of our entire planet is at stake and they care only for profits!  I urge you to reverse your decision to expand offshore oil drilling nationwide. 

Thank you.

The Center for Biological Diversity’s incredible Live Gulf Oil Disaster site is shared below.  All you never wanted to know about this horrific environmental disaster.

Food for thought: if foreign terrorists had done this to us, would we be looking to coddle the offenders?  Foreign terrorists don’t need to be very bright, because we are fully capable of causing immensely more damage than they can ever achieve – even flying fifty jetliners into fifty buildings – to ourselves!  Lawd have mercy!

INFINITY STOPS HERE

May 5, 2010

Fears for Crops as Shock Figures From America Show Scale of Bee Catastrophe by Alison Benjamin May 2, 2010 by The Observer/UK

The world may be on the brink of biological disaster after news that a third of US bee colonies did not survive the winter

Disturbing evidence that honeybees are in terminal decline has emerged from the United States where, for the fourth year in a row, more than a third of colonies have failed to survive the winter.

The decline of the country’s estimated 2.4 million beehives began in 2006, when a phenomenon dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD) led to the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of colonies. Since then more than three million colonies in the US and billions of honeybees worldwide have died and scientists are no nearer to knowing what is causing the catastrophic fall in numbers.

The number of managed honeybee colonies in the US fell by 33.8% last winter, according to the annual survey by the Apiary Inspectors of America and the US government’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

The collapse in the global honeybee population is a major threat to crops. It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon honeybee pollination, which means that bees contribute some £26bn to the global economy. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010.  READ MORE: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/05/02-1 .

Why We Need Bees and More People Becoming Organic Beekeepers By Makenna Goodman, Chelsea Green Publishing.

Bees teach us how to live our life in a way that by taking what we need from the world around us, we leave the world better than we found it.

Beekeeping is rising in popularity — from urban rooftops to backyard hives, the world is abuzz with interest in homemade honey. And who better to comment on the nature of bees than the former president of the Vermont Beekeepers Association, Ross Conrad. He’s led bee-related presentations and taught organic beekeeping workshops and classes throughout North America for many years, and Conrad’s small beekeeping business supplies friends, neighbors, and local stores with honey and candles among other bee related products, not to mention provides bees for Vermont apple pollination in spring. I talked to Conrad about organic beekeeping, the state of pollination, and tips for aspiring bee farmers. Makenna Goodman: Your book, Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture, offers up a program of natural beehive management, and an alternative to conventional chemical-based approaches. So — why organic beekeeping.

Ross Conrad: History has shown us that the industrialized “economy of scale” approach does not work when applied to agriculture because we are dealing with living biological systems, not an inert assembly line food production system where the economy of scale approach can be applied across the board. One of the biggest issues is the large number of chemical contaminants that are being found in beeswax and pollen, often at very high concentrations. Toxic chemical contamination has been implicated in Colony Collapse and the reality is that there is no effective regulation of chemicals in Western society. Let me tell you why: READ MORE: http://www.alternet.org/environment/143764/why_we_need_bees_and_more_people_becoming_organic_beekeepers.

TIP for Home Gardeners:  Plant rosemary.  Bees love the blossoms.  It’s good spice in the kitchen.  And, it smells great!

Oil Spill May Be Five Times Bigger Than Previously Thought by Philip Sherwell, US Editor Sunday, May 2, 2010 by The Telegraph/UK.

Oil from the wrecked Deepwater Horizon rig is feared to be gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at five times the latest estimate of the US Coastguard, according to satellite imagery studied by industry experts.

The view from space indicates that the oil may be leaking at a rate of 25,000 barrels a day, dwarfing the figure of 5,000 barrels that US officials and the British oil giant BP have used in recent days.

That would mean that some nine million gallons may already have escaped from the underwater well following the April 20 explosion that killed 11 rig workers. It suggests the disaster will almost certainly prove greater than the Exxon Valdez tanker spill off Alaska in 1989, which released 11 million gallons and was the worst previous spill at sea.

President Barack Obama will visit the region on Sunday morning, aides have announced. The trip comes amid mounting criticism that the White House has been slow to react to the crisis.

His predecessor, George W Bush, faced similar anger over the federal government’s handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But the government has emphasised that responsibility for the clean-up rests with BP, which leased the rig and initially played down the scale of the leak.

As the administration steps up its operations, the Pentagon will spray the slick with chemical dispersants from military C-130 planes, although environmental groups warned that these could also seriously damage the eco-system.

Menwhile Eric Holder, the country’s attorney general, is dispatching a team of lawyers to New Orleans to assess whether any laws have been broken. BP, which leased the rig and owned the oil rights, had downplayed the possible danger of any spill – predicting “no significant adverse impact” – when it submitted its exploration plan last year.

The scale of the looming catastrophe was still unclear yesterday as strong winds hampered an emergency operation to mop up the 2,200 sq mile slick being blown towards the coast of five US states.

Another political embarrassment for Mr Obama is that he had only recently announced White House approval for a controversial expansion of offshore oil exploration.

The policy has been enthusiastically pushed by Republicans such as former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin – who litters speeches with the phrase “drill, baby drill” – and has also been backed by a majority of Americans since fuel prices soared.

But environmental groups and many members of the president’s Democratic party are fiercely opposed to new drilling off America’s coastline. And the White House said last week that no new licences would be granted while the cause of the current disaster is investigated.

Several lawsuits have been filed against BP, Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and other oil industry companies involved in the operation, on behalf of residents and businesses as well as survivors and relatives of those killed in the April 20 explosion.

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/05/02-0

Obama Biggest Recipient of BP Cash by Erika Lovley May 5, 2010 by Politico.com

While the BP oil geyser pumps millions of gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico, President Barack Obama and members of Congress may have to answer for the millions in campaign contributions they’ve taken from the oil and gas giant over the years. BP and its employees have given more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Donations come from a mix of employees and the company’s political action committees — $2.89 million flowed to campaigns from BP-related PACs and about $638,000 came from individuals. On top of that, the oil giant has spent millions each year on lobbying — including $15.9 million last year alone — as it has tried to influence energy policy.

During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC and individual money over the past 20 years, according to financial disclosure records.

Moreover, the company has nearly tripled the amount of money it has spent on lobbying, from about $5.7 million in 1999 to $15.9 million last year, according to lobbying disclosures.

BP has bulked up its K Street team by signing some of the biggest firms in Washington, several of which employ former Hill staffers with deep-seated ties to Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico coast.

BP representation within lobby shop Alpine Group alone includes lobbyist Bob Brooks, who served as chief of staff to former Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), and lobbyist Rebecca Hawes, a longtime counsel for former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.). Jason Schendle worked for Landrieu for nine years, according to lobbying disclosures.  READ MORE: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/05/05-2

Ways to Reduce Carbon footprint

ACTION:  Lifetime carbon dioxide emission per person saved in Metric Tons:

Recycle newspaper, magazines, glass, plastic, and aluminum cans: 17

Replace old refrigerator with energy-efficient model:  19

Replace 10 incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient ones:  36

Replace single-glazed windows with energy=efficient windows.  121

Reduce miles driven from 231 to 155 per week:   147

Increase car’s fuel economy from 20 miles per gallon to 30:  148

REDUCE NUMBER OF CHILDREN BY ONE        –     9,441

Data from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s personal emissions calculator and calculations by OSU statistics professor Paul Murtaugh.  Annual totals based on lifespan of 80 (female expectancy U.S.)  Source: Paul Murtaugh.

Denial ain't a river in Africa.