Just Tell Me What I Need To Know, the Rest Does Not Exist

Many of us do not care to learn what people in positions of power are doing. We are content going about our daily routines, making money, paying bills, losing ourselves in entertainment and socializing.

As one friend told me, “why should I vote in an election when it won’t matter?”

Well, it could be said that nothing matters as long as it isn’t causing you direct grief at the moment. But as we all know, some things take a while to grow before they start causing us tangible problems. Some things, like the “boiled frog syndrome”, change so slowly that we don’t even realize the world has transformed around us, and we suddenly find ourselves boiling in hot water.

Many of the little articles I’ve written rely on information that is currently freely available on the internet, in publications and directly from the people involved in the issues.

If we look back at events that have shaped our current collective obsessions, like the 9/11 attack, we see things happening like a stunning lack of available information related to the causes, the causal ties, and we continually hit up against walls of secrecy and information obstruction. Our intelligence agencies have even been directed by the current administration to refrain from following certain routes that their investigations might take them in their efforts to uncover the full truths.

Since that time, many of our Constitutional rights are being challenged and eroded.

Simultaneously, the Judicial Branch of the US government is under seige. People are being imprisoned without warrant and kept from lawyers and trials. Judges are being accused of enforcing their own agendas by any ruling they make that is not in line with the current administration. Most disturbingly, the current adminstration is doing its best to place judges into the system that place their own religious beliefs or “party loyalty” above the Law – judicial nominations to high courts have even included people who have never had any judicial experience whatsoever.

We have invaded a foreign country with no ties, and, in fact, who are known enemies of the people apparently responsible for the 9/11 attack. We have driven up petroleum prices to insane highs and are now going to start sacrificing our own environment to squeeze out the last little bits of oil we have left to ensure profit for our dying oil industry – Texas.

Our leaders have lied and manipulated both Congress and We the People to achieve their goals.

They speak of God – the God of Truth and Love. The God of turning the other cheek. The God of Charity and Compassion.

They give money to the rich, and take money away from the poor.

They pour money into a new government agency that is meant to monitor not only the world, but us – its own citizenry. An agency that has unprecidented powers, and little accountability. An agency that can keep just about any information it wants from us. An agency that can command one of us to never mention to anyone that they took away one of our friends.

Mike pointed me to an article in Slate Magazine called The Age of Missing Information – The Bush administration’s campaign against openness. In it, Steven Aftergood, who monitors closely issues related to government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, speaks to the growing trend of the Bush Administration to classify or just even make unavailable information to us.

Classification of information has increased by 75% since Bush took office – making it unavailable. As we know from a previous article, this even includes such things as knowing about certain laws – laws that we can break without even knowing they exist.

There is a trend to classify information about the amount of industrial pollution created, or toxic waste produced by companies. To allow for secret use of public lands. In general, to allow the government, and select private sector industries, to do things without ever having to disclose that they’re doing anything.

Steven also mentions several agencies that historically publish information available to the public that are now restricting the public’s access to this information, including the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency which produces wonderful maps that are used widely by environmentalists, engineers, biologists, etc.

Even the Environmental Protection Agency is starting to restrict access to their information.

When I was working with Battelle Memorial Institute they began a program of researching into the Human Radiation Experiments performed on Hanford employees and the surrounding population and environment beginning in the 1940’s. Hanford is a US DOE (Department of Energy) facility and Battelle got involved with it for the DOE in the 1960’s.

The Hanford Human Radiation Experiments were only part of a much larger DOE project involving several facilities around the country. It began with a car accident victim being injected directly with plutonium to see what would happen. Exposure to different kinds of radiation and studies of different absorbtion properties were of interest.

For example, at Hanford, in one experiment about 8,000 curies of radioactive iodine and about 20,000 curies of radioactive xenon were intentionally released from a separation plant stack into the surrounding countryside. In another, employees were given radioactive iodine-131 in milk.

Hanford scientist monitored the radiation effects on the surrounding environment wildlife. They monitored the radiation effects on local Indian tribes.

So here we have just one little example of what can happen “behind the scenes”. It is naif to believe similar things do not occur still.

With such secrecy, how does the Hanford Human Radiation Experiments come to light? Well, apart from accidents that kept happening to people inside the facility, which can make people talk:

1964 President Johnson ordered the gradual shutdown of the Hanford nuclear plants. This caused some economic panic locally.

1971 the last nuclear plant at Hanford was closed.

1973 – in May, the Seattle PI reported that 100 billion gallons of toxic waste were spilled during the years of Hanford operations. In June, Hanford reports that a 115,000 gallon leak from a toxic tank just happend.

1975 the Seattle PI reports that at least 60 “unplanned” released of radioactivity occured. This was a result of the very first environmental impact statement about Hanford compiled by the Federal Energy Research and Development Administration.

1978 the manager of Hanford’s waste surveillance program resigns saying that the DOE covered up lots of leaks that occurred.

1983 the DOE re-opens the plutonium uranium extraction (PUREX) plant at Hanford.

1984 the DOE temporarily shut down the PUREX plant because thorium emissions exceeded standards. Later it changed its story and said plutonium emissions prompted the closure.

1985 – July, the Spokane Spokesman-Review published the first article about Hanford “downwinders”.

1985 – October, a public forum was held where Hanford’s DOE manager announced that the DOE would provide summary information about Hanford’s past emissions. A few days later, HEAL (a citizen’s group) and the Spokane Physicians for Social Responsibility held a symposium “Human Health and Hanford”. A few days later than that, the DOE said they would release the actual raw data about Hanford’s radioactive emissions in addition to the summary information they promised.

1985 – December, the Washington State Nuclear Waste Board passed a resolution calling for an independent health study of Hanford downwinders.

1986 – January, HEAL files under the Freedom of Information Act to assure they get the right documentation from the DOE.

1986 – February, the DOE releases 19,000 pages of documentation which reveals much.

After this, local Indian tribes and residents begin to file lawsuits, and the Human Irradiation Experiments come to light. The local state governments of Washington, Oregon and Idaho get involved, and the DOE begins to cooperate with medical and health research related to past victims and current victims.

IMPORANT NOTE: The Freedom of Information Act.

The current trend we are in is eroding considerably the power of the Freedom of Information Act. Many policies enacted and laws passed recently allow agencies to completely bypass the Act, making public accountability impossible.

On Febrary 16th 2005 Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the bill S.394 which is mean to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act in the wake of our new climate of secrecy and non-accountability. It is called the OPEN Government Act of 2005.

I believe we desperately need this Act. The ACLU has an information page on it and a way to contact your legislators, if you like.

As Steven says in his article:

The information blackout may serve the short-term interests of the present administration, which is allergic to criticism or even to probing questions. But it is a disservice to the country. Worst of all, the Bush administration’s information policies are conditioning Americans to lower their expectations of government accountability and to doubt their own ability to challenge their political leaders.

Information is the oxygen of democracy. Day by day, the Bush administration is cutting off the supply.

2006 Budget Perhaps Losing Some of Its Gloom

Bush’s budget wanted to strip out a lot of so-called “entitlement” programs. That is, Bush doesn’t like it when the government takes our money and then gives it back to us where it’s needed most – like to old people, poor people, education for our people and basic health care. Even firefighters and police forces.

However, giving more money to the defense department is good, as is federal “police forces” like the Department of Homeland Security.

But something interesting happened in the Senate yesterday. They voted to remove Bush’s cuts to the Medicaid program which amounted to around $14 billion. They also restored $2 billion back into urban development grants.

While Bush wanted to cut Medicaid and urban development grants, totaling $16 billion, he wanted at the same time to give the pentagon around $20 billion more to their already existing budget of $400 billion.

None of that increase to the Pentagon pays for the war, which is expected to cost $100 billion more this year. That money comes from emergency appropriations, which is totally separate from their budget.

At the same time he’s trying to stop giving money back to people who need it, like poor, sick, and old people, he’s actually putting in more tax breaks for the richest people again – including some excellent capital gains tax breaks.

By giving more of these tax breaks to the wealthiest, it means the government has far less money coming in. And if the government is concerned about budget deficits, why is it so purposefully taking in less money? Don’t they need that extra money? Or is it better to cut out the money we spend to help our own people?

I guess maybe it’s back to that whole idea of the redistribution of wealth issue that first year philosophy students always seem to discuss. Maybe this is why he wants education money cut so badly.

At least some people in the Senate may have taken a few philosophy courses. Or maybe they just don’t want to upset the people who elect them. I hope it’s the former, at least as much as the latter.

Finally some good news.

Then again, the Department of Homeland Security will get around $42 billion. That’s an increase of about $2.5 billion. The Department of Education will have $0.5 billion cut – down to $56 billion. The Perkins loan program will be ended (low interest loans for students), but they’ll increase the Pell Grant by $100.

How Much More Can We Squeeze

For years, energy money interests have tried getting their greedy little hands on the oil thought to exist on the 1.5 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They have always been thwarted. This year, thanks to a sneaky trick, the Republicans will likely give it to them.

A few days ago, Arctic drilling was made into a budget measure. Today, the US budget has an amendment opening up the wildlife reserve in Alaska to oil companies, according to CNN, that cannot be fought by filibuster. So basically, if we want a US budget, we have to give the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge over to oil companies.

They tried to do this same thing last year, but failed.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA), a part of the US Department of Energy (DOE) issued a report in May of 2000 assessing the ANWR energy potential.

The report estimates it is likely a total of 10 billion barrels of oil exist in ANWR. Certainly not more than 16 billion barrels.

Interesting, we currently have almost 700 million barrels tucked away in storage, in our Strategic Petrolium Reserve. We consume over 20 million barrels per day. ANWR peak production, reached after almost a decade, will only be 1 million barrels per day – and by that time, our daily consumption will be up considerably. It will only be a tiny fraction of what we use, even at peak.

So why would we go through so much trouble, risking environmental harm, for a maximum return of 10 billion barrels?

Well, if you go to http://www.anwr.org you’ll see that this wildlife refuge is actually “jobs and energy for America”.

In other words, the oil was valued at around $300 billion. However, since the Iraq War began, oil prices have jumped considerably, as we all know. As such, the value of the oil in ANWR is more like $500 billion now.

When oil prices were lower, it was not wholly economically viable for a company to drill in ANWR. But since the war, and the subsequent increase in oil prices, this has changed.

It’s not that we need this little bit of oil all that much more. It’s that it’s market value has gone up considerably in the last year.

We all know Bush has always been with oil and energy interests. In 2001, an energy task force group known as the National Energy Policy Development Group, headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, issued a report recommending we expand domestic energy production, even though we have very little oil resources left. We had stopped doing this because it was not economically viable any more. But with the recent increase in oil prices, we can sqeeze more oil out locally for a profit.

The US government subsidized US oil companies with tens of billions per year. Yet, the new budget this year cuts subsidies to US farmers, education and even police and firefighters.

Nobody would argue that having energy resources is important – our lives depend on it. Nobody would argue that controlling our own energy resources is more secure than relying on other countries.

But we have depleated our own oil reserves. There is no sensible argument to justify exploiting ANWR, its wildlife and incredibly beautiful environment, other than oil industry profit.

At least there are some good programs related to energy in the next budget, which include hydrogen fuel research, fusion research, and hybrid and fuel cell vehicles.

Just please, don’t give the few nice little parts of our planet that remain over to dying oil companies, just so they can turn a little more profit before the end.

Heterosexual Marriage Is Not Love

Fairies KissWashington State is looking hard right now at marriage. Currently, only a man and a woman can be legally married. Same sex marriages are not recognized unions. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) assures this.

This is being challenged in the Washington State Supreme Court.

Inside the Temple of Justice, religious arguments are not relevant. “God Hates Fags” is not a valid argument. There must exist a “compelling state interest” in denying citizens a right or benefit shared widely and freely by other people.

Almost half of heterosexual marriages end in divorce. Divorce rates amongst Christian conservatives is higher than divorce rates amongst liberal athiests. Obviously the religious argument basis is not relevant, even when looked at quasi-logically.

Massachusettes, a liberal state, and the only state in the US where gay marriage is legal, has the lowest divorce rate in the country.

The ten states with the highest divorce rates are all conservative states.

So what are the lawyers in favour of the ban on gay marriage presenting to the Court as their basis for a “compelling state interest” to continue this ban?

Well, it’s not love. Love does not define marriage for these people.

It’s children.

Children may result from heterosexual intercourse, and society needs a way of coping with this. That is marriage. It is in the best interest of the State.

When this definition was presented, a Justice asked if the State should compel heterosexual couples who conceive a child to marry.

So the argument to keep a man from marrying the man he loves, or a woman from marrying the woman she wants to spend her life with is:

Marriage exists to keep stupid and irresponsible heterosexuals from abandoning their children.

Talk about non-sequitur.

I have seen heterosexual marriages like this, where people are bound, unhappy, and slowly dying. This is not a good definition for marriage for anyone, gay or straight. Nobody wins, not even the kids who are supposed to be protected by this binding force.

Marriage requires honesty, love and compassion above all else.

It seems more than a little silly trying to define marriage in courts. But I suppose it’s necessary if you want to deny someone the right to have honesty, love and compassion with the person they would have as their spouse.

Dan Savage has a great article at The Stranger about this issue.

And best wishes to Amy and Jarreau in their lives together, whose love, mutual understanding and compassion will be made more tangible for all, including themselves, at their upcoming marriage ceremony. They do not have to get married. Neither one is pregnant. They’re certainly not doing it for “show” – to wear the face of having a husband or wife. They can’t even legally get married! Yet they’re doing it. How much more, in the name of love, could you possibly say?

These people who claim they speak for the God of boundless love and compassion have no conception of the black depths of their inner deception.

Kung Fu as a World Heritage

According to Xinhua News, Shi Yongxin, a monk and abbot of China’s Henan Province Shaolin Temple is seeking UNESCO’s World Heritage status for kung fu.

Being granted this status by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization would elevate Shaolin kung fu to being a recognized thing within our world that has universal value to all the world’s people.

“…monk Shi Yongxin knows only too well strength, flexibility, sensitivity, grace and endurance are important components of kung fu.”

I would say these qualities are certainly universally valuable to the people of this planet, especially considering our recent decent into cultural, intellectual and spiritual darkness.

Anyone who is fortunate enough to study kung fu from a sifu rooted in the Shaolin tradition recognizes the value inherent in the art, the least of which is martial skills.

To gain the listing with UNESCO, China itself will need to offer up the request to the United Nations. Then, UNESCO’s World Heritage Organization will approve or deny the request – and this request must meet at least one of ten criteria. Listed below is my interpretation of the criteria kung fu would meet:

1. To represent a masterpiece of human creative genius.

Shaolin kung fu began in Buddhist monestaries after Buddhism was brought to China by a wandering monk from India. Around 500 AD, another holy man from India arrived in the Henan Shaolin Temple who was versed in Yogic concentration – spirit and breathing, which he taught to the monks as an aid in their long meditations. This began the practice of Chi Gong – the building and control of the energy and breath within.

Through the combination of learned techniques, the study of spiritual scriptures, Zen (the Way), the observations of the movements of animals and the exploration of the human body and its spritual and physical energies, the monks created a elaborate and beautiful system of devotion to the elevation of the human mind, body and spirit.

2. To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.

Nearly all Chinese would agree that kung fu is central to their cultural identity. The Shaolin temples were repeatedly attacked and destroyed by various governments throughout the centuries for their strict adherence to their disciplines and religious beliefs that were not always subject or in line with the current rulers.

Even with the destruction of their temples, the monks perservered, returning to their devotions. They were an inspiration to the many Chinese people who faced similar hardships inflicted upon them. The monks helped give them hope, strength, and the determination at times to even resist their oppressors.

The monks are still greatly respected in Chinese culture, representing the best that Chinese spirituality, strength, compassion, individual enlightenment and mutual respect have to offer.

3. To be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.

Many of the points in #2 above apply here. Also, many chinese medicines and medical practices, both internal and external can be traced back to the monks. Their discipline has spread out across the world, being adopted by practicioners from many diverse cultures, and their adherence to the oftentimes paradoxically-seeming values of strength with humility, absolutes with compassion, and spirituality with physical focus, bring a wonderously new perspective to most people unfamiliar with the Shaolin way.

Kung fu is practiced around the world, as are its many derivatives, like tai chi, by the young and old, weak and strong, smart and stupid, enlightened and searching – with mutual respect at the very crux.

4. To contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.

Anyone who has witnessed Shaolin kung fu can see the incredible beauty, art and study that has found its way into the forms, and the form of the practitioners. Its use as a martial defense is not the focus. The attunement of the body, mind and spirit to each other is the goal. The attunement to the world and the life within to the practitioner is the goal. Not to dominate, but to become one.

This is reflected in nearly all movements – which are graceful, lightning fast, impossibly slow, impossibly terrible in their force, and movingly delicate in their outcome.

I wish Abbot Shi Yongxin good fortune in his dealings with the Chinese Ministry of Culture and the UNESCO World Heritage Organization. And may his home always be lucky with oranges.