True North Humanist Perspective March 29 2013


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 Being a militant atheist is like 'sleeping furiously'

Have militant atheists created a new religion?

There is danger in dogma, whoever is behind it

By Frans de Waal
The following is an excerpt from  The Bonobo and the Atheist,  (W.W. Norton, 2013)
30 March 2013 — One quiet Sunday morning, I stroll down the driveway of my home in Stone Mountain, Georgia, to pick up the newspaper. As I arrive at the bottom — we live on a hill — a Cadillac drives up the street and stops right before me. A big man in a suit steps out, sticking out his hand. A firm handshake follows, during which I hear him proclaim in a booming, almost happy voice, “I’m looking for lost souls!” Apart from perhaps being overly trusting, I am rather slow and had no idea what he was talking about. I turned around to look behind me, thinking that perhaps he had lost his dog, then corrected myself and mumbled something like, “I’m not very religious.”

This was of course a lie, because I am not religious at all.

The man, a pastor, was taken aback, probably more by my accent than by my answer. He must have realized that converting a European to his brand of religion was going to be a challenge, so he walked back to his car, but not without handing me a business card in case I’d change my mind. A day that had begun so promisingly now left me feeling like I might go straight to hell. (More)

Five religious leaders who gave up the faith

and became outspoken atheists and agnostics

What if renouncing your faith meant losing everything?
26 March 2013 — The percentage of those who have abandoned religious faith has been growing rapidly in recent years, with one in five Americans citing “none” as their religious affiliation. Most of these people have little to fear when it comes to admitting they have no religion, but for a small subset of religious believers, quitting faith is one of the hardest choices they’ll have to make in their lives.
What happens to people who lose their faith in God after they’ve taken on a position as a religious leader?
Here’s an examination of five prominent skeptics of religion who used to consider themselves not just believers, but leaders, and how they’ve learned to cope with life after religion. (More)
Who Stole the American Dream?

The New Economy has seen America’s

middle class ravaged by the ever-growing wealth gap
By Hedrick Smith
Utne Magazine
29 March 2013 Who Stole the American Dream? is full of surprises and revelations — the accidental beginnings of the 401(k) plan, with disastrous economic consequences for many; the major policy changes that began under Jimmy Carter; how the New Economy disrupted America’s engine of shared prosperity, the virtuous circle of growth and how America lost the title of Land of Opportunity.
Who Stole the American Dream? (Random House, 2012) is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand America today, or why average Americans are struggling to stay afloat. It reveals how pivotal laws and policies were altered while the public wasn’t looking, how Congress often ignores public opinion, why moderate politicians got shoved to the sidelines and how Wall Street often wins politically by hiring over 1,400 former government officials as lobbyists. The following excerpt comes from the prologue, The Challenge From Within.
History often has hidden beginnings. There is no blinding flash of light in the sky to mark a turning point, no distinctive mushroom cloud signifying an atomic explosion that will forever alter human destiny. Often a watershed is crossed in some gradual and obscure way so that most people do not realize that an unseen shift has moved them into a new era, reshaping their lives, the lives of their generation, and the lives of their children, too. Only decades later do historians, like detectives, sift through the confusing strands of the past and discover a hitherto unknown pregnant beginning.

One such hidden beginning, with powerful impact on our lives today, occurred in 1971 with “the Powell Memorandum.” The memo, first unearthed by others many years ago, was written by Lewis Powell, then one of America’s most respected and influential corporate attorneys, two months before he was named to the Supreme Court. But it remains a discovery for many people today to learn that the Powell memo sparked a business and corporate rebellion that would forever change the landscape of power in Washington and would influence our policies and economy even now.

The Powell memo was a business manifesto, a call to arms to Corporate America, and it triggered a powerful response. The seismic shift of power that it set in motion marked a fault line in our history. Political revolt had been brewing on the right since the presidential candidacy in 1964 of Senator Barry Goldwater, the anti-union, free market conservative from Arizona, but it was the Powell memo that lit the spark of change. It ignited a long period of sweeping transformations both in Washington’s policies and in the mind-set and practices of American business leaders — transformations that reversed the politics and policies of the postwar era and the virtuous circle philosophy that had created the broad prosperity of America’s middle class. (More)

Did Boris Berezovsky kill himself?

Did Berezovsky kill Forbes-Russia Editor Paul Klebnikov?

'For nearly nine years, the Klebnikovs have worked tirelessly for justice — meeting with Russian officials, prosecutors, lawyers, anyone who might have a shred of information to share about the case.'
By Richard Behar
Contributing Editor, Investigations
Forbes Magazine
24 March 2013 — Paul Klebnikov’s body was barely cold on July 9, 2004, when Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky whipped out his tongue from its holster and publicly called the 41-year-old editor of Forbes-Russia “a dishonest reporter.” It was an odious thing to say, not least because Paul’s family was only starting to digest the news that he’d been shot nine times from a semiautomatic pistol as he walked out of his Moscow office. He survived a ride in an ambulance that wasn’t equipped with functioning oxygen equipment, but apparently died in a “stuck” elevator at a Moscow hospital, according to a police report.

Yesterday it was Berezovsky’s turn — his body was found in his locked bathroom in his mansion in England, leaving behind mysteries that also beg for answers. A day earlier, he gave the last interview of his life,  ironically enough to Forbes-Russia, in which he told the reporter in a London hotel lobby that he had nothing to live for. And while it’s not nice to speak ill of the dead so soon after they expire, I think the 67-year-old oligarch has earned an exception here. Klebnikov was (and remains) the only investigative reporter who exposed Berezovsky for what he truly was: a corrupt, dangerous thug, a chronic (now court-certified) liar, and – as Paul wrote in Forbes magazine and in a 2000 biography of Boris — the Godfather of the Kremlin.

Paul paid dearly for his groundbreaking investigative journalism about Berezovsky, in terms of six years of time-consuming and unwarranted litigation brought against him and Forbes by the godfather. (More on that case later.) He may also have paid for it with his life. That’s because Boris has long been one of the main suspects for masterminding the contract-killing of my old friend and colleague. Berezovsky’s sudden death may unlock long-kept secrets that could prove his guilt, or vindicate his claims that he had nothing to do with it. At least that’s my hope, for the sake not only of the Klebnikov family, but also for Berezovsky’s descendants. (More)

By Jonathan Earle
The Moscow Times
25 March 2013 — "Is Boris Berezovsky the godfather of Russia's godfathers? It sure looks that way," Russian-American journalist Paul Klebnikov wrote in an article published in late 1996, the year a small group of Russian oligarchs, including Berezovsky, engineered President Boris Yeltsin's re-election.

Berezovsky, then a billionaire businessman, objected to the portrayal, sued for defamation, and won an clarification from Forbes Russia stating that there was no evidence that Berezovsky was responsible for the killing of a prominent television journalist in 1995, "or any other murder."

By the time Klebnikov himself was gunned down in 2004, Berezovsky had received asylum in Britain to escape a slew of white-collar court cases that he said were politically motivated, and investigators, officials and state-run media had made a habit of blaming him for crimes committed back home. (More)

Yeltsin was key to shaking Russia loose from Communism

but it was Berezovsky who opened it to the robber barons

By Owen Matthews
The Moscow Times
25 March 2013 — It's hard to write fiction about Russia. Reality stubbornly keeps all the best plots and characters for itself. No writer could have invented Boris Abramovich Berezovsky: a mathematician who became a billionaire, a boy from a modest Jewish family who became Russia's kingmaker. He was a man who in his exile in London became the center of Polonium-poisoning plots that even Ian Fleming would have found outlandish.

I first met Berezovsky in 1998 when he was at the height of his powers. The setting was the luxurious Logovaz Club, a restored pre-revolutionary mansion in central Moscow filled with Versace furniture and staffed by doe-eyed beauties and unsmiling security men in bad black suits. Berezovsky was in a hurry — he was always in a hurry — speaking fast, hunched forward and fixing his interlocutor with an intense stare. Power in Boris Yeltsin's Russia was a family business, and Berezovsky was consigliere to the inner circle of Yeltsin relatives and allies known as "the Family." He was their political fixer, the key mover in a pyramid of power and patronage whose nominal head — Yeltsin himself — was a near-invalid, rarely seen in public. Berezovsky spoke to Russia's top ministers and generals in patronizing tones, like a star coach brought in to dredge some talent from the members of a slow-witted, third-division football team.

Our conversation was interrupted constantly by calls on his mobile phone — to which Berezovsky was devoted — and he dismissed his callers after 15 seconds of impatient grunts and a curt instruction. "Sorry, the privatization minister," he said, hanging up, returning to our interview with a exasperated roll of the eyes.

I saw Berezovsky in a Moscow nightclub a few weeks later. His wealth and power seemed to bend the world around him. All eyes followed the small phalanx of bag carriers and bodyguards who scurried after him. He joined a group of fat wealthy men who bent toward him like iron filings around a magnet. For Berezovsky, this was just a 2 a.m. business meeting. His beautiful girlfriend Marina was with him, sitting silent in front of an untouched cocktail. Business concluded, he took her gently but firmly by the arm and led her out. She was his next appointment. (More)


because they fear Sunni religious fanatics leading opposition

By Gary C. Gambill
Gary C. Gambill, a political analyst specializing in Syrian and Lebanese politics, is an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum. Formerly editor of Middle East Intelligence Bulletin and Mideast Monitor, Gambill is a regular contributor to Foreign Policy, The National Interest, and The National Post.

16 March 2013 — Syria’s Druze community once played a major role in shaping the country’s modern history, despite comprising a mere three percent of the population. Today, however, this enigmatic highland minority that seldom met an anti-government revolt it didn’t like, finds itself precariously accommodating a dying regime as a gathering rebel alliance slowly moves in for the kill. Though a handful of Druze can be found fighting (and dying) with the rebels, the large majority of the few who have taken up arms in this conflict have done so for the other side.

While some journalists close to the rebels have reported that the Druze community is on the verge of switching sides,[1] this is wishful thinking. Opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad has clearly increased in the past two years, but so too has apprehension about the increasingly Islamist character of the predominantly Sunni Muslim revolt. With traditional authority structures long co-opted by the state, intellectuals divided in sympathies, and a professional class fearful of provoking the kind of regime reprisals that have devastated much of Syria, the growing buzzword among Syrian Druze is neutrality, not rebellion. (More)
By Yusuf Fernandez
16 March 2013 — In late February, some international agencies reported that hundreds of foreign rebels were fleeing from the Idleb Province in Northwestern Syria through Turkey under the claim that they were planning to join al-Qaeda militants in Mali in order to fight against French troops deployed there. (More)
From the Desk of Dennis Carr, Sustainable Development Editor
At long last, muzzled DFO scientist Miller gets mandate to deepen risks study
By Rafe Mair
The Tyee
18 March 2013Dr. Kristina Miller is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) scientist that the DFO muzzled for the Cohen Commission. She is an expert, if not the expert, on the question of disease, its origins, and its impact on wild salmon. Well, you might ask why such an expert would not be encouraged by our paid employees in the DFO? Who wouldn't want all available evidence available for Commissioner Cohen?

The answer is a simple one, repeated so often to have become old hat.

Please burn this onto the front burners of your brain. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has a disabling conflict of interest. According to the Act they must protect our salmon while they are under government orders to promote aquaculture — and the latter trumps the former every time. (More)


overlap between Russians and Native Americans

'It's True About Russia Being a Nation of Readers'

By Marilyn Murray
The Moscow Times

26 March 2013 — When I first arrived in Russia in 2002, I assumed I was a little above average regarding my cultural literacy. I had been an art dealer for many years, lived in the sophisticated San Francisco Bay Area for six years, was an avid reader, had traveled extensively and enjoyed visiting most of the famous art museums of Europe. But after my first year in Russia, I realized that in comparison to the average Russian, I was way behind when it came to knowledge and appreciation of the arts. (More)
By Umar Farooq
Truthout News Analysis
31 March 2013 On 11 March 11 2013, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the construction of a pipeline that will make Washington's plan to isolate Iran over its nuclear program increasingly difficult.
While the natural gas pipeline will account for a small fraction of Iran's exports, the fact that Pakistan is pressing ahead despite the threat of US sanctions points to the larger failure of the West to negotiate an end to its standoff over Iran's nuclear program. Despite a host of economic problems due to the sanctions, Iran has not halted its nuclear program, prompting even the United States' closest allies to weigh their domestic needs against supporting a policy of isolation that seems to be going nowhere. (More)

Tomgram by Ira Chernus

Obama's risky Middle East fantasy

31 March 2013 — Had you searched for “Israel, nuclear weapons” at Google News in the wake of President Obama’s recent trip to the Middle East, you would have gotten a series of headlines like this: “Obama: Iran more than a year away from developing nuclear weapon” (CNN), “Obama vows to thwart Tehran's nuclear drive” (the Times of Israel), Obama: No nuclear weapons for Iran (the San Angelo Times), “US, Israel increasingly concerned about construction of Iran’s plutonium-producing reactor” (Associated Press), “Obama says ‘there is still time’ to find diplomatic solution to Iran nuke dispute; Netanyahu hints at impatience” (NBC), “Iran’s leader threatens to level cities if Israel attacks, criticizes US nuclear talks” (Fox).

By now, we’re so used to such a world of headlines — about Iran’s threatening nuclear weapons and its urge to “wipe out” Israel — that we simply don’t see how strange it is.  At the moment, despite one aircraft carrier task force sidelined in Norfolk, Virginia (theoretically because of sequester budget cuts), the U.S. continues to maintain a massive military presence around Iran.  That modest-sized regional power, run by theocrats, has been hobbled by ever-tightening sanctions, its skies filled with U.S. spy drones, its offshore waters with U.S. warships.  Its nuclear scientists have been assassinated, assumedly by agents connected to Israel, and its nuclear program attacked by Washington and Tel Aviv in the first cyberwar in history. As early as 2007, the U.S. Congress was already ponying up hundreds of millions of dollars for a covert program of destabilization that evidently involved cross-border activities, assumedly using U.S. special operations forces -- and that's only what's known about the pressure being exerted on Iran.  With this, and the near-apocalyptic language of nuclear fear that surrounds it, has gone a powerful, if not always acknowledged, urge for what earlier in the new century was called “regime change.”  (Who can forget the neocon quip of the pre-Iraq-invasion moment: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad, real men want to go to Tehran”?) (More)