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Venezuelan government defends population April 11, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Latin America, Right Wing, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: this article is from the Answer coalition via Liberation News.  You will not find this kind of reporting in the mainstream media, which, for example, continues to refer to CIA torture as “enhanced interrogation.”

 

April 4, 2014

 

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 Right-wing street barricades are more than physical barricades; people in affected neighborhoods are virtually kidnapped, with food, fuel and services blockaded. It is a form of terrorism against the population

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Child being rescued from nursery set on fire by right-wing terrorists on April 1

While the U.S. government and media support the Venezuelan opposition to the Bolivarian Revolution and portray it as a peaceful movement, the violence of this movement is exposing the right wing’s true nature.

There have been dozens of violent actions by fascist organizations, intent on carrying out terrorist plots in several urban areas of Venezuela. While the attacks are not widespread through the country, they are nevertheless causing serious destruction where they hit.

Almost 40 people have died, with at least half of those killed through outright assassination by fascist gangs. Theses gangs have ambushed pro-government supporters and National Guard members.

In the past few days, the government of President Nicolás Maduro has launched an offensive to take back control of the barricaded neighborhoods and to arrest the leaders of the “guarimbas,” the name given to the violence.

The right-wing violence began on Feb. 12. Right-wing extremist leaders Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado had publicly called for street violence to “remove the government.”

They, the Venezuelan corporate elite and U.S. imperialism, are violently opposed to the ongoing radicalization of the Bolivarian Revolution. Recent government measures include restrictions on corporations’ profit-gouging of the population and widening expropriations.

Maduro has mobilized the National Guard, the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) and Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) to re-take the most entrenched areas of fascist operation, such as municipalities of eastern Caracas and the far western state of Táchira, bordering Colombia.

Táchira has been the most challenging area, where for several weeks the fascist groups maintained dozens of massive street barricades.

It is important to understand that these are more than just physical barricades that block streets and traffic. When anyone tries to cross them or remove the barricades, they are met with violent attack. People in affected neighborhoods are virtually kidnapped, with food, fuel and services blockaded. It is a means of terrorism on the population.

The mayor of San Cristóbal, Daniel Ceballos, openly supports the terrorist attacks and took active part in the violence, covering his face with a bandana. But he was identified because his eyes, nose and other parts of his face were sufficiently visible to identify him.

Ceballos was quickly arrested, tried and sentenced to 15 months in prison, along with the mayor of San Diego, Vicenzo Scarano, in Carabobo state, west of Caracas, for refusing to act against the violence or to support the police forces in quelling the attacks.

After a four-day operation that ended March 30, the PNB and National Guard restored order in neighborhoods of San Cristóbal, Táchira.

With the clearing of the fascist outposts, the people are also being mobilized to defend their neighborhoods with the help of the state’s forces.

U.S. media distorts reality

And yet, the international media led by the U.S. press claims the Venezuelan government is engaging in repression and “militarizing” Táchira. They say nothing about the fascist terror.

What has actually taken place is the liberation of more than 39,000 people in San Cristóbal’s neighborhoods who were held captive.

On April 2, after the barricade demolition in San Cristóbal, Gen. Miguel Vivas Landino of the FANB told a television interviewer, “First of all, a revolutionary, socialist, Bolivarian and Chavista greeting. … We have been more than three hours in a community gathering, in conversation with the barrios, among them Sucre, Pirineos, to hear the people’s concerns and address their needs. There are a great number of needs here. … We have distributed 12,000 tanks of cooking fuel, because trucks couldn’t travel here.

“We have dismantled 56 barricades and collected 18,000 tons of garbage from the barricades. … We are very committed to our people, following the instructions of our Commander-in-Chief Nicolás Maduro to bring peace and tranquility, through services, food and to guarantee them peace, and to keep them from being mistreated by the violent groups.”

Right-wing parties like Voluntad Popular, whose leader Leopoldo López is currently under arrest, have been exposed through government operations as directing and carrying out the violence. Aragua Governor Tareck el Aissami announced the discovery by authorities of 100 tons of fireworks and detonators in the state of Aragua, just to the west of Caracas. Materials of such mass quantity could easily be used as explosives.

The two men in possession of the materials, Willian Sánchez Ramos and Edward Tovar Vargas, are leaders of Voluntad Popular. They were stopped in their SUV packed with heavy arms and arrested. The armored vehicle was also equipped to spread gasoline in the streets. A 21-year-old woman was arrested with them who carried nail bombs.

El Aissami accused them of leading an attack days earlier in the neighborhood of San Isidro, Chacao municipality, which he described as a “terrorist attack, well-planned, premeditated, they began a series of violent attacks on the neighbors’ housing. … It coincides with the assassination of [National Guard] Captain José Guillén Araque, close to San Isidro, armed bands … when the Guard arrived, he was ambushed and assassinated.”

One critical incident was in Caracas’ eastern municipality of Chacao, state of Miranda. The headquarters of the Ministry of Housing and Habitat was firebombed on April 1 by the fascist gangs that set off destroying property in the area after following right-winger María Corina Machado’s staged procession to the National Assembly.

Machado was one of the 2002 coup leaders against then-President Hugo Chávez, and a signer of the order cancelling the Constitution at that time.

On March 31, Machado was removed by vote of the National Assembly delegates for accepting the post of Alternate Ambassador for Panama to the Organization of American States. The OAS is dominated by U.S. imperialism and its headquarters are based in Washington, D.C. Panama’s government is allied with Washington, and gave Machado the post to give her a platform to speak and denounce the Venezuelan government.

The National Assembly revoked her deputy status, declaring her in violation of articles 149 and 191 of the Bolivarian Constitution for accepting another country’s position.

After her exhortation to the youth in the crowd, they proceeded to carry out multiple acts of violence, the main one being the burning of the Ministry of Housing. It was burned extensively, and a nursery for 89 children was destroyed.

U.S. imperialism funding fascists

Ever since the victory of Hugo Chávez’s first presidency in 1998, the U.S. government has financed opposition groups within Venezuela. The stated objective is “promoting democracy and democratic civil society organizations.” But the real plan, a multi-faceted strategy, is to destabilize, discredit and overthrow the Bolivarian Revolution.

Washington had its fingerprints on the April 2002 coup, helped direct the oil-industry shutdown in 2002-2003 and fashioned the opposition’s election intervention in 2010 after the U.S.-inspired abstention by the right wing failed in 2005.

Today, U.S. officials admit at least $5 million has been funded annually for the right-wing opposition. On the ground in Venezuela, the U.S. Embassy has been exposed for encouraging youth and student organizations to conduct terror attacks.

Students who support the Venezuelan revolution have denounced a “silent strike” being enforced in the major private universities by right-wing professors and rectors. Those schools include Central University of Venezuela, University of the Andes, University of Carabobo, and others. Some 60,000 students alone in Carabobo are unable to attend school. When students and professors have tried to resume classes they are threatened by violent groups.

Venezuelan intelligence agencies and popular investigators have exposed the receiving end, with fascist youth being recorded, asking how much and when they will receive funds, etc.

Now, right-wing U.S. Congress members Robert Menéndez and Marco Rubio are sponsoring a bill, the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, to increase funding to $15 million.

The United States government is employing a range of tactics in its strategy of counterrevolution in Venezuela. A recent interview with Cuban revolutionary and double agent Raúl Capote shows not only the long-term plans of infiltration and destabilization that Washington employs against Cuba, but also Venezuela.

What is taking place in Venezuela since Feb. 12 is the tactic of terrorism that U.S. imperialism and its followers now feel compelled to unleash, because the vast majority of Venezuelans refuse to surrender the enormous gains they have won.

Our duty in the United States and worldwide progressive movement is to educate the people, to mobilize publicly to defend the Bolivarian revolutionary process and to fight for an end to the U.S. government’s strategy of counterrevolution.

Reprinted from Liberation News

The Return Of The Back-Alley Abortion April 6, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Right Wing, Texas, Women.
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Roger’s note: some years ago I attended an event designed to discuss the issue of choice with young people who were born after the Roe v. Wade decision.  A retired physician, a practicing Jehovah’s Witness, spoke of his “conversion” to pro life while at the same time not abandoning his faith.  As a young Resident at LA County Hospital he worked on a ward with hundreds of beds for women with septic infections, 99% a result of botched back alley abortions.  That ward disappeared entirely once therapeutic abortion was decriminalized.  He said that from time to time nowadays he is called in to consult on a rare case of septic infection because today’s medical students and physicians almost never see them.  That will soon change in Texas and elsewhere in the United States.  Thanks to the misogynist Catholic Church hierarchy and the right to death bigots and their scumbag allies in state governments.

In 1969, when abortion was completely illegal in Texas except to save a woman’s life, Karen Hulsey became pregnant.

She was 20 years old and living in Dallas at the time, and the diaphragm she was using for birth control had failed her. Her boyfriend, she discovered, was married, and refused to help raise or pay for a child.

“It was just at a time in my life where I knew I couldn’t take care of a child, and he wanted no responsibility,” Hulsey recalled in an interview with The Huffington Post.

Instead, the man offered to pay for her to travel to Mexico, where he knew of a clandestine abortion provider. She wrestled with the decision and was three months pregnant by the time she agreed to go.

“I was not only very afraid of the ramifications with God, but very ashamed and embarrassed,” said Hulsey, who was raised Catholic. “I struggled with the decision for a long time.”

Hulsey left Dallas at midnight on a chartered plane, with no idea where she was going, and landed in a field south of the border in the middle of the night. A woman Hulsey had never met before was waiting for her when she stepped off the aircraft.

“I was scared to death,” Hulsey said. “Of course, he did not go with me — I went alone,” she said of her boyfriend at the time. “That was the stipulation.”

From there, things only got worse.

“A car came and picked us up and took us to what was considered a clinic in a little bitty building with dirt floors,” Hulsey recalled. “Even at that age, I knew this was not a good thing. I had worked as a nurse’s aide at that point in my life, and I knew about sterilization and everything else, so this just mounted my anxiety and fears.”

Hulsey said the doctor put her feet in stirrups and performed a “very rough,” painful gynecological exam. He then sedated her for the abortion procedure.

When Hulsey began to wake up, she realized that the doctor was raping her.

“I was of course very drowsy, and the doctor was on top of me having sex with me,” she recalled. “I had just barely opened my eyes, and he was all involved in what he was doing, and I immediately closed my eyes, because I knew if I acted like I knew what was going on I’d probably get killed, never to be seen or heard of again.”

After the man finished assaulting her, Hulsey said she cautiously opened her eyes.

“I went ahead after a little bit of time and acted like I was coming out from under the anesthetic, and he told me I’d had a little boy,” Hulsey said, choking back tears. “I was given a Kotex and taken back to Texas with no further care.”

Hulsey discovered upon returning to Texas that she had not completely expelled the placenta — a possible complication of surgical abortion. She was rushed to the emergency room, hemorrhaging from the botched procedure.

Years down the road, when she was ready to have children, she had three miscarriages due to the damage the illegal abortion provider had caused to her cervix. She underwent surgery to make it possible for her to hold a baby inside her body, and even then, her daughter was born two months premature and weighed less than three pounds.

“I thought that I had sinned and was being punished for having gone to Mexico and done that, and that’s why I had a baby that was so sick,” said Hulsey. “I think that’s baloney now, and that’s why I’m willing to talk about it.”

Four years after Hulsey’s ordeal, Texas became the original battleground state in the fight for legal and safe abortion. The 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade arose out of a challenge to the Texas law that criminalized the procedure except to save a woman’s life. Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade defended the abortion ban against a 21-year-old pregnant woman using the pseudonym “Jane Roe.” Roe had tried to obtain an illegal abortion near Dallas, where she lived at at the time, but found that authorities had already raided and shut down the clandestine providers nearby.

The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that states must make abortion legal at least until the fetus is viable, around 22 to 24 weeks into pregnancy. The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization, estimates that before Roe, as many as 1.2 million women a year in the U.S. resorted to primitive, self-induced abortions or sought out illegal, amateur providers. Thousands of women ended up in hospitals each year with severe complications related to illegal abortions, and in 1965 alone, nearly 200 women died from those procedures.

The proliferation of well-trained, regulated, legal abortion doctors in the last 40 years has led to “dramatic decreases in pregnancy-related injury and death,” according to the National Abortion Federation.

Now, however, Texas and other states are reversing course. State lawmakers enacted more abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013 than they had in the previous decade, a trend that appears likely to continue in 2014. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that nearly 300 anti-abortion bills are currently pending in state legislatures.

The new restrictions have had a significant impact on women’s access to abortion. A Huffington Post survey last year found that since 2010, at least 54 abortion providers across 27 states had either closed or stopped performing the procedure. Sixteen more shut their doors after Texas lawmakers passed some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the country last summer. A federal appeals court upheld two of the new restrictions in a ruling last week.

As a result, researchers and women’s health advocates say, women today are resorting to many of the same dangerous methods they relied on in the pre-Roe era: seeking out illegal abortion providers, as Karen Hulsey did, or attempting risky self-abortion procedures.

In 2014, four decades after the Supreme Court upheld a woman’s right to choose, pregnant women once again find themselves crossing the border to Mexico and haunting back-alleys in search of medical care.

 

Pedestrians walk past discount pharmacies in Nogales, Mexico, June 17, 2006. Today, women from the U.S. cross the border to Mexico to purchase misoprostol, a drug that can induce abortions. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The situation is particularly dire in Texas. In 2011, the state had 44 abortion clinics, but more than half of them have since shuttered due to new anti-abortion laws. In September, when a state law requiring all abortions to take place in ambulatory surgical centers goes into effect, reproductive rights advocates expect 14 more clinics will have to close, leaving only six facilities to serve the nearly 75,000 women who seek abortions in Texas each year.

The poorest area of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley near the Mexican border, has no remaining abortion clinics. Women who live there have to drive roughly 240 miles to San Antonio for the nearest clinic, but many of them are Mexican immigrants with restrictions on their work visas that prevent them from traveling that far.

In addition, the state has slashed funding for family planning, forcing 76 clinics that offer birth control and other reproductive health services but do not perform abortions to shut down.

“It’s a horrible natural experiment that is taking place in Texas, where we are going to see what happens in 2014 when U.S. women don’t have access to legal, safe abortion,” said Dan Grossman, vice president of research for Ibis Reproductive Health, an international nonprofit.

Anti-abortion advocates say the idea of back-alley abortions returning is just a scare tactic their opponents use to try to keep abortion legal.

“That is a statement that’s been purported by those who are anti-life, but in actuality, we haven’t seen any evidence of that taking place here,” said Melissa Conway, a spokeswoman for Texas Right to Life.

But Grossman, who is part of a research team that is currently studying the effects of the new abortion laws and family planning cuts in Texas, said he is already witnessing the consequences of the new restrictions.

“It seems like [women] are becoming more desperate to find an option,” he said. “We’ve heard reports of women taking herbs or other substances, or intentionally getting punched in the stomach or beaten up — the same kinds of things they did before abortion was legal.”

Ironically, in the years following Roe v. Wade, Texas had been a beacon of hope for Mexican women seeking abortions, since the procedure is illegal in most of Mexico.

“Texas has always been a place where people in Mexico came to get safe abortions,” said Lindsay Rodriguez, president of the Lilith Fund, which helps women in need pay for abortions in Texas. Now, she said, “traffic’s going to start going the other way.”

Indeed, the lack of abortion access in Texas is already pushing pregnant women back across the border. At Mexican pharmacies, they can purchase misoprostol, a drug with the labeled use of preventing gastric ulcers — but which can also induce abortions.

In the U.S., misoprostol is available only by prescription from a licensed abortion provider. The drug, first manufactured by Pfizer under the name Cytotec, is prescribed in combination with another medication, mifepristone (labeled RU-486), for abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy. The FDA has approved this combination of drugs for medically induced abortions in the first trimester, which account for almost a quarter of all non-hospital abortions in the U.S. each year, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The medications are extremely safe and more than 90 percent effective when taken together.

American women are learning that if they don’t have access to an abortion provider, they can obtain misoprostol illegally and take a high dose of it on its own to end a pregnancy. The drug is 75 to 85 percent effective in completing an abortion when taken properly up to nine weeks into a pregnancy, according to Ibis Reproductive Health, but it is relatively complicated to self-administer. A woman has to put 12 pills under her tongue in specific time-intervals, and she needs to have access to follow-up care in case she has complications or the pills don’t work.

“I’ve seen women who have used 50 pills all at one time,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of Whole Women’s Health, a network of abortion clinics in Texas. “They put them in every orifice of their body, because they had no idea how to use it. That’s the scary part — using any means necessary to self-induce.”

Taking misoprostol under the wrong circumstances and without medical supervision, doctors and women’s health advocates warn, can lead to life-threatening complications. A woman who takes the pill with an ectopic pregnancy, for instance, risks heavy internal bleeding due to rupturing of the fallopian tube. If a pregnancy does not pass completely, meanwhile, women run the risk of infection, fever and sepsis.

“Those are the major complications we’re going to be seeing in these communities without clinics,” Miller warned. Hemorrhaging and infection, if not properly treated, can lead to death.

Still, misoprostol is generally considered a safer and more palatable alternative to more primitive methods of self-abortions, and demand is quickly increasing among women living in areas where abortion is illegal or impossible to access. Rebecca Gomperts, a Dutch physician and founder of Women on Web, a digital community of abortion rights supporters, has published instructions on her website teaching women to take misoprostol properly on their own. She told HuffPost that her team regularly receives calls from women all over the U.S. seeking information about where to find the drug.

“In the United States there are import restrictions on abortion medications, so we just need to help women get access to them,” she said in a phone interview. “Sometimes that means we refer them over the border to Mexico.”

The trip across the border is often risky for women because of heavy drug cartel activity on the highways. And Mexican pharmacies have capitalized on the growing demand for misoprostol by marking up the cost to $200 or $300 per box.

Women in the U.S. can also obtain the pills illegally at flea markets in South Texas, or for about $100 a box over the internet, but Gomperts said the black market is awash in dubious drugs masquerading as misoprostol.

“There are a lot of fake websites out there, and there are a lot of people who take advantage of women’s desperate need,” she said.

Women who try to obtain the pills illegally, either online or on the black market, also run the risk of getting arrested. What’s more, women in the Rio Grande Valley who have obtained the pills are too afraid to share their stories, even anonymously, because they don’t want the police to crack down on the places that sell them.

“When the media first covered the flea market, it got raided by police and people got arrested,” Miller said. “When people start to cover this stuff, then the women can’t even get black market abortions. The culture in [South Texas] is one of extreme fear and caution — the women are so afraid of being put in jail.”

Women outside of Texas face the same obstacles. Jennifer Whalen, a 38-year-old Pennsylvania mother, was charged with a felony in December after she ordered a package of misoprostol and mifeprestone online from an overseas pharmacy for her pregnant 16-year-old daughter. Abortion is difficult to access in Pennsylvania due to severe restrictions on clinics there, and the closest clinic to Whalen’s town was across state lines in New York.

Whalen was charged with one count of medical consultation and judgment after her daughter had to go to the emergency room to be treated for an incomplete abortion and a urinary tract infection.

“We know that prohibition and criminalization will never stop women from having abortions,” said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “Illegal, self-abortions are a form of civil disobedience. Women will violate unjust laws and bear the health risks and the legal consequences, without causing harm to the people or institutions that make their decisions criminal.”

In addition to pushing women across the border into Mexico in search of misoprostol or other abortion solutions, the dwindling number of clinics in Texas and elsewhere has also revived the concept of “miscarriage management” — an idea that similarly harkens back to pre-Roe days, when doctors would quietly tell women to figure out a way to induce their own miscarriages so that they could legally intervene to treat the bleeding.

The New Republic reported that one of the last remaining abortion providers in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, Dr. Lester Minto, resorted to the idea of “miscarriage management” when a law went into effect in November that prohibited him from providing abortions. Minto offered treatment to women who had already started their own miscarriages for $400, lab work and ultrasound included. The visit would last two to three hours at most.

“Nothing here is back alley,” Minto told the magazine. “We do follow-ups with everybody. We still treat them just like we always did.”

But even Minto’s practice is now closed, leaving women few options for follow-up care when they try to self-abort in the Rio Grande Valley. The treatment Minto was providing would cost $2,000 to $3,000 in a hospital, require a general anesthetic and take up an entire day, Miller told HuffPost, which is out of reach for many poor and uninsured women.

With so many doors closed to them, back-alley remedies may soon be all that are left for many women.

“The situation politicians have put women in right now is untenable,” said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “Making abortion out of reach only pushes women into the shadows.”

Karen Hulsey is particularly concerned about the situation facing women today. For five years in the 1990s, she worked as a physician’s assistant at an abortion clinic in Brownwood, Texas. There, she helped treat Mexican immigrants who had had traumatizing experiences similar to what she herself went through in 1969.

“I saw the effects of abortions on girls in Mexico who were raped, and the results of those abortions, as far as the shape of their vagina and their cervix,” she said. “It was just abhorrent, the scarring from the methods that were being used. I would not be surprised if the same thing were going on today.”

Hulsey, now 65, retired in 2000 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which doctors said she developed after her abortion and rape in Mexico. Although she has two children now, she said she has had trouble holding down a healthy romantic relationship because of what she went through.

Now that Texas lawmakers are spending so much time trying to limit access to abortion, she said, she is reminded of her trauma constantly.

“There are very few weeks that I don’t think about the severity of what I went through, especially with it being so up front in the news right now,” she said. “Every time anything like that comes up, I think, ‘Oh you people just don’t have any idea what you’re doing. No clue what you’d be sending girls back to.’”

Reproductive rights advocates rally at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on July 1, 2013. (Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)

 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated Henry Wade’s position at the time of the suit as Texas attorney general; he was district attorney for Dallas County.

It’s Not Just Uganda: Behind the Christian Right’s Onslaught in Africa April 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Human Rights, Kenya, LGBT, Nigeria, Religion, Right Wing, Zimbabwe.
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For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation all over Africa.

As their influence has waned at home, antigay evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa. (Photo: Travis Lupick / Flickr)

In Uganda, being gay can now earn you a lifetime in prison.

Last month, the East African country was again thrust into the international spotlight after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a draconian bill that criminalized homosexuality. The high profile, on-and-off battle over the so-called “kill the gays” bill has drawn headlines for years as the most extreme example in a wave of antigay legislation on the continent. But homophobia in Africa is not merely an African problem.

As the gay rights movement has gained traction in the United States, the more virulently homophobic ideologies of the religious right have been pushed further out of the mainstream and into fringe territory. But as their influence has waned at home, right-wing evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa.

For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been injecting themselves into African politics, speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation on the continent. The influence of these groups has been well documented in Uganda. The now-defunct Exodus International, for example, sent Don Schmierer, a board member, to Uganda in 2009 to speak at a conference alongside Scott Lively, a pastor who was later sued by a Ugandan gay rights group for his role in promoting human rights violations against LGBTQ people. The two participated in a disturbing anti-gay conference, where speakers blamed homosexuals for the rise of Nazism and the Rwandan genocide, among other abhorrent acts. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a hard-right Christian group that is active in U.S. politics as well, similarly supported anti-gay laws in Uganda. At the peak of controversy over the “kill the gays” bill, Perkins praised the Ugandan president for “leading his nation to repentance.”

But such groups aren’t just active in Uganda. They have promoted antigay legislation in Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, just to name a few other places. The support ranges from popular agitation and sideline cheerleading to outright intervention.

In 2010, for example, when Zimbabwe began the process of drafting a new constitution, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ)—a Christian law firm founded by evangelist Pat Robertson—launched a Zimbabwean counterpart called the African Centre for Law and Justice. The outpost trained lawyers for the express purpose of putting a Christian stamp on the draft of the new constitution.

The African Centre joined forces with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), an indigenous organization, to promote constitutional language affirming that Zimbabwe is a Christian nation and ensuring that homosexuality remained illegal. These and other hardline views are outlined in a pamphlet distributed by the EFZ and ACLJ. Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of ACLJ, announced that his organization would lobby for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in political and religious circles in the event of any controversy over the provisions, despite the fact that the Zimbabwean president has been sanctioned by the United States and the European Union for violating human rights. Last year, Zimbabwe’s new constitution, which includes a ban on gay marriage, was approved by an overwhelming popular vote.

ACLJ’s Kenyan-based offshoot, the East African Center for Law and Justice (EACLJ), made an effort to lobby against Kenya’s progressive new constitution as well. In April 2010, a report on the group’s website called homosexuality “unacceptable” and “foreign” and called for the Kenyan constitution to clearly define marriage as between a man and a woman, thus closing the door on future laws that could attempt to legalize same-sex marriage. In this case the ECLJ was unsuccessful, and the new constitution was approved without any language regarding same-sex marriage.

Pat Robertson’s entanglements in Africa go well beyond Zimbabwe and Kenya.

In 1960, Robertson created The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which broadcasts through cable and satellite to over 200 countries. Robertson is a co-host on the 700 Club, arguably CBN’s most popular show. From his perch on the show, Roberts has made a seemingly endless variety of inflammatory remarks about LGBTQ people and just about everyone else that does not fall in line with his own religious thinking.

In the United States, Robertson’s vitriol can be brushed aside as the antiquated ravings of a fringe figure. Not so in much of Africa. A survey conducted in 2010 found that 74 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, had watched at least one CBN show in the previous year. That’s a remarkable reach considering Nigeria is home to over 80 million Christians.

Robertson’s influence plays into an increasingly hostile political climate for gays in the country. Last January, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which provides punishments of up to 14 years imprisonment for a gay marriage and up to 10 years for membership in or encouragement of gay clubs and organizations. The enactment of the law was followed by a wave of arrests of gay men—and widespread denouncement from the international community.

The religious right, however, doesn’t see Nigerian laws regarding homosexuality as a gross violation of human rights, but rather as protection of “traditional marriage.” In 2011, on the heels of the Nigerian Senate passing an earlier version of the anti-gay law, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would officially promote LGBTQ rights abroad as part of its development framework. In response, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute denounced the administration’s directive for putting “U.S. foreign policy on a collision course with religious freedom.”

MassResistance, a Massachusetts-based organization that bills itself as a “pro-family” activist group, praised Nigeria when the Nigerian House passed an earlier version of the bill that President Jonathan signed into law on January 7. In a statement, the group said that African nations are “feeling the brunt” of the gay rights movement, claiming that the “huge spread of AIDS” and the “breakdown in society caused by the homosexual movement seems to bring more general social destruction in African cultures than in the West.” Anti-gay laws in Nigeria have enjoyed unequivocal support from some hardline evangelical groups in the United States, with some going so far as to travel to Nigeria to spread anti-gay sentiment.

One such group is Family Watch International (FWI), another U.S.-based “pro-family” advocacy group. Formed in 1999 and headed by Sharon Slater, FWI boasts members and supporters from over 170 countries. In 2011, Slater was the keynote speaker at a meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association, where she touted her beliefs on homosexuality, telling delegates that they would no longer have religious freedom and homosexuals would prey on their children if they supported “fictitious sexual rights.” To Slater and her ilk, the rights of LGBTQ persons are imaginary.

FWI even wields influence within the United Nations. In early 2011, FWI co-hosted a “Global Family Policy Forum” in Phoenix, Arizona. Over the two-day event, FWI coached 26 UN staffers from 23 different countries in attendance on how to resist UN initiatives on gay rights. An FWI newsletter claimed that conference attendees were finally hearing scientific and clinical “evidence” that homosexuality was not genetically determined and could be cured by therapy.

To some, the belief that homosexuality is a disease that needs to be cured may seem too ridiculous to even entertain. But if the devout can’t win at home, they’ll take their message abroad. It’s up to the international community and African activists dedicated to human rights to put an end to this export of hate.

Fetus in Marlise Munoz case is “distinctly abnormal,” according to attorneys January 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Human Rights, Right Wing, Texas, Women.
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Roger’ note: The question for me is who is really brain dead.  I vote for the troglodyte so-called right-to-lifers and their fetus fetish.  These people who demand that the government keep a brain dead women on life support so that she can incubate a non-viable fetus are the same Neanderthals who rant against government intervention into our lives (for example when it wants to, horror of horrors,  provide universal health care or Medicaid or unemployment benefits). We live in an era when the most absurd and anti-human initiatives are enforced by governments that are held hostage by neo-fascist theocrats.

The fetus is “is gestating within a dead and deteriorating body, as a horrified family looks on,” attorneys say

, Salon.com, January 23, 2014

The fetus of the brain-dead Texas woman being kept on life support despite her end-of-life directive and her family’s protests is “distinctly abnormal,” according to medical records obtained by attorneys for the woman’s family.

As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports, Erick Munoz’s attorneys issued a statement Wednesday on the condition of the fetus. “According to the medical records we have been provided, the fetus is distinctly abnormal,” attorneys Jessica Janicek and Heather King said. “Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent that the gender cannot be determined.”

“The fetus suffers from hydrocephalus [water on the brain],” the statement continued. “It also appears that there are further abnormalities, including a possible heart problem, that cannot be specifically determined due to the immobile nature of Mrs. Muñoz’s deceased body.

“Quite sadly, this information is not surprising due to the fact that the fetus, after being deprived of oxygen for an indeterminate length of time, is gestating within a dead and deteriorating body, as a horrified family looks on in absolute anguish, distress and sadness,” the attorneys said.

As Salon has previously noted, the legal team representing the Munoz family confirmed Friday that the Texas woman has been clinically brain-dead since she collapsed in her home while 14 weeks pregnant. Munoz’s husband, Erick, has been fighting in court to remove her from a respirator, ventilator and other machines, a decision that Munoz’s parents support.

“All she is is a host for a fetus,” Munoz’s father, Ernest Machado, recently told the New York Times. “I get angry with the state. What business did they have delving into these areas? Why are they practicing medicine up in Austin?”

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday.

Katie McDonough is an assistant editor for Salon, focusing on lifestyle. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

The Extraordinary Pierre Omidyar November 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Media, Poverty, Right Wing.
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Roger’s note: This is an incredible piece of investigative journalism.  When I first read that Glenn Greenwald (I sincerely hope he has or will read this article) was leaving The Guardian to enter into a new journalist project financed by eBay founder,  the billionaire Pierre Omidyar, my initial response was, “Glenn, say it isn’t so.”  This was based on instinct.  It just didn’t smell right.  The article you are about to read pinpoints the source of the odor.  Greenwald’s work as an investigative journalist, first with his own Blog, then with salon.com, and finally with the Guardian, even prior to the Snowden revelations, was of vital importance with respect to its exposing the crimes of the Bush and Obama administrations.  In a sense, the I.F. Stone of our day.  Even if Omidyar wasn’t the sleeze bucket neo-Liberal that is pictured by Ames and Levin, you don’t magically overnight create independent journalism via anyone’s big bucks.  Salon and The Guardian have roots and a history of journalistic development for which there is no substitute.  Apart from exposing Omidyar, this article is a clinic on the way the ultra and neo-fascist right is working to destroy what is left of the democratic public sector; and we know from Germany and Italy in the 1930s what to expect when private corporations are in total control of the state.

By Mark Ames, and Yasha Levin

http://www.nsfwcorp.com, 11:51 a.m. November 15, 2013

“We ought to be looking at business as a force for good.”Pierre Omidyar

“Like eBay, Omidyar Network harnesses the power of markets to enable people to tap their true potential.”Omidyar Network, “Frequently Asked Questions”

* * The world knows very little about the political motivations of Pierre Omidyar, the eBay billionaire who is founding (and funding) a quarter-billion-dollar journalism venture with Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill. What we do know is this: Pierre Omidyar is a very special kind of technology billionaire.

We know this because America’s sharpest journalism critics have told us.

In a piece headlined “The Extraordinary Promise of the New Greenwald-Omidyar Venture”, The Columbia Journalism Review gushed over the announcement of Omidyar’s project. And just in case their point wasn’t clear, they added the amazing subhead, “Adversarial muckrakers + civic-minded billionaire = a whole new world.”

Ah yes, the fabled “civic-minded billionaire”—you’ll find him two doors down from the tooth fairy.

But seriously folks, CJR really, really wants you to know that Omidyar is a breed apart: nothing like the Randian Silicon Valley libertarian we’ve become used to seeing.

“…billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo. Billionaires tend to have a finger in every pie: powerful friends they don’t want annoyed and business interests they don’t want looked at.

“By hiring Greenwald & Co., Omidyar is making a clear statement that he’s the billionaire exception….It’s like Izzy Stone running into a civic-minded plastics billionaire determined to take I.F. Stone’s Weekly large back in the day.”

Later, the CJR “UPDATED” the piece with this missing bit of “oops”:

“(UPDATE: I should disclose that the Omidyar Network helps fund CJR, something I didn’t know until shortly after I published this post.)”

No biggie. Honest mistake. And anyway, plenty of others rushed to agree with CJR’s assessment. Media critic Jack Shafer at Reuters described Omidyar’s politics and ideology as “close to being a clean slate,” repeatedly praising the journalism venture’s and Omidyar’s “idealism.” The “NewCo” venture with Greenwald “harkens back to the techno-idealism of the 1980s and 1990s, when the first impulse of computer scientists, programmers, and other techies was to change the world, not make more money,” Shafer wrote, ending his piece:

“As welcome as Omidyar’s money is, his commitment to the investigative form and an open society is what I’m grateful for this afternoon. You can never uphold the correct verdict too often.”

What all of these orgasmic accounts of Omidyar’s “idealism” have in common is a total absence of skepticism. America’s smartest media minds simply assume that Omidyar is an “exceptional” billionaire, a “civic-minded billionaire” driven by “idealism” rather than by profits. The evidence for this view is Pierre Omidyar’s massive nonprofit venture, Omidyar Network, which has distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to causes all across the world.

And yet what no one seems able to specify is exactly what ideology Omidyar Network promotes. What does Omidyar’s “idealism” mean in practice, and is it really so different from the non-idealism of other, presumably bad, billionaires? It’s almost as if journalists can’t answer those questions because they haven’t bothered asking them.

So let’s go ahead and do that now.

Since its founding in 2004, Omidyar Network has committed nearly $300 million to a range of nonprofit and for-profit “charity” outfits. An examination of the ideas behind the Omidyar Network and of the investments it has made suggests that its founder is anything but a “different” sort of billionaire. Instead, what emerges is almost a caricature of neoliberal ideology, complete with the trail of destruction that ensues when that ideology is put into practice. The generous support of the Omidyar Network goes toward “fighting poverty” through micro-lending, reducing third-world illiteracy rates by privatizing education and protecting human rights by expanding property titles (“private property rights”) into slums and villages across the developing world.

In short, Omidyar Network’s philanthropy reveals Omidyar as a free-market zealot with an almost mystical faith in the power of “markets” to transform the world, end poverty, and improve lives—one micro-individual at a time.

All the neoliberal guru cant about solving the world’s poverty problems by unlocking the hidden “micro-entrepreneurial” spirit of every starving Third Worlder is put into practice by Omidyar Network’s investments. Charity without profit motive is considered suspect at best, subject to the laws of unintended consequences; good can only come from markets unleashed, and that translates into an ideology inherently hostile to government, democracy, public politics, redistribution of land and wealth, and anything smacking of social welfare or social justice.

In literature published by Omidyar Network, the assumption is that technology is an end in itself, that it naturally creates beneficial progress, and that the world’s problems can be solved most effectively with for-profit business solutions.

The most charitable thing one can say about Omidyar’s nonprofit network is that it reflects all the worst clichés of contemporary neoliberal faith. In reality, it’s much worse than that. In many regions, Omidyar Network investments have helped fund programs that create worsening conditions for the world’s underclass, widening inequalities, enhancing exploitation, pushing millions of people into crippling debt and supporting anti-poverty programs that, in some cases, resulted in mass-suicide by the rural poor.

* * Pierre Omidyar was one of the biggest early backers of the for-profit micro-lending industry. Through Omidyar Network, as well as personal gifts and investments, he has funnelled around $200 million into various micro-lending companies and projects over the past decade, with the goal of establishing an investment-grade microfinance sector that would be plugged into Wall Street and global finance. The neoliberal theory promised to unleash billions of new micro-entrepreneurs; the stark reality is that it saddled untold numbers with crushing debt and despair.

One of his first major investments into micro-lending came in 2005, when Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam gave Tufts University, their alma mater, $100 million to create the “Omidyar-Tufts Microfinance Fund,” a managed for-profit fund dedicated to jump-starting the growth of the micro-finance industry. At the time, Tufts announced that Omidyar’s gift was the “largest private allocation of capital to microfinance by an individual or family.”

With the Tufts fund, Omidyar wanted to go beyond mere charitable donations to specific micro-lending organizations that targeted the developing world’s poorest. At the same time, he wanted to create a whole new environment in which for-profit micro-lending companies could be self-sustaining and generate big enough profits to attract serious global investors.

This idea was at the core of Omidyar’s vision of philanthropy: he believed that microfinance would eradicate poverty faster and better if it was run on a for-profit basis, and not like a charity.

“If you want to reach global scale — and we’re talking about hundreds of millions of people who need this — you can’t do it with philanthropy capital. There’s not enough charity capital out there. By connecting with an institutional investor like a university, we would like to increase the level of professional investor involvement in this sector to try to stimulate more commercially viable investment products,” Pierre Omidyar said in an interview at the time. “We ought to be looking at business as a force for good.”

The idea behind micro-loans is very simple and seductive. It goes something like this: the only thing that prevents the hundreds of millions of people living in extreme poverty from achieving financial success is their lack of access to credit. Give them access to micro-loans—referred to in Silicon Valley as “seed capital”—and these would-be successful business-peasants and illiterate shantytown entrepreneurs would pluck themselves out of the muck by their own homemade sandal straps. Just think of it: hundreds of millions of peasants working as micro-individuals, taking out micro-loans, making micro-rational investments into their micro-businesses, dutifully paying their micro-loan payments on time and working in concert to harness the deregulated power of the markets to collectively lift society out of poverty. It’s a grand neoliberal vision.

To that end, Omidyar has directed about a third of the Omidyar Network investment fund—or about $100 million—to support the micro-lending industry. The foundation calls this initiative “financial inclusion.”

Shockingly, micro-loans aren’t all that they’ve cracked up to be. After years of observation and multiple studies, it turns out that the people benefiting most from micro-loans are the big global financial players: hedge funds, banks and the usual Wall Street hucksters. Meanwhile, the majority of the world’s micro-debtors are either no better off or have been sucked into a morass of crippling debt and even deeper poverty, which offers no escape but death.

Take SKS Microfinance, an Omidyar-backed Indian micro-lender whose predatory lending practices and aggressive collection tactics have caused a rash of suicides across India.

Omidyar funded SKS through Unitus, a microfinance private equity fund bankrolled by the Omidyar Network to the tune of at least $11.7 million. ON boosted SKS in its promotional materials as a micro-lender that’s “serving the rural poor in India” and that exemplifies a company that’s providing “people with the means to address their needs and improve their lives.”

In 2010, SKS made headlines and stirred up bitter controversy about the role that profits should play in anti-poverty initiatives when the company went public with an IPO that generated about $358 million, giving SKS a market valuation of more than $1.6 billion. The IPO made millions for its wealthy investors, including the Omidyar-backed Unitus fund, which earned a cool $5 million profit from the SKS IPO, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Some were bothered, but others saw it as proof that the power of the markets could be harnessed to succeed where traditional charity programs supposedly hadn’t. The New York Times reported:

“An Indian company with rich American backers is about to raise up to $350 million in a stock offering closely watched by philanthropists around the world, showing that big profits can be made from small helping-hand loans to poor cowherds and basket weavers.”

Controversy or not, SKS embodied Omidyar’s vision of philanthropy: it was a for-profit corporation that fought poverty while generating lucrative returns for its investors. Here would be proof-positive that the profit motive makes everyone a winner.

And then reality set in.

In 2012, it emerged that while the SKS IPO was making millions for its wealthy investors, hundreds of heavily indebted residents of India’s Andhra Pradesh state were driven to despair and suicide by the company’s cruel and aggressive debt-collection practices. The rash of suicides soared right at the peak of a large micro-lending bubble in Andhra Pradesh, in which many of the poor were taking out multiple micro-loans to cover previous loans that they could no longer pay. It was subprime lending fraud taken to the poorest regions of the world, stripping them of what little they had to live on. It got to the point where the Chief Minister of Andrah Pradesh publicly appealed to the state’s youth and young women not to commit suicide, telling them, “Your lives are valuable.”

The AP conducted a stunning in-depth investigation of the SKS suicides, and their reporting needs to be quoted at length to understand just how evil this program is. The article begins:

“First they were stripped of their utensils, furniture, mobile phones, televisions, ration cards and heirloom gold jewelry. Then, some of them drank pesticide. One woman threw herself in a pond. Another jumped into a well with her children.

“Sometimes, the debt collectors watched nearby.”

What prompted the AP investigation was the gulf between the reported rash of suicides linked to SKS debt collectors, and SKS’s public statements denying it had knowledge of or any role in the predatory lending abuses. However, the AP got a hold of internal SKS documents that contradicted their public denials:

“More than 200 poor, debt-ridden residents of Andhra Pradesh killed themselves in late 2010, according to media reports compiled by the government of the south Indian state. The state blamed microfinance companies – which give small loans intended to lift up the very poor – for fueling a frenzy of overindebtedness and then pressuring borrowers so relentlessly that some took their own lives.

“The companies, including market leader SKS Microfinance, denied it.

“However, internal documents obtained by The Associated Press, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, independent researchers and videotaped testimony from the families of the dead, show top SKS officials had information implicating company employees in some of the suicides.”

The AP investigation and internal reports showed just how brutal the SKS microfinancing program was, how women were particularly targeted because of their heightened sense of shame and community responsibility—here is the brutal reality of financial capitalism compared to the utopian blather mouthed at Davos conferences, or in the slick pamphlets issued by the Omidyar Network:

“Both reports said SKS employees had verbally harassed over-indebted borrowers, forced them to pawn valuable items, incited other borrowers to humiliate them and orchestrated sit-ins outside their homes to publicly shame them. In some cases, the SKS staff physically harassed defaulters, according to the report commissioned by the company. Only in death would the debts be forgiven.

“The videos and reports tell stark stories:

“One woman drank pesticide and died a day after an SKS loan agent told her to prostitute her daughters to pay off her debt. She had been given 150,000 rupees ($3,000) in loans but only made 600 rupees ($12) a week.

“Another SKS debt collector told a delinquent borrower to drown herself in a pond if she wanted her loan waived. The next day, she did. She left behind four children.

“One agent blocked a woman from bringing her young son, weak with diarrhea, to the hospital, demanding payment first. Other borrowers, who could not get any new loans until she paid, told her that if she wanted to die, they would bring her pesticide. An SKS staff member was there when she drank the poison. She survived.

“An 18-year-old girl, pressured until she handed over 150 rupees ($3)—meant for a school examination fee—also drank pesticide. She left a suicide note: ‘Work hard and earn money. Do not take loans.’”

As a result of the bad press this scandal caused, the Omidyar Network deleted its Unitus investment from its website—nor does Omidyar boast of its investments in SKS Microfinance any longer. Meanwhile, Unitus mysteriously dissolved itself and laid off all of its employees right around the time of the IPO, under a cloud of suspicion that Unitus insiders made huge personal profits from the venture, profits that in theory were supposed to be reinvested into expanding micro-lending for the poor.

Thus spoke the profit motive.

Curiously, in the aftermath of the SKS micro-lending scandal, Omidyar Network was dragged into another political scandal in India when it was revealed that Omidyar and the Ford Foundation were placing their own paid researchers onto the staffs of India’s MPs. The program, called Legislative Assistants to MPs (LAMPs), was funded with $1 million from Omidyar Network and $855,000 from the Ford Foundation. It was shut down last year after India’s Ministry of Home Affairs complained about foreign lobbying influencing Indian MPs, and promised to investigate how Omidyar-funded research for India’s parliament may have been “colored” by an agenda.

But SKS is not the only microfinancing investment gone bad. The biggest and most reputable micro-lenders, including those funded by the Omidyar Network, have come under serious and sustained criticism for predatory interest rates and their aggressive debt-collection techniques.

Take BRAC, another big beneficiary of Omidyar’s efforts to boost “financial inclusion.”

Started in the early 1970s as a war relief organization, BRAC has grown into the largest non-governmental organization in the world. It employs over 100,000 people in countries across the globe. While BRAC is known mostly for its micro-lending operation activities, the outfit is a diversified nonprofit business operation. It is involved in education, healthcare and even develops its own hybrid seed varieties. Much of BRAC’s operations are financed by its micro-lending activities.

Omidyar Network praises BRAC for its work to “empower the poor to improve their own lives,” and has given at least $8 million to help BRAC set up micro-lending banking infrastructure in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

But BRAC seems to worry more about its own bottom line than it does about the well-being of its impoverished borrowers, the majority of whom are women and who pay an average annual interest rate of 40 percent.

This twisted sense of priority could be seen after one of the worst cyclones in the history of Bangladesh left thousands dead in 2007, destroying entire villages and towns in its path. In the cyclone’s wake, the Omidyar-funded BRAC micro-lending debt collectors showed up at the disaster zone along with other micro-lenders, and went to work aggressively shaking down borrowers, forcing some victims (mostly women) to go so far as to sell their relief/aid materials, or to take out secondary loans to pay off the first loans.

According to a study about micro-lenders in the aftermath of Cyclone Sidr:

“Sidr victims who lost almost everything in the cyclone, experienced pressure and harassment from non­governmental organisations (NGOs) for repayment of microcredit instalments. Such intense pressure led some of the Sidr­affected borrowers to sell out the relief materials they received from different sources. Such pressure for loan recovery came from large organisations such as BRAC, ASA and even the Nobel Prize winning organisation Grameen Bank.

“Even the most severely affected people are expected to pay back in a weekly basis, with the prevailing interest rate. No system of ‘break’ or ‘holiday’ period is available in the banks’ current charter. No exceptions are made during a time of natural calamity. The harsh rules practised by the microcredit lender organisations led the disaster affected people even selling their relief assistance. Some even had to sell their leftover belongings to pay back their weekly instalments.”

These tactics may be harsh, but they pay off for micro-lenders. And it’s a lucrative operation: BRAC primarily targets women, offers loans with predatory interest rates and uses traditional values and close village relationships to shame and pressure borrowers into selling and doing whatever they can to make their weekly payments. It works. Loan recovery rates for the industry average between 95 and 98 percent. For BRAC, that rate was a comfy 99.3 percent.

So do predatory micro-loans really help lift the world’s poorest people out of poverty? Neoliberal ideology says they do — and the Omidyar Network represents one of the purest distillations of that ideology put into practice in the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the world.

As Cambridge University economics professor Ha-Joon Chang argued, saying of micro-lending:

“[It] constitutes a powerful institutional and political barrier to sustainable economic and social development, and so also to poverty reduction. Finally, we suggest that continued support for microfinance in international development policy circles cannot be divorced from its supreme serviceability to the neoliberal/globalization agenda.”

Omidyar Network has followed the same disastrous neoliberal script in other areas of investment, particularly its investments into privatizing public schools in the US and in poor regions of Africa.

One of the earliest Omidyar investments went to an online private charity website for needy public schools here in the US. As David Sirota wrote, huge billionaire foundations and corporations have been holding children hostage by starving public-school funding and replacing it with “charity” money from the likes of the Wal-Mart Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Broad Foundation. We can add the Omidyar Network to this list as well.

Omidyar’s foundation invested in the same idea, but with a web 2.0 crowd-source twist: DonorsChoose.org allows individuals to pledge amounts as small as $10, and allows school teachers to get online asking for small sums to help their classrooms. The end result, of course, is that it normalizes the continued strangling of public schools and the sense that only private funding can save education.

Omidyar poured millions into DonorsChoose and organized donations from other Silicon Valley donors. At first, most public school teachers didn’t see the angle; many used the resource to raise funds for their own classrooms.

It wasn’t until DonorsChoose announced its partnership with the anti-public-education film “Waiting For Superman” that teachers realized they’d been duped. The movie promoted the myth that education could only be saved by the likes of Tea Party-backed school “reform” advocate Michelle Rhee. Teachers organized a boycott of DonorsChoose after the Omidyar-funded group announced it was essentially bribing its members with a $15 gift certificate to anyone who bought tickets for “Waiting for Superman.”

Two years later, DonorsChoose partnered and promoted yet another right-wing teacher-bashing propaganda film, “Won’t Back Down.”

Overseas, the Omidyar Network is embarking on a school privatization program that will make DonorsChoose look like Mother Theresa’s handiwork. Omidyar provided seed capital for a new Africa-based for-profit private school enterprise for the poor called Bridge International. In 2009, ON gave Bridge a total of $1.8 million; Matt Bannick, the top figure (managing partner) in the Omidyar Network, sits on Bridge International’s board of directors.

Bridge International’s first schools are being built in Kenya, and are slated to expand across the sub-Sahara, hoping to rope millions of poor African kids into its schools. Bridge’s strategic partner is the for-profit education giant, Pearson. Diane Ravitch, former US Assistant Secretary of Education and critic of school “reform” efforts, has warned about Pearson’s near-monopolistic power influencing the privatization of American education (see Ravitch’s article“The Pearsonization of the American Mind.”)

The idea behind Bridge International is to provide a franchised “school in a box” model under which each school teaches the exact same curriculum at the exact same time to every student. Teachers are given minimal training—they’re merely required to teach according to the script given to them and read out to their students, scripts delivered through Nook tablets. Students pay $5 a month—a lot for each student in areas as poor as sub-Saharan Africa. Currently one new Bridge International school is opening every 2.5 days around Kenya, overtaking public education—with plans to expand further.

It sounds like a good idea, but the problem is that Bridge’s business model has a very narrow set of supporters, namely: free-market think-tanks, the global for-profit education industry and proponents of a neoliberal utopia who want to defund public education and replace it with private schooling. Bridge is only a few years old, but criticism of its educational model is already piling up—even from centrist pro-business thinktanks like the Brookings Institution. Even at $4 or $5 a month, Bridge’s “low cost” education is too expensive for many in the developing world, forcing children to go to work and making families choose between buying food and paying for education. Naturally, food wins out. And that simply means that many children can’t afford to go school, which only increases and reinforces stratification and inequality.

The fight against illiteracy requires free, quality education that’s available to all children. What it doesn’t need is a bunch of neoliberal techno-disruptors who want to turn education into a for-profit industry that provides schooling only to those who can afford it. And anyway, the very notion that you can squeeze enough profit from millions of the poorest children in the world to attract mega venture capital, while providing quality education is absurd. That profit money is extracted from the very people Bridge is supposedly trying to help.

Still think that Pierre Omidyar is a “different” type of billionaire? Still convinced he’s a one-of-a-kind “civic-minded” idealist?

Then you might want to ask yourself why Omidyar is so smitten by the ideas of an economist known as “The Friedrich Hayek of Latin America.” His name is Hernando de Soto and he’s been adored by everyone from Milton Friedman to Margaret Thatcher to the Koch brothers. Omidyar Network poured millions of nonprofit dollars into subsidizing his ideas, helping put them into practice in poor slums around the developing world.

In February 2011, the Omidyar Network announced a hefty $4.96 million grant to a Peru-based free-market think tank, the Institute for Liberty & Democracy (ILD).

Perhaps no single investment by Omidyar more clearly reveals his orthodox neoliberal vision for the world—and what constitutes “civic-mindedness”—than his support for the ILD and its founder and president, Hernando De Soto, whom the ON has tapped to participate in other Omidyar-sponsored events.

De Soto is a celebrity in the world of neoliberal/libertarian gurus. He and his Institute for Liberty & Democracy are credited with popularizing a free-market version of Third World land reform and turning it into policy in city slums all across the developing world. Whereas “land reform” in countries like Peru—dominated by a tiny handful of landowning families—used to mean land redistribution, Hernando De Soto came up with a counter-idea more amenable to the Haves: give property title to the country’s poor masses, so that they’d have a secure and legal title to their shanties, shacks, and whatever land they might claim to live on or own.

De Soto’s pitch essentially comes down to this: Give the poor masses a legal “stake” in whatever meager property they live in, and that will “unleash” their inner entrepreneurial spirit and all the national “hidden capital” lying dormant beneath their shanty floors. De Soto claimed that if the poor living in Lima’s vast shantytowns were given legal title ownership over their shacks, they could then use that legal title as collateral to take out microfinance loans, which would then be used to launch their micro-entrepreneurial careers. Newly-created property holders would also have a “stake” in the ruling political and economic system. It’s the sort of cant that makes perfect sense to the Davos set (where De Soto is a star) but that has absolutely zero relevance to problems of entrenched poverty around the world.

Since the Omidyar Network names “property rights” as one of the five areas of focus, it’s no surprise that Omidyar money would eventually find its way into Hernando De Soto’s free-market ideas mill. In 2011, Omidyar not only gave De Soto $5 million to advance his ideas—he also tapped De Soto to serve as a judge in an Omidyar-sponsored competition for projects focused on improving property rights for the poor. The more you know about Hernando De Soto, the harder it is to see Omidyar’s financial backing as “idealistic” or “civic-minded.”

For one thing, De Soto is the favorite of the very same billionaire brothers who play villains to Omidyar’s supposed hero—yes, the reviled Koch brothers. In 2004, the libertarian Cato Institute (neé “The Charles Koch Foundation”) awarded Hernando De Soto its biannual “Milton Friedman Prize”—which comes with a hefty $500,000 check—for “empowering the poor” and “advancing the cause of liberty.” De Soto was chosen by a prize jury consisting of such notable humanitarians as former Pinochet labor minister Jose Piñera, Vladimir Putin’s economic advisor Andrei Illarionov, Washington Post neoconservative columnist Anne Applebaum, FedEx CEO Fred Smith, and Milton Friedman’s wife Rosie. Milton was in the audience during the awards ceremony; he heartily approved.

Indeed, Hernando De Soto is de facto royalty in the world of neoliberal-libertarian gurus—he’s been called “The Friedrich von Hayek of Latin America,” not least because Hayek launched De Soto’s career as a guru more than three decades ago.

So who is Hernando De Soto, where do his ideas come from, and why might Pierre Omidyar think him deserving of five million dollars — ten times the amount the Koch Brothers awarded him?

De Soto was born into an elite “white European” family in Peru, who fled into exile in the West following Peru’s 1948 coup—his father was the secretary to the deposed president. Hernando spent most of the next 30 years in Switzerland, getting his education at elite schools, working his way up various international institutions based in Geneva, serving as the president of a Geneva-based copper cartel outfit, the International Council of Copper Exporting Countries, and working as an official in GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs).

De Soto didn’t return to live in Peru until the end of the 1970s, to oversee a new gold placer mining company he’d formed with a group of foreign investors. The mining company’s profits suffered due to Peru’s weak property laws and almost non-existent cultural appreciation of property title, especially among the country’s poor masses—De Soto’s investors pulled out of the mining venture after visiting the company’s gold mines and seeing hundreds of peasants panning on the company’s concessions. That experience inspired De Soto to change Peruvians’ political assumptions regarding property rights. Rather than start off by trying to convince them that foreign mining firms should have exclusive rights to gold from traditionally communal Peruvian lands, De Soto came up with a clever end-around idea: giving property title to the masses of Peru’s poor living in the vast shanties and shacks in the slums of Lima and cities beyond. It was a long-term strategy to alter cultural expectations about property and ownership, thereby improving the investment climate for mining companies and other investors. The point was to align the masses’ assumptions about property ownership with those of the banana republic’s handful of rich landowning families.

In 1979, De Soto organized a conference in Peru’s capital Lima, featuring Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek as speakers and guests. At the time, both Friedman and Hayek were serving as key advisors to General Augusto Pinochet’s “shock therapy” program in nearby Chile, an economic experiment that combined libertarian market policies with concentration camp terror.

Two years after De Soto’s successful conference in Lima, in 1981, Hayek helped De Soto set up his own free-market think tank in Lima, the “Institute for Liberty and Democracy” (ILD). The ILD became the first of a large international network of right-wing neoliberal think tanks connected to the Mother Ships—Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, and Britain’s Institute for Economic Affairs, Margaret Thatcher’s go-to think tank. By 1983, De Soto’s Institute was also receiving heavy funding from Reagan’s Cold War front group, the National Endowment for Democracy, which promoted free-market think tanks and programs around the world, and by the end of Reagan decade, De Soto produced his first manifesto, “The Other Path”—a play on the name of Peru’s Maoist guerrilla group, Shining Path, then fighting a bloody war for power. But whereas the Shining Path’s political program called for nationalizing and redistributing property, most of which was in the hands of a few rich families, De Soto’s “Other Path” called for maintaining property distribution as it was, and legalizing its current structure by democratizing property titles, the pieces of paper with the stamps. Everyone would become a micro-oligarch and micro-landowner under this scheme…

With help and funding from US and international institutions, De Soto quickly became a powerful political force behind the scenes. In 1990, De Soto insinuated himself into the inner circle of newly-elected president Alberto Fujimori, who quickly turned into a brutal dictator, and is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for crimes against humanity, murder, kidnapping, and illegal wiretapping.

Under De Soto’s influence, Fujimori’s politics suddenly changed; almost overnight, the populist Keynsian candidate became the free-market authoritarian “Chinochet” he governed as. As Fujimori’s top advisor, Hernando De Soto was the architect of so-called “Fujishock” therapy applied to Peru’s economy. Officially, De Soto served as Fujimori’s drug czar from 1990-1992, an unusual role for an economist given the fact that Peru’s army was fighting a brutal war with Peru’s powerful cocaine drug lords. At the time Peru was the world’s largest cocaine producer; as drug czar, Hernando De Soto therefore positioned himself as the point-man between Peru’s military and security services, America’s DEA and drug czar under the first President Bush, and Peru’s president Alberto Fujimori. It’s the sort of position that you’d want to have if you wanted “deep state” power rather than mere ministerial power.

During those first two years when De Soto served under Fujimori, human rights abuses were rampant. Fujimori death squads—with names like the “Grupo Colina”—targeted labor unions and government critics and their families. Two of the worst massacres committed under Fujimori’s reign, and for which he was later jailed, took place while De Soto served as his advisor and drug czar.

The harsh free-market shock-therapy program that De Soto convinced Fujimori to implement resulted in mass misery for Peru. During the two years De Soto served as Fujimori’s advisor, real wages plunged 40%, the poverty rate rose to over 54% of the population, and the percentage of the workforce that was either unemployed or underemployed soared to 87.3%.

But while the country suffered, De Soto’s Institute for Liberty and Democracy—the outfit that Omidyar gave $5 million to in 2011—thrived: its staff grew to over 100 as funds poured in. A World Bank staffer who worked with the ILD described it as,

“a kind of school for the country. Most of the important ministers, lawyers, journalists, and economists in Peru are ILD alumni.”

In 1992, Fujimori orchestrated a constitutional coup, disbanding Peru’s Congress and its courts, and imposing emergency rule-by-decree. It was another variation of the same Pinochet blueprint.

Just before Fujimori’s coup, De Soto indemnified himself by officially resigning from the cabinet. However in the weeks and months after the coup, De Soto provided crucial PR cover, downplaying the coup to the foreign press. For instance, De Soto told the Los Angeles Times that the public should temper their judgment of Fujimori’s coup:

“You’ve got to see this as the trial and error of a president who’s trying to find his way.”

In the New York Times, De Soto spun the coup as willed by the people, the ultimate democratic politics:

“People are fed up, fed up…[Fujimori] has attacked two hated institutions at just the right time. There is an enormous need to believe in him.”

Years later, Fujimori’s notorious spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos testified to Peru’s Congress that De Soto helped mastermind the 1992 coup. De Soto denied involvement; but in 2011, two years after Fujimori was jailed for crimes against humanity, De Soto joined the presidential campaign for Keiko Fujimori, the jailed dictator’s daughter and leader of Fujimori’s right-wing party. Keiko Fujimori ran on a platform promising to free her father from prison if she won; De Soto spent much of the campaign red-baiting her opponent as a Communist. That led Peru’s Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa to denounce De Soto as a “fujimontesenista” with “few democratic credentials.”

So in the same year that De Soto was trying to put the daughter of Peru’s Pinochet in power and to spring the dictator from prison, Omidyar Network awarded him $5 million.

It was during Fujimori’s dictatorial emergency rule, from 1992-94, that De Soto rolled out a property-title pilot program in Lima, in which 200,000 households were given formal title. In 1996, Fujimori implemented De Soto’s property-titling program on a national scale, with help from the World Bank and a new government property agency staffed by people from De Soto’s Institute for Liberty and Democracy. By 2000, the magical promise of an explosion in bank credits to all the new micro-property owners never materialized; in fact, there was no noticeable difference in bank lending to the poor whatsoever, whether they had property title or not.

The World Bank and the project’s neoliberal supporters led by Hernando De Soto were not happy with data showing no uptick in lending, which threatened to unravel the entire happy theory behind property titling as the answer to Third World poverty. De Soto was in the process of peddling the same property-titling program to countries around the world; data was needed to justify the program. So the World Bank funded a new study in Peru in the early 2000s, and discovered something startling: In homes that had formal property titles, the parents in those homes spent up to 40% more time outside of their homes than they did before they were given title. De Soto took that statistic and argued that it was a good thing because it proved giving property title to homeowners made them feel secure enough to leave their shanties and shacks. The assumption was that in the dark days before shanty dwellers had legal titles, they were too scared to leave their shacks lest some other savage steal it from them while they were out shopping.

No one ever conclusively explained why shanty parents were spending so much more time outside of their homes, but the important thing was that it made everyone forget the utter failure of the property title program’s core promise—that property titles would ignite micro-lending thanks to the collateral of the micro-entrepreneur’s micro-shack as collateral. Thanks to De Soto’s salesmanship and the backing of the world’s neoliberal nomenklatura — Bill Clinton called De Soto “the world’s greatest living economist” and he was praised by everyone from Milton Friedman to Vladimir Putin to Margaret Thatcher. The disappointing results in Peru were ignored, and De Soto’s program was extended to developing countries around the world including Egypt, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere. And in nearly every case, De Soto’s Institute for Liberty and Democracy has taken the lead in advising governments and selling the dream of turning titled slum-dwellers into micro-entrepreneurs.

The real change brought by De Soto’s property-titling program has ranged from nil to nightmarish.

In Cambodia, where the World Bank implemented De Soto’s land-titling program in 2001, poor and vulnerable people in the capital Phnom Penh have suffered at the hands of land developers and speculators who’ve used arson, police corruption and violence to forcibly evict roughly 10% of the city’s population from their homes in more valuable districts, relocating them to the city outskirts.

An article in Slate titled “The De Soto Delusion” described what happened in Cambodia when the land-titling program was first implemented:

“In the nine months or so leading up to the project kickoff, a devastating series of slum fires and forced evictions purged 23,000 squatters from tracts of untitled land in the heart of Phnom Penh. These squatters were then plopped onto dusty relocation sites several miles outside of the city, where there were no jobs and where the price of commuting to and from central Phnom Penh (about $2 per day) surpassed whatever daily wage they had been earning in town before the fires. Meanwhile, the burned-out inner city land passed immediately to some of the wealthiest property developers in the country.”

De Soto and his Institute for Liberty and Democracy have advised property-title programs elsewhere too—Haiti, Dominican Republic, Panama, Russia—again with results ranging from nil to bad. Even where it doesn’t lead to mass evictions and violence, it has the effect of shifting a greater tax burden onto the poor, who end up paying more in property taxes, and of forcing them to pony up for costly filing fees to gain title, fees that they often cannot afford. Property title in and of itself—without a whole range of reforms in governance, corruption, education, income, wealth distribution and so on—is clearly no panacea. But it does provide an alternative to programs that give money to the poor and redistribute wealth, and that alone is a good thing, if you’re the type smitten by Hernando De Soto—as Omidyar clearly is.

Studies of property-titling programs in the slums of Brazil and Manila revealed that it created a new bitterly competitive culture and bifurcation, in which a small handful of titled slum dwellers quickly learn to benefit by turning into micro-slumlords renting out dwellings to lesser slum dwellers, who subsequently find themselves forced to pay monthly fees for their shanty rooms—creating an underclass within the underclass. De Soto has described these slums as “acres of diamonds”—wealth waiting to be unlocked by property titling—and his acolytes even coined a new acronym for slums: “Strategic Low-income Urban Management Systems.”

All of which begs the obvious question: If De Soto’s property-title program is such a proven failure in case after case, why is it so popular among the world’s political and business elites?

The answer is rather obvious: It offers a simple, low-cost, technocratic market solution to the problem of global poverty—a complex and costly problem that can only be alleviated by dedicating huge amounts of resources and a very different politics from the one that tells us that markets are god, markets can solve everything. Even before Omidyar committed $5 million to the dark plutocratic “idealism” De Soto represents, he was Tweeting his admiration for De Soto:

“Brilliant dinner with Hernando de Soto. Property rights underlie and enable everything.”

Indeed, property rights underlie and enable everything Omidyar wants to hear—but distract and divert from what the targets of those programs might actually need or be asking for.

Which brings us back to the wonderful words written about Pierre Omidyar last month: Where is the proof that he’s a “civic-minded” billionaire, a “different” billionaire, an “idealistic” billionaire who’s in it for ideals and not for profit? How is Omidyar any different from any other billionaire—when he is funding the same programs and pushing the same vision for the world backed by the Kochs, Soros, Gates, and every other neoliberal billionaire?

When you scratch the surface of his investments and get a sense of what sort of ideal world he’d like to make, it becomes clear that Omidyar is no different from his peers.

And the reason that matters, of course, is because Pierre Omidyar’s dystopian vision is merging with Glenn Greenwald’s and Laura Poitras’ monopoly on the crown jewels of the National Security Agency — the world’s secrets, our secrets — and using the value of those secrets as the capital for what’s being billed as an entirely new, idealistic media project, an idealism that the CJR and others promise will not shy away from taking on power.

The question, however, is what defines power to a neoliberal mind? We’re going to take a wild guess here and say: The State.

So brace yourself, you’re about to get something you’ve never seen before: billionaire-backed journalism taking on the power of the state. How radical is that? To quote “60 Minutes” producer Lowell Bergman:

“What has been adjudicated and established in the wake of Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement is the ability of the press to basically write or broadcast almost anything about the government.There’s very few restrictions in that way. It’s not true when we’re talking about private power, especially major Fortune 500 corporations, or people worth more than, say, a billion dollars.”

In other words: look out Government, you’re about to be pummeled by a crusading, righteous billionaire! And corporate America? Ah, don’t worry. Your dirty secrets—freshly transferred from the nasty non-profit hands of the Guardian to the aggressively for-profit hands of Pierre Omidyar—are safe with us.

The Most Jaw-Droppingly Racist Daily Show Interview Ever Just Cost This GOP Chair His Job October 26, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in North Carolina, Racism, Right Wing.
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Roger’s note: The video link at the end of this post is priceless (you need to click on it).  You will see an honest to God dyed in the wool racist at work; and — surprise, surprise — he is a Republican state official.  And at the end of the video you will have revealed to you something that few of us realize, a startling fact:  the act of voting can change your sexual preference!  Remember, you first heard it here.

 

 

Politics As Tawdry Theater Dept: It’s tough to pick the highlights from last night’s surreal Daily Show interview, in which correspondent Aasif Mandvi asked GOP precinct chair Don Yelton about North Carolina’s controversial new voter ID law. Is it when Yelton says the law’s purpose is “to kick Democrats in the butt,” or when he says, “If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it,” or when he complains he can’t use the N word, or when he fails for several long agonizing seconds to stake his claim to non-racism after Mandvi almost begs him to, or when he boasts that one of his best friends is…you know. It might just be the stunned Mandvi finally asking, “You know that we can hear you, right?” Oh yeah: Though he later stood by his comments, Yelton resigned today after being asked to by fellow-Republicans.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-october-23-2013/suppressing-the-vote

 

Pope Francis Takes Aim At Ideologically Obsessed Christians, Says They Have Illness (VIDEO) October 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Right Wing.
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Roger’s note: There is definitely something strange going on in the universe when I find the Pope’s remarks relevant (although I will not forget that as Bishop he at best kept quiet during the era of atrocities under the military dictatorship in Argentina). What he says about the church and ideology also applies to the world of Marxism, where the continent of thought created by Marx’s brilliant mind and his political activity has been ossified into a materialist and economic ideology by many who call themselves Marxist rather than a living and dynamic philosophy of human liberation that needs to be re-worked out for each generation.

 

Based on past statements, Pope Francis’ remarks were aimed mostly at the Christian Right.

While Pope Francis did not specifically mention Christian right-wing ideology during the Mass, his past remarks suggest he was talking about that ideology most of all.

In September, Pope Francis attacked “savage capitalism” and took up the plight of the unemployed against a system that worships money. Earlier that month, the Pope also criticized conservative Catholics for focusing so much on abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. And in July, Pope Francis put the brakes on hating gay people, saying that we shouldn’t judge or marginalize them.

Clearly, Pope Francis isn’t fond of the extreme ideals of the Christian Right. He supports helping the poor. He believes in economic fairness. He denounces hatred of gay people. He thinks the war against abortion and birth control has gone too far. Considering all of these things, it’s pretty obvious that Pope Francis was mostly talking to right-wing Christians on Thursday. Their ideological fanaticism has damaged religion. They have abandoned the true teachings of Jesus to pursue an extremist agenda. And Pope Francis just called them out for it. Cue right-wing rage in 3, 2, 1…

 

“In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”

A Secular Humanist Jew’s Thoughts on Yom Kippur: On Atheism and Theism, and on Religion and Organized Religion October 15, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Right Wing.
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Roger’s note: Here is a thoughtful article on Judaism and organized religion in general.  We live in an age of superstition and no-nothingism, and this is most frightening.  Fanatic  fundamentalist anti-intellectual and arrogant theism has reached to the highest levels of power and authority in the U.S. Republican Party, and in India and much of the Islamic world Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism also has become ubiquitous in places of great political, social, cultural and economic power.  Overcoming this institutionalized irrationality with Fascistic overtones is one of the great challenges of our time.

 

By (about the author)

OpEdNews Op Eds 10/14/2013 at 16:13:26

Being some reflections on the Jewish High Holy Day and its meaning that I wrote down after attending the Kol Nidre service at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London this past month.  The lead sermon was given by the congregation’s retired Chief Rabbi, David Goldberg.  Two years ago I heard him give a sermon at Kol Nidre service which he began with his modification of a famous quote taken from the English historian A.J. Toynbee: “I don’t believe in God; but I miss him.”

For Secular Humanist Jews like myself Yom Kippur is not a day of atonement, as it is for theist Jews.  We may well have done wrong things in the past year, but we do not regard them as “sins.” “Sin” is a religious concept requiring the existence of an unknown, unknowable, and unprovable, yet somehow all-powerful super-natural being which at some level has control over our lives or parts of them.   For us, Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish calendar, is a day of renewal and rededication. We reflect, we restore, we renew — we look ahead, not behind.

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/11278061@N05/7925325910/: Humanists Celebrate Reality, without prejudice (except when told what religious views to hold, by law)
Humanists Celebrate Reality, without prejudice (except when told what religious views to hold, by law) by Napolean_70

Before getting on to what I resolved to renew my efforts in dealing with, let me say that as a humanist, an atheist, for my whole life, I am used to be looked down upon (or worse) by theists.   Imagine my surprise, then, when I read of what the new Pope, Francis, had to say about atheists, of which I am surely one, in a lengthy response to a journalist’s questions (click here): ” “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying — and this is the fundamental thing — that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.   Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience [emphasis added].”

Even in a column like this one, I have to say “Wow, that is quite a statement,” especially coming from the Pope.   (One can hardly imagine it coming from any of the lay or clerical leaders of the Republican Religious Right in the United States.)   It did make me return to consider a line of reasoning about religious persons, as contrasted with organized religion, that I have held for quite some time.   The Pope made it clear that he does not have a problem with atheists, per se.    And so, I would like to make it clear that I do not have a problem with theists, per se.   Yes, I do understand and agree with all of the arguments against the existence of an unknown, unknowable and unprovable “God” or “Gods” (think Hinduism, of which there are about 1 billion adherents).   But I do think that it is a waste of time to argue against the concept, and worse to make fun of it, that majority of the world’s population who are theists of one sort or another hold to.

The problem, for atheists/humanists and, at many times in history theists of one sort confronting theists of another sort as well, is Organized Religion, like the Catholic Church, like the Republican Religious Right (political by definition), like political Islam, like indeed political Orthodox Judaism in modern Israel.   Our argument is not, or should not be, with belief and the believers.  The struggle of humanists and believers alike who are devoted to the fundamental interests of humanity must be focused not on each other but on our common enemy: those who use religion to advance their own political and economic interests to arrogate to themselves and their patrons resources and the product of economic activity that neither benefit humanity as a whole nor have anything to do with religion, those otherwise known variously as “corporatism,” the “global economy [privately held],” and capitalism.

Further, it must be understood by all that over the centuries of human civilization, more of our brethren have been killed in religious wars, or wars waged for “religious” reasons, or in wars in which organized religions have been an ally of one or more of the warring states, than for all of the other causes put together.   In the Second World War, hardly a religious war in the sense that the crusades or Catholic/Protestant wars of 16th and 17th century Europe were, nevertheless, on the belt buckle of every German Wehrmacht soldier was the slogan (originated by the Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in the 1880s) “Gott mit Uns.” The traditional Japanese religion of ancestor worship, Shinto, was mobilized by the fascist leadership to help them mobilize the whole population behind the war effort.   The Catholic Church was closely allied with both Benito Mussolini’s (Italian) and Francisco Franco’s (Spanish) fascist states.   In the United States, it was not like that, but there were the frequent imprecations to God for support in battle and even a popular song that I remember well from my youth during that conflict: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.”

Presently, The US Republican Party runs in major part on the issues that are central to the Fundamentalist Christians and Jews who are central to the Republican base: homophobia, religious determinism in policy governing the outcome of pregnancy, the introduction of organized religious activity into the public schools, and in general the steady erosion of the Constitutional boundaries separating church and state.   In political Islam, “Islamism” is very clear that its goal is to take full political power so that it may rule under the provisions of “Sharia Law.”   (Funnily enough, many of the provisions of Sharia Law, against which the Islamophobes of the Republican Religious Right just love to rail, are strikingly similar to the law that the latter would like to impose across the United States.   The central feature of both is that “religious law” [as they interpret it of course] should stand above any civil constitution.   Don’t believe me?   Just ask Rick Santorum, the Dominionist Mike Huckabee, Antonin Scalia, and etc.)   For many Israelis on the Right, the whole policy that has been followed by their Right-wing governments over the years, the gradual erosion and (the hoped for) eventual expulsion (voluntary or involuntary) of the Arab population in the Occupied Territories is based on the Biblical concept of the “Land of Israel.”

Through my writing I have been fighting the forces of the Republican Religious Right for some years.   The original of my current book The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel ( http://www.puntopress.com/jonas-the-15-solution-hits-main-distribution/ ) was published in 1996.   And so, what is my renewal for this, the Jewish New Year?   To rededicate myself to that struggle, but to feature the line of reasoning that I have outlined above.   Our struggle is not with religion, per se, nor with its adherents, as individuals.   Our struggle is most correctly with Organized Religion and how it is used to further the interests of Reaction by every government around the world that does use it in one way or another, which in modern times means capitalism and all of its present and future negative outcomes for all of mankind, whether theist or humanist.   That is our challenge, and for the preservation of our species and indeed many others, that is the challenge we have to meet.

 

 

http://thepoliticaljunkies.org/

 

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS, is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at the School of Medicine, Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books on health policy, health and wellness, and sports and regular exercise. In (more…)

GOP Outreach On Women Going About As Expected October 7, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Hillary Clinton, Right Wing, Women.
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ROGER’S NOTE: HILLARY CLINTON IS A HAWKISH NEO-CON IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING, AND I WOULD NEVER SUPPORT HER PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN.  NEVERTHELESS, JUST AS WITH THE RACISM FOCUSED ON NEO-CON IS SHEEP’S CLOTHING OBAMA, THE MISOGYNIST ATTACKS ON CLINTON ARE DESPICABLE, JUST ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF HOW DISGUSTING IS THE REPUBLICAN KOCH BROTHER FUNDED AND INSPIRED TEA PARTY MOVEMENT.  BUT THIS SHOULD NOT TAKE ONE IOTA AWAY FROM OUR OPPOSITION TO THE OBAMA/CLINTON MILITARIST AND IMPERIALIST FOREIGN POLICY.

 

by Abby Zimet

With a 12-point gap nationwide among women voters in 2012 elections, Republicans had vowed to “rebuild the party from the ground up” at this weekend’s California GOP convention. The grotesque anti-Hillary buttons caught by a San Francisco reporter – which were said to be both very popular and eventually, mysteriously removed – tell another, oblivious tale. Memo to GOP, especially those in thrall to the Tea Party: You can’t trash people and their rights and then expect them to vote for you. The buttons underneath these (commie=liberal, really) were almost as bad.

 

Some of My Best Friends are Republican August 19, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Religion, Right Wing.
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Roger’s note: If you have any Republican family or friends, you may want to share this video with them.

THE TEA PARTY IS THE AMERICAN TALIBAN: REPUBLICAN NEWSROOM COMMENTATOR WILL MCAVOY

 

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