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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

 

Christian Zionism: The Heresy that Undermines Middle East Peace August 4, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Religion, Right Wing.
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Christian Zionism is the largest, most controversial and most destructive lobby within Christianity. It bears primary responsibility for perpetuating tensions in the Middle East, justifying Israel’s apartheid colonialist agenda and for undermining the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

By Rev Dr Stephen Sizer

At least one in four American Christians surveyed recently by Christianity Today magazine said that they believe it is their biblical responsibility to support the nation of Israel. This view is known as Christian Zionism. The Pew Research Center put the figure at 63 per cent among white evangelicals. Christian Zionism is pervasive within mainline American evangelical, charismatic and independent denominations including the Assemblies of God, Pentecostals and Southern Baptists, as well as many of the independent mega-churches. It is less prevalent within the historic denominations, which show a greater respect for the work of the United Nations, support for human rights, the rule of international law and empathy with the Palestinians.The origins of the movement can be traced to the early 19th century when a group of eccentric British Christian leaders began to lobby for Jewish restoration to Palestine as a necessary precondition for the return of Christ. The movement gained traction from the middle of the 19th century when Palestine became strategic to British, French and German colonial interests in the Middle East. Proto-Christian Zionism therefore preceded Jewish Zionism by more than 50 years. Some of Theodore Herzl’s strongest advocates were Christian clergy.

Christian Zionism as a modern theological and political movement embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism. It has become deeply detrimental to a just peace between Palestine and Israel. It propagates a worldview in which the Christian message is reduced to an ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today.

Followers of Christian Zionism are convinced that the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 and the capture of Jerusalem in 1967 were the miraculous fulfillment of God’s promises made to Abraham that he would establish Israel as a Jewish nation forever in Palestine.

Tim LaHaye’s infamous Left Behind novels, together with other End Times speculations written by authors such as Hal Lindsey, John Hagee and Pat Robertson, have sold well over 100 million copies. These are supplemented by children’s books, videos and event violent computer games.

Burgeoning Christian Zionist organizations such as the International Christian Embassy (ICEJ), Christian Friends of Israel (CFI) and Christians United for Israel (CUFI) wield considerable influence on Capitol Hill, claiming a support base in excess of 50 million true believers. This means there are now at least ten times as many Christian Zionists as Jewish Zionists. And their European cousins are no less active in the Zionist Hasbarafia, lobbying for Israel, attacking its critics and thwarting the peace process. The United States and Israel are often portrayed as Siamese twins, joined at the heart, sharing common historic, religious and political values.

Pastor John Hagee is one of the leaders of the Christian Zionist movement. He is the Founder and Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church, a 19,000-member evangelical church in San Antonio, Texas. His weekly programmes are broadcast on 160 TV stations, 50 radio stations and eight networks into an estimated 99 million homes in 200 countries. In 2006 he founded Christians United for Israel admitting,

“For 25 almost 26 years now, I have been pounding the evangelical community over television. The Bible is a very pro-Israel book. If a Christian admits ‘I believe the Bible,’ I can make him a pro-Israel supporter or they will have to denounce their faith. So I have the Christians over a barrel, you might say.”

In March 2007, Hagee spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. He began by saying:

“The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened. There are 50 million Christians standing up and applauding the State of Israel…”

As the Jerusalem Post pointed out, his speech did not lack clarity. He went on to warn:

“It is 1938. Iran is Germany, and Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler. We must stop Iran’s nuclear threat and stand boldly with Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East… Think of our potential future together: 50 million evangelicals joining in common cause with 5 million Jewish people in America on behalf of Israel is a match made in heaven.”

Christian Zionists have shown varying degrees of enthusiasm for implementing six basic political convictions that arise from their ultra-literal and fundamentalist theology:

  1. The belief that the Jews remain God’s chosen people leads Christian Zionists to seek to bless Israel in material ways. However, this also invariably results in the uncritical endorsement of and justification for Israel’s racist and apartheid policies, in the media, among politicians and through solidarity tours to Israel.

  2. As God’s chosen people, the final restoration of the Jews to Israel is therefore actively encouraged, funded and facilitated through partnerships with the Jewish Agency.

  3. Eretz Israel, as delineated in scripture, from the Nile to the Euphrates, belongs exclusively to the Jewish people, therefore the land must be annexed, Palestinians driven from their homes and the illegal Jewish settlements expanded and consolidated.

  4. Jerusalem is regarded as the eternal and exclusive capital of the Jews, and cannot be shared with the Palestinians. Therefore, strategically, Christian Zionists have lobbied the US Administration to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem and thereby ensure that Jerusalem is recognised as the capital of Israel.

  5. Christian Zionists offer varying degrees of support for organisations such as the Jewish Temple Mount Faithful who are committed to destroying the Dome of the Rock and rebuilding the Jewish Temple on the Haram Al-Sharif (Noble sanctuary of Al-Aqsa).

  6. Christian Zionists invariably have a pessimistic view of the future, convinced that there will be an apocalyptic war of Armageddon in the imminent future. They are deeply sceptical of the possibility of a lasting peace between Jews and Arabs and therefore oppose the peace process. Indeed, to advocate an Israeli compromise of “land for peace” with the Palestinians is seen as a rejection of God’s promises to Israel and therefore to support her enemies.

Within the Christian Zionist worldview, Palestinians are regarded as alien residents in Israel. Many Christian Zionists are reluctant even to acknowledge Palestinians exist as a distinct people, claiming that they emigrated to Israel from surrounding Arab nations for economic reasons after Israel had become prosperous. A fear and deep-seated hatred of Islam also pervades their dualistic Manichean theology. Christian Zionists have little or no interest in the existence of indigenous Arab Christians despite their continuity with the early church.

In 2006, I drafted what became known as the Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism signed by four of the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem: His Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch, Jerusalem; Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem; Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East; and Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. In it they insisted:

“We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as a false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organisations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine. This inevitably leads to unending cycles of violence that undermine the security of all peoples of the Middle East and the rest of world.

We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations!

We call upon Christians in Churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism. These discriminative actions are turning Palestine into impoverished ghettos surrounded by exclusive Israeli settlements. The establishment of the illegal settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall on confiscated Palestinian land undermines the viability of a Palestinian state and peace and security in the entire region.”

The patriarchs concluded:

“God demands that justice be done. No enduring peace, security or reconciliation is possible without the foundation of justice. The demands of justice will not disappear. The struggle for justice must be pursued diligently and persistently but non-violently.” The prophet Micah asks, “What does the Lord require of you, to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).

It is my contention after more than 10 years of postgraduate research that Christian Zionism is the largest, most controversial and most destructive lobby within Christianity. It bears primary responsibility for perpetuating tensions in the Middle East, justifying Israel’s apartheid colonialist agenda and for undermining the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

The closing chapter of the New Testament takes us back to the imagery of the Garden of Eden and the removal of the curse arising from the Fall: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb… On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1-2) Surely this is what Jesus had in mind when he instructed his followers to act as Ambassadors of peace and reconciliation, to work and pray that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven.

The Revd Dr Stephen Sizer is the Vicar of Christ Church in Virginia Water and the author of Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? (InterVarsity Press, 2004); Zion’s Christian Soldiers? (2007) and In the Footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles (Eagle, 2004). For more information see www.stephensizer.com

Source: Middle East Monitor

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If Babies Had Guns They Wouldn’t Be Aborted. April 13, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Gun Control/Violence, Health, Right Wing, Women.
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by Abby Zimet

babies_guns_bhnxtueceae8nsc
Once again – why does this week’s news all sound like it comes from The Onion? – this is real. The above is the new campaign bumper sticker for one Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas). He recently threatened to impeach Obama for daring to consider gun control measures, invited gun owners feeling “unwanted” and “persecuted” to move to Texas, and argues that “the right to life is the great civil rights struggle of our age – no little boy or little girl should be subjected to violence because the government has declared them less than human,” which he says is Just Like slavery. We can’t think of much in the way of response, except that Costa Rica is looking better and better.

Should Taxpayers Be Funding Private Schools That Teach Creationism? February 1, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Religion, Right Wing, Science and Technology.
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Roger’s note: What is at issue here is not only the question of publicly funding the idiotic notion of creationism, but the very substance of public education.  Public education (advocated by Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto) is a sine qua non of democracy.  The massive effort by the extreme right to privatize public education, aided and abetted by Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is aimed at replacing what is left of democracy in the United States with theocratic tinged militarized corporatism.

John Scalzi (CC BY 2.0)
Part of an exhibit at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky.

By Zack Kopplin

According to so-called education reform advocates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education, school vouchers, which allow parents to direct state money to private schools of their choice, are essential because “families need the financial freedom to attend schools that meet their needs.” From Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, to Newark, N.J.’s Democratic Mayor Cory Booker, these programs are backed by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they enjoy the support of powerful interest groups such as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the American Federation for Children.

Voucher programs have been established in 12 states and the District of Columbia, and they are spreading as Texas and Tennessee attempt to create ones of their own. As the use of vouchers has expanded across the country in recent years, new questions have arisen that extend beyond concerns about their appropriateness and legality. We’ve pushed standards, testing and accountability for public schools, so why shouldn’t private institutions receiving vouchers have to meet those same requirements? Should private institutions be allowed to ignore state science standards and teach their students creationism while receiving taxpayer money? Does learning about biblical creation, rather than evolution, really help to meet students’ needs?

I first investigated the relationship between creationism and voucher programs after reading an AlterNet article in June about Eternity Christian Academy in Louisiana. Now removed from the state’s voucher program, the school was using the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum to teach students that the mythical Loch Ness Monster existed and somehow disproved evolution. As I looked further into Louisiana’s program, I found that there wasn’t just one school but at least 20 private ones getting vouchers and thus receiving millions of taxpayer dollars. After reviewing my research, New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist James Gill wrote that “vouchers have turned out to be the answer to a creationist’s prayer.”

This isn’t just a Louisiana problem. It seems clear that the U.S. is facing a national creationism epidemic. In an exposé I wrote posted by MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, I identified hundreds of additional voucher schools in nine states and the District of Columbia using dozens of different creationist curriculums. These schools are receiving tens of millions of dollars, and maybe even hundreds of millions, to teach religious beliefs in violation of state science standards. With 164 such campuses, Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students With Disabilities Program contained the highest concentration of creationist voucher schools I was able to uncover. Indiana, which has been marketed as the “gold standard” for voucher accountability, has at least 37 such schools teaching creationism. A couple of its campuses proudly advertise that their students are taken to the Creation Museum on field trips. So far, I’ve discovered 311 creationist voucher schools across the country.

Those 311 schools are not the only taxpayer funded institutions teaching creationism. There are likely hundreds more. Although many are difficult to find, either because they don’t have websites or don’t advertise their creationist curriculum, lots of voucher schools fit the profile of creationist campuses that are already known. On top of this, two states, Arizona and Mississippi, have voucher programs but don’t release the names of participating schools. Officials with the Arizona Department of Education confirmed to me that every private school in the state is eligible to participate in the program, and since I’ve identified private creationist schools there that could be involved, there is little doubt that Arizona is funding some of them. I believe it’s a safe bet that every school voucher program in the country is financing creationism.

These campuses would be shut if they were subject to the same standards as public institutions. The courts have shot down the teaching of creationism and intelligent design with public money over and over again, so why are we letting taxpayer funded private voucher schools teach them? The scientists and educators who devised both state science standards and the national common core standards knew creationism was pseudo-science that would not help American students get the education they need to succeed in a global, 21st century economy. That’s why we don’t teach creationism in public schools. Taxpayers should be outraged that their hard-earned dollars are enabling the mis-education of private school students.

Aside from not meeting these basic academic standards, many voucher schools suffer from other significant problems. Louisiana bloggers have exposed profiteering prophets who sought to capitalize on taxpayer funding for private schools. The Miami New Times reports that voucher schools in Florida are being run by administrators who “include criminals convicted of cocaine dealing, kidnapping, witness tampering, and burglary.” A school in Louisiana’s program was slated to receive millions of dollars from vouchers but lacked the facilities needed to house new students.

Proponents of vouchers argue that diverting money from public to private schools will help students learn by increasing inter-campus competition. But when voucher programs contain institutions that teach creationism instead of science, it’s easy to see that damage is being done to students whose futures are jeopardized by poor education.

Although a judge recently ruled that the way Louisiana funds its school voucher program is unconstitutional, it continues to operate as the state appeals the decision. Similarly, the voucher program in Colorado has been halted by a court injunction. But given the aggressive activity of taxpayer funded voucher programs across the country, we need to fight to make sure that no additional ones are created. And we need to stop politicians in states such as Indiana and Wisconsin from following through on plans to expand already existing programs. Today’s students and our nation’s future demand it.

Zack Kopplin is a science education advocate and winner of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in Education and the National Center for Science Education’s Friend of Darwin Award.

Is the Bible a Threat to National Security? June 30, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Right Wing.
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 Roger’s note: click on the link to watch this scary video: “MRFF just posted a video montage, which could easily be called the military evangelicals’ greatest hits, here.

Antiwar.com / ByKelley B. Vlahos
 

A military Bible paints war as religious devotion. What could go wrong?

June 26, 2012 |
 
 
 
Can a Bible be a “threat to national security”?

For years, the government has employed the risk of “national security” excuse to infringe on a wide range of freedoms — like the right to pass through an airport security checkpoint unmolested, or read library books without Big Brother peeking over your shoulder.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein is trying to prove that there is more than one way to put the country at risk, and he’s found it in a heretofore unlikely place: the Bible.

Well, the Holman Bible. To be more exact, a version of the Bible that, for reasons still undetermined, was authorized with the trademarked official insignia of the U.S. Armed Forces emblazoned on the front cover. There is The Soldier’s Bible with the Army’s seal, The Marine’s Bible with the Marine Corps seal, The Sailor’s Bible and The Airman’s Bible, both with their respective insignia. The books have been sold for nearly six years throughout Christian bookstores, commissaries and PXs on U.S. military installations — and are still available on Christianbook.com, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

 It’s not the King James Version that the Gideons leave behind in hotel rooms drawers. The Holman Bible was commissioned and published by LifeWay Christian Resources, a subsidiary of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist denomination in the world, in 2003.

 

In a 1999 press release announcing the edition’s progress, Broadman & Holman Publishers called the new version “a fresh, precise translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek of the Old and New Testaments.” LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. weighed in, saying there was a “serious need for a 21st-century Bible translation in American English that combines accuracy and readability,” adding, “the Holman Christian Standard Bible is an accurate, literal rendering with a smoothness and readability that invites memorization, reading aloud and dedicated study.”

The Holman Bible, or HCSB, has been popular with evangelicals for its references and study tools. Someone convinced each branch of the service they’d be perfect for the military, too. So the HCSB became the “official” Bible of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines in 2004, complete with reader-friendly text and custom “designed to meet the specific needs of those who serve in the most difficult of situations,” according to the publishers.

In other words, aside from the text, the books are filled with “devotionals” and “inspirational essays” tailored to each branch of service. I was unable to get my hands on a copy by press time, but Amazon’s “peek” inside the book and several positive reader reviews confirm some of the contents, revealing what could only be described as a guileless conflation of both Christian and American military iconography. War and service as religious devotion.

In addition to the Pledge of Allegiance and the first and fourth verses of the Star Spangled Banner, there are excerpts from one of George W. Bush inaugural addresses and the Republican president’s remarks at a National Prayer Breakfast. Gen. George S. Patton’s famous Christmas prayer card from the field of battle 1944 is also included, as is “George Washington’s Prayer,” which has been widely circulated (and debunked) as proof of America’s Christian paternity.

These Bibles also feature “testimonials and encouragement from the Officers’ Christian Fellowship,” which has approximately 15,000 members across the military and whose primary purpose is “to glorify God by uniting Christian officers for biblical fellowship and outreach, equipping and encouraging them to minister effectively in the military society.” In other words they proselytize within the officer corps as part of an evangelical “parachurch” within the military.

A largely unfettered one, apparently, as one watches Pentagon officers commenting freely on camera — and in uniform — for this Bush-era promotional video for Christian Embassy, another federal government-wide “fellowship” with similar missionary goals.

One officer, Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Catton, who said he worked on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, described himself as “an old fashioned American and my first priority is my faith in God.” Pointing to his meeting with other officers under the auspices of Christian Embassy, he said, “I think it’s a huge impact because you have many men and women who are seeking God’s counsel and wisdom as we advise the Secretary of Defense.”

Then U.S. Brigadier Gen. Bob Caslan (currently promoted to lieutenant general as the commanding general at the U.S. Army’s prestigious Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan.) went so far as to say he sees the “flag officer fellowship groups … hold me accountable.”

“We are the aroma of Jesus Christ,” he added.

Something smells, all right, said Weinstein, who heads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). The roles of the officers in the video were later deemed improperafter MRFF demanded an investigation in 2007. As for the Bibles, Weinstein said he received some 2,000 complaints about them from service members over the last year. Weinstein, a former Air Force Judge Advocate (JAG) whose 2005 charges against the Air Force Academy in Colorado led to an investigation that officially found religious “insensitivity” against non- fundamentalists there, has gone on to expose a much wider climate of “top-down, invasive evangelicalism” at the institution and throughout the military as a whole.

“We’re fighting a Fundamentalist-Christian-Parachurch-Military-Corporate-Proselytizing-Complex,” Weinstein said told Antiwar.com last week, “and we have been fighting this for some time.” MRFF just posted a video montage, which could easily be called the military evangelicals’ greatest hits, here.

He said aside from “prostituting” the military insignia, the military’s endorsement of the Bibles violated federal separation of church and state, and continue to sanction an insidious culture of radical evangelicalism and discrimination throughout the services (as a Jew, Weinstein said he felt the sting of prejudice when he attended the Air Force academy in the late 1970s; his sons had it even worse, he claims, prompting his first formal complaint seven years ago).

Since then, “(MRFF) has had 28,000 clients and a hundred more each month,” said Weinstein, rejecting claims by his critics that they are all atheist. He insists that 96 percent of his clients are Christians (Catholic and Mainline Protestant) and that his is not a religious crusade. On the other hand, some 33 percent of chaplains are now evangelical Christians (Weinstein’s MRFF places that number at 84 percent), while only 3 percent of service members describe themselves as such.

“They are spiritually raping the U.S. Constitution, the American people and the men and women who are fighting for us,” said Weinstein, who never, ever minces words.

MRFF’s lawyers sent a formal letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s office in January. In it, MRFF charged that authorizing LifeWay to print its Bibles with the service insignia “is in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution … and several regulations,” and that the authority should be withdrawn immediately or face legal action from MRFF.

Interestingly, according to the documents now available online, the Army, Navy and Air Force responded to the letter in February, insisting that the summer before Weinstein’s lawyers at Jones Day contacted the Pentagon, they had already pulled their trademark authorizations to LifeWay, for “unrelated reasons.” So, in effect, according to the military, the Southern Baptist Convention subsidiary no longer had use of the trademarks and the question was moot.

Weinstein responded with one word: “lies.” He told Antiwar.com that they were just informed of the letters in June, not in February. Furthermore, according to MRFF senior research director Chris Rodda, MRFF has obtained documents through Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests that indicated the “AAFES (the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which runs the BXs, PXs, and other stores on military bases) was clearly concerned about the complaints about the Holman Bibles, with emails as early as June 6, 2011 from AAFES to LifeWay saying that these Bibles had ‘become a hot issue,’ and referencing and linking to a June 2, 2011 article on MRFF’s website as the reason they were becoming a hot issue.”

Nevertheless, according to a Fox News Radio story, LifeWay insists it’s “sold” all existing copies of the military Bible in question, and instead is printing the same Bibles with “generic insignias, which continue to sell well and provide spiritual guidance and comfort to those who serve.”

The AAFES told Fox News Radio it has 961 copies of the Bible left on shelves at 83 facilities. Weinstein doesn’t know how many are out there but contends that until each and every one is gone, “they’re still aiding and abetting the cause of al- Qaeda.”

Why? Because it is a national security issue if America is perceived as waging a religious war against the Muslim world. One can’t help but get that impression reading the added material in these Holman Bibles, suggesting that that God has blessed the American warrior for his existential struggle of good versus evil.

A crusade — and one playing right into the religious extremism on the other side, putting Americans overseas, and at home, at risk, said Weinstein.

His approach — which is as fiery and combative as the preachers he rebukes (he’s taken to calling the Pentagon, “Pentacostal-gon,”) — has drawn fire from a number of conservative Christian organizations and websites, which have labeled MRFF a bunch of zealous atheist agitators.

“Why should these Bibles be removed because of the demands of a small activist group?” Ron Crews, head of The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, asked last week, adding in an interview with Fox News Radio that the Department of Defense was acting “cowardly” by backing down to MRFF.

“MRFF must cease and desist their reckless assault on religious liberty. The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty calls on Congress to investigate this frivolous threat and apparent discrimination against religious views by the DoD.”

But this “reckless assault” has offered the public a window into how much evangelicalism threads through the military ethos today — from the Pentagon buying guns with sights outfitted with biblical references, to born-again chaplains directing soldiers to hand out Bibles and proselytize among the Muslim locals in Afghanistan.

MRFF has accused Army chaplains of using religion in lieu of mental health counseling to aid battlefield stress, and drew attention to provocative displays of religious murals and crosses sprawled on walls at U.S. bases and on vehicles driven through the urban battlefront. MRFF has protested the taxpayer-funded “Spiritual Fitness Concert Series” performed on bases here in the states, and followed up on complaints by service members at Fort Eustis in Virginia who said they were punished by a superior officer for not attending. MRFF also helped put the brakes on an Air Force training program in 2011 that used the New Testament and the insights of an ex-Nazi to teach missile officers about the morals and ethics of launching nuclear weapons.

More recently, MRFF criticized a fighter squadron’s decision to switch back to its old “Crusader” moniker, complete with a Knights Templar red cross emblazoned on its planes. Under pressure, the Marines have since reversed that decision, returning to its old World War II-era “werewolves” nickname, earlier this month.

Weinstein said “predatory” evangelicals in the military “believe the Separation of Church and State is a myth, like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster,” and he doesn’t mind putting his own reputation and safety on the line to smash that myth to pieces.

“If we’re catching them on things like this Bible, what the hell else is going on? Well, we know,” he said. “The Bible situation is not innocent, it is not innocuous, it is another raging example of this cancer.”

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