Around the web

How to Turn a Nightmare into a Fairy Tale…

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From Tom Dispatch

40 Years Later, Will the End Games in Iraq and Afghanistan Follow the Vietnam Playbook?

If our wars in the Greater Middle East ever end, it’s a pretty safe bet that they will end badly — and it won’t be the first time. The “fall of Saigon” in 1975 was the quintessential bitter end to a war. Oddly enough, however, we’ve since found ways to reimagine that denouement which miraculously transformed a failed and brutal war of American aggression into a tragic humanitarian rescue mission. Our most popular Vietnam end-stories bury the long, ghastly history that preceded the “fall,” while managing to absolve us of our primary responsibility for creating the disaster. Think of them as silver-lining tributes to good intentions and last-ditch heroism that may come in handy in the years ahead.

The trick, it turned out, was to separate the final act from the rest of the play. To be sure, the ending in Vietnam was not a happy one, at least not for many Americans and their South Vietnamese allies. This week we mark the 40th anniversary of those final days of the war.  We will once again surely see the searing images of terrified refugees, desperate evacuations, and final defeat. But even that grim tale offers a lesson to those who will someday memorialize our present round of disastrous wars: toss out the historical background and you can recast any U.S. mission as a flawed but honorable, if not noble, effort by good-guy rescuers to save innocents from the rampaging forces of aggression. In the Vietnamese case, of course, the rescue was so incomplete and the defeat so total that many Americans concluded their country had “abandoned” its cause and “betrayed” its allies. By focusing on the gloomy conclusion, however, you could at least stop dwelling on the far more incriminating tale of the war’s origins and expansion, and the ruthless way the U.S. waged it.

Occupy Wall Street’s plan to beat consumer debt has quietly become a success…

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From Business Insider

The Occupy movement is still making a huge difference in thousands of lives.

The group’s Rolling Jubilee “Strike Debt” initiative has quietly forgiven millions in medical and student loans since 2012 after buying the debt on the secondary market.

Sixteen-thousand people have been relieved of nearly $32 million in debt, according to the effort’s website. The group has achieved this success despite raising just over $700,000.

Rolling Jubilee buys debt on the secondary market for what amounts to pennies on the dollar and, instead of initiating a debt collection process, send people a letter informing them the bill is no longer hanging over their heads.

Nearly $4 million in private student loans have been forgiven at a cost of about $100,000, the group announced last year. The students all came from the for-profit Everest College, part of Corinthian Colleges, which Rolling Jubilee called “predatory.”

Reading I.F. Stone: Why we still won’t get anywhere unless we connect the dots…

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From Naomi Klein
Common Dreams

One week ago, I was honoured to receive an “Izzy Award” for “outstanding achievement in independent media and journalism.” The annual award, which this year also went to David Sirota for his groundbreaking investigations into political corruption in the U.S. pension system, is named after the great muckraker I.F. Stone (“Izzy” to his friends).

In past years, the award has gone to people who do a far better job of embodying the legacy of Stone’s investigative reporting than I (Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill among them). But as I said at the ceremony at Ithaca College, I doubt the judges have given the honour to anyone whose grandparents would have been more thrilled. Without fail, my late grandfather Philip Klein would read I.F. Stone’s Weekly to my late grandmother Annie while she knitted some new creation.

In preparation for the ceremony, I read some of Stone’s environmental writing, and came across a piece that seems very worth sharing today. It’s the speech he gave on April 22, 1970—the very first Earth Day. Never one to mince words, Stone’s speech was titled “Con Games.”

Strange Matters…

From Top Documentary Films

Social psychologist Erich Fromm once said, “A technological civilization is programmed by the principal that something ought to be done if it is technologically possible. If it is possible to make nuclear weapons, they must be built even if they destroy us all.” So it is in the world of science as it is practiced today. The ambitious and beautifully produced new documentary Strange Matters shows us a scientific landscape populated by the most brilliant minds of our time – all collectively accelerating discoveries which could hold the power to destroy us all.

Such a discovery was made in August of 2014, when researchers at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York uncovered the means by which to manufacture strange matter, a quark liquid which existed billions of years ago and is thought to have played a key role in the Big Bang. When properly manipulated, this liquid quark serves as the most explosive element in the known universe, and can consume and destroy all planetary mass.

Why journalists should (at least sometimes) be activists..

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From Dan Gillmour

At the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, this week, I gave a talk entitled “Why Journalists Should be Activists,” and apart from a few departures from the text below, here’s what I said:

Two months ago, a New York Times journalist, investigative reporter James Risen, went on Twitter to denounce the Obama administration’s attitude toward the press. The administration, he said, was the “greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.”

Risen’s tirade became a topic of conversation in the community of people who watch and comment on journalism. Some said a reporter shouldn’t be expressing such thoughts publicly, because it might cause readers to question his – and his newspaper’s – commitment to objective reporting. But the newspaper’s editor in charge of of journalism standards told Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ public editor,  that Risen had done the right thing.

“In general,” this editor said, “our reporters understand that they don’t and shouldn’t editorialize on issues we cover….I would put this in a different category.”

What category? Freedom of the press, of course. And he was right.

Germany is the Tell-Tale Heart of America’s Drone War…

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From Jeremy Scahill
The Intercept

A TOP-SECRET U.S. intelligence document obtained by The Intercept confirms that the sprawling U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany serves as the high-tech heart of America’s drone program. Ramstein is the site of a satellite relay station that enables drone operators in the American Southwest to communicate with their remote aircraft in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other targeted countries. The top-secret slide deck, dated July 2012, provides the most detailed blueprint seen to date of the technical architecture used to conduct strikes with Predator and Reaper drones.

Amid fierce European criticism of America’s targeted killing program, U.S. and German government officials have long downplayed Ramstein’s role in lethal U.S. drone operations and have issued carefully phrased evasions when confronted with direct questions about the base. But the slides show that the facilities at Ramstein perform an essential function in lethal drone strikes conducted by the CIA and the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa.

The slides were provided by a source with knowledge of the U.S. government’s drone program who declined to be identified because of fears of retribution. According to the source, Ramstein’s importance to the U.S. drone war is difficult to overstate. “Ramstein carries the signal to tell the drone what to do and it returns the display of what the drone sees. Without Ramstein, drones could not function, at least not as they do now,” the source said.

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See Complete Story here
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For Nader, Defiance Is a Way of Life…

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From Chris Hedges

There was a time in Washington when a letter from Ralph Nader to the president or a Cabinet official might evoke not only a response but a press conference, news reports and action. Nader, with his armies of lawyers and citizen action committees behind him, could mobilize formidable forces, inside and outside government, on behalf of citizens. But with the rise of the corporate puppet Ronald Reagan, and once Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party sold out to corporate power in exchange for corporate money, electoral politics became farce, legislation and laws were turned over to lobbyists and corporate attorneys, and the citizen, whom Nader has spent his life defending, became irrelevant.

Nader still writes letters to the powerful, pounded out on his 50-year-old manual Underwood typewriter, but they are rarely answered. That he writes them, that he refuses to surrender and doggedly struggles against all odds for a restoration of American democracy and the rule of law, makes Nader one of the moral and intellectual giants of our age.

Nader’s newest book, “Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015,” a collection of letters to Barack Obama and George W. Bush (whom Nader once called “a corporation running for the presidency masquerading as a human being”), was inspired, he said, by the letters between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and between Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and Harold Laski. In Nader’s letters the path to ruin built by corporate and imperial power is laid bare and the vision of a future freed from environmental catastrophe, corporate totalitarianism and financial exploitation and collapse is spelled out with quixotic clarity. Bush and Obama may not have read these letters, but American citizens should. True to Nader’s understanding of the vital importance of public utilities and public service, he dedicates the book to “the U.S. Postal Service, the people who make it work, and those citizens who have defended its critical role in thousands of communities throughout our country’s history starting with Benjamin Franklin.”

Truth — The Cure for Cognitive Dissonance…

From Washingtons Blog

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” ― George Orwell

Every time the BLS puts out their monthly propaganda report on the wonderful state of the U.S. jobs market and states with a straight face the unemployment rate is a measly 5.5%, their corporate mouthpieces in the mainstream cheerleader media regurgitate the fake numbers and urge you to buy stocks. The millionaire talking heads on CNBC and the corrupt bought off politicians in D.C. make broad sweeping declarations about economic recovery, strong job growth, GDP advancement, record highs in the stock market, and soaring consumer confidence.

The people living in the real world know otherwise, but they want to believe the “experts” and “leaders”. This dichotomy between reality and what they are being told is causing a tremendous amount of mental stress. This cognitive dissonance of attempting to reconcile what they are experiencing in their every day existence and the propaganda being peddled at them on a daily basis from big media, big bankers, corporate titans, and captured politicians pulling the strings and running the show, is causing psychological discomfort. Most people want their lives to get better, so to reduce their cognitive dissonance they choose to believe the government and media reports about economic improvement.

It is only a small minority who want to know the unvarnished truth. They are drawn to alternative media websites, which the the captured corporate media refers to as doom sites. These critical thinking individuals understand the facts. The Deep State propaganda has no impact on these people because they have no cognitive dissonance. They know things are far worse than what is reported by the government and their media whores. Knowing the truth and seeing how the majority remain willfully ignorant results in rising anger among truth seekers. Huxley was right.

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you mad.” ― Aldous Huxley

‘Water Man of India’ Makes Rivers Flow Again…

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From Climate News Network
Thanks to Todd

Revival of traditional rainwater harvesting has transformed the driest state in India, and could be used to combat the effects of climate change across the world.

School textbooks in India have been telling children for generations that Rajasthan is an inhospitable state in the northwest of the country, constrained by the hot, hostile sands of the Thar Desert.

But the driest state in India has a softer, humane face as well – that of Rajendra Singh, known as the “Water Man of India”, whose untiring efforts in water conservation in arid Rajasthan have led to him being awarded the Stockholm Water Prize, commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize for Water.

Singh did not attempt to design a new technology to address Rajasthan’s water problems. He began simply by de-silting several traditional surface level rainwater storage facilities – called “johads” in the local Hindi language − that fell out of use during British colonial rule. And, in doing so, he has quenched the thirst of villages that were dying.

Thousands of villages followed his example, and so much water was captured and soaked into aquifers that dry rivers have begun to flow again.

Drugs: A War Well Lost…

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Sam Harris and Johann Hari discuss the “war on drugs”

Johann Hari is a British journalist who has written for many of the world’s leading newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, The Nation, Slate, El Mundo, and The Sydney Morning Herald.He was an op-ed columnist for The Independent for nine years. He graduated from King’s College, Cambridge with a double first in social and political sciences in 2001.

Hari was twice named “National Newspaper Journalist of the Year” by Amnesty International. He was named “Environmental Commentator of the Year” at the Editorial Intelligence Awards, and “Gay Journalist of the Year” at the Stonewall Awards. He has also won the Martha Gellhorn Prize for political writing.

Hari’s latest book is the New York Times best seller Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. You can follow him on Twitter @johannhari101.

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The Burden of Denial…

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From John Michael Greer

It occurred to me the other day that quite a few of the odder features of contemporary American culture make perfect sense if you assume that everybody knows exactly what’s wrong and what’s coming as our society rushes, pedal to the metal, toward its face-first collision with the brick wall of the future. It’s not that they don’t get it; they get it all too clearly, and they just wish that those of us on the fringes would quit reminding them of the imminent impact, so they can spend whatever time they’ve got left in as close to a state of blissful indifference as they can possibly manage.

I grant that this realization probably had a lot to do with the context in which it came to me. I was sitting in a restaurant, as it happens, with a vanload of fellow Freemasons.  We’d carpooled down to Baltimore, some of us to receive one of the higher degrees of Masonry and the rest to help with the ritual work, and we stopped for dinner on the way back home. I’ll spare you the name of the place we went; it was one of those currently fashionable beer-and-burger joints where the waitresses have all been outfitted with skirts almost long enough to cover their underwear, bare midriffs, and the sort of push-up bras that made them look uncomfortably like inflatable dolls—an impression that their too obviously scripted jiggle-and-smile routines did nothing to dispell.

Still, that wasn’t the thing that made the restaurant memorable. It was the fact that every wall in the place had television screens on it. By this I don’t mean that there was one screen per wall; I mean that they were lined up side by side right next to each other, covering the upper part of every single wall in the place, so that you couldn’t raise your eyes above head level without looking at one. They were all over the interior partitions of the place, too. There must have been forty of them in one not too large restaurant, each one blaring something different into the thick air, while loud syrupy music spattered down on us from speakers on the ceiling and the waitresses smiled mirthlessly and went through their routines. My burger and fries were tolerably good, and two tall glasses of Guinness will do much to ameliorate even so charmless a situation; still, I was glad to get back on the road.

The utilities’ war on solar won’t work. Because Americans already have decided the outcome…

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From Green World

Last week, we published the tale of two public opinion polls, one from Gallup and one from the Nuclear Energy Institute, that asked the same question but came up with radically different numbers.

Another new poll provides additional proof that one of those polls cited last week–the NEI poll–is the one that is way off base.  

This new poll, conducted by Clean Edge and SolarCity, is consistent with the findings of just about every poll published in recent years except NEI’s: Americans love renewables and really don’t like nuclear power and coal very much.

Indeed, as the poll sponsors stated, support for renewables transcends every demographic breakdown: “In a nation divided on a range of issues, it appears overwhelmingly united in its support of renewables, with nearly nine in ten Americans (87%) saying renewable energy is important to the country’s future.”

Warren Buffett, Slumlord — Predatory Loans, Kickbacks, Preying On The Poor…

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From Zero Hedge

The disastrous deal ruined their finances and nearly their marriage. But until informed recently by a reporter, they didn’t realize that the homebuilder (Golden West), the dealer (Oakwood Homes) and the lender (21st Mortgage) were all part of a single company: Clayton Homes, the nation’s biggest homebuilder, which is controlled by its second-richest man — Warren Buffett.

Buffett’s mobile-home empire promises low-income Americans the dream of homeownership. But Clayton relies on predatory sales practices, exorbitant fees, and interest rates that can exceed 15 percent, trapping many buyers in loans they can’t afford and in homes that are almost impossible to sell or refinance, an investigation by The Seattle Times and Center for Public Integrity has found.

Berkshire Hathaway, the investment conglomerate Buffett leads, bought Clayton in 2003 and spent billions building it into the mobile-home industry’s biggest manufacturer and lender. Today, Clayton is a many-headed hydra with companies operating under at least 18 names, constructing nearly half of the industry’s new homes and selling them through its own retailers. It finances more mobile-home purchases than any other lender by a factor of six. It also sells property insurance on them and repossesses them when borrowers fail to pay.

7 Fast Food Companies with Extreme Right-Wing Ties…

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From Americans Against the Tea Party

The recent assault on human rights orchestrated by right-wing interests has once again brought forward businesses that are willing to put their own “faith” above human equality. We know the usual suspects — giants like Hobby Lobby — but a number of fast food restaurants that you might be spending your money at day after day also fund forced organ redistribution/anti-abortion, homophobia, and other bigoted positions.

Here’s a list of some of these companies that you may want to avoid:

1. Chik-fil-A

Did you expect to see someone else first on this list? Domino’s or Papa John’s, maybe (check further down)? Chik-fil-A put themselves on the national stage a few years ago when the president, Dan Cathy, said their organization operates on “Biblical principles” and that they support a “traditional family.”

The backlash burned the company; they never apologized, but they did call attention to their employee nondiscrimination policy, adding that they will “leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena” from now on.

Unfettered Religious Freedom Really Means the Freedom to Do Harm…

Almost universally, the religious freedom claims pursued in the U.S. over the last two decades seek the freedom to do harm, most often the freedom to harm queers, women, children or religious outsiders or our secular government institutions.

It’s Not Just About Bigotry and Homophobia

In recent years, religious believers have sought and largely won a cascading array of rights, privileges, and exemptions from laws that otherwise apply to all.

  • The right to discriminate in public accommodations and hiring practices
  • The right to interfere with a religious outsider’s family formation, sexual intimacy, and childbearing decisions
  • The right to interfere in a religious outsider’s dying process
  • The right to use public funds and other assets to propagate the values and priorities of the religion itself
  • The right to freeload on shared infrastructure without contributing to the same
  • The right to refuse medical care to women and children
  • The right to engage in religiously motivated child abuse (psychological abuse, physical abuse, neglect, or medical neglect) with impunity
  • The right to exemption from labor practice standards
  • The right to exemption from humane animal slaughter regulations

Belief, Assembly and Worship Already Protected

Ironically, one reason that modern religious freedom claims so often seek the right to do harm is that other kinds of religious belief and practice are so well established. For over 200 years, core religious freedoms have been protected by law in the United States. America’s founders carefully secured the right of men to believe, think, and assemble for worship as they chose—or to publically deny that they belonged to the religious majority without being excluded from the power and privilege of public office.

An American citizen or resident can hold a spiritual worldview that is shared by a community or deeply idiosyncratic. We are free to adhere to all manner of wild and wacky superstitions, and we do. Alternately, we can use a dozen or more labels to identify ourselves as non-religious. We are free legally to renounce our childhood religion and try a new one. We can teach our beliefs to our children and recruit converts on street corners. We can do all of this without fear of imprisonment, lashings, torture or execution.

In contrast to people living in Muslim majority countries today or in Christian Europe during past centuries, Americans take these rights for granted, so much so that we forget that these freedoms were precious and new to many who immigrated here to escape religious persecution.

By contrast with enduring protections for religious belief and assembly; religiously motivated behavior historically has been constrained by U.S. law for compelling reasons including the following:

  1. To establish civil society. To create a civil society, one that can in any measure live up to the words that have been America’s motto since 1795, E Pluribus Unum, the rule of law must trump the rule of religion. The Supreme Court long defended this position. Law trumping religion is not just the only way to build a functioning pluralistic society, it is the only way to create a government that can protect the religious freedom of citizens.
  2. To promote the general welfare. American civic agreements when functioning as intended, aim to promote the general welfare and avert harms. To this end our civil and criminal codes set limits on religiously motivated behavior and establish civic duties and responsibilities that apply to citizens regardless of religious status.
  3. To prevent dictatorial theocracy. To prevent theocracy akin to that which many early immigrants fled in Europe, religious institutions and practitioners are blocked from leveraging the apparatus of the state to fund and promote religion itself.

It is these restrictions that are now being challenged by religious adherents, and the second of these makes it clear why so many religious freedom claims seek the freedom for a religious individual or organization to cause harm with impunity.

By definition, since civic agreements are an attempt to promote the general welfare, the exemptions sought by religious individuals and institutions generally do the opposite, meaning they allow those who are exempted to violatelegal agreements intended to promote broad wellbeing. Secondarily, those claiming religious freedom often seek to coopt the power of the state for religious ends so that civic agreements can be modified to reflect religious theology. One might say that the goal is to use the tool of government to promote the general religion rather than promote the general welfare.

Bible Texts Bind Believers to Harmful Priorities

In an ideal world, the general welfare and the general religion might be aligned, and even in our imperfect world religion often promotes generosity, kindness, service, and conscience-driven behavior. But the world’s major religions all have ancient roots, and thanks to the rise of literacy during the Iron Age, they all have sacred texts that anchor believers to an Iron Age set of social scripts and moral priorities including some truly horrific ideas.

The Christian Bible endorses slavery, racism, tribal warfare, torture, the concept of women and children as chattel, and the death penalty for over 30 offenses. It offers an exclusive alternative to eternal damnation, driving believers to seek converts when and where they can. It teaches that infidels have no moral core and fosters suspicion of religious outsiders. It elevates sexual purity to the level of moral purity. It makes a virtue out of certitude. Small wonder, then, that sincere believers seeking to do the will of God sometimes end up seeking the right to do harm.

Civic Safeguards vs. Religious Persistence 

During most of American history, boundaries around religious freedom were upheld by the courts so long as the rules applied equally to all, and Jefferson’s “wall of separation” worked to insulate government from control by a church hierarchy. But a successful religion, like rain on the roof, seeks any crack through which it can penetrate into our public structures and private homes.

In 1993, the misnamed Religious Freedom ‘Restoration’ Act, subtly changed a long time standard, allowing religious practitioners to violate laws that otherwise apply to all; and a cavernous crack appeared. In the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy,

[RFRA’s] sweeping coverage ensures its intrusion at every level of government, displacing laws and prohibiting official actions of almost every description and regardless of subject matter. . . . Any law is subject to challenge at any time by any individual who claims a substantial burden on his or her free exercise of religion. Such a claim will often be difficult to contest….All told, RFRA is a considerable congressional intrusion into the States’ traditional prerogatives and general authority to regulate for the health and welfare of their citizens.

Although RFRA was ruled unconstitutional in 1997, it continues to be applied, and modified versions of the bill have been introduced in most states. Since 1993, religious authorities have been doing all in their power to pry the crack wider, using tools including federal and state legislative processes, courts, control of public accommodations like hospitals, and investments in sophisticated legal advocacy infrastructure.

The Threat to Civil Society

Much has been made of the fact that Indiana’s recent “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” pushes beyond the bounds set by the federal law of the same name. It explicitly allows for-profit business to make religious freedom claims and it bars individuals that are harmed by discrimination or denial of care or other religious intrusions from seeking redress in court. Immunity for religiously motivated behavior applies not only to disputes between individuals and government entities but also disputes between private individuals in which the government has no part.

While it is true that Indiana law pushes the bounds of Religious Freedom farther than earlier statutes, conscience creep has been incremental, and in over half of U.S. states, some imitative form of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has either been enacted or proposed. Despite protests and boycotts against Indiana, the Arkansas legislature approved similar legislation within days. Indiana’s law, in other words, is simply one tooth in a ratchet that raises religion above civil society, and it is neither the first nor the last tooth in that ratchet.

It Really is About Religious Freedom 

Liberal people of faith who don’t share the dominionist goals or moral priorities of fundamentalists often are appalled by these objectives and many insist that laws like the one recently passed in Indiana aren’t about religious freedom but rather bigotry itself, or misogyny, or some other morally tainted mindset. They are both right and wrong.

Yes, these laws do condone bigotry, and misogyny, and other ugly prejudices. But, like many of the segregationist arguments during the Civil Rights Movement, they are genuinely about religious freedom.

That is because bigotry and misogyny, like racism, are written into the Bible (and Quran and other Axial Age texts), where they express and encode the Iron Age worldview of the writers. In the absence of some external standard, fundamentalists have as much right as anyone to claim that theirs are religious values, and the Supreme Court has said as much.

In the Hobby Lobby case, the Catholic majority ruled that “sincerely held” belief was sufficient to merit protection under the umbrella of religious freedom, even if the sincerely held belief in question was factually inaccurate and not mainstream or required by the person’s sect. Religious belief, in other words, is whatever the believer says it is, and until we repair the gaping crack in our secular democracy, it confers a powerful set of privileges, which means that the limits of credible belief are bound to be tested.

Christianity Offers Little Basis for Dismissing Bogus Claims 

Some Eastern religions teach an overarching principle against which religious conscience claims might be weighed. In Tibetan Buddhism, for example, this principle is compassion. In the Jain religion, it is ahimsa, meaning non-harm.

Christianity, on the other hand, has always been torn between those who insist that the overarching principle is love, as articulated in the Great Commandment, and those who insist it is right belief, as expressed in the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Many Evangelicals feel a non-negotiable responsibility to seek converts, as instructed in the Great Commission, which advises followers of Jesus to “make disciples of every creature.” Some perceive a God-given mandate to seize the reins of power, ruling according to biblical principles, a view called dominionism.

Christians are divided also, in their view of the Bible. Some understand the Bible as a human document, one that records the struggle of our ancestors as they sought to grasp timeless truths through a lens darkened by fallibility and culture. Others see it as the literally perfect Word of God, essentially dictated by God to the authors.

The Bible’s contradictory prescriptions, together with differences in how Christians understand biblical authority mean that almost anything can be claimed as a religiously motivated behavior. But even if Christianity’s more than 30,000 denominations could reach consensus about how to assess the merit of religious conscience claims—which they can’t–the problem would remain. The U.S. is home to people of all faiths and none at all, each of whom has his or her own deeply held values and a constitutional right to whatever spiritual worldview he or she may hold.

Time for an Honest Conversation

Around the world, through most of human history, societies have so feared offending supernatural powers that they forbade and punished religious deviance, even by death, lest divine wrath befall the community as a whole. By contrast, in the United States constitution was a product of the Enlightenment, created by a coalition of nontheists, deists, and Christians. And since the time of America’s founding, religious freedom has been broadly protected by law except where it infringes human wellbeing or harms civil society itself.

But some religiously motivated behavior does harm human wellbeing or civil society. Some forms of belief obligate adherents to infringe the rights or wellbeing of others. They are fundamentally incompatible with the radical idea that each person is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Religious conservatives aren’t simply inventing their appeal to religious conscience—unfettered religious freedom really does mean the right to discriminate, the right to deny medical care, the right to interfere in an outsider’s dying process, the right to beat children, and more.

We may want to believe it is possible to grant boundless freedom of religion to some without impinging the corresponding freedom of others, but this simply isn’t the case. Those who love this country, and those who lead, have some tough choices to make.
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See also Conscience Creep: How ‘Religious Freedom’ Spiraled Out of Control.
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Why the House of Representatives Doesn’t Represent Americans…

tFrom Thom Hartmann

One of the really weird ironies of politics these days is the huge divergence between what the American people actually want and what the radical right-wingers in Washington actually do. You won’t hear this on Fox So-Called News, but right now the American people are as progressive as they ever have been.

Don’t believe me? Just check the polls.

How ‘One Nation’ Didn’t Become ‘Under God’ Until The ’50s Religious Revival…

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From NPR

The words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and the phrase “In God we trust” on the back of a dollar bill haven’t been there as long as most Americans might think. Those references were inserted in the 1950s during the Eisenhower administration, the same decade that the National Prayer Breakfast was launched, according to writer Kevin Kruse. His new book is One Nation Under God.

In the original Pledge of Allegiance, Francis Bellamy made no mention of God, Kruse says. Bellamy was Christian socialist, a Baptist who believed in the separation of church and state.

“As this new religious revival is sweeping the country and taking on new political tones, the phrase ‘one nation under God’ seizes the national imagination,” Kruse tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “It starts with a proposal by the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic lay organization, to add the phrase ‘under God’ to the Pledge of Allegiance. Their initial campaign doesn’t go anywhere but once Eisenhower’s own pastor endorses it … it catches fire.”

Financial Feudalism…

From Dmitre Orlov

Once upon a time—and a fairly long time it was—most of the thickly settled parts of the world had something called feudalism. It was a way of organizing society hierarchically. Typically, at the very top there was a sovereign (king, prince, emperor, pharaoh, along with some high priests). Below the sovereign were several ranks of noblemen, with hereditary titles. Below the noblemen were commoners, who likewise inherited their stations in life, be it by being bound to a piece of land upon which they toiled, or by being granted the right to engage in a certain type of production or trade, in case of craftsmen and merchants. Everybody was locked into position through permanent relationships of allegiance, tribute and customary duties: tribute and customary duties flowed up through the ranks, while favors, privileges and protection flowed down.

Cognitive psychologist explains why Bill Maher is one of our best weapons against ISIS…

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From Raw Story

What makes young people give up their lives and join ISIS? Over the past week, we’ve seen reports of troubling new examples of the Islamic State’s hold on some people, who leave from various parts of Europe and even the United States to become volunteers for the brutal war zone in Syria and Iraq. Repeatedly, these stories express the frustration experts feel trying to understand what motivates recruits, some of whom are well off or have college degrees. Why are they giving up their lives in the West for one of the most dangerous places on Earth?

Hungry for answers, we went looking for someone who could explain the situation and stumbled on the work of Glasgow University cognitive psychologist Gijsbert Stoet. His explanation for how ISIS appealed to some young people cut through the confusion, and we were intrigued that he said we’re not going to stem that tide until we start getting more serious about questioning religious ideas in the public sphere. Wanting more detail, we gave him a call, telling him that we hadn’t seen anyone else give such a concise, convincing explanation of who was joining ISIS and why.

How The US Government and US Military Became Murder, Inc….

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From Dr. Paul Craig Roberts
Global Research, March 26, 2015

 Andrew Cockburn has written a must-read book. The title is Kill Chain: The Rise Of The High-Tech Assassins. The title could just as well be: How the US Government and US Military Became Murder, Inc.

The US military no longer does war. It does assassinations, usually of the wrong people. The main victims of the US assassination policy are women, children, village elders, weddings, funerals, and occasionally US soldiers mistaken for Taliban by US surveillance operating with the visual acuity of the definition of legal blindness.

Cockburn tells the story of how the human element has been displaced by remote control killing guided by misinterpretation of unclear images on screens collected by surveillance drones and sensors thousands of miles away. Cockburn shows that the “all-seeing” drone surveillance system is an operational failure but is supported by defense contractors because of its high profitability and by the military brass because general officers, with the exception of General Paul Van Ripper, are brainwashed in the belief that the revolution in military affairs means that high-tech devices replace the human element. Cockburn demonstrates that this belief is immune to all evidence to the contrary. The US military has now reached the point that Secretary of Defense Hagel deactivated both the A-10 close support fighter and the U-2 spy plane in favor of the operationally failed unmanned Global Hawk System. With the A-10 and U-2 went the last platforms for providing a human eye on what is happening on the ground.

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