Friday, July 22, 2011

The Power of Love

Jay Michaelson: The Trouble With Harry (Potter)

The Trouble With Harry (Potter): Religious Conservatives Do Have Something to Fear
By Jay Michaelson article link
July 14, 2011 | Religion Dispatches

Most progressives clucked their tongues when some Christian conservatives condemned (and tried to censor) the phenomenally successful Harry Potter franchise, which comes to its provisional conclusion this week with the release of the eighth film in the series. There they go again, we thought. Yet while many specific critiques of the series are simply phobic reactions to the presence of witches, wizards, and magic, I think many anti-Potterites may be onto something interesting—even if they’re not aware of it themselves. (Warning: this article contains spoilers galore.)

The final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, is, like most of its predecessors, quite faithful to the books. This last film, among the best in the series, is more action-packed and thus less reflective than some of the other installments, but the basic arc of the story remains consistent. Harry Potter, boy wizard, is actually the Chosen One who will, prophesies say, defeat Lord Voldemort, or die trying, or both. As readers of the books have known for some time now, “both” turns out to be the answer. Harry is killed by Voldemort, but, Christ-like, returns from the dead to ultimately vanquish his foe.

Except Harry isn’t Christ. He returns from death not because of divinity or grace, but because he possesses the “Resurrection Stone,” one of the three ‘deathly hallows.’ The hallows are all magical objects: the invisibility cloak, the elder wand (which ultimately undoes Lord Voldemort), and the resurrection stone. Once again, they are not blessed, divine, or even holy. They are magical technology: things that have powers.

Weirdly, the last few Potter books are chock-a-block with these totemic magical items. Lord Voldemort is able to be semi-immortal himself because he has bound up his soul in seven physical objects, called horcruxes. The discovery of this magical technology was the main revelation of HP6, and the slow elimination of the horcruxes (including Harry himself) is the main task of the heroes of HP7. Here again, Potter is rigorously materialistic in nature. Magic may be mysterious, but the strongest forms of it are bound to physical objects which have or are imbued with magical power.

The closest the series ever comes to something like providential grace is in the case of Gryffindor’s Sword, which twice appears out of thin air to aid heroes in distress. Yet, we are told, this too is the result, not of any superhuman force, but of Gryffindor’s own power. Indeed, author J.K. Rowling does a remarkable job of humanizing and deflating the one godlike figure in the series of books, headmaster Albus Dumbledore. Early on, Dumbledore appears infallible, wise, and invulnerable. But particularly in the last volume, he is revealed to be human and full of faults. Thus even the stand-in for a beneficent father-deity is relentlessly demystified, brought down to Earth. Every time grace seems to creep in, it’s revealed to be all-too-human.

Harry Potter’s world is one of materialist magic, and while its ethical teachings are basically “Judeo-Christian” (love is important, trust in your friends, be brave no matter what people say, etc.), these teachings are played out against an ontological/theological background that is thoroughly devoid of a monotheistic deity. Oddly enough, Harry Potter’s world would be more familiar to a scientist than to a mystic. Yes, the world includes goblins, charms, and curses; but these are all basically explicable according to their own internal logic. What’s missing is anything like the numinous, or any supernatural power—by which I anything that transcends human knowledge.

I should be clear that, for me, none of this is problematic. As a non-dualist with pantheistic leanings, I’m only too happy for the sacred/Sacred to be represented as a concatenation of this-worldly forces, many of which are capable of inspiring wonder. Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s escape from Gringott’s Bank on the back of a dragon is an exhilarating spiritual moment (even if it closely resembles Harry’s hippogriff ride from HP3), and I don’t really care if their wonder is the result of a this-worldly or other-worldly miracle.

But that’s me. For a conventional theist, surely it is problematic that Harry’s drama of good versus evil plays out in an entirely this-worldly context. God (by which I mean here the unreconstructed monotheistic God) has no role whatsoever. The best man wins the duel—or rather, the man with the best wand.

Now, one could, of course, make the same claims about comic-book sagas like Superman or Batman. Why should Harry Potter have to take any more refuge in the numinous than Kal-El or Bruce Wayne?

Well, because there is something intrinsically religious about the Potter series; and I don’t just mean the rabid devotion of its fans. Potter raises Ultimate Questions, much to Rowling’s credit. It is a meditation on the nature of good and evil, what it means to become an adult, and of course it takes place in a world filled with magic and wonder. Harry Potter is less a comic-book hero than a fantasy hero, and fantasy worlds exist according to their own internal theological grammars. The Lord of the Rings has its creation myth (told in The Silmarillion) with a full array of angels, demons, and something resembling gods. Star Wars, more properly understood as fantasy than as science fiction, has its Force. Narnia, of course, has its Aslan. Whereas comic-book heroes are merely highly gifted individuals (superhuman in the DC universe, ingenious-human in Marvel) operating in the more-or-less familiar world, fantasy heroes exist in entirely different ones. And Harry Potter’s is unique in its secularism.

Rowling’s great genius was to so thoroughly imbricate the magical world and our own that she invited children of all ages to imagine that magic was not so otherworldly after all, but was right here, albeit beneath our notice. Yet Potter’s world is still a total re-visioning of the world we know, and as such comprises a complete, self-contained mythic universe. And the forces that govern that universe are entirely this-worldly, non-theistic, and basically material.

From the medieval period through the modern and postmodern eras, European “secret societies” codified their beliefs in a similar way. What for religious traditions are sacred sites and sacred objects became understood as secret sources of power: the Temple in Jerusalem, the Shroud of Turin. Detached from their contextual religious significance, such objects became regarded as magical sources of power. Like Harry Potter’s world, their true power was concealed from the uninitiated, but was available esoterically to a select few. Such societies were often branded as heretical, other times co-opted by church authorities.

The very notion that the world is not one of ordinary objects supervised by a supernatural deity, but rather a world of ordinary and extraordinary objects that doesn’t seem to be supervised by anything, has more in common with Enlightenment rationalism than with traditional religion. We may get distracted by the superstitions and doctrines, but really, such philosophies are resolutely secular—all the more so for being esoteric and magical.

I loved the eighth Potter movie, and nearly shed a tear when it ended. But I think part of why I loved it, and the series as a whole, is the same reason that religious conservatives mistrusted it: because Rowling’s world is a magical, pagan universe in which chthonic beings duke it out without any hint of a Supervisor in Chief. Its Christ figure is a human boy who lives, dies, and is reborn, thanks to a magical stone. Its Satan is a human wizard gone awry, drunk with his own power. It’s a magical, wonderful world—and, in conventional terms, a godless one.

Jay Michaelson, a Religion Dispatches associate editor and founder of Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture & Spirituality, writes regularly for the Forward and Tikkun. He is completing his Ph.D. in Jewish Thought at Hebrew University and his most recent book is Everything is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism (Shambhala, 2009).

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Robert Engelman: What a Population of 7 Billion People Means for the Planet

With global population expected to surpass 7 billion people this year, the staggering impact on the environment is hard to ignore.

What a Population of 7 Billion People Means for the Planet
by Robert Engelman article link article link
July 20, 2011 | CommonDreams | Yale Environment 360

Demographers aren't known for their sense of humor, but the ones who work for the United Nations recently announced that the world's human population will hit 7 billion on Halloween this year. Since censuses and other surveys can scarcely justify such a precise calculation, it's tempting to imagine that the UN Population Division, the data shop that pinpointed the Day of 7 Billion, is hinting that we should all be afraid, be very afraid.

We have reason to be. The 21st century is not yet a dozen years old, and there are already 1 billion more people than in October 1999 — with the outlook for future energy and food supplies looking bleaker than it has for decades. It took humanity until the early 19th century to gain its first billion people; then another 1.5 billion followed over the next century and a half. In just the last 60 years the world's population has gained yet another 4.5 billion. Never before have so many animals of one species anything like our size inhabited the planet.

And this species interacts with its surroundings far more intensely than any other ever has. Planet Earth has become Planet Humanity, as we co-opt its carbon, water, and nitrogen cycles so completely that no other force can compare. For the first time in life's 3-billion-plus-year history, one form of life — ours — condemns to extinction significant proportions of the plants and animals that are our only known companions in the universe.

Did someone just remark that these impacts don't stem from our population, but from our consumption? Probably, as this assertion emerges often from journals, books, and the blogosphere. It's as though a geometry text were to propound the axiom that it is not length that determines the area of a rectangle, but width. Would we worry about our individual consumption of energy and natural resources if humanity still had the stable population of roughly 300 million people — less than today's U.S. number — that the species maintained throughout the first millennium of the current era?

It is precisely because our population is so large and growing so fast that we must care, ever more with each generation, how much we as individuals are out of sync with environmental sustainability. Our diets, our modes of moving, and our urge to keep interior temperatures close to 70 degrees Fahrenheit no matter what is happening outside — none of these make us awful people. It's just that collectively, these behaviors are moving basic planetary systems into danger zones.

Yet another argument often advanced to wave off population is the assertion that all of us could fit into Los Angeles with room to wiggle our shoulders. The image may comfort some. But space, of course, has never been the issue. The impacts of our needs, greeds, and wants are. We should bemoan — and aggressively address — the gross inequity that characterizes individual consumption around the world. But we should also acknowledge that over the decades-long span of most human lifetimes, most of us are likely to consume a fair amount, regardless of where and how we live; no human being, no matter how poor, can escape interacting with the environment, which is one reason population matters so much. And given the global economic system and the development optimistically anticipated in all regions of the world, we each have a tendency to consume more as that lifetime proceeds. A parent of seven poor children may be the grandparent of 10 to 15 much more affluent ones climbing up the ladder of middle-class consumption.

This, in fact, is the story of China, often seen not as an example of population's impact on the environment but that of rapid industrialization alone. Yet this one country, having grown demographically for millennia, is home to 1.34 billion people. One reason the growth even of low-consuming populations is hazardous is that bursts of per-capita consumption have typically followed decades of rapid demographic growth that occurred while per-capita consumption rates were low. Examples include the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, China at the turn of the 21st, and India possibly in the coming decade. More immediately worrisome from an environmental perspective, of course, is that the United States and the industrialized world as a whole still have growing populations, despite recent slowdowns in the growth rate, while already living high up on the per-capita consumption ladder.

Many of the impacts of this ubiquitous multiplication of per-capita resource consumption by the number of individuals are by now well documented. Humanity started to overwhelm the atmosphere with greenhouse gases not long after the Industrial Revolution began, a process that accelerated along with population and consumption growth in the 20th century. Fresh water is now shared so thinly that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) projects that in just 14 years two thirds of the world's population will be living in countries facing water scarcity or stress. Half of the world's original forests have been cleared for human land use, and UNEP warns that the world's fisheries will be effectively depleted by mid-century. The world's area of cultivated land has expanded by about 13 percent since its measurement began in 1961, but the doubling of world population since then means that each of us can count on just half as much land as in 1961 to produce the food we eat.

For the rest of life on Earth, the implications of all this are obvious. Where we go, nature retreats. We are entering an epoch scientists have begun calling the Anthropocene, a break with the geologic past marked by humanity's long-term alteration of the natural world and its biota. We are inadvertently bringing on the sixth mass extinction not just because our appetites are vast and our technologies powerful, but because we occupy or manipulate most of the land in every continent except Antarctica. We appropriate anywhere from 24 percent to nearly 40 percent of the photosynthetic output of the planet for our food and other purposes, and more than half of its accessible renewable freshwater runoff.

Given these facts, it's hardly surprising that wildlife conservation faces an uphill battle globally and in every nation, while ambitious concepts like the creation of wildlife corridors to help species escape the ravages of development and climate change proliferate despite their impracticality in a world of growing human impacts.

So should we be afraid on the day we gain a 7 billionth living human being, especially considering UN demographers are now projecting anywhere between 6.2 billion and 15.8 billion people at the end of the century? Fear is not a particularly productive response — courage and a determination to act in the face of risk are the answer. And in this case, there is so much to be done to heal and make sustainable a world of 7 billion breathing human beings that cowering would be not just fatalistic but stupid.

Action means doing a lot of different things right now. We can't stop the growth of our numbers in any acceptable way immediately. But we can put in place conditions that will support an early end to growth, possibly making this year's the last billion-population day we ever mark. We can elevate the autonomy of women to make life-changing decisions for themselves. We can lower birth rates by assuring that women become pregnant only when they themselves decide to bear a child.

Simultaneously, we need a swift transformation of energy, water, and materials consumption through conservation, efficiency, and green technologies. We shouldn't think of these as a sequence of efforts — dealing with consumption first, because population dynamics take time to turn around — but as simultaneous work on multiple fronts. It would be naïve to believe we will arrive at sustainability by wrestling shifting technologies and lifestyles while human population grows indefinitely and most people strive to live as comfortably as Americans do. Nor should we take comfort in the illusion that population growth is already on a path to end soon. Demographers can no more tell us when that will happen (or through what combination of lower birth rates or higher death rates) than economists can predict when robust global economic growth will resume. Both expert groups are mocked by the many surprises the future holds in store.

Rather than forecast the future, we should work to secure it. More than two in five pregnancies worldwide are unintended by the women who experience them, and half or more of these pregnancies result in births that spur continued population growth. Clearly there is vast potential to slow that growth through something women want and need: the capacity to decide for themselves when to become pregnant. If all women had this capacity, survey data affirm, average global childbearing would immediately fall below the "replacement fertility" value of slightly more than two children per woman. Population would immediately move onto a path leading to a peak followed by a gradual decline, possibly well before 2050.

Despite the obvious barriers to women's rights in today's world, such a vision rests on a set of straightforward and achievable conditions: Women must be able to make their own decisions free from fear of coercion or pressure from partners, family, and society. They must not depend on prolific motherhood for social approval and self-esteem. And they must have easy access to a range of safe, effective, and affordable contraceptive methods and the information and counseling needed to use them.

For those who care about the environment, the future of human civilization, or both, the Day of 7 Billion should prod us to face and address the risks of continued population growth. By the sheer scale of our presence and activity we are putting ourselves and all life at risk. No human being has the right to consume forever more than any other. Yet if we could somehow close the global consumption gap, the importance of our numbers would be even more obvious as the limits of natural systems were crossed. It scarcely lessens the importance of reducing both consumption and inequity to celebrate the fact that population growth can end without policies that restrict births, without coercion of any kind, without judgments on those who choose large families. We are not far from a world in which the number of births roughly balances the number of deaths, based on pregnancies universally welcomed by women and their partners.

The transition to this world may not be entirely painless. Nations will have to adjust to rising average ages as birth rates descend further. In China and India, smaller families may contribute to artificially high ratios of baby boys, with possible risks to future social stability. But these problems are the kind that societies and institutions are generally good at handling. Stopping climate change, reducing water scarcity, or keeping ecosystems intact, by contrast, don't yet seem to be in our skill set. Working now to bring population growth to an end through intentional childbearing won't solve such problems by itself, but it will help — a lot. And such an effort, based on human rights and the dignity and freedom of the world's childbearers, is in the interest of all who care about a truly sustainable environment and human future.

© 2011 Yale Environment 360

Robert Engelman is executive director of the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C. The Population Institute awarded his book, More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want, the Global Media Award for Individual Reporting in 2008. A former newspaper reporter who covered science and politics, Engelman served on the faculty of Yale University as a visiting lecturer in the early 2000s and was founding secretary of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hal Crowther: The Alarming Revival of Ayn Rand

Christianity and the wolverine capitalism of a John Galt are totally incompatible systems, two mutually exclusive human possibilities. They cancel each other out. Any political party that pretends to integrate them is a party of liars, and doomed.

The Alarming Revival of Ayn Rand: The Right's Weirdest Idol of Them All
by Hal Crowther article link article link
July 18, 2011 | AlterNet | The Progressive Populist

A passion for the prose and philosophy of Ayn Rand tells us a great deal about an individual, none of it good.

The Republican Party’s slapstick search for a leader would be heartwarming and sidesplitting, but for the tragic knowledge that one of these scrambling midgets will collect tens of millions of votes in the presidential election of 2012. Never have so many amounted to so little, talked so much rubbish, dreamed of an office so far above their abilities. Blood pressures rose among party elders when Donald Trump, marginally Republican and one of the greatest fools in the solar system, momentarily tossed his hairpiece into the ring and became the instant favorite.

The GOP dilemma — a golden opportunity to rule but nothing to say and no one to say it — is so desperate that my instinct is to help them sort it out. Could we make a start, at least, by dismissing candidates who called for President Obama’s birth certificate or raised the specter of Sharia law in America, followed briskly off the stage by lunatics who dismiss global warming as a socialist plot?

That would leave plenty of unbalanced extremists still in the running, yet reduce the stench of sheer evil and madness. The “birther” and Sharia cults reek of cheesy talk-radio racism; climate-change denial is a stranger faith yet, a political assault on basic science that insults a ground squirrel’s intelligence and casually threatens the survival of life on earth.

The party that produces birthers and global-warming deniers no doubt harbors End-of-the-Worlders, too, Christians who packed their bags for heaven with the senile prophet Harold Camping on May 21. Though none of them, I suppose, would commit to the time and expense of a presidential campaign just to preside over a nation of sinners expiring in fire and pestilence. Leo Rangell, the prominent Freudian analyst whose obituary is in this morning’s Times, once lamented that the American public is “gullible or easily seduced, and susceptible to leaders of questionable character.”

Dr. Rangell wrote that in 1980, long before gullibility became such an epidemic that we began to doubt the value of our schools, before media demagogues made a billion-dollar industry of manipulating our most credulous citizens, before the Republican Party dedicated itself to gathering most of them into its fold. Before Rush Limbaugh, before Fox News, before the Tea Party.

“Finally, people’s stupidity will break your heart,” observed my father, a small-town politician and a loyal Republican of the moderate traditional strain that has been systematically exterminated by the radical Right.

My father lived long enough to vote for George McGovern and against Ronald Reagan, but the rhetoric GOP candidates churn out to charm this Tea Party would sound extraterrestrial to most Republicans of his generation.

The odious hypocrite Newt Gingrich, who considered himself a serious presidential candidate until his entire staff abandoned him in disgust, rests his appeal on his intellectual superiority to Sarah Palin and Rick Perry — a distinction much like being a faster runner than Dom DeLuise. In his obligatory pre-campaign book Gingrich claims that Barack Obama, a cautious centrist if there ever was one, drives a “secular-socialist machine” that “represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.”

Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Father Coughlin, move over. Newt is just full of Shariah, among other things, and accuses Obama of “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior,” a blatant pitch for the racist vote the Tea Party has re-energized. A colossal irony — demonstrating how hopelessly divided America has become — is that the radical philosopher Cornel West, a black Princeton professor, calls Obama “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” This is not helpful of Dr. West, nor even responsible. He and Newt Gingrich are equally useless if a calmer, more logical and coherent political culture is what we’re after. But if I had to say which of these two hostile portraits of our president is less preposterous, I’m sure I’d choose West’s. Virtually all the valid criticism of Barack Obama has come from the left.

When Tea-stained legislators gut environmental laws to protect corporate profits, when they sneer at climate change while America bakes in its bedrock like a big green casserole — when Republican educational reform means classrooms with fewer teachers and more guns — there’s a temptation for reasonable Americans to throw up their hands and succumb to despair. Is it a death wish or a scheme to kill the rest of us, when “conservatives” fight against clean air laws, or legislate to place a loaded pistol in every yahoo’s holster? I’ve reached the second half of my seventh decade, and I’ve never seen such an intimidating swarm of fanatics and fools marching under one banner. The election of a non-white president has brought out the worst in the worst of us. But who guessed that there were so many, or that their worst was so awful?

The late Albert Einstein, of my father’s persuasion if not of his party, once wrote despairingly, “The tyranny of the ignoramuses is insurmountable and assured for all time.” But the coalition that poisons this struggling republic is an unnatural one, made up of rich cynics who supply the money and poor ignoramuses who supply the votes. They have nothing in common, except that the cynics will say anything and the morons will believe it. There must be something, optimists insist, that could drive a wedge between the exploiters and the exploited — some irresistible revelation, some fraud or contradiction so flagrant that the most obtuse voter could see how callously and criminally he’s being used.

How about Ayn Rand? The latest Republican poster boy, congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, stole the media spotlight with a slash-to-the-bone budget proposal that Fox News heralded as the Magna Carta of fiscal responsibility in America. I lack the expertise to take on Rep. Ryan’s budget digit-for-digit, but I place considerable confidence in the opinion of the Times’ Paul Krugman, who won a Nobel Prize for Economics in 2008. “The proposal wasn’t serious at all,” Krugman wrote. “In fact, it was a sick joke. The only real things in it were savage cuts in aid to the needy and the uninsured, huge tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and Medicare privatization. All the alleged cost savings were pure fantasy.”

That sounds about par for the current Republican course, with fresh infusions of Tea Party belligerence and unreality. But what frightened me most about Rep. Ryan was the report that he is an avowed disciple of the writer/philosopher Ayn Rand, and has declared in public that Rand is “the reason I got involved in public service.” Good grief, she’s back. She died in 1982, but someone neglected to drive a stake through her heart.

A passion for the prose and philosophy of Ayn Rand tells us a great deal about an individual, none of it good. There are few surer signs of a poor reader, a poor thinker and an unpleasant person than a well-thumbed copy of Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead.

In 2005, Rand’s acolytes gathered in Washington for a symposium to celebrate her 100th birthday — the occasion for Rep. Ryan’s disturbing confession — and I admit I’d give anything to see the seating chart. If there was some way to ban everyone in that room from holding public office, we could probably turn the United States of America back toward the generous light of reason.

She was to literature what Rod McKuen was to poetry, what Fabian was to rock n’ roll, what Guru Maharaj Ji was to religion. Look them up. Like them, she once enjoyed a huge audience of admirers. Unlike them, she was never harmless and she’s enjoying an alarming revival.

Since Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957, it has sold seven million copies. It’s possibly the most polarizing book ever written. For every Paul Ryan who finds it life-shaping, a dozen readers are mystified and a dozen more appalled. Few actually finish the 1,200-page novel, which ends with the mysterious Galt drawing a dollar sign in the air with his finger. If you wade into this stuff up to your ankles — the hokey melodrama, the backlit macro-characters posed like Easter Island monoliths, the cruel and obvious message stamped on every page—-you begin to fear that you can never wash it off.

At times her critics oversimplify Rand’s beliefs, which embody any number of contradictions and opacities. But essentially she glorifies the will and celebrates Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, the superman whose blazing passage through the world need never be impeded by the interests or opinions of mediocrities like you and me. It’s the same string of arrogant assumptions that spawned the Master Race theories of Herr Hitler: ego-deification, social Darwinism, arbitrary stratification of human types. Adapted for capitalism, it becomes the divine right to plunder — a license for those who own nearly everything to take the rest, because they wish to, because they can. Because the weak don’t matter. Let the big dogs feed. This repulsive theology was the work of a fairly repulsive person.

For an eyewitness portrait of Ayn Rand in the flesh, in the prime of her celebrity, you can’t improve on the “Ubermensch” chapter in Tobias Wolff’s autobiographical novel Old School.

Invited to meet with the faculty and student writers at the narrator’s boarding school, Rand arrives with an entourage of chain-smoking idolaters in black and behaves so repellently that her audience of innocents gets a life lesson in what kind of adult to avoid, and to avoid becoming. Rude, dismissive, vain and self-infatuated to the point of obtuseness — she names Atlas Shrugged as the only great American novel — Rand and her hissing chorus in black manage to alienate the entire school, even the rich board member who had admired and invited her.

What strikes Wolff’s narrator most forcefully is her utter lack of charity or empathy, her transparent disgust with everything she views as disfiguring or disabling: a huge wen on the headmaster’s forehead, the narrator’s running head cold, the war injury that emasculated Hemingway’s Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises.

To the boy, she appears to be exactly the sort of merciless egotist who might have designed a fascist philosophy that exalts power and disparages altruism. Rand is wearing a gold pin in the shape of a dollar sign. After meeting her, he can no longer read a word of The Fountainhead, which as an adolescent romantic he had enjoyed.

This division of the human race into the elect few who are destiny’s darlings and the “second-rate” multitudes above whom they soar—-this Ubermensch nonsense—-is perilously thin ice on which to rest a philosophy (Nietzsche, you recall, went hopelessly mad.)

Since there’s no agency that rates human beings the way we rate bonds, the elect are always self-elected supermen and superwomen. Super, says who?

If it’s supposed to be intellect as much as will that sets them above us, I sense a critical problem. Whenever a person of superior intelligence begins to comprehend the human condition, the first fruits of his knowledge are humility and irony—-those two things Rand and her heroes most spectacularly lack.

Personally, I never feel more superior than when I see someone carrying a copy of Atlas Shrugged. What actually sets the self-styled super race apart is an unrepressed infantile id, a raging “I want” that defies socialization. These are damaged children, people of arrested development drawn to an ugly philosophy that legitimizes narcissism and socially unacceptable behavior. Donald Trump would be a perfect example. For an apostle of self-willed happiness, the goddess of greed led a troubled life, marked by depressions, amphetamine addiction, messy love affairs and betrayals. But you could say that she had a capacious mind, if not a healthy or an orderly one.

She was well educated, she had actually read Aristotle and Nietzsche before she hobbled them and hitched them to her wagon. Her unlikely 21st-century resurrection is the work of much smaller, often almost invisible minds that cherry-pick the vast creaking structure of her oeuvre for their own ends, just as they cherry-pick the Bible or The Wealth of Nations.

If corporate feudalism is your dream for America, she’s the prophet for you. Her naïve faith in capitalism and contempt for “the welfare state” are just what the right-wing doctor ordered.

Much of the rest, alas, will never fly in Alabama. Pundits have been delighted to note that the heroine of the new Republicans was a pacifist who opposed the Vietnam War, a feminist who supported abortion, an adulteress who preached free love, a bohemian who mocked family life and child-bearing, an elitist who sneered at the common man, and, after all her “nanny state” rhetoric, a recipient of Social Security and Medicare and a late, sick convert to the benefits of socialized medicine.

Worst of all, for tea-stained Christian Republicans, she was a militant atheist. In Rand’s ideology religious faith was the most abject form of weakness, a sniveling retreat from the hardheaded, self-centered “objectivism” her heroes impose on the world. She not only would have rejected Jesus and his gospels, she actually did—-repeatedly. Christ’s message that the poor are blessed and the meek will inherit the earth is antithetical to Rand’s belief that the poor and meek are no more than mulch where the dreams of the mighty take root.

So adamantly did she denounce the altruism and self-sacrifice at the center of the Christian message, it’s no exaggeration to call her the intellectual Antichrist.

It’s no great exaggeration to say that praising her is like spitting in Christ’s face.

How do Paul Ryan, Ron and Rand Paul and company manage to pass off this radical atheist, this subversive Russian Jew (born Elisa Rosenbaum) as an iconic role model for Christian conservatives?

Apparently they don’t think they need to get into the details, not with their particular constituency. Assuming that they know the details themselves. The careless condescension of their leaders is not yet a scandal to the tea-baggers of America’s unlettered hard Right. But Ayn Rand seems like the biggest joke of all, one that might yet blow up in the party’s face.

The plutocrats she worshiped are so few, the plebeians she scorned are so many. The GOP’s little people can’t all be totally illiterate, and Limbaugh and Glenn Beck actually urge them to read this woman’s books. It’s in-your-face deception that reminds me of the old stage villain, the silent-movie heavy with the waxed mustache, cackling behind his cloak and inviting the audience to share the cruelty he’s about to inflict on his innocent victims. It’s as if Wall Street is surreptitiously giving the finger to Main Street Republicans, laughing at the gullible recruits as they march to the polls to lower corporate taxes and deregulate markets. Ayn Rand, indeed. She would have applauded the big dogs’ ruthlessness but rolled her eyes at the Christian-family rhetoric they’re obliged to use for bait.

She wasn’t one of them, of course; she certainly wasn’t one of us. She was one of a kind, thank god. In her defense, you might argue that her love affair with capitalism was rooted in a Russian Jew’s horror of the totalitarian systems that devastated Europe in the 20th century.

That offers her a gravitas she doesn’t share with ultra-light Midwestern reactionaries like Paul Ryan or Michele Bachmann. But the more Americans read her books, the better for liberals and the worse, I think, for Republicans.

Her work illustrates conclusively what a few brave clergymen and a few ink-stained relics like me have been saying for years to anyone who would listen, and to Republicans who refuse to listen — that Christianity and the wolverine capitalism of a John Galt are totally incompatible systems, two mutually exclusive human possibilities. They cancel each other out. Any political party that pretends to integrate them is a party of liars, and doomed.

Hal Crowther’s most recent book is Gather at the River. Write him at 219 N. Churton St., Hillsborough, NC 27278.

© 2011 Progressive Populist All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Christian Parenti: Soaring Food Prices, Wild Weather, Upheaval, and a Planetful of Trouble

Soaring Food Prices, Wild Weather, Upheaval, and a Planetful of Trouble
Reading the World In a Loaf of Bread
July 19, 2011 | CommonDreams | TomDispatch | OpEdNews | Truthout

What can a humble loaf of bread tell us about the world?

The answer is: far more than you might imagine. For one thing, that loaf can be “read” as if it were a core sample extracted from the heart of a grim global economy. Looked at another way, it reveals some of the crucial fault lines of world politics, including the origins of the Arab spring that has now become a summer of discontent.

Consider this: between June 2010 and June 2011, world grain prices almost doubled. In many places on this planet, that proved an unmitigated catastrophe. In those same months, several governments fell, rioting broke out in cities from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to Nairobi, Kenya, and most disturbingly three new wars began in Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Even on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Bedouin tribes are now in revolt against the country’s interim government and manning their own armed roadblocks.

And in each of these situations, the initial trouble was traceable, at least in part, to the price of that loaf of bread. If these upheavals were not “resource conflicts” in the formal sense of the term, think of them at least as bread-triggered upheavals.

Growing Climate Change in a Wheat Field

Bread has classically been known as the staff of life. In much of the world, you can’t get more basic, since that daily loaf often stands between the mass of humanity and starvation. Still, to read present world politics from a loaf of bread, you first have to ask: of what exactly is that loaf made? Water, salt, and yeast, of course, but mainly wheat, which means when wheat prices increase globally, so does the price of that loaf -- and so does trouble.

To imagine that there’s nothing else in bread, however, is to misunderstand modern global agriculture. Another key ingredient in our loaf -- call it a “factor of production” -- is petroleum. Yes, crude oil, which appears in our bread as fertilizer and tractor fuel. Without it, wheat wouldn’t be produced, processed, or moved across continents and oceans.

And don’t forget labor. It’s an ingredient in our loaf, too, but not perhaps in the way you might imagine. After all, mechanization has largely displaced workers from the field to the factory. Instead of untold thousands of peasants planting and harvesting wheat by hand, industrial workers now make tractors and threshers, produce fuel, chemical pesticides, and nitrogen fertilizer, all rendered from petroleum and all crucial to modern wheat growing. If the labor power of those workers is transferred to the wheat field, it happens in the form of technology. Today, a single person driving a huge $400,000 combine, burning 200 gallons of fuel daily, guided by computers and GPS satellite navigation, can cover 20 acres an hour, and harvest 8,000 to 10,000 bushels of wheat in a single day.

Next, without financial capital -- money -- our loaf of bread wouldn’t exist. It’s necessary to purchase the oil, the fertilizer, that combine, and so on. But financial capital may indirectly affect the price of our loaf even more powerfully. When there is too much liquid capital moving through the global financial system, speculators start to bid-up the price of various assets, including all the ingredients in bread. This sort of speculation naturally contributes to rising fuel and grain prices.

The final ingredients come from nature: sunlight, oxygen, water, and nutritious soil, all in just the correct amounts and at just the right time. And there’s one more input that can’t be ignored, a different kind of contribution from nature: climate change, just now really kicking in, and increasingly the key destabilizing element in bringing that loaf of bread disastrously to market.

Marketing Disaster

When these ingredients mix in a way that sends the price of bread soaring, politics enters the picture. Consider this, for instance: the upheavals in Egypt lay at the heart of the Arab Spring. Egypt is also the world’s single largest wheat importer, followed closely by Algeria and Morocco. Keep in mind as well that the Arab Spring started in Tunisia when rising food prices, high unemployment, and a widening gap between rich and poor triggered deadly riots and finally the flight of the country’s autocratic ruler Zine Ben Ali. His last act was a vow to reduce the price of sugar, milk, and bread -- and it was too little too late.

With that, protests began in Egypt and the Algerian government ordered increased wheat imports to stave off growing unrest over food prices. As global wheat prices surged by 70% between June and December 2010, bread consumption in Egypt started to decline under what economists termed “price rationing.” And that price kept rising all through the spring of 2011. By June, wheat cost 83% more than it had a year before. During the same time frame, corn prices surged by a staggering 91%. Egypt is the world’s fourth largest corn importer. When not used to make bread, corn is often employed as a food additive and to feed poultry and livestock. Algeria, Syria, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia are among the top 15 corn importers. As those wheat and corn prices surged, it was not just the standard of living of the Egyptian poor that was threatened, but their very lives as climate-change driven food prices triggered political violence.

In Egypt, food is a volatile political issue. After all, one in five Egyptians live on less than $1 a day and the government provides subsidized bread to 14.2 million people in a population of 83 million. Last year, overall food-price inflation in Egypt was running at more than 20%. This had an instant and devastating impact on Egyptian families, who spend on average 40% of their often exceedingly meager monthly incomes simply feeding themselves.

Against this backdrop, World Bank President Robert Zoellick fretted that the global food system was "one shock away from a full-fledged crisis." And if you want to trace that near full-fledged crisis back to its environmental roots, the place to look is climate change, the increasingly extreme and devastating weather being experienced across this planet.

When it comes to bread, it went like this: In the summer of 2010, Russia, one of the world’s leading wheat exporters, suffered its worst drought in 100 years. Known as the Black Sea Drought, this extreme weather triggered fires that burnt down vast swathes of Russian forests, bleached farmlands, and damaged the country’s breadbasket wheat crop so badly that its leaders (urged on by western grain speculators) imposed a year-long ban on wheat exports. As Russia is among the top four wheat exporters in any year, this caused prices to surge upward.

At the same time, massive flooding occurred in Australia, another significant wheat exporter, while excessive rains in the American Midwest and Canada damaged corn production. Freakishly massive flooding in Pakistan, which put some 20% of that country under water, also spooked markets and spurred on the speculators.

And that’s when those climate-driven prices began to soar in Egypt. The ensuing crisis, triggered in part by that rise in the price of our loaf of bread, led to upheaval and finally the fall of the country’s reigning autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Tunisia and Egypt helped trigger a crisis that led to an incipient civil war and then western intervention in neighboring Libya, which meant most of that country’s production of 1.4 million barrels of oil a day went off-line. That, in turn, caused the price of crude oil to surge, at its height hitting $125 a barrel, which set off yet more speculation in food markets, further driving up grain prices.

And recent months haven't brought much relief. Once again, significant, in some cases record, flooding has damaged crops in Canada, the United States, and Australia. Meanwhile, an unexpected spring drought in northern Europe has hurt grain crops as well. The global food system is visibly straining, if not snapping, under the intense pressure of rising demand, rising energy prices, growing water shortages, and most of all the onset of climate chaos.

And this, the experts tell us, is only the beginning. The price of our loaf of bread is forecast to increase by up to 90% over the next 20 years. That will mean yet more upheavals, more protest, greater desperation, heightened conflicts over water, increased migration, roiling ethnic and religious violence, banditry, civil war, and (if past history is any judge) possibly a raft of new interventions by imperial and possibly regional powers.

And how are we responding to this gathering crisis? Has there been a broad new international initiative focused on ensuring food security for the global poor -- that is to say, a stable, affordable price for our loaf of bread? You already know the sad answer to that question.

Instead, massive corporations like Glencore, the world’s largest commodity trading company, and the privately held and secretive Cargill, the world’s biggest trader of agricultural commodities, are moving to further consolidate their control of world grain markets and vertically integrate their global supply chains in a new form of food imperialism designed to profit off global misery. While bread triggered war and revolution in the Middle East, Glencore made windfall profits on the surge in grain prices. And the more expensive our loaf of bread becomes the more money firms like Glencore and Cargill stand to make. Consider that just about the worst possible form of “adaptation” to the climate crisis.

So what text should flash through our brains when reading our loaf of bread? A warning, obviously. But so far, it seems, a warning ignored.

To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Parenti discusses the origins of his latest book and how climate change contributes to global violence, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from here.

© 2011 Christian Parenti

Christian Parenti, a Nation contributing editor, fellow at The Nation Institute and visiting scholar at the CUNY Graduate Center. His most recent book is Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. Previous books include The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq (New Press) and Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis.

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East Africa's Drought: 11 Million Lives At Risk
July 18, 2011 | CommonDreams | Countercurrents | GlobalPost
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Post Apocalyptic America -- NOW!
by Rob Kall article link
July 18, 2011 | OpEdNews

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jim Robbins: As Alberta’s Tar Sands Boom, Activists Target Project’s Lifelines

As Alberta’s Tar Sands Boom, Activists Target Project’s Lifelines
by Jim Robbins article link article link
July 15, 2011 | CommonDreams | Yale Environment 360

The Sand Hills of Nebraska are a unique Great Plains prairie ecosystem. The rolling dunes, rising to 300 feet, cover about a quarter of the state, and because the grasses and wildflowers there are adapted to wet, sandy soil, many grow nowhere else. Thousands of ponds and lakes dot the Sand Hills, nourishing the Ogallala Aquifer.

This region is an unlikely ground zero for a growing rebellion against a different kind of sand — the Athabascan oil sands of Alberta, 1,400 miles to the north. But that is precisely what is happening as energy companies seek to construct a pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands — the second-largest petroleum deposit in the world, after Saudi Arabia — across the length of the U.S. to refineries in Texas, passing through the Sand Hills on its way.

And the so-called Keystone XL pipeline is not the only tentacle of the tar sands poised to spread across North America: Energy companies are seeking to build a second pipeline to carry tar sands oil across the wild heart of British Columbia, while other firms are proposing to truck gargantuan equipment for the tar sands project along narrow roads in one of most remote parts of the northern Rocky Mountains.

Environmentalists, farmers, ranchers, elected officials, native people, and a host of others have risen up in opposition to the potential environmental threats posed by the expanding reach of Alberta’s tar sands. Some opponents are concerned that pipelines or oversized equipment running through their communities pose an unacceptable environmental risk. But for others, the battle is about something far larger. They believe that wreaking so much environmental destruction to continue expanding supplies of planet-warming fossil fuels is fundamentally wrong, noting that the tar sands project has razed hundreds of square miles of boreal forest, led to the creation of dozens of toxic tailings ponds, and released vast quantities of CO2. And they are convinced that choking off the tar sands pipelines is a way of stopping, or at least hampering, the development of the Alberta tar sands themselves.

Indeed, the fight over the tar sands pipelines has become a proxy battle between two diametrically opposed worldviews: Those who see the planet as heading toward irreversible environmental harm, driven largely by human CO2 emission from fossil fuels, and those who say that the U.S. needs oil at almost any environmental cost to keep its economy growing.

“The pipeline has become a symbol of where America is going,” says Jane Kleeb, director of BOLD Nebraska, a group working to protect the unique ecology of the Sand Hills. “We’re concerned about climate change, absolutely. America is smart enough to figure out how to do clean energy.”

Among the growing protests over Alberta’s tar sands and the proposed pipelines are a series of acts of civil disobedience planned in Washington, D.C., for the last two weeks of August. The campaign, Tar Sands Action, will feature protests at the White House and will include author and environmental activist Bill McKibben, NASA climate scientist James Hansen, and Canadian scientist and broadcaster, David Suzuki.

Roughly 173 billion barrels of Alberta tar sands reserves, worth more than $15 trillion, underlay an area the size of Florida, making it by far the largest petroleum deposit in North America. The strange solid or semi-solid oil, called bitumen, is essentially mined, and doing so means digging up large tracts of boreal forest and releasing a lot of CO2, which is why critics call the product of the tar sands “dirty oil.”

But supporters of the tar sands and the pipelines say that the “dirty oil” rap is unfair. Canada’s environment minister, Peter Kent, says tar sands crude creates just 1 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions generated annually by U.S. coal-fired power plants. It’s really “ethical oil,” he says, because the profits won’t go to corrupt dictators or civil wars.

Oil companies have limited refining capacity for the dense crude in Alberta, and that’s where the biggest pipeline project, Keystone XL, figures in. Each day the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — to be built by Calgary-based TransCanada Corporation — would move 910,000 barrels of a slurry of bitumen, natural gas, and undisclosed chemicals through a 36-inch-diameter, high-pressure pipe, buried four feet underground. The nearly 1,700-mile route would run from Hardisty, Alberta, through Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska (including 92 miles of the Sand Hills), and Oklahoma. After connecting with an existing pipeline in Nebraska, the new Keystone XL would begin again in Cushing, Oklahoma and continue on to Houston and Port Arthur, Texas. There, company officials say, they would have the special refining capacity they need.

The $7 billion pipeline, which must be approved by the U.S. State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has drawn both opposition and support across its route. But it has run into the fiercest resistance in the conservative farming state of Nebraska, largely because the pipeline would cross the Sand Hills. Should the toxic brew leak, it could pollute not only the water there, but could seep into portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, the 174,000-square-mile underground reservoir, fed in part by water from the Sand Hills.

Spills are not a far-fetched scenario. In a year of operation, a similar pipeline in the U.S. — the existing Keystone, also owned by TransCanada Corporation — had 11 spills. Most of them were tiny, but the largest, in southeastern North Dakota, was 21,000 gallons, and federal officials temporarily suspended the company’s operating permit. And last year a 30-inch oil pipeline owned by Enbridge, another Canadian pipeline company, suffered a 4-foot-long rupture and spilled nearly 20,000 barrels — 840,000 gallons — of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, killing much of the aquatic life for miles. It was the worst spill ever in the Midwest.

John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, whose members oppose the pipeline, said a big problem is the involvement of the U.S. State Department, which he says isn’t equipped to assess the environmental risks of Keystone XL. “They are out of their element,” he said. Nor has the state of Nebraska exercised oversight, said Hansen. “In this void, TransCanada took the short cut through some of the most environmentally sensitive land you could build a pipeline through,” he said. “It’s very fragile. The water is close to the surface and in the spring, water would cover some of the pipeline. To anybody who knows anything about the Sand Hills, the thought of running a toxic pipeline through your water supply makes no sense.”

Petroleum pipelines that carry diluted bitumen, or “dilbit,” pose special risks. Dilbit pipelines use higher pressure and higher temperatures and need chemicals to keep the thick, tarry substance flowing. Some data suggests they suffer more ruptures because of these temperature and pressure extremes.

But the real problem, says Carl Weimer, the director of the Pipeline Safety Trust — set up after three young boys were killed by a gasoline pipeline rupture, explosion, and fire in Bellingham, Washington in 1999 — is that so little is known about dilbit pipelines. “We’ve asked those types of questions to the Department of Transportation and haven’t gotten an answer,” says Weimer. “Unfortunately no one has looked into these things.” The director of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Cynthia Quarterman, testified recently to Congress that existing safety and environmental regulations fail to take this new kind of pipeline into account. Environmentalists have criticized Quarterman for her ties to the oil and gas industry, including providing legal counsel to the Enbridge pipeline company before joining the Obama administration.

Company officials say they are aware of the fragile nature of the Sand Hills. “We take safety and environment very seriously,” said Terry Cunha, a spokesman for TransCanada Corp. “This pipeline would not be the first to cross the Sand Hills. There’s already 3,000 miles of pipe crossing the [Ogalalla] aquifer.” Other conventional pipelines, not dilbits, do cross the Sand Hills.

It seemed at first that the approval process for the continent-crossing pipeline would be perfunctory. Because of the international aspect of the project, the environmental studies are being conducted by the U.S. State Department, which approved a previous Keystone pipeline, which runs from Canada to Oklahoma, with little notice. The chief lobbyist for the pipeline company, Paul Elliot, was a deputy campaign manager for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, and last year Clinton said she was “inclined” to approve the pipeline, long before the environmental studies were completed. As an outcry arose, Clinton backpedaled, and said she hadn’t made up her mind.

The final environmental impact statement on Keystone XL is due in August, after which hearings will be held in states affected by the pipeline and in Washington, D.C. A decision could come by the end of the year. “If we get the permit we’ll begin construction in early 2012,” said Cunha. The EPA has twice given very poor grades to the State Department’s environmental review, most recently in early June.

Another major front in the battle over the tar sands’ tentacles involves a proposed pipeline and a new tanker port in Canada. Enbridge Inc., whose pipeline spilled crude oil into the Kalamazoo River last year, is proposing a $5.5 billion double-pipeline called the Northern Gateway that would move oil west from Alberta, across 730 miles of British Columbia, to two giant oil tanker loading docks it proposes to construct at the eastern end of a fjord at Kitimat, British Columbia. (The second parallel line would move liquid natural gas to Alberta.) That part of the proposal is controversial, too, for many on the coast of British Columbia have been opposed to oil tanker traffic since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

Earlier this year though, several First Nations tribes, who own a quarter of the land the pipeline would traverse, rejected an agreement with Enbridge, in spite of a revenue sharing offer that would mean more than a billion dollars to the tribes. Geraldine Thomas Flurer, a spokesman for the Yinka Dene Alliance near Vanderhoof, British Columbia, said no amount of money could replace the hunting and fishing that sustains the remote towns, should a pipeline rupture. “Moose hunting, salmon fishing, sturgeon, this is something that we do every day, this is who we are,” she said. “The pipeline would cross nearly a thousand rivers, lakes and streams, and one leak could destroy what we have, who we are.” Those rivers include the Fraser and the Skeena, both highly productive salmon fisheries.

Michael A. Levi, an energy and climate change analyst for the Council on Foreign Relations, said that both the energy security issue cited by proponents of the tar sands oil and environmental problems raised by those against the pipelines, are overblown. “All energy development comes with environmental issues,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of choosing the option of zero environmental problems.” As far as the Keystone XL pipeline, “I don’t like betting, but if I did, I bet it would get built.” The Northern Gateway was less certain, he said, not because of the pipeline, but because of the concern over tanker traffic after the Exxon Valdez disaster.

On a third front involving the tar sands, Imperial Oil, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, is seeking permission to move 207 giant modules — three stories high, more than 200 feet long, and 24 feet wide — for oil production at Kearl Oil Sands, a new mine in the tar sands. The oversized equipment would travel along a winding, two-lane highway that crosses some of the wildest country in the Lower 48 state; the route was chosen because, unlike interstate highways, there are no overpasses. Environmentalists and locals have organized against the modules, objecting to an industrial corridor that would carry gargantuan equipment through such wild country.

Barry and Bobby Bartlette are co-owners of the Lolo Square Dance Center and Campground, located along the proposed equipment route. They worry that campers with trailers will avoid Highway 12, and that road-widening could harm the water quality of Lolo Creek.

And like many other opponents, they object to the large-scale destruction associated with the tar sands project. “Taking out forests to get oil is devastating and the impacts downstream are devastating,” Barry Bartlette said. “There’s more oil they can drill for and not have those impacts.”

© 2011 Yale Environment 360

Jim Robbins is a veteran journalist based in Helena, Montana. He has written for the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and numerous other publications. His fifth book, The Forgotten Forest, about the poorly understood role of trees in the environment, will be published next year by Random House. In an earlier article for Yale Environment 360, he explored how a great forest die-off occurring across western North America is linked to climate change.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ethan Indi: Jesus, My Favorite Conspiracy Theorist

Jesus, My Favorite Conspiracy Theorist
by Ethan Indi article link
July 11, 2011 | OpEdNews

Language is like a map. And stories take people to new places. Yet if we don't possess the language to put the story in context its value might be overlooked. Elimination of language takes away and new language expands. Conspiracy theorists often offer new language so people can follow them, while people who would like to eliminate conspiracies like to eliminate language and stories and storytellers even.

President Eisenhower arguably knew more about the military and war than any other US president and was perhaps the greatest conspiracy theorist of the last century with his coining of the phrase "military industrial complex' and his warning concerning it. The powers that be normally discount and disbelieve any notion of conspiracy, and any new language concerning it, but when the President defines it, it is hard to deny. The military industrial complex describes a militaristic corporate entity among entities.

There is endless variety of conspiracy, clandestine crimes and power grabs, but they all pertain to one goal; oligarchical collectivism. George Orwell, another great conspiracy theorist right up there with Eisenhower, originally penned this phrase. He arguably authored the most profound political fiction on conspiracy theory. Oligarchical collectivism is at root of every institutional conspiracy over individuals for thousands of years. Oligarchical collectivism means the coming together of the few in control of the many, the linking of pyramid systems. The military industrial complex is just one example of oligarchical collectivism.

Oligarchical collectivism is the phrase, the unification of institutions of the few in control of the many is the story. The military industrial complex and oligarchical collectivism are keys to understanding the map, the story. Jesus Christ's story is one of an individual standing up to oligarchical collectivism. He is a peaceful warrior who sees wrongdoing interlinked over individuals and speaks up about it. Jesus reacted to the epitome of oligarchical collectivism and tossed over tables and ruffled the feathers of institutions. He stood up the interlinked institutions of the Jewish temple supported by the Roman State and the traders/bankers inside the temple. The oligarchical collectivism for Jesus was the same we have today, interlinking of institutions of religion, state and corporation. The wrongdoing set forth by linking of church, state and corporate institutions is enough to make even Jesus angry.

Exploitive institutions are set up in the same pyramidal shape now as they were then. The few are at the top controlling the many through interlocked institutions. And people should be angry. People should be angry and inspired to take action, like a peaceful warrior, like Jesus, when oligarchcical collectivism takes place.

And yet people are so subdued, so absolutely and wholly apathetic that we will let the military industrial complex run over strangers and their oligarchical operations rain nuclear poison over entirety. We will let corporate agriculture genetically modify plants and animals without concern. Jesus' story is the story the Prince of Peace fearlessly standing up to and calling out the oligarchical collectivism of his day. Jesus stood up to the oligarchical collectivism he was surrounded by not because he was the son of God, but because he was also a mortal and standing up for liberty is at the core of our mortal human condition. Jesus wanted them to stop doing business and exchanging money in the temple which made revenue for the few among the many, those in control of the church, state and corporate.

It is human nature to stand up and repel oligarchical collectivism and yet people today are so passive and tolerant we will let oligarchical collectivists hold reign through one overt conspiracy after another. This itself is conspiracy and as a accused conspiracy theorist I have the phrase for the map to the story. There is an ongoing conspiracy committed by all institutions to instill tolerance on people. Being tolerant toward individuals is okay. Compassion towards individuals is better. Tolerance of individuals is a start, but even Jesus Christ the lord didn't tolerate institutional wrongdoing. Jesus knew very well the difference between individuals and institutions.

People are tolerant of wrongdoing, tolerant of oligarchical institutions, tolerant of militaristic corporatist exploitation of others, people are tolerant of government involvement in drug smuggling and gun running. Many people are tolerant little bitches who take more offense to harsh language than they do to exploitation of their neighbors and themselves. And at the same time those with institutionally induced tolerance of institutional wrongdoing are less likely to tolerate an individual's alternate race, origin or perspective.

This misunderstanding, this misunderstanding of tolerance and confusion of individuals and institutions is a conspiracy gluing all other conspiracies together. It is the conspiracy of Institutionally Induced Tolerance and should be a psychiatric disorder simply called IT. You have to be fearful of being human, you have to lose all sense of humanity to stand down to institutions and oligarchical collectivism. You have to be barren of feeling or ignorant of the most basic precepts of reality to not be angry when confronted by oligarchical collectivism. Perhaps the conspiracy of IT is so wide that tolerance is induced biologically as well as politically.

I myself am certain that the conspiracy theory of IT is not theory, but certainty. I feel this way through compiled information and something institutions do not have and would like to eliminate the validity of, intuition. Institutions despise human intuition, mainly because intuition can detect oligarchical collectivism instantly. To me IT is not as much theory as it is actuality, however I understand it as a theory and in using the word theory I like all other theorists of all other subjects, merely pose the notion for consideration. Eighty five percent of Americans suffer from Institution Induced Tolerance, do your part to fight this disease and stand up to oligarchical collectivism, like Jesus.

Ethan Indi: I write. I love the USA; locals, land and liberty. I hate institutions placed above locals, land and liberty. I have roots in Maine, NYC and Northern California. My freshman work is titled The Complete Patriot's Guide to Oligarchical Collectivism: Its Theory and Practice. It is pro individual and anti institution and may become contraband for thought provoking. In the book I investigate political mentality and political power for individuals among institutions. Progressive Press is the publisher. Within the book are new concepts and new terms based on observations of history, philosophy and reality. I coin the term petrolithic era which began when Diesel died and continues on today. You can see cover and buy it before it's banned on amazon or many other websites and perhaps your local independent bookstore.

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The Prophetic Redoubt and Prescience of Theodore Roszak
by Christopher Diamant article link
July 11, 2011 | OpEdNews

Monday, July 11, 2011

Frank Schaeffer: Why Rupert Murdoch Love$ God

Rupert Murdoch is one of America’s number one publishers of evangelical and other religious books.

Why Rupert Murdoch Love$ God: World's Biggest Sleaze Mogul Also Getting Rich from Christian Moralizers
by Frank Schaeffer article link
July 10, 2011 | AlterNet

Here's what you might not know about Rupert Murdoch: he’s one of the leading religion publishers in the world.

Maybe one day soon Murdoch will go to jail as might his son, as will several of their UK editors if many alleged and disgusting and illegal acts of pirate “journalism” are proved true, ranging from bribing the police to hacking the phones of bereaved family members of killed service men and women and child murder victims. Make no mistake: when it comes to the Murdoch media “empire” we're talking about the lowest form of “journalism” as detailed by the Guardian newspaper.

So are religious moralizers and others writing about religious and/or “moral” themes prepared to enrich the Murdoch “ media juggernaut” forever while Rupert Murdoch further corrupts UK, American and Australian politics while his companies trade in human misery for profit by hacking murder victim's phones, paying off the police, elevating smut to a national sport and even hacking the phones of killed soldiers’ families?

You bet!

Rupert Murdoch is one of America’s number one publishers of evangelical and other religious books, including the 33-million seller Purpose Driven Life by mega pastor and anti-gay activist Rick Warren. Murdoch is also publisher of "progressive" Rob Bell’s Love Wins.

Rick Warren, Rob Bell and company helped Murdoch fund his tabloid-topless-women-on-page-3 empire, phone hacking of murdered teens and Fox News' spreading "birther" and "death panel" lies about the president. They helped Murdoch by enriching him. And these weren’t unknown authors just lucky to get published anywhere, they could have picked anybody to sell their books.

Do the religious authors making their fortunes off Murdoch wear gloves when they cash their royalty checks? Do they ever dare look in the mirror?

The authors publishing with Murdoch serve a religious market so fine-tuned to grandstanding hypocrisy and moralizing, that, for instance, my novels about growing up religious (Portofino, Zermatt and Saving Grandma) will never be sold in the thousands of CBA member (Christian Bookseller’s Association) bookstores because – horrors! – my books have profanity and sex in them!

But those same CBA stores gladly sell tens of millions of books -- annually -- published by Murdoch, a man with the moral rectitude of the herpes virus, a man who runs the companies that gave Glenn Beck a megaphone, that hacked a dead girl's phone, that lied about Iraq's involvement in 9/11, and thus contributed to the war-of-choice needless killing of almost 5000 American soldiers by George W Bush.

You see, Murdoch has bought into and now owns a huge chunk of American religion and is suckling from the profitable God-teat along with the likes of Rick Warren and Rob Bell et al.

Murdoch bought the venerable evangelical Zondervan publishing house. I knew the founding Zondervan family, a clan of strict Bible-believing Calvinists who’d have bathed for a week in the Jordan River to purify themselves if they’d ever even brushed up against Murdoch and his minions! Later generations sold out.

Murdoch also bought the all purpose all-religion-is-great-if-it-sells-something “religion” site “Beliefnet” and "Inspirio" - religious “gift production,” specialists making tawdry religion-junk of the one-more-pair-of-praying-hands made of pressed muck kind.

And Murdoch publishes Rob Bell and other so-called progressives evangelical “stars” as well as run of the mill evangelical right winger’s books though Harper One, the "religious" division of Harper Collins, another Murdoch company.

Murdoch knows something I found out way back in the 1970s and 80s, when I was still my founder-of-the-religious-right Dad’s sidekick and a right wing evangelical leader/shill myself: There’s gold in them-thar God hills! James Dobson alone once gave away 150,000 copies of one of my evangelical screeds that sold more than a million copies. (I describe why I got out of the evangelical netherworld – fled -- in my book Sex, mom and God.)

So here’s my question to Rob Bell of the God-loves-everybody school of touchy-feely theology and/or to the right wing "family values" crowd who worry about gay marriage between responsible loving adults while they perform financial fellatio on the mightiest and most depraved/pagan media baron to ever walk the earth:

What serious, let alone decent religiously conscious person – left or right, conservative or liberal -- would knowingly work to enrich this dreadful man who will go down in history as the epitome of everything that all religion says its against: lies, greed, criminality, and sheer disgusting exploitation of the defenseless that would shame a sewer rat?

Secular “un-saved” and "godless" and "liberal" authors like Jeff Jarvis have pulled books from Harper Collins because it’s owned by Murdoch as he writes: “[my] next book, Public Parts, was to be published, like my last one, by News Corp.'s HarperCollins. But I pulled the book because in it, I am very critical of the parent company for being so closed. It's now being published by Simon and Schuster.”

Where are the big time religion writers like the "I-give-all-my-royalties-to-the-poor" Rick Warren to be found refusing to publish with Zondervan, Harper One or write another word for Beliefnet? What’s mildly lefty Rob Bell’s defense for enriching Murdoch and helping to finance Fox “News” via publishing with Harper One when he could publish with anyone?

For that matter where are the evangelical/Roman Catholic/Muslim—or just minimally decent -- people, religious or irreligious guests and commentators now refusing to be interviewed by Fox News even if it will help sell their books?

Knowing what we know about the union-busting, slime-spreading Murdoch empire and it's disgusting and criminal actions can a moral person work for or use the products of this all-encompassing web of profit, far right politics and corruption?

I don't think so.

But of course the religion writers have plenty of company.

What about journalists working for Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal?

What about Deepak Chopra?

He publishes with Harper One. Thus Chopra is helping finance Fox News. And so is Desmond Tutu. He’s also a Harper One author.

And what about all the “progressive” stars, producers and writers doing deals with the Fox movie empire? Such Hollywood moralists used to boycott working in the old apartheid South Africa, but will work for/with Murdoch today as he empowers the far religious racist right through Fox News! Desmond Tutu used to call for boycotts of far right religious nuts in South Africa oppressing blacks in the name of God, and now he’s a Murdoch contributor!

Go figure!

Why should the people – religious leaders, writers, actors, agents, producers et al -- who help Murdoch wreck America and the UK -- remain respectable in our countries?

Okay, they deserve a second chance.

Mea Culpa!

I published two books with Harper Collins some years ago after Murdoch had taken over. I had a deal with the Smithsonian that was tied into Harper Collins for distribution, then the Smithsonian backed out but my books stayed at Harpers. After they were published I thought about – and regretted -- helping Murdoch. I've never published with them again.

I only have one excuse, I didn’t know much about Murdoch then. But who would willingly publish anything with any Murdoch paper, magazine or book publisher now, knowing what we all know?

Post UK meltdown, will Tutu, Bell, Chopra et al – big time authors with a choice of publishers -- still publish yet more books with Harper One, and/or with Zondervan?

Will liberals in Hollywood still underwrite Murdoch with their lives and continue to work for Fox TV and Fox Films?

It’s time to hold all Murdoch's collaborator’s feet to the fire, especially the big and famous sell outs who can go anywhere with their books or scripts. And why would any decent paper or blog review any book, film or TV show that enriches Murdoch? He should be blacked out before he takes us all down with him.

No more excuses. We all know about Murdoch now.

From here on out it’s time to out those who choose to stay in bed with the sleazy man from down under who elbowed his way into America and the UK, damaged our political systems, perhaps fatally, all the while insulting our intelligence and aiding and abetting our war machine.

We can’t boycott every dubious corporation on earth. But with Murdoch’s sleaze-infested ambition to control the politics of so much of the world a reality a line’s been crossed. It is time to pull an “Arab Spring” on the whole Murdoch empire and overthrow it. And we of the outraged “street” can do it at last because so many political and media leaders, who have sucked up to Murdoch for decades, are running for cover.

I know it’s not considered polite to be judgmental but I’ll say it: to work for any part of News Corp, Murdoch, Fox and/or any or all of his companies, let alone to publish books with him makes you an accomplice to a very bad person.

© 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Oppressing Mind of Mammon

Mammon Is "Claim of Self" In All Things

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Mammon

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Frank Schaeffer: Fundamentalist Religion Will Destroy The World

Fundamentalist Religion Will Destroy The World
by Frank Schaeffer article link article link
July 3, 2011 | OpEdNews | AlterNet

The deluded religious belief that any people or nation or church is a "chosen" people is the root of almost all our troubles.

The earth bursts with life. Far right exclusionary religion bursts with death. If there is a creator of life He/She/It must hate fundamentalist religion.

The countries in the world that are the most fundamentalist and religious, and/or those whose identity is most religion-based, are the world's greatest troublemakers. Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the USA, Vatican City and the state of Israel come to mind.

If the rest of the human race could find a time machine to roll back the clock and make a world where these countries/city states had never existed we'd live in a better world.

Just take one example of religion's baleful influence: President Woodrow Wilson's messianic religion-inspired intervention in World War One. "My life would not be worth living" Wilson wrote, "if it were not for the driving power of religion, for faith, pure and simple." (Letter to Nancy Toy, 1915.)

Wilson's religious views were the driving force in his political career, informing his quest for world peace. And like all fanatics he decided to achieve this "peace" through war. The devout Woodrow Wilson upset fellow Presbyterians as he moved the nation toward entering World War One, including William Jennings Bryan, who quit as secretary of state in protest.

What did Wilson's religious idealism actually achieve? Germany's loss of World War One led to the rise of Hitler, and the Second World War. Wilson picked sides between two equally tarnished nationalistically-inspired colonial contenders and weighed in. So Wilson set the stage for the rise of Hitler and World War Two. With no World War Two there would be no Israel because there would have been no holocaust. Zionism would have simply become a forgotten quirk. And there would have been no Cold War either, maybe not even a Soviet Union.

The twentieth century began with wars rooted in religion and nationalism and ended as the century of wars rooted in ideological atheism led by the likes of Stalin, Hitler and Mao. Now the twenty first century seems to be shaping up to be the age of renewed wars of religion led by fundamentalist fanatics on all sides who believe in the divine destinies of their nations and/or religions.

These fanatics - they are all of the far right - have ranged from the Ayatollah Khomeinito George W Bush, from the far right leaders of the state of Israel to far right American fundamentalist like Michelle Bachmann who - if she and her fellow travelers have their way - would replace the Constitution and Bill of Rights with the Bible and turn America into a (Reconstructionist) theocracy.

The deluded religious belief that any people or nation or church is a "chosen" people is the root of almost all our troubles. So is the lunacy of believing in "Truth" revealed through one special prophet to one special peoples and/or tribe, be they Jews, Muslims or American Evangelical Christians, or conservative Roman Catholics who believe in the special primacy of their popes.

Eliminate willful self-serving tribal religious delusion from the globe and there might be hope for the survival of the human race. Combine tribalism and religious conviction with nukes and the "right" to exploit the earth and disaster looms.

It's no accident that the most dangerous cultures today are also the most religiously observant societies. The ultra-religiously observant USA embraces perpetual war as a way of life. With our notion of "exceptionalism," we fear the "other" who might challenge our notion of having been chosen by God for some special task.

Like the USA the state of Israel has become an intransigent provocation to the world as it slides inexorably toward becoming the next apartheid state taking up oppression based on race and tribe where South Africa left off. Israel is the place where a demographic minority of the "chosen" already represses (and/or has expelled) the majority of the "un-chosen."

As for the ultra religious state of Pakistan it was actually founded on self-aware religious difference! Pakistan is now the leading exporter of terror worldwide alongside Iran. Both Iran and Pakistan's intelligence agencies are the purveyors of terror. And both countries (when not busy condemning people to death for the crime of heresy etc.,) see themselves as having special prophetic religious destinies.

The Saudis - "keepers of the Holy Places" -- don't need nukes because they have oil. They threaten destruction to the rest of us every bit as catastrophic as war by funding terror, not to mention exporting the most intolerant forms of Islam worldwide into tens of thousands of madrassas.

If Israel, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican and the USA just went away, or had never existed, and/or changed their essential neuroses and accepted a role of "ordinary" nations filled with just folks or saw their religions as a way, not the way, the world would take a giant step toward peace.

But to admit this, let alone to say it publicly, is to court the condemnation of being anti-Semitic, and/or anti-Islamic, anti-Catholic and/or anti-Christian, even anti-American" ... which is a little ironic because the sort of right wing religious Americans who fancy themselves as "pro-American" and "pro-Israel" regularly get our men and women in uniform killed and maimed by starting wars of choice. So who is the patriot here?

Let's get one thing straight: Iran, the USA, Israel, Pakistan, the Vatican and Saudi Arabia aren't special, except in the religion-addled brains of the members of their religious right wings and ruling elites. They're just geographical areas like any others filled with ordinary people like any others, no better and no worse.

Someday these "special" and "chosen" countries will cease to exist as will all nation states. Someday they will not even be remembered because all things pass from time into oblivion, nor will their "holy" books and "holy" places exist forever, simple geology will take care of that. What makes them dangerous today is their shared religious delusion that they are somehow essential and eternal.

The delusion is this: "We're chosen, special and enlightened, and only we have The Truth."

Birds of a feather.

So it is no coincidence that the USA has a "special" relationship with Israel, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and special "respect" for the Vatican and a soft spot for religion in general, for instance giving religion tax deductions. And thus it is no coincidence we are at war without end.

Certainty is a killer. And tolerance of certainty is, by nature, intolerant when it comes to results.

For instance; we tolerate Zionism and Christian Zionism and so messed with the Middle East, because we picked sides in a religious war and decided to back one "chosen people" (Jews) over another "chosen people" (Muslims). This picking of sides between two equally ridiculous pre-science claims to divine selection is the real -- and only -- reason for 9/11 and all that's followed.

America needlessly meddled in a tribal religious Middle Eastern war of religion and has paid and is paying the consequences.

Meanwhile the world's most pressing problems, from global warming to endless wars relate to the self-"chosen" nations and tribes and countries. Of course China and India et al are involved in global warming too, mostly because they imitated the West. Of course others start wars too. But I'm talking about first causes of war and threatened global destruction.

If and when we're plunged into capitalist/consumer global ecological destruction chances are future generations - if any - will have right wing fundamentalist religion of all kinds to thank for "justifying" the rape of the earth.

And if and when we're plunged into an age of nuclear terror, lose Washington DC or New York or London chances are that the fateful moment will be rooted in Middle Eastern/American tribal-religious war. We'll have the states of Israel, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican and/or the USA to blame for putting humanity on a collision course with reality.

The Jews gave us a book that commands the "dominion" of the earth. The Muslims picked up this theme in their book and predicted the dominion of their one and only "true" religion over the earth, a global "caliphate" that -- for instance -- the Pakistani extremists and Iranian "holy men" in charge of their nukes (or soon to be in charge of their nukes) are working to implement with the same religious ferocity as that displayed by the Israeli "settlers" as they "justify" stealing another Semitic tribe's land.

Meanwhile along with American Evangelicals, the Vatican still holds out a misogynistic / homophobic vision of "progress" and still claims that it and it alone is God's special envoy on earth. The very existence of such exclusivist claims - we'll go to heaven, it's hell for the rest of you! -- is a threat to human survival.

And the United States, the inventor of the bomb, the only country to ever use it, is the granddaddy of the exploitation of the earth in the name of economic growth, as something "given" by God to us as "natural" and "right." And now we Americans run a worldwide war making machine par excellence, sure that we are the "good guys."

The Wilsonian ideological perspective --advocacy of "the spread of democracy," the spread of Capitalism,in favor of intervention to help create "peace" and the "spread freedom," is rooted in an older religious tradition: we're special a "city set on a hill." This insanity goes back to the very religious foundation of the American colonies that were peopled by Calvinist cranks from England and Holland who thought that they were too good, too theologically pure and too "chosen" to co-exist the likes of ordinary folks. So they left those bad folks behind and soon were burning Pequot Indians to death in the name of their Old Testament "God."

That same intolerant Puritan inheritance drives us today and divides America into "Real Americans" as Sarah Palin calls herself and her followers, and everyone else. This is the "saved" and "lost" model of theology directly applied to politics. Result? We "Real Americans" believe we're so special that we can and should police the world!

The "holy books" all the religious cultures mentioned here follow are compendiums of Bronze Age tribal self-serving myths, adopted and updated by ignorant tribes in order to try to make sense of their places in the universe pre-science. Today they are the source of war and the rape of the earth.

It's time to stop being polite about the religions that are motivating the self-deluding right wing Israelis, the self-deluding right wing Saudis and the self-deluding right wing Iranians, Americans and popes. They may all hate each other, but below the surface they all share one dreadful and silly conviction: the unfounded belief that they and they alone (and their tribes) are morally right and that the rest of us are the "other" to be suppressed, converted or sometimes killed. And they all say God is on their side.

If there is a God - I happen to believe there is, but I could be wrong -- a creator, a force responsible for the magnificent diversity of nature and human aspiration, then that actual God, by definition, must despise exclusive-type religion and tribalism and the black and white world of "in" or "out" and "saved" and "lost."

Guessing what God might actually be like by what we see around us, He, She or It is big, generous, non-ideological, wonderful and all encompassing. Just open your eyes to the earth below and heavens above and try to reconcile what you see, hear and feel with petty popes, Ayatollahs and preachers or the books they call "holy"!

If there is no creator (and who can say there is or isn't?) then nature's diversity and adaptability is a silent and powerful rebuke to exclusivity. Put it this way; the Rockies don't know they're part of an "exceptional" country and the Negev desert doesn't know it was "given" to anyone! Nor do the sands of Medina know that they're "holy" much less does the dust of Iran's "holy city" of Qom know it's "sacred," or the plaster under the paint in the Sistine Chapel know it's "owned" by the Vatican and the "one true church!"

The religions and tribalism of those who threaten the world the most - Iran, the state of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the Vatican and the USA -- is small, inward looking and backward. It's time to tell the truth and say that maybe it is possible to love God - if there is such an entity -- but it's not possible to love God and love the sort of tribal exclusionary religions that are taking us all down.

Frank Schaeffer is a New York Times best selling author. He is a survivor of both polio and an evangelical/fundamentalist childhood, an acclaimed writer who overcame severe dyslexia, a home-schooled and self-taught documentary movie director, a feature film director and producer of four low budget Hollywood features Frank has described as "pretty terrible." Frank's nonfiction includes "Keeping Faith-A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps" and AWOL-The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes From Military Service and How It Hurts Our Country." Frank's latest book is, "Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back."

OpEdNews articles by Frank Schaeffer
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