Yet even as creationists keep trying to undermine modern science, modern science is beginning to explain creationism scientifically. And it looks like evolution—the scientifically uncontested explanation for the diversity and interrelatedness of life on Earth, emphatically including human life—will be a major part of the story. Our brains are a stunning product of evolution; and yet ironically, they may naturally pre-dispose us against its acceptance.
1871 satirical image depicting Charles Darwin as an ape. The Hornet/Wikimedia Commons
“I don’t think there’s any question that a variety of our mental dispositions are ones that discourage us from taking evolutionary theory as seriously as it should be taken,” explains Robert N. McCauley, director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture at Emory University and author of the book Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not.
So what can science tell us about our not-so-scientific minds? Here’s a list of cognitive traits, thinking styles, and psychological factors identified in recent research that seem to thwart evolution acceptance:
Biological Essentialism. First, we seem to have a deep tendency to think about biology in a way that is “essentialist”—in other words, assuming that each separate kind of animal species has a fundamental, unique nature that unites all members of that species, and that is inviolate. Fish have gills, birds have wings, fish make more fish, birds make more birds, and that’s how it all works. Essentialist thinking has been demonstrated in young children. “Little kids as young as my 2 and a half year old granddaughter are quite clear that puppies don’t have ponies for mommies and daddies,” explains McCauley.
If essentialism is a default style of thinking, as much research suggests, then that puts evolution at a major disadvantage. Charles Darwin and his many scientific disciples have shown that essentialism is just plain wrong: Given enough time, biological kinds are not fixed but actually change. Species are connected through intermediate types to other species—and all are ultimately related to one another.
Teleological Thinking. Essentialism is just one basic cognitive trait, observed in young children, that seems to hinder evolutionary thinking. Another is “teleology,” or the tendency to ascribe purposes to things and objects so as to assume they exist to serve some goal.
Recent research suggests that 4 and 5 year old children are highly teleological in their thinking, tending to opine, for instance, that clouds are “for raining” and that the purpose of lions is “to go in the zoo.” The same tendency has been observed in 7 and 8 year olds who, when asked why “prehistoric rocks are pointy,” offered answers like “so that animals could scratch on them when they got itchy” and “so that animals wouldn’t sit on them and smash them.”
Title page of the Reverend William Paley’s 1802 work Natural Theology, which famously propounded an argument for God’s existence based on the appearance of design in nature. Wikimedia Commons
Why do children think like this? One studyspeculates that this teleological disposition may be a “side [effect] of a socially intelligent mind that is naturally inclined to privilege intentional explanation.” In other words, our brains developed for thinking about what people are thinking, and people have intentions and goals. If that’s right, the playing field may be naturally tilted toward anti-evolutionist doctrines like “intelligent design,” which postulates an intelligent agent (God) as the cause of the diversity of life on Earth, and seeks to uncover evidence of purposeful design in biological organisms.
Overactive Agency Detection. But how do you know the designer is “God”? That too may be the result of a default brain setting.
Another trait, closely related to teleological thinking, is our tendency to treat any number of inanimate objects as if they have minds and intentions. Examples of faulty agency detection, explains University of British Columbia origins of religion scholar Ara Norenzayan, range from seeing “faces in the clouds” to “getting really angry at your computer when it starts to malfunction.” People engage in such “anthropomorphizing” all the time; it seems to come naturally. And it’s a short step to religion: “When people anthropomorphize gods, they are inferring mental states,” says Norenzayan.
There has been much speculation about the evolutionary origin of our anthropomorphizing tendency. One idea is that our brains developed to rapidly assume that objects in the world are alive and may pose a threat, simply because while wrongly mistaking a rustle of leaves for a bear won’t get you killed, failing to detect a bear early (when the leaves rustle) most certainly will.“Supernatural agents are readily conjured up because natural selection has trip-wired cognitive schema for agency detection in the face of uncertainty,” write Norenzayan and fellow origin of religion scholar Scott Atran.
Illustration by Rene Descartes of the pineal gland, which he believed to be the location of the soul within the brain. Wikimedia Commons
Dualism. Yet another apparent feature of our cognitive architecture is the tendency to think that minds (or the “self” and the “soul”) are somehow separate from brains. Once again, this inclination has been found in young children, suggesting that it emerges early in human development. “Preschool children will claim that the brain is responsible for some aspects of mental life, typically those involving deliberative mental work, such as solving math problems,” write Yale psychologistsPaul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg. “But preschoolers will also claim that the brain is not involved in a host of other activities, such as pretending to be a kangaroo, loving one’s brother, or brushing one’s teeth.”
Dualistic thinking is closely related to belief in phenomena like spirits and ghosts. But in a recent study, it was also the cognitive factor most strongly associated with believing in God. As for evolutionary science? Dualism is pretty clearly implicated in resistance to the idea that human beings could have developed from purely natural processes—for if they did, how could there ever be a soul or self beyond the body, to say nothing of an afterlife?
Inability to Comprehend Vast Time Scales. According to Norenzayan, there’s one more basic cognitive factor that prevents us from easily understanding evolution. Evolution occurred due to the accumulation of many small changes over vast time periods—which means that it is unlike anything we’ve experienced. So even thinking about it isn’t very easy. “The only way you can appreciate the process of evolution is in an abstract way,” says Norenzayan. “Over millions of years, small changes accumulate, but it’s not intuitive. There’s nothing in our brain that says that’s true. We have to override our incredulity.”
Group Morality and Tribalism. All of these cognitive factors seem to make evolution hard to grasp, even as they render religion (or creationist ideas) simpler and more natural to us. But beyond these cognitive factors, there are also emotional reasons why a lot of people don’t want to believe in evolution. When we see resistance to its teaching, after all, it is usually because a religious community fears that this body of science will undermine a belief system—in the US, usually fundamentalist Christianity—deemed to serve as the foundation for shared values and understanding. In other words, evolution is resisted because it is perceived as a threat to the group.
So how appropriate that one current scientific theory about religion is that it exists (and, maybe, that it evolved) to bind groups together and keep them cohesive. In his recent bookThe Righteous Mind, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that religions provide a shared set of beliefs and practices that, in effect, serve as social glue. “Gods and religions,” writes Haidt, “are group-level adaptations for producing cohesiveness and trust.” The upside is unity; the downside, Haidt continues, is “groupishness, tribalism, and nationalism.” Ideas and beliefs that threaten the group or the beliefs that hold it together—ideas like evolution—are bound to fare badly in this context.
Fear and the Need for Certainty. Finally, there appears to be something about fear and doubt that impels religiosity and dispels acceptance of evolution. “People seem to take more comfort from a stance that says, someone designed the world with good intentions, instead of that the world is just an intention-less, random place,” says Norenzayan. “This is especially true when we feel a sense of threat, or a feeling of not being in control.”
Indeed, in one amazing study, New Zealanders who had just suffered through a severe earthquake showed stronger religiosity, but only if they had been directly affected by the quake. Other research suggests that making people think about death increases their religiosity and also decreases evolution acceptance. It’s not just death: It’s also randomness, disorder. In one telling study, research participants who were asked to think of a situation in which they had lacked control and then to “provide three reasons supporting the notion that the future is (un-) controllable,” showed a marked decline in their acceptance of evolution, opting instead for an intelligent design-style explanation. (Another study found that anti-evolutionists displayed higher fear sensitivity and a trait called the “need for cognitive closure,” which describes a psychological need to find an answer that can resolve uncertainty and dispel doubt.)
Such is the research, and it’s important to point out a few caveats. First, this doesn’t mean science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. The conflict may run very deep indeed, but nevertheless, some individuals can and do find a way to retain their religious beliefs and also accept evolution—including the aforementioned biology textbook author Kenneth Miller of Brown University, a Catholic.
Second, while there are many reasons to think that the traits above comprise a core part of who we are, it doesn’t automatically follow that religion is the direct result of evolution by natural selection. It is also possible that religion arises as a byproduct of more basic traits that were, in turn, selected for because they conferred greater fitness (such as agency detection). This “byproduct” view is defended by Steven Pinker here.
In any event, the evidence is clear that both our cognitive architecture, and also our emotional dispositions, make it difficult or unnatural for many people to accept evolution. “Natural selection is like quantum physics…we might intellectually grasp it, with considerable effort, but it will never feel right to us,” writes the Yale psychologist Paul Bloom. Often, people express surprise that in an age so suffused with science, science causes so much angst and resistance.
So you might be surprised to learn that, in fact, Obama is not closing the embassy — or diminishing U.S. diplomatic relations with the Holy See in any way.
There are no embassies for any country in Vatican City itself — there is simply no room. All countries locate their embassies in the city of Rome. The United States has decided to move its embassy from its current location — an unremarkable converted residence — to the same compound as the U.S. Embassy to Italy. It will have it’s own separate building and a separate entrance on a different street. The new building is actually a tenth of a mile closer to the Vatican than the old one. There will be no reduction in staff or activities.
This hasn’t stopped 5 former U.S. envoys to the Vatican — including James Nicholson, the former chair of the Republican National Committee — from protesting. Nicholson characterized the move as “a massive downgrade.” Raymond Flynn, the first ambassador under Clinton, told the National Catholic Review that “It’s not just those who bomb churches and kill Catholics in the Middle East who are our antagonists, but it’s also those who restrict our religious freedoms and want to close down our embassy to the Holy See.” Flynn “described the move as part of broader secular hostility to religious groups.”
The plans for the move actually started under President Bush, whose administration purchased the buildings adjacent to the U.S. Embassy to Italy.
Right-Wing Evangelicals Claim ‘Good Christians’ Can’t Get PTSD
On a Veteran’s Day broadcast, two of America’s most influential televangelists claimed that good Christians can’t get PTSD.
Kenneth Copeland, who is famous for pitching a fit  when a senator tried to investigate his nonprofits and for inspiring  a measles outbreak, said, “Any of you suffering from PTSD right now, you listen to me. You get rid of that right now. You don’t take drugs to get rid of it, it doesn’t take psychology; that promise right there [in the Bible] will get rid of it.”
Copeland’s guest, conservative revisionist historian David Barton, agreed, adding, “We used to, in the pulpit, understand the difference between a just war and an unjust war. And there’s a biblical difference, and when you do it God’s way, not only are you guiltless for having done that, you’re esteemed.”
Barton believes that anybody who behaves “biblically” during war can’t get PTSD. Unfortunately, there is a logical flip side to this statement: someone who has PTSD must have not been biblical in his actions, and thus he is ultimately responsible for his own PTSD.
Understandably, a lot of people are upset by Barton and Copeland’s assertion. Even the staunchly conservative Gospel Coalition  (TGC) and America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention  (SBC), made no bones about their distaste for Copeland and Barton, the former calling them “profoundly stupid,” the latter “callow and doltish.”
That’s an aggressive attack, especially given that a significant number of Christians, including leaders at SBC and TGC, share Barton and Copeland’s belief that mental illness can be cured by faith. A September survey  by LifeWay showed that fully 35 percent of Christians and 48 percent of self-identified evangelicals believe prayer alone can heal serious mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder.
The idea that major illnesses can be cured by prayer feeds the idea that mental illness is the fault of the ill. A 2008 survey conducted by Baylor psychology professor Matthew Stanford showed that 36 percent of mentally ill church attendees (and former church attendees) were told their mental illness was a product of their own sin, while 34 percent were told their illness was caused by a demon. Forty-one percent were told they did not really have a mental illness, and 28 percent were instructed to stop taking psychiatric medication.
These numbers reveal an ingrained distrust of mental illness and the mentally ill. This distrust has a dramatic and negative impact on people’s lives, alienating them from their peers and causing them to question the validity of their own experience, a process that often causes Christians to leave their churches. One of the participants in Matthew Stanford’s study described his experience:
“I felt shunned at the church. A lot of the other members acted as though they didn’t want to get close to me. A lot of people were afraid of me. The pastor didn’t want anything to do with me. Therefore, I no longer attend any church at all. I watch church on TV. I am already paranoid; I didn’t need anyone keeping their distance from me. It makes me depressed to go to a regular church in person because of how I am treated.”
Stanford, a self-described, “very conservative, evangelical Christian” is quite critical of how his fellow Christians handle the issues surrounding mental illness, claiming that the mentally ill are “modern-day lepers”: treated as “unclean and unrighteous” and “cast out” from their communities.
Amy Simpson, another popular Christian voice who critiques mental health stigma in the church, echoes these sentiments. She wrote in her book, Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, “The church allows people to suffer because we don’t understand what they need and how to help them. We have taken our cue from the world around us and ignored, marginalized and laughed at the mentally ill or simply sent them to the professionals and washed our hands of them.”
This widespread stigma has its genesis in an attempt to create a system called “Nouthetic” or “biblical” counseling, a system that was supposed to fix the damage psychiatry caused to Christianity. Biblical counseling had its genesis in the anti-psychiatry movements of the ’50s and ’60s, which united leftist intellectuals like Thomas Szasz with conservative Christians and fringe groups like Scientologists. The founder of biblical counseling was author Jay E. Adams, whom Stanford called the “Moses of the biblical counseling movement.”
Adams’ quintessential work, the 1970 Competent to Counsel, proposes that mental illness occurs not because one is “sick” but because one is “sinful.” Psychiatry, in attempting to treat a disease, is thus ineffective. This idea led Adams to create a method that addressed the sinful roots of mental illness and was based on scripture.
This method was Nouthetic counseling, which comes from the Greeknoutheteo, meaning “to admonish.” Adams believes in solving people’s mental health problems by “confronting” them over their lack of faith. He posits that the best way to deal with sin is to meet it head-on, bible in hand.
Adams’ methods were a product of their time. A negative attitude toward the mentally ill pervaded America in the ‘70s and ‘80s, embodied by the Reagan revolution, which stigmatized America’s homeless and destitute and blamed the downtrodden for their own plight. Meanwhile, Christians had come to distrust the secular world, which they believed was responsible for dissolving marriages, encouraging homosexuality and undermining the Christian faith. They wanted to set up their own institutions that would be separate from the secular world, and thus needed their own psychiatry. In this milieu, Jay Adams’ ideas found the perfect ground to grow in.
The philosophy introduced by Adams in Competent to Counsel birthed a movement, and Nouthetic counseling grew to become a discipline. Although Adams’ specific brand of Nouthetic counseling has gone out of style, biblical counseling, which builds on his ideas, is in.
Nowhere is biblical counseling more in vogue than the Southern Baptist Convention, which adopted a resolution on mental health last August that supported “research and treatment of mental health concerns when undertaken in a manner consistent with a biblical worldview.”
In fact, it was the boss of the SBC spokesman who called Barton and Copeland “callow and doltish,” Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore, who brought counseling into the SBC. In 2005, as the dean of theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Moore unmade the school’s trademark “Pastoral Counseling” program, which integrated psychology with theology, and replaced it with an Adams-inspired biblical counseling program.
While the SBC doesn’t agree with Adams on every issue, it hasn’t tried to hide his influence in its current curriculum. The resources page for SBTS’s Biblical Counseling department contains nearly 30 of Adams’ works, alongside works of conservative Calvinists like Sovereign Grace Ministries’s disgraced founder CJ Mahaney and megachurch pastor John MacArthur.
If the resources page is any indication, most of the people SBC considers adept biblical counselors also happen to be staunch theological conservatives. This is perhaps because anti-psychology tends to fit in with the conservative mindest: Matthew Stanford mentioned that in his personal experience, a significant number of pastors distrust psychology because they are angry the APA stopped calling homosexuality a mental disorder.
Stanford said, “They bring up homosexuality, and say ‘why did the APA take it out of the diagnostic manual?’ There’s this idea that psychology is legitimatizing sin, or saying it’s okay to sin.”
Perhaps this is what Moore was talking about when he claimed that, in a speech on SBTS’s new biblical counseling program, “There’s an ideology driving the research” of psychologists, or when he claimed that pastoral counseling failed “because it is so naive about the presuppositions behind secular psychologies.” Even if he isn’tspecifically talking about homosexuality, Moore thinks that psychology has inherent anti-Christian undertones.
This might hint at why Copeland and Barton felt the need to speak out against PTSD treatment on TV in the first place, and why the contemporary church is so prone to stigmatizing the mentally ill: seeking treatment for clinical depression, even being clinically depressed in the first place, can be construed as being anti-Christian. It can indicate that somebody has embraced the “psychiatric mindset” instead of trusting God with their mental illness. In this world, the mentally ill are not just stigmatized, they are suspected sinners.
Some time ago – and for a second time soon, I trust – I visited the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart.
Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink and I raved about it: to each other, and to anyone who would listen. It was an utterly mesmerising and fascinating experience, combining everything from Egyptian mummies and Roman coins to the most modern video and physical installations and everything in between.
Sidney Nolan’s “Snake”, one of the feature pieces of Hobart’s new Museum of Old and New Art, with its own purpose-built gallery – the first time the work has ever been seen in its entirety.
It was confronting, funny, exciting, brilliantly staged, and above all, free. Frankly, it’s worth the cost of a flight to Hobart and back without question, regardless of all the other wonderful things to do in that most charming of small cities.
I believe it will come to be considered one of the most remarkable art spaces in the world, made more remarkable by the fact that the entire effort is the private gift of one somewhat eccentric self-made millionaire called David Walsh, God bless his cotton socks.
Anyhow, one of the most unusual and commented upon works in the gallery is a version of “The Great Wall of Vagina” by British artist Jamie McCartney.
This plaster cast wall consists of panels made up of, in total, some 400 vaginas, in plain, unadorned white, starkly displayed all along one wall in the heart of the museum. As the artist explained, the artwork was created from “over the course of 5 years, the vaginas (well the vulva area in fact) of hundreds of volunteers. It is an exploration of women’s relationships with their genitals.”
Now, Dear Reader, should you be inclined to be cynical and remark that a giant series of plaster casts of vaginas is (a) not art (b) sensationalism for sensationalism’s sake (c) a con, or (d) puerile and disgusting, well, frankly, I would dispute you.
“What is art?”, is, of course, an endless and usually ultimately sterile discussion anyway, but I will say that not only is the work striking and somehow – surprisingly – weirdly beautiful, and not in the least erotic, (well, to my eyes, anyway), but it also clearly engenders the debate on women’s usually-hidden parts that the artist was aiming for.
What I think is more interesting is whether women actually need to consider their “relationship with their genitals”. And based on recent studies, I really rather think they do.
“It’s lovely dear, honestly it is.” “You really mean that?” “I do, please don’t worry.” “Righty-ho, then.”
After all, it’s always been easy for men to consider their genitalia and their “normality” or otherwise.
Classical art is chock-full of gravitationally-enhanced examples of the penis and its attendant testicles. Not for nothing do women gaze at Michaelangelo’s David with relatively unabashed admiration.
But as we can see in this charming little vignette of family life, women’s genitalia has long been considered something to be somewhat prudishly kept from public view. The female pudenda is either lost behind some casually draped snatch of material or, even worse, simply ignored, replaced with a suitably sterile smooth surfacesans any worrysome dangly bits. It appears that vaginas are somehow, dirtily, ashamedly … well, just plain rude.
Well, this is what I think. For a start, this is a distinction I have simply never understood, this difference in the public acceptability between the male body and the female.
A man can walk around topless for days and no one will comment (unless their top looks like mine, in which case they will probably get asked to put it away) but if a woman lets so much as a glimpse of nipple hit the light then all hell breaks loose. (Janet Jackson, anyone?) Newspaper columnists fulminate darkly about whether or not women should be allowed to breast feed in public. And the exterior of the female sex organ is apparently a step too far for nearly everyone.
Clearly we have a long way to go before womens’ naughty bits are ranked at the same level as mens’. This is obviously because women are inherently the deceiving, wanton, lustful sex, luring poor helpless out-of-control men from their allotted paths of bonking-free righteousness. It’s a feminist issue, of course, and it’s a nonsense, but for today’s purposes I digress, so I will move on.
Hidden deep in the cavernous interior of MONA are 400 plaster vaginas in all their glory. Ooo-er missus, will the honourble burghers of sedate Hobart ever survive the shock?
The real reason women need to know what vaginas look like – and lots of vaginas, preferably – is because psychologists tell us that in fact many women have only a passing idea of what their own genitalia looks like.
This is as opposed to men, of course, who from the age of about two, as any parent of a male child can confirm, start obsessively studying their schlong, regardless, usually, of where they are and who might watching. Little girls, famously and alternatively, are taught from an early age to keep their knees together, and in some Roman Catholic convents in my youth, even forbidden to wear shiny or patent leather shoes, lest they unexpectedly catch sight of a reflection of their own vagina and become … well, I dunno what, exactly. Raging harlots destined to end up marked with a red “A for adulteress” on their shirt or perhaps preggers by sixteen to a village lad or somesuch. That wicked vagina, Lord knows what it could lead you into …
That’s why one of the very first exercises conducted in many psycho-sexual therapies for women having difficulties relaxing and enjoying their own bodies is to encourage them to get a hand mirror and have a good look at their nether regions, becoming familiar with their folds, wrinkles, innies and outies, clitoris and surrounding tissue et al. Many women apparently find it a liberating and fulfilling experience, and good on them. Many of the volunteer models for McCartney’s work also found themselves feeling “empowered” by the experience, whether they were an 18 year old or a 79 year old, and everyone in between.
But even that isn’t the best reason to go look at 400 vaginas in plaster cast. Surely the best reason is that the bloody beauty industry, which obviously isn’t making enough money out of making women feel insecure and in need of spending more money, is convincing more and more women to go under the surgeon’s knife to hack away at their inner labia (lips) so that they look “neater”. Or even, at the patient’s request, and without any medical reason for doing so, to remove their inner vaginal lips entirely.
This is the brave new world of labiaplasty. And it’s all the rage.
As Australian blog Mamamia commented: “And it’s why a ‘Barbie’ is no longer just the name of the beloved childhood doll whose hair you cut and whose bizarre shaped feet you squeezed into painful looking plastic shoes. If only.
‘The Barbie’ is so nicknamed because the procedure involves removing the inner lips of the vulva entirely so that only the outer lips are visible. In other words, it makes the genitalia of real life women look like Barbie’s.”
This horrifyingly unnecessary (and like any surgical procedure, risky) activity is a great way for surgeons to make a quick buck. Increasingly, young women pop into a clinic or hospital for a quick nip and tuck while on holiday in countries where the procedure is cheaper, such as Thailand. And labiaplasty is on the rise even though the invasive and irreversible procedure is only rarely carried out for medical reasons.
Note, some vaginas look like this, but not very many. Virtually all vaginas in porn magazines look like this. It’s called Photoshop. And it’s a lie.
Mamamia again: “The real reason labiaplasty is going gangbusters is that women and girls have become more concerned about the asthetic appeal of their baby making parts. This has been prompted, at least in part, by the fact that our society’s view of what ‘normal’ even looks like has been vastly distorted by what photoshopped vaginas look like in porn.”
This all leaves many women feeling insecure about what their vaginas look like. In some reports, the women seeking surgery are as young as 12 years old, supported by their mothers. Words fail me.
Commonly cited insecurities amongst women of all ages seeking labiaplasty include being worried that their vulva is uneven or unsymmetrical, or thinking the inner labia is ‘too long’.
Kristen O’Regan, a writer for art and politics magazine Guernica, went undercover to find out more about the surgery.
Kristen made an appointment with a plastic surgeon and told her that she was interested in labiaplasty. Kirsten was told, “Oh yes, you’re not alone.”
Dr. Red Alinsod, who invented the ‘Barbie’ surgery explains the reasoning behind it, to Kristen.
This results in a “clamshell” aesthetic: a smooth genital area, the outer labia appearing “sealed” together with no labia minora protrusion. Dr Alinsod tells me he invented the Barbie in 2005. “I had been doing more conservative labiaplasties before then,” he says. “But I kept getting patients who wanted almost all of it off. They would come in and say, I want a ‘Barbie.’ So I developed a procedure that would give them this comfortable, athletic, petite look, safely.”
And how many people are getting surgeries like these?
The American College of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons recorded 2,140 vaginal rejuvenation surgeries in 2010. The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons estimates that 5,200 procedures are performed annually.
According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the vaginal rejuvenation industry was worth around $6.8million in 2009. This number is now undoubtedly much higher and does not take into account any procedures performed by gynecologists.
This is despite the fact that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have issued statements advising against vaginal cosmetic procedures, because the safety of the surgery is questionable. And in Australia requests for labiaplasty – which is available on Medicare – have more than doubled over the past 10 years.
So as blog Mamamia asks, (and good on them for pursuing this issue consistently over a number of articles), “we’ve got patients who don’t really need to be patients and doctors agreeing to operate anyway. Why would that be?”
The answer of course is the great God money – and the fact that women are worrying completely unnecessarily about the shape of their vaginas.
That’s why Jamie McCartney’s work is valuable, (just one of the ten panels is shown here), why it deserves to be seen, and discussed, as widely as possible. And why MONA deserves praise for making room for it.
Because women need to know, whatever shape their vagina is, whatever its component parts look like, whether the lips stick in or out or simply hang about in the breeze, it is 99.99999% certain that their vagina is entirely normal.
And they really don’t need to worry.
There is not a man alive who could care less. Trust me.
It’s the Year of the Bunny and I have no idea what that really means except that a bunch of Playboy memorabilia is being auctioned by Christies. Among the items for sale are some original prints of Playboy bunny centrefolds complete with their original mark-up notes. These are the written instructions given by the art director about what must be digitally altered.
The nearly invisible stretchmarks on Brande Roderick’s bum, are circled with the annotation, ‘Kill stretch lines.’
According to art directors, Shauna Sand’s pores were too large
Even though these proofs are from the 90s, before air-brushing became as extreme as it is today, there are still loads of alterations to ‘soften’ nipples, ‘remove stubble’ and ‘thin’ pubic hair as well as remove all stretch marks, blemishes and cellulite.
But what about the vaginas? Oh yes, they have to be air-brushed too. Although I’m not sure if this is enshrined in law like it is in Australia.
The debate around censorship and female body parts in magazines is one that I dealt with at Cosmo, you can read more on that here. In short, the laws in Australia legislate that you MUST air-brush vaginas to ‘heal it to a single crease’ so that no outer parts of the labia are shown, apparently it’s too rude to show what a REAL vagina looks like.
Earlier this year, journalists Kirsten Drysdaleand Ali Russell investigated the link between censorship and the increase in labiaplasty amongst young women and I wanted to share with you Kirsten’s blog post which was first published on Hungry Beast. It’s brilliant.
If I handed you a pencil and paper and asked you to draw a vagina*, odds are you would come up with something like this:
Which is interesting, considering only a small minority of mature females actually have fannies that look like that. Little girls – yes, that’s pretty much what they all look like. But grown women? The vast majority have a least a peep of their ‘inner lips’ showing, even when standing upright with their legs together while sipping Earl Grey from gold-rimmed Royal Doulton and nibbling on homemade shortbread. For many women, it’s more than just a ‘peep’ – some have full-blown dangly blossoms on display. This has nothing to do with how much sex they’ve had, their state of arousal or whether they’ve borne children (although, so what if it was?). It’s simply the way they are built.
So from a purely statistical standpoint, there’s something fishy about the fact that none of the women in soft porn mags have ‘outies’. Go and see for yourself – flick through Picture, People or Penthouse and see if you can find a single instance of a punani that looks like this:
And it’s not because they’ve chosen to only photograph women with ‘innies’. Many of those models actually have outies in real life, which have been ‘healed to a single crease’ (that’s the charming term used in the magazine industry) with the aid of image editing software. Think of it as ‘digital labiaplasty’.
It’s important to be clear that this is not something magazines do to suit the taste of their readership. Although mainstream pornography is hardly known (or appreciated) for a commitment to realism, in this particular case it’s a different issue. They’re not removing lady bits because people don’t want to see them, in the same way they smooth out cellulite or remove blemishes. They’re removing them because as far as the Classification Board is concerned, the labia minora are too rude for soft porn. It’s as though the censors think you could only possibly see it by spreading your legs or pulling your flaps apart.
If you still don’t believe me – go and pick up a copy of the ‘Unrestricted Category’ (M15+) Penthouse and compare it with Penthouse Max (the ‘Category 1’ R18+ version of the mag). I did this at the recommendation of the Classification Board, and found it a very enlightening little exercise. You’ll see exactly the same girls, from exactly the same photoshoot – and in some cases, exactly the same photographs – which will illustrate very clearly how they’ve been ‘tidied up’ in the softer version.
And they don’t even have to be very ‘messy’ to begin with. Take this example from the February editions of Penthouse and Penthouse Max:
February editions of Penthouse and Penthouse Max
Heaven forbid minors – or people in Queensland, where only the Unrestricted category is legal – see what a real vagina can look like!
There’s a clause, you see, in Australia’s Classification Guidelines that concerns how much nudity is acceptable for soft porn. It says:
“Realistic depictions may contain discreet genital detail but there should be no genital emphasis.”
Need I point out the irony in the fact that the way the Board applies this rule results in highly unrealistic depictions of nudity? Or that at a time of fierce debate over whether a person’s physical appearance (regardless of their actual age) should be a factor in deciding whether they could incite paedophilia, the Classification Board is preventing obviously mature pussies (the growth of labia minora happens during puberty) from being shown in soft porn?
And WTF does ‘discreet genital detail’ mean anyway? Well, according to the Board member we spoke to, it’s obvious:
Yeah well I guess genital detail’s that, we can have discreet genital detail in Unrestricted and I guess that means genital, well, detail is pretty straightforward, so discreet means little or no or very little detail or not prominent, so it’s sort of quite clear on what is not allowed, if that makes sense…
No, it doesn’t really.
Well, genital detail. It’s just the detail of the genitals. Like if it’s not specific in our guidelines we use the Macquarie Dictionary meaning for those terms. And genital detail is details of the genitals. So, I guess in Unrestricted you can have discreet genital detail, and whatever that means, you combine that also with a pose, and with everything.
Clear as mud. And highly subjective. One person’s ‘discreet’ could be another’s ‘explicit’. And detail? What exactly constitutes ‘detail’? Can you show pubes? Can you show the clitoris? Can you show the eye of the penis? Can you show the wrinkles of a scrotum? Or can you only show genitals in soft-focus giving a general idea of shape?
The Classification Board’s denial that they are effectively censoring a particular body type is a first class lesson in spin. Have a read of their response to our written enquiry seeking clarification on the rules about nudity in ‘Unrestricted Category’ publications and how they pertain to the depiction of labia minora for yourself:
In considering each classifiable element, including nudity, the Board makes classification decisions based on the impact of individual elements and their cumulative effect. Both the content and treatment of elements contribute to the impact. The Board takes into account the concepts underlying individual descriptions and depictions, and assesses factors such as emphasis, tone, frequency, context and the amount of visual or written detail in those descriptions and depictions.
This is the same excuse they’ve been using ever since these guidelines were redrafted in 1999. Because no one factor alone is used to classify an image or publication, they can claim that photos of women with protruding inner lips are refused for any one of those other reasons – ‘oh, we can’t speculate on individual cases, but it must have been something else that was a problem, there’s nothing in the guidelines that says labia minora aren’t permitted’.
They don’t allow it, and they know it.
By Kirsten Drysdale
*DISCLAIMER: Yes, I know I should be using the word vulva. The vagina, technically, is the ‘muscular tube leading from the external genitals to the cervix of the uterus’. The vulva refers to the external part (the ‘lips’, clitoris, etc) which is obviously what we are talking about here. However – the term vulva is not used in everyday language to describe the external female genitalia of humans, so for the sake of making the point clear I’ve opted to use the word vagina in this article as it is commonly (though not entirely accurately) used.
Kirsten Drysdale is a reporter/presenter for the ABC’s Hungry Beast and a researcher on The Gruen Transfer. She is currently travelling in Africa and working freelance.
WARNING: The video contains imagery that is not safe for work, including a labiaplasty surgery scene. Story by Kirsten Drysdale and co-produced by Ali Russell republished with full permission from the authors.
This should be mandatory reading and viewing in schools. Just like the Dove advertisement which deconstructed what goes on in the making of your typical beauty image, girls and women of all ages need to know that the vaginas (vulvas!) they see in men’s magazines do not exist.
Imagine for a moment if someone in the censor’s office had decided that testicles were too ‘explicit’. Imagine that to be sold over the counter at a normal newsagent, your naked pictures of men had to have their testicles digitally removed.
Yes, digital castration. Think there might be an outcry? Think the censorship laws might be overturned?
So what exactly is it about female genitals that are so ‘explicit’ and offensive that they must be removed?
Christian militia calls for Obama’s assassination on Facebook
According to a report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) dated Nov. 22, the U.S. Secret Service is aware that Everest Wilhelmsen, leader of the Christian American Patriots Militia, is calling for Obama’s assassination.
The Christian American Patriots Militia sent out a post to the more than 1400 members of their Facebook groupdeclaring the militia now has the “authority” to assassinate President Barack Obama:
“We now have authority to shoot Obama, i.e., to kill him,” Wilhelmsen wrote on the group’s Facebook page.
“The authority to kill Obama comes from the 2nd Amendment of our Constitution: He is levying war on the United States and aiding and comforting our foreign enemies – the 2nd Amendment gives us the right and duty (authority) to engage an enemy of the United States that does so with the design to reduce us under absolute Despotism. I would be very surprised, if Obama does not leave Washington DC today (Nov. 19th) … never to return, if he is not dead within the month.”
The group’s Facebook page claims Obama’s “rogues and thugs are in fact supplanting our Constitution with a communist Oligarchy of corrupt political and legal elites” and encourages “Christian American patriots” to “rise and fight vigorously to protect our nation and our posterity.”
The SPLC reports a spokesman for the Secret Service would not say if the Facebook post had prompted an investigation: “That’s not something we openly discuss,” the Secret Service spokesman said.
Yet one would hope a group of Christian extremists threatening to assassinate the President of the United States would merit close investigation by the Secret Service. After all, calling for the assassination of the President of the United States is a crime.
NSA spied on porn habits of Muslim ‘radicalisers’: report
National Security Agency collected evidence of online sexual activity and visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of six people the agency considered ‘‘radicalisers,” according to a new report. Photo: Jim Rice
The National Security Agency collected evidence of online sexual activity and visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of six people the agency considered “radicalisers,” the Huf-fington Post reported, citing documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The targets, all Muslims, are described in the document as examples of how “personal vulnerabilities” can be learned through electronic surveillance, and then exploited to undermine a target’s credibility, reputation and authority, the Post said in its report.
Among the vulnerabilities are “viewing sexually explicit material online” and “using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls,” according to the NSA document, dated October 3, 2012.
None of the six individuals targeted by the NSA is accused in the document of being involved in terror plots. The agency believes they all currently reside outside the United States, Huffington Post reported.
However, the agency identifies one of them as a “US person,” which means he is either a US citizen or a permanent resident. A US person is entitled to greater legal protections against NSA surveillance than foreigners are, the report noted.
“The NSA scandal turns a dangerous corner,” Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, wrote on Twitter after reading the report. “I bet Washington is full of nervous people.”
The latest revelations come as the European Union reviews a commercial data-sharing agreement with the US known as Safe Harbor. One EU executive threatened to freeze the pact, which covers commercial swaps between US and European companies, information exchanged to limit international terrorist funding, and the supply of information on transatlantic air passengers.
Huffington Post released an appendix that was attached to the document which lists the argument each surveillance target has made that the NSA says constitutes radicalism, as well the personal “vulnerabilities” the agency believes would leave the targets “open to credibility challenges” if exposed.
One target’s offending argument is that “Non-Muslims are a threat to Islam,” and a vulnerability listed against him is “online promiscuity.”
Another target, a foreign citizen the NSA describes as a “respected academic,” holds the offending view that “offensive jihad is justified,” and his vulnerabilities are listed as “online promiscuity” and “publishes articles without checking facts.”
The Huffington Post said it withheld the names and locations of the six people and noted that the allegations made by the NSA about their online activities in the document cannot be verified.
Almost 50% Of Israeli Haredi Middle Age Men Have An 8th Grade Education – Or Less
Haredi men have very poor educations, as the new State of the Nation report by the prestigious Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel shows. And that low educational level cripples haredim and makes it very hard for them to enter the workforce.
In the chart immediately below, “great yeshiva” means yeshiva gedolah – a yeshiva with classes starting in 9th grade:
The entire haredi section of the Taub Center’s report as a PDF file:
BY Turn Left (Alison Parkes) with Penny Carter, first published on Progressives Tea Party, reproduced with permission
Actually, I have no idea whether Tony Abbott is a sociopath or not. I am not a psychiatrist. I am also not going to put up a list of Hare’s traits of a sociopath checklist and then trawl through Tony Abbott’s long history of violence, bullying, intimidation and abuse to find instances of quotes or actions that may correspond with that checklist.
What I will do, is put up Hare’s checklist, and let readers draw their own conclusions, not about whether Tony Abbott is a sociopath, or not… but whether the entire country as a whole needs some time on the leather couch talking about our feelings, our childhoods and our mothers:
• superficial charm
• grandiose sense of self-worth
• need for stimulation
• proneness to boredom
• pathological lying
• manipulative behaviour
• lack of remorse
• shallow affect [superficial emotional responses]
• lack of empathy
• parasitic lifestyle
• poor behavioural control
• lack of realistic long-term goals
• failure to accept responsibility [for their own actions]
• criminal versatility 1
• relying on sociological strategies and tricks to deceive
The problem is not so much that there are sociopaths, they have always existed, and will always exist in our societies. The problem is we keep electing them to govern over us, then bizarrely, expect they will govern inour best interests.
Like a nation of sheep we bought the lies and myths propagated in the Murdoch and Murdoch mini-me (ABC) media about how Tony is a changed person. Not even three months in, and that choice at the ballot box is proving disastrous. The almost cult-like worshiping of the thug who conned his way into the Lodge means our media has to tell us on a daily basis that black is white in order to maintain the illusion that Tony Abbott is the new messiah who will save Australia from the regional peace and AAA prosperity that Labor delivered us.
This is not who we are, there is nothing peculiarly Australian that requires us to vote in a violent, abusive, bullying man to become Prime Minister. Just as there was nothing in the German people in the 1920s and ’30s that meant they were more likely to vote in a fascist government. The only question is why they continued to support the fascist government, when it become blindingly obvious their leader was a dictator.
As Howard Zinn said: “Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience… Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… [and] the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”
(A video of Matt Damon reading that full speech can be found here…)
The lust for power, the easy access to the bottomless ATM known as taxpayers, the ability to get courts and federal police to bend to your will, is a lure so strong that those with evil and malevolent intentions find it difficult to resist. For these people, the ends justifies the means. The ‘ends’ being access to unlimited power, the ‘means’ is throw anyone under the bus that gets in their way. The trouble is, when the elected officials use lies, propaganda and intimidation to get there, they need to reproduce those tactics on a much larger scale to maintain their position of power, then our democracy gets thrown under that bus.
Do we still think our elected leaders act in the best interest of our country? As recent events in the US has shown, the Right Wing Teaparty republicans were prepared to crash the US economy by hitting the debt ceiling because they are ideologically opposed to poor people getting medical care that doesn’t result in bankruptcy. Our current government (it seems) is governing for the benefit of select few – Tony Abbott, George Pell, Gina Rinehart, Rupert Murdoch.
This current governments policies are ideological, and designed to transform our environment to maximise profits for mining magnate Rinehart, transform our economy to benefit a foreign billionaire Murdoch, push the stone-age values of a religious institution, and our work place laws to benefit a handful of foreign corporation and not millions of people who work for their wages.
We, as a nation, have surrendered our freedom, optimism, compassion, generosity, empathy, in exchange for security* and ended up with neither.
* an illusion of security, both budget and border. I say illusion because the crises that Liberals promise to save us from exist only in their own minds and in newspaper headlines, and do not reflect reality. Our budget under Labor was not an ‘emergency’, it was one of the best in the world, our borders are not in crisis because of a couple of boats.
Source: Psychopathy: Antisocial, Criminal, and Violent Behavior
edited by Theodore Millon, Erik Simonsen, Morten Birket-Smith, Roger D. Davis (2003)
Jewish Sex Abuse Victim From New Square Speaks Out
Jewish religious community defends a paedophile.
Says that ‘he is the best’ and ‘a nice guy’.
Still working with the kids.
Yossi, who prefers to use only his first name, says he wants to speak out about his ordeal in the hope that other victims of abuse will come forward. (8/29/13)
NEW SQUARE – A shroud of secrecy surrounds the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of New Square. Many of the residents shun the outside world and keep to themselves.
However, a sex abuse victim from the community has spoken exclusively to News 12.
Yossi, who prefers to use only his first name, says he wants to speak out about his ordeal in the hope that other victims of abuse will come forward.
Yossi claims that Herschel Taubenfeld, a teacher in his community, inappropriately touched him three times a week for four months.
The teen asked for help from the head rabbis of New Square who had just set up their own sex crimes unit called the VAAD. The agency told him to see a therapist.
Two months later, Yossi reported the abuse to the Ramapo police. He says that his friends stopped talking to him and treated him like he didn’t exist.
Yossi says his attacker admitted to the crimes, but religious leaders in the community sent Taubenfeld to Israel to obtain his rabbinical ordination. He also says he was offered $100,000 to keep quiet about the situation, which he refused.
In December 2011, one month after Yossi reported the abuse, Taubenfeld turned himself in. He was charged with 30 misdemeanor counts of forcible touching, endangering the welfare of a child and third-degree sex abuse. However, the rabbi avoided jail time in exchange for six years probation.
According to students, Taubenfeld is still teaching at one of New Square’s largest religious schools.
If you haven’t seen this pic making the rounds again, this guy thought it was smart of him to tattoo Leviticus 18:22 on his arm – a Bible verse that bans homosexuality and refers to it as an abomination.
Two questions for this idiot with the bigoted tattoo.
This post is less about what the LDS church teaches publicly or in writing, and more about what is often not publicly admitted to, whether still believed or not, and about some of the crazier things Mormons come to believe when embedded in Mormon culture. Though not categorized, some of these are doctrinal, others hearsay over the pulpit from apostles or leaders, and others adopted by more orthodox Mormons.
1. Polygamy is still doctrinal in heaven and included in LDS scripture. See D&C 132
2. Sports should not be played on Sunday
3. TV or movies should not be viewed on Sunday (except Church or “happy” media)
4. Children should not be allowed to play with friends on Sunday
Busily engaged in apologetics, BioLogos has a new post on the never-ending kerfuffle about the meaning of Adam and Eve: “Why the church needs multiple theories of original sin.” It’s by Loren Haarsma, who has a doctorate in physics from Harvard and teaches it at Calvin College (he’s also the co-author, with his wife Deborah, of Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design).
The cynical—but correct—answer to the title question is: “Because science showed that there isn’t an Adam and Eve, so you have to make up stuff to save the meaning of Jesus.” And indeed, that’s precisely what theologians do, though of course they don’t admit it. Instead, they pretend that the scientific results showing that humans didn’t evolve from a single pair of ancestors simply means that we must reinterpret the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. But, as usual, theology cannot solve…
Disturbing, Horrific Video Of Camp Dora Golding Child Sex Abuse
Disturbing video allegedly showing Chisdai Ben Porat, a counselor at camp Dora Golding in Pennsylvania, has been posted online.
While there is no nudity in this very brief video clip, it is still extremely disturbing and should not be watched by or shown to anyone who may be hurt by watching it. Survivors of child sex abuse should use extreme caution.
Last updated at 7:40 pm CST
The video runs 44 seconds, is profoundly revolting and disturbing, and is, I’m told, only a small excerpt from what is a much longer and even more disturbing video that cannot be posted.
This is the child sex abuse Camp Dora Golding’s head, Alex Gold, is allegedly covering up – the very same child sex abuse Pennsylvania State Police and local prosecutors have so far done little to stop or punish – even though they allegedly have a copy of this video:
Disturbing video allegedly showing Chisdai Ben Porat, a counselor at camp Dora Golding in Pennsylvania, has been posted online.
While there is no nudity in this very brief video clip, it is still extremely disturbing and should not be watched by or shown to anyone who may be hurt by watching it. Survivors of child sex abuse should use extreme caution.
This is a powerfully written book, a mixture of current events, historical data, and personal anecdotal comments and stories. Throughout there are pervasive themes that clearly outline the nature of the Israeli state as it exists today. From May 2009 up to early 2013, Max Blumenthal passed “many prolonged stays in the Holy Land,” from which he derived this current assessment.
The over-riding themes—and they tend to intermingle within the right wing ideologies of the Netanyahu/Lieberman government—are all based on the demographic threat that Israel perceives to be the main problem, which has always been seen as a problem from the earliest Zionists.
While in the past there were some at least minimally effective two-country advocates, the current situation has developed into one of over-riding racist state fascism. This expresses itself in the ongoing settlements developments, now more overtly antagonistic to the Palestinians; the many race based laws prohibiting Palestinian participation in society, accompanied by overt acts of racism to Palestinians and African refugees; and open expressions of hostility indicating the desire to simply get rid of both groups.
The idea of a “Jewish and democratic state” also comes to a crashing halt as there are many instances of political leaders essentially indicating that they would choose Jewishness before democracy.
The first section of the work provides the current events background that gives rise to the Netanyahu/Lieberman
The agreement signed with Iran on Sunday is a momentous step forward. Yet Republicans will try to subvert the success by playing to their Obama-hating base.
Well, the ayatollah appears to have lent his provisional support to the historic U.S.-Iran accord announced Saturday night. In a letter to President Hassan Rouhani, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said the deal “can be the basis for further intelligent actions.” Now we just need sign-off from our American ayatollahs. But the early indications are that the Republicans, eager to perform Bibi Netanyahu’s bidding—not that they needed a second reason to oppose something Barack Obama did—will do everything within their power to stop the thing going forward.
We shouldn’t get too carried away in praising this accord just yet. It’s only a six-month arrangement while the longer-term one is worked out. Those talks are going to be harder than these were, and it’s not at all a stretch to envision them collapsing at some point. Iran is going to have to agree to a regular, more-or-less constant inspection regime that would make it awfully hard for Tehran to be undertaking weapons-grade enrichment. It’s easy to see why they agreed to this deal, to buy time and get that $4.2 billion in frozen oil revenues. But whether Iran is going to agree to inspections like that is another question.
Still, it is indeed a historic step. Thirty-four years of not speaking is a long time. So it’s impressive that this got done at all, and even more impressive are some of the inner details, like the fact that Americans and Iranians have been in direct and very secret negotiations for a year. Rouhani’s election does seem to have made a huge positive difference—four of five secret meetings centered in Oman have been held since Rouhani took office, which seems to be a pretty clear indication that he wants a long-term deal to happen.
So this is potentially, I emphasize potentially, a breakthrough that could have numerous positive reverberations in the region—not least among them the virtual elimination of the chance that the United States and Iran would end up at war. And what a refutation of those harrumphing warmongers! I’d love to have had a tap on John Bolton’s phone over the weekend, or Doug Feith’s, or Cheney’s, and heard the combination of perfervid sputtering and haughty head shaking as they lament Obama’s choice.
Well, then, let’s compare choices. They chose war, against a country that never attacked us, had no capability whatsoever to attack us, and had nothing to do with the allegedly precipitating event, 9/11. We fought that war because 9/11 handed the neocons the excuse they needed to dope the public into supporting a unilateral war of hegemony. It has cost us more than $2 trillion now. It’s taken the lives of more than 100,000 people. It has been the author of the trauma of thousands of our soldiers, their limbs left over there, their families sundered. And on the subject of Iran, the war of course did more to strengthen Iran in the region than Obama could dream of doing at his most Machiavellian-Manchurian. Fine, the world is well rid of Saddam Hussein. But these prices were far too steep.
Then along came Obama in 2008, saying he’d negotiate with Iran. I’d love to have a nickel for every time he was called “naive” by John McCain or Sarah Palin (after the differences between Iran and Iraq were explained to her) or any of dozens of others (and yeah, even Hillary Clinton). I’d settle for a penny. I’d still be rich. You might think that watching this past decade unfold, taking an honest measure of where the Bush administration’s hideous decisions have left us, that some of them might allow that maybe negotiation was worth a shot.
Of course that will never happen. Marco Rubio was fast out of the gates Sunday, but he will be joined today by many others. Some will be Democrats, yes, from states with large Jewish votes. Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez have already spoken circumspectly of the deal (although interestingly, Dianne Feinstein, as AIPAC-friendly as they come, spoke strongly in favor of it). There will be a push for new sanctions, and that push will be to some extent bipartisan.
But the difference will be that if the Democrats get the sense that the deal is real and can be had, they won’t do anything to subvert it, whereas for the Republicans, this will all be about what it’s always about with them—the politics of playing to their Obama-hating base. But there’ll be two added motivations besides. There’s the unceasingly short-sighted and tragic view of what constitutes security for Israel, which maintains the conditions of near-catastrophe that keep just enough of the Israeli public fearful of change so that they perpetuate in putting people like Netanyahu in power, thus ensuring that nothing will ever change. And perhaps most important of all in psychic terms to the neocons, there is contemplation of the hideous reality that Obama and the path of negotiation just might work. This is the thing the neocons can’t come to terms with at all. If Obama succeeds here, their entire worldview is discredited. Check that; even more discredited.
Rouhani appears to be moving his right wing a bit. Ours, alas, isn’t nearly so flexible as Iran’s.
Arguing “there’s no reason we shouldn’t get immigration reform done right now,” President Obama demanded on Monday for the umpteenth time that Congress pass his top legislative priority already.
So you can understand if he was a bit annoyed when, towards the end of his speech in San Francisco’s Chinatown, pro-immigration activists started heckling.
“Mr. President, please use your executive order to halt deportations for all 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in this country right now!” one protester yelled. As Obama tried to respond, the shouting continued: “You have a power to stop deportation for all undocumented immigrants in this country!”
“Actually I don’t,” Obama replied. “And that’s why we’re here.”
These protesters are confronting a fundamental contradiction in Obama’s record: he’s made immigration reform his top second-term priority even as his administration has presided over record deportations.
After Senate Republicans filibustered the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to young undocumented immigrants, activists slowly convinced Obama to halt deportations for undocumented youth until Congress came around. Now they’re demanding he do the same for the broader unauthorized immigrant community, or at the very least, for their parents and siblings who still face the threat of removal every day. After all, if you’re fighting to get them on a path to citizenship, why would you want to kick them out? These arguments are likely to get louder if immigration reform dies in the House.
“What you need to know, when I’m speaking as President of the United States and I come to this community, is that if, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so,” he said Monday. “But we’re also a nation of laws. That’s part of our tradition. And so the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws.”
Politically, Republicans don’t have an obvious way to exploit these tensions, but they are trying.
“Democrats are facing credibility problems, whether it is from Obamacare failures or massive deportations, that’s why you see the president’s approval ratings suffer,” Izzy Santa, who handles Hispanic outreach for the Republican National Committee, told MSNBC. “The fact is that Republicans continue to work on immigration reform, which is more than Democrats ever did when they controlled the White House and Congress.”
The RNC, which has backed efforts to pass immigration reform, may be able to tweak Obama a little over deportations. But the vast majority of Republicans in Congress are on record demanding even more aggressive deportations. The only House vote Republican leaders have allowed on the topic this year was an amendment by anti-immigration firebrand Steve King calling on the White House to deport DREAMers. It passed with almost unanimous Republican support.
It’s true Democrats didn’t pass immigration reform in Obama’s first two years, when Democrats briefly had 60 votes in the Senate. But for most of that session they were stuck at 59 votes and the only Republican willing to negotiate with them, Senator Lindsey Graham, backed out in a procedural dispute. Mitt Romney tried the exact same “Where was Obama?” argument with Latino voters in 2012, even as he advocated “self-deportation” in debates. It didn’t work.
Obama is doing his best to convince protesters which party to blame if reform collapses once again.
“Right now it’s up to Republicans in the House to decide if we can move forward as a country on this bill,” Obama said. “If they don’t want to see it happen, they’ve got to explain why.”
House Republican leaders have offered a variety of excuses lately as to why they haven’t come up with an immigration plan of their own. The schedule’s too tight, or they’re mad at the White House over health care, or Obama is secretly trying to kill immigration reform with unrealistic demands so Democrats win Latino voters.
The president’s goal this month has been to box them in by saying “yes” to their demands whenever possible. Speaker John Boehner doesn’t like the Senate’s bill? Fine, you can pass a bunch of smaller bills instead. They say I’m demonizing Republicans to scare them away from a bill? Well, I think the Speaker is just swell!
“The good news is, just this past week Speaker Boehner said that he is ‘hopeful we can make progress’ on immigration reform,” Obama said. “And that is good news. I believe the Speaker is sincere. I think he genuinely wants to get it done. And that’s something we should be thankful for this week.”
While Obama faces his own pressures, his refusal to back away from talks puts the onus on Boehner to prove his party can deal with the deportation issue at all. And right now there’s no consensus within the party as to whether the country should let any undocumented immigrants remain, let alone get on a path to citizenship. Until they can start naming some demands, they’re for self-deportation by default.
Saul Berenson’s grand scheme to assassinate an Iranian official as part of a CIA-orchestrated coup has been bettered by a simpler real-life option: Diplomacy
In a press conference less than 24 hours before Homeland aired the ninth episode of its uneven, Iran-focused third season, President Obama took the podium to offer a brief statement about a breakthrough deal on Iran’s nuclear program. The president described a diplomacy that had “opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure — a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon. For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back.”
That announcement comes at a strange time for Homeland, which has built a big following by depicting a harrowing post-9/11 political landscape that feels eerily plausible. And the show’s third season has been all about Iran. Homeland‘s vision of the U.S.-Iran relationship shares at least one compelling similarity to real life: The Western world is obsessed with whatever nuclear enrichment might be afoot. But otherwise, the events of this past weekend showcased a sharp contrast between Homeland‘s fiction and the facts of real-life U.S. diplomacy.
The Iran of Homeland‘s third season has fueled nuclear paranoia, and acting CIA director Saul Berenson’s agency has done everything possible to infiltrate this foreign power. As Sunday night’s “One Last Time” revealed, Saul wants to send Nick Brody, a Marine turned terrorist turned fugitive, to kill a high-ranking Iranian intelligence official. This assassination will allow another Iranian official (who the CIA has implausibly blackmailed into working with them) to assume a top position. Saul calls Brody’s target — the head of Iran’s revolutionary guard — “the single greatest impediment to peace” without explaining why. His plan to end a vicious cycle of violence is deploying an assassin. That plotline, brewing all of Homeland’s third season, paints a Manichean picture of U.S.-Iran relations: An unending cycle of terrorist violence, hatred, and confusion.
How strange to have all that murky plotting offset, in the real world, by the first inklings of real dialogue, and an agreement cobbled together in Geneva to buy time and cooperation for something more permanent. In exchange for a reduction in sanctions, Iran will place limits on its much-feared nuclear program. Such news would be unthinkable in Homeland‘s world, and these real-life details mark a sharp contrast to the unsettled post-9/11 world that Homeland revels in.
The drama of Homeland is the drama of the bomber. The show can’t exist without that paranoia, not to mention that often ambiguous line between calm and violence, sanity and bipolar madness. Diplomacy is a distant dream in the world of Homeland. Enemy officials never call each other. Everything is built on backroom deals, blackmail, spying, trickery, and assassination. A deep moral guilt accompanies this battered landscape, as CIA agents like Peter Quinn question the stray causalities they leave behind. The lump-in-the-throat heartstopper of the early seasons revolved around Nick Brody’s rebellion against U.S. drone use and the innocent deaths drones cause.Homeland says the world is already damned, and everyone’s to blame for it.
But there’s a startling disconnect between news of Obama’s outreach, the tentative agreement, and the utter violence of the Iran of Homeland. Because what is Homeland’s Iran if not violent? The series has reached deep into this well of history (often true and troubling, of course), and its convenient thriller narrative in the show’s last several episodes. It assigned blame to Iran for a brutal bombing at Langley, killing more than 200 U.S. citizens. The show marketed this 12/12 attack as a second 9/11, the ghost of which always defines the dynamics at play in Homeland. The villainous Javadi isn’t just the mastermind of killings from afar, but the murderer of his own kin on American soil. Iran, as depicted on Homeland, is incapable of negotiation.
In a recent episode, Sen. Andrew Lockhart scoffs at the idea of blackmailing an Iranian official with knowledge of the official’s corruption. “Which in Iran just means it’s Tuesday,” the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman remarks, writing off the entire country as one of the U.S.’s “sworn enemies.”
“We fry Javadi’s ass publicly,” Lockhart demands, as he seeks to take down the Langley bombing mastermind who serves as an Iranian intelligence chief. This sort of trial strikes Saul as “short-sighted.” Saul would prefer having an asset within Iran, someone the U.S. can “control” to force regime change — the only acceptable option in his mind. (Note to Homeland: The U.S. did something kind of similar 60 years ago. Didn’t work out so well!) To Saul, if the U.S. seizes Javadi and tries him, Iran will inevitably replace Javadi with someone just like him. “And the attack that happened here happens again and again and again,” Saul tells the senator. All of this is fine for drama – but it also showcases the power of Iran in Western imagination, and the divergence between real Iran and TV Iran.
Really, that’s why it’s so bizarre to see this chilling, sinister vision of Iran contrasted with news of a deal crafted between Iran’s government and the U.S., Great Britain, China, Russia, France, and Germany. What would Saul say? Who did the CIA control within Iran to make this possible, Saul? Consider Saul’s explanation for killing an Iranian official and installing his blackmailed bomber in power:
Javadi won’t be just an intelligence source. He’ll be in control of the entire security apparatus. He can do something, something to break the logjam, something besides another war, something that’ll change the facts on the ground just enough, so two countries that haven’t been able to communicate for over 30 years except through terrorist actions and threats can sit down and talk. That’s the play, Carrie. Tell me it’s not worth your time.
Two countries that haven’t been able to communicate. What timing.
This is, of course, the popular conception of Iran, and a testament to how startling the weekend’s agreement really was. The deal blows past the action-movie fantasyland that CIA agents are about to plow into on Homeland. Don’t blame Showtime or Homeland‘s show runners for entrenching that vision of Iran, of course — the frames are certainly common enough. And for a show about U.S. intelligence officials, what better drama than conspiracies and assassinations? But for all the dense plotting of Homeland‘s third season, the real-life events of this weekend punctured Saul’s theories in a big way. It was a welcome dissonance.
Somali journalists jailed for reporting about rape
This video says about itself:
Women imprisoned for being raped in Somalia – FOCUS – 06/06/2013
In Somalia, women who fled a famine two years ago are now falling prey to rape by militias and even government troops. These attacks are taking place in displaced [persons’] camps where they hoped to find refuge. An organisation is helping victims, offering counselling and legal support, but it’s uphill battle in a country where speaking out against rape is still widely considered taboo. In January this year, a woman was even sent to prison after complaining that she was violated by government soldiers.
Shabelle Radio dircetor arrested for allowing a reporter to use the station’s camera to record an interview with an alleged rape victim.
Somali government security forces have arrested the director of privately owned radio station Shabelle for allowing a reporter to use the station’s camera to record an interview with an alleged rape victim.
Abdimalik Yusuf Mohamud said he was arrested because a camera belonging to the station was used by Mohamed Bashir, a Shabelle reporter who interviewed the alleged victim.
“I’m in prison because Mohamed, who is also in prison with me, interviewed the woman that was allegedly raped using a camera belonging to the radio station,” he said.
Bashir was arrested five days ago when a video interview of the alleged victim surfaced online. The alleged victim and the reporter who interviewed her were arrested after the alleged attackers filed a defamation case against both of them. No date for hearing has been set.
“We call upon authorities to release Mohamed Bashir and the victim of the alleged rape, and to ensure a transparent and efficient investigation into the allegations,” Tom Rhodes of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“This is not the first time in Somalia that the victim of an alleged rape and a messenger are harassed or imprisoned for reporting such allegations.” Last month, Somali government security forces raided the Mogadishu-based Radio Shabelle, forcing the station to go off the air.
Somalia is considered on the most dangerous working environment for journalists. In 2012 alone more than 12 journalists were killed in Somalia– the second highest total in the world after Syria – with most of the killings occurring in the capital city Mogadishu.
In following the story of the Twelve Tribes, I had become aware of a study on religious families and their children, tendencies towards abuse and such being carried on within Germany. I had heard about the study. But not being registered to either the Evangelical, Free Evangelical or local Catholic Churches, we were not polled for the study, though we are a religious household.
I am somewhat curious as to what was in the survey itself. It seems rather revealing that the Free Evangelical churches are showing many of their members do, in fact, regularly beat their children.
One of my many concerns within the homeschooling movement and the greater German church community (especially after coming out of this environment in the United States) is to get away from the punitive and corporal punishment mindset, seeing children as sinful inconveniences unless they’re perfectly behaving like little adults and back to what the Bible actually teaches; namely love and parenting being a job of parent and child to do together.
Finding those books means that there is a market here in Germany. That, as someone who was raised so punitively, terrifies me. It terrifies me because this means there are other children being raised this way, who will not know a day in their lives where just being children is not a sin.
I had heard that some time back, that one branch of the Evangelical Churches in Germanyhad made statements against corporal punishment and other punitive discipline methods, which created some shock when I saw the results of this study: 45,000 students from 9th grade forward and about 11,500 adults were polled (so over 50,000 individuals) and they found that one in six very religious children are smacked by their parents or given other punitive disciplinary methods against their undesirable behavior(s).
In the Catholic and other Protestant students, the rate is considerably lower, if not rare.
The results of the study were publishedhere, and does run through Google Translate in a mostly discernible manner into English. The name of the study is “Christian religiosity and parental violence. A comparison of familial socialization of Catholics, Protestants and Members of the Free Churches.”
More on the study and why everyone’s up in arms:
With parents from free churches that have no academic training, but declared themselves as “religious” or “very religious”, the trend is even more pronounced: More than a quarter of the surveyed children from these families has at some juncture suffered massive violence in their household. The study’s authors also provide a possible explanation: There is “a Christian tradition of parental driven beating as discipline for children.” NDR – Freikirchen wehren sich gegen Gewaltstudie
The findings in the survey are quite shocking to me. I’ll post some of the figures below for those of you who don’t have time to sift through a pages long PDF:
Now, these are in order, but without all of the information behind what makes this all so shocking. What I want to point out is that this is consistent with studies done in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere as it pertains to parental violence towards children and its affects on the children involved. One study paper that someone had pointed me towards a couple of years ago was “The Long Shadow: Adult Survivors of Child Abuse.” Psychology Today has several articles about this phenomenon as well. One that stands out in my memory is “The Lingering Trauma of Child Abuse.” (Note: My list is not exhaustive, but just to give an example of what one will find on the subject.)
Articles referenced within this NDR article and the PDF are as follows:
…in the late 90s the German Parliament had established a Study Commission to look at so-called sects and mind-control groups. The study found that in fundamentalist Christian communities there is a widespread “…significant advocacy for physical punishment…” NDR – Kinder schlagen im Namen Gottes 21.12.2011
NDR.de: Critics say the national church must be clear in distancing themselves from such fundamentalist positions. Shouldn’t you make it clearer that you do not agree with such positions [about corporal punishment being biblical]?
[Kerstin] Gäfgen-Track: In the case of these parenting books and this position, I can speak for the national church, because we draw a very clear line of demarcation. We have nothing to do with such, so we want to continuing having nothing to do with such. We wish to strongly condemn such counselors. [Ted Tripp and so on] NDR: “Wir verurteilen das aufs Schärfste” 21.12.2011
…as they contradict the law and [Christian Beliefs], there is a secret culture of spanking among devout Christians… Parents who follow these beliefs belong to denominations such as those [found in the] Evangelical Free Churches and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who are apt to taking the Bible literally, and consider doubts about the Word of God as whisperings of Satan. Süddeutsche Zeitung: Liebe geht durch den Stock 30.9.2010
…It is striking that the violence of evangelical parents seem to have a lasting effect on their young. With [such] systemic beatings, it may be that parents seek to break the will of children so that they would assimilate the beliefs of adults; warn psychologists.. Süddeutsche Zeitung: Schläge im Namen des Herrn 17.10.2010
There was a study published in April of this year (2013) by infoSekte in Zürich, Switzerland entitled “Erziehungsverständnisse in evangelikalen Erziehungsratgebern und -kursen.” (Yes, this too can be run through Google Translate!) It is 61 pages long, detailing “Problematic trends such as corporal punishment or psychological violence arising in connection with certain child rearing methods … [and] possible effects of certain parenting styles.” Also explained in the document is how Switzerland signed and ratified the UN Rights of the Child in 1997; and such parenting styles are incompatible with such an agreement.
The UN Rights of the Child is the very same document that many Christians in the United States have pushed for a refusal to ratify since the 1990s.
If you get a chance, please do read this study. I understand that 61 pages is awfully long, but it is worth it. There is a serious problem when familial violence becomes an accepted piece of one’s culture and religious upbringing — when we normalize it to the extent that no one is shocked at all.
Issues brought forward by the Twelve Tribes in Germany are not at all shocking in many parts of the United States because such methods have become so normalized.
So many people believe it is the right thing to do. Anything contrary is “unbiblical.” That is not to say that there are not Christians, like myself, who believe that corporal punishment is actually what is contrary to the Bible.
If one wishes to claim that the Bible teaches beating their children, I would have to recommend you go back and actually investigate those claims for yourself as this is not understood to be the case within the Jewish community; and from whom we get the proof-text “spanking”/”smacking” passages from. It is a purely Christian phenomenon that came into place some time in the middle ages, as far as I can find at this juncture. Before, corporal discipline was for adult members of the faith who wished to submit themselves to flagellation.
If you don’t know about the Pearls and their harmful teaching, I’d be happy to throw you more than the recommendation to read Hermana Linda’s Blog and this review of the Pearl’s ministry. I would also like to mention that any court willing to speak with me personally is more than welcome to discuss punitive upbringing, homeschooling, corporal punishment proof-texts, etc. I’m not an expert, but I’ve lived through it and am working to change things with my children and advocating for others to the best of my abilities.
Update: Michael and Debi Pearl and critiques about them and information on the Hana Williams case were on CNN last night via Anderson Cooper. If you still doubt the methods this couple advocates, look no further.
I would like to leave with a closing message by Robbyn Peters. It is “Violence: A Family Tradition.” For those who are still unconvinced, I ask that you please consider Robbyn’s words and investigate for yourself.
I grew up surrounded by the Democratic Labor Party, the ‘Movement’, Jesuit Father Harold Lalor and the Labor split. My parents distributed how-to-vote cards for the DLP. My uncle edited the Richmond News for the federal member for Yarra, Stan Keon, one of the Labor MPs who defected to the Anti-Communist Labor Party. That same uncle worked full-time for the Movement and was later Victorian country organiser for the right wing Clerks Union.
My parents eventually abandoned the DLP because of its extremism, and when Bob Santamaria attacked me in 1986 over my book Mixed Blessings my uncle severed all contact with him. So I don’t look back with nostalgia to either Santamaria or the Movement. I experienced the toxic divisiveness.
Apparently unlike Tony Abbott who, at the January 2007 launch of Santamaria’s Selected Letters said, ‘I was lucky to know B. A. Santamaria for the last 22 years of his life, to have attended diligently to his writing and speaking.’ Santamaria, he says ‘left Australian Catholicism more intellectual and less politically tribal’, by which he presumably means there are now Catholics in Coalition as well as Labor ranks.
Santamaria’s influence on Abbott’s policies has been much discussed lately by The Australian‘s Paul Kelly, Labor’s Maxine McKew, John Warhurst in Eureka Street, Gerard Henderson in the Sydney Morning Herald and Robert Manne in The Monthly. Reference has been made to Abbott’s close relationship to Cardinal George Pell, another self-proclaimed disciple of Santamaria.
But more important than the influence of particular policies is the ‘type’ of Catholicism Santamaria represented and the subtle, even unconscious influence this might have on Abbott.
Essentially Santamaria embraced a form of theological integralism which sees everything in the world as tainted unless it is ‘integrated’ or brought into the orbit of Catholicism. Integralism assumes that the Church has an unchallengeable, complete and accessible body of doctrine that gives guidance in every possible eventuality — social, political, strategic, economic, familial and personal.
Integralism defines Catholicism in a particularly narrow, aggressive, ‘boots and all’ way, and argues that Catholic action involves influencing and if possible controlling state policy. Thus Catholics are obliged to do all in their power to ensure that all legislation is in keeping with church doctrine.
As Santamaria said in 1948: ‘the most important objective of Christians … [is that they] should be capable of formulating or willing to follow a distinctively Christian policy on every social and public issue.’
But what is a ‘distinctively Christian’ (for ‘Christian’ read ‘Catholic’) policy? For Santamaria this was not a problem. He identified Catholicism with his own vision of faith. He refused to recognise that there were other equally sincere Catholics who had other theological ideas about the relationship of the church to the world and the state, people like Archbishop Justin Simonds, Dr Max Charlesworth, the YCW and the Catholic Worker group, who were influenced by the French philosopher Jacques Maritain and the Belgian Cardinal Joseph Cardijn.
Integralism has much in common with Italian Fascism, Franco’s Spain or Salazar’s Portugal. It is also at odds with the Vatican II Declaration on Religious Freedom: ‘Freedom means that all are to be immune from coercion … in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs.’
It is a real threat to democracy and to the freedom that Catholics have to make their own decisions on a whole range of issues, particularly political.
Nowadays Santamaria is praised for being an agrarian socialist and anti-capitalist. While this has made him popular with some aging secular leftists, they forget that these movements are romantic, backward-looking, authoritarian and linked with high immigration rates and the mantra ‘populate or perish’ with its racist overtones.
So what does this have to do with Abbott? I think it would be worrying if this kind of integralist Catholicism infected contemporary public life. It has no place in a pluralist, democratic state. It is also the manifestation of the kind of Catholicism that was abandoned by serious, mainstream Catholics five decades ago.
Abbott is wrong to suggest that it has made Australian Catholicism ‘more intellectual’. It is, in fact, a form of doctrinaire conformism that is the death of thoughtful commitment and is the antithesis of a faith seeking to base itself in reason and understanding.
I am not claiming that Abbott consciously follows Santamaria’s integralism. But there is always the danger of osmosis, of absorbing attitudes without realising it. If I were a politician — or an archbishop — I’d want to put considerable distance between myself and the most divisive man in the history of Australian Catholicism.
Author and historian Paul Collins is a former specialist editor — religion for the ABC.
Birther, Rush Limbaugh Fan Threatens the President, Gets Arrested
An 81-year-old “birther” was arrested today and charged with threatening President Barack Obama’s life, according to federal court records.
Prosecutors allege that Elwyn Nels Fossedal was in a post office near his Wisconsin home last month when he announced, “If President Obama was here I would shoot him right there and kill him right now.”
When Secret Service agents confronted Fossedal about the threat—which was relayed to law enforcement by witnesses—he would not recant the statement and “repeated the threat using different words. He also made a number of additional threats towards the President,” according to a felony complaint.
Fossedal, a retired Pfizer employee, appears to be a “birther” based on comments he has posted online. A Rush Limbaugh fan, Fossedal has also called for Obama’s impeachment over the Affordable Care Act and declared that, “We need to throw the Muslim in the White House, OUT.”
In a funeral home obituary for his wife, Fossedal is reported as having resigned from the Lions Club International because the community service organization purportedly “would not allow the worship of Jesus Christ” so that it could “be accepted by Islamic Nations.”
New Australian PM signifies further right-wing shift
By Mike Head
Today’s swearing-in of Tony Abbott as prime minister of a Liberal-National Coalition government marks another rightward turn in official Australian politics and underscores the yawning gulf that separates the entire political establishment from the broad mass of working people.
Only six years ago, following the landslide defeat of the previous Howard government in 2007, Abbott was seen as so overtly right wing, and tainted by his key roles in Howard’s government, that he was regarded by his Liberal Party peers, and himself, as “unelectable.” Pulling out of the initial post-election contest for Liberal Party leadership, Abbott noted that he was “obviously very closely identified with the outgoing prime minister.”
Now, after six years of its relentless implementation of the agenda dictated by both Washington and the Australian corporate elite, the Labor Party is so reviled among working people that it has paved the way for an Abbott-led Liberal government. The new government will press ahead with the ongoing assault on the social position of the working class, and with Australian involvement in US-led wars.
Abbott commenced his political career, in the 1970s, on the far-right of the official political spectrum, and entered the mainstream of the Liberal and Labor parties as they shifted ever further to the right to embrace the economic restructuring required by global capital.
Abbott began as a Sydney University protégé of Bob Santamaria, the longtime leader of the National Civic Council (NCC), a virulent anti-communist Catholic movement in the trade unions and Labor Party that was formed in the 1950s. The NCC was a strident defender of the “Cold War” launched by US imperialism against the Soviet Union, and a fervent supporter of Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War. NCC “industrial groupers” took control of some unions and orchestrated a split in the Labor Party in 1955, resulting in the formation of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). The DLP, which gained seats in the Senate, supported the Liberal-Country Party coalition governments of the 1950s and 1960s.
After initially entering a Jesuit seminary for three years, Abbott was employed during the 1980s as a journalist for the Bulletin magazine and then for Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspaper. Both publications had close ties to the US and Australian security apparatuses. In those circles, he developed friendships with senior Labor figures, notably future Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who urged him to join the Labor Party. Abbott is known to have voted for Labor in the 1988 New South Wales state election and, with the backing of Carr and others, could have become a Labor MP.
After seeking Santamaria’s advice, however, Abbott turned toward the Liberal Party and rose rapidly in its ranks. By 1990, he was press secretary to Liberal leader John Hewson and worked closely in launching Hewson’s notorious program, titled Fightback ! as the basis for the 1993 election. This 650-page manifesto sought to accelerate the “free market” restructuring that had been implemented by the Hawke and Keating governments from 1983, as well as by Thatcher in Britain and Reagan in the US.
Fightback! featured abolition of award wages and conditions for workers, elimination of unemployment benefits after nine months, the scrapping of Medicare bulk-billing, severe welfare cuts, introduction of a 15 percent Goods and Services Tax and sweeping income tax cuts for middle- and high-income earners.
By spelling out so specifically the agenda required by the corporate elite, Hewson lost what had been regarded, because of intense hostility towards the Keating Labor government, as an unloseable election for the Liberals. Drawing the lessons of this experience, Abbott parted company with Hewson on the eve of the 1993 election and increasingly moved into the orbit of John Howard, who was to regain the Liberal leadership in 1995. Abbott was installed in a safe Liberal seat on Sydney’s north shore in 1994, supported by a glowing reference from Howard.
Howard led the Coalition to victory in 1996, exploiting working class disaffection with Labor’s pro-corporate restructuring of the economy. By contrast to Hewson, Howard adopted a “small target” tactic of not spelling out his plans, while making a pitch to the so-called “battlers” who had suffered under Labor.
Under Howard’s wing, Abbott enjoyed a rapid ascension. He immediately became a parliamentary secretary for employment and youth affairs (1996–98), then employment services minister (1998–2001). In those posts, he oversaw the imposition of some of Howard’s real agenda, notably forced “work for the dole,” the privatisation of federal employment services and the establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. The ABCC, with draconian powers to interrogate and prosecute building workers, became the first instalment in what was later titled WorkChoices—forcing workers onto individual contracts in order to further decimate wages and conditions.
By 2001, Abbott was elevated into cabinet. He became workplace relations minister, manager of government business in the House of Representatives and one of the most vocal defenders of Howard’s policies. He unwaveringly advocated participation in the criminal US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and backed the invocation of the “war on terrorism” to introduce police-state measures, such as detention without trial. Abbott was also in the forefront of fomenting anti-refugee xenophobia to divert mounting social discontent. He stridently defended the government’s “Pacific Solution” of consigning asylum seekers to be detained on remote Pacific islands.
From 2003 to 2007, Abbott was handed the key health portfolio, where his predecessor, Kay Patterson, had provoked outrage among doctors by too openly winding back the Medicare health insurance system. While publicly eschewing any intent to slash public health spending, Abbott pioneered a system of shifting the budgetary burden onto the states and local health authorities, a blueprint that was further developed by the Rudd Labor government. Controversially, Abbott also blocked women’s access to the abortion pill RU486.
By 2007, however, Howard had substantially lost the support of the ruling class, which accused him of backing away from the pro-market measures being implemented globally, and of indulging in populist “middle class welfare” to try to retain office. In the 2007 federal election, most of the media and corporate establishment swung behind Kevin Rudd, who pledged, as a “fiscal conservative,” to cut government spending.
After the Howard government’s defeat, Abbott sought to rewrite history, claiming to have opposed the hated WorkChoices industrial laws, which had contributed to the popular antagonism toward Howard’s regime. In a 2009 book, Battlelines, effectively setting out his case for the Liberal leadership, Abbott described WorkChoices as a “political mistake,” but not “an economic one.” In other words, the policy of tearing up jobs, wages and conditions was correct, but poorly executed.
Battlelines restated Abbott’s support for global “American leadership” and unequivocally defended the invasion of Iraq, despite its catastrophic human cost. In fact, he advocated stepping up Canberra’s participation in US-led militarism. “It’s wrong to expect America to be the world’s policeman with only a token assistance from its allies,” he wrote. “If Australia is to matter in the wider world, Australians should expect more, not less, future involvement in international security issues.”
In that book, Abbott also foreshadowed the turn to austerity measures, aimed at forcing the working class to bear the burden of the worldwide economic meltdown that began in 2008. He criticised the scale of the stimulus measures launched by the Rudd government to bail out the financial markets, declaring “you can’t spend your way out of a recession.” Instead, he insisted, the slump had to be utilised to impose “reform,” citing the example of the Hawke government, which had “used the recession of the early ’80s to justify floating the dollar, deregulating the banks and lowering tariffs.”
Abbott made clear his readiness to gut social spending in order to restore profits, declaring: “The global financial crisis will make the quest for lower, simpler taxes more urgent, not less.” He set out a regressive welfare policy, including reinforced “work for the dole” requirements, tougher rules to force disabled people into employment and “automatic income management” of all “welfare dependent families with children under sixteen.” Taking direct control over how people spent their welfare benefits would “send the clearest possible message that people on welfare have obligations as well as entitlements.”
Abbott also signalled his opposition to the emissions trading scheme (ETS) being negotiated between Rudd and the Liberals under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull. Both Rudd and Turnbull, who has close connections with the financial elite, sought to generate a lucrative new market in emissions trading. Abbott, however, more aligned to the mining sector and smaller nationally-based industries, dismissed global warming and declared that it “didn’t make sense” to “impose certain and substantial costs on the economy now, in order to avoid unknown and perhaps even benign changes in the future.”
At the end of 2009, Abbott led a walkout by senior members of the shadow ministry over the ETS issue, culminating in his defeat of Turnbull by a single vote in the party room. As the new Liberal opposition leader, Abbott set about emulating Howard in pushing right-wing nationalist campaigns to divert mounting economic and social tensions, vowing to “stop” refugee boats, axe the “carbon tax” and boost spending on the military and “national security.”
With the Labor government wracked by conflicts that culminated in the coup against Rudd in June 2010, and his replacement with Julia Gillard, and then Rudd’s reinstallation in June 2013, the media and business elites swung behind Abbott, despite their vocal doubts about his willingness to impose a European-style social counter-revolution. Big business opposes Abbott’s “Howard-style” parental leave scheme, which would impose a levy on large companies to provide six months’ leave on full pay, up to $150,000 a year, for all working mothers following childbirth.
Acutely conscious of the overwhelming opposition among ordinary people to the corporate agenda of austerity and militarism, Abbott spent the entire 2013 election campaign covering up the program that he was preparing to implement on behalf of the ruling class. Now that the election is out of the way, the business and media establishment has begun to bring forward its demands: with commodity prices falling and the mining investment boom collapsing, the incoming government must move rapidly to slash social spending, reduce corporate taxes, gut the public sector and impose more “flexible” workplace laws.
Abbott has wasted no time in underscoring his commitment to the US alliance, unequivocally backing the Obama administration’s plans for war against Syria. He is under mounting corporate pressure to prove the same preparedness to push ahead with his government’s domestic war against the working class.
War Pigs – War criminals and those who “accept” their crimes
The last 50 years have seen some fantastic events and seen some huge steps forward for mankind, however it has also seen some of the worst than mankind can produce.
There have been some atrocities over the last half century that defy belief, and some of those responsible for these acts are even still alive today.
Before you delve further down the page I should warn you that there are some graphic images in this post that will upset some people, so please don’t say you were not warned.
In 1998 there would have been hardly a tear shed for the death of Pol Pot, the former dictator and ruthless leader of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot is credited with the deaths of up to 3 Million Cambodians which made up around a quarter of Cambodia’s total population.
Those in his camps were used as slaves and most died of disease and malnutrition, however many others were simply executed or some were killed in the most grotesque ways imaginable for the entertainment of the camp guards.
Pol Pot died whilst under house arrest in his bed.
Slobodan Milosevic was another one who got off lucky, dying of a heart attack in his prison whilst awaiting trial on March 11th 2006.
Milosevic was awaiting trial for war crimes that included ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Known as the “Butcher Of The Balkans” he presided over the deaths of more than 200,000 people over 10 years in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
…and the winner of the older Geert Wilders look alike contest is…. Slobodan Milosevic
In 1994 The Rwandan genocide occurred while the world watched on for approximately 100 days and did little.
The genocide was carried out by the Hutus who massacred somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,0000 Tutsis in the most brutal of fashions.
In 1998 Jean-Paul Akayesu, a Rwandan politician and mayor of a commune, was sentenced to life imprisonment for 9 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity which included the rape and sexual mutilation of women.
Rwanda’s very own shock-jocks Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean Bosco Barayagwiza were both given life sentences in October 2000 for inciting and encouraging the massacre throughout their broadcasts.
Also serving a life sentence for his part in the genocide is Jean Kambanda who was the Prime Minister of Rwanda during the genocide.
Bodies in a field in Rwanda
We all remember the hunt for former Iraqi Dictator and war criminal Saddam Hussein.
Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on his own citizens, massacred thousands of Kurds and his own citizens, and after the Gulf War evidence of torture was discovered that appeared to be state sanctioned and carried out by members of Hussein’s Republican Guard.
Saddam Hussein was eventually captured after being pulled out of a hole in the ground in December 2003.
After facing trial for crimes against humanity Saddam Hussein was given the death penalty and was hung on the 30th December 2006
For the people of Iraq who faced years of fear and oppression under Saddam’s rule, his death was a cause for celebration.
For those who suffered at the hands of Pol Pot and Milosevic it must have seemed cruel to see them both escape punishment so easily and die a relatively peaceful death when they themselves had been so inhumane and cruel in their bringing about the deaths of others.
However it is not just these people who need to face investigation for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
One would have had to be hiding in a hole like Saddam Hussein to have missed Kony 2012.
The social media campaign to try and bring about the tracking down, capture and conviction of Joseph Kony, thought to be hiding out in the Congo.
Joseph Kony is the leader of the “Lords Resistance Army” thought to have recruited over 30,000 children for use as soldiers. Child soldiers recruited often kill their family while young girls are captured and used as sex slaves for the young soldiers.
It is not known how many have been killed by Kony and his forces although conservative estimates by the UN put the number at over 100,000. Many of these deaths are amongst the most shocking and cruel deaths imaginable as soldiers compete to see who is the cruellest amongst them.
Joseph Kony is still at large.
We have all seen in news broadcasts over the past few years the atrocities that are ongoing in the civil war in Syria.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has been accused of war crimes with calls for action against his regime coming from all over the globe.
Assads regime has been notorious for war crimes against men women and children including massacres, torture, and evidence of the use of chemical weapons.
Victims of Assad’s regime
The UN expects more than 5 Million refugees to come from Syria by the end of 2014 as a result of Assad’s rule. Estimates on the death toll have varied with the UN saying that it is most certainly over 100,000.
Most of the world has condemned Assad and are keen to bring him to justice and investigate him and his regime for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Victims of Syrian nerve gas attack
It is something that is beyond doubt that those who commit genocide, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity should be hunted down and severely punished for their crimes.
Another nation where war crimes such as genocide, torture and ethnic cleansing are reported to have been committed is Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan civil war dragged on for 26 years and saw the deaths of over 100,000 people, mostly civilians.
One incident towards the end of the war saw 300,000 civilians trapped on a narrow beach, 40,000 of these civilians were gunned down by the Sri Lankan army and many atrocities were alleged to have been committed.
The man in charge of the Sri Lankan military was Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is the brother of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
British Conservative Prime Minister was also keen to address the violations of human rights and see Sri Lanka investigated for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Cameron stated during a press conference
“Let me be very clear. If an investigation is not completed by March, then I will use our position on the United Nations human rights council to work with the UN human rights commission and call for a full credible and independent international inquiry.”
It is clear that the British along with many other nations calling for justice for the countless thousands of innocent civilians that were tortured and massacred, men, women and children.
“We accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen”
I have never heard of a country being given a free pass for genocide and torture before, and those who committed some of the atrocities must be pleased to hear that someone accepts what they have done.
Tony Abbott – Accepts Sri Lankan torture and genocide, but won’t accept Sri Lankan refugees
The photo’s below are of some of the atrocities that Tony Abbott has accepted on our behalf when he uses the word “We”
However Tony Abbott not only accepted their actions, which he says must have been difficult as I’m sure they were for those on the receiving end, but he also thought that giving a couple of gifts was appropriate.
A massacred Sri Lankan family
David Cameron calls for war crimes investigations, Tony Abbott gives away gifts.
So what gift is appropriate to give a nation who used its military to commit massacres and other crimes against humanity?
More military equipment of course.
A woman raped and murdered by Sri Lankan military soldiers
5 Christian Right Delusions and Lies About History
They’re not just delusional about science!
The Christian right is most known for their denial of inconvenient science, but in many respects, they’re just as bad when it comes to the facts of history. After all, no matter what the topic, they know they can just make stuff up and their people will believe it. So why not do the same when it comes to political history? Here are five examples.
1. Joe McCarthy was a good guy. A new and extremely toxic myth is beginning to percolate in on the Christian right: Insisting that Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a paranoid alcoholic who saw communist subversives in every corner, was actually an upstanding guy fighting for God and country. In 2003, Ann Coulter published a book she claims vindicates McCarthy, but its impact wasn’t felt until 2010 when the Christian right members who stack the Texas State School Board tried to get the pro-McCarthy theories into Texas school books.
Christian right fanatics attempted to claim that McCarthy had been vindicated by something (wrongly) called the “Verona papers” (they’re actually named the “Venona papers”). There is a Venona project that has reputed historians who show that the Soviets did have spies in the country, but saying that means McCarthy was right is like saying I’m right to call your mother a serial killer because there are serial killers in America. Harvey Klehr, one of the experts working on the Venona project, denounced Christian right efforts to exploit his work to vindicate McCarthy, noting that McCarthy mostly just fingered innocent people in his paranoid haze.
The new information from Russian and American archives does not vindicate McCarthy. He remains a demagogue, whose wild charges actually made the fight against communism more difficult. Like Gresham’s Law, McCarthy’s allegations marginalized the accurate claims. Because his facts were so often wrong, real spies were able to hide behind the cover of being one of his victims and even persuade well-meaning but naïve people that the whole anti-communist cause was based on inaccuracies and hysteria.
That the Soviets spied on the U.S. is neither surprising—not even to liberals—nor indicative that the communist witch hunts were an appropriate response. The Christian right’s interest in rehabilitating McCarthy probably has less to do with readjudicating the anti-communist cause and more to do with their modern-day obsession with promoting paranoid liars in the McCarthy mold to leadership positions. If they can instill the idea that McCarthy was vindicated by history, it will be easier to argue that the current crop of politically powerful right-wing nuts such as Michele Bachmann and Ted Cruz will actually “be proven right by history.” But McCarthy wasn’t and neither will they be.
2. What the Founding Fathers believed. For people who downright deify our Founding Fathers, the religious right is really hostile to accepting them as they actually were, which is not particularly religious, especially by the standards of their time. But David Barton, a revisionist “historian” whose name comes up again and again in these kinds of discussions, has spread the belief far and wide in the Christian right that the Founders were, in fact, fundamentalist Christians who are quite like the ones we have today. Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas confirms this, saying that Barton “provides the philosophical underpinning for a lot of the Republican effort in the country today.”
Barton has convinced the right to believe in their fervent wish that the Founders were religious and even theocratic with quote-mining and outright lying. He likes to whip out this John Adams quote: “There is no authority, civil or religious — there can be no legitimate government — but what is administered by this Holy Ghost.” Problem? Adams was summarizing the opinion of his opponents; that wasn’t Adams’ view at all.
Barton’s reputation took a hit recently. His most recent book, which tried to portray Thomas Jefferson as a “conventional Christian” who wanted a religious government, was so bad that even his Christian publisher decided to reject it. But according to Politico, that’s just a small setback and Barton is quickly being restored to his position as an authority on history for gullible right-wingers. So that means his lies continue to grow and spread in right-wing circles—such as the completely made-up claim that the Constitution (which only mentions religion to insist the government stay out of it) is based on the Bible.
3. God’s protection. If you believe the lie that the Founders intended this to be a religious nation and that secularism is only a recent development, it’s not much of a leap to decide next that God, in his anger, has turned his back on the United States. And therefore that bad things are happening to us because he doesn’t protect us anymore.
You see this belief throughout the Christian right all the time. Every bad thing that happens is blamed on God removing his “hedge of protection” from the U.S. to punish us for turning our back on God in recent decades.School shootings. Global warming. Hurricanes. 9/11.
The problem with this theory should be obvious: If God is turning away from America because we’re supposedly becoming more secular, then things were better back in the day. But when was this supposed Eden of American life supposed to have happened? During the Civil War? The Gilded Age of abusive labor practices? The Great Depression? WWI? WWII? Bad things are always happening, so the notion that they can only be blamed on God’s irritation with us sinners now makes no sense at all.
4. Roman civilization. The Christian right doesn’t just like to lie about our own history; they lie about other nations, too. A popular theory on the right is that the Roman Empire “collapsed” because growing decadence and liberalism caused people to, I don’t know, be too busy screwing to govern. It’s always a little hazy, but the formula is standard: Romans started having a bunch of sex, stuff fell apart, warning for America. Nota daygoes bythat youdon’t hearthis theoryfloated.
5. French revolution. One problem with characterizing the American revolution as Christian instead of secular is that there was another one shortly thereafter, built on the same basic ideals, that was undeniably secular due to the aggressive attacks on Catholic power. If the French were so secular, how could the Americans not be? The answer to the conundrum is to lie and claim there was some kind of gulf between the ideals of the French Revolution and the American Revolution.
Rick Santorum floated this theory at the 2013 Values Voters Summit, where he claimed the French revolutionaries were bad because they believed that rights and democracy stem from the social contract, instead of being handed down from God. Fair enough, though really the “reason” is probably closer to how they would have described it at the time, but where he goes off the rails is to insinuate that they were rejecting the values laid out by their fellow revolutionaries in America when they did this. In reality, the arguments of French and American revolutionaries are nearly identical, echoing philosophers like John Locke who were trying to construct an ideal of rights and freedoms that is frankly secularist in nature.
“Crowdsourcing Murder: 50 Years After JFK, The History And Future Of Political Assassination”
Teddy Roosevelt didn’t fear assassins. Though his predecessor in the Presidency, William McKinley, was killed by anarchist Leon Czolgosz’s bullet, Teddy shook off security. If an assassin was cowardly enough to attack from behind, he would simply “go down into the darkness;” if the attack came from the front, President Neo planned to simply dodge the bullet. After all, as Roosevelt biographer Edmund Morris recounts:
He had confidence in the abnormal speed of his reflexes and the power of his 185 pound body. Last winter in Colorado, he had leapt off his horse into a pack of hounds, kicked them aside, and knifed a cougar to death. What a fight that had been!
Roosevelt’s plan worked, after a fashion. When John Schrank shot him during a speech in 1912, Teddy Roosevelt simply stood back up and finished the 90 minute speech. “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot,” Teddy said, “but it takes more than that to kill a bull moose.”
Five decades later, JFK’s murder laid Roosevelt’s boasts to rest. Modern weapons technology is not exactly amenable to dodging. Yet a surprising thing happened since Kennedy: not one would-be Presidential assassin has found his mark.
Reagan, the only President to be injured in an assassination attempt since JFK, was lucid enough to narrate his own surgery. “You’re ruining my suit,” the Gipper snapped at the doctors slicing through his formalwear to begin operating.
The assassins’ rut is not unique to the United States. Around the world, the assassination of heads of state is on the wane. In advanced democracies, assassination, common as recently as the 70s, is now unheard-of — though those democracies may be targeting more people for death than ever.
The decline of assassination tells us a lot about our age, standing above all else a testament to democracy’s power to legitimize leaders and the government that anoints them. But while it may seem like assassination has gone out of style, don’t count it out just yet. There’s good reason, courtesy of the same awesome technology that powers FourSquare, to think assassination is merely in remission rather than cured. It may yet metastasize into something new, a style of assassination focused on prominent private citizens rahter than public officials.
The Assassins Have Forgotten Their Creed
You’ve heard of Cain and Abel, but have you met Ötzi? He’s a roughly 5,300 year old caveman, frozen and hence remarkably well-preserved for his age. As a consequence of his relative intactness, scientists have managed to identify Ötzi as one of history’s first recorded murder victims.
Naturally, he’s a media darling. “The First Assassinated Man In History Was Killed By an Arrow 5300 Years Ago,” blared a headline about poor old Ötzi on the tech blog Gizmodo. The phrasing is revealing, in that it points to two important truths about assassination: it’s been around forever, but it’s damn near impossible to define.
The English word itself comes from a breakaway 11th century Muslim cult notorious for their killing prowess, but The Assassins couldn’t exactly patent the idea of killing your political opposition’s leaders. The Romans did it (“et tu, Brute?”), and the Indian strategist Kautilya used it to great effect against two of Alexander the Great’s governors. “Great effect” is, on some accounts, an understatement: the Greek killings allowed Kautilya and his boss Chandragupta’s quest to unify the Indian Subcontinent under one banner for the first time in history.
But was Kautilya’s plot actually “assassination” or some other kind of killing? You tell me. Much like its cousin “terrorism,” “assassination” can and has been defined in lots of different ways. Do assassins need some kind of political motive — we have no proof Ötzi’s killers, for instance, did, but Gizmodo was comfortable calling that an assassination. Can governments assassinate people, or is it the province of non-state actors? Is targeting an enemy leader during wartime, a la the killing of Admiral Yamamoto in 1943, assassination or merely solid tactics?
Depending on how you answer these questions, you might end up with a different answer about the state of assassination today. “The question of what you count gets so messy,” Daniel Byman, a Georgetown professor whose work focuses on assassination and terrorism, told me. “Do you count the conflict in the Congo?” What about “attacks on diplomats, if they’re high profile enough, [or] attacks on religious figures?” Or, for that matter, the U.S. targeted killing campaign against suspected terrorists?
These are all important, fraught questions, and certainly worth thinking about. But, for the moment, let’s simplify things, and talk only about the targeted killing of heads of state. Are there any general trends we can point out there?
Yes, as it turns out. “There was a high point with the anarchist campaigns in the 1890s,” Byman says, “and it’s all been downhill from there.” From 1881-1908, anarchists managed to kill a Russian Tsar, both a French and American President, a Spanish Prime Minister, an Austrian Empress, and a Portuguese King and Crown Prince. “The propaganda of the deed,” as it was often called, took Europe and North America by storm. It was assassination’s high water mark in modern history.
Today, the picture is rather different. Benjamins Jones and Olken, economists at Northwestern and MIT respectively, put together a database of 298 assassination attempts directed at national leaders from 1874 till today. They found a higher number of attempts over time, but that’s misleading: there are more countries in the modern world than there were when the anarchists walked the earth, so there are more leaders around to piss off their citizens. Jones and Olken find that, when you control for number of leaders, Byman was right: there’s been a decline in both overall attempts and successful assassinations that goes back “really till the end of World War I,” Jones told me.
Jones and Olken’s work results in something like actuarial assessments for political leaders (if you find that prospect exciting, then congrats — like me, you are a freaky nerd). “At the peak in the 1910s, a given leader had a nearly 1 percent chance of being assassinated in a given year,” Jones and Olken write. “Today, the probability is below 0.3 percent.”
So Europe and North America, once playgrounds for anarchist killers, now almost never see their leaders killed. Assassination, it seems, really has gone out of fashion.
So what happened?
You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss
When Ugandan dictator Idi Amin seized power in a coup d’etat, he developed a nasty way of disposing of soldiers who weren’t quite yet loyal to the new regime. Amin’s forces would round up the prisoners, stick them in a room, and chuck a bushel of live hand grenades in with the ill-fated grunts.
Amin killed roughly two thousand people in the ensuing crackdown. Some whispered he staged the attempt on his life as an excuse to consolidate power in the face of a secret coup plot.
Whatever the truth, the Nsambya attack itself tells us a lot about assassinating political leaders — how it works, when it doesn’t, and why, outside of war zones, people have stopped trying it.
Start with the simplest point: assassinating a head of state has gotten harder. One does not simply walk up to a presidential parade and chuck grenades into the First Towncar; political security precautions have gotten much tougher than they were in Amin’s Uganda.
In the United States, the Kennedy assassination was the catalyst. Since 1963, the Secret Service’s staff grew by a factor of 10, and its budget by a whopping 273 times. Obama, according to Yahoo’s Chris Moody, rides in a hunkered-down fortress with a mobile blood transfusion lab. It’s a far cry from JFK’s open-top aparade.
Extremist groups, for their part, appear to have recognized this. “There are certain targets that are logical, but hard to hit,” Byman says. “The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia is a prime target, but if you’ve ever been there, it’s a friggin fortress.”
Will McCants, a scholar at the Brookings Institute who spends his days reading al-Qaeda web forums and other jihadi communications, agrees. “When they have an opportunity, they go for it,” but “in many of the countries where they’re operating, the police state is so strong that they have limited ability to get access to those officials.”
But, McCants says, it’s not that they discuss the idea and dismiss it: it’s that al-Qaeda and likeminded groups don’t appear to consider trying to assassinate Western leaders at all. “It is really interesting that a lot of terrorist organizations, at least the jihadi kind that I watch, don’t really make it a high priority in the West.” He pauses. “You don’t see them talk about, you know, ‘let’s rub out President Obama’ or Vice President Biden. I’ve never seen it.”
It’s not just al-Qaeda. While anarchists continue to fixate on the leader-killing glory days, it doesn’t seem like any major extremist faction of any kind nowadays focuses on assassinating democratically-elected leaders. Why?
Well, it might be that asssassination simply isn’t worth the risks — which go well beyond the mere risk of plots being thwarted by the Secret Service.
Jump back to Jones and Olken, the economists who studied assassinations of major leaders. The real goal of their study wasn’t to track the number of assassinations; it was to figure out whether assassination worked.
They came up with a clever way to test this, scientifically speaking. Jones and Olken limited their dataset to cases where the assassin actually managed to fire a gun or detonate a bomb, the theory being that once an assassin gets close enough to use their weapon, the success or failure of any given attempt is more-or-less random. This makes for a natural experiment of sorts, allowing Jones and Olken to compare the effects of “successful” assassinations against failed attempts without worrying about confounding factors like the strength of a nation’s intelligence system.
So what did the economists find? First, the vast majority of assassination attempts against major leaders, 75 percent, failed. Second, the effects of both successful and failed attempts can be dramatic — depending on the type of government that’s being targeted.
Aiming at an autocrat is a huge gamble. Jones and Olken find that successfully killing dictators can take down the entire system: killing an autocrat, according to one measure of democracy, tends to make autocracies significantly more likely to translate to democracy. But in the bulk of the cases, the assassin fails, prompting a moderate crackdown on freedoms. Idi Amin’s post-Nsambya killing spree is an extreme example, but it gets the point across.
In democracies, by contrast, assassination attempts, successful or otherwise, simply have no effect on the structure of government. “The successful assassination of democrats produces no change in institutions,” Jones and Olken write. This makes sense, of course: democracies, unlike autocracies, aren’t one-man systems. The entire point of a democracy is that power is concentrated in the people and institutions, not any one person. If you kill a President, there’s always a veep.
In an interview about their research, Jones argued that this democratic resilience tells us something crucially important about the broader decline in assassinations. Democracies don’t just survive because there’s a successor in place; autocracies often have those. Rather, it’s about legitimacy: when people feel like they can change their government through electoral rather than violent means, the death of a leader is less likely to create a vacuum for radical political change. While killing an autocrat may feel like the death of a tyrant to citizens, the murder of a democratically elected leader feels like an attack on the people as much as an attack on the government.
This effect, Jones suggests, also explains why people are less likely to try to kill their leaders nowadays. There are more democracies than there used to be, so there are fewer people dissatisfied with their power to change their governments. “Certainly, the shift towards democracy — while far from complete in the world — has definitely been a main story of the 20th century,” Jones says (he’s right). “You can easily tell a story for decline [in assassinations] largely because of representative government.”
This theory fits with what we know about the psychology of assassins. In 1999, the Secret Service put together a study of everyone who tried to kill an American “prominent public official or figure since 1949.” The 83 subjects, some of whom are referred to only by initials in the study because their identities remain confidential, “rarely had ‘political’ motives.” Only one, in fact — Robert Kennedy’s murderer, Palestinian extremist Sirhan Sirhan — had a classically political motivation, the others being more interested in fame or something more idiosyncratic (a personally developed conspiracy theory, for instance).
So Jones is right, we should expect the pacifying, legitimizing effect of democracy to keep the assassination rate low. But democracy and the 21st century have barely had time to get acquainted. And there may be trouble on the horizon.
“Tiller is the concentration camp ‘Mengele’ of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgment upon our nation.”
Scott Roeder wrote those chilling words on an anti-abortion web-forum two years before he assassinated prominent abortion provider George Tiller. Roeder had long been active in right-wing extremist movements, but had grown increasingly extreme over the 2000s.
Roeder is hardly alone in his beliefs. Just this year, another anti-abortion activist, David Leach, interviewed Roeder and posted the video on YouTube. “If someone would shoot the new abortionists, like Scott shot George Tiller,” Leach said, “hardly anyone will appreciate it but the babies.”
If assassination is going to make a comeback in the democratic world, its poster children will look a lot more like Scott Roeder and David Leach than early 20th century anarchists: loosely networked, internet-savvy, and targeted at prominent private citizens rather than heavily guarded political leaders.
Modern anarchists, for their part, get the memo. Andy Greenberg, a Forbes technology reporter, recently profiled Kuwabatake Sanjuro, a “crypto-anarchist” who runs a site called Assassination Market. Assassination Market is basically Kickstarter for murder: People put names on a kill list and others donate money (in Bitcoins, naturally) towards each individual’s demise. Anyone who can successfully prove they were responsible for a hit collects the pot. So far, the most “popular” target — Fed Chair Ben Bernanke — has a $75,000 price on his head.
“At some point, someone is going to be killed based on something like this,” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross told me. “That will absolutely happen.”
Gartenstein-Ross is an expert on violent extremism, fresh off a stint at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism at The Hague. He’s not particularly worried about Bernanke, given that the full weight of the United States intelligence services has got the Chairman’s back. Rather, Gartenstein-Ross fears for the George Tillers of the world: prominent, intensely controversial private citizens who don’t have the resources to fund Secret Service-like security. “Normal people who have unpopular opinions,” in Gartenstein-Ross’ phrase.
The most obvious way new technology enables this sort of assassination is by making it easier to identify where people are. Suppose, Gartenstein-Ross offers, you want to kill someone famous, and you learn they’re about to give a speech in New York City.
“You take some of the data mining technology that’s already been developed, and you follow Twitter. You can probably follow [her] location throughout Manhattan,” as people will tweet about the person going by. Even something as vague as “‘I just saw a convoy of cars coming by,’ it must be important” could be used to pinpoint their location, Gartenstein-Ross suggests.
The target doesn’t have to be famous for Gartenstein-Ross’ point to hold. Apps that locate the user — most obviously something like Foursquare, but some social apps add a location tag to the user’s post automatically — can help a would-be assassin identify a target’s location, either by following the target or her friends and family.
More simply, someone could find someone’s address and simply post it on a site that murderers might read. “Tiller’s address had been broadcast multiple times before he had been killed online,” Gartenstein-Ross notes.
McCants thinks this scary picture is relatively plausible. “Look at [jihadis] continually trying to kill the Muhammed cartoon guys,” he told me. “That’s high on the wish list.” But, he suggests, anyone who a group would want to target like this would almost certainly know it, and would be able to secure enough security in advance to protect themselves.
Byman, for his part, sees both potential and pitfalls in information technology for terrorist groups. “It enables communication, it enables coordination, it enables learning” between groups of assassins, but “these things are very vulnerable to, as we know from [the] NSA, tremendous surveillance.”
On balance, the proliferation of Web technologies is “probably good for individuals, but bad for groups.” Groups must communicate online to coordinate when using new technology, and online communication is incredibly easy for law enforcement to track. Individuals, by contrast, can make use of data mining and similar technologies with relative ease without any need to send emails the NSA might be reading.
This means, in Byman’s estimation, Gartenstein-Ross’ concerns about the targeting of private citizens are quite well-founded. He recalls a site that put together a list of abortion doctors, together with their home addresses. If anything happened to one of the doctors, the site — designed to appear as if drenched in blood — would cross their name off the list. The information on that site, Byman says, “would not necessarily be easy to access” absent a home on the web.
“There are different skill sets associated with terrorism,” Byman explains. “One is being able to fire a gun, one is being able to live below ground, [and] another is surveillance.” The internet allows people with different skill sets to compliment each other, and not necessarily intentionally: someone may provide surveillance information on an abortion doctor online for the purposes of organizing a protest, but a trigger-puller might well take that information and put it to deadlier use.
So it could be that both Jones’ optimism and Gartenstein-Ross’ pessimism are right. While democracy may be slowly eroding the power of traditional assassinations of political leaders, the internet technologies that flourish alongside democratic freedoms might well enable a new wave of assassinations targeted at citizens rather than states. Though a federal appeals court ultimately ruled that the blood website wasn’t protected speech, the grounds for the court’s ruling would protect other, similar sites.
So fifty years after the JFK assassination, we may be entering a new era of assassination, one that poses unprecedented challenges for law enforcement around the globe just as the old ones are starting to wither away.
Neither the Secret Service nor the FBI responded to requests for comment on this story.
“VERDICT: Methodist Pastor Has 30 Days To Renounce His Gay Children Or Be Defrocked”
Rev. Frank Schaefer
On Monday, the United Methodist Church convicted Rev. Frank Schaefer on two counts against the Church for officiating his son’s same-sex wedding. On Tuesday, the impaneled jury determined his sentence: Schaefer is suspended for 30 days, and if it at the end of that time he has not renounced his support for marriage equality, he will be defrocked.
Schaefer, however, was unapologetic, refusing the invitation to “repent of your actions”:
SCHAEFER: [The Church] needs to stop judging people based on their sexual orientation. We have to stop the hate speech. We have to stop treating them as second-class Christians. […]
I will never be silent again. This is what I have to do. […]
I have to minister to those who hurt and that’s what I’m doing.
Three of Schaefer’s four children identify as gay.
After his sentence was announced, his supporters began overturning chairs in the courtroom, a reference to the biblical story of Jesus and the moneychangers.
Schaefer’s critics framed his actions as “breaking the rules” and “rebuking” the Church.
Watch Rev. Schaefer’s remarks from after the sentencing, committing himself to being an “outspoken advocate” for the LGBT community. He also added that if a same-sex couple asked him to marry them in the next 30 days, he would do it:
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency along with the Centre for Disease Control, used a zombie outbreak scenario in 2012 to teach citizens to prepare for emergency.
Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in The Walking Dead. Rick and his ragged band of survivors would – in event of a “real” zombie apocalypse – have an unbeatable hoard of allies in the form of nature’s birds, beasts and bugs, according to a US naturalist. Source: Supplied
FLESH is food and the fresher the better. It’s something the zombies know. Probably the only thing, actually.
But what about their own dead – or rather, undead – flesh?
And that’s good news for the hipster tribes who spend weekends dressing up as zombies while worrying just what they would/will do if/when Day of The Dead actually arrives. If they survive that initial frenzy, they can sit back and watch Mother Nature do the rest.
US National Wildlife Federation naturalist David Mizejewski has put the matter into perspective, stating this planet’s fauna would deal with such animated evil “brutally, and without quarter”.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot – a 400-year-old storm that shows no signs of weakening. Source: Supplied
SCIENTISTS believe they have solved the mystery of why Jupiter’s massive storm known as the Great Red Spot has not disappeared.
Planetary experts agree the Great Red Spot – which is actually a giant vortex can be clearly seen in photos of the planet – should have vanished hundreds of years ago. The storm faces strong winds, loses heat and energy and sits between two jet stream that should stop its spinning.
“Based on current theories, the Great Red Spot should have disappeared after several decades. Instead it’s been there for hundreds of years,” said Harvard researcher Padram Hassanzade
Mr Hassanzadeh and his colleague Philip Marcus at the University of California, Berkeley believe they have solved the puzzle – and say vertical air flow is the key to the storm’s long life, Nature World News reports. In the past, scientists have focused only on horizontal airflow or believed that the storm powers itself absorbing smaller vortexed.
Jupiter’s super storm
“Some computer models show that large vortices would live longer if they merge with smaller vortices, but this does not happen enough to explain the Red Spot’s longevity,” said Mr Marcus.
Mr Hassanzadeh and Mr Marcus developed a new model, showing that vertical air flow brings hot gas from above and cold gas from below the storm into the centre of the vortex, which recharges its energy and keeps it going for centuries.
The pair say the vertical air flows help keep the Great Red Spot spinning, but say there are other factors at work they will continue to research.
Researchers have long been puzzled by Jupiter’s Great Red Spot – a massive storm that should have died out but has instead gone for hundreds of years. Picture: AP/NASA