Posts Tagged ‘United States’


No, Obama Is Not Closing The Vatican Embassy

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BY JUDD LEGUM

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CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

The internet is ablaze with some fairly shocking news: Obama is closing the Vatican embassy! “Obama’s call to close Vatican embassy is ‘slap in the face’ to Roman Catholics,” proclaims the Washington Times, in an article that has attracted more than 2700 comments and was prominently featured on the Drudge Report. “OBAMA ‘INSULTS’ CATHOLICS IN VATICAN-EMBASSY SHUTDOWN,” reports WND. The Daily Caller piles on with “Catholics furious over Obama plan to close Vatican embassy site.” Breitbart reports that “the Obama administration is trying to diminish and discredit the Vatican’s role in the world because it’s pro-life, pro-family, and pro-religious freedom values is at odds with the Regime’s pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage stance.”

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.

The State Department says the move, which will actually occur in 2015, will save $1.4 million per year and allow for greater security.

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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 [3] when a senator tried to investigate his nonprofits and for inspiring [4] 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 [5] (TGC) and America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention [6] (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 [7] 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.

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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 following is an excerpt from the disturbing post, dated Nov. 19:

“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.

For more political news, information and humor see Left Coast Lucy on Facebook. For more news, information and humor relevant to atheists, freethinkers, and secular humanists, see Progressive Secular Humanist Examiner on Facebook. On Twitter follow Progressive Examiner.


NSA spied on porn habits of Muslim ‘radicalisers’: report

Alistair Barr
Opt-in: Under the British model, people would have to elect to be able to view pornography.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.

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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.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/nsa-spied-on-porn-habits-of-muslim-radicalisers-report-20131128-2yben.html#ixzz2m1zTyWMN


Almost 50% Of Israeli Haredi Middle Age Men Have An 8th Grade Education – Or Less

Haredi men walking

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.

 

 

 

Haredi men education level Taub 2013

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In the chart immediately below, “great yeshiva” means yeshiva gedolah – a yeshiva with classes starting in 9th grade:

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The entire haredi section of the Taub Center’s report as a PDF file:

Download Taub EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT IN THE HAREDI SECTOR section of national report 2013


Obama Crushes the Neocons
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.


A heckler yelled at Obama. Here’s what happened next…
US President Barack Obama arrives to speak on immigration reform in San Francisco, Nov. 25, 2013.
US President Barack Obama arrives to speak on immigration reform in San Francisco, Nov. 25, 2013. | JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

At some point Congress will wake up and do it’s job.  I suspect it won’t be until we vote out the slackers (from both parties) in 2014….

MSNBC

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.”

A month earlier, Senator Ted Cruz was interrupted by anti-deportation activists, whom he nonsensically accused of being “President Obama’s paid political operatives,” during a speech to a conservative conference. Immigration protesters have shadowed administration officials for years, popping up at Congressional hearings to target Janet Napolitano, who was in the audience for today’s speech, and even occupying Obama’s campaign offices in 2012.

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.

The president, however, has argued that such a sweeping move would require a change to the law. He repeated the claim on Monday.

“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.

Watch Obama and the hecklers:

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