Category Archives: Essays

Adventures in China: A Photographic Essay, Part I

During the last nine days of July, 2015, my girlfriend Nina and I went on our first “an adventure of lifetime” trip to China. Now that her kids are grown up and out of the house, and we both near fifty years of age, it’s time for both of us to truly enjoy our lives.

Last year, we set out to go on as many “adventures of a lifetime” as possible. Since we both have previously traveled to parts of Europe and throughout the Americas, we decided to go somewhere exotic, somewhere completely foreign to us.

After watching a PBS Nova program on the Terracotta Warriors a few years back, I knew I would have to go see them for myself one day. And so, China seemed like an obvious first choice my big adventure. Nina easily agreed. And so our adventure began.

The following is a photographic essay of our travels.  In Part I, I will cover a couple major attractions in the nation’s capital, Beijing. I’ll also share some of the wonders of Beijing evening street life. In Part II, I will take you with me to see the Terracotta Warriors and visit a few temples and parks.  I hope this collection of pictures will help readers appreciate the great beauty offered by a nation that often seems so foreign to most Americans…like myself.

(Nina and I on the Great Wall)

Ever wonder what it would be like to wander the streets of the Forbidden City? Built in 1420 by the Ming dynasty, this place in nearly unimaginable. Within the walls there are 980 buildings covering 180 acres. Construction of the city took 14 years and more than one million workers. An entire day can easily sweep by without seeing all the buildings, let alone what is inside them.

(Just inside the main Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City)
One of the first things a visitor will notice about the Forbidden City are the seemingly endless large courtyards throughout the city. There are actually three main courts and at least six smaller flanking courts.
For nearly 500 years, the Forbidden City served as the emperor’s home and was the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese government.
Touching the dragon is believed to bring good fortunes in the coming year.
One interesting and curious feature of the imperial garden within the Forbidden City is the large and small rock formations and statues. Caves are carved into some. Accessible by stairs carved into the rock, a small temple sits atop one such rock formation.

Tall walls divide parts of the city to keep visitors, government officials, family, eunuchs, and concubines apart.
The Northwest corner tower with moat.

One thing universal, no matter where you travel, parents want pictures of their children.

Just outside the walls of the Forbidden City are the buildings representing the new center of political power. Tiananmen Square. The towering walls of the Forbidden City on the north side of the square, the Great Hall of People, the National Museum of China, and the Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Hall tower around the massive square (the fourth largest public square in the world). Huge monuments to the “heroes of the (1949) revolution” are located near Mao’s mausoleum.

Across from the square, the Chinese army stand guard and raise the flag in front of the out wall of the Forbidden City.

The Great Hall of People is primarily used legislative and ceremonial activities by the Communist Party of China. The Chinese parliament, or the National People’s Congress, uses this building when in full session.  The Great Hall is also used for special political events, anniversaries, and memorial services.

The Monument of the People’s Heroes located nearly in the center of the square.

The National Museum of China. The museum is said to house a collection of art, “covering Chinese history from the Yuanmou Man of 1.7 million years ago to the end of the Qing Dynasty (the last imperial dynasty), has a permanent collection of 1,050,000 items,[5] with many precious and rare artifacts not to be found in museums anywhere else in China or the rest of the world.” I missed touring the museum this time, however, next time I’m in Beijing, I plan on going inside.
Sporting an Expats Post t-shirt, I pose in front of Mao’s Mausoleum. Undoubtedly the main event at Tiananmen Square.  Extremely long lines formed in front of the building over an hour before it opened and continued throughout the day. Inside, two lines four people wide moved quickly past the crystal coffin contained their beloved Chairman Mao Zedong’s embalmed corpse. Nina and I decided to skip that tour.

Perhaps our visit to China was not during the most apropos time of the year.  Spring and fall are commonly considered the best times of the year. While we were there, we learned the months of July and August are commonly called “The Great Heat”.

In the evening, the Chinese people come out in mass. As the temperatures cool, street vendors open up their carts and kiosks for business as pedestrians, rickshaws, and electric motorbikes crowd up the streets and narrow alley ways.

One evening, Nina and I explored an alleyway off Dongdan Dong street. The Dongdan district is very affluent and would feel very familiar to most western tourists. However, one peak into the an alleyway and a whole new world opens up.
Common street food included deep fried snakes, grasshoppers, rats, and scorpions served on wooden skewers.

One evening, we stumbled on a bit of street theater.

Along with her floating moves, this performer entertained us with mesmerizing and somewhat haunting vocals

Sweetened bean curd on Chinese bread.

Muslim food vendors offering meat skewers and pounding out taffy.

Lakeside strolls in the Xicheng district in Beijing.

Rickshaw rides around the lakes.

Commercial shops in the Quinman district.

Qianman district, across from the Front Gate of Tiananman Square.


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Food Waste in America

Food Waste Dumpster

Today is a day for American families to sit around the table and offer thanks for our friends and families and the bounties bestowed on us. It is also a day millions of hungry Americans will find themselves at the food kitchens enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

In the evening, a few days ago a storm blew-in and knocked down some small trees taken down power lines. The next morning I drove into town and witnessed a local grocery store throwing away hundreds of pounds of food. They had two dumpsters lined-up and one of them was already filled to the top with cartons of freshly prepared salads, cakes with fruit toping, daily products, and gallons of fresh fruit juices.

It reminded me of an essay I wrote and edited by Melody Haislip a couple of years back when I interned for Project Censored and Dr. Peter Phillips at Sonoma State University. A portion of the essay dealt with the problems of food waste and the rising cost of food both in the U.S. and worldwide.

Today, I am republishing a part of this essay originally published in the book Censored 2012 by Seven Stories Press. The following is an excerpt from that essay. Sadly, I am certain not much has changed since this essay was published:

“Another under-reported story relating to poverty and hunger exposed the persistent problem of food waste in America. According to a March 31, 2010 article, published in California Watch, a Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting and USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, authored by Tina Mather, Kimberly Daniels, and Shannon Pence, California’s largest single source of waste is food. While poverty and hunger are on the rise in the U.S., California alone throws away more than 6 million tons of food each year (15).

According to Jonathon Bloom, author of the book American Wasteland, “Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce for consumption. That comes at an annual cost of more than $100 billion. At the same time, food prices and the number of Americans without enough to eat continues to rise” (16).

Worldwide, the problem of food waste and poverty is not much different. On May 11, 2011, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released a stunning report that received almost zero coverage from the mainstream media.

According to the report titled “Global Food losses and Food Waste,” “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — that’s approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.” Interestingly, the FAO report states amongst its key findings, “Industrialized and developing countries dissipate [waste] roughly the same quantities of food — respectively 670 and 630 million tons” (17).

While Americans throw away roughly 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S., and the rest of the world tosses out 33 percent of their food, the price of food has skyrocketed. In another one of Project Censored’s 2012 top 25 stories, food prices are creating a global crisis. In a web only article for the magazine In These Times, titled, Diet Hard: With a Vengeance, senior editor David Moberg unravels the web of interwoven factors that create global food prices. Moberg points out that according to a February, 2011 FAO report, the food price index rose to the highest level since 1990. Moberg writes:
“As a result, since 2010 began, roughly another 44 million people have quietly crossed the threshold into malnutrition, joining 925 million already suffering from lack of food. If prices continue to rise, this food crisis will push the ranks of the hungry toward a billion people, with another two billion suffering from “hidden malnutrition” of inadequate diets, nearly all in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America” (18).

Moberg attributes the rise in malnutrition to climate change and the rise in food prices. Moberg points to an October FAO report from the Committee on World Food Security which concluded climate change will affect, “the livelihoods, food security, and way of life of billions of people.” The FAO committee concludes, “climate change multiplies existing threats and…increases the vulnerability…to food insecurity” (19).

However, the FAO committee determined the single greatest factor in the current food crisis is not the threat of global warming, or the diversion of 40 percent of U.S. corn into biofuels, which has been problematic. The number one threat to food security worldwide, and the cause of much of the world’s food shortages and starvation, turns out to be bad polices and unregulated free-market speculation. While there is no lack of food, millions of people die each year from malnutrition and starvation as a result of decades-old bad policies which have allowed multinational corporations and wild-west speculators to enter food staples into commodities markets.

Moberg points out, “By contrast, many countries, civil society groups, environmentalists, advocates for the poor, and representatives of peasants and small farmers say that food should be treated as a human right. And countries should strive for food security and as much self-sufficiency as can reasonably be achieved, as Karen Lehman, former senior fellow at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, argues.”

The primary conclusion from the October FAO report is that government policies that have led to mismanaged and unregulated trade systems have resulted in less self-sufficiency and less food security globally. The FAO report states that increased volatility created by free-market speculators, “threatens farm viability (low prices), food security (high prices), undermines investment decisions, and threatens domestic security and political stability,” As Tim Wise, policy research director for Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute points out in Moberg’s article, “The big picture about rising food prices is that one of the things that globalization has done is increasingly to put food reserves in private hands, … You get speculation and hoarding if people feel there’s a shortage of supply.”

Moberg’s article concludes by pointing out that “new global investments in agriculture derivatives reached $2.6 billion in December, double the level a year earlier.” Moberg suggests immediate limits on financial speculators in commodity future index derivatives and ultimately a complete ban on such agricultural derivatives. In addition, he suggests individual countries and even local communities go back to maintaining their own food reserves and demand the freedom domestically to control their own food polices, in order to assure self-sufficiency.”

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Bill O’Reilly’s Irresponsible “Talking Points” on Race

O'Reilly buffalobeast Blacks

Perhaps the only thing positive about the mass media’s obsession with the killing of Trayvon Martin has been the quasi national dialog on race and racism in the U.S. Quasi, unfortunately, because most of the time the political left and political right seems to be talking past each other.

I went to high school in Georgia and even though I’m clearly a progressive liberal, I know a lot of folks on the political right.  One of my high school friends recently sent me a link to a video clip of Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly commenting on some recent criminal cases and comparing them to the pervasive media coverage of the Trayvon Martin case.

O’Reilly begins his segment by stating, “The issue that is really dividing the country, that is the subject tonight…whether it’s Obamacare, the food-stamps explosion, the punishment of convicts, or a myriad of other social issues, the big chasm amongst Americans is between (those like me) who believe in personal responsibility and self-reliance and those who don’t want to take care of themselves and what the federal government and support a … (nanny state)”.

Of course O’Reilly would never admit that what is really dividing this country is the constant rhetoric from both the leftwing and rightwing meant to, distort, demonize, and damage all those that disagree with them, let alone something as scary to comprehend and admit like institutional and systematic discrimination.

O’Reilly’s false portrayal of liberals as a segment of society that doesn’t support “personal responsibility and self-reliance”, he clearly meant to demonize those that don’t agree with him and his loyal viewers. Ironically, the “Individual Mandate” in Obamacare was actually written by Republicans advocating personal responsibility. Yet, the rightwing now opposes personal responsibility when it comes to Obamacare.

O’Reilly goes on to talk about a couple of recently criminal cases committed by blacks in the news as examples of the mainstream media’s complicity in covering up the real story (at least has he sees it).

The first example was of 14 year old Shaaliver Douse who was shot and killed at 3 AM on August 4, 2013. Douse was allegedly involved in a shooting spree include at least three rounds directed to the police. O’Reilly points out that Douse was a troubled youth from a broken family. He then goes on the blame Douse parents for leading their son into the circumstances that ended this poor boy’s life.  O’Reilly essentially blames liberals and the liberal media for not wanting to talk about this.

O’Reilly goes on to provide a second example, quote: “Last month, in Gulfport Florida three black kids, all 15 years old, attacked a 13 year old white boy on a bus, beat a white boy on a school bus.” O’Reilly then showed a clip of the boys ruthlessly attacking the young victim as the bus driver is overheard pleading with the police dispatcher to come quickly and the boys to “leave the boy alone” and stating “You know you’re all going to jail, y’all going to jail”.

O’Reilly then cut back in and stated, “The victim had a broken arm, multiple other injuries. The attackers were charged with aggravated battery and likely fact an adult court. Few national media even covered the story because it was blacks attacking a white. In the wake of Trayvon Martin, if it had been three white boys attacking a black there would have been massive media coverage. So why the double standard? The politically correct and cowardly media is the answer to that question.”

So, in this segment of O’Reilly’s “Talking Points”, we see Bill making a comparison between the media coverage of the Trayvon Martin case with this most recent Gulfport school bus beating. O’Reilly thesis is that if this was a white on black beating the media would be all over the story. However, because it was a black on white beating the story didn’t meet the liberal narrative and therefore it was not worth mainstream media covering it.

However, there are a number of problems with this thesis and in fact, O’Reilly himself destroys his own thesis with a follow-up statement, “By the way, no fair minded person, no fair minded person should believe that most black persons want to hurt whites, they don’t. That bus attack was about three thugs beating up a kid who objected to their behavior. There is no evidence the crime was any more than that”.

You see, the bus beating was all about three teenagers retaliating against the thirteen year old boy who “objected to their behavior. There is no evidence the crime was any more than that.” There was no evidence of race being a factor in the school bus beating.

In addition, In the case of the killing of Trayvon Martin there was a hell of a lot more to the crime than a retaliatory beating by a group of teenage boys. In the case of the Gulfport school bus assault, the boys were taken from the bus and immediately arrested. In the case of the Gulfport school bus assault the fifteen year old kids are likely to face adult courts.

In the case of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer, the police let Zimmerman walk free.  Zimmerman had only been arrested after the Governor stepped in and took the case out of local jurisdiction after receiving an immense amount of political pressure that grew out of a grassroots movement for justice. In the killing of Trayvon Martin, affidavits and other court documents referring to Zimmerman’s “racial profiling” and generally “profiling” Martin.

In the killing of Trayon Martin, Zimmerman (a twenty-nine year old adult) was armed, disobeyed police instructions, and stalked Martin (a fifteen year old unarmed youth) before ultimately confronting the child and killing him.  In the Trayvon Martin case, the killer walked free and at least one jury claims “Zimmerman got away with murder”. In the Trayvon Martin case, Zimmerman is still under federal investigation for violating Martin’s civil rights.

O’Reilly conveniently fails to point-out that in his first two examples race had nothing to do with the crimes. O’Reilly claims, “Few national media even covered the story because it was blacks attacking a white. In the wake of Trayvon Martin, if it had been three white boys attacking a black there would have been massive media coverage.”

In O’Reilly’s first example, given the circumstances, had Douse been a white boy killed by two black police officers after shooting at them, I seriously doubt the news coverage would be anything more than another tragic local NYC gun violence story. Certainly the Douse shooting is not a story of national importance, like the Trayvon Martin Killing. O’Reilly’s second example might be a different story if the three white kids (in Bill’s hypothetical reverse race scenario) hurled racial slurs and were acting out of racial animus.  However, Bill debunks his own thesis when he admits there is no evidence the school bus beating was anything more than a retaliatory attack.

O’Reilly claimed the national media ignored the Douse and Gulfport school bus events because, unlike the Martin killing, their stories didn’t meet liberal press narrative. Never mind the fact that the national media didn’t cover the Douse and Gulfport school bus events because neither of the events were racially charged criminal acts. In addition, in both cases the perpetuators did not walk away scot-free.  O’Reilly never seems to mentions these giant, uber, most important facts. I wonder why? Perhaps the racist element in Trayvon Martin’s story didn’t fit into his narrative?

O’Reilly suggests the roots to all these stories (plus Obamacare, food stamps, and myriad of other social issues) is the lack of personal responsibility, self-determination, love for the nanny state, and the “destruction of the traditional family”.

O’Reilly intentionally distorts the belief of those he disagrees with. Most liberals believe in a balance of both personal responsibility and social responsibility.

O’Reilly wants to skip over the issue of race in the Martin killing because if American took a close look at our society they would find institutional and/or systemic racism in housing, employment, education, voting rights, and a myriad of other public and private institutions. But perhaps most significantly the U.S. has yet to deal with the institutional racism in our criminal justice system.

If O’Reilly were a responsible and honest commentator, he would not only talk about personal responsibility but also talk about the systematic injustice people of color are routinely subjected to. Studies have shown, with all things equal, if you are black you are more likely to be arrested after being stopped by the police for a minor criminal offense. If you are black, you are also more likely to be convicted and receive much harsher sentences than their white peers. In addition, a U.S. District Judge ruled New York Cities “Stop and Frisk” police policy was unconstitutional and an “indirect form of racial profiling”.  Even the U.S. Supreme Court, in their short-sighted ruling overturn part of the Civil Rights Act stated systematic racial discrimination still exists in the U.S.

O’Reilly irresponsibly wants to paint all of America’s problems on a lack of personal responsibility. He intentionally leaves out the mountain of data that actually paints a very bleak picture of widespread racial discrimination that still exists in nearly every corner of U.S. society.  O’Reilly claims he wants to talk about the roots of the problem and what divides our nation. He wants to talk about the personal responsibilities of an individual without considering the historical context or social conditions which makes a person who they are and the circumstances they may find themselves in.

Like in the Douse and Gulfport school bus case, O’Reilly’s analysis proves simplistic, inaccurate, and irresponsibly misleading.

Further suggested reading and a source for the “mountain of data” on this subject read, The New Jim Crow by Michele Alexander. Here is a link to the introduction to the book.


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Spirited Debate Ends in Dissonance

Lauren Green Ashan

Part One of a new series, You Don’t Know Jack!

This weekend asked, “is this the most embarrassing interview Fox News has ever done?” The post followed a segment from Fox News’ weekend show Spirited Debate, with host and “religion correspondent” Lauren Green.

In the interview, Green repeatedly asked noted religious scholar Reza Aslan, “So you’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”  Aslan tries to explain to Green, “Well, to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees including one in the New Testament and fluency in Biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades, who also just so happens to be Muslim. So it’s not that I’m just some Muslim writing about Jesus. I am an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions.

Green: “Well it still begs the question why would you be interesting in writing a book about Christianity?”

Aslan; “Because it’s my job as an academic. I’m a professor of religion, including the New Testament. That is what I do for a living…”

This line of attack goes on throughout most of the nearly ten minute interview. Aside from Green falsely accusing Aslan of attempting to hide his faith, (which Aslan quickly points out he writes about his religious beliefs on the second page of his book and is talked about in every interview he has been asked to do.)  In the middle of the segment, Aslan attempts to change the direction of the conversation,

Aslan: “I’m more than willing to talk about the arguments of the book itself. But I do think it is perhaps a little bit strange that rather than debating the arguments of the book we are debating the right of the scholar to actually write it.”

But Green persists in this line of questioning by blindly pushes-on with the reading of an online chat comment from a Fox News viewer.

Taylor:  “So your book is written with clear bias and you are trying to say it’s academic. That’s like a Democrat writing a book about why Reagan wasn’t a good Republican. It just doesn’t work.”

Green: “What do you say to that?”

Aslan: “Well it would be like a Democrat with a Ph.D. in Reagan, who has been studying his life and history for two decades, writing a book about Reagan.”

Green: “But then why would a Democrat want to promote democracy by writing about a Republican?”

Aslan: “It’s unfair…I think that the fundamental problem here is that (you believe) I have some sort of faith based bias in this work that I write. I write about Judaism, I write about Hinduism, I write about Christianity, I write about Islam. My job as a scholar of religions with a Ph.D. in the subject is to write about religions. And one of the religions I have written about is the religion that was launched and founded by Jesus.”

Green: “But Aslan you are not writing about it from the point of view of an observer.”

What Green and most Fox News viewers can never understand is that unlike the right-wing, most people can use rationally fact-based evidence and come up with an understanding that is not tainted with their own personal beliefs.

However, the right-wing, and that includes most Fox News viewers, have fallen victim to a vast web of conspiracy theories that no longer permit them to look at anything that might cause dissonance. In the case of the above interview, we have no less than three conspiracies at work.

The first conspiracy is blatant. It’s the Islamophobic notion that all Muslims are out to kill Christians and that no Muslim can write an honest book about Christianity. Not even a scholar with a Ph.D. in historical religion. According to this conspiracy, only Christians can write an honest book about Christianity. And only Christians that support their particular strain of Christianity are truly believable.

The second conspiracy is just below the surface. It is widely believed by the right-wing that left leaning ivory tower academia is simply a tool for the greater liberal agenda. In spite of the fact that Aslan continued to insist he was simply an historical religious scholar writing about historical events, his argument fell on deaf ears with Fox News viewers. The simple reason why is that the right-wing will only listen to those they perceive as “not bias” and capable of promoting their right-wing agenda.

Which gets us to the third conspiracy, Aslan’s book is promoted by the liberal media and that is why the right watch Fox News in the first place. Fox viewers want to watch Green on air attack Aslan as a bias charlatan. Only Fox News will do this. To the right, Fox News is providing “Fair and Balanced” news as opposed to All other media sources on T.V. who refuse to attack Aslan. To loyal Fox News viewers, CNN, CBS, ABC, and NBC are all corrupted by liberal bias and therefore not valid news sources.

This past April, Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of Western Australia, published a paper in the journal Psychological Science. His work looks at the thinking behind conspiracy theories.  Soon after, posted an interesting interview with Lewandowsky. Here is just one question in this most fascinating interview. I would encourage interesting in politics to read the entire interview.

Salon:What are the psychological forces at play in conspiracy thinking?”

Lewandowsky: “Basically what’s happening in any conspiracy theory is that people have a need or a motivation to believe in this theory, and it’s psychologically different from evidence-based thinking. A conspiracy theory is immune to evidence, and that can pretty well serve as the definition of one. If you reject evidence, or reinterpret the evidence to be confirmation of your theory, or you ignore mountains of evidence to focus on just one thing, you’re probably a conspiracy theorist. We call that a self-sealing nature of reasoning.”

In a recent study in PLOS One, an online academic journal, the psychologist Jay Van Bavel and his colleagues at New York University tested whether the political right or left wing thinkers were more likely to avoid cognitive dissonance.

In the experiment they asked supporters of George W. Bush and Barack Obama to write essays supporting the president they opposed. The test was designed to study, “the ability to craft logical arguments arguing positions you may not personally endorse.”

In the end, not a single Bush supporter would write a pro Obama essay while 28% of Obama supporters were willing to do so.  The study posted some of the comments by conservatives that refused to write a pro Obama article like: “Not for all the tea in China would I write that.” In contrast, the study suggests the Obama supporters who wrote pro Bush essays suggested, “This was fun!”

The following is an important excerpt from the above Van Bavel study at New York University:

“Although motivated avoidance of unwelcome or contradictory information is quite common, there are cross-cultural and inter-individual differences in the ways in which people respond to dissonance-arousing situations [31], [32], [33] and engage in selective exposure [34]. Individuals who are dispositionally high (vs. low) in the need for consistency are especially likely to report psychological discomfort in response to conflicting cognitions [35]. In addition, it appears that threat causes individuals who are high in authoritarianism to exhibit an even stronger preference for exposure to one-sided, pro-attitudinal information [36]. Low authoritarians, by contrast, prefer two-sided information even under conditions of threat.

Given that political conservatives possess stronger needs for order, structure, consistency, and closure and weaker tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity [21], it is plausible that they would be more strongly motivated to avoid the arousal of cognitive dissonance (and perhaps even the potential for dissonance arousal), in comparison with liberals. Consistent with this notion, a few studies indicate that selective exposure is more prevalent on the political right than the left [11], [13], [14].”

What happened on Fox News’ program Spirited Debate was simply yet another example of media organization pandering to their religiously bias, and increasing conspiratorial minded audience? While might suggest Lauren Green’s interview this past weekend was Fox News’s most “embarrassing interview…ever.” I have a feeling we have a lot more embarrassing interviews to come.

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Alex Jones and Antigovernment “Patriot” Groups

Alex Jones wuzzadem photo

This past week, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released their annual spring report on Hate and Extremist groups in the United States. While “hate groups” have essentially leveled off, white supremacists groups like the neo-Nazis and other anti-Semitic groups like the Nation of Islam, “extremist groups”, antigovernment “Patriot”groups often tied to militias, are on the rise.

According to the SPLC’s spring 2013 Intelligence Report,  “Capping four years of explosive growth sparked by the election of America’s first black president and anger over the economy, the number of conspiracy-minded antigovernment “Patriot” groups reached an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012, while the number of hard-core hate groups remained above 1,000. As President Obama enters his second term with an agenda of gun control and immigration reform, the rage on the right is likely to intensify.”

The SPLC states that core “Patriot” ideology circles around, “Fears of impending gun control or weapons confiscations, either by the government or international agencies… As a result, many antigovernment activists believe that being well armed is a must. The militia movement engages in paramilitary training aimed at protecting citizens from this feared impending government crackdown.”

One conspiracy theory the recent report highlights is known as Agenda 21, “The latest and most dramatic example of that may be the completely baseless claim that Agenda 21 — a United Nations sustainability plan that was signed by President George H.W. Bush but has no mandatory provisions whatsoever — is part of a plan to impose socialism on America and strip away private property rights” (emphasis added).

That claim has been pushed heavily by, among others, the John Birch Society, a conspiracist Patriot organization that was exiled from the conservative movement a half century ago after claiming President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a Communist agent (see story, p. 24).”Last year, the Republican National Committee passed a plank opposing Agenda 21 and describing it as a “destructive and insidious scheme” to impose “socialist/communist redistribution of wealth.” The state of Alabama passed a law barring any policies traceable to Agenda 21 without “due process.”

Although the SPLC’s recent report didn’t name Alex Jones by name, this is where the master conspiracy theorist enters the picture. describes radio host/con-man, “Alex Jones (b. 1974) is a radio personality who never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like. He is one of the very few people to make Glenn Beck look sane and rational in comparison. And that is all you really need to know about him.

His radio program is typified by frequent use of the Imperial March from Star Wars while he rants about the impending roundup and execution of Americans by the New World Order (NWO) in the next week or two. He has been predicting this for well over a decade now. We’re still waiting.”

The same type of people that follow Alex Jones and Infowars today could have been conned into drinking the Kool-Aid by Jim Jones or other cult leaders before the internet.

The SPLC does have a file on Alex Jones, “Alex Jones knows how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

“Every week from his studio in Austin, Texas, he dives into red-faced tirades exposing the forces that threaten to enslave all human life on the planet. The conspiracy always boils down to about the same thing: eugenics operations, the militarization of the police, a cabal of wealthy corporations and the United Nations involved in a fiendish plot to control the world.

Jones has accused the federal government of involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks, said that the Branch Davidian cultists in Texas were purposely murdered by authorities, claimed that FEMA is secretly building concentration camps for liberty-loving citizens, and issued a series of videos with hair-raising, B horror-film titles. A sampling: “911: The Road to Tyranny,” “Police State 3: Total Enslavement,” “The Masters of Terror: Exposed,” “New World Order: Blueprint of Madmen” and “The Obama Deception: The Mask Comes Off.””

Jones is a political charlatan that preaches the apocalypse all the while pawning video manuals on how-to-survive the impending government take-over and FEMA concentration camps.  In many ways, Alex Jones is the mouthpiece for the Patriot movement. Folks like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have nothing on Jones, and he knows it.  Yesterday, on Jones’ primary website,, writer, and Jones’ disciple, Kurt Nimmo proudly compared MSNBC’s host Lawrence O’Donnell’s audience with The Alex Jones Show and he can’t help himself in throwing in a comparison with Limbaugh’s and Becks influence as well.

Nimmo writes, “On an average day, Larry’s show draws a paltry 240,000 viewers while the Alex Jones Show routinely gathers an audience in the millions. “The Alex Jones Show is carried on over 70 AM and FM radio stations across the United States, Shortwave, and XM Radio,” writes Rachel Woodhouse. “Jones draws a bigger audience online than Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck combined,” Alexander Zaitchik writes in Rolling Stone.”

Alex Jones cartoon

The numbers from the SPLC are staggering, “The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) count of 1,360 Patriot groups in 2012 was up about % from the 1,274 active in 2011. And that was only the latest growth spurt in the Patriot movement, which generally believes that the federal government is conspiring to take Americans’ guns and destroy their liberties as it paves the way for a global “one-world government.” From a mere 149 organizations in 2008, the number of Patriot groups shot up to 512 in 2009, jumped again to 824 in 2010, and then skyrocketed to 1,274 in 2011 before hitting their all-time high last year.”

Jones does not shy away from promoting the bogus Agenda 21 conspiracy.  His website Infowars declares , “The already evident abuses of world government bodies (under various names and sub-organizations) is masked by declarations of respect for the environment, for human rights, and other lofty ideals. In reality, however, there are ruthless control freaks manipulating the terms of our enslavement. Real life measures for carbon tax schemes, energy austerity, food management, species & habitat management, re-wilding (land seizure) takeovers and more have been vehicles for eugenicist-banker led agendas– indeed ambitious components of Agenda 21 that are changing the rules of the game to the eternal detriment of freedom.”

What did the SPLC say of Jones’ rhetoric again?

“Every week from his studio in Austin, Texas, he dives into red-faced tirades exposing the forces that threaten to enslave all human life on the planet. The conspiracy always boils down to about the same thing: eugenics operations, the militarization of the police, a cabal of wealthy corporations and the United Nations involved in a fiendish plot to control the world.”

The SPLC highlights the fact that Timothy McVeigh shared “Patriot” movement beliefs. The SPLC counts “over  100 domestic radical-right plots, conspiracies and racist rampages … since the Oklahoma City bombing left 168 men, women and children dead in 1995.” This comparison

Infowars writes, “It’s obvious the establishment cannot compete and is rapidly losing its once indomitable advantage. In response to this dangerous situation, it has resorted to a last ditch “B” plan – a juiced-up effort to characterize a viable political opposition as violent redneck racist terrorists wending their way toward another Oklahoma City event. For the elite, the only option is to portray Alex Jones as the new Osama bin Laden and the patriot movement as a domestic al-Qaeda.”

Jones claims the liberal media elites are attacking the Patriot movement and Alex Jones because they are losing ratings and the war on ideas.  Like Glenn Beck, Jones fails to realize his radical alternative reality fantasies can incite violent reactions from one or more of his less stable listeners. One recently example of this is the case of Glenn Beck follower Bryon Williams. A couple years back, Williams got caught in a gun battle with police on a Northern California freeway, not far from my house.

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle the, “5-year-old parolee, described by his mother, Janice Williams, as angry at leftwing politicians.” She said her son had been watching news and was upset by “the way congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items.” Janice Williams went on, “eventually, I think we’re going to be caught up in a revolution.” But she said she had told her son many times that “he didn’t have to be on the front lines.”

Williams was stopped by the California Highway Patrol with a truck full of guns and ammo on his way to shoot-up the liberal philanthropic organization the Tides Foundation and the local office of the ACLU.  According to Williams’ mother, her son was heavily influenced by Glenn Beck on Fox News. Beck had placed the Tides Foundation at the center of his own NWO conspiracy theory.

There should be no doubt, Jones and the so-called “Patriot” movement are playing with fire. One day, and I fear not too far in the near future, antigovernment extremist groups will inspire another Timothy McVeigh nutcase.

There will always be good reason not to trust our government. In fact, a healthy dose of mistrust in the government is good. Stock-piling weapons and preparing for a “Second American Revolution” to overthrow the U.S. government borders on sedition and treason.  In 1791 George Washington used the army to put down an armed insurrection during the anti-tax Whiskey Rebellion and such behavior by the idiot Patriot movement will surly suffer the same fate.

What’s more likely, as the SPLC aptly points out is some deranged lone wolf follower of Alex Jones will take matters in his own hands and we have another Oklahoma City bombing or massacre because they wholeheartedly believe in the apocalyptic world-view Jones is offering for only $19.95 in the two DVD series.


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Heckling the Victim: A Common Right-Wing Tactic

(families of Sandy Hook (Reuters)

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted on her Facebook page,

“I am appalled by MSNBC’s reporting morals, for editing the news with the purpose of sensationalizing the polarizing topic of gun control for their own agenda, and misleading people about what really happened during a hearing about gun control in Hartford, Conn. . .
There was no ‘heckling’. A question was asked by Neil Heslin, the father of six year old Jesse Lewis who sadly perished in the tragedy of the Sandy Hook school shooting. There was no response to this open question directed toward the audience during his heartfelt testimony. Complete silence. After this respectful silence, Mr. Heslin stated that ‘not one person can answer that question’. It was then that people with opposing views spoke up with their answers.

No matter which topic a news outlet is reporting about, the whole story should be told. It is tragic that some news agencies feel the need to create news rather than report it. The fact that MSNBC chose this tragedy to showcase their sensationalistic agenda is unconscionable. Shame on MSNBC. I don’t subscribe to television service, but if I did, I sure would not trust anything reported by MSNBC.”

It wasn’t just MSNBC that was being criticized for using the word “heckled” when characterizing the interruption of Mr. Heslin’s congressional testimony. The Huffington Post and several liberal/progressive websites also used the word “heckle” to describe the event.

Media opinion blogger Erik Wemple of the Washington Post agrees with my friend and has spilled a half gallon of ink on his blog explaining why he thinks MSNBC and Piers Morgan of CNN were wrong to label the event heckling. Wemple has called Morgan’s use of the word, “Misleading, at the very best: Heslin, as explained here, actually invited members of the audience at a meeting in Hartford to rebut his testimony.

Here’s the relevant transcript:

Heslin: “I don’t know how many people have young children or children. But just try putting yourself in the place that I’m in or these other parents that are here. Having a child that you lost. It’s not a good feeling; not a good feeling to look at your child laying in a casket or looking at your child with a bullet wound to the forehead. I ask if there’s anybody in this room that can give me one reason or challenge this question: Why anybody in this room needs to have an, one of these assault-style weapons or military weapons or high-capacity clips…..Not one person can answer that question.”

Crowd/Alleged Hecklers: “Second Amendment shall not be infringed”

Public official: “Please no comments while Mr. Heslin is speaking. Or we’ll clear the room. Mr. Heslin, please continue.”

Wemple goes on to point out, “MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell votes in favor of the “heckling” interpretation. He said on last night’s show, “Heckling’s when you say something stupid from the audience. And when a speaker rhetorically or directly asks an audience why you need 30-round magazines and assault weapons, and you yell a response which is basically ‘I think the Second Amendment says I can have them,’ you have not answered the question about why you need them.’

Clever thing that O’Donnell has done here — redefine the term “heckling” to apply narrowly to what happened in that hearing room. In doing so, he bypasses a more common definition, one that doesn’t help his case quite as much.” The more common definition Wemple provides by Merriam-Webster states, “Heckle: to harass and try to disconcert with questions, challenges, or gibes”

Wemple goes on to point out the audience showed great restraint throughout the majority of the testimony and therefore the disruptive comments were not intended to heckle Mr. Heslin. However, the crowd (two or more in the audience) was disconcerting and challenged Mr Heslin. Let’s also keep in mind comments were not permitted from the peanut gallery. Wemple’s argument that the audience showed great restraint prior to the outburst doesn’t hold a lot of weight given the fact that they were required to and had they not they would have been thrown out .

Whether it was fair to call the inappropriate outbursts heckling or not is really more about a media personalities working to improve their ratings, sell papers, or get clicks on their articles than any real scandal or breach in media ethics. It’s simply a game of semantics played out by media elites in order to create news out of a non-news grammatically technical sidebar. Much to do about nothing.

Victim heckling, the most sickening of all heckling, has been all too common amongst the right-wing. Certainly both the political left and right are guilty of heckling. In fact, some organizations, like the liberal anti-war group Code Pink, make heckling their trademark. It is one thing to heckle a politician or authority figure. However, it is entirely a different thing to heckle a victim. Unfortunately, this type of victim heckling has become all too common a tactic coming from the right-wing.

While many may take issue with whether Mr. Heslin was actually heckled while giving testimony, there is no doubt that many of the family members of those that lost their loved ones at Sandy Hook Elementary have been heckled and harassed by a vicious group of right-wing zealots.

One of the many articles on the conspiracy theories circulated by the right-wing that has resulted with the harassment of the Sandy Hook families can be found in a recent article by Salon. One egregious examples of this harassment would be the attacks on the Parker family. The parents of 6-year-old Emilie Parker, who died of multiple gunshot wounds, have received dozens of threatening phone calls and letters from the Christian right-wing accusing them of faking their own child’s death. Here is how Salon explains the Emily Parker conspiracy attacks:

“The girl in question is Emilie Parker, a 6-year-old who was shot multiple times and killed at Sandy Hook. But for conspiracy theorists, the tears her family shed at her funeral, the moving eulogy from Utah’s governor, and the entire shooting spree are fake. Welcome to the world where Sandy Hook didn’t really happen.

There are dozens of websites, blog posts and YouTube videos extolling the Emilie Parker hoax theory. If you Google her name, the very first result is a post mocking her father for crying at a press conference after the shooting…”

Because victim heckling has become such a common tactic for the right-wing, it should come as no surprise that liberal leaning media elites were quick to use the word heckling in the inappropriate interruption of Mr. Heslin’s testimony.

As I’ve pointed out, this victim heckling is now part of the right-wing’s playbook. Remember when the Affordable Health Care Act was being proposed and Teabaggers verbally attacked the uninsured, terminally ill, and disabled? If you don’t, here is a video that might help jog your memory. All over the country the right-wing heckled victims. It’s becoming a common practice. For more examples of right-wing victim heckling and harassment check out this article I published in back April of 2010.

In response to the criticism, MSNBC has reviewed the use of the word heckle in their programs and determined, “Our team reviewed the unedited clip and determined that it was heckling. The distinction was made because the shouts did not directly address the question being posed and were disruptive.

I agree. But whether my friend and I or for that matter the media wordsmith intelligentsia agree or not on the definition of heckling really means squat. What matters is how we treat one another. Whether we learn to listen and respect opposing opinions or we descend into believing it is right to attack the victims of ill fortune to promote an agenda remains to be seen. The real story here is not whether MSBNC breached journalistic ethics by choosing to use the word heckle to describe the event. The real story that should come out of this is if it ever right to attack the victims of hardship just because you disagree with their perspective or personal ideology.


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Palestinian Statehood: Misuse of Anti-Semitism

Originally published at the Daily Censored for Project Censored

Before I can explore the issue of Palestinian statehood, it is now almost obligatory for human rights activists to discuss what Israeli scholar Norman G. Finkelstein calls the “misuse of anti-Semitism.” This article is the first of no less than three quick articles that explores the question of the Palestinians recent bid for the recognition of statehood. As the title implies, the first article addresses the issue of anti-Semitism. This is important because, as you will see, some believe all criticism of Israeli policy is essentially anti-Semitic.

In essence, this article serves as a Preface to the following articles. The reason it is necessary is because the following articles are critical of Israel, U.S.,  and the U.N.  This quick series of articles will serve no nation. Rather, this series relies on history, the Geneva Convention, and analysis of non-partisan, non-governmental human rights organizations. In addition, this series of articles relies on the works of many Jewish scholars that go against the grain of the main-stream narrative.

Norman G. Finkelstein, the son of holocaust survivors, has made it his life’s work to document the history of Israel, dispel Israeli nationalist myths, and expose the tactics used by the pro-Israeli lobby. His book, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, is perhaps his magnums opus on the subject.

In the book, Finkelstein documents how Jewish American right-winged thinkers began to redefine the meaning of the word anti-Semitic. In particular, Finkelstein points to a book published by Nathan and Ruth Ann Perlmutter titled The Real Anti-Semitism (1982). In a nutshell, Finkelstein explains, “Classical anti-Semitism of the type that targeted Jews simply for being Jewish, according to the Perlmutters, no long posed a potent danger in the United States…A new type of anti-Semitism, however, had replaced it. This ‘real’ anti-Semitism was defined by the Perlumetters as any challenge inimical to Jewish interests…Practically, this meant pinning the epithet ‘anti-Semitic’ on domestic challenges to Jewish class privilege and political power as well as on global challenges to Israeli hegemony.”

Finkelstein goes on, “American Jewish elites were, in effect and in plain sight, cynically appropriating ‘anti-Semitism’ –a historical phenomenon replete with suffering and martyrdom, on the one hand, and hatred and genocide, on the other- as an ideological weapon to defend and facilitate ethnic aggrandizement. ‘Unchallenged and unchecked’ real anti-Semitism, the Perlmutters warned, ‘can lose once again classical anti-Semitism.’ In fact the reverse comes closer to the truth: it is the mislabeling of legitimate challenges to Jewish privilege and powers as anti-Semitism that breeds irrational resentment of Jews.”

The Perlmutters misappropriation of the word anti-Semitism has gone so far the right it’s now off the cliff and floating around in the sphere of right-wing dementia. One glaring flaw in the Perlmutters’ ideology is that not all Jews agree with what the Perlmutters’ definition of “Jewish interests”. In order overcome this problem, the Jewish elites created another new term for Jews, like Finkelstein, that challenged the Perlmutters ‘real anti-Semitism’ thesis. They began to label Jews that disagreed with their new definition of anti-Semitism as “self-hating Jews.” Of course Finkelstein, the guy that helped bring this cynical strategy to light, has long been attacked by the pro-Israeli extremists as one of those “self-hating Jews.”

Finkelstein points out that this tactic of calling anyone critical of Israel’s policies an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew was designed to “stifle” anyone that dares to challenge Israel’s actions. Finkelstein essentially concludes, that the right-wing, pro-Israel lobby’s ‘real anti-Semitism’ strategy has been damaging to Judaism and akin to spitting on the ashes of holocaust victims. Finkelstein argues anti-Semitism is a word that needs to be persevered, not perverted.

American writer Alice Walker wrote about the effects this shameful appropriation of the word anti-Semitism in her book, Overcoming Speechlessness. In the book, Walker, coming off visits to Rwanda and Congo, goes on a tour of Gaza, in support of a few non-profit women’s rights organizations. On the bus ride from Israel to Gaza, Walker begins interviewing the passengers on the bus. Walker writes, “It was moving to hear the stories of why the Jews on our Gaza-bound bus were going to Palestine. Many of them simply said they couldn’t bear the injustice, or the hypocrisy. Having spoken out against racism, terrorism, apartheid elsewhere, how could they be silent about Palestine and Israel? Someone said her friends claimed everyone who spoke out against Israeli treatment of Palestinians was a self-hating Jew (if Jewish) or anti-Semitic (though Palestinians are Semites, too). She said it never seemed to dawn on the persons making the anti-Semitic charge that it is Israel’s behavior people are objecting to and not its religion.”

It is sad that human rights activists have to go into great detail about the history of the use and misuse of the word anti-Semitic. However, thanks to right leaning thinkers like the Perlmutters, anyone that criticizes Israeli policies are now subject to attack.

This series of articles will explore the Palestinian petition for statehood and consider the Quartet options, the U.S., Israel, and Palestinian positions, the history of the conflict, and ideological influences. I will continue to favor and therefore be bias toward the position that respects the Geneva Convention and other international laws, along with internationally recognized human rights organizations. I reject the Perlmutters’ obscene appropriation of the word anti-Semitism. As Finkelstein points out, the abuse the word anti-Semite, only adds further insult to the true victims.

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Book Review: Overcoming Speechlessness by Alice Walker

Seven Stories Press

Alice Walker’s recent book Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel weaves a collection of horrific tales with the lifelong activist’s wisdom and words of hope. This thin 75 page book (or booklet) is published by Seven Stories Press in 2010.

Walker (no relation to me) starts the reader off with an account of her 2007 visit to Rwanda and Eastern Congo. Working for the non-profit organization Women for Women International, Walker went to the war torn area to provide aid to the survivors, write their stories, offer some hope, and pay her “respects to the hundreds of thousands of infants, toddlers, teenagers, adolescents, young engaged couples, married people, women and men, grandmothers and grandfathers brothers and sisters, of every facial shape and body size, who had been hacked into sometimes quite small pieces by armed strangers, or by neighbors, or by acquaintances and “friends” they know.”

Walker recalls several accounts of meeting women survivors who openly shared horrible accounts of rape and mutilations. This little book provides some graphic details and is not for the faint of heart. Walker explains, while in her twenties in college, she had written a thesis paper on the “Belgian” Congo. She goes on to provide a brief history of the colonization of the Congo and recounts the tale where King Leopold of Belgian had instituted a policy of cutting off the hands of the enslaved Africans who were unable to fulfill their rubber quotas.

Walker goes on to recount a meeting with a young women who had been made a sex slave during the recent conflict in Congo and had been become limp because she was “forced to carry loads that bent her double.” The poor women had been virtually struck blind, and yet she was still able to smile and openly share her tragic personal story. Walker asks, “How can she smile?”  Walker then explains the realization she gained from meeting her new “Congolese sister.”  Walker writes, “She understood the importance of speech, speech about the unspeakable, and is a source of my ability to share the following story, a story that had propelled me into a period of speechlessness.” This statement becomes a recurring theme in the book.

The other recurring theme seems to come from her Buddhist belief in oneness. Walker recounts another Rwandan woman’s horrific story of rape and murder and the hope that her daughter was still alive and can be reunited with her mother. Walker writes, “My understanding that Generose’s lost daughter belongs to all of us. It is up to all of us to find her; it is up to us to do our best to make her whole again. There is only one daughter, one father, one mother, one son, one aunt, or uncle…that one right in front of you.”

After flying back to the United States, Walker gets an email asking if she would like to go to Gaza with the women’s anti-war group CODEPINK. Walker recalls a time back in 2003 when she found herself side by side with members of CODEPINK as they were arrested in front of the White House while protesting the start of the war against Iraq.

Just days later, Israel began its twenty-two-day bombardment of Gaza.  Walker writes, “Houses, hospitals, factories, police stations, parliament buildings, ministries, apartment buildings, schools went up in dust. The sight of one family, in which five young daughters had been killed, was seared into my consciousness. The mother, wounded and unconscious, was alive. Who would tell her?” After consulting with her partner, they conclude, “The sooner we reach the people of Gaza, the sooner they’ll know not all Americans are uncaring, deaf and blind, or fooled by the media.”

The remainder of the book Walker guides her readers as she journeys to Gaza for the first time. During the trip, Walker flashes-back to moments in her life, especially during her twenties and thirties, as a civil rights volunteer and writer. Walker recalls the dark times growing up in the Jim Crow south. While arranging her passport to Gaza, a U.S. embassy official questions Walker as to why the Palestinians couldn’t be more like the civil rights movement in America.  Walker responses with what are clearly the most controversial statements made in the book. Therefore, I will provide an extended excerpt in order to provide the full context. Walker responds:

“She- a white woman with a Southern accent – mentioned the success of “our” civil rights movement and asked why the Palestinians couldn’t be more like us. It was a remarkable comment from a perspective of unimaginable safety and privilege; I was moved to tell her of the effort it took, even for someone so inherently nonviolent as me, to contain myself during the seven years in Mississippi when it often appeared there were only a handful of white Mississippians who could talk to a person of color without delivering injury or insult. If we had not been able to change our situation through nonviolent suffering, we would have most certainly, like the African National Congress (ANC), like the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), like Hamas, turned to violence. I told her how dishonest it seemed to me that people claim not to understand the desperate, last-ditch resistance involved in suicide bombing, blaming the oppressed for using their bodies where the Israeli army uses armored tanks.

I remembered aloud, we being Southerners, my own anger at the humiliations, bombings, assassinations that made weeping an endless activity for black people for centuries, and how when we would finally get to a courtroom that was supposed to offer justice, the judge would likely blame us for the crime done against us and call us chimpanzees for making a fuss.”

While waiting for her passport Walker looks at a series of illustrated postcards. The first card depicts a few scattered Jewish villages in the Palestine from 1946, prior to the U.N partition. The next, a few years later, after the U.N. had partition the area depicts about half owned by Israel, and after 1967 the Israeli portion of territory had doubled its land mass again. Walker notices that on the back of one of the cards, “were words from former Israeli president Ariel Sharon, known as the ’Butcher of Sabra and Shatilla’ (refugee camps in Lebanon where he led a massacre of the people), where he talked about making a pastrami sandwich of the Palestinian people, riddling their lands with Jewish settlements until no one would be able to imagine a whole Palestine. Or would know Palestine ever existed.”

Walker then goes on to compare how in the U.S., during the Trail of Tears, the Cherokee were forcefully removed from their homes. Walker writes, “Just as the Israelis have wanted and have taken by force, Palestinian land. Like Americans they have attempted to hide their avarice and cruelty behind a mountain of myths: that no one lived in Palestine, that the Palestinians are savages, that there’s no such thing as a Palestinian (Golda Meir’s offering), that the Israelis are David and the Palestinians Goliath. Which is ridiculous.”

As Walker boards the bus to Gaza she comments, “I had not been on a bus with so many Jews since traveling by Greyhound to the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. John Lewis, and other spoke so passionately of black Americans’ determination to be free.”

Walker goes to ask some of the Jewish passengers why they had decided to make the journey. Walker writes, “It was moving to hear the stories of why the Jews on our Gaza-bound bus were going to Palestine. Many of them simply said they couldn’t bear the injustice, or the hypocrisy. Having spoken out against racism, terrorism, apartheid elsewhere, how could they be silent about Palestine and Israel? Someone said her friends claimed everyone who spoke out against Israeli treatment of Palestinians was a self-hating Jew (if Jewish) or anti-Semitic (though Palestinians are Semites, too). She said it never seemed to dawn on the persons making the anti-Semitic charge that it is Israel’s behavior people are objecting to and not its religion.”

Once again Walker flashes back to the civil rights movement and recounts the story of the “three civil rights workers” as they have become to be known.  One of the civil rights workers was a young black man, named James Chaney, and the other two were white Jewish men, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, from the North. In 1967, while driving down the back roads of Mississippi, their car was firebombed and the three were beaten, shot and buried under a bridge. For months the young men’s bodies were missing and every week the black churches throughout the country prayed for the three young men.  Walker explains that because of their sacrifice, the white Jewish men and their families had become part of the black community’s family. Walker explains Schwerner’s widow still to this day attends gatherings held civil rights activists.

Walker compares Goodman and Schwerner’s story to Rachel Corrie’s story.  Rachel was a young Jewish activist that attempted to stop Israeli tanks from demolishing Palestinian homes. While wearing a bright orange vest and screaming through a blow horn, Rachel stood in front of an approaching tank. Evidence has shown the tank driver clearly know the Solidarity activist was present. However, he moved forward anyway and crushed Rachel to death. Walker notes, in Palestine, Rachel’s Jewish parents are treated with the same reverence the black community holds for the Jewish civil rights workers.

As Walker arrives in Gaza she first notices that under close inspection many of the buildings standing are actually in ruins. “I realized I had never understood the true meaning of “rubble.”  Such and such was “reduced to rubble” is a phrase we hear. It is different seeing what demolished buildings actually look like.”  Walker goes on to ask, “Where are the World Parents of All Children? The World Caretakers of All the Sick?”

In bouncing back and forth between her expressed love for her Jewish brothers and sisters and  her love for her new Palestinian brothers and sisters, Walker makes it clear she is not focused simply on the plight of one group over the other. However, Walker has spent a great deal of her life’s activism on the plight of women.  Certainly, one can’t fault her for that.

One of the main purposes Walker’s trip to Gaza was to visit a Palestinian center for women, on International Women’s Day in 2009.  Walker spends a good deal of the remaining chapters on the book on her conversations with Palestinian women and their tragic stories. Many of the women had lost family members or their entire families to the ceaseless bombardments and siege. One of the most heart wrenching story comes when Walker finds herself embracing a young Palestinian woman who was holding a photo of her six year old daughter wearing a white tutu and dancing. During a recent bombardment the poor child was hit throughout her body and bleed to death in her mother’s arms.  This is a very powerful scene in the book.

While Walker’s concerns are clearly focused on humanity, she shows no real affection for Islam as a religion.  In fact, she spends more time praising Christianity, Buddhism, and Judaism than she does on Islam. What she does say about Islam is fairly critical. Walker spends a good chapter in the book on the headscarf. Walker writes, “I have learned of the prophet Mohammed’s demand that his own wives be veiled, to protect them from the gaze of visitors and strangers, and of course the ongoing discussions regarding hijab wearing in England and France have been much in the news. There is also the brutal insistence in some Muslim countries that women cover themselves to demonstrate submission to religious, and male, authority. However, I am curious to know what grassroots Arab women thing about the scarf.”

I don’t want to give away the entire book, but some of the women’s responses might surprise Western readers.  Walker’s little book is filled with many powerful little stories like the few I have highlighted in this review. Never does the reader get the impression that Walker feels a sense of self-importance, a person of self realized grandeur on a grand mission to save the world. Rather, one can only conclude Walker’s only mission is to tell the stories of the people who are suffering throughout the world.  Walker seems to want to offer a little bit of hope to each person she meets. She encourages nonviolence, but she is not perplexed by why an oppressed people might retaliate with violence. She knows why, she has lived the experience of being an oppressed person.

Recently, Walker participated in the Freedom Flotilla Two campaign to Gaza. There were several writers that criticized Walker for her participation. Most notably, distinguished writer and Zionist activist Howard Jacobson.  In an opinion piece  Jacobson wrote for CNN:

“But beyond associating her decision with Gandhi, Martin Luther King and very nearly, when she talks about the preciousness of children, Jesus Christ, she fails to give a single convincing reason for it (flotilla).”

You may want to argue that had Gaza been treated differently it would have responded differently, but if the aim of the flotilla is to ensure that one child will not be set above another it is hard to see how challenging the blockade will achieve it. All an Israeli parent will see is a highly charged emotionalism disguising an action that, by its very partiality, chooses the Palestinian child over the Israeli.

The Israeli response is thus already an act of unprovoked murder, no matter that the flotilla is by its very essence a provocation.”

Another young white writer foolishly went so far as to suggest Walker had delusions of being a Christ figure and quipped, “Actually I’m surprised she needed a ship at all. Surely the waters would part before this modern Grandma Moses as the Red Sea parted before, well, Moses!” This shameful writer is essentially suggesting Walker believes she is a “Grandma Moses” and in some way the leader of the flotilla or a  mass of people and therefore better than the rest. The writer calls Walker “sanctimonious.”  Of course, anyone that knows a bit of the history of the Jim Crow South would know this type of suggestion was also commonly made about civil rights workers by the racist white Southerners. This is essentially known by most people of color in America as the “uppity black” argument.  Walker would call this most foolish statement by, an otherwise talented (intentionally unnamed to protect the ignorant) writer, as a “doofus” moment.

In one of Walker’s civil rights movement flashbacks, Walker does speak of how the gay civil rights strategist, Bayard Rustin, introduced the Gandhian nonviolence approach to MLK Jr.’s Christian tradition which created the spiritual essence of America’s civil rights movement. However, nowhere in Walker’s writings do you see her claim to be the heir apparent to Gandhi or MLK Jr. Rather, you see Walker consider herself more like a foot-soldier with a microphone. It is obvious to anyone that reads her book Overcoming Speechlessness that Walker is far too concerned with telling the stories of the people she meets, than she is of telling her own personal story.

Finally, as to Jacobson’s point about the flotilla being provocative. Hell yes it was provocative! That was the whole point. Just like the Freedom Riders bus rides into the deep South were provocative. If you don’t know about the Freedom Riders check out this  PBS Video. Essentially, during the Jim Crow era which Walker was raised in, blacks had to sit in the back of the bus throughout the South.  However, in 1960 the U.S. Supreme Court began  overthrowing the separate but equal laws. To test the South’s adherence to the law, black and white civil rights activists started sitting next to each other on interstate buses traveling in the South.

In Anniston and Birmingham Alabama  as the riders exited the bus, white mobs, supported by the Birmingham police department,  attacked the passengers on the buses with baseball bats, iron pipes and bicycles chains. Of course, the whole purpose of the Freedom Riders was provocative. It was meant to provoke an awareness to the injustice. The fact that the Freedom Riders mission was to be provocative, didn’t give the Alabama police and white mobs permission to brutalize the activists. In fact, most people of good conscious were repulsed by the vicious beatings of the Freedom Riders.

That is the whole purpose of nonviolent civil disobedience. Being a former employee of Greenpeace, this is something I’m no stranger to myself.  There is a wonderful Christian tradition, strongly supported by the Quakers, known as “bearing witness.” Walker’s book Overcoming Speechlessness is in the tradition of this great Christian value. Overcoming Speechlessness is a must read for all writers and activist who wish to provide a voice for others and, in their own small way, some good for the planet.

Below you will find three videos by Nina Simon.  Songs written before, during, and after blacks were finally given equal rights in America. Nina Simon’s songs express musically the landscaped in which Alice Walker was raised in.

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Republicans, Ayn Rand, and Satanism?

“Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism. And this to me is what matters most.”  Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan.


(Now that Mitt Romney has officially selected Wisconsin U.S. Representative Paul Ryan as his running-mate, I thought I might be a good idea to republish an article I originally wrote for Project Censored in June, 2011.  For Ryan’s friends, family, and staff, Ayn Rand is required  reading).

In the interest of full disclosure, I consider myself spiritually agnostic. That said, can I get a Hallelujah! Some Christians are finally getting hip to the fact that Republicans have been worshiping at the altar of Ayn Rand, and unwittingly the Church of Satan. I kid you not. Well, at least the part about Ayn Rand. As for the Satanism bit, there is only one degree of separation between Rand’s philosophy and Satanism, but more on this later.

Personally, I enjoyed reading Rand’s books. Perhaps twenty years ago, I  read her novels Atlas Shrugged, and The Fountainhead, as well as her non-fiction book Virtue of Selfishness. Rand is most known for her novels. However, Rand’s philosophy of “Objectivism” is what attracted both me and many extreme Right-wingers in America. Coming from a conservative Christian family, I have followed the writings and influences of Right-wing extremism my entire life. In the 1970’s, for summer vacation, our family went to Ocean Grove, New Jersey for a James Dobson, Focus on the Family, “Dare to Discipline” seminar.

Anyway, I rejected Dobson and Rand’s philosophies. Deep down inside, I was convinced altruism was inherently moral, valuable, and virtuous. However, I agree with some of what Rand espoused. For example, like Rand, Aristotle, and our Founding Fathers,  I believe reason and logic should play a determining role in one’s life. I also agree with Rand avoidance of superstitions. However, I strongly disagree with her conclusions on individualism and collectivism. Rand seems to suggest individualism and collectivism is always working against each other and can never work hand in hand. I find Rand’s worldview to be a dark and disturbing portrait in black and white.

For Rand, a child of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, capitalism and socialism were diametrically opposing ideas that could never be balanced. Rand believed Liaise-Faire capitalism represented the highest form of morality. She believed it was only logical that individuals sought after their own selfish needs first and foremost. She claimed those that pursued a morality of selfishness were most able to rise to the top and conquer the world. By the virtue of their selfish ambitions, individuals could acquire great material wealth, power, and individual freedoms. Therefore, Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is essentially the virtue of selfish individualism.

Since the McCarthy area, Rand’s Objectivism has been a leading philosophy for both Right-wing extremist and radical libertarians. Although, it should be pointed out, many notable mainstream conservatives became early fans of Rand’s. In fact, Alan Greenspan once was a member of Rand’s New York “Collective”. Some biographies have described Rand’s “Collective” as somewhat like a “cult”.

For those that are not interested in reading Rand’s books, check out this three part interview of Ayn Rand, conducted in 1959 by Mike Wallace. Here are the links to Part I, Part II, and Part III. The entire interview is fascinating, but I’ll quote one question and answer from the interview:

Wallace: “How does your philosophy translate into politics? One of the most principle achievements of this country in the past twenty years and practically, I think most people agree, is the gradual growth of social protective legislation based on the principle that we are our bothers keeper. How do you feel about the political trends of the United States, Western world?”

Ayn Rand: “The way everybody feels, except more consciously. I feel that it is terrible. That you see destruction and that you are moving toward disaster, until and unless all those welfare state conceptions have been reversed and rejected. It is precisely these trends that are bringing the world toward disaster. Because, we are now moving toward complete collectivism, or socialism. A system in which everyone is enslaved to everybody and we are moving that way only because of our altruistic morality.”

Rand goes on to state that she is in favor of complete separation of economy and state, like the separation of church and state. Rand further states that she believes the government does not have the right to regulate the affairs of it citizens, nor demand they pay taxes. She suggests taxes  should be voluntary.

I rejected Rand’s Objectivism because I believe people putting themselves first does not always promote economic efficiency, nor does it represent the best of America or the human spirit. I believe, as our Founding Fathers believed, it is the government’s role to make laws and raise taxes to promote and protect the general welfare of the people. In fact, after the American Revolution, the first order of business by the first U.S. Congress was to levy tariffs (import taxes) and to tax wealthy businesses –  via the Whiskey Tax. Benjamin Franklyn famously said, “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Guided by the policies of Alexander Hamilton and the leadership of George Washington, the Founding Fathers took the money raised by the tariffs and taxes and used the funds to help pay off America’s war debt, build bridges, roads and schools. This, of course, is an example of early American collectivism, which Rand and the Right-wing have openly scorned.

As I mentioned before, Christian groups are beginning to get hip on the whole Republican selfish Objectivism ideology. A recent campaign, by the American Values Network (AVN), a coalition of Christian organizations, has blasted Representative Paul Ryan and the Republican Party’s budget plans, which they are calling the “Rand Plan”. At this AVN website, a video ad shows Senator Rand Paul, along with other Republican leaders like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, praising Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Representative Paul Ryan is seen in the video clip stating, “Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism. And this to me is what matters most.”

According to AVN, Paul Ryan requires all his staff, including interns, to read Atlas Shrugged. Republican’s devotion to Rand’s selfish morality has become the final straw for many Christians. AVN is now speaking out against the Right-wings selfish lead morality. Here are the opening two paragraphs from the AVN webpage:

“GOP leaders and conservative pundits have brought upon themselves a crisis of values. Many who for years have been the loudest voices invoking the language of faith and moral values are now praising the atheist philosopher Ayn Rand whose teachings stand in direct contradiction to the Bible. Rand advocates a law of selfishness over love and commands her followers to think only of themselves, not others. She said her followers had to choose between Jesus and her teachings.

GOP leaders want to argue that they are defending Christian principles. But, at the same time, Rep. Paul Ryan (author of the GOP budget) is posting facebook videos praising Rand’s morality and saying hers is the “kind of thinking that is sorely needed right now.” Simply put, Paul Ryan can’t have it both ways, and neither can Christians. As conservative evangelical icon Chuck Colson recently stated, Christians can not support Rand’s philosophy and Christ’s teachings. The choice is simple: Ayn Rand or Jesus Christ. We must choose one and forsake the other.”

As a religiously agnostic person, I don’t really care about Rand’s atheism. However, as with the Christian groups, I believe Rand’s selfish driven, utopian vision morality of capitalism and individualism to be, in fact, immoral. One of the many Bible texts the Christians are quoting to counter the GOP’s worshiping at the altar of selfishness is Luke 27 – 30:

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”

Many Christians are claiming the GOP’s budget plans are inspired by Rand and antithetical to Jesus Christ. In case the Christians missed it, I would like to provide a bit of further proof for the claim Rand’s philosophy is diametrically opposite of Jesus’ message. Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, melded Ayn Rand’s philosophy into the Satanic Bible. Here are direct quotes from the Church of Satan website from the official biography of LaVey and the ideology behind his book the Satanic Bible:

“Unlike the founders of other religions, who claimed exalted “inspiration” delivered through some supernatural entity, LaVey readily acknowledged that he used his own faculties to synthesize Satanism, based on his understanding of the human animal and insights gained from earlier philosophers who advocated materialism and individualism

By the end of 1969, LaVey had taken monographs he had written to explain the philosophy and ritual practices of the Church of Satan and melded them with all of his philosophical influences from Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, Mencken, and London along with the base wisdom of the carnival folk.”

Rand’s philosophy of materialism and individualism plays a key role in the ideology of Satanism. Not that I really give any credit to Satanism. In fact, I give as much weight to Satanism as I do Objectivism.  The whole Satanism thing is mostly for entertainment sake. After all, LaVey was actually a talented entertainer before developing the modern philosophy of Satanism. Like LaVey,  Rand started out as an entertainer before developing her own philosophy. Perhaps Rand was secretly entertained by the fact that people were following her philosophy? The fact that modern Satanism was influenced by Ayn Rand’s philosophy is a  sideshow, but something I find entertaining and  something my Christians friends might find curious, scary, or just outright disturbing.

You don’t have to be a Christian to believe in much of what Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and “Love your enemy.” These are hard words to follow, yet deep down many people know the truth in these words. Not only that, recent studies has confirmed altruism has been show to have positive health effects. Therefore it is logical to support the Bible when it declares in Act 25:30, “I have shown you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive”.

While I agree with Ayn Rand that one must be lead by logic and reason, I find people are seldom logical and reasonable. Our Founding Fathers also valued logic and reason.  Yet, as practical men, they knew our budding nation needed  to collectively pull together. We needed to become a network of communities (a republic) bound by a greater purpose and sharing in its common dreams and fortunes.  The collective dreams and purpose of our Founding Fathers were laid out in the Declaration of Independence,  the U.S. Constitution and other early national documents. While on the surface our national documents may seem to some  logical and reasonable, they are actually wide open for interpretation and at times anything but logical and reasonable.

Our Founding Fathers were able to balance the collective interests of our nation with the interests of the individual. They heavily regulated capitalism and laid the pathway to collectivism and  socialism. In spite of what the Right-wing ideologues would like people to believe, (Satanists proudly proclaim to be devout liars) Hamilton and Washington, used the collective wealth of the nation to create schools, pay off debts and provide for the general welfare of our new nation.

The GOP has turned bridge building and other acts of  national collectivism from our Founding Fathers into acts of evil. The Right-wing holds materialism, individualism, capitalism, and selfishness as the highest forms of morality. Seven days a week, Satanists and GOP “Christians” are preaching the “virtues” of materialism, individualism, selfishness,  and Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.  Paul Ryan’s budget plans are designed to deregulate  industries, systematically strip away the middle-class safety-net, grow the national debt, and further concentrate America’s wealth into the hands of a few, very powerfully, selfish driven people. Just as Ayn Rand envisioned.


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Republican Fascism

Are the Republicans and the far Right leaning toward fascism? That sounds like a radical question, and certainly not all Republicans are fascists, but let’s consider past and current historical events.

We need to start with a little history. Benito Mussolini is recognized as the father of fascism. When asked how he would describe his movement Mussolini responded, “Fascism should more appropriately be called “Corporatism” because it is a merger of state and corporate power”. Political scientists have long described fascism as a blend of state and corporate power propped up by authoritarian nationalism. Given Mussolini’s other comments on authoritarianism and nationalism, it is doubtful he would have objected to this characterization.

Without a doubt, Adolf Hitler was inspired by and replicated in his own early rise many aspects of the fascist movement.

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting the Republican Party has a master plan in which they are plotting to build gas chambers to kill all the Muslims, socialists, and gays. However, Republicans have been behaving much like the Fascists and Nazis movements during their early rise to power. Essentially, I am suggesting the Republicans and far Right-wing are taking the first few pages out of the Fascist Party playbook.

Consider for example the famous poem by German theologian Martin Niemoller. Niemoller was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp Dachau. After the war, Niemoller spoke frequently of Germany collective responsibility for Nazi atrocities. As a pastor, he persuasively preached about the need for German Protestant Church’s “Confession of Guilt.” Niemoller wrote several books over the course of his life. However, his untitled poem is by far his most memorable writing:

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me–
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

In another version of the poem, Niemoller added schools and the press to the list of people the Nazis went after before going after the questioning theologians, like Niemoller, that finally spoke out against all the killing. It is no coincidence that the Nazi Party took the same course Benito Mussolini took the Fascist Party to power. At first, Hitler nearly idolized Mussolini and went about replicated him.

Mussolini was the son of a school teacher and devout socialist. As a young adult, he first followed in his father’s footsteps and even became an editor to a socialist newspaper. However, after Mussolini enlisted as a junior officer in the Italian Army, during the World War I, Mussolini came home to build a political party that embraced the rich industrialists and eventually brutalized the very same socialists he once knew as friends and allies.

Once again, I’m not saying that the Republicans are like the Nazi’s or the Fascists in their grand plan toward a “final solution”. However, what I am arguing is that they are embracing some of the same ideological beliefs and tactics that two of the most dangerous political movements the world has ever seen. What I am saying is the Republicans, Tea Party, and other elements of the far Right are creeping toward fascism. What I am also saying is that American’s need to seriously look back history in order to avoid repeating it.

Fox News, radical Right-wing radio, and extremist’s blogs have been purposefully misleading their sheepeople. They are have been propagandizing the flock to believe liberals and liberalism is related to fascism. A recent revisionist history book titled “Liberal Fascism” became a best seller amongst Right-wing ideologues. All the while Fox News stars and talk radio hosts like Laura Ingraham and Glenn Beck, along with a host of Tea Party speakers, have been sinisterly misquoting Niemoller’s profound poem with absurd quotes like, “First they came for the rich, and I did not speak out because I was not rich, Then they confiscated the property owners, Then they took away our right to bear arms, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t armed.”

I don’t know what is more perverse, the fact that the extremist Right-wingers are flipping history and Niemoller’s poem on its head, or the fact that the very folks misquoting history are all rich, property owners stockpiling guns?

Clearly demonstrated, and contrary to what the crazy Right-wing has been saying, Fascism is simply another word for “corporatism.” It is the empowerment of militant, rich property owners over minority groups like Socialists, unionists, teachers, and press. It is a movement that demonizes liberals and religious minorities, while propping up ardent militant nationalism.

So I ask you, does this sound anything like what we are seeing in America today? To repeat myself, I’m not saying Republicans are plotting out sites for mass graves. However, Republicans and the far Right-wing in America have been involved in an onslaught of verbal and violent attacks on socialists, unions, and minorities. The radicals on the Right have attempted to paint our school teachers and the press as simple pawns of “Chairman” Obama.

All the while, the malicious Republicans have been cozying up to Adolf Coors and the Koch brother billionaires. In return for political power and personal wealth, the Right-wing showers favors on their benefactors by providing them with massive tax cuts, corporate welfare, and revisionist history telling. All the while, the Right has been recently engaged in an overt attack on the middle class, school teachers, trade unionist, and are now holding hearings in Congress on Muslims. It should come as no surprise, since Barack Obama became president, the nation is experienced a dramatic uptick in hate groups like the Aryan Nation and other Christian White supremacy movements, including the Ku Klux Klan.

Imagine an America where the Commander and Chief manufactures a crises, declares a state of emergency, and then replaces all the democratically elected officials with corporate shills that support his own personal ambitions. That is how soft-core fascism works. That is also what has now been permitted to happen in Michigan, thanks to the corporate shill Repugs. Are the Republicans and the far Right-wing leaning toward fascism? There is certainly reason to believe this might be true. Nonetheless, only history will tell us if the Republicans will ultimately abandon democracy for the absolute power a fascist/corporatocracy.


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