Tuesday, December 31, 2013

During the past four years, 19% of Republicans changed their minds about evolution. You'll never guess which direction they're going in

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Almost 1 in 5 Republicans has recently decided that science gets in the way of politics. And that it's the science, not the politics, that should be jettisoned. Who needs critical thinking?

Why Republicans Don’t Believe In Evolution Anymore
By Zack Beauchamp
Think Progress
December 31, 2013

The theory of evolution is right up there with the theory of gravity in terms of its universal acceptance among scientists. But, as we’ve learned from the climate change debate, politics has the power to trump science — and, according to a new Pew poll, it seems like political partisanship may be starting to take its toll on evolution. While a comfortable majority of Republicans accepted human evolution as fact in 2009, Pew finds a plurality now reject it — an astonishing 19 point reversal in four years.

It’s a finding that tells us a lot, both principally about the (ahem) evolution of the Republican Party in the past fours. In short, the kind of person who doesn’t believe in evolution is much more likely be a typical Republican today than four years ago — for reasons that have only a bit to do with the debate over evolution itself.

There are two keys to understanding what the Pew poll teaches us about Republicans. First, the drop in belief in evolution is among Republicans and, more or less, Republicans only. Acceptance of human evolution was basically the same among Democrats and independents in 2013 as it was in 2009. Second, the share of the total population that believes in evolution hasn’t changed at all. The drop in Republican belief doesn’t appear to be people changing their minds about evolution so much as people who already didn’t believe in evolution becoming Republicans.

Why might that be? The obvious explanation is the changing character of the Republican base. When Republicans win in recent years, those victories are won on the backs of old voters, white voters, and religious voters. While race isn’t super-important in predicting views on evolution, age and religion are. Each generation of Americans, Pew found, is increasingly more likely to accept natural human evolution; Americans 18-29 do so by a 68-27 margin, while the number for seniors (65+) is 49-36. Likewise, white evangelical protestants are the group most likely to reject evolution, while the religiously unaffiliated are by far the most likely to accept it.

The winnowing of self-identified Republicans to these demographic groups has been dramatic in recent years. The overall number of Americans who identify as Republicans hovered around 29 percent from from 2008-2012 as American seniors became dramatically more Republican, the pro-GOP margin shifting from 35-34 in 2008 to 39-29 in 2012. White evangelicals have become similarly more Republican at the same time.

So on one look, the decline in Republican belief in evolution is perfectly consistent with one of the most fundamental trends in American politics: a greying, born-again Republican Party increasingly out of step with the rest of America’s political views.

The Republican base’s increasing hostility to evolution could very well explain the rash of recent state-level debates on teaching evolution in schools. In the past four years, we’ve seen a slate of state controversies over school textbooks and curricula that teach creationism alongside evolution. States like Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and New Mexico have all had versions of this fight — all controversies sparked by conservative state leaders that have heated up in the past two or three years. All of this anti-evolution activity makes much more sense if understood as Republican representatives and activists responding to incentives created by their increasingly homogenous base.

If that explanation is right, then we should expect to see similarly base-tailored legislation coming out of Republican state representatives in 2014 and beyond. The demographic trends concentrating the Republican base don’t appear to be slowing, which means that Republicans will have even stronger incentives over time to push legislation that appeals to the older, whiter, more religious demographic. This means that more issues like creationism in schools that don’t play on the national level, but can help local Republicans make a name for themselves inside the party, might make their way into state capitols in the coming year.

But the demographic explanation isn’t everything. Pew cautions that “differences in the racial and ethnic composition of Democrats and Republicans or differences in their levels of religious commitment do not wholly explain partisan differences in beliefs about evolution.” Put more simply, Republicans are more skeptical of evolution than you would expect even when you take into account the demographic character of its base.

This suggests another, more subtle effect at work. A wealth of research into political psychology shows that people’s partisan affiliations affect their beliefs on basic facts. Republicans are overwhelmingly more likely to think the economy is doing well when Republicans hold the Presidency, and ditto with Democrats when their guy holds the White House. A recent experiment found that even basic math is contaminated by politics; people are much more likely to correctly solve basic math problems when, in context, solving them correctly helps rather than hurts their party.

In the evolution context, this suggests a feedback effect at work among Republicans. As the GOP becomes more associated with the creationist cause as a consequence of demographic shifts, Republicans start to feel more like being skeptical of evolution is their “team” position. So even Republicans who are demographically more likely to accept the basic science of evolution start to reject it, because that belief best harmonizes their beliefs with the perceived interest of their political party.

Politics, it seems, really does ruin everything — including science.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The ugly truth about the late, great American WASP--and the rest of the human race

Joseph Epstein demonstrates a limited ability to see the similarities between WASPs and the rest of the human race. He thinks WASPs are somehow different and superior to everyone else.

The problem with Mr. Epstein's analysis is that when WASPs were in power, every year presented a global financial crisis. Mr. Epstein presents himself as a sycophantic Anglophile with little pride in his own heritage. Perhaps he is not able to see in himself the envy he attributes to the Irish.

Or perhaps he does see it. I suspect that Mr. Epstein is more clever than he appears to be. I can't help thinking that his entire book is a satire. I think he looked deep into the hearts of everyone he knew, including himself, and told the ugly truth about the irrational, devious, envious thing that is the human heart.

UPDATE written ten minutes later:

Oh dear. I just learned a bit about Mr. Epstein's personal history. He doesn't seem to be a person who has much perspective on himself.

In 1970, when he was only 33 years old, long before he could rule out the possibility that one or more of his sons would be homosexual, he wrote, "if I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexuality off the face of the earth, because I consider it a curse, in a literal sense." He ended that Harper's Magazine article with, "There is much that my four sons can do in their lives that might cause me anguish, that might outrage me, that might make [me] ashamed of them and of myself as their father. But nothing they could ever do would make me sadder than if any of them were to become homosexual."

So I must change my opinion about the following essay being a satire. It's not. This guy is dead serious. And somehow, I am quite sure that Mr. Epstein found plenty of reasons to be ashamed of his sons. He has a limited capacity to appreciate the marvelous lives lived by people who are not heterosexual WASPs.

Mr. Epstein wrote one book about envy, and another about snobbery. He not only likes to think about who is superior to whom and who deserves to have more wealth, but also to talk at length about people who share his preoccupatons. I imagine that Mr. Epstein sheds more light on his own thinking than he intends. But these are important subjects, and it's good to get them out in the open.

Epstein seems remarkably similar to Justine Sacco, although he takes a lot longer to get to the point. Ms. Sacco managed to express herself clearly in one succinct tweet.

SECOND UPDATE: I tried to find out how Mr. Epstein's worries about his sons have worked out, but I can't find anything about his children. He never seems to mention them.

I found that "Joseph Epstein and his wife live in tree-lined Evanston, Illinois..." And that Mr. Epstein also talks about his mother and father, but I can't find anything about those sons whose futures he spoke of as holding such terrible possibilities for disappointment.

The Late, Great American WASP
The old U.S. ruling class had plenty of problems. But are we really better off with a country run by the self-involved, over-schooled products of modern meritocracy?
By Joseph Epstein
Dec. 21, 2013

The U.S. once had an unofficial but nonetheless genuine ruling class, drawn from what came to be known as the WASP establishment. Members of this establishment dominated politics, economics and education, but they do so no longer. The WASPocracy, as I think of it, lost its confidence and, with it, the power and interest to lead. We are now without a ruling class, unless one includes the entity that has come to be known as the meritocracy—presumably an aristocracy of sheer intelligence, men and women trained in the nation’s most prestigious schools.

The acronym WASP derives, of course, from White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, but as acronyms go, this one is more deficient than most. Lots of people, including powerful figures and some presidents, have been white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant but were far from being WASPs. Neither Jimmy Carter nor Bill Clinton qualified.

WASPs were a caste, closed off to all not born within it, with the possible exception of those who crashed the barriers by marrying in. WASP credentials came with lineage, and lineage—that is, proper birth—automatically brought connections to the right institutions. Yale, Princeton and Harvard were the great WASP universities, backed up by Choate, Groton, Andover, Exeter and other prep schools. WASPs tended to live in exclusive neighborhoods: on upper Park and Fifth Avenues in New York, on the Main Line in Philadelphia, the Back Bay in Boston, Lake Forest and Winnetka in Chicago.

WASP life, though, was chiefly found on the eastern seaboard. WASPs had their own social clubs and did business with a small number of select investment and legal firms, such as Brown Brothers Harriman and Sullivan & Cromwell. Many lived on inherited money, soundly invested.

The State Department was once dominated by WASPs, and so, too, was the Supreme Court, with one seat traditionally left unoccupied for a Jewish jurist of proper mien. The House of Representatives was never preponderantly WASP, though a number of prominent senators—Henry Cabot Lodge and Leverett A. Saltonstall, both of Massachusetts, come to mind—have been WASPs. Looking down on the crudities of quotidian American politics, Henry Adams, a WASP to the highest power, called the dealings of Congress, the horse-trading and corruption and the rest of it, “the dance of democracy.” In one of his short stories, Henry James has characters modeled on Adams and his wife Clover, planning a social evening, say, “Let us be vulgar and have some fun—let us invite the President.”

[Maura Larkins' comment: What a vulgar thing to do. I'm not talking about inviting the President; I'm talking about calling it vulgar to invite the President. Mr. Epstein thinks this attitude is exemplary? Who taught him to think like this? It must have been some WASP wannabes. Perhaps a parent? Or high school or college classmates?]

So dominant was WASP culture that some wealthy families who didn’t qualify by lineage attempted to imitate and live the WASP life. The Catholic Kennedys were the most notable example. The Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port—the sailing, the clothes, the touch football played on expansive green lawns—was pure WASP mimicry, all of it, except that true WASPs were too upstanding to go in for the unscrupulous business dealings of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. or the feckless philanderings of him and some of his sons.

[Maura Larkins' comment: WASPs don't do dirty business deals? How does Mr. Epstein come up with this stuff? How, exactly, does he think America was built? By blacks, Asians, Irish and other poor Europeans who created, on Native American land, the value that WASPs turned into their personal wealth through every dishonest trick they could come up with. And philandering? Are you kidding, Mr. Epstein? You sound like the worst kind of finger-pointing, deluded, self-righteous prig. The Mayflower Madam is probably falling off her chair laughing.]

That the Kennedys did their best to imitate WASP life is perhaps not surprising, for in their exclusion, the Irish may have felt the sting of envy for WASPocracy more than any others. The main literary chroniclers of WASP culture—F. Scott Fitzgerald, say, or John O’Hara—were Irish. (Both Fitzgerald and O’Hara tried to live their lives on the WASP model.) But the pangs weren’t limited to the Irish alone. To this day, the designer Ralph Lauren (né Lifshitz) turns out clothes inspired by his notion of the WASP high life, lived on the gracious margins of expensive leisure.

The last WASP president was George H.W. Bush, but there is reason to believe he wasn’t entirely proud of being a WASP. At any rate, he certainly wasn’t featuring it. When running for office he made every attempt to pass himself off as a Texan, declaring a passion for pork rinds and a love for the music of the Oak Ridge Boys. (His son George W. Bush, even though he can claim impeccable WASP lineage and went to the right schools, seems otherwise to have shed all WASPish coloration and become an authentic Texan, happily married to a perfectly middle-class librarian.)

That George H.W. Bush felt it strategic not to emphasize his WASP background was a strong sign that the decline of the WASP’s prestige in American culture was well on its way. Other signs had arisen much earlier. During the late 1960s, some of the heirs of the Rockefeller clan openly admitted feeling guilty about their wealth and the way their ancestors came by it. By the 1970s, exclusive universities and prep schools began dropping their age-old quotas on Catholics and Jews, lessening the number of legacies automatically admitted, and using racial preferences to encourage the enrollment of blacks. The social cachet of the Episcopal Church, a major WASP institution, drained away as its clergy turned its major energies to leftish causes.

Calling something elite, which was how WASPs of an earlier era preferred to think of themselves, became a denunciation. Being a WASP was no longer a source of happy pride but something distasteful if not slightly disgraceful—the old privileges of membership now seeming unjust and therefore badly tainted. An old joke has one bee asking another bee why he is wearing a yarmulke. “Because,” answers the second bee, “I don’t want anyone to take me for a WASP.”

The late 1960s put the first serious dent into the WASPs as untitled aristocrats and national leaders. For protesters of that generation, the word WASP didn’t come into play so much as the word Establishment, heretofore chiefly an ecclesiastical term. The Establishment was the protesters’ enemy and target. The Establishment was thought to have sent the country into Vietnam; it was perfectly content with the status quo, with all its restrictions on freedom and tolerance for unjust social arrangements; it stood for all that was uptight and generally repressive in American culture.

The Establishment took its place in a long tradition of enemies of American life. This list has included, at various times, Wall Street, Madison Avenue and the military-industrial complex—vague entities all. But there was nothing vague about the Establishment. They were alive and breathing, and they had such names as John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, W. Averell Harriman, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, Joseph Alsop, C. Douglas Dillon, George F. Kennan and Robert McNamara. The WASPs ruled the country, and for those who didn’t much like the country or the directions in which they saw it tending, the WASPs were a great and easily identifiable enemy.

The last unashamed WASP to live in the White House was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and he, with his penchant for the reform of American society, was considered by many a traitor to his social class. He is also likely to be the last to reside there. WASP culture, though it exists in pockets of private life—country clubs, neighborhoods, a few prep schools and law firms—is finished as a phenomenon of public significance.

Much can be—and has been—written about the shortcomings of the WASPocracy. As a class, it was exclusionary and hence tolerant of social prejudice, if not often downright snobbish. Tradition-minded, it tended to be dead to innovation and social change. Imagination wasn’t high on its list of admired qualities.

Yet the WASP elite had dignity and an impressive sense of social responsibility. In a 1990 book called “The Way of the Wasp,” Richard Brookhiser held that the chief WASP qualities were “success depending on industry; use giving industry its task; civic-mindedness placing obligations on success, and antisensuality setting limits to the enjoyment of it; conscience watching over everything.”

Under WASP hegemony, corruption, scandal and incompetence in high places weren’t, as now, regular features of public life. Under WASP rule, stability, solidity, gravity and a certain weight and aura of seriousness suffused public life. As a ruling class, today’s new meritocracy has failed to provide the positive qualities that older generations of WASPs provided.

Meritocracy is leadership thought to be based on men and women who have earned their way not through the privileges of birth but by merit. Careers open to the talented, is what Napoleon Bonaparte promised, and it is what any meritocratic system is supposed to provide.

The U.S. now fancies itself under a meritocratic system, through which the highest jobs are open to the most talented people, no matter their lineage or social background. And so it might seem, when one considers that our 42nd president, Bill Clinton, came from a broken home in a backwater in Arkansas, while our 44th, Barack Obama, was himself also from a broken home and biracial into the bargain. Sen. Ted Cruz, the man who leads the tea party, is the son of a Cuban émigré.

Meritocracy in America starts (and often ends) in what are thought to be the best colleges and universities. On the meritocratic climb, one’s mettle is first tested by getting into these institutions—no easy task in the contemporary overcrowded scramble for admission. Then, of course, one must do well within them. In England, it was once said that Waterloo and the empire were built on the playing fields of Eton. The current American imperium appears to have been built at the offices of the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SATs.

Whether Republican or Democrat, left or right, the leading figures in U.S. public life today were good at school. Bill Clinton had Georgetown, Oxford (as a Rhodes scholar) and Yale Law School on his résumé; Barack Obama had Columbia and Harvard Law School. Their wives, respectively, had Wellesley and Yale Law School and Princeton and Harvard Law School. Cruz went to Princeton and thence to Harvard Law School. Players all—high rollers in the great American game of meritocracy. Their merit resides, presumably, in having been superior students.

But is the merit in our meritocracy genuine? Of the two strongest American presidents since 1950—Harry S. Truman and Ronald Reagan—the first didn’t go to college at all, and the second went to Eureka College, a school affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Eureka, Ill. The notion of Harry Truman as a Princeton man or Ronald Reagan as a Yalie somehow diminishes them both.

Apart from mathematics, which demands a high IQ, and science, which requires a distinct aptitude, the only thing that normal undergraduate schooling prepares a person for is… more schooling. Having been a good student, in other words, means nothing more than that one was good at school: One had the discipline to do as one was told, learned the skill of quick response to oral and written questions, figured out what professors wanted and gave it to them. Having been a good student, no matter how good the reputation of the school—and most of the good schools, we are coming to learn, are good chiefly in reputation—is no indication of one’s quality or promise as a leader. A good student might even be more than a bit of a follower, a conformist, standing ready to give satisfaction to the powers that be so that one can proceed to the next good school, taking another step up the ladder of meritocracy.

What our new meritocrats have failed to evince—and what the older WASP generation prided itself on—is character and the ability to put the well-being of the nation before their own. Character embodied in honorable action is at the heart of the novels and stories of Louis Auchincloss, America’s last unembarrassedly WASP writer. Doing the right thing, especially in the face of temptations to do otherwise, was the WASP test par excellence. Most of our meritocrats, by contrast, seem to be in business for themselves.

Trust, honor, character: The elements that have departed U.S. public life with the departure from prominence of WASP culture have not been taken up by the meritocrats. Many meritocrats who enter politics, when retired by the electorate from public life, proceed to careers in lobbying or other special-interest advocacy. University presidents no longer speak to the great issues in education but instead devote themselves to fundraising and public relations, and look to move on to the next, more prestigious university presidency.

A financier I know who grew up under the WASP standard not long ago told me that he thought that the subprime real estate collapse and the continuing hedge-fund scandals have been brought on directly by men and women who are little more than “greedy pigs” (his words) without a shred of character or concern for their clients or country. Naturally, he added, they all have master’s degrees from the putatively best business schools in the nation.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Who designed those schools, Mr. Epstein? Yes, exactly. Your friend thinks anyone is a pig who acts like a WASP without having the right bestowed by birth to be a leech on society.]

Thus far in their history, meritocrats, those earnest good students, appear to be about little more than getting on, getting ahead and (above al) getting their own. The WASP leadership, for all that may be said in criticism of it, was better than that.

The WASPs’ day is done. Such leadership as it provided isn’t likely to be revived. Recalling it at its best is a reminder that the meritocracy that has followed it marks something less than clear progress. Rather the reverse.

Wall Street Journal Op-Ed Bemoans The End Of White Rule In The United States
By Adam Peck
Think Progress
December 21, 2013

There are a lot of problems in Washington, D.C these days, but not many solutions to them. Inefficiency, an allergy to cooperation, and stiff resistance to pragmatism have all ground the federal government to a stand-still. But one op-ed contributor to the Wall Street Journal knows what the real problem is: not enough rich, white men.

In Saturday’s paper and online, author Joseph Epstein mourns the collapse of what he describes as the “genuine ruling class, drawn from what came to be known as the WASP establishment,” (WASP, the commonly-held acronym for White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant). Instead, he argues, we are living in a meritocracy, governed not by an elite subset of the uppermost crust of society but rather by a group of people who overcame some kind of adversity and achieved success thanks to their own merits, not based on what family they were born into. This, according to Epstein, is a tragedy.

Epstein’s embrace of white privilege (or is it power?) is almost too transparent, resembling something closer to satire than to outright racism. And yet he gives no reason to believe that he isn’t completely serious when he argues that modern day “corruption, scandal and incompetence” are hallmarks exclusive to this new era of non-white rule. Or when he memorializes the virtues of keeping those not born into the “WASPocracy” away from the halls of power. Or when he faults the leadership of the country’s top colleges for its role in ending white rule by “lessening the number of legacies automatically admitted, and using racial preferences to encourage the enrollment of blacks.”

Instead, Epstein argues, we should return to an era of WASP rule. Why? Because rich, white men born into rich, white christian families would never lead the country astray:

A financier I know who grew up under the WASP standard not long ago told me that he thought that the subprime real estate collapse and the continuing hedge-fund scandals have been brought on directly by men and women who are little more than “greedy pigs” (his words) without a shred of character or concern for their clients or country. Naturally, he added, they all have master’s degrees from the putatively best business schools in the nation.

Thus far in their history, meritocrats, those earnest good students, appear to be about little more than getting on, getting ahead and (above all) getting their own. The WASP leadership, for all that may be said in criticism of it, was better than that.

Epstein’s contempt for minorities — namely, that they don’t belong anywhere near positions of authority — isn’t reserved simply for race. Back in the 1970s, Epstein penned a story for Harper’s Magazine in which he expressed his desire to “wish homosexuality off the face of this earth.” He added, of his four sons, “nothing they could ever do would make me sadder than if any of them were to become homosexual.” Those comments led to sit-ins and protests outside of Harper’s offices, and Epstein has never apologized (and in fact dismissed his critics, some 30 years later, as simply incapable of understanding his own “textured thought”).

Perhaps that explains why Epstein reserves so little space (50 of his 2200+ word essay) to the shortcomings of WASP rule: he simply doesn’t care that many of the leaders from his idyllic “WASPocracy” looked the other way on issues of racism, homophobia, poverty and inequality when they were in power.

And while the U.S. Senate — historically the wealthier and less diverse of the two chambers — may not be sufficiently white for Epstein’s liking (only 95 percent of U.S. Senators are caucasian), they still do a very good job of tending to the needs of their fellow rich people instead of the needs of middle class and low-income families.

PR exec Justine Sacco apologizes for racist joke on flight to Africa; outrage sparks website

Above is the work of someone who is obviously stupid--and who probably thinks she got a cushy job purely
through her own hard work and personal worthiness. I'd like to point out that even if she were drunk, it only means her inhibitions were lowered. She'd be more likely to say what she was thinking, but normally had enough sense to conceal. UPDATE: It turns out that Sacco is from South Africa, so she had plenty of time to develop her attitudes about race and AIDS in Africa.

Below is the work of someone who is the opposite of stupid, and who is obviously concerned about those who lack the good fortune of people like Justine Sacco.


UPDATE DEC. 22, 2013:

'Ashamed': Ex-PR exec Justine Sacco apologizes for AIDS in Africa tweet
By Brian Stelter
December 22, 2013
Offensive tweet cost exec her job

[Maura Larkins comment: Maybe this woman really doesn't belong in public relations for international companies. Something more provincial might work.]

(CNN) -- Justine Sacco, a former PR executive who sparked a firestorm of controversy on Twitter, apologized Sunday for her "needless and careless tweet" about AIDS in Africa.

In a written statement. Sacco apologized "for being insensitive to this crisis -- which does not discriminate by race, gender or sexual orientation, but which terrifies us all uniformly -- and to the millions of people living with the virus, I am ashamed."

She added that she is a native of South Africa and was upset that she had hurt so many people there.

"I am very sorry for the pain I caused," she wrote.

Media company IAC "parted ways" Saturday with Sacco after the tweet, which read: "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!"

"The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC. We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question," an IAC spokesman said in a statement.

"There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally," he said. "We hope, however, that time and action, and the forgiving human spirit, will not result in the wholesale condemnation of an individual who we have otherwise known to be a decent person at core."

[Maura Larkins' comment: A lot of apparently decent people probably share Sacco's attitudes. And perhaps they can't help it, so they don't deserve condemnation. But they should be kept in jobs where they can't offend--or harm--the people they consider inferior.]

The tweet Sacco sent before she left Friday for Cape Town, South Africa, went viral and created a social media firestorm.

The incident -- Boing Boing called it "the tweet heard round the world" -- was a glaring reminder that every word uttered on the Internet can be heard by seemingly everyone on the Internet, sometimes with serious consequences.

Sacco was the head of corporate communications for IAC, the media company chaired by Barry Diller that operates websites such as The Daily Beast, About.com, CollegeHumor and Match.com. Her whole job revolved around communicating with reporters -- which made her Twitter comment about Africa all the more shocking.

Sacco was in London and about to begin a long vacation in South Africa when she wrote the message. Her Twitter account was relatively obscure when she posted it -- fewer than 500 people were following it. But the message went viral on Friday, unbeknownst to Sacco, who apparently did not have Internet access on her flight.

Websites such as Valleywag and Buzzfeed highlighted Sacco's account, and soon it had thousands of followers -- and thousands of harsh replies directed at it. Some were downright hateful. Others said they felt sorry for Sacco, regardless of how offensive her Twitter message was, because she hadn't had a chance to defend herself during the 12-hour flight.

As Twitter observers parsed through her public posts, many were disturbed by her previous messages. ("I had a sex dream about an autistic kid last night," she once wrote.)

Her account was a laundry list of banal complaints about poor customer service and other apparent indignities.

"It seems she has left a trail of casual racism across social media on her various travels," Chris Taylor, a writer for Mashable, opined.

Still, Taylor wrote, "it was hard to ignore a disturbing feeling in the mob's response" to the Twitter messages "and something creepy in the trial by social media that was going on in her absence."

On Friday afternoon, with hours to go before she landed, another corporate communications representative for IAC issued a statement that tried to address the online controversy.

"This is an outrageous, offensive comment that does not reflect the views and values of IAC," the company said. "Unfortunately, the employee in question is unreachable on an international flight, but this is a very serious matter and we are taking appropriate action."

The statement led many to believe that Sacco would be reprimanded or even terminated when she landed in South Africa.

Parody accounts started to appear on Twitter and Facebook that portrayed Sacco as a mean, bitter person. On Friday evening a Twitter hashtag, #HasJustineLandedYet, became a running commentary about Sacco; some people observed that she'd have to put her crisis communications expertise to the test to save her own career.

Meanwhile, other Twitter users started scoping out Sacco's past messages and flagged other questionable comments she'd made before, like this one: "I can't be fired for things I say while intoxicated right?"

All of those messages disappeared, though, early on Saturday, when someone -- presumably Sacco -- deleted her Twitter account. IAC had no immediate comment about how or why her account was removed.

Some good does seem to have come out of the incident, at least.

Advocates for AIDS relief set up websites to encourage donations; one of the sites read, "The AIDS epidemic is bigger than a tweet from a person in PR. If we want real change, we need to think beyond Justine. Let's turn that anger into something tangible."


PR exec Justine Sacco tweets racist joke on flight to Africa; outrage sparks website, Twitter hashtag
Justine Sacco, director of corporate communications for IAC, tweeted out Friday: 'Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!' The outrage piled up on social media, with someone creating the website justinesacco.com and pointing it toward links to charities that benefit sub-Saharan Africa.
By Nina Golgowski
December 20, 2013

Justine Sacco, the chief communications director for IAC, who represents brands like OKCupid — as proudly seen on her jacket — is in hot water after tweeting out a racist joke that's getting few laughs.

It's sounding more like OK Stupid.

The communications director for media conglomerate IAC, which represents brands like OKCupid, is in trouble after publicly tweeting a racist “joke” that’s getting few — if any — laughs.

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” Justine Sacco tweeted Friday, apparently from London shortly before departing on a trip.

Sacco, who's represented brands also include Vimeo and CollegeHumor, was not immediately available for comment.

But the offending tweet disappeared late Friday night — which would be early Saturday morning in Africa. Just after midnight in New York, in fact, Sacco’s entire account vanished.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pope Francis Takes on 'Unfettered Capitalism'

Pope Francis Takes on 'Unfettered Capitalism'
To the Point
DEC 17, 2013
Host: Warren Olney

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church has called free-enterprise capitalism "a new tyranny" and called for new focus on serving the poor. We hear different views on what Pope Francis means about politics, economics and religion...
Pope Francis: God and Money (1:08PM)

The new Roman Catholic Pontiff shared his 77th birthday today with homeless people, one of whom brought his dog inside the Vatican. It was a visual example of Pope Francis' informality and modest lifestyle, in contrast to what he has called the "idolatry of money." In a recent statement he said, "It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare." This weekend, he denied right-wing accusations that he's a Marxist, while defending his criticism of capitalism and his focus on serving the poor. Is one of the world's most influential leaders pitting his church against the free market? Is he inserting religion into the realm of politics, or emphasizing the teachings of Jesus Christ, who warned against trying to serve both God and money?


Jerry Z. Muller: Catholic University of America, Catholic University of America, Professor of History at Catholic University of America and author of The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought

[Maura Larkins' comment: Mr. Muller looks like Albert Einstein, but he doesn't sound like Albert Einstein. Mr. Muller impressed me with his refusal to admit that unfettered capitalism was responsible for the global financial crisis. What are they teaching at Catholic University of America? How to ignore reality as one goes about accumulating wealth and power? I got the impression that Mr. Muller believes that Jesus would be an investment banker if he lived today, and would feel no guilt about the worldwide financial devastation caused by greed.]

Chris Lowney: Author of Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads; one-time Jesuit seminarian who later worked as a managing director at the banking firm of JP Morgan
First Theme of Heroic Leadership: Self Awareness

Reza Aslan: University of California, Riverside, Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California-Riverside, founder of Aslan Media and member of the Council on Foreign Relations author of How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror, Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (revised, updated edition for the tenth anniversary of 9/11) and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth; former contributing editor at the Daily Beast and Middle East analyst for public radio's Marketplace

Mark Silk: Trinity College, Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and Director of its Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life; author of Unsecular Media: Making News of Religion in America and co-author of Making Capitalism Work, his blog, Spiritual Politics, is published by the Religion News Service


Limbaugh on Pope Francis' comments
Varney on Pope Francis
Silk's 'Unsecular Media: Making News of Religion in America'
Silk on Pope Francis v. the free marketeers
Lowney's 'Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads'
Lowney on Pope Francis' 'radical views'
Muller's 'The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought'
Aslan's 'Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth'

Friday, December 06, 2013

What made Nelson Mandela great

"But in jail -- especially for those who stayed in single cells -- you had enough opportunity to sit down and think," he said.

What made Nelson Mandela great
By John Battersby
December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela, the prisoner-turned-president who reconciled South Africa after the end of apartheid, died on Thursday, December 5, according to the country's president, Jacob Zuma. Mandela was 95.

Editor's note: John Battersby served as a correspondent for The New York Times (1987-89) and the Christian Science Monitor (1989-96) before, during and after South Africa's transition to democracy. He was editor of The Sunday Independent in Johannesburg from 1996 to 2001. He interviewed Mandela on numerous occasions and is coauthor of "Nelson Mandela: A Life in Photographs" (Sterling, 2009) and author of the afterword in the updated version of "Mandela: the Authorized Biography" (Harper Collins, 2011).

(CNN) -- Nelson Mandela was always mindful that his leadership role in the liberation of South Africa from apartheid might not have been possible if he had not been imprisoned.

"It is possible that if I had not gone to jail and been able to read and listen to the stories of many people. ... I might not have learned these things," Mandela said of the insights that he gained during his 27 years in jail.

In an interview less than a year after he had stepped down as the country's first black president, Mandela shared with me reflections of how prison changed him.

He said that reading the biographies of great leaders who had been able to overcome their shortcomings and rise to do great things had inspired him. He said it also helped him to realize that behind every seemingly ordinary person lay the potential of greatness.

"I have been surprised a great deal sometimes when I see somebody who looks less than ordinary, but when you talk to the person and they open their mouths, they are something completely different," he said.

Mandela said that prison gave him time to think about the times when he had failed to acknowledge people who had been kind to him.

Mandela said that at the height of the struggle against apartheid, he and other leaders were understandably angry at the humiliation and loss of dignity of those who suffered under the unjust policy. It meant their actions were driven by anger and emotion rather than by reflection and consultation.

"But in jail -- especially for those who stayed in single cells -- you had enough opportunity to sit down and think," he said.

There was time to listen to the stories of people who were highly educated and who were widely traveled and experienced. "When they told of their experiences, you felt humbled," he said.

Mandela said that he had learned that when you had the moral high ground, it was better to sit down and talk to people and persuade them of the correctness of your cause.

"If you have an objective in life, then you want to concentrate on that and not engage in infighting with your enemies," he said. "You want to create an atmosphere where you can move everybody toward the goal you have set for yourself," Mandela said.

In his twilight, Mandela was at pains to publish and acknowledge his weaknesses and shortcomings in his family life, in his relationships with women and his first wife, Evelyn. He was keen to dispel any notion of sainthood that might be bestowed on him.

He also spoke increasingly about the importance of changing oneself.

"One of the most difficult things is not to change society -- but to change yourself," Mandela said in 1999 at a tribute to billionaire businessman Douw Steyn who had made his Johannesburg residence available to Mandela as a retreat after his prison release in 1990.

Mandela had given similar advice to wife Winnie in a letter written to her in 1981 after she had been jailed by the apartheid regime. Mandela noted that there were qualities "in each one of us" that form the basis of our spiritual life and that we can change ourselves by observing our reactions to the unfolding of life.

Ten years later, Mandela said that it gave him a feeling of fulfillment to see that Douw Steyn had changed and had learned to share his resources with the poor.

"It enables me to go to bed with an enriching feeling in my soul and the belief that I am changing myself" by reconciling with former adversaries, Mandela said.

I believe that the essence of Mandela's greatness was to change himself fundamentally during his period in jail and emerge as a potent leader and example for all humanity.

Opinion: Nelson Mandela saved my life

The reflections took me back to the extraordinary day of Mandela's release. The day the legend became a man. Even now, the moment seems frozen in time.

It was February 11, 1990, and the African sun shone from a clear blue sky on a windless summer's day in Cape Town. About an hour's drive from the city, the international media thronged around the entrance of a neat prison warder's house to await the emergence of one of the century's most iconic figures...

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Nuns gone wild are appalled by Rush Limbaugh's dissing of Pope Francis

Nuns gone wild. and Rush Limbaugh

The Nuns on the Bus think you don't have to be a communist to care about the poor. By the way, does Rush think Jesus was a communist?

Nuns' Group Responds After Rush Limbaugh Says Pope Spouts "Pure Marxism"
By Molly Redden
Mother Jones
Dec. 4, 2013

In late November, when Pope Francis promised to remake the Catholic Church as a decentralized institution that would agitate against the economic injustices of capitalism, Rush Limbaugh was quick with an explanation: "Somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him."

Limbaugh's remarks—in which he also assailed the Pope's agenda as being "pure Marxism"—have drawn the ire of many Catholics, and one group, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, is already calling for the radio host to apologize.

On Wednesday, Donna Quinn, who coordinates the National Coalition of American Nuns, a liberal activist group of several thousand nuns, joined the Catholics denouncing Limbaugh's comments.

"Men and women who are educated and those who have street smarts see right thorough those kind of statements," she says. (Quinn, who is well-known for her support of gay marriage and reproductive rights, notes that she is a big supporter of Sandra Fluke, the women's rights activist who gained national notoriety when Limbaugh called her a "slut" and "prostitute" on his program.)

Quinn adds that although she does not count herself among those "smitten" with Pope Francis—"enough of the words," she says, "we want to see some action"—she is troubled by Limbaugh's callousness toward the people about whom Pope Francis was speaking. "In these dire times…those are the people that it would behoove Rush to take a look at. To see what's best, not for his program or for his rowdy statements, but rather for the people of God."

Don’t Be Evil? Google Funding a Slew of Right-Wing Groups

Can Google shut down the government of the United States? It would appear that this is the case.

"An August 2013 report by US PIRG – “Offshore Shell Games” — found that Google is now holding more than $33 billion dollars offshore, avoiding taxes on these earnings in the United States."

(Click to see the article on Bill Moyers' website, with lots of links:)
Don’t Be Evil? Google Funding a Slew of Right-Wing Groups
December 4, 2013
by Nick Surgey
PR Watch

Google, the tech giant supposedly guided by its “don’t be evil” motto, has been funding a growing list of groups advancing the agenda of the Koch brothers.

Organizations that received “substantial” funding from Google for the first time over the past year include Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the Federalist Society, the American Conservative Union (best known for its CPAC conference) and the political arm of the Heritage Foundation that led the charge to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act: Heritage Action.

In 2013, Google also funded the corporate lobby group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, although that group is not listed as receiving “substantial” funding in the list published by Google.

US corporations are not required to publicly disclose their funding of political advocacy groups, and very few do so, but since at least 2010 Google has chosen to voluntarily release some limited details about grants it makes to US nonprofits. The published list from Google is not comprehensive, including only those groups that “receive the most substantial contributions from Google’s US Federal Public Policy and Government Affairs team.”

What Google considers “substantial” is not explained — no dollar amounts are given — but the language suggests significant investments from Google and, with a stock value of $330 billion, Google has considerably deep pockets.

Google has a distinctively progressive image, but in March 2012 it hired former Republican member of the House of Representatives, Susan Molinari as its Vice President of Public Policy and Government Relations. According to the New York Times, Molinari is being “paid handsomely to broaden the tech giant’s support beyond Silicon Valley Democrats and to lavish money and attention on selected Republicans.”

New “Substantial” Right-Wing Google Grants in Past Year

CMD examined the information released by Google for the years 2010 to 2013. The voluntary disclosures indicate that the following groups are either new grantees of Google since September 2012, or have been listed as having received a “substantial” Google grant for the first time:

American Conservative Union
Americans for Tax Reform
CATO Institute
Federalist Society
George Mason University Law School Law and Economics Center
Heritage Action
Mercatus Center
National Taxpayers Union
R Street Institute
Texas Public Policy Foundation

Detailed information on each of these groups can be found at CMD’s Sourcewatch website.

Google Funding for Anti-Government Groups Heritage Action, the tea-party styled political advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation, is perhaps the most surprising recipient of Google’s largesse.

More than any other group working to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Heritage Action pushed for a sustained government shutdown in the fall of 2013, taking the country to the brink of a potentially catastrophic debt default.

Laying the ground for that strategy, Heritage Action held a nine-city “Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour” in August 2013, providing a platform for Texas Senator Ted Cruz to address crowds of cheering tea party supporters.

For Cruz, increasingly spoken of as a 2016 presidential candidate, the government shutdown helped raise his profile and build his supporter — and donor — base.

Notably, Heritage Action received $500,000 from the Koch-funded and Koch-operative staffed Freedom Partners in 2012. It is not yet known how much Heritage Action received in 2013 from sources other than Google.

Perhaps surprisingly, Google has a history of supporting Cruz. Via its Political Action Committee – Google Inc. Net PAC – the PAC provided the “Ted Cruz for Senate” campaign with a $10,000 contribution in 2012. Additionally, despite being five years out from the freshman senator’s next election, Google’s PAC has already made a $2,500 contribution to the Cruz reelection campaign for 2018, the largest amount that the PAC has given so far to any Senate candidate running that election year, according to disclosures made by Google.

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), the anti-government group run by Republican operative Grover Norquist, was another new recipient of funding from Google in 2013. ATR is best known for its “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” and for its fundamentalist attacks on any Republican who might dare to vote for any increase in taxes. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, ATR received 85 percent of its funding in 2012 ($26.4 million) from the ultra-partisan Karl Rove-run Crossroads GPS, another dark money group.

ATR President Grover Norquist infamously said that he wants to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Google’s position on the relative size of government versus bathtubs is not known, but according to a Bloomberg analysis of Google’s US corporate filings, it avoids approximately $2 billion dollars globally in tax payments each year through the use of creative tax shelters.

Bloomberg reported in May 2013 that in France alone Google is in the midst of a dispute over more than $1 billion in unpaid taxes that have been alleged. An August 2013 report by US PIRG – “Offshore Shell Games” — found that Google is now holding more than $33 billion dollars offshore, avoiding taxes on these earnings in the United States.

National Taxpayers Union, headed by former eleven-year American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Executive Director Duane Parde, has a similar anti-tax, anti-government agenda, and it also received funding from Google in 2013.

Google Sponsor Event Honoring Justice Thomas

Google also recently sponsored a gala fundraiser in Washington DC for the Federalist Society, a network of right-wing judges and lawyers that includes Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Thomas was the guest of honor at that event, for which Google was listed as a top-tier “gold” sponsor. Google names the Federalist Society on its list of groups receiving its most substantial grants in 2013.

The company is also funding state special interest group operations. The Center for Media and Democracy, which publishes PRWatch, recently posted a major national report on the State Policy Network (SPN), a network of right-wing think tanks, with at least one organization in every state in the country. SPN groups typically promote a pro-corporate agenda, often at the expense of the interests of ordinary working people.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), which is part of SPN, also received money from Google in 2013. As Progress Now’s state affiliate and CMD have documented, the legislative agenda promoted by TPPF includes opposing renewable energy, blocking access to affordable healthcare and opposing state minimum wage laws.

Google, which did not respond to a request for comment, may argue that it simply funds groups on both sides of the political spectrum, providing other grants to organizations that advocate on behalf of values more closely associated with the corporation’s progressive image. Since Google does not release details of all its grantees and the dollar amounts, it is hard to judge this, although they do disclose providing funding to some progressive groups including the American Constitution Society, People for the American Way and the NAACP.

Although Google has funded both “conservative” and “progressive” groups, it does not disclose the relative proportions given to each, beyond the superficial symmetry, and the degree to which the groups tilt to the right or left in their agendas.

However, as noted by CMD’s Executive Director, Lisa Graves, “there really aren’t two proportionate sides to the facts about the climate changes that are underway, as to whether working people should be paid a living wage and whether corporations should have to pay taxes just like working people do. By funding extreme groups on the right under the guise of a false equivalency, Google is enabling groups that seek to undermine government.”

Google Membership in ALEC, Funding of CEI

Since CMD launched ALECexposed.org in 2011, revealing the complete agenda of that corporate front group that was secretly voted on by corporate lobbyists and state legislators behind closed doors, corporations have been running to escape association with the group. At least 50 corporations are known to have dropped funding since 2011, including Walmart, Coca Cola and Pepsi. Google – along with Facebook and Yelp – is bucking that trend having quietly joined in 2013. Google does not list ALEC as being a recipient of one of its largest grants, instead it separately names ALEC as an organization to which it has become a member.

There are many good reasons for brand-conscious corporations to stay away from ALEC. For example, its legacy of Stand Your Ground gun laws and bills to make it harder for Americans to vote, its work to repeal renewable energy laws and the ability of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases and its efforts to privatize almost everything, are just a few of its extreme measures.

ALEC is a corporate-funded lobby group, and the businesses that fund ALEC do so hoping to move a legislative agenda. An ALEC publication sent to corporate members in 1995, celebrated its legislative agenda to members as a “good investment,” stating clearly “nowhere else can you get a return that high.” As CMD’s Lisa Graves has said, “It’s a pay-to-play operation.

Google joined ALEC just this year, and stepped up funding to groups such as ATR, Federalist Society and Heritage Action in 2013, but under the radar it has been funding a handful of other right-wing groups for several years. In 2013 Google provided a reported $50,000 sponsorship check to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), another group trying to thwart efforts to address climate change, but it has previously funded “Google Policy Fellows” at CEI for several years, and has listed the organization as one that it has supported financially on its “transparency” pages for at least three years.

Google states that its fellows “work closely with CEI scholars to research and promote innovative, pro-consumer solutions to the public policy challenges of the information age.” Whatever projects Google fellows end up working on at CEI, the Google brand is now tied to an organization that has a reputation strongly connected to the denial of climate change.

“Political spending for corporations is purely transactional. It is all about getting policies that maximize profitability,” Bob McChesney told CMD. “So even ostensibly hip companies like Google invariably spend lavishly to support groups and politicians that pursue decidedly anti-democratic policy outcomes. It is why sane democracies strictly regulate or even prohibit such spending, regarding it accurately as a cancer for democratic governance.” Professor McChesney co-founded the media reform group Free Press in 2002, and this year authored Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy.

The policies advocated by some of the Google’s grantees are in stark contrast with the progressive image that Google has worked to promote. It has publicly committed to invest more than $1 billion dollars in renewable energy projects, reduce the use of cars by its employees, power its offices with renewables and otherwise green its buildings. The contrast between these promises, and Google’s funding of groups that deny or challenge the reality of climate change – groups motivated by funding received from fossil fuel companies – has led several organizations to launch campaigns calling for Google to stop funding climate change deniers. Forecast the Facts has a “Hey Google! Don’t Fund ALEC’s Evil!” petition, and Sum of Us has a petition calling on Google to “never fund climate change deniers again.”

ALEC is holding its next conference in Washington, DC, from December 4th through the 6th. A Google lobbyist will likely be there, celebrating ALEC’s 40th anniversary alongside legislators and other lobbyists. CMD will report on the events of the conference through the week at PRWatch.org. To sign CMD’s petition to Google CEO Larry Page, calling for him to publicly quit ALEC, click here.

Nick Surgey is director of research at the Center for Media and Democracy. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Jewish activists set sights on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, raising alarm in Muslim world; Army Rules Illegal Settlement Now 'Legal'


Israel Grabs More Palestinian Land
Army Rules Illegal Settlement Now 'Legal'
By Reuters
April 13, 2014

Israel has carried out a new land appropriation in the occupied West Bank, the Haaretz daily said on Sunday, in a move that could complicate efforts to extend troubled peace talks with the Palestinians.

Haaretz said the Defence Ministry declared nearly 250 acres (100 hectares) of territory in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc just south of Jerusalem “state land”. Asked by Reuters about the report, the ministry declined immediate comment.

The land appropriation, the left-leaning newspaper said, was the largest in years and could eventually lead to the expansion of several settlements and authorisation of a settler outpost built without Israeli government permission in 2001.

The measure, which falls short of annexing the land to Israel, is based on an Israeli interpretation of an Ottoman-era law that allowed the confiscation of tracts that had not been planted or cultivated for several years in a row.

Haaretz said the heads of nearby Palestinian villages that claimed the land as theirs were informed of the move last week and have 45 days to appeal.

It was not immediately clear whether the reported appropriation was part of sanctions that Israel has begun to impose in response to the April 1 signing by Palestinians of 15 international conventions and agreements during the current crisis in U.S.-brokered peace negotiations.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, accused Israel of trying to destroy chances for peace through a “frantic escalation” of settlement activity.

“This is the real face of the Israeli government,” she told Reuters. “This is a government hostile to peace moves and it’s taking steps which have a longer-term strategy.”


Speaking before the Haaretz report appeared, Israel’s chief peace negotiator, Tzipi Livni said on the YNet news site that she is optimistic the statehood negotiations will be extended beyond the original April 29 deadline for a deal.

“I believe that we are close enough to a decision on the part of both leaderships, encouraged by the Americans, to continue the negotiations,” she said.

Livni has been meeting her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat in an intensive push over the past few days to try to salvage the talks.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Israel’s publication on April 1 of a tender for 708 homes for settlers in East Jerusalem was the proximate cause for the near collapse of the talks, which began in July.

Israel’s anti-settlement Peace Now movement said on its website that at least 90 of the 120 Jewish settlements built in the occupied West Bank since its capture in a 1967 war are on “state land”. Most countries regard the settlements as illegal.

Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and fear settlements will deny them a viable country. Israel cites historical and Biblical links to the West Bank and Jerusalem and says Gush Etzion is one of the enclaves it intends to keep in any future peace deal.

Citing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s signing of U.N. human rights conventions, Israel said on Wednesday it was limiting its contacts with Palestinian officials, although Livni could continue to meet negotiators.

Announcing another sanction a day later, an Israeli official said Israel would deduct debt payments from tax transfers which the Palestinian Authority routinely receives, and limit the self-rule government’s deposits in Israeli banks.

For his part, Abbas has accused Israel of violating a commitment to release two dozen prisoners at the end of March, including Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis, when the negotiations resumed. This is the last group of 104 prisoners Israel pledged to free as a confidence-building measure.


Hatem Moussa/AP - Gazans protest in Gaza City on Sept. 24 against visits to a disputed Jerusalem holy site by religious Jews, claiming it is a desecration of al-Aqsa Mosque. The hilltop compound is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, and by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, the third-holiest site in Islam.

Jewish activists set sights on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, raising alarm in Muslim world
By William Booth and Ruth Eglash
Washington Post
December 2, 2013

JERUSALEM — A small but growing movement by Jewish activists demanding the right to pray at the site of their destroyed temple, in the heart of this disputed capital’s Old City, is creating a potentially explosive clash with the Muslim world, which considers the spot holy and bans Jews from public worship there.

Each week, hundreds of Jews ascend the creaky wooden ramp built above the Western Wall and enter what is often called the most contested real estate on Earth. Many then embark upon a game of hide-and-seek with their police escorts — whispering forbidden prayers while pretending to talk into cellphones, and getting in quick but banned bows by dropping coins and then bending to pick them up.

Their proposals, long dismissed as extremist, are now being debated in the Israeli parliament and embraced by an expansionist wing in the ruling coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

These political leaders, many in Netanyahu’s party, want Israel to assert more, not less, control over the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Old City, including the place known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary.

“We’re looking for it to be divided between Jews and Muslims,” said Aviad Visoli, chairman of the Temple Mount Organizations, which claims 27 groups under its umbrella. “Today, Jews realize the Western Wall is not enough. They want to go to the real thing.

Two millenniums ago, this place was the site of the Jews’ Second Temple, destroyed in A.D. 70 by Roman legions under Titus, who cast the Jews into exile. The Western Wall, visited by 10 million people a year, is part of the remaining rampart built around the raised temple complex. Together, the wall and the site of the destroyed temple are the holiest landmarks in Judaism.

The same courtyard is home to al-Aqsa mosque, one of the oldest in Islam, and the Dome of the Rock, the golden landmark where tradition says the prophet Mohammad made his night journey to heaven.

For Palestinians and much of the Muslim world, any mention of changing the status quo at the site, the third-holiest in Islam, is incendiary. Protecting al-Aqsa has been a rallying cry for generations.

“This place belongs to the Muslim people, and no others have the right to pray here,” said Sheik Azzam al-Khatib, director of the Waqf, the Islamic trust that administers the site. Khatib said the mosque is a unifying symbol for the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims.

“If they try to take over the mosque, this will be the end of time,” Khatib warned. “This will create rage and anger not only in the West Bank but all over the Islamic world — and only God knows what will happen.”

The site, like all of Jerusalem’s Old City, was under Jordanian control until 1967, when it was captured by Israel during the Six-Day War. The Waqf administers and protects the site. Israeli police also patrol the area and accompany Jewish visitors while they visit.

Non-Muslim tourists are welcome to wander freely around the grounds. But non-Muslim prayer is forbidden. Jews in religious garb are taken aside at the entrance by Israeli security officers, screened more closely and sternly warned not to pray, bow, sing, tear their clothes in mourning or display any religious items.

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has ruled that Jews should not enter the Temple Mount esplanade, for fear they will accidentally walk upon ground that is part of the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the temple, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and only the high priest was permitted to enter.

But political leaders are urging that this stance be reexamined. Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, deputy minister of religious affairs, has proposed giving Jews an hour a day to pray there.

“There is a growing reality among sectors of the population who want to go up there and pray, and there are rabbis who are encouraging their followers to do so,” Ben-Dahan said at a November committee hearing on the matter in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. “The rabbinate needs to recognize this reality.’’

War of words

The hearing quickly devolved into a shouting match. “Every citizen of Israel should have the right to pray at their holy sites without harassment or being attacked,” said Miri Regev , the committee chairwoman. “If Jews want to go up to the Temple Mount to pray, they should have that right.”

“There is no such thing as the Temple Mount!’’ interrupted an Arab Israeli parliamentarian, Jamal Zahalka. “It does not exist. It is not there. ”

Legislators hurled shouts of “Barbarian!” and “Fascist!”

Arab Israeli lawmakers stormed out in protest.

“Because of your games at the al-Aqsa mosque, a third intifada could erupt,” Ahmad Tibi, deputy speaker of the Knesset and leader of the Arab political party Ta’al, told Regev. “You are a dangerous woman — to yourself, your children and all of us. Enough of playing with fire!”

In 2000, in the aftermath of failed peace negotiations mediated by President Bill Clinton, Israeli politician Ariel Sharon — campaigning to become prime minister — visited the Temple Mount with an escort of 1,000 police officers.

Some analysts say the visit sparked the second Palestinian uprising, often referred to as the al-Aqsa Intifada. Others claim that Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat was looking for an excuse to unleash the uprising and found one in Sharon’s action. In a report by former U.S. senator and peace negotiator George P. Mitchell, Sharon’s visit was called “poorly timed” and “provocative.” But the report said Israel’s use of lethal force against rioters in subsequent demonstrations had a greater negative effect.

Today, as yet another round of U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are underway, Khatib and other Islamic clerics warn that proposals to grant “time and space” to Jews looking to pray on the Temple Mount could ignite a holy war.

The clerics say they have pleaded with Israeli police to limit the number of Jews allowed to visit the site and warned that Jewish extremists are trying to change a delicate status quo and create new facts on the ground.

Uri Ariel, Israel’s minister of construction and housing, told reporters after a recent visit: “The Temple Mount is ours, and it cannot be argued about or negotiated. . . . It must be open for prayer at every hour, to every Jew.”...