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Posts tagged ‘political’

Keeping Your Nose Clean

The Golden Fleece: The Diary of a Scientology Warrior by Michael Priv. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

FINAL_THEGOLDENFLEECE_6x9_front_for_web_JPGDon’t runaway from this book because of the word “Scientology” in the title. It is not only the best personal, and in depth, view inside the world of Dianetics, as developed by L. Ron Hubbard, but also an exciting and insightful fast-paced memoir that reads like fiction. Though The Golden Fleece is written, as lived, by Mr. Priv, it feels as if one is reading a religious, self-help, political thriller. The author is a skilled storyteller and writer. He writes how people think, and talk, and is good at pacing.

Whether events happened exactly as portrayed, or not, becomes secondary to being caught up in the story. After escaping from being essentially imprisoned by Scientologists, upon his return from Russia, Michael calls his parents. His mother says, “Never mind that, you scoundrel! Are you in any danger? Are those Scientology bastards chasing after you?” Michael replies, “Bastards? Mom, listen, there is Scientology, which is good, and there is a Church of Scientology, which is… Never mind. I’m all right, I’m at a liquor store in LA. They won’t find me here.”

Michael Priv describes himself honestly in the beginning of the book. In short, he was a real asshole. As he gets taken into Scientology, and finds that it actually works for both himself, and others, some of the edge to his style gets rubbed off. Their remains an active, can-do, individual throughout, who at times reminds me of the lead character in The Bourne Identity films (minus killing people). This is especially true during his time in Russia, and his interactions with the KGB, Russian mafia, Scientology organization, and Russian government crap.

After explaining the benefits, and the downfall of Scientology, the author explains why he stayed in the elite part of the organization for 18 years, and why living an ethical, clear, honest life makes all the difference. “So, is it at all important to keep your nose clean, even if nobody is watching? You bet your sweet bahookie. But only if you want to soar among the stars and be happy. Otherwise, you can always find an excuse for any transgression you can ever imagine. We are smart. We can explain away anything we want and then some. After all, this is the alley-cat world and we are only human, right?”

The Golden Fleece: The Diary of a Scientology Warrior goes far beyond what one might think it is. In fact, the title acutely portrays a good portion of what Mr. Priv lived through for 18 years of his life, as a “Scientologist Warrior”. There are excellent explanations of the terminology used in Scientology, and the organizational structure which it deploys around the world. It isn’t all good, or all bad. Their “Components of Understanding” are relevant, and similar to some other belief systems, with Affinity, Reality (agreement) and Communication (ARC), being the key. This is a good book, written by an insightful and very smart writer, who is in a continual process of being a good man.

Pussy Riot World Map

Dear Gabriel,

We’re honestly not sure how the Russian authorities are going to react to our Pussy Riot World Map.

The Russian authorities recently banned Pussy Riot’s videos as “extremist”. And last August, the Russian Embassy in Washington tossed Amnesty’s petitions to the curb – literally – and refused to hear our concerns about human rights in Russia.

W1303EAIAR1But on March 4, the one-year anniversary of Pussy Riot’s arrest, we will not be silent. Two Pussy Riot members, Maria “Masha” Alyokhina and Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova, remain behind bars in notoriously brutal prison camps. Last Wednesday we danced outside the Russian Embassy to commemorate Pussy Riot’s performance – now we’re heading back with our map of Pussy Riot’s supporters around the globe.

We only have a few more days left to add as many names as possible to our map. Stand for Pussy Riot and free speech in Russia — get on the map!

It’s been a whirlwind year since Pussy Riot’s iconic “punk prayer” performance at Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. Arrests, courtrooms, lawyers, political posturing by the Russian authorities and President Putin — all culminating in Masha and Nadya’s outlandishly harsh two-year sentences, at prison camps far from their families and young children.

But the women of Pussy Riot were never alone. From Twitter to rock shows to handwritten letters, hundreds of thousands have called on the Russian authorities to #FreePussyRiot. More than 100 of Russia’s best-known actors, directors and musicians signed a letter calling for their release. Madonna played a Moscow concert with “Pussy Riot” emblazoned across her back. Amnesty activists threw a full-fledged punk concert steps from the Russian Embassy in Washington DC. Star musicians like Sting and Anti-Flag added their names to our Pussy Riot world map in solidarity — along with thousands of other activists like you.

One year later, Pussy Riot needs us to speak out — more than ever. Why now? Because Pussy Riot continues to be a symbol of the Russian authorities’ unreasonable crackdown on freedom of expression in Russia — and the attacks on free speech in Russia are only getting worse with some disturbing new laws.

Did you know that:

Conducting public protests in Russia could cost you up to U.S. $32,000 in fines?

Human rights and political activism could potentially be treated as “treason” in Russia, thanks to a broad new legal definition?

Foreign and domestic NGOs — including those doing vital human rights work — face increasingly severe restrictions on their operations in Russia?

Pussy Riot’s harsh prison sentences are a draconian response to peaceful dissent.

“This is cruelty on purpose, cruelty for propaganda purposes,” said Ekaterina Samutsevich, a member of Pussy Riot who was arrested with Nadya and Masha but later conditionally released on appeal. “…We need to fight it somehow.”

And fight it we will! We will never give up our campaign to defend human rights and free speech in Russia.

On Monday, we’ll be headed to the Russian Embassy, map in hand.

Stand for free speech and be on that map.

Free Pussy Riot!

Thank You,

Jasmine Heiss
Campaigner, Individuals and Communities at Risk
Amnesty International USA

Accountable Tax Reform

From Nation of Change
by Simon Johnson
22 April 2012

That Old Tax Magic

Tax time in the United States – the dreaded mid-April deadline for filing annual income-tax forms – has come and gone. The system, Americans have been reminded, has become painfully complex, with many a loophole through which one might try to squeeze. The fear of an audit by the Internal Revenue Service lurks in homes across the country.

At such a sensitive time, it is no surprise to hear politicians pitching the idea of “tax reform” – suggesting that they can simplify the system, close loopholes, and use the proceeds to reduce tax rates. The allure of such appeals is that a crackdown on others’ tax avoidance will mean that you personally will pay less in taxes.

Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Simon Johnson, click here.

In the policy jargon increasingly heard in today’s political discourse, tax reform will be “revenue neutral” – meaning that it will not worsen the budget deficit or drive up the national debt. The broader subliminal message is that you can have whatever you currently expect in terms of government services for less than it costs you now.

The problem with this vision of tax reform is that it is magical – an attractive illusion with no basis in reality. Consider the recent pronouncements of Mitt Romney – now the presumptive Republican candidate to challenge President Barack Obama in November. Romney wants to cut tax rates, mainly benefiting those at the upper end of the income distribution. He also wants to close loopholes, but none of the details that he has offered add up to much. His boldest proposal – eliminating deductions for interest paid on mortgages on second homes – is trivial in terms of generating revenue.

Obama is only slightly better. While he talks less about “tax reform,” he is currently communicating the message that merely raising taxes on rich people – the infamous 1% – will bring the budget and national debt under control. That, too, is a pipedream.

Americans – and taxpayers in many other countries – need a more transparent approach to assessing candidates’ budget proposals. In the US, there are groups that offer their own assessments. For example, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget performed an admirable service in “scoring” the fiscal plans of rival candidates for the Republican nomination.

The problem is that in an election with high stakes and deep polarization, who, exactly, can voters trust? Everyone has an agenda, perceived or real. The veracity of any organization that is funded by particular individuals, or through less transparent corporate channels, will be called into question.

What the US and many other countries need is an independent, competent, and experienced body that leans neither right nor left. Fortunately, the US has the Congressional Budget Office, which scores legislation in terms of its budgetary impact, assesses official budget proposals, and formulates its own economic projections. (I serve on the CBO’s Panel of Economic Advisers, which comments on the draft forecast twice a year, but does not assess budget proposals or anything else.)

Because the CBO reports to the relevant congressional committees – those dealing with tax and budgets – both Republicans and Democrats watch its every move. But the CBO, created in the 1970’s precisely to bring greater transparency and accountability to the rather byzantine congressional budget process, really is independent and run by professionals.

The CBO does not, however, score proposals by political candidates, and that is part of the problem. In the run-up to the pre-election debates between Obama and Romney, both sides should agree to submit detailed budget proposals in the correct format for CBO assessment. The relevant congressional committees also should agree to this exercise.

Read entire article at Nation Of Change.

Energy, Gas & Reality

From Nation of Change

The Energy Deficit
by Michael Spence

I have been surprised by the recent coverage in the American press of gasoline prices and politics. Political pundits agree that presidential approval ratings are highly correlated with gas prices: when prices go up, a president’s poll ratings go down. But, in view of America’s long history of neglect of energy security and resilience, the notion that Barack Obama’s administration is responsible for rising gas prices makes little sense.

Four decades have passed since the oil-price shocks of the 1970’s. We learned a lot from that experience. The short-run impact – as always occurs when oil prices rise quickly – was to reduce growth by reducing consumption of other goods, because oil consumption does not adjust as quickly as that of other goods and services.

But, given time, people can and do respond by lowering their consumption of oil. They buy more fuel-efficient cars and appliances, insulate their homes, and sometimes even use public transportation. The longer-run impact is thus different and much less negative. The more energy-efficient one is, the lower one’s vulnerability to price volatility.

“Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Michael Spence, click here.”

On the supply side, there is a similar difference between short-term and longer-run effects. In the short term, supply may be able to respond to the extent that there is reserve capacity (there isn’t much now). But the much larger, longer-run effect comes from increased oil exploration and extraction, owing to the incentive of higher prices.

All of this takes time, but, as it occurs, it mitigates the negative impact: the demand and supply curves shift in response to higher prices (or to anticipation of higher prices).

In terms of policy, there was a promising effort in the late 1970’s. Fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles were legislated, and car producers implemented them. In a more fragmented fashion, states established incentives for energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings.

But then oil and gas prices (adjusted for inflation) entered a multi-decade period of decline. Policies targeting energy efficiency and security largely lapsed. Two generations came to think of declining oil prices as normal, which accounts for the current sense of entitlement, the outrage at rising prices, and the search for villains: politicians, oil-producing countries, and oil companies are all targets of scorn in public-opinion surveys.

A substantial failure of education about non-renewable natural resources lies in the background of current public sentiment. And now, having underinvested in energy efficiency and security when the costs of doing so were lower, America is poorly positioned to face the prospect of rising real prices. Energy policy has been “pro-cyclical” – the opposite of saving for a rainy day. Given the upward pressure on prices implied by rising emerging-market demand and the global economy’s rapid increase in size, that day has arrived.

Read entire article at Nation of Change.

Tunisia’s Revolution

From Nation of Change by Mary Elizabeth King
15 December 2011

One Year On, The Roots of Success for Tunisia’s Revolution

The news has been filled with contention over Egypt’s November elections, but far less attention is being paid to the voting in Tunisia—also recently liberated from the rule of a dictator. More than 100 political parties participated. Tunisia’s October balloting was designed to elect members of the 217-member assembly that will deliberate and draft a new constitution and form a parliament. On the scene as an international observer, former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter noted, “It appears that everybody wants a good election—the politicians, the military (who are not political), the powerful trade unions, the police, the people—and everything is being done with compromise to make this happen.” Many in the Arab countries now view these elections as a prototype, and they prominently displayed the characteristics celebrated in modern political thought. Clean elections, of course, do not occur spontaneously. So how did this happen?

Tunisia’s uprising has been in the making since at least 2008, when protests began in the mining basin of Gafsa. The country’s hounded civil society was able to unite nearly the entire society in pressing for fair elections. Mohamed Bouazizi—the unemployed fruit and vegetable seller who set himself on fire in the central town of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010, triggering their nonviolent revolution—was not the first aggrieved Tunisian to commit suicide by fire. Two other young people, one in coastal Monastir, on March 3, 2010, and the other in Metlaoui to the southwest, on November 20, 2010, had self-immolated themselves. French journalist Olivier Piot writes that as early as 1998 the burns unit of a major Tunis hospital did a study showing that an estimated 15.1 percent of its admissions were “suicide by fire.” The study’s authors considered these acts “extraordinarily” violent but viewed them as “a response by our country’s youth to another type of violence.” (I am indebted to Piot for sharing with me his book and English-translated article on the revolution.)

With 40 percent of the population under 25, unemployed college graduates were the first to activate themselves after Bouazizi’s death. Their efforts galvanized towns such as Thala, Sbeitla, Sidi Bouzid, Regueb, Douz and Kairouan—located in the neglected interior, as opposed to the coastal areas that had been endowed with monies to support tourism and development. With little hope for employment and no delusions, they led the revolt.

Indignation then turned into social upheaval and spread throughout the central and western regions. A 31-year old man self-immolated himself in Metlaoui on January 5, the day that 5,000 attended the interment of Bouazizi. In this mining town of 50,000, the local branch of the main union, the Tunisian General Union of Labor, well knew that 40 percent of the active population was unemployed and 75 percent of employees had been laid off in the previous 25 years. As Metlaoui heated up, the neighboring towns of Kasserine and Thala did too. Workers and Tunisia’s educated young were now in alliance. The parents and grandparents of the young soon joined them.

Early in the Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali regime, political activists began watching the extent of his clan’s corruption. As the family took over national enterprises during its 1995–2005 privatization schemes, their corruption became common knowledge. Beside unemployment, ending a culture of endemic, systemic corruption and impunity became a priority for Tunisians.

After a strike in the Tunisian city of Hawd el-Mongamy, young online organizers set up what became the Progressive Youth of Tunisia. Organizers in Egypt and Tunisia began exchanging views over Facebook. According to Piot, one in three Tunisians use the Internet. Egyptians were persuaded that Tunisians faced a more severe police state than their own because of Tunisia’s strict controls on blogging and press freedoms, but they perceived Tunisian labor unions as more powerful and independent. To Egyptians, Tunisia’s revolt was more “modern” and politically mature, because its discourse was that of educated, literate classes, who spoke the language of human rights, liberty, citizenship and democracy.

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Police repression against young demonstrators from poor areas swelled and recoiled, causing a second detonation on January 7 and 8, 2011. Tunisians burst with simmering resentment against the 150,000-strong police forces, long recognized for their arrogance, corruption and contemptuous behavior.

During Ben Ali’s 23-year rule, Tunisia’s civil-society organizations suffered severe, stifling repression. Yet they now emerged as politically important with their large networks of associations, radio stations, musical bands, clubs and human rights groups. Some claimed an apolitical identity, including Amnesty International. Others expressly came into being to oppose the Habib Bourguiba regime (1956‒1987), and then that of Ben Ali. Among these is the Tunisian League for Human Rights; founded in 1976, it is the oldest advocacy group of its kind in the Arab world.

With all political organizations dubbed the “illegal opposition” in Tunisia, the student movement—avidly organized during the 1970s and 1980s in the General Union of Tunisian Students—had gone underground years earlier. Yet the UGTT’s web of trade unions meant that local leaders were in place. These dispersed power centers, if mobilized, could represent a diverse opposition against the regime.

Ben Ali’s closing of all educational establishments on January 10 finally provoked the UGTT labor unions to react. They gave the go-ahead to locals in Sfax, Kairouan and Tozeur to organize a general strike for January 11 and 12, and in Tunis on January 14. Workers may have sparked the uprising, but as it spread to the middle classes, the nation’s academicians, bankers, doctors, lawyers and shopkeepers became engaged. This reach matched the geographic spread of the protests. Tunis, Sousse, Sfax, Gafsa, Gabès and Bizerte—the largest cities—rose up in turn, especially after the successful January 12 general strike in Sfax.

Professionals, traders, merchants and financiers came on board, many of them allied with the Bourguiba regime and with Ben Ali in his early years. The ranks grew of those who felt embittered about being pushed aside by Ben Ali’s networks, especially the Trabelsi clan of his second wife Leila.

In Sousse, a city favored by tourists, workers from the Farhat Hached hospital organized a massive protest march. They were soon joined by hotel employees. The upheaval expanded to the upper crust as, on January 8, a delegation of business executives from Sousse, Ben Ali’s base, called on the presidential palace in Carthage to ask the president to step down. On January 14, Ben Ali left Tunisia.

Even if subdued, the free-standing civil-society networks with independent leadership provided Tunisia with what Gene Sharp calls the capacity for “corporate resistance and defiance.” As I have previously written, a clear link exists between the cohesion of a nonviolent civic coalition during the years prior to a democratic transition and the depth of its self-governance in the outcome.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Iran’s Azadi Square

Dear Gabriel,

It’s called Azadi Square – literally “Freedom Square” in Persian.

For decades, it has been the central point of human rights activism in Iran. Two years ago, when the disputed results of a presidential election compelled many to take to the streets, Azadi Square was the backdrop of countless student protests. Although the protests began as peaceful, protesters were met with violence once riot police were dispersed.

Two students who were swept up in the resulting wave of government crackdowns that followed were Behareh Hedayat and Majid Tavakkoli.

Behareh – an economics student turned women’s rights advocate is now serving 10 years in prison sentence for her activism.

Majid – a shipbuilding student turned prominent student leader is now serving nine years in prison for his activism.

We can’t think of a better place to take a stand for their rights and the rights of all Iran’s peaceful student protesters than in Azadi Square.

Demand the release of all Iran’s peaceful student protesters!

Starting today, we’re opening up a virtual Azadi Square to supporters worldwide. In the virtual Azadi Square, all human rights are protected – including freedom of expression, assembly and association.

That is why we’re inviting you to join us in sending a powerful message to the Iranian government. Even if students are imprisoned for their activism, their calls for human rights can never be silenced!

For every 10,000 signatures gathered on our petition for protecting student’s rights in Iran, Amnesty representatives will publicly present your signatures in a new and powerful way. But you’ll have to keep checking back to find out what we’ll do next!

Visit Amnesty’s Azadi Square and stand up for the rights of student protesters in Iran!

Behareh Hedayat and Majid Tavakkoli, like many others, were simply students who spoke publicly about their political opinions. They do not deserve this injustice.

Take action now and give them hope. Demonstrate the power of standing together for human rights!

Thank You,

Elise Auerbach
Country Specialist, Iran
Amnesty International USA

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