Weekend Edition

April 25th, 2014

Televangelist Hagee: “Blood moon” is End Times

April 25th, 2014


Schematic diagram of the shadow cast by the Earth. Within the central umbra shadow, the Moon is totally shielded from direct illumination by the Sun. In contrast, within the penumbra shadow, only a portion of sunlight is blocked. DIAGRAM/Wikipedia

The natural phenomenon of lunar eclipse occurs when there is a full Moon, and the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned in the straight or almost straight line. The Earth being in the middle, its shadow prevents the sunlight from reaching the Moon which results in an eclipse. But when it’s a total lunar eclipse, then the appearance of the Moon turns reddish and is called a “Blood Moon.”

In the past, civilizations lacking technology and the modern science tried to explain natural happenings by creating different myths and associating them with various natural occurrences which were beyond their understanding. Many a times, people tried to link historical, fictional, or spurious incidents with eclipses. One such event was tied to the Arbela battle of Alexander the Great. There is nothing unusual about eclipses, solar or lunar; the Babylonians, Greeks, and others kept records – historical records of Chinese solar eclipses dates back over 4,000 years and have proved useful to scientists. Four hundred years back, the European astronomers started publishing books with diagrams explaining solar and lunar eclipses. The posters were also distributed to allay people’s fear.

“Blood Moon” rising – NASA’s timelapse video of total lunar eclipse You Tube

And today in 21st century, when the scientific and technological discoveries and inventions have made such an enormous progress, it is hard to believe that religious con men, who have always been around, try to create fear in people’s minds about the natural phenomenon by quoting some or other nonsense from religious scriptures and then linking them up with their own interpretations. Then there are people like John Hagee who not only frighten vulnerable people with their bizarre expositions but also evoke hatred about other nations and religious groups.

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Pastor John Hagee started his ministry with 25 members in 1975 and now commands 25,000 active members in a megachurch. He opposes abortion and homosexuality, doesn’t believe in global warming, is a rabid supporter of Israel, and is a leader of a group called Christians United for Israel (CUFI). He believes the Arab and Russian armies will invade Israel but God will destroy them both.

Non-existent God cannot perform such a feat but the God, which has such a power and we call the United States, can do such a thing. The blind and racist support of Israel by the US, the central cause of Palestinian people’s misery and desperation, could force some Palestinians to do something drastic against Israel, and in turn getting destroyed. However, the chances of Palestinians taking any such action are almost nil. The other Arab countries are neither in such a position nor have the stamina to indulge in such actions. About Russia, the US is currently busy luring that country to the path of destruction – unless Putin doesn’t fall into the US trap. Russia has once before fallen into such a trap.

The April 15, 2014 blood moon will be followed by three more in 2014 and 2015. The four consecutive blood moons are called tetrad and this time they are coinciding with Jewish holidays. This coincidence provided Hagee with a golden opportunity to frighten his audience about the coming of the End Times. Last century, tetrad occured four times: 1909-10, 1927-28, 1949-50, 1967-68, 1985-86. And in this century, it has happened once before in 2003-2004. In the video, Hagee quotes from the Hebrew Bible (also called the Old Testament, i.e., the Jewish part of the Bible):

“I will show wonders in the heavens
and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.

“The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”

Joel 2:30-31, New International Version

Then he informs his audience that Apostle Peter repeats Joels statement word for word, (New Testament Acts 2:19-20) the implication being that it lends more credit to Joel’s prophesy.

After prophet Joel and apostle Peter, it is pastor Hagee’s turn to opine:

“I believe that the heavens are God’s billboard; that He has been sending signals to planet Earth. And we just haven’t been picking them up.”

Now Hagee is intelligent enough to understand that the technology to pick up all kinds of signals, conversations, letters, emails, etc. lies with the US national Security Agency’s surveillance program and so he should contact NSA. Much easier to contact would be Edward Snowden.

The religious fanatics such as Hagees thrive on these kind of nonsense and take advantage of vulnerable people. The world doesn’t work like that. There were no such countries as Russia or Iran during the Biblical times. Today’s Iran is just a tiny part of the once mighty Achaemenid empire; it covered a huge area and comprised of many modern day countries. It was the first world empire. In more than two millennia, unrecognizable changes in Iranians’ DNA must have taken place due to migrations, intermarriages, and mixing of races that Hagee’s God would go crazy in trying to find out the true Persian descendents of the ancient Persians to destroy them. But then genocidal God doesn’t care much; He just wants death and destruction.

One thing to remember is that the ruling classes only worry about their interests and so forms and breaks alliances accordingly. It is people like Hagee who don’t let go old enmities.

And whoever has a megachurch and/or a megaphone has the power to spread megalies and can get away with it, most of the times. However, in 2006, Hagee was criticized when he laid the blame for Hurricane Katrina on gays and lesbians.

“All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are — were recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. And the promise of that parade was that it was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other Gay Pride parades. So I believe that the judgment of God is a very real thing. I know that there are people who demur from that, but I believe that the Bible teaches that when you violate the law of God, that God brings punishment sometimes before the day of judgment. And I believe that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.

Over a thousand people, mostly blacks, died in that 2005 hurricane due to pure criminal negligence of the George W. Bush government, despite prior warnings of Hurricane Katrina‘s damage causing potential. Blackwater made lots of money out of that hurricane.

And here is Bush’s mother and former First Lady Barbara Bush talking about the hurricane victims:

“What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas.” “Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.”

And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway.” “So this is working very well for them.”

And Hagee has the nerve to blame the gays and lesbians!

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

Remembering Brazil’s military coup 50 years later

April 25th, 2014


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Yesterday and today mark the 50-year-anniversary of the U.S.-backed military coup d’etat in Brazil. The coup kicked off a brutal twenty-year-long military dictatorship. Similar military coups would follow in Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina. Together with the support of the U.S. government and Paraguay, under General Alfredo Stroessner, the region would organize Operation Condor, a political repression and terror campaign to suppress opposition to their governments.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Brazilian coup, we are re-printing the following excerpt from the Brazil chapter of the book Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of 21st Century Socialism, by Roger Burbach, Michael Fox, and Federico Fuentes (Zed Books, 2013).

In 1964, the Brazilian military dictatorship rolled in like a bad dream. President João Goulart fled to Uruguay, and with him went the hopes of progressive reforms. The first of seventeen military decrees, or Institutional Acts (AI), were issued. Institutional Act 5, decreed by military president Artur da Costa e Silva on December 13, 1968, suspended habeas corpus and disbanded congress. Inspired by the 1959 Cuban revolution, and insurgent guerrilla movements in Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, Communist Party militants went underground and formed armed movements against the dictatorship, including the National Liberation Alliance and the Popular Revolutionary Vanguard, which would later become the Revolutionary Armed Vanguard Palmares (VAR-Palmares).

Dissidents were tracked down, arrested, imprisoned, tortured, disappeared, or worse. According to the 2007 report from the Brazilian government’s Special Commission on Murders and Political Disappeared entitled “The Right to Memory and the Truth,” 475 people were disappeared during the twenty-year-long military dictatorship. Thousands were imprisoned and roughly thirty thousand were tortured. More than 280 different types of torture were inflicted on “subversives” at 242 clandestine torture centers, by hundreds of individual torturers.[i] Current Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was at the time a student activist who became active in the VAR-Palmares (among other guerrilla groups). She was captured by the Brazilian military on January 16, 1970, tortured, and imprisoned for two and a half years, for participating with the guerrilla. Within a few years the armed resistance to the Brazilian dictatorship had been largely eliminated.

NACLA for more

In Italy she faced change, not defeat under acid violence

April 25th, 2014


After months of recovery and receiving seven plastic surgeries to repair her face from the severe damage she received under acid violence, Lucia Annibali speaks to the crowd as a recipient of the Pesaro (Italy) Press Club Award. IMAGE/Fotoprint

(WNN) Rome, ITALY, WESTERN EUROPE: This story was born of tragedy but has ended in triumph as the rebirth of a special Italian women with personality and endless dignity wins in court. The drama that forever changed the life of 36-year-old former attorney, now active women’s advocate and rights activist, Lucia Annibali happened last autumn in Pesaro, Italy. In a one-on-one interview with WNN Lucia shared she will never forget what happened to her on September 17, 2013.

That was the day she was left partially blind with a facial disfigurement that changed her life and her face forever.

Acid crime is a form of virulent violence that is now on the rise in Italy, and throughout Europe. While a majority of its victims are women, men have also been targets. Injuries from a severe sulfuric acid attack often blind its victims. Sulfuric acid on the skin can also melt the skin down to the bone in 15 minutes or less if quick emergency intervention is not made in time.

Like many other women, Lucia Annibali was purposefully scared for life by someone she once loved.

When she first met Mr. Luca Varani, Lucia did not know her new work colleague, working with her as a fellow attorney, was a dangerous man. Eventually after time had passed this man would also become her stalker. Incredibly though Varani’s plan and successful brutal acid attack against Lucia did not fully succeed. On the contrary, a new and brightly shining level of self esteem for Lucia began the moment she realized the changes she experienced and continues to emerge today.

“In his plan I had to die but I live instead and I am stronger than before,” Lucia recently outlined during her interview.

Domestic violence and acid violence can often found and occur together. Despite new laws working to bring greater justice for women, Domestic violence in Italy continues to be pervasive. One in three women today are considered victims of domestic violence, outlines Italy’s national statistics agency ISTAT. In spite of this, some Italian police departments continue to ignore the important need to report comprehensive public data on the number of cases of violence against women in the region, especially domestic violence cases.

“National criminal justice statistics on domestic violence are not publicly available in Italy,” says the 2012 country report on Italy released by WAVE – Women Against Violence Europe, with a survey project supported by the European Commission and UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund, among other agencies. “As a result, there is no information available on whether any data collected is gender or age disaggregated, or shows evidence of relationship between victim and perpetrator.”

Women News Network for more

Neil deGrasse Tyson on religion vs, science, God; Tyson talks to Bill Moyers

April 24th, 2014

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This week on Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers talks with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, about his redux of the famous Carl Sagan series and why science and science literacy matter in a democracy.


Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century: Its uses and limits (book review)

April 24th, 2014


Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014. $39.95. IMAGE/Harvard University Press

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty has caused a stir, which it deserves.  Capital 21, as we will abbreviate the title, grapples with a prominent current issue: outrageously unequal incomes and wealth.  It is a data-rich, wide-ranging investigation over 570 pages of text written in the smooth, often ironic, and occasionally elevated French manner.  It breaks with the sterile theology that dominates bourgeois economics today.  Finally, it proposes a new solution to the inequality problem at a time when many question whether capitalism can ever return to partial mass prosperity.

The concept in the title is capital, but it ties with inequality for the most page references in the index, including immediate variations.  If you want data on the income and wealth of the top ten-thousandth, one-hundredth, and one-tenth of the population, use this book as well as the online database compiled by Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and colleagues.

Tailored Concern with Inequality

However, Piketty’s concern over inequality of income and wealth is rather tailored.  The rich who upset Piketty most are very wealthy rentiers.  They cannot possibly consume more than a smidgeon of the return on their investments, so every year the latter grow and stand to capture more wealth the next year.  In contrast, entrepreneurs are good and necessary, and they need and deserve the incentive of financial success.

Piketty notes the bittersweet dilemma that successful entrepreneurs become rentiers in their own lifetime.  Bill Gates’ $50 billion or so of “wealth has incidentally continued to grow just as rapidly since he stopped working” (p. 440).  Still, it would be a disaster in Piketty’s view to adopt policies so egalitarian that “there would be no more entrepreneurs” (p. 572).

Capital 21 makes a trenchant critique of the outlandish pay of corporate executives (pp. 331-335, 510).  Piketty approves, though, when you get a fat income because you are a genuine entrepreneur or a highly skilled professional.  He accepts the bourgeois economic doctrine of the so-called marginal productivity of skilled labor, and with it a considerable amount of income inequality.

Piketty has little interest in the inequality suffered around and below the median income (the amount in the middle of a list of everyone’s incomes from highest to lowest).  Although he gives one or two figures on per capita income in France and Britain, he never examines what income equality could be in the absence of capitalists.

Monthly Review Zine for more

Fact or fiction?: Your car is hackable

April 24th, 2014


At this week’s Symposium on Security for Asia Network (SyScan) in Singapore, security engineers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek will highlight how fellow car hackers can research automotive electronic control units (ECUs) without needing to buy and dismantle a car. The researchers have even rigged a go-cart rigged with ECUs for testing purposes. The vehicle pictured has rearview camera, satellite radio, Bluetooth, GPS navigation and power steering. PHOTO/Charlie Miller

When your home computer is hacked, the things at risk are your identity, finances and other digital assets. A cyber attack that can take control of your car—especially while you’re driving—raises the stakes considerably. As carmakers transform their vehicles into networked computers on wheels, concern has grown about hacker attacks on automobile systems and the seriousness of the threat.

That possibility is not good news for car companies that want to build interfaces into their vehicles so they can communicate with one another as well as sensors built into traffic signals, roads and other infrastructure. Automobiles have already become sophisticated networks controlled by dozens of computers—called electronic control units (ECUs)—that manage critical, real-time systems such as steering, air-bag deployment and braking as well as less critical components including the ignition, lights and “infotainment” console. Software, sometimes consisting of up to 100 million lines of code, tells these ECUs what to do and when to do it. Carmakers connect multiple ECUs together within the vehicle using an internal communications network known as a controller area network (CAN).

Car hackers
Miller and Valasek are perhaps best known for a presentation at last summer’s Defcon hacker conference in Las Vegas that described in detail how they used a MacBook to take control of ECUs in a Toyota Prius and a Ford Escape, both model year 2010. The researchers connected their laptop via a cable to each car’s data port to fool the vehicles’ computers into taking any number of inappropriate actions while on the road—such as braking suddenly at high speed and steering into oncoming traffic.

Scientific American for more

Operation Awá: Most invaders removed from tribal land

April 23rd, 2014


The Awá depend on their forest for their survival. PHOTO/© Survival

Over 60% of the illegal invaders on the land of the Awá tribe have now been evicted in a breakthrough operation in the Brazilian Amazon.

Operation Awá was launched in January 2014 to save earth’s most threatened tribe, after Survival’s 2-year global campaign forced the Brazilian government to act.

Hundreds of soldiers, police and government agents form the operation’s ground squad.

Government reports reveal that hundreds of loggers and illegal cattle ranchers have been removed from the indigenous territory in recent weeks. They had been given forty days to leave, or face forced removal.

The Awá, one of the last nomadic hunter-gatherer peoples in the Amazon, depend on their forest for their survival, but it was being destroyed at an alarming pace and 34% of their central territory has been deforested.

Survival for more

The world’s most endangered food

April 23rd, 2014


In case of disaster, around 825,000 crop plants are stored as seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault PHOTO/Mari Tefre/Svalbard Globale Seed Vault

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault could be mistaken for a set piece from a futuristic Stanley Kubrick film. It juts out of the side of a mountain in Svalbard – a remote Norwegian archipelago located near the North Pole – and in the eternal darkness of the high north’s winter, it glows an eerie, pale blue. It’s during those cold months that scientists choose to load their precious cargo into the vault: the seeds of 825,000 crop plants, and counting.

Also called the “Doomsday Vault”, the facility is designed as a safe guard against those plants’ extinction – many of them essential food. In principle, these crops could prevent humanity’s demise should a global catastrophe occur.

Due to the cold temperatures within the mountain, the vault’s electricity could fail for decades before the seeds perished. The seeds come from all over – the US, Russia, North Korea and beyond – with no regard for political boundaries. “The seeds are all getting along fine, there’s been no fighting yet,” jokes Cary Fowler, an agriculturalist who designed the seed vault and is currently head of its advisory council, and is also a senior advisor to the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

BBC for more

We’re not no. 1! We’re not no. 1!

April 23rd, 2014


We in the United States grow up celebrating ourselves as the world’s most powerful nation, the world’s richest nation, the world’s freest and most blessed nation.

Sure, technically Norwegians may be wealthier per capita, and the Japanese may live longer, but the world watches the N.B.A., melts at Katy Perry, uses iPhones to post on Facebook, trembles at our aircraft carriers, and blames the C.I.A. for everything. We’re No. 1!

In some ways we indisputably are, but a major new ranking of livability in 132 countries puts the United States in a sobering 16th place. We underperform because our economic and military strengths don’t translate into well-being for the average citizen.

In the Social Progress Index, the United States excels in access to advanced education but ranks 70th in health, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, 39th in basic education, 34th in access to water and sanitation and 31st in personal safety. Even in access to cellphones and the Internet, the United States ranks a disappointing 23rd, partly because one American in five lacks Internet access.

In contrast, some countries punch well above their weight. Costa Rica performs better than much richer countries, and so do the Philippines, Estonia and Jamaica. In Africa, Malawi, Ghana and Liberia shine. Bangladesh (no. 99) ranks ahead of wealthier India (no. 102). Likewise, Ukraine (no. 62) outperforms Russia (no. 80).

China does poorly, ranking 90th, behind its poorer neighbor Mongolia (no. 89). China performs well in basic education but lags in areas such as personal rights and access to information.

All this goes to what kind of a nation we want to be, and whether we put too much faith in G.D.P. as a metric.

Over all, the United States’ economy outperformed France’s between 1975 and 2006. But 99 percent of the French population actually enjoyed more gains in that period than 99 percent of the American population. Exclude the top 1 percent, and the average French citizen did better than the average American. This lack of shared prosperity and opportunity has stunted our social progress.

The New York Times for more

(Thanks to reader)