Buddhist monks in Burma are helping the government enact anti-Muslim laws.

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A powerful Buddhist ultranationalist group is helping Burma’s ruling party win votes in next Sunday’s election after the government pushed through laws seen as anti-Muslim, the co-founder of the group told Reuters.

Known by its Burmese initials Ma Ba Tha, the Buddhist nationalist group is not running a single candidate in the Nov. 8 election—monks are barred by law from running for office. Yet it has been in the forefront of campaigning and could influence the shape of Burma’s first popularly elected government in more than half a century.

For the first time, a Ma Ba Tha co-founder, a monk named Parmaukkha, disclosed some of the details about closed-door discussions between the group and the government on securing the passage of the bills.

The laws require citizens to seek government approval to convert to a different religion, force some women to have children at least three years apart and set punishments for having more than one spouse. An overwhelming majority of Burmese citizens are Buddhist.

The new laws discriminate against Muslims and women and could stoke religious tensions, human rights groups say.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) used its parliamentary majority to push through the laws in the belief that “Ma Ba Tha would help them get votes in the election,” said Parmaukkha, who helped found the group in 2013. “They know we are a strong organization.”

Tha Win, a USDP lawmaker and senior party official in Rangoon, denied any connections with Ma Ba Tha. “We’re just engaged in politics. Our party’s rules don’t allow us to carry out religious affairs.”

Parmaukkha’s description of Ma Ba Tha’s role was also challenged by the group’s spokesman, Thurain Soe, who said his organization was grateful for the USDP’s help in enacting the laws, but was not supporting any party.

“We needed our religious four bills. Who could we ask? We needed to ask this government. This is a very normal process,” Thurain Soe said through a translator. “We thank the president and the Parliament. But it’s just ‘thank you,’ not supporting [the USDP in the election].”

Reform Referendum

The general election is the first since a quasi-civilian government replaced military rule in 2011, and is widely regarded as a referendum on Burma’s reform process.

Ma Ba Tha’s influence in Buddhist-majority Burma might prove crucial in the election campaign, especially in rural areas where monastic authority is unquestioned, election analysts said.

Its influence might sway enough votes from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to deny the opposition party an all-important parliamentary majority, and save the USDP—created by the powerful military and chaired by President Thein Sein—from an embarrassing electoral debacle.

Fearful of potential Ma Ba Tha intimidation, the NLD decided not to field any Muslim candidates on Nov. 8, two senior NLD leaders told Reuters.

In recent years, religious violence in Burma has killed hundreds of people, mostly Muslims.

Formally known in English as the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, Ma Ba Tha grew out of the “969” movement, also led by monks, which called for a ban on interfaith marriages and a boycott of Muslim businesses.

Ma Ba Tha began cooperating closely with the government and the USDP in a series of meetings about the race and religion laws in 2014 and 2015, Parmaukkha said.

One meeting in the capital Naypyidaw in May 2014 was attended by officials from the ministries of religion, immigration and home affairs, as well as presidential advisors, he said.

Three other leading Ma Ba Tha monks confirmed to Reuters that they had attended the May meeting to discuss the bills with the government task force.

Members of the governmental team, including Soe Win, Burma’s minister of religious affairs, did not respond to requests for comment regarding the government’s contacts with Ma Ba Tha.

The closed-door meeting has not been publicly disclosed before.

Gloomy Party Assessment

At another meeting in March 2015, a USDP official, who was also a director general in a government ministry, assured Ma Ba Tha the government would approve the race and religion laws, Parmaukkha said. Parmaukkha declined to identify the official and Reuters was unable to independently verify this account.

This was just weeks after an internal USDP survey, which Reuters reviewed, had suggested the NLD would trounce the ruling party at the polls.

Two months later, Thein Sein signed the first of the four bills into law. The remaining three were enacted less than three weeks before the election campaign officially began.

Ma Ba Tha spokesman Thurain Soe denied leaders of his group had met government officials on the race and religion bills in 2014 and 2015.

Zaw Htay, a senior official from the President’s Office, said it was a monk-led petition drive that gave the initial impetus to the laws. The campaign gathered more than 2 million signatures calling for enacting laws protecting race and religion and the President’s Office drafted the laws in response to that petition, Zaw Htay said.

“It’s very hard to separate Buddhist monks from politics in this country,” he said, citing their role in Burma’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule, as well as pro-democracy protests in more recent years.

Scorn for Suu Kyi

Ma Ba Tha’s leadership has openly expressed support for the USDP and scorn for Suu Kyi.

Wirathu, 47, one of the most prominent of the Ma Ba Tha monks, endorsed Thein Sein in an interview, saying his administration “opened doors and worked step-by-step for peace and development.” He poured scorn on Suu Kyi and her party, saying: “NLD people are so full of themselves. They don’t have a high chance of winning in elections.”

Another monk who helped found Ma Ba Tha, Vimalabuddhi, said that since most of the USDP leaders are from the military they understood the situation in the country better than the NLD who were “politicians and civilians.”

“They don’t really understand our situation,” he said.

Asked about these criticisms from Ma Ba Tha, senior NLD leader Win Htein told Reuters: “According to the teachings of Buddha, monks shouldn’t get involved in political affairs. They should be neutral.”

He said Ma Ba Tha has targeted the NLD from the start for not being supportive of their race and religion laws and being more sympathetic to Muslims. “That’s why we decided not to field any Muslim candidates, for fear of antagonizing Ma Ba Tha, losing votes and failing to win a parliamentary majority.

“It has caused some very hard soul-searching,” he said.

Source: http://bit.ly/1WvZAfi

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Doctor debunks AA’s “higher power” themed 12-step recovery with facts and science.

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Since its founding in the 1930s, Alcoholics Anonymous has become part of the fabric of American society. AA and the many 12-step groups it inspired have become the country’s go-to solution for addiction in all of its forms. These recovery programs are mandated by drug courts, prescribed by doctors and widely praised by reformed addicts.

Dr. Lance Dodes sees a big problem with that. The psychiatrist has spent more than 20 years studying and treating addiction. His latest book on the subject is The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry.

Dodes tells NPR’s Arun Rath that 12-step recovery simply doesn’t work, despite anecdotes about success.

“We hear from the people who do well; we don’t hear from the people who don’t do well,” he says.

There is a large body of evidence now looking at AA success rate, and the success rate of AA is between 5 and 10 percent. Most people don’t seem to know that because it’s not widely publicized. … There are some studies that have claimed to show scientifically that AA is useful. These studies are riddled with scientific errors and they say no more than what we knew to begin with, which is that AA has probably the worst success rate in all of medicine.

It’s not only that AA has a 5 to 10 percent success rate; if it was successful and was neutral the rest of the time, we’d say OK. But it’s harmful to the 90 percent who don’t do well. And it’s harmful for several important reasons. One of them is that everyone believes that AA is the right treatment. AA is never wrong, according to AA. If you fail in AA, it’s you that’s failed.

On why 12-step programs can work

The reason that the 5 to 10 percent do well in AA actually doesn’t have to do with the 12 steps themselves; it has to do with the camaraderie. It’s a supportive organization with people who are on the whole kind to you, and it gives you a structure. Some people can make a lot of use of that. And to its credit, AA describes itself as a brotherhood rather than a treatment.

Lance Dodes is also the author of Breaking Addiction and The Heart of Addiction. i

Lance Dodes is also the author of Breaking Addiction and The Heart of Addiction.

Zachary Dodes/Courtesy of Beacon Press

So as you can imagine, a few people given that kind of setting are able to change their behavior at least temporarily, maybe permanently. But most people can’t deal with their addiction, which is deeply driven, by just being in a brotherhood.

On a psychological approach to addiction

When people are confronted with a feeling of being trapped, of being overwhelmingly helpless, they have to do something. It isn’t necessarily the “something” that actually deals with the problem. … Why addiction, though — why drink? Well, that’s the “something” that they do. In psychology we call it a displacement; you could call it a substitute …

When people can understand their addiction and what drives it, not only are they able to manage it but they can predict the next time the addictive urge will come up, because they know the kind of things that will make them feel overwhelmingly helpless. Given that forewarning, they can manage it much better.

But unlike AA, I would never claim that what I’ve suggested is right for everybody. But … let’s say I had nothing better to offer: It wouldn’t matter — we still need to change the system as it is because we are harming 90 percent of the people.

Source: http://n.pr/ZL2WnL

Another atheist blogger/publisher killed by islamists in Bangladesh

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A Bangladeshi publisher of secular books has been hacked to death in the capital Dhaka in the second attack of its kind on Saturday, police say.

Faisal Arefin Dipon, 43, was killed at his office in the city centre, hours after another publisher and two secular writers were injured in an attack.

A local affiliate of al-Qaeda said it carried out the attacks.

There has been a series of attacks on secularists since blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death in February.

Both publishers targeted on Saturday published Roy’s work.

Mr Dipon was found dead at the Jagriti Prokashoni publishing house, in his third-floor office.

“I saw him lying upside down and in a massive pool of blood. They slaughtered his neck. He is dead,” his father, the writer Abul Kashem Fazlul Haq, said, quoted by AFP.

Earlier on Saturday, armed men burst into the offices of publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul.

They stabbed Mr Tutul and two writers who were with him, locked them in an office and fled the scene, police said.

The three men were rushed to hospital, and at least one of them is in a critical condition.

The two writers were named by police as Ranadeep Basu and Tareque Rahim.

Ansar al-Islam, al-Qaeda’s Bangladeshi affiliate, posted messages online saying it had carried out Saturday’s attacks.

Roy, a US citizen of Bangladeshi origin and critic of radical Islamism, was murdered in February by suspected Islamists. His wife and fellow blogger Bonya Ahmed was badly injured in the attack.

Three other bloggers have since been killed.

Source: http://bbc.in/1XHACfc

International Court Deals Blow To Scientology Tax-Free Status

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The Dutch branch of the Church of Scientology has lost its tax status as “public welfare institution”, and the tax benefits that go along with it, in a ruling made by the court in The Hague on Wednesday. The court decided that the sales of the Church’s expensive courses and therapy sessions are clearly aimed at making a profit, and thus it does not belong on the tax authorities’ charity list.

Scientologists believe that there are two major divisions of the mind – the reactive mind and the analytical mind, according to Wikipedia. The reactive mind stores painful and debilitating images, “engrams”, that move people further away from their true identity. The Church promises believers that they can get rid of these engrams with special techniques and eventually achieve a “clear” state – a sort of super human with a clear mind. The Church offers courses and therapy sessions to work towards this “clear” state, and these quickly cost thousands of euros.

The court ruled that these courses cost significantly more than commercial educational institutions’ average school fees. “If providers on the secular education market had similar prices, prospective students would experience it as prices for top education by top teachers in prime locations.” The court finds the prices to be very commercial. According to the court, Scientology consciously seeks profits to fill its purse and was able to build “substantial wealth” like this.

The Church can still appeal against this ruling, but it is not yet clear if they will. A spokesperson called the judge’s ruling “discrimination based on religious beliefs”.

This ruling puts a provisional end to a long ongoing process that started in the Amsterdam Court two years ago, according to newspaper Trouw.  Back then the court ruled that the Church of Scientology does not have a commercial character because it gave courses and therapy sessions to poor Scientologists as gifts. The Supreme Court questioned this ruling late last year, also being concerned about the prices Scientology charges.

Source: http://bit.ly/1M4cbor

China Ends One-Child Policy for All Couples

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All couples will now be allowed to have two children, the state-run news agency said, citing a statement from the Communist Party.

The controversial policy was introduced nationally in 1979, to reduce the country’s birth rate and slow the population growth rate.

However, concerns at China’s ageing population led to pressure for change.

The one-child policy is estimated to have prevented about 400m births since it began.

Couples who violated the policy faced a variety of punishments, from fines and the loss of employment to forced abortions.

Over time, the policy was relaxed in some provinces, as demographers and sociologists raised concerns about rising social costs and falling worker numbers.

The Communist Party began formally relaxing national rules two years ago, allowing couples in which at least one of the pair is an only child to have a second child.

Source: http://bbc.in/1KHq2LU

Israeli Cafe Offers Discounts For Jews And Arabs Who Share A Meal Together

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During a month of renewed Israeli-Palestinian violence, one hummus restaurant is paying Jews and Arabs to sit down together for a meal. On Oct. 13, Kobi Tzafrir, owner of the Humus Bar in a shopping mall in Kfar Vitkin, north of Tel Aviv, advertised a 50 percent discount to Jews and Arabs who eat together on his restaurant’s Facebook page. It read:

“Are you afraid of Arabs? Are you afraid of Jews? By us there are no Arabs, but also no Jews. We have human beings! And real excellent Arab hummus! And great Jewish falafel!”

His post was shared more than 1,900 times, and news of the deal has made headlines around the world.

Tzafrir says he cooked up the promotion as a way to wipe away some of the gloom of the current Israeli-Palestinian animosity. “We hear a lot of extremists on the news, on Facebook, on TV, and it seems like everything here is very bad,” Tzafrir tells NPR’s The Salt. “But I wanted to show that everything here is not so bad. Things get out of proportion.”

Tzafrir, an Israeli Jew, is a latecomer to hummus — and a true believer in its powers. Growing up in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, he ate mostly packaged hummus from the supermarket. When he was about 20, he tried his first bowl of freshly ground chickpea paste, served hot, at an Arab restaurant — and he became an evangelist.

“If you eat a good hummus, you will feel love from the person who made it,” he says. “You don’t want to stab him.”

Hummus is ubiquitous across the Middle East. A 2012 film, Make Hummus Not War, documented the competing Palestinian, Lebanese and Israeli claims to the chickpea paste.

In recent years, at least one new hummusiya, or hummus restaurant, has opened every week in Tel Aviv, according to Shooky Galili, an amateur hummus historian in Tel Aviv and author of the comprehensive review site humus101.com.

Tzafrir opened Humus Bar four months ago. Since announcing his hummus peace deal earlier this month, Tzafrir says only about 10 tables of Arabs and Jews have received the discount. But, he says, business is up by at least 20 percent — even if a substantial part of the boost is from local and foreign journalists.

Galili says hummus has a long history of bringing Arabs and Israelis together.

Before the founding of modern Israel in 1948, Jews in the area would eat hummus in Palestinian restaurants as a way of showing fearless bravado, he says. And even today, he says, a well-known hummus restaurant will draw Israeli Jews into Arab neighborhoods and towns they would otherwise have no reason to enter. About a fifth of Israel’s population is Arab. Many Arab Israelis have close family ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A bowl of Kobi Tzafrir's hummus. Both Israelis and Palestinians love the hummus chickpea paste. Tzafrir is trying to use this shared love to bring people together.

A bowl of Kobi Tzafrir’s hummus. Both Israelis and Palestinians love the hummus chickpea paste. Tzafrir is trying to use this shared love to bring people together.

But in the current atmosphere in Israel, hummus restaurants have become a litmus test of race relations. Since October, Palestinians have killed 10 Israelis in a series of stabbings and shootings. Israeli security forces have killed at least 48 Palestinians, including Arab Israeli assailants, in the same period. In this environment, Israelis who normally visit Arab restaurants have been shying away from them.

Abu Hassan, a boisterous hummus restaurant in Jaffa, the Arab quarter of Tel Aviv, has seen business plummet in recent weeks. Its Facebook page is filled with posts from customers expressing their shock at the lack of the usual snaking lunch line.

In early October, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai posted a photo from a hummus meal at a different Jaffa Arab restaurant. “The hummus is fantastic as ever, just come,” he wrote.

Israelis were quick to respond. “They wait tables by day, throw stones and fly Hamas flags by night,” one commenter said. “Bon appetite, we’re eating at Jewish places,” another added.

On Thursday at Humus Bar, lunch business was brisk. Several Jewish Israeli customers dropped in from work for a bowl of hummus, topped with warm cooked chickpeas, hot fava beans, or stir-fried mushrooms and onions. Tzafrir took care to make every plate of hummus himself, dusting each with paprika, cumin, olive oil and chopped parsley. He says he has not yet trained his staff in how to put together the perfect serving.

Tel Aviv resident Nira Shiran, who stopped in for takeout, told us the discount is “wonderful. Anything that can bring the peoples together gets my blessing.”

Shiran, who is Jewish, says she grew up in northern Israel, in Jewish towns surrounded by Arab villages, where she had good relations with her neighbors. But now, she says, it’s dangerous to venture into Arab towns. “I will not go to Jaffa until the situation calms down,” she says.

Amin Tabri, a Palestinian from east Jerusalem, was one of the few Arab customers. He was visiting Humus Bar with colleagues — including Jewish ones. Tabri says he’s keeping his three children home these days because he fears for their safety.

Tabri says he didn’t think hummus could bring about peace, “but maybe the idea will reach politicians that we’re fed up.”

Itai Stern, an Isareli Jew from Tel Aviv, told me this was his first visit to the Humus Bar. He’d come with a Jewish colleague and didn’t know about the deal. “This whole story is pretty funny,” he says. “I don’t have problems with Arabs. I can sit with them without the discount.”

Source: http://n.pr/1Mmgiyf

Black Lives Matter group will not endorse any presidential candidates for 2016 election

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The Black Lives Matter network will skip a presidential endorsement but keep up its political activism by confronting candidates about the treatment of African-Americans in the United States, one of the group’s founders says.

In an Associated Press interview, Alicia Garza discussed the organization’s refusal to settle on a preferred candidate in the 2016 race to succeed President Barack Obama and pledged to press ahead with protests and interruptions during the campaign.

“Sometimes you have to put a wrench in the gears to get people to listen,” said Garza, who spoke at the 7th Annual Black Women’s Roundtable Policy Forum last week.

The Black Lives Matter movement traces its roots to the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012, and gained national ground after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer. Since then, deaths of other unarmed black males at the hands of law enforcement officers have inspired protests under the “Black Lives Matter” moniker.

Some are affiliated with the original network founded by Opal Tometi, Patrisse Cullors, Garza and their allies. Some are not, although they use the slogan.

While the Black Lives Matter groupwill not officially endorse any candidate, Garza said any member of the group is free to do so on their own. Corey Williams/AP

While the Black Lives Matter groupwill not officially endorse any candidate, Garza said any member of the group is free to do so on their own.

Black Lives Matter activists grabbed headlines when they disrupted a Seattle rally last month right before Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, was about to speak. Others claiming to represent Black Lives Matter have met with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush.

The Congressional Black Caucus, a group of African-American lawmakers in the House and Senate, also was focusing on criminal justice and police reforms during its annual legislative conference this weekend.

The Democratic National Committee acknowledged the Black Lives Matter movement at its Aug. 1 meeting in Minneapolis with a resolution saying it “joins with Americans across the country in affirming ‘Black lives matter’ and the ‘say her name’ efforts to make visible the pain of our fellow and sister Americans as they condemn extrajudicial killings of unarmed African-American men, women and children.”

The network said the resolution would not get its endorsement, and Garza reaffirmed that the official Black Lives Matter organization will not endorse any political party or candidate this election cycle.

The group said in the future it may endorse candidates or even run candidates of their own. Pictured is Renda Writer, a muralist expressing his support for the movement one word at a time on a Detroit art gallery exterior wall. Corey Williams/AP

The group said in the future it may endorse candidates or even run candidates of their own. Pictured is Renda Writer, a muralist expressing his support for the movement one word at a time on a Detroit art gallery exterior wall.

“Black Lives Matter as a network will not, does not, has not, ain’t going to endorse any candidates,” Garza said. “Now if there are activists within the movement that want to do that independently, they should feel free and if that’s what makes sense for their local conditions, that’s fantastic. But as a network, that’s not work we’re engaged in yet.”

In the future, the organization may become more involved with candidates and parties, and even run candidates, she said, but added that “we’re not there yet.”

“It’s too early in the development of the network and it’s too early in the genesis of the movement to rally around anyone in particular who hasn’t demonstrated that they feel accountable to the Black Lives Matter movement or network,” said Garza, who also works with the National Domestic Worker Alliance.

“What we’ve seen is an attempt by mainstream politics and politicians to co-opt movements that galvanize people in order for them to move closer to their own goals and objectives,” she said. “We don’t think that playing a corrupt game is going to bring change and make black lives matter.”

Source: http://nydn.us/1MH9oC7