Saturday, February 09, 2013

Scientology hides from grave allegations behind the mask of religion

L Ron Hubbard's church is under increasing attack, but by calling itself a religion Scientology is shielded from scrutiny
Scientology Celebrity Center and Church, Los Angeles, America - 11 Jul 2012
'Add religion to its treasure and power to intimidate, and the Church of Scientology may seem untouchable.' Photograph: Startraks Photo/Rex Features
Millions of Americans watching the Super Bowl were treated to a soft-voiced ad featuring knitting pattern magazine models boosting the church that L Ron built, but elsewhere the Scientology spring is gathering pace. The latest hammer blow against the church that likes to wear dark glasses is Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape – a misery memoir by Jenna Miscavige Hill, alleging that her uncle, Scientology's "Pope" David Miscavige, is evil. A charge he denies.
Add a major lawsuit in the US by aggrieved ex-members, a criminal prosecution in Belgium, a war of attrition across the internet and three highly critical books so far this year.
Fear of Britain's libel laws meant that Going Clear by Lawrence Wrightwas not formally published in the UK, and no big UK publisher would touch my book, Church of Fear, but all three books are now on sale and make for horrible reading for "Pope" Miscavige and his celebrity apostles Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
Yet critics who hope that the end of the Church of Scientology is nigh are probably deluded, until someone powerful and brave on the other side of the Atlantic steps in.
Not every action of the government of the United States of America is for the best. Not every British institution is bone from the neck up.
Take the decision by the Internal Revenue Service – the American tax man – in 1993 under the Clinton administration to stop treating the Church of Scientology as a business and reclassify it as a religion.
"Pope" Miscavige – later, Tom Cruise's best man at the star's wedding to Katie Holmes – told his faithful: "The pipeline of IRS false reports won't keep flowing across the planet. There will be no more nothing – because on October 1 1993, at 8.37pm Eastern Standard Time, the IRS issued letters recognising Scientology and every one of its organisations as fully tax exempt! The war is over!" Everyone clapped.
Not everything that calls itself a religion is a religion. It could be a multibillion-dollar corporate, an organisation with a mafia-like hold over followers, or a brainwashing cult. Some ex-members say the Church of Scientology is all three.
On this side of the Atlantic, as far as the Charity Commissioners are concerned, for the purposes of English charity law: "Scientology is not a religion."
In Britain, Scientology's war, as it were, is not over.
Yet the church is protected in the US – its spiritual home – by the shield of that word, religion.
Words bite. Rebaptise a thing a religion and it is instantly better protected from scrutiny, mockery and taxes. Add the shield of religion to its treasure and power to intimidate, and the Church of Scientology may seem untouchable. Is it?
The dictionary definition of a religion is: "The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods." But who is the superhuman controlling power Scientologists believe in? No Scientologist will tell you.
The underlying logic of the British test is that a religion must be open to all and open about itself.
Alex Klein wrote on BuzzFeed: "All religions have their Xenus, multi-armed elephants, or magic babies, their morally ambiguous prophets, their tall tales and scandals."
That's not quite right. Go into a Christian church and they will tell you about the "magic baby", Jesus. You will see images of him, everywhere, dating back almost 2,000 years. Go into a Hindu temple and you will see images of Ganesh, the multi-armed elephant God, everywhere, images that go back millennia. Go into a Church of Scientology Org and you will see no image of Xenu. No member of the Church of Scientology will admit to Xenu's existence, but ex-Scientologists say he is at the heart of its cosmology. Scientology fails the British test of what is or is not a religion because it is not open about what it believes in. A belief system that tells lies about its core belief does not have the automatic right to be treated as a religion.
This is not a purely cosmological dispute, as I have found out, while investigating the church for half a decade. (I started badly by losing my temper with Scientologist Tommy Davis while making BBC Panorama'sScientology and Me in 2007. I apologised then; I apologise now.)
Law enforcement gives religion the warm shoulder. While making a follow-up Panorama in 2010, we became aware that some of our interviewees had met the FBI previously. The Feds and Panorama were both working on a parallel investigation: its subject allegations of physical and psychological abuse that the church categorically denies. Ex-members of the church – such as Mike Rinder, its former spokesman and head of the office of special affairs, who had "defected" to Panorama – gave specific evidence of that abuse, backed up by several other senior ex-Scientologists. (The church has an online cartoon of Rinder as a fanged cobra.)
Thanks to what critics say is the absurdity of Britain's libel laws, we were unable to broadcast the most shocking allegations of abuse in 2010 – they're in my book – but we did air grave criticisms of the church. The FBI investigation has gone nowhere. The reason? One ex-Scientologist who assisted the FBI told me: "They got it. The investigators we were talking to knew what they were doing. Then someone upstairs seemed to raise the stakes. They had to have video evidence of wrongdoing, an admission of guilt, or else nothing would happen."
Of course, all of the above may well be untrue and the FBI investigation may have failed for the simple fact that there was nothing to investigate.
All I know for certain is that an FBI investigation was running and nothing has happened. It turned out, my source said, that the church had more money to spend on this and more resolve than the FBI. The thing that may have killed the investigation was that the FBI was afraid of taking on an official religion. If true, that does not sound good. Perhaps Britain's Charity Commissioners should have a word with the G-Men. They don't tote tommy guns but they can spot a non-religion when they see one.
• This article was amended on 7 February 2013. The sixth paragraph originally referred to the Inland Revenue Service. It should have been the Internal Revenue Service, and this has now been corrected.

The Endangered Fate of Barnes & Noble

- Peter Osnos is a journalist turned book editor/publisher. He spent 18 years working at various bureaus for The Washington Post before founding Public Affairs Books.More

The Endangered Fate of Barnes & Noble

The Atlantic
Share27FEB 5 2013, 11:12 AM ET 145
America's last major book store chain is shuttering locations as it tries to evolve for a digital future. Is this simply a tough transition, or the beginning of the end?
Washington D.C.'s Union Station is a major point of entry for the nation's capital. Streams of daily commuters from the region, tourists, and business travelers on the Amtrak circuit from Boston and New York can choose from an especially ample array of shopping and dining opportunities. But, as of the end of February, one of the anchor retailers will be gone. Barnes & Noble is shutting down its bookstore in a main concourse after failing to reach terms with the landlord. Browsing the aisles at Barnes & Noble stores has been a core feature of the chain's strength in the forty years since Leonard Riggio purchased the assets of what was then a venerable seller mainly of textbooks and turned the enterprise into the country's most formidable shaper of a superstore culture for book selling.
It is hard to imagine a destination like Union Station without a fully stocked bookstore, even if it is also the case that an increasing percentage of the consumer traffic is carrying a mobile reading device that is loaded with books purchased elsewhere, mainly from Amazon. The sprawling Barnes & Noble on Georgetown's M Street is gone, and the company has closed superstores in New York, Dallas, Chicago, and Seattle (among other places) in similarly well-situated locales as part of a broader brick and mortar contraction that suggests--disturbingly--its long-term decline. Barnes & Noble's post-holiday report for 2012 reflected a drop in same-store sales of 3.1 percent, and despite a substantial push to expand its Nook line of e-readers, product sales for the devices were down 12.6 percent from a year ago.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Mitchell Klipper, chief executive of Barnes & Noble's retail group, said that, over the next decade, the chain will reduce its outlets by about twenty a year to reach a figure of about 450-to-500 consumer stores, down from a peak of 726 in 2008. A separate chain of 674 college bookstores (which thrive on tchotchkes and their exclusive franchises) is not part of that calculation. Even with so many fewer consumer stores, Klipper said, "It's a good business model. You have to adjust your overhead and get smart with smart systems. Is it what it used to be when you were opening 80 stores a year and dropping stores everywhere? Probably not. It's different. But every business evolves." Klipper disputes the notion that bookstores will be unable to hold their own in the digital era, despite the chain's need to downsize where rents or locations are hurting the prospect of acceptable profitability. Only a handful of the stores--fewer than twenty--are actually losing money, he told the Wall Street Journal'sJeffrey Trachtenberg. But the company's revenues have been significantly impacted by its commitment to build the Nook franchise.
While holding on to ownership of nearly 80 percent of its Nook division, a $300 million investment in Nook from Microsoft last fall, followed by an $89.5 million commitment from Pearson, which sees value in the growing electronic textbook market, are signs that Barnes & Noble can forge a way to secure enough of the digital business to offset the problems it faces in traditional bookselling.
But the overall impression of Barnes & Noble's situation in the book industry is not nearly as positive as its owners and investors would like to portray. Publisher's Weekly reported last week that Barnes & Noble is in the midst of contentious negotiations over terms with Simon & Schuster. "Although the exact nature of the disagreement is not yet clear," Publisher's Weekly reported, "Barnes &Noble has significantly reduced its orders from S&S. The main reason for the cutback seems to be, according to sources, Barnes & Noble's lack of support from S&S." (One way or another, this means a dispute over the size of discounts and advertising.) Another factor for concern is the impending merger of Random House and Penguin, which is expected to give this corporate behemoth the ability to deal with Google's Android ecosystem, and Apple's consumer cachet as well as Amazon's dominant position in online retailing. There was an initial belief that Borders' bankruptcy would bring a substantial portion of its in-store business to Barnes & Noble, but that has not turned out to be the case.
"Barnes & Noble is the last bookstore chain standing," Wharton management professor Steve Kobrin, who is also the publisher of Wharton Digital Press, told the Knowledge@Wharton newsletter. "There's still a niche there, but it may go to small independent bookstores."
The same newsletter quotes Daniel Raff, a Wharton management professor, suggesting that the pessimism toward the bookseller may be overstated:
[He says that] Barnes &Noble was resourceful in devoting store space to the Nook and has assets that could be utilized. "When you talk ecosystems, it's not just the digital stuff. . . . The comfortable majority of publisher profits are physical books, and they need distribution." Indeed, Barnes & Noble's biggest asset may be the reality that publishers need shelf space to sell books." Ultimately, he and other observers have concluded that bundling print books with digital versions may be the next phase of bookselling and that would be a plus for Barnes & Noble.
I thought that Alexandra Petri, in a blog for the Washington Post, captured the prevailing spirit many of us feel about the fate of Barnes & Noble in an open letter to the company. "I think it is time we staged an intervention," she wrote, "I am saying this on behalf of all your friends: the Publishing Industry, Book-Lovers Everywhere and--well pretty much everyone but We gathered this weekend and decided it was time we spoke up. We lost Borders. We cannot bear to lose you too."
There was a time barely a generation ago when Barnes & Noble seemed to be becoming too powerful, with its superstores and the since-shuttered Dalton mall chain dominating the industry. Now, as Petri writes, there is a sense that Barnes & Noble is in a struggle, and the fate of the brick and mortar stores are in the balance. "Just stop closing the bookstores," she appealed, "You have something special! Don't throw away your birthright in this frenzied dash after the thin pottage of the eBook market." In a way, it is a tribute to books that how they are sold--even when it is by a big, publicly traded chain--can arouse emotions. Those once choc-a-bloc bookshelves and lively aisles in Union Station and elsewhere will be genuinely missed.


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Friday, February 08, 2013

Is Hagel Toast?

By Andrew C. McCarthy
February 8, 2013

Powerline’s John Hinderaker thinks former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Obama’s defense secretary is already dead. He may be right.

Andrew’s post from last evening homes in on why. As Sen. Ted Cruz pointed out in his superb questioning at the confirmation hearing (which irritated all the right people), Hagel has stonewalled the senate regarding transcripts of his prior speeches. Hagel’s propensity to say stupid things is already notorious (see, e.g., the Let Freedom Ring USA video I mentioned yesterday). It’s thus hard to imagine that the substance of the speeches is the problem. No, the issue must be that Hagel has been giving speeches to, taking speaking fees from, and otherwise canoodling with what Andrew refers to as “unsavory” organizations. Two such groups might provide thecoup de grace.

As John notes, Ben Shapiro has reported at the Breitbart site Big Peace that one of Hagel’s funding sources is a group purportedly called “Friends of Hamas.” That might make someone a good fit for president of Egypt, prime minister of Turkey, or any number of advisory posts on the White House staff. But given that being a “friend of Hamas” — at least the kind of friend who provides material support to that terrorist organization — is a crime in the United States, it may not be quite what the senate is looking for in a secretary of defense.

Then there is Iran. My friend Sam Nunberg ofThe Legal Project alerts me that Hagel sits on the board of the Soros-supported Ploughshares Fund, a left-wing group that allegedly funds various organizations sympathetic to the mullahs’ regime and, as night follows day, hostile to Israel. One such group is the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which is basically the Iranian regime’s lobbyist in the U.S.

A few years back, the NIAC — channeling its inner Lance Armstrong — filed a bogus defamation suit against Seid Hassan Daioleslam, editor of an anti-regime group, for having the audacity to expose NIAC’s coziness with the mullahs. This was a bonehead move because it gave Mr. Daioleslam’s lawyers (including the Legal Project) the opportunity to exploit the searching civil discovery procedures available under federal law. Consequently, NIAC began to channel its inner Chuck Hagel by stonewalling the defendants and the court.

That evidently did not sit well with Judge John Bates of the district court in Washington, whothrew out the defamation suit against NIAC and ordered sanctions for its failure to comply with discovery orders. The case was especially embarrassing for the Obama administration since, in emails that actually were disclosed, it became clear not only that NIAC had deep ties to the Iranian regime but that it is also an Obama fave — one whose top official, Trita Parsi, visits the White House, consults with Valerie Jarrett, briefs Secretary of State Clinton, lectures the CIA, and so on. (See Eli Lake’s report for the Washington Times, here.) 

Besides sitting on the board of a foundation that funds the NIAC, Hagel has had an ongoing relationship with the NIAC (and its precursor organization, the American-Iranian Council). As Ken Timmerman notes in the Washington Times, this has included giving speeches that rail against sanctions imposed to pressure Iran on its nuclear program, call for unconditional negotiations with the mullahs, etc. The NIAC, in kind, avidly supports Hagel’s nomination.

Hagel’s friends of the mullahs, especially if they turn out to be coupled with Friends of Hamas, may be too much for even senate Democrats to bear. Obviously, if there were not grave concerns about Hagel’s nomination, senate armed services chairman Carl Levin would not have postponed the committee’s vote. If he can’t get Hagel approved by the committee now, it doesn’t look like things are going to get better for the nominee as new information emerges in the coming days. Looks like the president better have a Plan B.

Two Cheers for Rebranding
Ever since Mitt Romney lost the presidential election, there’s been a lot of talk about how the Republican party needs to “rebrand” itself.
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal wants, among other things, for the GOP to stop being “the stupid party.” Representative Paul Ryan has concluded that the watchword for the Republican party needs to be “prudence.” Senator Marco Rubio is the frontman for the most tangible aspect of the rebranding effort: getting on the right side of the immigration issue. In the process, he’s become something of the de facto point person for the party.

The latest entrant into this effort: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. On Tuesday, Cantor gave a well-received speech at the American Enterprise Institute (where I am a fellow), titled “Making Life Work.” In it, Cantor argued for utterly reasonable conservative solutions that would improve the plight of the working poor and the middle class.

It’s all good stuff from a great field. Indeed, while calling them the “fantastic four” might seem hyperbolic — and unfair to a few other politicians left out of the mix — Rubio, Ryan, Jindal, and Cantor are a pretty good counterargument to those who think the Republican party is doomed. Excellent politicians all, three out of four are minorities: a Hispanic, an Indian-American, and a Jew — which sounds like they should be walking into a bar for a joke. The fourth, the Catholic Ryan, routinely wins a working-class district that votes Democratic in presidential elections.

I should note that lately I’ve written favorably about this rebranding stuff as well. In a nutshell, I’ve been arguing that the GOP’s problems don’t stem from a lack of principle, but from a lack of persuasiveness.

My point was not — and is not — that the GOP should abandon its commitment to core conservative principles. If you can’t get the swing voters to vote for the existing level of conservatism the GOP is offering, it seems odd to argue that the GOP needs to peddle an even more strident form of conservatism (even if that purer conservatism would yield better policies). If a potential customer says, “The Chevy Impala is too pricey,” a good salesman doesn’t immediately respond, “Okay, can I interest you in a Bentley?”

All that said, I think the push to rebrand the GOP has its own pitfalls.

For starters, “prudence” and “don’t be stupid,” while excellent prescriptions for how to behave, are not, in themselves, great rallying cries. If you don’t believe me, try to get a crowd of the faithful to start chanting “Pru-dence! Pru-dence!” or “We’re Not Stupid! We’re Not Stupid!”

While this may seem obvious, the fact is that one GOP’s worst tics is its habit of reading its stage directions out loud. For instance, Republicans often talk about how they’re not going to “go negative.” George H. W. Bush had such contempt for Bill Clinton’s gift for wholesale empathy, he felt the need to proclaim, “Message: I care.”

Obviously, Republicans should care about what is best for the country and the voters — and they should demonstrate that concern — but they will never beat liberals at the game of whose heart bleeds the most. As liberal Washington Postcolumnist E. J. Dionne observes, Cantor’s rebranding maneuvers the GOP into a contest on Democratic turf: who cares more about workers, the poor, immigrants, etc. As Dionne notes, that’s why Democratic senator Chuck Schumer immediately praised Cantor’s remarks.

The reason that game is so perilous for conservatives is not that liberals necessarily care more than conservatives but that they are always willing and eager to prove their concern by cutting a check, even when all we have in the checking account is IOUs and cash on loan from China. Moreover, they are perfectly happy and eager to say that anyone who opposes more check kiting is greedy or selfish, even if what Democrats are doing is making the problem they seek to solve worse. All too often, liberals act as if government has a monopoly on compassion.  

“There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism,” Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” Children often think their parents are being mean when they tell their kids to do their homework. That doesn’t make the parents mean, it makes them responsible. Eventually, the lessons of life persuade children their parents were right all along.

Voters aren’t children, but too many of them have the childish notion that the best policies are those that pander to their immediate desires. The challenge for the GOP is to persuade them to put away childish things.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail at, or via Twitter @JonahNRO© 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

America Gives Up

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February 8, 2013

By Stella Paul

The other day, I learned that Obama has canceled our Mars Rover explorations, along with all other planetary missions.  NASA's science mission chief just quit in disgust, and who can blame him? Apparently, even robots' lives are too precious for us to risk these days, so America is giving up the thrill of discovering space.
While I was stewing over the news that the Russians will now take over our Mars missions (the Red Planet is turning that kind of Red), I decided to relax by watching the Super Bowl -- just in time to see the lights blow out.
It's getting humiliating to be American; don't you think? The only thing we're Number One at anymore is embarrassing ourselves in front of the world. Once upon a time, we were admired as Can-Do America; now we can't even manage to keep on the lights.
Here's a quick list of some things we're giving up these days, with little more than a shrug: Making babies (lowest birth rate since 1920). Saturday mail delivery. The Constitution. Hostess Twinkies (though there's a ray of hope for them). And the natural order of the sexes.
That last remark could refer to a thousand things, but I'm specifically thinking of the madcap decision to send women into combat.  Who's going to fight to the death to protect the home front when the hottest girls are in the next bunk?
Of course, it only makes sense to send co-eds to fight if you've already given up on the concept of victory, which, in case you haven't noticed, we most definitely have.
Remember when Obama said on TV, chuckling in an ironic-David-Letterman-kind-of-way, that he was "always worried about using the word 'victory,' because, you know, it invokes this notion of Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur"?
Well, once the Commander-in-Chief openly mocks the very idea of winning wars, we might as well go right ahead and turn the military into one big pajama party of girls and gays.  Why not?
In fact, I breathlessly await the inevitable appearance of Brigadier General RuPaul on the national scene.  But, hey, maybe I'm not giving Obama enough credit. Maybe Obama's secret plan is to have our enemies laugh themselves to death.
And speaking of enemies, China may have big plans for our natural resources, now that we've decided to give up on them, too. Obama has been busily locking up our oil and gas supplies, most recently 1.6 million acres of federal land in the oil-rich west.
Journalist Erik Rush reports that Obama and China have secretly brokered a deal in which we'll repay our trillions of dollars of debt by giving China the oil and gas in our federal lands. Sounds crazy, right? Well, maybe, but lots of crazy things happen to nations that spectacularly give up on fiscal sanity. And running up a $16 trillion debt that's bigger than the entire U.S. economy may sound clever to Paul Krugman, but to us regular folks without Nobel Prizes, it's obviously nuts.
Now that America is a non-stop Giving Up Festival, I guess the day will come when each one of us has to figure out if there's something in our lives that's so precious, so vital, so inalienable, that we just won't give it up, no matter what. I've thought about this question long and hard, and I hope you won't judge me as too ridiculously trivial when I tell you what I've decided: it's my hair.
Maybe I'd feel differently if I had dull, stringy locks, but the fact of the matter is I have extremely nice hair, mostly due to constant applications of cash to my stylist Sonia, and I refuse to hide it under a burqa.
And the reason I'm bringing this up is because America is also busily giving up our freedom and surrendering to Islam. We're letting Iran go nuclear. We're hoisting the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt and supplying them with F-16 fighter planes and 200 Abrams tanks. We're passively watching as our Libyan Ambassador gets murdered, raped and dragged through the streets by Al Qaeda thugs.
And here on the home front, we're surrendering like there's no tomorrow, which, practically speaking, there isn't. We're importing Muslims at record-breaking speeds, doubling their numbers since 9/11, and making Islam the fastest-growing religion in the United States.
We're pretending that jihadi attacks on our troops at Fort Hood and Little Rock, Arkansas are "workplace violence" and "street crime." And we're making believe that the dangerous Muslim Brotherhood penetration of our government is really a grand, multicultural celebration.
If things keep up, and they will, it's only a matter of time before Shariah Patrols prowl the streets of American cities, the way they're doing right thisminute in London. Watch the videos of Muslim men telling British men to get rid of their alcohol and ordering British girls to cover up, and get used to what's coming.
So that's why I've decided: my bottom line is my hair. No matter how many shariah enforcers roam the streets, I'm going to keep right on publicly exposing my naked, gleaming tresses whenever and wherever I want. And, yes, I may even flounce and flaunt them, too. So there.
Oh, and here's another thing I'm not giving up: free speech. Recently, the man who's supposed to be our president proclaimed to the United Nations, "The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam." To which I say: Speak for yourself, pal. I'll slander the prophet of Islam anytime I like. For instance, right now. Mohammed stinks.
See? I'm not giving up.
Stella Paul's new ebook is What I Miss About America: Reflections from the Golden Age of Hope and Change, available at Amazon for just $1.99.  Write Stella at