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girl-60637_640ts The world erupts with rage over the brutal murders of two American journalists and a British aid worker by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants. As a result, international outrage has turned to demands for action against the jihadists. Calls for death to the monsters and demands to follow the “enemy” to the gates of hell can now be heard from politicians and pundits throughout the west. Even President Obama has declared that against ISIS, the U.S. will now go “on the offensive,” including air strikes, training of Syrian rebels, provisions of military weaponry and advisors on the ground. But there is little mention of the continued savage brutalization of women by ISIS — unnoticed and rarely mentioned.

Yes, the beheadings bring the reality home. Understandably, the gruesome deaths of innocent people captured the world’s concern. Yet, why not beam international attention to the ongoing brutalization of women by ISIS, relentlessly, day after day, hour by hour.

For months, ISIS has terrorized women in Iraq and Syria, where sexual violence is used as a weapon of war. Specifically, ISIS militants have been raping Christian Yazidi women and girls with the expressed intention of impregnating them to break their ancient Aryan bloodline. Up to 1,000 Yazidi women in Northern Iraq were recently kidnapped, tortured, held as sex slaves, and murdered by ISIS fighters. Terrified eyes peer desperately through the bars of Badush Prison near Mosul. Here, women are raped numerous times a day and young women are even forced to call their parents to detail being gang-raped by dozens of men in a span of a few hours. Some as young as 12 years old, are sold as wives to Islamist fighters for as little as $25 US dollars or given as “sabaya,”war booty — a reward for fighters.


Recently, 300,000 displaced Yazidis fled to Mount Sinjar with no water and food sustenance, battling blazing temperatures higher than 100 degrees F. Hard to hear and see, but not equal to the rest of the story. Women were stolen and “used.”
When three Yazidi sisters, who were kidnapped, repeatedly raped, but finally escaped back to their families on Mt. Sinjar, they begged to be killed and spared the dishonor that will follow them throughout their lives. When the family refused, the girls jumped from the cliffs to their deaths.

The suffering caused by the sexual violence inflicted on women and girls does not end even if they are released. In that shame-based culture, they forever carry the marks of shame, and any children borne from the rapes or forced marriages will never live freely.

Yes, the gruesome beheadings of late deserve media attention and demand action by coalition governments. But we must not wait until those of “our own” are murdered or mutilated before responding with outrage. Why do we turn our eyes away until our own citizens are impacted? We must broaden our lens to the entire human race and not simply count casualties of our own citizens, but of all humans who are suffering in these battles. Victims of other nations are seldom counted, nor are women noticed who are severely brutalized in the war process.

They are not “collateral damage.” They are human beings.

In his prime-time speech on September 10 and since, Obama vows to “degrade, and ultimately, destroy” ISIS “wherever they exist.” Obama’s response to ISIS includes increased airstrikes, sending nearly 500 U.S military advisors to the region, and training Syrian Rebels and Iraqi Security Forces. But nowhere does a plan include provisions for directly rescuing or helping the Yazidi women who have been sexually brutalized by ISIS militants. We need to be clear with our government and the United Nations that these women and girls are worthy of our attention. What action will they take to address the women’s safety from these barbarian acts?

We must exercise a greater voice to expect what we want of our respective countries in responding to sexual violence as weapons of war. The U.S. permanent ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, is tasked with taking the U.S. message to the world. Having written, A Problem for Hell: America and the Age of Genocide she knows the issues well. Let us enlist Power’s assistance to solidify a response to ISIS — “No more.” No more sexual violence against women throughout conflict situations that proliferate around the ISIS world. Women and children deserve more from us.

In addition to U.S. and U.N. officials, we should demand greater and swifter attention be paid to the common practice of sexual violence as a weapon of war. The sexual atrocities committed against the Yazidi will certainly continue without immediate action by the U.S. and the U.N. We must demand that our government take immediate steps, not just to retaliate against the killings of U.S. and Britain, but also to interrupt the sexual violence against Yazidi women and girls.

The United Nations must condemn the attacks against women as war crimes to the full extent, and direct that ISIS fighters be prosecuted in International Criminal Court. This, too, is an international outrage.

These actions are not only achievable, but long overdue. Let us begin!

Co-authored by Elise Collins Shields and Jill Koyama, an anthropologist, and Assistant Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Practice at the University of Arizona. She is also a Tucson Op-Ed Fellow.


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Military Academies Sexual Assault Issue Pervades

The Pentagon’s shameful culture of sexual assault

can still be uprooted

US Naval Academy Graduation

US Naval Academy Graduation

Published in The Guardian,  March 7, 2014

Senator Kristen Gillibrand’s bill failed, but when we start over, let’s start at the very beginning: the military academies

“I could trade in my wife for you.” That’s what one of my husband’s former US Air Force Academy classmates told me at their class reunion.
If you ever get bored…. So went the sexual innuendo from other former classmates, some of whom physically groped me or made outright invitations to meet up.
My husband was as shocked as I – and heartsick that this was his new wife’s introduction to military culture. In addition to being upset, I was disturbed that these men seemingly never faced consequences for this sort of behavior if they felt so comfortable acting out.
And I was upset Thursday afternoon, when the US Senate failed to pass a bill championed by Senator Kristen Gillibrand that would take sexual assault investigation and prosecution away from the chain of command – that would finally bring consequences for longstanding systemic sexual assault across the US military.
Indeed, my experience in the late 1980s was not unique – and I am still far from alone. In the years following that class reunion, at other Air Force Academy alumni events, I repeatedly witnessed women demeaned as sexual objects instead of intelligent humans. I sincerely hoped – expected, even – that the era would pass as the impact of women entering military service became more normalized.
Surely, if there were more and more women in American academies, where cadets learn a code for life, a culture of respect and dignity would ensue. Right? Wrong.
The Pentagon’s culture of disrespect and permissive behavior has burgeoned into sexual scandals and increased incidents of assault. Maybe you already know the recent history, but Thursday’s failed vote should be a reminder as reform seeks a new path toward law:
There was the anonymous email to high-level officials in Washington, in January of 2003, reporting a significant problem of sexual assault at the Air Force Academy. It led the Secretary of the Air Force to call for an investigation, and the results were staggering: 70% of cadet women alleged they had been victims of sexual harassment, and 19% reported sexual assault, including rape or attempted rape.

Following publication of the study, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt General John Dallager issued a statement of “zero tolerance for sexual assault”. He promised to recommend changes to “Air Force policies, practices, procedures, training and education” in order to prevent the problem going forward, but the number of assaults has remained high. Very high: there were 45 incidents reported at the Air Force Academy during the last academic year. Superintendent Lt General Michelle Johnson recently said that the continued number of sexual assaults is due to the increased comfort cadets feel to come forward and report.
The evidence suggests otherwise. The most recent Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence in the Military Service Academies, released in January, reveals that few incidents are reported, to this day. Focus group participants said they did not feel comfortable reporting because they fear it will impact their ability to succeed at the academy. Why bother risking that when only a small fraction of alleged perpetrators are ever disciplined?
When sexual assault and rape are not addressed appropriately in the academies, is it any wonder that the problem continues into military service? In 2013 alone, there were 15 reports of sexual assault a day or Pentagon estimates that 26,000 members of the military were sexually assaulted in 2012.
This week, Airman First Class Jane Neubauer, who was working as an informant for the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI) last summer, claimed she was raped while undercover. Now she is facing retaliation for coming forward, saying since the rape “OSI has placed her under constant investigation for unspecified crimes, and has repeatedly threatened that she could be court martialed.”
This is the real problem: survivors of sexual violence in the military and the military academies have to report incidents to high ranking officers within their chain of command who are potentially biased – indeed, who may disbelieve them, shame them or retaliate against them. At present, commanders decide whether or not to even investigate, and they determine the verdict, or can overturn it. Retaliation against people like Neubauer who report incidents is not unusual.
And there is a real solution, three decades after I heard the whispers of disappearing dignity firsthand: Gillibrand’s legislation – and hopefully a new version like it – will help revamp the reporting and prosecuting process. It’s still important, cloture in Congress or not, to help ensure that s and cadets who do report don’t face negative repercussions – and that more alleged perpetrators face real consequences.
That’s how you stop systemic change: from the ground-up, from the academies to the skies.

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It’s About Time: A Revolutionary in His Own Words – A tribute to James Hillman

On October 27, 2011, The Occupy Movement was in full swing, having uttered its initial birth scream on September 17. On October 27th in London, the Canon Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral resigned, unwilling to support plans for the forcible removal of protestors from the area surrounding the cathedral grounds.  The Reverand Dr. Giles Fraser stated he could not support the possibility of “violence in the name of the church.” Late that night, Occupy Oakland marched in honor of one of their own, an Iraq war veteran, who lay in critical condition with a fractured skull after a violent beating by police. On that day, hundreds of protestors occupied New York City’s Wall Street financial district, protesting unrestrained capitalism and greed.  And by that date, Occupy sites had grown to nearly 2,300 in 2,000 cities worldwide, as people took revolutionary measures toward more just economies and sane societies. As if in concert, led by some transcendent maestro, incidents raged across the nation and around the world.

And early in the dawn of that day, October 27, 2011, Dr. James Hillman died. Leaving this temporal realm as his body passed Hillman, both mythic and human renegade, left a legacy that will long endure beyond his human presence — a legacy we will continue to unfold for years to come. I long to have asked what he thought of the Occupy Movement that seemed to manifest in radical physical form so many of the very ideas he advocated repeatedly over many years through his writings, lectures, interviews and conversation.  I never had the chance.

I received news of his death that morning while attending meetings in Boulder, Colorado. An overnight snow storm had blanketed the ground leaving the brilliant reds and golds of fall leaves buried in white pillows at the base of the historic Chautauqua park.  Paths were bordered by majestic red flatiron spires that shot skyward into the heavens as if in conversation with the gods. Such was the natural cathedral in which I was held. After pausing long enough to grasp the news, my overwhelming sadness felt surprising. After all, we knew that his death was imminent. This was, indeed, an anticipated end. In those moments, I felt the reality of this loss as larger than one life — his passing too huge to be held within the simple message that announced it. I needed space to breathe and embrace the knowing. I bundled up, left the meeting, and began to walk Chautauqua’s paths, seemingly for miles.

While sorting my feelings of personal loss, I moreover attempted to engage the enormity of the vast chasm that would be left in the fields of psychology, philosophy, literature, mythology — as well as in the contemporary world of social change.  Winding my way through the flatirons, I decided I must return to James Hillman’s own words for insight. The world indeed, had seemingly turned on its head in the preceding months, both personally and within the collective.

Upon returning to my Arizona desert, I began to search through Hillman’s writings — his words and the images they evoked in my psyche, remembering his repeated admonition to “stick to the image” as he revisioned the entire field of psychology through his iconoclastic interweaving of individual psyche with world soul.

Reviewing my notes from various class lectures and conferences, I discovered my scratchings from one of the earliest Hillman lectures I attended.  During his remarks, December 13, 1994, James was riffing on the Forest Gump movie and it’s glorification of innocence and stupidity, exclaiming with great passion, right hand flying into the air as he barked, “The New Yorker saw the viciousness of the film with its insidious thought that we don’t need to know anything . . . the more innocence you have the more violence you constellate. . . . We came to the U.S. wanting to be innocent and yet we are filled with the blood of what we killed in creating our paradise.”1 Thus began my introduction to James Hillman’s call to “revolutionize” not only our perception of the world, but our actions in the world. Radically, Hillman continued to suggest that the therapy room should be “a cell of revolution. Which means it should be aware of the political and social world that people are in. Not just a revolution of consciousness, but of the actual social situations [in which people are living].”2

In his heretical book with Michael Ventura, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World is Getting Worse, Hillman explained his use of the term revolution. “By revolution, I mean turning over . . . turning over the system that has made you go to analysis to begin with — the system being government by minority and conspiracy, official secrets, national security, corporate power, et cetera.”3 Time and again, Hillman called on us to turn away from the theories, structures and systems that lull us into apathy, demanding that we “awaken” and discard the comfort of our innocence. Hillman  required that we reconnect to soul — within ourselves and through active engagement with the world.

In a 2007 interview with Dr. Fraser Pierson, Hillman, proclaimed that instead of the founder of Archetypal Psychology or anything else, he preferred to be called a “renegade psychologist” and “champion of psyche” (Greek = soul), and stated the urgency of his concern. “Look at the U.S.A. All the people who have taken psychology courses and look at the lack of psychology in our government, in our attitudes. We haven’t a clue. We go around the world as if there was no such thing as a psyche, no such thing as a soul.  We bomb and exploit and take and kill as if this had no effect on the soul of our own people, let alone other people. . . I’m worried about the soul of our own country from the effects of what we do. That certainly is on my mind.”4

As I look back over the twenty years that James Hillman’s philosophy has informed my own work and, to be sure, my life journey, I note with some alarm that I as an individual and we collectively have indeed, been sleeping within our world culture.  Innocently trusting the system we go about our business, working on ourselves in therapy, concentrating on “what happened wrong to us in our childhoods, to work it out somehow. Instead of thinking, ‘Shit! I’m being abused right now by a system that doesn’t care about me at all.’ . . . We have a culture where slaves vote for their masters.”5  While I have gone about ‘doing good,’ the soul of the world is burning, dangerously so. Lee Robbins’ in his 2006 tribute remarks, “Why Hillman Matters,” quoted James stating, “Soul is a sun that gives off a dark burning light. It kills: ‘bringing about the death of naive realism, materialism and literal understanding.’”6 And now, at the end of James Hillman’s life flame on this planet, an revolutionary Occupy movement has erupted and we are each finding our way in its wake.  We can no longer remain innocent and unchanged.

James Hillman taught us that we must also consider the next generation. We must care about the world’s soul — the suffering of its oceans, rivers, forests and cities. We must turn away from a capitalistic view of psychology to that of soul-making — the deepest and most intimate human act and yet, if we remain true to our calling, also the most public act. Hillman’s legacy asks that we stay with the symptom, and with the pain that it brings. As he liked to put it, “not to Advil it away.”7

As I write this I remind myself that we must remain close to the images — as well as the dreams and stories manifested in them. The images of the Occupy movement are sometimes hard to endure as violence erupts intermittently in the clash of struggle. They represent the fragile hold that the people of the world sustain against the power structures that have overtaken the populous.  But we must stay with them.  We must keep them in full view.  We must not shelter our children, as the events we live are, indeed, the makers of their world as well.  The next generation must remain keenly aware of what is at stake. Might this be some essence of the “awakening” that James Hillman so often demanded? I wonder.

Shortly before James Hillman’s death, I sent a message through a close colleague, along with a promise. I am told that James smiled, gave a thumbs-up and said, “Great!”  I am holding that image alongside the scenes from the Occupy movement. I think James would be pleased.



1 Personal lecture notes, 1994.

2 Interview with Stephen Capen, Esalen Institute, 10/25/1995.

3 New York: HarperOne, 1993, p. 38.

4 Hillman, James. The Soulless Society. Video interview with Dr. Fraser Pierson. The Archetypal Psychology and Psychotherapy Series,  Individual version, 62min.

5 Ibid. Capen, 1995.

6 Hillman, James. The Dream and The Underworld. Massachusetts : Peter Smith, 1983, p. 21. See “Why Hillman Matters” by Lee Robbins, a plenary session in celebration of the 80th birthday of James Hillman, July 8, 2006.

7 Personal notes, July 12, 2007.

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We spend our days here in Rwanda in personal and emotional volley between the horror of the genocide and the astonishing cultural healing and social/infrastructural impetus that has since catapulted Rwanda into the 21st century through great ingenuity and courage.

From the moment of the initial onslaught of attacks following the downing of President Habyarimana’s aircraft by rockets, Col. Bagasora, who opposed the Arusha peace Accords, promised an “apocalypse” in Rwanda. He had begun his work with the murder of the president. Within a matter of hours, road blocks were set up across Rwanda, and the killing began. State radio spewed demands that Tutsi “cockroaches” must be exterminated, along with any Hutu directly assisting them. Rwanda citizens followed orders and took to the streets in a mass murderous chapter that will be burned forever in Rwandan history.

Within four months, one million women, men and children were slaughtered while the international community turned our back. The U.N. sent in rescue to the embassy diplomats and official personnel, passing thousands of imperiled citizens on the road as they made their way up the hill to evacuation and safety. Most of those they left behind died a cruel death. David, age 10, uttered as his last words, “UNAMIR will come for us.” Little did he know that the diplomats were long clear of the country. Moments after uttering those words to him mum, David was tortured to death by the genocidinaires.

Issa and Dora, founders of Memos Project, with Rescuer & Rescued in between

But even amidst this tragedy, we hear stories that lift our hopes in humankind. We met Josephine, a Hutu woman who spoke with quiet voice but great conviction during her telling. Bursts of chuckles interspersed her narrative as she chronicled the clever but astonishing risks in her adventure to save Tutsi neighbors and strangers who showed up at her door as news of slaughter of Tutsi’s spread and the smell of fire filled the air.

Among them, two small boys emerged from the bush, clearly having wandered for days, hungry almost to starvation, bewildered and frightened. They had not seen their parents since the arrival of the murderers and had no idea of their fate. Josephine took in the boys, fed them, and provided a hiding place while she determined a way to give them safe passage out of the country.

Josephine’s husband became increasingly distraught at the danger of hiding Tutsis, insisting that she not try to help, as not only would the children certainly be killed, but indeed, Josephine’s entire family would perish as well, including their own two small sons. Defying him, she responded, “People are being killed every day and sent her sons in the dark of night to search for a boat in the water near their home that might provide passage to safety for the small ones. Their neighbor’s boat was at the shore, but was chained in place. And the oars were missing.

Josephine walked for hours to her father’s house hoping to find another boat. When she found that all boats were already been taken, she gathered two large poles and camoflauged them with leaves of sweet potato plants in case she were accosted by inquiring government officials at check points. She would claim she was simply carrying roots to be transplanted in her yard. Those poles would hopefully become oars in the escape of her Tutsi guests.

As darkness closed in, Josephine grabbed a chain cutter from the family tool chest and took her small sons to the lake where the precious boat was moored. She instructed one to swim and splash in order to create distraction as the other sawed at the chain. When one tired, they changed places and for hours worked to free the boat. Finally, success!

Josephine’s small guests stole away in the night with ample food to reach safety, but with great danger ahead of them to avoid the killing masses, some of whom patrolled the river.

Sitting before us beside Josephine on this day was one of those little boys, now a university student studying accounting. He tends Josephine and assists her as she enters elderhood. He hopes to give her a cow one day, the ultimate Rwandan symbol of gratitude and friendship.

Samia, activist from Sudan and Sheikha, activist from Nepal, take a stand with Josephine and ‘child’ she rescued, now grown

Memos: Learning from History ( chronicles the stories of the silent heroes. While many claimed only to be following orders from the government, Memos highlights the personal responsibility that was claimed by some as they refused to turn their backs on the value of human life. Memos work continues today, as more and more silent heroes are found quietly living their lives without recognition or fanfare.

I post this on February 1, National Hero’s Day in Rwanda. These silent examples teach us that in every horror there is hope — from the Underground Railroad during the U.S. slave owning era, through the Holocaust when Italian and Swiss villagers hid Jews, to Rwanda’s genocide. Human suffering is met with human courage. Hope is born.

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From Genocide to Hope in Rwanda – A Visit to the Genocide Memorial


What we Learn: A Visit to the Rwanda Genocide Museum

Out of the Darkness, Light

As I emerged from the area of the museum that described the brutal killing and mutilation of bodies carrying souls, the lights went out. I stood at first in the dark and considered the ironic metaphor of such an occurrence at that particular moment, though a brief interruption of power is not so unusual here, and the generators kick in quickly and efficiently. But this — “The moment the lights went out” was a symbol for a country. A time when all was dark and seemingly hopeless. A solemn visceral reminder of what “dark” looks like.

I sat down on a small stool in the anti-room where I had been walking, waiting for the light to reappear. Suddenly I realized that, indeed, there was light coming from somewhere. My eyes simply had to adjust and refocus. I turned and towering above me, standing like a beacon, stood a stunning stained glass window.

At the base of the mosaic were many skulls, tumbled together in chaos and the stark white of death. But upon looking closely, through red scythes, arose a solid staircase reaching upward. Held by swirls of activity on both sides, the stairway was strong and reached up and up, into an abstract sphere that appeared to be a globe at the top of the window. A better world, perhaps?

When the lights came back on, I found myself amidst a display room that spoke of those who helped potential victims escape from the bloody horror, exposing themselves to great harm, torture and sure death through their offering of aid and assistance. As I read each panel, I imagined a life. Moving along at a rhythm and then interrupted instantaneously and brutally. The word of an airplane down, roadblocks, and the unspeakable massacre, carried out in such haste that there was no time to find safety, or even to understand what was occurring.

I imagined two lives. One at risk of being snuffed out without mercy. Another with assurance that their cleverness and assistance could easily lead to punishment in the same cruel way — simply for offering assistance to another human being.

Taking a break, I walked among the mass graves and memorial garden. I saw the beginning of a series of plaques that will commemorate each victim by name. My mind and heart traveled to the Viet Nam Memorial with the same black surface on which the many who died were etched. But at the memorial in D.C. there were only names of Americans — not the hundreds of thousands whose lives were wasted in their own homeland, with no understanding of why. For what? And here, in Rwanda, for what? A politician’s ambition? Wasted lives, wasted human potential. Massive suffering — all in the name of power.

Following my walk through the memorial garden, I re-entered the museum to conclude my visit by walking through the memorial to the children who were lost.

Filette, age 2

My heart beat hard as I walked through and, breaking the rules, I took photos of the children, and sat to write their stories as chronicled under their image. Only a few were featured, although hundreds of thousands were killed in unspeakable ways. Enough to break one’s heart.

Fabrice, age 8, loved chocolate and swimming; bludgeoned with a club

Canelle, age 8, loved jogging with her father, also loved chocolate and milk. Her favorite song was “My Native Land Which God Chose for Me.” Hacked to death with a machete.

Ariane, age 4, loved cake and milk, singing and dancing. Stabbed in the eyes and head.

Ariane, age 4

David, age 10, loved futball and wanted to become a doctor. His last words were, “UNAMIR (U.N.) will come for us.” Tortured to death.

Umatoni (6) and Umawezi (7), grenade through into their shower where they were hiding.

Fillette, age 2. Loved rice and chips. Little body smashed against a wall.

At the entry had been a plaque:

“In memory of our beautiful and beloved children who should have been our future.”

Unable to yet join with my group, I made my way in silence to the coffee house and sat down to write. How are we to explain this world to our children, our grandchildren? How do we share that these things exist and that the world is not only full of joy and laughter, but pain and despair? When are they old enough to understand? Are we ever “old enough” to understand? I, for one, am not.

This is not just about Rwanda.  Rwanda has healed in ways I will never understand.  This is about what we as humans have the capacity to do to one another.  Whether it be incinerating in a chamber, blowing limbs off by land mines, or sending drones into homes.  This is about life and human decency.

Rwanda teaches me so much about forgiveness, about all that is best in the human condition.  I will keep telling the story.


Inscription at the exit from the Genocide Memorial. One million people had died in a short few months.

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Occupy Wall Street Gets Roots


After almost a month, Occupy Wall Street seems to have legs and is not going away.  This video needs little introduction, as truth is shown by image — not just words or interpretations.

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KOCH Brothers hold Private Party for the Rich and the Right


Koch Bros’ Double Triple Ultra Secret Meeting of 300 Right Wing Donors 

While we were all sleeping through June, dreaming the idea of democracy, the Koch brothers were busy on the podium of their biannual gathering to marshall the libertarian financiers who intend to determine the fate of the upcoming 2012 national election.  That election, in brother Charles Koch’s opening remarks at the conference, will be “the mother of all wars” and, in a rousing emotional appeal for “partners” in the fight, Charles listed 32 donors who have come forward to commit at least $ 1 million each to the fight “for the life or death of this country.”  That is, the Americans for Prosperity model of the life of this country.  Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded “grass roots” group that is supporting the efforts of the Tea Party.

Americans for Prosperity was founded by David Koch, the other brother.  Most Tea Party members think that they are a part of an anti-establishment movement to reclaim the American way.  The irony that this entire effort is funded by many of the nation’s billionaires — certainly the most wealthy citizens of the U.S.–  gives me pause.  When will the Tea Party figure out the game?  They are simply pawns of the greater scheme that began long before there was a Tea Party to join.  Undoubtably a similar “initiative” to those resulting in what Charles Koch refers to as outcomes at the most recent conference.  

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