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February 2015 Progressions

Progressions Feb 2015

Rev. Rex A E Hunt

Sermons, Liturgies, Prayers, and Articles from a progressive/post-liberal theological perspective.

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Click HERE to see the interview full size and read Peter Kirkwood’s article on eureka.com out of Australia


Click here for our latest “In The News” posts.

Conservative Christian Teenagers Prepare for Politics Generation Joshua, a program run by homeschooling advocates, aims to get young people working to “help America return to her Judeo-Christian foundations.”

By ROBERT KUNZMAN

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U.S. Still Religious, But Trust In Institutions Wanes

by NPR STAFF, July 28, 2012

Michael Conroy/AP
The cross on the steeple of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Henryville, Ind. A recent Gallup poll says only 44 percent of Americans have “great confidence” in organized religion.

Something is happening when it comes to religion in America.

Though more Americans go to church or believe in God than their counterparts in virtually every other Western country, fewer Americans now trust religious institutions. A recent Gallup poll showed that just 44 percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence in “the church or organized religion.”

It’s unclear if this is a permanent shift or just a sign of the times, but NPR’s religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty says it doesn’t mean that America is less religious.

“Although among young people, belief in God is declining,” Hagerty tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. “But generally polls show that about 90 percent of Americans actually believe in God. So what’s happening here is a decline in the trust of religious organizations.”

People just don’t want to go to church as much as they used to, Hagerty says, and the societal pressures to go aren’t there anymore.

Hagerty says one type of religious institution in America that is growing is the nondenominational Christian churches, whose membership has tripled in the last 20 years. She says marketing, a more relaxed atmosphere and a notion that you can have a “personal relationship with God” all contribute to the growth of these institutions.

“That’s transcendent, that’s transformative,” she says. “Because of that, they seem to give meaning and purpose to people’s lives. It draws people in.”

Pastor Greg Surratt founded Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant, S.C., nearly 25 years ago. It started with only 65 members but has grown to about 12,000 worshippers and is widely seen as one of the most influential nondenominational evangelical churches in America.

Despite the Gallup poll, Surratt says he doesn’t think religion and people living their lives according to what Jesus would teach will go away. But he does say it will change.

“Ten years from now … will [Christianity] look like it does today? Probably not,” Surratt says. “But I think it will thrive and I think it will be strong.”

A Seismic Catholic Shift

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Harper government feared UN wouldn’t send refugees to Canada if it maintained health coverage changes

NDP says revelations show government is “making it up as they go along.”

By Kristen Shane, July, 19, 2012, embassymag.ca

The Hill Times Photo: Jake Wright
Dr. Parisa Rezaiefar, a family physician with Bruyere Academic Family Medicine Centre; Dr. Philip Berger, the chief of family and community medicine with St. Michael’s Hospital; and Dr. Mark Tyndall, the chief of infectious diseases with the Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa, speak at a press conference against refugee health-care changes on Parliament Hill June 27.

The Harper government feared the United Nations refugee agency would have tried to divert affected refugees from settling in Canada if it pressed ahead with changes to refugee health-care coverage, a document released today shows.

The revelation comes as criticism of the government’s approach to refugee health care has ballooned. Doctors wearing white lab coats have protested on Parliament Hill, while others have occupied a Toronto Conservative MP’s constituency office, and some have disrupted ministers’ press conference.

On July 18, a Cabinet-approved order made on June 28 was released in the government’s official newspaper, the Canada Gazette, detailing last-minute changes to the government’s earlier planned revamping of the refugee health coverage system—and why bureaucrats at Citizenship and Immigration Canada were pushing for them.

The document suggests that the UN referral drop, and a lack of private-sponsor support, could have left Canada unable to resettle as many refugees as it had planned.

The immigration department also said the originally proposed changes would have had a “serious impact” on the department’s ability to put in place part of the 2012 budget.

And the planned changes would have taken away coverage of psychological counselling for victims of human trafficking, something Citizenship and Immigration Canada said is “important” to support them.

An email and call to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s press secretary were not immediately returned July 18 before deadline.

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Boy Scouts of America affirm ban on gay members and volunteers

Critics call decision to keep gay men and lesbians from participating a ‘missed opportunity of colossal proportions’

Amanda Holpuch in New York, guardian.co.uk, 17 July 2012

The Boy Scouts have also come under scrutiny by atheist and agnostic groups, who are similarly barred from joining the group. Photograph: Sipa Press / Rex Features

The Boy Scouts of America will uphold the organization’s ban that prevents gay people from being members of the organization, after concluding a confidential two-year review.

An 11-member committee formed in 2010 unanimously agreed to uphold a ban that prevents “open or avowed” gay people from being part of the youth organization.

In a statement released to the Associated Press, the Scouts’ chief executive Bob Mazzuca said the policy is supported by most Scout families:

“The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting. We fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society.”

Incorporated in February 1910, more than 2,720,000 youth members and more than 1 million adult members are currently part of the organization which is meant “to provide an educational program for boys and young adults to build character, to train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and to develop personal fitness”.

In 2000, the supreme court ruled in Boy Scouts of America v Dale that the organization could bar gay men and lesbians from being troop leaders as it is a private organization. The ruling argued that forcing the organization to accept them would violate its First Amendment rights to freedom of association and free speech.

Yet the court’s decision did not stem campaigns to reverse this position, which has attracted increased attention as stories surfaced of openly gay members being removed from the organization. A Missouri Boy Scout who was with the organization for more than 10 years was recently kicked out after coming out to the camp director.

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After 800 Years, the Barons Are Back in Control of Britain

King John, surrounded by English barons, ratifying the Magna Carta. (photo: Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)


By George Monbiot, Guardian UK, 17 July 12

The Magna Carta forced King John to give away powers. But big business now exerts a chilling grip on the workforce

Hounded by police and bailiffs, evicted wherever they stopped, they did not mean to settle here. They had walked out of London to occupy disused farmland on the Queen’s estates surrounding Windsor Castle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that didn’t work out very well. But after several days of pursuit, they landed two fields away from the place where modern democracy is commonly supposed to have been born.

At first this group of mostly young, dispossessed people, who (after the 17th century revolutionaries) call themselves Diggers 2012, camped on the old rugby pitch of Brunel University’s Runnymede campus. It’s a weed-choked complex of grand old buildings and modern halls of residence, whose mildewed curtains flap in the wind behind open windows, all mysteriously abandoned as if struck by a plague or a neutron bomb.

The diggers were evicted again, and moved down the hill into the woods behind the campus – pressed, as if by the ineluctable force of history, ever closer to the symbolic spot. From the meeting house they have built and their cluster of tents, you can see across the meadows to where the Magna Carta was sealed almost 800 years ago.

Their aim is simple: to remove themselves from the corporate economy, to house themselves, grow food and build a community on abandoned land. Implementation is less simple. Soon after I arrived, on a sodden day last week, an enforcer working for the company which now owns the land came slithering through the mud in his suit and patent leather shoes with a posse of police, to serve papers.

Already the crops the settlers had planted had been destroyed once; the day after my visit they were destroyed again. But the repeated destruction, removals and arrests have not deterred them. As one of their number, Gareth Newnham, told me: “If we go to prison we’ll just come back … I’m not saying that this is the only way. But at least we’re creating an opportunity for young people to step out of the system.”

To be young in the post-industrial nations today is to be excluded. Excluded from the comforts enjoyed by preceding generations; excluded from jobs; excluded from hopes of a better world; excluded from self-ownership.

Those with degrees are owned by the banks before they leave college. Housing benefit is being choked off. Landlords now demand rents so high that only those with the better jobs can pay. Work has been sliced up and outsourced into a series of mindless repetitive tasks, whose practitioners are interchangeable. Through globalisation and standardisation, through unemployment and the erosion of collective bargaining and employment laws, big business now asserts a control over its workforce almost unprecedented in the age of universal suffrage.

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Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?

By ROSS DOUTHAT, July 14, 2012, The New York Times

T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

IN 1998, John Shelby Spong, then the reliably controversial Episcopal bishop of Newark, published a book entitled “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” Spong was a uniquely radical figure — during his career, he dismissed almost every element of traditional Christian faith as so much superstition — but most recent leaders of the Episcopal Church have shared his premise. Thus their church has spent the last several decades changing and then changing some more, from a sedate pillar of the WASP establishment into one of the most self-consciously progressive Christian bodies in the United States.

As a result, today the Episcopal Church looks roughly how Roman Catholicism would look if Pope Benedict XVI suddenly adopted every reform ever urged on the Vatican by liberal pundits and theologians. It still has priests and bishops, altars and stained-glass windows. But it is flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes.

Yet instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace. Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase.

This decline is the latest chapter in a story dating to the 1960s. The trends unleashed in that era — not only the sexual revolution, but also consumerism and materialism, multiculturalism and relativism — threw all of American Christianity into crisis, and ushered in decades of debate over how to keep the nation’s churches relevant and vital.

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Are Millennials the Screwed Generation?

‘Boomer America’ never had it so good. As a result, today’s young Americans have never had it so bad.

Spencer Heyfron for Newsweek

Today’s youth, both here and abroad, have been screwed by their parents’ fiscal profligacy and economic mismanagement. Neil Howe, a leading generational theorist, cites the “greed, shortsightedness, and blind partisanship” of the boomers, of whom he is one, for having “brought the global economy to its knees.”

How has this generation been screwed? Let’s count the ways, starting with the economy. No generation has suffered more from the Great Recession than the young. Median net worth of people under 35, according to the U.S. Census, fell 37 percent between 2005 and 2010; those over 65 took only a 13 percent hit.

The wealth gap today between younger and older Americans now stands as the widest on record. The median net worth of households headed by someone 65 or older is $170,494, 42 percent higher than in 1984, while the median net worth for younger-age households is $3,662, down 68 percent from a quarter century ago, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.

The older generation, notes Pew, were “the beneficiaries of good timing” in everything from a strong economy to a long rise in housing prices. In contrast, quick prospects for improvement are dismal for the younger generation.

One key reason: their indebted parents are not leaving their jobs, forcing younger people to put careers on hold. Since 2008 the percentage of the workforce under 25 has dropped 13.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while that of people over 55 has risen by 7.6 percent.

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Episcopal Church Approves Gay Couples’ Same-Sex Blessings

Posted: 07/10/2012 8:03 pm Updated: 07/10/2012 11:43 pm

Sixteen years after first allowing gays and lesbians to become priests and nine years after electing its first gay bishop, the Episcopal Church on Tuesday became the largest Christian denomination in the U.S. to offer religious blessings to same-sex couples.

The monumental decision, approved by a thick margin at the church’s triennial General Convention in Indianapolis, means that priests in the 1.9 million-member church can officiate blessings to same-sex couples who are in long-term relationships beginning in December.

The church’s House of Deputies voted 171 to 41, with nine people saying they were divided, to support a same-sex blessings liturgy that will be used during a three-year trial before the church meets again and decides if it should be permanent. The deputies’ vote was done in two parts, with lay members approving the blessings by 78 percent and clergy members approving by 76 percent.

The vote followed Monday’s decision by the church’s House of Bishops supporting the measure by a 111 to 41, with three abstentions. Both groups have to approve new legislation.

Some Episcopal bishops currently allow same-sex blessings in their dioceses, but many have said they will not allow them unless the church has an official liturgy — the words exchanged between a couple and a priest during the ceremony.

The new liturgy will not be mandatory. Bishops who do not approve of same-sex relationships will be allowed to bar its use in their dioceses. Priests who choose to not perform same-sex ceremonies will not face discipline.

The liturgy does not represent a religious marriage — the church defines marriage as being between a man and a woman — though some clergy in states that allow civil marriage officiate secular marriages in their churches.

During debate on Tuesday, many members of the church spoke in favor of same-sex blessings, while fewer spoke against them.

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Fears Church of England vote on women bishops has begun to unravel

Church could see women ordained as bishops by 2014, but critics warn draft legislation contains a compromise too far

Lizzy Davies, The Guardian, 6 July 2012

Vote on women bishops – Rachel Treweek, archdeacon of Hackney, says: ‘I think it is very unlikely that I would press the “yes” button because of that place of integrity’

The Venerable Rachel Treweek, archdeacon of Hackney, will leave east London for York tomorrow with mixed feelings and a heavy heart. This weekend’s gathering of the General Synod was supposed to be historic: the moment at which the Church of England would finally, after decades of struggle and division, pass legislation that permitted women to become bishops.

Instead of rejoicing, however, Treweek and many other supporters of the cause now find themselves in a very peculiar position. The legislation they fought so hard for is due to be presented for final approval and, if it is passed, the church could see women consecrated to the episcopate by 2014.

But Treweek is hoping for an adjournment and is dreading the possibility that the final vote will be held. Because, if it comes down to it, she will vote against.

“I cannot tell you – even sitting here now, I can feel it – how painful that feels,” she says, in the low-lit quiet of St Anne’s church in Hoxton. “I feel I have to hold the line of my integrity. It would be very easy to say: ‘Oh, let’s all just vote in favour and get this through.’… But I think it’s very unlikely that I would press the yes button because of that place of integrity.”

Until May, the draft legislation on female bishops met with the approval of people such as Treweek. A two-clause measure that sought to open the episcopate to women at the same time as providing for those who remain adamantly opposed to the idea, it had been approved by 42 of 44 dioceses (although not, to her chagrin, Treweek’s own: the diocese of London voted against).

Although a compromise, it was viewed by many to be the least bad one in a church where fudges are a standard vehicle for change.

Then it all started to unravel. In May, the House of Bishops made two amendments to the legislation, one of which supporters say would enshrine discrimination against women in law. It is this clause – the now infamous 5(1)c – which prompted a group of senior female clergy to write to members of the General Synod expressing their “deep dismay” and hope that an adjournment would be reached that would allow for the offending passage to be looked at again.

“I’ve spent quite a long time trying to make myself feel it was voteable for so that we could just get on with things,” said the Rev Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, chaplain at University College, Durham, of 5(1)c. “For the last few weeks, I’ve been really very upset – prone to bursting into tears.

“But I feel a bit calmer now. I’ve realised I just can’t do that; I haven’t got that dilemma any more. It’s just completely unacceptable to institutionalise discrimination against women in that way.”

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Public responsibilities

THE OTTAWA CITIZEN JUNE 30, 2012

A girl is vaccinated against HPV. Boys so far have not been offered HPV vaccine, although some experts argue both sexes should be vaccinated to slow the spread of papilloma.
Photograph by: Wayne Cuddington , Ottawa Citizen

Imagine a vaccine that could prevent cancer. And now imagine administration of that vaccine being blocked at some public schools for religious reasons.

That is the situation in Calgary where, at the behest of the local bishop, the Catholic school board has prevented approximately 2,000 children from being vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV) at school. It has done so since 2008.

As part of a $300-million public health program, the federal government offers HPV vaccinations to 10- and 11-year-old girls in schools. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause several forms of cancer, notably cervical cancer, as well as genital warts.

The vaccine represents what many have long dreamed of — a way to prevent cancer. That publicly funded schools are preventing students from getting vaccinated is abhorrent.

The reason? Calgary’s Catholic Bishop Fred Henry believes being vaccinated will cause 10- and 11-year-old girls to become sexually promiscuous. The vaccine, he says, goes against church teachings. “It’s not about a matter of statistics or any other study.”

Parents who disagree with the school board’s stance have the option of taking their children to a public health outlet to get each of the three required vaccines. But they don’t have the option of doing what every other child in Canada can — be vaccinated at school. And that is crucial. The reason public health campaigns targeting large swaths of the population are done in school (or, alternately, required for entry into school) is to ensure herd immunity. If a significant proportion of the population is vaccinated, the population gains an immunity. (Individuals can choose to opt out.) By blocking the vaccinations from Calgary’s publicly funded Catholic schools, the school board is obstructing an important public health campaign.

The board’s stance is outrageous on public health grounds. But the issue also sheds light on the contradictions inherent in separate school funding.

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Canadian senators warn United Church over Israel boycott

CAMPBELL CLARK, The Globe and Mail, Jul. 04 2012

Canadian senators are warning the United Church of Canada that a boycott of goods from Israeli settlements in occupied lands could cause a rift with the Jewish community.
(Nasser Ishtayeh/AP)

A group of nine senators has warned the United Church of Canada that it could spark a rift with the Jewish community if it approves the boycott of goods from Israeli settlements in occupied lands.

The senators, all United Church members and from both the Conservative and Liberal parties, have waded publicly into a controversial issue before it comes to a vote in mid-August.

It’s a debate in which the lines between church and state have already been crossed several times as the United Church considers a new foray into the electrified world of Mideast politics.

A working group established by the church has issued a report that proposes a boycott of all products from Jewish settlements in occupied lands, arguing the settlements are illegally eating away Palestinian lands and the hope for a two-state solution. But it also rejects a wholesale boycott of all Israeli goods.

The nine senators have warned in a letter to United Church moderator Mardi Tindal that the distinction drawn with the narrower boycott will “be lost upon” Israelis and Canada’s Jewish community.

“What will be made clear to them is that the United Church has chosen sides, declaring Israel guilty and the Palestinians the only injured party,” the senators wrote.

Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth noted that she has no objection to the church wading into weighty international politics, but fears that members of the Jewish community will see itself as being singled out by an anti-Israel-sentiment.

“I’d say it’s a matter of diplomacy,” she said. “I don’t think it will be helpful for Jewish-Christian relations.

The church’s working group said it struggled with that issue. But its report maintained that arguments about the complexity of affairs in the Middle East are not an excuse for silence.

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Sizzling Heat, Storms, Wildfires: ‘This Is Just the Beginning’

Staff, July 3, 2012 by Common Dreams

Eerie glow
A rapidly spreading smoke cloud surrounds the U.S. Air Force Academy’s airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 26, 2012. The Waldo Canyon fire is burning in the area of the Academy. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Mike Kaplan)

“This is just the beginning,” warns Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground, of what life with the impacts of climate change will look like. His message follows a week in which 2000 heat records were matched or broken and the month of June in which over 3200 heat records were matched or broken.

Yet during that time, with little exception, there was no mention of climate change during weather broadcasts in which viewers were told to expect little relief from steamy temperatures.

Speaking on Democracy Now! on Tuesday, Masters said, “I think it’s important for the public to hear that what we’re seeing now is the future. We’re going to be seeing a lot more weather like this, a lot more impacts like we’re seeing from this series of heatwaves, fires and storms. And we better prepare for it. We better educate people what’s going on, give the best science that’s out there on what climate change is doing and where it’s likely to head. I think we’re missing a big opportunity here—or our TV meteorologists are—to educate and tell the population what is likely to happen. This is just the beginning, this kind of summer weather we’re having.”

Like Masters, scientist and former TV host Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” connected the dots of extreme weather and climate change on The Ed Show on Monday. “The last 16 years have been the hottest ever, and so this is consistent with models of climate change. The big hurricanes are consistent with models of climate change. The big storms. The dehydration of the forest in Colorado and the forest fires are consistent with models of climate change.”

“This is a chance for us all to pull together and address climate change,” said Nye.

Last week, even before record heat and storms struck much of the nation this weekend, several scientists confirmed — this is what we’ve been telling you would happen with climate change.

“This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level,” said Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona. “The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about.”

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Asbestos mine loan gives Charest ‘good reason to be ashamed’

LES PERREAUX, The Globe and Mail, Jul. 03 2012

The Jeffrey open-pit asbestos mine is shown on October 7, 2011, in Asbestos, Que. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The announcement was described as a national embarrassment, the crass political manoeuvre of a desperate Quebec government trying to hold on to a Liberal seat at the cost of public health.

Critics lined up with speed and in number on the long weekend to blast Premier Jean Charest for green-lighting a $58-million loan to Canada’s last asbestos mine late on the Friday of the unofficial start of summer vacation season.

The loan stunned environmentalists, the medical community and cancer-fighting groups while promoters of the controversial relaunch of the Jeffrey Mine were more difficult to find. Even the province’s own public-health doctors are outraged.

Mr. Charest “has good reason to be ashamed,” said Yv Bonnier Viger, head of Quebec’s association of public-health specialists. “He is relaunching the exploitation of an extremely dangerous material that will cause the suffering and death of thousands of people in poor countries, at only marginal benefit to a desperate community.”

The province, led by retiring minister and local Liberal member of the legislature, Yvon Vallières, announced the loan and reopening before hundreds of thrilled residents of the economically depressed town of Asbestos.

Bernard Coulombe, the mine’s president and tireless promoter, had worked for years to find private investors willing to put in the balance of the $83-million start-up cost. “It was not easy to convince partners to work with us,” he said, adding that the mine will run 20 years on the investment.

Kathleen Ruff, an activist who has fought against government funding for the mine for years, said there was good reason for the difficulty: “The marketplace had spoken, this mine can only survive with artificial government life support.”

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Some Outrageous Facts about Inequality

by Paul Buchheit, July 2, 2012 by Common Dreams

A homeless person sits under blankets at a Wall Street subway station in New York City. (Credit: AP/Mark Lennihan)

Studying inequality in America reveals some facts that are truly hard to believe. Amidst all the absurdity a few stand out.

1. U.S. companies in total pay a smaller percentage of taxes than the lowest-income 20% of Americans.

Total corporate profits for 2011 were $1.97 trillion. Corporations paid $181 billion in federal taxes (9%) and $40 billion in state taxes (2%), for a total tax burden of 11%. The poorest 20% of American citizens pay 17.4% in federal, state, and local taxes.

2. The high-profit, tax-avoiding tech industry was built on publicly-funded research.

The technology sector has been more dependent on government research and development than any other industry. The U.S. government provided about half of the funding for basic research in technology and communications well into the 1980s. Even today, federal grants support about 60 percent of research performed at universities.

IBM was founded in 1911, Hewlett-Packard in 1947, Intel in 1968, Microsoft in 1975, Apple and Oracle in 1977, Cisco in 1984. All relied on government and military innovations. The more recently incorporated Google, which started in 1996, grew out of the Defense Department’s ARPANET system and the National Science Foundation’s Digital Library Initiative.

The combined 2011 federal tax payment for the eight companies was just 10.6%.

3. The sales tax on a quadrillion dollars of financial sales is ZERO.

The Bank for International Settlements reported in 2008 that total annual derivatives trades were $1.14 quadrillion. The same year, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange reported a trading volume of $1.2 quadrillion.

A quadrillion dollars is the entire world economy, 12 times over. It’s enough to give 3 million dollars to every person in the United States. But in a sense it’s not real money. Most of it is high-volume nanosecond computer trading, the type that almost crashed our economy. So it’s a good candidate for a tiny sales tax. But there is no sales tax.

Go out and buy shoes or an iPhone and you pay up to a 10% sales tax. But walk over to Wall Street and buy a million dollar high-risk credit default swap and pay 0%.

4. Many Americans get just a penny on the dollar.

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Scientists to show ‘God’ particle exists

John Heilprin

FILE – In this May 20, 2011 file photo, a physicist explains the ATLAS experiment on a board at the European Center for Nuclear Research, CERN, outside Geneva, Switzerland. The illustration shows what the long-presumed Higgs boson particle is thought to look like. Scientists at CERN plan to make an announcement on Wednesday, July 4, 2012 about their hunt for the elusive sub-atomic particle. Physicists have said previously they are increasingly confident that they are closing in on it based on hints at its existence hidden away in reams of data. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)



GENEVA Scientists working at the world’s biggest atom smasher plan to announce Wednesday that they have gathered enough evidence to show that the long-sought “God particle” answering fundamental questions about the universe almost certainly does exist.

But after decades of work and billions of dollars spent, researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, say they aren’t quite ready to say they’ve “discovered” the particle.

Instead, experts familiar with the research at CERN’s vast complex on the Swiss-French border say that the massive data they have obtained will essentially show the footprint of the key particle known as the Higgs boson — all but proving it exists — but doesn’t allow them to say it has actually been glimpsed.

It appears to be a fine distinction. Senior CERN scientists say that the two independent teams of physicists who plan to present their work at CERN’s vast complex on the Swiss-French border on July 4 are about as close as you can get to a discovery without actually calling it one.

“I agree that any reasonable outside observer would say, ‘It looks like a discovery,’” British theoretical physicist John Ellis, a professor at King’s College London who has worked at CERN since the 1970s, told The Associated Press. “We’ve discovered something which is consistent with being a Higgs.”

CERN’s atom smasher, the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider, has been creating high-energy collisions of protons to help them understand suspected phenomena such as dark matter, antimatter and ultimately the creation of the universe billions of years ago, which many theorize occurred as a massive explosion known as the Big Bang.

For particle physicists, finding the Higgs boson is a key to confirming the standard model of physics that explains what gives mass to matter and, by extension, how the universe was formed.

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Williams: Christians need to confront shame and disgust over homosexuality

Archbishop makes one of strongest interventions yet on issue that lies at heart of some of deepest divisions in church

Ben Quinn, The Guardian, 27 June 2012

Rowan Williams the archbishop of Canterbury has said the church is still ‘scratching its head’ about its position on same-sex marriage Photograph: Nick Cunard/Rex Features

Christians need to confront feelings of embarrassment, shame and disgust over homosexuality, the archbishop of Canterbury has said.

In one of his strongest interventions yet on an issue that lies at the heart of some of the deepest divisions in the church he leads, Dr Rowan Williams said the church was still “scratching its head” about its position on same-sex marriage.

He was speaking at an event involving Christian teenagers at Lambeth Palace, his official residence in London, which was entitled “Help, my friends think I’m mad” and where some of the discussion focused on how Anglicanism was viewed from without.

Dr Williams also turned to the question of women bishops, which is due to be considered by the Church of England’s general synod next week, saying it was another issue that gave the impression that sex was “the only thing the church is interested in”.

The Daily Telegraph reported him as saying: “Same with same-sex marriage, where once more we’re used to being alongside people who are gay; many of our friends may be – indeed we may be – wrestling with that issue ourselves, and the church is scratching its head and trying to work out where it is on all that, and what to think about it.

“What’s frustrating is that we still have Christian people whose feelings about it are so strong, and sometimes so embarrassed and ashamed and disgusted, that that just sends out a message of unwelcome, of lack of understanding, of lack of patience.

“So whatever we think about it, we need, as a church, to be tackling what we feel about it.”

The archbishop’s comments come after the Church of England was criticised this month by gay rights campaigners for delivering an uncompromising warning to the government against pressing ahead with a controversial proposal to legalise gay marriage.

Introducing same-sex marriage could lead to the church being forced out of its role of conducting weddings on behalf of the state, the church claimed in a submission in response to the government’s consultation on gay marriage.

The National Secular Society on Tuesday published a legal opinion it obtained in response to the church’s submission. The opinion, which has been written by barrister and human rights expert Dr Ronan McCrea and sent to equalities minister Lynne Featherstone, said the church’s failure to distinguish between social, religious and legal institutions of marriage “confuses the issues”.

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Why the Hierarchy Fears the Nuns

By Frank Cocozzelli, Talk to Action, 25 June 12

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, speaks in Ames, Iowa, during a stop on the first day of a nine-state Nuns on the Bus tour. Their fight is with a Republican proposed federal budget they say hurts the poor and needy. (photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

In recent weeks we’ve watched the Vatican try to stifle a vital part of the Catholic Church: the nuns. Indeed, the Church fathers seem to have become quite unhinged in their efforts to quiet women who have dedicated their lives not only to Catholicism, but to betterment of all.

Why is this? Its simply because the good Sisters have the ability to redirect the Church to a place where conservative men do not want to go.

Chris Hedges once wrote “faith is how we treat each other.” Perhaps no other group of Catholics embodies Hedges’ definition of faith than the various orders of Catholic nuns. The women’s orders and individual nuns perform a wide range of services; from teaching in parochial schools; to providing health care; to making great contributions in theology. It has often been nuns who reported their suspicions of priestly pedophilia and forced transparency in how these matters were handled.

Nuns have also been at the forefront of a potential Catholic remonstrance. Is it any wonder that the hierarchy and their friends on the Catholic Right are trying to reign them in?

The Vatican has revealed itself in the current spectacle as more reactionary than conservative. Even the suggestion of discussing progressive takes on dogma is often denounced as heresy. Arguably, moderate and liberal Catholics live in a new reign of terror whose principal players are Bernard Law, disgraced former Boston Cardinal; Cardinal William Levada, Prefect for the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura; and well-placed, movement conservative-friendly bishops and cardinals in cities such as Madison, Wisconsin, New York and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

These clerics apparently recognize that the nuns could become a rallying point and potential leadership for reform for those of us unhappy with the turn away from Vatican II’s Aggiornamento – “bringing up to date” that has occurred since the ascendancy of Pope John Paul II.

In fact, that is exactly how many of us who oppose the reactionary doctrine and culture trickling down from the hierarchy see the nuns’ potential for leadership. They are not a dissident lay group such as Call to Action, but part of the institutional Church. It would be a change from within.

While many in the hierarchy are courting reactionary movements such as Opus Dei and SSPX, groups that seek a more insulated, doctrinaire – and smaller Church.

But the sisters toil in the real world; rubbing elbows with everyday people; dealing with the grey issues of life. This provides them with perspectives sorely missing in the Vatican, notably women’s points of view. The nuns understand pregnancy; they understand glass ceilings; they live with being marginalized by gender. And they see how related injustices play out in the lives of real people.

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What a 10-Year-Old Did for the Tar Sands

By Angela Sterritt, YES! Magazine, 24 June 12

Ta’Kaiya Blaney, of the Sliammon First Nation, sings her environmental advocacy song, ‘Shallow Waters,’ 07/31/11. (photo: Richard Walker)

Why a First Nations student from British Columbia is taking on a controversial trans-Canadian pipeline project – through song.

Ten-year-old Ta’Kaiya Blaney stood outside Enbridge Northern Gateway’s office on July 6, waiting for officials to grant her access to the building. She thought she could hand deliver an envelope containing an important message about the company’s pipeline construction. But the doors remained locked.

“I don’t know what they find so scary about me,” she said, as she was ushered off the property by security guards. “I just want them to hear what I have to say.”

The Sliammon First Nation youth put in a great effort learning about environmental issues and the pipeline in particular, and hoped to share her knowledge and carefully crafted words. Enbridge officials said they were unable to provide Ta’Kaiya space or time and failed to comment because the Vancouver office is staffed by a limited number of technical personnel. Their headquarters are located in Calgary.

So Ta’Kaiya stood outside, accompanied by three members of Greenpeace, her mother, and a number of reporters and sang her song “Shallow Waters.” The song’s video has hit YouTube and been viewed more than 53,000 times.

She co-wrote her song after learning of Enbridge’s bid to build twin 1,170 km pipelines to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to British Columbia’s north coast. Like the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline that would connect the Canadian tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, Enbridge’s Alberta-B.C. pipeline is widely opposed, largely because it would bring hundreds of oil supertankers a year to the Great Bear Rainforest – an ecologically significant region along a particularly dangerous route for tankers.

“Oil pipelines and tankers will give people jobs, but if there is an oil spill like the [BP spill] in the Gulf of Mexico, that will take other people’s jobs and the wildlife will die,” said Ta’Kaiya.

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Huge Turnout at Michigan Capitol Reading of ‘Vagina Monologues’

By Dawson Bell and Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press, 19 June 12

Thousands of people turned out for protest performance of The Vagina Monologues at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., in response to Rep. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield being silenced by House Speaker James Bolger for comments she made in opposition to new abortion legislation passed by the House last week. (photo: Susan Tusa/DFP)

Several thousand people thronged the state Capitol lawn this evening, to protest the treatment of two female lawmakers who were barred from speaking on the House floor last Thursday following an emotional debate over abortion.

They heard a recitation by the two lawmakers and others of The Vagina Monologues.

The performance, kicked off by the work’s author Eve Ensler who flew in from California for the occasion, was the culmination of five days of reaction to the decision by House Republican leaders to issue one-day revocations of the right of state Reps. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, and Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga , to speak on the House floor.

They said the discipline was in response to incivility displayed by the two representatives a day earlier during a debate over legislation to impose new restrictions on abortion clinics. Brown said she was punished for using the word vagina.

Welcoming the crowd today, Brown said the legislation would “effectively overturn Roe v. Wade,” the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision which ended most state-level restrictions on abortion, and “turn back the clock to the 60s, when women were denied health care.”

Concluding her remarks during the House debate, Brown had said, “I’m flattered that you are all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.'”

Today, she said, “We shouldn’t be legislating vaginas, if you can’t say vagina.”

Byrum got her one-day gag order after she reacted vigorously during the abortion debate when she was not allowed to speak on an amendment she sponsored that would have required a man seeking a vasectomy to have proof of a medical emergency or life-threatening condition.

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Uniting – the other Christians

By Dick Gross, June 18, 2012, brisbanetimes.com.au

The spokeswoman for this post-God current is the Canadian Gretta Vosper, whose complicated theology is worth following up for those with a bent for the theological. She is from the equivalent Canadian United Church, which came together in 1925.

users.tpg.com.au

It would be easy for Australians to mistake the Catholic Church for Christianity in Oz. All of the headlines, all of the prominent characters and all of the bloodiest and most compelling fights seem to be monopolised by Catholicism. Like any car crash, Catholicism makes for compulsive viewing. I give praise to Catholicism daily.
And yet there are other denominations that atheists like me tend to ignore, for they are often progressive or philanthropic and thus a poor advertisement for godlessness. These are churches that do not wear “Kick Me” signs extolling antediluvian polices promoting celibacy or male-only ordination or gay hostility.
The Uniting Church is one such progressive institution and sadly I find it hard to hate.
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Born of an amalgamation of the Methodist, Congregationalist and most of the Presbyterian churches in 1977, the Uniting Church is the ultimate small target. It has come a long way since the prudish Methodists and the severe and forbidding Presbyterians of yore.
It is the third-largest church, counting more than a million Australians who are at least nominal Uniting Church members. Nonetheless, the Uniting Church is invisible in public debate and its leaders unknown. Indeed, how many people knew that the state leaders are called the “moderators” of the Uniting Church?
It is such a democratic institution that the position of moderator changes every few years. This rotation policy is fatal to its profile. As Sir Humphrey said of constant changes in leadership in this gender specific advice: “Power goes with permanence; impermanence is impotence; rotation is castration.”
And so as the Uniting Church shares leadership in a sharing, caring kind of way, it sacrifices any chance of prominence in public debate.
The current moderator of Victoria and Tasmania is Isabel Thomas Dobson. She is unnoticed in the public discourse. She is also unnoticed because the Uniting Church is devoid of child abuse scandals, which obviously is a good thing.

Read more: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/opinion/blogs/godless-gross/uniting–the-other-christians-20120618-20j2i.html#ixzz1yCgIKwhY

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A Church Fit Only for Bigots and Hypocrites

By Nick Cohen, The Observer UK, 17 June 12

The Church of England’s stand on homosexuality and women priests is isolating it from the rest of the country.

Archbishop Rowan Williams in Harare in 2011. (photo: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images)

I realised that beards and soft words do not a liberal make when the Archbishop of Canterbury toured the Sudan in 2006. His visit coincided with the first genocide of the 21st century: the massacres in Darfur. The forces of the Arab-supremacist government in Khartoum were fighting a war to the knife with black Africans that left hundreds of thousands dead. The slaughter might not have been happening as far as Rowan Williams was concerned. He was the regime’s guest and refused to bear witness to the suffering or criticise its perpetrators.

I thought at the time that among the reasons why I could not believe in God was the shabbiness of his representatives on Earth. The archbishop’s officials explained that he did not wish to be undiplomatic, but I did not wholly believe them either. Williams seemed just the type to believe that crimes against humanity were colour-coded. One should denounce atrocities committed by the west, of course, but stay silent when the criminals had black or brown skins for fear of being thought a cultural imperialist or neocolonialist.

Now that Williams and his fellow bishops are so angry at the possibility of civil gay marriage they are talking of disestablishing the church, we should acknowledge that Williams has always been prepared to accommodate reactionary forces abroad to further reactionary ends at home.

Those who knew him when he was young are shocked. He was once liberal on the question of whether Anglicans should tolerate gay and lesbian love and openly homosexual priests. As the church has had closet cases for two millenniums, who have lied to themselves, their congregations and, on occasion, to the poor women they manoeuvred into loveless marriages, I would have thought that honesty would have been the best argument for equality. But as we have seen, honesty is not a virtue the archbishop treasures.

Instead, Williams developed an eccentric but, I happily admit, touching line of thought. He took a scene in Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet in which Sarah Layton, a respectable daughter of the regiment, is seduced by a worthless man. Williams told members of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in 1989: “There may be little love, even little generosity, in Clark’s bedding of Sarah, but Sarah has discovered that her body can be the cause of happiness to her and to another. It is this discovery which most clearly shows why we might want to talk about grace here. Grace, for the Christian believer, is a transformation that depends in large part on knowing yourself to be seen in a certain way: as significant, as wanted.”

Like Sarah Layton, gays and lesbians also deserved the body’s grace. Even in the Bible, “there is a good deal to steer us away from assuming that reproductive sex is a norm”. His words read as well today as they did then, but Williams has forgotten what he once knew.

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For Churches, Being Political Is about Being Faithful

June 17, 2012, The United Church of Canada

thepaperthinhymn.com

Toronto: In a recent interview on CBC Radio, Senator Nicole Eaton said, “I don’t think that churches should take political stands. I think they should be more about helping people and giving people succour.”
Her comments were made on the program As It Happens, during an interview about her Senate inquiry into foreign funding of Canadian charities. Since Eaton launched the inquiry in February, concerns have been raised about the chill being felt by charities that fear their charitable status will be threatened if they participate in public debates that challenge government policy.
During the interview Eaton chose to single out The United Church of Canada as one she thought was involved in “political work.”
“And so we are,” says the United Church’s Moderator, Mardi Tindal, in response to the senator’s comments. “We are very political, as was Jesus—that’s why he was crucified.”
Tindal adds, however, there is a very clear distinction between being political, meaning advocating for changes in public policy, and being partisan.
“It is a distinction that is often misunderstood—but it is critical, especially when a member of the Canadian Senate suggests that it is inappropriate for churches to participate in shaping public policy,” she explains.
Tindal notes it was the deep Christian faith of Tommy Douglas, a Baptist preacher, that drove him to champion universal health care with such passion. Similarly, faith motivated Nellie McClung in the struggle to win women the right to vote.

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Canada should look to U.S. for health reforms

Globe Editorial, The Globe and Mail, Jun. 10 2012

In the United States, nine physician groups have identified 45 tests or procedures that are commonly used, but are of no proven medical benefit. It’s a refreshing take on a tough debate, from which Canadian physicians should draw inspiration.

Some lists include the obvious, such as antibiotics for uncomplicated sinus infections almost always caused by viruses. But other items identified are more surprising: imaging of the lower spine within six weeks after suffering back pain, for instance, and routine chest X-rays for ambulatory patients before surgery.

The exercise follows an article in The New England Journal of Medicine that was critical of medical groups during U.S. health-care debates for being too concerned with protecting their incomes. The author, Dr. Howard Brody, urged each specialty society to develop “top five” lists.

The physician groups, which include family doctors, cardiologists, radiologists and oncologists, obliged by considering what would quickly save the most money without depriving patients of what Dr. Brody described as “meaningful medical benefit.” Some of the top five lists were published this spring; eight additional societies are expected to release theirs next fall.

In Canada, health reform has largely been the purview of provincial governments trying to get their fiscal houses in order, and often places those governments directly at odds with doctors. The most notable changes of late have come in Ontario, where the government has lowered the fees of specialists to reflect technological advances that have made tests or operations quicker and (in some cases) easier to perform, while limiting the number of diagnostic tests and other services that it thinks are being referred too frequently.

Those changes have led the Ontario Medical Association to issue dire warnings of service cuts, and of physicians fleeing the province. But one way or another, governments will continue to move toward “evidence-based” care, as they seek to ensure the sustainability of funding. Doctors in Canada would be wise to follow the lead of their counterparts south of the border, and help lead the discussion.

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Anglicans threaten rift with government over gay marriage

Church says introducing same-sex marriage legislation could lead to it being forced out of traditional wedding role

“It seems odd that the Church of England should be obsessing about a few thousand gay couples once again when there are currently 3 million children in Britain living in single-parent households.” Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, which campaigns for gay rights.

Ben Quinn, The Guardian, 12 June 2012

The Church of England has delivered an ­uncompromising warning to the ­government against pressing ahead with gay marriage proposals. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

The threat of an unprecedented clash between church and state over the issue of gay marriage has opened up after the Church of England delivered an uncompromising warning to the government against pressing ahead with controversial proposals.

Introducing same-sex marriage could lead to the church being forced out of its role of conducting weddings on behalf of the state, the church claimed in a potentially explosive submission in response to the government’s consultation on gay marriage, which closes on Thursday.

The submission’s warning of a potential clash between canon law – that marriage is between a man and a woman – and parliament is likely to put pressure on the prime minister, David Cameron, who has spoken out in support of gay marriage and already come under fire from supporters of the proposals for allowing a free vote amongst Tory MPs.

In a 13-page submission, the church says it cannot support the proposal to enable all couples, regardless of their gender, to have a civil marriage ceremony.

“Such a move would alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history,” it says.

“Marriage benefits society in many ways, not only by promoting mutuality and fidelity, but also by acknowledging an underlying biological complementarity which, for many, includes the possibility of procreation.”

The controversy comes at a particularly delicate time for the church itself, which is in the middle of a process that will choose a new Archbishop of Canterbury later this year to replace Dr Rowan Williams.

Internal debates on gay rights have been particularly heated during his tenure as he struggled to balance the CofE’s own factions at the same time as holding together the disparate worldwide Anglican communion of 80 million members.

The church’s submission warns that despite ministerial assurances that churches would not have to conduct gay marriages, it would be “very doubtful” whether limiting same-sex couples to non-religious ceremonies would withstand a challenge at the European court of human rights.

This could make it impossible for the CofE to continue its role conducting marriages on behalf of the state, it warned.

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Why South Korea (and the US) Use Amusement Parks to Push Creationism

Post by ANDREW AGHAPOUR, Religion Dispatches, June 6, 2012

scientificamerican.com

Two recent events portray creationism debates in very different settings. First, Nature reports that a creationist organization in South Korea has successfully campaigned to remove references to evolution from high-school textbooks. The Society for Textbook Revise (STR) petitioned South Korea’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to make these revisions, and ministry allegedly deferred judgment to textbook publishers who yielded to the demands.

The petition was just one in a series of public campaigns by the creationist movement in South Korea. In 2008, for example, the Korea Association for Creation Research created an exhibition at a popular South Korean amusement park which, they claim, attracted more than 116,000 visitors in three months. More recently, the STR began an effort to publically contest evolutionary theory by highlighting scientific discord over the lineage of particular species, such as Archaeopteryx. Nature noted that this is indicative of a larger trend:

In a 2009 survey conducted for the South Korean documentary The Era of God and Darwin, almost one-third of the respondents didn’t believe in evolution. Of those, 41% said that there was insufficient scientific evidence to support it; 39% said that it contradicted their religious beliefs; and 17% did not understand the theory.

Interestingly, a recent survey of trainee teachers indicates that 40% of South Korean biology teachers agreed with the statement that “much of the scientific community doubts if evolution occurs.”

These numbers are within range of the United States, where creationism is even more popular. According to a poll released Friday by Gallup, 46% of Americans agree with the statement that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” 32% believe that human beings evolved with God’s guidance; 15% say that humans evolved and that God had no part in the process.

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Vatican Scolds Nun for Book on Sexuality

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN and RACHEL DONADIO, June 4, 2012, The New York Times

Sister Margaret A. Farley said she did not intend to express official Catholic teaching. Yale Divinity School

The Vatican’s doctrinal office on Monday denounced an American nun who taught Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School for a book that attempted to present a theological rationale for same-sex relationships, masturbation and remarriage after divorce.

The Vatican office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that the book, “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,” by Sister Margaret A. Farley, was “not consistent with authentic Catholic theology,” and should not be used by Roman Catholics.

Sister Farley, a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and an award-winning scholar, responded in a statement: “I can only clarify that the book was not intended to be an expression of current official Catholic teaching, nor was it aimed specifically against this teaching. It is of a different genre altogether.”

The book, she said, offers “contemporary interpretations” of justice and fairness in human sexual relations, moving away from a “taboo morality” and drawing on “present-day scientific, philosophical, theological, and biblical resources.”

The formal censure comes only weeks after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a stinging reprimand of the main coordinating group of American nuns, prompting many Catholics across the country to turn out in defense of the nuns with protests, petitions and vigils.

The nuns’ organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, said on Friday that its board had declared that the Vatican’s accusations were “unsubstantiated,” and that it was sending its leaders to Rome to make its case. Three bishops have been appointed by the Vatican to supervise an overhaul of the nuns’ organization.

The censure of Sister Farley, who belongs to the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, is the second time recently that a book by an American nun has been denounced by the church’s hierarchy. In 2011, the doctrine committee of United States bishops condemned “Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God,” by Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, a professor of theology at Fordham University in New York.

The Vatican’s doctrinal office, led by an American, Cardinal William J. Levada, has spent more than two years reviewing Sister Farley’s book, which was published in 2006. The office first notified Sister Farley’s superior of its concerns in March 2010, and said it had opened a further investigation because a response she had sent to the Vatican in October 2010 had not been “satisfactory.” It said her book had “been a cause of confusion among the faithful.”

The dean of Yale Divinity School, Harold W. Attridge, a Catholic layman, and the president of the Sisters of Mercy, Sister Patricia McDermott, issued statements in support of Sister Farley. So did 15 fellow scholars who, in a document released by the divinity school, testified to Sister Farley’s Catholic credentials and the influence she has had in the field of moral theology.

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Women Are Born Free in the US but Everywhere Give Birth in Chains

By Sadhbh Walshe, Guardian UK, 07 June 12

Only 16 of 50 states in the US have any regulations or laws against the shackling of female prisoners during childbirth. (photo: Guardian UK)

In 2007, a 17-year-old girl called Cora Fletcher was charged with retail theft. Over a year later, after she missed a court date, she was sent to the Cook County jail, in Illinois. She was eight months pregnant at the time.

During a pre-natal check-up at the facility, her baby appeared to have no heartbeat, so she was sent to the county hospital. As the medical team tried to induce her, Fletcher claims that both her hands and both her feet were shackled to either side of the bed. Only when she finally went into labor, three days later, was one hand and one foot released. It’s hard to imagine a more crucifying way to force a woman to try to give birth.

Sadly for Fletcher, there was no payoff for the trauma and humiliation she was forced to endure, as her baby was born dead.

Fletcher was one of the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit brought against Cook County on behalf of 80 female prisoners and detainees who also claimed to have had similar experiences of being shackled during childbirth. Just under two weeks ago, the county agreed to a settlement of $4.1m dollars payable to the women, who will each receive between $5,000 and $45,000.

The Cook County sheriff’s office made it clear, however, that they were agreeing to the deal for expediency’s sake only and were admitting to no wrongdoing. This despite the fact that Illinois became the first state in the union to ban the practice of shackling women during labor, back in 1999 – at least seven years before any of the women named in the lawsuit had their babies. A spokesman for the department, Frank Bilecki, went so far as to issue a statement claiming the jail’s treatment of (female) detainees is the “most progressive in the nation”.

If that is the case, women in America better watch their backs.

The practices of making pregnant women wear belly chains and of shackling their hands and feet before, after and sometimes during labor, are just another way in which the United States distinguishes itself – or fails to distinguish itself, perhaps – as anything but a bastion of liberty and justice and a champion of women’s rights. No other country in the “civilized world” finds shackling pregnant women a necessary or desirable procedure. The practice has been repeatedly and vigorously condemned by the committee against torture at the United Nations; and it has been decried by both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (You can imagine how doctors relish the prospect of trying to safely deliver a baby whose mother is in chains.)

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New Brunswick university under fire for anti-gay hiring policy

By Andrew Rankin, Special to the Star, 1 June 12

Jillian Duplessie, left, with friend Ainsley Cotter. Duplessie revoked her acceptance at Crandall after she learned about the school's anti-gay hiring rule.

ST. JOHN, N.B.—A Christian university in New Brunswick is under fire for a policy that prevents it from hiring homosexuals.

Crandall University, a small liberal arts school in Moncton, was thrust into the spotlight earlier this week when 22-year-old Jillian Duplessie revoked her acceptance after she learned about the anti-gay rule.

Since then the aspiring teacher has joined forces with a Moncton-based homosexual advocacy group called River of Pride, which is now calling on the government to stop funding the university, which is both publicly and privately subsidized.

“Considering that we live in a country that has legalized gay marriage and has come a long way in accepting homosexuals as normal members of our society, it’s an archaic policy that came as a huge shock to me,” said Duplessie. “It completely caught me off guard. Many of our taxpayers are homosexuals and are paying for a school that they would have no chance of being hired at.”

Crandall University told the Toronto Star on Friday that it was standing by vice-president Seth Crowell’s comments to the CBC in which he defended the hiring policy and said the school was given the right to educate based on its beliefs in 1983.

“Within that act of the legislature, there’s a sub-clause that says Crandall University — at that point Atlantic Baptist College — has the opportunity to grant degrees to students with a viewpoint that is Christian,” said Crowell. “In the confines of a faith community, of a religious community, it has that jurisdiction.”

The university’s moral code calls on staff to be “sexually pure, reserving sexual intimacy for within a traditional marriage between one man and one woman, and refraining from the use of pornographic materials.”

James LeMesurier, a Saint John lawyer who specializes in employment and labour law, says hiring or firing someone on the basis of their sexual orientation is a clear breach of the province’s Human Rights Code.

“Our Human Rights Code specifically says no employer or person acting on behalf of an employer shall, because of sexual orientation, refuse to employ or to continue to employ any person or to discriminate against any person,” said LeMesurier.

“That is the very fundamental aspect of the Human Rights Code.”

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Anti-bullying bill sparks Catholic funding debate

Education Minister Laurel Broten

By Antonella Artuso ,Queen’s Park Bureau Chief, The Toronto Sun, June 3, 2012

Bill 13 is proving anything but lucky for Ontario’s Catholic educators.

Not only has the anti-bullying bill put them at odds with the provincial government over the naming of Gay-Straight Alliances in their schools, it has now reheated the debate around Catholic education funding.

The 2007 provincial election thoroughly explored the possibility of funding all faith-based schools — as a resolution to concerns over devoting taxpayer money to one type of religious education — and the Ontario public was quite clear that the proposal by then-PC leader John Tory was a non-starter.

But groups like One School System and the Green Party of Ontario argue there is an appetite on the part of the public to discuss the other possible solution — ending all faith-based school funding.

“There’s a silent majority that supports having a conversation about merging the best of the Catholic system and the best of the public system,” Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said. “I think the timing is right.”

Education Minister Laurel Broten introduced Bill 13 which outlaws bullying in schools, including cyber bullying, and promotes an “inclusive” environment that welcomes all people, including LGBTTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirited, intersex, queer and questioning, according to the legislation’s preamble).

The legislation responds to the suicides of teenage bullying victims, including Jamie Hubley of Ottawa and Mitchell Wilson of Pickering.

Catholic schools accepted the original legislation but struggled with an amendment that removes their veto over the name Gay Straight Alliance, which they say represents a political agenda in conflict with their religious beliefs.

It has spiralled into an argument over gay rights, religious rights and now Catholic school funding.

“We have been very clear we have no intention of defunding the Catholic school system,” Broten said. “The Accepting Schools Act has nothing to do with funding for Catholic education and everything to do with protecting students.”

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How Christian Fundamentalists Plan to Teach Genocide to Schoolchildren

The story of Saul and the Amalekites has been used to justify genocide throughout the ages. (photo: Martin Godwin/Guardian UK)

By Katherine Stewart, Guardian UK, 02 June 12

Good News Clubs’ evangelism in schools is already subverting church-state separation. Now they justify murdering nonbelievers.

The Bible has thousands of passages that may serve as the basis for instruction and inspiration. Not all of them are appropriate in all circumstances.

The story of Saul and the Amalekites is a case in point. It’s not a pretty story, and it is often used by people who don’t intend to do pretty things. In the book of 1 Samuel (15:3), God said to Saul:

“Now go, attack the Amalekites, and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

Saul dutifully exterminated the women, the children, the babies and all of the men – but then he spared the king. He also saved some of the tastier looking calves and lambs. God was furious with him for his failure to finish the job.

The story of the Amalekites has been used to justify genocide throughout the ages. According to Pennsylvania State University Professor Philip Jenkins, a contributing editor for the American Conservative, the Puritans used this passage when they wanted to get rid of the Native American tribes. Catholics used it against Protestants, Protestants against Catholics. “In Rwanda in 1994, Hutu preachers invoked King Saul’s memory to justify the total slaughter of their Tutsi neighbors,” writes Jenkins in his 2011 book, Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses (HarperCollins).

This fall, more than 100,000 American public school children, ranging in age from four to 12, are scheduled to receive instruction in the lessons of Saul and the Amalekites in the comfort of their own public school classrooms. The instruction, which features in the second week of a weekly “Bible study” course, will come from the Good News Club, an after-school program sponsored by a group called the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). The aim of the CEF is to convert young children to a fundamentalist form of the Christian faith and recruit their peers to the club.

There are now over 3,200 clubs in public elementary schools, up more than sevenfold since the 2001 supreme court decision, Good News Club v Milford Central School, effectively required schools to include such clubs in their after-school programing.

The CEF has been teaching the story of the Amalekites at least since 1973. In its earlier curriculum materials, CEF was euphemistic about the bloodshed, saying simply that “the Amalekites were completely defeated.” In the most recent version of the curriculum, however, the group is quite eager to drive the message home to its elementary school students. The first thing the curriculum makes clear is that if God gives instructions to kill a group of people, you must kill every last one:

“You are to go and completely destroy the Amalekites (AM-uh-leck-ites) – people, animals, every living thing. Nothing shall be left.”

“That was pretty clear, wasn’t it?” the manual tells the teachers to say to the kids.

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Leading Companies Mislead Public on Climate Science, Policy

Caterpillar logo on a building in Tasmania. (photo: Jacqueline Street/ABC)

By Union of Concerned Scientist, 31 May 12

Many of the country’s leading companies have taken contradictory actions when it comes to climate change science while pumping a tremendous amount of resources into influencing the discussion, according to an analysis released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The science advocacy group examined 28 companies in the S&P 500 that participated in climate policy debates over the past several years. All of them publicly expressed concern about climate change or a commitment to reducing emissions through websites and public statements, but half (14) also misrepresented climate science in their public communications. Many more contributed to the spread of misinformation about climate science in less direct ways, such as through political contributions, trade group memberships, and think tank funding.

“Corporations’ increased ability to influence policy should come with an increased responsibility to let the public know how they are doing so,” said Francesca Grifo, director of UCS’s Scientific Integrity Program and a contributor to the report. “Companies may play a role in policy discussions, but right now, it’s simply far too easy for them to get away with misrepresenting science to achieve their goals.”

Utilizing an array of publicly available data, the report systematically examines how corporate influence fosters confusion on climate change. The analysis found that some American companies, including NRG Energy, Inc., NIKE, Inc. and AES Corporation, accept the findings of climate science and have taken actions in support of science-based policy. Other corporations, including Peabody Energy Corporation, Valero Energy Corporation, and FMC Corporation, have worked aggressively to undermine climate policies and have misrepresented climate science to do so.

Several companies stand out for taking contradictory actions on climate change. Caterpillar Inc., for instance, highlights its commitment to sustainability and climate change mitigation on its website. But the company also serves on the boards of two trade groups that regularly attempt to undermine public understanding of climate science: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Caterpillar also funds the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, two think tanks that have misrepresented climate science.

Similarly, ConocoPhillips says on its website that it recognizes human activity is “contributing to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that can lead to adverse changes in global climate.” But in comments to the Environmental Protection Agency, the company criticized scientific evidence on the ways climate change can harm public health.

“The difference between what many of these companies say and what they actually do is quite stark,” said Gretchen Goldman, an analyst in the Scientific Integrity Program and a report contributor. “And because we know only limited amounts about their activities, it’s relatively simple for companies to show one face to the public and another to policymakers.”

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Head of Catholic Bishops Paid Pedophiles to Disappear

Timothy Dolan. (Photo: Cy White / Flickr)

By Valerie Tarico, Truthout | News Analysis | 31 May 12

Timothy Dolan, cardinal of New York and head of the Catholic Conference of Bishops, had his prime-time career launched by the pedophile priest scandal. Now, despite efforts to distance himself, his role in pedophile protection may come back to bite him. Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee admitted that, during Dolan’s tenure, pedophiles were paid to simply disappear.

In June of 2002, Dolan was appointed archbishop of Milwaukee after his predecessor, Rembert G. Weakland, admitted a confidential settlement of $450,000 to a man who accused Weakland of sexually assaulting him in 1979. In contrast to Weakland, Dolan was a known theological conservative with the trust of the Vatican and, despite questionable management of sexual abuse scandals in his previous position in Saint Louis, he was tasked with cleaning up the mess.

From the start, Dolan positioned himself as a victim’s advocate: “… [i]t is impossible to exaggerate the gravity of the situation, and the suffering that victims feel, because I’ve spent the last four months being with them, crying with them, having them express their anger to me.” His response to those tears and anger, however, foreshadowed events of this winter, when Dolan had consistently argued that the church is above the law.

In the case of the pedophile priests, Dolan almost immediately set about exploring financial incentives that would encourage them to step down and fade away into the community. He emphatically denied in 2006 that this was the case. But during subsequent bankruptcy proceedings for the Milwaukee archdiocese, public documents showed that Dolan had discussed payout options with his finance committee as early as 2003. Now email from Julie Wolf, communications director for the archdiocese, confirms that pedophiles were paid up to $20,000 apiece in exchange for quietly relinquishing their positions in the church.

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ideacity

50 Presenters, 3 Legendary Parties, a Ton of Inspiration

ideacity, also known as ‘Canada’s Premier Meeting of the Minds’, is an eclectic gathering of artists, adventurers, authors, cosmologists, doctors, designers, entertainers, filmmakers, inventors, magicians, musicians, scientists and technologists.

Fifty of the planet’s brightest minds converge in Toronto each June to speak to a highly engaged audience. Only 600 are privileged to attend.

Produced and presented by Moses Znaimer, ideacity is not themed around any one topic, issue or business. There are no scripted speeches, breakout or parallel sessions. Rather, everyone is in one place and experiencing the same narrative.

With extra-long schmooze breaks between sessions, and legendary parties each night, attendees have had an unprecedented opportunity to mingle with such notable speakers as Conrad Black, Barbara Gowdy, Michael Ignatieff, Douglas Coupland, Pamela Wallin, Pete Seeger, Robert Kennedy Jr., John Ralston Saul, Daniel Libeskind, Clayton Ruby, Romeo Dallaire and the late Peter Jennings.

Gretta Vosper will be speaking on June 13, 2012 at 2:45pm

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Global Temperatures Rising on a Devastating Trajectory

Global temperatures have become warmer in most parts of the world. (image: NASA)

Climate-heating carbon emissions set a record high in 2011, in a 3.2 percent increase over the previous year, the International Energy Agency reported this week. The main reason for this dangerous increase is that governments are failing to implement policies to prevent catastrophic increases of global temperatures.

By Stephen Leahy, Inter Press Service, 29 May 12

A new report released on the last days of international climate talks in Bonn, Germany this week reveals that the planet is heading to a temperature rise of at least 3.5 degrees Celsius, and likely more, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), despite an international agreement to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius.

Not only are pledges inadequate, but countries are unable to fulfill even those pledges, a new CAT analysis shows. CAT is a joint project of Dutch energy consulting organisation Ecofys, Germany’s Climate Analytics, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“When we compared the emission reduction pledges of countries like Brazil, Mexico and the U.S., we found they did not have the policies in place to meet those pledges,” said Niklas Höhne, director of energy and climate policy at Ecofys.

Höhne told IPS that they looked only at the policies of a few countries, but no country’s policies were enough to meet their targets.

While Mexico introduced a solid new framework climate legislation, it has yet to implement actual policies and measures to reach its pledge, the report found. At the moment, Mexico is set to achieve only 12 percent of its pledged 30 percent reduction from business-as-usual by 2020.

Brazil has an ambitious target but a proposed new forest code, if adopted, could reverse this trend. “Scientific analysis shows that the code could increase its emissions gap substantially,” the report said.

The United States pins many of its hopes on having lower emissions by 2020 due mainly to effects of the recessions and a shift from coal to gas driven by low gas prices.

Yet regulations on coal-fired power plants and on fuel efficiency in vehicles would still leave the United States “some 350 million tonnes of CO2 short of its already inadequate pledge, a gap that is the size of half of Canada’s annual emissions,” the report found.

“We haven’t looked at Canada yet but it’s pretty clear they do not have the policies they need,” Höhne added.

Climate Talks Deadlocked

The Bonn climate talks this week saw little appetite for increasing pledges. “No country wants to move. This is not a positive trend,” Höhne said.

“The Bonn meeting underscores the deep divisions that remain between key countries on how to meet the climate challenge,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“It’s clear we have the technology, know-how, and ability to meet this challenge, but we’re missing the political will, which was in short supply during these last two weeks in Bonn,” said Meyer in a statement from Bonn. Meyer has attended nearly every climate negotiation since they began 18 years ago.

In fact, commitments to reduce emissions have been deadlocked since the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. Even if governments implemented the most stringent reductions they have proposed, world emissions would still need to decline another 9 billion tonnes by 2020 and every year after.

Meanwhile, 2011 emissions are one billion tonnes greater than 2010.

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A Monetary Policy for the 99%: Twelve-Year-Old Reformer Goes Viral

12-year old Victoria Grant explains why her homeland, Canada, and most of the world, is in debt. April 27, 2012 at the Public Banking in America Conference, Philadelphia, PA. (Screengrab: publicbankingtv)

By Ellen Brown, Truthout | News Analysis | 29 May 2012

The YouTube video of 12-year-old Victoria Grant speaking at the Public Banking in America conference last month has gone viral, topping a million views on various web sites.

Monetary reform – the contention that governments, not banks, should create and lend a nation’s money – has rarely even made the news, so this is a first. Either the times they are a-changin’, or Victoria managed to frame the message in a way that was so simple and clear that even a child could understand it.

Basically, her message was that banks create money “out of thin air” and lend it to people and governments at interest. If governments borrowed from their own banks, they could keep the interest and save a lot of money for the taxpayers.

She said her own country of Canada actually did this, from 1939 to 1974. During that time, the government’s debt was low and sustainable and it funded all sorts of remarkable things. Only when the government switched to borrowing privately did it acquire a crippling national debt.

Borrowing privately means selling bonds at market rates of interest (which in Canada quickly shot up to 22 percent), and the money for these bonds is ultimately created by private banks. For the latter point, Victoria quoted Graham Towers, head of the Bank of Canada for the first twenty years of its history. He said:

Each and every time a bank makes a loan, new bank credit is created – new deposits – brand new money. Broadly speaking, all new money comes out of a Bank in the form of loans. As loans are debts, then under the present system all money is debt.

Towers was asked, “Will you tell me why a government with power to create money, should give that power away to a private monopoly and then borrow that which Parliament can create itself, back at interest, to the point of national bankruptcy?” He replied, “If Parliament wants to change the form of operating the banking system, then certainly that is within the power of Parliament.”

In other words, said Victoria, “If the Canadian government needs money, they can borrow it directly from the Bank of Canada.

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Liberal bill would force Catholic boards to accept ‘gay-straight alliances’

Rob Ferguson and Robert Benzie
Fri May 25 2012

CONTROVERSIAL LEGISLATION Education Minister Laurel Broten introduced legislation Friday that would require all school boards to accept the name gay-straight alliance if students request. The Canadian Press


All schools, including those in the Catholic system, would be forced to allow anti-homophobic clubs to be called gay-straight alliances” under dramatic changes to a proposed anti-bullying law.

The change of heart on the minority Liberal government’s Accepting Schools Act — which had allowed school principals a veto on names for any student club — was announced Friday afternoon by Education Minister Laurel Broten.

“We believe it’s up to the students,” she told reporters, saying it’s “important for students to have the freedom.”

The move, which has the support of the NDP, comes as an amendment to the government’s anti-bullying bill — which Broten hopes to pass before the legislature rises for its summer break June 7.

Her amendment follows legislative committee hearings on the controversial legislation, which has been a flashpoint at Queen’s Park since it was proposed following the suicides of two students last year — one gay and another with muscular dystrophy.

In a bid to curb bullying with more clout for schools to expel students who pick on others, the bill requires school boards to support student groups for “people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.”

That language gave schools an escape clause when it came to naming clubs, which can be formed for any common interest or need for mutual support that students identify.

The Progressive Conservatives and some parents and religious leaders have urged the government to remove any reference to gays, lesbians or transgendered students in the bill, saying the mention infers a special status not available to other children who might be victims of bullying for other reasons.

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Montreal’s Student Protesters Defy Restrictions As Demonstrations Grow

Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee hikes bang on pots and pans during a demonstration in Montreal on Thursday, May 24, 2012. (photo: Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

By Erin Hale, Guardian UK, 26 May 12

Demonstrators in Montreal have continued to defy an emergency law passed by the provincial government in Quebec to restrict protests by students against planned tuition fee hikes.

As has become traditional, groups of protesters banged pots and pans, marching around the city for several hours.

But there was no repeat of the mass arrests that characterised the protests earlier in the week. On Wednesday, more than 500 Montrealers were arrested – more than during the entire October 1970 crisis when martial law was declared in the city in response to actions by Quebec nationalists.

The total number of those arrested in the current protests has now exceeded 2,500, and the judicial process is already showing signs that it is struggling to cope.

As protesters snaked through the city’s neighbourhoods on Thursday, residents and customers in restaurants showed their support by banging pots as they passed by.

The protest, which began at Place Emilie Gamelin, was declared illegal before it began, because organizers had not provided police with an itinerary, as required by a controversial new emergency law. But Montreal police said in a message posted on Twitter that protesters would be allowed to march as long as they remained peaceful. Four people were arrested.

Helicopters and riot police are an increasingly common sight on the streets of Montreal as a province-wide student strike passed the 100-day mark, but popular support only seems to be growing as the government attempts to clamp down on the strike.

Small red squares, the symbol of the strike historically worn by Montreal students supporting free tuition, are everywhere in the city – cloth pinned to peope’s lapels and daubed onto signs and walls.

Families and older residents are increasingly common sights at protests as well, demonstrating against Bill 78, which places restrictions on protests of more than 50 people. The bill imposes fines of $125,000 a day on student unions that defy its provisions, and student leaders shown to support unplanned protests can be fined up to a maximum of $5,000.

Michelle Hartman, an associate professor at McGill University who attended Thursday night’s protest with her young son asleep in his stroller, said she had seen the variety of protesters expand since the strike began.

“There have been people all along who aren’t just students … and I think all along there have been supporters, but definitely since the Bill 78 there have been more and more people just from all different places coming out.”

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Canada had lost sight of religious freedom as human right, Baird says

international.gc.ca

By CAMPBELL CLARK, Globe and Mail, May. 25, 2012

Foreign Minister John Baird told a U.S. audience that Canada went soft on defending fundamental rights like religious freedom some time after the Second World War, but he argued the Harper government is showing a stiffer spine now.

In a speech promoting Ottawa’s plans to open an Office of Religious Freedom in the Foreign Affairs department, Mr. Baird spoke of the “moral call” that people like his grandfather answered in fighting the Second World War.

“And yet, after the war, some decision makers lost sight of our proud tradition to do what is right and what is just,” he said in a draft of the speech. “Some decided it would be better to paint Canada as an honest broker. I call it being afraid to take a clear position, even when that’s what’s needed.”

Mr. Baird was speaking to the Religious Liberty Dinner, an annual fixture on Washington’s busy political dinner schedule organized by religious-liberty associations and the Seventh Day Adventist Church – and for the first time ever, hosted at Canada’s Embassy.

Mr. Baird was invited, according to government officials, as a nod from organizers to Canada’s plans to open a $5 million-a-year Religious Freedom Office, inside Foreign Affairs, some time this year.

The plans for the office, with a projected budget half as big as its U.S. counterpart, has been criticized by some as an attempt to appeal to religious conservatives in Canada.

Mr. Baird said the office will “help our diplomats around the world support religious freedom.”

His speech argued that defending religious freedoms cannot be separated from defending other basic human rights.

Mr. Baird’s speech mentioned the persecution of religious groups including Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar, Ahmadiyya Muslims, and Baha’i. But it dealt most extensively with the targeting of Jews and Christians.
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NATO finally acknowledges the Bear Trap

A United States Marine in Helmand, Afghanistan, May 14. US DoD Photo: Cpl. Marcus Kuiper

The Western alliance has finally accepted that if the foreign troops cannot defeat the Taliban in 11 years, they are most unlikely to do so in 13 or 15 years. The Russians could have told them that.

By Gwynne Dyer, May 25, 2012, Embassy

Last weekend’s NATO summit in Chicago was mostly about how to get NATO troops out of Afghanistan without causing too much embarrassment to the Western governments that sent them, and a little bit about how to ensure that the Taliban don’t take over again once the Western troops leave.

The timetable for NATO’s withdrawal is now graven in stone: all Western troops will be withdrawn from actual combat by the end of 2013, and they will all be out of the country by the end of 2014 (except the French, who will all leave by December of this year).

This timetable will be adhered to no matter how the situation on the ground develops—or more likely, degrades—in the next two years. After that, it’s entirely in the Afghans’ hands.

There was some pretty rhetoric to soften this harsh fact: “As Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone,” declared President Barack Obama. But alone is exactly where they will be, although NATO is promising to send the Afghan government $4 billion a year to enable its army to stand up to the Taliban.

The Western alliance has finally accepted that if the foreign troops cannot defeat the Taliban in 11 years, they are most unlikely to do so in 13 or 15 years.

The Russians could have told them that. “Our soldiers are not to blame,” General Sergei Akhromeyev told the Soviet Politburo in 1986. “They’ve fought incredibly bravely in adverse conditions. But to occupy towns and villages temporarily has little value in such a vast land where the insurgents can just disappear into the hills.”

According to the Pentagon’s own numbers, each American soldier in Afghanistan costs about $1 million a year. Pashtun teenagers, eager to show their worth fighting against the foreigners, can be had for about $200 a month each—and there is an almost inexhaustible supply of young Pashtun males. The war was unwinnable from the start.

It may also have been unnecessary.

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The Supreme Court is right to hear life-support case

Hassan Rasouli, shown with his wife, Parichehr Salasel, has been in a persistent vegetative state since October, 2010. Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

GLOBE EDITORIAL, May. 23, 2012 , Globe and Mail

The Supreme Court of Canada was right when it agreed to hear the case of a patient on life support, despite shifting medical facts. In doing so, it is expected to provide much-needed guidance on end-of-life treatment.

The issue – who decides – has been a divisive, emotional one. Giving doctors unilateral decision-making power seems extreme, yet it is equally perverse for families of incapable patients to insist upon costly interventions of no medical benefit and some potential harm.

The absence of direction has left a policy vacuum, and potentially treatment vacuums in Canadian hospitals. Will physicians hesitate to start trials of therapy in critically ill patients if they think they cannot withdraw them when later deemed futile?

To answer the question of who decides, two critical-care physicians, Brian Cuthbertson and Gordon Rubenfeld of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, have taken their case to Canada’s highest court. They say there is no medical purpose in keeping Hassan Rasouli on life support and have proposed shifting him to palliative care.

The 60-year-old retired engineer has been at that Toronto hospital since October, 2010, when a brain infection incurred after surgery for a brain tumour left him in a persistent vegetative state. After that, he received round-the-clock care, with machines doing all the things he can’t: breathe, hydrate and nourish.

Then, unexpectedly, his diagnosis changed.

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Americans Pay $1 Trillion a Year for War and ‘Security’ – Why?

(image: Salon)

By Chris Hellman, Mattea Kramer, TomDispatch, 23 May 12

Recent months have seen a flurry of headlines about cuts (often called “threats”) to the U.S. defense budget. Last week, lawmakers in the House of Representatives even passed a bill that was meant to spare national security spending from future cuts by reducing school-lunch funding and other social programs.

Here, then, is a simple question that, for some curious reason, no one bothers to ask, no less answer: How much are we spending on national security these days? With major wars winding down, has Washington already cut such spending so close to the bone that further reductions would be perilous to our safety?

In fact, with projected cuts added in, the national security budget in fiscal 2013 will be nearly $1 trillion — a staggering enough sum that it’s worth taking a walk through the maze of the national security budget to see just where that money’s lodged.

If you’ve heard a number for how much the U.S. spends on the military, it’s probably in the neighborhood of $530 billion. That’s the Pentagon’s base budget for fiscal 2013, and represents a 2.5% cut from 2012. But that $530 billion is merely the beginning of what the U.S. spends on national security. Let’s dig a little deeper.

The Pentagon’s base budget doesn’t include war funding, which in recent years has been well over $100 billion. With U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq and troop levels falling in Afghanistan, you might think that war funding would be plummeting as well. In fact, it will drop to a mere $88 billion in fiscal 2013. By way of comparison, the federal government will spend around $64 billion on education that same year.

Add in war funding, and our national security total jumps to $618 billion. And we’re still just getting started.

The U.S. military maintains an arsenal of nuclear weapons. You might assume that we’ve already accounted for nukes in the Pentagon’s $530 billion base budget. But you’d be wrong. Funding for nuclear weapons falls under the Department of Energy (DOE), so it’s a number you rarely hear. In fiscal 2013, we’ll be spending $11.5 billion on weapons and related programs at the DOE. And disposal of nuclear waste is expensive, so add another $6.4 billion for weapons cleanup.

Now, we’re at $636 billion and counting.

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Student group law could push Catholic schools into clash with province, observers say

By Lee Greenberg, The Ottawa Citizen May 14, 2012

idahoagenda.com

TORONTO — Ontario’s Catholic schools are on a constitutional collision course with the province, one that likely will redefine the limits of the church’s influence in its publicly-funded classrooms, experts say.

The battle is shaping up over a proposed law that would force all public schools to embrace student-led groups — such as rainbow clubs and gay-straight alliances — that promote tolerance for homosexual students.

Catholic schools and their supporters argue they should have the right to rule clubs out of bounds if they conflict with their religious views.

But lawyers say that view is one that has not yet been tested in the courts.

“You can’t attack Catholicism in the classroom, because that’s constitutionally protected,” says Ed Morgan, a law professor at the University of Toronto. “It’s not at all clear that anything other than the teaching of Catholicism in the classroom is protected. In fact, there’s a very good argument that that’s the extent of the (British North America) act’s protection.”

The last such test of the Church’s authority in its schools came in 2002, when gay student Marc Hall challenged Durham, Ont.’s school board’s decision to ban him and his boyfriend from his Catholic school prom.

The school board argued it was exercising its religious freedom by banning Hall and his partner from the celebration. Hall’s lawyer argued the public education act forbade the school from discriminating.

Ultimately, Hall won a temporary injunction in what was only a partial victory. The judge in the case, Robert McKinnon, decided not to rule on the larger issues.

Doug Elliott, one of the lawyers involved in that case, says the situation unfolding in Ontario over gay-straight alliances is a chance to finish that argument.

“This is a turning point in the history of our education system,” Elliott says. “Either Catholic schools are going to adapt to this new environment and are going to accept that they are subject to the ultimate regulation of the government of Ontario, which is a secular institution … or they’ll decide to fight it. And if they do decide to fight it, I think quite frankly, they’re going to end up losing.”

Read more: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/life/Student+group+could+push+Catholic+schools+into+clash+with+province+observers/6619818/story.html#ixzz1vXuqJugf

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Bishops Search for Condoms in Cookie Boxes

By MARY E. HUNT, 21 May 2012, Religion Dispatches

At last, the bishops and dieters have a common enemy.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is having a Saturday Night Live moment. Emboldened by the Vatican’s hostile takeover of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the gentlemen have shown their prowess by choosing to investigate the Girl Scouts of the USA. Which would be comical—first the nuns, now the Girl Scouts—if the goal were not so pernicious and the outcome so damaging, especially to the bishops.

The tactics against the girls and the women are taken from one playbook, the goal of intimidation is the same, and the pushback in both cases is distracting from more pressing problems at hand. Still, you wonder who does their public relations, as the bishops are now about as popular as a recession.

The apparent goal of this exercise of “investigating” gender female persons is to set up and enforce a male-defined model of girlhood/womanhood. A Vatican-, or in this case, USCCB-launched investigation is what Sister Sandra Schneiders, IHM, calls the equivalent of a grand jury investigation. There is the presumption that something is wrong, not something right, that there is guilt to be uncovered, not virtue to be unleashed. What is wrong seems to be women and girls thinking for themselves and acting for the common good.

What boggles the mind is why the Roman Catholic Church would be so presumptuous as to investigate what does not belong to it. Granted, some Scout troops meet at Catholic churches, but that does not make them Catholic entities any more than the Alcoholics Anonymous group that meets in the same basement. In the case of the Scouts, the supposed connections with groups that support reproductive justice are, for the most part, links to websites where girls can find further information on issues, hardly a ringing endorsement of the groups’ missions. Sex education is not an integral part of scouting; that is something left to families. What is really at issue here is that women and girls involved in the Girl Scouts do not ask permission of ecclesial men to live as responsible citizens of a global world.

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Catholic Bishops Threaten to Sue for Their Right to Hate Lady Parts

By Kaili Joy Gray, Daily Kos, 21 May 12

The Catholic Church's U.S. hierarchy warned Tuesday that without quick action by Congress, it will sue the Obama administration for mandating that insurance plans provide birth control to women without a co-pay. (photo: Daily Kos)

The Catholic Church’s U.S. hierarchy warned Tuesday that without quick action by Congress, it will sue the Obama administration for mandating that insurance plans provide birth control to women without a co-pay.

“[F]orcing individual and institutional stakeholders to sponsor and subsidize an otherwise widely available product over their religious and moral objections serves no legitimate, let alone compelling, government interest,” lawyers for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in a letter to federal regulators.

Talk about sore losers. The bishops had their chance to weigh in on the Obama administration’s new policy to require health insurers to cover birth control without co-pays. The Obama administration generously carved out a boatload of exemptions for them to address their “concerns.” The bishops even got their puppets in Congress to introduce bills on their behalf – which the American people overwhelmingly opposed. They even got themselves invited to the boys-only congressional hearing on birth control – because who understands birth control better than a bunch of supposedly celibate men?

At the end of the day, though, they lost. They made their case that basic health care for women violates their “religious liberty” and makes Jesus sad – and they lost. They launched a charm offensive to “set the record straight,” arguing that the Catholic Church totally loves women’s health care and has been “the most effective private provider of such care anywhere around,” and people better stop saying mean stuff about them or they won’t be able “to live out the imperatives of our faith to serve, teach, heal, feed, and care for others.” And no one bought it.

You’d think, after such a resounding “f*ck off” from the American public, the bishops might leave women’s health care alone and go back to focusing on those important things they claim to care about. But when the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), led by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and the president of the bishops’ conference, met to decide whether to accept defeat or keep whining, they of course decided to keep whining, even as they concluded:

Prayer is the ultimate source of our strength – for without God, we can do nothing; but with God, all things are possible.

Well, apparently their prayers didn’t work, so they’ve decided to scrap the God plan in favor of litigation:

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Majority of Ontarians favour gay-straight alliances and oppose Catholic school funding, poll finds

By Robert Benzie, 16 May 2012, Toronto Star

queeringthechurch.com

Ontarians favour the right of students to form gay-straight alliance clubs in Catholic schools by a margin of almost two to one, a new poll suggests.

The Forum Research survey also found more than half of Ontario residents — 53 per cent — oppose the public funding of Catholic schools with 40 per cent supportive and 6 per cent unsure.

As the issue of gay-straight alliances dominates debate around new anti-bullying legislation, the poll concluded people are accepting of the anti-homophobia clubs designed to promote tolerance.

Fifty-one per cent agreed that students in publicly funded Catholic schools should be allowed to form clubs under that sometimes contentious name with 28 per cent opposed and 21 per cent undecided.

“Now that people are more familiar with them, there’s more support for them,” Forum president Lorne Bozinoff told the Star on Tuesday.

Forum’s interactive voice response telephone survey of 1,072 Ontarians was conducted Monday.

Bozinoff said it is difficult to say whether high-profile opposition to gay-straight alliances from some Catholic educators has had an impact on support for public funding of the religious schools, which is enshrined in the constitution.

“This is a killer issue in Ontario,” he said of separate school funding. “No one politically is going to go anywhere near this. It’s explosive and uncontrollable.”

Premier Dalton McGuinty, whose opposition to a Progressive Conservative scheme to extend funding to other faith-based schools helped his Liberals win the 2007 election, said he’s “confident” the controversy can be resolved.

“It’s really important that when our kids go to school that they are welcomed there, that they are supported there, that they are accepted for who they are and that they be able to establish these gay-straight alliances, the student-support groups, call them whatever name that you want,” McGuinty told reporters at a St. Clair Ave. West seniors’ home Tuesday.

While Catholic teachers have generally been supportive of the alliances, trustees and many parents have opposed them as not being in accordance with church teachings.

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Coming Out As a Heretic

Not religious, not spiritual, not atheist—what’s left?

By KATE BLANCHARD, 10 May 2012, Religion Dispatches

Heresy has not always been a good option

I could very much relate to the recent NPR story about a Christian minister losing her faith. Like her, I once counted myself among the über-faithful but then “fell away” in my twenties. Despite marrying a clergyman and spending lots of time in theological school, I never made it back to the one true way.

But there is a major difference in my story and this minister’s story, which is that she has embraced the name “atheist,” while I cannot bring myself to do so.

This reluctance is not because I have anything obvious to lose. Being an atheist would not cause any new familial strife; and unlike the pastorate, my career does not demand any particular religious orthodoxy. The major issue for me is an aversion to militant secularism, akin to some people’s aversion to “organized religion.” The new atheism, of the sort that has celebrities, conventions, media outlets, or protest marches, is not simply about doubting the existence of traditional deities. It is more often about intellectual elitism, and sometimes even outright racism toward people whom Christopher Hitchens referred to as “semi-stupefied peasants in desert regions.” Orthodox secularism, it seems, is about feeling superior to those poor, deluded souls who still cling to religion—that weird little psycho-social appendix left over from some earlier stage in human evolution.

Other common categories don’t seem to fit well either. The ever-popular “spiritual but not religious” implies a particular type of interior life—one grounded in emotion and experience more than cognition. A Jewish friend of mine calls herself “religious but not spiritual,” but this doesn’t seem to work as well in a Protestant framework, where individual faith is emphasized over ethnicity or outward traditions. The “Emerging Church” is a possible refuge, but it still strikes me as vaguely imperialistic; and try as I might, I simply don’t see myself among the so-called “rise of the nones.”

Thus, for folks who are unorthodox but aren’t atheists, who care about metaphysics but who aren’t mystics, perhaps the good old-fashioned term “heretic” will satisfy. The kind of heresy I’m talking about here is what Thomas Aquinas defined as “restricting belief to certain points of Christ’s doctrine [as determined by the Roman Catholic hierarchy] selected and fashioned at pleasure.” (I would question only the implication that heretics are unique in “selecting and fashioning” their beliefs “at pleasure.”)

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Game Over for the Climate

JAMES HANSEN | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR |New York Times | May 10, 2012


James Hansen directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and is the author of “Storms of My Grandchildren.”

GLOBAL warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”

If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.

That is the long-term outlook. But near-term, things will be bad enough. Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.

If this sounds apocalyptic, it is. This is why we need to reduce emissions dramatically. President Obama has the power not only to deny tar sands oil additional access to Gulf Coast refining, which Canada desires in part for export markets, but also to encourage economic incentives to leave tar sands and other dirty fuels in the ground.

The global warming signal is now louder than the noise of random weather, as I predicted would happen by now in the journal Science in 1981. Extremely hot summers have increased noticeably. We can say with high confidence that the recent heat waves in Texas and Russia, and the one in Europe in 2003, which killed tens of thousands, were not natural events — they were caused by human-induced climate change.

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Changes to immigration policy will affect nearly all aspects of Canadian life

By RATNA OMIDVAR | The Globe and Mail | May. 09, 2012

This is part of The Immigrant Answer –The Globe’s series on the future of immigration in Canada. Read the original story here.

The Canadian immigration landscape is shifting beneath our feet. When the dust settles, where will Canada be?

Some of the proposed changes, such as dealing with the backlog, are long overdue. Other changes may also be necessary. They will nevertheless have a series of unintended consequences for the makeup of Canada’s immigrant population and its ethnic diversity. It is these consequences that we should be concerned about.

Recently, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has spoken highly of the Australian immigration model with its strict language requirements. High levels of language proficiency are a requirement in our labour market. But raising the bar on language competency may trigger an increase in immigration from English-speaking countries – Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand – at the cost of immigrants from emerging economic superpowers such as China, India, Russia and Brazil.

Add to this administrative changes such as the closing of visa offices in Bangladesh, Iran and elsewhere and we will begin to see a shift in source countries. Recent media reports show that the numbers of immigrants applying for permanent residence from China, India, the Philippines and Pakistan fell drastically in 2011 – perhaps in response to changes made to our immigrant selection system in the last year.

What implications will these changes have for Canada’s future? One unintended consequence relates to the success of second-generation immigrants. Research shows that the children of immigrants have higher rates of postsecondary education than those of non-immigrant Canadians. What’s more, those born to parents from Africa, China and other Asian countries attend university and college at far higher rates than both non-immigrant Canadians and those born to immigrants from anglosphere countries.

The changes are coming at a furious pace on an almost daily basis. By seeking to eliminate the backlog by expunging those waiting in the queue, we choose efficiency over fairness. By moving to “super visas” and away from permanent residence for our immigrants’ parents and grandparents, we choose transience over inclusion. When employers select workers who will become future citizens with little guidance, we choose head-hunting over nation-building. When we raise the bar on language, we choose homogeneity over diversity. By streamlining the refugee adjudication process, we may well be choosing efficiency over human rights. Finally, when we say to employers, “Pay temporary foreign workers less than you might pay Canadians,” we choose exploitation over fairness.

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