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Posts Tagged ‘american’

ALEC Seeks Lower Taxes in US for Smokeless Tobacco Marketed to Kids

By Beth Hawkins, MinnPost, 01 August 12

Candy-flavored smokeless tobacco is being marketed to teens and tweens. (photo: Public Domain)

At their meeting last week in Salt Lake City, members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) attended a workshop entitled, “Can Tobacco Cure Smoking?” conducted by Dr. Brad Rodu, chair of tobacco harm reduction research at the University of Louisville.

Rodu, a dentist by training, has conducted research suggesting that steering tobacco users to smokeless tobacco is a “free-market” means of reducing the rate of smoking-related diseases. His program is largely funded by the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., an ALEC member and manufacturer of Copenhagen and Skoal, among other brands.

ALEC bills itself as an educational organization. Its corporate and ideological members pay tens of thousands of dollars to join. Lawmakers pay $50 a year and are eligible for scholarships to underwrite the cost of traveling, often with their families, to frequent meetings at ritzy destinations.

There, the elected officials are given model legislation to take home and introduce in their statehouses. Over the course of the last two years, some 60 pieces of ALEC-like legislation have been introduced in Minnesota, including a bill very much like the one Rodu’s workshop promoted.

More Attractive to Youth

In 2011, three Minnesota Republicans introduced a bill that would lower taxes on smokeless tobacco. Cigarettes are taxed by the pack. The bill would have made smokeless tobacco cheaper, and thus more attractive to teens and ‘tweens, by taxing it by weight instead.

Authored by Reps. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville; Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove; and Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, Minnesota House File 1079 died after a first reading. Of the three, Zellers is the only one known to have ties to ALEC.

The ALEC model bill — entitled “Resolution on the Enhancement of Economic Neutrality, Commercial Efficiency, and Fairness in the Taxation of Moist Smokeless Tobacco (MST) Products” — fared better in Wisconsin, where lawmakers got a letter in support from ALEC. Gov. Scott Walker, the guiding force behind other ALEC proposals, such as right to work, shoot-first and voter ID legislation, vetoed it.

If the new taxing system applied only to old-fashioned chewing tobacco, it’s hard to imagine the push would be as hard. But the days where smokeless tobacco meant a squat puck containing unpalatable dip or snuff are long over.

Nicotine in Candy Flavors

These days, nicotine delivery systems are much more appealing to youth and much more likely to escape adult attention. There are mints that look like Tic Tacs packaged in tins made to resemble Altoids, candy-flavored blunts that look like fruit leather and gum. Most popular are “snus,” tea-bag-like packets kids suck on.

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Climate change study forces sceptical scientists to change minds

Earth’s land shown to have warmed by 1.5C over past 250 years, with humans being almost entirely responsible

Leo Hickman, guardian.co.uk, 29 July 2012

Prof Richard Muller considers himself a converted sceptic following the study’s surprise results. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian

The Earth’s land has warmed by 1.5C over the past 250 years and “humans are almost entirely the cause”, according to a scientific study set up to address climate change sceptics’ concerns about whether human-induced global warming is occurring.

Prof Richard Muller, a physicist and climate change sceptic who founded the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (Best) project, said he was surprised by the findings. “We were not expecting this, but as scientists, it is our duty to let the evidence change our minds.” He added that he now considers himself a “converted sceptic” and his views had undergone a “total turnaround” in a short space of time.

“Our results show that the average temperature of the Earth’s land has risen by 2.5F over the past 250 years, including an increase of 1.5 degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases,” Muller wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times.

The team of scientists based at the University of California, Berkeley, gathered and merged a collection of 14.4m land temperature observations from 44,455 sites across the world dating back to 1753. Previous data sets created by Nasa, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Met Office and the University of East Anglia’s climate research unit only went back to the mid-1800s and used a fifth as many weather station records.

The funding for the project included $150,000 from the Charles G Koch Charitable Foundation, set up by the billionaire US coal magnate and key backer of the climate-sceptic Heartland Institute thinktank. The research also received $100,000 from the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research, which was created by Bill Gates.

Unlike previous efforts, the temperature data from various sources was not homogenised by hand – a key criticism by climate sceptics. Instead, the statistical analysis was “completely automated to reduce human bias”. The Best team concluded that, despite their deeper analysis, their own findings closely matched the previous temperature reconstructions, “but with reduced uncertainty”.

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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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Nuns Weigh Response to Scathing Vatican Rebuke

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN, Published: July 28, 2012, New York Times

Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times
Jennifer Barnes in Jackson, Mich., last month to show support for Nuns on the Bus, a group of Catholic sisters traveling through nine states to urge “economic justice” and protest proposed budget cuts.

American nuns are preparing to assemble in St. Louis next week for a pivotal meeting at which they will try to decide how to respond to a scathing critique of their doctrinal loyalty issued this spring by the Vatican — a report that has prompted Roman Catholics across the country to rally to the nuns’ defense.

The nuns will be weighing whether to cooperate with the three bishops appointed by the Vatican to supervise the overhaul of their organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of women’s Catholic religious orders in the United States.

The Leadership Conference says it is considering at least six options that range from submitting graciously to the takeover to forming a new organization independent of Vatican control, as well other possible courses of action that lie between those poles.

What is in essence a power struggle between the nuns and the church’s hierarchy had been building for decades, church scholars say. At issue are questions of obedience and autonomy, what it means to be a faithful Catholic and different understandings of the Second Vatican Council.

Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the Leadership Conference, said in an interview that the Vatican seems to regard questioning as defiance, while the sisters see it as a form of faithfulness.

“We have a differing perspective on obedience,” Sister Farrell said. “Our understanding is that we need to continue to respond to the signs of the times, and the new questions and issues that arise in the complexities of modern life are not something we see as a threat.”

These same conflicts are gripping the Catholic Church at large. Nearly 50 years after the start of Vatican II, which was intended to open the church to the modern world and respond to the “signs of the times,” the church is gravely polarized between a progressive wing still eager for change and reform and a traditionalist flank focused on returning to what it sees as doctrinal fundamentals.

The sisters have been caught in the riptide. Most of them have spent their lives serving the sick, the poor, children and immigrants — and not engaged in battles over theology. But when some sisters after Vatican II began to question church prohibitions on women serving as priests, artificial birth control or the acceptance of same-sex relationships, their religious orders did not shut down such discussion or treat it as apostasy. In fact, they have continued to insist on their right to debate and challenge church teaching, which has resulted in the Vatican’s reproof.

The former head of the church’s doctrinal office, Cardinal William J. Levada, said after his last meeting with the nuns’ leaders in June, just before he retired, that they should regard his office’s harsh assessment as “an invitation to obedience.”

“I admire religious men and women,” Cardinal Levada said in an interview with The National Catholic Reporter. “But if they aren’t people who believe and express the faith of the church, the doctrines of the church, then I think they’re misrepresenting who they are and who they ought to be.”

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Church Official in Philadelphia Gets Prison in Abuse Case

By JON HURDLE and ERIK ECKHOLM, July 24, 2012, The New York Times

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Msgr. William J. Lynn, the first Roman Catholic Church official in the United States to be convicted of covering up sexual abuses by priests under his supervision, was sentenced Tuesday to three to six years in prison.

“You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong,” Judge M. Teresa Sarmina of Common Pleas Court said as she imposed the sentence, which was just short of the maximum of three and a half to seven years. Monsignor Lynn must serve at least three years before he is eligible for parole.

Monsignor Lynn, 61, was found guilty on June 22 of child endangerment after a three-month trial that revealed efforts over decades by the Philadelphia archdiocese to play down accusations of child sexual abuse and avoid scandal. He was acquitted of conspiracy and a second child endangerment charge.

Monsignor Lynn served as secretary for clergy for the 1.5 million-member archdiocese from 1992 to 2004, recommending priest assignments and investigating abuse complaints. During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that he had shielded predatory priests, sometimes transferring them to unwary parishes, and lied to the public to avoid bad publicity and lawsuits.

The conviction of a senior official, followed by a prison sentence, has reverberated among Catholic officials around the country, church experts said.

“I think this is going to send a very strong signal to every bishop and everybody who worked for a bishop that if they don’t do the right thing, they may go to jail,” said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. “They can’t just say ‘the bishop made me do it.’ That’s not going to be an excuse that holds up in court.”

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US Religious Right Propelling Homophobia in African Countries

July 24, 2012 by Common Dreams

Ugandans demonstrate against homosexuality in the streets of Jinja and urge their leaders to pass a strict anti-homosexuality bill that would make certain offences punishable by death. (The Guardian/Trevor Snapp/Corbis)

A wave of US based religious rightwing groups working in several African countries are expanding their drive to promote both homophobia and anti-abortion stereotypes and governmental policies, according to a new study by Boston-based Political Research Associates (PRA).

The report, Colonizing African Values: How the US Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa, claims that far right groups such as the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), founded by the televangelist Pat Robertson, the Catholic group Human Life International and the Mormon group Family Watch International, work with local people and governments to rally against LGBTI rights and craft anti-LGBTI legislation.

The report traces the “cultural colonization” of Africa. Over the the past five years, “[the groups] have launched or expanded Africa-based offices dedicated to promoting their Christian right worldview,” the report states.

“A loose network of rightwing charismatic Christians called the transformation movement joins them in fanning the flames of the culture wars over homosexuality and abortion by backing prominent African campaigners and political leaders.”

The ACLJ have opened offices in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda in which they train lawyers to work on constitutions that reflect “Christian values” and include phrases such as “life begins at conception,” the Guardian reports.

For instance, a law instituting the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” in Uganda was created and introduced by a far right christian group in 2009. The bill was thought to have been defeated after PRA exposed the instigators, but has since been reintroduced in Uganda’s Parliament. Similar anti-gay laws passed in Burundi in 2009, Malawi in 2010 and Nigeria in 2011.

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America’s First Woman In Space Was A Lesbian

By Andrew Sullivan, The Dish, 24 July 2012

That wasn’t too hard, was it?

But it takes a long time into the NYT obit of Sally Ride for readers to realize that the first American woman in space was a lesbian, and, even then, you have to be alert. Maybe this could have tipped them off:

Dr. Ride was known for guarding her privacy. She rejected most offers for product endorsements, memoirs and movies, and her reticence lasted to the end. At her request, NASA kept her illness secret. In 1983, writing in The Washington Post, Susan Okie, a journalist and longtime friend, described Dr. Ride as elusive and enigmatic, protective of her emotions. “During college and graduate school,” Dr. Okie wrote, “I had to interrogate her to find out what was happening in her personal life.”

Now talk about a buried lede! The only thing preventing the NYT from writing an honest obit is homophobia. They may not realize it; they may not mean it; but it is absolutely clear from the obit that Ride’s sexual orientation was obviously central to her life. And her “partner” (ghastly word) and their relationship is recorded only perfunctorily. The NYT does not routinely only mention someone’s spouse in the survivors section. When you have lived with someone for 27 years, some account of that relationship is surely central to that person’s life. To excise it completely is an act of obliteration. I’m afraid the Beast’s tribute is worse. Lynn Sherr manages to write an appreciation which essentially treats Ride as a heterosexual. When Sherr writes this …


In technological terms, NASA was pushing ahead toward the 21st century. But in human terms, it had finally entered the 20th. And it could not have picked a better pioneer.

… she is referring to Ride’s gender, not her sexual orientation. And one often over-looked aspect of this is the long-standing discomfort of some in the feminist movement with lesbians in their midst. Feminists often “inned” lesbian pioneers, or the lesbians closeted themselves. This was not because they were in a reactionary movement; it was because they were in a progressive movement that did not want to be “tarred” with the lesbian image. (Think of Bayard Rustin for a gay male equivalent). Now, of course, Ride chose the closet throughout her life. Given who she was, how independent and brilliant, brave and cool, this is surely testament to how deep homophobia ran in American life. But it may also, as one reader suggests, be part of a welcome shift:

We only know O’Shaugnessy is a female from that vague abstraction – “partner” – and from a parenthetical statement that Ms. O’Shaugnessy was the CEO of the late Ride’s company. I have no idea if Ride was out to her friends or out to the public. But this could be another replication of the Anderson Cooper phenomenon – a movement towards a gay equality where people can come out on their own terms, without making what they perceive to be a big deal out of it. Hopefully we’re getting to the point where being gay is an utterly unremarkable fact in a great American life.

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The Divine Miss M

By FRANK BRUNI, July 23, 2012, op-ed The New York Times

“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people. Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children.”

What I find most fascinating about Michele Bachmann — and there are many, many more where she came from — is that she presents herself as a godly woman, humbly devoted to her Christian faith. I’d like to meet that god, and I’d like to understand that Christianity.

Does it call for smearing people on the basis of flimsy conspiracy theories? That’s what Bachmann just did to Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, by essentially suggesting she might be a mole for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Does it endorse scaring young women away from immunizations that could spare them serious illness? Bachmann did that during her memorable presidential campaign, when she blithely drew an unsubstantiated link between a vaccine for the human papillomavirus and mental retardation.

Does it encourage gratuitously divisive condemnations of Barack Obama as “anti-American,” one of many incendiary phrases in her attacks against him in 2008? And does it compel a war against homosexuality waged with the language and illogic she uses?

She has said that gay men and lesbians are dysfunctional products of abuse and agents of “sexual anarchy,” and when the singer and songwriter Melissa Etheridge was battling breast cancer years ago, Bachmann helpfully chimed in: “This may be an opportunity for her now to be open to some spiritual things, now that she is suffering with that physical disease. She is a lesbian.”

Bachmann’s concept of Christian love brims with hate, and she has a deep satchel of stones to throw. From what kind of messiah did she learn that?

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Half Of American Households Hold 1 Percent Of Wealth

Dan Froomkin, Huffington Post,20 July 2012

WASHINGTON — The share of the nation’s wealth held by the less affluent half of American households dropped precipitously after the financial crisis, to 1.1 percent, according to new calculations by Congress’s nonpartisan research service.

By contrast, the share of total net worth held by the weathiest 1 percent of American households continued rising, hitting 34.5 percent in 2010. The top 10 percent’s share was 74.5 percent.

The bottom half’s share of wealth has declined since it reached a high of 3.6 percent in 1995. But the most dramatic drop occurred after 2007, according to the analysis of data from the Federal Reserve’s latest Survey of Consumer Finances.

Another staggering indicator of the concentration of wealth at the top in the U.S: When all household wealth is divided by the number of households, the mean household net worth in 2010 totals $498,800. But the median household net worth — the level at which half the households have more and half have less — was $77,300, meaning that the rich have so much that the average net worth in the U.S. is actually 6.5 times that of a typical American family.

The study found that the share of wealth held by the top 10 percent of households grew from 1989 to 2010. In every other segment of the remaining 90 percent of households — i.e. the middle and lower class — that share went down.

The study cites a recent Federal Reserve Bulletin article’s conclusion that “a broad collapse in house prices” was the main reason for the changes between 2007 and 2010. The decline in the stock market “played a considerable but lesser role” in part because stock prices, unlike home prices, have broadly recovered.

The report makes it clear that there is cause for alarm. “Inequality is the term commonly applied to the concentration of total net worth among the relatively few households at the top of the wealth distribution,” it states.

But — realistically — the report doesn’t include any policy prescriptions. Rather, it notes that within Congress there are “[d]ifferent views about the impact of redistributive policies on long-term economic growth.”

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Redford’s energy vision gains traction with premiers

KAREN HOWLETT AND BILL CURRY, The Globe and Mail, Jul. 20 2012

Alberta Premier Alison Redford is quietly building support among her provincial colleagues for a national energy strategy, saying Canada’s prosperity hinges on forging a united front on exploiting the country’s vast natural resource riches.
(John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Alberta Premier Alison Redford is quietly building support among her provincial colleagues for a national energy strategy, saying Canada’s prosperity hinges on forging a united front to exploit the country’s vast resource riches.

Ms. Redford has lined up the support of other premiers in Western Canada ahead of next week’s Council of the Federation meeting of provincial and territorial leaders in Halifax.

She met privately on Wednesday with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty over dinner at Toronto’s Windsor Arms Hotel, where they discussed how both their provinces have a vested interest in developing a strategy that pulls together Alberta’s land-locked oil sector and a wide variety of other energy sources from British Columbia to Atlantic Canada.

The relationship between the two premiers is taking on a more cordial tone in contrast to their war of words earlier this year, when Mr. McGunity blamed his province’s economic woes on an Alberta-fuelled “petro dollar.”

For Ms. Redford, the dinner meeting was her latest effort to use Canada’s global status as an energy superpower to help shape the national agenda. Aside from the premiers in Western Canada endorsing her pan-Canadian energy strategy, she has also held one-on-one meetings with other premiers in Atlantic Canada, including Nova Scotia’s Darrell Dexter, host of next week’s gathering, who is on board.

“I’m pleased that premiers have decided we can talk about this,” Ms. Redford said in an interview. “There has been some uptake on the importance of the energy economy.”

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A Long Hot Summer

by Bill McKibben, July 19, 2012 by Common Dreams

Photo Credit: Jan Alff Wiegel, Bright Green Marin 2011

It’s turning into a hot climate summer in two ways, only one of which you can measure with a thermometer.

Amidst the deepening drought, the summer’s fourth heat wave, and the continued western fires, there’s something else breaking out: a siege of citizen uprisings at key points around the country all designed to keep coal in the hole, oil in the soil, gas… underground.

Ever since the mass arrests protesting the Keystone pipeline last summer (the largest civil disobedience action in the U.S. in 30 years) there’s been renewed interest in confronting the fossil fuel industry and its political enablers. Some have been following this path for years, of course — late next week, beginning July 25, opponents of mountain-top removal coal-mining will resume their long-standing (and increasingly successful fight), with a week-long Mountain Mobilization that will likely include civil disobedience.

A few days later, activists from around the country will descend on D.C. for a rally against fracking — perhaps the fastest-growing wing of the environmental movement. That gathering won’t lead to arrests — but others will.

Earlier this week, for instance, Ohio protesters chained themselves to the gates outside a so-called injection well, not far from where earlier this year disposal of fracking water had helped trigger a swarm of earthquakes. And just yesterday Josh Fox and Mark Ruffalo announced plans for an August 25 gathering designed to keep fracking at bay in New York State.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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When Religious Leaders Lose Their Faith


Teresa MacBain was pastor of a United Methodist church. In March, she made a confession: She is now an atheist. MacBain, NPR religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty and Jerry DeWitt, executive director of Recovering from Religion talk about how losing faith changes lives and communities.


NEAL CONAN, HOST, National Public Radio (NPR), May 7, 2012

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I’m Neal Conan in Washington. Teresa MacBain grew up in church, the daughter of a pastor. She says she felt the call of God at the age of six and became a pastor herself nine years ago at a United Methodist church in Florida.

Along the way, she asked herself questions, questions she believed would strengthen her faith but which came to undermine it. In what she describes as a eureka moment, she realized she was an atheist. Since then, her life has changed drastically. In losing her faith, she also lost friends, a community, a once cherished relationship and of course her job.

If you were a leader in your religious community, clergy or laity, and you lost your faith, what happened to you? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That’s at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

You may have heard this story last week on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, our religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty joins us in just a moment. But the subject of her story, Teresa MacBain, joins us now from member station WFSU in Tallahassee, until just over a month ago the pastor of Lake Johnson United Methodist Church. Nice to have you with us today.

TERESA MACBAIN: Thank you, nice to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And that eureka moment, if I’m not intruding too much, when was that exactly, and what were you doing?

MACBAIN: It’s really hard to put a finger on it because the struggle, at least for me in my own experience, was I kept vacillating back and forth. Even after I felt that I no longer believed, my mind tried to convince me that if I just worked hard enough or just pressed through that I would come out on the side, you know, the side of faith.

Probably, I guess last fall, I really began to understand that that wasn’t going to happen and that I needed to find a way as quickly as possible to exit the ministry.

CONAN: And then you’re dealing – leading a double life in a sense.

MACBAIN: Exactly, every day, every week.

CONAN: And eventually you make the decision to come clean, but I think some people had questions about why you didn’t discuss this with the congregation, with the leaders there before you went public.

MACBAIN: Well, so that’s a tricky situation, and honestly, if you’ve not been in that situation – I don’t think there’s really any clear answer as to which way to go with it. I did send some emails, a phone call here or there, trying to set something up, but, you know, think about it.

Here’s a scenario for you: You call in a member of your congregation and say I need to talk to you, I’m your pastor, I’m your spiritual leader, you’ve entrusted your life to me, and oh, by the way, I don’t believe anymore. Now how would that really work out? And I just couldn’t find a way within myself to make that work.

CONAN: And I’m sorry to press on this, but a letter of resignation?

MACBAIN: Yeah, I did actually send in something that – and I don’t mean to speak ill of anyone else, but I did send in some paperwork before I came out officially that was not made public.

CONAN: Oh, so there was some communication there, and so – when – but really, the majority of your flock was utterly surprised.

MACBAIN: Yeah, they were not told. There were only a couple of people that actually knew, and I didn’t know that until after the fact, and I really regret that. I can only imagine how betrayed and how blindsided they felt when they saw the video or heard the news.

CONAN: And have you spoken with any of them?

MACBAIN: I have. There were three ladies who came to me and physically spoke to me, and they were – they didn’t understand. They were confused. They wanted answers, which I gladly talked to them and shared, and the conversations ended with them saying, you know, we love you, we’ve always loved you, we miss you, we wish this hadn’t happened, but that doesn’t change the relationship.

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The People’s Bishop


“‘You can’t sit anymore in churches listening to stodgy liturgies. They put you to sleep. Most of these churches are museums with floorshows. They are a caricature of what Jesus intended. Jesus would be turning over the money-changing tables in their vestibules. Those in the church may be good-hearted and even well-meaning, but they are ignoring the urgent, beckoning call to engage with the world.’”

07 May 2012, By Chris Hedges, Truthdig

Retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard is detained by police, December 17, 2011. (Photo: Ozier Muhammad / The New York Times)

Retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard was arrested in Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza in New York City on Tuesday night as he participated in the May 1 Occupy demonstrations. He and 15 other military veterans were taken into custody after they linked arms to hold the plaza against a police attempt to clear it. There were protesters behind them who, perhaps because of confusion, perhaps because of miscommunication or perhaps they were unwilling to risk arrest, melted into the urban landscape. But those in the thin line from Veterans for Peace, of which the bishop is a member, stood their ground. They were handcuffed, herded into a paddy wagon and taken to jail.
It was Packard’s second arrest as part of the Occupy protests. Last Dec. 17 he was arrested when he leapt over a fence in his flowing bishop’s robe to spearhead an attempt to occupy a vacant lot owned by Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. The December action by the Occupy movement was a response to the New York City Police Department’s storming and eradication of the encampment in Zuccotti Park. Packard will appear in court in June to face the trespassing charge that resulted. Now, because of this second arrest, he faces the possibility of three months in jail.
Packard’s moral and intellectual courage stands in stark contrast with the timidity of nearly all clergy and congregants in all of our major religious institutions. Religious leaders, in churches, synagogues and mosques, at best voice pious and empty platitudes about justice or carry out nominal acts of charity aimed at those bearing the weight of resistance in the streets. And Packard’s arrests serve as a reminder of the price that we—especially those who claim to be informed by the message of the Christian Gospel—must be willing to pay to defy the destruction visited on us all by the corporate state. He is one of the few clergy members who dare to bear a genuine Christian witness in an age that cries out in anguish for moral guidance.

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Methodists Vote to Keep Homosexuality “Incompatible”

by CANDACE CHELLEW-HODGE, May 3, 2012, Religion Dispatches

lansingunited.org

The United Methodist Church voted today to keep intact its section in the Book of Discipline that call homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” and sanctions only heterosexual marriage. New wording would have removed those passages.

The vote came after a debate that became contentious when one African delegate compared homosexuality to bestiality and declared that God would not create humans as gay or lesbian.

During the vote, supporters of the petition to change the Book of Discipline stood at the edges of the convention floor, or the “bar” as the church calls it. As the debate continued, many delegates moved from their seats to join the members on the margins to show their solidarity. In the end the petition failed to pass.

When the conference reconvened after a break, those who supported the petition remained in the hall, singing as business began again. The presiding bishop, Michael Coyner of the Indiana Conference, shut down the meeting, calling the LGBT advocates a “security concern.”

The morning’s vote and actions by the bishop were a disappointment to David Braden, the director of development for the Reconciling Ministries Network, which works for the full inclusion of LGBT people into the UMC:

“We grieve that the United Methodist Church really had the opportunity to live into inclusive gospel of Jesus Christ and live into its tagline of Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds and extend its welcome to LGBT people and unfortunately, chose not to do that. We grieve that UMC continues to harm and discrimination against LGBT people. We’re already here in the United Methodist Church and we will continue to be that shining light on top of the hill to show the world what it means to be UMC, and that is to welcome all people.”

Even if this petition failed, said Daniel Viana, a Brazilian-born music minister at a small conservative Hispanic UMC in Chicago, the presence of LGBT people and their allies at the convention is a strong witness to just how active the LGBT community already is in the church.

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Family Battle Offers Look Inside Lavish TV Ministry

By ERIK ECKHOLM, Published: May 4, 2012, New York Times

The Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando, Fla., is part of the Trinity Broadcasting Network’s operations. - Brian Blanco for The New York Times

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — For 39 years, the Trinity Broadcasting Network has urged viewers to give generously and reap the Lord’s bounty in return.

The prosperity gospel preached by Paul and Janice Crouch, who built a single station into the world’s largest Christian television network, has worked out well for them.

Mr. and Mrs. Crouch have his-and-her mansions one street apart in a gated community here, provided by the network using viewer donations and tax-free earnings. But Mrs. Crouch, 74, rarely sleeps in the $5.6 million house with tennis court and pool. She mostly lives in a large company house near Orlando, Fla., where she runs a side business, the Holy Land Experience theme park. Mr. Crouch, 78, has an adjacent home there too, but rarely visits. Its occupant is often a security guard who doubles as Mrs. Crouch’s chauffeur.

The twin sets of luxury homes only hint at the high living enjoyed by the Crouches, inspirational television personalities whose multitudes of stations and satellite signals reach millions of worshipers across the globe. Almost since they started in the 1970s, the couple have been criticized for secrecy about their use of donations, which totaled $93 million in 2010.

Now, after an upheaval with Shakespearean echoes, one son in this first family of televangelism has ousted the other to become the heir apparent. A granddaughter, who was in charge of TBN’s finances, has gone public with the most detailed allegations of financial improprieties yet, which TBN has denied, saying its practices were audited and legal.

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North Carolina Pastor Sean Harris Urges Parents To ‘Man Up’ And ‘Punch’ Effeminate Children

Erik Kain, 5/02/2012, Forbes

NC Pastor Sean Harris, who urged parents to hit potentially gay children in his sermon

It’s hardly surprising that the ugly rant of Pastor Sean Harris, the senior pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, is going viral online.

The wonderful thing about the combination of the internet and free speech is that when someone says something really ugly and horrifying, their words are called out. We don’t need to clamp down on speech like this through any legal means. The best disinfectant is sunlight, as the saying goes, and social media is the best sunlight we have when it comes to hateful speech.

These days, people can’t simply preach to the choir, as it were. The whole world is right there listening on YouTube and passing it around Facebook and Twitter. Pretty soon your violent sermon is being mocked and scorned across the digital empire. Good thing, too, because Harris’s words deserve condemnation.

Harris says: “So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is four years old and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, ‘Man up, son, get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that is what boys do,’ you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed….Can I make it any clearer? Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male.”

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Homophobic? Maybe You’re Gay

By RICHARD M. RYAN and WILLIAM S. RYAN, Published: April 27, 2012, The New York Times

Chloé Poizat

WHY are political and religious figures who campaign against gay rights so often implicated in sexual encounters with same-sex partners?

In recent years, Ted Haggard, an evangelical leader who preached that homosexuality was a sin, resigned after a scandal involving a former male prostitute; Larry Craig, a United States senator who opposed including sexual orientation in hate-crime legislation, was arrested on suspicion of lewd conduct in a men’s bathroom; and Glenn Murphy Jr., a leader of the Young Republican National Convention and an opponent of same-sex marriage, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after being accused of sexually assaulting another man.

One theory is that homosexual urges, when repressed out of shame or fear, can be expressed as homophobia. Freud famously called this process a “reaction formation” — the angry battle against the outward symbol of feelings that are inwardly being stifled. Even Mr. Haggard seemed to endorse this idea when, apologizing after his scandal for his anti-gay rhetoric, he said, “I think I was partially so vehement because of my own war.”

It’s a compelling theory — and now there is scientific reason to believe it. In this month’s issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we and our fellow researchers provide empirical evidence that homophobia can result, at least in part, from the suppression of same-sex desire.

Our paper describes six studies conducted in the United States and Germany involving 784 university students. Participants rated their sexual orientation on a 10-point scale, ranging from gay to straight. Then they took a computer-administered test designed to measure their implicit sexual orientation. In the test, the participants were shown images and words indicative of hetero- and homosexuality (pictures of same-sex and straight couples, words like “homosexual” and “gay”) and were asked to sort them into the appropriate category, gay or straight, as quickly as possible. The computer measured their reaction times.

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American Nuns Busted for Being a Crazy Bunch of Radical Feminists

By Cassie Murdoch, Jezebel, 20 April 12

The Vatican has decided to crack down on American nuns. (photo: Jezebel)

Offering further proof that the world is becoming an increasingly weird place, the Catholic Church has decided to crack down on American nuns who, as anyone who has been around a nun recently knows, are a bunch of freewheeling party sisters. Wait, what? Yes, the Vatican has just taken disciplinary action against a group of American nuns who they say are proponents of “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” Oh no?

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an umbrella group representing most of America’s 55,000 nuns, is in trouble with the Vatican because they’ve apparently have not been vocal enough in their opposition to gay marriage, abortion, and women’s ordination. So now it’s not enough to just be opposed to things the church is against? You also have to stand up and yell about it? That’s some bullshit right there. As far as those radical feminist ideas they’ve been spreading, that evil has supposedly been taking place at conferences sponsored by the LCWR.

This directive came as the result of a two-year-long investigation – excellent use of resources, boys – and appears to be part of what is seen as the church veering into more conservative territory. You might not think nuns would be the obvious target of any investigations, considering it’s the priests who’ve been causing most of the actual problems the church has faced recently, but of course organized religion never lets a little thing like logic get in the way.

In terms of the Vatican’s specific issues with the LCWR, it appears they’re mostly angry because the nuns have been “silent on the right to life from conception to natural death.” Also they maintain the LCWR hasn’t taken certain things seriously enough:

[T]he church’s biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.

How dare a sister challenge a bishop!

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Vatican Reprimands a Group of U.S. Nuns and Plans Changes

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN | Published: April 18, 2012 | The New York Times

ncronline.org

The Vatican has appointed an American bishop to rein in the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States, saying that an investigation found that the group had “serious doctrinal problems.”

The Vatican’s assessment, issued on Wednesday, said that members of the group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, had challenged church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

The sisters were also reprimanded for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” During the debate over the health care overhaul in 2010, American bishops came out in opposition to the health plan, but dozens of sisters, many of whom belong to the Leadership Conference, signed a statement supporting it — support that provided crucial cover for the Obama administration in the battle over health care.

The conference is an umbrella organization of women’s religious communities, and claims 1,500 members who represent 80 percent of the Catholic sisters in the United States. It was formed in 1956 at the Vatican’s request, and answers to the Vatican, said Sister Annmarie Sanders, the group’s communications director.

Word of the Vatican’s action took the group completely by surprise, Sister Sanders said. She said that the group’s leaders were in Rome on Wednesday for what they thought was a routine annual visit to the Vatican when they were informed of the outcome of the investigation, which began in 2008.

“I’m stunned,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters. Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the Leadership Conference, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage.

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Summit of the Americas agree war on drugs a failure

The problem with the current war-on-drugs policy is that it is unwinnable – and leads to weakened states, staggering levels of violence and continued drug consumption in Canada and the U.S.

From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail, Published Monday, Apr. 16, 2012

This weekend’s Summit of the Americas did not produce a joint communiqué charting the future of the hemisphere, but the 31 leaders agreed on one thing: The U.S.-led war on drugs has been a dismal failure.

The summit pledged to create a panel of experts through the Organization of American States to consider drug policy reforms, and new approaches to stem the violence and power of the drug cartels.

Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has created mandatory-minimum prison terms at home for minor drug offences, seems to have moved beyond the rhetoric of a Reagan-era counter-narcotics crusade: “Everyone believes… that the current approach [to the war on drugs] is not working, but it is not clear what we should do.”

The onus is on the hemisphere’s leaders, including Mr. Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama, to consider innovative, evidence-based policies. The decriminalization of marijuana – which comprises between 25 and 40 per cent of the drug cartels’ revenues – is one option. In the Netherlands, where licensed coffee shops can sell small amounts of marijuana, the rate of cannabis use is just 5 per cent, versus 14 per cent in the U.S. The policy of tolerance helps the government regulate cannabis sellers, and also distinguishes between soft drugs and cocaine and heroin.

In Portugal, where all drugs were decriminalized in 2001, there has been a decrease in serious drug use and drug-related deaths, and a savings to the criminal-justice system. “The aim shouldn’t be to totally decriminalize the whole enterprise, but to set some reasonable standards so that people don’t become criminals for minor drug use and clandestine organizations don’t make obscene amounts of money,” said Allert Brown-Gort, a Latin American expert at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

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The Charter proves to be Canada’s gift to world

By JOHN IBBITSON, From Monday’s Globe and Mail, Published Sunday, Apr. 15, 2012

Queen Elizabeth II signs Canada's constitutional proclamation in Ottawa on April 17, 1982 as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau looks on. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms has caused no end of squabbles among Canadians. Ron Poling/The Canadian Press

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed 30 years ago Tuesday. Since then, not only has it become a national bedrock, but the Charter has replaced the American Bill of Rights as the constitutional document most emulated by other nations.

“Could it be that Canada has surpassed or even supplanted the United States as a leading global exporter of constitutional law? The data suggest that the answer may be yes.” So conclude two U.S. law professors whose analysis of the declining influence of the American constitution on other nations will be published in New York University Law Review in June.

As the first Commonwealth nation to adopt a bill of rights, Canada has influenced other former British colonies as they create or revise their own constitutions, the study finds. Israel, Hong Kong and Eastern European countries have also drawn from the Canadian example.

Both the Charter itself and the nation that gave birth to it serve as an example to the world. “Some countries may be especially prone to borrow from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because they perceive themselves as sharing the same goals and values as Canadian society,” write David S. Law, who is professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, and Mila Versteeg, who teaches law at University of Virginia.

In contrast, professors Law and Versteeg conclude that the American constitution, once the foundational document for new nations in search of a government, has fallen out of favour. It fails to protect rights, such as freedom from discrimination based on race or sex, that are considered fundamental in our time; it enshrines rights, such as the right to bear arms, that other nations don’t value; its courts increasingly interpret the American document so perversely – by claiming that it must only be applied as the founding fathers originally intended – as to render it useless as a tool for tackling modern problems.

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Tennessee likely to pass ‘Monkey Bill,’ open creationism debate in schools

By Jean-Louis Santin, Agence France-Presse Apr 9, 2012 – National Post

If Tennessee’s “Monkey Bill” passes, teachers will be permitted to challenge scientific concepts such as evolution and climate change, and teach the Bible’s creation story, as partially depicted in this Creation Museum exhibit. Tony Tribble for National Post files

WASHINGTON — U.S. conservative Christians and science advocates are clashing again, this time in Tennessee over a bill that would allow debate in public schools over theories such as evolution.

Lawmakers from the southeastern U.S. state home to a strong base of Tea Party activists have approved the bill, which now awaits the signature of Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican.

The measure, which could pass by a Tuesday deadline, would allow public schoolteachers to challenge accepted science on topics such as climate change and evolution in their classrooms without facing sanctions.

If it passes, Tennessee would join nine other states with similar laws promoting creationism, more or less explicitly.

Critics have labeled the legislation the “Monkey Bill” in reference to the highly publicized 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial” in which Tennessee charged high school science teacher John Scopes of violating a state law against teaching “that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

The Tennessee Science Teachers Association and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union rights group, the measure’s biggest critics, are calling for Haslam to veto it. They say it would provide legal cover for educators to teach pseudoscientific ideas.

“They are not talking that much about creationism but rather about Intelligent Design,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU’s Tennessee branch.

“It’s a very nuanced and clever way… to challenge the theory of evolution and allow teachers to inject Intelligent Design and neo-creationism.” Intelligent Design is the idea that scientific evidence can show that life forms developed under the direction of a higher intelligence.

The measure states that “teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.”

It also says the legislation “shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine.”

In a letter to lawmakers, the Tennessee members of the National Academy of Sciences argued that the bill would “miseducate students, harm the state’s national reputation and weaken its efforts to compete in a science-driven global economy.”

The Tennessee Education Association, meanwhile, blasted the “unnecessary legislation.”

But Haslam has already indicated he would “probably” sign the measure into law.

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Sexual Humiliation, a Tool to Control the Masses

By Naomi Wolf, Guardian UK, 06 April 12

Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)

In a five-four ruling this week, the supreme court decided that anyone can be strip-searched upon arrest for any offense, however minor, at any time. This horror show ruling joins two recent horror show laws: the NDAA, which lets anyone be arrested forever at any time, and HR 347, the “trespass bill”, which gives you a 10-year sentence for protesting anywhere near someone with secret service protection. These criminalizations of being human follow, of course, the mini-uprising of the Occupy movement.

Is American strip-searching benign? The man who had brought the initial suit, Albert Florence, described having been told to “turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.” He said he felt humiliated: “It made me feel like less of a man.”

In surreal reasoning, justice Anthony Kennedy explained that this ruling is necessary because the 9/11 bomber could have been stopped for speeding. How would strip searching him have prevented the attack? Did justice Kennedy imagine that plans to blow up the twin towers had been concealed in a body cavity? In still more bizarre non-logic, his and the other justices’ decision rests on concerns about weapons and contraband in prison systems. But people under arrest – that is, who are not yet convicted – haven’t been introduced into a prison population.

Our surveillance state shown considerable determination to intrude on citizens sexually. There’s the sexual abuse of prisoners at Bagram – der Spiegel reports that “former inmates report incidents of … various forms of sexual humiliation. In some cases, an interrogator would place his penis along the face of the detainee while he was being questioned. Other inmates were raped with sticks or threatened with anal sex”. There was the stripping of Bradley Manning is solitary confinement. And there’s the policy set up after the story of the “underwear bomber” to grope US travelers genitally or else force them to go through a machine – made by a company, Rapiscan, owned by terror profiteer and former DHA czar Michael Chertoff – with images so vivid that it has been called the “pornoscanner”.

Believe me: you don’t want the state having the power to strip your clothes off. History shows that the use of forced nudity by a state that is descending into fascism is powerfully effective in controlling and subduing populations.

The political use of forced nudity by anti-democratic regimes is long established. Forcing people to undress is the first step in breaking down their sense of individuality and dignity and reinforcing their powerlessness. Enslaved women were sold naked on the blocks in the American south, and adolescent male slaves served young white ladies at table in the south, while they themselves were naked: their invisible humiliation was a trope for their emasculation. Jewish prisoners herded into concentration camps were stripped of clothing and photographed naked, as iconic images of that Holocaust reiterated.

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The Anglican church can start afresh


The recent vote against the Anglican Covenant is hugely significant. But are the bishops ready to listen?

Diarmaid MacCulloch | guardian.co.uk, Sunday 25 March 2012

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, who has insisted that the worldwide Anglican communion has a future despite divisions over homosexuality Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA

Something very significant in the history of the Church of England happened on Saturday. An absolute majority of dioceses in the Church of England, debating diocese by diocese, voted down a pernicious scheme called the Anglican Covenant. This was an effort to increase the power of centralising bureaucracy throughout the worldwide Anglican communion. However much the promoters denied it, the principal aim was to discipline Anglican churches in the United States and Canada, which had the gall to think for themselves and, after much prayer and discussion, to treat gay people just like anybody else.

Diocesan synods voted against the covenant, often in the face of great pressure from the vast majority of English bishops, who frequently made sure that the case for the covenant dominated proceedings. The bishops also exerted a certain amount of emotional blackmail, suggesting that if the scheme didn’t pass, it would be very upsetting for the archbishop of Canterbury (cue for synod members to watch a podcast from said archbishop, looking sad even while commending the covenant).

Well, it didn’t work, and now those particular bishops need to consider their position, as the saying goes. Principally, they need to consider a killer statistic: as the voting has taken place in the dioceses (and there are still a few to go), the pattern has been consistent. Around 80% of the bishops have voted in favour of the covenant, but the clergy and laity votes have split around 50-50 for and against, with votes against nudging ahead among the clergy. That suggests an episcopate that is seriously out of touch, not just with the nation as a whole (we knew that already), but even with faithful Anglican churchgoers and clergy in England.

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Pennsylvania Church Kidnaps Teens, Holds Them At Gunpoint, For ‘Learning Exercise’

The Huffington Post | By Laura Hibbard | Posted: 03/27/2012 Updated: 03/28/2012 6:18 pm

The Glad Tidings Assembly of God church in Middletown, Pa., has sparked outrage after a teaching exercise traumatized its youth group and left some with physical bruises, WHTM TV reports.

A shaken 14-year-old told the station two men came into the room with guns, pulled pillow cases over some of their heads, and pushed them into a van.

“They pulled my chair out from underneath me and then they told me to get on the ground,” the unnamed girl tearfully told WHTM. “And I was the first person to go into the van. I had my hands behind my back they said ‘just do as I say and you won’t be hurt.’”

The “kidnapped” youth group was then taken to their pastor’s house, where it looked like the minister was being attacked.

The girl showed the station the bruises she suffered from the event, and claims the men laughed while she cried in the van.

Despite claims from officials that the incident was only meant to teach teens what it’s like to be a persecuted Christian missionary, there could be serious repercussions for the church.

“It’s actually quite serious,” First Deputy District Attorney of Dauphin County Fran Chardo told the station in a separate report. “False imprisonment of a child, someone under the age of 18, is a second-degree felony punishable up to 10 years [sic] in prison.”

Since the teens never agreed to take part in the “lesson,” church officials could be in legal trouble for the incident. WHTM also reported the man who “kidnapped” the teens was an off-duty cop, using a real, but unloaded, gun.

In the midst of potential legal ramifications, Andrew Jordan, the church’s pastor, told WHPTV he will still continue to carry out this lesson, but he will ask for parental permission.

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Corporate-Written Law Passes Requiring Climate Denial Taught in Schools

By Brian Merchant, TreeHugger, 27 March 12

Climate denial is required teaching in some states in the USA. (photo: public domain)

Would you let corporations decide how climate science gets taught in your kids’ classroom? That is exactly what is happening – Tennessee just became the 4th state to pass corporation-written laws dictating how global warming is taught in public schools. And they did it with ALEC.

The American Legislative Exchange Council represents one of the most pernicious trends in modern governance: the increasingly substantial extent to which corporations and wealthy individuals buy direct access to the policy-making process. ALEC may be little known at this point, despite being one of the targets of recent Occupy Wall Street protests, but it is already influencing just about every sphere of our lives.

ALEC Exposed, a group working to do exactly what its moniker would imply, sums it up thusly: “Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called “model bills” reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations.” In other words, it’s a pay-to-play regime that allows corporations to draft ‘model bills’ that go directly into the hands of sympathetic policymakers, who can then adopt them for actual legislation.

One such model bill has just passed the Tennessee state legislature, and this one mandates that schools teach climate science as a theory alongside other ‘credible’ theories – like those ones preferred by fossil fuels companies, for example, that hold that global warming is caused by solar cycles and other nonsense. Sound familiar? This is the same structural tactic employed by creationists to try to discourage the teaching of evolution in schools.

DeSmogBlog explains that the bill was opposed by almost every respectable scientific institution – and was passed by a margin of 70-23 anyway. Tennessee joins Texas, Louisiana, and South Dakota in passing such ‘model’ legislation. As a result, children in each of these states are apt to receive a confusing, less fact-based climate science education. Of course, climate change is widely accepted by scientists; an overwhelming consensus agree that human activity is indeed causing the planet to warm. But many corporations, especially those in the oil and coal industries, have an acute interest in stirring as much doubt as possible amongst the public about that consensus view.

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First Ever Challenger for World Bank President Pleas for Level Playing Field, Global Shift

Published on Monday, March 26, 2012 by Common Dreams

Okonjo-Iweala : ‘My biggest hope is that this will be a fair contest’

Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks during a media briefing in Pretoria in this March 23, 2012 (Photo: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)

Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been nominated to run for World Bank President by African leaders from Nigeria, South Africa and Angola. The nomination comes as an unprecedented challenge to the US nomination — this year’s Jim Yong Kim.

The World Bank president has traditionally been selected by Washington, according to an ‘informal agreement’ between Western powers. Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination comes as an unconventional challenge to the process. “Okonjo-Iweala, a respected economist and diplomat, painted the convention as a vestige of a bygone era,” Reuters reports.

Okonjo-Iweala has used the platform as a plea for a fair process whereby ‘emerging economies’ may have a stronger voice in the global institution. “We’re not asking the U.S. not to compete, we’re just asking for a level playing field where candidates can be evaluated on their merits,” stated Okonjo-Iweala.

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The Rich Get Even Richer

By STEVEN RATTNER, March 25, 2012, The New York Times

realart.blogspot.com

NEW statistics show an ever-more-startling divergence between the fortunes of the wealthy and everybody else — and the desperate need to address this wrenching problem. Even in a country that sometimes seems inured to income inequality, these takeaways are truly stunning.

In 2010, as the nation continued to recover from the recession, a dizzying 93 percent of the additional income created in the country that year, compared to 2009 — $288 billion — went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with at least $352,000 in income. That delivered an average single-year pay increase of 11.6 percent to each of these households.

Still more astonishing was the extent to which the super rich got rich faster than the merely rich. In 2010, 37 percent of these additional earnings went to just the top 0.01 percent, a teaspoon-size collection of about 15,000 households with average incomes of $23.8 million. These fortunate few saw their incomes rise by 21.5 percent.

The bottom 99 percent received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent, whose average income is $1,019,089, had an 11.6 percent increase in income.

This new data, derived by the French economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez from American tax returns, also suggests that those at the top were more likely to earn than inherit their riches. That’s not completely surprising: the rapid growth of new American industries — from technology to financial services — has increased the need for highly educated and skilled workers. At the same time, old industries like manufacturing are employing fewer blue-collar workers.

The result? Pay for college graduates has risen by 15.7 percent over the past 32 years (after adjustment for inflation) while the income of a worker without a high school diploma has plummeted by 25.7 percent over the same period.

Government has also played a role, particularly the George W. Bush tax cuts, which, among other things, gave the wealthy a 15 percent tax on capital gains and dividends. That’s the provision that caused Warren E. Buffett’s secretary to have a higher tax rate than he does.

As a result, the top 1 percent has done progressively better in each economic recovery of the past two decades. In the Clinton era expansion, 45 percent of the total income gains went to the top 1 percent; in the Bush recovery, the figure was 65 percent; now it is 93 percent.

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Earth Sends Climate Warning by Busting World Heat Records

By Deborah Zabarenko, HealthNews, 25 March 12

Over 7,000 temperature records have been broken in the United States this month. (photo: News One)

An “unprecedented” March heat wave in much of the continental United States has set or tied more than 7,000 high temperature records, and signals a warming climate, health and weather experts said on Friday.

While natural climate variability plays a major role, it is the addition of human-spurred climate change that makes this particular hot spell extraordinary, the scientists said in a telephone and web briefing.

“This heat wave is essentially unprecedented,” said Heidi Cullen of the nonprofit science and communication organization Climate Central. “It’s hard to grasp how massive and significant this is.”

Since March 12, more than 7,000 high temperature records have been equaled or exceeded, Cullen said, citing figures from the U.S. National Climatic Data Center.

These records include daytime high temperatures and record-high low temperatures overnight, which in some cases are higher than previous record highs for the day, Cullen said.

“When low temperatures are breaking previous record highs, that’s when you see this is incredibly special,” she said.

Cullen noted that this warmth is part of a trend that is pushing the spring season earlier by an average of three days in the contiguous 48 U.S. states.

The date of first leafing – the day when buds burst open – has moved forward from March 20, where it was during the 30-year period from 1951 to 1980, to March 17, where it has been for the period from 1981 to 2010.

Juicing Pollen With Carbon Dioxide

An online report (http://climatecentral.org) accompanying the briefing shows that some states have an even earlier spring, with Montana, Washington state, Oregon, Nevada, Utah and Connecticut seeing spring arrive five days or more ahead of the previous average.

This early wake-up call for plants and animals can have disastrous health consequences, especially for children, said Dr. Aaron Bernstein of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.

Pollen counts are breaking records around the United States, Bernstein said, noting that allergies cost the U.S. economy between $6 billion and $12 billion annually.

The early heat stimulates growth in plants and the pollen season has gotten longer by one to two weeks over the last half-century, while the higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air stimulate pollen production in highly allergenic plants like ragweed, Bernstein said.

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