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Posts Tagged ‘social’

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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Ontario man suing county for $5,000 in damages over Lord’s Prayer at meetings

Jake Edmiston, National Post Staff Jul 31, 2012

Peter Ferguson is seeking a court order for county council to stop opening its meetings in prayer.
Photo Courtesy of Peter Ferguson

Claiming the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer causes him anguish and feelings of exclusion, a man in rural Ontario is suing his local government to get politicians to cease praying at the start of their meetings.

It’s the latest in a series of legal actions, supported by the advocacy group Secular Ontario, seeking to eradicate the practice in at least 18 cities, towns and counties across the province.

On Monday, the lawyer for the 20-member group filed a lawsuit against Grey County council on behalf of Peter Ferguson, saying the Christian tradition caused him “anguish, discrimination, exclusion, rejection and loss of enjoyment of life.”

Mr. Ferguson, who lives in Grey County, near Owen Sound, is looking for $5,000 in damages along with a court order for county council to stop opening its meetings in prayer.

He said councillors are infringing upon his Charter right to freedom of conscience and religion, referencing a 1999 Ontario Court of Appeal decision that ordered the town council in Penetanguishene to stop reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

“I don’t like politicians who break the law, and our county council is breaking the law,” said Mr. Ferguson Tuesday from his home in Kimberley — one of nine municipalities within Grey County. He said if he wins the case, he’ll donate the $5,000 to Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust.

“I don’t really care about religion that much, I care about the law. I care about being fair.”

Mr. Ferguson’s suit comes little more than a month after a Peterborough woman took legal action against her city council, which also uses the tradition — both plaintiffs are represented by Secular Ontario’s lawyer Daniel Mayo.

“No one is forced to take part. They are invited if they choose. We have added the silent reflection for anyone who wishes to, whichever deity or thought process they follow,” Peterborough’s acting mayor Henry Clarke told the Peterborough Examiner in June.

Both Mr. Ferguson and the Peterborough plaintiffs made several appeals to their respective councils before learning of Secular Ontario’s cause and seeking Mr. Mayo’s counsel.

Secular Ontario also tries to recruit residents in flagged regions to act as plaintiffs.

Mr. Mayo was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Both cases have yet to appear before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

Secular Ontario president Sheila Ayala and her colleagues spent most of 2005 compiling a list of Ontario municipalities that recite the Lord’s Prayer before every council meeting.

Ms. Ayala said the organization sent letters to all the municipalities on its list in 2006 and only two willingly changed their policy. Letters to the Ontario provincial government were also unsuccessful, leaving legal action from locals as the only other recourse, she said.

According to Ms. Ayala, plaintiffs are warned of potential pushback from their community before being guided through the process.

Mr. Ferguson said he already had received hateful emails on Tuesday, a day after the lawsuit went public.

The chairman of the Grey County council, Duncan McKinlay, said he has received feedback from residents who fear the case will be a waste of time and resources.

But he’s keen on exploring the issue.

“Grey County was settled by people based on tolerance,” he said. “I think there’s a fair tolerance. If somebody had another prayer, we would have included it.”

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Protesters Force Chinese Officials to Cancel Pipeline

By Shiv Malik, Guardian UK, 30 July 12

Chinese environmental protesters stand on cars in Qidong, China. (photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Officials in eastern China have cancelled a planned industrial waste pipeline project after up to 1,000 environmental demonstrators occupied a government office, overturned cars, destroyed computers and beat police officers.

The demonstration in the city of Qidong was the latest in a string of protests sparked by fears of environmental degradation.

Zhang Guohua, mayor of the eastern city of Nantong, announced the cancellation of the pipeline, which would have emptied waste water from a Japanese-owned paper factory via the coastal town of Qidong into the sea. It is the second industrial project to be cancelled in a month.

The decision came hours after about 1,000 protesters marched through the city of Qidong, about one hour north of Shanghai, shouting slogans against the pipeline

Several protesters entered the city government’s main building and were seen smashing computers, overturning desks and throwing documents out of the windows to loud cheers from the crowd. Five cars and one minibus were also upended, according to Reuters reporters at the scene.

At least two police officers were dragged into the crowd at the government office and punched and beaten bloody.

Environmental worries have stoked calls for expanded rights for citizens and greater consultation in the tightly controlled one-party state and come before a once-in-a-decade leadership transition this year.

The protest followed similar demonstrations against projects in the Sichuan town of Shifang earlier this month and in the cities of Dalian in the north-east and Haimen in southern Guangdong province in the past year.

The government in Shifang halted a multimillion-pound copper alloy plant project because it said there was insufficient public understanding and support after teargas was used to disperse protesters.

The Chinese government has vowed to clean up China’s skies and waterways and increasingly tried to appear responsive to complaints about pollution.

But environmental disputes pit citizens against local officials, whose aim is to lure fresh investment and revenue into their areas.

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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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The collapse of the liberal church

MARGARET WENTE, The Globe and Mail, Jul. 28 2012

Two weeks from now, the United Church of Canada will assemble in Ottawa for its 41st General Council, where it will debate church policy and elect a new moderator. The top item on its agenda is a resolution calling for a boycott of products from Israeli settlements. Fortunately, nobody cares what the United Church thinks about Israeli settlements, or anything else for that matter, because the United Church doesn’t matter any more.

For many years, the United Church was a pillar of Canadian society. Its leaders were respected public figures. It was – and remains – the biggest Protestant denomination in a country that, outside Quebec, has been largely shaped by centuries of Protestant tradition.

But today, the church is literally dying. The average age of its members is 65. They believe in many things, but they do not necessarily believe in God. Some congregations proudly describe themselves as “post-theistic,” which is a good thing because, as one church elder said, it shows the church is not “stuck in the past.” Besides, who needs God when you’ve got Israel to kick around?

The United Church is not alone. All the secular liberal churches are collapsing. The Episcopalians – the American equivalent of the United Church – have lost a quarter of their membership in the past decade. They’re at their lowest point since the 1930s. Not coincidentally, they spent their recent general meeting affirming the right of the transgendered to become priests. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it doesn’t top most people’s lists of pressing spiritual or even social issues.

Back in the 1960s, the liberal churches bet their future on becoming more open, more inclusive, more egalitarian and more progressive. They figured that was the way to reach out to a new generation of worshippers. It was a colossal flop.

“I’ve spent all my ministry in declining congregations,” says David Ewart, a recently retired United Church minister who lives in British Columbia. He is deeply discouraged about the future of his faith. “In my experience, when you put your primary focus on the world, there is a lessening of the importance of worship and turning to God.”

The United Church’s high-water mark was 1965, when membership reached nearly 1.1 million. Since then it has shrunk nearly 60 per cent. Congregations have shrunk too – but not the church’s infrastructure or the money needed to maintain it. Today, the church has too many buildings and too few people to pay for their upkeep. Yet its leadership seems remarkably unperturbed. “It’s considered wrong to be concerned about the numbers – too crass, materialistic and business-oriented,” says Mr. Ewart. The church’s leaders are like the last of the Marxist-Leninists: still convinced they’re right despite the fact that the rest of the world has moved on.

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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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Turning Towards Nonviolence and Away from ‘Dark Knights’

by Rev. John Dear, July 23, 2012 by Common Dreams

As we grieve for the dead and injured in last week’s movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, and join with others to demand handgun reform, we are reminded once again of a greater, more fundamental change that needs to take place among all of us. This horrific violence, and the daily violence we read about, summons us to make a fundamental turn from violence to nonviolence. Every one of us, and every sector of society, needs to make that turn. Without our conversion to nonviolence, we will be forever stuck in the ancient mindlessness and downward spiral of violence. But we need not be stuck. We can choose to be nonviolent people.

Yes, we have to ban handguns and AK-47s. And we need to abolish war, executions, drones, Trident Submarines, extrajudicial assassination, state-sanctioned violence and nuclear weapons. We have a president who starts his day sending his kids off to school and deciding calmly over coffee whom to assassinate. We send drones over Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan which terrorize children and kill them like in some nightmarish “Dark Night” horror film. We execute people legally. And in Los Alamos, New Mexico, we continue to build nuclear weapons as if that was a normal thing to do. We hold the world hostage with our nuclear terrorism.

Everywhere we turn we hear of more violence. We feel it in ourselves as if we’ve been infected by some kind of plague. For the many young people who are not loved, not taught to be nonviolent, not given any hope or meaning in life, not invited to join the nonviolent struggle for justice and peace, the nihilism and insanity of further violence can feel like a natural progression. “Everyone is violent, so I’ll be violent, too,” many think. They are not taught how to live nonviolently.

It’s a wonder there aren’t more massacres.

Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. both insisted that we need a fundamental internal conversion from violence to nonviolence as the basis for our work for justice, human rights and peace. Each one of us, they argued day and night, has to reject that pull of violence and choose to live a nonviolent life and join the struggle to create a nonviolent world. This philosophical, moral and spiritual turning is the hardest step of all, the most courageous and the most needed. As more and more of us choose active, creative nonviolence as a way of life, we have a chance of creating a more nonviolent society.

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Wealth doesn’t trickle down – it just floods offshore, research reveals

Heather Stewart, guardian.co.uk, 21 July 2012

A far-reaching new study suggests a staggering $21 trillion in assets has been lost to global tax havens. If taxed, that could have been enough to put parts of Africa back on its feet – and even solve the euro crisis

Capital flight Illustration: Giulio Frigieri for the Observer (click here for a larger version of this graphic)

The world’s super-rich have taken advantage of lax tax rules to siphon off at least $21 trillion, and possibly as much as $32tn, from their home countries and hide it abroad – a sum larger than the entire American economy.

James Henry, a former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey and an expert on tax havens, has conducted groundbreaking new research for the Tax Justice Network campaign group – sifting through data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and private sector analysts to construct an alarming picture that shows capital flooding out of countries across the world and disappearing into the cracks in the financial system.

Comedian Jimmy Carr became the public face of tax-dodging in the UK earlier this year when it emerged that he had made use of a Cayman Islands-based trust to slash his income tax bill.

But the kind of scheme Carr took part in is the tip of the iceberg, according to Henry’s report, entitled The Price of Offshore Revisited. Despite the professed determination of the G20 group of leading economies to tackle tax secrecy, investors in scores of countries – including the US and the UK – are still able to hide some or all of their assets from the taxman.

“This offshore economy is large enough to have a major impact on estimates of inequality of wealth and income; on estimates of national income and debt ratios; and – most importantly – to have very significant negative impacts on the domestic tax bases of ‘source’ countries,” Henry says.

Using the BIS’s measure of “offshore deposits” – cash held outside the depositor’s home country – and scaling it up according to the proportion of their portfolio large investors usually hold in cash, he estimates that between $21tn (£13tn) and $32tn (£20tn) in financial assets has been hidden from the world’s tax authorities.

“These estimates reveal a staggering failure,” says John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network. “Inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show, but politicians are still relying on trickle-down to transfer wealth to poorer people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boy Scouts of America affirm ban on gay members and volunteers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By George Monbiot, Guardian UK, 17 July 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?

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

T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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Are Millennials the Screwed Generation?

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

Spencer Heyfron for Newsweek

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

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

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

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

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

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Public responsibilities

THE OTTAWA CITIZEN JUNE 30, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Williams: Christians need to confront shame and disgust over homosexuality

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

Ben Quinn, The Guardian, 27 June 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Angela Sterritt, YES! Magazine, 24 June 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Huge Turnout at Michigan Capitol Reading of ‘Vagina Monologues’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Uniting – the other Christians

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

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

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

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

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A Church Fit Only for Bigots and Hypocrites

By Nick Cohen, The Observer UK, 17 June 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For Churches, Being Political Is about Being Faithful

June 17, 2012, The United Church of Canada

thepaperthinhymn.com

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

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Canada should look to U.S. for health reforms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Anglicans threaten rift with government over gay marriage

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

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

Ben Quinn, The Guardian, 12 June 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vatican Scolds Nun for Book on Sexuality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sadhbh Walshe, Guardian UK, 07 June 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Brunswick university under fire for anti-gay hiring policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Anti-bullying bill sparks Catholic funding debate

Education Minister Laurel Broten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Montreal’s Student Protesters Defy Restrictions As Demonstrations Grow

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

By Erin Hale, Guardian UK, 26 May 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Supreme Court is right to hear life-support case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, unexpectedly, his diagnosis changed.

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

(image: Salon)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Lee Greenberg, The Ottawa Citizen May 14, 2012

idahoagenda.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bishops Search for Condoms in Cookie Boxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Kaili Joy Gray, Daily Kos, 21 May 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Robert Benzie, 16 May 2012, Toronto Star

queeringthechurch.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coming Out As a Heretic

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

By KATE BLANCHARD, 10 May 2012, Religion Dispatches

Heresy has not always been a good option

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

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

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

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

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

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Game Over for the Climate

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Father pulls son from Nova Scotia school over Jesus T-shirt controversy

By MICHAEL TUTTON | May 7, 2012 | Globe and Mail

William Swinimer returned to school Monday wearing the same T-shirt that led to his suspension and aroused a debate on religious freedom, but was abruptly pulled from class by his Bible-waving father who said his son would not take part in a discussion on tolerance.

“I walk in love, but today I am angry,” John Swinimer said outside Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin. “The flower of Christianity can never bloom here.”

His 19-year-old son was suspended last week after he refused to abide by a principal’s request to stop wearing a bright yellow shirt bearing the message, “Life is wasted without Jesus.”

He said he wouldn’t allow William to participate in discussions about freedom of expression and religious tolerance that provincial Education Department officials were hosting inside the school.

“He will not attend this school unless they are having reading, writing and arithmetic — good old fashioned academics,” Mr. Swinimer said, waving a copy of the New Testament.

“When they’re having forums, when they’re having other extra-curricular activities, he will not attend that school.”

Nancy Pynch-Worthylake, the superintendent for the South Shore Regional School Board, said it was unfortunate the Grade 12 student was yanked from school.

“We’re very disappointed that William is not here to work with the other students and the facilitators that we have today so that we can move forward,” Ms. Pynch-Worthylake said.

“We’ve been trying to reach out to him since last week and during the weekend, so that’s a big disappointment to us.”

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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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Does temporary foreign workers program create second class of labourers?

NATHAN VANDERKLIPPE | Globe and Mail | May. 06, 2012

Yessy Byl spent five years dealing with temporary foreign workers and heard first hand stories of neglect and mistreatment. Many of the workers wouldn't make a formal complaint for fear they'd be fired just for speaking out. Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail

Five years of dealing with temporary foreign workers affected Yessy Byl in a way she did not expect. There were the stories, from the more than 1,000 people she spoke with in her job as a labour advocate, of neglect and mistreatment – overtime not paid, commitments not honoured, hefty “hiring fees” deducted from weekly cheques. And yet many of them wouldn’t make a formal complaint for fear they’d be fired just for speaking out.

It left her deflated and disillusioned. “My faith in this country has been badly shaken,” she says. “I have to remind myself: There are some good employers.”

For Ms. Byl, and many other critics, Canada’s growing numbers of temporary foreign workers have raised important questions about the kind of country we are becoming, and how a nation that has long welcomed immigrants is establishing a burgeoning second class of labour, devoid of many of the rights to democratic participation and workplace choice other Canadians enjoy.

As Canadian employers struggle to address a burgeoning labour shortage, temporary foreign workers have become a pillar of the economy – there are now more than 300,000 here, triple the number a decade ago. Visiting workers once associated with harvest time in Canada’s orchards and tobacco fields now turn up everywhere from fast-food chains and abattoirs to the Alberta oil sands.

Anticipating another surge in demand, the Harper government has, in the past few weeks, formalized a series of changes to speed up the program. Now able to bring in people with just 10 days notice and to pay them 15-per-cent less than a Canadian would earn, employers have responded with joy. They still must prove they can’t fill a job any other way, but others see deeper significance in the trend and are holding their breath.

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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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Imperialism Didn’t End. It’s Now Called International Law.

By George Monbiot, Guardian UK, 03 May 12

The international criminal court has limited power. (photo: Daniel Pudles)

The conviction of Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, is said to have sent an unequivocal message to current leaders: that great office confers no immunity. In fact it sent two messages: if you run a small, weak nation, you may be subject to the full force of international law; if you run a powerful nation, you have nothing to fear.

While anyone with an interest in human rights should welcome the verdict, it reminds us that no one has faced legal consequences for launching the illegal war against Iraq. This fits the Nuremberg tribunal’s definition of a “crime of aggression”, which it called “the supreme international crime”. The charges on which, in an impartial system, George Bush, Tony Blair and their associates should have been investigated are far graver than those for which Taylor was found guilty.

The foreign secretary, William Hague, claims that Taylor’s conviction “demonstrates that those who have committed the most serious of crimes can and will be held to account for their actions”. But the international criminal court, though it was established 10 years ago, and though the crime of aggression has been recognised in international law since 1945, still has no jurisdiction over “the most serious of crimes”. This is because the powerful nations, for obvious reasons, are procrastinating. Nor have the United Kingdom, the United States and other western nations incorporated the crime of aggression into their own legislation. International law remains an imperial project, in which only the crimes committed by vassal states are punished.

In this respect it corresponds to other global powers. Despite its trumpeted reforms, the International Monetary Fund remains under the control of the United States and the former colonial powers. All constitutional matters still require an 85% share of the vote. By an inexplicable oversight, the United States retains 16.7%, ensuring that it possesses a veto over subsequent reforms. Belgium still has eight times the votes of Bangladesh, Italy a bigger share than India, and the United Kingdom and France between them more voting power than the 49 African members. The managing director remains, as imperial tradition insists, a European, her deputy an American.

The IMF, as a result, is still the means by which western financial markets project their power into the rest of the world. At the end of last year, for example, it published a paper pressing emerging economies to increase their “financial depth”, which it defines as “the total financial claims and counterclaims of an economy”. This, it claimed, would insulate them from crisis. As the Bretton Woods Project points out, emerging nations with large real economies and small financial sectors were the countries which best weathered the economic crisis, which was caused by advanced economies with large financial sectors. Like the modern opium wars it waged in the 1980s and 1990s – when it forced Asian countries to liberalise their currencies, permitting western financial speculators to attack them – the IMF’s prescriptions are incomprehensible until they are understood as instruments of financial power.

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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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Two-tiered wage system announced by Tories

Temporary workers, such as those who work in Ontario's farms, can now be paid 15 per cent less than the average wage.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has always vehemently denied bringing cheap foreign labour into Canada. Employers had to pay foreign temporary workers “the prevailing wage,” he pointed out.

That indeed is what the rules said – until Wednesday, when Human Resources Minister Diane Finley quietly changed them. Employers will now be allowed to pay foreign temp workers 15 per cent less than the average wage.

“We are taking action to ensure that the temporary foreign worker program support our economic recovery and effectively responds to local labour market demands,” she said at a manufacturing plant in Nisku, Alta.

Kenney chimed in from Ottawa. “Going forward our government will consider additional measures to strengthen and improve the program,” he promised.

Business leaders, eager to recruit low-cost workers abroad, were delighted. Immigrant support groups, already fighting to protect temporary foreign workers from exploitation, were heartsick. And labour leaders warned that the wage cut would bring down the pay scale for all workers and make it harder for Canadians to compete for jobs in their own country.

Under the new rules, foreign temporary workers will still covered by provincial employment standards, meaning they must be paid the minimum wage. But in booming Alberta, the minimum wage ($9.40) is a far cry from the average wage ($26.03).

Despite her 15-per-cent wage cut, Finley expects the influx of foreign temporary to swell. She’s undoubtedly right. Employers will always be ready to find workers overseas who are eager to come to Canada and willing to work long hours for low pay. And under the Conservatives, boosting economic growth will always eclipse protecting workers’ rights.

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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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