Sunday, December 13, 2009

Former Canadian UN Ambassador Daily Comment on Aids, Homosexual Genocide and Rape in Africa

Former Canadian Ambassador Stephen Lewis has committed himself to speaking out every day for the rest of his life about the AIDS pandemic in Africa, Rape and the status of women in Africa and the growing genocide against homosexuals in Africa. I donate to his foundation and would encourage others to do the same. To hear his daily commentary click here

Monday, November 9, 2009

Howard Nemerov -The Makers

The Makers

Who can remember back to the first poets,
The greatest ones, greater even than Orpheus?
No one has remembered that far back
Or now considers, among the artifacts,
And bones and cantilevered inference
The past is made of, those first and greatest poets,
So lofty and disdainful of renown
They left us not a name to know them by.

They were the ones that in whatever tongue
Worded the world, that were the first to say
Star, water, stone, that said the visible
And made it bring invisibles to view
In wind and time and change, and in the mind
Itself that minded the hitherto idiot world
And spoke the speechless world and sang the towers
Of the city into the astonished sky.

They were the first great listeners, attuned
To interval, relationship, and scale,
The first to say above, beneath, beyond,
Conjurors with love, death, sleep, with bread and wine,
Who having uttered vanished from the world
Leaving no memory but the marvelous
Magical elements, the breathing shapes
And stops of breath we build our Babels of.

-- Howard Nemerov

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Religion Exam

Suggested question for final religion exam in a catholic college in Australia: Discuss the Christian pursuit of modern scientific knowledge and its relation to the punishment of the inhabitants of Eden - use the bible as a reference but also use primary sources. Be creatively orthodox. Explain why only two salmon were allowed on Noah's Ark. Explain why Jesus' father is not called "the virgin Joseph." Incorporate a discussion of the church's "culture of life" relating it to the enhanced interrogation techniques of the Spanish Inquisition and the Concordats with Hitler ad Mussolini. Try to be infallible and remember marks will be deducted for heresy

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lawmakers question property-tax exemptions

Lawmakers question property-tax exemptions

By Cara Matthews • • Gannett Albany Bureau • October 13, 2009, 8:00 pm
ALBANY -- As New York's property-tax rates have grown in recent years, so has the value of exemptions for non-profits, educational organizations and other institutions, which jumped from $441 billion to $797 billion between 2000 and 2008.

"This meant there was a $350 billion in additional property value that local governments could not tax to fund municipal operations and schools, thus making non-exempt taxpayers shoulder a heavier tax burden," said Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, who chaired a roundtable discussion Tuesday on the issue.

Each year, New York's property-tax system wades deeper into crisis, Krueger said. Between 1995 and 2005, during the nation's longest-running housing boom, local property taxes grew by 60 percent. New York ranks second among all states for its property tax burden, she said.

Senate Democrats are considering whether to scale back the tax exemptions. They plan to introduce legislation based on a report that will be written on the meeting.

In 2008, exempt property accounted for 30 percent of all property value in the state, said Krueger, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Budget and Tax Reform. The state constitution exempts non-profits and charitable groups, educational groups and other institutions from property taxes. However, there has been a lot of controversy over what properties qualify for the exemption.

Lawmakers are seeking input on whether exemptions are being properly administered, what the state can do if there is evidence of abuse, and whether local governments want a change in the system.

"Really, ultimately, I think the state of New York needs to look at its tax system in total," Krueger said. "Is this a model that in fact works for the state of New York and its localities? Is the mix we have of property vs. income vs. business vs. excise logical in the 21st century?"

One thing that should be changed is to reduce the number of tax assessing units, she said. New York has 1,200 of them, compared to California, which has 60.
(2 of 2)

"With 1,200 'governments' making decisions, you're guaranteed not to have a coherent system at the end of the day," she said.

Krueger asked if the state should consider exempting properties not based on who owns them but what the land is used for.

Carol LaGrasse, president of the Property Rights Foundation of America, said exemptions should apply only to portions of property that are truly used for non-profit purposes. For example, hospitals may be non-profit, but a lot of private practitioners work there, she said.

There are some examples of religious or not-for-profit organizations that have purchased large tracts of land but only use small pieces of it, Krueger said. Some tax-exempt organizations have for-profit ventures within them, she said.

Hospitals provide jobs and are economic engines for the regions they are located in, said Sue Ellen Wagner, vice president of the Healthcare Association of New York State.

The number of residential property-tax exemptions that the state allows local governments to opt into has grown, said Frank Mauro, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute.

"From a tax fairness perspective, I think the issue that needs to be settled is, do residential exemptions overall make the property-tax system more fair or less fair," he said."

Regional angle

Rank City # of exemptions Dollar value % of value exempt

Here's a breakdown of exemptions by county, city and town. County rank shows the county's position among all New York counties except in New York City. The top 62 cities and 24 towns were ranked based on the percentage of the exemption value.
Rank County # of exemptions Dollar value % of value exempt

3 Tompkins 7,124 $3,986,597 39.11

28 Cortland 5,302 $597,733 22.44

36 Cayuga 11,349 $1,057,229 20.50

50 Schuyler 2,887 $214,769 16.18

2 Ithaca 988 $2,344,023 62.12

27 Cortland 1,122 $288,870 35.51

32 Auburn 2,678 $394,665 31.02

Source: New York State Office of Real Property Services
Lawmakers question property-tax exemptions
Tompkins No. 3 in N.Y.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Monday, October 5, 2009

Two Books by Benjamin Dodds

Two Books
by Benjamin Dodds from Australian

If a strange and sudden amnesia
were to befall us all
and a fresh new generation,
true tabula rasa children,
sired of ultimate innocence
were to rise,
they would laugh
and shake their bell-clear heads
to read dusty tales of risen corpses
and disproportionate paternal anger
over stolen fruit.

And down the years
when one of them unsure
took up an old book
from which he began to glean a trust
in the idea of a lonely being
who created man
exactly as he still appeared,
who drowned all but two
of every kind,
and who still monitored silently
from a lofty hiding spot
keeping daily scores for all,
the others would set this person down
and hand him another book,
one which was not yet written
when our own antecedents
first entertained such obtuse ideas.

Therein he would find
unshakeable solace
in the knowledge that
of all possible permutations
of individual life,
his own came about
when uncountable others did not.
Seek awe in that,
and he need never seek it
elsewhere again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

Learning a new language

Language is the vehicle of culture, I'm told,and virtually all our understanding of the world is incorporated into language. If we want to truly know someone, it helps to learn their language. When I'm in Europe, I encounter people who speak 5 or 6 languages fluently.

One time, I rented a car in Germany and drove to Nancy in France. I then got on the freeway to Strasbourg that has un-manned toll booths. I stopped at a booth, blocking traffic,to see if the multilingual sign had an English translation. none! The driver behind me came forward to help and asked me - in German (he noticed my German licence plate) - and I replied with one of the few German phrases I had memorized - "I don't speak German." He then asked me in French. I understood the question because I studied French in school and university but hadn't practiced it for years. Finally I asked him if he spoke English and he courteously explained to me -in perfect English - that if I didn't pay the toll posted, when I got to Strasbourg they would charge me to full toll from Paris to Strasbourg. I felt like a country hick in the big city while he was tolerant, understanding and competent - a man of the world.

But the best incident happened in Victoria, Canada at the time of the Queen's visit to the provincial capital. The Canadian Prime Minister had been unable to attend and was represented by one of our senators, Jack Austen. In his speech welcoming the Queen, Senator Austen expressed the Prime Minister's regrets that he could not attend - the crowd booed when the Prime Minister's name was mentioned (Pierre Trudeau was not popular in Western Canada because he had promoted Canada's policy of bilingualism and Biculturalism based on our two official languages, French and English.) Senator Austen soldiered on and repeated his welcoming speech in French - the crowd booed him again for speaking French.

Then it was the Queen's turn to respond to Senator Austen's welcome. It was devastating, the head of state for the English-speaking world replied first in perfect French. The crowd looked like beaten dogs but they didn't boo. I am not a monarchist but that was one time I felt proud to have a Queen. She was quick and classy and it was clear she was not amused. Her speech didn't mention the crowd's impoliteness. She simply said how glad she was to be there but the crowd knew they had been spanked and they dispersed with their tails between their legs.

I think it is a privilege to be able to understand another language and because language is the key to the culture of its speakers, it makes real communication between different cultures possible. I know enough French and Spanish that I can read books and newspapers in those languages. When I travel outside countries where those languages are spoken I feel a bit anxious and isolated but when I return, it's almost like coming home.

I can't understand why people -especially those who take pride in their rational approach to the world - would reject an opportunity to learn spanish. Learning another language is like discovering a new solar system with access to new people, new literature and music, new science and a new - sometimes disconcerting - perspective on your own culture and your place in it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Oklahoma where Christian Flakes Rule

Oklahoma Rep’s ‘proclamation’ blames gays, porn, abortion for economic woes

By Daniel Tencer Raw Story Media

Published: June 30, 2009
Updated 1 week ago

Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern, probably best known for her comparison of homosexuality to toe cancer, has ignited controversy once again with her “Oklahoma Citizen’s Proclamation for Morality,” a document that blames America’s current economic crisis on “our greater national moral crisis.”

The document (PDF) blames “abortion, pornography, same sex marriage, sex trafficking, divorce, illegitimate births, child abuse and many other forms of debauchery” for the country’s economic woes.

To rectify the problem, it suggests the following solution: “BE IT RESOLVED that we, the undersigned, humbly call upon Holy God, our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, to have mercy on this nation, to stay His hand of judgment, and grant a national awakening of righteousness and Christian renewal as we repent of our great sin.”

Though Kern’s proclamation reads like a latter-day version of a tribal appeal to the gods for rain, it is being taken very seriously, especially among gay-rights groups.

“Instead of dealing with issues that she ought to be dealing with, it seems she’s advocating her religious views once again, which is not the proper purview of an elected official,” Scott Jones, a gay pastor, told Oklahoma City’s News 9.

Jones added that he didn’t think the timing of the document — the week after Pride Sunday and the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots — was a coincidence.

“I think it’s a response to this celebration,” Jones said.

He said the real moral issues are about poverty, hunger, the cost of health insurance and environmental degradation — “Representative Kern, a public official doesn’t address any of these moral issues.”

The proclamation implicitly blames President Barack Obama for the economic crisis — or at least sees his policies as contributing to the problem.

The document says the undersigned are “grieved that the Office of the president of these United States has refused to uphold the long held tradition of past presidents in giving recognition to our National Day of Prayer.”

The undersigned are also “deeply disturbed that the Office of the president of these United States disregards the biblical admonitions to live clean and pure lives by proclaiming an entire month to an immoral behavior” — referring to the Obama administration’s support of gay pride events this month.

News 9 states that “Kern, and a host of other lawmakers, civic and religious leaders, will gather at the State Capitol next month to sign” the proclamation.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Paleontologists visi Ohio Creationist "Museum" NYT

I think it was a wise decision for the organizers of the Paleontology Conference to include a tour of the Creation amusement park for the attending scientists. Most of them will immediately understand that creationism /intelligent design is not proposed as an alternative to evolutionary science. It is a political organizing tool with two objectives
1. people who are submissive enough to accept creationism, intelligent design, bible in-errancy are probably sufficiently psychologically impaired that they will work without questioning on other church campaigns to ban gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research. abortion, etc. most proponents of creationism don't believe it either - they know it is simply an organizational tool.
2. It diverts rational thinkers from pursuing their own political objectives - into a debate with virtual idiots. It is a debate that science cant win because creationism is prescribed - according to church authorities - by the divinely inspired and therefore inerrant bible. It is tragic to watch talented, capable, intelligent scientists debating the relative merits of creationism and evolution at the school-board level before a dull-eyed audience of believers who have already outflanked science by electing a majority to the board.
From its foundation, the church has been about political power. It had no history of its own so it stole popular components of other religions which it then proceeded to persecute and exterminate. Before Lenin admitted that "the end justifies the means" It had been the practice of the church for almost 2000 years to lie, intimidate even to use mass killing of its opponents to achieve political power. I hope we don't reach a point when biology classes have to be placed under tight security like abortion clinics out of fear that teachers and students might be assassinated.
The scientists from the Akron conference were immediately aware that the Creationism "museum" is not a museum but an amusement park. They understood that it is situated in Ohio for political purposes - an easy drive for the majority of american voters. The next step for scientists and their supporters is to contest elections at the local level so that our schools aren't administered by people who have so little self-respect that they would publicly espouse creationism/ id

Friday, June 26, 2009

"The Fellowship" response to Alec Baldwin on Huffington

Alec Baldwin, I agree, it's too easy to be diverted from the real issues such as health care, by a few shoddy stories of extra-marital affairs by John Ensign and Mark Sanford. But it is noteworthy that these men are connected to a christian fellowship "cell" located at 133 C Street in Washington whose objective is to

"construct a Kingdom of God on earth with Washington as its capital. They would do so "behind the scenes," lest they be accused of pride or a hunger for power, and "beyond the din of vox populi," which is to say, outside the bounds of democracy. To insiders, the cells were known as the Family, or the Fellowship. To most outsiders, they were not known at all."

The operation of these cells was described in Jeff Sharlett's article in the Rolling Stone three years ago. It's on the 'net and worth reading for anyone who wants to understand the behaviour of the current crop of republicans in congress. It might also explain the reference to "c Street" in Mark Sanford's wandering apology.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Republicans are hypocrites on Iran

As key Republicans are exposed as hypocrites on "family values" they have collectively shown themselves to be hypocrites on foreign policy issues.

When Iranians elected their first democratic government under Mohammed Mossadegh, Truman resisted demands from Churchill, the Republicans and U. S. security agencies to overthrow Mossadegh and replace him with a dictator who would do the American's bidding. When Republican Eisenhower came to office with John Foster Dulles as Secretary of State, the CIA was given free rein in Iran using assassination, kidnapping, torture and intimidation to overthrow their democratically elected government. I'm talking about the same CIA that hired Klaus Barbie, the Nazi 'butcher of Lyon' and smuggled him out of Europe to work for them in Bolivia, the same CIA that trained death squads and torturers throughout the Americas and under the dictatorship of the Shah of Iran - coincidently the same CIA that according to John Boehner would never lie to Nancy Pelosi.

Now these same Republicans who set out to destroy democracy wherever it appeared on the planet including Iran are attacking president Obama for not being more supportive of Iranians demonstrating against a crooked election. The fact is, that if the Republicans were in office, their administration - if history is a guide - would be supporting those weilding the truncheons. tear gas and machine guns.

In fact, the Republicans are exploiting the blood courageously shed by Iranian demonstrators to launch a cowardly attack against Obama simply to improve their chances in the next mid-term elections.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Barack Obama - ostensible president?

"Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship of the day." - Theodore Roosevelt 1906-04

(quoted in Al Gore, Assault on Reason (isbn 978-0-14-311362-1) p. 90

"Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite." J.K. Galbraith? Al Gore p. 95

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Sanctuary Sarah Teasdale

The Sanctuary

If I could keep my innermost Me
Fearless, aloof and free
Of the least breath of love or hate,
And not disconsolate
At the sick load of sorrow laid on men;
If I could keep a sanctuary there
Free even of prayer,
If I could do this, then,
With quiet candor as I grew more wise
I could look even at God with grave forgiving eyes.

Sarah Teasdale

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dr. Tiller: Christian Fundamentalist Hate Crime

Frank Schaeffer

New York Times best-selling author
Posted: June 1, 2009 12:34 PM Huffington Post

How I (and Other "Pro-Life" Leaders) Contributed to Dr. Tiller's Murder

My late father and I share the blame (with many others) for the murder of Dr. George Tiller the abortion doctor gunned down on Sunday. Until I got out of the religious right (in the mid-1980s) and repented of my former hate-filled rhetoric I was both a leader of the so-called pro-life movement and a part of a Republican Party hate machine masquerading as the moral conscience of America.

In the late 1970s my evangelical pro-life leader father Francis Schaeffer and Dr. C. Everett Koop (who soon become Surgeon General in the Reagan administration) went on the road with me taking the documentary antiabortion film series I produced and directed ( Whatever Happened to the Human Race?) to the evangelical public. The series and companion book eventually brought millions of heretofore non-political evangelical Americans into the antiabortion crusade. We personally also got people like Jerry Falwell, Ronald Reagan and countless Republican leaders involved in the "issue."

In the early 80s my father followed up with a book that sold over a million copies called A Christian Manifesto. In certain passages he advocated force if all other methods for rolling back the abortion ruling of Roe v. Wade failed. He compared America and its legalized abortion to Hitler's Germany and said that whatever tactics would have been morally justified in removing Hitler would be justified in trying to stop abortion. I said the same thing in a book I wrote (A Time For Anger) that right wing evangelicals made into a best seller. For instance Dr. James Dobson (of the Focus On the Family radio show) gave away over 100,000 copies.

Like many writers of moral/political/religious theories my father and I would have been shocked that someone took us at our word, walked into a Lutheran Church and pulled the trigger on an abortionist. But even if the murderer never read Dad's or my words we helped create the climate that made this murder likely to happen.

In fact that very thing has happened before. In 1994, Dr. John Bayard Britton and one of his volunteer escorts were shot and killed outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Paul Hill, a former minister, was convicted of the killings and executed in 2003. Paul Hill was an avid follower of my father's.

Hyperbole from the pulpit from religious leaders, be it from my father or from President Obama's former pastor the Rev. Wright, is par for the course. But once in a while someone "does something" about it and then everyone says that they were only speaking metaphorically or "spiritually" when they called for violence or for the overthrow the state or when they said things like "God damn America!" or that "abortionists are murderers like Hitler!"

Angry speech has become the norm in American religion from both the right and the left. Words are spoken which -- when taken seriously -- lead directly to violence by the unhinged and/or the truly committed.

When evangelicals on the right call President Obama a socialist, a racist, anti-American, an abortionist, not a real American, and, echoing the former Vice President, someone who is weakening America's defenses and making us less safe, the logical conclusion is violence. If you take these words literally you might pull the trigger to "make America safe" and/or free us from communism or to even protect us from -- what some "Christian" leaders claim -- Obama as the Antichrist.

Contributing to an extreme and sometimes violent climate has not only been the fault of the antiabortion crusaders. The Roe v. Wade decision went to far, too fast and was too sweeping. I believe that abortion should be legal. But I also believe that it should be re-regulated according to fetal development. It's the late term abortions that horrify most people. And for the sake of keeping abortion legal adjustments need to be made. Roe is far too all or nothing (as I explain in my book Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All -- or Almost All -- of It Back). As I say in my book today I believe that abortion should be legal but more regulated than Roe allows. I also think that we should do what President Obama calls for: use sex education and contraceptive distribution and programs to help women and children in a way that results in less abortions.

But the reason this issue will never go away is that the Roe ruling was an over broad court decision that makes abortion legal even in the last weeks of pregnancy. Take away the pictures of all those dead late term fetuses and everything changes emotionally. Democracy and civil debate is messy but if abortion had been argued state-by-state abortion would be legal in almost all our states today and probably the laws would be written more like those of Europe, where late-term abortions (of the kind Dr. Tiller specialized in performing) are illegal and/or highly discouraged.

The same hate machine I was part of is still attacking all abortionists as "murderers." And today once again the "pro-life" leaders are busy ducking their personal responsibility for people acting on their words. The people who stir up the fringe never take responsibility. But I'd like to say on this day after a man was murdered in cold blood for preforming abortions that I -- and the people I worked with in the religious right, the Republican Party, the pro-life movement and the Roman Catholic Church, all contributed to this killing by our foolish and incendiary words.

I am very sorry.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. He is author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and also author of the forthcoming Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism)

Christian Fundamentalist Terrorism - Huffington Post

Christian Fundamentalist Terrorism.

Shannyn Moore

Just a girl from Homer.
Posted: May 31, 2009 04:18 PM

It's shocking to write. But it's time to start calling it what it is.

When Jim D. Adkisson walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church with 76 rounds and a shot-gun, he killed 2 people and was charged with murder. His motive was "he hated the liberal movement" and was upset with "liberals in general as well as gays." He should have been charged with terrorism.

Sunday George Tiller, a Wichita doctor, was killed INSIDE the lobby of his Wichita church. Reformation Lutheran Church became a crime scene; fundamentalist terrorism.

The right wing media hacks make targets of the left. The fundamentalist reverends blather their intolerance of other Americans. Their marriages are in jeopardy if the GLBT community can walk down an aisle. Their children are going to be molested if you have to rent to a same sex couple. Fear...fear...fear the queer.

Bill O'Reilly's hit piece on Dr. Tiller is a training tape for Christian Fundamentalist Terrorists. Never did he ask the woman interviewed how she, as a 13 year old, got pregnant, who was the father, or where her parents were when she underwent an abortion at Dr. Tiller's clinic. I'm sure O'Reilly's drivel will insist on personal accountability for the murderer. I'm sure he won't be in line for any "accountability" for calling the doctor "Tiller the baby-killer" or his clinic a "death mill."

Are anti-choice groups celebrating today? An abortion doctor is dead so women won't have unwanted pregnancies!

The "war on terror" needs to include domestic religious, fundamentalist terrorists.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Saturday, May 23, 2009

bill moyers - single-payer health care

Bill Moyers program on single-payer health care was excellent and the advocates for a single-payer system articulate and accurate.

I am a Canadian who has lived under both systems and there is no question that the government run single-payer system is far superior to the private insurance system that preceded it.

americans spend twice as much of their GNP on health care as Canadians to support their private profit system but canada scores higher in the UN Human Development Index health care indicators than does the united states. I suffer from a progressive degenerative disease that requires 5 different precription drugs. because the government of my province negotiates drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies, i pay a very small amount for drugs compared to americans who suffer from the same disease. I also have family living on both sides of the border and i can tell you from personal experience that the canadian system is far superior. my sister had 2 miscarriages and a toxemia complicated live-birth. her insurance companies refused to pay for the miscarriages nor for the complications in the live birth. she was forced to submit to a state operated bankruptcy process and her child was 10 years old before the dead babies were paid for. I only mention this case because of the false ads on US TV that suggest there are long line ups for treatment in canada and that people are forced to leave the country for treatment in the usa. in fact more americans come to canada to get treatment or buy drugs that they can't afford in the united states under the for-profit system.

It's hard for canadians to believe that over 40 million americans have no health care coverage at all. they are forced into tax-starved public hospitals or into waiting lines in charitable facilities. many simply accept illness, death or disability as inevitable.

I was fortunate to have been a friend and colleague of TC Douglas, the founder of canada's medicare system. Tommy was not a godless socialist. he was a baptist minister and a social gospel christian. his medical care commitment should be considered within that framework. I asked tommy how he could implement medicare over the opposition of the doctors and virtually every other political party in canada and in the absence of a model elsewhere in the world. douglas told me that canadian soldiers observed that in world war 2, americans had the best field hospital system of any country in the conflict. after his election as premier in 1944, he told me that he called the US president and had one of the experts from the surgeon-general's office seconded to his cabinet to help him put together the saskatchewan provincial hospital care plan which was Canada's first step towards a single-payer health care system. The fact is that canada's first medicare system was partly based on an american military model. What could be more patriotic?

I think Barack Obama is one of the best things to happen to the United States in many decades. I believe that he would like to establish a single-payer health care system in the united states but he is enough of a realist to know that he is going to be opposed by the real power in the usa: the health-care and insurance industries - organizations that have managed to pay off enough politicians - since Ronald Regan 1948 - to deprive Americans of a comprehensive health care health care system. How many people have suffered and died as a result of the "health" industry's lavish bribery and lobbying is anyone's guess. I believe that if advocates of single-payer will support Obama's effort to set up a system that is partly single-payer, eventually, the single-payer system because of its efficiency will absorb the rest

Posted by: niki nomo | May 23, 2009 3:26 AM

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Introduction of Barack Obama by Fr. Jenkins, Pres NDU

As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote in their pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes: “Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.”

If we want to extend courtesy, respect and love – and enter into dialogue – then surely we can start by acknowledging what is honorable in others.

We welcome President Obama to Notre Dame, and we honor him for the qualities and accomplishments the American people admired in him when they elected him. He is a man who grew up without a father, whose family was fed for a time with the help of food stamps — yet who mastered the most rigorous academic challenges, who turned his back on wealth to serve the poor, who sought the Presidency at a young age against long odds, and who – on the threshold of his goal — left the campaign to go to the bedside of his dying grandmother who helped raise him.

He is a leader who has great respect for the role of faith and religious institutions in public life. He has said: “Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.”

He is the first African American to be elected President, yet his appeal powerfully transcends race. In a country that has been deeply wounded by racial hatred – he has been a healer.

He has set ambitious goals across a sweeping agenda — extending health care coverage to millions who don’t have it, improving education especially for those who most need it, promoting renewable energy for the sake of our economy, our security, and our climate.

He has declared the goal of a world without nuclear weapons and has begun arms reduction talks with the Russians.

He has pledged to accelerate America’s fight against poverty, to reform immigration to make it more humane, and to advance America’s merciful work in fighting disease in the poorest places on earth.

As commander-in-chief and as chief executive, he embraces with confidence both the burdens of leadership and the hopes of his country.

Ladies and Gentlemen: The President of the United States.”

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Response to a friend on my letter re: stem cell research

Hi S----- -thanks for your interest and comments. I think many scientists are reluctant to get involved in political debates - sometimes just getting footnoted in a political article can result in research funding being terminated or program cancellations. Even though I agree with much of what the new president says, and the courage he has demonstrated in some of his actions, I think that scientists will continue to be cautious until they are more certain about the outcome over the long term. (doesn't that restate the scientific world-view?) The conservative position taken by the drafters of the new NIH stem-cell research guidelines indicates to me that they still don't know how far the new president will allow them to go especially in the face of the reaction from the Council of Catholic Bishops. The NIH probably had a more liberal set of guidelines drafted but decided to lead with the conservative ones until they are more certain of the president's support - that might be decided at Notre Dame this weekend!

Most people who are involving themselves in the stem cell debate are like you - family members or friends of people who suffer from diseases potentially treatable - even curable - through embryonic stem cell research. Many of those people are devoted christians who disagree with the clergy on this issue but are afraid to speak out. (despite what Roosevelt said - there are more things to fear than fear itself - one is being exposed to your co-religionists as a tool of satan and being shunned by your former friends and family. A daily form of terror that we should make war against!) My case of Parkinson's sounds more like your father's - up to this point mainly tremors - more a nuisance than a disease. Thanks again for your comments and support on this

Friday, May 15, 2009

The CIA lies to Congress

I'm not surprised that the Republicans have targeted Nancy Pelosi. Throughout her career she has been a partisan and a progressive and the Republicans have been the target of her criticism. But for the media - and particularly for David Gergen - to suggest that the CIA doesn't lie to Congress is a joke. Intelligence Agencies are created to lie to the public to justify whatever the government wants done.

Lying is just one technique in their repertoire of dirty tricks. How many ex-CIA agents were involved in the Watergate break-in or Iran - Contra - if you can be ex-CIA - and how many of them are now talk-radio hosts and occasional contributors to CNN.

Oliver North exploited his intellgence connections in Iran-Contra and bragged about lying to Congress. TV News hosts who talk about Pelosi impugning the reputations of people defending their country are the one's who are lying. Congress needs to revive true oversight committees like the one chaired by Idaho senator Frank Church in the 70's. Unfortunately most of the CIA's illegal activities such as domestic spying, assassination, torture and other crimes were covered up by successive administrations.

Isn't it ironic that Nancy Pelosi is being attacked by the media, the CIA and the Republicans for accusing those innocent honest professional CIA defenders of lying to to Congress about the fact that they were illegally torturing people to extract information to justify an invasion of Iraq.

The CIA is like some TV News announcers - You can tell when they're lying because their lips are moving.

my comments to the National Institutes of Health on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Dear Sirs/Mesdames:
Although I am not an American citizen, my family has lived for three generations on both sides of the 49th parallel so I hope you will take my comments into consideration when you are developing guidelines for embryonic stem cell research. When I was diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson's disease in 1999, I was told that many promising research leads were being followed for the treatment and cure of Parkinson's. The greatest potential for a cure - for Parkinson's and for diseases such as juvenile diabetes and spinal cord injuries - was in embryonic stem cell research. You can imagine how disappointed - in fact, depressed - I was when, under the previous administration, embryonic stem cell research was limited to a few cell lines, funding was restricted and serious impediments were imposed on this area of science - ostensibly for ethical reasons

Ten years have passed since my diagnosis, and although important developments have taken place in Parkinson's research, I believe that the discovery of a cure has now been placed beyond my lifetime. I ask what kind of ethics allows millions of people to suffer the loss of control over their bodies and be forced to live in humiliating dependence on their families and their fellow citizens because a tiny minority of influential clerics believe that life is created at conception whether the embryo survives or - more likely - not. Like those clerics, I am not a scientist but I know what ethics are and I do not believe that a small group of people should have the power to impose their ethics in opposition to the ethical views of a majority of Americans as expressed in resolutions of the last Congress and vetoed by the last president. I am hopeful that NIH in its new guidelines for embryonic stem cell will take into consideration the ethical views of a majority of Americans - including a majority of religious Americans - and eliminate the barriers to research imposed by the previous administration.

I was fortunate to have had an opportunity to attend the First World Conference on Parkinson's in Washington a few years ago and was able to learn about some of the amazing research that has been done from the from the first 'awakenings' with the use of dopamine on encephalitis lethargica by Sachs/Calne to the therapies in dance, exercise and speech development designed to allay specific symptoms of the disease. Unfortunately there was a sense of silent despair at the conference because one of the most promising areas of research had been suppressed based on disputed ethics. With the current presidential order to lift the research ban, the hopes of many Parkinson's sufferers have been restored. Unfortunately, that hope has ebbed because the new NIH guidelines seem to concede too much to those who who consider themselves moral and ethical authorities


1. Please do not give undue weight to clerics and religious organizations who can organize letter-writing campaigns by a committed minority while the silenced majority of their congregations practice contraception, accept choice on abortion and support embryonic stem cell research to help friends and relatives afflicted with diseases like Parkinson's.

2. Remove the barriers to embryonic stem cell research and accelerate this research to overcome the delays caused by the policies of the last administration.

3. Remove barriers to research on stem cell lines developed from sources other than surplus embryos from in-vitro fertilization at fertility clinics. Stem cells developed by parthenogenesis and using Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer should be funded.

4. Encourage research that can be quickly transferred to those who are currently suffering to decrease their pain and increase their independence.

I appreciate your consideration of my suggestions and I look forward to a time when, as a result of embryonic stem cell research, diseases such as Parkinson's, juvenile diabetes and paralysis due to spinal cord trauma can be reduced or eliminated.

Yours sincerely

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

National Day of Prayer

I understand that Barak Obama has declined to attend the National Day of Prayer breakfast that his predecessor used to attend and was permitted to speak at. The Catholic Bishop who co-ordinates the event was not going to permit Obama to speak because the president opposes Catholic dogma on abortion, stem cells, etc. George Bush, the torturer who set up secret prisons around the world, kidnapped people, held them without charges and had them tortured was allowed to speak last year about his administration's anti-choice agenda. I can see where Bush's views might appear to be more closely aligned with christian doctrine and historical practice.

Congratulations to President Obama for taking the political risk of refusing to pray with these hypocrites.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Comment offered to a South Dakota Progressive Blog

April 28th, 2009 at 10:22 pm
Prairie Progressive

It appears that not a great deal of thought was put into consideration of legislation banning stem cells when it was first considered by the S. Dakota legislature. The bills sponsors were obviously acting on behalf of the various churches who have - for specious reasons and often in opposition to the sentiments of their congregations - mobilized against this type of research.

I have Parkinson’s disease which, because it may be caused by pesticides is a major problem in non-urban areas where pesticides are used. Embryonic Stem Cell Research seeks a way to use stem cells to replace the dopaminergic neurons that have died in my brain so that I cannot control movement in my limbs and the function of other bodily systems. Unfortunately for a person my age, George Bush, some churches and - regrettably the South Dakota legislature have put the cure beyond my lifetime. But millions of other people can benefit if the ban is lifted - people with Parkinson’s, type one diabetes and spinal cord injuries among many other diseases.

As you point out, scientists are not the best people to communicate their need for support to the public. Science has always been suspicious of media, politicians and religion who prefer uncritical statements of “fact” to the kind of questioning, analytical demands of science’s doubting Thomases. I hope that when legislation is next considered by the SD legislature, legislators and senators will be better informed so that the ban on embryonic stem cell research will be lifted and scientists there can start working - out of true respect for life - on terrible diseases that affect millions of men, women and children around the world.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Catholics Carry Battle Against Embryonic Stem Cell Research to States

Polls tell us that a majority of catholics support embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) because it holds the promise of treating - even curing - a number of serious diseases such as parkinson's, juvenile diabetes and spinal cord injuries. But churches are based on obedience not democracy so despite the majority view, the church continues to engage in politics to block embryonic stem cell research. After President Obama's recent order restoring support for ESCR at the national level the religious right has now shifted the battle to the states. According to an April 26th article in the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader the church has promised to defeat any attempt in the legislature to lift South Dakota's ESCR ban.

"It's a very important issue that strikes very close to who we are as human beings, how we live our lives and how we treat others," said Travis Benson, co-director of the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls' Respect Life office.

The church supports adult stem cell research, Benson said, but opposes embryonic stem cell research. Harvesting stem cells from an embryo kills the embryo "which is a human being in the very earliest stages of life," he said.

Supporters of such research say that it can lead to life-saving cures, but Benson says "you should never do evil, even if you can accomplish good with it."

Mr. Benson has a strangely twisted notion of good and evil. According to his definition people suffering from progressive, degenerative diseases should spend the remainder of their lives in painful, humiliating dependency - a burden on their families and their community - because of his church's insistence that fertilized embryos - most of which will die naturally are equal or superior to born human beings. In fact, most embryonic stem cell research uses unwanted excess embryos created artificially in fertility clinics and usually dumped in a landfill if they are no longer required

If Mr Benson and his church honestly believed embryos were persons, they would have them baptized named and, of course, given last rites and burials in consecrated landfills. For the church, embryos are instruments for political organization.

In this case the church doesn't respect life. Their object is political and concern for life is only a slogan developed by their PR people. I suspect that when catholic legislators are tempted to support lifting South Dakota's ban on Embryonic Stem Cell Research in the next legislative session, they will be threatened with exclusion from the sacraments. But at least they will be in company with a majority of catholics who practice birth control and support ESCR because they know that on these issues as on others the church has confused good and evil to achieve its political objectives

Breaking News about Ted Haggard

Click Here Ted Haggard Is Completely Heterosexual

Monday, April 20, 2009


A father watched his young daughter playing in the garden.

He smiled as he reflected on how sweet and pure his little girl was.

Tears formed in his eyes as he thought about her seeing the wonders of nature through such innocent eyes.

Suddenly she just stopped and stared at the ground.

He went over to her to see what work of God had captured her attention.

He noticed she was looking at two spiders mating.

'Daddy, what are those two spiders doing?' she asked.

'They're mating,' her father replied.

'What do you call the spider on top?' she asked.

'That's a Daddy Longlegs,' her father answered.

'So, the other one is a Mommy Longlegs?' the little girl asked.

As his heart soared with the joy of such a cute and innocent question he replied, 'No dear. Both of them are Daddy Longlegs.'

'The little girl, looking a little puzzled, thought for a moment, then lifted
her foot and stomped them flat.

'Well, we're not having any of that shit in our garden' she said.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Witch Hunt on MSNBC

See more at

In a debate about capital punishment on this blog one Dudley Sharpe asserted - I hope I have his argument correct - that no innocent person has been executed in the United States since 1900. His argument was reversed, however, by putting the burden of proof on his opponents. "You prove that an innocent person has been executed in the U. S. since 1900" Since this kind of proof is virtually impossible in support or in opposition, the stunt was basically ignored by participants in the discussion. However, another of Mr. Sharpe's assertions - that there are so many fail-safe protections built into the legal process to keep innocent people from being executed, that there is no chance - at least very little chance - of an innocent person being killed (innocent of capital murder, that is).

An interesting show on MSNBC a few days ago might give pause even to Dudley Sharpe. The show, called "Witch Hunt" on MSNBC showed how 32 innocent people in Kern County - Bakersfield, California were swept up in a mass hysteria around satanism, witchcraft and child molestation and put into Jail for as long as 20 years. The hysteria was originally started by books and movies like Rosemary's Baby, The Damien Series and the Exorcist. It was fanned into political demonstrations from the pulpit. And it was supported by now-discredited social science fads like repressed memory where feminist psychologists argued that suggestive and leading questions could bring out facts about abuse that had been hidden from memory by fear and shame. In fact the interview techniques used by Kern County officials and psychologists intimidated innocent children into inventing monstrous stories of assault, sexual molestation even murder. Politically ambitious police and prosecutors allowed themselves to be swept up in the hysteria to the extent of concealing exculpatory evidence and ignoring the advice of state officials. Similar miscarriages of justice took place in South Carolina (The Little Rascals Case) and in Saskatchewan, Canada at the same time.

Hysteria generally develops around capital punishment cases like Sacco and Vanzetti and Leopold and Loeb but any murder is such a horrible crime that hysteria is generally and understandably present. It is precisely at these times that the state should remain unemotional and to do nothing that can't be reversed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

reply to "independent thinker" on bill maher's blog

Blogger niki said... (in response to "idependent thinker" who says words don't kill---

Independent thinker should connect his thought to fact - rather than allowing one to flare off independent of the other. Words can do serious harm in our society because they are expressions of hatred whether they come from the pulpit or from the platform. US courts have always been reluctant to punish content of speech, except where it poses a "clear and present danger" like yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre.

independent thinker should look into cases like Rwanda where years of divide and conquer British colonialism created hatreds that were fed by radio broadcasts that incited tens of thousands of killings. Its not really necessary to rehash hitler's speeches and the attendant consequences. Words are the vehicle of hatred and they can be deadly - especially when they appear to be sanctioned by a creator who considers gays an 'abomination' that should be punished by death

April 15, 2009 7:07 PM

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Churches Kill "Gay" Children

That may sound like an extreme statement but it's hard to deny that attacks against homosexuals by clergy validate bullying in schools and gay bashing on the street. In the past week an 11-year old student at a Springfield, Mass. Charter school committed suicide by hanging himself after being taunted by other students for being effeminate and "gay."

Self-appointed extremist evangelicals have decided that it is their god-given right to carry out a religious crusade against homosexuals from the pulpit knowing that their incendiary speech is exempted from prosecution as hate speech because of the constitutional protection granted to religious hate speech. Mega-church "pastors" like Ted Haggard of Colorado Springs an advisor to President Bush was a crusader against homosexuals until it was found that he was an active homosexual himself - an employer of gay escorts and a user of illegal drugs. Haggard has already arranged for god to forgive him but how many bullies had he inspired, how many gay-bashings had he encouraged, how many suicides had he caused before his hypocrisy was found out.

Haggard and his submissive wife are now on the media circuit attempting to resurrect him in public opinion and in the good graces of his church. But he's finding it difficult to get the congregation he taught to hate homosexuals to put him back in charge of the collection plate which brought in the tax-free millions to support his "lifestyle." Maybe, using his logic, he should have made the heterosexual "lifestyle choice" Like Jimmy Swaggart, he would be back in the pulpit again and enjoying the untaxed, unaudited income that position will bring

Monday, April 13, 2009

Corrected comment on Bill Moyer Blog

I don't know why Americans attempt to mythologize their dead presidents and turn them into undeserving heroes, while people of great accomplishments are ignored. People like Charles Sumner and other 'Radical Republicans' kept Lincoln's feet to the fire on emancipation even as Lincoln was firing generals who liberated blacks in conquered southern territory. I wasn't aware before of Lincoln's murder of 38 Sioux in Minnesota. Doesn't this put him in the same category as Slobodan Milosevic? That's not to say that he wasn't the best president only that like most heroes, he's only as good as the facts his marketers can conceal

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Obamas invite families headed by gays to Easter Egg Roll!

Congratulations to the Obamas for inviting families headed by gays and lesbians to the annual White House Easter Egg roll. The US administration is changing from one that undermines human rights to one that celebrates them! Unfortunately, it might make it more difficult for the Obamas to find a church in Washington.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Does the Pope know the planet is getting crowded?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Biff America: A solution we can agree on

Jeffrey Bergeron
Vail, CO Colorado

There are thoughtful, intelligent and informed people who think I'm 'full of it'.

I'm OK with that.

There are problems and there are solutions. I think most of us can agree upon what the problems are that the world now faces; where we differ is what the solutions might be.

Some of those global challenges are security, poverty, financial collapse, human rights, and pollution. Many of those dilemmas also are found within our own borders but to them you can add immigration, degradation of our public schools, unemployment, affordable health care and distrust of the public process.

Like most all of you I have thoughts on how to best deal with those challenges. But for every one of us who has thoughts on solutions there is another who thinks we are nuts.

And just as our political and financial conundrums divide us, social, moral and spiritual issues can be even more polarizing.

A woman's right to choose, same sex marriages, separation of church and state, global warming, security vs. individual liberties, taxation and social services are hugely polarizing topics in this country.

Of course I have my own ideas on how best to deal with many of these challenges and social issues; here are a few.

For instance, let's take same sex marriages. Rather than argue, legislate, create ballot initiatives' and file law suits; I say we leave it up to God. Instead of telling couples in love they can not marry-allow them to marry-and if God doesn't like it he can hit them with lightning. It has always amazed me that those who profess such belief in the Almighty are convinced that God is unable to take care of him/herself and thus needs them to do his bidding.

Now on to world health and hunger: How about we require all of us who have more money than we need give some to the people who would sell their own kidney for a loaf of bread. I read a study where it was determined that if every American gave $30 it could provide basic health care to the world's poorest populace.

Since I'm now on a roll here is my solution to help solve the deteriorating of our public schools-pay the school teachers as much as we pay the politicians who denounce quality of our teachers. And while were are at it let's require all those parents who complain about the public education system to spend as much time a week with their own children as do their children's teachers

I can hear some of you reading this saying--“That guy is full of it”--and you might be right. All those proposed solutions of mine could very well be na├»ve, simplistic and wrong. I will admit that; I'm a freak.

But I do have one idea that I'm absolutely certain would help cure many of afore mentioned maladies. Unlike those previously mentioned knee-jerk solutions I don't believe this hypothesis is even up for any reasonable debate

Hunger, pollution, poverty, financial collapse, territorial aggression, public education, immigration could all be lessened if--we as a country--but especially as a planet-- would stop having so many babies.

It is simple math--with limited space, limited natural resources and unlimited population; something has to give. Actually two things have to give, Puritanical Government and an out of touch Church.

Many conservatives were angered when the Obama administration, renewed support for the “United Nation Population Fund” who's mission statement reads in part “UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.” To be clear they also provide birth control and post abortion care.

Reagon and G.W. Bush cut funding (which to me is like throwing the baby out with the bath water) Clinton and Obama restored it.

Equally frustrating is the Catholic Church's stance on population control. I totally understand and support their right to take a stand on abortion but to maintain the only anointed form of birth control is the rhythm method seems prejudiced against those of us who can't dance. Even the Mormons are more liberal in that respect.

I friend of mine just gave birth to her second child, with a C-section delivery at a Catholic hospital. She and her husband asked the doctor if while he could tie her tubes after delivery. He said it would safe, efficient and convenient to do so but the Catholic hospital would not let him perform that procedure. Does the Pope know the planet is getting crowded?

If you want to bring a child into the world and you can love, care and provide that child, go for it. That is your choice and yours alone. In the meantime it is fun to keep practicing………

Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at

Biff's book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or from

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Congratulations to Vermont for Legalizing Gay Marriage

Thanks to these sponsors of Vermont Bill H.178
Introduced by Representatives
Larson of Burlington, Zuckerman of
Burlington, Ancel of Calais, Bohi of Hartford, Botzow of
Pownal, Burke of Brattleboro, Cheney of Norwich, Clarkson of
Woodstock, Copeland-Hanzas of Bradford, Davis of
Washington, Deen of Westminster, Donovan of Burlington,
Edwards of Brattleboro, Fisher of Lincoln, Frank of Underhill,
French of Shrewsbury, French of Randolph, Geier of S.
Burlington, Grad of Moretown, Haas of Rochester, Head of S.
Burlington, Heath of Westford, Hooper of Montpelier, Howard
of Rutland City, Jerman of Essex, Jewett of Ripton, Johnson of
S. Hero, Kitzmiller of Montpelier, Klein of East Montpelier,
Lanpher of Vergennes, Lenes of Shelburne, Lippert of
Hinesburg, Lorber of Burlington, Maier of Middlebury, Marek
of Newfane, Martin of Springfield, McCullough of Williston,
Milkey of Brattleboro, Minter of Waterbury, Mitchell of
Barnard, Moran of Wardsboro, Mrowicki of Putney, Nuovo of
Middlebury, O’Brien of Richmond, Orr of Charlotte, Partridge
of Windham, Pugh of S. Burlington, Ram of Burlington, Shand
of Weathersfield, Sharpe of Bristol, Spengler of Colchester,
Stevens of Waterbury, Sweaney of Windsor, Waite-Simpson of
Essex, Webb of Shelburne, Weston 1 of Burlington, Wilson of
Manchester, Wizowaty of Burlington and Zenie of Colchester
who proved that Americans seeking equal rights can have their
rights affirmed by democratically elected legislators rather than exclusively through the courts

Vermont becomes 4th state to allow gay marriage

By Jason Szep Jason Szep – Tue Apr 7, 1:25 pm ET

BOSTON (Reuters) – Vermont legalized gay marriage on Tuesday after lawmakers overrode a veto from the governor by a wafer-thin margin, making the New England state the fourth in the United States where gays can wed.

The vote, nine years after Vermont was the first in the United States to adopt a same-sex civil-union law, also makes the tiny state of 624,000 people the first in the nation where lawmakers passed a gay marriage law instead of the courts.

"We've shown that truth and fairness and justice and love are more powerful than one man's veto pen," same-sex marriage advocate Beth Robinson said to cheers from supporters in the state capital Montpelier after Vermont's House of Representatives passed the bill by a 100-49 vote.

Known for picturesque autumn foliage, maple sugar and colonial-style inns, Vermont joins New England neighbors Connecticut and Massachusetts in allowing gay couples to marry. Iowa legalized gay marriage last week.

The bill looked in peril after a vote on Thursday in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives that fell five votes short of the support needed to clear a veto threat from Republican Governor Jim Douglas.

Douglas vetoed the bill on Monday, urging lawmakers to focus on the economy instead. Supporters needed two-thirds of the votes in each chamber to override his veto. They got that easily in the state Senate, which passed the bill 23-5 earlier on Tuesday. Its fate in the House looked unclear.

The vote comes just four days after Iowa's Supreme Court struck down a decade-old law that barred gays from marrying. The surprise ruling, which made Iowa the first in the heartland to allow same-sex marriages, may have influenced some Vermont lawmakers to change their vote, gay marriage advocates said.

California briefly recognized gay marriage until voters banned it in a referendum last year.

Lawmakers in New Hampshire and Maine also are considering bills to allow gay marriage, putting New England at the heart of a divisive national debate over the issue.

The group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which helped to legalize gay marriage in Massachusetts and Connecticut, has set a goal of expanding gay marriage to all New England states by 2012. Maine and New Hampshire already offer same-sex couples some form of legal recognition.

Forty-three U.S. states have laws explicitly prohibiting such marriages, including 29 with constitutional amendments restricting marriage to one man and one woman.

(Reporting by Jason Szep; Editing by Will Dunham)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Preacher Advocates Church Taxation

A Preacher Advocates Church Taxation
Rev. L. M. Birkhead

(Minister, All Souls' Unitarian Church, Kansas City, mo.)

One of the most amazing and paradoxical of modern Political situations is that of the United States committed fundamentally to the absolute divorce of church and state, and yet contributing indirectly, by means of the exemption of church property from taxation, more than $250,000,000 annually to the support of the church.

Theoretically in America we maintain that the aim of taxation is "to secure the equal distribution of the burden of civil society." Theoretically we maintain that our government is founded on the principle of the separation of church and state. The fundamental law of the land states explicitly that "Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." But it is pure hypocrisy to maintain that we carry out these principles in practice. The exemption of church property from taxation is a plain denial of these principles.

And Incidentally we might mention many other evidences of a too close connection between Christianity and government in America, as, for instance, the employment of chaplains in legislative bodies, in the army, and in other government institutions, the appropriation of public money for charitable and educational institutions of a sectarian character, the compulsory reading of the Christian Bible in the public schools of a number of states, the appointment of religious festivals and holidays by the President of the United States and governors of the various states, laws compelling the keeping of Sunday as the Sabbath, and many other such regulations.

It is claimed for the church that it ought to be exempt from taxation because of the, valuable social service which it renders to human suffering. It is well just to keep in mind two facts: first, that very few churches are actually engaged in ministering to the poor (other agencies render such services much more efficiently), and, second, that the churches so engaged never do so from the highest motives; they are always thinking of winning supporters and members.

But granting that the church is a useful institution, " if you were to exempt that which is useful," to quote the wisdom of Ingersoll, "You would exempt every trade and every profession." Or, to use the words of James F. Morton, Jr., In his recent book 'Exempting the Churches,' "Our great philanthropists, scientists, inventors, and educators are not exempt from taxation on the ground of the great good they are doing."

The church contributes services to the state as a police power more valuable than the mere pittance it might pay on its tax exempt property, the friends of religion claim. But does it? I ask this question in all sincerity. It may be there was a time when people could be frightened into being good by the fear of hell. It may be that Voltaire was right in his day when he said that he didn't believe in hell, but he wanted his servants to believe in It. But that time is gone, for hell has been abolished and the church has lost its power (if it ever possessed it) to keep "bad people" in order. It is illuminating in this connection to read the statistics with respect to the religion of criminals confined in our penitentiaries.

To tax church property would put many churches out of existence, the defenders of the exemption of church property say. If an organization cannot pay its way, if it hasn't members and friends who believe in it sufficiently to support it, why should those of us who do not believe in it at all, who believe, in fact, that it is a vicious, superstitious institution, be compelled to support it?

We all agree that there may be some excuse for exempting schools, orphanages, and hospitals from taxation, for they are performing functions the state would be obliged to perform. But religion is another matter -- a very personal and private matter which is no affair of the state.

It cannot be said too frequently to the American people that religion is a strictly private affair, and that it is never the duty of the state to interest itself in either the life or death of the church. The church is not a public institution in the sense that it performs any duties which the state would have to perform in the absence of the church,

To tax church property is "robbery of God," we are told by the defenders of the faith. But which God? The Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, or Jewish, Fundamentalist, or Modernist?

Since the churches are subsidized by the whole community -- by means of tax exemption -- one would suppose that they would be community institutions. But such is not the case -- they are very exclusive and are quick to deny their privileges to the public except upon very exacting conditions.

It is rather illuminating to note that, though all of the states of the Union exempt church property. from taxation, there is expressed in the legislation (pertaining to this matter of church property) in many states a suspicion that religions institutions might speculate in land or might use their buildings and property for profit in the name of religion.

in many states, limitations are placed upon the amount of church property which can be exempted from taxation. In some states, churches are limited to one acre (on which exemption can be claimed) within the city, and to five acres a mile or more from the city,

In the state of New Hampshire, the amount of church property exempt from taxation is limited to $150,000. In Iowa, church land is exempt up to, but not exceeding, 160 acres; in North Dakota, the limit is one acre. In Missouri, the exemption is restricted to one acre within the municipality or within one mile of the municipality, and to five acres if one or more miles from the municipality. In Kansas, exemption applies only to buildings used exclusively for religious purposes and "grounds not to exceed 10 acres." Montana places the exemption of church property on the following basis: "Such property as is used exclusively as places of actual religious worship, but no more than is necessary for such purposes."

The state of Washington exempts all churches, built and supported by donations, whose seats are free, and ground not exceeding 120 feet by 200 feet, together with parsonage. and "the area of unoccupied ground exempted in connection with both church and parsonage shall not exceed 120 feet by 120 feet and the grounds are to be used wholly for religious purposes."

Some of the states place no limit on the property exempted if the property is used exclusively for religious purposes. The statutes in such states read; "all buildings and grounds, when used solely and exclusively for religious purposes," or "when not used for profit," or "when not held by way of investment."

It would be interesting to investigate the enforcement of these statutes, to discover, if possible, how law-abiding church organizations (so loud in their defense of the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act) really are. I dare say that it would be very easy to find many instances of religious organizations exceeding the limit of church property exempt or evading taxes on property used for other than religious purposes,

What one of our leading weekly magazines called "saintly profiteering" is quite common among religious organizations. Look at New York City, for instance, where more than $500,000,000 worth of church property is exempt from taxation! The Madison Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church of New York City recently made $650,000 profit by selling its church property for an apartment house site. A Jewish synagogue, Temple Emanu.El, made $1,000,000 clear from the sale of its property a few years ago. St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City, is said to be located on property worth $10,000,000. The fabulous wealth of Trinity Church, located at the head of Wall Street, is familiar to everyone. But New York is not the only city where such conditions prevail, though its case is extreme. There is, for instance, the case of a great midwestern religious organization which recently won from the Federal government the right to have its income exempt from taxation -- and the income involved in this contest with the government amounted to several million dollars. I refer to the Unity society of Practical Christianity with International headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.

A commission on taxation reported to Governor Pinchot of Pennsylvania a few years ago that in the city of Philadelphia, 14.77 percent of the total property was exempt from taxation, and of this 14.25: percent consisted of churches, parochial schools, and buildings for teachers of parochial schools. The commission reported that it was convinced that this condition constitutes a subtle and dangerous form of securing a state subsidy for religious institutions. "However commendable the purposes of these institutions may be," the committee recorded, "it is nevertheless a fact that the rapid increase in welfare facilities and the generous donations to welfare work are gradually creating a non- taxed class of property which is increasing more rapidly than the wealth of the community, thereby forcing additional tax burdens upon the taxable wealth to an unfair degree."

The commission recommended, therefore, that religious and charitable institutions be required to pay taxes on their land values, leaving improvements exempt.

Very few of our political leaders have ever had the courage to speak out on this matter of taxing church property. Be it said to the glory of General Ulysses S. Grant that while he was President he gave expression to prophetic wisdom in the following words contained in a message to Congress (in 1875):

I would call your attention to the importance of correcting an evil, that if permitted to continue, will probably lead to great trouble in our land before the close of the nineteenth century. It is the acquisition of vast amounts of untaxed church property. In 1850, I believe, the church property of the United states which paid no taxes, municipal or state, amounted to $87,000,000. in 1860 the amount had doubled. In 1870 it was $354,483,587. BY 1900, without a check, it is safe to say, this property will reach a sum exceeding $3,000,000,000. So vast a sum, receiving all the protection and benefits of a government, without bearing its proportion of the burdens and expenses of the same, will not be looked upon acquiescently by those who have to pay the taxes. In a growing country, where real estate enhances so rapidly with time, as in the United States, there is scarcely a limit to the wealth that may be acquired by Corporations, religious or otherwise, If allowed to retain real estate without taxation. The contemplation of so vast a property as here alluded to, without taxation, may lead to sequestration. without constitutional authority, and through blood. I would suggest the taxation of all property equally.

It would be almost impossible to get any sort of a political, intellectual or social leader of today to speak with such boldness concerning the church and its failings.

"One of the clearest and most audacious of the few recent utterances on the taxation of church property has been made by Professor Harry Elmor Barnes in his 'The Twilight of Christianity.' If he is not severely punished by the church for so forthright a condemnation of the church, then I am no prophet. Barnes wrote:

One aspect of the economics of religion is the economic waste connected with the maintenance of ecclesiastical edifices and their operation. One could conceive of a type of religion for which large expenditures would be economically justifiable on the ground that the churches were rendering a very valuable social, economic and ethical service to the community, but the activities of orthodox churches in America must be regarded as rather worse than useless.

The hypothetical adjustment of man to an imaginary supernatural world and the salvation of mankind from a non- existent hell cannot be regarded as a service of any merit whatever. The churches may incidentally offer some relief to the poor, but it is a moot question as to whether, in the long run, this sort of charity is not socially disastrous.

By 1926, the annual expenditures of religious organizations in America for salaries, repairs. payments on debts and benevolence were $814,370,000. To this sum should be added large donations to the cause of foreign missions. The writer of these lines is well known to be a person of pacifist leanings who earnestly deplores our present excessive expenditures for modern armaments, but it is certainly more justifiable to expend large sums of money to protect ourselves against potential earthly enemies, than to appropriate infinitely greater amounts to protect ourselves from wholly imaginary enemies in the postulated spirit world. We may be in no danger from Japan or Great Britain, but they certainly menace us more than the devil.

In 1926, the value of church edifices was $3,842,500,000. These are free from taxation, though they benefit by all sorts of public expenditures such as fire protection, transportation facilities, police protection and the like. Probably no other step would be allowed with such definite practical consequences as the reasonable taxation of church property.

In addition to the churches, we must consider the parochial schools which are maintained at great expense by the faithful, though in many cases parents can ill-afford to make the necessary contributions.

The annual expenditures in America today for this purpose of adjusting Americans to supernatural powers certainly total far more than a billion dollars. One can scarcely refrain from remarking upon what might be done with this money if wisely and directly expended for the secular betterment of mankind, or even used to support modernized religious cults and organizations whose aims are chiefly related to social improvement and aesthetic appreciation.

The present economic status of the American Church -- rightly characterized as "a tax-dodging and tax-eating institution" -- defies the courage and sagacity of liberals. As liberals -- theists, atheists, agnostics, humanists -- we are contributing to the support of religious institutions which are founded upon superstition and whose influence is vicious. This is certainly a violation of the fundamental human liberties and decencies. By no sort of sophistry can we establish any significant difference between appropriating money for a sect and relieving it of taxation. The church at present is enjoying a form of legalized graft, for it is in no sense rendering a service equal to the benefits it enjoys under our liberal laws. The separation of church and state is, so far, merely theoretical. The church is subsidized to the extent of more than $250,000,000 annually by relief from taxation. Its property has increased in value until today it totals more than $6,000,000,000, though some conservative students put the figure at $4 000,000,000.

If the church hasn't the decency to come forward and confess that it has been enjoying special privileges which it did not deserve, and voluntarily give up these privileges, have we liberals the courage to say that the church's abuses of our liberties must cease? And have we the boldness and skill to put the church in its proper place?

This is one of the most challenging labors confronting liberals today.

See also: Why I Believe In Fair Taxation Of Church Property by Joseph McCabe.

Small boats

Monday, April 6, 2009

I lived on the moon

I lived on the moon.Click here for music

Dear little lad
Here is the story of my life
I lived on the moon... Read More... Read More
Grey flying snakes along
the mountains of destiny while
the three tailed monkeys
were drawing the stars.
Light from the Sun and I
hide myself on the dark side, alone
I’ve run so far
to find my way
Then I dream again… alone

Dear little boy, Listen
to the voices of your soul
it showed you the way
Of silence and peace
Follow your thoughts and fly
Choosing all the things that you desire
Giant Waves, fireflies…
Your dreams will be your only shell
Your secrets, your hiding place, my son
Don’t let them try
to crush your brain
let you go far
….my son

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Chile sues U.S. banks over hidden Pinochet accounts

The Associated Press

Updated Thursday, March 12th 2009, 2:39 PM

MIAMI — Chile's government has filed lawsuits against four banks claiming those institutions were negligent or had deliberately helped former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet conceal about $26 million in public funds allegedly stolen over several decades.

The lawsuits filed Wednesday in federal court in Miami claim the banks were complicit in the alleged theft of the Chilean funds by Pinochet and others reputedly assisting him. The Chilean government seeks an unspecified amount of damages, although that would likely run into the tens of millions of dollars.

Following basic bank regulations and complying with money-laundering rules would probably have exposed many of Pinochet's hidden accounts, according to the lawsuits filed by Miami attorneys Pedro J. Martinez-Fraga and Tania Cruz on behalf of Chile's State Defense Council.

"More tragically, some of these financial institutions went beyond mere negligence, and instead chose to knowingly and actively assist Pinochet in concealing the source and true ownership of the substantial funds being deposited into their institutions," the lawsuits by Chile's government legal office allege.

The lawsuits were authorized by a July 2008 decree from Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, according to court documents filed Wednesday.

The decree states that lawsuits should seek "adequate compensation for acts and omissions of United States banks" stemming from their Pinochet dealings.

The State Defense Council, whose mission is to defend Chile's interests at home and abroad, said Thursday in Santiago that it would have no comment "as part of the legal strategy."

Pinochet, one of Latin America's most notorious dictactors, seized power in a bloody 1973 military coup that ousted Marxist President Salvador Allende, who died in the overthrow.

Pinochet embarked on a long campaign to root out leftists, with an official government report concluding some 3,197 people died or disappeared for political reasons before Pinochet left power in 1990.

He continued to serve as army commander-in-chief and as a Chilean senator until 2004, dying two years later at 91.

The government lawsuits name Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group Inc.; Spain's Banco Santander; Espirito Santo Bank of Portugal; and the Bank of Chile. In the case of the foreign banks, the lawsuits focus on transactions handled mainly by their Miami- or U.S.-based subsidiaries.

A PNC spokesman said the bank wouldn't comment. The other three institutions did not immediately respond to e-mail and telephone messages left by The Associated Press seeking a response.

Pinochet's finances have long been the subject of investigations in Chile, the U.S. and elsewhere.

Many of the U.S. connections were exposed by a 2005 U.S. Senate probe that brought to light allegations that Pinochet controlled about 50 secret accounts in 10 U.S. banks through aliases, family members and offshore entities.

One such institution was the venerable Riggs Bank in Washington — acquired in 2005 by PNC — that paid more than $40 million in fines and penalties for its Pinochet relationships.

The Chilean lawsuits allege Pinochet siphoned public money for personal use through a number of ways, including a government presidential security account, accounts opened in the names of Chilean military officers and commissions from various arms deals — such as a late-1990s transaction involving the sale of German Leopard I tanks.

No court dates have been set for any of the lawsuits, which were assigned to four different judges but could be consolidated into a single case.

For years, Pinochet's defense lawyers and family members have said the money was legitimate and the accusations politically motivated. They insist the money came from donations by wealthy supporters worried Pinochet would be persecuted after leaving power.

Pinochet's wife and grown children were indicted on tax fraud charges in Chile amid a probe of the general's wealth.

Those charges were dropped on a technicality in 2007 for those family members save Pinochet's younger son, Marco Antonio, who is still facing charges.

Protestants beat Catholics in child Sex abuse Survey

USA>Society & Culture
from the April 05, 2002 edition

"What drove leaders to begin to respond to this issue was not the welfare of children," Cobble says. "It was fear of large, costly lawsuits."

Sex abuse spans spectrum of churches
By Mark Clayton | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Despite headlines focusing on the priest pedophile problem in the Roman Catholic Church, most American churches being hit with child sexual-abuse allegations are Protestant, and most of the alleged abusers are not clergy or staff, but church volunteers.

These are findings from national surveys by Christian Ministry Resources (CMR), a tax and legal-advice publisher serving more than 75,000 congregations and 1,000 denominational agencies nationwide.

CMR's annual surveys of about 1,000 churches nationwide have asked about sexual abuse since 1993. They're a remarkable window on a problem that lurked largely in the shadows of public awareness until the Catholic scandals arose.

The surveys suggest that over the past decade, the pace of child-abuse allegations against American churches has averaged 70 a week. The surveys registered a slight downward trend in reported abuse starting in 1997, possibly a result of the introduction of preventive measures by churches.

"I think the CMR numbers are striking, yet quite reasonable," says Anson Shupe, anIndiana University professor who's written books about church abuse. "To me it says Protestants are less reluctant to come forward because they don't put their clergy on as high a pedestal as Catholics do with their priests."

At least 70 incidents a week

Dr. Shupe suggests the 70 allegations-per-week figure actually could be higher, because underreporting is common. He discovered this in 1998 while going door to door in Dallas-Ft. Worth communities where he asked 1,607 families if they'd experienced abuse from those within their church. Nearly 4 percent said they had been victims of sexual abuse by clergy. Child sexual abuse was part of that, but not broken out, he says.

James Cobble, executive director of CMR, who oversees the survey, says the data show that child sex-abuse happens broadly across all denominations– and that clergy aren't the major offenders.

"The Catholics have gotten all the attention from the media, but this problem is even greater with the Protestant churches simply because of their far larger numbers," he says.

Of the 350,000 churches in the US, 19,500 – 5 percent – are Roman Catholic. Catholic churches represent a slightly smaller minority of churches in the CMR surveys which aren't scientifically random, but "representative" demographic samples of churches, Dr. Cobble explains.

Since 1993, on average about 1 percent of the surveyed churches reported abuse allegations annually. That means on average, about 3,500 allegations annually, or nearly 70 per among the predominantly Protestant group, Cobble says.

The CMR findings also reveal:

• Most church child-sexual-abuse cases involve a single victim.

• Law suits or out-of-court settlements were a result in 21 percent of the allegations reported in the 2000 survey.

• Volunteers are more likely than clergy or paid staff to be abusers. Perhaps more startling, children at churches are accused of sexual abuse as often as are clergy and staff. In 1999, for example, 42 percent of alleged child abusers were volunteers – about 25 percent were paid staff members (including clergy) and 25 percent were other children.

Still, it is the reduction of reported allegations over nine years that seems to indicate that some churches are learning how to slow abuse allegations with tough new prevention measures, say insurance company officials and church officials themselves.

The peak year for allegations was 1994, with 3 percent of churches reporting an allegation of sexual misconduct compared with just 0.1 percent in 2000. But 2001 data, indicates a swing back to the 1 percent level, still significantly less than the 1993 figures, Cobble says.

Child sexual-abuse insurance claims have slowed, too, industry sources say.

Hugh White, vice president of marketing for Brotherhood Mutual Insurance, in Ft. Wayne, Ind., suggests that the amount of abuse reported in the CMR 2001 data is reasonable though "at the higher end" of the scale.

Mr. White's company insures 30,000 churches – about 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent of which annually report an "incident" of child sexual abuse. But he says that his churches are more highly educated on child abuse prevention procedures than most, which may account for a lower rate of reported abuse than the CMR surveys.

What all the data show is a settling that followed "a large spike" in the frequency and severity of church sexual misconduct claims from the mid-1980s, White says.

"Church insurance carriers implemented educational programs and policies that have helped decrease and then stabilize the trend," agrees Jan Beckstrom, chief operating officer for the church insurer GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines, Iowa.

CMR surveys also show many smaller churches have lagged in starting such programs, while larger churches with more resources and management controls have led the way. And for good reason: They have more to lose, and a larger abuse problem.

"I don't know of a church that isn't doing this," says Simeon May, of the Richardson, Tex.-based National Association of Church Business Administration, which gives training for large churches with administrators.

At Grace Community Church in Tempe, Ariz., the executive pastor, Gary Maitha, says his church has adopted a tougher sort of love since 2000. That's when criminal background checks, finger printing, detailed questionnaires, and careful policies – such as never having children and adults "one-on-one" – kicked into gear. It's a necessity with 700 to 800 children showing up for Sunday School and many more for other church activities during the week, he says.

"We have fingerprinting and a criminal background check for anyone over age 18 that works with children," says the Rev. Maitha. "If it comes back with a blemish, they're not working with kids. That's all there is to it."

Debby DeBernardi, director of Grace Community's children's ministry, says church policies require, for instance, that adults go in pairs when supervising bathroom breaks for children and that they check to ensure no adults are in the bathrooms, before children enter.

Fingerprints for Sunday school

Men who've been screened and fingerprinted may work in the nursery. But only female staff members – not volunteers – may change diapers. Only adults wearing an identity badge that indicates they've been cleared may work with children – and photo IDs are coming soon. Some long-time volunteers, offended by all the new policies, have bowed out of children's activities.

But the new procedures have already proven their worth, Ms. DeBernardi says. "We did have someone already apply who had a police file and had been accused of child molestation. Because of our new procedures, we caught it.... Sometimes you have to bring people in and say, 'Look, you're welcome to come to the church, we love you. But you may not minister in the children's area.' "

That sort of toughness is swiftly becoming a prerequisite for insurance coverage, and to protect against lawsuits and false allegations, which can be nearly as demoralizing to a church organization.

The problem, Cobble says, is that churches are the perfect environment for sexual predators, because they have large numbers of children's' programs, a shortage of workers to lead them, and a culture of trust that is the essence of the organization.

Churches have been active since the early 1990s in addressing the problem, Cobble reports. More than 100,000 copies of a book he co-authored, "Reducing the risk of Child Sexual Abuse in Your Church" were sold.

Since January, when Roman Catholic dioceses nationwide began drawing headlines over pedophile priests, some church organizations have focused anew on revamping sexual abuse policies.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, for instance, is reportedly drafting a new sexual- abuse policy.

Ralph Colas, of the American Council of Christian Churches, a Bethlehem, Penn. organization representing fundamentalist denominations, reports fresh activity. "I've helped several churches this last week draw up some guideline policies," he says. "I've encouraged churches to secure legal advice, to make sure they are meeting the legal mandatory reporting requirements."

Fear of lawsuits sparked new rules

But the shift to "trust but verify" – impelled to a degree by current headlines – has been ongoing since a conference in Chicago in November 1992 when more than 100 denominational leaders met for the first time to discuss how to deal with child sex abuse. About that time, insurance companies were dropping coverage of churches without screening policies.

"What drove leaders to begin to respond to this issue was not the welfare of children," Cobble says. "It was fear of large, costly lawsuits."