Saturday, August 23, 2008

More Americans Question Religion's Role in Politics
Some Americans are having a change of heart about mixing religion and politics. A new survey finds a narrow majority of the public saying that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters and not express their views on day-to-day social and political matters. For a decade, majorities of Americans had voiced support for religious institutions speaking out on such issues.

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center reveals that most of the reconsideration of the desirability of religious involvement in politics has occurred among conservatives. Four years ago, just 30% of conservatives believed that churches and other houses of worship should stay out of politics. Today, 50% of conservatives express this view.

As a result, conservatives' views on this issue are much more in line with the views of moderates and liberals than was previously the case. Similarly, the sharp divisions between Republicans and Democrats that previously existed on this issue have disappeared. ...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Attention All "Evil-Doers": This Really is a Religious War
Like many a good oppressed American Christian, retired Lt. Gen. William "my God was bigger than his" Boykin has now written of his unbearable persecution and suffering in a book. As expected, Boykin, in Never Surrender: A Soldier's Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom, claims that the quotes from his evangelical pep rallies that caused him so much trouble were "ripped out of context" by the media. But, in explaining this alleged out of context quoting, Boykin himself resorts to ripping his own words out of context -- the only way he can make his backpedalling seem plausible.

I don't want to dwell on Boykin too much. In fact, I hadn't actually intended to write about Boykin at all. He is now retired, and, other than feeding the persecution complex enjoyed by so many other members of our country's oppressed majority religion, he can't do much further damage. What's of far greater concern is the number other military leaders and members of Congress -- in office now -- who have publicly made Boykin-like statements describing the current war as a religious one, a subject that I coincidentally happened to be writing about last week when I found out that Boykin's book was
being released.....

Federal Worker Pay Blasts Off
The new data show that the 1.8 million federal civilian workers earned an average wage of $77,143 in 2007, which is 61 percent higher than the $48,035 average in the U.S. private sector. That 61 percent pay advantage has increased from a 34 percent advantage in 2000.

Looking at total compensation (wages plus benefits), federal workers earned an average $116,450 in 2007, which is more than double the $57,615 private sector average. The federal compensation advantage increased from 68 percent in 2000 to 102 percent today. Federal workers not only earn much more than private sector workers, their earnings advantage is getting more pronounced every year.

Federal compensation rose quickly during the 1990s, but even faster during the 2000s. I call this the “Bush Bounce” because it appears that the Bush administration has caved into federal union demands for expanded pay year after year. Between 2000 and 2007, average federal compensation increased at an annual average rate of 6.3 percent, which compares to the private sector increase of 3.5 percent. During the 1990s, average federal worker compensation increased at an average rate of 5.1 percent. The charts below illustate the “blast off” in federal wages and compensation. ...

Cardinal George’s deposition
... In his deposition, George revealed under oath the steps, missteps and lies that led to McCormack’s tenure at St. Agatha years after initial allegations of misconduct surfaced during his seminary days. According to the document, as many as 23 people have alleged abuse by McCormack, who is now serving a 5-year prison sentence.

The allegations against McCormack spurred the archdiocese to commission an independent 2006 audit of what went wrong in the case. In the deposition, the cardinal also detailed church deception and coverup in the Bennett investigation—facts omitted from that audit.

Standing before television cameras Tuesday, the cardinal once again said he was sorry for not acting sooner and promised more transparency.

“In the sense I’m responsible for this archdiocese, I have to accept the blame,” George said.

The eight-hour, 305-page transcript of George and Anderson taken in January displayed a wide range of emotions from remorse to defensiveness. In the sometimes confrontational exchange, the cardinal also blamed other institutions for allowing McCormack to go free, including police, prosecutors and child welfare officials.

He defended the archdiocese’s actions regarding the delayed removal of Bennett from Holy Ghost parish in South Holland in February 2006. Bennett’s removal was prompted by the widening McCormack scandal.

In the investigation of Bennett, the deposition finds the cardinal and church officials received four detailed allegations of sexual abuse dating back to 2002. But they did not act to remove Bennett from his church until 2006, despite two recommendations from the archdiocese review board months earlier, according to the deposition.

Instead, Bennett was placed under the supervision of a monitor, Rev. Leonard Dubi, who apparently was Bennett’s close friend. George disregarded a recommendation by an archdiocese review board to remove Bennett in October 2005 and again in November, attributing the delay to the priest’s lack of representation by a canon lawyer.

By the time he was removed, the deposition reveals, more than a dozen allegations had mounted against the priest—a fact the archdiocese failed to tell parishioners and the public....

Videotape shows man beaten by Denver Police
...The Denver District Attorney's office has dropped its case against a man who was facing three years in prison for assault, after 9Wants to Know obtained and showed prosecutors a videotape of the man's arrest....

..."The thing that kind of made everybody gasp was when the officer took the back of the guy's head and shoved it to the ground on his face," said TV producer Greg Prinkey. "He was not resisting. It was totally uncalled for."

When Prinkey saw men beating Heaney, he ran in to stop the fight. The video shows that's when the officers yelled, "Hey, we're cops! Get the (expletive) out of here!"

Prinkey gave the videotape of the arrest to 9NEWS.

"Had I not been rolling the camera, and no one else was rolling the camera, it might have just been swept under the rug," Prinkey said. ..

Governments caused the credit crisis, but capitalism gets the blame
..."One simply cannot ignore the number of indicators that are now simultaneously exhibiting marked deviations," concluded the BIS. That was in June 2005.

Regrettably, governments did exactly that. They ignored manifest risks. Real interest rates were held near or below zero in the US and a large arc of Europe until well into 2006....

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Did Bush manipulate the anthrax scare?
... Back in the autumn of 2001 the anthrax envelopes convinced millions of Americans

reeling from the collapse of the Trade Towers that Yes, this was war and Islam was the enemy. The crudely written notes accompanying the spores said "Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great."

Within hours the Bush administration was leaking stories to the effect that analysis of the anthrax in the envelopes disclosed the presence of bentonite and this chemical footprint - so the anonymous sources insisted to their favoured outlet, Brian Ross of ABC News - was characteristic of products from the bio-terror labs of Saddam Hussein. ...

... As Greenwald writes this week, ABC News is not protecting sources. "The people who fed them the bentonite story aren't 'sources'. They're fabricators and liars who purposely used ABC News to disseminate to the American public an extremely consequential and damaging falsehood."

True enough. ABC News is clearly embarrassed by Greenwald's soundly-based charges. Will Ross 'fess up to who fed him the stories? I doubt it. He's been a useful conduit for government leaks on matters such as the utility of water-boarding as a vital weapon in the war on terror. He'll keep his mouth shut, even as public cynicism about Bush and Cheney, and the press, soar to new highs.

Starbucks and the socialism of fools
When is the loss of 12,600 jobs a cause for celebration? When those 12,600 workers are mere Starbucks baristas, young men and women in green aprons who use annoying words like ‘venti’ and ‘wet’ (what drink isn’t wet?) while serving overpriced coffee to harried young professionals. Who cares if these workers – many of whom work at Starbucks to finance their studies – are stripped of their livelihoods and forced to peruse the ads in soulless Job Centres? Serves them right for getting a job with the Evil Corporate Coffee Empire in the first place.

At least, that is the implicit message of much of the whooping and cheering that has greeted Starbucks’ economic turmoil. Since the Seattle-based coffee-serving corporation announced that it was closing 600 stores in the US and 61 in Australia – with the disgraceful cutting of up to 12,000 jobs in America and 685 Down Under – commentators have been quaffing some no doubt ethically sourced champagne to celebrate. At last, the corporation - which, as one British journalist wrote yesterday, has ‘earned VIP status at the top table of brands that anti-globalisation activists love to hate’ - is closing outlets rather than opening new ones. ...

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Where's the beef?
...A Southern Baptist by birth, and still a self-described evangelical, Wicker decided to investigate conventional wisdom about the numerical strength of America's moral majority. What she found should embarrass the secular media almost as much as it should evangelical leaders. The National Association of Evangelical's claim to represent 30 million souls? Wicker says the actual number is closer to 4.5 million. The Southern Baptist's Convention's estimate of 16 million members? Try a quarter of that number. ...

Numbers racket
Religion: Survey results on megachurch growth do not add up

...While the new lists correct sorting and ranking errors, they do not revise the erroneous information given to the magazine by the churches themselves. Dan Gilgoff covers the evangelical movement for U.S. News & World Report and is the author of The Jesus Machine. He told WORLD that in his experience, megachurch pastors "notoriously inflate membership" numbers. The reasons? "Media attention, political influence, and money," Gilgoff said....

What are the odds that we’re baking the planet?
For some years now, governments, industry, and private citizens have been regularly chastised by environmental activists for not doing more to limit greenhouse gases, the presumed cause of global warming. But lately a far more serious charge has been made. In June, the oft-quoted NASA climate scientist James Hansen appeared before a United States congressional committee. He said that the directors of fossil-fuel companies ‘should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature’ (1).

But these people shouldn’t be prosecuted just for producing fossil fuels. Hansen thinks they should also be prosecuted because, as he wrote in the UK Guardian: ‘Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link.’ (2)

In other words, fossil fuel company directors should be prosecuted for what they say, as well as for what they do.

It’s a common type of argument, familiar to anyone acquainted with totalitarian regimes: the nation (or revolution, race, class, etc) is in grave peril from (fill in the blank). But there are traitors among us who spread lies, seeking to weaken our resolve. They must be restrained (temporarily, of course) for the good of us all.

But there’s no reason this policy should only be applied to peddlers of coal and oil. Anyone who casts doubt on the reality of global warming would be equally guilty of imperilling the entire Earth. In the face of the imminent and overwhelming threat of catastrophic climate change, strict measures would (regrettably) have to be taken. ...