Can you believe in both science and religion? Michael Nugent debating at UCC

Ireland apologises for ‘slave labour’ at Magdalene Laundries

From The Guardian UK:

Taoiseach Enda Kenny forced into finally saying sorry for ‘the hurt and trauma’ caused to up to 10,000 Magdalene women

in Dublin, Tuesday 19 February 2013

The Irish State has finally said sorry to 10,000 women and girls incarcerated in Catholic Church-run laundries where they were treated as virtual slaves.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was forced into issuing a fulsome apology on Tuesday evening to those held in the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland.

The apology in the Dáil (Irish parliament) came about two weeks after a damning 1,000-plus page report was released detailing the way women and girls were maltreated inside the nun-controlled laundries.

Survivors groups were infuriated when the Irish premier initially declined a fortnight ago to explicitly apologise for the state’s role in sending women and girls into the Magdalene Laundries, sometimes simply for coming from broken homes or being unmarried mothers.

In a powerful speech to a packed Dáil Eireann, Kenny made some amends for what many view as a major error of judgment on the day the report was released.

At the end of his address, Kenny appeared to break down briefly, choking back tears as he quoted a Magdalene woman’s song to him during a meeting recently.

The Taoiseach said what happened to the Magdalene women had “cast a long shadow over Irish life, over our sense of who we are”.

He said he “deeply regretted and apologised” for the hurt and trauma inflicted upon those sent to the Magdalene Laundries.

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Bradley Manning: 1,000 days in detention and secrecy still reigns

From The Guardian UK:

The WikiLeaks suspect’s prosecution has been conducted with a complete absence of transparency – with worrying implications, Friday 22 February 2013

On Saturday Bradley Manning will mark his 1,000th day imprisoned without trial. In the course of those thousand days, from the moment he was formally put into pre-trial confinement on 19 May 2010 on suspicion of being the source of the WikiLeaks disclosures, Manning has been on a long and eventful journey.

It has taken him from the desert of Iraq, where he was arrested at a military operating base outside Baghdad, to a prison tent in Kuwait. From there he endured his infamous harsh treatment at Quantico Marine base in Virginia, and for the last 14 months he has attended a series of pre-trial hearings at Fort Meade in Maryland, the latest of which begins next week.

For the small band of reporters who have tracked the prosecution of Private First Class Manning, the journey has also been long and eventful. Not in any way comparable, of course; none of us have been ordered to strip naked or put in shackles, and we have all been free to go home at night without the prospect of a life sentence hanging over us.

But it’s been an education, nonetheless. Though we are a mixed bag – a fusion of traditional outlets such as the Washington Post and Associated Press and new-look bloggers such as Firedoglake and the Bradley Manning support network – we have been thrown together by our common mission to report on the most high-profile prosecution of an alleged leaker in several decades.

There’s something else that binds us – disparate though our reporting styles and personal politics might be – and that’s the daily struggle to do our jobs properly, confronted as we are by the systemic furtiveness of the US government. It’s an irony that appears to be lost on many of the military lawyers who fill the courtroom at Fort Meade. A trial that has at its core the age-old confrontation between a government’s desire for confidentiality and the public’s need to know, is itself being conducted amid stringent restrictions on information.

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House Republicans strip LGBT, Native American protections from Violence Against Women Act

From Raw Story:

By David Ferguson
Saturday, February 23, 2013

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have answered the Senate’s proposal to renew the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) by presenting their own version of the bill, but with protections of LGBT Americans taken out and a loophole that could exempt Native Americans victims of domestic abuse.

According to Think Progress, the House bill could derail renewal of the VAWA, killing any momentum the Senate bill had gathered since its proposal on Feb. 12.

Huffington Post provided a link to the bill and section-by-section analysis, which found the bill lacking any mention of key protections included in the Senate version of the renewal.

The House bill removes “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from “the list of underserved populations who face barriers to accessing victim services, thereby disqualifying LGBT victims from a related grant program,” wrote Huffington’s Jennifer Bendery. As a result, funds could potentially be witheld from LGBT-inclusive shelters and crisis centers.

States would have more discretion under the House version of the bill to determine what populations are being underserved, and are therefore more deserving of funding than others.

House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) said that protections included in the Senate bill for Native American victims of domestic violence are “unconstitutional.” Under the House bill, Native American tribal courts can prosecute non-Native American perpetrators of domestic abuse, but the maximum sentence those courts can impose is set at 1 year.

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What Europe’s Elites Don’t Know

From In These Times:

When the blind are leading the blind, democracy is the victim.

BY Slavoj Žižek
February 20, 2013

In one of his last interviews before his fall, despot Nicolae Ceausescu was asked by a Western journalist how he justified the fact that Romanian citizens could not travel freely abroad, though freedom of movement was guaranteed by the constitution. His answer: True, the constitution guarantees the freedom of movement, but it also guarantees the right of the people to a safe and prosperous home. So we have here a potential conflict of rights: If Romanian citizens were to be allowed to freely leave the country, the prosperity of the homeland would be in danger. One has to make a choice, and, as Ceausescu saw it, the right to a prosperous and safe homeland enjoys a clear priority.

It seems that this spirit of Stalinist sophistry is alive and well in today’s Slovenia, where, on Dec. 19, 2012, the Constitutional Court ruled that a public referendum on proposed “bad bank” legislation was unconstitutional. The idea behind the legislation was to create a new bank to which the main banks would transfer all their bad loans, preventing any serious inquiry into who was responsible for both making and taking out these bad loans. Then, the government would bail out the “bad bank” (at the taxpayers’ expense). The legislation, which had been debated for months, was far from being accepted as sound economic policy, even by financial specialists. The referendum was promoted by trade unions opposed to the government’s neoliberal economic politics, and it received enough signatures to make it obligatory.

So why prohibit the referendum? After all, in 2011, when Papandreou’s government in Greece proposed a referendum on austerity measures, the Troika—the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank—panicked. But even in Brussels no one dared to directly prohibit it.

According to the Slovenian Constitutional Court, the referendum “would have caused unconstitutional consequences.” How? The court, using logic similar to Ceausescu’s, conceded that referendum is a constitutional right, but concluded that the execution of that right in this case would endanger other constitutional values that should be given priority in a situation of severe economic crisis: the efficient functioning of the state apparatus, especially in creating conditions for economic growth; and the realization of human rights, especially the rights to social security and free economic initiative. In assessing the potential consequences of the referendum, the court simply accepted as an undisputed fact the reasoning of the international financial authorities who were pressuring Slovenia to enact more austerity measures. In other words, failing to obey the dictates or meet the expectations of international financial institutions (or to meet their expectations) can lead to political and economic crisis, and is thus unconstitutional. Or, to put it bluntly: Since meeting these dictates is the condition of maintaining the constitutional order, they have priority over the constitution (and eo ipso state sovereignty).

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When You’re Cutting Social Security, ‘Wealthy’ Begins at $25K

From Common Dreams:

by Jim Naureckas
Published on Saturday, February 23, 2013 by Common Dreams

Here’s a proposal for Social Security that was on the New York Times‘ op-ed page Wednesday (2/20/13):

The top third of beneficiaries (by lifetime income) [would] receive no annual cost-of-living adjustment in retirement. The middle third would get half of today’s adjustment, and the bottom third would receive the same annual increase they do now. Such a reform…would reduce Social Security spending by more than a tenth over a decade and fix the program’s long-term financing.

This is part of Paul Ryan adviser Yuval Levin‘s attempt to find “common ground” on the entitlement issue: “Both sides should agree at least to spend less money on the wealthy.” So who are these “wealthy” people who would be getting a benefit cut equal to the rate of inflation every year? According to the  SSA, about 34 percent of people over 65 have family incomes of $50,000.

Now, you can argue about what “wealthy” is, but I think you would find pretty widespread agreement on what wealthy isn’t: $50,000 a year. If you sent the New York Times an op-ed outlining your plan to balance the budget by raising taxes on “wealthy” people who make 50k a year or more, it would be put in the same pile that gets the submissions about Elvis’s UFO diet. But when you’re talking about cutting entitlements, if you want to call those people “wealthy,” that’s perfectly reasonable.

But wait! Those aren’t the only people who are getting too much from the government and need to have their benefits cut–the middle third of the elderly are also “wealthy” and need their benefits cut–but by only half the rate of inflation per year. The ones making more than $50,000 must be the super-wealthy, the regular wealthy make…between $25,000 and $50,000, roughly.

For comparison purposes, the poverty line for a family of four is $23,350. Talk about a shrinking middle class!

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Raising the Minimum Wage Is Good for Business (But the Corporate Lobby Doesn’t Think So)

From Truth Out:

By Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen,
Friday, 22 February 2013

Contrary to naysayers in the business lobby, numerous studies suggest increasing the minimum wage to $9 an hour and tying it to the cost of living will lift millions of Americans out of poverty and stimulate the economy.

As soon as Barack Obama called on Congress to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, you could see Speaker John Boehner, seated behind the president, uttering his religious mantra: “Job killer.” And even if you couldn’t read his lips, you could read his mind: “Campaign contributions.” He and his Republican colleagues could expect huge donations from business lobby groups – especially those that depend on low-wage workers, like the hotel industry, restaurants and fast-food chains, nursing homes and hospitals and big-box retailers – to keep Congress from embracing Obama’s modest proposal.

Boehner’s “job killer” grumble should come as no surprise. Business groups and their political allies have been “crying wolf” about the minimum wage ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed it during the Depression to help stimulate the economy. The critics warned that enacting a minimum wage would destroy employees’ drive to work hard and would force many firms out of business. The minimum wage law, warned the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) in 1937, “constitutes a step in the direction of communism, bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism.” Congressman Edward Cox, a Georgia Democrat, said that the law “will destroy small industry.” These ideas, Cox claimed, “are the product of those whose thinking is rooted in an alien philosophy and who are bent upon the destruction of our whole constitutional system and the setting up of a Red Labor communistic despotism upon the ruins of our Christian civilization.” Roosevelt and most members of Congress ignored these warnings and adopted the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, establishing the federal minimum wage of 25 cents an hour.

Since then, each time Congress has considered raising the minimum wage, business groups and conservatives have repackaged the same arguments. In 1945, NAM claimed that, “The proposed jump from an hourly minimum of 40 to 65 cents at once, and 70 and 75 cents in the following years, is a reckless jolt to the economic system. Living standards, instead of being improved, would fall – probably to record lows.” Instead, the next three decades saw the biggest increased in living standards in the nation’s history.

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Death of a Yuppie Dream: The Rise and Fall of the Professional-Managerial Class

From Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung:

Barbara Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich
February 2013

Saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, unemployed or working part-time for not much more than minimum wage: the struggling recent college graduate has—thanks to Occupy Wall Street—become a new iconic figure on the American cultural landscape. To many it seems that an implicit promise has been broken: work hard, get an education and you will ascend to the middle class.

Middle class is a famously flexible term in the United States, but here it seems to mean something close to what Barbara Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich first labeled the “professional-managerial class” (PMC) in 1977. This class of college-educated professionals is distinct from— and often at odds with—both the traditional working class and the old middle class of small business owners, not to mention wealthy business owners. Organized into largely autonomous professions defined by specialized knowledge and ethical standards, members of the PMC at times—from the Progressive Era to the New Left—were instrumental in mobilizing for progressive causes.

Today, the PMC as a distinct class seems to be endangered. At the top end, exorbitant compensation and bonuses have turned managers into corporate owners. At the bottom, journalists have been laid off, recent PhDs have gone to work as part-time, temporary adjuncts rather than tenure-track professors, and those now iconic recent graduates have taken to the streets. In the middle, lawyers and doctors are more and more likely to work for corporations rather than in private practices. Once independent professionals, they are now employees.

In this study, Barbara Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich deploy an all-too-rare example of class analysis as they revisit the concept of the professional-managerial class. Against the background of this new class’ historical evolution since the late 19th century and its rise in the 20th, the authors focus on the more recent development of the PMC. In the 1970s, this class seemed ascendant. An increasing percentage of the workforce held professional jobs, and many members of the PMC had found a distinct political voice in the New Left. Since 1980, however, things have looked less rosy. As capital attacked the autonomy of the liberal professions, the rightwing media tapped into working-class resentment of the “liberal elite.” More recently, while college educated workers, despite the impact of the Great Recession, have continued to do relatively well as a demographic category, the PMC as a class capable of acting in its own interest seems to be an increasingly irrelevant product of the 20th century.

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Moyers: Rampant Capitalism Has Created a Social Disaster — How Do We Right the Ship?

From Alternet:

The public rescued the One Percenters after the financial crisis and now their wealth is skyrocketing once again. But what about the rest of us?

By Bill Moyers, Richard D. Wolff
February 23, 2013


Economist Richard Wolff joins Bill to shine light on the disaster left behind in capitalism’s wake, and to discuss the fight for economic justice, including a fair minimum wage. A Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, and currently Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School, Wolff has written many books on the effects of rampant capitalism, including Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. There’s hardly a sentient grown-up in this country who isn’t aware that our economy is no longer working for vast numbers of everyday people. The rich and powerful have more wealth and power than ever; everyone else keeps losing ground. Between 2009 and 2011 alone, income fell for the 99 percent, while it rose eleven percent for the top One Percent. Since the worst of the financial crisis, that top One Percent has captured the increases in income while the rest of the country has floundered. Stunning, isn’t it? The behavior of many of those One Percenters brought on the financial crisis in the first place. We turned around and rescued them, and now their wealth is skyrocketing once again. At the bottom, working people are practically flat on their back. President Obama has finally recognized they need help. In his State of the Union, he proposed an increase in the minimum wage:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to nine dollars an hour.

BILL MOYERS: But as the economist Dean Baker points out this week, “If the minimum wage had risen in step with productivity growth it would be over $16.50 an hour today.” We talk a lot about what’s happening to the middle class, but the American Dream’s really become a nightmare for the poor. Just about everyone has an opinion about the trouble we’re in – the blame game is at fever pitch in Washington, where obstinate Republicans and hapless Democrats once again play kick-the-can with the problems we face. You wish they would just stop and listen to Richard Wolff.

An attentive and systematic observer of capitalism and democracy, he taught economics for 25 years at the University of Massachusetts and has published books such as “Democracy at Work,” “Occupy the Economy,” and “Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do about It.” He’s now visiting professor at The New School University here in New York City where he’s teaching a special course on the financial crash. Welcome, Richard Wolff.

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