Why We Want to Keep Church and State as Far Away from Each Other as Possible

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-we-want-keep-church-and-state-far-away-each-other-possible

Sixties icon and essayist Paul Krassner’s definition of religion is “a cult that’s exempt from paying taxes.”

By Paul Krassner
April 12, 2013

Last month in London, an atheist church was launched with a reading from Alice in Wonderland, a Powerpoint presentation by a particle physicist explaining the origins of antimatter, and a congregational singalong with songs by Stevie Wonder and Queen. Indeed, we’ve come a long way, baby. Personally, I stopped believing in God when I was a kid and the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. How, I thought, could an omnipotent deity allow that to happen?

I was militant in my disbelief until the 1960s. After all, Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian leader, but I was inspired by his actions, whereas George Lincoln Rockwell, head of the American Nazi Party, labeled himself an agnostic, yet I abhorred his actions. I could no longer judge people by what they believed, but rather by whether they were kind or cruel to others. As simple as that. However, I’ve remained adamant about the separation of church and state.

My definition of a religion is a cult that’s exempt from paying taxes. Scientology, for example. L. Ron Hubbard’s book Dianetics became a bestseller with the aid of a Scientologist employed at the New York Times who leaked the names of those bookstores around the country that provide the basis for the Times’ bestseller list. Hubbard’s thesis was that traumatic shock occurs not only during early childhood, but also during the pre-natal stage.

In Neurotica magazine, G. Legman took off on that concept with his own cult, called Epizootics, “demonstrating the basic cause of all neurosis in father’s tight-fitting jockstrap.” Not to be outdone by parody, Hubbard in 1952 turned Dianetics into Scientology, which traced trauma back to previous lives, not necessarily incarnations that were spent on this planet. In fact, Scientologists were forbidden to see the movie 2001 in order to avoid “heavy and unnecessary restimulation.” By what? When Hal the computer says “Unclear”?

In 1955, Hubbard incorporated Scientology as a religion. This would enable its ministers to gain entry into hospitals and prisons, not to mention getting tax exempt status. He issued the Professional Auditors Bulletin, a handbook for luring prospects into the Scientology fold. One example was the “illness research” method, taking out a newspaper ad such as: “Polio victims — a charitable organization investigating polio desires to examine several victims of the after-effects of this illness. Phone so-and-so.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-we-want-keep-church-and-state-far-away-each-other-possible

See Also:  Alternet: 6 Sneaky Ways the Christian Right Foists Its Biblical Agenda on America

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Will Voters Forgive Obama for Cutting Social Security?

From The Nation:  http://www.thenation.com/blog/173771/will-voters-forgive-obama-cutting-social-security#

William Greider
on April 10, 2013

President Obama has riled loyal Democrats by tossing Social Security onto the table in his poker game with Republicans. Not to worry. I think I know how this story ends. A year from now, when the 2014 congressional campaigns are hot underway, Republicans will be running against Obama-the-slasher and promising to protect Social Security from the bloodthirsty Democrats.

By then, having lost on his too-cute strategy, the president will be reduced to lamely reassuring old folks. Really, he didn’t actually intend to cut their benefits, really he didn’t. It was just a ploy to get tightwad conservatives to give in a little on tax increases. Republicans can pull out the videotapes in which Obama and team explain their high-minded purpose—sacrificing the Democratic party’s sacred honor in order to get Republicans to play nice.

Forget about that. House Speaker John Boehner promptly brushed off Obama’s gambit. If the president wants to whack Social Security, Boehner suggested he can do it, but don’t expect the GOP to collaborate in such a plot. “If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to shore up these programs, there is no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes,” Boehner said.

The president set this trap himself; now Boehner will spring it on him. Does Obama not remember how Democrats lost control of the House back in 2010? The party got very little credit for enacting health care reform because the Republicans had already demonized the accomplishment as a threat to the much-beloved program of Medicare. The rightwingers promised to save Medicare from bloodthirsty Democrats by repealing Obama’s new reform program. This was all a ridiculous lie, of course, but the White House declined to call out the liars. Instead, Obama responded with flowers. This time, he is taking Republicans out to diinner.

So here is what I expect to happen. The elaborate and confusing charade of deficit politics will continue through this year and next—both parties solemnly seeking to shrink the swollen federal deficits—and distracting Washington from the real economic threat of stagnation or worse. At the end of the day, Social Security will not be cut. Nor will much else be accomplished, for good or for ill. Yes, the two parties may eventually approve some grandiose budget resolutions—official promises to cut spending drastically. But that process is usually a charade in itself with a long-established history of fiction and fantasy.

Continue reading at:  http://www.thenation.com/blog/173771/will-voters-forgive-obama-cutting-social-security#

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Obama’s proposal hurts people with disabilities

From The Progressive:  http://www.progressive.org/obama-social-security-proposal-detrimental-to-people-with-disabilities

By Mike Ervin
April 12, 2013

In his budget proposal, President Obama is betraying the poorest Americans with disabilities.

By supporting the so-called chained CPI, which alters the way the consumer price index is calculated, Obama would increase the cost of living for people who rely on Social Security and other government programs. It leaves those who have the least with even less.

For example, more than 8 million Americans with disabilities, including more than 1 million disabled children under age 18, depend on Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The average monthly SSI payment is $520, which is a meager $6,240 a year. For more than 57 per cent of those receiving SSI, this is their only source of income.

Applying the chained CPI would result in an estimated $127 billion less in Social Security payments over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The impact on individuals would be significant. The average monthly SSI payment would be $164 less 10 years from now than it would be using the old formula, according to the Arc, an advocacy group for people with disabilities. In 20 years it would be $341 less, and in 40 years it would be $680 less.

Continue reading at:  http://www.progressive.org/obama-social-security-proposal-detrimental-to-people-with-disabilities

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Kitchen Sink Socialism

From Jacobin:  http://jacobinmag.com/2013/04/kitchen-sink-socialism/?utm_source=Daily+Digest&utm_campaign=1643905b73-DD_4_9_134_9_2013


A curious thing happened in the Beltway last week: for the 48 hours surrounding two landmark gay marriage Supreme Court oral arguments, the millennial political class’ collective Facebook feed blushed bright red. Obama-handshake profile pictures gave way to a sharp crimson square designed by the Human Rights Campaign’s marketing department.

Between torrents of memes and legal commentary on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s skim milk analogy, Samuel Alito’s rusting Burkeanism, and Elena Kagan’s “batting average,” another item, a report about adults turning to cooperative households to save money, passed without remark in liberal circles.        

Two million Americans over the age of 30 now live with a housemate or roommate, and shared households make up 18 percent of U.S. households – a 17 percent increase since 2007.

One group of women sold their homes and bought a house together in Mount Lebanon, Pa., after they all got divorced.

“It made amazing economic sense,” said one of the women, Jean McQuillin. McQuillin, Louise Machinist and Karen Bush call their home a “cooperative household.” Each woman has her own bedroom and bathroom, and they share the common areas of the house, chores and expenses.

The suspicion of a generation of queer leftists is at last confirmed: the lifestyle upending Western Civilization’s social cornerstone looks less like committed gay and lesbian families and more like the Golden Girls.

Tellingly, the piece went viral on the Drudge Report. Just one reason to think that petit bourgeois paranoiacs have better eyes for social decline than the average Tumblring anthropology major.

Reactionary as it is, reading the original article is a useful exercise. It emphasizes the women’s dire financial straits, ensuring us that they are normal, monogamous schoolteacher-types who’ve just happened upon bad times — and not, God forbid, the sort of Wiccan lesbian coven that keeps a herd of cats in common. We’re told that they are “really busy,” “hardly ever [at home] at the same time” and that they, “share values in order to make things work.” The single advocate cited makes her argument in language that wouldn’t be out of place in a Family Research Council pamphlet: “Taking the stress off of parents in having to do everything for their kids and not sharing the load is really to me the heart of the American dream.”

Continue reading at:  http://jacobinmag.com/2013/04/kitchen-sink-socialism/?utm_source=Daily+Digest&utm_campaign=1643905b73-DD_4_9_134_9_2013

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Senators and Unions Call for Obama to Intervene in Patriot Coal Bankruptcy

From In These Times:  http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/14860/senators_and_unions_call_for_obama_to_intervene_in_patriot_coal_bankruptcy/

By Mike Elk
Friday Apr 12, 2013

UMWA members rallied in St. Louis on Jan. 29 to protest Patriot Coal’s attempt in bankruptcy court to evade its obligations to retirees.   (Photo by Mike Elk)

Charleston, WV–“I have been in the union for 40 years and I have never been as scared in my life as I am right now,” says retired miner and United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) member David Bella of Boone County, West Virginia. Depending on a court’s decision in the pending bankruptcy case of Patriot Coal, Bella’s pension and retirement benefits could be wiped out, along with those of 20,000 other beneficiaries.

To the UMWA, that loss is only one piece of the grave threat posed by the Patriot Coal bankruptcy. The miners union has filed suit claiming that Arch Coal and Peabody Energy designed Patriot Coal to fail—then shifted over a billion dollars in pension and retiree health care debts to Patriot as a ploy to get out of those obligations. The UMWA fears if Peabody and Arch get away with spinning off their obligations to a company designed to collapse, more coal companies will take similar measures. (Read WITT’s previous reporting on the Patriot Coal bankrupty.)

I spoke with Bella on April 1 at a rally of over 5,000 UMWA supporters in Charleston. Despite the turnout, he and many other miners remained pessimistic that the rally would convince the bankruptcy judge to turn down Patriot’s request to be relieved of its benefit obligations.

“This is a pep rally,” said Bella. “We had pep rallies before basketball games in high school. What’s it gonna do?”

Should the bankruptcy judge not rule in the miners’ favor, the union is looking for other ways to pressure the company. Since Patriot Coal pays into a multi-employer pension plan administered by the UMWA, miners union President Cecil Roberts hopes that the other employers will be motivated to put legal pressure on Patriot Coal to maintain its contributions so they won’t be stuck paying more. Under the plan proposed by Patriot, federal insurance would cover most—though not all—of Patriot’s cuts to its contributions to the multi-employer pension plan, and retirees would continue to receive their full pensions, at least for the time being. However, pensions for all coal miners could take a hit when the multi-employer plan comes up for re-negotiation in 2017.

Continue reading at:  http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/14860/senators_and_unions_call_for_obama_to_intervene_in_patriot_coal_bankruptcy/

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Shell’s Plot to Take Away Your First Amendment Rights

From Green Peace:  http://greenpeaceblogs.org/2013/04/12/shells-plot-to-take-away-your-first-amendment-rights/


Corporations want to work in secret. It’s what they do, and why they have lawyers. In secret, they can spill, clearcut, burn, and otherwise destroy the environment and local communities while telling the world they’re doing just the opposite. Shell Oil’s legal team is currently working overtime to keep the company’s Arctic work secret from advocacy groups like Greenpeace. It’s a battle that will have implications well beyond the Far North. If Shell ultimately wins the legal battle with us this month, corporate secrecy will have the blessing of a federal court — and America’s First Amendment rights will take a devastating hit.

The thought is chilling.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California is currently weighing whether Shell has the right to preemptively stop Greenpeace from protesting Shell’s drilling in the Alaskan Arctic. If the court ultimately rules in Shell’s favor, nothing would stop other corporations from taking the same preemptive action against anyone they saw as likely protesters — from neighborhood groups to Amnesty International. The worst of these suits would eventually be overturned on appeal, but with the precedent set by Shell, anyone who wanted to silence protest outside a convention or a disaster site could do so for the duration of whatever activity they wanted to keep secret.

Advocacy groups like Greenpeace adamantly oppose this type of corporate secrecy. We work to bring attention to corporate destruction so people understand the stakes in fights from the Arctic to the Amazon. Our ability to go wherever the planet and its people are in danger is why Greenpeace strikes fear into corporations like Shell, so much so that they will go to extraordinary lengths to stop us from exposing the work it wants to keep secret.

In February 2012, as Shell prepared to begin what became its disastrous attempt to drill in the Arctic, the company filed an injunction against Greenpeace USA. This came the day after activists associated with Greenpeace New Zealand boarded the Noble Discoverer, one of Shell’s two Arctic class drill rigs. On March 1, 2012, despite the fact that no Greenpeace USA activists were involved in the New Zealand action, a federal judge granted Shell a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction prohibiting Greenpeace USA from taking action against “Shell’s interests,” including any otherwise lawful activity that might happen within a court-mandated “buffer zone.”

Continue reading at:  http://greenpeaceblogs.org/2013/04/12/shells-plot-to-take-away-your-first-amendment-rights/

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San Onofre to the Public: DROP DEAD!

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/04/13-4

by Harvey Wasserman

The bitter battle over two stricken southern California reactors has taken a shocking seismic hit.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ignored critical questions from two powerful members of Congress just as the Government Accountability Office has cast serious doubt on the emergency planning at the San Onofre nuclear plant.

At a cost of some $770 million, Southern California Edison and its partners installed faulty steam generators at San Onofre Units 2 and 3 that have failed and leaked.

Those reactors have been shut since January 2012 (similar defects doomed Unit 1 in 1992).

They’ve generated zero electricity, but SCE and its partners have billed ratepayers over a billion dollars for them.

SCE wants San Onofre reopened by June 1. The idea is to experiment with Unit 2 at 70% of full power for five months, despite widespread concerns that the defective generators will fail again.

That would require a license amendment, about which the NRC staff has asked Edison 32 key preliminary questions. But there’s been no official, adjudicated public hearing on Edison’s response.

On April 9, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) asked the NRC to keep Unit 2 shut until the safety issues can be fully vetted.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/04/13-4

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Millions face starvation as world warms, say scientists

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/apr/13/climate-change-millions-starvation-scientists

World is unprepared for changes that will see parts of Africa turned into disaster areas, say food experts

The Observer, Saturday 13 April 2013

Millions of people could become destitute in Africa and Asia as staple foods more than double in price by 2050 as a result of extreme temperatures, floods and droughts that will transform the way the world farms.

As food experts gather at two major conferences to discuss how to feed the nine billion people expected to be alive in 2050, leading scientists have told the Observer that food insecurity risks turning parts of Africa into permanent disaster areas. Rising temperatures will also have a drastic effect on access to basic foodstuffs, with potentially dire consequences for the poor.

Frank Rijsberman, head of the world’s 15 international CGIAR crop research centres, which study food insecurity, said: “Food production will have to rise 60% by 2050 just to keep pace with expected global population increase and changing demand. Climate change comes on top of that. The annual production gains we have come to expect … will be taken away by climate change. We are not so worried about the total amount of food produced so much as the vulnerability of the one billion people who are without food already and who will be hit hardest by climate change. They have no capacity to adapt.”

America’s agricultural economy is set to undergo dramatic changes over the next three decades, as warmer temperatures devastate crops, according to a US government report. The draft US National Climate Assessment report predicts that a gradually warming climate and unpredictable severe weather, such as the drought that last year spread across two-thirds of the continental United States, will have serious consequences for farmers.

The research by 60 scientists predicts that all crops will be affected by the temperature shift as well as livestock and fruit harvests. The changing climate, it says, is likely to lead to more pests and less effective herbicides. The $50bn Californian wine industry could shrink as much as 70% by 2050.

Continue reading at:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/apr/13/climate-change-millions-starvation-scientists

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