Meet Robert Ingersoll, America’s most famous forgotten atheist

From Religion News:

May 29, 2013

Meet Robert Ingersoll, the most famous American atheist you’ve probably never heard of.

A self-educated attorney and atheist, Ingersoll was a Victorian-era rock star who could pack theaters from Texas to New York with people who came from hundreds of miles around to hear “The Great Agnostic” lecture against religion.

He was courted by politicians, his likeness was carved in stone, and when he died in 1899, newspapers around the country carried his obituary. A Civil War veteran, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Today, Ingersoll is largely unknown outside atheist circles. But he’s enjoying a bit of a revival, with a critically-acclaimed new biography, a walking tour of Ingersoll sites, a growing number of visitors to his birthplace and an oratory contest in his name.

Ingersoll enthusiasts say the recognition is overdue because the issues he championed remain hot topics — freedom of speech, civil rights, women’s reproductive freedom and, especially, the role of religion in government.

And he did it with flair. Ingersoll had the intellect of the late atheist Christopher Hitchens and the crowd appeal of “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart.

“Ingersoll was the perfect humanist,” said Steve Lowe, founder of the Robert Ingersoll Oratory Contest, which will be held in Washington on June 30. “He was very engaging as a speaker because he used humor and he was outrageous in that he would speak against religion with such fervor.”

“All of that was very titillating, and people would go to hear him whether they agreed with him or not. He did not respect religion, but he respected people who were religious.”

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Alice Paul: Working Towards Equality for the 51% Minority

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Groups Slam Trade Deal for Choosing “Private Interests and Profits” over People and Planet

From Common Dreams:

Over 130 organizations publish statement denouncing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and similar ‘free trade’ pacts

Lauren McCauley

Following the most recent round of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations in Lima, Peru, more than 130 organizations have come out against such international trade agreements calling them a “deadly weapon” against democratic rule, the protection of individual rights and environmental justice.

“These agreements further consolidate the asymmetry of laws that propagate that the rights and power of corporations are protected by ‘hard law’ and are above the rights of peoples and communities,” write the groups write in an open letter criticizing the agreements.

“We believe that Nation-states should have not only the obligation but also the full freedom to implement laws and policies in favour of the people and the environment, without the threat of being sued by transnational capital,” the letter continued.

According to the alliance—which includes such groups as Friends of the Earth, Global Trade Watch, Institute for Policy Studies, Global Exchange—under International Investment Agreements (IIAs) such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a co-signed country can be sued by a transnational corporation if their laws or policies go against the interests of the corporations, such as legislation that favors people or the environment.

“International Investment Agreements grant unprecedented rights to foreign corporations and investors,” said Alberto Villarreal from Friends of the Earth-Uruguay, adding, “They are deadly weapons against democratic rule and the protection of peoples’ rights and environmental justice.”

The group is calling on State signatories to “denounce and stop signing” these agreements that have “unlawfully subjected them to foreign jurisdictions and violate peoples’ rights.”

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The Anarchy Project

From The Nation:

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Corporations and Law Enforcement Are Spying on Environmentalists

From Alternet:

By Adam Federman
Earth Island Journal
May 28, 2013

In February 2010 Tom Jiunta and a small group of residents in northeastern Pennsylvania formed the  Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition (GDAC), an environmental organization opposed to hydraulic fracturing in the region. The group sought to appeal to the widest possible audience, and was careful about striking a moderate tone. All members were asked to sign a code of conduct in which they pledged to carry themselves with “professionalism, dignity, and kindness” as they worked to protect the environment and their communities. GDAC’s founders acknowledged that gas drilling had become a divisive issue misrepresented by individuals on both sides and agreed to “seek out the truth.”

The group of about 10 professionals – engineers, nurses, and teachers – began meeting in the basement of a member’s home. As their numbers grew, they moved to a local church. In an effort to raise public awareness about the risks of hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) they attended township meetings, zoning and ordinance hearings, and gas-drilling forums. They invited speakers from other states affected by gas drilling to talk with Pennsylvania residents. They held house-party style screenings of documentary films.

Since the group had never engaged in any kind of illegal activity or particularly radical forms of protest, it came as a shock when GDAC members learned that their organization had been featured in intelligence bulletins compiled by a private security firm, The Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR). Equally shocking was the revelation that the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security had distributed those bulletins to local police chiefs, state, federal, and private intelligence agencies, and the security directors of the natural gas companies, as well as industry groups and PR firms. News of the surveillance broke in September 2010 when the director of the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security, James Powers, mistakenly sent an email to an anti-drilling activist he believed was sympathetic to the industry, warning her not to post the bulletins online. The activist was Virginia Cody, a retired Air Force officer. In his email to Cody, Powers wrote: “We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies.”

The tri-weekly bulletins featured a wide range of supposed threats to the state’s infrastructure. It included warnings about Al-Qaeda affiliated groups, pro-life activists, and Tea Party protesters. The bulletins also included information about when and where groups like GDAC would be meeting, upcoming protests, and anti-fracking activists’ internal strategy. The raw data was followed by a threat assessment – low, moderate, severe, or critical – and a brief analysis.

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Peak Water, Peak Oil…Now, Peak Soil?

From The Inter Press Service:

May 31 2013

REYKJAVÍK, Iceland, May 31 2013 (IPS) – Soil is becoming endangered.This reality needs to be part of our collective awareness in order to feed nine billion people by 2050, say experts meeting here in Reykjavík.

And a big part of reversing soil decline is carbon, the same element that is overheating the planet.

“Keeping and putting carbon in its rightful place” needs to be the mantra for humanity if we want to continue to eat, drink and combat global warming, concluded 200 researchers from more than 30 countries.

“There is no life without soil,” said Anne Glover, chief scientific advisor to the European Commission.

“While soil is invisible to most people it provides an estimated 1.5 to 13 trillion dollars in ecosystem services annually,” Glover said at the Soil Carbon Sequestration conference that ended this week.

The dirt beneath our feet is a nearly magical world filled with tiny, wondrous creatures. A mere handful of soil might contain a half million different species including ants, earthworms, fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms. Soil provides nearly all of our food – only one percent of our calories come from the oceans, she said.

Soil also gives life to all of the world’s plants that supply us with much of our oxygen, another important ecosystem service. Soil cleans water, keeps contaminants out of streams and lakes, and prevents flooding. Soil can also absorb huge amounts of carbon, second only to the oceans.

“It takes half a millennia to build two centimetres of living soil and only seconds to destroy it,” Glover said.

Each year, 12 million hectares of land, where 20 million tonnes of grain could have been grown, are lost to land degradation. In the past 40 years, 30 percent of the planet’s arable (food-producing) land has become unproductive due to erosion. Unless this trend is reversed soon, feeding the world’s growing population will be impossible.

The world will likely need “60 percent more food calories in 2050 than in 2006″, according to a new paper released May 30 by the World Resources Institute. Reaching this goal while maintaining economic growth and environmental sustainability is one of the most important global challenges of our time, it concludes.

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Shock and Awww

From In These Times

What is most likely to make people to go vegetarian?

BY Theo Anderson
May 30, 2013

Last summer, the animal-rights group Compassion Over Killing released an undercover video filmed inside a California slaughterhouse. It contained graphic evidence of the way cows are treated on the way to slaughter, including an incident in which a worker stepped on the mouth and nose of a fallen cow, suffocating it. That was probably the least gruesome scene. In the wake of the video’s release, federal regulators shut the facility down for a week, until the company promised to provide better training for workers in the “humane” treatment of animals.

Previously, Compassion Over Killing had released a video shot inside a pig breeding factory farm in Iowa. Its investigation found pigs being confined in gestation crates so small that the animals are unable even to turn around; workers “repairing” the herniated intestines of pigs with tape; and pigs being fed a gruel that consisted of the intestines of dead pigs.

Iowa has among the highest concentration of factory farms in the United States, and it’s the nation’s leading pork producer. Stung by the exposé, in 2012 the Iowa General Assembly passed “ag-gag” legislation that made it a crime to obtain access to farming facilities on false pretenses—by lying on a job application, for example. The bill passed both chambers of the legislature with overwhelming support.

Several states have recently passed or are now debating their own form of ag-gag legislation. Utah and Missouri passed ag-gag bills in 2012, and about 10 states have considered such bills this year. (Three states—Kansas, Montana and North Dakota—passed ag-gag legislation in the early 1990s.) The American Legislative Exchange Council, a notorious tool of corporate interests, has played a key role in crafting them.

Hidden-camera videos that expose animal abuse within the meat, dairy and poultry industries have had some success in raising public awareness, and have even helped to change corporate behavior. Last year, for example, McDonald’s announced that by 2022 it will buy pork only from farms that don’t use the kind of gestation crates exposed in Compassion Over Killing’s pig breeding video.

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Tar sands project suffers setback as British Columbia rejects pipeline

From The Guardian UK:

Canadian province rejects plan for Enbridge Northern Gateway, saying company failed to demonstrate adequate clean-up plan

, US environment correspondent, Friday 31 May 2013

Efforts to expand production from the Alberta tar sands suffered a significant setback on Friday when the provincial government of British Columbia rejected a pipeline project because of environmental shortcomings.

In a strongly worded statement, the government of the province said it was not satisfied with the pipeline company’s oil spill response plans.

The rejection of the pipeline – which was to have given Alberta an outlet to Pacific coast ports and markets in China – further raises the stakes on another controversial tar sands pipeline, Keystone XL.

Barack Obama is still weighing a decision on that pipeline, intended to pump tar sands crude to the Texas gulf coast.

British Columbia, in its official submission to a pipeline review panel, said the company had failed to demonstrate an adequate clean-up plan for the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. It set five new conditions for the project’s approval.

“Northern Gateway has presented little evidence about how it will respond in the event of a spill,” Christopher Jones, a lawyer representing the province, said in a statement to the federal government panel reviewing the project.

“It is not clear from the evidence that Northern Gateway will in fact be able to respond effectively to spills either from the pipeline itself, or from tankers transporting diluted bitumen,” Jones added.

Jones said the pipeline would cross over remote and extremely difficult terrain, with pristine rivers that could be devastated in the event of a spill. He said those considerations compelled the province to hold the pipeline company to a higher standard. “Trust me is not good enough in this case.”

Officials in British Columbia said Friday’s decision would not necessarily kill off the project for good. But the demand for more stringent protections poses additional challenges to Enbridge’s plans of building the pipeline.

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The United States of Whatever: Ecocide and the Soul of a Nation

From Common Dreams:

by Phil Rockstroh

The reality of and the outward toll inflicted by greenhouse gas engendered Climate Change is clearly evident (to all but the corrupt and devoutly ignorant) e.g. increasingly destructive and deadly tornadoes and hurricanes, destruction of marine life, severe droughts and rapacious wild fires—landscapes of death, scattered debris and shattered lives.

But what are the psychical affects of chronic denial, noxious indifference and compulsive prevarication as related to a matter as all encompassing and crucial as our relationship with the climate of our planet?

Our current catastrophe of estrangement, termed “our way of life,” we experience as a denuding of resonance, meaning, and purpose, as a prevailing sense of emptiness and unease, as a craving for distraction, as an inchoate longing for change and transformation, yet a diffidence to the point of paralysis insofar as any means to expedite longing and libido into societal-altering action.

Estrangement from nature is estrangement from the landscape of the soul. The cosmos and the soul carry the same blueprint; the forces were forged in the same fires of infinity. In matters, galactic and quotidian, there is not a form that rises, waxes and wanes in nature that does not have an analog in our human physicality, faculties, and endeavors.

To turn a blind eye to the natural world, as we have done, translates into psychical ecocide. Perception is degraded. Language truncated. Life becomes dispossessed of purpose and meaning. Apropos, the rise and banal persistence of: The United States of Whatever.

Under these circumstances “whatever” translates into, inner and extant, deadly super storms, ecocide, and desertification (including and related to the desertification of language). As we decimate the earth’s biodiversity, we diminish our lexicon. Our thoughts cannot take wing; our imaginings cannot take root and flower; our passions cannot flow; our putrefying pathologies cannot be composted.

Divested of an eloquence of thought, expression, and action—devoid of a deep connection to and denied of constant dialog with earth, sky, wind and water—we cannot retain enough humanity to remain viable as a species.

By evincing a state of mind that is indifferent to the wanton destruction of our planet’s interdependent web of biodiversity, we lay waste, on a personal and collective basis, to the evolving, vital ecosystem of the psyche, thereby creating a bland, dismal, corporate monoculture, that is both manifest and internalized. The emptiness of life in the neoliberal corporate/consumer state has grown increasingly unbearable; the carnage inflicted on our planet is indefensible; and its present trajectory is tragically untenable.

Our last, best option is a top-to-bottom re-visioning. In diametric opposition, at paradigm’s end, we are witness to the deranged marriage of the profligate and the parsimonious. The covert offshore bank accounts of the greed-maddened hyper-wealthy and the teeming landfill are dismal emblems of late capitalist madness.

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