Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mexicans Fed Up with Cartel Crime

MEXICO CITY - Hundreds of thousands of frustrated Mexicans, many carrying pictures of kidnapped loved ones, marched across the country Saturday to demand government action against a relentless tide of killings, abductions and shootouts.

The mass candlelight protests were a challenge to the government of President Felipe Calderon, who has made fighting crime a priority and deployed more than 25,000 soldiers and federal police to wrest territory from powerful drug cartels.

Cries of "enough" and "long live Mexico" rose up from sea of white-clad demonstrators filling Mexico City's enormous Zocalo square. The protesters held candles twinkling in the darkness as they sang the national anthem before dispersing.

Read it all here.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Millman on Obama's Speech and Sarah Palin

Over at The American Scene, Noah Millman has written:

Count me as one of the people who was deeply underwhelmed by Obama’s speech last night, and underwhelmed as well by the entire convention. McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin (assuming it’s confirmed) is a brilliant first counter-stroke. She helps the ticket on so many different fronts: she gives women who are angry about Hillary being passed over another reason to vote McCain; she gives fence-sitting whites who feel they “ought” to vote for Obama because of the historic nature of his candidacy an excuse to find history on the other side; she burnishes McCain’s credentials as an independent, reform candidate; she restores McCain’s credibility on energy and environmental issues, where Obama personally feels most comfortable going on the attack; she will generate enthusiasm among evangelicals among whom Obama was hoping to make inroads; she absolutely locks down the gun-rights vote (where McCain needed to play a bit of defense against Barr); she helps McCain in the Mountain West (Colorado and Montana) where he cannot afford to lose any states (except New Mexico); she neutralizes Biden in the debates (if he comes out zinging, he’ll seem ungentlemanly); and, most important, she makes McCain seem bold, future-oriented, and in control of his Administration, where Obama has seemed timid, defensive and unable to control his own party.

From the beginning, this has been the Democrats’ election to lose. For the first time, I feel like they might actually lose it.

Britain and Nigeria to Cooperate on Energy

Nigeria and Britain have agreed to collaborate on development of Nigeria's energy sector, Minister of State for Energy has announced.

According to a government statement, both countries have agreed to establish a joint steering committee to ensure mutual collaboration on energy issues. "The two countries recognised the current global shortage of skills in the oil and gas sector and agreed to work together through the International Energy Forum and the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to invest in human resources," said a statement.

British Secretary of Energy Malcolm Wicks said many countries around the world are wasting energy, yet it is in high demand across the globe, further expressing concerns with oil and gas production, ending gas flaring, and restructuring of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Minister Odein Ajumogobia said both countries are exploring opportunities to manage demand and supply and also conserve energy. He said other areas of focus would include increasing direct investment, sustainable development, global warming and cargo storage.

"We will look at existing energy efficiency initiatives and also at what new technologies might support these endeavours. An excellent example of where increased energy security and climate change come together is the new technology on carbon capture and storage and enhanced oil recovery," read a statement by Nigerian government.

The ministers also admitted that energy security was a priority issue for both nations and there were significant challenges facing both governments, which could only be addressed by working together to develop a shared understanding of future supply and demand.

The meeting was a follow up to an earlier meeting between President Yar'Adua and Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Nigeria and Britain ties were strengthened after Britain's pledge to assist Nigeria to fight insurgency in the oil rich Niger Delta. Mr Yar'Adua has called for international support to curb oil smuggling, which is fuelling unrest in the country's southern Niger Delta.

Source: afrol News

Iran to Share Nuke Technology with Nigeria

29 August - Iran has announced its plans to share nuclear technology with Nigeria to help Africa's oil producer boost its electricity output.

Head of the Iranian delegation, Mohammed Ali Zeyghami said it was his country's right to share its nuclear know-how with Nigeria, saying it is crucial to develop clean energy as fossil fuels would disappear. "Nobody can limit the use of knowledge anywhere in the world," said Mr Zeyghami.

Nigerian Foreign Ministry official Tijanni Kaura said an agreement will only address issue of increased power production saying it should not be misconstrued as an attempt by Africa's most-populous nation to gain a nuclear weapons programme."

Nigeria is never entering into any agreement with Iran for any matter that has to do with weapons," Mr Kaura said.

He emphasised that there should not be a misunderstanding between explorations or uses of energy to provide power and the uses of energy for weapons, to ensure that Nigeria's relations with Iran will not be undermined by Nigerians including international community.

The agreement was announced after a four-day meeting between Iranian and Nigerian officials in Abuja.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest petroleum producer, but poor infrastructure has resulted in severe power shortages.

President Umaru Yar'Adua has said that improving Nigeria's power supply is one of his main priorities.

Details of the deal were not provided and it was unclear what technology Iran would provide to Nigeria, which currently has no nuclear programme, official reports said.

Nigeria's position as Africa's biggest oil producer has slumped in recent years, after decades of neglect and corruption in the energy sector which has left the country with almost no way to refine crude oil into fuels used to power electricity-generating stations.

However, international analysts have criticised agreement, saying a deal is one of Iran's stunts to expand its nuclear weapons production. Iran has refused to comply with repeated United Nations Security Council demands to halt nuclear enrichment, a process that can be used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons or nuclear energy.

Iran insists that its nuclear programme is peaceful and says it has a right to continue uranium enrichment. Iran, also a major oil producer, is due to bring on stream its first nuclear energy station at Bushehr early in 2009.

Lawmakers say about US$10 billion has been spent on Nigeria's power sector since civilians replaced military rulers in 1999, but electricity production has stagnated for nearly a decade.

The United States suspects the country is trying to make weapons, but Iran says its only aim is power production.

Nigeria's 140 million population has a woeful power supply record with only a few hours of state-provided electricity per day.

Source: afrol News

UN Shakes Finger at Liberia's Death Penalty

26 August 2008 – The United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed deep concern today at new death penalty legislation authorized by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, contravening an international treaty on civil and political rights.

The Committee – in charge of monitoring compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – observed that Liberia is party to the Second Optional Protocol to that pact aimed at the abolition of the death penalty.

“The Act signed by the President of Liberia on 22 July 2008 therefore constitutes a clear breach by Liberia of its international legal obligations under the Second Optional Protocol,” the Committee stated in a press release.

The new law in Liberia provides that “in the event death occurs during the commission of a crime of armed robbery, terrorism or hijacking, the accused … shall be sentenced to death by hanging or imprisonment for life without possible parole.”

The Committee pointed out that as a signatory to the ICCPR’s Second Optional Protocol since 2005, Liberia has committed to ensuring that, as the pact states, “no one within (its) jurisdiction (…) shall be executed.”

Further, the Protocol notes that States party to it should also “take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within (their) jurisdiction.”

The rights body “urges Liberia to revisit the Act for possible amendment as soon as possible and encourages it, in the meantime, to maintain the moratorium in place since 1979.”

Source: United Nations News

Friday, August 29, 2008

Laptops to Middle Schoolers? Yikes!

It's Christmas this week for eighth graders in Nebraska and New Mexico. According to local news reports, several school districts in both states have issued personal laptops to every eighth grader to use at school and at home this coming school year. I knew these one-laptop-per-student programs were common at the high school level. But now that middle schools are issuing laptops to eighth graders, people are naturally questioning the wisdom of the idea.

On the one hand, school-issued laptops can help make life easier for students who don't have computers at home and maybe even turn more students on to learning. On the other, they can create all sorts of trouble for the student and the school. One of the biggest concerns for schools is preventing students from misusing their laptops. Immature students can use them to bully classmates or access inappropriate websites. The less responsible students can damage or lose the computers. I did a little research and found a high school in Manatee County, Fla., that probably wishes it had given more thought to the ramifications of issuing computers to every student. In 2005, the school filed grand theft charges to recover dozens of missing laptops from students who had moved out of the county. Despite a police investigation, the laptops never turned up. The loss was more than $50,000 to the school.

Read it all here.

Putin on Russia-USA Relations

Moscow, 28 August 2008 (RIA Novosti): Prime Minister Putin blasted the United States on Thursday for its inability to keep Georgia from attacking South Ossetia, and said that this had damaged bilateral relations.

“This [inability], of course, harmed our relations, first of all, intergovernmental [relations]“, Mr Putin told CNN in an interview. Tbilisi launched a military offensive against South Ossetia on 8 August, seeking to take control of the region. At least 64 Russian peacekeepers and hundreds of South Ossetian civilians died, with thousands more forced to flee the devastated republic.

Read it all here.

Pelosi Misrepresents Church's Position on Abortion

FARGO, North Dakota, AUG. 28, 2008 ( Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has "created confusion" with regard to the Church's stance against abortion, says the bishop of Fargo.

Bishop Samuel Aquila said this in a the latest in a series of episcopal statements that have responded to comments made by Pelosi during an interview Sunday on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press."

Pelosi, when asked to comment on when life begins, said that as a Catholic, she had studied the issue for "a long time" and that "the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition.

"Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U. Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William Lori, chairman of the Committee on Doctrine, said in a statement Monday that her answer "misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.

"The prelates noted that since the first century the Church has “affirmed the moral evil of every abortion.”

Read it all here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Episcopal Church Debacle

Their depressing and urgent situation in The Episcopal Church becomes ever clearer over time, despite all of the efforts of their liberal church leaders to try and persuade the rest of the Anglican Communion that really we’re just like you. Close watchers of the US, and readers of this newspaper, will be more aware than most of the state of that Church. Heterodoxy is never punished, whereas orthodox impatience is the subject of lawsuits all over the country. And the amount of heterodoxy uttered in The Episcopal Church is truly astonishing. Even leaving aside the virtual atheism of Bishop Spong’s ‘Twelve Theses’, we’ve had bishops claim that the church can ‘re-write the Bible’, others make sweeping apologies for Christian mission to those of other faiths, while the Presiding Bishop views Jesus as just one way among many.

Furthermore, they’ve had scandals the likes of which would destroy the Church of England in the eyes of the world, with our much more effective national press conducting the funeral rites. They’ve had thrice-divorced bishops, a child-abusing bishop, as well as one who’s covered up sex abuse by his brother, a priest. There’s been a drug-dealing priest, others who’ve been exposed in a pornographic magazine for engaging in bizarre sex with Brazilians. This is truly only the tip of the iceberg. Any one or two of these cases would have been a national scandal in Britain, in the US it’s only a few column inches.

Read it all here.

Biden and Business Reform

Most of the commentary on Obama's decision to tap Senator Joseph Biden as his V.P. pick has focused on the foreign policy expertise that Biden brings to the ticket. But I think the implications for some of Obama's business reform proposals are at least as important.

Obama has suggested that he will support more federal regulation of corporations. And he has signaled his support for bankruptcy reform that would allow borrowers to write down the value of their mortgages in bankruptcy. He also has sharply criticized the major bankruptcy reforms passed in 2005, which made bankruptcy more difficult for consumer debtors.

Biden has been on the other side of most of these issues.

As a senator from Delaware, he fiercely protected Delaware's interest in state rather than federal regulation of corporate law. In bankruptcy, he was a leading Democratic advocate of the 2005 bankruptcy reforms, which were viewed by many as a valentine to the credit card industry, much of which is centered in Delaware. (He did vote in favor of the mortgage write down proposal this spring, but it was a fairly meaningless vote because it was clear the proposal wasn't going anywhere).

Whose views would be reflected in an Obama presidency? Although Biden can certainly be expected to adjust his perspective to more closely fit Obama's current positions in business reforms, his voice also could dampen Obama's enthusiasm for reform during an Obama presidency.

Read the rest of David Skeel's thoughts on the Obama-Biden ticket and business reform here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Really Good Book on Public Education

Reviewed by Alice C. Linsley
Midway College Ethics

Kelly E. Middleton and Elizabeth A. Petitt have written Who Cares? Improving Public Schools Through Relationships and Customer Service. It is a really good book on public education, well-conceived, truthful, well-researched and spot on! The book is available at

The book’s topics include:

  • If Public Education Were a Stock, Would You Invest?

  • Show Me the Data

  • 29 ways to WOW parents and administrators

  • 10 best customer service practices

  • Too Much for One Person

  • Redefining Normal – Ten Practices to Get There

Who Cares? tells why best practices of customer service and relationship building are necessary to restore public trust in public education.

Public schools that don’t adopt necessary changes will be dinosaurs in the emerging world of educational options. California is a case in point. No wonder that state is working hard to squash parental options such as home schooling!

The best way for public education to improve is for school boards, administrators, and teachers to emulate the customer service practices of schools who compete for customers. One of the most basic principles involves appropriate, considerate and timely use of the phone. The authors even include templates of forms that can help teachers and administrators when speaking to parents.

I’ve taught an equal amount of years in private and public schools and I have 28 years teaching experience. I’ve taught in an all-boy college prep school, an all-boy military boarding school, a coeducational independent college prep school, an urban eastern public middle school, and a large rural Kentucky high school. I know from experience that different schools have a different mindset when it comes to customer service.

Three of my four children attended private schools for at least 1 year. I chose that option because my children needed smaller class sizes in schools where teachers influenced educational decisions out of knowledge of their subject and desire to serve students. I paid more than double for my children’s education: once out of my taxes so that they could attend the local public schools, and twice for tuition so they could attend private schools. The administrators and teachers at the public schools didn’t have to satisfy my concerns about my children’s progress (although most tried). My tax dollars weren’t going away when they failed to return my phone calls or blew off my request that my child be moved to another teacher. On the other hand, the private school administrators and teachers were quick to satisfy my concerns because they knew I could take my tuition money elsewhere.

Customer service is a mindset that is missing in public education. That’s why this book should be required reading for every public school board member, administrator and teacher.

(For another review, go here.)

Pax World Fined by S.E.C.

It was sort of bound to happen eventually. An ethics-based investment fund has been nailed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for, you guessed it, an ethics violation.

Here's the (very good) story from Ron Lieber at the NY Times: Socially Responsible, With Egg on Its Face

When the news broke late last month, it read almost like satire. The Securities and Exchange Commission had charged a mutual fund company that specialized in socially responsible investments with taking stakes in companies involved with alcohol, gambling and military contracting. But it is a true story, and it’s the first time the S.E.C. has encountered this problem. Pax World, one of the oldest practitioners in the field of socially responsible investing, paid a $500,000 penalty.

Lieber's analysis is great; I strongly recommend reading it. But I'll add my own 2 cents' worth....At least 3 issues are worth talking about, here. First, there's the one that on the surface makes this a "juicy" story," namely the fact that it was (gasp!) a so-called "ethical fund" (or socially responsible investment fund) that the S.E.C. nailed.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Abortion Grief Book Kindles Attack

The war over abortion is far from over. Indeed, three recent events have sparked a new battle in the conflict over abortion. The main cause of the renewed hostilities is the publication of a book containing stories of post-abortion grief. Melinda Tankard Reist’s book, Giving Sorrow Words has certainly rekindled the anger of the feminist/pro-abortion camp. The reaction has been swift and extreme.

The book, published in March, has been subjected to scathing reviews and letters to major newspapers. And those who have defended the book have also come under stinging attacks. Consider a few of the hostile reactions.

Leslie Cannold, writing in the April 8 Age did not so much write a review of the book as attack Tankard Reist. She claimed that reading the book is “like time-warping back to the victim-feminist hey-day of the late 1970s and ‘80s”.

Read it all here.

Living Word Church Accused of Electioneering

Facing complaints about his church's tax-exempt status in February 2007, the Rev. Mac Hammond took to the pulpit on live television and said he would "almost welcome an IRS audit."
About two months later, Hammond got his wish, according to documents recently filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

The Internal Revenue Service is conducting an unusual investigation into whether compensation and loan deals between the Living Word Christian Center of Brooklyn Park (LWCC) and its pastor violated laws for tax-exempt organizations.

The IRS has asked the court to force the church to comply with a demand for detailed financial information. The church failed to respond to a March summons.

"We have complied with everything the IRS has asked us to do," said the Rev. Brian Sullivan, spokesman for the church. He said LWCC is concerned that the IRS is not following procedures designed by Congress to protect churches from politically motivated inquiries.

According to the petition, the IRS wants to examine Hammond's compensation, benefits and deals in which the church financed an airplane for him, which he in turn leased back to the church. The IRS also is asking for details on loans for Hammond's residence that were later forgiven by the church.

If the IRS is successful, the probe could have national implications. Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Committee on Finance, has asked six media-based ministries for information regarding their finances to make sure tax-exempt organizations are accountable to donors.

One of those ministries is run by the Rev. Kenneth Copeland of Texas, a mentor to Hammond. Hammond serves on Copeland's board, and Copeland's son, John, serves on the board of the LWCC.

In January, Copeland rejected the Senate Finance Committee request for records. "It's not yours, it's God's, and you're not going to get it -- and that's something I'll go to prison over," Copeland said at a meeting of ministers that Hammond attended.

Copeland has still not cooperated and "we are weighing the next steps," said Jill Gerber, a press secretary to Grassley.

Jon Pratt, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, said it's rare for a nonprofit to be investigated by the IRS.

"If they suspect tax avoidance, it's going to be a big sweep," Pratt said. "This is a point where church board members might be concerned. Regardless, the process is very painful."

Hammond first drew attention for his financial dealings in October 2006 when a legal watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), accused him of violating his tax-exempt status by endorsing Michele Bachmann for U.S. Congress from the pulpit.
The IRS first notified the church of an investigation on April 20, 2007, according to court documents. The church has repeatedly denied an investigation was under way.

Sullivan, the church spokesman, said Thursday that because the church has been corresponding with the IRS, its officials didn't feel that an investigation was under way until recently. He said the IRS decided to not further investigate the church's political activities, which dismisses the complaint about the Bachmann endorsement. "We've been completely cleared," Sullivan said.

CREW also questioned the plane deal between Hammond and the church. It said the church paid Hammond twice the amount per month to rent the plane than Hammond paid the church to buy it. The lease-back deal may violate tax law "inurement" rules barring financially favorable deals to insiders, CREW argued.

Pratt said those charges could mean steep fines or even the removal of tax-exempt status from the church if they are proved.

The IRS delivered a summons to Hammond on March 21, asking for his employment compensation records, fringe benefits, documents detailing outside businesses, expense and travel reports, and evidence of repayment of a $539,000 loan and a $117,000 loan. The IRS also asked for all financial agreements over his aircraft.

On April 4, LWCC's attorney notified the IRS that the church did not intend to comply with the summons, arguing that the notice of inquiry was not made by "an appropriate high-level IRS official," using "reasonable belief."

"We don't feel we have anything to hide," Sullivan said. If the court rules against the church, it will comply fully, he said.

On Aug. 12, a U.S. magistrate ordered Living Word to appear in court on Oct. 2 and argue why it should not be compelled to obey the IRS summons.

Earlier this year, with his church struggling, Hammond told his congregation and colleagues that his jet was up for sale. Sullivan said that plane is grounded and for sale. Meanwhile, Copeland has donated a Citation I airplane to LWCC.

Hammond has two planes, the other being a stunt plane. He has said he needed the jet because he ministers at churches across the country. Last year, he also acknowledged that he sometimes used the plane to travel to his two homes in Destin, Fla., and a review of public flight plans shows numerous trips each year. Hammond said he reimburses the church for personal trips.

This is not Hammond's first brush with the IRS. After an air cargo company he owned failed in the 1980s, Hammond owed more than $100,000 in back taxes and interest, which he ultimately paid.

Hammond said in court documents in 1988 that, "We had no personal assets of any significance [in 1981], and still have none: we do not own a home, we do not have an investment/retirement/savings accounts."

Hammond has since prospered. Last year, records show, his Destin homes were worth more than $3 million. He pays no taxes on his Plymouth home, and has a number of luxury vehicles and boats registered in his name.

Hammond has expressed disdain for the IRS, including an allegation in 1988 court files that "the IRS has conducted itself in a disgusting manner, with arrogant disregard for the moral, ethical and legal standards that no office of government should be above."

A former board member of Hammond's church, Robert Beale, was convicted this summer of tax fraud and fleeing to avoid prosecution. The church distanced itself from Beale after he was arrested, saying Hammond disagreed with Beale's antitax philosophy.

Hammond's church's creed, often called the "prosperity Gospel," says that following God's word will lead not only to spiritual salvation but also earthly wealth.

"I think it's important that I not be embarrassed about the increase the Lord does bring me," Hammond said last year.

Read it all here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Doctors Concerned About the HPV Vaccination

Dr. Maurice Bernstein at Bioethics Discussion Blog has written:

What is known and what is as yet unknown about the current human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination program, to prevent sexually acquired HPV stimulated cervical cancer, approved by the FDA in the United States, promoted by policymakers world wide and the couple of pharmaceutical companies who make the vaccine represents a scientific and ethical challenge. The program is for 12 year old pre-adolescent girls prior to becoming sexually active to be vaccinated and a catch up program for girls and women ages 13 through 18 up to 26 years of age. Unfortunately the effect of the vaccination program, because of the slow development of HVP stimulated cancer of the cervix will not be known for decades. The editorial written in the August 21, 2008 issue of the "New England Journal of Medicine" by C.J. Haug, discussing a research article in the same journal issue, sets the questions which I have provided as an extract below. Some of my visitors may not be familiar with all the terms but I think most will be understanding of the concern expressed.

Read it all here.

Obama-Ayers Expedition into Education

William Ayers, unrepentant terrorist and education professor, is once again being tied to Barack Obama in the public mind. Controversy builds over the withholding of the archives of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an expensive failed school reform effort headed by Obama and effectively run by Ayers, held by the library of the University of Illinois Chicago. Researchers who have gained access to a few documents recording the history of the project have found strong evidence of a very important working relationship between the two men on the project, Obama's sole claim to executive experience.

Oddly enough, even though the project produced no measurable improvement in student performance according to its own final report, educators and administrators -- participants and grantees of the CAC -- were reported by outside monitors to be often "ebullient" about the activities. For insiders, it was an excellent adventure. For the pupils stuck in the failing public schools of Chicago, an ongoing, unrelieved disaster.

Obama and his campaign long have gone out of their way to downplay, in fact distort, the long and evidently deep relationship between Ayers and Obama. In the Philadelphia Democratic debate last April, George Stephanopoulos asked Obama about his relationship with Ayers, and the candidate responded: "This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.

"And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense, George. [....]"So this kind of game, in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, is somehow -- somehow their ideas could be attributed to me -- I think the American people are smarter than that. They're not going to suggest somehow that that is reflective of my views, because it obviously isn't."

Almost two months earlier, the "neighbor" talking point campaign manager David Axelrod introduced the notion that Obama and Ayers were mostly just neighbors, telling The Politico's Ben Smith, "Bill Ayers lives in his neighborhood. Their kids attend the same school," he said. "They're certainly friendly, they know each other, as anyone whose kids go to school together."

Ayers and his wife are in their sixties, while the Obamas are in their mid-forties. Ayers' children are all adults, while Obama's children are currently 10 and 7. Axelrod's prevarication is telling, bespeaking confidence that nobody in the media will bother to dispute an obvious falsehood.

"Flimsy" turns out to be a completely misleading word when it comes to characterizing the Obama-Ayers relationship.

Read it all here.

The Constitution's Moral Design: A Review

Is the Constitution any good?" That's the question Paul R. DeHart considers in his new book Uncovering the Constitution's Moral Design. It may seem like an odd question or, at least, an incomplete question: good for what? Ensuring peace and stability? Protecting civil liberties? No; DeHart is after something deeper. He wants to know if the "Constitution's normative framework [is] philosophically sound. Does it make moral assumptions that correspond to moral reality, whatever that reality happens to be?" For DeHart, the Constitution is good if it embodies true moral principles.

While the title might suggest that the book is primarily about constitutional interpretation, what emerges is a much broader discussion of analytic philosophy, metaphysical and moral realism, natural teleology, and moral theory. An assistant professor of political science at Lee University, DeHart builds on the work of Hadley Arkes, J. Budziszewski, and the analytic philosopher Robert Koons. The result is a unique blend of Budziszeski's What We Can't Not Know approach to natural law thinking, Arkes's "logic of morals" going Beyond the Constitution, and Koons' philosophical Realism Regained.

DeHart begins his investigation by discussing methodology. The intellectual historian, he argues, might approach these questions by looking not only at the text, but to the arguments the framers made in defense of the Constitution, their other political writings, and the political theorists they referenced. By understanding the framers' larger worldview, we would understand the moral framework they presupposed in writing the Constitution—and thus that the Constitution must presuppose as well. DeHart rejects the historian's approach, however, because the "Constitution's meaning is distinguishable from the framers' meaning or intentions." As DeHart sees it, we need to look at the Constitution's content and structure and ask what philosophical positions one must assume to make sense of it. A logical examination of the Constitution itself reveals "an objective, institutional arrangement that embodies normative presuppositions and ends." To uncover these, DeHart proposes a new method for analyzing constitutions using the philosophical device of "inference to the best explanation."

Noting that the historian will try to classify the Constitution as classical, modernist, or positivist, DeHart argues that a constitution's moral presuppositions will not necessarily fit into any one of these categories. Instead, he says, we should "disaggregate" the contents of the labels by distinguishing and examining conceptual categories: the Constitution's implicit views about sovereignty, the common good, natural law, and natural right. The investigation of these topics forms the core of the book.

Read it all here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dems Don't Tolerate Pro-Lifers

Is the Archbishop of Denver the new Bob Casey? Recall Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey was not invited to speak at the 1992 Democratic Convention in New York because of his pro-life views. It has been revealed by the Washington Times that Archbishop Charles Chaput, the Archbishop of Denver, has not been invited even to say a blessing at the Democratic National Convention taking place in his city. His apparent transgression: being pro-life.

Blackballing Casey in 1992 has been an ongoing embarrassment for the Democrats, because it underscores not only the extreme views of the Democratic Party on abortion but their refusal to brook any dissent at all on the topic.

This year the Democrats believe that they can attract pro-lifers by righting the wrong done to Casey. The Democrats have invited Governor Casey's son Bob to speak. Unlike his father, though, in his first year in the U.S. Senate, Casey the Younger has garnered a 65 percent positive rating by NARAL Pro-Choice America, which included his approval of U.S. funding for the U.N. Population Fund, one of the main international culprits in coerced abortions in China.

Read it all here.

Archbishop O'Brien on the Death Penalty

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CNS) -- While others debated the financial costs of maintaining the death penalty in Maryland, Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien highlighted moral concerns during an Aug. 19 appearance before the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment in Annapolis.

Testifying in the state capital for the first time since his Oct. 1, 2007, installation as head of the Baltimore Archdiocese, Archbishop O'Brien said Catholic opposition to the death penalty is consistent with the church's respect for the sanctity of human life. He quoted from Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical, "The Gospel of Life," which calls for the defense of life from conception to natural death. "Woven into the fabric of the (pope's) exhortation was an appeal to end capital punishment -- to stand against the killing of even those who have committed murder and, in so doing, have affronted God's dominion and denied their own and their victims' God-given humanity," said Archbishop O'Brien, who was accompanied by Bishop Eugene Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and Bishop John Schol of the United Methodist Church of Maryland.

Source: Catholic News Briefs

Songs For Tibet Blocked in China

Customers in China of Apple Inc.'s iTunes online music store were unable to download songs this week, and an activist group said Beijing was trying to block access to a new Tibet-themed album.

In Internet forums, iTunes users complained they had been unable to download music since Monday. That was a day after the Art of Peace Foundation announced the release of "Songs for Tibet," with music by Sting, Alanis Morissette, Garbage and others, and a 15-minute talk by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader.

Michael Wohl, executive director of the New York City-based group, said he believed the album was the reason for the iTunes interruption, though he had no proof.

Read it all here.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Oregon Woman Offered Coverage for Assisted Suicide

In July, the Oregon Health Plan injudiciously sent a letter to lung-cancer patient Barbara Wagner denying coverage for the expensive chemotherapy her doctor had recommended, and offering instead to cover palliative care “including doctor-assisted suicide.”

The firestorm of outrage this letter triggered (to see the outrage for yourself, simply Google the search terms “Barbara Wagner” and “suicide”) penetrated even the dulled sensibilities of the Oregon insurance executives. One Jim Sellers, a spokesman for the Oregon Health Plan, admitted to ABC News that “the letter to Wagner was a public relations blunder and something the state is ‘working on.’”

Those who run the Oregon Health Plan must be particularly disheartened to learn that even vocal proponents of physician-assisted suicide are criticizing their ill-considered denial letter. To so blatantly juxtapose healthcare rationing with the “option” of assisted suicide seriously undermines the chief argument advanced publicly by the end-of-life movement, namely, that assisted suicide is primarily an individual autonomy play*, and not primarily a cost-saving mechanism.

In other words, whether or not you embrace physician-assisted suicide, everyone seems to agree that offering it as a covered medical service immediately after denying potentially life-prolonging therapy is both insensitive and unseemly.

Read it all here.

UK Times Pro-Abortion?

John Smeaton has noted:

The Times was once regarded as the UK's newspaper of record, a serious publication with high standards of journalism ... but those standards, in recent years, have slipped.

As a daily reader I could give many examples, but the newspaper's blatant bias on life issues is one of the most flagrant.

Yesterday, a full-page, public-opinion-forming, spread of reportage and commentary, headlined "Abortion does not harm mental health, says study" presented an American Psychological Association review as significant, authoritative research into the effects of abortion. The fact that this study has been shown (see my post yesterday), on the basis of good evidence, to be fundamentally flawed, is completely ignored. To add insult to injury, Nigel Hawkes writes dismissively in a short commentary piece : "Anti-abortionists would like us to believe that women who have abortions suffer lifelong regrets ... The bulk of the best available evidence suggests that a single abortion does not carry psychological hazards greater than does a single pregnancy ... " - again completely ignoring evidence to the contrary.

The Times report makes great play of the fact that there are impending votes in Parliament on abortion and that the American Psychological Association review [and their spin on it!] will influence "uncommitted" MPs.

Pro-life lobbyists and readers of this blog may recall that there was a similar situation back in June . Evan Harris MP had tabled extremely damaging amendments to the Abortion Act via the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill - to de-restrict abortions up to 24 weeks, and to empower midwives and nurses to perform abortion. Everyone expected the debate on these amendments to take place in July - until the government suddenly postponed the report stage of the Bill.

Lo and behold: The Times, on Friday, 20th June and Saturday, 21st June, carried no less than six stories on abortion, all of them clearly presenting a pro-abortion position with little or no comment from anyone who disagreed.

They included 'Rise in teen abortions prompts calls for reform of sex education' a story about the latest abortion statistics which completely ignored evidence that the government's style of sex education has completely failed, as Professor David Paton has shown. Then there was "The ones I worry about are those who have the baby", featuring an interview with abortionist John Parsons, a director of BPAS. Not only does the story present abortion as an inviolable moral right which has no consequences worth mentioning, but Mr Parsons says, completely unchallenged: "It is not in the interests of any child to have a 16-year-old mother." (This is another way of saying that it is better to be dead than have a teenage mother, something which feminist author Germaine Greer, amongst many others, disagree with.)

Another article called secret abortions 'common sense'.

Read it all here.

"Corporate Wrongdoing Wrongly Named"

Chris MacDonald over at The Business Ethics Blog recently wrote:

Clear communication about business ethics is pretty fundamental to everything else we want to do in the field, regardless of what our specific interest is. Words matter. Fraud is not the same as cheating. Condoning is not the same as commending. Blackmail is not the same thing as extortion. In the interest of clarity, check out this story. It's about corporate wrongdoing, wrongly named. It's about an accusation that Shell Oil engaged in the form of misleading advertising known as "greenwashing." And yes, they did mislead in the way they were accused of, but no, it wasn't "greenwashing."

Here's the story, from the Vancouver Sun: Shell forced to pull 'misleading' ads promoting Canadian oilsands projects

Forced Conversion of Pakistani Girls

CLAAS condemns Pakistani court ruling on forced conversion of Christian girls. The head of CLAAS UK has condemned the ruling of a Pakistani court earlier this month upholding the alleged kidnapping and conversion of two pre-teen Christian sisters, and the forced marriage of the elder sister.

Saba Younis, aged 13, and her sister, Anila Younis, 10, were reportedly kidnapped on 26 June from Chak No 552/TDA Chak Sarwar Shaheed whilst on their way to their uncle’s house. Their abductors claimed that Saba voluntarily entered into the marriage and that both girls had agreed to convert to Islam.

Pakistan’s Christian community was left stunned when a district court judge in Muzaffargarh dismissed a petition by the parents to regain custody of their daughter on the grounds that the two sisters had “converted in a legitimate manner to Islam” and that the marriage of the elder sister was legitimate.

The abductors are believed to be part of a gang involved in abducting women and young girls for trafficking and prostitution. According to reports, the police refused to take any action against the culprits but have instead made threats against the family for making a complaint. The local Muslim councillor has also failed to take any action against the culprits.

Nasir Saeed, coordinator of CLAAS UK, said that the abduction and forced conversion of Christian girls was becoming increasingly common in Pakistan as a result of discriminatory laws, growing religious hatred towards Christians, and fundamentalism in Pakistan, where Christians make up only two per cent of the population.

He said the latest court ruling was a “miscarriage of justice”.

"This case sheds light on the suffering of Christians who live in Pakistan as second class citizens,” he said. “What kind of justice is this? The international community should take this seriously.”

Pakistan’s courts have previously come under fire for failing to act in cases involving the kidnapping and forced conversion of a minor Christian girl.

In 1998, three sisters, Nadia Masih, 15, Naima Masih, 13, and Nabila Masih, 11, were abducted in New Phagwari, Rawalpindi, allegedly by local police, who claimed that the girls had willingly converted to Islam and could therefore no longer remain in the custody of their Christian parents. This claim was upheld in court after a judge ruled that the girls could not be returned to their parents unless they also converted to Islam.

Regarding the latest case, Mr Saeed said that Saba and Anila should be released and returned to their parents immediately. He also called for action against the police for failing to register the kidnapping, as well as the judges, abductors and the Muslim priest held responsible for converting the minor girls to Islam.

The Pakistani Government should, Mr Saeed said, pass legislation to stop more forced conversions of non-Muslim girls to Islam “before the situation gets out of control”.He also reminded the Pakistani Government of its obligations under international law to protect women and children and uphold religious freedom.

“Nothing less than justice and the release of the girls will be accepted,” he said
Mr Saeed togather Rev. Alwin Samuel the chair person of CLAAS and Rt. Rev. Bishop Samuel Azraya who is on a visit to UK from Pakistan met Mr. Abdul Basit Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan and discussed the case with him. Mr. Basit promised the Christian delegation that he will take every possible step to bring the matter in the attention of the Government of Pakistan and ensure justice for the little girls.

Mr. Nasir Saeed

CLAAS Needs Your Support

UK: Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) is an interdenominational organisation working for Christians who are being persecuted because of their faith in Pakistan. Pakistan is an Islamic country where Christians are religious minority and face religious, social, constitutional, economic and educational discrimination.

Christians are living throughout the country in constant fear and as second-class citizens. Religious persecution and sectarian violence is on the increase, and Christians are the main target. The country's draconian blasphemy law (which carry a mandatory death penalty) and other discriminatory laws are being used to intimidate, harass and persecute Christians.

CLAAS works for religious freedom, to stop persecution of Christians in Pakistan because of blasphemy and other discriminatory laws, raise awareness, disseminate information and highlight the plight of Christians on an international level. CLAAS also raises its voice to promote and protect human rights through advocacy and campaigns.

CLAAS provides free legal aid to victims of religious intolerance in Pakistan, well as shelter and financial support for the victims and their families.

'Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.' (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Be Informed About Atrocities

Carlo Filice, "On the Obligation to Keep Informed about Distant Atrocities," in Applied Ethics (May 2000), pp. 236-247.

Filice contends that persons have an obligation to keep informed about distant atrocities. United States citizens, for example, live under a government that has supported some oppressive regimes. Filice describes repressive activities in East Timor that have led to the deaths of about one-fourth the population. He suggests that the U. S. has supported repression in several countries, including Guatemala, Thailand, El Salvador and Brazil. Tax money is used to support such activities, so the U. S. citizen has a duty to keep informed about moral atrocities for which the U. S. government shares responsibility.

Filice responds to four objections to his thesis. First, citizens are politically too naïve to keep informed. Failure to recognize that the mainstream media have blind spots in matters that are embarrassing to the homeland is understandable and even forgivable. This does not, however, remove the duty to keep informed about U. S. support for repressive regimes.

Secondly, citizens are too powerless to find out about distant atrocities. Filice replies that, with some assistance and a sincere heart, such sources as The Nation and Amnesty International can be tapped for information.

Thirdly, people should help only those they can—namely, their neighbors. Influencing one or a few may have a ripple effect; the magnitude of the issue requires some response; a cosmopolitan outlook is necessary in our world and the dichotomy of "one’s own/others" should be transcended.

Finally, it would be great to help, but is it wrong not to help? Seeking information about distant atrocities is obligatory, not merely commendable. The U. S. government acts as the individual citizen’s agent, and wrongs that are done by the government require compensation as a matter of justice.

Do you agree with Filice's thesis that American citizens have an obligation to keep informed about atrocities in other countries?

Is this a moral obligation or a civic obligation? Why?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tunisia Blocks Blogs

Three more blogs have been blocked in Tunisia this week. These blogs, Mochagheb (Disturber), Ennaqed (The Critic) and Place Mohamed Ali have all been particularly active in providing news of the struggle of The Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), and especially about the latest social unrest in the southwestern phosphate mining region of Gafsa, where two people have been killed. One was shot dead by security forces and the other was electrocuted inside a local electric generator.

I asked the Tunisian blogger Ennaqed about the censorship of his blog in Tunisia. He said:
I think that the main reason of banning my blog is crossing the “red lines” that are constraining the media in Tunisia by talking about issues that are completely ignored by mainstream media. Last year, I was seriously engaged in covering the hunger strike of three Tunisian secondary school teachers who were expelled from their jobs for political reasons, and my blog was blocked temporarily. And like the rest of the Tunisian bloggers, I was blogging about the revolt in the mining region and recently about the prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbullah, and the remains of eight Tunisian men handed over by Israel. But, honestly, I think that the most direct reason for banning my blog might be my last blog post about the participation of an Israeli delegation in the 31st Congress of the International Geography Union (IGU) that is taking place in Tunisia. What I actually did is copy and re-post a press release about a group of Palestinian geographers who are boycotting the aforementioned conference because of Israeli participation.

On June 21 the censorship passed beyond all reason and banned the first and only podcasting Tunisian blog Radyoun (Radio) run by a group of Tunisian bloggers dedicated to discussing social and cultural topics. Apparently, the podcast debate about the sporadic protests in the poor mining region of Gasfa and about the freedom of expression led to the banning of the blog

This is a non-comprehensive list of blocked blogs in Tunisia. Please keep in mind that the list does not include blocked websites:

Citizen Zouari‬, blog of Tunisian journalist and former political prisoner, Abdallah Zouari.
The Free Pen the blog of Tunisian journalist and former political prisoner, Slim Boukhdhir. In July 2007, this blog was also hacked and deleted.
‫Mokhtar Yahyaoui‬, blog of a former Tunisian judge who was dismissed after publishing an open letter to President Ben Ali criticising the lack of independence of the judiciary.
Tunisia Watch, this blog is also run by Mokhtar Yahyaoui‬.
[fikra] blog of Tunisian activist and political refugee Sami Ben Gharbia.
Nawaat, popular group blog about news, politics, cyber-activism and Islamic reform.
Radyoun, the podcasting Tunisian blog.
Moaz Jmai. (this blog has been blocked in Tunisia where I'm writing this post)
Place Mohamed Ali (this blog has been blocked in Tunisia where I'm writing this post)
Sofiane Chourabi.
Free Race.
Samsoum .
Tunisian Citizen.
For Gafsa.
Free Word.

Read it all here.

Judge Bellows' Decision Favors Anglicans

FAIRFAX, Va. (August 19, 2008) – The 11 Virginia Anglican congregations sued by The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Diocese of Virginia responded to the Fairfax County Circuit Court ruling issued today concerning the Contracts Clause and the assertion by TEC and the Diocese that the 11 Anglican congregations waived their right to invoke the Virginia Division Statute.

Judge Randy Bellows ruled that TEC and the Diocese failed to timely assert their claim that the 11 Anglican congregations contracted around or waived their right to invoke the Division Statute.

In addition, the judge ruled that the Division Statute does not violate the contracts clause provisions of the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions as applied to these properties. The rulings can be found at Today’s rulings mean that there are only a small number of issues remaining to be decided at the October trial, and the 11 Anglican congregations are hopeful that they can be resolved quickly.

“We are pleased that Judge Bellows ruled in our favor on these questions. He ruled very clearly that our congregations are able to rely on the Virginia Division Statute in order to keep our church property. We have maintained all along that our churches’ own trustees hold title for the benefit of their congregations. TEC and the Diocese have never owned any of the properties and their names do not appear on deeds to the property. The Virginia Supreme Court has consistently stated that Virginia does not recognize denominational trusts of the sort asserted by TEC and the Diocese,” said Jim Oakes, vice-chairman of the Anglican District of Virginia. All 11 churches are members of Anglican District of Virginia.

Read it all here.

Anglican Curmudgeon Tells the Virginia Story

Judge Randy Bellows has all but disposed of the issues remaining in the litigation between The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and eleven of the churches who voted to withdraw from the Diocese and form the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV) in December 2005, and who also chose to affiliate with the Congregation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). (There are some twenty Virginia churches in all who have withdrawn from TEC and joined the ADV. When TEC and the Diocese chose to break off negotiations for an orderly withdrawal in January 2007 and to file separate lawsuits, they sued only those churches in the ADV who were CANA members, along with their rectors, vestry members, and the trustees who held the legal title to the churches' property.) To understand better the significance of Judge Bellows' latest rulings, a little background will be helpful.

In their complaints, TEC and the Diocese sought declarations that all the churches' property was held in trust for the Diocese and TEC (an attempt to enforce TEC's notorious Dennis Canon, first adopted at GC 1979), and could not be transferred to or used for the benefit of any congregation not affiliated with TEC. They further sought orders from the respective courts directing that the defendants transfer the churches' property and assets to the Bishop of Virginia, the Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, that they vacate the churches in question and render an accounting to Bishop Lee for all of the parish moneys and property in their hands. TEC's complaint in addition asked for a preliminary injunction, pending trial of the action, to restrain the defendants from transferring away any of the churches' property.

Eight of the eleven CANA churches had property, some of which dated to the colonial era prior to the time when TEC's predecessor (PECUSA, or the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA) was founded in 1789, and which was held by individual trustees for their respective benefit, as specifically allowed by Virginia law. (The other three owned no real property.) Under a law unique to Virginia and first enacted in 1867, the eight churches had each filed petitions in December 2006 with their respective circuit courts, together with reports showing the majority votes that had been taken to withdraw, and requesting the courts to approve the reports. Under the terms of the statute, the courts' approval of the respective reports would be "conclusive as to the title and control of any property held" by the trustees for the benefit of the withdrawing congregations. TEC and the Diocese each intervened in these petition proceedings, to assert the same claims which they made in the separate lawsuits they filed a month or so later. In April 2007, all twenty actions (eight brought by the property-owning churches, eleven filed by the Diocese and the one filed by TEC) were ordered consolidated for trial under Judge Bellows.

On February 19, 2007, the Primates gathered at Dar-es-Salaam had issued their now-famous communique which, among other things, called upon the churches in the Anglican Communion to "suspend all actions at law" over church property disputes, pending the response requested of TEC's House of Bishops by September 30, 2007. The churches' attorneys promptly wrote the attorneys for TEC and the Diocese on February 22, and invited them to agree to a standstill in the litigation. (All documents not specifically linked to in this post may be downloaded or viewed---not necessarily by date, I regret to say---at this site. You have to click on the "News Release" tab on the right, then on the "Downloads Home" image, then finally on the "Legal Documents" folder, where they are all listed.) The reply to the request by TEC Chancellor David Booth Beers, dated February 26, 2007, is especially illuminating:

. . .We think that there can be no dispute that the Episcopal Church is an independent hierarchical religious denomination with subordinate entities through the United States and several other countries. . .

Notice the claim being made here, which should be news to most diocesan chancellors: The Episcopal Church is representing that it is hierarchical, "with subordinate entities through the United States . . ." (emphasis added). And just what might those subordinate entities be? Could Chancellor Beers possibly be referring to Dioceses such as the Diocese of Virginia, which came into existence well before PECUSA, and which was one of the dioceses which met in New York in 1789 and agreed to form PECUSA? Apparently so, and for now we shall only note this claim and return to it when we see how it fared before Judge Bellows.

Read it all here.

Hallmark's New Cards

Hallmark Cards Inc., which has built its $4.2 billion empire on sentiments for life's happier times, is releasing a new line of cards that will speak to those and other situations that the company says have either been ignored by greeting card companies or received only a smattering of attention from niche players.

For illness: ''Cancer is a villain who doesn't play fair...but it can't dim your spirit, and it can't silence prayer.''

For eating disorders: ''All I want is for you to be healthy—healthy and happy with yourself. Please take it one day at a time until you are.''

For depression: ''When the world gets heavy, remember, I'm here to help carry it with you.''

The 176-card collection, called Journeys, went on sale Thursday at Hallmark's 3,800 Gold Crown stores. Cynthia Musick, the editorial director who oversaw Journeys, said the cards' writing provides more personal messages of support, encouragement, and hope, for which the company's research showed there was a demand.Theresa Steffens, an assistant product manager at Hallmark, said a majority of online and focus group respondents said they couldn't find what they were looking for when needing an encouragement card. ''

Either the consumer said they were walking away from the display or they were just unhappy with the card that they purchased, so we saw this as a huge opportunity,'' Steffens said.

Customers said they wanted cards dealing with more real-life situations. ''They said, 'I don't know what to say during a difficult time, so I don't say anything at all,''' Steffens said. "So again there's an opportunity there to help them talk through these tough situations that they're dealing with and to foster that communication.''

The $7 billion greeting card industry already brims with tiny niche players who make and sell cards dealing with such things as serious illness or thanking caregivers, said Barbara Miller, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.–based Greeting Card Association. But she said none of them have the ability to reach customers searching for those types of cards across the country. ''My guess is, it's a breakthrough for a large company like a Hallmark,'' she said.

The new line includes cards tackling cancer diagnoses, quitting smoking, caring for an aged parent, miscarriage, anniversaries of loss, loved ones in the military, and traumatic loss, such as someone dying in an accident or homicide. Others are more happy and even humorous, celebrating a year being cancer-free, nearing the end of chemotherapy or general encouragement for teenagers. There are even a few birthday cards encouraging the recipient to celebrate even though they've had a rough year.

No topics were off-limits, said company spokeswoman Rachel Bolton, noting two cards that could be sent to gay people who have disclosed their sexuality. The cards don't directly refer to homosexuality, only extolling the person to ''Be You'' or ''This is who I am'' or featuring a rainbow, a symbol of gay pride.

Read it all at (GLBT news site)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

McCain Closes the Obama Lead

Pew Research: Presidential Race Draws Even According to a new Pew Research poll, Sen. Barack Obama’s national lead over Sen. John McCain has disappeared. The race is now a statistical tie, with Obama barely edging McCain, 46% to 43%. In late June, Obama held an eight point lead.

Two reasons for the shift: McCain “is garnering more support from his base — including Republicans and white evangelical Protestants — than he was in June, and he also has steadily gained backing from white working class voters over this period.”

McCain “has made gains on his leadership image. An even greater percentage of voters than in June now see McCain as the candidate who would use the best judgment in a crisis, and an increasing percentage see him as the candidate who can get things done.”

Source: Political Wire's Headlines

CA Teachers Object to Union Support of Homosex Lifestyle

Members of California teachers unions don't have to allow their union dues to be used to support homosexual "marriage."

A considerable amount of funds raised thus far toward defeating California's Proposition 8 -- which would define marriage as between one man and one woman -- have come from two unions. And even though the Golden State does not have a right-to-work law, union members do have a say in how their dues are used.

Stefan Gleason with the National Right to Work Foundation explains. "In this situation, many teachers may be very outraged to find out that their money is being diverted into this kind of a left-wing and controversial social cause," he contends.

Gleason says union members need to learn their rights because unions are not letting them know. He explains that if members object on religious grounds, they need to submit a list of two or three organizations they can support, and they then agree with the union on a charity. "And the union may or may not agree to that. There may be some back-and-forth, but it has to be a mutually agreed upon charity," Gleason adds. "It has to be one that does not conflict with the employee's religious beliefs."

The California Teacher's Association is one of the unions supporting retaining homosexual marriage, which in May was legalized by the state supreme court.

Source: NewsOneNow

Homosex Lifestyle and Right of Conscience

The same California Supreme Court that created a "right" to homosexual "marriage" earlier this year has now ruled that the state may force healthcare professionals to provide services that support an immoral and physically dangerous lifestyle.

California's highest court was unanimous in its decision on Monday that Christian doctors may not refuse to perform artificial insemination for homosexual patients. (See "California court says no religious exemption for doctors") Attorney Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), reacts to the ruling.

"This is a clear violation of the fundamental rights of individuals to live and practice their faith," he states bluntly. "Forcing doctors to have to choose between being a doctor and being a Christian in the State of California is an outrageous violation of the fundamental rights of every American to be able to practice their faith and not to have to leave their occupation because of it."

In the case in question, the Christian doctors refused to perform artificial insemination on a lesbian patient, but did refer her to another doctor who would perform the elective treatment. Dacus says that proves this suit was not about guaranteeing "healthcare" for homosexuals, but instead about punishing Christians for obeying God's Word.

"This is not about denying people services," the attorney argues. "This is, instead, about the 'thought police' attempting to censor Christian beliefs and Christian perspectives that don't agree with homosexuality. We're talking...about individuals being able to force doctors or other professionals to violate their faith in order to keep their job." And that, he adds, is a clear violation of the rights of individuals to be able to practice their expertise and, at the same time, not to have to deny their faith.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Anglican Intrigue Continues

A letter by Bishop Robert Duncan, moderator of the Common Cause Partnership, to Bishop Gary Lillibridge of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas has been made public. In that letter, dated August 11, Bishop Duncan put in writing concerns of the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Quincy and other members of the Common Cause Partnership caused by the suggestions of the Windsor Continuation Group for dealing with divisions in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Duncan had initially shared these concerns with those present at the Lambeth Conference of Bishops.

The August 11 letter was forwarded with permission by Bishop Lillibridge to members of the Windsor Continuation Group and subsequently leaked to liberal activists and published online and via email on August 18.

“I am happy to publicly acknowledge this letter and my description of the concerns we in the Common Cause Partnership have about the proposals of the Windsor Continuation Group. Nonetheless, it is disturbing to discover that at least one member of the Windsor Continuation Group, a body that is supposed to be working for reconciliation in the Anglican Communion, so quickly leaked private correspondence in an attempt to gain some passing political advantage,” said Bishop Duncan.

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Gary,
It was very good to be with you at Lambeth. I especially appreciated the time we spent together looking at the relationship between the Common Cause Partners and the Communion Partners, as well as considering issues that are before the WCG.

I thought that you might appreciate hearing from me about concerns the approach of the WCG has caused for me and for all the Common Cause Partners.

The WCG proposes “cessation of all cross-border interventions and inter-provincial claims of jurisdiction.” There are at least four serious problems with the thinking surrounding the work of the Windsor Continuation Group in this regard.

The first difficulty is the moral equivalence implied between the three moratoria, a notion specifically rejected in the original Windsor Report and at Dromantine.

The second is the notion that, even if the moratoria are held to be equally necessary, there would be some way to “freeze” the situation as it now stands for those of us in the process of separating from The Episcopal Church. The three dioceses of Pittsburgh, Quincy and Fort Worth have taken first constitutional votes on separation with second votes just weeks away. We all anticipate coming under Southern Cone this fall, thus to join San Joaquin. This process cannot be stopped — constitutions require an automatic second vote, and to recommend against passage without guarantees from the other side would be suicidal.

The third reality is that those already separated parishes and missionary jurisdictions under Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Southern Cone (including Recife) will never consent to the “holding tank” whose stated purpose is eventual “reconciliation” with TEC or the Anglican Church of Canada. (It was obvious to all at Lambeth that the majorities in the US and Canada have no intention of reversing direction.)

The fourth matter is that the legal proceedings brought by TEC and ACC against many of us have been nowhere suspended by these aggressor provinces, with no willingness to mediate or negotiate though we have proposed it repeatedly, not least since Dar es Salaam.

For your information, I have written to John Chew and Donald Mtetemela in a similar way. I have also written to the Global South Primates who signed the open letter dated 3 August.

I hope this finds you well. As I pledged when we saw each other, I will do what I can to keep you informed of thinking among the Common Cause Partners, and will do what I can to see that any solutions imagined include both the Communion Partners (on the inside) and the Common Cause Partners (most of whom are on the outside of TEC, or on their way out.)

Blessings to you and yours,

Birth-Control and Bad Matches

Birth-control pills could screw up a woman's ability to sniff out a compatible mate, a new study finds.

While several factors can send a woman swooning, including big brains and brawn, body odor can be critical in the final decision, the researchers say. That's because beneath a woman's flowery fragrance or a guy's musk the body sends out aromatic molecules that indicate genetic compatibility.

Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes are involved in immune response and other functions, and the best mates are those that have different MHC smells than you. The new study reveals, however, that when women are on the pill they prefer guys with matching MHC odors.

MHC genes churn out substances that tell the body whether a cell is a native or an invader.

When individuals with different MHC genes mate, their offspring's immune systems can recognize a broader range of foreign cells, making them more fit.

Read it all here.

Malaysian Woman Denied Renunciation of Islam

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (Compass Direct News) – A civil court on Aug. 5 denied a woman’s appeal to renounce Islam in favor of Christianity, highlighting the jurisdictional disputes in Malaysia’s dual legal system.

Lim Yoke Khoon had filed a suit in her original ethnic Chinese name to renounce Islam and embrace Christianity. In a 2-1 majority ruling, the Shah Alam Court of Appeal denied her case on a technicality: According to judges Tengku Baharudin Shah Tengku Mahmud and Sulong Mat Jeraie, Lim had ceased to exist under her original name when she converted to Islam and assumed a new name, Noorashikin Lim binti Abdullah.

The 35-year-old Lim is reportedly expected to appeal to the country’s top civil court.
After marrying a Muslim man in 1994, Lim converted to Islam and obtained a new identity card with her Muslim name. She divorced three years later. In 2003, she applied for a change to her name and religion on her identity card, but the National Registration Department told her she must get permission from the Islamic sharia court to renounce Islam.

She sought a declaration from the high court that she was no longer a Muslim, but it ruled in 2006 that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case.

Malaysia’s civil courts have not been known to rule in favor of non-Muslims in conversion cases in recent years. Many, such as Lina Joy, have been directed to obtain an exit certificate from the sharia court in order to leave Islam. But Lina – and others like her – are reluctant to subject themselves to a religious court that has no jurisdiction over them since they are no longer professing Muslims.

Quelling Discussion
A public forum to discuss such jurisdictional disputes, in this case the dual court system’s effect on families of people who convert to Islam, was scheduled for Saturday (Aug. 9) but Muslim protestors succeeded in halting it after only one hour.

Sponsored by a body of legal practitioners called the Malaysian Bar Council, the public forum that began at 9 a.m. was scheduled to last until 1 p.m., but police advised organizers to end it at 10 a.m. as protestors outside the council headquarters shouting “Allahu Akbar [God is greater],” “Destroy Bar Council” and “Long Live Islam” became rowdy. A handful of protestors flanked by police officers marched into the building shouting for the meeting to end immediately.

Read it all here.

Britain's Muslim Students Shun Liberalism

London: Some 32 per cent of British Muslim students believe that killing in the name of Islam is justified, according to a poll by YouGov, a British polling agency.

The study, commissioned by the Centre for Social Cohesion, further indicated that 40 per cent of Muslim students agree with the introduction of Islamic law (Sharia) in Britain.

One-third of respondents said that it favoured a worldwide Islamic caliphate and 54 per cent supported the idea of a Muslim political party in the British Parliament.

According to the poll, a quarter of Muslim students believed that men and women are not equal in the eyes of Allah, while 25 per cent said they would have little or no respect for homosexuals.

"These results are deeply disturbing," said Hannah Stuart, co-author of the report. "These students are the future leaders of their communities. However, a significant number of them appear to support beliefs that go against the liberal democratic values," she concluded.

Source: Religious Intelligence News

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fewer Americans Favor Embryonic Stem Cell Research

While a majority of the American public still favors embryonic stem cell research, surveys by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press show that the size of this majority has declined somewhat in recent years. Indeed, after showing consistent increases in the early part of the decade, support for stem cell research fell from a peak of 57% in July 2005 to 51% in August 2007, when the latest poll was conducted. Roughly one-third of the public (35%) opposes embryonic stem cell research, saying that protecting the potential life of embryos is more important than conducting the research, while more than one-in-ten (14%) do not express an opinion on the issue.

Read it all here.

Peru: Indians Protest Land "Robbery" Law

August 19, 2008—Amazonian Indians blocked roads and oil and gas projects in Peru to protest a new law that makes it easier for the government to sell their lands.

Watch the video here.

Harvesting Embryos

For decades, stem cells have attracted the attention of medical researchers and others because they have the capacity to develop into specialized cells that make up a variety of organ and other tissues. These so-called "building blocks of nature" can literally transform into any other type of cell in the body, making them potentially invaluable in treating many diseases and injuries.

There are two basic kinds of stem cells: those found in certain adult tissues and those found in the cells of three-to five-day-old embryos. Adult stem cells, found in brain, bone marrow, muscle, skin, blood and liver tissue, can change into a limited number of cell types. The stem cells found in embryos, on the other hand, are pluripotent, that is, they have the unique ability to develop into any of the 220 cell types in the human body.

In addition to their versatility, embryonic stem cells are easier to grow in the laboratory than adult stem cells. Adult stem cell lines proliferate only for a limited time, while embryonic stem cells potentially can continue dividing forever.

The first and best-known success in adult stem cell research is the bone marrow transplant, in which stem cells from a donor's bone marrow are used to regenerate healthy bone marrow in patients with leukemia and other blood diseases. This therapy is still used today.

Read it all here.

Embryonic Stem Cell Banking Worldwide

The United States is only one of many countries playing an important role in stem cell research. In the last decade, several European and Asian countries have become leading centers for the study of stem cells and their possible therapeutic uses. These countries, along with countries from other regions of the world, have greatly expanded the scope of stem cell research, creating an array of scientific advances and medical applications. Below is a rundown on the laws and policies on stem cell research in various countries, as well as their significant research efforts.

In 2004, South Africa became the first African nation to create a stem cell bank. The previous year, the South African government had enacted legislation maintaining a ban on reproductive cloning but authorizing the therapeutic cloning of embryos. In 2002, when South Africa's Mark Shuttleworth became the first African to visit the international space station, he conducted experiments designed by South African researchers to study the development of stem cells in zero-gravity conditions.

China prohibits human reproductive cloning but allows the creation of human embryos for research and therapeutic purposes. The government's most recent regulations on stem cell research, issued in 2003, came in response to international criticism that Chinese regulators were lax in their supervision and enforcement of ethical guidelines for stem cell research. Nonetheless, China continues to permit researchers to conduct clinical trials in which terminally or chronically ill patients receive stem cell therapy.

India has established a booming industry in stem cell banking, which involves storing a patient's stem cells with the aim of possibly using them for future medical treatments. In 2007, the Indian government's biomedical oversight body, the Council for Medical Research, banned reproductive cloning but voted to permit therapeutic cloning. The council also issued guidelines for clinical trials involving stem cells. Currently, stem cells have only been approved for use in bone marrow transplants.

In 2004, Japan's Council for Science and Technology Policy voted to allow scientists to conduct stem cell research for therapeutic purposes, though formal guidelines have yet to be released. In November 2007, Japanese scientists, in collaboration with American researchers, discovered that human skin cells could be reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells. Though still in the early experimental phase, some believe that this procedure could help diffuse the debate over the destruction of embryos by providing a viable alternative to using embryonic stem cell lines.

Read it all here.

Colorado vs Colorado Christian University

Judge McConnell’s opinion in the case involving Colorado’s denial of Colorado Christian University’s request to participate in the state’s scholarship program because the university is “pervasively sectarian” seems completely persuasive as an application of the Supreme Court’s recent First Amendment Religion Clause decisions. (The case is linked to yesterday’s post: here).

Judge McConnell points out that the exclusion of pervasively sectarian institutions both discriminates among religions (sectarian institutions qualify, but not pervasively sectarian ones) and requires the state to pass judgment on religious belief and practice.

My one qualm about the decision is really a qualm about the path the Supreme Court has taken in these cases over the past decade or so. It seems to leave no room for state institutions to distinguish among potential recipients when deciding who to fund or not fund. The usual test case is an organization like, say Ku Klux Klan University, which might be difficult to deny funding to on some readings of the analysis in cases like this one.

Read it all here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Bachmann Speaks to Pelosi's Messiah Complex

Continuing her push for a comprehensive energy plan that includes increased oil drilling, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., reminded Americans that the Democrats message to save the planet doesn’t add up. The world has been saved already, she says.

Responding to Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s comment about creating an energy policy to help save the planet, Bachmann added religion to the energy crisis during her interview with OneNewsNow, a Web site run by Christian American Family News Network.

“[Pelosi] is committed to her global warming fanaticism to the point where she has said that she’s just trying to save the planet,” Bachmann said. “We all know that someone did that over 2,000 years ago, they saved the planet — we didn’t need Nancy Pelosi to do that.”

Bachmann said Democratic leaders are committed to stopping bills that allow drilling. Bachmann plans to join other Republicans in the House chamber on Friday to continue their protest during the congressional recess to bring members back for a vote on an energy bill.

The Minnesota DFL released a statement Tuesday denouncing the protest at the Capitol, calling it an “Olympics of meaningless rhetoric.

Read it al here.

Between Obama's and Pelosi's messianic complex, watch out America!

Ethics of Harvesting Hearts

Doctors who waited just 75 seconds after the final heartbeat before removing the hearts of dying newborns for transplants said on Wednesday they improved their odds of success but have also raised ethical questions about organ harvesting.

The cases of two children who died between May 2004 and May 2007, and a third in which doctors waited three minutes, are detailed in a report and a series of commentaries in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The technique is controversial because the waiting time recommended by the Institute of Medicine has been five minutes, unless the patient is brain dead. The three babies were not, although all had severe brain damage.

But the doctors who performed the transplants said moving quickly helped save the lives of three infant recipients.

The matter is particularly critical for infants who desperately need a heart transplant. "Each year, as many as 50 infants are placed on the waiting list for cardiac transplantation but die while waiting, owing to the lack of a suitable donor heart," the journal's executive editor Dr. Gregory Curfman and others wrote.

Historically, death was defined by a stopped heart. But the longer an oxygen-starved heart sits in a warm chest cavity, the lower the likelihood it can be successfully transplanted.

So doctors are struggling to define "circulatory death," to determine when the heart has beaten for the last time once life support has been withdrawn.

Read it all here.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pitt-Williams Letters: Balance Redressed?

Sir, The Bishop of Durham in his articulate letter (Aug 9) regarding the leaking of the Williams letters makes some useful clarifications and I am grateful for his statements regarding Dr Williams’s closing address at the Lambeth Conference.

As for why I decided to offer his letters to the public arena, I have written to Dr Wright at length, but suffice it to say that as events moved from GAFCon to Lambeth I became almost sure for various reasons that the liberals knew far more about Dr Williams’s personal views than the traditionalists did and, if so, the balance should be redressed.

Over the years I have shared the letters with only a few; I had no desire to embarrass Dr Williams over his statements, and I hoped that his personal views would change. Now that the issue of homosexuality in the Anglican Communion has become such a big issue I judged it was time to override my misgivings about making his views known. Anglicans can make up their own minds what to do with the information.

Deborah Pitt
Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan

Source: Anglican Mainstream

Catholics Advocate for Disabled

WASHINGTON -- The 30th anniversary of the U.S. bishops' pastoral statement on people with disabilities offers an opportunity to acquaint a new generation of bishops and young people with the document's message, according to speakers at an Aug. 13 "Webinar."

"I'm not suggesting you take on a whole new line of work," said Peg Kolm, director of the Office for Ministry to Persons With Disabilities in the Archdiocese of Washington. "But you need to take this work to the next generation in a partnership year."

Janice Benton, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, said many in the disabilities community viewed the November 1978 pastoral statement as "our Declaration of Independence." The document said there "can be no separate church for people with disabilities" but only "one flock that follows a single shepherd."

The hourlong Web-based seminar sponsored by the National Catholic Partnership on Disability brought together catechists, parish advocates, directors of disability ministry and others at more than 200 sites across the United States.

Source: CNS News

Mexicans Divided on Captial Punishment

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- As Mexicans discussed reintroducing the death penalty as punishment for kidnapping, several Catholic leaders said capital punishment would not solve Mexico's crime problem. Archbishop Jose Martin Rabago of Leon said there are "no easy solutions" in the fight to stop the kidnappings in the country.

During Mass in Leon Aug. 10, he denounced the recently revived discussion on the death penalty. Calls for reinstating capital punishment -- only two years after it was formally abolished -- resurfaced in early August after the kidnapped 14-year-old son of a businessman was killed by his captors. In reaction to the public outcry, Mexican President Felipe Calderon suggested the country restore his old initiative to make capital punishment applicable only to the most heinous crimes. Mexicans, fed up with the high crime rate and abductions for ransom, are divided on the issue.

Source: CNS News