Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Investigation Reveals Widespread Suppression of Federal Climate Science Research

An investigative report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) has uncovered new evidence of widespread political interference in federal climate science. The report, which includes a survey of hundreds of federal scientists at seven federal agencies and dozens of in-depth interviews, documents a high regard for climate change research but broad interference in communicating scientific results.
"The new evidence shows that political interference in climate science is no longer a series of isolated incidents but a system-wide epidemic," said Dr. Francesca Grifo, Director of the UCS Scientific Integrity Program. "Tailoring scientific fact for political purposes has become a problem across many federal science agencies."
UCS distributed surveys to 1,600 climate scientists, asking for information about the state of federal climate research. The scientists who responded reported experiencing at least 435 occurrences of political interference in their work over the past five years. Nearly half of all respondents (46 percent) perceived or personally experienced pressure to eliminate the words "climate change," "global warming," or other similar terms from a variety of communications. Forty-three percent of respondents reported they had perceived or personally experienced changes or edits during review of their work that changed the meaning of their scientific findings. And nearly half (46 percent) perceived or personally experienced new or unusual administrative requirements that impair climate-related work.
In contrast, scientists at the independent but federally-funded National Center for Atmospheric Research, who are not federal employees, reported far fewer instances of interference.
The GAP investigation, consisting of 40 in-depth interviews with climate scientists and a review of 2,000 agency documents, revealed that agency media policies often unnecessarily hinder scientists' interaction with the media rather than facilitate public dissemination of their research. For instance, Dr. Drew Shindell, an ozone specialist and NASA climatologist, submitted a press release to announce the publication of a paper on climate change. Press officers significantly watered down language that described his findings, and the new research received little notice by the media.
"Increasingly, scientists and support staff at federal research facilities have been getting signals that climate science is a 'sensitive' topic," said GAP Staff Attorney Tarek Maassarani. "With an issue of this significance, we should be encouraging scientists to tell us what they know about it, and we should listen."
While a large majority of respondents (88 percent) agreed that federal climate research is of generally excellent quality, respondents reported decreasing job satisfaction and a worsening environment for climate science in federal agencies. Two-thirds of respondents (67 percent) said that today's environment for federal government climate research is worse compared to five years ago. At NASA, three in five scientists reported decreased job satisfaction.
"Every day that the government stifles climate science is a day we fail to protect future generations and our planet from the consequences of global warming," said Dr. Grifo. "We need reforms that affirm the right of scientists to fully communicate their research and to blow the whistle when important science is suppressed."
The report urges the federal government to ensure basic scientific freedoms and support scientists in sharing their research with the public, including respecting scientists' constitutional right to speak about any subject in their private lives and allowing scientists to make ultimate decisions about the communication of their research.
"The new Congress must act to prevent the continued interference with science for political purposes," said Maassarani. "A good first step would be for Congress to amend current whistle blower protections to specifically protect the rights of federal government scientists."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Gonzales appoints political loyalists into vacant U.S. attorneys slots

McClatchy Newspapers reported January 26 that:

WASHINGTON - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is transforming the ranks of the nation's top federal prosecutors by firing some and appointing conservative loyalists from the Bush administration's inner circle who critics say are unlikely to buck Washington.

The newly appointed U.S. attorneys all have impressive legal credentials, but most of them have few, if any, ties to the communities they've been appointed to serve, and some have had little experience as prosecutors.

The nine recent appointees identified by McClatchy Newspapers held high-level White House or Justice Department jobs, and most of them were handpicked by Gonzales under a little-noticed provision of the Patriot Act that became law in March.

With Congress now controlled by the Democrats, critics fear that in some cases Gonzales is trying to skirt the need for Senate confirmation by giving new U.S. attorneys interim appointments for indefinite terms. Some legal scholars contend that the administration pushed for the change in the Patriot Act as part of its ongoing attempt to expand the power of the executive branch, a charge that administration officials deny.

Being named a U.S. attorney "has become a prize for doing the bidding of the White House or administration," said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who's now a professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "In the past, there had been a great deal of delegation to the local offices. Now, you have a consolidation of power in Washington."

A Justice Department spokesman said it was "reckless" to suggest that politics had influenced the appointment process.

The appointments have troubled some current and former prosecutors, who worry that the Justice Department is tightening its control over local U.S. attorneys' offices in order to curb the prosecutors' independence.

If they're too close to the administration, these lawyers said, federal prosecutors might not be willing to pursue important but controversial cases that don't fit into the administration's agenda. Similarly, they said, U.S. attorneys could be forced to pursue only Washington's priorities rather than their own.

The selection of U.S. attorneys has always been a political process.

Traditionally, the top assistant U.S. attorney in each local office temporarily fills any vacancy while home-state senators search for preferred candidates to present to the White House for consideration. If it takes more than four months to find a permanent successor, a judge can extend the temporary appointment or name another acting U.S. attorney. Ultimately, the candidates must be confirmed by the Senate.

Gonzales gained the ability to appoint interim U.S. attorneys for indefinite terms as a result of a change to the Patriot Act that stripped federal judges of their appointment power.

The complete story may be found here:

Gumbleton not ousted for condemning abuse, Detroit Catholic archdiocese says

The Detroit News reported today that:

Archdiocese of Detroit officials disputed reports today that they forced Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton from running St. Leo's Catholic Church parish.

"It is not for a bishop to put conditions on retiring," said Ned McGrath, the archdiocese's spokesman. "If you retire, it is accepted. You are not being forced out. We took him at his word."

The outspoken Gumbleton is 77 years old, and church law requires bishops to retire at 75 years old, McGrath said. However, there is no law requiring retiring bishops to remove themselves from all of their church's leadership.

Gumbleton last year stated he wanted to retire, but he wanted to stay on to run the parish on a yearly basis, McGrath said. But in accepting the resignation, Pope Benedict XVI informed Gumbleton he had to resign from all posts, McGrath said. Gumbleton does not want to do this and in a Jan. 21 Mass at St. Leo's Catholic Church stated he was being ousted for speaking out against priests who molest children.

Last year in Columbus Ohio, Gumbleton testified that the statute of limitations on such sexual assaults needs to be extended. He also said he was molested as a child by a clergyman. Those statements are the real reason he is leaving, Gumbleton said to St. Leo's parishioners during the address.

"It's certainly not my will," Gumbleton said during the Mass, which was videotaped by a parishioner and then streamed on the National Catholic Reporter Web site. "I did not choose to leave St. Leo's. It was something forced upon me."

Gumbleton also said he was right to speak out about sex abuse and the clergy.

"I do not regret what I did," he said during the Mass as the parishioners stood and applauded.

Ann Steffy, who occasionally worships at St. Leo's, is among the more than 1,000 people who have signed a petition demanding that Gumbleton stay at St. Leo's. She said removing him, even if he had resigned, smacks of officials getting back at Gumbleton for his comments.

"They can cop to the rules, which can be bent," Steffy said.

In a letter sent to area media, Steffy, of Royal Oak, said church officials should let Gumbleton stay.

"Bishop Thomas Gumbleton is being banished from St. Leo's where he serves the poor and the peaceful and speaks truth to power," she wrote. "Perhaps the Roman Catholic Church is more concerned with power than with truth?"

McGrath said officials are not looking to penalize Gumbleton for his comments. Gumbleton previously has preached contrary to church doctrine by embracing gays and calling for women to be ordained as priests.

Gumbleton's last day at St. Leo's was to be Jan. 20. But Gumbleton indicated he wanted to stay to officials in the months leading up to that date, McGrath said.

Unlike priests, bishops answer directly to the pope and must abide by his retirement decisions. Priests who retire can ask their bishop or cardinal to be allowed to remain in a parish in some capacity.

McGrath said the archdiocese took extra steps to ensure Gumbleton's departure was smooth. For example, he said Gumbleton asked for letters from the archdiocese for St. Leo's parishioners explaining why he was leaving.

The archdiocese delivered 300 copies of a letter to the parish on Jan. 22 and on Jan. 17, Bishop John Quinn participated in a two-hour meeting with members of St. Leo's Parish Council.

During the Jan. 21 Mass, Gumbleton said he was surprised by the letter to parishioners and had not seen it before it was distributed, according to the videotape.

The complete story may be found here:

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Union Rates Fall in 2006, Drop in Manufacturing

WASHINGTON - January 25 - For the first time in U.S. history, union membership rates were lower in manufacturing than in the rest of the economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics annual union membership report released today, union membership declined sharply in 2006, from 12.5 percent of all workers in both 2004 and 2005, to just 12.0 percent of all workers last year. The following analysis by CEPR economist John Schmitt and researcher Ben Zipperer discusses the annual union membership data:

Overall, the number of U.S. workers in a union fell last year by 326,000 workers, to 15.4 million workers in 2006. The largest decrease in union membership rates occurred in manufacturing, where union membership dropped 1.3 percentage points to just 11.7 percent of manufacturing workers. For the first time since the BLS began tracking these trends, and likely for the first time in U.S. history, union membership rates were lower in manufacturing (11.7 percent) than in the rest of the economy (12.0 percent).

In addition to losses in manufacturing, very few segments of the private sector reported gains in unionization. Union membership in the private sector slid in 2006 to only 7.4 percent. Among public-sector workers, membership also fell (down 0.3 percentage points), but, at 36.2 percent, remained at levels consistent with those over the last two decades. Public-sector union jobs in 2006 accounted for almost half of union members, even though public-sector employment comprised less than one-fifth of the economy. (For a discussion of trends in illegal firings in the private sector during union organizing campaigns, see CEPR’s report, Dropping the Ax: Illegal Firings During Union Election Campaigns.)

Workers of all races saw declines in union membership. At 14.5 percent, African-Americans remained more likely to be in a union than white, Asian, or Hispanic workers, but union membership among blacks in 2006 still fell by 0.6 percentage points. Since 1983, the earliest year for which directly comparable data are available, union membership has decreased by 12.6 percentage points among blacks (from 27.1 percent in 1983), but dropped only 7.5 percentage points among whites (from 19.2 percent in 1983). (For longer-term trends in African-American unionization, see CEPR’s report, The Decline in African-American Representation in Unions and Auto Manufacturing, 1979-2004.)

Membership declines were roughly the same -- down about 0.5 percentage points -- for both men and women. In 2006, men (13.0 percent) were more often union members than women (10.9 percent), but over time, the unionization rates have been converging. In 1983, the earliest year for which directly comparable data are available, men (24.7 percent) were much more likely to be in a union than were women (14.6 percent).

The decline of unions within manufacturing was severe and will likely persist. In 2006, the number of unionized workers in manufacturing was nine percent lower than in 2005, a loss of 190,000 union members. Buyouts and early retirements of unionized auto workers throughout 2007 will lead to additional losses in union members, as will continued weakness in the manufacturing sector. Because of these declines, it is no longer accurate to view manufacturing work as a “union job.” Manufacturing workers are now less likely to be in a union than is the average U.S. worker.

The latest numbers continue a long-run decline in union membership. In 1983, about 1 in 5 workers in the United States was a member of a union, including almost 1 in 3 black men. By 2006, only 1 in 8 workers was a union member, and only about 1 in 6 black men.

In 1983, about 1 in 6 private-sector workers was in a union. Twenty-three years later, the share has fallen to about 1 in 14.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Slap on the Wrist Won’t Stop Payola

Industry Ears, Future of Music Coalition and Free Press call for FCC to impose strict conditions and stiff penalties on radio giants

WASHINGTON - January 24 - As the Federal Communications Commission prepares to settle with the broadcasters found violating payola rules, Industry Ears, Future of Music Coalition and Free Press expressed grave concern over the reportedly lenient terms of the consent decree. The groups are urging the FCC to hold broadcasters accountable for their massive payola abuses by setting strict conditions and imposing stiff penalties to end pay-for-play practices in the radio industry.

"The marriage of radio and records must end," said Paul Porter, co-founder of Industry Ears. "The FCC must include a third-party system to end payola. Industry Ears believes that a transparent research component must be included in any consent decree. Restoring localism to radio is a must. There should be no free pass issued to the hundreds of stations benefiting from pay for play."

Recent media reports indicate that radio conglomerates Clear Channel, Citadel, Entercom and CBS Radio — which were originally implicated in an investigation by then New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer — would not be required to admit any wrongdoing in their deal with the FCC. Instead, the commission would merely require them to agree to a code of conduct, an education program, and a specific allotment of airtime for independent music.

"Ending rampant payola abuse requires more than a slap on the wrist," said Frannie Wellings, associate policy director at Free Press. "The FCC must ensure that the stations caught with illegal gifts in hand admit wrongdoing and pay stiff financial penalties. All stations must adhere to strict reporting requirements and third-party audits and open the airwaves to independent artists and local music."

This is an issue of national importance and the FCC should open the proposed settlement proceeding up to public notice and comment. At a minimum, Industry Ears, Future of Music Coalition and Free Press called for any payola settlement to include the following conditions:

· An admittance of wrongdoing by Clear Channel, Citadel, Entercom and CBS Radio.
· A five-year time span for the consent decree.
· Stiff financial penalties for current and future payola abuses.
· A strong plan for annual reporting to the FCC and third-party review of broadcast practices.
· Disclosure to the FCC of internal reports and records of transactions.
· FCC access to playlist information.
· Transparency, conformity to payola rules, and inclusion of local and independent music in music testing pools used by some stations.
· Requirements that new music testing include titles from major and independent record labels and artists that have met the required airplay criteria.
· Weekly airplay for independent artists for the full term of the consent decree, including all stations found involved in payola.
· Terms of this agreement made public via the Internet and on-air announcements.

"We are hopeful that the FCC will see this investigation as an historic opportunity to regulate commercial radio in a way that truly benefits the public," said Michael Bracy, policy director at Future of Music Coalition. "From our standpoint, any successful settlement must include a basic framework that outlines how the independent music community can interact with the commercial radio industry to gain access to commercial airplay; a credible oversight plan that ensures the negotiated framework can be enforced in a way that will lead to true reform; and serious penalties that hold the broadcast industry responsible for years of abusive practices that have so damaged the music community and the public. Any deal that does not address all three points must be judged a failure."

EU Governments Directly Undermine Torture Ban

‘Diplomatic Assurances’ Against Torture Provide No Protection From Abuse

NEW YORK - January 23 - The European Parliament report adopted today on the role of EU states in CIA renditions tells only half the story when it comes to European complicity in torture, Human Rights Watch said in a new briefing paper on how some EU governments have also directly undermined the global ban on torture.
The briefing paper shows how EU states have relied upon empty promises of humane treatment, known as “diplomatic assurances,” in efforts to justify the return of terrorism suspects to countries where they risk being tortured. In the report adopted today, the European Parliament’s Temporary Committee on illegal CIA activity in Europe focuses on CIA flights and US-sponsored transfers of terrorism suspects. It also calls on EU member states to oppose the use of “diplomatic assurances” on torture in returning terrorism suspects. Europe pioneered the use of these “no torture” promises in the 1990s, well before the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

“The European Parliament is right to focus on ending European complicity in illegal CIA activity,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “But if Europe is serious about ending its complicity in torture, it also needs to stop homegrown policies that undermine the global ban on torture.”

EU states such as the United Kingdom and Sweden have been among the most vocal proponents of employing diplomatic assurances to deport and extradite terrorism suspects. The UK is currently trying to deport terrorism suspects based on blanket no-torture promises from countries like Jordan and Libya. Austria, the Netherlands and Germany have also employed diplomatic assurances in attempts to extradite alleged terrorists to countries where they face the risk of torture. These EU governments have argued that diplomatic assurances allow them to deport or extradite terrorism suspects safely.

But the Human Rights Watch briefing paper, which includes research conducted over the last three years, indicates that promises from governments that practice torture or target specific groups for such abuse are unreliable, unenforceable and ineffective. The most notorious example involves Sweden, which sent two Egyptian terrorism suspects to Cairo in December 2001 in the hands of the CIA, based on promises of humane treatment. Both were tortured on their return, despite visits from Swedish diplomats. Two UN bodies – the Committee Against Torture and the Human Rights Committee – have since ruled that Sweden’s actions in the case violated the international ban on returning people to a risk of torture.

“Diplomatic assurances simply do not protect against torture,” said Cartner. “European governments have used these empty promises as a fig leaf to justify sending people to places where they risk being tortured.”

Part of what makes diplomatic assurances worthless is the nature of torture itself. Torture is criminal activity, practiced in secret using techniques that often defy detection – such as mock drowning, sexual assault, and the application of electricity on the victim’s body. In some countries, governments employ medical personnel in detention facilities to monitor the abuse to ensure that the torture is not easily detected. Detainees subjected to torture are often afraid to complain to anyone about the abuse for fear of reprisals against them or their family members. Post-return monitoring visits by diplomats or others under such conditions cannot adequately protect a suspect from abuse.

In July, the European Parliament called on member states “to reject altogether reliance on diplomatic assurances against torture.”

“Now that Germany has taken on the EU presidency, Chancellor Merkel’s government should urge all EU states to heed the parliament’s call,” said Cartner. “European governments’ complicity in torture must end.”

The Human Rights Watch briefing paper also includes updated and new cases involving the use of assurances against torture in other countries, including the United States, Canada and Russia. A forthcoming briefing paper by Human Rights Watch will address the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Russia and the torture and other abuse they suffered upon return, despite Russian assurances of humane treatment.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Presiding Bishop affirms Church's 'fiduciary and moral duty' to preserve property

Statement follows Episcopal Diocese of Virginia's action on 11 congregations

[Episcopal News Service] Following the Diocese of Virginia's January 18 action authorizing Bishop Peter James Lee to "recover or secure" property of 11 congregations in which a majority of members and leaders have left the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has underscored the Church's ongoing commitments to its mission of reconciliation, and a "fiduciary and moral duty" to preserve property for current and future ministries.

A full report on the January 18 actions of the Diocese of Virginia is online here. Among those decisions, the diocese's Executive Board declared "abandoned" the property of the 11 Episcopal congregations where, as stated in a diocesan news report, "a majority of members -- including the vestry and clergy -- have left the Episcopal Church but have not relinquished Church property and have continued to occupy the churches and use the property owned by the Diocese."

The complete text of the Presiding Bishop's January 19 statement follows.

Presiding Bishop's statement following property decisions in Virginia

The Episcopal Church, in consultation with the Diocese of Virginia, regrets the recent votes by members of some congregations in Virginia to leave this Church. We wish to be clear, however, that while individuals have the right and privilege to depart or return at any time, congregations do not. Congregations exist because they are in communion with the bishop of a diocese, through recognition by diocesan governing bodies (diocesan synods, councils, or conventions). Congregations cannot unilaterally disestablish themselves or remove themselves from a diocese. In addition, by canon law, property of all sorts held by parishes is held and must be used for the mission of the Episcopal Church through diocesan bishops and governing bodies. As a Church, we cannot abrogate our interest in such property, as it is a fiduciary and moral duty to preserve such property for generations to come and the ministries to be served both now and in the future.

The recent decisions by some members of congregations in Virginia to leave the Episcopal Church and ally with the Anglican Church of Nigeria have no cognizance in our polity. Ancient precedent (from as early as the fourth century) in the Church requires bishops to respect diocesan boundaries, and to refrain from crossing into or acting officially in dioceses other than their own. As a Church we cannot and will not work to subvert that ancient precedent by facilitating the establishment of congregations which are purportedly responsible to bishops in other parts of the Anglican Communion within the diocesan boundaries of the Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church continues to seek reconciliation with those who have decided to leave this Church, and reminds all parties that our doors are open to any who wish to return. Together with the Diocese of Virginia we seek to be clear about who we are as Episcopalians, and to continue to reach out in healing to this broken world. The overwhelming majority of the more than 7,600 congregations of the Episcopal Church are engaged in doing exactly that.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Methodists: No Bush library at SMU

The AP Reported today that:

DALLAS - A group of Methodist ministers from across the nation launched an online petition drive Thursday urging Southern Methodist University to stop trying to land George W. Bush's presidential library.

The petition, on a new Web site, http://www.protectsmu.org, says that "as United Methodists, we believe that the linking of his presidency with a university bearing the Methodist name is utterly inappropriate."

"Methodists have a long history of social conscience, so questions about the conduct of this president are very concerning," said one of the petition's organizers, the Rev. Andrew J. Weaver of New York, who graduated from SMU's Perkins School of Theology.

Brad Cheves, SMU's vice president for external affairs and development, said Thursday that the Methodist church is diverse in its membership and opinions and that those involved with the petition reflect only one view.

"We believe the vast majority of the Methodist membership, university and community support the library and that it will benefit the faculty, students and community for generations to come," Cheves said.

The complete story may be found here:

Virginia leadership declares church property 'abandoned'

Bishop says 'spiritual abandonment' of Episcopalians 'perhaps the greatest offense'

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Thursday, January 18, 2007

[Episcopal News Service] The Executive Board of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia January 18 authorized Bishop Peter Lee to "take such steps as may be necessary to recover or secure such real and personal property" of 11 congregations where a majority of the members and leaders have left the Episcopal Church.

The authorization came after the Executive Board declared the property to be abandoned under the diocese's canonical definitions (Canons 15.1, 15.2, 15.3), according to a statement posted on the diocese's website.

Lee has not taken any immediate actions, diocesan spokesperson Patrick Getlein said.

According to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, dioceses are created or dissolved only by acts of General Convention (Articles V and VI) and dioceses create or dissolve Episcopal congregations in their midst. Congregational property is held in trust for the diocese, and the diocese holds property in trust for the wider church (Canon I.7.4 of the Episcopal Church). Virginia's diocesan canons concur with the national canons.

Also on January 18, the diocese's Standing Committee, during its regular monthly meeting, took up the issue of the status of the clergy attached to these congregations and "will communicate its determination to the Bishop according to the Canons," the news release said.

Lee, in a letter to the diocese, also released January 18, wrote that when the majority of the congregations' membership agreed to leave, "they left remaining Episcopal congregations in those places without vestries, without clergy and without their churches, whether the remaining congregations numbered one or 100 souls."

"The spiritual abandonment of their Episcopal brothers and sisters of the past, the present and the future, is perhaps the greatest offense for which there is no redress under our tradition," he wrote.

Lee outlined the efforts of Episcopalians in Heathsville, Herndon and Falls Church to re-group, writing that "there is life springing from these dry bones."

The bishop also described steps he and diocesan leadership took to accommodate those members who disagreed with decisions of the Episcopal Church. Those efforts included, Lee wrote, diocesan money for church planting, access to diocesan medical and dental insurance programs, many meetings that attempted "to find common ground on matters of theology," rejection of efforts to deny the congregations a vote at diocesan convention despite their refusal to fund the diocese's budget, and three invitations to retired Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey to conduct confirmations "when my episcopal presence was either specifically refused or would have been a source of tension for the membership."

"I endured being told that the parents of confirmands would not want me to lay hands on their children at confirmation and I have received other personal attacks including death wishes in letters, reports and public statements," he wrote.

Lee said that all the work was done in an attempt to accommodate the dissidents and to resolve the issue outside of the secular court system, but to no avail. The diocese has already been engaged in legal actions with the congregations as they attempt to retain the congregations' property.

"These differences are not about property but about the legacy we have received for the mission of Christ and our obligation to preserve that legacy for the future," he wrote, urging the diocese toward prayer for each other.

"I urge us to remember that in their call away from the Episcopal Church, they may be responding to a genuine call to new ministry in a different place and in a different way," Lee wrote of those who have left.

"The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia will mourn their loss. We will suffer from their absence in ways we cannot know at this time in our life. I believe that they, too, will know times when our absence from their life will be a source of great sorrow for them.

"My dear brothers and sisters, the Church in these communities may look different moving forward. We will look different as a Diocese. And the road ahead will be long and filled with opportunities to lose heart. We must always have our eyes fixed on God, not be anxious, and trust in the reliability of God's promises. For even in this, God is doing a new thing."

The 11 congregations (of the 195 in the diocese) where property has been declared abandoned are: Church of the Apostles, Fairfax; Church of the Epiphany, Herndon; Church of Our Saviour, Oatlands; Church of the Redeemer, Chantilly; Church of the Word, Gainesville; Potomac Falls Church, Sterling; St. Margaret's, Woodbridge; St. Paul's, Haymarket; St. Stephen's, Heathsville; The Falls Church, Falls Church; and Truro Church, Fairfax.

The majority of the laity and clergy of those congregations voted to sever ties with the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Anglican Church of Nigeria by way of the Anglican District of Virginia, part of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). The members number about 8,000 of the diocese's roughly 90,000 Episcopalians. The Episcopal Church includes some 7,200 congregations in its 100 domestic dioceses, and about 150 in its 10 overseas dioceses and one convocation.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Arizona Catholic Priest Leaves Ministry in Dispute with Bishop over Gay Rights

The Arizona Republic reported that:

Jan. 17, 2007 12:00 AM

A Catholic priest who clashed with Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted over gay issues and other matters has left the priesthood after taking a yearlong leave of absence.

Chris Carpenter (pictured left) said he is concerned about the church's outreach to gay members and "the current state of church leadership."

"The enforcement of church doctrine and liturgical practice are taking a step backward to the pre-Vatican II era," he said, referring to the 1960s council on adapting the church to the modern world.

"Attempting to turn back the clock and re-create a time when the Catholic Church enjoyed greater authority and respect culturally is not a realistic way to deal with current problems and challenges."

He said he told Olmsted of his decision in October but has not heard from the bishop since he took leave last January.

A diocese spokesman disputed Carpenter's claim, saying someone from the diocese has been in touch.

"Whether it was the bishop or someone else, I don't know," said Jim Dwyer, the diocese's director of public information.

He said Carpenter remains a priest in good standing.

Carpenter said the intricacies of leaving his vocation make it more accurate to say he does not plan to return to priestly ministry in the church.

"From now on, I won't formally identify myself as a priest or as 'Father' or dress as one," he said in a statement.

Carpenter, who was ordained in 1995 by Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien and served for more than eight years as pastor of Christ the King parish in Mesa, was a leader in the gay-advocate group No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice. He was one of nine priests who signed the organization's Phoenix Declaration, which affirmed the right of gay men, lesbians and others to participate in Christian churches.

Olmsted ordered the priests to remove their signatures in May 2004.

Six of the priests who signed the document are no longer working as Catholic priests.

Carpenter said the bishop's order destroyed many priests' efforts to bring gay members back to the church, wounded relationships with other Christian leaders, and damaged hopes for a good relationship with Olmsted.

The complete story may be found here:

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Gonzales Blames Attorneys for Lack of Gitmo Trials

NEW YORK - January 16 - After the recent controversy surrounding Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Charles "Cully" Stimson's comments about major law firms representing Guantánamo detainees pro bono, today, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales blamed attorneys for the lack of trials to date. "It's not for lack of trying. We are challenged very step of the way," Gonzales said in a radio interview. "We are trying as hard as we can to bring these individuals to justice." According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which organizes the representation of the detainees, the Bush administration is twisting the notion of justice.

"The only delay in charging, trying or releasing detainees has been by the Bush administration. To suggest that the legal challenges are what has prevented the detainees from seeing justice is really through the looking glass," said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren. "We have been trying for five years to get their cases heard in federal court, and the Bush administration has continued to try to circumvent two Supreme Court rulings and do everything in its power to keep the men at Guantánamo from challenging their detention. Only 10 of the 775 men who were imprisoned at Guantanamo have been have even been designated for the military commissions, which are a sham tribunal to begin with."

The Supreme Court ruled the military commissions unconstitutional in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld this past summer, prompting the administration to work with Congress to pass the Military Commissions Act in an attempt to retroactively strip detainees of the right of habeas corpus.

Last week, Stimson came under fire for claiming that the pro bono work of major law firms representing detainees was somehow suspicious and that their corporate clients should put pressure on them to withdraw.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Angola: Catholic Church involved in forced evictions-Amnesty International


Amnesty International today released a report revealing the scale and extent of forced evictions in Angola, and expressing particular concern at forced evictions carried out by Angolan authorities, apparently at the request of the Catholic Church in Angola.

The organization said that nearly all of the forced evictions were accompanied by excessive use of force, which sometimes involved police beatings of children and women -- including one pregnant woman -- and indiscriminate shooting at residents attempting to protect their homes.

According to the report, Lives in ruins: forced evictions continue, thousands of families have been forcibly evicted since 2001 -- nearly always without notification to the families affected. Tens of thousands have been left without shelter, with hundreds of families still living their lives in ruins.

Since September 2004, the homes of residents in the Kilamba Kiaxi municipality have been demolished repeatedly to make room for public and private housing projects. In 2006, the Angolan government publicly acknowledged the right to compensation of those forcibly evicted, and proclaimed that it was reviewing its housing strategy with a view to responding to the housing needs of its urban population. Thus far, none of the affected residents of Kilamba Kiaxi has received compensation or alternative adequate accommodation.

"Despite these claims by the government, the housing situation in Luanda has not improved -- in fact, hundreds of families are still homeless after having been forced from their homes," said Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Africa Programme. "Disturbingly, many forced evictions in the last two years have been carried out apparently at the request of the Catholic Church."

In 1998, the Angolan government formally returned to the Catholic Church land the Church owned prior to independence, in response to a request by the late Pope John Paul II when he visited Angola in 1992. However, families have been living on this land -- in the Wenji Maka neighbourhood of Luanda -- for several years, or even decades in some cases.

When granting the land title to the Catholic Church, Angolan authorities reportedly did not take into consideration those people already living on the land, and national police have repeatedly tried to expel over 2,000 families in the area where the Catholic Church intends to build a sanctuary.

In response to Amnesty International's request for information regarding the Catholic Church's involvement in these forced evictions, the Archbishop of Luanda stated the Church, when reclaiming title over land, had asked the government to provide land in other areas for the affected individuals. The Archbishop also alleged that in many instances individuals put up constructions on land when they found out that the Church had intentions to use the land. The Archbishop further justified the actions of the Church by saying "summum ius summa iniuria" (extreme law, extreme justice) -- or, as the Archbishop interpreted it, "justica absoluta pode desembocar em injustica" (absolute justice can result in injustice).

"The Catholic Church should not ask the Angolan authorities to evict people occupying land to which the Church has been granted title," said Tawanda Hondora.

"However, the primary responsibility for forced evictions rests with the Angolan government, which must not only stop all such illegal action, but also provide assistance to victims of previous forced evictions who remain without shelter and issue clear orders to law enforcement personnel that they must not take part in any further forced evictions and prosecute those responsible for human rights violations."

The Angolan government is reportedly planning the biggest urban project ever attempted in Africa, and is implementing other construction projects with the support of the Chinese government. The resulting increased pressure for urban land is resulting in forced evictions of the poorest families of Luanda from various neighbourhoods in the capital city, driving such families into ever deeper poverty.

Italian gays protest Pope's stance on marriage

Reuters reported January 13 that:

VATICAN CITY - About 150 Italian gays demonstrated in the Vatican on Saturday against Pope Benedict's opposition to gay marriage, on the anniversary of the protest suicide of a gay man in St Peter's Square nine years ago.

Men and women from the Italian gay association Arcigay and other groups waved rainbow flags and banners saying "No to the Taliban! No to the Vatican!", according to a Reuters witness.

Other banners urged Italy to offer legal recognition to gay and unmarried couples, an issue dividing the current centre-left government and stoking tension between leftists and the Vatican.

Pope Benedict has said in recent addresses that such changes would support "those ruinous theories that strip all relevance from the masculinity and femininity of the human being".

Some Arcigay members laid flowers at the spot in St Peter's Square where writer Alfredo Ormando doused himself with petrol and set himself alight in 1998, in protest at the Vatican's stance against gays. He died of his burns nine days later.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Pentagon disavows disparaging comment on detainees' lawyers

Sat Jan 13, 6:21 PM ET
The AP reported that:

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon on Saturday disavowed a senior official's remarks suggesting companies boycott law firms that represent detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Charles "Cully" Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said in a radio interview last week that companies might want to consider taking their business to other firms that do not represent suspected terrorists.

Stimson's remarks were viewed by legal experts and advocacy groups as an attempt to intimidate law firms that provide legal help to all people, even unpopular defendants.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Brian Maka, said Stimson was not speaking for the Bush administration.

Stimson's comments "do not represent the views of the
Department of Defense or the thinking of its leadership," Maka told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Stimson's "shameful and irresponsible" remarks deserve condemnation, said Neal Sonnett, a Miami lawyer and president of the American Judicature Society, a nonpartisan group of judges, lawyers and others.

Sonnett said in a statement that Stimson had made a "blatant attempt to intimidate lawyers and their firms who are rendering important public service in upholding the rule of law and our democratic ideals."

Stimson on Thursday told Federal News Radio, a local commercial station that covers the government, that he found it "shocking" that lawyers at many of the nation's top law firms represent detainees.

Stimson listed the names of more than a dozen major firms he suggested should be boycotted.

"And I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms," Stimson said.

Asked who might be paying the law firms to represent Guantanamo detainees, Stimson hinted at wrongdoing for which some explaining should be done.

"It's not clear, is it? Some will maintain that they're doing it out of the goodness of their heart — that they're doing it pro bono, and I suspect they are," he said. "Others are receiving monies from who knows where and I'd be curious to have them explain that."

Stimson also described Guantanamo as "certainly, probably the most transparent and open location in the world" because of visits from more than 2,000 journalists since it opened five years ago. However, journalists are not allowed to talk to detainees on those visits, their photos are censored and their access to the base has at times been shut off entirely."

He discounted international outrage over the detention center as "small little protests around the world" that were "drummed up by Amnesty International" and inflated in importance by liberal news media outlets.

The complete story may be found here:

Saturday, January 13, 2007

US federal judge allows sex-abuse lawsuit against Vatican

CW News reported that:

A federal judge in Kentucky has ruled that sex-abuse plaintiffs can proceed with a lawsuit seeking damages from the Vatican.

Judge John Heyburn allowed three men to begin collecting evidence to support their charge that Vatican officials were negligent in protecting them from abusive clerics. The ruling would allow the plaintiffs to demand documents from the Vatican and take testimony from officials in Rome.

Judge Heyburn based his ruling on the plaintiffs' claim that the American bishops were acting as agents or employees of the Holy See when they allowed known abusers to remain in clerical ministry. In his ruling the judge reported that lawyers for the Church had declined to contest that claim. If the Holy See can demonstrate that US bishops are not Vatican employees, he said, the ruling could be reconsidered.

The Kentucky ruling marks the first time that an American court has allowed plaintiffs to pursue a sex-abuse lawsuit in which the Vatican is the sole defendant. In past cases, lawyers for the Church have argued successfully that the Holy See is immune from suits as a sovereign power. In this case the court found that-- if the US bishops are Vatican employees-- the case could qualify for treatment under US law allowing suits against sovereign powers whose employees or agents cause harm while acting in their official capacities.

The complete story may be found here:

Thursday, January 11, 2007

U.N. chief wants Guantanamo prison shut down

Reuters reported today that:

UNITED NATIONS - New U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon believes the U.S. prison at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay should be shut down, he said on Thursday.

"Like my predecessor, I believe that the prison at Guantanamo should be closed," Ban told a news conference. U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan, who stepped down on December 31, had also called for the facility to be closed.

President Bush has himself said he would like to close the facility, Ban reminded journalists. But the U.S. leader has yet to do so.

Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of the camp's opening.

The first detainees were flown to the heavily guarded camp five years ago, soon after the U.S.-led war on
Afghanistan was launched in response to the September 11 attacks.

More than 770 captives have been held there since then, of whom only 10 have been charged with crimes.

Rights groups around the world have planned vigils -- in countries including Australia,Israel, Italy, the United States, Japan, Paraguay, Spain, Tunisia and Britain -- to mark the anniversary and urge the prison's closure.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

In Poland, New Wave of Charges Against Roman Catholic Clerics

The New York Times Reported that:

KRAKOW, Poland, Jan. 9 — Poland was convulsed in finger-pointing and recrimination on Tuesday as more allegations of former secret-police collaborators among the Roman Catholic clergy members spilled onto the country’s front pages, sullying an institution that for decades was considered spotless in its fight against Communism.

And the stream of disclosures now promises to become a torrent: here in Krakow, the Rev. Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski is preparing to publish a book that will identify 39 priests whose names he found in Krakow’s secret police files, three of whom are now bishops in the Polish church.

Perhaps the most explosive assertion by people in the church is that the taint of collaboration was known for decades but kept quiet out of respect for — or perhaps even at the behest of — the Polish-born Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005.

“The church didn’t want to hurt the pope, but actually, more harm was done by keeping silent,” Father Zaleski, 50, said in an interview at the hilltop compound of a charity he runs outside Krakow.

The sudden focus on the fallibility of a church thought to be heroically anti-Communist followed the Vatican’s choice of Bishop Stanislaw Wielgus as archbishop of Warsaw despite clear signals of his ties to Poland’s secret police. Bishop Wielgus resigned Sunday after admitting his secret past.

“There is a sort of unholy alliance in Poland that has been present for many years, but is fully visible only recently, that is based on a culture of mendacity,” said Andrzej Zybertowicz, professor of sociology at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, the heart of the Polish church’s most conservative camp.

He argued that there were three elements of this alliance: former members of the secret police and the Communist Party who are now active in business and politics; apologists who wanted to forgive and forget past collaboration; and an influential part of the hierarchy of the Polish church.

Collaboration in the clergy is not unique to Poland. Church officials across the Communist world were commonly bent to ignoble service. Some of that has come to light as Eastern bloc countries have peered into their secret police archives.

But Poland is unique in that the church remained stronger there than elsewhere in the Communist world. That was largely because Poland’s primate at the time, Archbishop Stefan Wyszynski, agreed to cooperate with the Communist authorities, preaching compromise — up to a point, beyond which he said the faithful should not yield.

The complete story may be found here:

Antiwar Movement Launches National Surge of Opposition to War Escalation

NEW YORK - January 9 - Under the banner of "America Says NO to More Troops! End the War!" the antiwar movement will launch a national surge of protest within 24 hours of Bush's announcement of plans to send more troops to Iraq. United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the nation's largest grassroots antiwar coalition, is working with Win Without War to organize a wave of local protests in response to the President's announcement. Bush is expected to announce his plans to send more troops to Iraq during a televised speech on Wednesday, January 10.

"It's unbelievable that after the voters, the soldiers, and the Iraqis said they want an end to this war, President Bush is going to escalate it," said Leslie Cagan, UFPJ National Coordinator. "Bush was wrong to begin the war in March 2003 and he's wrong to prolong it even one more day. The way out of the mess is to bring the troops back home now, not send more of them to die and kill needlessly in this outrageous war."

On Saturday, January 27th, the peace surge will escalate with a major national march on Washington to push Congress to listen to the voters, not Bush, and bring the war to a close. Organized by United for Peace and Justice, the weekend's activities will include an interfaith peace service and a Congressional Education Day on Monday, January 29th.

Anne Roesler, a UFPJ spokesperson and member of Military Families Speak Out, said, "With each of his three deployments, my son said that he witnessed increasing chaos and a country on the brink of civil war. Escalating the war won't solve these issues. The Bush Administration tried increasing troop levels in October 2005 to 'clear, hold, and build' in Iraq. It didn't work then, and it won't work now. With more than 3,000 U.S. troops dead, over 20,000 injured, countless others suffering from serious mental health disorders, and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis dead, it's time to bring all the troops home -- not to deploy more."

For a full list of activities planned for the day after Bush's announcement, visit http://www.americasaysno.org.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Northern California parish's ad about conflict in Episcopal Church garners much reaction

Ad's objective was to broaden context of neighboring rector's decision to leave

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Monday, January 08, 2007

[Episcopal News Service] A full-page newspaper advertisement "meant to change the context" of media coverage of the Episcopal Church appears to be meeting its goal, according to the priest who wrote the ad's text.

The ad, titled "Sex, Religion, and the Culture Wars: An Open Letter to the Community," ran on the back page of the local news section of the January 7 issue of the Santa Rosa, California Press Democrat newspaper.

In the ad, under the sub-headline "Too Boring for the Culture Wars," the Rev. Matthew Lawrence, rector of Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa, wrote that "sometimes the only Christians who receive media attention are those who make the most noise with their extreme views. Granted, they do provide entertainment value -- extremists are fascinating. By contrast, most Episcopalians tend toward the boring mainstream."

The ad is due to be posted on Church of the Incarnation's website soon.

Placement of the ad in the newspaper generated coverage by the Press Democrat and television stations in San Francisco and Santa Rosa, Lawrence said.

"What I'm proud of is that we got the media to change the context of the story," he said. "Instead of it being a story about homosexuality splitting the Episcopal Church, it became a story of how the majority of Episcopal churches stand in affirmation of gays and lesbians despite this one little church, and I think that shift in the context of the story is really important and I'd love to see that happen in other places."

In the ad, Lawrence wrote that "this letter is one local pastor's attempt to shed some light on this overheated topic. I do not claim to speak for every member of my church -- one thing we love about our church is its diversity of opinions."

Lawrence told the Episcopal News Service that he got the idea for the ad while talking to a reporter about the decision by the rector and the majority of the members of St. John's Episcopal Church in nearby Petaluma to leave the Episcopal Church.

As he talked to the reporter, Lawrence said: "It occurred to me that the problem is that the vast majority of Episcopal churches are not breaking away; that this isn't a huge issue for most of us. It's really quite settled."

He said he thought about how the media "really amplifies the voice" of the extreme sides of an issue and how "the moderate middle ground doesn't get heard much."

Lawrence said he told his vestry that he was concerned that the coverage of the Petaluma action would portray the Episcopal Church as being split. He suggested to the vestry that they and he ought to "try to balance the record, if you will, to try to make a statement that this is not such a big controversy in the Episcopal Church as far as we're concerned. It makes us sad that a couple of churches are leaving but that doesn't represent the mainstream of Episcopal Church thinking."

The vestry agreed to spend the $1,800 the newspaper would charge for the ad. He circulated a draft to some neighboring clergy for their suggestions and the ad was published under his name.

Incarnation has a sign in its narthex saying it is a welcoming parish but it is not known as being particularly activist, Lawrence said.

"It's not like we've made this a big issue in our lives, but it seemed like it was about time," he added.

Incarnation has an average Sunday attendance of about 250, making it the second-largest parish in the Diocese of Northern California. In 2005, its members pledged about $450,000.

"The response on Sunday from my congregation was absolutely stunning," he said. "I really did not expect them to be as enthusiastic and as proud as they were."

The reaction overall has been "amazing," Lawrence said.

"I've been completely blown over. My inbox has got dozens of emails from people who have written in to thank me for the letter," he said. "It's running 10-1 in support of what I wrote."

In the ad, Lawrence wrote that "it is no coincidence that the few Episcopalians who have left the church must travel to Africa, Asia, and South America to find their support."

"Their sentiments do not fit well with an American constitution that protects the rights of minorities against a tyranny of the majority," he wrote. "Episcopalians tend to accept as a 'given' the open-hearted sensibilities of American democracy."

Readers of the advertisement are invited to a "candlelight evening gathering of prayers and songs" on January 14, the eve of Martin Luther King Day. The theme of the service will be "speaking out against persecution and oppression."

"If you agree with the sentiments expressed in this letter, we invite you and your loved ones to attend," Lawrence wrote in the ad.

The ad's conclusion lists -- with their phone numbers -- St. Patrick's in Kenwood, St. Andrew's in Monte Rio, Holy Family in Rohnert Park and St. Stephen's in Sebastapol, along with Church of the Incarnation as being local Episcopal parishes that "support the direction taken by our church to affirm gays and lesbians as equal partners in the spiritual journey."

The ad also invited readers to comment on the letter by emailing Lawrence or by contacting "your nearest welcoming Episcopal Church."

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

Insurers Increase Profits to Record Levels by Overpricing Policies and Shifting Costs to Consumers and Taxpayers

WASHINGTON - January 8 - National consumer organizations joined the Consumer Federation of America today to release a new study concluding that the property/casualty insurance industry (which includes the nation’s home and auto insurers) has dramatically increased profits and surplus in recent years, in part by systematically overcharging for insurance and shifting costs to consumers and taxpayers. The report provides extensive data demonstrating that property/casualty insurance companies are paying out lower claims in relationship to the premiums they charge consumers than at any time in decades. The combined ratio, the relationship of all paid claims and expenses to the premiums that insurers collect, appears to be the lowest on record in 50 years. This indicates the highest profit levels in recent history.

“A copy of the report can be found at: http://www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/White_Paper_release.pdf.

New Report: Medicare Drug Plan Prices 58% Higher than VA Prices

Report Issued as House of Representatives is Scheduled to Vote Soon to End Prohibition Preventing Medicare from Bargaining for Lower Drug Prices

WASHINGTON - January 8 - For all of the top drugs prescribed for seniors, Families USA is releasing a report that examines prices obtained by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) compared to the prices charged by the five companies with the largest enrollment in the Medicare (Part D) drug program. Those companies enrolled approximately two-thirds of all seniors participating in Part D. The report focuses on comparative prices for the top drugs prescribed to seniors.

The new report will be released shortly before the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a bill to end the current prohibition preventing Medicare from bargaining for cheaper drug prices. The bill is a top priority for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her new Democratic majority.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Roman Catholic Warsaw archbishop resigns amid scandal

The AP reported today that:

WARSAW, Poland - Warsaw's new archbishop resigned Sunday over his involvement with the communist-era secret police, and the Vatican said his past actions had "gravely compromised his authority" in the Roman Catholic homeland of the late Pope John Paul. II.

Stanislaw Wielgus announced his decision at the capital's St. John's Cathedral, packed with worshippers gathered for a Mass that was to have marked his formal installation. The congregation included President Lech Kaczynski.

A forlorn-looking Wielgus read from a letter to
Pope Benedict XVI in which he offered his resignation "after reflecting deeply and assessing my personal situation."

Though Kaczynski and some others applauded, many in the church and a large crowd packed outside in the rain shouted, "We welcome you," "Stay with us," and "No, No!"

Dressed in a resplendent golden miter and robes, Wielgus, 67, made his brief announcement less than an hour after Poland's church said in a statement that he had resigned.

Revelations that Wielgus had contacts with the hated secret police of the communist regime, which ended in 1989, had shaken a country where many view the church as a moral authority that bravely opposed the regime.

The case, which had simmered since mid-December, expanded into a full-blown crisis on Friday when a church historical commission said it had found evidence that Wielgus had cooperated with the secret police.

Wielgus initially denied that, but then issued two statements acknowledging that he did sign an agreement in 1978 promising to cooperate with the security force in exchange for permission to leave Poland to study in West Germany.

However, he stressed that he did not inform on anyone or try to hurt anyone, and he expressed remorse for both his contacts with the secret police and his failure to be forthcoming from the beginning.

The complete story may be found here:

Friday, January 05, 2007

New Report: Cutting Interest Rates in Half Would Save Working and Middle Class Students Thousands of Dollars in Debt

WASHINGTON - January 5 - Cutting student loan interest rates in half will save the average working- and middle class borrower $4,420 over the life of their loans, according to a new report by U.S. PIRG’s Higher Education Project.

The Congressional proposal would lower interest rates on undergraduate subsidized Stafford loans over the next five years until they are cut in half to 3.4% starting in 2011. In 2004-2005 more than five and a half million students took out subsidized Stafford loans to pay for college.

“Over the past decade we have asked America’s college students to shoulder a heavy burden of debt to pay for college,” said Luke Swarthout, U.S. PIRG Higher Education Advocate. “Cutting interest rates on student loans will help millions of working and middle-class students and their families by saving them thousands of dollars in student loan payments.”

By lowering interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans, Congress can save college graduates thousands of dollars over the life of their loans.

* • The average four-year college student starting school in 2007 with subsidized Stafford loans would save $2,280 over the life of his or her loans under the proposed legislation.

* • When the interest rate cut is fully phased in, the average four-year college student starting school in 2011 with subsidized Stafford loans will save $4,420 over the life of his or her loans.

About five and a half million students borrow subsidized Stafford loans every year. Of those borrowers, nearly three and a half million attend four-year public or private non-profit institution. According to the Congressional Research Service, 65% of traditional-age subsidized Stafford borrowers come from families with incomes between $26,000 and $91,000. The median income for an American family of four is $65,000.

“Lowering interest rates on loans is a great first step towards a more affordable college education. Congress should continue to help students pay for college by increasing need-based federal student aid and passing broad protections for student borrowers, such as limits on the percent of income that can be required for student loan repayment,” concluded Swarthout.

The policy proposal analyzed by PIRG would cut the fixed interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans for undergraduates from 6.8% to 3.4% over the next five years. Loans originated during the intervening five years will be set at fixed interest rates of 6.12% in 2007-08, 5.44% in 2008-09, 4.76% in 2009-10, 4.08% in 2010-11, and 3.4% from 2011 forward. After graduation, students would be able to consolidate their loans into one loan at the weighted average of the interest rates of their various loans.

All federal Stafford loans receive two forms of government support: the federal government covers the cost of the loans to lenders in case of student default and provides financial subsidies to insure lenders make a profit. Stafford loans are considered “subsidized” when the government pays the interest charges on the loan while the student is in school.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the plan to cut interest rates during the first 100 legislative hours of the 110th Congress.

I, Robot; You, Human: IU android expert guides discussion in science journal

INDIANAPOLIS -- Can androids shine light into the murky world of autism and enable scientists to treat it and other psychiatric disorders? What can mechanical beings reveal about how we relate to one another as flesh-and-blood creations? And as these humanlike stand-ins continue to evolve, will they form relationships with us and lay claim to certain moral and legal rights?

These and other subjects are probed in December's Connection Science (Vol. 18, No. 4), a special issue co-edited by Karl F. MacDorman, associate professor at the School of Informatics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; and Hiroshi Ishiguro, director of the Intelligent Robotics Lab at Osaka University.

MacDorman, who teaches the psychology of human-computer interaction and research design at IU, is among a handful of experts in the emerging field of android science, a cross-disciplinary approach to testing and, if possible, verifying hypotheses about human interaction. He worked with Ishiguro on the development of Repliee Q1Expo, an android that was introduced to the world at the 2005 World Exposition in Aizu, Japan.

"One advantage of using an android as an experimental apparatus is that it can be more precisely controlled than a human actor," MacDorman writes in the journal's introductory editorial. "It also has a physical presence, which is lacked by a video or computer simulation of a human being."

Moreover, in comparing human-human and human-robot interaction, an android controls better for the effects of appearance than a mechanical-looking robot.

"An android offers a good balance between experimental control and ecological validity because it looks more human than other devices and can support more humanlike interaction while still being precisely controllable," said MacDorman.

In the article, "What baboons, babies and Tetris players tell us about interaction: A biosocial view of norm-based social learning," written by MacDorman and Stephen J. Cowley, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, the researchers suggest that future androids may be endowed with features and programming that will enable them to establish and sustain relationships with people.

"The challenge today is to develop 'mindful' machines that use [physical] movements that can be experienced as expressions of purpose and intention" and in turn be mimicked by androids, the two researchers write.

Also in the special issue, Sherry Turkle explores how much simpler robots are already presenting ethical challenges. She and her colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology introduced the robot "baby seal" Paro into nursing homes in Massachusetts. By making eye contact, the robot gave the false impression of understanding people.

Although the effect was therapeutic, Turkle questions whether it is ethical to encourage people to have relationships that lack authenticity with machines. Turkle is Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and author of The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit and Life on the Screen.

Photo by: Hiroshi Ishiguro, courtesy of Indiana University

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Former Los Angeles Archdiocese priest to appear in court

Hearing scheduled today for Michael Baker comes amid speculation over the direction of the L.A. abuse investigation.

The Los Angeles Times reported today that:

Less than two weeks after Cardinal Roger M. Mahony announced a landmark deal to settle lawsuits brought by 45 people who said they were molested by Catholic priests, the focus of the Southern California clergy sex scandal moves back to the criminal courts.

Former priest Michael Stephen Baker is due in court today for a hearing; he has been charged with molesting a boy after he had confessed to the cardinal that he was an abuser. He pleaded not guilty at an arraignment earlier this year.

Baker, whose case Mahony has said "troubles me the most," is one of the most reviled ex-priests in a scandal that has implicated dozens of clergy in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, generated 562 claims of abuse and touched three out of every four parishes in the largest Roman Catholic archdiocese in the nation.

Mahony has acknowledged leaving 16 priests in the ministry after parishioners complained about inappropriate behavior with children. Baker is one of five who went on to molest.

Baker's association with Mahony plus his return to court have fueled speculation about where the criminal investigation might be headed.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley accused the archdiocese of "a pattern of obstruction" when his office and the church fought over whether the archdiocese officials had to turn over documents to prosecutors.

The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before Mahony, who maintained he could not turn over the priests' files to a county grand jury without their consent, lost his bid in April.

The district attorney's office, which has had the files on Baker and another priest since then, declined to comment. Across the country, despite five years of investigations that have resulted in scores of priests being charged with molestation, no high church officials have been charged.

Grand juries have issued stinging reports in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Arizona, accusing high-level clergy of actively covering up sexual misconduct. In two of those cases, prosecutors said they declined to bring criminal charges when the local church agreed to compensate victims and submit to oversight of church functions by law enforcement.

In Cincinnati, officials did not charge any individuals, but the church pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor of failing to report sexually abusive priests. The case was settled without a trial, and remains the only instance in which an abuse investigation reached farther than individual molesters.

In Los Angeles, some victims and their advocates would like to see church officials held accountable.

"No one who is familiar with the facts really believes that Cardinal Roger Mahony is innocent," said John Manley, an attorney for several people who said they were abused by priests. "The question is, does the D.A.'s office have the moral courage to … do the right thing if the evidence leads him there?"

Church officials, on the other hand, say there is no basis for such prosecutions to even be considered.

The complete story may be found here:

Spokane Roman Catholic Diocese agrees to settle molestation claims

The AP reported today that:

SPOKANE, Wash. - The Spokane Catholic Diocese has agreed to pay at least $48 million to people molested by priests as a part of a deal to emerge from bankruptcy, a federal mediator announced Thursday.

Federal Bankruptcy Judge Gregg W. Zive in Reno, Nev., said the settlement also includes non-economic provisions that will provide survivors "with some measure of closure and allow them to move forward and continue the healing process."

The settlement also "provides a mechanism for the payment of future claims," Zive said.

The proposed reorganization plan was filed in federal bankruptcy court in Spokane. It still must be approved by victims and another bankruptcy judge.

The diocese serves about 90,000 Catholics in eastern Washington.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Former General Backs Gay Policy Change

Tuesday January 2, 2007

The AP reported that:

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Army general who was Joint Chiefs chairman when the Pentagon adopted its ``don't ask, don't tell'' policy on gays says he no longer opposes allowing them to serve openly.

John Shalikashvili, who retired in 1997 after four years as the nation's top military officer, had argued that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would hurt troop morale and recruitment and undermine the cohesion of combat units. He said he has changed his mind after meeting with gay servicemen.

``These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers,'' Shalikashvili wrote in an opinion piece in Tuesday's New York Times.

His view could carry weight at a time when advocates of lifting the restriction on gay service members argue that the military - under the strain of fighting two wars - can ill-afford to exclude any qualified volunteers.

It's not clear, however, how much enthusiasm Congress will have for pressing the matter. While many Democrats have denounced the policy as discriminatory, many Republicans have supported it, and members may be reluctant to revisit such a divisive issue. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a possible presidential contender in 2008, recently called the military policy ``very effective.''

Rep. Marty Meehan on Tuesday hailed Shalikashvili's article and said he would try this year to revive legislation forcing the military to eliminate the policy. In 2005, Meehan, D-Mass., introduced a similar bill, which eventually attracted 122 co-sponsors, including Republican Chris Shays of Connecticut and Independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont.

``There is no place in this country for discrimination, be it on the basis of race, creed or sexual orientation, and there is certainly no place for institutional discrimination codified in federal statute,'' Meehan said in a statement.

The current policy, based on legislation passed by Congress in 1993 after a firestorm of debate, states that gays and lesbians may serve in the military only if they keep their sexual orientation private. Commanders may not ask, and gay service members may not tell. Over the years thousands have been dismissed under this policy.

Shalikashvili is not the first former senior military officer to change his mind about gays in the military, though he is perhaps the most prominent. John Hutson, a retired two-star Navy admiral who was the Navy's top lawyer, said Tuesday he thinks the nation has undergone so much cultural change over the past decade that allowing gays to serve openly in the military would enhance rather than weaken the cohesion of fighting units.

The complete article may be found here:

Green Party states that Saddam's Execution Brings No Hope or Justice for Iraq

WASHINGTON - January 2 - Green Party leaders responded to news of the execution of Saddam Hussein with a warning that his hanging brings neither hope for the Iraqi people nor justification for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"The Green Party opposed the execution of Saddam Hussein, because we categorically oppose the death penalty and reject it as an instrument of justice," said Jill Bussiere, 2006 Green candidate for the Wisconsin State Senate (District 1) . "Greens look forward to the fall of all governments that abuse their power, but we support international laws that forbid the invasion of one country by another and the U.S. Constitution, which mandates that our armed forces exist solely for defense of U.S. borders."

"The Bush Administration initially justified the invasion of Iraq by claims about WMDs, collusion with Al-Qaeda, and the need for preemption;' and later by propaganda about liberating the Iraqi people and bestowing democracy. All of these have been proven fraudulent. The reason that President Bush acted to remove Saddam Hussein was to assert U.S. political domination over the Middle East and control over oil resources," Ms. Bussiere added.

Greens noted that the current situation in Iraq suggests that the next government will -- like the Saddam Hussein regime -- be an autocracy that disregards law and the rights of its citizens and is sustained with U.S. support. The outcome of the Iraqi civil war that followed the U.S. invasion is likely to be a new autocratic regime (or regimes, if Iraq divides into two or three nations), possibly a repressive, misogynistic theocracy similar to Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saddam Hussein's quick and extra-legal execution, said Greens, also makes it unlikely that the world will see the investigation and prosecution of U.S. leaders who supported his regime in the 1980s, when most of his atrocities took place, and U.S. corporations that provided the means, including biological and chemical weapons, for Saddam to commit crimes against humanity.

Saddam was noticeably not tried for crimes in which he used American made weapons, said Greens, in order to protect U.S. leaders (especially Reagan Administration officials and former Bush Administration Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld) and firms that were complicit in his crimes by providing aide, intelligence, and chemical and biological arms. (See "How the West armed Saddam, fed him intelligence on his 'enemies', equipped him for atrocities - and then made sure he wouldn't squeal" by Robert Fisk, The Independent, December 31, 2006 .)

"The invasion of Iraq was an international crime for which the current White House must be held accountable through impeachment and criminal prosecution" said Starlene Rankin, Lavender Caucus delegate to the Green Party's national committee. "Saddam Hussein's execution brings neither peaceful resolution, justice, or democracy for the people of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was convicted, but George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld are still at large."

Monday, January 01, 2007

Military Families Mourn 3,000th Troop Death, Participate in Nationwide Vigils and Call on Congress to End the Iraq War

WASHINGTON - December 29 - On the eve of the 3,000th troop death, the next horrific milestone in the Iraq war, Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), an organization of over 3,100 military families opposed to the war in Iraq, calls on the 110th Congress to honor the fallen and prevent further deaths by taking action to end the Iraq war.

“We will mourn the 3,000th troop death as we have mourned all the tragic and needless deaths that have come before, and cry with the families who, like mine, will now know the un-ending pain of losing a loved one to a war that should never have happened,” said Gilda Carbonaro of Bethesda, Maryland, whose son and only child Sergeant Alessandro Carbonaro, died on May 10, 2006 from wounds he suffered from an IED explosion six weeks into his second deployment to Iraq. “Through our tears, pain and grief we say ‘No More!’ It is past time to end a war that should never have started.”

“We weep with each passing day, as three or more U.S. troops and countless Iraqi children, women and men lose their lives in a war based on lies,” said Anne Chay of Andover, Massachusetts, whose 19-year-old son is currently serving with the Army in Baghdad. “President Bush talks about sending more troops – we know that strategy will only mean more lives lost. It is now up to Congress to use their power of the purse and cut off the funds that allow this war to continue. There is enough money already appropriated to bring my son and all of our troops out quickly and safely, with the gear, equipment and supplies they will need for this redeployment.”

Members of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), and their chapter Gold Star Families Speak Out (GSFSO), will be participating in nationwide vigils to commemorate the 3,000th U.S. troop death. On January 3rd and 4th MFSO and GSFSO members will travel to Washington, D.C. to call on the incoming 110th Congress to act swiftly and decisively to prevent further deaths and any more horrific milestones by de-funding and ending the war in Iraq.