Archive for December, 2012

170px-rembrandt_harmensz-_van_rijn_079-1The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has filed a lawsuit with the Internal Revenue Service that raises an interesting question. The group challenges the government’s different treatment of religious and non-religious non-for-profit organizations. While tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations must file a detailed application form, fee and annual information to obtain and maintain their tax-exempt status, churches and other religious organizations are exempted from the requirement to file the reports and fees. The lawsuit alleges that the added expensive and detailed paperwork is a form of discrimination against non-religious groups.

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220px-Asian_Elephant,_Royal_Chitwan_National_ParkPeople are hoping to see less of Robert Moore, 48, but a court released the defendant who was arrested in Plymouth after “spraying urine to and fro into the flower beds while making noises like an elephant.” Despite his lawyer admitting that Moore has a “raging alcohol problem” and exposing himself of children, he was released and given another chance to tackle his drinking.

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251px-Coat_of_arms_of_Tanzania.svgThere is rising concern in Zanzibar that it is poised to be the next the next country to fall to extreme Islamic rule. While long a favorite for tourists for its beaches and resorts, the Saudi-based Wahhabi movement has established hundreds of schools and programs with money from Saudi Arabia and Dubai. The result is rising criticism of what Suleiman Ali, director of Radio Al-Noor, called the outbreak of “social freedoms.”

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488px-scientology_symbolsvgI suppose the good news for the Church of Scientology is that Belgium is no longer calling it a cult. The bad news is that it has moved on to calling is a criminal organization in a comprehensive set of charges ranging from extortion to fraud to privacy breaches to the illegal practice of medicine. The charges follow years of investigation into labor contracts that led to raids on Church properties in 2008. In 2009, Scientology was convicted of fraud in Paris and fined almost $1 million.

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220px-Day_60_Occupy_Wall_Street_November_15_2011_Shankbone_43Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

If you are like me, you remember the violent response by the FBI, DHS and local police forces to the many “Occupy” movement protests last Fall.  In those protests, the police used incredible force and firepower to break up peaceful protests and make a mockery of the First Amendment.  The police responses always seemed to be coordinated from city to city and there were allegations that the FBI and other governmental agencies were aiding the local authorities in stamping down the First Amendment rights of the Occupy protestors.  Now, a treasure trove of documents was released pursuant to a Freedom of Information request by a group called The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.  Those documents expose a level of governmental intrusion into the privacy of protestors and governmental and private bank partnerships designed to crack down on legal protestors. (more…)

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good-evilor Killers, Media and (Unintended?) Celebrity

by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

Did that headline get your attention? It was meant to do so. Sex and violence sells.

In my usual perusal of the news, I came across a death notice for someone who was famous for no other reason than she killed her wealthy lover. My immediate response was, “Why does anyone care?” She’s simply a murderer and as such her memory (as opposed to remembering the victim) and her passing should be lost in the sands of time. The manifest answer for her receiving attention was celebrity. This person was made famous by the media exposure her crime, trial and conviction created.  The operative term there being “made”. Her celebrity was manufactured. The notice of her death was just another example of the business of media trading off of the celebrity they helped manufacture. Her celebrity was manufactured by an industry that was once and ideally still is primarily in the information business – journalism. Not all journalism is created equal though.  Indeed, there is more than one recognized form of journalism. Good investigative and basic factual journalism is based on the simple structure of the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “how” and occasionally the ancillary commentary of “why”.  A focus on”why” is often coupled with “what to do about it” in the form of advocacy journalism. Advocacy journalism often strays from imparting information and persuasive speech into outright propaganda. That is its nature. Increasingly news media is less about information and more about sensationalism.  Tabloid journalism (writing which uses opinionated or wild claims) and yellow journalism (writing which emphasizes exaggerated claims or rumors) are becoming more the norm rather than the exception. Many items that pass for “news” are in reality little more than long form advertisements for some product or service. As the essence of communicating important information has been watered down by the solvents of sensationalism and advertisement, our society has become overwhelmed with what is now colloquially called the neologistic portmanteau of “infotainment”.

Is this shift from news to infotainment in part responsible for a culture that makes celebrities out of killers? Or is it human nature that prompts such sensationalism and misplaced celebrity? Can anything be done to mitigate these circumstances and minimize the potential celebrity of killers?

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libertyFor months, I have criticized the tax policies of France’s Socialist President Francois Hollande, particularly the confiscatory 75 percent tax rate for the wealthiest French. In addition to being in my view unfair, it is extremely bad economic policy. France’s Constitutional Council now appears to agree — at least on the equitable side. On Saturday, the Council rejected a 75 percent upper income tax rate on annual income above 1 million euros ($1.32 million) as an unfair treatment of different households. Popular figures like French actor Gerard Depardieu have opposed the tax and even left the country. The French experience should get some in the United States to dial down on our own over-heated rhetoric on economic policy. (Yes, I will now vent a bit on economic policy).

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Submitted By: Mike Spindell. Guest Blogger

Fess_parker_crockett_disney_televisionMythology can be seen as the social glue of diverse groups. It is the accumulation of tales, beliefs, moral strictures and mores that gives a specific population a sense of homogeneity, allowing it to exist with synergy. This is true of nations, ethnic groups, religions and even political movements. One of the defining conditions in our nation is that we are one of the most diverse on this planet when it comes to religions and ethnicities. All of our original thirteen states came into existence via individual peculiarities of settlers, religious sects, slavery, climate and the spoils system of colonialism. About a third of the citizens of those thirteen colonies, of the nascent United States, chafed under foreign domination and engendered a rebellion against the British Empire’s exploitation. Among that fractional populace, there fortunately resided a group of the colonies wealthiest citizens and greatest minds. The rebellion succeeded and a decade later a government emerged created by the novelty of a Constitution delineating how it was to be run.

As improbable as the rebellion against the world’s greatest power might have seemed, the ongoing success of this enterprise is even more of an improbability. From the beginning most citizens saw themselves as attached more to their individual states, than to the Federal Government. The subsequent history of this country is well-known, but what I think often gets missed is that the history as we know it is mostly a creation of an American mythology, which has given consistency to this diverse enterprise and served to inculcate waves of immigrants into seeing themselves as part of America. While a nation’s mythology may serve it as “social glue” it can also contain within it seeds of social dysfunction. What follows is my take on the American Myth of the “Rugged Individualist” and why though it may have had initial utilitarian value; it has become cancerous within our country and may lead to the disintegration of America as we know it. (more…)

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This soldier appears to have won over one Afghan with a simple act of kindness.

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By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

120409-rhesus-monkey-130p.grid-4x2Duke neuroscientist, Michael Platt, has an intriguing theory. What if altruism isn’t just learned at your mother’s knee but is really a result of evolved brain chemistry? In a study he co-authored and published in the journal, Nature Neuroscience, Platt wondered why certain primates act unselfishly. Animal behaviorists have long known that monkeys will go without food rather than see a member of their species shocked, and mice will starve to avoid hurting other mice. Major news stories around the world  have told the tales of animals risking their own safety to protect humans and other animals. In one recent episode,  Binti Jua, a female gorilla saved a three-year-old boy from other gorillas when he fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Brookline Zoo.  In another, a dog in Chile dodged traffic on a busy freeway to drag his canine companion to safety after it  had been struck and rendered unconscious.

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Poly Prep Settles Sex Abuse Lawsuit

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

Poly PrepPoly Prep Country Day School (known familiarly as “Poly Prep”) is an elite K-12 private school located in Brooklyn, New York. In 1966, Poly Prep hired Phil Foglietta as a phy-ed teacher and coach of its woeful football team. The complaint, filed with the U. S. District Court Eastern District of New York, alleges that Foglietta sexual abused of dozens if not hundreds of boys.

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466px-Mike_Crapo_Official_Photo_110th_Congresscrapo-mug-jpgVoters in Idaho just got over the scandal involving Larry Craig and a certain airport bathroom. Now, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) has been arrested for DUI in Alexandria, Virginia. A DUI would appear to be less of a political threat than an alleged attempt at a homosexual bathroom tryst. However, Crapo is a Mormon and told police that he had three shots of vodka that night. In a state with the second highest Mormon population in the United States, such an admission is not going to be well received. It may be that the image of being a “Jack Mormon” could be a lasting problem for Crapo.

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India flagWe have been following the growing protests over rapes in India this month. This includes a brutal gang rape on a city bus and an alleged rape of a victim by police officers. Now, a 17-year-old Indian girl who was gang-raped has committed suicide after she claimed that police pressured her to drop the case and marry one of her attackers.

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eggDisgusting eating contests appear to be a certain fatal attraction these days. We recently discussed the death of a man who won a roach-eating contest. Now a Tunisian man, Dhaou Fatnassi, 20, has died in a raw egg eating contest. He won after eating 28 and then died.

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51s+WPq1ooL._SL500_AA300_I have previously written about the criminalization of America as politicians turn every objectionable act into a crime. I have criticized this trend in columns (here and here) and numerous blogs on the criminalization of using artificial turf to growing vegetable gardens to eating french fries in the subway. Now owners of an old-fashioned soda shop in St. Paul, Minn. were threatened with fines and a misdemeanor citation unless they stopped selling novelty candy cigarettes. Lynden’s Soda Fountain was unaware that it was committing a crime by selling the long-common items.

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