Tuesday, September 28 Nine Circles of Hell!

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The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Tuesday, September 28, 2010, including two bonus stories on both the religion survey and the failed outsourcing bill, and an extra story on America’s wealth disparity, are:

Non-believers know more about religion than believers

Insecticide from GM corn leaching into America’s water

It’s official: More than ever, rich getting richer, poor getting poorer

Anti-outsourcing bill fails despite majority Senate support

By 2-to-1, Americans want more government healthcare, not less

US war in Pakistan escalates with most drone attacks in single month

Australian soldiers charged with killing Afghan women, children

Peace with Palestinians would be bad for Israeli business

European government budget cut protests spread to Romania

Non-believers know more about religion than believers
The Los Angeles Times
(9/28/10)

Atheists, agnostics most knowledgeable about religion, survey says

If you want to know about God, you might want to talk to an atheist.

Heresy? Perhaps. But a survey that measured Americans’ knowledge of religion found that atheists and agnostics knew more, on average, than followers of most major faiths. In fact, the gaps in knowledge among some of the faithful may give new meaning to the term “blind faith.”

A majority of Protestants, for instance, couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the driving force behind the Protestant Reformation, according to the survey, released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Four in 10 Catholics misunderstood the meaning of their church’s central ritual, incorrectly saying that the bread and wine used in Holy Communion are intended to merely symbolize the body and blood of Christ, not actually become them.

Atheists and agnostics — those who believe there is no God or who aren’t sure — were more likely to answer the survey’s questions correctly. Jews and Mormons ranked just below them in the survey’s measurement of religious knowledge — so close as to be statistically tied.

So why would an atheist know more about religion than a Christian?

American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

“These are people who thought a lot about religion,” he said. “They’re not indifferent. They care about it.”

Atheists and agnostics also tend to be relatively well educated, and the survey found, not surprisingly, that the most knowledgeable people were also the best educated. However, it said that atheists and agnostics also outperformed believers who had a similar level of education.

The groups at the top of the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey were followed, in order, by white evangelical Protestants, white Catholics, white mainline Protestants, people who were unaffiliated with any faith (but not atheist or agnostic), black Protestants and Latino Catholics.

Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists were included in the survey, but their numbers were too small to be broken out as statistically significant groups.

Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University and author of “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn’t,” served as an advisor on the survey. “I think in general the survey confirms what I argued in the book, which is that we know almost nothing about our own religions and even less about the religions of other people,” he said.

He said he found it significant that Mormons, who are not considered Christians by many fundamentalists, showed greater knowledge of the Bible than evangelical Christians.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, a Methodist minister from Leawood, Kan., and the author of “When Christians Get it Wrong,” said the survey’s results may reflect a reluctance by many people to dig deeply into their own beliefs and especially into those of others.

“I think that what happens for many Christians is, they accept their particular faith, they accept it to be true and they stop examining it. Consequently, because it’s already accepted to be true, they don’t examine other people’s faiths. … That, I think, is not healthy for a person of any faith,” he said …

For comparison purposes, the survey also asked some questions about general knowledge, which yielded the scariest finding: 4% of Americans believe that Stephen King, not Herman Melville, wrote “Moby Dick.”

  • Reuters ran the headline (or did Yahoo! write it?), “Atheists, Jews top religious knowledge survey,” which is contradicted in paragraph two of the article:
    Atheists and agnostics topped a survey of religious knowledge among Americans released on Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
  • The New York Times article, “Basic Religion Test Stumps Many Americans,” summed the story up nicely:
    Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion …
    On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith …
    One finding that may grab the attention of policy makers is that most Americans wrongly believe that anything having to do with religion is prohibited in public schools …
    Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.
    Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.
    Forty-three percent of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish.

Insecticide from GM corn leaching into America’s water
The Independent
(9/28/10)

GM maize ‘has polluted rivers across the United States’

An insecticide used in genetically modified (GM) crops grown extensively in the United States and other parts of the world has leached into the water of the surrounding environment.

The insecticide is the product of a bacterial gene inserted into GM maize and other cereal crops to protect them against insects such as the European corn borer beetle. Scientists have detected the insecticide in a significant number of streams draining the great corn belt of the American mid-West.

The researchers detected the bacterial protein in the plant detritus that was washed off the corn fields into streams up to 500 metres away. They are not yet able to determine how significant this is in terms of the risk to either human health or the wider environment.

“Our research adds to the growing body of evidence that corn crop byproducts can be dispersed throughout a stream network, and that the compounds associated with genetically modified crops, such as insecticidal proteins, can enter nearby water bodies,” said Emma Rosi-Marshall of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.

GM crops are widely cultivated except in Britain and other parts of Europe. In 2009, more than 85 per cent of American corn crops were genetically modified to either repel pests or to be tolerant to herbicides used to kill weeds in a cultivated field …

All of the stream sites with detectable insecticidal proteins were located within 500 metres of a corn field. The ramifications are vast just in Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, where about 90 per cent of the streams and rivers – some 159,000 miles of waterways – are also located within 500 metres of corn fields.

After corn crops are harvested, a common agricultural practice is to leave discarded plant material on the fields. This “no-till” form of agriculture minimises soil erosion, but it then also sets the stage for corn byproducts to enter nearby stream channels.

It’s official: More than ever, rich getting richer, poor getting poorer
The Associated Press
(9/28/10)

Income Gap Between Rich, Poor the Widest Ever

The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its widest amount on record as young adults and children in particular struggled to stay afloat in the recession.

The top-earning 20 percent of Americans – those making more than $100,000 each year – received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent earned by those below the poverty line, according to newly released census figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968.

A different measure, the international Gini index, found U.S. income inequality at its highest level since the Census Bureau began tracking household income in 1967. The U.S. also has the greatest disparity among Western industrialized nations.

At the top, the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year, census data show. Families at the $50,000 median level slipped lower.

“Income inequality is rising, and if we took into account tax data, it would be even more,” said Timothy Smeeding, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who specializes in poverty. “More than other countries, we have a very unequal income distribution where compensation goes to the top in a winner-takes-all economy.”

  • The Washington Post article, “Household income plunged in 2009,” makes this story even worse by reporting that there are fewer rich Americans:
    Household incomes shrank for the second year in a row in 2009, as the recession eroded the share of American families earning over $100,000 and swelled the ranks of people who are poor or just barely making it, according to census statistics released Tuesday.

Anti-outsourcing bill fails despite majority Senate support
The Washington Post
(9/28/10)

Senate GOP blocks bill that would promote less outsourcing

Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked a Democratic plan to encourage companies to bring jobs back from overseas, as a united GOP caucus voted against a motion to debate the measure on the Senate floor.

The motion failed 53 to 45.

The legislation would have raised taxes on corporations that shift operations overseas, costing U.S. jobs. It also would have awarded companies that bring jobs back from abroad by offering a two-year hiatus from payroll taxes for those positions.

After abandoning plans to extend middle class tax-cuts before the November elections, Senate Democrats turned to the outsourcing issue, which they view as politically potent because it shows concern for the heavy-manufacturing job losses that have devastated communities in Midwest and East Coast industrial states. Democrats now plan to try to extend the tax cuts during a lame-duck session in mid-November.

  • Despite what the Post’s headline says, MarketWatch reports in, “Anti-outsourcing bill fails Senate test vote,” that not all Democrats wanted to stop outsourcing:
    Four democrats, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, joined Republicans and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman in blocking the bill.
  • The CNN story, “GOP blocks Democrats’ jobs outsourcing bill,” which includes video of the vote, explains the Democrats strategy behind the vote:
    Democratic sources tell CNN they knew all along this measure would not make it very far. That was beside the point.
    The point, Democratic strategists candidly admit, was to use the last few days of the congressional session before the election to try to highlight one of the few jobs-related issues Democrats feel they may be able to use against Republicans: outsourcing.
    “No question people are angry at Democrats because the economy is bad and we are in charge,” Democratic pollster Mark Mellman said.
    “People are even more angry about jobs going overseas than they are about the absence of jobs as they look around their communities. So we’re trying to focus that anger.”
    Mellman has done polling on outsourcing, and advised congressional Democrats to push it as political issue, calling it one of the most “potent” issues Democrats have to work with.
    “It’s a bright line. It’s not enough to change the whole political climate. (But) is it enough win some seats somewhere? I think the answer is yes,” he said.

By 2-to-1, Americans want more government healthcare, not less
The Associated Press
(9/25/10)

Poll: Many think health care reform didn’t go far enough

President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul has divided the nation, and Republicans believe their call for repeal will help them win elections in November. But the picture’s not that clear cut.

A new AP poll finds that Americans who think the law should have done more outnumber those who think the government should stay out of health care by 2-to-1 …

More than 30 million people would gain coverage in 2019 when the law is fully phased in, but another 20 million or so would remain uninsured. Bleakley, who was uninsured early in her career, views the overhaul as a work in progress.

The poll found that about four in 10 adults think the new law did not go far enough to change the health care system, regardless of whether they support the law, oppose it or remain neutral. On the other side, about one in five say they oppose the law because they think the federal government should not be involved in health care at all.

The AP poll was conducted by Stanford University with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Overall, 30 percent favored the legislation, while 40 percent opposed it, and another 30 percent remained neutral.

Those numbers are no endorsement for Obama’s plan, but the survey also found a deep-seated desire for change that could pose a problem for Republicans. Only 25 percent in the poll said minimal tinkering would suffice for the health care system.

US war in Pakistan escalates with most drone attacks in single month
The New York Times
(9/27/10)

C.I.A. Steps Up Drone Attacks on Taliban in Pakistan

The C.I.A. has drastically increased its bombing campaign in the mountains of Pakistan in recent weeks, American officials said. The strikes are part of an effort by military and intelligence operatives to try to cripple the Taliban in a stronghold being used to plan attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.

As part of its covert war in the region, the C.I.A. has launched 20 attacks with armed drone aircraft thus far in September, the most ever during a single month, and more than twice the number in a typical month. This expanded air campaign comes as top officials are racing to stem the rise of American casualties before the Obama administration’s comprehensive review of its Afghanistan strategy set for December. American and European officials are also evaluating reports of possible terrorist plots in the West from militants based in Pakistan.

The strikes also reflect mounting frustration both in Afghanistan and the United States that Pakistan’s government has not been aggressive enough in dislodging militants from their bases in the country’s western mountains. In particular, the officials said, the Americans believe the Pakistanis are unlikely to launch military operations inside North Waziristan, a haven for Taliban and Qaeda operatives that has long been used as a base for attacks against troops in Afghanistan. Some Pakistani troops have also been diverted from counterinsurgency missions to help provide relief to victims of the country’s massive flooding.

Beyond the C.I.A. drone strikes, the war in the region is escalating in other ways. In recent days, American military helicopters have launched three airstrikes into Pakistan that military officials estimate killed more than 50 people suspected of being members of the militant group known as the Haqqani network, which is responsible for a spate of deadly attacks against American troops.

Such air raids by the military remain rare, and officials in Kabul said Monday that the helicopters entered Pakistani airspace on only one of the three raids, and acted in self-defense after militants fired rockets at an allied base just across the border in Afghanistan. At the same time, the strikes point to a new willingness by military officials to expand the boundaries of the campaign against the Taliban and Haqqani network — and to an acute concern in military and intelligence circles about the limited time to attack Taliban strongholds while American “surge” forces are in Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials have angrily criticized the helicopter attacks, saying that NATO’s mandate in Afghanistan does not extend across the border in Pakistan.

As evidence of the growing frustration of American officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has recently issued veiled warnings to top Pakistani commanders that the United States could launch unilateral ground operations in the tribal areas should Pakistan refuse to dismantle the militant networks in North Waziristan, according to American officials.

Australian soldiers charged with killing Afghan women, children
The Associated Press
(9/27/10)

Australian soldiers charged in Afghan child deaths

Three former Australian commandos are facing serious charges in relation to a late-night raid on a compound in Afghanistan that killed five children, Australia’s top military prosecutor said Monday.

The special forces soldiers, who were not identified, face multiple charges including manslaughter, dangerous conduct, failing to comply with a lawful general order and prejudicial conduct, Brigadier Lyn McDade, the director of military prosecutions, said in a statement.

Only one of the men is charged with manslaughter, the defense department said in a separate statement.

The charges relate to a February 2009 raid on a compound in southern Uruzgan province that was believed to harbor Taliban insurgents. Six Afghans, including five children, were killed, and another two children and two adults were wounded.

The civilians died after the Special Operations Task Group soldiers used gunfire and hand grenades during the operation, the defense department said at the time.

“During the conduct of this operation, the soldiers were fired upon by Taliban insurgents,” the defense department said in a statement the day after the attack. “The (soldiers) engaged the insurgents, returning fire in accordance with their rules of engagement.”

Two of the soldiers said they planned to strenuously defend themselves against the charges and believed they would be vindicated when all the details of the raid were made public.

“Words will never adequately express our regret that women and children were killed and injured during the incident on 12 February 2009,” the soldiers said in a statement issued by the Kennedys law firm in Sydney, which is representing the pair. “These were people we were risking our lives to protect.”

They blamed the suspected insurgent inside the compound for the deaths.

Peace with Palestinians would be bad for Israeli business
The National
(9/27/10)

Peace might upend wealth of Israelis

Past This is Hell! guest Jonathan Cook writes …

It would be misleading to assume that the major obstacle to the success of talks is the right-wing political ideology the settler movement represents. Equally important are deeply entrenched economic interests shared across Israeli society.

These interests took root more than six decades ago with Israel’s establishment and have flourished at an ever-accelerating pace since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the Arab-Israeli War in 1967.

Even many Israeli Jews living within the recognised borders of Israel privately acknowledge that they are the beneficiaries of the seizure of another people’s lands, homes, businesses and bank accounts.

Most Israelis profit directly from the continuing dispossession of millions of Palestinian refugees.

Israeli officials assume that the international community will bear the burden of restitution for the refugees. The problem for Israel’s Jewish population is that the refugees now living in exile were not the only ones dispossessed.

The fifth of Israel’s citizens who are Palestinian but survived the upheaval of 1948 found themselves either transformed into internally displaced people or the victims of a land-nationalisation programme that stripped them of their ancestral property.

Even if Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, signed away the rights of the refugees, he would have no power to do the same for Israel’s Palestinian citizens, also known as Israeli Arabs. Peace, as many Israelis understand, would open a Pandora’s box of historic land claims from Palestinian citizens at the expense of Israel’s Jewish citizens.

But the threat to the economic privileges of Israeli Jews would not end with a reckoning over the consequences caused by the state’s creation. The occupation of the Palestinian territories after 1967 spawned many other powerful economic interests opposed to peace.

The most visible constituency are the settlers, who have benefited hugely from government subsidies and tax breaks designed to encourage Israelis to relocate to the West Bank. Peace Now estimates that such benefits alone are worth more than US$550 million (Dh2 billion) a year.

Hundreds of businesses serving the settlers are booming in the 60 per cent of the West Bank, the so-called Area C, which falls under Israel’s full control. The real estate and construction industries, in particular, benefit from cut-price land – and increased profits – made available by theft from Palestinian owners.

Other businesses, meanwhile, have moved into Israel’s West Bank industrial zones, benefiting from cheap Palestinian labour and from discounted land, tax perks and lax enforcement of environmental protections.

Much of the tourism industry also depends on Israel’s hold over the holy sites located in East Jerusalem.

This web of interests depends on what Akiva Eldar, of the Haaretz newspaper, terms “land-laundering” overseen by government ministries, state institutions and Zionist organisations. These murky transactions create ample opportunities for corruption that have become a staple for Israel’s rich and powerful.

But the benefits of occupation are not restricted to the civilian population. The most potent pressure group in Israel – the military – has much to lose from a peace agreement, too.

The ranks of Israel’s career soldiers, and associated security services such as the Shin Bet intelligence service, have ballooned during the occupation.

The demands of controlling another people around the clock justifies huge budgets, the latest weaponry (much of it paid for by the United States) and the creation of a powerful class of military bureaucrat.

While teenage conscripts do the dangerous jobs, the army’s senior ranks retire in their early forties on full pensions, with lengthy second careers ahead in business or politics.

Many also go on to profit from the burgeoning “homeland security” industries in which Israel excels. Small specialist companies led by former generals offer a home to retired soldiers drawing on years of experience running the occupation.

Those who spent their service in the West Bank and Gaza Strip quickly learn how to apply and refine new technologies for surveillance, crowd control and urban warfare that find ready markets overseas. In 2006 Israel’s defence exports reached $3.4bn, making the country the fourth largest arms dealer in the world.

European government budget cut protests spread to Romania
The Associated Press
(9/27/10)

Romanian govt in uproar amid austerity protests

The Romanian government was in an uproar Monday over austerity protests — the interior minister resigned, the opposition demanded the prime minister go as well and top police officials held emergency talks with the president.

The chaos reflected social fallout from the sharp wage cuts, tax hikes and other austerity measures the government has taken to fight its budget deficit amid a deep recession.

President Traian Basescu’s government has been unable to pay wages and pensions without a euro20 billion ($26 billion) bailout loan last year from the International Monetary Fund and other lenders, and the IMF is demanding strong action now to trim Romania’s national debt. His two-party coalition government, which does not hold an absolute majority in the legislature, is further hampered by the need to find consensus on how to best turn around the economy.

Romania’s turmoil is just one part of Europe’s season of economic discontent. Widespread anti-government, anti-austerity protests have also erupted in France, Britain, Greece, Spain and other nations as governments struggle to balance budgets at a time of lingering economic weakness.

Thousands of public sector workers demonstrated Monday in Slovenia, another Balkan nation, in an open-ended strike to protest plans to freeze their salaries for two years. Last week, an estimated 1 million people marched in France against plans to raise the retirement age to 62.

And austerity-fueled protests continue to roil Greece, which only avoided bankruptcy in May because of a euro110 billion ($140 billion) rescue package from the IMF and European countries.

Romanians took to the streets of Bucharest, the capital, several times last week in protest but the government was most shocked when 6,000 police angry over a 25 percent wage cut marched Friday to the presidential palace and threw eggs at it. Some shouted “Get out, you miserable dog!”

On Monday, Interior Minister Vasile Blaga said the protesting officers had staged an illegal action and “forgot the oath they swore” when they earned their badges. Blaga, a close ally of the president, resigned, calling the move “one of honor.”

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Tuesday, September 28
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