Mexico’s President begs the United States — No more weapons!

Sign made from 3 tons of crushed guns

Mexico’s president called on U.S. officials to stop gun trafficking across the border Thursday, saying the move would be the best thing Americans could do to stop brutal drug violence.

“The criminals have become more and more vicious in their eagerness to spark fear and anxiety in society,” President Felipe Calderon said. “One of the main factors that allows criminals to strengthen themselves is the unlimited access to high-powered weapons, which are sold freely, and also indiscriminately, in the United States of America.

Speaking in Ciudad Juarez, the border city across from El Paso, Texas, that has become Mexico’s murder capital, Calderon said a dramatic increase in violence in Mexico was directly connected with the 2004 expiration of the U.S. assault weapons ban…

Calderon stood in front of a massive new sign, constructed with tons of decommissioned arms. “NO MORE WEAPONS,” the sign said — in English. Americans on the other side of the border are the intended audience, Calderon said…

Out of 140,000 weapons Mexican authorities have seized since Calderon declared a crackdown on cartels at the beginning of his presidency, 84,000 were high-powered assault weapons, Calderon said.

More than 47,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since December 2006, according to government statistics.

Calderon’s plea for Americans to reduce drug consumption is laughable, of course. We have been a society based on mood-altering chemical dependency for decades. It starts with cigarettes and coffee, marches on through beer and hard liquor into prescription goodies all too easily accessible through your friendly family doctor. Symptomatic treatment is the watchword of America’s pharmaceutical industry.

Can we modify such dependencies? Of course. Many advocate a healthier lifestyle – in the face of politicians and flunkies who say pizza is a vegetable and sex education is a sin. We have to get past the profit cronies to even begin to have a voice in this land.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing wrong with symptomatic solutions to drug gangsters across the border, drug gangsters who leak their wars and profiteering across that border every hour of the day. Who stands in the way? Right-wing plutocrats in the arms industry and their flunkies in the NRA and both wings of political hacks – for a start. Even the mildest attempts to police guns trafficked across the border are shut down by sophistry and campaign dollars, lobbying and coercion.

Doctors “firing” families from their practice who refuse vaccination

Doctor Allan LeReau

Pediatricians fed up with parents who refuse to vaccinate their children out of concern it can cause autism or other problems increasingly are “firing” such families from their practices, raising questions about a doctor’s responsibility to these patients.

Medical associations don’t recommend such patient bans, but the practice appears to be growing, according to vaccine researchers…

In a study of Connecticut pediatricians published last year, some 30% of 133 doctors said they had asked a family to leave their practice for vaccine refusal, and a recent survey of 909 Midwestern pediatricians found that 21% reported discharging families for the same reason…

Most pediatricians consider preventing disease through vaccines a primary goal of their job. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and AAP issue an annual recommended vaccination schedule, but some parents ask if their child’s immunizations can be pushed back or skipped altogether, pediatricians say.

It’s hard to imagine an outbreak of smallpox today. But for centuries the deadly virus wiped out entire populations. WSJ’s Christina Tsuei reports on how the discovery of vaccines (with the help of cows) eradicated the disease and led to the prevention of many other diseases.

While rates for several key inoculations in young children rose between 2009 and 2010, according to the CDC, lower immunization rates have been blamed as a factor in U.S. outbreaks of whooping cough and measles in recent years.

Parents often voice concerns about autism or that their child’s immune system may be overwhelmed by too many vaccines at once…Numerous studies since have dispelled these concerns among scientists. Rather, scientists say, it is more likely that autism symptoms begin showing up around the same age children are vaccinated…

But, parents whose primary source of medical knowledge is Mr. Stupid and Greedy who’s selling the latest spooky cure-all tome aren’t about to listen to their doctor.

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UK equality chief, Trevor Phillips, says that Christians aren’t above the law – even if they feel it’s their right!

Christians who want to be exempt from equality legislation are like Muslims trying to impose sharia on Britain, Trevor Phillips, the human rights watchdog, has declared.

Religious rules should end “at the door of the temple” and give way to the “public law” laid down by Parliament, the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said. He argued that Roman Catholic adoption agencies and other faith groups providing public services must choose between their religion and obeying the law when their beliefs conflict with the will of the state.

Mr Phillips singled out the adoption agencies that fought a long legal battle to avoid being forced to accept homosexual couples under equality laws. Last year, following a High Court case, the Charity Commission ruled against an exemption for Catholic Care, an adoption agency operating in Leeds.

Speaking at a debate in London on diverse societies, Mr Phillips backed the new laws, which led to the closure of all Catholic adoption agencies in England. “You can’t say because we decide we’re different then we need a different set of laws,” he said, in comments reported by The Tablet, the Catholic newspaper.

“To me there’s nothing different in principle with a Catholic adoption agency, or indeed Methodist adoption agency, saying the rules in our community are different and therefore the law shouldn’t apply to us. Why not then say sharia can be applied to different parts of the country? It doesn’t work.”

He added that religious groups should be free to follow their own rules within their own settings but not outside. “Once you start to provide public services that have to be run under public rules, for example child protection, then it has to go with public law,” he said.
“Institutions have to make a decision whether they want to do that or they don’t want to do that…”

Mr Phillips has been outspoken in his defence of human rights law even when they conflict with religious beliefs.

He has accused some Christian groups of being more militant than Muslims. During the debate, he praised both the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches for their work in inner cities, particularly through faith schools, but accused some religious groups of growing intolerance.

“There is something rather odd that is happening amongst what I call the righteous brigade, that is people of good will and so on,” Mr Phillips said. “And that is that if you don’t agree 100 per cent with them and excoriate people who have a different point of view actually somehow you are joining a bad bunch of people.”

Keith Porteous Wood, director of the National Secular Society, said Mr Phillips was “absolutely right…If society has decided that it wants to ensure by law that every citizen of this country has equal rights, then there cannot be endless exemptions for religious bodies or anyone else,” he said.

There is no such thing as partial equality, and every time an exemption is made, someone else’s rights are compromised.”

Sound familiar? Except that Trevor Phillips has more backbone than Barack Obama when it comes to confronting civil rights, the validity of civil law over religious belief in a constitutional democracy. Confronting sharia-style precepts, Muslim or Catholic or whichever fundamentalist source requires the courage to maintain constitutional protections via civil law. Maybe he’ll be invited sometime to drop in and give lessons at the White House.

But, don’t hold your breath waiting.

Italian government plans to tax commercial property belonging to the Catholic Church. Overdue.

Bed & Breakfast hotel run by a convent in Rome

Over the years, the Italian government has quietly passed scores of laws that benefit the Roman Catholic Church, but it is rare for it to issue a public statement announcing it intends to strip the church of privileges. The government of Prime Minister Mario Monti took that step on Wednesday, telling the European Commission that it intends to change Italian law to ensure the church pays property tax on the parts of its buildings used for commercial ends.

The church owns vast amounts of property in Italy, and the move is aimed at making sure that convents that offer bed and breakfast or church buildings that rent space to shops pay their full share of taxes.

The change — once it is formally drafted and approved by Parliament — could result in revenues of $650 million to $2.6 billion annually, according to municipal government associations. It could also set an example for other debt-strapped European countries — most notably Greece and Spain — where there is growing popular resentment over tax breaks for the church.

It would set an example for the United States – not only for Old World religions but the all-American bible belt crowd.

Even in Catholic Italy, the proposal shows the churchgoing Mr. Monti’s ability to read the national mood. Faced with their own belt-tightening and tax increases, Italians are increasingly fed up with what they see as unfair privileges — be it of the political class or the church. After new austerity measures were passed in December, 130,000 people signed an online petition calling on the government to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status…

Today, many church buildings fall into a gray area, taking advantage of a tax exemption for religious organization’s buildings even if they are largely commercial in use…

Overdue? It’s all overdue.

The only exemptions religions should have from taxation are those befitting non-profit charitable works. Period. End of discussion.

Take the time to discuss this with most folks and even the most thoroughly brainwashed True Believer will generally understand the sense of fairness that should discipline the funding of necessary government. It’s an all-in proposition. Certain work – like charity – might be exempt. Not individuals or organizations just by definition of their belief system.

Xi Jinping makes a return voyage to Muscatine, Iowa

Xi Jinping talks with local people in the home of Roger and Sarah Lande in Muscatine, Iowa
Kevin E. Schmidt / Pool via AFP – Getty Images

A young, blue-eyed Sarah Lande never thought the polite young man from China, Xi Jinping, sitting at her dining room table in 1985 would go on to become the next president of China. She simply thought of him as a gentle soul with genuine interest in her family’s Iowa roots, sharing a home-cooked meal of pork, beef and locally grown corn.

Wednesday afternoon 27 years later – he returned to the same three-story home on Muscatine’s 2nd Street and walked through the same door, but this time as China’s next president.

Coming here is really like coming back to home,” Xi told a packed living room of familiar faces he met on his 1985 visit. “You can’t even imagine what a deep impression I had from my visit 27 years ago … because you were the first group of Americans that I came into contact with…”

Xi first visited Muscatine as a provincial official from Iowa’s sister state of Hebei almost three decades ago. Leading a delegation of four other local officials on an educational trip primarily focused on agriculture, Xi and his colleagues toured local farms and businesses as part of an exchange that began with Iowans going to Hebei in 1984. He met then-and current Iowa governor Terry Branstad and more than a dozen other Iowans in Muscatine he now calls his “old friends…”

Clearly, Muscatine also left an indelible impression on Xi. Upon invitation back to Iowa by Governor Branstad, he requested to reunite with each person he met in Muscatine.

Muscatine is the perfect, if coincidental, background to counterbalance Xi’s highly-scripted meetings in Washington. Aesthetically frozen in the 1950s, the town oozes both old-fashioned small-town charm and the harsh reality of post-industrial American economy. Many storefronts and warehouses stand empty in a place that once called itself the “pearl button capital of the world.” Meanwhile, China has opened and expanded exponentially since 1985, into a roaring economy.

RTFA. There is so much real farm country folksiness in the article I won’t do an editorial job on it. The point for me – perhaps because of my decades dealing with Asian businesses bringing products to sell in the United States – is that commerce sets an appropriate stage for individuals and cultures to get to know each other, affect each other in social ways, in business, in study and friendship.

There was a time in American history when some portions of this nation lived as neighbors to the world – by preference. Better we learn to learn from each other – instead of following the night-riders of bigotry into their pride in conquest and conflict.

Republicans and Catholic bishops embrace each other in opposing women’s rights

The bishop knows where to send the check…

The Democratic-led Senate is expected to reject as early as Thursday a largely symbolic Republican challenge to a White House rule guaranteeing free birth control for women who work for religiously affiliated employers.

Even Senate defeat of the legislation would allow Republican lawmakers to take a stand in a rancorous election year debate over a policy that is vehemently opposed by social conservatives and Roman Catholic bishops…

The Department of Health and Human Services announced in January that employers including those with religious affiliations — such as universities, charities and hospitals — would have to provide free birth control coverage for women enrolled in their health plans. Church employees are exempt from the rule…

The birth control coverage requirement infuriated Catholic leaders…who think they have a right to overrule civil law in America

Roy Blunt’s bill would exempt employers from providing health benefits that conflict with “beliefs and moral convictions.” Anyone standing in line to watch Congress explain their “beliefs and moral conviction”?

Democrats including California Senator Barbara Boxer denounced the measure as too broad, saying it could allow potentially any employer to deny additional types of health insurance coverage on moral grounds.

It’s only been about a day since the last time I said this: I realize Christianity may hold the copyright on hypocrisy; but, today’s Republicans – with appropriate aid from the Kool Aid Party – have perfected the process.

Now we get to witness temporary nutball unity between the 14th Century and the 19th Century in an attempt to turn this nation into a theocracy.

How Heartland Institute funnels corporate funds to undermine climate science — revealed in leaked documents

The inner workings of a libertarian thinktank working to discredit the established science on climate change have been exposed by a leak of confidential documents detailing its strategy and fundraising networks. DeSmogBlog, which broke the story, said it had received the confidential documents from an “insider” at the Heartland Institute, which is based in Chicago. The blog monitors industry efforts to discredit climate science.

The scheme includes spending $100,000 for spreading the message in K-12 schools that “the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science”, the documents said…

The Heartland Institute, founded in 1984, has built a reputation over the years for providing a forum for climate change sceptics. But it is especially known for hosting a series of lavish conferences of climate science doubters at expensive hotels in New York’s Times Square as well as in Washington DC…

The documents posted on Desmog’s website include confidential memos of Heartland’s climate science denial strategy, its 2012 budget and fundraising plan, and minutes from a recent board meeting. The fundraising plan suggests Heartland is hoping for a banner year, projecting it will raise $7.7m in 2012, up 70% from last year.

The papers indicate that discrediting established climate science remains a core mission of the organisation, which has received support from a network of wealthy individuals – including the Koch oil billionaires as well as corporations such as Microsoft and RJR Tobacco.

The documents confirm what environmental groups…have long suspected: that Heartland itself is a major source of funding to a network of experts and bloggers who have been prominent in the campaign to discredit established science.

Heartland is anxious to retain its hold over mainstream media outlets, fretting in the documents about how Forbes magazine is publishing prominent climate scientists such as Peter Gleick. “This influential audience has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out,” Heartland documents warn…

The plan also notes the difficulty of injecting non-scientific topics in schools. “Heartland has tried to make material available to teachers, but has had only limited success. Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective. [That means real science] Moreover, material for classroom use must be carefully written to meet curriculum guidelines, and the amount of time teachers have for supplemental material is steadily shrinking due to the spread of standardized tests in K-12 education,” the fundraising plan said.

Creeps and cretins. The usual cabal of anti-intellectual, anti-science blabbermouths who show up to serve as flunkies for corporations profiteering from polluting enterprises, once again. Sure is nice to see it documented though for folks who need a little bracing in the backbone department. Like the White House.

Anti-Nazi demonstrators block right-wing thugs at Dresden bombing anniversary

Anti-Nazi demonstrators in Germany prevented far-right groups from marking the 67th-anniversary of the RAF bombing of Dresden by forming a human chain in the city centre. An estimated 13,000 people from across Germany’s political spectrum took part in the stance against the far right despite freezing conditions.

The anniversary of the Dresden raid has been a high point in Germany’s neo-Nazi calendar with thousands rallying in the eastern German city each year despite passionate, and at times violent, opposition from critics, who accused the far right of exploiting the bombing for political purposes.

An estimated 25,000 people died in the raid that started when RAF bombers struck on the night of February 13, 1945 and finished with an attack by US aircraft on February 15.

The colossal loss of life and tremendous destruction wrought by the bombing of a city famed for its culture and architecture has been portrayed by the German far right as an Allied war crime and an example of Germany’s apparent victimhood.

Some 1,600 neo-Nazis travelled to Dresden to mark the raid this year but were met at the station by a police presence of over 5,000, and some 2,000 counter-demonstrators who banged drums and shouted “Nazis out”.

The far right started a torch-light procession but were soon told by police they would have to abandon it because the human chain had blocked their route…

I’m happy that it remained peaceful,” said Markus Ulbig, interior minister for state of Saxony. “Democrats have come together to show that Nazis are not welcome in the city.” After the far-right threat had passed, people lit candles in memory of the victims of the raid and attended a memorial service. At 21:45, the time RAF bombers first appeared over Dresden, church bells rang out across the city.

“Our city stands together for courage, respect and tolerance,” said the Dirk Hilbert, Dresden’s acting mayor, in an address to the anti-Nazi demonstrators.

I find it very hard to express my hatred of war and those who glorify it. I am blinded by tears of anger and pain – I cannot hold back my rage.

I lived through that war – fortunate enough to be this side of the pond in an American city that never suffered bombing or incendiary raids. Many of my relatives – on both sides – in a couple of countries weren’t so likely. Many of my close kin were killed or terribly wounded on the battlefields.

My closest friend just died a few years ago – spent 16 months in VA hospital recovering from his wounds from the Battle of the Bulge and at the liberation of Buchenwald. Because he was our home state’s most decorated soldier, he was asked to run for Governor in 1948. He said that wouldn’t be a problem at all. As long as they made the first plank in the platform an absolute ban on profits made from war.

They changed their mind, withdrew the offer.

Why do Republicans hate women?

This post is a year old. Republicans haven’t gotten better. Their goals have retreated further into darkness and hatred.

Here is a list of misogynist bills introduced by Republicans in the past two weeks showing what they want for women.

1) Rape: Republicans are actually trying to redefine rape to exclude drugging a women and raping her, or getting her drunk and raping her. After a major backlash, they promised to stop. But they haven’t the language is still out there.

2) More Rape. A state legislator in Georgia wants to change the legal term for victims of rape, stalking, and domestic violence to “accuser.” But victims of other crimes, like robbery, would remain “victims.” Apparently in Georgia if a women is raped, she isn’t really – is just an annoying accuser. Which means the rapist is not really a criminal.

3) Murder. In South Dakota, Republicans proposed a bill that could make it legal to murder anyone who injures or threatens a fetus, including a doctor who provides abortion care and the mother. He denies it has anything to do with abortion so I guess it is aimed at makingit OK for a husband or boyfriend to kill his partner if he thinks she might injure the fetus- like in a car accident, or he just doesn’t like her anymore.

4) Starvation. Republicans want to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids. But payments to corporations to not grow food to keep prices up is still in the budget.

5) Death. In Congress, Republicans have proposed a bill that would let hospitals allow a woman to die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life (so she and fetus die.)

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Why we need a second party

Watching the Republican Party struggling to agree on a presidential candidate, one wonders whether the G.O.P. shouldn’t just sit this election out — just give 2012 a pass…

…The party has let itself become the captive of conflicting ideological bases: anti-abortion advocates, anti-immigration activists, social conservatives worried about the sanctity of marriage, libertarians who want to shrink government, and anti-tax advocates who want to drown government in a bathtub.

Sorry, but you can’t address the great challenges America faces today with that incoherent mix of hardened positions. I’ve argued that maybe we need a third party to break open our political system. But that’s a long shot. What we definitely and urgently need is a second party — a coherent Republican opposition that is offering constructive conservative proposals on the key issues and is ready for strategic compromises to advance its interests and those of the country.

Without that, the best of the Democrats — who have been willing to compromise — have no partners and the worst have a free pass for their own magical thinking. Since such a transformed Republican Party is highly unlikely, maybe the best thing would be for it to get crushed in this election and forced into a fundamental rethink…

Because when I look at America’s three greatest challenges today, I don’t see the Republican candidates offering realistic answers to any of them.

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