Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Belgium to impose tax on barbequing to fight global warming

The government of Belgium's French-speaking region of Wallonia, which has a population of about 4 million, has approved a tax on barbequing, local media reported.

Experts said that between 50 and 100 grams of CO2, a so-called greenhouse gas, is emitted during barbequing. Beginning June 2007, residents of Wallonia will have to pay 20 euros for a grilling session.

The local authorities plan to monitor compliance with the new tax legislation from helicopters, whose thermal sensors will detect burning grills.

Scientists believe CO2 emissions are a major cause of global warming.

Special Thanks to Russian News and Information Agency

Neglectful dog owners could face prosection

Owners of fat dogs or cats could face prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act which comes into force tomorrow.

The Act, the biggest overhaul of animal welfare legislation for a century, creates a new offence of failing in the duty of care towards a captive animal.

Pet owners can for the first time be guilty of an offence before an act of cruelty has been committed, for example by overfeeding their pet.

The Act says a person responsible for an animal must provide it with a suitable diet, intake of water, environment and housing and ensure it can behave normally and is without pain or disease.

Behaving normally means that sociable animals, such as dogs and rabbits, must be provided with companionship, either of their own species or humans.

Maximum penalties for breach of the new rules include a ban on owning animals, fines of up to £20,000 or up to 51 weeks in prison. The Act raises from 12 to 16 the minimum age for buying a pet and bans pets as prizes for under-16s.

Docking of dogs' tails for cosmetic reasons is banned with exemptions for "working" dogs used by the police, Armed Forces, search and rescue and gun dogs.

A vet in England may dock a dog's tail as long as it is no more than five days old and its owner has provided the following evidence: the dam of the dog (so the type may be ascertained), a completed statement by the owner and a shotgun certificate, police identification or other evidence that the dog will be used as a working dog.

The law will be different in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In Wales the word breed is used rather than type, which appears to mean that if a dog is not of a pedigree listed in the regulations its tail may not be docked. In Scotland there is a separate Act which bans docking for any reason. In Northern Ireland tail docking is legal.

The RSPCA said that its inspectors would give written advice to pet owners in the first instance in the case of an overweight dog. A date for a return visit would then be given. In the event of obvious neglect a warning notice would be issued or the owner prosecuted.

In London's Hyde Park yesterday some dog owners were concerned about the new powers.

Vivien Battarbee, 61, a designer from South Kensington, owner of Missy, a Parson Jack Russell terrier, said: "I'd be horrified if I had a knock on the door from a policeman if my dog was overweight. Jailing would be going too far, but maybe it would be good to remind some people how to look after a dog."

Kenneth Stern, 78, who was walking Worcester, a Dalmatian, said: "Convicting people is a bit over the top, but some people simply do not realise how to take care of their dogs."

The Pet Health Council says:

Run your hands along the dog's sides to see if you can feel its ribs when you apply gentle pressure. Then check from above whether you can see a waist - a thinning from where the ribs end to where the hips begin. Finally, run your hand gently over its back to check if you can feel hip bones. If your pet has all of the above it probably will not be obese.

If your pet is slow to get up and has trouble moving around there may be a problem.

Specil Thanks to The Telegraph

Just Like the Easter Egg Hunt, Only Different

Seven-year-old Alvin Mitchell worked intently yesterday on what looked to be a blue balloon wrapped around a tennis ball. It was a fake version of a cluster bomb, and the real thing, he pronounced, can "blow you up and kill you."

The fake bombs Alvin and a dozen other children were making at a peace workshop will be put to use Monday in Lafayette Square. As hundreds attend the White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn, a smaller group will gather at the park on the north side for what is being billed as a "family-friendly Easter cluster-bomb hunt"…

"Obviously, we're trying to spoof a little bit what will be happening on the South Lawn [at the White House Easter egg hunt]," said Brian Hennessey of the Vineeta Foundation, a local human rights group founded in 1995 that is the lead sponsor of the cluster-bomb hunt. "We're not trying to hit kids over the head with this; we want them to have fun. We also want to bring attention to the fact that our munitions cause a lot of death and destruction to civilians, especially children"…

At a "teach-in" yesterday at a Northwest Washington community center, Hennessey and others helped the children fashion the fake bombs, using balloons, tennis balls and brightly colored clay. The adults told the children they could write their names on the "bombs" and take them home after Monday's event.

Special Thanks to National Review

School Renames Easter Bunny 'Peter Rabbit'

A Rhode Island public school has decided the Easter bunny is too Christian and renamed him Peter Rabbit, and a state legislator is so hopping mad he has introduced an "Easter Bunny Act" to save the bunny's good name.

The Easter bunny was scheduled to make an appearance at a craft fair on Saturday at Tiverton Middle School in Tiverton, R.I.

But the district's schools Superintendent William Rearick told event organizers to change the bunny's name to Peter Rabbit in "an attempt to be conscious of other people's backgrounds and traditions."

Singleton struck back this week by proposing a bill, nicknamed the "Easter Bunny Act," to stop all local municipalities from changing the name of popular religious and secular symbols like the Easter bunny.

"The underlying theme here is serious," he said. "I don't think a superintendent of schools should have the authority to change something we've held so deeply for 150 years."

Not everyone in Rhode Island, however, believes the Easter bunny is worth fighting for.

"As a Christian symbol, I would say [the Easter bunny] is not one of those that I would go to the barricades to defend," Rev. Bernard Healy, the Catholic Diocese of Providence, R.I., said in a statement.

Singleton, however, said the perceived religious symbolism versus its actual religious significance is why it shouldn't be banned.

"The Easter bunny is not a religious symbol," he said. "Why it's being banned doesn't make sense."

The American Civil Liberties Union has also spoken out the issue.

"Public schools should not be promoting Easter celebrations, and to the extent that the school districts try to avoid that problem they are to be commended," Steve Brown, the executive director of the ACLU Rhode Island affiliate, said in a statement.

Singleton, however, dismissed the ACLU's comments.

Special Thanks to ABC News

Frozen bay turns otters into easy prey

An extra-cold winter on the Alaska Peninsula has frozen sea otters out of the bay and pushed them onto the tundra near Port Heiden where they're easy prey for wolves, humans and hunger.

Some of the starving animals -- with ribs showing -- have waddled or belly-slid several miles inland, residents said. Others have been attacked by dogs near houses, killed by villagers for their hides, or died on sea ice where eagles and foxes pick at their remains.

No one knows how many have come ashore in the unusual exodus, said Mark Kosbruk, village fire chief. Natives have skinned at least 17 to make hats, gloves and blankets from the luxurious pelts.

They've clubbed some with 2-by-4s or axe handles, shot others and collected a couple of frozen carcasses, he said. Several rotted before they could be gathered or died on the sea ice where people won't travel.

"When it first froze over, they were everywhere," said Kosbruk, 34, who is teaching younger hunters how to skin and salt the hides for tanning.

The sea otters are probably on land looking for water where they might find food, said Douglas Burn, head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska sea otter program. They usually scour sea bottoms for clams or sea urchins, but the ice froze them out.

Similar die-offs have been documented before, but biologists are worried and keeping an eye on the situation, he said.

Western Alaska sea otters from the Aleutian Islands to Cook Inlet are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. They number 48,000, a drop of more than 50 percent in the last 20 years, the agency estimates.

Some scientists blame increased predation by killer whales and a bacteria that causes heart lesions.

Burn and other biologists have been monitoring the ice in Port Heiden and other shallow bays on the peninsula, reviewing satellite images and other data, he said.

"We're concerned about large concentrations of sea otters that might get trapped and not have a way into the water," he said. "The hard part is, what would we do if we found that? We'd have to ask what are our options."

People can't legally hunt, kill or harass sea otters under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, he said. But the 1972 law allows Alaska Natives to kill them for food or making handicrafts.

Port Heiden, an Alutiiq village of 79 about 400 miles southwest of Anchorage, sits on the northeast edge of the frozen Port Heiden bay.

People in the village don't eat sea otters and rarely hunt them. The number of animals near the village seems to have increased in recent years, Kosbruk said. During summer, the number of sea otters gathering on a low-tide sandbar have grown from 50 to 200.

The animals haven't come ashore in large numbers since 2000, the last time the bay froze, he said.

Partially enclosed by spits of land, the bay hardened into a solid surface of ice this winter after a cold spell -- beginning in January and lasting through March -- dropped temperatures to zero and below, he said.

Average winter temperatures usually hover in the 20s, producing only ice floes, he said. Spring temperatures have recently melted snow off tundra and opened cracks in the frozen bay miles from shore, but the sea otters are still coming on land.

Kosbruk shot one on land Thursday that was about 200 yards from the sea.

Three weeks ago, he watched with binoculars as about 35 gathered in a small sea-ice hole several hundred yards off shore, he said. They took turns diving for food. Eagles fed on about seven carcasses lying around the hole.

Sea otters dive for several minutes at a time, and they're voracious eaters. They rely on their super-dense fur for warmth instead of the blubber that protects other marine mammals. They normally eat the equivalent of 25 percent of their body weight daily.

Die-offs happen where animals live at the edge of their natural range, Burn said. The Port Heiden sea otters live farther north than other Bristol Bay sea otters, and similar freeze-outs have been documented since the early 1970s.

Once forced onto land, their chances of survival fall sharply, he said. They travel awkwardly, pulling with front paws while dragging flipperlike hind feet. They walk with a rolling gate and bound away when startled.

Kosbruk said he feels bad for the starving animals. But he's glad people who have caught them, including his 14-year-old son, are respecting Alutiiq hunting traditions of sharing.

"We don't hunt for ourselves," he said. "We hunt for people who can no longer hunt for themselves, the elders."

Andrew Lind, a 27-year-old commercial fisherman who moved to Port Heiden a few years ago, killed his first sea otter and four others last month. His grandmother told him to bring some otter pelts home so she could make fur hats for children and grandchildren.

Lind followed belly tracks in the snow on his four-wheeler. A couple of sea otters were so exhausted they didn't flee, he said. Others hissed or growled, scurrying away until they tired and he clubbed them.

He's giving all of them away, most to elders. He gave the first to his mother, he said, and the next to his grandmother.

"She was very happy and thankful," he said.

Special Thanks to Anchorage Daily News

Coffee Break: Starbucks Under Fire

Four years ago, when he first donned a green apron at the Starbucks at Madison Avenue and 36th Street, Daniel Gross must have looked like any other scruffy college grad in need of a paycheck and a shave. Within a few months, though, it was clear that this Los Angeles native with the perpetual stubble was something very different: the Norma Rae of the Caramel Macchiato.

Soon after he started, Gross and some fellow baristas began to meet at each other's homes to gripe about their jobs. The pace was exhausting, the store chronically understaffed and, under Starbucks's "flexible" scheduling rules, the number of hours they worked could change week to week, leaving them unsure of how much they would earn.

Gross didn't look for a different employer. He climbed on the espresso bar waving a placard that read "UNION" -- metaphorically speaking.

Today, the Starbucks Workers Union, such as it is, is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World and claims a "critical mass" of members at nine stores in four states, including a store in Rockville, Md. The group won't release membership numbers, but given that Starbucks has 9,401 stores in the United States and more than 128,000 "partners," as employees are known, we're not exactly talking about a massive groundswell. And to the extent that any union campaign is also a public relations battle, the fight has yet to put even a ding in Starbucks's corporate halo.

Sure, consumers chafe at the prices and the annoying argot of "venti," "grande" and "tall." Yes, others lament the way these drearily standardized outlets have become our national cafe. (Check out the variety and style of coffee culture in Europe and have a good cry.) We cut the company some slack, though, because we're addicted to the coffee and because the Seattle-based giant appears to take a reasoned, benevolent approach to everything from its staff to its Fair Trade-certified beans. Even the bottled water -- it's called Ethos -- seems enlightened.

But Gross, now a 28-year-old, third-year law student at Fordham, says that Starbucks's retail-megachain-with-a-soul image is largely a sham.

"Apparently it's true that if you repeat a lie enough times, it will resonate," he says one recent afternoon in a cafeteria at Fordham. "In my opinion, when it comes to its message about its employees, this company has the greatest PR machine in the business."

That PR machine, at least as it was represented on the phone, is a very polite and patient woman named Valerie O'Neil. "We respect the right of our partners to organize," she explains, adding that 86 percent of Starbucks workers described themselves in a survey as "very satisfied" with their jobs. If the idea of a union has failed to catch on, in her account, it's because few people at Starbucks are interested in joining.

Gross has a different theory about why his team has not yet achieved its goals, described on its Web site as better pay, guaranteed hours, an end to understaffing and a safer workplace. It's because, he says, Starbucks is actively -- and at times illegally -- thwarting them.

He cites the National Labor Relations Board, which has accused Starbucks of fighting dirty against the SWU by using bribery, interrogations and threats of retaliation. Most recently, it ruled on March 30 that Starbucks broke the law 30 times as it tried to push back against Gross and his fellow travelers. The company was accused of threatening to fire baristas who support the cause.

Starbucks denies all the accusations and plans to challenge them in court, including a claim that Starbucks illegally fired two workers -- one of them Daniel Gross. A picket to protest those firings, and raise the profile of the cause, took place last night at Dupont Circle, at the store at 1501 Connecticut Ave. NW.

"They said I threatened a district manager," says Gross, guffawing at the memory. This was in July of last year. "We were on a picket line, outside of a store, for a guy named Evan, whom they'd threatened to fire. And this manager came by and I said, 'Don't fire Evan, that would be a mistake, that would be a mistaken decision.' " A few weeks later, after what was described as an internal investigation, a Starbucks manager showed Gross the door. He took his sweet time walking through it, Gross recalls, shaking hands with co-workers and formally saying goodbye.

"I think they correctly perceived," he says of Starbucks executives, "that they hadn't seen the last of me."

* * *

The home of the cinnamon dolce latte seems an improbable hothouse for a workers' revolution. So it is with any fast-food shop. Workers in that sector don't generally expect a career there. Who cares what your third-year wage increase will be if you plan to stick around for only six months?

Still, Starbucks, of all places -- it regularly shows up in Fortune's list of "100 Top Employers to Work For" issue, and it claims to spend more on health care for employees than on coffee. Chairman Howard Schultz trumpets the company's values whenever he turns up on TV, which is often.

"We want to lead with our heart, we want to do the right thing," he told Charlie Rose in a recent interview.

In Gross's opinion, this is Starbucks at its self-mythologizing worst. He offered his considerably dimmer view of the company last week during a sort of insider's tour of a store. He hadn't set foot in a Starbucks in a while, largely because the IWW is boycotting the place. But he didn't buy anything. He just watched and critiqued. At one point, "Mambo Italiano" by Rosemary Clooney played in the store.

"Oh my God, that song," Gross moaned, like a man who'd heard it 7,000 times. "I thought they'd gotten rid of it."

Gross has the intensity of a true believer, leavened by an almost nonstop, toothy smile. He was uneasy enough being the focus of this story to refuse to be photographed without other union members in the shot, and he declined to say much about his upbringing, except that his grandfather drove a liquor truck in the Bronx and was in the Teamsters union.

"His pension allowed him to live his final years with dignity," Gross says. "Look at my generation. Millions of people in the service industry, a part of the economy untouched by the labor movement."

He leaned against the wall with all the espresso machines. "The key in retail is absolute control over the employee," he went on. "They've got rules for everything. The iced teas get 10 shakes. Not nine. Not eight. Before you hand it to the customer, 10 shakes. They're terrified a union will come in and say 'Nine shakes is enough.' "

Gross and others announced in 2004 their intention to unionize through the IWW, an organization known for militancy during its heyday in the '20s. This might seem an unlikely choice -- the union is tiny these days -- but the Wobblies, as they're known, allowed Gross and his comrades to negotiate directly with Starbucks, and didn't require certification votes at each store that would bestow upon the group official status in the eyes of the company.

The company has never considered any of the nine stores in question to be actual union shops. Official or not, though, Starbucks seemed eager to stop this union concept before it gained momentum. Its efforts led to litigation, which in 2006 culminated with the company signing a consent decree in which it promised it wouldn't threaten union supporters with negative performance reviews or transfers to other stores. Nor would it create the impression that "union activities are under surveillance.

Given this saga, and the more recent NLRB findings, Gross says that what bothers him most is the gap between what the company is and what everyone believes it to be. Case in point: It's Starbucks policy to offer health-care coverage to any employee who puts in at least 240 hours per quarter. Sounds great. But just 42 percent of employees are covered through the company, according to figures provided by Starbucks. Wal-Mart actually does better -- it covers 46 percent of its employees.

One reason that Starbucks insures fewer employees than Wal-Mart, Gross says, is because it lags the Bentonville behemoth in one other surprising area. Wal-Mart has taken a lot of grief for allegedly trying to boost the percentage of its workforce in part-time positions -- a move that reduces benefits costs. It'll never catch Starbucks. One hundred percent of its baristas -- and shift supervisors, too -- are part-timers.

O'Neil, the Starbucks spokeswoman, says the "part-time" designation is a matter of semantics as far as the workers are concerned, since it doesn't affect hourly wages -- you work a 40-hour week, you get paid for 40 hours, regardless of what you're called. As for the health-care issue, she said that many employees declined coverage because they're in a parent's or spouse's plan or -- here it comes -- they're covered by a second job. The more important figure, she argued, is 91 percent, which is the portion of employees covered, one way or another. That includes Medicaid, the federal insurance program for poor people.

Members of the SWU contend that requiring all baristas to work part time not only keeps down the company health care costs, it hands vast leverage to managers, who can punish those who complain by scheduling them for fewer hours. They also say that working too many hours is high on the company's list of no-nos.

"I once worked 43 hours in a week," says Seth Deitz, a union member in the Rockville store, "and my boss disciplined me. She was like, 'Don't do that again.' "

Ben Reinhart was dismissed from his barista gig at a Gaithersburg Starbucks about five years ago. Today he works for a construction company, but joined the tiny protest at Dupont Circle last evening.

"You couldn't get any kind of strict schedule," he recalled of his time at Starbucks. "You had to compete with fellow workers for hours, and this led to a horrible environment."

The all-part-time barista force might, in fact, be one of the secrets to Starbucks's success, but for reasons that the SWU doesn't talk much about. In interviews with about 20 employees, most said they were quite pleased with their jobs, and one guy crowed about the health-care benefits, which cost him $36 a month. (The majority of baristas wouldn't talk; the company instructs employees not to speak to the media.) Most made about $9 an hour.

Either because the wages are so low or because a full-time position isn't in the cards, nobody who spoke said they intend a career behind the steam nozzle.

When grievances were voiced, they were not exactly the kind that send workers to the ramparts.

"I hate this apron," said a woman who declined to give her name. "I like wearing nice stuff."

Maybe low expectations are exactly what a Starbucks employee ought to have. Perhaps the point of a job there, as at any quick-service franchise, is to offer people an entry-level rung on the employment ladder, or a stopgap measure while studying for a graduate degree. There may be very few people who look at the Frappuccino blender the way that Gross's grandfather looked at his truck.

Gross is unmoved. "This is the direction the economy is heading," he says with a shrug. And it's a part of the economy he intends to rejoin. Once a lawyer, he plans to work for a public interest law firm. But one of his many goals is to force Starbucks to put him back on the payroll. So if all goes according to plan, in a few months Gross will be a rather exotic specimen in the labor market -- a barista with a law degree.

"They fired me illegally," he said, smiling but totally serious, "and I want my job back."

Special Thanks to The Washington Post

Byrd Doggedly Expresses His Love for Man's Best Friend

A bomb had struck the Iraqi parliament earlier in the day, but it would take more than that to bring the United States Senate to heel.

"For many in America, pets are more than just companions -- they are members of the family," Chairman Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) said at the start of his Appropriations subcommittee's hearing yesterday into contaminated pet food.

Let the record show that Robert Byrd, left, has a Shih Tzu named Trouble, which he calls Baby.

"An important part of the family," agreed the ranking Republican, Bob Bennett (Utah).

"Members of the family," echoed Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). "Our pets are our companions, our soul mates and our hedge against emotional turmoil."

Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, tried to establish dominance over the pack by raising a can of Alpo for the cameras -- but not before Byrd broke free of his leash. In a lengthy discourse, he informed the panel three times that he has a Shih Tzu, nine times that his late wife named the dog Trouble, and three times that he prefers to call it Baby.

"She sleeps on my bed," said Byrd, in his 90th year and prone to meandering. "She goes with me to the Senate, rides in the car with me. She stays in my office. When somebody comes into the office, she rises and comes over and greets them, goes on about her business and gets back on the couch."

The ostensible purpose of the hearing was to determine what legislation or regulation might be needed to prevent a recurrence of the contamination that may have killed hundreds of animals and sickened thousands before a huge pet-food recall. In reality, it gave the lawmakers, the regulators and even the pet-food makers a chance to say how very, very much they love dogs and cats.

Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, noted that "I have two dogs. And when we learned of the recall, I was feeding one of the products on the recall list."

Another witness, veterinarian Elizabeth Hodgkins, invoked her "deep concern for the health of my own pets, my many patients, and, indeed, dogs and cats everywhere."

Even Duane Ekedahl, representing the pet-food makers, tried to get out of the doghouse by talking about his pets. "In our family we have a 12-year-old cat, Gus, and a 4-year-old dog, Sven, and I think I know where I stand in the family hierarchy," he testified.

The FDA's Sundlof appealed for calm, saying, "Consumers have access to an ample supply of pet food."

This assurance didn't tame Kohl. "Is the FDA confident that this recall will not grow? When will we get the all-clear signal?"

Sundlof picked at his cuticles and pawed the microphone cable.

But it was Ekedahl, of the industry group, who really made the senators growl. Durbin demanded to know why Menu Foods, the company at the center of the pet-food recall, "waited more than three weeks after finding out that the dogs wouldn't eat their food and were getting sick."

"I don't have the facts on Menu," Ekedahl replied, rubbing his fingers together.

The phrases coming from the wood-and-marble hearing room in Dirksen Senate Office Building were not the usual Appropriations fare.

"I have found Kibbles 'n Bits in my Cat Chow occasionally," said veterinary witness Claudia Kirk.

"Someone once said old age means realizing you won't own all the dogs you wanted to," posited Durbin.

But best-in-show honors went to Byrd, who, in a statement notable for its breadth, explained why his eyes had been closed ("I have what is called dry eyes") and why he has tremors in his hand ("I'm not scared or anything"), noted his friendship with the late Chicago mayor Richard Daley, mentioned his 49 years in the Senate, called himself "Popeye the Sailor Man," and demanded the witnesses be sworn in, even though the hearing had been going on for nearly an hour.

Byrd even brought some dog doggerel for the occasion. "A poem that has always meant so much to me begins with this stanza, 'All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the lord God made them all,' " he said.

After the verse, he devoted the next quarter of an hour discussing his Shih Tzu. "There is a unique, special relationship between pets, like my little dog," he said. "She is a Shih Tzu. They were lap dogs. They were trained to be lap dogs in the palace in Tibet, China."

The senator was just beginning. "Dogs -- I could talk a lot about dogs. I can tell you about great dogs in history. Truman, Harry Truman, former president, said, 'If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.' Or buy a dog. But I have a dog. Her name, by my wife Erma, is Trouble. Now, I call her Baby."

Muffled laughter rose from the audience; senators on the panel struggled to maintain their composure. Byrd became aware that he was spending too much time on his Shih Tzu. "This is not for a show. I don't often do this. I'm interested in a little dog," he explained.

It had become a dog's breakfast of a hearing, but Durbin, preparing legislation to rein in pet-food makers, called it a success. "I'm barking up the right tree," he said.

Special Thanks to the Washington Post

Venezuela Imposes 4-Hour Weekly Socialism Class, Universal Says

Venezuela's government will require workers to spend four hours a week in ``socialist formation'' classes, and is mandating employers form ``Bolivarian Work Councils'' to run courses on the job, El Universal reported, citing Labor and Social Security Minister Jose Ramon Rivero.

The classes will first be held only in public sector jobs, beginning with a pilot program at the nation's Labor Ministry, and will later spread to private businesses, after President Hugo Chavez decrees a law outlining re-education guidelines and rules, the newspaper said.

Topics to be addressed in the four-hour classes include Venezuelan history and ``basic tools for analyzing reality, the environment, the role of the state and socialist scheme,'' to speed the transition from capitalism to socialism, Rivero said, according to the newspaper.

Chavez has asked that socialist education, the so-called ``Third Motor'' of his Bolivarian revolution, be carried out beyond schools, in factories, workshops, offices and fields, the newspaper reported.

Special Thanks to

Americans are NOT Stupid...SURE!!

BBC to broadcast gay mass from San Francisco

The BBC is to relay a 'gay Mass' from San Francisco this Sunday, the first time such a service has been broadcast.

The 50-minute Mass at the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in the predominantly gay Castro district of the city will feature prayers and readings tailored for the gay community.

The church has been described as an "inspiration" to gay and lesbian Christians around the world because of its ministry to homosexuals.

Its parish priest, Father Stephen Meriweather, blesses participants in the San Francisco's annual gay pride march.

But it has also infuriated many Catholics in the U.S. who have complained about such activities as transvestite bingo nights during which sex toys and pornographic DVDs were handed out as prizes.

Last night a media watchdog said Sunday's radio broadcast was "bound to cause offence" to mainstream Christians.

John Beyer of Mediawatch UK, an organisation which campaigns for standards in the media, said he thought it was a mistake to broadcast the service.

"Religious broadcasting, apart from Songs of Praise, tends to focus on the out-of-the-ordinary and having this particular service I think will cause offence to people who feel that such practices are wrong and are taught as such in holy scripture," Mr Beyer said.

Preaching on the BBC show: James Alison
"The BBC really ought to be focusing on mainstream services which are more in keeping with the public service requirement that it has."

However, Father Donal Godfrey, the U.S. Jesuit priest celebrating the Mass, said he was delighted the BBC was "exploring how gay people fit into the perspective of the Christian narrative".

"Being gay is not special," he said. "It's simply another gift from God who created us as rainbow people."

The recording will go out at 8.10am to two million listeners on the BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship programme.

The preacher will be James Alison - a homosexual British Catholic theologian and author of 'Is it ethical to be Catholic? - Queer perspectives'.

Weeks after the BBC finished recording the service last October, it emerged that a transvestite group calling themselves the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence regularly staged lewd and irreverent bingo nights on the church premises.

The San Francisco archdiocese-stopped the events when it was discovered that prizes of a sexual nature were being handed out by the group, who dress as nuns.

In the past members of the group have paraded naked through the city advertising a 'hunky Jesus' contest. Their motto is: 'Go and sin some more.'

A spokesman for BBC Radio 4 said: "The strength of Sunday Worship is its diversity. It aims to reflect a variety of Christian spiritualities, and for that reason, when editorially appropriate - on average about once a quarter - comes from outside the UK.

"Taking the theme "Finding a place in the Christian narrative" this programme comes from the largest and oldest predominantly gay area in the world, from a Catholic community which has an experienced and developed understanding of the issues of being gay and Christian.

"As far as we know this is the first time the subject of being gay and Christian has been explored by the programme."

The Roman Catholic Church holds that sex belongs in the context of heterosexual marriage and that gay sex is "objectively disordered".

However, it also teaches that homosexual orientation is not in itself sinful and that gays and lesbians must be treated with respect and be free from unjust discrimination.

Special Thanks toDaily Mail

Impeach Bush? Consider the alternative

Rep. John Murtha wants to bring the troops home from Iraq, and he says he is willing to impeach President Bush to do it.

At the very least, the Pennsylvania Democrat is willing to threaten Bush with impeachment until Bush bends to his will.

There are two ways to describe Murtha's tactics: one would be "gutsy." And the other would be "dumb."

I think I am tending toward the latter.

When, in November 2005, Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran and pro-military moderate, called for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, it became a very big deal.

"The war in Iraq is not going as advertised," Murtha said. "It's a flawed policy wrapped in illusion."

But that was 18 months ago. The troops are still there, even more are headed that way, and Murtha wants action now.

"We need to make this president understand," he told CBS's Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation" Sunday.

"Mr. President, the public has spoken. There's three ways or four ways to influence a president. One is popular opinion, the election, third is impeachment and fourth is, and fourth is the purse."

Schieffer asked him if he was serious and if impeachment was really "an option on the table."

"I'm just saying that's one way to influence a president," Murtha said.

Yes, it is one way. But a very bad one.

The Constitution says the House of Representatives can impeach the president, vice president and other civil officers for "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

It doesn't say anything about using impeachment to strong-arm a president to bend to your will.

If Murtha thinks George Bush is running a hopeless war in an incompetent manner, that is one thing.

But if John Murtha actually thinks George Bush is a criminal -- and thinks he can prove it -- then he should go ahead and try to impeach him. It takes a simple majority vote in the House of Representatives to impeach and a two-thirds vote in the Senate to convict.

But Murtha should not use impeachment as a political tactic. It is wrong. And it is counterproductive.

Here is the lead paragraph of a story by Michael Finnegan in Sunday's Los Angeles Times: "President Bush's unpopularity and a string of political setbacks have created a toxic climate for the Republican Party, making it harder to raise money and recruit candidates for its drive to retake control of Congress."

Want to know how to turn that around? Want to know how to make George Bush an object of sympathy rather than an object of criticism?

Try to impeach him.

It is not only bad politics, it is bad for the country. It would paralyze all three branches of government -- the executive branch would be on trial, the legislative branch would conduct the trial and the judicial branch would preside over the trial. And for what? Not to prosecute a president for criminal acts, but to achieve a political goal.

On Jan. 4, Byron York of National Review Online attended a town meeting in Arlington, Va., where Murtha spoke. A member of the audience raised the impeachment of Bush, and York asked Murtha about it after the meeting.

"At this point, we just don't have enough information," Murtha said. "I'm very hesitant, even with Nixon, to support impeachment until I see the facts. And I just don't see enough facts to support impeachment at this point."

Asked whether he would support just an impeachment inquiry, Murtha said: "Well, I'm not even sure that I have enough facts to support that at this point. There's only one reason for impeachment as far as I'm concerned, and that's treason and treasonous acts. That's very complicated, not something I can answer. I hesitated to say anything about Nixon until the very end, when I heard the tapes, so that's not something I would say anything about at this stage."

So should we conclude that in the last four months Murtha has found evidence of "treason and treasonous acts" in George Bush's conduct?

And what would they be, exactly, aside from disagreeing with John Murtha?

Impeaching Bill Clinton was shabby and political, and impeaching George W. Bush would be shabby and political.

There is also another argument against impeachment that I can sum up in two words: President Cheney.

That alone ought to make George Bush impeachment-proof.

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