Women who were held as slaves in Catholic laundries in Ireland are seeking justice for their imprisonment and abuse
A BBC investigation has revealed that Irish nuns from the Catholic church took female children out of church-operated state orphanages and used them as unpaid slave labor in church-owned commercial laundry facilities called the Magdalene Laundries. Women and girls made to work in the laundries were held as prisoners and endured significant abuse. The slave laundries existed into the 1980s and did the laundry for restaurants, railway stations, convents and the airport. Some women were held in the laundries for over 50 years.
The Irish Examiner newspaper investigated the finances of religious orders that operated the laundries in 2012 and found they owned assets of $1.9 billion. (Yes, that’s “billion” with a “B.”).
One woman, the main subject in BBC’s report, escaped the laundry, ran to a nearby church for help, got raped by a priest and returned to the laundry. She became pregnant from the rape. The nuns took her baby away from her at birth and gave it up for adoption. The woman was forced to work in the laundry for 14 years. She was finally reunited with her daughter 40 years after her birth. The woman is demanding an apology — just an apology — from the Church.
Think businesses have too many rights over citizens? Then attend a free informational session Tuesday, April 29 in Grand Junction about the groundbreaking Ballot Initiative #75, the “Right to Local Self-Government,” also known as the “Colorado Community Rights Amendment.” Initiative #75 would amend Colorado’s constitution to make the rights of people superior to corporate rights. It is now moving to the petitioning stage, and if it passes, will give local communities “the power to enact local laws establishing, defining, altering, or eliminating the rights, powers, and duties of corporations and other business entities operating or seeking to operate in the community.” Initiative #75 would bar the state from forcing unwanted for-profit corporate projects onto unwilling communities. It would let communities have the final say in whether they want to allow pursuits like hazardous waste dumps, factory farms, fracking, GMO crops, etc., near houses, schools, playgrounds, etc. Communities would be able to make these decisions freely, without the threat of lawsuits by the state or by corporations or their lobbying groups..
What: Informational session on Ballot Initiative #75 When: Tuesday, April 29 at 6:00 p.m. Where: Mesa County Public Library, Central branch (5th St. and Grand Ave.) Who: By the ballot initiative’s main listed proponent, Cliff Willmeng, a registered nurse from Lafayette, CO.
Garfield County drilling rig (Photo: Garfield County government)
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has called in an epidemiologist to investigate a recent spike in fetal abnormalities in Garfield County on Colorado’s western slope. Stacey Gavrell, Director of Community Relations for Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, said area prenatal care providers reported an increase in fetal abnormalities to the hospital, which then notified CDPHE. So far neither the hospital nor the state have released information about the numbers of cases reported, over what span of time, or the amount of the increase.
Gavrell said it is too early to speculate on the causes of the spike in abnormalities.
The report comes on the heels of the February, 2014 publication in Environmental Health Perspectives of a study that found an association between the density of natural gas wells within a ten mile radius of expectant mothers’ homes and the prevalence of fetal anomalies such as low birth weight and congenital heart defects in their infants.
The study examined a large cohort of babies over an extended period of time in rural Colorado, and specifically controlled for confounding factors that also emit air pollution, including traffic and other heavy industries. The abnormalities in infants in the study are associated with exposure to air pollutants like those emitted from natural gas wells, including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen dioxide.
A map of current drilling activity in the Garfield County area shows the number and concentration of active wells along the busy I-70 corridor between Glenwood Springs and Rifle, one of the areas of interest in CDPHE’s investigation.
Vital for Colorado’s full page “Energy Chaos” ads, run in rural areas of the state, are aimed at derailing a potential ballot initiative to rein in corporate power over citizens
A new pro-fracking business coalition called “Vital for Colorado” (VfC) has sprung up to fight the growing grassroots anti-fracking movement in Colorado. VfC’s board chairman and registered agent is Peter T. Moore, a senior partner at the Denver law firm of Polsinelli, P.C., which serves the oil and gas industry. Calls and emails to Peter T. Moore and VfC seeking information on the group’s major funders and legal registration information went unanswered.
Most of VfC’s supporters (pdf) are chambers of commerce in more rural areas of the state, cattle and dairy farmers, trade groups like the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association, prominent construction and real estate companies, and oil and gas drilling companies like Encana and Suncor Energy, which is based in Calgary, Alberta, and not in Colorado.
So why has VfC gone to Colorado’s hinterlands to try to drum up support? Because VfC’s best chance to gain support appears to be away from the front range, where so far five front range cities have passed ordinances banning fracking within their limits, a fact that has apparently made a big impression on Colorado businesses.
In typical front group fashion, VfC’s website doesn’t list a phone number and only permits email contact through a web form, but the site does give a street address for the group: 4950 S. Yosemite St., F2 #236. Coincidentally this is the same address as the former office of the issue group “No on Measure 2A,” whose registered agent was also Peter T. Moore.
The spring fashion ad campaign of luxury department store Barneys New York features seventeen transgendered models, most of whom have never modeled before. The campaign, titled “Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters,” was shot in New York by renowned photographer Bruce Weber. The ads are an effort to raise awareness of a largely misunderstood community that has seen little progress towards acceptance over the last few decades. The photos feature the models posing with members of their support networks — friends, relatives and even pets — accompanied by a short summary of each model’s personal story. Barneys hopes that by giving the models and their unique personal stories national exposure, they will help increase social acceptance of transgendered individuals. Barneys partnered with the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the LGBT Community Center to create the campaign, and the retailer will donate 10 percent of all the sales it makes on February 11, at their stores or online, to the two organizations, with the total proceeds being divided equally between them.
Police tangle with protesters at ALEC’s 40th Annual Meeting at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago in August.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) held its 40th annual meeting earlier this month at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, drawing a crowd of about 3,000 protesters. ALEC is a conservative bill mill that masquerades as an educational nonprofit. ALEC holds meetings in tony resorts and at fancy hotels, where it provides corporate lobbyists with face time with thousands of state legislators over dinners, happy hours, tennis, golf and other activities. Corporate representatives draft the “model bills’ they prefer, and at ALEC meetings, hand them off to legislators, who then take them home and introduce the bills in their own state legislatures as if they were their own ideas. The public is not allowed to weigh in during any phase of the drafting of any of ALEC’s so-called “model bills.” The prime sponsor of ALEC’s 40th annual meeting was tobacco giant Reynolds American, who ponied up $100,000 for the honor. $50,000-level sponsors include ExxonMobil, the Cigar Association of America, Inc., Peabody Energy, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a front group for coal companies. Other sponsors include CenturyLink, UPS, Pharma, Cloud Peak Energy, TransCanada and BNSF Railways. ALEC is responsible for the proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” laws, the type of law that permitted George Zimmerman to kill Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American Florida teen, and get away without any punishment. About two dozen states how have such “shoot first” laws. Many protesters at ALEC’s Chicago meeting wore hoodies and with targets on their chests and backs that said “Stand Your Ground.” Activists unfurled huge banners inside the Palmer hotel that said “ALEC makes For-Profit Prisons,” “Moral Monday – NO to ALEC” and “ALEC Attacks All Workers.” The peaceful protest turned violent after Chicago police rushed into the crowd and started arresting people and beating them to the ground. Photos of the protests can be seen here.
House Republicans passed symbolic legislation aimed at further restricting women’s ability to obtain an abortion nationwide — legislation that stands no chance of surviving the Senate, and that the President has vowed to veto. This week House Republicans voted to limit women’s right to obtain an abortion until the first 20 weeks after conception. Republicans passed the measure even though they know it is illegal because it defies the Supreme Court’s 1973 Rowe vs. Wade ruling that says women can legally obtain abortions up until the time a doctor deems a fetus is viable, or can live outside the womb, generally around the 24th week of gestation. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Arizona), who brought the bill, initially did not include any exceptions for rape or incest, saying in a committee hearing that that was because “the incidence of pregnancy from rape is very low.” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), defending the bill, in a crazy statement went even further, saying he felt abortions should be restricted to 15 weeks, because that’s the point at which male fetuses can put their hand between their legs and “feel pleasure.” And Republicans’ war on women doesn’t stop there. In Wisconsin, Republicans just passed a bill that will force women seeking abortions to obtain medically unnecessary ultrasounds first. It also requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinics in which they work, a provision that will shut down at least one Planned Parenthood clinic in the state. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he will sign the bill. Similar bills have appeared in states throughout the union. In fact, banning abortion is almost all Republicans have been working on with any vigor in the last few years. The number of bills brought to restrict abortion in various ways has skyrocketed in the U.S. since 2010, limiting the rights of women all over the country.
State Representative Juan Mendez of (D-Tempe) made history May 22 by giving the Arizona state legislature’s first secular invocation in place of the body’s usual morning prayer. Rep. Mendez began by asking legislators not to bow their heads as they usually do, but instead to take a moment to look around the room “at all the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.” He then cited the challenging debates, moments of tension and ideological division and frustration legislators experience, but asked his colleagues to focus more on what they have in common than on their differences. He concluded by quoting Carl Sagan. Afterwards, Rep. Mendez came out as a non-theist at a press conference. As he spoke to the press and media, a group of people stood behind him holding signs that said, “One in Five.” Rep. Mendez pointed out that one American in five, or 1.3 million Arizona citizens, choose not to affiliate with a religion.
As if the Rick Brainard debacle didn’t offend enough people for the embattled Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, now Chamber president Diane Schwenke has offended the local secular community with an anti-atheist post on her personal Facebook page. Ms. Schwenke says in her post that she finds this nasty joke “just too good not to share,” so I am sharing it with all of my readers.
Is it ever appropriate for the president of a Chamber of Commerce to attack a minority group like this? Is it more politically safe to attack atheists than it is to attack, say, Jews, Mennonites, Latinos or African Americans? To make matters worse, the G.J. Chamber continues to get public funding from the City of Grand Junction, which pays $6,325/year (updated in 2017) to be a member of the chamber at the highest level. A larger screenshot of Diane Schwenke’s Facebook Page with her joke along with her statement of affiliation with the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce can be seen here.
Post on Chamber Director Diane Schwenke’s personal Facebook page takes a dig at atheists
Studies have found oil/Corexit® residue accelerates the absorption of toxins into the skin. The results aren’t visible under normal light (top), but contamination that has worked its way into the skin appears as fluorescent spots under UV light (bottom). Photo Credit: James H “Rip” Kirby III, Surfrider Foundation
Newsweek magazine published a scathing expose’ this week about BP’s behind-the-scenes efforts to limit what the public saw and understood about the company’s disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon gulf oil spill. BP assured thousands of fishermen, on-shore residents and workers they hired to help with spill cleanup operations that the proprietary oil dispersant they used called “Corexit” was as safe as dish soap, but people exposed to the Corexit/oil mixture subsequently fell ill with a range symptoms that mimic Gulf War Syndrome, including muscle spasms that rendered their hands unusable, neurological problems like short term memory loss, painful skin inflammation and breathing problems. A Government Accountability Project (GAP) investigation done after the fact found BP purposely withheld manufacturer’s safety manuals for Corexit from the fishermen and other workers. In interviews after the disaster, cleanup workers said BP had threatened to fire any workers who complained about the lack of protective clothing and respirators. Airplanes spraying Corexit also indiscriminately sprayed the substance over the fishing boats BP hired to help contain the spill, exposing the fishermen to multiple doses of the chemicals. Nineteen months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the peer-reviewed scientific journal Environmental Pollution published a study that found that crude oil becomes 52 times more toxic when mixed with Corexit than it would otherwise be if left alone. GAP representatives asked BP to pay for the medical treatment of victims of Corexit-and-crude poisoning but BP has refused. BP’s cover up demonstrates the huge amount of power corporations wield and the inability or unwillingness of governments to restrict that power. Eleven people were killed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but no one has yet faced any criminal charges. What’s worse, the BP spill and its after-effects haven’t prompted any changes in public policy towards big corporations and their activities. It’s as though the U.S. government has gleaned no wisdom at all from the disaster and BP’s subsequent actions.
Logo of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, whose mission is to use school athletics as a platform to spread Christian evangelism
Christian evangelicals are hard at work recruiting young athletes into Christianity in publicly-funded schools all across the country, and taxpayers are footing the bill. The injection of Jesus into school athletics is being carried out by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), a Christian group that encourages and rewards school sports coaches for using their influential positions to spread Christianity among youth.
For those who are unfamiliar with FCA, it is a Christian religious group whose existence is dedicated to turning school athletic departments into missionaries for Christ. FCA’s website states, “The purpose of [FCA’s] Campus Ministry…has been to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost and to seek and grow a mature follower of Jesus Christ. The ‘win’ of Campus Ministry is to see campuses impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes.” An answer to the question of “What is FCA?” on the group’s website states, “Since 1954, FCA has been challenging coaches and athletes on the professional, college, high school, junior high and youth levels to use the powerful medium of athletics to impact the world for Jesus Christ.” FCA also encourages coaches to conduct Bible studies on campus. The group is open about its use of the platform of athletics to spread Christian “evangelism, discipleship, outreach and fellowship.” One of FCA’s corporate sponsors is Chick-Fil-A, the fast-food restaurant chain whose president, Dan Cathy, expressed strong views against same-sex marriage in a July, 2012 interview in the Biblical Recorder.
Oklahoma 17 year old Tyler Alred pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter after drinking and driving last December 3 and getting into a vehicular crash that killed his 16 year old passenger, but instead of sentencing Alred to prison, Oklahoma district judge Mike Norman sentenced Alred to complete high school, finish welding school, take drug and alcohol tests for a year, wear an alcohol monitoring bracelet and attend church for ten years. Judge Norman had sentenced people to attend church before as punishment, but never for manslaughter. The Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) cited the sentence as a clear violation of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Judge Norman himself acknowledged the sentence is illegal, but believes he can get away with it because he doesn’t think anyone will appeal it. No parties who have standing in the case are likely to object to the sentence because it keeps Alred from having to go to prison. The pastor of the church Alred has attended in the past questioned the judge’s use of church as criminal punishment, saying “What will the judge do if the young man changes his [religious] affiliation in the next few years? Will he be allowed to switch to a mosque or become an atheist?” The ACLU is particularly concerned that the judge was fully aware that the sentence he handed down was illegal, but did it anyway. Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the Oklahoma ACLU said, “The Constitution is not exercised at your discretion. You take an oath to uphold it all the time, not just sometimes.”
A U.S. District Court court ruled in November that Hobby Lobby, a private, for-profit, national arts-and-crafts supply store chain owned by a Christian family, cannot be exempted from a government requirement that its employees’ health insurance plan cover 100% of the cost for emergency contraceptives. Hobby Lobby’s owners, who are conservative Christians, challenged a provision of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) that requires businesses provide employees with no-cost birth control through their health insurance plans. U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton of the Western District Court in Oklahoma ruled November 19 that privately-owned companies are secular, for-profit enterprises, and as such are not entitled to the the same religious rights as the individual members of the family that owns them. The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, have vowed to defy the Court’s ruling, and to continue to block their employees’ access to free contraception through their health insurance plans.
In his religious zeal, David Green, the owner of Hobby Lobby, is missing the point. The law entitles him and his family to their own beliefs, but Hobby Lobby’s claim that the Affordable Care Act’s contraception requirements infringe on his own personal religious liberty makes no sense.
In keeping with his track record of tackling tough political issues during his time in office, President Obama today took steps today to address what he and many others are recognizing as an epidemic of gun violence in the United States. The mass slaughter of innocent people, including 20 six and seven year old children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last Friday has spurred President Obama to make addressing gun violence a top priority for his second term in office. In lightening-quick time by Washington, D.C. standards, the President established an interagency task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden that is is charged with immediately developing a comprehensive strategy to reduce gun violence and address mental health care issues in the U.S. Mr. Obama also said he supports efforts in Congress to revive the lapsed ban on military-style assault weapons and enact restrictions on high-volume ammunition clips, noting a majority of Americans support these policies. In giving his talk, President Obama listed off all the gun deaths that have happened across the U.S. just since the Sandy Hook incident on Friday, noting that 10,000 Americans each year die from gun violence. He sought the help of the American people, including responsible gun owners, to help him change things in the U.S. for the better, challenging lawmakers to summon a fraction of the courage that the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary summoned last Friday as they tried to protect their students.
Mormon women are taught to dress modestly: shoulders must be covered, dresses/skirts must reach the knees, and only one set of earrings at a time is permitted (“positioned in the usual place on the ears”)
A group of devout Mormon women are encouraging other Mormon women to engage in a radical act on Sunday, December 16, 2012: wearing pants to church. A movement of faithful female Mormons have organized a feminist group within the church called “All Enlisted” which has decleared December 16 “Wear Pants to Church Day” as a way to openly challenge a host of gender inequalities within the Mormon church. Event organizer Stephanie Lauritzen describes some of the inequities women face within the Latter Day Saints (LDS) church: men’s voices are more prominent than women’s in meetings, leadership positions and decision-making bodies; many prominent positions besides the priesthood — like school presidencies and mission leaders — are given only to men; women can occasionally do the same work as men, but are given different, more demeaning titles (like “Sister” vs. “President”), and only men are allowed to handle church finances. Lauritzen points out that women’s primary value within the church is linked to being a wife and mother instead of being a “child of God.” A fuller list of Mormon gender inequalities can be seen here.
A senior at the United States Military Academy at West Point has publicly resigned from the Academy to protest pervasive Christian proselytizing that takes place at the school. Blake Page said the academy shows clear favoritism towards Christians and discriminates against atheists and other non-religious students. In an article for the Huffington Post, Page wrote that “Countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution. These men and women are criminals, complicit in light-of-day defiance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at time require sectarian religious participation.” Page says West Point leaders regularly let cadets know that, in order to be viewed positively by staff and faculty, they should participate in Christian prayer groups and attend Christian retreats. Page served two years in the Army as an air defense specialist in Korea prior to entering West Point. His commander saw him as a high performer and recommended he apply to West Point. Admission to West Point is highly competitive. The school gets about 15,000 applicants annually but only accepts 1,500. Candidates (as applicants are known) typically must excel at sports, have passed advanced mathematics courses, and speak two languages. Applicants also typically must be nominated by a legislator or a career member of the armed services. Page is giving up even more than his prestigious spot in the West Point graduating class of 2013, though. In the wake of his resignation, the government could seek reimbursement for the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tuition invested in his education.
Walmart employees have embarked on an effort to bring more respect, better pay and improved working conditions to all Walmart workers. Their group, Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OURWalmart, has a website, ForRespect.org, lists exactly what employees want from Walmart. They want every employee to get a company policy manual and assurance that the company will enforce its policies equally without discrimination. They want full time work and wages and benefits high enough so they won’t have to depend on government assistance to survive. They seek dependable, predictable work schedules, and affordable health insurance. Walmart workers report that Walmart has been retaliating against workers who speak out about their low wages, unsafe working conditions and other issues they have with the company, and workers want the freedom to speak their mind without retaliation. OURWalmart also started a second website, WalmartAt50.org, to get a jump on the one-sided spin they expect the company to churn out about their anniversary. The site commemorates Walmart’s 50th anniversary by allowing Walmart “associates” to share stories of how they are treated at work, the difficulties they have in trying to advance within the company and what it’s like to try to live on Walmart’s super-low wages. The site also allows community members and owners of small businesses to post stories about how Walmart has impacted their living standards. Walmart workers and customers alike can share their stories on the site, and can upload photos. The site maintains that Walmart’s business model has dragged down the middle class and been bad for America. Their slogan is “Change Walmart to Rebuild America.” The site says that the “America Walmart helped to create isn’t working for most of us.”
Thai cigarette packs, with graphic health warning labels. Cigarette makers have blocked use of such labels in the U.S. through a lawsuit.
A newly-released study of previously secret, internal tobacco industry documents shows the multinational cigarette companies have been working consistently behind the scenes since 1966 to 2012 to block stronger health warning labels on cigarette packs. On-pack health warning labels are an effective and inexpensive way of educating the public about the health hazards of smoking. For decades, countries around the world have been trying to make these labels more effective, for example by using more strongly-worded warnings, or graphic photos of tobacco-related diseases like cancerous lungs, people with tracheotomies or rotting teeth. But cigarette companies view these improved labels as a “global threat” and formed international task forces to block their use.