Monday, August 4, 2014

Bachelor In Paradise: What to Expect From the Premiere

Bachelor In Paradise: What to Expect From the Premiere

Bachelor In Paradise: What to Expect From the Premiere

Posted: 04 Aug 2014 10:23 AM PDT

Reduce, reuse, recycle. The environmental mantra isn’t just for the eco-minded anymore — it also works for ABC’s Monday night line-up.

Tonight the detritus of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette will wash up on the shores of a tropical island of misfit boys and girls looking for love — and an ever-expanding definition of 15 minutes of fame — on Bachelor in Paradise. Fourteen former contestants (in what the producers have determined is the golden ratio of eight women to six men) will head to Tulum, Mexico to pollute hot tubs all over the Yucatan as they make the most of their second chance to find love in front of the cameras, using the umbrellas in their drinks to prevent their tears from diluting their piña coladas when plans go awry.

Like love, the point of the six-part series is elusive. Prize money may be involved (it was in the past, but may have been done away with), but the ostensible mission is to find love. (Obviously.) If you find your soul mate — or even temporary bunk mate — you stay in paradise; the broken-hearted are ruthlessly deported after each rose ceremony. Contestants who aren’t given a rose by possible life partners are sent packing and, with an uneven number of men and women in the group, each week contestants are pruned like diseased branches on a rose bush. To keep everyone on their toes and love in the air, invading hoards land on the island’s shores each week, adding new contestants with designs of their own to the mix in the hopes of finding true love in paradise.

This season of the show — which is basically Bachelor Pad but with more bikini-shot opportunities — features fan favorites like Sarah Herron, the one-armed beauty from Bachelor Sean’s season; Marquel Martin, the man who should be The Bachelor; Brooks Forester, who failed to fall in love with Bachelorette Desiree; and Marcus Grodd, who left The Bachelorette broken-hearted when Andi ditched him after meeting his family. There’s also favorite frenemies like Michelle Money, the outspoken Bachelor franchise regular, and Kalon McMahon, who referred to The Bachelorette‘s Emily Maynard’s daughter as “baggage,” causing the Southern sweetheart to bust into a tirade that would make a sailor blush.

Here’s who else to watch out for on Bachelor in Paradise:

Clare Crawley: The 32-year-old hairstylist had some choice words for America’s Least Favorite Bachelor, Juan Pablo Galavis, when he dumped her at the finale, earning a spot in viewers’ heart when she announced, “I would never want my children having a father like you.”

AshLee Frazier: Bachelor Sean Lowe sent the professional organizer packing after a night in the Fantasy Suites, leaving the Texan with yet another broken heart to add to her her emotional backstory.

Chris Bukowski: As a contestant on both The Bachelorette (Emily) and Bachelor Pad, Chris tried to crash Andi’s opening cocktail party as well, but was stopped at the gate. Maybe the fourth time is this charm for this serial love-seeker.

Lucy Aragon: The self-titled free spirit was a little too free of a spirit for Juan Pablo who sent her home. The dog loving naturist reportedly found short-term solace in the arms of the CEO of Snapchat and is also supposedly supermodel Kate Upton’s best friend. as the two are frequently spotted gallivanting around Instagram together.

Graham Bunn: The repeat offender failed to find love on The Bachelorette (Deanna) but met Michelle Money on the second season of Bachelor Pad. Their relationship didn’t work out, and now the exes are stuck on a small island together.

Ben Scott: On Desiree’s season of The Bachelorette, Ben came off as the bad guy who used his young son to gain attention. He was sent packing after one of the most awkward two-on-one dates in Bachelor history. The single dad is back to both rehabilitate his image and look for a life partner.

Watch a sneak peek now:

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Toledo’s Contaminated Water: Here’s What Went Wrong

Posted: 04 Aug 2014 10:21 AM PDT

On Monday, the Toledo, Ohio, Mayor D. Michael Collins lifted the municipal ban on drinking water. The ban had left thousands of Toledo and Michigan residents without drinking water, which was contaminated by a toxin produced by an algae bloom in Lake Erie. If consumed, the toxin could cause symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. Residents were told not to drink the water, use it to brush their teeth, or—most confounding of all—boil it.

We talked to two experts at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as Craig Cox, the senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to explain everything you should know about the contamination.

What is an algae bloom, and why is it toxic?

An algae bloom is a heavy concentration of cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae. It looks like a huge mat, turns the bay around Toledo bright green, and produces a neurotoxin called microcystin, which makes people sick.

How does an algae bloom form?

There are a few reasons algae blooms form, but it’s primarily caused by runoff from farm fertilizers. In Toledo’s case, the phosphorus and nitrogen from these fertilizers runs into the Maumee River, which drains right into the Maumee Bay of Lake Erie, where Toledo is located. This spurs the growth of the blooms. The summer heat has likely also played a role in this particular algae bloom’s growth.

Is this a growing problem in water?

Yes. The EPA says there is not a federal standard for blue-green algae in water, but experts say it is in the process of considering one. Farm runoff is not very regulated, so the expectation, according to Cox, is that this kind of water contamination could happen again and again. About 2o or so years ago the U.S. took action to prevent the amount of runoff draining into the lake, and things were looking up. But now, environmentalists are worried we’ve backtracked.

How did the algae get into the drinking water?

The water intake for Toledo’s water supply is located right in the middle of the Maumee Bay where the algae bloom moved to. The water intake brought in both the blue-green algae and the toxins it produces.

Aren’t there purification systems that prevent that?

Yes, but they don’t necessarily address the blue-green algae toxins. The algae bloom moved very close to the water intake system, and the water treatment system experienced much higher levels than they had previously. It put a lot of pressure on the system. The conventional treatment plan the city of Toledo has is a multi-step procedure that removes dangerous pathogens and decontaminates the water in a variety of ways. To directly address the blue-algae toxins, it is using activated carbon to absorb and remove the toxins.

How did the contamination go away in just a couple days?

The EPA worked with Toledo over the weekend to sample the water at both the supply system and the drinking water system, and a couple of things happened. First, the algae bloom moved away from the water intake system, which could have been due to the wind. The second is that Toledo enhanced its treatment system with the aforementioned carbon to specifically address the blue-algae and its toxins.

I thought boiling water decontaminates it. Why couldn’t the residents boil their water?

Boiling water kills things like bacterial organisms, but it does not get rid of blue-algae toxins. Instead, boiling water decreases the volume of the water, and therefore increases the concentration of the toxins, making it worse.

What can be done?

Creating buffers, like plants and trees that stand between farms and the water, may help catch fertilizer chemicals before they get into water ways, spurring algae growth. Farmers could also, theoretically, use less fertilizer, though there are no regulations in place as of now.

Watch Kids React in Utter Bewilderment When Trying to Use a Typewriter

Posted: 04 Aug 2014 10:09 AM PDT

What happens when you sit a bunch of kids in front of a typewriter? A whole lot of utter confusion, apparently. In the latest installment of their “Kids React” series, the Fine Bros. gathered a group of youngsters, ages 6-13, to see if they know what the heck a typewriter is and how it works.

Turns out that most of these kids do know what typewriters are — mostly from watching movies and TV — but as for knowing how they work? No chance.

Their reactions to this outdated, clunky technology is priceless — and they just can’t seem to grasp the idea that people really and truly used these things. When asked how he felt for those people, one kid replied, “I feel very sad for them. They can’t FaceTime…”

World Leaders Gather in Liege to Commemorate World War I Centenary

Posted: 04 Aug 2014 10:06 AM PDT

King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium hosted dozens of heads of state and other international delegates on Monday to mark the centenary of the start of World War I. The dignitaries gathered on a forested hill overlooking the city of Liege, just a few dozen kilometers from the border where German soldiers took their first fateful steps 100 years ago, triggering a war which would engulf the world like none other before it.

Among the guests were Britain’s Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, King Felipe of Spain and US Secretary of the Army John McHugh. The speeches paid tribute to the fallen and included messages of reconciliation. But the remembrance was also tinged with anger that the world today is not quite as peaceful as many had hoped after the sacrifices of a century ago, and warnings that the ties that bind can so quickly be broken.

Speaking at the foot of Liege’s towering Allied Memorial, French President Francois Hollande spoke of the breach of Belgium’s neutrality a century ago, drawing parallels with the conflicts of today. "How can we stay neutral when people not far from Europe are fighting for their rights and territorial integrity?" he asked. "How to stay neutral when a civilian aircraft can be shot out of the sky in Ukraine? When there are civilian populations being massacred in Iraq, Syria, and Libya? When in Gaza a deadly conflict has been going on for over a month?"

German President, Joachim Gauck, also lamented that "millions of people are afflicted by violence and terror; millions have fled their homes." He urged nations to remember the "terrible and bitter lessons" of a war which many once thought impossible.

The tumble into the Great War began with the bullet that assassinated Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28th 1914, putting the empire and its ally Germany on a collision course with Serbia and Russia, eventually dragging in Britain and France. No amount of diplomacy or warnings of a coming catastrophe were able to prevent the spiral of nationalism and paranoia. On August 4th, 1914, German soldiers crossed into Belgium, hoping for a swift advance to Paris. This triggered a British pledge to protect the small nation’s neutrality, and by 11 pm that night Germany and Britain were at war. "The lamps are going out all over Europe," said the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, at the time. "We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

A day later, Liege would become the first battlefield of the first global conflict, which would eventually draw in 65 million combatants from 72 nations, with millions of them never making it home alive.

In 2014, the centenary’s resonance is keenly felt when conflict is blighting many corners of the world. Wartime leaders’ warnings of "monstrous slaughter" would not seem so distant to the Syrians today facing barrel bombs in a civil war that has now claimed more than 150,000 lives. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has its roots in the carve up of the Middle East after World War One, and the number of casualties are still rising by the day in Gaza.

Even the belief of lasting peace in Europe has been shaken by events in Ukraine, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March and an increasingly bloody separatist insurgency which last month claimed nearly 300 lives – 211 of them, European – in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Belgium’s Prime Minister, Elio di Rupo, also used the occasion to warn about the rise of anti-Semitism and extremism in Europe after the bruising economic crisis. "It takes a great deal of time and effort to bring peoples together and unite them in a common destiny," he said. "However, it often does not take much to shatter this solidarity and revive the worst tensions."

But there were also celebrations of how a continent overcame differences that once seemed insurmountable, and a reminder that reconciliation is possible, no matter how deep the animosities, how cruel the conflict, how many dead.

Later in the evening British and German delegates will stand together at Saint Symphorien cemetery in Mons, where fallen soldiers from both nations lie side-by-side. "The fact that the presidents of Germany and Austria are here today, and that other nations—then enemies—are here too, bears testimony to the power of reconciliation," said Britain’s Prince William. "We were enemies more than once in the last century, and today we are friends and allies. We salute those who died to give us our freedom. We will remember them."

Disney’s Perfect Answer to Barbie is Doc McStuffins

Posted: 04 Aug 2014 10:01 AM PDT

Who would have thought that Disney, the company that made its name with a parade of caucasian princesses whose waists are smaller than their eyes, would set the record for the best-selling toy line based on an African-American character–and that this particular doll also happens to be a girl who’s interested in science? But it’s true. Merchandise based on the Disney Jr. TV character “Doc McStuffins,” a young girl who plays doctor with her stuffed animals, grossed around $500 million last year.

McStuffins is a miracle not only because she’s one of the few popular black dolls on the market but because she also has inspired all sorts of young girls to don stethoscopes during playtime. In an era when toy stores are divided ever more strictly into blue aisles for boys and pink aisles for boys, most of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) toys have ended up in the blue aisle. Girls, on the other hand, are stuck with chemistry kits to create their own makeup.

This may have had an impact on girls’ desire to enter the STEM fields and on the number of female engineers in the United States. A 2009 poll of children aged 8 to 17 by the American Society for Quality found that 24% of boys say they are interested in a career in engineering while only 5% of girls are. "Wanting to be a doctor or architect or cook, that really begins when you're young and walking around with a stethoscope or playing with an Easy Bake oven," says Richard Gottlieb, CEO of toy industry consulting firm Global Toy Experts, told TIME in November. No STEM toys for girls means fewer grown-up female scientists.

As parents have begun to complain about the dearth of science toys for girls, old companies and startups alike have responded with varying degrees of success. Buoyed by a viral ad campaign, GoldieBlox, an engineering toy designed for young girls, flew off the toy shelves last Chrsistmas. The building blocks and accompanying story book starring a blonde girl named Goldie aimed to make engineering more appealing and accessible to girls raised on boy TV characters like Jimmy Neutron and Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory with off-the-charts IQs.

Meanwhile, Lego came out with a girls-only line of toys called Lego Friends after finding in 2011 that 90% of its consumers were boys and men. Seeing an untapped market, they created an entire universe called Heartlake, featuring teen girls who wear a lot of pink and work in pet salons. But thankfully one of the characters also has an invention workshop. The Danish manufacturer has also recently issued a line of female scientist Legos in response to feminist complaints about Lego Friends.

And then there’s Barbie. Despite Mattel’s renewed efforts to tell girls they can “be anything”—dress her in an astronaut suit, business attire or a bikini—Barbie still has an impossible figure, feet designed for high heels only and platinum blonde hair. Girls think about looks, not occupation, when playing with Barbie. So it’s not all that surprising that studies have found that Doctor Barbie doesn’t make girls want to be doctors: girls aged four to seven were more likely to identify ambitious occupations as “boys only” after playing with a Doctor Barbie doll for 10 minutes than they were after playing with Mrs. Potato Head for the same amount of time.

Which is why girls so desperately need toys like Doc McStuffins. The show which features not only seven-year-old Dottie McStuffins, but also her doctor mom and her stay-at-home-dad and has been endorsed by organizations like the Artemis Medical Society, which supports physicians of color. Anecdotally, McStuffins’ number one rated show among kids aged two to five is already having an effect: a recent New York Times article on the doll included interviews with little girls who are wearing lab coats to school.

It helps that McStuffins isn’t just dressing up as a doctor—like Barbie—but is actually mimicking her mom and treating her toys. You can’t be what you can’t see, which is why McStuffins’ (and Goldie Blox’s and the Lego Friends characters’) actions matter more than their outfits.

This Baptist Charity is Being Paid Hundreds of Millions to Shelter Child Migrants

Posted: 04 Aug 2014 09:47 AM PDT

In the late afternoon of July 9, Air Force One touched down at Love Field in Dallas. President Barack Obama ducked into a private room at the airport for a discussion about the crisis of undocumented children crossing the southwest border. Assembled around a wooden table were top Texas officials, including Governor Rick Perry and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, as well as the leaders of several faith-based charities. One of them was a man so anonymous the White House pool report misspelled his name.

Kevin Dinnin is the CEO of a faith-based, non-profit organization called BCFS, formerly known as Baptist Child and Family Services. This obscure charity has emerged as one of the biggest players in the federal government’s response to the influx of more than 57,000 unaccompanied children who have trudged across the southern border so far this year. It runs two of the largest facilities for temporarily housing immigrant children, as well as six permanent shelters in California and Texas. Since December, BCFS has received more than $280 million in federal grants to operate these shelters, according to government records. On July 7, two days before Dinnin met Obama in Dallas, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded BCFS $190,707,505 in a single grant.

BCFS is just one part of a sprawling system of shelters for unaccompanied children across the country. As the numbers of children entering the country balloon, so do the dollars required to care for them. To shield vulnerable kids from angry opponents of immigration and the media spotlight, the government declines to disclose the locations and activities of many of the facilities operated by BCFS and similar organizations. That protectiveness comes at a political cost. Governors in states across the U.S. have assailed the federal government for sending kids to their states without notifying local officials, and congressional critics say that massive amounts of taxpayer money are being spent without proper oversight.

A dormitory at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio where unaccompanied migrant girls are being housed. Health and Human Services Administrations—The New York Times/Redux

Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell on July 17, requesting information about BCFS contracts to ensure that taxpayer money wasn’t being misused. “Despite being almost completely dependent on the public, BCFS has faced heavy criticism for attempting to avoid public scrutiny,” the Iowa Republican wrote. “This aversion to basic transparency is extremely disturbing.”

BCFS began in 1944 as a home for orphaned children. In recent years, a sleepy San Antonio-based charity grew into a global non-profit with regional offices around the U.S., as well as in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. On contract for the federal government, it has provided temporary shelter and emergency services in the wake of natural disasters ranging from Texas hurricanes to Haitian earthquakes. When the state needed to relocate the members of a Texas polygamous sect in 2008, they turned to BCFS, which provided emergency housing. The current crisis is the largest and longest response BCFS has ever faced. They’ve deployed some 1,400 personnel to manage the temporary shelters this year.

For BCFS executives, the work can be lucrative. According to federal tax records, Dinnin received nearly $450,000 in compensation in 2012. At least four other top officials earned more than $200,000. The median salary for the CEOs of non-profit organizations like BCFS was about $285,000 in 2011, according to a 2013 survey by Charity Navigator.

The salaries, BCFS spokeswoman Krista Piferrer says, are determined by factors in the group’s contract with HHS. When disaster situations strike, a crisis pay scale replaces a regular one to account for extended 12-hour shifts in two-to-three week stints. In 2012, an influx of children at the border required an emergency response, according to Piferrer. “It is similar to making an appointment to see a primary care physician versus going to the emergency room,” she says. “The emergency room is more expensive.”

The federal grant money for sheltering unaccompanied children, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services’s Administration for Children and Families, has so far totaled $671 million during the 2014 fiscal year. BCFS has received 40% of those funds, making it the largest recipient of money disbursed to contractors to temporarily house unaccompanied children until they can be reunited with family members or placed in foster care. Dozens of other organizations are involved in the effort, including Southwest Key Programs, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

BCFS is responsible for running two of the three temporary facilities recently set up to house large numbers of undocumented children apprehended by federal agents. One is at the Department of Defense’s Joint Base Lackland, in BCFS’s home city of San Antonio. Lackland is currently housing more than 700 children and has processed more than 3,600 overall since opening in May, says Kenneth Wolfe, an HHS spokesman. Another is Oklahoma’s Fort Sill, which is currently holding about 400 children and has discharged nearly 1,500 to date. Children stay at these facilities for an average of less than 35 days while the government works to find a family member with whom to place them. Because they are temporary shelters, some journalists, faith leaders, members of Congress, and foreign dignitaries have been allowed into the facilities at Lackland and Fort Sill. Both facilities are expected to close by the end of August.

These facilities comprise just a fraction of the extensive network in place to house child migrants. The Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Unaccompanied Alien Children program (UAC) has been given custody of more than 53,000 children over the past several months. The majority have been cycled through this network of about 100 smaller, permanent facilities, scattered across 14 U.S. states.

Unlike the temporary shelters, the permanent facilities are largely inaccessible to media and the taxpayers that fund them. Their locations are not officially disclosed, and they are “generally unnamed or unmarked,” according to Wolfe. Contractors are prohibited from speaking with the media without permission, BCFS says. As a result, it’s hard to gauge the conditions under which thousands of children are being held, or to assess whether taxpayer money is being well spent.

Wolfe, the HHS spokesman, says the secrecy stems from federal policy designed to protect the children’s privacy and ensure their safety. “We don't identify the permanent facilities for the security of the children and the staff and the program,” he says. “Like any grant, we have federal staff assigned to oversight.”

A spokesperson for Southwest Key Programs, a Texas non-profit that has been awarded more than $122 million in federal grants since December to shelter unaccompanied children, making it the second-largest recipient after BCFS, said the organization was required to refer press inquiries to HHS. On a recent July afternoon, after multiple e-mails went unanswered, a TIME reporter drove to a Southwest Key facility in Phoenix. It was a colorful building ringed by tall metal bars and “No Trespassing Signs,” situated off a freeway in a part of town where most signs are in Spanish. There was no guard out front to greet visitors, and entry required punching in a code at the locked gate.

The level of secrecy surrounding the facilities is unusual, says Neil Gordon, an investigator for the Washington-based Project on Government Oversight. But observers say it may be warranted. From Arizona to Michigan, clusters of citizens have held armed protests to oppose the relocation of undocumented children to facilities in their communities. “This situation is pretty unique in that they don't want the mobs to come out and cause problems,” Gordon says. “That might be the reason they're being so tight-lipped.”

A temporary shelter for unaccompanied minors who have entered the country illegally is seen at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio on June 23, 2014. Eric Gay—AP

A string of scams have also highlighted the importance of shielding the residents’ privacy. Grifters have been preying on the relatives of unaccompanied children, promising to help reunite them with their family members for fees ranging from $300 to $6,000, according to the Associated Press. The FBI is investigating the scams, which have targeted the families of children staying at BCFS facilities like Lackland, the AP reports.

Critics in Congress say the federal government is skirting transparency obligations. On July 1, Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine, a Republican, was denied access to the BCFS facility at Fort Sill. “There is no excuse for denying a federal representative from Oklahoma access to a federal facility in Oklahoma where unaccompanied children are being held,” he said. “What are they trying to hide?” Soon after, the conservative media erupted over reports that BCFS planned to purchase a Texas hotel and turn it into a 600-bed facility for housing unaccompanied minors. (BCFS scuttled the idea, citing a backlash fed by inaccurate reporting.)

The UAC grant applications provide a glimpse of the extensive requirements to which organizations like BCFS must adhere. In addition to meeting all state and federal statutes, shelters must provide two hours per weekday of outdoor activity, offer classroom instruction on subjects like reading and science, supply counseling and personalized medical care, and grant phone calls to family members and access to visitors. The documents dictate that providers “utilize a positive, strength-based behavior management approach, and shall never subject [residents] to corporal punishment, humiliation, mental abuse, or punitive interference with the daily functions of living, such as eating or sleeping.”

Immigrant advocates say that unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. In January 2014, the National Immigrant Justice Center issued a policy brief based on interviews with hundreds of unaccompanied children in the Chicago area. The minors reported grim conditions in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security, before transfer to shelters run by contractors. According to the policy paper, 56% said they had been placed in three-point shackles, which restrain individuals at the wrists, waist and ankles. More than 70% reported being placed in unheated cells during the winter. Some said they were barely fed.

The lack of public or Congressional oversight of the facilities sheltering unaccompanied children should not be construed as concealing anything untoward, say groups that have visited them and worked with BCFS. The care at BCFS sites is extensive, Piferrer says, with the chief of the respiratory disease branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention embedded at the site to track every illness the children faced, from broken ankles to fevers to GI track infections. “You don’t find another organization like this,” Gary Ledbetter of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention says of BCFS. “It’s basically a turnkey operation.”

“There’s not one bit of care that those kids were receiving that wasn’t first class,” says Chris Liebrum of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, a Baptist network with which BCFS is affiliated. “The federal government has come to Kevin. When the government says, ‘We need thousands of kids taken care of, can you do it?’ He’s done it.”

Pope Francis and the New Values Debate

Posted: 04 Aug 2014 09:31 AM PDT

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia broke some big news recently when he announced that Pope Francis would make his first trip to the United States next September. While the Vatican has not officially confirmed the visit, it's widely expected the pope will attend a Philadelphia conference focused on families with possible stops at the United Nations and in Washington. This papal trip is shaping up to be a blockbuster worth watching for anyone who cares about the intersection of religion and politics.

A broader values debate

The Religious Right has long dominated the values debate in the United States. Evangelical and conservative Catholic leaders built a formidable alliance in the 1970s and 1980s that became a major force in electoral politics. The Catholic activist Paul Weyrich teamed up with Rev. Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority to fight liberalizing cultural trends and paved a path that helped Ronald Reagan win the White House in 1980. George W. Bush built on this model in 2000 and 2004 by operating what is often regarded as the most sophisticated religious outreach strategy in memory. His circle of Catholic advisors served as an informal kitchen cabinet during his presidency. While the old lions of the Religious Right have died or lost influence – and a new generation of progressive religious activists are finding our voice – Christian culture warriors like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and some outspoken Catholic bishops still shape a faith in politics narrative usually focused on a narrow range of sexual issues that overshadow Christianity's broad social justice claims.

Enter, Pope Francis.

His first U.S. visit will take place as jockeying for the 2016 presidential elections heats up. Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Nancy Pelosi have already invited him to address a joint session of Congress. President Obama quoted him in a speech about inequality last year. While the pope is not changing church teaching on abortion and marriage, he has warned about the perils of a church perceived as "obsessed" with a few hot-button issues, and has called for a "new balance" that focuses renewed attention on the poor. His bold moral critique of global capitalism, specific challenge to "trickle-down economics” and calls to reject an "economy of exclusion and inequality" should breath new life into our values debate at a time when most Americans, especially the Millennial generation, are weary of the culture wars. The pope's frequent appeals to respect the dignity of migrants and his description of environmental exploitation as a “sin” will surely cause heartburn for a Republican Party that has proven unwilling to act on these core moral issues.

Given that a number of Catholics may run for president – including Rep. Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Newt Gingrich – the rock-star interest in Pope Francis should help draw more attention to overlooked Catholic social teaching on living wages for workers, unions, the prudent oversight of financial markets, just tax policy and care for the environment. The Democratic Party and progressives would also do well to consider that the pope they are cheering on for his bold words on economic justice also regards abortion as part of what he calls a "throwaway culture."

"Francis Effect" on the U.S. Church?

During the three and a half decades that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI led the Catholic Church, a network of influential U.S conservatives — the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things, George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute and Robert George of Princeton University — filtered church teaching through an ideological prism that baptized the Iraq war, made an idol of unfettered markets and radically narrowed Catholic identity to a scorecard that aligned neatly with the Republican Party's agenda.

In tandem with Pope John Paul II's hardline episcopal appointments, these Catholic intellectuals and activists played a decisive role in pushing the American hierarchy to the right. While Catholic bishops once helped inspire social reforms that took root in the New Deal and challenged Reagan-era economic and military policies, these days bishops are more likely to be known for opposing the Violence Against Women Act, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, health care reform legislation that became the Affordable Care Act and breezily mentioning President Obama's administration in the same breath as Hitler and Stalin.

The bishops' religious liberty campaign, based in legitimate concerns about protecting the church's vital ministries, quickly alienated even many faithful Catholics with apocalyptic references to Christian martyrs of centuries past. In a sign of how some in the U.S hierarchy view a persecuted church under siege from all sides, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago has said that while he expects to “die in his bed," his successor would "die in prison" and his successor would likely "die a martyr in the public square." Not exactly the hopeful Christianity of mercy and joy that Pope Francis has emphasized on his way to rescuing the church from prophets of doom who only see dark clouds gathering on the horizon.

Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, who will be the first to greet Pope Francis when his plane touches down next fall, is regarded as the new intellectual leader of the culture warrior camp. While Pope Francis made headlines for saying it was not his place to judge gays and lesbians, Chaput once defended a pastor for his refusal to enroll two girls, ages 5 and 3, in a Denver Catholic school after it became known their parents were lesbians. He has blasted progressive Catholic organizations as "doing a disservice to the church," and in the 2004 presidential election emerged as one of a small cadre of bishops who argued that a candidate's position on abortion should trump all other issues for Catholic voters.

"There is no question U.S. bishops are the most difficult team Pope Francis has to work with because sociologically and culturally they are in a different place than how he understands the church," Massimo Faggioli, a Vatican analyst and theology professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, told me.

It remains to be seen whether U.S. Catholic bishops will take up Pope Francis' vision for a "church for the poor" that is "bruised, hurting and dirty" because its in the streets. The silent majority of moderate bishops uneasy with having the microphone dominated by the episcopal equivalent of the Tea Party should become more emboldened in the Francis era. San Francisco Bishop Robert McElroy offered what amounts to a roadmap back to relevance and respect for bishops when he wrote an essay in the Jesuit-edited magazine America arguing that Pope Francis' emphasis on poverty and inequality "demand a transformation of the existing Catholic political conversation in our nation."

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, now the most influential American Catholic because of his role on the pope's council of cardinals tasked with reforming church governance, could also play a key role in helping communicate more effectively that Catholic opposition to abortion should never be viewed as a single-issue theology that blesses one political party. Instead it is part and parcel of the church's respect for the sanctity of all life – the migrant, the prisoner on death row, the child in extreme poverty, the dying and the disabled. In a homily before the annual March for Life in Washington, O'Malley described poverty as a "dehumanizing force" and insisted "the Gospel of Life demands that we work for economic justice in our country and in our world." In April, when the cardinal led a delegation of bishops to the U.S.-Mexico border to bear witness to the suffering and death caused by a broken immigration system, he called comprehensive immigration reform "another pro-life issue."

Real threats to family values

Pope Francis is making his first trip to the United States to attend the World Meeting of Families, an event launched by Pope John Paul II in 1994. This is a unique opportunity to have a much better conversation about families that moves past the usual culture war flash points.

While some conservative religious leaders view civil same-sex marriage for gays and lesbians as the greatest threat to families today, the real strains keeping parents up at night are economic insecurity and the absence of effective social supports. "Family values" gets plenty of lip service from politicians on the left and right, but the United States lags behind most of the developed world when it comes to policies that help strengthen families.

The U.S. is one of only three countries to offer no paid maternity leave, according to a new report by the United Nations' International Labor Organization. Only 12 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family medical leave through their employees, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. Nearly 40 million working Americans don't even have a single paid sick day. Other nations help subsidize the cost of childcare, but here families are pretty much on their own and struggle to find and pay for quality care. Efforts to give the federal minimum wage a modest boost to $10.10 an hour are going nowhere in a Republican-controlled House filled with conservatives who proudly wave the "family values" flag.

Pope Francis understands that talk is cheap. Families need more than lofty rhetoric. Serving human dignity and the common good means putting real meat on the bones of our values. "A good Catholic meddles in politics," the pope said during one of his daily homilies.

Sounds like a call to action.

John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, an advocacy group in Washington, and a former associate director for media relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. You can follow him on Twitter at @gehringdc.

What’s This? Oh Nothing, Just a Bunch of Corgi Puppies Frolicking on a College Campus

Posted: 04 Aug 2014 09:25 AM PDT

A team of six intrepid young corgis were recruited to visit Georgia Tech to spread their unbelievable cuteness and undeniable charisma all over campus. Well, let’s just say that these little guys certainly met — nay, exceeded — those expectations.

Watch here as the pups casually take over the campus with their fluffy butts, floppy ears and big adorable puppy dog eyes. Oh, and if you’re wondering why they spend so much time hanging out in baking dishes, Jezebel got an explanation from the person who posted the video:

For some reason, they just really like sleeping in pans! … When we only had one pan out, they would all try to cram inside it!

(h/t Jezebel)

Construction Vehicle Attack Shatters Quiet in Jerusalem

Posted: 04 Aug 2014 09:20 AM PDT

Israeli authorities say a man rammed a construction excavator into a bus in Jerusalem on Monday before he was shot dead by a police officer; hours later a gunman reportedly opened fire near Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, injuring a soldier before fleeing on a motorcycle.

The attacks came amid terrorism concerns in Israel arising from the nearly month-long war in Gaza. Officials in Gaza say 1,831 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since Israel launched its offensive July 8 with the aim of eliminating the means of firing rockets from Gaza into Israel. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

The driver of the construction vehicle killed a pedestrian Monday and then overturned the bus in what police described as a “terrorist attack,” Reuters reports. There were no passengers on the bus, but the images above reveal the destructive impact of the rampage.

Assailants in Israel have used construction vehicles in the past. In 2008, a Palestinian plowed a bulldozer into a Jerusalem bus, killing three and injuring dozens of others. Weeks later, a man in a bulldozer plowed into five cars and wounded more than 2o people.

Investigators Leave Air Algérie Crash Site in Mali

Posted: 04 Aug 2014 09:11 AM PDT

(BAMAKO, Mali) — An official says international experts have wrapped up their investigation into the Air Algérie crash in northern Mali.

Didier Nourrisson, a communications adviser for the French Embassy in Bamako, said Monday that teams have left the remote site after a week-long investigation.

France says all 118 registered people onboard died when the plane crashed on July 24, but Burkina Faso puts the figure at 116, saying two passengers did not board.

Nearly half of the dead were French. The passenger list also included other Europeans, Canadians and Africans. The six crew members were Spanish.

French authorities say bad weather was likely at the crash’s origin near Burkina Faso’s border, but do not exclude other possible causes. Experts are analyzing the two black boxes of the MD-83.


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