Michael Wolff calls ex-PM ‘complete liar’ after he dismisses claims he was angling for job from Trump White HouseThe former prime minister Tony Blair and the American author Michael Wolff have accused each other of lying, as the row about Blair’s dealings with Donald Trump’s White House reignited.Wolff, whose bestselling book Fire and Fury presents a remarkable and highly negative account of Trump’s first year in office, said on Sunday that Blair was a “complete liar” in the way he dismissed claims in the book. Blair responded by saying Wolff’s stories about him were made up. Continue reading…

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/25/fire-and-fury-tony-blair-michael-wolff-trump-white-house

The Center for American Progress is inching closer to ‘Medicare for All’ – but its version leaves some gaping holesOn Thursday, the Center for American Progress (CAP), a Democratic party-affiliated think tank, launched a proposal confusingly called “Medicare Extra for All”. For proponents of a Bernie Sanders-style single-payer “Medicare for All”, this might seem like a positive development. Well, yes and no. On the one hand, “Medicare Extra” is a step to the left for CAP, suggesting that the Democratic establishment is following the lead of its galvanized base. On the other hand, this new proposal would exact sacrifices from patients to placate the insurance industry, and could serve to divert the single-payer movement, which has been rapidly gaining steam. Continue reading…

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/25/us-healthcare-reform-medicare-for-all

How migrant workers took on Ben

In Vermont, activists demanded better working conditions on dairy farms – even as the threat of deportation loomedOn a windy afternoon in March 2017, protesters singing civil rights songs circled the steps of the Vermont state capitol. It was a classic Vermont rally. There were white-haired activists; Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim clergy; young adults; and children carrying signs that said: “We All Belong Here. We Will Defend Each Other.”At the center was a small group of dairy workers from remote mountain villages in southern Mexico. They sang songs, then chanted: “¡Ni una más! Not one more deportation!” Continue reading…

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/25/ben-jerrys-migrant-workers-dairy-farms

Moran has a population under 300 and is home to the first and best-known manufacturer of the controversial device When Don Boyett was asked if he believes that bump stocks should be banned, he gestured to the moss green SUV in his driveway. “Let’s take my Ford Expedition here. Let’s say I get drunk and I run over 30 people out in the middle of the road. Are we going to sue Ford and get rid of Ford Expeditions? It’s the person behind the wheel. The same thing with a gun. To me, it’s the person behind that gun that’s at fault. It’s not the gun’s fault,” he said. Continue reading…

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/25/americas-bump-stock-capital-can-this-tiny-texas-town-survive-trumps-ban

Killer robots remain a thing of futuristic nightmare. The real threat from artificial intelligence is far more immediateAs the science fiction novelist William Gibson famously observed: “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.” I wish people would pay more attention to that adage whenever the subject of artificial intelligence (AI) comes up. Public discourse about it invariably focuses on the threat (or promise, depending on your point of view) of “superintelligent” machines, ie ones that display human-level general intelligence, even though such devices have been 20 to 50 years away ever since we first started worrying about them. The likelihood (or mirage) of such machines still remains a distant prospect, a point made by the leading AI researcher Andrew Ng, who said that he worries about superintelligence in the same way that he frets about overpopulation on Mars. Related: Growth of AI could boost cybercrime and security threats, report warns Continue reading…

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/25/artificial-intelligence-going-bad-futuristic-nightmare-real-threat-more-current

Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced yesterday that  Rachel K. Laser has been appointed its new Executive Director.  Laser has had extensive experience in non-profit advocacy, having worked for Planned Parenthood, the National Women’s Law Center, Third Way and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.  She succeeds Rev. Barry W. Lynn who retired last year after 25 years as AU’s leader. Washington Post carries an extensive article on Laser’s appointment. [Thanks to Michael Lieberman for the lead.]

Source: http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2018/02/americans-united-names-new-executive.html

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in Murphy v. Smith, (Sup. Ct., Feb. 21, 2018), in a 5-4 decision, decided on the proper interpretation of a statutory provision relating to award of attorneys’ fees in damage actions by prisoners, including actions alleging a violation of an inmate’s First Amendment free exercise rights.  At issue is the provision in 42 USC § 1997e(d) relating to the amount an inmate must contribute out of his or her recovery toward attorneys’ fees when the inmate has been awarded such fees.  The majority, in an opinion by Justice Gorsuch, held that the statutory reference to the inmate’s contribution of up to 25% of the monetary judgment toward satisfying the award does not give the trial court discretion to require less than 25%.  Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagan, dissented arguing that the statute permits the exercise of discretion in determining the percentage (up to 25%) of a judgment that must be applied toward an attorneys’ fee award.

Source: http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2018/02/supreme-court-defines-prisoner.html

Rev. Billy Graham Dies At Age 99

The New York Times chronicling his life, reports this morning:The Rev. Billy Graham, a North Carolina farmer’s son who preached to millions in stadium events he called crusades, becoming a pastor to presidents and the nation’s best-known Christian evangelist for more than 60 years, died on Wednesday at his home. He was 99.

Source: http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2018/02/rev-bill-graham-dies-at-age-99.html

A lawsuit was filed yesterday against the federal government and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops challenging discrimination against same-sex couples in administration of the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program and the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program. The complaint (full text) in Marouf v. Azar, (D DC, filed 2/20/2018), alleges that various federal agencies use taxpayer funds to finance grants to the USCCB to implement these programs based on impermissible religious criteria.  Plaintiffs, a lesbian couple, were told by Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, a sub-grantee of USCCB, that they did not qualify to become foster parents of an unaccompanied refugee child. An official of the organization told them that foster parents must

In Sikh Temple Turlock, California v. Chahal, (CA App, Feb 20, 2018), a California state appeals court upheld the trial court’s resolution of a governance dispute between two factions in a Sikh Temple.  As described by the court:Following a bench trial, the [trial] court found the election of the First Board was valid. The court further concluded the April 2013 election did not occur and that appellants took control of the Temple by usurpation. Accordingly, the trial court reinstated the First Board and ordered that a judicially supervised election take place. The court also enjoined five of the appellants from serving as officers or directors of the Temple for five years.The appeals court rejected challenges to the trial court’s decision, including a a free exercise challenge to the 5-year injunction.  The court said in part: Appellants submitted evidence that a Sikh has a general obligation to perform selfless service. However, there was no testimony that serving on the board is itself a religious act, constitutes a religious practice, or is required to satisfy the seva obligation. In fact, the evidence suggests otherwise…. Thus, appellants’ claim that the ban infringes on the free exercise of their religion has no support in the record.

Source: http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2018/02/injunction-against-serving-as-temple.html