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In Spain, Portugal, attention to Washington style, not substance

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Thomas Patrick Melady, Senior Diplomat in Residence at The Institute of World Politics and former U.S. Ambassador to Burundi, Uganda and the Vatican, was vacationing in Spain and Portugal in recent weeks during the debates in Washington on the U.S. debt. An occasional NCR contributor, Melady sent the following reflection:

While vacationing in Spain and Portugal in July and August, it was interesting to observe the reactions of local people to the public discussion among US leaders on the recent budget—debt ceiling deliberations. Modern instant communications make it possible for the people in Spain, Portugal and other parts of the world to follow how the world’s super power resolves such very critical issues.

Peace activist Jackie Hudson dies at age 76

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Dominican Sister Jackie Hudson, who dedicated her life to the pursuit of peace, died Aug. 3. She was 76. For the past 20 years she worked with Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in Poulsbo, WA in the pursuit of the abolition of Trident as well as a world free of the threat of nuclear weapons.

Updates and reflections are being posted at the Disarm Now Plowshares blog.

Bourgeois facing expulsion from Maryknoll

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Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois has received a “second canonical warning” and faces expulsion from his U.S.-based mission society if he continues publicly advocating for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic church.

In a July 27 letter, Maryknoll Superior General Fr. Edward M. Dougherty, repeated an earlier warning that Bourgeois faced dismissal if he “continued your campaign in favor of women priests and failed to recant publicly your position on the matter.”

Reversing forty year trend, U.S. prison populations in a decline

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As you might know, the United States sadly is the world's leader in incarceration with 2.3 million people currently in the nation's prisons or jails. Think of that number for a few seconds before continuing.

This is a 500 percent increase in the past thirty years, according to the advocacy group, The Sentencing Project, a national organization that works for a more fair and effective criminal justice system.

These long term trends have resulted in prison overcrowding with state governments being overwhelmed by the burden of funding for this expanding penal system.

But wait.

Debt debate: dogmatism and principles

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Like most Americans, I found the whole prolonged squabbling about raising the debt limit frustrating and troubling.

We, indeed, have a dysfunctional federal government that is mired in partisan politics mostly, in my opinion, on the Republican side. The Tea Party Republicans were willing to possibly bring even more economic pain to the country and especially to the middle-class and working-class people simply out of their dogmatic position on shrinking the federal government, even though by doing it would severely impact those who need federal assistance such as the unemployed, the elderly, the sick, students, etc.

The corporate and Wall Street Republicans such as Speaker John Boehner, in turn, dogmatically refuse to consider taxing the extremely wealthy in order to have them pay their fair share of federal expenditures.

Such dug-in positions result in deadlock and in so-called compromises that are anything but balanced as President Obama calls for, although obviously he didn’t get it and didn’t seem willing to fight for it.

Rwanda: Kabgayi diocese, Hotel Splendid best taxpayers in Muhanga

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"Rwanda: Kabgayi diocese, Hotel Splendid best taxpayers in Muhanga"

The headline caught my eye, as did the story from Rwanda’s daily paper, The News Times:

An official from the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) has commended tax payers in Nyamabuye Sector, Muhanga District for meeting their tax obligations on time.

Pélagie Uwimbabazi, said timely clearance of tax dues is vital for national development as well as self reliance.Uwibabazi was officiating at the Taxpayer's Day held at Muhanga stadium last Friday.

Kabgayi Diocese and Hotel Splendid were awarded certificates of appreciation as outstanding taxpayers in the area.

"It is evident that the residents know the value of paying taxes. These taxes are important in supporting the national budget so as to afford good infrastructure, health and education facilities," Uwimbabazi said.

Bevilacqua ordered to appear in court

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Philadelphia media are reporting that Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua has been ordered to appear at a Sept. 12 hearing so a judge can determine if he is competent to testify in the conspiracy and child-endangerment trial of Msgr. William J. Lynn.

Lynn, 60, had served as Bevilacqua's secretary for clergy for nearly 12 years, during which time he recommended priests' assignments. He is charged with two felony counts of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children in connection with the alleged sexual assaults of two boys by three priests in 1990s. Those men will be tried with Lynn.

More info:

What seems to be random

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The markets are rattled. Investors are nervous. Uncertainty pervades. To find comfort and answers, there are two ways to go: the poetry of the ancients or Matthew's Gospel.

A common thread among people who don't believe in God (or are just unsure) is that fear of death spawned belief in a higher power that would deliver us an afterlife. But I don't think death is the thing here -- it seems to me that we really fear randomness. If we all knew that we would live to a fine old age and die peacefully in our sleep, death would have no sting. But, in fact, children die, and young parents, and good people who have done no harm. Even more lose limbs, suffer mental incapacity, and face countless challenges that appear frighteningly random. Coping, it seems, is a central force in life.

In The New Yorker, writer Stephen Greenblatt looks at death and uncertainty through the eyes of the ancient Roman poet Lucretius. His 2000-year-old essay-in-verse, called "On The Nature of Things," helped spark the shift in Renaissance thinking when it was re-discovered in an Italian monastery library in 1417.

Lucretius was an advocate of randomness; life, he said, had no meaning or plan, so worrying about it was simply ludicrous. His advice: embrace the day, because that is all we have; every moment spent focused on anxiety about a future over which we have no control is a moment we can never get back. Lucretius was no atheist; he just believed that the gods of ancient Rome and Greece were too high and mighty to much care about the daily goings-on of humans scurrying about on the crust of the Earth. But, as Greenblatt writes, that outlook was taken up by later philosophers who used it to challenge the existence of Heaven, Hell and God.

Scenes from Nagasaki's prayer for atomic victims

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NAGASAKI -- With a prayer gathering bringing members of various traditions together, the city here today marked tomorrow's solemn anniversary of its Aug. 9, 1945, atomic bombing with a decided balance of serenity and fun.

After a symbolic offering of water to the victims of the blast, many of whom cried out for one last drink before passing away, a member of each religion gathered -- Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto -- offered a prayer for peace: Catholic Archbishop Joseph Takami blessed the crowd. A Muslim Imam performed an incredible dance, spinning in circles over and over as a representation of the force of global peace efforts.

And, the final message? A prayer from second-grade schoolchildren, who asked the world to simply smile.

From their prayer: "First of all, let's smile together. The power of smiling is a strength. Smiling spreads happiness widely. Let's, all of us, both adults and children, smile and work together to protect human life."

Below are more photos of some scenes from the event, along with short captions.

Sen. Mark Hatfield: How politics once was

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Mark Hatfield, former U.S. Senator and once governor of Oregon, died Sunday at age 89. Hatfield, a Republican, was an exemplar of the kind of political courage and thoughtful statesmanship that is so sorely lacking today.

He was, in his own description, a "rebel Republican" who would vote across party lines. He served in the Senate from 1967-1997. Of particular interest today would be his vote against a balanced budget amendment, which failed by a single vote in the Senate.

Striking, too, in this anniversary month of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, are his thoughts on preparations for war. From a piece posted on Huffington Post:

One of the first American servicemen to enter Hiroshima following the atomic bombing, he once said one of his major accomplishments was helping usher through Congress a ban on U.S. nuclear weapons testing in 1987.

"Every president other than Eisenhower has been seduced by the military concept that that is our sole measurement of our national security and the more bombs we build, the more secure we are," Hatfield said a decade later.

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