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On Heating Assistance for the Poor, Defending the Indefensible

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The effort that helps poor people pay their heating bills – the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) – was launched in the 1970s with revenue from the “excess profit tax” (ah, those were the days!) on oil companies. Now, apparently, both Republicans and the Obama Administration agree that there’s not enough money to continue funding the program at current levels.

At today’s Huffington Post, the always-reliable Sam Stein provides a wonderful account of the hemming and hawing Energy Secretary Steven Chu was forced to resort to as he defended the Administration’s proposed $2.5 billion cut in LIHEAP funding. Defending the indefensible is difficult, even for a Nobel Laureate.

LIHEAP is a rubber-meets-the-road program. It is not sexy – not like converting some old technology to “green technology.” It is not high profile; those who benefit, the nation’s lowest income people living below the poverty line, are not typically the subjects of sympathetic newspaper profiles or television news segments.

\"Limitless\"? That's what you think

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Compared to this time last year when the only film that got my attention in the first months was "Winter's Bone," I have already seen some terrific films.

"Of Gods and Men," "Win Win," "Potiche" ("Trophy Wife"), "The Adjustment Bureau" though I have issues with it, and Julian Schnabel's "Miral." Today I saw "Limitless" and I cannot stop thinking about it. It is parked in my mind.

College president pick reflects dwindling number of brothers

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A recent story in the Lower Hudson News (N.Y.) presents a good overview of the state of the religious vocation to becoming a brother:

When Iona College recently named Joseph Nyre its eighth president, the announcement represented a sharp break from tradition because Nyre is not a Christian Brother.

Iona's first seven presidents were part of the Catholic community that founded the college in 1940 and has run dozens of top schools across the country.

These days, though, there are hardly any Christian Brothers young enough to be considered for such a demanding job. In fact, the role of all Catholic brothers in the U.S. has been quietly shrinking for decades as the often misunderstood "Brotherhood" gets smaller and older.

Only about 4,700 brothers from all communities are still serving nationally, compared to 12,300 in 1965, and their average age is close to 70. The Christian Brothers are a graying microcosm of this trend.

Morning Briefing

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Facebook and faith

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Faith can come from some unusual places -- a long-time friend of mine has found a ready supply on Facebook.

Jim's youngest child is siffering from a rare disorder, the kind of malady that can leave families feeling alone in their worries, isolated by their concerns.

But Jim found social media as a way to connect -- to reach out instead of withdraw, and the faithful responses he received surprised him.

He's written about it on the Huffington Post.

Quest found 'crammed with energy, pathos, yearning, celebration'

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With Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God under attack by the U.S. bishops' doctrinal committee, it is helpful going back to look at some of its book reviews.

Regina Schulte, a retired theologian living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, wrote one for Corpus Reports, the publication of a church renewal group by the same name.

The review follows:

This book is not a “how to” shopping guide for individuals seeking a religious faith or spirituality for their personal lives. Rather, as indicated by its sub-title, it is a survey of contemporary life experiences wherein communities of people are finding God’s presence in new territories.

Our Pentagon 'treasure': The F-35

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For Lent I’ve been pursuing the theme, “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also” (Mt. 6:21). Our U.S. treasure resides, of course, in the Pentagon’s research, development, manufacture, ownership, sale and gift of weapons. This year we will spend about $700 billion at the Pentagon.

The Government Accounting Office published a list of Pentagon boondoggles -- procurement contracts that are both expensive and ineffective. It is difficult to get one’s head around that word “expensive.”

The planned F-35 fighter airplane, for example, will cost more than the GDP of Australia -- about a trillion dollars. So says Dominic Tierney in the current issue of The Atlantic magazine.

Some years ago I was at an arms briefing for contractors at a Washington, DC hotel. (In reply to my appeal, the organizers gave me a cut-rate $300 registration fee.) Among other things, I heard one speaker say that it would be a crime for our grandchildren to be flying F-15s and F-18s. We needed the F-35 -- it was a matter of justice.

US among countries with the most executions

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It's disturbing to say the least to find the U.S. in and among China, Iran, North Korea, Yeman, Somalia and Saudi Arabia for the most executions:

In the Death Sentences and Executions in 2010 report, Amnesty International officially recorded a total of 527 executions in 23 countries. Though this figure is down from at least 714 executions in 2009, the number of nations sentencing convicts to death increased by four, the Associated Press is reporting.

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