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December 17, 2011

It's time to tax the churches

How We All Pay For the Huge Tax Privileges Granted to Religion -- It's Time to Tax the Church | | AlterNet
Not all churches or all ministers are rich, but some of them are very rich indeed. And that's no surprise, because society subsidizes them through a constellation of generous tax breaks that aren't available to any other institution, even non-profits. For example, religious organizations can opt out of Social Security and Medicare withholding. Religious employers are exempt from unemployment taxes, and in some states, from sales tax. Religious ministers -- and no other profession; the law specifies that only "ministers of the gospel" are eligible for this benefit -- can receive part of their salary as a "housing allowance" on which they pay no taxes. (Compounding the absurdity, they can then turn around and double-dip, deducting their mortgage interest from their taxes, even when their mortgage is being paid with tax-free money in the first place.) And, of course, churches are exempt from property tax and from federal income tax. We're all paying for the special privileges afforded to religion. Your taxes and mine have to be higher to make up the revenue shortfall that the government isn't taking in because these huge, wealthy churches don't pay their own way. By some estimates, the property tax exemption alone removes $100 billion in property from U.S. tax rolls. (And it's not just the big churches where that exemption bites: According to authors like Sikivu Hutchinson, the proliferation of small storefront churches is a major contributor to poverty and societal dysfunction in poor communities, since these churches remove valuable commercial property from the tax base and ensure that local governments remain cash-strapped and unable to provide basic services.) Just about the only restriction that churches have to abide by in return is that they can't endorse political candidates -- and even this trivial, easily evaded prohibition is routinely and flagrantly violated by the religious right.

Never use tap water in your Neti pot

Louisiana warns of brain-eating parasite in tap water | The Raw Story
Officials in Louisiana warned this week that a brain-eating parasite known as Naegleria fowleri might survive in some of the state’s tap water, cautioning that if residents use the common cold remedy known as a neti pot, they should thoroughly boil their water first. Neti pots work by injecting a hot water/salt solution into users’ sinuses, flushing out mucus and clearing the nasal passages. Although Naegleria fowleri is most commonly found in pond water, lakes and rivers, officials said that two people in Mississippi recently fell victim to to the amoeba, seemingly after they used tap water in their neti pots. The two male victims, both killed by their infection, were ages 20 and 51. . . . “If you are irrigating, flushing or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a Neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution,” Louisiana epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard said in a statement to reporters. “Tap water is safe for drinking but not for irrigating your nose.”

Clothes from Victoria's Secret are made using child slaves

And because of corruption, it's marked as Fair Trade. Victoria’s Secret Revealed in Child Picking Burkina Faso Cotton - Bloomberg
Clarisse Kambire’s nightmare rarely changes. It’s daytime. In a field of cotton plants that burst with purple and white flowers, a man in rags towers over her, a stick raised above his head. Then a voice booms, jerking Clarisse from her slumber and making her heart leap. “Get up!” The man ordering her awake is the same one who haunts the 13-year-old girl’s sleep: Victorien Kamboule, the farmer she labors for in a West African cotton field. Before sunrise on a November morning she rises from the faded plastic mat that serves as her mattress, barely thicker than the cover of a glossy magazine, opens the metal door of her mud hut and sets her almond-shaped eyes on the first day of this season’s harvest. (Follow her journey in videos, photos and more here.) She had been dreading it. “I’m starting to think about how he will shout at me and beat me again,” she said two days earlier. Preparing the field was even worse. Clarisse helped dig more than 500 rows with only her muscles and a hoe, substituting for the ox and the plow the farmer can’t afford. If she’s slow, Kamboule whips her with a tree branch. This harvest is Clarisse’s second. Cotton from her first went from her hands onto the trucks of a Burkina Faso program that deals in cotton certified as fair trade. The fiber from that harvest then went to factories in India and Sri Lanka, where it was fashioned into Victoria’s Secret underwear -- like the pair of zebra-print, hip-hugger panties sold for $8.50 at the lingerie retailer’s Water Tower Place store on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.