Starbucks Offers All Veteran Employees Free College For Their Spouse Or Child.

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What a gift, timed perfectly for Veterans Day: Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks has just announced that it will now extend a 100% tuition-free four-year college benefit to the spouse or child of every U.S. veteran or active military reservist employed 20 or more hours a week.

This new benefit, whose zero-tuition price point results from a 42-58 partnership between ASU and Starbucks, will be an additional benefit atop the previously-announced college benefit (also four years, 100% tuition free) that Starbucks extends to every employee who works 20 hours per week or more, which is offered through the online campus of Arizona State University (ASU), an accredited (and generally well-respected) institution, in an approach that has been lauded by the leadership of the U.S. Department of Education.

Starbucks will also now be paying for up to 80 hours per year for service obligations of employees who are active duty or reservists in the U.S. Armed Forces or National Guard.

Starbucks: Air Force Spouse Apron • Credit: Starbucks Coffee

Starbucks: Air Force Spouse Apron • Credit: Starbucks Coffee

At the same time, Starbucks also announced a variety of other benefits, support, and milestones related to the employment of U.S. veterans, active military reservists and military spouses.

These include two achievement milestones in its provision of services for veterans and their families:

• Starbucks announced that it has already succeeded in hiring more than 5,500 veterans and military spouses, fulfilling more than 50% of the commitment made just two years ago to employ at least 10,000 vets and their spouses by 2018. In order to achieve this, Starbucks has invested in several specific strategies: It hired four dedicated military recruiters in key focus cities across the country including Seattle, D.C. and Austin, established more than 80 connections with military bases, installation transition and educational offices across the country and overseas, attended more than 200 military hiring fairs across the nation that recruit veterans and military spouses, and expanded their employee affinity group, the Starbucks Armed Forces Network, from one to 12 regional chapters. (Starbucks Armed Forces Network is intended to connect veterans and create mentorships across the company to ease transition from military to civilian life.)

• The company has extended its ambitious Military Family Stores commitment with plans to reach 30 Military Family Stores near U.S. military bases in 2016. Starbucks’ Military Family Stores are run by veterans and military spouses and partner with service and community organizations like Blue Star Families, Team Red, White and Blue, The Mission Continues, USO and others to offer transition services and build connections between military and civilian communities.

Source: http://onforb.es/1PFOu72

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Research shows children from religious homes are less generous than non-religious children.

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An argument often advanced for the encouragement of religion is that, to paraphrase St Matthew’s report of Jesus’s words, it leads people to love their neighbours as themselves. That would be a powerful point were it true. But is it? This was the question Jean Decety, a developmental neuroscientist at the University of Chicago, asked in a study just published in Current Biology.

Dr Decety is not the first to wonder, in a scientific way, about the connection between religion and altruism. He is, though, one of the first to do it without recourse to that standard but peculiar laboratory animal beloved of psychologists, the undergraduate student. Instead, he collaborated with researchers in Canada, China, Jordan, South Africa and Turkey, as well as with fellow Americans, to look at children aged between five and 12 and their families.

Altogether, Dr Decety and his colleagues recruited 1,170 families for their project, and focused on one child per family. Five hundred and ten of their volunteer families described themselves as Muslim, 280 as Christian, 29 as Jewish, 18 as Buddhist and 5 as Hindu. A further 323 said they were non-religious, 3 were agnostic and 2 ticked the box marked “other”.

Follow-up questions to the faithful among the sample then asked how often they engaged in religious activities, and also about spirituality in the home. That let Dr Decety calculate how religious each family was. He found that about half the children in religious households came from highly observant homes; the spiritual lives of the other half were more relaxed. He then arranged for the children to play a version of what is known to psychologists as the dictator game—an activity they use to measure altruism.

In truth, the dictator game is not much of a game, since only one of the participants actually plays it. In Dr Decety’s version, each child was presented with a collection of 30 attractive stickers and told that he or she could keep ten of them. Once a child had made his selection, the experimenter told him that there was not time to play the game with all the children at the school, but that he could, if he wished, give away some of his ten stickers to a random schoolmate who would not otherwise be able to take part. The child was then given a few minutes to decide whether he wanted to give up some of his stickers—and, if so, how many. The researchers used the number of stickers surrendered as a measure of altruism.

The upshot was that the children of non-believers were significantly more generous than those of believers. They gave away an average of 4.1 stickers. Children from a religious background gave away 3.3. And a further analysis of the two largest religious groups (Jews, Buddhists and Hindus were excluded because of their small numbers in the sample), showed no statistical difference between them. Muslim children gave away 3.2 stickers on average, while Christian children gave away 3.3. Moreover, a regression analysis on these groups of children showed that their generosity was inversely correlated with their households’ religiosity. This effect remained regardless of a family’s wealth and status (rich children were more generous than poor ones), a child’s age (older children were more generous than younger ones) or the nationality of the participant. These findings are, however, in marked contrast to parents’ assessments of their own children’s sensitivity to injustice. When asked, religious parents reported their children to be more sensitive than non-believing parents did.

This is only one result, of course. It would need to be replicated before strong conclusions could be drawn. But it is suggestive. And what it suggests is not only that what is preached by religion is not always what is practised, which would not be a surprise, but that in some unknown way the preaching makes things worse.

Source: http://econ.st/1kFkwo0

Buddhism loses ground in Japan – Over 27,000 temples will close in the next 25 years.

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More than one in three temples are expected to close over the next 25 years as religion faces an ‘existential crisis’

Perched on a hilltop and surrounded by mountain forests ablaze in autumn reds and yellows, Kaigenji is a picture postcard image of old Japan. The stone steps leading to the entrance of the 300-year-old Zen Buddhist temple take visitors past a lovingly tended landscape of rocks, trees and pale gravel raked into swirls to symbolise water.

Inside, the head priest, Bunkei Shibata, is in a contemplative mood. But it is not the path to enlightenment that occupies his thoughts. Instead, he is pondering the future of his, and tens of thousands of other Buddhist temples across Japan.

Over the next 25 years, 27,000 of the country’s 77,000 temples are expected to close, in one of the biggest existential crises facing Japanese Buddhism since it was introduced from Korea in the sixth century.
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Its decline mirrors that of hundreds of small communities that have traditionally helped finance their local temple. In a report released last year, the Japan Policy Council warned that if the exodus, particularly among young women, from rural areas continues at the current rate, almost half of Japan’s municipalities will disappear by 2040, along with their places of religious worship.

With no parishioners left to pay for their upkeep, temples will have no choice but to close their doors for good, according to Hidenori Ukai, a journalist and depute head priest of Shogakuji temple in Kyoto.

“The popular image of Buddhist priests as wealthy might still be true in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, but it’s not the case elsewhere,” said Ukai, author of Vanishing Temples: the Loss of Rural Areas and Religion.

“At my temple, we have about 120 local patrons, but you need at least 200 to make a living,” added Ukai, who, like many priests, decided to pursue a second career.

Not even Japan’s busy funeral industry appears able to come to Buddhism’s rescue. While almost 1.3 million Japanese died last year, few relatives can afford the millions of yen it costs to hold a traditional Buddhist funeral. More are opting for cheaper, secular ceremonies, while priests say they feel duty-bound to drastically lower costs to give deceased parishioners a fitting sendoff.

“Japanese Buddhism has gone on a strange direction,” said Shibata, a retired businessman who traces his interest in Zen Buddhism to early-morning meditation sessions as a child. “These days most people associate it with funerals, but there is much more to it than that.”

Some priests are attempting to reverse the decline and challenge the “funeral Buddhism” image by opening temple cafes, supporting volunteer activities and hosting music and theatre productions. In Tokyo, priests at Vowz Bar dispense spiritual guidance along with alcohol, to their young clientele.

The crisis facing Japanese Buddhism isn’t a simple matter of demographics. In the early 1700s, Japan’s population stood at around 30 million – almost 100 million fewer than today – yet there were 46,000 temples. Surveys show that an increasing number of Japanese regard organised religion as inaccessible, cheerless and – since the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult – even dangerous.

“In this kind of environment, new membership recruitment will remain difficult,” said Mark Mullins, a professor of Japanese studies at the University of Auckland. “There may be some winners in the shrinking religious market, but it seems likely that most religious organisations will be struggling to maintain their institutions and activities as the number of active clergy and members continues to decline.”
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That goes as much for priests as for followers. More than 12,000 Japanese temples have no resident priest, according to a recent survey by the Asahi Shimbun, as the pool of young people interested in the priesthood continues to dwindle.

Shibata, who trained with the Rinzai-Myoshinji sect before being sent to Nagano prefecture, says Buddhism must start dismantling the wall it has built around itself, before it is too late.

For Japanese Buddhism to survive another 1,500 years, he believes 50 percent of priests should be appointed from outside the traditional family succession route, although he concedes that “there is resistance” to the idea among traditionalists.

Undaunted, Shibata is trying to turn Japan’s skewed demographics to the religion’s advantage by reaching out to retirees who want to fill their twilight years with more than rounds of golf and trips to hot springs.

“Years ago people reckoned they had about 10 years left after retirement, so they would just try to enjoy themselves,” said the 80-year-old, who trained as a priest after his retirement in 2006. “But people are living much longer now, and they want to do something more meaningful with their time after they retire.

“Older people have a wealth of life experiences and that makes them ideal material for the priesthood. And, let’s be honest, the older you get, the more you think about your own mortality, and the more open you are to religious ideas.”

Of the 47 people, including a small number of women, who have completed his course for retirees, 23 have gone on to train as priests, and seven are now running their own temples.
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“Society is changing at a rapid rate, but the Buddhist world has missed out on that because its connection with ordinary people is focused on funerals and memorials for the dead,” Shibata said.

Funerals aside, the modern priest, he insists, must act as a mentor and counselor and, crucially, to spread Buddhist teachings to a skeptical public.

He points to the community role Buddhism played in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake, when temples opened their doors to survivors, and priest and monks walked the length of the disaster zone offering spiritual advice and comfort.

“That’s exactly what they should be doing. When people are going through difficult times in their lives, it is our responsibility to help them.”

Source: http://bit.ly1LYkxg6/

Largest Jewish group in America changes rules to embrace transgender people.

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The biggest Jewish movement in North America has endorsed a policy to embrace transgender people and to campaign against discrimination in a move hailed as a historic step.

The biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism, meeting in Orlando, Florida, overwhelmingly backed a motion on Thursday detailing specific steps to be taken by synagogues and congregations. They include the adoption of gender-neutral language and the provision of gender-neutral restrooms, as well as training and education.

The new policy was in keeping with the welcome Reform Judaism had offered to lesbian and gay congregants for decades, she added.

Catherine Bell of Keshet, a grassroots LGBT Jewish campaign group, said: “We applaud this historic resolution.” It was a far-reaching statement from the largest Jewish denomination in North America, she added.

Around 1.5 million Jews in North America are affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. Unusually, delegates to the conference gave a standing ovation to the approval of the motion.

The motion said: “North American culture and society have, in general, become increasingly accepting of people who are gay, lesbian and bisexual – yet too often transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are forced to live as second-class citizens.”

Transgender people face legal and cultural bigotry, hate crimes and harassment, and discrimination in employment, healthcare and housing, it said.

Reform Judaism congregations should advocate for the rights of transgender people, it said. But congregations should also create inclusive and welcoming communities by training staff, organising education programmes, delivering sermons on gender identity, reviewing use of language in prayers, forms and policies, and providing gender-neutral facilities.

The use of gendered titles and honorifics, such as “Mr”, “Mrs” and “Ms” should be avoided, and congregants should be asked in private for their preferred pronouns. Children should be grouped not according to gender, but by birth months or seasons. Synagogues should invite transgender speakers to address congregations.

The move was also welcomed by Jewish LGBT campaigners in the UK. “This is a step beyond what we’ve seen in UK Judaism, because it’s not only supportive but has concrete action points,” said Maxwell Zachs of Queer and Transgender Jews UK.

Reform Judaism in the UK was more conservative than its American counterpart and, although it was supportive of transgender people, “practical changes will be more difficult”, said Zachs.

In the US, Conservative Jewish movements were lagging behind Reform Judaism, said Bell. “Every denomination has its own pace and distinctive characteristics. My hope is that the conservative movement will follow on the heels of this, but it might not happen overnight. But they are moving on this trajectory.”

According to the US Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBT rights, other faiths and denominations have adopted transgender anti-discrimination policies, but none as far-reaching as the Union of Reform Judaism. They include the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.

Source: http://bit.ly/1WEqwJR

ISIS closes women’s clinics to prevent male gynecologists treating female patients.

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Isis is believed to have ordered the closure of all women’s clinics supervised by male doctors in its Syrian heartlands in its latest assault on the rights of women.

A culture of rape, forced marriages for child brides, the persecution of doctors and the exclusive use of medicines for militants have resulted in a crisis for women’s health under Isis’s brutal regime.

According to activists, Isis has drastically restricted the work of male gynaecologists in accordance with its leaders’ belief that men and women should be kept apart at all costs.

Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, the rights group which this year won the CPJ International Press Freedom Award, has reported threats and harassment towards doctors in the city on Wednesday night.

“A lot of doctors have [already] left, especially gynaecologists who were barred from practising their work and [threatened] with death,” said Abu Mohammed, the group’s founder.

Sources told another activist network, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that all women’s clinics in Raqqa state overseen by men had been shut down. Gynaecologists working in the province’s larger hospitals had their involvement in operations “confined”.

The Observatory, a London-based network of activists, said it had previously reported on the closure of women’s clinics in smaller provinces held by Isis.

“People expressed their resentment over these steps taken by [Isis] regarding health and medical staff in the city, which already suffers from the lack of female medical staff engaged in these tasks,” it said in a statement.

Source: http://ind.pn/1MeaMvG

Buddhist monks in Burma are helping the government enact anti-Muslim laws.

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A powerful Buddhist ultranationalist group is helping Burma’s ruling party win votes in next Sunday’s election after the government pushed through laws seen as anti-Muslim, the co-founder of the group told Reuters.

Known by its Burmese initials Ma Ba Tha, the Buddhist nationalist group is not running a single candidate in the Nov. 8 election—monks are barred by law from running for office. Yet it has been in the forefront of campaigning and could influence the shape of Burma’s first popularly elected government in more than half a century.

For the first time, a Ma Ba Tha co-founder, a monk named Parmaukkha, disclosed some of the details about closed-door discussions between the group and the government on securing the passage of the bills.

The laws require citizens to seek government approval to convert to a different religion, force some women to have children at least three years apart and set punishments for having more than one spouse. An overwhelming majority of Burmese citizens are Buddhist.

The new laws discriminate against Muslims and women and could stoke religious tensions, human rights groups say.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) used its parliamentary majority to push through the laws in the belief that “Ma Ba Tha would help them get votes in the election,” said Parmaukkha, who helped found the group in 2013. “They know we are a strong organization.”

Tha Win, a USDP lawmaker and senior party official in Rangoon, denied any connections with Ma Ba Tha. “We’re just engaged in politics. Our party’s rules don’t allow us to carry out religious affairs.”

Parmaukkha’s description of Ma Ba Tha’s role was also challenged by the group’s spokesman, Thurain Soe, who said his organization was grateful for the USDP’s help in enacting the laws, but was not supporting any party.

“We needed our religious four bills. Who could we ask? We needed to ask this government. This is a very normal process,” Thurain Soe said through a translator. “We thank the president and the Parliament. But it’s just ‘thank you,’ not supporting [the USDP in the election].”

Reform Referendum

The general election is the first since a quasi-civilian government replaced military rule in 2011, and is widely regarded as a referendum on Burma’s reform process.

Ma Ba Tha’s influence in Buddhist-majority Burma might prove crucial in the election campaign, especially in rural areas where monastic authority is unquestioned, election analysts said.

Its influence might sway enough votes from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to deny the opposition party an all-important parliamentary majority, and save the USDP—created by the powerful military and chaired by President Thein Sein—from an embarrassing electoral debacle.

Fearful of potential Ma Ba Tha intimidation, the NLD decided not to field any Muslim candidates on Nov. 8, two senior NLD leaders told Reuters.

In recent years, religious violence in Burma has killed hundreds of people, mostly Muslims.

Formally known in English as the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, Ma Ba Tha grew out of the “969” movement, also led by monks, which called for a ban on interfaith marriages and a boycott of Muslim businesses.

Ma Ba Tha began cooperating closely with the government and the USDP in a series of meetings about the race and religion laws in 2014 and 2015, Parmaukkha said.

One meeting in the capital Naypyidaw in May 2014 was attended by officials from the ministries of religion, immigration and home affairs, as well as presidential advisors, he said.

Three other leading Ma Ba Tha monks confirmed to Reuters that they had attended the May meeting to discuss the bills with the government task force.

Members of the governmental team, including Soe Win, Burma’s minister of religious affairs, did not respond to requests for comment regarding the government’s contacts with Ma Ba Tha.

The closed-door meeting has not been publicly disclosed before.

Gloomy Party Assessment

At another meeting in March 2015, a USDP official, who was also a director general in a government ministry, assured Ma Ba Tha the government would approve the race and religion laws, Parmaukkha said. Parmaukkha declined to identify the official and Reuters was unable to independently verify this account.

This was just weeks after an internal USDP survey, which Reuters reviewed, had suggested the NLD would trounce the ruling party at the polls.

Two months later, Thein Sein signed the first of the four bills into law. The remaining three were enacted less than three weeks before the election campaign officially began.

Ma Ba Tha spokesman Thurain Soe denied leaders of his group had met government officials on the race and religion bills in 2014 and 2015.

Zaw Htay, a senior official from the President’s Office, said it was a monk-led petition drive that gave the initial impetus to the laws. The campaign gathered more than 2 million signatures calling for enacting laws protecting race and religion and the President’s Office drafted the laws in response to that petition, Zaw Htay said.

“It’s very hard to separate Buddhist monks from politics in this country,” he said, citing their role in Burma’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule, as well as pro-democracy protests in more recent years.

Scorn for Suu Kyi

Ma Ba Tha’s leadership has openly expressed support for the USDP and scorn for Suu Kyi.

Wirathu, 47, one of the most prominent of the Ma Ba Tha monks, endorsed Thein Sein in an interview, saying his administration “opened doors and worked step-by-step for peace and development.” He poured scorn on Suu Kyi and her party, saying: “NLD people are so full of themselves. They don’t have a high chance of winning in elections.”

Another monk who helped found Ma Ba Tha, Vimalabuddhi, said that since most of the USDP leaders are from the military they understood the situation in the country better than the NLD who were “politicians and civilians.”

“They don’t really understand our situation,” he said.

Asked about these criticisms from Ma Ba Tha, senior NLD leader Win Htein told Reuters: “According to the teachings of Buddha, monks shouldn’t get involved in political affairs. They should be neutral.”

He said Ma Ba Tha has targeted the NLD from the start for not being supportive of their race and religion laws and being more sympathetic to Muslims. “That’s why we decided not to field any Muslim candidates, for fear of antagonizing Ma Ba Tha, losing votes and failing to win a parliamentary majority.

“It has caused some very hard soul-searching,” he said.

Source: http://bit.ly/1WvZAfi

Doctor debunks AA’s “higher power” themed 12-step recovery with facts and science.

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Since its founding in the 1930s, Alcoholics Anonymous has become part of the fabric of American society. AA and the many 12-step groups it inspired have become the country’s go-to solution for addiction in all of its forms. These recovery programs are mandated by drug courts, prescribed by doctors and widely praised by reformed addicts.

Dr. Lance Dodes sees a big problem with that. The psychiatrist has spent more than 20 years studying and treating addiction. His latest book on the subject is The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry.

Dodes tells NPR’s Arun Rath that 12-step recovery simply doesn’t work, despite anecdotes about success.

“We hear from the people who do well; we don’t hear from the people who don’t do well,” he says.

There is a large body of evidence now looking at AA success rate, and the success rate of AA is between 5 and 10 percent. Most people don’t seem to know that because it’s not widely publicized. … There are some studies that have claimed to show scientifically that AA is useful. These studies are riddled with scientific errors and they say no more than what we knew to begin with, which is that AA has probably the worst success rate in all of medicine.

It’s not only that AA has a 5 to 10 percent success rate; if it was successful and was neutral the rest of the time, we’d say OK. But it’s harmful to the 90 percent who don’t do well. And it’s harmful for several important reasons. One of them is that everyone believes that AA is the right treatment. AA is never wrong, according to AA. If you fail in AA, it’s you that’s failed.

On why 12-step programs can work

The reason that the 5 to 10 percent do well in AA actually doesn’t have to do with the 12 steps themselves; it has to do with the camaraderie. It’s a supportive organization with people who are on the whole kind to you, and it gives you a structure. Some people can make a lot of use of that. And to its credit, AA describes itself as a brotherhood rather than a treatment.

Lance Dodes is also the author of Breaking Addiction and The Heart of Addiction. i

Lance Dodes is also the author of Breaking Addiction and The Heart of Addiction.

Zachary Dodes/Courtesy of Beacon Press

So as you can imagine, a few people given that kind of setting are able to change their behavior at least temporarily, maybe permanently. But most people can’t deal with their addiction, which is deeply driven, by just being in a brotherhood.

On a psychological approach to addiction

When people are confronted with a feeling of being trapped, of being overwhelmingly helpless, they have to do something. It isn’t necessarily the “something” that actually deals with the problem. … Why addiction, though — why drink? Well, that’s the “something” that they do. In psychology we call it a displacement; you could call it a substitute …

When people can understand their addiction and what drives it, not only are they able to manage it but they can predict the next time the addictive urge will come up, because they know the kind of things that will make them feel overwhelmingly helpless. Given that forewarning, they can manage it much better.

But unlike AA, I would never claim that what I’ve suggested is right for everybody. But … let’s say I had nothing better to offer: It wouldn’t matter — we still need to change the system as it is because we are harming 90 percent of the people.

Source: http://n.pr/ZL2WnL