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Obama's Choice

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Whether the Massachusetts vote amounted to a voter veto of health care reform is immaterial. It is being perceived as such. Even Congressman Barney Frank, whom I suspect could have held the Senate seat for the Democrats, has said that the results require Democrats to recalibrate their strategy, despite the fact that the President’s approval ratings remain high among those who voted yesterday.

So, the White House and the Congressional leaders have a choice. Either the get the House to pass the Senate bill “as is” and try to adjust its difficulties through the reconciliation process in the spring, or they start from scratch. Neither option is great.

Army spouses battle with their mental health

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This is an important story with broad implications. More needs to be done to shore up our military families' mental health. The sooner, the better.

Scientists have studied troops coming back from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and found high levels of mental health problems. Now, researchers are starting to look more at the families of those fighters.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that Army wives report a lot of stress when their husbands are sent to Afghanistan and Iraq. And the longer the deployment, the more likely the wife is to experience depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping and other mental health problems.

The environmental roots of the Haiti tragedy

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The following is from Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope's blog Taking the Initiative:

Washington, DC -- The world is still reeling from the magnitude of the disaster in Haiti. Many Sierra Club members and staffers, particularly from our Florida and Puerto Rico Chapters, are close to members of the Haitian expatriate community. All of us want to help the people experiencing this almost unimaginable human catastrophe however we can.

Seeing the terrible images of suffering from Port-au-Prince, our grief forces us to ask ourselves "Was such a disaster truly inevitable?" Of course we cannot control -- or even truly predict -- earthquakes. But in some places earthquakes kill tens of thousands, while in others there are only a handful of casualties. Why? I see two closely related factors that make a difference: forests and poverty.

Letter from Haiti

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In a letter written Jan. 15, two days after the Haitian earthquake, Lasallian Bernard Collignon described the "horror" he was witnessing in and among the communities in Port-au-Prince. (The following is a rough translation of that letter. The original French letter is below.)

Dear friends,

I just returned from a walk in downtown Port au Prince. What I have seen is unimaginable: thousands of people wandering the streets going nowhere carrying small bundles with their possessions. Decomposing corpses everywhere, single or in heaps. Now they are covered but they are still seen in the wreckage just off any road. This afternoon I saw something unbearable: a dumpster full of rotting corpses. I say a dumpster. Unbearable! The smell of decaying corpses is very strong.

Epidemics are certainly coming. People have transformed all public places into campgrounds. Some have small canvas shelters. Others have nothing.

How will world end? Hollywood says 'take your pick'

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Hollywood has always had a taste for disaster -- each generation of these films tells us something new about the way we fear our world will end. This year, it seems, random threats that annihilate everything are all the fashion. And they may indeed reflect a dark corner of our national psyche.

This weekend's box office saw Denzel Washington's new apocalyptic movie, "The Book of Eli," finish a strong second (with $38 million in tickets sold), behind sci-fi juggernaut "Avatar." That follows on the heels of two similarly-themed films this season, "The Road" (from the beyond-bleak Cormac McCarthy novel) and "2012," which plays global destruction as wide-screen spectacle. They all speak to our times in common ways.

Jan. 20, Blessed Basil Moreau, Holy Cross founder

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Today is the feast of Blessed Basil Anthony Mary Moreau, 1799-1873, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Please click here for information about the 2007 edition of Gary MacEoin's 1962 biography of Fr. Moreau, and for a link to a clip of Fr. Jim Gallagher's appearance on WNDU Sunday Morning, in which he talks about the founder and about the events this week at Notre Dame to celebrate the feast.

Amazon provides a Look Inside feature for MacEoin's book, Basil Moreau: Founder of Holy Cross. For examples of the sufferings Moreau endured, read about his relationships with Bishop Jean-Baptiste Bouvier and others in the hierarchy; about the financial shenanigans of Br. Marie Julien and others in the congregation; and about the bitter conflicts with Fr. Edward Sorin and others at Notre Dame and at St. Mary's. The constant turmoil finally led to Fr. Moreau's resignation from his position as superior general.

Gay bashing at Notre Dame

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As an alum and former writer for the student newspaper, I'm embarrassed to report that the Notre Dame Observer recently published an anti-gay cartoon, for which the editors have since apologized.

The Jan. 13 cartoon, "Mobile Party," depicted a conversation between two figures, in which the first one asks, "What's the easiest way to turn a fruit into a vegetable?" The second responds, "No idea." The punchline, in the third panel, is "A baseball bat."

According to the cartoonists' blog (since removed), the newspaper's editors changed the original punchline, which said "AIDS."

The cartoon evoked a strong reaction from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), alumni and some students. Two days later, the editors issued an apology and dropped the cartoon, and the managing editor resigned. Some are calling for the cartoonists and editors to be expelled.

NCR featured Haitian women's group decimated by quake

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I Just received this email from Beverly Bell, author of the NCR series, "Women: Birthing justice, birthing hope," which you have been seeing in the paper and on the web these past weeks.

You might recall that one of the women's profiles we published in December featured Hatian activist, Helia Lejeunesse, who has dedicated her life to fighting modern slavery.

Here is what Bell wrote me:

Greetings, Tom. I just learned that Helia Lajeunesse is alive, though the conditions on which she and other members of her anti-slavery group are living are very precarious. I have a note from her colleague in Commission of Women Victim-to-Victim. I wonder if you would want to update your readers who care about her through her beautiful words? I'm taking the liberty of sending it on, here:

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April 11-24, 2014

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