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Randy Johnson (r.) and Luke Barlowe, who were among the plaintiffs who sued Kentucky over an anti-gay marriage law, answer questions in Louisville, Ky., last month after the law was struck down. (Timothy D. Easley/AP/File)

Kentucky AG won't defend anti-gay marriage bill, but governor will (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.04.14

Just moments after Kentucky’s attorney general said he would not appeal a federal judge's order that the state must recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages, the state’s governor announced plans to go forward with the appeal, regardless.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway (D) said on Tuesday that Judge John Heyburn “got it right” last month in striking down states legislation that had barred state recognition of same-sex couples wed in states where gay marriage is legal. He said that he would no longer defend the state’s ban in any further legal action on the issue.

“The United States Constitution is designed to protect everyone's rights, both the majority and the minority groups," Mr. Conway told reporters, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. “In the final analysis, I had to make a decision that I could be proud of – for me now, and my daughters' judgment in the future."

But, just minutes later, Gov. Steve Beshear (D) issued a written statement that he would pursue an appeal anyway, hiring outside attorneys to bring the case before the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

The unfolding political scene in the bluegrass state – pitting governor against attorney general over gay marriage – has become a familiar one in recent months, as attorney generals begin to leverage their powers to fight back against their states’ anti-gay marriage legislation.

Last month, in an essentially unprecedented statement, US Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. announced that state attorneys general have no obligation to defend laws that they find discriminatory, including bans on gay marriage or the recognition of out-of-state same-sex couples.

Conway joins state attorneys generals in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Oregon, and Nevada who have said they will not defend anti-gay marriage legislation.

In some of those places, including in Virginia, Oregon, and Nevada, the governor has sided with the state’s attorney general. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) in October likened gay marriage to “incest” in a succinct soundbite that summed-up his opinion on the matter.

Conway told reporters in a tearful, five-minute statement that to defend the state’s ban “would be defending discrimination,” the Associated Press reported.

“That I will not do,” he said.

Judge Heyburn, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, included in his February order a 21-day stay that puts the ban’s end date at March 20. Governor Beshear said he plans to seek an extension on that stay until the case is resolved, citing possible “legal chaos” if the ban is lifted before then, according to the Courier-Journal.

Heyburn’s order did not address the broader issue of whether Kentucky’s ban on performing gay marriages in the state is constitutional.

In total, 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, permit gay marriage, and 33 states have bans on gay marriage either in their state laws or as constitutional amendments.

No federal judge has ruled in favor of any kind of gay marriage ban since the US Supreme Court tossed out a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year, according to the Los Angeles Times. The federal ruling on Kentucky’s anti-gay marriage legislation also comes amid similar rulings in other states that have been long-time stalwarts against same-sex marriage, including Utah, Texas, and Oklahoma.

US Army soldiers from Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Division, Task Force Cacti take part in a military re-enlistment ceremony at Forward Operating Base Joyce in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan March 13, 2012. (Erik De Castro/Reuters/File)

Many soldiers prone to suicide even before they enlist, study says

By Staff writer / 03.04.14

Researchers reported Monday that most American soldiers who attempt suicide had preexisting mental health issues before enlisting in the armed forces, raising new questions about how to address sky-high suicide rates in the US military.

The research, published as three papers in JAMA Psychiatry, found that more than a quarter of current soldiers have at least one mental disorder, a rate about twice that for the general public. More than three-quarters of soldiers with mental illness say that their disorders preceded their enlistment in the armed forces, and some 60 percent of solider suicide attempts can be traced to those preenlistment mental troubles, the report said.

The findings reopen the debate about how to best address a military suicide rate that is above the rate for the general population. The authors suggest that increased efforts to address new soldiers’ mental health issues early on – before preexisting issues become aggravated during and after deployments – might be one solution.

The papers draw on data from the Army's STARRS (Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members) program, launched in 2009 as part of a massive effort to understand an alarming spike in armed forces suicides beginning in 2004. By 2008, that rate had risen so high that it exceeded the civilian rate, with 20.2 suicide deaths per 100,000 soldiers versus 19.2 suicides per 100,000 civilians.

The results of the survey complicate a neat narrative of soldier suicide – going to war causes mental illness – suggesting that a host of factors, sometimes existing well before a soldier is even a soldier, are also an influence on suicide risk.

The rate of intermittent explosive disorder – which has been linked to following through on suicidal thoughts – is about six times higher among soldiers than it is in the general population, according to one of the papers. And more than 80 percent of current soldiers’ behavioral disorders, including intermittent explosive disorder, as well as substance abuse issues and ADHD, preceded their enlistment, according to the paper.

“The kind of person who joins the army is not your typical person,” says Ronald Kessler, professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School and senior author of the paper. “They tend to already have a lot of anger, ADHD, and conduct problems.”

Suicide attempts and suicidal thought rates among soldiers were either on par or below those of civilians. But almost 60 percent of soldiers who ever had suicidal thoughts had those thoughts before enlisting, a second paper reported. And almost half of soldiers who had ever made a suicide attempt had done so for the first time before joining the armed forces, according to that paper.

Other kinds of mental disorders, including depression, were not higher in preenlistment soldiers than in the general population, but developed to be so after enlistment. 

The results of the report offer possible courses of actions for curbing soldier suicides, says Dr. Kessler.

One might be to tighten recruitment standards, but Kessler says that is liable to be ineffective, pressing a potential enlistee to hide his or her mental problems, with what could be explosive repercussions later on. A better course of action might be to bolster efforts to identify new recruits with mental issues and reach out to them with support similar to that offered to soldiers after their return from war-zone deployments, he says.

“It’s just unrealistic to say, 'We’re going to have an Army where no one is mentally ill,' ” says Kessler. “But it is possible to recognize that the people coming into to your business – because the Army is a business, just like any other – are a different kind of people than other people.”

A separate paper, published the same day in the journal Psychological Medicine and also drawing on STARRS data, provided evidence that those with high suicide risks could be identified, and addressed, early on. That paper found that junior enlistees who are deployed within a year of joining the service have a much higher suicide rate – around 70 to 80 per 100,000 people – than do other members of the armed forces. (Junior enlistees are only deployed in rare circumstances.)

“Their suicide risk is sky-high,” says Kessler, an author on that paper, as well.

“If you’re going to send them, you should be aware that this kid – and they are kids – has this kind of suicide risk,” he says. 

Snow falls at the White House in Washington on Monday, in the latest storm to whirl through the mid-Atlantic region. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Where will latest East Coast winter storm hit hardest? (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.03.14

Yet another winter storm trucked along the East Coast on Monday, arriving like a rude and all too frequent house guest to dump snow across a region fed up with the white stuff.

The latest snowstorm, sweeping up from the southeastern states to the Northeast, is expected to drop between six inches and a foot of snow throughout much of the mid-Atlantic by Monday evening, once again frosting the region into a now familiar scene of traffic jams and darkened businesses – just over two weeks before the official start of spring, no less.

Washington and Maryland were both under winter storm warnings until 6 p.m. Monday, with around four to eight inches of projected snowfall before then. Federal and state government offices in the area were closed for the day, as were schools in Washington, Baltimore, and other local communities, according to the Associated Press. The US Supreme Court, though, remained open, AP reported.

Parts of Virginia and West Virginia, both under winter storm warnings until late Monday evening, were expected to get between six and 10 inches of snow. Some areas of New Jersey and Delaware were expected to get around six inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Travel plans were disrupted across the region Monday, especially in the D.C. area. About 2,500 flights were cancelled in the US as of about noon, and another some 2,100 flights were delayed, according to FlightAware. At Reagan National Airport, in Washington, about two-thirds of flights were cancelled.

Amtrak also suspended some of its Northeast corridor service between New York City and Philadelphia.

Even as snowfall was expected to taper off across the region in the late afternoon, bitter temperatures were projected to hang around and make sure the point was made: winter isn’t out the door yet.

Along the East Coast Monday, temperatures were “unseasonably cold” at between 20 to 40 degrees below average and were “more typical” of January lows, according to the National Weather Service.

In Virginia, where Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency as ice threatened to cake roads, temperatures nose-dived into the low 20s on Monday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. In D.C., it was even colder, ticking in at just the mid-teens as of around 1 p.m. and expected to fall into the single digits overnight and into Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.

The winter-battered Northeast is expected to escape the snow deluge this time. But that’s in part because the region – where “polar vortex” has been the macabre buzzword of the season – is expected to get too cold for major snowfall, according to Boston.com. In Boston, temperatures are not projected to rise out of the 20s until Thursday, according to Boston.com

Bill Gates, shown in New York, Jan. 21, 2014, tops Forbes' richest people list this year as the richest man in the world – again. (Bebeto Matthews/AP/File)

Forbes' richest people: number of billionaires up significantly (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.03.14

Forbes, the unofficial temperature-taker of the world’s fiscal upper echelons, released on Monday its annual list of the world’s richest people and, separately, a list of the 400 richest Americans.

Not all that much has changed at the top.

Bill Gates, worth about $76 billion, is the richest man in the world, according to this year’s list. If that sounds familiar, it should, because Mr. Gates has topped that list for the past two decades, but for a four-year loss to telecom mogul Carlos Slim, according to Forbes. Mr. Slim is second this year, valued at $72 billion.

Spain's Amancio Ortego, of the Zara fashion outlet , came in at third at $64 billion – just as he did last year. Warren Buffett, who has placed in the Top 5 for the past 20 years, is the fourth wealthiest person in the world and the second richest American, at about $58 billion.

Oracle's Larry Ellison, Charles and David Koch, gambling giant Sheldon Anderson, and Christy and Jim Walton, each valued at more than $34 billion, rounded out the Top 10 on the world list.

A total of 1,645 billionaires, with an average net worth of $4.7 billion, made Forbes’ list of world’s richest, now in its 32nd year. That's up from 1,426 in 2013. Meanwhile, 100 ex-billionaires were dropped from the world list from last year, and 34 Americans dropped out of the US Top 400, according to Forbes.

Of the newcomers, 35 came out of the retail sector and 26 newly (extremely) rich hailed from the tech business, including Dropbox CEO Drew Houston and WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, Forbes said.

Newbies to the American list included Richard Yuengling, who owns a beer company, and NYC real estate mogul Jeff Sutton. Almost half (eight) of the American additions to the 400 list inherited the fortunes that launched them into the proverbial VIP room, Forbes reported.

Dropouts from the world list were concentrated in the Asia/Pacific, with 47 (somewhat) less wealthy people coming from there. Dropouts from the US list include oilman T. Boone Pickens, now valued at $950 million; 5-Hour Energy drink founder Manoj Bhargava, at $800 million; and AOL founder Steve Case, at $1.2 billion.

Forbes called Mr. Case’s value “still very respectable, but not enough to make the cut of the 2013 Forbes 400.”

The nationalities represented on the list have also changed little. The US is still the world’s biggest supplier of big billionaires, with 492 names on the world list, and the US added the most billionaires to the list this year, putting up 50 new names. China, which added 37 new names, ranked behind the US at No. 2 with 152 billionaires, and Russia with 111, Forbes reported.

The 400 wealthiest Americans are together worth about $2 trillion, an increase of some $300 billion over last year, Forbes reported. That’s enough to fund the NASA budget for 2014 about 113 times over.

Indeed, if there is any measurable temperature change up there in the so-called 1 percent, it’s that the fantastically rich have gotten a bit more fantastically so: The aggregate net worth of the richest people was at $6.4 trillion this year, up from $5.4 trillion last year, according to Forbes.

And the minimum net worth needed to make the 400 list of richest Americans this year was $1.3 billion, a height not seen since before the fiscal bust in 2008 and that kept 61 US billionaires – rich, but just not quite rich enough – off the list, Forbes said.

Plus, just 30 of the repeats from last year’s 400-list are making less than they did when they appeared on the list a year ago. And of the 28 American wheelers and dealers who failed to make the cut this year, just 15 of them were, in fact, poorer than when they made the list last year, Forbes reported.

So, it appears to be a good time to be a billionaire. It’s less a good time, however, to be a magazine about billionaires.

The annual list of the richest of the rich comes about four months after Forbes, reporting lackluster revenue in dark days for traditional media, announced that it was up for sale. The self-styled scorekeeper of American super-wealth is expected to sell to a foreign buyer, possibly in China or Singapore, for about half of the some $400 million it had hoped to fetch, The New York Times reported. 

Mark Karpeles, CEO of MtGox, bows at the start of a news conference at the Tokyo District Court, Feb. 28. MtGox, once the world's biggest Bitcoin exchange, filed for bankruptcy protection on Feb. 28 in Japan, and on Monday in the United States. (Kyodo/Reuters)

MtGox bankruptcy: Bitcoin insiders saw problems with the exchange for months

By Staff writer / 02.28.14

Tokyo-based MtGox filed for bankruptcy Friday and confirmed rumors that the once-dominant Bitcoin exchange had lost track of nearly half a billion dollars' worth of bitcoins.

The MtGox website went dark on Tuesday amid reports that a hack had siphoned 740,000 bitcoins from the exchange over the course of several years. MtGox CEO Mark Karpeles confirmed the loss to Japanese news crews on Friday and increased the number of missing bitcoins to 850,000 – 750,000 of customers' bitcoins and 100,000 of the company’s own bitcoins.

"There was some weakness in the system, and the bitcoins have disappeared,” Mr. Karpeles told reporters at the Tokyo District Court press club. “I apologize for causing trouble."

Hackers reportedly forced the Bitcoin exchange to a crawl by creating thousands of copies of transactions that MtGox had to sift through and independently verify. Other Bitcoin exchanges have reported the same problem, but managed to address it more quickly than MtGox.

“It was a well-known issue that every major exchange in the Bitcoin community knew about and had solutions for. MtGox did not,” Jordan Kelley, CEO of Bitcoin ATM maker Robocoin, told Reuters.

MtGox first announced that it had discovered a problem earlier this month and responded by freezing withdrawals indefinitely, a move that has been criticized by those in the know as too little too late.

Bitcoin Association president Bruce Fenton told the Monitor earlier this month that the issue only affected “exchanges who had not updated to the most current best practices.”

While the MtGox failing is massive – 7 percent of all bitcoins in existence are now missing – it could have been even worse had this happened during the height of MtGox’s reign as the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange.

However, Bitcoin insiders have been distancing themselves from the Tokyo exchange since last spring.

“Most professional users moved away from MtGox months ago, leaving April 2013 or thereabouts,” an anonymous Bitcoin core developer told Reuters. “By June 2013, the final nail was in the coffin for US users.”

In May, the exchange processed 66,770 transactions each day. That figure dropped to a little over 14,000 by September and 9,000 by January.

Some insiders have suggested that the exodus of major Bitcoin holders from MtGox may have artificially inflated the price of bitcoins available on the MtGox exchange, which caught the media’s attention last fall.

MtGox became the definitive index for Bitcoin pricing as the media scrambled to explain the cryptocurrency craze to mainstream consumers.

However, insiders say they had seen the writing on the wall long ago.

“It was obvious there was something really bad going on there for nearly a year. They were processing withdrawals very slowly and generally being very opaque about what was going on,” Switzerland-based Bitcoin developer Mike Hearn told Reuters.

The exchange has also reported that 2.8 billion yen ($27.4 million) is missing from its bank accounts.

MtGox was created by American software hacker Jed McCaleb as a trading card exchange for a game called “Magic: The Gathering.” The name MtGox actually stands for “Magic the Gathering Online Exchange.”

In 2011, Mr. McCaleb converted the website into a Bitcoin exchange and sold it to Karpeles, who catapulted the exchange to the forefront of the Bitcoin industry. Bitcoin advocates maintain that MtGox is not the only Bitcoin game in town and that its demise does not spell the end of Bitcoin.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, at the podium, is joined by Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Ruben Hinojosa (D) of Texas, to her left, and other lawmakers and activists as she calls for action on immigration reform on Capitol Hill on Dec. 12, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Most in US wouldn't eject illegal immigrants; a minority would OK citizenship

By Staff writer / 02.27.14

Immigrants living illegally in the US don't need to be kicked out if they meet certain requirements, say almost three-quarters of Americans. But support wanes on the issue of allowing such immigrants a path to full-fledged US citizenship, with just 46 percent in favor.

That result, from a new national survey by the Pew Research Center, implies that a goodly share of the public would back giving undocumented immigrants – estimated at about 11 million – some kind of in-between status. That idea is included in a new set of guiding principles drafted by leaders in the GOP-led House of Representatives, where immigration reform legislation is currently stalled.

The Pew poll also found a sharp divide over the merits of higher deportations of illegal immigrants, with Democrats more opposed than Republicans, and Hispanics more concerned than whites and blacks.

Deportations began rising in 1992, reaching a record annual high of 419,384 in 2012, according to US Department of Homeland Security statistics. (They fell to 368,644 last year, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement statistics, though that was not mentioned in the survey questions.)

More Democrats (53 percent) said that the increase in deportations was a bad thing, and more Republicans (55 percent) responded positively to the increase.

The idea of a path to citizenship also remains hotly contested, showing little change from previous surveys. 

There does appear to be some common ground on the notion of at least granting legal status to undocumented immigrants. Support is greatest among Democrats, at 81 percent, but 64 percent of Republicans also favor the idea. A Pew study last fall suggested that even Hispanics feel that finding a way for undocumented individuals to work in the US legally is more important than obtaining citizenship for them.

As for immigration reform legislation, Democrats view it as more pressing than do Republicans – and they appear to be getting more impatient with Washington's lack of movement. In another Pew study last June, 53 percent of Democrats reported feeling strongly that Congress should pass legislation within a year. In this poll, conducted Feb. 14-23, that number jumped to 60 percent among Democrats overall and 66 percent among liberal Democrats.

The Senate has approved an immigration reform package. In the GOP-led House, the Republican caucus does not appear to be ready to tackle the issue of immigration reform this year.

A similar poll released by Gallup last June found similar levels of support for legal status for undocumented immigrants already in the country, but also indicated that 83 percent of Americans would like to see the government tighten border controls to stem the flow of illegal immigrants.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, center, waves next to his mother Mary, left, after giving his inaugural address at Boston College, Monday, Jan. 6. (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo)

Boston mayor pushes St. Patrick's Day parade organizers to include gay groups (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.27.14

Boston’s new mayor, Martin Walsh, plans to boycott the city's St. Patrick’s Day parade if organizers continue to exclude gay and lesbian groups from marching in it, The Boston Globe reports.

Every year, more than half a million spectators line the streets of South Boston for the annual parade – the second-largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the United States. Boston has the highest percentage of Irish-Americans in the country, with 20 percent of residents in the metro Boston area descending from Irish immigrants, according to a Forbes report.

But in 1995, a unanimous ruling by the US Supreme Court confirmed the parade committee's right to bar gay and lesbian groups from formally participating in the event. The Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston was excluded. 

Mr. Walsh's predecessor, Thomas Menino, had refused to participate in the parade because of the exclusion of gay and lesbian groups.

Walsh, himself the son of Irish immigrants, did march in the parade last year as a state representative, but he's changed his tune since becoming mayor last month.

“Equality comes first,” Walsh told the Globe. “The fact that it’s 2014, I certainly hope we’re able to come to an understanding. It’s long overdue.”

Organizers do not seem moved.

“No, definitely not,” said John “Wacko’’ Hurley, a longtime parade official who brought the issue to the Supreme Court, when asked by the Globe if the committee would reconsider its ban on gay and lesbian groups. “Not when you have a 9-to-nothing decision in the Supreme Court of the United States. [Walsh is] not in a position to overturn that.”

The mayor remains hopeful that he will be able to sway the organizers to accept an application for participation filed by a gay veterans group.

“Look, I give full credit to the parade organizers for proving the point they fought to make. But that was 20 years ago. And the world has changed a great deal. South Boston has changed a great deal,” Walsh told the Boston Herald. “We’re talking about a group of fellow veterans who’ve paid the full price of citizenship. I’d like them to march in the parade. And like I said, I want to march in a parade that includes them.”

Organizers have maintained that the parade is inclusive, in that it does not prevent gay and lesbian individuals from marching with other groups. 

“We’re not bigots,” Philip Wuschke, another organizer, told the Herald. “It is inclusive. It’s a day of celebrating. It’s celebrating the Irish and the military.”

St. Patrick’s Day has a long and distorted history.

The holiday honors a 5th-century British priest who worked to convert the Irish to Christianity, according to National Geographic. He reportedly died on March 17, 461. After his death, an extensive mythology evolved, including stories that suggested he used three-leaf shamrocks to illustrate the Trinity to potential converts and a myth that he banished snakes from Ireland.

The first St. Patrick’s Day parades in the US were held by Irish soldiers that augmented British troops in the Revolutionary War, National Geographic reports. Sometime in the 19th century, people began to wear green as a show of commitment to Ireland, and the city of Chicago began dyeing a segment of the Chicago River green in 1962.

In Boston, the parade draws a diverse and frequently rowdy crowd that includes hordes of drunken revelers as well as families with children. It typically takes place on the Sunday preceding March 17.

March 17 itself is a holiday throughout Massachusetts’ Suffolk County, which includes Boston and neighboring cities of Cambridge and Somerville. Officially, the holiday is attributed to the celebration of Evacuation Day, which commemorates the ousting of British forces from the city of Boston during the Revolutionary War. However, the majority of celebrants spend their day off guzzling green beer at local pubs.

Both Mr. Menino and Walsh were vocal advocates of marriage equality prior to statewide legalization of gay marriage in 2004. 

Meanwhile in New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio has opted to boycott the St. Patrick's Day parade in Manhattan because parade organizers prohibit participants from carrying signs or banners that identify them as gay, Reuters reports. He is the first New York City mayor to do so in 20 years.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the century in which St. Patrick lived.

From left, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse with Ms. DeBoer's attorney Dana Nessel enter federal court in Detroit, Tuesday, before a trial that could overturn Michigan's ban on gay marriage. A new survey released Wednesday shows that 53 percent of Americans support gay marriage. (Daniel Mears/Detroit News/AP Photo)

More religious Americans support gay marriage than a decade ago, survey finds (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.26.14

Public support for gay marriage may have reached a tipping point, even among religious Americans, who have been traditionally opposed to the idea.

Ten years ago, roughly one-third of Americans supported gay marriage, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2003 survey on homosexuality. Today, 53 percent of Americans say they believe gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry, according to a new survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington.

The latest poll illustrates “a fairly remarkable shift” in attitudes, PRRI chief executive Robert Jones said during a conference call with Reuters. “As public opinion goes, we really rarely see this kind of movement on any issue over a decade’s time.”

While more than half of Americans currently favor a universal right to marry, the data show that levels of support vary drastically by region, state, generation, and education level. That probably does not come as a surprise to those following the embittered battles surrounding gay marriage in Utah, Virginia, and Michigan, among other states. But what is surprising is that religion seems to play a much smaller role than it did a decade ago in how individuals decide where they stand on gay marriage.

Ten years ago, whether or not an individual subscribed to a major religion was a relatively good indicator of their stance on gay marriage: Believers resoundingly rejected the idea that the right to marry should be extended to gay and lesbian couples, while an overwhelming majority of religiously unaffiliated Americans supported a universal right, the PRRI report states. Over the past 10 years, support has grown among practitioners of every religion included in the both the 2003 Pew survey and the 2013 PRRI report.

Here are details about religious Americans' views as presented in the PRRI report, which made comparisons with views from a decade ago by drawing on the 2003 Pew survey:

  • The greatest level of support in the new report came from Jewish Americans, 83 percent of whom favor marriage equality – even more than secular Americans who do not identify with any particular faith.
  • A slight majority (57 percent) of white and Hispanic Catholics now favor same-sex marriage, up from roughly one-third 10 years ago.
  • Support among white mainline Protestants nearly doubled, from 36 percent in 2003 to 62 percent in 2013.
  • Although acceptance has increased among black and white evangelical Protestants, the majority of each group opposes a universal right to marry.

Not only are more congregants breaking away from their religion’s sanctioned position on gay marriage, but some are actually leaving because of it. The researchers found that nearly one-third of Millennials who left their childhood faith reported that negative views on homosexuality fueled their desire to leave.

While the gap between the religious and nonreligious has narrowed drastically, new divisions have become more pronounced. The gay-marriage rift between Republicans and Democrats, for instance, has intensified over the years as more Democrats than Republicans have come around to the idea.

The generational divide also remains quite pronounced, especially between Republican Millennials and members of older generations.

“It is difficult to overstate the effect age has on support for same-sex marriage,” the report states. “Even among groups that strongly oppose same-sex marriage, there are significant generational gaps.”

Among other findings in the new report:

  • While the majority of women (57 percent) favor same-sex marriage, slightly less than half of men (48 percent) support it.
  • Support seems to vary depending on the respondent’s level of educational attainment. Less than half of the individuals with a high school diploma or lower level of education support gay marriage. That number increases to 57 percent with some college, 60 percent for college graduates, and 66 percent for those with postgraduate educations.
  • Support also appears to correspond with geographical location: 48 percent among Southerners, 51 percent among Midwesterners, 58 percent among those in the West, and 60 percent among those in the Northeast.

Former President George W. Bush (l.) showed off his painting and poked fun at his post-White House years during NBC's 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,' in Burbank, Calif., on Nov. 19. He said he was inspired to take up painting after reading a Winston Churchill essay. (Stacie McChesney/NBC/AP)

George W. Bush paintings to debut at presidential library (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.25.14

Anyone longing for a glimpse into the inner artist in George W. Bush won’t have to wait long. Visitors to the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas can catch the first-ever gallery showing of the 43rd president's artwork, beginning this spring.

Beginning in April, the center will debut two dozen of the former president’s original portraits, signed "43," as part of a special exhibit entitled, “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy." The exhibit will include “artifacts, photographs, and personal reflections to help illustrate the stories of relationships formed on the world stage,” the center announced Monday.

Rumors of Mr. Bush’s new hobby surfaced a year ago when a hacker, Guccifer, leaked images of two self-portraits depicting the 43rd president bathing and shaving, as well as a snapshot of him painting at an easel in his weight room.

Bush copped to his new pastime on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in November and presented an original portrait of the host. He told Leno that he decided to take up painting after reading Winston Churchill’s essay, “Painting as a Pastime,” and that he took weekly painting lessons from artist Gail Norfleet.

“I do take painting very seriously, it’s changed my life,” Bush told Leno.

The former president also shared copies of portraits featuring his celebrated Scottish terrier, Barney, who died in 2013, and a cat named Bob, “so I can remember how to spell it when I get old.”

While the center did not offer up many clues as to whom the featured portraits will portray, the theme of the exhibition suggests that portraits of world leaders could be in the mix.

However, the possibility of a canine appearance can’t be ruled out. After all, Bush once introduced Barney to Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Bush's next visit to Russia, President Putin introduced him to his own dog.

"A big black Labrador came charging across the lawn. With a twinkle in his eye, Vladimir said, 'Bigger, stronger, faster than Barney,' " Bush wrote in his 2010 memoir, “Decision Points.”

Bush isn't the first president to take up painting. Ulysses Grant studied painting at West Point, according to Robert Broadwater's 2012 biography. Dwight Eisenhower, also inspired by Churchill, took up painting late in life, according to the White House Historical Association. Jimmy Carter sold one of his original paintings for $250,000 at a charity auction last year, according to the Carter Center.

Mt. Gox, once the world's biggest Bitcoin exchange, went dark Feb. 25, 2014, with its website down, its Tokyo office empty, and a cryptic comment from its chief executive that the business is at 'a turning point.' Some Bitcoin enthusiasts have recommended coins and paper vouchers, often called 'paper wallets' (shown here), as a way to store bitcoins offline. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters/File)

Does collapse of MtGox spell the end for Bitcoin? (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.25.14

MtGox, once the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange, has gone dark amid reports that the exchange lost track of 740,000 bitcoins, dealing a major blow to the validity of the cryptocurrency.

The MtGox.com url was returning a blank page Tuesday morning, and now offers only the following message:

“In the event of recent news reports and the potential repercussions on MtGox's operations and the market, a decision was taken to close all transactions for the time being in order to protect the site and our users. We will be closely monitoring the situation and will react accordingly.”

According to a purported internal “crisis strategy” document that has been widely circulated online, hackers siphoned bitcoins from the exchange over the course of several years. MtGox acknowledged “unusual activity” earlier this month and responded by freezing withdrawals indefinitely and by implementing new security procedures. That unusual activity, it seems, amounted to the theft of 6 percent of all bitcoins in circulation.

According to the “crisis strategy” document, which has not been authenticated, the shutdown of the website is part of a planned strategy and is temporary. The plan calls for a month-long shutdown, followed by a rebranding and relaunch of the exchange under the new name Gox. The document also states that customer support will remain active for existing customers wishing to access their account histories.

So far, the company has not released an official statement reporting the theft. However, MtGox CEO Mark Karpeles resigned from the board of the Bitcoin Foundation on Sunday, raising concerns among bitcoin holders.

Bitcoin advocates, including the billionaire twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, have long touted the currency’s cryptography as a shield for theft or counterfeiting. However, security experts have cautioned that any digital financial system is only as secure as the platforms that manage it. The revelation that the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange has been hemorrhaging bitcoins for years lends those warnings additional credence.

Still, some bitcoin holders, including those who have lost money, maintain that the apparent security breach of MtGox should be viewed as a blow to exchanges rather than to the currency itself.

Bitcoin trader Kolin Burgess has $320,000 tied up in bitcoins and doubts that he will ever see that money again, but he refuses to give up on Bitcoin.

“I may have lost all of my money,” said Mr. Burgess, while picketing alongside a handful of protesters at MtGox’s Tokyo headquarters, according to The Associated Press. “It hasn’t shaken my trust in Bitcoin, but it has shaken my trust in bitcoin exchanges.”

The long-term success of the currency hinges on the ability to establish some form of consistent and secure infrastructure that makes it possible to exchange bitcoins for dollars, yen, or any other physical currency.

Other exchanges are waiting in the wings to fill the void left by MtGox’s apparent implosion.

“This tragic violation of the trust of users of MtGox was the result of one company’s actions and does not reflect the resilience or value of bitcoin and the digital currency industry,” reads a joint statement issued by executives at six other Bitcoin operators. “In order to re-establish the trust squandered by the failings of MtGox, responsible bitcoin exchanges are working together and are committed to the future of bitcoin and the security of all customer funds.”

Whether investors will be interested in pursuing bitcoin after this major failing remains to be seen. While the price of bitcoins dipped after the MtGox shutdown, it has floated slightly upward throughout Tuesday morning. However, Tuesday’s high (as of 11 a.m. EST) of $545.19 is a far cry from previous highs above $1,000.

Bitcoin has traveled a rocky road since its inception in 2009, but the past six months have been particularly bumpy. In October, Bitcoin made headlines when it was revealed to be the preferred currency used for illegal transactions on the online black marketplace known as Silk Road. Despite concerns that lack of government regulation could render the digital currency a tool for illegal trade, the price of a single bitcoin soared to $1,200.

In December, the currency's value nosedived after China’s central bank refused to acknowledge Bitcoin, plummeting to $800. Two weeks later, the announcement that China’s largest bitcoin exchange had frozen all yuan deposits sparked a selloff that drove the price down further, to $455. The price had rebounded to $800 by early February.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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