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The Death Dealer - 'Secret' guru James Arthur Ray led three people to their deaths... and now he's at it again

James Arthur Ray
© Jack Kurtz/Associated Press
James Arthur Ray

When James Arthur Ray lifted the heavy tarp door and beckoned his devotees into a wood-frame dome, they obeyed. Tall and confident, Ray watched them enter one by one, more than 50 of them. Stooping under the low ceiling, they crowded into the dark, windowless space and sat in two tight rings around a pit filled with heated stones.

Many had spent more than $10,000 to be there, in what Ray called his "sweat lodge." It culminated five days with the self-proclaimed "catalyst for personal transformation" at Angel Valley Spiritual Retreat, a ranch near Sedona, Arizona. During his "Spiritual Warrior" program, he'd asked participants to shave their heads, spend 36 hours in the desert meditating without food or water, and play the "Samurai Game," in which a white-robed Ray, playing "God," declared people dead, forcing them to remain motionless on the ground.

Before they entered the dome, he warned them his final test was a symbolic death. "You are not going to die. You might think you are, but you are not going to die," he said, according to several attendees. Around 2:30PM on October 8th, 2009, he lowered the tarp, closing off the only source of light and oxygen. The ceremony began.

James Arthur Ray had gone from obscure motivational speaker to self-help superstar. After more than a decade of writing and lecturing, he'd appeared in The Secret, a 2006 film touting "the law of attraction" - a belief that "thoughts become things." Positive thoughts attract positive outcomes, The Secret promised; a dream life awaits anyone with a properly focused mind.

Oprah gushed over the film, twice showcasing its stars and telling her audience, "Watch it with your children." The Secret became a cultural phenomenon; a companion book sold 19 million copies. Ray soon appeared on Larry King Live to say, "Well, Larry, science tells us that every single thing that appears to be solid is actually energy. Your body is energy. Your car is energy, your house, everything, money, all of it is energy." The Today Show, Fox Business News, and local network affiliates followed. He toured the country while guesting on smaller venues from Tom Green's internet talk show to Coast to Coast AM with George Noory. He even judged a Miss America pageant. "Whatever you fear or love will come into your life," he'd repeat for his agreeable hosts.

Stormtrooper

Brazil government plans 'World Cup courts' to break up peaceful demonstrations against social injustice and rising food prices

World cup protests brazil
© Victor R Caivano/Associated Press
Protesters hurl rocks during a demonstration in Belo Horizonte in June 2013. Photograph:
Country set to take South African-style measures as concerns rise that demonstrations will flare up during tournament

World Cup courts are likely to be established at next year's tournament in Brazil as organisers address the country's high crime rate and brace for the possible return of the mass demonstrations that overshadowed the Confederations Cup this summer.

Although the rallies, which brought more than a million people on to the streets this year, were largely peaceful, the host nation said it will establish exclusion zones around stadiums and step up intelligence-gathering operations aimed at preventing violent protest.

"We have boosted the gathering process to prevent demonstrations during large-scale events, to gather relevant information to put in place whatever measures are required to prevent violent demonstrations," said Andre Rodrigues, special adviser for major events at the Ministry of Justice. He said the creation of dedicated courts has also been proposed by national, state and city level governments.

Comment: Food prices surge in Brazil

Truck drivers join mass protests in Brazil as country grinds to a halt

Protesters numbering 30,000 march against Brazil's World Cup and Olympics spending


House

Do you have what it takes to be Middle Class?

By standards of previous generations, the middle class has been stripmined of income, assets and purchasing power.

What does it take to be middle class nowadays? A recent paper, The Distribution of Household Income and the Middle Class, used Census data to discuss what sort of income it takes to qualify as middle class, but reached no firm conclusion: people tend to self-report that they belong to the middle class based on income, but income is not the only the metric--indeed, it can be argued that 12 other factors are more telling measures of middle class membership than income.

In Why the Middle Class Is Doomed (April 17, 2012) I listed five "threshold" characteristics of membership in the middle class:
1. Meaningful healthcare insurance
2. Significant equity (25%-50%) in a home or other real estate
3. Income/expenses that enable the household to save at least 6% of its income
4. Significant retirement funds: 401Ks, IRAs, etc.
5. The ability to service all debt and expenses over the medium-term if one of the primary household wage-earners lose their job
I then added a taken-for-granted sixth:
6. Reliable vehicles for each wage-earner
Author Chris Sullins suggested adding these additional thresholds:
7. If a household requires government assistance to maintain the family lifestyle, their Middle Class status is in doubt.
8. A percentage of non-paper, non-real estate hard assets such as family heirlooms, precious metals, tools, etc. that can be transferred to the next generation, i.e. generational wealth.
9. Ability to invest in offspring (education, extracurricular clubs/training, etc.).
10. Leisure time devoted to the maintenance of physical/spiritual/mental fitness.
Correspondent Mark G. recently suggested two more:
11. Continual accumulation of human and social capital (new skills, networks of collaborators, markets for one's services, etc.)
And the money shot:
12. Family ownership of income-producing assets such as rental properties, bonds, etc.
The key point of these thresholds is that propping up a precarious illusion of consumption and status signifiers does not qualify as middle class. To qualify as middle class (that is, what was considered middle class a generation or two ago), the household must actually own/control wealth that won't vanish if the investment bubble du jour pops, and won't be wiped out by a medical emergency.

In Chris's phrase, "They should be focusing resources on the next generation and passing on Generational Wealth" as opposed to "keeping up appearances" via aspirational consumption financed with debt.

Pistol

One week's worth of gun madness in the United States

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Another wild week, including a lot of stories that come close to, but might not exactly be GunFAILs. Like the story from Chickamauga, GA, where a man who thought he was shooting at a home intruder killed a wandering, 72-year-old Alzheimer's patient. Or the story from Nashville, TN, where "outlaw country" singer Wayne Mills was shot and killed in a bar fight. (By the way, is "outlaw country" like "gangsta rap?" Are we supposed to be outraged by it? Or is it just good ol' All-American fun?)

By the numbers, the week was heavy on the hunting accidents (10 confirmed, plus one more strongly suspected), and on child victims. Nineteen kids were accidentally shot last week, ages 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 11, 13, 14, 14, 16, 16, 16, 16, 17, 17, 17 and 17. I think the numbers are up and skewing older, because several of them are hunting-related. On the subject of hunting accidents, do please note that six hunters were accidentally shot during opening weekend of the season in the state of Wisconsin, alone.

Just two loaded gun-cleaning accidents this week, three home invasion shootings, and three waistband/pocket ninjas who accidentally shot themselves. Cop numbers are, mercifully, down to just one this week.

On the guns in school front this week, maybe numbers are slowing down? Guns were found in schools in Springfield, MO, Charlotte, NC, Norfolk, VA and Reading, PA.

And now, below the fold, this week's compilation.

Info

Ranking of top countries in reading, science, and math shows U.S. below average in all categories

The OECD is out with new global rankings of how students in various countries do in reading, science, and math. Results of the full survey can be found and delved into here.

You can see below how Asian countries are obliterating everyone else in these categories.

The United States, meanwhile, ranks below the OECD average in every category. And as the WSJ notes, the US has slipped in all of the major categories in recent years:
The results from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which are being released on Tuesday, show that teenagers in the U.S. slipped from 25th to 31st in math since 2009; from 20th to 24th in science; and from 11th to 21st in reading, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which gathers and analyzes the data in the U.S.

Comment: Recent studies have shown that the U.S. spends significantly more money on war than on education, so it's hardly surprising that Americans are falling behind most other developed nations. In addition, inequality in the U.S. is at an all-time high with millions of children living in poverty - hardly conducive to learning, but it's apparent that the PTB want it that way!
Are Americans dumb? No, it's the inequality, stupid
Half of America In Poverty? The Facts Say It's True
US adults are dumber than the average human


Bad Guys

Abortionist who kept 36 bags of aborted babies in storage unit found dead

Dr. Joseph Booker
© NBC News
Dr. Joseph Booker

Authorities say an abortionist with a history of tax evasion, botched abortions, and unusual disposal of aborted babies has died.

Police found the body of Dr. Joseph Booker Jr., 69, at his home Thursday night after relatives complained they could not reach him. Investigators said Booker suffered a stroke and drowned in his shower in his Madison, Mississippi, home.

Tanya Britten of Pro-Life Mississippi said, "From a Christian perspective, I pray that he repented on the lives that he has taken, and that God is merciful,"

In 1999, Booker served time in prison for tax evasion. Later in the year, police learned that a local resident discovered 36 bags of aborted babies in a storage unit he purchased from Booker in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The new owner said Booker stowed the babies there shortly before going to prison.

Arrow Down

Scariest ad of all time? Japanese tire commercial will make you jump


If you've got a case of the dreaded midweek slump, this commercial might help startle you awake.

(Get the kids out the room first. This one comes with a health warning. We're not joking.)

Japanese tire company Autoway Tires took an unconventional approach - horror-movie tactics - to showing the importance of having great tires in dangerous and unpredictable road conditions.

How scary? The opening message reads: "Not for the faint of heart."

Rose

Nelson Mandela, global icon of peaceful resistance against tyranny, is dead

Nelson Mandela
© AFP/Alexander Joe
This picture taken on July 18, 2003 shows Nelson Mandela, the former South Africa President, saluting the South African military health service band that came to play a specially composed march and happy birthday on his 85th birthday in Johannesburg.
Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president and an enduring icon of the struggle against racial oppression, died on Thursday, the government announced, leaving the nation without its moral center at a time of growing dissatisfaction with the country's leaders.

"Our nation has lost its greatest son," President Jacob Zuma said in a televised address on Thursday night, adding that Mr. Mandela had died at 8:50 p.m. local time. "His humility, his compassion and his humanity earned him our love."

Mr Zuma called Mr. Mandela's death "the moment of our greatest sorrow," and said that South Africa's thoughts were now with the former president's family. "They have sacrificed much and endured much so that our people could be free," he said.

Mr. Mandela spent 27 years in prison after being convicted of treason by the white minority government, only to forge a peaceful end to white rule by negotiating with his captors after his release in 1990. He led the African National Congress, long a banned liberation movement, to a resounding electoral victory in 1994, the first fully democratic election in the country's history.

Stock Up

U.S. economy allegedly 'grew' by 3.6% last quarter

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The economy might have 'grown', but who is going to get this bigger piece of the pie?
The economy expanded much faster than first thought in the third quarter, as the government on Thursday revised its estimate of growth in the period to a 3.6 percent annual rate from 2.8 percent.

That was significantly better than the 3.1 percent pace economists had been expecting, and it marked the best quarter for growth since the first quarter of 2012, when output jumped by 3.7 percent. It also marked the first time since then that growth had exceeded 3 percent.

Much of the improvement came from additional stocking up on inventory by businesses as well as a slightly improved trade picture.

Inventory changes are notoriously volatile, so while the healthier signals would be welcomed by economists, inventory gains can essentially pull growth forward into the third quarter, causing fourth-quarter gains to slacken.

Indeed, Wall Street was already estimating that the fourth quarter of 2013 would be much weaker than the third quarter, with growth estimated to run at just below 2 percent, according to Bloomberg News.

Arrow Down

In God we trust, maybe, but not each other

Bart Murawski
© 2011 AP/Shannon DeCelle
Bart Murawksi, 27 poses at a coffee shop Tuesday, Nov. 26 2013, in Troy, NY. You can take our word for it: Americans don't trust each other anymore. An AP-Gfk poll conducted last month found that Americans are suspicious of each other in everyday encounters. Less than a third expressed a lot of trust in clerks who swipe their credit cards, drivers on the road, or people they meet when traveling. "I'm leery of everybody," said Murawski. "Caution is always a factor."
You can take our word for it. Americans don't trust each other anymore.

We're not talking about the loss of faith in big institutions such as the government, the church or Wall Street, which fluctuates with events. For four decades, a gut-level ingredient of democracy - trust in the other fellow - has been quietly draining away.

These days, only one-third of Americans say most people can be trusted. Half felt that way in 1972, when the General Social Survey first asked the question.

Forty years later, a record high of nearly two-thirds say "you can't be too careful" in dealing with people.

An AP-GfK poll conducted last month found that Americans are suspicious of each other in everyday encounters. Less than one-third expressed a lot of trust in clerks who swipe their credit cards, drivers on the road, or people they meet when traveling.

"I'm leery of everybody," said Bart Murawski, 27, of Albany, N.Y. "Caution is always a factor."

Does it matter that Americans are suspicious of one another? Yes, say worried political and social scientists.