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Yesterday, Pope Francis talked about the hypocrisy of "saying one thing and doing another." The Pope spoke out about, "A totally double life: ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this association and that one; but my life is not Christian, I don’t pay my workers a just wage, I exploit people, I am dirty in my business'... And so many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others... But to be a Catholic like that, it’s better to be an atheist.” Pope Francis has had a welcoming attitude towards atheists, even stating soon after being named pope that he felt atheists can go to heaven with the redemption of Jesus and that efforts to convert people to Christianity are “solemn nonsense.”

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Maine has asked the federal government to ban the purchase of soda and candy with food stamps. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew says Maine currently spends 700 million on obesity-related medical expenditures as the state is facing a rise in obesity. A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study found soft drinks accounted for five percent of food stamp purchases.

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This coming spring, Cedar Rapids will seed 188 acres with grasses and wildflowers to help increase the nation's diminishing bee population. The city's plan is to eventually create 1,000 acres of native prairie. For decades, the number of bees in America has been decreasing, which scientists believe could pose a threat to the global food supply. The seed mix that Cedar Rapids is using includes 39 species of wildflowers, and seven species of native prairie grasses. This is to ensure that the bees will be attracted to the flowers, while the hardy prairie grasses will prevent weeds and invasive species from moving in and choking out the flowers. Cedar Rapids Park Superintendent Daniel Gibbins, who is spearheading the project, stated, "When you convert it back to what was originally native Iowa, you're going to help a lot more than just native pollinators. You're helping birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals—everything that's native here relies on native vegetation."

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Mary-Pat Hector, age 19, is a student at Spelman College. She is also running for a city council seat in the new city of Stonecrest in DeKalb County, Georgia. Hector is officially the youngest woman ever to run for office in Georgia, having won a recent legal battle to compete in the local city council race. The DeKalb county board of elections ruled that the teen could run because the Stonecrest City Charter simply says that candidates must be over voting age. (Her opponent had challenged her candidacy, saying she was too young.) Said Spector, “Just because I’m a young person does not mean that I lack the experience or the common sense to make common sense laws or pass common sense legislation, or do things that would impact my community in a positive light."

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Brewdog, a beer company out of Scotland, offers employees with new dogs a week of "Puppy Parental Leave." Employees can also bring their dogs to work every day if they so choose. Today, the company is opening its first US base in Columbus, Ohio and will offer employees there the same perks. In a joint statement, Brewdog owners James Watt and Martin Dickie said, "We know only too well that having a new arrival – whether a mewling pup or unsettled rescue dog – can be stressful for human and hound both... We're not aware of any other American company giving a week's leave to their staff to help build the bond between them and their dog." Photo credit: Brewdog

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In 2009, Ashton Kutcher co-founded (with his ex-wife Demi Moore) Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, which builds software to fight human trafficking. In the past six months, the tool has identified 6,000 victims of modern slavery, 2,000 of them children. This past Wednesday at a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kutcher stressed the importance of using technology as a tool that can be used to disable slavery. Said the actor, "It's a game of whack-a-mole, right? And the only question we have is not relative to censoring it, it's not relative to shutting down the internet, it's relative to can we build the tools that are better than their tools to fight what's happening?"

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UK supermarket Tesco is taken the white sugar that is from split bags which would normally go into the trash – along with the unused sugar from the grocery store's bakeries – and sending it to the Bee Improvement Programme for Cornwall. The sugar will then be made into a formula that will nurse the bees through the autumn and winter months. The UK honeybee populations have dwindled to about one third of their original numbers since 2007 due to pesticides and diseases. “Bees are not only central to the process of pollinating crops, which later become our food, but are an iconic part of the great British countryside” said Lucy Hughes, Tesco’s community manager at its store in Callington, Cornwall.

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Amy Maplethorpe, a first grade speech-language pathologist at Raymond Ellis Elementary School in Round Lake, Illinois created special textured chairs for her students with autism (as well as students with Down syndrome or sensory processing disorder). Stated Maplethorpe, “Sensory seating is used for students who may have difficulty processing information from their senses and from the world around them. Tennis balls on the seat and backrest provide an alternative texture to improve sensory regulation.” Children have reportedly already shown improvement since they started using the special seats during class.

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A 5th grade basketball team in Clark, New Jersey has decided that they would rather quit the remainder of the season than not allow girls to play on their squad. The team, called the St. John's Chargers and who play for the local Catholic Youth Organization, were informed by the league's director that they should never have played as a coed team and the girls would not be allowed to play the last two games of the season. The Chargers had been a coed team for the past four years because there wasn't enough interested from girls in that age group to form their own team. The boys on the Chargers, rather than play without their two female teammates, decided that they would take a stand and forfeit the rest of the season as well as not play in the upcoming playoffs. Said Denise Laskody, a parent of one of the players, "These kids are doing the right thing. We don't have to tell them what to do. They just know. It's amazing."

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Quinoa, that ancient grain often associated with health-conscious urbanites, may be the solution to the world's impending food shortage. According to scientists, the "super food" is an incredibly resilient plant that thrives in harsh environments and can provide a more balanced source of nutrients than cereal. Though it inherently has a bitter taste, experts have discovered a way of manipulating the quinoa plant to make the bitter seeds sweeter. The goal now is to make the modified (aka sweeter) quinoa more available for widespread commercial use. Said Professor of Plant Science Mark Tester, "quinoa has never been fully domesticated or bred to its full potential even though it provides a more balanced source of nutrients for humans."

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Wang Enlin is a farmer in his 60s who lives in the Yushutun village on the outskirts of Qiqihar in the Heilongjiang Province. With just three years of prior education, Wang has been studying law for 16 years so he can sue Qihua Group, a state-owned chemical company, for allegedly polluting his land. The farmer claims that in 2001 toxic waste discharged by Qihua Group flooded part of his farmland. In dealing with the local officials, Wang was repeatedly asked to produce evidence to prove that the land had been polluted. As a result, Wang decided to study law by himself, an endeavour he would pursue for over a decade and a half. Wang started reading through dozens of law books with the help of a dictionary. Without money to buy books, he spent days reading the books at the local book store, copying the information by hand. In return, he would give bags of free corn to the shopkeeper for letting him stay there. But thanks to the evidence Wang had gathered these past 16 years, the farmer has apparently won the first legal action of the ongoing case.

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A new bill that cleared the lower chamber of the New Jersey legislation last month would ban the declawing of any cat unless a veterinarian deemed it medically necessary. The practice of declawing, often done to prevent cats from shredding furniture, is already banned in some California cities as well as nearly 20 countries. Under the bill, any vet who declaws a cat other than to address a medical condition would face a fine of up to $1,000, a term of imprisonment of up to six months, or both. A violator would also be subject to a civil penalty of $500 to $2,000. In a statement, the bill's sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Troy Singleton, said: "Declawing is a barbaric practice that more often than not is done for the sake of convenience rather than necessity."

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Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo helped a dog shelter in Portugal remain open simply by donating a signed jersey. A renowned dog lover, Ronaldo donated a signed Real Madrid soccer jersey to an auction the shelter was having to help raise some much needed funds. This is not the first time Ronaldo has donated to a good cause: He once sold his Golden Shoe trophy (an award giving to the top scorer in the European soccer league) for over one million dollars, which he then donated to fund schools in Gaza. Said shelter owner Liliana Santos of the jersey, "It's a simple gesture but very important."

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In the Netherlands, crime rate and prison population have steadily declined over the years, with dozens of correctional facilities closing down. In an attempt to accommodate the influx of immigrants into the country, the Netherlands have opened their empty prisons to refugees seeking asylum. The refugees are allowed to live in the correctional centers for at least six months while waiting to be granted asylum status, and are free to come and go as they please. As one Syrian refugee stated: “If a country has no prisoners to put in jail, it means this is the safest country that I want to be living in.” Photo credit: Muhammed Muheisen

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This past Wednesday, a Girl Scout stand outside of a supermarket in Union City, California was robbed at gunpoint. When the local police department came to investigate, they not only bought all the remaining cookies from the mother and daughter who were running the stand, they also donated $1000 to the organization. Sgt. Steve Mendez of the Union City Police Department said that officers, upon hearing of the robbery, "started busting out their wallets and handing money over."

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The first ever women's only event was recently held in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia's capital. The three-day gathering, which went from February 1 to 4 at the King Fahd Cultural Centre, featured discussions of a woman’s right to drive, as well as other legal rights for women, including freedom of guardianship. A country traditionally known for being untra-conservative, Saudi Arabia currently prohibits women from driving, interacting with men, trying on clothes while shopping or competing openly in sports. The nation is hoping to make the region a more modern, tourist-friendly destination and will undergo several reforms as part of Vision 2030, its post-oil economy plans.

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Chaitanya Karamchedu (aka, "Chai") is a high school senior at Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon. By experimenting with a highly absorbent polymer, Chai discovered a cost effective way to remove salt from ocean water and turn it into fresh water suitable for drinking. A problem that's stumped scientists for years, the teen figured out that the polymer will not bind with water molecules, but they will bind with salt. His findings are considered a breakthrough, with companies like Intel and universities like MIT investing in his new discovery. "1 in 8 people do not have access to clean water, it's a crying issue that needs to be addressed," said Karamchedu.

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New Yorker Gregory Locke stated that he was on the 1 train heading towards 72nd Street this past Saturday night when he discovered swastikas on every window and advertisement. The train was silent as everyone was uncomfortable and unsure of what to do. Locke posted on his Facebook page that one guy got up and said, "Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol." The guy then got some tissues and got to work eliminating the hate symbols, with everyone following his lead. Said Locke: "I've never seen so many people simultaneously reach into their bags and pockets looking for tissues and Purell. Within about two minutes all the Nazi symbolism was gone."

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Actor Kal Penn, best known for the 'Harold and Kumar' series and the TV show 'House,' recently received a racist tweet about how he doesn't belong in America. But rather than angrily tweet back, Penn —son of Indian immigrants to the US — did the troll one better: He set up a fundraising page to raise money for International Rescue Committee, a global humanitarian and relief charity. The charity has launched an emergency appeal to help refugees in the US. The fundraiser was set up on January 28th and has already recevied over $800,000 with over 20,000 people donating as of this writing. Even better, Penn tweeted, "To the dude who said I don't belong in America, I started a fundraising page for Syrian Refugees in your name."

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In a stunt they hope will drum up enough publicity to substitute for an expensive game ad, Kraft Heinz will give all of their salaried employees the Monday after the Super Bowl off. Super Bowl ad time is famous for being incredibly costly (last year, 30-second spots were estimated to cost $5 million dollars), and although giving the day off to so many employees will be costly, Kraft Heinz is hoping that the good publicity will be worth it. Traditionally, the Monday after the Super Bowl has been notorious for absenteeism. Studies have even back up that claim, showing that decreased productivity on the day amounts to the loss of a billion dollars on average.
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