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While You Were Sleeping

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At the end of February, a piece of ice seven times the size of Manhattan broke off the Wilkins ice shelf. Over the last 30 years, 10 shelves—thick, floating platforms of ice projecting into coastal waters—have vanished. Wilkins is the southernmost shelf to diminish. Scientists worry that the rest of the Antarctic shelf, which is nearly the size of Connecticut, will break off soon.

In the 2006 fiscal year, the US collected about $2.5 trillion in federal taxes, with about 80 million of those 140 million returns being filed electronically. The government estimates that the IRS fails to collect $345 billion each year. The wealthiest one percent of Americans only pay 39 percent of taxes but earn 21 percent of the total national income.

In late April Whole Foods Market stopped offering disposable plastic grocery bags in all 270 of its stores throughout the US, Canada, and the UK. The stores will switch to using recycled paper bags and reusable bags made from recycled plastic bottles. The company says that by no longer offering them to customers, it will be keeping 100 million plastic bags out of the environment by the end of 2008. According to Worldwatch, Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags a year, taking one bag 1,000 years to break down in a landfill.

In the beginning of April, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the Lafayette Insurance Company was not liable for water damages due to the breaking of a New Orleans levee after Hurricane Katrina. The decision will most likely affect thousands of homeowners, since Lafayette’s and other insurer’s policies cover damage from wind but not flooding.

In 2006, giant corporations outside of the defense sector received more than $27.6 billion from the government in defense contracts. Companies like Pepsico, IBM, and Microsoft were all popular investments with the 151 members of Congress.

Nearly 6,000 prisoners of war and civilians were forced to work for the Roman Catholic Church during the Nazi era, according to a report issued by the church in early April. Nazis shipped thousands of people to work in monastery gardens, hospitals, and other Catholic facilities. The Church has financed more than 200 “reconciliation” projects and paid about $2.35 million since coming clean with its past in 2000.

Spending by independent political groups to aid presidential candidates has more than doubled since 2004, according to a USA Today analysis. Many groups are allowed to raise and spend as much money as they want. More than half of all the money spent has been going to Democrats.

Afghanistan is holding secret trials for men once detained by the US at Bagram Airbase and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The men face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The trials typically last around 30 minutes and are based mostly on allegations made by the US military with no witnesses allowed to testify.

Some states have expanded DNA sampling to include people arrested for felony crimes before they’ve even been tried. While DNA sampling has aided in more than 40,000 investigations since 1990, some members of Congress feel it violates privacy.

Sources: New York Times, Fast Company, USA Today, New York Times, Capital Eye, New York Times, USA Today, New York Times, USA Today

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