Archive for March, 2011


End the easy money party

Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank President Thomas Hoenig has a message for Ben Bernanke, and he’s not afraid to say it over and over: Raise rates.

punchOnce you have a sip, you just can’t stop.

At a party where it feels as though virtually nobody is having much fun, how soon is too soon to take away the punch bowl? When the spiked goodness sets everyone in easy laughter? Or even sooner than that?

If Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank President Thomas Hoeing had it his way, he’d break up the party before most people even knew they were having a good time.

“I really want to take away the punch bowl before the room gets drunk because I think this punch bowl is a little bit spiked,” Hoenig said Tuesday morning at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York City.

Needless to say, the outgoing Fed president was referring to easy cash in his repeated dissent against the Fed’s ultra-low interest rate policy. Hoenig’s remarks came the same day Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers on Capitol Hill otherwise. Because there’s little inflation risk and slow job growth, Bernanke believes, the central bank should continue its $600 billion bond-buying plan and keep interest rates near zero for now.

If Hoenig were playing chaperone, then Bernanke is playing party planner. For months, the two have been at uncomfortable odds over the country’s monetary policy. Hoenig, who has been making a series of media rounds as he prepares to retire from his job in October, says officials should start prepping the market to lift interest rates to 1%. He couldn’t give an exact timeline for these actions, but said he’d like to see the increase by this summer. Indeed, the hikes, he adds, would happen little by little so that markets would ease into the new costs of borrowing.

Hoenig might be considered a party pooper, but that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. The partying among speculators and the financial markets might eventually come at the expense to the overall economy. After all, as we saw only a few years ago, record low rates led to easy cash and asset bubbles — namely, the housing bubble that went bust.

The closest thing we have to a bubble today seems to be building in the commodities market,where prices for coal, copper, oil and other resources have been surging. Keeping interest rates low might put markets at ease for now, but appeasing the performance of the stock market is not the job of the Fed.

And what will Bernanke’s policy prescription do to the commodities market over time? When might commodities go bust, just as the housing market did under a policy of easy money? And what could be the consequences?

Hoenig clearly wants to avoid such a scenario by raising rates, but it’s not clear how much those higher rates might slow the recovery. Home prices — down 26% since their peak in June 2006 — are expected to fall further and unemployment still stands above 9%.

The reality is that even if rates rise very slowly as Hoenig suggests, the economy will suffer in the near-term. But looking ahead, a little more short-term pain might be worth it if it avoids a bigger economic shock in the long run.

Perhaps that punch bowl should be filled instead with the bitter medicine the economy needs.



Christian author’s book sparks heresy charges

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Rob Bell, a pastor and author who has achieved rock star status in the Christian world, is preaching a false gospel, his critics say. And some of those critics are Christian rock stars in their own right.

The pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bell has authored a book called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, which ignited a firestorm of controversy over the weekend, weeks before it arrives in bookstores.

On Saturday, in a blog post on the popular Christian website The Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor blasted Bell’s new book, out March 29, for teaching “false doctrine”:

I’m glad that Rob Bell has the integrity to be lay [sic] his cards on the table about universalism. It seems that this is not just optimism about the fate of those who haven’t heard the Good News, but (as it seems from below) full-blown hell-is-empty-everyone-gets-saved universalism.

Universalism, in its broadest terms, preaches that everyone goes to heaven and that there is no hell. Critics say it represents a break from traditional Christianity, which they say holds that heaven and hell are very real places. In most Christian circles, universalism is a dirty word.

Taylor’s post was quickly tweeted by several prominent pastors, including John Piper and Mark Driscoll, connected to the Gospel Coalition, a coalition of theologically conservative evangelical churches, and a full-blown theological controversy was on. By Monday, Taylor’s response post had racked up a quarter million hits.

Other bloggers, meanwhile, are calling Bell an outright heretic.

Bell is not the first prominent Christian pastor to be recently accused of wading into theologically troubled waters. Bishop Carlton Pearson, once a mentee of famed Pentecostal televangelist Oral Roberts, has been run out of two churches and branded a heretic for preaching what he says is a gospel of inclusion with broad universalist themes.

Last year, Brian McLaren – a popular Christian author and a former pastor – was accused of breaking with Christian orthodoxy and delving headlong into universalism in his book A New Kind of Christianity.

But it’s rare that theological arguments become top ten trending topics on Twitter, as Rob Bell did on Saturday.

“To be honest, it was a pretty rough weekend,” Taylor said in a phone interview. The 34-year-old heads the editorial content for Crossway, a Christian publishing company in Wheaton, Illinois.  Taylor he says his blog expresses his personal opinion not the opinion of the coalition.

“We’re talking about the big things here, things that have been historically defined as orthodox, ” he said. “I have a high degree of confidence in what God is saying and what we can understand.”

Though many things that separate Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians, “this isn’t one of them,” Taylor said. “We’ve historically agreed on many things, the person of Christ, heaven and hell. This isn’t a peripheral academic debate. What Rob Bell is talking about gets to the heart of Christianity.”

Taylor has not read Bell’s forthcoming book in its entirety. His blog post was in response to the description released by Bell publisher HarperOne and a promotional video that features Bell.

“Rob Bell hasn’t sinned against me personally,” Taylor said, which is why he did not go to Bell before making his comments public. Instead, Taylor said, Bell’s book represents a clear example of false teaching.

In the promotional video Bell refers to the nonviolent Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, and asks, “Gandhi’s in hell? He is?”

“And someone knows this for sure?” Bell continues. “Will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? And if that’s the case how do you become one of the few? ”

The video follows a trend in Bell’s career as a pastor: he has long asked tough theological questions and challenged traditional answers. The short promotional video raises lots of questions without offering definitive answers.

“What we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like,” Bell says in it. ” The good news is that love wins.”

Those lines raised eyebrows for Taylor and others. “It is not preaching the gospel as found in the New Testament,” Taylor said. “The New Testament is pretty clear if someone preaches a false gospel… that we are to reject that and have nothing to do with them.”

For all his hipster leanings – including black rimmed glasses – Bell has a traditional pedigree. He went to Wheaton College, the Harvard of Christian schools, and later graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity.

But the Mars Hill Bible Church, which Bell founded, is not attached to any denomination. Were it attached to one – the Presbyterian or Catholic church, say – his book and video could raise eyebrows in the hierarchy and might lead to a church trial that could result in Bell’s expulsion.

“A larger denomination would take his credentials and excommunicate him like they did to me,” Bishop Pearson told CNN.

By Sunday evening, Pearson was getting sent articles about the Bell flap. He said it reminded him of his days as a charismatic leader of a big church in the largest Pentecostal denomination. His questioning of hell from the pulpit led to his ouster.

“What happened to me is happening to Rob Bell,” Pearson said. “If you denounce hell, it’s like you are denouncing God. You’re going to be called a heretic.”

“I thought my people loved me and would walk through the valley of the shadow of death with me, but they didn’t,” Pearson said.

Bell’s church did not respond to requests for an interview. His Twitter feed has been silent since he posted about writing a piece for CNN’s Belief Blog a few weeks ago. His publicist at HarperOne said he would not be doing publicity until his book hits shelves.



We’re a nation of germophobes

Editor’s note: Alex Berezow is the editor of RealClearScience and holds a doctorate in microbiology.

(CNN) — A recent CNN article examining hotel room hygiene revealed some uncomfortable truths. From bacteria and dead skin cells infesting the mattress to improper cleaning practices, it was enough to make anybody think twice about getting too comfortable in a hotel. However, such concerns are often overblown and, in some cases, unhealthy.

Part of the problem is that scientists and the media often fail to distinguish “germs” from “bacteria” properly.

Bacteria are a lot like snakes: Some are good, most are harmless, and only a few are dangerous. However, this distinction is often not articulated, and as a result, public fear over germs is greatly exaggerated.

One may be inclined to think that of all possible fears, “germophobia” — the technical term being mysophobia — is certainly the least harmful. It might even be beneficial. Better safe than sorry, right? Unfortunately, this is probably not true.

Bacteria are a lot like snakes: Some are good, most are harmless, and only a few are dangerous.
–Alex Berezow

For instance, overexposure to antibacterial soaps containing triclosan was associated with allergies and hay fever in children under 18. Other evidence indicates that triclosan builds up in the environment and theoretically poses the risk of generating resistance among bacteria. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration concluded in 2005 that antimicrobial soaps are no more effective at preventing illness than regular soap and water.

It also appears that ultra-clean environments may interfere with proper development of the immune system. This controversial, yet compelling, idea is known as the “hygiene hypothesis.” Put simply, the hypothesis states that lack of exposure to bacteria and other infectious agents during childhood may partially be responsible for autoimmune disorders. A growing body of evidence indicates the hypothesis might be correct.

The idea is rooted in the epidemiological observation that the rate of autoimmune diseases has been increasing in the industrialized world, but not in the developing world. Presumably, this is because of the wide availability of hygienic products in rich countries, which are not available in poor countries. Hence, people in the developing world are exposed to more infectious agents than are people in the industrialized world.

Children who grow up on farms, … exposed to a greater diversity of infectious agents, are less likely to develop asthma.
–Alex Berezow

The hypothesis, which is now well-documented, is further bolstered by a recent study that showed that children who grow up on farms, and are exposed to a greater diversity of infectious agents, are less likely to develop asthma. Also, women are more likely to suffer from allergies and asthma than men, and a recent study speculates this could be blamed on little girls avoiding dirt during playtime.

New therapies to treat autoimmune disorders are being developed that incorporate this new knowledge. Parasitic worms, which modulate the immune response, are used in “helminth therapy.” Clinical trials have demonstrated that patients suffering from inflammatory bowel disease improved after ingesting pig whipworm eggs. Additionally, mice suffering from a disease similar to multiple sclerosis improved after being infected with flatworms.

No microbiologist or medical doctor would recommend dispensing with basic sanitary or hygienic practices. Everyone should continue washing their hands with (preferably) non-antimicrobial soap and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers. But paranoia about microbes, which are in every bite and breath we take, is counterproductive.

It is becoming clear that our national obsession with cleanliness is doing more harm than good. Even though cleanliness may be next to godliness, remember not to take it to an extreme. Indeed, being too clean may be bad for your health.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Alex Berezow.



Rutgers to let some male, female students room together

In the wake of the high-profile suicide of a gay Rutgers University student last fall, the New Jersey college will implement gender-neutral housing in an attempt to make the university more inclusive.

Twenty to 30 students will participate in a pilot program during the 2011-12 school year, which will allow students to choose their roommates regardless of gender. Three dormitories in New Brunswick, New Jersey, will be part of the pilot program, a Rutgers spokesman said.

Students must apply to live in the gender-neutral rooms, which will be reserved for sophomores, juniors and seniors.

“This has been under discussion for a long time,” university officials said in a statement. “In the aftermath of the Clementi tragedy, members of the university’s LGBTQ community told the administration that gender-neutral housing would help create an even more inclusive environment. Since then, the university has been exploring this in greater detail.”

2010: Inside the Rutgers tragedy

Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped from the George Washington Bridge in September after two other Rutgers students allegedly videotaped a sexual encounter between him and another man and posted the video online.

“Maybe the outcome would have been different if he had been able to choose his own roommate,” said Yousef Saleh, 22, president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly. “At least now there’s an option.”

Rutgers junior Ryan Harrington, 21, said the student body has been pushing for gender-neutral housing for years and most students are happy with the university’s decision.

“It gives people more options and it makes people feel safe in their own living environment,” he said, adding that the issue is especially important for transgender students.

Rutgers’ pilot program is a part of a national trend for colleges, said Jeffrey Chang, the co-founder of the National Student Genderblind Campaign, a nonprofit organization that works with college students to develop LGBT policies. Chang estimates that there are 55 universities across the United States that have implemented gender-neutral rooming initiatives.

“I think there definitely has been a really accelerated growth,” said Chang, who is also a law student at Rutgers. “Just within the past year, we’ve seen 10 schools with gender-neutral housing.”

Several schools, including Ohio University, Emory University and Columbia University will begin allowing co-ed rooming in the fall as well.

George Washington University in Washington, D.C., is another addition to the list of schools that permit gender-neutral housing. Senior Michael Komo, 22, helped lead the campaign at his school, which will allow students to choose their roommates in all but three all-girls residence halls during the 2011-12 school year.

“These issues have always been there, but they’re finally getting the attention they need and deserve,” said Komo, who is president of Allied in Pride, a LGBT student organization on campus.



Reconnecting without being creepy

  • About 70% of people have used the web for reknotting old ties
  • For old friends, get e-mail address off of Facebook and send a legit message
  • Reconnecting with an ex? Ask yourself, what are your intentions?
  • Don’t expect to be fascinating to the “right” people or invisible to the “wrong” people

Editor’s note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and book Stuff Hipsters Hate. When they’re not trolling Brooklyn for new material, Ehrlich works as an associate editor at and Bartz is news editor at Psychology Today.

(CNN) — Thanks to the scary stalkability we’ve all given ourselves on the ‘net, “Whatever happened to him/her?” has all but toppled out of our dialogue.

If a shadow of the past flits across your mind, and you have an idle moment, say, in the dentist’s office amid the smell of plastic and the squeal of drills, you pull out your smartphone, perform a search (heck, with the Google app you just hold it up to your mouth and mumble a few relevant words of caveman speak), and … voila! Mystery solved.

The trickiness, though, crops up when you decide to actually contact one of these people.

I’m not talking about the former seventh-grade lab partner you idly friended thanks to a “People You May Know” tip-off. No, I speak of the former relations you truly want to reintroduce to your life — or at least to catch up with in earnest.

We’re talking about the people whom, years ago, you’d jump through all sorts of hoops to reach — calling up a mutual friend, asking said friend to sift through their well-thumbed Rolodex for your long lost friend’s number, copying it down and then (gasp!) calling, unexpectedly, to get back in touch.

About 70% of people have used the web for re-knotting old ties, according to a survey from Pew Research Center. You only get one chance to make a second impression. Behold, a few tips for blissful e-reunions with the following bygone buds.

An Old BFF

You and Candy Sue used to be so close … braiding each other’s hair at sleepovers, giggling over prank calls to classmates and teachers, sharing a packed hotel room on that bizarre high school band trip to Orlando when Candy Sue’s boyfriend got in major trouble for the incident involving cough syrup and late-night shenanigans. But, anyway!

If you aren’t already Facebook-ed-ly connected with an old pal, sending a request with a sweet note about how you’d love to catch up is a good bet. That way, when he or she accepts, you can get a life snapshot in a two-minute perusal of his or her profile, and have a million pleasant questions at the ready for your eventual long-awaited phone call or coffee date.

If you’re already FB official but haven’t spoken in years, pluck her address off the site and send a legit e-mail.

The extra step makes your query feel more genuine and less “I came across your face and am on a boring date, busying myself with my iPhone while this bozo waits in line for the bathroom.”

A Business Buddy

Reaching into your past for professional reasons?

It wouldn’t be awkward if you’d kept it up with the (yes, admittedly exhausting) rigamarole of real-life networking — exchanging occasional e-mails, breaking bread together now and then, sending a pleasant nondenominational holiday card in December, etc.

As it is, though, we all lose touch with the occasional stellar colleague, and rebuilding the bridge needn’t feel like a slimy attempt to use the old contact (to mix metaphors galore).

Check out your old work friend’s LinkedIn profile; if it says he’d like to be contacted for “getting back in touch,” then congratulations, he’s asking for it.

A simple LinkedIn connection is fine if you want a passive, place-holding relationship, but if you really want to move things back into the real world, a polite, professional e-mail will do.

If you don’t hear back right away, wait at least three or four weeks and patiently follow up. This year, corporate e-mail users will send and receive an average of 192 e-mails per day, according to research firm Radicati, so don’t take it personally if yours take a few (spaced out) tries to find solid ground.

Eventually, your understated guilt trip will pay off in spades — or at least in a comped business lunch.

An Ex

Let’s talk intentions real quick: If you’re contacting your former flame because you’re (a) bored and hoping he/she might stupidly hook up with you again or (b) with a new partner and hoping some casual chatting will lead to an opportunity to gloat … gross. Get over yourself.

If you really do feel like it’d be pleasant to hear from that cool girl/guy you dated before you moved and split amiably, well, OK then. (This bears repeating, though: We’ve heard from our fair share of readers who are freaked out by an ex’s insistence on staying in their lives, so tread lightly).

E-mail is your best option by far. (I guess a phone call could also work, but this is a column about social networking.)

Yes, you might even have to go so far as asking a mutual friend for an e-mail address. Don’t pour your heart out in an initial missive; just say hello, non-creepily explain why they’ve been on your mind, and see if they respond.

See, e-mail is noninvasive and its reach is finite; a Facebook friend request begs for a long-term commitment, whereby you’ll be popping up in each other’s news feeds for years to come, until one of you severs the ties that bind a second time.

And isn’t a fear of commitment what splintered your young love in the first place?

Worse still is following an ex on Twitter, particularly if he or she has unprotected tweets.

After the way-out-of-left-field “YOUR EX is following you on Twitter” e-mail, he’s left picturing you reading his bi-hourly updates, catching constant glimpses into his life. And blocking you isn’t really an option, since the rest of the WWW is free to read his tweets at will.

That’s the funny thing about the web: We love imagining that our friends and interested strangers are eating up our every word; we also like to pretend that privacy will magically settle in a veil over the random unsavory characters of our past and present.

Neither thing is true, but the only way to figure out which camp your target will put you in is to stick out your hand and hope it gets a friendly shake back.



Feds probe alleged screening lapses at Honolulu airport

The Transportation Security Administration is investigating between 25 and 30 officers who allegedly routinely failed to check luggage during early morning flights out of Hawaii’s Honolulu International Airport.

The investigation, first reported by KITV 4 in Honolulu and confirmed by CNN, involves the alleged failure of the officers to check thousands of checked bags for explosives on nine daily morning departures. The lapses are believed to have occurred for as long as four months, KITV 4 reported.

TSA officers are required to screen 100% of all checked bags before they are stored in the cargo holds of passenger aircraft.

The investigation does not involve officers at airport checkpoints, where carry-on bags are screened.

A source familiar with the investigation told CNN that investigators are conducting polygraph tests to determine the extent of the security lapse and the exact number of officers who failed their responsibility at the airport.

A TSA spokesman said the agency “is taking appropriate disciplinary action against several TSA officers following an extensive investigation into allegations of improper screening.”

“We took immediate action and none of the personnel accused have been conducting screening duties since the allegations were made,” spokesman Nico Melendez said. “TSA is proud to hold our workforce to the highest ethical standards and will not tolerate a deviation from the commitment to carry out our mission to protect the traveling public.”



sweat lodge trial fuels native unrest

Growing up on a reservation in lower Saskatchewan, Alvin Manitopyes learned early to respect the sweat lodge. He was 10 when he attended his first sweat ceremony, and for more than 15 years tribe elders instructed him in his people’s ways.

He understands the spiritual mandate he was given as a healer to serve as an intermediary between people and the spirit world. He carries with him the ancient ceremonial songs, passed on through generations.

He knows how the natural elements – earth, fire, water and air – work together to cleanse people, inside and out, and create balance. At 55, he has spent more than 20 years conducting ceremonies in sweat lodges, where water is poured over hot lava rocks as part of a purifying ritual.

“If you have the right to do it, then the environment you’re creating is a safe place,” says Manitopyes, a public health consultant in Calgary, Alberta, who is Plains Cree and Anishnawbe. “But today we have all kinds of people who observe what’s going on and think they can do it themselves. … And that’s not a safe place to be.”

No example of what worries him is clearer than the case of James Arthur Ray, a self-help guru who led a crowded sweat lodge ceremony that left three people dead. Ray faces manslaughter charges for the deaths allegedly tied to his October 2009 “Spiritual Warrior” retreat outside Sedona, Arizona. His trial began Tuesday.

Ray pleaded not guilty to the charges and has been free on $525,000 bail. Prosecutors say the deaths resulted from Ray’s recklessness, an overheated lodge and because he encouraged people to stay inside when they weren’t feeling well. His defense team denies those allegations, and attorney Luis Li has called what transpired “a terrible accident, not a crime.”

Accidents, in fact, have happened even in ceremonies overseen by tribes. The Seattle Times reported a year ago the death of a 29-year-old Puyallup tribe member in a Swinomish smokehouse ceremony on a reservation near La Conner, Washington. The cause of death, overheating, was ruled accidental by a county medical examiner, the paper reported. And no criminal charges were filed in that case because it was an accident, says Alix Foster, an attorney for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.

The Ray case highlights an outrage that’s long existed for many Native Americans. They are tired of their traditions being co-opted by others and exploited for capital gain. They resent that a ceremony they view as sacred is now being tied to terms like “death trap.” They don’t want their ancient ways to be deemed fashionable or inspire impersonators.

In Ray’s Spiritual Warrior retreat, participants in a “vision quest” fasted for a few days before Ray reportedly led more than 50 of them – at least 30 more than the number many Native Americans recommend – in a sweat ceremony meant to purify. Each participant paid about $10,000 to take part in the retreat.

After the disaster and criminal charges, representatives of various tribal nations stepped into the legal fray, filing a federal lawsuit last March against Ray and those who run the Angel Valley Retreat Center, where he had leased land for his program.

The plaintiffs, on behalf of their tribes, sought to end the “abuse and misuse” of their ceremonies and hoped to convince the court that their rituals were their property and should be protected under the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act. Just as a merchant can’t claim earrings were made by Native Americans if they weren’t, their ceremonies shouldn’t be falsely advertised either, they argued.

That suit was dismissed in October. The court held that “the operation of a sweat lodge is plainly not art, craftwork or a handcraft.” Services can’t be protected like goods, the court ruled.

Amayra Hamilton, along with her husband, Michael, owns the Angel Valley Retreat Center, where the lodge was located. Their business has suffered greatly since the sweat lodge incident. The couple, in fact, has filed a business claim tort suit against Ray for running his retreat, on their property, in what their attorney Kelley Ruda calls “a ridiculous manner.”

But a December 2009 letter to prosecutors from defense attorney Li said, “Mr. Ray and his team relied on Angel Valley to provide a safe environment, warned people of the risks, did not force people to participate, did not prevent them from leaving, and did everything they could to prepare for any problems and to assist when problems arose.”

Several civil personal injury/wrongful death suits are pending against Angel Valley, Ruda says, but they are on the verge of out-of-court settlement.

As for how tribe members reacted after the incident, Hamilton of Angel Valley says, “I feel how hurt they are. And I have an understanding of it.”

Just as many Native Americans feel stung by what Ray allegedly did, Hamilton says so does she.

“Our focus here is on transformation, growth, sensitivity and creating a safe space,” she says. “When something like this happens, is it a violation? Yes, it is.”

The takeaway lesson for the couple, Hamilton says, is to make sure programs on their property are aligned with their intentions.

“We were removed” from Ray’s program, she says. “We are more critical of who we allow here to do their work.”

James Arthur Ray’s sweat lodge ceremony in this structure left three dead and became a crime scene.

But even if she gets why Native Americans might be offended, Hamilton believes sweat lodges have a place and purpose beyond sanctioned tribal ceremonies. She says she and her husband suggested Ray split his retreat into two smaller groups and that the lodge had been used before Ray arrived, effectively and safely. Plus, the practice of doing sweats does not belong exclusively to anyone, she says; similar ceremonies happen worldwide.

That’s a point echoed by Ruda, the attorney for the Hamiltons. She points to sweat structures and traditions dotting the globe: the Russian banya, the Finnish sauna, the Hindu fire lodge.

But Floyd “Looks for Buffalo” Hand, 71, doesn’t care about the traditions of others. He’s worried about the sweats that seem blatantly modeled after his people’s practices.

A member of the Oglala Lakota Delegation of the Black Hills Sioux Nation, he was among the plaintiffs listed in the now-dismissed complaint against Ray. A grandson of Chief Red Cloud and a descendant of the Crazy Horse Band, he was reached at his home on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where he has lived his whole life.

“I sat back two weeks watching the news (about Ray’s sweat lodge incident), waiting for another tribe or individual to say something because they violated the way of life of the Lakota people,” he says. “It is a way of life, our language, our custom, our culture. It’s the way we live.”

Adding insult, he says, was how Ray benefited, “making over $500,000 off of our way of life,” charging for what is sacred.

This disbelief and frustration spans generations.

Autumn Two Bulls, 29, also lives on Pine Ridge, and just thinking about the dream catchers that hang in trendy gift shops, the non-Native Americans who make money off her people’s artifacts, makes her cry “rape.”

“Haven’t native people been through enough?” says Two Bulls, a writer who createdReservation H.E.L.P. (Helping Every Lakota Person), an organization to help impoverished families.

“It’s a fad to be Indian today. … They envision us like a fantasy culture,” but the harsh reality is one they helped create and won’t face, she suggests.

She says this from her reservation, where there’s 80 percent unemployment, suicide rates are reportedly 300 percent higher than the national average and alcoholism ravages her community. Two Bulls says she was 18 when her mother died in her arms from cirrhosis.

“In America, you are an individual. You can be whatever you want to be. When you’re Lakota, we belong to each other. So when you take our way of life and put a price tag on it, you’re asking for death, you’re asking for something to happen to you.”

It’s not that she believes anyone deserved to die in Ray’s sweat lodge; they were victims of his “wannabe” ways, of his playing with a tradition that wasn’t his to claim, she says.

“But honestly, I think the spirits went and did something there,” Two Bulls says. “He has taken the deaths of our ancestors, the slaughtering of our babies, and he sold it. And it came back on him and killed those people.”

Less than a week after the Ray ceremony turned deadly, Valerie Taliman, a Navajo journalist and columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network, penned a scathing column with the title “Selling the Sacred.”

She called out Ray for his actions, including that he fled Arizona after the ceremony.

“Who does that? Only a huckster posing as the real thing,” she wrote.

Taliman, 53, also wrote about long-standing efforts by Native Americans to stop the “appropriation and exploitation of sacred ceremonies,” pointing to a 1993 international gathering in South Dakota of 500 Lakota, Dakota and Nakota nation representatives. Together they “passed the ‘Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality,’ denouncing individuals involved in the New Age movement, shamanism, cultists, and neo-paganists and others who promote ‘intolerable and obscene imitations of sacred Lakota rites,’ ” Taliman wrote.

Ray is a symbol, the latest and most horrifying example of what this trend purports, she says by phone. And the double standard in how he’s been treated is glaring, she says.

“If an Indian man, a traditional person, killed people in a sweat lodge, he’d be in jail,” she says, not free on bond. “And if I went out, and I impersonated a Catholic priest, and charged people to attend ceremonies, they’d arrest me.”

Perhaps no one feels more troubled by what happened during Ray’s retreat than David Singing Bear.

He was enlisted by the Angel Valley Retreat Center to design the sweat lodge Ray would use, a point the Hamiltons’ attorney, Ruda, also highlights.

“To the extent that they (Native Americans) think it was a bunch of white people tying sticks together, that’s not the case,” Ruda says.

Singing Bear is a 60-year-old Eastern Band Cherokee who calls himself a wisdom keeper, ceremonial leader and healer. He says he spent 20 years learning from tribal elders on reservations across North America.

So when he was asked to design a sweat lodge outside Sedona, where he lives, it mattered to him that it was done right. He says he selected the blankets and canvas covering that would breathe and offered the space traditional blessings and prayers, at no charge. And he says he worried when he heard how large they said Ray wanted it to be.

He says he told higher-ups at Angel Valley that what Ray wanted was too big and that only trained facilitators should lead ceremonies. Hamilton says, “I do not know what he said at the time.”

Singing Bear, who’s been named a witness in Ray’s criminal trial, says he doesn’t allow more than 20 people in a sweat because each person needs to be looked out for and protected. Others add that Native Americans would never pressure anyone to stay. The allegation that Ray did this, again, is one the defense team denies.

With or without him, Singing Bear says, that lodge was going to be built because it was what Ray wanted. And he says he had no reason to believe the structure he designed and his nephew built, one meant to represent the nurturing “womb of Mother Earth,” would go on to become a crime scene. Now, though, he’ll stay away from these kinds of requests.

“They don’t care about our ways. It’s a dollar sign to them,” he says. “I’ll never mess with colonialists again.”