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The key to ending poverty is within our reach

A boy scavenged through garbage at a landfill in Rio Hato, Panama, Wednesday. Human-rights organizations say extreme poverty remains an unresolved issue in the country (Credit: Reuters/Alberto Lowe) This New York Times headline caught my eye: "The End of Poverty, Soon."  Is this possible?

In 1980, 52 percent of households in developing countries were below the extreme-poverty line, according to the World Bank.  That number declined to 43 percent in 1990, 34 percent in 1999, and 21 percent in 2010.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund, the mortality rate of children in Africa under the age of five has declined from 177 deaths per 1,000 births in 1990, to 98 per 1,000 in 2012.  Meanwhile, economic growth in Africa has increased from 2.3 percent per year in 1990-2000, to 5.7 percent during 2000-10.

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Pope excommunicates pro-gay marriage priest

Pope Francis has said he wants to bring the activities of the Vatican bank more in line with the universal mission of the Apostolic See (Credit: Reuters/Tony Gentile) USA Today, like most news sources, summarized a recently published interview with Pope Francis: "Pope Francis said the Catholic Church should focus less on abortion, gays and contraception."  Is there more to the story?

Consider this: last May, Pope Francis excommunicated a pro-gay marriage priest.  Greg Reynolds of Melbourne, Australia had been advocating views on women clergy and gay marriage that clearly contradict Catholic doctrine.  However, the pope's action is only now making news.  Why?  Perhaps because, as one commentator notes, "he's not the liberal the media wants."

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Vandals torch statue of Ronald Reagan

The statue of Ronald Reagan at the Friends of Ronald Reagan Sports Park was torched on September 20 in Temecula California (Credit: Ronald Reagan Sports Park) A life-size statue of Ronald Reagan was constructed a year ago at the Ronald Reagan Sports Park in Temecula, California.  Last week, the statue was torched by vandals.  Temecula is not a huge city, with a population of around 100,000.  Its small size makes it an unusual location for violence among today's headlines.

Over the weekend, more than 70 people were killed when a group loyal to al-Qaeda attacked a popular mall in Nairobi, Kenya, a city of more than three million. 

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How long will the world last?

Earth and North America from Space (Credit: Royce Bair via Flickr)At least another 1.75 billion years, according to scientists.  However, be warned that between 1.75 and 3.25 billion years from now, Earth will no longer be habitable—our planet will move so close to the sun that our oceans evaporate.  At that time we should probably move to Mars, since it will remain habitable until the end of the sun's lifetime, six billion years from now.

Of course, other eventualities could shorten our planet's life.  A giant black hole would consume us (though the nearest one is 1,600 light-years away).  A microscopic black hole with the mass of Mount Everest would absorb the Earth.  A bomb with the energy of the sun's weekly output would blow us to pieces.  Firing Mars or Venus at us at 31 miles per second would pulverize our planet, as would a 10-trillion ton asteroid traveling at 90 percent the speed of light.  The odds of any of these actually occurring are astronomically small, however.  It's probably still safe to buy green bananas.

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Are you tired of reading about this?

Aaron Alexis, responsible for the September 16, 2013 shootings at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., is shown in this undated handout photograph (Credit: Reuters/Kristi Suthamtewakul)Five days after the Navy Yard shooting, Aaron Alexis continues to make headlines.  We now know he scratched the words "Better off this way" into the Remington 870 shotgun he used.  We have learned that he apparently suffered from mental illness.  We know that he was arrested in 2004 for shooting out a man's tires and in 2008 for disorderly conduct.  And we know that he recently contacted two Veterans Affairs hospitals, reportedly seeking help for sleep-related issues and because he was "hearing voices."

How long will he stay in the news?  As long as reporters find stories they think we'll want to read.  But he'll soon join the ranks of other mass murderers whose names we seldom remember: Adam Lanza in Newtown, Connecticut, James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado, and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in Littleton, Colorado, for example.  Others were never widely reported in America: Matti Saari murdered 10 college students in Finland; Robert Steinhaeuser killed 16 in Erfurt, Germany; Martin Bryant killed 35 in Tasmania, Australia; Thomas Hamilton murdered 16 in Dunblane, Scotland.

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