Sunday, February 16, 2020

‘Fighting like ferrets in a bag’ as EU tries to plug Brexit cash hole

Presidents, prime ministers and chancellors across Europe will pack their bags later this week in preparation for a long weekend in Brussels. They won’t, however, be taking in the baroque majesty of the Grand Place or savouring the local culinary treats. Instead, they will be preparing for that most infamous of events, a “four shirter”, to use the clothes-packing gauge adopted by male diplomats to measure the length and horror of EU leaders’ summits in the Belgian capital. The thorny subject this time around? Money. And the problem? Britain.

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union has left a huge €75bn (£62bn) hole in the bloc’s budget for the next seven years, 2021 to 2027. “And now we are fighting like ferrets in a sack,” said one EU diplomat with a sigh.

Covering items ranging from agricultural subsidies to science programmes and the EU’s efforts to combat the climate emergency, the new multi-annual financial framework (MFF) needs to be agreed by the leaders and an increasingly unpredictable European parliament before the end of the year. Without agreement, everything risks grinding to a halt in just nine months’ time, including the flow of cohesion funds, the cash dedicated to supporting the poorest member states.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The coming Democratic train wreck

Democrats, I bring you good news. By Election Day, hardly anyone will remember the goat rope known as the Iowa caucuses. Downside: That memory will be obliterated by the infinitely larger train wreck that appears to be looming in July.

After losing narrowly in the 2016 primaries, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) used his clout to strip power from the Democratic Party insiders known as superdelegates — elected officials, union leaders and other pooh-bahs skeptical of his glorious revolution. In meetings to write the rules for 2020, the senator’s loyalists took control of the party to create a more democratic nominating process. But oops! They may have come up with something worse.

Let me explain. Despite contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, the field is still crowded. Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are riding high. Elizabeth Warren says she’s raised $6 million since flopping in Iowa. Joe Biden, who went from bad to worse in the first two rounds, still leads in some state polls. Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg pack 100-ton wallets. Democrats aren’t sure what they want.

The ousted insiders used to have a cure for this problem: winner-take-all primaries. Awarding all of a state’s delegates to the winner in a crowded field, no matter how small the margin of victory, ensured that someone would cross the finish line with enough delegates to be nominated. Winner-take-all contests may have prevented a civil war in the Republican Party in 2016.

But that finger has been taken off the scales. In today’s new and supposedly improved world, Democratic delegates are awarded in rough proportion to the primary and caucus results. Opening a big lead is much harder. Suppose New Hampshire had been winner-take-all. Sanders would have walked away with 24 delegates. Instead, he tallied nine for his narrow victory; Buttigieg also got nine, and Klobuchar left with six.

Handwriting, meet wall. With so many candidates and this set of rules, can anyone win a majority? We have eight highly ambitious, well-funded people hunched feverishly at the craps table, some rolling hot dice, others sure their luck’s about to change. No one’s ready to walk away.


Read the rest here.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Reflecting on the Treaty of Westphalia and Modern American Foreign Policy

When a crisis in the 17th-century Holy Roman Empire about princely authority and autonomy spiraled into sectarian warfare, Central Europe was plunged into the Thirty Years War. It was to be a conflict so debilitating and deadly that it would prove more proportionally costly in casualties for what is now Germany than even the Second World War. When the Peace of Westphalia finally brought the nightmare to a close in 1648, it was clear that domestic politics had to be separated from diplomacy for any stability to return to Europe. So came an emphasis on the sovereignty of states to police their own affairs while retaining a standardized system for dealing with each other as (ostensible) equals in the international realm. 

While no system can guarantee peace free from geopolitical upset, The Westphalian Peace was nonetheless an improvement over the religious wars of the past. Something like it would also be an improvement over the rampant, American-led liberal hegemony of today. The ideologies of permanent war have had disproportionate influence over the ruling cliques in Washington, D.C., from the Clintonite neoliberals to the Dick Cheney neoconservatives. There are very real material reasons for this, of course, such as defense contracting and the powerful lobbying behind it. But it was on purely ideological terms that America’s dangerous imperial overstretch was sold to a domestic audience. 

Those like former U.N. ambassador Samantha Power would have us believe that there are teeming masses of people abroad just yearning to have American bombs rained down upon them as a solution for their domestic woes. Yet for most of American history, this was not so. The early and rising United States was a nation of diplomats who had taken the lessons of Westphalia to heart. From George Washington and John Quincy Adams up through the start of the 20th century, the importance of keeping domestic ideological arrangements out of sober realist diplomacy was usually understood. It was Woodrow Wilson who departed from this arrangement with his commitment to establishing the United States as guarantor not only of the rights of its own citizens but also the people of foreign nations abroad. His unrealistic vision was rejected by both Congress and most of the world’s other great powers. Still, Britain and America were influenced enough by his thinking to stand aghast when first Japan and then Italy and Germany went about sabotaging the fragile postwar order. It would take a second, more destructive war, with the United States and the U.S.S.R. creating a peace out of their victorious power, to undo the damage that had been done. Two countries that could not have been more internally different became the crux of the most important wartime alliance of the 20th century. Largely forgotten was that the top crime pursued by the allies during the Germans’ postwar trial was that of “waging aggressive war.”

Since the end of the Cold War, and with the checks on America’s ambitions largely removed, we have seen this Wilsonian messianism return, and stronger than before. America’s cultural history of puritanism and faith in its own (culturally and historically specific) institutions has merged with an unchecked hubris. Interventions unrelated to the interests of the average American came in the Balkans and Somalia, and then expanded to nearly the entire Middle East and large swathes of Africa. The justification is always the 9/11 terror attacks. The Bush administration in particular merged all of these trends by marrying the images of apocalyptic religious struggle to the Wilsonian quest for a world order founded on a universal conception of rights. When weapons of mass destruction, the ostensible reason for the invasion of Iraq, failed to turn up, Bush quickly pivoted to another argument: that we would build a new and better Iraq Americanized through our concept of civil society. What we got was the rise of ISIS, sectarian strife, and an empowered Iran greatly expanding its influence throughout that region. It was an outcome abundantly obvious to the many experts who were opposed to the war from the outset.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Orthodox churches repeatedly vandalized by Muslim refugees on Lesvos

The tense situation on the islands of the northern and eastern Aegean, now home to tens of thousands of refugees, mainly from predominantly Muslim countries, is like a “time bomb ready to blow,” reports the Orthodoxia News Agency.

The locals have reached their limits and are in a constant state of anger and sorrow as the refugees repeatedly attack and desecrate their Orthodox holy sites.

In particular, residents of Moria, Lesvos complain that groups of illegal Muslim immigrants have repeatedly vandalized churches in the area and made direct threats against the Orthodox faith. The Church of St. Catherine is now locked, as residents try to block the entrance and protect it from being desecrated again.

The windows of the church have been broken, the holy cross has been thrown down, and the icons have been overturned. Refugees have also damaged the chapel of Taxiarchis (the Archangel Michael), the patron saint of Mytilini, the capital of Lesvos, breaking in to sleep there. 

With the help of the police, local residents managed to kick the refugees out of the Taxiarchis chapel, “but the picture inside the church was tragic.”

According to a recent report from the Guardian, there are more than 42,000 immigrants on Lesvos and a handful of other islands, who are “unable to leave because of a containment policy determined by the EU, they are forced to remain on the islands until their asylum requests are processed by a system both understaffed and overstretched.”

Police on Lesvos clashed with some 2,000 Afghani migrants and refugees who were participating in a protest rally from the Moria camp to Mytilini last Monday to demand better living conditions and a acceleration of asylum procedures. 

The conditions at the Moira camp are widely recognized to be extremely poor. 

The Democrats

Sanders does not surprise me. The old lefty has always had the hearts and affections of that corner of the Democratic Party (and the others of the left) whose favorite color is red. Boot-edge-edge however, is a surprise. I really did not see him as a credible top tier candidate for multiple reasons. In any event I think Trump will crush either of them in the general election.

Sanders will alienate the center left and more than a few Democrats would stay home if he is the nominee, or they will hold their nose and vote for Trump. Boot-edge-edge will loose because Afro-Americans are by and large cool to outright hostile towards the alphabet people. And there is no Democratic path to the White House that does not require about 90% of the black vote. Bluntly, the Mayor of South Bend Indiana who is white and openly homosexual, has no chance of pulling off those kinds of numbers. I am still a bit shocked that he has leapt to the top tier of candidates.

Amy Klobuchar's campaign doesn't have the money or the organizational depth to go the distance despite her surprising third place finish last night.

Biden and Warren, both at one time seen as the two most likely nominees, are now on life support. Warren is probably done. Biden still has a slim chance but he has to carry South Carolina. If he loses there, it's pretty much game over.

With one exception the others should stop wasting everybody's time and stand down. Several already have. I was honestly sorry to see Yang never got any real traction. Like all of the Democrats, he is wrong on almost every issue I care about, but he isn't a nut and he had moments when he seemed willing to think out of the box.

That leaves the one wild card still waiting to make his appearance in the great game... Bloomberg. He's richer than Trump, probably by a factor, and is willing to spend whatever it takes to beat him. He has relatively little baggage beyond his wealth, which among Democrats is hugely controversial. He is liberal but not crazy. He is not corrupt or functionally illiterate. He grasps the dangers of the widening wealth gap, but doesn't think blowing up the economic system is the way to fix it. He has a dreadful view of gun rights. He has never shown much interest in the leftwing cause du jour, namely identity politics. He supports abortion rights but that flag is nowhere near the top of his masthead. And he is fairly centrist on crime and immigration (at least by Democratic standards).

If the Democratic center remains splintered and weak after South Carolina, he may become the anti-Sanders candidate. And I think he is the one Democrat who has a really good shot at beating Trump in November. But he won't show up on the ballot before March 3.

Will it be too late?

One of the main problems with electric cars



My 2¢...
  •  Electric cars are the future. Like it or not, this is probably the last generation (give or take) of Americans who will be mainly accustomed to driving cars powered with gas fueled internal combustion engines. However, before electric cars (EV) take over the highways a few things are going to need to happen first.
  • Range needs to improve. The better EVs are now getting effective driving ranges in excess of 300 miles. But EVs with that kind of range are still well outside of affordable for the average American. And while that's certainly an improvement, most of us are going to want a car with a range closer to 400 miles before seriously considering it. Long distance driving with the shorter ranged EVs is still possible but it would take a lot longer given the constant need to make prolonged stops for charging.
  • The auto industry needs to get their act together and standardize the charging systems for their cars and make it more like current gas stations with a pull in, swipe your plastic, and fuel up system. Not everybody is a tech geek who has more apps on their phone than reactionaries like me have fiat currency bills in our wallet.
  • Charging times need to be drastically reduced at the various commercial charging stations. I think we are probably at least ten years from the point where you will be able to fully charge an EV in 15 minutes or less. Until then I am probably not interested.
  • EVs with decent range and mechanical reliability need to come down in price. The Tesla S (widely regarded as among the best of the longer ranged EVs) starts at around $80k and you can easily drop closer to $100k if you add on a few things. By contrast you can get a Tesla Model 3 for slightly under half that price. But again, these cars are not well suited for long distance road trips, especially those that would take multiple days using a gas fueled car. 
So yeah, I acknowledge that the future probably belongs to electric cars, but we have a ways to go before most people are going to be comfortable with it. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Oscars

Ok. Let's say it; 1917 was robbed in an effort to provide some PC cred for Hollywood's awokened. But is anyone really surprised? As far as I can tell the Oscars has become the biggest annual gathering of flakes outside of the supermarket cereal aisle.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

L.A. Wants To Seize Private Apartment Building to Prevent Rent Increases

Los Angeles politicians will make housing affordable, by force if necessary.

On Friday, City Councilmember Gil Cedillo introduced a motion that asks city staff to draft plans for using eminent domain to seize Hillside Villa Apartments, a 124-unit, privately-owned development in the city's Chinatown neighborhood to avoid rent increases at the property.

The property is currently under an affordability covenant that requires its owner to rent out a number of its units at below-market rates. That covenant is set to expire soon, meaning rents on some 59 units will increase to market rates—which means rent hikes of up to $1,000 per unit.

"We think it is important enough that we need to take action to preserve those units. We don't want to generate more homeless people," Conrado Terrazas Cross, Cedillo's communications director, tells Reason, saying that many tenants would not be able to afford the coming rent increases.

"I think it's a brilliant idea but I need to know: Are we in Cuba or Venezuela?" says Tom Botz, the L.A.-area developer who owns the building, about the proposal to seize his property.

Botz tells Reason he purchased the development company that built Hillside Villa roughly 20 years ago. The building's construction had been financed by a number of government grants and loans, including a $5.4 million loan from Los Angeles' since-abolished Community Redevelopment Agency in 1986.

A condition of that loan was that the developer rent out units in the building at below-market rates for 30 years. Other government grants and loans that helped finance the building came with their own specific affordability requirements.

The affordability requirements from the redevelopment loan were supposed to expire in June 2019. Beginning in May 2018, tenants in Hillside Villa started to receive notices that their below-market rents would be increasing in a year's time. In March 2019, tenants were given the option of signing new leases at the increased rates or face eviction.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Iowa

A few quick thoughts...

* There is absolutely nothing a computer can't screw up.

* There is no tech that can be made absolutely secure from tampering or hacking.

* You can't hack paper. Paper is not effected by viruses. Paper ballots are impervious to technological whims and failures. You can hold an election with paper ballots without electricity if necessary.

* These are the same people who think we should trust them to run the nation's health care system.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Quote of the day...

“I was pleased by the recent decisions by the Greek and Alexandrian Orthodox Churches to recognize the Orthodox Church of Ukraine as a fellow autocephalous church. Russia should never stand in the way of the Ukrainian people’s fundamental right to exercise their religious freedom. The Ukrainians can count on American support in that regard.”

-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Source

Free at last


Friday, January 31, 2020

Our Coming Debt Crisis

Ten to 20 years from now, we will not be talking about impeachment, and believe it or not, we won't still be talking about Donald Trump either. We will be talking about our debt crisis. For all the good that came from this era, the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations will all be remembered as the ones that caused the crisis that will hammer our children and grandchildren. To understand where we are, it's helpful to review the past few years of this issue's development.

At the Bush White House, where I worked for eight years, we knew we had a long-term entitlement program spending problem coming down the track, but we thought of it as far off in the future. Unfortunately, the Bush administration was horrible about spending. For an administration that campaigned on limited government, we increased non-defense discretionary spending 8% a year during our first term. We also added even bigger increases to the defense side. We introduced a new entitlement for prescription drugs for all Americans instead of targeting it for the needy.

By the second term, the budget hawks were trying to put on the brakes, but with war spending and then Hurricane Katrina, we never really got discretionary spending under control. Finally, with the financial crisis, we stopped even trying. Throw in the booming entitlements, and we left a really bad legacy. To George Bush's credit, he did expend a lot of political capital on Social Security reform. He jumped on this issue before the country was ready -- and nothing got done.
 
In 2008, federal government spending neared an inflation-adjusted record of $28,388 per American household -- the highest level since World War II -- up from $21,891 per household in 2001. Sixty percent of all that new spending was in areas unrelated to defense and homeland security.

During the Obama years, with all the talk of stimulus, the spending just got worse. President Barack Obama ran historically massive trillion-dollar-plus deficits his first few years, when he had a Democratic Congressional majority. Republicans in Congress tried to fight this massive spending with limited success. Some Republicans also tried to raise the entitlement issue, again with no real success. The Obama years were notable as a time when most Republican voters and politicians seemed to really care about our spending and debt problem.

After screaming about spending for eight years of Obama, Republicans have been pretty silent about it during the Trump years. There has been no Republican discussion of entitlement reform, which makes things look more than a little partisan after all the shutdown fights over spending under Obama. Trump has taken the entitlement issue off the table completely, which makes sense politically, because voters are not open to it, but from a policy perspective, we are getting closer and closer to the tipping point into a debt crisis.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Raymond Rizk: Are we before the Spectacle of a Church Disintegrating?

Worth a read.

Quote of the day...


Your dumb home doesn't have a function that automatically regulates ventilation. But instead of spending 5-10% on the building cost on an electronic "smart" system that breaks down every few years and requires electricity to work, you open a window when it feels stuffy. -Wrath of Gnon

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

German [Catholic] bishops’ working doc calls for approval of contraception, homosexuality, women’s ordination

January 29, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The working documents in preparation for the assemblies of the German bishops’ “Synodal Path” defend the use of contraception, the practice of masturbation, and an active homosexual lifestyle. Additionally, neither the question of the ordination of women nor that of making celibacy optional for priests is taken off the table.

In 2019, four panels of experts were preparing working documents to serve as the basis for discussion among the participants of the Synodal Path, a process that begins Jan. 30. A careful study of those four documents reveals that the Church in Germany would, in fact, be reinvented, in spite of claims to the contrary made by Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

The head of the German Bishops’ Conference had stated in an interview that the Synodal Path does not want to “reinvent the Church.” With the first assembly being scheduled for the end of January and the beginning of February, the two-year long “Synodal Path” is focusing on sexual morality, the lifestyle of priests, women in the Church, and the abuse of power. The working documents essentially follow the agenda of Professor Eberhard Schockenhoff to loosen the Church's moral teaching, which he outlined for the German bishops at their conference last March.

The working document’s chapter dealing with sexual morality is revealingly titled, “On the further development of Catholic teaching on sexuality.” The document demands sexual morality must develop “on the basis of insights of the human sciences, including the life experience […] of (faithful) loving people.”

The document describes that relying on the human sciences, namely “psychology, sociology, anthropology,” would open up the many prohibitions of sexual morality as proposed by the teaching authority of the Church, “which sees sexual activity only within marriage, and still directed strongly towards procreation.”

Consequently, the document justifies the use of contraception, the practice of masturbation, and an active homosexual lifestyle.


Read the rest here.

China bans Christians from holding religious funerals

Christians across China are prohibited from holding religious funerals for their deceased loved ones as the Communist Party continues to tighten its grip on the regulation of religion and religious activity.

Bitter Winter, a magazine documenting human rights and religious freedom abuses in China, reported that authorities throughout the country are enforcing policies that prohibit religious customs and rituals to be used during funerals.

In December, the government of Wenzhou city’s Pingyang county in the eastern province of Zhejiang adopted the Regulations on Centralized Funeral Arrangement.

Under the new rules, “clerical personnel are not allowed to participate in funerals,” and “no more than ten family members of the deceased are allowed to read scriptures or sing hymns in a low voice.”

The new rules aim to “get rid of bad funeral customs and establish a scientific, civilized, and economical way of funerals.”

Similarly, a village official from the central province of Henan told Bitter Winter that the local government convened a meeting for religious work assistants in April, informing them that all religious funerals are restricted.

Soon after, officials issued a document stipulating that clerical personnel should be “timely stopped from using religion to intervene in citizens’ weddings and funerals or other activities in their lives.”

In Wuhan, police stormed the funeral of a Christian member of a government-regulated Three-Self Church and arrested her daughter, who was praying for her mother at the time. The daughter was only released after the deceased was buried without Christian rituals two days later.


Read the rest here.

Boycott China.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

World's Largest Orthodox Church Planned where Russia's Last Emperor was Murdered

The largest Orthodox church in the world will be built in the territory of the female monastery dedicated to the "Bread Dispenser" icon of the Mother of God. This cathedral should be capable of gathering nearly 40,000 faithful within its walls.

The starets of the monastery, Igumen Sergiy (Romanov), announced the project. He is an almost legendary and rather mysterious character, with links to many Russian public figures: the Duma deputy Natalja Poklonskaja (ex-Crimean prosecutor), the hockey champion Pavel Datsjuk, the singer Aleksandr Novikov, and others, including several entrepreneurs and oligarchs, all ready to finance the grandiose project.

Read the rest here

Solemn Requiem Mass for Louis XVI of France


Bloomberg Is Taunting Trump, and Trump Is Taking the Bait

WASHINGTON — A few days after Election Day in 2016, Donald J. Trump received a call on his cellphone from Michael R. Bloomberg, an old acquaintance he had clashed with during the campaign.

Mr. Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, had called to offer his congratulations, but the president-elect cut him off.

“You were very mean to me!” Mr. Trump said, according to people familiar with the call. Mr. Trump was referring to Mr. Bloomberg’s slashing speech that year at the Democratic National Convention, during which he called the Republican a “con” and called on voters to elect a “sane, competent person.”

Mr. Trump settled down almost immediately, then turned the conversation toward his latest predicament: quickly hiring people to fill out his government.

Mr. Bloomberg, according to the people briefed on the call, told him that when he was first elected mayor in 2001, he, too, had never served in government. What Mr. Trump should do, Mr. Bloomberg advised, was to “hire a lot of people smarter than you.”

“Mike,” Mr. Trump replied tersely, “there is no one smarter than me.” A startled Mr. Bloomberg paused before turning the conversation to a less fraught subject: golf.


Read the rest here.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Memory Eternal: Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin

The former spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate died suddenly on a bench near his parish at 51. Fr. Vsevolod gained a reputation for outspoken conservatism and occasionally made comments that caused controversy.  May his memory be eternal.