Friday, December 31, 2010

Quote of the day...

“In many cases, the conventional wisdom was wrong,” said Byron R. Wien, a veteran market strategist at the Blackstone Group. “The market still managed to do well, and the rise in gold and other commodities was a big surprise.”

To whom sir? To whom?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Man quits job, makes living suing e-mail spammers

SAN FRANCISCO -- Daniel Balsam hates spam. Most everybody does, of course. But he has acted on his hate as few have, going far beyond simply hitting the delete button. He sues them.

Eight years ago, Balsam was working as a marketer when he received one too many e-mail pitches to enlarge his breasts.

Enraged, he launched a Web site called, quit a career in marketing to go to law school and is making a decent living suing companies who flood his e-mail inboxes with offers of cheap drugs, free sex and unbelievable vacations.

"I feel like I'm doing a little bit of good cleaning up the Internet," Balsam said.

From San Francisco Superior Court small claims court to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Balsam, based in San Francisco, has filed many lawsuits, including dozens before he graduated law school in 2008, against e-mail marketers he says violate anti-spamming laws.
Read the rest here.

Ten reasons why I never wash

From Fr. Finigan's blog (I regret I don't have the link) via an email from Dr. Tighe
1. I was forced to as a child.
2. People who wash are hypocrites – they think they are cleaner than
everybody else.
3. There are so many different kinds of soap, I can’t decide which one
is best.
4. I used to wash, but I got bored and stopped.
5. I wash only on special occasions, like Christmas and Easter.
6. None of my friends wash.
7. I’ll start washing when I get older and dirtier.
8. I can’t spare the time.
9. The bathroom is never warm enough in winter or cool enough in
10. People who make soap are only after your money.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Soviet Story

I refer the reader to a post over at Byzantine Texas where you will find a movie on the history and ideology of the Soviet Union. I can not recommend this film too strongly. It is simply the best I have seen on the subject. Anyone with any kind of leftist illusions about the pure evil of Communism and its proper place in history is going to be in for a very rude shock. IMHO the film should be required viewing in every High School in the English speaking world.

Caution: Extremely graphic images.

Pope to issue tighter financial rules for Vatican Bank

The Vatican planned to issue new rules Thursday designed to make its financial transactions more transparent after a money laundering probe resulted in the seizure of 23 million euros ($30.21 million) from a Vatican account.

The rules are expected to create a compliance authority to oversee all Vatican finances, as required by EU and other international organizations involved in the fight against money laundering and terror financing.

Vatican officials confirmed Wednesday that Pope Benedict XVI's executive order — called a "motu proprio" — making the rules into law, would be released Thursday.

The Vatican has maintained it has been working for over a year to come into compliance with such international norms, but the effort went into high gear following the money laundering probe, which embarrassed the Vatican and its bank chairman, economist Ettore Gotti Tedeschi.
Read the rest here.

You know it's a slow day for news when...

...The New York Times reports on the front page of their website that a lady in White Plains shared some rum with a couple of local kids who helped shovel her out from the blizzard. Oh the horror! Where was this lady when I was a kid?

OK OK. Not saying she should have gotten the kids bombed. But I will bet she never has trouble getting her driveway shoveled again.

Yes, Mormonism is a pagan cult

I don't really spend much time addressing Mormonism or other weird pseudo Christian cults on here, but sometimes what should be obvious does bear repeating. Mormonism is a polytheist pagan cult. See Owen's post.

The Massacre of the Holy Innocents

Today the Church commemorates the Massacre of the Holy Innocents ordered by Herod. Holy Tradition puts the number of infants murdered at around 14000 (this figure is not universally accepted). In recent years it has become a pious custom to commemorate the victoms of abortion on this day.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Social-Cons boycott CPAC

Too funny. Social conservatives are just the flip side of the liberal coin. There is no fundamental difference between them and the left wing of the Democratic Party beyond which aspects of people's lives they think the government should dictate.

Moving on...

Housing prices fall again

Home prices fell in the nation's major metropolitan areas from September to October, with six regions hitting new lows, and they're not expected to rebound anytime soon.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index, long considered a reliable gauge of the housing market's health, reported Tuesday that prices of single-family homes dropped 1.3 percent in all 20 regions it tracks.

The housing market's collapse crippled the economy, and a recovery in home prices is considered critical to getting the market back on track. But many economists predict that home prices will continue to fall into the new year and possibly beyond.

Prices in Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, Portland (Ore.), Seattle and Tampa fell to their lowest levels since home prices began deteriorating in 2006 and 2007, the index shows. The steepest drops took place in Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago, where prices declined 2.9 percent, 2.5 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

"There is no good news in October's report," David M. Blitzer, chairman of the S&P's index committee, said in a statement. "Home prices across the country continue to fall."
Read the rest here.

Sharp rise is noted in police killings

ATLANTA -- Two officers in a remote Alaska town were ambushed as they chatted on a street. A California officer and deputy were killed by an arson suspect with a high-powered rifle as they tried to serve a warrant. Two other officers doing anti-drug work were gunned down by men along a busy Arkansas highway.

These so-called cluster killings of more than one officer helped make 2010 a particularly deadly year for law enforcement. Deaths in the line of duty jumped 37 percent to about 160 from 117 the year before, according to numbers as of Tuesday compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit that tracks police deaths.

There also was a spike in shooting deaths. Fifty-nine federal, state and local officers were killed by gunfire in 2010, a 20 percent jump from last year's figures, when 49 were killed. The total does not include the death of a Georgia State Patrol trooper shot in the neck Monday night in Atlanta as he tried to make a traffic stop.

And 73 officers died in traffic incidents, a rise from the 51 killed in 2009, according to the data.
Read the rest here.

S. Korean president faces conflicting pressures

SEOUL - The latest provocations from North Korea and the resulting rightward swing in South Korean public opinion have transformed South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's strategy for dealing with the peninsula's troublemaker. The old method: Act with caution. The new method: Get tough.

Lee's shift in thinking has prompted modest but growing concern in the Obama administration, where officials worry that an overly aggressive South Korea could become a liability in its own right.

Political analysts in Seoul and Washington predict that Lee will soon face pressure from the United States to reengage diplomatically with the North. But Lee has turned increasingly hawkish in recent weeks after taking criticism for Seoul's weak initial counterattack to Pyongyang's Nov. 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

"Fear of war is never helpful in preventing war," Lee said Monday in a radio address. "If we are firmly determined to brave any risks, we can fend off any emerging threats."

In Seoul, policymakers have long debated the best North Korea policy, finding downsides to every solution. Lee now faces domestic pressure to remain firm and international pressure to reduce tension on the peninsula. Of late Lee has given priority to the first of those demands. But with two years left in his term, how he meets what one Western diplomat called the legacy-defining challenge of "putting North Korea back into the box" will shape security in South Korea, where the U.S. stations 28,500 troops.

Lee recently overhauled the rules of engagement, making it easier to respond with greater force against the North. He also installed a new defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin, who called for additional airstrikes if the North attacks again. Lee last week visited South Korean troops, telling them that future aggressions from Pyongyang would require a "powerful counterattack." Lee also said his old beliefs were mistaken: "We thought we could keep this land peaceful with tolerance," Lee said, "but it was not true."
Read the rest here.

Christmas 1915 (really 1914)

HT: The Monarchist

Iraqi PM: US forces must leave in 2011

BAGHDAD — The last U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says.

In a two-hour interview published by The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Maliki said his country's security forces can handle any remaining security threats beyond the mutually agreed year-end pullout date established with the Bush administration in 2008.

"The last American soldier will leave Iraq," he said, according to the Journal. "This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed."

The Journal said it spoke to Maliki in his Baghdad office inside the protected Green Zone.

It was Maliki's first interview since Iraq ended a nine-month election stalemate and seated a new government, allowing the prime minister to begin his second term.
Read the rest here.

Public pensions' reckoning

WASHINGTON -- The nation's menu of crises caused by governmental malpractice may soon include states coming to Congress as mendicants, seeking relief from the consequences of their choices. Congress should forestall this by passing a bill with a bland title but explosive potential.

Principal author of the Public Employee Pension Transparency Act is Rep. Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, where about 80 cents of every government dollar goes for government employees' pay and benefits. His bill would define the scale of the problem of underfunded state and local government pensions, and would notify states not to approach Congress like Oliver Twists, holding out porridge bowls and asking for more.

Corporate pension funds are heavily regulated, including pre-funding requirements. A federal agency, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., copes with insolvent ones. By requiring transparency, the government gave the private sector an incentive to move to defined contributions from defined benefit plans, which are now primarily luxuries enjoyed by public employees.

Nunes' bill would require state and municipal governments to disclose the size of their pension liabilities - and the often dreamy assumptions behind the calculations. Noncompliant governments would be ineligible for issuing bonds exempt from federal taxation. Furthermore, the bill would stipulate that state and local governments are entirely responsible for their pension obligations and the federal government will provide no bailouts.

Nunes' bill would not traduce any state's sovereignty: Each would retain the right not to comply, choosing to forfeit access to the federally subsidized borrowing that facilitated their slide into trouble.

Those troubles are big. A study by Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management calculates the combined underfunding of pensions in all municipalities at $574 billion. States have an estimated $3.3 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities.

Nunes says 10 states will exhaust their pension money by 2020, and all but eight states will by 2030.
Read the rest here.

H/T T-19

In Israel benefits for ultra-Orthodox (Jews) are challenged

JERUSALEM — Chaim Amsellem was certainly not the first Israeli Parliament member to suggest that most ultra-Orthodox men should work rather than receive welfare subsidies for full-time Torah study. But when he did so last month, the nation took notice: He is a rabbi, ultra-Orthodox himself, whose outspokenness ignited a fresh, and fierce, debate about the rapid growth of the ultra-religious in Israel.

“Torah is the most important thing in the world,” Rabbi Amsellem said in an interview. But now more than 60 percent of ultra-Orthodox men in Israel do not work, and he argued that full-time, state-financed study should be reserved for great scholars destined to become rabbis or religious judges.

“Those who are not that way inclined,” he said, “should go out and earn a living.”

In reaction, he was ousted from his own ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, whose leaders vilified him with such venom that he was assigned a bodyguard. The party newspaper printed a special supplement describing Rabbi Amsellem as “Amalek,” the biblical embodiment of all evil.

The intensity of the attacks from his own ranks appeared to underscore their own fears about a growing backlash to the privileges and subsidies long granted to the ultra-religious. The issue is not just the hundreds of millions of dollars doled out annually for seminaries and child allowances. Worry — and anger — is deepening about whether Israel can survive economically if it continues to encourage a culture of not working.
Read the rest here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Brace Yourself: Good economic news

Lest I be accused of being a perma-bear...
NEW YORK — Forget the returns line. People hit the stores after Christmas to buy, indulging the rediscovered retail appetite that may have made 2010's holiday shopping season the biggest ever.

Revenue for the holiday season is on track to grow at its strongest rate since 2006. Total spending for November and December could exceed 2007 sales — the best season on record. This despite an uncertain economy and a rise in thrifty habits.

Shoppers spent more on their family and friends and for the first time since before the Great Recession, treated themselves and even their pets. And after Christmas, even an East Coast blizzard didn't kill the mood as they headed to stores armed with gift cards and eyeing a new crop of discounts.
Read the rest here.

I have no problem with spending... as long as people are not going into debt doing it. I will be interested in seeing how much of this was charged and how much was paid for in cash. I vaguely recall reading that the weekend following Thanksgiving was very good for retailers, but that people were mostly paying with cash and that credit card use remained low. If that trend held throughout the last month I would call that encouraging news.

P.S. The above is intended to reference the economic implications, not the cultural problem of excessive commercialization of Christmas, which remains a serious problem.

Russian painter K. Makovsky

I recommend double clicking and going to the YouTube page and then viewing on full screen.

Midnight Mass in Rome

Source (click to enlarge image)

Al-Qaida threat on Iraq Christians linked to Egypt

CAIRO (AP) — The wives of two Egyptian Coptic priests, forbidden by the Church from divorcing their abusive husbands, desperately sought another way out by converting to Islam. When their intentions were discovered, police handed them over to the Church and their whereabouts since have been unknown.

The cases caused a furor at home that spilled over the borders and turned deadly when al-Qaida in Iraq cited the women as the reason behind the bloodiest attack ever on Christians in Iraq — a five-hour siege of a church in October that left 68 people dead.

It was a stark example of the schism between Christians and Muslims that runs through the Middle East and periodically erupts into violence.
Read the rest here.

Serbian Patriarch: Important to begin talks between churches

NIŠ -- It would be good to launch talks between churches in 2013, Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) Patriarch Irinej stated on Saturday.

“It is good for church representatives to gather and launch a humane and friendly dialogue, while other issues between churches can be left for a later time,” Irinej said during signing of a contract on the construction of a complex commemorating the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) in Niš.

Constantine the Great was born in the vicinity of today's southern Serbian city of Niš.

Partiarch Irinej and Niš Mayor Miloš Simonović signed an agreement on the transfer of city-owned land on Vinik Hill to the SPC, which would use it to build a religious complex devoted to the memory of Constantine the Great.

The signing of the agreement was also attended by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Božidar Đelić.

“A dialogue between Christian churches is a process, and it is important to initiate it,” the patriarch noted.

Construction works at the site will start early in 2011, and are due to be completed by the 1.700th anniversary of the adoption of the Edict of Milan.

The Edict of Milan was the legal act which proclaimed religious toleration and marked the end of the exile of Christians in the Roman Empire.

A cross which will be visible from all parts of Niš will be built on Vinik Hill, at 400 meters above sea level.

The cross will be 80 meters high and 40 meters wide, made of metal, with an elevator and two platforms.

The complex will span across 13 hectares and will comprise a hotel, a museum dedicated to Emperor Constantine, an amphitheatre, a cinema, a media centre and a souvenir shop.

In Michigan, a City Pleads for a Bankruptcy Option

A preview of coming attractions in a city near you...
HAMTRAMCK, Mich. — Leaders of this city met for more than seven hours on a Saturday not long ago, searching for something to cut from a budget that has already been cut, over and over.

This time they slashed money for boarding up abandoned houses — aside from emergencies, like vagrants or obvious rats, said William J. Cooper, the city manager. They shrank funds for trimming trees and cutting grass on hundreds of lots that have been left to the city. And Mr. Cooper is hoping that predictions of a ferocious snow season prove false; once state road funds run out, the city has set nothing aside to plow streets.

“We can make it until March 1 — maybe,” Mr. Cooper said of Hamtramck’s ability to pay its bills. Beyond that? The political leaders of this old working-class city beside Detroit are pleading with the state to let them declare bankruptcy — a desperate move the state is not even willing to admit as an option under the current circumstances.

“The state is concerned that if they say yes to one, if that door is opened, they’ll have 30 more cities right behind us,” Mr. Cooper said, as flurries fell outside his City Hall window. “But anything else is just a stop gap. We’re going to continue to pursue bankruptcy until the door is shut, locked, barricaded, bolted.”

Bankruptcy, increasingly common among corporations and individuals, remains rare for municipalities. Local leaders who want to win elections find it unappealing and often have other choices for solving financial woes. Besides, states have a say in whether a municipality may pursue bankruptcy at all, and they have every reason to avoid such an outcome, not least of all for fear of a creating a ripple effect that could cripple the municipal bond market and drive up the cost of borrowing.

Yet with anemic property tax revenues and forecasts of more dire financial times ahead, some experts and elected leaders fear more localities may have to at least consider bankruptcy.
Read the rest here.

Post-Christmas travel is heavily disrupted by North-East blizzard

Sunshine and deep piles of sparkling snow blanketed the Northeast on Monday, but for frustrated commuters and holiday travelers struck by the winter’s first ferocious storm, the beauty was short-lived.

Gusting winds kicked up formidable snowdrifts further crippling an entire New York metropolitan region trying to dig out, shutting down the three major area airports for most of the day, stopping commuter trains and some subway lines — even stranding some passengers on trains overnight — and causing nightmarish delays without much of a sense of when the conditions would improve.

Newark International and John F. Kennedy International airports will both open at 6 p.m. for departing flights only, Sara Beth Joren, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said. La Guardia Airport opened at 4 p.m., and some flights would be leaving later Monday evening, Ms. Joren said. All three airports are expected to resume arrivals and departures on Tuesday morning.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, speaking at an afternoon news conference, succinctly captured the power of the storm: “A lot of snow, every place,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “It was a very heavy snowfall, and as you know, it was accompanied by intense winds.”

But, he concluded: “The world has not come to an end, the city is going fine.”

Still, nearly two feet of snow was dumped on the New York area through the overnight hours, and its cumulative effects were plainly evident during the day on Monday.

High winds damaged switches for train lines, knocked down power lines, drifted snow perilously deep on tracks and even caused plow trucks to get stuck. City buses stalled on hills and cars abandoned on side streets complicated snow removal as New York struggled mightily to recover before the evening commute began.
Read the rest here.

South Korea’s President Vows Retaliation if North Attacks

TOKYO — President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea on Monday vowed a fearless retaliation against North Korea if attacked again, while the Japanese foreign minister said that his nation’s military ties with South Korea would slowly increase in response to the North.

In a radio address, Mr. Lee said that his nation would not shy away from defending itself against the North, even if it meant the possibility of war.

“We have now been awakened to the realization that war can be prevented and peace assured only when such provocations are met with a strong response,” Mr. Lee said.

In an interview in Tokyo, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara of Japan said that his nation stood with South Korea and the United States on the issue of North Korea.

Tensions have remained high on the Korean Peninsula since a North Korean artillery barrage of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island last month that killed four people, including two civilians. The two Koreas have ramped up the war rhetoric, while South Korea has held a series of military drills apparently aimed at showing the North that it is ready to strike back forcefully if again provoked.
Read the rest here.

Imprisoned Russian Oil Tycoon Is Convicted Again

MOSCOW — A judge in Moscow on Monday handed down a new conviction against Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the former oil tycoon, in a case that has been widely seen as an indicator of the Kremlin’s tolerance for political dissent. Mr. Khodorkovsky, who has already been imprisoned for seven years after feuding with Vladimir V. Putin, was found guilty on embezzlement charges that could keep him behind bars for several more years.

Formerly Russia’s richest man, Mr. Khodorkovsky, 47, is the country’s most well-known prisoner, and his treatment has been held up by opponents of the Kremlin as evidence that the justice system here is readily manipulated by those in power.

The judge did not immediately pass sentence, and it was unclear when he might do so. While a guilty verdict was expected, the length of the sentence will be scrutinized as a sign of whether the Kremlin wants to loosen or tighten control over the political system.

Mr. Putin, the former president and current prime minister, has often assailed Mr. Khodorkovsky as a criminal who ordered his associates to kill people so that he could amass wealth. Just this month, Mr. Putin referred to Mr. Khodorkovsky as a thief who should “sit in jail” — criticism that Mr. Khodorkovsky’s lawyers described as a blatant attempt to pressure the court.

A short prison sentence might be considered a victory for Mr. Putin’s protégé, President Dmitri A. Medvedev, a former law professor who is thought of as less of a hard-liner. Mr. Medvedev has been promoting policies to modernize Russia, and analysts say the Khodorkovsky case is an obstacle toward convincing foreign investors that the country’s legal system is fair
Read the rest here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Just bumming around...

Normal blogging should resume in the next day or two(?). In the meantime grab some leftover turkey or a nice bowl of ice cream and curl up with a good book. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christ is born!

Wishing everyone a joyous Feast and a very Merry Christmas!

Music for the Royal Fireworks (parts 1-3)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Newcomers From Russia Are Reviving a Church

Olga Komenko’s girlhood memories live within the walls of the domed and cupolaed Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity at Pennsylvania and Glenmore Avenues in East New York. There, she danced Thursday evenings away with other young parishioners at weekly socials, wrote letters to servicemen during World War II and was married in 1944.

Now 90, Mrs. Komenko sees the church playing one more major role in her life.

“In my time, I hope it’s there,” said Mrs. Komenko, a lifelong resident of Brownsville, Brooklyn. “I’ll be buried out of there.”

For years it seemed unlikely that the church would survive long enough to fulfill Mrs. Komenko’s wish.

The churchgoers who helped to sustain the parish in the first half of the century were Russian immigrants and their families, once a sizable presence in the neighborhood. Now most have dispersed.

Mrs. Komenko recalls weekend services, in her youth, when the building was filled with worshipers. But by the turn of the century, she and a few elderly friends were often the only parishioners standing for the two-hour Russian-language service beneath the church’s high ceiling, the iconography on its walls darkened with age and neglect.

New York’s history is recorded in its desolate churches, where once-packed pews have given way to eerie silence after the children of immigrants followed opportunity beyond the neighborhoods that had defined their parents’ and grandparents’ lives. But the Church of the Holy Trinity may be one that has a happy ending, as its congregation, like the city itself, is refreshed by a new generation of immigrants looking for a new start.

The Russian immigrants — many of whom were raised without religion, under a Communist regime — have been enticed back to the old church by a priest who has seen in Holy Trinity a chance to bring both Russian Orthodoxy and a community back to life.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Romanian Orthodox Christmas Carol - Din cer senin

"From heavenly skies, I hear the songs divine,

The three Magi, with presents to take,

to the frail body of our Savior..."

Accused WikiLeaker suffering from inhumane treatment says friend

A U.S. soldier accused of leaking classified material to WikiLeaks is suffering psychologically and physically due to inhumane treatment at a Marine Corps brig, one of the few people who visits him regularly charged Thursday.

David House, an MIT software researcher, told "The Dylan Ratigan Show" guest host Jonathan Capehart on msnbc cable television that Pfc. Bradley Manning has big bags under his eyes, is weak from lack of exercise and has difficulty keeping up with some conversational topics.

House rebutted claims by the Pentagon that Manning under "maximum custody" is in a standard single-person cell and gets exercise, recreation, and access to newspapers and visitors. The Pentagon issued the statement Dec. 17 in response to reports by's Glenn Greenwood and others that Manning is virtually in solitary confinement while awaiting possible court martial.

House, 23, appeared on the cable TV show Thursday after posting a lengthy blog on calling the Pentagon's "public spin from last week sharply contradicts the reality" of Manning's confinement.

House said Manning told him during his Dec. 18 visit that he has never been allowed newspapers during his five months at Quantico.

Manning, 23, is kept in his 64-square-foot cell 23 hours a day, gets a wakeup call daily at 5 a.m., is barred from exercising in his cell, gets to walk in chains an hour a day in and indoor room and is not allowed to sleep between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Read the rest here.

Manning is an American Citizen. That means that he is entitled to his day in court and a presumption of innocence until he is convicted. Nor should he be treated cruelly. That said, if he is found guilty of what he is accused of, he should be jailed for the rest of his life. The military can not function on an "I will obey orders and keep military secrets if I feel like it" basis. What he allegedly did has caused really serious damage to the armed forces, and arguably has endangered lives. So yea. Give him his day in court. But if he is guilty... NO QUARTER.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Anti-Defamation League urges Greek Orthodox Church to condemn antisemitic remarks

New York, NY, December 22, 2010 …The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today urged the Greek Orthodox Church to publicly denounce blatantly anti-Semitic comments made by one of its bishops.

During an interview with a popular television show in Greece, Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus blamed Jews for orchestrating the Holocaust and accused "world Zionism" of a conspiracy to enslave Greece and the Orthodox Church. The bishop also charged Jewish bankers with controlling international finance.

"Metropolitan Seraphim's blatantly anti-Semitic comments are shocking and deeply disturbing, and we urge the Greek Orthodox Church to unequivocally condemn his words," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "It is especially troubling to hear such words from a religious leader. The Orthodox Church must make clear that anti-Semitism in all its forms is unacceptable."

The League expressed its concern in letters to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and to Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Hieronymos II.

In an interview with Greece's Mega TV, Metropolitan Seraphim reportedly said, "Adolf Hitler was an instrument of world Zionism and was financed from the renowned Rothschild family with the sole purpose of convincing the Jews to leave the shores of Europe and go to Israel to establish the new Empire."

If the man actually said those things he should be deposed. I wonder if he is related to Bishop Williamson.

Bank Robbery Gets A Whole New Meaning

TRUCKEE, Calif. — When Mimi Ash arrived at her mountain chalet here for a weekend ski trip, she discovered that someone had broken into the home and changed the locks.

When she finally got into the house, it was empty. All of her possessions were gone: furniture, her son’s ski medals, winter clothes and family photos. Also missing was a wooden box, its top inscribed with the words “Together Forever,” that contained the ashes of her late husband, Robert.

The culprit, Ms. Ash soon learned, was not a burglar but her bank. According to a federal lawsuit filed in October by Ms. Ash, Bank of America had wrongfully foreclosed on her house and thrown out her belongings, without alerting Ms. Ash beforehand.

In an era when millions of homes have received foreclosure notices nationwide, lawsuits detailing bank break-ins like the one at Ms. Ash’s house keep surfacing. And in the wake of the scandal involving shoddy, sometimes illegal paperwork that has buffeted the nation’s biggest banks in recent months, critics say these situations reinforce their claims that the foreclosure process is fundamentally flawed.

“Every day, smaller wrongs happen to people trying to save their homes: being charged the wrong amount of money, being wrongly denied a loan modification, being asked to hand over documents four or five times,” said Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Identifying the number of homeowners who were locked out illegally is difficult. But banks and their representatives insist that situations like Ms. Ash’s represent just a tiny percentage of foreclosures.
Read the rest here

I am beginning to think Marx may have had a point.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why is the left so angry?

Say what one will about Congress. For at least the last two years they have not sat on their backside doing nothing while collecting a fat check. Most Americans have a long history of resenting what they see as overpaid do-nothing politicians. (I am something of an exception, preferring do nothing politicians.) And over the last two years there has been mounting fury with Congress from both the far left and the far right.

The far right, at least from their perspective, has some pretty fair grounds for complaint which I will enumerate shortly. What I find difficult to grasp is the rage of the left. By any reasonable standard (I opine as a historian) the 111th Congress has been the most active and liberal (or "progressive" if you prefer that term) in at least a generation. Consider just a few of the more notable accomplishments of this Congress.
  • Cap & Trade. (Corrected as per comment from gdelassu.)
  • End of ban on embryonic stem cell research.
  • End of ban on US Foreign Aid being used to promote abortion
  • Sweeping new environmental regulations.
  • Sweeping overhaul of the nation's financial services industry and broad new consumer protection laws.
  • Massive overhaul of the nation's health insurance industry and a mandate for universal, though privately run, health insurance by 2014.
  • Massive expenditures on schools and infrastructure as part of hundreds of billions in so called "stimulus."
  • Government bailouts of GM, Chrysler and other bankrupt mega-corps. And rigging the bankruptcy proceedings to insure that the UAW would receive the same "stakeholder" status in the courts as bondholders. (Translation: HUGE win for labor unions while bond holders got ripped off.)
  • Extension of unemployment benefits to the point where they are now almost perpetual.
  • Repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell which is being hailed in some quarters as the most important piece of civil rights legislation since the 1960's.
  • Extension of the Bush Era tax cuts (probably the only item that had broad Republican support).
  • And the probable ratification of a broad new arms limitation and reduction agreement with Russia.
And yet the far left remains convinced that they have been betrayed. Millions stayed home on election day in protest of what they saw as the failure of the large Democratic majorities in Congress to push through a progressive agenda (no doubt greatly aiding the GOP's big election win). But from an historical perspective I am hard pressed to think of any Congress that, for good or ill, has done so much since at least the 1960's. Indeed a compelling argument could be made that this has been the most revolutionary Congress since the early years of FDR's New Deal.

What exactly is the political left complaining about?

PIMCO advises Greece Ireland and Portugal to abandon the Euro

For those of us on this side of the pond... preview of coming attractions.
Andrew Bosomworth, head of Pimco's portfolio management in Europe, said current policies are untenable in the absence of fiscal union and will lead to a break-up of the euro.

"Greece, Ireland and Portugal cannot get back on their feet without either their own currency or large transfer payments," he told German newspaper Die Welt.

He said these countries could rejoin EMU "after an appropriate debt restructuring", adding that devaluation would let them export their way back to health.

Mr Bosomworth said EU leaders were too quick to congratulate themselves on saving the euro last week with a deal for a permanent bail-out fund from 2013.

"The euro crisis is not over by a long shot. Market tensions will continue into 2011. The mechanism comes far too late," he said.
Read the rest here.

I've been saying for going on two years now that Greece is broke and it WILL default at some point. They simply owe far more money than they can pay back. Default is inevitable. The only question is what form it will take. Ireland and Portugal are in tough shape. But they might be able to survive. That said it would certainly be in their interest to abandon the Euro (a technical default) and print their way out of the hole they have dug. In any event bond holders are looking to take a really big hit.

Switzerland's quiet defiance of Europe

Via The Young Fogey
The aggressive German nationalism which terrified other Europeans between 1870 and 1945 seems to be rising from the dead. But where old-fashioned jingoism was the political right’s domain, modern chauvinism is a leftist cause. Today’s nationalists are politically correct: The word Deutsch has been replaced with europäisch. The European Union is similar to the German Kaiserreich which depicted France and England as enemies to convince Bavarians, Saxonians, and Württembergers to join the Prussian-dominated empire. Likewise, the EU needs adversaries to create a European feeling among her constituents.

Every German leftist’s favorite opponent is the United States, but for now they place their hopes on destroying lesser nations. Switzerland is the European would-be empire’s ideal enemy: a small country in Europe’s heart which wants to go its own way and stubbornly refuses to become a small part of the great European project.

Every time the Swiss vote contrary to how European bien-pensants would like them to, Western Europe’s oldest democracy offers its neighbors an opportunity to attack. First, these anti-European madmen and hillbillies voted to ban minarets. In late November, they also voted to expel foreigners who have committed serious crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, and human trafficking.
Read the rest here.

RIP: Steve Landesberg

I never have much cared for TV and so called sit-coms are usually about as appealing to me as nails on a chalkboard. One of the very few that I ever really enjoyed was Barney Miller. (Yes I am old enough to remember the show.) So it was with some melancholy that I read of the passing of Steve Landesberg, one of the few surviving stars of the show.

When Abe Vigoda finally dies I think I will go into mourning.

Monday, December 20, 2010

No Santa in St. Peter

Santa Claus, as portrayed by Dennis Jackson, won't be visiting students at the Head Start classes in St. Peter this year.

Jackson has made appearances the past four years at the classes for students who need help preparing for school, but this year officials said, "No, no, no."

The reason: The classes have many immigrant children who don't celebrate Christmas, says the Mankato Free Press.

Santa's a little frosted, the paper says.

It kind of burnt me up,” he said.

The official explanation from Chris Marben, who coordinates regional Head Start programs through Mankato-based Minnesota Valley Action Council: “We have Somali families in the program. We’re respecting the wishes of families in the program.”

She didn't say how many objections were made, but said more than one would be enough to cancel Santa.

“The simple truth is that southern Minnesota has become a much more culturally diverse society than it was a few decades ago,” she told the paper. “Part of our challenge in Head Start is providing an environment where young children from many different cultures can all feel comfortable.”

Jackson said rather than depriving the rest of the group of the Santa experience, parents who object should take their kids out of the class during the half hour he spends talking to the kids and giving them candy.

150 Years Ago Today: South Carolina Secedes

Vespers for the Feast of St. Nicholas Patriarch of Moscow (Dec 18)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

S Korea prepares for military drills despite N Korean threats

PYONGYANG, North Korea — South Korea insisted that it would conduct live-fire artillery exercises on Monday, escalating the possibility of a military confrontation with the North even as American officials continued emergency meetings here in the North Korean capital for a third day.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council ended an all-day emergency session on Sunday with no statement on the situation, unable to call on the South to halt its exercises because the members could not agree on how to refer to the North’s shelling of a South Korean island last month. China opposed the majority of the other Security Council members over whether there would be a specific condemnation of the North.

In Seoul on Monday morning, an official with the Defense Ministry said, “The drills will be held today, sometime today, on Yeonpyeong Island.” The official asked not to be named because of the tension and delicacy of the situation.

Yeonpyeong Island was fired on last month by North Korea when the South was conducting similar exercises. It is a garrison island that is also home to a fishing village; the North Korean shells killed two South Korean civilians and two South Korean service members, fomenting a rare surge of popular demands for revenge in the South.

The North considers all the waters around Yeonpyeong and four other nearby islands to be its territory. The government has promised to respond fiercely if the South fires into those waters, no matter which direction the guns aim. About two dozen United States military personnel were expected to take part in the artillery drill, in support roles and as observers. The North said the Americans were being used as a “human shield.”
Read the rest here.

Proposed amendment would legalize nullification

The same people driving the lawsuits that seek to dismantle the Obama administration’s health care overhaul have set their sights on an even bigger target: a constitutional amendment that would allow a vote of the states to overturn any act of Congress.

Under the proposed “repeal amendment,” any federal law or regulation could be repealed if the legislatures of two-thirds of the states voted to do so.

The idea has been propelled by the wave of Republican victories in the midterm elections. First promoted by Virginia lawmakers and Tea Party groups, it has the support of legislative leaders in 12 states. It also won the backing of the incoming House majority leader, Representative Eric Cantor, when it was introduced this month in Congress.

Like any constitutional amendment, it faces enormous hurdles: it must be approved by both chambers of Congress — requiring them to agree, in this case, to check their own power — and then by three-quarters of, or 38, state legislatures.

Still, the idea that the health care legislation was unconstitutional was dismissed as a fringe argument just six months ago — but last week, a federal judge agreed with that argument. Now, legal scholars are handicapping which Supreme Court justices will do the same.

The repeal amendment reflects a larger, growing debate about federal power at a time when the public’s approval of Congress is at a historic low. In the last several years, many states have passed so-called sovereignty resolutions, largely symbolic, aimed at nullifying federal laws they do not agree with, mostly on health care or gun control.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lutheran leader seeks Holy Communion agreement with Pope

Why do the silliest suggestions always seem to generate the most comments? See the combox discussion.

Catholic Pundit: Lesbian-hugging Marxist nuns have reduced US parishes to nuclear wasteland

If you are looking for tact or touchy feely diplospeak move on. You WILL NOT like this.

H/T Damian Thompson

Britain: RAF Chief alarmed by defense cuts

Air Vice-Marshal Greg Bagwell, commander of the RAF’s No 1 Group, which controls all Britain’s fast jet combat aircraft, said that Britain was likely to end up with only six fighter and bomber squadrons, half its current number.

He warned: “That might not be quite enough.”

Air Vice-Marshal Bagwell’s remarks, in a briefing last week to Defense News, a trade journal, are among the most outspoken by any senior RAF commander.

He warned that even the reductions that have been publicly announced — from 12 fast-jet squadrons to eight — would leave the RAF only “just about” able to do its current tasks, with no leeway for the unexpected.

“Am I happy to be down at that number [eight squadrons] next April? No, it worries the hell out of me,” he said. “I can just about do Operation Herrick [Afghanistan], and the QRAs [air defence operations]. Can I do other things? Yes, but it is at risk.”
Read the rest here.

Congress ends ban on gays in the military

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Saturday struck down the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military, bringing to a close a 17-year struggle over a policy that forced thousands of Americans from the ranks and caused others to keep secret their sexual orientation.

By a vote of 65 to 31, with eight Republicans joining Democrats, the Senate approved and sent to President Obama a repeal of the Clinton-era law, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a policy critics said amounted to government-sanctioned discrimination that treated gay and lesbian troops as second-class citizens.

Mr. Obama hailed the action, which fulfills his pledge to reverse the ban. “As commander in chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known,” Mr. Obama said in a statement after the Senate, on a 63-33 vote, beat back Republican efforts to block a final vote on the repeal bill.

The vote marked a historic moment that some equated with the end of racial segregation in the military.
Read the rest here.

Good for the goose... not for the Senate

Gordon R. England's appointment to a top Pentagon post in 2006 came at a high price. The Senate committee overseeing his confirmation demanded that he give up lucrative stocks and options he held in companies that do business with the military.

England said he took a big hit on his taxes and lost out on more than $1 million in potential profits that year when he divested himself of interests in companies that included General Dynamics.

If he had been a senator, he would not have had to sell anything.

The Senate Armed Services Committee prohibits its staff and presidential appointees requiring Senate confirmation from owning stocks or bonds in 48,096 companies that have Defense Department contracts. But the senators who sit on the influential panel are allowed to own any assets they want.

And they have owned millions in interests in these firms.
Read the rest here.

Tax Cuts my @$$

There aint no such thing as a "tax cut" when you are borrowing money just to pay the interest on the already existing debt. This is just another loan from the Politburo in Beijing. It is analogous to having to borrow money to keep the lights on in your house, and deciding to give yourself a "raise" by taking out another loan from the bank, or in this case maybe the Mob would be the more accurate analogy.

Friday, December 17, 2010

US Embassy assists in restoration of famous Moscow church

The Embassy of the USA in Moscow has allocated money for maintenance of the unique orthodox Church of the Sign of the Mother of God in Dubrovitsy.

It is already the third site in Russia that has received assets from this fund. The money ($ 82,000) will be used to strengthen the base of the church.

It should be noted that the Church of the Sign of the Mother of God in Dubrovitsy is considered to be one of the most beautiful and mysterious churches of the Moscow Region. It was built in 1690-1703, and is famous for its grace and appearance unusual for the corresponding historical period; it reminds of Italian architecture rather than of Old Russian churches.

Greek Orthodox Church denounces "occupation by the IMF"

The Orthodox Church has denounced the lack of leadership and the moral sense that, by means of the crisis, has made Greece a country ”under occupation”. It ”carries out the orders of its creditors” from the IMF and the EU which ”appears to have lost its independence.” In a message to worshippers to be distributed on Sunday in all churches, the Holy Synod harshly criticises the country’s ”ruling class”, a general term which appears to include the previous centre-right government, as well as the current government under George Papandreou. According to the Bishops, it is not the state itself that is to blame for the current crisis but the political leadership. The leadership has not been able to modernise and is interested only in power. It ”has not been able to speak the language of the truth.” And it is has transformed itself into an agent of the creditors, imposing ”radical changes that only a short while ago would have disgusted Greece and which on the other hand has caused almost no reaction.” And this situation, according to the Synod, puts the real interests of the country and its people at risk, allowing them in fact to be governed by our creditors. The Synod points out that according to many economists, the global crisis ”is an artificial and instrumental crisis that aims to all the world to be controlled by non-philanthropic forces.” The Church denounces a moral impoverishment of society which, attracted only by easy wealth and wellbeing, has lived irresponsibly, moving away from the truth of things. It is ”contributing to the current crisis through selfish requests without control by the various sectors involved.” The Bishops conclude by urging the people to take advantage of the crisis to rediscover ”the strength and love” needed in the ”toughest moments”, offering solidarity to those in need to exit this difficult situation together and with the Church.

Congress Approves New $800 Billion in Debt (Why don't we just get it over with and sign the country over to China now?)

WASHINGTON — Congress at midnight Thursday approved an $801 billion package of tax cuts and $57 billion for extended unemployment insurance. The vote sealed the first major deal between President Obama and Congressional Republicans as Democrats put aside their objections and bowed to the realignment of power brought about by their crushing election losses.

The bipartisan support for the tax deal also underscored the urgency felt by the administration and by lawmakers in both parties to prop up the still-struggling economy and to prevent an across-the-board tax increase that was set to occur if the rates enacted under President George W. Bush had expired, as scheduled, at the end of the month.

Administration officials said Mr. Obama would sign the package into law on Friday.

The final vote in the House was 277 to 148 after liberal Democrats failed in one last bid to change an estate-tax provision in the bill that they said was too generous to the wealthiest Americans and that the administration agreed to in a concession to Republicans. The amendment failed, 233 to 194.

Supporting the overall measure were 139 Democrats and 138 Republicans; opposed were 112 Democrats and 36 Republicans.

The bill extends for two years all of the Bush-era tax rates and provides a one-year payroll tax cut for most American workers, delivering what economists predict will be a needed lift. The Senate approved the package on Wednesday by 81 to 19.

The White House and Republicans hailed the deal as a rare bipartisan achievement and a prototype for future hard-bargained compromises in the new era of divided government.

But the accord also showed that policy-makers remain locked in an unsustainable cycle of cutting taxes and raising spending that has proven politically palatable in the short term but could threaten the nation’s fiscal stability in years ahead.
Read the rest here.

Left for dead DADT repeal shows new signs of life

WASHINGTON — Embattled and left for near dead last week, the effort to allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military gained significant momentum on Thursday with three more Republican Senators agreeing to vote to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

On Thursday evening, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said that the Senate would begin voting on the repeal as early as Saturday.

The repeal measure, approved Wednesday by the House, was originally tucked into a broader military policy bill, which failed when Senate Democrats found themselves unable to break a Republican filibuster last week. Returning quickly with a stand-alone bill seeking repeal, its supporters framed the new measure as a narrow civil rights matter and essentially challenged opponents to impede a vote.

By Thursday, Senator Susan Collins, the bill’s one Republican sponsor, had been joined by three other Republican senators — Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine — in supporting the measure.

“Senator Brown accepts the Pentagon’s recommendation to repeal the policy after proper preparations have been completed,” said Gail Gitcho, a spokeswoman for Mr. Brown. “If and when a clean repeal bill comes up for a vote, he will support it.”

Along with the backing of 54 Democrats and two independents, the Republican support is enough to push the measure to the necessary 60-vote threshold. Another Democrat who backs repeal, Ron Wyden of Oregon, announced Thursday that he would undergo surgery for prostate cancer on Monday and be absent for votes starting Friday. Only one Democrat, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, has declined to support the measure.
Read the rest here.

Can Congress Force You to Be Healthy?

HENRY E. HUDSON, the federal judge in Virginia who ruled this week that the individual mandate provision of the new health care law is unconstitutional, has become the object of widespread derision. Judge Hudson explained that whatever else Congress might be able to do, it cannot force people to engage in a commercial activity, in this case buying an insurance policy.

Critics contend that Judge Hudson has unduly restricted Congress’s authority to regulate interstate commerce, the principal basis on which the government defends the law. Some also claim that he ignored the “necessary and proper” clause of the Constitution, which allows Congress leeway to choose how to put in place national economic programs. Yet a closer reading shows that Judge Hudson’s analysis could prove irresistible to the Supreme Court and that there is a reasonable chance it will agree that the insurance mandate is invalid.

For the last century the Supreme Court has struggled to define the limits of Congress’s interstate-commerce power. In the early decades of the 20th century, the court experimented with a variety of distinctions: Congress could regulate trade but not the manufacturing process (in a child-labor case); Congress could regulate anything that directly affected interstate commerce but not where the effect was indirect (in a labor dispute involving coal miners); Congress could regulate goods in the stream of commerce but not before they entered or after they left that stream (in a ruling on chicken farming).

These distinctions, however, proved unworkable in a time of industrial growth and expanding national markets. And in the 1930s, confronted with the surge of governmental power during the New Deal, the court abandoned them all.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, however, the court took up the project anew. In invalidating a federal gun possession law and the provision of the Violence Against Women Act that allowed victims to sue their attackers, Chief Justice William Rehnquist and his colleagues held that while Congress could regulate local economic behavior because of its national economic effects, Congress could not on the same theory regulate non-economic behavior like possessing a gun or committing an act of violence.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Military Court sentences "birther"

More news from the lunatic fringe...
FORT MEADE, Maryland — An Army doctor who disobeyed orders to deploy to Afghanistan because he questioned President Barack Obama's eligibility to be commander in chief has been sentenced to six months in a military prison and will be dismissed from the Army.

A military jury sentenced Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin on Thursday after three days of court-martial proceedings.

Before sentencing, Lakin had been found guilty of missing a flight that would have gotten him to his eventual deployment.

He also pleaded guilty to disobeying orders to meet with a superior and to report to deploy to Afghanistan.

Besides his sentence, Lakin will pay a potentially heavy financial price.

At 18 years in the Army he was two years short of retirement, which over the course of a lifetime could have added up to an estimated $2 million in retirement pay and benefits, according to NBC News.

In videos posted on YouTube earlier this year, Lakin aligned himself with the so-called "birther" movement, which questions whether Obama is a natural-born citizen as the U.S. Constitution requires for presidents.

It appears that the courts are becoming less tolerant of these moonbats.

Begging for Your Pay

Romulo Saldana was looking for work.

It was 2001, and Saldana had moved to East Harlem from a small town in the Ecuadorian Andes three years before. Besides a sister, he knew few people in the city. A friend sent him to Manuel, an older Ecuadorian, who had papers and owned a successful construction company in Queens. The man hired Saldana as a day laborer and, over the course of five years, he built some 30 block houses, the kind of low-rise brick rental units that have sprung up lately in sections of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. Eventually, Saldana was promoted to foreman.

Every week, Saldana would gather his crew of six men in the “yarda” — a garage in a house the boss owned in Long Island — to hand out their pay. Only the money would always come up short — sometimes $3,000 for all of them together, sometimes just $1,000, even when they were owed a total of $4,000. At first, Saldana didn’t much mind his boss’s negligence: it was the height of the construction boom; he was able to do other jobs on the side. “I trusted him because he was from my country,’ Saldana told me, in Spanish. “I thought, ‘’If he isn’t going to pay me this week, he will pay me later.’”

In 2006, Saldana added up all those deferred promises in his notebook: $34,000. He is still seeking most of that money.

What does $34,000 mean to a New Yorker? For Saldana — who works in the kitchen of a restaurant in Long Island now that construction work has dried up — it meant the difference between being able to send money home to pay for his teenage daughter to go to middle school, and provide for a caretaker and medicine for his ailing 90-year-old father. It was the difference between paying his own rent and borrowing money from his sister. And this Christmas, he can’t afford to buy presents for his American-born 6-year-old. “I will tell my daughter, Santa Claus is very poor,” he said.
Read the rest here.

I have known a few people who were stiffed by employers, in one case for more than $15,000 in pay and overtime (that they never paid any of their workers for). This sort of thing really burns me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thinking the unthinkable

Suppose the unthinkable happened, and terrorists struck New York or another big city with an atom bomb. What should people there do? The government has a surprising new message: Do not flee. Get inside any stable building and don’t come out till officials say it’s safe.

The advice is based on recent scientific analyses indicating that a nuclear attack is much more survivable if you immediately shield yourself from the lethal radiation that follows a blast, a simple tactic seen as saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Even staying in a car, the studies show, would reduce casualties by more than 50 percent; hunkering down in a basement would be better by far.

But a problem for the Obama administration is how to spread the word without seeming alarmist about a subject that few politicians care to consider, let alone discuss. So officials are proceeding gingerly in a campaign to educate the public.

“We have to get past the mental block that says it’s too terrible to think about,” W. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in an interview. “We have to be ready to deal with it” and help people learn how to best protect themselves.
Read the rest here.

Opposition to Health Law Is Steeped in Tradition

“We are against forcing all citizens, regardless of need, into a compulsory government program,” said one prominent critic of the new health care law. It is socialized medicine, he argued. If it stands, he said, “one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”

The health care law in question was Medicare, and the critic was Ronald Reagan. He made the leap from actor to political activist, almost 50 years ago, in part by opposing government-run health insurance for the elderly.

Today, the supposed threat to free enterprise is a law that’s broader, if less radical, than Medicare: the bill Congress passed this year to create a system of privately run health insurance for everyone. On Monday, a federal judge ruled part of the law to be unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court will probably need to settle the matter in the end.

We’ve lived through a version of this story before, and not just with Medicare. Nearly every time this country has expanded its social safety net or tried to guarantee civil rights, passionate opposition has followed.

The opposition stems from the tension between two competing traditions in the American economy. One is the laissez-faire tradition that celebrates individuality and risk-taking. The other is the progressive tradition that says people have a right to a minimum standard of living — time off from work, education and the like.

Both traditions have been crucial to creating the most prosperous economy and the largest middle class the world has ever known. Laissez-faire conservatism has helped make the United States a nation of entrepreneurs, while progressivism has helped make prosperity a mass-market phenomenon.

Yet the two traditions have never quite reconciled themselves. In particular, conservatives have often viewed any expansion of government protections as a threat to capitalism.

The federal income tax, a senator from New York said a century ago, might mean the end of “our distinctively American experiment of individual freedom.” Social Security was actually a plan “to Sovietize America,” a previous head of the Chamber of Commerce said in 1935. The minimum wage and mandated overtime pay were steps “in the direction of Communism, Bolshevism, fascism and Nazism,” the National Association of Manufacturers charged in 1938.

After Brown v. Board of Education outlawed school segregation in 1954, 101 members of Congress signed a statement calling the ruling an instance of “naked judicial power” that would sow “chaos and confusion” and diminish American greatness. A decade later, The Wall Street Journal editorial board described civil rights marchers as “asking for trouble” and civil rights laws as being on “the outer edge of constitutionality, if not more.”

This year’s health care overhaul has now joined the list.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lest there be any doubt

Interfaith speakers at a recent service in St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral.

H/T T:19

Monday, December 13, 2010

Some Catholic observations on Met. Hilarion (Alfeyev)

I draw the reader's attention to some very interesting observations by Carlos Antonio Palad over at Rorate Caeli regarding Met. Hilarion (Alfeyev)'s views on a variety of subjects. I think the post is well worth a read.

Anglo-Catholics: A little piece of Tractarian history for sale

Just stumbled on a report that the house in which the noted Tractarian Edward Pusey was born and raised in, is for sale. Before rushing off to check your bank balance be forewarned, the Puseys did not live under a vow of poverty. Hitting the lottery won't cover this Georgian (1750's) 14 bedroom / 9 bathroom Great House sitting on near 650 acres including formal gardens and riding stables.

High Church indeed...

Judge Voids Key Part of Health Care Law

A federal district judge in Virginia ruled on Monday that the keystone provision in the Obama health care law is unconstitutional, becoming the first court in the country to invalidate any part of the sprawling act and ensuring that appellate courts will receive contradictory opinions from below.

Judge Henry E. Hudson, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, declined the plaintiff’s request to freeze implementation of the law pending appeal, meaning that there should be no immediate effect on the ongoing rollout of the law. But the ruling is likely to create confusion among the public and further destabilize political support for legislation that is under fierce attack from Republicans in Congress and in many statehouses.

In a 42-page opinion issued in Richmond, Va., Judge Hudson wrote that the law’s central requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance exceeds the regulatory authority granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The insurance mandate is central to the law’s mission of covering more than 30 million uninsured because insurers argue that only by requiring healthy people to have policies can they afford to treat those with expensive chronic conditions.

The judge wrote that his survey of case law “yielded no reported decisions from any federal appellate courts extending the Commerce Clause or General Welfare Clause to encompass regulation of a person’s decision not to purchase a product, not withstanding its effect on interstate commerce or role in a global regulatory scheme.”

Judge Hudson is the third district court judge to reach a determination on the merits in one of the two dozen lawsuits filed against the health care law. The others — in Detroit and Lynchburg, Va. — have upheld the law. Lawyers on both sides said the appellate process could last another two years before the Supreme Court settles the dispute.

The opinion by Judge Hudson, who has a long history in Republican politics in northern Virginia, continued a partisan pattern in the health care cases. Thus far, judges appointed by Republican presidents have ruled consistently against the Obama administration while Democratic appointees have found for it.
Read the rest here.

A couple of quick points. First this ruling is contradicted by two others from different courts. Secondly the opponents of this legislation have been filing suits all over the country in an effort to find a judge who would side with them. So there is no great surprise here. This is going to the Supreme Court. Anything preceding that is just laying the groundwork and massacring whole forests for all of the legal paperwork.

In short, the bold headlines notwithstanding; this ruling is legally very near meaningless.

Ron Paul is coming in from the cold

WASHINGTON — As virtually all of Washington was declaring WikiLeaks’s disclosures of secret diplomatic cables an act of treason, Representative Ron Paul was applauding the organization for exposing the United States’ “delusional foreign policy.”

For this, the conservative blog RedState dubbed him “Al Qaeda’s favorite member of Congress.”

It was hardly the first time that Mr. Paul had marched to his own beat. During his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, he was best remembered for declaring in a debate that the 9/11 attacks were the Muslim world’s response to American military intervention around the globe. A fellow candidate, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, interrupted and demanded that he take back the words — a request that Mr. Paul refused.

During his 20 years in Congress, Mr. Paul has staked out the lonely end of 434-to-1 votes against legislation that he considers unconstitutional, even on issues as ceremonial as granting Mother Teresa a Congressional Gold Medal. His colleagues have dubbed him “Dr. No,” but his wife will insist that they have the spelling wrong: he is really Dr. Know.

Now it appears others are beginning to credit him with some wisdom — or at least acknowledging his passionate following.

After years of blocking him from a leadership position, Mr. Paul’s fellow Republicans have named him chairman of the House subcommittee on domestic monetary policy, which oversees the Federal Reserve as well as the currency and the valuation of the dollar.

Mr. Paul has strong views on those issues. He has written a book called “End the Fed”; he embraces Austrian economic thought, which holds that the government has no role in regulating the economy; and he advocates a return to the gold standard.
Read the rest here.

I have not always agreed with Ron Paul. But I have always respected him. There are damn few politicians about whom I can make that statement.

With New Violence, More Christians Are Fleeing Iraq

QOSH, Iraq — A new wave of Iraqi Christians has fled to northern Iraq or abroad amid a campaign of violence against them and growing fear that the country’s security forces are unable or, more ominously, unwilling to protect them.

The flight — involving thousands of residents from Baghdad and Mosul, in particular — followed an Oct. 31 siege at a church in Baghdad that killed 51 worshipers and 2 priests and a subsequent series of bombings and assassinations singling out Christians. This new exodus, which is not the first, highlights the continuing displacement of Iraqis despite improved security over all and the near-resolution of the political impasse that gripped the country after elections in March.

It threatens to reduce further what Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church of the East called “a community whose roots were in Iraq even before Christ.”

Those who fled the latest violence — many of them in a panicked rush, with only the possessions they could pack in cars — warned that the new violence presages the demise of the faith in Iraq. Several evoked the mass departure of Iraq’s Jews after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.

“It’s exactly what happened to the Jews,” said Nassir Sharhoom, 47, who fled last month to the Kurdish capital, Erbil, with his family from Dora, a once mixed neighborhood in Baghdad. “They want us all to go.”
Red the rest here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Selective Reduction

An earlier version of "selective reduction." The people in the foreground have just been selected for a trip to the showers. The smoke in the background is from the crematoria.

Via T-19
Like so many other couples these days, the Toronto-area business executive and her husband put off having children for years as they built successful careers. Both parents were in their 40s — and their first son just over a year old — when this spring the woman became pregnant a second time. Seven weeks in, an ultrasound revealed the Burlington, Ont., resident was carrying twins. “It came as a complete shock,” said the mother, who asked not to be named. “We’re both career people. If we were going to have three children two years apart, someone else was going to be raising our kids. ... All of a sudden our lives as we know them and as we like to lead them, are not going to happen.”

She soon discovered another option: Doctors could “reduce” the pregnancy from twins to a singleton through a little-known procedure that eliminates selected fetuses — and has become increasingly common in the past two decades amid a boom in the number of multiple pregnancies.

Selective reductions are typically carried out for women pregnant with triplets or greater, where the risk of harm or death climbs sharply with each additional fetus. The Ontario couple is part of what some experts say is a growing demand for reducing twins to one, fuelled more by socio-economic imperatives than medical need, and raising vexing new ethical questions.

Experts question whether parents should choose to terminate a fetus just because of the impact the child would have on their lives, and note that even more medically necessary reductions can trigger lifelong angst and even threaten marriages.

The mother said the Toronto doctor who eventually did her reduction performs several a month.

Lynda Haddon, who counsels couples over fetal losses for the support group Multiple Births Canada, said she has heard from a number of people in the past several months who were seeking twin reductions to lessen their burden as parents, something she had never encountered before. Though she strives to help them in a nonjudgmental way, she admits the trend “saddens and scares” her. “Is this a healthy thing? We have to ask these questions: Where does it stop? When do children become a commodity?
Read the rest here.

We are damned. Future generations will celebrate the date of our extinction. They will spit on our graves and pave them over, all the while asking how a civilization that could send people to the moon could sacrifice its children on the demonic altar of convenience. And they will be right.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Bastion of Religion Sees Rise in Secularism

SWIEBODZIN, Poland — A statue of Jesus, one of the tallest in the world, stands on the flat frozen fields of this small western Poland town, its arms outstretched and gaze fixed straight ahead at a community trying to push back a rising tide of secularism.

The stark, white, 108-foot-high figure was erected last month in part to serve as sentry against a force already churning through Poland. “I hope this statue will become a remedy for this secularization,” said the Rev. Sylwester Zawadzki, the priest who inspired the construction of the figure, which rivals the height of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. “I hope it will have a religious mission and not just bring tourists.”

Poland is still an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation, still conservative and still religious, especially when compared with its European neighbors. But supporters and critics of the Roman Catholic Church all acknowledge that the society is changing. They agree that church representatives in Poland have lost authority and credibility, and that much of the population is moving toward a more secular view of life, one with a greater separation between church and state, and a rejection of church mandates on individual morality.

“We are considered the European museum of Catholicism, but let me tell you we are no longer,” said Szymon Holownia, program director for Religia TV, a relatively new station that aims to convince Poles that faith can and should be relevant in modern life with programs like a cooking show led by a nun. “The relationship between faith and state is changing; it is changing dramatically in Poland,” Mr. Holownia said. “It is really huge.”

“Twenty years of freedom and religion is evaporating,” he said. “This is the crisis of Christianity in Poland.”
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Push for Abortion Limits Expected in House

WASHINGTON — A leading Congressional opponent of abortion rights, who is in line to take charge of an influential House panel, plans to press for much stricter limits on the procedure.

The selection of the lawmaker, Representative Joe Pitts, Republican of Pennsylvania, as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health presages a major shift on abortion and family planning, according to opponents and supporters of abortion rights.

Opponents of abortion gained about 45 seats in the midterm elections, and they count the next speaker, Representative John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, as a staunch ally, virtually guaranteeing more conflicts with the White House on the issue.

Mr. Pitts was chosen last week as the chairman of the subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over private health insurance, Medicaid and much of Medicare, as well as the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

In urging Republican leaders to choose Mr. Pitts, the National Right to Life Committee said he had “made the protection of the sanctity of innocent human life the cornerstone of his service in the House.”

Representative Lois Capps, a California Democrat and an advocate of abortion rights, described Mr. Pitts as “one of the most anti-choice members” of the House. Given the midterm election results, Ms. Capps predicted that the new Congress would be “extremely hostile to a woman’s right to choose.”

Laurie Rubiner, vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said Mr. Pitts was “as anti-choice as a member of Congress can be.”
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