Friday, April 30, 2010

A Special Day

Tomorrow St. Mary Magdalene marks its 25th anniversary. There will be a Hierarchical Liturgy with Bishop Benjamin tomorrow morning followed by a celebratory luncheon. Between tomorrow and Sunday this is looking to be a pretty busy weekend. I doubt there will be much posting before Monday.

Have a great weekend.

Fr. Longnecker on the supernatural...

Via the Young Fogey Fr. Dwight Longnecker (a respected Anglican cleric who recently swam the Tiber) has an interesting post up on things supernatural. It is worth the read as are many of the comments.

As long time readers will be aware; this blog is pretty eclectic. One topic however that I have no recollection of ever broaching is the supernatural. By which I refer to the occult, witchcraft demonology ghosts etc. There is a reason for this. A long time ago, I got some advice from a Roman priest that struck me as very sound, and I have not changed my opinion.

Stay away from it. Do not play with Ouija boards, tarot cards , Dungeons and Dragons or similar games, seances etc. If it deals with the supernatural and it's not definitively Christian then give it a wide birth. Avoid the temptation to "study" the occult or demonology. Such should be undertaken only by those who are very strong and mature in their faith and then only for a compelling reason with the blessing and guidance of their spiritual father.

Many of us enjoy a good old fashioned scary movie. When younger I was rather partial to the vampire genre (Christoper Lee will always be THE vampire in my mind). Even here though, my feeling is that great discretion should be exercised, especially by the parents of young children. Sometimes the line between cheesy fiction and reality can be blurry. This is especially so when dealing with the supernatural. A lot of people have seen a particularly obscene film from the 1970's which has since become a cult (no pun) favorite, called The Exorcist. What many do not realize is that it was at least loosely based on real events that occurred in the 1950's in Maryland. This stuff is not a joke or a game.

Once again... if it deals with the supernatural, and it is not Christian then stay well clear of it.

Obama criticizes judicial activism

WASHINGTON — In a seeming rejection of liberal orthodoxy, President Obama has spoken disparagingly about liberal victories before the Supreme Court in the 1960s and 1970s — suggesting that justices made the “error” of overstepping their bounds and trampling on the role of elected officials.

Mr. Obama made his remarks Wednesday night against a backdrop of recent Supreme Court rulings in which conservative justices have struck down laws favored by liberals, most notably a January ruling that nullified restrictions on corporate spending to influence elections.

“It used to be that the notion of an activist judge was somebody who ignored the will of Congress, ignored democratic processes, and tried to impose judicial solutions on problems instead of letting the process work itself through politically,” Mr. Obama said.

“And in the ’60s and ’70s, the feeling was — is that liberals were guilty of that kind of approach. What you’re now seeing, I think, is a conservative jurisprudence that oftentimes makes the same error.”

He added, “The concept of judicial restraint cuts both ways.”
Read the rest here.

What's in a name?

...So naturally Navy Secretary Ray Mabus waited only a few weeks after the death of Democrat pork barrel king Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania to announce that a new San Antonio class ship (see photo above) would be named for the Pennsylvania grump.

Longevity is king where seniority rules. And the 77-year-old Murtha lasted almost 18 terms, which is a long time worthy of keen admiration by the elected likes of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (only 11 terms so far), who called Murtha "our dear Jack..."

...But there's a problem. And it's growing. Back in 2005 as part of Murtha's late-breaking opposition to the Iraq war he was for before he was opposed, when a few fellow Marines were accused of killing some Iraqi civilians in Haditha, ex-Marine Murtha announced the soldiers had done it "in cold blood."

Never mind that there hadn't been a full investigation yet, let alone trials.

Despite Murtha's preemptive verdict, eventual charges against six Marines were dropped, one was acquitted and another awaits trial on reduced charges. Other than that, Murtha was bang-on.

Immediately after Mabus' announcement, a raging online controversy broke out even on the Navy's own website, where Murtha was accused of betrayal.

The honor was called inappropriate, "a slap in the face," an "absolute disgrace" and akin to naming a U.S. ship for Benedict Arnold.
Read the rest here.

An interesting take on illegal immigration

A bit pointed... but yea.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Live on the BBC the last pre-election prime ministerial debate in Britain

Click here to watch

Britain: Bank of England Gov has dire warning for the winner of next week's general election

Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, has privately warned that whichever leader wins the election next week will be kicked out of power for decades because of the severity of budget cuts they will have to instigate, it was claimed today.
Read the rest here.

The Supreme Court and Libertarianism: How far is too far?

To anyone who has been following First Amendment jurisprudence in the past 40 or 50 years, the recent Supreme Court decision (United States v. Stevens, April 20) striking down a statute criminalizing the production and sale of videos depicting animal cruelty in a manner intended to satisfy a particular “sexual fetish” will come as no surprise.

The proverbial ordinary citizen, however, may be surprised to learn that, according to Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion, the First Amendment must be read to allow the production and dissemination of so called “crush videos,” videos (and I quote from Roberts’ opinion) that “feature the intentional torture and killing of helpless animals” often by women wearing high-heeled “spike” shoes who slowly “crush animals to death” while talking to them in “a kind of dominatrix patter” as they scream and squeal “in great pain.” How has it come to this?
Read the rest here.

This is a very powerful and thought provoking essay which forces me to take a half step back and reassess my generally libertarian views in matters appertaining to government and the law. Mr. Fish has made, I think, a compelling argument that perhaps the pendulum has swung too far. Clearly if we are not to descend into utter anarchy or unrestrained moral depravity there must be some limits even on "speech." The question is where and what kind of limits? Even asking that question gives me chills. The restraint of liberty is a very slippery slope...

And yet I cannot grasp how a court could rule as it did in the Stevens case and still rationally conclude that child pornography is beyond the pale.


Hugo Chavez's socialist dreams are facing economic reality

SAN CRISTOBAL, VENEZUELA -- Every day for the past three months, government-programmed blackouts have meant the lights flicker and go dark in a city that once bustled with commerce. And Fifth Street, with its auto parts stores and car repair shops, has ground to a halt.

"We just stop," said Jesus Yanis, who paints cars. "We don't work."

Neither does the rest of Venezuela, where a punishing, months-old energy crisis and years of state interventions in the economy are taking a brutal toll on private business. The result is that the economy is flickering and going dark, too, challenging Venezuela's mercurial leader, Hugo Chávez, and his socialist experiment like never before.

No matter that Venezuela is one of the world's great oil powers -- among the top five providers of crude to the United States. Economists say Venezuela is gripped by an economic crisis that has no easy or fast solution, even if sluggish oil production were ramped up and profligate state spending were cut.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Europe in Crisis

One of the better articles explaining the current situation in Greece and Europe and why it matters.
...The internal problem stems from the fact that the euro, widely hailed as Europe’s greatest initiative, is starting to look like a strategic mistake. Europe’s countries and cultures may be too different to live under the same set of economic policies. While none of the European countries wants American-style capitalism, some are much better than others at managing their economic affairs in an orderly fashion. Germany and the Scandinavian countries plus the Netherlands in particular seem to have a gift for good economic management. Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece don’t manage things as well, by and large. (France stands uneasily in the middle; more competent than its southern neighbors, but less effective than the Germans.)

Historically, the Latin countries and Greece have used currency depreciation to ease the strain when poor economic decision making has caused debt to rise too quickly. As has often been the case in Latin America, inflating bad debts away has been a traditional resort of political elites.

In Germany, inflation is associated with the two great catastrophes of the twentieth century. The runaway Weimar inflation brought the consequences of Germany’s devastating World War One defeat to every home in the country; after World War Two the German currency similarly became worthless. Whole generations lost their savings and inflation for Germans even today remains associated with the worst kind of irresponsibility and disaster.

The euro was a glorious fudge. The Latin countries plus Greece could enjoy the benefits of German discipline and virtue while carrying on with traditionally unsustainable public and private sector policies. In the old, pre-euro days, the southern economies had to pay high interest rates on their debt; wary investors knew that inflation and devaluation were likely and so demanded interest rates that would compensate them for the risk. The lira, the drachma: everyone knew they would lose value over time against the Deutsche mark and even the dollar, and interest rates reflected this understanding. But as the southern countries moved into the euro, calculations changed. For the last twenty years, countries like Greece and Italy were able to borrow money at essentially the same rate that Germany could.

Typically, they decided to spend rather than save this windfall. Greece in particular decided that since the costs of servicing its debt were so low, it made sense to run up more debt. Lousy leaders gave greedy civil servants fat raises; promises were cheap and the government scattered them far and wide. In Italy as well, once the national debt was less painful to carry, there was less pressure to reduce the national debt.
Read the rest here.
Hat tip T-19

ECB may have to turn to 'nuclear option' to prevent Southern European debt collapse

Greece’s fortunes were dealt yet another blow as Standard & Poor’s slashed its credit rating to junk status - BB+ - the first time that has happened to a euro member since the single currency was created, pushing yields on 10-year Greek bonds up to a record 9.73pc.

The credit-rating agency also cut Portugal’s sovereign debt ratings by two notches to A-, as the swirling storm hit the country with full-force.

“We have gone past the point of no return,” said Jacques Cailloux, chief Europe economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland.“There is a complete loss of confidence. The bond markets are in disintegration and it is getting worse every day.

“The ECB has been side-lined in the Greek crisis so far but do you allow a bond crash in your region if you are the lender-of-last resort? They may have to act as contagion spreads to larger countries such as Italy. We started to see the first glimpse of that today.”

Mr Cailloux said the ECB should resort to its “nuclear option” of intervening directly in the markets to purchase government bonds.
Read the rest here.

Breaking: GOP to end fillibuster of financial reform bill

WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans are prepared to end their stalling tactics on new banking regulations and will attempt to change the bill on the Senate floor, Republican officials said.
Read the rest here.

GOP again blocks finance reform bill

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked an effort to by Democrats to begin floor debate of legislation overhauling the nation’s financial regulatory system – the third such vote in three days as Democrats sought to paint the Republicans as obstructing tighter rules for Wall Street.

Both sides say they expect the legislation to be approved. If so, it would be the most far-reaching restructuring of the nation’s financial regulatory framework since the aftermath of the Great Depression.

The vote was 56 to 42, with Democrats once again falling short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Republican filibuster and advance the measure. Democrats said they might keep the Senate in session through the night to dramatize the Republican opposition.
Read the rest here.

Standard & Poor's downgrades Spain's credit rating

The ratings agency Standard & Poor’s lowered the debt rating of Spain on Wednesday, its third downgrade of a European country in two days.

The downgrade came one day after the S.& P. cut the ratings of Greek and Portuguese debt, moves that set off a flight by investors away from global equities and into fixed income securities, particularly those in United States dollars.

The news Wednesday set off no such reaction, although an index of Spanish stocks fell about 3 percent. The S.&P. downgraded Spain’s debt one step, to AA, with a negative outlook.

With Greece inching closer to the brink of financial collapse, fear that the debt crisis will spread rattled global markets for a second day on Wednesday as investors awaited a signal from financial leaders gathering in Berlin.

Shares slumped 1 to 2 percent across much of Europe and Asia, and the euro briefly fell to its lowest level in about a year against the dollar, as investors worried that Portugal, Spain and even Ireland might not be able to borrow the billions of dollars they need to finance their government spending.
Read the rest here.

Supreme Court: Cross can stay

The Supreme Court gave its approval Wednesday to displaying a cross on public land to honor fallen soldiers, saying the Constitution "does not require the eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm."

Speaking for a divided court, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the 1st Amendment called for a middle-ground "policy of accommodation" toward religious displays on public land, not a strict separation of church and state.

Kennedy disagreed with judges in California who said U.S. National Park Service officials must remove a small Latin cross from the Mojave National Preserve that had stood since 1934 to honor soldiers who died in World War I. The judges said the display of the cross on public land amounted to a government endorsement of religion.

"A Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs," he wrote. "Here, a Latin cross in the desert evokes far more than religion. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten."
Read the rest here.

Not your typical British election

Britain's election, already shaping up to be one of the more interesting ones in recent history with the surge of the Liberal Democrats in the polls, had yet another wrench thrown into it yesterday. Prime Minister Gordon Brown was overheard referring to a woman who had challenged him on the national debt and immigration policy as a bigot. Ms. Gillian Duffy, a self described lifelong labor supporter, addressed a series of sharp questions to the PM during one of his campaign walk abouts. Mr. Brown made his comments about her after returning to his car where he forgot to first remove the microphone he had been wearing. He has since apologized but the damage may be beyond repair.

The incident has caused a minor uproar in British politics and is viewed as a potentially catastrophic gaffe on the part of the embattled Prime Minister. Brown's Labor Party was already in third place in the polls, badly trailing both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties who are in a statistical tie. There is a growing concern that no party may emerge from the forthcoming general election with a clear majority. Given Britain's enormous national debt and serious issues involving the commitment of British troops in Afghanistan; the fear of a hung parliament has been weighing heavily on the public and the financial markets.

I'm back

Sorry about the dearth of posting over the last several days. I have been under the weather and not doing much online. I do however feel somewhat better today.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Is it time to short sell America?

Generally I only post excerpts of articles of interest on A/O with a link to their source for the whole thing. However, this one is good enough that I am going to break my usual rule and post it in it's entirety with apologies to WAPO.

The national debt and Washington's deficit of will

By Joel Achenbach
Sunday, April 25, 2010; B01

Bill Gross is used to buying bonds in multibillion-dollar batches. But when it comes to U.S. Treasury bills, he's getting nervous. Gross, a founder of the investment giant Pimco, is so concerned about America's national debt that he has started unloading some of his holdings of U.S. government bonds in favor of bonds from such countries as Germany, Canada and France.

Gross is a bottom-line kind of guy; he doesn't seem to care if the debt is the fault of Republicans or Democrats, the Bush tax cuts or the Obama stimulus. He's simply worried that Washington's habit of spending today the money it hopes to collect tomorrow is getting worse and worse. It even has elements of a Ponzi scheme, Gross told me.

"In order to pay the interest and the bill when it comes due, we'll simply have to issue more IOUs. That, to me, is Ponzi-like," Gross said. "It's a game that can never be finished."

The national debt -- which totaled $8,370,635,856,604.98 as of a few days ago, not even counting the trillions owed by the government to Social Security and other pilfered trust funds -- is rapidly becoming a dominant political issue in Washington and across the country, and not just among the "tea party" crowd. President Obama is feeling the pressure, and on Tuesday he will open the first session of a high-level bipartisan commission that will look for ways to reduce deficits and put the country on a sustainable fiscal path.

It's a tough task. The short term looks awful, and the long term looks hideous. Under any likely scenario, the federal debt will continue to balloon in the years to come. The Congressional Budget Office expects it to reach $20 trillion over the next decade -- and that assumes no new recessions, no new wars and no new financial crises. In the doomsday scenario, foreign investors get spooked and demand higher interest rates to continue bankrolling American profligacy. As rates shoot up, the United States has to borrow more and more simply to pay the interest on its debt, and soon the economy is in a downward spiral.

Of course, at least in theory, this problem can be fixed. Unlike a real Ponzi scheme, which collapses when no new suckers offer money that can be used to pay off earlier investors, the government can restore fiscal sanity whenever our leaders decide to do so.

But that premise is what has people like Gross worried. In addition to running a budget deficit, Washington for years has had a massive deficit of political will.

Over the past decade, lawmakers have avoided the kind of unpopular decisions -- tax increases, spending cuts or some combination -- needed to keep the debt under control. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testified recently that, for investors, the underlying problem with the debt isn't economic. "At some point, the markets will make a judgment about, really, not our economic capacity but our political ability, our political will, to achieve longer-term sustainability," he said.

The economic recovery has been picking up steam in recent weeks -- "America's Back!" trumpets Newsweek -- but the political recovery has been feeble. Whether on taxes, entitlements, military retooling, financial reform, energy policy or climate change, Washington is mired in a political enmity that makes tough decisions nearly impossible.

In the fiscal debate, the default position, as it were, is to do nothing. Debt is the grease of Washington legislation; for short-sighted leaders, it is less a political problem than a political solution. As long as the government can continue borrowing at reasonable rates, citizens can have their tax cuts and government services, and eventually the growing debt becomes someone else's problem.

"This is all an exercise in current generations shifting burdens on future generations," Brookings Institution economist William Gale says. "Future generations don't vote, of course."

Many careers in Washington have come to an end as casualties of the long battle to restore fiscal balance. President George H.W. Bush in 1990 went back on his "no new taxes" pledge and lost much of his political base. By the narrowest of margins -- with Vice President Al Gore breaking a tied vote in the Senate -- President Bill Clinton raised taxes again in 1993, and House Democrats were pummeled in the following year's midterm elections, giving up control of the chamber to the GOP for the first time in 40 years.

But then, after two decades of deficits, the fiscal picture brightened unexpectedly. The peace dividend at the end of the Cold War combined with the booming economy of the 1990s (and some tech-bubble tax receipts) to create an unexpected dilemma in 2000: what to do with the budget surpluses that were forecast for years to come? One obvious idea was to pay down the existing publicly held debt, then hovering around $3.4 trillion.

But a decade later, we're back in debt madness. The causes of this reversal are not a mystery: tax cuts, two wars, a new Medicare drug benefit, two recessions, massive bailouts and a huge stimulus package -- very little of it paid for in any conventional sense. Obama never misses a chance to remind the public that he inherited an enormous deficit, but as a purely political matter he still needs to persuade the public that he's a prudent fiscal steward.

To that end, the president has proposed a freeze on most nonmilitary discretionary spending. Obama also insisted that the health-care overhaul not add to the deficit, and it won't, according to the CBO. But no one would confuse the health-care law with a deficit-reduction package. Critics say the law worsens the fiscal outlook because its spending cuts and new taxes could have been used to reduce the deficit -- which may run at about $1.3 trillion for 2010 -- instead of being an offset for an entitlement expansion.

Beyond the simplicity of the problem -- the Treasury spends more than it collects -- is a thorny mess of policy options. Conservatives fear that liberals want to expand government by imposing a European-style value-added tax, in which the government sips revenue at multiple stages in the production and sale of goods and services. But a VAT is regressive, would hit the middle class in the teeth and is probably too politically radical to survive beyond the haven of a few Washington think tanks.

Obama's vow not to raise taxes on the middle class -- meaning he's extending George W. Bush's tax cuts for everyone except the most affluent -- eliminates a lot of revenue options. "The Republican view is no new taxes, and the Democratic view is no new taxes on 95 percent of the population. Both of those are so far from reasonable starting points that it's astonishing," Gale argues.

Obama and his fellow Democrats may also be shy of substantial Pentagon cuts, lest they be pegged as weak-kneed liberals. Some of the easiest Medicare cuts have already been made. That leaves Social Security, and such options as postponing the retirement age or means-testing benefits. But recipients figure they paid into Social Security and it's their money, not to be taken away. And they vote -- and live by the millions in swing states such as Florida.

With so many unpleasant options, everyone is looking to Obama's new bipartisan commission for some kind of miracle solution. The 18-member panel, headed by former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and retired Republican senator Alan Simpson, is charged with producing recommendations by Dec. 1, after the midterm elections. Congressional leaders say they'll vote on the recommendations, but the commission has no real clout. A panel proposed by Senate colleagues Kent Conrad (N.D.), a Democrat, and Judd Gregg (N.H.), a Republican, would have had more teeth, but the idea died in the ideological crossfire early this year.

Even before the commission's first meeting, the body is already in the thick of the political battle, with antitax advocate Grover Norquist suggesting that Simpson has a history as a tax hiker. The retired senator struck back in a statement: "This 'Mr. Tax Hike' business is garbage, and is intended to terrify people and at the same time make money for the groups who babble it."

In an interview, Simpson said the capital has an aversion to dealing with debt. "It makes all sorts of sense if you're worshiping the great god hiding behind the screen, which is called reelection," he told me.

The latest news from the Treasury is hopeful: Tax revenues are slightly higher than anticipated so far this year. The TARP program to bail out financial firms has proved far less costly than expected. Investors from around the world still eagerly bid on Treasury notes at auction. During this global recession, the U.S. Treasury has been a safe port in the storm.

When I spoke to Peter Orszag, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, he expressed optimism that the administration can balance the primary budget -- not including interest payments -- by 2015. The longer-term deficits are his bigger worry. Asked if the political process in Washington is broken, he answered: "I think it's too soon to know whether the system's broken. The problem is not what happened last year or this year. The real issue is when we move forward in time, something has to give."

The danger is that what "gives" will be investors' confidence in the United States. Bill Gross told me that Pimco still has $150 billion in Treasuries, but that's seriously "underweight" given that the company controls $1 trillion in assets.

"It's becoming immediately apparent that some countries will not do especially well and may not escape the debt trap from the recent financial crisis, Greece and Iceland being the most prominent cases," Gross said. "But now investors are even looking at the best of the best, including the United States."

That's also the concern of Michael Burry, the investment guru who predicted Wall Street's meltdown and made millions by placing bets against (or "shorting") the financial sector. Burry, one of the protagonists in Michael Lewis's account of the financial crisis, "The Big Short," believes the federal government is behaving like the companies that lost billions in mortgage-backed securities. He told me he sees the common mistake of focusing on short-term benefits -- whether quarterly earnings or the next election.

The world doesn't want America to go broke, he points out. Americans are the planet's greatest consumers. But if this is a bubble, it will burst with little warning, Burry said.

"Strictly looking at the monthly Treasury statement of receipts and outlays," Burry said, "as an 'investor,' you see a company you might want to short."


Capital Punishment's Retro Year

The gallows at Wala Wala Prison in Washington State.

2010 is shaping up to be the year of the flashback for capital punishment in the United States. Today Ronnie Lee Gardner had his request granted by a judge in Utah to be executed by firing squad on June 18th. Mr. Gardner murdered a lawyer during an escape attempt some 25 years ago.

Despite the fact that every legal jurisdiction in the United States which still has the death penalty on the books has adopted lethal injection, more than a few states permit some choice in the matter. And this year may see several blasts (no pun intended) from the past. At least four other prisoners in Utah condemned before the state legislature removed the choice, have indicated that if and when their time comes they too will request execution by firing squad.

Nor is the odd fashion statement in older forms of execution limited to Utah. On March 18th of this year Paul Warner Powel (a mean SOB if ever there was one) also disdained lethal injection and instead opted to be sent into the hereafter in Virginia's long unused electric chair (affectionately nicknamed "old sparky"). Meanwhile authorities in Washington State are reportedly bracing for the media circus in the much rumored event that at least one man under sentence of death there is going to invoke his right to be hanged. Washington State specifies lethal injection as the default method of execution but allows the condemned to opt for the older form of execution if they wish. Wala Wala Prison has the nation's only remaining permanent (and functional) gallows. The trap door is weight tested annually just to be sure it still works.

Granted it's hard to muster a lot of sympathy for some of these people. But it is all but impossible to justify capital punishment in the modern world with the availability of natural life prison sentences. The only argument (if one subscribes to it) that might hold water is retributive justice. From a Christian point of view I find that problematic. But from a utilitarian perspective it's a no brainer. The death penalty is immoral given the high risk of miscarriage of justice, which can not be remedied without rendering the sentence ineffectual. And the cost to tax payers and society of this barbaric relic cannot be justified.

It is past time to relegate the death penalty to the ash heap of history and move the electric chair into some museum dedicated to antiquated instruments of torture. Almost every country in the developed world has figured this out. How long will it take us?

Juan Roberto Melendez-Colon: He spent more than 17 years on Florida's death row before 2002 when he become the 98th condemned man in the United States to be exonerated and released from prison. The State of Florida payed him $100 in restitution for his wrongful imprisonment.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Henry Louis Gates discusses the role of black Africans in the slave trade

Ending the Slavery Blame Game

THANKS to an unlikely confluence of history and genetics — the fact that he is African-American and president — Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to reshape the debate over one of the most contentious issues of America’s racial legacy: reparations, the idea that the descendants of American slaves should receive compensation for their ancestors’ unpaid labor and bondage.

There are many thorny issues to resolve before we can arrive at a judicious (if symbolic) gesture to match such a sustained, heinous crime. Perhaps the most vexing is how to parcel out blame to those directly involved in the capture and sale of human beings for immense economic gain.

While we are all familiar with the role played by the United States and the European colonial powers like Britain, France, Holland, Portugal and Spain, there is very little discussion of the role Africans themselves played. And that role, it turns out, was a considerable one, especially for the slave-trading kingdoms of western and central Africa. These included the Akan of the kingdom of Asante in what is now Ghana, the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin), the Mbundu of Ndongo in modern Angola and the Kongo of today’s Congo, among several others.
Read the rest here

The "Rapture" is Heresy

As I was driving one day I encountered a bumper sticker admonishing me:

“WARNING! In the event of Rapture, this car will be driverless.”

The strange belief in the Rapture teaches that some day (sooner rather than later), without warning, born-again Christians will begin to float up from the freeway, abandoned vehicles careening wildly. There will be airliners in the sky suddenly with no one at the controls! Presumably, God is removing these favored ones from earth to spare them the tribulation of the Anti-Christ which the rest of us will have to endure.

Unfortunately the Rapture has been promoted widely by the Left Behind series of books that have sold over 70 million copies.

The Rapture represents a radical misinterpretation of Scripture. I remember watching “Sixty Minutes”a year ago and was appalled to hear the announcer say that “the Rapture is an unmistakenly Christian doctrine”. It is not!

It is a serious distortion of Scripture.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sovereign debt crisis more serious than originally thought

LONDON -- The Greek debt crisis escalated again Thursday as new data showed the government's gaping budget deficit was worse than previously thought and investors expressed fears that officials in Athens may not agree to stringent demands for an international bailout.

The developments put new pressure on the euro and other heavily indebted European nations including Spain, Portugal even Belgium.

Moody's rating agency, meanwhile, downgraded Greek debt for the second time in five months, saying it feared the financially troubled nation may be forced to continue paying high interest rates that could compound its economic woes.

Officials from the European Union and International Monetary Fund were in emergency bailout talks with the government in Athens, although it remained unclear if Greek officials would accede to demands for more austerity measures beyond the tax hikes and salary cuts for state workers imposed earlier this year.
Read the rest here.

Intelligence: N Korea sank the S Korean naval ship on direct orders from Kim Jong-il

The attack on the 1,220-ton Cheonan, which sank on March 26 with the loss of 46 of its 104 crew, was carried out in retaliation for a skirmish between warships of the two nations' navies in November of last year, South Korea claims.

The South Korean government has refused to comment officially on the reports but Defence Minister Kim Tae Young told a parliamentary session that the military believed that the sinking was a deliberate act by North Korea.

Officials in military intelligence say they warned the government earlier this year that North Korea was preparing a suicide-squad submarine attack on a South Korean ship.

"Military intelligence made the report to the Blue House [the presidential office] and to the Defence Ministry immediately after the sinking of the Cheonan that it was clearly the work of North Korea's military," a military source said.
Read the rest here.

Auburn NY: More abuse of Eminent Domain

Despite the criticism of the Supreme Court’s eminent domain ruling in Kelo, the city of Auburn, New York appears undeterred and is threatening to invoke eminent domain to seize private property for a private company. The Kelo opinion was wrongly decided in allowing a Connecticut town to seize homes to give the land to a private company. Putting that flawed legal logic aside, I am astonished that elected officials continue to abuse eminent domain powers in this way and shows the need for state laws barring the practice. Mayor Mike Quill insists that the interests of the majority (and one powerful developer) must trump the property rights of a few citizens.

Ironically, after selling out their fellow citizens, the people of New London, Connecticut never did reap the rewards that they sought. The city is threatening citizens that if they do not reach an agreement with a developer, the city will come in and take the land and give it to the developer.
Read the rest here.

In an open letter George Weigel rebukes Hans Küng

Dr. Küng:

A decade and a half ago, a former colleague of yours among the younger progressive theologians at Vatican II told me of a friendly warning he had given you at the beginning of the Council’s second session. As this distinguished biblical scholar and proponent of Christian-Jewish reconciliation remembered those heady days, you had taken to driving around Rome in a fire-engine red Mercedes convertible, which your friend presumed had been one fruit of the commercial success of your book, The Council: Reform and Reunion.

This automotive display struck your colleague as imprudent and unnecessarily self-advertising, given that some of your more adventurous opinions, and your talent for what would later be called the sound-bite, were already raising eyebrows and hackles in the Roman Curia. So, as the story was told me, your friend called you aside one day and said, using a French term you both understood, “Hans, you are becoming too evident.”

As the man who single-handedly invented a new global personality-type—the dissident theologian as international media star—you were not, I take it, overly distressed by your friend’s warning. In 1963, you were already determined to cut a singular path for yourself, and you were media-savvy enough to know that a world press obsessed with the man-bites-dog story of the dissenting priest-theologian would give you a megaphone for your views. You were, I take it, unhappy with the late John Paul II for trying to dismantle that story-line by removing your ecclesiastical mandate to teach as a professor of Catholic theology; your subsequent, snarling put-down of Karol Wojtyla’s alleged intellectual inferiority in one volume of your memoirs ranked, until recently, as the low-point of a polemical career in which you have become most evident as a man who can concede little intelligence, decency, or good will in his opponents.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Trying to Save Wild Tigers by Rehabilitating Them

BALIMBING, Indonesia — The two wild Sumatran tigers, held in large, adjoining cages here, had killed at least eight people between them.

They growled ferociously, lunged at a man outside, ran in circles inside the cages and slammed against the walls, their eyes radiating a fierceness absent in zoo tigers. But if all goes well, one of them eventually will be reintroduced into the wild.

In the only one of two such experiments in the world, tiger experts here have begun rehabilitating and releasing tigers that have attacked humans and livestock elsewhere on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra. As a growing human population and economic development keep squeezing tigers out of their remaining habitats, clashes are increasing with deadly frequency. Last year, tigers killed at least nine people in Sumatra, mostly illegal loggers pushing ever deeper into previously untouched forest.
Read the rest here

For the record, I think this is nuts. I'm all for saving endangered species. But man eating tigers being released again? Ummmm NO.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why are more Americans renouncing their citizenship?

Chicago native Ben loves his country and is proud to be an American. Yet the longtime resident of Melbourne has just relinquished his U.S. citizenship. "This is not something I did lightly or happily, but I saw no other choice," says Ben, a businessman who became an Australian citizen two years ago.

His words resonate with another American expatriate, John, a business owner based near Lausanne, Switzerland, who like Ben asked that his last name be withheld for fear of alienating his family in the U.S. "Giving up my U.S. citizenship is a genuine option," says the Ohio native, who recently received his Swiss passport and is considering relinquishing his American one. "I am at a breaking point — being American costs me time [and] money, but mostly aggravation."

For U.S. citizens, cutting ties with their native land is a drastic and irrevocable step. But as Overseas American Week, a lobbying effort by expatriate-advocacy groups, convenes in Washington this week, it's one that an increasing number of American expats are willing to take. According to government records, 502 expatriates renounced U.S. citizenship or permanent residency in the fourth quarter of 2009 — more than double the number of expatriations in all of 2008. And these figures don't include the hundreds — some experts say thousands — of applications languishing in various U.S. consulates and embassies around the world, waiting to be processed. While a small number of Americans hand in their passports each year for political reasons, the new surge in permanent expatriations is mainly because of taxes.

Considering that an estimated 3 million to 6 million Americans reside abroad, the number of renouncements is small. But expatriate organizations say the recent increase reflects a growing dissatisfaction with the way the U.S. government treats its expats and their money: the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that taxes its overseas citizens, subjecting them to taxation in both their country of citizenship and country of residence.
Read the rest here.

SOS from the United States

Check out The SS United States Conservancy for information on how to help save our country's flagship from being turned into razor blades.

Help save the SS United States from the scrap yard.

Born Again in Puerto Rico

This summer all Puerto Ricans will have the chance to be born again -- at least on paper.

The government of Puerto Rico is invalidating every birth certificate issued on the island before July 1, 2010, in an attempt to curb rampant fraud and identity theft that officials say has ruined lives, strained social service programs and compromised national security.

Each of Puerto Rico's 4 million residents and the estimated 1.2 million Puerto Rico-born Americans living in the 50 states will have to apply for new vital documents to legally prove that they exist and remain eligible for government benefits.

It's a radical solution to what many say has been a serious and growing crisis involving Puerto Rican birth certificates, which are used to apply for everything from U.S. passports to Medicaid.
Read the rest here.

Is J D Hayworth the new face of the Republican Party?

When Arizona's bitter Republican primary election arrives in August, it is likely to be 102 degrees in the shade, of which there is little. It is the kind of weather in which only the hearty and highly motivated venture outdoors -- Gila monsters and Tea Party activists. Which may not be good news for Sen. John McCain, who is generally disliked by the latter.

A recent poll puts McCain just five points ahead of J.D. Hayworth, a former congressman and radio talk show host who aspires to be Arizona's Samuel Adams. McCain operatives dispute that the race is this close, but they cannot dispute that McCain is running in a political environment in which absolutely anything could happen to an incumbent.
Read the rest here.

The upside to volcanic disruptions

With apologies to those who have had travel plans wrecked, I am compelled to agree with the author. Flying is one of the most unpleasant forms of transportation I can think of.
AFTER waiting nearly a week as an Icelandic volcano spewed turbine-mangling ash into the atmosphere — thwarting flights into, out of or through Europe — the airlines are supposed to begin flying passengers again on Tuesday.

Governments, businesses and most travelers, irritated by disrupted itineraries and worried about lost productivity, are delighted to see planes back in the sky. But I, for one, wish this blessedly jet-free interlude could have continued a little longer. In the eccentric, ground-level adventures of some stranded passengers — 700-mile taxi rides through Scandinavia, for instance, perhaps a horse-drawn stagecoach over the Alps if things got really desperate — I’m reminded of the romance we trade away each time we shuffle aboard an airplane.

In the five decades or so since jets became the dominant means of long-haul travel, the world has benefited immeasurably from the speed and convenience of air travel. But as Orson Welles intoned in “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “The faster we’re carried, the less time we have to spare.” Indeed, airplanes’ accelerated pace has infected nearly every corner of our lives. Our truncated vacation days and our crammed work schedules are predicated on the assumption that everyone will fly wherever they’re going, that anyone can go great distances and back in a very short period of time.
Read the rest here

IMF issues warning on sovereign debt levels

Historic levels of government debt in the developed world could throw the global financial system back into crisis and clear plans are needed to bring it under control, the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday.

In one of its first broad surveys since the recent recession gave way to renewed growth, the agency said that "sovereign risk" -- the chance that sovereign nations have racked up so much debt they won't be able to borrow enough money to pay their bills -- is now perhaps the central threat to the global financial system.

Governments in the United States and across Europe have accumulated levels of debt not seen since World War II as the recession crimped tax receipts, spending rose on entitlement programs, and emergency measures were put in place to support the economy.

"The crisis has lead to a deteriorating trajectory for debt" among developed countries, which could cause higher interest rates and slower growth and weaken the broader financial system, the IMF said. Government debt could "take the credit crisis into a new phase, as nations begin to reach the limits of public sector support for the financial system and the real economy."
Read the rest here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A sharp criticism of contemporary ethno-phyletism in the Orthodox Church

...In this context, we have learned with great sadness of the message from the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church, issued on February 11, 2010, entitled “A Call to Unity and Romanian Dignity.” In this message—which makes no reference to God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit—the Holy Synod of the Romanian Church claims to be following the Russian and Serbian examples and calls all Romanian Orthodox clergy and faithful outside Romania, those who find themselves “without a blessing” in other sister Orthodox Churches, to reestablish “direct communion” with the Romanian Patriarchate.

We understand Bucharest's pastoral concern for isolated Romanian faithful in foreign lands. All the same, is it not shocking to see such concern expressed as a prerogative imposed by the Holy Synod on Romanian Christians in whatever foreign country they may be living and in opposition to Orthodox ecclesiology? On this point, the reference to the Council of Nicaea is not acceptable because the Fathers of that Council rejected the notion of dioceses defined by ethnic considerations; instead, they held, like the Apostles, only to the territorial principle...
Read the rest here.

No. I didn't write this...

But I wish I did.

Nick Clegg is shaking up the British Election

Having stolen the show from the leaders of Britain’s two largest parties during a televised debate last Thursday, Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has seen his party surge in the polls to such an extent that he is suddenly at the center of what one British reporter is calling “the hysterical condition known as Cleggmania.”

Just days after he was the third man of the British election campaign, Mr. Clegg now finds himself compared to Winston Churchill, Barack Obama, Princess Diana and even Jesus. The fact that some of those comparisons were made in jest by supporters of other candidates, in an attempt to pierce what the Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson, claims is “the biggest load of media-driven nonsense since the funeral of Diana,” is perhaps the most telling sign that support for the third party is now seen as a genuine threat, less than three weeks from election day.

Immediately after last week’s debate, supporters of the other parties suggested that Mr. Clegg’s performance was irrelevant, since his party was lagging in the polls and the vagaries of the British electoral map meant that he stood little chance of becoming prime minister. By Monday though, one poll put his approval rating at 72 percent, more than 50 percent ahead of his nearest rival, another showed his party picking up ten points and a third suggested that the electorate was now split roughly in three, with the Liberal Democrats slightly ahead of both the ruling Labor party and the Conservatives.
Read the rest here.

Sending a message with guns

Daniel Almond, a three-tour veteran of Iraq, is ready to "muster outside D.C." on Monday with several dozen other self-proclaimed patriots, all of them armed. They intend to make history as the first people to take their guns to a demonstration in a national park, and the Virginia rally is deliberately being held just a few miles from the Capitol and the White House.

Almond plans to have his pistol loaded and openly carried, his rifle unloaded and slung to the rear, a bandoleer of magazines containing ammunition draped over his polo-shirted shoulder. The Atlanta area real estate agent the rally because he is upset about health-care reform, climate controlorganized , bank bailouts, drug laws and what he sees as President Obama's insistence on and the Democratic Congress's capitulation to a "totalitarian socialism" that tramples individual rights.

A member of several heretofore little-known groups, including Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership and Oath Keepers -- former and active military and law enforcement officials who have vowed to resist laws they deem unconstitutional -- Almond, 31, considers packing heat on the doorstep of the federal government within the mainstream of political speech.

Others consider it an alarming escalation of paranoia and anger in the age of Obama.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A little more Sunday levity

Back when I was in the Navy I think I may have been hanging out in the wrong establishments. I would remember being bounced by someone who looked like that...

And now for something a little on the lighter side

Riddle me this... How can you tell when an elephant seal is hitting on you? Click here to find out. I think you will enjoy it.

Hat tip T-19

WOW! What a game!

The Mets beat the Cardinals 2-1 in 20 innings. The game remained scoreless into the 19th inning in one of the more bizarre games in recent memory.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Painful Lesson in Health Reform from New York

When her small executive search firm in New York City canceled its health insurance policy last year because of the recession and rising premiums, April Welles was able to buy her own plan and still be covered for her cancer and multiple sclerosis.

She was lucky to live in New York, one of the first states to require insurance companies to offer comprehensive coverage to all people regardless of pre-existing conditions. But Ms. Welles, 58, also pays dearly: Her premium is $17,876 a year.

“That’s a lot of groceries,” she said.

New York’s insurance system has been a working laboratory for the core provision of the new federal health care law — insurance even for those who are already sick and facing huge medical bills — and an expensive lesson in unplanned consequences. Premiums for individual and small group policies have risen so high that state officials and patients’ advocates say that New York’s extensive insurance safety net for people like Ms. Welles is falling apart.

The problem stems in part from the state’s high medical costs and in part from its stringent requirements for insurance companies in the individual and small group market. In 1993, motivated by stories of suffering AIDS patients, the state became one of the first to require insurers to extend individual or small group coverage to anyone with pre-existing illnesses.
Read the rest here.

Russia flexes its muscle in Western airspace

Russian TU 160 Heavy Bomber
LONDON, April 16 (UPI) -- Russia is increasingly flexing its military muscles by penetrating Western airspace.

European defense officials have been worried about an increasing number of Russian bombers entering Western airspace.

A pair of Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack bombers -- the largest jet-powered combat aircraft ever built, capable of carrying nuclear missiles -- last month entered British airspace over Northern Scotland, Deutsche Welle reports.

Two Tornado fighter jets from the British air force intercepted the supersonic bombers, accompanying them for four hours until they left British airspace.
Read the rest here.

This is intolerable. No self respecting nation can permit its sovereignty to be so flagrantly abused. I wonder how uncle Vlady would react if we "accidentally" overflew Russian airspace for four(!) hours with a couple of strategic bombers?

John Paulson who made billions is not charged

Three and half years ago, a New York hedge fund manager with a bearish view on the housing market was pounding the pavement on Wall Street.

Eager to increase his bets against subprime mortgages, the investor, John A. Paulson, canvassed firm after firm, looking for new ways to profit from home loans that he was sure would go sour.

Only a few investment banks agreed to help him. One was Deutsche Bank. The other was the mighty Goldman Sachs.

Mr. Paulson struck gold. His prescience made him billions and transformed him from a relative nobody into something of a celebrity on Wall Street and in Washington.

But now his brassy bets have thrust Mr. Paulson into an uncomfortable spotlight. On Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil fraud lawsuit against Goldman for neglecting to tell its customers that mortgage investments they were buying consisted of pools of dubious loans that Mr. Paulson had selected because they were highly likely to fail.

By betting against the pool of questionable mortgage bonds, Mr. Paulson made $1 billion when they collapsed just a few months later, the S.E.C. said. Investors, who bought what regulators are essentially calling a pig in a poke, lost the same amount.
Read the rest here.

For the record, that's how the game is played. Capitalism does not guarantee everyone wins. If you make bad bets you can loose. Paulson gambled and won. He lied to no one. He did not misrepresent anything he was doing. In fact he was quite open about it and was generally laughed at. Of course if Goldman was making false statements that could be a problem. But it would be Goldman's problem, not Paulson who was 100% above board in his dealings. All in all it sounds like the Times is trying to convict Paulson of being a smart investor who made a lot of money for himself and his investors when other people could not find their southern quarters with both hands in the dark.

For those who did not grasp this; Wall Street is not a charity operation. Before going there with your money, know your risk tolerances and don't play with money you can't afford to loose. Don't invest in anything you do not understand and stay out of debt.

Goldman Sachs Accused of Fraud

Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street powerhouse, was accused of securities fraud in a civil lawsuit filed Friday by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which claims the bank created and sold a mortgage investment that was secretly intended to fail.

The move was the first time that regulators had taken action against a Wall Street deal that helped investors capitalize on the collapse of the housing market.

The suit also named Fabrice Tourre, a vice president at Goldman who helped create and sell the investment.

In a statement, Goldman called the commission’s accusations “completely unfounded in law and fact” and said it would “vigorously contest them and defend the firm and its reputation.”
Read the rest here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

An Apology and Note on Comments

First I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by several odious comments posted on the thread about Bishop Williamson. Most (now all) of them were deleted.

Secondly I wish to make it crystal clear that extremists, anti-Semites (and YES that includes Holocaust deniers) as also any other form of bigotry or opinions in support of such repulsive beliefs are not welcome here and will not be tolerated. This is a Christian blog and I regard such filth as antithetical to Christianity. If you don't like that, tough rocks. This is MY blog and there is no such thing as Freedom of Speech here.

To all the various wackos moonbats and bigots who inhabit the darker corners of the internet; don't go away mad. Just GO AWAY!

Comments are off (this is really just not open for discussion).

About those terms of service and online contracts...

that we all tend to click "AGREE" without reading when we buy something online or want to use a certain web service; I am going to have to be a bit more careful.
A computer game retailer revealed that it legally owns the souls of thousands of online shoppers, thanks to a clause in the terms and conditions agreed to by online shoppers.

A computer game retailer revealed that it legally owns the souls of thousands of online shoppers, thanks to a clause in the terms and conditions agreed to by online shoppers.
Read the rest here.
Hat tip Bill (AKA The Godfather)

Eric Sprott prognosticates on the future

Great interview. Horrible embed code. Sigh.

Forget Greece; next crisis Portugal

LONDON — Next target: Portugal.

Speculators have begun to zero in on another small member of Europe’s troubled monetary zone, highlighting the same economic flaw that brought Greece to the verge of insolvency: a chronically low savings rate that forces a reliance on the now-diminishing appetite of foreign investors to finance persistent deficits.

Just as investors are turning their attention to the next vulnerable country, Greece moved a step closer on Thursday to activating a $61 billion rescue package, as Prime Minister George A. Papandreou asked the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to meet in Athens next week.

The aid package agreed on last weekend — aimed at calming fears of a Greek default — has not yet had its desired effect. The yield on Greek 10-year bonds briefly topped 7.3 percent Thursday, not far from the 7.5 percent it was at before the rescue package was announced. Interest rates on 10-year government bonds for Portugal have also been rising, hitting a high of 4.5 percent on Thursday.

Though Greece’s finance ministry said its request for talks did not necessarily mean it would draw from the funds, it contributed to anxiety that helped push down the value of the euro by 0.008, to 1.3576 against the dollar.

It all raises the prospect that the loan package for Greece, the result of months of political haggling, may be nothing more than a bandage on a wound that shows little sign of healing.

Some analysts think the Greek bailout may have an opposite, more harmful long-term effect. Instead of ushering in a period of lower rates and market calm, it could prompt investors to test Europe’s — and in particular Germany’s — stomach for a rescue of other troubled European economies, beginning with Portugal.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Seeking comfort in a sea of candles

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Russia Suspends Adoptions by Americans

MOSCOW — Russia formally announced on Thursday that it would suspend all adoptions of Russian children by Americans, responding to the case of a 7-year-old boy who was sent back to Moscow alone last week by his adoptive mother in Tennessee. The case of the boy, who was named Artyom in Russia before he was adopted last year, has caused widespread anger here, and Russian officials said new regulations had to be put in place before adoptions by Americans could proceed.
Read the rest here.

New York City's last Catholic Hospital closes

After 160 years St. Vincent's Hospital, a landmark in lower Manhattan, has closed its doors forever. The hospital recently filed for bankruptcy. The New York Times has the story of the last baby delivered there.

Very sad.

More on Perry Robinson's Apologia Contra Episcopalianism

Perry's excellent post on the Episcopal Organization is getting some attention in the Anglican blogosphere (see here and here). I think there are some others as well that have it linked or posted. Lots of interesting comments that run the range from very good and thoughtful to the kind that give you an urge to start ripping out toe nails.

Please leave comments on Perry's original post or one of the other threads as appropriate.

SSPX to Bp. Williamson: SHUT UP!

On the even of his trial (which appears likely to be held in abstentia) for Holocaust denial in Germany various sources are reporting that Bishop Richard Williamson of the Roman Catholic traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) has been silenced by his order. According to his attorney and other sources, Williamson, well known for espousing antisemitic beliefs and expressing highly controversial opinions on any number of other subjects, has been ordered to refrain from internet postings and discussions, granting interviews, or opining aloud or in print on any subject other than matters of the Catholic faith and the latter only after receiving direct approval from the Superior of the SSPX. Williamson created a firestorm of controversy on the eve of the lifting of the excommunications of the SSPX by Pope +Benedict XVI when he denied substantial parts of the Nazi genocide of the Jews in a television interview. This caused enormous embarrassment to both the SSPX and the Holy See. There are some who fear that in the event of a rapprochement between Rome and the SSPX that Williamson might bolt and found his own group.

An afterthought: The SSPX I think has acted correctly. Through his words and actions Williamson has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that he is a racist anti-Semite and a fool. He is manifestly unfit for orders of any kind much less the purple cassock. Given that such in the minds of Roman Catholics can not be undone however, this is probably the next best thing. My substantial differences with the Society (which go far beyond the usual Orthodox-Catholic disputes) notwithstanding, I applaud them for this overdue discipline. One might perhaps dare to hope that this portends of an intention on the part of the SSPX to do a little internal house cleaning. Williamson is by no means the only one holding such views in the Society.

All of that said I have to express some concern about the court case. As odious as Williamson's views are, I am deeply reluctant to criminalize them. Is Williamson a knave and a fool? Without doubt. But should foolish or even deeply offensive opinions be put under the ban of the law? This is a slippery slope. I think it is better to simply expose them for what they are and hold people like Williamson up for public ridicule.

Are there exceptions? Yes. When opinions translate into actions that can endanger society or the public/national safety then that's a different matter. But those exceptions are very rare.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An Orthodox revival in Israel

Early Saturday morning, when the town of Migdal Ha’emek is still sound asleep, the tiny church of St. Nicolay is crammed with people. There is a strong aroma of incense and thin, yellow candles glow softly, their light reflected on the golden icons. The murmur of Russian words grows into loud singing and the 100-strong parish repeats the prayers after the black-bearded priest and a small choir behind him.

They are singing in Old Slavonic – the language that could be easily understood by the contemporaries of Ivan the Terrible, and nowadays is used only in prayer texts and church documents. Physically, the church of St. Nicolay is situated in the heart of this quiet and sleepy Jewish town in the North; spiritually it is a part of quite different world, the world of Russian Orthodoxy.

One has to strain his eyes to spot the cross on top of the church – a rare sight in a town with predominantly Jewish population. The simple structure is walled by a two-meter fence erected under the direct order of the municipality for the protection of the worshipers.

The church of St Nicolay was founded in 1894 and was partly funded by the Grand Duke Sergey, who also built the famous Russian Compound in Jerusalem. It has seen the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate and the birth of the Jewish state. The church functioned until 1948, and in 1953 Migdal Ha’emek was founded. Long abandoned and in ruins, in 2004 the church was reconstructed by Sophia – the association of Russian Orthodox Christians in Israel. The funds mostly came from private donations of the parish.
Read the rest here.

Coming soon... St Patrick's Parish (in Russia?)

Moscow, April 14, Interfax – Orthodox parishes dedicated to St. Patrick - patron saint of Ireland who is worshipped both in the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, may open in Russia.
Read the rest here.

America and Assassination

I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me 20 years ago that America would someday be routinely firing missiles into countries it’s not at war with. For that matter, I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me a few months ago that America would soon be plotting the assassination of an American citizen who lives abroad.

Shows you how much I know. President Obama, who during his first year in office oversaw more drone strikes in Pakistan than occurred during the entire Bush presidency, last week surpassed his predecessor in a second respect: he authorized the assassination of an American — Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Imam who after 9/11 moved from Virginia to Yemen, a base from which he inspires such people as the Fort Hood shooter and the would-be underwear bomber.

Students of the law might raise a couple of questions: 1) Doesn’t it violate international law to fire missiles into Pakistan (especially on a roughly weekly basis) when the Pakistani government has given no formal authorization? 2) Wouldn’t firing a missile at al-Awlaki in Yemen compound the international-law question with a constitutional question — namely whether giving the death penalty to an American without judicially establishing his guilt deprives him of due process?
Read the rest here.

Some thoughts on civil disobedience

SAN FRANCISCO -- Two women were arrested at San Francisco State University early today after a group of protesters broke into a campus building, angered by sanctions handed down to demonstrators at a December building takeover, authorities said.

The two women, who are not San Francisco State students, were among 19 people who broke into the Cesar Chavez Student Center at about 4 a.m., said university spokeswoman Ellen Griffin.

University police responded, pepper-sprayed the two protesters when they resisted and arrested them, Griffin said. Their names were not immediately released. The other protesters dispersed but remained on campus, Griffin said.

The protest was in response to fines that were leveled as part of misconduct charges against 11 students involved in a two-day protest in December in which activists barricaded themselves inside the business school to protest fee hikes.

Read the rest here.

Note to protesters: Martin Luther King wrote his famous letter from INSIDE the Birmingham Jail. Your conscience is not a get out of jail free card. If you feel very strongly on a matter then fine, break the law. There are some laws or proposed laws where I could see myself refusing obedience. BUT... true civil disobedience implies a willingness to take the punishment.

What is up with all of these spoiled brats who think they can seize or vandalize property that is not theirs, block traffic or do any number of other things and expect that they are going to get a pass? It doesn't work that way. Either man up and take the punishment or sign petitions like most normal people do when we are ticked with what the government is doing. But please shut up and spare me your whining about fines for things you are obviously guilty of.

Frankly I have a lot more respect for people who actually ASK to be sent to jail for their beliefs.

More from the moonbat files...

Lt. Col. Terry Lakin, a decorated military man who has become a part of the fringe "birther" movement - which believes President Obama was not born in the United States - could face a dishonorable discharge for failing to obey orders, MSNBC reported on Tuesday.

The 18-year veteran came out in support of the largely discredited conspiracy theorists at the end of March, proclaiming he would "disobey" his "illegal" orders to deploy.

"I believe all servicemen and women, and the American people, deserve the truth about President Obama's constitutional eligibility to the office of the presidency and the commander in chief," he said in a video statement posted on YouTube on March 30.
Read the rest here.

At the risk of sounding unChristian, IMO this man needs to be dealt with severely. Private citizens have an absolute right to subscribe to any zany beliefs they wish provided they don't break the law. Members of the armed forces do NOT have that right. Nor do they have the right to spread seditious lies. The military should throw the book at him. His actions could have extremely prejudicial effects on the good order and discipline of the armed forces.

When I was in the Navy the way it was explained to me is if given an order from any superior you are obligated to obey it. If you believe it is unlawful you must still obey it and file your complaint later. The ONLY generally recognized exceptions were in cases where the "unlawful" order was as a matter of common sense one that would endanger lives and or the ship or violate the laws of war (war crimes). In those cases anyone refusing to obey said orders could be required to defend their actions in court. The burden of proof is on the defendant in such cases as there is a legal presumption that orders are lawful unless proven otherwise.

That policy exists for very good reasons. You can't have everyone making up their own mind about what orders they will and will not obey in the armed forces.

This nut job needs to be cashiered and sent to the brig.

File this under "Well DUH"

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve chairman said Wednesday that the government must begin to make “difficult choices” to address its gaping deficits and warned that “postponing them will only make them more difficult.”
Read the rest here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Perry Robinson explains why he is not an Episcopalian

An outstanding post that is too long (and good) to excerpt. Just read it here. Please leave your comments on his site.

I just reread his post. This is one of the most powerful (though non-polemic) critiques of The Episcopal Organization that I have read.

O Lord Save Thy People


Shamelessly stolen from here.

Getting the debt under control

Tax increases alone

If lawmakers opted to reduce the deficit strictly through tax increases, they would need raise more than $500 billion in new revenue, according to a Tax Policy Center study.

And they'd have to hike tax rates by a third to pull it off -- the bottom rate would go from 10% to 13.7%, and the top rate would rise from 35% today to 48%.

If they just wanted to raise the top three rates, they'd have to jack them up by 88%. So, for example, the top rate would rise from 35% to 66%.

To hit the deficit target by only raising rates on the highest-income households would require a far more drastic jump. Rates for individuals making more than $200,000 (or $250,000 for couples) would more than double, with the top rate approaching 77%.

All of these estimates don't account for how those taxpayers would behave when faced with higher taxes. If they did, the rate jumps would need to be even higher, said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center.

Spending cuts alone

Trying to achieve the same deficit reduction without increasing taxes could be done by slashing spending.

But the cuts would be harsh. For instance, discretionary spending would need to be cut by 40%, according to an analysis by Sullivan. Discretionary spending pays for everything except Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest on the debt. In other words, it funds most federal government services and support, including defense, education and infrastructure.

Alternatively, lawmakers could just cut mandatory spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security by 25%.

Or they could just cut total spending -- both discretionary and mandatory -- by 13%.
Read the rest here.

Note: The above figures DO NOT balance the budget. They reduce deficits to levels that some suggest would be sustainable as a percentage of Debt/GDP. Color me skeptical.

Bill Gross is dumping Treasury Bonds

From The Business Insider, April 12, 2010:

Nine months ago, Bill Gross's Total Return Fund was 50% in US Treasuries. Now it's only 30%, the lowest percentage in the 23 year history of the fund, says Nelson Schwartz of the NYT.

Why is Gross dumping Treasuries?

Two primary concerns:

* Inflation
* The massive tidal wave of money the US needs to raise in the coming years, which will increase the supply of Treasuries (driving prices down and rates up).

More broadly, Gross believes that, while interest rates have now generally been declining for more than 25 years, we're now moving to an era in which rates will rise, not fall.

PIMCO has shifted money into corporate bonds and foreign bonds, including Germany.

FYI Bill Gross is possibly the foremost bond trader in the United States. He is one of very few people in the financial world who when he speaks people on Wall Street stop what they are dong and turn up the volume on CNBC.

LA: Too broke to investigate murders

In January, Los Angeles Police Det. Nate Kouri was ordered to stop working.

One of the LAPD's most productive homicide investigators sat idle for six weeks, unable to follow any leads on old cases or pick up new ones. Kouri was not being punished for misconduct or for botching an investigation. He was benched for working too hard -- and he is not the only one.

With the city reeling from its worst financial crisis in decades, the LAPD has stopped paying officers overtime wages, except in rare situations. In lieu of cash, officials have implemented a strict policy of forcing cops to take time off when they accrue large amounts of overtime hours. Because of demanding work schedules that routinely require them to investigate a case into the night or through the weekend, homicide detectives have been among the first officers to be sent home in significant numbers.
Read the rest here.

The Better Pope?

...But there’s another story to be told about John Paul II and his besieged successor. The last pope was a great man, but he was also a weak administrator, a poor delegator, and sometimes a dreadful judge of character.

The church’s dilatory response to the sex abuse scandals was a testament to these weaknesses. So was John Paul’s friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The last pope loved him and defended him. But we know now that Father Maciel was a sexually voracious sociopath. And thanks to a recent exposé by The National Catholic Reporter’s Jason Berry, we know the secret of Maciel’s Vatican success: He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, and those funds often flowed to members of John Paul’s inner circle.

Only one churchman comes out of Berry’s story looking good: Joseph Ratzinger. Berry recounts how Ratzinger lectured to a group of Legionary priests, and was subsequently handed an envelope of money “for his charitable use.” The cardinal “was tough as nails in a very cordial way,” a witness said, and turned the money down.

This isn’t an isolated case. In the 1990s, it was Ratzinger who pushed for a full investigation of Hans Hermann Groer, the Vienna cardinal accused of pedophilia, only to have his efforts blocked in the Vatican. It was Ratzinger who persuaded John Paul, in 2001, to centralize the church’s haphazard system for handling sex abuse allegations in his office. It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel’s conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaries in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.

So the high-flying John Paul let scandals spread beneath his feet, and the uncharismatic Ratzinger was left to clean them up. This pattern extends to other fraught issues that the last pope tended to avoid — the debasement of the Catholic liturgy, or the rise of Islam in once-Christian Europe. And it extends to the caliber of the church’s bishops, where Benedict’s appointments are widely viewed as an improvement over the choices John Paul made. It isn’t a coincidence that some of the most forthright ecclesiastical responses to the abuse scandal have come from friends and protégés of the current pope.
Read the rest here.

I could (and do) disagree with some of this article. But in general I would call it the first reasonably fair piece I have seen in the Times on this tragic subject. +Benedict was not, and is not perfect. He made mistakes. But unlike so many others the mistakes in his case were exceptions and not the rule. And unlike so many others he seems to have grasped the great danger to his church fairly early on and tried to attack it.

John Paul II was without doubt a great Pope who did much and whose personal sanctity has been much spoken of. But great leaders and even saints are sometimes not appreciated as such during their lifetime. More than a few have been reviled and suffered false and unfair accusations. With the passage of time I think history will be much kinder to +Benedict XVI than some now expect. He may indeed, as the author suggests, be remembered as the better Pope.