Thursday, March 31, 2011

Irish Banks Need an Additional €24 Billion, Central Bank Says

LONDON — The Irish government said Thursday that four banks needed to raise an additional €24 billion to cover problem real estate loans, part of the results of a long-awaited stress test on the country’s failing financial institutions.

While largely expected by the market, the total aid figure was still a jarring number — one that increases the total bill for bailing out Ireland’s banks to about €70 billion, or about $99 billion, and increases government control of the banking sector.

The Irish bank losses come amid fresh concerns that Europe’s banking problems are getting worse, not better. In Spain, which is experiencing a real estate collapse similar to Ireland’s, a plan for four troubled savings banks, or cajas, to merge fell through Wednesday, raising concerns there that, as was the case in Ireland, Spain might be underestimating the depth of its banking crisis.
Read the rest here.

Report: Missing snake found

Multiple news sources are reporting that a highly venomous snake that escaped from its enclosure at the Bronx Zoo over the weekend has been found. The missing adolescent female Egyptian Cobra has gained celebrity status as it "tweeted" regular updates on its New York site seeing tour. Its most recent tweet though may have tipped off searchers.

"If you see a bag of peanuts inexplicably moving along the ground at Yankee Stadium today. Just ignore it. It's probably nothing."

Wal-Mart CEO Bill Simon expects inflation

U.S. consumers face "serious" inflation in the months ahead for clothing, food and other products, the head of Wal-Mart's U.S. operations warned Wednesday.

The world's largest retailer is working with suppliers to minimize the effect of cost increases and believes its low-cost business model will position it better than its competitors.

Still, inflation is "going to be serious," Wal-Mart U.S. CEO Bill Simon said during a meeting with USA TODAY's editorial board. "We're seeing cost increases starting to come through at a pretty rapid rate."

Along with steep increases in raw material costs, John Long, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon, says labor costs in China and fuel costs for transportation are weighing heavily on retailers. He predicts prices will start increasing at all retailers in June.

"Every single retailer has and is paying more for the items they sell, and retailers will be passing some of these costs along," Long says. "Except for fuel costs, U.S. consumers haven't seen much in the way of inflation for almost a decade, so a broad-based increase in prices will be unprecedented in recent memory."
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Culture's History Written in Thread

ISTANBUL — It began with a question 13 years ago from the owner of a shop in the Grand Bazaar. The answer has led two American researchers to conduct the first detailed study of rarely seen sacred treasures belonging to the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul and to the creation of an underground museum to house the priceless artifacts.

In their 397-page book, “Splendor & Pageantry: Textile Treasures from the Orthodox Churches of Istanbul,” Ronald T. Marchese, Marlene R. Breu and the Armenian Patriarchate expand what little was known about the unheralded role of women in the church and colorfully record the skills of women artisans who stitched their devotion onto luscious silks and velvets.

The objects they studied, some more than 300 years old, include sumptuously embroidered liturgical vestments, silk altar curtains, velvet copes decorated with gold or silver threads and pearl-encrusted miters, gathered from churches that served the Armenian population. Common embroidery motifs included stars, birds, vine leaves and angels, their faces sometimes sewn using human hair.

The museum itself houses such textiles as well as paintings and objects of precious metals from Armenian churches throughout Turkey which can be viewed, by appointment only, in the basement museum of the patriarchate in the humble Kumkapi neighborhood of Istanbul. The museum, created with donations from local Armenians and the European Capital of Culture 2010 organization, sits atop centuries-old ruins, discovered during renovations after the 1999 earthquake, that have since become a chapel.
Read the rest here.

30 Years Ago: A close call

I still remember exactly where I was when the bulletin was broadcast.

The Great Escape: Top tweets from the snake on the run

"On top of the Empire State Building! All the people look like little mice down there. Delicious little mice."

"Dear NYC, Apples and snakes have gone together since the beginning."

"Donald Trump is thinking about running for president?! Don't worry, I'll handle this. Where is Trump Tower exactly?"

"Enjoying a cupcake @magnoliabakery. This is going straight to my hips. Oh, wait. I don't have hips. Yesss! #snakeonthetown"

"Getting my morning coffee at the Mudtruck. Don't even talk to me until I've had my morning coffee. Seriously, don't. I'm venomous,"

Yes. The snake is still on the loose.

An editorial endorsement

For those who have seen or heard about the Australian kid who was being bullied by some little punk while his buddies videoed it, and then he snapped and body slammed the little A-H-; the Orthodox Caveman has an op-ed up on the subject that I am pretty much in agreement with. Read it here. Caution he does NOT mince words.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

219 years ago today

The regicide of Gustav III of Sweden

Orthodox churches find it difficult to overcome differences

Moscow (ENInews). Diptychs, an arcane liturgical term that describes the order in which Orthodox churches commemorate each other at their services, is one of the tangled issues blocking plans for what could be the first great church council in 1,200 years.

Some Orthodox leaders say the churches need to get together to discuss common issues and speak with one voice on such important topics as bioethics, sexuality and the environment, but differences over arcane church issues such as diptychs and autocephaly (the independent status of Orthodox churches) run deep.

There are about 250 million Orthodox Christians in the world, belonging to 14 or 15 independent Orthodox churches, depending on which church is counting. The Patriarchate of Constantinople, for example, does not recognize the autocephaly (independence) granted by Moscow to the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in 1970, and does not commemorate the OCA in its diptychs.

Diptychs are not a question of dogma, but they are at the heart of church protocol. A leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church cited its founding in the fifth century in explaining why his church won't back down in its demands for greater recognition.
Read the rest here.

Libya: Rebels retreat before Qaddafi counter-attack

RAS LANUF, Libya — Having halted a westward push by rebel fighters, forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi began a counteroffensive on Tuesday, marching eastward to the outskirts of this critical oil town, as an array of diplomats gathered in London to shape a political vision of a post-Qaddafi era.

“We meet now in London at a turning point,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the conference, urging continued military action by the NATO-led coalition in Libya along with “political and diplomatic pressure that makes clear to Qaddafi that he must go.”

On the ground, though, there was no indication that Colonel Qaddafi was prepared even for the cease-fire demanded by the United Nations resolution 12 days ago authorizing the military operation in Libya. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain opened the conference by saying the Libyan leader was still in “flagrant breach” of the resolution.

Under withering allied airstrikes loyalist forces had fallen back in the last week from the gates of Benghazi hundreds of miles to the east to the strategically crucial town of Surt, Colonel Qaddafi’s hometown, which had been depicted as recently as Sunday as the next rebel objective. Surt is critical for both sides since it blocks the rebels’ advance to western Libya and the capital of Tripoli.

But on Monday they struck back, sending volleys of missile and tank fire that pushed the battle lines farther east. A chaotic cavalcade of hundreds of trucks and cars carrying fighters streamed late Monday afternoon into Bin Jawwad, a battered ghost town about 80 miles east of Surt. Bin Jawwad has switched hands three times in the last month, and it did not seem that loyalist forces planned to recapture it as much as simply push the rebels farther eastward.
Read the rest here.

Another quick and glorious war...

Once Again: Banks are the enemy

For those who missed the memo...
"Total Checking." "Value Checking." "MyAccess Checking." What do they all have in common? The word "free" is missing from the name.

You are likely painfully aware that big banks like Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America have ended no-strings-attached free checking accounts. But if you had any questions about how restrictive -- or expensive -- those strings can be, consider Chase bank. Scarcely two years ago, we marveled at banks’ efforts to inch fees up to $3 per withdrawal. Chase bank is now test-piloting $5-per-withdrawal fees for non-customers in Illinois. That's in addition to fees the consumers' bank charges. Soon it may cost $10 to grab $20 in a pinch.

Once upon a time, consumers could expect to earn money by leaving their cash sitting in a bank. Today, consumers must worry about their bank slowly bleeding money out of the account. The change is happening swiftly. Chase says it's converted around 8 million free accounts -- many former customers of Washington Mutual -- into "follow-our-rules-or-pay-up-to-$144-annually" accounts.
Read the rest here.

Marx may have had a point. Banks are evil. I wonder if anyone has looked in the Chase Bank boardroom for that missing snake?

Missing N.Y. cobra lives it up on Twitter

An Egyptian Cobra (cute NOT)
A venomous snake who went missing from New York’s Bronx Zoo may be eluding zookeepers, but thousands of fans have found her on Twitter.

The 20-inch Egyptian cobra hasn’t been seen since Friday afternoon, and is believed to be hiding somewhere in her zoo enclosure. However instead of searching crevices of the Reptile House for the pencil-thin snake, zoo workers might have better luck looking online.

“Holding very still in the snake exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. This is gonna be hilarious!” tweeted a spoof account called @BronxZoosCobra on Monday night. “Anyone know of a good vegan restaurant near Union Square?” she tweeted a couple of hours later.

While @BronxZoosCobra’s 30,000-and-growing fans enjoy her musings, ophidiophobics – those with a fear of snakes – may find the tweets funnier once she’s found.
Read the rest here.

Why does it always have to be snakes?

New Ukrainian Catholic Primate's First Priority... a Patriarchate

The newly elected head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), Sviatoslav Shevchuk, is planning to meet with Pope Benedict XVI and ask him to grant the UGCC the status of a patriarchate of the Roman Catholic Church.

"Today I'm departing with my bishops and all of the metropolitans of our church to Rome, because it's our duty to make a courtesy visit to the Holy Father," he said a press conference in Kyiv on Tuesday.

The UGCC leader said that the UGCC Synod of Bishops had prepared a number of proposals for the Pope.

"We're really going to tell of how our church is developing and that each developing church [becomes] a patriarchate, because a patriarchate is a period in the completion of the development of a church," he said.

He said that the 20 years of Ukraine's independence had been a period of development for the UGCC.

A Note on the NY Times

Starting today the New York Times will require registration to access their website. Further they will be limiting the number of stories readers can access per month without subscribing. I think the plan is to let people register and get up to twenty stories free per month before asking for a digital subscription. Those who get the paper delivered will still have free access to the Times. Currently I plan to continue to link to stories from the Times as long as they allow the twenty free stories per month for non-subscribers.

Monday, March 28, 2011

An Imperial Warning Against American Exceptionalism

By William Lind

Every year I place a telephone call to my reporting senior, Kaiser Wilhelm II, to offer my best wishes on his birthday, January 27. He usually has a surprise waiting.

Last year he had just returned from a bombing raid on London in our finest Zeppelin, L-70. (In heaven, bombers drop sausages.) This year der Reisekaiser had made a voyage to America. I was bold to enquire, “How did Your Majesty make it through the British blockade?”

“In the Royal Swedish ship Venus, one of Mr. Chapman’s superb 40-gun frigates,” the Kaiser replied. “You may remember I am an admiral in the Swedish navy.”

“So you copied Count von Luckner in Seeadler and ran a blockade of armored cruisers in a sailing ship?”

“Luckner had a tricker wicket,” His Majesty said. “In Heaven, only like can fight like. We sailed right through the battle line of the Grand Fleet and all my English cousins could do was offer a 21-gun salute. One 18th-century British warship did sight us—I think it was H.M.S. Surprise—but Chapman’s frigates can do 14 knots and no limey tub can come close to that. Besides, while the English are happy to catch a Frenchman, a Swede is another matter. We would have given him a thorough drubbing.”

“May I ask why Your Majesty visited the United States?”

“To see your president,” the Kaiser answered.

“President Woodrow Wilson?”

“President William Howard Taft. That humbug Wilson is not to be found in heaven. Try the other place. Circle VI, among the intellectually obdurate.”

“Very fitting. Might I ask as to Your Majesty’s business with President Taft?”

“First, to invite America to join the Central Powers,” the Kaiser replied.

“That would indeed have been an alliance made in heaven,” I said.

“Second, to discuss a danger to your country your politicians seem unable to perceive: American exceptionalism.”

“Does Your Majesty refer to the idea that America is not subject to the laws of history?”

“Indeed. American exceptionalism follows Spanish exceptionalism—I was just talking about that with Philip IV over lunch—French exceptionalism, Austrian exceptionalism, Russian exceptionalism, and so on. It seems every Great Power, when it has passed its peak, convinces itself it can be as imprudent as it pleases and pay no price.”

“Your Majesty is speaking to my time. Republicans in Congress, who call themselves conservatives, now proclaim ‘American exceptionalism’ as their core belief.”

“What fools,” the Kaiser said. “Conservatives are supposed to learn from history. It teaches that no nation is an exception to its laws. If you overreach, you fall. My Germany overreached, grasping for Weltmacht, and I died in exile in Holland. Now your country has overreached, in Iraq and Afghanistan and in a broader push for world dominion. Speaking of your current wars, I thought you might like to speak with Max Hoffman.”

“The best operational brain in the German Army in World War I? You bet I would!”, I said.

“Well, it’s not exactly Zeppelin science,” replied General Hoffman. “If you flood an area with troops, you can win some tactical successes. But you don’t have enough troops to do that in many places. And, as is typical of Fourth Generation wars, you cannot opertionalize those tactical victories. Worse, you are sacrificing a high goal to a lower, destabilizing Pakistan in your quest for an elusive Afghan victory. If Iraq has not taught you the fallacy of American exceptionalism, Afghanistan surely will. Like every other invader, you will be only too happy to get out.”

“And your assessment of General Petraeus?”, I asked.


Heaven, it seems, has not dulled Max’s edge.

I had hoped to ask more of His Majesty, but central pulled the plug. Regarding “American exceptionalism,” the man I really wanted to speak with was Bismarck. But then I realized he had already answered me: “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”

Some thoughts on Monarchy & Democracy

In this video is outlined the principles of what monarchists believe in. It is not wholly accurate, as it seems to portray the average monarchist as a Godfearing reactionary - not that being Godfearing or reactionary is a bad thing. However the sentence that drew my attention is "when one hears the word Communist, Anarchist or Conservative it is clear what that person believes in. Yet when one hears the word 'Monarchist' it is not so clear." He then goes on to say "It is no surprise considering the many myths about this ideology and the many branches of this ideology". Certainly there are many branches of the monarchist ideology - one can be an Australian monarchist who simply wants to keep the Queen, or an absolutist who believes in vesting absolute authority of the realm in the person of the king, or anything in between.

I think we can divide most monarchists into two rough camps - those who believe in monarchy for the sake of monarchy, and those who believe in monarchy for the sake of good government. Some people have a foot in both camps - some people are further into one camp than the other. One's preferred "branch" of monarchism is usually irrelevant here. Some constitutional monarchists just like having a Queen, or are monarchists because their country has always been a monarchy, rather than for any particularly great desire for constitutional stability. Some absolutists genuinely believe that absolute monarchy is the best form of government, and they are usually good at supporting this.

I have a foot in both camps, alternately stepping further into one or the other on a regular basis, but essentially I am a constitutional monarchist. Even though I can sympathise with its supporters, I am not a fan of absolute monarchy. It is primarily because I believe in democracy, and because I think that, while absolute monarchy certainly has its strengths, it can equally be an irresponsible and dangerous way of governing, when one man's word is law.
Read the rest here.

Explaining The Deficit With Jack Daniels

Shamelessly stolen from here.

Tiny church finds original King James Bible

Hilmarton, England (CNN) - A little English village church has just made a remarkable discovery.

The ornate old Bible that had been sitting in plain view on a table near the last row of pews for longer than anyone could remember is an original King James Bible - one of perhaps 200 surviving 400-year-old original editions of arguably the most important book ever printed in English.
Read the rest here.

U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeal from Georgia death row inmate

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a condemned Georgia inmate's request that his execution be delayed as he attempts to prove his "actual innocence."

The justices without comment on Monday turned aside two separate appeals from Troy Davis, likely setting the stage for the state to set another execution date.

Davis has gained international support for his long-standing claim he did not murder an off-duty Savannah police officer more than two decades ago. Monday's ruling is the latest in a case that is procedurally complex but, legally, a simple claim of innocence...

Witnesses said Davis, then 19, and two others were harassing a homeless man in a Burger King parking lot when off-duty officer Mark MacPhail came to the man's assistance. They testified that Davis shot MacPhail twice and fled.

Since Davis' conviction in 1991, seven of the nine witnesses against him have recanted their testimony. No physical evidence was presented linking Davis to the killing of the policeman...
Read the rest here.

For Sale: One Aircraft Carrier

The Royal Navy's former flagship HMS Ark Royal has been put up for sale on the Ministry of Defence's auction website.

Just two weeks after the aircraft carrier was decommissioned at its home port of Portsmouth Naval Base, Hampshire, the Ark Royal has been advertised on the website.

The sale follows that of its sister ship HMS Invincible, which was towed away last week to a scrapyard in Turkey after being sold on the same internet site.

Although the Ark Royal could also be sold for its scrap metal, other proposals for it include a commercial heliport in London as well as a base for special forces to provide security at next year's Olympic Games.

And a move could be made to turn it into a nightclub and school in China.

Bidders have until 10am on June 13 to put their tenders forward for the ship. No minimum price is given.
Read the rest here.

The dismantling of Britain's armed forces continues...

As I have noted in the past, Britain is still an island country dependent on imports for food. Reducing the armed forces, especially the navy, to the point where they can not effectively defend the country is not a good idea.

Church of England Cathedral opens its doors to sorcery

Manchester Cathedral is to host a ‘new age’ festival featuring tarot card readers, crystal healers and ‘dream interpretation’.

Local Anglican leaders have agreed to throw open the doors of the historic cathedral in a bid to embrace alternative forms of Christianity.

Fortune tellers, meditation experts and traditional healers will fill the pews during the day-long festival in May. The Bishop of Manchester, Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, said he wanted to celebrate ‘all forms of spirituality’.

The Spirit of Life festival on May 2 will also feature stalls and workshops on angels, prayer bead-making and massage.
Read the rest here.
HT: T-19

Fr. Alexis Trader's New Book On Orthodoxy and Psychotherapy

I draw the readers attention to four blog posts relating to his new book.

Post #3 – March 28th:
Post #4 – March 31st:

Hat Tip: Herman A. Middleton

Anarchists 'plan to target royal wedding'

Violent anarchists who rampaged through London during anti-cuts protests are planning to target the royal wedding, police intelligence have suggested.

Scotland Yard officers are working urgently to identify the extremists who clashed with police and attacked landmarks on Saturday before they can strike again.

Commander Bob Broadhurst, the head of public order for the Metropolitan Police, warned that the anarchists would be "deliberately targeting" tanhe wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29.
Read the rest here.

It's not just Libya; the whole world is now our colony

It was as classic a sting operation as any that have unfolded on Manhattan’s streets: a government cooperator offered a fictitious deal, and baited a suspect into agreeing to participate in illegal activity.

But in this instance, the target was Viktor Bout, a reputed arms trafficker who lived in Moscow; the purported deal involved selling arms to Colombian terrorists; and the sting involved meetings in the Netherlands Antilles, Romania, Denmark and, finally, Thailand, where Mr. Bout was lured, arrested and eventually extradited to the United States.

The case of Mr. Bout, who is now awaiting trial in Manhattan, illustrates the expanded global reach of the office of the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. Since 2004, the office has sent prosecutors into more than 25 countries as part of investigations that have brought back dozens of suspected arms and narcotics traffickers and terrorists to Manhattan to face charges. And some of them have involved stings like the one that snared Mr. Bout.

With the Drug Enforcement Administration, the office has also taken the lead in bringing cases under a 2006 narco-terrorism law that makes it easier to prosecute international drug traffickers if a link to terrorism can be shown — even if prosecutors cannot prove that the drugs entered the United States.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Quote of the day

My dog is worried about the economy because Alpo is up to $3.00 a can. That’s almost $21.00 in dog money.

-Jim Sinclair

A follow up to the preceding post

There is a lively discussion going on over at Rorate Caeli (a Trad Catholic blog) on the comments by Metropolitan Hilarion quoted in the previous post.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Russian Orthodox leadership proposes alliance, but not communion with Catholics

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church should accept each other not as rivals, but first and foremost as allies, working to protect the rights of Christians, said Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the ROC’s Department for External Church Relations in a speech at an international meeting of Christians in Wurzburg, Germany.

"The future of Christianity in the third millennium depends on the joint efforts of the Orthodox believers and Catholics,’’ Hilarion said.

Bishop Hilarion later expanded on his statement:

“The idea of a strategic alliance with the Catholics is an old idea of mine. It came to me when the Catholics were electing the new Pope. Although I would like to point out that what I am suggesting is, in essence, the direct opposite of Uniatism, which is a way toward a rapprochement based on doctrinal compromises. In our point of view, the policy of Uniatism had suffered complete failure. Not only did it not bring the Orthodox Christians and Catholics closer together, it actually distanced them. And Uniatism, as is currently recognized by both Orthodox believers and Catholics, is not the path toward unity.

‘‘I, on the other hand, am asking us to act as allies, without being a single Church, without having a single administrative system or common liturgy, and while maintaining the differences on the points in which we differ.

‘’This is especially important in light of the common challenges that face both Orthodox and Catholic Christians. These are first and foremost the challenges of a godless world, which is equally hostile today to Orthodox believers and Catholics, the challenge of the aggressive Islamic movement, the challenge of moral corruption, family decay, the abandonment by many people in traditionally Christian countries of the traditional family structure, liberalism in theology and morals, which is eroding the Christian community from within. We can respond to these, and a number of other challenges, together.

‘’I would like to stress, once more, that there are well-known doctrinal differences between the Orthodox and Catholic faiths, but there are also common positions in regard to morality and social issues that today are not shared by many of the representatives of liberal Protestantism. Therefore, cooperation is first and foremost necessary between the Orthodox and Catholic Christians – and that is what I call a strategic alliance.

‘’The Church is not ready to make any compromises, and I am not calling for compromise, but on the contrary, to uncompromisingly defend our positions. Within the framework of the Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, my position is often the toughest. Meanwhile, the documents that are drafted there, are the most often contested by the ROC delegations. There have been instances when we were forced to walk out of sessions as a sign of disagreement with what was happening. We always very firmly oppose attempts to erode the differences that exist between us.

‘’We don’t need compromises. We need cooperation and collaboration. And within the framework of the theological commission, we could discuss the differences that exist between us not in order to find a compromise, but in order to clarify our differences and the things we have in common. It could so happen that in the course of discussion we realize that in some doctrinal aspects we are actually closer than seemed to be before – and this will be a rapprochement. But just the opposite could happen: we may see the differences that we have never noticed before.

‘’The theological dialogue should be allowed to take its course; it may or may not lead to some results. Meanwhile, cooperation that is built on a systematic basis and that is founded on the fact that we share many of the same tasks and challenges should be developed at the same time.”

This is one of the better articles I have seen on this rather overdone topic.

Friday, March 25, 2011

100 Years Ago: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who either died from the fire or jumped to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women, aged sixteen to twenty-three.[1][2][3] Many of the workers could not escape the burning building because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits. People jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.

The factory was located in the Asch Building, at 29 Washington Place, now known as the Brown Building, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark.[4]
Read the rest here.

Suspensions Force Bishops To Reassess Rule Changes

Nine years after a scandal in Boston prompted America’s Roman Catholic bishops to announce sweeping policy changes to protect children from sexual abuse by priests, the bishops are scrambling to contain the damage from a growing crisis in Philadelphia that has challenged the credibility of their own safeguards.

When a grand jury in Philadelphia reported last month that the archdiocese there allowed 37 priests accused of abuse or inappropriate behavior to remain in ministry, it came as a complete surprise to the local and national “review boards” that the bishops have put in place to help keep them accountable, members of those boards said.

Church officials are also deeply troubled by how it is possible that in the bishops’ most recent annual “audit” — conducted by an outside agency to monitor each diocese’s compliance with the policy changes — Philadelphia passed with flying colors, said Teresa M. Kettelkamp, executive director of the bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, which issues the annual audit reports.

“To have that level of compromise of our programs and our process, I was totally shocked,” said Ms. Kettelkamp, who spent 30 years in law enforcement and corruption investigations before she was hired by the bishops.

The revelations in Philadelphia have called into question the efficacy of the bishops’ reform plan, unveiled in 2002 under the intense spotlight cast by the Boston scandal and called, “The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
Read the rest here.

In Prison for Taking a Liar Loan

A few weeks ago, when the Justice Department decided not to prosecute Angelo Mozilo, the former chief executive of Countrywide, I wrote a column lamenting the fact that none of the big fish were likely to go to prison for their roles in the financial crisis.

Soon after that column ran, I received an e-mail from a man named Richard Engle, who informed me that I was wrong. There was, in fact, someone behind bars for what he’d supposedly done during the subprime bubble. It was his 48-year-old son, Charlie.

On Valentine’s Day, the elder Mr. Engle said, his son had entered a minimum-security prison in Beaver, W.V., to begin serving a 21-month sentence for mortgage fraud. He then proceeded to tell me the tale of how federal agents nabbed his son — a tale he backed up with reams of documents and records that suggest, if nothing else, that when the federal government is truly motivated, there is no mountain it won’t move to prosecute someone it wants to nail. And it was definitely motivated to nail Charlie Engle.

Mr. Engle’s is a tale worth telling for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its punch line. Was Mr. Engle convicted of running a crooked subprime company? Was he a mortgage broker who trafficked in predatory loans? A Wall Street huckster who sold toxic assets?

No. Charlie Engle wasn’t a seller of bad mortgages. He was a borrower. And the “mortgage fraud” for which he was prosecuted was something that literally millions of Americans did during the subprime bubble. Supposedly, he lied on two liar loans.

“The Department of Justice has made prosecuting financial crimes, including mortgage fraud, a high priority,” said Neil H. MacBride, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in a statement. (Mr. MacBride, whose office prosecuted Mr. Engle, declined to be interviewed.)

Apparently, though, it’s only a high priority if the target is a borrower. Mr. Mozilo’s company made billions in profit, some of it on liar loans that he acknowledged at the time were likely to be fraudulent and which did untold damage to the economy. And he personally was paid hundreds of millions of dollars. Though he agreed last year to a $67.5 million fine to settle fraud charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission, it was a small fraction of what he earned. Otherwise, he walked. Thus does the Justice Department display its priorities in the aftermath of the crisis.
Read the rest here.

Federal Budget Deal Appears Unlikely, Officials Say

WASHINGTON — With time running short and budget negotiations this week having reached an angry impasse, Congressional leaders are growing increasingly pessimistic about reaching a bipartisan deal that would avert a government shutdown in early April.

Senior Democratic officials involved in high-level efforts to bring House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the White House to a budget agreement said that while some progress had been made toward an accord on an overall level of spending cuts, the parties remain divided on the final figure and must still resolve the fate of ideologically charged policy provisions demanded by House conservatives.

Some senior Republicans, after relying on House Democrats to help pass the most recent short-term measure, are also uneasy about having to team up with Democrats again to pass any compromise that dips too far below the $61 billion in spending reductions endorsed by the House for the current fiscal year. Senate Democrats want to wring some of the savings out of mandatory spending programs like Medicare, an approach Republicans are resisting.

Aides said that even if the myriad outstanding issues were resolved and an agreement struck late next week after lawmakers return, it would be a challenge to write the legislation and move it through Congress before the current financing bill expires on April 8.

“A deal is still possible, but it would take a real breakthrough,” said one senior official, who like others knowledgeable about the confidential budget negotiations would discuss them only without being publicly identified.
Read the rest here.

Wisconsin Republicans Say Anti-Union Law in Effect

MADISON (Reuters) - Wisconsin Republicans said on Friday a bill stripping Wisconsin public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights was in effect after it was published by a legislative agency despite a judge's order against publication.

The move looked certain to stir fresh controversy over the tactics used in efforts to implement and block the measure, which in recent weeks sparked massive demonstrations and brought national attention to Wisconsin.

Republican supporters of the bill said the judge's temporary restraining order (TRO) on publication had not applied to the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB), which published the legislation, Wisconsin Act 10, electronically on Friday.

Legal publication of the legislation is required for it to go into effect.

The restraining order was issued last week by a judge hearing a complaint filed by the Dane County District Attorney against several Republican legislators who orchestrated the law's passage two weeks ago.

Scott Fitzgerald, the head of the GOP-controlled Senate, said the LRB's action made the bill "the law" and insisted the action did not violate the TRO because it did not mention the bureau specifically.

"If the DA didn't want the Legislative Reference Bureau to publish, then the DA should have made sure that they were part of the restraining order."
Read the rest here.

Hugo Chavez warns capitalism may have destroyed life on Mars

Capitalism may be to blame for the lack of life on the planet Mars, Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday.

"I have always said, heard, that it would not be strange that there had been civilization on Mars, but maybe capitalism arrived there, imperialism arrived and finished off the planet," Chavez said in speech to mark World Water Day.

Chavez, who also holds capitalism responsible for many of the world's problems, warned that water supplies on Earth were drying up.

"Careful! Here on planet Earth where hundreds of years ago or less there were great forests, now there are deserts. Where there were rivers, there are deserts," Chavez said, sipping from a glass of water.
Read the rest here.

War's Long Shadow: Two Polish children are killed by WWII bomb

Two Polish children have been killed by an explosion of munitions left over from the bitter battles of the Second World War.

The two, brother and sister, were caught in the blast as they played in a ditch in eastern Poland. The 10-year-old boy was killed on the scene while his nine-year-old sister died later in hospital.

"The girl came to us in a very serious condition," said Agnieszka Osinska, a hospital spokeswoman. "She had multiple injuries including a severe head wound, and despite the best efforts of the doctors she failed to regain consciousness." The children's mother and sister who were nearby at the time of the tragedy escaped injury.
Read the rest here.

Canadian Government Falls

TORONTO (AP) — Canadian opposition parties toppled the Conservative government in a no confidence vote Friday, triggering an election that polls show the Conservatives will win.

The opposition parties held Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government in contempt of Parliament in a 156-145 vote for failing to disclose the full financial details of his tougher crime legislation, corporate tax cuts and plans to purchase stealth fighter jets.

Opinion polls expect Harper's Conservative Party to win re-election but not a majority, meaning he likely will continue to govern with a minority in Parliament, dependent on opposition votes to stay afloat.

The opposition parties combined hold the majority of the seats in Parliament with 160, while the Conservatives have 143.

But in the latest twist, there is a chance the left-of-center parties might join forces in a coalition if Harper wins another minority government on the expected election date of May 2.
Read the rest here.

Why housing may be worse than we think

Two high-profile reports on home sales this week confirmed that the housing market is still mired in a deep slump with prices still falling and sales activity sluggish at best. In fact, the market may be in much worse shape than even those numbers suggest.

Figures from the National Association of Realtors that are among the most closely watched indicators on the housing market have been called into question by economists who say they may overstate existing-home sales activity by up to 20 percent.

The issue is more than just an academic dispute among economists. Without a working barometer, it's hard to see the next storm coming.

"It's very important for the industry but also for policy makers," said Mike Fratantoni, head of research at the Mortgage Bankers Association, one of the groups that is challenging the Realtors' data.

"Folks at the Fed and at the Treasury and anyone involved in economic policy throughout government are very concerned about the health of the housing market. So if your primary indicator is giving you an overly optimistic reading, that's cause for concern," he said.
Read the rest here.

Fed's Fisher: U.S. debt situation at tipping point

(Reuters) - The U.S. debt situation is at a "tipping point," Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher said on Tuesday, and urged the U.S. central bank to refrain from any further stimulus measures.

"If we continue down on the path on which the fiscal authorities put us, we will become insolvent. The question is when," Fisher said in a speech at the University of Frankfurt.

Fisher, seen by economists as one of the most hawkish policymakers within the Fed, said that although debt-cutting measures would be painful, he expected the U.S. to take the necessary actions.

"The short-term negotiations are very important. I look at this as a tipping point."

He said the U.S. economy was now growing under its own steam, but voiced his concerns about building global inflation pressures and said it was now time for the central bank to stop pumping out extra support.

"The Fed has done enough, if not too much, and we should do no more.. In my opinion no further accommodation is necessary after June either by tapering off the bottom of treasuries or by adding another tranche of purchases outright."

Fisher warned there were signs that the speculative style of trading that had helped fuel the financial crisis was beginning to resurface.
Read the rest here.

North Korea's food stocks running dry, UN warns

North Korea's government food distribution programme will run dry in May and put one-quarter of the country's 24 million people at risk of starvation, the United Nations has warned.

The UN World Food Programme, which resumed sending food aid to North Korea in 2006, blamed flooding, foot-and-mouth disease, and an unusually cold winter for devastating food supplies to the country.

"Vulnerable members of society are currently facing increasing shocks to their daily coping strategies, leaving them on a knife edge," the WFP said in a statement.

Britain's £200bn time bomb of debt interest

A little bit of inflation is a good thing, right? Well, that's one way of looking at it, and if you were being charitable, it might even provide a decent explanation of why the Bank of England appears to have given up on the inflation target.

One of the effects of relatively high inflation is to ease the burden of debt by reducing its real value. For a highly indebted nation such as Britain, inflation therefore seems to make sense as an economic strategy.

With no control over their own monetary policy, the Portuguese and other fiscally-challenged eurozone nations don't have that luxury. Without inflation to do the work for them, the austerity required to get public debt under control becomes that much greater, which is one of the reasons why Portugal will soon be following Greece and Ireland into seeking a bail-out. Britain, by contrast, gets a relatively pain-free way out of the mire.

That's the conventional wisdom, anyway, but it is also largely rubbish. Wednesday's analysis of the public finances by the Office for Budget Responsibility provides further evidence of why elevated inflation can never be economically benign.

Three powerfully negative effects are identified by the OBR. As a result of higher than expected inflation, living standards will fall for longer than previously anticipated, public borrowing will end up higher, and real terms cuts in public spending will have to be deeper.
Read the rest here.

Governor’s Change of Heart Is Influenced by Faith

Early on the morning of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent’s season of penitence, Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois went through some final, solitary rumination. For much of his political career, he had supported capital punishment, albeit with reservations, even debating it at the dinner table with his mother. Now a legislative bill abolishing it was waiting for his signature, or his veto.

In the preceding weeks, he had heard arguments on the subject from prosecutors who spoke of the death penalty’s deterrent effect and from the grieving relatives of murder victims who saw in it fierce justice. He had reacquainted himself with about 20 capital cases overturned by DNA evidence or tainted by judicial error.

But on that decisive morning of March 9, he laid aside the secular factors and opened his Bible to a passage in II Corinthians about human imperfection. He prayed. And when he signed the bill striking down the death penalty, he cited one influence by name: Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago.

The cardinal has been dead for nearly 15 years. To the last days of his life, he advocated what he termed a “seamless garment” or “consistent ethic of life,” which charged Roman Catholics with the task of ending abortion, poverty, nuclear war, euthanasia and capital punishment. For of all his eloquence, however, he had never built the constituency to transform theological precepts into public policy.

With the stroke of the governor’s pen, the cardinal has been posthumously vindicated on at least one piece of that seamless garment. In doing so, Mr. Quinn also ratified the cardinal’s belief that religious thought has a place in the formulation of law, a premise the governor’s fellow liberals generally disdain.
Read the rest here.

G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether

General Electric, the nation’s largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010.

The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.

Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.

That may be hard to fathom for the millions of American business owners and households now preparing their own returns, but low taxes are nothing new for G.E. The company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than at most multinational companies.

Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. G.E.’s giant tax department, led by a bow-tied former Treasury official named John Samuels, is often referred to as the world’s best tax law firm. Indeed, the company’s slogan “Imagination at Work” fits this department well. The team includes former officials not just from the Treasury, but also from the I.R.S. and virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress.
Read the rest here.

This is morally repulsive. The tax code is an abomination. It needs to be abolished and we need to start over with a very simple premise. If money changes hands from person or entity A to person or entity B, it is subject to taxation. We need to get rid of 99% of all the deductions. Charity, college tuition and one (1) household mortgage if the owners actually live there, that's it. No, I do not support medical deductions because very reluctantly I have come to the conclusion that we need some form of universal health insurance.

Our Lady of Kazan and American Pluralism

The icon of Our Lady of Kazan (also known as the Black Virgin of Kazan) is one of the most famous in Russian Orthodoxy. One of the Virgin’s two feast days coincides with the Day of National Unity. This is appropriate. Kazan occupies an important place in Russian history. Its conquest and destruction in 1552 eliminated the last stronghold of Mongol power in what since then has been southern Russia. The Mongols of that region, descended from the mighty Golden Horde, had long before converted to Islam. Thus the conquest of Kazan (which was followed by a massacre of its civilian population) is also a highly symbolic marker of the conflict between Orthodox Christianity and Islam, which still reverberates today along the southern perimeter of the former Soviet Union. The association of the Virgin with national unity is symbolic as well. It evokes the so-called sinfonia—the close unity of church and state—which characterized Russia from the beginning of its national history to the Bolshevik revolution. It would be an exaggeration to say that the Putin regime has once again established Orthodoxy as the state religion, but it has come close to doing so. Thus Our Lady of Kazan again bestows legitimacy on the Russian state, including its foreign policy, which has been supported by the Patriarchate of Moscow. The state in turn has supported the policy of the Patriarchate to re-assert its authority over previously independent Russian Orthodox churches abroad. The long shadow of the Black Virgin has extended to America.

According to the Atlas of Global Christianity (a very useful source, edited by Todd Johnson and Kenneth Ross, and published in 2009), there are 6,200,000 Orthodox Christians in the United States. This figure has been challenged. If it holds, the number of Orthodox is more than Episcopalians, still regarded in the media and public awareness as an important denomination, and roughly comparable to the number of Jews, whose cultural influence has been enormously larger. (Can one imagine speaking of the role of Orthodox Christians in Hollywood? Or in American humor?) Despite its place in the religious demography of America, Orthodoxy is still widely perceived as marginal and exotic. I don’t know just when Orthodox priests, with their black robes and elongated black hats, first appeared with Protestant, Catholic and Jewish clergy at important national ceremonies such as presidential inaugurations. But it would be a mistake to deduce from this some great political or cultural influence.

The explanation of this paradox is simple. It is what one may call the ethnic captivity of Orthodox Christianity in America.
Read the rest here.

Many Years

To bishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the newly elected primate of the Ukrainian Greek Rite Catholic Church (UGCC). Read the story at Byzantine Texas.

Thousands of Christians Displaced in Ethiopia After Muslim Extremists Torch Churches, Homes

Thousands of Christians have been forced to flee their homes in Western Ethiopia after Muslim extremists set fire to roughly 50 churches and dozens of Christian homes.

At least one Christian has been killed, many more have been injured and anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 have been displaced in the attacks that began March 2 after a Christian in the community of Asendabo was accused of desecrating the Koran.

The violence escalated to the point that federal police forces sent to the area two weeks ago were initially overwhelmed by the mobs. Government spokesman Shimelis Kemal told Voice of America police reinforcements had since restored order and 130 suspects had been arrested and charged with instigating religious hatred and violence.
Read the rest here.

A tongue in cheek take on the OCA's current problems

Funny, but serious.
HT: Dave Brown

The Austerity Delusion

I rarely agree with Paul Krugman about anything, but in the interest of offering an alternative point of view to what I usually post, here is his latest op-ed. For those not aware of his background; Dr. Krugman is a professor of economics at Princeton University, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and an outspoken liberal and champion of Keynesian Economics.
Portugal’s government has just fallen in a dispute over austerity proposals. Irish bond yields have topped 10 percent for the first time. And the British government has just marked its economic forecast down and its deficit forecast up.

What do these events have in common? They’re all evidence that slashing spending in the face of high unemployment is a mistake. Austerity advocates predicted that spending cuts would bring quick dividends in the form of rising confidence, and that there would be few, if any, adverse effects on growth and jobs; but they were wrong.

It’s too bad, then, that these days you’re not considered serious in Washington unless you profess allegiance to the same doctrine that’s failing so dismally in Europe.

It was not always thus. Two years ago, faced with soaring unemployment and large budget deficits — both the consequences of a severe financial crisis — most advanced-country leaders seemingly understood that the problems had to be tackled in sequence, with an immediate focus on creating jobs combined with a long-run strategy of deficit reduction.

Why not slash deficits immediately? Because tax increases and cuts in government spending would depress economies further, worsening unemployment. And cutting spending in a deeply depressed economy is largely self-defeating even in purely fiscal terms: any savings achieved at the front end are partly offset by lower revenue, as the economy shrinks.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

NATO Reaches Deal to Take Command in Libya Effort

TRIPOLI, Libya — NATO reached agreement Thursday to take over full command of the military campaign in Libya as allied warplanes delivered a ferocious round of airstrikes on Libyan ground forces, tanks and artillery that seems to have begun to shift momentum from the forces loyal to Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi to the rebels opposing him.

The deal within NATO was reached after a four-way telephone call between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the foreign ministers of Turkey, France and Britain, which apparently allayed Turkish concerns that the allies were exceeding their authority in their sustained attacks on Colonel Qaddafi’s froces.

Earlier on Thursday a French Rafale fighter jet fired on a Libyan warplane that had been detected by reconaissance aircraft flying above the embattled city of Misurata, the French Defense Ministry said in a statement. The plane was hit by a missile shortly after landing at a nearby military airbase, the Defense Ministry said.

In Misurata, rebels say they are feeling reinvigorated by a second night of American and European air strikes against the Qaddafi forces that have besieged them. The rebels say they continue to battle a handful of Qaddafi gunmen in the city but that the armored units and artillery surrounding the city appeared to have pulled back, their supply and communication lines cut off by the air strikes.
Read the rest here.

In California City, Layoffs for Nearly Half the Staff

COSTA MESA, Calif. —To solve a looming pension crisis and budget gap, city officials said, they needed to take drastic action. Now everyone agrees on one thing: they did.

Nearly half of this city’s workers were told late last week that, come September, they would probably be out of a job. Nearly every city department will be eliminated. More than a dozen tasks will be outsourced, including graffiti removal, firefighting, building maintenance and street cleaning.

Unlike the drama that played out over several months in Madison, Wis., the battle over public workers in this bustling suburb of upscale shopping malls in the heart of Orange County is happening at lightning speed.

The letters went out last week to more than 200 of the city’s roughly 450 workers, sending many into a panic as they scurried to look for new jobs. The move will, in one great swoop, reinvent municipal government here, and perhaps lead the way for other cities to adopt similar plans.

Emotions in Costa Mesa, already running high, grew more intense after one city worker, summoned to receive his pink slip, instead climbed five stories to the roof of City Hall and jumped to his death. A small side entrance to the building is now decorated with supermarket bouquets and tall, white candles, a memorial to the 29-year-old man, who had worked for the city’s maintenance department for four years.

The layoffs have deeply divided this small city, just over the coast from affluent Newport Beach. While Costa Mesa has long been a politically conservative enclave, much like the other wealthy suburbs that surround it, the move to privatize so many city services strikes many residents as a harsh political tactic, meant to remake the city into a national model in the battle over public employee unions.
Read the rest here.

“Hard Choices” for Policymakers as Europe’s Debt Crisis Flares Up … Again

It takes a lot these days to muscle the Mid-East or Japan off the front page, but Europe has done it with the latest chapter of its never-ending debt crisis story.

As European finance ministers began a meeting in Brussels Thursday, the focus was on Portugal, where Prime Minister Jose Socrates resigned after parliament rejected his austerity package. The political turmoil raises the prospect Portugal will need to tap the EU-IMF bailout fund, following the lead of Ireland and Greece. In response, yields on Portuguese debt widened to record levels vs. comparable German bonds.

The good news is most observers believe the EU bailout package, currently at $710 billion, will be sufficient to cover Portugal's needs, which analysts estimate may approach $100 billion, Bloomberg reports. The bad news is there's widespread concern the EU doesn't have enough money (or political will) to bail out Spain, whose debt yields also widened early Thursday after Moody's downgraded 30 of its regional banks. (See: Europe Catches Up to the Can: Spain's Downgrade Puts Crisis Back in Focus)

"It seems increasingly plausible that hard choices will need to be made at some point over the rating horizon, balancing the sovereign's incentive to support the banks with the need to protect its own balance sheet," Moody's said in explaining the downgrades. "It is, in Moody's view, increasingly likely that the sovereign will not be prepared to write all banks a blank check."
Read the rest here.

Warren Buffett: Euro's Collapse Is Not Unthinkable

Warren Buffett told CNBC Thursday that the collapse of the euro zone's single currency is far from "unthinkable."

"I know some people think it's unthinkable...I don't think it's unthinkable," Buffett said in an interview.

Still, Buffett said he believes there will be "huge efforts" put forth to preserve the euro. In the meantime, struggling peripheral countries like Portugal must find a way to resolve fiscal crises.

"You can't have three or four or five countries that are in effect free-riding on the other countries. That won't work over time-they have to get their fiscal houses in reasonable harmony," he said.

The widely-watched investor spoke as yields on Portuguese bonds soared to new highs and markets remained alert for a potential European Union bailout of the troubled nation. Late Wednesday, Portugal's prime minister stepped down after the country's parliament rejected a fiscal austerity plan proposed by his government.

Buffett's comments didn't affect the euro. In fact, the European currency extended its gains against the dollar after data showed an unexpected decline in orders for U.S. durable goods, casting some doubt on the strength of the American economy.

For now, Buffett said Europe's fiscal woes won't have a huge impact on the businesses under his holding company Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: brk'a), noting that "currencies have been fragile things for centuries."

"It isn't the end of the world, but alot of adjustment would be needed if the euro proved to be in real trouble," he said.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

About that liberal revolution in Egypt...

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood beat a Coptic Christian


Annulment Nation

The United States, with 6 percent of the world’s Catholics, accounts for 60 percent of the Church’s annulments.

Apart from the papacy, few doctrines divide the Catholic Church from non-Catholic ecclesial communities as does the doctrine of the indissolubility of a consummated Christian marriage. Eastern Orthodox Christians are permitted three marriages; King Henry VIII’s desire to remarry helped lead to the formation of the Anglican Communion. Martin Luther permitted divorce in the cases of adultery, desertion, failure to fulfill conjugal duties, and “where husband and wife cannot get along together.”

The Catholic Church holds that the teaching of Jesus Christ is clear: husband and wife “are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.… Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:8-12).

Thus, in 1563, the Council of Trent decreed that
if anyone shall say that the Church has erred in having taught, and in teaching that, according to the teaching of the Gospel and the Apostles, the bond of matrimony cannot be dissolved, and that neither party—not even the innocent, who has given no cause by adultery—can contract another marriage while the other lives, and that he, or she, commits adultery who puts away an adulterous wife, or husband, and marries another; let him be anathema.
In our own time, Pope John Paul II taught that “it is a fundamental duty of the Church to reaffirm strongly…the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage” (Familiaris Consortio, 1981). He affirmed the discipline of “not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried,” adding that
reconciliation in the sacrament of penance, which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.
Read the rest here.

New-home sales plunged in February to record low

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sales of new homes plunged in February to the slowest pace on records dating back nearly half a century, a dismal sign for an already-weak housing market.

New-home sales fell 16.9 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 250,000 homes, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. It's the third straight monthly decline and far below the 700,000-a-year pace that economists view as healthy.

New-home sales now account for just 5 percent of total home sales so far this year. They typically represent closer to 15 percent in healthier housing markets. There were just 186,000 new homes available for sale in February, the lowest inventory in more than four decades.

The median price of a new home dropped nearly 14 percent to $202,100, the lowest since December 2003. The median is now 30 percent higher than the median price of resold homes -- twice the typical markup.

In response, homebuilders are cutting their selling prices and building more inexpensive homes, pushing down sales prices. They are struggling to compete with a wave of foreclosures, which has lowered the price of previously occupied homes. High unemployment, tight credit and uncertainty over prices have also kept many potential buyers from making purchases.
Read the rest here.

Germany Withdraws From NATO Naval Patrols

BERLIN — Germany, already at odds with its European allies and Washington over its decision not to support a United Nations no-fly zone over Libya, said on Wednesday it was withdrawing four vessels from NATO operations in the Mediterranean because it did not want to be dragged into a military role in the region, Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière, said on Wednesday.

The decision means that Germany will withdraw two frigates and two support vessels with a total of 550 sailors from NATO’s command and place them under its own orders. It was made after the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, announced that the alliance would monitor sea traffic in the region and intercept vessels suspected of carrying illegal arms or mercenaries to Libya.

“All allies are committed to meet their responsibilities under the United Nations resolution to stop the intolerable violence against Libyan civilians,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

But the German Defense Ministry said that because the mission included an arms embargo that permitted force if necessary, Germany decided it would not participate.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

With Silence, Bonds’s Trainer Risks More Than Jail Time

SAN FRANCISCO — Greg Anderson, the childhood friend and former trainer of Barry Bonds, went to jail Tuesday for refusing to testify in Bonds’s perjury trial. For Anderson, it is nothing new.

The federal judge presiding over the case ordered him into custody for the fourth time in the past five years for contempt of court. He will remain there for the duration of the trial, which could last as long as four weeks.

If Anderson changes his mind, Judge Susan Illston of United States District Court said that he would be freed. But if he does not, some legal experts say Anderson is headed for even bigger trouble based on his repeated reluctance to take the stand.

They say Anderson — who spent three months in prison in 2005 for conspiracy to distribute steroids and for money laundering in connection to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative steroids case — may face his most serious charge yet: obstruction of justice. That charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

“I have absolute confidence that Greg Anderson will be charged with obstruction of justice when the Bonds trial is over,” said Rory Little, a former federal prosecutor who is a professor at University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. “It’s very uncommon to have someone who is willing to go to jail for months for no direct promise of payback from the defendant. And the government doesn’t take intentional obstruction of justice lightly.”
Read the rest here.

Important: Russian Church and N. American Episcopal Assembly Tackle Baptism vs Chrismation Debate

Via Byzantine Texas
On 21 March 2011, the Inter-Council Presence’s Commission on Attitude to Non-Orthodoxy and Other Religions met at the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations. The session was chaired by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk.

The participants discussed the results of the work done by the Commission during its first year and a draft document on the Accession of non-Orthodox Christians to the Orthodox Church. The Commission decided to form a working group and invite experts to study various aspects of the practice of accession to the Orthodox Church through the Sacrament of Chrismation and its history. The Commission set up a working group for study and classification of sects. Other working groups will consider the question of the accession rite for the Pentecostals, Baptists, Adventists, Anglicans, the Reformed, Lutherans, and Old Catholics. (A similar discussion is going on in the American Episcopal Assembly not only with the intake of converts but of the process for clergy as well (e.g. Is vesting sufficient?)

Draft documents on the practice of accession to the Orthodox Church will be submitted to the Commission’s next session in June 2011.

I think this is excellent news. It is time that the Orthodox Church make some effort at establishing some sort of guidelines for the reception of converts that are uniform at least in N. America. The Russian Church also has some division since ROCOR repudiated the guidelines in the Great Book of Needs in the early 1970's and adopted a more rigourist approach to the reception of converts. The Moscow Patriarchate (and the OCA) still follow the guidelines contained in the Book of Needs (last updated during the reign of Czar Alexander III). Those guidelines generally provide for reception by Chrismation and Confession for non-Orthodox Christians coming from Confessional and Trinitarian denominations, including most of the so called Mainline Protestants as well as Roman Catholics provided they received a Trinitarian Baptism that at least approximates the intent of the Orthodox Church from their previous spiritual home.

On the other side, ROCOR, the Serbian Church, the Jerusalem Patriarchate, the monks of Mt. Athos and unofficially many parish clergy in Greece and the Balkans are generally more conservative and require converts to be Baptized in all but unusual circumstances. Many of these jurisdictions have accepted the controversial decree of the Synod of Constantinople (1755) declaring all Western sacraments, including baptisms, to be void of any grace and mandating that they be baptized into the Church when converting.

In addition many Orthodox (including me), while not on board with the 1755 synod, have become increasingly concerned by the doctrinal self destruction now rampant within the Mainline Protestant churches. It has reached the point where it is debatable whether some of these groups are in fact confessionally Christian churches at all. One need only look at what is going on in the Episcopal Organization for an example. The simple truth is that we just don't know what any Episcopal "priest(ess)" is doing, or thinks they are doing when they baptize someone anymore. It is not possible with a striaght face to call the the Episcopal Organization confessionally anything. It has become the church of "What's Happening Now."

During the reign of Alexander III of blessed memory, whatever problems the mainline Protestants had, we knew they were Christian and that they had a sacramental understanding of Baptism. I respectfully submit that in far too many cases this is no longer true. Times and circumstances change. When this happens the Church should reevaluate the relevant aspects of church discipline.

This is a good and overdue topic of discussion.

Court to Hear Case Stalled by Mistake in Mailroom

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from a death row inmate who faces execution after a mailroom mix-up at one of the nation’s most prominent law firms.

Lawyers at the firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, had agreed to represent Cory R. Maples, a death row inmate in Alabama, without charge. When an Alabama court sent two copies of a ruling in Mr. Maples’s case to the firm in New York, its mailroom sent them back unopened and stamped “Return to Sender.”

Two associates handling Mr. Maples’s case had indeed left the firm, but it appears that no one told the court or the mailroom that new lawyers there had taken over. A court clerk in Alabama put the returned envelopes into the court file and did nothing more.

An Alabama lawyer, John G. Butler Jr., also represented Mr. Maples and also received a copy of the ruling. Mr. Butler said in a sworn statement that he was Mr. Maples’s lawyer in name only, serving as local counsel for the New York lawyers handling the case. He said he had not passed the ruling along to them or to Mr. Maples.

A deadline for filing an appeal from the ruling came and went, and so far the courts have rejected Mr. Maples’s request for an extension given the circumstances. “How can a circuit court clerk in Decatur, Ala., know what is going on in a law firm in New York, N.Y.?” Judge Glenn E. Thompson of the Circuit Court in Morgan County, Ala., later wrote.

Mr. Maples’s new lawyers, led by Gregory G. Garre, a former United States solicitor general, had asked the Supreme Court to consider two legal questions in the case, one technical, the other more fundamental. The court agreed to answer only the broader one: Whether missing a filing deadline may be excused when the inmate was blameless, the government’s actions were a contributing factor and the inmate’s lawyers had effectively stopped representing him?
Read the rest here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Russian Church urges Catholics to organize missionary "attack" on Europe

Moscow, March 21, Interfax - The Moscow Patriarchate urged the Catholic Church to strategic alliance.

"Orthodox and Catholic need to take each other not as competitors but as allies in protecting rights of Christians. We have shared field of missionary work - modern Europe that has lost its religious, moral and cultural roots," head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk said speaking at the 4th International Congress in Wurzburg (Germany).

He believes that "future of Christianity in the third millennium depends" on joint efforts of Orthodox and Catholics.

The Metropolitan noted that good will of the both sides helped reach "real positive results in normalization of Orthodox-Catholic relations in recent years."

"Especially significant changes in this direction have happened after election of Pope Benedict XVI of Rome in 2005 as he knows the Orthodox Church very well. Today, for example, we don't see aggressive proselyte activity of Catholics in our territory that took place in early 90s," Metropolitan Hilarion said.

"Orthodox and Catholics face the same challenges cast by modern epoch to the traditional life style. Here it's not the matter of theological issues, but present and future of human community is in question. It's the sphere where Orthodox and Catholic can cooperate without any harm to their church identity," the hierarch said.

He called this form of interaction "a strategic alliance."

It includes joint efforts taken to affirm in society Christian ideas of family, marriage, bringing up children, value of human life from conception to death. Other direction of possible interaction which becomes more actual is "protection of Christians from discrimination," the hierarch said.

Old New York

Lower West Side Piers Circa 1920's (click to enlarge)

The ship's bow in the foreground is the SS Leviathon (ex SS Vaterland). Yes, the car on the left is a checker taxi cab. Some things thankfully haven't changed.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

CBO: Obama understates deficits by $2.3 trillion

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A new assessment of President Barack Obama's budget released Friday says the White House underestimates future budget deficits by more than $2 trillion over the upcoming decade.

The estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that if Obama's February budget submission is enacted into law it would produce deficits totaling $9.5 trillion over 10 years -- an average of almost $1 trillion a year.

Obama's budget saw deficits totaling $7.2 trillion over the same period.

The difference is chiefly because CBO has a less optimistic estimate of how much the government will collect in tax revenues, partly because the administration has rosier economic projections.

But the agency also rejects the administration's claims of more than $300 billion of that savings -- to pay for preventing a cut in Medicare payments to doctors -- because it doesn't specify where it would come from. Likewise, CBO fails to credit the White House with an additional $328 billion that would come from unspecified "bipartisan financing" to pay for transportation infrastructure projects such as high speed rail lines and road and bridge construction.
Read the rest here.
HT: T-19

A remarkable glimpse into another era

I draw the reader's attention to a wonderful collection of more than 250 photographs and postcards located here. They document a world cruise on the SS Belgenland in 1925. The Belgenland was a popular ocean liner of the 1920's operated by the Red Star Line. The photographs represent a magnificent glimpse into a world now long gone. A few are below... (click to enlarge).

Two ladies dressed for exploring ruins

Classy shore transportation

India during the British Raj

Passing another ship (the SS France) in the Mediterranean

A rug shop