Saturday, December 30, 2023

Sudan: Christians under attack

...Sudanese Christians, while only comprising 5.4 percent of the country’s population, have been largely based in and around Khartoum. As the capital city has been at the epicenter of the war, the Christian community has been heavily impacted. They have been sought out and attacked for their faith, and many have had to flee the country and settle in refugee camps.  

Many churches have been destroyed. Earlier this month, Rapid Support Forces fighters attacked a Coptic Christian Monastery in Gezira State and started using it as a military base. Last month, a Presbyterian Evangelical Church in Omdurman and a Roman Catholic building in the Al-Shajara area were attacked amid Rapid Support Forces and Sudanese Armed Forces fighting. These are just the most recent examples of the ongoing spate of attacks on churches and Christian buildings since the fighting broke out.  

Read the rest here.

Friday, December 29, 2023

SSPX contemplating new bishops?

Fr. Z: SSPX to consecrate more bishops?

I've had my differences with the SSPX in the past. But they do seem to have gone a long way towards putting their house in order when they firmly showed the door to Bp. Williamson and his fellow antisemite/Holocaust deniers. Given the current state of affairs in the Roman Church, they are probably the best available refuge for (small 'o') orthodox Catholics.

FTR I actually met Bp. Fellay around thirty years ago and was much impressed by the man. These are times of extreme crisis and no Orthodox should be indulging in triumphalist pleasure at the catastrophe now in full force within the Catholic Church. 

Nikki Haley just lost any chance of getting my vote

Haley says she’d pardon Trump as president

Not that I could vote for her in the primary anyway. I left the Republican Party in 2016. But realistically she isn't going to be the nominee. If he somehow fails to get the GOP nomination Trump has already made it quite clear that he won't accept the result and will run as an independent. With all the third party and independents running, this is shaping up to be the most bizarre (and consequential) election since 1860. 

Thursday, December 28, 2023

On the decapitation of the satanic idol

Alabama to try nitrogen gas after botched execution

ATMORE, Ala. — Alabama is poised to use nitrogen gas in a planned execution next month, the first state to attempt such a method, setting the stage for legal challenges as officials across the U.S. examine alternatives amid a shortage of lethal injection drugs.

But while Alabama is intent on using nitrogen hypoxia, in which a person breathes only nitrogen and dies from a lack of oxygen, some details of the protocol remain cloaked in mystery to the public.

Even the inmate who is set to die, Kenneth Eugene Smith, told NBC News this month that he is not privy to an unredacted state protocol describing how the procedure will work. His legal and medical representatives were permitted this month to tour the execution chamber and inspect a mask for breathing the nitrogen, but without Smith...

...Adding to the novelty of his case, Smith, 58, is a rare example of a person surviving a failed execution attempt: A previous plan to put him to death by lethal injection in November 2022 was called off when prison staff was unable to find a suitable vein. This, in addition to mounting scrutiny over the use of the lethal injection in other inmates, set off a pause in executions in Alabama.

Read the rest here.

This is barbaric. The state already tried the kill the man and FAILED. His sentence should have been immediately commuted to life without parole. If you are going to do capital punishment, it should be as quick and painless as reasonably possible. The British had it down to less than a minute from the moment the hangman walked into the condemned man's cell to the trap door being released. Why are we one of only a handful of countries that still routinely executes people, and yet we can't figure out how to kill someone quickly and without torturing them?

Here's a free tip for the people of Alabama. A large caliber pistol with a single bullet is all you really need. If you are obsessed with having some kind of contraption do the deed, the French method also works very well and is about as fast as you can get. 

Or better yet, just abolish capital punishment for all crimes except intentional murder committed after being sentenced to life in prison. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

An increasingly secular Scotland is losing its churches

At first sight the lichen-covered sandstone slab seems to be a doorstep for Morham church in East Lothian. Yet four rusting iron rings set into the stone hint at the slab’s true purpose.

Once the slab is lifted by those four iron rings, stairs lead down into a crypt which hold the remains of some pivotal figures in Scottish history. Their presence is delaying the sale of the church overhead, in a controversy that raises significant questions about the ramifications of one of the biggest property selloffs of modern times.

The Church of Scotland, once one of the most powerful forces in Scottish life, is disposing of hundreds of churches, manses, halls and cottages over the next five years as it faces up to a “perilous” transformation in its fortunes and its place in Scottish society.

Congregations are in steep decline, its clergy are ageing and its finances are in disarray. Like hundreds of other churches earmarked for sale, Morham church should be on the market but that has been halted by an unprecedented row over the fate of the nine people interred there more than 300 years ago.

Morham was once the family church of the Dalrymples, a dynasty that built Newhailes House, a Palladian mansion nearby. Interred in the crypt are the remains of Sir David Dalrymple, the lord advocate who oversaw the union of Scotland’s parliament with Westminster in 1707, and his grandson Lord Hailes, an eminent historian and contemporary of Adam Smith and David Hume.

Adam Fergusson, a former Conservative MEP descended from the Dalrymples, is preparing to take the church to court in February unless it drop its plans to disinter his ancestors and cremate them to clear the way for a sale. “I think the coffins should stay in the church, as their final resting place,” he said. “It’s setting a precedent.”

DJ Johnston-Smith, director of Scotland’s Churches Trust, believes there are up to a dozen similar situations around the country. “Scotland has changed remarkably in our lifetimes, in social attitudes and outlook,” he said. “But these building are anchors in our landscapes and in our collective history.”

The row at Morham illustrates a remarkable trend: the retreat of organised religion in Scotland. Churches of all denominations are being sold across Scotland as congregations dwindle, donations plunge and clerics retire.

The Church of Scotland’s property page advertises one of its most prominent churches in Inverness, the Old High Church, for offers over £150,000, with others in Ballachulish near Glen Coe, Orkney, Shetland, Edinburgh and, in Glasgow, St Columba’s, the city’s last Gaelic church.

The data suggests Scotland’s two largest Christian faiths, Presbyterianism and Catholicism, may be in terminal decline.

In 1982 the Church of Scotland had nearly 920,000 members; last year, that stood at 270,300, a decline of 70%. The average age of its congregants is now 62, and only 60,000 worship in person.

In 1982, the Catholic church conducted 4,870 marriages and had 273 men training to be priests. In 2021, there were just 812 Catholic marriages, with just 12 seminarians in training; it attracted only two new recruits this year. It no longer trains priests in Scotland and this year sold off its most famous seminary in Rome, the Pontifical Scots college, moving into another institution.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Putin aims to leave nothing to chance in Russia’s 2024 election

Russian President Vladimir Putin is working to eliminate what little political opposition remains to his rule in Russia ahead of the country’s presidential election in 2024.

Putin, who is seeking a fifth term as president in what is almost an assured victory in the March election, has moved to clear any obstacles in his path. 

Russia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) last week rejected the presidential candidacy of Yekaterina Duntsova, a former TV journalist, over paperwork errors. Duntsova’s campaign, which is described as pro-peace and pro-democracy, has rejected the commission’s ruling and is appealing the decision through the courts. 

“The CEC’s refusal is directed against the representation of millions of citizens who advocate for a peaceful and democratic future of Russia,” Duntsova’s campaign wrote on Telegram. “With this political decision, we are deprived of the opportunity to have our own representative and express views that differ from the official aggressive discourse...” 

...“I think it’s an insult to the idea of elections and democracy to call what’s happening in Russia an election,” said Bill Browder, a target of the Kremlin for his work supporting Russian anti-corruption activists, in an interview with the U.K.-based Times Radio last week. 

Browder is a key architect of the Magnitsky Act, a federal law that empowered the U.S. to sanction Russian officials involved in significant corruption and human rights abuses, and that has expanded to target bad actors across the globe. 

“What Putin has done in Russia is basically create a dictatorship. Any person who wants to run against him ends up either in exile, in jail or dead,” he said.

Read the rest here.

"Voters don't decide elections. The people who count the votes do." -Joseph Stalin

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Pope asks Vatican staff to avoid 'rigid ideologies'

ROME: Pope Francis urged Vatican bureaucrats on Thursday (Dec 21) to avoid “rigid ideological positions” that prevent them from understanding today’s reality, an appeal made days after he formally allowed priests to bless same-sex couples in a radical change of Vatican policy.

Pope Francis used his annual Christmas greeting to the Holy See hierarchy to encourage the cardinals, bishops and laypeople who run the Vatican to listen to one another and to others so they can evolve to truly offer service to the Catholic Church.

Speaking in the Hall of Blessings, Pope Francis told them it was important to keep advancing and growing in their understanding of the truth. Fearfully sticking to rules may give the appearance of avoiding problems but only ends up hurting the service that the Vatican Curia is called to give the church, he said.

“Let us remain vigilant against rigid ideological positions that often, under the guise of good intentions, separate us from reality and prevent us from moving forward," the pope said.

"We are called instead to set out and journey, like the Magi, following the light that always desires to lead us on, at times along unexplored paths and new roads.”

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

On the Catholic blessing of same sex couples

First, read this excellent reflection.

My comment in response...

This pope is not interested in reform. He is promoting revolution. He sees the Catholic Church the way a progressive looks at a beautiful old city, thinking "what this place needs is a little urban renewal." Unfortunately, his idea of urban renewal is on the same line as the 8th Air Force's plans for German cities during World War II.

As for the document itself; it is a masterpiece of jesuitical word gaming, carefully avoiding an open affirmation of what is its obvious objective. The problem of course is that with Catholic ecclesiology everybody's hands are tied. And so, while conservative Catholics wring their hands and redouble their prayers, their communion continues to circle the drain of heresy. But we are now reaching a point where decisions are going to have to be made. To paraphrase the Fathers, "you are who you are in communion with." What will (small 'o') orthodox Catholics do as they confront the naked heresy, and even apostasy at the highest levels of their church? I have been waiting for a public declaration from Catholic bishops denouncing the heresy in their church and breaking communion with those espousing it for years. And all I am getting is thunderous silence or at most milquetoast statements from these sorry excuses for shepherds.

Where is the modern-day St. John Fisher who even as he is lead to the scaffold will scream "the fort is betrayed even by those who should have defended it!"

A couple of months ago I opined that the difference between Roman Catholicism and liberal Protestantism (broadly speaking), was about ten years. I am now wondering if I may have been overly sanguine in my timetable.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

One of Putin's fiercest critics has vanished and the Russian government is not talking

After two weeks without word from Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, his lawyers and allies, fearing the worst, are running a frantic campaign to find him.

Their efforts have included requesting information from dozens of Russian prisons and taking to social media to raise awareness of Mr. Navalny’s disappearance and to call on the Russian government to reveal his whereabouts.

Many Russians living abroad have gone to their country’s diplomatic missions to protest. Some have held up posters saying “Where is Navalny?”

Dmitri S. Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin, told journalists on Friday that the Kremlin had “neither the possibility, nor rights or desire to trace the fate of convicts,” referring to Mr. Navalny.

Here is what we know about Mr. Navalny and his disappearance.

The last time Mr. Navalny’s lawyers heard from him was on Dec. 5. The following day, one of his lawyers waited for seven hours outside the penal colony where Mr. Navalny was being kept but was not allowed to see him, Kira Yarmysh, a spokeswoman for Mr. Navalny, said. Mr. Navalny then failed to appear by video link at a scheduled court hearing the next day, Dec. 7.

In the days after Mr. Navalny’s disappearance, his allies grew more alarmed as letters sent to him went undelivered and the authorities declined to reveal his location to his lawyers. On Dec. 11, officials in the prison colony that had been holding Mr. Navalny — in Melekhovo, a town about 160 miles east of Moscow — told his lawyers that he was no longer listed among its inmates, Ms. Yarmysh said.

Read the rest here.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Roman Catholic Church OKs Gay Blessings

Roman Catholic priests can administer blessings to same-sex couples as long as they are not part of regular church rituals or liturgies, the Vatican has said in a landmark ruling approved by Pope Francis.

A document from the Vatican’s doctrinal office said such blessings would not legitimise irregular situations but would be a sign that God welcomes all.

It said priests should decide on a case-by-case basis and “should not prevent or prohibit the church’s closeness to people in every situation in which they might seek God’s help through a simple blessing“.

The pope hinted in October about an official change in response to questions by five conservative cardinals at the start of a synod of bishops at the Vatican.

While the response in October was more nuanced, Monday’s eight-page document, subtitlef “On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings“, outlined specific situations. An 11-page section was titled “Blessings of Couples in Irregular Situations and of Couples of the Same Sex“.

The Catholic church teaches that same-sex attraction is not sinful but homosexual acts are. Since his election in 2013, Francis has tried to make the 1.3 billion-member church more welcoming to LGBTQ+ people without changing moral doctrine on same-sex activity. [Bollocks!]

The writing has been on the wall for a while, but it's still a shock. I refer the reader to this post from last October. 

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Saturday, December 16, 2023

On this day 100 years ago

In the first round of what would be his annual Christmas clemencies, President Calvin Coolidge commuted the prison sentences of all remaining persons incarcerated during the First World War for criticizing the government and/or the war. 

Trump takes significant polling lead over Biden in presidential race

Recent polls show former President Trump leading President Biden in key swing states that will likely decide the 2024 election, indicating Trump is not just the overwhelming favorite to secure the GOP nomination but is in a strong position to recapture the White House less than a year before Election Day.

Trump leads Biden in hypothetical match-ups both with and without third-party options on the ballot in states including Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, according to fresh polling. Biden carried each of those states in 2020, and Trump will need to flip at least a few of those states if he is to win in 2024.

The numbers underscore that there is work for Biden to do, even as experts and strategists agree plenty can change in the roughly 10 months until the election. 

“I think it illustrates where we are at in both the former president and the current president’s trajectory heading into November 2024,” Nick Trainer, a former Trump campaign official, said on the “Yes Labels” podcast.

A CNN poll released this week showed Trump leading Biden by 5 percentage points in Georgia, a state Biden carried in 2020 by roughly 12,000 votes. The poll also found Trump leading Biden by 10 points in Michigan, where Biden won by about 155,000 votes in 2020.

The poll found majorities in both states — 54 percent in Georgia and 56 percent in Michigan — believe Biden’s policies have worsened economic conditions as Biden struggles to sell what aides believe is a strong economy to voters.

A Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll released this week had similarly sour results for Biden. 

That survey found Biden trailing Trump in several crucial swing states: by 11 points in North Carolina, by 7 points in Georgia, by 6 points in Wisconsin, by 5 points in Nevada, by 4 points in Michigan and by 3 points in Arizona.

The results came from a hypothetical ballot that included third-party candidates Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Cornel West and Jill Stein. There was also an option for participants to choose an unlisted candidate or answer “don’t know/no opinion,” or choose to forgo voting altogether.

Read the rest here.

A Major Anti-Trump Argument in the GOP is Fading

Joe Biden has done Donald Trump the enormous favor of collapsing before our eyes.

As the 2024 GOP presidential race heads into the first contests, Biden’s abysmal run of polling has boosted Trump and undercut his Republican opponents by hanging a neon sign on our politics reading, “TRUMP CAN WIN.”

It may be that Trump, such is his hold on GOP voters, didn’t need any help establishing a dominant position in the fight for the Republican nomination, but two exogenous events have boosted him.

First, the indictments from the Justice Department and Democratic prosecutors created a predictable rally-around-Trump effect that put him on a fundamentally higher trajectory in the race, and second, Biden’s execrable polling has completely eliminated any possibility of making an electability argument against Trump.

There’s picking your opponent through underhanded ads — something Democrats did to help get vulnerable MAGA opponents in 2022 — and then there’s picking your opponent through your own incredible weakness that makes him look even more alluring to his partisans.

The most salient doubt about Trump among on-the-fence Republicans has never been his policy priorities, governing effectiveness or conduct after the 2020 election, but his ability to win.

Read the rest here.

Will the Georgia election workers see any of the $148 million award from Rudy Giuliani?

Rudy Giuliani has been ordered to pay nearly $150 million in damages to former Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, whom he defamed following the 2020 presidential election.

But as with all major jury awards, the question is whether Freeman and Moss will see any of that money.

Giuliani, the former New York mayor and onetime attorney to former President Donald Trump, has vowed to appeal the jury’s verdict. During the trial, he and his attorneys repeatedly said that he already doesn’t have funds to cover his various debts, but it’s unclear how much the former New York mayor actually has.

Attorneys for Freeman and Moss said in court they had tried to find out Giuliani’s net worth, but because he hadn’t responded to many of their subpoenas in the lawsuit, they couldn’t determine a figure.

A spokesman for Giuliani declined to comment Friday on his current financial state.

Attorney John Langford told CNN’s Erin Burnett on “OutFront” Friday evening that they plan to ensure that Moss and Freeman “see every bit of money that Mr. Giuliani has available to him, to pay and satisfy this judgment” and are “looking at every option (they) have to obtain the money that he owes Ruby and Shaye.”

They plan, Langford said, to move quickly toward getting a final judgment entered in order to go to other jurisdictions where Giuliani has assets.

Ryan Goodman, a former special counsel at the Department of Defense, told Burnett that it’s likely the election workers will collect only “a fraction” of the awarded amount. “There is no way they’ll collect (the total judgment), and I don’t think they’ll collect half the amount or a quarter of the amount, just a fraction. But I do think maybe they will collect millions. It depends on what his assets are,” he said.

Giuliani was ordered to pay $16,171,000 to Freeman for defamation, $16,998,000 to Moss for defamation, $20 million to each woman for emotional distress and $75 million total in punitive damages. When the verdict was read, even Judge Beryl Howell appeared taken aback by the figure.

Giuliani had already been fined more than $200,000 for some of Freeman and Moss’ attorneys’ fees, which he hasn’t paid. He also owed more than $1 million to defense attorneys who’ve helped him on other matters, prompting them to sue him this year, and hadn’t paid nearly $60,000 for years-old phone bills.

Yet at times he’s had help – including from Trump – to try to fundraise to offset some of his debts, and he was able to take a private plane to his arrest on criminal charges related to 2020 election interference in Georgia this summer.

Read the rest here.

Unlike Alex Jones, who is known to be extremely wealthy and has been going to great lengths to defy the courts and the families he defamed by obfuscating and hiding his assets; I suspect that Rudy probably really is broke or close to it. This is going to be a symbolic victory for justice and the rule of law, albeit an important one.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

James Bennet: The New York Times has lost its way

Are we truly so precious?” Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times, asked me one Wednesday evening in June 2020. I was the editorial-page editor of the Times, and we had just published an op-ed by Tom Cotton, a senator from Arkansas, that was outraging many members of the Times staff. America’s conscience had been shocked days before by images of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of a black man, George Floyd, until he died. It was a frenzied time in America, assaulted by covid-19, scalded by police barbarism. Throughout the country protesters were on the march. Substantive reform of the police, so long delayed, suddenly seemed like a real possibility, but so did violence and political backlash. In some cities rioting and looting had broken out.

It was the kind of crisis in which journalism could fulfil its highest ambitions of helping readers understand the world, in order to fix it, and in the Times’s Opinion section, which I oversaw, we were pursuing our role of presenting debate from all sides. We had published pieces arguing against the idea of relying on troops to stop the violence, and one urging abolition of the police altogether. But Cotton, an army veteran, was calling for the use of troops to protect lives and businesses from rioters. Some Times reporters and other staff were taking to what was then called Twitter, now called X, to attack the decision to publish his argument, for fear he would persuade Times readers to support his proposal and it would be enacted. The next day the Times’s union—its unit of the NewsGuild-cwa—would issue a statement calling the op-ed “a clear threat to the health and safety of the journalists we represent”.

The Times had endured many cycles of Twitter outrage for one story or opinion piece or another. It was never fun; it felt like sticking your head in a metal bucket while people were banging it with hammers. The publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, who was about two years into the job, understood why we’d published the op-ed. He had some criticisms about packaging; he said the editors should add links to other op-eds we’d published with a different view. But he’d emailed me that afternoon, saying: “I get and support the reason for including the piece,” because, he thought, Cotton’s view had the support of the White House as well as a majority of the Senate. As the clamour grew, he asked me to call Baquet, the paper’s most senior editor.

Read the rest here.

Monday, December 11, 2023

The latest from Constantinople

Hence, from Asia Minor, we proclaim in every direction that the genuine and only Mother Church is the Great Church of Constantinople. It exclusively bears the legacy of Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross for all humanity, giving birth to numerous Churches from Bulgaria to Ukraine. This declaration isn’t a modern invention in ecclesiology but an experiential truth and legacy inherited from the Fathers of the Ecumenical and Local Synods.

From here.

We are living in challenging times. Between the quasi-papal pretensions of the EP, the clear affinity for Byzantine Rite Episcopalianism being demonstrated within the leadership of the Greek Archdiocese here in North America, and the abject surrender of the Russian Church to the Putin dictatorship; it is difficult not to conclude that God has chosen to permit His Church to be placed under some great trial.

Kyrie eleison.

The Alliance between Palestine and the Left

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Javier Milei is sworn in as president of Argentina amidst grave economic crisis

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — It wasn’t the most uplifting of inaugural addresses. Rather, Argentina’s newly empowered President Javier Milei presented figures to lay bare the scope of the nation’s economic “emergency,” and sought to prepare the public for a shock adjustment with drastic public spending cuts.

“We don’t have alternatives and we don’t have time. We don’t have margin for sterile discussions. Our country demands action, and immediate action. The political class left the country at the brink of its biggest crisis in history,” he said in his inaugural address to thousands of supporters in the capital, Buenos Aires. “We don’t desire the hard decisions that will be need to be made in coming weeks, but lamentably they didn’t leave us any option.”

South America’s second largest economy is suffering 143% annual inflation, the currency has plunged and four in 10 Argentines are impoverished. The nation has a yawning fiscal deficit, a trade deficit of $43 billion, plus a daunting $45 billion debt to the International Monetary Fund, with $10.6 billion due to the multilateral and private creditors by April. “There’s no money,” is Milei’s common refrain. He repeated it Sunday to explain why a gradualist approach to the situation, which would require financing, was not an option.

But he promised the adjustment would almost entirely affect the state rather than the private sector, and that it represented the first step toward regaining prosperity.

“We know that in the short term the situation will worsen, but soon we will see the fruits of our effort, having created the base for solid and sustainable growth,” he said.

Read the rest here.

Friday, December 08, 2023

RIP: Ryan O'Neal

Stanley Kubrick's visual love letter to the 18th century. One of the best movies that most people have never seen. The cinematography is possibly the finest ever for a period drama. Seriously. This movie should be hanging in the Louvre. 

Germany and Georgia: Two worth a read

How deeply split are Germany’s (Catholic) bishops? 

HT: Dr. Tighe

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Mass for the Feast of St. Nicholas

Jamie Dimon on Crypto

“I’ve always been deeply opposed to crypto, bitcoin, et cetera,” the head of the largest U.S. bank by assets said under questioning from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during a Senate Banking Committee hearing. “The only true use-case for it is criminals, drug traffickers … money laundering, tax avoidance.” 

“If I was the government, I’d close it down,” he added.

Quote of the day...

“We will go out and find the conspirators, not just in the government, but in the media, yes, we’re going to come after the people in the media, who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig the elections, we’re going to come after you... Whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out, but yeah, we’re putting you all on notice.” 
-Kash Patel former senior National Security Advisor and close confidant of Donald Trump

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Happy 21st Amendment Day

Why is this not a national holiday dedicated to the triumph of liberty?

Monday, December 04, 2023

A preview of the second Trump Administration.

In the spring of 1989, the Chinese Communist Party used tanks and troops to crush a pro-democracy protest in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Most of the West, across traditional partisan lines, was aghast at the crackdown that killed at least hundreds of student activists. But one prominent American was impressed.

“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it,” Donald J. Trump said in an interview with Playboy magazine the year after the massacre. “Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak.”

It was a throwaway line in a wide-ranging interview, delivered to a journalist profiling a 43-year-old celebrity businessman who was not then a player in national politics or world affairs. But in light of what Mr. Trump has gone on to become, his exaltation of the ruthless crushing of democratic protesters is steeped in foreshadowing.

Mr. Trump’s violent and authoritarian rhetoric on the 2024 campaign trail has attracted growing alarm and comparisons to historical fascist dictators and contemporary populist strongmen. In recent weeks, he has dehumanized his adversaries as “vermin” who must be “rooted out,” declared that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” encouraged the shooting of shoplifters and suggested that the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, deserved to be executed for treason.

As he runs for president again facing four criminal prosecutions, Mr. Trump may seem more angry, desperate and dangerous to American-style democracy than in his first term. But the throughline that emerges is far more long-running: He has glorified political violence and spoken admiringly of autocrats for decades.

Read the rest here.

See also this discussion of Trump's view of presidential authority.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Russia to expand military draft

Russia is boosting the number of troops in its military for the second time in 15 months, citing the war in Ukraine and the expansion of the NATO defense alliance.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday ordered the military to increase the number of troops by nearly 170,000 to a total of 1.3 million as the Ukraine war grinds on after 21 months. Putin’s decree, which entered into force immediately, brings the overall number of Russian military personnel to 2.2 million, including 1.3 million troops.

The Russian defense ministry in a message posted on Telegram cited the war in Ukraine and NATO's expansion — which was spurred by Putin's invasion of Ukraine — as the reasons for the increase in army personnel. Finland joined the Western defense alliance this past spring, and Sweden said this week that Turkey has promised it will ratify Stockholm's bid "within weeks."

NATO's “combined armed forces are being built up near Russia's borders and additional air defense systems and strike weapons are being deployed," the Russian ministry said in its post. "The potential of NATO's tactical nuclear forces is being increased,” it added.

“Under the current conditions, an additional increase in the combat strength and size of the Armed Forces is an adequate response to the aggressive activities of the NATO bloc,” the ministry said.

It is the second time Russia has boosted its troop numbers since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The previous increase of 137,000 troops was ordered by Putin in August 2022.

As of August 2023, western intelligence services conservatively estimate that Russia has suffered combined casualties (killed, wounded and taken prisoner) in excess of 300,000 men. The Russian government has not issued any updated casualty figures in more than a year and the numbers previously released were generally treated as not credible by independent journalists and academics, as well as western governments. Additionally, it is estimated that at least 900,000 people have fled Russia since the start of the war. A very large percentage of those are believed to be young men of military age. While no reliable poll has been conducted, informal surveys suggest that many, perhaps most of these migrants have little or no interest in ever returning to Russia. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

RIP Henry Kissinger

One of the most extraordinary, and controversial men of his time, he was a colossal figure on the world stage and his death likely marks the passing of the last great figure from the Cold War era. I am old enough to remember when almost every single night when dad tuned into watch Walter Cronkite there would be some mention of "Secretary of State Kissinger" on the evening news. 

Dr. Kissinger was 100

Ross Douthat: Pope Francis tries to settle accounts

For years now, Pope Francis’ governance of the Roman Catholic Church has been seemingly designed to drive the church’s conservative and liberal wings ever further apart. Thus the persistent question hanging over his pontificate: How will he hold this thing together?

By opening debate on a wide array of hot-button subjects without delivering explicit changes, he has encouraged the church’s progressives to push the envelope as far as possible, even toward real doctrinal rebellion, in the hopes of dragging him along. At the same time, by favoring the progressives in his personnel decisions and making institutional war on the legacy of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, he has pushed conservatives toward crisis, paranoia and revolt.

On both fronts it’s unclear whether the papacy’s weakening authority can pull either group of rebels back. But in the last few weeks we’ve seen a clear attempt to use that authority, a real test of the pope’s ability to keep the church together.

On the one hand, Pope Francis has moved against two of his sharpest critics on the right: First, he removed Bishop Joseph Strickland from his diocese in Tyler, Texas; now he has stripped Cardinal Raymond Burke of his privileges at the Vatican, including an income and an apartment.

At the same time, the Vatican has tried to draw a bright line against the experiments of the German bishops, the leading progressive faction, by issuing a letter declaring that any reforms the Germans contemplate cannot change the church’s teaching on the all-male priesthood and the immorality of homosexual relations.

In each case you have an act of discipline seemingly tailored to the way that the rebellions are manifesting themselves. Among conservatives and traditionalists, specific critiques of the pope himself from prominent bishops and cardinals have now met with specific personal punishments. Among liberals and progressives, a broad attempt to liberalize the church’s moral teachings has now met with a general doctrinal rebuke.

But in each case one should be skeptical that the discipline will work. Both sides will note, for instance, that criticizing the pope earns you a sacking but that seeming doctrinal disobedience merits only a sternly worded letter. Unless the latter move is eventually backed up by something like the Strickland firing, progressives are likely to persist in the same line the German church is already pursuing, where the practices of the church are simply altered — via blessings for gay couples, say — without Rome granting formal permission. The assumption is that if liberalization becomes a fact on the ground, eventually the church’s laws will have to follow — and the more that assumption is entrenched, the harder it becomes for Rome to avoid some eventual rupture.

Meanwhile, those Catholics who admire Strickland and Burke are likely to be confirmed more deeply in a culture of conservative resistance, in which to remove a bishop from his real-world office only increases his potential influence in the magisterium of internet Catholicism. The idea that a bishop or cardinal could be somehow more orthodox than the Vatican would have seemed like an impossibility to the church’s conservatives just a few short years ago. But the world’s general crisis of authority, mediated by scandal and technological disruption, now extends through conservative Catholicism as well — a long, ragged crack that Francis’ unsteady leadership has opened in what was previously the papacy’s most secure base.

Read the rest here.

Tourists visiting Russia will be required to sign no-criticism agreement

...According to TASS, which cited a draft document, the foreigner would “agree, by entering Russia, to comply with prohibitions established with the aim of protecting the national interests of Russia”.

The person would agree not to “discredit in any form the foreign and domestic state policy of the Russian Federation”.

The foreigner would also comply with not sharing public information about LGBTQ relationships, under Russian legislation, and refrain from “distorting the historical truth” of the Soviet role in the Second World War.

TASS has said the document would soon be put to the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.

It gave no details on what kind of punishment individuals could face for breaking the agreement.

The Kremlin refused to comment on the possible new rules at a briefing with journalists on Wednesday.

Read the rest here. (Sadly paywalled)

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Pope Francis cancels trip to Dubai amid health concerns

ROME — Pope Francis postponed a series of meetings because of a lung inflammation and breathing difficulties, the Vatican said Monday morning.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said in an emailed statement that a CT scan ruled out pneumonia but added that doctors had inserted a cannula to provide antibiotics. The pope lost part of a lung following an illness some 50 years ago.

Francis, the first pope from the Americas, turns 87 next month and has battled ill health for years, canceling multiple engagements and appearing in public in a wheelchair. But Bruni's statement stressed: "The Pope’s condition is good and stationary, he has no fever and his respiratory situation is clearly improving."

Read the rest here.

In other news...

Monday, November 27, 2023

Milei to Send ‘Shock’ Package to Argentina’s Congress on Day One

(Bloomberg) -- President-elect Javier Milei plans to call congress into an extraordinary session and send a large package of reforms to stabilize Argentina’s economy on Dec. 11, the day after his inauguration.

“This is urgent,” he said in an interview broadcast Sunday by LN+ TV, adding that Argentina can’t wait for the usual start of congressional sessions in March. “Solving the central bank’s problems as soon as possible” and “halting monetary emission” that causes inflation are among the urgent issues he intends to tackle with lawmakers, he said.

Once his government gets public finances and the central bank balance sheet in order, it will be able to start lifting capital controls and unifying the country’s diverse exchange rates, Milei said, repeating that he never promised to close the central bank on day one.

The positive market reaction to Milei’s win in the Nov. 19 runoff, evidenced by a rally of sovereign bonds and YPF’s debt, emboldened the libertarian economist to pursue his “shock therapy” agenda of fiscal adjustment.

“This has given us greater strength to redouble our bets in favor of fiscal order,” he said, adding the market read the signs his incoming government sent “to perfection.”

“If the financial markets accompany us and interest rates fall, this will be painful but a lot less painful,” he said of the impact of the spending cuts his government proposes — a key concern in a country where more than 40% of the population lives below the poverty line.

Read the rest here.

From draining the swamp to reviving the "spoils system"

Part of the plan being cooked up by his loyalists for Trump Admin 2.0 is to gut 140 years of civil service reform and bring back the old spoils system introduced by (ironically) Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party back in the 1830s. The way it worked was simple. The party that won the election fired all or most of the civil service employees and replaced them with their own loyalists. The modern Trumpian motive is to combat the mythical "deep state." But it seems more directed towards undermining the rule of law, asserting direct political control over key executive agencies such as the DOJ in order to shut down any inconvenient criminal investigations and allow for the prosecution of his enemies and critics. Indeed, Trump has not been shy on this subject, being quite open in his declaration that he will use the power of the state to go after his enemies.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Catholic Priest Disciplined for Allowing Sacrilegious Music Video Shoot in Church

A Catholic priest was relieved of his duties for granting singer Sabrina Carpenter permission to shoot a music video at his Brooklyn church.

The Diocese of Brooklyn removed Monsignor Jamie J. Gigantiello from his post  at Our Lady of Mount Carmel-Annunciation Parish following backlash for Carpenter’s “Feather” music video, which came out on Oct. 31. The Catholic News Agency was the first to report his ouster.

The gory yet girly “Feather” video is bookended by funeral-inspired scenes filmed at the Williamsburg house of worship.

In the video, cameras follow Carpenter as she leads men into traffic, stirs up a bloody gym brawl and traps someone in an elevator to their apparent death.

Afterwards, Carpenter dons a short black tulle dress and lace veil as she skips up and down the center aisle, and dances in front of the pastel-adorned altar surrounded by softly-colored coffins.

It ends with Carpenter, a former Disney Channel star, driving away from the church in a hot pink hearse.

Read the rest here.

100 Years Ago: Remembering Warren Harding's trip to Alaska

Part I

Part II

Part III

Pope Francis is ill, but still plans to travel to Dubai

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday revealed that he has a lung inflammation but will go later this week to Dubai to address the climate change conference. 

Read the rest here.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Gen Z Rising Star in Conservative Reporting

To understand the motivation of Aaron Sibarium, Yalie, Gen Z reporter and conservative media darling, it’s instructive to travel back in time to last December, and do a little eavesdropping.

Right outside D.C., in a small studio apartment tucked inside an urban-suburban complex in Arlington, Virginia, Sibarium chats it up with libertarian writer Richard Hanania in a video call for a podcast exploring “the right-wing echo chamber.” In other contexts, on other podcasts (like his own), you can find Sibarium leaning into his more conservative opinions, but this is not one of these moments. He’s here to punch right. 

“Everyone on the right wants to write essays and have their grand theories about political economy and the American Right taken very seriously from the time they’re young,” he says, “and the problem is that A) when you’re 22, you don’t really know anything and B) there’s a surplus of that writing already.” 

What he values, he says, is something different from the conservative hot take-machine: real investigations, seeking out scoops, digging for data. As he sees it, he’s providing a rare service, occupying a narrow journalistic niche: old-school, shoe-leather reporting from a conservative point of view. 

“It’s rare to see someone who will cover something like, say, race-based treatment of Covid drugs … who also is like not a crank and has an IQ above 120,” Sibarium says, cracking half a smile. 

This quip is effectively Sibarium’s Statement of Purpose. In the 2½ years since he became a reporter, he’s snared some major scoops: There was his piece exploring how states, advised by the FDA to do so, used racial preferences in rationing scarce Covid-19 drugs, giving preference to young people of color over older white people. (Some of the states stopped the practice soon after he reported on them.) He broke a story that exposed the Columbia Law School’s plans to require video statements from applicants, presumably to evade the Supreme Court decision banning the consideration of race in admissions. (Columbia abandoned that plan, insisting it was a mistake, when Sibarium asked them about it.) And he uncovered Yale administrators’ bullying of a non-Black student who called his apartment a “trap house” in a party invitation, a scandal that brought personnel changes to the school. 

Sibarium, a staff writer at the Washington Free Beacon, is 27, diminutive, nasally and “formerly autistic.” (More on that later.) He’s become a force on the right who’s drawn praise from conservatives as far apart as Tucker Carlson and David French, who called Sibarium “a rising star reporter.” Sibarium doesn’t see his project as wholly new, as there has been conservative reporting for decades, but he’s trying to do something a little different.

“What maybe is new-ish about my personal project,” Sibarium says, is that he is trying “to report on the culture war in a way that is fairly aggressive and combative.”

As Americans’ trust in media has cratered, driven almost entirely by independents and Republicans, Sibarium has hunkered down, abstained from flirtations with fascism and racism (in imagery, group chats or pseudonymous op-eds) and done what some people have long been begging conservatives to do more of: pure reporting, digging up and revealing new information. Sibarium has done that, quietly, without sting operations — and without the millions of eyeballs turned on pundits like Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino and Carlson.  

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Oswald did it, and he did it alone.

This video presents a good summary of the facts (as opposed to conjecture and mythology) surrounding one of the most tragic events in American history. Polls continue to show that most people believe there was some kind of elaborate conspiracy at the heart of Kennedy's murder. The only problem is that there is not a shred of credible evidence that supports that. Belief in a conspiracy can only be sustained by ignoring the mountains of actual hard evidence, all of which points to Oswald.

Two books do an excellent job debunking the myths, misinformation, and outright lies that are pervasive among conspiracy theorists. There are others, but IMO these are the best.

Case Closed by Gerald Posner

Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi (This book is massive and took me more than six months to read. It is available in almost any well stocked public library.)

Sixty years ago

Monday, November 20, 2023

Rome: The synodal Church will be guided by the spirit of the age

The camera never lies; except that it does. A still photograph taken out of context can be wholly misleading. A video less so, since it provides context. The October Synod in Rome has produced two contradictory responses in observers.

Those who look at the still photograph have been saying “nothing has changed. The catastrophists were wrong. See, no women priests, no homosexual blessings, no change”.

But the opposite is the case. The video tells a different story. One might begin any assessment by asking, if there is no change, what was the Synod all about? Why the cost, the enormous expenditure of effort? Was it really all to enable a couple of hundred hand-picked people the opportunity to self-soothe and engage in ecclesiastical group therapy?

Clearly not. Instrumentum Laboris offered a clear indication that a new kind of theological language was being used, and for a purpose: to facilitate the evolution into a new kind of Church. Salvation was replaced by politics and therapy. The Catholic journalist Jeanne Smits argued that evolution was the wrong term.

She said: “It’s a revolution that’s fundamentally abandoning the definition of the Church as the mystical body of Christ, in order to see it as … a new Church.”

For observers who have watched other ecclesial bodies over the last 50 years, the strategies employed by the proponents of the new synodality look very familiar.

The Episcopalians in America trod this path in the 1980s, as did the Anglicans in England in the 1990s. When the Anglicans turned to the device of detaching theology from the tradition and moving it into encounter groups they chose the term “indaba”.

Indaba is a Zulu concept which describes a gathering for purposeful discussion. It was designed to facilitate “listening as well as speaking and the emergence of wisdom and a common mind”.

Does that sound a little familiar?

It does all the more so when you add the trope “listening to, or in, the ‘spirit’”.

The Anglicans failed to define what they meant by the “spirit”, in exactly the same way as members of the recent Synod bandied about the word as if it should deflect all criticism or save them from any further accountability of examination of what they meant by it.

The task of discernment was equally foreign to both Anglican and Catholic progressives. Traditional Christianity, on the other hand, has always placed considerable emphasis on being able to tell the difference between the different spirits.

Even Hegel knew enough to define what “spirit” meant for him, but political or therapeutic Christianity has no experience or expertise in this. The strategy was as clear as it was pneumatically incompetent.

It was intended to relocate the epistemology that defines the Church – to detach it from Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium and relocate it in the newly authoritative context of therapeutic “group encounter” precisely so that it could be claimed that the “spirit” had informed the Church. But all the indications are that this is not the Holy Spirit. How otherwise could one explain the Holy Spirit was contradicting what He effected in the past?

Instead this appears to be the spirit of the age, since the values it stimulates and promotes are the opposite of those of the apostolic or renewed Church. How is the anticipated revolution to be achieved, given that no significant decision were arrived at on this occasion?

Answer: by establishing two effective mechanisms to change what the Church believes and practises; the creation of the principle and process of synodality itself and the adjudicating concept of the sensus fidei.

Read the rest here.
HT: Dr. Tighe

Napoleon's hat sells for $2 million

PARIS — A faded and cracked felt bicorne hat worn by Napoléon Bonaparte sold for $2.1 million at an auction of the French emperor’s belongings Sunday. 

"On a field of battle his hat is worth 50,000 men. But it doesn't matter. He is not a gentleman." 
-Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Another 261 churches leave the United Methodists

The exodus has been going on for a while. But here I must give a polite nod to the liberals who are running the UMC. Rather than adopt the scorched earth approach that the leadership of the Episcopal Organization chose in response to its own defections, the Methodists handled this in a fairly civilized way. The national congregation granted a generous period of time for reflection by individual churches during which they were given the opportunity to disaffiliate on terms that might be described as the ecclesial version of a "no-fault divorce." 

Story here.

Franklin Pierce (Strictly for history lovers)


You may be forgiven for asking the question. Pierce is one of those presidents that even students of history have a hard time remembering. That said, I have long had a morbid fascination with this obscure and mostly forgotten figure. Wideley regarded as one of our worst presidents by historians, and for once I agree with the general assessment, his personal life was a succession of private struggles and tragedies that would have broken most men. This is easily the best video summary that I have come across on the life and times of our 14th president.

Friday, November 17, 2023

A Conference on the 8th OEcumenical Council

Elon Musk and Henry Ford

The parallels are uncanny. Both men were/are geniuses, with a vision of the future that fundamentally changed the world and made them spectacularly wealthy. Both were pioneers in the transportation industry, specifically cars. Both had a reputation for treating their employees well, while being fiercely hostile to unions. And both were antisemitic bigots, and prone to bizarre conspiracy theories.

Liberals vs Progressives: The deepening divide in the American left

Remember when “liberal” was a dirty word? In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan, who often prefaced it with a damning “tax and spend,” may have been the most effective of bashers. But the most blatant attack was in the early ’90s, after Newt Gingrich’s political organization GOPAC sent out a memo, “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” urging fellow Republicans to use the word as a slur.

It worked. Even Democrats began avoiding the dread label. In a presidential primary debate in 2007, Hillary Clinton called herself instead a “modern progressive.” She avoided the term “liberal” again in 2016.

Now the word is back. The portion of Americans who told Gallup pollsters they were “liberal” has increased from 17 percent in 1992 to 25 percent in 2021 (still lower than the proportions of those who said they were “conservatives” or “moderates”).

But the way “liberal” is being used now is more confounding than ever. Never Trump conservatives tout their bona fides as liberals in the classical, 19th century sense of the word, in part to distinguish themselves from hard-right Trumpists. Others use “liberal” and “progressive” interchangeably, even as what progressivism means in practice today is often anything but liberal — or even progressive, for that matter.

For those of us who never abandoned the term — why let Republicans define us? — liberal values, many of them products of the Enlightenment, include individual liberty, freedom of speech, scientific inquiry, separation of church and state, due process, racial equality, women’s rights, human rights and democracy.

Unlike “classical liberals” (i.e., usually conservatives), liberals do not see government as the problem, but rather as a means to help the people it serves. Liberals fiercely defend Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, the Voting Rights Act and the National Labor Relations Act. They believe government has a duty to regulate commerce for the benefit of its citizens. They tend to be suspicious of large corporations and their tendency to thwart the interests of workers and consumers.

As recently as the 2000s, the difference between liberals and progressives was often a matter of degree — Obamacare versus Medicare for All, or increasing the top marginal tax rate versus imposing a wealth tax. But while liberalism’s most strenuous threat comes from the Trumpian right, a split over basic principles and the purpose of the left has been widening.

In an increasingly prominent version of the progressive vision, capitalism isn’t something to be regulated or balanced, but is itself the problem. White supremacy doesn’t describe an extremist fringe of racists and antisemites, but is instead the inherent character of the nation.

Some aspects of contemporary progressivism look less like actual progress and more like a step in reverse.

Read the rest here.

Ray Dalio is worried about the US debt

Soaring U.S. government debt is reaching a point where it will begin creating larger problems, Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio said Friday.

The hedge fund titan warned during a CNBC appearance that the need to borrow more and more to cover deficits will exacerbate the political and social problems the country is facing.

“Economically strong means financially strong,” Dalio said on “Squawk Box.” “Financially strong means: do you earn more than you spend? Do you have a good income statement as a country? And do we have a good balance sheet?”

The U.S. is $33.7 trillion in debt, a total that exploded by 45% since the Covid pandemic in early 2020, according to Treasury Department data. Of that total, $26.7 trillion is owed by the public. Last year, the government rang up a $1.7 trillion deficit as it sought to keep up the pace of spending.

As the debt built up and the Federal Reserve raised interest rates to try to tamp down inflation, the government spent $659 billion on net interest costs in fiscal 2023 to finance the debt.

Dalio said that is a recipe for trouble.

“The worse that gets, the more we are going to have that long-term problem,” he said. “You can see it in the numbers. It’s just a matter of numbers. We are near that inflection point.”

Along with the basic budget issues, Dalio also cautioned that foreign buyers, who make up about 40% of demand for U.S. Treasurys, have been backing off, creating a supply-demand problem.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Quote of the day...

"Before we work on artificial intelligence, maybe we should try reducing natural stupidity." 

‘Tons of Crazy’: The Inside Story of How Fox Fell for the ‘Big Lie’

Less than an hour after Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News projected that Joe Biden had defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, Murdoch decided to send Trump a message: You lost, get over it.

“Should we say something Donald might see?” the mogul wrote to Col Allan, his friend and handpicked editor of the New York Post, midday on Nov. 7.

The resulting editorial was titled “President Trump, your legacy is secure — stop the ‘stolen election’ rhetoric.” Murdoch and his son Lachlan reviewed the draft in advance. Lachlan said it looked great. Murdoch agreed but, ever the newspaperman, he flagged a few typos before it went to press.

The editorial gave Trump point-by-point directions on handling his loss with decency, starting with advice about his personal attorney: “Get Rudy Giuliani off TV. Ask for the recounts you are entitled to, wish Biden well, and look to the future.” As soon as it was posted online, Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott told Lachlan she would circulate it inside Fox, and then she wrote to PR chief Irena Briganti, “I’m sending this around to our staff.”

The Post editorial eliminated any doubt about the POV of Fox’s patriarch. Behave with “dignity,” the editorial said. Stop with the “baseless conspiracies.” Start planning for the transition.

The next day, Sunday, Nov. 8, the hosts of Fox & Friends Weekend were told to stay away from election fraud claims. But the show that followed, Maria Bartiromo’s Sunday Morning Futures, defied the guidance. Bartiromo, all gassed up on rage and righteousness, heaped shame onto the network and spurred a $787.5 million settlement payment. That’s because Bartiromo became the first Fox host to utter the name “Dominion.”

Bartiromo did it intentionally and repeatedly in front of millions of viewers. She mainstreamed a conspiracy theory which, by the end of the week, was being repeated in all caps by the president.

This episode — drawn from court records, television transcripts and interviews with people involved — is worth analyzing in detail because Bartiromo’s source was so unhinged; because the segment foreshadowed months of smears; and because it provided a predicate for the “Big Lie” that Trump continues to promote to this day. Six in 10 Republican voters say they believe the 2020 election was “stolen” from Trump. But “stolen” how? One day after Biden became president-elect, Bartiromo used her Fox megaphone to tell a story that Trump and the heartbroken MAGA base embraced, to the detriment of Trump’s party and the country writ large.

Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch let it happen. If father and son have regrets, they have not expressed any publicly. Rupert is slated to step aside at his media companies, News Corp and Fox Corp, later this week, taking the title of chairman emeritus while Lachlan fully inherits control of the companies. While the transition is supposed to be a forward-looking celebration, Fox is still tied into knots by Trump — who now calls himself a “proud election denier” — and the falsehoods that Fox beamed into homes all across the country.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Are billionaires turning charity into a tax dodge?

Americans sent half a trillion dollars to charity last year—a substantial chunk of money to pay for worthy causes left unaddressed by the government and corporations.

But a huge portion of that money isn’t going to food pantries or scientific research or even churches. Instead, the ultrawealthy, including many billionaires who have pledged to give away their technology or stock-market-fueled fortunes, are funneling their wealth through opaque financial instruments, where it can sit for years tax free without touching an actual charity, according to a new report from the progressive think tank Institute for Policy Studies.

“There's a fair amount of charitable dollars that are not being deployed, where the donors have already gotten a tax break,” Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality at IPS, told Fortune.

More than one-quarter of charitable giving in the U.S. last year went to donor-advised funds, or DAFs, according to the National Philanthropic Trust. DAFs are vehicles that give the donor an immediate tax deduction, but allow money to sit potentially for decades without being used for actual charitable work.

DAFs are the fastest-growing type of charitable investment, according to Fidelity. Among the ultrawealthy, they are the most popular, and many of the headline-grabbing billionaire donations in recent years have gone to DAFs.

In 2021, Bill Gates donated $15 billion; Elon Musk gave $5.7 billion, Jack Dorsey gave $700 million, and Mark Zuckerberg $700 million—but rather than individual charities, those donations all went to the donors’ DAFs or family foundations, IPS notes. Last year, more than two-thirds of the billionaires who signed the Giving Pledge, a nonbinding promise to give away the bulk of their wealth to charity in their lifetimes, gave either to donor-advised funds or their family foundations.

Proponents of DAFs say that their structure encourages giving: The tax deduction encourages wealthy patrons to dedicate money for charity even before they’ve decided which cause to support. “Donors may have good reasons to postpone grants,” a Stanford Law School article says.. In one hypothetical, a tech founder who “sells a startup for millions of dollars” may want to donate her takings but is too busy to immediately decide how to direct the funds; a DAF is a good choice for this person, the law article notes.

However, while DAFs could in theory grow the charitable pie, in practice, they too often allow the donor the illusion of charity while letting them keep control of their funds, critics say.

Read the rest here.

For the record...

The CofE has been apostate for years. But FWIW, who didn't see this coming?

Saturday, November 11, 2023

The strange story and rumors surrounding St. Feodor Kuzmich

I have been intrigued for years by the rumors and conspiracy theories surrounding this famous Russian saint. Was he really Czar Aleksandr I? The idea that a Russian czar might have faked his own death to live his life as a quasi-hermit makes for a very pious (and entertaining) story. But as with most conspiracy theories, I am at least slightly skeptical. The first question I ask whenever a conspiracy theory comes my way is, how many people would have had to been in on the plot, and then kept their mouths shut for the rest of their lives? Ben Franklin once famously observed that three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead. 

In this case, the number would have had to have been pretty high. And while a lot of rumors did start to crop up, most did not do so until quite a while after the czar's death. To the best of my knowledge none of those who attended the czar in his final days, or his funeral arrangements, ever made any statement that might have implied that things were not as they had been made to appear. I have also been on the lookout for years for a reliable source confirming the story about the Communists opening his grave, only to find it empty. Empty is also a good word for the results of that search thus far. If anyone has a reliable source for that story, please share it in the comments.

None of this is to say that I firmly disbelieve the stories. Only that hard evidence is extremely lacking and that commonsense inclines me towards a certain degree of skepticism. Unlike with some other popular conspiracy theories, such as the Kennedy assassination, or the alleged faking of the moonshot, both of which don't pass the laugh test when you consider the mountains of confirmed evidence; here there is no hard evidence on either side of the debate. And yes, there is some interesting, mostly circumstantial evidence that lends itself to the rumors. As such, while I remain skeptical, I am also keeping an open mind pending a DNA test or some other really hard proof one way or the other.

News from Rome

The revolution continues...

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Report: Pope Francis Planning Radical Changes to Papal Elections

Given what he is obviously trying to do; wouldn't it have been easier to just give voting rights to all the "bishops" of the American Episcopal Church?

Story here.

Friday, November 03, 2023

Catholic bishop asks pastors to bless same-sex couples

Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann said in the Nov. 2 letter to priests, deacons, and lay pastoral workers that the blessings — which he also extended to remarried couples — could take place in churches in the Diocese of Speyer.

Read the rest here.
HT: Dr. Tighe

Every Catholic in the world is in communion with this heretic. Just saying.

Gall Effrontery Temerity

Call it what you will. Today I got a spam text on behalf of the former grifter N chief complaining about political persecution and begging for money. I'm not generally a fan of coarse language but I spent ten years in the navy, so I'm not exactly unfamiliar. The response I sent back would have peeled the paint off the wall in a Marine Corps barracks.

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Pope Francis calls for ‘paradigm shift’ in theology for world of today

Pope Francis has called for a “paradigm shift” in Catholic theology that takes widespread engagement with contemporary science, culture, and people’s lived experience as an essential starting point. 

Citing the need to deal with “profound cultural transformations,” the pope presented his dramatic vision for the future of Catholic theology in a new motu proprio issued earlier today.

Titled Ad Theologiam Promovendam, or “to promote theology,” the document revises the statutes of the Pontifical Academy of Theology (PATH) “to make them more suitable for the mission that our time imposes on theology.”

“Theology can only develop in a culture of dialogue and encounter between different traditions and different knowledge, between different Christian confessions and different religions, openly engaging with everyone, believers and nonbelievers,” the pope wrote in the apostolic letter. 

Read the rest here.

Past popes saw themselves as missionaries from God to a fallen world. This pope sees himself as a missionary from the world to a fallen God. 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Return of the Bond Vigilantes

The bond market is sending a message to Washington; get your act together. 

It looks like Wall Street is no longer willing to look the other way at the habitual dysfunction and fiscal profligacy in the nation's capital. With the national debt now exceeding $33 trillion (not including unfunded future obligations) and Congress paralyzed by partisan bickering, investors are no longer prepared to lend the US Government their money at dirt cheap interest rates. The yield on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury bond has been flirting with 5% for most of the last week. That's the highest it's been since 2007. As the route in the bond market continues, with its potential to spook stock investors, the threat may go beyond the much steeper costs of borrowing by the Federal government. It is starting to effect interest rates for mortgages, car loans, credit card debt and borrowing money by businesses and state/local governments. In other words, if DC doesn't take steps to calm the bond market, it could start to affect the broader economy. 

CNBC's take.

On the other side of the debate, Warren Buffet disagrees. He thinks US government debt remains relatively risk free and current yields are attractive, especially for longer term investors. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Casual state dinners?

The US hosted the Prime Minister of Australia at a state dinner last night and President Biden showed up dressed like an undertaker. You would think somebody in the White House would have a clue about protocol. 

The GOP: Is it time for a divorce?

End of an era: It’s time for the Republicans to break up

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Quote of the day

He is unquestionably mentally unstable, and he is racist, bigoted, misogynistic, xenophobic, vulgar and prone to violence. There is simply no rational argument that could lead me to vote for someone with those characteristics.”

-Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) in a 2016 email to Chris Christie following Christie's endorsement of Donald Trump

Friday, October 20, 2023

Bibi Netanyahu

According to a new poll roughly 80% of Israelis hold Benajamin Netanyahu responsible for the pogrom of October 7 and the deaths of more than 1400 of their countrymen and fellow Jews. That number includes 69% of people who voted for Netanyahu's Likud party in the last election. 

Politically, Netanyahu is a dead man walking. The question is not so much will he have to resign, but rather how long will the other members of the emergency government be willing to allow him to remain PM? My guess is that as soon as the immediate crisis is passed, he will be gone. It's likely that there are already discussions taking place behind closed doors over the shape of the post Bibi political world.

Whatever one may think of his politics, I think Netanyahu is a tragic figure. This calamity will be the defining legacy of a man who dominated Israeli politics for more than a quarter century. I was going to compare him to the captain of the Titanic, but I think a better analogy might be J Bruce Ismay, the director of the White Star Line. The Titanic's captain went down with his ship. But Ismay stepped into a lifeboat at the last minute and survived, for which he was vilified and probably spent the rest of his life wishing he had died that night. Bibi may be doomed to a similar fate.

Monday, October 16, 2023

On forgiveness and the state

In times past, kings wielded the power of life and death in God's name. But with that terrible power came the duty to exercise not only justice, but also mercy. I fear this is something we have largely forgotten in the modern world.

I found this to be quite powerful. 

Sunday, October 15, 2023


Whatever Israel's sins, and there are many, they cannot excuse this butchery. This was a modern-day pogrom and should be so labeled. Hamas and the Nazis are differentiated only in minor details. The former being motivated by religious fanaticism and hatred, the latter by bizarre ideals of racialism. But they both share the same objective, the extermination of all Jews within their reach. And they need to handled the same way. 

There can be no negotiation with Hamas. No matter the cost, they must be crushed. 

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Sunday, October 08, 2023

The House GOP Is a Failed State

...McCarthy’s ouster is dramatic evidence, if redundant, about the state of the modern GOP. A party that used to have an instinctual orientation toward authority and order — Democrats fall in love, went the old chestnut, while Republicans fall in line — is now animated by something akin to nihilism. The politics of contempt so skillfully exploited by Donald Trump is turned inward on hapless would-be leaders like McCarthy with no less ferocity than it is turned outward on liberals and the media.

The GOP dissenters who joined Democrats in evicting McCarthy professed to be concerned about controlling spending, and some surely are genuine about that. In the case of Gaetz, the ringleader, it is clear the dispute is primarily about personal animus, not ideology. He wanted McCarthy’s antlers on the wall of his rec room, and he got them. Needless to say, there are many Republicans who are now hunting for him.

And, yet, in the nihilistic spirit of the age, it is worth asking of these intraparty feuds: Who cares? Certainly, in McCarthy’s case, it is far from obvious that anyone should care that much. He simply never made the case for being consequential.

Read the rest here.