Wednesday, May 15, 2024

John Stewart on Government Corruption

Slovak Prime Minister Gravely Wounded in Assassination Attempt

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is in life-threatening condition after being wounded in a shooting after a political event Wednesday afternoon, according to his Facebook profile.

The populist, pro-Russian leader, 59, was hit in the stomach after four shots were fired outside the House of Culture in the town of Handlova, some 150 kilometers (93 miles) northeast of the capital where the leader was meeting with supporters, according to reports on TA3, a Slovak TV station. A suspect has been detained, the country’s president said in a televised statement.

A message posted to Fico’s Facebook account said that the leader “has been shot multiple times and is currently in life-threatening condition.”

Read the rest here.

This is the number one news story in almost the entire world... except for the US, where it has received scant coverage by any of the major news networks who remain obsessed with our own politics, Donald Trump's trial, and a just announced political debate set for June. The culture in all three of our 24 hour news networks is embarrassing. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Archbishop Elpidophoros: Opposition to gay marriage is fascist

From here.
See also this.

This is simply scandalous. It is the sort of drivel I would expect from mainline Protestants, not the head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in North America. The man is an open heretic and should be immediately deposed.  

Between the legitimately fascist ethno-nationalism being preached in Moscow and the byzantine rite Episcopalianism being embraced by the Greeks here in the US, the Church is clearly in a state of crisis. 

HT: Blog reader John L.

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Donald Trump May Be Talking Himself Into Prison

Normally the sort of charges he is facing in New York would not result in a jail sentence for a variety of reasons. But, should he be convicted, Trump's repeated attacks on the court, judge, prosecutors, witnesses, and even jurors, with the obvious intent of perverting the course of justice and undermining the public's confidence in the fair administration of the law, can be held against him when considering an appropriate sentence.  Bluntly, his behavior has been so egregious that it could be fairly interpreted by the judge and prosecutors as demonstrating a complete lack of repentance and a near absolute contempt for the judicial system and the rule of law in general. 

And that will almost always land you in the crossbarred hotel.

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

A Thank-You Note to the Campus Protesters

Dear anti-Israel campus protesters:

Though it may take a few years before you realize it, supporters of Israel like me have reasons to give thanks to militant anti-Zionists like you.

Recently, a friend asked what I would have made of your protests if they had been less fervently one-sided. If, for instance, pro-Palestinian student groups at Harvard and Columbia hadn’t castigated Israel immediately following the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. Or if Jewish students and professors hadn’t faced violence, harassment and antisemitic imagery from you or your allies from Harvard to Columbia to Berkeley to Stanford. Or if you had made a point of acknowledging the reality of the Oct. 7 rapes or the suffering of Israel’s hostages and their families while demanding their safe return. Or if you consistently condemned and distanced yourselves from Hamas. Or if all of you had simply followed rules that gave you every right to free expression without trampling on the rights of others to a safe and open campus.

In short, what if your protests had focused on Israel’s policies, whether in Gaza or the West Bank, rather than demanding the complete elimination of Israel as a Jewish state? What if you had avoided demonizing anyone who supports Israel’s right to exist — which includes a vast majority of Jews — as modern-day Nazis?

Read the rest here.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Memory Eternal!

Fr. John Hunkwicke has reposed following a long battle with cancer. I understand he had been ill since at least last summer and had recently been confined to his bed. Some days ago he received the last sacraments of the Catholic Church. If my information is accurate, his most recent blog post (see the sidebar) appears to be posthumous.

Normally I don't blog during the last few days of Holy Week, but felt this needed to be posted directly. I appreciate the notification from Dr. Tighe. 

Sunday, April 28, 2024

China is arming fast and becoming more aggressive

China using ‘boiling frog’ strategy to mask rising aggression in Pacific, says US commander 

Scandal and Intrigue in the Twilight of the Francis Pontificate

This is a fascinating look at Francis, his papal court, where it's been and where it's going. One of the better essays I've read on the topic in quite a while. Read it here.

HT: Dr. Tighe

CNN Poll Gives Trump Wide Lead Over Biden

In a two-way race Trump leads by 6%. In a five-way race including RFK Jr and the two far left candidates, Trump leads by 9%. If this poll holds up and is anywhere near accurate on election day, Trump could win an electoral blowout the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1980s. 

Caveat: Right now, the poll is an outlier. It is wildly inconsistent with virtually all recent polling data. So, we will need to see if this a bad poll or if it is the first sign of a major Trump surge. Until things become clearer, team Biden is probably not going to be sleeping well. 

Friday, April 26, 2024

Prayers please

Fr John Hunwicke, whose excellent blog has been in the sidebar for as long as I can remember, is ill. In your charity, please keep him and his family in your prayers.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Anti-Trump Legal Pundits Have Been Talking to Each Other (off the record)

As the Jan. 6 committee was working on its bombshell investigation into the Capitol riot and President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the last election, committee staffers took some time out of their seemingly 24-hour jobs one day in 2022 to brief a group of lawyers and legal pundits on a Zoom call.

The people on the call weren’t affiliated with the investigation or the government. But they would have been familiar to anyone who watches cable news. They were some of the country’s most well-known legal and political commentators, and they were there to get insights into the committee’s work and learn about what to look for at the hearings.

The group’s gathering was not a one-time event, but in fact an installment in an exclusive weekly digital salon, whose existence has not been previously reported, for prominent legal analysts and progressive and conservative anti-Trump lawyers and pundits. Every Friday, they meet on Zoom to hash out the latest twists and turns in the Trump legal saga — and intellectually stress-test the arguments facing Trump on his journey through the American legal system.

The meetings are off the record — a chance for the group’s members, many of whom are formally or loosely affiliated with different media outlets, to grapple with a seemingly endless array of novel legal issues before they hit the airwaves or take to print or digital outlets to weigh in with their thoughts. About a dozen or more people join any given call, though no one takes attendance. Some group members wouldn’t describe themselves with any partisan or ideological lean, but most are united by their dislike of Trump.

The group’s host is Norman Eisen, a senior Obama administration official, longtime Trump critic and CNN legal analyst, who has been convening the group since 2022 as Trump’s legal woes ramped up. Eisen was also a key member of the team of lawyers assembled by House Democrats to handle Trump’s first impeachment.

The regular attendees on Eisen’s call include Bill Kristol, the longtime conservative commentator, and Laurence Tribe, the famed liberal constitutional law professor. John Dean, who was White House counsel under Richard Nixon before pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with Watergate, joins the calls, as does George Conway, a conservative lawyer and co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. Andrew Weissmann, a longtime federal prosecutor who served as one of the senior prosecutors on Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation and is now a legal analyst for MSNBC, is another regular on the calls. Jeffrey Toobin, a pioneer in the field of cable news legal analysis, is also a member of the crew. The rest of the group includes recognizable names from the worlds of politics, law and media.

Read the rest here.

For the benefit of anyone new to the blog, I am not the world's biggest fan of Donald Trump. That said, this is leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I'm not sure it's a flaming violation of journalistic ethics, where the boundaries can sometimes be a bit fuzzy. But if this doesn't cross that line, it strikes me as dancing uncomfortably close to it. 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Kyrill and the Babylonian Captivity of the Russian Orthodox Church

Obviously, I would not presume to judge any individual's relationship with God. But as an institution, it is becoming clearer, almost by the day, that the Russian Church has gone dangerously off the rails. To which end I find myself substantially in agreement with this short blog post

Lord have mercy.

New York City (what's wrong)

This is a really good video explaining what's wrong with New York from somebody who is obviously not hard right in their politics.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Ben Bernanke Takes Aim at Central Bank Forecasts

Central banks the world over failed to predict the surge in inflation that started three years ago. Now they’re trying to learn from their mistakes.

For the Bank of England, that meant commissioning former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to write a review of the U.K. monetary authority’s forecasting system. The implications of the findings, published Friday, could reverberate far beyond Britain.

To be fair to the BOE, it didn’t do particularly worse than others in failing to see that supply-chain problems, energy-price spikes, and geopolitical tensions would generate the worst bout of inflation in a generation. Bernanke, who guided the U.S. through the 2008-09 financial crisis and won the Nobel Prize in 2022 for his work on the impact of bank runs in markets, notes the shocks were difficult to forecast.

“The forecasting and policy challenges faced by the Bank of England in recent years were hardly unique,” said Bernanke, now a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The Bank, like other central banks and policy institutions, will be working to draw the appropriate lessons from this experience.”

Read the rest here.

Latest Polls: Election is a toss up

An averaging of recent national polls show President Biden has significantly reduced Donald Trump's once formidable lead in the polls to a de facto draw. Real Clear Politics average of polls from the last few weeks show Trump's lead has narrowed to .02 percent in a straight match up between him and Biden. That is a statistical tie. In a five way race with RFK Jr and the two far left independents thrown in, Trump holds a 2 point advantage. However, that is well within the customary margin of error. And with most polls showing around 8% of voters undecided, the election is currently wide open. One point on which Americans are in overwhelming agreement is their dislike of both Trump and Biden, with a super majority of voters expressing deep dissatisfaction with the choice between the two men. Thus far however, this has not translated into any serious support for the third party candidates. All of whom collectively are polling only in the low single digits. (Kennedy's polling numbers have recently fallen off a cliff.) It seems increasingly likely that the election will be decided by uncommitted independents and political moderates.

Recent polling data can be found here

Patriarch of the West

Francis has revived the title renounced by Benedict XVI.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Now this is depressing

I've never seen the point in an automatic transmission. Where is the fun? Sure, it will get you from point A to point B. But so will a bus.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

The US Stock Market is shrinking. Should we be worried?

The number of publicly traded companies in the United States is shrinking. Jamie Dimon, one of the world’s most influential business leaders, is worried.

At their peak in 1996, there were 7,300 publicly traded companies in the US. Today there are about 4,300.

It’s not that America has 40% fewer companies than it did 30 years ago, it’s that companies are increasingly staying private, largely outside the scrutiny of the public eye.

“The total should have grown dramatically, not shrunk,” wrote Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, in his annual shareholder letter on Monday.

The PE boom: The shrinking public market has private equity to blame — funds that pool money from investors to acquire or invest in companies.

When a PE fund buys a public company, it takes that company private. When it buys a company that isn’t yet public, it is kept that way. That means these funds have complete control over their companies and can encourage them to boost their profits as quickly as possible for a quick sale later down the line.

The number of private companies in the US backed by PE firms has grown from 1,900 to 11,200 over the last two decades, according to JPMorgan data.

Publicly listed companies are subject to regulatory oversight and disclosure requirements, which help ensure transparency and maintain investor confidence. With fewer companies listed, there may be a decrease in overall transparency and investor trust in the market, said Matthew Kennedy, head of data and content at Renaissance Capital.

Additionally, a company owned by PE can obfuscate ownership, what the company actually does and its profit the public and from regulators.

Dimon’s company, of course, makes a huge amount of money from taking companies public, so he’s not exactly an impartial observer. But Dimon said his concerns are broader than JPMorgan’s bottom line: If this trend continues, our understanding of the US economy could become hazier, he argued.

Read the rest here.

Monday, April 08, 2024

The Vatican Says "NO" to Gender Ideology

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican on Monday declared gender-affirming surgery and surrogacy as grave violations of human dignity, putting them on par with abortion and euthanasia as practices that it said reject God’s plan for human life.

The Vatican’s doctrine office issued “Infinite Dignity,” a 20-page declaration that has been in the works for five years. After substantial revision in recent months, it was approved March 25 by Pope Francis, who ordered its publication.

From a pope who has made outreach to the LGBTQ+ community a hallmark of his papacy, the document was received as a setback, albeit predictable, by trans Catholics. But its message was also consistent with the Argentine Jesuit’s long-standing belief that while trans people should be welcomed in the church, so-called “gender ideologies” should not.

In its most eagerly anticipated section, the Vatican repeated its rejection of “gender theory,” or the idea that one’s biological sex can change. It said God created man and woman as biologically different, separate beings, and said people must not tinker with that or try to “make oneself God.”

Read the rest here.

The pope is (mostly) right. Now there is a sentence I haven't written in a long time. I think I need to lie down for a few minutes. 

Gold Hits Record Highs

Gold prices hit a record high for a seventh straight session on Monday, fueled by central bank purchases and geopolitical tensions, while strong economic data failed to dull bullion’s allure.

U.S. gold futures gained less than 0.1% to $2,346.90. Spot gold was just below flat at $2,328.28 per ounce, after hitting a record high of $2,353.79 earlier in the session.

China’s central bank added 160,000 troy ounces of gold to its reserves in March, it said. Turkey, India, Kazakhstan, and some eastern European countries have also been buying gold this year.

Read the rest here.

Friday, April 05, 2024

Francis and the ‘empty chair’ phase of his pontificate

ROME — Such is the frenetic nature of the Pope Francis papacy that even though Good Friday was less than a week ago, just a few days later it was hard to remember that it actually produced news. In the meantime, of course, we’ve had not only the pontiff’s traditional Easter activity but his latest tell-all interview book, once again, for a moment, transforming the papacy into a species of reality TV.

In this instance, Francis lifted the veil on the inner workings of two conclaves, those of 2005 and 2013, and also dished on his predecessor’s top aide, German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, claiming that he lacks “nobility and humanity” for the way in which he allegedly tried to pit Pope Benedict XVI against Francis.

As Italian journalist Massimo Gramellini put it, “At bottom, Bergoglio [the pope’s given name] is no more than a man of his times. We live in an era in which, some more and some less, we’re all exhibitionists, devoured by an insatiable need to make our lives public, in the hope of being appreciated and understood.”

Despite all that, it’s still worth returning to Good Friday for a moment, because it produced an iconic image of the late stages of the Francis papacy: An empty white chair at Rome’s Colosseum, where the pontiff had been scheduled to preside over the traditional Way of the Cross procession, but where he ended up being a no-show at the last minute due to health concerns.

In a way, it was odd that anyone ever seriously entertained the idea that the 87-year-old pope would physically attend the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross) on a chilly yet humid Roman evening, exactly the wrong conditions for someone struggling to kick the after-effects of a series of colds, flu, and bronchitis. In all probability, it was likely Francis’ determination that kept the possibility alive until the very last moment, and which led to the specter of his empty chair having to be carted away in front of live TV cameras.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Quote of the day...

"If Republicans want to name something after him, I’d suggest they find a federal prison.” -Gerry Connolly (D VA) responding to a Republican proposal to rename Dulles International Airport after Donald Trump. 

This would be hysterically funny if they weren't serious. Trumpism is a cult. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Before Computers

Checking train reservations at Union Station in 1942. From here. (Click the link for full sized image.)

Monday, April 01, 2024

Memory Eternal

Lou Conter has reposed at 102. He was the last living survivor of the USS Arizona sunk at Pear Harbor.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Israeli High Court Ends Public Subsidies for Ultra-Orthodox Men Who Refuse Military Service

In a step that could have deep political and societal ramifications, the High Court of Justice issued an interim order Thursday evening barring the government from providing funds to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas for students eligible for IDF enlistment — as the legal framework for deferring their military service will no longer exist.

A government resolution from June 2023 instructing the IDF to temporarily not draft Haredi students despite the expiration of a law governing the matter will itself expire at midnight on March 31.

The court decision, which goes into effect April 1, comes after the government delayed for days the submission of a proposal to the court for plans to increase ultra-Orthodox military enlistment, and constitutes a sharp indication from the judges that their patience with repeated attempts to put off decisions on the matter is finally running out.

The political battle over enlistment has thrown Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition into disarray, with National Unity’s Benny Gantz threatening to bolt if the Knesset passes a bill allowing blanket exemptions to remain — even if it does satisfy the court — while the Haredim have said they will quit if the government fails to pass legislation to prevent the draft.

Haredi parties lambasted the High Court’s decision, with the head of United Torah Judaism, Housing and Construction Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, describing it as constituting “severe harm to those who toil in Torah” and “a stain and a disgrace.”

Read the rest here.

In 1948 when the original exemption from the draft was put in place there were approximately 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews living in Israel. Most Haredi had been murdered by Hitler and the Nazis during the world war and there was a serious fear that a significant part of Jewish culture, history, religious thought and study was on the brink of being lost. Today, the ultra-Orthodox make up more than 10% of the country's population. The men generally spend their days praying and studying Torah and other religious texts. Most do not work, but subsist off public stipends, welfare and what income their wives bring in. This, coupled with their refusal to serve in the army in a nation where military service is compulsory for most men, has become a source of not inconsiderable resentment. The Haredi tend to live apart from most of society and often follow the direction of their rabbis with astonishing strictness, including in how they vote. This makes them an extremely powerful political block in Israel due to the country's system of proportionate representation in the Knesset (parliament). The current government is partly dependent on the support of ultra-Orthodox parties for its majority, and they have threatened to bring down the government if their legal privileges are not extended.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Sam Bankman-Fried Gets 25 Years

Meanwhile the great crypto-con continues. As of this post, people are spending near $70,000 a piece for imaginary money called bitcoin. Stulti et pecunia eorum cito separantur. 

If I ever feel some overwhelming urge to play with fake money, I will grab the Monopoly board in the closet.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The RNC is now a fully absorbed part of the Trump cult

With members of his family now firmly in charge at the Republican National Committee, there have been some interesting changes. All donations to the RNC now go first to Trump's reelection campaign and then to the Political Action Committee that has been covering most of his legal bills. No word on what part, if any, is left for other candidates, campaigns or other issues down ballot. One of the first moves by Lara Trump on taking the helm at the RNC was to purge most of the staff with the understanding that they could reapply for their jobs. Among the questions being asked of all new applicants and reapplying purged staffers is "do you believe the 2020 election was stolen?"

Trumpism is a cult.

Russia is murdering Ukrainian POWs

Russia may have executed more than 30 recently captured Ukrainian prisoners of war over the winter months, according to reports received by the U.N. human rights watchdog.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights “verified three of these incidents in which Russian servicemen executed seven Ukrainian servicemen hors de combat,” reads the latest U.N. report on the human rights situation in Ukraine published Tuesday.

From December to February, as President Vladimir Putin’s invading Russian forces were rapidly advancing in Avdiivka, in the Donetsk region, and attempting to recapture Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia region, dozens of execution videos were posted on social media.

In eight of the reported cases, videos showed Russian servicemen killing Ukrainian POWs who had laid down their weapons or using other captured Ukrainian POWs as human shields.

“As of 29 February 2024, OHCHR had obtained corroborating information for one of the videos,” the report reads. “In that video, what appears to be a group of armed Russian soldiers stands 15-20 meters behind three Ukrainian servicemen who are kneeling with their hands behind their heads. After a few seconds, smoke appears from the Russian soldiers’ weapons and the Ukrainian servicemen fall to the ground.”

“One of the armed soldiers then approaches the bodies and shoots at one of the soldiers lying on the ground,” according to the report.

Over the winter Russia also released 60 Ukrainian POWs. One of them confirmed to OHCHR that the incident featured in the video took place near Robotyne in December 2023 and that the killed servicemen were from his unit.

In another incident, three Ukrainian POWs, captured by Russian troops, were executed at the beginning of January 2024 in Zaporizhzhia.

“According to a witness, two Ukrainian soldiers were executed on the spot after their surrender. Russian servicemen killed a third Ukrainian POW who had been injured by a mine while being forced by the Russian servicemen to conduct demining work,” the report states.

The released POWs also told the U.N. that Russian forces had tortured them in captivity.

Read the rest here.

Meanwhile, House Republicans continue to block any aid for Ukraine.

Cancer is becoming more common among the young

...Early-onset cancer, which is defined as happening in adults under 50 years of age, is no anomaly. In fact, it is part of a rising global trend in which newly diagnosed cancer patients are getting younger. Further, it deflates the myth that cancer is the preserve of older people.

During the past week alone, I saw a 37-year-old with breast cancer that had already metastasized to her lymph nodes, bones, lung and liver. In the room next door was a 45-year-old with colon cancer that had spread so diffusely throughout the liver that it had become packed and enlarged with the tumors. Both patients had stage IV cancers that can potentially be controlled for a finite time but are no longer curable.

The global incidence of early-onset cancer increased by 79.1% and early-onset cancer deaths rose by 27.7% from 1990 to 2019, a 2023 study in the journal BMJ Oncology found. More granular data on this uptick published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that from 2010 to 2019 in the United States, breast cancer accounted for the highest number of cases in this younger population, while rates of gastrointestinal cancers were rising the fastest.

This jarring increase in gastrointestinal cancers alone captures the implications and risks associated with a person’s birth year. As Dr. Kimmie Ng, a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told The Boston Globe last year, “People born in 1990 have over double the risk of getting colon cancer compared to those born in 1950. And quadruple the risk of getting rectal cancer.”

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The Baltimore Bridge Disaster: Who is going to pay?

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore early Tuesday after it was struck by a container ship could trigger a wide swath of insurance and reinsurance policies, and the loss is likely to run into billions of dollars, sources say.

Beyond marine hull, cargo and liability policies, the incident could trigger various coverages including auto, contingent business interruption, inland marine, property, trade credit and workers compensation...

...London-based marine mutual insurer The Britannia P&I Club confirmed that the Dali is insured by the club for protection and indemnity liabilities. The vessel will also have hull and cargo coverage in place, sources said.

All 22 crew members on board, including two pilots, have been accounted for and there are no reports of any injuries among them, the owners and managers of the ship said.

In a statement, Synergy Marine Group, the vessel’s manager, said the owners and managers are fully cooperating with federal and state agencies. The exact cause of the incident has yet to be determined, they said, adding that there had been no pollution.

News reports said the ship may have lost steering after losing power before hitting the bridge. The bridge is valued upwards of $1.2 billion, though it is not known whether the insured limit on the property placement is that high, the Insurance Information Institute said. It is understood that Aon PLC handles the bridges and tunnels property placement for the state of Maryland.

Britannia Club is a member of the International Group of P&I clubs, an association of 12 P&I clubs that provides marine liability cover for 90% of the world’s ocean-going tonnage.

Individual clubs retain $10 million on any claim, and claims in excess of $10 million are shared between the group clubs. The group also buys group excess of loss reinsurance cover up to $3.1 billion in the open market. Axa XL leads the group excess of loss cover, according to information posted on the International Group’s site.

Excess of $30 million, the International Group pool is also reinsured by Bermuda-domiciled group captive Hydra Insurance Co. Ltd., an incorporated cell company. Each of the 12 Group clubs has its own segregated account or cell ringfencing its assets and liability from the other club cells.

The total cost of the bridge collapse and associated claims will not be clear for some time but is likely to run into billions of dollars and “well above the $100 million attachment point for the GXL contract,” rating agency A.M. Best Co. said Tuesday.

“The insurance issues due to the collapse of the bridge will take a long time to unravel and may involve several lines, such as property, cargo, liability, trade credit and contingent business interruption,” Best said.

“I would expect this event to exhaust limits, excess layers and reinsurance for most types of coverage carried by the ship’s operator,” Robert Hartwig, clinical associate professor and director, Risk and Uncertainty Management Center, at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, said in an email.

Read the rest here.

Obviously the immediate concern is for those injured and the missing, who at this point are unlikely to be found alive. However, beyond the humanitarian concerns, a major component of transportation for Baltimore and the DC beltway region has been wrecked. One of the busiest harbors in the United States is now closed indefinitely with ships unable to enter and those already there, effectively trapped. President Biden has rightly promised emergency Federal aid to get the ball rolling on clearing the wreckage and at least beginning the construction of a new bridge. I don't think anyone needs an advanced degree in engineering to grasp that the current structure is a total loss and beyond repair. That said, the American taxpayer should not be on the hook for this. Marine insurance is a complicated business, but when the dust settles some very large checks are going to be expected. And while the economic damage is likely to run into the billions, I would hope that the first checks go to the families of those injured and killed. 

Prayers for all those affected. 

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Sunday, March 17, 2024

No Blogging

For the next few days.

Gaza's Suspicious Casualty Figures

The Jewish publication Tablet has a feature from Abraham Wyner, a professor of statistics and data science at the Wharton School, digging into why the Hamas-compromised Gaza Health Ministry’s casualty numbers are highly suspect. Even for the innumerate English major (such as myself), Wyner’s work is digestible, incrementally working through what data are available. Perhaps best of all, he makes no claims as to what the casualty numbers might be in actuality (Netanyahu’s figures suggest 1–1.5 civilian deaths per Hamas militant killed; for reference, there were 15 million combat casualties and 38 million civilian casualties in WWII) and instead focuses on his area of expertise to enlightening effect.

Wyner writes:
"Recently, the Biden administration lent legitimacy to Hamas’ figure. When asked at a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week how many Palestinian women and children have been killed since Oct. 7, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the number was “over 25,000.” The Pentagon quickly clarified that the secretary “was citing an estimate from the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry.” President Biden himself had earlier cited this figure, asserting that “too many, too many of the over 27,000 Palestinians killed in this conflict have been innocent civilians and children, including thousands of children.” The White House also explained that the president “was referring to publicly available data about the total number of casualties.”

Here’s the problem with this data: The numbers are not real. That much is obvious to anyone who understands how naturally occurring numbers work. The casualties are not overwhelmingly women and children, and the majority may be Hamas fighters."
Read the rest here.

Russia's Presidential Election

I wonder who will win. The suspense is killing me.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Patriarch Neophyte has reposed

Memory eternal!

RIP Paul Alexander

Paul Alexander has died at 78. You may be forgiven if you haven't heard of him. Neither had I until I stumbled on his obituary. On the surface, Mr. Alexander's life seems fairly ordinary. He went to college, then law school, was admitted to the bar and represented many clients, wrote a book, and in his later years became something of an internet personality. What sets him apart, was that he spent most of the last 72 years of his life living in an iron lung. He was completely paralyzed by polio at the age of six and could only move his head and speak.  Mr. Alexander, who might well have had some justification for being bitter at the cruel hand that fate had dealt him, instead decided to make the best of the life he had. He became very good at memorization, vice taking notes, dictated a great deal, and learned to write with a pen taped to his nose with which he was able to type or tap a computer keyboard. At the time of his passing, he was active on social media with more than 300,000 followers. 

Paul Alexander holds the record for the longest-lived survivor of polio who had to live in an iron lung and is believed to have been the second to last person still using one. 

Memory eternal.

Hollywood's hypocritical (and dangerous) gun culture

In my first job as a military adviser on a film set, I witnessed the stark contrast between the gun safety culture of my Navy SEAL days and the cavalier attitude toward firearms that permeates Hollywood. During a break in filming, the lead actor, fresh off a stint as a teen heartthrob, picked up a gun and began waving it around, joking with the cast. Instinctively, I leaped toward the actor, grabbed the gun and gave him a hard thump to the chest, admonishing him for “flagging” the entire crew — using the military term for aiming a firearm at someone.

Later, I pulled him aside and drilled into him the cardinal rules of gun safety, rules that become second nature to anyone who handles firearms professionally: Always treat a gun as loaded. Never point it at anything you don’t intend to shoot. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire. These aren’t optional guidelines but ironclad laws. If you’re going to handle firearms, even those loaded with blanks, I explained, you have a duty to master these principles.

The disregard for basic gun safety I witnessed that day wasn’t an isolated incident. It was emblematic of a problem in the film industry, and a symptom of the profound contradictions in Hollywood’s attitudes toward firearms.

On movie sets, real guns, often modified to fire blanks, are commonplace. Gunfights and shootouts are staples of blockbuster entertainment, and the characters wielding those weapons, from James Bond to John Wick, are glamorized and idolized. Violence — often stylized gun violence — has long been a lucrative part of the Hollywood ecosystem. At the same time, Hollywood is perceived as a bastion of liberal politics and a leading voice in the push for gun control. After mass shootings, many actors and executives make impassioned pleas for stricter regulations on firearms. They use their influential platform to turn public opinion against American gun culture.

It’s a jarring contradiction, one that the industry has long ignored — but one that I believe it can no longer avoid confronting. The tragic shooting on the set of “Rust” in 2021, which claimed the life of a cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, has cast a harsh spotlight on the consequences of a cavalier attitude toward guns. The details of the episode paint a picture of an environment where basic gun safety protocols were neglected. Live rounds were mixed with blanks. Firearms were handled with shocking nonchalance. The result was a cascading series of errors that culminated in a preventable death.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Female Deacons? Just say "no."

I strongly recommend the below linked blog post by Fr. John Whiteford. 

There he goes again

ROME, Georgia — Former President Donald Trump on Saturday reiterated his claim that writer E. Jean Carroll had levied “false accusations” against him, even as similar remarks have resulted in large court judgments against him.

Speaking at a Georgia campaign rally that represented Trump’s pivot toward the general election as he seeks to prevent a second loss to Democratic President Joe Biden, Trump reiterated a number of grievances, Carroll’s civil court victories among them.

“I just posted a $91 million bond, $91 million on a fake story, totally made-up story,” he said, referencing the bond he posted this week as he appeals a defamation verdict against him.

“Ninety-one million based on false accusations made about me by a woman that I knew nothing about, didn’t know, never heard of, I know nothing about her,” he continued.

Read the rest here.

To borrow the language of the younger generation, the man appears to be SOS (stuck on stupid). How many checks does he plan on writing to Ms. Caroll?

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

The last time this happened

Ok, here we go. It is now all but certain that 2024 will see the first rematch between the same two presidential candidates since... 1956. How long ago was that? Well, in 1956 cars had tail fins, young girls were running around in poodle skirts, a hamburger cost 15 cents, and it was the last time the New York Times endorsed a Republican for president.  

(The last rematch before that was back in 1892.)

Saturday, March 02, 2024

NY Times /Siena poll gives Trump 5pt lead

President Biden is struggling to overcome doubts about his leadership inside his own party and broad dissatisfaction over the nation’s direction, leaving him trailing behind Donald J. Trump just as their general-election contest is about to begin, a new poll by The New York Times and Siena College has found.

With eight months left until the November election, Mr. Biden’s 43 percent support lags behind Mr. Trump’s 48 percent in the national survey of registered voters.

Only one in four voters think the country is moving in the right direction. More than twice as many voters believe Mr. Biden’s policies have personally hurt them as believe his policies have helped them. A majority of voters think the economy is in poor condition. And the share of voters who strongly disapprove of Mr. Biden’s handling of his job has reached 47 percent, higher than in Times/Siena polls at any point in his presidency.

Read the rest here.

Friday, March 01, 2024

The U.S. national debt is rising by $1 trillion about every 100 days

The debt load of the U.S. is growing at a quicker clip in recent months, increasing about $1 trillion nearly every 100 days.

The nation’s debt permanently crossed over to $34 trillion on Jan. 4, after briefly crossing the mark on Dec. 29, according to data from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. It reached $33 trillion on Sept. 15, 2023, and $32 trillion on June 15, 2023, hitting this accelerated pace. Before that, the $1 trillion move higher from $31 trillion took about eight months.

U.S. debt, which is the amount of money the federal government borrows to cover operating expenses, now stands at nearly $34.4 billion, as of Wednesday. Bank of America investment strategist Michael Hartnett believes the 100-day pattern will remain intact with the move from $34 trillion to $35 trillion.

Read the rest here.

The death of the Eisenhower-Reagan GOP

...Ronald Reagan gets most of the credit, but it was Ike, not Reagan, who transformed the G.O.P. from an anxious, inward-looking party into a confident, outward-facing one. He and his internationalist successors believed that the only way to prevent more world wars was to build a multilateral democratic world order. They had the confidence to believe America could lead such an order. The key to success in any political conflict, the political theorist James Burnham argued in 1941, is spirit and willpower: “All history makes clear that an indispensable quality of any man or class that wishes to lead, to hold power and privilege in society, is boundless self-confidence.”

Ike’s confidence launched 60 years of Republican internationalism, gradually creating a party that helped defeat Communism and ushered in more global prosperity. Reagan amplified that sense of confidence and possibility. “Emerson was right,” Reagan told the 1992 Republican convention. “We are the country of tomorrow.” Reagan was confident enough to believe that America could welcome immigrants, benefit from their abilities and still remain distinctly America: “Our nation is a nation of immigrants. More than any other country, our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.”

In his superb history of conservatism, “The Right,” Matthew Continetti describes dueling essays in 1989 between the conservative commentators Charles Krauthammer and Pat Buchanan that ran in the pages of The National Interest. Krauthammer argued that America should steer the world away from an unstable multipolar order and toward a more stable “unipolar world whose center is a confederated West.” Buchanan, one of the few remaining spokesmen for the older, isolationist G.O.P., titled his essay “America First — and Second and Third.”

At that time, the party embraced Krauthammer’s vision and rejected Buchanan’s. Within a decade Pat Buchanan had left the Republican Party, thoroughly marginalized. In 1999 the editors of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, where I worked, celebrated Buchanan’s departure from the party. In that same issue I wrote a humor piece trying to imagine the most hilariously unlikely version of the G.O.P. future. That piece was headlined “Donald Trump Inaugurated.”

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

House Freedom Caucus on Mitch McConnell

My thoughts...

Idaho spent an hour trying to kill someone and gave up. For now.

This is barbarous.

Michigan Fires a Warning Shot Across Biden's Bow

LANSING, Michigan (AP) — “Uncommitted” got enough votes to win two delegates in Michigan’s Democratic primary on Tuesday, as an effort organized to protest President Joe Biden’s support for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza made its voice heard in the key swing state.

While Biden won the state with more than 618,000 votes, more than 100,000 Michigan Democratic primary voters cast ballots for “uncommitted” in the race, enough to pick up the pair of delegates — one from the 6th District, centered around Ann Arbor, and the other from the 12th District, which includes Detroit suburbs with large blocs of Arab Americans.

The vote totals raise concerns for Democrats in a state Biden won by only 154,000 votes in 2020. Biden was beaten by the “uncommitted” vote in both Dearborn and Hamtramck, where Arab Americans make up close to half the population.

Read the rest here

Trump Offers to Post $100 Million Bond While Appealing Civil Judgement

The law usually requires appellants to deposit the entirety of a civil judgement either in cash or a bond while working through any appeals. This is likely to add to speculation that Mr. Trump may be having difficulty raising the near half-billion dollars imposed in his recent civil fraud judgement.


By a youthful AMERICAN, a wife of the modern lady stamp, whose intellectual qualifications will soar no higher than to criticise [sic] the clergyman's eyebrows instead of his sermons, and give a dissertation on the dresses and bonnets of all the ladies, and the mustaches of each gentleman on the same side of the church, as anything approaching commonsense will not be appreciated. She will do well to be as idiotic as the present fashion can make her. Reply to Henry W. T. D. c/o of the Tribune

From the classified page of the New York Tribune February 28, 1855 (pg. 1 column 6)

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The 2024 presidential rankings

It's basically a beauty contest run by leftist academics. But FWIW, here it is. IMO they got the top three and the bottom two right. Everything in between I disagree with, in some cases pretty strongly. That said, I don't rank presidents in order. That's a bit too subjective for my taste. I grade them. Here is my list.


  • A+ GOAT
  • A Great
  • A- Near Great
  • B+ Very Good
  • B Good
  • B- Good(ish)
  • C+ Above Average
  • C Average
  • C- Below Average
  • D+ Poor
  • D Bad
  • D- Very Bad
  • F Catastrophically Bad
  • U Unrated 
Presidents in chronological order

  1. George Washington: A 
  2. John Adams: C 
  3. Thomas Jefferson: B 
  4. James Madison: C+ 
  5. James Monroe: B- 
  6. John Q. Adams C- 
  7. Andrew Jackson D+ 
  8. Martin Van Buren C- 
  9. William H. Harrison: U (only in office for 1 month)
  10. John Tyler: C- 
  11. James K. Polk: B+
  12. Zachary Taylor: C 
  13. Millard Fillmore: D+
  14. Franklin Pierce: D
  15. James Buchannan: F
  16. Abraham Lincoln: A+
  17. Andrew Johnson: D-
  18. Ulysses S. Grant: B-
  19. Rutheford B. Hayes: C
  20. James Garfield: U (only in office 6 months and incapacitated for half that)
  21. Chester Arthur: C+
  22. Grover Cleveland: B-
  23. Benjamin Harrison: C
  24. Grover Cleveland: C+ (2nd term is rated slightly lower than 1st)
  25. William McKinley: B
  26. Theodore Roosevelt: A-
  27. William H. Taft: C+
  28. Woodrow Wilson: D
  29. Warren G Harding: C-
  30. Calvin Coolidge: B
  31. Herbert Hoover: D+
  32. Franklin D. Roosevelt: A (mostly on the basis of his war record)
  33. Harry Truman: B
  34. Dwight D. Eisenhower: A-
  35. John F. Kennedy: B-
  36. Lyndon B. Johnson: C+
  37. Richard Nixon: D+ 
  38. Gerald R. Ford: C
  39. Jimmy Carter: C-
  40. Ronald Reagan: A-
  41. George H. W. Bush: B
  42. William J. Clinton: C+ (the last fiscally sane president)
  43. George W. Bush: C-
  44. Barrack Obama: B-
  45. Donald J. Trump: F
  46. Joeseph R. Biden: U (incumbent but not looking too good for future rankings)
* Grades are not based exclusively on how well they conform to my own political beliefs, but also include how effective they were as a political leader, what they got done in terms of their objectives, their impact on the country while in office and the long-term consequences of their presidency whether for good or ill. To get a solid A from me, the president had to have either successfully dealt with some grave crisis that may have posed an existential threat to the country or, in the case of Washington, successfully set up a new country largely from scratch and given almost all future presidents guideposts in how to conduct themselves. To get an F from me, the president's record has to have gone well beyond mere corruption, incompetence, and/or the pursuit of bad policy. Their conduct in office must have been so egregious that they materially threatened the survival of the Republic. Happily, only two earned that grade. 

Life in the land of long ago

Haircut, a straight razor shave and a shoeshine (1942). With wartime inflation, I am betting that guy was not getting out of there for less than 50 cents. (See link for full sized image)

From here

Monday, February 26, 2024

Constitutional Law: Originalism vs Traditionalism

Judges who are committed to originalism, which seeks to interpret the Constitution based on what it meant when it was adopted, often say they are guided by “text, history and tradition.” The phrase rolls nicely off the tongue.

But one of those things is not like the others, a conservative federal appeals court judge said this month in a lively talk at Harvard Law School that critiqued recent trends at the Supreme Court.

“Traditionalism gives off an originalist ‘vibe’ without having any legitimate claim to the originalist mantle,” said the judge, Kevin C. Newsom, who was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in 2017 by President Donald J. Trump. “It seems old and dusty — and thus objective and reliable. And maybe it is indeed all those things. But let’s be clear: It’s not originalism.”

The Supreme Court’s blockbuster 2022 decisions eliminating the right to abortion and expanding gun rights both drew on traditions that emerged after the constitutional provisions in question were ratified. The rulings did not turn on their discussion of tradition, but nor were they minor asides.

Scores of decisions, including ones from every avowed originalist justice, have relied on post-ratification traditions, as Sherif Girgis, a law professor at Notre Dame, demonstrated in a comprehensive exploration of the topic published last year in The New York University Law Review.

“Though increasingly dominant in this originalist court’s opinions,” he wrote, “the method has no obvious justification in originalist terms.”

Read the rest here.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

William Lefroy: The English Church Crisis

This article opens with a serious assumption. It accepts as proved the existence of a crisis in the Church of England. The reality of this is asserted by one who up to a short time since was popularly regarded as the leader of the opposition in Parliament. It is admitted by the First Lord of the Treasury, by the Prime Minister of England and by His Grace the Lord Primate. Nor is it an exaggeration to say the opinion has been expressed by all sorts and conditions of men. It is now indisputable that England is moved by what is termed, alike by friend and foe, "the crisis in the Church."

Read the rest here

Friday, February 23, 2024

Trouble at CBS News

“Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation.” Those words, from CBS icon Edward R. Murrow, came to mind this week after I spoke with journalists at the network.

There is trouble brewing at Black Rock, the headquarters of CBS, after the firing of Catherine Herridge, an acclaimed investigative reporter. Many of us were shocked after Herridge was included in layoffs this month, but those concerns have increased after CBS officials took the unusual step of seizing her files, computers and records, including information on privileged sources.

The position of CBS has alarmed many, including the union, as an attack on free press principles by one of the nation’s most esteemed press organizations.

I have spoken confidentially with current and former CBS employees who have stated that they could not recall the company ever taking such a step before. One former CBS journalist said that many employees “are confused why [Herridge] was laid off, as one of the correspondents who broke news regularly and did a lot of original reporting.”

That has led to concerns about the source of the pressure. He added that he had never seen a seizure of records from a departing journalist, and that the move had sent a “chilling signal” in the ranks of CBS.

A former CBS manager, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that he had “never heard of anything like this.” He attested to the fact that, in past departures, journalists took all of their files and office contents. Indeed, the company would box up everything from cups to post-its for departing reporters. He said the holding of the material was “outrageous” and clearly endangered confidential sources.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

IRS: Wealthy Americans are evading $150 billion in taxes annually

The nation’s millionaires and billionaires are evading more than $150 billion a year in taxes, adding to growing government deficits and creating a “lack of fairness” in the tax system, according to the head of the Internal Revenue Service.

The IRS, with billion of dollars in new funding from Congress, has launched a sweeping crackdown on wealthy taxpayers, partnerships and large companies. In an exclusive interview with CNBC, IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said the agency has launched several programs targeting taxpayers with the most complex returns to root out tax evasion and make sure every taxpayer contributes their fair share.

“When I look at what we call our tax gap, which is the amount of money owed versus what is paid for, millionaires and billionaires that either don’t file or [are] under reporting their income are $150 billion of our tax gap,” Werfel said. “There is plenty of work to be done.”

Werfel said that a lack of funding at the IRS for years starved the agency of staff, technology and resources needed to fund audits — especially of the most complicated and sophisticated returns, which require more resources. Audits of taxpayers making more than $1 million a year fell by more than 80% over the last decade, while the number of taxpayers with income of $1 million jumped 50%, according to IRS statistics.

Read the rest here.

Tax evasion has become something of a national pastime in the US. With the IRS having been starved of funding for decades, the chances of getting caught are extremely low. 

This is bonkers

Monday, February 19, 2024

Europe may be waking up

As the leaders of the West gathered in Munich over the past three days, President Vladimir V. Putin had a message for them: Nothing they’ve done so far — sanctions, condemnation, attempted containment — would alter his intentions to disrupt the current world order.

Russia made its first major gain in Ukraine in nearly a year, taking the ruined city of Avdiivka, at huge human cost to both sides, the bodies littered along the roads a warning, perhaps, of a new course in the two-year-old war. Aleksei A. Navalny’s suspicious death in a remote Arctic prison made ever clearer that Mr. Putin will tolerate no dissent as elections approach.

And the American discovery, disclosed in recent days, that Mr. Putin may be planning to place a nuclear weapon in space — a bomb designed to wipe out the connective tissue of global communications if Mr. Putin is pushed too far — was a potent reminder of his capacity to strike back at his adversaries with the asymmetric weapons that remain a key source of his power.

In Munich, the mood was both anxious and unmoored, as leaders faced confrontations they had not anticipated. Warnings about Mr. Putin’s possible next moves were mixed with Europe’s growing worries that it could soon be abandoned by the United States, the one power that has been at the core of its defense strategy for 75 years.

Barely an hour went by at the Munich Security Conference in which the conversation did not turn to the question of whether Congress would fail to find a way to fund new arms for Ukraine, and if so, how long the Ukrainians could hold out. And while Donald Trump’s name was rarely mentioned, the prospect of whether he would make good on his threats to pull out of NATO and let Russia “do whatever the hell they want” with allies he judged insufficient hung over much of the dialogue.

Yet European leaders seemed to also sense how slowly they had reacted to the new realities. European plans to rebuild their own forces for a new era of confrontation were moving in the right direction, leader after leader insisted, but then they added it would take five years or more — time they may not have if Russia overwhelms Ukraine and Mr. Trump undermines the alliance.

Read the rest here.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Alexei Navalny

The only thing that surprised me is that they let him live this long. Putin is the head of an organized crime syndicate masquerading as a government. No wonder Trump likes him so much.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Greece legalizes SSM

Details here

So, how many of those who voted for this have been excommunicated? There was a day when the immediate answer would have been "all of them." This is as much an indictment of the Church as it is of modern society. The usual suspects are crowing with a particular glee because Greece is the first ostensibly Orthodox country to cave on this. And they are not wrong. Bluntly, this was a stunning defeat for the Church, made all the worse by the fact that they largely acquiesced to it.

Russia feared to be eyeing Moldova

The Kremlin is using “very similar” rhetoric towards Moldova as it did before its invasion of Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War reported.

The think tanks says Moscow’s methods are “likely” designed “to set conditions to justify possible future Russian escalation against Moldova”.

Addressing the Transnistria conflict, yesterday, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, made a series of allegations that mirror those directed at Ukraine ahead of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its full-scale invasion.

His allegations included falsely claiming that the US and EU control the Moldovan government. He also claimed that there are about 200,000 Russian citizens in Transnistria, and that Russia is “concerned about their fate” and “will not allow them to become victims of another Western adventure.” 

The Kremlin has used the idea of protecting its “compatriots abroad” to justify Russian occupation of Transnistria since 1992 as well as its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the ISW reported. 

“The timing of a possible Russian hybrid operation in Moldova is unclear, but the Kremlin is setting informational conditions to make it possible soon,” it said.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Biden attacked Hur for asking him when his son died. But did it happen?

President Joe Biden lashed out at Robert Hur last week over one particular line in the special counsel's report on his handling of classified documents: that Biden "did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died."

“How in the hell dare he raise that?” Biden told reporters in an impromptu White House press conference. “Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself, it wasn’t any of their damn business.”

But Hur never asked that question, according to two people familiar with Hur’s five-hour interview with the president over two days last October. It was the president, not Hur or his team, who first introduced Beau Biden’s death, they said.

Biden raised his son’s death after being asked about his workflow at a Virginia rental home from 2016 to 2018, the sources said, when a ghost writer was helping him write a memoir about losing Beau to brain cancer in 2015. Investigators had a 2017 recording showing that Biden had told the ghost writer he had found “classified stuff” in that home, the report says.

Biden began trying to recall that period by discussing what else was happening in his life, and it was at that point in the interview that he appeared confused about when Beau had died, the sources said. Biden got the date—May 30—correct, but not the year.

Hur's 345-page report absolved Biden of criminal wrongdoing while pointing to evidence that he took home and kept highly classified material. Even though Biden was found to have disclosed classified information to the ghost writer on three occasions, prosecutors concluded that they could not prove that the president knew it was classified information at the time.

Read the rest here.

This is going to be quite simply the most awful election year of my life, and one of the worst in the history of the country. 

Brett Stephens: The Isolationist G.O.P., Again

When historians look back on the early days of 2024, they probably won’t recall what, precisely, an elderly Democratic president couldn’t quite remember about the names or countries of other world leaders. They will note what 26 Senate Republicans chose to forget about world leadership.

I’m referring to Tuesday morning’s Senate vote on a $95 billion supplemental foreign-aid package, including $60 billion in desperately needed military assistance for Ukraine, along with $14 billion for Israel and $10 billion for civilians in conflict zones, including Gaza. The bill must still pass the House, where it faces the opposition of Speaker Mike Johnson and can only hope to survive via parliamentary maneuvering and the votes of Democrats plus some remaining Republican security hawks.

On paper, the 70-to-29 vote looks like a bipartisan embrace of embattled democratic allies. But it marks the moment when Republicans reverted to the isolationism of the original America First Committee of pre-World War II infamy. A majority of the G.O.P. Senate conference, including onetime Ukraine hawks like Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton, voted against the aid, mostly, they said, because it wasn’t paired with border-security measures.

That’s the same bill they voted against last week — a bill patiently negotiated over months by one of the most conservative Republicans in the Senate, Oklahoma’s James Lankford. The cynicism would be breathtaking if it weren’t so predictable coming from the Trumpified right.

Let’s walk through some additional points of dissent among Republicans who opposed the bill.

Read the rest here.

With an eye on Russia, Swedes are embracing the military

STOCKHOLM — Sweden is transforming its Home Guard military reserve from a Dad's Army into a fighting force that has become so attractive to young Swedes that it's having to turn away applicants.

The reason? Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and growing worry — reinforced by the country's leaders — that Sweden must prepare for war.

That's a huge change from recent years, when the Home Guard, a force of 23,000 soldiers who support the full-time military, fell out of favor after the Cold War ended. Thereafter the Home Guard became the domain of largely middle-aged citizens, many of whom didn’t take their duties terribly seriously.

Read the rest here.

Donald Trump's latest acquisition

The Republican National Committee is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trump Organization.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Terminally ill children in the Netherlands can now be euthanized against their will

On February 1, a Dutch law allowing the euthanasia of terminally ill children went into effect. The law legalizes the killing of children ages one through 12 who are deemed to be “suffering hopelessly and unbearably.”

Previously, the country allowed euthanasia of children older than 12, along with infants under age one who could be killed if their parents and doctors agreed and they faced an illness labeled as terminal or faced serious suffering. In 2023, lawmakers passed a controversial expansion of the eligibility guidelines to include children of all ages.

According to reports, the new guidelines state that “the child’s opinion should be sought as far as possible in a way appropriate to the child’s understanding and age,” though parents can decide to have their child euthanized in conjunction with a doctor even if the child is unwilling or unable to consent.

Read the rest here.
HT: Dr. Tighe

"Lightbulb on a dimmer..." the NY Times is questioning Biden's age

A series of New York Times editorials over the weekend offered sometimes scathing assessments of President Biden’s ability to hold office due to his age and mental acuity in the days after a special counsel’s report called into question the president’s well-being during an investigation into his handling of classified documents.

Read the rest here.

As a student of history, I'm hard pressed to think of a worse election year in terms of choices. On the one hand, a brain addled octogenarian lefty, and on the other a conman and congenital liar, with the IQ of a houseplant and a moral grounding that seems to meld the ethics of Mussolini and a three-penny upright. 

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

A Wearying Pontificate Nears Its End

We are approaching eleven years since Jorge Bergoglio was elected Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. While most of us knew almost nothing about the man when he walked onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, now most Catholics wish they knew less than they do. From pedophile-enabling Cardinal Danneels joining Francis on that balcony to the pope’s recent endorsement of same-sex couple blessings, controversy has surrounded this pontificate from beginning to end; a week doesn’t seem to go by without the pope stirring the pot with some papal appointment, document, or off-hand comment.

I think I speak for a lot of Catholics when I say that the whole circus surrounding Francis has become wearisome. Probably nothing Francis could do or say at this point would surprise us, although he still desperately makes every effort to do so. We repeat a tiresome cycle:

Step 1: The pope says or does something controversial.
Step 2: Conservative and Traditional Catholics criticize his actions (traditionalists directly, conservatives more obliquely).
Step 3: Progressive Catholics rejoice and take the pope to mean exactly what he says.
Step 4: Non-progressive popesplainers storm social media to explain that the pope doesn’t actually mean exactly what he says.
Step 5: Return to Step 1.

Read the rest here.

Broadly speaking I agree with the substance of this rather brutal indictment. But I respectfully disagree on one important point. Far from being relegated to a footnote in the history of the papacy, I think this pontificate will be remembered as among the worst and most destructive. The damage and scandal caused by Francis will take quite some time to repair, if it is even fixable. There are documents that are going to need to be formally withdrawn and repudiated. And all of this will depend on who the next pope is. Given how the College of Cardinals has been stacked, I am less than sanguine. 

Monday, February 05, 2024

King Charles has cancer

Respice post te. Hominem te esse memento. Memento mori.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Birth rates continue to decline

The baby bust that we all know about has gotten worse in a way that isn’t yet widely understood.

Birthrates, which have been falling for decades, declined even more during the Covid pandemic. And they have continued to fall since, according to a report to clients by James Pomeroy, a global economist for HSBC, the London-based bank. It’s titled, “The Baby Bust Intensifies: How Bad Could It Get?” (Sorry, no link.)

Pomeroy didn’t wait for the official data collectors such as the United Nations to assemble data trickling in from national statistical agencies. He went out and collected the numbers from them himself. Some are provisional or don’t cover all the way through the end of 2023, and “some are produced from very interesting back corners of government statistics offices,” Pomeroy wrote to me in an email.

While the final numbers may come in marginally different, they’re unlikely to change the message of this chart below, which itself is slightly updated from the one that appeared in the bank’s report. In most of the countries for which Pomeroy managed to get data, the total number of births continued to fall steeply in 2023. The United States did better than most, with a decline of 1.9 percent. The Czech Republic, Ireland and Poland all experienced declines of 10 percent or more.

Read the rest here.

FBI issues sober warning on Chinese cyberwarfare capabilities

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday warned that Chinese hackers are preparing to “wreak havoc and cause real-world harm” to the US.

“China’s hackers are positioning on American infrastructure in preparation to wreak havoc and cause real-world harm to American citizens and communities, if or when China decides the time has come to strike,” Wray told the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party.

Though cyber officials have long sounded the alarm about China’s offensive cyber capabilities, Wray’s dramatic public warning underlines the huge level of concern at the top of the US government about the threat Chinese hackers pose to critical infrastructure nationwide. The head of the National Security Agency and other senior US officials are also testifying on Chinese cyber activity in front of the panel Wednesday.

PRC hackers, Wray said, are targeting things like water treatment plants, electrical infrastructure and oil and natural gas pipelines, Wray said. “our water treatment plants, our electrical grid, our oil and natural gas pipelines, our transportation systems.

The Chinese hackers are working “to find and prepare to destroy or degrade the civilian critical infrastructure that keeps us safe and prosperous,” Wray said. “And let’s be clear: Cyber threats to our critical infrastructure represent real world threats to our physical safety.”

The Chinese government has previously denied allegations of hacking efforts.

Read the rest here.

Some not so great news

The Patriarch of Alexandria is getting squishy.

Monday, January 29, 2024

IRS contractor who leaked Trump's taxes gets 5 years

WASHINGTON — The former Internal Revenue Service contractor who leaked the tax records of former President Donald Trump to The New York Times as well as the tax records of billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to ProPublica was sentenced Monday to five years in prison.

Charles Littlejohn pleaded guilty in October, and prosecutors sought the statutory maximum of five years in federal prison, saying that he "abused his position by unlawfully disclosing thousands of Americans’ federal tax returns and other private financial information to multiple news organizations." Prosecutors said that Littlejohn "weaponized his access to unmasked taxpayer data to further his own personal, political agenda, believing that he was above the law."

Read the rest here.


Jamie Dimon sounds the alarm over US debt

Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, recently painted a rather gloomy picture for the U.S. economy, likening the nation’s escalating debt to a high-speed drive toward a cliff. During a panel at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Dimon didn’t mince words about the dire consequences if the federal government fails to address this burgeoning issue.

Reflecting on the economy’s state back in 1982, with soaring inflation and unemployment rates juxtaposed against a significantly lower debt-to-GDP ratio, Dimon pointed out the stark difference with today’s scenario. Currently, the U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio stands over 100% and is projected to balloon to 130% by 2035. Dimon vividly described this as a ‘hockey stick’ moment on the horizon, a point of no return where global markets, heavily invested in U.S. debt, might revolt.

Joining Dimon in this grim forecast was former House Speaker Paul Ryan, who dubbed the snowballing debt “the most predictable crisis we’ve ever had.” The Congressional Budget Office’s latest findings only add to this bleak outlook, predicting the national debt to nearly double over the next three decades. By 2053, the debt could reach a staggering 181% of the GDP, a level unprecedented in U.S. history.

Dimon, known for his straight talk, suggested a solution that might raise a few eyebrows: taxing the rich more. At the same discussion, he emphasized the need for increased financial support for low-income populations. Advocating for an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit, Dimon proposed funding these initiatives by increasing taxes on wealthier Americans.

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