Daily Archives: February 27, 2009

Peter Duffy: Dancing and Shaking With an Exultant Spirit

Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the 18th-century founder of modern Hasidism, was once asked why his followers worshipped in an ecstatic style full of singing and dancing. He responded by telling a parable about a street-corner fiddler who played with such skill that everyone who heard him began to jig. A deaf man, unable to hear the beautiful sounds, walked by and wondered if the world had gone mad. “Why are they jumping up and down, waving their arms and turning in circles in the middle of the street?” he asked.

“My disciples are moved by the melody that issues forth from each and every thing that God, blessed be He, has created,” said the Baal Shem Tov, as the rabbi was known. “If so, how can they keep from dancing?”

Just such an exultant spirit infuses the performances of Lipa Schmeltzer, a wildly popular Hasidic performer who will be headlining a concert at the WaMu Theater of Madison Square Garden in New York on Sunday. Mr. Schmeltzer, who is 30, grew up in New Square, a village in Rockland County, N.Y., founded in the 1950s by the strict Skverer Hasidic movement. He was born into a culture that required its young to devote long hours to intensive study. Young Lipa wasn’t cut out for it. Even the deaf man could have sensed that.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Judaism, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

From the This is Not a Good Idea Dept.: Ryanair may charge £1 for lavatory use

In an interview on BBC television this morning, [Ryanair CEO] Mr [Michael] O’Leary said that the low-cost airline was looking at the possibility of installing a coin slot on the lavatory door so that “people might actually have to spend a pound to spend a penny.”

Ironically, in a light-hearted survey conducted by Telegraph Travel last November, we asked readers which service they thought no-frills airlines might start charging for in the future.

56 per cent of readers said that a charge for “using the loo” would be the most likely, while 31 per cent chose “reclining seats” and 11 per cent opted for “sick bags”.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Economy, Europe, Travel

Taxpayer Beware: Bank Bailout Will Hurt

A single piece of paper may just be one of the most surprising and illuminating documents of the whole banking crisis.

It’s a one-page research note from an economist at Deutsche Bank, and it outlines in the clearest terms the kind of solution many bankers are looking for. The basic message: We should forget trying to get a good deal for taxpayers because even trying will hurt.

“Ultimately, the taxpayer will be on the hook one way or another, either through greatly diminished job prospects and/or significantly higher taxes down the line,” the document says.

In other words, the paper says, if the government tries to save taxpayers money, many people will lose their jobs and the whole economy will suffer.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, The 2009 Obama Administration Bank Bailout Plan, The Banking System/Sector, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--, The U.S. Government, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor: 'Many believe Christianity is out of step with society'

…Speaking at London’s Westminster Cathedral, he went on to warn against a false pessimism within the Church and said it “has a perspective and a wisdom which society cannot afford to exclude or silence.”

He said: “The greatest danger for us at the moment is to let ourselves believe what secular culture wants us to believe about ourselves, namely, that we are becoming less and less influential and in decline.

Read it all and more importantly read the whole lecture.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, England / UK, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

Obama Plans to End Combat Mission in Iraq by August 2010

President Obama heads to one of the nation’s most storied military bases Friday morning to unveil plans to pull most troops out of Iraq by August 2010 and he has support from an unlikely quarter ”” Senator John McCain, the Republican he beat in last year’s election.

Mr. McCain and other Republicans emerged from a meeting with Mr. Obama at the White House on Thursday evening reassured that the president’s withdrawal plan is responsible and reasonable. After securing assurances from Mr. Obama that he would reconsider his plans if violence increases, Mr. McCain and the Republicans expressed cautious support.

The convergence of Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain on Iraq would have seemed highly improbable just a few months ago, when they clashed sharply on the future of the American mission there. Mr. McCain accused Mr. Obama of being naïve and opposed his withdrawal plans. At one point, Mr. McCain said Mr. Obama “would rather lose a war than lose a campaign.”

Aides to the president said Mr. Obama approved his withdrawal plan at a meeting with his national security team Wednesday and would tell an audience of several thousand Marines and their families at Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Friday that he is bringing the current phase of the war to a close in August 2010.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Iraq War

Living Church: Episcopal Priest Calls Social Activism ”˜Duty to Our Goddess’

The Rev. Luis Barrios, an Episcopal priest canonically resident in the Diocese of New York, was sentenced to serve two months in a federal prison after he and five others were found guilty in January of entering the Fort Benning military base in Georgia as part of a protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. He is scheduled to begin serving his sentence on March 9.

Fr. Barrios and others opponents claim that graduates of the institute, formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas, “have been implicated in some of the worst human rights violations in the Western Hemisphere.” They want the government to order the school closed permanently.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC)

U.S. to control up to 36% of Citi

The U.S. government waded deeper into the bailout of one of the nation’s largest banks Friday when it announced a deal that will give it control over as much as 36% of Citigroup’s common stock.

Citigroup shares tumbled 46% in premarket trading.

The deal will convert preferred shares that Treasury already holds in Citigroup for common shares, a shift that is designed to improve the embattled bank’s capital base, which in turn will hopefully allow it to increase its lending.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, The 2009 Obama Administration Bank Bailout Plan, The Banking System/Sector, The National Deficit, The September 2008 Proposed Henry Paulson 700 Billion Bailout Package, The U.S. Government, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

With Downturn, Calls to Florida Help Line Grow

The syncopated rhythm of recession plays on repeat in a downtown Miami office building, on high-tech headsets in a room with only one window, among the voices of those seeking help.

Marie Cothias, 27, has been a state operator here since April 2007, helping Floridians with public assistance. Her calming voice and patience have made her an office favorite and, like many of her colleagues, she said she started hearing from more callers ”” with new fears ”” sometime last year.

“A lot of people were losing their jobs,” Ms. Cothias said. “A lot of people were saying, ”˜We don’t have any food for our children.’ ”

Now this call center and two others like it in Florida are overwhelmed, as are similar centers around the country. Every day, 250 operators in Florida receive up to 150,000 calls, roughly a 40 percent increase over last year.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

10 Reasons Why We Love Making Lists

Everyday parlance is littered with lists: laundry, grocery, honey-do. When Dick Cheney was asked by then-presidential candidate George W. Bush to find him a suitable running mate, Cheney did what all pols would do: He drew up a short list. (And then he wound up as the VP pick.)

“Enough organization, enough lists and we think we can control the uncontrollable,” observed a character on the TV show House. By now you would think there are enough lists. But still we keep jotting things down in an orderly fashion.

Why do we love lists? Let us count the ways…

Read or listen to it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Psychology

Steven Pearlstein: A Budget Process Hijacked by Selfish Interests

In the economy, a series of financial booms and busts, dating back 20 years, has brought on the worst crisis since the Great Depression. Even defenders of free markets have come to acknowledge that markets can be manipulated or overwhelmed by investors, lenders, consumers and borrowers who act on the basis of emotion or incomplete information or act as part of an irrational herd.

And politics, a process that has come to be dominated by competition among narrow special interests has, for most of the past 15 years, produced stalemates on the country’s most pressing domestic issues. Political markets, we now know, can be easily manipulated by money and legislative redistricting and parliamentary rules that thwart the will of the majority. And these markets have trouble resolving issues in which the benefits of doing something are widely shared but the costs are highly concentrated.

The essential insight of Barack Obama has been to see that these problems are inextricably linked. While his budget incorporates bold proposals to rescue the financial system, stabilize the auto industry, jump-start the economy, reform the health-care system and eventually bring down the federal deficit, he knows he’s unlikely to win any of it if he cannot change the way business is done in Washington.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, The National Deficit, The U.S. Government

Washington Post's Dan Balz: Ambitious Blueprint a Big Risk The President Is Willing to Take

President Obama’s first budget — with its eye-popping $1.75 trillion deficit, a health-care fund of more than $600 billion, a $150 billion energy package and proposals to tax wealthy Americans even beyond what he talked about during his campaign — underscores the breadth of his aspiration to reverse three decades of conservative governance and use his presidency to rapidly transform the country.

But in adopting a program of such size, cost and complexity, Obama has far exceeded what other politicians might have done. As a result, he is now gambling with his own future and the success of his presidency.

William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution cited three parallels to Obama’s far-reaching program: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1932 New Deal blueprint, Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 Great Society agenda, and Ronald Reagan’s 1981 call to dramatically limit the size and power of government, which set the framework for public policy debate ever since.

“A consequence of the economic events of the last two years has been to blow up that framework,” Galston said. “It has lost substantial public credibility. President Obama now has his chance to make his case for a fundamentally different approach.”

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama

Sarah Hey: What Can Episcopal Laypeople Do About the Troubling Bishop-Elect of Northern Michigan?

Read it carefully and read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Bishops, TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: Northern Michigan, Theology

Kevin Martin on the Northern Michigan Episcopal Election Process: The End of Reasoned Faith

Even with this information, I hesitated about speak up further. I still believed that any change would need the local people to voice what was happening. Finally, realizing that I was now something of a voice for the voiceless, I shared what I had learned with the [Episcopal Church House of Bishop and Deputies] Listserv. I was quickly accused of “Triangling.” I pointed out that I was merely being an advocate for those who because of pressure might not have a voice. Having had my say, having found no interest, having not heard from the Presiding Bishop in response to my letter, I said the serenity prayer and let it go.

So, a flawed process, run by a small group of people, has resulted in a questionable candidate elected to the Episcopate. This will result in some conservatives focusing on the person and his non-orthodox views which will result in an immediate endorsement by the progressive members of our church who will close rank to defend one of their own. The whole affair will be reduced to a conservative/liberal argument. The result will be one more Unitarian in our House of Bishops This is not what will trouble me the most.What will trouble me is three-fold. First, the dissenters in Northern Michigan have informed me that their only real alternative is to just leave the Church. Second, the Church will be pushed further by its most extreme members in silencing any true moderate voices. Lastly, it is one more sign to me that the Church, made up of a thoughtful middle of caring and gracious centrist folks who honor our rules and procedures as a way of honoring a truly embracive and inclusive community, has sadly become something else. What we have most seen in the Episcopal Church in the past 10 years is the end of reasoned faith.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Bishops, TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: Northern Michigan

A Church Times Editorial: Obama falls into nationalist trap

The fly in the ointment is the “Buy American” clause, which has already drawn protests from other heads of state. It states: “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for a project for the construction, alteration, maintenance, or repair of a public building or public work unless all of the iron, steel, and manufactured goods used in the project are produced in the United States.” It is hard to draw any meaningful distinction between this sentiment and that expressed by various groups of British workers in recent weeks. In his wise overview of the economic crisis prepared for the General Synod, Dr Malcolm Brown warned that “recessions can provoke a growth of nationalist sentiments. . . We can expect the far-right, politically, to exacerbate community tensions and probably make electoral gains on the back of the downturn.” Dr Williams returned to this theme on Tuesday, warning of the “very high risk” that financial stringency will lead to political extremism.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy, Globalization, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

Obama brings back era of big government

Bill Clinton declared more than a decade ago “the era of big government is over.” With his new budget, President Barack Obama has brought it back.

Obama’s $3.55 trillion budget proposal represents a gamble that Americans are ready for the sort of change they embraced by electing him in November, including a tax increase on Americans making more than $250,000 a year.

He proposes expansion of spending on the U.S. healthcare system, on greater energy independence and on education, hoping Americans weary of paying for a raft of expensive bailouts for banks and the car industry will go along.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, The 2009 Obama Administration Bank Bailout Plan, The 2009 Obama Administration Housing Amelioration Plan, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--, The Possibility of a Bailout for the U.S. Auto Industry, The September 2008 Proposed Henry Paulson 700 Billion Bailout Package, The U.S. Government, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner