Daily Archives: March 23, 2009

Clerics joining fight to eradicate polio in Nigeria

In 2003, imams in northern Nigeria fomented a boycott of polio vaccinations, claiming they were a Western plot to make Muslims infertile or infect them with AIDS. The result: The number of newly crippled children more than doubled the following year, and there were fears that the disease would spread into a dozen countries nearby.

Now, after another tripling of cases in 2008, a big new anti-polio push is under way in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. And this time, some Muslim clerics have made themselves part of the solution, joining community leaders, health workers and the victims themselves in waging the war.

In the dusty streets of Kano, northern Nigeria’s main city, town criers with bullhorns cut through the traffic and crowds, urging parents to take their children to one of hundreds of vaccination centers. Radio and newspapers are full of get-vaccinated ads.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Africa, Health & Medicine, Islam, Nigeria, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

Mary Zeiss Stange: Do women have a prayer?

It is a truth so familiar as to have become cliché: Women are the driving force behind organized religion. They fill the pews, they bring their children into the fold. The Pew data help make sense of these facts. But the same data highlight the cruel irony that in far too many religious contexts in this country, women remain second-class citizens.

Another of the findings of Pew’s 2008 Religious Landscape Survey was that, among people who pray “more than seldom,” a significant proportion across most religious groups say their prayers are regularly answered, at least once a week or once a month. This religious demographic was not broken down by gender.

But it is fair to assume that, given women’s greater likelihood to pray at all, a sizable number of these supplicants are women. It is equally fair to assume that, if religious equality is what they are praying for, many of them are going to have to wait a while longer.

Read it all.

Posted in Uncategorized

Congress ”˜Hypocrisy’ on Company Trips Irks U.S. Hotel Industry

The executives said the political attacks are having a broad effect on their business — even though the restrictions are intended to apply only to recipients of federal bailout money — and cancellations have been increasing as the rhetoric heats up.

“We’ve seen companies cancel meetings last minute, leaving 100 percent on the table just to avoid criticism and ridicule,” said Frits van Paasschen, president and chief executive of White Plains, New York-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., the third-largest U.S. lodging company, who attended the White House meeting.

Read it all

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, House of Representatives, Politics in General, Senate

Newsday: LI Episcopalians elect new bishop

[The Rev. Lawrence] Provenzano, 54, a Brooklyn native, will assume the post of bishop coadjutor in September, making him the designated successor to the current bishop, Orris G. Walker Jr. Walker called for the election in 2007 and now must retire within three years of Provenzano’s assumption of the coadjutor post.

“I was overwhelmed with the overwhelming support I received,” Provenzano said last night.

Noting the diocese is among the more diverse in the world, Provenzano said parishioners should be able to “celebrate their diversity in ways that are meaningful. . . . We don’t all need to act the same and look the same.”

Read it all.

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

RNS: Will Obama tax plan hurt religious groups?

President Obama’s proposed 2010 federal budget contains a 7% cut in charitable tax deductions for the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers. Some religious groups are asking how that will affect their bottom line.

The answer: it depends who you ask.

Here’s what it means in real terms for the 5% of Americans whose household income exceeds $250,000 a year. Those families can currently save $350 in taxes for every $1,000 donated to charity; under Obama’s plan, that amount would drop to $280 per $1,000 donation.

“By doing this, you raise the cost of giving” said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at The Tax Policy Center, a liberal Washington think tank.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Charities/Non-Profit Organizations, Economy, Law & Legal Issues, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, Religion & Culture, Taxes

Brad Delong: The Geithner Plan FAQ

Q: What is the Geithner Plan?

A: The Geithner Plan is a trillion-dollar operation by which the U.S. acts as the world’s largest hedge fund investor, committing its money to funds to buy up risky and distressed but probably fundamentally undervalued assets and, as patient capital, holding them either until maturity or until markets recover so that risk discounts are normal and it can sell them off–in either case at an immense profit.

Q: What if markets never recover, the assets are not fundamentally undervalued, and even when held to maturity the government doesn’t make back its money?

A: Then we have worse things to worry about than government losses on TARP-program money–for we are then in a world in which the only things that have value are bottled water, sewing needles, and ammunition.

Q: Where does the trillion dollars come from?

A: $150 billion comes from the TARP in the form of equity, $820 billion from the FDIC in the form of debt, and $30 billion from the hedge fund and pension fund managers who will be hired to make the investments and run the program’s operations.

Q: Why is the government making hedge and pension fund managers kick in $30 billion?

A: So that they have skin in the game, and so do not take excessive risks with the taxpayers’ money because their own money is on the line as well.

Read it all–and the discussion.

Update:: Paul Krugman doesn’t like the plan.

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 National Deficit, The U.S. Government, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

Battling over Episcopal Church Property (III): Timothy Safford

While the canons are clear that the Episcopal Church keeps the properties (who could imagine canons that would not support the institution that created them?), I think we should listen to the clear message of Scripture and pass over the older brother’s outrage and prepare for the reconciliation that trumps all worldly concern.

Could the Episcopal Church allow a renegade diocese to gather all that it has and travel to a distant country? It would be risky and scary, like the gospel itself. In the parable, the younger son squanders all of the property.

We rightly are concerned about the saints entrusted to our burial grounds and the memorial silver in the safes. We have a responsibility to the legacies entrusted and the promises made.

Still, I remain surprised that the Episcopal Church’s dedication to the reconciliation model so abundant in the Gospel of Luke grows scarce when the fight is over property. In the blink of an eye, brothers and sisters morph into litigants, and the battle lands in the secular courts.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, Episcopal Church (TEC), Law & Legal Issues, TEC Conflicts, TEC Departing Parishes

Battling over Episcopal Church Property (II): Joan Gundersen

From its beginnings, the Episcopal Church has relied on its geographic administrative units (dioceses) to preserve those claims. The Convention of the Diocese of Virginia, for example, asserted as early as 1790 that it was the “sole owner” of church property. For two centuries, dioceses have placed restraints on parishes encumbering property and claimed property when parishes closed.

For 29 years, the Dennis Canon has been a part of church discipline. All priests who are younger than 56 have made ordination promises to abide by the “discipline” of the church under church canons including that canon.

If some clergy and laity are uncomfortable with the range of interpretation by Episcopalians of the statements of belief found in our Book of Common Prayer, they are free to find a more compatible home but not to ignore other obligations they undertook as parish leaders. For me, leaving behind the property when one leaves the Episcopal Church is a moral obligation as well as a legal requirement.

Claims that “Christians should not sue Christians” or that the generous course is to negotiate a property settlement require that we ignore previous promises and obligations. This makes a mockery of the trust my grandparents and parents (and others) had that their work building an Episcopal church in a particular location would be honored by those who followed them. Many wrote clauses into their bylaws or articles of incorporation binding the corporation “forever” to the Episcopal Church.

Read the whole piece.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, Episcopal Church (TEC), Law & Legal Issues, TEC Conflicts, TEC Departing Parishes

Battling over Episcopal Church Property (I): George Clifford

Quite simply, Christianity is about grace and love. For we who seek to follow Jesus, grace should take precedence over law.

The Episcopal Church operates through democratic processes. When a majority of a parish (or a diocese) votes to leave, those who leave should recognize that the property belongs to the denomination and, if they wish to have the property, offer to purchase it at fair market value. If those who wish to leave insist on keeping the property, however, grace demands that we accept that selfish decision rather than holding to the letter of the law. Although the Episcopal Church likely may prevail in the courts, it will have further alienated the disaffected, turned its focus away from the gospel imperative and wasted precious resources on an issue ultimately of little importance for God’s business.

This choice may seem unfair to the minority who wish to remain Episcopalian, but it is gracious towards the larger number who left as well as to those whom God’s love will touch because the church focuses, and invests its resources, in mission rather than legal actions. The Diocese of Virginia, for example, may well spend several million dollars in lawsuits to retain the property of seven parishes that voted to leave.

Although substantial property is at stake, for the several million dollars and countless hours of time the suits will require from bishops, priests and laity, the Diocese of Virginia could fund several new missions to serve those who remain and others. Successful lawsuits that retain large buildings for small remnants will burden those congregations with excessive overhead and probably instill a maintenance rather than missionary orientation.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, Episcopal Church (TEC), Law & Legal Issues, TEC Conflicts, TEC Departing Parishes

Timothy Geithner: My Plan for Bad Bank Assets

The Public-Private Investment Program will purchase real-estate related loans from banks and securities from the broader markets. Banks will have the ability to sell pools of loans to dedicated funds, and investors will compete to have the ability to participate in those funds and take advantage of the financing provided by the government.

The funds established under this program will have three essential design features. First, they will use government resources in the form of capital from the Treasury, and financing from the FDIC and Federal Reserve, to mobilize capital from private investors. Second, the Public-Private Investment Program will ensure that private-sector participants share the risks alongside the taxpayer, and that the taxpayer shares in the profits from these investments. These funds will be open to investors of all types, such as pension funds, so that a broad range of Americans can participate.

Third, private-sector purchasers will establish the value of the loans and securities purchased under the program, which will protect the government from overpaying for these assets.

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 Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--, The U.S. Government, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

Politico on Obama's 60 minutes Interview

The interview captured the balancing act that Obama must strike on the economy. He gave a nod to public anger at Wall Street while saying it could not dictate his response.

He got in a few whacks of his own at Wall Street executives who contributed to the meltdown””referring to them ironically at one point as “the best and the brightest”””while being ever-mindful that he still needs their help to dig out of the crisis.

His talk of depression could be viewed as alarmist””but it also seemed aimed at bracing Congress and the public for the unpopular prospect of spending even more taxpayer dollars to prop up Wall Street. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is set to roll out a plan Monday aimed at restoring the flow of credit that would back up private investments with government funds.

Even his awkward laughter highlighted an issue Obama has faced dating back to the campaign, a sense that he sometimes is too “cool” and detached to fully grasp the public anxiety over mounting job losses and economic worries.

Read it all.

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

60 minutes: Obama On AIG Anger, Recession, Challenges

“And you know, one of the challenges that Tim Geithner has had is the same challenge that anybody would have in this situation. People want a lot of contradictory things. You know, the banks would love a lot of taxpayer money with no strings attached. Folks in Congress, as well as the American people, would love to fix the banks without spending any money. And so at a certain point, you know, you’ve got just a very difficult line to walk.”

“You need the financial community�to solve this crisis,” Kroft remarked. “Do you think that the people on Wall Street and the people in the financial community that you need trust you, believe in you?”

“Part of my job is to communicate to them. Look, I believe in the market. I believe in financial innovation. And I believe in success. I want them to do well. But what I also know is that the financial sector was out of balance. You look at how finance used to operate just 20 years ago, or 25 years ago. People, if you went into investment banking, you were making 20 times what a teacher made. You weren’t making 200 times what a teacher made,” Obama said.

“There is a perception right now, at least in New York, which is where I live and work. �People feel they thought that you were going to be supportive. And now I think there are a lot of people the say, ‘Look, we’re not gonna be able to keep our best people. They’re not gonna stay and work here for $250,000 a year when they can go work for a hedge fund, if they can find one that’s still working�and make a lot more,” Kroft remarked.

Read or watch it all.

Posted in Uncategorized

In the South Carolina Lowcountry as sales tax income falls, property taxes rise

The statewide property tax reforms of 2006, which exempted homeowners from most school taxes, were supposed to be paid for with a penny increase in the statewide sales tax. The result: A shortfall of more than $143 million over the past two years, which made the state’s budget problems worse.

Locally, the optional sales taxes that voters approved by referendum in two-thirds of South Carolina counties are used to offset town, city and county taxes.

The difficulty for local governments comes in projecting sales tax revenues up to a year ahead of time, and crediting those amounts to property tax bills. If they guess wrong, they come up short.

“That was our problem,” said Keith Bustraan, Charleston County deputy administrator and chief financial officer. “We set our revenue estimate and then began the long slide.”

Read it all from the local paper.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, * South Carolina, Economy, Politics in General, State Government, Taxes, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston to broadcast new bishop's ordination online This week

The Diocese of Charleston has announced that the ordination Mass for the new Bishop of Charleston will take place on Wednesday, March 25, with video and audio of the Mass being streamed live over the internet.

Bishop-designate Robert E. Guglielmone, a monsignor from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York succeeds Bishop Robert J. Baker, who was appointed Bishop of Birmingham, Ala. in August 2007.

Good for them–read it all.

Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, * South Carolina, Other Churches, Roman Catholic

Wesley J. Smith: Stem cell debate is over ethics, not science

In 2007, President Bush issued an executive order requiring the government to fund research into alternatives. Inexplicably ”“ and without discussing it in his speech ”“ Obama revoked this Bush order, too. He claimed he wants to fund such research, but what he did was take away the existing legal requirement that it be done. We have seen this same undermining of alternatives here in California. Last year, Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) introduced a bill (SB 1565) that would have, among other provisions, made it easier for the CIRM to fund IPSC research. That proposed legal shift in emphasis was opposed adamantly by the CIRM, and despite overwhelming bipartisan support, fell to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto.

If pursuing the best and most ethical science were truly the goals, why deflect increased support for this promising research to which no one objects? Perhaps it is because this debate involves more than stem cells taken from embryos “left over” from in-vitro fertilization ”“ as the argument is usually couched ”“ which brings us back to ethics. In the wake of the Obama changes in federal policy, the New York Times editorially threw down a gauntlet, calling for both the rescission of the Dickey Amendment and federal funding of human therapeutic cloning research. Now that the Bush restrictions are history, look for these battles ”“ which again are not science debates ”“ to flare in the years to come. In this sense, embryonic stem cell research threatens to become a launching pad to an ever-deepening erosion of the unique moral status of human life.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Life Ethics, Science & Technology, Theology

Catholic ”˜complacency’ shares blame for country’s failures, Archbishop Chaput says

Having been asked to examine what November 2008 and its aftermath can teach Catholics about American culture, the state of American Catholicism and the kind of Pauline discipleship necessary today, Archbishop Chaput said:

“November showed us that 40 years of American Catholic complacency and poor formation are bearing exactly the fruit we should have expected. Or to put it more discreetly, the November elections confirmed a trend, rather than created a new moment, in American culture.”

Noting that there was no question about President Barack Obama’s views on abortion “rights,” embryonic stem cell research and other “problematic issues,” he commented:

“Some Catholics in both political parties are deeply troubled by these issues. But too many Catholics just don’t really care. That’s the truth of it. If they cared, our political environment would be different. If 65 million Catholics really cared about their faith and cared about what it teaches, neither political party could ignore what we believe about justice for the poor, or the homeless, or immigrants, or the unborn child. If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn’t need to waste each other’s time arguing about whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow ”˜balanced out’ or excused by three other good social policies.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

Time Magazine: Behind the Boom in Adult Single Motherhood

Somewhere Dan Quayle is clenching his fists. Two decades after the then-vice president bemoaned single motherhood ”” calling out the sitcom Murphy Brown for having its eponymous main character choose to have a child on her own ”” the latest data on U.S. births show that a full 40% of babies are now born to unmarried mothers. (Read about the Quayle/Murphy Brown controversy here.)

The findings, released Wednesday by the National Center for Health Statistics and covering the 2007 calendar year, also revealed a general increase in fertility rates across nearly every age category. That rise included teen birth rates, which jumped 4% between 2005 and 2007, after a startling 45% decline from 1991 to 2005.

This turnaround of what had been an enormous public health advance has policy makers worried ”” and culture warriors pointing fingers. Within a half hour of the data release on Wednesday, the National Abstinence Education Association released a statement calling for greater use of abstinence ”” only sex education programs in public schools. At the same time, supporters of so-called comprehensive sex education, like columnist Bonnie Erbe at U.S. News & World Report, said abstinence education is the problem; they blamed the rising teen birth rate on the fact that federal funding for sex education over the past eight years has been restricted to programs that encourage kids to postpone sex until marriage.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Children, Marriage & Family, Sexuality, Women

The Economist on the Pope in Africa: Sex and sensibility

Africans always give a visiting pope a hearty welcome. Thousands of finely dressed Cameroonians danced and sang at the roadside this week as Pope Benedict XVI arrived on an inaugural African tour that will also take in Angola. The Vatican is keen on the continent, home to around 135m Catholics. Pope Benedict delivered a compassionate message, recognising that Africa suffers disproportionately from food shortages, poverty, financial turmoil and a changing climate. Yet for all the mutual appreciation, he got one matter painfully wrong.

Asked about the use of condoms to help tackle the scourge of AIDS, the pope restated, in unusually explicit terms, the church’s position that these are not useful to “overcome” the epidemic, indeed their use actually makes the problem worse. He suggested the disease could be beaten through chastity, abstinence and “correct behaviour”. Speaking in a continent where more than 20m people have died from AIDS and another 22.5m are infected with HIV, his statement sounded otherworldly at best, and crass and uncaring at worst. Merely wishing away human sexual behaviour does nothing for the potential victims of AIDS, many of whom are innocent under even the most moralistic definition of that word.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Africa, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic, Sexuality

Governor Mark Sanford: Why South Carolina Doesn't Want 'Stimulus'

America’s states are laboratories of democracy. They are both affected by, and relevant to, the larger national debate. What we’ve found in our own corner of the country is that carrying a substantial debt load limits our options when it comes to running government.

A recent report by the American Legislative Exchange Council ranked us 47th worst in the nation for annual debt service as a percentage of tax revenue. Our state dedicates nearly 11% of its annual tax revenue to paying debt. On top of that, South Carolina has another $20 billion in unfunded, long-term political promises for pensions and other liabilities. The state budget has already been cut four times in recent months as the national economic downturn has impacted South Carolina and driven down tax revenue.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, * South Carolina, Budget, Economy, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, State Government, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--, The Fiscal Stimulus Package of 2009, The National Deficit, The U.S. Government

Some schools are cutting back on homework

Rachel Bennett, 12, loves playing soccer, spending time with her grandparents and making jewelry with beads. But since she entered a magnet middle school in the fall — and began receiving two to four hours of homework a night — those activities have fallen by the wayside.

“She’s only a kid for so long,” said her father, Alex Bennett, of Silverado Canyon. “There’s been tears and frustration and family arguments. Everyone gets burned out and tired.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Education

A Religious War in Israel’s Army

The publication late last week of eyewitness accounts by Israeli soldiers alleging acute mistreatment of Palestinian civilians in the recent Gaza fighting highlights a debate here about the rules of war. But it also exposes something else: the clash between secular liberals and religious nationalists for control over the army and society.

Several of the testimonies, published by an institute that runs a premilitary course and is affiliated with the left-leaning secular kibbutz movement, showed a distinct impatience with religious soldiers, portraying them as self-appointed holy warriors.

A soldier, identified by the pseudonym Ram, is quoted as saying that in Gaza, “the rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles and their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Israel, Middle East, Religion & Culture, The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle, War in Gaza December 2008--