Connect these dots

Two unrelated news items that actually are related:

Some airports are planning on going back to private security screeners.  The private firms, which already operate in some airports, would still have to follow TSA procedures, including the use of scanners and pat-downs.  But they are said to be more effective because they can more easily get rid of incompetent employees than the TSA.

The reason Wikileaks was able to get access to all of those government secrets in one place was due to a program called Net-Centric Diplomacy.  It was designed to allow different agencies to have access to a common pool of intelligence data.  The problem is, it grew far beyond anyone’s ability to handle it.

What do these two stories have in common?

Housing allowance tax break may be doomed

Pastors and teachers, have you seen this?

As tax time begins, church legal expert Richard Hammar warns ministers, pastors and clerics to be mindful of a legal battle that has strong financial implications on their personal and church taxes in 2011.

In the January 2011 issue of Church Law & Tax Report, Hammar highlights tax developments, drawing special attention to a California court case that threatens to extinguish a federal tax break which dates back to 1954, the parsonage exemption.

Many churches give their pastors and ministers an allowance to help ease housing-related expenses, such utility bills, repair and yard work costs. The parsonage exemption allows ministers to receive this money free of any federal, and in parts of the country, state taxes.

However, a lawsuit set for trial in 2011 threatens the constitutionality of sections 107 and 265(1)(6) of the federal tax code, which establishes the housing allowance for ministers.

Atheist group Freedom from Religion Foundation filed the federal lawsuit in 2009. The group asserts the unique benefit set aside especially for “ministers of the gospel” is a violation of separation of church and state.

The FFRF cites the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock to assert that tax benefits given only to religious institutions violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor states in a 2009 press release that the benefit is unfair to those who are not religious ministers.

“All other taxpayers pay more because clergy receive this privileged benefit,” she proclaimed.

via Church Legal Expert: Minister Housing Tax Break Under Attack | Christianpost.com.

Granted that it is an important benefit to church workers and that we would be sorry to see it go, can anyone answer the objections to it?

The Name of Jesus

New Year’s Day marks the day the baby Jesus was circumcised and given His name.  The name of Jesus, at which every knee shall bow, confesses His identity and His purpose.  In fact, though some people claim Jesus is just a moral example, His very name confesses the Gospel.  Let’s let Rev. William Weedon tell you about the name of Jesus:

You can’t read very far along in the Sacred Scriptures before you notice what a big thing this “naming” is – Adam, naming the beasties in Eden; God changing people’s names – Abram to Abraham; God instructing His priests, as in today’s first reading, in how to put His name upon the people “and I will bless them.” Names in the Bible are anything but a distinguishing tag so you don’t get Johnny confused with Jimmy. They are revelatory – they disclose a person’s proper relation to God Himself or God’s own relation to people.

So the big deal of the name given THIS day, only name given under heaven by which we must be saved: Jesus. For this name is shared by God and Man – He who is one person in two natures bears this name and it discloses the innermost ache of the divine heart: to save. Jesus means Yahweh saves.

His desire is to save you, to rescue you, to deliver you from bondage to sin, from all that makes your life bitter and miserable by your own doing or from that of others. “Save” in Greek implies also “heal.” He wants to heal you, to restore you, to bring you into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

For, as St. Paul in today’s epistle points out: “before faith came we were held captive under the law.” Satan has us by rights. And the law – that immutable expression of the divine will for all human life – well, all it could do was inform us of what we were not – and thus accuse us for not living as we ought. The Law condemns – not because the Law is bad, but because the Law is good, and we sadly, by birth are not.

But good news! Yahweh saves.

via Weedon’s Blog.

Parts of the health care law that kick in

Now that it’s 2011, parts of the Health Care Reform Bill kick in.  The linked article summarizes changes in Medicare, giving seniors cheaper prescription drugs and giving them some free preventative tests.  Also a $2.5 billion tax on the pharmaceutical industry, which can only mean higher prices and less money to invest in new miracle drugs. Here are some of the changes that will affect everyone:

For those insured outside Medicare, 2011 starts a new requirement that insurers must spend 80% of revenue for small-group plans and 85% of revenue for large-group plans on medical care. The requirement is designed to rein in industry profit and administrative costs. Carriers that don’t meet the requirement will have to issue rebates to consumers, though those won’t go out until 2012.

Consumers will no longer be able to use their flexible spending accounts—tax-free funds set aside for medical costs—to pay for most over-the-counter items unless they are purchased with a prescription.

For many consumers, Jan. 1 will mark the first opportunity to tap into a slate of benefits that began taking effect Sept. 23. That’s when the law called for insurers to allow parents to keep a child on their policy until their 26th birthday, among other things. Employers didn’t need to make that batch of changes until they started a new plan year.

Nurse midwives also will see change in the new year. Until now, certified nurse midwives were paid 65% the rate of physicians for performing the same services by Medicare. Now they will be paid at the same rate.

via Big Health-Care Changes Arrive in New Year – WSJ.com.

I don’t understand.  First of all, 80% of revenue for one thing plus 85% percent of revenue for something else adds up to 165%.  That must be a misprint.  But it seems wrong for the government to “rein in profits and administrative costs.”  How does the government know how much administrative costs will be, much less how much profit a business should be allowed to make?

And why limit flexible spending plans?  How will that help consumers?  And how will paying midwives as much as doctors hold down health care costs?

How is any of this a good thing?

Congress acknowledges the Constitution

This story in the Washington Post takes a dismissive and snarky tone, but I think this is a splendid idea.  Especially the part about requiring each bill to cite its constitutional authority.

When Republicans take over the House next week, they will do something that apparently has never been done before in the chamber’s 221-year history:

Two new rules will give Constitution a starring role in GOP-controlled House

They will read the Constitution aloud.

And then they will require that every new bill contain a statement by the lawmaker who wrote it citing the constitutional authority to enact the proposed legislation.

Call it the tea party-ization of Congress.

via Two new rules will give Constitution a starring role in GOP-controlled House.

To just associate this with the tea party in that condescending way is out of line.  Why would any lawmaker object to this?  They take an oath to defend the Constitution.  Why shouldn’t they defer to it?  Or do some journalists and politicians really believe in unlimited government?

At any rate, this could at least be an educational experience.  As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post told an interviewer, “The issue of the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than 100 years ago and what people believe it says differs from person to person and differs depending on what they want to get done.”  The thing dates way back to 1911 at least, so it surely can’t be binding on us postmodernists.

People often say that everything can be interpreted any number of ways, but I wonder about that. What part of the Tenth Amendment, the basis for that “radical” requirement to specify the constitutional authority for each bill, is so open-ended in its possible meanings?

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Your predictions for 2011

So, what do you predict will happen in 2011?  The more specific you are, you more amazed we will be if you are right.   Around this time next year, we will check the results to praise you for your foresight, or not.  (See below.)


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