The McConnell plan

It’s hard to  decipher what Mitch McConnell’s plan to deal with the debt ceiling even is, if you just go by the vague news reports and the wildly opposed or enthusiastic descriptions of it by both advocates and foes, both of whom exist among both Republicans and Democrats.  Essentially, as I understand it, McConnell’s plan is for Congress to pass a resolution that will put the onus of requesting debt hikes, which must be accompanied by spending cuts, onto the President.  Here is a relatively lucid explanation of what it is:

The McConnell approach is convoluted because it is intended to allow Republicans to avoid bringing down the U.S. economy without having to cast politically unpopular votes to raise the debt ceiling. Mr. McConnell proposes a series of maneuvers that would end up authorizing a $2.5 trillion increase in the debt limit, enough to take the country past the 2012 election. He contemplates that President Obama will seek an increase in three installments — $700 billion, $900 billion and $900 billion. Congress would have a chance to vote against each of these. The president would, presumably, veto those resolutions of disapproval and, presumably, enough Democrats would stand by him to uphold the vetoes.

Meanwhile, the president would have to specify — although he wouldn’t be required to implement — spending cuts equivalent to the amount of increase requested in the debt ceiling. It’s not hard to imagine Republicans putting this list of cuts to good political use. However, the political sting is softened by the fact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would not need the votes of the most endangered members of his caucus to sustain the president’s vetoes, which may explain some of his expressions of interest in the arrangement.

Here is how conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin explains the measure and the controversies:

If you go onto Twitter or check some Web sites (right and left) you will find loads of chatter about the McConnell debt disapproval plan. Most of it is wrong. Members of the chattering class are so anxious to chatter that they feel compelled to do so without understanding the subject matter at hand. Throw in some bad faith (certain right-wing bloggers would declare the GOP leadership traitors if they proposed only $4 trillion in cuts and got President Obama to decline to run for reelection), add in some liberal suspicion (warranted since this is not the first time that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has eaten their lunch), and presto: You get some of the worst “reporting” in recent memory.

The concept isn’t that hard to understand. 1. McConnell had enough of the phony White House talks. The White House offered a paltry $2 billion in actual, immediate cuts. 2. McConnell gave a speech to make clear that wasn’t enough and that the debt limit would be raised only with real cuts and without tax hikes. 3. McConnell could sit back and wait for default. 4. But he comes up with a mechanism to force Obama to put up cuts, send them to Congress and face “default” if the president’s cuts don’t get through. 5. In the process he makes 34 Democratic senators vote over and over again on cuts. (The sound you hear in the background is the conga line at the Senate Republican Committee headquarters.)

There are no tax increases in the plan. The onus is on the president to send a request for a debt-ceiling increase and the cuts to go along with it. If he doesn’t do it or if the Congress disapproves of what he sends up (and sustains a veto) the debt ceiling remains in place. But the Senate Democrats will have the power to sustain a veto (and thereby allow phony cuts to be used to raise the debt ceiling), right? Which 34 senators exactly are going to do this? Certainly not the ones in unsafe seats with voters clamoring for real spending cuts.

The critics who dimly understand the plan forget that the alternatives are limited. What are the alternatives? Default. Or accept the tax hike offer from the White House. Or maybe Obama will cave. McConnell is more than happy to keep on trying to get rid of the tax hikes and get the White House to cough up real spending cuts.

But if there is no deal (grand or otherwise) then the default will not be on the shoulders of the Republicans. McConnell is providing them with a backstop to avoid default.

via McConnell’s plan confuses the chattering class – Right Turn – The Washington Post.

The plan gives up on trying to get spending cuts without tax hikes from the President, but it also attempts a kind of political jui  jitzu, by which Republicans will be put in the position of opposing higher debt and Democrats will shoulder all of the blame.   Indeed, it seems, as things now stand, that these negotiations and every possible outcome will make the Republicans look bad.  If the compromises go through, they will be blamed for cutting spending on popular programs, such as Medicare, while also being blamed for obstructionist tactics that put the country on the edge of default.  McConnell would seem to get the Republicans out of that mess, but now he is being accused of blowing the chance to cut spending and caving in to the Democrats, who, suspiciously, are voicing support for the plan.

What is your analysis?

American words sneaking into the Queen’s English

British journalist Matthew Engel complains about how American words–”Americanisms”– are contaminating British English:

Lengthy. Reliable. Talented. Influential. Tremendous.

All of these words we use without a second thought were never part of the English language until the establishment of the United States.

The Americans imported English wholesale, forged it to meet their own needs, then exported their own words back across the Atlantic to be incorporated in the way we speak over here. Those seemingly innocuous words caused fury at the time.

The poet Coleridge denounced “talented” as a barbarous word in 1832, though a few years later it was being used by William Gladstone. A letter-writer to the Times, in 1857, described “reliable” as vile. . . .

American culture is ubiquitous in Britain on TV and the web. As our computers talk to us in American, I keep having to agree to a license spelt with an s. I am invited to print something in color without the u. I am told “you ghat mail”. It is, of course, always e-mail – never our own more natural usage, e-post.

As an ex-American resident, I remain a big fan of baseball. But I sit over here and listen to people who know nothing of the games talk about ideas coming out of “left field”. They speak about “three strikes and you’re out” or stepping up to the plate” without the foggiest idea what these phrases mean. I think the country has started to lose its own sense of itself.

In many respects, English and American are not coming together. When it comes to new technology, we often go our separate ways. They have cellphones – we have mobiles. We go to cash points or cash machines – they use ATMs. We have still never linked hands on motoring terminology – petrol, the boot, the bonnet, known in the US as gas, the trunk, the hood.

Yet in the course of my own lifetime, countless routine British usages have either been superseded or are being challenged by their American equivalents. We no longer watch a film, we go to the movies. We increasingly have trucks not lorries. A hike is now a wage or price rise not a walk in the country.

Ugly and pointless new usages appear in the media and drift into everyday conversation:

  • Faze, as in “it doesn’t faze me”
  • Hospitalize, which really is a vile word
  • Wrench for spanner
  • Elevator for lift
  • Rookies for newcomers, who seem to have flown here via the sports pages.
  • Guy, less and less the centrepiece of the ancient British festival of 5 November – or, as it will soon be known, 11/5. Now someone of either gender.
  • And, starting to creep in, such horrors as ouster, the process of firing someone, and outage, meaning a power cut. I always read that as outrage. And it is just that.

I am all for a living, breathing language that evolves with the times. I accept that estate agents prefer to sell apartments rather than flats – they sound more enticing. I accept that we now have freight trains rather than goods trains – that’s more accurate.

Many British people step up to the plate and have ideas out of left field

I accept that sometimes American phrases have a vigour and vivacity. A relative of mine told me recently he went to a business meeting chaired by a Californian woman who wanted everyone to speak frankly. It was “open kimono”. How’s that for a vivid expression?

But what I hate is the sloppy loss of our own distinctive phraseology through sheer idleness, lack of self-awareness and our attitude of cultural cringe. We encourage the diversity offered by Welsh and Gaelic – even Cornish is making a comeback. But we are letting British English wither.

Britain is a very distinct country from the US. Not better, not worse, different. And long live that difference. That means maintaining the integrity of our own gloriously nuanced, subtle and supple version – the original version – of the English language.

via BBC News – Why do some Americanisms irritate people?.

He surely can’t be blaming us Americans.  We aren’t making the Brits talk like we do.    They are the ones contaminating their own language, if that’s what it is.  Which it isn’t.

Actually, what he complains about is the genius of the English language–a hybrid of Germanic Saxon, Viking Norse, church Latin, Norman French, and whatever the far flung colonists of the British Empire spoke–that being the way English has always incorporated other languages, which, in turn, makes it work so well as a world language.

Anyway, to an American, this rant is surely hilarious.

Apps

OK, I realize that I am late to this particular party, but I finally have an iPhone.  I’ve used it for awhile and liked it, but recently my sister has introduced me to the world of applications.  That is to say, “apps.”

I now have apps to let me know the news, the weather, and sports scores.  I can listen to my favorite kinds of music.  Best of all, I have apps that use GPS data to locate everything from restaurants near me to where I parked my car.

But I know I have barely scratched the surface.  You readers, though, early adopters and savvy technophiles that you are,  know far more than I do about this kind of thing.   And maybe some of you have found an “app” that the rest of us would benefit from.

So what are some good apps?  (Not only iPhones have apps these days, so feel free to suggest those for Androids or whatever.)

Sexual moralism vs. the gospel?

John at Redeemed Rambling, a Reformed Baptist, maintains that many conservative Christians are talking so much about sexual immorality that they are obscuring the Gospel:

To my brothers, I have this plea: please stop with the sexual moralism. True Christianity finds its all in the gospel – God’s grace to take us in when we are wretched. We all come to God laden with sexual sin. The purest among us is an adulterer, for without the Holy Spirit our hearts burn with lust. This is who we are. The joy is that there is salvation! The joy is that Christ takes our filthy rags and clothes us in his own righteousness. The joy is that God’s own Spirit empowers us to enjoy God’s great gifts – even sexuality – in their proper and most delightful context.

But some have ignored this, and instead spend their energy “fighting” homosexuality in the public square. Do you realize, friend, that no amount of moralizing nor legislation will take away the depravity of the human heart? There is the third use of the law, but that conversation makes no sense without the first two uses of the law! Which is to say that we are sinners all and need the love, grace, and compassion of a savior who gave up everything – even His own life – to rescue a people damned to torment for our own wretchedness.

The problem, brother, is that a few of us are so loudly proclaiming that homosexuality is a sin that we may be guilty of actually preaching a false gospel. You see, some of us have got a beautiful, strong doctrinal position. On paper. But much of the world never sees that. They hear your moralizing. They read your blog. They visit your church website. And the “gospel” they hear is that until they clean up their life, they cannot be acceptable to God. Please hear me; this is a very deep evil. This is not the gospel of Christ! Are you so arrogant that you believe you are God’s own instrument to stem the tide of social depravity? That is God’s business, and he has ordained a means by which this may happen – the conversion of the soul.

Brothers, we must be faithful, and part of being faithful is being clear that we are sinners in need of a savior – and sexual sin is just that. Even homosexuality, today’s hot topic, is a sin against the one true God. So is the rampant lust, pornography use, and divorce that afflicts our “Christian” churches. Our actions do not make us less sinners. We do not need less grace. And the other part about being faithful is being faithful to proclaim our gospel of grace! The other part of being faithful is to actually obey Christ – to love God with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

So my plea to you is to please stop the moralism. I’m sure we mean well, but the gospel you take for granted is the precious water of life that alone can soften the cracked desert of the lost soul. Stop damming it up.

via Redeemed Rambling: Please Stop the Moralism.

Good point?  Or not?  Or good but not complete?

Granted that the enemy of the Gospel is not sin but self-righteousness, isn’t it necessary to teach the sinfulness of sin, so as to puncture self-righteousness?  Isn’t the problem of sexual sin today actually a problem of self-righteousness, insisting for our every sexual sin that “there is nothing wrong with it” and achieving social approval that makes it easier to feel good about the sins we commit?  Whereupon we no longer repent of them and no longer recognize the need for Christ’s grace?

Still, though, the notion is that Christianity is about “being good,” and the implication that if you aren’t good, you just need to try harder–these surely leave Christ and  the Gospel out of consideration.  And yet this is indeed what many people think Christianity is all about.

Digging up the Philistines

Archaeologists have been excavating the city of Gath and learning details about the Israelite’s arch-enemy the Philistines:

The Philistines arrived by sea from the area of modern-day Greece around 1200 B.C. They went on to rule major ports at Ashkelon and Ashdod, now cities in Israel, and at Gaza, now part of the Palestinian territory known as the Gaza Strip.

At Gath, they settled on a site that had been inhabited since prehistoric times. Digs like this one have shown that though they adopted aspects of local culture, they did not forget their roots. Even five centuries after their arrival, for example, they were still worshipping gods with Greek names.

Archaeologists have found that the Philistine diet leaned heavily on grass pea lentils, an Aegean staple. Ancient bones discarded at the site show that they also ate pigs and dogs, unlike the neighboring Israelites, who deemed those animals unclean — restrictions that still exist in Jewish dietary law.

Diggers at Gath have also uncovered traces of a destruction of the city in the 9th century B.C., including a ditch and embankment built around the city by a besieging army — still visible as a dark line running across the surrounding hills.

The razing of Gath at that time appears to have been the work of the Aramean king Hazael in 830 B.C., an incident mentioned in the Book of Kings.

Gath’s importance is that the “wonderful assemblage of material culture” uncovered there sheds light on how the Philistines lived in the 10th and 9th centuries B.C., said Seymour Gitin, director of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem and an expert on the Philistines.

That would include the era of the kingdom ruled from Jerusalem by David and Solomon, if such a kingdom existed as described in the Bible. Other Philistine sites have provided archaeologists with information about earlier and later times but not much from that key period.

“Gath fills a very important gap in our understanding of Philistine history,” Gitin said.

In 604 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded and put the Philistines’ cities to the sword. There is no remnant of them after that. . . .

The memory of the Philistines — or a somewhat one-sided version — was preserved in the Hebrew Bible.

The hero Samson, who married a Philistine woman, skirmished with them repeatedly before being betrayed and taken, blinded and bound, to their temple at Gaza. There, the story goes, he broke free and shattered two support pillars, bringing the temple down and killing everyone inside, including himself.

One intriguing find at Gath is the remains of a large structure, possibly a temple, with two pillars. Maeir has suggested that this might have been a known design element in Philistine temple architecture when it was written into the Samson story.

Diggers at Gath have also found shards preserving names similar to Goliath — an Indo-European name, not a Semitic one of the kind that would have been used by the local Canaanites or Israelites. These finds show the Philistines indeed used such names and suggest that this detail, too, might be drawn from an accurate picture of their society.

The findings at the site support the idea that the Goliath story faithfully reflects something of the geopolitical reality of the period, Maeir said — the often violent interaction of the powerful Philistines of Gath with the kings of Jerusalem in the frontier zone between them.

via In Israel, diggers unearth the Bible’s bad guys – seattlepi.com.

Discrimination charges against religions?

Journalist Asra Q. Nomani, writing in USA Today, is calling for the government to enforce anti-discrimination laws against religious organizations, denying them tax-exempt status if they discriminate against women.  She is thinking of her fellow Muslims, but the proposal also would apply to Christians.  Her article specifically mentions the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod:

As much of the world cheers the rise of democracy in the public square of the Middle East, it’s time that we see the Arab Spring bloom somewhere equally important: mosques. We should start with mosques in the U.S., and the government should help promote democracy in places of worship by denying non-profit tax-exempt status — called 501(c)3 designation — to places of worship that practice gender inequity, just as they can deny tax-exempt status to places of worship that engage in political activity. . . .

The IRS has ruled that “tax exempt organizations may jeopardize their exempt status if they engage in illegal activity.” Political activity is covered in the “illegal activity” doctrine. Applying this doctrine in 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the IRS could deny Bob Jones University tax exemption because of racial policies at the evangelical Christian university (kicking students out for interracial dating). Tax attorneys say the ruling established public policy that tax-exempt organizations can’t racially discriminate in educational institutions.Meanwhile, in 1984, in a case against the Jaycees civic organization, the Supreme Court held that a private organization cannot discriminate based on gender.

So far, though, gender rights aren’t protected at places of worship. . . .

Who would stand in the way of reform? Catholic churches, for one, and other places that get exemptions in employment law so they can practice gender inequity (think priest jobs). Alan Goldberger, a non-profit attorney in Millburn, N.J., is a former member of a conservative synagogue that integrates women, but he has attended orthodox Jewish synagogues that segregate women and says that it could be “more prudent with public policy” to enforce non-discrimination in places of worship, but the courts “like to stay away from intervening in the affairs of a private organization.”

Daniel Dalton, 46, a non-profit attorney in Farmington Hills, Mich., says the IRS has taken the position “it’s not going to look at ecclesiastical, doctrinal issues.” He grew up in the Missouri Lutheran Church, which limits women’s roles in leadership positions. “I don’t understand it. I don’t agree with it,” says Dalton. “But that’s a doctrinal issue.”

I understand the difficulties in having the state intervene in worship issues. I believe in a separation of church and state, but I’ve come to the difficult decision that women must use the legal system to restore rights in places of worship, particularly when intimidation is used to enforce unfair rules.

via End gender apartheid in U.S. mosques – USATODAY.com.

We need to realize that if religious freedom is taken away, it will begin with unpopular religions.


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