We have jumped off the cliff

The good news is that the Republican and Democratic leadership seems to have come to an agreement about renewing the Bush tax cuts.  The bad news is that it was impossible logistically to pass a bill before midnight on New Year’s Eve when the cuts expire and automatic spending cuts kicked in.  So we have jumped off the fiscal cliff, though there is hope that Congress will clamber back up it with a retroactive action.  From CNBC:

With no vote likely on Monday night, the U.S. will technically be going over the “fiscal cliff” at midnight, sources told CNBC.

The emerging deal with the Senate would raise tax rates on family income over $450,000 a year, increase the estate tax rate and extend unemployment benefits for one year.

The parties were at an impasse over whether to put off the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts set to begin taking effect at midnight, and if so, how to pay for that. One official said talks were focused on a two-month delay in the across-the-board cuts but negotiators had yet to agree on about $24 billion in savings from elsewhere in the budget.

“Today it appears that an agreement to prevent this middle class tax hike is in sight,” Obama said in an early afternoon appearance from the White House, where he stood in front of cheering supporters.

“Over the next 12 hours, let’s see if we can get this done,” Obama said.

Obama expressed regret that the work of the administration and lawmakers won’t produce a “grand bargain” on tax-and-spend issues, but said that “with this Congress, it couldn’t happen at that time.”

Before he spoke, details of the emerging deal emerged. It would raise $600 billion in revenue over the next 10 years by increasing tax rates for individuals making more than $400,000 and households making above $450,000 annually, officials familiar with the talks said.

The deal would also delay a series of spending cuts known as the “sequester,” though a sticking point remains on how long that delay would last. McConnell said action on the sequester could continue in coming months. “Let’s pass the tax relief portion now, let’s take what’s been agreed to and get moving,” McConnell said.

Other details included increasing the estate tax rate, extending unemployment benefits for one year, officials familiar with the negotiations said. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said an agreement would shield Medicare doctors from a 27 percent cut in fees and extend tax credits for research and development, as well as renewable energy.

The deal also would extend for five years a series of tax credits meant to lessen the financial burden on poorer and middle-class families, including one credit that helps people pay for college.

via Going Over the ‘Cliff,’ but Tax Agreement ‘in Sight’.

We are also going off the Dairy Cliff.   The Farm Bill has also expired when the crystal ball touched down in Times Square.  As a result, a price support mechanism devised in 1949 kicked in, whereby the U.S. government has to buy milk for $7-$8 per gallon in today’s money.  This would more than double the price of milk in the supermarket.  Reportedly, an agreement has been struck that would renew the Farm Bill, though, again, it remains for Congress to act.

The wild card in all of this is whether the party leaders can deliver the votes from their members.  Some Congressional Republicans are said to be upset that spending cuts are not being included, with some Congressional Democrats incensed at the cutoff for higher taxes being raised to $450,000 rather than the $250,000 that President Obama campaigned on.

Make your predictions for 2013

As is our custom on New Year’s Eve, we invite you to make your predictions for what will happen in the New Year.  We will then review those predictions in exactly one year to see how you did.  (See today’s accompanying post.)  Whoever made the best predictions will receive honor, accolades, and bragging rights.

Highly specific predictions will score higher than general predictions.  And predictions that are surprising and completely unexpected but that come true anyway will score the highest of all.

(The Deuteronomy 18:22 rule will not be enforced.)

So what do you think will happen in 2013?

Checking our predictions for 2012

At the turn of every year, this blog asks you to predict what will happen in the New Year ahead.  (We’ll do that in another post.)  Lots of blogs and publications do that.  But what we also do and others don’t is check last year’s predictions so that we can see who is the best prognosticator.  Review them yourself here:  Your predictions for 2012.

Everybody struck out completely when it came to sports predictions.  No one foresaw that teams with the same name (Giants) would win both the World Series and the Superbowl.

Most people who ventured a guest correctly predicted that Mitt Romney would win the Republican nomination for president.  Most also who mentioned it correctly predicted that Barack Obama would be re-elected, which was a different tune than what most of you said right before the election.

Several of you predicted the breakup of the European Union, which didn’t happen.

There were some general predictions that were true enough (Pete’s death and taxes), but we favor those that are highly specific.  My brother Jimmy was right on the election results, except when he said that the Democrats would take the House, and he was close on sports, but the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the Miami Heat in the NBA finals.

Kirk predicted that the Guinea Worm, a particularly gruesome parasite, would be eradicated.  A quick Google search suggests that we are close, but this has not yet happened.  (Why isn’t PETA protesting this?)

Junker George predicted that the Hobbit movie would be the highest grossing movie of the year, an honor that actually went to the Avengers, though the Hobbit is doing very well and is still in the theaters.

Cincinnatus made a potentially winning prediction when he said that the Supreme Court would approve Obamacare, but the brilliance of that guess was cancelled when he went on to say that Romney would defeat Obama.

I thought Rick Ritchie was going for a dramatic win when he said foresaw a secession movement.  But then he said that it would be in China.

The winners made specific and unexpected predictions that came true, though they were somewhat weakened because they didn’t know when to stop.

Coming in 2nd:  Tom Hering, who predicted that police departments would get permission to use drones.  He picked up on the year’s biggest development in military operations, but he went on to predict outrage over police errors in zapping the wrong suspect, but I don’t think the police are using them that much just yet, and even then it seems to be for surveillance rather than SWAT duty.  Still, give him credit.

First place:  SAL, who predicted that the Southern Baptists would elect an African-American as their president, something that came true in June when Fred Luter was elected to that office.  He also correctly predicted the dramatic drop in the American birthrate.  He made 12 predictions altogether, a number of which came true, kind of (Obama was re-elected, but no vote-fraud scandal; there is a new war in the Middle East–Syria–but the US is not involved).  At any rate, we’ll give him our virtual imaginary travelling trophy for 2012.

UPDATE:  See the gracious acceptance speeches of SAL and Tom Hering in the comments.  And, as Tom reminds us, we can also recognize the worst prediction of the year.  The virtual trophy for that goes to the MAYANS.

Top religion stories of 2012

Religion journalists selected the top religion stories of the year:

1. U.S. Catholic bishops lead opposition to Obamacare requirement that insurance coverage for contraception be provided for employees. The government backs down a bit, but not enough to satisfy the opposition.

2. A Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey shows that “nones” is the fastest-growing religious group in the United States, rising to 19.6 percent of the population.

3. The circulation of an anti-Islam film trailer, “Innocence of Muslims,” causes unrest in several countries, leading to claims that it inspired the fatal attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya. President Obama, at the U.N., calls for toleration. . .  of blasphemy, and respect as a two-way street.

4. Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith turns out to be a virtual non-issue for white evangelical voters, who support him more strongly than they did John McCain, in the U.S. presidential race.

5. Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia becomes the first senior Catholic official in the U.S. to be found guilty of covering up priestly child abuse; later Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Mo., becomes the first bishop to be found guilty of it.

6. The Vatican criticizes the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group of U.S. nuns, alleging they haven’t supported church teaching on abortion, sexuality or women’s ordination.

7. Voters OK same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington, bringing the total approving to nine states and the District of Columbia. Also, Minnesota defeats a ban on same-sex marriage after North Carolina approves one.

8. The Episcopal Church overwhelmingly adopts a trial ritual for blessing same-sex couples. Earlier, the United Methodists fail to vote on approving gay clergy, and the Presbyterians (USA) vote to study, rather than sanction same-sex marriage ceremonies.

9. Six people are killed and three wounded at worship in a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee. The shooter, an Army veteran killed by police, is described as a neo-Nazi.

10. Southern Baptist Convention elects without opposition its first black president, the Rev. Fred Luter of New Orleans.

via Journalists Vote for Contraception Fight as Top 2012 U.S. Religion Story.

What can you conclude about the state of American religion from this list?  What does it leave out?  What do you think are the most significant religious or spiritual developments of 2012?

Pagan temple found just outside Jerusalem

An ancient pagan temple was found just three miles from Jerusalem.  It dates from the time that the Biblical Temple to the true God was in operation.  The discovery shows what the Prophets were railing against, God’s people turning to idols.  Solomon built the Temple in accord with God’s commands, but he then built temples to other deities to please his pagan wives.  I wonder if this is one of them.  From the Jerusalem Post:

Archeologists uncovered rare remains of ritual objects and a 3,000-year-old temple while conducting excavations ahead of the renovation of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, the Antiquities Authority announced on Wednesday.

A major expansion of the highway, in the section from Sha’ar Hagai to Jerusalem, has revealed many important archeological finds at Tel Motza, west of the capital, including Neolithic Era ruins and an enormous underground water reservoir from the Crusader Period at the Motza Stream.

A First Temple-period discovery announced on Wednesday was a large structure with massive walls and an east-facing entrance, believed to be a temple.

The entrance is aligned with the sun’s rays to illuminate the ritual object placed within the temple, “symbolizing the divine presence within,” according to archeologist Anna Eirikh. Eirikh, Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz are directing the excavation for the Antiquities Authority.

Inside the building, archeologists discovered a square structure, most likely an altar, and a cache of sacred vessels nearby. The ritual objects include decorated pedestals, pottery vessels, fragments of chalices, and clay figures of humans and domesticated animals, all of which they believe were used for religious or spiritual ceremonies.

“The finds recently discovered at Tel Motza provide rare archeological evidence for the existence of temples and ritual enclosures in the Kingdom of Judah in general… prior to the religious reforms throughout the kingdom,” Eirikh said.

via Archeologists dig up 3,000-year-old temp… JPost – National News.

Here are some of the graven images found at the site.  This may be a rendition of what ancient Israelites looked like:

Figurines

One of the horses Solomon traded in that got him into trouble (Deuteronomy 17:16-17; 2 Chronicles 1:16)?

It should perhaps reassure Christians battling false religions, bad theology, and syncretism even within the church that this is nothing new, but that it was a constant problem even in the Biblical era.

How much the fiscal cliff will cost you

To descend from the theoretical to the tangible, here is how much your taxes will increase once the Bush tax cuts expire on Tuesday, unless Congress cuts a deal to extend them:

Annual income of $20,000 to $30,000: $1,064 average tax increase

Annual income of $40,000 to $50,000: $1,729 average tax increase. . . .

Annual income of $50,000 to $75,000: $2,399 average tax increase

Annual income of $75,000 to $100,000: $3,688 average tax increase

Annual income of $100,000 to $200,000: $6,662 average tax increase. . . .

Annual income of $200,000 to $500,000: $14,643 average tax increase

Annual income of $500,000 to $1 million: $38,969 average tax increase

Annual income of more than $1 million: $254,637 average tax increase

via What falling off the “fiscal cliff” means for you – CBS News.

If these expire, the much-reviled George W. Bush will surge in popularity once people realize how much money he kept in their pockets.  But the popularity of the president and especially Republicans will plummet.


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