Playing Chicken With Our Economic Future …

U.S. President Barack Obama departs Honolulu, Hawaii December 26, 2012, for a return trip to Washington. REUTERS/Larry Downing

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama was flying back to Washington on Thursday and the top Republican in Congress planned to speak with House of Representatives lawmakers as the clock ticked toward a year-end deadline for action to avert the looming “fiscal cliff” tax hikes and spending cuts.

Markets around the world awaited action in Washington to prevent tax hikes on nearly all Americans and the deep automatic government spending cuts due to kick in at the beginning of next month that could push the U.S. economy back into recession.

Such action, however, remained far from certain, with Republicans and Democrats each insisting the other side move first amid continuing partisan gridlock.

Air Force One carrying Obama from Hawaii took off at about 3 a.m. EST for a journey that can take nearly half a day.

The U.S. Senate was scheduled to meet later on Thursday but on matters unrelated to the “fiscal cliff.” The Democrats control the Senate and theRepublicans control the House.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday said through a spokesman that the Senate was ready to consider any bills coming from the House but would take no action on its own. (Read more here.)

Starbucks to Politicians: Come Together

NEW YORK, N.Y. -Associated Press

Starbucks is using its coffee cups to jump into the political fray in Washington.

The world’s biggest coffee chain is asking employees at cafes in the Washington, D.C. area to scribble the words “Come Together” on cups for drink orders on Thursday and Friday. CEO Howard Schultzsays the words are intended as a message to lawmakers about the damage being caused by the divisive negotiations over the “fiscal cliff.”

It’s the first time employees at Starbucks cafes are being asked to write anything other than customers’ names on cups.

While companies generally steer clear of politics to avoid alienating customers, the plea to “Come Together” is a sentiment unlikely to cause controversy. If anything, Starbucks could score points with customers and burnish its image as a socially conscious company.

This isn’t the first time the coffee chain is using its platform to send a political message. In the summer of 2011, Schultz also asked other CEOs and the public to stop making campaign contributions until politicians found a way to deal with a crisis over the debt ceiling that led to a downgrade in the country’s credit rating.

For the latest push, Starbucks is taking out an ad in the Washington Post on Thursday showing a cup with the words “Come Together” on it. (Read more here.)

The Soldier and the Christmas Card

Two battle-weary Leathernecks of the 26th Marine Regiment take a break in the rain during Operation Bold Mariner in Vietnam in 1969. It was in these conditions a year later that a young man named Jack would receive a Christmas card from a Southern Baptist church. Photo courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Photo Terms of Use

COLEMAN, Ga. (BP) — It was a Christmas season that the 18-year-old Marine would rather not experience. Slogging through the mud in the drizzling, never-ending rain was beginning to wear on the enlisted man’s spirit.

Sleeping on the ground without a bath for months with a stubbly beard growing from not shaving in the winter cold was not his idea of a holiday. He had fond recent memories of Christmas in Greenville, S.C., still fresh from his boyhood days. His grandmother’s Christmas ham and visits with family and friends are what he missed the most.

There would be none of that this year. In fact, he was grateful just to be alive.

What made it worse was being part of a squadron chosen to provide security for the annual USO Christmas program. It just didn’t seem fair.

While thousands enjoyed plenty of Christmas cheer and entertainment, he and his buddies silently guarded a nearly 12-mile arc around Da Nang in South Vietnam.

Their mission was crucial to the enjoyment of fellow soldiers. Several thousand troops enjoying a holiday celebration would be an easy target for North Vietnamese troops slipping through the jungles.

For the teenage soldier, this day was just another in a string of cold, overcast winter days. The day is a memory now. A story he tells. For this telling, he prefers to be known only by his first name, Jack

“We were angry, hungry, wet and scared most of the time,” he said. “Our job was to stay alert and patrol to keep the enemy from infiltrating the area and disrupting the show. Needless to say, we weren’t very happy.”

Jack said he and his fellow soldiers spent most of their time “griping, as young Marines are prone to do, about our bad luck. It had rained for what seemed like weeks and was constantly low overcast.”

Dark and gray and miserable. Not an ideal Christmas. Certainly not when it was going to be his first Christmas away from home. (Read more here.)

The Greatest Gift …

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

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Merry Merry Christmas to Every Child on Earth

Vienna, Austria, Dec 21, 2012 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- An Austria-based singing group of children and teens has made a music video wishing a merry Christmas to the world as part of their mission to tell stories of faith through music.

The group KISI – God’s Singing Kids has released the video “We sing merry, merry Christmas.” It shows the children and teens singing in cheerful settings and styles inspired by the classic movie “The Sound of Music.”

They play in the snow, bake Christmas treats and place a baby doll in a manger while wishing Merry Christmas “to every child on earth.”

The music group has over 400 members from five countries who use their music to evangelize. They practice singing and dancing after school and perform on weekends. (Read more here.)

Watch their Christmas video below.

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Christmas in Dullsville and Testosterone Explosions in My Kitchen

I never told you what happened Thanksgiving.

I gave you the run-up on our family holiday, but I never circled back around and told you how it all went down. Because I was (still am) out of action because of Gimpy the Foot, my husband and sons gallantly decided that they would cook Thanksgiving dinner.

Gimpy the Foot.

 

And they tried. Oh, how they tried. I could see part of the action from my recliner in the living room. It reminded me of the first time I tried to put one of these things together as a newlywed. Only they didn’t have a Fannie Farmer cookbook to cheer them on.

About 3 on that Thanksgiving afternoon, I heard my husband’s voice, coming from the kitchen. “I can’t do this.” he said. “There’s too much to get done all at once.”

He sounded sad. Lost. Defeated. Beaten to the tile floor by the mashed potatoes, dressing, ham, turkey and deviled eggs vying for his attention.  The chaos of our sons, bouncing around the kitchen like St Bernards as they tried to “help” only made things worse.

I have to admit, I got a bit of … what is it? … pleasure, I suppose is the word. I got a bit of pleasure out of this. It was one of those, see? It’s not so easy! moments.

After 30 years of cooking these big dinners for my extended family all alone, (my sister has multiple sclerosis, my brother-in-law has various health problems, my niece is a drug addict and never shows up, my husband has matrimony-induced cooking amnesia, etc, etc) those sad, defeated words coming from the kitchen felt kinda good. They felt like … vindication.

Then, my better instincts kicked in.

I could’ve sat there and done nothing. No one would have blamed me. It was, after all, doctor’s orders. But that plaintive voice, and the growing certainty that we were headed for Spam turkey with a side order of Beanie Weanies for Thanksgiving dinner, got to me. I reached for my walker. It was clearly time for mom to set things aright.

They brought me a chair and put it next to the kitchen counter so I could stir and season while sitting down. They more or less obeyed my orders as I told them, “The turkey’s done. Take the lid off the roaster and turn the temperature up and let it brown. When it comes out, put those dishes in the oven and put the roaster on the stove to make gravy.”

It wasn’t exactly military precision, but they bustled around while I put things together and we — finally — sat down to eat.

Now, Christmas is upon us and I am still not supposed to stand. Gimpy’s moving on, so to speak. She has a spiffy new boot that looks like it was stolen off a starship trooper and I can walk for short distances unaided. What I can’t do is stand. More than about five minutes of flat standing and the Gimpster gears up the old pain alert.

The boys have invited their friends for dinner. Other friends have asked to come. I’m not sure why they want to spend Christmas here in Dullsville. I won’t let them curse. They have to say grace. And they’re probably going to end up having to cook a big part of their own dinner. All I can figure is that we have an intact family and we all like one another, something these young people don’t have. One of them said he wanted to get away from his family because he didn’t want to have to go from one house to the next.

Whatever. They’re welcome here.

I plan to put them to work. At our house, you don’t sing for your supper. You windex the glass dinner table (genuine hand-me-down, circa early matrimony) set the table with our mismatched plates (genuine Target) and our equally mismatched stainless steel ware. Then later, you help load the dishwasher.

They know that, and they still want to come. Go figure. If somebody lights a match at the wrong time, this house may blow up from excess testosterone. I expect great clouds of the stuff. Frankly, the thought of  so many young men trying to peel potatoes, make gravy and whip up deviled eggs in my little kitchen is pretty funny. I will, once again, conduct this tuneless orchestra as they labor to produce an edible meal.

I’ve also made a list of restaurants that will be open Christmas.

Just in case.

Pope’s Childhood Letter to Baby Jesus Shows Faith at an Early Age

Georg (L) and Joseph Ratzinger during their first Mass processional in Traunstein, Germany in 1951. Photo courtesy of Ignatius Press.

Marktl am Inn, Germany, Dec 21, 2012 / 04:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Christmas letter that Pope Benedict XVI wrote to Baby Jesus when he was seven years-old demonstrates his devotion to the Sacred Heart and his desire to be a priest.

The letter is on display this Advent in the village of Marktl am Inn in Bavaria, where he was born.

“Dear Baby Jesus, quickly come down to earth. You will bring joy to children. Also bring me joy,” he wrote in the 1934 letter, published on the Church-affiliated Italian website Korazym.org.

“I would like a Volks-Schott (a Mass prayers book), green clothing for Mass (clerical clothing) and a heart of Jesus. I will always be good. Greetings from Joseph Ratzinger,” he wrote in German cursive hard writing called Sütterlinschrift.

The letter, found during the renovation of a house that Joseph Ratzinger’s occupied when he was a professor in Regensburg, was published on Dec. 18. The message was discovered in the estate of his sister Mary, who kept the letter after the Pope’s house was converted into a small museum dedicated to him.

In Korazym’s view, the “letter was uncommon for a seven-year-old since he did not ask for toys or sweets, which were always in front of the Ratzinger family’s nativity for his three brothers.” (Read more here.)

Holy Father: Faith Includes Trust in the Dark Moments of Life

Pope Benedict XVI gives the final blessing at the Nov. 14, 2012 general audience in Paul VI Hall. Credit: Matthew Rarey-CNA.

Vatican City, Dec 19, 2012 / 10:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Benedict XVI continued his series of reflections on faith this Wednesday, saying that at times it includes an element of darkness.

“We encounter moments where God seems absent, his silence weighs on our hearts and his will doesn’t correspond to our own as we would like it to,” the Pope told pilgrims on Dec. 19.

“But the more we open ourselves to God, we receive the gift of faith and put our trust in him completely, the more he empowers us with his presence to live every situation in peace assured by his loyalty and love,” he said during his weekly general audience.

He emphasized that this happens after opening one’s soul to God through faith, just as Abraham did after he was asked to sacrifice his son and as Mary did when she had to watch her son be crucified. (Read more here.)

Baked in a buttery flaky crust

You have to get past the commercial on this, but once you do, it’s hilarious.

Enjoy.

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If You’re In the Mood for Giving …

Simcha Fischer, who blogs at National Catholic Register published a list of worthy charities for those of us who are in the gift-giving mood. Each of the charities she selected sounds like a place to put your money and know that it will be used for good.

I’m going to put a few charities from her list below, but be sure to give them all a glance.

If you have a few extra Christmas $$ and are in the mood to use them for good, check out Simcha’s article here.

First, my family’s favorite charity:

Save a Family Plan

I am blown away by their efficiency:  100% of your donations go directly to the poor.  They don’t just give the poor food and shelter; the help them invest to become self-sufficient.  We first partnered with a destitute family in India several years ago, and this family no longer needed our support years ahead of the projected schedule.  A top notch international NGO run by Catholics, serving poor Indian families of every caste and religion, and fully in allegiance with the Church (so you don’t have to worry that you’re accidentally funding abortions or something).

*****

Christian Foundation for Children and Aging 

Popular with many, many of my friends, this is a lay Catholic sponsorship program encouraging the dignity and well-being of the poor and marginalized in 22 countries around the world.

*****

Reece’s Rainbow  

A Down Syndrome adoption ministry with many programs to help families fund the very expensive adoption of children with special needs.  Many of these children are barely surviving in horrendous institutions, and there are so many families who would like to rescue them, but can’t afford it.  Full of wonderful, hopeful stories and easy ways to help.

*****

The Laboure Society  

This organization “assists aspirants to priesthood or religious life who find themselves unable to answer their call due to personal debt.”

*****

Amazima  

Amazima sells handcrafted jewelry made by poor women in Uganda, who are guided and educated on how to manage money to support their families

*****

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/simcha-fisher/charities-you-ought-to-know/#ixzz2FoxVhrAq

Bar Owner Collects Toys for Catholic Charities

Milwaukee, Wis., Dec 15, 2012 / 01:02 pm (CNA).- An elderly couple walks into Kip’s Inn and hands bar owner Kim Engebregtsen a plastic bag with a Barbie doll in it.

“Oh, thank you!” Engebregtsen said. “I needed this. This was the last thing on the list.”

She hugged the couple and directed them to the bar to enjoy some drinks with other folks from the neighborhood.

The list to which Engebregtsen referred was given to her by Catholic Charities with the Christmas wishes of five families, 27 people total.

“Whatever their wish is, we honor it,” she said, adding that since the bar started collecting gifts for Catholic Charities six years ago, every wish — and more — has been fulfilled.

Engebregtsen said one year a child asked for a bike, and through her collection, got a bike and a helmet. Another asked for a basketball, and he was given a ball and a pump.

“Once the ball goes flat, it’s no good,” she said. “These are kids that don’t have anything, so whatever they ask for, we get.” …

…  Engebregtsen’s motivation for gathering the toys stems from having been one of five children in a poor household.

“When we were kids, we were pretty poor,” she said. “We benefited from people’s generosity and actually through the Catholic Church.”

Engebregtsen and her family attended St. Peter Parish, Oshkosh, Wis. and she went to St. Peter School.

“We were able to attend the school without paying tuition,” she said. “The parents of our classmates, they were very generous. They exposed us to things that we wouldn’t have been otherwise exposed to.”

She was grateful for gifts her family had received when she was a child and after growing up, she fell into this toy tradition by accident.

“The first year we collected for Toys for Tots and when I went to go drop (the gifts) off, they said the deadline had already passed so I took them to Catholic Charities and they were really happy to get the gifts,” Engebregtsen said.

Shortly after that, she received a call from then-Archbishop of Milwaukee Timothy M. Dolan, now cardinal, thanking her and asking if he could come to the bar to pick them up.

“It’s exciting that he’d go out of his way to stop at a small neighborhood bar to thank us for what we’ve done,” she said.

On that day she remembered Cardinal Dolan sitting at the bar and ordering a Budweiser.

“He told my bartender not to tell anybody and she said ‘Why? You can’t have a beer?’ And he said, ‘No, don’t tell anyone it’s Budweiser,’” Engebregtsen said, laughing at the memory.

The tradition of the archbishop coming to the bar to receive the toys continues with Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. (Read more here.)

Should Catholic Universities Support Catholic Teaching?

Should Catholic universities support Catholic teaching?

Secular universities are often seen as teaching anti-Christian, anti-Catholic propaganda along with the rest of the curriculum. One reason many people chose Catholic universities is to avoid this propaganda and attacks on their faith.

So, the question is two-fold. Do Catholic universities have a responsibility to support Catholic teaching? Are they engaging in false advertising when they call themselves “Catholic” and then subject students to the same kind of anti-Catholic propaganda found in secular universities?

Academic freedom is always an issue when dealing with schools at the university level. But how much academic freedom do secular schools, with their group-think mentality about so many issues, actually provide? The word “propaganda” could describe much of what they do. In truth, the word “indoctrination” would also be a good fit. “Academic freedom” in actual practice has often been misused. It can become an excuse for lack of responsibilty, violation of free thought and intolerance for genuine diversity of opinions and fair-play on university campuses.

This often acrimonious debate recently reared its head at the San Diego University. San Diego University is a Catholic university. When the school’s president cancelled the invitation to speak that had been extended to a “Catholic” scholar who opposed core Church teachings, including abortion and gay marriage, she ran into the resistance of many on her faculty, as well as members of the academic community outside her school.

The Catholic Register article describing this situation reads in part:

SAN DIEGO — A textbook case of division over campus Catholic identity is continuing at the University of San Diego, where a significant step undertaken to promote Catholic fidelity has generated fierce controversy.

Earlier this fall, USD’s president, Mary Lyons, denied a British theologian — who is openly at odds with some of the Catholic Church’s most fundamental moral teachings — her upcoming status as a “visiting fellow” at the university. The firestorm of debate over academic freedom that has ensued pits Lyons against many of her own faculty and has now involved the university’s board of trustees, too.

British Catholic theologian Tina Beattie, the director of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Catholic Studies at Roehampton University in the United Kingdom, was invited by USD’s Frances Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture (CCTC) to give lectures during the month of November at the university as a “visiting fellow.”

Beattie disagrees with the Church’s teachings on contraception, early-term abortion, same-sex “marriage” and women’s ordination, according to a report posted at the website of the Cardinal Newman Society, a watchdog group dedicated to promoting Catholic identity in higher education.

Beattie’s lectures had been scheduled a year in advance, but days before her scheduled arrival in San Diego, Lyons revoked Beattie’s visiting fellowship in an Oct. 27 letter. Lyons took this action because Beattie signed onto an Aug. 13 public letter, published by The Times of London, opposing the Catholic bishops of the United Kingdom on same-sex “marriage.”

In the letter, Beattie identified herself as a Catholic theologian.

President Lyons’ Position

“The issue, for me, is a Catholic theologian using her office as a theologian to advocate that lay Catholics essentially take a position in opposition to the legitimate teaching authority of the Church, namely the bishops,” Lyons told the Register.

The letter signed by Beattie and 26 others stated: “Not all Catholics share their hierarchy’s stated views against proposals to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples. We suggest that it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully formed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/stand-for-catholic-identity-pits-university-of-san-diego-president-against/#ixzz2FYTBm7YJ

Pope Toughens Stand on Gay Marriage

Associated Press/Alessandra Tarantino – Pope Benedict XVI, right, acknowledges the crowd during his weekly general audience in Hall Paul VI, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The pope took his opposition to gay marriage to new heights Friday, denouncing what he described as people manipulating their God-given gender to suit their sexual choices — and destroying the very “essence of the human creature” in the process.

Benedict XVI made the comments in his annual Christmas speech to the Vatican bureaucracy — one of his most important speeches of the year. He dedicated it this year to promoting family values in the face of vocal campaigns in France, the United States, Britain and elsewhere to legalize same-sex marriage.

In his remarks, Benedict quoted the chief rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, in saying the campaign for granting gays the right to marry and adopt children was an “attack” on the traditional family made up of a father, mother and children.

“People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being,” he said. “They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.”

“The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned,” he said. (Read more here.)

Fiscal Cliff: Obama wants more than just taxes on rich folks …

Are we heading for a future where the only non-profits will be those with government blessing and government funding?

A move by the Obama administration to limit tax deductions for charitable donations could lead this country in exactly that direction. The administration has made this part of the package it is bargaining for in the so-called “fiscal cliff” imbroglio.

A December 13 Washington Post article discusses the lobbying efforts concerning the move to cut charitable deductions to non-profits. It says in part:

The White House and the nation’s most prominent charities are embroiled in a tense behind-the-scenes debate over President Obama’s push to scale back the nearly century-old tax deduction on donations that the charities say is crucial for their financial health.

In a series of recent meetings and calls, top White House aides have pressed nonprofit groups to line up behind the president’s plan for reducing the federal deficit and averting the year-end “fiscal cliff,” according to people familiar with the talks.

In part, the White House is seeking to win the support of nonprofit groups for Obama’s central demand that income tax rates rise for upper-end taxpayers. There are early signs that several charities, whose boards often include the wealthy, are willing to endorse this change.

But the White House is also looking to limit the charitable deduction for high-income earners, and that has prompted frustration and resistance, with leaders of major nonprofit organizations, such as the United Way, the American Red Cross and Lutheran Services in America, closing ranks in opposing any change to the deduction.

“It’s all castor oil,” said Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector, an umbrella group representing many nonprofits. “And the members of the nonprofit sector I represent don’t want any part of it. It’s a medicine we’re not willing to drink.”
(Read more here.)

If the government cuts off deductions for charitable giving, where will that leave the many non-profits out there? Where, especially will it leave those non-profits who have the temerity to oppose the ruling powers in government?

I think it will leave them in a position where they either have to go to the government itself for additional funding, or curtail their activities. This, of course, would mean that those non-profits which please government leaders, particularly politicians, would become powerful and that their relationship with these politicians would tend toward a kind of political/social/financial incest.

Those non-profits with the temerity to oppose these powerful people would see their influence wither and weaken. NGOs have been the voice of conscience in far too many situations around the world for moves to constrict their funding to be a benign act.

That is where I think the administration’s ploy to reduce charitable tax-exemptions by the wealthy is heading. I’ve been hearing behind-the-scenes rumbling about plans to bring non-profits under the government heel for over a year now. This move makes me think that they are more than rumblings.

By linking the idea of reducing deductions for non-profit donations with the very popular idea of having the wealthy pay more of their fair share of the cost of government, the Obama administration has been able to slip this by the public with very little attention.

That’s great news for Planned Parenthood, since Planned Parenthood seems to have the President’s unwavering commitment. The Affordable Health Care Act is a plenteous bounty for Planned Parenthood. The administration has been willing to go to the wall in moves to attack organizations that Planned Parenthood regards as enemies. It’s even gone so far as to take on the First Amendment to attack the Catholic Church.

Based on all that, I’m not inclined to give the administration the benefit of the doubt about this move to limit deductions for charitable donations. I think, given recent history in these matters, that would be almost childishly foolish.

 

Lest we forget …

These irreplaceable people lost their lives in Newton Connecticut one week ago today.

Don’t let political squabbling make us forget them.

Dozens of Michigan Schools Close Due to Rumors of Violence

Dozens of Michigan schools cancelled classes today because of fall-out from the Sandy Hook tragedy, combined with the Mayan calendar nonsense.

This is just a symptom of how raw the people of this nation are this week.

It raises the question that I asked here. Why did our leader rush this country into a divisive debate on gun control before the victims of this latest atrocity were even buried?

Grieving our losses and trying to bring ourselves and our families together for a holy and healing Christmas are about all the people of this country can handle right now.

Aside from executive orders, which I think would be terribly unwise, there is nothing that can be done until after the New Year. Congress and the president are engaged in an insult-slinging fight over the “fiscal cliff.” Isn’t playing chicken with our economic security enough trauma from Washington for now?

A wise leader understands that there is a time for everything. I believe that opening a debate about solutions — especially when the proposed solutions are things that divide us — is poor leadership in this sensitive time. I think it is uncaring leadership. By that I mean that I think the president has focused on taking advantage of what he sees as a political opportunity and ignored  the well-being of the American people. There was no practical reason why he had to open this debate this week. None.

The Associated Press article about school closings in Michigan reads in part:

DETROIT (AP) — Dozens of Michigan schools canceled classes for thousands of students to cool off rumored threats of violence and problems related to doomsday scenarios based on the Mayan calendar, officials said Thursday.

Public schools in Genesee and Lapeer counties, neighboring counties north of the Detroit area, started the Christmas break Wednesday night rather than hold classes the rest of the week. Meanwhile, police investigated whether students made false claims about guns at the high school in Grand Blanc, saidJohn Potbury, a spokesman for the Genesee County prosecutor.

Last week’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary school “changed all of us. … Canceling school is the right thing to do,” Genesee County schools said in a statement. (Read more here.)

 

Unseemly haste …

The funerals are not finished.

Why did the President rush this country into a divisive debate about gun control before the victims of this tragedy were buried?

Why the unseemly haste?

Couldn’t he have given this country time to grieve before pushing us into another political fight? Would it be so hard to wait a few days?

Christmas is in four days.

Why didn’t he at least give us time to bury our dead and be together with our families at Christmas before forcing another battle on us?


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