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Apologies

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I am still fighting this darned flu and have not had the energy to sit up, let alone concentrate. All of which is very strange because I don't think i have had so much as a cold in three years, a fact I attribute to clean living. (Cue the laugh track!)
I apologize for being out of the picture on such a big news day but there it is. I hope to have comments tomorrow on Bp Zavala, Cardinal O'Malley's letter on the 10th anniversary of the sex abuse crisis, and the campaigns. But, for now, back to bed.

The Iowa Muddle

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Muddle. That is what the Iowa caucuses produced last night. Indeed, the only thing that is really clear is that a majority of Republican voters really, really do not want to back Mitt Romney.

A plurality of the anti-Romney vote went to Rick Santorum, even though the typical Iowa voter knew next to nothing about him. On one of the channels, they had a Google executive who noted the steep increase in hits for Santorum in the past week, which only means that the voters learned about Santorum what Santorum wanted them to know. (They also learned about a very vulgar trick played on Santorum some years ago – do not google the man’s name with children in the room.) There were next to no anti-Santorum ads from the other candidates. And, it is still hard to imagine Santorum gaining traction because, among other things, he is kinda boring.

Ron Paul is sui generis and Iowa will likely prove to be his best showing. He has nowhere to go but it will be curious to see if any of the other candidates risk alienating his supporters by going after him. And, you can bet Team Obama will be looking to see if Paul’s supporters intend to sit on their hands come November.

Friendship v. Bigotry

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Jerzy Kluger, the childhood Jewish friend of Karol Wojtyla, has died. The friendship between two men, which ripened with adulthood, is often credited with influencing Wojtyla's outreach to Jews and Israel when he became Pope John Paul II.

The Kluger-Wojtyla friendship is really the second famous friendship that paved the way for better relations between Jews and Christians. Edward Jacobson was a close friend of President Harry S. Truman and helped convince Truman, over the objections of the State Department, to recognize the State of Israel as soon as it declared its independence in 1948.

There is a lesson in these twin friendships for all of us: Friendship is the great enemy of bigotry. A great affection will trump a bigoted argument everytime, or almost everytime. This is no bleeding heart sentiment. It is the heart of the Gospel: The human trumps the abstract. Only by being open, truly open, to the other (and the Other) can we imitate and follow Jesus, the Deity who became human.

BBC on Saving US Pipe Organs

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BBC America had a great segment on the good work of the people at Organ Clearinghouse. When churches purchase a new organ, they salvage the old one, refurbish it, and try to find a home for the instrument. This work not only preserves historic instruments, it provides less wealthy congregations with fine instruments that will sound better and last much, much longer than any electric organ will.

You can visit the website of Organ Clearinghouse here.

Finally

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I wondered when someone was finally going to go after Mitt Romney over two provisions of his health care reform in Massachusetts, namely, the fact that the reforms mandate taxpayer funding of abortions and permit Planned Parenthood to designate one of the members of the health care advisory board set up by the law.

Now, according to Katherine Seelye of the New York Times, Newt Gingrich is prepared to raise the issue. Indeed, Gingrich mentioned it last night in an interview with Sean Hannity. Seelye mentions the issue was raised at a Dec. 21 media avail with Gingrich. Hmmmmm. I wonder who that could have been?

The most important aspect of this story is that the health care reforms came AFTER Romney's conversion on the abortion issue, not before.

Payroll Tax Cuts & Third Rails

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The recent showdown over extending the payroll tax cut may have worked out alright for President Obama: He forced congressional Republicans into the awkward position of appearing willing to fight to the death to preserve tax cuts for millionaires but indifferent to the extension of tax cuts for the middle class. This is not a good place to be at the start of an election year and the GOP leadership caved. It was acclaimed as a big political win for the White House. In the event, the Congress could only agree to a two month extension so the debate will be back in February.

The entire debate sent shivers down my spine. Not because I feared the President would blink. But, because the payroll tax cut is the kind of idea an economist devises – it is efficient, it pumps money into the economy, etc. – but also an idea that may have ugly political consequences down the road. It will be very, very hard to end that tax cut in the years ahead and it is the payroll tax that funds Social Security.

Eric Cantor Crashes on 60 Minutes

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In case you missed last night's "60 Minutes" profile of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, it is worthwhile takeing a moment to watch it. It was a disaster for Cantor. Leslie Stahl tried to get him to at least acknowledge that either he and his fellow Republicans must learn how to compromise or admit that they are willing to be intransigent on what they believe are issues upon which compromise is impossible. He couldn't do it.

The worst moment, however, came at the end when Stahl pointed out that Ronald Reagan compromised and raised taxes. Off-camera, you heard a voice that was identified as Cantor's press secretary. The press secretary was taking issue with Stahl's premise but that is emphatically not his job. She posed the question to Cantor and it was his job to answer it or dodge it. Having a handler intervene made Cantor look like a martinet.

The other day I heard GOP pollster Frank Luntz note that Congress' approval rating is at 9 percent, which is lower than Qadaffi's approval rating was among Libyans when he was killed by those same Libyans.

An Iowa Op-ed Worth Reading

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An op-ed in today's Quad City Times, in Davenport, Iowa, was co-authored by a Protestant minister and the head of the diocese of Davenport's Catholic Charities. Their conclusion is worth the price of admission: "Perhaps in this season of hope and compassion, religious leaders and those who seek the presidency can help rekindle faith in the deeply American proposition that we are all in this together."

The whole op-ed can be found here.

The Santorum Boomlet

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A month ago, even two weeks ago, you could get a laugh at a cocktail party suggesting that there was still time for former Sen. Rick Santorum to become the “flavor of the month” in the GOP primary. Not anymore.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann stumbled over the HPV vaccine. Gov. Rick Perry stumbled over the English language. Herman Cain stumbled over everything. Each rose in the polls, garnered a great deal of media attention, and withered from the harsh light. But, Santorum? The guy lost to Sen. Robert Casey by 18 points, the largest margin of defeat for any incumbent senator in 2006.

Not Every Day

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The other day, on the radio, I heard an NPR report on the funeral of the "dear leader" Kim Jong Il and the report started with masses of Koreans singing "The Internationale." Wow. Not every day you hear that! The NPR reporter did not call attention to the music, which I hope every good leftie still remembers.

I could not find a video of that part of the ceremony but here is a recording of what is really a splendid piece of music in Korean:

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