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The Nat'l Prayer Breakfast

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The National Prayer Breakfast was held yesterday, as it always is, at the Washington Hilton, the only hotel with a ballroom large enough to contain such a large crowd. The attendees pay $175 and don’t even get a made-to-order omelet. It is a bizarre event.

The Prayer Breakfast is organized by the Fellowship, a shadowy and somewhat sinister organization that provides room and board for conservative members of Congress, as well as support for crazy evangelical pastors abroad, such as those leading the effort to make homosexuality punishable by death in Uganda. The Fellowship’s members have been involved in a slew of scandals, both personal and political, raising some questions about the group’s effectiveness at inculcating moral virtues among its members. But, when they throw this breakfast, everyone attends and no one questions why they don’t have the prayer in a church. I will vote for any candidate who vows to have a National Prayer Morning, at which everyone goes to St. Matthew’s Cathedral for morning Mass, and they can get breakfast on their own, and far more cheaply, at Kramer’s up the street when Mass is finished.

Religious Liberty Issue Seeping into the Mainstream

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Of course, here at NCR we've been on top of the religious liberty issue as it regards the HHS conscience exemptions since August. Finally, the mainstream media is taking notice. A column by EJ here, a column by Gerson there, and, now, a segment on CNN last night that featured CUA Professor Steve Schneck who is no stranger to readers of this blog. Here is a link to CNN's segment.

An Alternative to Payday Loans

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My colleague Tom Gallagher kindly sent me a link to an article he penned a few years ago about an alternative to payday loans: microcredit. I once visited a microcredit operation in Tula, Mexico, where mostly women found the necessary financial backing to start small businesses. It was amazing to see and the center where the operation was run was a center of social networking for these women, most of them poor, many young mothers. They helped each other not only with their finances, but with taking care of each others' children, they had speakers who talked about health issues, it was community organizing at its best. As Gallagher notes, there is no reason we can't do it here.

Give Mitt a Break

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There are lies, damned lies, and campaigns.

I am no fan of Mitt Romney and think there is plenty in his record, and more in his current rightwing stances, to find objectionable, especially his strident stance on immigration reform. But, when a person speaks in a complete sentence, the media and even Mr. Romney's opponents have an obligation not to cut off half the sentence and run with it. In this case, Mr. Romney was trying to make the point that he wanted to focus on the middle class, but he prefaced his remark by saying he wasn't concerned about the poor because they have a social safety net, and he wasn't worried about the rich because they are doing just fine. Now, I would like to see Mr. Romney try and live on the social safety net for a week. And, I would like him to explain how anyone who does care about preserving the social safety net could voice anything but derision towards the Paul Ryan budget. But, yesterday, he was being pummelled for something he did not say, and that is a bum rap.

Civic Duty

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My apologies for the lack of posts today. I was doing my civic duty and attending a meeting of our county's planning and zoning commission. To be clear, better to put pins in your eyes than to have to sit through such an event. And, as it happened, the commission members, one of whom really, really liked the sound of his own voice, asked questions of their own staff for three hours, then one hour from the developer, and then, having made the fifty or so members of the public sit and wait for four hours, they adjourned for lunch. Yeesh!

Anyway, the developer seemed to have answers for all the questions and, God and the zoning commission willing, they will be opening a Whole Foods two blocks from my house within a couple of years. Yum!

Another Front on Religious Liberty Fight

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Another front has opened in the war on religious liberty and it has nothing to do with the Obama administration. In Missouri, religious leaders are being told that their continued opposition to predatory lending practices will jeopardize their tax-exempt status.

Payday lenders are a blight on the nation, but the stain seems particularly foul in the Show Me State. An editorial at St. Louis Today noted that Missouri is “completely out of whack with national norms” on the issue, and that lenders in the state can charge, legally, as much as 1,980 percent on small, short-term loans of up to $500. You read that correctly: 1,980 percent. This at a time when interest rates are at historic lows.

Countdown to London

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I had not given much thought to the upcoming Olympic games in London this summer until this article in NCR about the Catholic bishops in the UK using the Games to increase attention on the faith. The article brought back a flood of memories.

I used to be an Olympic-holic. I watched round-the-clock coverage. In 1976, my Dad and I went to Montreal for the first ten days of those games. We attended the opening ceremonies, and we saw swimming and diving and rowing and gymanstics and volleyball and the opening track and field competition. But, the absolute highlight was team handball, a game little known in the U.S. but very popular in central Europe. If you ever go to a summer games, get tickets for the team handball. We went back and got more tickets to watch more of this incredibly fast-paced game that is a little like water polo without the water.

Florida Fallout

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Mitt Romney took a big step towards securing the nomination with his 14-point victory over Newt Gingrich. The victory comes as the candidates head into a murky February in which a few caucuses here and there, and only one debate, will make for some difficult choices for the Gingrich campaign. Romney has the funds and organization to compete everywhere, but Gingrich does not. Additionally, Nevada is a state in which 25% of the electroate is Mormon and which Romney carried last time. Gingrich's challenge is the same that faced Hillary Clinton in 2008 the morning after Super Tuesday. Her campaign had planned on locking up the nomination on that day and, when they didn't, they had no plan for the many caucuses that followed and in which Barack Obama ran the table, building up a lead in delegates that carried him through to the end. Gingrich either needs to pick one February contest and try to win, or cede the month to Romney and focus on a strong showing on Super Tuesday in early March. The problem with the latter strategy is obvious: Romney's advantage in money and organization is designed to win on multi-state primary days.

Catholic Mission in a Pluralistic, High-Tech World

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On February 14, Catholic University will host a “Colloquium on Catholic HealthCare: Learning from the Past, Planning the Future.” As a visiting fellow at CUA’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, I have been involved in some of the planning discussions for the event. NCR’s health care correspondent Alice Popovici will be covering the event, which is great because I do not know a lot about healthcare and Alice does. But, in the planning meetings, I have realized that the Colloquium is not just about health care. The themes to be discussed, especially that of maintaining our Gospel mission in a modern, pluralistic society, touch on issues that face many ministries in the Church today from higher education to social service providers to the decisions individual Catholics must make about how to witness to their faith.

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