I had thought that by now, 2012, it was impossible to be shocked by an example of episcopal moral idiocy regarding the sexual abuse of minors. For every bishop like Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who has self-evidently tried to do the right thing by the victims of this horror, there is a grand jury report, actually two, in Philadelphia cataloguing indifference or worse. For every archdiocese like Washington, where three consecutive archbishops – Hickey, McCarrick and Wuerl – have handled accusations of abuse with swiftness and justice, there is a diocese like Kansas City-St. Joseph, which is under criminal indictment for failing to follow civil law, let alone moral law. And for every brave and decisive bishop like Wilton Gregory, who as chairman of the USCCB in 2002 refused to ignore the gravity of the crisis or accept half-measures to face it, there is a bishop like Fabian Bruskewitz who still refuses to even permit an audit of his diocese’s compliance with child protection procedures. As I say, I thought I was beyond shock.
The new unemployment numbers again out-performed expectations, and drove the unemployment rate down to 8.3%. Overall, 243,000 jobs were added in January and, importantly, the number of private sector jobs grew by 257,000. The number of government employees again dragged down the total, but by less than in previous months.
As I have mentioned before, throughout 2011, each month, the total jobless rate was affected by the fact that the much maligned Stimulus funding was evaporating and federal, state and local governments were shedding jobs. The government sector lost 276,000 jobs in the last year. If the government employment number is at or near bottoming out, that the growth in private sector jobs will be even more obvious.
On Wednesday, the state Senate in the Commonwealth of Virginia passed a bill requiring women who wish to procure an abortion to first have an ultrasound. They can decline to view the ultrasound images, but must sign a statement that they so declined. The bill has passed the Virginia House of Delegates on previous occasions, but had always been stalled in the Senate. It is expected to be signed into law.
In this morning's Washington Post, Melinda Henneberger looks at the HHS conscience exemption decision. I was delighted to see that Henneberger was as appalled as I was at the way the President treated Sr. Carol Keehan in this matter, and that he could not bring himself to point out to his pro-choice allies that failure to expand the conscience exemption turns the entire Affordable Care Act into a more ripe target for judicial or political overturning.
But, Henneberger's key point comes with these sentences. Citing a blog post at the White House blog, and after picking apart its logic point-by-point, she writes: "Oh, and it says that 'contraception is used by most women,' including most Catholics. Again, true but not remotely the issue, which is the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment." Brava!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.