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More Marshall on Gingrich

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Josh Marshall of the must-read Talking Points Memo website picks up where he left off on Hardball last night. The "...the pattern with Gingrich shows a level of hypocrisy, cruelty and emotional immaturity that most people won't accept in a president," he writes.

I'm not so sure. The good news for Gingrich is that he doesn't, at least early on, need the votes of "most people." Instead, in a crowded Republican field he needs a plurality of votes, or a vote count that "exceeds expectations," in the early contests of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Given the weakness of the Republican field, and given Gingrich's ambitions, that's a bet well worth making.

Among the latest to pray in Phan Thiet, Vietnam

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For the past two weeks my wife and I have been traveling with family, friends and others, including a number of NCR readers, through central Vietnam. We began our trip in Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam, moved by bus to Hoi An, a 17th century Vietnam coastal trade city, then down to Nha Trang, Vietnam, a booming tourist center.

This is the sixth time my wife and I have led tour groups through Vietnam in recent years. We come back here to share Vietnamese culture, history, cuisine and religion with friends and to visit my wife's family members along the way.

Illinois giving up the death penalty for Lent

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The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign a bill banning the death penalty tomorrow.

Quinn, a Catholic, picked Ash Wednesday to sign the legislation that the state House and Senate passed in January. The governor had not gone public with his intentions and was said to still be listening to both sides as of last week.

Illinois will join New York, New Jersey and New Mexico, all of which have done away with the death penalty in the last three years.

Many Catholics, including this one, had been urging the governor to sign the ban. This is truly a prolife victory. Amen.

Gingrich Appeals to Christian Right

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On the opening segment of tonight’s Hardball (replayed at 7:00 p.m. EST. on MSNBC), pundits Howard Fineman, Josh Marshall and host Chris Matthews examine former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s calculated appeal to religious conservatives in Iowa. Gingrich and several other Republican presidential hopefuls spoke last night at the state’s “Faith and Freedom” forum.

Not too long ago Gingrich was a secularist, a political leader who paid necessary lip service to the Republican evangelical base but who cared more about lowering the capital gains rate than the abortion rate. Gingrich has changed – he converted to Catholicism last year and wears his new found faith (one with a particularly conservative, some would say “orthodox” bent) on his sleeve. His party has also changed.

Answers for Vatican visitors become sisters Lenten reflections

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The Vatican seems to be nearing the end of an investigation of communities of sisters in the United States who engage in apostolic work. Whether we learn the results of that investigation remains to be seen.

The investigation has been shrouded in secrecy. Ostensibly it is an investigation into the quality of sisters’ lives, but it has had a disturbing aggressive quality.

However, it has also had unintended consequences. One seems to be a stirring of feelings of love and loyalty of many of the faithful to communities of women religious. That doesn’t surprise me. What has surprised me in my own community, the Sisters of Loretto, has been our positive engagement in the process.

More than 80 sisters chose to be interviewed and more wrote letters to the visitators last November. We wrote up what we wanted to say. We practiced. We talked together about our visions of religious life, the strengths we see in Loretto, and any external threats we experience. (Many sisters named the Vatican investigation as an external threat.)

Some interviewees traveled to our Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Kentucky for the interviews. (Others used Skype.)

Movie on Opus Dei founder sure to set Catholic tongues wagging

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Six years ago I published a book on Opus Dei, attempting to sort myth from reality about the controversial Catholic group. One question I hoped to answer was this: What was it about St. Josemar'a Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, which inspired hundreds of thousands of people around the world, far beyond the group’s relatively meager membership of roughly 90,000?

What's really up in Wisconsin

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The tables seems to be turning against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker: his popularity has plummeted as he has waged his war against collective bargaining for state employees.

But public sector unions aren't anyone's idea of a damsel in distress here: people continue to see these unions and their members as bastions of privilege in a shifting labor landscape.

But it's that shift that is helping to fuel the anti-union anger. In New York State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seeking wage and pension give backs from unions -- the same concessions Wisconsin's workers have already agreed.

The stark fact is this: according to The New York Times, the average state worker in New York earns $62,382 -- but the average New Yorker employed privately? He or she makes only $46,957.

Those numbers raise your blood temperature, don't they? How can it be okay for public workers to make so much more than the taxpayers who fund them? Horrible. Terrible.

Tax breaks for charitable giving?

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Kim Klein teaches non-profit leaders how to raise money. She wrote a terrific book, Fundraising for Social Change, and founded the Grassroots Fundraising Journal. If you have a good cause, they are excellent resources.

But in recent years, schools, fire departments and even the mothers of soldiers have mounted effective fund-raising campaigns. They used to be fully funded by taxes. Now they are competing with homeless shelters and anti-war groups for scarce funds.

This has led Kim to develop workshops on tax policy. How much do we want to pay and what do we want for our money?

In this vein, on January 6 she posted a blog saying that we should abolish the charitable tax deduction. The philanthropic world is a small one and Kim has started a maelstrom there.

While there’s never been a big Catholic emphasis on tithing, we are generous too, so I expect NCR readers will also care about this matter of tax deductions for our charitable gifts. Here’s the link to Kim’s blog.

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