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Last Updated July 24, 2015, 4:57 p.m.

Greece has defaulted on a €1.5 billion (about $1.7 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is the largest national default in history, and the first time a country with a ‘developed economy’ has ever defaulted on an IMF loan.

The Greek government, following decades of economic mismanagement and corruption, was hard-hit by the worldwide banking and economic collapse in 2008. It fell into a serious debt crisis in 2009, and subsequently received several bailouts and loans from the IMF and the European Union (E.U.). The Greek people, however, balked at stringent ‘austerity’ cuts in government spending imposed upon the nation by its creditors.

Greece’s refusal to accept any terms that would improve its long-term economic viability in return for additional bailout funding has made it unable to make its scheduled debt payments.

As its deadline loomed, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (Syriza) suddenly announced that he would put the most recent European bailout offer to a national referendum, and has encouraged his countrymen to vote against it. A ‘no’ vote is likely to result in Greece being expelled from the Eurozone currency union. As the Greek economy continues to destabilize, its government has closed all banks and limited cash withdrawals to €60 (about $67) per person per day.

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Posted in Briefly, Reports
Posted June 30, 2015, 1:40 p.m.
Four Horsemen of Apocalypse (Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887)

Four Horsemen of Apocalypse (Vasnetsov, 1887)

Every few years, there is a big hubbub about the end of the world. Many predicted the world would end in the year 2000, and others predicted it would happen with the beginning of the new millennium in 2001. The Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo, which carried out a deadly terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, predicted that we would all die in a nuclear holocaust in 2003. Pat Robertson, an influential leader in Baptist Christianity, once predicted that the Earth’s destruction would occur in 2007.

More recently, Harold Camping, the evangelical Christian founder of the Family Radio network, memorably predicted that the Rapture would occur in May 2011 . . . and when it didn’t, he revised his prediction to October of the same year . . . and then he stopped trying to pick dates. The ancient Mayan calendar ran out on December 21, 2012, and many claimed that would be the day the world would end, because when you want to know about the future you should always ask the ancient Mayans.

Every time this comes up, I say the same thing: No, the world will end on April 15, 2033. Well, I’m not entirely certain . . . it could also be on April 17, April 22, or April 24 of the same year.

Of course this is all a bit tongue-in-cheek. I don’t have any inside knowledge, and I am cognizant of Jesus’s statement that, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36, RSV-CE), and the Holy Spirit’s admonition recorded by Saint John, warning that, ” . . . you will not know at what hour I will come upon you” (Revelation 3:3, RSV-CE). So, in reality, your guess is as good as mine. But I have an idle curiosity about it none-the-less.

Much of the apocalyptic thought in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s revolved around the two-thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, which would have been some time around the year 2000. We suspect that our calendar system is not exactly correct, and that Jesus was probably born some time between 6 B.C. and 1 B.C., so this would have put the two-thousandth anniversary between 1995 and 2000. But I think a more likely date would be two thousand years after Christ’s crucifixion, or perhaps his resurrection, as these were the most important moments in his earthly ministry.

Based on the available historical and scriptural evidence, it is most likely that Jesus was crucified by the Roman government on the Friday nearest to the Jewish Passover in A.D. 33, and then was resurrected on the Sunday following. So the two-thousandth anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection would be in the year 2033, and should be celebrated according to the Christian liturgical calendar. In 2033, Good Friday will be celebrated on April 15 and Easter will be celebrated on April 17. Of course, there is a well-known discrepancy between how the date of Easter is calculated in the western (i.e., Catholic) and eastern (i.e., Orthodox) churches, so if our Orthodox brethren have it ‘right,’ the dates may be April 22 and 24 instead. I personally incline toward the Catholic celebration of Good Friday as the most logical and likely possibility among these four dates.

But there’s no reason to assume that two-thousand is some magic number of years after which there should be a major religious event. It’s a nice, round number, which is probably why it appeals to people, but when God uses numbers symbolically in scripture they’re almost always in multiples of seven or twelve. And apocalyptic predictions, thus far, have all been wrong . . . including a widespread belief throughout Christendom that the world would end in A.D. 1033, the one-thousandth anniversary of Christ’s death and resurrection, which might have had more punch than the two-thousandth anniversary.

In other words, we should probably keep contributing to our 401k’s.

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Posted in Briefly, Religious
Last Updated June 26, 2015, 11:11 a.m.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that marriage is a fundamental human right, and that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause requires states to confer civil marriage to same-sex couples, and that states must recognize same-sex marriages conferred by other states.

In its majority opinion, the court said that, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. . . . [The petitioners'] hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” With regard to interstate recognition, which was perhaps the simplest question before the court (due to the ‘full faith and credit’ clause), the court sidestepped the issue entirely and stated that the establishment of a national right to same-sex marriage removed any lawful basis for refusal to recognize such marriages conferred by other states.

In Chief Justice John Roberts’s dissent, he argues that the Supreme Court has overstepped its authority by legislating from the bench. This is a curious argument, as Roberts only yesterday released a majority opinion in which he rewrote a portion of the Affordable Care Act.

The majority opinion was issued by Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagen. The other four justices issued several overlapping dissents: one issued by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas; one issued by Justice Scalia and joined by Justice Thomas; one issued by Justice Thomas and joined by Justice Scalia; and finally one issued by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas.

Last Updated June 25, 2015, 11:07 a.m.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled 6-3 to uphold healthcare tax credits and subsidies through the Affordable Care Act’s federal insurance exchange, in direct contradiction of the law as-written. This is a major court victory for President Barack Obama’s (D) administration.

At issue in this case is the structure of the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law colloquially known as ObamaCare. Under the law, states have the option of setting up their own health insurance exchanges. If a state chooses not to create an exchange, the federal government will cover that state’s citizens via a federal exchange (the HealthCare.gov web site). Under ObamaCare, a number of tax credits and subsidies are made available to citizens—particularly those with low incomes—to make their health insurance more affordable. However, the law itself establishes these credits and subsidies only in “an Exchange established by the state . . . ,” quite clearly excluding the federal exchange.

In this ruling, the Supreme Court has claimed that the phrase, “an Exchange established by the state,” is ambiguous and should be properly understood as applying to both state and federal exchanges. The ruling appears to be based on an assumption that the intent of the authors of ObamaCare was to extend these credits and subsidies to all who qualify, regardless of what exchange they are in. This may be true, but runs directly counter to the clear text of the law. In its ruling, the court does acknowledge that the ObamaCare law contains “more than a few examples of inartful drafting,” but instead of taking the law at its word, the court has attempted to rewrite it in line with legislative intent.

A fiery minority opinion referred to the majority opinion as “quite absurd,” and points out that between this ruling and an earlier ruling where the court redefined a fine as a tax, perhaps ObamaCare should be known as SCOTUScare (SCOTUS being a common abbreviation for the Supreme Court of the United States). Indeed, we have now established court precedents at the highest level that arbitrarily redefine ‘fine’ to mean ‘tax’ and ‘state’ to mean ‘state and federal.’ This raises serious questions about whether any law can be presumed to mean exactly what it says, and about the level of authority the Supreme Court has asserted to modify duly passed and signed legislation.

The ruling was delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito filed a dissent.

Posted June 17, 2015, 3:36 p.m.

Dear fellow conservatives, let’s get a few things straight. We’re supposed to be all about the constitutional separation of power, and prudent and responsible action on the international stage. Within our ranks there will be disagreements about how to act (or not act) on specific issues, but let’s try to remember our core principles and not let blind politics get in our way.

First, the U.S. Constitution gives primary responsibility for international affairs to the president and the executive branch. Whether you and I agree or disagree with President Barack Obama (D) and his administration on foreign policy matters, we have to accept that they are his responsibility. Congressional efforts to interfere with executive actions with regard to Cuba and Iran are unconstitutional and improper. Congress has the authority to declare war, and the U.S. Senate has the power to ratify (or not ratify) any formal treaties brought before them. The Congress can exercise those specific powers all it wants. Otherwise, foreign affairs are none of its business.

Second, let’s not lose track of what we want to accomplish. I tend toward the ‘neoconservative’ side of the spectrum and I’m fine with being very active on the world stage, with military force when needed . . . but we must be smart, and we must always be open to diplomacy until it has been proven completely ineffective.

We normalized our relationship with the People’s Republic of China under President Richard Nixon (R), and it has been good for us and it has been good for the people of China. We could have maintained our diplomatic and economic stonewall, or, worse, gone to war with them, but in that particular case those would have been very poor choices. The lack of diplomatic and economic relations was not leading to change in China, and war would have killed millions (or even billions) and also not affected any positive change. Our best option was to try and get China to open itself to the rest of civilization . . . and it worked. China still has serious problems with human rights and political liberty, but it is light years ahead of where it was, in large part because of its robust political and economic ties with the west.

Similarly, President Ronald Reagan (R) made serious efforts to engage with the Soviet Union, and thereby helped lay the groundwork that led to economic modernization and, eventually, the collapse of a terrible regime. The Soviet Union had to earn our trust, and it took time, but in the end diplomacy worked.

This isn’t always the right course of action; I would argue that deposing Saddam Hussein was the best possible option for Iraq, as diplomacy really had failed. Smart people can disagree about what the right approaches are in specific cases. But we can’t assume that diplomatic and economic stonewalls, or war, are automatically the best way to handle isolated and despotic regimes. We must be open to using diplomacy and economic relations to advance the march of freedom, even if we have to ‘hold our noses’ and deal with some really bad regimes in the process.

I would argue that the normalization of relations with Cuba, recently initiated by President Obama, is likely to affect Cuba much like it affected China. It is the best among the available options. Iran is a more difficult case, given its efforts to develop nuclear weapons capability, its fervent antisemitism, and its unapologetic support of Islamic terrorism, but we can’t assume that continued sanctions and diplomatic silence are the best way to move forward. We must be willing to talk, and to give them the chance to make incremental improvements and build trust. That’s what we did with China, and what we did with the Soviet Union.

It doesn’t always work. President Bill Clinton (D) made similar deals with North Korea, and they promptly subverted and violated those agreements and eviscerated the small amount of trust they had earned. There are no guarantees here. But let’s be open to giving Cuba and Iran a chance to surprise us, and let’s not blindly condemn President Obama for being willing to negotiate with the devil . . . just like Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton before him.

About Scott Bradford

Scott Bradford has been building web sites and using them to say what he thinks since 1995, which tended to get him in trouble with power-tripping assistant principals at the time. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, but has spent most of his career (so far) working on public- and private-sector web sites. He is not a member of any political party, and brands himself an ‘independent constitutional conservative.’ In addition to holding down a day job and blogging about challenging subjects like politics, religion, and technology, Scott is also a devout Catholic, gun-owner, bike rider, and music lover with a wife, two cats, and a dog.