Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Rump Diocese Tries "Hail Mary" Pass in South Carolina

Let's see ... when you're on your own 20-yard line, it's third down and still ten to go, you're behind 7-0 and there's just 30 seconds left in the half, what do you do as quarterback?

You send your ends out wide and long and hope to connect with what is called a "Hail Mary" pass.

Now in the current litigation in South Carolina, the drive by ECUSA's team to move the ball into federal court has been blocked at every maneuver. They are stuck back on their own 10-yard line, with just a few dozen seconds left on the clock. (The case in South Carolina's Court of Common Pleas for the County of Dorchester is due to go to trial early next summer; all discovery in the case has to be completed by February 7.) 

And so what do they decide to do?

The defendant rump group (but not yet ECUSA itself) throws a "Hail Mary" pass -- a motion to add, at this late date, four new defendants and eighteen new claims against those defendants, who are Bishop Mark Lawrence, James Lewis, Jeffrey Miller and Paul Fuener. The Rev. James Lewis serves as Bishop Lawrence's Canon to the Ordinary and Executive Secretary to the Diocesan Convention; the Revs. Miller and Fuener have both served as President of the Standing Committee of Mark Lawrence's Episcopal Diocese.

The very first claim the rump group seeks to assert demonstrates the flaw in the entire motion: it is a claim for alleged breach of "fiduciary duty." The theory of the claim is that Bishop Lawrence and the three additional priests each took vows upon their ordinations which imposed upon them "fiduciary duties ... to adhere to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church ... and of the Diocese ...".

It should be obvious to almost anyone that priests who break their ordination vows, or who violate the Constitution and Canons of the Church or of one of its Dioceses, cannot be sued in the civil courts for those actions; that is the entire purpose of Title IV ("Ecclesiastical Discipline") of the Canons. Indeed, Canon IV.19.2 as ECUSA currently observes it says, in no uncertain terms (my emphasis):
No member of the Church, whether lay or ordained, may seek to have the Constitution and Canons of the Church interpreted by a secular court, or resort to a secular court to address a dispute arising under the Constitution and Canons, or for any purpose of delay, hindrance, review or otherwise affecting any proceeding under this Title.
I fail to see, therefore, how the rump group could have authorized the motion to add additional parties to state any claim for breach of the Constitution and Canons -- or indeed, for breach of any fiduciary duties owed to the Church whatsoever. In the words of the Fifth District Appellate Court in Schofield v. Superior Court (2010) 190 Cal.App.4th 154, 165, such questions are "quintessentially ecclesiastical" -- they are issues "the First Amendment forbids us from adjudicating."

Provisional Bishop vonRosenberg must have authorized the filing of this pleading on behalf of his group. That group contains the very same people who brought disciplinary charges against Bishop Lawrence for canonical violations less serious than this. Will they now prefer charges against Bishop vonRosenberg? Don't hold your breath -- it's another case of "one rule for thee, another rule for me." The Canons are for use only against orthodox clergy who try to remain orthodox. The hypocrisy of it all, however, should be plain to any outsider.

So as to the first claim, at least, the motion to add new parties and state new claims violates not only ECUSA's own Canons, but the First Amendment, as well. What about the other claims?

The second ("Breach of Contract") fares no better. The "contracts" it alleges are wholly ecclesiastical ones: Bishop Lawrence's undertaking to perform the duties of a bishop, and Canon Lewis's undertaking to be a priest. Dismissed!

The same fate awaits the third through the seventh claims, which are all based on the "ordination vows and declarations" of the proposed Additional Parties.

Beginning with the eighth claim for the tort of conversion of property, however, the motion commits a new fundamental error: that of mistaking the actions of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina for the individual actions of Bishop Lawrence and the other three priests. Paragraph 152 baldly asserts:
152. Through unlawful ultra vires corporate manipulation, the Additional Parties converted the Diocese's property to their own use for a new religious organization conforming to their own personal religious beliefs.
Aside from the fact that the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina is in no way "a new religious organization", but one which has existed under South Carolina law for over 225 years, the complaint of "conversion" would have to be asserted against it, and not the named individuals. If, as alleged, the acts in question were done on its behalf and for its benefit, then that is the entity to hold liable. (And of course, the Episcopal Diocese is already a party, and a claim for "conversion" has already been asserted against it in the lawsuit.)

The same objection lies for the ninth claim ("fraudulent transfers"), because the quitclaim deeds to parish properties were signed by the Additional Parties not in their individual capacities, but only as officers of the entity (the Diocese) which was quitclaiming any interest in the properties.

The tenth, twelfth, and thirteenth claims each seek the removal from their respective offices of, and other sanctions against, the Additional Parties -- for the same kinds of non-justiciable conduct complained of in the first seven claims, so they should go nowhere. And the eleventh claim ("Judicial Dissolution") in reality seeks no relief against the Additional Parties individually, but only against the Episcopal Diocese; it likewise is a non-starter.

The fourteenth and fifteenth claims simply repeat against the Additional Parties the same claims of trademark infringement which Bishop von Rosenberg sought unsuccessfully to assert against Bishop Lawrence in federal court. Again, as alleged, these claims mistake the corporate actions of the Episcopal Diocese for the individual acts of the defendants.

The sixteenth claim is based on a South Carolina statute (Sec. 33-31-180) with which I am unfamiliar, but which appears to call upon the courts to decide questions of religious doctrine in violation of the First Amendment, and if so, would today be unconstitutional (though perhaps not when it was originally passed).

The seventeenth claim is not a separate claim at all, but simply alleges that the defendants participated in an unlawful conspiracy -- but to do what? To commit the ecclesiastical acts alleged earlier, which are not capable of being examined in the civil courts. 

And the last claim is one for declaratory relief, based on all the preceding allegations. It should meet the same fate as the action alleged for declaratory relief in the Schofield case:
The dispute set forth in the request for declaratory relief in the first cause of action ... is quintessentially ecclesiastical. Accordingly, the trial court erred in adjudicating that cause of action and, upon proper motion, must dismiss that cause of action.
I am not familiar with South Carolina procedure, so I cannot say whether Judge Goodstein will take up these deficiencies on the motion to amend (add parties and claims) itself, or only after the amended pleading has been filed. Either way, I fail to see how this "Hail Mary" pass has any chance of success in court.

Monday, November 25, 2013

This Time, There Is No Sorcerer to Save Us

In the previous post, I traced the trend in this country away from the hard money we started with -- gold and silver coins -- to their replacement with paper promises (called Federal Reserve Notes). This trend occurred despite the complete absence of any grant of power to Congress in the Constitution to print paper money.

Well, strictly speaking, of course, it isn't Congress that prints the Notes. The Federal Reserve authorizes their issuance, and it is the Bureau of Engraving and Printing that does the job. But the Federal Reserve acts with the statutory authority of Congress, and it is Congress who declared the Notes to be "legal tender for all debts, public and private." Its power to do so was resolved long ago, in a series of decisions known as The Legal Tender Cases.

The course away from hard to paper money followed by the United States has been the same as that followed by the rest of the world. And the reasons for adopting paper money schemes have been almost uniformly the same, in country after country: to pay the costs of war.

The last time the world was on a true hard money (also called "commodity money") system lasted from 1879 to 1914. The United States, which had mostly redeemed in specie all of its "greenbacks" issued to finance the Civil War (nota bene), went back on the gold standard in 1879 (and joined Britain, France, Germany, and many other countries in doing so).

But World War I disrupted the finances of the European powers, and one by one they went off the gold standard. The United States continued to redeem (domestically) its money for gold until 1933, when FDR thought he could help the country out of the Great Depression by massive deficit spending. (It is a little-known and -appreciated fact that President Hoover had already embarked on a similar course in 1930. Just like FDR, however, he was unable to put people back to work solely by increasing government spending. The difference is that the electorate held Hoover accountable, while it reveled in FDR's machinations.)

The United States continued to exchange dollars for gold, and vice versa (at the new FDR-established price of $35 per ounce), internationally. (By Executive Order, FDR forbade Americans from holding gold; Congress did not lift the ban until 1975. That was what Americans thought of gold all those years -- while one by one, the domestic gold mines shut down, as after about 1950 they could no longer produce the metal and make a profit at only $35 per ounce.)

Before the Second World War was over, in July 1944, delegates from all 44 Allied countries gathered at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire to work out the form of a post-War international monetary system. A return to the gold standard was unworkable, because the United States (as a result of the War) held most of the world's gold reserves, due to its having steadily bought gold since 1933 at $35 per ounce.

Under the leadership of Britain's Sir John Maynard Keynes, America's Harry Dexter White, Henry Morgenthau, and others, the delegates created the so-called Bretton Woods system that governed international trade and finances from 1945-1971. All foreign currencies were pegged (within a fluctuating range of ten percent) to the U.S. Dollar, and the United States agreed to convert Dollars to Gold at the official rate of $35 per ounce. At the time, it is estimated that the United States held approximately 20,000 metric tons in gold reserves (the bulk of it in New York and at Fort Knox, Kentucky), or 75% of the world's then total.

The Bretton Woods system worked until Lyndon Johnson decided to fight two wars at once: the Vietnam War, and the War on Poverty. By 1968, he had to ask Congress to remove the last requirement for sound currency: at that time, the Federal Reserve was required to keep a gold reserve equal to 25% (reduced from 100% in 1913) of all dollars in circulation. But President Johnson needed more dollars for his programs, and so Congress obligingly removed the requirement that they be backed by gold.

One should take note of what President Johnson told Congress when he made his request (my emphasis added):
Speculation generated by the strains on the international monetary system has caused further drains of gold from international reserves--much of it from our own. As a result, U.S. gold reserves have declined to about $12 billion.
Our commitment to maintain dollar convertibility into gold at $35 an ounce is firm and clear. We will not be a party to raising its price. The dollar will continue to be kept as good as or better than gold.

I am therefore asking the Congress to take prompt action to free our gold reserves so that they can unequivocally fulfill their true purpose--to insure the international convertibility of the dollar into gold at $35 per ounce.
  • The gold reserve requirement against Federal Reserve notes is not needed to tell us what prudent monetary policy should be -- that myth was destroyed long ago.
  • It is not needed to give value to the dollar -- that value derives from our productive economy.
  • The reserve requirement does make some foreigners question whether all of our gold is really available to guarantee our commitment to sell gold at the $35 price. Removing the requirement will prove to them that we mean what we say.

I ask speedy action from the Congress -- because it will demonstrate to the world the determination of America to meet its international economic obligations.
Congress obliged, in March 1968. The drain on U.S. gold reserves continued as inflation mounted everywhere, but the price of gold stood fixed at $35 per ounce. And thus, just three years after Johnson's message to Congress, President Nixon closed the international gold window, in August 1971.

That was a momentous change -- not just for the United States, but for the entire world.

First, the price of gold was no longer a constant; it floated higher with fears of inflation, and soon soared to over $800 per ounce.

Second, because gold could float, so now could the dollar -- and eventually, so could all of the other national currencies that tried to remain pegged to the dollar. This began a new era of "currency wars," from which we still have not emerged.

Third, and perhaps most consequential, the Federal Reserve now had no restraint on its ability to print and circulate its dollar notes and credits, as it monetized more and more of America's debt (check the huge rise in M2 since 1980 in the chart shown in the previous post, as well as the corresponding rise in total credit [debt] since 1971).

But there was a fourth, and unforeseen, consequence of freeing the dollar from its backing in gold. As countries exported their goods to the United States, their exporters received payment in dollars, which they could not use in their own country -- they needed to exchange them at their banks first.

All of those dollars coming into a foreign country, however, could not be exchanged on the open market without causing a spike in the exchange rate of that country's currency against the dollar. (It is the old law of supply and demand -- if suddenly everyone wants to exchange dollars for francs, pounds, marks or lira, then the price of those currencies relative to the dollar will go up.)

If the exchange rate, say, for the franc increased, then French wine would become more expensive in the United States, England and other wine-consuming countries, and France would export less of it. This would hurt French wine producers, and the politicians and central banks were determined not to let that happen.

In order to prevent any increase in their exchange rates, the central banks of each country printed more of their own money to exchange for the flood of dollars coming in. By doing that, they artificially held down the exchange rate, and kept the price of their exports low for other countries.

The money so printed was, however, central bank money -- so it was just printed without any backing of any kind, and it increased the (domestic) supply of each country's own currency, which over the longer run was inflationary for that country.

And what did the central banks do with the dollars that they received in exchange? They invested them -- in the only markets where huge amounts of dollars could be invested -- in the United States. These dollar investments from abroad balanced the trade deficits that the United States was running with many foreign countries, and helped to fund our government's deficit budgets, as well as push up the price of both equities and bonds (which meant that interest rates, which moved opposite to the price of bonds, fell lower).

Now contrast this post-Bretton Woods situation with how things worked during Bretton Woods: if the United States ran a trade deficit with, say, France, then the French did not have to print new money to offset the effect of the new dollars flowing in, because they could immediately exchange all those dollars for gold. Because of its gold backing, the exchange rate of the dollar for the franc remained relatively constant (depending on the vicissitudes of France's own fiscal and monetary policies).

Thus the biggest and least foreseen consequence of the United States going completely off the gold standard was the huge, inflationary increases in foreign currencies that resulted from central banks' attempts to keep their currencies from appreciating against the dollar. A recent estimate of the amount of new paper money added to the world economy in this way is $11.7 trillion. And so long as China, for example, keeps running a trade surplus with the United States while artificially holding down the yuan, there is no end of this paper money inflation in sight.

The $11.7 trillion of new foreign money has to be added to the trillions of new dollars being created by the Federal Reserve -- now more and more through so-called Quantitative Easing.

The result is that the world is awash in paper money, with nothing to back it except people's willingness to continue to accept it in exchange for goods and services.

Moreover, the world does not need all this new paper money, because its economies have not grown in tandem with their money supplies.

How can any Keynesian or monetarist continue to defend such a system? Both of those theories were developed when gold backing imposed a restraint upon the creation of new paper money. And now all restraint is gone -- it's not unlike the tale of the sorcerer's apprentice (in the version with porridge, rather than Goethe's poem, employing a broom and water -- though either version will suffice to make the point).

We know how that tale ends -- the sorcerer comes back, spanks his apprentice and stops the endless production of porridge from his magic pot. The village cleans up the mess, and life goes on as before.

Unfortunately, there is no "sorcerer" this time to wave his magic wand. Our elected representatives continue to operate the country without any kind of a budget, and our monetary authorities continue to enable their irresponsible actions. And the supply of money and credit just expands and expands ...

How can this all end? In the next post, we will take a look at some likely scenarios.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Say "Goodbye" to the Dollar and "Hello" to Debt

It is time for a further update to my earlier series, which I naïvely called "The People's Money." Money, as most people still understand that word, used to belong to the People -- that is, the monetary unit of the country, the Dollar, was defined by the peoples' representatives in Congress. So that made it fair to say that the Dollar was "the People's Money."

But no longer. It is time to wake up and grasp where this country -- along with the rest of the world -- is going.

And here is a wake-up question: When is the last time you either saw, or held in your hands, a real true United States Dollar?

Some people may interpret that as a trick question -- fair enough. So let us define our terms, just as Congress did, beginning at the beginning. Under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution as ratified in 1789, and as the language has remained ever since, Congress has the legislative power "to coin Money, [and to] regulate the Value thereof ...".

In 1789, there was already a silver coin in circulation which Americans called the "dollar." It had been established as a coin when Spain governed whole portions of the new world, and the pre-U.S. Continental Congress had already, in 1785, defined those coins (actually, "pesos", or "pieces of eight") as the American unit of currency. (The name "dollar" came from the German "[Joachims]Thaler", used to describe a popular coin of that country by its valley ["Thal"] of origin.)

Thus it required no great leap of imagination for the first Congress of the United States, in 1792, to adopt a uniform Dollar as the new country's unit of currency, and to define it in law as a coin consisting of exactly 371.25 grains (Troy) of fine silver, or 24.75 grains (Troy) of gold. Note the official exchange ratio thereby established, for silver to gold, of 15 to one (changed to 16:1 in 1834, to reflect a decrease in the value of silver). And that was how America got its Dollar.

Paper money also circulated before and after the Revolution, but it had a much poorer reputation. Having no intrinsic value like a gold coin, a paper bill was backed only by a promise to redeem it, either on demand or at some future time, in specie (gold or silver). The Continental Congress used paper bills to finance the Revolutionary War, but it had no power to coin money on its own, and the "continentals" so called were supposed to be redeemed by the collective States. So many were printed, however, that the promise could not be kept -- hence the phrase "not worth a continental."

After the revolution, paper notes were issued both by the first two Banks of the United States, as well as by individual State-chartered banks -- but the effect of Gresham's Law was substantial, so much so that the U.S. Government actually stopped minting gold coins for a while in 1816-17, due to their being hoarded rather than circulated. This did not help the money supply keep pace with the developing country.  The resulting squeezes -- called "panics" because no one could get their "money" out of banks, many of which failed -- led to a widespread distrust of "paper money."

The Constitution is curiously ambiguous about the subject of money and currency. As noted above, it gives Congress the power to "coin" money -- but what about the power to print paper money? Also, in Art. I, Section 10 the States are prohibited from making "any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts ..." (emphasis added). That same Section prohibits the States from "coin[ing] Money, [or] emit[ting] Bills of Credit" (i.e., paper notes).

The Founding Fathers would not appear to have contemplated the use of anything but gold and silver coins as lawful money, or as legal tender for the satisfaction of public and private debts. But it was not perfectly clear: for example, while the individual States could not issue paper bills, or make anything but gold and silver coin legal tender, nothing was said about the United States itself being unable to do so. And when that issue came to the fore was in 1862, right after the Civil War had begun. One commentator set the scene in these words:
... a civil war was then raging which seriously threatened the overthrow of the government and the destruction of the Constitution itself. It demanded the equipment and support of large armies and navies, and the employment of money to an extent beyond the capacity of all ordinary sources of supply. Meanwhile the public treasury was nearly empty, and the credit of the government, if not stretched to its utmost tension, had become nearly exhausted. Moneyed institutions had advanced largely of their means, and more could not be expected of them. They had been compelled to suspend specie payments. Taxation was inadequate to pay even the interest on the debt already incurred, and it was impossible to await the income of additional taxes. The necessity was immediate and pressing. The army was unpaid. There was then due to the soldiers in the field nearly a score of millions of dollars. The requisitions from the War and Navy Departments for supplies exceeded fifty millions, and the current expenditure was over one million per day. The entire amount of coin in the country, including that in private hands, as well as that in banking institutions, was insufficient to supply the need of the government three months, had it all been poured into the treasury. Foreign credit we had none. We say nothing of the overhanging paralysis of trade, and of business generally, which threatened loss of confidence in the ability of the government to maintain its continued existence, and therewith the complete destruction of all remaining national credit.
The solution was for the United States itself to issue its own paper money -- called "greenbacks" due to the color of one side. There was, as noted, insufficient gold and silver to back them up; but that did not stop Congress from declaring them "legal tender" -- indeed, it is extremely doubtful whether creditors would have accepted them without that official status. Like continentals, greenbacks were a future promise to pay in specie, backed by the "full faith and credit" of the United States. And unlike continentals, all of the greenbacks which people later chose to redeem were redeemed in specie. Knowledge that they could be so redeemed left millions of them in circulation, long after the War was over, simply because of their convenience in comparison to heavy, bulky coins.

This being America, there were inevitably multiple lawsuits brought over the authority of Congress (a) to issue paper bills in the first place, and (b) to declare them legal tender for all debts. In a remarkable series of decisions between 1871 and 1884 which changed the course of this country forever, first a bare majority, and later an 8-1 majority, of the United States Supreme Court eventually ruled that Congress had the implied authority under the Constitution to do both.

As a result of the Legal Tender Cases, we now have a tripartite division of money in this country: there are coins; Treasury bills, notes and bonds; and Federal Reserve Notes (which I fully described in this earlier post). Treasury paper is not really "in circulation", so it is not, strictly speaking, money -- but it is debt, and as we shall soon see, debt is the new money.

United States coins in circulation no longer have any silver in them, because the price of silver is too high (due to the devaluation of what people still erroneously call "the dollar"). The last real "silver" dollar was the Eisenhower dollar, issued from 1971 to 1976. Even though they contained just 0.3161 Troy oz. of real silver (that's 9.83 grams, compared to the 371.25 grains, or 24.0566 grams, in the 1792 silver dollar), that much silver would be worth (at today's $20 / oz.) about $6.63 -- which is why you no longer see any Eisenhower dollars in circulation.

And now you know the answer to the question I asked at the outset. There are no real dollars left in circulation; the last partial one was issued in 1976. Our "money" consists of base metal alloys molded into traditional shapes, special pieces of paper printed with colored ink, and electronic bookkeeping entries maintained by computers.

What, you might ask, do all of these forms of "money" have in common?

Answer: They have no intrinsic value of their own. They represent only promises -- promises to  exchange something for them in the future. And what is that "something"?

It is just new promises for the old ones. When you take a dime or a dollar bill into a bank, you cannot get gold or silver, but just a newer alloy dime or a newer paper "dollar."  If you buy a Treasury note and keep it until maturity, you are paid with more paper "dollars" -- actually, Federal Reserve notes.

Notes are a form of debt -- they evidence a promise to pay a debt. All of our present money, therefore, is nothing but debt.

Given this unarguable fact, it no longer makes sense to speak just of "the money supply" -- M1, M2, M3 or the like. For those traditional measures simply count currency in circulation (plus some types of deposit accounts). Here, for instance, is the latest chart showing the growth of M2 over the past 33 years:

As you can see, this "measure" of "money" accounts for only about $11 trillion worth. But now, take a look at the chart of total public and private debt in this country ("public debt" includes what is owed by the federal, State and local governments; "private debt" is consumer and household debt owed on mortgages, credit cards, retail accounts, and the like -- but not what you borrowed from your brother-in-law):

Do you see that index on the left? The graph of M2 was reaching $11 trillion, but this graph is pushing sixty trillion "dollars" -- more than five times as much. All of that money is what we Americans owe to ourselves and others. As you may know from recent headlines, the total official U.S. debt is pushing $17 trillion, or just about 30% of the total. Who, then, owes the other 70%?

Logic tells us that if it is not government debt, then it must be corporate and household debt, and logic is correct. Given that the gross value of all goods and services produced last year in the United States ("GDP") was just about $17 trillion as well, we then have a good yardstick, as follows:

Total U.S. government debt amounts to about 100% of GDP; but

Total private and corporate debt amounts to about 235% of GDP;

So all in all, total U.S. debt of all kinds amounts to about 340% of GDP.  We owe, in other words, 3.4 times what we make in a year. Does that sound healthy?

And that is just officially recognized debt. If you add in the M2 number -- because all of that currency and those deposits represent a form of debt too, remember (just not "official debt") -- then total debt comes to nearly seventy trillion, or over 400% of what we make annually. And that says nothing about all the "unfunded debt" -- a misnomer, if there ever was one, because as just explained, all of our current debt is unfunded -- in the form of future pension and welfare liabilities.

This level of debt became possible only when the country went off the gold standard -- domestically in 1968, and internationally in 1971. Before that time, international debts had to be settled each year in gold, so that a country's ability to obtain credit depended on how much gold it had in reserves. If a country exported more than it imported, it received gold (or dollars, then accepted as its equivalent, because each dollar could be exchanged for gold) to make up the difference. But if it purchased abroad more than it sold abroad, it had to pay out its gold (dollars) to other countries.

And the same was true domestically, until 1968 -- any dollar notes printed by the Federal Reserve could be exchanged for the official equivalent in silver coin (not gold, because FDR had outlawed the private possession of gold in 1933 -- a ban which Congress did not lift until 1974).

Removing the backing of gold and silver from our money was the final step in cutting us loose to pile up no end of debt. Making paper "money" legal tender was the first; but turning it into truly just paper promises was the last.

And while the government has been borrowing like crazy recently, so have we -- remember that private debt outstrips public debt by more than two to one. Do we have any moral grounds for demanding that the government observe a "debt ceiling" when we ourselves lack the will to do so?

I hope I have succeeded in demonstrating how profound a shift has occurred in this country since the 1960s. Money that we traditionally think of as money is money no longer. It is better to call it what it is, namely, debt -- or promises to pay in the future. And because it represents just promises, it is easy to rack up: debt is out of control, as the second chart above illustrates.

Where will it all end? Where can it end? No one can say for sure, because we are in uncharted territory. In future posts in this series, I will explore some of the shorter- and longer-term consequences of this profound shift in our way of thinking and acting about money.  



Monday, November 18, 2013

God's Grace Visible: the Story of a Christian Mom That Went Viral

Perhaps you have received an email or a link containing this text of an open letter to President Obama:
Dear President Obama, 
I wanted to take a moment to say thank you for all you have done and are doing. You see I am a single Mom located in the very small town of Palmer, Texas. I live in a small rental house with my two children. I drive an older car that I pray daily runs just a little longer. I work at a mediocre job bringing home a much lower pay-check than you or your wife could even imagine living on. I have a lot of concerns about the new "Obamacare" along with the taxes being forced on us Americans and debts your are adding to our country. I have a few questions for you, Mr. President. 
Have you ever struggled to pay your bills? I have. 
Have you ever sat and watched your children eat and you eat what was left on their plates when they were done, because there wasn't enough for you to eat too? I have. 
Have you ever had to rob Peter to pay Paul, and it still not be enough? I have. 
Have you ever been so sick that you needed to see a doctor and get medicine, but had no health insurance because it was too expensive? I have. 
Have you ever had to tell your children no, when they asked for something they needed? I have. 
Have you ever patched holes in pants, glued shoes, replaced zippers, because it was cheaper than buying new? I have. 
Have you ever had to put an item or two back at the grocery store, because you didn't have enough money? I have. 
Have you ever cried yourself to sleep, because you had no clue how you were going to make ends meet? I have. 
My questions could go on and on. I don't believe you have a clue what Americans are actually going through and honestly, I don't believe you care. Not everyone lives extravagantly. While your family takes expensive trips that cost more than most of us make in two-four years, there are so many of us that suffer. Yet, you are doing all you can to add to the suffering. I think you are a very selfish and cold-hearted man, who does not care what is best for the people he was elected by (not by me) to represent, but more so out for the glory of your name attached to history. 
So thank you Mr. President, thank you for pushing those of us that are barely staying afloat completely under water and driving America into the ground. You have made your mark in history, as the absolute worst and most hated president of the United States. 
God have mercy on your soul! 
Sincerely, Yolanda Vestal 
Average American
Your Curmudgeon learned about the letter thanks to another blogger -- apparently it has gone viral, with literally millions of links and likes and translations into foreign languages.

Being curious to verify the existence of the author "Yolanda Vestal", your Curmudgeon went hunting on the Internet. And tracked down a story that is even more amazing than the fact that this letter -- which expresses the simple resentment that millions of Americans feel -- went viral.

For the truth is that the author, Yolanda Vestal, is a single mom in Palmer, Texas. And until a month ago -- October 18, 2013 -- her Facebook page (under the name "Yolanda Burroughs-Vestal") was no different from any of millions of similar pages.

But then -- on October 17, 2013 -- and being the dedicated Christian that she is, she saw fit to share this most elemental of accounts on her timeline (note that she uses "mum" both for a corsage, and for the lucky recipient of it):
So yesterday, I was at the homecoming [chrysanthe]mum supplies store and this little boy (around 6th or 7th grade) was shopping and carefully picking out things to make a homecoming mum. Then he ended up standing right in front of me in line as we waited to check out. As they rang up the items I watched him as he smiled in excitement as he told the lady he had saved to buy the stuff to make this girl at school a mum. Then in an instant that baby's smile went to a sad face looking at the ground when the total came up....he was short about $11. I stood there watching him scramble through his pockets for more money, but he had none. He started to walk away and I said, "Hey young man, I got the rest, just give her what you have." His look was at first shock, then that sweet smile returned. He thanked me over and over. He was grateful and his expression showed it. 
I'm not sharing this for any glory, but just as a reminder to pay it forward. God takes care of us, so often using others to do so. I know there is/was a sweet boy proudly giving a girl a homecoming mum today....and that makes my heart so happy!!!
"I'm not sharing this for any glory" -- well, true: her Facebook post about her Christian act of random kindness received just 21 comments from her friends, remarking on her generosity and how she made that boy's day.

The next day -- October 18 -- she posted (from her mobile phone!) the text of her "open letter" to President Obama, quoted above. It went up on her page just before 10:00 am, and by 10:30, it had received a number of standard "Likes" and "Shares" from her friends.

Until about 1:30 pm, everything looked like a normal Facebook post, but then something amazing kicked in. Every comment added to her post started receiving dozens and dozens of "Likes", and the "Shares" for her post began to rocket into the tens of thousands.

As of today, that original October 18 Facebook post has 3,482 "Likes" and 87,942 "Shares." The text of her letter has been re-quoted on thousands of additional blogs, including a number in foreign languages.

A review of her subsequent Facebook posts shows Yolanda Vestal's simple surprise and humility about all the publicity she has garnered, and documents her unsought rise to Internet celebrityhood.

Does Yolanda, however, need to marvel at the workings of God's grace?

Given her natural and spontaneous response just the day before to the little boy who needed to make his girlfriend a "mum" for the prom -- I don't think so.

For me, the objective evidence here of the Internet (which in this instance does not lie) demonstrates for all who choose to see how simple acts of instinctive charity -- responding at a basic human level to that which is "written on our hearts" -- can be the vehicles of His bringing grace to the many.

Soli Deo gloria.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

ECUSA and Diocese of Chicago Gang Up on Quincy Parishes

Yes, on the site of the Diocese of Chicago and those that reprint its press release, you will read a headline such as: "Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and Episcopal Church File Suit in Peoria", but not at this blog. Here we call them as we see them -- and this latest lawsuit is simply an outrageous attempt to bludgeon the already cash-starved Anglican Diocese of Quincy and its member parishes and missions into submission. Worse, it comes right after the Anglican Diocese prevailed at trial over ECUSA on many of the same issues raised in this new lawsuit.

 Take a look at the complaint as filed. The lies in the plaintiffs' press release are evident from the very caption at the start of the complaint. They claim to be suing "to clarify the legal status of the parishes and missions whose leaders left the Episcopal Church in 2008," yet have they named those parishes? No, they have not: instead, in typical blunderbuss fashion, they are going after the individual rectors of those parishes, as well as Bishop Morales and the members of the Diocese's standing committee and corporate board (whom they personally sued in the case they already lost).

Another lie in the press release (emphasis added): "Among the assets are the properties of St. George's Episcopal Church in Macomb, Grace Episcopal Church in Galesburg, Trinity Episcopal Church in Rock Island and Christ Episcopal Church in Moline." That last church, however, is not mentioned in the complaint; nor is its its rector (whom, again, they sued in the suit they lost, but in his capacity as a trustee and member of the Standing Committee).

Confused? I cannot blame you -- this newest lawsuit is simply a mess: a mishmash of mostly old allegations from the earlier lawsuit, and some new ones thrown in just to see if they can get away with it.

No one appears to have actually read the complaint before filing it. Otherwise, how could they have let this contradiction pass? In paragraph 2, they allege (my emphasis added):
In 2013, this plaintiff [Diocese of Chicago] became the successor by merger to the Diocese of Quincy of the Episcopal Church, which until that time was a separate subordinate and constituent unit of the Church and an unincorporated association with its principal office in Peoria, Illinois. Unless otherwise specified, the term "Episcopal Diocese" used herein shall refer to the Diocese of Quincy before it merged with plaintiff Episcopal Diocese of Chicago
Then, in paragraphs 74 and 75 they allege(again, my bold):
... that the Episcopal Diocese and its Parishes and Missions remain subordinate and constituent parts of the Church and the Episcopal Diocese for all purposes ... 
... that the defendants take the position that they are properly in control of the governance of the Episcopal Diocese ...
So, which is it? Is the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy defunct, or not? Did it merge into the Diocese of Chicago in September 2013 as alleged, or does it continue to "remain [a] subordinate and constituent part of the Church for all purposes"?

And how can the plaintiffs allege with a straight face (paragraph 3) that "Defendant Alberto Morales ... holds himself out as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese"??

He most certainly does not; Bishop Morales is the diocesan of the Anglican Diocese of Quincy, which is as far from the Episcopal Church as one can get and still stay sane. (And please note, once more, how they refuse to name the entity they want to take over -- the Anglican Diocese. Instead, they sue the people who hold office in it.)

Are you beginning to perceive just how ridiculous is the picture presented by this pleading? You have a current Diocese of ECUSA, into which a former ECUSA Diocese (well, not really -- just a Potemkin one, hastily erected for purposes of litigation) merged, suing the people they claim are still operating that former entity.

Question: Then who agreed to the merger?

And what was the entity that merged with the Diocese of Chicago? Was the merger just a sham?

There are no logical answers to those questions, and that is just one problem with this complaint.

Here is another. In its prayer for relief (at the very end), the complaint seeks (among other declarations by the court):
( c) declare that the defendants do not hold any offices or positions of authority of the Episcopal Diocese or any of its Parishes and Missions and are not the directors or officers of the Illinois not-for-profit corporations called The Diocese of Quincy and The Trustees of Funds and Property of the Diocese of Quincy; 
( d) declare that the directors and officers of the Illinois not-for-profit corporations called The Diocese of Quincy and The Trustees of Funds and Property of the Diocese of Quincy are those persons elected by the Synod of the Episcopal Diocese and recognized as such by the Church and the Episcopal Diocese; 
(e) declare that the clergy and lay officers and other leaders of the Parishes and Missions of the Episcopal Diocese are those elected or appointed pursuant to the Constitutions and Canons of the Church and the Episcopal Diocese and are recognized as such by the Church and the Episcopal Diocese.
And here is a portion of Judge Ortbal's ruling handed down just over a month ago:
Based upon the response and counterclaim, TEC asserts that the actions of the DOQ through their respective Directors and Trustees were contrary to the Constitution, Canons and Prayer Book ofTEC and have sought a declaration by this court that the counterdefendant Directors and Trustees of DOQ are not in fact the directors of those entities. It further sought a declaration that those directors elected by the Synod of the EDQ remaining loyal to TEC were in fact the directors of those corporate entities. Those are inherently ecclesiastical questions which this court has no authority to determine.
Undeterred by Judge Ortbal, they are asking a different judge in a different county of Illinois to decide what he held a civil court cannot decide, without becoming too entangled in First Amendment matters of how people exercise their religion. Good luck with that.

Finally, the lawsuit ignores that the individual parishes and missions did not just leave ECUSA; the Diocese did. Those parishes and missions were members of that Diocese, and necessarily went with it. And Judge Ortbal found that the Diocese had acted properly in leaving, so as to retain control over its assets and property. So if the Diocese left properly, and if the parishes and missions were simply its members who went along with it, how can it be said that the propriety of their having left has not already been decided?

That last observation should dictate that this new lawsuit should be stayed in its entirety, pending the outcome of the current appeal from Judge Ortbal's decision.

The problem, however, is that to deal with this new lawsuit as it ought to be dealt with will cost money. To prepare and file a proper challenge to it will take thousands of dollars that the Diocese (with its funds just re-frozen by the appellate court) does not currently have at its disposal. And this, no doubt, is what Bishop Lee must be counting on when he writes in his press release:
... ultimately we still hope that God will use even these legal proceedings to bring us to a place of reconciliation and mutual respect in Christ.
You might start, Bishop, by having "mutual respect" for what the Anglican Diocese already won in court.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Coming Bailout of Obamacare

"Houston, we have a problem."

Peter Ferrara, the author of this disturbing analysis in The American Spectator, is an expert on the long-term problems of Social Security and other government welfare programs. His conclusion about the coming death spiral of Obamacare:
The pool the insurers end up covering, then, will be a lot more like the pool of all burnt down houses for fire insurers discussed above. The premiums the insurers receive from this adversely shrunken pool will not remotely cover the costs of that pool. Hence they will be facing bankruptcy next year, absent another taxpayer bailout of hundreds of billions. So the choice will be that, or socialized medicine, including the government death panels we see in every other country weighed down by this “enlightened” last century albatross.
There's really not much more that can be said. First the socialists wreck the healthcare insurance industry, then they cast the blame elsewhere, clamor for a taxpayer bailout to fix the mess they've created, and then use that bailout (à la GM) to put the entire system into the government's hands.