Italian Bloggers No More

Blogging has become, for many of us, a great way to express our feelings, emotions, our thoughts, and our beliefs about all sorts of things. Some blog about cats while others blog about an adoption process. For some, it is just a place to vent the day’s trails and hardships. No matter what the rhyme or reason might be there are millions of blogs that fill the World Wide Web.

What if you weren’t allowed to blog anymore? What if the government told you that you were unable to write your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and beliefs for the whole world to see? What if your thoughts were confined to a pen and paper instead of the cosmos? You might think those are ridiculous questions to ask here in the USA. Perhaps they are. For another country though, they aren’t laughing because that is exactly what has taken place.

In fact, a UK newspaper writes, “Italian bloggers are up in arms at a court ruling early this year that suggests almost all Italian blogs are illegal.” The newspaper continues saying, “This month, a senior Italian politician went one step further, warning that most web activity is likely to be against the law.”

One would think the Italian government wouldn’t waste their time concerned with this but apparently; they are not letting this one go away easily. In fact, bloggers can be fined 250 Euros or receive a prison sentence of up to two years – for owning or writing on a blog.

The issues go back to 1948. Italy has this “Article 21” guaranteeing the right to free expression as long as those who published information would register with the government. After fascism, the intent was to regulate publications that were more extreme than others. This is how the government deals with “freedom of the press.”

In 2001, a new law passed – “Law 62.” This law brings the World Wide Web into the same framework as Article 21. How does one then deal with blogs? Only a highly trained judge can decide that matter – and it was passed. Further thoughts expressed during this time revolved around the Internet itself. One man, The Minister of Justice stated, “current logic means that almost the entire Italian internet, by its very nature, could be considered illegal – “Stampa clandestine” – which is a complete contravention of the democratic rulebook.”

Reading this, you might laugh. At times, so do I. It is sad though. It is sad that people, especially here, in the US, take freedom for granted. It is hard to love something or even appreciate something when it isn’t out of our grasp. I am glad we have the freedom to write and to express what we want. I am glad that I will not be one of five million bloggers in Italy that could be thrown in jail for solely writing their thoughts down for the world to see. I guess I just have to learn to be more thankful for what freedoms I have.

$700 Billion Bailouts, The DOW, and American Debt

The House passed a $700 billion-bailout package this past Friday. The bailout package came, as “their only hope to avoid a market meltdown.” We are told that it will “take time for the bailout to reach its greatest potential” and cannot be rushed. It could take a long, long time before that happens though.

Which brings me to the price of oil, which has dropped below $90.00 a barrel. http://www.oil-price.net says, “Although oil prices seem high today, they are kept artificially low because many oil-producing nations such as Saudi Arabia peg their currencies to the U.S. dollar. When the dollar is devaluated, these countries currencies and national economies are threatened by inflation and this is an incentive for them to let their currencies float and appreciate.” Countries like Kuwait have moved away from pegging their economy from the U.S., causing our oil prices to rise. As more countries follow suit, we should expect energy prices to rise. With prices rising, one would think US oil companies would be hurting as well. Not so says the New York Times. After a great deal of work and litigation, companies like Exxon and Texaco have agreed to pay millions of dollars back – almost 900 million dollars – back to the government due to “shifty business matters.” Before you feel bad for the big oil people, consider Clarence P. Cazalot – CEO/President/Director of Marathon Oil Corporation. His salary is $1,294,000.00 with a bonus of $3,864,000.00. With stock options and other “options,” his total compensation is $19,470,725.00. Yeah. I feel bad for him too…

Which brings me to the stock market since the bailout was passed this past Friday. The New York Times said, “At its worst point, the Dow was down more than 800 points, an intraday record. The stock market rallied during the final 90 minutes of the trading day, and the Dow finished down about 370 points at 9,955.50.” The Dow has not closed below 10,000.00 since 2004 and there seems to be no end to the potential drop of the Dow in the upcoming weeks.

Which brings me to our Banks. Banks like Commerce Bank and the 5th largest bank in the US, Wachovia. Wachovia Bank has been bought by Citigroup, which the New York Times states, “Federal regulators worked around the clock this weekend to orchestrate the sale, finally reaching an agreement at 4 a.m. on Monday morning. In the end, the government agreed to provide Citigroup with a financial guarantee on Wachovia’s most risky assets.” For $1.00 a share, or about $2.2 billion, Citigroup was given ownership. Commerce bank also has had its financial hardships. I guess Regis and Kelly couldn’t provide enough financial backing to keep Commerce from being sold as well. TD Bank Financial Group will be buying Commerce for a cool $8.5 billion. Don’t worry folks – the “Big C” will still remain outside of Commerce, I mean TD – Toronto-based TD Bank – a Canadian Bank. Commerce Chairman Dennis DiFlorio told Philadelphia Business Journal that owning Commerce Bank “opens the door to tremendous new growth opportunities. Combining T.D.’s broad array of sophisticated retail and commercial products with our unparalleled banking convenience is truly exciting.”

Which brings me back to the bailout package that was signed last Friday. In this bailout package, the FDIC of banks will rise to 250,000.00. Its previous 100,000.00 FDIC was raised in efforts of saving small businesses from filing chapter 11. This 250,000.00 FDIC will only remain at this level till December 2009.

Which brings me to one of the biggest issues that brought all of this on in the first place; Mortgage loans. Many reasons why banks have failed is because they have given out loans to well-meaning families who have attempted to “beat the system” and buy a house they could not afford in hopes of turning (flipping) the house in a year or two in order to make a return. For example, one family I heard about wanted to buy a $589,000.00 house but when their assets and financial abilities were thrown together, they could really only afford a house that was $340,000.00. Thinking only good thoughts about the housing markets, this family attempted to cut down on their spending and even live off credit cards if needed so that they could earn an increase on the value of their house. As the housing market started to fail, they didn’t consider the cost of what would happen and did not seek any advice about what they should do. When it was time to “sell the house,” their house was worth less then what they had bought it for. They began to panic and used their safety net of their credit cards to stay a float. When they had reached their credit card limits, they had no choice but to sell a house that was bought for $589,000.00 for $420,000.00. That’s $169,000.00-house depression and no one was more depressed than our couple that thought they could beat the system and buy a house they really could not afford. With high credit card balances and a loss of money, this family, like many others, is in a bad way.

Which brings me to another issue that seems to grow faster than the weeds in my backyard: Credit card debt. Don’t worry – I have some too. In fact, according MSN Money, “About 43 percent of Americans spend more than they earn each year and average households carry some $8,000.00 in credit card debt.” What is absolutely mind-boggling though is how much debt the U.S. Consumers owe. As a total, Americans carry more than $700 billion in revolving debt like bank credit cards and retail cards.

Which brings me back to that $700 billion bailout package that was signed last Friday. I have a few questions that we really need to ask ourselves as Americans: What has/does this $700 billion bailout deal really help or hurt? Will it really help our economy or have we just wasted another $700 billion? Why did banks like Wachovia really get bought out? Why do we always need to buy above our means? Why does it seem like the “American Dream” is a carrot hung on a string above our heads just out of reach? Why can’t we pay for things with the money we have rather than “hoping” we will have the money needed at the end of the month? Why aren’t the people who have faulted on their loans taking real responsibility for all of this? Why do we have to bail everyone else out because they screwed everyone else over and if I am that American family member, why did I buy that house when I knew I really couldn’t afford it? Has the DOW grown too fast for our own good? Was it inevitable that it would drop as it has?

These are some of my questions I have to ask myself and I hope you will ask yourselves. I have been apart of the problem – having credit card debt, though not as much as the average American – it is now time to be apart of the solution and pay off my credit card debt as fast as I am able and cut up the credit cards I have. This will ultimately raise my credit score and give me a better shot at buying a house one day that I can afford. I am not sure that the $700 billion bailout package will really help the American economy. I think people taking responsibility for their debts and learning how to save will. I guess we will just have to wait and see.

A Hindu Prays in the Senate: My Response

On Thursday July 12th, 2007, a Hindu religious leader prayed the Morning Prayer in the U.S. Senate for the first time in history. The response of this man’s prayer was an alarming surprise to those in the room. Three people in the audience began to shout aloud as this man attempted to pray to his god. One news article puts it this way:


WASHINGTON – A Hindu clergyman made history Thursday by offering the Senate’s morning prayer, but only after police officers removed three shouting protesters from the visitors’ gallery.

Rajan Zed, director of interfaith relations at a Hindu temple in Reno, Nev., gave the brief prayer that opens each day’s Senate session. As he stood at the chamber’s podium in a bright orange and burgundy robe, two women and a man began shouting “this is an abomination” and other complaints from the gallery.

Police officers quickly arrested them and charged them disrupting Congress, a misdemeanor. The male protester told an AP reporter, “we are Christians and patriots” before police handcuffed them and led them away.

As a Christian, I feel as though the actions of these three individuals were completely out of line. We are called to be salt-and-light to the world through our actions and our love for others, despite other personal beliefs or lifestyles. However, that does not mean that we condone the actions of individuals that are either in sin or lead such lifestyles. This is best lived out through Jesus as our perfect example: As Jesus ate with sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes, Jesus still believed they were sick and in need of a physician. Jesus was an open door for anyone who was either an outcast or a ‘common’ person. Jesus made no distinction between anyone and showed forth His love to others.

I am not Indian, nor am I a Hindu. I am a Christian. Make no mistake about that. I was taken back a little when I found out today that a Hindu religious leader opened the Senate’s morning prayer. I am more surprised I had just heard about this today than I was that someone of a different belief led a morning prayer in Congress.

I look at this situation as I do my starbucks discussion # 247 found here. I do not believe we live in a Christian nation anymore. Perhaps when the United States was founded several hundred years ago, there were directives and foundational points that were put in place by men who believed in the YHWH God. Unfortunately (and I do mean unfortunately), we no longer live in that manner. We live in a ‘toss salad’ of people who make up a culture of individuals who are as different as Baskin Robbins ice cream flavors. That being said, we need to realize that much of what will occur in the future will not be in line with our Judeo-Christian past.

When people (like these three individuals who shouted during this man’s prayer) act in this manner, it sends out a foul aroma and pollutes our witness to others. It frustrates me when it seems we, as the body of Christ, begin to make some headway with others, other (perhaps well-meaning) Christians have to go and create a situation that puts a bad taste into other’s mouths. It seems when we are about to take two steps forward; we end up taking two steps backwards.

Was I in agreement with the man’s prayer? No. I do not believe that the religious view of Hinduism is the correct belief of faith. But this man does. He believes with his whole heart that who or what he is praying to, be his god. And, no matter how much I disagree with this man’s belief, it makes no difference to him. If I act in such a way like these individuals, nothing is gained for the sake of the Gospel. It is a waste of hot air that rises and dissipates into the atmosphere.

What would I have done if I were in the room? I cannot be sure in all honesty. I can only hope that I would have respect for this individual and pray for him that he might know Jesus. I hope that I would be more concerned with this Hindu religious leader than shouting ‘abomination statements’ while this man attempts to pray to his god. Perhaps, if I were fortunate enough to meet with him after the day’s work, I would get his contact information and build a relationship with him and share with him Jesus. Through respect and digity, I hope I would convey the truth of God’s love for him and for his family and friends. When we love God and we love others, we fulfill the Law of God. I think we would do well to act in this manner. Here is the video courtesy of Youtube.com. Instead of shouting aloud with the others in this video, why don’t we pray for him? Why don’t we instead pray that God would chasten after this individual and the love of God would overwhelm him in a powerful way? That’s the kind of prayer I hope I would be praying as he prays. Let us be the body of Christ who prays. God bless

A True Concern: South Korean Captives

I think sometimes our lives revolve around the events that happen right outside our front door.  The more I read the Word of God; I am confronted with a truth we seldom desire to believe.  I guess for us to be the people God has called us to be, we need to make our world a little bigger. That brings me to the purpose of this post.

Eleven days ago, the Taliban militia group in Afghanistan captured 23 Koreans.  Why would 23 Koreans go to Afghanistan you might ask?  Well they went to go and serve people.  They went to make their world a little bigger.  They went to serve God through their abilities of helping people.  That’s a pretty noble task.  Is that where the story ends?  Not quite.  Since their capture by the Taliban, two Korean people have died and one more is supposed to die today.

How did I hear about this national event?  Surely I must have heard about it through the newspaper or the news right?  Wrong.  If I had not read an article by Eugene Cho several weeks ago, I would not have heard about the capture of these amazing people.  I hope you will do some research and find out what’s going on.  Let us also remember these amazing kids and hope that God will hear our cry for the release of these young people.

Perhaps gossiping about Michael Vick and others might seem more exciting.  This is life though.  This is reality.  Please keep them in prayer.  Please spread the word.  Please call your newspapers and tell them to make this front cover news.  Let us go beyond the front door and make our world a little bigger.