Thursday, March 30, 2006

Orthodoxy in China: Hong Kong Albazinian Icon of the Mother of God

Click to enlarge

From the wonderful site: Orthodoxy in China

Hong Kong Albazinian Icon of the Mother of God

This particular icon differs from the original Albazinian wonderworking icon, by including around the border additional saints that have a special affinity with the Far East. Beginning from the upper left corner going counterclockwise, depicted are St. Vsyevold of Pskov (Feb 11/24), St. Innocent of Irkutsk (Nov 26/Dec 9), St. John of Shanghai (June 19/July 2), Nun-martyr St. Elizabeth (July 5/18), St. Thomas the Apostle (Oct 6/19), Nun-martyr St. Barbara (July 5/18), St. Jonah of Hankou (Oct 7/20), St. John of Tobolsk (June 10/23) and St. Dovmont of Pskov (May 20/June 2).

This icon by the hand of a private Moscow iconographer was presented to Father Dionisy Pozdnyaev on the occasion of his name's day (October 3/16, 2000). The icon was at his home in Moscow at the time and then it was brought to Hong Kong when Fr Dionisy moved to Hong Kong. Currently the icon is venerated at the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. The icon last traveled to Beijing in celebration of its feast day of March 9/22 by Metropolitan KYRILL in 2006.

Fr Dionisy graciously provided an online copy of this icon for the faithful in China to download and distribute for veneration.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Icons in Sound

This is a cool web site with great audio files.

Samm Almaguer: The Collapse is Here

The following are the comments of my friend and former co-worker, Samm Almaguer:

Although I no longer work for HHSC, I still know quite a few folks who are still working there. Earlier this week, I spoke with a worker who told me that it's office had lost three workers last week, and one this week. Wow, approximately 20% of the staff lost in a period of 7 days!

My friend also told me that they are now being required to do 12 interviews, in the morning!

[My inserted comment: To put that in perspective, 4 interviews in the morning is a tight schedule, 8 would be what we use to call "blitzing" which is when you were so far behind that you intentionally over scheduled to get caught up, and did those interviews as quickly as humanly possible... and you hoped most of them didn't show up... because you can't do 8 interviews in 4 hours. 12 interviews in a 4 hour period is simply rubber stamping a case without hardly a look. There is no way such cases could be done properly, or that anyone could expect such cases to issue the benefits people are actually eligible for. Some people will get much less, more likely people will get more...]

Today, another worker told me that it's office is going to lose 4 workers this month.
But the real shocker was a report that applicants who do not get a receipt for their applications can kiss those applications good bye, they no longer being processed, but they are being boxed and sent to the warehouse. I guess if the applicant is too absent minded due to his hunger pangs, and does not bother to get a receipt, then he can not prove that he filed the application to begin with, and if he can not prove it, then he or she did not do it.

I truly and sincerely hope that this report is not accurate, for I am sure that boxing applications and sending them to the warehouse is illegal. During my tenure at HHSC-DHS they made sure to let us know that mishandling, and falsifying state documents is a crime, now it appears that it has become agency policy.

The Republican state government has been too focused on privatization to realize that november is just around the corner, and those boxed applications are more than pieces of paper, they are Texas citizens going hungry, Texas mothers not getting their prenatal care, and Texas children not getting their shots.

Concerned citizens should take those responsible into account, November is just around the corner.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

CHIP changes fluster families

CHIP changes fluster families
Kids' insurance cut by mistake as program alters enrollment rules

09:22 PM CST on Sunday, March 26, 2006
By ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Ida Grayson is out almost a thousand dollars for her daughter's chronic stomach ailments because of mistakes – hers or the state's.

Beyond dispute is that Amber Nicole "Niki" Grayson, 16, fell off the rolls of the Children's Health Insurance Program on Jan. 1.

Ms. Grayson, a single mother and Fort Worth child care worker, says the state's new CHIP enrollment broker "lost a bunch of my stuff," even though she met deadlines and supplied proof she makes only $17,000 a year and drives a 1999 Chevrolet Lumina worth $1,400.

A spokeswoman for the state's main social services agency said it was Ms. Grayson's fault that Niki's CHIP coverage lapsed for January, though a separate error by the vendor wrongly kept the girl uninsured last month and this month.

Between errors and confusion about enrollment policies, hundreds if not thousands of poor Texas families have struggled, like Ms. Grayson, to keep their children on CHIP. State officials describe a "learning curve" – when the state changed vendors, altered rules and placed new obligations upon families. At the same time, a larger privatization effort has cast new scrutiny upon the process by which Texans apply for social programs.

Turmoil is fast becoming a constant for CHIP, a popular program Congress created nearly a decade ago to help families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance.

Deep budget cuts and an earlier round of policy changes in 2003 bumped about a third of the 507,000 children covered.

Last year, Texas lawmakers tried to reinvigorate CHIP. They voted to restore services they had cut earlier, such as eyeglasses and dental care, and budgeted for modest enrollment growth.

But eight months into a new budget year, families are still waiting for the dental coverage, which arrives Saturday. And enrollment is shrinking, not growing – in the past three months, nearly 30,000 fewer children had coverage, and the total sank briefly below 300,000 for the first time in five years.

"We're concerned, sure, because when you look at the numbers, we anticipated they would be going up," said Rep. John Davis, a Houston Republican who was lead writer of the House's social services budget. "It's real families that are going to be paying the price."

Among the recent problems:

• A newly hired Georgia vendor misprinted dental coverage ID cards for 45,000 children last week, mixing up birthdays with the effective date of April 1. Another batch had to be mailed.

• This month, officials reinstated 6,000 youngsters whose families hadn't paid new enrollment fees. Letters mailed by another vendor in January and February reminding families to reapply inadvertently failed to mention the fees, which vary by income but can reach $50 for the six-month term.

• Earlier letters – sent by the same vendor, a group led by Bermuda-based Accenture – misstated the co-payments families must pay at doctors' offices and pharmacies.

• Nonprofit groups that work with CHIP families were deluged with complaints in January and February that coverage was cut off even though families had met deadlines for mailing renewal applications. "People's information was just plain getting lost," said Anita McNew, CHIP outreach coordinator for Catholic Charities of Fort Worth. Some children lost coverage for three months or more, she said.

Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission, said a major push is under way to fix problems.

"Any time we find a mistake, we're going to correct that as quickly as we can in the way that's fairest to the consumer," she said.

Problems begin
Problems flared after Nov. 28, when the state switched CHIP enrollment brokers. Dallas-based ACS, the old contractor, handed off an Austin call center and the job of determining families' eligibility to the Texas Access Alliance, led by Accenture.

Its children's health enrollment duties are part of a much broader contract the alliance has to establish and run other call centers for Medicaid, food stamps and other social programs. Poor, sick and elderly people in the Dallas area will begin using those call centers in December, though traditional weekday visits to state offices will remain an option.

State Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins has declined requests to suspend policies that have bumped families, saying it's unclear whether they were truly eligible or other factors caused them not to meet re-enrollment requirements. He has commissioned a survey of 900 CHIP families to try to get answers.

Critics say Mr. Hawkins should already be aware of the problems.

Anne Dunkelberg, a former state Medicaid official who closely tracks children's health programs for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a liberal Austin think tank, said eligible families are turned away because procedures are too cumbersome, the state has lost veteran eligibility workers, and it is not requiring that private call center employees be well-trained.

She said that if officials were candid, they would say: "We wanted to do something bad, just not that bad."

Ms. Goodman, however, insists the use of modern technology and private firms will lead to a better system. She defended recent policy changes, such as making CHIP families submit pay stubs and supply more information at renewal. Families are now enrolled every six months, instead of annually.

"We wanted to build more accountability into the whole process," she said.

Health policy analyst Mary Katherine Stout of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation said an improving economy and resettlement of hurricane victims also may have trimmed the CHIP rolls.

"It's disingenuous to say it's all related to the call centers or the enrollment fee," she said.

Left behind
Veteran executives and social workers at the nonprofit agencies that helped Texas launch CHIP successfully are dispirited.

Martha Blaine, executive director of the Community Council of Greater Dallas, said the state used to inundate its 50 nonprofit outreach contractors with free brochures. The state also spent more than $2 million a year to advertise the program. But the ads and brochures disappeared in 2003, and the state sent other signals that nonprofit groups shouldn't beat the bushes to find new families, she said.

Ms. Goodman said the state will revive its marketing of CHIP this spring, but GOP lawmakers such as Mr. Davis fear potential chaos as more than half of the children now on the rolls come up for renewal in April, May and June.

"We need to make sure we get it taken care of," he said.

No fix, though, can rescue Ms. Grayson's finances.

"I live paycheck to paycheck and sometimes have to borrow," she said, staring at a bill for $948.40 for Niki's visits to an urgent care center on Feb. 8 and March 1, when she was uninsured.

The state says that in November, Ms. Grayson failed to fill in a box on the renewal application asking how much money she had in cash and bank balances. By the time she did, it was too late to avoid a lapse in Niki's coverage, the state says.

"They're grasping at straws, trying to come up with a good reason," Ms. Grayson said. "But it's their fault, I'm sorry."

The state says its vendor inexplicably failed to record in Niki's electronic case record her mother's response about cash and bank balances. The girl should have been re-enrolled Feb. 1 but will not be until Saturday, Ms. Goodman of the commission said. "We can work with Ms. Grayson to see if there are other programs – such as the Medicaid spend-down program – that could help with the February bills," she said.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Austin Chronicle: Chipping Away at CHIP

Chipping Away at CHIP

Former State Rep. Patricia Gray has no desire to return to the Legislature she left four years ago, but oh, what she would give to try to make things right with the Children's Health Insurance Program – her baby, if you will. The Galveston Democrat and former chair of the House Public Health Committee shepherded the landmark CHIP legislation through the House in 1999 and cheered when the program kicked into gear in September 2000, creating a new health care source for uninsured children of working parents.

But then a Republican majority swept into power in 2003 and, needless to say, it's been touch and go for kids' health coverage ever since. Now comes word of another setback for CHIP as the Health and Human Services Commission begins transitioning some of its job responsibilities to a private contractor – Texas ACCESS Alliance, a consortium led by Accenture, the Bermuda-based outsourcing giant with a checkered record of performance in several states. The privatization shift began just as tighter eligibility rules and new enrollment fees went into effect, causing widespread confusion and more paperwork for CHIP clients, and sending the program's enrollment figures into freefall, leaving nearly 30,000 CHIP clients in the lurch. As a result, the start of the new year saw CHIP's overall enrollment drop to 295,000, the program's lowest figure since its earliest existence.

This of course is disheartening for advocates who are committed to reversing the state's high rate of uninsured residents, an estimated 1.4 million of whom are children. They believe about half of those children are actually eligible for either CHIP or Medicaid but are not enrolled in either program.

While Gray, an attorney, is enjoying her new life outside of the Legislature, where she spent a decade in public service, she remains an active – and increasingly concerned – health care advocate for low-income Texans. "It's dismaying to watch things that matter to you get pushed aside," Gray said of the latest setback. "When CHIP enrollment exceeded 500,000 I was just so excited. I thought I really did get to work on something that truly made a difference. Now it's back to under 300,000, and the numbers are heading further south. And," she added, "we're making it hard for people to enroll and to stay enrolled. It's just dismaying."

Travis County's decreasing CHIP enrollment reflects the statewide trend. In February, the county had 8,154 kids enrolled, down from 8,330 in January, and 8,550 in December. Three years ago, 12,384 area kids were enrolled in the program. Last week, Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, told HHSC Commissioner Albert Hawkins in a letter that his office was fielding an unusually high number of calls from constituents in Travis and Hays counties whose benefits were disrupted or delayed under the new call center operation. Naishtat urged Hawkins to reconsider launching a full roll-out of the new system until all the kinks are ironed out.

HHSC officials say they are equally concerned and are reviewing Accenture's handling of calls from CHIP clients. Similar complaints have been made of Accenture's performance on processing renewals for Medicaid and food stamps.

Responding to growing alarm over the state's haphazard privatization efforts – in an election year, no less – Gov. Rick Perry recently prodded the HHSC to re-enroll 6,000 children who were mistakenly dropped from CHIP coverage. Social service advocates, Democrats, and the Texas State Employees Union say that's not nearly enough; they've stepped up their calls for HHSC Commissioner Albert Hawkins to rethink the agency's $899 million contract with Accenture, or, at the very least, to slow down the process of implementing sweeping changes. The agency's privatization plan calls for shuttering the state's community-based offices, firing thousands of workers, and replacing both with privately operated call centers to determine a person's eligibility for receiving CHIP benefits, Medicaid, food stamps, and other social services.

This is not what the original architects of CHIP had in mind when they designed what was supposed to be a relatively user-friendly program for families who can't afford health insurance but don't qualify for Medicaid. The state-funded program was set up to tap $423 million a year in federal matching funds to serve more than 500,000 eligible children.

The CHIP upheaval stems from the 2003 Legislature's two-pronged massacre of the state's health and human services programs, first with deep budget cuts (since partially restored) followed by a massive consolidation and overhaul of the state's health and social services. The changes wrought by that year's HB 2292, authored by former GOP Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, also opened up new contract opportunities for Accenture. Several states have hired Accenture to develop new electronic voter file systems or to manage state-funded social service programs. But Accenture's record on both fronts is shoddy at best. In the last two years, at least half a dozen states have fired the contractor for failing to deliver on its obligations.

Meanwhile, state Democratic Sens. Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin and Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso have asked Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick to appoint a special joint interim committee to review the state's privatization efforts. Gray believes that would be a good start to correct some of the damage done, but it's unlikely that the GOP leadership will carry out the Democrats' request for review. "This notion that private business always does it better than government is just stupid," Gray said. "What we've done is create a whole new network of people who get the big money and then dole it out in little bits. We've just created another class of people who survive off taxpayer money." still touch and go in Texas

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Orthodox reach out to African-Americans

Fr. Moses Berry

Orthodox reach out to African-Americans

NEWARK, NJ [OCA Communications]
— Several noted Orthodox Christian clergy and lay speakers will address the public at the Ancient Christianity Conference here June 2-3, 2006.

The conference theme, "Rediscovering our African Christian Heritage," will serve to introduce the general public to Orthodox Christianity with special emphasis on its 2000 year presence on the African continent, and the implications of this heritage has for today. Among the topics to be discussed will be Africa's ancient Christian heritage, the witness of African women in the life of Orthodox Christianity, and the history of the Church between the time of the apostles and the Protestant reformation.

Organized by the Very Rev. Joseph Lickwar, rector of the Orthodox Church in America's Saints Peter and Paul Church, Jersey City, NJ, and the Rev. Brian D. Rawls, Sr., the conference will be held at the Deliverance Evangelistic Center, 621 Clinton Ave., Newark, NJ.

Among the noted speakers are Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, the Rev. Moses Berry, Dr. Albert Raboteau, Mother Catherine [Weston], and the Rev. Paisius Altschul.

The conference will begin with an opening presentation on Friday, June 2, at 7:00 p.m. On Saturday, June 3, the program will open with breakfast at 9:30 a.m. and conclude at 3:00 p.m.

Admission is free of charge.

For additional information contact Father Lickwar at 201-434-1986 or or the Rev. Rawls at 973-332-2517 or

How to Survive 600 Years of Terrorism and 60 Years of Communism

A Church Destroyed by Albanian Moslems in Kosovo

How to Survive 600 Years of Terrorism and 60 Years of Communism
By Mary Mostert (03/20/2006)

For the past 10 years I have been writing, off and on, about the disintegration of Yugoslavia and that has led to me having a large and growing number of Serb readers. I got interested in the Serb part of the story because I noticed, during the Bosnian war, that CNN never, NOT ONCE, ever had a Serb spokesman on any news program. That struck me as rather odd, since it was the Serbs who were our ONLY allies in the Balkans during World War 1, when approximately half the Serbian male population was killed, and World War II, when, according to the Holocaust Museum, over a million Serbs, Jews and Roma (gypsies) were slaughtered in Croatian concentration camps, such as Jasenovac.

The cruelty of the Ustashe guards horrified even the Germans, who used the more humane killing method of poison gas than was used on the Serbs. After the war German domination was merely traded for Soviet domination. This happened largely because a British double agent fed lies about who was REALLY on the Allied side to Winston Churchill. At Yalta Churchill insisted on the Allies supporting Josip Broz Tito, a communist, in spite of eye-witness accounts by hundreds of American Air Force pilots and crewmen who knew which group was really supporting the Americans and British. When shot down over Yugoslavia during WWII, over 500 American pilots were saved by the Serbs under General Mihailovich.

Muslims ruled the area for more than 600 years under the Ottoman Turkish Empire, while often trying to force the Serbian Orthodox population to convert to Islam. The rulers of the Austrian Empire often tried to force the Serbs to recognize the Pope. Yet, most of the Serbs maintained their loyalty to the Serbian Orthodox Church throughout hundreds of years of persecution, without trying to force others into their religion when they came to power.

In 1996, the latest chapter in the misinformation about Serbs was being written when President Bill Clinton, OK'ed Terrorist Financed Weapons to Bosnia Muslims. Our media was bombarding us with stories about how the Serbs were killing Albanians – but never told the Americans that the Kosovo Liberation Army, (KLA) until 1998 when Clinton took it off, was on the U.S. State Department list of the major terrorist organizations in the world.

By 1999, the KLA, which was trained and armed by Iran and Osama bin Laden was the source of the stories that Milosevic, and the Serbs, were committing genocide. Also the Albanian lobby in Washington, which appears to have been financed largely by the drug trade in Kosovo and some wealthy Albanian-Americans, was circulating false stories to the media about the “Serbs killing 100,000” Albanians in Kosovo. Based on those reports, American airplanes bombed Belgrade and Kosovo for 78 days.

After the bombing, scores of forensic experts were sent to Kosovo to unearth mass graves containing the bodies of those 100,000 to 200,000 Albanians were buried in. No mass graves were found. The leader of the Spanish forensic team reported after a thorough investigation: "I calculate that the final figure of dead in Kosovo will be 2,500 at the most, including lots of strange deaths that can't be blamed on anyone."

Yet, with the death of Slobodan Milosevic we still are getting cartoons and stories about the “200,000 people” that Milosevic supposedly killed. Only - no one could find the bodies. On the other hand, in Iraq, where the media never even TALKED about genocide, so far 300,000 bodies HAVE been found in mass graves. Meanwhile the media tells us Saddam Hussein wasn't all that bad because he didn’t have “weapons of mass destruction” and the Democrats want to impeach President Bush because there was no reason to invade Iraq. It was a good thing that we bombed Belgrade for 78 days over 2500 deaths but 300,000 bodies in mass graves in Iraq is no big deal?

In ten years of communicating with Serbs from all over the world, I have often tried to get them to give me more background to try to figure out how they have managed to hold fast to their faith during 600 years of Muslim persecution, the Holocaust and 60 years of Communism. Most of them seem puzzled by my questions. But, from their answers it appears that their faith in both their God and their nation has been nurtured and has survived within their strong family units, in SPITE of what was happening in their country. Except for a brief period of time between the fall of Turkish domination and the rise of communism, they have never lived in a nation that had freedom of religion. Yet, their churches and their faith have survived.

Finally, this week, following the death of their last communist president, Slobodan Milosevic, one of my readers, Alex, who lives in Belgrade, wrote a succinct history of Serb experience in living with terrorism for hundreds of years. In this time of rising worldwide terrorism, this is a story the American people need to hear. Neither Alex or any of the other Serbs I've communicated with in the past 10 years EVER seemed to cast themselves in the role of "victim" which has become so common among minorities and special interest groups in the USA and among Bosnian Muslims and Albanians who have e-mailed me. Yet, no group of Americans or the Albanians and Bosnian Muslims who claim to be "victims" of persecution EVER had to face the kind of persecution the Serbs have experienced, from both radical Muslims and radical Christians, and even from America when we destroyed most of the infrastructure of their country based on misinformation and outright lies. Would we be so calm about it if we lost OUR freedom of religion? Alex wrote:

“Serbs have had plenty of experience in dealing with radical Islam, what Americans now call Islamic Terror. Americans tragically lost some 3,000 lives and several buildings on Sept. 11, and promptly wanted to turn the world upside down and intervene in other countries, in pursuit of justice.

“Yet, the Serbs - who have suffered a million times more, for centuries, have not been allowed to fight the same type of terror in their own country.

“For almost 500 years the Turks had beheaded our best men, raped our prettiest women, taken our male babies and young boys and raised them as Turks - these were the yanissaries, they were even more brutal than the ordinary Turks; taken our girls to the sultan's harem, taken our lands, our harvest, our livestock, our food, burned our churches and turned them into mosques or horse stables, placed our men on sticks so that they die a suffering death...

“To give you an idea of how horrific the Turks were, here is a photo of the Cele-kula located in the southern Serbian city of Nis - Serbia's second biggest city after Belgrade. The Turks had beheaded (decapitated) our men after a battle in 1809, and had made a tower out of 952 of their skulls, as a warning to the Serbs to end their rebellion. Some of the skulls had fallen out over time, but some still remain, to date. This is now a historic, cultural and sacred monument protected by the state, but also a brutal reminder of what Serbia had gone through.

“And, instead of America understanding us and supporting us, what does it do? It punishes us in every way possible and then rewards our enemies - Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, who have ties with the very Al Qaeda the Americans are fighting. Isn't that a bit strange? Yes, very.

Cele Kula in Nis (pronounced as Chele Kula, Nish)

”Unfortunately, our Catholic and other Christian neighbors did things just as bad as the Islamists. The Croats had performed genocide of Serbs during WW 1, WW 2 (especially WW 2, for example, the death camp at Jasenovac) and again in the 1990s (for example: Operation Storm). Hitler had no better ally, than the Croatian Ustashi. The Hungarians killed us, tortured us, hanged us and mutulated us (in Macva) and placed our people under a freezing river (in the city of Novi Sad, 1942). The Germans had put us in forced labor camps, prisons, death camps, and in front of firing squads (one example: in the city of Kragujevac as many as 7,000 residents were shot in a single day).

“We also suffered greatly under the atheists - communists. It's no secret that Soviet troops had raped many women when they and Tito's partisans liberated Serbia in 1945, only to introduce us to communist terror in which the highest price was paid by Serbs.

“Serbia has had the misfortune to be placed right at the place where Europe meets the Middle East, where two Christian religions clash (Roman Catholic and Orthodox) and where Christianity in general and Islam clash. And we have survived it all, including the betrayal and attacks by what were supposed to be our historical allies.”

Distribute this among your friends and neighbors and especially to your members of Congress.

It is time that we begin to learn some of the history of past terrorism experienced by other people and other places. The Serbs have survived – but their numbers have been cut dramatically by hundreds of years of terrorism. When you read media stories about Kosovo being given to the Albanians who lied to America about a "genocide" - think about what that would really mean. Do we really want to strip Kosovo, the Serb Jerusalem, from the Serbs and give it to a group of people who have poured into Kosovo, from across the border, and used terrorism to kill or drive out its Serb population over the past 60 years? That seems to be about where the Kosovo talks are headed.

Monday, March 20, 2006

An unpublished Editorial I wrote in 1999 about Clinton, Bin Laden, and Kosovo

Click here to see this post on the Orthodox List, dated April 1st, 1999.

Gone With the Cruise Missiles

This should sound familiar... marauding troops of a Federal government seeking to deny a breakaway province it's autonomy (previously guaranteed by their constitution), making war on civilians; burning homes, farms, villages, and cities; robbing and looting as they go; and causing a humanitarian disaster as starving refugees flee their advance. But this is not present day Kosovo, but the sovereign state of Georgia in 1864 as Sherman made his famous march to the sea, in an effort to break the will of Southerners to continue fighting against the Union. Sherman, who is the originator of the famous maxim "War is hell," justified his actions in Georgia by saying (in his letter to Mayor Calhoun of Atlanta and others of September 12, 1864),"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out."

If only Clinton had been around then to demagogue, perhaps Abe Lincoln would have been branded a war criminal... since Sherman was, after all, acting on his orders.

Of course Clinton had his chance to fight in a civil war back in the 60's. He could have joined the Marines and ran through the jungles of Vietnam, M-16 in hand, chasing after the Viet Cong, who were guilty of far worse atrocities than the Serbs have been accused of committing in Kosovo; but instead Clinton ran to England, and like the other draft dodgers of his day, argued that the US had no business getting involved in a civil war, thousands of miles away, in which we have no vital interest, and which we do not understand.

But now Clinton is the Commander-in-Chief, and so can comfortably play golf while he orders other people's children to risk their lives for his photo-op foreign
policy. Since assuming office, Clinton has stripped the US military to the bone, while at the same time deploying them all over the globe. His weapon of choice has been cruise missiles, the supply of which is now almost exhausted -- he has fired
them off like a kid shooting off bottle rockets on the 4th of July, but has not seen fit to request any new orders of cruise missiles to replace them. Just two days ago, NATO sent B-1 bombers into action over Yugoslavia to make up for this shortage, for which Bill Clinton is completely responsible.

You might recall that Clinton fired rounds of cruise missiles at Osama bin Laden (at a convenient time during the Lewinsky scandal), and declared a "war on terrorism." Though one might reasonably wonder about the moral difference between bin Laden blowing up a US civilian target with a truck bomb, and Clinton blowing up an aspirin
factory with a cruise missile, what is even more curious is that it was OK for Clinton to ostensibly fight bin Laden in Afghanistan and the Sudan, but unacceptable for the Yugoslavs to fight the bin Laden backed KLA in Kosovo.

One might also ask why Clinton objects to "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo, but winked when the Croatians (with NATO weapons, training, and technical support) ethnically cleansed the Krajina region of Croatia of some 200,000 Serbs, most of whom have not been allowed to return to this day.

Another inconvenient question is why is it that NATO continues to include Turkey as a member, despite its ongoing war against Kurdish separatists, and its continues occupation of half of Cyprus, despite numerous UN resolutions calling for their withdrawal?

Questions are also raised as to why Clinton wanted to avoid bombing Iraq during "the holy month of Ramadan" because this would have been "highly offensive to Moslems around the world" (which of course conveniently gave him an excuse for launching air strikes on the eve of the Impeachment vote), and yet he is bombing the Orthodox Serbs during Great and Holy Lent, and has made it clear that he will bomb them straight through Holy Week, and shows no concern for the fact that Orthodox
Christians in Russia, Greece, and throughout the world might find this offensive.

Certainly, we all hate to see civilians caught in the cross fire, but what is going on in Kosovo is not a one sided war. The KLA saw the start of NATO bombing as an
opportunity to step up their attacks on the Yugoslav Army. The Yugoslavs responded, and counter attacked. Combine that with bombs dropping all over the place, and it should come as no surprise that we see so many refugees. The KLA has attacked Serbian civilians, and used Albanian villages as their bases of operations -- those who remember the tactics of the Viet Cong should be somewhat sympathetic with the military problem that this poses to the Yugoslav Army, and they should also realize that this is a problem which KLA chooses to impose upon them, at the expense of Albanian civilians. It is terrible to see this play out in Kosovo, but perhaps the same country that burned Atlanta, fire bombed Dresden and Tokyo, and nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki should not be so quick to cry foul with regard to "making war
on civilians."

Clinton addressed the American people and spoke passionately about his concern for Albanian civilians, with that now famous clinched jaw of his; but this is the same clinched jaw that told us that he didn't have sex with Monica Lewinsky. He graphically told us about Serbs shooting Albanians in cold blood, but this is the
same man that told us that Republicans wanted to starve our children, and take away social security checks from helpless old people. But then, if anyone still believes a word Bill Clinton says, then they probably also believe that KLA terrorists wouldn't exaggerate Serbian "atrocities" in order to pump up support for NATO action against Yugoslavia.

Aside from questions about the coherency of this administration's foreign policy, on should also be concerned about their strategic bungling in Kosovo. Clinton began an air war with no plan "B" in mind. We have 10,000 NATO troops across the border in Macedonia, with no tanks. We certainly have a technological edge on the Yugoslavs, but Custer had a technological edge on the Sioux at Little Big Horn -- but as he vividly proved, technology isn't everything.

Every time Clinton has gotten into a jam, a Hitler-du-jour has emerged, and Clinton has fired a few hundred cruise missiles, to save the planet (and his political hide), and make the world safe for philandery. But when the last cruise missile is fired, one wonders what Clinton will do the next time he needs to distract the American people from his personal misdeeds, or to otherwise appear to have a foreign

A Balkan Base for Al Qaeda

A Balkan Base for Al Qaeda?
By Julia Gorin | March 20, 2006

The War on Terror suffered a major blow three years before it was ever announced. It happened when the people of this democracy were misled into attacking the sovereign, emerging post-Communist democracy of Yugoslavia--over rumors of genocide and ethnic cleansing that proved false. In so doing, we put the final touch on delivering the Balkans to al Qaeda.

Today we are being asked to seal that historical blunder, whose repercussions seven years later are only escalating as those we “rescued” turn their weapons against UN and NATO forces. While NATO spends most of its time rooting out terror cells in Kosovo and Bosnia—which served as the logistics bases for the London and Madrid bombings--the 2006 deadline to complete our eagerly forgotten debacle and determine the province’s final status is fast approaching. To persuade the international community that only one final status will be acceptable, our Albanian "rescuees" have been stepping up the violence, a message to the West that it has only one possible exit strategy: grant unconditional independence--without border compromises with Serbia and without protection guarantees for what’s left of the non-Albanian minorities.

If we allow this to happen, the peacekeepers will have to leave, and with them our eyes and ears in this terror haven and thruway. Still, congressional, State Department and UN sentiment seems to be tilting toward self-determination and the logic that if you’ve dug yourself into a hole, keep digging.

Here is the size of that hole so far: In November, 2001, what should have been an explosive article appeared in the European edition of the Wall St. Journal. Headlined “Al Qaeda’s Balkan Links,” it read: “For the past 10 years…Ayman al-Zawahiri [bin Laden’s second in command] has operated terrorist training camps [and] weapons of mass destruction factories throughout Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Bosnia…Though the Clinton administration had been briefed extensively by the State Department in 1993 on the growing Islamist threat in former Yugoslavia, little was done to follow through….”

Nor did a December 2003 article in Britain’s Sunday Mirror register a blip: “Posing as members of the Real IRA, we…made our deal in Kosovo, a breeding ground for fanatics with al-Qaeda links. Our contact was the deputy commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army Niam Behljulji, known as Hulji…Hulji is said to supply terrorists across Europe and has been accused of massacring Serbian women and children during the war. He even posed grinning for a photograph, holding the severed head of one of his victims…Hulji said: ‘The plastics (Semtex) is the old type. No metal strips inside. It cannot be detected at airports.’”

Hulji, according to the December issue of London's Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy journal, is the man who supplied the Semtex-like explosives used in the London and Madrid attacks.

But to perpetuate the version of events we were sold from the beginning, all these connections have gone purposefully unmade by our nation’s “journalists,” who were gung-ho supporters of our 1999 offensive against a historical ally and the culmination of our pro-terror policies in 1990s Yugoslavia. How many Americans know that the terrorists who carried out a spate of suicide attacks in Iraq in August 2004 were trained in Bosnia, or that al Qaeda’s top Balkans operative, al-Zawahiri’s brother Mohammed, had a high position with our terrorist KLA "allies"? And who wants to bring up what former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia James Bissett has--that in Bosnia we'd fought alongside at least two of the 9/11 hijackers. The American public certainly won't hear that Bosnian charities have been raided for funding terrorism or that in 1992 Bosnia issued passports to Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. We’ll never know that Bosnia today is the European “one-stop shop” for all the terrorism needs--weapons, money, shelter, documents--of Chechen and Afghani fighters passing through Europe before heading to Iraq. Or that at an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, troops recovered one Albanian Kosovar’s application, reading, “I have Kosovo Liberation Army combat experience against Serb and American forces. ...I recommend operations against parks like Disney.”

Only Britain's Sky News has caught on, in December airing a segment entitled "The Hidden Army of Radical Islam," about Bosnia, where there is "growing radicalization" and a base for Al Qaeda: "In the heart of Europe, thousands of Arab fighters. Zenica [Bosnia], 1995. They come to wage holy war in support of the Bosnian Army. [Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic shown welcoming the mujahadeen.] ...They committed many atrocities; the tapes Sky News has obtained include beheadings and signs of torture. …This isn’t just about history; it's about now. Western intelligence agencies are now pressing the Bosnians to look into exactly where these people are and what they are doing, and asking have any of these men been in contact with the three young Bosnian Muslims arrested last month on terrorism charges. ...In Sarajevo now the influence of Saudi ideas can be found all over the city. ...Radical Islam is attempting to plant deep roots in the community. …The seeds for change were planted back in 1995."

We see footage of Bosnian Muslim forces destroying an Orthodox Christian church; of a Bosnian Serb being brutalized (we're spared the skull crushing that follows); and a mujahadeen persuading his Bosnian colleagues to let him kill Serb prisoners, who are soon led off and executed. Though there is ample supply of tortured-Serb footage, it doesn’t enjoy the wide circulation that the video of a Bosnian-Serb paramilitary unit killing six Bosnian Muslims got last summer. The narration continues: "There were some serious players sent to Bosnia, among them the man who planned 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohamed...The mujahadeen video shows their flag planted in Bosnia and speaks of spreading their jihad. ...Bosnia is a useful place to hide, plan and move. It's why some stay on." The segment opens with the sentence, "Hundreds of radical Islamic holy warriors [are] hiding in Bosnia, a decade after the end of the war." That statement underscores the West's big miscalculaton in the Balkans--that Bosnia was a self-contained war that had an end, rather than an early front in a war that was just unfolding.

A similar picture began to emerge in Kosovo, where the late Wall St. Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was uncovering that "Ethnic-Albanian militants, humanitarian organizations, NATO and the news media fed off each other to give genocide rumors credibility." The anti-Serb propaganda which misled Americans throughout the 90s and which Daniel Pearl was debunking continues to guide our perceptions and foreign policy in the Balkans today. But despite the media’s blackout on the subject of Balkans terror--including by Pearl's own Wall St. Journal--more and more Americans have been scratching their heads, wondering why we forcibly precluded the Serbs from doing in their own backyard what we’ve gone halfway around the globe to do.

Our Balkans interventions are not like our unholy alliances of the past, wherein we strategically chose the lesser of two evils (e.g. allying ourselves with mujahideen against a clear and present Soviet enemy). By 1999, our government knew that the KLA was supported by Islamic nations and bin Laden, against whom the U.S. already had issued two indictments.

The Islamists were by then a known entity, specifically as our main post-Cold War threat, and Serbia wasn't an enemy.

For the past four years, the Hague's International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has been finding what multiple international forensic teams have found--that claims of Serb “atrocities” were exaggerated and often invented. It turns out we confused an attempt to create an Islamic "Greater Albania" with one to create a “Greater Serbia.” Surely if the latter were Slobodan Milosevic’s goal, he would have started by ethnically cleansing the nearly 300,000 Muslims of Serbia. Though he built his career in whatever dirty ways Tito's Yugoslavia allowed, he was the least of the Balkans' villains. For most Serbs, he was not a hero until he was called upon to defend an entire nation at the Hague.

Now that Milosevic is dead, we are spared the worldwide riots that would have ensued had the tribunal mustered the courage to issue a verdict based on the evidence. And we can all sleep comfortably as the disproved charges are accepted as history.

“If you break it, you fix it.” We’ve heard much of that refrain throughout our Iraq debates—including from the selfsame architects of the Kosovo offensive: Bill and Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Wesley Clark. Their prescription for fixing what they broke? Bury it.

Clark warned that “a violent collision may occur by year-end” if we don’t do what the Albanians want—and this four-star general advocated doing just that. After all, “unrest” in the region shines an unwelcome spotlight on his “successful war.” Clark even suggested pummeling the Serbs again if Belgrade got in the way; it’s easier than fighting his terrorist Albanian campaign donors.

So far this year we are not witnessing the Albanian pogroms against Kosovo's remaining Serbs, which marked the March madness of 2004. For these tribal and holy warriors know that Kosovo is almost theirs, as the exasperated UN mission is ready to hand the reins over to local Albanian authorities--who are of course controlled by and include the KLA.

As UN human rights observer Jiri Dienstbier notes, "If NATO and the UN can't defeat terrorism in an area the size of one-eighth of the Czech Republic, how do they expect to confront global terrorism?" Balkans author Vojin Joksimovich seconds the question: "Although the intelligence community is fully aware of the threat, political leaders are denying it and the media are silent. Given this cover-up, it's fair to ask whether we are able to prevent yet another major terrorist act." Indeed, can you fight terror with one hand while abetting it with the other?

In early 2001, German TV broadcast a report titled "It Began with a Lie," which publicized the findings of the observer force Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that no genocide had taken place in Kosovo. The revelations set off a huge public debate in Germany, a member of the NATO coalition, after the public realized their country had been party to a hoax, and they held the responsible politicians’ feet to the fire.

It’s long past time that we also set the record straight on what we "achieved" in the Balkans -- and change course. As the world closes in on the Serbs again this year, we must stop bin Laden from establishing a terror state in Europe. We know from Madrid and London that we’ll pay for it with our own blood. In fact, we already have

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Inexhaustible Cup

The "Inexhaustible Chalice" Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos was revealed in Russia in 1878. A retired soldier from Tula had spent his pension on alcohol, ruining his health. Though he was no longer able to walk, he continued to drink.

One night a holy Elder appeared to him in a dream and told him to go to the Serpukhov monastery of the Mother of God. "Have a Molieben served before her Icon "The Inexhaustible Chalice." Since he had no money and could not walk, the man paid no attention to the dream. Then the Elder appeared a second and third time, speaking to him with increasing severity.

Crawling on all fours, the man reached the next village and stayed in the home of an old woman. She rubbed his legs, and he began to feel better. The next day, he resumed his journey with two canes, then with one, until he arrived at the monastery.

He described his dreams to the monks, but none of them had ever heard of "The Inexhaustible Chalice" Icon. Finally, one of them remembered an icon on which a chalice was depicted. On the back of the icon was an inscription, "The Inexhaustible Chaice." After the Molieben, the peasant returned home restored to health, and cured of his alcoholism.

News of the miracle spread, and many alcoholics and their families came to pray before the Icon. Many of them came back to thank the Mother of God for answering their prayers. Every Sunday in the Serpukhov-Vyotsk monastery a Molieben with an Akathist is served before the Icon for those who are addicted to alcohol.

You can find the text of this akathist by clicking here.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Lent is Different for the Orthodox

Ya don't say. :)

The Very Rev. Nabil Hanna of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church holds a cross as Amy Madsen venerates (kisses) it. Behind her Wednesday was her mother, Nancy Madsen. Hanna said fasting is a "spiritual exercise" for Orthodox Christians.

Lent is different for the Orthodox
Christians in the Eastern churches give up more foods and have their own calendar

By Robert King

For most American Christians, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus known as Easter falls on April 16.

But for Orthodox Christians around the nation and in 14 Central Indiana congregations, the resurrection celebration, which they call Pascha, comes a full week later -- on April 23.

That offset calendar -- which allows Orthodox families some great deals on chocolate bunnies and bright spring dresses -- is just one way the Orthodox, or Eastern, Church marks the holy season differently from its Western brethren.

Beyond the calendars, the Very Rev. Nabil Hanna, pastor of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church on the Eastside, said the key difference might be that the Orthodox view their much-stricter Lenten fasting not as a sacrifice but as a "spiritual exercise."

"The body is truly the partner of the spirit rather than being at odds with the body," Hanna said. "We need to discipline ourselves as a whole being, which includes the body. . . . If we just do whatever we feel like whenever, what separates us from the animals?"

The Orthodox Church, which includes Greek, Russian, Antiochian and other churches, was united with what we know today as the Roman Catholic Church through Christianity's first millennium. Differences over the authority of the pope, among other things, pulled them apart in the 11th and 12th centuries.

For Roman Catholics, the observance of Lent is characterized for many by abstaining from meat on Fridays. Some also give up other items -- chocolate or caffeine, for instance -- as a reminder of Christ's sacrifice.

But for observant Orthodox Christians, Lent is preceded not with a feast along the lines of Mardi Gras but with weaning oneself away from the consumption of meat and dairy products.

With the actual start of Lent, many observant Orthodox forgo meat, dairy products and fish for the entire season -- not just Fridays. The most devout may fast completely during daylight hours and consume only fluids, vegetables and grains at night.

"It really is a beautiful time where we see God's presence more," Hanna said. "We shut out so many of those things that, when we think about them, are distractions."
Aside from fasting, the Orthodox Church emphasizes prayer and giving to the poor during Lent. There is a dramatic uptick in the number of worship services and communal meals -- albeit meals with more modest menus.

The calendar discrepancy between the Eastern and Western churches developed in the 16th century, when Pope Gregory commissioned a new calendar. The Eastern Church stayed with the one developed by Julius Caesar.

The two calendars are now 13 days apart. Because the date of their celebrations of Christ's resurrection are based on the first appearance of a full moon following March 21, the dates frequently don't coincide.

Natalie Ashanin, a 74-year-old St. George member and a lifelong Orthodox Christian, is the child of Russian immigrants. She likens the Orthodox Lent to an old Russian phrase -- bright sadness.

"It is a time of thinking about Christ's death," Ashanin said. "Also, there is a joy in it in thinking that Easter is coming and the blessed Resurrection."
Orthodox Pascha and the Western church's Easter do not always fall on separate dates. But the frequent calendar discrepancy between the two was something Ashanin, who has four adult children, always welcomed.

"I loved it. I didn't like it when they were on the same time because the chocolate candies and the things and the dresses would go on sale after Western Easter, and we would go and get things for half-price," she said.

Still, Ashanin said that discrepancy can cause problems for families in which one spouse is Orthodox and the other is Catholic or Protestant. The side of the family that celebrates Easter typically wants to have a big meal on Easter Sunday, she said. But that falls in the midst of the Orthodox side's fasting.

A bigger problem, according to Rev. Hanna, is that the Western churches don't seem to observe Lent and Holy Week with the same special regard that Orthodox churches do. That can lead to issues such as one that occurred with Hanna's son. Two years ago, the boy's middle school band scheduled a trip to a Pacers game on Holy (Good) Friday.

"When I grew up and was in school, Holy Friday was a day people of all denominations went to church," Hanna said. "It seems to have little bearing (these days) on the celebration for Catholics and Protestants."

Hanna said Christians of all denominations need to understand that their faith is not lived out inside the stained-glass world of church services but is demonstrated in the community.

"These are not merely obligations," he said of the fasting and devotion to faith. "They are a way of life. Our faith is not something that we do when we happen to be in this building, but it should be all-pervasive."


Because the Orthodox Christian Church follows the Julian calendar for setting the dates for Lent and the Resurrection (Easter) celebration, their observances in many years fall on dates different from the Western church, which includes Catholics and Protestants. A look at 2006.

Orthodox dates

Lent begins -- March 6.
Palm Sunday -- April 16.
Good Friday -- April 21.
Pascha (Easter) -- April 23.

Roman Catholic/Protestant dates

Lent begins (Ash Wednesday) -- March 1.
Palm Sunday -- April 9.
Good Friday -- April 14.
Easter -- April 16.

Splain Dis

Body 'intact' 15 years after burial

The body of a Greek Orthodox monk was allegedly found intact 15 years after he was buried.

Medical experts are puzzling over the discovery in Lamia, central Greece, after the body of Vissarionas Korkoliakos was exhumed at Agathonos monastery, the semi-state Athens News Agency (ANA) reported.

“I believe this to be a sign from God,” Bishop Nikolaos, of the local prefecture of Fthiotida, said. “Even the monk’s soft parts are intact,” he added.

Four local doctors summoned by church authorities were unable to explain the alleged phenomenon. A fifth expert, an Athens coroner, wrote in his report that he had never seen such a case, ANA said.

Hundreds of faithful are flocking to the site, but the local church is advising restraint.

“We do not intend to declare [this man] a saint, or to summon people to pray before him,” Bishop Nikolaos said. (AFP)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Burial Place of St. Chad Discovered

h/t: Huw Raphael

Archaeologists discover Saint Chad's Burial Place and Shrine
- Major discovery re-writes Lichfield's history
- Shrine to be reunited with illuminated Gospels after 1,000 years

In a discovery hailed as being of “European significance” and the “foundation of English art”, archaeologists working at Lichfield Cathedral have uncovered the church built to house the grave of St Chad; together with the “Lichfield Angel” - part of the shrine created around AD700 by Bishop Hedda to mark the resting place of Lichfield’s first Bishop.

And now the remains of the shrine are to be reunited for the first time in more than 1,000 years with the Lichfield Gospels – an illuminated manuscript commissioned in the eighth century to adorn the shrine. And, thanks to collaboration between the Cathedral, the British Library and the Parish of Llandeilo, members of the public will be able to ‘turn the pages’ of the precious Lichfield Gospels as they have been digitised – digital versions of the St Chad Gospels will be on display in the Cathedral and also available to tour across the diocese.

The “Lichfield Angel”

When Chad became the fifth Bishop of the Mercians in AD 669 he moved the bishopric from Repton to Lichfield. The noted church historian, the Venerable Bede, reported that Chad “came to dwell by St Mary’s Church”. Chad died on 2nd March AD672 and Bede reported that he was buried: “close by” the Church of St Mary, but that his body was later transferred to the new church of St Peter.

The exact locations of these churches have never been known; and there has been much speculation that St Chad’s Church in Lichfield is located on the site of one of the original churches. But now, archaeologists can reveal that the remains of both St Peter’s Church and St Mary’s Church lie under the floor of the present cathedral – and that both have been found during recent archaeological investigations.

The latest finds – St Peter’s Church, the shrine, and a number of high-status later burials around the shrine – were discovered as archaeologists conducted a dig in the nave of the Cathedral to prepare the way for a new motorised retractable nave platform. The remains of St Mary’s Church was discovered in the 1990s during a major programme to replace broken limestone flooring flags. It wasn’t until the remains of St Peter’s Church was found that it was possible to identify the remains found in the 1990s as St Mary’s Church – the church where Chad worshipped and preached.

The “Lichfield Angel” is three adjoining fragments of an Anglo-Saxon sculptured panel made of cream shelly limestone. It is believed that this formed part of a shrine in which the bones of St Chad were housed.

Leading ecclesiastical archaeologist, Dr Warwick Rodwell, is Consultant Archaeologist at Lichfield Cathedral, and led the dig. He said: “The remarkable state of preservation of the panel fragments is due to several factors. First, the sculpture had a short life span before being broken and buried. Second, the fragments were deposited inside the church and have therefore not been subject to outside weathering. Third, at least two of the three pieces were placed face-down in a pit, thereby trapping air pockets against some areas of the sculptured surface. Hence, parts of the painted decoration have never had soil in contact with them.”

Professor Rosemary Cramp, a trustee of the British Museum and past president of the Council for British Archaeology is a senior expert in Anglo-Saxon archaeology, described the “Lichfield Angel” as being of “European importance”. She added: “This carving is crucially important for the light it throws on the chronology of Anglo Saxon sculpture. Only a handful of sites have produced sculptures which are archaeologically stratified as belonging to the pre-conquest period. This piece is unusual in that an almost complete panel of a casket has been carefully reburied, some time before the Norman Conquest. This can be paralleled only in the reburied sarcophagus at Alkmund’s, Derby.

“This piece provides something of a missing link between England and the continent in the revival of late antique styles, a revival which on the continent is demonstrated in manuscripts and ivories, not large scale carvings. The conservation of the Lichfield Angel and its formal, stylistic and iconographic analysis is obviously of crucial importance.”

Emily Howe, a conservator of wall paintings and sculptural polychromy, has been given the task of co-ordinating the recording, examination and analysis of the Angel prior to its conservation, and is receiving generous technical support from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and a substantial grant from the Pilgrim Trust. She said: “Initial documentation of the panel components, including high resolution digital imaging and close range 3-D laser scanning, has now been completed. Not only will these records serve as an important resource for monitoring the condition of the panel over time, but they will enable a better understanding of the way the panel was made and assist in the provision of interpretative material showing how the fragments might originally have fitted into the St Chad shrine chest.

“Following the Angel’s temporary display in the Cathedral during the month of March, a detailed condition assessment will be undertaken and further research instigated into the object’s physical history. Findings from these non-invasive investigations will inform the need for scientific analysis of the Angel’s stone support and extensive remaining paint layer, and examination of the ways in which the materials were used. Such analyses will not only provide further information on the panel’s current condition, but will also serve to illuminate its considerable technological significance among Britain’s early medieval sculpture.”

Recommendations for the long-term conservation of the Lichfield Angel and suitable conditions for the panel’s display in the Cathedral will be considered by a panel of experts based on the findings of these informative preliminary investigations.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

More "I Told Ya's" -- Medicaid in a Tailspin in Texas

Like CHIP, Children's Medicaid sees enrollment decline
3/7/2006 8:14 PM
By: Associated Press

The number of Texas children insured by Medicaid has dropped by nearly 79,000 since November.

The drop mirrors enrollment losses seen in the Children's Health Insurance Program, which is for kids whose families can't afford private coverage.

About 1.76 million children were enrolled in Medicaid last month, down from 1.84 million in November, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

State officials say the Medicaid decline appears to be related to staffing problems at eligibility offices.

Advocates, however, blame the decline on the contractor that recently started processing benefits applications.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission said the new contractor did not begin handling applications until January, after the decline began.

My Comment:

That may well be, but the decline is happening -- not because the need has gone down, but because the old system is being gutted, while the new system is not working yet -- and shows no signs of working any time soon.

It may well be that the new system may one day be made to work -- though I doubt it. But the transition plan to the new system never could have worked, and was doomed from the start.

They should have maintained the old system at the staffing levels needed to keep that system up and running, and then implemented a pilot for the new system, and then slowly brought up the rest of the state... after ensuring that it was working and was really cost effective, and able to deal with the workload. Only as they began to see the new system working in the real world, should they have begun downsizing the old system. With this approach, if you saw that the new system was flawed, you would have the option of scrapping it, or modifying it. HHSC has already destroyed the old system. It would take years to rebuild it, even if they began tomorrow.

The "staffing problems" are what you get when you have a 5 year hiring freeze, followed by handing out pink slips to most of your staff, informing them that they will not have a job when the new system is implemented. This was not only foreseeable -- it was planned. But here they act as if it snuck up on them.

Many working poor people, and even many people who are lower middle class depend on Medicaid at least some of the time. And when they need it, they need it. You will be seeing more and more articles about how people who need it, can't get it, because the system (both the old one that is being gutted, and the untried new system that is supposed to be coming on line) cannot deal with the workload.

Carlos Guerra: Private sector bungles state's health, social services programs

Carlos Guerra: Private sector bungles state's health, social services programs

Web Posted: 03/05/2006 12:00 AM CST

San Antonio Express-News

When the 2003 Legislature overhauled the state's health care and social services programs, proponents insisted that privatization would deliver huge savings because the private sector always outperforms government, and does so at much lower costs.

So, after becoming the state's lead social services agency, the newly created Health and Human Services Commission set out to fire thousands of state employees who navigate Kafkaesque federal regulations to determine applicants' eligibility, and hired private-sector call centers to do their jobs.

But last week, a more accurate picture began to emerge about where the overhaul's "savings" will really come from.

Enrollment in the Child Health Insurance Program that once covered more than 500,000 children of working poor parents dropped below 300,000 for the first time since the program was established.

And in the three months since Accenture — which got the $899 million call-center contract — started fulfilling the eligibility functions, CHIP enrollment dropped an astounding 9 percent.

"In the last three or four months, there has been a significant drop here too," said Charles Kight, CEO of Community First Health Plans, a nonprofit HMO that handles most CHIP and Medicaid clients in Bexar and the surrounding counties.

"In the Bexar service area in May 2003, we had 42,000 kids enrolled in both plans, and in (January) 2006, we had 24,000," he said. "But of late, it's been dropping like a rock because families who were on the program have had more difficulty staying on the program."

Several legislative changes are contributing to the plummeting coverage. The enrollment process, which involves filling out and filing applications and documentation, must now be repeated every six months, for example, and the required documentation changed.

"Also, when the program started, parents had to pay a monthly premium, but the last legislature set a one-time payment every six months" of $25 to $50 per child, Kight explained. "They instituted that but didn't notify the families, so they had no lead time to prepare to make the payments."

And now, children whose coverage lapses remain uninsured for at least 90 days. But much of the enrollment drop has also resulted from the bungled rush to privatize eligibility determination.

"Back in the fall, the state went with TAA, the Texas Access Alliance, a group of companies in which Accenture is the lead," Kight says. "But TAA has become more like the 'Texas Access Adversaries.' Their processing has not been efficient or accurate, and now, after four or five months, they are only beginning to understand what their issues are and get them corrected."

Thursday, at the request of Gov. Rick Perry, the Health and Human Services Commission announced that it would re-enroll at least 6,000 children who were erroneously dropped from CHIP coverage.

Last month, HHSC officials were still saying that privatization was working well, even though the evidence to the contrary was widespread.

Clearly, they must have known because on Feb. 8 one regional manager e-mailed his underlings to warn them "not to denigrate the call center process, their staff, or their levels of customer service to our clients or to the public in general. If call center staff are doing something inappropriate, we need to manage that in-house, not air our laundry in public."

Austin American Statesman: The Problems with Texas Welfare begin to Hit the Fan

Ricardo B. Brazziell

Sandra Vinson struggled with the new food stamp system for more than six weeks before getting re-enrolled on Thursday.

Told ya. It will get much worse.

Food stamp backlog affects 6,000 Central Texans
Applications for food stamps sharply decline in Travis County
By Corrie MacLaggan


Monday, March 06, 2006

South Austin resident Sandra Vinson, 61, applied to renew her food stamps on Jan. 13. More than six weeks later, she still didn't have them.

Vinson dipped into her rent money to buy groceries before she was finally re-enrolled in the food stamp program late Thursday.

Ricardo B. Brazziell

(enlarge photo)
Sandra Vinson struggled with the new food stamp system for more than six weeks before getting re-enrolled on Thursday.

The applications of about 6,000 Central Texans requesting food stamps, Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families are stuck in a backlog, state officials say.

That backlog started in January, just before the state began rolling out a new call-in system for Texans to apply for public assistance. It also coincides with a sudden drop in food stamp enrollment in Travis County that might be related to the new system.

Some of the 2,900 state workers who found out they would not have a job in the new system quit, leaving state offices short-staffed and creating the backlog, officials said.

The new, nearly $1 billion system, which officials predict will save the state $646 million over five years, involves closing some of the offices where Texans apply for public assistance and replacing them with call centers managed by a private company.

State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, said the state should stop the rollout of the new system until problems are resolved. The rollout began in Travis and Hays counties and is expected to expand to more than 20 Hill Country counties in April.

"It would appear that we're playing Russian roulette with tens of thousands of people who need assistance from the state," Naishtat said.

Vinson said she doesn't like having to depend on food stamps but said it is the only way she can make ends meet. Numerous calls to state offices and the new call centers netted conflicting information on her case, she said.

"The system is circuitous, it's evasive and it's downright spooky that the information is lost," she said. "I was just about in tears after this lengthy go-round."

Half of the 6,000 backlogged applications should be processed by today, said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the state Health and Human Services Commission.

The backlog is the result of the state's transition to the new call-insystem and not the system itself. But other issues have arisen that could be directly related to the new system.

About 6,000 children were dropped from the Children's Health Insurance Program last month because their families weren't told about a new enrollment fee. State officials reinstated the families and said the problems stemmed from mistakes at a new call center in Midland.

In addition, there were about 160,000 Travis County residents enrolled in the food stamp program in December, but only 84,000 in March — a nearly 50 percent drop. Statewide, food stamp enrollment fell about 10 percent in the same period.

State officials attribute some of the decline to evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita no longer qualifying for assistance, but that cannot explain the huge dropoff in Travis County, said Celia Hagert, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an advocate for low- and middle-income Texans. She suspects the drop may be related to the new eligibility system.

"It's understandable that there would be transition problems, but we have to have a contingency plan in place to ensure that people's lives are not disrupted and damaged," Hagert said.; 445-3548

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Jewish Extremist Attempts to bomb Church in Nazareth

Tensions rise over church attack in Nazareth
Updated Sat. Mar. 4 2006 2:14 PM ET

Associated Press

NAZARETH, Israel — A Roman Catholic bishop called for better protection of Christian sites Saturday after an Israeli couple set off a series of explosions in a church in Nazareth.

Israeli Arabs, meanwhile, filled the streets of the biblical city to protest Friday's attack on the Basilica of the Annunciation, which apparently was driven by personal distress and not extremism but still heightened religious and political tensions in northern Israel.

The couple and their 20-year-old daughter used a baby stroller to smuggle firecrackers and small gas canisters into the church on Friday evening.

They threw the explosives from the balcony and were beaten by worshippers before police arrived. After a three-hour standoff between police and thousands of protesters, the suspects were led away through a back exit, disguised as police officers. Club-wielding police fired stun grenades to keep back the mob.

The church suffered only minor damage, but the attack spurred widespread stone-throwing riots in which two dozen people, including 13 police officers, were hurt.

Hundreds of Israeli Arabs — Christian and Muslim — marched through Nazareth, holding up Palestinian flags and banners with slogans such as "Israel breeds hate" and "they accuse us of terrorism but they do terrorism."

The protesters sang church songs as they made their way from the municipality to the basilica. The streets were empty of police forces, who decided to stay out of town to avoid tensions.

Police said the man, Haim Eliyahu Habibi, had financial problems, and apparently is not a Jewish extremist. Habibi, his Christian wife, Violet, and their daughter were treated at a hospital before being taken into custody.

Habibi's daughter told investigators her parents intended to create a provocation to draw attention to their economic troubles and protest that two of their children had been taken from them by the Israeli authorities, Yaakov Sigdon, a police commander in northern Israel, told Israel Radio.

Several years ago, the family had sought political asylum in a West Bank town under Palestinian control for similar reasons.

But many Arabs dismissed the Israeli explanation, saying the government could have done more to prevent the attack and protect the Christian minority.

"We don't understand why and how this man came here, given his personality. Who sent him here?" said Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the top Roman Catholic official in the Holy Land. "It is unclear, but it gives fuel to our anxieties about the future."

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni contacted the Vatican late Friday, offering assurances that Israel is committed to protecting Christian holy places, officials said. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also discussed the situation with Nazareth's mayor, Olmert's office said.

Archbishop Elias Shakur, the top Roman Catholic official in Nazareth, issued a call for unity among Israel's citizens and dismissed the attackers as lone extremists. While praising the Israeli response, he said "it is not enough."

"It's a big tragedy for all of us in Israel, for Christians, for having their most holy places spoiled and used in a barbaric way," he said.

At the basilica, a small group of worshippers gathered to pray. Black stains on the walls caused by the explosion were removed.

But tensions remained high in northern Israel, where much of the country's Arab population is located. Police postponed at least seven soccer matches Saturday, fearing riots could break out.

In the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, the designated Palestinian prime minister from the Islamic militant Hamas group, said the attack was the result "of a hate culture which Israel is feeding its public against the Palestinians, and their Christian and Islamic holy places and believers."

The Basilica of the Annunciation is built on the site where Christians believe the Angel Gabriel appeared before the Virgin Mary and foretold the birth of Jesus.

Nazareth, the boyhood town of Jesus, is inhabited by about 74,000 Arab Israelis, about two-thirds Muslim and the remainder Christian. Religious tensions have boiled over in the past, with the two sides in a dispute over attempts to build a mosque next to the church.

The attack also underscored the tense relations between Israel's Jewish majority and its Arab minority. Israeli Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of the population, complain of discrimination.

Israel's roughly 1 million Arabs hold Israeli citizenship, in contrast to Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip who live under the Palestinian Authority.

Despite tensions between Jews and Arabs, violence is rare

Friday, March 03, 2006

Houston Chronicle: Accenture's work for Texas agency worries senator

Passing the Bucks

We are in the early stage of the final meltdown of the Texas welfare system. It will get much worse, but it is already getting bad. In the following article, you should note a few things:

1) Accenture, the private Bermuda based corporation that is taking over half of the Texas welfare system (CHIP, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and TANF) is dropping the ball, and work is being shifted from the private contractor to the rapidly shrinking numbers of state workers... which is what always has happened in the past, and I predicted would happen here as well.

2) The TIERS Computer System continues to not work properly, despite about 300 million dollars being thrown down the TIERS rat hole.

March 1, 2006, 11:25PM
Accenture's work for Texas agency worries senator
State workers raise concerns over consulting firm's customer service, computer troubles

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - A state senator who is also a family physician raised questions Wednesday about the state's privately contracted call centers that are supposed to screen applicants for social services statewide by the end of this year.

Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, asked Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins how he remains confident in the giant out- sourcing firm Accenture in the face of ongoing computer-compatibility problems.

"Accenture's getting contracts canceled," Deuell told Hawkins during a Senate Health and Human Services Commission meeting. "I've got some concerns about them doing the job. Do you share those concerns?"

200 hired on firm's dime

Hawkins replied that Accenture, which began running eligibility-screening call centers in Travis and Hays counties Jan. 20 as part of a five-year, $899 million contract, has performed sufficiently on several government contracts, specifically with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Accenture spokesman Jim McAvoy said that last year the company worked on more than 20,000 projects with more than 4,000 clients in 75 countries.

"At any point in time a very small percentage, probably less than 1 percent of our overall work, encounters problems," he added. "When we encounter problems, we work closely with clients to resolve them."

The call-center system will eventually spread statewide and has been widely criticized by state workers losing their jobs to privatization and scrutinized by social services advocates who worry that clients will be hurt by a privately run system.

"There are in the normal course of things a lot of glitches that occur that we identify on an ongoing basis," Hawkins told Deuell, adding that Accenture has hired about 200 more workers to retype screening information from its own software program into a state computer system. He said the company, not the state, is picking up the bill.

Trouble transferring data
Deuell said he's worried because state workers say Accenture's software program, Max-e, is not able to transfer data into a complex computer system the state spent years building so that eligibility of applicants could be checked for several services at once. "You state it's their problem. I think it's ours," he said, referring to e-mail a regional commission director sent to state commission staffers in Central Texas.

"I know some staff are frustrated about some issues around clients being referred to TAA (Texas Access Alliance, led by Accenture) and then bounced back," wrote HHSC's Bob Arbuckle, telling staffers to behave professionally even if they are angry about the call centers.

"We cannot continue to bounce clients around. If TAA inappropriately bounces someone back to us, we need to step in and help the client and strive for excellent customer service first," Arbuckle continued.

Deuell said he can't understand why the contractor is bouncing work back to state workers when the contractor was hired to do the job instead of state workers.

Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said Accenture is working to make its software compatible with the state's computer. "We knew this was part of the process before they ever rolled it out, to build an interface between the two," she said.

Deuell said he has no bone to pick with Accenture but added, "it ought to be working better."