Italian government plans to tax commercial property belonging to the Catholic Church. Overdue.

Bed & Breakfast hotel run by a convent in Rome

Over the years, the Italian government has quietly passed scores of laws that benefit the Roman Catholic Church, but it is rare for it to issue a public statement announcing it intends to strip the church of privileges. The government of Prime Minister Mario Monti took that step on Wednesday, telling the European Commission that it intends to change Italian law to ensure the church pays property tax on the parts of its buildings used for commercial ends.

The church owns vast amounts of property in Italy, and the move is aimed at making sure that convents that offer bed and breakfast or church buildings that rent space to shops pay their full share of taxes.

The change — once it is formally drafted and approved by Parliament — could result in revenues of $650 million to $2.6 billion annually, according to municipal government associations. It could also set an example for other debt-strapped European countries — most notably Greece and Spain — where there is growing popular resentment over tax breaks for the church.

It would set an example for the United States – not only for Old World religions but the all-American bible belt crowd.

Even in Catholic Italy, the proposal shows the churchgoing Mr. Monti’s ability to read the national mood. Faced with their own belt-tightening and tax increases, Italians are increasingly fed up with what they see as unfair privileges — be it of the political class or the church. After new austerity measures were passed in December, 130,000 people signed an online petition calling on the government to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status…

Today, many church buildings fall into a gray area, taking advantage of a tax exemption for religious organization’s buildings even if they are largely commercial in use…

Overdue? It’s all overdue.

The only exemptions religions should have from taxation are those befitting non-profit charitable works. Period. End of discussion.

Take the time to discuss this with most folks and even the most thoroughly brainwashed True Believer will generally understand the sense of fairness that should discipline the funding of necessary government. It’s an all-in proposition. Certain work – like charity – might be exempt. Not individuals or organizations just by definition of their belief system.

Misogynist of the week – Santorum’s moneyman, Foster Friess!

This whole contraception debate is just so new-fangled, says billionaire investor and mega-funder to the super PAC supporting former Senator Rick Santorum for President, Foster Friess.

In a simpler time, there were other ways to deal with female sexual desire. “Back in my day, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly,” he said Thursday on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports, setting the host back for moment.

The general conversation was about Santorum’s past statements about contraception, who…said that it was “harmful to women.”

The full exchange:

Mitchell: Do you have any concerns about some of his comments on social issues, contraception, about women in combat, and whether that would hurt his general election campaign would he be the nominee?

Friess: I get such a chuckle when these things come out. Here we have millions of our fellow Americans unemployed, we have jihadist camps being set up in Latin America, which Rick has been warning about, and people seem to be so preoccupied with sex. I think it says something about our culture. We maybe need a massive therapy session so we can concentrate on what the real issues are. And this contraceptive thing, my gosh, it’s such inexpensive. Back in my day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.

Mitchell: Excuse me, I’m just trying to catch my breath from that, Mr. Friess, frankly.

Most times when someone says something this stupid, this prejudiced – I post it with just a one-liner expressing my sincere contempt. But, describing Friess, say, as Stone Age in his outlook towards women slanders the average Neanderthal.

Putting the need for contraception solely on women, putting the blame for unwanted children on women is barely up to the 20th Century in any civilized country. I keep forgetting that some of the creeps running for political office in America have learned to lie well enough they usually avoid saying things this backwards, this stupid, this offensive.

Friess is someone who obviously should leave the lying to Rick Santorum and just keep supplying him with money.

But, they fit together, they deserve each other. They both reflect as slightly different mirrors of fundamentalist religions that are in essence patriarchal, paternalist, dismissive of women.

If some journalist needs validation for this – just take a hidden camera along and drop in at the nearest K of C bar, tomorrow night, payday. Bring up this incident on Andrea Mitchell’s show and tell it like a joke – just as Friess obviously intended. He’s probably been telling this one for 50 years. And record the reaction you get from everyone else at the bar. Good luck trying to correct anyone!

Xi Jinping makes a return voyage to Muscatine, Iowa

Xi Jinping talks with local people in the home of Roger and Sarah Lande in Muscatine, Iowa
Kevin E. Schmidt / Pool via AFP – Getty Images

A young, blue-eyed Sarah Lande never thought the polite young man from China, Xi Jinping, sitting at her dining room table in 1985 would go on to become the next president of China. She simply thought of him as a gentle soul with genuine interest in her family’s Iowa roots, sharing a home-cooked meal of pork, beef and locally grown corn.

Wednesday afternoon 27 years later – he returned to the same three-story home on Muscatine’s 2nd Street and walked through the same door, but this time as China’s next president.

Coming here is really like coming back to home,” Xi told a packed living room of familiar faces he met on his 1985 visit. “You can’t even imagine what a deep impression I had from my visit 27 years ago … because you were the first group of Americans that I came into contact with…”

Xi first visited Muscatine as a provincial official from Iowa’s sister state of Hebei almost three decades ago. Leading a delegation of four other local officials on an educational trip primarily focused on agriculture, Xi and his colleagues toured local farms and businesses as part of an exchange that began with Iowans going to Hebei in 1984. He met then-and current Iowa governor Terry Branstad and more than a dozen other Iowans in Muscatine he now calls his “old friends…”

Clearly, Muscatine also left an indelible impression on Xi. Upon invitation back to Iowa by Governor Branstad, he requested to reunite with each person he met in Muscatine.

Muscatine is the perfect, if coincidental, background to counterbalance Xi’s highly-scripted meetings in Washington. Aesthetically frozen in the 1950s, the town oozes both old-fashioned small-town charm and the harsh reality of post-industrial American economy. Many storefronts and warehouses stand empty in a place that once called itself the “pearl button capital of the world.” Meanwhile, China has opened and expanded exponentially since 1985, into a roaring economy.

RTFA. There is so much real farm country folksiness in the article I won’t do an editorial job on it. The point for me – perhaps because of my decades dealing with Asian businesses bringing products to sell in the United States – is that commerce sets an appropriate stage for individuals and cultures to get to know each other, affect each other in social ways, in business, in study and friendship.

There was a time in American history when some portions of this nation lived as neighbors to the world – by preference. Better we learn to learn from each other – instead of following the night-riders of bigotry into their pride in conquest and conflict.

Japanese executives, bankers arrested over $1.7 billion fraud

Michael Woodford demonstrates oversight by Japan’s regulators
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Four months after one of Japan’s biggest corporate scandals, police and prosecutors on have arrested seven men, including the former president of Olympus Corp and ex-bankers, over their role in a $1.7 billion accounting fraud at the medical equipment and camera maker.

Tokyo prosecutors arrested ex-President Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, former Executive Vice President Hisashi Mori and former auditor Hideo Yamada on suspicion of violating the Financial Instruments and Exchange Law, officials said.

Also arrested were former bankers Akio Nakagawa and Nobumasa Yokoo and two others suspected of helping hide huge investment losses through complex M&A deals…

The scandal was exposed in October by then-CEO Michael Woodford, who was sacked by the Olympus board after querying dubious M&A deals later found to have been used to conceal the losses. Woodford campaigned to win his job back, but gave up that bid last month, blaming cozy ties between management and big Japanese shareholders and citing the strain on his family.

“After going to hell and back, this is a day to remember,” Woodford said in an email on Thursday. The Briton, who was a rare foreign CEO in Japan, plans to write a book about his experiences uncovering the scandal.

The arrests come as investors focus on who will run the once-proud company when its management steps down at an April 20 shareholders meeting, and whether Olympus will seek a capital tie-up to fix its balance sheet.

Olympus is banking on that April meeting marking a turning point in the scandal, with at least six of its 11-member board, including current President Shuichi Takayama, set to resign…

An Olympus spokesman said the company would cooperate fully with the investigative authorities. It is also under investigation by law enforcement agencies in Japan, Britain and the United States. Yup. They all did such a thorough job before Woodford blew the whistle.

Olympus in December filed five years’ worth of corrected financial statements plus overdue first-half results, revealing a $1.1 billion dent in its balance sheet, triggering talk it would need to merge or forge a business tie-up to raise capital.

On Monday, it forecast a $410 million full-year loss due largely to its ailing camera operations, but its core endoscope business appeared unscathed by the scandal…

Looking forward to Woodford’s book. To be followed by interviews from self-titled investigative journalists who will ask the coppers in the UK, US and Japan why they didn’t notice the fraud. No one will ask the journalists – considered expert in financial matters – why they didn’t notice the fraud.

Everyone has lunch together and celebrates quarterly statements as achieving something more than the paper they’re printed on. Some financial markets have to offer at least a semblance of reality. Japan isn’t one of them.

Republicans and Catholic bishops embrace each other in opposing women’s rights

The bishop knows where to send the check…

The Democratic-led Senate is expected to reject as early as Thursday a largely symbolic Republican challenge to a White House rule guaranteeing free birth control for women who work for religiously affiliated employers.

Even Senate defeat of the legislation would allow Republican lawmakers to take a stand in a rancorous election year debate over a policy that is vehemently opposed by social conservatives and Roman Catholic bishops…

The Department of Health and Human Services announced in January that employers including those with religious affiliations — such as universities, charities and hospitals — would have to provide free birth control coverage for women enrolled in their health plans. Church employees are exempt from the rule…

The birth control coverage requirement infuriated Catholic leaders…who think they have a right to overrule civil law in America

Roy Blunt’s bill would exempt employers from providing health benefits that conflict with “beliefs and moral convictions.” Anyone standing in line to watch Congress explain their “beliefs and moral conviction”?

Democrats including California Senator Barbara Boxer denounced the measure as too broad, saying it could allow potentially any employer to deny additional types of health insurance coverage on moral grounds.

It’s only been about a day since the last time I said this: I realize Christianity may hold the copyright on hypocrisy; but, today’s Republicans – with appropriate aid from the Kool Aid Party – have perfected the process.

Now we get to witness temporary nutball unity between the 14th Century and the 19th Century in an attempt to turn this nation into a theocracy.

Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up — February 17-20

Dunno what you two want; but, I’m waiting for lunch

Warmer temperatures and lack of snow in parts of North America are setting the stage for what could be a most intriguing 15th annual Great Backyard Bird Count coming up Feb. 17-20.

Bird watchers across the United States and Canada are getting ready to tally millions of birds in the annual count coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and Canadian partner Bird Studies Canada.

In past counts, participants were most likely to report American robins in areas without snow. Will more robins be seen farther north this year? Will some birds, such as Eastern Phoebes, begin their migrations earlier? And where will the “Harry Potter” owl turn up next? Snowy owls have dazzled spectators as these Arctic birds have ventured south in unusual numbers this winter — an unpredictable occurrence that experts believe is related more to the availability of food than to weather…

Participants count birds at any location they wish for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, then enter their tallies at Anyone can participate in the free event, and no registration is required.

Last year, participants submitted more than 92,000 checklists with more than 11 million bird observations. These data capture a picture of how bird populations are changing across the continent year after year — a feat that would be impossible without the help of tens of thousands of participants.

This is a very detailed snapshot of continental bird distribution,” said John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Imagine scientists 250 years from now being able to compare these data with their own..?

Visit to learn more about how to join the count, get bird ID tips, downloadable instructions and more. The count also includes a photo contest and a prize drawing for participants who enter at least one bird checklist online.

It’s fun to log back in a few days after all the info is online to compare changes, see what other folks in your region have posted. We now have redwing blackbirds wintering over, experienced the din of returning robins earlier than ever this week, saw Canadian geese heading north last week.