Daily Archives: May 27, 2010

David Einhorn–Easy Money, Hard Truths

Are you worried that we are passing our debt on to future generations? Well, you need not worry.

Before this recession it appeared that absent action, the government’s long-term commitments would become a problem in a few decades. I believe the government response to the recession has created budgetary stress sufficient to bring about the crisis much sooner. Our generation ”” not our grandchildren’s ”” will have to deal with the consequences….

The question we need to ask is this: If we don’t change direction, how long can we travel down this path without having a crisis? The answer lies in two critical issues. First, how long will the capital markets continue to finance government borrowings that may be refinanced but never repaid on reasonable terms? And second, to what extent can obligations that are not financed through traditional fiscal means be satisfied through central bank monetization of debts ”” that is, by the printing of money?

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Budget, Economy, Globalization, House of Representatives, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, Senate, The National Deficit, The U.S. Government

US money supply plunges at 1930s pace as Obama eyes fresh stimulus

The M3 figures – which include broad range of bank accounts and are tracked by British and European monetarists for warning signals about the direction of the US economy a year or so in advance – began shrinking last summer. The pace has since quickened.

The stock of money fell from $14.2 trillion to $13.9 trillion in the three months to April, amounting to an annual rate of contraction of 9.6pc. The assets of insitutional money market funds fell at a 37pc rate, the sharpest drop ever.

“It’s frightening,” said Professor Tim Congdon from International Monetary Research. “The plunge in M3 has no precedent since the Great Depression. The dominant reason for this is that regulators across the world are pressing banks to raise capital asset ratios and to shrink their risk assets. This is why the US is not recovering properly,” he said.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Credit Markets, Economy, Federal Reserve, History, Personal Finance, The Banking System/Sector, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--, The U.S. Government

Local Newspaper Editorial–Tweaks can't save Entitlements

One definition of “tweak” is “small adjustment.” One example of vast understatement is Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl’s assessment that “tweaks” are all that is needed to guarantee Social Security’s fiscal sustainability. He offered that absurd assurance last week on a projected $5.3 trillion shortfall in the system over the next 75 years.

As chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Sen. Kohl should take special care to be more candid about what it will take to save Social Security. And we all should be especially wary about extremely long-range social spending forecasts, which have an expensive tendency to underestimate eventual costs.

Yet citing research by panel staff, Sen. Kohl told The Associated Press, “Modest changes can be made over time that will keep the program in surplus. They are not draconian, as the report points out, and they can be done and will be done.”

“Modest changes”?

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Budget, Economy, Social Security, The National Deficit, The U.S. Government

Benedict XVI's address to the new Ambassador of Mongolia to the Holy See

Mr Ambassador, I take this occasion to assure you of the desire of Mongolia’s Catholic citizens to contribute to the common good by sharing fully in the life of the nation. The Church’s primary mission is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fidelity to the liberating message of the Gospel, she seeks also to contribute to the advancement of the entire community. It is this that inspires the efforts of the Catholic community to cooperate with the Government and with people of good will by working to overcome all kinds of social problems. The Church is also concerned to play her proper part in the work of intellectual and human formation, above all by educating the young in the values of respect, solidarity and concern for the less fortunate. In this way, she strives to serve her Lord by showing charitable concern for the needy and for the good of the whole human family.

Read it all.

Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic

Christopher Howse–Has Rowan Williams damned Henry VIII to hell?

(Please note that this is in reference to a sermon from earlier in May that was finally posted here yesterday).

There was an intake of breath among the congregation, yet I wondered if I’d misheard the Archbishop. I hadn’t, for the text is on Rowan Williams’s website: “If Henry VIII is saved (an open question, perhaps) it will be at the prayers of John Houghton.”

John Houghton was the Prior of the Charterhouse in London, where Dr Williams was preaching, on the 475th anniversary of the martyrdom of him and 15 other monks at the instigation of Henry VIII. Prior Houghton was declared a saint by the Pope in 1970.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church History, Eschatology, Theology

Jonathan Birchall on Claude Fischer's Made in America: A Social History of American Culture

Fischer’s dense analysis of social change is brought to life by the stories of ordinary people, extracted from historical documents quoted in academic papers, books and studies. Indentured maids are no longer sent to the workhouse, as in Philadelphia in 1786. Young boys of 10 or 11 years old are no longer treated like Chauncey Jerome, a clockmaker whose father’s death in 1804 led to him being sent away to work.

But the fascination of this book lies in seeing how much has indeed remained the same. Fischer points out that the idea of Americans as addicted to credit and living beyond their means is not as new as we might think. Paul Dudley, attorney general of the colony of Massachusetts, lamented in the early 18th century, “that people … are fallen beyond their Circumstances, in their Purchases, Buildings, Expenses, Apparel, and generally whole way of Living”.

More positively, Americans have continued to display an enthusiasm for joining groups ”“ from their churches to the Elks fraternity, and more recently to book groups and internet discussions ”“ a tendency that struck Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political thinker, when he toured America in the 1830s.

This, says Fischer, points not to the John Wayne-like individualism popularly seen as an all-American attribute, but to the very American characteristic of voluntarism.

Read it all from the Financial Times (subscription needed).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Books, History

C.S. Lewis on "the Generous Conflict Illusion"

When once a sort of official, legal, or nominal Unselfishness has been established as a rule””a rule for the keeping of which their emotional resources have died away and their spiritual resources have not yet grown””the most delightful results follow. In discussing any joint action, it becomes obligatory that A should argue in favour of B’s supposed wishes and against his own, while B does the opposite. It is often impossible to find out either party’s real wishes; with luck, they end by doing something that neither wants, while each feels a glow of self-righteousness and harbours a secret claim to preferential treatment for the unselfishness shown and a secret grudge against the other for the ease with which the sacrifice has been accepted. Later on you can venture on what may be called the Generous Conflict Illusion. This game is best played with more than two players, in a family with grown-up children for example. Something quite trivial, like having tea in the garden, is proposed. One member takes care to make it quite clear (though not in so many words) that he would rather not but is, of course, prepared to do so out of “Unselfishness”. The others instantly withdraw their proposal, ostensibly through their “Unselfishness”, but really because they don’t want to be used as a sort of lay figure on which the first speaker practices petty altruisms. But he is not going to be done out of his debauch of Unselfishness either. He insists on doing “what the others want”. They insist on doing what he wants. Passions are roused. Soon someone is saying “Very well then, I won’t have any tea at all!”, and a real quarrel ensues with bitter resentment on both sides. You see how it is done? If each side had been frankly contending for its own real wish, they would all have kept within the bounds of reason and courtesy; but just because the contention is reversed and each side is fighting the other side’s battle, all the bitterness which really flows from thwarted self-righteousness and obstinacy and the accumulated grudges of the last ten years is concealed from them by the nominal or official “Unselfishness” of what they are doing or, at least, held to be excused by it. Each side is, indeed, quite alive to the cheap quality of the adversary’s Unselfishness and of the false position into which he is trying to force them; but each manages to feel blameless and ill-used itself, with no more dishonesty than comes natural to a human.

The Screwtape Letters, Letter XXVI (emphasis mine), perhaps relevant to any of us planning family trips or vacations this summer

Posted in Pastoral Theology, Theology

A Look Back in History to 1936–Harmon to Hollywood

Although most U. S. churchmen have long agreed that in decency’s name the U. S. cinema should be regulated, some liberals have squirmed because the strict regulation which now exists was devised by Roman Catholics, is now in the Catholic hands of Motion Picture Production Code Administrator Joseph I. (“Joe”) Breen. Last week was announced a step, obviously the work of astute Will H. Hays, Presbyterian Elder, which may make U. S. Protestants feel better about the part their churches play in purifying the nation’s pictures. The most potent executive of the Y. M. C. A., General Secretary Francis Stuart Harmon, 41, turned in his resignation, made ready to sit on the board of the Will Hays organization, the Motion Picture Producers & Distributors of America.

Time Magazine, November 2, 1936 and the person mentioned, Francis Stuart Harmon, is my father’s father

Posted in * Culture-Watch, History, Movies & Television, Religion & Culture

Machines that accept credit cards, and big bills

Please note that the headline above is from the print edition–KSH.

Vending machines in neon-splashed Tokyo have electronic eyes that evaluate customers’ skin and wrinkles to determine whether they are old enough to buy tobacco. In bathrooms at upscale Canadian bars, vending machines with flat irons enable women to defrizz their locks. In Abu Dhabi, the lobby of a luxury hotel has a vending machine that dispenses gold bars and coins at more than $1,000 an ounce.

A new breed of vending machine is proliferating around the world ”” and while the United States is coming late to the party, Dr Pepper and Baby Ruth are already feeling sidelined.

Flashy and futuristic, souped-up machines are popping up everywhere, be it the Mondrian hotel in Miami or at Macy’s in Minneapolis. They have touch screens instead of buttons, facades that glow and pulse, and technology intended to blunt vending machine rage ”” sensors that ensure that a customer’s credit card is not charged unless the chosen item has dropped. These machines are not for quarters: purchases are measured in dollar amounts that typically start at two figures and go up.

Changing consumer preferences about shopping and the high cost of operating brick-and-mortar stores are inspiring premium brands to rethink how they sell their wares. As Gower Smith, whose company, ZoomSystems, has created about 1,000 automated kiosks called ZoomShops, put it, “A ZoomShop costs less than an employee.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Globalization, Personal Finance, Science & Technology

Jonathan Sacks–It takes faith to have a child, faith in mankind's purpose

…the greatest challenge to religious belief today is atheism based on neo-Darwinism. Hence the conclusion: if you are a consistent neo-Darwinian atheist you will wish there to be as few people as possible who share your beliefs.

This sounds like an intellectual joke, and so it is. If atheists can make fun of believers, why should not believers return the compliment? At its heart, though, is a serious proposition. Albert Camus, in The Myth of Sisyphus, said that the single most fundamental question we can ask is: “Why should I not commit suicide?” I think he was wrong. Spinoza was right: we have a natural instinct to survive. Instead, the most fundamental question we can ask is: “Why should I have a child?”

In terms of self-interest it makes no sense. Having children carries with it a high price in terms of money, energy, attention and time. Ethically too it is fraught with unanswerable questions. What right have we to confer life (and thus eventually death) on someone without their consent? What entitles us to expose a child to the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to? Did not Solomon in his wisdom say that “the dead who have already died are happier than the living who are still alive, but better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun?” Rationally, having a child makes no sense at all.

Read it all

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Atheism, Children, England / UK, Europe, Judaism, Marriage & Family, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

Online record of 'religious dissenters' published for first time

The first tranche of the “Non Conformist Registers” has been put online detailing the hundreds of thousands of people who shook up the established order with alternative ideas over the past 225 years.

The database, which goes live on Wednesday, discloses those who refused to conform to the doctrine of the established Anglican Church including Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Quakers.

The Quakers were the first religious group to denounce slavery while Methodists were great advocates of women’s rights.

More than 224,000 names are included in the register, which dates from the late 17th century, which also detail baptisms, marriages and burial inscriptions.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church History, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Other Churches, Religion & Culture

Births to older mothers 'treble' in 20 years

The number of births to older mothers has almost trebled in 20 years and is continuing to rise, figures have shown.

Some 26,976 babies were born to women aged 40 and over in 2009, compared with 9,336 in 1989 and 14,252 in 1999, figures for England and Wales show.

Among those aged 35 to 39 there were 114,288 births in 2009, a rise of 41% on the 81,281 in 1999.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Children, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Science & Technology, Women

Baby Gap: Germany's Birth Rate Hits Historic Low

Germany is shrinking ”” fast. New figures released on May 17 show the birth rate in Europe’s biggest economy has plummeted to a historic low, dropping to a level not seen since 1946. As demographers warn of the consequences of not making enough babies to replace and support an aging population, the latest figures have triggered a bout of national soul-searching and cast a harsh light on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s family policies.

According to a preliminary analysis by the Federal Statistics Office, 651,000 children were born in Germany in 2009 ”” 30,000 fewer than in 2008, a dip of 3.6%. In 1990, German mothers were having on average 1.5 children each; today that average is down to 1.38 children per mother. With a shortfall of 190,000 between the number of people who died and the number of children who were born, Germany’s birth rate is well below the level required to keep the population stable.

“The German birth rate has remained remarkably flat over the past few years while it has increased in other low-fertility countries, like Italy and the Czech Republic,” Joshua Goldstein, executive director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, tells TIME. “Women are continuing to postpone motherhood to an older age and this process of postponement is temporarily lowering the birth rate.” According to Goldstein’s research, Germany has the longest history of low fertility in Europe.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Children, Europe, Germany, Marriage & Family

From the Morning Scripture Readings

Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

–1 Timothy 4:16

Posted in Pastoral Theology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Still One More Prayer for Pentecost

Almighty God, who fillest all things with thy boundless presence, yet makest thy chosen dwelling-place in the soul of man: Come thou, a gracious and willing Guest, and take thine abode in our hearts; that all unholy thoughts and desires within us be cast out, and thy holy presence be to us comfort, light and love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

–James Ferguson

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Pentecost, Spirituality/Prayer