Category : Economy

(RNS) Likes and prayers: Facebook tests new ‘prayer post’ feature

When the unfamiliar pop-up touting a new feature appeared on Robert P. Jones’ Facebook, the CEO and founder the CEO and founder of PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) posted a screen grab to Twitter.

“Wondering what fb algorithm thinks it knows about me?” Jones mused.

The new Facebook feature? Prayer posts. The function will allow members of Facebook groups to ask for and respond to prayer requests.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to Religion News Service that the social media platform is currently testing the prayer post feature.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Spirituality/Prayer

(PS) Kenneth Rogoff–The Dollar’s Fragile Hegemony

The mighty US dollar continues to reign supreme in global markets. But the greenback’s dominance may well be more fragile than it appears, because expected future changes in China’s exchange-rate regime are likely to trigger a significant shift in the international monetary order.

For many reasons, the Chinese authorities will probably someday stop pegging the renminbi to a basket of currencies, and shift to a modern inflation-targeting regime under which they allow the exchange rate to fluctuate much more freely, especially against the dollar. When that happens, expect most of Asia to follow China. In due time, the dollar, currently the anchor currency for roughly two-thirds of world GDP, could lose nearly half its weight.

Considering how much the United States relies on the dollar’s special status – or what then-French Finance Minister Valéry Giscard d’Estaing famously called America’s “exorbitant privilege” – to fund massive public and private borrowing, the impact of such a shift could be significant. Given that the US has been aggressively using deficit financing to combat the economic ravages of COVID-19, the sustainability of its debt might be called into question.

The long-standing argument for a more flexible Chinese currency is that China is simply too big to let its economy dance to the US Federal Reserve’s tune, even if Chinese capital controls provide some measure of insulation. China’s GDP (measured at international prices) surpassed that of the US back in 2014 and is still growing far faster than the US and Europe, making the case for greater exchange-rate flexibility increasingly compelling.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., China, Currency Markets, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Politics in General

(WSJ) U.S. Households Primed to Boost Spending After Brief Lull

Cold weather—including storms that shut down sections of Texas and other states—prevented many people from dining out, ordering food online or going to stores last month. Household incomes also likely fell from abnormally high levels in January, when the government distributed stimulus checks of up to $600 a person in most households under a $900 billion economic-relief plan approved by Congress late last year. That law also provided enhanced employment benefits of $300 a week for jobless workers.

A spending surge is likely in the offing. Millions of people each day are getting a Covid-19 vaccine, and many are starting to venture out in public and shop and travel. Meanwhile, the federal government this month is sending out yet another round of stimulus money—this time checks of up to $1,400, a part of another Covid-19 relief package worth $1.9 trillion signed by President Biden. The aid—along with other measures by lenders and landlords to suspend consumers’ monthly payments on debt during the pandemic—has left many households sitting on a pile of cash.

That combo—higher incomes and a rising number of people shielded from the worse effects of the deadly virus—is expected to unleash a burst of economic activity in coming weeks, as many Americans resume activities they have put off for a year.

“When they’re let out of the house, there is some pent-up demand, and they’re going to go out into the restaurants” as well as travel and shop, said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Stifel Nicolaus & Co.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Health & Medicine

(CNBC) Amsterdam bet its post-Covid recovery on ‘doughnut’ economics — more cities are now following suit

More and more cities are embracing a doughnut-shaped economic model to help recover from the coronavirus crisis and reduce exposure to future shocks.

British economist and author of “Doughnut Economics” Kate Raworth believes it is simply a matter of time before the concept is adopted at a national level.

The Dutch capital of Amsterdam became the first city worldwide to formally implement doughnut economics in early April last year, choosing to launch the initiative at a time when the country had one of the world’s highest mortality rates from the coronavirus pandemic.

Amsterdam’s city government said at the time that it hoped to recover from the crisis and avoid future crises by embracing a city portrait of the doughnut theory.

As outlined in Raworth’s 2017 book, doughnut economics aims to “act as a compass for human progress,” turning last century’s degenerative economy into this century’s regenerative one.

“The compass is a doughnut, the kind with a hole in the middle. Ridiculous though that sounds, it is the only doughnut that actually turns out to be good for us,” Raworth told CNBC via telephone.

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Posted in City Government, Ecology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, The Netherlands, Urban/City Life and Issues

A Reflection on Saint Joseph the Worker for his Feast Day

ZENIT spoke with Father Tarcisio Giuseppe Stramare of the Congregation of Oblates of Saint Joseph, director of the Josephite Movement, about Tuesday’s feast of St. Joseph the Worker….

ZENIT: What does “Gospel of work” mean?

Father Stramare: “Gospel” is the Good News that refers to Jesus, the Savior of humanity. Well, despite the fact that in general we see Jesus as someone who teaches and does miracles, he was so identified with work that in his time he was regarded as “the son of the carpenter,” namely, an artisan himself. Among many possible activities, the Wisdom of God chose for Jesus manual work, entrusted the education of his Son not to the school of the learned but to a humble artisan, namely, St. Joseph.

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Posted in Anthropology, Church History, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Theology

(PD) The Censorship of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the Unbooking of Ryan T. Anderson

Unperson: “A public figure, especially in a totalitarian country, who, for political or ideological reasons, is not recognized or mentioned in government publications or records or in the news media. A person accorded no recognition or consideration by another or by a specific group. . . . Introduced in George Orwell’s novel 1984 (1949)”—Dictionary.com

It seems somehow fitting that the great beat poet and artist Lawrence Ferlinghetti, departed this mortal realm (at the age of 101) on February 22, 2021, the day after Amazon.com digitally unbooked When Harry Became Sally. Authored by Ryan T. Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and founder of Public Discourse, When Harry Became Sally offers a critical assessment of the transgender movement.

Anderson is an honest and careful scholar, one who makes a real effort to understand his opponents’ arguments and answer them with charity and rigor. Anderson’s views are not in ascendancy among elites these days, as is evident by the vitriol hurled at him by activists as soon as When Harry Became Sally was published. These critics, I am afraid to say, are not at all interested in debate, discussion, or a careful sifting through the evidence and arguments. What they seek is absolute unquestioned conformity to their views, policed by roving cyberspace inquisitors whose mission is to extract confessions from their targets and to inculcate in them the habit of unforgiving social justice scrupulosity. This is not to say that Anderson does not have some serious academic critics who raise penetrating questions about the quality of his sources, the strength of his arguments, and the nature of his project. Here I am thinking of two critical reviews that appeared in the Journal of Medical Humanities and Studies in Christian Ethics.

But that’s all the more reason why Amazon’s removal of Anderson’s book from its catalog is so pernicious: it marginalizes from the public conversation an intelligent and informed voice that should be confronted and taken seriously by those who disagree with him. As my esteemed Baylor colleague, Alan Jacobs, points out:

The censors at Amazon clearly believe there is only one reason to read a book. You read a book because you agree with it and want it to confirm what you already believe. Imagine, for instance, a transgender activist who wants to understand the position held by Ryan Anderson and people like him in order better to refute it. That person can’t get a copy of the book through Amazon any more than a sympathetic reader like me can.

What does all this have to do with Ferlinghetti? More than you may think. Founder of the small press City Lights Books, he published in late 1956 Howl and Other Poems, authored by the beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Soon after the book was published, Ferlinghetti was arrested on obscenity charges. The reason? The book’s poems included lines that contained graphic descriptions of sex acts, and thus, the government reasoned, it was legally obscene.

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Posted in Anthropology, Books, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, History

(Wired) The Secret Auction That Set Off the Race for AI Supremacy

Two months earlier, Hinton and his students had changed the way machines saw the world. They built what was called a neural network, a mathematical system modeled on the web of neurons in the brain, and it could identify common objects—like flowers, dogs, and cars—with an accuracy that had previously seemed impossible. As Hinton and his students showed, a neural network could learn this very human skill by analyzing vast amounts of data. He called this “deep learning,” and its potential was enormous. It promised to transform not just computer vision but everything from talking digital assistants to driverless cars to drug discovery.

The idea of a neural network dated back to the 1950s, but the early pioneers had never gotten it working as well as they’d hoped. By the new millennium, most researchers had given up on the idea, convinced it was a technological dead end and bewildered by the 50-​year-​old conceit that these mathematical systems somehow mimicked the human brain. When submitting research papers to academic journals, those who still explored the technology would often disguise it as something else, replacing the words “neural network” with language less likely to offend their fellow scientists.

Hinton remained one of the few who believed it would one day fulfill its promise, delivering machines that could not only recognize objects but identify spoken words, understand natural language, carry on a conversation, and maybe even solve problems humans couldn’t solve on their own, providing new and more incisive ways of exploring the mysteries of biology, medicine, geology, and other sciences. It was an eccentric stance even inside his own university, which spent years denying his standing request to hire another professor who could work alongside him in this long and winding struggle to build machines that learned on their own. “One crazy person working on this was enough,” he imagined their thinking went. But with a nine-​page paper that Hinton and his students unveiled in the fall of 2012, detailing their breakthrough, they announced to the world that neural networks were indeed as powerful as Hinton had long claimed they would be.

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology

(The Cut) A Wonderful story on Nasim Alikhani, who opened a New York restaurant at age 59

I was born in Iran, and I went to school to study law to become a judge. Then the revolution happened, and women could no longer be judges. The only option for an outspoken woman like me was to leave my country, and so I came to New York in my early 20s on a student visa. I lived in Jackson Heights, Queens, and I didn’t have any money. I couldn’t study law in the U.S.; I couldn’t afford it. I was starting over completely.

I found a job as a nanny, and the family paid me a little extra to cook their meals. My own mother had taught me to cook when I was growing up, and it was always something I was passionate about, but I never considered it professionally. The family noticed that I could cook really well, and the wife recommended me to her friends, so I started cooking in other people’s homes for parties, people’s birthdays, things like that. People would tell me, “You should open a restaurant.” But I was so young, and still a student in a master’s program. To me, the only way to advance was through higher education, so I got a useless master’s degree and kept doing all kinds of odd jobs — waitressing, babysitting, working in a copy shop.

When I got the opportunity to open my own copy-and-print shop, I was beside myself. It was the first chance I had for financial stability. I had that business for eight years, and it did really well. During that time, I got married, and between my husband and me, our financial situation improved significantly. We were working hard and dining out a lot, and I would always look at the food scene and say, “Why is nobody doing a good job with Iranian food?” I started thinking seriously about opening a coffee shop in the East Village that would serve Persian food for breakfast and lunch. We were also trying to start a family, and it was difficult. I lost pregnancies. And then I got pregnant with twins, so I put the restaurant idea on the back burner.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Iran, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Middle Age, Pastoral Theology, Psychology

(Bloomberg) CEOs Become Vaccine Activists as Back-to-Office Push Grows

Some chief executive officers are so eager for their employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19 that they’re granting workers time off or cash incentives to get shots.

In the U.S., retailer Lidl is giving its staff $200, while Aldi, Dollar General Corp. and Trader Joe’s Co. are offering extra hours of pay. Online grocery delivery firm Instacart Inc. is providing a $25 stipend for workers and contractors. Yogurt makers Chobani LLC and Danone SA are offering as much as six hours of paid leave, and the French company says it will cover the cost of inoculation in countries where vaccines aren’t free.

Other companies are taking a harder line. U.K. handyman empire Pimlico Plumbers Ltd. has said it plans a “no jab, no job” policy for new members of its workforce. United Airlines wants to make shots mandatory, drawing concerns from unions.

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Pastoral Theology, Theology

(CRFB) How High Are Federal Interest Payments?

This year, the federal government will spend $300 billion on interest payments on the national debt. This is the equivalent of nearly 9 percent of all federal revenue collection and over $2,400 per household. The federal government spends more on interest than on transportation, education, and research and development combined. The household share of federal interest is larger than average household spending on many typical expenditures, including gas, clothing, education, or personal care.

Despite historically low interest rates, this significant interest cost is the result of high levels of debt. This cost could be even worse if interest rates rise. Each one percent rise in the interest rate would increase FY 2021 interest spending by roughly $225 billion at today’s debt levels. Growing debt levels not only add to the likelihood of such increases, but also the cost and risk associated with them.

This brief puts these interest payments in context. Estimates are based on CBO’s February 2021 baseline and do not incorporate the effects of the American Rescue Plan.

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Posted in Budget, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, The National Deficit, The U.S. Government

(AP) Facial recognition company sued by California activists

Civil liberties activists are suing a company that provides facial recognition services to law enforcement agencies and private companies around the world, contending that Clearview AI illegally stockpiled data on 3 billion people without their knowledge or permission.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court in the San Francisco Bay Area, contends that the New York-based firm violates California’s constitution and seeks an injunction to bar it from collecting biometric information in California and requiring it to delete data on Californians.

The lawsuit says the company has built “the most dangerous” facial recognition database in the nation, has fielded requests from more than 2,000 law enforcement agencies and private companies, and has amassed a database nearly seven times larger than the FBI’s.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Science & Technology

Church of England Pensions Board commits to the global ‘Net Zero Investment Framework’

21 asset owners, with $1.2 trillion in assets, have used publication of the Framework to commit to achieve net zero alignment by 2050 or sooner. The funds, including the Church of England Pensions Board, are drawing on the Framework to deliver these commitments, alongside a number of asset managers who are already working with clients on net zero alignment.

The Framework enables investors to decarbonise investment portfolios and increase investment in climate solutions, in a way that is consistent with and contributes to a 1.5°C net zero emissions future. Investors do this by developing a ‘net zero investment strategy’ built around five core components of the Framework. These key components are: objectives and targets, strategic asset allocation and asset class alignment, alongside policy advocacy and, investor engagement activity and governance.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Climate Change, Weather, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Stewardship, Stock Market

(Mail+Guardian) Stop oil and gas drilling in Namibia’s Kavango Basin immediately — Anglican Church

Thirty-four Anglican bishops and three archbishops from around the world have signed a petition that “respectfully” calls on Namibia’s and Botswana’s governments to halt exploratory drilling in the Kavango Basin in northern Namibia immediately.

In their petition, the faith leaders decry the “imminent desecration” of the Kavango Basin in Northern Namibia and Botswana by Canadian oil and gas company, ReconAfrica.

The signatories include the Archbishop of Cape Town, Reverend Dr Thabo Cecil Makgoba; Archbishop Julio Murray, the chair of the Anglican communion environmental network; Archbishop Mark Macdonald from the Anglican Church of Canada; and Bishop Kito Pikaahu, chair of Anglican indigenous network; and the Bishop of Salisbury, the Right Reverend Nicholas Roderick Holtam.

“ReconAfrica claims that drilling the Kavango basin is ‘pretty much a no-brainer’,” the petition reads. “We call it a sin. To destroy life and God’s creation is simply wicked.”

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Posted in Canada, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Namibia

(NYT Dealbook) Rescue Package Includes $86 Billion Bailout for Failing Pensions

Tucked inside the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that cleared the Senate on Saturday is an $86 billion aid package that has nothing to do with the pandemic.

Rather, the $86 billion is a taxpayer bailout for about 185 union pension plans that are so close to collapse that without the rescue, more than a million retired truck drivers, retail clerks, builders and others could be forced to forgo retirement income.

The bailout targets multiemployer pension plans, which bring groups of companies together with a union to provide guaranteed benefits. All told, about 1,400 of the plans cover about 10.7 million active and retired workers, often in fields like construction or entertainment where the workers move from job to job. As the work force ages, an alarming number of the plans are running out of money. The trend predated the pandemic and is a result of fading unions, serial bankruptcies and the misplaced hope that investment income would foot most of the bill so that employers and workers wouldn’t have to.

Both the House and Senate stimulus measures would give the weakest plans enough money to pay hundreds of thousands of retirees — a number that will grow in the future — their full pensions for the next 30 years. The provision does not require the plans to pay back the bailout, freeze accruals or to end the practices that led to their current distress, which means their troubles could recur. Nor does it explain what will happen when the taxpayer money runs out 30 years from now.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Pensions, Politics in General, Senate, The U.S. Government

(NYT) The Robots Are Coming for Phil in Accounting

The robots are coming. Not to kill you with lasers, or beat you in chess, or even to ferry you around town in a driverless Uber.

These robots are here to merge purchase orders into columns J and K of next quarter’s revenue forecast, and transfer customer data from the invoicing software to the Oracle database. They are unassuming software programs with names like “Auxiliobits — DataTable To Json String,” and they are becoming the star employees at many American companies.

Some of these tools are simple apps, downloaded from online stores and installed by corporate I.T. departments, that do the dull-but-critical tasks that someone named Phil in Accounting used to do: reconciling bank statements, approving expense reports, reviewing tax forms. Others are expensive, custom-built software packages, armed with more sophisticated types of artificial intelligence, that are capable of doing the kinds of cognitive work that once required teams of highly-paid humans.

White-collar workers, armed with college degrees and specialized training, once felt relatively safe from automation. But recent advances in A.I. and machine learning have created algorithms capable of outperforming doctors, lawyers and bankers at certain parts of their jobs. And as bots learn to do higher-value tasks, they are climbing the corporate ladder.

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Science & Technology

(Forbes) 49% Of Americans Who Lost Pay In Covid Pandemic Still Have not Returned to Their Previous Income Level

Nearly half of all U.S. adults who took pay cuts during the Covid-19 pandemic still have not returned to their previous incomes, according to a Pew Research Center report released Friday, indicating the pandemic’s lasting impact on many Americans’ finances.

Some 44% of American adults told Pew in a late January poll that somebody in their household has either lost a job or endured a pay cut since February 2020.

Among Americans who took a pay cut in the last year, 49% say they still make less money than they did prior to the pandemic, compared to 34% who earn roughly the same amount as before and 16% whose pay has increased.

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Posted in Economy, Health & Medicine, Personal Finance

(New Scientist) Facebook AI learned object recognition from 1 billion Instagram pics

Artificial intelligence built by Facebook has learned to classify images from 1 billion Instagram photos. The AI used a different learning technique to many other similar algorithms, relying less on input from humans. The team behind it says the AI learns in a more common sense way.

Conventionally, computer vision systems are trained to identify specific things, such as a cat or a dog. They achieve this by learning from a large collection of images that have been annotated to describe what is in them. After doing this enough, the AI can then identify the same things in new images, for example, spotting a dog in an image it has never seen before.

This process is effective, but must be done afresh with every new thing the AI needs to identify, otherwise performance can drop.

By contrast, the approach used by Facebook is a technique called self-supervised learning, in which the images don’t come with annotations. Instead, the AI first learns just to identify differences between images. Once it is able to do this, it sees a small number of annotated images to match the names with the characteristics it has already identified.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Science & Technology

(Bloomberg Businessweek) Is the Four-Day Week Is Coming Soon?

When the world went into lockdown last year, the 1,000 employees at Berlin-based tech company Awin did what millions of others did: They flipped open their laptops and started working from the kitchen or dining room. At the same time, Awin started running flat-out as its business with online retailers soared, putting intense pressure on the staff.

So last spring the company told everyone to sign off around lunchtime every Friday to ease into the weekend. The experiment was so successful—sales, employee engagement, and client satisfaction all rose—that in January, Awin decided to go a step further, rolling out a four-day week for the entire company with no cuts in salaries or benefits. “We firmly believe that happy, engaged, and well-balanced employees produce much better work,” says Chief Executive Officer Adam Ross. They “find ways to work smarter, and they’re just as productive.”

Awin is in the vanguard of a trend that’s getting increased attention worldwide. Jobs website ZipRecruiter says the share of postings that mention a four-day week has tripled in the past three years, to 62 per 10,000. Consumer-goods giant Unilever Plc in December started a yearlong trial of the idea for its New Zealand staff. Spain’s government is considering a proposal to subsidize companies that offer a four-day week. And even in notoriously busy Japan, whose language includes the word karoshi—death from overwork—lawmakers are discussing a proposal to grant employees a day off every week to protect their well-being. “The four-day week is picking up momentum,” says Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, a U.K. think tank. “For the large majority of firms, reducing working hours is an entirely realistic goal.”

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market

Report on housing crisis ‘challenge to the soul’ of the Church of England – Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop Justin Welby told General Synod members that the recommendations of the Archbishops’ Commission report Coming Home presented a ‘profound challenge’ to the Church of England along with other groups, including the Government and developers, to tackle the housing crisis.

Speaking at an informal online gathering of the General Synod, the Archbishop outlined the seriousness of the crisis, saying that an estimated eight million people are living in unaffordable, sub-standard or overcrowded accommodation.

He said Coming Home was ‘not the end of the process, it is only the end of the very beginning of the process’ of tackling the housing crisis. “We have a long way to go,” he said.

He said that at “the heart of the Church’s message” was that that “our mission to the country is that we carry the good news of a God who intervenes who comes and is part of our life and there is the complete change in us that is caused by meeting with God.

“If we take that seriously, then we listen to what Jesus says when he says ‘your heart will be where your treasure is’.

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Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE), Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Housing/Real Estate Market, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(NPR) It’s Not Just Texas. The Entire Energy Grid Needs An Upgrade For Extreme Weather

The Texas blackout is another reminder that more frequent, climate-driven extreme weather puts stress on the country’s electricity grid. It came just months after outages in California aimed at preventing wildfires.

Compounding this, electricity likely will be even more important in coming years amid a push to electrify cars and homes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That has many grid experts saying it’s time to upgrade the country’s electricity infrastructure.

That includes wires, power plants, big transmission towers and local utilities – everything that gets electricity to you. And much of that infrastructure was designed for a different era.

“We planned this grid for Ozzie and Harriet weather and we are now facing Mad Max,” says energy consultant Alison Silverstein.

The pop culture references are her way of saying that the grid was designed for technology and weather that existed in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Now, she says, it needs to be updated for a future that includes climate change.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Climate Change, Weather, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, State Government, The U.S. Government

(H Post) Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Kensington: Only A Shared Long-Term Vision Will End Our Housing Crisis

To solve the housing crisis, we need a similar long-term goal. Our housing crisis is really an affordability crisis. We don’t just need more houses, we need more good quality houses that people can genuinely afford.

What if we were to set a target for the number of truly affordable homes we need in 20 years’ time? What if we were to work out the financial gap between the cost of providing them and what they would cost at normal market prices? What if successive governments then had the task of planning ahead how to meet that gap by whatever means necessary?

The Church of England is stepping up to play its part. We own land and property and are looking to make some of that land available for affordable housing, and inviting others to do the same, even though it is bound to mean an element of sacrifice. Jesus taught us that there are two simple tasks at the heart of human life: to love God and to love our neighbour, whoever they happen to be. If that neighbour doesn’t have somewhere safe, stable and satisfying to live in, then we must do all we can to help them find that.

Thirty years ago, ideas such as the minimum wage as a way of fighting poverty and the need for radical policies on climate change seemed fringe issues – cranky policies proposed by a few wild and weird figures on the edges of political life. Now they are mainstream, and every government has to sign up to them. We need the same for housing.

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Posted in --Justin Welby, Anthropology, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Economy, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Housing/Real Estate Market, Personal Finance, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Pfizer Vaccine Is Highly Effective After One Dose and Can Be Stored in Normal Freezers, Data Shows

The Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE generates robust immunity after one dose and can be stored in ordinary freezers instead of at ultracold temperatures, according to new research and data released by the companies.

The findings provide strong arguments in favor of delaying the second dose of the two-shot vaccine, as the U.K. has done. They could also have substantial implications on vaccine policy and distribution around the world, simplifying the logistics of distributing the vaccine.

A single shot of the vaccine is 85% effective in preventing symptomatic disease 15 to 28 days after being administered, according to a peer-reviewed study conducted by the Israeli government-owned Sheba Medical Center and published in the Lancet medical journal. Pfizer and BioNTech recommend that a second dose is administered 21 days after the first.

The finding is a vindication of the approach taken by the U.K. government to delay a second dose by up to 12 weeks so it could use limited supplies to deliver a single dose to more people, and could encourage others to follow suit. Almost one-third of the U.K.’s adult population has now received at least one vaccine shot. Other authorities in parts of Canada and Europe have prioritized an initial shot, hoping they will have enough doses for a booster when needed.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(NYT) To Plug a Pension Gap, This City Rented Its Streets. To Itself.

The City of Tucson, Ariz., decided last year to pay rent on five golf courses and a zoo — to itself. In California, West Covina agreed to pay rent on its own streets. And in Flagstaff, Ariz., a new lease agreement covers libraries, fire stations and even City Hall.

They are risky financial arrangements born of desperation, adopted to fulfill ballooning pension payments that the cities can no longer afford. Starved of cash by the pandemic, cities are essentially using their own property as collateral of sorts to raise money to pay for their workers’ pensions.

It works like this: The city creates a dummy corporation to hold assets and then rents them. The corporation then issues bonds and sends the proceeds back to the city, which sends the cash to its pension fund to cover its shortfall. These bonds attract investors — who are desperate for yield in a world of near-zero interest rates — by offering a rate of return that’s slightly higher than similar financial assets. In turn, the pension fund invests the money raised by those bonds in other assets that are expected to generate a higher return over time.

If they can pull off the strategy, cities issuing these bonds can reduce their pension bills by an amount that’s the difference between what they earn and what they pay out. But as with any strategy based on long-term assumptions, there is risk.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., City Government, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General

(PRC FactTank) Unemployed Americans are feeling the emotional strain of job loss; most have considered changing occupations

Job losses during the pandemic have hit workers in low-wage occupations particularly hard – something that distinguishes this downturn from the Great Recession, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. From December 2019 to December 2020, the percentage decrease in employment in low-wage occupations was more than twice as great as in middle-wage occupations (-12.5% vs. -5.3%). At the same time, employment in high-wage occupations increased marginally over this period.

The Center’s survey, conducted Jan. 19-24, finds that 49% of adults who are unemployed and looking for work say they are pessimistic they will find a job in the near future: 18% are very pessimistic about this and 31% are somewhat pessimistic. A similar share (51%) are optimistic, with 15% saying they are very optimistic and 36% saying they are somewhat optimistic.

For some, that positive outlook comes with a caveat. Among those who say they’re optimistic about finding a job, a substantial minority – 37% – say they are not too or not at all confident they will find a job that pays as much and provides the same benefits they had in their last job. Among all unemployed adults, 55% say they are not confident they’ll find a job with the same income and benefits; 45% say they are somewhat or very confident this will happen.

Not only are many unemployed adults feeling discouraged about their future job prospects, two-thirds say that, since losing their jobs, they have seriously considered changing their occupation or field of work. This sentiment is shared by lower-income unemployed adults, as well as those with middle or upper incomes. (Incomes are based on 2019 earnings.) A third of unemployed adults say they have already taken steps to retool their skills by pursuing job retraining programs or educational opportunities.

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Posted in Economy, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market

(Post-Gazette) Farmers’ anger melts thanks to co-op that’s bridging Amish, modern worlds in Clarion County

Among the 35 or so people who showed up for a meeting that November day in 2019 were about 15 Amish farmers, many of them angry over $100,000 they said they were owed.

Aaron Schwartz, an elder member of the rural Western Pennsylvania settlement where those Amish lived, hosted that meeting at his simple frame home, even though he was owed much less than other farmers.

“Maybe somebody could salvage this thing,” the 62-year-old Mr. Schwartz remembered thinking.

It wouldn’t be easy. Those owed money were resolute about dealing with Penn’s Corner. “All of us farmers said, ‘No more produce,’ ” Mr. Schwartz said. “It could’ve gotten a little messy.”

Meanwhile, his wife, Prisciolla, was busy serving the crowd — chicken, mashed potatoes, homemade maple ice cream with raspberry preserve topping. Mr. Schwartz opened the meeting by reciting from memory a child’s poem from the 19th century.

Tension in the room eased.

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Posted in Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Poetry & Literature, Religion & Culture

(NYT front page) For Latinos in Los Angeles, the Cost of Inequality Is Death

p class=”css-axufdj evys1bk0″>Over the New Year’s holiday, the grown children of two immigrant families called 911 to report that their fathers were having difficulty breathing. The men, born in Mexico and living three miles from each other in the United States, both had diabetes and high blood pressure. They both worked low-wage, essential jobs — one a minibus driver, the other a cook. And they both hadn’t realized how sick they were.

Three weeks later, the men — Emilio Virgen, 63, and Gabriel Flores, 50 — both died from Covid-19. Their stories were hauntingly familiar at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles, by size the hardest-hit hospital in the hardest-hit county in California, the state now leading the nation in cases and on the brink of surpassing New York with the highest death toll.

In the intensive care unit on Jan. 21, Mr. Virgen became No. 207 on the hospital’s list of Covid-19 fatalities; Mr. Flores, just down the hall, became No. 208.

The New York Times spent more than a week inside the hospital, during a period when nearly a quarter of all Covid-19 patients there were dying, despite advances in knowledge of the disease. It was an outcome that approached that of some New York hospitals last spring, when the city was the epicenter of the pandemic.

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Posted in Economy, Health & Medicine, Personal Finance

(FT Magazine) How the race for renewable energy is reshaping global politics

Australia itself has long been a climate laggard and a major coal exporter, but as China and other big customers plan to cut their emissions, taking their business with them, that may be changing. Dozens of the world’s biggest economies have adopted targets for net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. And 189 countries have joined the 2015 Paris climate accord, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2C. In a race to curb climate change, countries are rushing to cut fossil fuels, boost clean energy — and transform their economies in the process.

But as the energy system changes, so will energy politics. For most of the past century, geopolitical power was intimately connected to fossil fuels. The fear of an oil embargo or a gas shortage was enough to forge alliances or start wars, and access to oil deposits conferred great wealth. In the world of clean energy, a new set of winners and losers will emerge. Some see it as a clean energy “space race”. Countries or regions that master clean technology, export green energy or import less fossil fuel stand to gain from the new system, while those that rely on exporting fossil fuels — such as the Middle East or Russia — could see their power decline.

Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, the former president of Iceland and chair of the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation, says that the clean energy transition will birth a new type of politics. The shift is happening “faster, and in a more comprehensive way, than anyone expected”, he says. “As fossil fuels gradually go out of the energy system . . . the old geopolitical model of power centres that dominate relations between states also goes out the window. Gradually the power of those states that were big players in the world of the ­fossil-fuel economies, or big corporates like the oil companies, will fritter away.”

Read it all (emphasis mine).

Posted in Climate Change, Weather, Ecology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Politics in General, Stewardship

(Premiere) Bishops in House of Lords add to Government defeat on Genocide amendment

The House of Lords has forced the Government to look again at an amendment to the Trade Bill which would give British courts the power to decide whether a genocide has taken place in a country and therefore impact whether trade deals should be made.

Christian Peer Lord Alton (pictured) urged the Government to look again at the matter and nine Bishops supported his amendment, with it passing with a majority of 171 (359 to 188).

Lord Alton said the Government had frequently pointed to the fact that such atrocities need to be officially labelled as genocide, which is a legal term decided by the International Criminal Court, but that China, currently accused of causing death and trauma to thousands of Uighur Muslims, have a veto at the United Nations on what is recommended to the ICC, meaning that route cannot be depended upon.

Read it all and you can find the full text of Lord Alton’s speech there.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Politics in General

(Bloomberg Businessweek) An Economist’s Guide to the World in 2050

Who really won the Cold War? Maybe China.

In 1972, Cold War logic pushed President Richard Nixon into an unlikely alliance with Mao Zedong—bringing China back into the mainstream of the world economy. In 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union encouraged “end of history” hubris that blinded the West to the consequences of China’s rise.

Fast forward to 2020 and China has emerged as a major global power, its single-party rule and state-dominated economy the cause of alarm in foreign capitals—and pride in Beijing. By 2035, Bloomberg Economics forecasts, China will have overtaken the U.S. to become the world’s biggest economy and perhaps also its most powerful political actor.

China’s rise is just one part of a larger shift that’s already under way and looks set to accelerate in the decades ahead.

Bloomberg Economics has used a growth accounting framework—adding up the contributions of labor, capital and productivity—to forecast potential GDP through 2050 for 39 countries, from the U.S. to Ghana. We’ve used that data to map some of the key geographic and political shifts in store for the world economy.

The results suggest that a remarkable period of stability, stretching from the end of World War II through to the early 21st century, is coming to an end. The center of economic gravity is shifting from West to East, from advanced economies to emerging markets, from free markets to state controls and from established democracies to authoritarian and populist rulers. The transition is already upending global politics, economics and markets. This is just the beginning.

Much could happen to throw our projections off track. The Covid crisis is demonstrating how pandemics can reconfigure the global economic map. Wars, natural disasters and financial meltdowns can do the same. So could policy choices on globalization and climate change. Still, absent a crystal ball, forecasts of potential growth provide the most reliable basis for thinking about the long term.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., China, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Health & Medicine, Politics in General

(Bloomberg) Joe Nocera–Joe Biden Has a Once-in-a-Century Chance to Fix Capitalism

In the years after World War II, the U.S. had some significant economic advantages when soldiers returned from the war looking for jobs. One, of course, was that the U.S. had escaped the devastation suffered by Europe and Japan, so its companies faced only domestic competition. Labor costs, for instance, were nearly irrelevant, and unions, which played an important role in raising living standards, were able to thrive.

But another advantage, as Rick Wartzman pointed out in his 2017 book “The End of Loyalty,” 3 is that American businessmen were unusually farsighted after the war. They knew it was critically important to generate millions of jobs to prevent the U.S. from falling into another depression. And they also knew that returning fighters were owed something for defeating the Nazis. There was a “we’re-all-in-this-together” feeling that came from having been through such a terrible war.

It’s impossible to claim that the pandemic has brought the nation together the same way that World War II did for that generation. But if you looked closely, you could see companies taking actions that had nothing to do with shareholder value and everything to do with helping the country.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Economy, History, Office of the President, Politics in General