Category : * Economics, Politics

(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.

Read it all.

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

(NYT front page) Taliban Believe The War’s Over And They Won

The Taliban’s swagger is unmistakable. From the recent bellicose speech of their deputy leader, boasting of “conquests,” to sneering references to the “foreign masters” of the “illegitimate” Kabul government, to the Taliban’s own website tally of “puppets” killed — Afghan soldiers — they are promoting a bold message:

We have already won the war.

And that belief, grounded in military and political reality, is shaping Afghanistan’s volatile present. On the eve of talks in Turkey next month over the country’s future, it is the elephant in the room: the half-acknowledged truth that the Taliban have the upper hand and are thus showing little outward interest in compromise, or of going along with the dominant American idea, power-sharing.

While the Taliban’s current rhetoric is also propaganda, the grim sense of Taliban supremacy is dictating the response of a desperate Afghan government and influencing Afghanistan’s anxious foreign interlocutors. It contributes to the abandonment of dozens of checkpoints and falling morale among the Afghan security forces, already hammered by a “not sustainable” casualty rate of perhaps 3,000 a month, a senior Western diplomat in Kabul said.

Read it all.

Posted in Afghanistan, America/U.S.A., Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, War in Afghanistan

(Reuters) ISIS claims deadly attack on northern Mozambique town

Islamic State said on Monday its fighters had carried out an attack on the northern Mozambique town of Palma, where dozens were killed, thousands displaced and some remain missing.

Islamist insurgents hit the town, adjacent to gas projects worth $60 billion, with a three-pronged attack on Wednesday. Fighting continued on Monday, according to a security source directly involved in efforts to secure the town.

The government confirmed on Sunday that dozens of people had died, including seven when their convoy of cars was ambushed during an escape attempt.

Islamic State claimed the attack via its Amaq news agency, saying its fighters had taken control of the town after days of clashes with security forces.

Read it all.

Posted in Mozambique, Terrorism

(NPR) Indonesia Church Bombing Wounds 20 On Palm Sunday

Two suicide bombers attacked a Roman Catholic church compound in Makassar, Indonesia, on Sunday morning, injuring at least 20 people, according to state officials. While no deaths among the churchgoers have been reported, police say both attackers died in the blast.

The attack happened at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral around 10:30 a.m., as a round of mass was wrapping up at the church. The bombers attempted to enter the church compound on motorbike and detonated at least one bomb by an entrance to the compound, according to news reports.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo condemned the attack as an “act of terrorism,” and said he had ordered the police “to thoroughly investigate the perpetrators’ networks and tear down the networks to their roots.”

The attacks happened on Palm Sunday, the beginning of the Holy Week leading up to Easter. In a televised address, Joko called on people to remain calm and said “the state guarantees the safety of religious people to worship without fear.”

Read it all.

Posted in Indonesia, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Religion & Culture, Terrorism

(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.

Read it all.

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.

Read it all.

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

(Atlantic) Shadi Hamid–America Without God: As religious faith has declined, ideological intensity has risen. Will the quest for secular redemption through politics doom the American idea?

Conflicting narratives are more likely to coexist uneasily than to resolve themselves; the threat of disintegration will always lurk nearby.

On January 6, the threat became all too real when insurrectionary violence came to the Capitol. What was once in the realm of “dreampolitik now had physical force. What can “unity” possibly mean after that?

Can religiosity be effectively channeled into political belief without the structures of actual religion to temper and postpone judgment? There is little sign, so far, that it can. If matters of good and evil are not to be resolved by an omniscient God in the future, then Americans will judge and render punishment now. We are a nation of believers. If only Americans could begin believing in politics less fervently, realizing instead that life is elsewhere. But this would come at a cost—because to believe in politics also means believing we can, and probably should, be better.

In History Has Begun, the author, Bruno Maçães—Portugal’s former Europe minister—marvels that “perhaps alone among all contemporary civilizations, America regards reality as an enemy to be defeated.” This can obviously be a bad thing (consider our ineffectual fight against the coronavirus), but it can also be an engine of rejuvenation and creativity; it may not always be a good idea to accept the world as it is. Fantasy, like belief, is something that humans desire and need. A distinctive American innovation is to insist on believing even as our fantasies and dreams drift further out of reach.

This may mean that the United States will remain unique, torn between this world and the alternative worlds that secular and religious Americans alike seem to long for. If America is a creed, then as long as enough citizens say they believe, the civic faith can survive. Like all other faiths, America’s will continue to fragment and divide. Still, the American creed remains worth believing in, and that may be enough. If it isn’t, then the only hope might be to get down on our knees and pray.

Read it all and also see the article by Mark Tooley there.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

(War on the Rocks) Robert D. Blackwill+Philip Zelikow: Can The United States Prevent A War Over Taiwan?

If China’s window of advantage does shrink over time as the defense of Taiwan improves, what, then, is the right U.S. strategy in the meantime? If time is on the eventual side of those defending peace and freedom, our strategy is designed to buy more of it.

This option that we recommend supports the planning that we describe in the second approach, the status quo, in which the United States has contingency plans to share in the direct defense of Taiwan but will not commit in advance to do so. But in our view, that is not an adequate U.S. strategy to deter war. We believe the United States should, in addition, rehearse — at least with Japan and Taiwan — a parallel plan to challenge any Chinese denial of international access to Taiwan and prepare, including with pre-positioned U.S. supplies, including war reserve stocks, shipments of vitally needed supplies to help Taiwan defend itself.

The United States and its allies, like Japan, should plan to challenge a Chinese quarantine or siege of Taiwan enough to place the burden on China to decide whether to widen the conflict by attacking U.S. or allied forces that were endeavoring to deliver such supplies. If such plans exist now, they are not evident, either in exercises choreographed with allies, in pre-positioned supplies, or in the shipping capacity to carry them out. These plans would probably require significant changes in the character and deployment of U.S. and other allied forces. But these changes, oriented more to helping Taiwan defend itself and less reliant on a rapid build-up of U.S. striking power inside the first island chain, would not menace the People’s Republic of China as much as the strategy envisioned in the third approach.

In this fourth approach, if China did choose to widen the war, the United States and its allies would plan to defend themselves and continue to do what was possible to help Taiwan defend itself. But the United States would not assume that such a war needs to extend to the Chinese, Japanese, or American homelands.

Instead, in another revision to the second approach, the United States and its allies would credibly and visibly plan to react to the attack on their forces by breaking all financial relations with China, freezing or seizing Chinese assets, leading to a severe rupture of the world economy and a likely global financial crisis. Also, the United States and Japan would prepare, visibly and in advance, the massive remilitarization and mobilization measures that they, and perhaps others, would take as the logical consequence of the increased danger of general war. Some critics assert this already is U.S. strategy, but we have seen no such allied economic, political, and military plans on this scale, that would strengthen deterrence.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Taiwan

An Interesting new Book–‘Refuge Reimagined: Biblical Kinship in Global Politics’

From there:

The global crisis of forced displacement is growing every year. At the same time, Western Christians’ sympathy toward refugees is increasingly overshadowed by concerns about personal and national security, economics, and culture. We urgently need a perspective that understands both Scripture and current political realities and that can be applied at the levels of the church, the nation, and the globe.

In Refuge Reimagined, Mark R. Glanville and Luke Glanville offer a new approach to compassion for displaced people: a biblical ethic of kinship. God’s people, they argue, are consistently called to extend kinship—a mutual responsibility and solidarity—to those who are marginalized and without a home. Drawing on their respective expertise in Old Testament studies and international relations, the two brothers engage a range of disciplines to demonstrate how this ethic is consistently conveyed throughout the Bible and can be practically embodied today.

Posted in Books, Canada, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology

(Greenville News) South Carolina Covid19 fight: Improvement plateauing, officials concerned about spring break, Easter

South Carolina continues to dramatically improved its pandemic fight, but officials are urging people to not let their guard down as spring break and Easter gatherings approach.

The improvements have been across the board: More vaccinations are being given, deaths and new cases remain at levels not seen since before Thanksgiving and warmer weather is expected to help, too.

But state officials are warning that the upcoming spring break, Easter celebrations and other spring activities could cause rebounds if people let down their guard.

Already, the improvements are plateauing, said Dr. Jane Kelly, assistant state epidemiologist with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, during a Friday afternoon call with reporters.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Health & Medicine, State Government

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.

Read it all.

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.

Read it all.

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.

Read it all.

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

Archbishops launch new Commission on Families and Households

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have today announced a new commission to explore what support families and households need to flourish in today’s society.

This new Commission follows the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community, whose final report ‘Coming Home’ was published in February 2021. This new Commission will aim to build on that work, formally beginning its work in May and look to report in winter 2022.

The origin of the Commission lies in Archbishop Justin’s 2018 book ‘Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope’. Building on a key chapter, ‘Family – Caring for the Core’, the Commission aims to articulate and address the pressures and challenges facing families and households, whilst also highlighting the good and the positive in terms of what works well and how that can be built on, drawing on Christian tradition.

It will aim to offer practical and deliverable ideas on what enables families and households to thrive and prosper as the cornerstone of every community in our society.

Read it all.

Posted in --Justin Welby, Anthropology, Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(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.

Read it all.

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.

Read it all.

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

(LRB) John Lanchester reviews two recent books on China–Document Number Nine

This progress in facial recognition and big data is all part of the other development in the Chinese digital world, the social credit system. This is a credit score analogous to those which are run in the West by credit reference agencies such as Experian and Equifax. The complete view of our lives and finances owned by these firms seems largely to escape attention in the West, but it hasn’t escaped the attention of the CCP, which has multiple trials running of social credit systems that build on and expand the existing Western model. The Chinese pilots look not at consumer creditworthiness but at social behaviour, with the criteria for desirable behaviour defined by the party. Strittmatter cites a pilot in Rongcheng, where citizens get points – not a metaphor, they actually are awarded points – for helping aged neighbours move house, giving calligraphy lessons and offering use of their basement for a CCP singalong. Conversely they lose points for pouring water outside their house so it turns into ice, letting their dogs shit on the pavement, driving through red lights and so on. In some versions of these schemes, your social credit is affected by the social credit of the people you hang out with; a bad reputation is contagious.

At the moment, the main impacts of people’s social credit are on activities such as travel: people with bad social credit can’t fly, can’t book high-speed train tickets or sleeper berths; they have slower internet access and can’t book fancy hotels or restaurants. It isn’t difficult to project a future in which these sanctions spread to every area of life. The China-wide version of social credit is scheduled to go live in 2020. The ultimate goal is to make people internalise their sense of the state: to make people self-censor, self-monitor, self-supervise. Strittmatter quotes Discipline and Punish: ‘He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.’ The Chinese version of social credit is the closest thing we’ve ever seen to Foucault’s system in action at a national level.

Put all this together. Imagine a place in which there’s a police post every hundred metres, and tens of thousands of cameras linked to a state-run facial recognition system; where people are forced to have police-owned GPS systems in their cars, and you can buy petrol only after having your face scanned; where all mobile phones have a state app on them to monitor their activity and prevent access to ‘damaging information’; where religious activity is monitored; where the state knows whether you have family and friends abroad, and where the government offers free health clinics as a way of getting your fingerprint and iris scan and samples of your DNA. Strittmatter points out that you don’t need to imagine this place, because it exists: that’s life in Xinjiang for the minority population of Muslim Uighurs. Increasingly, policing in Xinjiang has an algorithmic basis. A superb piece of reporting by Christian Shepherd in the Financial Times recently told the story of Yalqun Rozi, who has ended up in a re-education camp for publishing Uighur textbooks in an attempt to preserve the language. One of his crimes was using too high a percentage of Uighur words. The system allows a maximum of 30 per cent from minority language sources; Rozi had used 60 per cent Uighur, and ‘China’ had appeared only four times in 200,000 words. Uighurs get into trouble for attending mosque too often or too fervently, or for naming their children Mohammed, or for fasting during Ramadan. There are about 12 million Uighurs in Xinjiang: 1.5 million of them have either spent time in a re-education camp or are in one right now.

China has​ been a dictatorship for seventy years. The idea that prosperity and the internet would in themselves make the country turn towards democracy has been proved wrong. Instead, China is about to become something new: an AI-powered techno-totalitarian state. The project aims to form not only a new kind of state but a new kind of human being, one who has fully internalised the demands of the state and the completeness of its surveillance and control. That internalisation is the goal: agencies of the state will never need to intervene to correct the citizen’s behaviour, because the citizen has done it for them in advance.

Read it all (my epmhasis).

Posted in Books, China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General

(Westminster Abbey) The Charles Gore Lecture 2020: A Theology of Hope for the 21st Century by Professor Jürgen Moltmann

1. I start with a poison of hatred.
Human life, itself, is in danger today. The humanity of life is threatened. Life is not in danger because it is menaced by death, for it always has been. It is in danger because it is no longer respected and affirmed. It is no longer loved. After the Second World War, Albert Camus stated, “The secret of Europe is that it no longer loves life.” Anyone who took part in World War II knows what he meant.

After seventy years of peace in Europe, we are facing a new ideology of enmity today. In the 20th century, we experienced a state-operating “terror from above” in forms of fascism and Stalinism. Today, we are experiencing private “terror from below”.

“Your young people love life”, Mullah Omar, of the Taliban, told Western journalists, “our young people love death.” Suicide assassins love death of their enemies and their own deaths. That is the terror of the Islamic State in Iraq, and of Boko Haram in Africa towards the “godless” Western world that they feel threatened by. The victim mentality always leads to anger and to hate.

These days, this terror has been joined ranks by “white terror”, as Norway, New Zealand, and Texas, and Germany have witnessed the terror of “white supremacy”, of white racism. In many Western nations, a climate of hate has been fostered, promoting such hate against those perceived as outsiders, against migrants, Jews, and disliked politicians. Our public atmosphere has been poisoned ever since we have had anonymous Twitter on the internet: Hate via the world wide web.

Question is, how can human civilization prevail against these odds?

2. Neo-nationalism
The political problem we are facing is neo-nationalism. The big nations of the world are at war in the middle of peace. It is a hybrid war of economic sanctions and cyber wars with fake news. In the struggle for power, the neo-nationalists seem to believe in the survival of the fittest, because they deem their own nation to be the fittest.

Neo-nationalism began at the end of the East-West conflict in 1990. Up until then, the world had been divided into two blocks: the socialist world in the East, and the “free world” in the West. Then the Soviet Union dissolved itself, Gorbachev lost, and Yeltsin won in 1993. The Soviet Union disintegrated into larger and smaller nations. The socialist dream of equality of all people died.

The “free world” dissolved more slowly.

Read it all.

Posted in Climate Change, Weather, Ecology, Eschatology, Politics in General, Theology

(American Affairs) Patrick Deenen reviews Michael Sandel’s recent book “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?”

In the end, Sandel flinches: in spite of accusing the new ruling order of “tyranny,” he fails to locate any tyrants. This silence on the meri­tocracy’s self-deception, in what is otherwise a singularly powerful critique of the pathologies of meritocracy, is telling. Sandel is remark­ably incurious about whether meritocrats’ justifications of their moral eminence might in fact shroud the deeper “will to power” one would expect to find among tyrants.

For instance, Sandel evinces a lack of suspicion when listing a string of dubious actions by the meritocrats, concluding simply that they “have not governed very well”—not that they have governed with malevolence. He cites a string of failures from 1980 to the present, includ­ing “stagnant wages for most workers, inequalities of income and wealth not seen since the 1920s, the Iraq War, a nineteen-year, incon­clusive war in Afghanistan, financial deregulation, the financial crisis of 2008,” and so forth (29). In each instance, however, these were not “failures” if you were a member of the meritocracy. Almost to a person, the ruling class benefited from these crises, or at the very least, were not harmed by their consequences, even as they collectively diminished the prospects for flourishing among the meritocracy’s losers. Sandel regards these outcomes as failed policies of otherwise well-intentioned leaders, rather than identifying them as the expected outcomes of a ruling class’s efforts to maintain its position.

We return to where we began. At its outset, meritocracy, like most regimes, was defended as a just and beneficent new departure. It would replace the injustice of the ancien régime by encouraging and rewarding people for their talents. If inequality was to be an inescapable result, nevertheless the “industrious and rational” would afford benefits to the society as a whole. Prosperity, progress, and enlightenment would spread even to the “quarrelsome and contentious”: as Locke wrote, the life of the day laborer in England was better than the mightiest king of the Indians in America. Unlike in a vicious regime, the ruling meritocrats would govern not (merely) for their own advantage, but for the advantage and even common good of all.

Although it has barely been a century since Conant began his transformation of Harvard, and about a half century since the full realization of the new meritocratic regime celebrated by Gardner with the ascent of the “best and the brightest,” overwhelming evidence suggests that the meritocracy’s claims are altogether unbelievable, useful mainly as the self-serving subterfuge of an oppressive ruling class. For those outside the charmed meritocratic winner’s circle, prospects for flourishing have precipitously declined in recent dec­ades, as documented in such works as Charles Murray’s Coming Apart and Robert Putnam’s Our Kids. Among the noncredentialed, life spans are declining, deaths of despair increasing, material circumstances have worsened, social stability and moral formation have cratered. By their own admission, meritocratic elites have failed to improve race relations in America. The meritocrats’ claims to benefi­cence might once have been widely believed before this accumulating evidence, but now they largely function as a form of self-deceit among the rulers. Awareness of the potential for malevolent, even tyrannical intention behind these developments seems to be missing in Sandel. Yet such evidence seems increasingly apparent: approximately half the country showed its disbelief and contempt for elite ruling claims by voting for a demagogic anti-elitist. The reaction of the ruling class was four years of denying the legitimacy of the election, denouncing those who dared to vote for the demagogue, and unremitting efforts to “resist”—with hardly a moment to spare to reflect about their complicity in bringing about this wrenching period in our national history.

Sandel’s title, The Tyranny of Merit, is arguably more accurate an assessment of meritocracy than the ultimate thrust of his book. Ac­cording to the classical definition, meritocracy is a tyranny because its ruling class accrues benefits for itself while causing material, social, and spiritual impoverishment among those it governs. Sandel states that “merit can become a kind of tyranny,” but avoids discussing the motivations of the tyrants.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Books, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General

(FT) President Biden to tell states to make all adults eligible for Covid jab by May 1

Last month, the president would only commit to a return to normal by Christmas, citing uncertainty over how quickly the administration could ramp up its vaccination drive.

Biden will announce the new target during his first televised primetime address to the nation since his inauguration in January.

“He will communicate to Americans that, if we all do our part, there’s a good chance that families, friends, neighbours, will be able to gather in small groups to celebrate Independence Day on July 4,” a senior administration official said. “The next phase of our wartime effort will help us get closer to normal by July 4, Independence Day,” they added.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Joe Biden

(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

The Bishop of Worcester calls for targeted sanctions against those responsible for military coup in Myanmar

On 8th March 2021 the Bishop of Worcester received a written answer to a question on targeted sanctions against the Myanmar regime:

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to imposing targeted sanctions against those responsible for the military coup in Myanmar. [HL13549]

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The UK is looking at a range of measures to ensure the democratic wishes of the people of Myanmar are respected.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Myanmar/Burma, Politics in General

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

David French–How a Rising Religious Movement Rationalizes the Christian Grasp for Power: On the dangers of the Seven Mountain Mandate

At one level, this analysis seems less like revelation and more like logic. Each of these men accurately described important arenas of life, and if Christians truly want to be “salt and light” in the world, they should want to comprehensively cultivate true biblical values in American culture.

To put it another way: If God asks mankind to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God,” He does not intend that those virtues be confined to church. The fruits of the spirit—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”—are not mere Sunday School values. They should pervade our interactions with the wider world.

Moreover, if and when those seven key institutions become instruments of injustice, Christians should respond. To take some obvious examples, if the “mountain” of government turns against its citizens, Christians have an obligation to stand with the oppressed. If the mountain of popular culture transforms the beauty of art into the perversion of porn, Christians must resist. And if the mountain of education teaches falsehoods, Christians have an obligation to tell the truth.

The command to “do justice” has real force, and it’s incumbent on Christians to seek justice across the length and breadth of American life.

But there is an immense and important difference between seeking justice and seeking power. In fact, the quest for power can sideline or derail the quest for justice. And that’s where we get to the real problem—the difference between a Seven Mountain concept and a Seven Mountain mandate or Seven Mountain dominionism.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

(NPR Goats+Soda) Nearly 1 In 3 Women Experience Violence: Landmark Report From WHO

The numbers are stark – and startling.

Around the world, almost 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, according to a new report released by the World Health Organization. That number has remained largely unchanged over the past decade, WHO said.

The report, which WHO says is the largest-ever study of the prevalence of violence against women, draws upon data from 161 countries and areas on women and girls age 15 and up collected between 2000 and 2018. So it does not account for the impact of the pandemic. Lockdowns and related restrictions on movement have led to widespread reports of a “shadow pandemic” — a surge in violence against women and girls around the world, as many found themselves trapped at home with their abusers.

The figures “really bring to the fore how widely prevalent this problem already was” even prior to the pandemic, said WHO’s Dr. Claudia Garcia-Moreno, one of the report’s authors. She says researchers won’t know the pandemic’s true impact on violence against women until they can conduct new population-based surveys again in the future.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Politics in General, Sexuality, Violence, Women

(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

(NPR) Switzerland Approves ‘Burqa Ban’ To Prohibit Some Face Coverings In Public

One of the largest backers of the initiative was the nationalist Swiss People’s Party, which applauded the outcome of the vote and called the new measure “A strong symbol in the fight against radical political Islam.”

“The burqa creates a barrier between the person wearing it and the environment and thus prevents integration into society,” Swiss People’s Party President Marco Chiesa said in a statement.

Some feminist groups and progressive Muslims reportedly were supporters of the initiative, arguing that full face coverings are oppressive to women.

Other groups felt the new restriction was Islamophobic and that women should not be told what to wear.

The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland said the results were “Islamophobically motivated.”

“Today’s decision is tearing open old wounds, expanding the principle of legal inequality and sending a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority,” the group wrote.

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Posted in Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Switzerland

(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

South Carolina Moves to Phase 1b of COVID-19 Vaccination Plan Today

Governor Henry McMaster and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced today that South Carolina will advance to Phase 1b of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan beginning Monday, March 8.

“Throughout South Carolina’s vaccination efforts, our priority has been – and continues to be – saving lives,” said Gov. Henry McMaster. “In the month of February, South Carolina made tremendous progress on expanding access to vaccinations as the supply of vaccine increased. Our hospitals, pharmacies and healthcare providers became more nimble and efficient at getting shots in arms. Because of these successes, we’re now in a position to make the majority of South Carolinians eligible to receive the vaccine.”

“South Carolina remains focused on protecting the lives and health of South Carolinians from COVID-19,” said Dr. Edward Simmer, DHEC Director. “With the significant increase in vaccine supply and progress in vaccinating people in group 1a, front-line health care workers and those aged 65 and over, we are now ready to move to our next phase. Our state’s vaccine plan prioritizes those with greatest risk, while ensuring equal access to the vaccine for every South Carolinian aged 16 and over.”

South Carolina’s phased approach to its COVID-19 vaccine rollout recognizes the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 increases with age, and people with certain medical conditions and occupations are at higher risk of exposure to the virus.

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Posted in * South Carolina, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, State Government