Category : The U.S. Government

(Atlantic) Annie Lowery–The Time Tax–Why is so much American bureaucracy left to average citizens?

The issue is not that modern life comes with paperwork hassles. The issue is that American benefit programs are, as a whole, difficult and sometimes impossible for everyday citizens to use. Our public policy is crafted from red tape, entangling millions of people who are struggling to find a job, failing to feed their kids, sliding into poverty, or managing a disabling health condition.

The United States government—whether controlled by Democrats, with their love of too-complicated-by-half, means-tested policy solutions; or Republicans, with their love of paperwork-as-punishment; or both, with their collective neglect of the implementation and maintenance of government programs—has not just given up on making benefits easy to understand and easy to receive. It has in many cases purposefully made the system difficult, shifting the burden of public administration onto individuals and discouraging millions of Americans from seeking aid. The government rations public services through perplexing, unfair bureaucratic friction. And when people do not get help designed for them, well, that is their own fault.

The time tax is worse for individuals who are struggling than for the rich; larger for Black families than for white families; harder on the sick than on the healthy. It is a regressive filter undercutting every progressive policy we have. In America, losing a job means making a hundred phone calls to a state unemployment-insurance system. Getting hit by a car means becoming your own hospital-billing expert. Having a disability means launching into a Jarndyce v. Jarndyce–type legal battle. Needing help to feed a toddler means filling out a novel-length application for aid.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Taxes, The U.S. Government

(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

(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

(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.

Read it all.

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

(Bloomberg) Russia-Linked SolarWinds Hack Ensnares Widening List of Victims

It was clear from the start that a cyber attack by suspected Russian hackers aimed at several U.S. government agencies was going to be bad. One clue: National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien cut short a trip overseas early this week to rush back to Washington to help manage the crisis.

But on Thursday, the reality of just how sprawling — and potentially damaging — the breach might be came into sharper focus. It started with a bulletin from the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA, warning that the hackers were sophisticated, patient and well-resourced, representing a “grave risk” to federal, state and local governments as well as critical infrastructure and the private sector. It didn’t take long to see how accurate the agency’s assessment was.

Bloomberg News reported that at least three state governments were hacked. That was followed by reports of other breaches: the city network in Austin, Texas, and the U.S. nuclear weapons agency. Late in the day software giant Microsoft Corp. said its systems were exposed.

Read it all.

Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Russia, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government

(Wash Post) The U.S. government spent billions on a system for detecting hacks. The Russians outsmarted it.

When Russian hackers first slipped their digital Trojan horses into federal government computer systems, probably sometime in the spring, they sat dormant for days, doing nothing but hiding. Then the malicious code sprang into action and began communicating with the outside world.

At that moment — when the Russian malware began sending transmissions from federal servers to command-and-control computers operated by the hackers — an opportunity for detection arose, much as human spies behind enemy lines are particularly vulnerable when they radio home to report what they’ve found.

Why then, when computer networks at the State Department and other federal agencies started signaling to Russian servers, did nobody in the U.S. government notice that something odd was afoot?

The answer is part Russian skill, part federal government blind spot.

Read it all.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Russia, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government

(AP) US panel endorses widespread use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

A U.S. government advisory panel has endorsed Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, in a major step toward an epic vaccination campaign that could finally conquer the outbreak.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to follow the recommendation issued Thursday by its expert advisers. The advisory group, in 17-4 vote with one abstention, concluded that the shot appears safe and effective against the coronavirus in people 16 and older.

A final FDA decision is expected within days. Millions of shots would then ship to begin vaccinating health care workers and nursing home residents. Widespread access to the general public is not expected until the spring.

Read it all.

Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government

(NYT) Politics, Science and the Remarkable Race for a Coronavirus Vaccine

The call was tense, the message discouraging. Moncef Slaoui, the head of the Trump administration’s effort to quickly produce a vaccine for the coronavirus, was on the phone at 6 p.m. on Aug. 25 to tell the upstart biotech firm Moderna that it had to slow the final stage of testing its vaccine in humans.

Moderna’s chief executive, Stéphane Bancel, a French biochemical engineer, recognized the implication. In the race to quell the pandemic, he said, “every day mattered.” Now his company, which had yet to bring a single product to market, faced a delay of up to three weeks. Pfizer, the global pharmaceutical giant that was busy testing a similar vaccine candidate and promising initial results by October, would take the obvious lead.

“It was the hardest decision I made this year,” Mr. Bancel said.

Read it all.

Posted in Health & Medicine, Politics in General, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government

(WSJ) Fed’s Powell Says U.S. Faces ‘Tragic’ Risks From Doing Too Little to Support Economy

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned of potentially tragic economic consequences if Congress and the White House don’t provide additional support to households and businesses disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The expansion is still far from complete,” Mr. Powell said in his strongest remarks to date on the subject, delivered to a virtual conference of private-sector economists Tuesday. “At this early stage, I would argue that the risks of policy intervention are still asymmetric. Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship.

By contrast, the risks of providing too generous relief are smaller, he said. “Even if policy actions ultimately prove to be greater than needed, they will not go to waste,” he said.

A few hours after Mr. Powell spoke, President Trump said he was suspending negotiations with congressional Democrats over steps to extend unemployment benefits that lapsed in July and to provide additional aid to hard-hit businesses, cities and states.

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Posted in Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Federal Reserve, Health & Medicine, Politics in General

(WSJ) A Depressing Debate Spectacle

No one expected a Lincoln-Douglas debate, but did it have to be a World Wrestling Entertainment bout? Which may be unfair to the wrestlers, who are more presidential than either Donald Trump or Joe Biden sounded in their first debate Tuesday night.

The event was a spectacle of insults, interruptions, endless cross-talk, exaggerations and flat-out lies even by the lying standards of current U.S. politics. Our guess is that millions of Americans turned away after 30 minutes, and we would have turned away too if we didn’t do this for a living.

Mr. Trump no doubt wanted to project strength and rattle Mr. Biden, but he did so by interrupting him so much that he wouldn’t let Mr. Biden talk long enough even to make a mistake. The President bounced from subject to subject so frequently that it was hard to figure out what he hoped to say beyond that Joe Biden is controlled by the Democratic left. Even when moderator Chris Wallace asked a question that played to the strengths of his record—such as on the economy—Mr. Trump couldn’t stick to the theme without leaping to attack Mr. Biden.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Office of the President, Politics in General, The U.S. Government, Theology

(NBC) Unique Program Helping To Save Vermont Restaurants And Feed The Community

Posted in City Government, Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Health & Medicine, Politics in General, Poverty, The U.S. Government, Urban/City Life and Issues

(NYT) Vast Federal Aid Has Capped Rise in Poverty, Studies Find

An unprecedented expansion of federal aid has prevented the rise in poverty that experts predicted this year when the coronavirus sent unemployment to the highest level since the Great Depression, two new studies suggest. The assistance could even cause official measures of poverty to fall.

The studies carry important caveats. Many Americans have suffered hunger or other hardships amid long delays in receiving the assistance, and much of the aid is scheduled to expire next month. Millions of people have been excluded from receiving any help, especially undocumented migrants, who often have American children.

Still, the evidence suggests that the programs Congress hastily authorized in March have done much to protect the needy, a finding likely to shape the debate over next steps at a time when 13.3 percent of Americans remain unemployed.

Democrats, who want to continue the expiring aid, can cite the effect of the programs on poverty as a reason to continue them, while Republicans may use it to bolster their doubts about whether more spending is needed or affordable.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Personal Finance, Poverty, The U.S. Government

(WSJ) CIA’s ‘Lax’ Security Led to Massive Theft of Hacking Tools, Internal Report Finds

A “woefully lax” security culture within the Central Intelligence Agency’s elite hacking unit that favored building cyber weapons over protecting its own computer systems from intrusion allowed for the 2016 theft of top-secret hacking tools, according to an internal report written by the spy agency disclosed on Tuesday.

The hacking tools were published by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks in early 2017, a disclosure totaling more than 8,000 pages. The leak of the so-called Vault 7 documents was widely viewed as one of the most devastating security breaches in the CIA’s history. It included details about the agency’s playbook for hacking smartphones, computer operating systems, messaging applications and internet-connected televisions.

The internal audit, published in October 2017 by CIA’s WikiLeaks Task Force, described the theft as the “largest data loss in CIA history.” It said an employee stole anywhere from 180 gigabytes to 34 terabytes of information, a haul roughly equivalent to 11.6 million to 2.2 billion pages in Microsoft Word.

The report said it was possible the CIA may have never learned of the theft had the trove not been published by WikiLeaks.

Read it all.

Posted in Science & Technology, The U.S. Government

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell Interviewed Last night on 60 Minutes

PELLEY: And when you say things, people listen. And Wall Street didn’t want to hear that this was going to take longer than their hopes indicated?

POWELL: I was really calling out a risk that I think is an important one for people to be cognizant of, and that is the risk of longer-run damage to the economy. And really, the good news is that we have the tools to limit that longer-run damage by continuing to provide support to households and businesses as we get through this. And that was really my message.

PELLEY: It was meant to be a signal to Capitol Hill to tell lawmakers the economy needs a great deal more support?

POWELL: That was a part of my remarks this morning. I also wanted to just talk more at length about the longer-run dangers and commit the Fed to really stay in this fight as long as we need to as well….

PELLEY: Has the Fed done all it can do?

POWELL: Well, there’s a lot more we can do. We’ve done what we can as we go. But I will say that we’re not out of ammunition by a long shot. No, there’s really no limit to what we can do with these lending programs that we have. So there’s a lot more we can do to support the economy, and we’re committed to doing everything we can as long as we need to.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Federal Reserve, House of Representatives, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Office of the President, Politics in General, Poverty, President Donald Trump, Senate, The U.S. Government

(WSJ) Top Health Official Urges Americans to Stay Home Amid Coronavirus

“Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Dr. Fauci, appearing on all the major Sunday morning television shows, warned that it could be several weeks to a few months before life in the U.S. begins to return to normal. Dr. Fauci urged people to work from home if they can and practice “social distancing” to prevent a potentially catastrophic spike in infections.

He said he wouldn’t eat at crowded restaurants or fly on planes unless it is necessary, advice that he said applies especially to older Americans and those with health conditions. He said parents should think twice about sending their children out to crowded playgrounds. And young people, even though they appear to be less vulnerable, could be endangering the lives of their grandparents or elderly relatives by not heeding public health warnings, he said.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to congregate anybody anywhere,” Dr. Fauci said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

As Dr. Fauci issued his warnings, the Trump administration grappled with how to handle an influx of Americans and other travelers into the country, who were clogging customs at major airports in response to the European travel ban.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine, The U.S. Government

(Stat News) Coronavirus testing is starting to get better — but it has a long way to go

The Roche case offers some encouragement: Brown said that the company started working on its new test last month, and finished the work in six weeks. Roche asked the FDA for emergency clearance earlier this week, and received it around the stroke of midnight Friday. As he announced a national emergency Friday afternoon, President Trump promised that testing capacity would eventually reach 5 million.

Testing serves two purposes. It can tell whether an individual person is sick. But it also acts as our way of knowing how bad the epidemic is, and where it is worst. Other types of technologies might help with the second part, if not the first. Blood tests that look to see if people have antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 –when they become available — can tell us how many people have had Covid-19. Next-generation DNA sequencing technologies could also play a role in monitoring it.

Through all this, the CDC and other health officials now need to follow an old maxim: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Regulatory standards are important, and if the U.S. had organized its response sooner, getting the developers of diagnostic tests and major labs ready, there would have been time for an orderly process. But this is an emergency. And there is a need for speed.

Read it all.

Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government

(CT) Advice for Churches from the Surgeon General: Preparing Your Church for Coronavirus

First, communicate well with your church when it comes to your commitment to keep your people as healthy as possible.

This includes reminding your people that if they have any type of symptoms of coughing, sneezing, fever, nausea, achiness, or any flu-like symptom, to stay home. Remind them that you love them, but that you can see them next week if they are experiencing anything that may be contagious.

Second, reeducate your church staff and volunteers regarding good hygiene for all.

Especially those working with older and younger populations need to enforce the importance of hand-washing and good health practices with all those in your programs. Remind them that we need to be especially cautious of those who may have suppressed immune systems.

Finally, now might be a good time to (at least temporarily) modify routines that may threaten to spread disease.

For example, during the greeting time (if you have one), encourage people to simply say hello instead of shaking hands or hugging. (We used elbow bumps in our meeting this morning.) Already churches have been considering altering their practices, and it appears to be time to increase those measures just a bit.

The Surgeon General emphasized that we will know a lot more “in a week or two” on how this will play out, and in some places “large public gatherings” such as church services may have to be restricted.

However, social distancing is something that should start happening now. I specifically asked if we should be limiting church activities like shaking hands. He responded, “It is prudent to limit touching, especially hand-to-hand.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, The U.S. Government

(NPR) Amid Census Concerns, Religious Leaders Asked To Quell Fears

JUDITH ANN KARAM: The outcome of the census is important because it signifies the dignity of the human person and resources that impact the quality of life of each individual. That is so fundamental to not only Catholic social teaching.

[HANSI LO] WANG: Sister Karam said it’s fundamental across many other faith traditions. It’s a U.S. tradition to use census numbers to determine each state’s share of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, as well as the redrawing of voting districts. During the summit, Census Bureau officials tried to counter worries that census data could be misused.

DILLINGHAM: The data comes in and statistics go out – numbers.

WANG: Federal law also prohibits the bureau from releasing information identifying individuals until 72 years after the information is collected. But Pastor John Zayas of Grace and Peace Church in Chicago raised concerns about how the Trump administration may try to misuse census data to help ICE officers carry out immigration raids.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Census/Census Data, Religion & Culture

(Economist) Investors at home and abroad are piling into American government debt

In the good old days, America’s budget deficit yawned when the economy was weak and shrank when it was strong. It fell from 13% to 4% of gdp during Barack Obama’s presidency, as the economy recovered from the financial crisis of 2007-09. Today unemployment is at a 50-year low. Yet borrowing is rising fast. Tax cuts in 2017 and higher government spending have widened the deficit to 5.5% of gdp, according to imf data—the largest, by far, of any rich country.

It could soon widen even further. President Donald Trump is thought to want a pre-election giveaway. Fox News is awash with rumours of “Tax Cuts 2.0”. This month the Treasury announced it would issue a 20-year bond, which would lengthen the average maturity of its debt and lock in low interest rates for longer. All this is quite a change for many Republicans, who once accused Mr Obama of profligacy, but now say that trillion-dollar deficits are no big deal. Democratic presidential candidates, meanwhile, are talking about Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. A new consensus on fiscal policy has descended on Washington. Can it hold?

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Budget, Credit Markets, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, The National Deficit, The U.S. Government

(NPR) Older Americans Are Increasingly Unwilling — Or Unable — To Retire

Bob Orozco barks out instructions like a drill sergeant. The 40 or so older adults in this class follow his lead, stretching and bending and marching in place.

It goes like this for nearly an hour, with 89-year-old Orozco doing every move he asks of his class. He does that in each of the 11 classes he teaches every week at this YMCA in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

“I probably will work until something stops me,” Orozco says.

He may be an outlier, still working at 89, but statistics show that there may be more people like him in the near future. About 1 in 4 adults age 65 and older is now in the workforce. That number is expected to increase, making it the fastest-growing group of workers in the country.

Older adults are turning their backs on retirement for many reasons. Some, like Orozco, just love what they do. Others, though, need the money, and there are a lot of reasons why they do.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Aging / the Elderly, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Economy, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Pensions, Personal Finance, Social Security, Theology

(Local Paper front page) Population growth slowed in Charleston County, soared in Horry, Berkeley and Spartanburg

Some of South Carolina’s population growth hot spots have cooled, according to just-released census estimates, but new residents continued to pour in to Horry and Berkeley counties, the counties adjacent to Charlotte, and — perhaps surprisingly — Spartanburg.

The Palmetto State has been a fast-growing region for years and that continued through mid-2018. The state added 62,908 residents. More than 80 percent of the growth came from people relocating from other states, the Census Bureau estimated.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Census/Census Data

(MarketWatch) Former SEC lawyer sounds alarm on ‘the greatest retirement crisis’ in history

He pointed to a “woefully unprepared” U.S. population.

“In the decades to come, we will witness millions of elderly American’s, Baby Boomers and others, slipping into poverty.” he said in a podcast this week with the Peak Prosperity blog. “‘Too frail to work, too poor to retire’” will become the new normal for many elderly Americans.”

Siedle threw out some startling numbers to show just how much pensions are underfunded, a pervasive problem made worse by their inability to reach performance targets, which is typically set around 7%.

“Warren Buffett BRK.A, +1.41% himself has said that is an unrealistic return,” Siedle said in the interview. “Wall Street’s solution to every investor problem is, and will always be, pay us more fees.”

Investors then pay those higher fees for “ever riskier rolls of the dice,” in an effort to chase returns, which “has resulted, predictably, in worse performance.”

Read it all.

Posted in Aging / the Elderly, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Pensions, Personal Finance, Personal Finance & Investing, Social Security

(USA Today) Paul Davidson–Recent tax and spending legislation raises painful questions about US Financial Health

“You have so little room to respond during the next crisis,” MacGuineas says.

In reality, though, it’s unlikely bond investors will hesitate to finance additional U.S. spending to combat another downturn, Ashworth says. After all, he says, even if U.S. debt-to-GDP approaches 100 percent, that’s still well below 130-percent-plus ratios in countries such as Italy and Japan.

Chris Edwards, senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, notes that while the U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio is lower, its economy, and debt level, are much larger. He calls the deficit buildup “disastrous.”

Capital Economics’ Neil Shearing is more worried about political resistance in Congress to a massive stimulus if the nation’s debt burden hits nosebleed levels.

Zandi isn’t concerned. “If we get into a mess, policymakers will ignore the deficit and do what they need to do,” he says.

Yet MacGuineas says the patience of bondholders and lawmakers eventually will run thin.

“We don’t know when that is, and we don’t want to try to find out.”

Read it all.

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

(CNBC) 40% of the American middle class face poverty in retirement, study concludes

Nearly half of middle-class Americans face a slide into poverty as they enter their retirement, a recent study by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School has concluded.

That risk has been driven by depressed earnings, depressed asset values and increased health-care costs — causing 74 percent of Americans planning to work past traditional retirement age. Additionally, both private and public pension plans have been allowed to become seriously underfunded. So what can be done?

Fundamental changes in the structure of the U.S. economy, combined with increased health-care costs and lack of saving, have created a financial trap for millions of American workers heading into retirement.

Roughly 40 percent of Americans who are considered middle class (based on their income levels) will fall into poverty or near poverty by the time they reach age 65, according to the study.

Read it all.

Posted in Aging / the Elderly, America/U.S.A., Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pensions, Personal Finance, Social Security

(CT) The State of the Puerto Rican Church, One Year After Maria

During those first few days, we pastors were in shock. What would happen with our families? What would happen with the communities of faith we ministered in? We helped elderly people and small children flee the island for the mainland, unsure if we would ever see them again. The devastation across church facilities and congregants’ houses was enough to stir further panic. How were we going to rebuild? Where would we find the finances and the labor to work through this?

On a deeper level, we were forced to restate the purpose of our ministries: How were we going to minister to our communities during this time of utmost need? After decades of prosperity gospel teaching flooding our Christian churches and networks, we knew the majority of Puerto Ricans were not spiritually prepared to deal with a dream-shattering disaster like this.

But God, who loves us and works everything for our good, used these trying times to refocus the spiritual mindset of congregations everywhere, reshaping our understanding of the Christian life as it was intended to be since the beginning of the church in Acts: a group of chosen and saved people living in true community, loving God, loving their spiritual brothers and sisters, and loving the lost souls.

A few days after the hurricane, local congregations started to meet—no programs, no liturgies, no buildings in some cases. They read the Psalms, sang, and prayed. Without jobs and with no utility services at home, a sense of shared community kicked in, and everyone started to look for opportunities to serve the most pressing needs.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Natural Disasters: Earthquakes, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, etc., Parish Ministry, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, The U.S. Government

(LA Times Front Page) Unrecovered–A year after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico still struggles to regain what hasn’t been lost for good — while fearing the next big one

The rain falling into Bianca Cruz Pichardo’s home in Puerto Rico’s capital forms a small stream from her living room to the kitchen, past a cabinet elevated by cinder blocks.

The living room is dark, save for some light coming from the kitchen and a bedroom. The 25-year-old cannot bring herself to install light bulbs in the ceiling’s sockets because she fears being electrocuted.

For a year, her landlord in San Juan has told her he will repair damage caused when Hurricane Maria ripped through the island last September, she said, but still nothing. The worst of the rain is kept out by a blue tarp that serves as a temporary roof.

“He says, ‘This week I’ll bring the materials over,’” she said recently. “But he doesn’t do anything.”

Throughout Puerto Rico, the destruction caused by the devastating wind and rain generated by the Category 4 hurricane a year ago Thursday still shapes daily life.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Natural Disasters: Earthquakes, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, etc., The U.S. Government

(1st Things) John Waters–Choosing to refuse

Sometimes, digesting the latest news of the unhinging of the world, one is tempted to fall into despair. I experienced this feeling acutely recently, reading a report of a conservative commentator who had been questioned by the FBI because he posted a one-liner on Twitter mocking the Human Rights Campaign for seeking to persuade businesses to put rainbows in some visible place about their premises, presumably as an indicator of acquiescence in the LGBT agenda.

“That’s a nice business. Too bad if something happened to it,” tweeted Austin Ruse, president of the Center for Family and Human Rights. It was an obvious riff on Mafia-style protection methodologies, but you can count on social-justice-warrior types not to get jokes. Ruse was reported by the Human Rights Campaign and as a consequence received a visit and later a phone call from an FBI officer. Luckily, the officer knew a joke from a shakedown and that was the end of it.

Ruse subsequently observed that the HRC has made a habit of attacking Christians who defend traditional sexual morality. He elaborated:

It works like this: A local restaurant is owned by a faithful Catholic who objects to the gay agenda. … Gays notice he doesn’t have the gay rainbow affixed to his window. “Why don’t you have the rainbow on your window?,” they ask. “Are you homophobic? Do you really want the local community to know about you?” You can see it spooling out from there. He is targeted by the local bully boys who proceed to make his life miserable, perhaps harming and even shuttering his business.

This kind of thing is escalating at a rate that begins to be very ominous indeed. Not only do these people brook no dissent from their agendas, but they do not rest until anyone who questions them is badly burnt toast. And officialdom everywhere plays along and treats them like jolly pranksters….

Ruse’s experience brought to mind Vaclav Havel’s story, in his essay “The Power of the Powerless,” about the greengrocer who put the sign in the window with the slogan, “Workers of the World Unite.” Havel draws us into the mindset of the greengrocer, who places the sign essentially as a gesture of obedience. The sign might as easily read, “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient”—but this would cause the greengrocer to lose face. The “Workers of the World” sign serves both the needs of the greengrocer and the needs of the regime. So it is with rainbow stickers. The sign or sticker thus becomes another kind of sign: of the operation within a culture of an ideology. This is its true function.

Read it all and make sure to read the full article in Stream from which he is quoting.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, The U.S. Government

(NA) Adam White–Amid growing calls to break up Google, are we missing a quiet alignment between “smart” government and the universal information engine?

Google exists to answer our small questions. But how will we answer larger questions about Google itself? Is it a monopoly? Does it exert too much power over our lives? Should the government regulate it as a public utility — or even break it up?

In recent months, public concerns about Google have become more pronounced. This February, the New York Times Magazine published “The Case Against Google,” a blistering account of how “the search giant is squelching competition before it begins.” The Wall Street Journal published a similar article in January on the “antitrust case” against Google, along with Facebook and Amazon, whose market shares it compared to Standard Oil and AT&T at their peaks. Here and elsewhere, a wide array of reporters and commentators have reflected on Google’s immense power — not only over its competitors, but over each of us and the information we access — and suggested that the traditional antitrust remedies of regulation or breakup may be necessary to rein Google in.

Dreams of war between Google and government, however, obscure a much different relationship that may emerge between them — particularly between Google and progressive government. For eight years, Google and the Obama administration forged a uniquely close relationship. Their special bond is best ascribed not to the revolving door, although hundreds of meetings were held between the two; nor to crony capitalism, although hundreds of people have switched jobs from Google to the Obama administration or vice versa; nor to lobbying prowess, although Google is one of the top corporate lobbyists.

Rather, the ultimate source of the special bond between Google and the Obama White House — and modern progressive government more broadly — has been their common ethos. Both view society’s challenges today as social-engineering problems, whose resolutions depend mainly on facts and objective reasoning. Both view information as being at once ruthlessly value-free and yet, when properly grasped, a powerful force for ideological and social reform. And so both aspire to reshape Americans’ informational context, ensuring that we make choices based only upon what they consider the right kinds of facts — while denying that there would be any values or politics embedded in the effort.

Read it all (emphasis mine).

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, The U.S. Government

(PS) Martin Feldstein–America’s Exploding Budget Deficit

The federal government’s debt has risen from less than 40% of GDP a decade ago to 78% now, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicts that the ratio will rise to 96% in 2028. Because foreign investors hold the majority of US government debt, this projection implies that they will absorb more than $6 trillion in US bonds during the next ten years. Long-term interest rates on US debt will have to rise substantially to induce domestic and foreign investors alike to hold this very large increase.

Why is this happening? Had last year’s tax legislation not been enacted, the 2028 debt ratio would still reach 93% of GDP, according to the CBO. So the cause of the exploding debt lies elsewhere.

The primary drivers of the deficit increase over the next decade are the higher cost of benefits for middle-class older individuals. More specifically, spending on Social Security retirement benefits is predicted to rise from 4.9% of GDP to 6%. Government spending on health care for the aged in the Medicare program – which, like Social Security, is not means tested – will rise from 3.5% of GDP to 5.1%. So these two programs will raise the annual deficit by 2.7% of GDP.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Medicare, Politics in General, Social Security, The National Deficit, The U.S. Government, Theology

(Wash Post) Robert Samuelson–Don’t deny the link between poverty and single parenthood

What’s less worthy is basing any debate on misleading analysis. That’s my complaint against the Times essay. Its hypothetical and admittedly unrealistic thought experiment that eliminating poverty among single mothers wouldn’t have much effect on overall poverty is wrong, according to the government’s own figures from the Census Bureau.

Let’s look at the census figures.

In 2016, 40.6 million Americans had incomes below the government’s official poverty line, which was $24,339 for a family of four, including two children. Of those below the poverty line — 12.7 percent of the population — nearly 5 million were moms or dads heading single-parent families; 8.7 million were children under 18 in these single-parent homes.

Do the arithmetic. Together, single-parent families and their children totaled almost 14 million people, which is roughly a third of all people in poverty. If, magically, a third of America’s poor escaped poverty, the change would (justifiably) be hailed as a triumph of social policy. If we included the children in poverty in two-parent families, that would add more than 7 million to the total (3 million parents and 4 million children). The total of 21 million would equal about half of all people in poverty.

Read it all.

Posted in Census/Census Data, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Personal Finance & Investing, Poverty