Daily Archives: March 1, 2009

Struggling States Look to Unorthodox Taxes

In his 11 years in the Washington Legislature, Representative Mark Miloscia says he has supported all manner of methods to fill the state’s coffers, including increasing fees on property owners to help the homeless and taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, most of which, he said, passed “without a peep.”

And so it was last month that Mr. Miloscia, a Democrat, decided he might try to “find a new tax source” ”” pornography.

The response, however, was a turn-off.

“People came down on me like a ton of bricks,” said Mr. Miloscia, who proposed an 18.5 percent sales tax on items like sex toys and adult magazines. “I didn’t quite understand. Apparently porn is right up there with Mom and apple pie.”

Mr. Miloscia’s proposal died at the committee level, but he is far from the only legislator floating unorthodox ideas as more than two-thirds of the states face budget shortfalls.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Politics in General, State Government, Taxes, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

From the Kennebec Journal–Celibate priests: boon or bane?

“Yes, relationships are indeed natural and God made humans to have relationships, but relationships are more than sexual,” he said. “The church allows celibacy to be part of the priest, not only because it frees these men to work full-time ministry, but it is an opportunity to begin to live the life promised in eternal life where there will be no marriage but the marriage between God and humanity.”

[Father Bob] Vaillancourt also responds to those who say that allowing priests to marry better equips them to counsel married couples and having families helps make them more in touch with the real world.

“I have not had the gift of living a married life, and yes, I have not had the privilege of having children; but I have had the honor of listening to many, many couples struggling in their marriage and family life and attempting to bring healing and peace in their lives,” he said.

He has worked with many wounded couples and families, and they have taught him what it takes to be married and helped him understand the important needs of married couples, and of family life, he said.

“They are the ones who have taught me how to counsel couples and their families. I may not be qualified to counsel in some eyes, but I humbly admit that many couples whom I have counseled have grown in healing and holiness. And for that, I am grateful.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Roman Catholic

A Local Newspaper Editorial on the Obama Budget: Drowning in red ink

President Obama calls his budget outline a guide for the nation’s path back to prosperity. But it looks more like a path to immense debt.

Under the Obama plan, federal spending will rise faster than national income over the next decade. He projects the nation’s debt will rise from $5.8 trillion in 2008 to $15.4 trillion in 2019.

Indeed, his budget plan, which includes a record $3.55 trillion in spending next year, shows no exit from a dependency on debt, despite higher taxes. The plan estimates that federal revenues will grow 76 percent by 2019, while the nation’s gross domestic product grows only 60 percent.

Mr. Obama’s budget offers a clear contradiction of his assertion, in Tuesday night’s speech to Congress, that he doesn’t believe in “bigger government….”

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Budget, Economy, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, The National Deficit, The U.S. Government

She turns cameras on American hunger

An office party goes on without her, across town in an affluent world vastly different from the one where Mariana Chilton now finds herself. Her husband’s tried calling. Twice.

And still she sits in dress slacks and stocking feet, gray suede shoes tossed aside, on the drab carpet of a row house in the Philadelphia projects, playing with someone else’s children while her own three kids wait for Mom to come home.

A mouse scurries by, but Chilton doesn’t flinch.

She is listening, for the umpteenth time, as another mother speaks about what it means to be poor and hungry in America.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Poverty

Jonathan Sacks: 'Faith is the defeat of probability by possibility'

One of the discoveries of modern science is the sheer improbability of the Universe. It is shaped by six fundamental forces which, had they varied by an infinitesimal amount, the Universe would have expanded or imploded in such a way as to preclude the formation of stars. Unless we assume the existence of a million or trillion other universes (itself a large leap of faith), the fact that there is a universe at all is massively improbable.

So is the existence of life. Among the hundred billion galaxies, each with billions of stars, only one planet known to us, Earth, seems finely tuned for the emergence of life. And by what intermediate stages did non-life become life?

It’s a puzzle so improbable that Francis Crick was forced to argue that life was born somewhere else, Mars perhaps, and came here via meteorite, so making the mystery yet more mysterious.

How did life become sentient? And how did sentience grow to become self-consciousness, that strange gift, known only to Homo sapiens. So many improbabilities, Stephen J. Gould concluded, that if the process of evolution were run again from the beginning it is doubtful whether Homo sapiens would ever have been born.

You don’t have to be religious to have a sense of awe at the sheer improbability of things….

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, England / UK, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

Catherine Pepinster: Teenage pregnancy is a complex issue

But perhaps the problem is not so much this ‘me culture’, but the lack of another ‘me culture’. Yesterday, the social commentator Polly Toynbee said on this programme that good sex education was about giving girls the chance to say “no”. It is interesting that girls, post-feminism, should not be able to stand up for themselves. Yet sexual freedom appears to have made it harder for them to admit they don’t want to have sex, especially when they are bombarded with sexual imagery, and pressured by their peers into believing it’s great to be having sex.

Young people often lack confidence, and young teenage girls in particular can lack self-esteem. There’s certainly a ‘me culture’ today that’s an entirely self-centred one. But there’s another ‘me culture’ that’s about having regard for yourself, having a strong sense of your own worth. When people quote Christ saying love your neighbour as yourself, the emphasis is usually on how you treat others. But his words also make clear that you cannot reach out to others unless you love yourself.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, England / UK, Sexuality, Teens / Youth, Women

Joe Nocera on AIG: Propping Up a House of Cards

Here’s what is most infuriating: Here we are now, fully aware of how these scams worked. Yet for all practical purposes, the government has to keep them going. Indeed, that may be the single most important reason it can’t let A.I.G. fail. If the company defaulted, hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of credit-default swaps would “blow up,” and all those European banks whose toxic assets are supposedly insured by A.I.G. would suddenly be sitting on immense losses. Their already shaky capital structures would be destroyed. A.I.G. helped create the illusion of regulatory capital with its swaps, and now the government has to actually back up those contracts with taxpayer money to keep the banks from collapsing. It would be funny if it weren’t so awful.

I asked Mr. Arvanitis, the former A.I.G. executive, if the company viewed what it had done during the bubble as a form of gaming the system. “Oh no,” he said, “they never thought of it as abuse. They thought of themselves as satisfying their customers.”

That’s either a remarkable example of the power of rationalization, or they were lying to themselves, figuring that when the house of cards finally fell, somebody else would have to clean it up.

That would be us, the taxpayers.

Simply infuriating. Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Credit Markets, Economy, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, The 2009 Obama Administration Bank Bailout Plan, The Banking System/Sector, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--, The National Deficit, The September 2008 Proposed Henry Paulson 700 Billion Bailout Package, The U.S. Government, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

The Eastern European Tinderbox: How Explosive Could It Get?

The Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region is the sick man of emerging markets. While the global crisis means few, if any, bright spots worldwide, the situation in the CEE area is particularly bleak. After almost a decade of outpacing worldwide growth, the region looks set to contract in 2009, with almost every country either in or on the verge of recession. The once high-flying Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) look headed for double-digit contractions, while countries relatively less affected by the crisis (i.e. Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia) will have a hard time posting even positive growth. Meanwhile, Hungary and Latvia’s economies already deteriorated to the point where IMF help was needed late last year.

The CEE’s ill health is primarily driven by two factors ”“ collapsing exports and the drying-up of capital inflows. Exports were key to the region’s economic success, accounting for a significant 80-90% of GDP in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. By far the biggest market for CEE goods is the Eurozone, which is now in recession. Meanwhile, the global credit crunch has dried up capital inflows to the region. An easy flow of credit fueled Eastern Europe’s boom in recent years, but the good times are gone. According to the Institute of International Finance, net private capital flows to Emerging Europe are projected to fall from an estimated $254 billion in 2008 to $30 billion in 2009. Whether or not this is formally considered a ”˜sudden stop’ of capital, it will necessitate a very painful adjustment process.

What is especially worrisome is that the days of easy credit flows were accompanied by rising external imbalances that rival or even exceed the build-up of imbalances in pre-crisis Asia ”“ e.g. current account deficits in Southeast Asia from 1995-97 fell within the 3.0-8.5% of GDP range, while those in CEE were in the double-digits in Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltics in 2008. As examined in a recent RGE analysis piece, the vulnerabilities in many CEE countries ”“ high foreign currency borrowing, hefty levels of external debt and massive current-account deficits ”“ suggest the classic makings of a capital account crisis a la Asia in the late 1990s.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Economy, Europe, Globalization, The Banking System/Sector, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

The Church That Keeps on Giving

A wonderfully uplifting story about a parish making a difference through generosity–watch it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Evangelicals, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Stewardship

From the Poet Laureate of South Carolina: Toward the Sea

Read it carefully and read it all and here is more on the wonderful Marjory Wentworth.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * South Carolina, Poetry & Literature

Former Treasuer in N.Y. Episcopal Parish Charged with Half a Billion Plus Alleged Investment Fraud

(Paul Greenwood served as treasurer at St. James Episcopal Church in North Salem, New York and his wife was at one time a Sunday school teacher there also)–KSH.

Here in this tiny town of horse farms and rambling historic houses, town supervisor Paul Greenwood shared his wealth and was turning around the town, by some accounts.

But on Wednesday, the 61-year-old horse aficionado was arrested for an alleged investment scam, giving this small, elite town north of New York City a first-hand taste of the financial scandals rocking the country.

Mr. Greenwood and a partner at Westridge Capital Management, Stephen Walsh, were charged with conspiracy and wire fraud for an alleged scheme that may have cost investors at least $553 million. They are free on $7 million bond.

They also were sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Prosecutors allege that client money was used for horses, homes, collectible teddy bears and other luxuries.

Read it all and there is more there also.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Economics, Politics, Economy, Episcopal Church (TEC), Parish Ministry, Personal Finance, Stewardship, Stock Market, TEC Parishes

Warren Buffett's Yearly Letter

Amid this bad news, however, never forget that our country has faced far worse travails in the past. In the 20th century alone, we dealt with two great wars (one of which we initially appeared to be losing); a dozen or so panics and recessions; virulent inflation that led to a 21.5 prime rate in 1980; and the Great Depression of the 1930s, when unemployment ranged between 15 percent and 25 percent for many years. America has had no shortage of challenges.

Without fail, however, we’ve overcome them. In the face of those obstacles ”“ and many others ”“ the real standard of living for Americans improved nearly seven-fold during the 1900s, while the Dow Jones Industrials rose from 66 to 11,497. Compare the record of this period with the dozens of centuries during which humans secured only tiny gains, if any, in how they lived. Though the path has not been smooth, our economic system has worked extraordinarily well over time. It has unleashed human potential as no other system has, and it will continue to do so. America’s best days lie ahead.

It really is worth the time–read it all (22 page pdf).

Update: “Buffett Accepts Blame and Faults Others” is the title of the New York Times article on this here.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Economy, History, Stock Market, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

David Brooks: The uncertain trumpet

Most members of Congress and lobbyists are delighted that the White House has surrendered so much authority to Capitol Hill. Everybody is working on a way to push their own particular vision of reform through the muddle.

There are good plans on offer, but it won’t take long for this to get ugly. We’ll either get an irresponsible bill produced by the Old Order or no bill at all. It could be that even with a thousand “conversations,” no consensus will automatically emerge from the hundreds of players who have produced the gridlock of the past 30 years.

Even though the budget is not all one would have hoped, I’d trust the folks in the Obama administration to craft a decent health care plan before I’d trust the Congressional Old Bulls.

Obama blew a mighty trumpet Tuesday night, but after you blow the trumpet, you actually have to charge.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, House of Representatives, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, Senate, The U.S. Government

A great story about a girl with Peanut Allergies and the Dog who Helps her

Watch it all–makes the heart glad.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * General Interest, Animals, Children, Dieting/Food/Nutrition