Daily Archives: March 19, 2009
Thomas Gober, a former Mississippi state insurance examiner who has tracked fraud in the industry for 23 years and served previously as a consultant to the FBI and the Department of Justice, says he believes AIG’s supposedly solvent insurance business may be at least as troubled as its reckless financial-products unit. Far from being “healthy,” as state insurance regulators, ratings agencies and other experts have repeatedly described the insurance side, Gober calls it “a house of cards.” Citing numerous documents he has obtained from state insurance regulators and obscure data buried in AIG’s own 300-page annual reports, Gober argues that AIG’s 71 interlocking domestic U.S. insurance subsidiaries are in hock to each other to an astonishing degree.
Most of this as-yet-undiscovered problem, Gober says, lies in the area of reinsurance, whereby one insurance company insures the liabilities of another so that the latter doesn’t have to carry all the risk on its books. Most major insurance companies use outside firms to reinsure, but the vast majority of AIG’s reinsurance contracts are negotiated internally among its affiliates, Gober says, and these internal balance sheets don’t add up. The annual report of one major AIG subsidiary, American Home Assurance, shows that it owes $25 billion to another AIG affiliate, National Union Fire, Gober maintains. But American has only $22 billion of total invested assets on its balance sheet, he says, and it has issued another $22 billion in guarantees to the other companies. “The American Home assets and liquidity raise serious questions about their ability to make good on their promise to National Union Fire,” says Gober, who has a consulting business devoted to protecting policyholders. Gober says there are numerous other examples of “cooked books” between AIG subsidiaries. Based on the state insurance regulators’ own reports detailing unanswered questions, the tally in losses could be hundreds of billions of dollars more than AIG is now acknowledging.
Sagging endowments and other shrinking revenue streams are challenging the status quo at the nation’s seminaries, most of which aren’t cushioned by a link to an endowed university.
Among the 175 “free-standing” institutions in the Association of Theological Schools, 39% were “financially stressed,” with less than a year’s worth of spendable assets, a fall 2008 report says. That’s up from 26% a year earlier, and the data don’t reflect fallout from the stock market crash in the fall.
Making matters worse, enrollments at ATS schools have dropped 4% since 2006, marking the first consecutive-year decline in more than 20 years. The Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE) says enrollments are also down at 60% of Bible colleges, which train undergraduates for ministry.
Day 3 of our trip began in Selma, at Brown Chapel, which was the staging area and, later, the hospital for the marchers 44 years ago on the day that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”
The two-hour service was astonishing: a vivid portrait of the social and legal revolution that transpired in the second half of the 20th century.
The official speaker for the occasion was Eric Holder, the nation’s first African-American attorney general, who had been in office for less than a month. And the person who introduced him was the daughter of former Gov. George Wallace, who died in 1998 ”” the man who famously told the citizens of Alabama: “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” ”” the same George Wallace who in 1963 stood in the door at the University of Alabama seeking to block two black students from enrolling. One of those students was Vivian Malone, Holder’s late sister-in-law.
Now these many decades later, Wallace’s daughter Peggy Wallace Kennedy spoke of the civil rights marchers in Selma as a brave band of believers who carried the flag of freedom. In the darkest moments, she said, they never gave up on the inherent goodness of mankind.
A chaplain at Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton has resigned, she says, over a ban on use of the words “God” or “Lord” in public settings.
Chaplains still speak freely of the Almighty in private sessions with patients or families but, the Rev. Mirta Signorelli said: “I can’t do chaplain’s work if I can’t say ‘God’ ”” if I’m scripted.”
Hospice CEO Paula Alderson said the ban on religious references applies only to the inspirational messages that chaplains deliver in staff meetings. The hospice remains fully comfortable with ministers, priests and rabbis offering religious counsel to the dying and grieving.
“I was sensitive to the fact that we don’t impose religion on our staff, and that it is not appropriate in the context of a staff meeting to use certain phrases or ‘God’ or ‘Holy Father,’ because some of our staff don’t believe at all,” Alderson said.
She is not, and would never claim to be, some saintly figure serenely contemplating the prospect of a holy death-bed. That is precisely why her story has moved ordinary people so deeply. We can’t see ourselves as Theresa of Lisieux, but we can see ourselves as Jade Goody, fallible, human, frightened, yet right to the last longing for love, looking for hope, wanting to feel that the faith we have grasped makes some kind of sense, and that the life we have lived has a proper conclusion to it. A lot of us will want to say thank you, Jade, for reminding us that it does, and it has.
Growing world population will cause a “perfect storm” of food, energy and water shortages by 2030, the UK government chief scientist has warned.
By 2030 the demand for resources will create a crisis with dire consequences, Prof John Beddington said.
Demand for food and energy will jump 50% by 2030 and for fresh water by 30%, as the population tops 8.3 billion, he told a conference in London.
Climate change will exacerbate matters in unpredictable ways, he added.
“Despite his formality [Jonathan] Edwards was a passionate and affectionate man”¦.Once he had experienced the beauty of God’s redemptive love in Christ at the very center of the universe, everything else became secondary.”
–George Marsden, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), page 142
Unparalleled corporate greed and irresponsibility, predatory lending practices, and rampant consumerism have amplified domestic and global economic injustice. The global impact is difficult to calculate, except that the poor will become poorer and our commitment to continue our work toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 is at great risk. A specter of fear creeps not only across the United States, but also across the world, sometimes causing us as a people to ignore the Gospel imperative of self-sacrifice and generosity, as we scramble for self-preservation in a culture of scarcity.
The crisis is both economic and environmental. The drought that grips Texas, parts of the American South, California, Africa and Australia, the force of hurricanes that have wreaked so much havoc in the Caribbean, Central America and the Gulf Coast, the ice storm in Kentucky””these and other natural disasters related to climate change””result in massive joblessness, driving agricultural production costs up, and worsening global hunger. The wars nations wage over diminishing natural resources kill and debilitate not only those who fight in them, but also civilians, weakening families, and destroying the land. We as a people have failed to see this connection, compartmentalizing concerns so as to minimize them and continue to live without regard to the care of God’s creation and the stewardship of the earth’s resources that usher in a more just and peaceful world.
In this season of Lent, God calls us to repentance. We have too often been preoccupied as a Church with internal affairs and a narrow focus that has absorbed both our energy and interest and that of our Communion ”“ to the exclusion of concern for the crisis of suffering both at home and abroad. We have often failed to speak a compelling word of commitment to economic justice. We have often failed to speak truth to power, to name the greed and consumerism that has pervaded our culture, and we have too often allowed the culture to define us instead of being formed by Gospel values.
In your dioceses, many young men are presenting themselves as candidates for the priesthood. We can only thank the Lord for this. It is essential that serious discernment should take place. With this in mind, I encourage you, despite the organizational difficulties that can sometimes occur at the pastoral level, to give priority to the choice and training of formators and spiritual directors. They must have a personal and profound knowledge of the candidates for the priesthood, and must be capable of offering them a solid human, spiritual and pastoral formation so as to make them mature and balanced men, well prepared for priestly life. Your constant fraternal support will help the formators to accomplish their task in the love of the Church and her mission.
From the earliest days of the Christian faith in Cameroon, men and women religious have made an essential contribution to the life of the Church. I join you in giving thanks to God for this, and I rejoice at the development of consecrated life among the sons and daughters of your country, giving rise also to the expression of distinctively African charisms in communities that originated in your country. In fact, the profession of the evangelical counsels acts as “a sign that can and should effectively inspire all the members of the Church to fulfil indefatigably the duties of their Christian vocation” (Lumen Gentium, 44).
In your ministry of proclaiming the Gospel, you are also assisted by other pastoral workers, particularly catechists. In the evangelization of your country, they have played and they continue to play a key role. I thank them for their generosity and their faithfulness in the service of the Church. Through their work, an authentic inculturation of the faith is taking place. Their human, spiritual and doctrinal formation is therefore indispensable. The material, moral and spiritual support that they receive from their pastors, so that they can accomplish their mission in good living and working conditions, also serves to express to them the Church’s recognition of the importance of their commitment to proclaim the faith and foster its growth.
What has happened – not only in America but also in Britain – to this promise of a calm, pragmatic response to the world’s economic problems? This week Mr Obama expressed outrage at the $165 million bonuses paid by AIG, the stricken insurance group, to executives in its financial products division who are responsible for most of its tens of billions of dollars in losses.
In Britain the row over Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension continues to grow. And in both countries, hatred of bankers is making it difficult for governments to take further action to stabilise the banks and support economic growth.
The behaviour of the bankers who first blew up the world financial system and then proceeded to loot it, is genuinely outrageous and deserves political retribution. But that should take the form of recovering the booty by the normal processes of law.
President Barack Obama’s approval rating has slipped, as a growing number of Americans see him listening more to his party’s liberals than to its moderates and many voice opposition to some of his key economic proposals. Obama’s job approval rating has slipped from 64% in February to 59% currently, while disapproval has jumped from 17% to 26% over this period.
Although most people think the new president is doing as much as he can to fix the economy and relatively few say Obama’s policies have made the economy worse, the public expresses mixed views of his many major proposals to fix the economy.
Let’s just say in September, when Lehman failed, it took people two plus weeks to find out where all of the counterparties were. I am certain during that time, which is the same week that AIG came under significant duress, they thought the same thing. It would take a significant amount of time to name the counterparties.
Now, you know, several month later, they can know who the counterparties were, but at that time they didn’t know who the counterparties were, and that is what is so frightening about how perverted the system had gotten, in terms of people didn’t know where the bodies were. And so in a way, it was a Band-Aid approach to say, OK, here is money, get it where it needs to go, it buys them time.
And the government reaction in all of this seems to have been, OK, we need more time, we need more time.
The curious thing about Geithner rushing to get a plan was, they weren’t ready. You know, do your homework and then come to the table and have a real plan. But all of this, had all these unintended consequences, and so we are talking about a $165 million bonus pool when it is not the real issue.
Let me be specific: If you didn’t like reading about A.I.G. brokers getting millions in bonuses after their company ”” 80 percent of which is owned by U.S. taxpayers ”” racked up the biggest quarterly loss in the history of the Milky Way Galaxy, you’re really not going to like the bank bailout plan to be rolled out soon by the Obama team. That plan will begin by using up the $250 billion or so left in TARP funds to start removing the toxic assets from the banks. But ultimately, to get the scale of bank repair we need, it will likely require some $750 billion more.
The plan makes sense, and, if done right, it might even make profits for U.S. taxpayers. But in this climate of anger, it will take every bit of political capital in Barack Obama’s piggy bank ”” as well as Michelle’s, Sasha’s and Malia’s ”” to sell it to Congress and the public.
The job can’t be his alone. Everyone who has a stake in stabilizing and reforming the system is going to have to suck it up. And that starts with the brokers at A.I.G. who got the $165 million in bonuses. They need to voluntarily return them. Everyone today is taking a haircut of some kind or another, and A.I.G. brokers surely can be no exception. We do not want the U.S. government abrogating contracts ”” the rule of law is why everyone around the world wants to invest in our economy. But taxpayers should not sit quietly as bonuses are paid to people who were running an insurance scheme that would have made Bernie Madoff smile. The best way out is for the A.I.G. bankers to take one for the country and give up their bonuses.
I live in Montgomery County, Md. The schoolteachers here, who make on average $67,000 a year, recently voted to voluntarily give up their 5 percent pay raise that was contractually agreed to for next year, saving our school system $89 million ”” so programs and teachers would not have to be terminated. If public schoolteachers can take one for schoolchildren and fellow teachers, A.I.G. brokers can take one for the country.
Saying that the recession continues to deepen, the Federal Reserve announced Wednesday that it would pump an extra $1 trillion into the mortgage market and longer-term Treasury securities in order to revive the economy.
“Job losses, declining equity and housing wealth, and tight credit conditions have weighed on consumer sentiment and spending,” the Fed said, adding that it would “employ all available tools to promote economic recovery and to preserve price stability.”
As expected, the Fed kept its benchmark interest rate at virtually zero. But in a surprise, it dramatically increased the amount of money it will create out of thin air to thaw out the still-frozen credit markets that have cramped lending to consumers and businesses alike.