Sunday, April 24, 2011

A message for Easter Sunday

There are moments in time and space when transitory issues fade in significance as things that seem to matter so much are trumped by what really matters most.

Today, as people around the globe gather to remember, honor, and reflect on events that happened some 2,000 years ago in a micro-spot on the world map, it is fitting, I think, to take a departure from the relentless, and at times tedious debate about politics and policies big and small. Let us, for a moment at least (hopefully a life-long moment), focus on a simple, yet profound scenario. One that can be described succinctly and received joyously—it is something called the Gospel.

The word itself comes from the idea of “good news” or “glad tidings,” and is intended to be a divinely directed message of hope. It is a reminder that there is hope, now and in the future. And though we get worked up into a regular lather over issues that polarize people—and I am not suggesting that these issues lack importance—as I read the Biblical record I find it endlessly fascinating that a small group of people, from ordinary backgrounds, and with few natural gifts, could make such a difference in their world and history itself.

They were the first to experience The Easter Effect. They lived, worked, and later died with a sense of fulfillment and joy because they never got over what they knew to be true, having seen it with their own eyes. They were dramatically changed people. We could use the word “converted” to describe it, completely transformed by an encounter with that aforementioned simple scenario involved in the Gospel. The Apostle Paul put it this way:
“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” (I Corinthians 15:1-8 NIV)

When he wrote this, and as first century Christians migrated and ministered en route to the uttermost parts of the earth, it was against the backdrop of the rule of Rome. Social, political, and cultural dynamics were arguably a bit more challenging than what we see in America today, but those pioneers of the faith once for all delivered were largely unmoved by what would seem to be a daunting challenge. This was because they grasped the concept that the message of the Gospel was more about redemption than reformation, more about individual salvation than solving social problems, more about a world to come than the world that was—or is.

This is not to say that these souls on fire were indifferent to cultural or political matters, but they knew that ultimate hope and change were never really possible via human means and methods. And when they did pray for those in authority—even those with tyrannical tendencies in Rome—they did so with the seemingly singular goal of desiring to be left alone in a sort of libertarian way:
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” – (I Timothy 2:1-5 NIV)

Like the prayer for the Tsar in Fiddler on the Roof—that he may stay far away—this was a plea for freedom. But it was also a plea for a particular kind of freedom, to be able to live right and model and share the hope of the Gospel.

They were a generation under the influence of The Easter Effect—people who were changed from the inside out and who eventually turned the world upside down (See: Acts 17:6).

Happy Easter—He Is Risen!



US economy just a notch above Greece

US finances are in almost as troubled a state as the worst-hit members of the euro zone, economists say, underscoring the pressing need for Washington to reach agreement on how to reduce the deficit. A gauge of "sovereign risk" from economists at Deutsche Bank placed the United States just behind Greece, Ireland and Portugal among 14 advanced economies.

The report, from economists led by Peter Hooper, warned that a failure to make substantial political progress on deficit reduction "would substantially raise the risk of a bond market crisis".

The warning comes days after Standard & Poor's said that it may lower its AAA assessment of the US, amid a political log jam over debt reduction in Washington, and will intensify market concerns about Western governments' debts.

Last night George Papandreou, the Greek Prime Minister, strongly criticised credit rating agencies, saying that they were "seeking to shape our destiny and determine the future of our children".

The Finance Ministry in Athens has asked prosecutors to look into an e-mail sent by a London-based Citigroup trader that referred to market rumours of a restructuring of Greek debt as soon as this weekend. Citigroup has denied any wrongdoing.

Insurance contracts linked to Greek bond swaps suggest that the country has a 67 per cent chance of defaulting within five years, even after accepting a 110 billion euros ($149bn) emergency loan.

This week the implied cost of borrowing on its ten-year bonds rose to 15 per cent, while yields on Irish ten-year government bonds hit 9.8 per cent and yields on their Portuguese equivalents rose to 9.22 per cent.

Greece is one small element of wider sovereign debt concerns that have begun to encompass the US, the world's biggest economy. Capitol Hill has been consumed with political wrangling over whether to increase a $US14.3 trillion ($13.3 trillion) debt ceiling that is due to be breached next month.

If the US national debt hits that level, it would trigger a default.

Deutsche Bank's analysis acknowledged that the risk attached by financial markets to US debt remained very low, as demonstrated by the country's modest borrowing rates. That was in part due to the US dollar remaining the premier reserve currency for world governments.

However, the report noted: "Reputation and reserve currency status can be lost, and failure to move US fiscal policy off its currently unsustainable path would certainly increase the risk."

For the time being, though, Democrats and Republicans have been mired in mudslinging over the debt ceiling.

The White House yesterday accused Republican congressmen of risking a global recession by refusing to agree to raise the debt ceiling unless the move was paired with deep spending cuts.

Even if a deal is struck on time, that will not eradicate the risk of political deadlock over longer-term fiscal problems, such as spiralling healthcare spending.

Projections from the Congressional Budget Office suggest that the national debt could rise from 62 per cent of GDP to 100 per cent in 2025 and 200 per cent by 2040, compared with its 1946 high of 122 per cent.



The Kennedy Curve

For years, I have puzzled over the mystery of the liberal mindset. I have concluded that it makes no sense to ascribe the capacity of deductive reasoning to an adult American leftist.

The most distinctive display of this phenomenon that I have witnessed in my 55 years of life happened about seven years ago when I had the occasion to speak directly with Senator Ted Kennedy.

I had long wondered why Democrats did not act more strategically with tax rates in order to optimize their collection of revenues. I was about to meet the Democratic Party’s “Lion of the Senate” and I did not want to miss this opportunity. I had studied Arthur Laffer’s theory of the relationship between tax rates and economic behavior, famously coined the Laffer Curve. Dr. Laffer reasons that, once taxes exceed a particular rate, say 18%, revenue producers begin to pay more attention to protecting their earnings and less attention to growing their businesses. At some point, the burden of this defensive behavior results in larger pieces of much smaller pies and a net loss for the tax collector.

So, I began by citing the Laffer Curve and asked Senator Kennedy, “How do you calculate what would be an appropriate level of taxation?”

I recall him shaking his head positively at the words “Laffer Curve” as if to acknowledge that he knew just what I was getting at and he was ready to teach me before I could even finish asking the question.

Quoting directly from my video of the conversation, the Senator began his answer with, “I think the question is, do you have in balance a… Let me put it this way; I wish we had the same review of tax expenditures that we have in terms of spending. We add all kinds of incentives to the tax code. We rarely, if ever, review them or repeal them. … We ought to look at the spending and find out what are going to be the results of that spending. … I think it’s a fair question to ask. …. With this spending, what are we getting for it? … What the percentage is, whether its 16 or 18 percent, whatever … I think it really more has to do with what are we spending it on.”

I marveled at watching Ted Kennedy transform my engagement into a conversation that he would prefer to have.



Another Leftist fraud

He is clearly a psychopath. A lot of Leftists are but he is so bad that only a fellow-Leftist could believe him

The first tip-off that Greg Mortenson's memoir "Three Cups of Tea" has some credibility issues comes in the book's introduction. Co-author David Oliver Relin writes that as Mortenson is flying over Pakistan, the helicopter pilot marvels to Mortenson, "I've been flying in northern Pakistan for 40 years. How is it you know the terrain better than me?"

The pilot also confides, "Flying with President Musharraf, I've become acquainted with many world leaders, many outstanding gentlemen and ladies. But I think Greg Mortenson is the most remarkable person I've ever met." People don't talk like that. Books don't lead with that level of self-aggrandizement. Unless they want to induct you into a cult.

Last Sunday, "60 Minutes" reporter Steve Kroft ripped into Mortenson's claim of stumbling years ago into a Pakistani village as he descended from a K2 climb and meeting a young girl who asked him to build a school. While he refused Kroft's request for an on-camera interview, in a statement, Mortenson admitted his version of events was "condensed."

It seems Mortenson also fabricated a story of being kidnapped by the Taliban. Kroft interviewed Mansur Khan Mahsud, the research director of an Islamabad think tank, who was surprised to see himself in a photo that Mortenson had claimed showed his 1996 captors. In the statement, Mortenson explained that "Talib" means student of Arabic. And Khan wants to sue him for defamation.

The worst part: "60 Minutes" checked out 30 of the 141 schools that Mortenson's charity, Central Asia Institute, claimed to have built in Afghanistan and Pakistan "mostly for girls." Kroft reported, "Roughly half were empty, built by someone else or not receiving any support at all."

American Institute of Philanthropy President Daniel Borochoff found that in 2009, CAI spent more on "domestic outreach" -- largely advertising and travel promoting Mortenson's books, "like a book tour" -- than it spent overseas.

"Into Thin Air" author Jon Krakauer, who is mentioned in "Three Cups" as a CAI supporter, charged that Mortenson, who has made millions in book sales, used the charity "as his private ATM."

That revelation must have hit "Three Cups" fans in the gut. The memoir asserts that Mortenson made repeated sacrifices -- such as living in his car rather than pay rent -- because "every wasted dollar stole bricks or books from the school."

But there were so many other signals that the book was problematic.

In "Three Cups," Mortenson charmed his Taliban kidnappers by asking for a Quran and showing his devotion -- and so they let him go. Which is amazing.

More amazing was the claim that they gave him money, saying, "For your schools. So, Inshallah, you'll build many more." (It helps if you forget how bad the Taliban take on education for girls is.)

There were other signals. Writer Ann Marlowe questioned some of the "anti-military nonsense" in a 2008 Forbes commentary. Mortenson claimed that during his stint as an Army medic in Germany, Vietnam veterans were hooked on heroin and died "in their bunks and we'd have to go and collect their bodies." Marlowe suggested that readers take his tales with "three grains of salt."

Instead, he sold 3 million books. Why? Through the pouring of "Three Cups," Mortenson came to personify every liberal conceit. He pushed books, not bombs. He had a nuanced take on Islamic extremism. He's not afraid of terrorism; for him, "the enemy is ignorance."

Marlowe observed, "The implication is that this solitary do-gooder's work is a better model for helping the rural poor in areas that are a breeding ground for Islamic extremism." While to the contrary, the U.S. Army built more schools in just one Afghan province in 15 months than CAI built in a decade.

Listeners of KQED-FM's "Forum" last week were outraged and perplexed. On the one hand, Mortenson has done a lot of good for a lot of children. On the other hand, the "60 Minutes" story makes his fans look gullible.

A caller asked: How are we supposed to know a book is a phony? Hmmmm. If the cash-giving girls-school-loving Taliban tale doesn't ring a bell, if the constant reminders of Mortenson's greatness -- and modesty -- don't do the trick, maybe there is another warning sign. Global Fund for Women Vice President Shalini Nataraj warned about any memoir that hails "the white savior who's going to come in and save the local people."



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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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