Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Systemic Failure

The Root of the Problem

Patrick J Buchanan has written a pointed piece on the greatest debt crisis of this century (so far). His reference to John Adams on the necessary moral foundations of government if the Constitution is to survive is telling.

Systemic Failure

By Patrick J. Buchanan

As the U.S. financial crisis broadens and deepens, wiping out the wealth and savings of tens of millions, destroying hopes and dreams, it is hard not to see in all of this history’s verdict upon this generation.

We have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

For how did this befall us, save through decisions that brushed aside lessons that history and experience had taught our fathers?

It all began with the corruption called sub-prime mortgages.

The motivation was not wicked. Democrats wanted to raise home ownership among African-Americans from 50 percent to the 75 percent of white folks. Rove Republicans wanted to do the same for Hispanics.

Banks were morally pressured by politicians into making home loans to folks who could not remotely qualify under standards set by decades of experience with mortgage defaults.

Made by the millions, these loans were sold in vast quantities to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. There they were packaged, converted into mortgage-backed securities and sold to the big banks. The banks put scores of billions of dollars worth on their books and sold the rest to foreign banks anxious to acquire Triple-A securities, backed by real estate in America’s ever-booming housing market.

Computer whizzes devised exotic instruments — derivatives, which could soar in value, making instant multimillionaires, but also plummet, based on rises and dips in the underlying value of the paper.

Came now young geniuses at AIG to insure the banks against catastrophic losses, should the U.S. housing market crash. As the risk was minuscule, premiums were tiny. Payouts, however, should it come to that, were beyond AIG’s capacity.

In AIG’s Financial Products division, based in Connecticut and London, brainiacs were creating other exotic instruments, such as credit default swaps to guarantee against losses and insure profits. To keep these wunderkinds at AIG, they were promised million-dollar retention bonuses.

Who kept the game going?

The Federal Reserve, by keeping interest rates low and money gushing into the economy, created the bubble that saw housing prices rise annually at 10, 15 and 20 percent.

As the economy grew, however, the Fed began to tighten, to raise interest rates. Mortgage terms became tougher. Housing prices stabilized. Homeowners with sub-prime mortgages now found they had to start paying down principal. People losing jobs began to walk away from their houses.

Belatedly, folks awoke to the reality that housing prices could go south as well as north, and all that paper spread all over the world was overvalued, and a good bit of it might be worthless.

And, so, the crash came and the panic ensued.

Who is to blame for the disaster that has befallen us?

Their name is legion.

There are the politicians who bullied banks into making loans the banks knew were bad to begin with and would never have made without threats or the promise of political favors.

There is that den of thieves at Fannie and Freddie who massaged the politicians with campaign contributions and walked away from the wreckage with tens of millions in salaries and bonuses.

There are the idiot bankers who bought up securities backed by sub-prime mortgages and were too indolent to inspect the rotten paper on their books. There are the ratings agencies, like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, who gazed at the paper and declared it to be Grade A prime.

In short, this generation of political and financial elites has proven itself unfit to govern a great nation. What we have is a system failure that is rooted in a societal failure. Behind our disaster lie the greed, stupidity and incompetence of the leadership of a generation.

Does Dr. Obama have the cure for the sickness that ails the republic?

He is going to borrow and spend trillions more to bring back the good old days, though it was the good old days that brought us to the edge of the abyss into which we have fallen. Then he is going to spend new trillions to give us benefits we do not now have, though the national debt is surging to 100 percent of the Gross National Product, and may reach there by 2011.

Is Obama willing to speak hard truths?

Is he willing to say that home ownership is for those with sound credit and solid jobs? Is he willing to say that credit, whether for auto loans, or student loans, or consumer purchases, should be restricted to those who have shown the maturity to manage debt — and no others need apply?

“Avarice, ambition,” warned John Adams, “would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

In this deepening crisis, what is being tested is not simply the resilience of capitalism, but the character of a people.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Meditation on the Text of the Week

In the Days and Years of Our Lord

Therefore, if any man is in Christ he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold new things have come.
II Corinthians 5: 17
Things have changed for good, and forever. This is the undoubted Christian faith. We believe that human history is decisively shaped and conditioned by the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord. The Cross is the archimedian point of history. All history before the Cross was leading up to it. All history after the Cross was and has been shaped and controlled by it. For the Christian, the future is nothing other than an outworking of an act—a divine act—which is already past these now two thousand years, yet remains the determinant of our present days.

We do not know how long the current dispensation will continue—which is to say, we (no-one) knows when the Final Advent of our Lord will occur. The Final Advent may be thousands of years hence (for which there is some Scriptural evidence). But we do know that the longer time elapsed between the events of Calvary and the Final Advent, the more the Cross and its attendant realities will intrude, shape, effect, and ultimately control human history.

It is only Christians who have this understanding and view of humanity and its course upon the earth. It is only Christians who have this philosophy of history or of mankind. At the centre stands the Cross; all else is either prequel or denouement. Here is a summary of how “things” changed radically and comprehensively at the Cross.

1. Atonement was made for the sins of Christ's people (I Peter 3:18). All evil, guilt and its consequences have been removed from the gaze and consideration of God. We are free! As far as the east is from the west, so far have our transgressions been removed from us.

2. The Ruler of the world up until the time of Christ was dethroned and cast out. Satan was dethroned from his position of controlling men and nations. (John 12: 30,31: “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”)

3. The Ruler of this world became the risen, ascended Christ. He was invested with all power and authority in heaven and upon earth. From the time of the Ascension onwards human history has been at His design and command. (Philippians 2: 9—11: “Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”)

4. A Kingdom was set up which would break all humanist realms and kingdoms and would expand to fill and control the whole earth. This is the whole point of Daniel's proclamation to King Nebuchadnezzar. The four great empires of Babylon, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman were all part of one vast human statue: they were humanist realms, under the dominion of the then Ruler of this world. But a stone made without hands came and crushed what was in reality one empire; but that stone of God expanded to fill the whole earth. Daniel left us in no doubt of the significance or meaning. (Daniel 2:44. “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.”)

5. Jesus Christ was appointed as the Man who would judge the whole earth, and the day and hour of that court session was also appointed. So Paul declared to the Athenians. (Acts 17:31 “Because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead.”) Both the court date and the Judge has now been set.

6. All the nations of the earth are to be discipled, in fulfilment of God's promise to Abraham that he would bless and be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Thus, human history since the Cross is not primarily about wars and rumours of wars, about kings and empires, or trade agreements or living standards. It is about the progressive and inevitable discipling of all the nations to the Lord. (Matthew 28:18—20 “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'”)

7. A new humanity is being created. Christ rose as the second Adam to create a new human race which replaces the old, fallen race. The new human race lives in deep and growing gratitude to the Son of God; all walls of division and partition are broken down. None of the divisions and enmity, which have so racked the old humanity and divided it asunder into warring factions, can gain any traction. There is neither male nor female, rich nor poor, slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile, Arab nor Israeli, and neither black nor white. Christ is all in all. (Colossians 3: 11) Now, of course the white man does not stop being white. Nor does a slave stop being a slave. Nor does a woman cease to be a daughter of Eve. In a wonderful way, each of these distinctive characteristics becomes more distinct and pronounced—and welcomed and appreciated. It is just that these distinctives are not the currency of strife and division—for the bonds of Christ are stronger and tighter than anything else. The more the Kingdom comes, the more these realities come to the fore. The more they are evident.

This unity and love in Christ makes the new humanity a reality. But it is utterly impossible for the old humanity to replicate or reproduce a similar phenomenon. The old lies torn, rent, broken, and misshapen—and always will.

We are blessed and privileged to live in the times of Messiah. We know what we are asking for when we pray, “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Saturday, 28 March 2009

The First Two Months

The Obama Record

The Economist has presented its take on the first two months of Obama's presidency. It is one of the most widely read weekly publications in the world. The Economist is usually marked by serious and thoughtful analysis that is grounded in well-researched and clearly written prose.

The account of Obama's first two months is balanced, yet puts its finger on the most worrying issues.

Coming down to earth
Mar 26th 2009
From The Economist print edition


The president has had a bumpy ride in his first two months

TWO months after his inauguration, Barack Obama can already point to some impressive achievements. He has passed a $787 billion stimulus bill—the biggest in American history—and outlined an ambitious agenda for reforming health care and education, tackling entitlements and pushing “green” energy. He has also delighted his admirers at home and abroad by beginning to reverse George Bush’s policies on such controversial subjects as talking to Iran, global warming, the treatment of enemy combatants and stem-cell research.

Unfortunately, Mr Obama’s critics can also point to a striking record of failures. A startling number of his nominees for senior positions have imploded. The upper ranks of the Treasury remain empty in the midst of the most serious recession since the 1930s. Warren Buffett, an early Obama-supporter and a man legendary for holding on to stocks that he has backed, thinks that the president is taking his eye off the ball. Andy Grove, a former head of Intel, describes the administration’s performance as “ineffectual”. Even the commentariat, which swooned over Mr Obama’s campaign, is running out of patience.

Many of Mr Obama’s achievements have a Potemkin quality.


He signed a $410 billion spending bill that contains 8,570 earmarks (directing funds to specific projects), despite his pledge to reduce the practice. His budget rests on unrealistic assumptions about America’s future economic growth and about the cost of his spending programmes. He throws out numbers like confetti: Peter Orszag, his usually impressive budget director, made a dismal job of explaining to Congress where Mr Obama intended to find the $634 billion “down payment” he promised for health-care reform.

Mr Obama’s erratic performance is partly the result of the rollercoaster world he finds himself in. Few presidents have come to power with as much political capital. Mr Obama beat John McCain by seven points. His party has majorities of 39 seats in the House of Representatives and ten in the Senate. The administration can also draw on the brainpower and political muscle of a powerful network of liberal think-tanks and pressure-groups that were formed during the Bush years. But this understates his strength. His election represented a turning point in America’s bitter racial history. It also possibly coincided with the end of a conservative era that began with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.

At the same time Mr Obama confronts an unusually difficult set of challenges. America is in the grip of a recession that is crushing jobs and reducing demand at an alarming rate. Some of America’s most famous financial institutions have collapsed. General Motors is on the verge of collapse. The unemployment rate, which is already 8.1%, could hit double figures. The American political system is arguably more dysfunctional than ever, with the parties heavily polarised and the 24-hour-news cycle magnifying bad news.

All this means that Mr Obama’s first two months in office are difficult to evaluate. But a few things seem pretty clear. This is a strikingly ambitious president: he wants to be “transformative” in more than just the sense of being the first black president. But so far his presidency has been vitiated by a combination of incompetence and a willingness to fall back on the very tactics that he denounced as a candidate. Indeed, his desire to be “transformative” may be contributing to his problems, distracting him from the economic crisis.

The pragmatic liberal

Mr Obama has already outlined the most ambitious agenda for transforming America since the Reagan revolution: proposing universal health care, expanding the role of the federal government in education, tackling global warming and reducing America’s growing inequalities. This has ignited a fierce debate about his ideology. Is he an unreconstructed liberal who will provide the left’s answer to Ronald Reagan? Or is he a New Democrat, as he himself claims? The answer is probably a mixture of the two. Mr Obama is a pragmatic liberal, more confident about big government than Bill Clinton’s New Democrats, but less wedded to liberal solutions than many of the old lions in his party.

He has spent his career, apart from a year or so in business consultancy, in the non-profit sector, first as a community organiser and later as a rising politician. In his memoirs he often speaks disparagingly about the private sector. He draws some of his keenest support from trade unions and liberal pressure-groups. The most influential think-tank in Mr Obama’s Washington, the training ground for many of his top appointees, is the Centre for American Progress, funded by liberal billionaires such as George Soros and Peter Lewis.

But the president also has a pragmatist’s suspicion of ideology. Some of the most prominent figures in his administration are centrists. Kathleen Sebelius, his prospective health secretary, was a popular governor of Kansas, one of the country’s most conservative states. Larry Summers, his chief economic adviser, is a famous gorer of liberal ones. Cass Sunstein, his regulation tsar, argues that the government should use market incentives to “nudge” people rather than bludgeoning them directly.

Mr Obama certainly plans to increase taxes on the rich—but only to their level during Mr Clinton’s administration, which presided over the high-tech boom and a surge in the small-business sector. Mr Obama wants to reform the health-care sector. But he prefers to supplement the private system rather than replace it with a “single-payer” national health service; many of his supporters are business people crushed by the cost of health care. He wants to increase the role of the federal government in education. But he also speaks eloquently about introducing more merit pay and creating more charter schools. “The resources come with a bow tied around them that says ‘reform’,” argues his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. The administration’s nervousness about old-fashioned liberalism has contributed to its hesitancy in dealing with the banking crisis. Rather than simply “nationalising” the weakest banks and taking over their bad debt, it has preferred to create an elaborate system of incentives for private investors.

If his domestic policy is a mix of pragmatism and liberal ambition, his foreign policy is a mixture of pragmatism and liberal caution. He has revised the legal regime governing al-Qaeda terrorists, put an end to brutal interrogations and promised to close down Guant├ínamo Bay, to the delight of the anti-war left. But otherwise his policy is characterised by a combination of realism and caution. Realism when dealing with other powers: he has signalled to the Chinese that he will not make a fuss over human rights, and to Arab rulers that he will take a more balanced approach to the Middle East. Caution when it comes to unwinding the “war on terror”: he has rethought his campaign promise to withdraw America’s troops from Iraq in 16 months, is increasing America’s military presence in Afghanistan and is stepping up strikes into Pakistani territory.

Obamateur

The biggest surprise of Mr Obama’s first two months has not been his policy preferences (most of which he advertised), but a certain lack of competence. The man who earned the sobriquet “No Drama Obama” for running such a disciplined campaign has, since coming to office, slipped on one banana skin after another.

He has lost a remarkable number of nominees: two potential commerce secretaries, Bill Richardson and Judd Gregg; a health secretary-cum-health-reform tsar, Tom Daschle; a chief performance officer, Nancy Killefer; and a head of the National Intelligence Council, Charles Freeman. This has clouded his administration’s claims to ethical purity, not least because two of the nominees, Mr Daschle and Mr Killefer, had tax problems. It has also contributed to the sense of chaos.

Mr Obama is paying a heavy price for securing the nomination of his treasury secretary, Tim Geithner. Mr Geithner’s tax problems meant that the White House had to be super-scrupulous in vetting other Treasury figures. He was uncertain in his early public appearances and slow to produce a plan for sorting out America’s banks. Mr Obama’s confidence in him may at last be paying off; his plan for buying “toxic assets”, released this week, sent the markets soaring, he gave a confident performance before Congress, and the senior ranks of his department are now beginning to fill up. But it would have been nice not to have waited so long for the Treasury to start firing on all cylinders.

The Obama administration has also made a long list of smaller mistakes. Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, ought to be one of Mr Obama’s closest allies in fixing the global financial system, for both ideological and historical reasons. But Mr Obama badly mishandled his meeting with Mr Brown, giving him no more than half an hour and presenting him with a gift of a job lot of DVDs which do not even work in Britain. The G20 meeting in London is the first get-together of all the big industrial countries since Mr Obama came to office. But the administration’s preparations have been cursory.

Many of Mr Obama’s mistakes stem from a single strategic miscalculation: he is trying to do too much too quickly. The financial crisis would overwhelm any administration, let alone one that is still trying to fill key jobs. But Mr Obama has chosen this moment to tackle a collection of problems, such as health care and environmental regulation, that have defeated much less overburdened administrations.

The administration advances two justifications for this, one substantive (you can’t fix America’s economy without also dealing with its long-term problems) and one political (“Never waste a good crisis”). The American economy will certainly be stronger if the country can tame its health-care costs. But health-care inflation has nothing to do with the financial crisis. The problem with never wasting a good crisis is that you alienate potential supporters, particularly Republicans, and risk overloading the system. “Mr Obama likes to say that presidents can do more than one thing at a time,” remarks Peggy Noonan, a Reagan speech writer, “but in fact modern presidents are lucky to do one thing at a time, never mind two.” It is worth remembering that Mr Obama’s idol, Franklin Roosevelt, introduced a broad reform agenda only after he had gained credit for tackling the banking crisis.

There is plenty of evidence that the administration is much too thinly stretched. David Smick, a consultant, argues that Mr Obama has a three-pronged approach to the crisis—“delay, delay, delay”. He announces grand plans only to stint on the details. He promises budgetary discipline only to put off the hard decisions until later. The president pops up with a speech excoriating AIG bonuses (“I am angry”) but fails to explain the thinking behind his economic programme. Mr Buffett has given voice to widespread worries about the administration’s failure to prioritise. “Job one is to win the war, the economic war. Job two is to win the economic war—and job three. And you can’t expect people to unite behind you if you’re trying to jam a whole bunch of things down their throat.”

Mr Obama’s decision to announce a big-spending budget just when he is spending billions to rescue the financial system has also reinforced worries about America’s fiscal situation. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that some of Mr Obama’s social policies will be more expensive than the White House claims, and that the economy will grow more slowly. The deficit will be $9.3 trillion over the next decade, averaging 5.3% of GDP a year. Mr Orszag concedes that such a number would be unsustainable.

Politics-as-usual

Almost as striking as the contrast between Mr Obama’s soaring ambition and his frequent incompetence is that between his promise to elevate politics and his willingness to continue with politics-as-usual. All presidents run for office promising to change Washington and end up becoming its captives. But few have reversed themselves as quickly as the Hope-meister.

Take bipartisanship. It is true that Mr Obama has made some bipartisan appointments, keeping Robert Gates at the Pentagon and giving transport to Ray LaHood. He made concessions in stimulus negotiations, and has invited a few Republicans over for cocktails. But his bipartisanship has been mostly of the George Bush variety: he is quite happy for his opponents to endorse his policies.

He has surrounded himself with hardened Democratic “pols” such as Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, and David Axelrod, his campaign strategist-turned-senior adviser. He has filled the top levels of his administration almost exclusively with people from the world of government: a former senator (at State), two former government officials (Treasury and Defence), two former governors (Health and Homeland Security). David Ignatius of the Washington Post points out that this administration is “as thin on business experience as a Hyde Park book club”. This not only limits the range of advice he can hear and the experience he can draw on. It also makes it even more difficult to prevent panic on Wall Street or Main Street.

Mr Obama is now enthusiastically engaged in something that he foreswore as a candidate: the art of the permanent campaign. Senior White House advisers meet every Wednesday night to plot political strategy. Mr Obama’s former campaign manager, David Plouffe, is e-mailing millions of Obama supporters to encourage them to put pressure on their congressional representatives to pass the budget. Mr Obama gives a striking share of his set piece speeches in swing states. The Obama team has repeatedly suggested that the Republicans are a party of “no” who owe fealty to Rush Limbaugh, a polarising talk-radio host. In other words, Mr Obama is squandering his political capital doing exactly what Mr Clinton did so often in his presidency: justifying his mistakes, trying to get the better of the 24-hour news cycle, and demonising opponents.

Mr Obama’s decision to restart the campaign engine is a sign of his administration’s troubles. It is desperate to distract attention from the fact that it has broken some of its promises. It is determined to manage the anger stirred up by the huge bonuses paid to various AIG honchos. It is also desperate to make sure that the Republican Party cannot make too much political capital from the chaos at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The result is a downward spiral: the more Mr Obama fails, the more he resorts to the permanent campaign, and the more he resorts to the permanent campaign, the more he becomes just like any other president.

To add to the impression of business as usual, Mr Obama is continuing the long-standing trend of amassing ever more power in the White House. He has appointed a clutch of powerful White House-based tsars to oversee Cabinet offices. These tsars have no accountability to anybody but Mr Obama. They have every incentive to engage in empire building and turf wars. For example, Jim Jones, the national security adviser, is redefining the role of the NSC to oversee everything from traditional foreign policy to climate change. American liberals complained bitterly about the Bush administration’s politicisation of intelligence. But Mr Obama has arguably taken this politicisation to new heights by appointing Leon Panetta, a Democratic loyalist with no roots in the intelligence world, to oversee the CIA.

The president cannot yet be described as a failure. It is still early days. America’s political system, unlike Britain’s elective dictatorship, is designed to be frustrating. Power is divided. Congress uses its position to inject bloat into legislation. Presidents ricochet between success and failure. At this point in the election cycle Mr Clinton was embroiled in the gays-in-the-military fiasco and John Kennedy was heading towards the Bay of Pigs.

The confirmation process has been getting ever longer and more traumatic. Every recent president has seen presidential nominees flame out in disgrace. Polarisation has intensified. The recession raises questions that go to the heart of the ideological division between the parties: should you resort to Keynesian stimulus or Schumpeterian creative destruction? Should you bail out people who have borrowed too much money or let them sink? Even a president who had worked hard at bipartisanship might have been undone by these divisions. Mr Obama’s approval ratings remain in the 60s, despite the pressure of a global crisis, and the Republicans remain unpopular and rudderless.

During the election campaign Mr Obama was frequently slow to respond to crises. Then, just when his supporters began to despair and his opponents began to smell blood, he would pull himself together and rise to the occasion. Mr Obama has been slow to get the full measure of the presidency. He has failed to establish firm priorities, and has all too often let events dictate his agenda. All in all, his performance has looked shaky. But at last this week there were signs, when he revealed his bank bail-out plan, that he is starting to do what he did so often during the campaign: justifying the enormous faith that has been put in him.


We retain our view that President Obama's presidency will be a failure. He will be compared most often to the disastrous President Carter. So far he has played the part pretty much faithfully to script--with one key additional factor. Both alike appear to be breathtakingly arrogant and very ambitious to change the world. Yet Carter was not nearly so partisan and polarising as Obama has so far turned out to be. Such partisanship will make his incompetence far worse. The damage to the Democratic party is likely to be far reaching.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Self-Serving Marxists

Money and Corruption

We have a few blind, self serving Marxists left in New Zealand. They have been particularly vociferous of late, speaking out against various government actions (such as, the voluntary Ninety Day Trial Period for new employees; the voluntary monetising of one week's annual leave per year; and an alleged privatising of the Accident Compensation Corporation; and the evils of privately run prisons).

They complain that the Government is ideologically hide bound, that world affairs are moving far too swiftly (images of financial tsunami are liberally employed), that workers are going to suffer, that employers will exploit them, and so forth. They have called for a vast expansion of government spending and activity and regulation as the key to coping with the economic recession. Capitalism has failed. Free markets have caused the problem. The solution lies in more government intervention, controls, ownership, spending--and so forth. Every move to liberalise--that is, remove government regulations and increase choices and options in the market place or the work place--is pilloried as exploitation of the working man.

The Marxist world view is a strange beast. But it does have enormous pulling power. It always has a visceral appeal to most men and women. This appeal has nothing to do with the soundness of its economics, nor the rectitude of Marxist ethics. Marxism has a powerful visceral pull because Marxists persistently appeal to envy.

But this is not its only evil aspect. Marxism propounds that all of human life and existence is materialistically determined. Men and women are what they are because the arrangement of the means of production of goods and services determines how they will think, act, and be. If they do not have a sufficient amount of goods and services they will not only be poor but will be brutish, evil, oppressed and depressed. Those who have too much will also be evil and brutish, but will use their advantage to oppress and depress those who have less. Having "too much" capital, and not having enough are equally conducive to making men act and think evilly.

Being too wealthy makes you an evil oppressor; not having enough makes you a victim. Into this maelstrom steps the philosophically enlightened Marxist who is neither an oppressor nor a victim. He has been enlightened by scientific materialism. He is now without sin. With his clarity of moral vision he is able to stand up for the poor and oppressed, and face down the exploiting capitalist.

He is not phased by any evil or brutish behaviour on the part of the less wealthy because he knows that when they receive more than what they have, evil will attenuate. They will become more holy and ethical, like, well, himself. As for the wealthy, their evil also will attenuate as they become less wealthy. Their means of exploitation removed, they will tend to become more and more like, well, himself. All will come to think and act as the model Marxist human being.

With his idolatry firmly in place the Marxist has an ideological hide bound view of all commercial arrangements and transactions: the capitalists (the owners of the means of production) will take every advantage to exploit, oppress and depress those less fortunate than themselves. So, the recently enacted Ninety Day Free trial period will result in employers exploiting workers. Therefore it is bad. Monetising one week's leave will result in employers exploiting staff by forcing them to take money instead of leave. Therefore it is bad.

The role of the Marxist is to stand up for employees and protect them and fight on their behalf against the exploitation of the monied and the rich. It is only the Marxist that can do this because the Marxist has escaped the moral corruption of both capital and labour.

Marxist idolatry is sufficiently simplistic and one-dimensional as to be risible. Nevertheless there are plenty in Athens who find its doctrines attractive and compelling. This tells us more about how envy racks the human heart and confuses the mind than it does about the relative merits of Marxism.

Jerusalem has nothing in common with Marxism. It is sadly true that there have been particular sections of our City which have espoused Marxist dogma to one extent or another. Regrettably they have confused this with the Christian ethic of charity and care for the suffering. They have adopted parts of the Marxist world-view, and ended up crucifying the Faith. But, in the end, these folk have proved to be fellow travellers who have not realised the glory of the City in which they profess to dwell.

Jerusalem, in contrast to Marxism, proclaims the radical nature of sin. Evil is deeply present in every human being--regardless of whether they own capital or have nothing. Evil is radical; it does not come from the arrangement of the means of production, but from the depths of every human heart, bar one--the Lord Jesus Christ, God's Messiah. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked," says the Prophet, Jeremiah. (17:10)

Sin and evil come from within and corrupts everything human beings touch to one degree or another. Thus, the "haves" will use their positions and resources for evil; the "have nots" will use their positions and resources for evil also. The poor are just as wicked at the rich: they will just express their wickedness in different ways. Marxist enlightened ones will do the same. Government, legislators, lawmakers will use power to corrupt others, while themselves being corrupted.

The best social and economic arrangements are those which restrain sin and the evil impulses of the human heart. One way to do this is to have social arrangements which provide constant checks and balances, limits and walls. For capitalists, the best and most powerful and endurable constraint is to be dogged constantly by competitors. The sinful capitalist hates competitors; he prefers always a constrained and regulated market, where new competitors are prevented from entering, and he can queer the pitch in his favour by bribery and corruption of officials, if necessary.

The evil capitalist cares not a whit about his clients or his customers, unless he needs them in order to survive. Ah, and that is the catch. As soon as he realises that in an open market he most certainly will not survive unless he serves his customers as well as, or better than, his competitors, he suddenly changes. The otherwise evil capitalist is forced to become the servant instead of the master. He either constrains his evil and puts his customer's interests to the fore, or he goes out of business. Open, fierce competition from those who would delight to see him go out of business and take his place help him speedily to the epiphany.

The evil capitalist cares not a fig about his staff. They are expendable, to be used and discarded--until it dawns on him that he cannot compete without equal to, or better quality staff than, his competitors. As soon as he figures this out, he becomes more of a servant to his staff, than a master. If he does not treat his staff properly they will likely leave and go to work for others. A business that cannot attract and retain quality staff over the long term is a dying business. The risk of commercial death helps the evil capitalist to an epiphany of respect for his staff.

The employee is likewise evil at heart, and hates being told what to do. He would rather be the boss. He despises his employer and resents his wealth. But it dawns on him that he needs the income to survive. This helps him to his epiphany. His employer is actually his ally. Moreover, he has his own destiny substantially in his own hands. If he can make himself more valuable to his employer, he wins leverage to command greater income. If his employer disagrees, he can always subject him to the discipline of the marketplace, and make plans to take his value to another employer.

And on it goes. Capitalists and workers have their intrinsic selfishness constrained and are forced into mutually co-operative and mutually dependant enterprise. This discipline restrains the intrinsic evil of the human heart. This social arrangement is not perfect; nor does it always work as well as it might. However, what is always true is that when governments use the law to interfere, to regulate, to balance, to control in an attempt to make the system work better, the longer term result is inevitably bad. It is bad for many reasons, not the least being that governors, like employers and employees are likewise evil, wicked and corrupt. In the end, governors will devise policies of interference that advance their own agendas and interests, first and foremost.

And Marxists--when they interfere and agitate and fulminate--they too end up doing a great deal of damage. For they also are evil and corrupt at heart. They end up acting to serve themselves and advance their own interests, and exploit their constituencies to that end. Over time, acting for the "good of the workers" becomes confused with acting for one's own good, defending one's own interests. When you believe yourself to be morally superior, and the alone defender of the exploited worker before the rapacity of capital, it is easy to be suborned to believe that advancing oneself means (by definition) the advance of the workers.

In Jerusalem, the righteous (paradoxically) are those who acknowledge and confess their evil. "I am evil, born in sin; Thou desirest truth within," is one of the songs of the City. This is the first step to being granted the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. Jerusalem is a city of beggars, telling other beggars where to find food. These beggars are capitalists and employees, servants and masters, lords and subjects, superiors and inferiors--but all alike are beggars and bondslaves. In Jerusalem, all know it and acknowledge it. It is one of the glories of that City. It has no place or room for Marxists.


Thursday, 26 March 2009

Hot Air

Time for a Cartoon

As Obama spends billions to make the US green, we came across this cartoon--so, for those of you who like pictures:



We, of course, are plotting our own, New Zealand version of "cap and trade" in an attempt to restrict carbon emissions. However, we take some heart from the pragmatic realism of Prime Minister John Key, who, recently scrapped the state television channel's Charter (the former government's grand plan to ensure more New Zealand produced programmes on air). The reason Key scrapped the Charter? Well, he was short, sharp and definitive. "It does not work!"

Since Key is a sort-of half-hearted climate change affirmer and since he has publicly committed to some sort of "cap and trade" system, we at Contra Celsum issue him a challenge: find us a carbon cap and trade system anywhere on the planet which actually works. Cap and trade simply does not work, nohow, nowhere. So, dump the idea. If it's a good enough reason for the Charter to go, it's more than good enough for "cap and trade".

Actually "cap and trade" reminds us of capital gains tax. Roger Douglas years ago, when Finance Minister, had a good look at introducing a capital gains tax in New Zealand. Treasury officials went all over the then known world and researched capital gains taxes wherever they were found. Douglas said the research produced an amazing, global consensus of opinion. Every country visited said two things. Firstly, a capital gains tax is a great idea, and it would be good for NZ to have one. Secondly, whatever you do, don't have one like ours. It's a shambolic croc.

So, there is widespread consensus--well, at least in the West, that "cap and trade" is a great idea to reduce carbon emissions. But the few countries that have one complain that it is an abject failure and has made things much worse.

Actually, if we are all serious about reducing carbon emission, forget "cap and trade." We could do no better than to take the advice of Sir Jonathon Black Death Porritt. He is the in-Green advisor to UK's Prime Minister. To stop polluting the planet with carbon dioxide and save, well, the human race, Porritt has concluded the UK population needs to be reduced by half, apparently.

Let's see. How might we do that, Sir Jonathon? The Black Death wiped out around two thirds of the population of Europe in the Middle Ages. How about a special targeted release, say in London--or in selective electorates that are Tory strongholds. It makes one wonder why on earth everyone got so wound up about bird flu a couple of years ago. Sir Jonathon is now effectively telling us a thorough-going, widespread pandemic would have been just the ticket. It would have saved the planet.

Or, better yet, how about a Trident ballistic missile nuclear strike on Russia. That will incite an appropriate counter strike on the UK, and bingo, climate change problem solved. And right quick, too.

It is no longer just the lunatic asylum that is being run by its inmates. Or maybe the UK is the lunatic asylum. In comparison, George Bush and John Howard look like a remarkably sane chaps.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

ChnMind 2.24 The Essential Principles of Justice

When the Foundations are Destroyed

“Justice!” is a universal cry throughout the world. It has, however, become little more than a slogan, the content of which is a wax nose and reflects no more than the prevailing prejudices of the day. For example, in the post-Christian West, for one, justice is having a house provided by the State. For another, justice is the State providing an abortion of an unwanted child. We could go on. Justice is whatever people desire and to which they attach the rubric "human right". And new human rights are being "discovered" and promulgated by the hour.

In more authoritarian nations, justice tends to be viewed as requiring compliance of all citizens to the rules of the State. If one does not comply, one is stealing from or defrauding the “people.” In such nations, not to obey the State is itself an act of injustice.

But what is common—whatever the particular meaning and content given to the concept of justice—is the axiomatic belief that it is the duty of the State to provide and administer justice for its citizens.

For Jerusalem this is also true. The State is the ministry of justice. In fact, it is about the only recognised competence of the State within the Scriptures. State involvement in any other activity almost inevitably ensures that the State ends up perpetrating injustice and acting unjustly, at least insofar as the Bible, our constitutional documents, define what justice is and is to be.

The responsibility of the State to administer justice justly is clearly set down in Psalm 82, where God is revealed to be the Judge of all judges:
God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked? Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.
Psalm 82: 1—4

Rulers, politicians, all the organs and branches of the State have a duty before the Living God to judge, rule, administrate, and legislate justly. The opposite of justice, according to the Christian faith, is to show partiality—to favour one person or group at the expense of another. Particularly, to show favour to those who are wicked and would do wickedness.

Then the text goes on to address specifically the plight of the poor, the weak, the orphan, the afflicted, the needy, and the destitute. Now this passage has been seized upon, quite wrongly, by socialists and those who advocate that justice requires redistributing wealth in favour of the poor, the indigent, etc. But, as we shall see elsewhere our constitutional documents explicitly forbid showing any favour to the poor at all. Rather, what is being utterly condemned here is the rich and powerful conspiring against the poor, using their wealth to buy judgments in their favour. This is absolutely inimical to justice, and kindles the wrath of the Living God.

The second key constitutional provision for justice is found in Leviticus 19:15:
You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor not defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbour fairly.
Leviticus 19:15
This is the source of the concept within the older Western legal tradition that “justice is blind.” Under a just State the judges and courts care not (they do not regard) whether the plaintiffs or defendants are rich, famous, powerful, or notorious—or whether they are poor, uneducated, deprived, orphaned, or destitute. Justice, in order to be just, has to be completely disinterested and neutral towards all. One law, one rule for everyone—for kings and princes, and for subjects and paupers. This is the essence of the rule of law. The Scriptures explicitly forbid showing partiality—but particularly partiality on socio-economic grounds. When the State does so, the State has devolved into a ministry of injustice.

The third key constitutional definition of justice is equal access to the courts of justice. If the rich can get to be heard in court, but the poor cannot afford to get access to a judge, the State has become a ministry, not of justice, but injustice. Moses, the great Lawgiver, the steward of the House of the Lord, laid down this constitutional principle as follows:
Then I charged our judges at that time, saying “Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God's.
Deuteronomy 1: 16—17

Modern Athenian city and nation states have shut up the law courts to the poor and, therefore, the societally and politically weak. Access to justice has become more and more the preserve of the wealthy which means that entire societies in the West are becoming systemically unjust.

The final key constitutional principle which defines justice is constantly repeated prohibition against taking bribes. Moses, again:
You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord you God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, and justice only, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
Deuteronomy 16: 18—20

When we see how the constitution of the City of Jerusalem defines justice, we rapidly conclude that modern Western post-Christian democracies have become systemically and constitutionally unjust. Athens and injustice are now inextricably interwoven.

Firstly, Athens is a City built on bribery and the corruption that inevitably follows. The essence of the modern Athenian democratic process is for state legislators and lawmakers to seek favour with a majority of the community by promising to pass (or maintain) laws that favour them and their factional interests.

“Vote for me. I support unions, or employers, or the unemployed, or students, or the aged, or families by passing laws which favour you, reward you, give money to you, or advance your case against others.” This is what an Athenian election is predominantly about. Lawmakers get elected by promising to pervert the essence of justice by enacting laws that favour one group or other. Or, to put it another way, Athenian lawmakers achieve office through bribing voters; if they bribe sufficiently cleverly and lavishly, they get to be elected. Then they get to write the law in such a way that it pays the bribes they have offered to the people in exchange for their support. It is called "distributive justice" which is a monstrous oxymoron. The whole fabric of Athenian society is thus tawdry and unjust.

The populace in Athens enters into this systemic injustice with relish. It wants to be bribed, and allows its vote to be bought. It sells it to the highest bidder. We should not be surprised at this, since the practice was rife in ancient Athens as well. In a Western democracy, in the end the people are the Judges: everywhere, throughout modern Athens, the Judges (the people) are up for sale and open to bribes. This is why the West has become systemically and irremediably unjust. This is why the corpus of law in Western countries has institutionalised injustice in a way that can never now be changed or addressed, until Athenian idolatry is no more. This is why government has become so pervasively corrupt. Government is all about getting and dispensing favours towards one group or other, not administering justice.

The West has been remarkably self-blinded to this development. It operates in a crazy “hear no evil, see no evil” mode. If an individual or a company were to walk into the office of a judge or legislator and lay money on the table in order to get a favourable outcome, the briber, if exposed and convicted will be punished. But if a politician (seeking to become a legislator) appeals to the electorate by offering to lay “money on the table” in order to get a favourable outcome it is called fair and just. It is regarded as the working of a healthy democracy. But in fact the ethics and morality of the two situations are exactly the same. The only difference is the quantum of money involved. In the latter case, however, the quantum of the bribe and the extent of the injustice involved is much much greater. It is so much more evil that it is called systemic, and recategorized as “just”. Athens is compelled to this hypocrisy. To reverse it would be to tear down the fabric of modern Unbelieving society itself. The whole Athenian polity is built upon a foundation and superstructure of injustice and could not now continue or exist without it.

A further great perversion of justice in Athens is that the government or the State insists on regarding the socio-economic status and condition of people in its administration of justice. Despite the prohibition of the Living God that the law courts have regard to whether the person or case at issue involves the rich or the poor, modern legal systems insist upon it. Tax law, welfare law, health administration and law, educational law—it is all built upon an edifice of redistribution in favour of the less wealthy or so-called disadvantaged groups.

In other words, virtually the entire legal corpus in modern Athens is built upon the premise that you have to take into account and have regard for the socio-economic status of citizens. If you do not, you are condemned as unjust. Yet, this, according to the law of the Living God, is inimical to justice itself. Justice is no longer blind, but it has its eyes wide open, and is deliberately and overtly partial. The law has been perverted to become an instrument of evil and injustice.

Thus, on three basic counts, Athens is a systemically and perpetually unjust City. It has removed access to the courts, except for the rich. It has made bribery an intrinsic component in its political and legislative—and therefore its judicial—processes. Thirdly, it has removed the impartiality of true justice and substituted it with an entire edifice of law built upon the principle of favouring some at the expense of others. Corruption, oppression, deceit, lies, self-interest—these are simply the order of our day.

Athens, built on unjust foundations, has become an edifice of systemic corruption. Its dissolution and destruction is inevitable, not just because it will rot from the inside, but because all kings, rulers, and judges must answer to the Living God. Because they have turned to idols and made their laws and their law courts places of systemic, rampant, and irremediable injustice, He will turn upon them.

The West long ago lost any grounds to plead for the care and protection of the Almighty.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Liberal Academic Elite and Its Invincible Ignorance

A Lot More Time and Money, Please

We heard recently of an independent Christian School in Manurewa, South Auckland. For those of you who don't know the geography of Auckland, parts of Manurewa are at the fringe of the ghetto; parts of it are the ghetto.

The school has been in existence for nearly twenty-five years. Amongst many other strengths and virtues, the school has always based its reading pedagogy upon phonics. No-one, apparently, has ever graduated from the school without being a thoroughly competent reader. Parents transferring their children from state schools often find that they children are behind and require quite intensive remedial work to bring them up to the level of peers of their age. (Note: this is not an elite school for gifted children! It is a Christian school, which by any biblical definition is not elite, since Christians tend to come from the rag tag end of society.)

Ah, we hear you say, what is such a big deal about kids being taught to read in school? That is normal and ordinary, is it not? Well, regrettably, it is becoming the exception, rather than the rule. We are told that thirty percent of graduates from our state school system are functionally illiterate. Thirteen years of schooling and they cannot read or write.

One of the predominant reasons for this debacle has been the educational academic elite being wedded to the "whole word" approach to teaching reading (sometimes called "look and say") rather than phonics. Now, there are some educational academics in recent years who have broken ranks on this and opposed the prevailing paradigm. We are thankful. However, the paradigm itself remains intact and largely in charge in state educational circles.

Australia has had the same problem. But now things are changing over the ditch. Education Minister, Julia Gillard and NSW State Education Minister, Verity Firth are insisting that the ideological blinkers be taken off the educational academic elite. But it is not going quietly into the night. The elite is fighting a bitter rearguard action.

Miranda Devine profiles the latest stoush in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The crazy politics of learning to read

Miranda Devine

Ideological promoters of the discredited "whole language", or osmosis method, of teaching children to read have been unmasked this week. The whole language lobby's devious and irrational opposition to evidence was exemplified in a bid to derail the State Government's trial of MULTILIT, a successful remedial reading program based on explicit phonics teaching.

In an email stream last week from Associate Professor Brian Cambourne, of Wollongong University, to literacy educators who subscribe to a university mailing list, unscrupulous strategies for winning the "reading wars" were laid bare. Cambourne, regarded as the "godfather" of whole language in Australia, urges his network to "flood Verity's [the Education Minister, Verity Firth's] office" with messages designed to denigrate MULTILIT and undermine the trial "at an almost subconscious level". He also suggests linking the program to "readicide", which he defines as "the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools".

Confronted this week by The Australian's education writer, Justine Ferrari, Cambourne came up with this extraordinary quote: "When you rely on evidence, it's twisted … We rely on the cognitive science framing theory, to frame things the way you want the reader to understand them to be true."

That sounds like a postmodern justification for lying.

To their great credit, it appears that both Firth and the federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard, are more interested in results than ideology. Gillard has tied literacy and numeracy funding to programs proven effective by evidence-based research. "This is about finding out what works," Gillard said in a press release last May. Similarly, Firth has said she is not interested in "internecine debates". She urged educators to "stop arguing about what we believe and start talking about what we know".

In other words, reading programs should be based on evidence of what works. Paying lip service to phonics under the rebadging of whole-word theory as "balanced" instruction isn't enough. Both Firth and Gillard are lawyers who understand the value of evidence. Interestingly, both are also members of the Labor Left, which will insulate them from the ideological ad hominem attacks usually employed by the leftists of the whole-language lobby, and may help to unhook the teaching of reading from its historic left-right baggage.

It has never made sense that the whole-word doctrine has been a hobbyhorse of left-wingers, when its results work particularly to the detriment of the working class. Underprivileged children have suffered most from the marginalisation of phonics in schools, as their homes are generally not rich learning environments. The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (of which I was a member) found as many as 30 per cent of year 5 students had literacy problems preventing them from "effectively participating" in further schooling. The National Curriculum Board reportedly puts the figure for struggling readers at between 20 per cent and 40 per cent.

How can anyone dismiss the miracles that go on every day in classrooms in Uniting Church centres in Ashfield and Redfern and in a Noel Pearson-led trial in Cape York, where the reading age of indigenous students is three to four years behind the national average.

You just have to see for yourself the joy in the faces of children as they learn the sounds of the alphabet and how to put them together in words, and they suddenly realise what the "black stuff" on the page means.

In the program trial in Coen, on Cape York, some children started learning so quickly a special accelerated program had to be devised for them. After two terms there were average gains of almost two years in reading accuracy.

How can anyone ignore Melbourne's Bellfield Primary, one of the most disadvantaged schools in Australia, which transformed itself by rejecting whole language theory and instituting a program of explicit phonics instruction. The results were stunning, with 91 per cent of grade 2 students reading with 100 per cent accuracy compared to the previous 31 per cent. How can anyone reject results of the seven-year study of underprivileged children in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, who were taught to read using an intensive form of phonics, and wound up more than three years ahead of their peers.

In his email stream, Cambourne gives a clue to the origins of his ideological blinkers when he dismisses the evidence on which the MULTILIT trial rests as a "neo-liberal" concern.

"I believe that the neoliberal views of 'evidence-based research' … can be shown to be just as flawed as their economic theories". How the science of teaching children to read became an ideological battleground is a mystery to Professor Kevin Wheldall, the inspirational creator of MULTILIT. But there is no doubt it has been a tragedy, as the whole language movement has held sway for 40 years, with its Rousseauian notion that children learn to read naturally just by being exposed to books. When it became clear this was not the case for as many as two-thirds of children, whole-language proponents did not question their beliefs but turned to social justice for justification. Teacher education courses became infected with the revolutionary idea that only by eradicating poverty and underprivilege (by overthrowing the patriarchal, authoritarian, elitist capitalist system, of course) could students progress.

This has been as futile and damaging as the notion that we cannot prevent catastrophic bushfires unless we stop climate change. It is using the tragedy of illiterate children as the means to achieve an ideological end.


Now why can't we have an Education Minister like Julia Gillard or Verity Firth? It will be interesting (although we are not holding our breath) to see whether the current government's interest in educational results will eventually lead it to focus upon what actually works, not on what the idealogue, Jean Jacques Rousseau and his descendants said should happen.

But realistically we predict a rather more dilatory outcome: national standards testing will inevitably show up unacceptable results. The educational elite and its ensconced bureaucracy will persuade the Minister of Education that improvements would result if social equity were more scrupulously followed. If low decile and under-performing schools had more money, in the first instance, that would improve things. Then if schools got more involved in corrective social engineering, test results would rise. Create the right environment, says the mantra, and the child will learn by itself. Don't instruct. Deconstruct and facilitate. That is what is required. And so it will go on.

Current Minister of Education, Anne Tolley could do a whole lot worse than travel across the ditch and spend a long time talking to Julia Gillard and Verity Firth. We believe those two are on to something that will likely make an awful lot of difference to Australia in the next twenty years. A word to the wise is sufficient.


Monday, 23 March 2009

Mediation on the Text of the Week

Turning Back the Clock And Its Consequences

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.
Romans 3:9
When the Apostle Paul uses pronouns like “us”, “they”, “them” and “you” it pays to look carefully at the context. More often than not the context shows that he is using first person pronouns to refer to Jews (of which he was one) and second and third person plural pronouns (you or they) refer to Gentiles (that is, non Jewish people).

So it is in this text. When Paul asks rhetorically, “Are we better than they?” the context shows us that the “we” refers to Jewish people. He is asking, “Are we, the Jews better than they, the Gentiles?” Equally striking is his use of the word “Greek” to denote Gentiles. In the early chapters of Romans this has been his term of choice to describe all non-Jews (1:16; 2:9,10), but in the same passages, he will also use “Gentiles” showing that the terms are synonymous in his mind (2:14; 2:29).

So, for Paul, “Gentiles” were synonymous with “Greeks” and vice versa. We might ask why he did not use the term “Roman” as the equivalent to “Gentile.” For the age of Classical Greece had long since gone into declension. The Greek empire under Alexander had been dismembered following his death. Rome had long ago taken over as the great universal empire. Paul's world was one in which Rome was at the apex of its power. The Mediterranean was a Roman lake. It was the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate who had crucified our Lord. Every one of the letters Paul wrote was addressed to people or churches in towns ruled by Rome. Paul himself was born a Roman citizen. Turn north, south, east, or west and you were confronted with Rome as the great imperial power.

But everyone of his readers in Rome would have understood why Paul referred to the entire non-Jewish world as the world of Greeks, not Romans.
For Rome was simply Greece Mark II. Everyone knew that. Alexander, not a Greek, but a Macedonian, tutored by Aristotle, had aspired to introduce Greek thought, religion, and philosophy to the entire ancient world. Alexander was the most powerful and effective apostle of classical Greek thought and culture. From Egypt to India; from Asia Minor through the Middle East; from the Dardanelles through to the Pyrenes, he had succeeded. The entire known world had become hellenised. In many ways, Rome had become more Greek than the Greeks themselves.

The Greek language was the lingua franca; the Romans had taken over the Greek pantheon; its philosophical schools were widely studied and read and followed; its art and literature were imitated. The world-view of classical Greece had largely won over the entire known world. Thus, when Paul used the term “Greek” synonymously with “Gentiles” or “hagoyim” or “the nations” everyone would have known exactly what he meant.

The “Greeks” were all Unbelievers in the Living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But time and history had moved on. Well, actually, time and history had changed radically in Paul's lifetime. The world would never be the same again. All continuity with the past was radically altered and changed. Paul, and in fact all humanity from his time onward was and is living in the days of our Lord.

The Scriptures make plain to us what the great discontinuities were. Israel of old was rejected as the people through whom God would bless the world; they had proven to be no different from the Gentiles, and were all under sin. God's special covenant was now made with just one Man—the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone was the true Israelite. Israel's final rejection of Messiah, God's anointed One meant they had rejected finally their God. From this time onward, Israelites would only find favour with God if they believed upon Messiah Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

Our Lord Jesus Christ came forth to make of Himself a sin offering for the whole world. All men, all nations would now be summoned by God to see, hear, and believe what Christ had done for all who believed. Thus, the distinction between Jew and Greek would be removed. From this time on, it would be replaced by a new distinction: between Christian and non-Christian.

Thirdly, within the Church a new humanity would be created around Christ their Lord. All dividing walls would be broken down. There would no longer be Gentile and Jew, slave or free, rich or poor, Scythian or civilised, Greek or barbarian. There would be one new man united around our Lord.

Fourth, the former Ruler of this world was cast out. The time of his power and authority was over. Christ came forth to redeem every tribe and every nation, to destroy all the works of the Devil. Judgement was upon him and all his works, all his followers and servants and their deeds. Even as the former Ruler was cast out, Christ Himself was installed in his place. All power and authority was given to Him in heaven and on earth. All enemies were to be placed under His feet. The last enemy that would be vanquished would be death itself. As far as the curse were found, His healing reign would extend.

So—and in full consistency with the new human history which had commenced in Paul's life—the date was changed. Time was now to be counted according to the “years of our Lord”. Some mistakenly assume that the term “anno Domini” means “year since the death of our Lord”. This is incorrect. The term means “year of our Lord.” In other words—the year of the reign of our Lord. So, the current date is 2009. We are in the 2009th year of the reign of our Lord. The great discontinuities of history wrought by God and His Son are still ruling over us, controlling and predestinating the life of every person, nation, people group, and empire upon the globe, whether they know it or not, believe it or not, like it or not. These discontinuities comes with a message of warning to all mankind: kiss the feet of the Son while there is still time, before it is too late.

In the eighteenth century in the West a movement called the Enlightenment gained great sway over the minds and hearts of Christian Europe. It has since spread over most of the world. As in Paul's day, we can say with reasonable accuracy that once again the world is divided into Christians and Greeks. The Enlightenment overtly and deliberately sought to recapture and re-present what they saw as the Golden Age of humanity—the age of Classical Greece. They have succeeded.

But it is a retrograde, backward, and primitive step. It vainly flails against the true and certain course of human history—the reign of our Lord over the entire world. The “enlightened” West is thus doomed to failure, defeat, collapse, confusion, and demolition. It is one of the most backward and primitive moves ever attempted by sinful men. It is folly. It pushes a snowball up a hill on a scorching hot day.

Our modern day Greeks are yesterday's ancient men. They are all under sin. They are all under judgement. Their time has passed. Their conspiracy to cast off the Son is futile, desperate, and foolish. Their doom is set and awaits, unless they turn and once again bow before the Son in humble thankfulness and adoration—as, indeed, their fathers did before them.

2009 remains the Year of our Lord; their rebellion is thus misshapen, even monstrous.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Consiging Kids to Slavery

The Obama Debt Burden

It seems that people in the United States are starting to get quite nervous about the projected Federal Government deficit. Granted Obama's budget has not yet passed Congress--but it seems as though by the time the Democratic majority has its way, the deficit will be worse still.

Obama has been deceitful with the numbers thus far. He has been deliberately duplicitous about the cuts that he is going to achieve in government spending. He has come out and said that the economy needs all this stimulative spending, but it's OK, because we are going to cut the deficit like you would not believe. Yes, that's right. His cuts are unbelievable.

Once your spending plans are committed, there are only two ways to cut a deficit. The first is by cutting spending elsewhere. The second is by raising taxes. Well Obama is showing up to be a first class cutter. He has factored in the "cut" to government spending that will result from withdrawing from Iraq. The "spin" is breathtaking: first, we will hypothetically project the cost of the military engagement in Iraq out ten years. Then we will remove that projected expenditure from the budget. Then we will show the people how earnest we are about cutting expenditure.

Although the cuts to spending are hypothetical, however, the actual spending will not be so imaginary. In fact the actual cost of his projected spend has been deliberately understated (according to critical commentators like Newt Gingrich, who knows a good deal about getting rid of government deficits).

Further, Obama has a rosy coloured crystal ball. He is expecting that the US economy over the next few years will grow at a rate not seen before in the last forty years. Well, that's what you can expect when you have Messiah at the helm, apparently. So, spending understated. Cuts overstated. Economic growth overstated. Revenue overstated. (As one commentator quipped, Rosy Scenario is once again the most popular gal in Washington.) Obama, like most liberals, has apparently no idea that increasing taxes on business will actually decrease economic output. Apparently he didn't read that in the law books at Harvard.

And that's just Obama. Wait until the Democrats get to massage his budget. Already some of the extra taxes announced by Obama (not the one's on business) have been flagged as "not a goer"--such as limiting tax exemptions on charitable giving. There goes a few hundred million from the revenue line of Obama's budget. Then there will be all the "earmarks" which will be added in. So the Congress will reduce the revenue and increase the spending.

End result: the deficit will be far worse than even Obama has announced already--and his deficit, we are told, would be greater than all the combined deficits of all US Presidents in its history. Way to go! In case you think that we are making this all up, consider the recently published conclusions of the Congressional Budget Office which has a statutory duty to be non-partisan in its analysis of all congressional spending proposals.

The Congressional Budget Office figures, obtained by The Associated Press Friday, predict Obama's budget will produce $9.3 trillion worth of red ink over 2010-2019. That's $2.3 trillion worse than the White House predicted in its budget.

Worst of all, CBO says the deficit under Obama's policies would never go below 4 percent of the size of the economy, figures that economists agree are unsustainable. By the end of the decade, the deficit would exceed 5 percent of gross domestic product, a dangerously high level.

The latest figures, even worse than expected by top Democrats, throw a major monkey wrench into efforts to enact Obama's budget, which promises universal health care for all and higher spending for domestic programs like education and research into renewable energy.

The dismal deficit figures, if they prove to be accurate, inevitably raise the prospect that Obama and his allies controlling Congress would have to consider raising taxes after the recession ends or paring back his agenda.

But without referencing the figures, Obama insisted on Friday that his agenda is still on track.


The US is facing huge structural deficits for decades to come. Mark Steyn gives us his inimitable take on the situation:

The Brokest Generation
Our kids are the ultimate credit market, and the rest of us are all pre-approved!

By Mark Steyn


Just between you, me, and the old, the late middle-aged, and the early middle-aged: Isn’t it terrific to be able to stick it to the young? I mean, imagine how bad all this economic-type stuff would be if our kids and grandkids hadn’t offered to pick up the tab.

Well, okay, they didn’t exactly “offer” but they did stand around behind Barack Obama at all those campaign rallies helping him look dynamic and telegenic and earnestly chanting hopey-hopey-changey-changey. And “Yes, we can!”

Which is a pretty open-ended commitment.

Are you sure you young folks will be able to pay off this massive Mount Spendmore of multi-trillion-dollar debts we’ve piled up on you?

“Yes, we can!”

We thought you’d say that! God bless the youth of America! We of the Greatest Generation, the Boomers, and Generation X salute you, the plucky members of the Brokest Generation, the Gloomers, and Generation Y, as in “Why the hell did you old coots do this to us?”

Because, as politicians like to say, it’s about “the future of all our children.” And the future of all our children is that they’ll be paying off the past of all their grandparents. At 12 percent of GDP, this year’s deficit is the highest since the Second World War, and prioritizes not economic vitality but massive expansion of government. But hey, it’s not our problem. As Lord Keynes observed, “In the long run we’re all dead.” Well, most of us will be. But not you youngsters, not for a while. So we’ve figured it out: You’re the ultimate credit market, and the rest of us are all pre-approved! . . . .

This is the biggest generational transfer of wealth in the history of the world. If you’re an 18-year old middle-class hopeychanger, look at the way your parents and grandparents live: It’s not going to be like that for you. You’re going to have a smaller house, and a smaller car — if not a basement flat and a bus ticket. You didn’t get us into this catastrophe. But you’re going to be stuck with the tab, just like the Germans got stuck with paying reparations for the catastrophe of the First World War. True, the Germans were actually in the war, whereas in the current crisis you guys were just goofing around at school, dozing through Diversity Studies and hoping to ace Anger Management class. But tough. That’s the way it goes. . . .

The Teleprompter Kid says not to worry: His budget numbers are based on projections that the economy will decline 1.2 percent this year and then grow 4 percent every year thereafter. Do you believe that? In fact, does he believe that? This is the guy who keeps telling us this is the worst economic crisis in 70 years, and it turns out it’s just a 1 percent decline for a couple more months and then party-time resumes? And, come to that, wasn’t there a (notably unprojected) 6.2 percent drop in GDP just in the last quarter of 2008?

Whatever. Growth may be lower than projected, but who’s to say all those new programs, agencies, entitlements, and other boondoggles won’t also turn out to cost less than anticipated? Might as well be optimistic, right? . . . .

I mentioned a few weeks ago the calamitous reality of the U.S. auto industry. General Motors has 96,000 employees but provides health benefits to over a million people. They can never sell enough cars to make that math add up. In fact, selling cars doesn’t help, as they lose money on each model. GM is a welfare project masquerading as economic activity. And, after the Obama transformation, America will be, too. The young need to recognize that this is their fight. They need to stop chanting along with the hopeychangey dirges and do something more effective, like form the anti-AARP: the association of Americans who’ll never be able to retire.

— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of America Alone. © 2009 Mark Steyn


No wonder the Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi thumped the table and insisted that General Motors had to survive, even if it cost the tax payer billions of dollars (and it will). She is clever enough to work out that GM is really a department of social welfare, an extension of government. Thus, like any government department with a budget deficit, it "deserves" more money to make up the shortfall.

This shameful circumstance reminds us little old Kiwis of the days when NZ Rail used to employ 19,000 people and ran huge repeated losses. The governments of the day surreptitiously acknowledged that this was vital to keep the unemployment numbers down. The United States has now been similarly corrupted.

GM has nothing to do with making cars, just as NZ Rail back in the day had nothing to do with running trains. Both alike use (and used) commercial activity to camouflage their core welfare function.

Upon such Faustian bargains modern America depends. Pity the children.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Crime and Punishment III

Making Prisons Fair and Just

An oft-heard argument for longer prison sentences is the need to protect the public. The idea is that violent criminals will continue to prey upon others so the only way to protect the innocent is to lock violent criminals up forcibly separating them from their fellow man.

This argument for the prison system is intriguing insofar as it tacitly admits that rehabilitation in prisons does not occur--or that there are some persons that are virtually irremediable. Apparently the Corrections Department is not very good at that which its name implies.

We remain deeply skeptical over the ability and competence of prison to rehabilitate or correct. How one could be locked up with a college of criminals and by virtue of that fact be rehabilitated strains credulity beyond the breaking point. It is a stupid idea. But, more importantly, we do not like the "protect the public" approach, because it is fundamentally unjust. It necessarily involves punishment because of what might one do in the future, not because of what one has actually done--which seems inimical to even basic rudiments of justice.

Better not to introduce considerations of protection of society against a supposed threat which may be hypothetically carried out some time in the future.

Rather, as we have argued, the only just principle for prisons is to run them as institutions of involuntary slavery where the slaves have the opportunity to work to pay their restitution debts. Now, as we have argued, there will always been some proportion of the prison population who are recalcitrant and who refuse to work. We would expect that the more violent, lawless inmate is likely to be overly represented in this proportion.

It will fall out that these inmates stay permanently in prison because their restitution debts mount to the point where they could not pay them back in their lifetimes. They will likely die in prison. So be it. Moreover, it is also inevitable that capital crimes such as rape or murder would attract the highest and largest restitution penalties, requiring long years of work (and, therefore, incarceration) to pay off the debt. A by product of this would be protection to society at large--but this would be achieved without perverting the fundamental principles of justice.

We have argued that prisons would make more sense if they were completely structured around the fundamental principle of justice that the criminal needs to restitute those he has harmed. This would transform virtually the entire prison system into one of incarcerated employment. Everything would be orientated to achieving this end. But this would not be the kind of slavery where prisoners have no choices, rights, obligations or responsibilities. Remember, the enslaved work regime is not for punishment, but to enable payment to victims.

In this approach, prisoners would be required to compete for the jobs available. They would apply for them, be interviewed, appointed etc. They would not be forced to do a job they did not choose to do. (Once again, if they did not work, they would move into close supervision regimes, and their restitution debt would start to increase rapidly as the full cost of prison "room and board" were applied to their accounts.)

They would have the right of resignation from a job at any time. They would also be subject to firing if they did not perform up to specification. Prisoners would also have a right to change prisons, if they applied and were successful in being appointed to a work position in another prison. Naturally, the most popular prisons would be those that provided the best work opportunities. Moreover, those prisons which were keeping costs down, so that less was taken out of weekly wages for “room and board” would also be more popular.

Incidentally, under this model there is no reason why a prisoner could not choose
which prison to be sent to in the first place. Since all the commercial operations run within prisons would be competing for labour they would be constrained to offer the best terms and conditions of employment possible. Once again--prison on this model would not be for purposes of punishment but for bonded servitude until restitution debts were paid. So, it would make sense for prisons to compete to attract prisoners, and for prisoners to have the right of choice. (Of course, if their preferences could not be satisfied, the courts would assign them to a particular prison.)

Prisons would be adjudged as relatively more or less successful not just in penal terms such as preventing escapes and maintaining social order (though these are important measures) but also in terms of how many prisoners were able to work off their restitution debts and win release. This would help give an incentive to prison administrations to ensure that sustainable, productive, and lucrative employment opportunities were available to those in their charge.

We would expect that some prisons would focus and concentrate upon particular industries or lines of commerce (much of which may be sub-contracted to private firms which would run businesses within the prisons). This would suit some prisoners and not others—depending on their levels of skills and training. Some prison businesses would pay more, depending upon the commercial rates for work and labour operating in their particular industry.

At the same time, a prisoner at any time could leave prison, provided someone in the marketplace or community were prepared to pay his outstanding restitution debt, and the prisoner's debt-obligation were able to be transferred to the benefactor. This would help keep all rates of remuneration in prison set to market levels. If a business run within a prison were paying sub-market rates for skilled labour, outside competitor firms could compete its trained staff away, by paying their restitution bonds.

Moreover, there would be no objections or barriers to prisoners becoming engaged in business activities outside the prison (provided they were lawful) by means of cell-phones, the internet, or other media. The earnings would need to be accounted for, administration of bank accounts be done by trustees, and appropriate payments made to reduce their restitution debt. Such constructive behaviour would be encouraged. The sooner the prisoner-slave paid off his restitution debt, the sooner he could be released. Neither would there be any barriers to prisoners employing other prisoners, provided all arrangements were formally contracted and properly administrated.

No actual money should ever be available in prisons! We would also expect that some incarcerated criminals would seek to exploit the system. There would likely be attempts to sabotage workplaces, conspiracies to ensure that gang members got the favoured jobs in the favoured prisons, etc. However, whilst this would require effective policing, there would be a number of factors that would militate against such influences. Since it would be up to each commercial enterprise which prisoners they hired, any gang or conspiratorial group would risk being black-listed. This would mean that all their associates would likely be refused jobs, thereby effectively lengthening sentences by the day. The knowledge that association with a gang would likely result in unemployability, leading to a lifetime in prison would be a powerful disincentive to associate with any group that was found undermining or working against the system.

Moreover, employers would have the right to fire unco-operative or dilatory prison workers. That would be entered on to a prisoners employment record. The likelihood of his finding a replacement job would thereby be diminished. The threat of a lifetime in prison would loom large at all times. But in most cases whether this threat came to pass or not would depend upon the attitude and application of the prisoner. In other words, his destiny would be largely in his own hands.

As soon as a prisoner had paid his restitution debt he would be freed from incarceration or involuntary slavery. The sooner he paid it, the sooner his prison sentence would end. There would be no prison terms, nor parole. Both would be irrelevant. The endless and tedious arguments about stricter prison sentences, longer prison sentences, earlier parole, home detentions and the like would all be redundant. Every day a prisoner worked he would know that this term was being shortened.

To reinforce this reality, every fortnight a prisoner would receive a payslip, or statement of outstanding debt. This would contain the summary of his offences and crimes, the amount of the original restitution debt, a statement of how much had been worked off to date, the amount outstanding, and the earnings for the past two weeks. This would serve constantly to remind prisoners of why they were currently enslaved, and what they needed to do to remove the yoke of slavery from off their necks. One imagines that they would have plenty of opportunity to think about their criminal acts and the damage they did to innocent people.

The benefits of this approach to crime and punishment, which derive from the Mosaic legal code, would be far reaching.

Gone would be the endless wrangles over length of sentences, parole terms, community sentencing, home detention, prison management, bungles at the Corrections Department, community safety, and so forth. There would be one strictly neutral and disinterested principle determining the length of a sentence: it would last as short or as long as it took to pay back the restitution debt.

The State and the court system also would have one overriding interest or objective in dealing with the criminal: everything would be aligned to ensure that the victim was justly restituted. The objective would be neither to make it hard nor easy for the criminal in prison. Rather, the focus of prison policy would be to provide an environment where every willing prisoner could earn a sustainable income to pay off their restitution debt so they could be released from penal enslavement as soon as possible. Moreover, every working prisoner would be making a meaningful contribution to the upkeep and running of the prison. The cost to the taxpayer of running prisons would be reduced substantially.

The successful rehabilitation of the criminal into the community once released from prison would be far more likely under this method. The criminal would be a criminal no longer: he would have completely paid off his debts to those he had wronged. He would bear the honour of having done the honourable thing—somewhat akin to a bankrupt who subsequently paid back all he owed to his creditors. Moreover, it is likely that his time in prison would have helped him gain marketable skills and work disciplines that would be useful on the outside.

The wider family of every prisoner could make meaningful contributions to seeing their family member get out of restitution debt. Every dollar they contributed would see the sentence shortened. The more the wider community were to contribute, the more the accountability when the prisoner was released. The more contributions to victim restitution an extended family could make, the more they would retain their honour and help remove the shame of a family member who committed crimes.

Moreover, there would be no need to debate “three strikes” sentencing policies. Each crime would be treated justly on its “merits” as it were, and sentencing would be focused upon restitution. As argued above, the more serious crimes would like take decades to pay off.

Finally, those who want to extend mercy, forgiveness and compassion to prisoners would have ample opportunity. Charities and individuals, if they chose, could assist in the repaying of restitution debts. They would then bear the responsibility—to a significant extent—of the course and career of the prisoner whose debt had paid and who had been released from prison.

Of course this penology would not result in every problem being overcome. There will always be problems, sins, and crimes in our fallen world. There would still be recidivism, although we believe at far lower rates. There would still be horrific crimes, which would attract restitution debts so vast that they would be unlikely to be repaid even in several lifetimes. There would always be recalcitrant prisoners who would elect to die in prison. The pernicious influence of criminal gangs in the prisons would not go away. At least not initially, although we suspect that their influence and control of prisons would likely weaken over time.

But underneath everything, in applying these principles, would be the overarching and undergirding principle of justice. No longer “you did the crime, now do the time” which bears no relation to justice at all apart from the element of retribution. The “time” as it is currently understood is a complete non-sequitur to the crime. Everybody instinctively understands that—which is why there is such disquiet over modern western penal systems. Moreover, even when the State levies fines upon criminals it is an unjust non-sequitur. How on earth does paying money to the state constitute a just punishment for damage done to a victim of crime?

But if the slogan were changed to: “you did the crime, now make it up to those you damaged” it is intrinsically much more just. A judicial and penal system built around this principle, and relentlessly and consistently structured so as to see that it is carried out, would be overtly and demonstrably more just that the current system.

“You dealt the dirt, now heal the hurt” has a far more righteous ring to it. That in a nutshell is the Christian philosophy of crime and punishment. That would revive and revolutionise the modern prison system, creating something far better.

But how likely is this approach to gain currency in our modern world? Not at all. Until a society knows and believes that all sin, including all criminal acts, will receive an exacting and full and just retributive punishment in the world to come it will not be able to relinquish its supposed right to execute vengeance in this life. Thus, in our modern western pagan world, restitution to victims will remain unimportant and inconsequential. Retributive punishment will remain a major driver of justice, along with totally contradictory principles such as the belief that sin is environmentally caused and that ultimately the criminal is a victim of society, not an evildoer.

These warring principles will consign the institutions of justice and the prison system to a hopeless Babel of ineffectual confusion and persistent systematic injustice. The practice of justice and the treatment of criminals is one of the places where the dominant religion of every society is on display. The fruits of the idolatry of Autonomous Man are not pleasant to behold.