Monday, September 29, 2008

Balanced analysis of the economic crisis

There is a vote McCain video (<-- click) in circulation that offers careful research to show that the current economic crisis is caused by Democrats and the history of finance and legislation designed to "provide housing for the poor." My friend and colleague Gordon L. Anderson, Ph.D., author of Philosophy of the United States: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, responded to the person who sent him the pro-McCain-the-Democrats-are-the-problem video with this following response.

I found Gordon's response balanced and insightful:


This is a pretty good description of why many of the most tragic mortgage foreclosures on poor people in the inner city occurred. However, there was a larger aspect. The two states with the highest foreclosure rates were Florida and California. In Miami, much of this was based on a "flipping" craze, where development raged and many middle and upper middle class speculators took advantage of the low interest rates to buy condos without ever expecting to personally live in them. In California, homes began to average $850,000. This was not your lower class democrat buying these homes; it was yuppies who wanted to buy a house in California. Many others around the country bought these loans on executive houses of $500,000 or more and they simply walked away from them when the credit bubble burst. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did these bad things-and I am afraid FDIC is no better prepared. But at the core is a credit bubble designed by the Federal Reserve Banks, Oil Companies, and large companies like Hewlett Packard and auto manufactures who wanted easy credit for consumers to buy their products, as much as the sleight of hand tried by liberal politicians like Obama.

This is a long-time problem brewing. Part of it related to changes in laws by banking and financial lobbyists. They supported supply-side economics under Reagan, but under Clinton the Glass-Stegal Act, designed in the 1930s to prevent some of this was repealed in 1999 making way for the Citibank-Travelers merger. During the last twenty years a number of conflict of interest laws were repealed that reduced oversight on fraud and corruption. There is plenty of responsibility on the part of both Republicans and Democrats.

This video showed how the inner city democrats pushed for loans for poor people and destroyed lives of their constituents rather than helping them. The flip side is that wealthy industries were lobbying Republicans for easy credit for their constituents. In the end both parties and many Americans, raised in a period of economic prosperity, failed to understand financial discipline and accepted credit like an opiate of the masses. The root cause is thus lack of understanding natural laws and basic economic principles-an educational and moral weakness. Our political leaders represent the same lack of self discipline as the culture at large.

The last twenty years our economy has been rooted in the philosophy of earning money from someone else's work. When everyone is trying to get more than they personally produce you have economic decline. Couple that with the national trade deficit, of which dependence on foreign oil plays a major role, and you have a prescription for economic collapse. Republicans and Democrats are both responsible.

The only sound government stands upon citizens who produce more than they consume and have both the freedom and ability to take care of themselves. The layers of government which sit on this foundation need to each become smaller, like a pyramid, with each level of government supporting the one on top of it. It defies the laws of society to have the upper levels of a pyramid support the lower, but that is exactly what our society wants to do. It is a fiction. Family, Society, Nation, World-each is a level that needs to support the level on top of it, not the other way around.

There is another issue related to regulation which we must learn about. Total deregulation of an economy is like having a Superbowl game with no referees. You will hear big business lobby for this type of "free market" because on an unlevel playing field they will win. Just like the biggest guys will be standing at the end of a football game. This is anarchy, plain and simple. The genuine free market is what our founding fathers promoted; it included checks and balances on accumulations of power and sanctions when the actions of one person caused harm to another. This way everyone can play on the field without disadvantage.

The other side is what you see the democrats doing-trying to turn government into business. To socialize or even to create government businesses that compete with the free market by giving the government subsidized business the upper hand on the playing field. The only truly free market is one in which the government plays the role of a referee in which neither the government abdicates its role as referee-with fair laws-nor tries to become a player on the economic field itself. You won't find either party advocating this proper role of government in the economy because, simply put, lobbying is too lucrative. It is more profitable to twist the laws in favor of lobbyists than to make them consistent with the objectives of the U.S. Constitution and the Philosophy of the United States founders like Franklin and Jefferson. (Who both argued that consolidation of credit at the federal level should be avoided at all costs.)

One could get into further discussion of taxation policies that also cause unlevel playing fields, and how big players colluded with the government in ways that shifted tax policies to forms that are both unconstitutional and cause a form of serfdom (they undermine the principles of property rights and the right to the fruits of your labor. But that gets beyond the immediate crisis at hand.

But the main conclusion it this: Don't expect either McCain or Obama, or the Republican or Democratic Party to solve these problems. These are two sides the big guys give us to occupy our time. It is more like rooting for Hulk Hogan or Sting in a wrestling match than doing anything that will affect Vince McMahon's control over the entire process. Both conventions were choreographed presentations for the media. There was not one iota of a chance they would contain any real discussions or dialogue. Those who differed were thrown out by the secret service and the police.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Conflict Tests Ties Between the Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches

Saturday, September 6, 2008

On September 6, 2008, on page A5 of the New York edition of the New York Times this article (<-- click) "Conflict Tests Ties Between the Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches," by Sophia Kishkovsky appeared. In it Kishkovsky explains the struggle and sorrow experienced by Orthodox leaders of the two respective Churches over the recent military aggression between the Russia and Georgia.

Today, blood is being shed and people are perishing in South Ossetia, and my heart deeply grieves over it,” Patriarch Aleksy said in a statement on Aug. 8 as the fighting raged. “Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox peoples called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love are in conflict.”

This article and this development is important at least for two reasons:

  1. We see potential signs that religion can serve as a harmonizing force across warring boundaries

  2. We see signs that media analysis and reportage is maturing beyond debilitating bias of secular parochialism

The struggle and lamentation of both Georgian and Russian, Orthodox Church leaders demonstrates the potential for religion to serve as a unifying factor, a voice of conscience, and an impetus to move states and militaries away from nation state habit of killing people, harming nature, and destroying property.

In this particular case, the sensibility and concern happened to be because all victims and targets were from the same religion (Orthodoxy). But isn't it possible for us as a species to evolve beyond the archaic shackles of religious parochialism, so that this type of despair suffered and expressed by these Orthodox leaders, would equally arise in the hearts of all religious leaders any and every time any believer from any religion suffers from political and military actions? Or for that matter, couldn't religious leaders grow to feel the same sense of the unconscionable, not only when a co-religionist, or a even a believer suffers, but even when when human beings degenerate to the point of killing, harming, and destroying life, the earth, and property?

Perhaps the solidarity and lament seen this time in the confines of denominationalism, for believers who happen to be of just one sort can serve as an example and as an ideal for the emergence of a broader, greater, and more expansive spirituality that draws from the same basic impulse and sensibility.

If international diplomatic efforts had less of a tin ear for clues from the universe of religion and religious identity, one might have recognized an opportunity in this “cross-enemy” solidarity so rarely found in the midst of this sort of dangerous and horrible war. Could not this Christian (albeit denominational) high-mindedness be seen as a window through which higher, less divisive positions and provocations might have been seized by the United States?

GOP presidential nominee John McCain (perhaps feeling a campaign wedge in the offing) outpaced his own government to rattle US sabers against Russia. Soon thereafter reports came in of a a rare Dick Cheney sighting, this time as he surfaced in Georgia itself to threaten and further sour US-Russia relations.

Might not a more elegant and holistic foreign policy approach to such an intensely sensitive international breakdown, benefit by recognizing a rare and pre-established harmonizing force through these Orthodox leaders? Why not trade on the so-called “Christianness” of American identity and stand in solidarity with leaders from both countries who in unison are calling on conscience and community to rise above the geopolitical forces that led to this tragic and dangerous conflict? Could not “America” have stepped through this door, to engage the leaders on both sides of this dangerous conflict?

We must note and indeed celebrate in this article an occasion in which a writer from mainstream, liberal media has done a fine and impressive job making religious matters, and religious history clear and comprehensible for a popular readership.

Let us hope that the secular bias that has so harmed and diminished the fullness of analysis and human understanding is starting to turn the corner, and fair and solid reporting like this can become a more frequent staple in the news we consume daily.

Frank Kaufmann is the director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace. These opinions are his own.