The End of Dollar Hegemony

The announcement that the Fed Cuts Interest Rate by Quarter Point is another nail in the coffin of dollar hegemony.

Dollar hegemony, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, is the phenomenon whereby the status of the dollar as the world’s premier reserve currency affords the greenback "privileges" that other currencies lack.  The best example is the long-running trade deficit.  Since we owe this deficit in our own currency, the impact on our economy is diminished, because we, in an indirect sense, owe ourselves the debt.

The Fed’s overriding concern for the health of financial institutions and the people that run them over the needs for a stable currency–which has driven the recent interest rate cuts–will further devalue the currency by accelerating the flight of capital into currencies and commodities that afford a better return, be that return in value gain or interest yield.  The more this happens, the more dollar hegemony erodes, and the more "real" our indebtedness–public, corporate and personal–becomes.

The serious question at this point is like the disagreement between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics over salvation: will it be a process or an event?  Up to now it’s been a process.  The world’s economic powerhouses such as China have been diversifying their currency holdings for some time.  This could continue.  Or it could become an event if the wrong set of circumstances come to pass at once. The latter would be apocalyptically cataclysmic.

Too much of Americans’ "gravity-defying" view of life–and that unfortunately includes Christians–has been rooted in dollar hegemony.  How this plays out again depends upon the surrounding circumstances, but the return to earth may be harder than anticipated.  In the early years of the American and Soviet space programmes, when the space capsule returned, it landed on water.  The worst that happened is that one of the capsules went to the bottom.  The Soviets landed in the Kazakh desert; their failures were catastrophic.  Will we have an American or Soviet style landing?

As my wife’s friend from West Virginia says, "Pray, saints…"

When Vision Fails

From Black Swan Trading:

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, subprime rears its vicious jaws again; this time in Europe. As reported in Bloomberg this morning, “UBS AG, Europe’s largest bank by assets, reported its first quarterly loss in almost five years after declines in the U.S. subprime mortgage market led to $4.4 billion in losses and writedowns on fixed-income securities.” I’m sure you remember the recent run on U.K. bank Northern Rock Plc. And last week we saw subprime bite into Merrill Lynch and Japan’s Nomura Holdings. The week before that Bank of America, Wachovia and Capital One Financial all reported subprime-related gashes in their quarterly results.

This crêpe hanging led to the following observation:

Makes one wonder if CEO’s are lucky or good? During the boom times, the CEO’s at all the major houses were visionaries. Remember how credit parcelled out into smaller bundles was supposed to reduce risk? Remember how stress-tested all these portfolios were supposed to be? Sure, most CEO’s can impress with mission statements, customer centric marketing plans, technology integration, blah, blah, blah when the environment is good…but when the business cycle changes, there are only a few that seem to shine.

Unfortunately many "prosperity teachers" are guilty of the same thing.

Glad We Didn’t Have to Put Our Siamese Cat Through This

This is what happened when we tried to get our cat to pose in a portrait shoot. Photo courtesy of Bernice Ransom.

One of the newer blessings (other than same-sex blessings for people) that Episcopalians can avail themselves of is the “blessing of the animals.”  Needless to say dear old Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach not only did this, but got a video of this in the online Shiny Sheet.  (Who needs YouTube when you have the Palm Beach Daily News?)

Although the pet owners were glowing in their assessment, the animals didn’t show as much enthusiasm.  One dog really worked at ducking the holy water being slung at him, which is hilarious.

I am thankful that we, when at Bethesda, didn’t have to put our Siamese cat Buff through this.  It was hard enough for him to get through a portrait shoot.    And he hated water with a passion.  Ah, for the days of wine and the 1928 Prayer Book

It’s still better than the “Contract on the Episcopalians.

St. Jerome’s Idea of Bishops and Presbyters

One of the reasons why people join churches like Anglican, Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches (especially the last one) is to have a church which can have continuity with the "Fathers of the Church."  For Roman Catholics, one of the four "Doctors of the Church" (the most important of the Fathers) is St. Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible, which dominated Western Christianity for the next millennium.

Jerome’s opinion of the respective roles of bishops and presbyters (priests?) has always been at odds with the traditional concept of the threefold ministry of deacons, priests and bishops.  Since Anglican waters have been severely muddied by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ letter to Central Florida Bishop John Howe that the diocese is the basic unit in Anglicanism, it’s good to take a look at what this Doctor of the Church has to say about the matter.

Jerome’s position is simple: bishops and presbyters are one in the same office.  The reason why some bishops were elevated above others was to avoid schism.  He does make a clear distinction between deacons and presbyters, but no further.  He stated this position more than once in his long career, but I will cite below his position statement from his Letter 146, To Evangelus.

We read in Isaiah the words, “the fool will speak folly,” and I am told that some one has been mad enough to put deacons before presbyters, that is, before bishops. For when the apostle clearly teaches that presbyters are the same as bishops, must not a mere server of tables and of widows be insane to set himself up arrogantly over men through whose prayers the body and blood of Christ are produced? Do you ask for proof of what I say? Listen to this passage: “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons.” Do you wish for another instance? In the Acts of the Apostles Paul thus speaks to the priests of a single church: “Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock, in the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops, to feed the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” And lest any should in a spirit of contention argue that there must then have been more bishops than one in a single church, there is the following passage which clearly proves a bishop and a presbyter to be the same. Writing to Titus the apostle says: “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain presbyters in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless as the steward of God.” And to Timothy he says: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” Peter also says in his first epistle: “The presbyters which are among you I exhort, who am your fellow-presbyter and a witness of the sufferings of Christ and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed the flock of Christ…taking the oversight thereof not by constraint but willingly, according unto God.” In the Greek the meaning is still plainer, for the word used is επισκοποῦντες , that is to say, overseeing, and this is the origin of the name overseer or bishop. But perhaps the testimony of these great men seems to you insufficient. If so, then listen to the blast of the gospel trumpet, that son of thunder, the disciple whom Jesus loved and who reclining on the Saviour’s breast drank in the waters of sound doctrine. One of his letters begins thus: “The presbyter unto the elect lady and her children whom I love in the truth;” and another thus: “The presbyter unto the well-beloved Gaius whom I love in the truth.” When subsequently one presbyter was chosen to preside over the rest, this was done to remedy schism and to prevent each individual from rending the church of Christ by drawing it to himself. For even at Alexandria from the time of Mark the Evangelist until the episcopates of Heraclas and Dionysius the presbyters always named as bishop one of their own number chosen by themselves and set in a more exalted position, just as an army elects a general, or as deacons appoint one of themselves whom they know to be diligent and call him archdeacon. For what function, excepting ordination, belongs to a bishop that does not also belong to a presbyter? It is not the case that there is one church at Rome and another in all the world beside. Gaul and Britain, Africa and Persia, India and the East worship one Christ and observe one rule of truth. If you ask for authority, the world outweighs its capital. Wherever there is a bishop, whether it be at Rome or at Engubium, whether it be at Constantinople or at Rhegium, whether it be at Alexandria or at Zoan, his dignity is one and his priesthood is one. Neither the command of wealth nor the lowliness of poverty makes him more a bishop or less a bishop. All alike are successors of the apostles.

But you will say, how comes it then that at Rome a presbyter is only ordained on the recommendation of a deacon? To which I reply as follows. Why do you bring forward a custom which exists in one city only? Why do you oppose to the laws of the Church a paltry exception which has given rise to arrogance and pride? The rarer anything is the more it is sought after. In India pennyroyal is more costly than pepper. Their fewness makes deacons persons of consequence while presbyters are less thought of owing to their great numbers. But even in the church of Rome the deacons stand while the presbyters seat themselves, although bad habits have by degrees so far crept in that I have seen a deacon, in the absence of the bishop, seat himself among the presbyters and at social gatherings give his blessing to them. Those who act thus must learn that they are wrong and must give heed to the apostles words: “it is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” They must consider the reasons which led to the appointment of deacons at the beginning. They must read the Acts of the Apostles and bear in mind their true position. Of the names presbyter and bishop the first denotes age, the second rank. In writing both to Titus and to Timothy the apostle speaks of the ordination of bishops and of deacons, but says not a word of the ordination of presbyters; for the fact is that the word bishops includes presbyters also. Again when a man is promoted it is from a lower place to a higher. Either then a presbyter should be ordained a deacon, from the lesser office, that is, to the more important, to prove that a presbyter is inferior to a deacon; or if on the other hand it is the deacon that is ordained presbyter, this latter should recognize that, although he may be less highly paid than a deacon, he is superior to him in virtue of his priesthood. In fact as if to tell us that the traditions handed down by the apostles were taken by them from the old testament, bishops, presbyters and deacons occupy in the church the same positions as those which were occupied by Aaron, his sons, and the Levites in the temple.

The Mother of All Tax Reforms and Battles, Spiritual and Otherwise

Charles Rangel is proposing the "Mother of All Tax Reforms."  But he may not know the origin of the phrase he’s using to describe it.

It’s obviously a takeoff of Saddam Hussein’s "Mother of All Battles" description of what turned out to be (for him) the rout of the first Gulf War.  In a place as patriarchal as the Middle East, it would seem that describing anything as the mother of something else isn’t as impressive as it would be to Americans, who put "mother, apple pie and the flag" at the top of the list.

But calling such battles or tax reforms as the mother of anything is an Islamic term.  Islam teaches that the Qur’an is the perfect earthly copy of the heavenly "Mother of the Book:"

We did send messengers before thee, and appointed for them wives and children: and it was never the part of a messenger to bring a sign except as Allah permitted (or commanded). For each period is a Book (revealed).  Allah doth blot out or confirm what He pleaseth: with Him is the Mother of the Book. (Sura 13:38-39)

Nay, this is a Glorious Qur’an, (Inscribed) in a Tablet Preserved! (Sura 85:21-22)

The "Mother of All Battles" would thus have been the earthly copy of a heavenly struggle.  Saddam felt that the war on earth with the infidel (although Saddam wasn’t much of a Muslim) would go as the heavenly one would.  But it didn’t either time.  (Or did it?)

It’s unlikely that Rangel realises the meaning of the phrase he’s using, or even that he’s considered that the result of the first "Mother of All Battles" doesn’t bode well for him.  But they take their politics seriously in New York, and a backdrop of spiritual warfare is, in some ways, entirely appropriate.  One Hispanic correctional chaplain from New York told me that the 2004 election was a contest between God and Satan.  It puts a Clinton-Giuliani match-up in an entirely different light!

The Class Dilemma of the Edwards Campaign

The news report put out by the Carolina Week staff (video below) and the attempt by John Edwards’ campaign to get it pulled shows the dilemma that every candidate that runs on the left has in dealing with the “contradictions” (as Mao Dun would put it) in advancing their cause.

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that people who “mobilise the masses” should come from the masses.  John Edwards comes closer than anyone else in the Democrat race (the front runners, at least) in doing that.  Many important people on the left don’t, and certainly the resources that fuel them don’t.  But conventional wisdom would also have us believe that those who who come to help the dispossessed should share the condition of the dispossessed (or at least put a campaign headquarters with them.)  But neither is the case here.  Edwards’ headquarters is in reasonably nice Chapel Hill, and he himself, to use an old expression, “lives large.”

I’ve discussed this issue before here.  More recently Greg Cruey, an Edwards supporter, has challenged me on my dislike for Hillary Clinton.  What we’re dealing with is a long-running problem on the left that transcends anyone currently running for office.

It’s almost like an observer effect with political application.  In that aspect of physics, if we attempt to measure a physical phenomenon, the act of measurement itself may well influence the results we obtain.  As some on the video observed, you can’t get elected President if you’re poor.  But if you obtain the resources to run for President, your own new-found self-interest and that of those who financed you will distort the results you deliver once you’re in office.  The centralisation that results from the redistribution of income and the provision of social services also centralises the wealth and power in the hands of those who furnish the services.  At this point the attempt to improve the lot of the poor becomes a patronage scheme.

Although the state can facilitate some improvements, in the end the best improvements should be left to God:

But Jesus called the ten to him, and said: “Those who are regarded as ruling among the Gentiles lord it over them, as you know, and their great men oppress them. But among you it is not so. No, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, And whoever wants to take the first place among you must be the servant of all; For even the Son of Man came, not be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45).

He Won’t Need a Translator. But a Few Subtitles Might Help.

There’s no doubt that Miami Dolphins’ player Channing Crowder is relieved that he won’t need a translator when he’s in London.  But he may not be out of the woods with the language barrier just yet.

On some American news channels, when a British speaker of English is being interviewed, we’ll sometimes see subtitles just to make sure the Yanks get the point.  The Brits know how to reciprocate, too: on a recent BBC4 series on radical Islam inside British mosques, they featured an American imam (as if the ones from the Middle East weren’t dangerous enough) and they subtitled his speech, although those of us on this side of the pond wish they had subtitled some of the others.

Maybe Crowder should stay in Miami after all…where the animals are tame and the people run wild.

Terror watch list swells to more than 755,000

The terror watch list has expanded to include more than 755,000 names.

Almost six years ago I wrote Levelling the Playing Field, and proposed the following hypothetical government action in the wake of 9/11:

Enacted restrictions on who could fly, empowering the government to "prequalify" travellers on the commercial air system.  In a country as large as the U.S., this would be tantamount to an internal passport system such as existed in the Soviet Union.

Looks like we’re well on our way to that.  But at least we’re six years out.  Let me reiterate my other two "hypotheticals:"

Sent the Congress home for an indefinite period, saying that it was too dangerous for them to stay in Washington with all of these terrorists about.  Since their emergency home in West Virginia is now a tourist attraction, their options would have been limited.

Launched a broad based legal assault on evangelical Christian organisations.  Since any Christian organisation worth its salt believes that God is above and beyond any government (as Muslims do also), and since the media have spent so much airtime lumping all "fundamentalists" together, a well oiled propaganda machine (such as the Clinton administration had) could have easily made a "threat to national security" line plausible to many.

I do not think that Clinton II would hesitate to do either one if the opportunity arose.  One of the things that Hillary tries to convey is that she’s tough enough to deal with threats to our national security. There’s no doubt about that.  The problem is in defining what those threats are and who’s making them.

Why I Cannot Vote for Hillary, and Other Matters

Greg Cruey has come back with some interesting points in his response to "Keeping Liberals Entertained."  But let me start with his last one, namely voting for Hillary Clinton.

One of the enduring problems with the current occupant of the White House is that he will not change his idea when events demonstrate that it is wrong.  The most important case of this is his quest for democracy in the Middle East, which is the greatest mirage since the original one.  A realistic reading of the Bible would confirm this.  If he would abandon it, he would solve his problems in Iraq–which are political, not military–in short order.  But he will not.

Such thinking exists because he is a product of his generation, and his generation is one that careens between absolutism and profligacy with no middle ground.  We started out with the profligate Bill Clinton, then moved to the absolutist George Bush.

In Hillary Clinton–for all of her efforts to "soften" her image–we have another absolutist whose reign will be a mirror image of George Bush’s.  This has been pointed out by liberals more than conservatives, which is why candidacies such as Barack Obama and John Edwards have any traction.  Combined with a decidedly Leninist "ends justifies the means" streak, you have a recipe for disaster.

And that is why I cannot vote for Hillary Clinton.  (Of course, there’s always the matter of Socks…)

As far as Cruey’s favourite, John Edwards, is concerned, I think that he is an anachronism.

Let me respond to a couple of other points.

As a Baptist who spent 10 years on the mission field in Asia and the Pacific, I think Christians in America exacerbate their problems with American culture – and then often whine about it.

Since both Cruey and I have a common obsession–China (here are links to his site on the subject and mine)–let me use the Chinese as an example.

The basic problem that American evangelicals face relative to their government is that, although their government is in theory less authoritarian than others, it has a higher level of credibility with the people than its counterparts just about everywhere else in the world.  Thus, if the government is allowed to carry the message that people who believe in God and are serious about it are morons and those who take the contrary view are "beautiful and good," chances are it will get more traction here than elsewhere.  That’s why evangelicals are forced to be legally and politically active.  Compounding the problem is the fact that American evangelicals’ view of themselves is more securely "hog-tied" (since we both live in "Appalachia," I can get away with using that term) to their view of the country.

Turning to the Chinese, the Communist Party’s 17th National Congress has just concluded.  But, as Kent Ewing of Asia Times Online points out:

Now that the Politburo standing committee has been set, the nation can finally tear off the straitjacket of pomp and protocol that it has been wrapped in for the past seven days and go back to being the most exciting country in the world.

Indeed, perhaps the most important lesson of this congress is the increasing disconnect that it has shown between the deliberate dullness and scripted predictability of the country’s politicians and the sometimes alarming dynamism of its economic and social life. This is a nation crowding in on the first tier of world powers, yet its politicians continue to bumble along as if they are lost in a time warp.

It’s noteworthy that the Chinese are experiencing one of the greatest economic advances and the greatest Christian revival ever known right under the nose of an institution based on Marxist-Leninist thinking!  Although it’s true that same institution has allowed some of this (the economic advance, at least,) it’s hard to imagine things getting so far on either front here under the same conditions considering our worship of the "rule of law."  (Or is it rule of lawyers?  Didn’t Mitt Romney say that he would consult the attorneys before attacking Iran?)  The Chinese have no higher regard for their government than they had when Wu Ching-Tzu wrote The Scholars.  If evangelicals here adopted the same kind of attitude that their Chinese counterparts did, the culture war would end.

But then they would be criticised for not "fitting in" and "participating" in our society.  It is enough to make a civics teacher cry.  But I am one of those people who think that students would learn more about statescraft from Tacitus, Thucydides, Sun Tzu and Lo Kuan-Chung than most civics classes.

And that leads to the Cruey’s next point:

And I firmly believe that God is not a Republican (or a Democrat).

That’s not the issue either.  As I noted earlier this month:

We need to quit wondering which candidate will bring us closer to a "righteous nation" and starting thinking about which candidate is the least likely to put us in jail.

The problem with the U.S. is that it has gone on so long and been so successful that we have deluded ourselves and those who are coming after us that "it can’t happen here."  History teaches that it not only can happen here, but sooner or later it will happen here.  It is only a matter of when and whether we (irrespective of who "we" happen to be) are prepared to deal with the consequences.