When and How to Apportion the Goods of Life? - - The financial crisis of 2008/09 has directed attention toward the extreme greed and wealth at one end of the income scale and the corresponding vulnerability and need at the other end of the income scale.
Writers such as Elizabeth Warren at the Harvard Law School, Peter Gosselin at the L.A. Times, Pope Benedict XVI, Gar Alperwitz and Lew Daly have all recently weighed in on this question. The scope of their thought is truly mind stretching; ranging from unfairness in bankruptcy laws, the evil of easy credit, the shredded workman’s compensation and pension laws, the Christian requirement to aid those in need which stems from the Sermon on the Mount and the Great Commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, and the gift of accumulated knowledge that the preceding generation gives at no cost to today’s entrepreneurs.
The dilemma seems to be how does society keep the tax rate high enough so the less well off can live in some dignity with the help of transfer payments while keeping the tax rate low enough so those with intelligence and a willingness to take risks are encouraged to keep the “capitalistic wealth generating machine” functioning smoothly.
Everyone, with a minimum degree of perceptiveness, realizes that many new laws, structures, controls, and regulations are going to emerge from this financial recession/depression to “guide” the behavior of the wealthiest and most capable people. These authors are arguing that if a financial redesign is going to occur now is the time to think about rationalizing the programs that help the middle and lower levels of society.
The key to a successful apportioning system is to keep it simple, self regulating, and possessed of obvious fairness. If everyone paid a flat 50% of their income and estate into government and if everyone (rich and poor alike) got vouchers for food, heath care ins, clothing, and housing to maintain a person at a minimal level. The rich person might pay 5% of his mortgage payment on his 7,000 sq ft McMansion with his voucher while a poor person might pay 90% of his rent for a two room flat with his voucher.
The advantages of this system are numerous: 1) There is no bureaucracy determining eligibility. Anyone with a Social Security number under 18 is in the program and anyone filing a tax return over 18 is in the program. 2) In the program is everyone pays 50% and everyone gets the same vouchers, so all citizens can make jokes about their shared experience. (You already see some of this among the elderly all of whom experience Social Security.) 3) It eliminates Social Security and Medicare which eliminates all those artificial decisions being made by employers for millions as they reach age 65. 4) A fourth advantage is the self limiting aspect in economic slowdowns. The voucher amounts would shrink as the recession cut tax receipts. 5) A fifth advantage is the 50/50 split idea itself which could be inculcated in all Americans from first grade into old age; everyone saying the phrase. “No more, no less, just 50/50 from everyone" could be the program’s slogan, jingle, etc.
The amount of the vouchers in total would have to be fixed at 70% of the amount collected by the 50% in tax. The remaining 30% would be added to excise taxes, tariffs, property taxes, corporate income taxes, and sales taxes to pay for: National Defense, interest on the national debt, infrastructure, prisons, police, schools, servicing government debt, etc.
The split on the 30% left over would allocate funds between federal, state and local - probably a third, a third and a third. (This starves the Feds a little, but it is time Americans moved more power and influence back closer to the people (ie toward state and local government) as our Founding Fathers intended.).
State and local government should be able to cut property taxes and sales taxes if they each received 5% of the personal income generated in their jurisdictions ((jurisdiction income x 50%) x (30%/3) = 5%) .
There are a few difficulties that need to be addressed. 1) Black market trading of vouchers needs to be discouraged otherwise drug addicts will steal vouchers to support their habit. However, charitable giving of vouchers needs to encouraged this would allow private charities to do more good work. 2) Rapidly increasing health care costs have to be considered. Moral theologians say that extraordinary interventions are not required in end of life situations. Rich people can use their money in this way if they wish, but their behavior should not set the end of life standard for all people. 3) The tendency of legislators to buy votes by promising larger voucher payments must be curbed - the 50/50 and 70/30 and 10/10/10 percentages must be inculcated from kindergarten to seventy.
........... (Prepared by Hugh Murray on 1/24/2009)
America’s Exercise Facilities need a Few Friendly Smiles -
- The aging process, the onset of chronic illness, the need to lose a few pounds, the desire to keep in shape, etc. - they all encourage exercise. So the clubs, the gyms, the YMCA’s - put in treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical machines, Nautilus devices, free weights, etc. that attract a steady flow of determined health enthusiasts.
The difficulty is their determination oftentimes carries over into a determination to set the jaw, grit the teeth and focus excessively on the task at hand - exercise.
Man is naturally a gregarious creature. God created man to form friendships, kin relationships, communities, work groups, even nuclear families. God intended for man to accomplish his greatest feats through group activity.
Now it is true that exercise facilities are organized into two kinds of activities: 1) games like basketball and handball where man’s natural gregariousness can easily flourish, and 2) solitary activity such as swimming and using exercise equipment. The latter kinds of activity require special attention on the part of the participants to encourage their natural humanness to show forth.
The benefits of developing friendship at an exercise facility are obvious, but need restatement 1) friendships, in general, are a source of pleasure, security, aid, comfort, information, etc. and 2) at an exercise facility, friendships also encourage repetitive attendance which facilitates good health. Exercise is useful if engaged in on a regular basis. Equipment and machines hold little attraction in themselves, but if the exercise facility also offers an opportunity to catch up with friends, the attraction of the exercise facility will be enhanced several fold and the exercise program has a much greater chance of success.
Managers of exercise facilities need to encourage people to: 1) be friendly and helpful with each other, 2) come at the same times during the week so the participants tend to see the same people again and again (this facilitates the formation of acquaintanceships and eventually friendships), and 3) make certain there is a rest area where six or eight people can sit for five minutes, cool down, and chat a bit before continuing their exercise or heading out. It might be a good idea to have a portable blood pressure cuff on a wheeled stand available so the participants (who have been trained to take a blood pressure) can take each others blood pressure before and after exercise. The formation of a “Smiler’s Club” with some identifier might be available for those who make a particular effort to build group cohesion.
There is one caveat to all this. America is afflicted with a terrible breakdown of civility between the sexes. This breakdown is partly responsible for the development of this self enforced “non communication” of exercise club participants. People are afraid of “offending” or “being offended” so they settle into isolation. Club managers need to address this problem in a open, up front fashion by saying to participants: “We are friendly with each other here, but that does not give anyone license to make offensive or off color remarks” in other words “keep it appropriate”. ........... (Prepared by Hugh Murray on 1/24/2009)
Stephen Mansfield Frightens God Fearing Americans with his Recent Book - The recent book The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield discusses the liberal Christianity that is showing its strength around America. This faith is manifest by people like Jim Wright, Barack Obama’s minister, who is a rabid pro Abortion, anti American preacher. His preaching helped form Obama. Eventually it led Obama to even advocate the killing of live babies who were born following botched late term abortions in Chicago’s abortion mills. This muscular, liberal Christianity includes support for gay marriage and fetal stem cell research.
This form of Christianity can only be described as a heretical, hate-filled corruption of the message of love which Christ delivered in Judea 2000 years ago. These liberal theologians try to make their deviation from the Christian norm acceptable by forcefully advocating for more government money for the poor. The are basically saying “leave my sin(s) alone” because I’m actively working to “give more of your tax money to the poor”.
Americans are proud of their tolerance. America are mostly a Christian nation. But Christian America must actively oppose these hateful, sinful people as they try to mis-appropriate the name - Christian.
The act of charitably opposing evil requires preparation and prayer. 1) Preparation is studying why a Christian must oppose the specific agenda items of these liberals. Why is abortion evil? Why is gay marriage evil? Why is fetal stem cell research bad? The true Christian must know the arguments well. 2) Prayer is needed to gain the grace and strengthening accompaniment of the Holy Spirit. The devil is advising those who would bring these evils into the Christian tent, the Holy Spirit must be invoked to counter the evil spirits..
........... (Prepared by Hugh Murray on 1/24/2009)
Scenes of Re-Union Lift the Human Spirit - There are twenty mysteries of the Rosary. They are divided into 4 sets of five, These are named: the Joyful Mysteries, the Luminous Mysterious, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries. The 20 mysteries begin with the announcement by the angel to Mary that she would be the mother of God. They proceed through many scenes in Christ’s life; to name just a few consider: His birth, His presentation in temple, His Baptism by John, His Transfiguration on Mt Tabor, His crowning with thorns, His death on a Cross, His resurrection, His ascension. Consider how moving it would be to simply place yourself in any of these scenes. Be a fly on the wall or a bird sitting on the ground nearby: How would you react? What would you think or feel? What do you think other people in the scene were thinking?.
Now consider two of the less dynamic mysteries: Mary’s Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth and Mary’s Assumption into Heaven. These are the second and nineteenth mysteries in the list of twenty. They both involve Mary more than Her Son. They both are adjacent to more famous events in the list.. The visit to Elizabeth is followed by the birth of Jesus. The assumption of Mary into Heaven is preceded by the decent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles..
Yet both of these mysterious are particularly touching because they involve re-union. Mary with Elizabeth and the accompanying first introduction (en utero) of Jesus to John, the man who would later baptise him. It is also a sweet ‘n sour event because both women sensed that the children they bore were destined for suffering, could they have imaged beheading or crucifixion? .
The Assumption of Mary into heaven is a mystery which has to be true because Mary with a crown on her head turns up in the Book of Revelations as the Queen of Heaven. It is the necessary mystery though it is not specifically stated in the Bible. Nevertheless the scene of Mary arriving in heaven to the loving embrace of her son is truly overwhelming. The sweet/sour aspect of the Visitation is replaced by pure joy and pleasure at this family re-union.
........... (Prepared by Hugh Murray on 1/24/2009)
Hopefully Microsoft has Begun its Inevitable Decline? - On 1/22/09 Microsoft announced 5000 layoffs. The company is suffering, as is the whole country, from a severe recession, but it is also suffering from the erosion of consumer interest in Microsoft as Apple’s sales soar.
Microsoft’s heralded “creative edge” has turned out to be rather “dull”. Microsoft finds itself again and again unable to compete and grow through internal innovation. So they have used their monopoly profits to acquire the creative talent and innovations they need. For instance, Yahoo has talented “search programmers”, and Microsoft has indicated they have a eye on this talent pool. Microsoft can’t allow Google and Yahoo to outshine Microsoft in the growing area of Internet search .
Other areas where Microsoft has tried to muscle its way into dominance include its efforts to steal the JAVA idea from Sun Microsystem and its heavy handed introduction of the X-Box only to fall far behind Nintendo.
A few years ago Microsoft was found by a Federal trial court in D.C. to be a monopoly. On appeal this verdict was overturned, but the facts presented at trial remain true and compelling. Microsoft has used its dominate position in operating systems for PCs to parley itself into a dominate position in spreadsheets, word processors, and small data base software. Their software has become so ubiquitous that large organizations feel they can compel their smaller affiliated companies to adopt Microsoft software or else. Then the process of forcefully transferring clerical tasks to the weaker organization from the more dominate organization can begin. The other trick Microsoft uses is to stop supporting their older products after eight or ten years. These trends force the entire business world to adopt Microsoft and then to regularly upgrade every half a dozen years. The equipment costs and personnel training costs that Microsoft’s policies and monopoly position force on American business are unmeasurable.
However, now Apple’s great product offerings and this recession, have hopefully forcing computer users to rethink Microsoft’s position. Let’s pray that Microsoft again assumes it rightful place as one of many important players in enterprise software, not the only important player in enterprise software as it is now. ........... (Prepared by Hugh Murray on 1/30/2009)
Open Letter to a Beloved Niece from a Concerned Aunt - Being with you is most pleasant. You are quiet, serious, and interested in adult conversation. Your interest in writing well crafted essays, understanding things scientific, and mastering the complexities of the Catholic religion are very endearing to me as I share those interests as well.
However, you are a senior in public high school in an upscale New York suburb and have few friends who share your interests. You must know that your class mates, even the very intelligent ones, are inclined to see you as a little different. In time, they will come to appreciate your fine qualities, but those realizations could be many years from now. Little consolation for the isolation and loneliness you experience today. If you keep in touch occasionally with those high school friends you’d like to know later in life, they will probably be your good friends in a few years.
Your situation would be somewhat improved if you had siblings, particularly one that shared your interests in religion. If your parents possessed a stronger spiritual dimension, you could have the uplifting experience of saying a family rosary occasionally at home or on long car trips. Just remember those voids will be filled later in life if you spend time with others who share your interests.
When you go to college, Catholic or secular, seek out groups that proudly embrace their faith. At secular colleges a Newman Center is a good place to meet such friends. At a Catholic College ask around for clubs that 1) profess a desire to study things like Apologetics or work on spiritual development, and/or 2) organize to do charitable work for the less fortunate. For example, tutoring the illiterate can be very rewarding. Unfortunately every college, Catholic and secular, has lots of people around who though intelligent are very shallow or are simply interested in self promotion. These people should command your friendliness but not much of your attention.
As for your major in College, it is very important that you develop your great strength, writing, to the point where you are recognized as being special among your classmates. Beyond writing, take some difficult courses. Take enough in one or two areas so that upon graduation you can say “I pretty well understand” some particular area such as economics, physics, or anthropology.
You tend to be stand-offish so in college participate in activities that force you to perform in front of others. Two activities that might appeal are intramural volleyball and band. Perhaps your flute playing days are not behind you after all. The group activities in Christian action and study, together with sport and music, will not only allow you to met people of similar interests but also learn to manage your natural quietness rather than have that quietness manage you.
You are lucky to be on the verge of putting your high school behind you and stepping onto a larger stage which is likely to possess many who share your interests and seriousness. Good luck!
... Your loving Aunt .............. (posted by Hugh Murray on 2/4/2008)
Benedict and Felay must Think “Outside the Box” for the Church’s Sake - A couple of weeks ago, Pope Benedict formally lifted the ex-communication of Bishop Felay and the other three bishops who run the Society of St. Pius X. (The Vatican had been at odds with the Society of St. Pius X because of its steadfast insistence that the Tradition Tridentine Mass is the only Mass in the western Church that has its roots in the ancient rites of the early church.) His Holiness, Benedict XVI, wants to bring the Traditional Latin Mass into wide usage around the Church probably because 1) he wants to restore the sense of mystery and majesty that accompanies this liturgy, and also 2) he wants to bring back a sense of the Real Presence which this Ancient Mass has so successfully instilled in the faithful over the centuries.
However, Pope Benedict has a uphill fight getting this done because the New Order Mass, growing out of Vatican II, has become so popular 1) with priests ordained in the last thirty years who learned it in seminary and 2) with certain activist lay people who like the many liturgical roles which that Mass provides for them (e.g. Eucharistic minister, lector, permanent deacon, music leader, etc.).
The key to getting the Traditional Mass widely re-introduced into parish life is in the training of new priests. This is where the Society of St. Pius X can do a great service. The Society, headed up by Bishop Felay, has priests all over the world trained in and dedicated to the Traditional Mass. These priests need to be assigned to handle liturgical formation at Catholic seminaries around the world. On Sundays they could say Mass at their Pius X parish churches as they do today, but on week days they should be at seminaries teaching local seminarians how to say the traditional Mass, but more important teaching them about the roots of the Mass with St John Chrysostom (347 - 407) and why that Mass has been so successful in instilling into the faithful a sense of Christ’s Presence in the host.
There will, of course, be some implementation problems. Some dioceses that run small local seminaries remote from any Pius X parish may need to re-assign their seminarians to larger seminaries in nearby cities where the distances from the available Pius X Society priest/teachers to the local seminary is not so great.
Some orders run their own seminaries apart from the diocesan system. These places of formation can be very remote indeed. In such cases, the local bishop may have to assign Society of St. Pius X priests to the nearest parish to the religious order’s facility so they can get there easily on days when classes are being held for men in formation.
This program should bring the entire Church back to the Traditional Mass in about thirty years. Of course, it is essential that Benedict’s successor share his vision for restoration of the old liturgy. This final task is of course in the hands of the Holy Ghost. .......(prepared by Hugh Murray on 2/07/2009)
A New Way of Ranking Presidents - Ivan Eland has written a book Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty in which he ranks America’s Presidents using different yardsticks than have traditionally been used.
A President loses points if a Presidents gets a lot of people killed, if he engages in an avoidable war, if he commits the US to tasks abroad that it can’t easily fulfil, etc. Of course, he gains points if he tries to keep government small, end foreign involvements, administers the existing law rather than trying to engage in extra legal activity, etc. Using the Eland ranking system the best President is John Tyler, the worst is Woodrow Wilson.
Under the Eland System some of the so called best Presidents don’t fare very well, his “not so good” list includes such “greats” as Lincoln and Truman.
Eland has performed a great service by taking issue with the history elites that constantly sing the praises of the same set of Presidents and constantly denigrate other more thoughtful Americans who would challenge the accepted wisdom and think for themselves........(prepared by Hugh Murray on 2/17/2009)
Culture Interests Anthropologists - They study culture from every angle: courtship, family formation, child rearing, political structure, religion, rites of passage, trading rules and rituals, etc. All these interest the anthropologist.
Methods of coping with change in a is another great interest of anthropologist. All societies change and yet too much change is difficult for a culture to handle. Some change is needed, too much change is destructive. A bit of change allows for the adoption of innovations and it gives aspiring youth a chance to find some opportunity to try their ideas. Too much change unmoors a society and leaves relations badly frayed or broken.
Some areas of a society’s culture tolerate change better than other. For instance a fishing tribe will accept a newly designed net that allows more fish to be caught. The same society might have trouble accepting new practices in the courtship/family formation area. The most difficult area to implement change is in the religious area because you are tampering with peoples’ belief structure about ultimate questions (e.g. afterlife beliefs, creation narratives, etc.) .
An example of a major change that has had unforseen consequences in the religious context, was the change in the Catholic Mass following Vatican II. The church intended to make the Mass more intelligible to the average Catholic. The Mass went from Latin to the vernacular (e.g. English in the US) The priest was no longer positioned with his back to the parishioners, he now faced the congregation so they could observe his many hand movements and hear his prayers in their native language. All done with good intentions, but now 35 years later 50% of Catholics below the age of 50 no longer believe that the priest at Mass is bringing Christ into their midst in the form of bread and wine. It turns out the old Mass with its Latin and unseen movements and gestures did a much better job of instilling in the assembly a belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the host. It turned out the mystery and majesty of the old Mass was important in keeping the belief structure intact.
Of course, the Latin Mass in its early twentieth century form was essentially the same Mass as discussed by the early fathers of the Church from the first and second centuries. It is surprising how little the Mass changed from the Mass of St. John Chrysostom (347-407) to the Latin Mass used in the early twentieth century. The Church had a good reason to keep this Mass for two thousand years, making only gradual changes here and there, but keeping it essentially intact till Vatican II. Church leaders must have sensed great danger in doing much tampering. They didn’t know why, but they sensed it was best to leave something that was working pretty much alone. In the 20th century the Church leaders “threw caution to the wind” and unknowingly violated one of the principle findings of the anthropologists. Now one of the most important beliefs of the Catholic Church is losing adherents.........(prepared by Hugh Murray on 2/27/2009)
Is Harry Markopolos Wrong about the SEC’s Failures on Madoff? - Harry Markopolos is the whistle blower who told the SEC that Madoff was a crook several years before the Ponzi scheme unraveled
Markopolos discovered Madoff’s scheme by checking the trades Madoff reported doing against the exchanges’ official record of trading volumes done in those securities on the days in question. This checking quickly revealed that Madoff was simply making up trades using historical data to justify his reported steady account appreciation. As Madoff approached a reporting deadline where statements had to be prepared and mailed to clients, he evidently reviewed the previous 90 days finding stocks that appreciated the amount he needed to show the desired return (generally about 3.5% per quarter). He would then enter the appropriate phony trades in his company’s computer to “generate” the desired returns.
The scheme would have worked wonderfully if he was generating statements for total assets of one or two million dollars. However, $50 billion requires a lot of share volume to get the necessary returns into thousands of large accounts. The Madoff volume never materialized in the exchanges’ trading volume reports.
Markopolos was brilliant uncovering the Madoff scheme. And he did the right thing reporting it to the SEC. However, he is probably wrong in attributing evil motives to the SEC when they didn’t follow up. It is more likely that the person who received the Markopolos letters was not knowledgeable enough about how the markets work to appreciate the analysis Markopolos was placing before him.
It is an unpleasant, unreported fact of securities regulation that those doing the regulation lack the credentials which even a junior stockbroker has. The tendency in securities regulation is to create organizations led by lawyers (who are possessed of extreme self confidence but little useful knowledge) and staffed by hardworking, unimaginative underlings (who, seeking advancement, mimic the unimaginative approaches of their leaders).
Regulatory personnel tend to live their lives within the four corners of their rule books. For instance, it is very hard to get them to take an interest in an organization outside their rule book. Consider, from the SEC’s perspective Madoff was an unregistered hedge fund dealing with accredited wealthy individuals and entities who were presumed, because of their wealth, to be sophisticated and therefore generally exempt from SEC protection. Also consider that from the SEC perspective, the Markopolos argument was difficult to absorb because he argued using data from diverse sources (the exchanges' trading data and Maddoff’s statements) The SEC rule book is written with individual legally regulated entities in mind: a B/D is being looked at, or an Registered Investment Advisor is being looked at, or a mutual fund is being looked at, or an publicly traded company is being looked at, or an exchange is being looked at, etc. But Markopolos was asking them to look at different entities simultaneously, referring one to the other. Markopolos for several reasons was well beyond the four corners of the rule book.
Markopolos is right, the SEC has to be cleaned up and new people hired. However, the new people should all have passed the Series 7 (General Securities Registration test) and Series 24 (General Securities Principal test) and worked for at least two years servicing clients in a brokerage environment. Anyone with that background would have instantly understood Markopolos’ letter exposing Madoff.
In general, the US regulatory structure has to focus more on inter-organizational relationships between entities and perhaps less on intra-organizational relationships within an entity. Since a regulated entity is a legal entity that can be sued, fined, closed down, or otherwise sanctioned, it is much easier for a lawyer dominated regulator to write rules, and otherwise apply pressure to gain compliance, if the focus is on legal entities. However, when a regulator has to deal with multiple entities, of varying size, interacting simultaneously in myriad ways, the regulatory mind loses its touchstones . (It is a little like the Pentagon trying to design a machine that works well against guerilla fighters. Of course, none has been found, so military leaders respond by saying "we don’t do nation building” which is another way of saying “we don’t deal with low intensity warfare”.) The SEC’s “entity centric” regulatory model does not work very well when systems linking many entities together need to be monitored or controlled.
America has always applauded growth. Size for size’s sake is praised. This mind set leads to very large entities that are “too big to fail”. When you allow such entries to grow with thousands of interlinked contractual relationships between and among themselves, even the best regulators are lost. They are faced with the task of regulating when their severest sanction of “harassing and fining into bankruptcy” is taken off the table.........(prepared by Hugh Murray on 3/27/2009)
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