Wikileaks and Espionage

The Wikileaks story dominates our news today. Some people have wondered how an enlisted soldier was able to simply burn all of this information onto discs and then pass it along? Well, it doesn’t surprise me much and I expect much worse ahead.

Back in the mid 90’s I was in Intelligence and was stationed at the headquarters of a certain large agency. I carried a backpack every day and this agency had a spot-check policy for backpacks and purses. I was never once spot-checked. Theoretically, I could have carried documents and such out of the building every day if I wanted to risk being caught.

Jump ahead to today. In the old days, spies had to sneak photocopies of microfilm or something like that out to their handlers. Now, you could use memory sticks or a cell phone. I can’t imagine the damage that an iPhone could do – video, pictures, etc. My guess is that it will only be a matter of time until we hear of huge losses of sensitive data to somebody who just took pictures on his phone all day at work. How can the government stop this? Can they ban all phones at work? Can they enforce such a ban? I think not.

Perhaps the security in critical places like nuclear labs and top-level analysis centers is better and it would be harder to take information out of them, but I have no confidence in that. Perhaps the larger question is how the nation-state can lock down information in the  digital age. I don’t have much faith in the ability of a big, lumbering organization like the modern State to keep information secret. All it takes is one person with hostile intentions to wreak havoc with national secrets.

Defending Constantine 1

I received the book yesterday. It is surprisingly large – most of Leithart’s works are shorter. Here’s a quote from the Introduction:

…one aim in this book is to contribute to the formation of a theology that does not simply inform but is a social science.

In contrast to many modern theologians who consider social science to be foundational for theology, Milbank argues that classical orthodoxy contains its own account of social and political life.

I love this – we don’t need to go to sociology and political science for instructions on how to order our lives. Theology, rightly conceived, contains all we need for every area of life. This is Reformational, Medieval, and Kuyperian!

 

Defending Constantine

Coming in November, Peter Leithart’s new book:

Contents:

1 Sanguinary Edicts
2 Jupiter on the Throne
Instinctu Divinitatus
4 By This Sign
Liberator Ecclesiae
6 End of Sacrifice
7 Common Bishop
8 Nicaea and After
9 Seeds of Evangelical Law
10 Justice for All
11 One God, One Emperor
12 Pacifist Church?
13 Christian Empire, Christian Mission
14 Rome Baptized

I CAN”T WAIT!!!!

Our Future

It is hard to imagine what the future of the USA will look like, and forecasts are useless anyway, because none of us actually KNOWS the future. That said, we face such tidal waves of debt in this nation and globally that a reckoning day will come. [I will make my own useless forecast] Since we are unlikely to cut spending much or raise taxes much, my guess is that the reckoning will be in the form of hyperinflation. Inflation makes debts small at the cost of destroying the currency and punishing savers. What all this means for me and my children is worrisome.

I am post-millennial, which means that I think the future is ultimately bright for Christ and His Church. I think things have gotten better since the Resurrection. You only think things are the worst now if you don’t know history very well. While I expect a form of “collapse” for the USA I don’t think it will be “end of the world” collapse, just something like the collapse of the British Empire. We won’t be able to police the world, tell everyone what to do, and so on. Rod Dreher talks about where to live and whether or not to move on his blog. Will there be social unrest? I would think so. I don’t think living in cities will be pleasant at times. On the other hand, living in extremely rural areas doesn’t seem great either due to driving distances, lack of supplies, and so on. If oil prices go up, driving distances may become untenable and low income / fixed income folk aren’t going to be able to commute. All of this seems to point to suburbs and smaller cities becoming more livable, walkable and pleasant, so that is an upside.

I would imagine that our standard of living will stagnate, but on the other hand it seems possible that there will continue to be an uber-class of vastly wealthy elites and an underclass of the proletariat who cannot protect their savings with gold, overseas banks and the like. Stress will come on the institutions of governance and perhaps they will fall apart. And yet technology affords the government with unprecedented means of spying, control and punishment.

Perhaps a public burned by experiences with debt and disabused of the notion that the Messianic State can take care of everything will mature in wisdom. Perhaps fragments of our society can begin to return to taking care of local things instead of always worrying about national issues that we can do nothing about. Or perhaps we are in for several centuries of darkness, where fragility and uncertainty reign and the political landscape shifts all the time. Either way, there are great opportunities for the Church in the coming century, due to technology, upheaval and the failure of institutions that are given over to evil.

Housing in Virginia 2010

It is now May of 2010 and there is no sign that housing is recovering here in Virginia. I live out in the exurbs, so in close to the city core things are probably a bit different. Out here, most of the homes that sat empty last summer still sit empty today. Most of them don’t have any signs on them at all and grass is now waist deep. I am no expert, but I imagine that a home sitting empty for a summer or two warps, cracks and falls into disrepair. Mold sets in. Bugs get in. Who wouldn’t want that? The few homes that do sell are at fire sale prices, 150K or more under where they were in 05-06.

Will these homes eventually need to be demolished? Will this neighborhood and those like it turn into exurban ghettos? After all, we are only another oil shock or inflation shock away from it being totally unthinkable to do the 1-3 hour commutes (each way) that we do here.

All things considered, housing isn’t picking up steam here. There are years of pain ahead.

Subsidies for the World’s Most Expensive Healthcare

Writing a market analysis for Citigroup’s weekly Portfolio Strategist newsletter, Steven Wieting outlines a dire future for America’s government debt. Note that this is far from a partisan magazine, it is a real-world analysis of possible scenarios for investors. An extensive excerpt follows:

§ Markets may still be overestimating the short-term vulnerability of the U.S. economy amid a strengthening and self-sustaining cyclical recovery. At the same time, the risks to U.S. economic performance in the long term have actually never seemed more dire.

§ Far from hoarding labor (unlike others), the U.S. has just endured the deepest two year decline in employment of the post war period. Signs abound that production, employment and investment declines have been unnecessarily severe, an overshoot. Friday’s data surprised with three consecutive months of private employment gains, with some confirmation in the separate survey of households.

§ But few had ever contemplated entering a well-advertised period of demographic weakening and higher dependency levels with a U.S. budget deficit so large as a starting condition.

§ The structural budget deficit looks potentially unmanageable even five years from now, when employment is assumed to be “full” and the financial supports of the recent crisis are paid back as fully as they ever will be.

§ Higher taxes have always seemed necessary to cover elder-care entitlements in the period ahead. But as a start, taxes are being raised instead to cover expanding entitlements further and can’t be used again for initial deficit reduction or offsets to future large increases in spending programs in place.

§ With the presumed passage of expanded subsidized healthcare coverage for nearly all in need, U.S. consumers, taxpayers and employers will have to buy more of the same healthcare goods and services sourced at the highest observable cost per unit in the world.

Unusual Digression in Short and Long View

On visits to clients across different parts of the world in recent weeks, we have continued to sense at least a worrying complacency with the long-term outlook for the U.S., against residual fears that the economy is incapable of cyclical recovery. In essence, many investors seem to overestimate cyclical vulnerability, while underestimating structural economic risks for the U.S. over the long run, in our view.

Far from hoarding labor (unlike others), the U.S. has just endured the deepest two year decline in employment of the post war period. Signs abound that production, employment and investment declines have been unnecessarily severe, an overshoot.

[…]

At the same time, the risks to U.S. economic performance in the long-term have actually never seemed more dire.

A demographic bulge in the dependency ratio has always loomed beginning in the early- to mid 2010s. That “bulge” worsens gradually for the following 25 years.

Few had ever contemplated entering this period with a U.S. budget deficit so large as a starting condition. This structural budget deficit looks potentially unmanageable even five years from now, when employment is assumed to be “full” and the financial supports of the recent crisis are paid back as fully as they ever will be.

Higher taxes have always seemed necessary to cover elder-care entitlements in the period ahead. But as a start, taxes are now being raised instead to cover expanding entitlements further and can’t be used again for initial deficit reduction or offsets to future large increases in spending programs already in place.

Following the recent political debate, many Americans might have come away with the notion that health insurance companies “charge too much” for healthcare. Perhaps the insurers need to hire their own cheaper doctors and build their own cheaper hospitals to compete with the existing supply of them. Assuming otherwise, they will still need to pay the same amounts for hospital stays, procedures and medicines as before, at the highest observable cost per unit in the world. But now, with the presumed passage of expanded subsidized coverage for nearly all in need, U.S. consumers, taxpayers and employers will have to buy more of those same goods and services, sourced from the same supply base.

Aside from small experimental steps to develop competitive exchanges for individual insurance coverage, never before have we seen a U.S. policy solution seem so detached from the underlying problem it purports to address. Americans want more healthcare, and will need more as the population ages. But the existing system fails in almost every way to match economic benefits with costs, obscuring them instead.

And while the latest reform effort purports deficit reduction over ten years, it does so on roughly six years of expenditures and 10 years of tax increases. More importantly, medical entitlements have never been “overpriced” into budget outlooks allowing for positive cost surprises (see Figure 11). The healthcare overhaul achieves the bulk of its purported spending cuts through limiting Medicare payments to doctors, hospitals and nursing homes, cuts that Congress has failed to pass through repeatedly since 2003, instead opting for more spending. Private insurers, meanwhile, would see some ostensible limits to their pricing, but generally would need to expand coverage, and purchases of healthcare services and goods.

In two places in the developing and developed world, laypeople mentioned to us that healthcare in the U.S. would now properly come for “free” for those unable to pay for it. If only that was true. Instead, future tax payers will have to come to grips with the costs of a system that for now is neither disciplined by competitive market forces nor rationed like other public welfare programs.

But if not in healthcare, rationing will take place in other places. Public education outlays for the future taxpayers have reportedly been a target of near-term budget constraints. While never free from waste, these are human resource investments that contribute to the future economic output. There are investments in the individuals who will carry the larger future tax burdens of the dependency bulge of coming decades.

We have been concerned for some time that a greater, unsustainable share of future entitlement outlays will end up deficit financed, with costs simply put off further into the future. At least that may be attempted. But among other concerns, lenders to the U.S. may feel less than certain about that stream of future income and output if incentives are so skewed against those who will need to provide it.

The Barbarian Conversion

Richard Fletcher [The Barbarian Conversion] notes that ancient Christendom was not monolithic:

In terms of custom and practice there were many churches in sixth- and seventh-century Europe, not One Church. Christendom was many-mansioned.

Fletcher talks about the motif of exile in the monastic expansion. Christians, following the writing of Augustine, saw themselves as exiles and pilgrims and then the monastics took this exile literally. They often left their homeland and people to found monastic missions amongst others. Fletcher says:

Pilgrimage, in the sense of ascetic renunciation of homeland and kinsfolk, is of special importance in our understanding of the phenomenon of conversion in the early Middle Ages. Pilgrimage merged insensibly into mission. The monasteries that were founded by the exiled holy men had something of the character of mission stations. It was not that they were established primarily among pagans; indeed, they could not have been, dependent as they were on wealthy patrons, necessarily Christian…for their endowments…But their monastic communities were situated on the margins of Christendom, and had what might be called “diffusive potential” among nearby laity who were Christian only in the most nominal of senses.

It seems to me that we could apply this same method to the diffusion of the faith in our day. Establishing tightly-focused communities at the margins of our society, for example in rural areas and urban areas that aren’t glamorous. Communities devoted to Biblical saturation, mission and learning which could aim to gradually convert the surrounding area.

Church Government = National Government?

I’m wondering if the church often reflects the governing paradigm of the world-empire that it is situated in. In Roman times this meant the highly-structured governmental organization that mirrored the Imperial government. In America it means a reflection of corporate governance, with the pastor as CEO and maybe a “board” with some other trappings of democracy. My impression is that even in the Catholic Church, democracy has invaded at the local level to a large extent.


James Jordan writes “One of the essential failures of the Protestant Reformation was the forfiture of a truly international ecclesiastical organization, and too close a tie of the church to national interests.”

Nidal Hasan and Secular America

I have written in the past about the coexistence of Islam and Secularism; (here and here for example). According to the Washington Post, Islamic murderer Nidal Hasan gave a presentation to the Army about which the Post says:

Under the “Conclusions” page, Hasan wrote that “Fighting to establish an Islamic State to please God, even by force, is condoned by the Islam,” and that “Muslim Soldiers should not serve in any capacity that renders them at risk to hurting/killing believers unjustly — will vary!”

Yes, will vary.

The Ft. Hood massacre exposes once again the fissures in our society. It is patently obvious that Hasan wanted to inflict death on Americans rather than being forced to go overseas and fight against fellow Muslims. But our corporate, government and educational elites have enforced diversity and tolerance from the top-down for decades now and cannot admit that this level of violence is happening. The reactions to the event are tired and predictable. Expect to see religion blamed in the abstract as a problem, or access to guns, or the wars themselves, not Islam.

A plain reading of the Qur’an reveals that Bin Laden and Hasan are living in closer harmony with the will of Allah revealed in the text than are those Muslims who do not resist the infidels. The response of most in the West is to talk about “Islamism” and “radical Islam” as opposed to the “peaceful” Islam that is the majority view. Clinton, Bush and now Obama engaged in this game. [An aside – where is the ACLU screaming for separation of mosque and state when the President of the USA takes it upon himself to decide which version of Islam is orthodox and which is fringe? In making these pronouncements the leaders of the “free world” are choosing between the different sects of Islam and are acting as official interpreters of which sects are orthodox and which aren’t.]

The official policy of state “neutrality” in religion is a thin veneer of lies that masks the official endorsement of Enlightenment secularism as the de facto philosophy of western nations. There can be peace so long as religion makes no ultimate claims upon the Almighty State and so long as people don’t take religion too seriously. Americans are just fine with religion as long as you don’t get overly serious about God. If you do, at that point you become a fundamentalist, Bible-thumper, nut, or some other pejorative term and you are marginalized.

Any Muslim who gets serious about his religion and reads the Qur’an may resort to violence. God sanctions it and indeed favors it. Christians who take their faith seriously would instead follow the example of Paul who was a model citizen to the point of refusing to flee his Roman captors on two occasions when he could have. BUT, Christians also have absolute truth claims and a body of law that informs how a nation, city or county should run. In this respect we are similar to Muslims or any other religion. Secularism will have none of this. All must be equally powerless and silent in the public sphere, keep your religion to yourself, your church building and your home.

The same folks who bring us Tolerance and Diversity also welcome mass immigration. I believe that their underlying assumption is that such immigration will destroy any chance of Christian hegemony and remake the nation in their weird image. If you think that’s a stretch, you should read this. But what they don’t seem to grasp is that a Muslim America would not have gay marriage and queer courses in college, it would demand submission. Perhaps a miscalculation on their part.

But the way in which they want to change this is to do to the Qur’an what German scholars did to the Bible – that is impose higher criticism on it and deconstruct it. What many people would like to see at the end of this is an Islam that is peaceful, works within the framework of the secularism that upholds America, and has a text that is not trustworthy and does not have to be obeyed.

Time will tell if this approach is successful or not. But Christians should be cautious about cheering these efforts on. The same high-handed approach that wants to neuter Islam also wants to (and has) emasculated Christendom, removing any threat to the State from a modern day Constantine. We have entire schools of thought and churches within Christianity that are FOR the separation of Church and State!

The answer to Muslims who want to kill at the behest of Allah is not more secularism, pornography, drugs and tolerance. The answer for them is to repent and believe on Jesus the Messiah. This is what we should work for and pray for. Hasan’s murders expose the illogical nature of our settled political order and one would hope that people would begin to think seriously about who we are and what we believe as a people. However, we have had plenty of warnings and thus far the elites and their tired ideology show no sign of cracking.