Sunday, July 31, 2022

Pope Francis Hints at Retirement

Pope Francis has said that he can no longer travel like he used to because of his strained knee ligaments, saying his week-long Canadian pilgrimage was “a bit of a test” that showed he needed to slow down and one day possibly retire.

Speaking to reporters while traveling home from northern Nunavut, Francis, 85, stressed that he had not thought about resigning but said “the door is open” and there was nothing wrong with a pope stepping down.

“It’s not strange. It’s not a catastrophe. You can change the pope,” he said.

“I think at my age and with these limitations, I have to save[my energy] to be able to serve the church, or on the contrary, think about the possibility of stepping aside,” he said.

It was not the first time Francis has said that – should his health require it – he could follow his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who made history in 2013 by stepping down due to declining physical and mental health.

Francis used a wheelchair, walker and cane to get around during his trip.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Non-Profits Are Seeking IRS Classification As "Churches"

From Religion Clause

Both Baptist News Global and ProPublica have recently published lengthy investigative articles on the growing number of non-profit entities that have sought classification by the IRS as a "church" or "association of churches" or an "integrated auxiliary of a church." this exempts them from filing the annual Form 990 required of other non-profits. Form 990 disclose income, expenditures and compensation of officers, directors and key employees.

Europe Moves Towards Fuel Rationing

For the first time since the aftermath of World War II, much of Europe is preparing to impose fuel rationing in response to the serious threat of a Russian cut off of natural gas. 


Friday, July 15, 2022

The latest on the Greek Baptism scandal & etc.

I'm not covering it. But for those interested, Byzantine Texas has been keeping up with the latest on this and the proposed and highly controversial consecration of a certain monk to the episcopacy. Just scroll through their recent posts.

The latest issue for Israel's ultra-orthodox Jews? Smartphones

Smartphones have become a volatile issue in the Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, community since April, when Israel’s communications minister made it easier for Haredi to use smartphones without the knowledge of their rabbis, raising tensions within the Haredi community and between them and the rest of Israeli society.

Haredi Jews make up 12.6% of Israel’s population, or 16% of Israeli Jews, and are one of the country’s fastest-growing communities. And though the term actually refers to several diverse sects and denominations, all Haredim are united in their adherence to Jewish law in all aspects of their lives and their utter rejection of Western sensibilities. Rabbis learned in the law provide rulings on everything from modesty requirements for women to personal health to marital relations.

The Haredim regard themselves as upholding authentic Judaism, and most live in tightly knit communities — a lifestyle some refer to as a “ghetto by choice.” Surrounded by “walls of holiness,” they avoid the contaminating modern influences. Haredi schools focus on religious studies, and most skip core subjects such as English, science or math, leaving their graduates with few options in the job market. Encouraged to continue their religious studies, few Haredi men are wage-earners; those that are tend to work within the community.

Having created Haredi newspapers and magazines, their rabbis forbid neighborhood stores from selling secular newspapers. When television was introduced into Israel in 1965, the rabbis banned the “evil box” from adherents’ homes. Today, data shows, fewer than half of Haredi households own a television.

But digital communications, a greater threat to the cultural walls, are of more concern to the rabbis. Not only do digital tools offer access to inappropriate content, they open the way to chat groups and apps such as WhatsApp where Haredi can criticize the rabbis and even turn to lay sources of authority.
Rabbinical bans on the computer and the internet have been less successful than the ban against television or secular press. Initially the rabbis completely banned the internet, but as the need for it in daily living and livelihoods increased, they allowed for filtered internet for home computers.

But the rabbis drew the line at smartphones. They organized the Rabbinical Committee for Communications, which, together with Israel’s three major cellular providers, created the “kosher” telephone — a stripped-down phone that blocks messaging, video, radio and internet.

The committee and the cellphone providers also created a dedicated set of numbers with their own area code, making it immediately obvious if a call is coming from an unsupervised device.

The committee blocked phone sex services — but also government welfare agencies, support centers for sexual and domestic violence (which the rabbis prefer to handle within the community) and secular organizations that assist people trying to leave the community.

When a change to telecommunications law in 2007 required Israeli cellphone providers to allow their customers to move between the companies while retaining the same personal phone number, further agreements exempted the kosher phone numbers.

The rabbis found other ways to support their bans. Posters on the walls of Haredi neighborhoods warn about the heavy spiritual price that comes with a nonkosher phone. Haredi media are not permitted to advertise products or services that direct consumers to secular phone numbers, and parents without an approved phone number cannot enroll their children in school. A man using an outside phone can’t be counted for a minyan — one of the 10 men needed for public worship. The children of families using smartphones are shunned for a shidduch (arranged marriage).

Officially, the campaign worked, and most Haredim use kosher phones, although specific data is not available. But others avoided the social pressure by simply holding two phones — one for use within the community, one for everything else.

Read the rest here.

Inflation is red hot but bonds are doing well. What gives?

So, inflation is smoking hot and the Fed is hiking interest rates by numbers not seen in decades. Normally this would be like the kiss of death for bonds. Yet after a sharp spike earlier in the year, bond yields have stabilized and even declined somewhat recently. And despite multiple warning signs of an impending recession, stocks have likewise found their footing and seem to be recovering a bit after the worst first six months of a trading year since 1970. Concurrently the US dollar is soaring against other currencies and gold, a traditional hedge against inflation, has gotten the snot pounded out of it over the last several weeks. 

What the heck is going on?

The answer is in two parts. First, a lot of traders think the inflation is peaking, and thanks to aggressive rate hikes, will start falling next year. Some of them are placing bets on that scenario. 

Secondly, and IMO probably more significantly, as bad as things are here, they are significantly worse elsewhere. Europe is an economic disaster area thanks to severe shortages of just about everything compounded by Russia's war in Ukraine. Add to this are the highly justified fears that Russia might cut off oil and gas exports to Europe and you have something resembling a controlled state of panic over there. There is serious discussion of gas and fuel rationing for the first time since the aftermath of World War II. 

Further is the slow reaction of foreign central banks to combat inflation which is worse in much of the rest of the world. Thus far it looks like in Europe the decision has been made that inflation is the lesser of evils and will need to be tolerated until the Ukrainian situation calms down and some normalcy returns to the broader economy. And it is even more pronounced in some less developed economies where inflation is so severe that it is threatening the stability of the country. Think Turkey, Argentina (a country with defaulting on their debt rivaling soccer for the national pastime) and Venezuela which, thanks to decades of socialism, was an economic basket case long before the pandemic. 

All of this is making the US dollar highly attractive. A lot of foreign money is pouring into US securities which is driving down bond yields, despite the high inflation, and shoring up stock prices. In short, the dollar is looking like the safest house in a crappy neighborhood right now. 

So, is there any upside to all of this for the average American? Not a lot, unless you are planning a trip abroad. In which case you will find your dollar delivering the best return in recent memory with all major currencies at multi-decade lows relative to the USD. If this continues it could prove injurious to the American economy as our goods and services will become more expensive to export and foreign goods and services will become cheaper. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Inflation Hits 9%

Paging Mr. Volcker. Mr. Paul Volcker please pick up the white courtesy phone.

Monday, July 11, 2022

India Set to Become World's Most Populous Country

India is on track to overtake China as the planet’s most populous country next year, according to a U.N. report published on Monday.

The report, from the population division of the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said China and India were each home to over 1.4 billion people in 2022.

“India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country during 2023,” the U.N. said. The Indian government’s census for 2011 put the country’s population at more than 1.2 billion.

“The global human population will reach 8.0 billion in mid-November 2022 from an estimated 2.5 billion people in 1950,” according to the U.N.’s report.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

UK: Boris Johnson Faces Massive Tory Revolt [It's Over]

Defying parliamentary convention he is refusing to resign, for now. But the writing is on the wall. 

Live coverage here.

Update: It's over and it ended the only way it could have. Although he is dragging his feet, Johnson has agreed to go. 

Friday, July 01, 2022

New York's New Gun Laws

New York is preparing legislation to regulate private ownership and possession of firearms following the Supreme Court's decision that invalidated their "may issue" scheme for concealed carry permits. From the sound of it, the new legislation will be even more restrictive than before. So called "sensitive places" that will be off limits for armed citizens are expected to include, "government buildings, parks, mass transit, health and medical facilities, places where children gather, daycare centers, schools, zoos, playgrounds, polling places and educational institutions." In addition, the new law is expected to declare all privately owned businesses as presumptively invoking their owner's property rights to not allow firearms on the premises unless they post a sign clearly stating that armed persons are welcome. In short, it sounds like a concealed carry permit will be good for your car and some public sidewalks. And that's about it. The rest of the state is about to become a "sensitive place." Beyond that there are expected to be significant new requirements for getting a concealed carry permit including a requirement for a heavy-duty insurance policy. (The 2nd amendment equivalent to a poll tax?) Also in the proposed legislation is a requirement for a special license to buy ammunition. It sounds like the state is trying to stick its finger in the eye of the SCOTUS. I am skeptical as to how well that's going to work out.