Sunday, April 28, 2024

China is arming fast and becoming more aggressive

China using ‘boiling frog’ strategy to mask rising aggression in Pacific, says US commander 

Scandal and Intrigue in the Twilight of the Francis Pontificate

This is a fascinating look at Francis, his papal court, where it's been and where it's going. One of the better essays I've read on the topic in quite a while. Read it here.

HT: Dr. Tighe

CNN Poll Gives Trump Wide Lead Over Biden

In a two-way race Trump leads by 6%. In a five-way race including RFK Jr and the two far left candidates, Trump leads by 9%. If this poll holds up and is anywhere near accurate on election day, Trump could win an electoral blowout the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1980s. 

Caveat: Right now, the poll is an outlier. It is wildly inconsistent with virtually all recent polling data. So, we will need to see if this a bad poll or if it is the first sign of a major Trump surge. Until things become clearer, team Biden is probably not going to be sleeping well. 

Friday, April 26, 2024

Prayers please

Fr John Hunwicke, whose excellent blog has been in the sidebar for as long as I can remember, is ill. In your charity, please keep him and his family in your prayers.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Anti-Trump Legal Pundits Have Been Talking to Each Other (off the record)

As the Jan. 6 committee was working on its bombshell investigation into the Capitol riot and President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the last election, committee staffers took some time out of their seemingly 24-hour jobs one day in 2022 to brief a group of lawyers and legal pundits on a Zoom call.

The people on the call weren’t affiliated with the investigation or the government. But they would have been familiar to anyone who watches cable news. They were some of the country’s most well-known legal and political commentators, and they were there to get insights into the committee’s work and learn about what to look for at the hearings.

The group’s gathering was not a one-time event, but in fact an installment in an exclusive weekly digital salon, whose existence has not been previously reported, for prominent legal analysts and progressive and conservative anti-Trump lawyers and pundits. Every Friday, they meet on Zoom to hash out the latest twists and turns in the Trump legal saga — and intellectually stress-test the arguments facing Trump on his journey through the American legal system.

The meetings are off the record — a chance for the group’s members, many of whom are formally or loosely affiliated with different media outlets, to grapple with a seemingly endless array of novel legal issues before they hit the airwaves or take to print or digital outlets to weigh in with their thoughts. About a dozen or more people join any given call, though no one takes attendance. Some group members wouldn’t describe themselves with any partisan or ideological lean, but most are united by their dislike of Trump.

The group’s host is Norman Eisen, a senior Obama administration official, longtime Trump critic and CNN legal analyst, who has been convening the group since 2022 as Trump’s legal woes ramped up. Eisen was also a key member of the team of lawyers assembled by House Democrats to handle Trump’s first impeachment.

The regular attendees on Eisen’s call include Bill Kristol, the longtime conservative commentator, and Laurence Tribe, the famed liberal constitutional law professor. John Dean, who was White House counsel under Richard Nixon before pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with Watergate, joins the calls, as does George Conway, a conservative lawyer and co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. Andrew Weissmann, a longtime federal prosecutor who served as one of the senior prosecutors on Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation and is now a legal analyst for MSNBC, is another regular on the calls. Jeffrey Toobin, a pioneer in the field of cable news legal analysis, is also a member of the crew. The rest of the group includes recognizable names from the worlds of politics, law and media.

Read the rest here.

For the benefit of anyone new to the blog, I am not the world's biggest fan of Donald Trump. That said, this is leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I'm not sure it's a flaming violation of journalistic ethics, where the boundaries can sometimes be a bit fuzzy. But if this doesn't cross that line, it strikes me as dancing uncomfortably close to it. 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Kyrill and the Babylonian Captivity of the Russian Orthodox Church

Obviously, I would not presume to judge any individual's relationship with God. But as an institution, it is becoming clearer, almost by the day, that the Russian Church has gone dangerously off the rails. To which end I find myself substantially in agreement with this short blog post

Lord have mercy.

New York City (what's wrong)

This is a really good video explaining what's wrong with New York from somebody who is obviously not hard right in their politics.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Ben Bernanke Takes Aim at Central Bank Forecasts

Central banks the world over failed to predict the surge in inflation that started three years ago. Now they’re trying to learn from their mistakes.

For the Bank of England, that meant commissioning former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to write a review of the U.K. monetary authority’s forecasting system. The implications of the findings, published Friday, could reverberate far beyond Britain.

To be fair to the BOE, it didn’t do particularly worse than others in failing to see that supply-chain problems, energy-price spikes, and geopolitical tensions would generate the worst bout of inflation in a generation. Bernanke, who guided the U.S. through the 2008-09 financial crisis and won the Nobel Prize in 2022 for his work on the impact of bank runs in markets, notes the shocks were difficult to forecast.

“The forecasting and policy challenges faced by the Bank of England in recent years were hardly unique,” said Bernanke, now a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The Bank, like other central banks and policy institutions, will be working to draw the appropriate lessons from this experience.”

Read the rest here.

Latest Polls: Election is a toss up

An averaging of recent national polls show President Biden has significantly reduced Donald Trump's once formidable lead in the polls to a de facto draw. Real Clear Politics average of polls from the last few weeks show Trump's lead has narrowed to .02 percent in a straight match up between him and Biden. That is a statistical tie. In a five way race with RFK Jr and the two far left independents thrown in, Trump holds a 2 point advantage. However, that is well within the customary margin of error. And with most polls showing around 8% of voters undecided, the election is currently wide open. One point on which Americans are in overwhelming agreement is their dislike of both Trump and Biden, with a super majority of voters expressing deep dissatisfaction with the choice between the two men. Thus far however, this has not translated into any serious support for the third party candidates. All of whom collectively are polling only in the low single digits. (Kennedy's polling numbers have recently fallen off a cliff.) It seems increasingly likely that the election will be decided by uncommitted independents and political moderates.

Recent polling data can be found here

Patriarch of the West

Francis has revived the title renounced by Benedict XVI.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Now this is depressing

I've never seen the point in an automatic transmission. Where is the fun? Sure, it will get you from point A to point B. But so will a bus.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

The US Stock Market is shrinking. Should we be worried?

The number of publicly traded companies in the United States is shrinking. Jamie Dimon, one of the world’s most influential business leaders, is worried.

At their peak in 1996, there were 7,300 publicly traded companies in the US. Today there are about 4,300.

It’s not that America has 40% fewer companies than it did 30 years ago, it’s that companies are increasingly staying private, largely outside the scrutiny of the public eye.

“The total should have grown dramatically, not shrunk,” wrote Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, in his annual shareholder letter on Monday.

The PE boom: The shrinking public market has private equity to blame — funds that pool money from investors to acquire or invest in companies.

When a PE fund buys a public company, it takes that company private. When it buys a company that isn’t yet public, it is kept that way. That means these funds have complete control over their companies and can encourage them to boost their profits as quickly as possible for a quick sale later down the line.

The number of private companies in the US backed by PE firms has grown from 1,900 to 11,200 over the last two decades, according to JPMorgan data.

Publicly listed companies are subject to regulatory oversight and disclosure requirements, which help ensure transparency and maintain investor confidence. With fewer companies listed, there may be a decrease in overall transparency and investor trust in the market, said Matthew Kennedy, head of data and content at Renaissance Capital.

Additionally, a company owned by PE can obfuscate ownership, what the company actually does and its profit the public and from regulators.

Dimon’s company, of course, makes a huge amount of money from taking companies public, so he’s not exactly an impartial observer. But Dimon said his concerns are broader than JPMorgan’s bottom line: If this trend continues, our understanding of the US economy could become hazier, he argued.

Read the rest here.

Monday, April 08, 2024

The Vatican Says "NO" to Gender Ideology

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican on Monday declared gender-affirming surgery and surrogacy as grave violations of human dignity, putting them on par with abortion and euthanasia as practices that it said reject God’s plan for human life.

The Vatican’s doctrine office issued “Infinite Dignity,” a 20-page declaration that has been in the works for five years. After substantial revision in recent months, it was approved March 25 by Pope Francis, who ordered its publication.

From a pope who has made outreach to the LGBTQ+ community a hallmark of his papacy, the document was received as a setback, albeit predictable, by trans Catholics. But its message was also consistent with the Argentine Jesuit’s long-standing belief that while trans people should be welcomed in the church, so-called “gender ideologies” should not.

In its most eagerly anticipated section, the Vatican repeated its rejection of “gender theory,” or the idea that one’s biological sex can change. It said God created man and woman as biologically different, separate beings, and said people must not tinker with that or try to “make oneself God.”

Read the rest here.

The pope is (mostly) right. Now there is a sentence I haven't written in a long time. I think I need to lie down for a few minutes. 

Gold Hits Record Highs

Gold prices hit a record high for a seventh straight session on Monday, fueled by central bank purchases and geopolitical tensions, while strong economic data failed to dull bullion’s allure.

U.S. gold futures gained less than 0.1% to $2,346.90. Spot gold was just below flat at $2,328.28 per ounce, after hitting a record high of $2,353.79 earlier in the session.

China’s central bank added 160,000 troy ounces of gold to its reserves in March, it said. Turkey, India, Kazakhstan, and some eastern European countries have also been buying gold this year.

Read the rest here.

Friday, April 05, 2024

Francis and the ‘empty chair’ phase of his pontificate

ROME — Such is the frenetic nature of the Pope Francis papacy that even though Good Friday was less than a week ago, just a few days later it was hard to remember that it actually produced news. In the meantime, of course, we’ve had not only the pontiff’s traditional Easter activity but his latest tell-all interview book, once again, for a moment, transforming the papacy into a species of reality TV.

In this instance, Francis lifted the veil on the inner workings of two conclaves, those of 2005 and 2013, and also dished on his predecessor’s top aide, German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, claiming that he lacks “nobility and humanity” for the way in which he allegedly tried to pit Pope Benedict XVI against Francis.

As Italian journalist Massimo Gramellini put it, “At bottom, Bergoglio [the pope’s given name] is no more than a man of his times. We live in an era in which, some more and some less, we’re all exhibitionists, devoured by an insatiable need to make our lives public, in the hope of being appreciated and understood.”

Despite all that, it’s still worth returning to Good Friday for a moment, because it produced an iconic image of the late stages of the Francis papacy: An empty white chair at Rome’s Colosseum, where the pontiff had been scheduled to preside over the traditional Way of the Cross procession, but where he ended up being a no-show at the last minute due to health concerns.

In a way, it was odd that anyone ever seriously entertained the idea that the 87-year-old pope would physically attend the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross) on a chilly yet humid Roman evening, exactly the wrong conditions for someone struggling to kick the after-effects of a series of colds, flu, and bronchitis. In all probability, it was likely Francis’ determination that kept the possibility alive until the very last moment, and which led to the specter of his empty chair having to be carted away in front of live TV cameras.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Quote of the day...

"If Republicans want to name something after him, I’d suggest they find a federal prison.” -Gerry Connolly (D VA) responding to a Republican proposal to rename Dulles International Airport after Donald Trump. 

This would be hysterically funny if they weren't serious. Trumpism is a cult. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Before Computers

Checking train reservations at Union Station in 1942. From here. (Click the link for full sized image.)

Monday, April 01, 2024

Memory Eternal

Lou Conter has reposed at 102. He was the last living survivor of the USS Arizona sunk at Pear Harbor.