Friday, April 29, 2011

Gold, the Silent Success Story

As I write this, gold is breaking $1560 an ounce, a new record. The price rose $25 an ounce today. That is stunning. People were talking about $1500 gold by Christmas. It hit that figure before Good Friday. It is now more than half way from there to $1600 within the following week.

This should be front page news, not only because it is a rip-roaring good investment, but also because gold prices move inversely with the value of the dollar. A rapidly rising gold price means a plummeting dollar. Surely that's news.

So I wrote my column this week on gold and the U.S. economy ("Whither Gold Prices?"). Not that I am an economist or a gold market analyst, but I talk to people who understand these things, I digest the principles, add the politics, and put it all together. Badaboom, badabing...I'm a prognosticator.

When the Republicans retook the House, commissioned by the voters to reign in government spending, had Obama tacked to the center as Bill Clinton did after his 1994 midterm defeat, we would perhaps have a sign that precious metal prices were soon on their way down. But the president has signaled no such change in course. In fact, in his budget-cutting plans, he has signaled his continued determination to raise taxes on the job-producing class.

...there is every reason to believe that there is a lot of upside to precious metal prices. That’s the good news if you still want to get into the market. The bad news is unemployment, inflation, and a huge, tragic waste of human potential as we flounder in this ideological soup of Obama’s wealth redistributionist fantasy.

Track precious metal prices at

Consider the front page of today's Wall Street Journal: "Officials Unfazed by Dollar Slide."

The U.S. dollar fell Thursday to its lowest point since the summer of 2008, but officials aren't showing signs that they are alarmed by the currency's descent or acting to stem it. In recent days, the nation's top two economic policy makers—Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner—have publicly expressed their desire for a strong dollar. But there is little indication of a change in policy from either the Fed or Treasury—or in underlying economic conditions—that would alter the currency's downward course.

 This well known analyst gives advise on bubble and silver prices:

Legendary global investor and chairman of Singapore-based Rogers Holdings, Jim Rogers warned that if silver continues to go up like it has been over the past 2 or 3 weeks and reaches triple digits in 2011, he will probably start to think about selling because then 'you've got a bubble'.

Speaking to Financial Survival Radio, Rogers said: " My hope is, silver and gold and all commodities will continue to go up in an orderly way for another ten years or so, and eventually the prices will be very, very high".

"I hope something stops it going up in the foreseeable future and we have a correction," he added.
Explaining his wish, Rogers warned that "a parabolic move and all parabolic moves end badly".

"Eventually, everybody’s going to be owning gold, and then we’ll all have to sell our gold.  But that’s a long way from now, he predicted.

The legendary investor doesn't consider the recent increases in precious metals as parabolic. "If silver continues to go up like it has been over the past 2 or 3 weeks, yes, then it would get to triple digits this year.  And then we’ll have to worry.  It’s not parabolic yet".  

Here is an overview of, as the article puts it, "How gold went from $251 to $1,500."

P.S. Gold hit $1570 an ounce today. Silver still came shy of $50.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Yankees Game

Yup, that's me at Yankee Stadium for the Yankees-White Sox game. And that's home plate right there. Chicago won, 3-2. The game ended with an exciting play by the Chicago outfielder, but his amazing catch went unrecognized by the New York crowd.

High honors to anyone who can identify the man in the suit in the lower right hand corner of the picture. He is a former Yankees player who was wearing a large, diamond-encrusted World Series ring. Seemed like a nice guy.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Let's Rediscover Our Inner Republicans

In last week's column ("We Are All Republicans"), I went on the public record for my colleague, Matt Parks and David Corbin, who have written a fine little handbook of American citizenship, Keeping Our Republic: Lessons for a Political Reformation (Resource Publications, 2011).

The remedy for the current American decline, they argue, is “that we relearn how to think and how to act like republicans.” To help us in our re-education, Parks and Corbin cover our “republican principles” in six chapters that address current political points of division from the standpoint of what ought to be fundamental points of agreement taken from our founding era and founding documents. The titles of most of these chapters come as no surprise—equality, responsibility, justice, lawfulness. But two chapters—honor and prudence—signal the reader that, despite the book’s concise simplicity, this is no mere high school civics primer, though it’s useful in that role.
Read their Washington Times article, "State of the Union? Out of Touch with the Founders" (January 24, 2011).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Petitioning Government By Fasting

So, what should Christian think of the bongoing budget talks in Washington. Is it just a matter of math? We don't need a Christian accountant, just an honest one, right?

Ah, but this is a government budget. So where it allocates spending, whether it takes oln debt to pay for various priorities, and whether it cuts spending or raises taxes are all political decisions. And even accountants are moved by political passions...I bet.

Evengelical Left leader, Jim Wallis, the CEO at Sojourners, is deeply concerned about the morality of our budgetary choices. He says he is all for reducing the deficit (first I've heard of that), but why pick on the poor instead of going after where the real money is: defense spending, corporate subsidies, and tax cuts for the rich. (Never mind that defense spending is already way down under Barack Obama, corporations create jobs when we make the USA a business friendly environment, and the top 5% of income earners pay 59% of the taxes whereas the bottom half of earners pay just 3%. The top 1% pays 38% of personal income taxes. Accountants say the darnedest things.)

For this reason he has pulled together a coalition of Christian leaders and other "people of conscience" to ask What Would Jesus Cut? As part of this campaign he has undertaken a four week fast that will continue until Easter Sunday when Jim will rise and feast. I consider the politics and the piety of this in my column, "Jim Wallis's Public Petition to God and Government."

For Wallis, this is not just about playing the moral gadfly to elected officials who all too easily lose their moral bearings in the duststorm of DC politics. He is pursuing what he understands to be the Kingdom of God. Jim Wallis has a Social Gospel understanding of the Kingdom. As he says in his HuffPost piece, "Because I am an evangelical Christian and the root of the word "evangelical" is found in the opening statement of Jesus in Luke 4, where Christ says he has come to bring "good news (the 'evangel') to the poor." So to be an evangelical Christian is to try and bring good news to poor people." So, for Wallis and his politico-theological circle, the good news of Christ is essentially political and economic. It's the redistribution of wealth.

It is perfectly legitimate to criticize how government spending is allocated. As Wallis says, budget choices are always moral choices. I agree with this, but in support of it I would argue that resources are inherently scarce and God established government as an instrument of his justice in the world. But Wallis sees government spending, especially federal government spending,  as primarily for addressing the needs of the poor and suffering (don't we all suffer in one way or another?). His rhetoric assumes that if you oppose federal government action, you are simply against addressing those needs in any way. You are a heartless monster and a two-faced Christian if you are a Christian at all.

But that aside, in my column I point out where I think Wallis is at his strongest and where his piety just looks like a power play. What he presents as fasting before God to turn the heart of the king looks a lot like a hunger strike to pressure Congress.

In that regard, he comes across looking ridiculous. Michel Martin of NPR asked him if his voice was being heard in this call to fasting and turn the tide of budget discussions. Oh yes, he said. But his only concrete example was a church youth group in Tennessee organizing a three hour fast. A three hour fast! (Play the Gilligan's Island music.) Imagine. No snacks for three hours. Now if they went on a three hours texting fast, that would be impressive.

Religion has to be in politics because Christ is Lord of all of life. Nonetheless, when religion wades into politics, religion is in greater danger from politics than politics is from religion. There is always foolishness in politics, and a good political system like ours is designed to set one class of fools against another and limit the damage of both. But when the religious undertake political change in the name of religion, they tend to ruin both.

That is not to say they shouldn't try. They just need to be sober, humble, and consciously self-critical about it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Making War in Libya

Ignoring the President's self-aggrandizement and bravery after the fact (can we ignore this?), I must say that the Obama Doctrine he enunciated in his speech is arguably Christian in character. So I argue in "Finding Neighbor-love in the Obama Doctrine" (March 30, 2011).

Presidents have enunciated foreign policy doctrines in the past, and the need for a "doctrine" has become synonymous with the need for a foreign policy. Consider this summary from Michael Hirsh in the National Journal:

American history is replete with leaders and senior policymakers who have sought to be identified with a grand strategic policy--such as the Monroe Doctrine, the Truman Doctrine, and the Bush Doctrine--and others who have tried hard and failed. Tony Lake, Bill Clinton's first national security adviser, sought to define post-Cold War doctrine by calling for the "enlargement of democracy," which was promptly forgotten. Madeleine Albright, Clinton's second-term secretary of State, later hinted at something called "assertive multilateralism" as a doctrine.

Taking policy to the point of doctrine isn't necessarily a good thing in a complicated world. But neither is incoherence.

Given that, as the Scripture says, "righteousness exalts a nation," a foreign policy should also be righteous, i.e. godly, biblical. If we are making war on Libya (don't tell Congress) for humanitarian reasons, not reasons of national self defense, then is it a legitimate use of the civil magistrate's sword?

The Lord invested civil government with the power of the sword, the divinely sanctioned power to take life justly in the defense of those under its care (Romans 13, I Peter 2). Domestically, this is the power to execute those whose crimes deserve death. Internationally, it is the power of war. It is an awesome power that ought to be used with restraint but, when it is used, wisely and decisively.

At first, it seems obviously good to intervene militarily on behalf of suffering people around the world to save them from everything from persecution and denial of the human rights to genocide.

The Book of Proverbs tells us, "If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold we knew it not; doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it? and He that keepeth thy soul, doth not He know it? and shall not He render to every man according to his works?" (Proverbs 24:11-12)

But in a world that is awash with tyranny, oppression, and bloodshed, that can very quickly overwhelm the resources of even a mammoth nation like the United States.

In addition to the economic limitations, there are also political complications of which John Quincy Adams warning us in his 1821 Independence Day speech to the House of Representatives when he was James Madison's Secretary of State. He cautioned his and future generations against assuming the role of universal policeman.

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.... She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.

Though President Obama proclaimed, “wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States,” he did not promise them military support. He echoed Adams himself who said of America, “Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.

The Obama Doctrine as stated in this speech (it could change in a week) is not neo-Wilsonianism, the worldwide crusade for democracy that is the opposite of Adams and traces back to that pest of a Presbyterian priest, Woodrow Wilson. Bush was our neo-Wilsonian. Obama is giving us something far more limited and more Christian. In my column, I argue that the Christian basis for such interventon is international neighbor-love tempered by prudence, not political Messianism.

But prudence is no small matter. Running around saving people on every continent would draw us into foreign conflicts "beyond the power of extrication," as Adams put it. As in Iraq, a conflict that President Bush eventually justified as a cause for liberty we were morally obliged to support, we could find ourselves committed to long-term nation building on several fronts while suppressing civil war and dodging factional crossfire. After Libya, why should we not head next for Syria and the next Middle Eastern abattoir after that? We take up this and that fight for liberty, but we end up "in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom." We start off as friend of liberty for oppressed, but by indiscernible stages we end up "the dictatress of the world."

George Kateb, Emeritus professor at Princeton, offers some helpful guidelines. He says there are only three types of regimes: unjust regimes, oppressive regimes, and evil regimes. Unjust regimes, recurrently miscarry justice but nonetheless preserve human rights on the whole: “political injustice is the denial of one or a few personal or political rights.” Oppressive regimes follow a pattern of abusing rights, preserving only a few of them. “Oppression is thus the denial of many or most personal and political rights, but some rights are still respected.” Evil regimes are characterized by genocide. Life in essence is a commodity. This regime not only strips people of their natural rights but also of their lives on a large scale. “Evil is the obliteration of personhood and hence the deprivation of all the personal and political rights of one, few, some, or many.” (George Kateb. The Inner Ocean: Individualism and Democratic Culture. Cornell University Press, 1994; pg.  201)

Within this framework, humanitarian intervention would be justified only against an evil regime.

Also keep in mind Augustine's criteria for a just war: a just cause, proper authority, right intention, last resort, proportionality, and probability of success.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Andy Innes, Johnny Clegg, and Jeff Beck

There is a South African guitarist named Andy Innes who is worth your attention. Here he is promoting some sound equipment, but you can hear a bit of his playing at the end.

He plays for the Johnny Clegg Band. Here is Johnny Clegg singing "Asimbonanga" with an appearance from Nelson Mandela.

Based on a song I heard on his MySpace page, "Low Flyer," which is no longer there, Andy's playing reminds we of Jeff Beck. Here is Jeff Beck.

Andy is orginally from Manchester, England, but we're of no relation that I know of. (My family moved from Aberdeen down to Coventry in the early 1960s after my parents emigrated to Canada.) We're both Inneses and we both studied philosophy as undergraduates. That's it. (Note the philosophy degree. He is not just some aging, garageband punk.)