Saturday, March 28, 2015

War in Yemen, Crazy Middle East US Policy, Iran Nuke Deal


4By Greg Hunter’s USAWatchdog.com 
This Wrap-Up will try to make sense of the nonsensical, crazy U.S. Middle East policy. We start in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are getting ready for an invasion of Yemen. Saudi Arabia has already been bombing key positions of Iranian backed terrorists (also known as Houthi rebels). It was little more than six months ago that the President called Yemen a success in terms of fighting terror, but now the government has imploded, and al-Qaeda backed terrorists are fighting for control of the country with Iranian backed terrorists. Of course, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are enemies of the Iranians, and now it looks like the Saudis will also team up with al-Qaeda to drive out the Iranian terror group on its southern border in Yemen. We are talking total and all-out war, which includes tens of thousands of ground troops, tanks, jets, helicopters and also a blockade of Yemen. It is also a place where the Pentagon admitted to losing a half billion dollars of military equipment. We’re talking things such as more than a million rounds of ammunition, 160 Humvees, helicopters, aircraft and boats. Some of it ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda, and some of it ended up in the hands of the Iranian backed terrorists.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the U.S. is conducting air strikes against ISIS, cousins to al-Qaeda, for the Iranian led attack to retake Tikrit. So, the Saudis, a U.S. ally, are teaming up with al-Qaeda to fight against the Iranian backed terrorists in Yemen, while the U.S. helps out the Iranians in Iraq. What happened to Syria? I thought the U.S. Congress voted to back the so-called moderate rebels, which in part is al-Qaeda, to fight the Assad regime, which is backed by Iran. Are you following this so far? If there is a strategy in the Middle East, what is it, and why doesn’t the mainstream media (MSM) ask the Obama Administration to explain it? If it is a policy of chaos and confusion, they are meeting their goals. What could possibly go wrong?
We move on the negotiations over curtailing the Iranian nuclear deal, and we find out that the French are pushing for a better deal than the U.S. There are reports that the U.S. has caved into Iranian demands and will not be driving a very hard deal. For one thing, all Iranian sites will not be up for verification and inspection. This includes military sites that are deep underground. What have I been telling you about the Iranians not curtailing their nuclear program? The Iranians have consistently said many times that it would not curtail its program, and it looks like they are being true to their word. Of course, the American public knows little of what’s going on from the White House, but the President did make time to go on Iranian television to heap praise on Iran’s supreme leader. Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry was making statements of progress on Iranian nuclear talks while the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei was getting a crowd of his citizens to chant“Death to America.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. just released information about the Israelis’ nuclear program in the form of a declassified 1987 report. I guess the Administration is justifying if the Israelis have a nuclear program, why not the Iranians? The Israelis have never said much about this program, but everybody knew it existed. So, it’s not really a national security threat to Israel, but it sure looks like a childlike payback from the Obama Administration over winning an election and giving a speech to Congress. The Obama Administration also has charged Israel with spying on the Iran nuclear negotiations, which Israel denies. The President did not want to answer questions about it and said, “As a rule, I don’t talk about intelligence matters in a room full of reporters.” To that, I say why not? It was the Obama Administration that leaked the Israel spying story. It is reported that Israeli officials say this is nothing more than an attempt to show Democrats that Prime Minister Netanyahu has“done wrong.” I think the Obama Administration is fearing a veto override, and it is sending a message to Democrats they should not to do it.
Join Greg Hunter as he talks about these stories and more in the Weekly News Wrap-Up.

Friday, March 27, 2015

What Do You Prep For?

Image result for emergency preparednessBy Karl Denninger  and originally published at market-ticker.org 
One of the more-interesting discussions I've had over the years on a fairly consistent basis deals with the premise of prepping -- usually initiated by someone who's talking about a bug-out location, firearms, (freeze-dried or home-grown) food or (usually) all of the above.
Let's dissect this a bit, because the word prepping or prepper describe a lot of different things -- and frankly, the more I hear about some of them the more I nod in approval at some, while smirking at others.  I think it's time we have this discussion, particularly given the rather-precarious nature of our global economy (driven almost-entirely by government attempts to protect certain powerful people and institutions.)

Underlying all of this is a problem that I and others have recognized for a long time: Humans do notoriously poorly at analyzing "tail risks" and acting appropriately in the face of them.  I'll just put one example out there -- the Jews during WWII.  Hitler's soldiers frequently came into a town with a few dozen men armed with machine guns and rounded up thousands of people, marching them into waiting boxcars.

The decision point to either riot or get into the boxcar happened right then and there, and was irrevocable.

If you got into the boxcar, and essentially all of the folks in the town did, you were almost-certain to die.  Not instantly, but certainly.  Once you were in that boxcar there was nothing more to be done; you were going to be unloaded inside a fenced compound with crew-served weapons canvassing the perimeter, and were outright screwed.

The problem was that if you decided to riot singularly you were going to die with certainty.  But if the village rioted collectively, a hundred, two hundred or five hundred of you would die but the rest would not because you would have overrun the relatively small contingent of soldiers and, the first time they had to reload their hand-held weapons they were going to get sacked.


What's even worse is that some of these soldiers posed for pictures while they were engaged in this "job."  A reasonably-close study of those images shows that in many cases their weapons were either unloaded or not charged; that is, not ready to immediately fire upon the citizens!

The mathematically correct decision was to bum rush the soldiers.  The reason is this: You had no downside in doing so, and while the potential for upside (living) wasn't wonderful it beat the alternative.

So let's look at a few scenarios that you can prep for, and then look at the potential range of outcomes and whether you're likely to influence them with your actions.

But before we go into those scenarios I want to discuss something that's even more-important: your personal sensitivity to specific disruptions.

Let's take a few relatively extreme examples.  If you are on dialysis, for example, and the center and/or hospitals in the area where you are happen to be unable to provide that service you're incapacitated within a few days and dead within a few more.  This is also true if you are insulin-dependent and lose either your insulin supply or refrigeration.  Then there are those with even shorter time-lines -- those dependent on oxygen supplementation to name just one example.

If you are in one of these categories then all the "ordinary" prepper thoughts are utterly worthless.  Some of these needs can be hedged against, but not all.  Medical technology dependency is one of the worst because there is really no hedge available to people of ordinary means that is effective.  As such if you, or someone you love, is in such a situation you need to give serious thought as to whether you can do something about that and, if you can, do it.  If you can't, either due to bad luck or previous choices that you cannot reverse the effect of then in my opinion the rest of this discussion is not only pointless but you ought to expend your resources elsewhere and derive pleasure to the extent you're able from the resource you would otherwise divert to such an attempt.  The one place you do want to spend resource preparing is on a reliable and executable plan to get the hell out of dodge at the first sign of trouble to somewhere that has the resources available for you to continue onward.  Figure that transportation requirement out, make damn sure it is always available, have three destinations with all reachable within no more than one half of the amount of time you have until you're seriously impaired and maintain that as your primary -- if not only -- "preparedness" strategy.  This will cover local and (minor) regional problems; for anything more-severe, which I'll get into in a later article, you must accept that there's nothing productive you can do to alter the outcome.

Second, but not far down the list, is those of you who are allegedly preppers and have significant but able to be mitigated physical or emotional issues.  Deal with them now, and first, before worrying about the rest.  These sorts of issues take months -- and sometimes years -- to handle.  The most-important assets you have in any bad situation are your mind and bodily stamina.  If you are mentally unstable in any material way or physically challenged in a way you can address (e.g. you're fat and thus unable to undertake a hike of 10 or 20 miles with a heavy pack -- or run a few miles -- should the need arise) then fix that right now.  Again, all the prepping in the world is immaterial if you don't survive long enough for your supplies and planning to matter.

Next up will be common scenarios....... stay tuned!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

One Last Look At The Real Economy Before It Implodes - Part 3

By Brandon Smith and originally published at alt-market.com
In the previous installments of this series, we discussed the hidden and often unspoken crisis brewing within the employment market, as well as in personal debt. The primary consequence being a collapse in overall consumer demand, something which we are at this very moment witnessing in the macro-picture of the fiscal situation around the world. Lack of real production and lack of sustainable employment options result in a lack of savings, an over-dependency on debt and welfare, the destruction of grass-roots entrepreneurship, a conflated and disingenuous representation of gross domestic product, and ultimately an economic system devoid of structural integrity — a hollow shell of a system, vulnerable to even the slightest shocks.
This lack of structural integrity and stability is hidden from the general public quite deliberately by way of central bank money creation that enables government debt spending, which is counted toward GDP despite the fact that it is NOT true production (debt creation is a negation of true production and historically results in a degradation of the overall economy as well as monetary buying power, rather than progress). Government debt spending also disguises the real state of poverty within a system through welfare and entitlements. The U.S. poverty level is at record highs, hitting previous records set 50 years ago during Lyndon Johnson’s administration. The record-breaking rise in poverty has also occurred despite 50 years of the so called “war on poverty,” a shift toward American socialism that was a continuation of the policies launched by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 'New Deal'.
The shift toward a welfare state is the exact reason why, despite record poverty and a 23 percent true unemployment rate (as discussed here), we do not yet see the kind of soup lines and rampant indigence witnessed during the Great Depression. Today, EBT cards and other welfare programs hide modern soup lines in plain sight. It should be noted that the record 20 percent of U.S. households now on food stamps are still technically contributing to GDP. That’s because government statistics make no distinction between normal grocery consumption and consumption created artificially through debt-generated welfare.
This third installment of our economic series will be the most difficult.  We will examine the issue of government debt, including how true debt is disguised from the public and how this debt is a warning of a coming implosion in our overall structure.  National debt is perhaps one of the most manipulated fields of economics, and the layers surrounding what our country truly owes to foreign creditors and central banks are many.  I believe this confusing array of disinformation is designed to discourage average Americans from pursuing the facts.  Here are the facts all the same, for those who have the patience...
First, it is important to debunk the mainstream lies surrounding what constitutes national debt.
“Official” national debt as of 2015 is currently reported at more than $18 trillion. That means that under Barack Obama and with the aid of the private Federal Reserve, U.S. debt has nearly doubled since 2008 — quite an accomplishment in only seven years’ time. But this is not the whole picture.
Official GDP numbers published for mainstream consumption do NOT include annual liabilities generated by programs such as Social Security and Medicare. These liabilities are veiled through the efforts of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which reports on what it calls “debts” rather than on the true fiscal gap. Through the efforts of economists like Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University, Alan J. Auerbach and Jagadeesh Gokhale, understanding of the fiscal gap (the difference between our government’s projected financial obligations and the present value of all projected future tax and other receipts) is slowly growing within moremainstream circles.
The debt created through the fiscal gap increases, for example, because of the Social Security program - since government taxes the population for Social Security but uses that tax money to fund other programs or to pay off other outstanding debts. In other words, the government collects "taxes" with the promise of paying them back in the future through Social Security, but it spends that money instead of saving it for the use it was supposedly intended.
The costs of such unfunded liabilities within programs like Social Security and Medicare accumulate as the government continues to kick the can down the road instead of changing policy to cover costs. This accumulation is reflected in the Alternative Financial Scenario analysis, which the CBO used to publish every year but for some reason stopped publishing in 2013. Here is a presentation on the AFS by the St. Louis branch of the Federal Reserve. Take note that the crowd laughs at the prospect of the government continuing to “can kick” economic policy changes in order to avoid handling current debt obligations, yet that is exactly what has happened over the past several years.
Using the AFS report, Kotlikoff and other more honest economists estimate real U.S. national debt to stand at about $205 trillion.
When the exposure of these numbers began to take hold in the mainstream, media pundits and establishment propagandists set in motion a campaign to spin public perception, claiming that the vast majority of this debt was actually “projected debt” to be paid over the course of 70 years or more and, thus, not important in terms of today’s debt concerns. While some estimates of national debt include future projections of unfunded liabilities in certain sectors this far ahead, the spin masters' fundamental argument is in fact a disingenuous redirection of the facts.
According to the calculations of economists like Chris Cox and Bill Archer, unfunded liabilities are adding about $8 trillion in total debt annually. That is $8 trillion dollars per year not accounted for in official national debt stats.  For the year ending Dec. 31, 2011, the annual accrued expense of Medicare and Social Security was $7 trillion of this amount.
Kotlikoff’s analysis shows that this annual hidden debt accumulation has resulted in a current total of $205 trillion. This amount is not the unfunded liabilities added up in all future years. This is the present value of the unfunded liabilities, discounted to today.
How is the U.S. currently covering such massive obligations on top of the already counted existing budget costs? It’s not.
Taxes collected yearly in the range of $3.7 trillion are nowhere near enough to cover the amount, and no amount of future taxes would make a dent either. This is why the Grace Commission, established during the Ronald Reagan presidency, found that not a single penny of your taxes collected by the Internal Revenue Service is going toward the funding of actual government programs. In fact, all new taxes are being used to pay off the ever increasing interest on current debts.
For those who argue that an increase in taxation is the cure, more than 102 million people are unemployed within the U.S. today. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Current Population Survey (CPS), 148 million are employed; about 20% of these are considered part-time workers (about 30 million people). Around 16 million full time workers are employed by state and local government (meaning they are a drain on the system whether they know it or not).  Only 43 percent of all U.S. households are considered “middle class,” the section of the public where most taxes are derived. In the best-case scenario, we have about 120 million people paying a majority of taxes toward U.S. debt obligations, while nearly as many are adding to those debt obligations through welfare programs or have the potential to add to those obligations in the near future if they do not find work due to the high unemployment rate that no one at the BLS wants to acknowledge.
Looking at reality, one finds a swiftly shrinking middle class paying for an ever larger welfare class.  Do the math, and an honest person will admit that no matter how much taxes increase, they will still never make up for the lack of adequate taxpayers.
Another dishonest argument given to dismiss concerns of national debt is the lie that Domestic Net Worth in the U.S. far outweighs our debts owed, and this somehow negates the issue. Domestic Net Worth is calculated using Gross Domestic Assets, public and private. It's interesting, however, that Domestic Net Worth counts 'Debt Capital' as an asset, just as GDP counts debt creation as production.  Debt Capital is the “capital” businesses and governments raise by taking out loans. This capital (debt) is then counted as an asset toward Domestic Net Worth.
Yes, that’s right, private and national debts are “assets.” And mainstream economists argue that these debts (errr… assets) offset our existing debts. This is the unicorn, Neverland, Care Bear magic of establishment economics, folks. It’s truly a magnificent thing to behold.
Ironically, debt capital, like the official national debt, does not include unfunded liabilities. If it did, mainstream talking heads could claim an even vaster supply of “assets” (debts) that offset our liabilities.
This situation is clearly unsustainable. The only people who seem to argue that it is sustainable are disinformation agents with something to gain (government favors and pay) and government cronies with something to lose (public trust and their positions of petty authority).
With overall Treasury investments static for some foreign central banks and dwindling in others, the only other options are to print indefinitely and at ever greater levels, or to default. For decades, the Federal Reserve has been printing in order to keep the game afloat, and the American public has little to no idea how much fiat and debt the private institution has conjured in the process. Certainly, the amount of debt we see just in annual unfunded liabilities helps to explain why the dollar has lost 97 percent of its purchasing power since the Fed was established. Covering that much debt in the short term requires a constant flow of fiat, digital and paper.  Not only does REAL debt threaten our credit standing as a nation, it also threatens the value and full faith in the dollar.
The small glimpse into Fed operations we received during the limited TARP audit was enough to warrant serious concern, as a full audit would likely result in the exposure of total debt fraud, the immediate abandonment of U.S. Treasury investment, and the destruction of the dollar. Of course, all of that will eventually happen anyway...
I will discuss why this will take place sooner rather than later through the issues of Treasury bonds and the dollar in the fourth installment of this series. In the fifth installment, I will examine the many reasons why a deliberate program of destructive debt bubbles and currency devaluations actually benefits certain international financiers and elites with aspirations of complete globalization. And in the sixth and final installment, I will delve into practical solutions - and practical solutions only. In the meantime, I would like everyone to consider this:
No society or culture has ever successfully survived by disengaging itself from its own financial responsibilities and dumping them on future generations without falling from historical grace. Not one. Does anyone with any sense really believe that the U.S. is somehow immune to this reality?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fighting the "War on Terror " by Banning Cash


By Joseph T. Salerno and originally published at mises.org
It was just a matter of time before Western governments used the trumped up "War on Terror" as an excuse to drastically ratchet up the very real war on the use of cash and personal privacy that they are waging against their own citizens   Taking advantage of public anxiety in the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket, France has taken the first step.  It seems the terrorists involved partially financed these attacks by cash, as well as by consumer loans and the sale of counterfeit goods. What a shockeroo!  The terrorists used CASH to purchase some of the stuff they needed--no doubt these murderers were also shod and clothed and used  cell phones, cars, and public sidewalks during the planning and execution of their mayhem.   Why not restrict their use?  A naked , barefoot terrorist without communications is surely less effective than a fully clothed and equipped one.  Despite the arrant absurdity of blaming cash and financial privacy for these crimes,  French Finance Minister Michel Sapin brazenly stated  that it was necessary to "fight against the use of cash and anonymity in the French economy."  He then announced extreme and despotic measures to further restrict the use of cash by French residents and to spy on and pry into their financial affairs.
These measures, which  will be implemented in September 2015, include prohibiting  French residents from making cash payments of more than 1,000 euros, down from the current limit of  3,000 euros.  Given the parlous state of the stagnating French economy the limit for foreign tourists on currency payments will  remain higher, at 10,000 euros down from the current limit of 15,000 euros. The threshold below which a French resident is  free to convert euros into other currencies without having to show an identity card will be slashed from the current level of 8,000 euros to 1,000 euros.  In addition any cash deposit or withdrawal of more than 10,000 euros during a single month will be reported to the French anti-fraud and money laundering agencyTracfin.  French authorities will also have to be notified of any freight transfers within the EU exceeding 10,000 euros, including checks, pre-paid cards, or gold.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

It’s Official: Americans R Stupid


Brain - Public DomainBy Michael Snyder and originally published at theeconomiccollapseblog.com
As Americans, we tend to be pretty full of ourselves, and this is especially true of our young people.  But do we really have reason for such pride?  According to a shocking new report from the Educational Testing Service, Americans between the ages of 20 and 34 are way behind young adults in other industrialized nations when it comes to literacy, mathematics and technological proficiency.  Even though more Americans than ever are going to college, we continue to fall farther and farther behind intellectually.  So what does this say about us?  Sadly, the truth is that Americans are stupid.  Our education system is an abysmal failure, and our young people spend most of their free time staring at the television, their computers or their mobile devices.  And until we are honest with ourselves about this, our intellectual decline is going to get even worse.
According to this new report from the Educational Testing Service, at this point American Millennials that have a four year college degree are essentially on the same intellectual level as young adults in Japan, Finland and the Netherlands that only have a high school degree
Americans born after 1980 are lagging their peers in countries ranging from Australia to Estonia, according to a new report from researchers at the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The study looked at scores for literacy and numeracy from a test called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, which tested the abilities of people in 22 countries.
The results are sobering, with dire implications for America. It hints that students may be falling behind not only in their early educational years but at the college level. Even though more Americans between the ages of 20 to 34 are achieving higher levels of education, they’re still falling behind their cohorts in other countries. In Japan, Finland and the Netherlands, young adults with only a high school degree scored on par with American Millennials holding four-year college degrees, the report said.
How in the world is that possible?
I can tell you how that is possible – our colleges are a joke.  But more on that in a moment.
Out of 22 countries, the report from the Educational Testing Service found that Americans were dead last in tech proficiency.  We were also dead last in numeracy and only two countries performed worse than us when it came to literacy proficiency
Half of American Millennials score below the minimum standard of literacy proficiency. Only two countries scored worse by that measure: Italy (60 percent) and Spain (59 percent). The results were even worse for numeracy, with almost two-thirds of American Millennials failing to meet the minimum standard for understanding and working with numbers. That placed U.S. Millennials dead last for numeracy among the study’s 22 developed countries.
It is in this type of environment that Coca-Cola can be marketed to Americans as “a healthy snack“.
As I mentioned above, our system of education is one of the biggest culprits.  From the first grade all the way through post-graduate education, the quality of education that our young people are receiving is absolutely pathetic.  In a previous article, I highlighted some statistics from USA Today about the declining state of college education in America…
-“After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.”
-“Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago”
-“35% of students report spending five or fewer hours per week studying alone.”
-“50% said they never took a class in a typical semester where they wrote more than 20 pages”
-“32% never took a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.”
I have sat in many of these kinds of college courses.  It doesn’t take much brain power to pass the multiple choice tests that most college professors give these days.  The truth is that if you fail out of college you really, really have to try hard.
In another previous article I shared some examples of real courses that have been taught at U.S. universities in recent years…
This is a national crisis.  Parents should be screaming bloody murder about the quality of the education that their children are receiving.  But because very few of them actually know what is going on, they just continue to write out huge tuition checks all the time believing that their kids are being prepared for the real world.
To show how “dumbed down” we have become, I want to share with you a copy of an eighth grade exam from 1912 that was donated to the Bullitt County History Museum in Kentucky.
Would eighth grade students be able to pass such an exam today?
Would college students?
As you look over this exam from 1912, ask yourself how you would do on it…
Eighth-Grade-Exam
In addition, I find it very interesting that the reading level of the State of the Union addresses delivered by our presidents has steadily declined since the inception of this nation.
And it should be no surprise that Barack Obama’s State of the Union addresses have been some of the dumbest of all.
But could it be possible that I am being too harsh?
After all, scientists are now discovering that our diminishing intellectual capabilities are actually the consequence of natural processes.
For example, a Stanford University biology professor named Gerald R. Crabtree has published two papers in which he detailed his conclusion that humans have been getting dumber for thousands of years
Are humans becoming smarter or more stupid? Comparing our modern lives and technology with that of any preceding generation, one might think we are becoming increasingly smarter. But, in two papers published in Trends in GeneticsGerald R. Crabtree of Stanford University claims that we are losing mental capacity and have been doing so for 2,000–6,000 years! The reason, Crabtree concludes, is due to genetic mutations—which are the backbone of neo-Darwinian evolution.
Why is this happening?
Professor Crabtree believes that this loss of intellectual capability is due to the accumulation of errors in our genes
Based on data produced by the 1000 Genomes Project Consortium and two recent papers in Nature, Crabtree estimates in the first article that, in the past 3,000 years (approximately 120 generations), about 5,000 new mutations have occurred in the genes governing our intellectual ability. He claims most of these mutations will have no effect, while about 2–5 percent are deleterious and “a vanishingly small fraction will increase fitness.” Crabtree bases his conclusion that humankind is losing mental capacity on the ratio between the deleterious and the beneficial mutations.
Our DNA is mutating, and it has been for thousands of years.  And no, those mutations are not helping us.  Each one of us has tens of thousands of errors in our DNA that we have inherited, and we will add even more errors which we will pass on to future generations.
Given enough time, many scientists believe that humanity would eventually degenerate into a bunch of gibbering idiots incapable of rational thought.
Or could it be possible that a large segment of the population has already arrived at that state?

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Undebtors: Sworn Enemies of the Vampires of Debt










     







By Charles Hugh Smith and originally published at charleshughsmith.blogspot.com


Those who refuse debt, regardless of the sacrifice, are starving the parasitic, exploitive machine; those with debt are feeding it.

We hear a lot about debtors, and very little about undebtors. I define an undebtor as an individual or entity that has sworn off debt or considers debt a necessary evil that must be paid off as quickly as possible regardless of the sacrifices required to do so.

Undebtors are created by these conditions:

1. People with cultural/familial values that eschew/fear debt.

2. People who have been crushed by debt in the past and refuse to repeat the experience.

3. People who recognize debt as the status quo's favored instrument of oppression, control and exploitation.

4. People who understand that paying off debt is the easiest way to earn a zero-risk significant return on one's money.

If you pay off a 12% credit card, that's the equivalent of earning 12% on your money.

There's no mystery as to the low profile of undebtors in the mainstream media: undebtors are the equivalent of the cross to the vampire-parasites peddling debt.How can banks and other financial parasites make money off the undebtors? They can't, and therein lies the problem for the status quo, which lives off the blood of debt extracted from debt-serfs.


The profits skimmed off debt fuel the speculative gambles that benefit Wall Street, and fund the politico lackeys and toadies who enforce the power of banks and Wall Street.

Debt also funds insurance companies and pension funds. Remember, every student loan dragging a starving student into servitude is owned by a pension fund or insurer as a solid, high-yield asset and every subprime auto loan that is extracting a pound of flesh from a marginal borrower feeds Wall Street's profit machine.

People talk about starving the machine. You want to truly starve the machine? Get out of debt and stay out of debt, regardless of the sacrifices needed to do so. I personally know many immigrants to the U.S. who paid off 30-year mortgages in four years or less. How did they do it?

1. Everyone in the family 16 or older worked.

2. Everyone's earnings went to pay off the mortgage.

3. No money was squandered on cable, dish TV, eating out, new clothing, costly vacations, etc. Zip. zero, nada.

There was a saying in the 1960s--you're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem. Those who refuse debt, regardless of the sacrifice, are starving the parasitic, exploitive machine; those with debt are feeding it.

Yes, I have debt, too, but we are doing everything in our power to pay it off as soon as possible. That's all anyone can do. But it's important to do so, starting now. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Seeker vs. Sinner

Image result for man looking in mirrorBy Jeremiah Johnson and originally published at gty.org  
Does an unregenerate man bear a spark of the divine that draws him to a relationship with God, or is he utterly lost in the total depravity of his sin nature?
While that might seem like an obscure theological question, don’t dismiss it as merely fodder for academic debates. It’s an immensely practical question—with implications for the church and for your own life. And it’s at the heart of the consumer-driven movement in the church, commonly known as seeker sensitivity.
The Original Seekers
Sometimes the only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history. Sadly, that’s particularly applicable when it comes to church history. The fifteen hundred-year-old heresy of Pelagianism is just one example.
Pelagius developed doctrines concerning the nature of man that were as subtle and seductive as they were damnable. Pelagius wanted to do away with the doctrines of original sin and the federal headship of Adam (the biblical teaching that Adam’s sin has been passed on to all men and we are all born with a sinful nature—Romans 5:12-18).
Augustine, who opposed Pelagius, was committed to the doctrines of divine sovereignty and human depravity. Any compromise on these two pillars of gospel truth would do violence to the glorious gospel of God’s grace—man’s inability to save himself (John 6:44) and his need for a sovereign Lord to intervene on his behalf (Romans 3:21–26).
The Council of Ephesus condemned Pelagianism as utterly heretical in AD 431, but it has survived in various forms since then.
Charles Finney ignited an enormous “revival” in Pelagian theology in the nineteenth century. Although Finney remains enormously popular among many contemporary evangelical and charismatic churches, few know how “depraved” his theology actually was. Finney clearly articulated his “doctrine of man” in his own Systematic Theology where he wrote:
Moral depravity cannot consist in any attribute of nature or constitution, nor in any lapsed or fallen state of nature. . . . Moral depravity, as I use the term, does not consist in, nor imply a sinful nature, in the sense that the human soul is sinful in itself. It is not a constitutional sinfulness.[1]
In other words, people do not have a sin nature. Without a sin nature, there is no need for the Spirit’s work of regeneration. And without need of the Spirit, we can use any means necessary to make the gospel appealing to people.
Finney’s man-centered ideas live on vibrantly in many modern churches today. The seeker-sensitive consumer-driven approach tailors church services and sermons to the “felt needs” of the sinner. It is a tacit denial of the biblical view that “no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:11, ESV). This is the ugly modern legacy of the fire that Pelagius lit and Finney stoked.
Modern Pelagians
It is an inescapable truth that those who pioneered the seeker-sensitive megachurch juggernaut in America were practical Pelagians. Effectively denying the total depravity of unregenerate man, they reclassified spiritually curious unbelievers as people “seeking after God.” They designed their services—really, their entire churches—to appeal to the interests and attractions of the world.
Seeker-sensitive guru Rick Warren is just one example of neo-Pelagianism. In his book The Purpose Driven Church, the megachurch pastor proudly describes how he spent twelve weeks surveying the unsaved residents in the surrounding neighborhood before he planted Saddleback Church in Southern California. He went door to door, asking:
1. What do you think is the greatest need in this area? This question simply got people talking to me.
2. Are you actively attending any church? If they said yes, I thanked them and moved on to the next home. I didn’t bother asking the other three questions because I didn’t want to color the survey with believers’ opinions. Notice that I didn’t ask, “Are you a member?” Many people who haven’t been inside a church for twenty years still claim membership in some church.
3. Why do you think most people don’t attend church? This seemed to be a less threatening and offensive wording than “Why don’t you attend church?” Today many people would answer that question with “It’s none of your business why I don’t go!” But when I asked why they thought other people didn’t attend, they usually gave me their personal reasons anyway.
4. If you were to look for a church to attend, what kind of things would you look for?This single question taught me more about thinking like an unbeliever than my entire seminary training. I discovered that most churches were offering programs that the unchurched were not interested in.
5. What could I do for you? What advice can you give to a minister who really wants to be helpful to people? This is the most basic question the church must ask its community. Study the gospels and notice how many times Jesus asked someone, “What do you want me to do for you?” He began with people’s needs.[2]
A survey like that might be helpful if you wanted to start a business, open a country club, or stake out a political platform in that area. But the church is none of those things, and should not operate as such. And yet Warren proudly attests that hundreds and perhaps thousands of churches have used his survey to similarly guide their growth and inform their outreach.
Moreover, by dismissing out of hand the answers of anyone who professed faith or allied with any church, Warren guaranteed that his church would be driven by the most worldly, least sanctified interests available. Either he didn’t know or didn’t care that depraved minds were helping shape his church.
Wrong Priorities, Wrong Practice
Biblically, the inverted priorities of seeker-sensitive churches are pretty easy to spot. In his bookAshamed of the Gospel, John MacArthur explains how consumer-driven methods diverge from the biblical model.
Scripture says the early Christians “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6, ESV). In our generation the world is turning the church upside down. Biblically, God is sovereign, not “unchurched Harry.” The Bible, not a marketing plan, is supposed to be the sole blueprint and final authority for all church ministry. Ministry should meet people’s real needs, not indulge their selfishness. Above all, we must bear in mind that the Lord of the church is Christ, not some couch potato with the remote control in his hand.[3]
Essentially, seeker-sensitive proponents completely ignore the biblical view of unregenerate man. The Bible makes it clear that unbelievers want nothing to do with God. Jesus said this plainly:
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19–20)
Paul invalidated the entire seeker-sensitive church growth philosophy in five words: “No one seeks for God” (Romans 3:11, ESV). It is truly astounding that such a massive movement could be built in such clear defiance of the New Testament’s most prolific author, as well as the Savior they claimed to preach.