Monday, February 19, 2024

The Spectacle of a Dying Hegemon: A Folly Wrapped in Denial

Gerry Nolan writes,

In a theatre of the absurd that could only be conceived by a dying hegemon in denial, the United States, under the comic guise of bolstering democracy and countering authoritarianism, continues to hemorrhage its wealth and moral standing on the global stage. This grand illusion, sustained by a bipartisan consensus in Washington, stands in stark contrast to the crumbling edifice of American society, beset by internal schisms and a populace weary of forever wars. The latest congressional extravaganza—funneling billions into made-by-the US catastrophes in Ukraine and Israel—serves not as a testament to American strength but as a damning indictment of a superpower in spiralling decline.

This grotesque spectacle unfolds against the backdrop of a nation grappling with crises of historic proportions: a border crisis, sky high crime rates, failing infrastructure, immense poverty, amid whispers of civil war brewing beneath the surface, and an electorate polarized to the point of paralysis, by design. A 2024 election campaign that is pouring gasoline to the fire with a delusional and highly divisive Biden administration facing down a resurgent Trump campaign poised to fracture any veneer of "united states" Yet, amidst these tempests, the American political machine, with almost comedic irony, chooses to pour its dwindling resources into the bottomless pit of wars that it will not win, that most Americans stand in opposition to.

The absurdity of this situation cannot be overstated. At a time when American infrastructure crumbles, poverty escalates, and the social fabric tears at the seams, the decision to escalate involvement in unwinnable proxy wars is not just misguided; it's a tragic comedy of errors. This is a nation that, rather than addressing the glaring disparities and injustices within its own borders, opts to engage in the cynical machinations of regime change and enabling genocide, exporting chaos in the name of democracy, all while its own democratic institutions teeter on the brink.

The tragic irony here is palpable. The United States, once a beacon of hope and tasked as a guarantor of global stability, now plays the role of an arsonist, igniting fires it cannot extinguish. The American populace, already disillusioned by the endless cycle of conflict and intervention, finds itself caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare: their voices ignored, their needs sidelined, and their futures mortgaged to the ambitions of an elite class obsessed with maintaining a fa├žade of global dominance and relevance.

Moreover, the schism within American society is not just a domestic issue; it has profound implications for its standing on the world stage. Allies and adversaries alike watch with a mix of bewilderment and opportunism as the U.S. struggles to reconcile its internal contradictions. The promise of American leadership, once a lighthouse of stability, now flickers uncertainly, as the nation's priorities become increasingly inscrutable to any rational observer...

Friday, February 16, 2024

Interest Rates

While a few have flexible rate mortgages, most households in New Zealand hold fixed-term mortgages with a one or two-year term. As these fixed-term mortgages have been coming due for renewal, the cost of higher interest rates has begun to bite, and households are feeling the pain. Most are hoping that interest rates will fall quickly.

I believe that is a false hope. The problem is that the low interest rates that prevailed for most of the twenty-first century were abnormal. Following the global financial crisis, the US Federal Reserve pushed interest rates low and kept them at that level for the following decade.

Modern central banks manipulate interest rates to control the supply of money in the economy. Keeping interest rates near-zero for so long would normally significantly increase the supply of money and cause massive inflation. That did not happen for two reasons. Firstly, most of the additional money flowed into the share market, causing a massive increase in share prices (some also flowed into the commercial property market). This was inflation contained in a financial asset market, so most people perceived that to be good.

Secondly, during the first two decades of this century, Western nations started importing most of their consumer goods from China and other parts of Asia. Due to production efficiencies, the prices of consumer durables and vehicles dropped massively. So, the inflationary effect of low interest rates was cancelled out by the effect of cheaper imports from China. In this context, the inflationary policies of central banks benefitted richer people who owned financial assets while not harming poorer people because they had access to cheaper consumer goods.

Unfortunately, this situation will not continue. If central banks reduce interest rates significantly, the increase in the supply of money will cause inflation. If financial markets lose confidence, excess money will not be able to flow into financial asset inflation as it did previously, so it will tend to move into consumer inflation. The Chinese will not come to the rescue with cheaper goods, because their incomes are rising and because the United States is deliberately trying to reduce dependence on Chinese imports.

If central banks reduce interest rates too far, they will create a problem with inflation and will have to raise interest rates again, to compensate.

Exacerbating this problem, the United States is running massive fiscal deficits, nearly a trillion dollars per year. That money has to be raised with borrowing. China is becoming less enthusiastic about holding US Treasury debt because it no longer needs to push its currency down to support its exports, so it will require high interest rates to compensate for the risks of holding US Debt. The need for the US Treasury to borrow to cover big fiscal deficits will require it to keep offering high interest rates on Treasury bills and bonds. These high interest rates will nullify the attempts of the Federal Reserve to reduce interest rates.

People hoping for a significant reduction in mortgage interest rates should understand that the low interest rates that prevailed during the 2010s were abnormal. In the current situation mortgage interest rates will go back to normal, which is significantly higher than the abnormal low rates that many assumed were normal.

My father bought a farm in 1946. He took over a mortgage on the farm held by an insurance company. The interest rate was 6 percent. It remained at 6 percent for the next thirty years. This is probably a more normal level for mortgage interest rate than what prevailed during the 2010s. That is probably the normal that we will go back to in New Zealand. If governments in the western world keep increasing their debt, rates may need to go higher than that.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Imran Kahn

I am amazed that the cricketing world has been so silent about the abysmal treatment of Imran Kahn. In his time, he was one of the most-skilled cricketers in the world. After retiring from cricket, he entered politics in Pakistan. He was Prime Minister from 2018 to 2022. His main problem was that he took on the corrupt families that have controlled the political scene in Pakistan for many years.

After he was pushed out of office, Imran Kahn was arrested on trumped charges of corruption and espionage. He has been in prison since, unable to run for office. Jeffrey Sachs tells the shameful story of American involvement in his removal from office and shut out of the latest elections in an article called US Toppling of Imran Kahn.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Second Testament

I have been reading the New Testament for more than forty years. Over that time, I have used many translations. I find that I get different perspectives when I read from a different translation.

I am currently reading Scot McKnight’s new translation called Second Testament. His approach to translation is unique. He tries to reflect the structure of the original Greek.

The thing that I like most about this translation is that Scot assiduously avoids the religious words that dominate most English translations. For example, he uses the word “deliverance” for the “sozo” related Greek words instead of the usual religious translation “salvation”. I find this really refreshing, and it has forced me to think more clearly about the gospel message and the nature of what Jesus achieved.

The Second Testament is not an easy-to-read English paraphrase. The English sentences are often quite clunky, like the Greek text being translated. So it takes serious reading. However, it is well worth the effort. I have gained new insights that were hidden in the other translations that I have read.

One interesting difference is that Scot McKnight does not use the word “eternal”. He translates the Greek word “aionios” as “era”. I understand that this is a better translation. For example, instead of “eternal life”, he refers to the “Era’s life”, and instead of “eternal punishment”, he refers to the “Era’s chastisement” (Matt 25:44).

The one trusting the son has Era Life (John 3:36).
This translation jarred me into thinking more clearly about what Jesus was saying.

On a lighter note, I wonder if Scot has been influenced by Taylor Swift, as Her Era’s Tour has made the word “era” very popular. I doubt that she has been reading the Second Testament.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Gaza Massacre (8) How will this End?

My thoughts on the long-term outcome of the current struggle in Israel and Gaza are as follows.

  • Israel’s attempt to eliminate Hamas is failing, because it is impossible to eliminate an ideology. The IDF has taken serious casualties and has failed to release any of its captured soldiers. After fighting for three months, Israel is no closer to its goal.

  • International pressure against Israel is increasing. When the International Court of Justice receives a report from Israel on the implementation of its order in about three weeks, the court will probably find that Israel has continued to breach them. That will increase the pressure.

  • Pressure from the United States will get stronger, as the presidential election gets closer. At some point, Israel will have to agree to a ceasefire that will bring the current conflict to an end.

  • Palestinian support for Hama will continue to increase. As Jonathon Cook explained,

    Most of the Palestinian children now being bombed and terrorised, made homeless along with their families, and witnessing loved ones being killed will not grow up over the next few years to become young peace ambassadors. Their birthright will be the gun and the rocket. Their ambition will be to avenge their families and restore their honour.
    The current massacre has massively increased the popularity of Hamas, both in Gaza and the West Bank.

  • I am not sure if they are arrogant enough to try it, but Israel is likely to double down and attack Lebanon in an attempt to destroy Hezbollah. This is likely to end badly, because Hezbollah has a more powerful military than Hamas. The IDF might be forced to retreat from the Golan Heights and parts of northern Israel.

  • Zionism has a serious problem, because its goal is a Jewish state between the Jordan River and the Sea. Any Jew from anywhere in the world is entitled to be a citizen of this state. Unfortunately, for this goal to be accomplished, the non-Jewish people living within this region must be either excluded from the area, or made subservient to the Jewish people. If the majority of people in the region are not Jewish, then democracy will have to be given up. However, in the modern world, an exclusively Jewish state will be seen as a form of apartheid that is unacceptable, so international pressure for change will increase.

  • Zionism is a political problem, so it needs a political solution. Political problems can’t be solved by military power. Occupation of problem territory is never a workable solution. The current Zionist military strategy cannot succeed. Israel can never be secure without God’s blessing, and it can't get God’s blessing while ignoring the requirements of the Torah for the treatment of aliens within the land.

    You are also to love the resident alien, since you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt (Deuth 10:19).
    Do not deny justice to a resident alien or fatherless child (Deut 24:17).
    The same law and the same ordinance will apply to both you and the alien who resides with you (Num 15:16).
    You are to have the same law for the resident alien and the native, because I am the LORD your God (Lev 24:22).
    You will regard the alien who resides with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God (Lev 19:33).
    The same law will apply to both the native and the alien who resides among you (Ex 12:49).
    You must not exploit a resident alien or oppress him (Ex 22:21).
    You must not oppress a resident alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be a resident alien because you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt (Ex 23:9).
    Unfortunately, rejecting the requirements of the Torah leads to military defeat and eventually to exile (Deut 28:15-68).
    If you don’t keep all the words of this instruction that are written in this document by acting on them, so as to live in awe of this honoured and awe-inspiring name, Yahweh your God. Yahweh will bring extraordinary calamities on you and calamities on your offspring, big and lasting calamities (Deut 28:58-59 First Testament).

  • Opinion polls show that the population of Israel has become increasingly violent and hostile to the Palestinian people. Pressure to expel the inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank will increase over time. Israeli governments are becoming increasingly right-wing, ruthless and violent, and there is no sign of that changing. This will exacerbate as pressure from the international community increases.

  • At some point, Israel will have another go at expelling the inhabitants of Gaza, and next time, it might be more successful. It will continue to expand the settlements on the West Bank and make life difficult for the Palestinian people who live there. Israeli politicians who do not support these objectives will lose popularity.

  • Israel’s behaviour is not going to get better soon. It is likely to become far worse as time goes by. Christians who have hitched their horse to the Israeli wagon are going to become more and more embarrassed as time goes on.

  • From studying the prophetic scriptures, I believe that at some point, the people of the United States will get fed up with the unruly behaviour of successive Israeli governments. A US President will be forced to invade Israel in an attempt to reduce the scale of atrocities that are occurring. The Israeli government will find itself subordinate to the nation that it has relied on for support. This will be the end of the Zionist dream (See Woman on the Beast).

  • God’s long-term goal is to bring all Israel to faith in Jesus.

    A partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved (Rom 11:25-26).
    I have explained how this will happen in Israel’s Blessing. This event will bring great blessing to the world and allow the Kingdom of God to come to fullness.

  • Israel’s return to blessing will come when the season called the Times of the Gentiles is complete. The transition to a new system will be marked by a Time of Distress on earth. This will be a time of great trouble for the nation of Israel, sometimes called Jacob’s Trouble.

    How awful that day will be! There will be no other like it!
    It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it.
    On that day—this is the declaration of the LORD of Armies—
    I will break his yoke from your neck and tear off your chains,
    and strangers will never again enslave him.
    They will serve the LORD their God (Jer 30:7-9).

Monday, February 05, 2024

Gaza Massacre (7) Doublespeak

I get really upset by the twisting of words and doublespeak that goes on with respect to Israel. I am especially concerned that Christians have fallen for this propaganda trick. We are supposed to be people of the truth. We have the Spirit of Truth. So when Christians are deceived by twisted words and doublespeak, something is wrong. I get really concerned when Christians demonstrate double standards in assessing the behaviour of other nations. The following are some examples of double standards and twisting of words.

  • Various word games are played to equivalise the actions of the oppressor and the oppressed. When the oppressed people fight back against their oppressors, they are called “terrorists”. When the oppressor bombs the oppressed and kills thousands of civilians, it is called “self-defence”. The reality is that oppressor nations always cause far more terror than the population of the people that they are oppressing. They have to use excessive force to keep control.

  • Israelis captured by Hama are called “hostages” even though they were soldiers controlling the observation cameras and automated machine-gun posts that enforce the blockade on Gaza (all the civilians have been freed). In contrast, the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, many without trial, are called “prisoners” or “terrorists”. Those who have had a trial appear in military tribunals (because Israel is an occupying power) in which normal rules of justice do not apply. Some have been tortured. These are the real hostages.

  • Statements made by Israeli government leaders and officials tend to be accepted as true by mainstream news media, even though they have been caught lying on numerous occasions. When Israeli claims are refuted by independent investigations, the media don’t retract their statements, they just pretend it has not happened. In contrast, statements from Hamas are usually assumed to be false. When the media report on the announcements of the Hamas Health Authority about the numbers of deaths and casualties in Gaza, they discount them as being exaggerated.

  • Israel is allowed to maintain powerful military forces to defend itself (and control Gaza), whereas the Palestinian people of Gaza are condemned if they have any weapons at all. Why are they not allowed to defend themselves?

  • When the United States supplies bombs to Israel that are used to smash infrastructure and kill civilians, it is just a Christian nation doing what it should do. If Iran supplies weapons to Hezbollah, which emerged to defend the Shia population of southern Lebanon after they were invaded and brutalised several times by Israeli forces, it is portrayed as evil.

  • When Israeli troops disguise themselves as doctors and nurses and enter a hospital, forcing out the medical staff and killing young men who were receiving medical attention (one who was unconscious was shot in the forehead in cold blood), the Christian world just yawns. If Hamas had taken this action, the entire world would be screaming about the evil murderers.

  • The way that Israeli propaganda techniques work is to make outrageous claims, knowing that by the time the lies are debunked, most people will believe that they are true and will not change their minds. This strategy works, because in the West, there is a bias towards believing the claims of the Israelis and a reluctance to believe the claims of Palestinians. For example, Joe Biden claims that he had seen photos of Israeli babies beheaded by Hama. A leading newspaper has debunked his claims, proving that the photos never existed and the event never occurred. However, most of the news media never correct their accounts, so many people in the West continue to believe that what he said was true. Similarly, the Israeli defence minister had to walk back his claims about mass rape because he had no evidence, but most western media ignored his retraction.

  • Israel claimed that Hama had headquarters in a tunnel under hospitals, but never produced any evidence to prove their claims. All they produced was a photo of an old tunnel that was not currently being used. Even the New York Times has admitted the Israeli claims were false, but most media never retracted them, so most people continue to believe that they are true.

  • Worse still, these false claims are often used as justification for terrible destructive violence. However, even if Hamas did have headquarters in tunnels under a hospital, the solution is to send troops into the tunnel and clear Hama out. It would not justify forcing the medical staff and sick people to leave the hospital, leaving adults on life-support and babies in incubators to die. Nor would it justify destroying the hospital with bombs. That this is widely accepted as justification for destroying hospitals and killing over 400 doctors and nurses shows how warped Western moral thinking has become. Even German Nazis generally protected doctors and nurses, and their medical facilities.

  • Many Christians believe that the nations around Israel want to invade Israel and destroy it. That was probably true fifty years ago, but the situation has changed significantly since then. Israel now has the most powerful army and air force in the Middle East. It has nearly 200 nuclear weapons. The surrounding Middle Eastern nations realised that driving the Israelis out of the land is impossible, even if they all worked together. These nations seem to have accepted this reality and seem to be resigned to Israel’s existence. Many of them have negotiated peace treaties with Israel. I don’t see efforts to “take Israel out”, whereas the International Court of Justice found plenty of evidence of serious efforts to take the Palestinians out. Hostility to Israel will only increase if it persists with an apartheid-type, exclusively Jewish state, as it has been doing, and if it continues with ethnic cleansing of Gaza and the West Bank.

  • Israelis employed in various NGOs continue to train with the military reserves each week, and will serve with the IDF if they are required. On the other hand, if Palestinians work for a UN organisation (it is difficult to get employment in Gaza) and work with the Palestinian resistance in their spare time, there is outrage. This is a clear double standard.

  • When a nation invades and occupies territory beyond its borders, it is required by international law to provide food, shelter, health care and education for people in the occupied territory. Israel has always refused to do this and demanded that other nations support the people in the territory that it has occupied. Providing this humanitarian support was the reason that UNWRA was set up. So when Israel tries to get UNWRA defunded, it is trying to destroy the organisation that is doing what it should be doing itself. Defunding UNWRA would ultimately result in the starvation of the Palestinian people in Gaza, because Israel will continue to refuse to provide humanitarian support to the occupied peoples as required by international law.

Jesus said that the devil was a liar right from the start.
He is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).
Therefore, it is not surprising that the people of the world believe lies. But it is worrying when followers of Jesus succumb to lies, half-truths and double standards.

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Gaza Massacre (6) Bullying Servant

Being bullied and persecuted does not give a nation an absolute defence against accusations of bullying. Jesus parable of the unmerciful servant explains this.

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed (Matt 18:23-34).

The parable shows that people do not always learn from their own experience in their treatment of others. Those who are bullied often go on to bully others.

The Jewish people received terrible treatment under the Nazi regime in Germany. They were imprisoned and powerless in lands where they were unwanted, but now the boot is on the other foot and Israel is the strongest military power in their part of the Middle East.

The Jews have been aliens in the world for many centuries. Their treatment in many parts of the world was absolutely terrible. They should understand better than anyone what it is like to be a refugee. Given this experience, they could be expected to have empathy for the Palestinian people. Instead, they have done everything possible to make life difficult for them.

When the Jewish people escaped from Europe, they resolved never to again be in a situation where they could be bullied. However, to get that place they have had to become bullies. They have escaped from tyranny, but they are now behaving like tyrants. They have transformed from victim to bully in two generations.

This full series of articles can be read on Substack at Israel and Gaza 2024.