Thursday 27 November 2008

Searching for some (economic) perspective ... on American Thanksgiving Day

Whenever there is discussion of the current financial situation in the US and the rest of the world, it's obvious to me that people are having a hard time comprehending the actual numbers involved -- especially regarding the "bailout" of the current credit crisis. I had a lot of trouble, too, so I took it upon myself to get better educated, and would like to share what I've learned so that others might gain some new ways to put it all into perspective, as well. Hang on - it may terrify!

What I've done is compiled and edited various perspectives and analogies sprinkled throughout the comments section at this source, added my own thoughts along with some serious questions I've posed near the end -- and wound up on a note of Thanksgiving appropriate for this day.


First of all, if we add in the new Citi bailout announced this week, the total cost now exceeds $4.6165 trillion dollars. (Note this Bloomberg article here.)

Since people have a hard time conceptualizing very large numbers, let’s give this some context: The current "Credit Crisis Bailout" is now the largest outlay in all of American history. Jim Bianco, of Bianco Research, crunched the "inflation adjusted" numbers. This bailout is now going to cost more than all of the following big budget US government expenditures in history – COMBINED:

Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

TOTAL: $3.92 trillion


Well, folks, the ugly truth is that combined total is $686 billion LESS than the "official" cost of this current credit crisis, unfolding over just the past few months!

The only single American event in history that even comes close to matching the cost of the credit crisis is World War II -- Original Cost: $288 billion; Inflation-adjusted Cost: $3.6 trillion.

The $4.6165 trillion bailout dollars committed so far are about a trillion dollars ($979 billion dollars) greater than the entire cost of World War II borne by the United States: $3.6 trillion, adjusted for inflation (original cost was $288 billion). Go figure: WWII was a relative "bargain" in comparison. (Worse, the cost of this current credit crisis will only get bigger. It is estimated that by the time we get through 2010, the final bill may scale up to as much as TEN trillion USD.)

Now, how much is just ONE trillion dollars?

1 million stacked dollar bills is .067 miles, less than a tenth of a mile. 1 trillion dollar bills would be the equivilent of eight and a half planet earths stacked on top of each other. (1 US dollar bill is .0043 inches thick.)

One thousand times one million = one billion
One thousand times one billion = one trillion
In other words. One million times one million = one trillion

The trillion dollar stack would be one million times higher than the million dollar stack -or- picture it this way. It would take one million stacks of one million dollar bills to equal one trillion dollars.

If the million dollar stack is indeed .067 miles high, then the trillion dollar stack would be 67,000 miles high. (Fairly near to one third the distance from the Earth to the moon!)

Well-regarded Jim Bianco did the initial number crunching for the list you first read above, but there are other ways to depict this, such as percentage of GDP, or on a per capita basis...

Now here's a shocker: Bloomberg calculates another data breakdown for the total amount US taxpayers are on the hook for ($7.76 trillion) -- that is $24,000 for every man woman and child in the country. Bloomberg's data breakdown for that stunning figure can be found here. What does it equate to?

… that’s 4452.7 Big Mac meals @ $5.39 each for every man woman and child in the country.

… that’s a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu 4-door HYBRID Sedan for every man woman and child in the country.

… that’s 33.4 “average U. S. median monthly housing costs” for every man woman and child in the country.

… that’s 12,766 gallons of regular gasoline for every man woman and child in the country.

… that’s 323,944 more CEO’s at an average 2007 annual salary of $14.2 million each.

… that’s 373,983,739 pounds of gold @ $820/0z.

Regardless, no matter you calculate it, we are talking about an "ungodly" amount of money - and even though its officially a "loan" from the government, it's probably anybody's guess how much of it will ever get paid back!

Maybe, if Bloomberg wins their freedom of information suit we’ll find out the details of the commitments Paulson from Treasury and Bernake at the helm of the Fed have been making - or rather gambling - with our money. (Actually the treasure of our grandchildren and great grandchildren.)

Didn't Bernake's reply during hearings, that it would be 'counterproductive for the public to know what they are doing', strike anyone else as a display of sheer arrogance? Why on earth didn't he get grilled any further by those who represent "the people?" I "dreamt" that President Obama will consider calling for his resignation on Day 1 - and call for it publicly if he refuses. But I'm sure it was only a dream - for who would Obama be willing to put in his place at this point?

I realized today from catching up at Sojourners' daily digest (part of their "God's Politics" blog) that bailing out Citi is actually "old" news. We now have a new 800 Billion plan being floated to bail out 'the uncertain world of credit cards, student borrowing, auto loans, and cash-strapped small businesses.' Now Barack Obama is emphasizing how there's a 'rare consensus' among conservative and liberal economists, that a massive federal stimulus is necessary to revive the economy, even if it swells the federal budget deficit temporarily.

So, what do I really know? (Because I am certainly no economist!)

Well, I know that after trying to absorb all this, I do have serious nagging questions that I'm sure many other ordinary folks have as well:

--What happened to accountability by the bailed out banks that took in huge chunks of this money only to buy other banks (and give out bonuses to their executives) while remaining stingy on giving credit? (Will the same entities receiving all these government loans say someday, "Sorry, if we have to pay it back we'll go under?")

--And, what if this earlier "planned" bailout fails for lack of funds -- if this 4.6 trillion+ doesn’t manage to actually make it into the real world but remains ink on a page?

--Can we really trust what all these economists are saying? i.e. WILL "THE CENTER" HOLD?

Living outside America now in another country whose own government policies and latest news reports constantly feed off what is going on in the States -- as well as the rest of the world -- has only heightened my greatest concern, namely: Where is economic justice in all of this, and what about the incredible negative effects of America's recent actions on the rest of the world?

We are all networked together in a truly global economy, and there is no place to hide. So, how can America offer better leadership, among the other leading developed nations, beyond self-interest? Spend sufficient time and energy NOW collaborating with smaller developing nations to help protect their vulnerable economies from being dragged into depression as a direct result of key but virtually untested decisions by a few power brokers within the most powerful of nations?

I shall certainly pray for the new administration and our new President, so full of hope and energy now, but unfortunately looked to by many as more than just a wise man but also their "Messiah" -- which would be a big "set-up" for failure. Yes, I do admire him for bringing diverse people together, pledging to be more transparent with the public, and saying his administration will at least admit mistakes! (We shall see...)

I was "slouching towards Bethlehem" as I tried to absorb this overload of "reality." I went to the bank to find out where and how to invest in gold in this country. Here we are, missing the Thanksgiving holiday in America - feeling somewhat wistful without the traditional interaction among our dear friends and family members back in the States. (I sent out this electronic card to acknowledge what Carole Anne and I are missing right now, since we "risked all" and took the big leap in '08, to sojourn here to the far side of the world.)

But then as I began to reflect on the intangible rewards of having taken on lots of increased risk this year - to respond to a call - and let go of that which was formerly providing us with much "security" back in Indiana. No, it did not come "easy" but it all did come as a result of exercising a practical faith with the support of a caring community of faith that helps sustain us on this journey toward an uncertain future.

Here we are cultivating some wonderful supportive new friendships among people that really care. We have a mission to fulfill. It's not about our own comfort, but it's about helping to secure the comfort of others. That is where true happiness comes from - not from accumulation, but in giving of ourselves. We feel confident about the big picture because this sort of faith and assurance is rooted in an economy of gratitude -- in a God of love and grace, not fear. A God we believe was revealed fully through Jesus Christ - the best Source of security as we head into a very uncertain future -- in the earthly realm, that is!

Best of all, though I stumbled onto some gold today - right here - and some excellent guidance on "thinking THANKFULLY about money!" Don't miss finding it for yourself.

-Clair Hochstetler, Canberra, AUS

Monday 24 November 2008

"Healing our Relationship with the Environment" - an Interfaith Worship Service on the 14th of December

I thought some of my friends might be interested in knowing about the plans for what I think will prove to be a very interesting and inspirational Interfaith worship service coming up soon, Sunday afternoon, 14th of December, here in Canberra on the theme "Healing our Relationship with the Environment."

This event was organized jointly by the Interfaith Forum of the Australian Capital Territory (IFFACT) in association with the United Ngunawal Elders Council, the ACT Indigenous Community and the ACT Palliative Care Society.

Here is the location that was selected. One can scroll down to see "Site C", quite close to Clare Holland House - Canberra's inpatient hospice facility - so that, potentially, hospice residents and their family members (who are themselves connected to a variety of cultures and spiritual traditions) can also easily access this service!

Below is the provisional outline of the program planned thus far:


1. Acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the Land

2. Welcome to Country - …………
(United Ngunawal Elders Council)

3. Didjeridu interlude ………………….

4. Introduction of Theme: Kinship with the Land
(Speaker: Ngunawal Elder)………………..

5. Readings or stories from Spiritual Traditions:
a. Aboriginal/Indigenous ………………
b. Baha’i ………………
c. Brahma Kumaris ……………....
d. Buddhist ………………
e. Christian ………………
f. Hindu ………………
g. Jewish ………………
h. Muslim ………………
i. Sathya Sai ………………
j. Sikh ………………
k. Sukyo Mahikari ………………

6. Address: Healing our relationship with the Environment
Speaker: TBA

7. Musical or other cultural interlude

8. Prayers for the World and the Environment – Ahmed Youssef

9. Words of Thanks ………………

10. Light Refreshments (while visiting)

Sunday 23 November 2008

Why President Bush Should Simply Resign - Right Now!

"It's time for President George W. Bush to go!" (How to do this...)

Why it should be done : (Read "We Found The W.M.D." which explains how the bottom just might fall out of the entire economy, even before Obama starts!)

There isn't a snowball's chance....or is there? If so, it would really give America something for which to be truly thankful -- on Thanksgiving Day, this week!

Hoping for better,
Clair Hochstetler
in Canberra, Australia

What Happy People DON'T Do!

Here is an interesting article in the news that I think will be quite good for folks to "take it to heart." It's based on research from the reported in the New York Times this past week.

But I wonder: Might the results be influenced by the fact that what sells on TV is mostly "bad news", sex, and violence? Or is it the common sensical reality that most people watching lots of TV are not "out there" interacting with real human beings at the time?

And I want to ask my Australian friends if you think this article would apply to Aussies, as well?



19 November, 2008
What Happy People Don't Do
By Roni Caryn Rabin - The New York Times

Happy people spend a lot of time socializing, going to church and reading newspapers - but they don't spend a lot of time watching television, a new study finds.

That's what unhappy people do.

Although people who describe themselves as happy enjoy watching television, it turns out to be the single activity they engage in less often than unhappy people, said John Robinson, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and the author of the study, which appeared in the journal Social Indicators Research.

While most large studies on happiness have focused on the demographic characteristics of happy people - factors like age and marital status -Dr. Robinson and his colleagues tried to identify what activities happy people engage in. The study relied primarily on the responses of 45,000 Americans collected over 35 years by the University of Chicago's General Social Survey, and on published "time diary" studies recording the daily activities of participants.

"We looked at 8 to 10 activities that happy people engage in, and for each one, the people who did the activities more - visiting others, going to church, all those things - were more happy," Dr. Robinson said."TV was the one activity that showed a negative relationship. Unhappy people did it more, and happy people did it less."

But the researchers could not tell whether unhappy people watch more television or whether being glued to the set is what makes people unhappy. "I don't know that turning off the TV will make you more happy," Dr. Robinson said.

Still, he said, the data show that people who spend the most time watching television are least happy in the long run.

Since the major predictor of how much time is spent watching television is whether someone works or not, Dr. Robinson added, it's possible that rising unemployment will lead to more TV time.

Monday 17 November 2008

Reflections On "Dual Citizenship" and "Homeland Security" - from the perspective of Philippians 3:20

"For our country is in heaven; from where the Saviour for whom we are waiting will come, even the Lord Jesus Christ:" Philippians 3:20 (Today's English Version)

This brings to mind the song "this world is not my home, I'm just a passing through" and Jesus words, "My kingdom is not of/in/like this world's."

Many jubilant folks carry great expectations - especially throughout the international community - that the new Obama administration will be able to rebuild trust, provide good leadership, reshape priorities and rebuild the "infrastructure" of goodwill that had been squandered by the current administration, and find effective ways to deal with some of the most pressing economic and other systemic problems the United States has ever faced. In other words - 'rebuild the kingdom' and bring about the "change" Obama promised: "Yes, we can." Watching the rerun of this Sunday night's CBS "60 Minutes" interview of Michele and Barack Obama sure does give hope to those of us who actually supported him during this run for Presidency!

But, realistically, won't it be nigh to impossible for any mortal leader to live up to ALL of these elevated expectations? We are facing many of the same issues here, lead by the new administration of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd -- appointed less than a year ago to lead the charge in Australia.

Back to that Philippians passage: it does gives rise to a very relevant question: As a citizen, what now is my responsibility to this 'world' -- or, specifically, to 'my country' soon to be lead (thank God) by a new Commander-in-Chief?

"How are you traveling?" is a common greeting here in Australia...(No one greets you with the question "How are you DOING?" Aussies ask "How are you GOING?!") I like that little twist on the grammer of the journey of life. How am I 'traveling,' as a serious follower of Jesus our Lord and king, if I give PRIMARY allegiance to another commander-in-chief?

Or, to ask the question in a slightly different way, if US citizens rely on a particular branch of government for 'Homeland Security', are they placing their security and confidence in just 'another god?' Hmmmmm? This all reminds me of the sign in front of a security business which says: "Trust in God." Right under that: "Hawk Security Systems" !! It's worth some discussion.

Some important questions about "citizenship" ethics are worth exploring, which I hope get raised even if 'the elections' are finally over: For example, taking this passage in Philippians seriously involves asking "What is one to do when the moral and ethical demands of earthly and heavenly citizenship demands collide?" (Christians from all points on the political spectrum are often moved to ask this question - or at least should be!)

During the recent election my United States citizenship expectation was that I vote. And I did, with an absentee ballot. But, I found myself expressing a variety of moral/ethical qualms - and I confess I did not often have very good resolutions. My Republican friends often badgered me with questions about how I could vote for Obama with his stance on protecting Roe vs. Wade, among other "liberal" issues. While I do have a problem with liberal abortion policies, I, on the other hand have many qualms about many other "conservative" policies that foment violence and killing and compromise a seamless "ethic of life." Conservative Christian leaders have found ways to justify all this in the name of preserving "freedom" but these policies need to be wrestled with, in my view, in light of other clear biblical principles Jesus taught to protect and preserve life.

And what about this distressing issue: Could I vote with integrity for either of the two main party leader(s) who in a time of great financial distress in the USA - indeed, the whole world - spent nearly HALF A BILLION dollars in self-promotion during this unbelievably LONG campaign? Though I think most raising the issue recognized the importance of the outcome this time around, over the past several months I heard many here in Australia lament (or at least question) the incomprehensible sums of money spent. Wasn't at least half of it wasted? What, you might say in America -- there is no way around it. Oh, really?

Indeed, the rest of the world got very tired hearing the incessant news on the US Presidential campaign's "progress" - in very high gear for over two years. The US could learn a lot from most of the other western countries/democracies who would NEVER allow any campaign to extend that long. Will there, could there, ever be hope for CHANGE in such a "system" that so readily and wantonly squanders such huge resources? I'm just thinking about what even half of that money could do, applied to some of the other pressing needs of the world -- needs Jesus himself would consider to be priorities placed high on the scale of things we need to be about.

As citizens of God's kingdom - first and foremost - don't we share the responsiblity to address the wisest use of money and resources that can address these priorities in our world - and the countries in which we find ourselves participating as citizens? Setting and shaping priorities that truly work to improve the "security" and well-being of people will, I imagine, be the basis of much ongoing debate among the American people and in Congress, led by the new Obama administration chosen by the plurality of those same citizens.

Back, once more, to Philippians, so relevant to our current "situation." I invite you to absorb an astute British university professor's essay/sermon on responsible "dual" citizenship, based on the Phil. 3:20 passage I quoted above. (He notes the important factor of Philippian Roman citizenship to the thinking of Paul, the author of that letter of encouragement.) Thus, I do hope you will take the time to "scan" it now, to at least get the gist, and share your own comments and perspective.

Clair Hochstetler
Canberra, Australia

Thursday 6 November 2008

Cars are about to run on air in other parts of the world, so why not in the United States?

Odds are you've never heard of this car. Why not?

Why is a company in Luxembourg developing it with zero help from the high rolling US-UK dominated global financial system?

The answer is quite simple: The banking system and the oil industry are closely intertwined and they want to protect their investment in the gasoline/petrol infrastructure at all costs!

Fortunately, Luxembourg doesn't have the same commitment to petrol as fuel that the US and UK does. France and Luxembourg don't have oil companies, but they don't have the equivalent of Exxon or Royal Dutch Shell. India doesn't either. But the French/Luxembourgish people and the Indians (Tata Motors) do have superb engineers.

Assuming the collapse of the global financial system doesn't derail the launch of this car over the next year, India and parts of Europe will have vehicles completely independent of the oil companies soon. No toxic fuel, no toxic emissions, super low cost, utter reliability, and here's the really cool part: the "fuel" could be available anywhere there is room for an air compressor including your own home. (Of course, the air compressors also need electricity for power, but this method of powering vehicles involves a whole lot less energy than the conventional way. And if alternative renewable energy sources - including "clean" nuclear energy (on which Europeans are also working successfully to develop) can be harnessed to power the compressors, just image the difference this could make in our future!

Cars like the one you saw above will be priced in a range ($5,100 to $7,800 US) within reach of consumers in a developing economy. The production of another CAT car for local markets might begin early 2009 in Spain and Australia.

What's not to like about this? Why is the news of this technology all but banned in the US? The banking system and the oil industry (and news media industry) are closely intertwined. It's really that simple, folks.

So do something - like this enterprising Italian- Australian trying to give his invention a "go." Yes, the time is right.

I'm going to try very hard to get one of these vehicles while living here in Australia. And I'll be happy to let you know how its "goes!"