Archive | May, 2013

Are We Seeing the Beginning of a Vatican Spring?

27 May

A short sermon by the pope on May 22 offers hope for a major change not just for the Catholic Church but for religious and anti-religious thought and behavior worldwide. The Vatican Radio website provides what appears to be an almost word-for-word translation of the pope’s remarks at http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/05/22/pope_at_mass:_culture_of_encounter_is_the_foundation_of_peace/en1-694445.  The pope’s appeal was made in a very modest fashion, namely at an early morning mass for governmental employees of the Vatican City State.  Nonetheless, he spoke about what is common to all people everywhere.

The pope noted first that we all are able to do good.  We also have in common a moral sense of a duty to do good and avoid evil.  The pope said we not only can do good, we must.

The sermon or homily was inspired by the Gospel reading for the day, John 9:30-40, which tells of the disciples trying to stop someone who was driving out devils in Jesus’ name who was not a disciple and Jesus saying they should not try to prevent commendable actions.

The pope noted that it has been common throughout history for people who believe they have the truth to not recognize the good deeds of those who do not share their vision of truth. This blindness to the goodness of others leads to war and even to killing in the name of God, which is an extreme form of blasphemy.

The pope ended by saying:

 “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

“Doing good” the Pope explained, is not a matter of faith: “It is a duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because He has made us in His image and likeness. And He does good, always.”

400 Parts Per Million

27 May

“The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, scientists reported Friday, reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years.

“Scientific instruments showed that the gas had reached an average daily level above 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.

“The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.

“’It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,’ said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the monitoring program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reported the new reading.” – Excerpts from NY Times, May 10, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/11/science/earth/carbon-dioxide-level-passes-long-feared-milestone.html?pagewanted=all

“Climate change is the single biggest environmental and humanitarian crisis of our time. The Earth’s atmosphere is overloaded with heat-trapping carbon dioxide, which threatens large-scale disruptions in climate with disastrous consequences. We must act now to spur the adoption of cleaner energy sources at home and abroad. Climate change is the single biggest environmental and humanitarian crisis of our time. The Earth’s atmosphere is overloaded with heat-trapping carbon dioxide, which threatens large-scale disruptions in climate with disastrous consequences. We must act now to spur the adoption of cleaner energy sources at home and abroad. Climate change is the single biggest environmental and humanitarian crisis of our time. The Earth’s atmosphere is overloaded with heat-trapping carbon dioxide, which threatens large-scale disruptions in climate with disastrous consequences. We must act now to spur the adoption of cleaner energy sources at home and abroad.Climate change is the single biggest environmental and humanitarian crisis of our time. The Earth’s atmosphere is overloaded with heat-trapping carbon dioxide, which threatens large-scale disruptions in climate with disastrous consequences. We must act now to spur the adoption of cleaner energy sources at home and abroad.”  – Natural Resources Defense Council, http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/

Relevant Websites

A leading organization addressing climate change is 350 with its website http://350.org/

Understanding 350 – frequently asked questions, http://350.org/en/understanding-350#1

What to do about 400 ppm, http://400.350.org/

Rise of Africa, Asia and South America Is Radically Transforming the World

27 May

Video, http://bcove.me/7dsjquhh

The rise of the South is radically reshaping the world of the 21st century, with developing nations driving economic growth, lifting hundreds of millions of people from poverty, and propelling billions more into a new global middle class, says the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) 2013 Human Development Report.

“The rise of the South is unprecedented in its speed and scale,” the 2013 Report says. “Never in history have the living conditions and prospects of so many people changed so dramatically and so fast.”

…The Report shows that more than 40 developing countries have made greater human development gains in recent decades than would have been predicted. These achievements, it says, are largely attributable to sustained investment in education, health care and social programmes, and open engagement with an increasingly interconnected world.

  • China and India doubled per capita economic output in less than 20 years—a rate twice as fast as that during the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America. “The Industrial Revolution was a story of perhaps a hundred million people, but this is a story about billions of people,” says Khalid Malik, the 2013 Report’s lead author.
  • By 2020, the Report projects, the combined output of the three leading South economies—China, India, Brazil—will surpass the aggregate production of the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Canada.
  • With living standards rising in much of the South, the proportion of people living in extreme income poverty worldwide plunged from 43 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2008, including more than 500 million people lifted from poverty in China alone. As a result, the world has already achieved the main poverty eradication target of the Millennium Development Goals, which called for the share of people living on less than US$1.25 a day to be cut by half from 1990 to 2015.
  • Developing countries nearly doubled their share of world merchandise trade from 25 percent to 47 percent between 1980 and 2010, the Report notes. Trade within the South was the biggest factor in that expansion, climbing from less than 10 percent to more than 25 percent of all world trade in the past 30 years, while trade between developed countries fell from 46 percent to less than 30 percent. Trade between countries in the South will overtake that between developed nations, the Report projects. Increasing openness to trade correlates with rising human development achievement in most developing countries….

Environmental inaction, especially regarding climate change, has the potential to halt or even reverse human development progress in the world’s poorest countries and communities, the Report warns. The number of people in extreme poverty could increase by up to three billion by 2050 unless environmental disasters are averted by coordinated global action, it says.

…Projections in the Report examine the potential demographic impact of ambitious national education policies similar to those implemented in recent decades by the Republic of Korea. The forecast suggests that faster educational progress also substantially reduces child mortality, the direct result of improvements in girls’ opportunities for continued education and the well-documented benefits for children of having a well-educated mother. In India, for example, accelerated education progress such as that in the Republic of Korea could cut child mortality by as much as half in future generations.

Educating women through adulthood is the closest thing to a “silver bullet” formula for accelerating human development, the Report’s research shows.

…Severe poverty remains a major problem throughout much of the developing world, the Report stresses. An estimated 1.57 billion people, or more than 30 percent of the population of the 104 countries studied for the Report, live in what it terms “multidimensional” poverty, including 612 million people in India.

The full statement from which these excerpts were taken is available at http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/hdr/human-development-report-2013/ 

Full 2013 Human Development Report is available at http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/corporate/HDR/2013GlobalHDR/English/HDR2013%20Report%20English.pdf

A summary of the report is available at http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/corporate/HDR/2013GlobalHDR/English/HDR2013%20Summary%20English.pdf.

The Book “Locavesting” Sees Growth in Local Investing

27 May

Authored by economics and business journalist Amy Cortese and copyrighted in 2011 the book “Locavesting” paints a grim picture of funding available for small businesses.  She describes many efforts being made to create funding sources and thereby build “resilient, sustainable and healthy communities”.

She says, “Today, we are buying local and eating local, but we still aren’t investing local.  There just hasn’t been an easy way for individuals to put money into worthy small businesses in need of capital.”

“…[O]ur financial markets have evolved to serve big business.  Of all the trillions of dollars madly flying through the financial markets, less than 1 percent goes to … provide capital to companies that will use it to hire, expand, or develop new products… When small businesses create three out of every four jobs and generate half of GDP, that is not an efficient allocation of capital.”

The book argues that “as a society, we are failing our small businesses, through everything from government policies that favor big business to gross misallocation of capital” and details “how securities regulations have evolved to hamper local investment and how the financial industry has come to dominate our economy to a dangerous degree.”

The later chapters of the book provide descriptions of types of funding sources for small businesses that the author feels will be of growing importance.  The first of these is community banks, especially those that build personal relationships with their borrowers.  As pillars of the local community credit unions play much the same role as local banks.  Another possibility is state banks such as the Bank of North Dakota, which has attracted the interest of several other states.

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) may be banks, credit unions, venture capital funds or loan funds.  They serve underserved and low-income communities.  Community development loan funds provide money for loans to consumers (as an alternative to predatory loans), local nonprofits, affordable housing, first-time entrepreneurs, microbusinesses, and local small businesses.  The Opportunity Finance Network, http://www.opportunityfinance.net/, is a network of over 200 CDFIs.

Port Townsend, Washington is the birthplace of the original Local Investment Opportunity Network (LION), connecting potential investors with potential borrowers in Port Townsend and East Jefferson County, https://l2020.org/LION.  It has a growing number of imitators.  Madison, Wisconsin and surrounding Dale County have such a network, http://lioninvesting.com/ourstory/the-concept/.

“Community Capital” is the term Amy Cortese uses to designate investments by local residences to rescue or sustain a local enterprise that they value.  Her first example is all nine policemen in the town of Clare, Michigan, who purchased a bakery that was going out of business.  They secured a continuing supply of doughnuts and also gave life to a business that soon came to employ 19 full-time workers.

Cortese gives several examples of well-loved book stores that have been saved by local investors as well as other kinds of shops, cafes and businesses.

Cortese also describes social networking and “crowdfunding” as ways to inject capital into appealing ventures.  Her examples include Kiva.com, Kickstarter and IndieGoGo and consumer lending sites such as Prosper.com and LendingClub.com.  Two others are FundingCircle.com and ProFounder.com (which has now shut down).

The book “Locavesting” also has a chapter called “Slow Money”.  It is about a national nonprofit organization made up of “semi-autonomous local chapters dedicated to creating financing solutions for small food and agriculture producers”.  “Slow Foods vision is to create a new type of entrepreneurial finance, one that respects the land and the farmer, connects investors to their local economies, and enlarges our definition of fiduciary responsibility.”  The chapter introduces the term “foodshed” which it explains as “Similar to a watershed – a geographical area’s life-sustaining source and flow of water – a foodshed refers to a region’s food production and distribution system.  It encompasses the farm, the table, and everything in between.  Like watersheds, foodsheds are vital to the health and security of a region”.

It notes, “Farmers markets have increased threefold in the past decade.  CSAs – community-supported  agriculture – in which customers prepay for a share in the season’s harvest – have grown from 60 in 1990 to more than 2,000.”  Slow Money has a website, http://slowmoney.org/.

The book has an extensive chapter on co-ops.  Websites include the National Cooperative Business Association, http://www.ncba.coop/, the International Cooperative Alliance, http://ica.coop/, and the Organic Valley co-op, http://www.organicvalley.coop/.

The last two chapters are about Direct Public Offerings (which are less expensive that Initial Public Offerings (IPOs)), see http://dfdpo.com/, and local stock exchanges, see http://missionmarkets.com/.

Amy Cortese has a Locavesting website, http://locavesting.com/Locavesting_homepage.html.