Pope Francis, the Passionate

Just under 2,000 years ago, almost three quarters of a million sunsets ago, a Jew named Jesus started the Passover Seder by washing the feet of his followers in an act of humility and passion.  To mark this event, the newly installed Pope Francis repeated the ceremony with a group of young prisoners at a juvenile detention center in Rome – two of whom were women.  It may seem like a stunning sign of contrition from this new Pope, except that this is what we have come to expect from the Argentine Jesuit who has insisted that priests should be “shepherds who have the smell of their sheep.”

Who is Francis?  Why does it matter?  As we learned from the last two Popes, these two questions are closely intertwined because the office is made by the man who holds it – for better or worse.  As we head into Easter it is good to have a closer understanding of this man and why he might make a big difference in faith – both personally and for the institution we know as the Catholic Church.

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In Praise of Junk

When is junk a good thing?  When you can’t afford a new car, a rusty old one might do just as well, at least for a little while (even if it is purple, like mine).  And if bond rates are so low that you might as well put your money in the mattress, you might also develop a taste for junk – junk bonds, that is, or more politely known as “high yield bonds”.  It’s been the latest trend in the bond market and, strangely, it might be proof that things are getting better.  It’s not the quality of the debt that really counts, it’s what they do with it.

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Just Too Big

“Too Big to Fail” has been a standard for a number of international investment banks, including JP Morgan (JPM) for many years now.  We’ve seen that turn into “Too Big to Jail” where major violations of law result in nothing more than fines which have clearly been absorbed into the cost of doing business as they please.  But the real problem is one of consistent hubris from a company too big for anyone to understand or even manage effectively.  That’s the conclusion of the report issued by Sen Carl Levin into the “London Whale” losses at JPM’s London Office last April.

What happens when a company this large becomes so reckless that a major problem is inevitable?  We might soon find out – at terrible expense.  No matter what, their behavior is becoming a major problem that could give life to a movement that puts an end to the cozy relationship once and for all.  Assuming, of course, we aren’t already too late.

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The Good, Bad, & Ugly

Longtime readers know that one of the goals of Barataria is to report on news stories that haven’t made the mainstream nooze yet.  Today we have three that are developing into what may yet be the most important economic and political stories of 2013 – the good, the bad, and of course the ugly.

There has been a lot of good news lately on the economy, even as the rest of the world flounders a bit.  It’s that weakness that makes the potential bad news, especially as the world looks to us as a stable and safe place to park money.  But the ugly story comes out of the place we’re used to being a dim spot, the US Congress, supposedly working on an actual budget for the first time in four years.  Think their inaction could screw things up?  Oh, no – it’s what they are doing that is actually much, much worse.  So here are tomorrow’s stories as the develop today.

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Happiness is Coming!

For the first time in years the people have a chance to vote.  It’s a straight up or down vote – do you want to continue the brutal regime or do something different that isn’t all that well defined?  If that sounds like an impossible situation, it’s what was facing Chile in the referendum on Augusto Pinochet on 5 October 1988.  Many wanted to boycott the whole deal as a sham, a fake that was sure to be rigged.  Some wanted to use it as an opportunity to document the murders of 3,197 political opponents or the torture of more than 29,000.

But some wanted to win.  And how they did it was with a positive message and an upbeat anthem that convinced the nation that “Happiness is coming!” (Chile, la alegría ya viene!) If it seems unlikely, it’s brilliantly retold in the movie “No,” nominated for an Oscar.  You must see this movie – but more to the point, we all need to understand the message.  Democracy and an open society flourishes when people can see their future together – hope, pride, and happiness.

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The Managed Depression – Update

I recently wrote this piece for submission to a mainstream media outlet, but it was rejected.  I’d like to present it here.

Economic health, like personal health, starts with honesty.  When something is wrong a good diagnosis is the first step towards the proper cure and a strong recovery.  Our economy is been deep in what is commonly called a “Great Recession”. That strange term is a substitute for the dreaded word that most of us know is the true condition – a depression.

That “D-word” may be feared, but it should not be.  It simply points to different and more unusual treatment than we are used to.  History will eventually come to know our present economy as what I call a “Managed Depression” – unusual among similar stages in the business cycle in that this one has been carefully managed.

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St Patrick’s Day

This piece is a repeat from three years ago – I don’t have anything to add.  The re-run gives me more time to enjoy the day.  Sláinte!

Good people go to Heaven, but the Celts went everywhere. There isn’t a corner of the globe where you can’t find us if you look hard enough. Nations as far flung as Canada and Australia are largely Celtic in origin, and the majority of those Celts came from Ireland.

Our people have wandered the earth like almost no other, and for one day we all return home with the help of a hyphen. Many of us become Irish-Americans or Irish-Canadians on Saint Patrick’s day when any other day American or Canadian would be enough. We drink up well in pubs, cheer on the bagpipers, and think back to what our ancestors must have gone through to get us where we are.

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