bitcoin“For federal tax purposes, virtual currency is treated as property.”

With those ten words, the IRS has made it more difficult — if not impossible — for bitcoin and other virtual currencies from gaining widespread, mainstream acceptance as a currency for commercial transactions. Because they are now treated as property, virtual currencies are considered, like stocks, bonds, and other investment property, as capital assets and will be subject to capital gains tax.

But why does this hinder bitcoins use a currency? The answer is fungibility: Bitcoins are no longer completely fungible.
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Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben

It’s been a long, cold winter. Not to mention expensive due to heating bills depleting bank balances for those fortunately possessing enough scratch to pay their utilities. For others forced to wear sweaters around the clock and sleep with three dogs to stay warm while keeping the thermostat tuned just above freezing to save money, it may take months before reaching a zero balance on the monthly propane/gas/natural gas/electricity statement.

Imagine how prohibitive those bills would be if we relied on the so-called renewable energy schemes rather than relatively cheap and plentiful fossil fuel sources to warm our igloos and power our personal vehicles and those oh-so-necessary snowplows. In a word borrowed from Thomas Hobbes, it’d be brutish.

Love it, hate it, or just plain indifferent, U.S. dependence on fossil fuel energy will remain relatively unchanged for the foreseeable future. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates our appetite for carbon-based power will hold steady more or less until 2040: “The fossil fuel share of energy consumption falls from 82% in 2012 to 80% in 2040, as consumption of petroleum-based liquid fuels declines, largely as a result of slower growth in VMT [vehicle miles traveled] and increased vehicle efficiency.” (more…)

In USA Today comes this story from the Associated Press:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Wednesday permanently removed a German bishop from his Limburg diocese after his 31 million-euro ($43-million) new residence complex caused an uproar among the faithful.

Francis had temporarily expelled Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst from Limburg in October pending a church inquiry.

At the center of the controversy was the price tag for the construction of a new bishop’s residence complex and related renovations. Tebartz-van Elst defended the expenditures, saying the bill was actually for 10 projects and there were additional costs because the buildings were under historical protection.

But in a country where Martin Luther launched the Reformation five centuries ago in response to what he said were excesses and abuses within the church, the outcry was enormous. The perceived lack of financial transparency also struck a chord since a church tax in Germany brings in billions a year to the German church.

The Vatican said Wednesday that the inquiry into the renovation found that Tebartz-van Elst could no longer exercise his ministry in Limburg and that Francis had accepted his resignation, which was originally offered Oct. 20.

Back in October, I was part of a panel of guests on the BBC program World Have Your Say, discussing the question, “Should Religious Leaders Live a Modest Life?” The springboard for the conversation was the scandal surrounding Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst.

At the Boston Globe yesterday, John Allen sees this as a potential sign of a social gospel alliance between Pope Francis and President Obama, whose first meeting is today: (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, March 27, 2014
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Conscience as Sacred Property
Jeremiah G. Dys , Canon & Culture

Caesar has provided us with a lamentable choice. Today, it is not the coliseum, nor are Christians being driven to the catacombs under totalitarian persecution. The choice presented to us, however, is no less unjust.

A new crusade: Aid proposed to stop Christian persecution in the Middle East
Meredith Somers, Washington Times

The United States can help Christians being persecuted in the Middle East by using foreign aid to modify behaviors in countries where persecution is rampant, educating U.S. diplomats about the issue in their assigned regions and asking for help from Arab-Americans, a panel of religious freedom researchers said Monday.

Religious Freedom: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t
Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review Online

Conservatives have been divided over the best way to protect religious freedom: constitutional or statutory, legislative or judicial. Almost all conservatives have believed, at every point in the last few decades, that laws should avoid forcing religious believers into violating their consciences whenever possible.

The Quaker Exemption and Religious Liberty Today
Thomas Kidd, ERLC

As oral arguments begin in Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the HHS abortifacient mandate, we might ask what the Founders would think about this case?

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
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Many who reject capitalism in favor of some “third way” do so because they often mistake it for government-corporate cronyism, says Jonathan Witt in this week’s Acton Commentary. But in countries that have begun extending true economic freedom to the masses, capitalist activity has already lifted hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty.

Happily, a new piece in The Economist magazine offers some helpful medicine for the confusion, insisting on the distinction between cronyism and capitalism while also pointing to some hopeful signs that a rising middle class around the globe is gaining the clout to fight the power structures that still wall millions out of the wealth creation game. My reservation about the article is that it misreads America’s Progressive era, and in the process, leaves cronyism’s favorite trick unexposed.

According to the piece, crony capitalism in America “reached its apogee in the late 19th century, and a long and partially successful struggle against robber barons ensued. Antitrust rules broke monopolies such as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. The flow of bribes to senators shrank.” Later, it tells readers that while developing countries are making progress against cronyism, “governments need to be more assiduous in regulating monopolies.”

The full text of his essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

CVS-no-cigsThe CVS chain made an announcement a few weeks ago: they would no longer sell tobacco products at their stores. CVS President and CEO Larry Merlo said:

As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role through our 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners. By removing tobacco products from our retail shelves, we will better serve our patients, clients and health care providers while positioning CVS Caremark for future growth as a health care company. Cigarettes and tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered. This is the right thing to do.

Merlo’s own father died of lung cancer, and Merlo felt that this was not only a business decision, but an ethical one. (more…)

The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of ViolenceOver at the Kern Pastors Network blog, Greg Forster uses The Locust Effect – Gary Haugen’s new book on violence, poverty, and human trafficking – as a springboard for discussing the reach and interconnectedness of various Christian commitments.

“The moral commitments that mobilize evangelicals to fight human trafficking have much broader application,” he writes, “and point to the possibility of a larger Christian vision for the public square.”

Yet, for whatever reason, we continue to stall when it comes to expanding, integrating, and applying things such a direction:

These days, trafficking is the only public issue evangelical leaders are comfortable identifying as a gospel imperative. As a result, our people are highly mobilized and accomplishing a lot. On every other public issue, however, we’re paralyzed by endless debates. There are no shared commitments, nothing we’re allowed to agree on; there is only division between the Right and the Left. So we produce a lot of heated rhetoric, and nothing gets done…

…This perpetual division over everything has to change if the gospel is going to speak to the culture, if Christians are going to have an impact in the public square, and if local churches are going to be forces for flourishing in their communities. The human trafficking issue proves there is a way out of this dilemma, because it shows that we do have shared moral commitments. “The Locust Effect” is a good example of how to apply those commitments beyond just trafficking. The Kern Pastors Network, the Oikonomia Network, and others who are working to integrate faith, work, and economics can carry these principles even further.

Forster proceeds accordingly, applying such commitments to the realms of work and economics. (more…)