Saturday, January 28, 2023

Musings on the Debt Ceiling, the National Debt, and Economic Uncertainty

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

America has once again hit its self-imposed debt ceiling, and Treasury Secretary Yellen has kicked the can down the road with extraordinary measures to avoid insolvency until June.  Congress will have more time to find a solution.  It could increase the debt ceiling as it has many times before, but that would only exacerbate the burden of America’s massive national debt.

In 1992, James Carville said “It’s the economy, stupid;” and that cardinal rule of politics hasn’t changed.  America’s national debt is just over $31.4 Trillion, and that’s the current debt ceiling.  Short of printing more dollars and devaluing the dollar, there’s little prospect that the national debt will diminish anytime soon, so it’s likely to be passed on to future generations.  

President Biden has said that he will not negotiate future budgetary politics with Republicans to reach a deal on the debt ceiling, but that’s likely to change.  Assuming that Republicans continue to demand budget cuts, and given the drastic consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling, major cutbacks in spending are likely over the next few months.

New budgetary priorities will be required for a partisan compromise to increase the debt ceiling.  Popular domestic programs will be competing with each other and with foreign aid to Ukraine under the cloud of America’s massive national debt.  It’s past time for a polarized Congress to provide the budgetary priorities needed for America’s future economy.

Everything is on the table, but it’s unlikely that popular domestic programs like social security or medicare will be cut, while the $ billions in aid to Ukraine will likely be cut.  Biden’s stated refusal to negotiate with Republicans and a history of ignoring long term economic issues when considering the debt ceiling make the future resolution of the budget uncertain.

        The economy’s GDP increased by 2.9% in 2022, but so did consumer debt.  An erratic stock market forecasts economic uncertainty and a possible recession.  America has promised continued massive aid to Ukraine, including 31 Abrams MIAI tanks.  Russia has launched a new offensive in Ukraine, but it will be months before American tanks reach that war zone.

        Inflation seems to be easing, but lingering in the background are endemic economic disparities reflected in a volatile stock market that’s a barometer of the economy for the rich, but not for the rest.  If predictions of a recession materialize and the stock market crashes, there is a likelihood of another round of economic assistance that will exacerbate the budgetary crisis.

       The increased GDP for 2022 came at the expense of increased consumer debt and prospects of a recession.  As Congress grapples with the debt ceiling over the next few months, the only certainty is economic and political uncertainty; and it’s not likely to be resolved quickly and painlessly as in the past.  That leaves America’s economic future hanging in the balance.   


There is no easy escape from America’s debt-ceiling mess. Defaulting is unthinkable, but the “workarounds” to avoid default bring their own dangers. “Republicans, who have newly taken control of the House of Representatives, say that they cannot abide runaway spending and must rein it in. This deep concern appears episodic. When Donald Trump was president, the debt ceiling was increased three times with Republican support, and the national debt rose by $8trn over his term ($3.2trn of which came before covid-induced spending began in 2020). Those increases were not particularly contentious, and the White House wishes the same for this one. “Raising the debt ceiling is not a negotiation; it is an obligation of this country and its leaders to avoid economic chaos,” Mr Biden’s press secretary said in a statement released on January 20th.  But it may not be so simple. Republicans are unlikely to let their leverage over Mr Biden lapse. Kevin McCarthy has vowed to secure spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit, and pledged to put the country on the path to a balanced budget in a decade. As part of his bargain to attain power, the beleaguered speaker also had to allow a parliamentary maneuver that would make his own removal easier. Mr McCarthy may not be able to keep his promises, in which case his own party could end his speakership in its first year. This is forcing financiers, lawyers and officials to focus on the unthinkable. The starting point of such contingency planning is that a sovereign default would be cataclysmic: in all likelihood stocks would plunge, borrowing costs would soar, growth would suffer and the dollar’s status as the world’s dominant currency would be shaken. Any way to avoid this series of disasters merits attention. The problem, unfortunately, is that each proposed workaround has severe—and quite possibly unworkable—drawbacks. 

There is no way to improve America’s fiscal trajectory without restructuring its entitlement programmes, which some Republicans are keen for and Democrats will never accept. The result may be that the kind of self-imposed austerity that plagued the Obama years makes a comeback. At the moment, neither side has any incentive to back down. Impending market cataclysm might be the only motivating factor, though it will not arrive for several months. Trillion-dollar chicken has a while yet to go.” See United States | Trillion-dollar chicken at

Every American could feel the pain of Washington’s next showdown.Republicans are demanding significant spending cuts in return for fulfilling the routine duty of allowing the government to borrow more money now that its credit limit is reached. But the White House is refusing to negotiate. If the standoff lasts until a drop-dead date in the summer, it could trigger a financial and stock market cataclysm and crash the retirement savings of millions. The government might also not have enough cash to pay Social Security payments, federal workers or veterans’ benefits. This is no way to run an economy. Or a country.” See

Why we have a debt ceiling, and why this trip to the brink may be different.  See

NBC News has reported that Biden has reversed his earlier position and will send 31 Abrams MIAI tanks to Ukraine, and Germany says it will send an initial shipment of 14 tanks to Ukraine.  See whether these sophisticated tanks will actually benefit Ukraine’s battlefield chances, success or failure will depend on extensive training and a plentiful flow of western arms and ammunition.  See

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Musings on Might and Right When Going to War Is a Moral or Legal Obligation

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

War is terrible; but it’s sometimes necessary to defeat ruthless despots like Hitler and Putin.  In 1901 Elihu Root stated the purpose of the Army War College was “not to promote war, but to preserve peace.”  Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13).  

In the 4th Century Emperor Constantine corrupted Christianity with politics by making it the religion of the Roman Empire, and Saint Augustine began developing the concept of Just War.  At the beginning of the 1st Millennium the church set a terrible precedent for just war with the Crusades, and ever since the Holy Land has been a crucible for Holy War.

In World War II Dietrich Bonhoeffer exemplified the cost of discipleship when he went to Germany and gave his life in an effort to rid the world of Hitler.  Putin is a modern-day Hitler who claims the support of his Russian Orthodox Church in Russia’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine as a just war and crusade to restore the Russian Empire of Peter the Great.   

In America the concept of just war evolved into the Law of War with the Lieber Code of 1863.  It emphasized the protection of civilians from the ravages of war, but was ignored by Union General W.T. Sherman during the Civil War.  After World War II Hitler’s atrocities were not ignored.  All major powers signed the Geneva Accords that protected civilians in wartime.

In 2019 Putin refuted the provisions of the Geneva Accords and has since demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the Law of War, killing civilians and destroying non-military infrastructure in Ukraine.  Putin has threatened nuclear retaliation against any direct NATO support against Russian aggression, negating the Cold War doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD).

So far President Biden and NATO have failed to take any action against Putin for his war crimes, but if the Laws of War are not enforced, they become useless.  Will America and NATO  enforce the Law of War and humanitarian laws and hold Putin accountable for his egregious violations of international laws, and protect Ukrainian civilians from the ravages of war?  

The laws of war and international humanitarian laws that protect non-combatant civilians in wartime should be vigorously enforced against war criminals like Putin and his military minions, just as they were against Hitler and his Nazi henchmen at Nuremberg.  If not, the moral concepts of Just War and the legal obligations of the Laws of War will become irrelevant.

 Is there any such thing as a just war?  Can might ever make right, or is the world doomed to end in a cloud of radioactive nuclear dust?  More despots like Hitler and Putin and weapons of mass destruction are inevitable.  Will we ever learn?  The answer is blowin’ in the wind.  If we can’t end war with moral and legal obligations, we are doomed to self-destruction.


On the history of might and right, see Chapter 1 of Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millenium, Frank Cass, 1996.  A manuscript of the book is posted in Resources at

On the Liber Code and Humanitarian Laws of War as a Cause of America’s “Endless Wars” see

On how U.S. and NATO support for Ukraine may be slipping, see 

US says no to tanks, The Hill, January 19, 2023 (Read the full story here)

The Biden administration has decided against sending tanks to Ukraine for now, which comes after weeks of buzz around the topic.  Sabrina Singh, the deputy Pentagon press secretary, told reporters Thursday it “doesn’t make sense” to give Ukraine the tanks at this stage. “The maintenance and the high cost that it would take to maintain an Abrams, it just doesn’t make sense to provide that to the Ukrainians at this moment,” Singh said.

A blow to Kyiv: Ukraine has been asking for the M1 Abrams main battle tank and other, modern tanks for months amid its war with Russia. Ukraine is expecting a big offensive from Russia in the spring and will also need to conduct another major counteroffensive of its own to keep the upper hand in the war. Kyiv has had its hands on Soviet-era tanks upgraded for use but would like the firepower offered from modern, western-designed tanks. “There is no rational reason why Ukraine has not yet been supplied with Western tanks,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted earlier this month.

Group pressure: Germany is also refusing to provide its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine unless the U.S. goes first with its M1 Abrams. A group of European nations is forming to put more pressure on Berlin to allow them to transfer Leopard tanks in their country’s stocks to Ukraine, Politico reported. While 12 European nations operate the tanks, Germany would need to give the final OK to ship them over to Kyiv because of certain rules.

Not tanks, but Strykers: Instead of the prized M1 Abrams, the U.S. is expected to announce for Ukraine another shipment of Bradleys and, for the first time, Strykers. The Strykers are eight-wheeled armored transports with attached machine guns and grenade launchers.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be meeting with about 50 defense ministers in Ramstein, Germany to deliver remarks and hold a press conference.

See also, ‘They have us over a barrel’: Inside the US and German standoff over sending tanks to Ukraine at

Ukraine Is Top of the Agenda in Davos. But Some Fear Support From Businesses Has Peaked

On how Turkey’s opposition to Sweden and Finland as members of NATO is a gift to Putin, see

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Musings on Reconciling the Abrahamic Religions with a Common Word of Faith

           By Rudy Barnes, Jr., January 14, 2023

Jerusalem has been a crucible of religious conflict between the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam for over 2,000 years.  Peaceful coexistence among those contentious religions requires reconciliation based on the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.

The greatest commandment was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and accepted by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith.  The Gospel of John presents Jesus as the mystical Logos, or the Word of God made flesh (John 1:1-14), while Christian doctrine makes belief in Jesus Christ as the alter ego of God in theTrinity a requirement for salvation.          

Jesus was a Jewish prophet who taught his disciples to follow him, not to worship him; but Christian doctrines limit salvation to those who worship Jesus Christ as God made flesh, and Islam asserts that the Qur’an is God made Book.  Such exclusivist doctrines that equate a person or a holy book to God are a form of blasphemy, and obstacles to religious reconciliation.  

God is love (1 John 4:16), and God’s love is the essence of the Logos and is not limited to any religion.  In Judaism and Islam, the Logos is the transforming spiritual power of God’s love as taught by Jesus and other great prophets.  Belief in Jesus as the Logos rather than as God per se is not blasphemous, since the Logos can be distinguished from God. 

For Christians, John 3:16 and 14:6 should be considered narratives of the evangelist John that relate to the Logos rather than to Jesus Christ as the one and only Son of God.  The new command in John’s Gospel to love one another (John 13:34-35) affirms the greatest commandment and ties God to the Logos and to Jesus in the other three Gospels.

To reconcile the Abrahamic religions, Jews, Christians and Muslims should all follow the universal teachings of Jesus as the Logus, and church doctrines that deny salvation to Jews and Muslims based on their religion should be ignored.  Christians should seek to be reconciled with all Jews and Muslims who seek to do the will of God. (Mark 3:33-35)

The church has long advocated belief in Jesus Christ as God’s one and only Son, rather than following the teachings of Jesus on sacrificial love as the Word of God, or Logos.  That’s because sacrificial love has never been popular; and popularity rather than discipleship is now the measure of success for the church--even if (or because) it’s an easy or cheap form of grace.

Advocating exclusivist religious beliefs as the only means of salvation is divisive, while  affirming a common word of faith is a means of religious reconciliation.  God’s will is that all people should be reconciled as children of God, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer.  Unfortunately, Satan does a convincing imitation of God in the church and politics, and seems to be winning the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil.


On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos, see

On The greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see


Jesus was a universalist Jew who early in his ministry likened all who did God’s will to members of his spiritual family.  When Jesus was told by a crowd that his family was seeking him early in his ministry, “he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister.” (Mark 3:33-35)

O Young and Fearless Prophet of Ancient Galilee is a hymn by S. Ralph Harlow (1931, UMH#444).  It describes Jesus as a prophetic Logos, and how we can apply the greatest commandment to follow Jesus in our troubled times; but it’s rarely sung today in United Methodist Churches:  

1. O young and fearless Prophet of ancient Galilee, thy life is still a summons to serve humanity;

to make our thoughts and actions less prone to please the crowd, to stand with humble courage

for truth with hearts uncowed.

2. We marvel at the purpose that held thee to thy course while ever on the hilltop before thee loomed the cross; thy steadfast face set forward where love and duty shone, 

while we betray so quickly and leave thee there alone.

3. O help us stand unswerving against war's bloody way, where hate and lust and falsehood

hold back Christ's holy sway; forbid false love of country that blinds us to his call,

who lifts above the nations the unity of all.

4. Stir up in us a protest against our greed for wealth, while others starve and hunger

and plead for work and health; where homes with little children cry out for lack of bread, 

who live their years sore burdened beneath a gloomy dread.

5. O young and fearless Prophet, we need thy presence here, amid our pride and glory

to see thy face appear; once more to hear thy challenge above our noisy day,

again to lead us forward  along God's holy way.

An omitted stanza addresses racial equality long before the Civil Rights Movement of the second half of the twentieth century: Create in us the splendor that dawns when hearts are kind. That knows not race or color as boundaries of mind; That learns to value beauty, in heart, or brain, or soul, And longs to bind God’s children into one perfect whole. See      

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Evolution of Religion and Politics

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., January 7, 2023

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died last week at age 95.  He was a conservative Pope who opposed change in the world’s largest church.  His successor, Pope Francis, represents change in an institutional church that has been resistant to change, and has had difficulty promoting progressive change in ancient Catholic doctrines that have not kept pace with the times.

Religions, like politics, evolve with the times.  The 17th century Enlightenment brought major changes in politics and religion in the Western world based on reason and advances in knowledge.  Thomas Jefferson promoted democracy and a progressive form of Christianity that considered the moral teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.”

Thomas Jefferson was a child of the Enlightenment who recognized that “as new truths are disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.”  That’s true for political, legal and religious institutions; but change in religion has been slower than in other institutions.

The Catholic Church has long been the world’s largest religious institution with a massive bureaucracy that stifles change.  While churches welcomed democracy to replace authoritarian regimes based on the divine right to rule, even in Protestant churches the Enlightenment sparked a fundamentalist backlash to any progressive changes in their exclusivist doctrines.   

After centuries of progressive change in politics, there has been little change in Catholic doctrines like the celibacy of priests that defy reason and common sense, and in other church doctrines that assert the divinity of Jesus as a requirement of salvation--even if they were man-made to promote the popularity of Christianity, and were never taught by Jesus.

In a post-Christian era, exclusivist church doctrines that begin with belief in Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian form of God and the only means of salvation have rarely been questioned.  Jesus was a Jew who taught that the spiritual power of God’s love could transform people into children of God; but he never suggested that he was divine, or advocated a new religion.

Christians have long confused God’s message with the messenger.  Paul initiated the holy confusion with his doctrine of atonement (see Romans 3:25).  The teachings of Jesus were summarized in the the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves, and to seek to be reconciled with each other.

Jesus was a maverick Jewish rabbi who taught a radical message of love over law.  Jewish leaders of his day taught that Mosaic Law was God’s standard of righteousness.  They were so offended by the teachings of Jesus that they collaborated with Roman authorities to crucify Jesus.  Today only a few maverick progressive Christians challenge traditional church doctrines that defy reason, and they are considered pariahs by the mainstream church.


On the conflicts between the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the more progressive Pope Francis, see How Benedict, first German pope in centuries, lost sway with the German church.  See  See also, Pope Benedict XVI, defender of orthodoxy defined by historic resignation, dies at 95 at

On celibacy, there’s a story of a monk in an ancient monastery making copies of the Gospel accounts who went running to his Abbot, exclaiming: “the word is celebrate not celibate!”  While intended only to be humorous and not historical, it’s not hard to imagine that ancient misunderstandings were made that produced anachronisms made sacred in ancient Scripture.


Thomas Jefferson was a deist who held the teachings of Jesus in high regard while he detested church doctrines.  In 1804 he wrote: “I consider the doctrines of Jesus as delivered by himself to contain the outlines of the sublimest morality that has ever been taught; but I hold in utmost profound detestation and execration, the corruptions of it which have been invested by priestcraft and kingcraft, constituting a conspiracy of church and state against the civil and religious liberties of man.” Jefferson assembled The Jefferson Bible on the moral teachings of Jesus, and many biblical scholars consider Jefferson prescient in separating the actual teachings of Jesus from what the gospel writers had likely put on his lips. Robin Meyers echoed Jefferson’s criticism in Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus.  See Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics at  Also

Musings on the Evolution of  Christianity into the American Civil Religion (December 10, 2022)

On the mixed messages of God in the atonement doctrine and the greatest commandment, see

On the Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism, see

On love over law, see Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Love Over Law and Social Justice at

The core values of progressive Christianity express a modern version of Christianity that is not exclusivist and hostile to Judaism and Islam.  See


On religion and reason, see Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous and Corrupts Our Politics at

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Virtual Universal Alternative to a Failing Church based on the lyrics of John Lennon’s Imagine, see