Wednesday :: Aug 16, 2006

Wholly Holey Holy Economics


by pessimist

The religious wars of terrorism aren't having much of an effect on the real religion of the world, consumerism:

The Economics of Fear
By Robert J. Samuelson
August 16, 2006

It's hard to ignore the great disconnect between the rise of terrorism and the relentless advance of the world economy. The result is that -- so far -- terrorism has been an economic blank. People regard attacks around the world (in London, Madrid, Bali) as isolated tragedies and not a cause to alter their buying habits. But that is not entirely reassuring. Even if consumer confidence remains unshaken, terrorism might threaten the world economy in other ways.

Every successful economic system requires a supporting political structure: rules, standards of behavior, ways of resolving conflicts. For years, the United States and its allies were bound together by political and economic alliances. But as Princeton historian Harold James notes, the war on terrorism -- mainly the war in Iraq -- has created divisions on political issues that make agreement on economic matters harder.

The larger threat involves the great disconnect: Countries are moving closer economically, depending on each other more for trade, raw materials (especially oil) and finance, [while] moving farther apart politically, disagreeing over goals, tactics and values. Historian Niall Ferguson of Harvard has pointed to a similar disconnect, before World War I, when European powers were highly integrated economically and increasingly hostile politically.

But there was a chilling disregard for the contradiction. It's a grim analogy that suggests little cause for complacency. We ought to ask why the economic fallout has been so muted -- and whether that could change. Could the backlash so feared five years ago unfold in the future?

Mr. Samuelson, for all of his wise observations, misses his own biggest point: the terrorist backlash is already underway, and has been for about a year now. The terrorists? Americans. The victims? Americans:

For sheer physical damage, acts of nature often overshadow acts of terrorism.
Michael Mussa of the Institute for International Economics notes that
Hurricane Katrina hurt the economy more than Sept. 11.

And most of those who suffered weren't wealthy whites.

Letter to the Secretary of Agriculture
From: http://www.ruralco.org
September 7, 2005

Dear Secretary Johanns,

Farmers, farmworkers and rural communities throughout the region hit by Hurricane Katrina are deeply affected by this tragedy. We, the undersigned, include organizations with deep roots of the affected area and with formidable experience in response to previous disasters, including the Midwest floods and hurricanes in the Carolinas and Florida. We call on you to lead a vigorous response by USDA to meet these urgent and unprecedented needs.

After devastating the urban communities of New Orleans, Mobile, Gulfport and Biloxi, Hurricane Katrina roared through a wide area of some of the nation's most vulnerable rural communities, upsetting lives and livelihoods, destroying crops, toppling trees, cutting power and phone lines, and leaving fields inundated and unsuitable for fall planting. Houses, farm buildings, cars and equipment were damaged and destroyed. The markets for fresh products that African American farmers have worked so hard to build were eradicated with the destruction of the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans and the casinos along the coast.

The situation is made more difficult because the rural areas affected - largely poor and heavily African American - had limited infrastructure and poor economies before the disaster. As always, those affected most deeply are those who were already poor.

How poor? [T]he overall income picture for small commercial farms is dismal. Key USDA stat: Farms with annual revenues between $10,000 and $99,000 -- which describes the vast majority of farmers' market vendors -- have an average operating profit margin of negative 24.5 percent.

Simply put, small farms lose money, and their losses are financed by the off-farm incomes of the families that run them. From this angle, so-called sustainable farming looks like a precarious enterprise. [via grist.org]

Even without massive and deadly hurricanes destroying their earning capacity. At least those who truly understand the plight of small farms did what they could to help:


Donations from Farmers and Farm Groups Continue to Flow to Assist Katrina Victims
September 22, 2005

... 2 bus loads of items donated by farmers in the mid-west arrived at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund's Rural Training and Research Center in Epes, Alabama. These items were brought thanks to the Family Farmer Defenders of Madison, Wisconsin with the support of FARM AID.

FARM AID is also providing financial aid to the Federation/LAF to distribute to approximately 100 farmers who have lost markets in New Orleans - in particular the lucrative Crescent City Market that was destroyed in the hurricane disaster.

As ever, FARM AID is there to help farmers in need.
"The Federation of Southern Cooperatives also wishes to acknowledge, with appreciation, the support from Oxfam America for its unrelenting assistance in providing the financing of the Federation staff in Mississippi and Louisiana who are assessing the damage and assisting farm families in need," said Executive Director Ralph Paige. "We thank all those who continue to kindly offer assistance to our Recovery and Relief Program."

But never fear - the Bu$hCo government - The Best Government Corporate Campaign Contributions Can Control - has seen to it that no insurance corporation's profits will be left behind:


Judge Rules for Insurers in Katrina
By JOSEPH B. TREASTER
August 16, 2006

A federal judge in Mississippi sided with home insurance companies yesterday and ruled that they did not have to pay for the flooding that destroyed tens of thousands of homes in Hurricane Katrina.

[T]his was a victory for the companies, because they could have been forced to pay out untold billions more if they had been required to cover damage from flooding caused by the storm.

It was not a total victory, however. The judge rejected attempts by the insurers to cancel coverage for wind damage when it occurred in combination with the flooding. Now homeowners whose claims have been denied may have the opportunity to present proof in court that at least some of the damage resulted from wind — which is the main protection provided by home insurance policies in hurricanes. Insurers have already paid $17.6 billion for damage to homes from Katrina that was attributed to wind only. That aspect of his decision, in the first trial over disputed claims of damage from the hurricane, favored storm victims and could cost the insurers hundreds of millions of dollars.

For the couple who brought the lawsuit, Paul and Julie Leonard of Pascagoula, Miss., the ruling means that they will receive about $3,000 to cover damage to their home, rather than the more than $130,000 they had sought.

Never let it be said that the Havemores weren't aware of the plight of their slaves - er, the lower economic classes:


Servants' Quarters
by James Wolcott
08.15.06

James Wolcott is a VANITY FAIR contributing editor

Conservative New York radio talkshow hothead Bob Grant once said on the air that then-New York mayor David Dinkins (a far more elegant dresser than Grant, by the way) reminded him of a "men's room attendant".

On Imus in the Morning, Imus or one of his crew once joked about the pre-Washington Week in Review Gwen Ifill: "Speaking of reporter Gwen Ifill, he's said, 'Isn't the [New York] Times wonderful? It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.'"

A week ago, Mickey Kaus's arm candy wrote, "Congresswoman Maxine Waters had parachuted into Connecticut earlier in the week to campaign against [Sen. Joseph I.] Lieberman because he once expressed reservations about affirmative action, without which she would not have a job that didn't involve wearing a paper hat."

And now the cover of the latest Weekly Standard brings us Al Sharpton as a Driving Miss Daisy faithful retainer "who dares not look his master in the eye."

Washroom attendant. Cleaning lady. Cafeteria worker. Chauffeur.

Notice a pattern?

No matter what height of prominence a black person reaches, conservatives will always find a way to reduce him or her to low-paid, low-status, low-skilled caricatured servitude.

That's their idea of cutting black personalities down to size and putting them in their place. Whatever uniform they wear, it's still a monkey suit in the eyes and mouths of the white-makes-right contingent, which should make it no surprise that Senator George Allen, adopted son of the Confederacy, would reach back for a race-baiting jibe as his beanball pitch. It's also no surprise that George Allen would be Fred Barnes's kinda guy.

"[T]here's a rich seam of serious thought running underneath the good cheer. Mr. Allen has more thoroughly (and productively) contemplated an array of issues--education, immigration, judicial philosophy, Iraq, Iran, even abortion--than one first supposes. You're fooled by the way he talks, never rushing his words, and by his inelegant presence (he's the only Virginian I know who wears cowboy boots). It's a kind of George W. Bush effect, style overpowering substance. Soon enough, though, substance steps forward."

Fred Barnes wouldn't know a "rich seam of thought" from a river of raw sewage, but let it pass. At the end of his love-letter lunch with Allen, he relays what the mission statement of an Allen presidential campaign would be: "securing our freedom, making sure this is a land of opportunity for all people, and making sure that we preserve our foundational values."

I'm going to assume going forward that "foundational values" is one of those conservative code phrases intended to connote the noble white pillars of the old Southern plantation.

One may not be too far off with that supposition, Wolcott!

Slaves, the working class of that Ol' Kentucky Home, were generally neglected when it came to health care. Workers today, with wages dropping to levels not seen in decades, are on their way to wage-slave status. Their employers, seeking to cut their costs and increase the profits they 'deserve', are also stinting on health care:


Companies explore overseas healthcare
By Patrik Jonsson, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
August 16, 2006

With US health insurance costs soaring, cash-squeezed companies ... and poor states such as West Virginia are considering affordable plans that may require their employees to travel to India, Thailand, or Indonesia. The cost savings have prompted a few hundred Americans this year to fly to India, Jakarta, or Bangkok for serious medical conditions, receiving heart stints and hip replacements.

Companies are also attracted to the relatively inexpensive price tag for care at foreign hospitals, which have been reported to be up to 80 percent less than in the US. In New Delhi, for example, the Apollo chain of hospitals gives resort-style convalescence care for $87 a night.

It isn't just 'cash-aqueezed' companies that are doing this. My own very profitable employer just sent one of my coworkers to India for open-heart surgery. Cost savings were reported to be considerable.

But I digress. Who cares about the slave - er, the employee, anyway?

Critics say that limited malpractice laws in foreign countries makes such travel risky as well as the prospect of spending 20 hours on an airplane after invasive surgery. Despite the concerns, "medical tourism" is morphing into "global healthcare."

"Global healthcare is coming and American healthcare, which is pricing itself out of reach, needs to know there are alternatives" in order to improve, says Alain Enthoven, senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy in Stanford, Calif.

Americans heading overseas for care shows the severity of the country's healthcare crisis - especially as employers' health insurance premiums have risen 73 percent while average employee contributions have risen 143 percent since 2000, according to the NCHC. Rising costs stem from poor management, inefficiences, waste, fraud, and lack of competition, critics say.

So say the employers. By definition, they don't care about their employees any more than they have to:

"We're seeing some employers who are seriously beginning to think about doing [global healthcare] and not giving employees an option," says Joel Miller, vice president of operations at the National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC) in Washington. "And that has implications for quality of care: what recourse [will] people have if something goes wrong overseas?"

Hospital officials say only a sliver of business will be lost to overseas providers. Yet going overseas for expensive medical services, such as heart bypass surgery, cut into US hospitals profit centers - such as heart units - that are used to underwrite emergency rooms and indigent care.

"[Global healthcare] will limit the amount of money that's available for everybody else to have access to the system and starts to jeopardize access to healthcare for everybody in the community," says Don Dalton, a spokesman for the North Carolina Hospital Association.

But such observations involve an understand of the various sciences that make modern medical care possible. How is one to accurately judge whether 'offshoring' medical care is a wise choice if one isn't science-literate?


Essay: How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate
By LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS
August 15, 2006

Lawrence M. Krauss is a professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western Reserve University.

Voters in Kansas ensured this month that noncreationist moderates will once again have a majority (6 to 4) on the state school board, keeping new standards inspired by intelligent design from taking effect. This is a victory for public education and sends a message nationwide about the public’s ability to see through efforts by groups like the Discovery Institute to misrepresent science in the schools.
With their changing political tactics, creationists are an excellent example of evolution at work.
Creation science evolved into intelligent design, which morphed into “teaching the controversy,” and after its recent court loss in Dover, Pa., and political defeats in Ohio and Kansas, it will no doubt change again. The most recent campaign slogan I have heard is “creative evolution.”
But perhaps more worrisome than a political movement against science is plain old ignorance.
The people determining the curriculum of our children in many states remain scientifically illiterate. And Kansas is a good case in point.

The chairman of the school board, Dr. Steve Abrams, a veterinarian, is not merely a strict creationist. He has openly stated that he believes that God created the universe 6,500 years ago, although he was quoted in The New York Times this month as saying that his personal faith “doesn’t have anything to do with science.”

“I can separate them,” he continued, adding, “My personal views of Scripture have no room in the science classroom.”

A key concern should not be whether Dr. Abrams’s religious views have a place in the classroom, but rather how someone whose religious views require a denial of essentially all modern scientific knowledge can be chairman of a state school board.

As we continue to work to improve the abysmal state of science education in our schools, we will continue to battle those who feel that knowledge is a threat to faith.

The battle is not against faith, but against ignorance.

I'm not sure I totally agree. For some, ignorance IS religion:


Public Stoning: Not Just for the Taliban Anymore
By John Sugg, Church and State
August 15, 2006

Christian reconstructionists believe democracy is heresy and public school is satanic -- and they've got more influence than you think.

John Sugg is senior editor of Creative Loafing Newspapers.

Two really devilish guys materialized in Toccoa, Ga., last month to harangue 600 true believers on the gospel of a thoroughly theocratic America. The setting was the Georgia Baptist Conference Center, a sprawling expanse of woods, hills and a man-made lake in the North Georgia mountains.

Four decades ago, the Southern Baptists officially declared, "no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state" and "the church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work.

Times change. The Baptists [now] lust for power, and they demand the state to do their bidding. I guess that explains the denomination's hosting of theocrats no less rigid and bloodthirsty than the Taliban's mullahs.

Hosting the "Creation to Revelation... Connecting the Dots" event was a Powder Springs, Ga., publishing house, American Vision, whose pontiff is Gary DeMar.

The outfit touts the antebellum South as a righteous society and favors the reintroduction of some forms of slavery (it's sanctioned in the Bible, Reconstructionists say) -- which may explain the blindingly monochrome audience at the gathering.
DeMar christened the gathering with invective against science. "Evolution is as religious as Christianity," he said, a claim that certainly must amaze 99.99 percent of the scientific community.
Science is irrelevant to these folks.
Everything they need to know about the universe and the origin of man is in the first two chapters of Genesis. They know the answer before any question is asked. DeMar's spin is what he calls a clash of "worldviews." According to DeMar and his speakers, God sanctions only their worldview. And that worldview is a hash of enforcing Old Testament Mosaic law (except when it comes to chowing down on pork barbecue), rewriting American history to endorse theocracy and explaining politics by the loopy theories of the John Birch Society. (Christian Reconstructionism evolved, so to speak, from a radical variation of Calvinism, AKA Puritanism, and the Bircher politics of such men as the late Marietta, Ga., congressman, Larry McDonald.)
[Guest speakers] Herb Titus and Gary North called for nothing short
of the overthrow of the United States of America.
Titus and North aren't household names. Titus' and North's speeches, laced with conspiracy theories about the Rockefellers and the Trilateral Commission, were more Leninist than Christian in the tactics proposed -- as in their vision to use freedom to destroy the freedom of others. That's not surprising -- the founder of Christian Reconstruction, the late fringe Calvinist theologian Rousas J. Rushdoony, railed against the "heresy" of democracy.

But Titus, former dean of TV preacher Pat Robertson's Regent University law school, has led the legal battle to plant the Ten Commandants in county courthouses across the nation. A Harvard-bred lawyer whose most famous client is Alabama's Judge Moore, Titus told the Toccoa gathering that the Second Amendment envisions the assassination of "tyrants;" that's why we have guns.

Tyranny, of course, is subjective to these folks. Their imposition of a theocratic state would not, by their standards, be tyranny. Public schools, on the other hand, to them are tyrannical.
North, an apostle of the creed called Christian Reconstructionism, is one of the most influential elders of American fundamentalism. North has called for the stoning of gays and nonbelievers (rocks are cheap and plentiful, he has observed). Both friends and foes label him 'Scary Gary'.
"I don't want to capture their (mainstream Americans') system.
I want to replace it,"
fumed North to a cheering audience.

North is best known to Internet users for his prolific auguring that a Y2K computer bug would cause the calamitous end of civilization. In the days prior to the advent of this millennium, North urged subscribers to his delusional economic newsletters to go survivalist and prepare for the end. Many did so, dumping investments and life savings, a big oops.

"I lost a million and a half dollars when I sold off real estate," one of North's fans, a home-schooling advocate from Florida, told me during a lunch break between lectures touting creationism and damning secular humanism. But my lunch companion still anted more than pocket change to hear North make more prophesies in Toccoa. I suggested that false prophets often pocket big profits, but I was talking to deaf ears. "I believe Gary North on Bible issues," he explained.
Are we in danger of an American Taliban? Probably not today.
But Alabama's "Ten Commandments Judge" Roy Moore is aligned with this congregation, and one-third of Alabama Republicans who voted in the June primary supported him.

When you see the South Dakota legislature outlaw abortions, the Reconstructionist agenda is at work.

Moreover, the Reconstructionists are the folks behind attacks on science and public education.

The movement's greatest success is in Christian home schooling, where many,
if not most, of the textbooks are Reconstructionist-authored tomes.
They're allied with proselytizers who have tried to convert Air Force cadets -- future pilots with fingers on nuclear triggers -- into religious zealots.
Like the communists of the 1930s, they exert tremendous stealth political gravity, drawing many sympathizers in their wake, and their friends now dominate the Republican Party in many states. It would be easy to dismiss the Reconstructionists as the lunatic fringe, no more worrisome than the remnants of the Prohibition Party. But, in fact, they have rather extraordinary entrée and influence with top-tier Religious Right leaders and institutions.
James Dobson's Focus on the Family is now selling DeMar's book, America's Christian Heritage. Dobson himself has a warm relationship with many in the movement, and he has admitted voting for Reconstructionist presidential candidate Howard Phillips in 1996.

TV preacher [Pat] Robertson has mentioned reading North's writings, and he has hired Reconstructionists as professors at Regent University.

Jerry Falwell employs Reconstructionists to teach at Liberty University.

Roger Schultz, the chair of Liberty's History Department, writes regularly for Faith for all of Life, the leading Reconstructionist journal.

Southern Baptist Bruce N. Shortt is aggressively pushing his denomination to officially repudiate public education and call on Southern Baptists to withdraw their children from public schools. Shortt's vicious book, The Harsh Truth about Public Schools, was published by the Reconstructionist Chalcedon Foundation.

There are big theological differences between the Religious Right's generals and the Reconstructionists. Traditional Christian theology teaches that history will muddle along until Jesus' Second Coming. That teaching is tough to turn into a political movement.

Reconstructionists preach that the nation and the world must come under Christian "dominion" (as they define it) before Christ's return -- a wonderful theology to promote global conquest.

In short, Dobson, Robertson, Falwell and the Southern Baptist Convention (the nation's largest Protestant denomination) may not agree with everything the Reconstructionists advocate, but they sure don't seem to mind hanging out with this openly theocratic, anti-democratic crowd.

It's enough for Americans who believe in personal freedom and religious liberty to get worried about -- before the first stones start flying.

If this comes to pass, will we care that the terrorism is home-grown - and not imported? No airport X-ray machine will be able to stop these attackers!

All they want is an increase in their offerings to Mammon's faithful in the form of more tax 'relief' - and they won't care who pays them!

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