The Census Bureau today released a report citing that 37 million Americans lived under the poverty line, a jump of 1.1 million from 2003. "I was surprised," said Sheldon Danziger, co-director of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan. "I thought things would have turned around by now." What’s missing are the poverty threshold numbers that reveal that a family of four is considered "poor" if family income is below $19,000. What’s actually on the rise is not the number of poor people but the minimum income required for official "poverty" status. In 1980, a family of four was poor if income was below $8,400.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the formation of Poland’s Solidarity movement. Samuel Gregg says that Solidary gives us a view of a labor union whose “stand for the truth about the human person and against the lie of Marxism contributed immeasurably to the collapse of one of the two great totalitarian evils that disfigured the twentieth-century.”
Rev. Robert Sirico responds to Pat Robertson’s highly-publicized call for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. “What is needed here, I believe, is a time of reflection. Christianity is not a national religion. It is does not regard every enemy of the nation-state as worthy of execution. It prefers peace to war. It chooses diplomacy over threat. It respects the right to life of everyone, even those who have objectionable political views,” he writes.
Courtesy of Rev. Eric Andrae, Lutheran pastor Bo Giertz offers us a great exposition of the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) and sums up the importance of the pastoral ministry. “‘It is a great thing to receive a heritage…. It is wonderful to stand in the same pulpit, to learn of [those who have gone before us,] and to carry forward the work they began. Sir…, can anything be greater than to be a pastor in God’s church?'” (Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God, 191).
President Bush offered an indirect answer to Giertz’s question last week. According to the McLaughlin Group (see Issue one: Uncle Sam wants you bad), in a speech from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the president said: “I thank those of you who’ve reenlisted in an hour when your country needs you. And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces.”
The juxtaposition of these two quotes gives us an excellent opportunity to recall Jesus’ most excellent maxim: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21 NIV).
The Americans brought this on themselves.
That’s one reaction coming from around the world as it surveys the devastation following Hurricane Katrina. In what can only be described as callously political maneuvering, Germany’s environmental minister Jürgen Trittin said today, “The increasing frequency of these natural events can only be explained through global warming which is caused by people.”
Instead of offering condolences, well-wishes, or prayers, minister Tritten delivered the judgment of secular environmentalists. The Americans’ crime? “A U.S. citizen causes about two and a half times as much greenhouse gas as the average European,” said Trittin.
This mirrors the reaction of religious global warming advocates following the Indian Ocean tsunami late last year. The global warming boogeyman, blamed for seemingly everything under the sun, is the knee-jerk explanation for any natural disaster these days.
As one paper puts it, “Because hurricanes form over warm ocean water, it is easy to assume that the recent rise in their number and ferocity is because of global warming.”
Why deal in facts when hysteria and rhetorical excess can do the trick instead? “The severity of hurricane seasons changes with cycles of temperatures of several decades in the Atlantic Ocean. The recent onslaught ‘is very much natural,’ said William Gray, a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University who issues forecasts for the hurricane season.”
Those scientists who do see a link between global warming and increases in the number and intensity of hurricanes are opposed by those who realize “worldwide weather records are far too inadequate for a thorough examination of such trends.”
As for the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina, the prudence of building a huge coastal city under sea level should be questioned long before any issues related to global warming arise.
Global warming serves as a convenient scapegoat in place of the recognition of the God of heaven and earth (see Job 38-41). As God says to Job, “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:11 NIV). Hurricane Katrina should serve as a reminder to all of us of the fleeting days of life and the priority of the eternal over the temporal, a modern-day object lesson to heed the words of Jesus.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27 NIV).
Update: More on Trittin’s comments at Davids Medienkritik
Outsiders looking from the outside into Europe will probably answer that question in the affirmative, and with good reason. The churches are emptying, the economies are tanking, and the politicians continue to fiddle along. Very few have a clue of how to fix things.
Very few, but not all.
The President of the Czech Republic, Vผlav Klaus, spoke at a Mont Pelerin Society meeting in Iceland last week. Citing Friedrich von Hayek and Raymond Aron, Klaus has a clear eye for the remnants of socialism that still plague the continent.
He’s particularly good at diagnosing the new ideologies or “isms” that dominate Europe. These include environmentalism, radical human rightsism, multiculturalism, feminism, apolitical technocratism, internationalism and even NGOism!
It’s a brilliant speech, and by its very nature, impossible for other Euro-pols to reproduce. But the first step to a solution is to recognize the problem. And that Klaus has done. It is a sign of hope in the heart of Europe.
You may have heard of “fair trade,” one of the more recent economically-myopic efforts to act as “guarantees that farmers and farmworkers receive a fair price for their labor.”
I’ve written before about the fair trade coffee movement (especially in the Church), which has perhaps gained the most public attention. But fair traders haven’t overlooked any consumables, and the broader movement is likely to receive more attention in the future, as fair trade is a plank in platform of the ONE Campaign (see the text of the ONE Declaration). I’d like to point you in particular to this FAQ about fair trade bananas.
As the FAQ states, fair trade can be seen as the global equivalent of more locally-based minimum wage laws, and arguments against the living wage can thus be applied to fair trade: “Low conventional market prices for bananas often leave farmers unable to cover even their cost of production. The Fair Trade price is the equivalent of a living wage.”
The apparently obvious unfairness of the free trade system, in which so many people subsist on less than $1 per day, is complicated by a number of factors. One of these is that the current global system is not really all that free.
But another important economic reality is what economists call purchasing power parity (PPP). Even Ron Sider, in his 20th anniversary edition of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, integrates a number of economic analytic tools into his argument, including PPP (see pages 27-28). So the fair traders’ appeal to a fact, such as that farmers do not make enough to “cover even their cost of production,” cannot simply be taken at face value.
And even in instances where this is the case, the fair trade movement does not bother to take any account for why “low conventional market prices” for a particular commodity exist. In most cases, such as with coffee, the supply far outstrips demand. The world doesn’t need more coffee production. To artificially subsidize the production of yet more coffee is to flood the market even further and undermines the long term viability of the fair trade project.
For more on churches and fair trade, check out this commentary.