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.
Is there a columnist anywhere in the world more in line with Pope John Paul II’s social teachings than Mark Steyn?
All the more amazing as he regularly writes for the extremely secularist British press!
Then, in today’s Daily Telegraph, he writes about the importance, indeed the centraility, of human culture over nature, even in light of the devastation brought on by hurricane Katrina.
If you aren’t a regular visitor of SteynOnline, you should be.
Hurricane Katrina passed over New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf coast earlier today, and reports of “price gouging” are already coming in.
In Alabama, when the governor declares a state of emergency, it triggers a legal barrier to “unconscionable pricing.” That is (arbitrarily?) determined by the government to be a raise of 25% or more above the “normal” price.
Raising prices for scarce commodities during an emergency situation smacks of opportunism at best. So it seems on the face of it like an open and shut case in favor of state intervention.
But a greater understanding of how markets work and the price mechanism make the case somewhat more complex. An examination of the practical effects of price controls and limits shows the unintended consequences of such laws.
David M. Brown wrote a provocatively titled piece, “Price Gouging Saves Lives,” for Mises.org following Hurricane Charley in 2004. The thrust of the argument is essentially that to limit the prices vendors can charge is to reduce the incentive for vendors to go through the hardship and risk of transporting commodities to the afflicted areas.
If someone can sell gas for the “normal price” in both northern Louisiana and in New Orleans, why would that person take on the added expense of moving gas in to a disaster area? Brown writes:
If we expect customers to be able to get what they need in an emergency, when demand zooms vendors must be allowed and encouraged to increase their prices. Supplies are then more likely to be sustained, and the people who most urgently need a particular good will more likely be able to get it. That is especially important during an emergency. Price gouging saves lives.
Brown’s entire piece is worth reading. The ability to charge more for goods ensures that those goods will find their way into the “state of emergency.” Those interested in looking for a biblical precedent for situational pricing could look to Joseph’s actions during the famine in Genesis 41 (with the added caveats that biblical narrative does not equal imperative, that Joseph was technically acting in the interests of the government [i.e. Pharaoh], and that his actions fulfilled a specific purpose within God’s redemptive history. In other words, biblical precedent doesn’t necessarily create an ethical norm).
This day in 1949, the Soviets tested their first nuclear device, codenamed “First Lightning.” The 20 kiloton bomb was dropped in a remote region of Kazakhstan and detonated over a model town filled with empty buildings and animals, placed to measure the effects of the bomb on a city populated by mammals.
The development of nuclear weapons by the Soviets (research speeded along by the espionage of Klaus Fuchs, a German-born physicist involved in the US nuclear weapons project) removed the United States from supremacy in the nuclear arms race but fueled the development of “bigger and better” hydrogen based weapons that continues (although in modified form) even today.
Stephen Younger, the Associate Laboratory Director for Nuclear Weapons at the Los Alamos National Laboratory writes this regarding the effect of nuclear weapons in the world:
Nuclear weapons played a pivotal role in international security during the latter half of the twentieth century. Despite rapid increases in communications, transportation, and weapons technology, there has been no large-scale strategic conflict since the Second World War. Nuclear weapons, as the most destructive instruments ever invented, had a stabilizing effect on superpower relations by making any conflict unacceptably costly. However, geopolitical change and the evolution of military technology suggest that the composition of our nuclear forces and our strategy for their employment may be different in the twenty-first century. The time is right for a fundamental rethinking of our expectations and requirements for these unique weapons.
For more information about the post-Cold War state of the arms race, read Stephen Younger’s paper “Nuclear Weapons in the Twenty-First Century.”