Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Day I Met Billy Graham

On Thursday May 2, 1996 I flew to New York City to participate in the Point Of Purchase Advertising Institute's Day of Design Conference. The label I ran for Word Records, Everland Entertainment, had won POPAI's 1995 Display of the Year award for our touch-screen enabled KidCity Kiosk...made famous as the retail display system that launched Veggie Tales.

The Marriott Marquis NYC "street lobby" is mostly vacant, guests check-in on the 7th floor.
Every spring the winner of the previous year's award is invited to make a presentation at the day-long convention. Early in the afternoon I met up and checked-in to the Times Square Marriott with my Bronx-born pal, Patrick Manna, VP with Chesapeake Display & Packaging, who flew in from Winston-Salem. Despite the distraction of a dozen Victoria's Secret models checking in right ahead of us, and Evander Holyfield walking past us with his bejeweled entourage (he'd be fighting Bobby Czyz at Madison Square Garden Sunday night), Pat sighted Billy Graham at the elevators. We recalled that the legendary preacher had accepted the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, DC that morning, and figured he must be in town to do some network TV interviews. That afternoon Pat and I enjoyed playing billiards up on the 15th floor lounge, and that night we dined at a mid-town steak house with Word Records' Dave Alderfer, who worked at Sony/Epic in Manhattan.

The next morning, Friday, May 3rd, we made our presentation in a conference room and I said goodbye to Pat, who had POPAI obligations all afternoon. I checked out of my room, left my bags with the concierge and grabbed a late lunch. My ride to LaGuardia was set for 3:30pm, so I had a couple of hours to kill. Plenty of time to stroll over to Nat Sherman's on fifth avenue.

Ninety minutes later I was back at the hotel with thirty more minutes to kill. As soon as I entered the cavernous lobby, I was struck by how empty and quiet it was. Odd. From the front revolving doors to the concierge room at the back is about half a city block. As I began walking in that direction, a tall man wearing a UNC ball-cap rounded the corner from the escalators and walked toward me. Half a step behind him was a short, stocky fella wearing a salmon-colored blazer. I knew instantly Billy Graham was beneath that UNC hat.

While still twenty feet away, I called out to him: "Doctor Graham, Wayne Zeitner with Word Records, my colleagues Joey Paul and Kip Jordan are your editors." Billy Graham looked up at me from under his cap, turned to his associate with a nod, then back to me and shook my hand. I thanked him for never straying from his message, even that very morning to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress. I told Billy Graham I had grown up hearing my grandfather, Arthur Zeitner in Medicine Hat, Alberta, pray for him in German with every table grace. I told him about the tribute to his ministry I'd seen a week earlier at the 1996 Dove Awards.

Billy Graham was gracious and patient, he told me a little bit about his schedule on the network shows that evening, discussed a recent unauthorized biography of him and spoke highly of my colleagues at Word. I don't think I kept him longer than he wanted to chat, but when I checked my watch I realized almost five minutes had passed. And as I watched him head out with his bodyguard to take a walk, another thing struck me: during our whole conversation, not another soul came thru the lobby of the Marriott Marquis hotel at Times Square in New York, New York.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Primum Non Nocere ("First, Do No Harm")

A little-noted irony of Obamacare's promise to "cover the un-insured" (originally targeted at 30+ million, but now unlikely to reach 10 million) is that it is a defacto violation of medical ethics, which is to first do no harm.

The original Hippocratic Oath was highly religious.
If it is true that 30 million Americans do not have health insurance, that's only 10% of the population. Why force the other 90% into more expensive, less desirable care, if all you really want to do is help the 10%?

And it's not even ten percent. We all know that many of "the un-insured" are young and healthy. Plus many choose to pay cash for medical expenses.  And yet more (me included) choose a wellness lifestyle that most insurance plans won't cover. In reality, Obamacare disrupts the lives of 95% of Americans in a supposed bid to help 5% of us. It would be soooo much less trouble to just GIVE the 5% free insurance. But wait: we already give free insurance to the poor (Medicaid) and the elderly (Medicare). Hmm.

So now in the land of the free, those of us who are not powerful corporate friends of Obama's are being forced under penalty of law to purchase insurance we may not want or need from private companies offering government-approved plans. And in just the first few weeks of Obamacare enrollment, already a million Americans who did have insurance have received letters telling them their coverage has been canceled. And, of course, the website where they are supposed to go purchase their new plan is broken (good thing it only cost $678 million to build that site). And the government isn't telling us how many people have signed up, or how much the unsubsidized cost will be compared to what folks had been paying before Obamacare.

This is not to mention the left-leaning Consumer Reports magazine warning Americans to stay away from because of scams and security vulnerabilities. And business leaders have pointed out for the last couple of years now that job-growth is being stalled by the threat of Obamacare looming over the economy.

All this harm, and Obamacare hasn't even started yet.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

"On God's Side" by Jim Wallis

Time to get Jim Wallis' new book out of my system. My reasons for writing multiple posts on him and his philosophy are these:

1) He's a long-time Christian author whose message has remained consistent;
2) His message is ascendant in some Christian circles (ie: Emergent churches); 
3) America is currently debating the role and scope of government aid to the poor.
Photo of Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC
and a quote from Honest Abe.

The famed veteran of the Jesus movement has leaned toward urban, social and political issues ever since I first read him back in the mid-70s. Not content to simply minister to inner-city folks, he has always sought to influence governments in "solving problems" rampant in those neighborhoods. As founding publisher of Sojourner magazine, which began in Chicago but soon moved to Washington DC, Wallis was a forerunner of a recent Windy City community organizer who followed the same path. These days he is a frequent house-guest of the family inhabiting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

An experienced speaker and frequent TV talk-show guest, Wallis is a catch-phrase machine. His subtitle is a polished sound-bite: What Religion Forgets And Politics Hasn't Learned About Serving The Common Good. A life-long leftist, Jim Wallis has been attempting lately to position himself as some sort of "bridge" between liberal and conservative Christians (the cover photo of his book is shot over the Arlington Memorial Bridge). That tactic may be working in one direction: reminding liberal believers that Christianity is indeed premised on personal responsibility. That's his olive branch to the right. But he is far less persuasive in convincing conservatives about social responsibility. Despite plenty of God-talk and quotes from Republicans like Abraham Lincoln and Mike Huckabee, Wallis is not succeeding with this conservative.

I could handle this book if it were only political. But Wallis knows that liberal crocodile tears shed for "the disenfranchised" and "women and minorities" in America are increasingly viewed with suspicion. America's War On Poverty has famously spent us into unfathomable debt without making any notable change in The Poverty Rate since 1970 (the year "ethnicity" data was included in such measures, and six years after LBJ's "war" declaration). One thing has certainly increased: the Dependency Rate for far too many recipients. America staggers under a debt-burden that grows exponentially as our national government triples- and quadruples-down on social-welfare spending. If such spending was ever justified, and I contend it was not, even hair-on-fire liberals like Paul Krugman are finally admitting it is "unsustainable."

So now they're pulling out the Religion Card. Knowing conservative Christians hold a high view of scripture, the effort here is to portray direct government payments to citizens as Biblical. And, of course, since government can only get such money by first taking it from other citizens, such spending is, by definition, coercive. In fairness, JW has always played the Religion Card, and here he plays it well: describing his family's practice of serving the needs they find around them, and highlighting the good works of myriad non-profits. His is a credible voice on the topic of loving-thy-neighbor in a Good Samaritan manner. But he doesn't stop with encouraging individual believers and local churches to minister to temporal needs around them.

Channeling religious leftist author Brian McLaren (A New Kind of Christian), Wallis calls for a "different" gospel. Chapter one is entitled "A Gospel For The Common Good." Evidently the gospel we've had up 'til now is insufficient. His subtitle for the chapter quotes John Chrysostom (347-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, who may be the first high-profile Christian to write about the Common Good. And how can Bible-believing Christians disagree with Jesus and Paul about showing love to our neighbors—even an ethnically or geographically expanded definition of the word neighbor? We can't.

And, honestly, I could handle this book if it were only Christian. If Wallis simply reminded Christians that we were "saved unto good works" which God had "prepared in advance for us to walk in," I would have nothing to say in rebuttal. But when Wallis says "we," he only sometimes refers to Christian believers. Other times he cleverly uses the same phrasing to include all U.S. taxpayers, whether Christian or Muslim or Jewish or atheist. In this he goes a bridge-too-far. And using Old Testament verses to urge government care for the poor may be legitimate in exhorting the Body of Christ, the Family of God, the Household of Faith, to meet such needs. But pre-Christian Israel was a mono-ethnic Theocracy. How does a liberal like Wallis so casually break down the "wall of separation" between church and state?

This is not a full review of Wallis' book, though I've read almost all of it—critically his opening section (seven chapters) laying out a theoretical case for a Common Good Gospel. The second half of the book details his practical case, laid upon the faulty foundation that poverty and its attendant pathologies can and should be "cured" by government intrusion. These last seven chapters are pure socialist/progressive orthodoxy. And then he recovers with a truly beautiful—and universal—epilogue entitled "Ten Personal Decisions For The Common Good." As St. Paul told the believers in Galatia about the Fruit of the Spirit: "Against such things there is no law." Wallis' strong appeal to personal responsibility is heartfelt and sincere.

Alas, taken as a whole, this book—like Obama's welfare effort—misses the mark. I will  close with an example of Wallis' slippery logic. In chapter eight, entitled "Conservatives, Liberals and a Call to Civility," Wallis has a section labeled "Ending Poverty." (Sidenote: didn't somebody once say the poor would always be with us?) Anyway, this section echoes Obama's now-notorious "False Choices" ruse, contending that we don't have to pick between personal responsibility and social activism, that we can have both. Oh...kay. But two paragraphs later, quoting Mike Huckabee, Wallis endorses a patently False Choice: "Given the choice between a hungry person and a government program, I'll take the government program." Please. There are tens of thousands of non-governmental efforts in America to feed hungry people. Your church probably runs one of them. Nobody in this country is starving.

Now there are also many other such ploys that Wallis uses. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose not all the blogs I could write in a year would contain them. Suffice it to say that Progressivism is a rival faith, placing trust in Big Government. It is not an appropriate political system for liberty-minded America; and is decidedly antithetical to Christianity, using coercion and violence to bring about supposedly Christian ends. No thanks.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Social Justice Watch: Verses And Curses (Pt. 3)

So I'm reading Jim Wallis again. Back in the 70s I was a young, impressionable, fatherless Canadian boy who ran away to California with the circus . . . y'know, the Jesus Movement. It soon spread to Texas, and I moved to its second epicenter in Lindale with Keith Green, David Wilkerson, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Dallas Holm, YWAM, Leonard Ravenhill and my homies, the Agape Force (Silverwind, Candle, Gingerbrook Fare, etc). Some of the locals we got to know in East Texas belonged to the Friends movement—also known as Quakers. It was my first brush with Pacifism and my introduction to Sojourners Magazine.
Who knew a clenched fist was the universal symbol for faith?
In the mid-70s, Wallis moved his new magazine, The Post-American (what does that name tell you about his starting point?), from the Deerfield, Illinois campus of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to Washington, DC. He also changed the publication's name to SojournersI wasn't very political during the Jesus Movement, and his magazine wasn't speaking my language. So after reading a few issues, I gave up on it.

Did you happen to read the scratchings written on the clenched fist for Sojourners' 40th Anniversary banner above? Does that sound like a call for Christians to good works? Not to me. I read it as a Leftist, big-government rant using Matthew 25 as a pretext. Not to mention putting those whiny words in Jesus' mouth. Ironically, the magazine's mission statement includes this: ". . . to lift up those whom Jesus called 'the least of these.'" Fresh off our previous exploration of the Olivet Discourse, Wallis plainly hasn't read Matthew 25 very carefully—despite stating that the passage is what converted him to Christianity.

Early in the Preface of his new book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets And Politics Hasn't Learned About Serving The Common Good (Brazos Press), he quickly plays the-least-of-these card, referring to the poor. Guess I better get used to it, he'll likely misuse it many more times in the pages ahead. But just two pages into chapter one he writes this: ". . . God's politics is most concerned with the powerless—the least of those among us . . . the poor and vulnerable." Okay, now I know he's cherry-picking scripture without reading the passages. To be charitable, he may think the-least-among-us is a re-phrasing of Matthew 25. But Brazos' editor should have recognized it as a quote from Luke 9:46-48, and should have pointed out that Luke's passage is talking about Jesus' own disciples, not "the poor and vulnerable." 

But I don't think it's a simple error. Wallis' book is full of misdirection, unsupported assertion and overly broad generalizations. His most frequent trick, which seems to come as naturally as breathing, is to transform the scriptural "you/us" from Christian believers to American taxpayers. He seems to be advocating a sort of Social Theocracy. And the constant refrain about money spent on things other-than-the-poor reminds me of Judas' complaint about the expensive perfume poured out on Jesus' feet.

Wallis' first chapter is entitled "A Gospel for the Common Good." In elevating Social Justice to the level of a different gospel, Wallis enters dangerous territory. Saint Paul was pretty clear about that sorta thing in Galatians 1:6-9. Walking straight into a New Testament curse would make me uncomfortable. But maybe that's just me.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Social Justice Watch: The Least Of These (Pt. 2)

My recent New Testament survey of the word "poor" covered all the famous passages—the Beatitudes, the Rich Young Ruler, the Widow's Mite, Zacchaeus and a couple of parables, like Lazarus and Dives (The Rich Man). But looking only at the word "poor" doesn't tell the whole story. Social Justice-ites' most-cited passage is from the end of Matthew 25. Christ doesn't use the word "poor" here, referring instead to the thirsty, hungry, naked, strangers, sick and prisoners. But as with all of Jesus' teaching—whether a fanciful story or a somber discourse—this parable-ish sermon requires ears to hear. The treasure isn't just lying on the surface like so many dropped pearls. We'll need to do a little digging.

Social Justice advocates' favorite verse.

The phrase latched onto by those who want more tax dollars spent on bureaucrats-to-the-poor is reproduced above: "unto the least of these." And rightly so, for the phrase is important—Jesus spoke it twice in his polemic. But this familiar snippet—found in verse 45—is an abbreviated repetition from verse 40. Do you remember the longer version? ". . . unto the least of these my brothers . . ." His brothers? That's not a throwaway line from the Lord. But hold that thought, because there's much more in Jesus' message than just helping the least.

First of all, this nearly-allegorical warning is sometimes called the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Some say it's a parable because it is preceded by two parables, and is structured like some of Jesus' Comparison Parables (Wise Man v Foolish Man, Pharisee v Publican, Two Debtors, etc). But I don't think it's a parable. For one thing, rather than saying "once upon a time" Jesus here says "When the son of man comes in His glory," which sounds flat-out prophetic. For another, it's not a story about sheep and goats, rather it describes separating ". . . people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” So it's a prophetic sermon, more properly referred to as the Olivet Discourse, named after the hillside where Jesus spoke his apocalyptic, cautionary words.

And it is a distinctly unpleasant message. Christ says in the future he will dispense Final Judgment, as a King on His throne, upon all people. And his sole criteria will be how each human acted toward . . .

. . . him. Toward Jesus. He'll ask each person: "What did you do with me?"

Excuse me? I thought the passage was about the-least-of-these . . . er, I mean, Jesus brothers—and sisters. And, y'know, the naked, the sick, the hungry. Nope. Jesus will send people to hell because they ignored him. Even the righteous sheep in Christ's narrative were confused: "Lord, whaddaya mean? We never saw you thirsty or hungry or naked or sick or in prison. What are you talkin' about?" And Jesus replies that deeds done unto "the least of these my brothers" were done to him.

I can hear the sound of eyes glazing over. Social Justices are ticked off at me: "Well, duh—so Jesus is saying it really is all about how we treat the poor!" Not so fast there Lefty; those pearls can break your teeth. You're coming from a secular perspective seeking government intrusion into the lives of both rich and poor, both Christian and unbeliever. But Jesus was talking to you, personally, not a government. And when you try to use Christ's words against Christians to further your social/political agenda, you're on shaky ground. Follow along, I'll go slowly:

ONE: the good works listed by Jesus cannot be performed to earn sheep status; rather they are evidence of being born again and following the Good Shepherd. Remember the thief-on-the-cross beside Jesus? He'd lived a selfish life, and only in his dying moments did he call out to Jesus—who promised "today you will be with me in Paradise." The crook hadn't done any of the deeds listed in Matthew 25, yet Jesus pronounced him safe among the sheep. So Jesus is describing attributes and activities of his disciples: see how they love one another.

TWO: don't try to re-direct the basis of Christ's judgment. On his throne, the King—Jesus Christ, the Son of Man—pronounces a sentence based on what each person did "unto me." Remember? "I was hungry . . . I was thirsty . . . I was a stranger . . ." Their crime was rejecting, neglecting Jesus. Subsequent to their primary offense, they showed their true colors by mistreating Jesus' brothers.

THREE: about those brothers. Earlier in Matthew's gospel, Jesus sent his disciples out on a missions trip with these words: "Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me." A little later Matthew also records this exchange: "Someone told him, 'Your mother and your brothers are standing outside . . .' But he replied . . . 'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.'”

SUMMING UP: who exactly are the least-of-these? They're Jesus' disciples. His sheep, who follow his voice. Jesus wasn't talking about The Poor—he never used the word. He was talking about his flesh-and-blood: the Body of Christ in this world. They are engaged ("betrothed") to be His Bride. They're the people of faith, "... destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world is not worthy." 

So we are getting to know "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" a little bit better. The one who said, with a child on his lap, ". . . whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." This is the same Jesus, who said "you have the poor with you always, but you will not always have me." The Jesus who, in the very breath before his least-of-these discourse, wrapped up the Parable of the Talents (reminder: a "talent" was a measure of money) with these words: ". . . to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

I, Wayne Zeitner, am the-least-of-these. And you, dear reader, if you have humbled yourself to become a follower of Jesus, you also became the-least-of-these. And we are "not many powerful, not many of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise . . . what is weak to shame the strong . . . what is low and despised in the world . . . to bring to nothing things that are." And the lesson we take from our Lord's sermon is this: be good to his people.
MAY 19, 2017 ADDENDUM. Given the ongoing SJ debate in the church, fueled mainly by the rising generation, this blog series continues to be read and discussed. So I need to add two obvious points missing from the original:

1) The Body of  Christ. Jesus says "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." His statement here, along with others ("I am the vine, ye are the branches," etc) foreshadows the Apostle Paul's revelation that Jews and Gentiles together "in Christ" are now mystically-but-actually The Body of Christ. "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." (1 Cor. 12:27) This disclosure further clarifies the Matthew passage as being, not a catalog of the types of societal situations Christians are called to remedy, but an instruction about whom Christians should minister to as their first priority. We are literally feeding, clothing, refreshing Jesus himself when we minister to "his body."

2) The Least. Paul oddly echoes Jesus' words from the Mount of Olives. In 1 Corinthians 15 and again in Ephesians 3, the born-out-of-time former Pharisee declares himself to be "the least," and even "less than the least" among saints and apostles. Think of all the times in his letters Paul talked about tangible needs—both his own needs (a cloak, that scroll, encouragement, companionship), as well as the needs of others (taking up a collection of money for a church, sending Timothy to help out, etc). He was literally a prisoner, naked, hungry, thirsty and in need of visitation. His reminders to his readers that they ought to come and help him, was giving them the opportunity to demonstrate that they had been "blessed of the Father," and would so inherit the Kingdom.

In conclusion, the passage so often used by Social Justice advocates is much deeper, but also much more modest in scope, than they imagine. Jesus was not issuing an LBJ-like call for a War On Poverty (a war which, like Vietnam, LBJ miserably failed to win). The church's job is not "social," though whenever it flourishes it truly becomes the salt of the earth. No, the church's job is to be Christ's body on earth, to love one another, to go to all nations teaching, baptizing, and obeying everything Jesus commanded . . . so he will be with us always.

Final post is Part 3: Verses and Curses

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Social Justice Watch: The Church And The Poor (Pt.1)

In 1983 I was in San Antonio, Texas doing post-production work on a film, when the editor made a casual comment about his church youth group traveling overseas to help missionaries on a building project. That hit me like a ton of bricks: I'd never heard of a youth group doing such a thing. As a youngster, I vividly recall a family from our church leaving Canada with their kids (some of my best friends) on a "short-term" missionary assignment to Africa—they were gone FOUR YEARS. That was my frame of reference for missions work.

By 1983, airline deregulation had brought down the cost of international travel by over 25%, no small factor in the growth of such trips, I'm sure. A reviving economy under Ronald Reagan helped make such travel affordable as well. 
My niece in Kenya in 2006 
I don't recall my editor friend using the phrase "missions trip" at that time, but these days you would have to search high and low to find an American (or Canadian) church that hasn't sent their youth to some Latin American or Caribbean nation—or even further. And, of course, there are myriad domestic "missions trips" to urban areas, or to the remote Navajo and everywhere in between. I consider all this to be a great good on many levels.

But this doesn't stop Social Justice activists from branding evangelical Christians as "uncaring" if we oppose higher taxes to grow the Nanny State. Strictly speaking, of course, these missions trips aren't intended to end poverty or cure every disease. But activities like these—and others by para-church outfits like World Vision, Compassion and Samaritan's Purse—are non-trivial evidence that American Christians do indeed care for the "needy."

Before wading into the societal debate about the church's "obligation" to the poor, a Christian should first turn to scripture for guidance.

A note about my choice of english translation: the ESV. My pastor recommends it for study—concluding that the NIV has become too politically correct and unreliable. As an aside, I have a personal affinity for the NLT in readability and an increasing admiration for the new HCSB in study. So that's that with that, then.

Leaving aside the Old Testament, due to the unique, insular nature of the Jews and Israel, here follows a summary of New Testament usage of the word "poor." It appears just five times each in Matthew, Mark, and John. Only nine of those 15 instances are spoken by Jesus. Eleven of the 15 deal with just three events:

1. The Rich Young Ruler, told by Jesus to sell all he had, give it to the poor and follow Christ.

2. The Poor Widow, who was giving a significant offering of her own money to the Temple.

3. Judas, complaining about the expensive perfume poured on Jesus, which Judas wanted to sell, saying he'd give the money to the poor (a half-truth at best). And then Jesus' reply: "the poor shall be with you always."

The other Matt/Mark/John instances of the word are spread among the Beatitudes ("…blessed are the poor…"), the Isaiah 61 prophecy ("…the poor have the good news preached to them…") and one reference to insufficient quality ("…poor wine…").

Next up is Luke, who uses the word eleven times: once for the Rich Young Ruler and twice for the Poor Widow, but no mention of the Judas incident at all. He twice includes the Isaiah 61 passage. The rest of Luke's "poor" usages are from the Zacchaeus story, the Parable of Lazarus and Dives, the Beatitudes, and the Banquet Parables.

The Gospels often overlap in retelling the same event, so those 26 usages of the word "poor" fall into just nine incidents: the Beatitudes, Isaiah 61, Rich Young Ruler, Judas' Complaint/Jesus' Reply, Poor Widow's Offering, Banquet Parables, Lazarus and Dives, Zacchaeus, and Judas Leaving the Last Supper.

After the Gospels we come to the Acts of the Apostles, where the word "poor" does not appear at all. I kid you not. Think about that for a minute.

Then come the Epistles—the letters of Paul, Peter, James and John (not to quibble over Hebrews). While the Gospels and Acts are mostly narrative—describing actions and events—the Epistles are mostly teaching. The lessons we may take from the retelling of an occurrence in Jesus' life are indirect, requiring both interpretation and application. But the lessons contained in teaching passages are pretty straightforward. On to the numbers.

The word "poor" appears just eleven times in the Epistles: once in Romans ("...the poor among the saints in Jerusalem..."); three times in 2 Corinthians (twice about Jesus making himself poor, once quoting Psalm 112 in collecting for the saints in Jerusalem); once in Galatians ("...remember the poor..."); four times in James (all in reference to respecting rich and poor alike); and twice in Revelation ("...not realizing you are wretched, pitiable, poor..." and "both rich and poor" taking the mark of the beast).

So there's something to mull over: simply the number and nature of New Testament mentions of the poor. 
There are, of course, other words that must be considered as well—"needy" comes immediately to mind. Other related words: charity, alms, naked, hungry, etc. Next up, Social Justice Watch: The Least Of These (Pt. 2) includes analysis and, as you might guess, some contrarian conclusions vis-à-vis today's Social Justice-ites.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Federal Reserve Is Bad For America

"The Federal Reserve System was created by the Federal Reserve Act in 1913 . . . an unusual mixture of public and private elements." — from the Fed's website.
"Quantitative Easing" belongs in the restroom.
It's a little ironic that the American Left, who are so quick to cry "Fascism" whenever Republicans are business-friendly, should now be such supporters of the unholy alliance of Big Government and Big Banking we call the Fed. It may have seemed like a good idea a hundred years ago—Woodrow Wilson was just full of "good ideas" like, y'know, the Income Tax and Direct Election of Senators (16th and 17th amendments). For the purposes of this discussion we'll not delve into Wilson's (and the Democrats' and Princeton University's) alignment with the Eugenics Movement . . . except to note that sterilization and euthanasia are the unavoidable conclusion of Progressivist logic; abortion-on-demand being its most widespread achievement to date.
The same hubristic mindset that gave us the "unsinkable" Titanic in 1912 also gave us Woodrow Wilson and the Federal Reserve System the following year. The Progressive Movement was in full flower, seeing no limit to what human reasoning and the Scientific Method could deliver. But artists, those canaries in society's coal mine, painted a darker picture—like Marcel Duchamp's 1912 Nude Descending A Staircase, which scandalized New York's 1913 Armory Show. This was also the era of Cubism, Dadaism, and Nihilism . . . which together foretold Friedrich Nietzsche's Will To Power. Of course it's pure coincidence that the decades to follow became the Golden Age of Totalitarianism . . .

. . . and Central Banking. 

How so many Americans miss seeing the direct link between Totalitarianism's central planning and the supposedly benign central banking is beyond me. These are identical impulses—a desire to control of every aspect of national life. What could be more vital to the daily bread of any people than their money? Kings and monarchs of yesteryear could only dream of having the power to create money out of thin air—they had to extract it from the earth, or their people's purses via taxes, or borrow it from somebody (usually a Jew, whom they would then resent and ostracize). But I digress.

The Great Depression demonstrated the impotence of America's central bank to end financial panics—the very rationale used to establish it. So when a government's plan fails miserably, do they wind 'er down and go back to the drawing board? No, instead of ending the Fed, FDR used the man-caused disaster as a pretext to confiscate Americans' convertible gold. We still have these brutal recessions, but now the Fed inflates the money supply so politicians can spend like crazy to buy our votes. What a country!

Since the dawn of civilization, gold had been money. But FDR's motto was "bold, persistent experimentation!" He couldn't completely take America off the Gold Standard, but his arbitrary re-valuations and his Keynesian spending prepared the way for Richard Nixon's dumbest idea, which was to "float" the dollar. We now have a fiat currency, unhinged from any standard other than the collective wisdom of the Fed's dozen-odd governors.

Today, when you compare the Fed's Target Inflation Rate of 2% to the 0.84% savings rate you're getting at Ally Bank this week, every hundred dollars saved means your account only loses $1.16 each year. Of course, the Fed doesn't want you saving money, they want you to spend it. You see, banks no longer need consumer savings in order to accumulate cash to make loans—the Fed just pushes a button to squirt a few hundred billion more dollars into the banker's pockets. By the time those funds work their way through the system and into our paychecks, prices of stuff we need have gone up! It's good to be a banker with access to the Fed's discount window.  

Part of the calculation made by Statists in power is to puff up clouds of complexity—aimed at discouraging citizens from intelligent debate on monetary matters. In one sense, of course, they're right: the myriad free decisions made every minute in America between willing buyers and willing sellers (including their decisions to not spend) is far too complex to be controlled or managed. But rather than being humbled by this unimaginable web of interactions, arrogant bureaucrats and their enabling political masters seek to dominate, tame and bend the nation's economic life to their will.  Aside from the obvious threat to freedom, this overreach always fails to bring about its stated results—leading Statists to create ever more intrusive, oppressive laws and regulations to force us to behave the way they want.

But there is a growing body of scholarship exploring options all the way from disbanding the Fed to instituting a new Gold Standard. Aside from Ron Paul's famous End the Fed, there's terrific writing from three Think Tanks you need to keep up with: the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute's Values and Capitalism site, and the Ludwig Von Mises Institute

Saturday, April 13, 2013

I'm A Tiger Woods Fan, But...

...he should have been disqualified from the Masters after signing a scorecard Friday that didn't include a 2-stroke penalty for an improper drop. That was Tiger's fault—though I have to wonder what he's paying caddie Joe LaCava to do out there.
Tiger's illegal drop at Augusta National's 15th hole. Arrow points to original divot.

ESPN says there was a Rules Official present with Tiger's group on that 15th hole. He must've been on a potty break, because Masters Tournament Rules Committee Chairman, Fred Riley, said he was alerted to the infraction by a TV viewer. By the time he watched the videotape Tiger was already playing the 18th hole (elapsed time 45-minutes). Based on that video review the Rules Committee determined Tiger had done nothing wrong. So they said nothing to him about it before he signed his card. 

Have you seen the videotape? One of the CBS camera angles (shot by the guy above) clearly shows Tiger standing a few feet behind the divot from his first shot. What was Ridley looking at? Whatever he saw, he gave the most lenient possible reading of the Water Hazard rule:
     26-1a. ...playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played..."

Then Tiger went on TV and said he intentionally moved back "a couple yards" to give himself a better distance to the pin. Uh-oh, now Ridley knows there was a rules violation. So he and his compadres turned to golf's newest politically-correct rule:
     33-7. Disqualification Penalty; Committee Discretion
     A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.

Obviously the Committee considered a waiver warranted. Why? Here are the words from Ridley's written statement: "The penalty of disqualification was waived by the Committee under Rule 33 as the Committee had previously reviewed the information and made its initial determination prior to the finish of the player’s round."

Those words are english, but what do they mean? The DQ was waived because the committee had been mistaken earlier. What chain of logic is that? Because we missed the call earlier, we feel bad and we're gonna give Tiger a break. Or more expansively: Because the on-course official missed the call, and we weren't watching the telecast, Tiger didn't get a warning about the infraction, and the consequences became too severe after he signed his card. No matter how you slice it, their ruling has no foundation other than Tiger Woods being an "exceptional individual." Their explanation is both dissembling and disingenuous.

Given the fame of this decision, what rules committee at any PGA Tour event will ever allow a DQ to stand? Ignorance of the rules, and signing an incorrect card are now officially deemed by golf's most prestigious Major Tournament to be immediately excusable. How is this mushy-minded decision anything other than sloppy spillage of Moral Hazard?