Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Ground-Shaking Struggle for a Christian Nation: It's Far From Over

Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman who is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012 is on a four-day swing through Florida, ending in Miami on Monday. While addressing the previous natural disasters on the East Coast in Sarasota, Florida, Bachmann told a crowd, "I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?'" According to Bachmann, Hurricane Irene and the East Coast earthquake were messages from God, meant to warn "politicians" to start searching for divine guidance. She suggests that God's guidance is being channeled through small government conservatives (which coincidentally makes her seem like the divine political choice) and that God's will is linked with those believing the U.S. government is too large and intrudes too much on people's lives.

Why do all of God's messages magically align with Bachmann's already existent views and policies? Why is it that the messages that God is telling her and nobody else coincides with her whole political campaign? Is it coincidence God agrees with her views so perfectly, or is this just yet another propaganda ploy? If continuing to follow this line of questioning, the question - Is America a christian nation? - comes into play. Bachmann is constantly bringing religion into state affairs while our government is suppose to be composed of a distinction between state and religion. Now, I'm not going to go into the past arguments on this topic, but simply point out that this topic is still very fresh and present in modern-day America.

Bachmann isn't the only politician who uses God and religion to help propel a career and climb to the top. Along with Bachmann, Glenn Beck, the former Fox News personality connected God and the natual disasters during his radio program last week. He said the natural disasters were intended for the American people and that they served as a preparation for future disaster. Beck stated, "this hurricane is a blessing. It is a blessing. It is God reminding you — as was the earthquake last week — it’s God reminding you you’re not in control."

Unfortunate for many conservatives, most of the people who tend to mix religion and politics are Republicans such as Bachmann and Beck; which, in the eyes of many, makes Republicans seem less equipped to protect the citizens and their equal rights. However, for religious citizens, the incorporation of God into politics brings a sense of hope and commonality. The ability to share the same faith as the President and other leaders can be awfully comforting, especially in a time of fear (Which for most of America is all the time because we live in a society of fear. Even John Adams said that "Fear is the foundation of most governments." Politicians kindle and inspire fear just so they can put out the flames to help "add" to their credibility but that's a rant for another time for I digress). I can see the appeals of using religion and the appeals of not, but I would prefer to be ignorant of politicians' personal beliefs. I imagine it being ideal being solely influenced by a politicians philosophies and policies, and not letting personal beliefs come into play.

The article cleverly brings up that "both Bachmann and Beck appear to be tapping into a deep but often unspoken fear in many Americans that the country is crumbling from within, financially and morally, and increasingly vulnerable to outside aggressors or to internal disorder." Striking fear and linking to religion for hope and having people rely on their form of Government appeals to a broad audience which I briefly touched on previously. Politicians are brilliant when it comes to propaganda and it's rather obnoxious for most people just eat it up like candy. Anyhow, Bachmann and Beck both exemplified the cross between religion and state and helped prove that we couldn't escape the question of the christian nation. Despite us not identifying with a single religion, it appears that religion, if not always, will play a part in society. It seems inevitable. Is America a christian nation? To be honest, I don't know, but there doesn't seem to be and exact distinction of influences. Nonetheless, religion is still used in politics for better or for worse. Also, with the extinction of religion nearing as the atheism rate rises, what kind of effect would be made on politics?

The Bird[s]......Flu

And a new panic hits the world. This time it's a new mutant strain of the H5N1 avian (or bird) flu that the FAO, or Food and Agriculture Organization, now believes is now spreading around Asia, specifically China and Vietnam. The resurgence of the virus in Vietnam threatens Thailand, Malaysia & Cambodia as well as Japan and the Korean peninsula. The most recent string of deaths due to the virus (8 so far) has occurred in Cambodia, creating quite a stir. The virus "can apparently bypass the defenses of current vaccines with unpredictable risks to humans," according to CNN.

The World Health Organization, or WHO, claims that the avian flu has infected 565 people and killed 331 since 2003. The virus has also caused the death of 400 million domestic poultry, causing approximately $20 billion worth of economic losses. H5N1 is still present in at least six countries, such as Indonesia, India & Bangladesh, and has recently reappeared in countries like Nepal, Mongolia & Romania. While most people believe the problem lies with only wild birds, FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth stated that, "Wild birds may introduce the virus, but peoples' actions in poultry production and marketing spread it."

So which is more important: the health and wellbeing of nearly 7 billion people, or a thriving poultry market? Yes they are not completely all or nothing trade-offs of one another, but I do wonder if the new fear will slow production, or if our economic crisis will prove to be more important to people. Hopefully people choose health over the economy, but after all desperate times call for desperate measures. Personally I can live without a chicken sandwich for a month or two...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hurricane Irene

For much of the last weekend, Hurricane Irene ravaged the East Coast. Working its way from North Carolina to Maine, the storm caused what is expected to be up to $10 million in damages, earning a spot among the top 10 most expensive natural disasters in US history. Unfortunately, this will be largely uncovered by insurance companies who usually cover only damage caused by wind, not the flooding which caused most of the damage.

So...who will pay the millions and millions of dollars it will take to get the east coast back on its feet?

Well, ideally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would cover it. That is, after all, what it was set up to do. It would seem to me that that is a huge part of the government's purpose overall-to help its citizens in times of need. However, various conservative members of our government have other ideas. Ron Paul, for example, doesn't think the government should put up any money for disaster relief or prevention. He thinks the American populace should begin to wean itself of its dependence on the federal government. (Anarchy, anyone?) He mentions 1900, 1940, 1950, and 1960 to suggest that disaster relief is something new. In fact, the United States government has been helping communities stricken my natural disasters for quite some time. Paul mentions a storm which hit his home state in 1900 as an example of the ideal situation. He seems to have forgotten that this storm left so many dead that the people of Galveston were unable to bury them all. Either he doesn't know his history very well, or he really believes piles of dead are a desirable outcome. Neither of these makes him a very good candidate for president. House majority leader Eric Cantor has a somewhat less drastic, yet still controversial, solution. He wants funding for disaster relief to come out of some other program. the money to help out Missouri after it was hit by a tornado was taken from alternative energy research. For the flooding, money was taken from the fund for Missouri... While this provides more money for the east coast than Ron Paul would like, this has an unfortunate effect on the people of Missouri.

Hopefully Washington can pull itself together and provide assistance to everyone, as that is what the government is there to do. Of the people, by the people, FOR the people.

August: A Month of Consumer Woes

There have no doubt been issues with our economy for years now, but it seems as though it has taken a turn for the worse yet again. In fact, Americans are now more pessimistic about the economy's current state than they were in July. The Consumer Confidence Index for August, put out by the Conference Board, a New York research business, fell from an already low 59.2 (July's reading) to an even lower 44.5. A reading of 90 or so represents a healthy economy, so a 44.5 is somewhat terrifying. If Americans don't believe in their own economy, who will?

The Consumer Confidence Index measures the attitude held by consumers on jobs and spending in the short term. Consumer spending makes up approximately two thirds of the US economy which makes me wonder: Will the economy ever get better? With all the bad things happening to the US right now (Standard & Poor's downgrade, Irene, the 9.1% unemployment rate, etc.) I can't help but be just as pessimistic as nearly everyone else. This latest report is likely to spread even more fear to the people, causing them to spend and invest less. This will in turn affect the fourth primary factor of production: entrepreneurship. With less trust in the security of the economy comes less risk taking (i.e. entrepreneurship). With one of the primary factors of production stunted, how can the economy be expected to change as much as needed?

While I would love to be hopeful about the economy, I'm just not so sure at the moment. With the lowered Standard & Poor's rating and the lowered Consumer Confidence Index, I simply don't have as much confidence in the economy as I would like. Who knows, maybe the lowered score is simply a reflection of people overreacting. I guess only time will tell if the economy has the strength required to pull itself back up.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Flawed Model

Most blog posts are not this academic, but I can't resist forwarding this piece as a nice postscript to the Krugman article recently assigned in Economics. The blog author describes himself as "neo-monetarist," which should indicate respect for Milton Friedman and a generally conservative bent, but he is mostly reporting on the thoughts of one Joseph Stiglitz. I've read 2 full books by Stiglitz, who has his own Nobel prize in Economics and a well-deserved reputation as a political liberal who might nominally prefer to invoke Keynesian models. I share Krugman's outrage at the absurdity of the efficient market hypothesis but cringe at his dualistic way of framing, well, everything. In other words, take Krugman with a grain of salt. Behavioral economics is real, and its implications have met resistance from entrenched interests in the economy and in conservative academia, and that's sort of lame. Krugman setting his own hair on fire is also sort of lame.