December 22, 2005

Passage of the Day: Marvin Olasky on Charity, and Its Effects

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 4:01 pm

Marvin Olasky, who has a firm grasp on how charity should be administered, weighs in with underappreciated facts:

Time did well in selecting Bono plus Bill and Melinda Gates as its charitable Persons of the Year, but I wish it had also put a non-celebrity — maybe a volunteer Katrina relief worker — on its cover.

It would have been good to honor one of the 9,000 Southern Baptists from 41 states who volunteered 120,000 days during the two months after the hurricane hit. During that time, they served 10 million meals and pushed forward cleanup and recovery efforts.

Or how about someone from the Salvation Army: Those folks served nearly 5 million hot meals and over 6.5 million sandwiches, snacks and drinks from 178 mobile feeding units and 11 field kitchens, with each kitchen able to produce 20,000 hot meals per day.

Big numbers, and those were just two of the active groups. Many others also delivered food and supplies in a much more flexible style than the bureaucratic FEMA. Ronnie Harris, mayor of the New Orleans suburb of Gretna, flat-out said: “Church workers were the first volunteers on the ground. It is churches that have made the difference in Hurricane Katrina recovery.”

Many others concur, but some Christians worry that such church activity is the “social gospel” revisited, at the expense of evangelism. There’s reason for concern, because we are all prone to wander spiritually and to focus on what the world praises than on what it misunderstands or even abhors. And yet, evangelism is often most successful, in God’s timing, when those hostile to Christ look up in surprise at what Christians are doing.

For example, after Katrina, an atheist asked in the British left-wing Guardian Weekly why Christians “are the people most likely to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in helping others.” You can almost see the synapses sparking in the writer’s brain: “It ought to be possible to live a Christian life without being a Christian or, better still, to take Christianity a la carte. Yet … it is impossible to doubt that faith and charity go hand in hand.”

He’s right, and add evangelism to the mix: Faith leads to works, and works lead people to ask questions about faith. As the works of the faithful diminish the pride of the faithless — the British writer concluded that Christians are “morally superior to atheists like me” — Christian charity ploughs the ground for an evangelistic response: no, not morally superior, just touched by One who was.

Even hardcore U.S. anti-Christian publications couldn’t help noticing the difference Christian belief made during the post-Katrina days. The New York Times story described how church groups were doing better than government agencies, and didn’t even object (this one time) when those who “finish clearing debris or doing temporary repairs on damaged houses … give the homeowners a signed Bible and say a prayer with them.”

On Christmas, we might remember how a long time ago another nation faced a disaster even greater than Katrina. Enemy soldiers occupied the land and imposed toady officials on a resentful populace. It seemed that God had been quiet for centuries, and some said He would never speak again. Then the ultimate act of Christian charity transformed every aspect of life. That deed began the transformation of everything around us.

2005′s “Worst in Finance”

Terri Cullen of The Wall Street Journal (requires subscription) nominates the following four worthy contenders, and I agree that they all belong:

The New Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit
Although this won’t have an impact until next year, the negative fallout is already being felt. I’m sure I’ll be dealing with this more often than I’d like in 2006, so suffice it to say for now that this has all the marking of a PR, and potentially electoral, disaster for those who voted it in.

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) that refuses to die
This tax (too complex to explain in detail here) was meant for the super-wealthy when it was enacted 30-plus years ago. But it is snaring more upper middle-income payers as time goes by, because the amounts involved in determining income and deductions were never indexed for inflation. So millions who weren’t intended targets are being affected. Congress is diddling around with piecemeal solutions when it should either jettison the thing entirely, or limit its impact to those with 7-figure incomes.

Credit-card company rates, fees, and universal default clauses
This has been covered frequently here. If there is to be a liberal comeback in politics, it will occur largely because the lending industry has basically turned Congress (including many Democrats) into lapdogs, and, with their over-30% penalty rates and $35-plus fees, have turned the capitalist system against anyone who makes just a couple of financial mistakes, or who is forced into financial hardship by events outside their control (medical bills, divorce, etc.). As Moderate Mainstream noted earlier this year (sorry, can’t find original link), universal default is like the electric company increasing your rates because you were late with your cable bill (shh–don’t give them any ideas).

Bankruptcy “Reform”
The only question here is how serious the repercussions from this public-policy mistake will be. My objections to it were many and are referenced here. The biggest is that the new bankruptcy regimen was put in place while the outrageous lending practices in the previous item were not reined in one bit.

One Other
The only other deserving candidate I would include would be the collection of conflicted practices found in the mutual fund and retirement-planning industry.

Any other suggestions? E-mail me or leave a comment.

Elliot Spitzer: Sore Loser, Legal Tyrant (Yet Another Update)

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:31 am

This is bizarre–Mr. Spitzer is going back into ancient history to find something, anything against an opponent he has been unable to tag with anything recent and real (link requires subscription; bold is mine):

“New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has decided against pursuing possible criminal charges against former American International Group Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Maurice R. “Hank” Greenberg in connection with the giant insurer’s accounting scandal, a person familiar with the matter said.”
– Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2005, the day after Thanksgiving

….. last week Mr. Spitzer finally revealed the details of this new accusation, and the appropriate word for it is indeed turkey. And cold turkey at that, since it involves a case going back to 1968.

The new accusations aren’t even formal charges at all, civil or criminal — which is not surprising given the statute of limitations problem. Instead, Mr. Spitzer alerted the media to his recent 26-page report advising a New York foundation to investigate whether Mr. Greenberg had defrauded that charity as part of an estate settlement that began merely 37 years ago. And by the way, these new accusations have nothing at all do with the original accounting allegations that Mr. Spitzer used to run Mr. Greenberg out of his CEO chair in March.

The details are there if you have a subscription and want to know more. It’s really scary that someone operating on the taxpayer’s dime can unilaterally throw resources at a (literally) dead carcass.

Speaking of “Scary”, the former Chairman of Goldman Sachs notes the following in another Journal piece today (requires subscription):

Last April, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed piece by me titled “Mr. Spitzer Has Gone Too Far.” In it I expressed my belief that in America, everyone — including Hank Greenberg — is innocent until proven guilty. “Something has gone seriously awry,” I wrote, “when a state attorney general can go on television and charge one of America’s best CEOs and most generous philanthropists with fraud before any charges have been brought, before the possible defendant has even had a chance to know what he personally is alleged to have done, and while the investigation is still under way.”

Since there have been rumors in the media as to what happened next, I feel I must now set the record straight. After reading my op-ed piece, Mr. Spitzer tried to phone me. I was traveling in Texas but he reached me early in the afternoon. After asking me one or two questions about where I got my facts, he came right to the point. I was so shocked that I wrote it all down right away so I would be sure to remember it exactly as he said it. This is what he said:

“Mr. Whitehead, it’s now a war between us and you’ve fired the first shot. I will be coming after you. You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done. You will wish you had never written that letter.”

I tried to interrupt to say he was doing to me exactly what he’d been doing to others, but he wouldn’t be interrupted. He went on in the same vein for several more sentences and then abruptly hung up. I was astounded. No one had ever talked to me like that before. It was a little scary.

Spitzer’s “crusading for the little guy” act lost its legitimacy long ago. New York’s attorney general and gubernatorial wannabe is revealing himself as a petty tyrant of the first order. Does anyone else fear what Elliot Spitzer could or would do with the reins of power over one of our largest states?

I’m also eagerly anticipating, but won’t hold my breath waiting for, Spitzer buddy and defender-to-a-fault Jim Cramer’s comments on these latest developments.
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Previous posts:

When You Can Say What at This Time of Year (UPDATE 2)

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Bias,MSM Biz/Other Ignorance — Tom @ 9:07 am

This is the second update (third installment) of a series that began just before Thanksgiving looking at how the words “Christmas” and “holiday(s)” are being used. I have sensed a couple of tendencies over the years and wanted to see if my suspicions were accurate this Christmas season, and did Google News searches on November 23, December 7, and this morning to investigate.

Here are this morning’s results (Dec. 22, 9AM ET):

Shopping–
- “Holiday Shopping Season” (using quote marks)–9,100 hits.
- “Christmas shopping season” (using quote marks)–1,150 hits.

Layoffs–
- holidays layoffs (without quotes)–192 hits.
- holiday layoffs (without quotes)–690 hits.
- Christmas layoffs (without quotes)–572 hits.

As I found on the previous two days I investigated, it is clearly more acceptable to mention “Christmas” when layoffs are involved–about 39% of the time when compared to the total of the two “holiday layoff” searches, vs. about 12% of the time when comparing the two “shopping” searches.

But what is also startling is the trend of the results:

ChristmasHoliday

As the Christmas season has progressed, and as Christmas Day has approached, the term “holiday shopping” has become more, not less, likely to be used. But as the day we celebrate Christ’s birth has drawn nearer, the likelihood that “Christmas” will be used when the news topic is layoffs has increased.

It seems beyond dispute that there is a strong bias against using the word “Christmas” to describe not only the shopping season, as noted above, but also events, parades, and festivals that happen during the Christmas season. There is, however, a bit of an exception–”Christmas” is a word that is two to three times more acceptable to use when “Scrooge” employers are letting people go.

Positivity: “It’s Christmastime. There Are Angels.”

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:15 am

It was the type of rescue that supposedly only happens in Hollywood movies. A truck driver was rescued from his crashed rig just before it blew, and no one was hurt seriously:

Daring rescue on I-75
Truck driver freed before fire erupts

LOCKLAND – Rick Newman knocked on his neighbor’s front door Monday afternoon on Shepherd Avenue, just as he always does when he wants to chat.

Henry Colwell wasn’t home. Someone else unexpectedly dropped by instead.

“I heard a noise, I looked back, and that truck was flying through the air,” Newman said. “It was like an atomic bomb, it was so loud.”

Newman saw a semi-truck crashing toward him, after a wreck forced the tractor-trailer off a northbound Interstate 75 overpass. It fell about three stories onto Colwell’s front lawn on Shepherd Avenue.

“It landed 10 feet from where I was standing,” Newman said.

The truck, which was carrying auto parts, landed on its side and wrapped around a pillar supporting the overpass.

Newman found the driver, Danny Faehr, of Florence, upside down and bleeding in the cab. He cut the seat belt and pulled him out. “Right as we got to the sidewalk, the truck exploded,” Newman said.

The wreck shut down all three northbound lanes of I-75 shortly before 1:40 p.m.. They reopened about 5:15 p.m.

A dump truck carrying iron pigments might have forced the tractor-trailer off the overpass and into Colwell’s yard, Lockland Fire Chief Bill Welsh said.

The dump truck rolled on its side during the wreck, scattering its cargo of pigments – which look like large chunks of charcoal – across the interstate.

The Ohio Department of Transportation checked the overpass to determine whether any structural damage occurred, and the highway was reopened.

Greg Bien drove by the accident just minutes after the flames began shooting from the truck.

“It was burning pretty good,” Bien said. “It’s a mess over there.”

Amber Lovins, 20, was sleeping in her bed about 50 feet away from where the truck landed.

“I heard a whole bunch of crashes,” Lovins said. “I came out, and it was on fire.”

Lovins pulled out her cell phone and began snapping photographs of the burning truck in her neighbor’s front yard.

….. Colwell, 67, was at the grocery store when the event he has feared for years happened.

“I’m glad I wasn’t here,” he said. “It probably would’ve scared me to death.”

Colwell plans to stay in his home – for now, at least.

….. The multi-vehicle wreck injured five people, none seriously.

Faehr, who survived the fall into Colwell’s yard and escaped the flames, suffered a broken hand, Welsh, the Lockland fire chief, said.

He was treated at Bethesda North Hospital and released.

“It’s Christmastime,” Welsh said of the relatively minor injuries caused by such a serious wreck. “There are angels.”

Lockland police continued to investigate Monday night.