Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Prosperity Gospel and the Great Crash.

1. Read Hanna Rosin's article from last month's Atlantic, "Did Christianity Cause the Chrash?"

2. Catch commentary from the likes of Anthea Butler and Sarah Posner at SSRCs The Immanent Frame. Sarah's is here:

The prosperity gospel is a lot older than derivatives, credit default swaps, and other byzantine Wall Street “products” that leveled the financial markets. Moreover, the fact that humans—not God—dreamed up these contrivances doesn’t poke holes in the prosperity gospel at all, at least from its adherents’ vantage point. If you believe and sow your seed, God will reward you, even as the secular Masters of the Universe greedily orchestrate a global economic collapse.

Surely the prosperity gospel plays a role in persuading its followers to buy into risky financial schemes, including sub-prime mortgages. (You might not be able to afford this thing, but if you have faith and tithe, your mortgage payments will miraculously appear in your checking account.) But to argue that the prosperity gospel, no matter how prevalent it is in America’s mega-churches, brought enough sub-prime borrowers to the table that it “caused the crash” overlooks how our secular institutions can be just as faith-based as prosperity churches.

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In other words: Wall Street titans were banking on little more than a wing and a prayer, too. It’s the American way.

That’s not to say that prosperity hucksters aren’t just as driven by avarice as the bankstas; just because they puff up their claims with Scripture instead of spreadsheets doesn’t make them any less complicit in leading the gullible on a path to financial ruin.

And that’s also not to say that prosperity hucksters would not have found another way to squeeze blood out of the turnip that is many of their followers’ nest eggs, had they not convinced them that God would make sure they could make the balloon payments. The annals of investigative journalism are filled with the sad tales of personal financial crashes because—prosperity hucksters would claim—victims didn’t have enough faith.

The hucksters may not be the sole cause of this crash, but they’re surely responsible for plenty of personal crashes long before sub-prime mortgage brokers began preaching their own kind of prosperity gospel.

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ObamaCare Will Require Classes on Euthanasia....

And you thought the scare mongering was over? Death panels the greatest lie of the year? Not so. Get a load of this "be very afraid" ad. While there is a valid point about "mission creep" when discussing Iraq or TARP, the attempt is to get you to believe that reforming health care will be detrimental to delivery in the US. It's the old tactic of calling the looniest voices on an issue out, then making their same claim with so-called reason. And the commercial is produced by none other than

I strongly oppose the current bill that has just passed the senate. There's no reform of a run-away, greedy industry that with the aid of government, the religious right, and the medical industry has for too long ignored patients' rights. I see some good in the bill but I see no necessary systemic reform.

What this ad does is confuse the medical care industry with

Information is not enforcement. Pro-life groups for years have been preventing access to services - but too to necessary information, claiming paternalistically that informed consent is a slippery slope. Beyond the fact that this claim is false, it is demeaning to paint every citizen as susceptible to "euthanasia" should they find out that it exists.

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Canada's Assisted Suicide Battle and an Ad Campaign.

Not unlike here in the US, Canada is enmeshed in a battle for the legalization of aid in dying, commonly called assisted suicide or euthanasia. A poignant Toronto ad campaign is raising awareness of the "deadly seriousness" of health care laws regarding end of life care.

"To the Glory of Kathleen (Kay) Mandell, Who at the age of 32 was stricken by Lou Gehrig's disease that caused her muscles to waste away, one by one, until her throat paralysed and she choked to death while fully conscious." A series of stickers have been placed on park benches to bring awareness to how health care policies commit the diseased to suffering at the end of life.

From the Toronto Star, an article on how the campaign is grabbing attention:

The stickers are forthright in their message, dreamed up by art director Andy McKay and Manson, his creative partner at Toronto's Cundari Group. They have both been affected by "bad deaths" among their friends and family.

The faux plaques "commemorate" three fictional people – Donald J. McLeod, Rosa Maria Allende and Kathleen (Kay) Mandell – and point to an information website that McKay and Manson created in their spare time, dignityindeath .com.

The site went live last month and, in slightly more than a day, the stickers had generated 1,500 hits, says Manson.

It has since gone viral, stirring heated debate on sites such as about what one poster terms the "five-star moral question" of how we end our lives. It's a debate that's badly needed as the tsunami of aging baby boomers stresses Canada's health system.

"I guess enough people thought the message was important. We just hoped that somebody might sit on a bench, see the sticker and talk about it," says Manson, conceding that the project has had "more reaction than we expected."

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A Tough Year for the Catholic Church.

Paul Murphy writes for the Huffington Post about the trying times the Church is going through.

Having, as I do, a lingering religious sensibility and an attachment to Mother Church, is a complicated and confusing experience. One can be saddened and angered by repeated revelations of predatory behavior, mostly homosexual, mostly against children and adolescents, by priests and other church operatives, yet somehow be satisfied to read about moral failings a class of men who have too often distorted the call to serve the God of Love into an urge for power and cruelty.

It has been a particularly tough year for the church in Ireland, which has been over many generations the primary root of the church in America. In May, a government-sponsored commission delivered a report on church-run institutional schools that unflinchingly piled up details with a force that seemed to echo the violence of the incidents it described:

Punching, flogging, assault and bodily attacks, hitting with the hand, kicking, ear pulling, hair pulling, head shaving, beating on the soles of the feet, burning, scalding, stabbing, severe beatings with or without clothes, being made to kneel and stand in fixed positions for lengthy periods...

And on it went.


Nor have Irish priests in particular escaped the harsh light of state investigation. Last month a second scorching report reviewed 320 children's complaints of violation by priests in the Dublin Archdiocese, and concluded that, over three decades, through 2004, the administrations of four successive archbishops had been less concerned about helping victims than "the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church, and the preservation of its assets."

These motives sometimes seem to me most culpable of all. Many of the abusers are mentally unhealthy persons who are in some sense stalked by their own unnatural sexual desires, but men in power who have belittled the offenses of these persons, and re-assigned them to places here they could offend again, were free to act righteously and did not. And despite the many necessary adjustments that hierarchies have made to handling cases of abuse more responsibly, there remains in the church a smugness about its own wisdom and virtue, a resistance to observation from the outside, and a pretense that nothing very significant or potentially transformative has been revealed.

I am thinking of men close to home, such as Cardinal Edward Egan, recently retired archbishop of New York and previously bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who in depositions revealed by theTimes early this month, retreated behind his legalistic training to challenge the gravity of sexual malfeasance under that earlier watch. The claims of abuse expressed by 19 persons in that diocese, he argued, were not "a significant segment or factor" in a population of 360,000 Catholics. And I think of the bishop of my own diocese of Brooklyn, Nicholas DiMarzio, who taped supportive phone messages for a local state-legislator who has helped to save a statute of limitations on lawsuits charging clerical abuse. DiMarzio, by the way, succeeded a man who had been waist deep in the Boston cover-up scandal that undid Cardinal Bernard Law.

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The Catholic Health Care Juggernaut.

Barbara Coombs Lee is a tough lady! She's been the loudest, clearest voice to call out against the new US Conference of Catholic Bishop's latest revision of the Ethical and Religious Directives that govern medical care delivery at more than 620 Catholic hospitals in the US.

The new guideline, instituted last month, determines that artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH, delivery of food and water via surgically applied feeding tubes) is "obligatory" care.

The USCCB has reached into an area of settled law in the US - it is now legal for patients or their proxies to deny ANH in all 50 states) - and created a scenario where patients lose autonomy over their own care.

Coombs Lee has written a number of articles about the new directive and now ultra conservative LifeSiteNews is of course eviscerating Coombs Lee for her advocacy for patients' rights. They think they have an easy target in Coombs Lee because she is the president of the largest aid in dying advocacy group in the US, Compassion & Choices. C&C was formerly called the Hemlock Society - run screaming euthanasia with your hands in the air - the great bogey-organization out to kill your granny and every disabled person in the country.

It's all demonization, of course. "With us or against us" stuff from the Religious Right, hellbent on painting all those who have nuanced views of the necessarily nuanced delivery of health care as the "culture of death." The hallmark of the "pro-life" movement has been to parade a simple message, say "sanctity of life," until even the mainstream is apologetic for it's position on even the most common procedures like abortion.

The Religious Right has succeeded in shaming women who decide the number of children they have. With end of life care, they too are using fear of death and the ever-loaded term euthanasia to cow the public into looking away from the suffering that their draconian policies impose. Preying on marginalized and vulnerable members of society is their schtick. And they're good at manipulating not only public opinion but legislation - as we've seen with the Stupak Amendment, written and approved by the USCCB, in the health care bill.

Supporters of the new policy are toeing the Catholic Right line on prolonging death and coming between a doctor and their patient.

All this would matter little if the Catholic Church didn't deliver medical care to 20% of US patients, protected in any decision they make regarding patients' rights and health care choice by ever-increasing provider refusal laws. These health care entities are in all 50 states, and though subject to state laws in some case (regarding, for instance, emergency contraception) these laws are often unenforced.

The directives most often make women, gays, and elders targets of discrimination by any medical personnel who hold prejudice against certain lifestyles. But the greatest damages are done when institutions, like the Catholic health care juggernaut, claim conscience protections.

Moreover, patients who assume that hospitals offer a full range of medical care find themselves in hospitals where doctors are forbidden to offer referrals for services or even inform patients of medical care options. This type of continued discrimination by the second largest provider of health care in the US is made possible by tax-exempt status granted by the federal government and 50% of institutional funding from Medicare and Medicaid dollars. And abetted by a medical industry that strongly opposes shifting health care from a commodity to a human right.

All the noise about preventing federal tax dollars to pay for abortion has silenced awareness of the fact that already federal tax dollars are spent to enforce discriminatory delivery of medical care to one in five patients in this country.

From LifeSiteNews:

One leading national euthanasia advocate has attacked the U.S. Bishops' revision of bioethics rules to protect cognitively disabled individuals from being starved and dehydrated to death.

Barbara Coombs Lee, the president of Compassion & Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society) condemned the new directives in a Huffington Post column December 17, claiming that the revision amounted to a violation of patients' right to choose how to die.

"Compassion & Choices understands what this will mean for your healthcare choices. And the impact of the decision is greater than you can imagine," wrote Lee, who pointed out the broad scope of impact the bishops' directives had on medical services across the country - much of which is Catholic.

The new directive, issued earlier this month with little media coverage, states that, “In principle, there is an obligation to provide patients with food and water, including medically assisted nutrition and hydration for those who cannot take food orally.”

It continues that the obligation “extends to patients in chronic and presumably irreversible conditions (e.g., the 'persistent vegetative state') who can reasonably be expected to live indefinitely if given such care.” It also clarifies that “medically assisted nutrition” becomes “morally optional” when it “cannot reasonably be expected to prolong life,” or when it would cause excessive suffering.

The new directive follows Church teaching as clarified recently in Pope John Paul II’s 2004 Address on Life-sustaining Treatments and the Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas, as well as the 2007 statement of by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Responses to Certain Questions of the USCCB concerning Artificial Nutrition and Hydration.

Lee said that the revised directive "fails to respect settled law that empowers patients with the right to refuse or direct the withdrawal of life prolonging care, including artificial nutrition and hydration."

"The Supreme Court in the case of Nancy Cruzan recognized that such a choice is a fundamental liberty guaranteed by the US Constitution," she argued. "State courts have reached the same conclusion based on State constitutional law and common law. But the Bishops have demonstrated no interest in patient choices that conflict with their Directives."

The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), however, pointed out that the directive reemphasized the long-standing view that patients are entitled to food and water as a natural means of preserving life, which is not essentially considered a medical intervention to preserve life - even if a medical procedure is needed to put in place a feeding tube.

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Fighting for States' Patient Rights.

Mark Zapler of Mercury News does some further reporting on an issue I posted about a few days ago: the loss of patients' rights in states where stricter regulations have been imposed. The new bill could, by allowing insurers to sell their policies across state lines, bypass state regulations - something that the insurance industry will undoubtedly appreciate but that legislators are working to prevent.

As bills are written at the federal level, they do no automatically take precedent over state laws. But the new health care bill will let insurers off the hook in states that have worked to protect their citizens by allowing them to abide by the laws of the state they register their plans in and then sell around other state's laws. It's being called a race to the bottom; a common place for the "free market" to take provision of medical care for the sake of profits and "freedom from government regulation."

A host of medical services that insurers must pay for in California — from cancer screenings to diabetes treatment to two-day hospital stays for delivering mothers — could be weakened or lost if the health care measures pending in Congress become law.

Currently, any health insurer selling policies in California must comply with the state's extensive consumer protections. The reform measures would allow insurance firms to sell policies across state lines if certain conditions were met, bypassing California's rules in favor of the requirements in the state where the policy is issued.

The result, critics warn, would be a "race to the bottom," in which insurance companies set up shop in states with the weakest consumer rights and skirt California's lengthy list of mandated health care services.

"This has the potential to wipe out all of these hard-fought protections," said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, who led the drive for several of those mandates as a state legislator earlier in her career and is now threatening to vote against a health care overhaul that weakens California's standards.

Speier and 28 other Democratic House members from California outlined their concerns about interstate health insurance sales in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., last week.

"Practically speaking, insurers will domicile their plans in states with less stringent regulations and market to the population in more protective states like ours, just like nationally chartered banks have done," stated the letter, which was signed by several other Bay Area Democrats. "California residents will lose out if state protections are undermined."

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