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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Worse Than Tsunami, Trade Protectionism Hurts Third World Citizens

Last Thursday, I was heartened to read the news that my church, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, had collected $732,000 from its members (beyond its weekly giving) for tsunami relief in Southeast Asia. That partially offset the news I had read the previous Thursday-- as reported in the Wall Street Journal-- that tariffs imposed on Sri Lanka were nearly $250,000,000 in 2003.

Nearly all of that amount was taxes imposed on the Sri Lankan textile industry. And the amount imposed on that one foreign industry exceeded all of the tariffs imposed on all trade with all six Scandinavian countries-- despite the fact that those countries export nearly 12 times more to the U.S., have about 10 times more GDP than Sri Lanka's, and have people whose per capita incomes are far higher than those in Sri Lanka.

Why does this occur?

The textile industry in this country is one of many special interest groups that benefits from having their competition restricted. They and their politicians find it favorable to impose discriminatory taxes on foreign producers and American consumers.

In contrast to the obvious benefits for politicians and the protected industry, the costs imposed are subtle. How many consumers know that they pay significantly higher prices for clothing because of these laws? How many voters care that foreign workers and investors in poor countries are impeded in their ability to sell product within the wealthiest market in the world?

Because Christians tend to pay almost exclusive attention to relatively few (albeit important) issues, they often ignore other important policies. The passions of the Religious Right flair on issues of social morality and abortion, but they rarely think about issues of economic justice. The Scriptures, especially through the prophets, give a more balanced picture. The interests of the Religious Left are centered more tightly around the fate of the poor.

But their policy attentions in that realm are relatively narrow, focusing mostly on welfare and foreign aid. Pragmatism would seem to warrant discussion of a wider set of issues. Christian Libertarians are excited about voluntary displays of charity, but saddened that political shenanigans can so easily swamp the efforts of ompassionate people.

All that said, care for the poor and oppressed is not a strictly Christian exercise. And very few people-Christian or not-are informed about the primary and secondary consequences of significant policy issues. Although Southeast Christian Church can be pleased and honored to pay part of Uncle Sam's tax bill for the Sri Lankans, perhaps all of us should pay more attention to the larger issues of trade protectionism and the mechanics of economic justice.

Tsunami: Bringing Forth a New Wave of Hope

Has the huge tsunami had a similar affect on you personally, as it did on much of Asia? Has any of what you believed in been washed away, shattered, or destroyed?

Has the recent tsunami scared you more or less than 9/11? Or, perhaps the recent tsunami has even led to a deepening of your faith?

I don't want to seem uncaring, or just downright impervious to feeling, but as horrific as the recent tsunami onslaught was, I think and feel that the waves also brought along with them, a huge surge of rejuvenation, "life", and a heightened awareness and compassion by humankind. I think we have been awoken to just how much death and suffering there is in the world, regardless of what we see and don't see on major news programs.

My experience is that every horrible occurrence holds the seeds for new hope and life. Tremendously heart wrenching things take place in the world. Tremendously heart wrenching things have taken place in my own life. Coming to terms with what happens, offers us a tremendous opportunity to start out fresh. Beginning all over again, but from a new space and time. I can say for sure, that every "tragedy" that has occurred in my life, in the long run has added to the quality of my life, and my connection to Spirit. I can say this with heartfelt conviction, and not simply with a passive smiling face. The most challenging moments in our lives, can invariably also be the most rewarding.

The attacks on the World Trade Center were horrendous. More than three thousand people were killed, the hearts of Americans in particular, were shaken, and most of the world was mortified. Americans in particular were alerted to the fact that "we" were facing a wave of terrorism that would not likely be easily contained.

Three years after 9/11, and after billions of dollars spent on protection, we knew that we were still not safe, but at least we were comforted by the fact that airport safety personnel were now confiscating our nose hair clippers prior to boarding, and that such weapons of minor destruction (WmD) could no longer be used to attack the principles of freedom, democracy, and capitalism.

Three years after 9/11 and after billions of dollars spent on protection...

In a way that neither the extreme right nor extreme left of the political spectrum had envisioned...

All of humankind, and even Nature itself was attacked by a new wave, of terrorism.

By a primordial force stronger than the passion and emotion that any of us can hold in our hearts.

This seeming terror attack killed roughly SIXTY FIVE TIMES more people than were killed in the Trade Towers. The numbers are staggering. The loss of life, the disease, the pain of those who literally had loved ones wrenched from their grip, is also staggering. Beyond what any of us can logically comprehend. And way beyond the fear that some of us might harbor in regard to mortal terrorists attacking "our" country.

One huge question seems to be in need of an answer here.

Who will be responsible for making the world a better place, after the tsunami?

In some fundamental way, I hope that the faith and understanding of each person left unscathed "personally" from this disaster, has been shaken. That due to Nature's massive housecleaning, we will all find new ways to rebuild and embrace the sanctity of life, as well as embracing the hearts and aspirations of those we deem to be our enemies. That due to this primordial shift in what we know to be Planet Earth, we will all have an equally primordial shift in our concern for and connection to, the heart of God, and the living Spirit of all Life.

We have been awakened...
To the destructive,
And to the creative forces of Life.
Now, is the time to commit.
To take some responsibility,
For sharing the workload,
Of making the world,
A more humane,
Place to live in.

Please do not miss this important opportunity.

God is talking.

Are you listening?

People are in need. Please contribute on a weekly basis.

Donations Open for Asia Tsunami Relief

Continuous valiant efforts around the globe are being done to reach out to the thousands of victims of the tsunami disaster that affected several Asian countries. The tremendous death toll and terrible destruction caused by the giant tidal waves caused by an underwater earthquake, on December 26, 2004, waved out a global call for every relief organization to do what they can in helping out the victims.

It was truly one of the worst disasters to happen in history. Between 167,530 and 178,118 people have been reported dead and the number of missing ranges from 25,353 to 128,430 with most presumed dead. One of the hardest hit was Indonesia, with between 119,807 and 123,198 dead and between 12,046 and 114,897 were missing. Aceh province at the northern tip of Sumatra Islands was near the quake’s epicenter and the hardest hit region in Indonesia.

In India, the government confirmed 10,779 deaths and 5,614 people missing. Sri Lanka reported deaths between 30,998 and 38,195 and 4,698 to 4,924 missing people. In Thailand there were 5,395 dead and 2,995 missing. Phang Nga province and the nearby resort islands of Phuket and Phi Phi were worst hit by the waves. Death tolls were also reported in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives and Somalia.

Contamination and diseases from mosquitoes, contaminated drinking water, exposure and handling of dead bodies, mass injuries and trauma are widespread.

He have invited people to donate what they can to the Canadian Red Cross, which have a tsunami fundraising program to go on for the next ten years – involving relief, recovery and rehabilitation. And according to press releases on January 27, 2005 at Ottawa, Canada, General Dr. Pierre Duplessis, the Canadian Red Cross Secretary General proudly announced that outpouring of care and generosity has been overwhelming all over the world and particularly in Canada.

They reported that 181 national societies that belong to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have collected $1.4 billion for tsunami aid already. This includes $160 million from individuals, corporations and governments of Canada. With these figures, they have decided wind down fundraising. This decision was also based on the progress of damage and assessment reports, consultations with other relief agencies and Red Cross experience in disaster management.

Announcements through the web have really helped much for their efforts. The International Red Cross has already completed 77 tsunami relief flights. They are continuing relief efforts, moving beyond the ‘emergency phase’ in Asia with more than 9,000 trained Red Cross workers. After about 30 days from the date of the disaster, 500,000 people has been provided by the Red Cross. Clean water, temporary shelter, food and basic relief items.