Yes, we have no bananas
The world's largest banana producer became a soup kitchen for victims of Hurricane Mitch. Dole Food Company Inc. fed 20,000 Central Americans a day and ferried in medical supplies and drinking water to Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. One-fourth of Dole's worldwide banana production was in Mitch's path, and the company expects its losses to go as high as $70 million. That means high-priced bananas and a bleak winter for some Third World farmers.
Christian broadcasters in the Middle East say that, in spite of turmoil on the ground, radio waves continue to reach their widening audience unfettered. Trans World Radio and Back to the Bible broadcast more than 20 hours of Christian programming a week over the Middle East from a powerful AM transmitter on Cyprus. The BBC says its surveys show the station is the most listened to among international broadcasts in the Arab world, covering a 10-million-square-mile area. Trans World Radio puts out three weekly programs in an Egyptian Arabic dialect, in addition to the regular programming of Back to the Bible.
The showdown show
Iraq went beyond challenging the United Nations, to downright disregard for terms of the Gulf War peace settlement that call for arms inspection. President Saddam Hussein and his top advisers announced they were suspending all cooperation with UN arms inspections. They say they will close down the monitoring of weapons production at Iraqi sites suspected of making chemical and biological weapons. If allowed to stand, Iraq's nose-thumbing means Mr. Hussein's outlawed weapons production could be up and ready to threaten the Persian Gulf again within six months. Weapons inspections were imposed by the UN as a precondition to lifting economic sanctions on Iraq following the Gulf War. Iraq issued its most defiant challenge to the inspections after the UN Security Council rejected an Iraqi proposal for dropping inspections in exchange for a "comprehensive review" of Baghdad policies. Although Defense Secretary William Cohen threatened to use force against Iraq during an 11th-hour campaign through Gulf capitals, U.S. ships actually pulled back from their positions in the Gulf. Baghdad papers were unimpressed by the U.S. government's response. "Empty threats ... and vicious behavior there will not force Iraq to reverse its victorious decision," the weekly al-Ilam said in a front-page editorial. Iraq's behavior made a prophet out of Scott Ritter, the American weapons inspector who resigned from the UN mission in August, declaring its efforts "hobbled ... by unfettered Iraqi obstruction and nonexistent Security Council enforcement of its own resolutions." Mr. Ritter charged Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and others on the Clinton national security watch with thwarting surprise weapons inspections and undermining the work of UN inspectors. At the time of his resignation, Ms. Albright countered, "He doesn't have a clue about what our overall plan has been."
Explaining the unexcusable
Melissa Drexler, the infamous "Prom Mom" who gave birth in a catering hall bathroom and threw her baby into the trash, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in a New Jersey court. She received the maximum sentence, but could be released in less than three years for good behavior. "I'd like to tell you I'm really, truly sorry for what I've done, OK?" she said tearfully in court. Miss Drexler made headlines after she strangled her baby during her senior prom, then returned to the dance floor. Janitors came later to clean the blood off the floor and found the dead body. She pled guilty last August to killing the boy on June 6, 1997. "I knew I was pregnant,'' Miss Drexler said. "I concealed the pregnancy from everyone. On the morning of the prom, my water broke." Her lawyer, Steven Secare, said Miss Drexler had a developmental and learning disability and couldn't cope with being pregnant. She told the court that such an incident will "obviously never occur again." Superior Court Judge John A. Ricciardi called Miss Drexler's actions "explainable but not excusable." Another New Jersey teen who performed a post-natal abortion, Amy Grossberg, and her boyfriend, Brian Peterson, pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter in a similar case. They killed their son in a motel room and tossed the body into a trash bin. Miss Grossberg got 2H years; Mr. Peterson received two.
As observers expect the global economic crisis to worsen, the Federal Reserve Board reduced short-term interest rates last week. This is good news for people looking for a mortgage or car loan, but can it hold off the domino effect from abroad? Alice Rivlin, the Fed's vice chairwoman, says the Fed keeps watching financial markets for any signs of a credit crunch. She says the U.S. economy was strong when the Fed last lowered interest rates in September but that "things have gotten a little worse since then.'' Speculation is rampant about more bad news ahead. American businesses are feeling the impact from a financial crisis that began in Asia 15 months ago, then leveled the Russian economy, and now threatens Latin America. Government reports say exports have fallen for five straight months, sending the U.S. trade deficit to a record high of $16.8 billion in August. American farmers, for example, are facing their worst crisis in a decade. Employment in manufacturing firms has dropped by 150,000 since April. "The chief concern among manufacturing executives was the credit crunch. They felt we were about to go off the cliff with growth slowing globally and a credit crunch at home,'' explains National Association of Manufacturers president Jerry Jasinowski. "With the Fed rate cut, we feel we have dodged a bullet.'' Despite the problems in manufacturing, however, the overall economy continued to grow last month, according to a NAM report. October marked the 90th straight month of expansion, but the rate of growth was slower. While many are bracing for the worst, many analysts say a recession is not guaranteed. "Even though the U.S. cannot escape the impact of falling demand in the world economy and cheaper imports competing with U.S. businesses," says Vernon Winters, chief investment officer at Mellon Private Asset Management, "our economy enters into this global crisis as well armored as it can be. We believe the U.S. economy will slow because of global problems but will not experience a recession.''
University of Beauty
Should trade schools get more federal funding? They will soon, according to the just-signed Higher Education Act. Beauty colleges, job training schools, and other institutions are now treated the same as Syracuse or Ohio State. Washington officially classifies them all as "institutions of higher education." This means such low-academic schools can now receive more financial aid money from the feds. They even get their own liaison officer in the Education Department. In 1990 and 1992, Congress cracked down on 1,500 fly-by-night trade schools and shut them down. Student loan default rates soared to 20 percent in 1994 because of loose lending to these schools in the 1980s. As anybody who has seen Sally Struthers on TV knows, such institutions train for a host of occupations from haircutting and dog grooming to accounting and computer programming. "There is no doubt that Congress has loosened some of the restrictions that have been used to limit the participation of private schools," said Terry W. Hartle, vice president of the American Council on Education. "It is unclear whether it will mark a return to the free-for-all we had a decade ago."
Send a rainbow
The toll: 10,000 dead; 600,000 homeless; damage nearly equal to annual economic output; and one volcano, still shaking. The fourth most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record compassed about impoverished Central America, dumping more than two feet of rain on the elbow of the Americas and leaving thousands dead. "We have before us a panorama of death, desolation, and ruin," President Carlos Flores Facusse of Honduras told survivors of Hurricane Mitch. Wire-service reports said the storm's strength and devastation reached "biblical proportions." Missionary-teacher Michael Miller concurred. He told friends via fax that the Sula Valley in Honduras was under water for a distance of 70 miles, inundating the north coast's largest city, San Pedro Sula. By week's end the number killed in Honduras stood at over 7,000. Left homeless were more than half a million people-10 percent of the population. In Tegucigalpa, the capital, entire neighborhoods were washed away when a river broke its banks and buried houses, cars, and people in mud. Seven bridges connecting the capital city were destroyed. Thousands waited out the rising waters from rooftops, tethering young children to tree limbs to protect them from drowning. In Nicaragua, 1,350 were confirmed dead. Up to 2,000 more were feared dead, buried under an avalanche of mud and rocks that cascaded down the slopes of the Casita volcano on Oct. 30 when its crater lake overflowed. Red Cross volunteers reported hearing cries coming from beneath the mudslide but said they were unable to mount a rescue effort in time. Adding to the agony were fears that another volcano was about to erupt. The 2,214-foot volcano, 20 miles from Casita, spewed lava and ash in Mitch's aftermath, raising the prospect of an eruption similar to 1995, when it spewed tons of ash over 90 square miles of prime farming country. In El Salvador and in Guatemala, the storm claimed about 200 lives.
Go easy, I'm addicted
James McNeil was a ventilation repairman, but his day job wasn't the half of it. Between 1993 and 1996, Mr. McNeil and "the crew" stole an estimated $1.5 million in the course of 500 to 600 burglaries of homes and businesses around New England. Mr. McNeil was convicted in federal court, but before sentencing threw himself upon the mercy of the court. The weeping convicted robber told the judge he was a "problem" thief-as in problem drinker or drug addict. Mr. McNeil told the judge he could not control his compulsion to burgle. He said he had repeatedly tried to stop, but always fell off the wagon. "I was a thief. I had a problem," he said. "Sometimes I might make mistakes. God granted, I made a lot of them." But the judge did not want to compound the mistake. U.S. District Court Judge Joseph DiClerico Jr. gave Mr. McNeil the max and then some: 8 years in the pokey, which is more than the maximum recommended in federal sentencing guidelines.
Weathering the storm
The Federal Reserve Board sent a "cautiously optimistic" message about Y2K. "I would expect the Y2K shock to our information and electronic control infrastructure is most likely to be short-lived and fully reversed," said Federal Reserve governor Edward W. Kelley Jr. at a speech in Houston. He said the ever popular doomsday scenario would be more likely if the problem were being ignored. But that isn't the case. Mr. Kelley expects American business to weather the storm well. But, he said, "We really have had no previous experience with a challenge of this sort to give us reliable guideposts." Mr. Kelley says America's private sector will spend at least $50 billion keeping the bug from attacking important data. Some observers say the Fed will keep lowering interest rates to help businesses pay for Y2K fixes. As Mr. Kelley explained, little problems can cause big hassles. "As any Washington commuter will tell you, one or two malfunctioning traffic signals can cause serious congestion, confusion, and delay," he said, "and the complete breakdown of traffic management systems likely would cause near total gridlock." Another Year 2000 problem is the fear of the bug itself. To hold off Y2K bank runs, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has been ordered to print billions in extra currency and, Mr. Kelley said, "we will be prepared to lend whatever sums may be needed to financial institutions."
Missionaries in neighboring Uganda were reporting all quiet on Congo's eastern front. But the government of Laurent Kabila warned it was mounting another assault on rebel strongholds along its borders with Rwanda and Uganda. The announcement came less than a day after U.S. assistant secretary of state Susan Rice met with Mr. Kabila and pled for a negotiated solution to the conflict, which threatens to involve six countries and rekindle ethnic violence. After Ms. Rice called her five-hour meeting with Mr. Kabila "fruitful," a Congo information officer said, "Nothing has changed. We are going to carry the war to the east."
Christian agencies confronted a blighted landscape. Latin America Mission Project (LAMP) reported its Honduran workers were without phone service and electricity. Like most Tegucigalpa residents, LAMP coordinators Maria Eleña and Arnoldo Alvarez said they had one week's worth of food and 2-3 days' supply of water. "And there is no food available to buy," Mrs. Alvarez said. Agriculture and community development programs of World Relief, the overseas humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, are "completely devastated," according to spokeswoman Linda Keys. In Nicaragua, World Relief workers pulled irrigation hoses out of the mud and recycled them to deliver potable water to survivors. Food supplies along with seeds are being rushed in to replant fields where it is still possible to reap a delayed harvest. The agency consulted with local officials about reclaiming the entire village of Wiwili, where nearly 1,000 died. That would mean rebuilding 1,800 homes. Rebuilding is a theoretical proposition until infrastructure is restored. Nicaragua's Pan American Highway, which connects north and south, is wiped out. Airports in Tegucigalpa and Managua, Nicaragua's capital, remained closed last week. Together, Nicaragua and Honduras have fewer than a dozen military helicopters, and they are overwhelmed by relief and rescue efforts. Honduras-based U.S. helicopters were called in last week to assist the rescue efforts.
Our Soul Food essay this week (p. 33) looks at media mogul Ted Turner, who argued at a recent environmentalist meeting that Christianity is "not an environmentally friendly religion" and then offered a curious piece of proof for his assertions: "In Calcutta, it's a hell-hole." Since there has been little Christian influence in Calcutta, a better example of Christianity's influence on the environment would be Mr. Turner's home city, Atlanta, which arose in a culture dominated by Christianity and has a population density close to Calcutta's. The big difference: Atlanta's people are generally rich and Calcutta's are poor. Economic historians are about as nearly unanimous as can be that Christianity's worldview and ethic are among the most important underlying causes of Atlanta's (and the rest of the West's) prosperity, while the worldviews and ethics of Hinduism, Buddhism, and other such religions are among the most important underlying causes of Calcutta's poverty. (If you doubt this, try reading, for starters, How the West Grew Rich, by Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Birdzell-both Jewish economic historians, by the way.) There's another big difference between Atlanta (and other rich cities of the West) and Calcutta (and other poor cities of the Third World). Atlanta's basically a clean, safe, healthful environment; Calcutta's basically a dirty, dangerous, unhealthful environment. Consequently people live a lot longer in Atlanta than in Calcutta. Most of Mr. Turner's mistaken ideas about the environment come from people like Paul Ehrlich, author of 1968's The Population Bomb, which declared that the battle to feed humanity had been lost. Mr. Ehrlich predicted that hundreds of millions would die in mass famines throughout the 1970s and that by the 1980s we would run out of most of the world's most important resources. All of his predictions proved false. And today? World food prices are so low, because supplies are so high, that American farmers can hardly make ends meet. The blindness of Ted Turner and his fellow Malthusian doomsayers stems from not just ignorance about data but the false assumptions that form their starting point. They see people as no different, in principle, from other life forms. Mr. Ehrlich, for example, is a butterfly biologist by training, and the foundation of his overpopulation theories is "population biology," which starts by reminding us that bacteria in a petri dish will multiply geometrically until they exceed the dish's nutritive capacity, and then all of a sudden they'll die out. What he forgets is that people aren't bacteria. Bacteria don't transform their environment and so make their own resources. People do. People do, because they're made in the image of the Creator God to be creative.
-E. Calvin Beisner
Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed in the face of rising opposition to delay implementation of the peace accord reached in Maryland. Israel will go forward with plans to withdraw from 13 percent of the West Bank, if the highway necessary for the withdrawal-to be built with U.S. funds-is completed. Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat faced new internal threats for his part in the agreement. The armed wing of the militant Islamic group Hamas warned that it may turn its guns on Mr. Arafat's police force if it tries to round up Hamas members or confiscate weapons. Previously the militants have said they would avoid civil war.