~ Monday, March 10, 2003
Affordable housing versus the mortgage interest deduction

Jane Galt contends that the mortgage interest deduction raises the price of houses by around 25%. Wow!

I mean, I always suspected that a lot of what Americans gained though mortgage interest deductions was lost through higher prices. That's simple supply-and-demand economics. If you give people incentives to buy a somewhat inelastic commodity, prices have got to go up. So the deduction ends up being more of a surreptitious transfer payment system to the real-estate and mortgage finance industry than a subsidy of home ownership. But no one ever talks about it, and I'm sure most Americans would be pretty shocked by this argument.

Moreover, it looks like this has a huge reverse-Robin Hood effect. The deduction may make houses worth 25% more for an average-income household, since that will be heavily skewed towards those in the top income bracket, but the tax advantage for a median-income household is surely far less than that. So the deduction may actually make home ownership less affordable for most Americans.

I can see the slogans already. Promote affordable housing! Eliminate the mortgage interest deduction now!
The evil that men do lives after them

The New York Times article I cite in the previous post also connects the wave of lynchings in Guatemala to the right-wing death squads responsible for anti-Indian genocide during the civil war.

In Huehuetenango, the police were actually run out of five villages for reasons ranging from trying to save a suspect from a lynch mob to trying to enforce laws against cutting down trees illegally - thus depriving impoverished residents of income.

Rights advocates see the attacks on the police and judges as a worrisome harbinger of increased violence at the hands of newly reorganized Civil Self Defense Patrols. These groups of villagers, forced to take part in massacres during the war, have demanded payment from the government for their wartime service.

Looks like rule-by-death-squad is making a comeback. The last paragraph of the article returns to this theme.

Almendra Teresa GutiƩrrez, a judge in the western town of Santa Barbara, said armed patrollers in one village told her that they were more powerful than the police and had refused to stop their nighttime rounds. She suspects that they are responsible for two deaths since October. "Like during the war," she said, "if someone is outside at night after a certain hour, they are up to no good and must be executed."

So, even a decade after the Reagan and Bush I administrations, we are still harvesting the fruits of their support for right-wing dictatorship in Guatemala.

~ Sunday, March 09, 2003
Ideas have consequences

From Saturday's New York Times, we get more news about the consequences of evangelical thinking. In this case of rural Guatemala, evangelicals have promoted widespread lynching.

CONCEPCIƓN TUTUAPA, Guatemala - In this market town tucked into the western highlands, picking a pocket can be a capital offense.

The smallest crimes have provoked the most violent deaths in countless villages like this one, where the end of Guatemala's 36-year civil war has brought neither law nor order to remote regions most ravaged by the conflict.

Just this January, a screaming mob of 2,000 people grabbed two pickpocket suspects, tied their hands, dragged them to the outskirts of town, drenched them in gasoline and burned them alive. Police officers responding to the violence said they barely escaped with their lives, fleeing to the station house with no hope of pursuing justice.

It was one of hundreds of lynchings since the peace accords were signed in 1996, officially ending a conflict that claimed 200,000 lives.

Further along, we learn

Several factors lie behind the violence. The shared experience of decades of war and the resulting breakdown in village leadership left divisions and suspicions that set the stage for vigilante outbursts.

Several human rights advocates also said that fast-growing Evangelical churches, whose preachers work independently in small congregations, had frightened villagers about the dangers of satanic cults and encouraged retribution with strict interpretations of Scriptures.

Such teachings by locally trained Guatemalan preachers, they said, played a role in whipping up hysteria among the villagers of Todos Santos, a western mountain village famous for its colorful textiles, where a lynching in 2001 claimed the life of a Japanese tourist who tried to photograph a child.

Days before he arrived in the town, a religious radio station had warned listeners about rumors of a satanic cult that was snatching babies for grisly rituals, said Guillermo Padilla, who has studied lynchings and is an advocate for indigenous rights in Guatemala.

"The evangelicals like to fish in turbulent waters," Mr. Padilla said.

"All week the evangelicals warned, `Take care of your children because there will be satanic rituals and children will be carved up and their organs removed,' " he said. "There was so much panic that the school was closed that Friday so the children could stay home. By the time the Japanese tourist arrived, there was a state of paranoia."

Back in the day (a decade or so ago), conservatives were wont to flog the slogan "Ideas have consequences." That smugly sententious phrase summed up a key right-wing tactic: oppose not just the policy, but the ideals and reasons behind it, because the ideas create the policies.

Well, both the phrase and the tactic are worth reviving for a more deserving target -- conservative evangelical Christians.

Some bloggers have argued for laying off on criticizing evangelicals, except when we have a specific policy disagreement. That's a mistake. The anti-rationalism of evangelicals is a bigger problem than any specific policy dispute. That anti-rationalism is at the root of their policy positions. (And as the lynching epidemic in Guatemala shows, there's almost no limit to the kinds of policy evangelical thinking can bring.) If we give their ideas a free pass, we're doomed to lose the fight over policies.

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