Late Night: Get Ready for the Rapture!

The Rapture

Tomorrow’s the big day, folks! A bunch of holier-than-thou evangelicals are supposedly going to be “raptured” into heaven–or something. I’ve never been exactly sure what’s supposed to happen in “the rapture.” I guess it would be kind of like when the Virgin Mary was “assumed” into heaven or when Jesus “ascended into heaven.” As a kid, I always pictured them floating up, up, away from the earth and into the sky. I guess that’s what the “rapture” is supposed to be like.

Of course I was a little kid then and didn’t quite understand the difference between fantasy and reality. A lot of the people who think they are going to be “raptured” are full grown adults who apparently never got past that little-kid stage of development. I wonder what these believers are going to do tomorrow night when they aren’t taken up into heaven to be with their god? I hope it won’t be too messy.

Anyway, I thought I’d gather a little information about what is supposed to happen tomorrow and what is being said about it around the intertubz.

Harold Camping

We’ll start at Family Radio Headquarters in Oakland, CA, where the latest end-of-the-world prediction emanated from the mind and lips of “biblical soothsayer” Harold Camping. The New York Times reports that PETA members are camped outside, holding signs that say things like “make your last supper vegan,” and the pastor of another church is preparing to help out after the big disappointment comes.

“They are going to be reeling,” said Pastor Jacob Denys of Calvary Bible Church in nearby Milpitas, so he and about 20 volunteers planned to spend Saturday outside Mr. Camping’s compound to let “them to know that God still loves them.”

Another nearby pastor is also very worried about Camping’s followers:

Pastor Dave Nederhood, of Christian Reformed Church in Alameda, said he had met Mr. Camping on several occasions and had followed his radio broadcasts about the apocalypse closely.

“My concern is for the people that have bought into his lie and have sold their belongings, quit their jobs, left their churches and their families and now they are sitting at home listening to Family Radio and waiting for the end,” Mr. Nederhood said. “I’m terribly concerned.”

Harold Camping has predicted the end of the world before and been mistaken. He predicted it would happen in 1994. But he claims he made a mistake in his mathematical calculations–this time he’s absolutely sure he has the right date and time for the scheduled apocalypse.

In New York City, a former MTA employee, Robert Fitzpatrick is also a true believer. So much so, that he spent his life savings in order to warn his fellow New Yorkers. According to the New York Daily News:

The retired MTA employee has pumped $140,000 into a NYC Transit ad campaign to warn everyone the world will end next Saturday.

“Global Earthquake! The Greatest Ever – Judgment Day: May 21,” the ad declares above a placid picture of night over Jerusalem with a clock that’s about to strike midnight.

“I’m trying to warn people about what’s coming,” the 60-year-old Staten Island resident said. “People who have an understanding [of end times] have an obligation to warn everyone.”

His doomsday warning has appeared on 1,000 placards on subway cars, at a cost of $90,000, and at bus shelters around the city, for $50,000 more.
Fitzpatrick’s millenial mania began after he retired in 2006 and began listening to California evangelist Harold Camping’s “end of days” predictions.

Robert Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick even self-published a book about the coming end of days: The Doomsday Code. I wonder what Fitzpatrick will do if his plans for tomorrow fall through? He gave an interview to Brian Curtis at The Daily Beast, but Curtis didn’t ask him that question. Curtis did ask Fitzpatrick if he thought he was going to be one of the chosen ones to float up to heaven.

“Living with this idea, it’s not easy,” Fitzpatrick says. Even an ad buy of biblical proportions doesn’t calm his thoughts. He stands in the subway handing out Gospel tracts and each day sees dozens—no, hundreds—of the unsaved. He knows these poor souls will die in the earthquake, or else cling to life before the whole universe is vaporized on October 21. “That’s one of those things that could really get to you if you let it,” he says. Fitzpatrick’s mother has dementia, and he’s not sure if God will make a special dispensation for her.

Knowing the date of the judgment is only half the Rapture equation. The other half is knowing whether you’ll be among those who will “meet the Lord in the air,” as it says in 1 Thessalonians. When I ask Fitzpatrick if he’s sure he’ll be raptured, I notice that his confidence takes a small but perceptible hit. He can’t say for certain. He uses the words “strong suspicion,” lawyerly language he would never use about the date of the Rapture.

You might think of Robert Fitzpatrick’s dilemma like this. He knows that on May 21 the very last train is leaving the station. But he has only a strong suspicion that he has a ticket. It’s the kind of existential fear that might make you spend your life savings on subway ads, or pass out leaflets until the final seconds before the great earthquake. Fitzpatrick tells me, “I’m still praying, let’s put it that way.”

The world is going to be “vaporized on October 21?” Will that prediction still hold if the “rapture” doesn’t happen? I have so many questions!

Interestingly, Tim LaHaye, co-author of the “Left Behind” series says Camping and Fitzgerald are way off base. The rapture won’t be tomorrow. Nobody but God knows when the end is coming, according to La Haye, but the end is coming pretty soon. He sees signs of it happening right now in the Middle East:

there are things fomenting geopolitically, like the Arab world and the rise of the radical Islamics within the Arab people that are a threat to the whole world. I was just reading today that they want to conquer the whole world! I think it’s a demonic religion, to be honest with you. Ezekiel 38 and 39 predicts that Russia and the Islamic world are going to get together, go down and drive the Jews into the sea and destroy Israel.

Ugh….This guy isn’t any more sane than Camping, if you ask me. Here’s a little explanation of the biblical prophesy of the end times, according to La Haye:

The Hebrew prophet Daniel talked about that time of trouble that would come on the earth. There are seven years, and in the Book of Revelations, the apostle John got a vision from the Lord himself, and it came out to exactly the same: Two periods of three-and-a-half years, one of tribulation and one of great tribulation. That includes 21 judgments, during which time God is trying to get the attention of mankind to call on his Son for salvation by shaking the earth with earthquakes and all kinds of disasters. Man is shaken by his false sense of security and can then turn his faith to Christ. There will be millions of people that do that during that seven-year period of time, but that is after the Rapture of the church. So, as long as the church is still here, the tribulation hasn’t started.

Okay, whatever. I think maybe La Haye is just jealous because of all the attention Harold Camping is getting.

Left behinders have lots of ideas about this rapture thing too. For example, who is going to take care of the pets of the people who disappear in the blink of any eye? Who will get their stuff? How do you get ready if you think your going to be “raptured?” And so on. Here are a few samples.

The Daily Top 10 Things to Do to Prepare for the Rapture

LA Times: The last-minute “rapture” reading list Detroit rapture parties celebrate those left behind

The Guardian UK: How to prepare for the rapture

Daily Markets: Post-rapture pet rescue

Salon: Your apocalypse survival FAQ

MadamaB’s take at The Widdershins

What are you doing to prepare for the big event?

Monday Reads

Good Morning!

Are you reading for the end of the world next Saturday?  Nope, it’s not 2012 yet and we’re not talking about the Mayan Prophecy. Harold Campaign has convinced  a group of evangelicals that the date is May 21, 2011.  I wonder if any of them would like me to take care of their left behind pets for all their money?  You can read more about the man and his end of days wishes at Salon.

The self-appointed harbingers are not tied to any particular church — they claim organized religion has been corrupted by the devil — but rather to Internet- and radio-based ministries. And their lone mission is to tell anyone and everyone that the end of days is May 21. That’s when, they insist, God’s true believers will be lifted into heaven and saved, during a biblical event widely referred to as the Rapture.

The finer points of Christian eschatology have long been the subject of dispute (not to mention the inspiration for movies and books, like the blockbuster “Left Behind” series). Though mainstream churches reject the the notion that doomsday can be predicted by any man, fringe scholars continue to work feverishly pinpointing the moment of the final, divine revelation. And one such man — 89-year-old radio host Harold Camping — has been at the game for decades.

In the early ’90s, Camping published a book titled “1994?,” which claimed judgment day would arrive in September of that year. When confronted with such a staggering anticlimax — the world, after all, kept on spinning — Camping chose not to be discouraged, but to learn from his mistakes. (He hadn’t considered the Book of Jeremiah, he says.) A civil engineer by trade, Camping went back to the drawing board and continued to crunch the numbers, before arriving at the adamant determination that Rapture would come on May 21, 2011. He began to spread the word through his broadcasting network, Family Radio, in 2009, and quickly built up a fervid following.

I guess it takes all kinds.  That’s what my mother used to tell me when she was alive, anyway. Speaking of that, MoJo has a great list of Newtisms that will take you a trip back in time with Gingrich’s greatest tongue trips.  Here’s some of his earliest hits.

1978 In an address to College Republicans before he was elected to the House, Gingrich says: “I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal and faithful and all those Boy Scout words.” He added, “Richard Nixon…Gerald Ford…They have done a terrible job, a pathetic job. In my lifetime, in my lifetime—I was born in 1943—we have not had a competent national Republican leader. Not ever.”

1980 On the House floor, Gingrich states, “The reality is that this country is in greater danger than at any time since 1939.”

1980 Gingrich says: “We need a military four times the size of our present defense system.” (See 1984.)

1983 A major milestone: Gingrich cites former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on the House floor: “If in fact we are to follow the Chamberlain liberal Democratic line of withdrawal from the planet,” he explains, “we would truly have tyranny everywhere, and we in America could experience the joys of Soviet-style brutality and murdering of women and children.”

What is it that Republicans put in their formula that turns out people like this?  Newt was on Meet the Press yesterday where he mouthed off on a number of subject’s including Paul Ryan’s Medicare pogrome.  This is the National Review’s take so read with caution.

Newt Gingrich’s appearance on “Meet the Press” today could leave some wondering which party’s nomination he is running for. The former speaker had some harsh words for Paul Ryan’s (and by extension, nearly every House Republican’s) plan to reform Medicare, calling it “radical.”

“I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” he said when asked about Ryan’s plan to transition to a “premium support” model for Medicare. “I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.”

As far as an alternative, Gingrich trotted out the same appeal employed by Obama/Reid/Pelosi — for a “national conversation” on how to “improve” Medicare, and promised to eliminate ‘waste, fraud and abuse,’ etc.

“I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options,” Gingrich said. Ryan’s plan was simply “too big a jump.”

He even went so far as to compare it the Obama health-care plan.”I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.”

I have to say that having Trump, Gingrich, Santorum and Paul all debating each other on one stage would probably be highly entertaining.   They could have a contest for who would make the craziest old uncle.

The White House is out on the road trying to head off problems with the national debt ceiling.  Timothy Geithner says that the economy will double-dip if the Republicans don’t raise the ceiling.

In a heavily-anticipated response to Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who asked Geithner to document the economic and fiscal impacts of failing to lift the statutory debt limit, the Treasury secretary detailed a chain reaction that would cripple the economy, costing jobs and income.

“A default would inflict catastrophic far-reaching damage on our nation’s economy, significantly reducing growth and increasing unemployment,” said Geithner in the letter to Bennet which was dated May 13. “Even a short-term default could cause irrevocable damage to the economy.”

Geithner has imposed an August deadline for Congress to lift the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, but lawmakers are still negotiating over Republican demands to tie the move to spending cuts. And a portion of the GOP still remains skeptical about the need to act by the deadline at all, arguing that the consequences have been overstates.

Economist Mark Thoma has a better explanation of how the refusal to increase the debt ceiling would impact the economy on CBS Money Watch.  This explanation is much more precise.

If politicians fail to reach a deal to increase the debt ceiling, there would be a large fall in federal spending. The decline in federal purchases of private sector goods and services would reduce aggregate demand, and this could slow or even reverse the recovery (it could also threaten the delivery of critical services that some people depend upon). In addition, the failure to pay wages to federal workers would disrupt household finances and cause a further decline in demand, as would the failure of the government to pay its bills for the goods and services it has already purchased from the private sector (and it could even threaten some households and businesses with bankruptcy should the problem persist). There may be some room for the Treasury to use accounting tricks to avoid the worst problems, at least for a time, but it is not at all clear how well this would work to insulate the economy from problems and eventually this strategy will come to an end.

That’s potentially bad enough, but it’s far from the end of the problems that could occur. Failure to raise the debt ceiling could also undermine faith in the safety of US Treasury bills. If we default on bond payments, or appear willing to do so even if it doesn’t actually occur and investors lose faith in US Treasury Bills, they will begin demanding higher interest rates to cover the increased perception of risk. This could be very costly. We depend upon the rest of the world to finance our debt at extremely low interest rates. If the willingness of other countries to do this diminishes, then the cost of financing our debt would rise substantially. And that’s not all. In addition to increased debt servicing costs, an increase in interest rates would also choke off business investment potentially lowering economic growth, and the consumption of durable goods by households would fall as well. Rising interest rates would also be bad for the housing recovery (such as it is). Thus, failure to reach an agreement could be very costly.

The Economist‘s Blog on American Politics: Democracy in America has an interesting  post right now on ‘The Road to Plutocracy’.  It’s an interesting read with a lot of quotes from other pundits.

THE word “plutocracy” is in the air these days. Some say the era of the de facto rule of the mighty top 10%, or top 1%, or whatever insidious sliver of the income distribution is thought to constitute the moneyed power elite, is upon us, or nearly so. I’m not so sure. I am sold on the proposition that there’s something deeply whacked about the American financial system, and that whatever that’s whacked about it is significantly responsible for the top 1% pulling so far away from the rest of the income distribution. This needs to be fixed, whatever its other consequences. It’s not clear to me, however, what exactly is whacked. I don’t know whether to sign up for Tyler Cowen’s “going short on volatility” story, Daron Acemoglu’s “financial-sector lobbying and campaign contributions ‘bought’ an enriching (and destabilising) regulatory structure” story, or some other story. No doubt the truth is in some subtle combination of stories. In any case, accounts such as Mr Acemoglu’s, according to which big players in certain sectors over time manage to rig the regulatory climate to their advantage, are quite compelling for reasons both theoretical and empirical

Newsweek has an interesting article up on why the megarich manage to have such a sweet tax deal.  Even if we raise their income taxes, it really doesn’t hit them where it counts.  Here’s why.

It drives economist Bruce Bartlett crazy every time he hears another bazillionaire announce he’s in favor of paying higher taxes. Most recently it was Mark Zuckerberg who got Bartlett’s blood boiling when the Facebook founder declared himself “cool” with paying more in federal taxes, joining such tycoons as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Ted Turner, and even a stray hedge-fund manager or two.

Bartlett, a former member of the Reagan White House, isn’t against the wealthy paying higher taxes. He’s that rare conservative who thinks higher taxes need to be part of the deficit debate. His beef? It’s a hollow gesture to say the federal government should raise the tax rate on the country’s top wage earners when the likes of Zuckerberg have most of their wealth tied up in stock. Many of the super-rich see virtually all their income as capital gains, and capital gains are taxed at a much lower rate—15 percent—than ordinary income. When Warren Buffett talks about paying a lower tax rate than his secretary, that’s because she sees most of her pay through a paycheck, while the bulk of his compensation comes in the form of capital gains and dividends. In 2006, for instance, Buffett paid 17.7 percent in taxes on the $46 million he booked that year, while his secretary lost 30 percent of her $60,000 salary to the government.

“It’s easy to say ‘Raise taxes’ when you know you’re not going to have to pay those taxes,” Bartlett says. “What I don’t hear is ‘Let’s raise the capital-gains tax.’” Instead the focus has been on the federal tax rate paid by those with an annual income of $250,000 or more—the top 3 percent of earners. Bartlett argues that while raising taxes on the country’s richest individuals would go a long way in easing the debt crisis, it makes no sense to treat the professional making a few hundred thousand dollars a year the same as the Richie Rich set. Maybe it’s hard to muster sympathy for an executive pulling down $1 million a year. But ours is a tax system where a person in the top tax bracket (those earning more than $374,000 in 2010) pays a tax rate of 35 percent on the upper portions of his or her income (37.9 percent if you include Medicare), whereas a hedge-fund manager or mogul earning 10 or 100 times that amount pays less than half that tax rate.

Well, now I’m thinking we’re all just so f’ked that I might as well stop while I’m ahead.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?