Blog author: jcarter
Friday, December 19, 2014
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How Pope Francis’ diplomacy may change everything, not just US-Cuba relations
David Gibson, Religion News Service

Pope Francis is being hailed around the world — and criticized by some in the US — for his pivotal role in brokering the historic breakthrough in relations between Washington and Havana, a role attributed to his background as the first Latin American pope and to the special position he occupies.

Religious Freedom Requires Rights
Greg Forster, Hang Together

Last month I gave a talk at the Evangelical Theological Society in which I defended the idea of human rights – not sham Rawlsian rights but real rights, grounded in objective claims about truth, justice and the nature of the human person. That is, rights as correlative to duties – I have a right to religious freedom because (and only because) I have a duty to worship God sincerely rather than insincerely.

Christmas Is Undefeatable
Mark Tooley, Juicy Ecumenism

A new Pew survey shows overwhelming majorities of Americans believe in the historical actuality of the Christmas story, including the Virgin Birth, the angels appearing to shepherds and the Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem.

What Advent and Interstellar Teach Us about Human Progress
Elise Amyx, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

I’ve always thought human progress to be somewhat of a paradox. The world seems to be getting both better and worse at the same time.

20140305-cuba-exteriors-sl-1538_53ee39d1154ce422fc2278062244c068What just happened with Cuba?

Yesterday, President Obama announced that, “the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.” He instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since 1961. High-ranking officials will visit Cuba and the U.S. will reestablish an embassy in Havana. He also instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

The President also says the U.S. will take steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba. Americans who travel to Cuba will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island. U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions and exporters will be able to sell goods to the country.

Can the President do all that?

Sort of. The president controls the State Department, but the Congress controls the money. Senator Rubio (R-FL) has said that he’ll do everything he can to block funding for a Cuban embassy and prevent an ambassador from being selected.

The trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba also cannot be lifted without congressional approval. The executive branch has the authority under current law merely to issue licenses that permit US citizens and corporations to do business with Cuba, travel there, and send money to family members there.

Why the change now, after 50 years?
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The eyes of many in the world have turned to Cuba over the last day or so. A great deal has been made of the historic changes in the relationship between the US and Cuba and whether such changes fundamentally alter the situation of the political leaders and the elites in the island nation.

More interesting to me, however, are the personal stories of suffering and loss during the years of the Castro regime and the hope that dawns,  however slight it may be, with the normalization of relations. Perhaps the changes will simply serve to prop up a tyrannical regime, but there is real possibility that the day-to-day existence for millions of people will improve with greater travel, access to markets, and communication.

One of the great tragedies of the Castro regime was its suppression of non-approved cultural artifacts and forms, including traditional Cuban music. The Buena Vista Social Club’s closure was representative of a larger tradition of cultural pluralism and civil society in Cuba that had no place in the communist regime.

The guitarist Ry Cooder visited Cuba in the 1990s, and was able to reunite many of the original members of the club. Cooder put together an international tour for these wonderful musicians, including a trip to Carnegie Hall in New York City. That created an album and later a documentary. Here’s a scene from the documentary where a couple of Cuban musicians are visiting New York City for the first time:

The audio cuts out a couple minutes in, but you can see the wonder and appreciation that is apparent in their reactions. They see immediately and instinctively that the vitality and vigor of the city, with its commerce, exchange, culture, and liberty, are a marked contrast to their experiences in Cuba. “Activity! Activity! Activity!” one of them celebrates.

“This is the life!” concludes the other. Let’s hope that increased liberalization of engagement between the US and Cuba can help unleash more of this kind of vibrant dynamism among a people that stand in so desperate need of it.

Do yourself a favor and check out The Buena Vista Social Club.

AzpilcuetaCoverCLP Academic has now released On Exchange, a new translation of a key section in Martín de Azpilcueta’s Manual de confesores y penitents, his most influential work.

Originally published in 1549, the section was included as one of four appendices to the Manual, offering commentary on Gregory IX’s prohibition of nautical usury. The release is part of the growing series, Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law.

Azpilcueta (1492-1586), also known as Doctor Navarrus, was a leading canonist and moral theologian of the early modern period. Although On Exchange was meant to provide moral guidance for pastors and penitents, it has drawn the attention of economic historians for its indirect analysis of 16th-century economic realities, including explorations on exchange practices, supply and demand, and the nature of money. As noted in the book’s overview, Azpilcueta’s “account of the fluctuation of the value of money marks a significant development in early modern economic thought.” (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, December 18, 2014
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Christianity and American Political Thought
S. Adam Seagrave, Public Discourse

A new book examines the philosophical and religious roots of American government. Amid scholarly disagreement, one thing is clear: America is a nation founded upon the truth of human freedom and equality—whether one arrives at this truth by way of Calvin or Locke.

Black Pastor: Liberalism Is ‘Cancerous And Devastating To The Black Family’
Ginni Thomas, Daily Caller

Jackson calls it “preposterous” that people living in mansions, driving the best cars and eating the best meals would say race relations are worse now than it was for their grandfather. Calling this a “tragic, false message,” he believes it comes as “a result of a kind of spiritual blindness.”

The death of the American family dinner has been greatly exaggerated
Roberto A. Ferdman, Washington Post

Maybe you’ve heard somewhere that no one eats dinner together anymore. There’s even some pushing the idea that instead of scrambling to eat dinner together, families should aim for breakfast. And maybe you believed that family dinners were dead, based on your household’s experience.

Across America, Churches Continue To Struggle For Their Religious Freedom
Alan Sears, Alliance Defending Freedom

People are probably inclined to think more warmly of churches amid the cold winds of Christmas than at any other time of the year, but, sad to say, even the spirit of the season isn’t enough to dissuade some from all out legal assaults on houses of worship.

exploding xmas puddingWe all know it’s easy to get unhinged this time of year. It can be the overload of “How am I ever going to get everything for everybody on my list between now and Christmas and still sleep?” to “Which side of the family are we going to anger this year, since we can’t be everywhere at once?” to “You need HOW MANY cookies for the school party tomorrow?”

Christmas – the day Christians celebrate the coming of the God-Made-Man, Emmanuel – can turn very quickly from revelry to unraveled.

What to do? If you’re Arthur Brooks, you talk to a guru in India. (more…)

In this week’s commentary I argue that “Do They Even Know It’s Christmas?” is the worst Christmas song of all time.

Kanye agrees.Kanye Bono Christmas

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
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bitcoin-deadEarlier this year I declared that Bitcoin was (nearly) dead. But as The Princess Bride’s Miracle Max once explained, “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.”

Right now, Bitcoin is only mostly dead. As an investment, it was the worst of 2014. As a currency, it was destroyed by the IRS by a single sentence (“For federal tax purposes, virtual currency is treated as property.”). All that really remains is for it to become a financial network. But then it will be likely killed (i.e., all dead) with one word: regulation.

As Henry Farrell explains, Bitcoin has only survived this long because the U.S. government hasn’t really considered it to be a viable financial network:
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eye“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.” –Proverbs 3:13-14

In Episode 5 of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, Evan Koons asks about the purpose of knowledge, wondering whether it’s simply a means to greater levels of self-fulfillment, or if there’s something more. “Is knowledge just a tool that we use to leverage to get more stuff?” he asks.

On the contrary, as he goes on to learn, “knowledge is a gift, and like all gifts in God’s oikonomia, it points us outside of ourselves.” As we participate in the Economy of Wisdom — whether through education, research, or innovation — we have a remarkable opportunity to love greater and serve better, further uncovering the mysteries and abundance of God, and sharing the wonder of his glory with the world around us.

Economists continue to affirm the creative power of human collaboration in generating new ideas, innovations, and discoveries that on the whole have improved our quality life and created enormous opportunities. Why, then, do Christians so often forget the breadth and depth, the aim and end of this core feature? For indeed, when paired with the whole-life transformation found in the Gospel and the Holy Spirit, which includes the renewing of our minds, such collaboration takes a whole new shape. Christians have unique call and contribution to this area, so if we hope to spread life and abundance to those in need across all areas of society, materially, socially, spiritually, and otherwise, having a rightly aligned perspective on the basic purpose of knowledge is essential. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
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Political-Corruption-Bigger-Threat-than-TerrorismPolitical corruption is the use of legislated powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain. While it isn’t as endemic in the U.S. as it is in some countries (Somalia, North Korea, and Afghanistan being the most corrupt), the problem still exists. According to the Justice Department, in the last two decades more than 20,000 public officials and private individuals were convicted for crimes related to corruption and more than 5,000 are awaiting trial, the overwhelming majority of cases having originated in state and local governments.

But measuring corruption based on convictions can be tricky for a variety of reasons, ranging from inadequate data to partisan bias. One alternative measure is to use perceptions, especially of state and local governments. Oguzhan Dincer and Michael Johnston surveyed the news reporters covering state politics in addition to the investigative reporters covering issues related to corruption during the first half of 2014 to gauge their perception of state corruption:

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