At RealClearReligion, Rev. Robert A. Sirico offers an analysis of President Obama’s move to thaw relations with Cuba, a diplomatic opening that was supported by the Vatican. Citing Pope Francis’ appeals for “an economy of inclusion,” Rev. Sirico asks: “What, indeed, could be more inclusive than trade and travel?” More:

Free trade is not the solution to all economic, social and political problems. Nor does anyone expect it to be. That said, on my visits to Cuba and China, I have yet to meet anyone who thought restricting trade or travel helped, all of which will have to be negotiated once relations are normalized. Mutatis mutandis, those unfortunate to have to live under oppressive regimes are among the first to long for U.S. companies to setting up shop in their countries, gain new markets for their own products and will increase contact and opportunity for themselves. To have more exchanges with Americans at every level, whether it is through tourism, educational, trade or technological exchange, is what many Cubans want.

The open question is to see whether the Castro regime — which, after all, remains ideologically Marxist and viciously persecutes anyone who steps out of line — will use this thawing as a way of moving Cuba away from 50 years of one party rule and a top-down approach to the economy, and towards wider freedoms. Their track-record, to date, would not inspire confidence.

Read “The End of Cuba’s Double Despotism” by Rev. Robert A. Sirico at RealClearReligion.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, December 19, 2014
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noun_6905_ccJames K. A. Smith reviews Cass Sunstein’s Valuing Life over at the Comment magazine site. It’s a worthwhile read for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it should move Sunstein’s latest up in the queue.

It seems self-evident that everyone should favor “good” regulation, but the trick is getting some consensus on what defines “good” vs. “bad” regulation. A “people” or “person” centered regulation is a good starting place, perhaps. Or as Smith puts it nicely: “Regulation is made for people, not people for regulation.” Maybe what we need is a personalist revolution in regulation, to say nothing of governance more broadly. A political economy for the people? Yes!

I would insist on some clarifications, though, and note that regulators are often the ones most inclined to get that formula mixed up. Who, after all, will regulate the regulators? (I think the rapper Juvenile asked something like that.) So one distinction I would insist on is that the rule of law is not reducible to or coterminous with the minutiae of regulation. In fact, the latter can often conflict with, rather than support, the former.
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George-Clooney-recalls-post-Golden-Globes-prank-on-Tina-Fey-and-Amy-PoehlerThis is a sentence I never could have predicted I’ve ever write: George Clooney has offered a wiser assessment of a political problem than many of my fellow conservatives.

A group of cyber-terrorist behind a recent high-profile hacking incident of Sony Pictures have threatened a 9/11 type attack on movie theaters that screen the upcoming film, ‘The Interview.’ In response, many of the country’s largest movie chains (AMC, Regal, Cinemark, and Cineplex) issued a statement saying the film would not be played in their venues. A few days later Sony Pictures said the movie would not be released at all. Currently, the studio has no plans to even release the film on DVD or video-on-demand.

The reaction by most conservatives and libertarians has been that the threat should lead everyone to watch the movie (assuming it’s ever released). A representative example is Rebecca Cusey’s article at The Federalist, “Here’s Why Every Freedom-Loving American Must See ‘The Interview’.” As the sub-hed says, “What do a free people do when a thug says they can’t watch a terrible movie? Damn well watch ‘The Interview.’”

Well, no. That’s just silly. Freedom-lovers don’t have an obligation to watch some lame raunchy comedy simply because it was threated by terrorists associated with North Korea. Besides, watching the movie would have no real impact on anything (other than Sony Pictures bank account).

Even Cusey’s alternative option (“Maybe send the price of a movie ticket to an organization that helps Korean refugees or American troops.”) does nothing but make people feel good for having “done something” when they actually haven’t done anything to change the problem. We often mock this sort of ineffectual activism when it comes from the left (Tweet this hashtag to save the world!)—and rightly so. We should instead focus on seeking solutions that will actually fix the problem.
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satanist-holidayTopping the list of hot trends in 2014 were “Victimism” (i.e., posturing as a victim for political advantage and media attention) and “Annoy-Thy-Neighbor” activism. There were many groups that combined both to great effect, so it would be difficult to choose the best representative case. But the lamest example of the year is much easier to find: it’s by Jex Blackmore and the Michigan Satanists.

Unfortunately, that’s not the name of a band trying to hard to be clever. Blackmore is a real person (I think, but who knows nowadays) and a member of the Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple. As is typical of most modern-day “Satanists” they don’t really believe in Satan at all. On their Facebook page they explain, “As Satanists, we believe that elevating revolt against arbitrary authority and defiance in the face of oppression is the highest of callings. We stand in solidarity with groups who are subject to institutionalized forms of discrimination and state oppression.”

In other words, they’re the typical lefty Social Justice Warriors—only more clueless and annoying. Secular Satanists think they’re being edgy and ironic and sticking it to Christians, while everyone else considers them as cringe-worthy in their lack of self-awareness. Seriously, is there anything sadder than a secular Satanist? They’re so pathetic you want to give them a hug and offer them some hot cocoa. You want to tell them that if they’d just stop drawing pentagrams and scribbling “I  Richard Dawkins” in their notebooks and go out into the Real World they too could make friends .

Instead, they try to hide their loneliness by doing stuff like erecting a “Satanic holiday display” at the Michigan statehouse:
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Over at the Calvinist International I’ve posted the text of a Christmas meditation from Abraham Kuyper, made possible by the work of Jim DeJong and the Dutch Reformed Translation Society. It’s a rich devotional reflection inspired by the text of Luke 2:8, “And there were shepherds in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flock at night.”

Using the pastoral trope, Kuyper enjoins his readers to:

Think only about your own situation. Think about your shepherding. Think about the flock entrusted to you. Think about your own responsibility to keep watch over that flock at night. What does your conscience say to you about that? The year is coming to a close. Days are flying by. Give an account of yourself; hold a reckoning of your own soul. Brothers and sisters, what, I ask what, have you done with your flock? What have you done with those about whom the Lord said to you, “I entrust these to you!”

Each one of us has been entrusted with the care of something. That’s the basic stewardship reality taught in Scripture. And the waiting of the shepherds, like the Advent waiting of Zechariah, was done in faithful commitment to their stewardship responsibility, whether in the field or the temple. So too must our waiting be a faithful waiting.

Or as John Milton put it in Sonnet 19, alluding to the parable of the workers in the vineyard, “They also serve who only stand and waite.” Let us wait in ready anticipation of the Jesus. Of him Kuyper confesses: “The Shepherd of all shepherds is the Lord, the great Shepherd of our souls.”

StJohnsAshfield StainedGlass GoodShepherd Portrait

Koehler Urges Higher Gas PricesU.S. households are projected to save an estimated average $550 on gasoline in 2015. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Short Term Energy Outlook, “The average household will spend about $1,962 on gasoline in 2015, the first time that average will have fallen below $2,000 in five years.” Readers as well may assume the likelihood that falling fuel prices will exert some type of downward pressure on food and other commodity prices, which will be cheaper to bring to market.

By any realistic measure, this is great news for the United States in general and for the struggling lower middle class and poverty-stricken specifically. To those for whom reality is somewhat more elusive, however, it’s a travesty. Unfortunately, some of these individuals are advocating against the use of fossil fuels at cross purposes with their religious vocations. For example, nine bishops representing The Latin American Bishops Conference, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences and the French and Brazilian bishop’s conferences called for ceasing the use of fossil fuels: “We express an answer to what is considered God’s appeal to take action on the urgent and damaging situation of global climate warming.” (more…)

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…)