Category: News and Events

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.

Barack_Obama_signature_and_pen (1)Rather than just responding to the advances of modern liberalism, conservatives should consider how they would transform the United States. Over at Public Discourse, Samuel Gregg discusses President Obama’s final years in office and how conservatives should react.

A major challenge facing conservatives after Obama will be the breadth and depth of modern liberalism’s impact since 2008. This includes the relentless promotion of lifestyle liberalism at the level of social policy; the easy-money, top-down approach to the economy; and a foreign policy that’s alienating firm allies ranging from Israel to Australia, and which even many liberals have given up defending. This list doesn’t even include the cavalier approach to the rule of law that’s characterized the past six years.

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govt_workersprotest100413Americans obsession with positive “rights” has a significant influence on the country’s economy. Over at the American Spectator, Samuel Gregg argues that despite the portrayal of the United States as a “dog-eat-dog” society where the most vulnerable are left to fend for themselves, the country actually spends an enormous amount on various forms of welfare. In fact, the U.S. is the second biggest “social spender,” following only France. Gregg explains how the country reached this:

On the one hand, there is what the [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] calls “public social spending.” This includes things like old-age assistance, unemployment insurance, disability payments, government-provided healthcare, etc. What, however, needs to be added to this, the OECD states, is what’s called “private social expenditure.” This is defined as “social benefits delivered through the private sector… which involve an element of compulsion and/or inter-personal redistribution.” One example would be government subsidies to employer-provided healthcare.

By these measures, almost 30 percent of America’s annual GDP is devoted to welfare-spending of one form or another. Let me say that number again: 30 percent. How much more, we might ask, could possibly be spent, especially given the sub-optimal results? One suspects that, for most liberals and the left more generally, the sky’s the limit. But they should at least concede that America is hardly tight-fisted in such matters. Alas, I, for one, am not holding my breath.

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cavemen_2aReligious proxy shareholder activists are at it again. This past week, As You Sow in tandem with Arjuna Capital submitted a proxy resolution to ExxonMobil, demanding the company increase investor payouts. The reasoning behind the resolution is to starve the company’s research and development of future projects. Because … climate change:

In a first of its kind proposal, Shareholders Arjuna Capital/Baldwin Brothers Inc. and As You Sow seek increased dividends or share buybacks from Exxon Mobil given structural challenges facing the industry — historically high capital expenditures, decreasing profitability, and global climate change. This represents the first shareholder proposal asking a company to return capital to shareholders in light of climate change risk.

The new shareholder resolution calls on Exxon Mobil (XOM) to protect investor value by “increasing the amount authorized for capital distributions to shareholders through dividends or share buy backs,” rather than invest in high-cost, high-carbon oil projects.

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“Mockingjay, Part 1,” the first film installment of the finale to Suzanne Collins’ massively popular young adult trilogy, The Hunger Games, has dominated the box office in its opening week and over the Thanksgiving weekend. As Brooks Barnes reported for the New York Times, “The No. 1 movie in North America was again ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1,’ which took in an estimated $56.9 million from Friday to Sunday, according to Rentrak, a box-office tracking firm. Domestic ticket sales for ‘Mockingjay’ now total a hefty $225.7 million….”

While some would criticize the series for lack of depth, “Mockingjay, Part 1,” offers more than just a shallow cast of good guys vs. bad guys, acting as a window into the messy realities of tyranny, class, and freedom. (more…)

speculationThe practice of speculation draws mixed reactions among Christians, as some believe it is intrinsically evil and others see great good coming from it. Over at Legatus Magazine, Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, hopes to shed some light on whether or not Christians should engage in speculation. The Roman Catholic Catechism condemns specific types of speculation, but Gregg argues that the practice could be justified in other situations not addressed by the Catechism. However, before Christians accept or reject it, it’s important that we understand this financial tool in all its complexity. Gregg quotes the Catholic Catechism:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies “speculation in which one contrives to manipulate the price of goods artificially in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others” as “morally illicit” (CCC #2409).. This wording indicates that there are legitimate forms of speculation, though these are left unspecified.

He continues:

The justice of different choices denoted as “speculative” depends upon the specifics of a given choice. Speculation that relies, for instance, upon telling falsehoods is wrong because choosing to lie is, in Christian terms, always wrong. It would be equally unjust for a financial firm to try and manipulate the futures market by expressing to others excessive optimism or negativity about the prospects for a given commodity.

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Blog author: bwalker
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
By

yamsLet’s face it – if not for genetically modified organisms, many of us wouldn’t be celebrating Thanksgiving in the traditional sense. Instead of turkey, cranberries and sweet potatoes, we’d be reduced to something far less appealing such as, say, Beans-and-Franksgiving.

Unfortunately, some shareholder activists – including those affiliated with As You Sow – work long hours to ensure GMOs are eliminated as a dinner option. According to the AYS website:

The genetic modification or engineering of plants and animals has become a significant economic and environmental issue. As investor advocates, we are concerned that many companies are exposed to material financial risk from the environmental, food security, and public health issues associated with GMOs.

Currently, 85% of corn, 93% of soybeans, and 82% of cotton in the U.S. is genetically engineered. It is estimated that 75% of processed foods in supermarkets contain GMOs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency do not conduct or require long-term safety studies on the environmental or health impacts of GMOs. Independent researchers, however, have documented the increasing environmental impacts and negligible benefits of genetically modified crops, and the significant and growing consumer preference to avoid them.

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Samuel Gregg, Acton’s director of research, recently wrote about the “complicated relationship” between religious freedom and business. While there may not seem like a natural connection between these two concepts, Gregg points out that, especially recently, we are seeing a number of businesses “impacted by apparent infringements of religious liberty.” He goes on to discuss just how complicated this relationship is:

Until relatively late in the modern era, most Jews in Europe were legally prohibited from formal involvement in political life and barred from serving in particular professions such as law, the civil service, and the military. Throughout Western and Eastern Europe, many Jews consequently gravitated towards commerce and finance as activities in which they were allowed to exercise their talents. To the eternal shame of Christians, the tremendous success of Jews in these areas made them frequent and easy targets for anti-Semitic pogroms (often incited by Christian business rivals) as well as legalized extortions by Christian kings and princes.

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A Note to Readers: The Acton Institute is presenting a special screening of the film Rockin’ the Wall on November 20 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The event features a talk by Larry Schweikart, who worked closely with the film’s producers and is featured prominently throughout the documentary. To register, click here.

Back in my college days, my friends and I debated the merits of military spending by the then-current administration. As this was the 1980s, featuring two terms of President Ronald Reagan, we took somewhat opposing views on whether the United States could outspend the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics until it – and its odious ideology – collapsed into the dustbin of history. This argument – believe it or not – was adopted by my friend Ron. My friend John – coincidentally named after the president on whose inaugural he was born, John Kennedy – argued that the revolution would come from within the Iron Curtain rather than without. Eastern Europe and the Soviet states wanted Calvin Klein jeans, jazz and rock and roll music, he asserted, and he was convinced that comrades of the Soviet states and its satellites would tear down oppressive regimes to attain artifacts of Western culture. (more…)

Recently, Acton President and Co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico spoke with Joe Wooddell, professor of philosophy and vice president for academic affairs at Criswell College. They discuss the concept of classic liberalism, Lord Acton, the Institute, and what led to the creation of Acton’s largest event of the year, Acton University.

If you’re new to Acton or want to learn more about Acton University, this is certainly a helpful resource. Registration for Acton University 2015 opens on Monday, November 17.

Listen below: