Category: News and Events

actononairOn Monday, Acton Founder and President Rev. Robert A. Sirico took to the airwaves of the BBC and squared off against Oliver Kamm of the London Times in a spirited debate over the merits of Michael Moore’s latest “documentary,” Capitalism: A Love Story. Audio from the BBC3 show Nightwaves is available via the audio player below.

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In today’s Acton Commentary, I examine the overtures President Obama has been making lately to usher in “a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.” I call for in part a “level playing field” for nuclear energy, which includes neither direct subsidy from the government nor bureaucratic obfuscation. The key to the latter point is to avoid the kind of breathless concern over the countries involved in the manufacture of the components for elements of the stations.

The playing field now is rather complex, of course, given the comprehensive system of tax breaks, incentives, and other subsidies that makeup today’s energy policy. In making this call I echo to some extent the complaint of Ralph Nader, although I’m much more sanguine about the ability of nuclear power to compete in a “free market” (HT: The Western Confucian).

Planet Gore’s Chris Horner calls Obama’s recent moves on nuclear energy contradictory and “flat-out dishonest.” Horner links to a couple of other important pieces that outline some of the economic distress potentially caused by clean energy legislation, as well as the official announcement of new guaranteed funds for nuclear power projects.

Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) points toward complicating factors beyond the availability of federal funds. I address the concern of regulatory “bottlenecks” in the commentary piece, but I pass by the concerns over nuclear waste disposal.

Apart from recycling possibilities, which is of course a special concern for fissile material, how might we be able to safely dispose of the waste from this “new generation” of nuclear power plants? I’m talking here about the 4% or so that can’t be productively repurposed.

For a long time I’ve thought that an extraterrestrial solution might be ideal, given the political problems surrounding terrestrial storage (as in the case of Yucca Mountain), although in practice finding the technology to safely accomplish some kind of outer space disposal is more difficult. Space elevators might work. Storing material on the moon afterward might be an option, although in lieu of a lunar solution perhaps a solar solution might work. Although volcanoes aren’t hot enough to break down radioactive material, the sun would be.

So maybe we could develop and apply the technology to shoot nuclear waste into space on a trajectory that would draw it into the sun, or failing that, into a path that would not run back into us on the way around or interfere with future intra-system travel. Why not use “a cannon for shooting things into space” to dispose of nuclear waste?

How the Space Cannon Works, John MacNeill

How the Space Cannon Works, John MacNeill


Any disposal site or method, especially one that included the transport of material into space, would need to be virtually immune from the kind of attack that destroys The Machine in the film Contact.

Selected related items:

More background links from a PowerBlog reader:

Blog author: ken.larson
Monday, February 22, 2010
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The other day with Schools Of Government, I bemoaned the number of undergrads and graduate students in the United States who are stamped by the “academic” majors and programs within universities for the expressed purpose of preparing them for bureaucratic life and perhaps leadership in the municipalities, state and federal governments of these United States.

Depending on whose numbers you use, over 25% of our economy is government – and growing. And since government operates on OPM – other people’s money – that means that three-quarters of the country’s private net worth is floating the entire boat. Reason enough to thank your dry cleaner the next time you pick something up. That goes for anyone else whose hands are hardened by toil.

Fr. Sirico coincidentally brushed on that subject in his latest Acton Notes piece that the postman brought this weekend. He writes:

“The boom was a result of government intervention with markets, and the bust has been the inevitable result. Many people miss this completely. So they blame the most conspicuous sectors in society they can: businesspeople and traders on Wall Street, no matter how unjust this blame is.”

But leave it to George Will to tie all this together. In a current commentary titled “Blinded By Science” Will hits on a more specific dilemma facing Constitutional Government in America. And that’s what the science fanatics who promote climate frauds together with those about to be exposed in the nutrition arguments (Harvard’s just released an analysis of saturated fats. Stay tuned.)  – assert with lucrative help of OPM from government and quasi-government bureaucracies. Those named in the articles include the just resigned Head of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia; the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); and a U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change – Todd Stern.

Mr. Will suggests that this last fellow may be guilty of violating U.S. Constitutional law.

“It is tempting to say, only half in jest, that Stern’s portfolio violates the First Amendment, which forbids government from undertaking the establishment of religion. A religion is what the faith in catastrophic man-made global warming has become. It is now a tissue of assertions impervious to evidence, assertions which everything, including a historic blizzard, supposedly confirms and nothing, not even the absence of warming, can falsify.”

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But as we move into the second full week in Lent, I’m comfortable deferring to the Ten Commandments on matters of temptation and sin. Specifically:

3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth:

5. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me;

Today’s bureaucrats might pay particular attention to #5 – especially the part following the colon. Especially – according to a story Amity Shlaes tells – if their last name is Ickes.

Blog author: ken.larson
Friday, February 19, 2010
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Jordan Ballor’s recent post “What Government Can’t Do” contained a quotation from Lord Acton worth revisiting:

“There are many things the government can’t do – many good purposes it must renounce. It must leave them to the enterprise of others. It cannot feed the people. It cannot enrich the people. It cannot teach the people. It cannot convert the people.”

On February 18th Barack Obama announced a “Debt Panel” – officially termed a Bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – to be headed by former government veterans Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles of the Clinton White House years by way of Morgan Stanley; and the university at Chapel Hill. (Wiki terms Bowles an “American Businessman” but the only business he’s been in is financial services. Bankers are money lenders. I know it’s a peculiar distinction but that’s hardly on a par with entrepreneurial spirt or creating wealth with an idea and a lot of sweat.) Bankers use OPM — other people’s money — and put it out for a fee.

Obama wants the debt panel to come up with a solution for dealing with too much government outflow versus what citizens are willing to pay in taxes. It’s a CYA venture and the two guys “leading” the discussion and the fellow appointing them are illustrative of what is wrong with what passes on multiple levels for both elected and hired government leadership in The United States of America these days.

The conceit that brings us debt panels starts with the presumption inherent in such concepts as “schools of government” that are fixtures in many of our leading universities throughout the country. At Texas A&M, there’s a school of public service with former President Bush’s name over the doorway. At Harvard there’s the Kennedy School of Government. At University of Maryland the department is called “Business, Government, Industry” — an interesting ordering of words don’t you think with “government” at the center. And on the left coast, The University of Southern California touts their school of Public Administration as being responsible for training more bureaucrats for city, county and state government jobs than any other in the region.

After three terms in the U.S. Senate Alan Simpson left to take a job as lecturer and Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School whose mission is “studying public policy and preparing its practitioners.” They boast 27,000 graduates in 137 countries. The effort was “born in the midst of the Great Depression and on the eve of World War II. As government grappled with historic challenges both domestic and international” and no doubt has helped bring us such innovations as The World Bank and other drains on our national checkbook.

The cumulative graduate classes from these places has contributed to the burgeoning number of municipal jobs throughout our country. Think about the job fair at your kids’ high school. How many private businesses were there? Okay, maybe a major aerospace company came or JOHN DEERE, but mostly these assemblies are catered by the police and/or fire departments, local public works departments, a county hospital, or Teach for America. The private sector is conspicuous in its absence and that’s too bad because I think it’s one of the reasons the size of government and government’s workforce has become so large, intrusive and demanding on our nation’s treasure.

In a recent post former Bush guy Rich Galen puts the total cost of running Congress at $4,656,000,000 per annum and moans that they can’t or won’t do their job. I did some research last year and was told by the Congressional Budget Office that annual operating costs of the Senate is $800 million and the House $1.2 billion plus security. That’s half of what Galen writes but if you do the math even with the smaller number you get $3.7 million per Congress member. They make over $175,000.00 a year. In fact 19% of all federal employees make over $100K per year. In Los Angeles, California more than a dozen City Council members make $195,000 annually and the city is going broke.

In a neat little book titled Liberty And Learning, author Larry Arnn chronicles among other things, The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and The Homestead Act in an effort to illuminate the importance of education to the American Founders. He adroitly makes the point that education was never given the high priority it had in the Founder’s lives in order to “provide skilled workers for a changing economy” or insure that citizens would “make more money.” Education, especially knowledge and understanding of this nation’s founding principles was acknowledged by the Founders to be a prerequisite for the insurance of individual freedom and their constitutional republic.

But where are we in this? In the shame of survey and test results such as provided by Intercollegiate Studies Institute that testify to our Civic Illiteracy, many citizens vote present at a time when our nation’s economic and spiritual solvency are at risk. And every day we are told by a fawning news media that Obama and his administration – which does not include one high level official formed by some private sector experience – are the most intelligent assemblage in our country.

Recently I had the chance to read and discuss a story by Flannery O’Connor – The Enduring Chill. In the story a 25 year old son named Asbury has returned to his mother’s farm from an attempt as a writer in New York. There’s an older sister. He’s sick and if you know O’Connor you’re likely to be able to guess what’s missing in his life. While they wait for a country doctor to examine Asbury and make a prognosis the narrative provides us this:

When people think they are smart – even when they are smart – there is nothing anybody else can say to make them see things straight, and with Asbury, the trouble was that in addition to being smart, he had an artistic temperament. She did not know where he had got it from because his father, who was a lawyer and businessman and farmer and politician all rolled into one, had certainly had his feet on the ground…. She had managed after he died to get the two of them through college and beyond; but she had observed that the more education they got, the less they could do.

I think we have to do more for ourselves. And it needs to begin NOW.

As we’ve noted before, the Planet Money team is on the ground in Haiti getting a hands-on look at the economic situation after the disaster. Today they broadcast a moving story of an entrepreneur who lost all her capital in the earthquake. Now she totes a 30+ lbs. bin of chicken necks to make a few dollars a day.

The story is a testament to the power of micro-finance, the complications of an international import operation, and the bookkeeping practices of a purveyor of chicken necks. Check it out and visit the Planet Money blog tomorrow to get the follow-up on how Yvrose fared with her lender.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
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A local food bank and distribution network was featured on a Michigan Radio piece the other day, and it really captures how to give to people in a way that respects their dignity. For one thing, when you are giving food to the hungry, you don’t just hand them wax beans and canned beets.

John Arnold, executive director of Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank, says that people shouldn’t be getting what he calls “bomb shelter food.”

“Products like powdered milk and dry beans and dried noodles sound and look nutritious but you never see in people’s shopping cart,” he observes.

Instead, as Kyle Norris reports, Arnold recognizes that “nobody eats that stuff, but somehow food agencies think that’s what they supposed to give people in need. Arnold says we need to get people good, nutritious food in a way that makes it fun.

Arnold also says agencies have to let people pick the food they want, as opposed to handing someone a box filled with a random assortment of food they may or may not eat. These things aren’t just his personal theories. He points to research from United Way and Michigan State University that backs these conclusions.”

One of the principles of effective compassion is that we are to discern and respect each person’s freedom, constitutive of their dignity as created in the image of God. In this concrete case, it means in part having people exercise their own autonomy and choose their own foods, rather than be handed what someone else assumes they need.

So this is a good rule of thumb for treating others as you do yourself: “When we do care for one another it should be with food we’d want to serve our own family.”

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Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
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NPR’s Morning Edition had a touching piece the other day that illustrated how great a blessing business can be, and just how terrible things can be when there’s no freedom to innovate, produce, and create wealth. Chana Joffe-Walt and Adam Davidson of Planet Money put together the narrative of George Sassine of Haiti and Fernando Capellan of the Dominican Republic, “Island Of Hispaniola Has Two Varied Economies.”

Both men shared the same dream: to open up a T-shirt factory. Sassine has had to struggle through all kinds of adversity in the attempt to realize his dream. And just as it was about to take off for good, to really get going, the earthquake hit. Says Sassine, “I’ve had a coup d’etats. I’ve had hurricanes. Now, I have an earthquake.” The “simple cut-and-sew factory” that Sassine had managed to put together lies in ruins.

Cappellan, on the contrary, started with a simple cut-and-sew operation, but in the interim has enjoyed great success; “His business now is, as they say, several steps up the value chain from the dream he started with.”

Sassine puts his finger on what differentiates him from Cappellan. It’s not ability, or ingenuity, or diligence. What has really prevented Sassine from doing for Haiti what Cappellan has done for the Dominican Republic?

Sassine asserts assuredly of Cappellan, “fortunately, for him, his country, his government was behind him. Me, I’ve been having governments against me all my life.” Political instability, corruption, and tyranny are what kill dreams like Sassine’s and Cappellan’s.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, February 15, 2010
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NJ Governor Chris Christie: “Today, we come to terms with the fact that we cannot spend money on everything we want.”

Lord Acton: “There are many things the government can’t do – many good purposes it must renounce. It must leave them to the enterprise of others. It cannot feed the people. It cannot enrich the people. It cannot teach the people. It cannot convert the people.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, February 15, 2010
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Longtime Acton friend John H. Armstrong notes the recent discussion of Rowan Williams’ pronouncements on ethics and the economy here at the PowerBlog, commenting that “The archbishop of Canterbury is an extremely likable Christian gentleman, a first-class Christian scholar. He is also a leader who often fails to address some of the more difficult issues in our time with a straight, clear answer.”

Armstrong’s description of Williams coheres well with the overall picture of theologians engaging economics presented by Susan Lee, who says, “The habit of picking and choosing means that many theological discussions of economics take place under a cloud of incoherence, or at least to economists, ignorance.”

In this brief piece from APM’s Marketplace, “Bridging the theology-economy gap.” Susan Lee, “an economist and a theologian based in New York City,” passes along her experience at a public appearance that included Rowan Williams. She gets of some real substantive observations, including the following:

…ethics are the common ground for theology and economics…

Both theologians and economists are interested in improving the lives of all humans. Both groups agree on policy goals like low unemployment and sustainable growth. In fact, these goals are in harmony with a definition offered by the archbishop. He said: “An ethical economy is one where we care for our neighbor by creating conditions so the most vulnerable aren’t abandoned.” Well, this is a description of capitalism in the U.S….

Economists are interested in how to make the pie larger. Theologians are interested in how to divide the pie. And so many theologians treat capitalism like a Chinese menu. They pick the wealth-distribution parts and discard the wealth-creation parts….

Her commentary is brief, but worth reading or listening to in full. Jeff Walton at the IRD also provides some background for the Trinity Institute event, and includes fuller observations from Lee (HT).

In a February 10 wire story by ANSA, it was reported that Benedict XVI has once again exhorted economists and leaders to place “people at the center of [their] economic decision-making” and reminded them that the “global financial crisis has impoverished no small number of people.”

For those who follow Benedict closely in Rome, one might wonder why the Holy Father’s words, delivered during his February 10 general audience, even made national headlines. To be sure, it is not the first time we hear the Holy Father expressing his views on the price the world is still paying for not placing the human person, along with and our God-given freedom, innovation and basic dignity, at the core of economic models and financial choices.

The pope is perhaps sounding like a broken record, criticizing and admonishing the “same-o, same-o” regarding the global financial crisis and the Church’s social teachings. Why so?

No doubt, a wave of recent woes in the European financial news have caused Benedict grave concern.

The robust euro currency has experienced a precipitous fall since January 1, and especially so since emergency meetings were held in Brussels last week to save Greece — one of Europe’s most corrupt nations and lowest-ranking economic performers — from Euro-zone fall out; while earlier this week, in an unprecedented move, Germany and France threw on their red capes to rescue the cradle of Western civilization from the brink of financial disaster. Then there were the corrupt public officials in Spain who finally received severe sentencing for illegally boosting a once-thriving Spanish housing market. And the local financial reports became even more bleak in Italy, when in late January two of the country’s “too-big-too-fail” production plants (at Fiat and Alcoa) announced imminent closure, and thousands of their incensed employees rallied in union-led strikes to save their jobs in early February.

It was these same very worried plant workers who appeared under Benedict’s apartment window during a January 31 Angelus and heard the pope’s anger: “The financial crisis is causing the loss of many jobs and this situation requires a great sense of responsibility on the part of all: entrepreneurs and government leaders [alike].”

hard-of-hearing1Hence the pope’s sermonizing against the continued causes and effects of the financial market’s moral failings certainly still do have concrete realities to draw upon. The aftermath of corporate and political leadership’s deafness to the Church’s basic social teachings seems endless and with no sign of turning around.

So we should rightly ask ourselves whether we have become a little too hard of hearing, rather than thinking the Holy Father is not saying anything new.

The Holy Father, a patient and loving university professor at heart, knows that he should not worry about the needle skipping on his turntable of teaching: After all, he knows all too well that repetition is the best form of learning.

Sooner or later, our human hearts are bound to embrace the repeated Truth that continues to call us home during this dark period. Its final acceptance and application will be our only way out.