Category: News and Events

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Friday, July 13, 2007

Cuban–American author Humberto Fontova has a new book out titled, Exposing The Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him. Che worship is something I have been fascinated with for quite some time, especially among the young Americans who are hyper consumers. Investor’s Business Daily ran an interview of Fontova concerning his new book on July 10 and here are some essential quotes by Fontova from the interview.

“My dad doesn’t like to take orders. There’s this myth that anyone leaving Fidel Castro’s revolution had to be a millionaire, a gangster or a crook. All he wanted was to not be a slave.”

“Cuba in 1961 had 6.3 million people. According to Freedom House, 500,000 Cubans have passed through Cuba’s prison systems, proportionately more than went through Stalin’s Gulag. At one time in 1961, 350,000 Cubans (were) jailed for political crimes and 1 out of 18 Cubans was a political prisoner.”

“He had an arrogant nature. I interviewed people who visited him and tried to save their sons from firing squad executions without trial. He liked to toy with them. He liked to pick up the phone in front of weeping mothers and bark out, “Execute the Fernandez boy right now!”

“They have big notions, especially the young kids who see Che as a hero — that he is a revolutionary, that he fought “The Man.” No, sir, I say, he was “The Man” that rebellious people fought against. You got it completely backwards.”

The disinformation out there about Che is staggering. Che was unsuccessful leading Marxist revolutions in Africa and Latin America, so much so Fidel Castro sent him on a suicide mission. He was a tyrant and murderer. And even one book against one tyrant and murder is a book against all of them.

Religious Cubans also suffer from the oppression of a hostile regime just 90 miles from the American shore. If the Che t-shirt culture reminds of us anything it’s the fact and sadness of the billions of people who live under totalitarian oppression are often forgotten. Unfortunately the evil Stalinist – Che ideology is not just forgotten but knowingly and sometimes unknowingly propped up by copycat consumers. In fact the National Council of Churches and other like minded organizations have defended and propped up Castro’s Cuba.

In contrast Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said, “We must stand with the oppressed rather than their oppressors and defend human dignity by supporting those who toil for freedom.”

The New York Times today ran an Associated Press story reporting that teenage sex rates have hit a new low. This is good news. The teenage birth-rate has hit a record low as well.

In 2005, 47 percent of high school students — 6.7 million — reported having had sexual intercourse, down from 54 percent in 1991. The rate of those who reported having had sex had remained the same since 2003.

Of those who reported having had sex during a three-month period in 2005, 63 percent — about 9 million — said they used condoms. That is an increase from the 46 percent reported in 1991.

The teenage birth rate in 2005, the report said, was 21 per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 17 — an all-time low. The rate in 1991 was 39 births per 1,000 teenagers.

However, there may be other factors that mask the fact that teenage sexual activity hasn’t really changed at all.

(1) Teenage birth rates are lower because more and more teens have easy access to abortion and birth-control. There is no social stigma assigned to being a sexually active or pregnant teenager and baby-boomer parents have no scruples about encouraging abortion and birth-control for kids, unlike any other generation of parents in American history. This is a moral problem.

(2) Teens have redefined what constitutes as sex. While the rates of intercourse may have declined the study leaves unanswered questions about the rates of other forms of sexual activity including oral sex, pornography, etc. “Hooking up” can include all sorts of sexual activity that is not specifically intercourse. The myth, of course, is that only intercourse negatively affects teenagers psychological, emotionally, and spiritually.

The Washington Post reports that nearly half of all teens engage in oral sex.

The story touts school sex education as responsible for the decline. While this may be good rhetoric, sex education in school does not reduce teen pregnancy. In the 1970s, when sex education began, the pregnancy rate among 15-to-19-year-old females rose from 68 per thousand in 1970 to 96 per thousand in 1980. With sex education teenage birth rates rose 29 percent between 1970 and 1984.

The key determiners of sexual health for teens includes two basic elements: (1) spiritual and moral formation about the nature and function of sex in God’s design that enhances love and human dignity, and (2) loving, parental involvement in openly discussing sexuality and laying down morally-grounded expectations that communicate clearly what is in the best interest of the child in the long-run. If our nation had more of this teen sex rates would decline precipitously.

Michael Miller at ALS

“Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority of government has a monopoly on the truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put on this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer.” – Ronald W. Reagan, Moscow State University 1988.

Today I attended my first Acton Lecture Series event which featured Michael Miller, Acton’s Director of Programs and Education. I felt very blessed somebody is speaking my language for a change.

I included this quote from our former president because Miller touched on the subject of Christians believing that all life has inherent value. This was contrasted with the totalitarian understanding of relativism, which stands in opposition to the belief in absolute truth. Miller even noted how totalitarianism seeks “men and women with blank slates – because they can be shaped.” A classic example in my mind would be the Khmer Rouge “Year Zero” campaign which tried to end the ideas of religion and private property ruthlessly.

A couple of great quotes I wrote down of Miller’s concerning the Church vs. the power of the state are:

“The Church by definition limits the state.”

“If you are under God’s authority the state is automatically limited.”

One would easily be aware of in this context of the power of some of the spiritual leaders in the fight against totalitarianism such as John Paul II, Whitaker Chambers, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

The central theme of Miller’s argument: “Freedom and tolerance can only be sustained in a society where a robust commitment to truth exists.”

This may have been one of the greatest strengths of some of the above mentioned leaders. I think one of the qualities President Reagan embodied in terms of the presidency was raising the moral language and arguments against totalitarianism.

What was so powerful concerning the lecture was Miller’s warning of the extreme dangers of an absence of truth, and the slide towards what he called a “thinly veiled totalitarianism.” He also noted, “We defend the weak through commitment to truth and justice.”

He offered the audience a quote by Alexis de Tocqueville: “America is good because its people are good.” One can easily see the dangers Miller warned against that have emerged, especially in the last 40-50 years. He noted the secularization of Europe and the emerging secularization of our own country. I remember being criticized in seminary for “Constantinianism” for writing about the emergence of democracy out of Western Christianity and the Presbyterian form of church government.

Very importantly Miller also noted that scores of young people have rebelled against the “whatever” culture. He mentioned the many young Roman Catholics and Protestants who have committed their lives to a deeper purpose and especially the truth of The Greatest Story Ever Told. I am now fortunate to work beside and with many of these people.

With a background in ministry and journalism (complementary vocations?), Ray Nothstine joins the Acton Institute this week as Associate Editor. He will be working on Acton’s Religion & Liberty (new issue just out) and shepherding the monthly Acton Notes publication. And, of course, weighing in on the PowerBlog.

Ray Nothstine (pronounced NOTE-stine) holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Mississippi and a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary, which he received in 2005. He gained ministry experience at churches in Mississippi and Kentucky. Earlier, he was a staff assistant for Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) in Gulfport in 2001-02. The son of an Air Force officer, Ray has lived in such places as Okinawa, Egypt, Hawaii and now … Grand Rapids.

He began his writing career as a student and has continued as an intern and free-lancer for a number of publications and organizations, including the Institute on Religion and Democracy. IRD, you may recall, recently elected PowerBlogger John Armstrong to its board. See some of Ray’s work on the IRD site here and here.

Welcome Ray!

The NAACP held a mock funeral yesterday for the N-word. That’s nice. Many would argue that it’s a horrible word and should never be used under any circumstance.

“Today, we’re not just burying the N-word, we are taking it out of our spirit, we are taking it out of our minds,” Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said to a crowd gathered at the city’s riverfront Hart Plaza. “To bury the N-word, we’ve got to bury the pimps and the hos and the hustlers. Let’s bury all the nonsense that comes with this.”

I wish that the “N-Word” was the biggest problem in black communities (or a big problem at all). There are far more important words and phrases that the NAACP should be holding mass funerals because maybe these other areas would make the use of “N-word” inapplicable.

Here are a few suggestions of words and phrases that the NCAAP needs to bury soon:

(1) “Bitch”
(2) “Ho” and “pimp”
(3) “My baby’s daddy (or mama)” or “I take care of all my kids, I buy them what they need”
(4) “It’s because of racism”
(5) “I’m gonna have a baby even though I’m not married”
(6) “School is whack”
(7) “I didn’t get in because I’m black”
(8) “It’s white people’s fault”
(9) “Who cares if I graduate from high school?”
(10) “The government will save us”
(11) “All blacks must think like white, liberal elitist democrats”
(12) “Mysogynistic hip hop is art”
(13) “I don’t need a man, I can take care of myself”
(14) “Sports (and Entertainment) is my only way out”
(15) “It’s because of slavery”
(16) “Church? That’s for my grandma”
(17) “My car needs rims now”
(18) “What’s a savings account?”
(19) “Do yo’ chain hang low”
(20) “Open up ya mouth, ya grill gleamin”
(21) “What’s wrong with strippin’?”
(22) “Blacks can’t achieve without government forced affirmative action”
(23) “He ain’t real he’s just ‘acting white’”
(24) “Only focus on developing black females”
(25) “I got arrested because of the racist criminal justice system”

Well, I just got back from the Transformers movie (mini-review: it’s completely ridiculous, but it has Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime and lots of stuff blowing up, so it’s worth at least the matinee price, if you’re into that kind of thing), mowed the lawn (sorry – not carbon-neutral), and now I’ve stumbled upon the broadcast of Live Earth on Bravo. According to Al Gore, the concerts are not about fundraising, but are occurring simply to “raise awareness” of the issue of climate change.

A couple of points here: first, does awareness of climate change really need to be raised? Am I the only one that notices the ridiculous amounts of coverage that this issue gets every time a member of the IPCC so much as clears their throat? Is it possible for any reasonably informed person to be unaware of the issue? I tend to think that if you’re not aware of the issue at this point, no amount of awareness raising is going to do much good.

Second: isn’t it a bit odd that this big spectacle on behalf of the planet is going to end up needlessly causing a whole lot of damage to the planet, at least by the standards of the organizers?

It has been estimated that between the actual concerts, web streaming and television broadcasting, the Live Earth concert series could produce as much as 200,000 metric tons of carbon, after the conversions from electricity have been calculated. In other words, the Gore concerts could produce more carbon dioxide than was produced by all of Afghanistan in 2006.

Or put another way: “The concert will produce more CO2 in one day than the total daily fossil fuel emissions for Austria, Chile, Finland, Greece, Iraq, Kuwait, New Zealand, Philippines, Portugal, Sweden, the Virgin Islands, and a dozen other countries combined“.

If only there was a way to harness the combined power of Optimus Prime and Shakira to defeat the climate change menace and drive up PowerBlog traffic…

As for what I’ve seen so far of the music – John Mayer is Waiting on the World to Change, Melissa Etheridge is making the musical statement that “Truth is of the people, by the people, for the people” and praising Al Gore as a great truth teller, and Shakira reminded us all that Hips Don’t Lie. (I’m sure her performance raised awareness of something, but I’m almost positive it wasn’t the climate. Yusuf Islam – the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens – is performing at the same Hamburg venue; I wonder if he caught that performance?)

Well, perhaps raising awareness isn’t such a bad thing after all, considering that the people that already know about the “climate crisis” think it’s a pile of crap – literally:

The public believes the effects of global warming on the climate are not as bad as politicians and scientists claim, a poll has suggested.
The Ipsos Mori poll of 2,032 adults – interviewed between 14 and 20 June – found 56% believed scientists were still questioning climate change.

There was a feeling the problem was exaggerated to make money, it found…

The survey suggested that terrorism, graffiti, crime and dog mess were all of more concern than climate change.

Hmmm. I just saw Al Gore introduce the Foo Fighters. I think that might be a sign of the apocolypse. I’m off to take shelter as best I can…

In today’s WaPo, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson opines on Senator Barack Obama’s recent address to a gathering of UCC faithful (HT).

In “The Gospel Of Obama,” Gerson writes, “By speaking at a gathering of the United Church of Christ — among the most excruciatingly progressive of Protestant denominations — he was preaching to the liberal choir. And he did not effectively reach out to an evangelical movement in transition.”

Gerson bases this judgment on the contention, citing a Pew Forum researcher, that the younger generations of evangelicals “tend to be more concerned about the environment than are their elders, more engaged in international issues such as HIV-AIDS, a little more open on homosexual rights and less attached to the religious right. This should provide an opening for Democrats. But there is evidence, according to Green, that young evangelicals are as conservative on abortion as their parents and grandparents, if not more so.” The apparent “liberalizing” of young evangelical interests is no doubt an expression of a broader cultural phenomenon.

In addressing the UCC gathering, it would seem that Senator Obama was simply taking a page out of Rev. Jim Wallis’ playbook. For Wallis, Democrats need to get comfortable talking about matters of faith. I’ll admit that I found this passage rather curious:

Yet what we also understand is that our values should express themselves not just through our churches or synagogues, temples or mosques; they should express themselves through our government. Because whether it’s poverty or racism, the uninsured or the unemployed, war or peace, the challenges we face today are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten-point plan. They are moral problems, rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness – in the imperfections of man.

I guess I would see the “perfect ten-point plan” more the realm of government, and the “moral problems” as the realm of the church, synagogue, temple, or mosque rather than the other way around. It seems that from framing something as a “moral” issue it immediately follows that it is a political issue.

Gerson calls Obama’s speech, “a class in remedial religion,” and perhaps that’s all the Democratic party is ready for. But Gerson realizes that this “remedial religion” wasn’t presented to the Democratic faithful, but to a much more narrow slice of the liberal movement: religious progressives.

What really needs to be done, says Gerson, is a three-step process of recovering religious rhetoric effectively. “First,” says Gerson, “candidates should talk about their own faith and the importance of religion in public life, both of which Obama did well.” That’s in part what Wallis’ CNN forum on faith was intended to do…to give Democratic candidates a primer on speaking about religion in public.

But on two other fronts, Gerson finds Obama’s speech lacking: “Second, Democrats should emphasize common-ground issues that credit the moral concerns of religious conservatives while calming the waves of the culture wars — such as confronting the toxic excesses of popular culture, encouraging character and discipline in public schools, and promoting religious liberty abroad,” and “Third, leading Democrats could make real policy changes on abortion, by adopting a more moderate position than abortion on demand.” This last point is one that has been echoed by a number of others (although it’s not a prominent plank in Wallis’ platform for faithful Democrats).

I do wonder, however, how this third element would go over among the UCC mainstream, who themselves are not representative of this younger evangelical mindset. The UCC is a supporting member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and according to one source, the UCC “has strongly supported the legalization of abortion since 1971. The UCC supported FOCA and strongly opposed the PBA ban to the point of joining the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARRAL) in a statement affirming President Clinton’s veto of the PBA Ban Act in 1996. The UCC has also called for the church to support abortion in any national health care bill.” There’s a real disconnect at this point in Gerson’s piece, in that he seems to confuse the progressively mainline UCC with “young evangelicals.”

In the end, Gerson’s analysis seems to line up with what Tony Campolo wrote recently, “It is time for us to name the hypocrisy of the Left in complaining about how the Religious Right is violating the first amendment while turning a blind eye to their own candidates’ use of churches as places to campaign.”

Gerson observes in the same vein,

Obama’s criticism of the religious right for baptizing the agenda of economic conservatism — making tax cuts their highest legislative priority — had some justified sting. But then he proceeded, in the typical manner of the religious left, to give a variety of more liberal causes a similar kind of full-immersion baptism: passing a “universal health care bill,” withdrawing quickly from Iraq, approving comprehensive immigration reform. Agree with these proposals or not, none is a test of true religion.

And this points to the flaw, I think, in Wallis’ program for making the Democratic party religion-friendly: “Obama is clearly more fluent on religious issues than most in his party. But to appeal broadly to religious voters, he will need to be more than the candidate of the religious left.” Connecting the mainline churches to the Democratic party will not do much to attract young evangelicals, no matter how diverse their policy interests.

Joe Knippenberg criticizes Gerson for using “rights” language in describing the status of the poor and oppressed. Here’s the offending passage from Gerson:

The essential humanism of Christianity requires an active, political concern about human dignity and the rights of the poor and weak. But faith says little about the means to achieve those ideals. The justice of welfare reform or tax cuts or moving toward socialized medicine is measured by the outcome of these changes. And those debates cannot be short-circuited by the claim “Thus sayeth the Lord,” spoken by the Christian Coalition or the United Church of Christ.

It seems correct that we should judge policy not only by motive but also by outcome. That’s an important point, one that folks like Jim Wallis should consider more often.

Knippenberg writes that such an invocation of rights “tends to short-circuit prudence and the kind of balancing political judgment always requires. I can have a duty toward someone and he or she can have a claim on my attention and compassion without requiring me to take political action on his or her behalf. Stated another way, by emphasizing the political as opposed to the charitable element of the concern with widows and orphans, Gerson already begins to distort the debate.”

I think Knippenberg’s instinct is right to try to protect the realm of moral duty and obligation apart from political action itself. But in allowing “rights” to become a strictly political term, I think we’d be making the same mistake that some libertarians make with regard to conflating moral duty and political rights. That is, political rights should be understood as a sub-group or species of the broader category of human rights.

Gerson doesn’t make this distinction, but it’s not clear that he means to conflate political rights with all kinds of human rights either. Defining the necessary faith as both “active” and “political” makes that a valid conclusion. But it seems to me that “the means to achieve those ideals” may not be political at all, and that’s a big part of where the prudential argument should be at. The political element may enter in only by defending and upholding the liberty necessary for elements of civil society or individual action to respect those rights and fulfill those duties.

Update: Terry Mattingly at GetReligion weighs in on the Gerson piece. He writes of abortion, “There is room for political compromise here, but I have met very few young Christians who actually disagree with traditional Christian doctrines on sexuality and marriage. Would Democrats be willing to compromise and meet people in Middle-American pews in, well, the middle on this hot-button issue? Would the party’s leadership be able to convince its secular/religious liberal alliance to compromise?”

The New York Times reports today that:

More than half of Americans ages 17 to 29 — 54 percent — say they intend to vote for a Democrat for president in 2008. They share with the public at large a negative view of President Bush, who has a 28 percent approval rating with this group, and of the Republican Party. They hold a markedly more positive view of Democrats than they do of Republicans.

Young Americans are more likely than the general public to favor a government-run universal health care insurance system, an open-door policy on immigration and the legalization of gay marriage.

By a 52 to 36 majority, young Americans say that Democrats, rather than Republicans, come closer to sharing their moral values, while 58 percent said they had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, and 38 percent said they had a favorable view of Republicans.

The poll, conducted jointly with CBS and MTV, interviewed 659 individuals. The critical question is “why?” As someone once said, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”

If fact, this poll doesn’t really tell us much other than the fact that young people have opinions and that young people are just that, “young.” I worked for a Ralph Nader environmental group when I was 20 because I was naive, idealistic, and uniformed. Fifteen years later, I’m a totally different person. The real question is how will this generation vote after life weathers them a little and they attempt to reconcile the fact that government takes and squanders over one-third of their income mostly on programs and policies that don’t work.

The idealism and the goals of the United Nations are laudable. The results, at least in recent years, have often been nothing short of a disaster. One example will suffice—the recently created U.N.’s Human Rights Council, begun a year ago this past week. This council is sadly typical of the modern collapse of the U.N. The Human Rights Council consists of 47 members, almost half of which are "unfree" or "partly free" nations, at least as ranked by Freedom House. Trying to get China, Russia, Cuba and Saudi Arabia to reach an agreement on violations of freedom in various countries is like trying to get the mafia to give up crime.

Presently there are only nine countries on the human rights "watch list." These are Burundi, North Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Cambodia, Burma, Somalia and Sudan. But if Cuba is watching "the watched" then that is somewhat like the the fox watching the hen house. And at China’s request the council now insists on the "broadest possible support" of at least fifteen nations on the council to act. This means, in effect, that probes on freedom of speech and political rights are likely to amount to nothing. There has been a deafening silence from the other 190 U.N. members about these developments along with strong hints that most investigations of violators will soon end.

The council recently adopted a resolution entitled "Combating Defamation of Religions." This sounded promising. The document says that speech must "be exercised with responsibility" and limited to protect "public order, public health or morals and respect for religions and beliefs." Well and good. But there is a small problem. The only religion mentioned is Islam.

Critics of the U.S. tell us quite routinely that we who are not huge fans of the U.N. don’t really care what goes on in the world yet the U.S. is quite often one of the few nations that will actually intervene to protect human rights, though all too slowly many times. The European Union will not protect human rights so long as it has to defend Israel thus the real enemies of human rights have no real opposition politically in most of Europe. The U.S. taxpayers cover 22% of the bill for all this mess. This is why The Wall Street Journal piece was correct last week when it suggested we have only one real option: Stop funding the U.N. Human Rights Council. I have believed in the U.N., at least in theory, for a lifetime but the reality of the real world situation is fast making me doubt its real value for the future.

Blog author: blevitske
posted by on Monday, June 18, 2007

At last year’s Acton University, a few Austrian attendees made an interesting youtube video celebrating their rediscovery of the huge and obvious contributions Austria has made to free-market economics. But what about the countries that don’t have an entire school of economic thought named after them? My conversations with international participants at this year’s conference underscored two themes over and over again. First, that even the unlikeliest countries have some philosophical heritage undergirding capitalist thought. Second, that AU attracts the kind of people who want to recapture — not necessarily import — foundational principles to apply them within their own cultural context.

From Poland, a place where communism was much more than a nebulous ideology not so long ago, Jakob Baltroszewicz learned at AU how to frame capitalism in a more positive light for those in his country who are still “infected” with traces of the old regime’s tendencies. Despite Pope John Paul’s profound contributions to the capitalist legacy, “People still think in Poland that being a good Catholic and being a good capitalist are incompatible,” said Baltroszewicz. “We have a word for it — homo sovieticus. It means someone who is still sick with the Soviet way of thinking about the market and his role in it.” Baltroszewicz is currently studying Michael Novak’s moral theology at the Pontifical Academy in Krakow. He plans to stay connected to Acton as he works to revive Poland’s interest in the principles of its own free-market philosophers, especially as expressed in John Paul’s Centesimus Annus. (more…)