Category: News and Events

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Sen. Bernie Sanders

Self-described democratic socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders is doing relatively well in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. He recently polled at 34 percent (an increase from 30 percent in November) and, anecdotally, I passed several “Bernie” bumper-stickered cars on fairly empty roads this morning. Despite Sander’s and democratic socialism’s fashionableness these days, a Frenchman born in 1805 already warned against and explained the dangers of this kind of socialism. Writing for The Federalist, Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg points out how Alexis de Tocqueville “schooled” the senator. “Sanders appears to think all we need to be happy is more money,” Gregg writes. “Alexis de Tocqueville dismantled that idea two centuries ago.”

What exactly is the kind of socialism supported by Bernie Sanders and many other Americans? He’s said that it’s not Marxism and that he supports private business. It’s a “soft socialism” Gregg explains:

Freedom, Sanders maintained, requires government-provided economic security.

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Some recent headlines:

This certainly sounds bad. Why the recent flurry of these stories? Well, all of them reference a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. By “recent,” I mean it was published November 3. So more than a month ago.

There is a real trend of religious decline among Millennials. As the Pew study notes,

The share of older Millennials who say they seldom or never attend religious services has risen by 9 percentage points. And the share of older Millennials who say they seldom or never pray has risen by 6 points, as has the share who say religion is “not too” or “not at all” important in their lives.

However, I suspect the appeal of these news stories, published long after the survey they are based on, is that they tap into the fears of older generations that they are “losing the youth.” The reality is a bit more varied — and hopeful — to me. (more…)

Note: Don’t take this guy’s ship. It didn’t work out well for the last guy.

With the newest installment in the Star Wars universe, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, releasing this Friday, I figured we need more Star Wars posts here at the PowerBlog. (Does the Force tend to corrupt?)

Because I’ve completely failed to maintain a cautious optimism and am now totally geeked for the new film, I recently re-watched the original trilogy (not that other one, oh no). Among other insights, I noticed that at least one major character is a small business owner: Lando Calrissian.

Lando explains his business philosophy in the clip from The Empire Strikes Back below … right before he sells out Han and Leia to Darth Vader and Boba Fett.

If you keep watching, you get see what is perhaps the worst first meeting with a girlfriend’s dad ever.

Now, notice: Lando’s gas mining operation on Cloud City has done well because he’s managed to keep the government, the Empire, out of his business as well as stay out of the mining guild. Doing so is “advantageous to everybody.” It attracts a certain clientele that would either be under-served or not served at all by larger businesses under a different regulatory climate.

No doubt, operating under the radar (or tractor beam, as the case may be) also allows Lando to charge lower prices, as he presumably wasn’t paying taxes to the Empire or dues to the mining guild.

However, (more…)

Nativity

Special window display at the Acton Building

For the holiday season this year, the Acton Institute has a very special window display facing Veteran’s Park and Fulton Street in downtown Grand Rapids. The window display, “Wise men still seek Him” features a rare nativity set, Cathedral glass-inspired paint, and more. Acton’s president and co-founder, Rev. Robert Sirico, inspired the work, wanting to create a proper display for his personal precepio (extended nativity scene).

It’s said that in 1223, St. Francis of Assisi invented the first nativity scene, bringing together a living reenactment of the birth of Christ. Since then, these simple or ornate sets have graced the homes of many families throughout the world in all lands. (more…)

CZI LetterOver at Think Christian, I take a look at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and derive a lesson from Jesus’ interaction with the rich young man in Mark 10.

A basic lesson we can take from the decision to organize the initiative as an LLC rather than a traditional non-profit corporation is that pursuing social good is possible in a wide variety of institutional forms. A for-profit incorporation doesn’t preclude a main, or even primary, purpose aimed at social good. Just as non-profit status doesn’t by itself guarantee charitable effectiveness, for-profit incorporation doesn’t by itself indicate egoistic or self-centered goals.

Benedict XVI, in his encyclical letter Caritas in veritate, discussed a hope for “hybrid forms of commercial behaviour to emerge, and hence an attentiveness to ways of civilizing the economy. Charity in truth, in this case, requires that shape and structure be given to those types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself.”

There are, in fact, a wide variety of incorporation options available, including the relatively new L3C, a low-profit form of the LLC. As Zuckerberg puts it, the reason to go with an LLC was that it in their judgment it allows the initiative to “pursue our mission by funding non-profit organizations, making private investments and participating in policy debates — in each case with the goal of generating a positive impact in areas of great need. Any net profits from investments will also be used to advance this mission.”

Some have intimated that Chan and Zuckerberg are being hypocritical and self-serving, and that all this is about ultimately making Facebook more powerful. But if you read the original letter, you can see quite clearly what their intent is. Forms of the word “investment” occur 7 times in the letter. Words like “give,” “charity,” and “philanthropy” are either absent or understated. It was the reportage surrounding the announcement that interpreted the initiative primarily as traditional charity, philanthropy, or altruism.

The point here is that true service of others doesn’t need to be entirely disinterested, as if investing or even giving requires simple abdication of responsibility. In fact, the traditional understanding of self-interest as selfish interest in the self is flawed. Self-interest is better understood as comprising the interests of the self, which can be quite narrow or quite broad.

All this is not to say that the substance of the initiative itself is praiseworthy or condemnable. We’ll need to see a lot more than the rough sketches and outlines that are apparent thus far to make anything more than provisional judgments about the prudence of various projects. But looking at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative from the perspective of the formal decision to incorporate as an LLC, I think we can find a lesson about creative ways of approaching our attempts to civilize the economy.

In his book Living the Truth, the German Thomist Josef Pieper presents the following thesis:

All obligation is based upon being. Reality is the foundation of ethics. The good is that which is in accord with reality. He who wishes to know and to do the good must turn his gaze upon the objective world of being. Not upon his own “ideas”, not upon his “conscience”, not upon “values”, not upon arbitrarily established “ideals” and “models”. He must turn away from his own act and fix his eyes upon reality.

I can think of no other passage so contrary to the spirit of our age. This spirit has been made evident in the reaction of our political and religious leaders to the November 13 ISIS terrorist attacks and the November 30-December 11 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

That these events took place in the city most representative of Western thought from the time of St. Thomas Aquinas through that of René Descartes and then of Jean-Paul Sartre shows how the West has gone from being a Christian to a modern and finally to a post-modern society. These are characterized by three distinct types of rationalism: one based on the complementarity of the Christian faith and reason, another on the scientific method and empirical observation, and the last of which is a virtual denial of reason and reality as such. It has left society without the resources necessary to defend itself from enemies domestic and foreign. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Monday, November 23, 2015
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“Mockingjay — Part 2,” the last film based on Suzanne Collins’ bestselling Hunger Games trilogy, opened this past weekend to high sales that, nevertheless, fell short of the other films in the series and industry expectations. In addition, with a thematically confused ending, the story itself doesn’t live up to the quality of previous installments.

Regarding sales, Brent Lang reported for Variety,

The final film in the “Hunger Games” series debuted to numbers that few pictures in history have ever enjoyed, but not everyone seems impressed.

Indeed, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2” is a victim of the franchise’s success. The film’s $101 million bow ranks as the lowest of the four installments and is off 17% from the previous film in the series. Globally, the picture also struggled to attract as big crowds. The $247 million it made worldwide fell short of the roughly $300 million that many analysts expected the picture would generate.

Lang offers an interesting bit of speculation for what the “problem” may have been with this second “Mockingjay”:

Compounding issues, “Mockingjay — Part 2” ends on a relatively downbeat note. Although a series built around children fighting to the death always had dark undercurrents, the film ended with political maneuvering and betrayals that prevented it from concluding on a triumphal note. Moreover, some of the novelty of the concept had worn off by the fourth and final installment.

I’m not sure that it would have improved ticket sales, but I actually think the problem was the source material. Specifically, I don’t think the ending was downbeat enough, because Collins tried to have it both ways between tragedy and victory. Let me explain. (Spoiler alert!) (more…)