Category: News and Events

Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin

Just say no to fracking!

For all of their wailing and gnashing of teeth about transparency, some in the American progressive movement certainly turn a blind eye toward the funding of their own pet causes. Last week, The Washington Free Beacon’s Lachlan Markay reported that millions of dollars from unknown sources have been passed through a company in Bermuda and transferred to American nonprofits who oppose hydraulic fracturing and, it seems, any industry involved with fossil fuels. Among these nonprofits are several established groups of religious shareholder activists.

Markay quotes a Senate Minority Staff report released last summer by the U.S. Committee on Environment and Public Works (CEPW):

This report articulates several possible reasons for the convoluted and secretive structure of the far-left environmental movement; yet, at the end of the day, we are still asking – why? Why [are billionaires and millionaires] going to such extreme lengths to hide their generous support of supposed charitable causes?

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Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, January 26, 2015
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It gets really interesting now in the wake of Syriza’s stunning victory in yesterday’s Greek elections, widely interpreted as a populist rejection of austerity programs that could spread to other indebted European Union basket cases. All eyes on are Alexis Tsipras, the newly-sworn in prime minister (in a highly unusual secular ceremony), with a lot of unanswered questions about how his party will govern. (Syriza is the transliterated Greek acronym for Coalition of the Radical Left). I’ve been following this story – indeed the long gut-wrenching meltdown of the Greek economy – in recent years with more than casual interest. I grew up in a Greek immigrant household and have retraced my grandparents’ steps back to the family villages (I’m what real Greeks refer to as a “two week Greek”).

On the Forbes site, Charles Calomiris paints a picture of what is in store for Greeks if Tsipras follows through on his promises to magically wish away debt (176 percent of GDP), go after “the rich” (Greek shipowners) and give away more free stuff (electrical power, health care, higher minimum wage, etc.) paid for with other people’s money:

… the likely consequences for Greece of Sunday’s election are a chaotic future of bank runs, devaluation, capital flight, and even more worrying, new radical leftist policies to respond to the economic collapse produced by the crisis (e.g., huge expansions of government spending, and nationalizations). Nothing can be ruled out when someone like Mr. Tsipras is in charge – a European version of Hugo Chavez.

Calomiris concludes by observing that “although it is likely that Mr. Tsipras’s victory will soon be regarded as a major electoral error by Greeks, it could be a helpful wake up call for the rest of Europe.” (more…)

Last Friday at Religion Dispatches, Kara Loewentheil explored the recent story of a Denver bakery that is being “sued for refusing to bake a homophobic cake.” She calls into question the legitimacy of the request:

It’s a snappy inversion of the now-classic example of bakers who refuse to provide wedding cakes for gay marriage or commitment ceremonies (or florists who refuse to provide flowers, photographers who refuse to photograph the ceremony, etc.). And that’s probably not an accident; if I were a betting woman, I’d bet heavily that a pro-religious-exemption think tank or law firm, like the Becket Fund, had come up with this plan and recruited a plaintiff to set it in motion.

Joe Carter has recently noted this case here at the PowerBlog as well, writing,

Whether the request was serious or a stunt done to make a political point, I find the viewpoint expressed to be loathsome. Assuming the words were indeed “hateful” they should have no association with a symbolic representation of the Christian faith. I also believe Ms. Silva should not be forced to use her creative skills in a way that violates her conscience.

This case is interesting, as Loewentheil put it, as “a snappy inversion of bakers who refuse to provide wedding cakes for gay marriage or commitment ceremonies.” And to her credit, despite her suspicion that the cake is a lie, she goes on to consider the implications by sharpening the question with a further hypothetical situation:

But what if there was no speech involved, or even no image at all? Just a customer who comes in and says “I want to order a cake to be used at my Church prayer group, where we plan to pray that God will smite anyone in a same-sex marriage or who has had an abortion. We will bless the cake and serve it in celebration of this holy purpose.” That’s a reasonable analogy to the gay couple that requests a cake for their wedding ceremony, I think, for the purposes of separating out identity from action, although it’s an imperfect one given the social and spiritual and legal significant of a marriage. But still, it’s a worthwhile foil for thinking through the argument. So does the fact that I find the prayer service purpose hateful or objectionable, or in conflict with my own principles, change its legal implications?

She explores several possible answers, but comes down undecided in the end:

Another interesting thought experiment is to imagine that you have an anti-marriage equality baker who is willing to bake cakes for gay customers in general, even knowing they are gay, but is not willing to bake one for a gay marriage. If that is discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, then how do we think about a baker who would be willing to bake a cake for religious Christians in general, but just not if it is to be used at an anti-abortion or anti-marriage equality prayer service?

I’m not sure what the answer is here. But one of the things I find really interesting about this example is the way it highlights the blurry boundaries between politics and religious values.

I have been hesitant to comment on these cases myself for precisely this reason. In fact, I think the boundaries are even blurrier. (more…)

ss_101382800Taking advantage of every Super Bowl XLIX opportunity to empty a sack full of football tropes, Green America unleashed an email this week, seeking your writer’s help in pressuring Sabra Hummus to discontinue use of genetically modified organisms. The tasty product, distributed by Sabra Dipping Co., LLC and 50-percent owned by PepsiCo Inc., goes well with chips and soft drinks on game day but has raised the ire of anti-GMO activists Green America and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. The Green America email reads:

Sabra Hummus is the official dip of the NFL and one of the major backers of Super Bowl XLIX. The Super Bowl is a huge marketing opportunity for Sabra to continue to misinform consumers by promoting its product as a healthy alternative to traditional halftime snacks. The reality is quite different – Sabra hummus is laden with GMOs. It doesn’t matter if your favorite team isn’t playing, or if you are not a big fan of football. This is an important time to speak up and tell Sabra to score a touchdown by removing GMOs.

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upennIn its eighth annual survey, the Think Tanks & Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania put the Acton Institute among the top organizations in social policy, advocacy, conferences and overall excellence. The 2014 Global Go-To Think Tank Index published by the Think Tanks & Civil Societies Program, which has a database of more than 6,500 organizations, ranks the world’s leading think tanks in a variety of categories and across a wide political spectrum. The rankings are compiled with the help of a panel of over 1,900 peer institutions and experts from the print and electronic media, academia, public and private donor institutions, and governments around the world.

Highlights from the 2014 report:

• Acton Institute 9th in the Top Social Policy Think Tanks (11th in 2013)
• Acton Institute 29th in Top Think Tanks in the United States (34th in 2013)
• 11th in Best Advocacy Campaign (10th in 2013) for PoveryCure.org
• 17th in Best Think Tank Conference (17th in 2013) for Acton University

In its new report, the Think Tanks & Civil Societies Program noted that although the raw number of think tanks around the world has declined slightly, think tanks “continue to expand their role and influence in countries around the world.” The need for think tanks as key players for a flourishing civil society remains strong:

Across both developed and developing countries, governments and individual policymakers face the common problem of bringing expert knowledge to bear in government decision-making. Policymakers need reliable, accessible, and useful information about the societies they govern. They also need to know how current policies are working, as well as possible alternatives and their likely costs and consequences. Although this need has long been an inherent dynamic of the policymaking process, the forces of globalization have accelerated the growth of independent think tanks given their unique ability to strengthen the research-policy bridge and increase the quality and effectiveness of policymaking. This expanding need has fostered the growth of independent public policy research organizations in 182 countries around the world.

Even as the scope and impact of think tanks’ work have expanded, their potential to support and sustain democratic governments and civil societies is far from exhausted. The challenge for the new millennium is to harness the vast reservoir of knowledge, information, and associational energy that exist in public policy research organizations to support self-sustaining economic, social, and political progress.

In the Wall Street Journal, Acton Institute President and co-founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico discusses the pope’s recent comments. “If the pope got up and read the phone book, it would grab headlines,” Sirico quipped.

noun_86179_ccToday at Think Christian I reflect on President Obama’s State of the Union message last night. I think it was perhaps the best speech I have heard him give in terms of delivery and general tone. There are numerous things that one might quibble with in a speech of that length, of course.

My TC piece is an attempt to help us to put into proper perspective political promises and policy proposals. I look particularly at the question of economic inequality and the assumptions underlying the government’s redistributive actions.

As Danielle Kurtzleben puts it, “Obama is making a case that the economy’s distribution engine is broken, and that the recovery simply won’t fix it. His solution is for government to approach redistribution as a positive good rather than a necessary evil.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, January 19, 2015
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Earlier this year, UCLA made available for the first time the audio of a speech from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. given just over a month after the march from Selma to Montgomery. On April 27, 1965, King addressed a number of topics, including debate surrounding the Voting Rights Act.

At one point in the speech, King stops to address a number of “myths” that are often heard and circulated, and one of these is of perennial interest, as it has to do with the interaction between positive law, morality, and culture. We often hear, for instance, that law is downstream from culture, and this is true enough. Thus King admits (starting at around the 33:35 mark) that there is some truth in this kind of view as far as it goes. But this does not mean that there is no place for legislation.

As King puts it,

It may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also. So while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. And when you change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes and the hearts will be changed. And so there is a need for strong legislation constantly to grapple with the problems we face.

MLK UCLA
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Pope Francis and Benedict XVI

Horrific acts of violence and the dangers of free expression have been on everyone’s minds lately. After the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the ongoing terrorism by Boko Haram, and countless other attacks and atrocities, many commentators are discussing violence in the name of Islam and limits on free expression. One of these people is Pope Francis, who discussed the Charlie Hebdo attack during a flight to the Philippines. Another, who actually made the remarks almost ten years ago at the University of Regensburg, is Pope Benedict XVI.  Director of Research at Acton, Samuel Gregg, and editor-at-large of National Review Online, Kathryn Jean Lopez, recently discussed Benedict’s Regensburg address, violence in the name of Islam, and free expression.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: What do you make of the controversy over Pope Francis’s comments, on the plane ride to the Philippines, about free expression?

Samuel Gregg: The context, of course, was his remarks about the unacceptability of violence in the name of religion. The pope affirmed that such violence is indeed unacceptable. Pope Francis also indicated that he thinks freedom of expression is essential. The difficulty, to my mind, surrounds his comments that freedom of expression cannot be a basis for offending other people with regard to religious matters. We all know that freedom of expression isn’t absolute.

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Blog author: sstanley
Thursday, January 15, 2015
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BushBerns

Walter Berns receiving the National Humanities Medal in 2005

Resident Scholar at AEI and Georgetown University Professor Emeritus of Government, Walter Berns, passed away on January 10, 2015. Director of Istituto Acton, Kishore Jayabalan, recently reflected on his time in Bern’s classroom and how that greatly influenced him:

Simply put, I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t audited the last course he taught at Georgetown. Slogging away as an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, I dreamt of graduate school while taking Latin and Greek courses at the Department of Agriculture night school (who knew such things existed at taxpayer expense?), but I didn’t know what I wanted to study. On the advice of my friend John J. Miller, I called Mr. Berns, who immediately told me he was about to retire from teaching and would be of little help to me for future studies. I replied that I only wanted to audit his course, which he very graciously let me do.

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