Global Democracy and freedom are under attack. Freedom House, a nonprofit organization which monitors freedom and advocates for democracy and human rights just released the 2015 “Freedom in the World” report. The results are not good. In his introduction, Arch Puddington, vice president for research says that “the condition of global political rights and civil liberties, showed an overall decline. Indeed, acceptance of democracy as the world’s dominant form of government—and of an international system built on democratic ideals—is under greater threat than at any point in the last 25 years.” The report offers several examples of how citizen’s freedoms are being trampled. (more…)
North Korea finally decided to comment on the most famous image of the nation. Almost exactly one year ago, NASA released several photos of the earth at night, showing many brightly lit nations and a shockingly dark North Korea. Last week, the Rodong Sinmun (“Workers’ Newspaper”), a state-run North Korean newspaper, ran an editorial that addressed the photo.
This editorial, “Right in Front of Our Eyes” is fairly typical propaganda, telling North Korean citizens that they should wholeheartedly follow and respect Kim Jong Un in order to “build a great nation.” The Wall Street Journal’s Korea Realtime Blog summarized it, saying that it makes only two points about the photo: “(1) let’s not get too hung up about having a functioning electrical grid, and (2) the photo actually represents the future of the U.S.” The editorial assures its citizens that “[North Korea’s detractors] clap their hands and get loud over a satellite picture of our city with not much light, but the essence of society is not on flashy lights.” Essentially, this brutal dictatorship equates a basic human need such as electricity to something “flashy” and denies that this photo is any sort of proof of failure. (more…)
Are you a professor interested in free market principles? Do you know of one? The Acton Institute is offering mini-grants between $1,000-$10,000 for faculty at colleges, universities, and seminaries in the United States and Canada. The purpose of these mini-grants is to enhance the effectiveness in the teaching and scholarship of market economics. In the past, these mini-grants were only available for business and economics faculty at Christian schools, but this year any faculty (in the U.S. and Canada) working with free market principles are eligible.
The Acton Institute invites proposals from faculty in one or more of the following broad categories:
- Course development —specifically adding new courses or strengthening existing courses in the curriculum which address the nature, morality, function, and purpose of free-market economics. This may include courses that deal with religion and economics, microeconomics, macroeconomics, political economy, ethics and economics, the history of economic thought, or other related subject areas.
- Faculty scholarship —identifying scholarly projects which show promise for advancing the understanding of free markets, particularly in light of globalization.
Ideal proposals will demonstrate how the free market relates to Judeo-Christian faith and ethics. The deadline for applications is March 15, 2015 and winners will be notified by April 15,2015. (more…)
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day,” wrote Maimonides. “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” With all due respect to Maimonides, much has happened since the 12th century. Among those changes is inexpensive, plentiful energy which powers refrigeration, which frees a man from the burden of fishing every day and allows him to engage in other worthy pursuits. That is only if the progressive crusade to strand fossil fuels in the ground is seen as folly, as well as their efforts to replace current energy production completely with far costlier and extremely less reliable renewables.
Modern conveniences have improved life immeasurably to the extent that 99 percent of the world’s population in developed countries takes such everyday amenities as refrigeration for granted. For those living in developing countries, writes Sanjoy Majumder in the BBC News Magazine, up to 35 percent live without a means to safely, inexpensively and efficiently preserve their food from spoilage.
The growing number of those availing themselves of refrigeration is a testament to the immeasurable good technology has brought to the world – and especially the world’s poorest. Majumder relates the story of Santosh Cowdhury, a native of the Indian village of Rameshwarpur, who recently joined the ranks of the 25 percent of Indians owning a refrigerator. The tailor is the first in his village of 200 people to purchase a refrigerator, which has electricity, cell phones and televisions. (more…)
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?
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…)
Taking 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.
In 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.