Category: Public Policy

As Syria enters the fifth year of civil war, one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history is unfolding with no end in sight. This bloody conflict has resulted in the deaths of more than 220,000 Syrians and displaced more than 11 million people, driving almost 4 million people to neighboring countries. Fully one-third of refugees are now in substandard housing and the UN Refugee Agency says the situation is“deteriorating drastically.” An estimated 600,000 refugee children, many of whom have just spent a harsh winter in tents, are no long attending school.

Mark Ohanian, director of programs for International Orthodox Christian Charities, speaks with Acton Institute Director of Communications John Couretas about the Syria relief effort, and the massive flow of refugees into neighboring countries such as Lebanon.

For those in the West Michigan area, Ohanian will be in Grand Rapids on Sunday, May 17, to give a talk on what’s happening in Syria and the Middle East at St. Nicholas Antiochian Church, 2250 E. Paris Avenue SE Grand Rapids MI 49546. IOCC is one of the few relief agencies doing work inside Syria today. It partners with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East and acts as a lead agency for other church relief organizations and major governmental agencies such as USAID and the United Nations. For more information on the event, visit this link.

three feathers

Three Feathers

No doubt about it: hiring a convicted felon is a gamble. For someone out of prison, it can seem as if no one wants you. You’re too much of a risk.

Then someone takes that risk. And it changes everything.

For a man named Three Feathers, who had spent more than 28 years in either state or federal prisons, it meant a chance at life – literally. He told his employer that had he not been hired, he would have committed suicide. “I went everywhere,” Three Feathers said. “McDonald’s wouldn’t even hire me, dude.”

The man that took a chance on Three Feathers is Peter Asch, CEO of Twincraft Skincare in Vermont. (more…)

Every year on Earth Day events are held around the globe to demonstrate support for environmental protection. You aren’t likely to see any celebrations of fossil fuels, though, despite all the ways they have improved the environment for human life and flourishing. As Alex Epstein says, maybe we should reflect more on how fossil fuels has made our environment cleaner and healthier.

(Via: AEI Ideas)

hippy environmentIn an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, the director of Acton’s Rome office, Kishore Jayabalan, offered his thoughts on the upcoming papal encyclical on the environment. Jayabalan told the Reporter’s Brian Roewe that he did not deny that climate change exists, since it indeed changes all the time. Jayabalan’s concern is that the upcoming encyclical won’t be based on sound scientific research.

To say that the science requires us to do X, Y and Z, I’m skeptical about that because I’m not sure exactly if the problem has been adequately understood and described so that everyday people can make sense of it and help us understand what we should do about the problem,’ he said.

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That’s one of the questions that comes to mind when reading Bill McGurn’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Many free-market advocates, including yours truly, have already expressed concern over what may appear in the papal encyclical due this summer. McGurn concurs but, like a good entrepreneur, also sees an opportunity:

The fears are not without cause. There are many signs that do not augur well, from the muddled section on economics in the pope’s first encyclical [Actually, it was an apostolic exhortation. — K.J.] to his posing for a photo while holding up an anti-fracking T-shirt, to press coverage anticipating he will be to the fight against greenhouse gases what Pope John Paul II was to the fight against Soviet communism.

Even so, the topic is ripe for precisely the kind of corrective a pope has to offer: a reminder that God’s creation is meant to serve man—not man the environment. And its corollary: It is the have-nots who pay the highest price for the statist interventions so beloved of the Church of St. Green.

The term “human ecology” was used by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI (see my lecture on the topic), not only to speak about trendy environmental issues such as climate change but ones less popular among Western celebrities, especially the importance of marriage and family and the evils of population control. In doing so, the popes showed themselves to be pro-social-justice and pro-life/pro-family at the same time.

It’s possible, however, that the opponents of capitalism will use the occasion to attack economic freedom once again, even if it ultimately hurts the poor. Nothing very human about that kind of ecology.

Both my parents grew up in Detroit, and my childhood was filled with great trips to visit family for holidays and in the summer. The downtown Hudson’s store was always a destination. One of my aunts worked there, and it was the place to shop. Our trips always included a stop for a Sander’s hot fudge ice cream puff as well. My sisters and I played endless games on the stoop of my grandmother’s home, and a few miles away, rode bikes up and done sidewalks neighborhood sidewalks with our cousins.

That Detroit doesn’t exist anymore. What was once a thriving and beautiful Midwestern city is now a place struggling to remake itself. Harry Veryser, economist and professor at University of Detroit Mercy, has a few ideas as to how Detroit just might make a comeback, and why it ended up the way it is now.

 

On Naharnet, a Lebanese news and information site, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg and Director of Istituto Acton Kishore Jayabalan comment on Pope Francis’s forthcoming environmental encyclical, which the news organization says is planned for release this summer. (Note: The article describes Acton as a “Catholic” think tank but it is, in fact, an ecumenical organization with broad participation from Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians and those of other faith traditions.) Naharnet notes that “a papal encyclical is meant to provide spiritual guidance to the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, but among advocates of climate action hopes are high that this one will resonate far beyond the church.”

Samuel Gregg, research director of the conservative Michigan-based Catholic think tank, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, said he doubts that the pope will weigh in on the science of climate change or on any particular political course of action.

“Individual Catholics—lay people, as well as bishops—have a variety of views on the science of climate change, and as citizens, they’re quite entitled to hold those views,” he said. “It’s not the church’s responsibility, nor does it have the authority to say that Catholics must support this treaty, that treaty, or any treaty. It doesn’t fall into the area of faith and morals. And this is often a distinction not understood outside the Catholic Church, or even by a good number of Catholics themselves.” (more…)

hopebutverifyLast week a group of (mostly liberal) Christian leaders took out a full-page ad in Roll Call calling on lawmakers to support the recent Framework Agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. “As Christian leaders we are telling our political leaders: It is imperative that you pursue this agreement with integrity, commitment, and perseverance,” The ad says. “We will be praying for you.”

The support of the agreement is a mistake, says Nicholas G. Hahn III. Why focus on urging a nuclear agreement when Christians are suffering under the Tehran regime?
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school-choice-justiceSocial justice is a term and concept frequently associated with the political Left, and too often used to champion views that are destructive for society and antithetical to justice. Yet for Christians the term is too valuable to be abandoned. Conservatives need to rescue it from the Left and restore it’s true meaning. True social justice is obtained, as my colleague Dylan Pahman has helpfully explained, “when each member, group, and sphere of society gives to every other what is due.”

A key sphere of society in which social justice is in desperate need of restoration is education. The poor deserve the same freedom to obtain a quality education that is too often reserved for those wealthy enough to rescue their children from failing schools. For this reason school choice should be considered a matter of social justice.

As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput says, lack of a quality education is a common thread among persons in severe poverty. And once stuck in deep poverty it’s very hard for anyone to escape due to the lack of skills needed to secure and hold employment:
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29taxes.2-500In an attempt to trap Jesus, some Pharisees and Herodians asked him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” In response, Jesus said,

“Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The Pharisees and Herodians “marveled” at Jesus answer, but had they asked an agent of the Roman IRS they likely would have been given a similar answer.

Governments have always had to contend with citizens who make what are considered “frivolous tax arguments” to avoid complying with tax laws. Such arguments rarely work (it’s usually not effective to try to present a creative interpretation of tax law to the people who interpret tax laws) but people keep trying.

The IRS has an entire list of responses to the most common frivolous tax arguments. Here are four of my favorites:
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