Category: Public Policy

The eyes of many in the world have turned to Cuba over the last day or so. A great deal has been made of the historic changes in the relationship between the US and Cuba and whether such changes fundamentally alter the situation of the political leaders and the elites in the island nation.

More interesting to me, however, are the personal stories of suffering and loss during the years of the Castro regime and the hope that dawns,  however slight it may be, with the normalization of relations. Perhaps the changes will simply serve to prop up a tyrannical regime, but there is real possibility that the day-to-day existence for millions of people will improve with greater travel, access to markets, and communication.

One of the great tragedies of the Castro regime was its suppression of non-approved cultural artifacts and forms, including traditional Cuban music. The Buena Vista Social Club’s closure was representative of a larger tradition of cultural pluralism and civil society in Cuba that had no place in the communist regime.

The guitarist Ry Cooder visited Cuba in the 1990s, and was able to reunite many of the original members of the club. Cooder put together an international tour for these wonderful musicians, including a trip to Carnegie Hall in New York City. That created an album and later a documentary. Here’s a scene from the documentary where a couple of Cuban musicians are visiting New York City for the first time:

The audio cuts out a couple minutes in, but you can see the wonder and appreciation that is apparent in their reactions. They see immediately and instinctively that the vitality and vigor of the city, with its commerce, exchange, culture, and liberty, are a marked contrast to their experiences in Cuba. “Activity! Activity! Activity!” one of them celebrates.

“This is the life!” concludes the other. Let’s hope that increased liberalization of engagement between the US and Cuba can help unleash more of this kind of vibrant dynamism among a people that stand in so desperate need of it.

Do yourself a favor and check out The Buena Vista Social Club.

In this week’s commentary I argue that “Do They Even Know It’s Christmas?” is the worst Christmas song of all time.

Kanye agrees.Kanye Bono Christmas

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
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bitcoin-deadEarlier this year I declared that Bitcoin was (nearly) dead. But as The Princess Bride’s Miracle Max once explained, “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.”

Right now, Bitcoin is only mostly dead. As an investment, it was the worst of 2014. As a currency, it was destroyed by the IRS by a single sentence (“For federal tax purposes, virtual currency is treated as property.”). All that really remains is for it to become a financial network. But then it will be likely killed (i.e., all dead) with one word: regulation.

As Henry Farrell explains, Bitcoin has only survived this long because the U.S. government hasn’t really considered it to be a viable financial network:
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
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Political-Corruption-Bigger-Threat-than-TerrorismPolitical corruption is the use of legislated powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain. While it isn’t as endemic in the U.S. as it is in some countries (Somalia, North Korea, and Afghanistan being the most corrupt), the problem still exists. According to the Justice Department, in the last two decades more than 20,000 public officials and private individuals were convicted for crimes related to corruption and more than 5,000 are awaiting trial, the overwhelming majority of cases having originated in state and local governments.

But measuring corruption based on convictions can be tricky for a variety of reasons, ranging from inadequate data to partisan bias. One alternative measure is to use perceptions, especially of state and local governments. Oguzhan Dincer and Michael Johnston surveyed the news reporters covering state politics in addition to the investigative reporters covering issues related to corruption during the first half of 2014 to gauge their perception of state corruption:

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Blog author: ehilton
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
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grow upChildren have always worked in our country. On farms, in factories, in family-owned businesses, children have worked and continue to do so. However, we know that children face increased risks for injuries and fatalities in many jobs, and that working often means that children are not in school.

In a Minneapolis suburb where a school is under construction, a union boss stops by the non-union work site to check on things.

He saw something surprising: a boy, who appeared to be about 12 or 13, wearing jeans and a fluorescent work vest, smoothing mortar on a brick wall. It was a clear violation of child-labor laws, which prohibit 12 and 13-year-olds from working most jobs, except on farms, and also say that youths aged 14 and 15 may not work in hazardous jobs, including construction.

When others in the Laborers Union went to the site, they saw a boy too, this time driving a bobcat and cutting concrete with a saw. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
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Today over at Think Christian I explore how Christmas relates to material goods, and specifically how we are to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33).

grinchstore

071016_schoen_middleClass_hmed5p.grid-6x2In the latest edition of his monthly newsletter, Economic Prospect, John Teevan offers three keys to cultivating a flourishing middle class, as excerpted below:

  1. Income and Jobs: America looks at jobs and incomes alone and can only explain fading middle class by blaming rich people. We can do better than just focus on money. Isn’t life more than your job and what it will buy? …
  2. Marriage and Family. The middle class would swell and poverty would be decimated if all people were married. The endless single-parent homes are poor almost by definition. It’s practically a rule that you can’t be middle class if you have a child and are not married. Marriage makes it possible to attain other middle class values such as upward mobility, a house…filled with “nice” things, along with pleasant home life, free time, and feeling successful. Whether you ask CNBC’s Larry Kudlow or Rainbow Coalition’s Jesse Jackson they agree: the one thing that would help individuals and the nation with respect to poverty is for most people to get married. Kudlow recently said that, “…marriage gives people a reason to work, a home one hopes is stable, and children for whom two parents feel responsible” (Nov 11,2014 T-U).
  3. Values and Morals. Middle class morals and values may seem like a quaint topic, but you can’t have a middle class without them. At one time the middle class was divided between blue and white collar jobs. What’s crucial is that (a) both collars valued work for income and also as proof of competence and responsibility. (b) The middle class values education. Literacy was essential in 1900, by 1950 it was a high school degree, and now you need at least an Associate’s Degree to have the education needed for joining the middle class. (c) A sense of civic responsibility is another middle class value so that parents are involved in their children’s schooling, local government, church, and other not-for-profits. Shouting NIMBY at a zoning meeting does not count. (d) Decency. Decency didn’t mean that there was no bad behavior but that bad behavior was not considered the norm; decency was the norm, but no longer. You can have an income of $25,000 or 85,000, but without these values you are not middle class. Why do middle class people tend to be decent, moral, educated and civic? Because it makes a real difference to them and their families.

Integrated Justice - front cover (1)Echoing some of the key themes of his latest book, Integrated Justice and Equality: Biblical Wisdom for Those Who Do Good Works, Teevan proceeds to critique the modern tendency to focus only on #1 (income and jobs) to the detriment of family and values/morals.

As Teevan explains, “a robust and even biblical view of life unites work, ethics, and family into a life that thrives and is worth living both at work and home”:

We can’t have a middle class just by juicing incomes; it takes middle class values as lived out in families as well. Is this obsolete thinking? The alternative is to wonder if the middle class itself is obsolete. And what if it is? Then the world will be divided into well-educated high income people and all others who do basic service, construction, transportation, retail and manufacturing. One drawback of our high focus on business and economics is that it is accompanied by the idea that ethics and family are secondary or even optional. A robust and even biblical view of life unites work, ethics, and family into a life that thrives and is worth living both at work and home.

For more of Teevan’s views on inequality and justice, see his book, Integrated Justice and Equality: Biblical Wisdom for Those Who Do Good Works, which is now available from Christian’s Library Press, an imprint of the Acton Institute.

The above excerpt is from Teevan’s monthly email, Economic Prospect, which you can subscribe to by sending him a request.

campusrapeThe Education Department has concluded an investigation at Princeton University, and determined that the school violated the Title IX gender equity law in its handling of sexual assault cases.

What did Princeton do wrong?

Part of the problem, says the Education Department, is that the university violated the rights of rape survivors by using a standard of proof for sexual assault cases higher than the federally recommended standard, which requires a “preponderance of evidence” for responsibility.

At this point you may be thinking, “Wait, I thought the standard of evidence for crimes was ‘reasonable doubt’?” That is indeed the standard. But that is only if you treat sexual assaults as crimes. And as Ashe Schow notes, “Rape and sexual assault are crimes, unless they occur on college campuses.”

Then, the federal government believes untrained college administrators only need to be 50.01 percent sure that an accuser is more believable than the accused to brand a student as a rapist for life.

In a federal probe of Princeton University, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights faulted the Ivy League university for violating the federally recommended standard of proof for cases of rape and sexual assault. Read that again: the “recommended” standard of proof, not an actual law.

Princeton was using the “clear and convincing evidence” standard for its proceedings, which is a higher burden of proof than the federally recommended “preponderance of evidence” but not as high as the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

If you steal a stack of textbooks at State U., you’ll likely be arrested and face criminal proceedings. If you bash a student over the head with a beer bottle at Commutersville Community College, you can go to prison. So why if you rape or sexually assault a fellow student at an Ivy League school do you face a college administrative hearing?

The fact that such hearings violate both the rights of the accused and the rights of the victim should horrify anyone who cares about justice. Why then are serious crimes being adjudicated by the same people who handle charges of plagiarism? Why aren’t colleges and the federal government treating rapes and sexual assaults on college campuses like actual crimes?

In his reflections on art and common grace, Abraham Kuyper affirmed that “the world of beauty that does in fact exist can have originated nowhere else than in the creation of God. The world of beauty was thus conceived by God, determined by his decree, called into being by him, and is maintained by him.” Beauty is, in this deep sense, a creational good, and even though beauty is often pressed into the service of evil, beauty, like all good things, is a creation of God.

During last week’s symposium at Calvin College on common grace and business, Dr. Vahagn Asatryan of Redeemer University College presented on marketing and common grace. To open his paper, Dr. Asatryan used this advertisement. Be sure to watch to the end and pay special attention to the message at the conclusion of the commercial:

Asatryan noted the deep beauty of the story told in this piece, and yet ultimately it depicts a situation that conflicts with God’s will for human social life. In the old days it was referred to as “living in sin.” What might a marketing piece that is more affirming of God’s common grace as reflected in his will for the human institution of marriage look like?
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anniseparkerEarlier this month the city of Houston sent out a subpoena to five area pastors demanding to see:

All speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.

Houston mayor Annise Parker even appeared to support the measure, saying on her Twitter account, “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?”

But after a national outcry — that included hundreds of Bibles being sent to her office — the mayor has decided to change her position. Today she announced she’s withdrawing the subpoenas:
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