Category: Public Policy

Yes, I realize that no one likes the current version of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. But it is possible to make constructive changes without being comprehensive. Here are a couple of recent examples:

1. Assimilation needs to be a priority. The Administration just formed a Task Force on New Americans to help legal immigrants become more fully Americanized. Whether the Task Force will do anything substantial remains to be seen. But it is encouraging that someone in the Adminstration understands that this is an important issue.

2. New rules requiring documentation of legal status for Medicaid go into effect on July 1. There will be problems of course. (The story linked is basically all about how difficult it will be for people to come up with the required documentation, even for people who are here legally and are entitled to Medicaid.) But the principle is sound: enforce the law we already have. The documentation problems can and should be addressed.

Rep. Vito Fossella (R-NY13) endorses federal tuition tax credits for K-12 education at NRO, “An A+ Choice.”

Says Fosella: “Here’s how it would work: Families would be permitted to take a dollar-for-dollar reduction in their tax liability for non-public-school-tuition expenses. For example, a taxpayer with a liability of $10,000 and a tax credit of $4,500 would be required to pay only $5,500 in taxes. Simply, it allows families to keep more of their money to spend on their children’s education.”

The Vatican recently concluded a conference on corruption (insert joke about ‘knowing whereof they speak’). It was an impressive array of speakers, including World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, and many sensible things were said. But one is tempted to respond, “That’s all well and good; but what is anybody *doing* about it?”

Which is why it’s encouraging to see, coincidentally, another story on the same day, detailing the grassroots efforts of Catholic schools in Cameroon to nip corruption in the bud.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, June 5, 2006
By

“Cultural institutions are latching on to the issue of global warming to provide a focus and urgency to their work. At a time when museums and heritage organisations feel somewhat outdated and directionless, global warming provides a quick-fix rallying point….

This is an almighty cop-out. Institutions are avoiding the challenge of making history and science attractive to the public. Instead of inspiring visitors, institutions end up hectoring and lecturing them.”

Read the rest here: Josie Appleton, “The tide turns against culture,” sp!ked, Wednesday 31 May 2006.

Also check out the following piece from the Heartland Institute, which debunks a number of exaggerations and errors a recent issue of Time magazine: Time‘s Climate Change Issue Rife with Deception,” by Marlo Lewis.

We often hear about the “need” for debt forgiveness. Our movie stars and celebrities like to clamour about it being a “moral obligation” and, of course, leaders of developing nations like the idea as well. But is debt forgiveness really going to help out the people of these developing nations? Samuel Gregg, Acton’s director of research, argues that debt forgiveness is not a moral obligation, nor is it necessarily such a great idea for the economies of some of these countries. Dr. Gregg examines the Republic of the Congo as an example of why debt forgiveness is a bad idea.

President Sassou-Nguesso is meeting with President Bush today, and will likely raise the topic of debt forgiveness. The average person in the Congo lives on about $2 a day. The nation does have a well supplied oil industry, although much of the revenue doesn’t ever make it to the marketplace.

Where does this money end up? Likely, it is diverted to extravagent spending for President Denis Sassou-Nguesso (for example, his 8-day, $295,000 trip to New York in 2005) and his entourage. Diverting monies from the oil industry hurts the economy directly by destroying the nations contractual accountability. In order for foreign investment to function well the investor needs to have some assurance that he will see profits and growth. If an economy tends to make money disappear, investment becomes unlikely. Dr. Gregg writes:

Allowing heavily indebted nations to walk away from their debts sends precisely the wrong economic signal to private and public international lenders of capital. Why should they lend any more funds to such countries in the future if they can never be sure their funds will be returned? Developing countries need to develop reputations as responsible borrowers who not only deploy the borrowed funds productively but who also repay their debts as contracted. How will debt forgiveness of a country like the Congo, especially given its extensive government corruption, help the Congo to achieve either goal?

The solutions to the problems of national poverty, especially in developing nations with rich natural resources and motivated, entrepreneurial, citizens lies in holding those nations’ leaders accountable rather than giving in to pleas for more money that can be further diverted into their own, personal treasuries.

For more information about debt forgiveness and solutions to poverty, look into our Impact campaign. The solution to poverty requires more than good intentions, it requires sound economics as well.

Related Items:

White House Press Office, “Remarks by President Bush and President Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo in a Photo Opportunity,” U.S. Newswire, June 5, 2006.

Associated Press, “Bush, President of Congo Discuss Darfur,” Washington Post, June 5, 2006.

Eli Lake, “Congo Battle Looms Over White House,” New York Sun, June 5, 2006.

Robert E. Wright, “Review of James Macdonald A Free Nation Deep in Debt: The Financial Roots of Democracy,” Economic History Services, May 31, 2006.

Marc Vander Maas, “Bono: Give Us a Call,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, May 19, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “The Myth of Aid,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, May 15, 2006.

Samuel Gregg, Banking, Justice, and the Common Good. Grand Rapids: Acton Institute, 2005.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Movie Review: ‘The Debt of the Dictators’,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, July 21, 2005.

Osvaldo Schenone and Samuel Gregg, A Theory of Corruption. Grand Rapids: Acton Institute, 2003.

Hear ye, hear ye! The U.N. Environmental Programmmmme’s World Environment Day is June 5.

Wiki - The topic for WED 2006 is Deserts and Desertification. The slogan for WED 2006 is "Don´t desert drylands". The slogan emphasises the importance of protecting drylands, which cover more than 40% of the planet’s surface. This ecosystem is home to one-third of the world’s people who are more vulnerable members of society. The main international celebrations of the World Environment Day 2006 will be held in Algeria.

Don’t see much going on in the US for WED-06, though the folks in San Francisco put on a party last year.

This year, Pakistanis will plant 125,000 trees , corporate pioneers will be recognised by the European Union , desert wastelands are the highlight of discussions in Viet Nam, Filipinos are riding bikes (more here), Green Left Australians are highlighting old-growth forests, folks in India are having oil company sponsored quizzes and magic shows, Swaziland leadership attends conferences to "raise public awareness" (always a good reason), they’re planting trees in Malta, making post-cards in Antigua, demonstrating alternative power in Leeds (UK), and launching "green networks" in the Dominican Republic.

Tree Hugger sez I should have bought my new CIVIC in June to get a free gift from Mr. Honda (who knew?). Friends of the Earth are encouraging us to "organize events" to "raise awareness." Does blogging count? And my personal favorite: Lilongwe Hash House Harriers ("Drinkers with a running problem") have a note on their blog to visit a local nature sanctuary in honor of WED.

As I added 4th June in my calendar for the dedza hill walk, I noticed thatJune 3, Saturday, is the WESM LL World Environment Day learning thingy. The theme this year is Deserts and Desertification. Contact WESM LL for more details if you want to take part in the displays or give a talk or a walk around the LL Nature Sanctuary.

World Environment Day Learning thingy. Heh. Grab a six pack of your favorite adult beverage and wander down to your local park for a couple hours; just make sure to recycle those bottles and cans.

Oh, by the way, last Wednesday was World No Tobacco Day. If you missed it, you’re not alone.

[db also blogs at The Evangelical Ecologist.]

Abner Ramos, an alumnus of Acton’s September 2005 Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conference, experienced a change of heart not so long ago. In his work at the the East Los Angeles College Intervarsity Fellowship, he was seeing how some people displayed a sense of entitlement on matters of charity and financial assistance (like the students who were using financial aid checks to buy fancy wheels for their cars). And Abner, as he tells it on the El Acceso blog, came to the conclusion that some were simply taking advantage of his good will.

I’ve had to learn the hard way that in the ghetto, saying “no” is sometimes the best thing that you can do for people. I’ve had to learn the hard way that sometimes the poor aren’t as poor as they seem, and that they will sometimes take advantage of you once they figure out that you’re weak and have no discipline. I’ve had to learn that sometimes the poor that we work with are, well . . . lazy. Not only that, they’ve learned how to play the system to their advantage. I’ve learned that in my Christian desire to help people, I’ve actually enabled them to stay in poverty.

Abner credits his Acton education for helping him understand the problem and formulate a more effective response. Read his entire post here.

Not directly, of course, but the implication of a recent story from NPR’s Future Tense is that video games have a positive stimulative effect on doctors who are about to perform surgery.

A new study is out, and according to FT, “Surgeons who played games for 20 minutes immediately prior to performing surgical drills were faster and made fewer errors.” The study focused on a particular type of surgery, specifically “laparoscopic” procedures. Again, from FT, “The results supported findings from a smaller study in 2003, which showed that doctors who grew up playing video games tended to be more efficient and less error-prone in laparoscopic training drills.” You can hear the story in RealMedia here.

The increase of dopamine associated with playing video games can help establish learning patterns. You heard it here first: students who play video games for 20 minutes immediately preceding quizzes, tests, midterms, and exams will perform better. Video games could “augment” educational achievement.

This latter claim would need to be studied and proven, of course. It seems to me that today’s youth already play significant amounts of video games. It may well be that long-term and extended durations of video game play might have adverse effects on learning patterns as wel. This means that we’d need to look for a mediating time frame, within which the brain is stimulated and activated but does not suffer from more adverse effects.

Maybe the circumscribed use of video games can be part of the solution to the problem Anthony Bradley identifies.

Update: “The Brain Workout: In praise of video games,” OpinionJournal, by Brian C. Anderson: “Video games can also exercise the brain in remarkable ways.”

Rodney Dangerfield is famous for saying, “I don’t get no respect!” This complaint is shared in the laments that I often hear from academics, that electronic journals are not afforded the same respect as print journals. I explored some of the reasons for this as well as some of the results that have implications for journal publishers in an article published last year, “Scholarship at the Crossroads: The Journal of Markets & Morality Case Study,” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 36, no. 3 (April 2005).

The basic argument in favor of affording electronic journals the same prestige and status as print journals is that they both are based on the same fundamental quality-control process: peer review. In reality, however, all peer review is not created equal. There are practical differences in what various journals call peer review, how they exercise it, and the self-imposed rigor and depth of external reviews. But even if all peer review were qualitatively equal, there are other factors that contribute to the perception that electronic journals deserve less respect.

The fact is that there are very few, if any, practical constraints on the number and length of articles that could be published by an electronic journal. A print journal has a definite maximum number of pages per issue and volume that can be printed. This creates scarcity, and thus a perception if not the reality of increased value, since only a select number of articles can be printed. No such limits exist in the digital medium, so that such constraints must be voluntarily and rigorously enforced by electronic journal publishers if they are to mimic the dynamics of this aspect of traditional journal publishing.

One other observation I’d like to make is that the advent of e-journals has really sparked the proliferation and diversification of journal publishing. This mirrors and catalyzes the increasing specialization of academic disciplines. For example, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists 90 titles under the subject heading “History”. Some journals are focused on narrow geographical areas and historical periods, such as The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe.

To be sure, some academic disciplines, such as literature and gender studies, lend themselves to greater fracturing and diversification, so that Cervantes or Flaubert have their own dedicated e-journals. It’s entirely likely, for example, that the typical tenure review board member is going to value an article published in Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality somewhat less than one appearing in the American Journal of Sociology. In addition, peer review takes on a different shape if there are very few scholars who are true specialists in a particular area of research.

Certainly many scholars will argue that this embodies the democratization of education and academics, in that fields are no longer monopolized by a few traditional and academically conservative journals. But at the same time scholars must realize that the obscurity and extreme specialization of some of e-journals contributes greatly to their lack of prestige.

One concrete way for electronic journals as a medium to gain respect, especially in the humanistic fields, would be for major, established, respected journals to make the move from print to digital. Otherwise, electronic journals that are almost always less than a decade-old will struggle to get respect.

Writing in the San Diego Union Tribune, Ruben Navarette explains how the Mexican economy and corruption are related to the U.S. immigration problem. After talking with a Mexican born, U.S. citizen, Navarette observes:

In Mexico, the elites take pride in the fact that Mexicans abroad send home nearly $20 billion a year. But for González, that figure is a national embarrassment – an advertisement of a government’s failure to provide sufficient opportunity for its own people.

So Navarette presses him:

Doesn’t Fox deserve credit for reaching out to Mexicans in the United States? Before Fox came along, these castaways had long been ignored by Mexico’s ruling elite. Not so fast, González said. If Fox really wanted to help the estimated 6 million to 8 million illegal immigrants from Mexico living in the United States, he said, the answer is to create jobs at home so that Mexicans don’t have to leave their country and families to search for work.

Mexicans are not your typical immigrants, it seems.

“We’re not here for the American Dream,” González said. “We’re here to survive.”

When Navarette asks him what he would do if he were Presidente for a day, his companion sounds a lot like an Acton Institute grad:

(1) Tackle police corruption; people have no incentive to be productive if they’re constantly being fleeced and robbed by those who are supposed to protect them.

(2) Stop penalizing employers and small businesses; cutting licensing fees would allow companies to create more jobs and pay higher wages.

(3) Clean up the environment by punishing companies that plunder natural resources and lay waste to the countryside and waterways.

Can we sign this guy up for one of our seminars?