Category: Public Policy

Many people that I know go out and vote to elect Congress members, U.S. senators, and all sorts of local officials. But I don’t know of that many people who are able or willing to go out and see what their elected officials are actually doing.

I recently discovered a website — a project of The Washington Post — that helps you keep track of just that, although only on the Federal level. The “Votes Database” lets you follow what’s going through Congress, and how everyone is voting. It lets you see what the party vote was, and also how individual elected officials voted.

For those who don’t like visiting websites every day, you can get RSS feeds for each member of Congress and monitor their work from your favorite RSS reader. This is a great way to get a little bit more proactive about knowing what’s happening in the government.

According to Census Bureau estimates, the population of the United States will hit 300,000,000 sometime in the next couple weeks.

Discussion of the significance of this demographic milestone, such as the latest issue of US News & World Report brings to mind a related topic: social security. Having harped on social security reform for some time, I gave it a rest for a while. But the issue hasn’t gone away. All the dire projections of a shortfall in social security—and other entitlements tied to the aging of America’s population, such as Medicare—have simply become clearer and more certain over the course of the last couple years.

President Bush’s talk of reform gave hope to some, but the reality has been little more than treading water (conceding that there have been other pressing concerns with which the administration has had to deal). As the analyses at the Institute for Policy Innovation (see “Entitlement Reform”) show, the problem can’t be ignored forever.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 29, 2006
By

Our week-long series concludes with a reflection on the implications of the great biblical theme of the consummation of creation into the new heavens and the new earth.

Consummation – Revelation 22:1–5

To the extent that we are able in this life, Christians are called to the path of holiness. This path begins with the recognition of the boundaries God has set up, in the created and preserved world and in his law, both in its divine and natural promulgations. We can be sure that there will be an eschatological reality in which “no longer will there by any curse” (Revelation 22:3 NIV).

And this assurance gives us the hope to spur us on to more wholeheartedly work for the good during our time on this earth. One way in which we can begin to live out this calling is to work against the effects of sin and evil in the world.

Attitudes which reduce animals (or humans) to having merely instrumental value reflect sin and corruption, not righteousness and restoration. Creating mice with human brains so that they can be killed in utero violates the value conferred upon animals as sharing with humans “the breath of life.”

But even more seriously, these actions violate the created dignity of human beings who bear the image of God. Both the perpetrators and victims are effected negatively.

Quite simply, human beings, as God’s image-bearers, are placed in a position of unique authority over creation, but also bear in themselves inherent dignity which places the worth of human beings as far greater than that of plants, or even animals. This doesn’t devalue the rest of creation; but it rightly orders creation with humanity at its head. This inherent and overarching value of the human person is what Jesus points to when he states, “You are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31 NIV).

The possible “benefits” from the research in human-animal cellular and genetic mixing do not provide justification for crossing the boundaries that God has set up. Such pragmatic arguments are inadequate.

Simply because Adam and Eve could take the fruit and eat did not mean that they should. Simply because people could build a “tower that reaches to the heavens” did not mean that they should. And simply because we humans are able to create chimeras does not mean that we should. Indeed, the Bible gives us good reasons that we should not.

Blog author: apienta
Thursday, September 28, 2006
By

In case you missed it, there is a great discussion brewing on Amy Welborn’s blog about the Honor Roll. Specifically there is reference to the examination of civic education as a criterion, specifically regarding a school’s teaching of economics, business, and Catholic social teaching. Go to her blog to follow the discussion.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, September 28, 2006
By

The penultimate installment of the series on the biblical/theological case against chimeras focuses on the impact and significance of redemption.

Redemption – Romans 8:18–27

Flowing out of our discussion on creation and fall, it is the recognition that there still are limits on human activity with regard to animals that is most important for us in this discussion.

The apostle Paul notes that “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:20–21 NIV).

Here we have a hint at the reversal of the curse on the human-animal-plant relationships. Paul continues in this section to address the “firstfruits of the Spirit” which believers have received after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our task as believers is to bear witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ. This work has begun to reverse the effects of sin and the curse, first and especially in the lives of believers, but also through the grateful work of believers, who are seeking to live up to their calling as faithful stewards.

The original purpose of plants was simply to provide sustenance for life, as is illustrated in Gen. 1:29-30. With the redemptive work of Christ in view, Christians are called to, in some way at least, attempt to realize and bring out the goodness of the created world. With this in mind, conclusions about the genetic manipulation of plants are not necessarily the same as that with respect to animals and humans.

The created purpose of animals was one that was different from plants. Animals, in sharing the status of beings with the “breath of life,” possess a level of importance that is not reducible to merely instrumental or pragmatic value.

The reduction of animals to pragmatic use as a source of food is a result of sin, illustrated in Genesis 9. But even here, at the depths of sin’s corruption of relationship, there remain limits and boundaries.

We should view the possibility of interspecies mixing and the creation of human-animal chimeras as just this sort of limit, because it undermines and violates the created order, which distinguishes between plants, animals with the breath of life, and humans created in the image of God.

That humans have the ability to make certain things has never been a valid argument for actually making them. God confirms in the case of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) that humans are capable of a great many, seemingly limitless, accomplishments.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
By

Part III of our series focuses on the human fall into sin and the disastrous consequences that follow from it.

Fall – Genesis 9:1–7

The harmonious picture of the created order is quickly marred, however, by the fall of human beings. The fall has tragic comprehensive effects, both on the nature of humans themselves, and on the rest of creation.

The corruption of the relationship between humans and the rest of the created order is foreshadowed in the curses in Genesis 3:14–19. Notably the serpent, perhaps as both representative of the Satanic power and the animal world, is set in enmity against Eve and humankind. But most directly relevant for the discussion here regarding animal/human relations is the breakdown of the relationship between animals and humans that is formalized in Genesis 9.

It is at this point, with the institution of the Noahic covenant, that God pronounces some of the details of the broken relationship between humans and animals, those others who share with humans the “breath of life.” God says in verses 2 and 3 that “the fear and dread of you will fall” upon all animals and “everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”

Human sin has now blurred some of the created distinction between plants and animals. Animals, sharing the “breath of life” with humans, were created with their own purposes and value, presumably off-limits as food for human consumption. The fall into sin has corrupted all forms of relationship, including that between humans and animals. This has finally manifested itself following the flood with the erasure of the distinction between plants and animals for the purposes of food.

Verse 4 points out a single prohibition, “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” So even though the line between animals and plants has been marred, it is not completely eradicated. There are still limits to the uses humans can make of animals. Other legislation, such as the prohibition against bestiality, also points to this fractured but still existent limitation.

At the request of Andy Crouch, who is among other things editorial director for The Christian Vision Project at Christianity Today, I have taken a look at the editorial from The Economist’s special issue from Sept. 9.

To recap, Andy asked me, “what are your thoughts about The Economist’s special report on climate change last week, in which they conclude that the risks of climate change, and the likely manageable cost of mitigation, warrant the world, and especially the US, taking prompt action?”

He continues, “This is, obviously, a magazine with impeccable liberal economic (not to mention journalistic) credentials, and one of the sponsors of the Copenhagen Consensus that raised questions about the wisdom of prioritizing climate change. I believe they would not have taken this editorial position five years ago. Do you think they are mistaken in doing so now? What do you see as the salient evidence they missed, if so?”

The special report consists of a number of articles examining the issue of climate change and are available for purchase as a PDF set here. (more…)

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
By

On yet another day in a long season of bad news for Catholic schools in major urban areas, Chicago’s historic high school seminary is slated to close.

Michael J. Petrilli addresses the broader context of the problem in this analysis on NRO. The first part of the article lays out the by now familiar reasons for the epidemic of Catholic school closures in cities such as Detroit and Boston.

More interesting is the second part, in which Petrilli reveals that one of the main features of No Child Left Behind is failing because of “the loophole”—a provision that permits districts to maintain poor schools without implementing the radical reform that the federal act envisioned.

Petrilli’s analysis is right but he neglects to point out that such loopholes are inevitable in any such national legislation. Without political and institutional will at the local level, failing schools will not be improved or closed. This is why the longterm solution to educational mediocrity—and perhaps a simultaneous revitalization of inner-city Catholic schools—will not be found in congressional lawmaking but in a reassertion of federalism and a return of decision-making power to parents. The vouchers that Petrilli advocates are a good step, but only a step, in that direction.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
By

Part II of our week-long series on the ethics of chimeras begins with an examination of the creation account in the book of Genesis.

Creation – Genesis 1:26–30

The creation account in Genesis provides us with essential insights into the nature of the created world, from rocks and trees to birds and bees. It also tells us important things about ourselves and the role of human beings in relationship to the rest of creation.

The distinctions between various parts of the created world—plants, animals, and humans—are critical to discerning the best use and attitudes toward them.

We find in verses 29 and 30 of Genesis 1 God’s creational purpose for plantlife. Plants are originally given and intended to provide for the life of the rest of creation, especially those creatures with the “breath of life.” In this way, the original purpose for plants was to be food for humans and animals and in this way to sustain life.

So the first distinction among living creatures is that between plants and those with the “breath of life,” animals and humans. The second major distinction is made among those creatures with the “breath of life,” between animals and humans, the latter created in the “image of God.”

Genesis 1:26–28 forms a complex and interrelated picture of the original state of humanity. Created in the image of God, human beings are placed in dominion over “all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Thus, verse 26 speaks to the placement of human beings as God’s earthly representatives.

Within the original Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of this passage, the language of “image-bearing” would have been immediately understandable. When a vassal or representative of the king spoke or acted with royal authority, he was said to “bear the image” of the king, a physical representation of the king and his authority. Verse 27 narrates the creation of human beings alluded to in the previous verse, and the placement as God’s image-bearers, representatives of the divine King.

There are, of course, no rights or privileges without responsibility, so on the heels of the creation of human beings and their placement in dominion, we find the corresponding responsibilities and blessings laid out in the following verse. Verse 28 is most often understood in terms of “stewardship,” and here again we run up against the political and social structure of the ANE. A steward was one who was in charge of a household or kingdom during the ruler’s absence. Humans, in exercising their exalted place of stewardship, are to be productive and creative rulers of the earth. This is the norm of human existence and the standard to which we are called.

An early exercise of this stewardly dominion over the animal world can be found in Genesis 2:19–20, in which the animals are brought to Adam to be named, “and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”

And so we have a tripartite division between plants, animals, and humans displayed in these verses. Plants form the base of the picture, created to give life to those creatures with the “breath of life.” Animals, as possessors of this “breath of life,” live off the plants, but remain distinct from human beings, who alone are created in the “image of God.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 25, 2006
By

This week, University of Chicago faculty members Richard A. Posner and Gary S. Becker discuss and debate the relationship between DDT and the fight against malaria on their blog.

As a self-proclaimed “strong environmentalist” who supports “the ban on using DDT as a herbicide,” Posner writes first about the contemporary decline in genetic diversity due in large part to the rate of species extinction. (Posner has issued a correction: “Unforgivably, I referred to DDT as a ‘herbicide.’ It is, of course, a pesticide. A herbicide is used to destroy weeds and other plants.” Presumably enough DDT would kill plants, and also presumably Posner would oppose such a use. But even so, Posner’s clarification is duly noted.)

“The decline in genetic diversity–to which spraying crops with DDT would be contributing significantly if it were permitted–is alarming even from a purely selfish anthropocentric perspective,” says Posner, “Because such diversity, like other forms of diversification, performs an important insurance function.”

Even so, Posner notes, “The quantities of DDT used in spraying indoor houses in Subsaharan Africa (where 90 percent of malaria deaths occur) are so minute that the environmental effects are inconsequential.” Despite the ban on DDT as an herbicide, an exception allows its use in the fight against malaria. “The puzzle is why the exception is so rarely invoked,” says Posner, because the use of malaria in residual indoor spraying is so cost-effective when compared to many other tools in the fight against malaria.

Comparing the threat of AIDS versus that of malaria, Posner concludes, “Considering how much cheaper and easier it would be to (largely) eliminate malaria than to eliminate AIDS (which would require behavioral changes to which there is strong cultural resistance in Africa), the failure of the African countries, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and private foundations and other nongovernmental organizations to eliminate most malaria by means of indoor spraying with DDT is a remarkable political failure.”

I might also observe that at one point Posner comments, “Not that eliminating childhood deaths from malaria (I have seen an estimate that 80 percent of malaria deaths are of children) would be a completely unalloyed boon for Africa, which suffers from overpopulation.” A commenter rightly takes Posner to task for this statement, saying, “Economic analysis of social problems can be useful and even compelling. The foregoing, however, seems a bit cold-blooded even for an economist. I suspect and hope Posner doesn’t really mean it.”

Gary Becker provides an excellent narrative of the relationship between DDT and malaria in his post. He also points out, “One unintended consequence of the DDT ban was a devastating comeback by malaria and some other diseases after they had been in retreat. Other pesticides that replaced DDT have been much less effective at reducing malaria and other diseases transmitted by insects.”

“I am an ‘environmentalist’,” says Becker, “But I do not believe that all reasonable cost-benefit analysis should be suspended when discussing environmental issues. The ban on using DDT in houses to fight malaria is an example of environmentalism that lost all sense of proportion.”

For more on the campaign to bring back DDT to the malaria-fighting arsenal, check out Acton’s Impact ad project.