Category: Public Policy

Dr. Mart Laar, former prime minister of Estonia, discusses the relevance for the papal encyclical Centesimus Annus for Europe today. “The message of Centesimus Annus is not a message of left or right. It is a universal message of hope. We can see these same ideas in most groups working on the future of Europe. The only problem is in finding political leaders ready to implement them in reality,” he writes.

Read Dr. Mart Laar’s full commentary here.

Acton PowerBlog contributor Don Bosch (aka The Evangelical Ecologist) had his post, “Guilt Free Ecology,” picked up and recognized by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in their feature “Best of the Blogs,” on June 18. Good job, Don!

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 5, 2006

A new review on H-German by John Alexander Williams of Bradley University examines the edited collection of essays, How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005).

The volume’s editors contend in part that “the green policies of the Nazis were more than a mere episode or aberration in environmental history at large. They point to larger meanings and demonstrate with brutal clarity that conservationism and environmentalism are not and have never been value-free or inherently benign enterprises.” While Williams argues that this conclusion “rings hollow” in light of the evidence produced in the essays, he does affirm that “the desire to protect nature must be accompanied by an equally strong commitment to social justice and human rights.”

On this point Williams specifically criticizes the final essay in the book, by Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, which “focuses on the SS’s wartime planning of the landscape in the occupied territories to the east of Germany.”

As Williams writes, “The Nazi war of imperial conquest, in carving out a new ‘living space’ for German colonists through mass expulsion and extermination, opened ‘new vistas for landscape architects and urban planners’ (p. 244). Hitler appointed Himmler in charge of ‘cleansing’ of occupied landscapes for resettlement by ethnic Germans.” Williams’ concern is that “Wolschke-Bulmahn never clearly explains what was environmentalist about these planners and the blueprints they prepared for Himmler.”

Williams concludes, “The failure of this essay is unfortunate, since Wolschke-Bulmahn and others have written much more effectively elsewhere about the intertwining of pastoral landscape ideals with Nazi imperialism and genocide.”

Read the entire review here.

Read about Racine, Wisconsin in the New York Times, “On Lake Michigan, a Global Village,” by Steve Lohr. Gary Becker is mayor of Racine, and according to the article, “Racine’s future, Mr. Becker believes, lies in forging stronger links with the regional economy and global markets. Reinvention can be unnerving, he acknowledges, but he says it is his hometown’s best shot at prosperity and progress.”

“In the past, Racine was a self-contained economy,” Becker said. “But that is not an option anymore.” A key observation is that “in a world where new technologies can quickly upend an industry and China and India loom large on the economic horizon, nobody knows exactly which businesses and skills will prove to be winners.” That’s one reason that government programs to promote specific types of research as the “next big thing” are ill-advised.

The current and previous administrations of the state of Michigan, for example, have decided that life sciences, alternative energy, advanced automotive, manufacturing and materials, and homeland security and defense are “the four competitive-edge technologies” that should receive government subsidy.

The NYT article highlights the work of Olatoye Baiyewu, a Nigerian immigrant who “runs a program to train young, inner-city men as apprentices to electricians, plumbers, carpenters and cement masons.”

From Barack Obama’s speech to Jim Wallis’s Call for Renewal (worth the read, if for nothing more than to gain an insight on how he sees his crowd. Study one’s rhetoric and style and you’ll know how they view their audience):

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

This may be difficult for those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of the possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It insists on the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime; to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.

(Quickly: regarding Sen. Obama’s implication that religious policy arguments do not have the apparatus per se to debate in a pluralistic society: I suggest he ask his denomination, the United Church of Christ, to reexamine the concept of Natural Law — perhaps read some of our own good Dr. Grabill’s work on the matter.)

I would rather, however, discuss how Sen. Obama characterizes the players in religiously-grounded policy debates. But while there are those who, rightly or wrongly, base their policy decisions and opinions on what they say “my Bible tells me” (Obama’s words), Obama implies in his speech that all policy arguments from the religious right are of this type of argument: I advocate such and such a policy because the Bible said so.

On the contrary, the most substantive arguments in the policy market at present are firmly rooted in reason and yet still resonate with faith. (Faith and reason, as has been pointed out, are certainly not at odds.) And if we are fair, we will grant that there is a huge wash of arguments in the political arena that, while held by religious people, translate themselves particularly well to our common sense of law and liberty. I think Sen. Obama betrays either his ignorance or rhetoric by not engaging the arguments of, for example, George Weigel or Michael Novak, and instead repeatedly naming Pat Pobertson and Jerry Falwell as representative of religious policy commentators. Such ignorance (or rhetoric) makes me strongly suspicious of whether Sen. Obama truly hopes that we will “refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points.”

HT: Catholic Educator’s Resource Center

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, June 29, 2006

“If you look at all the discussions surrounding biotechnology, I feel that we are clearly focusing too much on ethics.”

Toine Manders, Dutch liberal member of the European Parliament, on discussions in the European Parliament about stem cell research. From “Debate on stem cells holds back EU research drive,” Financial Times, June 14, 2006. (HT: WorldMagBlog)

“It is because the moral sciences tend to show us such limits to our conscious control, while the progress of the natural sciences constantly extends the range of conscious control, that the natural scientist finds himself so frequently in revolt against the teaching of the moral sciences.”

F. A. Hayek, “Scientism and the Study of Society: Part III,” Economica 11, no. 41 (February 1944): 37-38.

This from the official Google blog: “We’ve always recognized the importance of copyright, because we believe that authors and publishers deserve to be rewarded for their creative endeavors. And we specifically designed Google Book Search to respect copyright law – never showing more than two or three snippets around a search term without the publisher’s prior permission, which they can give through our Partner Program.”

A host of Christian and secular commentators have trumpeted the similarities between Superman and Jesus Christ in light of the forthcoming movie, Superman Returns.

Many Christians embraced the Superman hero when a trailer for the new movie was released using the words of Superman’s father Jor-El, voiced by Marlon Brando: “Even though you’ve been raised as a human being you’re not one of them. They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I sent them you… my only son.”

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I point instead to the fundamental differences between the two. I am concerned that Christians are being unwittingly exploited by Hollywood spin doctors: “Christians risk undermining our own influence when we simply latch on to the pop icon of the moment in undiscerning and uncritical ways.”

In an interview with CT Movies this week, Superman Returns director Bryan Singer acknowledges the intentionality of the spiritual allegories for Superman, “Christ being a natural one, because Superman’s a savior. And even more so in my film, because he’s gone for a period of time, and then he returns. For me to say that those messianic images don’t exist in the movie would be absurd.”

Read the full commentary here (cross-posted to

Acton Impact ad raising awareness of the malaria epidemic.

An article in today’s New York Times, “Push for New Tactics as War on Malaria Falters,” coincides nicely with Acton’s newest ad campaign (see the back cover of the July 1 issue of World). The article attacks government mismanagement of allocated funds in the global fight against malaria. Celia Dugger, the author, writes:

Only 1 percent of the [United States Agency for International Development’s] 2004 malaria budget went for medicines, 1 percent for insecticides and 6 percent for mosquito nets. The rest was spent on research, education, evaluation, administration and other costs.

The game is now changing, however. The White House has initaited new campaigns, boosting allocation for medicines, insecticides, and mosquito nets to over 40% of the agency’s total malaria budget. The new government push is also raising awareness among private donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Acton has begun a media campaign to raise awareness of available and economically sound solutions to the malaria epidemic. Among possible solutions is the indoor residual spraying of insecticides, including DDT (proven to be highly effective and safe in South Africa), distribution of treated mosquito nets, distribution of medication, and educational programs that explain where malaria comes from and how to avoid it.

Visit our Impact Malaria page for more reading and for links to get involved in the global fight against malaria.

GoodSearch is a Yahoo!-powered search engine that allows you to designate a recipient charity of your choice. Once you pick a charity, each time you use GoodSearch that group will receive one cent. GoodSearch was founded by a brother and sister who lost their mother to cancer and wanted to find an easy way for people to support their favorite causes.

The Acton Institute is now an option and can be designated as your GoodSearch recipient. Simply type in “Acton Institute” in the field below the search form to verify whom you are supporting.

Those looking for more direct ways to support the work of the Institute can join us in advancing freedom and virtue here.

HT: WorldMagBlog