Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
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For the past several decades in the United States many parents have gravitated toward one extreme or the other in terms of allowing religion in public schools. It is generally understood these days that our public school system is not a religious organization, and should not promote one religion as a state religion, over others. Of course, this does not mean that morality or other ideas that call on the revelation of religion cannot be taught, but we try to keep things as secular as possible. Yet, many would call down a secular version of fire and brimstone on the teacher or administrator who brought students to pray at the local cathedral on a field trip.

For those of you who do not keep up with Japanese politics (I grew up there and so keep one eye on current happenings) the current government recently issued a bill proposing an amendment to the basic laws of education. This is the first revision of this sort that has been put forth since the Allied Forces, occupying Japan following World War II, drafted the Japanese constitution and laws. The current law requires the education system to “respect individual dignity, aim at raising people who will aspire for truth and peace, and seek universal and characteristic culture.” The changes to the law propose “the teaching of values such as patriotism and respect for Japanese culture and tradition.”

While the changes may sound innocent enough, especially to Western ears, this is a very loaded phrase. Many of you might be aware of the yearly controversies surrounding Prime Minister Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine to worship the war dead of the Emporer. It usually enters the news because of demonstrations, especially in China and Korea. The problem with the shrine visit is that it is a state event, not merely personal, and that among the war dead are many convicted war criminals from World War II. This “cultural” event is in fact state-sponsored Shintoism. Other “cultural events” include the worship of ancestors and idols at various shrines and temples; “cultural events” that even President Bush (gasp) has participated in by clapping his hands and bowing in prayer. While this is not a massive problem for those Japanese who are Shinto (it should be a problem, even to them), imagine the message that this sends to Japanese, and other, Christians around the world. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
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This section from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics strikes me as quite true:

The coercive factors, in distinction to the more purely moral and rational factors, in political relations can never be sharply differentiated and defined. It is not possible to estimate exactly how much a party to a social conflict is influenced by a rational argument or by the threat of force. It is impossible, for instance, to know what proportion of a privileged class accepts higher inheritance taxes because it believes that such taxes are good social policy and what proportion submits merely because the power of the state supports the taxation policy. Since political conflict, at least in times when controversies have not reached the point of crisis, is carried on by the threat, rather than the actual use, of force, it is always easy for the casual or superficial observer to overestimate the moral and rational factors, and to remain oblivious to the covert types of coercion and force which are used in the conflict.

This obfuscation of motives is part of what differentiates charity from taxation. True charity cannot be coerced.

See also: Reinhold Niebuhr Today, ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).

Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
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Two quick bits for your Tuesday:

- Federal judges on green junkets at your expense? CRC says so!

- Is "steady state ecological economics" the answer to environmental and economic woes?

[also, a quick thanks to Jordan for inviting me to join the PowerBlog team.]

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Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
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Jordan pretty well covered the territory in his earlier post on gas prices. But with the silliness from both Republicans and Democrats ongoing, it can’t hurt to suggest two additional sensible treatments of the subject: Thomas Nugent on National Review Online, and Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute on FoxNews.

Two Acton scholars, Andrew Yuengert and Fr. Paul Hartmann, were interviewed on “The World Over” (EWTN Studios) last Friday, April 28, about the Catholic response to immigration rights. Yuengert, author of the Acton monograph “Inhabiting the Land,” emphasizes the dignity of the human person as a foundation for looking at the issues surrounding immigration. Yuengert says that the “right to migrate” is not an absolute right, but to prevent people from assisting immigrants in need is immoral. Immigrants come because they want to work. They generally find positions as low-wage laborers, and tend to send large amounts of money home to poorer nations. The economic burdens that immigrant workers place on the United States are relatively small, although those burdens tend to fall heavily on specific regions, most noticeably on southern California. Yuengert says that the burdens themselves do not justify new restrictions on immigration although, viewed from an economic perspective, the nation could probably adjust to a massive loss of immigrant labor.

Fr. Hartmann reiterates the necessity of being allowed to provide charity to those in need. It becomes a major problem, however, if laws exist which make it a crime to extend a helping hand to immigrants and their families. The Church should oppose such laws, he says. What’s more, Christians have a moral obligation to “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked,” without prejudice.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico looks at the Bush Faith-Based Initiative following the departure of Jim Towey, who headed the office. “I would far rather see a president rally people to give more to charity than rally voters to support government programs that go to religious organizations, and to create incentives and lessen penalties when they do give,” Rev. Sirico writes.

Read Rev. Sirico’s commentary here.

Anthony Bradley, a research fellow at the Acton Institute, was interviewed on “Heartland with John Kasich” on Fox News last Saturday. He was talking about the need for a “hero to emerge” from the Duke lacrosse team in the wake of a sexual assault scandal. Bradley emphasizes the need for moral leadership in the United States as a whole and why we should discourage markets from promoting the dehumanization of women.

Bradley earned quite a bit of attention after writing a commentary last Wednesday bringing attention to what he calls the “cowardly and dehumanizing … commoditized sex-for-sale industry.” Bradley asserts that the United States, as a nation, should be “outraged that two adult women subjected themselves to voyeuristic, live pornography” in the first place.

Court TV Morning, a radio show aired on Sirius satellite network (Channel 110), has also invited Anthony Bradley to discuss his Duke lacrosse commentary on Wednesday, May 3, at 7:15 a.m. Eastern time.

For more information read Anthony’s commentary, “Wanted: A Duke Lacrosse Team Hero.”

Where in the world would you pay $145,750 for a roll of toilet paper? According to an article in the New York Times, inflation in Zimbabwe is soaring higher than ever — about 900 percent since President Mugabe began seizing land from wealthy landowners in 2000. And inflation is climbing at unparalleled rates.

What problems result from such rampant inflation? If inflation is climbing daily and you have $100 one day, it might be worth only $90 the next. People are spending any money that they have because whatever they buy will hold value better than cash. No money is being saved because the annual interest rates are between 4-10 percent; much less than the rates of inflation. And the government seems to think that printing more money will solve these problems.

These problems “began” when Mugabe started seizing land from wealthy white farmers in an attempt to redistribute the wealth among the native Zimbabwean population. The result, intentional or not, was that foreign investment was scared off for good. Zimbabwe’s now “solo” economy began to flounder with a lack of goods entering the market.

Let’s recap. Zimbabwe faces economic crisis (rated as a repressed economy by the Heritage Foundation, just above Burma, Iran, and North Korea) due to massive seizing of wealth and attempts at redistribution, restriction of free international trade, lack of foreign investment, and over-printing of new monies. What do you think would solve most of Zimbabwe’s economic problems? Perhaps some human dignity, some free trade, and a little less government involvement!

You may have heard about the debate in Washington that erupted late last week, as Senate Democrats and Republicans sought ways to respond to rising gas prices. According to Marketplace’s Hillary Wikai, the majority Republicans settled on “a $100 gas-tax rebate to be paid for by drilling in Alaska’s Wildlife Refuge.”

Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow proposed “a $500 rebate but pay for it by cutting the tax breaks for oil companies.” She said, “We should instead put that money back in the pockets of the people paying the high gas prices.” But one other Democratic plan was to stop taking that money from the people in the first place, at least temporarily.

The NYT reports that “Democrats were pushing for a 60-day suspension of the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon, and the Senate Republican leadership settled on the rebate.” The short-term nature of the proposed solutions lead many to suspect that any of the proposed moves are simply pandering to the voters in an important election year.

Indeed, Congress has good reason to distract us from the reality of the situation. As Benjamin Zycher comments (text here), “Oil industry earnings per gallon were about 19 cents in 2005, and have increased to about 23 cents more recently. Federal and state taxes per gallon of gasoline average 46 cents. And so by all means, yes: Let’s have a debate about who is profiteering from the gasoline market.”

Of the two options, clearly suspension of the tax is preferable to filtering money through the government bureaucracy and letting it trickle back to taxpayers. But why make it temporary? If Congress really wants to address the rising price of oil over the long-term, the only thing it can really do is act on what it directly controls. Congress doesn’t control supply and demand, but it does control how much it adds in taxes to the price per gallon. Why not cut or suspend the federal gas tax indefinitely? States could do the same, by the way.

Here are some of the reasons that even the 60-day relief plan was tanked, given by Congressional staffers:

Those leaders and Finance Committee aides said many Republicans opposed the Democratic plan because they feared that oil companies, which pay the gas tax, would not pass savings on to the public, or that the laws of supply and demand would push the price up again.

There was also the probable opposition of House Republicans, who have been reluctant to jeopardize the flow of the gas tax revenue to the highway trust fund that underwrites road and bridge projects.

“Our folks thought it might amount to nothing for consumers,” said one aide who was granted anonymity to discuss internal leadership deliberations.

The first excuse is really just quite lame. If increasing demand raises the prices further, they would still be lower than they would be if the 18.4 cent tax were still in place. The second paragraph really tells the tale. If Americans are addicted to oil, maybe politicians are addicted to taxes.

Instead of being worried that the move might “amount to nothing for consumers,” the politicians are clearly more worried that any move to cut taxes would “amount to nothing” in terms of spendable tax revenue.

Placing limits on the levels of government taxation of gasoline would be a much more substantial and effective move than attempts to set price controls, as advocated in an online petition introduced by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.

According to MichiganGasPrices.com, Michigan gets nearly 20 cents (19.875) in tax revenue per gallon of gasoline sold, and this figure does not include the additional 6% sales tax that is tacked on.

Government leaders should never forget that they are entirely dependent on the productivity and labor of the nation’s citizens for their budgets. Their task is to responsibly and faithfully administer those funds, acting as stewards on behalf of the tax-payers. Attempts to point the blame for rising gas prices solely on oil companies, without acknowledging the basic role of rising demand and high levels of government taxation, is irresponsible and disingenuous.

Duke University is embroiled in a sensational scandal involving its lacrosse team and allegations of sexual assault of a stripper at a wild party. But, as Anthony Bradley points out, the case is really symptomatic of a much larger problem in American society. “Why is there no national outrage about the fact that two adult women subjected themselves to voyeuristic, live pornography?” he asks. “What kind of men do we raise in America that they would even want to hire a stripper?”

Read the full commentary here.