John Stossel, the icon of indignation, has a piece today decrying the spending habits and attitudes of our Republican-led Congress. I will let you read his article for the details, but for what it’s worth, here are some reasons why I think the disgust Stossel projects is an entirely proper and fitting response to pork barrel spending. (more…)
A key point to remember: once the state gets to decide which activities are immoral (but not illegal) and has a vested financial interest in them, you’ll find more and more activities becoming “sins.” Exhibit A: eating fast food.
For more on this subject, see “The Sin Tax Craze: Who’s Next?” by Rev. Sirico.
Interesting news from across the pond today. Our British friends seem to be making education a bit more ‘user friendly’. Education Secretary Ruth Kelly is proposing a system where “parents dissatisfied with local schools will be encouraged to set up their own…’The underlying principle is simple – freedom for schools and power for parents,’ said the education secretary.”
The Acton Institute has long promoted the idea that the primary responsibility for a child’s education lies with the parents. The recent proposal in England is an example of someone at least acknowledging that parents ought to be allowed the freedom and responsibility to make educational decisions for their own children.
Groups of parents concerned about underachieving schools can either ask the local authority to intervene – or else set out plans for the creation of their own school. If local authorities reject parents’ proposals, the parents can appeal for adjudication – which Ms Kelly says could lead to the government forcing local authorities to fund such new school projects.
The point is this: generally, when people are given opportunity (freedom), they can succeed more than when a government dictates to them how they will ‘succeed’. I would think this applies especially to education, where bureaucratic mandates can take a family only so far.
Last night, at Acton’s 15 Year Dinner in Grand Rapids, former president of El Salvador Francisco Flores gave a reason for his county’s great economic success: it stopped blaming others. Compare this with another statement yesterday by another politician, Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm. In a bid to the federal government to help the ailing Michigan manufacturing industry, she said (among other things) that “a crisis is upon us and the Federal Government needs to step up and do its share” presumably because “NAFTA and CAFTA have given Michigan the shafta.”
Now, I may be a sucker for semi-witty wordplay, but the reason I bring this up is simply to point out the following: one politician, whose state was once in a financial ruin Michiganders cannot imagine, pulled his country to increased prosperity with a “don’t blame others; take responsibility for yourself” mentality (to read another speech he gave along these lines, click here); another politician, whose state is on the economic slide, blames the policies of the federal government for it and then demands that the same federal government fix the problem. The irony that these two politicians made these two statements on the same day in Michigan evokes in me–well, lafta.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, is calling on all “civilized and rational” people to combat anti-trade populism of the sort that is designed to whip up fear and protectionism. In an interview with The Times (London), Barroso issued what he called a wake-up call: “If the signal we give to our children is ‘Protect yourself — hide under the table because there is globalisation, resist it’ — then we are nothing.”
This week, European leaders are headed to London for a meeting designed to “forge a consensus on the way forward for Europe,” The Times said. Barroso described the populist problem as widespread, but one that was chiefly engineered by France and Germany. As the Time reported:
France has led a series of attacks on the Commission’s free-market policies, which have caused chaos in world trade. France and Italy, among others, pushed the Commission into putting up barriers to Chinese textile imports, which led to clothes being piled up at European ports recently.France, Spain and other countries tried to block talks about it because they were concerned about the Commission’s promises to cut farm subsidies. France and Germany also torpedoed an attempt to open the internal market for services in Europe. President Chirac of France denounced “neo-liberalism” as the “new communism” earlier this year.
Senhor Barroso hit back at leaders, including M Chirac, who curry support by denouncing free markets. “There is now a kind of populism from the so-called Right or Left. Because it is against the market, it is against the institutions we have created, it is against some values — of tolerance, for instance — because there is also some kind of xenophobia coming up.”
The 2005 Samaritan Award Grand Prize winner was announced today! If you are unfamiliar with the Samaritan Award, or the Samaritan Guide, information can be found here, here, here or here. The winner of the $10,000 award was the Lives Under Construction Boy's Ranch Residential Treatment Program. This program, based in Lampe, Missouri, takes in boys with serious behavioural problems and turns their lives around. The program teaches the value of making right choices, emphasizing the importance of good work and instilling a sense of self-worth in those who feel that the whole world is against them.
The program features physical job training (carpentry, animal husbandry, welding, mechanics, housekeeping, cooking...) as well as educational assistance. An 11 minute video presentation ( - 20Mb) gives a brief but concise description of this amazing organization.
Samaritan Award Honorees were also announced and include the Washington City Mission, Washington, Pa.; Panama City Rescue Mission, Panama City, Fla.; Promise of Hope, Inc., Dudley, Ga.; Hearts of Christ Youth Outreach Ministry, Memphis, Tenn.; Citizens for Community Values of Memphis, Memphis, Tenn.; Good Shepherd Shelter of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Calif.; Samaritan Inns, Inc., Washington, D.C.; Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities, St. Paul, Minn.; and Knox County Christian Women’s Job Corps, Knoxville, Tenn.
Spurred on by the specter of miraculous cures to horrible diseases, Irving Weissman, director of Stanford’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, is working on experiments combining human brains and mice. The Stanford Daily reports that Dr. Weissman “has worked with the transfer of human neurons to the brains of mice for several years now. He has already bred mice whose brains are composed of 1 percent human neurons, finding that transplanted human brain cells could successfully connect to a mouse brain.” Such experiements yield what are known as “chimeras,” the creation of organisms composed of material from multiple species.
But what a mere 1% can’t tell you, Dr. Weissman bets the other 99% will. Dr. Weissman “wants to initiate a new experiment by transplanting human brain-stem cells to an inbred strain of mice whose natural brain cells die before the mice’s birth. Human brain cells would then replace the mice’s own, creating a breed of mice whose brains are composed entirely of human neurons.”
This kind of transplantation seems to be a rather different from other kinds of brain transplantation that has been discussed before, since the brain-stem cells would develop once they had been implanted in the mice. With respect to the possibility of the transplant of a completely developed brain, Dr. Ben Carson, who has been director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions for over 20 years and is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, says, “As a brain surgeon, let me say we don’t have to worry about transplanting human brains into other animals because we’re already dealing with billions and billions of neurons and hundreds of billions of interconnections, and it’s not going to happen.”
But even this supposedly less complex kind of transplant proposed by Dr. Weissman has been acknowledged by him that it “may not even work at all.” For the time being, Dr. Weissman’s proposals are on hold until a clear scientific consensus is reached on the ethical dimensions of the research.
Recent testimony given by members of the President’s Council on Bioethics attests to the diversity of opinion on these issues. Dr. William Hurlbut, himself a consulting professor in human biology at Stanford University and who was not quoted in the Stanford Daily article, says:
It is possible using certain technologies to transplant whole modules of developing portions of the embryo from one species to another. This has been done by Le Dourian and Balabon, where they actually transplanted a portion of the developing brain, early neurologic system at that stage, and got the crowing capacities of a quail put into a chick.
And so he actually transplanted a unit of behavior. Just to draw that a little farther, I think we should also be careful to not do that with elements of human form. In other words, it isn’t just a matter of cognition that we’re concerned about. The categories of our world, the conceptual categories that organize our world provide an intelligible world to us. These are not to be taken lightly.
The way we understand our world is by the separations within the world. For very serious purposes we might mix those, but I think we should be careful not just to see that as a matter of inner psychological or cognitive functions, but we need to preserve the human form, the dignity of the human form.
Diana J. Schaub, a professor of political science at Loyola College in Maryland, discusses a study on the subject and argues that “transplanting human neural stem cells into a mouse no more transforms the mouse than transplanting a pig heart valve into a person transforms the person. All of the rules that the authors recommend seems to me sensible, and although they don’t acknowledge it, those rules are based on preserving species integrity. Transfer the smallest number of cells necessary; use dissociated human stem cells rather than larger tissue transplants; and select host animals carefully, preferring distant relations over our nearer primate cousins.”
When Dr. Alfonso Gómez-Lobo, professor of metaphysics and moral philosophy at Georgetown University, discusses the possibility, he says:
Let me start with the most extreme and highly unlikely case. Suppose human neurological stem cells are transplanted into a primate so that the animal acquired some key human features. It seems to me that this would be morally troublesome in spite of the often heard argument that there’s nothing wrong with enhancing the capabilities of an animal.
In my opinion, this procedure should be viewed the other way around. It is not that an animal is thereby enhanced, but rather that what is essentially human is really debased. It is closer to the production of a human being in the wrong body.
And I often imagine what it would be like to wake up one day only to realize that I have the body of a chimpanzee. Luckily, we’re told that this is virtually impossible because the human body as we know it seems to be absolutely necessary for the development of the human mind, and I’m thinking about size of the brain, the cranial space, et cetera.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is among the groups endorsing an interfaith statement on immigration reform. Like the income tax system, it seems that everyone agrees the immigration system needs reform but there’s a lot of disagreement as to how to go about it.
As with most such broad consensus statements, the points articulated tend toward the innocuous, but there are a few sound ideas: for example, expediting family reunification. In general, the statement seems to be consonant with the arguments made in Acton’s Christian Social Thought Series volume by Andrew Yuengert.
The only caveat I would add is that there should be more emphasis on upholding the rule of law—a strong regime of which is a large part of what makes the United States an attractive destination for emigrants in the first place. The statement does stress legality and mentions “the legitimate task of implementing American immigration policy.” But the implication seems to be that immigration problems are due almost entirely to irrational laws and the difficulties they pose for immigrants. Part of the solution will also be better enforcement of the (one hopes) more rational legal system, and the statement would do well to say so.
Dr. Jennifer Morse, a senior fellow in economics for the Acton Institute, argues in this week’s Acton commentary that the key road-block to successful economic development in impoverished nations is the lack of good “moral qualities, like the even-handed enforcement of law, and the transparency of government.” Dr. Morse cites a report from the World Bank Institute detailing the extensive bribery that occurs in developing countries, a practice that is considered “normal” by just about everyone. While this may seem to be a small thing (a few bucks here and there), the economic impact on the poor is very significant.
Another impact of the poor moral quality displayed by the governments of developing nations is the over regulation of business. Over regulation of business, argues Morse, discourages would-be business owners from pursuing their dreams and breaks the entrepreneurial spirit. According to the Harvard Institute of Economic Research, some nations may take up to 112 days to comply with all of the legal requirements before opening a business. In Canada, you can legally open a business in 2 days. Faced with four months of bribes, permits, and fees, many shrink away from even considering starting up a new business. Opening up a business outside of the law (about 30 percent of Mexico’s economy) requires even more bribes, and can be shut down at any time. The Harvard Institute report states in its abstract that “Countries with heavier regulation of entry have higher corruption and larger unofficial economies.”
Morse proposes that the solutions to these problems are simply holding these nations accountable, encouraging transparency, and reducing semi-legal corruption.
Without a legal system that protects those who take bribes, those who produce jobs are at a serious disadvantage. Reforming the legal system in underdeveloped countries is a necessary part of any strategy for economic advancement.
Put another way, sin is not cost-effective.
Also see Transparency International’s just-released 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). More than two-thirds of the 159 nations surveyed scored less than 5 out of a clean score of 10, indicating serious levels of corruption in a majority of the countries surveyed.
The 2005 Index bears witness to the double burden of poverty and corruption borne by the world’s least developed countries, TI said.
“Corruption is a major cause of poverty as well as a barrier to overcoming it,” said Transparency International Chairman Peter Eigen. “The two scourges feed off each other, locking their populations in a cycle of misery. Corruption must be vigorously addressed if aid is to make a real difference in freeing people from poverty.”
I received an email today from the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, an independent outreach of Prison Fellowship Ministries. It seems the iniative is facing rising program costs due to legal battles over the legitimacy of its Christian makeup. And constant critics of the program, like Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, seem rather incredibly cold-hearted to the plight of today’s prisoner.
The InnerChange Freedom Initiative is one of the few elements in prisoners’ lives that has the ability to give them hope. And this hope is not just hope for release from physical bonds, but hope for release from the spiritual bonds of sin and corruption. Here are some of the key facts about the initiative:
- The corrections system in America is broken. More than 600,000 people will be released from U.S. prisons and jails this year, and 52% of those ex-inmates will be return to prison within three years.
- Departments of Correction are seeking help, asking for proposals for values-based prisoner rehabilitation alternatives.
- The InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a biblically based, round-the-clock prison program works. An independent study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that only 8% of prisoners who graduated from our IFI program in Texas were reincarcerated within two years of their release.
This final point gets at the heart of the prison problem in America. For a system that is supposed to be based in large part on “rehabilitation,” recidivism rates are disturbingly high. This remains the case because the root issues are spiritual, and the state is spectacularly incapable of addresses such concerns. Johnny Cash, a Christian who had to push to record Gospel albums, recorded a hit song in 1968, “Folsom Prison Blues.” The lyrics of this song attest to the spiritual nature of criminality (emphasis added):
I hear the train a comin'; it’s rollin’ ’round the bend,
And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when.
I’m stuck at Folsom Prison and time keeps draggin’ on.
But that train keeps rollin’ on down to San Antone.
When I was just a baby, my mama told me, “Son,
Always be a good boy; don’t ever play with guns.”
But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.
When I hear that whistle blowin’ I hang my head and cry.
I bet there’s rich folk eatin’ in a fancy dining car.
They’re prob’ly drinkin’ coffee and smokin’ big cigars,
But I know I had it comin’, I know I can’t be free,
But those people keep a movin’, and that’s what tortures me.
Well, if they freed me from this prison, if that railroad train was mine, I bet I’d move on over a little farther down the line, Far from Folsom Prison, that’s where I want to stay, And I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.