Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, August 22, 2005

Given the discussion last week about the ONE campaign and it’s position as a “first step” in fighting poverty in the developing world, I thought I’d pass along this story about evangelical pastor and best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren. He clearly doesn’t view his participation in the ONE campaign as the last word on the matter.

Rick Warren

John Coleman blogs about Warren’s work “with his global network to turn genocide-ravaged Rwanda into the world’s first ‘Purpose-Driven Nation.’” Coleman references a TIME magazine article about the effort, which reads, “For months the clergyman has alluded in general terms to an immense volunteer effort called the PEACE plan, aimed at transforming 400,000 churches in 47 nations into centers to nurse, feed and educate the poor and even turn them into entrepreneurs. Its details remain unknown, but its Rwandan element seems to have outrun the rest.”

Warren’s efforts in Rwanda have moved forward so quickly in part because, as Warren says, he was “looking for a small country where we could actually work on a national model,” and President Kagame, impressed by Warren’s book, volunteered Rwanda as a pilot nation.

Coleman remarks observantly, “It seems to me that two of the biggest movers of political and cultural reform over the coming century will be private charity and globalization (the extension of Western security and economic rule sets–free markets, private property, etc.–to developing or war-ravaged nations); and Warren’s initiative might mark something of a turning point for both Africa and the church.”

I, along with others, have something other than unrestrained praise for The Purpose Driven Life. John H. Armstrong, for example, thanks God for Rick Warren, and thinks he “shines as a star for graciousness and balance.” But even so, Armstrong thinks Warren’s “definition of purpose is just too small. This is where a more theologically developed view of divine purpose would help him if he studied, and used, the great Protestant catechisms.” My own criticisms are no so much related to the book itself, even though after three tries I have been unable to bring myself to finish it.

It’s not that there is anything bad about the book, but I find it’s observations so basic, even pedestrian, that as a theologian I find it hard to read. It’s a bit like reading a Dr. Seuss-level book but without the humorous rhymes. This accessiblity (as it might charitably be called), strikes me at once as both the book’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. The simplicity of style and content no doubt has played a large part in the book’s popularity.

But it also is a bit disturbing that something so theologically basic can be so new and novel to so many American Christians. The rave reviews you read about the book make me wonder what in the world these Christians are hearing from the pulpit every Sunday! And this is to say nothing about what they should be learning in small groups, education classes, or, as Armstrong recommends, catechetical training.

In any case, Warren’s Rwandan effort should be celebrated as the kind of Christian work that moves beyond the political activism of the ONE campaign. The location of this effort in Rwanda is remarkable in part because of the ambivalent role clergy played in the genocide. According to TIME, “Catholic and Protestant clergy have been convicted in connection with the genocide in his country in 1994, and Kagame has repeatedly stated his disdain for religious organizations.”

If you haven’t yet seen the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” based on a true story and starring Don Cheadle, I highly recommend it (read a review here). On his recent first visit to the country, Cheadle said he is co-authoring a book about how individual Americans can responsibly engage the problem of poverty in Africa. Citing common complaints from the West, “I had the same concerns and skepticism about sending aid to some shadowy situation where I didn’t know if a warlord was going to get the money,” he said.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Friday, August 19, 2005

Remember that the next time you hear someone sing the praises of single-payer, government run health care programs. Canada’s system is often cited as an ideal model for the United States to emulate. The problem with that, however, is simple: if the US adopts a Canadian style system, where will Canadians go for their health care?

Canada’s National Health Service: The Sick Man of the Great White North

Recognizing their failure to provide timely treatment through the national system, some provincial governments are sending backlogged patients to the United States rather than encouraging Canada’s private sector to pick up the slack.

Demand exceeded supply in 1999 and 2000 for 1,200 Ontario cancer patients who were forced to wait an unacceptably long time for treatment. Providers on both sides of the border acted. Cancer Care Ontario (CCO) and Princess Margaret Hospital in Ontario offered patients the option of receiving radiation therapy at Roswell Park Cancer Institute of Buffalo. “This short-term measure is helping us to ensure that everyone receives treatment within a medically acceptable period,” Ken Shumak, CCO’s president, said at the time.

Pamela Germain, vice president for managed care and outreach at Roswell Park, notes that some patients had waited 14 weeks postsurgery, with eight weeks being the satisfactory outer limit. “We negotiated case rates for breast cancer and prostate cancer and cleared up a backlog of 1,110 patients in two years,” says Germain. Hospitals in Detroit and Cleveland also picked up the slack until provinces purchased new equipment and hired health care professionals to run it.

Canada’s system may be the gold standard for government-run health care, but only if you’re looking for a system that can’t provide essential medical services in a timely manner.
(more…)

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Friday, August 19, 2005

Today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required) brings a reminder that Liberation Theology (or more accurately, Marxism) is alive and well in Central America. A Canadian firm has set up shop in Sipicapa, Guatemala, constructing a gold mine that is currently employing around 1,300 local residents and providing a much needed economic boost for the area:

The Glamis gold mine has already given an economic lift to this town and more so to neighboring San Miguel Ixtahuacán. Glamis took ownership of the project in an acquisition. Company officials say they have since spent $11 million buying property from willing sellers at an average of $4,500 per acre.

Of almost 2,400 workers employed in constructing the mine as of last month, 1,300 are locals. A foreman tells me that some of the unskilled workers he has hired are now operating million dollar machinery and with overtime and benefits pulling down over $1,000 per month. Two of those are 20-something women, whose other options for employment around here are close to zilch. The mine has a 24-hour medical clinic and two ambulances. It says that, drawing from its experience in Honduras, it expects about half of those who use the medical facilities over time to be neither employees nor their families. Glamis is also sponsoring a nonprofit foundation teaching business skills.

When construction is finished and operations commence, employment will drop to around 350 jobs. Tim Miller, Glamis’s vice president for Central America, says that the company hopes to rotate some of the jobs so that as many families as possible can benefit. When the mine is exhausted, the company has committed to restoring the land and donating it for commercial use.

Sounds like a pretty good deal for an impoverished community. Unfortunately, the local church doesn’t see it that way, and has allied with wealthy environmentalists to vociferously object to the project:

Opposition is led by a bearded Italian living at the parish of St. Bartholomew and known to the locals as “Padre” Roberto. But as I found out after an hour in the rectory garden with him and his political sidekick, a local collaborator called Juan Tema, the “padre” is not a priest. Nor is he a religious brother or a seminarian. Rather he is a layman who carries out “administrative” duties for the parish.

One of those duties appears to be preaching the gospel according to Che. Fidel Castro did a lot for Cuba, he tells me and what he’d like for this town is to close off the roads and produce everything here, “like the [Mexican] Zapatistas did.” When I point out that he has a Nike hat, an Adidas jacket and Spalding footwear he avoids the point, smiles and adds, “and an Italian heart.” Roberto seems to be on a revolutionary adventure from the ordinariness of Italy and this is his playground. He doesn’t think that the mine can be stopped. “But it’s like a cancer,” he says, “and the idea is to keep it from spreading.”

This is twisted, reprehensible thinking. These men of the church claim to be protectors of the poor, but the only thing they are protecting the poor from is the opportunity to rise out of poverty. Economic growth, far from being a “cancer,” is actually the cure for the social ills associated with extreme poverty. Jesus said that “the poor will always be with you;” but that wasn’t intended to be an instruction to His church to oppose the means by which the poor rise from poverty.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico addressed the re-emergence of leftism and Liberation Theology in a 2003 commentary:

The simple truth is that redistribution, centralization of power, expropriation of wealth and the like, will not raise the standards of living. Only market economics, more secure property rights, freer trade, and sounder currencies, can do that. What’s more, measures like disempowering owners of factories and farms, erecting protectionism in the name of combating globalism, and handing out more subsidies to people who vote in a leftist direction, none of this creates wealth. Quite the opposite. It increases dependency and poverty. No economy has ever grown through statism.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 19, 2005

“Zero-energy homes” are a new trend in what might be called environmental charity, giving energy back to the grid, at retail prices. Details here in this Marketplace report.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 19, 2005

A piece in the American Prospect Online by Chris Mooney examines the recurring “Frankenstein myth,” and its relation to contemporary Hollywood projects and the state of modern science. In “The Monster That Wouldn’t Die,” Mooney decries the endless

preachy retreads of the Frankenstein myth, first laid out in Mary Shelley’s 19th-century classic and recycled by Hollywood constantly in films from Godsend to Jurassic Park. I’m sick of gross caricatures of mad-scientist megalomaniacs out to accrue for themselves powers reserved only for God. I’m fed up with the insinuation (for it’s never an argument, always an insinuation) that there’s a taboo against the pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge and that certain technological achievements — especially those with the potential to affect life itself — are inherently “unnatural.”

Mooney does think that there are some things that shouldn’t be done. But “preaching” isn’t the way to define them. “I agree that certain lines shouldn’t be crossed. We shouldn’t, for instance, clone fully grown human beings. But not because it’s taboo; because it’s unethical. The point is, we need to use philosophical arguments, not preaching, to determine where the lines ought to be drawn,” he writes.

A greater concern lies in his discomfort “with the way in which the weapon of the Frankenstein myth is repeatedly used as a club against modern-day medical researchers, who are seeking to cure people, not to become God. The ‘forbidden knowledge’ aspect of the myth is also troubling. Last I checked, knowledge is a good thing, even if many kinds of knowledge can also be abused.”

Well, the last I checked, Adam and Eve had some trouble with “forbidden knowledge,” too. Mooney articulates an extremely naive view of knowledge and technology, with no account for the reality of human sinfulness and corruption. Moreover, his view that art should explicitly manifest philosophical arguments as opposed to “preachy” myth is quite unfounded, and alien to the artistic impulse.

This piece exposes Mooney’s ignorance of the source of human sin and evil. When he writes of the recent movie The Island, what he calls “yet another in a long sequence of anti-cloning, anti-science diatribes,” Mooney observes, “Presiding over this nightmare scenario is, sure enough, a mad-scientist character who is described as having a ‘God complex.’ There are about a million flagrant ethical violations embedded in the world of The Island, but as far as I’m concerned, ‘playing God’ is rather low on the list.”

Conversely, the biblical Genesis story relates just how the desire to “play God” lies at the center of the human fall into sin.

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:4-6 NIV)

What Mooney really wants is a morality divorced from any theological or religious concerns. Providentially, the arts do not seem to have abandoned these in the way that modern science seems bent upon. But for this reason, they will continue to be the object of attack.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 18, 2005

News from Los Angeles:

Two homeless men were attacked with baseball bats and one of them critically injured, allegedly by teens inspired by videos of homeless people brawling that have sold hundreds of thousands of copies over the Internet.

The alleged attackers told officers they had recently seen the DVD “Bumfights” and wanted to do some “bum bashing” of their own, police Officer Jason Lee said.

I examine the intersection between the market, technology, and violence in this recent commentary. In an earlier draft of the piece, I named Bumfights.com in particular as one of the sites that “profit from setting up taped fights between homeless people or other vulnerable populations.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 18, 2005

Zimbabwe churches form body to help demolition victims

Harare (ENI). Church groups in Zimbabwe have formed a coalition to help victims of a clean-up drive that left hundreds of thousands homeless and drew condemnation from the United Nations and international aid organizations. “Churches have formed a broad-based ecumenical body in the aftermath of the clean-up operation,” the Rev. Charles Muchechetere of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe told Ecumenical News International. The alliance comprises EFZ the Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Thursday, August 18, 2005
Can I keep him, Mom? Please? I’ll feed him and love him and call him my own.

Oh, your lion eyes…Check out the two articles from this week’s journal Nature as reported on Newsday.com. (There must be an editor at work here with a sarcastic sense of humor.)

In the first article, a commentary by Josh Donlan, a plan is proposed for fighting the loss of endagered species: repopulate the American Plains with (among other things) elephants, wild horses, cheetahs, and yes, lions.

The “rewilding” of parts of North America’s heartland could restore some balance to an ecosystem that lost a slew of similar species around 13,000 years ago, according to a commentary in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. Although conceding that “huge cultural obstacles” would have to be surmounted, lead author and Cornell University ecologist Josh Donlan argues that the long-range plan also might help preserve animals in danger of extinction elsewhere.

One must wonder if in the minds of these retro-evolutionists, the phrase “huge cultural obstacles” actually means “people”?

One must admire the work of those who seek to preserve endangered species. That being said, the problem here is the same problem with many environmentalists: a mindset that a world without the infection of humanity is somehow a better world. The idea is that the pre-historic world, or a world without the corruption of modern man, is paradise.

Yes, this could be you…

Being someone who considers himself mildly ‘outdoorsy’ and culturally ‘rural’, I understand this eco-nostalgia. Creation is beautiful and ought to be enjoyed. I would love to romp through undefiled, silvan wonderlands just as much as the next Nalgene-toting, Birk-calced, Steve Irwin wannabe. (The opening sequence of Last of the Mohicans seems to the ideal for many enviros…that is, until Daniel Day-Lewis fires a lead ball through the neck of an elk…)

There goes the neighborhood…

But come on. To ‘rewild’ North American plains? The unstated premise is that what is ‘tamed’ is wrong. This ideology denies the human person’s role in developing the world and its resources. It denies that environmental stewardship means to cultivate the world, not simply to retrofit it to our romantically fuzzy notions of a Majestic Past. But many environmentalists think that left to itself, wild nature is somehow more just, more ideal, more…ahem…humane. I think Mr. Donlan has seen The Lion King a few too many times.

And, oh yeah: the other article about lions? Lion attacks on humans are on the rise in Tanzania.

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Wednesday, August 17, 2005

In a FoxNews article, Jack Spencer of the Heritage Foundation reveals some interesting finds from their year-long study of the military industry: US Defense relies heavily on a global free market for its equipment. This may seem to fly in the face of the idea that if anyone ought to buy American, it is the American government. But as Spencer points out

Congress has tried repeatedly over the years to steer defense contracts in directions that would supposedly shore up or expand America’s military-industrial capacity. Yet these efforts have nearly always interrupted the natural tides of the market and led to unintended consequences, including inefficient practices, high prices and limited choices for the military. America’s war-fighting institutions have consistently achieved better results when they have relied on the free market to decide where and how products should be made.

Simply put, for good stuff, the free market delivers. This is a fact. For a concise case study of how and why free markets work (and why subsidies don’t), check out the rest of this article here.

Pope Benedict’s highly publicized trip to Germany for this week’s World Youth Day stands as an opportunity for the event to, in the words of Kishore Jayabalan, engage “serious theological and intellectual work.” The pope’s homecoming means, “If there is a place to show how the Christian faith shaped Europe and formed heroic persons even in its darkest hours, this is it.”

Read the full text of this commentary.