Category: Public Policy

In a recent post, Jordan Ballor highlighted the efforts of Mr. Armen Yousoufian, who has been seeking public disclosure of records relating to the financing of the new stadium built recently for the Seattle Seahawks largely at taxpayer expense. Mr. Yousoufian has responded to Ballor’s post with the following comment:

In reply to: “They picked on the Wrong Armenian”, which is about my successful and landmark Public Disclosure Act violation lawsuit here in Washington state, thank you for the coverage. The case goes to court again on August 19 for determination of penalties and the amount of legal fees I am to be awarded for my two successful appeals of the original verdict (that will be the 4th round in over 8 years, after I won every step of the way and all the way to the state Supreme Court). If you or your readers would like more information, please visit my website: www.ArmenYousoufian.com or my blog: www.Yousoufian.blogspot.com. Lots of material, including trial briefs at all four stages of the litigation. Or email me at ayousoufian@comcast.net with something in the subect line referring to this comment left at this site.

Armen Yousoufian
Vashon Island, Washington

Those are some websites that are probably worth keeping an eye on.

This Wired News article looks at the practices of various companies committed to reducing manufacturing and industrial waste. Cutting waste makes good economic and environmental sense.

“Anything that’s waste is an inefficiency in the process, and inefficiency is lost dollars,” says Patricia Calkins, vice president for environment, health and safety at Xerox. A cost that is often overlooked is that associated with waste management. “Skyrocketing landfill costs during the late 1980s and early 1990s” helped push companies toward minimization of waste.

Carpetmaker Collins & Aikman, after initiating a carpet recycling program in its plant, reduced its costs for shipping waste to landfills, which “has saved the company an estimated $1 million. It has saved several million dollars more by reducing the amount of raw materials it buys.”

Of course, reducing inefficiencies at any point in the system reduces waste overall. This reality is behind what Hewlett-Packard’s change in “the design of its plastic molding tools, for example, to eliminate a lot of the plastic material that was used between parts as runners.”

“That was all scrap that just went to the floor,” says David Lear, HP’s vice president of corporate, social and environmental responsibility. “The biggest win is not recycling, but engineering the material out of your system so you don’t need to worry about landfilling it.”

The whole phenomena of waste reduction points to the dynamic compatibility of economic and environmental concerns and runs counter to conventional wisdom. Good stewardship of the environment need not be at odds with good economic stewardship.

Hopeful signs are emerging for the future of economic prosperity in Europe despite some serious opposition. The European Parliament recently moved to scrap the ratification of an informal agreement reached last year by EU member states and supported by the European Commission, that would have made important strides forward in the legal recognition of intellectual property rights.

The Computer Implemented Inventions Directive (CIID), which would protect intellectual property and standardize EU software patent law, now appears dead. This leaves in place a patchwork of national patent laws that effectively stifles a common set of laws and regulations in Europe.

These sorts of delays and backsliding by the Parliament represent serious threats to European economies and could add to a dangerous precedent in light of the EU’s ruling against software company Microsoft. The 21st Century has ushered in the Information Age; computers and software represent the field with perhaps the greatest potential for innovation and wealth-creation in developed nations.
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If you’re inclined to praise GE for its “green” makeover, featuring cutesy ads like the one in which the baby elephant dances playfully in the rainforest, William Baldwin has some practical suggestions in a piece in this week’s issue of Forbes.

“Should you show your support by buying a few shares of this ecologically hip company? There are better ways to help the environment,” he contends. These include: opposing windmill subsidies, buying hormonal milk, and not recycling newspapers.

A most worthy piece in The New Atlantis by Matthew B. Crawford, “The Computerized Academy,” examines some of the implications of computerization and technological advance on the traditional liberal education.

Among the important trends that Crawford observes is the application of a consumer/producer relationship model between student and teacher. This trend is facilitated by technological advances, especially the free flow of information possible on the Internet. But Crawford wonders “what education will become—or already is—when it becomes so sensitive to the demands of those who are not yet educated.”

Here’s a key paragraph on this point:

Ideally, a teacher’s judgment about what is good for you is not colored by what is immediately pleasant for you. But increasingly, what is good for the teacher (professionally) is determined by what is immediately pleasant for the student. The career incentives for professors can be managed to some extent by judicious deans and department chairs, for example, by norming a professor’s teaching evaluations against his or her grade distribution and the demands of the course, so that tough grading and a choice of difficult material, even if penalized by students in their evaluations, will not be allowed to threaten a professor’s tenure prospects. Absent such a contrarian, clear-eyed defense of excellence by those in charge, all the pressures on a professor tend toward dumbing things down: giving fewer assignments (less work for him), grading generously (less whining and pleading from students), and choosing subjects that are not too remote from the students’ experience (a sure path to popularity). Since that prior experience is constituted to a large degree by mass forces, there is a certain uniformity of perspective and taste that begins to assert itself in the curriculum.

I have noticed an analogous situation asserting itself in the congregational life of churches. A certain measure of independent authority is necessary for a pastor to properly exercise his ministry. This is true in the same way that “in the more interpretive disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, the initial disorientation cuts at passionately held certainties of the present; a teacher can challenge students in this way only if he has a certain independence from them, and only if he is able to speak authoritatively.”

Crawford gets at many more important developments flowing out of and catalyzed by technological innovation and computerization. One final important point is on the mechanical nature of much scientific research done these days via computer.

Crawford writes that “when our knowledge of nature reaches the limits of our ability to do symbolic math, further advance requires the brute force of number-crunching, which is literally a mechanical process.” The computer that allows such complex calculations to be performed is at the same time a force that pushes towards programming and away from scientific thought. Crawford states, “My point is not to suggest that the use of computers in science is somehow wrong, but rather that those (mostly grad students) who have been consigned to spend most of their time programming are missing out on the full experience of doing science…. one may speculate that in the future the sciences might attract a different sort of student. This student is not so much curious about the world he sees around him (he spends most of his time at his terminal) as he is entranced with the feeling of his own competence at manipulating code. This would be a disposition more willful than receptive, and by that token perhaps more deeply technological.”

Again, with the blessing of technological innovation comes a corresponding threat of and temptation to sloth. Socrates notes this in Plato’s Phaedrus with the innovation of the written word, when he relates the mythical origins of the Egyptian language.

SOCRATES: …when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Monday, August 8, 2005
Can a person of faith work here?

In the weeks that have passed since the announcement of the nomination of John Roberts to serve as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, an old debate has moved into the forefront once again: can a person with deeply held religious beliefs (in Judge Roberts’ case, a devout Catholic) hold a high political or judicial office and still abide by the Constitution?

Rev. Robert Sirico made a guest appearance on the Laura Ingraham Show this morning to discuss this important topic. You can listen to the interview by clicking here (3.5 mb .mp3 file).

And if you’re interested in hearing more about Constitutional interpretation from two current practitioners of the craft, be sure to check out the Acton Bookshoppe, where addresses from Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are available for purchase.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, August 8, 2005

This review in the latest issue of Books & Culture by John Copeland Nagle, associate dean for Faculty Research and professor at the Notre Dame Law School, reflects on a book on the environmental history of China, by Mark Elvin.

Nagle begins the piece with a brief personal anecdote of his experience with environmental problems in China:

On the morning of March 20, 2002, I left my windowless office in the Tsinghua University Law School for a short break. Then I saw it: a bright orange sky, which soon turned brown and finally a dusky gray before eleven o’clock in the morning. What I was seeing was dust. Lots and lots of dust. So much dust, in fact, that two days later the United States Environmental Protection Agency reported that the particulate levels established by the Clean Air Act had been exceeded in Aspen, Colorado, because of the millions of dust particles that had been blown all the way from China. I soon learned that it was Mao’s fault…The orange sky that I saw in Beijing that morning was the predictable result of overgrazing and its resulting desertification.

The review is well worth reading. Nagle writes that Elvin’s book

recounts how generations of Chinese have labored to modify the natural environment to better achieve their own ends. Three thousand years ago, China was a land where forests filled much of the landscape, elephants and other wild animals roamed, and rivers and lakes provided abundant freshwater. Today most of the forests and wild animals have long since disappeared, China suffers from some of the worst air and water pollution in the world, and the government is struggling to create the legal and social mechanisms necessary to halt and reverse its deteriorating environmental conditions.

The laundry list of environmental mistakes over the millennia in China, along with China’s classification as a “developing nation,” makes it nearly inexplicable how China is exempt from greenhouse gas emission standards under the terms of the Kyoto protocol.

Nagle ends his review with a somewhat hopeful conclusion that one of the positive consequences of the great numbers of Christian converts in China is that they might help address China’s environmental dilemma. He writes, “The last several decades have produced an extensive literature that explores the extensive biblical teaching concerning creation, stewardship, and our duty to care for the natural world in which we live.”

But this speaks to the need for freedom of speech and the practice of religion. In distinction from a place like the United States, where religious leaders are free to engage in debate over environmental policy, “the challenge is far greater in a country where the practice of religion is strictly regulated, and where the first hints of political activity inspired by religious beliefs are just emerging.”

Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky writes about two examples of churches placing the needs of Christians and evangelism in the developing world above their own congregational comforts. In the first piece, Olasky discusses Mount Zion United Methodist Church just outside of Baltimore.

While mid-Atlantic heat can be oppressive, it’s nothing compared that of the everlasting lake of fire. With this priority of the eternal over the temporal in mind, the congregation decided “the sanctuary would get air conditioning only after the congregation built a church in Africa.”

To this end, Olasky writes, “The church came up with the money, and from there, amazingly, everything — personnel, permits, property, governmental approvals, construction — went right. The orphanage opened in 2003 and now provides food, shelter, medical care, clothing and schooling for the children at a cost of about $11,000 per month.” And thus the Children of Zion orphanage in Namibia was founded.

The second story is about Damascus Wesleyan Church, north of Washington, DC, that instead of expanding worship space, “went to purchase a 99-year-lease on 10,000 acres here in Senkobo, 15 miles north of Livingstone and the Zimbabwe border. The land came with a beautiful farm house, 2,700 fruit trees, cattle and other animals, four deep wells, three dams, a tobacco-curing barn that could be turned into apartments, and other farm buildings that could become orphanages and classrooms.”

It’s great to hear about Christian churches taking action themselves, loving their neighbors, and not succumbing to morality melting materialism.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, August 5, 2005

In a column in today’s Washington Times, Arnaud de Borchgrave looks at the growing gap between executive compensation and the pay of just about everyone else. He quotes a Wall Street Journal study showing that in 2004 the median salary and bonus for CEOs soared 14.5 percent, while paychecks for salaried employees averaged a 3.4 percent increase. Among those who view this situation with alarm are Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and Christopher Cox, the new chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

de Borchgrave notes that “William J. McDonough, chairman of the Public Company Oversight Board since 2003, and president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank for the previous decade, called the yawning gap ‘the single most important issue’ in today’s America. Hello. Is anyone listening? Income disparity is now wider than anywhere in the European Union or Japan, and can only be found in Third World countries.”

de Borchgrave predicts that this wealth gap is “guaranteed” to produce a backlash that will lead to increased labor union militancy. That’s far from certain. For one thing, Americans tolerate and perhaps grudgingly admire the extravagant compensation packages of Wall Street execs and other corporate chiefs because they understand that the market system rewards those who compete and succeed. Not a few Americans aspire to a life where they are vastly overpaid, themselves. If you look at a business career as a high stakes poker game, then you should be playing for the jackpot.

A retired business executive recently explained it to me: “There are three ways to acquire wealth. You can inherit it. You can marry it. Or you can steal it. Of the three ways, stealing is by far the most honorable.” This is a joke, of course. The point, I think, is that Americans look on passively acquired wealth with suspicion, while those who succeed in the marketplace on their talents and their wits, are admired.

But the issue of executive compensation — or overcompensation — raises profound moral questions about the character of CEO stewardship, the oversight role of boards of directors, and the just treatment of salaried and hourly employees. Time and again at public companies, we see examples of CEOs obsessively enriching themselves as their companies go into long-term decline or oblivion. These cases are not soon forgotten by those who have been left broken and adrift when these woefully mismananged companies disintegrate or go under.

If de Borchgrave is right about the prospect of more labor militancy, then Americans will see the truth of an old adage: If your company has a union, it probably deserved it. And that’s no joke.

Check out this Seattle Weekly article, detailing the experience of Armen Yousoufian, who sought public disclosure of records in 1997 relating to “the proposed new Seahawks stadium, now called Qwest Field, which was built largely with public money.”

When faced with government foot-dragging in release of the records, “Instead of giving up, Yousoufian was energized by the rejections. ‘They picked on the wrong Armenian!’ he liked to say.”

John Stossel exposes government welfare for billionaires in the form of public money for sports stadiums in his book Give Me a Break, in a section titled, “Sports Tycoon Freeloaders.” Sports teams very often hold local governments hostage, threatening to move unless new multi-billion dollar stadiums are built. So the taxpayers end up footing the majority of the bill.

Stossel relates a conversation with Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox, who says that the government “had to” fund his new stadium, but ends up admitting: “You mean, if somebody walks up to you and hands you money, you shouldn’t take it? The fact is–I was offered this stadium by elected officials.”

Stossel gets it right in his analysis of these situations:

Every scheme to create jobs through government spending means people who work and pay taxes have less money to spend on projects they would choose. But we in the media miss that. I can interview the people who got jobs or benefits from the government project, but I can’t find the people who didn’t get a job because money was diverted.