Category: Public Policy

After the recent admission by the IRS that employees targeted conservative groups, two prominent Christians have come forward claiming they too were harassed for their political views. Franklin Graham, son of the famed evangelist, and Dr. Anne Hendershott, a Catholic professor and author, say they were audited by the IRS after making political statements that criticized liberal political groups.

Franklin Graham recently sent a letter to President Obama saying that he believes his organization was also unfairly targeted for extra scrutiny because the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association urged voters to back “candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel” during last year’s presidential race.

The newspaper ads the group ran concluded with the words: “Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me (Billy Graham) that America will remain one nation under God.” Graham says the ads were purchased with designated funds given by friends of the ministry for that purpose.

Three months prior to the election, both Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association received notification from the IRS that a review would be conducted for the tax year ending 2010. Graham says that in light of the subsequent revelations, “I do not believe that the IRS audit of our two organizations last year is a coincidence—or justifiable.”

Similarly, Hendershott says the IRS audited her in 2010 and demanded to know who was paying her and “what their politics were.” The professor says she was surprised she was being audited on business grounds since her freelance activity primarily consists of writing for Catholic outlets for which she receives no pay. Her husband was not included in the audit even though he brings in most of the family’s income and the couple filed a joint tax return.
(more…)

There are currently two sets of laws in America: laws that apply to everyone and laws that apply to everyone except for friends of the Obama administration.

In January I wrote about how the executive branch had argued that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 should be broadly interpreted in order to impose criminal liability for actions that indirectly result in a protected bird’s death. The administration used that reasoning to file criminal charges against three energy companies.

american-bald-eagleThe U.S. District Court of North Dakota rejected this sweeping interpretation of the MBTA and dismissed the charges, noting that the words “kill” and “take” in statute should be interpreted narrowly to mean actions taken with the intent to kill or take a bird, not actions that merely happen to kill or take a bird. The ruling seemed fair-minded but the Department of Justice appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

While one section of the Obama Administration is arguing that they should be able to prosecute energy companies (oil and gas) for killing birds another section of the Obama Administration is arguing that energy companies (wind) should be exempt from prosecution for killing birds.

According to the Associated Press:
(more…)

CensorUNot content to trample only the religious freedom side of the First Amendment, the federal government has decided to ignore the free speech side too.

As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have joined together to mandate that virtually every college and university in the United States establish unconstitutional speech codes that violate the First Amendment and decades of legal precedent.

In a letter sent yesterday to the University of Montana that explicitly states that it is intended as “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country,” the Departments of Justice and Education have mandated a breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser while ignoring the First Amendment. The mandate applies to every college receiving federal funding—virtually every American institution of higher education nationwide, public or private.

The letter states that “sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as ‘any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature'” including “verbal conduct” (that is, speech). It then explicitly states that allegedly harassing expression need not even be offensive to an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation”—if the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably, the speaker may be punished.

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA School of Law, says that this is telling universities to institute speech codes:
(more…)

I’m a contributor to this month’s edition of Cato Unbound, on the topic of “Conservative-Libertarian Fusionism.”

The forum consists of four lead essays from the panelists followed by ad hoc discussion. The first four essays are up:

Read more about the contributors and be sure to check out the pieces and follow the discussion over at Cato Unbound.

I don’t plan to update with new posts at the PowerBlog as the discussion develops, but I will add updates to this post as appropriate, so if you want to discuss, the comments here are the best place to do that.

cl_fusionism_banner

Update (5/21/13): I follow up and ask some questions about history and liberty. As Lord Acton said, “History is a great innovator and breaker of idols.” But if conservatives and libertarians differ on their views of tradition, what might that mean for the significance of history?

irsWhen I was a young Marine I learned that when the commanding officer says, “I wish” or “I desire,” these expressions have the force of a direct order and should be acted upon as if they had given a direct order. If our CO were to say, even in musing to themselves, “I wish there was something that could be done about that,” we knew we should jump into action. But what sort of action was called for? And should we get clarification before proceeding on our own? The peculiar custom always struck me as open to misunderstanding and abuse.

Sometimes a leader doesn’t even need to be so direct as to say “I wish” or “I desire” for subordinates to get them impression that their boss wants them to take action. A prime example is the latest political scandal in which the Internal Revenue Service admitted that some of their employees had singled out nonprofit applicants with the terms “Tea Party” or “patriots” in their titles. As Ross Douthat says, “the bureaucrats in question probably thought they were just doing their patriotic duty, and giving dangerous extremists the treatment they deserved.”

Where might an enterprising, public-spirited I.R.S. agent get the idea that a Tea Party group deserved more scrutiny from the government than the typical band of activists seeking tax-exempt status? Oh, I don’t know: why, maybe from all the prominent voices who spent the first two years of the Obama era worrying that the Tea Party wasn’t just a typically messy expression of citizen activism, but something much darker — an expression of crypto-fascist, crypto-racist rage, part Timothy McVeigh and part Bull Connor, potentially carrying a wave of terrorist violence in its wings.

Some conspiratorial minded people will assume the actions of the IRS employees had to have come from direct orders from their superiors. But I think a simpler, more indirect phenomenon, like what Douthat presents, better explains such situations. Rather than attributing it to a “conspiracy theory” I’d say it is a version of what I’d call a “confederacy theory”:
(more…)

Higher education is in serious trouble. Plagued with the pressures of escalating costs and retention challenges, all sorts of perverse incentives are being introduced that are changing the quality of the education delivered. In an effort to save money, many college students make the choice to spend their first two years at a community college and then transfer to a traditional school to finish out their college degree. Instead of being driven by education quality, students are making decisions on the basis of skyrocketing costs, but at what cost to the student?

The trade-off is that community colleges of today have lower standards which may compromise the ability of academic success in the future when students transfer for their junior and senior year. For those intending on a 4-year degree, going to a community college for two years might make them worse off in the long run.

Inside Higher Ed highlights new research demonstrating that “community colleges set a low bar for students during their first year of enrollment,” especially in academic standards in literacy and mathematics, according to a new study from the National Center on Education and the Economy. Moreover, the study reveals “disturbingly low standards among community college instructors,” said Marc S. Tucker, president of the center. “It’s clear that we’re cheating our students.”
(more…)

"Help me help you."

“Help me help you.”

Yesterday in conjunction with this week’s Acton Commentary I looked at Tim Riggins’ gift of freedom to his brother and the corresponding sense of responsibility that resulted. When Tim takes the rap for Billy, Billy has a responsibility to make something of his life. As Tim puts it, that’s the “deal.”

When Tim feels that Billy hasn’t lived up to his end, it causes conflict. Tim’s gift has created an obligation for the recipient. This reality is on clearest display in this exchange between the two brothers:

Billy: “How long are you going to hold it over my head, man?”

Tim: “The rest of my life if I feel it needs to be.”

This hints at the shadow-side of much of our gift-giving as human beings, as this good thing can be turned into a way of manipulating, controlling, or holding “it over” someone.

Consider these words about Augustine and their implications for the kinds of gift-giving that we ought to pursue:

A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about. If such a thing as spiteful benevolence existed (which is impossible, of course, but supposing it did), a genuinely and sincerely merciful person would wish others to be miserable so that he could show them mercy!

The “spiteful benevolence” that drives much gift giving is actually intended to keep the recipient in a state of dependence, in a relationship that gives power to the giver which can be lorded over others. This, I think, is actually one of the key dynamics of much of the modern international aid movement. Aid can become a tool of a kind of neo-colonial policy.

It is this debased and corrupted form of gift-giving that has led so many to the extreme position which argues that true gifts require no response and inspire no responsibility. But as I argue this week, this abuse of the reality of gift is no argument against its proper use: “The connection between gift and gratitude invigorates a life of stewardship and responsibility.”

bitcoinLast month, in my series on Bitcoin, I wrote that for the crypto-currency to succeed it will one day have to become trusted by more mainstream consumers, which requires adding such features as regulatory oversight and a centralized monetary authority—the very features of other currencies that Bitcoin was created to avoid.

That day may be coming sooner than later:
(more…)

As commencement ceremonies once again are being celebrated around the country, I was reminded again of the moral crisis of US education.

Elise Hilton recently surveyed the dismal employment rate among young adults in the US, writing that we have moved in twelve years from having the best rate in the developed world to being among the worst, following the path of Greece, Spain, and Portugal.

She highlights two possible solutions. The better one is from Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg:

Gregg says we must rely on free markets rather than redistribution of wealth, economic liberty, rule of law, entrepreneurship and the ability to take risks economically – all things that have made America great in the past.

The second comes from David Leonhardt, who, among other ideas, suggests, “Long term, nothing is likely to matter more than improving educational attainment, from preschool through college.”

Notice the language he uses? Not educational quality, nor even job-training, but “educational attainment.” With no intended disrespect to Mr. Leonhardt, it is precisely this well-meaning, widespread, but ill-informed mentality that has led, in large part, to our current educational crisis. (more…)

climate-changeDo you believe that Jesus will return to Earth someday? Then you probably don’t care about environmental devastation and the catastrophic loss of life of future generations.

That’s the absurd conclusion drawn in an academic paper published in the latest issue of Political Research Quarterly. In their article, “End-Times Theology, the Shadow of the Future, and Public Resistance to Addressing Global Climate Change,” David C. Barker of the University of Pittsburgh and David H. Bearce of the University of Colorado test the following hypothesis:

Citizens who believe in Christian end-times theology are less likely to see global warming as a policy problem that requires immediate government action, compared to citizens who do not hold end-times beliefs.

Initially, I thought by “Christian end-times theology” they might be referring to premillinial dispensationalism, a eschatological view held by many American Evangelicals, that was popularized in the Left Behind series of novels. But the authors make it clear that they are not just referring to dispensationalists but to all Christians who believe in the Second Coming.
(more…)