Category: Public Policy

Woman-child-cookingA United Nations panel recently released a report on the single most important environmental problem in the world today — and yet you’ve probably read nothing about it in the news.

Instead, you’ve likely heard about another U.N. report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That report claims that global warming could have a “widespread impact” by the year 2100. Yet in 2012 millions of people died — one in eight of total global deaths — as a result of environmental problem occurring today: indoor air pollution.

According to the World Health Organization’s latest report air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk, and the main cause is entirely preventable:
(more…)

got-toleranceCritics of homeschooling have long maintained that it fails to inculcate students with the civic virtues necessary to maintain our republican form of democracy. But a new study finds that when it comes to willingness to extend basic civil liberties to people who hold views with which one disagrees, homeschooled students are more tolerant than their peers:

Scholar Albert Cheng’s just-published fascinating and provocative study provides one of the first solid portions of empirical evidence about whether the homeschooled become more or less politically intolerant than others.[3] The researcher’s purpose was to compare college students from different school types – public school, private school, and homeschool – by analyzing political tolerance outcomes. That is, are students from any particular school background more or less politically tolerant than others? Political tolerance is “… defined as the willingness to extend basic civil liberties to political or social groups that hold views with which one disagrees” (p. 49).

Cheng used an instrument (e.g., a questionnaire) called the “content-controlled political tolerance scale.” In its first of two parts, the “… scale provides the respondent with a list of popular social and political groups, such as Republicans, gay-rights activists, or fundamentalist Christians. The respondent is asked to select the group with beliefs that he opposes the most … The second part of the political tolerance scale measures the respondent’s willingness to extend basic civil liberties to members of his least-liked group” (p. 55). Participants were asked to respond to items such as the following:
1. “The government should be able to tap the phones of [the least-liked group].”
2. “Books that are written by members of the [the least-liked group] should be banned from the public library.”
3. “I would allow members of [the least-liked group] to live in my neighborhood.” (p. 60)

With this scale, he studied students at a private university in the western United States. These students came from a variety of schooling and racial/ethnic backgrounds.

The study found that “those [college students] with more exposure to homeschooling relative to public schooling tend to be more politically tolerant.”

(Via: Cranach)

In USA Today comes this story from the Associated Press:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Wednesday permanently removed a German bishop from his Limburg diocese after his 31 million-euro ($43-million) new residence complex caused an uproar among the faithful.

Francis had temporarily expelled Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst from Limburg in October pending a church inquiry.

At the center of the controversy was the price tag for the construction of a new bishop’s residence complex and related renovations. Tebartz-van Elst defended the expenditures, saying the bill was actually for 10 projects and there were additional costs because the buildings were under historical protection.

But in a country where Martin Luther launched the Reformation five centuries ago in response to what he said were excesses and abuses within the church, the outcry was enormous. The perceived lack of financial transparency also struck a chord since a church tax in Germany brings in billions a year to the German church.

The Vatican said Wednesday that the inquiry into the renovation found that Tebartz-van Elst could no longer exercise his ministry in Limburg and that Francis had accepted his resignation, which was originally offered Oct. 20.

Back in October, I was part of a panel of guests on the BBC program World Have Your Say, discussing the question, “Should Religious Leaders Live a Modest Life?” The springboard for the conversation was the scandal surrounding Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst.

At the Boston Globe yesterday, John Allen sees this as a potential sign of a social gospel alliance between Pope Francis and President Obama, whose first meeting is today: (more…)

church busImages of Mississippi needing federal assistance are iconic. Robert F. Kennedy’s 1967 trip to Mississippi’s Delta region produced images of poverty not unlike LBJ’s War on Poverty tour. Jennifer Haberkorn has written a piece at Politico titled, “Obamacare enrollment rides a bus into the Mississippi Delta.” Her snooty lede to the story reads: “In the poorest state in the nation, where supper is fried, bars allow smoking, chronic disease is rampant and doctors are hard to come by, Obamacare rolls into town in a lime green bus.”

It appears the author believes Obamacare could bring the good news of salvation if only Mississippians skeptical of the federal government would let it. Haberkorn writes:

The effort in Mississippi illustrates the obstacles the health law must overcome in many parts of the country, particularly in deeply conservative areas where antipathy toward Washington mixes with challenges of geography, education and general skepticism or ignorance of the Affordable Care Act. High rates of poverty and disease — which mark much of this state — don’t necessarily aid recruitment. Add the strident opposition of GOP leaders and enrollment gets that much tougher.

Haberkorn cherry picks a couple of positive stories where heavily subsidized consumers will save money under the Obamacare program, but totally ignores a major component of all the skepticism with the plan. Obamacare premiums in Mississippi are the third highest in the nation, only surpassed by Alaska and Wyoming. As of September 2013, a mid range plan cost $448 monthly, with costs expected to rise. (more…)

This past Saturday, I attended the Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship (APTE) 2014 summit. APTE is a student group at OSU in Columbus, OH, and they put together a wonderful cast of ten speakers on the subject of the future of social entrepreneurship. With seven pages of notes (front and back), I unfortunately cannot cover every detail of the conference, but instead I will briefly focus on a theme that recurred throughout the afternoon: private, often for-profit, solutions to public service problems facing the poor.

APTE brought together an impressive lineup of speakers for two rounds of individual presenters, followed by a Twitter Q&A, with a panel discussion on the city of Detroit in between the two groups: (more…)

hobbylobby1On Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. ET, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, both of which will have a profound impact on the future of religious liberty and freedom of conscience in America.

Thus, Hobby Lobby supporters across the country have been invited to offer their prayers in support of the company, and I encourage you to participate. You can help spread the word by changing the avatar on your social media accounts and posting with the hashtag #PrayForHobbyLobby. Although the Court will be hearing arguments tomorrow, I would encourage us to begin our intercession today.

Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission explains:

The government is telling the Hobby Lobby owners, the Green family, that their free exercise rights aren’t relevant because they run a corporation. They’re telling these Anabaptist woodworkers and the Catholic Little Sisters of the Poor and ministries of all sorts all over the country that what’s at stake is just the signing of some papers, the payment of some money.

Our government has treated free exercise of religion as though it were a tattered house standing in the way of a government construction of a railroad; there to be bought off or plowed out of the way, in the name of progress … (more…)

David and Charles Koch

David and Charles Koch

Given the press the Koch brothers (David and Charles) get, one would expect to see a photo of them sporting devil’s horns with blood dripping from their fangs. Here are just a few examples:

They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. [The New Yorker]

Today, the Kochs are being watched as a prime example of the corporate takeover of government. [Greenpeace]

[W]hen Barack Obama became president, the Kochs, like a lot of right-wingers, flipped out. They threw their weight behind a stealth campaign to turn back the president’s “socialist” agenda… [Rolling Stone]

(more…)

Forgotten FaithToday at Ethika Politika, I review Fr. Philip LeMasters’ recent book The Forgotten Faith: Ancient Insights from Contemporary Believers from Eastern Christianity.

With regards to the book’s last chapter, “Constantine and the Culture Wars,” I write,

… LeMasters does a good job in acknowledging the line between principles of faith and morality on the one hand, and prudential judgments that may not be as clear-cut on the other. He does not give the impression of advocating any specific political program; indeed, he explicitly disavows such a project:

Religious groups that are strongly identified with politics risk becoming so entangled in debates shaped by interest groups that their distinctive witness is obscured. To give the impression of being merely a political party at prayer is a good way to make people think that the church has little to say to the world that the world does not already know on its own terms.

He does not use this as an excuse, however, to disengage from political life.  He only highlights that in applying the teachings of the Church to our present, political context, we ought not to expect any concrete embodiment of our ideals, and we should be wary of any person or group that makes such a claim.

This is a point, I believe, worth dwelling on. (more…)

nochristiansUsually, discrimination against Christians is subtle and discreet. But the Ferndale Public Schools in Oakland County, Michigan, seems to be quite open about their bias. As Michigan Capitol Confidential discovered, the teachers union contract requires the district to provide “special consideration” to “those of the non-Christian faith” in hiring decisions:

The contract ran from 2011 to 2012 but was extended to 2017. The teachers belong to the Ferndale Education Association, a division of the Michigan Education Association.

Regarding promotion to a vacant position, it states on page 22:

Should there be two (2) or more of these applicants with equal qualifications for the position and one (1) or more of these applicants with equal qualifications is a current employee, the current employee with the greatest seniority shall be assigned. Special consideration shall be given to women and/or minority defined as: Native American, Asian American, Latino, African American and those of the non-Christian faith. However, in all appointments to vacant positions, the Board’s decision shall be final.

Earlier in the contract is a “no discrimination clause” that states no employee can be discriminated against based on their religion.

Why would the issue of someone’s religious background come up in hiring for a public school position? As Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, says, “Now, they are going to ask people, ‘Are you a Christian?’ ” Thompson said. “Are people going to hide their faith so they can get a promotion? There is a subtle persecution [here] of Christians.”

UPDATE: According to the Christian Post, the district is going to remove that language. “I have no idea how that ever got in there, and nobody here does,” Shelley Rose, interim director of communications at Ferndale Public Schools, told The Christian Post in an interview on Wednesday. “We just heard back from legal counsel this morning,” Rose told CP, adding that “there will be new contracts and that language will not be in the new contracts.”

College Freshman

College Freshman

Consider the following (emphasis added):

“Higher education is an industry in danger,” says Clayton Christensen, the Harvard Business School guru and a senior advisor (unpaid) at Academic Partnerships. “It’s very plausible to say that 15 years from now half of the universities that exist will be bankrupt and in some fundamental way facing extinction and the need to totally change themselves.” (Caroline Howard, “No College Left Behind,” Forbes, 2/12/14)

Richard Lyons, the dean of University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, has a dire forecast for business education: “Half of the business schools in this country could be out of business in 10 years—or five,” he says. (Patrick Clark, “Half of U.S. Business Schools Might Be Gone by 2020,” Businessweek, 3/14/14)

What do you think? Are the doomsayers about the higher ed bubble generally too pessimistic? Are there discernibly different markets for different kinds of higher ed.? If Lyons is right about the dynamics of B-schools, are there similar dynamics at work for divinity schools and seminaries? Are such religious institutions more or less vulnerable?

There’s no shortage of those warning about various iterations of a higher education bubble. It’s almost a cottage industry. Are they Chicken Littles or true prophets?

For more reading, consider the Controversy in the Journal of Markets & Morality, “Should Students Be Encouraged to Pursue Graduate Education in the Humanities?”