Archived Posts June 2005 | Acton PowerBlog

From today’s Ecumenical News International:

UN, NGOs told Faith-Based Organizations crucial in AIDS fight

Geneva (ENI). Up to 40 per cent of health care in poor countries is delivered by private religious institutions according to the first systematic study of faith-based organizations and HIV/AIDS.

Dr Rabia Mathai, the senior vice-president, Global Program Policy, of the US-based Catholic Medical Mission Board, told members of United Nations’ and non-governmental organizations in Geneva that faith-based organizations are “true partners” in the struggle against HIV/AIDS. [ENI-05-0498]

Blog author: mvandermaas
Thursday, June 30, 2005
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Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette – the state needs the cash.

Last year, when I was still a Legislative Assistant in the Michigan House of Representatives, I had a front-row seat for the debate over House Bill 5632, the legislation that raised cigarette taxes by 75 cents and placed Michigan at #2 on the list for highest cigarette taxes in the country.

If my memory serves me correctly, the debate was utterly predictable. Those in support of the tax argued in two primary (and seemingly contradictory) directions: first, that the state desperately needed the increased revenues that would result from jacking up the tax in order to continue serving the low-income community’s health care needs through the state’s Medicaid program; and second that increasing the tax would be beneficial to public health because many smokers would be forced to give up the habit due to the drastically increased cost. This mindset is summed up nicely in this excerpt from Nurseline, a publication of the Michigan Nurses Association, which supported the tax increase:

It is estimated that with a 75 cent increase in the tobacco tax, there will be roughly a 13 percent decrease in youth consumption and a 7 percent decrease in adult consumption of tobacco. These declines in consumption will end up saving Michigan about $1,590 billion in long-term healthcare costs. Additionally, the revenues generated would protect health care for 200,000 Michigan children, improve the state’s health status by reducing smoking, protect thousands of Michigan health care jobs by earmarking the revenues to health care, and bring real dollars to Michigan from federal Medicaid matching monies.

Conservatives argued that a reasonable person might conclude that the second benefit (a reduction in smoking rates) would eventually cancel out the first (increased cigarette tax revenue) – although it would be just as reasonable to assume that a great many smokers wouldn’t quit smoking but would instead find ways – often illegal – to circumvent the new tax.

They also pointed out that the increased tax would disproportionately impact the poor, and would in the end be counterproductive in that it would greatly harm small businesses (such as gas stations and convenience stores), causing job losses and further hampering Michigan’s already struggling economy.

Needless to say, the tax was raised.
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Blog author: dphelps
Thursday, June 30, 2005
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In reading Is the Market Moral? (Brookings Institution Press, 2003), I have come across a passage containing what I suspect is a common misconception about markets.

"Unlike the market, which values people according to their resources and the productivity they bring to the market, Christian teachings on poverty ascribe value to a group that has no resources."

The problematic premise implicit in this statement is that ‘the market’ somehow bestows value and that the value it bestows is somehow absolute. But the ‘market’ is not a willful being; the market is a term for the free association of willful beings, namely persons. In the market — a particular sphere of human interaction — the involved persons do recognize certain types of value in other persons based on what those persons offer in that sphere. But recognition (or lack of it) of a person’s ‘value’ in a given sphere is not an absolute value judgment. The ontological value of the human person is inherent. But ‘market value’ is not the same as ‘ontological value’. The confusion comes with the word value: same word; different concepts.

Such confusion seems to be the hallmark of those who denounce the market for being ‘out-of-step’ with the mandates of the Christian faith. Perhaps a parallel will help to explain the problem: It would be silly to suggest that a hockey coach who cut from his team a boy who could not skate was somehow ignoring the boy’s value as a person. While it is true that the coach denies the boy’s value in the sphere of the game of hockey — that is, he has little value as a hockey player — the boy’s ‘absolute value’ does not depend on his ‘hockey value’. Likewise, to say a given person has less opportunity in a market because he has less to offer in capital is not to say that the market devalues that person in an ontological sense; a person’s ontological value does not depend on his market value.

I think the tendency to equate market judgment with ontological judgment is simply the residue of materialist Marxism, an ideology that claims reality — and thus real worth — is only to be found in material. While it sounds compassionate to denounce the market as an institution that ‘devalues’ those whom Christianity values, the truth of such denouncements is that they stem from semantic confusion (or trickery) and lead to actions down the road that deny true value.

Click here for suggested readings on human dignity and here for an extensive list of works that deal with value.

Now that Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, has cancer, coupled with talk that Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, 75, and John Paul Stevens, 85, might also consider stepping down, there is quite a buzz in the beltway about the Supreme Court. Majority Leader Bill Frist said Tuesday he’s been talking to Democratic leader Harry Reid about nominees for a potential vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Reid later offered what he considered good possibilities: GOP Sens. Mel Martinez of Florida, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Mike Crapo of Idaho and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. They "are people who serve in the Senate now who are Republicans who I think would be outstanding Supreme Court members," Reid said. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called on Bush to pick a consensus candidate if a vacancy comes open. "Americans want to be brought together around this decision." What should the President look for in a nominee for the court and who would you nominate?

Recent high-profile examples of the combination of violence and technology, such as “happy-slapping,” bring into sharp focus the need for moral judgment in the marketplace. The social nature of violence and sin mean that “no government, economy, family, or society can survive if a critical mass of citizens do not exercise a particular level of self-government and restraint.”

Read the full text here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
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Here’s a valuable article highlighting the author’s experience with Augustine during “a homiletical emergency.” David Neff writes in “Preaching Augustine” that the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) “is heavily used by college and university teachers who want to assign classic spiritual reading without adding to their students’ already hefty textbook bills. The other main users seem to be people preparing sermons or Bible studies and those who simply want to read for edification.”

And for further edification, from Augustine’s Confessions:

In Thy gift we rest; there we enjoy Thee. Our rest is our place. Love lifts us up thither, and Thy good Spirit lifteth our lowliness from the gates of death. In Thy good pleasure lies our peace. The body by its own weight gravitates towards its own place. Weight goes not downward only, but to its own place. Fire tends upwards, a stone downwards. They are propelled by their own weights, they seek their own places. Oil poured under the water is raised above the water; water poured upon oil sinks under the oil. They are propelled by their own weights, they seek their own places. Out of order, they are restless; restored to order, they are at rest. My weight is my love; by it am I borne whithersoever I am borne. By Thy Gift we are inflamed, and are borne upwards; we wax hot inwardly, and go forwards. We ascend Thy ways that be in our heart, and sing a song of degrees; we glow inwardly with Thy fire, with Thy good fire, and we go, because we go upwards to the peace of Jerusalem; for glad was I when they said unto me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Ps. 122:1) There hath Thy good pleasure placed us, that we may desire no other thing than to dwell there for ever. (13.10.11)

Blog author: abradley
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
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Rapper and actor Will Smith urged rappers to serve as role models for black communities at the annual BET Awards. "The kids that are making these trends, making these songs, don’t understand the level of effect that black Americans have around the world," Smith said in an interview. "Black Americans are so elevated, it’s almost worship." The gangsta lifestyle is celebrated in black communities for its portrayal of strength, Smith said. "That’s the image of survivors. The dude that sells the drugs or has the guns or is most willing to kill somebody is the dude that has the greatest potential for survival, or at least that’s the perception. So that’s what people strive for."

At the awards, hip-hop artist Kanye West won "Video of the Year" for the hit "Jesus Walks." This raises several issues. For example, what incentives do rappers have to view themselves as role models? Is a "gangsta" rapper really likely to see himself in that role anyway? Are entertainers the best role models for black kids? Are not black entrepreneurs, professors, pastors, teachers, and the like, better role models?

In my years of observing and participating in the legislative process both as a voter and as a legislative aide, I have noted a number of tendencies common to politicians of all political persuasions. High on this list are two items: first, politicians have a deep desire to be seen by their constituents as helpful problem-solvers. If that means bringing the full force of the federal or state government down on an issue that should be solved at the local level, well, so be it. Re-election beckons.

Unfortunately, another common trait of legislators is the fact that they are extremely busy individuals. Between legislative sessions, committee meetings, constituent calls, dealing with the press, district events, fundraising, campaigning, and traveling between all of the above, there simply isn’t much time to spend deeply pondering the probable outcomes of all of the various actions a legislature can take.

As a result, legislative “problem solving” often is relegated to the appropriations process. In other words, well-meaning politicians throw money at perceived problems and needs and hope that the problem goes away.

The end result of such activity is often the opposite of the legislative intent. And it’s not strictly an American problem. In an interview on the Australian Broadcasting Company, Dr. Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute talks about the negative effects on local voluntary organizations when government tries to “help.” (4.3 mb mp3)

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
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AMD is suing Intel, claiming "freedom of choice and the benefits of innovation…are being stolen away in the microprocessor market," says Hector Ruiz, AMD chairman, president and chief executive.

This case raises concerns over at Fast Company Now, as Kevin Ohannessian writes,

I worry that this could start a new trend. Is a competitor trouncing you? Sue him. Do you feel your product is underperforming due to unfair opposition? Take your rival to court. It does seem at times that America is a nation built on litigation, but capitalism is about competition. Such lawsuits should make competition more fair, and not replace it altogether. Let us hope the next year proves this to be the case.

Tort reform policy is an important part of addressing the litigious mind-set of America. Ohannessian’s comment brings out the critically important role of the courts, as arbiters of justice. But they should be arbiters of the last resort, not replacing other structures and spheres of reconciliation.

In Trial by Fury, the latest volume in the Christian Social Thought Series, law professor Ronald J. Rychlak makes the argument that the tort system needs to be oriented to the common good in order to maximize justice. And part of realizing the common good is appreciating the role of essential mediating institutions.

USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios set the record straight at a U.N. conference when he told the gathering that the United States has "no intention" of committing to a goal for foreign aid pegged to a percentage of gross domestic product. Some countries are pressing for the U.S. to commit to an official development assistance (ODA) goal of 0.7 percent of GDP, a figure that would oblige the United States to spend more than $90 billion annually. The Washington Times reported that Natsios "vigorously defended" the American aid policy, and had this to say about pegging assistance to the U.N.’s or anyone else’s "official" number:

"There is ample evidence that ODA is not generally the limiting factor on nations’ development. Development progress is first and foremost a function of country commitment and political will to rule justly, promote economic freedom and invest in people."

Yet, the U.N. and E.U. continue to push these arbitrary ODA goals. Reminds you of the way that French farmers force feed geese to produce foie gras. Only, with superabundant foreign aid, the only ones getting stuffed are people like Nigeria’s Sani Abacha and his kleptocrat fraternity.