Archived Posts August 2006 » Page 2 of 7 | Acton PowerBlog

In 1936 Congress passed the Aid to Dependent Children Act to help widows stay home and raise their children. From 147,000 families on welfare in 1936 the number rose to five million by the 1994, the peak year. Ten years ago today, August 26, President Clinton signed into law the Welfare Reform Act. Last year the number of families receiving welfare had declined to 1.9 million. Contrary to the cries against the bill in 1996, which were numerous, the reform in welfare promoted in a bipartisan manner by President Clinton and the Congress, has generally proven successful.

Various measures of success can be applied to the question of welfare reform. Here are a few. 69% of single mothers are employed today, up from 62% in 1995. In 2000 the number employed actually reached 73%. Another measure of the success of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act is the poverty rate among children. In 1994 the poverty rate among children was 22%, today it is 18%, still much too high I am sure. At the same time there are some numbers that show that we still have a major problem. An average of 1.2 million single mothers a month, who live in homes where there was no wage earner and no Social Security, received no welfare in 2003, up from 700,000 in 1996. Many of these have disabilities, or mental-health and/or substance-abuse problems, reports the Wall Street Journal. (more…)

Here’s a supply-side economics lesson that’s going to be learned the hard way by some folks up in Alaska. Away the "Ocean Rangers!”

Alaska voters Aug. 22 were poised to approve an initiative that imposes a series of new taxes and environmental regulations on the cruise ships that bring about 1 million passengers a year to the state. With 87 percent of Alaska precincts reporting, the initiative was passing by a margin of 52.4 percent to 47.6 percent, according to results released by the Alaska Division of Elections Aug. 23.

The citizen initiative, which was placed on the state’s primary election ballot, requires cruise ships to obtain wastewater discharge permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, to abide by state water quality regulations, and to post trained, state-employed “ocean rangers” on ships to observe wastewater practices.

The initiative also raises fines for wastewater violations to a minimum of $5,000 a day from the current minimum of $500 a day. It would require daily recordkeeping for discharges and satellite tracking information giving the ship’s exact location. The initiative also imposes a $50-per-passenger head tax, a corporate income tax, and taxes on ships’ gambling revenues reaped when the vessels are in Alaskan waters.

Revenues raised from the taxes will go to local communities affected by tourism and into public services and facilities used by the cruise ships, said Gershon Cohen, an environmental activist from Haines who was one of the initiative’s sponsors.

“This wasn’t an effort to chase the industry away. This is actually, in the long run, going to be good for the industry,” said Cohen, who is part of a group called Responsible Cruising in Alaska. [via BNA]

Raising taxes “good for the industry?” Uh, not historically. And without spending too much time on it, others know that lowering taxes is a better environmental incentive. 

California (of all places!) is going in the opposite direction:

It wasn’t so much the environment that led Tuan Phan to a recent Port of Oakland-sponsored picnic, advertising a new truck replacement program. It was the $1,000 citations from the California Highway Patrol and countless repair jobs that had Phan filling out a novel-sized application for a $31,000 grant to buy a new rig.

But it was the environment that benefited when Phan qualified as the first trucker to get a new rig under the port’s truck replacement program. “My truck was too old, and they wanted to take it away and give me a new one?” Phan said Thursday. “Yes, I would try that.”

If on the other hand the goal of Cohen’s group up there in Alaska is to get rid of all those nasty, polluting cruise ships altogether, this ought’a make everybody pretty happy.

Well, the green folks, anyway.

[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist Blog]

The Indiana Youth Institute will present the workshop “Raising Resources for Faith-Based Youth-Serving Organizations” from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 6 at the League for the Blind and Disabled, 5821 S. Anthony Blvd., Fort Wayne, IN 46816.

The workshop will feature Karen Woods, director of the Center for Effective Compassion, which is a part of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. Cost of the program is $20; to apply for the session, call 1-800-343-7060 or go to their website.

HT: The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

The secularized West is experiencing a growing disaffection with both militant atheism and traditional Christian faith. The Vatican recently addressed this issue in a study published by the Pontifical Council for Culture. It is more than interesting to me to see how this document begins to address this problem. It suggests that any effective pastoral strategy must begin with seeing “the importance of witnessing the beauty of being a person loved by God.”

This document, titled “The Christian Faith at the Dawn of the New Millennium and the Challenge of Unbelief and Religious Indifference” draws several key conclusions, besides the one stated above, that are worth thinking about by all Christians in the West. These conclusions are:

  • The church needs “To renew Christian apology to give an account with gentleness and respect of the hope that animates us (1 Peter 3:15).”

  • We must “Reach ‘homo urbanus’ (urban man) through public presence in the debates of society and put the gospel in contact with the forces that shape culture.”
  • There is an “urgency of learning to think, from school to university, and to have the courage to react, faced with the tacit acceptation of a dominant culture often marked by unbelief and religious indifference by a new and joyous proposal of Christian culture.”
  • We should “show to the nonbelievers, indifferent to the question of God but open to human values, that to be truly human, is to be religious, that man finds the fullness of his humanity in Christ, true God and true man, and that Christianity is a good news for all men and women in all cultures.”

For all who take the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), and the cultural commission (Genesis 1:28), seriously these are solid points worthy of much deeper thought and corporate application to the growing body of Western missiological material that has opened a fresh spring for the global church.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Friday, August 25, 2006

The fable “The Blind Men and the Elephant” offers great insight about how Americans seem to perceive how charity and public welfare is done. Remember that depending on his placement around the elephant, each blind man had a different perspective, i.e., the guy on the tail had a much different perspective than the one grabbing the elephant’s trunk.

We get a lot of contradictory messages in the media. People are giving more to charity than ever before or charities can’t get the resources they need. Hurricane victims can’t begin to get necessary help or a virtual underground network of charities and individuals literally all over the country is moving hurricane victims to health, wholeness, and community connectness.

I prefer the latter version about health and wholeness because that is what I hear about constantly. I spend every day learning about these Good Samaritans, recruiting them for our annual Samaritan Award, and touting both the evaluation and teaching value of the resulting charity reports in our online Samaritan Guide The 2006 Award competition has just been completed. WORLD Magazine partnerd with us this year, and the result of their visits to all fifteen finalist sites is featured in their Sept. 2/9 double issue on Effective Compassion.

Here’s our announcement of the Samaritan Award winner and honorees.

These great Samaritan Award charities, privately funded and serving people in the United States, are just a few among that army of Samaritans that are most often recruited from volunteers in local communities. Acton’s online Samaritan Guide includes five-page reports about charities doing work well. There are a number of substance abuse treatment programs in the Guide, but these are the residential ones that house and help residents for 12-30 months. The Guide includes a local charity that works in a prison, providing workshops where inmates refurbish wheelchairs that are then given to disabled people in this county and others who can’t afford them. The same charity makes sure that these inmates see pictures and hear testimonies of grateful recipients.

True change only comes within the context of relationships. They even expect those whom they have helped to become Good Samaritans, encouraging graduates to volunteer, to teach new people in the programs the things they’ve learned to return productively to society.

The Beltway Boys will always argue about welfare reform — and argue louder in an election year. But it’s those local charities, primarily motivated by their faith, that help move people toward self-sufficiency. Those local charities are the ones passionate about each individual person, every one of them created in God’s image. And doesn’t that make all the difference?

Update: Check out the discussion at World Magazine Blog here and here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 25, 2006

As I’ve written before, you don’t need to be a climate change convert to believe that nuclear power represents a very attractive alternative to nonrenewable fossil fuels.

In this lengthy piece in Cosmos magazine, Tim Dean examines the possibility of nuclear reactors based on thorium rather than uranium. Regardless of your position on climate change, and Dean certainly makes it a key point in his article, the essential reality is that “fossil fuels won’t last forever. Current predictions are that we may reach the point of peak production for oil and natural gas within the next decade – after which production levels will continually decline worldwide.”

Even if these predictions are much too cynical with respect to the fossil fuels left, the bottom line is that these are finite, nonrenewable resources. Dean talks about the conditions needed for an alternative energy source besides coal, which is the source of vast amounts of the world’s power: “It should offer abundant power. It also needs to be clean, safe and renewable as well as consistent. And ultimately, it needs to be economical.”

Again, as I’ve said before, “If the purpose of petroleum fuels is to pave the way for their own obsolescence, it’s becoming clearer day by day that this means the embrace of nuclear power.” You don’t have to agree with all of Dean’s analysis, I don’t think, to be intrigued by the possibility of thorium reactors.

Among the advantages of thorium as opposed to uranium: “Thorium is not fissile, so no matter how much thorium you pack together, it will not start splitting atoms and blow up. This is because it cannot undergo nuclear fission by itself and it cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction once one starts. It’s a wannabe atom splitter incapable of taking the grand title.”

There are some complications, mostly drawing from the fact that thorium cannot self-sustain. As Dean writes, “The main stumbling block until now has been how to provide thorium fuel with enough neutrons to keep the reaction going, and do so in an efficient and economical way.” Dean goes on to describe two recent innovations that have the potential of addressing this stumbling block.

“Can atomic power be green?” asks Dean. Another way of asking the question is whether folks like Greenpeace will embrace nuclear power if the primary fuel is thorium rather than uranium.

Update: Deroy Murdock passes along wonderment regarding the question “why environmentalists reject alternatives to fossil fuels if they agree with Sir David King, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s science adviser, that global warming is ‘the greatest threat facing mankind’ and is ‘worse than terrorism.’”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 24, 2006

The editors of PC World magazine have done a little survey of how users around the world access the Internet, based on the responses of over 60 worldwide publications that “either carry the PC World name or are associated with us in some way.”

You can check out the piece here. Here’s a brief summary of some of the interesting findings:

Our colleagues report that many countries are substantially ahead of the United States in many respects.

For example, in the United Kingdom, you can buy DSL service with a download speed of up to 24 megabits per second. In Denmark, some people have fiber-optic connections as fast as 100 mbps. And in Italy and Spain, broadband service is cheap, and dial-up service is free (except for the cost of the local call).

Also in Denmark, “Broadband over Power Line (BPL) is available in some regions.” Check out the rest of the article for more information on specific countires. The article also links to this Wikipedia entry for more information on the rest of the world’s nations that aren’t dealt with in the article.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Anthony Bradley, a research fellow for the Acton Institute, looks back on the effects of the welfare reform of 1996. Many people criticized this legislation as it was being passed and predicted that the result would be increased poverty. However, the results of the legislation have been overwhelmingly positive.

Poverty, especially amongst single mothers, has declined significantly. Employment among people formerly claiming welfare has increased dramatically. The number of welfare cases has dropped from 4.3 to 1.89 million — that’s more than 50% fewer cases — and poverty has decreased as well! These results cannot be only attributed to economic factors (although a good economy obviously helps poverty). As Mr. Bradley puts it: “When our society provides incentives encouraging work, marriage, family, and accountability—which are central to human dignity—we see people thought to be helpless rise to the occasion.”

Read Anthony’s commentary here.

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fox News broadcast a one hour special the other day titled: “The Purpose Driven Life: Can Rick Warren Save the World?” Accidentally, while channel surfing from the Red Sox vs. Yankees baseball game on ESPN to various news channels, I got in on the opening segment of the Warren special and was hooked for the whole.

Much of the Rick Warren story is widely known but some things came together in this brisk, but largely focused, video presentation. My admiration for Warren soared as a result of this broadcast. If “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God” is “to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27) then Rick Warren is practicing the faith of true religion. There can be no doubt that Warren’s faith produces Christ-centered works (James 2:14-26). And, to his great credit, he listens to his wife Kay’s counsel, who is plainly a major reason for his clarity in this and other areas. It is a wise man who listens to such a thoughtful and insightful wife!

Frankly, evangelicals who take shots at Rick Warren ought to be ashamed. But their number increases with everything this man does on an expanding stage of public opinion. I have heard many of the attacks. Warren is too shallow and promotes pop-religion. (If this is true we could use a great deal more of his kind of religion in many of the places where I’ve been in North America.) Warren doesn’t really understand “purpose driven” life theologically enough. (On one level I agree with this criticism, and said so in an article published in our quarterly journal a few years ago.) Warren is naïve about world problems. (I wish we had more naïve evangelicals who understood the relationship of faith and works the way Rick Warren does.) And, Warren is a typical mega-church pastor who doesn’t feed his flock well. (This criticism has a stereotypical view of “feeding the flock” that is rooted in categories that need to be seriously challenged.) Finally, Warren has not proven to be a loyal conservative in many contexts, especially in his open support for the Baptist World Alliance over against the conservative elements in the Southern Baptist Convention who defunded it and protest its “liberalism.” (His actions actually prove that he can rise above fundamentalist politics and seek the greater good of the church in the world.)

Warren’s biggest project right now is Rwanda. He is working closely with President Kagame, a Roman Catholic who loves both Rick and his book (Rwanda is predominantly Roman Catholic). President Kagame was introduced to Warren through Joe Ritchie, a Chicago-area Christian businessman with a degree in philosophy from Wheaton College whom I have known and respected for some time. Ritchie has been actively engaging hot-spots in the world with a clear vision for the kingdom of Christ and its advance for many years. He has a great deal of savvy in such matters. (Ritchie appeared several times on the Fox program.) President Kagame and Rick Warren have formed a partnership that is quite impressive. The goal is to make Rwanda a successful free enterprise context where jobs and wealth are increased so that multitudes can be clothed, fed, and allowed to vote and experience basic human rights and protection from violence. In addition, the ravaging impact of AIDS has to be faced in one of Africa’s worst contexts. Progress is being made on every front but the battle is far from over.

Warren’s next target will be North Korea, slated for a major “Purpose Driven” effort in 2007. I wish him well. I have my doubts about how this effort will work given the brutality of Kim Jong-Il, one of the world’s most deadly dictators. But I have no doubt that Warren will get good advice and seek wise counsel. Who knows, if God favors this man again, as he clearly has in the past, he may do more good in North Korea than all our diplomatic efforts combined.

At the end of the television special Warren said there were four words he wanted on his tombstone when he died: “At Least He Tried.” I give him full credit, he is trying to make a real difference in this world and people who love Christ ought to love and support him in every way possible. We have far too few mega-church pastors with either the vision or integrity of Rick Warren.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Regular readers may have already inferred that I am fascinated by demographics. So I enjoyed this piece at WSJ.com by Arthur C. Brooks, who uses survey data to show that conservatives have more babies than liberals. He presses the statistics, moreover, into the service of demonstrating that the trend bodes ill for Democratic Party political success.

Taken completely seriously, there are problems with the analysis—for example, what “liberal” and “conservative” mean with respect both to survey answers and to politics—but taken light-heartedly, it’s a collection of interesting data points inventively presented. Here’s the key stat:

According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids.