Archived Posts August 2006 » Page 5 of 7 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 10, 2006

“Throughout history, shortages of vital resources have driven innovation, and energy has often starred in these technological dramas. The desperate search for new sources of energy and new materials has frequently produced remarkable advances that no one could have imagined when the shortage first became evident.” So says Stephen L. Sass, a professor of materials science and engineering at Cornell, in today’s NYT op-ed, “Scarcity, Mother of Invention.”

He concludes, “If there is anything to be learned from history, it’s that we need to face the harsh reality of fossil fuel scarcity and begin something like a Manhattan project to develop clean, economical, and preferably sustainable new sources of energy. Just as importantly, we need to innovate on the side of conservation and efficiency.” While there is valid dispute about just which point we are at with regard to the scarcity of fossil fuels, the larger considerations stand.

I made a similar point in my most recent Acton Commentary, “Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil,” in which I argue that “human stewardship of oil and other petroleum-based fuels entails a responsibility to use the economic opportunities they afford to find and integrate other renewable, sustainable, and cleaner sources of energy, especially represented by the promise of nuclear power, into our long-term supply.”

On a related note, check out this WaPo story, “Md. County Offers Incentives To Boost Nuclear Operation”:

There may be growing acceptance of nuclear power, owing to concerns over global warming, dependence on foreign oil and skyrocketing energy costs. Some leading environmentalists are saying nuclear energy should at least be explored as a way to offset global climate change.

But Jim Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst with Greenpeace International, said nuclear power remains unsafe and is too dependent on government subsidies. He is keeping an eye on Calvert County developments. “No ifs, ands or buts,” he said. “Until the last dog dies, Greenpeace will be anti-nuclear.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, August 10, 2006

US News and World Report has a little feature on a drapery company that has expanded into more distant markets and thereby grown. The article identifies trade agreements and technology as paving the way for such expansion by many small, local businesses.

Decreasing tariffs and regulation and improving technology—these are examples of what economists call “lowering transaction costs,” which improves efficiency and benefits producers and consumers alike.

The US News article highlights an American business, but, even more crucially, opening international markets also helps producers in the developing world.

In this week’s commentary, “Protestants and Natural Law: A Forgotten Legacy,” I ask the question: “So, why don’t Protestants like Natural Law?” The short answer is: There isn’t a short answer. Tracing out the reasons that twentieth-century Protestants have given for why natural law is off limits is complicated and can take a person in many different directions.

In my judgment, the great tragedy in the Protestant rejection of natural law is not merely that Protestants (and particularly evangelicals) have had tremendous difficulty in forming an adequate public language to address moral issues but that the loss of catholicity in Protestant ethics only reinforces the “suspended animation” that many Protestants already experience in relation to the historic Christian church. The sense of being lonely, rootless, and disconnected that some Protestants have bemoaned can be relieved, I would argue, precisely by revisiting key aspects of Protestant and Christian identity from the past.

Thomas Oden can help Protestants to recover a sense of their catholicity with the Church of all ages on the topic of general revelation and natural law. My argument is that Protestants don’t have to look beyond many of their own denominational traditions to discover a once vibrant tradition of natural law. Until fairly recently, some type of natural-law theory was used as a bridge to connect the Christian faith and culture, the church and the world.

Though natural law holds great promise as a bridge to connect the Christian faith and culture, it is also no panacea for the hard work of “translating” moral ideas into a useable public vocabulary. For more on the promises and limitations associated with natural law, and for why twentieth-century Protestants have been so skeptical, read the entire commentary here.

An extended series about “Protestants and Natural Law” can be found on this blog.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, August 9, 2006

CRC has made two good articles available recently (these are Adobe .pdf linked documents) that dispell the myth that large corporations are conservative monoliths supporting anti-environment causes.

The first is Funding Liberalism with Blue-Chip Profits; Fortune 100 Foundations Back Leftists Causes. The other is called The Price of Doing Business: Environmentalist Groups Toe Funders’ Lines. Both have page after page of data on the amounts that organizations like Earth Justice, Nature Conservancyਊnd Sierra Club are getting from big business and billion dollar charitable trusts.

Does this somehow make them beholden to these financial interests and their agendas in return? I’ll let you read these and judge for yourself.

Also today, Bruce Benson pens this OpinionJournal article: How Earthjustice and other green groups abuse the legal system for their own "non-profit."

Most federal environmental statutes allow citizens to sue individuals or companies for violating the laws. Indeed, from 1993 to 2002, more than 75% of all environmental federal court decisions started as citizen suits, reports James May. Writing the Widener Law Review, he concludes that citizen suits are "the engine that propels the field of environmental law."

But most of these suits are brought by environmental organizations, not individuals, and most of the filings don’t end in a court decision; they end in settlements. From 1995-2002, there were 4,438 notices of intent to sue under four environmental statutes–6.6 times more than actual federal court decisions in citizen suits. Presumably most of the others were settled.

Why the settlements?

My research indicates a clear and compelling reason: settlements bring in money environmental groups can use to pursue other goals.

Read the whole thing.

One thing is certain: Between lawsuits and huge infusions of cash from corporate trusts, "non-profit environmentalism" is certainly big business.

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

More news on the campus that may disturb those who are already hyperventilating about corporate involvement in higher education: university newspapers are receiving increasing corporate attention.

In an article in today’s WSJ, Emily Steel writes, “Hip, local, relevant and generated by students themselves, college newspapers have held steady readership in recent years while newspapers in general have seen theirs shrink. Big advertisers are going on campus to reach these young readers. Ford Motor Co., Microsoft Corp., Samsung Electronics Co., and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have all placed recent ads in college newspapers.”

In addition, “Last week, Gannett Co.’s Tallahassee Democrat acquired Florida State University’s FSView & Florida Flambeau, one of the nation’s few for-profit college newspapers. The same day, Viacom Inc.’s MTV, which already runs a network targeted at college campuses called mtvU, agreed to buy Y2M: Youth Media & Marketing Networks, a company that hosts the Web sites for 450 campus papers. MTV executives hope the deal will give mtvU credibility in the college community, providing its advertisers with easy access to college students.”

As a former columnist for Michigan State University’s student newspaper, The State News (I’m also married to a SN alum), let me just say that big corporations may be on to something…student newspapers have the market cornered and have the edge in providing locally relevant content to a uniquely situated and identifiable (perhaps even captive) audience.

HT: Poynter Online – Romanesko

Unlike the flooded market for conventional coffee products, the specialty coffee market enjoys increasing demand along with limited supply. This means that the potential exists for developing countries to increase the quality and quantity of their coffee production to meet the demand.

Rwanda is a case in point, and shows how market pressures help to effectively and efficiently signal which and in what quantity such commodities should be produced. As Laura Fraser writes in The New York Times, “From the late 1960’s until the genocide, most of Rwanda’s coffee was sold to Rwandex, a virtual monopoly controlled by the postcolonial government, for whatever price the company would offer, so farmers had no incentive to pick out the bad cherries.”

The government monopoly stifled any incentives to innovate and improve quality, since there was no potential for increased profits. More recently, however, under the administration of President Paul Kagame, the coffee industry has been liberalized and Rwandan growers are now enjoying the increased ability to compete freely with other specialty growers around the globe.

Over the last decade, “Worldwide, overproduction of high-yielding varieties caused conventional coffee prices to bottom out, but specialty coffee prices remained relatively strong. President Kagame liberalized coffee trade, sold the government’s interest in Rwandex and began working with A.I.D. to develop specialty coffee.”

According to the International Coffee Organization, Rwanda’s production of coffee has remained relatively steady between the years 2000-2005. But with the increased competitive incentives and profit motivations, the quality of Rwandan coffee has blossomed.

Writes Fraser, “Partly because of abundant labor, which allows farmers to pick through and hand-sort cherries, the coffee that goes to market is exceptionally clean, or free of imperfect beans.”

“Geoff Watts, who oversees coffee buying for Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea Inc., a premium roaster based in Chicago, said, ‘Rwanda’s gone from zero to sixty, from a complete unknown in the specialty coffee industry to becoming the source of some of the cleanest coffees in East Africa.’”

“Five years ago, all Rwandan coffee sold at the C-grade, or lowest-quality, price. Now, demand for fully washed Rwandan coffee (about 7 percent of the crop) far exceeds supply.”

The liberalization and opening the Rwandan market to freely compete has allowed the specialty coffee industry to thrive, without artificial incentives of “fair trade.” The incentives of the market are helping reward an area that has natural resources well-fit for the production of quality coffee. Coffee exports now account for about thirty percent of Rwanda’s exports, or about $35 million.

I saw a post on the Web somewhere in the last few days (I can’t recall where), about the trend toward worshiping human life itself as the highest principle…detached from recognition of any higher theological realities. Then I ran across this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that struck me as especially relevant, and so I wanted to pass it along:

Vitalism ends inevitably in nihilism, in the destruction of all that is natural. In the strict sense, life as such is a nothing, an abyss, a ruin. It is movement without end, without goal, movement into nothingness. It does not rest until it has drawn everything into this annihilating movement. This vitalism is found in both individual and communal life. It arises from the false absolutizing of an insight that is essentially correct, that life, both individual and communal, is not only a means to an end but also and end in itself. God wills life and gives life a form in which it can live, because left to its own resources it can only destoy itself.

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Natural Life,” Ethics, p. 178.

“I’ve got a bunch of government checks at my door / Each morning I try to send them back / But they only send me more.”

–Nelly Furtado, “Hey Man,” Whoa, Nelly! (Dreamworks, 2000).

Here’s a question maybe our own Karen Woods can address: Does the second phase of welfare reform make it harder for people to get off welfare for good?

That seems to be the implication of this article in today’s WaPo, “Welfare Changes A Burden To States,” by Amy Goldstein.

Having grown up on welfare, Rochelle Riordan had vowed never to ask for a government handout. That was before her hard-drinking husband kicked her and their young daughter out of their house near Lewiston, Maine, leaving her with a $300 bank account, a bad job market and a 15-year-old car held together in spots with duct tape.

Maine’s welfare agency, she heard, was offering help for poor parents to go to college full time. With the state paying for day care and $513 a month in living expenses, Riordan, 37, has been on the dean’s list every semester at the University of Southern Maine, expecting to graduate and start a social work career next spring. But this summer, her plans — and Maine’s Parents as Scholars program — suddenly are on shaky ground; under new federal rules, studying for a bachelor’s degree no longer counts by itself as an acceptable way for people on welfare to spend their time.

A decade after the government set out to transform the nation’s welfare system, the limits on college are part of a controversial second phase of welfare reform that is beginning to ripple across the country. The new rules, written by Congress and the Bush administration, require states to focus intensely on making more poor people work, while discouraging other activities that might help untangle their lives.

The Acton Institute’s Jordan Ballor was a guest on the Michigan Gaming and Casino Show on the Michigan Talk Radio Network on Sunday afternoon to discuss his March 3rd, 2004 article, “Perpetuating Poverty: Lotteries Prey on the Poor”.

Ballor and host Ron Pritchard discussed the negative financial impacts of gambling on the poor and the larger question of the morality of games of chance in general. To listen to the interview, click here (4.3 mb mp3 file, 25 minutes).

As a brief follow up to my last post and the point about nationalism, see the Liberty Bible offered by the American Bible Society. The Kruse Kronicle passes along some more partisan options for those of us who put being a Republican or a Democrat above being an American (which are both above being a Christian). For my use of the quote appearing on the GOP Bible, go here. I’m willing to bet that the Liberty Bible will sell pretty well.

Apparently it is acceptable for the ABS to offer a Bible with the Statue of Liberty and the American flag on the cover, but not one with a cover for the New Testament that said “Jesus Loves Porn Stars.” After all, “the wording is misleading and inappropriate for a New Testament,” said Barbara Bernstengel, the executive in charge of standards at the American Bible Society. It seems, though, that the cover of the Liberty Bible is neither misleading nor inappropriate.

Which of these is more offensive?
or

Weigh in through the comments section below.

For more on the reaction to the latter Bible, see “Does ‘Jesus Loves Porn Stars’ Bible Go Too Far?” and “Christians at a Porn Convention?”