Archived Posts November 2006 - Page 2 of 10 | Acton PowerBlog

Right about now, the Supreme Court of the United States should be hearing the beginning arguments in Massachusetts, et al., v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al. (05-1120). Not much attention has been paid to this case over the last few months, but recently a spate of media attention has arisen, citing this case as perhaps “the most important environmental case in many years,” as well as “one of the biggest environmental cases in years.” (Jonathan Adler responds to the NYT editorial at The Volokh Conspiracy.)

There are reasons to doubt the hype surrounding this case, however, and not just because of the dubiousness of the scientific “consensus” on climate change.

A spate of amici briefs Atlantic Legal Foundation and the National Council of Churches (PDF), the latter of which argues in part that scientific “uncertainty alone cannot justify inaction. To decide rationally whether climate change may ‘endanger public health or welfare,’ EPA must consider the harm that would result if the risk of climate change, however uncertain, is realized.” As I have argued against similar views elsewhere, such claims bring economic considerations, especially cost/benefit analysis of action vs. inaction, to the fore, which do not necessarily bear out the conclusion that the potential harm necessitates political action.

In fact, the EPA is not citing scientific uncertainty as its sole justification for refraining from regulatory action. One of its main claims is that it lacks the statutory authority to regulate CO2 emissions, and thus a large part of the case hinges on interpretation of certain provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Regarding the complexity of the case, Hugh Hewitt writes that “in one case do we get important issues of standing, legislative intent, deference to administrative agencies and, of course, the debate over global warming.”

He concludes, “The argument will be one worth listening to very closely, and the decision when it arrives in the spring will be, I predict, a duel between the justices who take seriously the idea of a Court of limited jurisdiction versus those justices eager for the EPA to get on with the urgent business of grappling with climate change.”

In a helpful overview of the case, Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog notes a similar concerns of a group of conservative law professors, including Robert H. Bork, that the petitioners’ claim is

part of a multi-faceted effort to draw the federal courts into one of the most important and controversial foreign policy and political battles of our time….Petitioners seek to remake U.S. climate change policy through litigation in the federal courts.

Likewise Rivkin and Casey in today’s WSJ, who filed an amicus brief in the case, conclude that “if economic growth is to be sacrificed because of global warming fears, the decision should be taken by Congress and the president, the people’s elected representatives, and not by the courts.”

At its current state, the petitioners’ claims were denied in a 2-1 decision by the D.C. Circuit Court, after which the appeal by the petitioners came to the Supreme Court. John Gartner of Wired’s Autopia warns, “If the Court sides with the EPA, it will be further proof that the judicial branch of government is out of step with the populace,” a claim which, while perhaps true, seems to advocate legislation from the bench.

Despite such rhetoric, the case has two major components, focusing not only on the science of climate change but on the question of the appropriate governmental authority to make policy decisions. Denniston summarizes it this way:

The controversy pursued in the briefs thus focuses heavily on the harms believed to arise from global warming, countered by the claims that the science on climate change is still evolving and uncertain. But equal controversy has arisen over what might be called the separation-of-powers issue: who decides how to attack the perceived problem of climate change?

Because of the multi-faceted nature of the case’s arguments, Denniston writes that this decision could end up not setting a major precedent on the politics of climate change: “Before the Court ever reached the ‘global warming’ problem, it could be stopped by a maze of procedural issues, as well as by a bold challenge to the judiciary’s power to take on the problem.”

Update: Autopia’s John Gartner now says that the court’s greenhouse ruling “won’t matter,” at least in the short-term.

Blog author: jmorse
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Transparency International is a group devoted to exposing corruption of all kinds. One of the most sickening forms of corruption in many poor countries is health care corruption. One sort of corruption is absentee-ism: medical personel bill for their services even when they aren’t at work, but are doing another job.

The increasingly large and legal market for pharmaceutical drugs is attracting criminal activity. Pharmaceuticals are high value and easily portable, and the penalty for stealing or smuggling them is far lower than for narcotics, so trade is brisk. This is especially the case in Africa where borders are porous to those prepared to pay bribes. Furthermore pharmaceutical markets are segmented internationally since companies recouping research and development costs want to charge efficient prices in vastly different settings for products with very low marginal costs. Antiretrovirals (ARVs) to treat HIV have 20-fold price differentials between western and African countries, which mean illegal but massive arbitrage possibilities exist for smugglers.

Once again, lack of virtue retards economic development.

In a plenary address a couple weeks back to the Evangelical Theological Society, law professor and journalist Hugh Hewitt spoke about the religious affiliation of political candidates and to what extent this should be considered in the public debate (Melinda at Stand To Reason summarizes and comments here). In advance of his forthcoming book, A Mormon in the White House?: 10 Things Every Conservative Should Know about Mitt Romney, Hewitt used Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as an example as to why evangelical Christians should not withhold their votes for a particular presidential candidate purely based on theological disagreement.

In the intervening time, the so-called “Mormon question” has received a great deal of media attention. (Hewitt says that yesterday was “a day of interviews about and with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.”) Here’s just one example, Time magazine’s story, “Can a Mormon be President? Why Mitt Romney will have to explain a faith that remains mysterious to many.”

A number of people, including Glenn Reynolds, have wondered about the potential hypocrisy in examining Romney’s Mormonism so closely, while apparently giving a free pass to politicians like Harry Reid. But for Hewitt, the appropriate treatment of a Mormon politician would look more like the reception Reid has gotten than the scrutiny that Romney has gotten.

Hewitt’s argument goes like this: if the long knives are brought out by Christians to attack Romney on the basis of his religious commitments, it won’t be long before secularists attack Christians on similar grounds. This is a sort of “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” argument, and it is one that is shared by “Evangelicals for Mitt,” who note that most of the objections to Romney’s fitness for the presidency are on theological matters that are “absolutely irrelevant to the presidency.”

David French of “Evangelicals for Mitt” does address one of the questions I had coming out of the Hewitt talk, which was whether Hewitt’s claims that the religious and theological commitments of candidates should be off-limits was true for practitioners of all religions (or even strands of individual religions). French writes, “Let me be clear: I am not saying that theology is never relevant. When theology dictates policy, it is fair and proper for a voter to take that theology into account.”

These are not the types of theological issues to which evangelicals are taking offense, however. Says French, “The questions we receive deal with the Mormon view of the Trinity, the Mormon doctrine of salvation, the Mormon view of the afterlife, etc. Not only are these questions not relevant to the presidency (though certainly relevant if the Governor were applying to be your pastor), by even attempting to inject them into the debate evangelicals play a dangerous game. Do we think we can reject a candidate for theological reasons and then cry foul if the media or political opponents attack our own theology?”

This distinction between theological positions that bear directly on matters of public policy and ones that do not may indeed be helpful in distinguishing when it is appropriate to discuss faith commitments ad hominem. It would certainly seem to distinguish Romney’s Mormonism from, say, an Islamo-fascist faith which would attempt to impose and enforce Sharia law with government coercion.

Moreover, disqualification of Romney simply on the basis of his Mormon faith is a mark of a theocratic tendency which holds that only Christians are fit to rule. An apocryphal saying attributed to Martin Luther is his expression that he would “rather be ruled by a wise Turk than by a foolish Christian.” We’ll get to more of what Luther actually did say about Islam in a bit. But for the moment, let’s reflect on how this sentiment bears on the conversation.

The idea is essentially that the office of government can be rightly exercised by those who from the Christan perspective hold heretical theological views. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The state possesses its character as government independently of the Christian character of the persons who govern. There is government also among the heathen.”

Acknowledging this truth does not mean that it is of no consequence whether the politician is or is not a Christian. It may simply be of no political consequence. “Certainly the persons who exercise government ought also to accept belief in Jesus Christ, but the office of government remains independent of the religious decision,” says Bonhoeffer.

Back to Luther. (more…)

This article, by California Western School of Law Professor James Cooper concerns me quite a bit. A legal specialist in Rule of Law, Cooper has been trying to establish legal reforms in Mexico that would make its judicial system more transparent. He isn’t getting anywhere:

By implementing more transparent, efficient and
participatory criminal judicial procedures, there may exist a better sense of fair play in judicial proceedings, and a reduction of instability and unpredictability. But that would require some action on the Mexican government’s part.
Last year, I constantly heard the mantra that
“It’s an election year,” code for “Don’t hold your breath for change.” Reforming Mexico’s justice system, with both high-and low-level corruption, according to Transparency International, coupled with a complete mistrust of law enforcement officials and the judiciary, would have to wait.
So would any sense of closure concerning the more than 300 murders of women, many of them working in the maquilas that dot the border town of Ciudad Juarez. So would the endless numbers of defendants languishing in Mexican jails, without charge or even evidence of crimes for which they had been detained. So would charges against the rich and powerful elite who enjoy an impunity seen in places such as Colombia and elsewhere throughout the region.

Once again, virtue, or lack thereof, is the determining factor in a country’s economic success. His indictment of the country’s elites is particularly damning:

Mexico’s upper class has demonstrated little interest in making things better even though its members are the ones getting kidnapped, forcing them to send their children to school with armed guards. Instead, they are making the move stateside, buying up homes in La Jolla, condominiums in Coronado and frequenting Fashion Valley. …
In the meantime, the country only a few miles away with its hard-working people, will continue to languish in a society riddled with public insecurity, public distrust and private enrichment. Mexico and Mexicans deserve better.

I agree.

I’m a “dot connector” by inclination; I generally network people and resources, but old questions with new answers that have yielded encouraging results are a great thing to connect as well.

In September 2004, the Manhattan Institute hosted an event intended to revisit 1996 welfare reform legislation results with the hope of positive lessons learned and applied for then pending reauthorization. (The fact that such was continually delayed is yet another matter.) “Whither Welfare Reform: Lessons from the Wisconsin Experience,” included panelists Jason DeParle of the New York Times, Lawrence Mead, NYU, and Jason Turner, Visiting Fellow in Welfare Policy at the Heritage Foundation. Turner had been Governor Tommy Thompson’s policy architect for Wisconsin’s largely lauded welfare reform innovations.

Question: “What would be the one critical reform that each of you would institute to bring men back into the family?” Mead suggested improved welfare work programs connected to child support; Turner argued for opportunity as well as punishment in prison, connecting parole to enforced work.

Grand Rapids’ Cascade Engineering is a stellar example of innovative business-public agency partnerships charged to place low income workers in decent jobs with opportunities. Prison Fellowship contractor Innerchange Freedom Initiative developed a re-entry program that facilitates and empowers an incarcerated man’s regeneration and reconnection to his family. The Christian Reformed Church is spearheading related work with strong direction from Grand Rapids’ leaders. Mead and Turner would be pleased.

Another productive strategy to reconnect men to their families has gained momentum in neighborhoods where local knowledge and accountability provide big leverage: healthy marriage initiatives. The Wall Street Journal recently profiled Dr. Wade Horn, head of the federal Administration for Children and Families, who “has employed the zeal of an ideologue and the discipline of an academic to inject marriage promotion into a host of government programs … ” More than 200 programs across the country seek to change attitudes toward marriage, encouraging teenagers to aspire to healthy marriages and bringing relationship skills to couples of all ages.

Research indicates that marriage education works for middle-class white families; new studies will determine if the same holds for poor, nonwhite couples. The early research coming out of Healthy Marriages Grand Rapids in its work with low income, urban residents is very encouraging. Recent unofficial reports from a Grand Rapids donor who partnered with Horn’s ACF marriage work indicate that a significant number finish the programming and that importantly, neighborhood trainers are ‘moving out’ further in the community to share the skills building tools.

As we ponder the season, I’m thankful for Grand Rapids business and social entrepreneurs who put their talents to work to bring men back to the family.

Fast Company has announced the results of its 2007 search for socially responsible companies, conducted along with Monitor Group. View the winners and their grades in slideshow form here.

The winners range from the generally praiseworthy, such as ACCION International, to the rather more questionable, like Ceres, whose claim to fame on the list is that “after joining Ceres, Dell agreed to support legislation to require electronics recycling,” to the downright stultifying, such as TransFair USA, the certifying body for the Fair Trade movement, which “has certified 74.2 million pounds of Fair Trade coffee.”

Meanwhile, The Entrepreneurial Mind notes that “socialized entrepreneurship is high on the Democrat’s agenda now that they have taken power.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, November 27, 2006

Here’s some good news for those who prefer to combat cultural evil through the edification and cultivation of moral sensibilities: In “Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets,” Alvin E. Roth finds that “distaste for certain kinds of transactions is a real constraint, every bit as real as the constraints imposed by technology or by the requirements of incentives and efficiency.”

He also finds that “while repugnance can change over time, change can be quite slow.” This presumably applies to the decrease of a sense of repugnance over a currently outlawed activity, as well as the increase in repugnance to a currently practiced pursuit.

This means, though, that not only is patience required, but also that church leaders need to get their positions right before they have a chance of influencing culture for the better. This also means, in part, not calling evil good and good evil as false prophets do.

John Piper’s words from his foreword to John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation would seem to apply here:

As I look across the Christian landscape, I think it is fair to say con귎rning sin, ‘They have healed the wound of my people lightly’ (Jer. 6:14; 8:11, ESV). I take this to refer to leaders who should be helping the church know and feel the seriousness of indwelling sin (Rom. 7:20), and how to fight it and kill it (Rom. 8:13). Instead the depth and complexity and ugli­ness and danger of sin in professing Christians is either minimized—since we are already justified—or psychologized as a symptom of woundedness rather than corruption. This is a tragically light healing. I call it a tragedy because by making life easier for ourselves in minimizing the nature and seriousness of our sin, we become greater victims of it.