Archived Posts February 2008 - Page 2 of 5 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
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As I said in 2006:

Without too much exaggeration, you could say that today’s electric cars are really coal-powered. If you look at the sources of electricity in the US, “coal provides over half of the electricity flowing into American homes.” That means that in one ideal world of the alternative fuel crowd, when you plug your car in, you’re plugging it in to a coal plant (this is also why the idea of consumer carbon credits is catching on). The energy and environmental issues in the world are about far more than “gas guzzling” SUVs.

Now from USAToday, “Plug-in cars could actually increase air pollution.”

See also (from 2006): “Plug-In Hybrids Are Not So Green.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
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Peter Heslam, a friend of the Acton Institute and sometime contributor to our journal, is the founder of a promising initiative at Cambridge University. Begun a couple years ago, the “Transforming Business” program has recently been revamped, with a new and improved website, including a blog. The program’s goal, as I understand it, is to bring together academics and businesspeople in an effort to understand and articulate how business can play a fundamental role in distributing prosperity more widely. Acton senior fellow Jennifer Morse is on its board of advisors. Check it out here.

Fidel Castro

In today’s Detroit News, Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, argues for the end of the trade restrictions against Cuba. Fidel Castro, recently retired from the position of el lider maximo, held the small island nation in the tight grip of his totalitarian regime, effectively stagnating all economic development for the past 50 years. The United States embargo against Cuba gave Castro a scapegoat to blame for the economic woes that oppressed the Cuban population and helped him maintain control. Now, Fidel Castro has left office and the United States has a new opportunity to reassess its foreign policy with Cuba.

So, how should we move forward? Sirico writes:

Now the United States needs to rethink its policies. A vibrant trading relationship will prevent the new regime from continuing to scapegoat its Northern neighbor. It will inject much-need cultural and political influence. It will permit growing travel, emigration and immigration. In time, normalcy will pervade.

I recently talked with a Cuban acquaintance of mine about Cuba. He expressed the growing dissatisfaction that Cubans feel for the Castro regime (I spoke with him the week before Castro retired). The nation is impoverished financially, but also emotionally. People have forgotten how to be entrepreneurial; how to act on their ideas to make change. The difficulty of travel between such geographically close locations (the United States particularly), especially by Cuban citizens, the lack of economic contact with the United States, the religious opression experienced by Cubans until recently, and the tight control of ideas allows this feeling of woe to stew in its juices. The way to change is to open up: to make travel easier, to send missionaries, to allow Cubans to attend U.S. universities, to import Cuban cigars, and to encourage tourism to Cuba. Now is the time to free the Cubans.

Howard Friedman, at his ever-noteworthy Religion Clause blog, reports on the brewing battle over charitable choice language in the US Senate. The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (CARD), which includes Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is pushing for language in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Act of 2000 to be removed that allows for faith-based charities receiving government funds to limit their hiring practices along confessional/denominational borders.

This is just the latest in the long affair to determine in what ways the federal government can subsidize private explicitly faith-based charitable work. The Washington Times reports, “Under the Civil Rights Act, religious groups are allowed to only hire people of their particular faith. The battle erupts over what should happen when these groups accept federal dollars.”

A correlative question is not only whether faith-based initiatives receiving federal funding ought to be staffed by like-minded religious folks, but to what extent that program can then implement explicitly religious content.

It’s no surprise that the substance abuse legislation is the first target of the CARD alliance push to remove hiring limits. Original research published by the Acton Institute, growing out of our work with the Samaritan Guide, found that “a program’s faith element relates to the people they serve and the type of help they provide, as programs with more explicit and mandatory faith-related elements are likely to be substance-abuse programs.”

Thus, it makes sense that CARD would first target the areas most likely to have explicit faith-based elements in their quest to secularize charitable choice.

Friedman writes, “Some say that removing the language from SAMHSA would be a first step toward eliminating similar provisions from various other federal programs as well.” With the most difficult hurdle out of the way, the path would be laid wide open for similar provisions to be excised from legislation affecting other areas of charitable work.

Among the critical issues at the confluence of religion, culture, and economics is the question of TV screen size. In a move hailed by gospel-focused churches everywhere, the NFL has modified its rules, which had previously prohibited churches from sponsoring showings of the Super Bowl on screens larger than 55 inches. Church interests had argued that there was no such restriction on, for example, sports bars. One is tempted to conclude that there will no longer be any noticeable difference between churches and sports bars.

Sarcasm aside, I’m sure someone out there will argue that the church can have a positive influence by holding Super Bowl parties in a Christian context. Maybe. It’s no doubt a function of my traditional Catholic bent, but I can see no way in which the prospect of viewing the Super Bowl in a church is appealing, and a number of ways it is not. Have your party at home, and keep it Christian-like.

As for the fact that Senators Orrin Hatch and Arlen Specter had taken up the problem in the chambers of Congress, well, what is left to say about such things?

Over recent weeks a great deal of controversy has been swirling in Michigan over allegations of an affair between Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty. Lower courts have approved the release of text messages between the two that would seem to belie the sworn testimony of Kilpatrick and Beatty, and an appeal is currently being considered by the state Supreme Court.

Earlier this week, presidential candidate John McCain came under media scrutiny following a NYT piece that raised questions about the nature of his relationship with a lobbyist. These are just two of the most recent instances of high-profile political figures being embroiled in allegations of immoral conduct (AP reporter Libby Quaid gives a rundown of the reaction of a number of the spouses in recent instances).

The recent case of Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal comes to mind. Prominent Michigan businessman and political activist Peter Secchia reportedly linked the Kilpatrick scandal to Clinton.

At an Economics Club luncheon earlier this month,

Before introducing the keynote speaker, Secchia managed a swipe at Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former President Bill Clinton. Starting with his back to the crowd, he turned quickly to face the podium. “I did not have text with that woman,” he said, pointing at himself with both thumbs.

While particular occasions can be easily used for partisan jokes and finger-pointing, the questions of immoral actions by public servants cut across both aisles and through the annals of history.

Moreover, these kinds of allegations (and actions) are really no laughing matter (indeed, the reaction among conservatives to the NYT story has been anything but jovial). The accusations alone can be powerful enough to destroy lives, marriages, families, and careers.

In a penetrating essay on the Kilpatrick affair, David Hess compares the consequences of alleged marital infidelity between elected government officials and corporate CEOs. He makes a strong case that there is a double-standard, with the more stringent line being taken not in politics but instead in the private sector.

He writes of the comparative consequences for a CEO: “A steadily declining share price? The board of directors will give you a second chance. An ethical violation that does not have an immediate, direct impact on company performance? A resignation is expected as soon as possible.”

Hess examines both the internal (e.g. setting organizational values) and external (e.g. loss of consumer confidence) reasons for this moral “high ground” among both for-profit and non-profit corporations and organizations. He looks in particular at the cases of Mark Everson, former chief executive of the American Red Cross, and Harry Stonecipher, former chief executive of Boeing.

Hess’ analysis bears out upon reflection. Just consider in recent memory how many politicians in office have survived sexual scandals. Larry Craig is still a United States senator, but Ted Haggard was rather ignominiously dismissed as head of the NAE and a mega-church in Colorado Springs.

This, too, makes some sense. That oldest non-profit of them all, the church, has had some pretty stringent requirements for leadership since its very inception, such as being “above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable,” and so on. I wouldn’t want to make the correlative claim that instances of sexual immorality are less common among Christians than the general populace, or among the church’s leaders than other public figures.

But, as Hess claims, it seems pretty clear that there is a different standard of judgment for such things, and that the higher standard applies not in the case of political figures but rather among business, church, and community leaders (perhaps sports figures like Kobe Bryant being an exception).

It’s also the case that calling out political figures on their infidelities has historically been a dangerous calling, but one that the church’s prophetic responsibility embraces.

The pertinent question seems to me to be not why the market and the church typically hold their leaders to such high standards, but rather why citizens and voters don’t do the same for the government. Apathy? Secularism? Something else?

Blog author: berndbergmann
Thursday, February 21, 2008
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The head of the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, made international headlines earlier this month when he suggested that the adoption of some aspects of Islamic sharia law into British law was “unavoidable” and discussed the compatibility of sharia law with the established legal system.

Williams’ long speech discusses the pros and cons of ‘plural jurisprudence.’ He does not ignore the repressive aspects of Islamic law, but his main concern seems to be to avoid offending or alienating Muslims in British society.

It is no secret that the Archbishop’s own church is in decline while the number of Muslims in the UK and the rest of Europe is growing rapidly. A church leader should seek to strengthen his own flock as well as remind us of the principles that have created the foundations for a free society.

Williams is seemingly unaware of the consequences that such a lack of moral leadership may have. Many Europeans feel legitimately threatened by Islamic terrorism and fundamentalist intolerance, but they have no well-formed intellectual or spiritual defense. The danger is that the abandoned will be tempted to lend an ear to demagogues (not for the first time in European history) and thereby set off a spiral of still more intolerance and violence.

As a person with a strong family history of cancer, this story warmed my heart. Oh wait, did I say “warmed my heart”? What I meant to say was “chilled me to the bone“:

Created 60 years ago as a cornerstone of the British welfare state, the National Health Service is devoted to the principle of free medical care for everyone. But recently it has been wrestling with a problem its founders never anticipated: how to handle patients with complex illnesses who want to pay for parts of their treatment while receiving the rest free from the health service…

…One such case was Debbie Hirst’s. Her breast cancer had metastasized, and the health service would not provide her with Avastin, a drug that is widely used in the United States and Europe to keep such cancers at bay. So, with her oncologist’s support, she decided last year to try to pay the $120,000 cost herself, while continuing with the rest of her publicly financed treatment.

By December, she had raised $20,000 and was preparing to sell her house to raise more. But then the government, which had tacitly allowed such arrangements before, put its foot down. Mrs. Hirst heard the news from her doctor.

“He looked at me and said: ‘I’m so sorry, Debbie. I’ve had my wrists slapped from the people upstairs, and I can no longer offer you that service,’ ” Mrs. Hirst said in an interview.

“I said, ‘Where does that leave me?’ He said, ‘If you pay for Avastin, you’ll have to pay for everything’ ” — in other words, for all her cancer treatment, far more than she could afford.

Officials said that allowing Mrs. Hirst and others like her to pay for extra drugs to supplement government care would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones…

…in a final irony, Mrs. Hirst was told early this month that her cancer had spread and that her condition had deteriorated so much that she could have the Avastin after all — paid for by the health service. In other words, a system that forbade her to buy the medicine earlier was now saying that she was so sick she could have it at public expense.

Mrs. Hirst is pleased, but up to a point. Avastin is not a cure, but a way to extend her life, perhaps only by several months, and she has missed valuable time. “It may be too bloody late,” she said.

I’m simply thrilled that so many people are so keen on introducing this system to the United States.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico (unfortunately misidentified by host David Asman as “Father John Sirico”) made an appearance on America’s Nightly Scoreboard on Fox Business Channel to discuss the announcement that 81 year old Fidel Castro is stepping down as dictator of Cuba, officially handing power to his sprightly, 76 year old brother Raoul. If you couldn’t catch it live, you can see it here:

It’s a shame that the marvel of government-controlled health care hasn’t been implemented in the US yet:

Seriously ill patients are being kept in ambulances outside hospitals for hours so NHS trusts do not miss Government targets.
Thousands of people a year are having to wait outside accident and emergency departments because trusts will not let them in until they can treat them within four hours, in line with a Labour pledge.

What a fool I’ve been to oppose this massive improvement in standards of care. Hat tip to The Corner for pointing this one out.