Archived Posts April 2008 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Continuing with my posts highlighting just how wonderful things will be here in the United States when the government finally does its job and takes over the healthcare sector of the economy, I’d like to bring your attention once again to the fabulous success story that is the Canadian health care system:

Last year, the Canadian government issued a series of reports to address the outcry over long wait times for critical tests, procedures and surgeries. Over a two year period:
• Wait times for knee replacements dropped from 440 to 307 days.
• Wait times for hip replacements dropped from 351 to 257 days.
• Wait times for cataract surgeries dropped from 311 to 183 days.
• Wait times for MRIs dropped from 120 to 105 days.
• Wait times for CT scans dropped from 81 to 62 days.
• Wait times for bypass surgeries dropped from 49 to 48 days.

Sure, you might have to wait a couple of months for that lifesaving bypass surgery. But remember: it’s free!

The recent dramatic rise of food prices reflects the worst agricultural crisis of the last 30 years, especially for developing countries whose citizens inevitably spend a larger portion of their incomes for basic needs. The list of countries facing social unrest as a result is long and growing: Cameroon, Egypt, Niger, Somalia, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Haiti, Indonesia, Mexico, Argentina, and the Philippines.

Consequences of these price increases are also affecting the United States, where rice is beginning to be rationed, Europe, where the price of bread in the last six months has grown 17%, and Japan, where butter has disappeared from markets and inflation is appearing for the first time in 10 years.

Many people in the developed world know that the price of oil has risen from $88 to over $114 a barrel in the last six months. But the price of corn, wheat, rice, milk and soybeans have increased even more so; corn and wheat have shot up 70% and rice is up 141% compared to January 2007.

This global crisis is affecting approximately a billion people around the world and the World Bank estimates that it could lead 100 million people into poverty, not to mention starvation.

The causes of this phenomenon are multiple and inter-related. Most economic analysts and agricultural experts have highlighted six main root causes to this emergency:

  • In the United States subsidies given to farmers that grow corn used for the production of biofuel (ethanol). A quarter of the national crop production is now devoted to the bio-fuel industry.

  • In Europe, the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) which pays farmers to restrict their output and locks out agricultural products from outside the European Union.
  • In Australia, a terrible draught that has lasted 2 years and compromised 60% of the agricultural production.
  • Increasing demand for rice, wheat, meat in China and India
  • Decrease of cultivated land especially in China and India, where agricultural districts are transformed in industrial areas.
  • Increase in the price of fuel which has resulted in an increase in the price of fertilizers.

The market perversions caused by government subsidies for bio-fuel production and the export restrictions mandated by governments in the name of “food security” are particularly damaging and add to what we already know about the law of unintended consequences.

It is interesting and perhaps even surprising to note how the Catholic Church is reacting to this issue, given the Church’s significant role in many developing countries and its presence in many international and humanitarian activities.

Despite heavy lobbying from environmental activists, the Church has given priority to the needs of the human person and his integral development. In practice, this has meant Vatican criticism of bio-fuel subsidies and Vatican support for biotechnology that increases agricultural yields such as the use of genetically modified organisms.

For example, at a recent FAO conference in Brazil, the Holy See’s representative, Msgr. Renato Volante, said “bio-fuel is a serious threat to the natural right of every individual to proper nutrition, causing food riots and an increase in worldwide poverty.” The bishop of San Marino, Luigi Negri, hosted an April 22 event that highlighted the potential of GMOs and new seed specimens that are already being used by 12 million farmers worldwide.And Archbishop Silvano Tomasi the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, has blamed poor distribution, rather than the lack of food, for the crisis.

Curiously enough, Catholic non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Caritas Internationalis, Sant’Egidio and FOCSIV seem to be behind the curve when compared to the Church hierarchy. The NGOs have generally clamored for more foreign aid but have not addressed core issues as bio-fuels and biotechnology.

Even secular NGOs such as Oxfam and CARE are beating them to the punch and have even called for the elimination of trade-distorting subsidies, export restrictions and price controls.

It is difficult to generalize about such as complex international problem and about a Church of 1 billion people. But it is a shame that Catholic NGOs need to catch up not only with their fellow Catholics as well as their fellow humanitarians.

CalCatholic.com:

What I have found odd is that so many Catholics, especially female religious, should gravitate toward what appears to be essentially pantheism or what some eco-spirituality thinkers prefer to call “panentheism” (the universe as the “body of God”) when the Church has addressed the entire ecology question in a way that would, practically speaking, lead to the same results in terms of respect for the created order and sustainability.

Indeed.

Given the present direction of Catholic movement on climate change, and given that many global warmists are also anti-populationists, it’s not hard to envision a collision with the Church’s pro-life values. The way to reconcile this, of course, is by proclaiming the Personhood of the Trinity and the value of human beings created in His image while upholding ecology as stewardship, not dogma.

"Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself," is the Commandment. "Love the planet" has never been in Jesus’ vernacular.

Confusion between the two is growing.

[Don's other habitat is www.evangelicalecologist.com]

A fight broke out this week between non-profit groups over fundraising. While not in direct competition for donor dollars, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance expressed its displeasure with Meijer, Inc. for participating in a fundraising event with the Humane Society of the United States. The program was set up to contribute money to a support Foreclosure Pets Fund, designed to give support to pet owners facing foreclosure.

Meijer suspended the program after fielding complaints from the Alliance that the chain was cooperating with an anti-hunting organization. What does pet foreclosure have to do with anti-hunting? An Alliance statement gets at the crux of the issue, pointing out, “The money donated to the HSUS through this promotion, while not going directly to its anti-hunting campaign, will free up money from the organization’s general fund that can be used to attack the right of sportsmen.”

We put the “fun” in “fungibility.”

That, my friends, is called fungibility, a fancy word that simply is used to identify the ability for money or funds to be transferred between sectors of a balance sheet and across budgets. I don’t want to adjudicate the dispute and attempt to determine whether or not the Humane Society really is anti-hunting, but the cogency of the Alliance’s argument hinges on a valuable lesson, what I’m calling here the “fungibility phenomenon.”

When you give to an organization and you earmark the funds to be used in a particular way, you may be inclined to think that your money is somehow isolated from the rest of the non-profit’s budget. Depending on the by-laws of the organization, that may or may not be the case. Unless there is a minmum set amount that the organization determines it will spend on an area irrespective of special and specific additional donation, any funds that are contributed to that particular area lessen the demand for money to come from other parts of the budget.

The fungibility phenomenon isn’t restricted to non-profits, of course. Corrupt governments have been taking advantage of this phenomenon domestically through state lotteries and internationally through government-to-government foreign aid for decades.

But for the discerning giver, it’s important to note that the fungibility phenomon means that when you give, whether or not you specify a particular need or area for the funds to be used, generally you are supporting the mission of the recipient organization in all its facets, some which you may not like.

And if you’re looking for a charity whose mission you can unreservedly support, the Samaritan Guide is a great place to start.

United Methodist renewal groups are under attack by liberal denominational leaders at General Conference for providing the gift of free cell phones for some international delegates who made the trip to Forth Worth, Texas.

Opponents of the the evangelical renewal groups are afraid that the phones will be utilized to tell certain international delegates how to vote. A letter from the renewal groups supposedly included with the gift invited them to a breakfast, provided other General Conference news, and a list of candidates they should consider for UM Judicial Council positions, which is the highest court in the denomination.

General Conference is the top policy-making body of the United Methodist Church. The conference is now currently taking place in Fort Worth. Delegates from all over the country and the world attend General Conference, which is composed of clergy and laity.

The Confessing Movement
, UM Action (IRD), Good News, and Transforming Congregations provided the phones for delegates. The phones were intended to give international delegates, many of whom are from Africa, the same access to communication as other delegates have at the conference. Church liberals however do not see it that way and are oddly accusing renewal groups of bribery and racism, even though international delegates greatly appreciated the act of hospitality. Erin Hawkins who is the top executive of the church’s commission on Religion and Race was quoted in a United Methodist News Service article on the controversy saying:

My hope is that the white leadership of the church would be mindful of the actions in light of the history of exploitation of people of color in this church. I hope they would not willingly engage in any sort of behavior that would undermine the humanity of people of color whether they are in the United States or other countries. This action of giving cell phones to buy or manipulate people can be interpreted as a return to that sort of racist behavior.

I personally know many of the individuals who make up the Methodist renewal groups and their integrity and commitment to a fair and democratic process is an automatic for me simply based on their character. Years ago I imagine this would have not even been a story, but here’s the rub. Decades and decades of entrenched liberal power, where some church leaders have used the United Methodist Church for their own left wing theological and political activism, is now finding their unchecked power threatened and they are lashing out as a result.

In contrast, African delegates are firmly committed to Biblical and theological integrity, and their delegate numbers are rising, just as the number of United Methodists in this country are shrinking, largely because of the denomination’s unfaithfulness to clear Christian teaching. UM Action has a good story on this issue titled, “African Declaration Released at UM Renewal and Reform Conference.”

Mark Tooley is the Director of UM Action and he offered me this frank assessment of the cell phone controversy today:

The liberal controlled agencies of the church have long deluged international delegates with gifts and favors over the years in a vain attempt to gain their support for a liberal agenda. But the international delegates have not been seduced by the misbegotten riches of the church bureaucracy. Their faith remains strong. Naturally, the church left responded with rage to the distribution of cell phones by evangelicals, who have no need whatsoever to manipulate or even persuade the overseas delegates, whose solidly biblical views are already akin to our own.

Of course, the whole notion that international or African delegates can be bribed or controlled with a hospitable gift that allows them equal access to technology is entirely demeaning in so many ways.

Elizabeth Turner, who is an editorial assistant at Good News told me yesterday:

The problem is that despite the emphasis on “holy conferencing”, there are those who are quick to attribute the worst motives rather than engage in fair inquiry. It’s disappointing, but the people most harmed in all of this isn’t the Coalition [Renewal Groups] – it’s the delegates who are outraged that some people would think they would be naive, or accept some kind of bribe.

If you are so inclined to examine a host of issues at General Conference you can visit IRD’s live blog. IRD also released a press statement concerning the charge of manipulation.

Tooley has described the renewal process as a long and arduous task, and United Methodism as being better equipped for reform over other mainline protestant denominations because of the growing influence of its more evangelical international connection. Unsurprisingly, United Methodist Church liberals do not seem willing to relinquish any power or yield to reforms before exhausting all means and tactics, no matter how bizarre they may be.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, April 28, 2008

One sector of the American public that hasn’t missed out on the government’s purpose for the economic stimulus package is the advertising and marketing industry. Savvy marketers are targeting sales and special offers to the federal rebate checks, which start to go out today.

One sector of the economy especially banking on how people will spend their stimulus rebates is the automobile industry. Here, for instance, is a local car dealer’s ad specifically targeted to the stimulus package:


I’ve seen another major car ad that is currently running nationwide featuring the advice of an economist to a young car buyer. The young buyer is presumably saving a great deal of money on the new car through a special cash back incentive or zero-percent financing or some such other offer. What should the buyer do with all the money he’s saving? Go out and buy something else?

No, says the wise economist. Save it or pay off credit card debt. Of course, the economist doesn’t give the really solid advice, which would be to forgo buying a new car in the first place and taking on all that new debt. Dave Ramsey, a guru of financial stewardship, consistently exposes the lie that financing the purchase of a new car, no matter what the incentives, is a good use of money. As Dave notes, it’s no coincidence that the financing arms of automobile manufacturers are generally among the more profitable aspects of the business.

It’s no surprise that auto sales are often an economic bellwether, since new car payments are typically one of the easiest things to put off in tough times. These are also precisely the kinds of payments that folks facing credit card debt and dwindling savings accounts should be looking to avoid when spending their stimulus rebate.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, April 25, 2008

My reaction to any politician claiming to offer “straight talk” is a knowing chuckle (“yeah, right”), and that includes John McCain. So I’ve got to give credit to the so-called Straight Talk Express for a recent campaign stop in Youngstown, Ohio, where the Republican presidential candidate offered some honest and accurate comments on a contentious subject in politically risky circumstances—straight talk, if you will.

The subject was trade, and McCain defended it in a region suffering from the real or perceived effects of the extension of free trade in recent decades. In the heart of labor union-friendly, manufacturing-dependent eastern Ohio, McCain said, among other things:

The biggest problem is not so much what’s happened with free trade, but our inability to adjust to a new world economy.

Protectionism and isolationism have never worked in American history.

I can’t look you in the eye and tell you that I believe those jobs are coming back. What we’ve got to do is provide [displaced workers] with education and training programs that work.

With pro-growth policies to create new jobs, and with honest and efficient government in Washington, we can turn things around in this city.

Pro-growth policies would include, one assumes, lowering the state’s state-local tax burden, calculated by the Tax Foundation as 12.4%, fifth-highest in the nation.

Blog author: berndbergmann
posted by on Thursday, April 24, 2008

In the April 24 edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi focuses on the origins and lessons of the global financial crisis. In a previous article, Gotti Tedeschi argued that the downturn is an opportunity for Italy to reform its economy and cut down on unnecessary public spending.

He now examines what the crisis means for the state of international finance and draws some unusual but noteworthy conclusions. In his view, the principal answer for improving global financial architecture cannot be provided by more government regulation.

Instead, Gotti Tedeschi interprets the crisis as a wake-up call to return to “other rules – older rules which restore the priorities of the banking profession.” These rules of sound economics have been partly eroded by an excessive lowering of interest rates by central banks, inducing other actors to take excessive risks in their financial operations.

The over-stimulation of markets led bankers and business leaders to abandon the path of solid long-term growth in favor of short-term gain: “Too often managers with a poor sense of responsibility have created the illusion of realizing miraculous growth and profitability.” They abandoned the search for “concrete results and above all, long-term sustainability.” His advice is to return “to what is real, responsible and durable.”

He suggests that what is needed is a spiritual refreshment to deepen the understanding of how a successful bank or business is run. This would enable people to resist temporary financial fashions and evaluate real risks and possible gains adequately.

Gotti Tedeschi is in a good position to combine the practical insights of the world of banking with a profound theoretical grasp of business ethics. While he is one of the most well-known bankers in Italy, he has also found the time to write books about the relationship between Christian values and economics.

His advice deserves to be taken seriously. As politicians around the world propose a whole range of new regulation in response to the credit crunch, it must not be forgotten that public authorities provided the markets with cheap money and excessive stimuli. The result was a widely distorted perception of risk and profitability. It would be unfortunate if a period of over-stimulation was followed by a period of over-regulation.

The relationship of the Christian church and the broader culture has been a perennial question whose genesis antedates the life of the early Church.

In his Apology, the church father Tertullian defended Christians as citizens of the Roman empire in the truest and best sense. If all the Christians of the empire were to leave, he wrote, “you would be horror-struck at the solitude in which you would find yourselves, at such an all-prevailing silence, and that stupor as of a dead world. You would have to seek subjects to govern. You would have more enemies than citizens remaining. For now it is the immense number of Christians which makes your enemies so few,—almost all the inhabitants of your various cities being followers of Christ.”

In the post-industrial Information age, Christians remain at the forefront of social and cultural formation. In the context of the developments at the dawn of the third millennium, the engagement of church and culture has taken on a new form, focused most especially on new forms of technology and communication. The internet in particular, and related “new” media, have raised important issues for the ways in which Christians communicate with each other and with non-Christians.

The basic question has been raised in different ways arising from various concerns. The 2008 Evangelical Outpost/Wheatstone Symposium puts the question thusly: “If the medium affects the message, how will the Christian message be affected by the new media?” (more…)

This blemish-free sun brought to you by OxyClean!

Submitted for your consideration:

THE scariest photo I have seen on the internet is www.spaceweather.com, where you will find a real-time image of the sun from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, located in deep space at the equilibrium point between solar and terrestrial gravity.

What is scary about the picture is that there is only one tiny sunspot.

Disconcerting as it may be to true believers in global warming, the average temperature on Earth has remained steady or slowly declined during the past decade, despite the continued increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, and now the global temperature is falling precipitously.

All four agencies that track Earth’s temperature (the Hadley Climate Research Unit in Britain, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the Christy group at the University of Alabama, and Remote Sensing Systems Inc in California) report that it cooled by about 0.7C in 2007. This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record and it puts us back where we were in 1930. If the temperature does not soon recover, we will have to conclude that global warming is over.

The author of this story is Phil Chapman, a geophysicist, astronautical engineer, and the first Australian to become a NASA astronaut, just in case you were wondering. No word on whether he’s picked up his briefcase full of cash from Exxon yet or not. Perhaps our local independent media can do some checking on that…