Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg has a busy calendar of media appearances these days; late last week, he joined host Sheila Liaugminas on Relevant Radio’s A Closer Look for a full broadcast hour to discuss the upcoming year in politics and wider society. That interview is available for your listening enjoyment via the audio player below. He’ll also be appearing this afternoon during the five o’clock hour on Ave Maria Radio’s Kresta in the Afternoon; streaming audio will be available at that link.
What’s going on in Nigeria?
During an attack that started January 3 and continued through this past weekend, the African Islamic militant group Boko Haram opened fire on 16 northern Nigerian villages. The death toll estimates range from 200 to as many 2,000 people.
Another 10,000 people who managed to escape have fled to neighboring Chad. Many Nigerians drowned in an attempt to cross Lake Chad to escape what is now described as the “deadliest massacre” in the history of Boko Haram.
Over the past six months, Boko Haram has taken control of more than two dozen towns in northeast Nigeria, most of them in Borno State, and launched attacks into Chad and Cameroon. As Alexis Okeowo notes, their territory now nearly equals the Islamic State’s in Iraq and Syria.
What happened this weekend?
A girl believed to have been no more than 10 years old detonated a bomb concealed under her veil at a crowded northern Nigeria market on Saturday, killing as many as 20 people and wounding many more.
The explosion is believed to be a new tactic in the Islamists’ campaign with Boko Haram’s decision to use perhaps their youngest-ever suicide bomber.
What was the recent criticism by the Catholic archbishop?
2014 was a terrible year for persecution of Christians. In Syria, North Korea and Somalia, Christians are routinely imprisoned and killed. In Iraq, 2014 saw the passage of a law requiring Christians to convert or pay an exorbitant tax. The other choice for Iraqi Christians is to flee.
Open Doors has been tracking persecution of Christians around the world for 60 years. They have just released their latest report, and it makes a grim prediction: 2015 may very well be the worst year for Christians since Open Doors began its work. David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors, explains:
Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination and violence. The 2015 World Watch List reveals that a staggering number of Christians are becoming victims of intolerance and violence because of their faith. They are being forced to be more secretive about their faith.
John Couretas’s link today to the recent Christianity Today article on how Russian evangelicals “thank God for Putin,” reminded me of this excellent post last month from Joseph Pearce on the complexities of religious tribalism in the Ukraine crisis. As ought to be expected, despite the Cold War posturing of both Western and Eastern media, the situation is not as simple as East vs. West or, for that matter, good vs. evil:
Regardless of the relative merits of each side’s claims in the Ukraine, it struck me as unfair to blame the Catholic Church for the actions of western Ukrainian forces. It is true, of course, that the people of western Ukraine are mainly Catholic whereas those in the east are mainly Orthodox. In this sense, it can be conceded that the war is “ethnic,” in the sense that two different cultures are struggling for dominance or for separation. It is, however, not fair to categorize the war as “religious.” It would be much more accurate to describe it as political in the sense that it is a clash of nationalities: ethnic Ukrainians in the west and ethnic Russians in the east. The western Ukrainians blame their eastern neighbors for their suffering under the Soviet system; the eastern Ukrainians blame their western neighbors for their collaboration with the Nazis and the hated SS during the second world war. There are communist “conservatives” in eastern Ukraine who long for the patriotic “glories” of Soviet imperialism, and there are many neo-Nazis in positions of power in the western Ukrainian government.
It is, however, not fair or accurate to describe the struggle between the two warring parties as religious, except in the decidedly irreligious sense of its being a sectarian struggle in which religious affiliation is little more than a badge worn in the service of tribalism.
I happen to be particularly sensitive to this crucial distinction between that which is genuinely religious and that which is merely tribal. Many years ago, back in the 1970s and 1980s, I was heavily involved in the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland between the so-called Catholics and the so-called Protestants. In those days, long before my conversion to Catholicism, I was on the side of the Protestants, even though I had no religion. I was technically, I suppose, an agnostic. I was not an atheist because God was not important enough to me. Frankly I did not care whether He existed or not. I was a Protestant, not because I cared about the way that Luther or Calvin differed from the Catholic Church but because I hated the IRA.
What should Westerners make of Vladimir Putin?
Some view the Russian president as a type of Western democratic politician while others think he is shaped by Chekism, the idea that the secret political police control (or should control) everything in society. But John R. Schindler, an Orthodox Christian, thinks the West may be underestimating the influence of militant Russian Orthodoxy on Putin’s worldview:
“If economics is the dismal science,” says Hans Noel, an associate professor at Georgetown University, “then political science is the dismissed science.”
Most Americans—from pundits to voters—don’t think that political science has much to say about political life. But there are some things, notes Noel, that “political scientists know that it seems many practitioners, pundits, journalists, and otherwise informed citizens do not.”
Here are excerpts from Noel’s list of ten things political scientists know that you don’t:
What just happened with Cuba?
Yesterday, President Obama announced that, “the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.” He instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since 1961. High-ranking officials will visit Cuba and the U.S. will reestablish an embassy in Havana. He also instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.
The President also says the U.S. will take steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba. Americans who travel to Cuba will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island. U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions and exporters will be able to sell goods to the country.
Can the President do all that?
Sort of. The president controls the State Department, but the Congress controls the money. Senator Rubio (R-FL) has said that he’ll do everything he can to block funding for a Cuban embassy and prevent an ambassador from being selected.
The trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba also cannot be lifted without congressional approval. The executive branch has the authority under current law merely to issue licenses that permit US citizens and corporations to do business with Cuba, travel there, and send money to family members there.
Why the change now, after 50 years?
Political corruption is the use of legislated powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain. While it isn’t as endemic in the U.S. as it is in some countries (Somalia, North Korea, and Afghanistan being the most corrupt), the problem still exists. According to the Justice Department, in the last two decades more than 20,000 public officials and private individuals were convicted for crimes related to corruption and more than 5,000 are awaiting trial, the overwhelming majority of cases having originated in state and local governments.
But measuring corruption based on convictions can be tricky for a variety of reasons, ranging from inadequate data to partisan bias. One alternative measure is to use perceptions, especially of state and local governments. Oguzhan Dincer and Michael Johnston surveyed the news reporters covering state politics in addition to the investigative reporters covering issues related to corruption during the first half of 2014 to gauge their perception of state corruption:
Rather than just responding to the advances of modern liberalism, conservatives should consider how they would transform the United States. Over at Public Discourse, Samuel Gregg discusses President Obama’s final years in office and how conservatives should react.
A major challenge facing conservatives after Obama will be the breadth and depth of modern liberalism’s impact since 2008. This includes the relentless promotion of lifestyle liberalism at the level of social policy; the easy-money, top-down approach to the economy; and a foreign policy that’s alienating firm allies ranging from Israel to Australia, and which even many liberals have given up defending. This list doesn’t even include the cavalier approach to the rule of law that’s characterized the past six years.
The Fraser Institute has released the tenth edition of their annual report on economic freedom in North America. The report considers how such factors as size of government, takings and discriminatory taxation, and labor market freedom affect people’s freedom to choose how to produce, sell, and use their own resources, while respecting others’ rights to do the same. Read the report below to see where your state ranks.