Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dana Joel Gattuso of the National Center for Public Policy Research warns that a provision in the pending farm bill will encourage increasing federal control of private lands (de facto federal ownership) via the mechanism of conservation easements.

That got me wondering just how much of the United States is owned by the federal government. Surprisingly, the information seems hard to come by. A study (pdf) conducted by congressional Republicans in 2005 and based on 2004 data found that the federal government owned more than 653 million acres, about 29 percent of the nation’s total land area. But when I went to the Web site of the agency to which that document directed me, the General Services Administration, I wasn’t able to locate the 2004 report, nor any more recent report that provides updated figures.

In this 2004 article, Robert Smith claimed that no one knows how much land the government owns because there is no bureau charged with keeping track.

Granted that the amount is constantly changing as the government acquires and divests (you can peruse available properties here), I’ll go along with Gattuso’s view that we want to avoid further expansion of government land ownership. Consider, too, that the figures cited above include only the national government’s holdings: state, county, and municipal governments no doubt own millions of additional acres.

The new Italian government was sworn in on May 9, headed for the third time by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The center-right coalition has a vast majority both in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, giving it a good chance of serving its full five-year term.

For the first time since 1948, there will be no communists represented in either chamber. For forty years following World War II, the Italian Communist Party was the second largest party in the country and the most influential in Western Europe, as Michael Barone points out in a recent analysis.

The largest party was the Christian Democrats (DC), who led every government and guaranteed a type of “Italian” stability. Most of all, the DC was perceived by the people as the only defence against the communist threat. But after the corruption scandals of the 1980s, the fragmentation of political parties and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the threat of communism faded away along with the Christian Democrats’ primary raison d’être.

In the 1990s, the political situation changed systematically with splits in both parties. Hard-core Communists re-fashioned themselves into smaller fringe parties and will not be represented at all in the new parliament. While not left out of parliament entirely, the old Christian Democrats, now primarily known the Unione Democratica di Centro, are not a part of Berlusconi’s governing coalition.

This means that for the first time in the history of the Italian republic, a government will not have a Christian Democrat minister or an explicitly Catholic spokesman. This does not mean, however, that none of the new ministers are Catholics. For example, the minister for economic development, Claudio Scajola, was a Christian Democrat when he was younger, and Berlusconi himself received a serious Catholic education. And most if not all of the ministers are baptized Catholics and would call themselves as such. However, Sandro Magister a known journalist has underlined that Berlusconi can be considered the most secular politician.

But will the new government reflect a Catholic identity? The upstart newspaper Il Foglio has called it “post-Catholic” but the influential Jesuit-run journal La Civiltà Cattolica is pleased with the defeat of the communists and seems more worried about coalition parties such as the secessionist Northern League. A weaker Catholic identity may affect not only the Church’s reputation and influence but reinforce radical secularism.

While the Christian Democratic tradition is rich in Italy and some other Western European countries, the question now is whether such “officially” Christian parties are necessary. On several matters of Catholic social doctrine, good Catholics can and probably should disagree on its application. Sometimes a secular politician can have more common sense than an “officially” religious one. The formation of individual politicians and voters, rather large political parties, seems more suitable to the spirit of the times.

This does not mean the Catholic Church in Italy will be silent; it never has been. The Church’s public statements are usually on matters such as marriage, abortion, euthanasia, and biomedical research. But beyond these non-negotiable issues, there are many areas where Catholic politicians and other members of the laity can and must promote Catholic identity and Church teaching. All without a Christian party label.

On Wednesday the European Commission again delayed a decision on whether European farmers may grow more genetically modified (GM) crops. The commission claimed that more scientific analysis is needed before three new crops can be approved. But curiously, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has already twice analyzed the crops and found that they pose no danger to public health.

Divisions seem to have broken out within the commission on how to proceed with GM food. This comes at a time when biotech investors are increasingly exasperated with European procrastination on the issue.

The intra-Commission conflict on GM food is most bizarrely expressed in the open attempts by Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas to discredit the EFSA, an agency set up by the Commission in 2002 in order to specifically investigate food safety concerns. By undermining the authority of the EFSA, Dimas is colliding with Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, who has defended the agency. The result is a complete stalemate which may leave the Europe years behind in biotech investment compared to the US and other countries.

Dimas’s hostility to GM food is cheered on by some environmental NGOs, in particular Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Greenpeace boasts that it orchestrated a campaign of 130,000 emails in order to obstruct the approval of the crops.

These NGOs have virtually no expertise in the area of consumer health research but join Dimas’s ritual attacks on the risk assessments done by the EFSA. It is particularly striking that they try to bring the EFSA into disrepute by implying that the World Health Organization (WHO) is speaking out against GM crops. But here’s what the WHO actually says:

“GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

European worries about food safety are to a large extent based on the experience of the 1990s when a number of food scandals, in particular BSE or mad cow disease, caused understandable anxiety among consumers. All of these scandals, however, were entirely unrelated to GM food; it is irresponsible to exploit these fears in the current debate on biotechnology.

It is not difficult to see that at bottom the controversy is not so much about health and science but about politics and whose ox is being gored. In the European Council of Ministers, more agrarian-based countries like Greece (Dimas’s home country), Italy, Austria and Poland tend to vote against GM foods while states where traditional farming is not as dominant like the UK and the Netherlands are more open to biotech.

The politicization of the GMO debate is especially damaging at a time of global food price inflation. Future improvements in agricultural productivity will become increasingly necessary and biotech can play an important role in this area. The Commission must not allow pseudo-scientific excuses to stand in the way of serving the interests of the European, and indeed the global, consumer.

My blog post titled “Toward a Theological Ethic for Internet Discourse” has been recognized in the 2008 EO/Wheatstone Academy Symposium. Here is a full list of the top five posts (along wtih an honorable mention):

First Place: Mark Fedeli at A Deo Lumen

Second Place: Jordan J. Ballor at The Acton Institute Power Blog

Third Place: Mark Stanley at Digital Reason

Fourth Place: Jeff Nuding at Dadmanly

Fifth Place: Letitia Wong at Talitha Koum

Honorable Mention: Donnell Duncan at The Cracked Door

This year’s symposium question was: If the medium affects the message, how will the Christian message be affected by the new media? Be sure to check out all the posts linked above for the responses judged to be the best.

Normally I don’t celebrate coming in second in anything (it’s not “runner-up,” it’s “first loser”), but in this case I’m honored to share the company with these other worthy authors.

Why should your high school apply for the Catholic High School Honor Roll? One reason is ecclesial recognition. The video below highlights the experience of St. Theodore Guerin High School in Noblesville, IN. Bishop William L. Higi of the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana attended the school’s press conference to honor the school’s accomplishments. The video shows the press conference, and does a fantastic job of describing the Honor Roll.

Other schools also saw this type of recognition, including Salesianum School in Delaware. Bishop Michael Saltarelli of the Diocese of Wilmington, and Very Rev. Joseph Morrissey, OSFS, Provincial Superior of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, were present at the awards assembly.

There is one week left for schools to apply for the Honor Roll. They can apply online at www.chshonor.org by May 15, 2008. Obviously it’s a busy time in a school year, so if schools need extra time, they can contact us at info@chshonor.org to make arrangements.

While the value to schools is quite clear, many fine schools still have not heard about the program or do not take the time to submit an application. It is a tragedy for schools – perhaps even Catholic schools you know – to miss this opportunity. Many of the schools that do not apply may be your alma mater or located in your area. Your encouragement will help them reap the substantial benefits the program offers. Contacting the principal and development director at these schools goes a long way to encourage schools to participate in the Honor Roll. Schools can only benefit from participating.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, May 8, 2008

Michael Franc has an interesting piece on NRO about the demographics of campaign contributions. The gravamen is that Democratic presidential candidates in the current election have exhibited a whopping advantage among all kinds of elite groups, identified by professional, financial, or educational status. Meanwhile, Republicans garnered more support from plumbers, truckers, and janitors.

Franc doesn’t make much of an effort to explain the phenomenon, other than to note that Democrats have enjoyed a $200 million advantage in general, which may go a long way toward generating the more specific category advantages. And which may further be explained (this is my speculation) as being due to a) more people thinking a Democrat will win the White House and wanting to support a winner, or b) the Democratic primary race being more competitive than the Republican, or c) a combination of the two.

Instead of positing explanations, Franc focuses on what the trend may mean for the respective parties’ conventional policy tendencies:

What should we make of all this? National political parties, after all, reflect their supporters, and party leaders traditionally feel a responsibility to cater to their supporters’ whims. A party that receives overwhelming support from elite Wall Street investment firms, corporate bigwigs, and highly educated professionals may find it exceedingly difficult to raise their taxes or impose draconian new Big Government regulations on them. Similarly, a party that is losing well-educated suburban professionals and gaining support from blue-collar workers may find it more difficult to support free trade agreements and embrace globalization.

Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico was invited to deliver the Krieble Lecture at the 31st Annual Heritage Foundation Resource Bank Meeting on April 24 in Atlanta. His talk ranged widely over “the simple idea of human liberty” and what is required to preserve it.

“People live off of a legacy of the past and all too many people find themselves incapable of defending the heritage of Western civilization,” Rev. Sirico said in his lecture. “Each day people assume that prosperity is just part and parcel of the natural law. Wasn’t it always so?”

The Heritage Foundation’s Annual Resource Bank Meeting gathers more than 500 think tank executives, public interest lawyers, policy experts, and elected officials from around the world to discuss issues, strategies, and methods for advancing free market, limited government public policies. The Resource Bank is also conducted in partnership with groups such as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, State Policy Network, and World Taxpayers Associations.

Listen to an audio recording of Rev. Sirico’s Krieble Lecture here.

Next Monday will be the sixtieth anniversary of Luigi Einaudi’s inauguration as Italian President. Einaudi (1874-1961) was a distinguished economist and defender of classical liberalism. In the immediate period following World War II, he was governor of the Bank of Italy and finance minister. Many credit his policy of low taxes and dismantling tariffs with having laid the foundation for Italy’s “miracolo economico” of the 1950s and 1960s.

However, while his role as president between 1948-55 is still remembered, his legacy of economic freedom as a key to Italian post-war development has largely been forgotten. In a recent article, the Milanese financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore lamented that currently there is no political force in the country which feels inspired by Einaudi’s actions and insights.

The center-right led by Silvio Berlusconi which won the recent general elections in April cannot be considered a catalyst for market reforms. Its new economy minister Giulio Tremonti has expressed hostility to free trade and blames most of the world’s economic problems on an ideology he calls “marketism”. At the same time, the Northern League, Berlusconi’s junior coalition partner, is impossible to categorize in terms of its economic policy. It demands decentralization and reducing the role of the Italian state but also advocates protectionism.

Neither can Einaudi’s heirs be found on the Italian center-left. The recently founded Democratic Party (PD) has its origins in communism. One can appreciate its transformation towards more moderate positions and a certain openness to economic liberalization. However, the transition is not complete and cannot be compared to the process initiated by Tony Blair in the UK Labour Party in the 1990s.

It is regrettable that nobody wishes to emulate Einaudi’s achievements. These go beyond the technical mastery and application of market economics. Einaudi’s understanding of freedom also led him to insights of more wide-ranging importance for Italian society. He believed that an excess of state power tends to make citizens more lazy in the way they live their lives and think of their responsibility towards others. This attitude leads them to tolerate the social ills around them. They view the poor state of public services as inevitable and accept corruption and rent-seeking as unchangeable phenomena.

Now, that so many people in Italy worry about the economic situation of the country and feel alienated from the political institutions and their lack of accountability, one might think that the time is ripe to return to Einaudi’s lessons.

Last Friday the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its 2008 report, noting eleven nations as “countries of particular concern,” being “those that are are most restrictive of religious freedom”: Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. (HT: The God & Culture Blog)

Howard Friedman relates, “The Commission is postponing its recommendations as to Iraq pending a Commission visit to the country later this month. This compromise was approved after a sharp party-line split among Commissioners over the draft chapter in the report on Iraq.” This amid widespread reports that the situation for Christians in Iraq has deteriorated markedly since the invasion.

I’m becoming more and more convinced as time passes that the recognition of the complex realities of persecution, suffering, and martyrdom around the globe is of fundamental importance for the vitality of the Christian church in North America. We need to come to terms with solidarity, what it means to be one with our fellow Christians in the world, and in what ways all Christians “suffer” in the daily work of sanctification. To keep abreast of these sorts of concerns, be sure to check out Voice of the Martyrs.

With this in mind, I want to pass along a section from the Zurich Reformer Heinrich Bullinger, from a treatise titled, A Brief Exposition of the One and Eternal Testament or Covenant of God (1534). Reformation scholars, under the influence of Heiko Oberman, have long recognized the nature of the Protestant Reformation as a “refugee reformation” (consider the travels and travails of Peter Martyr Vermigli, Jerome Zanchi, and Wolfgang Musculus, for instance). Bullinger is a notable exception, as once he was established in Zurich it was rare for him to travel to even neighboring Swiss cities.

But from that perspective his thoughts on persecution ring out even more clearly for us today. The text of the section follows below. (more…)

Blog author: dwbosch
posted by on Monday, May 5, 2008

Daily Times of Pakistan:

LAHORE: Electricity shortage has exceeded 3,500 megawatts and load shedding is likely to increase across the country, Geo TV reported on Sunday. The water in both Tarbela and Mangla dams has dropped to dead levels, causing the shortfall, the channel quoted PEPCO officials as saying. The electricity demand had shot up after an increase in the use of air conditioners…

Ah, load shedding.

We lived in Guam for a couple of years in the early 90′s. The island was making the difficult transition from a 50 year old Navy-run power grid to a public utility and a growing tourist hotel presence on the island. Regularly scheduled blackouts were a fact of life. We learned to put up with them with the help of kerosene lanterns swung from hooks on the walls in case of earthquakes. We weren’t missing much in the way of TV back then anyway. There was that one stretch of outages by which we knew the wristwatch on the guy running the grid was running exactly seven minutes late. And while my very pregnant better half sometimes bristled at the loss of air conditioning twice a day, I quite liked the night-time blackouts that revealed a carpet of stars stretching from one horizon to the other, and bright blue phosphorescence on the reefs.

Anywho, one Pakistani doctor suggests their current power situation is the path to religious, military, political, and economic salvation:

Then there are my dear and good friends who keep pointing out that if only we as a nation revert to the true Sunnah, all our problems would be solved almost immediately. During periods of load shedding my mind does indeed turn to such admonishments.

More importantly, the only major advances in Muslim history, scientific, cultural and political, occurred before electricity was discovered. The Mughals, the Ottomans, the Safavids, the Ommayyads in Spain, the Fatimids in Egypt all brought great glory to Islam without a car, a motorbike, a split air-conditioner or a cell phone in sight.

Therefor I am convinced, especially during periods of load-shedding that our new and popularly elected government wants us, the people of the Islamic Republic, to revert to our greatness by recreating the environment in which Muslims excelled and built rich and thriving empires. In this connection I have a few suggestions that are offered in the true humility of my faith…

Heh. And this bit was great:

Also, the Islamic Republic will literally have no ‘carbon footprint’ since there will be virtually no production of ‘green-house’ gases except those produced in a biological fashion or in the industrial enclaves.

Therefore we can sell our carbon units to our neighbours to the east and the north. And if there are no airplanes, no cell phones and no ‘pillion riding’, then as a country we can demand a lot of money from our benefactors in the West. They all know what those three can lead to!

Hmmmmmm. Load shedding as a U.S. political platform? Nah – we’re way too impure for that.

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