Here’s another new production from Acton Media – The Effective Stewardship Curriculum. The Effective Stewardship Curriculum is a series of five video lessons, geared toward church small groups or other faith-based educational settings exploring how Christians live out the call to be stewards of our talents, the environment, our fellow man, institutions, and our finances.

Expect the curriculum to be available for sale at the end of this summer. A study guide will also be available to help stimulate discussions and explore the ideas presented in the video lessons. A couple of sample pages from the study guide are available on the Effective Stewardship website. A trailer is available right here, but there are also introductory clips to each lesson that are available on the Effective Stewardship website.

It’s not even close to the end of summer but we’re already promoting Acton University 2009! Acton Media has just released a video short promoting Acton University – take a look and see if it looks interesting to you.

Acton University is a truly eye-opening experience filled with lectures and discussions with experienced and knowledgeable experts on economics, religion, and beyond. Find out more about Acton University by visiting the ActonU Website. No materials have been published on Acton University 2009, but you will get a good idea of what topics are covered and who is involved. Also, there is a slide show available online that gives another picture of what AU looks like – take a look!

The PowerBlog is well-represented this weekend at the Defending the American Dream Summit in Austin, Texas. Ray Nothstine and I have made the trek to Texas to engage and learn from a variety of organizations seeking to bring the power of new media to bear on the conservative movement.

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation and RightOnline are the major sponsors of the Texas summit, which features keynote addresses from Barry Goldwater Jr. and Robert Novak, as well as talks by John Fund of the WSJ, Erick Erickson of RedState.com, and Michelle Malkin.

One of the purposes of the summit and a special focus of the Sam Adams Alliance is to get state policy thinktanks in touch with local bloggers, as part of an effort to get tap into the dynamism of grassroots web media. If all politics are local, than new media efforts of thinktanks need to connect to the particular knowledge and insight of state and local bloggers.

Last night the Texas Public Policy Foundation hosted a barbecue social. I talked with David Guenthner, director of Media and Government Relations, and he told me about a tool they had developed, TexasBudgetSource.com, to make government expenditures across the state more transparent. This is a remarkably powerful concept that has the potential to be duplicated in other states to galvanize attention to issues of government spending, accountability, education reform and more.

Also happening across town is the annual Netroots Nation, a large gathering of progressive and liberal new media activists.

In the July 14-15 Italian edition article of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Luca M. Possati examines the crisis of the Italian university system. Where most secular intellectuals blame the Church for its suppression of “academic freedom,” it turns out the real culprit is the vast education and research bureaucracy propagated by the national government.

Possati notes how the different governments have tried to reform public administration in different sectors, but have failed miserably, only creating more public debt, inefficiency, and confusion. The recent university reform, known as the “Moratti reform,” began in the year 2000 and set out to improve Italy’s academic system with the two-cycle degree system of three years each also known as “3+2″. Alas, it only resulted in more obstacles for students and professors, especially those involved in post-graduate and scientific research.

While the article addresses the cause of the problem, it does not seem to offer any practical solutions, besides ending with a meek call for a more flexible labor market in the university. This is a shame, because Possati could have sought guidance from Catholic social teaching, especially the principle of subsidiarity, which would allow for greater decentralization, if not privatization, of the education system. Simply making it easier for the bureaucracy to grow will not solve anything; cutting the bureaucracy and reducing its incentives to grow get closer to the core issue.

To recognize just how big a mess the system is in, take as an example the University La Sapienza in Rome. With 147,000 students, the university is the largest in Europe and one of the oldest, founded by Pope Boniface VIII in 1303 (it’s no longer run by the Church but by the State, as readers will recall). It is also known for its high drop-out rates and endless wait lists and lines. A student can spend months trying to collect all the forms necessary to enroll. Others have to get up at 6am to get a seat for a 10am lesson. Some medical students even get their degrees without sitting through one anatomy lessons because they prefer to study at home.

As a result, the percentage of the Italian population with a university degree is quite low, just 11% of 25-44 year-olds have one. This kind of inefficiency also affects those with higher degrees, frustrating young researchers and forcing them to go abroad to continue their projects. This exodus obviously depresses Italian productivity and results in “brain drain” among the most talented and educated.

It should be no surprise that Catholic and private universities such as LUMSA and LUISS are better off because they govern themselves as small firms with a concern for the quality of their services. These universities have much lower drop-out rates and much more satisfied, education students as a result.

Greater decentralization and privatization of the Italian education system would disproportionately affect the very administrators who have created all the problems in the first place. It may not be a panacea, but it will be a first step in allowing teachers to teach, researchers to research, and students to learn without the ridiculous interference of power-hungry government officials.

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Thursday, July 17, 2008

Denver’s homeless may get free tickets to see a movie or go to the zoo next month while the Democratic National Convention is in town next month, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless plans to get 500 movie tickets and passes for places such as the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for the homeless that they work with. This plan obviously raises many questions, one of these being: how are we to deal with the poor among us?

One of the Acton Institute’s areas of study, effective compassion, lays forth six essential principles for truly helping the poor.

The newest issue of Michigan Science has been posted by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. I especially enjoyed reading Deneen Borelli’s piece on the failed “cap and trade” legislation titled, “Just the Facts.”

Borelli looks at what cap-and-trade legislation would mean for Michigan consumers and businesses. She and I both noted in articles the hardest hit would be households with lower income. It seems like an obvious point, but it is still amazing that many policy makers and religious leaders actually endorsed the legislation, considering a further increase in energy prices by legislative fiat is ill timed. Unfortunately, as I pointed out in my June commentary, we probably haven’t heard the last of cap-and-trade. Many new green policy initiatives serve as the new vehicle of choice for those who favor more government spending and regulatory action.

Also in the current issue of Michigan Science, I contributed an article on Central Michigan University students who dominated the state GIS competition in Livonia, Michigan.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The prolific Thomas Woods has a new book out (with co-author Kevin Guzman): Who Killed the Constitution?

Woods is the author of the Templeton Enterprise-award-winning The Church and the Market, a volume in the Lexington Books series, Studies in Ethics and Economics, which is edited by Acton’s Sam Gregg.

I haven’t yet read Woods’ latest, but his work is always interesting and forcefully argued. And I’m inclined to agree with any effort to reassert some constitutional limits around our legal/political affairs.

Here’s Publishers’ Weekly:

Woods and Gutzman (two bestselling authors in the Politically Incorrect Guide series) appeal to both left and right in this constitutionalist jeremiad. Liberals will agree about the unconstitutionality of the draft, warrantless wiretapping and presidential signing statements. Conservatives will agree about the unconstitutionality of school busing, bans on school prayer and Roosevelt’s suspension of the gold standard. The common thread is the authors’ brief for a federal government strictly limited to the powers explicitly granted by the Constitution. The authors’ exegeses of the Constitution and court decisions, heavy on original intent arguments, are lucid and telling.

A sneak preview: Woods is the author of the forthcoming volume 13 in the Christian Social Thought Series, not yet available for purchase. He marshals Catholic social teaching, history, and economics in the cause of a powerful critique of distributism.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Last week presidential candidate John McCain distanced himself from economic adviser Phil Gramm, after Gramm’s comments that America had become a “nation of whiners” and that the current concerns over a lagging economy amounted to a “mental recession” rather than any real phenomena.

The press and political reaction was swift and quizzical. What could Phil Gramm possibly mean? Why would an adviser to a presidential candidate publicly broadside the American electorate? As one editorial page wondered, “we can’t fathom the target of his ‘nation of whiners’ zinger.”

Sen. Obama himself seemed a bit (mockingly) incredulous. “Then he deemed the United States, and I quote, ‘A nation of whiners.’ Whoa,” Mr. Obama said. “A nation of whiners?” After his remarks were published, Gramm would later clarify that he was talking about “American leaders who whine instead of lead.”

But Obama’s reading of Gramm’s original remarks seem to be the most natural. “It isn’t whining to ask government to step in and give families some relief,” said Obama.

Well, maybe it is whining, but that’s precisely the sort of family-friendly rhetoric that makes Gramm’s remarks seem unduly harsh by comparison. But does it matter if there is truth to the substance of Gramm’s assertions? A day after Gramm’s statements appeared in the Washington Times, the Washington Post published an article highlighting the findings of a study that characterized the baby boomers as a generation of…”whiners.”

The study by the Pew Research Center found that

More than older or younger generations, boomers — born from 1946 to 1964 — worry that their income won’t keep up with rising costs of living. They say it’s harder to get ahead today than it was 10 years ago. They are more likely to say that their standard of living is lower than their folks’ but that things don’t look too good for their kids either (67 percent of younger generations, meanwhile, feel they have it better than their parents).

This despite the fact that boomers, dubbed here the “gloomiest” generation, have had it objectively better for a longer period of time than any other generation before or since. Anecdotally I had a “boomer” relative tell me the other day that the movie Cinderella Man resonated with her because it happened during a time of economic duress, the Great Depression, that so closely resembles the problems of today. Talk about a lack of correspondence between perception and historical reality!

The real problem with Gramm’s remarks was that they displayed a lack of connection to the perceptions of many Americans, even if his comments corresponded better with reality than many popular perceptions. Part of what makes a successful politician is the ability to understand and sympathize with his or her constituency, beyond the clarity of vision simply to see what the objective truth is. Gramm’s comments were more than just “bootstraps” rhetoric. Perhaps they were meant to be prophetic, in a way that gives people a kick in the rear and forces them to readjust their frame of reference.

And, again, the substance of the remarks didn’t differ much from what the “straight talking” McCain campaign has been saying all along. Last April McCain marched into Ohio, a part of the country hardest hit by globalization of industry, and said, “a person learns along the way that if you hold on — if you don’t quit no matter what the odds — sometimes life will surprise you. Sometimes you get a second chance, and opportunity turns back your way. And when it does, we are stronger and readier because of all that we had to overcome.” This sort of approach takes seriously the realities of both global trade and the plight of displaced workers.

So McCain’s dismissal of Gramm should be understood as having as more to do with rejecting the tone and style of Gramm’s message than the substance. McCain may have learned something from the resonance of Mike Huckabee’s message to blue collar evangelicals that trade needs to be “free and fair.” But for many economic conservatives, reactions to that message were as negative as reactions were to Gramm’s message. Free and fair? Free is fair, right? Maybe it is, but it doesn’t always seem to be so. And simply repeating “free is fair” isn’t going to work rhetorically.

The ideological inability of many economic conservatives to frame their message in a way that resonates with mainstream Americans is what is reflected in Phil Gramm’s comments and the corresponding rejection and derision of Mike Huckabee by many in the GOP (the positive reception of Gramm’s remarks among many economic conservatives underscores this). In politics, communicating the truth effectively is just as important as perceiving it. McCain might be on a steeper learning curve on that score than many of his fellow Republicans.

Dr. Anthony Bradley, a research fellow at the Acton Institute and PowerBlog contributor, was on NPR’s News & Notes blogger roundtable to discuss the controversy over the New Yorker‘s latest magazine cover. He also discusses news about a mostly black neighborhood that didn’t have running water for almost fifty years and a racially charged comic book that was recently pulled from the shelves.

Listen here.

Tony Snow speaking at the 2001 Acton Annual Dinner

The Acton Institute was deeply saddened to learn of the death of our dear friend Tony Snow. Snow was the keynote speaker at the 2001 Acton Annual Dinner, delivering his address one month after the terrorist attack on September 11. Snow was also a speaker for the Acton Lecture Series in 1996, where his humor was in full effect.

In a more contemplative moment, Snow declared during the 2001 dinner lecture:

If we get back to the basics, God, trust, freedom, we have the basis to not only win a war, but to win a society…I don’t want my children to wake up scared. I want them to wake up…saying thanks. Because you look out at the glorious day here in Western Michigan, the leaves have already turned here, it’s splendid, you got out in the morning and there is beauty everywhere, beauty that is incomprehensible. It speaks to you in ways in which you can say embrace it all, understand how important that is. Because that is the sort of thing we need to cherish, the ability to say thank you and to acknowledge the extraordinary gifts and blessings we have. It’s the most important gift we can give to our children, because if they understand the blessings they will know how to build on them.

Snow, a Roman Catholic, spoke openly about his faith and how it impacted his life on numerous occasions. Perhaps none were as elegant as this essay he penned for Christianity Today titled, “Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings.”

The Washington Times, Human Events, and Catholic Online all have notable tributes to Snow. William Kristol weighs in beautifully on Snow’s optimistic faith in a piece for the New York Times.

While Snow’s achievements in journalism and public service were many, and he was a giant figure in those arenas, we will always be grateful at the Acton Institute for the time and the valuable thoughts he shared with us.

Snow was also a man of high character who was committed to his family. We offer our prayers and condolences to his wife Jill, and their son and two daughters. He battled cancer with courage, thought, reflection, and a mature faith. Although there is a deep pain his family feels because of his death, we are thankful his faith has delivered him to the perfected arms of Christ.