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
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
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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
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
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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.

Following up on my commentary “Washington’s Unpopular War on Energy,” Alaska Governor Sarah Palin talks about her own frustration with Washington energy policies in an interview with Investor’s Business Daily. Governor Palin is of course in favor of drilling for more oil in Alaska, and she believes development can be done in a safe and clean manner. She also believes increasing the domestic supply of oil will have a positive affect on oil prices for Americans. The interview is a solid discourse on the ongoing theme of Congressional inaction in regards to an energy policy. Also, it is a reminder of an unpopular Congress completely ducking a policy that is now widely supported in the country. Governor Palin declares:

There are billions of barrels of oil underneath the ground up there on the North Slope including ANWR. In Alaska alone we can supply seven years of complete crude-oil independence, and eight years’ supply of natural gas for Americans with ANWR (and) other areas of Alaska that we want to allow for development.

The second week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour is in the books. The second leg of the journey took the bikers from Kennewick to Boise, a total distance of 321 miles.

There’s a basic theme in the daily prayers from the “Shifting Gears” devotional. There is a fundamentally environmental focus, and by that I mean not just the natural environment, but the economic, political, and social environment of the areas through which the bikers progress.

For instance, the day 1 prayer (from week 1), notes the “controversial residential and building projects” that are faced by the community of Sultan “as its economic foundation erodes and the suburbs spread into the countryside.” On day 8 we are reminded to “thank God our provider today for the ability to produce and distribute food within a local setting.” On day 10, on the stretch between La Grande and Baker City, we are informed that “in areas like this, water runoff is a serious problem.”

One basic point this underscores is that effective compassion has to be fundamentally local, in the sense that it is intimately familiar with the local contexts of the problems that need to be faced. So far the devotional has maintained a somewhat neutral attitude about the various environmental problems, which is important because it is all too easy and simple to preemptively come in from the outside and tell communities what the solutions to their problems are.

One way to help communities around the world where we don’t have local knowledge is to partner with local groups who do have that expertise. Affiliation is the first principle of effective compassion, and we ought to ask of a program, “Does it work through families, neighbors, and religious or community organizations, or does it supersede them?”

The second week of the bike tour took the participants through the state of Oregon. To find groups that are focused on making compassion effective in these areas, see the Samaritan Guide’s listings for Oregon, including Salem’s “Mentoring Women in Prison and Released” program of Freedom in the Son, Inc., rated “excellent” in the 2004 Samaritan Guide.

Yesterday I was a guest on “The Jesse Lee Peterson Radio Show,” a production of BOND (Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny), to discuss the presidential election and the faith-based initiative, with a special focus on the proposals laid out by Democratic candidate Barack Obama. A streamlined version of the interview is available for download.

After the July 1 speech in Zanesville, Ohio, where Obama called his plan for a new Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships “a critical part” of his executive plans, he continued to campaign on this issue, saying that “faith-based” social service would be “a moral center” of his potential administration.


One of the groups that has faced the dilemma of phasing out faith after taking government money is the Silver Ring Thing, a Christian ministry dedicated to “offering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the best way to live a sexually pure life.” In 2006, the ACLU settled a lawsuit with the government over federal grants to the Silver Ring Thing (SRT), on the condition that appropriate safeguards would be implemented to separate out faith elements from programs that received federal dollars.

The success of groups like SRT have made in connecting human sexuality to spiritual and emotional life makes secularists cringe, who judge that the Religious Right “has warped our sexual politics and forced even the most hardened secular humanists to sing from the Christian hymnal.” You can be sure that secularists won’t hesitate to use government funds to undermine the integrity of groups that see faith-based messages like chastity being the biblical standard.

In the course of the interview I refer to a paper produced by the Acton Institute about the service areas that faith-based initiatives tend to focus on, “Faith Makes a Difference: A Study of the Influence of Faith in Human Service Programs.” I also borrow (with attribution) Joe Knippenberg’s witticism, referring to the Obama plan as the “faith-erased” initiative.

I also discuss what I have called “the fungibility phenomenon” and the way in which the White House office sets the tone for the rest of the country. But the coup de grâce of my argument, I think, comes when I liken the faith-based initiative to the sin of simony.

Simony is commonly defined as “a deliberate intention of buying or selling for a temporal price such things as are spiritual of annexed unto spirituals.” Think about this a moment. If what the government’s faith-based initiative boils down to is the appropriation of the vigor and vitality of a uniquely spiritual ministry by means of offering federal money so that this ministry can be controlled and absorbed by the temporal power, that sounds very much like a form of simony to me.

Here’s part of the story of Simon Magus from Acts 8: “When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.'” Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!'”

Weigh in on what you think ought to be done with the faith-based initiative in our blog poll question on the right side of the page, and share your thoughts in the comment section below.

And, honestly, I can’t say it enough. Visit the Samaritan Guide and find a charity that needs your support and give it to them.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Friday, July 11, 2008
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My commentary from last week (“Christianity and the History of Freedom”) elicited a thoughtful response from a blogger named Jonathan Rowe, who subsequently invited me to join his blog, American Creation. Rowe and his colleagues debate the concept of a “Christian America,” especially focusing on the question of religion and the Founding. If you’re interested in the issues raised by my commentary and by Acton’s film, The Birth of Freedom, you might enjoy American Creation. My first post is a direct rejoinder to Jonathan’s comments.

I’ve noted this quote on the blog before, but Ray’s post on professionalism sparked recall of another kind of professional, the professional bureaucratic manager:

Government insists more and more that its civil servants themselves have the kind of education that will qualify them as experts. It more and more recruits those who claim to be experts into its civil service. And it characteristically recruits too the heirs of the nineteenth-century reformers. Government itself becomes a hierarchy of bureaucratic managers, and the major justification advanced for the intervention of government in society is the contention that government has resources of competence which most citizens do not possess. –Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 2d ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), 85.

Call them what you will; planners, bureaucratic managers, government professionals, it all amounts to the same thing in the end, I think. And Lord Acton’s observation about bureaucracy is relevant here as well: “Bureaucracy is undoubtedly the weapon and sign of a despotic government, inasmuch as it gives whatever government it serves, despotic power.”