This sounds like a book with a compelling narrative: McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld.

I’ve often thought about the connection between organized crime and legitimate governmental structures. In the NPR interview linked above, “Journalist Misha Glenny points out that while globalization may have given the world new opportunities for trade and investments, it also gave rise to global black markets and made it easier for criminal networks to do business.” There’s a lot of cogent analysis of trade issues and how government policy not only combats but also contributes to the existence of globalized “black markets.”

It has occurred to me more than once, in watching shows like HBO’s “The Sopranos,” that a good deal of the socio-political aspects of organized crime is explicable in terms of alternative (and often obsolete) forms of governance. That is, often when extorting money from business owners, superficially legitimate services are offered, like “protection,” i.e. protection that the official authorities like the police are unwilling or unable to provide.

Can Tony Soprano claim to be the “king,” or at least “kingpin” of a more feudal or monarchical socio-political structure? Perhaps, just perhaps, there is the hypothetical exceptional situation in which the “outlaws” represent a more legitimate form of governance than official but tyrannical structures (think of Robin Hood, for instance).

But there is at least clear precedent for understanding the reverse to be true; legitimate authorities can certainly degenerate into outright banditry even if bandits may not be able to rise to the level of authentic sovereignty. As Augustine has reflected on the nature of legitimate sovereignty,

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.” (City of God, Book IV, Chapter 4, “How Like Kingdoms Without Justice are to Robberies.”)

And so the appeal to political legitimacy can only be made in recognition of the rule of law, the higher law or the “law beyond law,” that governs all human endeavors.

Blog author: dwbosch
Friday, April 18, 2008
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I’m hosting this month’s Oekologie environmental science blog carnival. Lots of interesting stuff if you’ve got a hankering for a little less politics shaken on your greens.

Late last year controversy arose after the federal Bureau of Prisons had created a list of approved religious and spiritual books that would be allowed into prison chapels. Among those authors who was excluded from the list was the greatly influential twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth.

The potentially incendiary nature of religion was apparently the impetus behind the bureau’s attempt to control access to religious works, which was quickly reversed. As one blogger put it, Karl Barth was “going back to prison!”

But concern about zealous inspiration hasn’t been the only worry that has kept Karl Barth out of prison reading rooms in the past. In writing about his experience in prison ministry and prison abolition activism, Lee Griffith relates that he was prevented from bringing a volume of Barth’s Church Dogmatics into the jail for a visit.

“I was told that one of the books I had brought would not be allowed into the city jail,” he writes. “It so happens that the individual volumes of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics constitute a threat – not, presumably, because of content but because they are of sufficient size and weight to serve as weapons.”

As a whole, Barth’s massive Church Dogmatics is constituted by 14 individual installments or “parts,” comprising four larger “volumes.” In 2004, T&T Clark did a great service to theological study by re-releasing the volumes in paperback. But even so, the sheer amount of material in the Church Dogmatics defies facile apprehension.

Enter Logos Bible Software with one of their latest efforts, the publication of the complete and updated Church Dogmatics produced in cooperation with the Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. (more…)

Blog author: jspalink
Thursday, April 17, 2008
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Clinton or Obama?

A few of you may have noticed that we’ve added a small polling widget on the right side-bar of this blog. This, of course, is all highly “un-scientific” and doesn’t really mean much, but can provide some interesting results. The current poll asks who you would prefer as the Democratic candidate for the general elections in November – Omaba or Clinton. The results, so far, show Clinton ahead of Obama by about 58% to 42%. This is in contraction with the nationwide polls right now.

I’m curious to know a little bit more. Why would you prefer the one over the other?

  1. Are you a Republican and think that the candidate you chose would lose the General Election to McCain?
  2. Are you a Republican and think that if a Democrat is going to be elected, you would prefer the one over the other?
  3. Are you a Democrat and favor the one candidate over the other?
  4. Are you a Democrat and just think the one has a better chance of winning a General Election over the other?
Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
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It’s an otherwise fine story by an AP writer, but I’m on the prowl for media infelicities in the pope coverage, so silly lines get noticed:

After making little headway in his efforts to rekindle the faith in his native Europe, the German-born Benedict will be visiting a country where many of the 65 million Catholics are eager to hear what he says.

I like the “making little headway” clause. As though reestablishing Christendom were a matter of uttering a few well chosen words. Benedict’s been pontiff for three years. The secularization of Europe has been going on for anywhere from fifty to five hundred depending on how you want to look at it. Taking into account the Vatican’s vaunted tendency to “think in centuries,” I doubt the pope expected to rekindle the faith of a continent in a few months. Nor for that matter is it likely that he possesses such power in a post-Christian Europe. I suspect his goals are more modest and realistic.

Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico appeared on Fox Business Network to discuss Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States this week. If you didn’t catch it live, the video is here:


You’ll also want to tune in this afternoon during the 4:00 hour on Fox News Channel as Rev. Sirico joins Neil Cavuto to comment on Pope Benedict’s arrival.

Update: Here’s the video of this afternoon’s appearance on Fox News Channel:

Pope Benedict XVI is in the United States the next couple days, as you may have noticed. In case you’re interested in fleeing the inane, inaccurate, or ideologically charged coverage that will likely be on offer from most media outlets, you can instead pay attention to the following more reliable sources:

“Benedict in America” at Pope Benedict XVI FanClub. A resoundingly Catholic look at things, these folks have earned their stripes: they were the Ratzinger Fan Club back when Benedict was the much-maligned head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

On the Scene blog at Fox News. I can’t vouch for the rest of Fox’s coverage, but Legionary Father Jonathan Morris gets things right.

“A Papal Discussion” at the New York Times. This one will display a diversity of viewpoints, but it is an interesting and informed group including Amy Wellborn and Colleen Campbell.

And, of course, PowerBloggers will be weighing in as well.

Applications and nominations are being accepted for the 5th annual Catholic High School Honor Roll –a list of America’s Top 50 Catholic high schools judged on academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education. The list is published nationally as a resource for parents, schools, colleges and donors. As a constructive award competition, the Honor Roll is designed to encourage excellence in Catholic education.

This is the perfect time to encourage your local Catholic high school to apply. All schools benefit because they are compared to other Catholic high schools nationwide and are given a thorough evaluation to help them improve. Those schools that place in the Top 50 receive widespread recognition. Unfortunately, many fine schools are not recognized simply because no application is submitted. Your encouragement will ensure that this opportunity is not missed.

Catholic High School Honor Roll Postcard

Learn More:

How do schools benefit?

  • Evaluation: Each applicant receives comprehensive feedback
  • Recognition and Impact: Top 50 schools see increased enrollment, energized staffs, media coverage, and a valuable marketing opportunity
  • Scholarship: $2,000 drawing for online applicants

How Does it Work?

  • Apply: 3 surveys = complete application
  • Deadline: May 15
  • Cost: Free to apply at www.chshonor.org.
  • Award Announcement: Fall 2008
Honor Roll Sample Evaluation
Evaluation & Feedback

About the Honor Roll: The Catholic High School Honor Roll is a constructive award competition and evaluation program designed to recognize and encourage excellence in Catholic secondary education. It is sponsored by the Acton Institute, a non-profit education and research organization in Grand Rapids, Michigan and is overseen by a distinguished advisory board of prominent Catholic university presidents and scholars.

Each year the Honor Roll publishes a list of America’s Top 50 Catholic high schools, judged on the criteria of academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education. The list is published nationally as a resource for parents, schools, colleges, and donors. The Honor Roll is also an evaluation tool to help schools improve. Each applicant school receives a comprehensive assessment that offers feedback and shows where it stands amongst Catholic schools nationwide.

Blog author: jspalink
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
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The 2008 Samaritan Award opens today! If you know of a great charity or non-profit organization that directly serves members of a vulnerable population and receives little to no government funding, please encourage them to apply. The grand prize is $10,000 and there are several smaller awards for runners-up.

From the Samaritan Award website:

This $10,000 grand prize is awarded once a year to an exceptional and privately funded nonprofit that fosters deep personal change in the individuals they serve. A comprehensive application makes a program eligible for the Award and enters it in the Samaritan Guide.

The Samaritan Guide encourages effective charity within the United States by providing information on nonprofits that are supported primarily by private donations. Every charity that applies for the Samaritan Award is included in the Samaritan Guide.

Apply Now for the Samaritan Award!

How do we evaluate taxes?

Ahhh, it’s spring! The weather is warming; the trees are blooming; and our minds turn inevitably toward taxes. In addition to filing our 1040’s in time for April 15th, the average worker (over 25 years old) has already lost an additional $2,000 this year to the federal government’s payroll (FICA) taxes on income.

At the state level, the Governor and the legislature just passed property tax reform. People are mildly irritated at the recent 16.7 percent increase in the sales tax rate on April 1st. But they’re looking forward to lower property tax bills in the future.

All of this begs the question: How should we evaluate taxes?

Economists answer this question with three criteria. (more…)