Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Road Less Traveled

Joseph Epstein makes a reasonable request that in 2014 we stop buying what the Good Intentions Paving Co. is selling:

Only because it encourages—one might even say incites—feelings of virtue in those who are swept up by its projects does the Good Intentions Paving Co. stay in business. Meaning well, after all, ought to count for something. Unfortunately, when it comes to public policy, good intentions are only slightly better than bad intentions, and not always even that. The reason is that the Good Intentions Paving Co. has never been greatly interested in side effects, in the collateral damage that good intentions so often bring with them. Nor has the firm's record been notable for taking into account human nature, with its obstinate refusal to obey the dreams of politicians, however alluring they may seem.

The Good Intentions Paving Co. is unlikely ever to be put completely out of business, but one must do what one can to slow its progress. A good place to start may be when making a New Year's resolution for 2014, vow to resist the firm's newest projects and policies, however warm and fuzzy they might appear. For instance, President Obama seems to have his heart set on raising the minimum wage. Sounds nice. Surely a step in the right direction. The boys at the Good Intentions Paving Co. are behind it all the way, which is reason enough to believe that it will affect hiring practices in the most deleterious way and cause who knows what other damage.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Beer of the Week (Vol. CLXXXVIII)

Another better late than never edition of Beer of the Week, sponsored as always by the punctual folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help you select the beer, wine, or whiskey you need to ring in the New Year in a timely manner.

Our featured beer comes from Vail, Colorado home of the Crazy Mountain Brewery. It’s their Hookiebobb IPA:

In the 1960s, before Vail Village was paved and closed to vehicles, "hookiebobbing" referred to those committed fools who, while on skis, grabbed onto the bumper of passing cars to tow them up to the lifts. Our IPA is a Colorado approach to the American take of an English classic. Three aggressive yet floral American hops and one hop from Down Under team together to make a bright, citrusy and floral India Pale Ale. A deep caramel malt helps to balance the bitterness of the hops and lets the complex hop bill shine.

22oz brown bomber bottle goes for $5.99. Label has orange font with a black background and an aggressive elephant breaking through foliage.



HEAD (0-2): Bright white color with good volume. 2

COLOR (0-2): Golden brown and mostly clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Citrusy and sweet. 2

TASTE (0-5): For an IPA Hookiebobb is not especially hoppy. In some respects it tastes more like a bitter with more subdued hops. It also has flavors of roasted malt and even a little smokiness. Good carbonation with a medium body. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): There’s a metallic tinge that’s off putting. 1

OVERALL (0-6): Hookiebobb is much closer to the British version of an IPA than the more hopped up style you usually find on this side of the Atlantic. It’s a well-balanced and pretty tasty beer, but doesn’t deliver the hops that I would expect in the style. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13

Friday, December 27, 2013

More Googling, Less Oogling

Breaking news out of Minneapolis, lonely, technologically unimaginative police officers cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars:

A Minneapolis assistant city attorney who works alongside police officers has reached a $32,500 settlement with the city after learning that more than 100 officers had snooped into her driver’s license file.

The City Council approved the settlement last week after Paula Kruchowski’s attorney wrote in a notice of claim ¬letter — which typically precedes a lawsuit — that she had been “oogled [sic] by scores of men.”

This apparently all stems from the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act which allows for penalties of $2,500 per unauthorized use of state driver’s license data, of which gratuitous “oogling” of the driver’s license picture apparently constitutes. For whatever reason, the desperate, voyeuristic police officers committing the violations can pass the bill along to the taxpayers.

The Kruchowski oogling (which sounds like the title of the next Robert Ludlum thriller) is but a mere pixel in the obscene mosaic that is the raid on the public treasury that this law, and our public servants’ behavior, is causing.  The queen of being illegally seen, so far, is former police officer Anne Rasmusson, who weaseled earned over $1 million from the municipal treasuries of Minneapolis, St. Paul and surrounding suburbs due to her brothers in blue and their insatiable desire to view her driver license photo.  And this may be dwarfed by the class action suits, including hundreds of other oogled plaintiffs, now pending:

“It’s potentially hundreds of millions of dollars [in government liabilities],” [Governor Mark Dayton] said. He added that it will ultimately be up to a jury or judge to decide the extent of the damages, “but given the number of … individuals whose information and privacy has been violated, it’s pretty significant.”

And that’s from Mark Dayton, an expert in wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

The stinger in all of this is that we’re paying all of this money so these government officials can look at pictures of attractive women.  It’s almost as if these people missed the fact that there are other information outlets available that already provide this service (and according to reports, more), with virtually no associated legal exposure to the taxpayers.  Have you people heard of the Internet? Forget the Internet, have you heard of Guttenberg and movable type?

So exactly what are we taxpayer’s getting for our money?  While I cannot access driver’s license photos, utilizing these other mysterious means of photo acquisition, here’s a publicly available picture of the $32,000 woman, Paula Kruchowski:

Really, 32 large for that, officers of the Minneapolis PD?  Hope you enjoyed it.
How about the Million Dollar woman, Ann Rasmusson?

Boom!  You’re not going to see that on a driver’s license.  Unless you need a special license to drive a jet ski in the Tropicana’s new water show tribute to Cagney and Lacey.  Actually, it looks like Ms. Rassmusson got her license portrait taken while wearing her uniform and a million dollar smile.  We can only imagine the smile she’s wearing now, post settlement.

Needless to say, this cannot continue.  Or can it?  Breaking news from just last week:

On Tuesday, however, a federal lawsuit was filed by another female officer against about 50 municipalities, ¬ including Minneapolis.

The suit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis by attorneys for Amy Krekelberg, a Minneapolis police officer, alleges that officers with more than 40 municipalities illegally viewed her private driver’s license data nearly 1,000 times since 2003.

A potential fine of $2.5 million, all for the pleasure of seeing a variation of this.

I know beauty is subjective, but in my opinion the collective value of gawking at all twelve of those people isn’t worth $2.5 million.

If our public servants are incapable of controlling themselves, then it is our duty as citizens to assist.  To the desperate out there who absolutely, positively have to see a headshot of some fellow officer or attorney or meter maid or steno pool typist, I offer the services of Fraters Libertas.  We’ll do the Google legwork, and have it shipped to you within 30 minutes of receipt of any valid requests.  And we’ll only charge 10% of the normal fine you would be assessed for pursuing these images via your traditional means.  That’s a 90% savings to the taxpayers.  No need to thank us, we asked not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for the country, and this is what we came up with.

Making it Real

In today’s WSJ, Pierpaolo Barbieri and Niall Ferguson provide background on Mexico's Economic Reform Breakout:

For much of the last decade, Mexico and Brazil were a study in contrasts. "Brazil Takes Off" was a typical magazine cover, depicting Rio's huge statue of Christ literally blasting off. The equivalent story for Mexico was "The War Next Door: Why Mexico's Drug Violence is America's Problem Too."

In the past two years, however, the roles have been reversed. Riots in São Paulo and the downfall of billionaire Eike Batista have badly dented Brazil's glamorous image. Meanwhile, a succession of bold moves by Mexico's charismatic new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, have finally awakened foreign observers to the fact that Mexico is Latin America's new "country of the future."

Not only is Mexico's per capita GDP back above Brazil's, according to International Monetary Fund data, but over the past five years investors in the Mexican stock market have enjoyed nearly three times the returns of those who put their money into much-hyped Brazilian equities. Jobs are being created so fast in Mexico—more than two million since early 2010—that the problem of illegal immigration to the United States may soon be history.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Mexico was almost as well known for its financial crises as for its drug wars. Those days are gone. Although growth has been sluggish this year, thanks in large part to the troubles of the construction sector, the IMF predicts a rapid rebound between 2014 and 2018.

For years Brazil has been touted as one of the countries to watch, the next big thing. Yet, as I witnessed firsthand on a recent visit, it remains a difficult place to do business and has never realized its promise as a major emerging economic power. Mexico meanwhile continues to move forward and make the sort of reforms that allow its economy to grow. One of the most significant of those is the overhaul of the Mexican laws governing oil and gas. By allowing outside investment and expertise, Mexico is moving to take advantage of its rich energy resources which bodes well for its economic future.

At this point, Brazil shows no signs of following Mexico’s path of reform. Until it does, it remain a country of great promise and potential that never quite seems to live up to either.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

HWX, with Sen. Jeff Sessions

It’s a special Saturday morning edition of the Hinderaker Ward Experience (HWX).  John Hinderaker of Power Line and Brian Ward of Fraters Libertas reconvene to bring you the best in bemused news analysis of the day’s critical events.   Topics addressed include:
*  holiday parties, the good and the bad
*  the latest in Obamacare follies and it’s predicted future for 2014
*  highlights of Obama’s last press conference of 2013
*  Loon of the Week, Barbara Walters and the messiah who failed
*  This Week in Gatekeeping, making sure cartoons are never funny again
We’re also joined by the great Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who shares his thoughts on the Ryan-Murray federal budget agreement, the Obamacare roll out, and the new limits on minority rights in the US Senate.
There are many ways to hear the podcast, including over on the mothership at Ricochet. You can be sure to never miss an episode by subscribing via iTunes. Or just use the player embedded in the upper right hand corner of this website.  If all of these fail, send me an email and I'll come to your house and read from a written transcript. Hope you enjoy.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Smells Like Bad Writing

From the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s official biography of 2014 inductees Nirvana:

It only takes one song to start a rock revolution.  That trigger, in late 1991, was “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” an exhilarating blast of punk rock confrontation by Nirvana, a scruffy trio from Seattle.  “Teen Spirit,” its moshpit party video and Nirvana’s kinetic live shows propelled their second album, Nevermind, to Number One and turned singer-guitarist-songwriter Kurt Cobain into the voice and conscience of an alternative-rock nation sick of hair metal and the conservative grip of the Regan-Bush ‘80s. 

Nirvana owes its success and legendary status, and least in part, to teen rebel fatigue associated with … George HW Bush?  That’s right.  Nothing fires the furnace of scruffy punk confrontation like compassionate conservatism.  A thousand points of light?  I think you mean a thousand points of white hot spikes of torturous angst!

I guess I can see the influence of Bush on Nirvana via his solemn pledge “read my lips, no new taxes”.   Since Bush then proceeded to raise taxes, the mystery of the naming of Nirvana’s second album (Nevermind) is finally revealed.  Beyond that, this seems to be a stretch by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bio writers.

I think we can see what they’re trying to do here, recycling that hoariest of liberal clichés that the Reagan years were a nightmarish dystopia (predicated on your willingness to ignore all the peace, prosperity, freedom and landslide endorsements of his policies by the voters), and somehow that led to a new edgy, angry music.

But Reagan wrapped it up in early 1989, yet that “trigger” for the Nirvana “revolution” came out in late 1991.  Firearms typically don’t take more than two years between the trigger pull and firing.  What to do Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?  You’re snared in a nasty tangle of revisionist history and bad metaphor!   Only one way out, stick it to Poppy.

When you’re down to a thread of causation this thin, you get the sense that they don’t know what caused Nirvana’s rock “revolution”.  Or maybe it wasn’t a revolution at all, and this is I all hyperbole in the service of perpetuating the myth that this music actually “meant” something.

It’s their hall of fame, their rules, I suppose.   As such, we need to at least hold them to their logic.  If the presence of the steely conservative grip of President George HW Bush led to the Nirvana revolution, then the absence of President George HW Bush would have forestalled this revolution.   Therefore, the man most responsible for creating the George HW Bush administration is the one really responsible for Nirvana.   Plus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has an entire wing of inductees labelled as “early influences”.  Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you what promises to be a surefire Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee for 2015:  Dukakis!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Every Picture Tells a Story

Disturbing allegations regarding the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis:

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced Tuesday an allegation of inappropriate touching has been brought against Archbishop John Nienstedt.
According to the archdiocese, Nienstedt is accused of inappropriately touching a young boy on the buttocks during a group photo session after a confirmation ceremony in 2009.

Few details have been released regarding this allegation and we must wait for a full accounting of the facts before passing judgment on anyone.   However, at face value, it seems very strange that, even if he were disposed toward this type of criminal behavior, a man as prominent as an Archbishop, with a heretofore pristine record, in the context of serial sexual abuse convictions against his clerical coreligionists, would consciously engage in “inappropriate touching” during a public ceremony.  While being photographed.

Maybe it did happen as alleged, time will tell.  If so, perhaps the photographic record will provide the key evidence?  For some reason I’m reminded of this scene from Cheers, from the 1990 episode, “Woody or Won’t He”:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Pattern Recognition

A tale of two Minnesota collapses, see if you can spot any commonalities.

Last month, while Minnesota's new health insurance exchange site was scrambling to fix glitches and under fire from critics, its director was on vacation.
MNsure director April Todd-Malmlov took a two-week vacation to Costa Rica around Thanksgiving.

When the I-35 highway bridge in Minneapolis collapsed (MNDOT Director of Emergency Management) Sonia Morphew Pitt was out of town.
Most glaringly, far from rushing home to take charge personally when the bridge fell, Ms. Pitt stayed out of town for another 10 days, on a mixed business-and-personal visit to Washington and to Cambridge.

Seems like either the three-named bureaucrats in charge didn’t actually have anything to do or, even if they did, they believe this is government work, it’s not like it’s their own money or integrity or futures at stake.  They earned that vacation time!

For the record, Ms. Morphew Pitt was ultimately disabused of her notions about an appropriate level of job engagement.  She was relieved of her duties by then Governor Tim Pawlenty’s administration.  

Current Gov. Dayton’s reaction?

"I know that the executive director worked extraordinarily hard for months now, probably all of last year and my understanding was this was a long-planned vacation where financial commitments were made," Dayton said.

In other words, ‘heckuva job, Malmlovie’.

HWX, with Rep. Tom Cotton

It’s a Saturday Afternoon special edition of the Hinderaker-Ward Experience (HWX).  John Hinderaker of Power Line and Brian Ward of Fraters Libertas reconvene to discuss the vital issues of the day:

*  John’s lonely holiday so far, decorating a fake tree by himself while drinking

*  The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013

*  John Boehner’s criticisms of conservative activist groups

*  The funeral of Nelson Mandela (with bonus Loon of the Week)

*  Time’s Man of the Year, Pope Francis (with bonus This Week in Gate Keeping)

Also joining the show was special guest Rep. Tom Cotton (AR) who lends his insight into why he opposed the Ryan-Murray budget compromise and his upcoming Senate race against Mark Prior in 2014.

HWX is brought to you by Encounter Books. Our pick this week is a BROADSIDE:  The Truth About the IRS Scandals, by Charles Johnson.  Go to EncounterBooks.com to get this broadside for a special price for listeners of Ricochet. Enter the code "RICOCHET" at checkout for an additional 15% off all titles.  Our thanks to Encounter Books for sponsoring HWX.

There are many ways to hear the podcast, including over on the mothership at Ricochet. You can be sure to never miss an episode by subscribing via iTunes. Or just use the player embedded in the upper right hand corner of this website.  If all of these fail, send me an email and I'll come to your house and read from a written transcript. Hope you enjoy.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Breaking the Chains

Peggy Noonan had a timely and topical reaction to Pope Francis’ attention getting statement on economics in Saturday’s WSJ. Be a Saint, Not a Scrooge:

All this has been portrayed as an attack on free-market economic thinking, but it struck me more as an attack on mindless selfishness, greed and go-with-the-flow acceptance of the unrightness of the world. It made me think of Charles Dickens. The pope's message in part is: Don't be Scrooge. He cared only for money, had no respect for the poor—he thought they should die and decrease the surplus population—wasn't the least bit interested in treating his employees justly or with compassion, and missed out on all the real joy of life, until he wised up.

But is Francis saying more than that? Is he hostile to capitalism, and do we see this hostility in the pointed use of phrases such as "trickle-down," a term the left uses to disparage the idea that created wealth, when invested or spent, spreads and benefits others?

I don't know, I don't think so, and we'll see. I don't think he's saying be a leftist but something more revolutionary and fundamental: Be a saint. Be better, kinder, more serious and loving, and help create systems that reflect good, kind, loving people.

The pope has a way of colorfully saying, through words and actions, that the church is on the side of the poor—the materially and spiritually poor—and always has been. I think he's saying that here: that the Church has a bias for the poor and impatience toward those who would abuse them. And he is speaking not infallibly but as a matter of a worldview rightly shared.

The popes of the modern era have been more or less European social democrats, of the economic left. I've never heard a pope worry about the depressive effects of high tax rates, have you? Or the dangers of high spending? Popes are sometimes geniuses but not economists.

That last point is one that needs to be kept in mind. Popes are in the business of saving souls not prescribing economic policies.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Reagan, Mandela, the Left and Obama

I’m sure all of the leftists who are taking the opportunity of Nelson Mandela’s passing to accuse Ronald Reagan of supporting apartheid because he didn’t support economic sanctions on the South African regime are being consistent: They must be accusing Barack Obama of supporting the death penalty for homosexuality (among other atrocities) since he is LIFTING economic sanctions on the Iranian regime.

Hmmm, I haven’t seen anything yet, but that must be because they are sharpening their condemnations.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Free Saeed

Almost 27,000 have joined together to call for the release of Saeed Abedini at this page. Add your voice to the chorus today.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Left Behind

Pastor Steve Wright mails with an important request for help:

Like many Americans, I am both grieved and angry that the recent nuclear deal with Iran did not include Pastor Saeed Abedini's release. I'm sure you are aware of his plight. A few of us last week decided to organize a social media showing of support, using Facebook, Twitter, our blogs, websites, and any other platforms available. We are focused on a date this week, Dec 4th, to use these platforms to flood the internet to publicize the injustice and hopefully increase government pressure on Iran to release this innocent American.

There is a Facebook page called Free Saeed where over 23,000 people have already expressed their support for the imprisoned American.

Here is more background on his story:

Abedini is a former Muslim who converted to Christianity in 2000. While Christianity is recognized as a minority religion under the Iranian constitution,Muslim converts to Christianity suffer discrimination at the hands of Iranian authorities. In particular, such converts are disallowed from worshipping with other Christians in established Christian churches, which has led to the establishment of so-called "house" or "underground" churches where these converts can worship together.

In 2002, Abedini met and married his wife Naghmeh, an American citizen. In the early 2000s, the Abedinis became prominent in the house church movement in Iran, at a time when the movement was tolerated by the Iranian government. During this period, Abedini is credited with establishing about 100 house churches in 30 Iranian cities with more than 2,000 members. With the election of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in 2005, however, the house church movement was subjected to a crackdown by Iranian authorities and the Abedinis moved back to the United States.

Abedini's first trip back to Iran was in 2009 to visit his family, when government authorities detained him. According to Abedini, he was threatened with death during his interrogation over his conversion to Christianity. Ultimately he was released after signing an agreement in which he pledged to cease all house church activities in the country.

In 2008, Abedini became an ordained minister in the U.S. and in 2010, he was granted American citizenship, thus becoming a dual Iranian-American citizen. Abedini had been living the past several years with his family in Boise, Idaho, where his wife grew up. The couple has two children and they are members of the Calvary Chapel church.

July 2012, Abedini made his ninth trip to Iran since 2009 to visit his family and continue his work to build an orphanage in the city of Rasht. While in the country, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confiscated his passports and placed him under house arrest. He was later transferred to Evin Prison, where he has been incarcerated since late September.

In mid-January 2013, it was reported that Abedini would go on trial on January 21, and could face the death penalty. He was charged with compromising national security, though the specific allegations were not made public. His supporters said his arrest was due to his conversion and efforts to spread Christianity in Iran. On January 21, 2013, Iranian state media reported that Abedini would be released after posting a $116,000 bond. His wife, however, stated that the government "has no intention of freeing him and that the announcement is 'a game to silence' international media reports."

On January 27, 2013, Judge Pir-Abassi sentenced Abedini to eight years in prison. According to Fox News, Abedini was sentenced for having "undermined the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches and ... attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam." The evidence against Abedini was based primarily on his activities in the early 2000s. Abedini was meant to serve his time in Evin Prison. The U.S. State Department condemned the sentence: "We condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion and we call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini's human rights and release him."

Early November 2013, Abedini was transferred from Tehran to the Rajai Shahr prison in the townn of Karaj, which is populated with heavy criminals, and has harsher, sometimes life-threatening, conditions.

It is inexcusable that any negotiations with the Iranian regime or terms of any deal would not include the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen who lost his freedom because of his Christian faith and more specifically because of his desire to build an orphanage in Iran. During the Cold War, the United States often publicly mentioned the plight of and negotiated for better treatment of Soviet dissidents during talks with the USSR. Our government should not shrink from standing firm for Saeed Abedini’s freedom today and should not, in the interest of a “grand bargain” with Iran, be willing to sacrifice it for a perceived “greater good.”

Monday, December 02, 2013

Legalize It?

Long-time friend of Fraters Mark Yost is back with the latest installment in the adventures of Chicago firefighter Nick Mattera. The Cartel:

“The Cartel” is Wall Street Journal author Mark Yost’s second installment in the critically acclaimed Nick Mattera Series. In the first book, “Soft Target,” former Marine EOD Tech turned Firefighter Nick Mattera and his crew from Highwood’s Station 37 took on a pair of Afghan Islamic extremists who opened up a whole new front in the War on Terror on the North Shore of Chicago.

In “The Cartel,” Mattera and his crew face a whole new enemy: Manny Banuelos is the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the world’s most-powerful, drug-trafficking organization. In a ripped-from-the-headlines story, Manny and his gang don’t just go away when a newly elected Libertarian U.S. President legalizes marijuana. Instead, they fight back, sabotaging government labs, blackmailing executives, and hatching a plan to control the world-wide drug trade. The only thing that stands in their way is Nick Mattera and his brave crew of firefighters, who are caught in the middle of this bloody turf war that’s erupted in the neighborhood around their firehouse.

With more and more states opting to loosen marijuana laws, the premise is definitely topical although it does require a certain suspension of disbelief to imagine a libertarian being elected president. I enjoyed Yost’s initial foray into fiction and look forward to see what he’s got cooked up for us this time around. And at $4.99 for the Kindle edition it’s definitely a deal worth sealing.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A Place in the Square

In Friday’s WSJ, George Weigel, who knows popes like Michael Barone knows politics, weighed in on Pope Francis the Revolutionary:

Pope Francis also grasps the nature of the great cultural crisis of post-modernity: the rise of a new Gnosticism, in which everything in the human condition is plastic, malleable and subject to human willfulness, nothing is simply given, and human beings are reduced, by self-delusion, legal definition or judicial dictums to mere bundles of desires.

The pope is passionately concerned about the poor, and he knows that poverty in the 21st century takes many forms. It can be found in the grinding material poverty of his native Buenos Aires, caused by decades of corruption, indifference, and the church's failures to catechize Argentina's economic and political leaders. But poverty can also be found in the soul-withering spiritual desert of those who measure their humanity by what they have rather than who they are, and who judge others by the same materialist yardstick. Then there is the ethical impoverishment of moral relativism, which dumbs down human aspiration, impedes common work for the common good in society, and inevitably leads to social fragmentation and personal unhappiness.

As he wrote in "Evangelii Gaudium," Pope Francis is not a man of "political ideology." He knows that "business is a vocation and a noble vocation," if ordered to the common good and the empowerment of the poor. When he criticizes the social, economic or political status quo, he does so as a pastor who is "interested only in helping all those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking that is more humane, noble, and fruitful."

Pope Francis is a revolutionary. The revolution he proposes, however, is not a matter of economic or political prescription, but a revolution in the self-understanding of the Catholic Church: a re-energizing return to the pentecostal fervor and evangelical passion from which the church was born two millennia ago, and a summons to mission that accelerates the great historical transition from institutional-maintenance Catholicism to the Church of the New Evangelization.

In today’s NY Times, Ross Douthat shared his thoughts on The Pope and the Right:

But the church’s social teaching is no less an official teaching for allowing room for disagreement on its policy implications. And for Catholics who pride themselves on fidelity to Rome, the burden is on them — on us — to explain why a worldview that inspires left-leaning papal rhetoric also allows for right-of-center conclusions.

That explanation rests, I think, on three ideas. First, that when it comes to lifting the poor out of poverty, global capitalism, faults and all, has a better track record by far than any other system or approach.

Second, that Catholic social teaching, properly understood, emphasizes both solidarity and subsidiarity — that is, a small-c conservative preference for local efforts over national ones, voluntarism over bureaucracy.

Third, that on recent evidence, the most expansive welfare states can crowd out what Christianity considers the most basic human goods — by lowering birthrates, discouraging private charity and restricting the church’s freedom to minister in subtle but increasingly consequential ways.

This Catholic case for limited government, however, is not a case for the Ayn Randian temptation inherent to a capitalism-friendly politics. There is no Catholic warrant for valorizing entrepreneurs at the expense of ordinary workers, or for dismissing all regulation as unnecessary and all redistribution as immoral.

And this is where Francis’s vision should matter to American Catholics who usually cast ballots for Republican politicians. The pope’s words shouldn’t inspire them to convert en masse to liberalism, or to worry that the throne of Peter has been seized by a Marxist anti-pope. But they should encourage a much greater integration of Catholic and conservative ideas than we’ve seen since “compassionate conservatism” collapsed, and inspire Catholics to ask more — often much more — of the Republican Party, on a range of policy issues.

Both men make worthy contributions to the on-going conversation on Pope Francis and his challenge to Catholics of all political stripes. The challenge should not be avoided or brushed aside, but engaged with thoughtful reflection and consideration. In raising the challenge, the pope has gotten peoples’ attention (at least some peoples) and in this age of distraction and information overload, that’s half the battle.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bigger Picture

The release of a document penned by Pope Francis criticizing capitalism and free markets generated a lot of media attention this week. Many on the Left took the Pope’s statement to be an endorsement of their political views on taxation and redistribution. James Pethokoukis says not so fast in a post at AEI called Occupy the Vatican? A progressive pope? Not really:

Conservatives — whether churchgoers or not — are not utopians, They understand market economies will never turn the world temporal into Paradise (while at the same time realizing that command-and-control economies have frequently produced a kind of hell on earth). Conservatives value the “safety net” to help those whom the pope calls the “excluded.” But conservatives also want to reform the safety net so more resources are devoted to raising the living standards of the truly needy rather than subsidizing the rich, moving the jobless toward work and self sufficiency, and increasing social mobility and equality of opportunity.

Likewise, few conservatives would disagree with this bit of the pope’s statement: “The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

Conservatives embrace markets because they support a free society — but also because market economies produce the sort of prosperity that enables true human flourishing, one where we can better define our future as we see fit and achieve success on the basis of merit and hard work. After all, it was innovative capitalism — something the pope surely understands even if actual anti-capitalists don’t — that raised the average real income of the West over the past two centuries from $3 a day to $140. That might not qualify as a miracle, but it is surely a wonder — one that has given us lots better stuff and lots more opportunity to lead lives of deep fulfillment.

And progressives are kidding themselves if they think the pope was somehow embracing an Elizabethian (Warren) agenda of sky-high tax rates and an endlessly expanding welfare state. (Indeed, the pope denounced “a simple welfare mentality.”) How cramped an interpretation. Pope Francis’s vision transcends such parochial concerns. He is a global figure looking at crony capitalism in South America, massive youth unemployment in big government Europe, tremendous wealth disparities in state capitalist Asia, and deep poverty in Africa.

As the Christian and libertarian economist Deirdre McCloskey writes in The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce, the good society can be built on the cardinal and theological virtues that also support a prosperous commercial society. The virtue of Courage, for example “to venture on new ways of business...to overcome the fear of change, to bear defeat unto bankruptcy, to be courteous to new ideas, to wake up the next morning and face fresh work with cheer.” And Hope “to imagine a better machine...to see the future as something other than stagnation or eternal recurrence, to infuse the day’s work with a purpose, seen one’s labor as a glorious calling....The claim here is that modern capitalism does not need to be offset to be good. Capitalism on the contrary can be virtuous. In a fallen world, the bourgeois is not perfect. But it is better than any available alternative.”

McCloskey goes on to write that capitalism needs to be “inspired, moralized, completed.” That sounds exactly like what Pope Francis is trying to do.

Liberals tend to conflate conservative support of free markets with an endorsement of materialism, greed, and inequality. Conservatives, especially those of a religious bent, understand that there is far more to life than markets and money and their core values are often at odds with those who mindlessly support and pursue them.

And the role of the Catholic Church (and the pope as its leader) is not to endorse political or economic positions. It’s to challenge its followers to not get caught up in the material world, but to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as passed on to us in the Gospel. These challenges from the Church will make those of all political views uncomfortable at times and that’s exactly the way it should be.

UPDATE: Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has further thoughts on this matter in a post at First Things in which he says
Let’s Listen to Pope Francis on Economics:

To be a Christian is to be willing to be challenged, all the time, and to have the humility to let yourself be challenged—including, for Catholics, by the Church.

As people with strongly held economic views who take part in the public debate, we have acquired a certain toughening of the hide. We have become accustomed to thinking of ourselves as being part of a team, and to responding reflexively when we hear the rhetoric of the other team.

What the Church asks of us is to let go of our defenses and make ourselves open to her magisterium. Without abdicating discernment, we also have to force ourselves to open our hearts and let ourselves be challenged by Pope Francis’ words.

When Pope Francis describes inequality and exclusion as very grave moral sins, we must let ourselves be challenged, and we must open our hearts.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Beer of the Week (Vol. CLXXXVII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week, sponsored as always by the fresh faced folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can eagerly help you harvest the beer, wine, or whiskey you need to be truly thankful for.

Later this week, Americans will gather with their families and celebrate Thanksgiving. The holiday has become a bacchanalia of feasting, football, and if you’re fortunate, falling asleep on the couch. It started of course as way for people to give thanks for the successful harvest and the resulting bounty that would sustain them through the lean winter ahead.

So what better way to celebrate the day than with a wet hopped beer that utilizes the freshest ingredients from the hop harvest? Founders Brewing Company in Michigan produces many a stellar beer including their Harvest Ale:

This liquid dream pours a hazy golden straw color with a white, two-finger head. Your first sip rewards you with a super juicy hop presence bursting with fresh citrus, then finishes to introduce toasted malt undertones.

Four-pack of 12oz bottles goes for $9.99 (if you can still find ‘em). Follows the usual Founders look with a label featuring succulently fresh hops.

STYLE: American IPA


COLOR (0-2): Golden brown. 2

AROMA (0-2): Floral and citrusy hop aromas with a touch of sweetness. 2

HEAD (0-2): White color with good volume and lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Follows the nose with big hop pop and more subdued malt flavors that provide just enough balance. It has a bitter edge and a clean, crisp finish. Decently carbonated with a medium body. Quite drinkable and the alcohol is not all that apparent. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Bitterness lingers nicely before slowly fading out. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Like almost everything Founders makes, this is a damn fine beer. The hop flavors are fresh and full without going over the top. Founders Harvest Ale is definitely one of my favorite wet hopped beers of the season. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Signs of the Cross

We often hear about the death or at least significant decline of Christianity in Western Europe. On a recent business trip To Switzerland I spent some time in the town of Zug. Outwardly at least, signs of the faith were still very much in evidence.

There were two Catholic churches in town that were still active and quote close to each other. I attended Mass at St. Oswald's.

The Mass was conducted in Swiss. While I enjoy the experience of hearing the Mass in another language and understanding the meaning of what is being said even if I don't understand the words themselves, I couldn't help but pine for the good ol' days when Latin would be used in all locales. There's something to be said for the universal Church having a universal language.

Just up the hill from St. Oswald's (and starting at the lake everything in Zug is up the hill from something) was St. Michael's.

Further up the hill from the church was its well-manicured and immaculately maintained cemetery.

Not a bad view for your final resting place. There was also a beautifully simple open air chapel which has served the local faithful for many a year.

Just a short distance from the cemetery was a hiking path that led from Zug to the small village of Zugerberg which sits close to the top of the hill. I was told that it was a fairly easy hike so I decided to make the climb to Zugerberg. “Easy” turned out to be a bit of a relative term. While I’m sure the incline was nothing for a local, for a flatlander from Minnesota it proved more of a challenge.

Making my way up the path, I encountered stone Stations of the Cross which were embedded into the hillside.

Stations of the Cross on a public pathway? Alert the ACLU or more appropriately the SCLU (if such an organization even exists).

A bit further along, I found a weathered stone cross under a tree.

And finally, close to the summit, but not quite there was this crucifix looking down on the lake far below.

The practice of Christianity may indeed be on the decline in Switzerland as it is most of Europe (72% of the Swiss are adherents down from 98% in 1970), but the public symbols are still abundant. Their existence shows how deeply rooted Christianity is in the culture and provides at least a glimmer of hope for a future rebirth.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Common Enemies

To better understand at least some of what motivates countries like Russia and China to take the positions they do on Syria, it helps to be able to see things in a broader perspective and not just focus on the dynamics of a civil war between the Assad regime and internal opponents. A front page story in today’s WSJ provided a good look at why this conflict is about much more than just who will rule Syria. Meet the Syrian Rebel Commander Assad, Russia and the U.S. All Fear :

The arrival of Mr. Batirashvili, known by his Arab nom de guerre Emir Umar al-Shishani, comes as other ethnic Chechens and Russian-speaking Islamists have for the first time responded in large numbers to the call of an international jihad in Syria.

Fighting in tightknit groups, the men have awed and repelled fellow jihadists with their military prowess and brutality, talking to one another in Russian or Chechen and to outsiders in the formal Arabic of the Quran, according to accounts of fellow rebels. Some have carved out fiefdoms inside Syria, enraging locals by collecting taxes and imposing Islamic Shariah law.

Even by the gruesome standards of the war in Syria, their rise has become notable for its unusual violence. One rebel from Russia's Dagestan, for instance, was chased out of the country after he appeared in an online video where he beheaded three locals for supporting the Syrian government, according to analysts with ties to the rebel groups. And just last week, Mr. Batirashvili's group apologized for mistakenly beheading a wounded soldier who actually turned out to be an allied rebel commander.

The prominence of the rebels on the battlefield has turned the conflict into a geopolitical struggle between the U.S. and Russia, which has long accused the West of ignoring the danger of Islamists in the troubled Chechen region, where an insurgency has been active for decades.

Lest you think this is only a concern for the Russians:

While people close to Mr. Batirashvili say he views the war as a chance to strike a blow against one of the Kremlin's allies, he has also talked of his hatred of America. In a recent interview with a jihadi website, he described Americans as "the enemies of Allah and the enemies of Islam."

And while the fighting is going on in Syria today, future repercussions may be felt in many more places:

U.S. intelligence estimates that as many as 17,000 foreigners are fighting on the side of rebels in Syria. About half fight for the ISIS; of those, officials in Russia say, at least a thousand are from the country's North Caucasus and from Europe, where many Chechens have sought asylum since the collapse of the Soviet Union and hostilities in Chechnya in the 1990s.

While the Russian-speaking Islamists represent a fraction of the total rebels, many have risen to positions of power because of their history of fighting a standing army in Russia, according to analysts.

Kremlin officials say that these fighters are picking up more military experience, as well as contacts to Arab financiers who bankrolled uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa.

"One day, it's highly likely many of these fighters will return to their home republics in the Caucasus, which will clearly generate a heightened security threat to that region," said Charles Lister, analyst at IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.

The Chechen region has come under scrutiny lately in the U.S. in the wake of this year's Boston Marathon bombing. The alleged bomber on trial, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has roots in Chechnya and posted videos online recruiting fighters to Syria.

Mr. Batirashvili's ability to work with foreign jihadis appears to have been vital to his rise within the ISIS, which has become the main umbrella group for foreign fighters in Syria, including Saudis, Kuwaitis, Egyptians and even Chinese, according to analysts.

There is no doubt that the Assad regime is odious and the human rights records of the Russian and Chinese governments who support it leave much to be desired. But sometimes the choice isn’t between bad guys and good guys. It’s between bad guys and even worse guys. The West should not so quickly dismiss Russian and Chinese fears that the Islamist insurgency in Syria could spread to their countries. In fact, we should have similar concerns.

After 9/11, there was an opportunity for the major powers in the world-some democratic and some not-to set aside differences and work together to address a threat they all face to some extent or another. Unfortunately, that opportunity was largely missed. Now, that lack of cooperation and understanding shows up in places like Syria where our divergent goals are likely going to make things more dangerous for all of us in the long run.