Thursday, February 25, 2010

Decline of Empire

Some time ago I was acquainted with Chalmers Johnson via a YouTube video. I requested some of his books and just recently began one of them entitled Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. The premise of the book is that America's military and economic empire has led to the kinds of unintended consequences that the CIA refers to as "blowback." In this theory, events like 9/11 are blowback for America's policies in the Middle East.

Interestingly, Johnson argues in Blowback that the American empire is more analagous to the Soviet Empire than other Empires, such as Rome and Britain.

"I do not believe that America's "vast array of strategical commitments" were made in past decades largely as the result of attempts to exploit other nations for economic gain or simply to dominate them politically and militarily. Although the United States has in the past engaged in imperialist exploitation of other nations, particularly in Latin America, it has also tried in various ways to liquidate many such commitments. The roots of American "imperial overstretch" today are not the same as those of past empires. Instead they more closely resemble those that brought down the Soviet Union.

Many Americans do not care to see their country's acts, policies, or situations compared with the Soviet Union's; some condemn such a comparison because it commits the alleged fallacy of "moral equivalence." They insist that America's values and institutions are vastly more humane than those of Stalin's Russia. I agree. Throughout the years of the Cold War, the United States remained a functioning democracy, with rights for its citizens unimaginable in the Soviet context (even if its more recent maintenance of the world's largest prison population suggests that it should be cautious in criticizing other nation's systems of criminal justice). Comparisons between the United States and the former Soviet Union are useful, however, because those two hegemons developed in tandem, challenging each other militarily, economically, and ideologically. In the long run, it may turn out that, like two scorpions in a bottle, they succeeded in stinging each other to death.

Chalmers Johnson, Blowback pages 31-32

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Al Franken, a Natural Politician

Many months ago I sent an email to Minnesota's two senators regarding the Enumerated Powers Act. The bill, as presented before Congress would require, "that every bill must specify its source of Constitutional authority."

Just today, I received a response from Senator Al Franken (I am one of the few that see no irony in a comedian's membership in the U.S. Senate). To Franken's credit, the letter is surprisingly long and interacts with the substance of the bill. However, the response is typical of Washington politicians statist ambitions, lack of accountability, and casual delegation of responsibility. Note especially the text in bold in his response:

Dear Mr.,

Thank you for contacting me about S. 1310, the Enumerated Powers Act. I appreciate you sharing your views on this legislation and regret the delay in responding.

As you know, S. 1310 would compel Congress to cite the specific constitutional authority for every law enacted. I understand your concern regarding Congress overreaching its constitutionally-granted authority, and I agree that when Congress does so there should be consequences. That being said, since the ratification of the Constitution, and since the Supreme Court's ruling in Marbury v. Madison in 1803, it has been the role of federal courts to interpret the constitutional authority of Congress, and to exercise judicial review of misuses of that authority.

In contrast, members of Congress are elected to represent the will of the people -- not to cast legal judgment on their views and initiatives. Regular congressional intervention into the sphere of constitutional interpretation may be impractical and could upset the delicate balance of powers that the framers of the Constitution intended.

After its introduction on June 22, 2009, S. 1310 was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, where it is pending further review. While I am not a member of this committee, please be assured I will keep your thoughts in mind should the legislation come before the full Senate for a vote.

Again, thank you for contacting me, and please don't hesitate to do so in the future regarding this or any other matter of concern to you.

Sincerely,

Al Franken


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Magic in Literature

Here is an excellent video of Doug Wilson and his son, Nate, discussing magic in literature. Note that Nate is the author of the excellent 100 Cupboards Trilogy.

Ask Doug - Magic in Literature from Daniel Foucachon on Vimeo.



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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Liquidating the Empire

Pat Buchanan has written a good piece on the need to reduce the nation's military budget. He writes:

"Indeed, how do conservatives justify borrowing hundreds of billions yearly from Europe, Japan and the Gulf states – to defend Europe, Japan and the Arab Gulf states? Is it not absurd to borrow hundreds of billion annually from China – to defend Asia from China? Is it not a symptom of senility to borrow from all over the world in order to defend that world?"

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Clueless Republicans

I've been trashing on Republicans on this blog for some time now. David Frum has just given me more fodder. Frum doesn't like that Ron Paul won the strawpoll at the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) over the weekend. So he took the time to write an anti-Paul piece aimed directly at Paul's insistence on commodity money.

Frum writes, "Imagine now if the gold standard were in operation today. The federal government would be scrambling to balance its budget in the midst of recession, cutting spending and raising taxes. Instead of pumping money into the economy, the Federal Reserve would be sucking money out. Priority 1 would not be creating and saving jobs, but preserving the nation's gold hoard."

Frum clearly does not understand that the government can do nothing to actively promote wealth. He describes the purpose of the Federal Reserve as "pumping money into the economy" and he even goes on to say argue that the government has the ability of "creating and saving jobs."

Frum was a speechwriter for George W. Bush. This should come as no surprise, as Bush too, was clueless. It is time to ignore establishment Republicans--they are an ignorant bunch that have contributed to the decline of America. It is time to support Ron Paul-like candidates--those who understand how we've gotten into this mess. But more importantly, it is time for America to repent and plead for mercy before our benevolent God, who forgives and exercises mercy.

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Wall Street's Bailout Hustle

Matt Taibbi has another good article concerning Goldman Sachs' and its enabling government. Yet another example of crony capitalism.

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An Outrage of Prohibition

Slate.com has a startling article concerning the United States' government poisoning of alcohol during the Prohibition era.

Here is a selection from the article:

"By mid-1927, the new denaturing formulas included some notable poisons—kerosene and brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone. The Treasury Department also demanded more methyl alcohol be added—up to 10 percent of total product. It was the last that proved most deadly.

The results were immediate, starting with that horrific holiday body count in the closing days of 1926. Public health officials responded with shock. "The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol," New York City medical examiner Charles Norris said at a hastily organized press conference. "[Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible."

This is the sort of barbarism the U.S. government is guilty of and that is nowhere spoken of. To believe contemporary government incapable of this sort of atrocity is utter naivete.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Middle Class Complicity

"In a highly developed society, the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going: the soldiers and police, teachers and ministers, administrators and social workers, technicians and production workers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, transport and communications workers, garbagemen and fireman. These people--the employed, the somewhat privileged--are drawn into alliance with the elite. They become the guards of the system, buffers between the upper and lower classes. If they stop obeying, the system falls."

The People's History of the United States: 1492 to the Present by Howard Zinn, page 649

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The American System

"The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history. With a country so rich in natural resources, talent, and labor power the system can afford to distribute just enough wealth to just enough people to limit discontent to a troublesome minority. It is a country so powerful, so big, so pleasing to so many of its citizens that it can afford to give freedom of dissent to the small number who are not pleased.

There is no system of control with more openings, apertures, leeways, flexibilities, rewards for the chosen, winning tickets in lotteries. There is none that disperses its controls more complexly through the voting system, the work situation, the church, the family, the school, the mass media--none more successful in mollifying opposition with reforms, isolating people from one another, creating patriotic loyalty.

One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another: small property owners against
the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and unskilled. These groups have resented one another and warred against one another with such vehemence and violence as to obscure their common position as sharers of leftovers in a very wealthy country.

Against the reality of that desperate, bitter battle for resources made scarce by elite control, I am taking the liberty of uniting those 99 percent as "the people." I have been writing a history that attempts to represent their submerged, deflected, common interest. To emphasize the commonality of the 99 percent, to declare deep enmity of interest with the 1 percent, is to do exactly what the governments of the United States, and the wealthy elite allied to them--from the Founding Fathers to now--have tried their best to prevent. Madison feared a "majority faction" and hoped the new Constitution would control it. He and his colleagues began the Preamble to the Constitution with the words, "We the People...," pretending that the new government stood for everyone, and hoping that this myth, accepted as fact, would ensure "domestic tranquility."

The pretense continued over the generations, helped by all-embracing symbols, physical or verbal: the flag, patriotism, democracy, national interest, national defense, national security. The slogans were dug into the earth of American culture like a circle of covered wagons on the western plain, from inside of which the white, slightly privileged American could shoot to kill the enemy outside--Indians or blacks or foreigners or other whites too wretched to be allowed inside the circle. The managers of the caravans watched at a safe distance, and when the battle was over and the field strewn with dead on both sides, they would take over the land, and prepare another expedition, for another territory.

The People's History of the United States: 1492 to the Present by Howard Zinn, page 646-647

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Big Government

"Big government had, in fact, begun with the Founding Fathers, who deliberately set up a strong central government to protect the interests of the bondholderes, the slave owners, the land speculators, the manufacturers. For the next two hundred years, the American government continued to serve the interests of the wealthy and powerful, offering millions of acres of free land to the railroads, setting high tariffs to protect manufacturers, giving tax breaks to oil corporations, and using its armed forces to suppress strikes and rebellions.

It was only in the twentieth century, especially in the thirties and sixties, when the government, beseiged by protets and fearful of the stability of the system, passed social legislation for the poor that political leaders and business executives complained about "big government."

The People's History of the United States: 1492 to the Present by Howard Zinn, page 637

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Imaginary Hobgoblins

Zinn understands the games politicians play to divert attention from their gross mishandling of government. He wrote this regarding the Clinton administration, but clearly the Republicans are just as good at the game as the Democrats:

"Those holding political power--whether Clinton or his Republican predecessors--had something in common. They sought to keep their power by diverting the anger of citizens to groups without the resources to defend themselves. As H.L. Mencken, the acerbic social critic of the 1920s, put it: 'The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.'

Criminals were among these hobgoblins. Also, immigrants, people on "welfare," and certain governments--Iraq, North Korea, Cuba. By turning attention to them, by inventing or exaggerating their dangers, the failures of the American system could be concealed.

Immigrants were a convenient object of attack, because as nonvoters their interests could be safely ignored. It was easy for politicians to play upon the xenophobia that has erupted from time to time in American history: the anti-Irish prejudices of the mid-nineteenth century; the continual violence against Chinese who had been brought in to work on the railroads; the hostility toward immigrants from eastern and southern Europe that led to the restrictive immigration laws of the 1920s.

The reform spirit of the sixties had led to an easing of restrictions on immigration, but in the nineties, Democrats and Republicans alike played on the economic fears of working Americans. Jobs were being lost because corporations were firing employees to save money ("downsizing") or moving plants out of the country to more profitable situations. Immigrants, especially the large numbers of coming over the southern border from Mexico, were blamed for taking jobs from citizens of the United States, for receiving government benefits, for causing higher taxes on American citizens."

The People's History of the United States: 1492 to the Present by Howard Zinn, page 634


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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Class Analysis: Marxian and Austrian Perspectives

Lest any of my readers begin to think I'm becoming a Marxist, here is an excellent article comparing Marxist and Libertarian class analysis. The two share similar critiques, but the conclusions are very different. The second half of the article is the most relevant to posts that I've been writing recently.

Here, David Osterfeld, writes,

"Class analysis itself did not originate with Marx, but can be traced back at least to Adam Smith. In contrast to the Marxian doctrine, which assumes that both market and government are coercive institutions, Smith and his followers maintained that while government, with its monopoly on the use of force, was coercive, the market was a voluntary institution. In the market, the only "power" is the power to offer an exchange, and since anyone may reject an offer, every exchange must be to the benefit of all parties involved."

Osterfeld notes that, "The key question is thus, who is likely to control government? The question is really an empirical one, and must be decided on a case-by-case basis. As a general rule, though, those most likely to control government are those with the easiest access, which usually means, as Adam Smith noted, the "rich and powerful."

I commend the article to you, but here is the excellent conclusion:

"The distinction between market and government has remained at the core of libertarian thought. Ludwig von Mises, for example, wrote that "our age is full of serious conflicts of economic group interests. But these conflicts are not inherent in the operation of an unhampered capitalist economy. They are the necessary outcome of government policies interfering with the operation of the market.… They are brought about by the fact that mankind has gone back to group privileges and thereby to a new caste system." While this distinction between harmony and conflict, between mutual benefit and the benefit of one individual or group at the expense of another, between market and government, is systematically ignored in Marxian analysis, it is at the center of libertarian class analysis. It is unfortunate that class analysis is so closely associated with Marxism, for it has meant that libertarian class analysis has been largely ignored. This is unfortunate, since it is a sophisticated and powerful tool for analyzing society."

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Television: Agent of Truth Decay

Doug Groothuis' essay Television: Agent of Truth Decay is available for free, online. The essay is from his book, Truth Decay.

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Corruption and Exploitation

Zinn does not aim merely at "the capitalists" in his critique. They are the dominant target, but not the only target. He quotes a "press dispatch from Atlantic City, New Jersey, the fashionable seaside resort, in the summer of 1910:"

"Engaged in a game of bathing suit baseball with President Sam Gompers, Secretary Frank Morrison and other leaders of the A.F. of L. on the beach this morning, John Mitchell, former head of the mine workers' union, lost a $1000 diamond ring presented to him by his admirers after the settlement of the big Pennsylvania coal strike. Capt. George Berke, a veteran life guard, found the ring, whereupon Mitchell peeled a hundred dollar bill from a roll he carried in his pocket and handed it to the captain as a reward for his find."

The People's History of the United States: 1492 to the Present by Howard Zinn, page 329

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Purpose of Education

Howard Zinn frequently writes about the manner in which the nation's elite have created support structures to maintain the cultural status quo. He recognizes that these systems are not controlled in an imperial manner, but are reactive and dynamic.

The primary purpose of society, in Zinn's view, is to maintain the elite as elite, to compromise only when necessary, and to create the illusion of common cause with the middle class in their oppression of the lower class. This is obviously a Marxist position, yet it is not without justification. American history, at least, is rife with class struggle. Zinn demonstrates this clearly in the book. One may debate the appropriateness of the class struggle, the morality of it, but not the reality of it.

One of the most remarkable things about reading The People's History of the United States is the fact that one cannot easily recall contemporary riots and demonstrations that have been rampant throughout American history.

"Control in modern times requires more than force, more than law. It requires that a population dangerously concentrated in cities and factories, whose lives are filled with cause for rebellion, be taught that all is right as it is. And so, the schools, the churches, the popular literature taught that to be rich was a sign of superiority, to be poor a sign of personal failure, and that the only way upward for a poor person was to climb into the ranks of the rich by extraordinary effort and extraordinary luck...

... Rockefeller was a donor to colleges all over the country and helped found the University of Chicago. Huntington, of the Central Pacific, gave money to two Negro colleges, Hampton Institute and Tuskegee Institute. Carnegie gave money to colleges and libraries. Johns Hopkins was founded by a millionaire merchant, and millionaires Cornelius Vanderbilt, Ezra Cornell, James Duke, and Leland Stanford created universities in their own names.

The rich, giving part of their enormous earnings in this way, became known as philanthropists. These education institutions did not encourage dissent; they trained the middlemen in the American system--the teachers, doctors, lawyers, administrators, engineers, technicians, politicians--those who would be paid to keep the system going, to be loyal buffers against trouble.

In the meantime, the spread of public school education enabled the learning of writing, reading, and arithmetic for a whole generation of workers, skilled and semi-skilled, who would be the literate labor force of the new industrial age. It was important that these people learn obedience to authority. A journalist observer of the schools in the 1890s wrote: "The unkindly spirit of the teacher is strikingly apparent; the pupils, being completely subjugated to her will, are silent and motionless, the spiritual atmosphere of the classroom is damp and chilly."

The People's History of the United States: 1492 to the Present by Howard Zinn, pages 262-263

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The Purpose of the State

Howard Zinn again demonstrates that both the Republican and Democrat parties agree on more than they disagree. This manifests itself differently in our era, but the collusion and manipulation is still the same.

"... the government of the United States was behaving almost exactly as Karl Marx described a capitalist state: pretending neutrality to maintain order, but serving the interests of the rich. Not that the rich agreed among themselves; they had disputes over policies But the purpose of the state was to settle upper-class disputes peacefully, control lower-class rebellion, and adopt policies that would further the long-range stability of the system. The arrangement between Democrats and Republicans to elect Rutherford Hayes in 1877 set the tone. Whether Democrats or Republicans won, national policy would not change in any important way.

When Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, ran for President in 1884, the general impression in the country was that he opposed the power of monopolies and corporations, and that the Republican party, whose candidate was James Blaine, stood for the wealthy. But when Cleveland defeated Blaine, Jay Gould, wired him: "I feel... that the vast business interests of the country will be entirely safe in your hands." And he was right.

One of Cleveland's chief advisers was William Whitney, a millionaire and corporation lawyer, who married into the Standard Oil fortune and was appointed Secretary of the Navy by Cleveland. He immediately set about to create a "steel navy," buying the steel at artificially high prices from Carnegie's plants. Cleveland himself assured industrialists that his election should not frighten them: "No harm shall come to any business interest as the result of administrative policy so long as I am President... a transfer of executive control from one party to another does not mean any serious disturbance of existing conditions."

The presidential election itself had avoided real issues; there was no clear understanding of which interests would gain and which would lose if certain policies were adopted. It took the usual form of election campaigns, concealing the basic similarity of the parties by dwelling on personalities, gossip, trivialities. Henry Adams, an astute literary commentator on that era, wrote to a friend about the election:

We are here plunged in politics funnier than words can express. Very great issues are involved....But the amusing thing is that no one talks about real interests. By common consent they agree to let these alone. We are afraid to discuss them. Instead of this the press is engaged in a most amusing dispute whether Mr. Cleveland had an illegitimate child and did or did not live with more than one mistress.

In 1887, with a huge surplus in the treasury, Cleveland vetoed a bill appropriating $100,000 to give relief to Texas farmers to help them buy seed grain during a drought. He said: "Federal aid in such cases... encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character." But that same year, Cleveland used his gold surplus to pay off wealthy bondholders at $28 above the $100 value of each bond--a gift of $45 million."

The People's History of the United States: 1492 to the Present by Howard Zinn, pages 258-259

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Christian Cultural Engagement

I quote Doug Wilson frequently enough here, that I hope you all have started reading his blog regularly. For those of you that do not, here is yet another great post regarding Christian cultural engagement.

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The Constitution

To most Americans the U.S. Constitution is perceived as a faultless document, that, were in followed, would lead to good governance and a restrained government. However, we must understand the historical context. Howard Zinn does so in his book The People's History of the United States: 1492 to the Present.

"...most of the makers of the Constitution had some direct economic interest in establishing a strong federal government: the manufacturers needed protective tariffs; the moneylenders wanted to stop the use of paper money to pay off debts; the land speculators wanted protection as they invaded Indian lands; slaveowners needed federal security against slave revolts and runaways; bondholders wanted a government able to raise money by nationwide taxation, to pay off those bonds."

The People's History of the United States: 1492 to the Present by Howard Zinn, pages 90-91

He doesn't say they were all influenced by these desires or motivations, but that by far, those that wrote and approved of the Constitution did so with their own personal interests represented in the document. My interest is not in discrediting the Constitution, per se, but to raise doubts about the integrity of human government in general. Let us not place our trust in documents or governments established by men, but in the King of the Nations. This may seem obvious, but conservatives and even many libertarians argue that if the Constitution were followed strictly, "everything would be okay." This is delusional and idolatrous.

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A Middle Class Ruled By The Upper Class

I am no Marxist, though I have earlier professed to sympathy with the Marxist class critique as expressed by anarcho-capitalist Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Hoppe argues that the rich are in positions to exploit the middle and lower classes through government power, creating a class struggle. While historian Howard Zinn is no anarcho-capitalist, he does apply this critique to pre-revolutionary America. His critique seems to apply, too, to contemporary America. It is evident, is it not, that it is upper-class America that rules America? Read Zinn, and it becomes apparent that little has changed:

"The Pennsylvania Journal wrote in 1756: 'The people of this province are generally of the middling sort, and at present pretty much upon a level. They are chiefly industrious farmers, artificers or men in trade; they enjoy and are fond of freedom, and the meanest among them thinks he has a right to civility from the greatest.' Indeed, there was a substantial middle class fitting that description. To call them "the people" was to omit black slaves, white servants, displaced Indians. And the term "middle class" concealed a fact long true about this country, that, as Richard Hofstadter said: 'It was... a middle-class society governed for the most part by its upper classes."

Those upper classes, to rule, needed to make concessions to the middle class, without damage to their own wealth or power, at the expense of slaves, Indians, and poor whites. This bought loyalty. And to bind that loyalty with something more powerful even than material advantage, the ruling roup found, in the 1760s and 1770s, a wonderfully useful device. That device was the language of liberty and equality, which could unite just enough whites to fight a Revolution against England, without ending either slavery or inequality."

The People's History of the United States: 1492 to the Present
by Howard Zinn, pages 57-58

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Doug Wilson's Theses on the Kindness of Christ

Doug Wilson has posted Theses on the Kindness of Christ on his blog. It is long, but well worth reading. It is full of biblical wisdom in practical matters of life as a Christian. It includes theses regarding Mammon, violence, sins and crimes, generosity, and mercy.


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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Alienated Residents

In David Bruce Hegeman's Plowing In Hope he comments on whether or not Christians are Pilgrims in this world.

While this is the way most English translations translate the Greek parepidemos, Hegeman argues for a different term. He modifies Augustine's Resident Aliens to Alienated Residents. He writes:

"We are grieved at the present state of affairs on our beloved earth and long and pray for its liberation from the curse and sin (Rom. 8:19ff; Lk 11:2). Our situation can be compared to a prince who is living in cognito in a rebel province belonging to his father, the king. This territory will one day be rightfully his, but right now the prince risks great harm from his insurgent neighbors if his true identity were ever to be revealed. Thus the prince would be an alien in his own country. We Christians find ourselves in a similar situation. As heirs of the promised inheritance (Gal. 3:27; Eph. 1:11, 6:3), we find ourselves in a world full of evil, sin, and misery. But we live with the hope that the rebels will be foribly removed from that earth (Mt. 13:41), and once it is renewed and refurnished, we will be returned to our home to live for ever and ever ing God's glorious presence." pages 86-87

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Free Speech and Corporate Speech

Last week I commented on the Supreme Court's decision to eliminate certain limitations on corporate free speech. Sheldon Richman of The Future of Freedom Foundation has written a more thorough response that I heartily agree with. I recommend the whole thing, which isn't that long. Here is his conclusion:

"Admittedly this is not the way the story is usually told. Business is thought to favor deregulation, while progressive forces favor enlightened government guidance. But in fact, big business (and a lot of small business too) would panic at the thought of thorough laissez faire — the end to all guarantees. The books of conservative writer Timothy Carney fully document this. Others have an interest in portraying business as pro–free markets because without the charade the public might catch on to the scam.

So here’s the dilemma: limits on free political speech for corporations and unions offend our sense of justice, but they will use free speech to pursue unjust ends. What shall we do?

There is only one answer. We must strip government of the power to dispense privileges to anyone. If we can pull that off, the problem of money in politics will evaporate."


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Logos School and New Saint Andrews

I've been doing a lot of reading on classical Christian education. I found this video on YouTube and thought I should share it, as I believe it is an example of what Christian education ought to be.



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