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Monthly Archives: October 2008

Free Market will Bail Out New York

To dig out of the hole, N.Y. must expand economic freedom
New York Daily News Op-Ed
By: Lawrence J. McQuillan, Ph.D
10.29.2008

New York Daily News (NY), October 29, 2008


The economic misery caused by the nation’s financial meltdown has hit New York especially hard. Since September 2007, the city’s financial sector has lost 13,400 jobs, according to the state Labor Department. An additional 65,000 financial jobs will be gone in New York and its suburbs by mid-2010, says BusinessWeek.

With Wall Street accounting for a quarter of New York City‘s salaries, the state stands to lose a boatload of tax revenue. That is horrible news for legislators, who are grappling with a projected $12.5 billion shortfall next year. The total budget deficit could reach a record $47 billion over the next four years.

State lawmakers are understandably searching for a way out of the wreckage and will no doubt make a number of painful budget cuts. But to put the Empire State’s economy back on track over the long term, lawmakers should instead focus their efforts on a bigger, broader goal: expanding economic freedom.

What is economic freedom? It’s the right of individuals to pursue their interests through voluntary exchange of private property under the rule of law.

2008 Report

On this score, New York has a lot of room to improve. For the third consecutive time, the Empire State landed dead last in the Pacific Research Institute/Forbes U.S. Economic Freedom Index, which ranks each of the 50 states according to its relative level of economic freedom.

What did New York do to deserve such an ignominious distinction? The state scored at the bottom in a number of categories because of its confiscatory tax rates, overbearing regulations on businesses and residents, out-of-control welfare spending, bloated state government and overlawyered legal climate.

When times were good on Wall Street, these policy faults escaped notice. Financial services companies bolstered state coffers with the taxes they paid on stellar profits. Tax increases on income and gasoline were swallowed with relative ease.

The excess cash allowed the government to spend lavishly. The state covers more than 5 million New Yorkers – 26% of the population – under Medicaid at a cost of more than $45 billion a year. New York spends nearly two-thirds more than the average state on each Medicaid enrollee.

The high tax rates needed to maintain such massive spending are not an option anymore. The state cannot hope to attract new businesses to replace the financial titans if it does not reform its crushing tax burden.

New York could also dig its way out of the financial doldrums by implementing common-sense legal reforms. The state suffered more than $16 billion in tort losses in 2006 alone. Sensing an environment favorable to lawsuits, more lawyers have flocked to New York since 2004 than to any other state. All these attorneys translate into high tort costs – only three states spend more on torts as a share of their economy than New York does.

That, in turn, translates into a climate that’s hostile to economic activity and job growth, costing the state needed tax revenue. Thriving businesses are critical to the state’s tax base; if businesses and jobs are not growing or leave the state altogether to avoid tort costs and the risks of meritless lawsuits, the government misses out on tax revenue it needs to fund the budget. Also, state and local governments pay out millions of dollars each year as defendants in tort lawsuits. Ultimately, taxpayers are on the hook for these tort costs and higher insurance premiums.

New York could put an end to the legal bloodletting by enacting meaningful reforms, such as monetary caps on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. Many parts of the state face a shortage of physicians, as doctors flee New York for less threatening environs.

With the collapse of the financial industry, there is no one left to bankroll New York’s out-of-control spending. Now the state’s unfriendliness toward rank-and-file businesses can no longer be ignored.

If lawmakers truly want to rescue New York’s economy, they must undertake bold reforms that will loosen regulatory and tort strangleholds and oppressive tax regimes now in place. Without such reforms, this financial crisis could mark the beginning of a long period of stagnation for New York’s economy.


McQuillan, Ph.D., is director of business and economic studies at the Pacific Research Institute.

 

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The Early Education of Our Next President


Fall 2008
(vol. 8, no. 4)

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

FEATURES:

By Peter Meyer

Not much in public schools

 


 

John McCain is a child of the thirties.We have yet to have a president who was born in that turbulent decade. Barack Obama is a child of the sixties, another decade yet to produce a president. One of them, Barack Obama, was awakened at four in the morning in Jakarta to study from a correspondence course; the other, John McCain, attended grade school in old airplane hangars. Both went on to elite private high schools.

Whether it is the image of Abraham Lincoln studying by log cabin candlelight or George Washington dutifully copying the Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation into his schoolboy notebooks, presidential schooling has long been a national fascination (see Figure 1).  

Today we have a graduate of Columbia College and Harvard Law (Obama) taking on a graduate of the Naval Academy and National War College (McCain). Harvard boasts seven presidents as alumni (including George W. Bush’s business degree); the Naval Academy, just one (Jimmy Carter). But it is the early schooling—how did they get there?—that is most fascinating. George Washington’s early education is remarkable for what is not known about it, but there is general agreement that if he had much formal education, it ended at about age 15. Teddy Roosevelt, said to have had an “uneven” education at home (strong in biology, French, and German but deficient in math, Latin, and Greek), graduated from Harvard magna cum laude. Harry Truman, the only president since 1897 who did not graduate from college, got up early too, at five in the morning, to practice piano.

Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson were largely self-taught; the majority of their successors attended public schools.

 

We might ponder the fact that neither John McCain nor Barack Obama had the experience of attending the public school down the street, standard fare for most Americans. Just how the two candidates’ early schooling informs their assumptions and beliefs about education reform is hard to know, but their stories provide an interesting window through which to view their policy beliefs (see sidebar).

Unique Men—In Similar Ways

After a grueling primary season this year—for the Democrats, at least—it seems in retrospect that there was something inevitable in the pairing of John McCain and Barack Obama as the two contenders for the presidency in 2008. Two distinct generations, two unique backgrounds, two very different worldviews: white/black, old/young, right/left.

John McCain is a child of the thirties (born in Panama, August 29, 1936), and more than one commentator has noted the fact that we have yet to have a president who was born in that turbulent decade. He grew up in the middle of a hellish war in which his father and grandfather were both fighting.

Obama is a child of the sixties (born in Hawaii, August 4, 1961, another decade yet to produce a president) and like McCain in the 1940s, though too young to call it his war, came of age in the middle of a hellish conflict.

McCain is like an old shoe, known to us since that heroic return in 1973 from five and a half years of captivity in Vietnam. Obama is the new sneaker, a little-known Illinois state legislator before he delivered an electrifying keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Just two years later (October 23, 2006) he graced the coveted cover of Time, with the provocative headline, “Why Barack Obama Could Be the Next President.”

Judging from their published memoirs, the early education of both men came mainly from what they were taught at home. If one goes by book titles—Dreams from My Father (Obama, 1995) and Faith of My Fathers (McCain, 1999)—Dad was key, but in fact both credit their mothers for much of their success. “What is best in me I owe to her,” says Obama about his mother, Ann, who died in 1995 at age 52 of ovarian cancer. John McCain calls his mother, Roberta, age 96 and still a presence on the campaign trail, his principal teacher, and much of the story of his early life, as he writes, is how “I became my mother’s son.”

Despite their book titles, both candidates in fact grew up missing their fathers. In Obama’s case, Barack Sr. left Hawaii (bound for Harvard) when his son was a baby; he didn’t return until Barack Jr. was in 5th grade, and then only for a four-week visit. For McCain the separation was more institutional, as McCain’s father, a Navy submariner, was gone for long periods of time, including most of World War II, when the future presidential candidate was just starting school. For both Obama and McCain, the “missing” fathers explain in part their unique early educational experiences.

 

Image of McCain in high school basketball uniform. McCain: “Mother’s Mobile Classroom”

The essential McCain is a warrior, or so his autobiography portrays him. “For two centuries, the men of my family were raised to go to war as officers in America’s armed services,” he writes.

One of his first memories is of a December day in 1941. He was just five and his family was standing on the front lawn of their house in New London, Connecticut, site of the Navy’s first submarine base, when a passing black car slowed down and the driver, a naval officer, rolled his window down and shouted at his father, “Jack, the Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor.” McCain’s father left immediately. “I saw very little of him for the next four years,” McCain writes.

Born in America’s Panama Canal Zone, where both his father and grandfather were stationed, John McCain’s life pattern was set almost immediately: at three months old he moved, thanks to his father’s transfer, to the submarine base in New London. The family relocated frequently to accommodate his father’s assignments. Though McCain says he went to more schools than he can remember in those early years, USA Today reports he “attended some 20 schools before Annapolis, where he graduated fifth from the bottom in 1958.”

“My mother often despaired over the quality of our education,” recalls McCain. “When asked today how her children were educated, she is apt to respond that we were ‘raised to be ignorant.’”

McCain calls the base schools “substandard.” Sometimes the schoolhouse was “nothing more than a converted aircraft hangar,” he writes. “The classes mixed children of varying ages. We might have one teacher on Monday and a different one on Tuesday. On other days, we lacked the services of any teacher at all.” Needless to say, he was “often required in a new school to study things I had already learned. Other times, the curriculum assumed knowledge I had not yet acquired.”

If the accommodations and scheduling were not idiosyncratic enough, the frequent moves, says McCain, were the “chief obstacle to a decent education.… As soon as I had begun to settle into a school, my father would be reassigned.” Though McCain says that such a “transient childhood” was simply a way of life, it was not a life lived by most Americans. “Seldom if ever did I see again the friends I left behind,” he says. (Years later he was accused at a candidate forum of being a carpetbagger by running for office in Arizona. “Listen, pal,” McCain shot back, “I spent 22 years in the Navy…. The place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.”) The moves also exacerbated a defensiveness about fitting in that in turn contributed to the young McCain’s lifelong bad-boy reputation. At each new school he made a point, he says, “to impress upon my classmates that I was not a person to suffer slights lightly” and “grew more determined to assert my crude individualism.” He was disciplined regularly, “often for fighting.”  

Not surprisingly, perhaps, McCain liked this early schooling “for the very quality that caused my parents to despair—its informality.” But he also admits to developing his own interest in literature. He spent the summer of 1946 with his widowed grandmother at her home, where he occupied a bedroom furnished with his father’s belongings, including a “substantial collection of the authors he had favored as a boy.” Those authors included Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Booth Tarkington. “I spent most of the summer reading one volume after another,” he says. The experience gave McCain a “lifelong love of reading.”

But in the end, McCain considered his “principal instructors” to be his family. His mother, especially, was “an imaginative and amusing educator.” The daughter of a successful oil wildcatter, Roberta Wright ran off to Tijuana to marry Jack McCain, then a young Navy ensign. “Society coed elopes with navy officer: Roberta Wright defies family,” ran a headline in the San Francisco Examiner at the time. As Time magazine reported, “Just 19, she brought her college textbooks on her honeymoon.”

Married 48 years (Jack McCain died in 1981), Roberta never complained about the long absences from her husband and would later comment on the Navy lifestyle, sounding remarkably like her presidential candidate son when he speaks of the teaching profession (see sidebar). “If you chose the Navy, you do what it requires. A lot of wives didn’t like that, and thankfully they left.”

What Would They Do for Education? Both Barack Obama and John McCain have outlined their campaign positions on education. It isn’t hard to trace the lines of Obama’s thinking back to Ann Dunham. The fact that his mother worked so hard to compensate for “inferior Indonesian schools,” writes Shelby Steele in A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win, may have instilled in Obama a belief that “momma…developed the academic skill upon which Obama’s successful life was built.” In fact, parental involvement is a theme of many of Obama’s speeches on education policy. “There is no program and no policy that can substitute for a parent who is involved in their child’s education from day one,” he told a Manchester, New Hampshire, audience in November 2007. “There is no substitute for a parent who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, make sure their children are in school on time, and help them with their homework after dinner. And I have no doubt that we will still be talking about these problems in the next century if we do not have parents who are willing to turn off the TV once in a while, and put away the video games, and read to their child. Responsibility for our children’s education has to start at home.”

The high standards are surely the legacy of a mother who woke her son up at four in the morning to study. This legacy helps explain Obama’s detailed (15-page) plan for education reform, which includes a “zero to five” program that gives Early Learning Challenge Grants, a quadrupling of Early Head Start spending, and “affordable and high-quality child care” to ease the burden on working families. For K–12 education, he proposes programs to “recruit math and science degree graduates” to teaching and “ensure that all children have access to a strong science curriculum at all grade levels,” more funding for “intervention strategies in middle school” for “teaching teams, parent involvement, mentoring, intensive reading and math instruction, and extended learning time”—all to address the “dropout crisis.” He wants a new Teacher Service Scholarship program to “cover four years of undergraduate or two years of graduate teacher education” and includes “alternative programs for mid-career recruits in exchange for teaching for at least four years in a high-need field or location.”

John McCain is a minimalist by comparison, and, in that sense, may be a product of his free-wheeling childhood schooling. On his web site, McCain offers no detailed plans for reform, but makes it clear that he is a supporter of school choice, home schooling, and No Child Left Behind (NCLB). “Public education should be defined as one in which our public support for a child’s education follows that child into the school the parent chooses,” says his campaign policy statement on education. “No Child Left Behind has focused our attention on the realities of how students perform against a common standard.” Asked by Essence magazine if fixing NCLB would be a priority, McCain replied, “Absolutely.” He will, his campaign web site says, “fight for the ability of all students to have access to all schools of demonstrated excellence, including their own homes.”

Obama speaks of “a new era of mutual responsibility,” but has little good to say about the era’s most formidable accountability tool. “No Child Left Behind has done more to stigmatize and demoralize our students and teachers in struggling schools than it has to marshal the talent and the determination and the resources to turn them around. That’s what’s wrong with No Child Left Behind, and that’s what we must change in a fundamental way.”

Though McCain is careful to praise teachers—he called it “an underfunded profession” in an address at his Episcopal High alma mater last April—he does not shy from tough talk about accountability. He advocates merit pay “for the best of them” and encourages those who have “lost their way…to find another line of work.” He cites the need to “shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower parents with choice, remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward superior teachers, and have a fair, but sure process to weed out incompetents…. Parents should be able to send their children to the school that best suits their needs just as [wife] Cindy and I have been able to do, whether it is a public, private, or parochial school. The result will not be the demise of the public school system in America, but competition that will help make public schools accountable and as successful as they should be in a country as great and prosperous as ours.”

One has to search hard to find mention of “public school choice” in Barack Obama’s education plan. But it is there, under the heading, “School-family contracts.” These contracts, says the Obama plan, would include “information on tutoring, academic support, and public school choice options for students.”

So far, the candidates’ beliefs about how best to improve America’s schools, though seemingly rooted in personal experience, are also predictable, hewing close to established party lines. However, we have yet to hear a full and open discussion of education policy.

It is no wonder that McCain attributes most of his early learning—and his reputation as a “hell-raiser”—to “my mother’s mobile classroom.” Roberta used the many family relocations as teaching opportunities for her children (John has a younger brother and an older sister). “Field trips” included stops at the Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, and dozens of museums, churches, buildings designed by celebrated architects, natural phenomena, and the homes of historical figures all over the country. During one cross-country trip, Roberta brought along a couple of college students to help keep the kids in line. (She had reached “the end of her maternal patience,” McCain recalls, after throwing a thermos, while driving, at her disruptive son—“hitting me on the brow, knocking me temporarily mute, and denting the thermos.”)

McCain’s parents “resolved finally to put an end to our haphazard education” and enrolled the young John in Episcopal High School, a prep school in suburban Virginia, to give him some consistency in his schooling. And he arrived, he recalls, “with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder.”

Years later, still the disciplinarian, Roberta scolded her son after reading that he had sworn at his Hanoi captors. “He better never speak like that again,” she told a journalist, “or I’

 

Image of Obama in high school basketball uniform. Obama: The Importance of Race

One of Barack Obama’s first memories is sitting on his grandfather’s shoulders watching one of the Apollo mission astronauts arriving at Hickam Air Force Base, not far from Pearl Harbor. But the moral for Obama was very different than it would have been for warrior McCain. “With his black son-in-law and his brown grandson,” recalls Obama, “Gramps had entered the space age.” The moral was a racial one.

It is clear from Dreams from My Father, which is subtitled A Story of Race and Inheritance, that Obama sees much of his essence as that of a black man. “A black man with a funny name,” he would joke when first running for office, in the Illinois state senate. Racial identity is as much at the core of Obama’s political being as prisoner of war is John McCain’s trademark. “I ceased to advertise my mother’s race [white] at the age of twelve or thirteen,” he says, “when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites.” Obama goes out of his way to highlight his struggles with the issues of his race in his autobiography. “I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America,” he writes in Dreams.

Barack Obama’s first defining experience was being born to a white mother and black father, a biracial baby arriving at a time when America was seething with racial tension. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, whose parents were Kansas natives, was born on an army base during World War II and then moved with her parents to California, then to Texas and Washington where her father was pursuing furniture business opportunities, before landing in Honolulu. Ann met Barack Obama Sr., a native of Kenya who came to Hawaii to study economics, during a Russian class at the University of Hawaii.

It was fortunate, perhaps, as Obama writes in his memoir, that the Dunhams’ daughter brought a black man home in Hawaii, where “race-mixing” could happen without upsetting the established order “back home.”

The two married in 1961, when Ann was just 18; Barack Jr. was born later that year. But Barack Sr. had lofty goals and when he was accepted at Harvard to pursue a Ph.D. in economics, he went without his wife and young son—and he never sent for them. (Years later the future presidential candidate would learn that his father had had another wife, in Kenya.) His parents divorced when Barry, as he was known throughout his childhood, was very young. “I knew him only through the stories that my mother and grandparents told,” Obama would recall.

Thus began an early life with what the New York Times called “A Free-Spirited Wanderer Who Set Obama’s Path”—his mother. Even next to John McCain’s mobile classroom, Barack Obama’s early education was unconventional. “When I think about my mother,” Obama told Time magazine, “I think that there was a certain combination of being very grounded in who she was, what she believed in. But also a certain recklessness. I think she was always searching for something. She wasn’t comfortable seeing her life confined to a certain box.” Time writer Amanda Ripley concluded, “Obama is his mother’s son.”

Barry was six when his mother, herself just 24, bundled him up and flew to Jakarta, to join her second husband, Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian whom she had also met at the University of Hawaii. She had pre-enrolled Barry in a Catholic school, Franciscus Assisi Primary, but Obama says his education began on the drive to their new home: passing “men and women [who] stepped like cranes through the rice paddies, their faces hidden by their wide straw hats. A boy, wet and slick as an otter…on the back of a dumb-faced water buffalo, whipping its haunch with a stick of bamboo….” Their modest stucco house was at the end of a road that “turned from tarmac to gravel to dirt” and included a pet monkey that Soetoro, who was working as a geologist for the army, had bought for Barry as a welcoming gift. There were also chickens, ducks, two birds of paradise, a white cockatoo, two baby crocodiles (in a fenced-off pond), and a big yellow dog behind the house. The first day there, his stepfather bought a chicken from a street vendor who slew it on the spot. “The boy should know where his dinner is coming from,” said Soetoro.

Obama attended Franciscus Assisi for two years. He didn’t seem to mind that the other children called him “Negro,” remembers Bambang Sukoco, a former neighbor. When his stepfather got a better job, with an American oil company, the family (Ann gave birth to a daughter in 1970) moved to a nicer neighborhood and Barry was enrolled in a public school.

Ann also enrolled her son in a U.S. correspondence course and “five days a week she came into my room at four in the morning, force-fed me breakfast, and proceeded to teach me my English lessons for three hours before I left for school and she went to work.” When he protested, his mother simply said, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”

Ann Dunham had “confidence in needlepoint virtues,” says her son, but was, even in far-away Asia, fully engaged in the issues of the day. “She would come home with books on the civil rights movement, the recordings of Mahalia Jackson, the speeches of Dr. King.” She told him stories of black children forced to read books “handed down from wealthier white schools but who went on to become doctors and lawyers and scientists.” These stories chastened him about his reluctance to get up at four in the morning.

But there was no madrassa school, as a flurry of press reports had it in early 2007. The report was not that farfetched, given the fact that Obama had written in Dreams that “In Indonesia, I’d spent two years at a Muslim school” and had “Koranic studies.” That may have seemed exotic when Obama wrote about it in 1994, but in a post-9/11 world, attending a “Muslim school” sounded positively traitorous. “Are the American people ready for an elected president who was educated in a Madrassa as a young boy and has not been forthcoming about his Muslim heritage?” asked Insight magazine in January 2007. Since the question was attributed to Hillary Clinton’s camp, it was fair game for the national media for several news cycles. Eventually, Obama somewhat doused  the flames by explaining that in Indonesia, where the majority of people are Muslim, government schools were Muslim, but in demographics only. Obama was Christian and was sent to the government school because his mother and stepfather couldn’t afford the private schools.

Then, when Barry was only 10, his mother sent him back to Hawaii, to live with her parents and enroll at Punahou, an elite Honolulu prep school that his grandfather had arranged for him to attend. “This wrenching decision seemed to reflect how much she valued education,” writes Ripley in Time. His mother would be a peripatetic presence after that, coming and going as she earned a Ph.D. in anthropology and traveled through Southeast Asia for the Ford Foundation.  

His grandfather took him to the new school, for his first day of 5th grade, five blocks away. Obama recalls being in a daze that day, treated as an oddity. One girl asked if she could touch his hair (he said No); another student asked if his father ate people. Obama was considered a good student in the college preparatory program. His dad was smart, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and counseled his son, during a brief visit that first year at Punahou, not to be shy about doing well in school. “It’s in the blood, I think,” he told his son. Barack stayed with his white grandparents and at Punahou, graduating high school in 1979.

“He was always bright and personable; questioning without being arrogant about it,” recalls homeroom teacher Eric Kusunoki. “He was a good devil’s advocate.”  

Classmate Bobby Titcomb recalls, “I could see he was bound for bigger things…. He looked at the world more globally than the rest of us. There was something driven about him.”  

That could have come from his mother, who sent letters to her son, encouraging him. “It is a shame we have to worry so much about [grade point],” she wrote his senior year, “but you know what the college entrance competition is these days. Did you know that in Thomas Jefferson’s day, and right up through the 1930s, anybody who had the price of tuition could go to Harvard? … I don’t see that we are producing many Thomas Jeffersons nowadays. Instead we are producing Richard Nixons.” Though McCain and Obama are as different as any two men could be, their early education experiences were remarkably similar in one respect. They both had schooling journeys very different from those of most American children. How their experiences translate into policy will be the sequel that all education policymakers are waiting for.

 

Peter Meyer, former news editor of Life magazine, is a freelance writer and contributing editor of Education Next.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

The Word Became Flesh

By Eric Rauch

As promised, we are continuing our look at Andy Crouch’s new book, Culture Making. Although I made the statement last week that I believe Crouch’s book is probably the most important contribution to the cultural debate from a Christian perspective in a long time, this does not mean that it is without its weaknesses. One of these weaknesses is the near neglect of the doctrine of the Incarnation. As we will soon be gratefully leaving Halloween behind us and looking ahead to Thanksgiving and Christmas, I think a short excursion down a rabbit trail is in order. Not that the Incarnation is a rabbit trail off the cultural debate highway. In fact, without the Incarnation, the cultural debate itself would be a rabbit trail. Since Crouch seemed to miss the significance of the Incarnation in his book, we will discuss this crucial doctrine on our own.

 

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We do ourselves a great disservice every Advent season by not talking enough about the implications and the importance of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Although every Christian knows the details and the story of the first Christmas, they often tell it with such a romantic gloss that it loses its real power. Christians generally view the Incarnation as a means to an end of getting Jesus on the Earth so that He can then be crucified and resurrected. While it is true that the Gospel depends squarely on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so much so that the Apostle Paul calls it the “first importance” (1 Cor 15:3-4), we must never forget that Jesus had to become flesh first in order to be here to die and rise again. If we overlook the Incarnation and focus only on the “big three” of the Christian faith-namely Creation, Fall, Redemption—we run the risk of becoming gnostic in our thought and worship.

The Incarnation is one of God’s many inscrutable designs that “make foolish the wisdom of the world” (1 Cor. 1:18-31). The gnostic error can manifest itself in one of two ways: by over-emphasizing the spiritual, or by over-emphasizing the physical. Typically we think of Gnostics as being pious wishful thinkers, often summarized as being “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” But the social gospel crowd is every bit as Gnostic as its spiritual counterparts, with a different focus. Either of these two extremes falls into the “wisdom of the world” category. In His infinite grace and mercy—displayed most powerfully in the Incarnation—God proclaims loudly that it is not one or the other, but both. Robert Webber explains the situation well:

The biblical and historical understanding of the incarnation is that God becomes creation. He takes into himself all the effects of fallen humanity spread throughout his creation. He assumes all of creation in the womb of Mary in order to reverse the effects of sin and “bring it into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). The death and resurrection of God in Christ is then not a “release of the soul from its imprisonment to the material realm” (as Gnostics and the new spirituality assert) but a second act of creation, the redemption of the whole created order. Now, as Paul states, “the whole creation [is] groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom 8:22). That is, the whole creation has been “born again” so to speak, and now waits for its final deliverance. The whole creation, from the perspective of the Christian narrative, is pregnant and awaiting redemption.[1]

Webber rightly understands the importance of the Incarnation as it pertains to the Christian responsibility to make and take dominion of the world. God did not only create the world as a “thing,” He became a part of it Himself, He indwelt His creation. But Webber misses the point as well by constantly pointing his readers back to the Garden as the ideal that God will “recreate.” The progression of the Gospel in the world and the victory of the “children of God” does not lead them back to a Garden but onward to a city. Crouch does good work in Culture Making explaining the significance of cities as cultural epicenters and it is highly important that we don’t miss the fact that the Bible ends in a city, the New Jerusalem, not a garden. Christ’s Bride is progressing, not regressing. We should not be following Joni Mitchell, looking for a path “back to the Garden,”[2] but following Christian and Hopeful to the Celestial City.  Most Christians do not see the point in cultural renewal and restoration because they do not understand the importance of the Incarnation. As we approach the Christmas season, pastors would do well to teach their congregations about this most crucial Christian doctrine, and how it directly affects their lives, their families, their communities, and their churches. Only by recapturing the sheer awesomeness of the Incarnation can individual Christians and churches be armed to make a forward advance to the City of God.


[1] Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008), 75-76. (Emphasis in original.)

[2] Lyrics from the song “Woodstock,” made popular by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. http://www.lyricsfreak.com/j/joni+mitchell/woodstock_20075381.html

 
 

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A Perfect Storm

Townhall.com Columnist
 
by Thomas Sowell

Some elections are routine, some are important and some are historic. If Senator John McCain wins this election, it will probably go down in history as routine. But if Senator Barack Obama wins, it is more likely to be historic– and catastrophic.

Once the election is over, the glittering generalities of rhetoric and style will mean nothing. Everything will depend on performance in facing huge challenges, domestic and foreign.

Performance is where Barack Obama has nothing to show for his political career, either in Illinois or in Washington.

Policies that he proposes under the banner of “change” are almost all policies that have been tried repeatedly in other countries– and failed repeatedly in other countries.

Politicians telling businesses how to operate? That’s been tried in countries around the world, especially during the second half of the 20th century. It has failed so often and so badly that even socialist and communist governments were freeing up their markets by the end of the century.

The economies of China and India began their take-off into high rates of growth when they got rid of precisely the kinds of policies that Obama is advocating for the United States under the magic mantra of “change.”

Putting restrictions on international trade in order to save jobs at home? That was tried here with the Hawley-Smoot tariff during the Great Depression.

Unemployment was 9 percent when that tariff was passed to save jobs, but unemployment went up instead of down, and reached 25 percent before the decade was over.

Higher taxes to “spread the well around,” as Obama puts it? The idea of redistributing wealth has turned into the reality of redistributing poverty, in countries where wealth has fled and the production of new wealth has been stifled by a lack of incentives.

Economic disasters, however, may pale by comparison with the catastrophe of Iran with nuclear weapons. Glib rhetoric about Iran being “a small country,” as Obama called it, will be a bitter irony for Americans who will have to live in the shadow of a nuclear threat that cannot be deterred, as that of the Soviet Union could be, by the threat of a nuclear counter-attack.

Suicidal fanatics cannot be deterred. If they are willing to die and we are not, then we are at their mercy– and they have no mercy. Moreover, once they get nuclear weapons, that is a situation which cannot be reversed, either in this generation or in generations to come.

Is this the legacy we wish to leave our children and grandchildren, by voting on the basis of style and symbolism, rather than substance?

If Barack Obama thinks that such a catastrophe can be avoided by sitting down and talking with the leaders of Iran, then he is repeating a fallacy that helped bring on World War II.

In a nuclear age, one country does not have to send troops to occupy another country in order to conquer it. A country is conquered if another country can dictate who rules it, as the Mongols once did with Russia, and as Osama bin Laden tried to do when he threatened retaliation against places in the United States that voted for George W. Bush. But he didn’t have nuclear weapons to back up that threat– yet.

America has never been a conquered country, so it may be very hard for most Americans even to conceive what that can mean. After France was conquered in 1940, it was reduced to turning over some of its own innocent citizens to the Nazis to kill, just because those citizens were Jewish.

Do you think our leaders wouldn’t do that? Not even if the alternative was to see New York and Los Angeles go up in mushroom clouds? If I were Jewish, I wouldn’t bet my life on that.

What the Middle East fanatics want is not just our resources or even our lives, but our humiliation first, in whatever sadistic ways they can think of. Their lust for humiliation has already been repeatedly demonstrated in their videotaped beheadings that find such an eager market in the Middle East.

None of this can be prevented by glib talk, but only by character, courage and decisive actions– none of which Barack Obama has ever demonstrated.

 

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Taxing Times

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

by Thomas Sowell

Chief Justice John Marshall said it all in one sentence: “The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

It is not the money that is taxed away that is destroyed. What is destroyed is the wealth that does not get produced in the first place, because high taxes make its production not worthwhile.

Those who are receptive to Senator Barack Obama’s plan to increase taxes on “the rich” seem not to understand that the issue is the nation’s loss of wealth. Today, wealth can leave the country when heavy taxes threaten it– instantly, in an age of electronic financial transfers– and create jobs and economic growth overseas, instead of at home.

The two months between the time of a presidential election and the time when the new president takes office is an eternity in terms of how much money can be transferred out of the country electronically before any new high-tax laws can be enacted.

Like so much that is said glibly by Barack Obama, raising taxes on “the rich” has serious– and potentially disastrous– implications for the whole country that have been ignored amid the political euphoria.

Moreover, like so much that is proposed under the magic mantra of “change,” it is something that has been tried before in many countries and failed before in many countries.

Much wealth from Third World countries flows out to richer countries like Switzerland or the United States, where it is safer from confiscation. Jack up the capital gains tax rate in the United States and more Americans can be expected to send their capital elsewhere.

That means sending jobs elsewhere, so that even people with no capital to invest lose employment opportunities.

Economists have trouble determining how many people are affected by a tax increase because those affected extend far beyond those who write the checks to pay the government.

Taxes on businesses can get passed along to consumers, in whole or in part, even though it is only the business that writes the check to the government.

Payroll taxes or government-mandated employee benefits may be paid for directly by the employer, but these costs reduce the value of an employee to the employer. If these costs add up to $10,000, for example, employers bidding for labor may bid $10,000 less in salary than they would have otherwise.

As in other cases, who writes the checks does not tell you who really pays the costs, since the worker is now $10,000 worse off. The idea that you can single out one segment of society to be taxed or mandated, for the benefit of the rest of society, is reminiscent of a San Francisco automobile dealer’s sign: “We cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you.”

The economy is not a zero-sum game where someone gains what others lose. The whole economy can lose when ill-considered policies gain political popularity and stifle economic growth.

People who do not own a single share of corporate stock can still lose big time when capital gains taxes are raised– not only because jobs can follow capital out of the country, but also because millions of working people’s pension plans own corporate stock, and those people’s retirement incomes will depend on the value of those stocks, which is reduced by capital gains taxes.

One of the biggest taxes is one that is not even called a tax — inflation. When the government spends money that it creates, it is transferring part of the value of your money to themselves. It is quiet taxation but often heavy taxation, falling on everyone, no matter how low their incomes might be.

By the end of the 20th century, a $100 bill would not buy as much as a $20 bill would buy in the middle of that century. For people who saved cash, inflation amounted to an 80 percent tax. For others, it was an 80 percent tax minus whatever cumulative interest or dividends they received on the money they invested.

Given the staggering cost of the government’s financial bailouts, there is no way that Barack Obama’s grandiose spending plans can be carried out without inflation.

When politicians start talking about taxing “the rich,” remember the old saying: “Send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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America is a Christian Nation

Liberals Agree

By Eric Rauch

Christians have long maintained that the First Amendment of the Constitution-Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion-is a reference to Christian denominations, and not a blanket statement about a freedom from religion. The framers saw the tendency toward a church and state intermarriage, especially with the Anglican Church in England, and wanted no part of that with the new colonies. According to the First Amendment, Congress was to make no law that established one Christian denomination over another, as it had in England. Liberals have long argued against this understanding because they believe America was founded to be a neutral society with respect to religion and certainly not a Christian nation. But a recent commentary written by Michael McGough gives away the farm for the liberal understanding of the so-called “establishment clause.”

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McGough’s main intent in his article is to be critical of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for ecumenical comments that he made in his dissenting opinion in McCreary County v. ACLU. Because “Scalia is generally regarded as an ‘originalist’-a believer that the Constitution should be interpreted from an 18th century point of view,”1 he is apparently never allowed to use the prevailing logic of the majority opinion to exemplify his own point. McGough labels Scalia’s statements that “97.7% of all believers are monotheistic” and “believe the Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God, and are divine prescription for a virtuous life” as “convenient.”2 Scalia understands, because of his “originalism,” that a case cannot be argued by an appeal to the majority view. McGough understands this too, because he takes Scalia to task for doing it. He doesn’t, however, take Justice Souter to task for arguing in the majority opinion that “we are centuries away from…the treatment of heretics in early Massachusetts, but the divisiveness of religion in current public life is inescapable.”3 If Scalia cannot appeal to present-day truths, than neither should Souter.

In order to show just how “convenient” Justice Scalia’s argument is, McGough must incorporate some “convenient” arguing himself. McGough favorably quotes Justice John Paul Stevens to prove his point.

But Stevens turned “originalism” back onto Scalia. “The original understanding of the type of ‘religion’ that qualified for constitutional protection under the Establishment Clause,” he wrote, “likely did not include those followers of Judaism and Islam who are among the preferred ‘monotheistic’ religions Justice Scalia has embraced in his McCreary County opinion. The inclusion of Jews and Muslims inside the category of constitutionally favored religions surely would have shocked Chief Justice Marshall.”4

McGough and Stevens make the fatal flaw here. By demolishing the ecumenical hypothesis of Scalia and understanding the Constitution as an “originalist,” they come to the conclusion that America was indeed established as a Christian nation.  They believe that Chief Justice Marshall would be shocked at the notion of including Jews and Muslims under the context of the First Amendment. Why? Because the “establishment clause” was written for the sole purpose of preventing Congress from elevating one Christian denomination over another. By attempting to show Scalia’s lack of logical discernment, McGough and Stevens unwittingly prove that America was, in fact, founded as one nation under the God of the Bible. McGough digs his hole deeper by continuing:

Scalia attempted a riposte in his Van Orden dissent, saying that Stevens’ argument created “a cloud of obfuscating smoke.” But even if some of the framers of the 1st Amendment would have grudgingly included Jewish Americans among those protected by the amendment, it’s highly unlikely that they would have included Muslims. (In his plurality opinion in the Texas case, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist quotes a delegate to North Carolina’s ratification convention who would have extended religious freedom to “Pagans and Mahometans,” but that is arguably the exception that proves Stevens’ rule.)5

Since McGough believes this to be the exception, then he believes it is undeniable that America is a Christian nation. Since America is a Christian nation, the posting of the Ten Commandments should be allowed everywhere, even government property. McGough has done us a great service by pointing out the ‘faulty logic’ of Justice Scalia-he makes Scalia’s point that much stronger.


1 http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-mcgough4jul04,0,1116845.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions

2 ibid

3 ibid

4 ibid

5 ibid

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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All the Bible for All of Life

A New Year’s Resolution
By Gary DeMar

 


“For the Christian, the construction of a worldview was comprehensive enough to embrace all of life with the Bible being the governing instrument that gives meaning and direction to areas of discovery like science, politics, economics, and law. No area was excluded.”


 

Many Christians approach life as if it is made of bits and pieces of unrelated reality. They struggle to see the relationship between seemingly contrasting categories. In fact, Christians often have been taught that the Bible addresses exclusively spiritual issues while some other standard should be used to govern how we should think about secular matters such as law, economics, politics, education, and business. This type of thinking might lead a businessman or scientist into believing that he is involved in “secular work” while a minister or missionary is engaged in “full-time Christian service.” Under such a system, religion would be kept out of anything that is not directly related to church work and the Sunday morning worship hour. This is not the biblical view.

 

 

Both [John] Calvin and [Martin] Luther insisted that “secular” vocations were as important as “religious callings” and that it is possible to serve God in any honest and useful job. Calvinism encouraged diligent work and thrifty habits in worldly duties as a way of promoting the general welfare and glorifying God. This “Protestant ethic” was especially endorsed by Puritanism and applied to scientific work. This was reinforced by attitudes of self-restraint, simplicity and diligence. The study of nature was divinely sanctioned since it would reveal God’s handiwork and exemplify orderly activity. The Puritans believed science could work for the glory of God and the benefit of society.1

 

For the Christian, the construction of a worldview was comprehensive enough to embrace all of life with the Bible being the governing instrument that gives meaning and direction to areas of discovery like science, politics, economics, and law. No area was excluded. This included the intellectual life (what a person believed was true about himself and his place in history); the physical (how a person treated or mistreated his body by eating, sleeping, and exercising); the social (how he interacted with friends and enemies, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak); the economic (why he worked and how he spent his wages); and the moral (what ethical guidelines and obligations directed his thinking about justice and issues such as abortion and euthanasia).2

 

 

The Puritans were famous for attempting to develop a comprehensive biblical worldview. They applied Scripture to work, marriage and sex, money, family, church and worship, education, politics, social ethics, and social action. “Puritanism was a movement in which the Bible was central to everything.”3

 

 

The early Puritans demonstrated their belief in a comprehensive biblical worldview in the educational institutions they developed. Harvard College, founded in 1636, six years after the arrival of the British Puritans, had as its purpose the following: “Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore lay Christ at the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.” There was no true knowledge unless a student compared it with the testimony of Christ in the Bible.

 

An example of a Christian who worked to apply the Bible beyond the narrow confines of Christian piety was Cotton Mather (1663-1728). In fact, Mather saw the development of scientific discovery as an outgrowth of piety. He received his M.A. from Harvard at age 18 and joined his father in his Boston pastorate. He was widely regarded as the most brilliant man in New England. He wrote nearly 500 books and was a Fellow of the Royal Society. Scientist as well as pastor, he successfully introduced smallpox inoculation during the 1721 epidemic, and had his house bombed for his trouble. Mather “did not share the medieval belief that this world does not matter.”4 For Mather and others like him, a worldview that had God and the Bible at its center was the only worldview that could make sense of the world.

 

As we are about to embark on a new year in a new millennium, our thoughts should turn to how God’s Word can and should impact all of life. This means thinking multi-generational. The Bible commands us to “disciple the nations” (Matt. 28:18-20). This means more than getting people saved for the next life; it includes getting them saved–”made whole” in every way–for this life as well.


1    Joseph Spradley, “A Christian View of the Physical World,” in Arthur Holmes, ed., The Making of a Christian Mind: A Christian World View and the Academic Enterprise (Downers Grove: IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 68.

2    W. Andrew Hoffecker, “Preface: Perspective and Method in Building a World View,” Building a Christian World View: God, Man, and Knowledge, 2 vols (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1986), 1:ix-x.

3    Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/Academie, 1986), 13.

4    Gordon W. Jones, “Introduction,” in Cotton Mather, The Angel of Bethesda: An Essay Upon the Common Maladies of Mankind (Barre, MA: Barre Publishers, [1724] 1972), xi.


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