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September 10, 2014

Launch of Chapman's News and Ideas

Next week, I hereby report with some excitement and a bit of embarrassment, will see the re-launch of Discovery's Center on Civic Leadership as Discovery's Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership. Hans Zeiger will continue to play a lead role.

I appreciate being so honored by my colleagues and intend to do all I can to support the center's mission. Discovery News has let me provide my views on current Discovery programs and related national and international affairs. It now is being re-christened, too, as a site called Chapman's News and Ideas. I will be the gatekeeper, but I hope to encourage a number of other Discovery fellows and friends to participate.

The site will continue to flag--to anticipate--news developments and to identify ideas that can make a difference to our form of representative government and to America's standing in the world. Some of these ideas are mine, derived from my career in local, state, national and international affairs. But many will be the amalgamation of  others' insights that Discovery wants to promote and to show the connections among Discovery's varied programs--from the Center's main topics of citizen leadership, to science and culture, bioethics, economics (wealth, poverty and morality), education and foreign policy--through the connective Discovery Institute theme of "purpose, creativity and innovation."

Thanks for your support and I look forward to seeing you over at Chapman's News & Ideas.

We don't have enough staff to edit a comments section for the site, but feel free to express your thoughts to me at

West Readies Energy Squeeze of Russia

Plans for squeezing an aggressive Russia on its key asset and geopolitical strength--energy--should include more than limits on the minor sales of Russian gas in Europe. The European Union and the US today made clear that these limited energy sanctions are in readiness, pending negotiations between the Kremlin and Kiev. Unless Ukraine's beleaguered and nearly abandoned government gets more support from Europeans and America, it may concede territory in supposedly Russian-speaking regions of East Ukraine, along with Crimea. So NATO's relatively modest energy threat is meant to strengthen Ukraine's negotiating position, without unduly alarming Russian premier Vladimir Putin.

But NATO's threat ultimately is still too little, too late. Cutting back on gas imports in situations where the European customers will not get seriously hurt won't impress anyone, especially Mr. Putin.

But perhaps behind the scenes, NATO is discussing steps that really could cause the Russians heartburn. Here are some:

First, let the U.S. announce it will expedite shipping of liquid natural gas to Europe. Here is one place the President can issue an Executive Order and get action without partisan controversy--and get action relatively fast. Shipping of liquid natural gas will take time, but at least the Russians will see real U.S. determination for a change.

Second, the U.S. should reduce its own petroleum imports by opening up fracking on U.S. federal lands and clearing the way for the Keystone Pipeline. Again, Executive Orders could do the job quickly. These actions would help lower petroleum prices for US consumers, and simultaneously lower petrol profits for Russia (and, by the way, Venezuela). Even announcing such orders would send powerful signals to world markets.

Third, Germany should reverse its decision to get out of nuclear power. The danger of a Fukishima kind of nuclear accident is fanciful. The danger of a gas cutoff from Russia, in contrast, is all too real. At present, Angela Merkel pretends to share the popular fear of nuclear power in her country. But a leader is expected to lead public opinion, at least some of the time, and not just pander to it. If Germans don't don't want Russians on their border again, they might strive more realistically to counter Russian takeover efforts in the old Soviet sphere.

Continue reading "West Readies Energy Squeeze of Russia" »

September 1, 2014

The Hobbit Party, by Witt, Richards

J. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings had political messages (and economic messages, and cultural messages, etc.) that contributed, if subtly, to making these enormously popular books--and the films based on them--among the most influential and best loved works of art of the past century. However, the didactic back-story has not been well explored: until now.

Two Discovery Institute fellows, Jay W. Richards and Jonathan Witt, are authors of The Hobbit Party, coming out this time next month. Prepare for it to start appearing in book clubs, cocktail party banter and maybe debates.

I have not read the book yet, obviously, but I know that both authors think of The Shire less as a place than a frame of mind and a kind of culture. On semi-rural Vashon Island, off Seattle in Puget Sound, this weekend, I met with one of the people who is mentioned in the book. He does not have large hairy feet, but he does have a way of life that meets the criteria of virtue, good spirits and hard work that Tolkien had in mind. I would have said so myself, but Richards and Witt beat me to it.

Continue reading "The Hobbit Party, by Witt, Richards" »

August 21, 2014

James Foley Likely Was a Martyr

Serious faith is not talked about on mainstream television very often, so when the parents of James Foley, who was beheaded by ISIS, held a press conference in Rochester, N.H., faith was not a theme the media emphasized. There was however coverage of the parents' statement that the many prayers for James' safety were appreciated, as he had noted himself when in a tight situation earlier in Libya. That led me to wonder what else was said.

Thee truth seems to be that the Foley family are devout Catholics and have had the active involvement of their church parish in supporting them through the long ordeal of son Jim's captivity and now, violent death.

It was decided not to stress religious faith during their son's captivity, for fear, one supposes, that it would give ISIS a further reason to kill him. But more is coming out now. It is significant, perhaps, that Pope Francis made a personal call of sympathy to the family.

Continue reading "James Foley Likely Was a Martyr" »

Education Idea of Gorton's Gets a New Look

Our friend and Discovery Institute board member, former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton, had a number of good ideas while in Congress (and since) that deserve fresh attention.
Block granting about half of the funds administered to the states by the Department of Education is one of them, as columnist Danny Westneat observes.

August 20, 2014

A Just War: Rescue the Christians of Iraq and Syria

Catholics and other Christians often appeal to the Just War doctrine of St. Augustine to decide whether force is justified in combatting armed evil. Many Christians have the de facto position of "Never." But that usually is a mask for indifference or, worse, appeasement, as it was for many pacifists before World War II. Church congregations routinely are asked to pray for various persecuted and victimized peoples around the world, but somehow there seldom is any mention of Christians. Yet fellow Christians, one would think, should elicit especial concern, since the future of the Church is plainly challenged by persecution, and especially now by the arrant genocide going on in the Middle East.

I have been appalled by the reluctance of Christian officials to speak out in defense of Christians in an age when martyrs are more numerous than ever before, or at least since the initial waves of Muslim conquests from the 8th to 15th centuries. Only in recent weeks has the Pope seeming seemed to call for a military response, though even so he is eager to hedge his advice with various cautions and limitations. And yet we have the wrench appeal of the Archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Mosul, Iraq, whose own captured cathedral church has become a headquarters for the murderous ISIS regime that beheads opponents, shoots others, rapes others and sells women and children into slavery. Remember, please, that the Christians were in Mosul and other parts of the Middle East hundreds of years before the first Muslims and have not been persecuted in this way since the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. ISIS is a new group, not an old one, in any case, and has no standing whatever to impose its rule on anyone.

Says Archbishop Amel Nona, "Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future. I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive.

Continue reading "A Just War: Rescue the Christians of Iraq and Syria" »

August 18, 2014

Criminalization of Policy Differences

Mark Helprin.jpgAuthor Mark Helprin (a onetime fellow of Discovery Institute) long ago coined the term "criminalization of policy differences" to describe the tactic of finding legal grounds for suing--and therefore helping handicap--political opponents. For some reason, Democrats seem to employ the tactic most often. Today, of course, we are seeing it in in Travis County (Austin)--where, to borrow an old saying about prosecutors' influence on the grand juries they call--even a ham sandwich could be indicted. Governor Rick Perry is planning to run for president, so what better way to slow him down than to indict him on some bogus charge? Perry is right to be indignant. He'll win, but the legal process could well drag on for years, especially if the case is heard initially by Democratic judges. The beginning of the race for President, 2016 cycle, is only months away.

Political candidates cannot usually stand to operate under indictment. Consider Rep. Tom DeLay. His problem in politics was that he played hardball and helped defeat Democrats, both in Congressional legislation and at the ballot box. But the proper way to deal with someone like that--assuming you dislike him and his stands--is through traditional politics, not criminal legal cases. DeLay won, of course, but it took years and he had to leave Congress to defend himself--which constituted the victory his opponents were hoping for, after all. So the lawsuit tactic sometimes works.

It has not worked with Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, though the prosecutor's office in Milwaukee seems unable to let go.

Continue reading "Criminalization of Policy Differences" »

August 15, 2014

Eleanor Roosevelt and the New Ken Burns Series

E Roosevelt.jpg

A new series, The Roosevelts, by the celebrated documentarian, Ken Burns, will air next month (starting September 14), bringing to PBS viewers an early to mid-20th Century world that by now seems exotic. Almost everyone from those times, after all, is gone. But Burns' evocation of those days may well have some new things to tell us about our own world.

Consider Eleanor Roosevelt, who is featured in the series, along with her uncle, Theodore Roosevelt, and her husband (and distant cousin), Franklin. Mrs. Roosevelt is famous for her role as a first lady with a public life that buttressed, but also went beyond her husband's. Among other unique activities, she personally wrote a daily newspaper column--"My Day"--for nearly three decades, something that has not been attempted by any of her successors, even by her greatest admirer, Hillary Clinton. In some ways it was a precursor of the blog, a daily journal, but one with the most interesting array of entries.

Continue reading "Eleanor Roosevelt and the New Ken Burns Series" »

August 13, 2014

Foundations that Live Up to the Billing

One of the dreariest and most familiar of stories in philanthropy is that of the sound and good person of wealth who leaves his fortune to a foundation, only to have that foundation after his death depart on adventures he probably would have opposed and certainly would not have supported. (Ford, Rockefeller, MacArthur, to name a few.) A choice temptation is to use foundation dollars to campaign for government dollars.

Community Foundations have a better reputation and record. State Representative (and Discovery's director for the Chapman Fellows in Civic Leadership) writes in Philanthropy Daily about the 100th Anniversary of community foundations.

Continue reading "Foundations that Live Up to the Billing" »

August 12, 2014

Finally, a Believable Villain

Movies and TV do preach, and much of the implicit sermon is part of the cultural rot of the times. Therefore, when a television program that actually pins the materialist, Social Darwinist viewpoint on an obvious villain it is startling. Our colleague, Wesley J. Smith writes in his column "Human Exceptionalism" of one program--Murder in the First on TNT-- with a villain who is rotten to his philosophical core. Wesley is almost more surprised than gratified.

Continue reading "Finally, a Believable Villain" »

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