Chapman’s News & Ideas

When Maduro Can’t Pay the Police and Army

How bad is it in Venezuela now that oil has dropped from over $100–the prince the Chavistas needed to keep making government redistribution of profits to their political supporters–to only about $60? Actually, it is hard to find out. There are demonstrations, disturbances, open grumbling. Critics have been rounded up and jailed. An international scientific organization has been nationalized, its assets seized. So the government is prepared to make very short term gains and not worry about the huge losses that come with international pariah status.

It seems likely to me that until the state implodes, Maduro will keep sending oil to Cuba, propping it up, while Cuba dragoons doctors and intelligence agents to provide health care and keep the totalitarian state running. However, if matters reach the point that Maduro can’t pay the police (who are under attack by some forces in the countryside already), or even worse, the Army, there will be a revolution. Read More ›

Paradoxes at the End of Advent

Pope Francis’ already famous prophetic warnings to the Curia this week seem to some (maybe some in the Curia, for example) like a strange kind of season’s greeting. Some Christmas Party he gave them! Where’s the cheer? But if you remember that his message was preached while still in the Church season of Advent, not in the season of Christmas, you’ll see that it was appropriate, indeed.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve,and as one ponders the lessons of the four weeks of Advent, he remembers John the Baptist crying the in wilderness, “Make straight the path of the Lord.” The predictions of Isaiah. God’s promises to David. The Annunciation and the Magnificat of Mary. December, for the Church, is not the season of shopping, but of waiting, listening and reflecting. It is penitential, though maybe not as much as Lent. For liturgical Christians the joy of Christmas begins tomorrow night and lasts through Three Kings Day (the Epiphany), January 6.

What does Advent teach? Like so much of the Bible, the paradoxes are profound. The greatest, of course: The King of Kings is to born to a lowly maid. The Son of God arrives in a stable.

God has a way of giving his greatest gifts to those most humble, those thought unworthy by others. David was a mere shepherd boy, the least obvious of his brothers. How can that be? It’s none of your business. As in the parable of the vineyard workers, Jesus makes clear that God rewards according to his desires, not ours. And yet he will do right by us regardless if we trust his sovereignty.

Watch Amadeus, a wonderful film for Advent, and marvel at the proud but relatively untalented composer Salieri who (in the play and film telling, if not in actual history) is willing to do all that God wants if only God will bless him with great accomplishments. Salieri wants a deal with God. But God blesses instead the irrepressible, irresponsible and profane Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In a great scene, an indignant Salieri burns his crucifix in the fireplace. He goes on to lead a long embittered life, while the prodigious genius, Mozart, creates music for the ages, though his own time on Earth is short.

God doesn’t like the pride of Pharisees. But he also holds to account those he blesses greatly. The incomparable Moses doesn’t get to enter the Promised Land because of shortcomings. David is gravely humbled by God (through the prophet Nathan) because of his sins.

So, as Advent ends, we 21st century denizens also might do well to think of George Gilder and his Israel Test: how do you regard those more talented than yourself? Do you envy them and try to put them down? Or do you admire them and try to emulate and make common cause with them?

These are among the kinds of questions Pope Francis was posing to the Curia, warning of the “sickness of considering oneself ‘immortal’, ‘immune’ or ‘indispensable’.” He warns of “Martha-ism” (in the Gospel story of Mary and Martha, when Jesus visits their home), the sin of “excessive industriousness;…of those who immerse themselves in work” and neglect to sit at Jesus’ feet.” Remember to join your people, to “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.” Read More ›

Exaggerating the Cuba Change

School's out

School’s out

To me, the most remarkable thing about President Obama’s decision to recognize Cuba diplomatically is that it does not represent as big a change as either the President or his critics suggest. We soon can have an “embassy” in Cuba where we have an “interests section” now. Well, that interests section is bigger than most of our embassies around the world, especially in countries with only eleven million people. The sign on the outside wall may change, and there may be more paling around with diplomats in Havana posted from other countries. But the essential differences will be minor. Read More ›

Obamacare, Gruber and Eugenics

A blogger named Bruce Catron (HelathcareBS), writing at The American Spectator, has described a bit of the recent Congressional testimony from Dr. Jonathan Gruber that somehow has escaped general notice. Essentially, Congressman Thomas Massie found a 1997 paper by Gruber that describes the cost-saving benefits of “positive selection” of babies; i.e., abortion services.

Writes Catron, “‘Positive selection’ is no ordinary example of academic jargon. The term is frequently used by evolutionary biologists, who tell us it is responsible for the development of ‘traits that define our species—notably the enormous brain, advanced cognitive abilities, complex vocal organs, bipedalism and opposable thumbs.’ And,” continues Catron, “Gruber refers to mass abortions of unborn babies, whom he describes as ‘marginal children,’ as an example of positive selection that includes the added benefit of saving the government money. Should we be worried that an architect of Obamacare seems to be an advocate of what sounds an awful lot like eugenics?

It is eugenics, through and through. There is no mention of “reproductive freedom”. Read More ›

Freedom and the Message of the Exodus

The new film Exodus: Gods and Kings is getting mixed reviews based on cinematic quality, but also on content. Among the somewhat skeptical are Raymond Arroyo of EWTN Catholic television network and conservative commentator Glen Beck. The high tech special effects spectacle is causing a number of people to go back to The Ten Commandments, the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille production on the same theme, starring Charlton Heston. A colleague who screened The Ten Commandments at home this week had this startling realization: it’s about freedom. “Essentially, the message of The Ten Commandments is that only when we follow God can we find freedom. And by ‘freedom,’ I mean many important dimensions of freedom: Freedom to worship. Freedom to think. Read More ›

Christians Like “Hobbits”

The Hobbit Party, by our colleagues Jonathan Witt and Jay W. Richards, has been named one of the top books of 2014 for Christians. Kevin DeYoung, a Reformed church spokesman, lists a surprisingly catholic (small “c”) Top Ten selections. Of The Hobbit Party, DeYoung writes, “More people should be talking about this book. It’s full of excellent background information on Tolkien and the worldview that shaped his creation of Middle Earth. Even LOTR enthusiasts will see things they hadn’t seen before.”

Advanced Sausage Making in Congress

The US House’s passage tonight of the $1.1 trillion “CRomnibus” bill to fund the government for nine months had bi-partisan support. But it saw defections from some conservative Republicans and a huge Democratic break from the White House (which had helped negotiate the bill with Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid). Nancy Pelosi, who had been on board, wound up attacking the bill, calling it “blackmail”.

Now a fascinating drama is developing in the Senate. Ted Cruz gets maybe seven or so Republicans against the bill while Mitch McConnell gets 38 or so GOP votes for it. But the real story is on the Democratic side. The GOP in Congress is more conservative than in years gone by, but the Democrats are far more liberal, too. So how many votes does the articulate progressive hope Elizabeth Warren get versus Harry Reid?

Consider: if Reid wins, the far left of the party becomes bitter. Warren grows in the esteem of the rank and file of the Democratic base. But if Warren somehow prevails, the “deal” probably evaporates before the vote is even taken, and excuses have to be made by Obama and Reid on why the bill they helped craft is now a bad one. Congress goes home, as the “shutdown” occurs over Christmas. But, like I said, in that case, it clearly would be the Democrats causing the shutdown, which would be embarrassing for the President. Of course, one should never underestimate the desire of the companionable media (NPR, the networks, the New York Times) to save the Democrats’ reputation through some slight of hand. One amusing possibility is that the Administration finds that a “shutdown” doesn’t mean, you know, a shutdown in any real sense. Read More ›

Iran Cheats, Obama Blinks

Iran is cheating already on it pledge to hold up nuke development while negotiations proceed, according to a lengthy report today by the Financial Times. The hub of activity is at the Arak plutonium enriching reactor.

Israeli spokesman Omri Ceren points out that President Obama helped persuade Congress to back off while he negotiated with the mullahs. The argument that persuaded many of the legislators was that the White House would not tolerate any cheating. You see,the President would be on it instantly.

At a press conference a year ago, the President urged Congress to hold back and let him lead the Iranians in negotiations. “(T)his way we can assured and the Iranians will know that if negotiations fail even new and harsher sanctions will be put into place. Listen, I don’t think the Iranians have any doubt that Congress would be more than happy to pass more sanctions legislation. We can do that in a — in a day, on a dime.” Read More ›

Rolling Stone Recants, UVA President Under Bright Light

Sensational allegations about a supposed rape culture at the University of Virginia that appeared in a Rolling Stone article unquestionably did great damage to the university. Now Rolling Stone is retracting the main theme, and more or less apologizing, as the facts about “Jackie”–a woman who said she was gang raped for three hours at a fraternity house–are dissolving. Students are not amused. They feel correctly that the student body has been slandered.

But that’s the students; what about the Administrators, especially UVA President Teresa Sullivan? So far, Dr. Sullivan says only that the story causes her to remain “more focused than ever” on the issue of rape on campus. Really? The school administration reacted with severity to the first story from Rolling Stone, suspending the fraternity in question and all others until January 9. There was no sense that it was interested in fair play or conventional justice. It apparently made no effort to ascertain the truth before it acted. Read More ›

“Lunchbucket Philanthropists” Stay Small, Give Big

Discovery fellow (and State Representative) Hans Zeiger, in Philanthropy Daily, December 3.

Give big by staying small
by Hans Zeiger

A few weeks ago, hundreds of philanthropists gathered for the Exponent Philanthropy National Conference in Washington, D.C. Founded in the 1990s as the Association of Small Foundations, Exponent Philanthropy consists of “donors, trustees, and philanthropic professionals who choose to give big by staying small, working with few or no staff to make the most of their resources.”

Small philanthropy is integral to the American civic tradition. It is certainly integral to the civic tradition in my hometown of Puyallup, Washington. I serve on the board of one small foundation, an offshoot of the Kiwanis Club of Puyallup that over the years has raised an impressive number of donations and estate gifts from club members, mostly to benefit children in our town. Many of the gifts are designated scholarships for local high school graduates. Recently we approved grants for playground enhancements in the downtown park, a scholarship program for minority students in our county, a facility upgrade at the local library, and support for the food bank. Read More ›