Saturday, July 11, 2009

Charity and Christianity

As President Obama completes his visit to Ghana, I think back to George W. Bush, and his support for Africa.

Despite how much former President Bush's policies have screwed up much of the US and the world, you can't deny what George W. Bush tried to do for Africa. In probably one of his most charitable acts, Bush provided the most aid in Africa to fight poverty and disease, more than any other American President.
In the last year of Bill Clinton's presidency, America's direct bilateral assistance to Africa was only Pounds 700 million. Mr Bush has almost quadrupled this sum. Combating Aids once played virtually no part in America's development policies. Mr Bush has established the biggest fund ever devoted to fighting an epidemic. The President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, funded to the tune of Pounds 7.5 billion, is paying for hundreds of thousands of Africans to receive the life-saving drugs which hold Aids at bay.

Mr Bush has also made America the biggest single donor to the Global Fund for Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, contributing one third of its Pounds 5 billion. No other leader has given as much money to the World Food Programme as Mr Bush.

I've always thought that the root of all evil was essentially humanity's selfishness. It's our inability to care for others, and only think of our own selfish wants and needs, that bring out all kinds of crimes and horrible acts of violence. If one is a true Christian, you think of the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made, which is giving up of himself for all of mankind. His most important command to us was to "Love one another, as I have loved you".

That's why being charitable and showing mercy is the only way to really emulate Christ. Anyone who dismisses the suffering of others, and can still call themselves a Christian is simply delusional.
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Friday, July 10, 2009

Laws and Stupidity

It's funny, a lot of the time, people will gripe about Washington, and "those no-good politicians", and how they have no common sense.

Sometimes it's also easy to forget, that politicians are people too, and people in general can be stupid.

Case in point - people who live in Florida and think that buying a Burmese Python for a pet is a great idea. Shockingly enough, the python market is an estimated $10 Million annual business.

While it may seem funny, the explosion of pythons in Florida is becoming a huge ecological nightmare. It seems too many idiots thought it would be "cool" to have a pet python. So instead of researching and studying up on the care of pythons, they just go out and buy one. When it becomes too difficult to handle, and they realize that it's a lot harder to take care of than say a dog, they end up dumping it in the swamps or by lakes.
Officials, for example, fear pythons may be on the brink of wiping out what remains of the endangered Key Largo wood rat and that other South Florida animals like the Key Deer could be next. The Everglades are estimated to contain as many as 150,000 pythons now, preying on rare bird and mammal wildlife. "If we don't get on top of this, they're going to eradicate the indigenous species of the Everglades," Rodney Barreto, Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission chairman, said during a visit this year by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Or beyond: the pythons are believed to be moving northward into other parts of Florida and the U.S.
Recently it resulted in a terrible tragedy, when a 2 year old in Florida was strangled to death by a python. These tragic events occur, and we wonder why we need to have laws and regulations.

Pretty much to protect us from ourselves and our inner Homer Simpson.
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Monday, June 8, 2009

Taxing Drunk Drivers - What an Idea!

One of the biggest questions about enacting universal health-care is how to pay for it. Ironically, we could have paid for it a several times over if we hadn't had the war with Iraq! But that's not the hand that we are dealt.

Nate Silver has an interesting idea
about one way to gain revenue for health-care. His idea is taxing people who are caught driving under the influence a hefty tax of $8,000 per incident.

In 2006, there were 1.1 million arrests for drunk driving in the United States (source), not counting Florida which didn't report its statistics. Fine each of those people $8,000, and you'd have almost about $9 billion more to pay for health care every year. Why $8,000? Because that's the figure, according to a 2001 paper (.pdf) by Steve Levitt (the Freakonomics guy) and Jack Porter, that would be required to internalize the negative externalities associated with driving drunk.* By the way, if you're concerned that this tax might be regressive, you could scale it according to a person's income, as they do for traffic fines in Finland.

Of course, if you were actually to fine people $8K every time they got a drunk driving conviction, you wouldn't raise quite as much as $9 billion. Faced with a choice between an $8,000 fine or a $20 taxi fare, a lot more people would have Yellow Cab on speed dial, and you'd have fewer revenue-producing arrests.** But this is a feature of the policy rather than a bug -- you'd be stopping drunk driving. Moreover, it's exactly the same feature/bug problem you'd run into by raising alcohol taxes in general, or any time you were trying to use tax policy to disincentivize an undesirable behavior.

In some ways this reflects an approach of "liberal paternalism" as advocated by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their book - "Nudge".

I think this idea has merit!
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Friday, June 5, 2009

Remembering Buchenwald

All this week, I've been struck by how provident it seems to have President Obama as our leader in these difficult times. His outreach this week in a historic speech at the University of Cairo, was honest and surprising in it's tone. He spoke as no other President could have spoken. He pushed on the fundamental issue to the Middle East Process, which was that both Israel and Palestine had to compromise and accept the right for the existence and sovreignty of both states. Israel must stop their settlements and pull back to the original treaties. The Palestinian government must get under their control, the violent terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas. Both have to stop playing the victim and the aggressor.

If you listen to both extreme sides, each accuse the other of lying and killing their people. They are both right and wrong.

All too often it's easy too marginalize and disparage a whole culture or race. That happened once before, which led to the death of millions of Jews during the Holocaust.

One thing is clear, regardless of race, human beings are capable of both kindess and love, but also of great evil. Each society naturally has it's extremists. Those who are filled with fear and hate. We have Rightwing fundametalist conservatives here in the US, who only spout venom and hatred for those who are different from them.

They don't see the benefit in open and honest dialogue, nor of accepting of differing viewpoints. They would rather just use their guns to shoot people, as has been demonstrated by the conservative nutcase that opened fire in a Tennessee Church because of his hatred of Liberals. Or most recently, this pathetic speciman of a human being who thought he was justified in assassinating Dr. Tiller, who was known for helping women who no one else would help.

It's led, cowardly conservatives like the aptly named Dick Cheney to spit on the US ideals of democracy and justice, and commit acts of torture on other human beings.

Yes there are criminals and terrorists, but we must follow the law, and be above the violence that the terrorists love. By committing torture, we have ceded the moral high ground, and have aided and abetted the recruiting tactics of Al Qaeda.

But what struck me most today is that when President Obama visted Buchenwald, he admonised those who would deny or forget the horrors that were committed so long ago.

The Germans are very careful and almost obsessed with not denying or forgetting that they killed millions of Jews. Any hint of anti-semitism is dealt with swiftly and harshly.

The current generation knows that they are not to blame, as they were not there, but they do accept that, as a nation, what they did was wrong. They accept that dark period of their history with shame and regret.

What I find ironic, is that politicians like Inhofe of Oklahoma can be such a liar and an idiot as to call President Obama "un-American", and yet deny that we tortured.

As they advise many people with addictions, the first step is acknowledging you have a problem.

It's too bad that dishonorable conservatives like Inhofe can't do what's right and acknowledge what they did, so that we can fix what's wrong with America.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

President Obama's 100 Days

Getting settled in a new job, a new city, new friends, and juggling a love life, hasn't left me much time to write. However, I watched President Obama's speech and Press Conference marking his 100 Days in office.

Much has been hyped by the constant 24 hour Cable/Mainstream Media on President Obama's first 100 days, particularly with their incessant need to grade his first 100 days, as if he was a student.

Being in a planning role, it always boggles my mind when people continue to spotlight on instantaneous results and what's happening now, without a thought to what does it mean for the future.

It's 100 days into a four year term, and I personally think the challenges we face today requires us to be little more thoughtful and to realistically assess the current situation. We need to make sure that we rigorously contemplate the implications of the various policy proposals, in order to ensure we have some probability of meeting success.

Yet predictably, the idiot masses still want their 10 second soundbite or their minute in the news cycle of their "gotcha moments".

With all the hoopla and the superficial, but utterly predictable punditry out there, it was a relief to come across this really moving and introspective photo diary of President Obama's first 100 days.

It was taken by Callie Shell, who first noticed Barack Obama as an extraordinary politician at the 2003 DNC Convention, where he gave his first soaring national speech. She found him so compelling, that she trailed him during his Presidential Campaign.

The most emotional point in the video occurs 10 minutes into the video story, where she gives insights on the moments she was trying to capture with her camera.

Watching it, I was filled with such pride and emotion at having such a caring, intelligent, and capable leader as our President.

It's definitely worth the time to take a moment to watch this video at .

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