Category: Public Policy

It’s one thing to have a great government policy put in place with intention of seeking justice. It’s quite another to continue to promote policies whose unintended consequences hurt the most vulnerable populations.

Even though Iraq has the world’s third largest oil reserves, the lack of a reliable infrastructure, sabotage, and government-imposed price controls (oil is $.05 a gallon, a holdover from the Saddam Hussein regime) make gas for law-abiding citizens hard to come by.

These price controls result in forced government rationing. Now new regulations allow driving only on every other day, depending on your license plate number. Last Tuesday was the first day of the restrictions, and only cars ending with odd numbers were allowed on the streets of Baghdad.

Reuters reports on the effect that these policies are having on Iraq’s working classes, such as they are. Taxi driver Amir al-Hameeri, who did not take his car out on Tuesday, fearful of a fine equivalent to $20 if his even-numbered licence plate was spotted.

“It’s a ruthless decision against the poor,” he grumbled. “How can I feed my family now?”

This is a prime example of how policies which may have the best of intentions (affordable fuel for all Iraqis) that ignore the realities of the marketplace have adverse consequences. And as always, it is the poor among us who suffer the most.

Here’s an NPR story with more on how motorists are “beating the system” through black markets and other means.

HT: John Powers

The House is likely to vote this week on an aid package that will provide nearly $52 billion during the next month or so on housing, clothing and other recovery needs for Hurricane Katrina victims. In the Senate, however, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana threatened to delay passing the bill for more money. Republicans said that any attempt to amend the bill could delay getting the measure to President Bush for his signature before last week’s $10.5 billion disbursement runs out. Instead of delaying the bill for more money can’t Congress simply pass another bill in a few weeks after needs are re-assessed?

Flavius Josephus

With the prevalance of moral relativism in the western world, science tends to forge ahead, regardless of opposition from traditional ethics, into whatever realms it deems neccessary for the “advancement” of mankind. To counter-balance the extremity of the scientific community, especially in regard to the genetic engineering of hybrid species, I would like to offer up the thoughts of an historian from 2000 years ago regarding the mixing of species. His ideas come from the long oral and written traditions passed down through the Jews from Moses:

…The seeds are also to be pure, and without mixture, and not to be compounded of two or three sorts, since Nature does not rejoice in the union of things that are not in their own nature alike; nor are you to premit beasts of different kinds to gender together, for there is reason to fear that this unnatural abuse may extend from beasts of different kinds to men, though it takes its first rise from evil practices about such smaller things. Nor is anything to be allowed, by imitation whereof any degree of subversion may creep into the constitution; nor do the laws neglect small matters but provide that even those may be managed after an unblamable manner. (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 4.8.20)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, September 8, 2005
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FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has produced a “Kidz Rap,” designed to alert children to the dangers of disasters and the function of FEMA.

For example, did you know that “mitigation is important to our agency”? Also, “When disaster strikes, we are at our best / But we’re ready all the time, ’cause disasters don’t rest.”

Click here to listen to the “rap” (RealAudio required).

No word yet on what role the FEMA rap played in informing Deamonte Love of how to act in an emergency.

Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)

In this week’s Acton Commentary titled “Pascal’s Blunder: Miscalculating the Threat of Global Warming”, Jordan Ballor writes on the growing voice of evangelical Christians speaking out about global warming. Ballor responds to a recent article in Christanity Today by Andy Crouch, who compares the current debate about global warming to Pascal’s wager, stating that we gain nothing if global warming turns out to be completely natural and beyond human control, but that we gain everything if we can control it. Ballor points out the error with this line of thinking:

The problem with this analogy is that Pascal’s wager is only valid when placed within the context of the eternal and the ultimate. When it is applied to everyday issues, it quickly loses its persuasive power. Crouch’s contention that “we have little to lose” if we exaggerate the threat of global warming displays no recognition of the reality of the future impact of unduly restrictive political policies and environmental regulations.

Ballor goes on to cite Vernon L. Smith and Thomas C. Schelling, two distinguished professors at George Mason University and the University of Maryland, respectively, who argue that there are much more pressing issues affecting the world to which our attention should be turned toward. The money we spend researching global warming could much more effectively be providing solutions to problems such as AIDS/HIV, malnutrition, and hunger.

Read the full text here.

Blog author: kwoods
Tuesday, September 6, 2005
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Like everyone else outside the Gulf Coast (i.e., not a direct victim or a tireless rescue worker, volunteer, or military member there to help), the TV remote has become my constant companion. The challenges are unprecedented–which is hard to fathom after 9/11. We are all passionately concerned that Katrina victims be safely and humanely moved out of harm’s and ill-health’s way. But that is only one small step.

Once the scope of disaster and the need became evident, communities all over the country began to evaluate how many victims that their local resources could accept and empower beyond mere emergency support. Governor Bob Riley calls this effort in Alabama “Operation Golden Rule.” Just as small business is the lifeblood of America’s economy, so are small communities going to be the long-term assistance that will be so critical to Katrina victims. Large government and relief organizations will address the large issues and make the big decisions.

But it will take the human connection to regain hope. As people in churches, community centers, and small neighborhood clinics welcome new neighbors so desperate for help, these communities–maybe our own communities–need our help as well. Start where you are with what you have. No effort or outreach is too small.

Pro running back Warrick Dunn, a native of Louisiana, is challenging every NFL player (other than New Orleans Saints) to donate at least $5,000 to hurricane relief efforts. “If we get players to do that, that would amount to $260,000 per team. I have heard from so many players both on my team and around the league who just want to do something. Well, this is the best thing that we can do and it’s something we should do,” he said. Dunn, a former Pro Bowler, starts for the Atlanta Falcons and played college ball for Florida State.

Dunn is from Baton Rouge, but he still doesn’t know the status of his grandfather who lives in New Orleans. His is clearly a heartfelt and genuine plea: “We’re such a great country and it’s at times like this a great country has to come together. We’re looking at people on TV who have no money, no homes, no job and no idea what they’re going to do with their lives. Now is when they need us most. We just have to respond and we have to respond.”

Warrick Dunn

This effort by Dunn is a clear reminder that the purpose of work must be oriented beyond the mere accumulation of wealth. As the Heidelberg Catechism states, one of the major reasons that a person labors is “so that I may share with those in need” (LD 42, A 111).

The donations will be coordinated with the Arthur Blank family charitable foundation and a vote by NFL player representatives will determine which agencies receive the funds.

Dunn’s challenge is a pointed one: “If guys don’t donate they’re being selfish,” he said. He not only talks the talk, but he walks the walk. Dunn started the Warrick Dunn Foundation in March of 2002, dedicated “to help single mother families obtain first-time homeownership.”

This purpose flows out of Dunn’s experience growing up. Here’s a brief biographical excerpt from the foundation website: “As the oldest of six, Warrick grew up watching his mother, Betty Smothers, provide for he and his five siblings. As a single mother she worked endless hours as a Baton Rouge police officer and several off-duty jobs to make ends meet. During Warrick’s senior year at Catholic high school, his mother’s life was taken in the line of duty, leaving him the responsibility of keeping the family together. Although she worked hard all of her life, Betty was never able to realize the American dream of owning her own home.”

Clearly Warrick Dunn, diminuitive by NFL standards (5′ 9″, 180 lbs.), has a huge heart.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, September 1, 2005
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Following the devastation in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, bands of looters are running rampant throughout the city. Things have gotten so bad that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin “ordered virtually the entire police force to abandon search-and-rescue efforts and stop thieves who were becoming increasingly hostile.”

According to reports, “Looters used garbage cans and inflatable mattresses to float away with food, clothes, TV sets — even guns. Outside one pharmacy, thieves commandeered a forklift and used it to push up the storm shutters and break through the glass. The driver of a nursing-home bus surrendered the vehicle to thugs after being threatened.”

In the newest developments, looters are taking a cue popularized in the controversial game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. A common strategy in that game is to wreak havoc, wait for emergency personnel and ambulances to arrive, and then kill the rescue workers as well. This tactic has been seen in terrorist activities around the world. For example, in Iraq, “insurgents had planned to detonate the car bomb first , and then the two vest bombers would target responding Iraqi soldiers, police, and rescue workers.”

Grand Theft Auto: New Orleans

The evacuation of victims from the Superdome in New Orleans has been delayed after shots were fired at a military helicopter. Other reports include that of a rescue team: “When a medical evacuation helicopter tried to land at a hospital in the outlying town of Kenner, the pilot reported that 100 people were on the landing pad, and some of them had guns.”

Richard Zeuschlag, head of Acadian Ambulance, which was handling the evacuation of sick and injured people from the Superdome, said that the pilot was “was frightened and would not land.” He said medics were calling him and crying for help because they were so scared of people with guns at the Superdome.

The Christian tradition has dealt with the question of “Whether it is lawful to steal through stress of need?” In the situation of extreme need, such as that of Jean Valjean of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Thomas Aquinas writes, “If the need be so manifest and urgent, that it is evident that the present need must be remedied by whatever means be at hand (for instance when a person is in some imminent danger, and there is no other possible remedy), then it is lawful for a man to succor his own need by means of another’s property, by taking it either openly or secretly: nor is this properly speaking theft or robbery.”

This judgment is made based on a view of property rights that is not absolute, but rather limited by the Christian concept of stewardship. Aquinas states, “Since, however, there are many who are in need, while it is impossible for all to be succored by means of the same thing, each one is entrusted with the stewardship of his own things, so that out of them he may come to the aid of those who are in need.” The prerogative of individual prudence of how to manage and distrubute one’s own goods can be trumped by the extreme and urgent need of another person.

Even so, the kinds of things that are being taken by looters in New Orleans hardly qualify as meeting a “manifest and urgent” need. Taking food and water when you are on the verge of starvation and death is one thing. Breaking in to a store so you can score some more guns is quite another. Somehow I don’t think that taking a Glock or a TV set meets Aquinas’ criteria.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the formation of Poland’s Solidarity movement. Samuel Gregg says that Solidary gives us a view of a labor union whose “stand for the truth about the human person and against the lie of Marxism contributed immeasurably to the collapse of one of the two great totalitarian evils that disfigured the twentieth-century.”

Read the full text here.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
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Rev. Robert Sirico responds to Pat Robertson’s highly-publicized call for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. “What is needed here, I believe, is a time of reflection. Christianity is not a national religion. It is does not regard every enemy of the nation-state as worthy of execution. It prefers peace to war. It chooses diplomacy over threat. It respects the right to life of everyone, even those who have objectionable political views,” he writes.

Read the full text here.