Why We Need Compassion

This is an incredibly brave speech by Monica Lewinsky. In her vulnerability, there is a quiet strength that comes through. It’s a timely message. We need to put compassion back into our culture, to teach it to our young, to click it back into the internet. Every click is a choice, a choice which will determine who we become in the end. ~ Ivy


Highlights from the talk:

Public humiliation has become a commodity

The invasion of others is a raw material efficiently and ruthlessly mined, packaged and sold at a profit. A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame an industry. How is the money made? Clicks. The more shame, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more advertising dollars.

Making money off the back of someone else’s suffering

The more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human lives behind it, and the more numb we get. the more we click. All the while, someone is making money off the back of someone else’s suffering. With every click we make a choice.

A virtual public stockade that has no perimeters

Cruelty to others in nothing new, but online, technologically enhanced shaming is amplified, uncontained, and permanently accessible. The echo of embarrassment used to extend only as far as your family, village, school or community, but now it’s the online community too.

Millions of people, often anonymously, can stab you with their words, and that’s a lot of pain, and there are no perimeters around how many people can publicly observe you and put you in a public stockade.

Stop this culture of humiliation

Gossip websites, paparazzi, reality programming, politics, news outlets and sometimes hackers all traffic in shame. It’s led to desensitisation and a permissive environment online which lends itself to trolling, invasion of privacy, and cyberbullying. This shift has created what Professor Nicolaus calls a culture of humiliation.

Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop and it’s time for an intervention on the Internet and in our culture.

Let’s take responsibility for what words can do

We need to return to a long-held value of compassion – compassion and empathy. Even empathy from one person can make a difference. The theory of minority influence, proposed by social psychologist Serge Moscovici, says that even in small numbers, when there’s consistency over time, change can happen. In the online world, we can foster minority influence by becoming upstanders. To become an up stander means instead of bystander apathy, we can post a positive comment for someone or report a bullying situation.

We talk a lot about our right to freedom of expression, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of expression.


How Intellectual Property Reinforces Inequality

The IP referred to by Stiglitz here is about the licensing of monopolies through the granting of patents. He argues that this type of activity amounts to rent-seeking (economic rent). Rent seeking does not in itself create wealth. Instead it adds to the burden of cost in entrepreneurship. Rent-seeking activities, if not controlled, will lead to monopolies of resources needed for economic activities.

When we use the term IP, we are referring to the knowledge base of social-economic architecture and management for sustainable development.

This is our unique contribution to a communal enterprise. It is not a cost factor. It is a provision to be ‘invested’ to create wealth.

— Simon Pang | Society of Antioch’s


How Intellectual Property Reinforces Inequality


In the war against inequality, we’ve become so used to bad news that we’re almost taken aback when something positive happens. And with the Supreme Court having affirmed that wealthy people and corporations have a constitutional right to buy American elections, who would have expected it to bring good news? But a decision in the term that just ended gave ordinary Americans something that is more precious than money alone — the right to live.

At first glance, the case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, might seem like scientific arcana: the court ruled, unanimously, that human genes cannot be patented, though synthetic DNA, created in the laboratory, can be. But the real stakes were much higher, and the issues much more fundamental, than is commonly understood. The case was a battle between those who would privatize good health, making it a privilege to be enjoyed in proportion to wealth, and those who see it as a right for all — and a central component of a fair society and well-functioning economy. Even more deeply, it was about the way inequality is shaping our politics, legal institutions and the health of our population.

Unlike the bitter battles between Samsung and Apple, in which the referees (American courts), while making a pretense at balance, seem to consistently favor the home team, this was a case that was more than just a battle between corporate giants. It is a lens through which we can see the pernicious and far-reaching effects of inequality, what a victory over self-serving corporate behavior looks like and — just as important — how much we still risk losing in such fights.

Of course, the court and the parties didn’t frame the issues that way in their arguments and decision. A Utah firm, Myriad Genetics, had isolated two human genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that can contain mutations that predispose women who carry them to breast cancer — crucial knowledge for early detection and prevention. The company had successfully obtained patents for the genes. “Owning” the genes gave it the right to prevent others from testing for them. The core question of the case was seemingly technical: Are isolated, naturally occurring genes something that can be patented?

But the patents had devastating real-world implications, because they kept the prices for the diagnostics artificially high. Gene tests can actually be administered at low cost — a person can in fact have all 20,000 of her genes sequenced for about $1,000, to say nothing of much cheaper tests for a variety of specific pathologies. Myriad, however, charged about$4,000 for comprehensive testing on just two genes. Scientists have argued that there was nothing inherently special or superior about Myriad’s methods — it simply tested for genes that the company claimed to own, and did so by relying on data that was not available to others because of the patents.

Hours after the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiffs — a group of universities, researchers and patient advocates, represented by theAmerican Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation — other laboratories quickly announced that they would also begin offering tests for the breast cancer genes, underlining the fact that Myriad’s “innovation” was identifying existing genes, not developing the test for them. (Myriad is not done fighting, though, having filed two new lawsuits this month that seek to block the companies Ambry Genetics and Gene by Gene from administering their own BRCA tests, on the grounds that they violate other patents that Myriad holds.)

It should not be very surprising that Myriad has done everything it can to prevent its tests’ revenue stream from facing competition — indeed, after recovering somewhat from a 30 percent drop in the wake of the court ruling, its share price is still nearly 20 percent below what it wasbeforehand. It owned the genes, and didn’t want anybody trespassing on its property. In obtaining the patent, Myriad, like most corporations, seemed motivated more by maximizing profits than by saving lives — if it really cared about the latter, it could and would have done better at providing tests at lower costs and encourage others to develop better, more accurate and cheaper tests. Not surprisingly, it made labored arguments that its patents, which allowed monopolistic prices and exclusionary practices, were essential to incentivize future research. But when the devastating effects of its patents became apparent, and it remained adamant in exerting its full monopoly rights, these pretensions of interest in the greater good were woefully unconvincing.

The drug industry, as always, claimed that without patent protection, there would be no incentives for research and all would suffer. I filed an expert declaration with the court (pro bono), explaining why the industry’s arguments were wrong, and why this and similar patents actually impeded rather than fostered innovation. Other groups that filed amicus briefs supporting the plaintiffs, like AARP, pointed out that Myriad’s patents prevented patients from obtaining second opinions and confirmatory tests. Recently, Myriad pledged it would not block such tests — a pledge it made even as it filed the lawsuits against Ambry Genetics, and Gene by Gene.

Myriad denied the test to two women in the case by rejecting their Medicaid insurance — according to the plaintiffs, because thereimbursement was too low. Other women, after one round of Myriad’s testing, had to make agonizing decisions about whether to have a single or double mastectomy, or whether to have their ovaries removed, with severely incomplete information — either Myriad’s testing for additional BRCA mutations was unaffordable (Myriad charges $700 extra for information that national guidelines say should be provided to patients), or second opinions were unattainable because of Myriad’s patents.

The good news coming from the Supreme Court was that in the United States, genes could not be patented. In a sense, the court gave back to women something they thought they already owned. This had two enormous practical implications: one is it meant that there could now be competition to develop better, more accurate, less expensive tests for the gene. We could once again have competitive markets driving innovation. And the second is that poor women would have a more equal chance to live — in this case, to conquer breast cancer.

But as important a victory as this is, it is ultimately only one corner of a global intellectual property landscape that is heavily shaped by corporate interests — usually American. And America has attempted to foist its intellectual property regime on others, through the World Trade Organization and bilateral and other multilateral trade regimes. It is doing so now in negotiations as part of the so-called trans-Pacific Partnership. Trade agreements are supposed to be an important instrument of diplomacy: closer trade integration brings closer ties in other dimensions. But attempts by the office of the United States Trade Representative to persuade others that, in effect, corporate profits are more important than human lives undermines America’s international standing: if anything, it reinforces the stereotype of the crass American.

Economic power often speaks louder, though, than moral values; and in the many instances in which American corporate interests prevail in intellectual property rights, our policies help increase inequality abroad. In most countries, it’s much the same as in the United States: the lives of the poor are sacrificed at the altar of corporate profits. But even in those where, say, the government would provide a test like Myriad’s at affordable prices for all, there is a cost: when a government pays monopoly prices for a medical test, it takes money away that could be spent for other lifesaving health expenditures.

The Myriad case was an embodiment of three key messages in my book “The Price of Inequality.” First, I argued that societal inequality was a result not just of the laws of economics, but also of how we shape the economy — through politics, including through almost every aspect of our legal system. Here, it’s our intellectual property regime that contributes needlessly to the gravest form of inequality. The right to life should not be contingent on the ability to pay.

The second is that some of the most iniquitous aspects of inequality creation within our economic system are a result of “rent-seeking”: profits, and inequality, generated by manipulating social or political conditions to get a larger share of the economic pie, rather than increasing the size of that pie. And the most iniquitous aspect of this wealth appropriation arises when the wealth that goes to the top comes at the expense of the bottom. Myriad’s efforts satisfied both these conditions: the profits the company gained from charging for its test added nothing to the size and dynamism of the economy, and simultaneously decreased the welfare of those who could not afford it.

While all of the insured contributed to Myriad’s profits — premiums had to go up to offset its fees, and millions of uninsured middle-income Americans who had to pay Myriad’s monopoly prices were on the hook for even more if they chose to get the test — it was the uninsured at the bottom who paid the highest price. With the test unaffordable, they faced a higher risk of early death.

Advocates of tough intellectual property rights say that this is simply the price we have to pay to get the innovation that, in the long run, will save lives. It’s a trade-off: the lives of a relatively few poor women today, versus the lives of many more women sometime in the future. But this claim is wrong in many ways. In this particular case, it is especially wrong, because the two genes would likely have been isolated (“discovered,” in Myriad’s terminology) soon anyway, as part of the global Human Genome Project. But it is wrong on other counts, as well. Genetic researchers have argued that the patent actually prevented the development of better tests, and so interfered with the advancement of science. All knowledge is based on prior knowledge, and by making prior knowledge less available, innovation is impeded. Myriad’s own discovery — like any in science — used technologies and ideas that were developed by others. Had that prior knowledge not been publicly available, Myriad could not have done what it did.

And that’s the third major theme. I titled my book to emphasize that inequality is not just morally repugnant but also has material costs. When the legal regime governing intellectual property rights is designed poorly, it facilitates rent-seeking — and ours is poorly designed, though this and other recent Supreme Court decisions have led to one that is better than it otherwise would have been. And the result is that there is actually less innovation and more inequality.

Indeed, one of the important insights of Robert W. Fogel, a Nobel Prize-winning economic historian who died last month, was that a synergy between improved health and technology accounts for a good part of the explosive economic growth since the 19th century. So it stands to reason that intellectual property regimes that create monopoly rents that impede access to health both create inequality and hamper growth more generally.

There are alternatives. Advocates of intellectual property rights have overemphasized their role in promoting innovation. Most of the key innovations — from the basic ideas underlying the computer, to transistors, to lasers, to the discovery of DNA — were not motivated by pecuniary gain. They were motivated by the quest for knowledge. Of course, resources have to be made available. But the patent system is only one way, and often not the best way, of providing these resources. Government-financed research, foundations, and the prize system (which offers a prize to whoever makes a discovery, and then makes the knowledge widely available, using the power of the market to reap the benefits) are alternatives, with major advantages, and without the inequality-increasing disadvantages of the current intellectual property rights system.

Myriad’s effort to patent human DNA was one of the worst manifestations of the inequality in access to health, which in turn is one of the worst manifestations of the country’s economic inequality. That the court decision has upheld our cherished rights and values is a cause for a sigh of relief. But it is only one victory in the bigger struggle for a more egalitarian society and economy.


The Future of the Grameen Bank

Grameen Bank has been the face of a bank that empowered the poor and its heart represented by its founder, Mohammad Yunus. This morning I was notified of the latest development which I’ve attached below for record purposes. Yunus and Grameen Bank jointly won the Nobel peace prize in 2006 for creating “economic and social development from below”.

By Agence France-Presse, Updated: 5/7/2011
Bangladesh’s Yunus fears for microlender
Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus said Saturday he feared for the survival of his pioneering microlender Grameen Bank, days after his removal as its chief was upheld by the country’s highest court.

The 2006 Nobel winner said the future of the Grameen Bank — the world’s largest microlender which he founded — is at stake as the government meddles in the affairs of the bank, 96.5 percent owned by poor women.

“I am humbly appealing to all for the protection and independence of Grameen Bank and the protection of poor women who are working very hard to stand on their feet,” Yunus, 70, said in his first reaction to the court verdict.

“There is growing doubt as to whether any civil society effort can survive and retain its character and independence in this politically influenced environment,” he said in a statement.

Supporters say Yunus — known as “the banker to the poor” — has been victimised by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, whom he crossed in 2007 when he briefly set up a political party during a period of military rule.

In sign of growing tension, a Grameen Bank union leader said he was tortured late Friday by unidentified men after the union threatened to stage nationwide demonstrations over Yunus’s sacking.

Sagir Rashid Chowdhury, 38, told AFP he was hauled into a minibus and taken near Dhaka University where he was beaten and threatened with pistols.

“They said they would kill me if I don’t call off the protests. They beat me with sticks. I begged for my life. They broke my hands and left me in a field.” Nurse Golam Mostafa of the government’s orthopaedic hospital confirmed the injuries. “Chowdhury has torture marks all over his body. One of his fingers was also broken.”

There was no immediate reaction available from authorities.

Grameen board members, who challenged Yunus’s removal, alleged earlier they were also intimidated and threatened by unidentified men.

Yunus was first dismissed as head of the microlender on March 2 in a power struggle with the government for control of the bank — but he defied the order, returning to work and filing a legal appeal against the sacking.

But the Supreme Court ruled Grameen Bank was a government institution, not a private bank as Yunus and his lawyers maintained, meaning Yunus must abide by the state’s mandatory retirement age of 60.

The ruling dashed his last hopes to stay at helm of the microlender which has lent more than $10 billion to 8.3 million mostly rural women since its inception in 1983.

Yunus and Grameen Bank jointly won the Nobel peace prize in 2006 for creating “economic and social development from below”.

The model has been copied in other developing countries and Yunus’s sacking was widely criticised by international supporters including the US government.

Yunus maintains the bank is owned by its borrowers and the government should stay out of its business for the sake of the microlender’s furture.

“What happens to Grameen Bank influences the future of the millions of Bangladeshis who benefit from microcredit activities, as well as the future of the institution of microcredit itself,” he said.

“The big questions are: whether Grameen Bank can maintain its independent existence, whether it can be successful in keeping itself away from political influences,” he said.

“What actually happens to financial institutions in our country if political influences start playing a role in these institutions is common knowledge. This experience will not inspire trust in borrowers.”

Analysts say Grameen’s huge influence in Bangladesh and its move into solar panels, mobile phones and other consumer goods has triggered the government’s envy.

Theology of Land

Land as inheritance
Excerpt from Joshua and the Promised Land, copyright © Roy H. May, Jr.

Yahweh commands Joshua to divide the land as an “inheritance” for Israel. Repeatedly in Joshua 13-19, the land given to the tribes is called “inheritance.” This is another clue for the Book of Joshua and the biblical theme of the land. Land is never just dirt. It is inheritance. Land carries social and spiritual meaning that goes beyond agricultural potential. For traditional farmers, land bonds them to family and God. This bonding imposes limitations and obligations regarding its use and distribution.

Inheritance is a theologically rich concept that guided Israel’s relationship to the land. The basic idea is that the land is Yahweh’s land. “The earth is the Lord’s,” the psalmist could sing (Ps. 24:1). “The land is mine,” says Yahweh (Lev. 25:23). Throughout Joshua 13-19, land is first and foremost an inheritance given to Israel by Yahweh. Land is Yahweh’s gift to be passed on from generation to generation.

The idea that God owns the land had not only theological significance but also real sociological meaning– land in ancient Israel was not conceived of as private property. It was a trust or “loan” administered by Israel on behalf of Yahweh. Land was the inheritance of the tribe. The tribe apportioned the land according to families. The plot or “portion” each family received was their participation in the tribal inheritance. Each family enjoyed lasting rights to use the land, but never as a commodity that could be bought and sold for private gain. Their portion was family property. They managed it on behalf of the entire tribe.

But this sociological significance was never separable from theological or spiritual meaning. For the ancient Hebrew, land as inheritance meant Yahweh’s presence and faithful fulfillment of God’s promise. Land was viewed as the historical manifestation of the covenant Yahweh had made with Israel’s ancestors. Land was the sign of salvation. Thus, in Psalms 16:5-6 and 142:5, “portion” is equated with total assurance of God’s presence, as we sing in the old hymn, “Thou my everlasting portion, More than friend or life to me…” (#407, The United Methodist Hymnal). For ancient Israel, that’s what land as inheritance meant.

So it was with ancient Israel. The Israelites couldn’t do with the land as they might choose. Land as inheritance required that it be used only in ways faithful to Yahweh. This meant social justice. Thus, the Old Testament laws relating to social justice are, to a great extent, laws about the land. The Deuteronomic* laws mentioned in the previous chapter say much about land use. The ancient traditions of Sabbath and Jubilee (Ex. 23: 10-11; Lev. 25; Deut. 15:1-18) are especially direct. These date from the origins of Israel.1 They required that crop land lie fallow during certain intervals. This sustained its capacity to grow crops. Family land that had been lost was to be returned to its original owners (Lev. 25). These laws also required that debts be pardoned (Deut. 15: 1-3) and that Hebrew slaves and bonded servants be set free. The law that part of the harvest be left for the poor (Deut. 24:19-22) is another example of social legislation regulating land use. Managing the land and social justice were united in ancient Israel. This unity is based on the idea of land as Yahweh’s inheritance.

1. Art Davidson, Endangered People (San Francisco:Sierra Club Books, 1993),p.38

Native people upset over land issues

Whenever I read stories of people struggling against big powers that run them over with arrogance, something in me goes off. I’m at first upset and then I wonder how things like these can take place. Is there no legal redress? Unfortunately, that’s exactly where the problem lies. By way of the legal definition of what makes up ‘indigenous’ land,  injustice occurs.

It’s an age old game that the old colonial powers played well, using the doctrine of “terra nullius,” they take over lands they deem to be “land belonging to no one” or “territory that nobody owns so that the first nation to discover it is entitled to take it over.” That’s fair enough until we discover that even where land was already occupied by people, they  are still taken over. On what grounds do they make their claim? Or should I say pretext? The following website by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation gives a comprehensive explanation on the issue:

The colonisers acknowledged the presence of Indigenous people but justified their land acquisition policies by saying the Aborigines were too primitive to be actual owners and sovereigns and that they had no readily identifiable hierarchy or political order which the British Government could recognise or negotiate with.

Well nearer to home, I salute Carolyn Hong, Malaysia Bureau Chief of The Straits Times, for this courageous piece of writing with regards to the issue of land and the future of the native people who live there and are its true owners.

Native people upset over land issues.

The Straits Times | March 17, 2011
By Carolyn Hong, Malaysia Bureau Chief

KUCHING (SARAWAK): A group of villagers in northern Sarawak’s interior set up a blockade last week to stop the construction of a Petronas gas pipeline to Sabah.

The villagers at Long Atip in Baram were demanding that the national oil company first fulfil its promises said to have been made in 2007 to upgrade the road, install lamp posts and provide them generators.

Such blockades are not uncommon, but they are usually aimed at logging and plantation companies that the indigenous people say are rapidly encroaching on their land. These measures have turned violent on occasion. Last month, the longhouse villagers in the remote Ulu Niah area of north Sarawak clashed with a plantation company that allegedly infringed on their land.

‘We had 2,458ha of native customary land, but we found out that the land was converted into state land,’ longhouse head Changgai Dali told The Star newspaper. Lawyer Baru Bian said this was just the tip of the iceberg. His firm has filed over 100 such cases in court in the last 10 years, and he believes that there are more than 200 cases in total awaiting judgment.

Mr Baru, 53, heads the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat in Sarawak and will be contesting the election in the interior. He is a Lun Bawang, a member of a minority tribe in the highlands.

Such land disputes are among the biggest issues in Sarawak, especially native customary land where the government and the native people disagree over the definition.

Under the law, land that was occupied by indigenous people in Sarawak before Jan 1, 1958 is considered native land, usually based on the presence of burial grounds, and the planting of crops and trees. But the people there insist that it should also extend to what they call territorial domain and the forests which provide them sustenance.

The government, however, considers this state land and has awarded concessions to timber and plantation companies.

‘It’s a problem everywhere, from Lundu to Lawas,’ said Mr Baru, naming two towns at the extreme ends of the state.

Even in areas where the native claims are not disputed, problems arise. For instance, not far outside Kuching, several villagers of the Bidayuh tribe said they are still waiting for titles promised to them 10 years ago.

One of them, Mr Smith Jenih, said they need the land titles to get bank loans to start small businesses.

‘This is really the biggest problem for us,’ he said, adding that the lack of titles has also caused quarrels among the villagers who do not know where their properties start and end.

‘We want a solution to our problems before the election,’ said Sibuluh village chief Jien anak Nyobek.

The opposition hopes to capitalise on these longstanding issues but has so far not had much success in the remote interior. It had tried to make inroads among the Ibans in the last by-election in Sibu last May, but that did not happen.

The isolation of these areas and their close-knit communities are the biggest stumbling blocks.

Judaism and Charity

How does the Bible look at philanthropy and in what way does it differ from the way we normally look at it? For those of us searching for deeper insights about charity, we should look into the rabbinical traditions, which hold much wisdom. It can provide us solutions for charity in terms of community enterprise and sustainable development. I want to hear your comments on Judaism and charity.

Judaism and Charity
Article from the socialenterprise.wordpress.com by David Russell

Charitable giving is a requirement of Jewish law. It is prescribed as a mitzvah (commandment). “When your brother will become poor, you will extend your hand to him” (Leviticus 25:35) and care for the “the stranger, and the orphan and the widow” (Deuteronomy 19:29).

Ever since the time of Abraham, there has been an obligation “to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right (tzedakah)” (Genesis 18:19). But “what is right” has been a subject of rabbinic interpretation ever since. The primary sources on this vast subject are Mishneh Torah, the first systematic codification of Jewish law by Maimonides in the 12th century, and the Shulchan Aruch, collated by Rabbi Joseph Karo in the 16th century.

The practice of ma’aser kesafim, giving 10% of one’s income, derives from Jacob’s commitment to God: “of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you” (Genesis 28:22). In the Talmud, an upper limit of 20% of income is set, based on the reasoning that a higher percentage may result in the giver himself becoming needy (Talmud, Ketubot 50a), but this does not apply if there is a need to save life.

Maimonides records eight levels of giving. The highest level is to help the recipient to become self-supporting, by finding or giving a job to the person in need, or making a loan to enable them to start up a business. “The giver who knows not to whom he gives and the recipient knows not from whom he receives” is the second highest level. The least good is the giver that is pained by the act of giving.

Rashi postulates in his commentary on Leviticus 25:35 that there is an even higher level of giving, that is to help people before they even require help on the basis that if a load “is still on the donkey, one person can grasp it and hold it in place. Once it falls to the ground, however, five people cannot pick it up” (Torath Kohanim 25:71). Giving before one is asked is particularly important in protecting the self-esteem of the person in need – as well as encouraging others to give as: “greater than one who does the mitzvah, is one who causes others to do a mitzvah” (Talmud, Baba Batra 9a).

The Talmudic concept of tovat hana’ah affords givers the right to choose the recipients of the money in a manner which provides them indirect benefit (Matnot Aniyiim 1:8). It is advised, though, that all funds should not be given to a single level of priority.

The amount that one gives should be calculated with care and ideally a separate fund should be established for funds to be held in trust for the ultimate recipients (Sefer Ma’aser Kesofim 50-54). Tzedakah should be given with compassion and happiness (Mishneh Torah 9:4). It should be made easy for recipients, so each community should have tzedekah administrators so the poor do not need to go house to house collecting (Sefer Tzedakah U’Mishpat 43). One should not brag about one’s giving, but it is acceptable to put one’s name on a gift for communal use (Shulchan Aruch 249:21).

Talmudic sources also wrestle with the ever-present issue of how givers are to decide on priorities. Most sources place the saving of life first (an interesting insight into the life of the times is the inclusion of ransom for captives in this category). We are told elsewhere that first comes closeness to the giver (relatives ahead of non-relatives); second comes intensity and nature of need (priority for those requiring food over those requiring clothing); thirdly, level of education (Torah scholars take precedence over non-scholars); fourthly gender (women take precedence over men). All these come before lineage, where a Jew takes precedence over a non-Jew.

Whilst strong ties of kinship and community are priorities for giving, as they are amongst all peoples, elsewhere in the Talmud we read: “We feed non-Jewish poor together with Jewish for the sake of peace (good relations).” (Talmud, Gittin 61a).

To conclude, there are no definitive answers to practical dilemmas of giving. Every Jew is commanded to give charity and help the needy. Jewish law leaves that open to interpretation, though within the parameters of these guidelines. Ultimately, this is our choice, and privilege.

First published: Jewish Renaissance Magazine, April 2010 Issue.

For more information on Jewish Renaissance, please visit: http://www.jewishrenaissance.org.uk

Repositioning Asean in new world order

Feb 24, 2011
By Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, For The Straits Times

AS PUNDITS debate the imminence of the Asian Century, and the impact of the rise of China and India, one phenomenon continues to evolve steadily: the remarkable geopolitical transformation of South-east Asia.

In the past, South-east Asia had been bled and torn apart by some of the 20th century’s nastiest protracted wars.

Today, there is no war between the major powers in South-east Asia, no proxy war involving countries in the region, and no war between South-east Asian countries. What was once a painfully divided region is now a cohesive grouping of Asean 10, with an Asean Free Trade Area, and a dynamic Asean Community in the making.

Asean still has plenty of internal and external challenges, of course. But a fresh forward-looking charter is guiding Asean to adapt in meeting these challenges.

A key part of that transformation is how to reposition Asean in the 21st century world order.

The Asean region now has a population of more than 600 million citizens, with a combined gross domestic product of US$1.5 trillion (S$1.9 trillion) marked by high growth and political stability, a growing middle class, endowed by enormous natural resources, including some of the world’s largest tracts of rainforests. With these considerable assets, Asean can grow internally as well as externally.

Asean has thus become a regional organisation with global significance. There are, however, responsibilities that go with this hard-earned status.

There are several ways in which Asean can contribute to the community of nations.

# First, in its own neighbourhood, Asean can continue to realise the vision of a region becoming ‘a concert of South-east Asian nations, outward-looking, living in peace, stability and prosperity’. This means realising the Asean Community by 2015 in all its politico-security, economic and socio-cultural dimensions; closing the development gap; managing or resolving some of the outstanding conflicts and disputes in the region where possible; bringing Asean to the grassroots; promoting interdependence – all the necessary tools of community-building.

In a volatile world, a resilient and dynamic South-east Asia at the heart of Asia makes a big difference.

# Second, Asean can help shape and evolve the larger regional architecture in the Asia-Pacific. Asean is in the best position to carry out this task: With its dialogue partners, the East Asia Summit, the Asean Regional Forum and the Asean Plus Three forum, Asean is already the hub of the region’s key diplomatic processes. But it should not make the mistake of taking the notion of Asean centrality for granted.

Asean must continue to ensure that dynamic shifts in power relations do not lead to strategic tension but rather result in a dynamic equilibrium, and to a state of regional affairs marked not by geostrategic clash but by growing confluence.

# Third, Asean can help advance cooperation on global issues. Asean will not assume European Union-like common foreign and security policy. But Asean can work towards a more coordinated position to provide a collective push on issues such as climate change, forestry, global financial crisis, transnational crimes and terrorism. Rather than resisting or pushing them away, Asean finds it better to engage all the major and emerging powers to find a common solution. This is why Asean, represented by its rotating chairman, has taken active part in recent G-20 summits.

Asean is said to be among the world’s most successful regional organisations. Not too long from now, an Asean Community will emerge, and it will be confronted with the daunting task to find its rightful place in a still elusive and turbulent world order.

It is a challenge that Asean is ready to meet.

The writer is President of the Republic of Indonesia, and the current chairman of Asean.

Climate Refugees’ Plight in Oscar Spotlight | OnEarth Magazine

In the short documentary “Sun Come Up” that was produced in 2008 on the Carteret Islanders and now nominated for the Oscars, they are portrayed as a resilient people who are forced to navigate their future in the face of climate change.

Unknown to many people and the media was that a project was launched in the Carteret islands in May 2009 that brought much excitement to the people. The mission of the Carteret Islands Transformation project (previously called the LiveFish project) was to empower the islanders through the platform of work and management of their natural resource, fish.

In our engagement with the Carteret islanders, we have found them to be truly a resilient and graceful people. We also realized what this project meant to them. For the first time, they have in their hands the option of staying on in their islands instead of relocation to the mainland in Bougainville, a place and people unfamiliar to them. The project empowered them with a precious gift – choice.

Instead of raising homes in new places where they may or may not be welcomed, many would prefer to save their Home, the island they grew up in and lived all their lives. Housing is actually the simplest issue to address. Even if land is found for them, how do they make their livelihoods? How would they survive with no jobs or opportunities? There are also cultural and political ramifications.

To save their island is not a dream or hope but can be a reality, if the Carteret Transformation project succeeds. It is a bold aspiration but the Carteret Islanders are a courageous people who will do all they can, given the tools, to Raise their island home above the rising sea-levels.

We have met many such amazing islanders, amongst whom are people like Mama Moi and John Salik. They say they will fight to the end to save their island, even if it means they will be the last to leave. The Carteret Transformation project provides the islanders the resources they require to do so, something they previously did not have. If you would like to find out more on how you can help them save their island, contact us.

Climate Refugees’ Plight in Oscar Spotlight | OnEarth Magazine.

Holistic Solution, Carteret Islands, PNG (Cantonese)

針對Carteret島民的困境,”Carteret 海島 計划”是一套整體解決島民困境的方案。這套解決的方案是設立一個”生活學府”,以讓社區有所改變。其中包括了一個商業規模的漁場運作。這個課程將教導島上每户家庭如何在經營生活的同時,也能尋求謀生。對島民來說,這不僅僅只是讓他們學會開發漁業資源, 也意味着他們將學會如何經營和管理自己的生活。漁業的發產是一項屬靈成果,建立在上帝在聖經里的話語基礎上所結出的屬靈果子。www.nrv.com.sg Blog resourceventures.wordpress.com