Friday, October 26, 2007

Wow, what a great thing sanctions are

I'm so glad that we have perfected the use of sanctions to help further democracy in the world. It really has worked out so well for us so far. We were able to put the squeeze on the communist regime in Cuba, forcing them to overthrow their government and become a truly democratic society. We are well on our way to pressure Iran to stop enriching Uranium and being a jerk to the rest of the region. This is quite a useful tool, we should think of deploying it more often.

In reality though, I can't believe what I am reading about everything these days. Sanctions, especially the unilateral sanctions that we tend to prefer, have proven over the last five decades to do nothing in terms of actually forcing change. And yet our government, whether Republican or Democrat, seems oblivious to that fact.

Two recent examples from the news further this reality. Recently, President Bush met with a room half of Latin American diplomats, and half Cuban exiles. His speech was directed at the transfer of power in Cuba, and the President expressed concern that the people take this opportunity to shed the government that has controlled their destinies for the last half century. Mr. Bush also took the time to re-iterate the U.S.'s stance that the travel and trade embargoes on the island nation will continue until such a time as the country returns to a democratic state. These embargoes have worked wonderfully so far, haven't they? Really brought Cuba to see the error of their ways, didn't it?

Actually, the United States is a victim of its own policy, making us impotent as well as a hypocrite to boot. Since 2001, after a visit to the island nation by Hurricane Michelle, the United States authorized the sale of food and medical supplies to Cuba, in the pretense of humanitarian relief. The supplies could only be purchased "cash-only," as if that made a difference. Since then, the US has become one of Cuba's top 10 trading partners, racking up millions of dollars in trade with the verboden country. This has also aroused the ire of our allies, especially Canada, in relation to free trade, but that is a topic for another time.

Of course, the Cuban exile portion of the room leapt into an ovation, according to the New York Times. The diplomats remained silent, probably thinking of the rhetoric that was spewing forth and how they've heard this sort of speech before, only with regard to the leaders of the Middle East. It wasn't going to fly.

Indeed, this administration has stepped up the "sanction and embargo" theme in the volatile Middle East, this week condemning Iran and levying sanctions against the Qud Guards and several Iranian banking institutions, which Mr. Bush designated as sponsors of terrorism. Despite the fact that there have been sanctions imposed on the region since the 1979 uprising. Despite the fact that the Guards, and Iran, still does major business daily across the globe, in full flaunt of whatever we say against it.

The message we should be learning from all this is that unilateral sanctions do nothing anymore. Iran is in business with countries who will gladly fill any void left by the United States, especially considering Iran's vast petrochemical wealth. China, Russia, and the EU are just some of the international groups willing to deal with Iran in order to continue global economic growth. Nothing the US can say or threaten will cease that. Globalism has undermined these sorts of efforts before. Cuba did business with Russia, Canada, and the EU (and now the US as well, behind our own backs) for decades under a US "embargo". The Sudan, another black-listed country, has also turned elsewhere for economic investment, finding plenty of suitors who want to work with their own oil reserves. The list goes on.

The only way sanctions can work is if it is a concerted effort by the major economic powers of the world (the US, EU, China, India, Russia, and Canada) to really bring the pressure to bear on these nations. Unilateralism went out the window when globalism opened the floodgates. We no longer control the majority of trade and money flow in the world; if a country cannot do business with us, it can find other lucrative partners more than willing to turn a blind eye to whatever humanitarian, environmental, or political atrocity might be going on inside in order to further their own domestic economic agenda. If we continue to go it alone in this effort, we only end up looking ineffective and out of touch with reality, as the rest of the world sits silently during out tirade, then cleans up financially in the aftermath. Better international diplomacy, and a good dose of the real world and its new global structure, would greatly be
nefit any pipe dreams we may harbor to affect real change in the world via economic pressures. Until then, the audience is holding its breath.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Major Mayer Muddle

John Mayer, the singer-songwriter who is improbably famous, released a song last year which, upon my hearing (I don't keep up 100% with recent pop music), strikes me as horribly wrong for someone with so much influence on the general public. His song is "Waiting on the world to change," and has lyrics that advocate, in my mind, lazing around and idly hoping that everything will get better.

Now we see everything that's going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don't have the means
To rise above and beat it
It's not that we don't care,
We just know that the fight ain't fair
So we keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change

These lyrics are ridiculous. It will never be easy to change the world. Change is hard, it is difficult. It comes in small leaps and bounds, often with gross steps backwards. All good fights have been like that. The fight for racial equality, which is still going on, has been a veritable roller coaster of achievements and setbacks. The environment, poverty, Vietnam war protests ... nearly every progressive movement in society is on the backs of the hard working people making minuscule additions to the fight.

To say that it is too hard, or that that fight isn't fair, is simply preposterous. No fight is fair, nothing is easy if you want it done right and are fighting against a tide, which every good innovation in our society has done or is trying to do.

And for Mayer to claim that is too easy is bullshit. For him to be a role model for the younger segments of our population, and to tell them just to sit back and wait until things change, is ludicrous. Then it'll never happen! If everyone simply "waits for the world to change" then the world will never change! What if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had said, "well, we'd like equality, but it's really an uphill battle, so I'm gonna sit back and wait for the world to change." Where would we be?

It's repugnant that Mayer would put this song into circulation.
When you're a celebrity you have a responsibility to inspire, to challenge, to move forward. Not to advocate apathy and stagnation.

[Thanks to Anne for bringing this song to my attention]

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Food for thought

I have recently had the opportunity to read the new book by Alan Weisman, entitled The World Without Us. The book is both an intriguing thought-exercise as well as a subtle warning, and is definitely worth the read.

Weisman ponders the question of what the world would do, would look like, if humans magically disappeared tomorrow? Everything left intact as it stands right now (no nuclear holocaust or such removal) and no more degradation of the environment than we've already started (so not in 100 years with rampant global warming). He just examines how the natural world would respond to our absence. From flooding of New York subways to the destruction of our cherished monuments (and the perseverance of some others), he looks at the world in our wake.

It is at times hopeful as to the restorative nature of, well, nature. Looking analytically at how nature responds to shifts beyond equilibrium (and the amount of human effort used in combating the encroaching wilderness on what we've already built). He seems to indicate that mother nature would eventually bulldoze our creations, even our great skyscrapers, and lay it all down in verdant growth.

He goes on to discuss some of our creations which stand to remain the longest, and these stand as potent reminders of how our evolving technology can impact the environment long after it has left our conscious thought. Plastics, chemicals, radioactive waste, and global warming are all touched on in this human-less future.

It is an engaging book, one that deserves mention for attention to readers. It's conflicting messages, of the resilience of nature, compounded with our own technological advances that nature has no answer to, leave you a bit flustered, but definitely thinking in new directions. I found myself wondering, as I drove past them on the way for some hiking, how long these farms, these car lots, these houses would last under the strain of nature. And also it helps to re-evaluate your impact on the planet. Weisman writes with a dis-arming natural flow, an inviting approach to the subject that is technical without being intimidating, informative without being boring. An enlightening and entertaining read, for sure.