A previous post hereunder, A WATER POLICY FOR CANADA, stated the biggest challenge humanity has ever confronted is its current need for basic access to potable water. While that may well be the most complex and overwhelming mankind has yet faced, the Earth faces a bigger one. Collective overpopulation by the human race.
Procreation is a right every being on earth has always inherently considered natural and basic. Sanctity of life and freedom to procreate have brought the world’s population to levels already beyond the earth’s ability to satisfy the needs of each new life. Other than discussed, or commented on by deniers and pro-life advocates, the term overpopulation is a four letter word that has moved to the center of the politically correct protective compound. Much of the developed world has had the luxury of being able to disregard the nagging but silent provocation. It is only slightly affected, although there is the residue of our own movement toward overpopulation evidenced in our rivers and lakes.
The agenda that receives attention includes fears of global warming, cleaning up our environment, the high price of oil, a shortage of water and the increases in our food prices. New terms like ecological footprint have entered our perception window, creating vague images related to consumption, yet serving some positive purpose as they stimulate guilt impulses across our synapses. The result is that we feel a certain angst when filling up our SUVs and think about possibilities of hybrids. Our consumption of nature’s abundance continues having grown faster than most had anticipated. No amount of cutting back by those of us in developed countries, while appeasing conscience, will deliver a solution. Such can only be achieved by a determined and deliberate engagement with the collective challenge of overpopulation.
The nature and size of the uncontrolled growth of the past century get little attention, yet we are encroaching on nature to an extent now being felt by everyone, including those of us most enjoying its fruits. Even if the total population leveled off at somewhere around ten billion by mid-century, we have already stretched the earth’s finite tolerance levels on too many fronts. Consumption has already exceeded the abilities of our technological capacities for sustainability or capacities to reverse damage on the environment. Ignoring population growth is ignoring the power of nature’s determination not to be overwrought by any force.
The impact of overpopulation is being felt by some third world countries where too often food and water are not available other than when weaned from the bosom of a 747 transport plane. There are many countries such as Niger, for example, where on average, over seven children are born to mothers already overwhelmed by difficulties caring for, or feeding themselves. Niger’s population is expected to be 56 million by 2050. It had only 1.7 million people in 1960. Our own tolerance in the developed countries and even developing countries will be strained when we are directly impacted by shortages of foods, medical care, energy or degradation of personal safety. We should not wait to be surprised by the failure of human ingenuity to solve this challenge for us.
Answers lie in education and work such as that done by Doctors Without Borders which promotes female emancipation in cultures with low literacy rates, encouraging women to take control of their own bodies. Developed countries should assist developing countries with providing women and men education on health and family planning. The efforts must be dramatic. The earth has presented us a challenge with ample warnings. It awaits a cogent and persuasive response, before issuing its own.
Monday, April 28, 2008
A previous post hereunder, A WATER POLICY FOR CANADA, stated the biggest challenge humanity has ever confronted is its current need for basic access to potable water. While that may well be the most complex and overwhelming mankind has yet faced, the Earth faces a bigger one. Collective overpopulation by the human race.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Promises of hopes and dreams of a greater tomorrow are easily fashioned in whatever vernacular the exhortation might take to energize political agenda. There are certain financial realities, however, all three current candidates vying for the leather seat in the oval office are ignoring. They have to in order to have a chance at getting elected.
The U.S. national debt is over $9.3 trillion and rising, yet it does not fully represent the reality of the government’s total commitment to a retiring generation. This amount has been calculated to be well north of $50 trillion. Given that the total U.S. GDP is expected to be $14.3 trillion in 2008, while the total Federal, State and Local spending will be $5.1 trillion, this looming debt seems difficult to ignore. It is evidently safer to neglect this reality since confronting it would mean preparing a plan and presenting it to the American public, and bad news is never enjoyable. Bearers of bad news are also rarely popular, and never elected.
Clinton is claiming no tax increases for those with incomes less than $250,000, and Obama is committing to tax cuts for incomes less than $250,000. Since the average taxpayer earns one fifth of that, and only the top three percent are in the Clinton and Obama unprotected income range, where do they expect the funds to come from?
There is also a dissonant refrain, repeated recently by McCain, that cutting taxes will stimulate the economy, as in top-down or trickle-down. This hasn’t worked so well in the past since the real incomes have been stagnant for a generation and supply-side economics have in fact coincided with increased deficits. It is also a strange and demeaning concept, or should be, for a vast majority of the population.
There are few in Congress who could be accused of being fiscal conservatives. All have been big spenders. It is amazing that somehow Republicans have been able to convince taxpayers that they are against big government and the Democrats convey the image that they are for responsible government. Neither claim is based on truth or evidence. Being against big government has really meant being against oversight of any kind while you spend your way into the history books, and responsible government has really meant just keep spending while pretending you don’t really want to, or mean to.
There is a dearth of options and the few that exist are unpleasant for the average tax payer. Nevertheless, each individual has the ability to participate in the long term economic recovery and each has a responsibility to make wishes heard by elected representatives. The challenge lies in finding representatives that can do more than listen.Each voter has an obligation to empower and demand difficult decision of their elected officials.
All levels of government will be obliged to drastically reduce spending and increasing taxes. Taking difficult action will be the only way to prevent America and its economy from lapsing into a depression forcing years of hardship as borrowing continues unabated.
The coming five years will define America’s ethos as it makes difficult decisions. Taxpayers should not tolerate inattention to the challenge. Doing so would allow the world’s respect to shift and slide into the nether regions of human sentiment and into pathos.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, has been presented by the Tibetan monks who selected him as an evolved being who has chosen to return to mortal environs to help others in their search for enlightenment. He was enthroned at the age of fifteen, making him Tibet’s political and religious leader. His recent years have found him traveling the world, promoting universal concepts of peace and harmony. This week, the Dalai Lama urged America and other wealthy countries to cut back on their lifestyles stating that happiness would come, not from money and power, but altruism and compassion. He also said “We need Tibetan and Chinese brothers and sisters to meet face to face from time to time.” Such comments and sentiments inevitably raise a difficult question.
The Dalai Lama’s self effacing humor and mannerisms endear him to most listeners. He appears to be a great communicator with an ability to interact personably and directly with those he addresses. Outside his home continent, the world has enveloped this religious leader with a certain aura bordering on secular saintliness. Even the Pope would welcome such sweeping and extensive endowment.
If he is convinced of his own pronouncement that the Chinese government is causing the cultural genocide of Tibetans, then he should take it on as his responsibility to step into the fray, against what his handlers appear to have been counseling him.
Meeting with heads of state, or wealthy and connected supporters from around the world, may be helpful for raising funds and spreading the message, however it does little to move Tibetans toward any resolution with Chinese leaders. If his culture is heading for extinction, then his Tibetan brethren would anticipate that he would use the international goodwill capital he has accumulated, and apply it to some resolution that might welcome his return as a spiritual, rather than as a spiritual and political leader.
The Dalai Lama should take the next available flight to Beijing. Literally, … board a plane and appear, with no preconditions. While China may have its own preconditions for his return to Tibet, his very arrival at Beijing Capital International Airport is a completely different matter, and the event would provide him audience with China’s leadership. Dialogue or communications from afar, and through interlocutors, are ineffective in such a politically charged negotiation. Only through face to face dialogue with those at the center of power will the Dalai Lama have a chance to establish a satisfactory relationship between himself, his Tibetan followers, and China.
Too often lost in the emotional debates and related coverage is the fortuitous reality that Tibet is rich in uranium, boron, gold, zinc, chromium, lithium, copper, magnetite, barite, arsenic, gypsum, and pottery clay. Tibet also presents vast potential as a source of hydroelectric and geothermal energy. Only in Beijing will he be able to conclude agreements that will provide his fellow Tibetans with some influence and participation in the exploitation of the vast abundance of natural resources that could create a region as wealthy as any on Earth.
Lectures in Washington, Los Angeles, Ottawa or Sydney provide positive messages to the world, and enrich his personal presence as a global citizen, however, the Dalai Lama’s most important audience awaits his appearance in Beijing. Their cause would be presented in the most eloquent form, behind closed doors, but under the glare of the international limelight awaiting positive solutions, … the same limelight that will secure his longevity. His success may also find a repatriation of what remains of the Tibetan diaspora.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Baby boomers are about to create a demographic shift that they and other stakeholders appear unprepared for. A whole generation is negotiating toward the threshold of retirement and its uncertainties, yet too many of its members appear primarily focused on reducing the impact on aging. They have made assumptions on the state of the long term financial health of their social security and medical care.
With the arrival of 2011, the first of the boomer generation will turn 65, qualifying for the potentially overwhelmed and underfinanced programs of Medicare, Medicaid and pensions. The lack of savings and preparedness by the baby boomers, and their government as well as the rest of society, suggest complete inattention to the affect that the coming shift will have on the collective social, political and economic fabric.
A current Presidential candidate potentially becoming the oldest person ever elected to the White House is not an accidental quirk of nature. The average North American born today is expected to be more productive for longer than any member of preceding generations and has a reasonable chance of becoming a centenarian. The population’s average age is increasing, and by 2020 it is expected that there will be 53 million people 65 years or older. The retirement and medical care programs were developed when average life spans were shorter, cost of living was much lower, and medical care expenses were cheaper, yet the system is committed. There is some good news however, as older people are healthier and have fewer disabilities somewhat reducing their dependence on medical care. There is an expectancy that boomers will head into retirement in better health than the previous generation. It remains that health care will become the heaviest burden weighing on the federal budget over the coming thirty years.
As boomers make their way through life in retirement, they will tap into the pension system that has represented the significant portion of national savings and investment funds which have historically provided fuel for the economy. There is an anticipated reversal of that trend to begin in the mid 2020’s. The capital base supporting boomers will begin shrinking, and the impact will affect both the retirees and the broader economy.
Baby boomers must make plans, as much as they can, to augment the financing of their retirements through the establishment of cash flow streams of their own creation. Boomers should not assume that current or future pension fund governance will work in their favor, or that market forces and direction will prove positive influence on their collective pension nest eggs. Boomers should prepare to make up possible shortfalls when bills arrive, whether for fixing leaky roofs, or purchasing prescribed drugs not covered by medical plans. They should also exert pressure on Congress, demanding that fiscal responsibility and oversight be assiduously applied to government spending, and that effective reforms be implemented to the health care system.
Boomers, whatever you are saving, increase it. Every dollar will count, but then, that’s not news.
Friday, April 18, 2008
The conflict between church and state has long been a difficult element of contention, and is actually a debate between religion and the state. That somewhat opaque wall erected between political authorities, and adherents of particular religious beliefs has provided enough room for interpretation that some groups have found refuge in a well guarded gray void for over a century. The state has been restrained and shown little haste in its dispatch of legal process against endless cases of abuse against children. Why act now?
The confusion that arises over the government’s intrusion on religious practice is evident in the wake of the current conflict between the State of Texas and a group of polygamist Mormons. It is also in full display in British Columbia, Canada, where the Attorney General, Wally Opal, is not as lucky and has yet to receive a scream for help, as is the case with Texan authorities. Mr. Opal remains inhibited, lacking confidence that his court of appeals, or his Supreme Court will support him in these very lax, politically correct, and indulgent times, should he decide to lay charges. The man in his sights is Winston Blackmore, owner of three hundred acres he calls, Bountiful. Blackmore reportedly has fathered well over 100 children and by his own words appears to be a contender for the Warren Steed Jeff’s throne as leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
By any other definition, polygamy is a male concept seeking mastery over women. Through polygamy men are in complete control of all facets of their women’s and children’s lives, including their bodies and their minds. The harm to both has been well documented and researched for over a century and has included abuse, coercion, constraint, violence, health problems, sale into marriage, and poverty.
Can governments exert authority over the individual’s conscience? If religion is a matter of belief, and is therefore protected by the first amendment, how do you adjudicate over polygamy which is a conduct supposedly directed and instructed by a religion? In an early unanimous decision on polygamy, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Field, in Davis vs. Beason in 1890 opined: "Bigamy and polygamy are crimes by the laws of all civilized and Christian countries. They are crimes by the laws of the United States, and they are crimes by the laws of Idaho. They tend to destroy the purity of the marriage relation, to disturb the peace of families, to degrade woman, and to debase man. Few crimes are more pernicious to the best interests of society, and receive more general or more deserved punishment. To extend exemption from punishment for such crimes would be to shock the moral judgment of the community. To call their advocacy a tenet of religion is to offend the common sense of mankind."
Subsequent decisions concluded that although laws cannot interfere with religious beliefs, laws could interfere with practices. The proximity of the two as pertains to polygamy blurs the distinction, and therein lies the hurdle that judicial systems have been almost totally unable to leap for prosecution. Polygamists have been so effective at controlling and manipulating their broods, that over the last hundred years very few children have escaped, and been able to describe their ordeals. In the world of polygamy, the administration of justice has been left to depend on the emergence of evidence of crimes from behind well guarded compound gates and the almost non-existent witness testimony. Proof is extremely difficult to come by, and corroboration virtually impossible.
The whole judicial system waits for a child, not only to be raped, but to then cry for help from beyond the walls. The childrens’ mothers won’t do it. The overwhelming challenge for authorities has been the ability to mount a legal case against any abuser. Polygamists have covered their tracks, including the records indicating the age of their wives at marriage. Two nations await effective outcomes in the Texas prosecutions, after which it is hoped, Mr. Opal will manifest some confidence in British Columbia and other prosecutors in Utah will feel empowered to take action, extinguishing the gross abuse endured by thousands of children and future mothers under the guise of religious freedom.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Democratic Superdelegates, with a pivotal Presidential election in their sights, are being hassled by opposing forces to commit for reasons becoming less evident by the day. With a bombardment of wide-ranging propositions germane to the triumph of the party, to the will of the majority, to a candidate’s overtures, or to the aspiration of the country, is it surprising that the confusion is conspicuous? The hard numbers have not yet provided an overwhelming winner, and the teetering balance may well resolve to the superdelegates for conclusion. Where should they seek adjudication on their upcoming consequential decisions above the interference of their cell phones?
Nancy Pelosi had sent a warning, stating that it would be a serious mistake for the Democratic Party if the superdelegates voted against the popular vote. Emerging from the leadership of a Democratic party within a Democracy, this is a particularly dissonant pronouncement. Ms. Pelosi’s motivation is less significant than the fact that she uses fear as a motivator. Is the credibility and future of the Democratic party left in the hands of the superdelegates, and directly commensurate with their upcoming votes? Not by any measure, nor should it be. Members of the electorate will consider the outcome from the aspect of their respective positions, whichever direction is taken by the superdelegates.
Some of the superdelegates are by definition unpledged delegates independent of primary and caucus results. They are supposed to be free to support any candidate they wish to be their party’s representative for the run to the White House. The acrimonious path the current Democratic race has taken between Clinton and Obama, should give rise to a commitment on conscientious and thoughtful decision making. Most delegates heading into the crowning convention will unfortunately not have much room to maneuver regardless what might surface from the candidates in the interim period.
In the creation of superdelegates, the senior party officials wanted to retain some influence over party direction independent of the electorate. Ms. Pelosi’s angst is that the role of the superdelegates, as was originally intended, might go against the slim majority, and in such a close race, could discharge dictatorial fumes. Whatever candidate their final vote supports, half of the Democrats will feel dissatisfied, disgruntled and some perhaps even angry. It remains that the superdelegates must be provided the maximum time and latitude for a final decision on who will run against John McCain. The outcome’s substantive impact on the American and global landscapes during the coming decade requires it. When making life changing decisions, do we not all wish for all possible instructive facts to surface? Do we not squeeze as much time as might be available, ergo the eleventh hour?
The ratio of pledged delegates for the two candidates in each State should have no bearing on the decisions of any of the superdelegates. Expecting otherwise renders them redundant, and should be a persuasive argument for the Democratic party to implement reforms to its process. The reality is that they exist. The other reality is that this is a democracy. In this election, the undeclared superdelegates should all have until the eleventh hour, even if this clock goes to the convention floor.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
General Electric is one of those bellwether companies whose size and breadth of markets provides a gauge, not only on the health of America’s economic engines, but on the world’s. The announcement of a year to year drop in profits was a surprise to enough GE investors that its shares retreated on Friday dropping the market capitalization by approximately $45 billion. It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise given the company’s profit performance has historically been so dependent on commercial financing operations. There it is nevertheless, forecasting a flat year, with the overall markets listening intently and adjusting themselves downward ever so sympathetically. Good news?
The adjustments we are witnessing through all indexes are actually a strong statement being made by consumers. American consumers are taking action, and the markets are attentively listening. Many experts claim that the index of consumer confidence dropping to a 26 year low is an indication that America has already entered a recession. Further foreboding signs on the road include the ever frightening potential of rising inflation, rising gas prices, rising food prices, and tightening job markets. If that isn’t enough prejudice on the future, watch out for the Euro, it augurs to overtake the USD as the preferred hard currency. So where along this road is the good news?
This whole road, starting with the consumer already tightening the belt is good news. This is the good news for the long term health of what is and will remain the most vital and vibrant economy in the world. The American consumer has taken control. That control starts at home, and is already visible with a tapering of the out-of-control spending by America that the world’s economy has been applauding for too long. This is the same consumer that most experts have considered incapable of demonstrating restraint in spending. The consumer is seeing the road ahead and is exhibiting caution. As the Federal Reserve slices interest rates further, American consumers are being diligent on where their precious incomes are deployed, and they are being apprehensive of further borrowing. That isn’t good news, that is great news. This is not consumer weakness, it is consumer strength. The U.S. economy will take a breather since consumer spending is 70% of the U.S. economy, and even if that lull takes a year or two, it will bode well for the long term recovery of the world’s most powerful economy and primary engine. It will also dampen the predicted levels of inflation. Of course the American consumer will continue to spend, but that spending will be tempered, and we will hopefully discover an increase in savings.
This is an attitude shift that will lead most consumers to continue considering each spending decision and its necessity very carefully. It might even lead to consideration being given to other impact or bounce that their spending might have in the broader context of their lives including their environment. That is a major alteration in American perspicacity that both Congress and the Administration will have no choice but to pay attention to. Consumers are carving a path their government will have to follow in kind. The pressure on the political system by the consumer will also lead to broad measures widely distributing opportunity through greater attention dedicated to education and enhancing its funding. Prospects for the future look bright. … And the Euro? America’s ingenuity and strength will maintain the dollar’s dominant position.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
On America’s doorstep a battle is being fought between ExxonMobil, the world’s largest company by revenue, and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. The battle field includes the oil refinery in Chalmette, Louisiana, co-owned by Exxon and Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PdVSA). Chavez has decided that he wants to replace Exxon as the operator of the refinery. The circuitous route that brought Chavez so much influence over a Louisiana refinery provides evidence that while wide open trade has benefits, there exists ample justification for the implementation of rules and guidelines on agreements and deal structures pertaining to assets critical to the state.
Exxon is looking for compensation on losses incurred in the nationalization of its interests in a high-sulfur, heavy oil venture, called Petromonagas located in Venezuela’s Orinoco basin. The dispute is rooted in the wide spread between Exxon’s expectation of $5 billion in restitution, and PdVSA’s claim that $750 million is adequate. Exxon’s efforts to freeze Venezuelan assets were defeated recently in the U.K., and it is pursuing action in the Netherlands, although international support leans in favor the country rather than the corporation. Venezuela’s OPEC peers have a vested interest in not allowing Exxon to successfully set such a precedent, regardless what losses it is Exxon’s right to claim. Talk about a line being drawn in the sand, … (had to say it) this precedent will have broad consequences beyond the oil industry.
Venezuela’s stake in the Chalmette refinery was purchased through part of the deal that created Petromonagas. This was not a front-page-news, publicly-visible, congress-looking-in type of deal. Yet here we are witnessing a foreign power making decisions over another’s strategic assets and fairness isn’t in the cards regardless where it lies.
It cannot be assumed that foreign powers will make strategic investments in North American companies and not use those positions of control to impress influence in the future. Rules and regulations must be established on all foreign investments, or deals, directly affecting industries and companies considered of strategic national interests. Near the top of that list should be natural resources, which have historically been left on the road with the sign-post “open season.”
For trade relationships to meet with the approval of all countries and for harmony to prevail, rules should be balanced and apply to both sides of any transaction, regardless what border the contract crosses. These transaction should be within the purviews of federal jurisdictions, and the rules must be set and applied accordingly.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
As much as the laisser faire concept is attractive in the world of business, and most things human, there are situations that require some analysis from a perspective other than the all consuming kick your ass ego, … or dollar. From India to Cupertino, media and financial players are weighing in on this mammoth deal. Mammoth, because how else do you describe an acquisition this enormous and with such repercussions. Those repercussions are the concern, … for the rest of us.
The monetary value of the transaction is only relevant to Yahoo and Microsoft shareholders who will find themselves deciphering the confusing pros and cons of the upcoming proxy fight. Recriminations have started and will continue until Microsoft gets its way. Some Yahoo shareholders and all its employees are already conflicted with their Silicon Valley we-hate-all-things-Redmond percepts, but employees who rightly fear for their jobs, will not really be included in the circumspect algorithm that consummates the deal. The dollar will rule, and Microsoft can purchase just about anything it wants. IMHO, Jerry Yang and his colleagues appear to be receiving bad advice or are simply listening to the wrong voices in their negotiations with the giant. Current publicly vented recriminations indicate a serious lack of strategic thinking and direction when both are needed against Gates and Balmer, two of the best in business. Remember what they did to IBM?
Yahoo is getting what can only be described as threats from Wall Street experts claiming that if it doesn’t deliver 12 percent or better in its first quarter results, it’s management will have no credibility. This is an inappropriate perspective on credibility. Jerry Yang and David Filo built a great company. Their hired help and board members in recent years have let them down.
Discussions with Time Warner for a merger with AOL will lead nowhere and AOL offerings have shown little if any creativity, or insight into human nature since it’s inception. Numerous countries will also weigh in on the conglomeration including China, whose recently legislated foreign ownership laws will bring scrutiny. They’re already looking at Microsoft sideways which will increase with Yahoo’s 40% stake in the Chinese Alibaba.com e-commerce portal. China will probably have some difficulty given the insurmountable obstacles to the fencing of internet sites and access. Other antitrust clamor is a red herring used as leverage, and Microsoft is well versed in that game.
Limiting the public’s options to Google and Microsoft, beyond any antitrust restrictions, is a stifling prospect. It has been posited that being fed by the Microsoft cash machine will provide Yahoo with endless opportunities for real growth. Such speculation ignores the fact that Yahoo is already a significant company with cash and stock to finance, within reason, anything that it might creatively set out to accomplish. Its bigger challenge over the recent past has been a confusion of what strategies to follow for advancement and innovation.
As Google makes a bee-line for the mobile environment, Yahoo gets entangled in a game that Wall Street has no wherewithal to adroitly consult on. From inside the battle, it has become obvious that this epic battle isn’t about conflict between corporate cultures but is now a destructive collision of egos. The Microsoft offer, currently valued at $42 billion, is more than fair value, and Yang’s focus shouldn’t be on price of the deal, or on hubristic confrontations with Balmer. His attention should be on the nature of the ensuing structure dictating the homogeneity between the two companies in a conglomeration.
We can assume that this discord will undoubtedly conclude as Microsoft wills it, however, the amalgamation does not bode well for the rest of us in World Wide Web Land. As users, observers and enthusiatic stakeholders in the historical collision, we expect development, advancement, and creativity from all players, particularly the large ones. Concentration of control and influence will only reduce the breadth of innovation. Pretending that Yahoo will be encouraged to pursue its dreams and ingenuity independent of Redmond interference is ignoring history and common sense. Microsoft senior management will pull all strings under its control, as it is its right to do. … Wish it weren’t so.
Monday, April 7, 2008
The beautiful and delicate poppy that now paints the landscapes of Afghanistan with vibrant colors, has long been the symbol for sacrifice. The aesthetic is as soothing to the sense of sight, as it is exasperating to the conscience. Families of soldiers bring home their loved ones in body bags from the despair that has become Afghanistan, and the sacrifice continues, little understood and scarcely appreciated. There is confusion in thought and in perception. Most of all there is turmoil in principles and ethical discomposure of policy. While security concerns have escalated to what should be described as chaos, the West and NATO maintain a public posture of denial, the Taliban controls half the country, and warlords and criminals have a good handle on all of it regardless who they support. Where’s the solution?
We have difficulty fully comprehending the war in Afghanistan since much of the reporting is confusing. The explanations have become too complex to unravel from San Francisco or Toronto, and even Washington and Ottawa have difficulty sorting out the mess. Most challenging is the provision of cohesive responses, military, financial, or otherwise. Indecision is stagnating the military presence and advancing the disintegration of the whole country, while much of it returns to the fanatical grip of the Taliban. The Taliban are now well funded from their share of the country’s principal source of income, as Afghanistan supplies over 90 percent of the world’s opium and over 80% of its heroin. Some estimated $4 billion a year in illegal drugs represent a majority of the $7.5 total GDP. Now that drug lords and terrorists can operate with virtual impunity, what was once a battle against terrorists, has become a war against the poppy, and there is no consensus on strategy.
Afghanistan hovers around the very bottom of the international human development index on measures that include life expectancy, nutrition and literacy. Its population is loyal to tribal elders, religious leaders, or commanders with durable military influence. It is no surprise that President Karzai is dependent on warlords for maintenance of stability, and all levels of the society are financially benefiting from poppy cultivation including the police and Afghan military. NATO forces are principally accused of being interfering non-Muslim foreigners. Farmers, the bottom of the opium production chain, are impoverished and not receiving much benefit from the proceeds. A farmer’s security is expensive and alternative livelihood programs are under-funded. Alternative crops are a vague concept when wheat or corn might only bring $250, while poppies can provide $2,700 for the same acreage, and are less vulnerable to the extremes of cold and heat, or drought.
Most of the money is made further along the delivery network including the huwala (transfer) system. The huwala is the unstructured, unregulated, but well organized and effective bedrock that provides all parties the wherewithal to move cash. Its organization connects to the outside world through cities in neighboring countries for the processing of transactions. Hope being placed on the creation of banking systems that would aspire to control the money laundering, ignores the failures of such regulated organizations in developed countries. For example, in Canada’s British Columbia, marijuana has reportedly become a bigger business than lumber, and yet neither banks nor government revenue agencies are capable of negatively influencing the billion dollar lifestyles of organizations in control of drugs. Financial guidelines and transparency expected from future or re-emerging Afghan banking institutions can be expected to provide about as much potency.
In the chaotic atmosphere of a country relying almost totally on narcotics, warlords are partners on intelligence and are occasionally allies in battles against Al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents. There is currently no firm policy on the eradication of poppy fields – only of the sporatic damaging of fields. Fear that eradication will drive more of the population toward the Taliban is a very restrictive motivator. There is also apprehension of upsetting the financial foundation of an already unstable country.
Amongst endless scenarios for potential strategies, one has surfaced that may have promise if applied within the context of a broader and substantially decisive strategy. A recent proposal by an organization called Senlis Council claims that eradication has not worked and that the answer lies in licensing Afghan opium cultivation for the production of morphine or codeine. This would provide the country with a legal market for its principal crop. The argument seeks acceptance by pointing to the third world’s shortage of morphine that urgently needs to be filled.
Such proposal could be effective if enough money was found to pay for the potential new source of legal morphine and if all poppy growing operations not signed on to the program by a certain date were eradicated. That is an almost impossible task given the distribution of plantations and lack of security. Not only does the Taliban’s primary source of income have to be eliminated, but all illicit growing operations should be eradicated. The eradication must be complete and without exception, preventing the product of these poppy fields from further destroying lives of millions from New York to Tehran, and eliminating the social and financial grief the drug scatters without prejudice. It is not possible to allow both licit and illicit cultivation, and expect positive results. Afghanistan is a country in urgent need of complete rebuilding. All NATO and Middle Eastern countries should be contributing to the construction of infrastructure for the creation of a viable and a secure sovereign state. Such effort begins with investment in education, and production of goods (start with textiles), and opening doors to some initial markets.
Friday, April 4, 2008
Whatever motivated the invasion of Iraq, the consequences now encountered were evidently neither expected in any incarnation, nor planned for. As the status quo is untenable there is urgent need for action. A decision is required. The longer it takes the worse the situation will get for the people of Iraq. Their lives dramatically changed when comprehensive and stifling sanctions were implemented in 1990. Education came to a grinding halt, and it will take years to rebuild the educational infrastructure, which will bring back hope and confidence. In another couple of years a whole generation will have known nothing but war and human misery, and will have had absolutely no serious educational program on which to build careers and reconstruct a country. It is time to give Iraqis their nation back before too few are left to remember that most Shiite, Sunni or Kurd Iraqis described themselves as Iraqis above all else and religious or sectarian group members second.
The Iraqi people, with their different sectarian ancestries had little choice but to succumb to the armed oppression of Hussein, and yet, they managed to co-exist and even to inter-marry. It should above all be remembered that for much of the past century Iraq has been a secular country. The majority of Iraqis are telling the world through their actions and words they cannot accept foreign troops on their soil. Fear should not be a reason to remain.
The phrase “they’ll follow us home” if troops depart, articulates a stimulation of deep seeded fears. Rhetoric appropriately sprinkled with “potentially catastrophic consequences” is also effective. The power of these expressions is that they strike at the core of human anxiety – personal safety and that of home and family. Fear is an effective method of swaying public opinion, but it is also intellectually lazy. It’s design requires little creativity or acumen, and its effective application demands little sweat other than repetition.
Most Muslims in Iraq, are considered mainstream Muslims. Iraqi’s have little in common with al-Qaeda and it’s objectives. If anything, they would probably find very effective ways of overruning the al-Qaeda presence in their country, once allowed to fend for themselves. The al-Qaeda insurgence would be overcome by the Kurds and the Shiites, who represent the vast majority of the Iraqi population and who would probably find support from most Sunnis as well.
The scenarios anticipated in the event of troop withdrawal are as numerous as their authors and as varied as their motives. Saudis would rather have the U.S. remain and bear the brunt of the problem. In the event of a troop redeployment, Saudi Arabia would support the Sunnis, and Iranian support of Shiites would continue. The caveat is that any elevation of sophistication in the nature of the weapons supplied and an elevation in the violence would be tempered by self preservation on the part of those neighbors. Neither would want to foment escalation to levels that might impose incursions on their own territories. Iraq’s neighbors should have greater apprehension for U.S. troops leaving than Americans should.
With this potent leverage, America can galvanize commitment from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and others. These countries can be influenced to establish a peacekeeping military force led by the UN and composed strictly of Arab Muslim soldiers. America can insist on the engagement of organizations currently participating or co-operating around Muslim endeavors including the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). There is an extended list of countries who could complement the assistance, from Indonesia to Pakistan. Iran, a non-Arab country, would not play a role, and would be forced to terminate any support it currently provides to insurgents.
America should make a firm statement providing short notice of its withdrawal, and offer nominal transitional help, such as leaving all non military equipment behind for the Muslim troops to use through their peace keeping and oversight presence. The exit could be executed within a few short months. Some of the countries currently sitting back callously enjoying the sight of America agonizing, can be rapidly pressed into more serious and diligent absorption in the appeasement of regional tension. Such endeavor could invigorate an extension of their cooperative involvement to other fractious corners of the Middle East.
With non-Muslim military presence and all related excuses removed, Iraqis may return to a sense of nationalism, transcending sectarian political control. Iraqis can once again direct their talents to the reconstruction of their country and its restoration to former glory as a crucible of human ingenuity.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Most Western countries are on the brink of making a political, social or other stand on China. There appears to be some wavering for or against presence at the coming Olympics in Beijing. France has publicly stated that it is debating whether or not to go, while other countries are quietly awaiting public sentiment’s sway. The essence of the confusion and collision on positioning is being displayed this week in New Zealand. New Zealand is signing a free trade agreement with China, yet Peter Dunne, one of its Members of Parliament, is refusing to go to Beijing for the upcoming signing ceremony in protest on behalf of Tibetan people. The incomprehensible part, … Dunne supports the agreement. If, through the lens of his principles, he believed that China was in violation of anyone’s rights, why make a deal? That confusion is pervasive across the West. Why is there so much disorientation?
China has seen an unprecedented surge in its industrialization in the compacted cycle of a single generation. Somehow it has found a way to become the source. You want furniture manufactured more cheaply so that you can increase margins? China will build a factory to make it. Need to satisfy your desire for fish to supplement your diet? China will raise them in one of thousands of ponds, as it satisfies 70% of world demand for farmed fish. Your taste buds and gastronomic explorations demand diverse varieties of foods and spices on a regular basis? China will grow them. On occasion, its capacity gets expanded by outsourcing to other Asian countries who welcome the work. While it chokes on the cloud of its own growth, China feeds the European and North American demand for all things material. “But wait. What about it’s suppression of freedom of public demonstration?” “Never mind, we’re not spending $5,000 on a computer, get it made in China and get the price down to under $1,000.” “But China’s rivers are so polluted they are killing farmers who die of cancer from toxin exposure.” “So? They’ll clean it up, now is that 63” flat-screen TV in yet?” Conflicted? We’re all conflicted, including China.
China will succumb to its own public’s pressure for a reduction on the environmental impact of its development. It has no choice. The Chinese population will, in whatever ways it can, appeal for cleaner air and water. Self preservation will lead authorities in Beijing to implement measures and technologies that will bring the answers. The West also has no choice. The current economic downturn in America is conspicuoulsy timely. The lull is forcing some reduction in consumption, and giving the world a moment to recover from the breakneck pace of the recent past. It would be unrealistic to expect standards of living in the West to decrease, however, it is not unrealistic to implement restraint on consumption. Our own air has been patient, but would appreciate the clarity, and China’s rivers would welcome any relief.
So how are we to feel when we watch demonstrations being suppressed in Tibet? Should we be embarrassed into a boycott of the Olympics? Like it or not, Tibet is solidly under China’s control and has been since 1950. This is not about to change.
Is the avalanche of reporting on the demonstrations in Tibet aimed at devising some freedom for Tibetans, or perhaps outright independence? Or is it simply a resenting repercussion against China for its financial success through the past twenty years? Do the Olympics provide a visible platform to take a dig at China’s human rights record? China’s current confidence is hardly flinching in reaction. Some of its spokesmen have gone so far as to threaten Western leaders with unspecified retaliations. They don’t need to be specific, just making them reads well back home. From here however, the threats are reminders that the West has become disquietingly dependent on this new power that it barely understands, … somewhat akin to the uneasy reliance on light sweet crude from the Middle East. Such realizations awaken the mind.
China isn’t to be feared, although the Chinese people should be respected for what they have achieved. Some half billion people in China now enjoy new levels of affluence that our consumption has helped provide, and it is incumbent on the West that dialogue continue in as open and friendly relations as can be stimulated. The people of China have embraced market reforms in their drive to eradicate poverty. Taking confrontational positions only tests pride and stimulates the spread of nationalism and egocentric reactions. That never ends well. The positive trend that has flourished, particularly in the past decade, signals continued interaction, education, and debate enhanced through powerful new tools as the internet. Opened minds and spirits cannot be stifled. The process is irreversible.
China is preparing spectacular ceremonies for the Olympics that will in all likelihood overshadow all the foregoing by some measure. The people of China will demonstrate, as well as showcase the best of the human spirit. These opening and welcoming doors are a long distance and vastly different in disposition from the China of fifty years ago, and the portal will in time lead to an even more open society. Boycotting these Olympics is not a positive statement, nor is it genuine. Attend, watch, and enjoy.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi’s clamor at the current Arab League (A.L.) conference in Damascus is notable for a couple of discomforting moments. The oracle of Tripoli has been the A.L.’s comic relief for some years, providing rants and raves that usually stir little consideration. More recently his oil wealth has enabled distribution of sizable investments across the African continent and purchased him an occasional audience. His upbraiding of fellow Arab attendants, this weekend, for their disunity may have rung true, but received bored looks and rolling eyes nonetheless. His additional exhortatory that they all stood to suffer the same fate as Sadam Hussein at the hands of America, returned laughter. Why?
His claims were evidently humorous, but for what reasons? Did his audience not believe America would? Or did they think America couldn’t? Or perhaps they laughed at him thinking, “no way, look at what you got away with.” Gaddafi’s rants become even more humorous, and more disquieting when placed in the context of an earlier meeting he had this past week. Congressman John Beohner visited Gaddafi to advance deals developing Libyan oil and gas infrastructure, and the visitors reportedly “saluted the efforts of the Guide for the Libyan revolution in consolidating peace and stability in the world.” Reading such sincerely delivered flattery is neck-snapping, though understandably there is need for polite manners with your host, or on the other hand, you could just not go. Gaddafi, however, probably believed them, then went home and stayed awake all night worrying about the attention and what else it might bring in the dark of night from the air over Tripoli. His solicitation of unity from the A.L. may come from a sense of self-defense and preservation. He wants his nightmares to go away.
The West’s recently (2006) new friend, having sworn off nuclear energy, WMDs and the financing of Lockerbie airplane bombings has been promoting the unification of much of Africa under one government. He has also been driving a separate unity bus attempting to get leaders of the oil and petro-dollar rich Arab world in general to climb aboard. It’s a refrain they have all heard for decades from this authoritarian ruler, who’s power and leverage rest under his sands, like much of the all-powerful monarchies controlling Arab states, or dynastic ruling families who used revolution to take power. America and Israel have long been whipping posts for distraction. Deflecting blame is an indulgent and self serving element of human nature that becomes so much more pronounced when one aspires to preserve inherited or abducted power and wealth.
America is often accused by Middle Eastern countries of opposing Arab unity, however, this blame ignores the fact that it is, and has been, in the interest of all these monarchies, califates and authoritarian regimes to maintain a certain distance from one another. Their political roots are neither deep nor wide and they stare with suspicion at one another across all their borders. The dis-unified status quo has been de rigueur for all of them and the maintenance of power over the wealth beneath their feet is tenuous. Wars and dissent between Arab states have long been justification for martial laws and the overriding of civil liberties. Unity of consent on crude oil prices is about the limit of co-operation. Where men would be kings, there is no seat in the room for unity. The poorer Arab countries have little say in the unity discussion and all they can expect is an occasional handout from wealthy neighbors. There will be peace in the Middle East when Arab leaders of the rich states will it so. Until then kings and princes will oblige photo to all comers, even Putin, striving to establish international credentials as peace makers for candidacy to higher office.
Consummate harmony between dominions is only truly achieved when there is broad based consensus prevalent throughout a population, whether it be between two countries or a dozen. Gaddafi’s version of unity is unity between potentates. To Gaddafi’s dismay there is no such prospect on any radar, and currently most Arab countries have sent Syria to the closet to do penance for its incursion in Lebanon and its rapprochement with Iran. Many of the wealthy leaders politely declined presence at the current Arab League meeting in Damascus, feigning meetings of greater import and urgency. “In any case, what’s to discuss? Oil prices are trending nicely and there’s a new museum opening in honor of my greatness and beneficence.”
All of civilization can affirm gratitude for Arab contribution to society’s advancement in the panoply of human endeavors from agriculture and architecture to the arts and mathematics. Yet much of that contribution dates back to the Middle Ages. While Gaddafi congratulates himself as a benevolent dictator, he and his peers don’t indulge much light into their realms. Today there are unrealized dreams across the Arab cultural landscape that will slowly surface as education, supplanted by the internet, reverses the suppression of thought and ideas. Creativity will then flourish along with productivity, self confidence and self fulfillment. The internet’s role in the process will be to stimulate interaction and debate across borders and substantiate premises presented by slow to evolve educational systems. Strength and promise of a country, or of a culture, is rooted in the development of the individual. Positive contribution to the broader global community is then an extension of that development. It becomes a contribution rooted in confidence, not restrained by fear. In the meantime, we will continue to watch Gaddafi verbally acknowledge his intimate understanding that there is aegis and security in numbers.