The Quotable Paul Ehrlich & Robert Ornstein

I have renewed my personal studies on world federalism, international governance generally and how people around the world are helping to enhance understanding and appreciation of our common humanity. One book that I am excited to read is by Paul Ehrlich and Robert Ornstein titled “Humanity on a Tightrope” from which the following quote was found:

“Now we’ve entered a new, uncontained, and bloodless “battle” for creativity and compassion, where the very viability of global civilization is at stake. And the battle isn’t against an invasion of resource hungry aliens from an extraterrestrial empire, which science fiction writers have often posited as a cause that would unite humanity. That’s too bad, because human beings tend to stick together in the face of a common enemy… Rather, the “common foe” is the actions of that weirdly cooperatively breeding small-group animal that has gained dominance over everything but its own behavior. The situation is summed up in a famous phrase from the noted intellectual Pogo on a 1970 Earth Day poster: ‘We have met the enemy and he is us’.”

Starting in Cartagena

I know it has been something that people with common sense on the center-left spectrum in the US have been saying for years…but isn’t it time we reconsider the Drug War? The US is no less a consumer of drugs (prescription or illicit) than it was at its commencement and the countries that produce the drugs are therefore tempted with no smaller of incentives. 50 000 dead in just five years in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala as two of the most dangerous places on Earth, emboldened drug bosses and millions of Americans jailed for nonviolent drug offenses. Are these the indicators of success? President Obama and Prime Minister Harper should heed the calls of Central and South American leaders as the effects of this failed decades-long venture become too large and too grave to ignore.

From The Globe and Mail:

Latin American leaders are pushing to make a Cartagena summit a moment that sparks the world to redefine its approach to drugs. Stephen Harper, like U.S. President Barack Obama, has vowed to stand in the way. Make no mistake, as presidents from Colombia to Mexico flirt with the idea of legalizing or decriminalizing drugs, the notion is a challenge aimed at the nations to the north, the United States and Canada, the big consumer markets for the smuggled drugs. At the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, Mr. Harper will tell them they’ve got it all wrong.

Therein lies the problem

Continuing on the ‘Concert of Democracies’ theme. I don’t usually agree with Jonah Goldberg but he has written an article on the UN that had me nodding. I frequently fall into my default setting of optimism, hope and idealism and forget that the problems with the UN are structural AND congenital. The handicaps for the UN were inserted at its inception. Here is a snippet of an article by Goldberg in the LA Times:

The Security Council isn’t a democratic entity; it’s based on brute force. Russia and China were made part of the permanent five members when they were totalitarian dictatorships. They have seats because they are powerful, not because they are decent or wise or democratic. And the same is true for us. Our seat was bought with might, not right.

I think part of the confusion stems from a category error. We tend to anthropomorphize countries, talking about them as if they were people. U.N. members vote for stuff, so people think it’s somehow democratic in more than a procedural way. But that’s not true. There’s nothing in the U.N. Charter — at least nothing that has any binding power — that says a government has to be democratic or even care for the welfare of its people. When the ambassador from North Korea claims to speak for his people at the U.N., it has no more moral legitimacy than a serial killer speaking for the victims he has locked in his basement.

A Concert of Democracies?

The US Ambassador to Nato, Ivo Daalder, recently held a public Q & A on Twitter and I posed the following question:

Sadly no response was forthcoming. I was really looking forward to his answer as someone who thinks that reform of international organizations is both an important line of academic research and an important practical necessity. Well, I thought to ask him about the potential for a ‘concert of democracies’ because the idea is thought to have first been outlined by Ambassador Daalder and James Lindsay. Here is an excerpt from their American Interest article entitled “Democracies of the World, Unite!”:

To meet the security challenges of the age of global politics, we need, as Francis Fukuyama has argued in these pages, forms of multilateral cooperation (whether institutionalized or not) that are both effective and legitimate.4 Great-power concerts, the United Nations and regional organizations cannot provide what we need. The solution lies instead in organizing the world’s democratic governments in a framework of binding mutual obligations. And precisely because the need for both effectiveness and legitimacy is so critical, by “organizing” we mean a Concert of Democracies with a full-time secretariat, a budget, ministerial meetings and regular summits. We are not proposing a photo-op bedecked gab fest.

First to the question of effectiveness. From the United States and Canada to India and Japan, from Brazil and Argentina to Botswana and South Africa, from Finland and Spain to Australia and New Zealand, the world’s democracies possess the greatest capacity to shape global politics. They deploy the greatest and most potent militaries; the largest twenty democracies are responsible for three-quarters of the resources spent on defense in the world today. Democracies also account for most of the world’s wealth, innovation and productivity. Twenty-eight of the world’s thirty largest economies are democracies. The average annual income of people living in democratic societies is about $16,000, nearly three times greater than the average income of those living in non-democracies. In the main, the people living in democracies are better educated, more prosperous, healthier and happier than those who live under authoritarian and dictatorial rule. Harnessing the power that comes from this overwhelming military, economic, political and social advantage would provide the necessary ingredients for effective international action.

What is interesting to me is that during the 2008 campaign, Arizona Senator John McCain, was a proponent of a concert of democracies while then Illinois Senator Barack Obama discounted the idea. And now we have one of the first people to articulate the idea serving in the Obama Administration. Obviously this one idea could not and should not serve as some kind of litmus test but it is comforting to know that those that fill our bureaucracy are not as anti-internationalist as the American populace generally.

Senegal’s slow slide

One of Africa’s most stable democracies appears to be venturing into a precarious time. Abdoulaye Wade, the octogenarian President has over the course of his two terms attempted to chip away at the solid edifice of the nation’s democratic institutions. But the people are not taking it lying down. Alfred Stepan and Etienne Smith writing for Project Syndicate have a primer:

Wade has been tinkering with Senegal’s constitution in dangerous ways ever since he was inaugurated in 2000. Of the 15 changes Wade made to the constitution, ten weakened democracy; the others were erratic, if not bizarre. For example, Wade at one point abolished Senegal’s senate, only to reinstate it after realizing that it could be put to use as a place to reward political allies. Likewise, he reduced the length of presidential terms from seven years to five, but later restored it to seven.

In February 2007, Wade was re-elected as Senegal’s president amid opposition charges that the election had not been free and fair. As a result, the opposition boycotted the June, 2007, parliamentary elections. That was a mistake, because the boycott gave Wade absolute control over the legislature, as well as the ability to appoint Constitutional Court judges unimpeded.

As an activist for human rights and democracy this is troubling. Why do so many African statesmen find it so hard to relinquish their grip on power? Now, as a Green, I am a bit puzzled by the silence on the part of the Global Greens Movement considering that we will be having an International Congress just weeks after the first round of what promises to be a closely watched presidential election. If I am able to attend the Congress next month in Dakar I will loudly and proudly stand with those protesting against Senegal’s slide into authoritarianism.

Pantomime Republics

Timothy Snyder, writing in the New York Review of Books, delivers a detailed review of the paths that lie before leaders in Europe’s capitals as they consider how best to respond to a persistently challenging financial crisis:

This is because fiscal policy is at the very core of a democratic system, and the EU is not yet democratic. People wish to know that they are paying taxes to a government they voted into office, with the institutions and powers that go with that task (a treasury, an elected executive, an accountable legislature); and that these revenues are then being spent on themselves and on people with whom they identify and share a political community. But, despite recent increases in the authority of the European Parliament, the EU does not have an elected executive that can make fiscal decisions, nor a treasury that might carry out such policy.

At the moment the EU is veering between two possible responses to the crisis, each of which forces fiscal policy away from the populations of its member states. Either European leaders will find some stopgap to further centralize revenue and expenditure, without consulting their citizens. This might alleviate the crisis in the short term, but will eventually cause the populations of the wealthier members to rebel, as indeed the Germans and Finns already seem to be doing. Or, more likely, the EU will continue to edge towards a system in which a fiscally sound German-Polish-Baltic-Scandinavian core dictates to a more shaky periphery, which will likely bring popular rebellions there. At the moment Greek voters can change the parties who rule them, but cannot change fiscal policies. These are decided in Berlin. Thus we have the emergence of pantomime republics.

Zhu Yufu

Russell Streur, editor of The Camel Saloon, has started a petition for the recently jailed poet Zhu Yufu. He was arrested and charged with incitement and subversion after publishing the following poem calling for freedom and respect for human rights in China. Zhu is one of the founders of the dissident Democracy Part of China.

The poem is entitled “It’s Time”:

It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
The Square belongs to everyone.
With your own two feet
It’s time to head to the Square and make your choice

It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
A song belongs to everyone.
From your own throat
It’s time to voice the song in your heart

It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
China belongs to everyone.
Of your own will
It’s time to choose what China shall be.

Please sign this petition to be delivered to the China’s ambassador to the US demanding Zhu’s immediate and unconditional release.

Mr. Orban is the problem…

Question? Why is Viktor Orban trying to pull a Mugabe in Central Europe? Apparently power is not only corrupting but also stupifying…with stories like this continuing, I am seriously reconsidering my decision to teach English in Hungary and reviewing some of my other potential choices. Here is a snippet from the New York Times:

To some critics, the biggest problem with the Hungarian economy is Mr. Orban himself. “The fundamental numbers are good,” said Mr. Oszko, who now runs a venture capital fund. “If the government decided to become more credible and predictable, it would help a lot.”

Backed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament, Mr. Orban has passed a flurry of laws that have concentrated power in his hands, weakened competing institutions like the central bank and alienated international lenders as well as an increasing number of Hungarians. One law nationalized private pensions in order to make the budget deficit look better. Such actions last week prompted the European Commission to threaten to take legal action against Hungary, a move many Hungarians regarded as long overdue.

Mr. Orban also faces pressure from the International Monetary Fund, which may be Hungary’s only hope to avoid defaulting on its national debt, much of which is also denominated in euros.

Faced with rising borrowing costs, the country could run out of money by May or sooner if bond investors become more skeptical. Yields on longer-term Hungarian bonds rose above 10 percent this month, a rate that bodes ill for the government as it seeks to sell more than $1 billion in debt through April, a large sum for a country of 10 million people.

In Egypt, the revolution continues…

In Egypt the revolution continues its winding course. The military authorities seem to have decided that sexual assault on female protesters will discourage their participating. They could not be more wrong. From The Guardian:

What they are not taking into account is that everybody’s grown up – the weapon of shame can no longer be used against women. When they subjected young women to virginity tests one of them got up and sued them. Every young woman they’ve brutalized recently has given video testimony and is totally committed to continuing the struggle against them.

The young woman in the blue jeans has chosen so far to retain her privacy. But her image has already become icon. As the tortured face of Khaled Said broke any credibility the ministry of the interior might have had, so the young woman in the blue jeans has destroyed the military’s reputation.

Saying No! to Orban

2011 was a year where the millennial generation came to the fore and truly staked a claim on the direction that humanity will take. It is heartening to see that in Hungary where Viktor Orban and Fidesz are apparently intent on dismantling Hungary’s fragile democracy and remaking it in their own image no matter the popular will are being opposed by the youth who will not allow their future to be hijacked. From The Guardian:

The biggest protest ever to take place against a legitimate rightwing government in modern Hungary was organised on Facebook. The movement started last year as a public outcry over the media law and it grew steadily together with the dissent against the government. The Mil, as the street has nicknamed the group, stands neither for military nor for mother-in-law: it is short for “One Million for the Freedom of Press”.

Their goal is to be a platform for ideas, not to be a party. Curiously, their appeal reminds me of that enjoyed by Fidesz when it started out in the late 80s. They are young, they speak their minds, and they do not concentrate power. They collected money for their demonstration on Facebook too (it’s not cheap!). There’s something heartening about reading a message on the internet saying: “Thank you, please don’t send more money, we’ve got enough.”

The Quotable Thomas Weiss

This quote hints at the central problem for me with respect to global governance.

…Global governance is a useful analytical tool—if I were choosing an expensive word, I would say a good “heuristic” device—to understand what is happening. But it has no prescriptive power about where we should be headed and what we should be doing. Agency and accountability are absent. It is a hodge-podge including any stakeholder with an interest in whatever topic is at hand.

Global governance certainly is not the continuation of traditional power politics. But it also certainly does not reflect an evolutionary process leading to constructing institutional structures able to provide global public goods and to address contemporary or future global threats. Scott Barrett’s insightful book, Why Cooperate?, puts it well: global governance is “organized volunteerism.”

Where is there serious study of efforts to build institutions that enshrine the rule of law with enforcement mechanisms at the supranational level?

Nine Paths to Global Citizenship

Author Doug McGill has written an interesting essay on the different ways that you can celebrate your global citizenship which can be found over at World Beyond Borders. My favorite? The Path of Reason which is typified by the philosopher Socrates and his statement: “I am neither Athenian or Greek; I am a citizen of the world” as quoted by Plutarch.

As such he was perfectly democratic in his application of the standards of reason across all borders and with all comers. Applying reason to belief, individually and personally, citizen by citizen, was Socrates’ way. For him good ideas could come from anywhere in the world. Spreading these ideas to the young men of Athens got Socrates killed; yet in submitting to the will of Athens that he be executed, instead of choosing exile, Socrates showed the limits of his cosmopolitanism. The Stoic schools took the cosmopolitical aspect of his thinking to greatest extreme, arguing that the entire world was entirely material and endowed with reason and soul, and it was thus every individual’s role, wherever they may live on the earth, to live according to the dictates of rational nature. The Renaissance philosopher Hugo Grotius built the first system of international law out of the notion that all humans are rational and social, and thus are bound in a moral world that transcends national boundaries. When Immanuel Kant wrote “perpetual peace is guaranteed by no less an authority than the great artist Nature herself,” he picked up where the Stoics left off. His essay “Perpetual Peace,” arguing for universal peace based on universal laws, is the manifesto of many modern cosmopolitans. Martha Nussbaum extends the theme in many writings, such as Cultivating Humanity, in which she argues for spreading liberal arts education (Socratic style) globally as a way to support the growth of freedom, democracy, and human rights.

Russia will be free!

It appears that hundreds of thousands of Russians have reached Howard Beale-like levels of intolerance with the status quo. And what a joy it is to see the Putin-Medvedev team reel. From USA Today:

Rally participants densely packed a broad avenue, which has room for nearly 100,000 people, about some 1.5 miles from the Kremlin, as the temperature dipped well below freezing. They chanted “Russia without Putin!” A stage at the end of the 0.43 mile avenue featured placards reading “Russia will be free” and “This election Is a farce.” Heavy police cordons encircled the participants, who stood within metal barriers, and a police helicopter hovered overhead. Alexei Navalny, a corruption-fighting lawyer and popular blogger, electrified the crowd when he took the stage. A rousing speaker, he had protesters shouting “We are the power!”

Pictures of the massive protest can be found at HuffPo.

And the rain on the Putin parade continues to come down too. Former Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, has called on Putin to resign.

Growing concern on Hungary

As someone who will be resident of Hungary in the next six months I am reading the news concerning the administration of Viktor Orban with concern. Orban’s Fidesz party which won a supermajority in the Hungarian parliament just over a year ago has apparently mistaken this overwhelming popular support for some desire to return to a more authoritarian society more fitting with the Hungary of the Soviet era. Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times has a nice primer:

And in at least one nation, Hungary, democratic institutions are being undermined as we speak.

One of Hungary’s major parties, Jobbik, is a nightmare out of the 1930s: it’s anti-Roma (Gypsy), it’s anti-Semitic, and it even had a paramilitary arm. But the immediate threat comes from Fidesz, the governing center-right party.

Fidesz won an overwhelming Parliamentary majority last year, at least partly for economic reasons; Hungary isn’t on the euro, but it suffered severely because of large-scale borrowing in foreign currencies and also, to be frank, thanks to mismanagement and corruption on the part of the then-governing left-liberal parties. Now Fidesz, which rammed through a new Constitution last spring on a party-line vote, seems bent on establishing a permanent hold on power.

The details are complex. Kim Lane Scheppele, who is the director of Princeton’s Law and Public Affairs program — and has been following the Hungarian situation closely — tells me that Fidesz is relying on overlapping measures to suppress opposition. A proposed election law creates gerrymandered districts designed to make it almost impossible for other parties to form a government; judicial independence has been compromised, and the courts packed with party loyalists; state-run media have been converted into party organs, and there’s a crackdown on independent media; and a proposed constitutional addendum would effectively criminalize the leading leftist party.

The election law mentioned in the Krugman article is just one of the questionable articles currently making its way through Parliament. There is also a law that would deregister more than 90% of all religious groups in Hungary and a law that would hinder the independence of the Hungarian National Bank. A very good blog on Hungarian affairs is Hungarian Spectrum which has the following on the moves concerning the financial governance:

As far as the Hungarian National Bank is concerned, which according to plans will be subordinated to another organization whose head will naturally be a man close to Fidesz and personally approved by Viktor Orbán, it is just as serious a problem “because the independence of the most important organization in charge of the proper functioning of the free market economy is being undermined.”

I will be following developments in Hungary very closely.

Combating myths

Anyone who knows me knows very well that I am no fan of the idea of American Exceptionalism. It is merely a conventional method of justifying and rationalizing the sorrier aspects of American power. Paul Rosenberg writing for Al Jazeera takes apart the myth:

As indicated above, the idea of American exceptionalism was always a contested one. But it’s hard to deny that the New World in general was seen as a land of opportunity, and the American colonies were the place where the most opportunity was seen for people to actually settle in significant numbers. Yet, the way most people managed to get to this new land of opportunity and freedom was through indentured servitude, and when that failed to provide enough labour, the African slave trade was “Plan B”.

The land itself came courtesy of the earliest stages of America’s centuries-long series of genocidal wars. And when the American Revolution came, it was lead in large part by slaveholder advocates of freedom – men like Washington, Jefferson and Patrick Henry, whose influence only expanded as the new nation was established.

Although their primary arguments were grounded in universalist appeals, the actual rights-holding subjects of their political system were a relatively tiny minority of well-to-do white males. The promise of rights-based liberal democracy was intoxicating to all, but forbidden to most. Equality was for gentlemen only. And yet, those excluded would not be denied. Scattered state and local battles coalesced into a national abolitionist movement by the 1830s, which in turn spawned a women’s rights movement in the 1840s.

In Europe, the US example spawned the French and Polish revolutions, followed by more than a century of struggles in which the example of the US’ existence powerfully transformed the Old World in combination with Europe’s own internal modernising forces.

And even though the United States itself embarked on an imperialist course sparked by the Spanish-American War in 1898, its example as the first anti-colonial revolutionary regime inspired colonial revolutionaries as well. It was no accident that Ho Chi Minh approached Woodrow Wilson for his support at Versailles after World War I, before turning to communism as his second choice in seeking to rid his country of French colonialism.

Our history and our legacy is unique but we have no greater a share of what is a shared and human destiny than any other division that would in any way justify an ‘exceptionalist’ worldview.

Disappointment in Durban

The negotiations seem to be at an impasse in Durban over a new climate change accord. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has stated that a replacement for the Kyoto Accord which expires next year “may be out of reach” and now the chances of an extension of even the Kyoto Accord may be dwindling. This is from The Guardian:

But the global north, responsible for 75% of accumulated CO2 emissions, has made far less substantial pledges than the south, which is least responsible for climate change but whose people are the most at risk. It’s unlikely that India will agree to binding commitments. The issue is a potential deal-breaker.

The EU has linked it to another hypersensitive issue on which Durban could founder, the Kyoto protocol. This imposed a modest 5% emissions cut on the north. Despite some flaws, including an over-reliance on markets, Kyoto differentiates between the north and south’s responsibility for climate change and mandates that the north repay its climate debt.

But Kyoto’s effective, early phase, called “first commitment period”, ends next year. A second period must be negotiated if Kyoto is to survive. Russia, Japan and Canada are vehemently opposed to such an extension, and the US seems to be working quietly to kill Kyoto, which it never ratified.

And that very thin string that holds the sword of Damocles over the world unravels even more…

“Human rights are gay rights and Gay rights are human rights”

As we near the celebration of Human Rights Day on 10 December I would like to direct your attention to an excellent speech from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I am not fully cognizant of the history of US foreign policy as it relates to LGBT rights but this seems to herald a shift in focus of unprecedented degree and is warmly welcomed particularly in light of the recent ugly developments in Nigeria and Uganda. The Atlantic Wire has a roundup of world reaction to the speech.

A must-see primer kit on Capitalism and Economics

In the early days of Occupy Wall Street the common refrain from the media and the general public was “what do they want?” Declarations from the OWS General Assembly and the participation of innumerable people around the world have helped clear up any confusion. But just in case you still find the Occupy movement a bit cloudy or nebulous for your tastes the blog Cinema Politica has a collection of ten documentaries on capitalism and economics that could serve as an elucidating primer. One of those docs is called “Let’s Make Money” and they describe it as follows:

Let’s Make Money – As global bankers empty out resources in Africa and fill their own coffers in the West, this documentary from the director of We Feed the World, asks: How do so many work so hard for so little to make so few so rich?

There are people around the world asking this question and I am sure they, like me, have found a rallying cry like no other in the Occupiers that now challenge apathy and indifference in cities around the globe.

Anglosphere Election Fever: New Zealand

It is E-day for New Zealanders and my election fever is rising. I am watching for two things. How well will the Green Party do? Will they get 15 MPs which would be an increase from the 9 they had going into election day? What will the result of the referendum on the MMP voting system? The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Antony Green has a very useful guide for international observers.