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.