5) Saudi Arabia
The U.S. has had a strong, and “strategic,” economic and military alliance with Saudi Arabia for years. Yet according to Amnesty International, and other human rights groups, Saudi Arabia is a monarchy replete with human rights violations.
For instance, the United Nations Committee Against Torture condemned Saudi Arabia for amputations and tremendously excessive whippings. There are, for instance, amputations of feet and hands for robbery.
Saudi women make up five percent of the work force, the lowest percentage of any country in the world. There is a law against Saudi women driving cars. They are primarily relegated to the home… As of now, women are not allowed to vote or to hold public office – and there is even sex segregation seating in public places, etc.
Saudi Arabian law does not recognize religious freedom and the public practice of anything other than the Muslim religion is banned. And freedom of speech and the press is severely limited and constantly subject to government censure.
On October 20, 2010, the Obama administration told Congress of plans for a multi-year, multi-billion dollar weapons deal with Saudi Arabia. (The deal could be worth up to $60 billion over 20 years.) According to CNN, the sale is meant to “further align the Saudi military relationship with the U.S. and enhance the ability of the kingdom to defer and defend threats to it and its oil structure, which is critical to our economic interests,” said Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary for political and military affairs.
Translated (in part): Because we want continued access to Saudi oil, not to mention the U.S. wanting to get a huge amount of money for this military sale, we are, in essence, providing things like 84 F-15 fighter jets so – Saudi Arabia can continue to protect a “kingdom” saturated with human rights abuses.
Once again, our foreign policy spins around our “economic interests,” as opposed to it spinning around: doing what’s ethically right. Besides this moral failing, the oil we are using from Saudi Arabia (and other countries) is adding tremendously to global warming – which is devastating the world.
This is the proverbial case of: ‘two wrongs not making a right.’
Our administration would push to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as it would push to stop using oil from Saudi Arabia. This would help force us to quickly move to a different energy paradigm across the board. To quote another proverb: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
In tandem, being free of this economic and military enmeshment, our administration would join with others across the world to decry (with protests, sanctions, and so on…) the human rights abuses going on in Saudi Arabia.
Granted, there are sets of complex geo-political issues with Russia / U.S. relations. However, it’s my contention there are some simple, straightforward strategies that could tremendously improve our relations.
For one, in regard to: spying.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago, espionage and counter-espionage between the two countries has continued. For instance, in 2010 a “cell of Russian secret agents” were charged with a long-running spy operation in the U.S.
It’s no ‘secret’ that we do the same thing in Russia.
This all poses a common sense question: “If we don’t want Russia spying on us, why don’t we stop spying on them?”
And our administration would push for this.
Secondly, during the Cold War there was a massive nuclear arms race between the U.S. and Russia which, like the spying, continues to this day. The U.S. and Russia are the world’s two nuclear superpowers.
In April of 2010, President Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed a new nuclear disarmament treaty. According to an ABC News article, the treaty requires both countries to reduce their nuclear arsenals from 2,200 deployed warheads for each country to 1,550 – over seven years. And they’ll reduce their long-range missiles and launchers to 700 for each country as well.
I recently read that the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed between 70,000 and 100,000 people and decimated a five square mile radius. Each of the nuclear weapons we have now is up to 40 times more destructive.
In doing the math (and accounting for tangential things like nuclear winters, and such), our young daughter Sarah once said to me: “Dad, our country has enough nuclear weapons to blow the world up 100 times over. Why don’t we just have enough to blow it up once?”
That might not be a bad point (even going a bit less), from several perspectives.
I attended a talk at the University of Notre Dame in 2009 by retired General William Burns, who was involved with nuclear weapons diplomacy while in the Service. He said in the year 2008, the U.S. spent $50 billion on simply maintaining, not updating, it’s nuclear weapons arsenal. $50 billion.
Meanwhile at the time, 24,000 people were starving to death in the world every day (and still do), according to the UN. Then there’s the one billion people with no access to clean drinking water and the millions living in slum dwellings worldwide… while we spend this exorbitant amount of money protecting ourselves.
This would indicate to me a foreign policy that is tremendously short on considering the “common good” worldwide. Just think of what that $50 billion annually could provide in the way of food, clean drinking water, adequate shelter…
And here’s another problem with our nuclear proliferation. Jack Mendelson, a former U.S. State Department official, says America should stop waving the nuclear threat at its potential adversaries. “This nation can’t become more secure by reserving for itself the right to use nuclear weapons – while preaching abstinence to the rest of the world.”
And therein lies the rub.
Like with spying, if we don’t want other countries developing and amassing nuclear weapons – we have to get rid of our nuclear weapons.
And our administration would push for unilateral nuclear disarmament, not slowly and incrementally, but in one, quick fell swoop – with the savings going to the poor in the Third World, and, well, to Russia.
Russia has been transitioning into a democracy. And it’s been tough for many, especially economically. In this transition, obviously, a socio-economic class system evolved – with a small percentage of Russians starting to accumulate a good deal of wealth. (Like what’s happened in America. Currently, the top 20% of Americans own a whopping 84% of the wealth.)
Translated: A majority of people in Russia aren’t doing that well economically. Most ordinary people live in vast, dreary housing developments, according to a recent National Geographic article.
The article said many people are resentful of their economic lot now and are thinking about voting “Communist” again, like an older couple alluded to in the article. Nina and Misha Petrakov live on a diet of oatmeal and bread. She is a retired accountant, he is a retired scientist. They cannot afford new clothing or shoes.
“As for freedom, we do not feel it,” says Misha, 66. “What kind of freedom is this when you are bound economically, when you are ill and cannot afford to take care of yourself?”
So we in America have a choice…
We can allow things to continue to disintegrate in Russia, or we can help a lot more than we currently are. That is, while we have sent a modicum of foreign aid to Russia and some political experts to help with the transition to democracy and a free market economy, it’s my belief we could help way more.
What our administration would propose is a “US/Russia Sister Cities Project.” We would match towns (willing to participate) demographically. For instance, we would match towns according to things like: population size, geography, and so on. In this formula, there would also be a tiered system of helping.
For one, we’d ask community members to sacrifice lifestyle-wise and also do ongoing fundraising projects to help support their Russian counterparts. We’d also recommend cultural exchange projects between the towns. And in a step beyond this, we would promote trips back and forth between Russian business people, doctors, scientists, artists, athletes, homemakers… and American business people, doctors, scientists, artists, athletes, homemakers… to share ideas.
(Several years ago, I interviewed Carmel, California’s Lawrence Lionhart who set up a series these kinds of trips between Russians and Americans during the ‘glasnost’ period in Russia, as part of Lionhart’s non-profit “Projects for Planetary Peace.” It’s his contention it was these trips that was one, of many, initiatives that helped pave the way for democracy in Russia.)
The Sister Cities Project, and all its dimensions, would help further this exponentially and break down even more of the Cold War prejudices between our countries. – paving the way for more camaraderie and for an environment that would be a lot more conducive for nuclear disarmament.
An addendum: I told a newspaper in Sherman, Texas, that our administration would be opposed to any militarization of space, including helping install a missile defense system over Europe. (This is currently on the table.) This would also ease tensions with Russia, which is opposed to this system.
Note: Now I realize that the initiatives I propose in this paper will entail many cities having two, or more, Sister Cities. Muskegon, Michigan, already has three.
7) Ocean Crisis
The ability to feed the world is declining at an alarming rate as the ocean fish population declines dramatically. This is a huge issue, especially to people in developing countries (both the subsistence fishermen and the consumers who rely on the protein source.)
According to a recent National Geographic article, since 1990 many ocean species have declined by at least 90%, because of massive over-fishing.
What this all boils down to is: We are catching way too many fish way too fast! And the over-fishing in international waters is primarily being done by developed countries. As an example, the National Geographic piece explained that these big commercial fleets are wiping out fish stocks and depriving subsistence fisherman in Senegal, Ghana and Angola of their family’s main source of protein.
And besides over-fishing to provide more and more food for developed countries, the article noted some of the industry also “wastes” a tremendous amount of fish.
There’s an “incalculable number of fish and other sea creatures scooped up in nets, suffocated and thrown overboard because the fisherman was just fishing for a certain kind of fish,” for Japanese sushi, say.
Our administration would push for a new “ocean ethic.” That is, we’d get behind initiatives for stepped up environmental stewardship of fish in American waters, in tandem with working with such international agencies as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which oversees fish harvests in this region of the ocean. America, Europe, China, Japan, Taiwan are members, as are a number of small Pacific Island nations.
According to McClatchy Newspaper article, these small island nations are in a continual “David vs. Goliath” matchup as they push for sustainable fish management vs. the large fishing nations, which generally block the restrictions needed to achieve it.
Our administration would start to line-up with these island nations, simply because it’s the right thing to do. And by promoting conservation and sustainable management now, it will give the fish populations time to make a comeback – like what happened in the U.S., to a degree.
According to the McClatchy article, “U.S. restrictions on fishing have allowed some populations to rebound.”
From a social justice angle, our administration would promote a nationwide “Eating is a Moral Act Campaign” as well, with videos, public seminars, and the like. Information might include charts showing what developing countries average as far as protein intake from fish, as opposed to what developed countries average as far as protein intake from fish. This would then be broken down per: person. Then we would ask Americans to simply make it fairer by cutting back in fish intake to allow for more ocean conservation – and equity for those who have less. (Some of the savings from cutting back on fish could also go to funds to help with more food for the Third World in general.)
To ensure there is enough fish for future generations (around the world), and a healthy ocean eco-system in general, we have to take ocean conservation seriously – and we have to take equal distribution world-wide seriously.
America Sets a Tone
In trying to set a tone for other countries that border the sea, our administration would significantly bolster the arms of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that specifically deal with America’s ocean and coastal resources. (These would include The National Ocean Service and The National Marine Fisheries Service.)
One of NOAA’s stated goals is being an environmental steward of U.S. coastal and marine environments. It works in coordination with federal, state, local, tribal and international authorities.
NOAA was formed under the Nixon Administration in 1970. Edward Wenk, Jr. was secretary of the cabinet-level National Council on Marine Resources under Nixon and went on to author the book: The Politics of the Ocean.
He writes about how what’s done by one nation, can set in motion a tremendous domino effect that can influence many nations: “Mercury expelled by one nation may show up in tuna, halibut or swordfish consumed by others. Biologically non-degradable DDT, effectively utilized to suppress malaria in the tropics, spreads to colder waters, there to accumulate and interfere with natural production of phyto and zooplankton, and alter the dynamics of the marine food chain, perhaps threaten the health of the ocean itself. Tanker traffic and offshore oil extraction… are almost certain to be accompanied by an increase in spills [which can drift far beyond borders].”
8) Global Water Crisis
As we have a global fish crisis, we have a global water crisis in general.
In Stephens Point, Wisconsin, we met with University of Wisconsin Environmental Science Professor George Kraft. He said that according to the book Blue Gold, the world is running out of fresh water fast because man is polluting it, depleting it and diverting it at startling rates.
Just on the ‘polluting end,’ according to the online Ezine magazine, chemicals used in clothes, food, water and hygiene products end up in water supplies. They then circulate, around the globe.
Some of these chemicals cause cancer. According to the article, in 1900 one in 50 people got cancer in a lifetime. Now it’s one in three.
Our administration would push for the banning of these toxic chemicals across the board. Common sense.
Beyond our shores, some one billion people on the planet don’t have access to clean drinking water. And millions of people die each year because of this.
Our administration would mobilize to help with this on a grand scale. We would, first off, ask the American public to cut back significantly on its water use. At a recent seminar at Bluffton University, presenter Clint Hyne said the average American uses 120 gallons of water (flushing toilets, watering lawns, drinking, washing…) a day. The average person in the developing world might use a pail of water a day.
In Hibbings, Minnesota, I interviewed Sheila Arimond who went on a mission trip to Tanzania. She said every day she would walk to a dry creek bed with some rural villagers to dig for water. Sometimes they’d find some, sometimes they wouldn’t – and would go thirsty that day.
Our administration would propose, first off, that home and business water use be metered and charged for accordingly. To cut water expenses, we would suggest “low flush toilets” that only use a small percentage of the water of regular flush toilets (up to 7 gallons), or compost toilets that use no water. We would suggest sharing bath water (like in the “old days”), installing inexpensive water shut-off valves in shower heads to make it easier to take “GI” showers. We would suggest curtailing the use of water wasting electric dishwashers. We would suggest minimal, or no, watering of lawns… (In California during the severe drought in the 1980s, that state rationed water. And, well, there’s a drought in the Third World every day for some.)
It’s time our society cuts back and helps way more than it does with this issue.
In addition, we would ask some of the American public to consider “rainwater harvesting” from gutter systems set up for this. Bluffton, Ohio’s, Lynn Miller told me he was doing research into installing such a system. He said rainwater is some of the cleanest water you’ll find, and it is already “soft water,” which doesn’t have to be treated the way hard water is. Miller said this water can be used for watering plants, washing dishes, flushing toilets, drinking, cooking, bathing…
With all these savings, the money could go to help fund similar projects in the Third World. For instance, during a stop in Marquette, Michigan, we interviewed Robert Gagnon who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya. Fresh out of Michigan University Engineering School, Gagnon was assigned to design a system to provide fresh drinking water for a hospital complex in Kenya, an “extremely arid” country, he said.
Gagnon said he set up a gutter system there and then installed a cluster of holding tanks. He said after several good rains, the tanks would be so full that they could provide fresh water for the entire hospital complex – for two years.
Besides funding these kinds of projects, our administration would point to such initiatives as Connecticut’s Safe Water Network. This organization helps set up water purification stations in Third World villages. (The villagers themselves must share in the costs, undergo training and take responsibility for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the system.)
These are just a few ‘water ideas,’ we’ve researched more. And there are yet a lot more out there. The bottom line is that we believe we can’t go on with our tremendously gluttonous use of water here, while little children in the Third World, for instance, don’t have any access to even a minimum of clean drinking water – and are dying.
Some 3,000 children die of malaria each day in Africa, one every 30 seconds. According to a National Geographic piece, malaria is endemic to 106 nations, threatening half the world’s population.
According to Bill Gates, whose Gates Foundation funds humanitarian aid projects worldwide, malaria is “…the worst thing on the planet.”
Malaria is the plague of the poor. According to the National Geographic article: In a year, malaria will strike a half a billion people, and one million will die, most of them under five-years-old.
Zambia, for instance, has been decimated by malaria. According to the article, at any given moment almost a third of all children under the age of five are sick with the disease. And some 20% of Zambian youth under five don’t survive.
Because of America’s affluence, almost everyone could get to a doctor, windows could be screened, resources were available to bulldoze mosquito-breeding swamps… By 1950, transmission of malaria was halted in the U.S., the article noted.
Our administration would strongly get behind the World Health Organization’s “Roll Back Malaria” campaign. This is a multi-pronged “Global Malaria Action Plan.”
Some of these components include: improved medical facilities with a full range of anti-malarial drugs; eliminating mosquito breeding grounds, continued work on the development of a vaccine(s); screens for home windows and doors, more bed nets; a more prosperous community to have the resources to fund this (including things like Third World debt relief); public education programs about malaria…
The goal is to have a “malaria free world,” according to the plan.
It notes for this to be successful, the campaign (and these countries in general) will need a significant amount of international funding.
Our administration would push for this on a number of fronts. For one, we would lobby for way more U.S. government foreign aid to go to this cause. In tandem, we would lobby for Third World debt relief in the impoverished Third World countries working on malaria eradication.
What’s more, we would try to spark a grassroots movement in America targeted at malaria eradication. This would involve entering into solidarity with towns in malaria harm’s way through things like Sister City projects. Towns in America would match with towns in Africa, in South America, etc., to help fund malaria eradication projects.
For instance, Americans (as mentioned above) have good screens. We would ask Americans to use those screens to “Open The Windows and Turn Off The Air Conditioners for an End to Malaria.” The savings could be funneled into the Sister City’s Eradication Program – including more screens for the Third World.
If we want to bring more equity to the world, this would be how.
Note: Sister City newsletters could carry heartwarming stories about what that money is doing to help in, say, a small village in Zambia. I’ve found when people can see exactly where there money is going to help, they have even more of a proclivity to give.
Note 2: Air conditioners use more energy than any other household item. Turning them off could curb global warming gases significantly. (The National Geographic article sited above noted that malaria was eradicated in the U.S. by the 1950s. Coincidentally, before the 1950s, everyone lived without air conditioning, period.)