Saturday, March 28, 2009

More Hoovers than a Vacuum Store

Republicans are once again harping on the deficit like it actually means something in the short term. In their attempt to be the oppositional party, they have taken up the failed notions of Herbert Hoover in trying to balance the budget at the time of a severe economic downturn. Mainstream economists (I am still not sure why we are listening to them given recent events...) acknowledge that the actions of Hoover certainly increased both the depth and length of the Great Depression. Most economists recognize that short term spending to stimulate lending and thus allow capital for projects is a key step for any recovery.

In related news, Bushvilles are springing up across the country. I am still amazed that people don't understand that when you cut social services and depend on private charity you are setting yourself up for disaster. Many private charities and non-profits depend on donations or membership fees which decrease in a downturn, particularly one as severe as this. Combined with a lack of adequate social services, it is not surprising that people are having to turn to tent cities in hopes of weathering this storm.

The most disheartening thing about this recent trend is that once someone becomes homeless it often begins a cycle that is difficult to break. Because they have no permanent address it is extremely hard to get a job; without a job, income is difficult to come by (except through illegal and often dangerous means). This is compounded by the rapidly rising unemployment rate. While no one is a fan of paying higher taxes, clearly the U.S. is failing it citizens in a variety of ways. Demanding these tent cities be removed only pushes these people out of the small amount of safety they had as a group. While some are saying we are reaching the bottom of the downturn, I remain skeptical. For all our sakes, I hope they are right.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

You Can't Kill an Idea

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the failed uprising in Tibet and the one year anniversary of the crackdown on Buddhist Monk demonstrators, tensions are running high in the region. It is amazing that despite China having one of the largest armies in the world, they are utterly afraid of a relatively small group of monks. The fact that all foreign journalists and international tourists are being kept out of the region at this team speaks to their ongoing concern about what more protests could bring. Though I was extremely disappointed by Hillary Clinton's lack of providing either carrots or sticks for improved Chinese treatment of Tibet, I was sadly not surprised. This unwillingness to press for Tibet's independence (or autonomy, or even well-being) is one (of many) of America's major foreign policy failings. 

Many apologists for the policy argue that due to our need for China to buy up our debt and help stabilize the region, we cannot denounce their policy for fear of backlash. As any student of international relations can tell you, this simple dichotomy of do nothing or incur the full wrath of China is a false one. There are many gradations in policy that could be used to thaw relations and tie Tibet to other issues where there is mutual interest between the U.S. and China. One of China's biggest fears is international perception of the Tibet issue. Having closed door conversations on the matter that lead to an actual softening of China's position could be an advantageous option for all sides. 

One thing is for sure, we must not fall into the same malaise and inertia that has kept our human rights policy so anemic. We have a president that believes in the rule of law and inspires people around the world. America has the obligation to continue to provide hope to those in duress. We must not turn our backs on causes we know are just. We can no longer sustain regimes like Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Myanmar, North Korea, and many more to continue on the path they are on. Increased diplomatic efforts must be used to forge consensus on shared goals and to facilitate slow, positive changes to happen in these countries. By sustaining these regimes, we only increase the difficulties we will face when we are forced to deal with them eventually and further the suffering that those oppressed by these regimes experience. 

The Dalai Lama puts it well:

If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.

Our callous disregard for the consequences of our actions cannot continue. Though change won't happen overnight, we must act in positive ways to increase the well-being of those least capable of doing so themselves.