Sunday, March 6, 2011

Worldwide Tangled Web

by Richard Crews
We face a number of important problems here in the U.S. and around the world. While these problems are distinct, they are also massively interrelated. They twist and cling to one another like a huge ball of string that has been pulled at carelessly. They can be untangled, but it must be done, not just soon--it grows worse year by year--but carefully and thoughtfully. Evey time we grab and tug on one string or another, a hard, tangled knot is pulled tight somewhere else in the puzzling, tangled ball.

For example, the unrest in Arab lands is another sign of the long, slow curve of history toward democracy and human rights. Yet it will destabilize the region for years. And since the Middle East and North Africa produce more than one third of the world's oil, it has already increased the rate of inflation and set back the U.S. and worldwide economic recovery.

Closely related to this is the problem of wealth disparity--the widening gap between the very rich and the rest of us. This depends on political pressure to make broad populations pay for tax breaks and for trade and regulatory incentives for big businesses and the very wealthy. As Michael Moore says, "America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It's just that it's not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.... The only thing that's broke is the moral compass of the rulers." The reluctance (or political inability) to tax with fairness the wealthy and big businesses (including financial institutions) has led to huge federal deficits and to state and federal budget shortfalls.

Some states have attempted to deal with this by union busting, that is, by depriving workers of the right to bargain collectively against powerful employers. But union collective bargaining is one of the bedrock forces of American democracy. Erosion of such civil rights and civil liberties is a slippery slope; it is a snowball rolling downhill that is hard to stop.

And related to this, WikiLeaks has recently demonstrated that even in our democratic republic secrecy and savagery abound. Bradley Manning, who ostensibly stole the classified documents that WikiLeaks released, has already suffered months of torture in solitary confinement (although he has not yet been charged with a crime) and Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has been harassed through international courts for his heroic stand on freedom of speech. He and Manning may both face years in prison--even the death penalty. And for what? For revealing government crimes and mismanagement.

Meanwhile our poor planet is stressed by--
--overpopulation (there are far more people alive today than in the entire two million years combined of human evolution prior to the year 2000),
--pollution (billions of tons of garbage and complex chemicals are dumped into the atmosphere, land, and oceans every year),
--shortages (food prices worldwide are higher than they have ever been in history, and more than a dozen key industrial commodities from oil and silver to phosphates and fissionable uranium are expected to "run out" in the next few decades)
--global warming (and attendant droughts and floods, super-storms and rising seas, and forced emigration of tens of millions of people).

The remarkable thing about all these problems are that they are solvable. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone--the problem is access and distribution. And since the U.N. predicts that the world population will stabilize at around nine billion about halfway through this century, with proper land, water, and seed management, there could readily be enough food production to go around. That also depends, however, on eliminating the scourge of poverty, because people with an adequate standard of living and some assurance that their children will live to adulthood, tend to have less children.

This also depends on "solving" the terrible wealth disparity in the U.S. and around the world. No one "needs" more than a few million dollars to live a high and bountiful life; and if wealth accumulation for individuals around the world were limited to a maximum of a few million dollars, there would not need to be impoverished masses--no one would need to go hungry.

The world's problems are severe, and they are all tangled together, but they are solvable. Do we, as a species, have the wisdom to do this? That--as the saying goes--THAT is the question.