Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Adventure Begins

Tubaniso > Bamako > Sinsina, Kulikoro Province

After disembarking from the airport in Bamako, I spent the first four days of Mali in a little bubble of Americana with authentic Malian scenery, the Peace Corps training center at Tubaniso – in Bambara the name literally means “The House of Doves.” Tubaniso is kind of like a halfway house for recovering Americaholics so that we can adjust to life in Mali. You see, before even beginning to try to overhaul the country’s water sanitation infrastructure Westerners like me have to learn to simply exist here – which is extremely difficult. To begin with, July is the height of the rainy season, which in practical terms means that on a typical day it is like 95 degrees with 97% humidity, which means that I have slightly more energy than a particularly unfriendly sloth.

Also, having never before been to Africa means that my body has never yet met the continent’s many exotic and variegated germs. This rude awakening to my poor body was like running into a brick wall, only the bricks themselves are composed of these very many exotic germs. What exactly the symptoms of my multiple ailments were I will leave to your imagination…

… But to prod your imagination along, let me explain how interesting the bathrooms are! Well, they’re not quite “bathrooms” per se, for that would imply the existence of a bath. In Mali, one goes to the “nyegen”, which is quite literally a hole in the ground. And toilet paper doesn’t really exist here; the method employed by locals is known as “bolo numan la”, or “the left hand.” And afterwards, Malians point their butt up in the air, taking a plastic teapot full of water and do a trick which after a little practice is like a makeshift bidet – you have to use your water resourcefully and do it perfectly each time, or else you’re stuck with a messy conundrum. Female Peace Corps Volunteers tell me that this is a great kegel exercise!

Like toilet paper, utensils are a rare luxury used almost exclusively by white tourists. People in Mali also eat with their hands. I don’t mean like a dainty little nibble – people just stick their right hand in the communal food bowl to grab a handful of rice, squeeze all the grease out, and then put their whole hand in their mouth and lick each one of their fingers clean. Needless to say, this is done only with one’s right hand. N.B.: If someone ever offers you food with their left hand, this is a grievous insult.

As you can see, despite all of these fancy ideas in my head about historical dialecticism and Solow growth models and the categorical imperative, I have had to forget about my utterly useless fancypants liberal arts education and relearn how to perform the basic functions of a gastrointestinal tract all over again. This ignominious process was shared by all 77 Peace Corps Trainees en masse, so one could say that each and every one of us has already bonded in a very personal way. One might even say that Peace Corps folk are so open and interested in each other’s bodily functions that squeamish civilians should not sit down at a table with two or more of us at the same time.

After teaching us to say a few rudimentary phrases of greetings and introductions, the Peace Corps sent myself and 4 other Trainees to the village of Sinsina about an hour’s drive from Bamako for some cultural assimilation shock therapy. Sinsina is a small agricultural community of roughly 4,000 people, very indicative of Mali as a whole. People spend most of their time during the rainy season farming millet – which is the staple crop, and to a lesser degree rice, beans, onions, mangoes, and peanuts. People also raise chickens, sheep, rabbits, cows and donkeys. This is truly subsistence agriculture; you eat what you farm, and if you have a poor yield due to drought or blight, then you don’t eat very much that year. Whatever you grow but don’t eat can be traded for soap, flashlight batteries, cell phone credit and individually-sold cigarettes, but other than that trade is for the most part very rudimentary. Keeping in mind that GDP only measures final goods and services, Mali’s GDP per capita is roughly $1,500 – which ranks it as the third-poorest country in the world.

The men in Sinsina are working in the fields just about all day, and the women are always busy either fetching water, chopping firewood, cooking food or cleaning. The first people whom we got to know were of course the children; about half of the population in Mali is under the age of 15. And since mom and dad are working all day, there is no school in session and no day care, the only people with whom we really interact during the day are little kids. They are enraptured by these strange, white “Tubabu” who have descended upon their village, and are content to stand and watch me brush my teeth in the morning. They also think that my "boloshi" - armhair - is quite fascinating, and are wont to pet and tug at it until I slap them away.

The families here are large and vibrant. By that I mean that according to the Bambara interpretation of Islam, men are free to have as many wives as they wish, so long as their original wife have consented to a polygamous arrangement prior to marriage - which is always. And each woman has an average of 7 children over the course of her lifetime, though that is tempered by a staggering infant mortality rate of 106 deaths for every 1,000 live births. People prefer to have many children, because it is seen as a sign of fertility and wealth, but paradoxically the more children one raises, the more mouths that millet and rice has to feed. For instance, I live in the compound of my host father Salif Doumbia, who is married to his two wives Kadjatu and Maryam. Amongst his two wives he has five children, which is relatively few for a 40-year-old man Malian culture – but as they can eat meat on a regular basis they are also relatively well-off.

Salif has christened me with a new Bambara name: I am named Mamadou, after his father. So in the village of Sinsina no one knows me as Zachary Mason – here my name is Mamadou Doumbia #5.

I am currently trudging along with my Bambara. It is a fairly logical language to pick up; verbs are not conjugated, and there are very few words to begin with. There are also a lot of words borrowed from French and Arabic, which helps – e.g. the word for mosque is “misiri”, which literally means “from Egypt”. Though it is quite discouraging going about my day and being stopped in the street to converse with people having the vocabulary of a precocious three-year-old. One day I belted out “N be dimogo caman faga!” – I kill many flies – and the kids in my host family cheered with delight.

One day the kids showed me their rabbit hatchery and pulled one unlucky bunny by the ears to show off – I tried to explain to them that that hurt the poor animal, and that they should cradle the rabbit from the bottom so that it is more comfortable. “E be Zhunzu fe?” – do you like the rabbit? – they asked. I replied, “Owo, n be zhunzu fe kosebe” – Yes, I like the rabbit very much. So when Salif came home at noon he snapped the rabbit’s neck, slaughtered it, and we had rabbit for lunch! The moral of the story is that in Mali, if you say that you like something that is because you like to eat it, so if you are particularly fond of a cute, cuddly animal, NEVER EVER TELL ANYONE!

A Preamble of Sorts

Amherst College > Vista, New York > Bamako > Tubaniso

Having received my college degree from Amherst College – the illustrious piece of sheepskin which Western civilization deems to be the beginning of my life as an adult member of the work force, this particular homo sapiens had little doubt as to where he was destined. With graduation, it was time for this boy to leave the cozy little gardens of my suburban upbringing and my private fancypants liberal arts school, to put down those books and to finally do something in the world to demonstrate my manhood... so that I could be a great big manly man with a deep booming voice... like Tony Marx.

Before handing to me that illustrious sheepskin, Tony Marx boomed with his stentorian voice “We’re in the business of graduating people who will make the world better in some way… That’s what justifies the expense of the education.”

Marx’s words were nothing truly original, but merely a paraphrasing of the long, great tradition of Massachusetts liberalism which John F. Kennedy espoused on the other side of the freshmen quad 45 years prior. When the great intellectual president came to dedicate our new library named after his favorite poet, he made it clear that this federal book depository was not being constructed “merely to give this school's graduates an advantage, an economic advantage, in the life struggle. It does do that. But in return for that, in return for the great opportunity which society gives the graduates of this and related schools, it seems to me incumbent upon this and other schools' graduates to recognize their responsibility to the public interest.”

Before the advent of Pell grants and affirmative action, when Amherst College was much more explicitly a playground for rich white men, “Privilege is here, and with privilege goes responsibility ... And unless the graduates of this college and other colleges like it who are given a running start in life--unless they are willing to put back into our society, those talents, the broad sympathy, the understanding, the compassion--unless they are willing to put those qualities back into the service of the Great Republic, then obviously the presuppositions upon which our democracy are based are bound to be fallible.

Just as I was graduating, a short drive away to Wesleyan’s campus future President Barack Obama gave my entire generation a stark choice; “You can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should by. You can choose to narrow your concerns and live your life in a way that tries to keep your story separate from America’s… But I hope you don’t. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, though you do have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all those who helped you get here, though you do have that debt. ’s because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role you’ll play in writing the next great chapter in America’s story.”

I think there’s a law some where that says that every college commencement speech, and of course everything ever uttered from the mouth of a Kennedy family member is supposed to culminate in a call to arms to fight for democracy, freedom and the American way. And you know what – I fall for that schmaltz hook, line and sinker. I’m such a sentimentalist, in fact, that I decided to sign up for the Peace Corps!

So... joining the Peace Corps has been a long, arduous process which I have been doing for more than a year (and it won't be over until I officially swear in September insh'allah). This is no mere entry-level job. Asides from the innumerable essays and interviews, I have had to demonstrate myself to be medically, psychologically and dentally - yes, dentally - fit to work overseas on behalf of the United States government. I have had every tooth X-rayed, every orifice thoroughly examined, and I have even had to spend an interesting afternoon in the Harlem NYPD precinct office to get fingerprinted so that the F.B.I. could investigate my record.

And last February I received a package in the mail which has made my greatest dream come true, inviting me to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali. The first thing I did was look at my map of the world on my dormroom wall. I saw that it was a big landlocked country split between the Sahara Desert and the more humid Sahel, that it was colored green for some bizarre reason, and that it looked awesome. They wanted me to be a Water Sanitation Extension Agent, which would entail the digging of wells, construction of water pumps, soak pits and irrigation systems. I called my recruiter back and gave her a very enthusiastic "Yes, m'am!"

(... continued on next post)

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Tribute to Alice

After a few days of orientation and vaccinations in Philadelphia, I have arrived safely in Mali where I will be working for the next two years constructing water sanitation pumps, digging wells, soak pits and irrigation ditches. I am now writing from Tubaniso; the Peace Corps training compound outside Bamako. Though I have spent so much time writing essays and conducting interviews and getting my fingerprints taken and collecting gear preparing to do this, and after so many months of waiting I am finally here, there is very little for me to say about my own life for there are far more important things on my mind right now. Namely, one of my dear friends and one of the most special people to ever grace this planet has just been killed in a tragic accident, crushed by a garbage truck as she rode her bicycle to work.

Anyone who knew Alice Swanson would agree that she was perhaps the kindest, gentlest and most determined soul whom they had ever met. She had that effect on everybody for good reason – because it was true. Perhaps it was her grin which showed off every last one of her pearly white teeth, perhaps it was her flowing locks of Nordic blonde hair which left every passerby in sheer rapture of this cutest of souls. Alice was a petite woman and almost childlike in some of her features, such as her unabashed love of animals which she wore on her sleeve – or rather, her dress which she had embroidered with the likeness of a wizened owl. But her small stature and innocent looks belied a great sophisticated woman who sure as hell knew about and did a whole lot in the world around her.

When Alice Swanson came from Worcester to Amherst her first year, in violation of school policy she brought her pet hamster to keep her company, wandering the hallways of her dormitory in its plastic ball. Out of love for all creatures great and small she naturally found her way to the Zü – Amherst’s vegetarian cooperative house – so that she could refrain from contributing to the mistreatment of a single Holstein cow by adhering to a strict vegan diet. That same year she also took charge of the Progressive Student Alliance which she used to organize her friends into simple acts of kindhearted activism from working at the farm to grow vegetables for a local food bank to raking leaves for the homeless. All sorts of animals, especially humans, were direct beneficiaries of Alice’s selfless nature.

Alice was no merely cute young woman, however – I think that was signified by the nose ring which signified that she was a badass rebel to the nth degree. Alice Swanson was possessed by that rare spark which convinces earnest young idealists that they too can change the world. She was an anarchist in the fully romantic sense of the word, with boundless faith in humanity and our capacity to take charge of our own destiny. She studied Spanish and Arabic to fluency, but majored in history; her stated intention was to be that world-historical individual in the Hegelian sense who was going to liberate all of the Middle East and Latin America from autocracy and neocolonialism. Alice cared quite earnestly about the plight of the Palestinians and under occupation, the exploited workers at Mexico’s maquiladoras, not to mention the poor and disenfranchised of Western Massachusetts. If couldn’t get others to join her, she would continue plying away on her movement for peace and justice even if she had to change society all by herself. And she did.

The first time I met Alice Swanson was naturally on a trip to Washington for an antiwar demonstration that she had organized. At the time I was a freshman who had a very difficult time making friends– and I couldn’t find anybody on campus who was interested in conversing with me about my monomaniacal obsession on Iraq, not a single person – that is, until I met Alice. Not only was she patient enough to engage this troubled soul, but she was kind enough to befriend me and invite me to the Zü and eat curry and teach me all about the Sandinistas and the Nicaraguan environmentalist movement. Whenever I had a burning gripe about all of the violence in the world and needed a sympathetic soul to help sort out my anxieties, Alice acted as an older sister-type figure of sorts, a mentor and role model as she opened her revolutionary literature-strewn dorm room into a refuge for the angst-ridden and alienated of Amherst College. She was an oracle of the possible, an ever-smiling beacon of hope.

During a typical solace session I would burst in Alice’s room shouting about whatever it was that had outraged me that day – usually unannounced, and she would tell me to have a seat, hand me a plate of oatmeal-raisin cookies, and deftly transform my grief into more healthy sentiments. At one memorable exchange I was so distraught by recent events in Fallujah that I woke her up from a nap in search of sympathy, and Alice put me in my place with one of the best pieces of advice that I ever received: “No matter how concerned you are about the war, there’s no use in moping around and feeling sorry for yourself. Why don’t you do something constructive instead?”

Alice’s optimistic turnaround made an impression on my malleable psyche. Doing something constructive was then beyond the stretch of my imagination, so I asked her what she had in mind. Her preferred method of establishing peace was working in education; organizing lectures, helping local immigrants study for their citizenship exams, and going to Egypt to study Arabic and teach schoolchildren English. Alice’s deeds made quite an impression on my tender mind; she persuaded me to start Arabic lessons myself so that maybe one day I too could go do great things like her.

Alice was supposed to have lived to be 100 and lived a long, full life of tending to the poor and downtrodden. Quoted in a local newspaper, her father said, “Alice wanted to help people, but now that’s not going to happen.”

… Yet I would not speak too soon. Because of Alice Swanson, there are now immigrants in who were able to become United States citizens, schoolchildren who can now speak English, and a few less people who went to bed hungry at night. And as trite as this may sound, Alice’s spirit lives on in every life that she touched – from Worcester to Washington, from Amherst to Managua and Cairo and everywhere in between, there are now countless souls are possessed by that crazy notion that we can make a difference, that we too can change the world. As I write from the flickering computer at Tubaniso, I can say with confidence that Alice’s radiant example is why I am in Mali today. Instead of moping around, I am learning how to dig wells for people without potable water. Those pieces of Alice’s courage, grit and passion which rubbed off on me will always be an integral part of who I am. And I know that I am not the only one.

I’m going to miss you, Alice.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Utility Maximization of American Souls - Or, Let's Get on the Express Train to Heaven!

During the summer of 2005, the Reverend Billy Graham came to New York with a pointed message about our current place in history, in particular our proximity to the end of the world; "Jesus Christ said, as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the son of man be. When the situation in the world gets the way it was in Noah's day, you can look up and know that Jesus is close to coming."

Indeed, the world is getting to become more and more like it was in Noah's day, but the evidence which Reverend Graham put forth to back up his belief that "God is warning us" about the End times - the recent disappearance of a teenage girl in Aruba and the suffocation of three boys in the trunk of their parents' car - did not even hit the tip of the ominous iceberg. What he should have said is that with the destruction of the ozone layer, global warming, and the melting of the polar ice caps, the oceans of our planet are soon going to rise to a level unseen since the Flood described in Genesis. In his effort to make his sermon about Noah pertinent to local concerns, Graham could have even cited the Environmental Protection Agency's 2002 study on climate change, which predicts a two to four-foot rise in sea levels around the New York metropolitan area within the century. God must be mightily wrathful about our wickedness as he will be soon be sending our offspring packing as the Atlantic Ocean submerges much of lower Manhattan, Staten Island, and some of the biggest landmarks in Queens, including parts of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park where Reverend Graham gave his sermon. But what should we Earth-dwellers do in regards to the imminent coming of the Apocalypse? Should we do as these secular scientists and international bureaucrats recommend forestalling the rise in sea-levels and instating mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions?

Hell no. Global warming is caused by humans, and humans were created by God to implement His will. Therefore the rise in sea levels and ultimate inundation of New York City and other low-lying cities is all for the best as a part of His divine plan, and to tamper with it would be a transgression of natural law. If anything, what we should do is hasten the global warming process for the betterment of both the worldly inhabitants of our civilization and especially for the ultimate denizens of the kingdom for which Billy Graham is busy securing immigration visas. When you see smokestacks, associate them not with skin cancer but with those harp lessons you have always meant to take up. consider these smokestacks to be not just releasing the products of greenhouse gas machines – think of them as steam engines powering the express train to Heaven!

Think for a moment about the semi-aquatic utopia New York could be under not four feet of salt water, but thirty-four or even forty-four! The discotheques, smut galleries, and other dens of iniquity which line the city's streets shall be totally submerged, leaving little but the spires of the financial district's capitalist cathedrals to see the light of day. Moreover, the cardboard boxes and relatively cheap, low-level apartments which lie under the new, raised sea level shall likewise be inundated, leaving the less affluent, inferior peoples who call them home to drown in a regurgitated puddle of their own sin. In this City there is a direct correlation between an individual's virtue and the number of the floor on which they live, so if we could somehow emit enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere so that sea levels rise above every tenement building and middle-class hovel, the only living quarters which will be left dry shall be the opulent penthouse apartments which inhabit the most elite echelons of billionaires like Mayor Mike Bloomberg, real estate baron Donald Trump, and real estate heiress Leona Helmsley. And since only morally upright, hard-working individuals such as the aforementioned specimens of the human race can earn or inherit the massive amounts of wealth requisite to pay the rent on these 80th-floor penthouses, the only people left to live in all of New York after this dazzling display of Social Darwinism would surely be the better class of mankind.

Unless, of course, there are certain mutants among these inferior peoples who happen to have gills like Kevin Costner and can survive underneath the Atlantic Ocean, New York City would become as close to an ideal society that we will ever have on Earth after a thorough melting of the polar ice caps. But for those mutants from Flatbush who would escape God's will with their evolutionary advantages - intelligently designed, of course - the jobless and marginally-employed shall be eviscerated and only the true believers in the American free market economy will be left standing. If any such fish-men of the middling classes do indeed exist and manage to survive swimming about in their ground-level apartments, perhaps they can be put to some use and hired to ferry chief executives from their penthouse homes to the office by gondola. A reincarnation of Venetian culture on Wall Street - how splendid!

The weeding out of the lesser masses would nevertheless only be one short-run upshot of radical global warming, ozone layer depletion, and polar ice cap melting. The most worthy achievement which we could get from accelerating the end of the world would not be just the temporary betterment of what is left of worldly society, but the complete annihilation of it. Though we would like to preserve the environment and make life as pleasurable as possible for our future generations of Trumps and Helmsleys and Bloombergs, this concern is but a trifle; for as former Secretary of the Interior James Watt once testified, "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns." You must acknowledge that after the Apocalypse, and not now, is the time which we should really be worrying about. After all, the afterlife, in which the immortal soul is free from the chains of the body and the pollution of the material world, is in every way more important and gratifying than this life which we are now living. For this, true theophiles should rejoice for their death and tremble in anticipation of it! Some may disagree and say that death is a thing to be feared, but these corrupted souls are enjoy pleasures other than the hope of someday eating ambrosia in God's celestial breakfast nook.

Producing more greenhouse gases to kill off the human race is indeed sound public policy, for the aim of governments is to attain the greatest good for the greatest number. Let us do the utilitarian calculus; out of approximately 293,382,953 souls in the United States of America (let us not strain our own credulity and pretend as if we actually care about souls in other countries), there are approximately 224,437,959 souls who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and 68,944,994 Semites, Mahometans, Hindus and various other idolaters who have not. Therefore, if we were able to make Earth uninhabitable tomorrow, there would be 224,437,959 souls who would consequently meet their Maker and enjoy absolute bliss for pure eternity. The other 68,944,994 souls would needless to say endure the throes of Satan's lash for eternal damnation; though that is not to say that their existence would be bereft of any happiness at all, for during their average lifespan of 77.7 years these godless heathens each enjoy the serotonin produced by an average of 7,213 orgasms, 9.08 liters of alcohol and 0.8 grams of cocaine.

If you note the first utility maximization chart below, you will see just how much more happiness will be enjoyed by our 224,437,959 self-described Christian-Americans than our 68,944,994 idolaters; infinitely more happiness - even disregarding the idolaters' eternal damnation. The trump card is, of course, that our Christian brethren will be enjoying eternal bliss - which is infinite - as opposed to a finite amount of orgasms, alcohol and cocaine. Just to show you how powerful this eternal bliss factor is, let us create a hypothetical scenario in which we suppose that all Americans who portend to have accepted Jesus Christ into their lives are not quite sincere and that Billy Graham is the only one who truly has and shall ultimately wind up in Heaven. Even so, the utilitarian product of one soul times infinite is, well, infinite. And that is a lot of utility. Thus, assuming that at the very least the Reverend and some other quantity of saved souls would ascend to Heaven as a result, we must allow them to take up residence there at once by allowing our automobiles and manufacturing plants to toot their horns and spew forth enough greenhouse emissions to destroy the ozone layer and melt the polar ice caps and raise Earth's sea levels high enough so we can stamp out the existence of those living in the wilderness of sin.

Our President George W. Bush surely understands the gravity of this situation and our unique opportunity for our souls' fate to be foreclosed with industrial activity, and that is why he has doggedly fended off the advances of the other seven world powers to impose Soviet-style command-and-control emissions caps. Of course, even though Bush has looked into Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin's eyes and seen the fundamental goodness of their souls, he is too smart to let them know his ulterior motives for refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, because then the Jew-dominated liberal media would find out and they definitely would not be keen on hastening the Apocalypse in which they shall be smitten with not quite fire and brimstone but water of salt. Instead, our God-fearing President tells the G-8 conferees about the how the Lord's invisible hand intervenes in economies and that the best way to "fight" not global warming but "climate change" is to establish a carbon credit market in which our greenhouse gas producers can purchase the right to destroy the ozone layer for around the price of a set of one-sided copies at Kinko's.

We have a problem, however, for though the United States can be thanked for a full 25% of the world's greenhouse gases, 150 governments representing a full 61.6% of the world's total emissions have signed on to the Kyoto Protocol and are now in the process of slowing the process of ozone depletion. Unles these neo-pagan tree-huggers are stopped, we will have to wait even longer for Judgment Day. To do this I call on President Bush to bring the Revered Billy Graham to the next summit of global leaders to tell the story of Isaiah as he did during his first crusade to New York in 1957, where he told the city of sinners tell how Isaiah warned of impending judgment unless there is sincere repentance. Only this time Graham must fundamentally misinterpret the story, for these nations must repent their ratification of the Kyoto Protocol so that we can usher the hour of divine judgment!

Friday, July 11, 2008

What the McDonald's Corporation Can Do to Fight the Darfur Genocide

Cobbled together by the British Empire with little regard to existing ethnic or tribal divisions, the tribes of Sudan’s western Darfur provinces have been historically marginalized and oppressed by the incumbent regime in Khartoum. The intra-Sudanese conflict was exacerbated by Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s Islamic Front movement, which has attempted to forcibly Arabize and Islamicize his subjects. With the aim of local autonomy the mostly Christian and animist rebels of Darfur responded by forming their own militias, particularly the Sudan Liberation Army led by Zaghawa tribesman Minni Minnawi and Hassani al-Turabi’s Justice and Equality Movement, which have waged raids on regional military installations. In order to “pacify” these territories, the junta in Khartoum has recruited the Janjaweed, a horseback-riding militia of the nomadic Arab Bagarra peoples, to pillage the Fur, Zaghawa and Maasalit tribal villages with Chinese-imported machine guns and the cover of Chinese-imported Sudanese military aircraft. The Janjaweed and the Sudanese Army are not just killing civilians of the same ethnicity as Darfurian rebels, but are using such wanton atrocities as systematic rape, torture, hacking off civilians limbs with machetes, and throwing children into bonfires to burn alive. Now going into its fourth year, the Sudanese government’s campaign of genocide against the tribes of Darfur has already killed approximately 400,000 civilians and displaced another 4.7 million.

The man-made disaster in Darfur is steadily growing, and without foreign intervention has only the potential to claim the lives of hundreds of thousands or even millions more innocent civilians. As the traditional world powers dither, a certain business has a unique opportunity to pressure Bashir’s government to end the Darfur genocide. Indeed, the McDonald’s Corporation, as one of the most widespread symbols of American economic might with over 30,000 franchises in over 120 countries, has the opportunity to do what no United States government agency can to exert influence on Khartoum.

Since Sudan is a developing country with few sources of government revenue, the regime in Khartoum is highly dependent upon foreign investment to finance its operations – about 60 percent of all government revenue is allocated towards military expenditures. . The United States has imposed a comprehensive embargo on what it has deemed a state sponsor of terrorism since 1997, and with the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006 strengthened U.S. sanctions by prohibiting entry at American ports to ships carrying Sudanese oil. Upon issuing the executive order to carry out Congress’ mandate, President Bush determined that whereas “the Government of Sudan continues to implement policies and actions that violate human rights”, and also that “the Government of Sudan has a pervasive role in the petroleum and petrochemical industries in Sudan”, he decreed a prohibition of transactions “relating to the petroleum and petrochemical industries in Sudan.” Since then, the Bush administration has continued to act within its legal authority to tighten the noose around Khartoum’s revenue flow, such as barring more companies controlled by the Sudanese government from the American financial system. Yet given that the United States already has comprehensive sanctions against Sudanese firms, there is little more that it can do with soft power. The notable exception is for Congress to impose secondary sanctions on multinational companies conducting business in Sudan like Sinopec and PetroChina, but the prospect of a United States government issuing de facto sanctions against the People’s Republic of China to which it is indebted more than $1 trillion – and specifically against Chinese oil companies during a period of spiking gas prices – is slim to none.

And so the American private sector may be able to influence Khartoum in ways that the federal government cannot. Though it is not directly involved in any of the events on the ground in Darfur, through its business partnerships the McDonald’s Corporation has a unique opportunity to put economic pressure on the Sudanese regime. And even though McDonald’s is not actually operating within Sudanese territory due to current sanctions, it still has considerable influence over the petroleum economy and state apparatus, namely through its recent agreement with the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation; also known as Sinopec.

The reason why Sinopec is implicated in the ongoing holocaust is that as the second-largest driller of Sudan’s oil exports, mainland China’s second-largest oil company is all but bankrolling the regime in Khartoum. About half of all Sudanese government revenue is derived from oil exports, and the majority of that revenue is allocated towards military expenditures. Since China imports between 70 and 80 percent of Sudanese oil through semi-privatized firms like Sinopec, the People’s Republic of China acts as Sudan’s patron state. As quid pro quo for petroleum concessions, China is now supplying Khartoum with munitions including T-59 tanks, howitzers, fighter aircraft and landmines which are invariably being used to carry out the atrocities in Darfur. And as the United Nations Security Council debates whether to impose no-fly zones, deploy peacekeeping forces to the Darfur region or even strike Sudan with global sanctions and restrict oil exports through an Oil-for-Food program, Chinese delegates protect their genocidal clients from intervention with veto power.

For these reasons, Sinopec has been among the companies singled out by nearly every investing institution which has adopted a divestment policy towards those firms complicit in the ethnic cleansing of Darfur, including universities such as Harvard and Yale, the cities of Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco, and eighteen states including California, New York, Texas, Florida and Illinois. Though successful with changing the policy of some firms, shareholder activism has not yet proved to be effectual with Sinopec; this can largely be explained by the fact that an overwhelming majority of 68 percent of all shares in the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation are owned by the People’s Republic of China. Moreover, the revolving-door culture between government officials and the leadership of private corporations in China’s regime of state capitalism make it very difficult for shareholders of to influence corporate policy. This does not mean that socially responsible investors must give up hope on engaging Sinopec to reform its human rights policies, but merely alternative means must be found to achieve these ends.

Thus McDonald’s enters into the equation. In June, 2006 the McDonald’s Corporation and the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation signed a 20-year “strategic alliance” agreement to construct McDonald’s Drive-Thru restaurants at some of Sinopec’s more than 30,000 gas stations throughout China. With all the projected additional sales of McDonald’s hamburgers and Sinopec gasoline, it is expected that this lucrative deal is potentially worth multiple billions of dollars for both sides (exact figures have not been released to the public). In addition, according to this contract McDonald’s is given the first right of refusal of co-developed Drive-Thru restaurants at already-existing and newly-constructed Sinopec stations; in other words, since the bulk of the business involved in this partnership will involve McDonald’s resources, employees, etc., they have the final say as to whether each and any of these Drive-Thrus are indeed constructed.

Though tracing the supply chain from McDonald’s to Sinopec to the Government of Sudan to the Janjaweed might at first seem to be too distant to identify any substantive culpability, one does not have to use tortuous logic to see that the more hamburgers McDonald’s sells at its new Chinese Drive Thrus, the more revenue the Sudanese government accumulates through its exports through Sinopec. Indeed, by intertwining its business operations so deeply with Sinopec, the McDonald’s Corporation must assume the political risks that come with having a controversial business partner.

Hence McDonald’s could possibly serve as the “soft underbelly” of the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation as well as Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s regime in Khartoum, that being if Darfur activists could adopt a strategy of engagement with the McDonald’s Corporation to similarly engage Sinopec. The appeal of using McDonald’s as a vehicle to reforming Sinopec instead of going through Sinopec is that whereas the Chinese oil conglomerate is virtually impenetrable to shareholder activism, McDonald’s is a relatively accessible public corporation. Effecting change with the practices of the McDonald’s Corporation is by comparison much easier. As it is a fully public company with shares owned by such a plethora of diverse investors, no single shareholder or clique of shareholders has the overwhelming power to quash reform. Moreover, the management of McDonald’s has a history of responding to shareholders’ concerns, having ceased the use of polystyrene packaging, asked their major United States supplier of potatoes to stop using genetically-engineered crops, and banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, among other things, as a result of shareholder pressure. Given this track record, there is no reason to think that McDonald’s would be unwilling to adopt some modest measures which would require no change to their production process.

Furthermore, shareholder activists often have had greater successes effecting change in the policies of companies that sell widely-recognized consumer goods in their own markets than those of companies which provide industrial goods and services overseas, because the negative publicity which is accrued by the former can actually have a significant effect on revenues. Sinopec does not sell gasoline in the United States, so they naturally have less reason to be concerned with their image in an irrelevant market. Though McDonald’s, on the other hand, has everything to lose if its image is tarnished in the eyes of American consumers. If anything, there is good reason to believe that since all of the corporate sponsors of the 2008 Beijing Games are already coming under fire for underwriting the “Genocide Olympics”, McDonald’s management could gain much positive PR as a result of distancing itself from Khartoum.

For the McDonald’s Corporation to take action against the Darfur genocide requires neither the 2006 contract with the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation to be rescinded, nor that any fewer Drive-Thrus must be built. Indeed, corporate engagement does not necessarily entail any losses in productivity. All that McDonald’s needs to do is to vocally express its ethical concerns about Sinopec’s business activities in Sudan and to request that they do any of the following; cease their co-ventures with Sudapet (which as a Sudanese corporation puts McDonald’s in a questionable position of violating the spirit of United States sanctions), reduce their oil extraction activities in Sudan so as to reduce Sudanese government revenue (which is all but unthinkable as Chinese energy demands continue to grow), offset the catastrophic conditions in Darfur by funding or conducting some sort of humanitarian relief program, and what is most important: urge the government of Sudan to halt their campaign of ethnic cleansing. McDonald’s could even take an especially strong stand and freeze construction of new Drive-Thru restaurants until either Sinopec has demonstrated that they have taken constructive steps to engage the Sudanese government or the Darfur genocide has ceased.

No matter how modest McDonald’s measures may be, any action at all that they take could potentially effect change in Sinopec’s policies. In the best-case scenario, the Ralph Alvarez and Wang Tianpu, the respective Presidents of the McDonald’s and China Petroleum and Chemical Corporations, might simultaneously negotiate a plan to engage the Sudanese government as President George W. Bush and Chinese Premier Hu Jintao agree to a join front on diplomacy towards Khartoum. Then the political and economic emissaries of American and Chinese might would have to communicate to the genocidal regime that their patronage is put into a precarious position so long as they are engaged in the systematic annihilation of their own subjects. Of course, for the McDonald’s Corporation to take a stand on Darfur would not necessarily translate into substantive progress on the ground – even if their position is identical to that of the current administration. But as there are no foreseeable costs, there is no economic reason as to why McDonald’s should stand silently as innocent people needlessly perish.

The Case for Hillary

(disclaimer: this was written in February 2007, a time before Barack Obama had sponsored and passed the Sudan Divestment and Accountability Act, the Iran Divestment Act, and the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, and also before Hillary Clinton's inept campaign managers steered her towards embarrassing lows. This is one of my more eloquent pieces yet, and in hindsight one of the more regrettable)

It was once noticed by a young Governor of Arkansas that whereas Republicans tend to fall in line in presidential politics, Democrats want to fall in love. And last summer my heart was won by an assertive, intelligent woman named Hillary Rodham Clinton. While working as an intern in her Washington office, my conversation with the outside world usually began with a single question: “Is she running for president?” The unfortunate truth is that even such an influential figure as myself, the Deputy Secretary of the Copying Machine, was not quite in the loop. But as I spent my summer delivering her mail and alphabetizing her files, I did acquire much admiration for the way she does business.

To begin, the Clinton operation has perfected politics to a science, and it goes without saying that this team is capable of running things on a larger scale. But before delving into what policies might be enacted in any future Clinton administration, we must determine whether such a thing is even possible. When deciding upon the best standard-bearer for any particular election, the smart thing for a party to do would be – in this order – to first determine whether a candidate actually has a shot of winning, and only then choose from the possible victors he or she whose policies are the most to your liking. According to my calculations, Hillary is not merely the best candidate, but she is the only candidate that Democrats can put forward if we are to win back the White House in 2008.

The most widespread myth about Hillary Clinton is that she engenders so much antipathy among the population at large that it would be foolish to choose such a lightning rod. There is indeed a vast, right-wing conspiracy which really, really hates her. And these same people hated the supposedly “electable” Gore and Kerry, and they will similarly spout no less vitriol at Obama, Edwards, and any other non-Republican candidate – because that is their job. Yet these hacks are irrelevant, because their audience is a segment of the population which is never going to cast their ballot for a Democrat anyway. Among liberal and unaffiliated swing voters – the much larger segment of the electorate whose ballots decide elections – polls show that Clinton remains a very popular figure. In fact, if the election were held today and Hillary Clinton were our nominee, all evidence suggests that there would be a Democrat sitting in the Oval Office.

The response of most self-ascribed liberals in regards to Hillary runs along the lines of “I like her, but I don’t think that she can win.” The conventional wisdom that Clinton is simply unelectable must be shattered immediately. According to an ABC/Washington Post poll taken the day after she announced her candidacy, Hillary Clinton was the only Democratic candidate who would be able to beat the most competitive Republican, Rudy Giuliani. The same poll finds that she would beat the presumed Republican nominee John McCain by 6 points. No other Democratic candidate comes close. One can argue that any current data is skewed by early name-recognition, but the fact is that Obama and Edwards are running considerably to the left of Clinton – too far for the comfort of many swing voters, and that all evidence suggests that they are more likely to lose the general election.

Rhetoric about hope and transcendence is certainly moving, but if you want to hear inspiring rhetoric, go to church. If you want to be inspired by politics, go for someone who knows how to change public policy. Barack Obama and John Edwards have put forward worthy proposals, but during their tenures in Congress neither of them have demonstrated any ability to get things done. Though after slightly more than six years in the world’s most august deliberative chamber, the junior Senator from New York has been able to work across the aisle in a hostile Republican Congress to pass legislation on issues as various as homeland security, health care, pharmaceutical safety, emergency contraception, veterans benefits, education, and economic development. The measure of a politician is whether or not they can get things done, and by that standard Hillary Clinton is as good as they come.

Naysayers on the right claim depict her as a sort of socialist peacenik, and her detractors on the left accuse her of being acquiescent with the forces of reaction – both are wrong. A good bet is that if someone in public office is being met with enmity from the ideologues from both sides of the aisle, it is an indication that they are doing something right.

The Clintons’ governing philosophy is that “government can be a positive force in the lives of Americans”, and this modest truism is more refreshing than you might think. By November of 2008, the American people will have been living through their eighth year of an administration which deliberately runs up debt in order to justify its underfunding of all non-military spending programs, has nonchalantly overseen a rise in Americans living without health insurance and in poverty, has failed to protect its own citizens from natural disaster, has botched not one but two wars and has then proceeded to neglect our veterans. This is what happens when we are cursed with public servants who willfully demonstrate the Reaganite dogma that government itself is the problem. Our country does not need a revolution; what we need is a government that works, and that is what Hillary Clinton’s brand of substantive politics promises to deliver.

The primary duty of the government is to ensure the health and safety of its citizens. These self-interested, even conservative ends might not sound particularly romantic, but they are the paramount concerns of the vast majority of Americans – and also just happen to be precisely the fields in which Clinton has demonstrated her prowess. This is hardly a concession to the right; if anything, it is central to the understanding of the need for effective public policy. Clinton has found not only found a sound agenda but also a winning campaign formula of national security and economic security, and if elected, she will dedicate her administration to stabilizing the health care, energy and job markets as well as the geopolitical situation in the Middle East.

Health care is an issue which Hillary Clinton has essentially owned since she chaired the commission on health care reform in the 1990s. Then she proposed a great increase in government intervention, but such pipedreams have laid dormant while Congress has been in Republican hands. Reading the political environment as it is, she has successfully achieved more incremental reform in the realm of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, computerizing health care records, stem cell research and over-the-counter birth control than her grand ambitions of universal health insurance. But America’s health care crisis is still one of the most poignant issues in the public sphere, and now that Congress is in Democratic hands Senator Clinton will probably take the lead on a major initiative in the near future to expand government subsidies for health insurance, legally compel individuals to purchase it through the private sector, or both.

Clinton is squarely among the most hawkish members of the Democratic caucus, and rightly so, for as a Senator whose constituents were the primary targets of the 9/11 hijackers, New Yorkers are particularly concerned about homeland security. Too many liberals are wont to scoff at this subject as to do so it to at least recognizes the intentions of the Bush administration in its failed policies, and – in a few instances – where they might have even gotten things right. But the fact is that anyone who wants to be considered for the role of Commander in Chief must be well-versed in the duties that entails. On the home front, Senator Clinton has been especially attuned to the issue’s steak and potatoes; enhancing security in airlines, railroads, ports and nuclear power plants, and one of her biggest fights as of late has been to scrap the absurd formula which allocates more counterterrorism dollars per capita to small states Wyoming than those like New York which were actually struck by al-Qaeda and replace it with a rational, risk-based regime.

Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy is essentially the War on Terror liberalism espoused in Peter Beinart’s The Good Fight. Clinton aptly grasps that the enormous challenges which our country faces cannot be avoided with the puerile instincts of isolationism and narrow self-interest, but that these generational endeavors require a robust government to lead the nation in collective action, harnessing the power of democracy and free markets to secure the greater societal interest. She welcomes the integration of the world market as an incentive for the increased competitiveness of the American economy, sees global warming as a test of our ability to reform our means of production, and she maneuvers on our mission in Afghanistan to enlarge our military and humanitarian presence.

In regards to the single most controversial and consequential foreign policy issue of the day, Senator Clinton can be fairly described as a hawk as she voted for the resolution which authorized the President to use force against Saddam Hussein. Peacenik activists have used the fact that Clinton has not explicitly apologized for her vote as alleged proof that she is not sufficiently antiwar, but this is petty theatrics. The real question at hand is what, if elected, Hillary Clinton would do in regards to the current situation in Iraq, and that she stated pretty clearly at this winter’s DNC meeting, “If we in Congress don't end this war before January 2009, as president, I will." In all fairness her promise is quite vague, but then again, Eisenhower ran on no more than the simple pledge that “I will go to Korea.” And he won, and he did, and so will Hillary.

Hillary Clinton has been skeptical about a firm timetable for withdrawal, and for this she has been decried by the leftist blogosphere as undifferentiable from the status quo. That is not the case, for Clinton has since called for the government to “change the course in Iraq” and supports the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations to withdraw the majority of troops by 2008 – which is essentially a timetable in all but name. And instead of retreating from Iraq with a pacifist worldview, Senator Clinton believes that there are still wars worth fighting; namely the war in Afghanistan, the Darfur genocide and the rest of the Global War on Terrorism.

The other lingering concern about Hillary is the role that will be played by her spouse in her campaign and administration. Will she run as her own woman and distance herself from the memory of the peace and prosperity of the prior Clinton administration, or will she let the aspiring First Husband publicly work on her behalf and essentially assume the role which she played in 1992 and 1996? Let us just say that it would be laughably absurd for Hillary Clinton to run away from her political mentor and the man who gave her last name. There are few individuals with a greater understanding of the federal government than infamous policy wonk Bill, and it would not be unfathomable to picture the relatively young ex-president as Secretary of State, diplomatic envoy to the Middle East, or some sort of advisor to the President. In comparison, instead of receiving advice from his accomplished father and former President George H.W. Bush, current President George W. Bush consults “a higher father”. Who would you prefer to lead the free world; someone who takes their advice from God, or someone whose chief political advisor is Bill Clinton?
I rest my case.

Global Warming: A Threat to Human Rights

Global warming caused by human activity is not just a danger to the environment or to endangered species of plants and animals, but it is also a threat to human rights. Indeed, the process of climate change has already begun to alter the environment of human populations and so dramatically reconfiguring their way of life that this trend is leading towards widespread, systematic human rights abuses in a variety of avenues. At this time most of the world’s human population have not yet directly experienced adverse environmental, economic or political changes produced by the planetary rise in temperatures. Though some societies are already suffering unprecedented resource shortages and increases in conflict and violence that individuals are seeing their universally-recognized natural and civil rights being violated, and this disturbing trend is expected to become much worse as global temperatures rise ever more rapidly.

Among the people who are already bearing the brunt of climate change are those whose environment is being heated into oblivion, namely the Inuit of northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland. With only a rise of 5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 30 years,[i] the waters of the Arctic Ocean have warmed so much that 38,000 square miles of sea ice are lost every year, with sea ice expected to completely disappear by 2040.[ii] As a result polar bears are not the only mammals on the road to extinction[iii] – the thawing of the Arctic is all but devastating populations of humans, namely Inuit society.

Indeed, Inuit culture is all but predicated on the extreme cold, and the northernmost regions of the planet have become so much more temperate that not only is ice and permafrost melting but many Inuit can no longer find enough hard-packed snow to build their traditional igloos.[iv] And such adjustments are more than just a question of style. Arctic snow is thinning to the extent that Inuit are oftentimes unable to run which makes meat harder to come by as hunting traditional game becomes especially difficult.[v] And as ice is becoming thinner than usual, Inuit hunters are falling through and the risk of broken legs and ankles is becoming progressively more common[vi] – a serious threat to the survival of those who find themselves immobile and exposed to the unforgiving elements of Arctic weather.

“These are issues of life and death”, says Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, “We go out to hunt on the seas ice to put food on the table. You go to the supermarket.”[vii] This is the basis of the Nobel Prize nominee’s case which she and has brought before the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; that global warming is destroying the traditional Inuit way of life that it is a violation of their basic human rights.

Martin Wagner, the Earthjustice attorney arguing Watt-Cloutier’s case before the OAS, maintained that, “The effects of global warming interfere with the realization of the right of life, physical integrity and security. It is destroying lands and ecosystems to which indigenous cultures throughout the hemisphere are tied. In order to survive, (they) are thus forced to assimilate with other cultures in ways and on a schedule that they have not chosen.”[viii]

stresses the region’s need for sustainable economic development which both provides the Inuit population with sources of income while still minimizing the destruction of the Arctic environment. “A number of Inuit want to live in Western houses and find jobs in the oil or shipping industries, and they have every right to do so,” he explains, “but in addition to promoting economic modernization, governments and corporations must protect the rights of those who want to preserve their traditional lifestyle.”[ix] Economic growth is indeed needed among the Canadian as well as American and Greenlandic Inuit particularly because these populations all suffer extremely high unemployment and poverty rates, not to mention the rampant depression, alcoholism and drug abuse which ensues.[x]

The problematic aspect of much of the Arctic’s current fossil fuel-based industrialization is that so far it has not only capitalized on destructive climate change but has also reinforced it further in an autocatalytic loop. Indeed, the ever more common use of electricity, airplanes and trucks powered by oil and gasoline emits particulate matter into the air, and when it settles the particulate makes ice and snow much darker and conducive to the absorption of solar radiation, which only intensifies the melting process even more.[xi] And though the loss of sea ice is seen by a boon to some – namely the shipping companies that are preparing to make ready use of the Northwest Passage which is expected to completely thaw within the near future,[xii] the frozen environment of the Inuit is even more imperiled. As the Doug Struck writes in The Washington Post, “More ships will bring the risk -- the certainty, some say -- of accidents and black oil spills smeared on the white Arctic.”[xiii]

However, the economic development of the Arctic and the advent of additional prosperity need not destroy the frigid environment which is so crucial to traditional Inuit life. Even without utilizing alternative fuel technologies, Wagner suggests that businesses operating in the region can become more Inuit-friendly by becoming more energy-efficient or by installing scrubbers in the smokestacks of their ships and in the tailpipes of their trucks in order to minimize air pollution.[xiv] Though the effects of global warming are being felt the hardest by the people of the Arctic region, its causes are truly derived by worldwide trends – and so for the human rights of the Inuit to be secure there must be a concerted effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the people of every country on the globe.

In addition to the inhabitants of the coldest environments on Earth, people who live in the climatic antipode are also suffering widespread human rights violations as a result of global warming. Due to shifts in weather patterns the declining precipitation levels of North and Central Africa has led to the rapid expansion of the Sahara Desert. The ways by which human rights are going to suffer as a consequences are not merely subjects for future speculation, for the ramifications on water rights for drinking, sanitation and irrigation purposes are already abysmal.
For example, 40 years ago Lake Chad was the sixth-largest lake in the world, straddling the borders of Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria and providing ample water supplies to the human population throughout the region. But since global warming caused by human activity has desiccated the region, the lake has shrunk to only one-twentieth of its original size – and the humanitarian consequences have been devastating.[xv] Not only have the vast majority farmers and ranchers who once depended on Lake Chad’s water for their livelihoods given up their lands and emigrated moved to already-overcrowded cities, but those who have kept their farms are in such cutthroat competition for scarce water resources that low-level conflict has broken out for the fertile lands of the former lakebed. Internecine firefights erupted when fishermen from Nigeria followed the retreating shore lines into Cameroon, and violence has been precipitated by farmers over property rights in the bottom of what was once Lake Chad.[xvi]

Following the link between desertification and resource conflict, some observers have concluded that global warming is causally related to one of the world’s worst ongoing violations of human rights, the Sudanese government’s campaign of genocide in Darfur. No less an influential figure than United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon wrote in a Washington Post editorial that “the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.”[xvii]
Two decades ago, the rains in southern Sudan began to fail. According to U.N. statistics, average precipitation has declined some 40 percent since the early 1980s. Scientists at first considered this to be an unfortunate quirk of nature. But subsequent investigation found that it coincided with a rise in temperatures of the Indian Ocean, disrupting seasonal monsoons. This suggests that the drying of sub-Saharan Africa derives, to some degree, from man-made global warming.[xviii]
Indeed, there is little doubt that global warming is one of the leading causes of rapid desertification, and particularly the expansion of the Sahara Desert. But Moon’s conclusion that there is causation and not merely correlation between global warming, desertification and the Darfur genocide is significantly more controversial.
It is no accident that the violence in Darfur erupted during the drought. Until then, Arab nomadic herders had lived amicably with settled farmers. A recent Atlantic Monthly article by Stephan Faris describes how black farmers would welcome herders as they crisscrossed the land, grazing their camels and sharing wells. But once the rains stopped, farmers fenced their land for fear it would be ruined by the passing herds. For the first time in memory, there was no longer enough food and water for all. Fight broke out. By 2003, it evolved into the full-fledged tragedy we witness today.[xix]

The Secretary General’s understanding of the genocide’s origins in global warming-induced desertification, however, do not come without controversy. Some critics, most notably Sudan scholar Eric Reeves, argue instead that “decades of severe political and economic marginalization, along with the NIF regime’s politically expedient targeting of the African tribal groups of Darfur, are the real cause of conflict in Darfur.”[xx]
Regardless, many experts fear that the conflicts like that unfolding among farmers and herders in Darfur could be replicated throughout the Middle East and North Africa, because the growing human populations in these regions and their demand for food and water are straining among the most limited water supplies in the world. The average annual rainfall in Darfur has dropped by almost 50 percent over 86 years to 7.48 inches when the conflict began in 2003, while over the past 40 years Darfur’s population has increased sixfold to 6.5 million.[xxi]

Indeed, potable water sources will only become increasingly scarce as rainfall is declining steadily in these areas, and there is the strong possibility that the change in precipitation patterns is related to global warming. “The consciousness of the world on the issue of climate change has to change fast,” said Muawia Shaddad of the Sudan Environment Conservation Society. “Darfur is just an early warning.”[xxii] But as paltry steps are being taken – the Sudanese government has planned a pilot project to spend $10 to construct dams and plant trees, Ismail al-Gizouli of the High Council for Environment and Natural Resources demands, “We need the richer countries to realize desertification is the emergency and help us.”[xxiii]

The expansion of the Sahara Desert is a complicated issue in regards to corporate responsibility, for in addition to global warming there are numerous other artificial causes which contribute to desertification, including overcultivation, overgrazing, and inadequate irrigation.[xxiv] Unlike the shippers poised to take advantage of the thawing Northwest Passage, however, there are no means by which it can be foreseen that any particular corporation might actually reap windfalls from the existence of more uninhabitable, unusable land; so the problem in this case is not necessarily that companies should refrain from capitalizing on environmental degradation which contributes to the violation of human rights, but that in their operations in North and Central Africa they should conduct business with their eye fixed on long-run rather than short-run interests. The most significant measure which business firms could take would be to promote techniques of land and water conservation so that sustainable agricultural methods become more prevalent – benefiting both the companies themselves as well as the individual farmers on the cusp of being overwhelmed by the Sahara sand. But for the international markets for farm goods to shift from the raising of livestock to crops would kill the two proverbial birds with one stone by both reducing water consumption as well as greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to desertification in the grander scale of environmental human rights concerns.

With these civilizational crises already playing out with the modest temperature change that have already been incurred, one can only imagine what humanitarian disasters await as the atmosphere becomes even warmer. With only modest warming of the oceans, hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are becoming stronger and more destructive, indicating that the rare intense storms which can wreck havoc on densely-populated urban settings like Hurricane Katrina might soon become more and more common.[xxv] And even if global warming is mitigated so that sea levels rise by only a few feet, by bringing shorelines even slightly further inland residential corridors which were once thought to be safe will become susceptible to extreme flooding.[xxvi] And in places where water levels are already a concern, of course, the risk of flooding is only going to become even worse.

If the Antarctic or the Greenland ice sheets were to melt completely – an event which would raise sea levels by 20 feet due to the added volume of additional liquid water in Earth’s oceans. In such a scenario which is indeed projected if the production of greenhouse gas emissions continues to grow at their current rate, entire neighborhoods of New York, London and Tokyo would become submerged, with those high points which could escape permanent engulfment at least vulnerable to extreme flooding.[xxvii] Low-lying cities like New Orleans and Miami would be completely underwater.[xxviii] Granted, this would be a relatively gradual process playing out over the course of many decades, but preempting a failure of imagination, this should nevertheless develop into an unprecedented humanitarian disaster.

The problem of rising sea levels is going to do much more than force people to abandon their coastal homes and villages; a number of low-lying nations will be rendered into uninhabitable. Indeed, even if the Greenland ice sheet were to only partially melt, sea levels will rise so much that countries such as the Maldives – an archipelago of small islands where the highest elevation is only 8 feet, will literally have to be wiped off the map. Though unintentional, the complete and utter destruction of the sine non qua landmass of a nation-state effectively translates into creating a nation in diaspora with no hope of restitution and – depending on how liberally one is willing to interpret the word – tantamount to genocide.

Considering the difficulties that the United States government has faced over the past two years providing for the more than 200,000 persons displaced by Hurricane Katrina,[xxix] it is quite foreseeable that the number of displaced persons in this country alone would completely overwhelm the capacity of our existing social welfare services. The problems which global warming would pose for countries in the industrial West, however, are almost negligible when compared to the results of an additional 20 feet of seawater in the overcrowded cities of the developing world. If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it would ultimately turn more than 20 million people from Beijing and the surrounding areas into refugees, 40 million from Shanghai and its environs would have to be evacuated, and 60 million would have to be evacuated from Calcutta and Bangladesh (which are already susceptible to massive flooding even with the Greenland ice sheet in a solid state). The Christian Aid agency likewise predicts that there will be 1 billion people displaced by global warming by the year 2050;[xxx] to say the least, a crisis without even the remotest analogy in the annals of history.

The human rights violations which are projected to be caused by global warming are essentially in two layers, for not only are the people of Florida, Louisiana, China, Bangladesh as well as the entire nations of Vanuatu, Tonga and the Maldives going to be deprived of their ancestral homeland, but the hundreds of millions if not a billion internally-displaced persons and refugees are going to become among the most vulnerable groups to further victimization. In comparison, the United States – which accepts by far more refugees than any other country, has drafted its budget for the Fiscal Year 2008 to accept a maximum of 70,000 refugees in that year.[xxxi]

Even in periods of global economic expansion, exiles can usually be expected to be greeted in their adopted countries by exploitative job markets and xenophobic political climates (look no further than the treatment of illegal immigrants in the United States). In a study issued by the United Kingdom, the socioeconomic destruction produced by climate change is expected to result in a contraction of annual worldwide GDP between 5 and 20 percent,[xxxii] a depression which is all but assured to create environments of vast overcrowding, unemployment and shortages of water and food commodities in which no government is going to be willing to accommodate such a massive influx of refugees. The exact means by which the rights of hundreds of millions of unwanted persons are going to be repressed has of course yet to be determined, but it is all but certain that those displaced by global warming will have a future of war, poverty and outright persecution.

Of course, the best thing which corporations could begin to do now in foresight of this dismal outlook would be to find ways of reducing their carbon footprint; reducing consumption and promoting the conservation of energy, obtaining what energy is necessary to run a profitable business from renewable sources, etc. so that perhaps the process of global warming can be mitigated if not halted altogether. Unfortunately, the business community should take into account that some if not all of the aforementioned consequences of global warming will probably become reality within the 21st century and adopt their operations accordingly so as not to contribute to or take advantage of the human rights violations which will inevitably ensue.

The appropriate response of the political and corporate leadership is best articulated by Maldivean President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who might eventually be left without a country to govern if current trends in greenhouse gas emissions continue. “My message is a simple one – take global warming and climate change more seriously. Act now, before it becomes too late to save not only the low-lying islands but the entire planet.”[xxxiii]

[i] Struck, Doug. “Melting Arctic Makes Way for Man.” The Washington Post. 11/12/2006
[ii] Sample, Ian. “Arctic Ice May Lose All its Ice by 2040, Disrupting Global Weather.” The Guardian. 3/16/07
[iii] Eilperin, Juliet. “Study Says Polar Bears Could Face Extinction.” The Washington Post. 12/19/04
[iv] Watt-Cloutier, Sheila. “Global Warming and Human Rights.” Testimony Before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 3/1/2007
[v] Watt-Cloutier, Sheila. “Global Warming and Human Rights.” Testimony Before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 3/1/2007
[vi] Watt-Cloutier, Sheila. “Global Warming and Human Rights.” Testimony Before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 3/1/2007
[vii] Gelbspan, Ross. “Slow Death By Global Warming.” Amnesty Magazine. Summer 2007
[viii] BBC News. “US CO2 Emissions ‘Violate Rights.” http://www.bbcnews.com/ 3/1/2007
[ix] Wagner, Martin. Interview: 8/16/2007
[x] Williams, Sandra. “The Forgotten Inuit Culture.” Suite 201. 2/8/2007. http://poverty.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_forgotten_inuit_culture
[xi] Wagner, Martin. Interview: 8/16/2007
[xii] Krauss, Clifford, Steven Lee Myers, Andrew C. Revkin and Simon Romero. “As Polar Ice Turns to Water, Dreams of Treasure Abound.” The New York Times. 10/10/05
[xiii] Struck, Doug. “Melting Arctic Makes Way for Man.” The Washington Post. 11/12/2006
[xiv] Wagner, Martin. Interview: 8/16/2007
[xv] Gore, Al. An Inconvenient Truth.
[xvi] Gore, Al. An Inconvenient Truth.
[xvii] Moon, Ban Ki. “A Climate Culprit in Darfur.” The Washington Post. 6/16/07
[xviii] Moon, Ban Ki. “A Climate Culprit in Darfur.” The Washington Post. 6/16/07
[xix] Moon, Ban Ki. “A Climate Culprit in Darfur.” The Washington Post. 6/16/07
[xx] Reeves, Eric. “On Ban Ki-moon, Darfur, and Global Warming.” The Guardian. 6/20/2007
[xxi] De Montesquiou, Alfred. “Experts: Darfur Faces Environmental Crisis.” The Associated Press. 6/22/07
[xxii] De Montesquiou, Alfred. “Experts: Darfur Faces Environmental Crisis.” The Associated Press. 6/22/07
[xxiii] De Montesquiou, Alfred. “Experts: Darfur Faces Environmental Crisis.” The Associated Press. 6/22/07
[xxiv] Helldén, Ulf. “Desertification Modification: Is the Desert Encroaching?” Desertification Control Bulletin. 1988
[xxv] Roach, John. “Is Global Warming Making Hurricanes Worse?” National Geographic News. 8/4/05
[xxvi] Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Consequences of Global Warming.” http://www.ndrc.org/ 1/9/06
[xxvii] Randerson, James and Ian Sample. “World’s Sea Levels Rising at Accelerating Rate.” The Guardian. 2/2/07
[xxviii] CBS News. “Miami, New Orleans Face Warming Threat.” http://www.cbsnews.com/ 3/23/06
[xxix] Christie, Les. "Growth states: Arizona overtakes Nevada: Texas adds most people overall; Louisiana population declines nearly 5%." CNN. December 22, 2006.
[xxx] Lyon, Alistair. “Global Warming to Multiply World’s Refugee Burden.” Reuters. 6/18/07
[xxxi] Submitted on Behalf of the President of the United States to the Committees on the Judiciary; United States Senate and United States House of Representatives. “Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2008.” United States Department of State, United States Department of Homeland Security, United States Department of Health and Human Services.
[xxxii] Eilperin, Juliet. “Warming Called Threat to Global Economy.” The Washington Post. 10/31/06
[xxxiii] Gardner, Simon. “Sea May Swallow Maldives if Global Warming Unchecked.” Reuters. 2/3/07

The Progressive Case for John McCain

(circa September 2007, when it looked like the GOP was going to nominate either Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani and the thought of John McCain sitting in the Oval Office was relatively less conducive to me shitting my pants)

If you have spent more than 30 seconds in my presence, you probably know that I am 1) obsessed with politics, and 2) very, very liberal. This is my third semester as President of the Amherst College Democrats, and I spent last summer working for my Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. And I believe that John McCain has the potential to make an excellent President.

My initial response to the man is quite inexplicable. At the utterance of his name, I feel like Frank Sinatra’s character in The Manchurian Candidate, as though I have been brainwashed into believing that “John McCain is the kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known.” After reading his memoirs about serving as a Navy pilot in Vietnam and spending five years as a prisoner of war, I too am impressed by this man’s acts of courage.

But when it comes to candidates, it is policy and not personality that truly matters. And John McCain is a very conservative Republican. He was first elected as Arizona’s Senator by promising to continue the legacy of his predecessor: Barry Goldwater, the very founder of the modern conservative movement. However, this school of thought is very different from the Christian fundamentalism and crony capitalism which defines the current administration. McCain’s mode of conservatism is predicated on the rule of law, economic prudence, and competent management of the American Empire.

A John McCain presidency should not frighten liberals, for assuming that the makeup of Congress does not change, whoever sits in the Oval Office in 2009 will see bills on their desk written by Democratic committee chairs. If there were to be a government divided with a very progressive Congress and an open-minded Republican President, we can expect a flurry of enormous legislative accomplishments.

The best example is what McCain would do in regards to global warming. He has coauthored legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and if given the opportunity, would use the most powerful office in the world to take on this daunting endeavor. Only the rare individual like John McCain could establish the notion that preserving the polar ice caps is an inherently conservative end and vital for our national security. With the clock ticking towards the point of no return, it might thus be in the global interest for McCain to be our next President.

In the realm of economics, an analogy can be made that John McCain is to George W. Bush as Theodore Roosevelt was to William McKinley. Whereas Bush has ascribed to any policy desired by his campaign financiers, McCain has campaigned to end corporate welfare as we know it. He voted against subsidies to the oil companies and to the pharmaceutical companies. Indeed, McCain’s conception of free markets includes the correction of market failures, having advocated stricter regulation of the auto industry, the accounting industry, the tobacco industry, even the campaign finance industry. Indeed, he is a small-government Republican, but a McCain administration could very well revive the long-dormant spirit of Progressive Republicanism.

John McCain is a social conservative, but he adheres to the authority of binding precedent more than the fatwas of the Reverends Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Particularly after the South Carolina primary in 2000, in which the Bush campaign made an issue out of the color of his daughter’s skin, McCain is openly hostile to the culture warriors of his party whom he has labeled as “agents of intolerance.” McCain is pro-life, but supports federally-financed stem cell research. He opposes same-sex marriage, but he also opposes banning it with a constitutional amendment, which he described “as antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans.” On illegal immigration, he is one of the primary champions of allowing illegal aliens to become full citizens. Altogether, his positions are sufficiently to the right in order to pass his party’s ideological litmus test, and in some instances he is quite liberal.

Any liberal optimism for John McCain is tempered, however, by his stance on the single most important question which faces the American nation today: the war in Iraq. He does not march in lockstep with the Bush administration, having distanced himself from its treatment of detainees, but McCain is nevertheless accused to be a facilitator of the larger, failing mission. This accusation is well founded, for he still argues that the war can be won with sufficient reinforcements; the so-called McCain Doctrine of escalation.

It seems strange that the former straight-talker would take this occasion to deny perceptible reality, but the about-face signals the dilemma which all Republicans face in 2008. The next presidential election is sure to be all but defined by the war in Iraq, and this enormously unpopular undertaking has lost the backing of all but the most dogmatic members of the Grand Old Party. Anyone who wants to receive the party’s nomination must win over the increasingly-dwindling voters who wish to stay the course, and so every single Republican candidate, McCain included, now has to kowtow to what is but a peripheral element of the general electorate.

My prediction is that once the primaries have been decided, John McCain is going to reestablish himself as the straight-talking centrist reformer who we saw in 2000. If Candidate McCain chooses a likeminded moderate like Rudy Giuliani as his running-mate, the result will be a Republican administration which could implement an agenda with broad-based popular support. And just as only Nixon could go to China, perhaps John McCain can then extricate the United States from Iraq.

There is more at stake in the next election than party and personality, and even this loyal Democrat has respect for the virtues of conservatism. As a young idealist considering a career in public service, in fact, I would be proud to work under the leadership of a President McCain.

On the Movement Against the War in Iraq

As one of the many Americans opposed to the war in Iraq, I make a habit of going to demonstrations where I can fraternize with sympathetic souls. They tend to be enjoyable events where I can express myself, get a good cardiovascular workout and reunite with missed friends. But as I was wandering the National Mall on January 27, my optimism for a looming change in foreign policy was joined with reserved skepticism towards my fellow demonstrators.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched on Washington that day to express their desire for an end to the Iraq War, mostly the kind of people you would expect to see at a rally like this; disgruntled veterans, grieving family members, Catholic and Quaker pacifists, organized labor, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Hollywood stars, and lefty gadflies like Dennis Kucinich. But most of those who came to express their dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs cannot be pigeonholed so easily; after all, to be a critic of the war is now to find oneself firmly within the mainstream of American public opinion. This is why I have such faith in this movement’s potential to succeed in ending the war in Iraq, and why I am also so discouraged with its current leadership.

My frustration can be best illustrated by my experience on the bus to our nation’s capitol. Participants shared their thoughts over the loudspeaker to pass the time, so I encouraged my fellow disaffected students to register to vote, write to their Congressmen, and to even consider a career in public service. The response was terrifying; self-proclaimed Anarchists, Communists and Islamic Revolutionaries shouted down this “white bourgeois reactionary” for daring to work within the institutions of American democracy – as opposed to plotting its violent overthrow. With this it dawned on me that the biggest obstacle to ending the Iraq War might well be the antiwar movement itself.

This earnest student of American politics believes that for the opinions of the common citizenry to translate into substantive results, Iraq activists must learn the ways of Washington realpolitik. And what I am advocating is not merely superficial change. The fact is are that the plurality of Americans are against the war, but many lawmakers are still wary of being associated with the radical groups and ideologies which make up the most visible elements of the war’s opposition. And rightly so, for as awful as the war is, many of these factions are rather despicable themselves.

On the Mall that day, demonstrators called for not just withdrawal from Iraq, but the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Somalia and every other country in the world in which there is a United States military presence. As some students scrawled on their makeshift riot gear, “US Out of Everywhere.” The reemergence of such sentiment has been one of the unfortunate consequences of our disastrous entanglement along the Tigris and Euphrates, but this is not so much of an indictment of the administration as it is of those who have fallen prey to the seductive logic of pacifist isolationism. The belief that military intervention is necessarily wrong in all places and at all times is as dogmatic and fanciful as the neoconservative ideology which begat this mess in the first place. Though opposition to the protection of American interests can be dismissed as naïve idealism, what is truly reprehensible about this intellectually bankrupt philosophy is that it precludes even the use of force for humanitarian ends (such as intervening to end the Darfur genocide) for the sake of avoiding the appearance of American imperialism. What is precisely wrong with the vocal leadership of the current antiwar movement, why it creates such problems for those in the reality-based community, is that it is not merely anti-war in Iraq but anti-war.

Before considering anything else, the discourse on American foreign policy must recognize that there are wars worth fighting. The United States must exercise some degree of intervention in Iraq and the Middle East as we have indeed vital national security interests which necessitate the preservation of political stability in the region; namely, continued access to the oil supplies and a moderate public opinion towards the West. The preemptive invasion and continued occupation of Iraq has been such a tragic mistake for this very reason, because it has overextended our armed forces, fractured the international counterterrorism consensus, diverted scarce resources away from eliminating the Al Qaeda network and Afghanistan’s resurgent Taliban, and has engendered greater willingness for Muslim youth to join extremist groups hostile to the United States. Any arguments about the moral or ethical dimensions of American foreign policy aside, what is more important is the national interest-based rationale for withdrawal; strategic redeployment from Iraq is necessary because our country’s current path is counterproductive to the larger objectives of the Global War on Terrorism.

As the dovish multitude hundreds of thousands strong passed the rather pathetic counterdemonstration of no more than a few dozen hawks, one of the endangered species held out a sign which actually brought up a good point: “Why aren’t you protesting the terrorists?” From the speakers’ rostrum there was much anger directed towards the American sins of Haditha and Abu Ghraib, but very little was said about the even greater evils which brought about this overreaction in the first place. Though I hate to invoke such imagery, anyone who has seen the charred remnants of Ground Zero knows the consequences of failed government policy towards anti-American Islamic fundamentalist movements, there was little evidence that anyone at the rally had any suggestions for dealing with our geopolitical rivals other than the doctrine of laissez faire.

Unfortunately, one of the pitfalls to which the antiwar crowd often succumbs is the sophistry that any foreign occupation must be wrong, and therefore any opposing faction must be in the right; this illogic has resulted in the morphing of some genuinely concerned lovers of peace and freedom into apologists for quite violent, illiberal movements such as the Mahdi Army, Hezbollah and Hamas. Though such groups’ demands for national sovereignty are certainly worthy, the former’s anti-Sunni pogroms and the latter two’s orchestration of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, among other things, make it difficult to believe that there is anything truly democratic about them. As Harry Truman found himself on the eve of the Cold War flanked by redbaiters on the right as well as Communist sympathizers on the left, today’s liberals must also hold a careful line against both ideological extremes.

Despite its organizers’ faults, what nevertheless makes the movement against the Iraq War so promising is that it represents the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans. This significant fact is unfortunately overlooked by the most prominent group coordinating antiwar activism, United for Peace and Justice, which operates as a motley federation of narrow interest groups and counterculturalists. If they wish to ever have a role in the peacemaking process, they should take a cue from the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah leadership and begin a mass purge of their most extremist member groups; to begin, the Communist Party. Any benefit that including such fringe groups might have in bringing bodies to a rally is certainly offset by the fact that few mainstream politicians will dare touch it with a ten foot pole. Among those which should be expunged from the coalition are groups dedicated to the Palestinian national liberation movement, for regardless of whether they are right or wrong, they are but a distraction to the issue at hand. Just as Lincoln refrained from invoking the abolition of slavery during the Civil War so as to keep the border-states in the Union camp, in the effort to establish a national consensus against the current policy in Iraq there is absolutely no reason to invoke the single most venomous controversy in the entire world. Since there has been no indication of United for Peace and Justice’s desire to remake itself, the mantle of the movement should be passed on to more effective liberal groups such as MoveOn, Campus Progress and particularly the ad hoc Win Without War – which labels itself as “a mainstream voice advocating an end to the war in Iraq”.

The only way for the energy and idealism of the antiwar movement to translate into tangible results is for all of the folks who show up to peace vigils put down their Chomsky readers and accept that the only way that they are going to ever get anything done is through the American institutions of capitalism and democracy. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when the available means are quite sufficient to attain our goals. As a matter of fact, the gears have already begun to churn in our favor.
If activists wish to actually bring this misbegotten war to an end, the first thing that we must adequately grasp is how profoundly the political dynamic has changed since last November’s elections, namely that we now have a Democratic Congress largely as a result of antiwar sentiment. Now that advocates of exercising the legislative branch’s constitutional authority to change course in Iraq are firmly ensconced in the most powerful corridors of Capitol Hill, the difference that can be made by the old-fashioned traditions of civic activism have already begun to show. Now even stalwarts of the Republican foreign policy tradition like Senators John Warner, Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel have decided to resist the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq – which according to the latest Pew Research Group poll is now supported by a paltry 23% of Americans. What shall actually be done still remains up for speculation.

The primary objective of the movement against this ill-fated war should now be the passage of legislation calling for a binding timetable for the withdrawal from Iraq – this should be the antiwar movement’s holy grail. This bill will need to be approved in both houses by not just simple majorities, but by at least two-thirds majorities that can sustain President Bush’s certain veto. For the Whips to accumulate sufficient votes remains and uphill battle, but we private citizens can do much more than simply watch from the sidelines.

The first avenue for the great vocal majority to make the timetable for withdrawal into reality is the race for the next Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces. As the current holder of that title has made clear, how to end the war in Iraq shall be bequeathed to his successor, and the identity of the next Decider will be is up to us to decide. So register to vote, take part in the primary and of course the general election – even if you are a Republican. If you are willing to spend your weekend at an antiwar rally, it is worth your time to get seriously involved in an electoral campaign.

The second avenue is lighter on democracy and heavier on capitalism. As we have learned by recent events, one of the most effective ways for private citizens to effect change is through their Rolodexes and checkbooks. Yes, what I am calling for is for the antiwar movement to reach its apex of political sophistication and entrench itself in the business of campaign finance.

Go to all the antiwar demonstrations your heart desires, but if you want to make a real difference, this is my advice: tune in, turn on, and get involved in the democratic process. Partaking in this game of wealth and power might require the most principled of us to hold our noses and learn to compromise, but that’s politics.