Monday, January 31, 2011

Three Teetotaler Travesties: Marijuana, Medicine and Soda

The line between consumer safety and consumer choice is a difficult analysis for businesses and government regulators alike. At what point does the use and promotion of a substance have a negative effect on the “general welfare” of society the United States government upholds under the Constitution?

In the case of “Canna Cola,” in which marketing firm Diavolo Brands plans to market THC-infused soda to Colorado consumers under the state’s medical marijuana provision, the line bends too far from consumer safety. A broadly advertised soda containing an incapacitating substance ought to receive tighter oversight.

The first dimension for which to account is the role of marijuana as medicine. In 2001, Colorado created a registry system for marijuana legalized and regulated for medicinal purposes only. Legally, then, the market for marijuana consists only of those with pressing need for care.

Marketing marijuana products as trendy and recreational, therefore, is akin to promoting sleep aid medicine as an important part of every meal. There is no legal justification to conflate medicine with recreation or personal necessity. Medicinal marketing should focus on maintaining overall health and well-being, not developing a relationship with a product.

Beyond medicine, momentum to legalize recreational marijuana use is building. On this level, too, the marketing for Canna Cola goes too far. While debates rage about marijuana’s addictive potential, the short-term impacts of marijuana use include “impaired coordination” and “distorted perceptions,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Due to potential harm to non-users, it is in the interest of government to regulate the drug. Other substances in this same category, including cigarettes, receive tight restrictions on marketing. FDA approval of hard-line warning labels on cigarette products last year affirms this principle.

Consumers must be fully aware of the psychological effects that can bring about social harm. The “Brownie Law” passed by the Senate last year essentially forbade the marketing of drug-infused sweets. Marketing must remain honest to the essence of the product and its risks if societal harm is at stake. Ensuring responsible business practice ensures both fairer competition, development of more effective products and appropriate consumer use of potentially dangerous substances.

As an industry, the makers of Canna Cola must exercise great care in managing and overseeing their supply chain. Beyond the intrinsic debates about marijuana’s medicinal status and social harms, the circumstances of the drug’s origins and distribution make its marketing and use unadvisable.

Drug Science, a marijuana advocacy group, concedes up to 10,889 metric tons of marijuana arrives in the United States via foreign smuggling every year. Even with the highest recognized estimate of 21,865 metric tons of total annual supply, cross-border smuggling accounts for more than half of the marijuana within the country.

While not an absolute reason against marketing marijuana products, the expansion of the legal marijuana market must proceed with extreme caution. Illegal foreign smugglers who obey no legal frameworks and pay no taxes offer a cheaper supply than medicinal growers.

Facilitating demand and increasing supply serves not to help the legal domestic supply chain, but to increase security risks to the United States and its Latin American allies. Honest business practice and government enforcement must accompany a growing marijuana market.

Canna Cola’s campaign to promote a THC-infused soda is harmful to the principles of medicine, social utility and national security. With careful regulation and good practice, the strength of business and the safety of marijuana users will advance the strength of American society and law.

Monday, December 20, 2010

American Odyssey: A Travelogue

Outward is inward. To venture among the undiscovered and the mysterious is not the realm of textbooks and atlases. It is the realm of the self. Exploration is the staple of the soul. And how better to explore than in the full vigor of nineteen years with a close friend and family member?

My cousin, also age nineteen, and I left from Dallas, Texas in the afternoon of December 19, 2010 for the American Odyssey. For five days and four nights, we plied highways and parkways across the Mississippi River Valley in pursuit of the pursuit: a ribbon of asphalt stretching ahead, the boundless sky smiling down from above and the soft murmurings of childhood behind.

This odyssey, as with Homer's epic work, was about finding home. In ourselves, in the United States, we found more of home than we could possibly imagine. Spanning from universe to heart, the lessons of the observable world melded themselves to our minds in a profound, connective homology. From this, the hearths in our homes burn all the brighter.

Outward is inward. And so we begin. *(All cities have Wikipedia links for further reading.)

Prologue: Dallas
The lesson began close to home. As I-635 bent away from Dallas into Mesquite, my cousin Curran and I struck up a discussion about the management of suburbs. His car gliding under power lines and over never-ending routes to the center of Dallas, I discerned there were three main types of suburbs: an idea that would define our exploration of the U.S., ourselves, and our means of viewing the two together.

(1) Suburbs swallowed up by expansion, indistinguishable from the surrounding city. (2) Suburbs in conflict with growth, struggling to establish independent meaning. (3) Older-stock suburbs, both developed and retaining their enduring identity.

In a reminder of previous blogging on the subject, we stopped in small-town Canton, TX - county seat of Van Zandt County and home of the famous First Monday Trade Days. Here was a town keeping and developing its identity in the face of a changing state.

While having tons of fun on the road trip, sharing stories, blasting music and savoring rest, what would Curran and I see with the interweaving of and struggle for identity?

December 19: Dallas, TX to Natchez, MS
Trips tend to begin with the sunny optimism of opportunity. This road trip was no different. At the Texas-Louisiana border, we admired the grace and hospitality of the Louisiana Welcome Center, soaking up the red brick and white columns of Louisiana architecture. The setting sun glistened off the windows of Downtown Shreveport, LA as we cut southward into the darkening heart of The Pelican State.

Louisiana's strength as a culture was unexpected. From every community and parish there rose a deep sense of commonality. Churches, churches and more churches rose from the roadside. Churches of every size and style, but most especially Catholic. In Louisiana's French and Creole heritage there lies an identity unquestioned and embraced by the whole state.

The cultural verve extended even to the town of Jena, LA, where a heated race-based conflict in years past seemed faint with the placid twinkling of Christmas lights and holiday wreaths stretched across the town square. As Curran and I delved into conversation across moonlit bayous and approached the Mississippi River, we found growing energy and sense of joint potential. The section of the grand El Camino Real on which we traveled reflected our sense of flowering thought.

Vidalia, LA provided the climax of empowerment. On the banks of a quiet Mississippi, Curran and I unearthed a small-town Christmas spectacle: a cross-section of Vidalia cooperating to provide a musical drive through a series of hand-crafted holiday displays. At the Nativity gracing the end of the drive, I felt a shard of meaning and wholeness erupt into my heart. All was well with the world, I thought. This road trip could not be better, right?

As we crossed the Mighty Mississippi and approached Natchez State Park for the night, a deep sense of foreboding overtook us. Abandoned and rotting farm outbuildings, narrow winding roads through the skeletal, overhanging limbs of trees, and the eerie light of a full moon haunted our thoughts until we clambered inside the tent on a freezing Southern night.

More was to come. A false identity imposed on a strong Louisiana culture did not ready us for the complex conflicts of Mississippi faced the next day.

December 20: Natchez, MS to Brentwood, TN
The second day of the road trip developed by discovery of conflict. For this prying through heart and history, Curran and I had the unique perspective of the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 440-mile scenic and National Park Service-managed road stretching from Natchez to Nashville. Glimpses of Mississippi passed around us.

Our journey on the Trace revealed three conflicts in the history of Mississippi, each of which involved the arrival of a new culture competing with and marginalizing the old.

First was the tension between Native Americans and European colonists in the 16th and 17th centuries. Best reflected by the fate of the Emerald Mound site, complex indigenous cultures with civic and religious function scattered and collapsed in the face of disease and resulting infighting. In a blasting cold wind, we contemplated the demise of a society living in a flourishing landscape.

Usurping the native Mississippians were French and Spanish explorers and colonists, who established the city of Natchez and used its proximity to the Mississippi River for trading and shipping. Upon the U.S. annexation of the region from Spain, Natchez became the capital of newly-minted Mississippi, and forged a more developed identity, best represented through historic Jefferson College. The river-based economy of the early 19th century created the original Natchez Trace, as tradesmen returning to commercial hubs followed old Indian trails to Nashville.

Driving north on the Trace, however, we moved in tandem with the southwestern expansion of a burgeoning young America. Planters and investors eager for cotton wealth pushed into Mississippi. With less fertile soil than either Alabama or Georgia, the state nonetheless became a bastion of slavery and the cotton trade. Agrarian communities such as Rocky Springs rose amidst the deep woods and bayous, promising opportunity.

Mississippi's new identity as a Dixie stronghold, however, did not survive the 1860s. Erosion from farm mismanagement doomed Rocky Springs, followed by the boll weevil scourge and, of course, the Civil War. Standing in front of Rocky Springs Methodist Church, high over deeply eroded and overgrown fields, I could feel the lines of conflict etched into the earth. The Civil War caught Mississippi in an awkward phase in its development. In Tupelo, MS, we saw a symbolic piece of this phenomenon. The 1864 Battle of Tupelo demoralized Confederate forces attempting to stave off Sherman's March to the Sea from the west, as Union forces seized and held Tupelo against assault.

On the wings of Appomattox, a new conflict emerged in Mississippi, one more familiar in the present, and one Curran and I saw most visibly across the state. Tension between Dixie and the postwar push for national uniformity wreaked havoc on the established order. Defending livelihoods and underlying identity, Mississippians lost their voice in the process of Reconstruction. Shamed and pushed aside, many southern whites turned inward, desperately seeking to reclaim the past.

The weary South continues this conflict today, as Curran and I saw in modern Natchez, MS. The main highway bypasses the old town center, which is isolated from decades of new development by a thick forest - seeming to push in vain against the march of time. Within the forested ring, the past reigns. Old heritages provide identity now, as we saw a colorful collection of Masonic and other secret society insignias around the town. Subtle clues indicate ongoing racial tension, including the politicization of tiny details such as Adopt-A-Highway signs and the use of black or white background fill on signs to indicate constituent ethnicity. The capital of Jackson, MS celebrates its old capitol building and reflects the "white flight" suburbanization model present in other Southern cities, such as Birmingham, AL.

Transcending these conflicts, however, is the Natchez Trace itself. Always using the past as energy for the future, the winding parkway also gave Curran and I rest and beautiful sights in the midst of these conflicts past and present. As we left Mississippi, passed through Alabama and entered Tennessee, Meriwether Lewis Park suggested the promise of new exploration and reconciliation. The beautiful hills of southern Tennessee held promise for the next day.

December 21: Brentwood, TN to St. Louis, MO
Accustomed to the stinging feeling of loss intermixed with the beautiful heritage of Mississippi, Tennessee provided an entirely new taste of social history. Spending the night in a suburb, we took a morning foray into Nashville, TN. Embraced by a cluster of hills surrounding the Cumberland River valley, the state capital felt comfortable with its identity and in harmony with its past.

First was Vanderbilt University, west of downtown. A perfect blend of Northern research university and Southern pride, Vanderbilt stands tall as one of the region's finest institutions. Driven by a major university, the Nashville economy also operates as a business center and transportation hub for the Upper South, with the smokestacks of heavy industry dotting the panorama of the city visible from downtown. More industrial than the Deep South, Nashville upholds this economic and civic synthesis demanded by a state capital.

With race and the Civil War, Nashville emerged stronger into the 20th century than Mississippi on such issues. The downtown War Memorial Plaza focused on conflicts beginning with World War I, and is graced with a quote from Woodrow Wilson, who himself represented a confluence of Southern gentleman and Northern liberal academic as a president and global visionary.

Not yielding to the pressures of forced identity, Nashville reconciles Southern conflict in fascinating ways, including the Centennial Park and a full-size replica of The Parthenon as part of an international exposition in 1897. The state's unique spirit shines through it all, with proud welcoming of country music, the volunteer heritage and the enduring figure of Old Hickory: Andrew Jackson himself.

After Nashville, we headed northwest across the state, first through industrial Clarksville, TN and toward Fort Donelson National Battlefield. At Fort Donelson we saw the coursing resilience of the state symbolically shown in the Civil War. Confederate troops, seeking to prevent the eastward push of Union units under Ulysses S. Grant, constructed forts at strategic points on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Resisting gunboat assault but not ground attack, Confederate forces made a desperate break for Nashville. Their position ultimately futile, the top commanders of the army agreed to surrender to Grant, who demanded the capitulation be "unconditional and immediate."

Leaving Tennessee, we passed through the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, a lush wilderness paralleled by the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. Not spending long in Kentucky, we nonetheless felt a sense of momentum as the rivers flowed on either side, ushering us along with unified direction.

Crossing the Ohio River, we passed into Illinois - Land of Lincoln, and yes, Barack Obama. Now moving from the South to the Midwest, we again drew close to the Mississippi River and the confidence we felt approaching it in Louisiana. Here, as dusk fell, we found communities at ease with their identities, operating much as small towns ought. Carbondale, IL, home of Southern Illinois University and recipient of "All-American City" distinction, and Chester, IL, birthplace of Popeye the Sailor Man, impressed us with their quaint vibrancy.

Reaching St. Louis after dark, we passed the halfway point in our odyssey, beginning to feel just slightly tired of all the traveling. However, the Gateway to the West offered the promise of freedom. After a mishap with hotels, we closed the night well in downtown, a delivery pizza nursing us to the lazy winter break feeling we long wanted.

December 22: St. Louis, MO to Russellville, AR
Freedom is both a blessing and a curse. Pioneers in the American West learned this repeatedly during the heady expansion of the 19th century. St. Louis, MO, with its Gateway Arch opening the rest of the continent to dreams and plans, was a fitting place for our own steps to freedom. Moving from the sheltered comfort of childhood and lack of deep awareness to the vulnerability of adult life, we stood ready to begin the southward turn home.

In Downtown St. Louis, we shivered in the freezing cold to snap pictures of the arch, the old courthouse in which the famous Dred Scott case initially reached a verdict, driving the country to its arduous path toward unity. Leaving the city, we ventured southward into the Ozarks of Southern Missouri, passing through a series of small towns brilliant for their nimble adaptability to circumstance. The hardy Ozarks, represented best through places such as Eminence, MO, moved from logging to mining to farming to tourism and mixes of any of the above to stay alive. This strength serves the region well when other places fail in the face of change.

The beautiful Ozark scenery, with undulating hills, deep forested troughs and dramatic ridges laid bare by the winds of a new winter evolved into the still-more dramatic landscape of Arkansas, our final new state in the odyssey. Arkansas presents an mysterious set of contradictions, and indeed the curse of freedom. Despite the natural beauty apparent all around, towns such as Mammoth Spring, AR along our route and the people in them appeared to lack definition and direction - with a block-like air dispelling crispness and clarity.

Scenic Route 7 through Jasper, AR exemplified this disconnection. Curran and I puzzled at stunning vistas occupied by only the most meager of accommodations. Where was the exulting in the great freedom blessing the region? As we eased into Russellville for the last night of the trip, the need to grasp freedom came into our own lives. With Christmas rapidly approaching, we had our lives to seize, and our own choices to make. The lessons of the trip on identity and experience seemed to crystallize.

December 23: Russellville, AR to Dallas, TX (Home!)
The final leg of the trip did not occur in the separate entity of the road trip we dwelt in for four days. Coming out of the sheath of discovery and immersion, the southern tail of the Ozarks in Ouachita National Forest did not hold the same mystery as the stunning sunset we witnessed the night before. Hot Springs, AR, a prime vacation and retirement destination, passed by rapidly. The true vacation and retirement we sought from a long and productive semester was beyond the road trip: it lay in our homes and families in the tradition-rich time of Christmas.

Zipping down I-30 back toward Dallas, Curran and I again picked up a thread of conversation about the future. Where will we be? Who will we be? The great questions of identity remain, but through the American Odyssey, we perceived the dangers of imposed and competing identity, the blessings of harmonized identities, and the dangers and potential of freedom coming after self-discovery.

Seen in our own lives, and in our means of viewing the world, we aim ever higher entering our adult years, undaunted by surrounding challenges. For we are enveloped by lives of incredible blessing, and sheathed in a country of richness and diversity. All these things and more were discoveries of the trip, and all these things and more will continue to grace the road ahead. We pursued the pursuit, and are more equipped than ever to continue.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Campaign Finance Compromise

The following is an opinion article I submitted to the TCU Daily Skiff, appearing on September 28th, and found here on the Skiff website.

On September 23, the New York Times published an article critical of a nonprofit group called Americans for Job Security (AJS). AJS functions as a front group for a network of shaded and mainly anonymous politicians and consultants who wish to take advantage of campaign finance standards that allow unlimited contributions through nonprofit organizations.

However, the Supreme Court ruled in January 2010 that nonprofit organizations retain the right to donate unlimited funds to campaigns. A dilemma now results. How can the rights of these organizations and their members balance with Americans’ interest in a transparent and egalitarian government?

The basic claim behind the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was that monetary donations are a form of political speech. For this reason, the use of money in elections must hold to the judicial standard of strict scrutiny, which says any government action restricting free speech must further a “compelling interest” and be “narrowly tailored” to do so. The Supreme Court found the government unable to prove a strong and focused interest to outweigh the use of nonprofit money in politics, especially considering the current existence of for-profit media outlets. Therefore, the legality of campaign donations from nonprofits has to be recognized.

Yet the challenge presented by the New York Times remains valid. The front group, AJS, with only one employee somehow managing up to $7 million annually in donations, needs more regulation and oversight from the government. A group shuttling money anonymously from political figures to the public eye unquestionably harms free speech, as the donors and mechanisms by which money transfers between parties have little accountability. Unfortunately, Citizens United leaves the door open for such exploitation.

The compromise lies in the disclosure of campaign contributions. The government has a much more compelling case with disclosure to pass the standard of strict scrutiny used by a libertarian-leaning Supreme Court. Requiring full disclosure of nonprofit donors parallels with the general idea that when delivering most any other form of political speech, the audience knows the identity of the speaker.

Furthermore, disclosure would combat and reduce corruption by allowing government access to donor records. Next, disclosure would make nonprofits truly advocacy groups, as manipulative donors would shy away. Finally, disclosure would promote a uniform standard across nonprofit groups, increasing the equality before the law valued so highly in the United States legal system. Through these compelling interests, stringent disclosure requirements would pass the Supreme Court muster.

Nothing is simple in American politics, however. On Friday, a Democratic Senate bill with disclosure rules failed to win any GOP votes. Why? The measure exempted major labor organizations from stricter disclosure, and was ripe for GOP election-year politicking. A path to bipartisan campaign finance reform remains open, but real-world politics continue to muddy the waters. No waters will clear in this heated and changeful electoral season, and so the campaign finance debate will continue.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Environmental Contract

"The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is impossible to suggest that a deep interaction between humankind and nature does not exist. We reap, sow, mine, reclaim, cut, plant, empty, stock, drain, fill, restrain and unleash as want and necessity demand. Yet, any reciprocal relationship is not without its difficulties. Our endeavors in nature cause harm, even as we strive to reduce the harm nature imposes upon our fragile species. How do we harness nature to our benefit without destroying that on which we depend in the physical world?

The answers to this question are what frame the contemporary environmental debate. Rarely do observers and commentators offer forceful yet moderated answers of their own, for polarization is the easier and more comforting route. Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond of UCLA, in his book Collapse, examined a collection of past and present societies, determining how their interaction with the environment and four other factors affected survival. Management of resources and the governing attitudes thereof are critical, according to Diamond.

While Collapse offers both practical and humanistic reasons why the human relationship with the environment is important and can be stabilized, there are also compelling philosophical reasons for the same. This added layer gives both greater justification to Diamond's case and greater incentive to action. Background for the philosophical reasoning will come from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, Nature, as Emerson fills an important place in the world's understanding of nature. Therefore, in blending modern scientific reasoning with early American transcendentalism, I will offer answers to these questions:

  • What is the world's environmental course today?
  • Why do societies choose these environmental courses?
  • Why is the environment important?
  • How can environmental problems be solved?

If this subject sparks your interest, here are Amazon links to both Collapse and Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Unless otherwise noted with hyperlinks, the factual knowledge base for this entry is drawn from these two works.

The "Spaceship Earth": Environment Today

Global Adolescence
The idea of our planet's fragility did not gain momentum until the middle of the 20th century, at which point the view of earth as a "spaceship" with finite resources and a limited carrying capacity became widespread for the first time. For almost two centuries, deep socioeconomic changes in the Industrial Revolution galvanized the landscape. For humanity, a sense of control over nature was something about which to exult. After all, civilization was vulnerable to the slightest change in natural processes, disease and disasters. What harm could come if science revolutionized farming technique, overcame arduous travel, vaccinated children, improved living standards, spread culture to all those who wished it, integrated the farthest reaches of the earth and worked toward a universal happiness?

This Western coming-of-age was best marked by the positivists
, who (in oversimplified terms) advocated the supremacy of science and the human race's ability to dictate its future. Yet an unguarded optimism about progress was not wise. Besides the imperialism and economic disparities that spawned Marxism, great environmental ramifications were in order.

Not long after the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the bitter irony of progress came into view: our urge to control nature for our benefit will actually harm our chances at survival in the long run. Explosive population growth led to concerns about food shortages, described by Thomas Malthus. Industry led to economic externalities, as pollution of various kinds harmed the health thousands upon thousands. Emissions and gaseous releases led to changes in the atmosphere. Overuse of land leached nutrients and caused biodiversity loss. Globalization oiled the entire process by the distribution of isolated issues between countries or continents.

All of these problems and more, articulated by Diamond, afflict the world today. Modern examples given in Collapse include 1990s Rwanda for the Malthusian dilemma, developing China for pollution and industry costs, present-day Australia for land use issues, and late-20th-century Hispaniola for environmental management decisions. Nature in many ways is only a remnant of what it once was, and will only further diminish as development of the Third World continues as an international focus.

The environmental consequences of human development are not wholly unexpected. The scope, rather than the substance, is what came with great force in the Industrial Era. Diamond offers a cornucopia of past societies to serve as instructive examples of environmental issues. From the politically-driven deforestation of Easter Island, the desertification of ancient Anasazi land, the drought-driven warfare of Classical Maya kingdoms to the misuse of land and trade by Medieval Norse settlers in Iceland and Greenland, past cultures fell victim to their own choices.

However, Diamond's construing of past societies was not entirely negative. He explained examples of success in New Guinea, Tokugawa Japan and the fragile Polynesian island of Tikopia. Therefore, the picture painted was mixed: the environmental courses of societies are different, even if their problems are the same or very similar. If the independent variable of societal survival is not entirely explained by the dependent variable of breadth and depth of environmental problems (which, Diamond asserts, amounts to determinism), then what other factors are in play? How do peoples respond to problems generally of their own making?

The Human Factor: Why Choices Are Made

A common factor that explains the variation in societal survival is integration. The tight-knit and dependent clans of Easter Island responded to environmental stresses by competing amongst themselves, using common trade networks to exploit more and more resources. The Polynesian islands of Henderson, Pitcairn, and Mangareva fell into a cycle of decay after resources existing on one island caused others to fail, due to trade routes. Norse Greenland imploded after it could no longer nurture its identity from far-off Europe via cultural importation. Modern day Australia suffers from species introduced due to interconnectedness with Great Britain.

Being interconnected is not inherently bad, but when combined with environmental problems it certainly raises the potential for collapse.

Reluctance to change is also a determining factor in whether or not societies survive. The Norse Greenland peoples could have survived, according to Diamond, if they cooperated and adapted as the local Inuit did. Haiti's insular attitude prevented economic development and foreign aid that could have rectified its deforestation and chronic instability. The Dominican Republic, the country sharing Hispaniola with Haiti, in fact made these adjustments and emerged as a much more successful state in the long run. In another example, Tikopians abandoned their economic mainstay of pig farming in order to prevent overgrazing.

While socioeconomic conservatism as a reaction can be good, such as when Iceland circled its wagons to save its environment, conservatism as simply refusing to change in the first place in the face of problems can lead to failure and decline. A microcosm of this principle is evident in small-town Texas, as I demonstrated with the comparison of Jacksboro and Graham in this April entry.

As with interconnectedness and rigidity, government is also capable of good or ill use in reaction to environmental problems. Diamond classified government solutions as "top-down" factors, while the rigidity of other societies mentioned previously came from the "bottom-up." Tokugawa Japan made stringent government requirements on forest cutting quotas in order to preserve their resources. Modern China implemented the One Child Policy in order to prevent overpopulation, thereby averting an even greater amount of environmental damage.

Governments, though, are imperfect instruments. Diamond lists a number of implications for policymakers that can prevent real solutions. A failure to anticipate problems, a failure to perceive them once they've actually arrived, a failure to act on known problems, and failure to solve even with action are considered obstacles to the government being the end-all with environmental policy.

At times feeding into the governmental failures is the role of business. Under-regulated industry will often operate for short-term gain, because of the legal obligation of the company to its shareholders to generate profit. Lack of awareness and governmental pressure often allows businesses to avoid liability and conservation. Often, policies themselves, such as the U.S. government's 19th-century drive to aid the mining industry and therefore the economy of the West, create the destructive attitudes in the businesses themselves.

At the same time, business can operate as a force for sustainability. Recognizing the need for local support, image, employee morale and a favorable perception by the government, businesses see more profit in safety and environmental precaution. Diamond cites Chevron as an example of a company implementing environmentally sound policies that go above and beyond legal standards.

Point Being?
Human choice from the individual to group level clearly affects the success of a society when confronted with environmental issues. Thus, there is a proven ability to choose on the part of mankind. The question, though, is why should mankind exercise that ability?

"The Pith and Marrow of Every Substance": Significance of Nature

Because the focus of this entry is qualitative and historical, the scientific implications of environmental destruction will only be covered in short. In Collapse, the impacts listed include declining agricultural productivity, loss of species valuable to natural processes, increasing health problems, climatic unpredictability, violence, impoverishment, malnutrition and general global instability coming with increasing severity over the next fifty years.

Diamond Scratches Diamond
After presenting a powerful message about the past and present implications of environmental damage and human responses thereto, Jared Diamond gives a traditionally humanist slate of reasons why these impacts are important. As Gifford Pinchot, early American environmental advocate said, "conservation means the greatest good to the greatest number for the longest time." The Marquis de Condorcet rephrased the same idea when he asserted, "if [men] have a duty toward those who are not yet born, that duty is not to give them existence but to give them happiness." These two quotes reveal the underpinnings of the scientific humanist/modern utilitarian outlook.

To add a soulful and deeper philosophical element to the necessity of the environment and solving these difficulties, I now offer the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Humanism alone cannot provide justification for the modern world to make committed efforts to solving its environmental enigmas. Emerson shows how nature is essential to the soul of each person. An important clarification should be made here: Emerson describes nature as "all that is separate from us," which includes human construction, art and ideas. Therefore I am taking a much broader view than a Greenpeace-esque environmentalism. The implications listed above mean everything in Emerson's definition of nature should be considered.

Practical Necessity
Emerson describes nature first as "commodity." Nature is our ally for the "splendid ornaments" it bequeaths us. "All the parts incessantly work into each other's hands for the profit of man," Emerson says. Humans are dependent on nature for their day to day activities and the foundations of economy. Nature serves, and therefore should be stewarded so that it may serve still, keeping the rhythms of human life moving.

Personal Necessity
Nature evokes far more than just a physical dependence. Even if nature diminished, man would still possess a soul and heart, capable of communicating and creating as its own institution, right? Emerson resoundingly rejects this idea, however. Describing beauty, he first articulates how nature is beautiful to behold. Second, he links natural beauty with good, as "beauty is the mark God sets upon virtue." Third, he asserts "the beauty of nature re-forms itself in the mind...for new creation," meaning that art arises from the beholding of nature. Therefore, if nature is lost, so too is the perception of beauty, the strength and mark of virtue and the ability to be creative.

Next, Emerson discusses language. He claims that all expression, not just art, is founded on a bond between natural facts and spiritual concepts. Humans express with analogies, and comprehend lessons based on links to their own experience in the world. Reading only resonates, therefore, if it has some root in the individual's life. Building his advocacy of self-reliance, Emerson claims nature as essential to the expressiveness and thoughtfulness of the human conscience. If nature diminishes, then with it goes effective communication and spiritual understanding.

Spiritual Necessity
The central theme of Nature comes quickly as Emerson moves to assess how to act and have the "discipline" of natural perception. Here, nature is seen as central to ascertaining intellectual truths, as all knowledge derives from nature itself. Nature, according to Emerson, "is made to serve" for the mind and spirit. Objects "reflect the conscience." At the core of every human is nature, and here is where Emerson reaches his grand conclusion quoted in bold at the beginning of this section.

Progressing from this core statement, the unity of nature is appraised. All things are dependent on one another, thus adding incredible depth and explanation to the idea that humanity is dependent on nature presented at the beginning of this entry. If nature falters, then with it diminishes the soulfulness of each person.

Liberated Action: How To Solve

Because true depth of human experience relies on nature's vibrancy, solutions are clearly needed. The portrait is not so dire, however, when one considers the many success stories mentioned in Collapse.

A basic set of solutions draws from these stories. A good mix of top-down and bottom-up action, local autonomy in decision-making, a willingness to put aside harmful societal values for the long term health of the entire population, leadership committed to preventive rather than palliative measures, effective government policy that encourages businesses to see more profit in the long-term than in the short term, a recognition that business is essential to the sustainability of a society, effective multilateralism on environmental issues between states (something difficult as evidenced by the Copenhagen talks) and action to promote scientific and historical awareness of all these concepts will all lead to a more hopeful future.

All of these solutions funnel into one central concept: that humanity's values when dealing with environmental problems must be synthesized directly with the needs of nature itself. Again, this is not a radical prescription, for it upholds the value of business, economy, infrastructure and the like to the implementation of these values. After all, humans and their creations are part of the landscape itself. Progress cannot be made if the environmental debate remains polarized. More empathy between sides and synthesizing forces like Jared Diamond should aid the process.

A final question remains: will these solutions be effective? There lies the resolution of the irony of progress: human development presented solutions to its own problems. Liberty, the freedom to choose one's own course of action, is empowered more than ever before by the modern world. In the end, the "occult relationship between man and vegetable" will be powerfully upheld by the liberated action of individuals who understand their deep spiritual dependence on the world around them. This is environmentalism. This is the contract between man and nature.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

El Alma de Nuevo Mexico

The very landscape is riven. Ancient peaks sweeping down to timeworn river valleys defy their juxtaposition with jagged mesas and windswept flatland. Parched deserts, impenetrable evergreen forests, oil-rich prairies, snow-covered mountainsides, treacherous volcanic flows, sculpted calderas, cloistered lakes, rugged passes, alpine meadows and fertile alluvial plains all exist within one border. Enter New Mexico, a land of paradox and mystery.

The 47th state exists for many as scenery out a window, car or airplane. For others, it may as well be an appendage of Mexico, of no extra significance. The state is far more complex and beautiful than assumptions grant. Native Americans, Spanish, Mexican and American influences formed and still form the outlooks of the New Mexican people, producing a colorful agglomeration of cultures. Collisions of worldviews are not without their conflicts: the heart of the state is etched with memory of struggle.

What lessons does New Mexico offer? Can the paradox be reconciled and the mystery explored? Summoning the experience of a multitude of peoples, I hope to furnish those answers.

Introit: The Ancient Ones
Coursing down from the Bering Strait thousands of years before the birth of Christ, the Native Americans of old populated two unknown continents. Across different time periods, several of these groups made their homes in New Mexico.

The Anasazi were the first major group to leave a lasting mark on the state. Building a sophisticated society out of the decentralized communities of their predecessors, the Anasazi constructed cities across the western part of New Mexico. Chaco Canyon, two hours northwest of present-day Albuquerque, became an important center for the civilization
. Struggling to draw a living from the dry land, the Anasazi constructed elaborate irrigation and trade networks to support their lifestyle. Trees for construction arrived from hundreds of miles away, bands of traders from far off central Mexico brought luxury goods up wide paved roads to sate the cravings of the Anasazi elite.

For hundreds of years the Anasazi moved with the rhythms of the earth, resisting the harsh climate and unpredictable rainfall. But, around 1200 AD, the rains did not come. Irrigation systems failed, deforestation spread and the foundations of the culture shook. What seemed unconquerable quickly fell to ruin, and the proud Anasazi warred and emigrated. Some of the survivors resettled along the great Rio Grande in the center of the state, joining the Pueblo cultures. A similar fate befell the cliff dwelling cultures that also lived in the area both before and during the time of the Anasazi.

The Pueblo cultures coalesced as agrarian societies living primarily in the fertile land of the Rio Grande valley. Speaking a close family of languages and derived from several ancient heritages, Pueblo cultures weathered New Mexico's harsh environment and developed a powerful bond with the natural world around them. From the mesa-top perch of Acoma Pueblo to the secluded hill country of Zuni Pueblo to the riparian strongholds of Pojoaque Pueblo, these diverse communities form the backbone of Native New Mexico.

One of the deepest connections to the land exists among the Navajo people, who occupy the northwest part of New Mexico. The Navajo have lived in their homeland so long that their myths assert they have been there since the dawn of time. Bound by four holy mountains in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah, including Mount Taylor near Grants, NM, the Navajo people farm and herd sustainably under the watchful guardianship of a pantheon of nature deities. Across the Navajo Nation, echoes of divine invocation resonate beneath the sun-washed desert sky. The Dine, as they are known, continue on.

Native peoples of New Mexico, who also included Apache and some Comanche, coexisted in a general state of peace in their separate spheres with established trade networks. The ritual struggle to survive would become even more difficult, however, with the arrival of foreigners committed to imposing their culture on the weathered land.

Franciscans and Footholds
Environmental conditions did their work in limiting New Mexico's population to only the hardiest and best adapted. The delicate minimalism of the native societies did not appeal to proud Spaniards, who arrived on the scene in the middle of the 16th century. The defeat of Moctezuma and the Aztecs in 1521 spurred both Spanish dreams and horses across the hemisphere. In the Spanish mind, if gold, fertility and economic success lay in central Mexico, so too would those riches exist elsewhere.

Endorsed by the papacy with the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, Spanish adventurers, many on privately financed operations, swept toward New Mexico. Francisco Coronado, drawn by the legends of Cibola, the Seven Cities of Gold, led the first major Spanish expedition to the region. Coronado found only the minimalist Pueblos, with no gold and very little glory to add to the Spaniard's name. The expedition instead declared sovereignty over the region both for the monarchs and for Christianity. While the search for gold and glory was futile, an important precedent was set: Spanish and Christian influences would soon be ubiquitous.

Successive Spanish conquests used superior weaponry and Franciscan priests to overcome physical and spiritual resistance from Pueblo Indians. Battles such as Acoma led to functional Spanish control over the region. Juan de Onate founded a capital at San Gabriel, but later moved it to present day Santa Fe for safety from restive Pueblo peoples. The Hispanicization of New Mexico continued into the 17th century with the systematic reordering of Pueblo lifestyles through feudal economic structure and relocation to missions for religious conversion.

Spanish occupation, however, was ultimately fragile. The fissiparous Pueblo peoples rose in revolt in 1680, usurped their Franciscan monk and Spanish landowning overlords and maintained a fractious government for over a decade before Spaniards returned to end the last days of native control over New Mexico. In the ensuing years, Hispanic norms became deeply embedded in the New Mexican landscape. Catholicism, ranching, music, dress, and political leaders became part of the transference with the colonial government in Mexico City. The Spanish thus successfully enforced their own ideologies on a foreign land.

History's Periphery: 1800-1950
With the twin threads of Hispanic and Native culture established, New Mexico's uneasy confluence of culture endured through continual upheaval. The wayfarer's haven of El Morro, or Inscription Rock, in western New Mexico served as the narrative for this chaotic time in New Mexico history. Used by time immemorial by forerunners of the Puebloan people, the rock bears tales of Spanish, Mexican and American travels across the state.

The state fell under Mexican jurisdiction in 1821, only to have its eastern half claimed by Texas in 1836. In 1845 it became part of the United States as a territory, solidified by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Settlers, venturers and vagabonds alike streamed into the state on the Santa Fe Trail as the American West beckoned. Personalities such as Kit Carson of Taos became famous for their reflection of the frontier spirit. In 1862, the Confederate States of America flew its flag over the capital at Santa Fe for a brief time before being repelled by Union volunteers at the Battle of Glorieta Pass.

Following the Civil War, surveyors permeated the state's natural wonders, clearing logistical barriers to settlement. The last vestiges of native control were purged in the name of Progress and positivism, as the Navajo Nation was rapidly defeated and exiled to Fort Sumner in the southeastern part of the state. "Indian Schools" sprang into existence across the state, teaching American values to thousands of malleable native children. The state's heritage was emasculated, its oldest residents shunned. El Morro, the proud Inscription Rock, fell away unnoticed with the construction of the railroad forty miles to the north. Cattle drives passed through the eastern part of the state, drawing their share of conflicts along the way. The Lincoln County War, made famous by the outlaw Billy the Kid, demonstrated the prevalence of deep economic restructuring. As the American dream blazed new trails in the West, so too did it erase the careworn trails of peoples past.

New Mexico gained statehood in 1912, and became the site of a proxy conflict to the First World War with the raid of Pancho Villa on Columbus in 1916. With the Second World War, the state became a key supporter of the American war effort with the development of the Manhattan Project at isolated Los Alamos. Spearheaded by Robert Oppenheimer, the U.S. atomic program culminated with the first nuclear test of a plutonium implosion bomb near Alamogordo at the Trinity site in 1945.

As irradiated clouds bloomed over first Hiroshima and then Nagasaki, New Mexico climaxed its role as a supporter of the worldly and human. Focused outward, the state could not have deviated farther from its roots. Where were the pastoral Navajo, the peaceful Pueblo, and the love for natural wonder? Where were the careful synchronizations with the rhythms of the earth? As if to resoundingly declare man's dominance, the blasted sands of Trinity turned to glass in a fiery crucible of human design.

Painted Desert
New Mexico since World War II bears onward the conflicts that typified the first four hundred years of the state's history. Much of the state does not pass the muster standard presented by liberalized America. Poverty and corruption are rampant, mostly attributable to lack of development and lingering cultural barriers exacerbated by poor conditions. Because of a shared border with Mexico, the state is especially vulnerable to drug trafficking and related crime. Illegal immigration presents ongoing legal challenges to the state's identity as ostensibly Hispanicized.

However, the combination of federal money and an intelligentsia staffing federal installations such as Los Alamos National Laboratory bring opportunity and human capital to the state. New industries such as film production offer jobs and economic growth. Progress, while destructive of old cultures, brings tremendous constructive benefits. Yet Progress too has its practical foil. New Mexico now is beset with a host of environmental problems including unsustainable water use, biodiversity loss, forest mismanagement and cleanup difficulties from mining, especially of uranium.

The Third Way
The very landscape is riven. On one side sits the austere cultures of Pueblo and Navajo, dwelling semi-autonomously as shadows of their former influence. This side is rich in history, diversity and understanding of the land, but is benighted. Destitution and crime too often characterize their existence. On the other side sits development, first offered by Spain and then by the Americans. Romantic and inviting, this side too often fails to recognize its own limitations and too often accedes to the cultural vices elsewhere in the United States.

Each of these competing forces in New Mexico has what the other does not. Instead of tearing the state apart, they can bring it together. Instead of contrast and polarization, there can be reconciliation. In small ways such unification already occurs. The Navajo Code Talkers in World War II were a harbinger of change even in New Mexico's most outwardly-focused hour. The work and life of late artist Georgia O'Keeffe represents the integration nature and the human world in a New Mexican context. The Santa Fe Opera sits as a focal point of both human sophistication and intimate encounter with nature overlooking the Tesuque Valley. The high desert, especially in Albuquerque, begets a synthesis of the mysterious spirit with professionalism. Far less ephemeral than the Hippie movement that offered its own strange synthesis, the synthesis spoken of here is one of deep cultural understanding and trust.

Thus, out of the paradox and mystery of New Mexico comes truth. Both the people and the land, diverse and seemingly irresolvable, find their greatest hope in this third way. For out of their differences come their solutions. The Navajo, guardians of the ancient soul of New Mexico, understood the meeting place of this dualistic reality:

"With the balance of earth and sky we walk in harmony"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Republican Bipartisanship and President Obama

The following is an essay I wrote for a Political Science class this semester. Domestic and local politics have been the foci of recent entries, but the next entry will pertain to foreign affairs. I plan to examine Middle East politics, with special attention to Turkey. Stay tuned.

For now, here is my case for bipartisanship:


Solomon Yue, a member of the Republican National Committee in Oregon, effectively described the fundamental need of his party when he said, “articulating a political philosophy is equally important as applying it consistently.”[1] Because Republicans need to articulate and apply their principles as Mr. Yue suggests, I firmly believe in the necessity of the party’s cooperation with President Barack Obama on a bipartisan basis. To best articulate and apply their principles, Republicans must engage in bipartisanship for the benefit of their political ideology, their party’s long-term health, and the functionality of the United States government as a whole. To make the wrong decision by rejecting any notion of cooperation with the president would mean the continuation of a long and painful spiral of political brinkmanship fueled by a conflict-hungry and polarized media and American public. Bipartisanship, despite being rarely conducted in a spirit of fellowship across gulfs of opinion, should lead to a needed reaffirmation of American values and trendsetting as one of the world’s most dynamic and healthy democracies.

Claims to Compromise

The first key reason I believe Republicans serve to benefit from bipartisan work with President Obama is the president’s willingness to compromise. President Obama’s policy agenda contains three main centrist elements that make bipartisan cooperation from the GOP worthwhile. In foreign policy, the president followed through on policies such as troop increases in Afghanistan, protection of some wiretapping operations, and an increasingly hard line on U.S.-Iran relations that are all supported by the Republican platform. In energy policy, President Obama put forward proposals to allow for nuclear energy loan guarantees, expanded offshore drilling, and clean coal power initiatives, all of which are issues espoused far more by Republicans than Democrats. Finally, in economic policy, the president passed tax breaks for job creation and promised incentives to small businesses and loans to community banks, both issues supported by Republicans. If the Republicans cooperate on these issues, then they can lay claim to victory on certain policies and strengthen their ideological foundation for long-term direction in their platform.

Adding to the benefits of Republican compromise with President Obama is his renewed efficacy as the nation’s policy leader. Emerging from the shadow of a Democratic Congress that assumed the face of domestic policy, the president recently “took charge, and started doing all the things he ought to have been doing a lot earlier.”[2] A bitterly divided Congress with approval ratings dipping as low as 14% in a recent CBS poll is not the place for Republicans to begin efforts at bipartisanship. Instead, looking to a president with renewed control over policy issues who is also willing to compromise is the best option for the party.

Fiscal Conservatism and Moderation

The second key reason the GOP should cooperate with President Obama through bipartisanship is the benefits the party would reap in electoral politics in the long run. While this may seem counterintuitive, given the current political climate of the United States, an examination of trends in the electorate substantiates the claim. When presenting an image of obstructionism, typified by Republican members of Congress waving Crayola marker-made signs from Capitol balconies to protest health legislation, the GOP plays directly into the hands of antiestablishment anger and inflamed anti-Democrat rhetoric. Staunch Republicans argue that capitalizing on such anger with broad and radical promises of dismantling government programs and dramatically reducing taxes means success in the 2010 midterm elections. Indeed, the Republican National Committee and different ad hoc conservative organizations around the country considered implementing, and did implement informally in some cases, a checklist for lawmakers to test their conformity to hard line ideology, with the end goal of purging “Republicans In Name Only” (RINOs) from the political ranks at all levels of government. While I agree that there would be short-term gain from this approach, the Republican Party could not sustain support from such antagonism, as the movement would lose momentum soon after economic recovery and greater stability set in after 2010.

Instead, the party would be best served by the bipartisan appeal of moving to a pragmatic center-right stance. As young people in the party’s evangelical base become less socially conservative and more pluralistic[3], other issues of importance to conservatives like economics and the role of government will have increasing relevance in the future. By working more flexibly with President Obama, the GOP can tie itself to long-term policy issues like the reform of government entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. As these programs face an impending lack of sustainability and associated government debt rises precipitously, a cooperative and solutions-oriented Republican Party could realistically frame the desire for less government and reduced spending in the context of such political discussions.

The American electorate would respond well to a fiscally conservative platform from the GOP in the future. Since the election of President Obama in November 2008, the percentage of the public “very worried” about their long-term financial future increased from 38% to 50%, according to a Associated Press/Gfk poll. The case of British politics illustrates the ability of a center-right group, like the Tories, to present a viable and pragmatic alternative to economic problems handled badly under the existing Labor government. The Tories project to win in called British elections in upcoming months. Furthermore, the Tories largely divorced themselves from far right radical movements like the British National Party (BNP), just as the GOP could do in 2010 by distancing the party from the radicalized Tea Party movement. While campaign platforms that appeal to the inflamed minority appear beneficial in the short run, bipartisanship and political moderation will assuredly help the long term efficacy of the Republican Party as an organization.

"Scratch My Back..."

The final major reason why the Republican Party should work with the president on a bipartisan basis is the benefits such an approach would bring to the functionality of American government itself. With the benefits of cooperation already proven, and the trends showing a tilt towards future fiscally conservative policies, I strongly believe that the GOP could buy political insurance for the future through bipartisanship. With the threat of filibustering from Republicans, Democrats used parliamentary techniques like budget reconciliation to bypass the need for cloture, and with Republican blocking of presidential nominees, which crippled organizations like the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the party is not establishing a productive precedent for the potential of acceding to the majority in 2010 or 2012. In the operation of Congress, quid pro quo and reciprocity are fundamental values. If Republicans continue obstructing legislation, Congressional Democrats will have every incentive to do the same if they fall to minority stature.

Not only will bipartisanship restore the value of legislative reciprocity and pave the way for a brighter future for a Republican political agenda in Congress, it will also unclog other pathways to action in the government. Unwilling to compromise and using harsh political statements to berate Democrats over healthcare legislation, Republicans in many ways shut themselves out of the lawmaking process. Without sufficient GOP input into the reform, a succession of alienated Republican governors and state attorneys general promised to block the implementation of new state-based health policies from Washington. The drawing of lines in the sand in this way will only lead to a conflict over federalism and a protracted and widespread battle over the issue in the court system. Bipartisanship, therefore, operates as a preventive measure for long and expensive conflict in other pathways of political change. I firmly uphold the value of such preventive measures to save time and funds, and therefore see an even greater necessity for Republican bipartisanship.

Consideration and Conclusion

Before concluding, I must respond to an underlying critique that bipartisanship from the GOP is equivalent to “selling out” the party’s core values. Considering my previous points, bipartisanship upholds Republican core values far better than refusal to compromise does. If Republicans wish to turn their values into policy, my contentions show that bipartisanship upholds more conservative policy from a Democratic president, a national trend of fiscal conservatism, and the ability of Republican lawmakers to implement core values in the future.

The great political philosopher John Stuart Mill advocated political cooperation when he said, “it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the truth has any chance of being supplied.”[4] While my beliefs on the necessity of bipartisanship for long-run health of Republican ideology, party sustainability, and governmental functionality will not come to fruition in a world where political strategists want to exploit the trends of the moment to win a single election, it is important to present firm and logical arguments for rationality in the American political scene. If Republicans cooperate with President Obama on a bipartisan basis, not only will they be more able to articulate and apply the principles advocated by Solomon Yue, they will also bring to light greater political truths, as Mill believed, leading to a stronger and more dynamic policy future for the world’s premier example of a strong and dynamic democracy.

[1] Fund, John, “Wall Street Journal Political Diary” December 31, 2008

[2] The Economist, “Now What?” March 25, 2010

[3] Allen, Bob, “Researcher: Young evangelicals shun 'conservative' label, embrace 'justice'” May 14,2009

[4] Mill, John Stuart, “On Liberty” London: Longman, Roberts & Green, 1869