In the Name of Progress: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Lifting the Embargo Against Cuba

Introduction

The United States embargo against Cuba is a hotbed of controversy. It has officially been in effect since 1962, three years after Fidel Castro took power, and one year after Barack Obama was born. From Kennedy to Obama, the world has asked why the United States maintains what appears to be an impractical and arbitrary policy. Among United States citizens alone, opinions about the embargo are polarized. Some believe that the embargo serves to harm the average Cuban citizen instead of its intended target – the Castros –, while others believe that the “communist” country deserves to be isolated and that the United States should demonstrate its power by remaining steadfast until the Castro regime ends its persistent violation of human rights.

On the international level, allies of the United States consider the embargo “counter-productive at best, vindictive at worst,” a demonstration of “hegemonic bullying.”[1] Lifting the embargo would improve the image of the US around the world, since the United Nations has consistently condemned the embargo, and in 2013 every country voted to condemn it except for the US and Israel. Why, then, do so many American citizens and politicians maintain that the embargo is necessary? In this paper, I will examine both sides of the debate about whether to lift the embargo against Cuba, taking into account historical contexts and current politics in both the United States and Cuba.

Why Keep the Embargo?

A minority of American citizens and politicians, including some Cuban Americans and Cuban exiles, maintain that the embargo against Cuba must remain until there is substantial regime change. Falling back on the motto of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” certain more-conservative Americans use their avid patriotism and love of liberty to assert that it is the United States’ responsibility to make sure that Cuba’s government is abiding by the same conventions. While some members of Congress might privately believe the embargo should be lifted, few, especially Republicans, are willing to appear too lenient with the “communist” Castro regime.[2] According to US law, Cuba must meet the following conditions before the embargo can be lifted: legalize all political activity; release all political prisoners; commit to free and fair elections in the transition to representative democracy; grant freedom to the press; respect internationally recognized human rights; and allow labor unions.

The Castro regime is certainly nowhere near meeting these requirements. In 2012, the Cuban government detained about 6,602 people for political reasons, and the Congressional Research Service estimates that between 65,0000 and 70,000 people are imprisoned in Cuba as of 2012, contrary to reports of 57,337 from the government. This means that Cuba has one of the highest per capita incarceration rates in the world.The Cuban government has a monopoly on the island’s media, ensuring that the information Cubans receive is government-approved and that freedom of expression is virtually nonexistent. According to the 1996 Helms-Burton act, the United States has a “moral obligation” to promote the rights set forth by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of the United Nations. In promoting and advancing human rights, the embargo is thought to be a “bargaining tool.”

Over the years, there have been a few occasions where United States leaders have begun to loosen up the embargo’s restrictions, each time eliciting acts of aggression from the Cuban government. In 2009, in response to news of Obama’s openness to reforming the United States’ relationship with Cuba granted that social and political change happen first, Fidel Castro called Obama “stupid” and offered this ominous remark: “Many things will change in Cuba, but they will change through our efforts and in spite of the United States. Perhaps that empire will fall first.”[3]

When President Carter opened the US Interests Section in Havana in 1977 in an attempt to normalize relations with Cuba, Fidel responded with the Mariel Boatlift, sending 125,000 Cubans – mentally ill people and criminals among them – to the United States. President Bush halted his 2003 easing of restrictions on travel to visit family members in Cuba when the Castro regime cracked down on political dissidents in 2004. Finally, in 2009, after Obama loosened travel policy to allow unlimited travel to Cuba for family visits, an American aid worker was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Cuban government.[4] The retaliatory behavior of the Castro regime shows no indication that they want the embargo to be lifted, and why would they? It allows them to play the victim of “hegemonic bullying” and “has shored up support for Cuba abroad and given an excuse for totalitarianism at home.”[5]

Another issue that often comes into play in the United States’ foreign policy affairs is its image where power is concerned. Some fear that if the US were to give in and end the embargo before the Castros meet the specified terms for its removal, it would make the US government appear weak and manipulable. In this same vein, some argue “the United States should not risk sending the message that it can be waited out or that seizing US property in foreign countries, as Castro did in Cuba when he took power, will be tolerated.”With the increased access to resources and revitalization that would result from lifting the embargo, according to one former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Cuba might seek to unite with countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Russia, China, and Iran with the intention of advancing anti-American sentiments.[6] Since 1982, the US State Department has also consistently discovered evidence of Cuba being a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” Cuba has promoted violence by supporting Latin American and African armed insurgencies and providing a safe haven to known terrorists and US fugitives.[7]

Another argument for maintaining the embargo is that it is unwise to change US-Cuba policy before Raúl Castro’s successor is in place. Because Fidel and Raúl are both elderly, it is uncertain how much longer the Castros will reign, and the embargo may continue to be a “necessary bargaining chip” once a new leader takes over. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter John Hughes, “The worst scenario would be the emergence of an Army strongman who plunges the country into martial rule.” While Cuba is still under totalitarian rule, with respect to trade, it may not be the most logical thing to lift the embargo. Because Cuba does not have a private sector and the state owns 90 percent of the economy, some argue that only the government would benefit from trade with the US Furthermore, due to some US policy leniency, Cuban families receive more than a billion dollars in remittances from relatives living in the United States, and family-related, humanitarian, and educational travel are permitted. Because of this, the United States is able, to some extent, to pressure the Cuban government with the embargo while continuing to assist Cuban citizens.

Today, many Cuban Americans still view the embargo as a show of solidarity with the Cuban people. US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), a Cuban American, stated why she continues to support the embargo:

In addition to imposing economic pressure on the Castro regime and holding it accountable for actions against US interests, the embargo is a moral stance against the brutal dictatorship. Over the last 50 years, the embargo has served as a constant form of solidarity with the Cuban people.[8]

As of 2011, about 53 percent of Cuban Americans living in Miami still supported the embargo, down from 87 percent in 1991,[9] and a February 2014 poll reported that 56 percent of Americans and 63 percent of Floridians are in favor of normalizing relations with Cuba.[10] But for those who have been affected most by Cuba’s dictatorship, the embargo is still a difficult topic. I end this section with an impassioned remark from Cuban exile Valentin Prieto:

I fully support the embargo and the travel ban and am on record calling for it to be tightened and given some real teeth instead of allowing it to remain the paper tiger it is. The United States of America is a bastion of democracy and liberty in the world. Not only should we not have normal relations with repressive regimes, is it our moral obligation to ensure, by whatever means possible save for military action, that we in no way promote, fund, assist, ignore, or legitimize said repressive regimes.[11]

Why Lift the Embargo?

The interesting thing about the arguments made for lifting the embargo is that they take the arguments for keeping it and turn them on their heads. The polarity of these arguments is representative of the divide in the United States between right-wing and left-wing political parties and their supporters. Of course, no story is black and white, but in the most basic and objective terms, lifting the embargo would create a new market of more than 11 million people for the United States and generate employment for Americans and Cubans alike. In 2010, Texas A&M University conducted a study estimating that around 6,000 US jobs could result from the removal of restrictions on agricultural exports and travel to Cuba. The US Chamber of Commerce estimates that the United States loses about $1.2 billion each year in export sales due to the embargo, while the Cuba Policy Foundation estimates the annual cost to the US economy to be as high as $4.84 billion. To make these terms very clear, the author of the Cuba Policy Foundation study says “the average American farmer would feel a difference in his or her life within two to three years.”[12] Between 2011 and September 2012 alone, penalties against foreign and US companies and individuals for violating the embargo rose from $89 million to $622 million.[13]

If, after more than 50 years of sanctions against Cuba, the Castro regime still remains in place, then why would the embargo work now? There is no longer reason to fear Cuba’s relationship with the Soviet Union – that era is long since passed. Even the US Defense Intelligence Agency has stated clearly, “Cuba does not pose a significant military threat to the US or to other countries in the region,” and the paranoia that Communism will take root in the Western world is no longer an adequate justification. Rather to the contrary of that paranoia, The Economist wrote in April,

Cuba is playing a constructive role in the peace process between Colombia’s government and the FARC guerillas. Its political system is nasty and undemocratic, but it is buttressed, not undermined, by the embargo. (The reverse is true of the standing of the United States in Latin America.) Waiting for the Castros to die makes no sense when Venezuela’s crisis presents an opportunity now to cement the process of liberalisation in Cuba.[14]

While one of the original intentions of the embargo was to support the Cuban people by starving out their Communist leader, it has had the opposite effect. The embargo allows the Castro regime to make excuses for its shortfalls and to rule under the guise that the embargo is preventing its socialist paradise from reaching its full potential. In 2000, Bill Clinton said, “[S]ometimes I think [Fidel Castro] doesn’t want the embargo to be lifted… because as long as he can blame the United States, then he doesn’t have to answer to his own people for the failures of his economic policy.” If the United States were to lift the embargo, the average Cuban citizen would have better access to a number of commodities, including medicine, affordable food, technology, and communication.[15]

The embargo cripples communication for Cubans and “gives the Cuban government an excuse for not building a better technological infrastructure.” In 2011, fewer than 25 percent of Cubans used the Internet. While there are many undersea cables connecting the rest of the world to the Internet, most of them circumnavigate Cuba. If the embargo were lifted, the United States and foreign companies would have the power to connect Cuba to the rest of the world, information, and communication. While perhaps not directly, this change in conditions has the potential to lead Cubans to rise up against the government according to this logic:

As with all totalitarian regimes, Communism cannot survive the free flow of ideas. If people under Communism were exposed to alternative viewpoints, not even the most ruthless police state could hold them back…Communist governments must rely on a mixture of state terror, information blackout, and constant propaganda.[16]

If this statement is true, the Castro regime would not continue to function as it does today if the Cuban people had wider access to information and communication. Similarly, “An influx of US tourists and businesses would expose the sheltered island to our culture and freedoms, and weaken the Castro regime’s control over information coming into the country.” For China, economic reforms that resulted from trade with the US improved access to health care and education and raised 100 million people above the poverty line.[17]

It is not only most of the rest of the world that disapproves of the embargo against Cuba. A 2012 poll revealed that among a pool of 1,000 American adults, 62 percent believe that the US should normalize relations with Cuba, 57 percent believe the travel ban should be lifted, and 51 percent think the trade ban should be lifted. In 2011, more than 80 percent of Cuban Americans surveyed believed that the embargo has had little to no effect on the Castro regime. These opinions add to the fact that “the prohibition of travel for Americans is an atrocity from the constitutional point of view,” as stated by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.[18] It is completely hypocritical for the US government to sanction Cuba for human rights violations and then turn around and place restrictions on its own citizens’ rights. It is equally hypocritical that the US “demand[s] that Cuba adopt a representative democracy given the long history of US support for brutal dictatorships in countries that favor American interests, such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Augusto Pinochet in Chile.”[19] The United States is not the best example to follow in matters of respect for human rights and avoiding hypocrisy.

Conclusion

There are certainly many arguments for maintaining the United States embargo against Cuba, and one almost begins to believe them after being exposed to them for long periods of time. In my case, it only takes a few minutes of being exposed to arguments for lifting the embargo for me to remember what side I am on. The United States must do away with a futile and outdated policy that has done nothing but create a scapegoat for a poor system of government and economy. The Castros still reign, and the embargo has done nothing for human rights in Cuba. After more than 50 years of lost productivity and the stifling of rights for Cubans and Americans alike, it is time for the United States to stand up as the beacon of freedom and progress that it claims to be and show the world that we can let go of old grudges and move forward to better solutions.

What happens to Cuba when the embargo is lifted? From a cultural point of view, part of Cuba’s charm is that it is like being transported back to another time. The streets are not lined with American fast food chains and superstores like in so many other countries. During an educational visit to Cuba in March 2014, I asked our Cuban tour guide if he thought the economic benefits of lifting the embargo would be worth having American companies like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart come in and take over. His answer was no. All in the name of progress?

Endnotes

[1] “If not now, when?” The Economist (Apr 2014).
[2] “If not now, when?” The Economist (Apr 2014).
[3] Orsi, Peter. “Castro: Obama Is ‘Stupid.’” HuffingtonPost.com (Sept 2011).
[4] “Cuba Embargo.” 2013.
[5] “If not now, when?” The Economist (Apr 2014).
[6] Brookes, Peter. “Keep the Embargo, O.” New York Post (Apr 2009).
[7] “Cuba Embargo.” 2013.
[8] “Fifty Years Later, Cuban Embargo Demonstrates Solidarity with Cuban People.” House Committee on Foreign Affairs (Feb 2012).
[9] “Cuba Embargo.” 2013.
[10] Gomez, Alan. “Cuban-Americans conflicted on embargo.” USA Today (Feb 2014).
[11] Totten, Michael J. Letter from Cuba: To Embargo or Not. World Affairs (Mar/Apr 2014), 2.
[12] “Cuba Embargo.” 2013.
[13] Franks, Jeff. “Cuba says ending U.S. embargo would help both countries.” Reuters (Sept 2012).
[14] “If not now, when?” The Economist (Apr 2014).
[15] “Cuba Embargo.” 2013.
[16] Gonzalez, Mike. “Sending Ideas to Cuba.” National Review Online (Apr 2014).
[17] “Cuba Embargo.” 2013.
[18] Franks, Jeff. “Cuba says ending U.S. embargo would help both countries.” Reuters (Sept 2012).
[19] “Cuba Embargo.” 2013.

Resources

1. “Cuba Embargo.” 2013.
http://cuba-embargo.procon.org/
2. “Fifty Years Later, Cuban Embargo Demonstrates Solidarity with Cuban People.” House Committee on Foreign Affairs (Feb 2012).
http://archives.republicans.foreignaffairs.house.gov/news/story/?2196
3. Franks, Jeff. “Cuba says ending U.S. embargo would help both countries.” Reuters (Sept 2012).
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/20/us-cuba-usa-embargo-idUSBRE88J15G20120920
4. Gomez, Alan. “Cuban-Americans conflicted on embargo.” USA Today (Feb 2014).
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/02/16/cuba-embargo-miami-reactions/5407113/
5. Gonzalez, Mike. “Sending Ideas to Cuba.” National Review Online (Apr 2014).
http://www.nationalreview.com/article/375454/sending-ideas-cuba-mike-gonzalez
6. “If not now, when?” The Economist (Apr 2014).
http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21600117-would-be-especially-good-time-change-americas-relations-cuba-if-not-now
7. Orsi, Peter. “Castro: Obama Is ‘Stupid.’” HuffingtonPost.com (Sept 2011).
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/29/castro-obama-stupid_n_987134.html
8. Totten, Michael J. Letter from Cuba: To Embargo or Not. World Affairs (Mar/Apr 2014), 2.

Returning from Cuba: “Wherever you go, there you are”

As our bus drove through and away from the streets of Havana, with Cuban music thumping in my ears, I took in the last scenes of our sequestered neighbor, also known as Isla de la Juventud, that I am likely to see for a long time. Classic cars ambled by; people sat on front porch steps or bustled through their Sunday routines. I had no desire to leave yet, and I found myself holding back tears. There is too much more to learn, too many more people to know, too much more Caribbean sunshine to soak in.Image

Every other time I’ve returned to California, I’ve been glad. Stepping out into the crisp Northern California air at the San Francisco airport has always been a ritual of comfort. It’s usually a relief to return to all that I’ve established here, to eating what I want, driving my car, and to the shower pressure to which I’ve become so accustomed. Even returning to Washington after more than two months in Italy brought some relief. But this time, the relief simply didn’t come. In traveling with no phone or Internet access, wearing skirts, sleeveless shirts, and sandals, and speaking another language, there was liberation. I hardly wore any makeup because I knew the sun and humidity would melt it right off anyway. My freckles popped out and a natural glow took over. There was so much less to carry.

There’s something so fascinating to me about Cuban culture, more than any other culture I’ve experienced. Its population is multiethnic, with Spanish, African, and aboriginal Taíno and Ciboney roots. Its culture is influenced heavily by Spanish colonialism, a close Cold-War era relationship with the Soviet Union, African slavery, and, obviously, a history of political strife, repression, and persecution. While the socialism of the state certainly does not eradicate poverty, to some extent, it blurs the lines of socioeconomic disparity in a way that is incredibly novel to me, coming from the United States.

The parts of Cuban culture that I am most intrigued by are Afro-Cubanism and the practice of Santería. About 17.4 percent of Cubans practice folk religion. Santería has roots in the West African Yoruba religion and Roman Catholicism, and is known for its rituals and ceremonies. While in Cuba, I saw a couple of altar-like arrangements for protection that feature many obscure objects, including desiccated bananas, animal jawbones, and doll heads.

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The men I met in Cuba were suave, charming, and persistent. Rather than being off-put by my nationality and whiteness, they seemed to embrace it, just as I embraced their appearances and heritage. Though a Communist leader represses them, they are impassioned and unafraid to speak their minds. Surrounded by Cubans with dark skin thanks to their African roots, I was like a kid in a candy store.

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Over several hours of making my way back to California, my anxiety about returning continued to grow. In Cuba, everything was suspended, but back at home there are so many things on my mind. I dreaded coming back to capitalism, back to Facebook and text messaging, back to passive aggression and the grueling job hunt. The rain that persisted for a couple of days after I returned didn’t help after sunshine, 80-degree days, and swims in sparkling teal water. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like the grass is always greener on the other side.

But today, lying in the warm sunshine on a Monterey beach as I write this, things don’t seem so bad. I just have to remember to chew one bite at a time. Hopefully someday I will be able to return to Cuba. I hope for my next stops to be Haiti and the Dominican Republic. For the meantime, I’ll remind myself of this: “Wherever you go, there you are.”

The Thin Line Between Challenged and Gifted

This semester, I am teaching a conflict resolution class to at-risk youth in Salinas, California with a group of three of my colleagues. One aspect of our curriculum is service-learning days. On these days, we take our group of 16-18 year old students to an elementary school in Salinas and ask them to fill our roles for a day. This means facilitating group exercises, discussions, games, and other activities that contribute to an understanding of what conflict is and positive ways that we can deal with it. The children that we visit are designated as “behaviorally challenged,” and for most of them, the reason is apparent.

Last semester, while I was an intern with the organization but not yet a conflict resolution instructor, I went out to Salinas for the service-learning day to take photos. The older students did a great job of facilitating, being mature, and being good role models for the elementary school students. Most of the younger students were bouncing off the walls, cursing, and throwing out violent and half-baked statements. There was one boy, however, that really captured my attention. He was smaller than most of the kids, very slight in frame, and timid in behavior. I perceived in him a real depth, and a profound sadness, that I did not sense in any of the other kids. I kept an eye on him throughout the class. During small group sessions in which both the elementary school kids and the high school kids shared their stories, this boy was one of a handful of kids in the classroom who became emotional, and even cried, while sharing. Apparently, he was bullied because he was a “new kid,” and his bully just happened to be in his small group that day. I was very moved and inspired that this activity allowed the group to really be vulnerable. Even after that day, I often thought about the little boy who bared his soul and allowed himself to be vulnerable within a group of near-strangers.

Last Friday, my conflict management team went back to the elementary school. The classroom filled up with children, and finally, a little boy in a blue hooded sweatshirt was the last to enter the classroom. I saw him coming before he entered the portable room, his blue hood shielding his face from the drizzle, the corners of his mouth turned down into a deep, morose frown. When he walked into the room, he scanned it for open chairs, and found a seat in the far corner, behind everyone else. The best hiding place. We went around the room and introduced ourselves, stating our names and one thing that we really like to do. I eagerly awaited the response of the little boy in the far back corner of the room, which came at the end. He introduced himself and said, “I like to code.” The room erupted into applause. An 11-year-old that knows how to code? We were all clearly surprised and impressed by his response.

As the class progressed, the boy came out of his shell more and more. Perhaps he was encouraged by the class’s response to his introduction, or perhaps things have improved for him since the last time our team visited. Every time we posed a question to the class, he had an intelligent and precocious answer for us. He knew the definitions of bias, stereotype, and perspective. His hand flew up at every opportunity. I was continuously blown away by the intelligence of his responses. But what was most uplifting and encouraging was to see this little boy, who seemed so downtrodden before, participating with such enthusiasm and really enjoying himself. A few months ago, his frown seemed permanent. But a few days ago, a smile lingered around his mouth throughout the class. The ideas flitting through his mind were visible. Every time he had a thought, I saw his eyes light up and a sly smile flit around the corners of his mouth. It was clear that he was in constant contemplation. Knowing that things were better for him now, or at least in those moments, made my heart feel like it was going to burst.

Reflecting on why I have so much compassion and empathy for this child in particular, I realize that it is perhaps because I was that child once. As a child, my mind raced, and I felt unmoved and unchallenged by the things I was “learning” in my regular classes. I did not feel that I could fully connect with the people around me, and felt extraordinarily anxious in social situations. I imagine this specific boy feels some of that as well. What really strikes and disappoints me is that he is considered “behaviorally challenged.” Is it really he who is challenged, or is it the education system? Ideally, the education system would offer classes specifically tailored for students who demonstrate greater intellectual capacity and a need for more intellectual stimulation than the average student. In this situation, it appears that this group is lumped in with the behaviorally challenged, most likely due to a lack of communication, understanding, and resources. Fortunately for me, my elementary school offered a class for the “highly capable” in which I was placed instead of being forced to sit through regular classes that didn’t challenge me as much as they could have. In this boy’s case, perhaps any “behavioral” issues he may demonstrate stem from bullying and a lack of intellectual stimulation. My question, then, is why on Earth is he the one in a class for the behaviorally challenged when he clearly has other, more important needs? I worry that this marginalization will continue throughout his education and will suppress the amazing potential that he possesses. The American education system must rearrange its priorities to fully foster intellectual capacity.

The Chilean Student Movement: Overcoming a History of Political Repression

In January 2013, I traveled through Chile for three weeks studying the history of human rights abuses, dictatorship, and democracy in the country. Check out my WIP Feature article about the Chilean student movement and the fight to overcome political repression, featuring an interview with human rights expert Dr. Jan Black.

The Chilean Student Movement: Overcoming a History of Political Repression

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What Will the World Look Like in 2030?

Cross-posted from The WIP.

“Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” published by the National Intelligence Council, depicts four worlds that could be actualized by 2030. The four potential worlds are as follows: (1) “Stalled Engines,” the most plausible worst-case scenario, in which the risks of interstate conflict are increased, the US draws inward, and globalization stagnates; (2) “Fusion,” the most plausible best-case outcome, in which greater global cooperation increases as China and the US collaborate on a range of issues; (3) “Gini-Out-of-the-Bottle,” in which inequalities blow up as some countries become big winners and others fail, intrastate inequalities increase social tensions, and the US ceases to be the “global policeman” but does not disengage completely and (4) “Nonstate World,” in which nonstate actors, driven by new technologies, take the lead in confronting global challenges.

Realistically, the world in 2030 will probably look like an amalgamation of all of the four scenarios laid out in the report; none of these potential worlds is preordained. In my opinion, the potential world that is most likely to be actualized is the Gini-Out-of-the-Bottle scenario, in which interstate and intrastate inequalities would be exacerbated and the US would take a step back, ceasing to be the “global policeman,” while still maintaining a large global presence. In a letter describing this scenario from a future perspective to give readers a visualization of this potential world, I found the most pertinent line to be, “Oh–that Marx could see that the class struggle never did die. Globalization has just spawned more of it…” Indeed, I believe that globalization would be the biggest catalyst for this potential world, and some foreshadowing of this scenario can already be seen in the world today.

One of the game-changers for the global economy presented in the Global Trends report is the splintering of the EU, caused by the ejection of weaker economies on the periphery of the euro zone. While no countries have yet been forced out of the euro zone, countries attempting to resolve their economic issues with austerity measures are faltering. For example, Scotland has reformed its welfare system in order to save money. The reform includes cutting welfare benefits, including aid for the disabled, by billions of pounds, yet the UK’s debt continues to grow. While austerity measures in Greece seem to be working, expert economist Paul Krugman says that the chances are that the current “tough-it-out” policies being used to decrease deficits in the euro zone will not be successful in the long term, even in addressing the most immediate problems of default and devaluation. He says this will become clear to the stronger economies of Europe sooner than later, at which point those nations will have to make a decision regarding the periphery.

Krugman identifies three possible options for dealing with the euro crisis aside from austerity: (1) a complete debt restructuring, which would not end the suffering of troubled economies completely, but could put a stop to deteriorating confidence and rising interest, possibly making internal devaluation feasible; (2) “full Argentina,” which would involve abandoning the euro like Argentina abandoned its link to the US dollar, but would be problematic because the euro zone countries no longer have their own currencies; and (3) “revived Europeanism,” which would offer bonds guaranteed by the EU as a whole to struggling economies, but would potentially make other governments responsible for their debt.

According to a publication in the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook, “Globalization and Inequality,” there are two schools of thought with regard to how globalization affects income, one arguing that globalization leads to a “rising tide of income, which raises all boats,” and the other arguing that globalization affects income disproportionately, “with clear losers in relative and possibly even absolute terms.” Income gaps may widen, which would create more social and welfare issues, and also possibly limit growth where opportunities presented by globalization are not fully employed. Technology also plays a big role in this scenario. With technological capabilities rapidly increasing throughout the world, the need for low-skilled workers has decreased, and these workers will continue to be replaced by machines and robots at an accelerated rate in the future. Technological advancement has been the biggest impetus for increasing income disparities over the past 20 years. The conventional solutions of more education and training are likely to be ineffective. Both globalization and technological advancement could be catalysts for expanding the inequalities characteristic of the Gini-Out-of-the-Bottle scenario.

The Global Trends report shows that in the Gini-Out-of-the-Bottle scenario, the US still has the highest share of global GDP, which is made likely due to the US’s wealth of shale oil resources. This resource could lead the US to become a major energy exporter by 2020. US dependence on the Gulf for oil has been the post-1945 status quo, but this will change if the US achieves energy independence, which could also have implications for the hypothetical scenario of the US drawing inward and ceasing to be the “global policeman.” If the US no longer needs to maintain a dominant presence in the Middle East for oil-related reasons, this may detract largely from the “policing.” Further, a 2012 article in The Guardian, “How cheap energy from shale will reshape America’s role in the world,” says that it is highly probable that regimes known for their hydrocarbon wealth will weaken significantly, if they are not wiped out completely, which supports the obvious winners and losers aspect of the Gini-Out-of-the-Bottle scenario. Russia has already experienced the impact of the US’s growth toward energy independence. Since the US, its intended customer, now has its own source of natural gas, the Shtokman field under the Barents Sea has been put in cold storage, so to speak.

The fact that the US has not intervened in Syria says a lot about the future of its role as the global policeman. Since the Syrian Civil War is the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Cold War, one might think it would be a high priority for the US to intervene, as it has been so prone to doing so in the past. President Obama has been under pressure to intervene, especially since the allegations of Assad using chemical weapons have come to the surface, and especially by Republican members of Congress, but he has asserted that he will not intervene in Syria unilaterally. However, goings-on at a recent Senate hearing regarding the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) have been decidedly disturbing. Not only have Pentagon officials predicted that the war on terror will last another 20 years, beyond the second term of President Obama, but they claim that under the AUMF, the POTUS has the power to “wage endless war anywhere in the world, including in Syria, Yemen, and the Congo.” Senator Angus King, a political Independent, responded that they had “essentially rewritten the Constitution” that day.

While this potential world may not be the worst-case scenario, from a Liberalist perspective it still looks pretty bleak, as inequalities become more glaring and sectarian violence in the Middle East continues to grow. From a Realist perspective, it seems just about right; power relations shift as states pursue their own interests, which are also variable. The US might be wise to withdraw its ever-present hand of discipline, even if not completely, with possible threats from North Korea and Iran. If the US becomes energy independent, this could be really beneficial for the economy, though it could also have serious implications for climate change. As the global population increases, demand for energy, food, and water will also continue to increase while their availability decreases. As mentioned before, this potential world is not inevitable; none of them are. The only thing we can be certain of is that the future of the global order is uncertain.

The Undertow

Let me fall asleep at the shore of the Pacific
Kissed by the moonlit haze that cradles the bay
And mutes all else but the din of the waves
Let the ocean cool this fever in my brain
And carry me under in its infinite embrace
Let not the rocks and the undertow
Shatter this human frame
But dress me in seaweed green and gold
And soothe this disquiet with a perennial lull

Poseidon, please take my weary body home

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Random Acts of Love

Valentine’s Day is an over-commercialized, sickly-sweet holiday filled with sappy love notes, flowers, and enough candy to rot your teeth. It’s the one day of the year specifically devoted to love. One day out of 365 days. For many, it’s a painful reminder, whether they’ve lost a significant other or are simply unlucky in love. For those who have someone to share it with, it can be a day of bliss. Others approach it with complete indifference or scathing bitterness. It can make us feel bad about ourselves and jealous of one another. For some, it’s the loneliest day of the year, simply because someone decided to put a label on it.

Today, I chose not to dwell on the fact that I don’t have a date for Valentine’s Day. I woke up optimistic, happier than I remember being on any of the twenty February fourteenths that came before this one. Only my mommy got me a Valentine’s Day gift, but that doesn’t bother me even a little bit today. It’s easy to fall into a cycle of self-pity, clutching my problems like a security blanket. What really takes courage is positivity – in being positive, I really put myself out there. Though taking a chance can be scary sometimes, I never regret it.

This afternoon, I purchased a dozen roses and trotted downtown with a childlike sense of excitement. I handed the roses out to twelve random passersby with a smile and a “Happy Valentine’s Day.” People out to lunch, on their work breaks, leaving the gym, or chatting with friends. Their reactions made me beam with joy.

One woman was in an alley taking a smoke break. I had seen her walk back there, so I turned into the alley and approached her. When she saw me pull a rose from the bunch, she said “Oh, thank you. I needed one of these today.” I replied, “I figured some people would,” smiled, and walked away as she thanked me again. A couple of women I passed on the sidewalk simply gave a very taken aback “thank you,” clearly surprised and touched by the gesture. One woman stopped, her mouth gaping in apparent disbelief, as she thanked me profusely. I assured her that it was my pleasure, told her to have a good day, and continued on my way.

When I approached a couple leaving the gym, I decided to do the less conventional thing and hand a rose to the man. They both thanked me. “You two can share it,” I said, laughing, as I walked away. When I reached the end of the street, I turned and saw that they were still standing there watching me.

Next, I walked up to a table at which a Marine was seated talking with a friend. He was looking down as I handed him the rose and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day.” After taking the rose, he turned his head up to look into my face and gave me a surprised “thank you.” The man sitting with him said how nice it was, so I gave him one, too.

I turned the corner and saw a family with a little girl, so I asked if I could give her one. Her father said yes, so I kneeled down and handed it to her as she turned around. “Happy Valentine’s Day. Be careful, it has thorns,” I said. Her mother thanked me and wished me a Happy Valentine’s Day as well.

The second to the last rose was probably my favorite. A couple was standing on the sidewalk talking, and I walked up and handed a rose to the woman. “Oh, thank you so much!” she said. As I walked away, I heard the man say in a reassuring tone, “She’ll get hers,” and I smiled to myself.

My very last rose went to a very charismatic young homeless man sitting on the sidewalk on his spread out blanket. I said, “Happy Valentine’s Day. This is my last one!” He thanked me and asked if I had a date tonight. “Kind of,” I replied, since I am planning to go to a party as soon as I finish typing this. “If it falls through, I’m available,” he said. I smiled all the way back to my car.

Many years I have chosen to indulge in self-pity on Valentine’s Day. I scorn the commercialism just as much as anyone else, and I have never had a romantic Valentine’s Day with a boyfriend. But I know that there are still people out there who need a little reassurance now and then, in whatever form. Not a single person who received a rose from me was indifferent or disappointed. I might call it a social experiment of sorts, and in my opinion, it was very successful.

What Valentine’s Day really makes me wonder is why we need a designated, commercialized day in order to show the people in our lives how much we love and appreciate them. We should be doing it every day of our lives. On this day, people expect gifts and elaborately planned romantic evenings, and are disappointed if plans fall through or significant others don’t step up to the plate. Maybe we should stop saving all of our romance and kindness up until this one day of the year, and show people we love them with small gestures all year round. Not just the people in our closest circles, but strangers, as well. I have never seen a random act of kindness go unnoticed.

Today was the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had.

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Perspective

perspective |pərˈspektiv|
noun
1 the art of drawing solid objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other when viewed from a particular point [as adj. ] : a perspective drawing. See also linear perspective and aerial perspective .
• a picture drawn in such a way, esp. one appearing to enlarge or extend the actual space, or to give the effect of distance.
• a view or prospect.
• Geometry the relation of two figures in the same plane, such that pairs of corresponding points lie on concurrent lines, and corresponding lines meet in collinear points.
2 a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view : most guidebook history is written from the editor’s perspective.
• true understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion : we must keep a sense of perspective about what he’s done.

The first discernible experience I had with perspective was learning how to draw from different perspectives in elementary school. The apparent dimensions of a building depend on your vantage point. If you’re down on the ground looking up, you may feel small, like the building is looming over you. If your view is aerial, the building will look smaller, perhaps making you feel powerful. When you are eye level with the building, it may feel the most natural and comfortable. The important thing to remember is that there are many ways to view that building, and each one will inspire a different feeling or perception.

After that arduous chronicle of vantage points, you may be wondering where I’m going with this. I think our perspectives often become distorted in the midst of hardships, anxiety, competition, self-criticism and the like. It is very easy to forget about all the good things in our lives when faced with the bad. This kind of perspective is all about where you position yourself – and you do have power over that, more than you may realize. Anything can seem terrible when compared to something you perceive to be better, whether it be your looks, your grades, your job, or your social class. But these things are all relative. Everyone has a different perspective, a different perception. The $12/hr office job you despise might be a godsend to someone other than you. One person might perceive you as ugly while the next person might think you’re the most beautiful person they’ve ever seen. There will always be something “better,” someone “better,” but that kind of thinking won’t get us anywhere. I try to remind myself of this every time I start to doubt myself. All of our perspectives need a little calibrating now and then.

These lyrics are very apt for the subject of perspective, and always inspire me:

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’97,
Wear sunscreen.
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.
The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.
I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth.
Oh never mind, you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded.
But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.

You’re not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. 
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind,
The kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy; 
Sometimes you’re ahead, 
Sometimes you’re behind.
The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults; 
If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your
life.
The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives.
Some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary.
Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either.
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s.
Enjoy your body.
Use it every way you can.
Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it.
It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do NOT read beauty magazines – they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents.
You never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings.
They are the best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you should hold on.
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you’ll need the people you knew when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.
Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: prices will rise, politicians will philander, you, too, will grow old, and when you do you’ll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you.
Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you have a wealthy spouse, but you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair, or by the time you’re 40, it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, and dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen. ” – Baz Luhrmann, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”

perspective

Revisited

A revisitation of my time in Italy.

Bittersweet nostalgia, so poignant, you must assure me,
Vow that those visions will never abandon my retinae,
That my nostrils will never exhale, will forever imprison
The warm redolence of compost and blood orange;
A citrus dream wafting forever through courtyards
Like the specter of some concubine conquest of Jupiter,
Who let tumble her tresses and was seized from her forest glen.
And away from my dark-blooded core, tensed with tourniquet,
Those saccharine, trembling affections will never circumvent.
For I am perpetually dizzied by the flight of a passenger train
Through dark green expanses beneath azure domain,
Eavesdropping on Italian utterances ­­– I can still hear them,
Still mouth their words sometimes, roll them over my tongue.
Out there panna villas with arancione roofs stand astute,
Miles isolated, as though deserted, not a body in sight,
And perhaps, like those great stone sanctums, will stand long
Against the elements, turning a blind eye to crumbling Time.