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A Miracle?

There are those who think the U.S. suffers from prejudice against Obama, competition between political parties, bullies who have the ability to exert power, and vast financial inequality with only limited democracy left. 

In my humble opinion, the human family hasn’t acted rationally since the beginning of World War I.  Thus it comes as no surprise that an agreement with Iran approved by so many experts and groups looks like it will fail.

The Iran agreement makes war or some form of coercion less likely. The agreement will improve our relations with Iran, Israel, and other nations. 

Voting against the agreement makes us look foolish and irrational. Without the deal, nuclear militarization and international strife will be more likely. The human family will have more needless conflict and differences.

I hope this take on evil and prejudice is incorrect. I hope reason and humanity prevail over deep-seated emotion and unacknowledged evil.

Needed: A UN Parliamentary Assembly

Courtesy of

The United Nations suffers from a severe democratic deficit. Despite the opening words of its Charter, "We the peoples," ordinary people--the  citizens of planet Earth and the proper holders of sovereignty--are subsequently ignored in that document.

To this day, 70 years after the UN's founding, people other than politicians and  diplomats have been denied a voice in planetary governance. Realpolitik, old-fashioned power politics, remains the dominant paradigm. Is it any wonder, then, that decisions of the undemocratic United Nations are increasingly regarded as illegitimate?

Conventional wisdom in the diplomatic community, as well as in mass media and academia, is that the system cannot be fundamentally changed. This is mainly because of the political oligopoly built into the UN Charter, which grants veto power to  the five permanent members of the Security  Council. None of these unfairly privileged states, supposedly, will ever consent to changes that would infringe on this power. But once you say you can't, you can't. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The so-called "experts" sooner or later will be proven incorrect. Roughly half the world's people already  live in countries that are more or less democratically ruled. The hallmark of all such countries is a parliamentary system. Even though the leaders of these countries find it necessary go along with the present undemocratic UN system at the global level, that doesn't mean they can remain oblivious to the democratic demands of their own people. To attempt to do so runs the risk of their being voted out of power.

The Continuing Humanitarian Crisis in ISIS-held Areas

In an August 25, 2014 statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the “appalling, widespread, and systematic deprivation of human rights” by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The violations mentioned included targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking of women, slavery, sexual abuse, destruction of religious and cultural sites of significance, and the besieging of entire communities because of ethnic, religious and sectarian affiliation. In addition to the violation of human rights, the High Commissioner cited other UN reports stressing the humanitarian crisis and the severe shortages of food, water and the lack of medical services.

One year later, the situation remains much the same, but with an increased number of people uprooted as internally displaced persons and refugees. The political situation has grown more complex, with Turkey playing an increasing if unclear role. Efforts at mediation by the United Nations of the Syrian aspects of the conflict have not given visible results. Russian diplomats have been meeting with some Syrian factions as well as with the Syrian government, but there seem to be no advances toward broader negotiations.

The political and military actions of ISIS have effectively linked the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. A global approach for conflict resolution is needed. 

It Takes Two (Genders)

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) recently introduced the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Act of 2015 “to ensure [the] promotion of women's meaningful inclusion and participation in mediation and negotiation processes in order to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict.” If passed, this would be a huge step forward in a world where less than 30 percent of senior positions in government, military, academia, and think tanks are held by women, despite their making up 50% of the population. And yet, the lack of news coverage alone shows that the world still needs convincing of the significant impact more women in foreign policy could have.

Other than the obvious reasons of gender equality that make this act so crucial, including more women in foreign policy serves a practical purpose: they are better able to address the problems many women face in conflict zones, as they are women themselves. Sexual violence and sexual health in particular are issues that could be positively impacted by an increase in women leaders.

Open Letter #8 To My Grandson Jake

Jake and Gram in front of the triceratops at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Letters to Jake Series, Letter #8

Dear Jake,

I am writing this letter in the car as Papa and I drive home after a visit with you and the twins. I liked going to the Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC as well as going to the county fair in the countryside near your home. At the museum I especially enjoyed seeing the dinosaurs and other animals that are now extinct. My favorite parts of the fair were riding on the Ferris wheel with you, where we could see the beautiful countryside all around us, and watching the 4H children care for their farm animals.

Our two trips in one week were a good reminder of how wonderful and how precious life is on planet Earth. We need to take care of the earth’s resources like air and water that are important for human life as well as the life of all animals, trees, and other plants that share our planet with us.

Pope Francis just wrote a very long letter entitled “On Care for Our Common Home.” In this letter he reminds all people that we are responsible for taking care of Earth.

Pope Francis is concerned about the growing threat of climate change. Scientists believe that Earth is getting warmer and that clean water is getting scarce in some places.

Humans need to do all they can not to add to the warming and to protect the water so there is enough for everyone. Children like you and the 4H children we saw at the fair can help their parents by reminding them to reduce their use of the earth’s resources, reuse items instead of throwing them away, and recycle whenever possible. Wealthy countries like the U.S. need to help make sure everyone in poor countries has access to healthy drinking water.

Iran: The Deal is More than the Deal

P5+1 Leaders and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif Following Negotiations About Future of Iran's Nuclear Program

The P5+1 Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is vital for reducing the risk of nuclear militarization and for allowing Iran to operate much more freely in international commerce—to pump more oil and gas, buy more freely abroad, entertain more direct foreign investment, etc. From the world’s perspective, the deal opens up much more international commerce with Iran.

But there is a broader perspective as well. In the modern history of Iran, this deal can be a landmark affecting both the internal dynamics and the external behavior of the country.

Iran, the current embodiment of the Persian culture and  heir to one of the oldest major civilizations, has had a turbulent passage through the 20th and 21st centuries. It may be fair to say that Iran has faced two major governance challenges.

One challenge has been choosing among or somehow melding the open, secular, and democratic institutions which have grown out of Europe or “the West”; the dynastic traditions of much of Iran’s past; and the cultural and sometimes theocratic traditions of Islam, imposed on Persia  by Arab conquerors in the 7th-10th centuries.

Women, Peace, and Security

Under Secretary Wendy Sherman in Chile

As Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) points out,

The ultimate goals of peace and security are more attainable when women are represented at the tables of power.

Enter Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, a paramount figure in getting the Iran deal across the finish line and in turn averting a catastrophic military conflict.

Far away, a young Afghan woman, educated at a PA university, is now one of four female Directors working under Afghan President M. Ashraf Ghani. She majored in Women and Gender Studies. Will this make a difference for the women of Afghanistan? Will she affect the President's policies?

These two women illustrate how important it is that we ensure the promotion of women’s inclusion and participation in foreign policy and government agencies.

The U.S. has taken two recent strides toward this goal. Senators Barbara Boxer, Mark Kirk, and Jeanne Shaheen have introduced the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Act of 2015 to insure women are included in mediation and negotiation processes in order to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict.

President Obama also has taken steps to promote women in U.S. foreign policy through his National Action Plan (NAP). This plan is to “mainstream” gender issues and perspectives within government. Much progress already has been made through executive order, but many areas aren’t improving quickly enough. We need Congress to codify the improvements made and ensure the full implementation of the NAP---now and in the coming years.

Yemen and World Law: Building from Current Experience

Women and children wait to fill buckets with water from a public tap amid an acute water shortage in Sana'a, Yemen

The indiscriminate bombing of cities in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition highlights the need for renewal of the way that humanitarian law is observed in times of armed conflict, especially in three areas:

  1. the protection of women
  2. the prohibition of starving civilian populations as a method of warfare , and
  3. the protection of cultural heritage.

Protection for women is enshrined in international humanitarian law, which, as world law, should be binding on both States and armed opposition groups. This body of world law includes the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 written in light of the consequences of the Second World War and their two Additional Protocols of 1977 written due to the experiences of the war in Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia.

In addition, the human rights standards as developed within the United Nations prohibit torture, unlawful killings, forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and slavery. Women should also be kept safe from the use of prohibited weapons such as chemical and cluster weapons.

An Aging UN in 2015. But How About a New UN in 2020?

The new report from the Commission on Global Security, Justice, and Governance, co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, suggests that the 75th anniversary year in 2020 might be the moment to reinvent the United Nations.

What kind of United Nations would we invent if we were designing it from scratch today? The UN Charter was signed by President Harry S. Truman and other world leaders in San Francisco on June 26th, 1945, and came into force three months later on October 24th. A long seven decades later, our world seems smaller, our fates more intertwined, and our challenges drastically different from those confronting the generation that emerged from the rubble of the Second World War. Is it time to begin devising architectures of global governance not "to avoid the mistakes of the 1930s," but instead intended for our own unfolding 21st Century?

International Election Monitors: Agents of Free Elections

A civilian jumps over a burning barricade of rocks erected by Burundi residents to protect themselves from police

The violent presidential election in Burundi highlights the need for UN election-monitoring services. On the eve of the July 21 presidential election, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs warned that,

The grave danger the country faces should not be underestimated, given the increasing polarization and the apparent choice of Burundian leaders to put personal interest before those of the country.

Since April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he was seeking a third term as president, there has been violence: street demonstrations have been met with military and police repression; high-ranking military officers led a failed coup d'état; and over 150,000 people have fled the country, fearing the growth of violent actions.

Some observers feared that the tensions could lead to ethnic divisions, which have always been an important factor in Burundi politics. Since coming to power in 2005 after a period of ethnic violence, Pierre Nkurunziza has kept relative calm in the country, but there has not been a nation-wide increase in socio-economic welfare. A few persons close to the political leaders have made money, but this has only increased social tensions.