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Showing posts from September, 2015

Soft Power: What it Really Means

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Soft power is a very popular term. 

If you google it, you will get 106 million results in half a second. 

It is bandied about in every conceivable context and everybody thinks they know what it means. But in the international community - that political world that whirls around America and the United Nations - it has a surprisingly specific meaning. 

A meaning first given to it by a Harvard professor, Joseph S. Nye in an article and then in a bookBound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power  published in 1992. 

Professor Nye's political theories have had a formidable impact on American thinking - we have to remember that among his many positions at the university he was the Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and now that he has retired, he still holds the position of University Distinguished Service Professor. He was  active in  government when it was in the hands of the Democrats and served as Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Clinton A…

Russia's Secret Weapon: its Veto Power at the United Nations. But is it Legal?

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Russia has been flexing its military muscle, annexing Crimea, provoking war in Eastern Ukraine, and, more generally, threatening Europe through its dominant position as a major source of Europe's energy supplies. Putin is beginning to look like a new Hitler.

And there is another Russian weapon that many underestimate:

Russia uses with deadly effectiveness its veto power at the United Nations.

In fact, when Russia exercises its veto power at the Security Council paralyzing any move by the international community to address  dramatic situations such as that of Syria, the news makes no waves, it doesn't rattle anybody.

It's considered standard fare and can be safely dismissed. The UN doesn't matter, that's not where the international power game is played. Right?

Wrong.

The UN matters, it's the only international forum we have, there is no other.  And if the UN were allowed to act on behalf of international justice, the power game would change.

To convince yourself…

Fighting Poverty: The Wrong Approach

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Fighting poverty is controversial and complex.

Why? Because it is a highly politicized and misunderstood social issue.

Conservatives inevitably will clash with liberals when the issue comes up. The conservatives are convinced that if people are poor it's their own fault while the liberals lay the blame squarely on the rich.

It is deeply ironic that one of the historically iconic images of the cinema is Charlie Chaplin's tramp character, drolly shimmying his way through the Big Depression, yet setting the crowds howling with laughter.

And it is deeply symbolic of the complexity of the issue.

Both the clash and the misunderstanding were brought to me vividly this week-end with a clever video about fighting poverty that was just uploaded on YouTube and that I  first saw on Thingser, a fascinating new social media that brings together people around their interests - and, if you follow this blog, you'll know what my interests are: social issues in general, the United Nations i…

Sand is Most At-Risk Resource on Earth after Water

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Filmmaker Denis Delestrac made an extraordinary documentary in 2013 researching what was happening to sand, why the gold rush for sand - used in everything, from construction to glass - was inexorably leading to a collapse of human life on Earth. Unless we can do something to stop the loss of sand...

Yesterday I watched it on Arte TV and I unfortunately can't share it with you here in English, it's in French but it's well worth watching if you can:



Combined with Climate Change, as global warming leads to the rise of the seas by an expected average of one meter, some 100 million people living on the coastlines or on islands like the Maldives will find themselves without sand (a protective barrier) and under water by...2100.

That's 100 years earlier than I predicted in my specultive fiction novel Gateway to Forever: I thought it would take longer than 85 years, but American scientists (who no doubt know better than I do) think that's how fast it will happen.

"B…