• Chen Guangcheng's Escape Triggers US & China Diplomacy Questions: Will the US Support Him?

    In 1987, Fang Lizhi, was expelled from the Chinese Communist Party. He accused of stirring up unrest. Two years later, Fang Lizhi gave speeches that helped inspire the Tiananmen Square protests.

    Above: Chen Guangcheng, shown in an undated photograph, has been under house arrest since September 2010.

    Although Fang publicly supported the Tiananmen protests he played no public part.  After the crackdown on Tiananmen by the Chinese officials, Mr. Fang and his wife, fearing that they would face the death penalty, took refuge in the US embassy in Beijing.

    Today, another Chinese human rights leader, Chen Guangcheng, has fled from 19 months of house arrest in a Chinese village in Shandong province to the American embassy in Beijing.

    Mr. Chen, 40, is a blind self-taught lawyer, who angered Chinese officials after taking on the case of thousands of women who had been forcibly sterilized.

    The Chinese police have arrested four of Chen's family members (including his wife, Yuan Weijing) and two others who aided his escape.  So unlike Fang, Chen does not have his family with him in the US embassy.

    US officials have so far declined to comment on Chen's whereabouts. Back in 1989, the Americans refused to hand over Mr. Fang and his wife. After a yearlong standoff, in 1990, the couple was finaly allowed to leave for the United Stated to never return to China. Mr. Chen is saying he does not want to leave China.

    Chen has said that he does not wish to seek asylum.

    Chen's escape and his shelter in the US embassy threatens to overshadow the arrival of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for bilateral talks in Beijing this week.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     How should the Obama administration handle Mr. Chen's case?

    2.     As was Mr. Fang's case in 1990, is Mr. Chen's case a human rights issue of concern for the United States or more an internal Chinese matter? 

     

  • Digital Natives Reshaping a World Without Constraints

    From Arab Spring to the London Riots to the Occupy movements young people around the world are asking to be included in the decision making and in the constructing of the solutions for tomorrow.

    Are the Millennial's the next great generation? (Click here for an excellent blog addressing this question.) Will they show us the solutions to our outdated and sluggish 20th century institutions?

    A couple of years ago, a student in my international relations course came up after class to visit with me. It was late in the semester and we had by that time covered fourteen weeks of world problems - from globalization to conflict to the environment and human rights.

    With tear-filled eyes she said, "Dr. Sterken, there are just too many problems." I did not understand. "The world," she said, "I just cannot see how I can work on them all - there are just too many problems that need solutions."

    Ah, the mind of a Millennial. Unlike the Boomer or Gen X generations, the Millennials, (born between 1979 - 2001) tend to feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world.

    Research shows that Millennials possess a strong desire to positively affect their communities (and they tend to think of their communities as inclusive of the entire world).  Surveys show us that a full sixty-one percent of these young people are worried about the state of the world and feel personally responsible to make a it a better place (click here for the Cone Millennial Cause Study).

    The Millennials are a civic-minded generation, 78 million strong, not only believe it is their personal responsibility to make the world a better place, they (78%) believe that governments, IGOs, NGOs and corporations have a responsibility to join them in this effort.

    A group of these exceptional Millennials (called the Global Shapers) met with world leaders at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in January 2012 in Davos to inform the discussion and help shape the global agenda.

    "The Global Shapers are 'digital natives' who grew up with the Internet. They have vision, think laterally, act quickly and make connections across networks in order to successfully solve problems. This community is of vital importance and we see tremendous opportunities for Shapers and today's leaders to learn from one another." says Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (click here for more on the Global Shapers).

    Millennials are a generation of young people accustomed to choices and options.  Being 'digital natives' the Millennials have an acute awareness of the entire global village and are accustomed to a world without borders - a world filled with choices and options. The old constraints of the 20th Century have little relevance for this generation.

    Follow the Global Shapers on Twitter at @globalshapers
    Become a fan of the Global Shapers on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GlobalShapers
    For more information about the Global Shapers Community, visit: www.weforum.org/globalshapers and http://youtu.be/shaAiy2S3fk 
    See the YouTube playlist of Global Shapers going to the Annual Meeting at http://wef.ch/Ytsz
    Read the Forum Blog at http://wef.ch/blog

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you think that our interconnected global problems require the reshaping of global power and governance?

    2.     How do you think these 'digital natives' will reshape power and institutions in a world without constraints?

  • International Bribery: Who are the victims of Wal-Mart’s Alleged Bribes in Mexico?

    Does it matter if Wal-Mart executives bribed Mexican public officials? Is bribery a victimless crime?

    According to OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, companies engage in the bribery of foreign public officials when they offer, promise or give a bribe to a foreign official to win advantages in an international business transaction, such as winning a construction contract, a lease, or an operating license.

    According to the New York Times (click here for more) Wal-Mart has engaged in widespread bribery in Mexico. The Times reports that Wal-Mart executives in Bentonville, Arkansas found a paper trail of hundreds of suspect payments totaling more than $24 million US dollars. The documents show that Wal-Mart's top executives in Mexico not only knew about the payments, but had taken steps to conceal them from Wal-Mart's headquarters in the United States.

    In the above photo: In Mexico, Wal-Mart advertises its stores on green signs, a color usually reserved for street signs nationwide. Other stores (like Bazar) abide by the policy to advertise via blue signs (photo from the New York Times).

    According to the Times, Wal-Wart executives in Arkansas discovered the bribe payments - but the American executives decided to cover it up and look the other way rather than further investigate and report the illegal activity to American authorities. Wal-Mart may have violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars American companies and their agents from offering bribes to foreign government officials.

    Is anyone really hurt if Wal-Mart paid Mexican officials $24 million dollar in bribes?

    Some may view bribes as a victimless crime. Many people argue that "everybody's doing it" and bribes are "just a cost of doing business" in certain foreign countries. It seems that Wal-Mart officials took this attitude in Mexico.

    However, it is not that simple as corruption does not start and end with bribes; there are real victims to the crime of bribery.

    Wal-Marts's bribes weaken Mexico's economic development and distort competition.  Local businesses pay the price when they cannot compete against bribe paying competitors.  Obviously local Wal-Mart competitors in Mexico suffered at the unfair advantage of millions of Wal-Mart's dollars. Bribe paying by a major corporation is an unfair business practice that drives off competitors and ultimately hurts consumers.

    While Wal-Mart's bribes make it somewhat safe for Wal-Mart's specific business, those same bribes destroy trust in the government and in the rule of law in Mexico. Countries like Mexico (developing states) pay the price when their economies do not grow because other foreign companies fear that their investments will not be safe in a corrupt environment created by Wal-Mart's bribes.

    Mexican citizens pay a high price for the bribes when, because of Wal-Mart's corrupt business dealings, they are denied vital public services, such as access to clean water, safe roads or basic health services.

    The Times article points out that some Wal-Mart officials were concerned about the Company's reputation should the bribes become public.  Wal-Mart shareholders will likely now pay a significant price for the reputational damage due to the bad publicity.  The Wall Street Journal reports that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. shares fell 4.7%, erasing nearly $10 billion in market value on Monday, amid concerns a bribery investigation in Mexico would undermine its overseas expansion (click here for more).

    The United States reputation and government will also likely suffer in both the Mexican and international communities for not taking adequate steps to make sure Wal-Mart plays fairly in foreign business deals.  It appears that Americans only care about American businesses.

    Foreign corruption is most definitely not a victimless crime.

    States need a viable and trustworthy rule of law in which to function effectively and $24 million dollars in bribes only destabilizes the Mexican state.  Without a trustworthy and a stable rule of law the Mexican government will continue to face significant challenges in establishing legitimate political authority and internal social and economic security.

    To join the OECD Ant-Bribery Initiative or to learn more about the OECD Initiative, contact Ms. Mary Crane from the OECD Anti-Corruption Division at: anti-corruption.contact@oecd.org.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you think that Wal-Mart should now be the subject of a U.S. Justice Department criminal investigation?

    2.     Should Wal-Mart be fined and or should Wal-Mart executives in Bentonville (if found guilty) serve prison time for the bribes?

  • World Immunization Week : The Daunting Challenges of Vaccinating All Children

    According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 2 - 3 million deaths are averted annually by vaccinations while almost 20 million infants were not fully immunized in 2010. Nearly seventy percent of those children live in ten countries: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa and Uganda (click here for more).

    Nothing ignores the artificial lines we humans have drawn around our nation-states like diseases.  Disease outbreaks affect everyone.  Due to gaps in vaccination, diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio are making a comeback.

    April 21 to 28th is World Immunization Week. The WHO is uniting countries across the globe for a week of vaccination campaigns, public education and information sharing (click here for more).

    In 1974, based on the emerging success of smallpox, WHO established the Expanded Program on Immunization. Through the 1980s, UNICEF worked with WHO to achieve Universal Childhood Immunization of the six EPI vaccines (BCG, OPV, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and measles), with the aim of immunizing 80% of all children by 1990 (click here for more from UNICEF).

    Progress has continued since then: by 2010, a record 109 million children were vaccinated and global immunization rates were at 85%, their highest level ever. Of the world's 19.3 million children not immunized with DPT3, 13.2 million (or 68%) live in 10 countries (click here for WHO/UNICEF).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Providing traditional and new vaccines (such as HepB and Hib) can now cost as much as $40 per child. Who should shoulder the burden of paying for these vaccinations?

    2.     Children who live in weak states (like Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Uganda) - states with poor government management and logistics systems - often suffer the most.  What should or can be done to engage the international community?

  • India Into Elite ICBM Club: An Asian Arms Race?

    On Thursday, India successfully launched a 55-foot-tall Agni V missile. The launch received very little international attention in stark contrast to the attention paid to North Korea's failed missile launch just days earlier.

    Is this an Asian arms race?

    Above: The Agni V missile launches from Wheeler Island, off the coast of India's Orissa state, on April 19, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

     "With this missile launch, India has emerged as a major missile power," V.K. Sarawat, an adviser in the Ministry of Defense, told the Hindu (click here for more).

    "We have joined a select group of countries possessing technology to design, develop, build and manufacture long-range missiles of this class and technological complexity."

    India's Agni (Sanskrit for "fire) can carry a 1-ton nuclear warhead 3,100 miles, says Krista Mahr at TIME (click here for more), which puts major Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai within the reach of India's military.

    The capability, development, and owning of nuclear weapons seems to carry an odd twisted logic. The world leaders seem little interested in India's launch and capability - perhaps because most feel that the Indians can be trusted to adhere to a no-first-use policy. While North Korea's fizzled launch drew much more attention perhaps because its rhetoric and unstable government might make it a first mover in a conflict standoff.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     India is still a poor country and China has a long and established nuclear power. Can India win an arms race with China?

    2.     Do you think that India's efforts in nuclear weapons development are a response to China's military buildup and ongoing tensions with Pakistan?

     

  • Open or Closed is key Dividing Line Among Nations of 21st century?

    "In the 21st Century, the United States is convinced that one of the most significant divisions among nations will be a divide not between east and west, or along religious lines, but between open and closed societies," said US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton (Click here for more).

    "Countries with open governments, open economies and open societies will increasingly flourish, become more prosperous, healthier, more secure and more peaceful."

    Above: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the meeting of the "Open Government Partnership" in Brasilia on April 17, 2012.

    ​Countries that are closed to "change, ideas, cultures and beliefs that are different from theirs will quickly find that in an internet world they will be left behind", Clinton said.

    The Open Government Partnership formally launched on September 20, 2011, when the 8 founding governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States) endorsed an Open Government Declaration, and announced their country action plans. Since September, OGP has welcomed the commitment of 43 additional governments to join the Partnership.

    ​"We believe those governments that hide from public view and dismiss ideas of openness and the aspirations of their people for greater freedom will find it increasingly difficult to create a secure society."

    For more information on OGP, visit www.opengovpartnership.org or follow @opengovpart on Twitter.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you think Secretary Clinton is correct in saying that "countries can only become more secure and peaceful if they were open?"

    2.     Do you see examples of closed government in your state and country? How might the decision to remain closed destabilize governments, economies, and societies?

     

  • Afghan Girls Poisoned in Anti-Education Attack

    Education is immensely powerful. 

    Education - not just skills and knowledge - but a comprehension that comes with a broad understanding and knowing can transform individual lives and entire societies.

    Above: A young Pashtun girl looks out from the window of a classroom during recess at a government funded coeducational school in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar (Reuters Photo).

    Education can turn on the light in even the most dismal and dark corners. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (click here for more) declares that, "everyone has the right to education."

    So powerful in fact is education that sometimes those who hold power will go to great lengths to deny it to others. Men (yes men) in many places around the world seek to keep women from the power of education. They often say, "that is our tradition" as if that makes the taking away of this basic human right somehow acceptable.

    From 1996-2001, the Taliban government in Afghanistan outlawed education for women as un-Islamic.  Since the fall of the Taliban, females have returned to schools, especially in Kabul.

    Hardline Islamists have thrown acid in the faces of Afghan women and girls while they walked to school.  Earlier today (Tuesday, April 17, 2012) conservative radicals opposed to female education poisoned about 150 Afghan high school girls.

    A Reuter's report states, "We are 100 percent sure that the water they drunk inside their classes was poisoned. This is the work of those who are against girls' education," said Jan Mohammad Nabizada, a spokesman for education department in northern Takhar province (click here for the report).

    About 150 girls suffered from headaches and vomiting and were in critical condition, while others were able to go home after treatment.

    Discussion starters:

    1.  What do you think drives the Taliban men to want to deny girls an education? What do they fear?

    2.  Do you see evidence of gender discrimination in your own society? How might we better work to achieve the empowerment of girls and women around the world? 

     

  • British Prime Minister Cameron Backs Suspending Sanctions on Burma

    Above: British Prime Minister David Cameron's talks with Aung San Suu Kyi (Photographer: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images).

    Western notions of basic human rights (the basic civil liberties such as freedom of speech and assembly and the norms of democracy - including the right to free elections) are relevant everywhere, including Asia. The most egregious case of basic human rights abuses can be found in the not too distant history of Burma. Where the current military government has brutally ruled the country since 1988 (click here for more). 

    Winds of change are blowing in Burma.

    Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party secured a landslide win in elections (which were generally deemed to be free and fair) last week.  Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, took 43 out of 45 seats up for grabs in the polls.

    Following the elections, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States would relax some travel and financial restrictions on Burma.  Several European Union leaders are considering similar steps.

    Today (Friday, April 13, 2012), the British Prime Minister David Cameron and Aung San Suu Kyi announced that they support the suspension of sanctions on the former military government as a response to democratic recent reforms. The British Prime Minister met with Aung San Suu Kyi at her lakeside home in Rangoon.

    Cameron has called for sanctions against Burma to be suspended or eased, insisting that moves towards democratic reform should be rewarded (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you think that President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron are moving too quick to lift sanctions?

    2.     Are human rights universal?

  • International Relations and Social Media: Can 140 Characters Connect the World?

    In the age of Facebook and Twitter communications the meaning of "home" and "abroad" seems to be fading away as we connect with each other across our global village. My students who travel abroad now have an ever-growing web of global connections. Check your textbook, it is likely that you will find it to be two or three step behind in its discussion of a global digital divide. Technology is cheap and ubiquitous.  

    From the US State Department to the United Nations to Invisible Children to UNICEF to the Gates Foundation and on and on, social media is being used as a critical tool in global and international relations. When US Ambassador Susan Rice assumed the rotating monthly Presidency of the UN Security Council from the United Kingdom last week, she began by taking a question from Twitter.

    The US State Department very regularly Tweets - many times each day. Just yesterday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held an open Google+ Hangout - taking questions from people all over the world (click here for more).  Leaders of governments, IGOs, NGOs, and simply students who want to make a difference are finding the tools of social media to be a powerful, direct, and personal connection with our larger global village.

    Just as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt embraced radio to reshape communication with the American people in the 1930s and CNN reshaped the global news cycle in the 1980s, we today are once again living in a sea change of communication. The world is once again shrinking.

    Millions saw the Kony 2012 video - a conversation was started about an ugly and difficult problem many had no knowledge even existed (click here for more). Hundreds of thousands of Chinese regularly check US Embassy tweets for updated air quality in Beijing (click here for more).

    The New York Times reports that Carl Bildt, the foreign minister of Sweden and Michael A. McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia very regularly use Twitter and other social media to reach thousands followers and their communities (click here for more).

    Like this blog, the communication is a new and interesting blend of personal, local, global, and professional that brings the world ever closer and creates more interdependence. McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, said, "The thing I feel most nervous about is blending the personal and the professional." But, he adds, "any time there is something personal or something with a photo or video it gets much more pick up or retweets than a statement on Syria." So a blend of personal voice and professional gets the message out and heard. The same approach was used in the Kony 2012 video - as the video used the producer's personal story and his young son to tell the Kony story (click here for the most recent release from Invisible Children).

    Mr. Alec Ross currently leads the United States State Department's social media team. Ross is not a low level staffer with an iPhone - but rather fulfills the critical and important role of a senior advisor on innovation to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is an ardent proponent of "smart power" and sees social media as an important tool in the use of that power.

    Above: Mr. McFaul retweeted earlier last week, quoting Mrs. Clinton, "Our ambassadors are blogging and tweeting, and every embassy has a social media presence."

    On April 24th, a 90-minute social media how-to webinar (sponsored by Microsoft Corporate Citizenship) will be held for NGO communications and fundraising staff. The attendees will gain practical knowledge about how to successfully integrate the NGO's social media campaigns in order to maximize return on investment (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.    Do you see this new web of ever closer and immediate communication changing the way people of the world handle conflict and engage global international issues or is the idea of an integrated global village simply a myth?

    2.   Democracy requires an informed population. Do you think that Facebook and Twitter are allowing people to be better informed?

  • North Korea Prepares to Launch - A Satellite or Ballistic Missile Test?

    Above: The North Korean Unha-3 rocket is said to - possibly - have the capability of reaching the United States (photograph: Pedro Ugarte AFP/Getty Images).

    As soon as Thursday of this week, North Korea may launch a rocket for what they say is a peaceful observation satellite in memory of Kim ll-sung on his 100th birthday.

    The UK, US, Japan, South Korea and others say that Pyongyang's launch is a third nuclear test (earlier tests are reported to have failed). North Korea has readied a 30-metre high Unha-3 rocket for what they insist is a peaceful launch of an observation satellite. The ballistic missile test launch and satellite technology is nearly identical.

    David Cameron, speaking today on a visit to Japan, has warned North Korea that it would be "unacceptable" to defy calls for the rocket test to be abandoned.

    Cameron has urged Pyongyang to "take a different path" and to engage with the international community.

    Cameron said, "Now there is a new leadership in North Korea, they should be taking this opportunity to change their approach, engaging with the rest of the word and stopping this sort of activity. "If they go ahead, it should be condemned in the strongest possible terms by the UN security council. We have to send the clearest possible message.

    "Clearly, North Korea is quite a bankrupt country. They are unable to feed their own people. They need to do less in terms of weapons and the military, and more engagement with the rest of the world."

    President Obama has also urged Pyongyang not to go ahead with the launch, saying it would violate UN resolutions against ballistic missile activity.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What responsibility does the rest of the world have to the starving people of North Korea?

    2.     Why in the face of so many hungry people do you think that the leaders in Pyongyang continue to focus on nuclear weapons and thus isolate themselves from the rest of the world?

  • Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton On George Marshall and the Foundations of Smart Power

    Should and or can the United States afford to be engaged in rebuilding nations, governments, helping the poor in Africa, and elsewhere around the globe? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a speech at VMI on Tuesday said, "In order for Americans to have peace and prosperity, we have to invest in the potential of others." Click here for a full video of the speech.

    In her speech, Clinton paid special attention to VMI graduate George C. Marshall, who served as the 50th US Secretary and State from 1947 to 1949.  Clinton said that Marshall is "one of the greatest Americans of all time" and credited him with laying the foundation for the "smart power" strategy she has implemented during her time as Secretary of State (she has announced that she will not serve a second term at her post if Obama is re-elected).

    George Marshall's plan was an early implementation of "smart power." The Marshall Plan was an American financial effort to help rebuild the worn-torn societies of World War II. "General Marshall knew that the world's most powerful military was not sufficient enough to secure our security on its own," said Clinton.

    She said Marshall recognized that building secure democracies that could become partners with the United States required much more than military might. Effective diplomacy involves a host of approaches, she said, including humanitarian aid, support for human rights and recognition of the vital importance of economic development (click here for the complete speech).

    Marshall said in his farewell speech from the Army: "Along with the great problem of maintaining the peace, we must solve the problem of the pittance of food, of clothing and coal and homes. Neither of these problems can be solved alone. They are directly related to one another."

    Clinton said the pillars of our national security are the "three Ds" of foreign policy -diplomacy, development, and defense. She explained how the Obama administration is using "smart power" in conflict and post-conflict situations in Afghanistan, Iraq, fighting the Lord's Resistance Army, and in protecting civilians while helping support the creation of a new Libya.

    Clinton also called for a proactive approach to conflicts and disputes saying, "a key element of our smart power agenda is using diplomacy to prevent conflicts and resolve disputes before they become crises that could demand military intervention."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you think that a strategy of "fight, talk, build" in places like Afghanistan is an example of how "smart power" has been put to good use or not?

    2.     Is Clinton correct in arguing that US national security (at least in-part) requires a strong and active civilian presence and that we must build up weak and troubled governments and institutions around the world?

  • There's nothing, nothing, not even tea...so I sleep: The Sahel Nutrition Crisis 2012

    Click the above image for an audio slideshow about the Sahel food crisis: Chadian women describe the hardships they face.

    When writing about global relations the issues range from autism to nuclear weapons to water shortages to human rights to war and all things in between. But none of these issues hurts more than thinking and writing about children, mothers, and fathers who go to sleep to get away from the pains of hunger. 

    With so much abundance stacked high in the global north it is hard to see images and read about the lives of 1,000,000 children being at risk in the Sahel region in West and Central Africa. Yes, the world has many problems - some horrific (Joseph Kony) and some highly complex (the Taliban in Pakistan) - but helping starving children and families is a matter of rushing emergency food aid to the region.

    The Sahel region of West and Central Africa is once again facing a serious food crisis that could, if effective action is not taken soon, prove as costly to lives and livelihoods as the past food crises in 2005, 2008, and 2010, which affected more than 10 million people. The crisis is caused by a drought that has caused poor food harvests and extreme water shortages.

    Both Oxfam and UNICEF say that tens of thousands of people in the region could die in the coming months if the international community did not distribute much needed aid immediately.

    Mamadou Biteye, Oxfam regional director in West Africa, said: "Millions of people are on the threshold of a major crisis. The worst can be avoided and thousands of lives will be saved if we act now. It's that simple."

    However, others are reporting that it is not "that simple." The Sahel region a growing number of Islamic separatists, a complex history of food shortages, and security problems that makes even emergency food aid difficult to distribute. According to The Guardian, the region is beset by a longstanding rebellion among ethnic Tuaregs and has been flooded with arms since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. These weapons are fuelling al Qaida-linked insurgence movements and triggering mass displacements of people.

    Of the families fleeing the violence, 20% have at least one child suffering from severe acute malnutrition, according to The Guardian (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.  Imagine you are sitting in your favorite overstuffed leather chair at Starbucks reading the above blog post on your iPhone. What is your next step?

    2.  Why do NGO's like UNICEF and Oxfam lead the call (rather than Government leaders) in crises like this one in the Sahel region?

  • Let us All Join Hands: World Autism Awareness Day April 2

    People with autism are equal citizens who should enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Children with autism may require special attention, care, and significant resources. People with autism often have varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and in social interactions (click here for more on autism).

    Children with autism should not have to suffer from abuse and isolation that they and their loved ones too often face - yes, even in the United States.  School officials and teachers are too often not prepared to meet the needs of autistic children and these children often suffer in extreme isolation or worse.

    In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day in an effort to draw attention to a pervasive disorder that affects tens of millions around the globe.

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the annual observance of World Autism Awareness Day should "spur global action to combat the unacceptable discrimination, abuse and isolation that people with the disorder and their loved ones face."

    "Autism is not limited to a single region or a country; it is a worldwide challenge that requires global action," Ban stated in his message for the Day (click here for the complete message).

    "Our work with and for people with autism should not be limited to early identification and treatment; it should include therapies, educational plans and other steps that lead us towards sustained, lifelong engagement," Ban said.

    The Secretary-General said reaching out to people with autism spectrum disorders required global political and resource commitment and better international cooperation, especially in sharing good practices.

    At present, many experts agree that the best approach to helping children with autism is early intervention and autism-specific education.  Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) methods have been used successfully with many children with autism.  Today, ABA experts are working with very young children with autism to help provide them with the best possible opportunity to live a life of quality, dignity and respect and to become contributors to their communities.  Unfortunately, ABA therapy is expensive and thus we are a long way from fully meeting the needs of many children (click here for an example of an outstanding Treatment Center for Children with Autism).

    The UN Secretary-General also stressed the need for greater investments in the social, education and labor sectors, since developed and developing countries alike still need to improve their capacities to address the unique needs of people with autism.

    Ban called for, "further research, train non-specialized care providers, and enable the autism community to more easily navigate care systems to obtain services that can support and mainstream individuals with autism."

    The United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) has released six commemorative postage stamps and two collectible envelopes dedicated to autism awareness, with images created by artists who have been diagnosed with autism. Ban said, "the stamps will send a powerful message to people around the world that talent and creativity live inside all of us."

    The United Nations is the only organization in the world (that is neither a country nor a territory) that is permitted to issue postage stamps. The stamps will go on sale in New York, Vienna and Geneva today.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do we all (globally and within states) have a moral obligation to support and embrace those in society who are the most vulnerable?

    2.     Is isolation of a child with autism a violation of his human rights?