• An International Platform: London 2012 & Gender Equality

    Yesterday, one of my former students posted this Facebook status: "I see neither the purpose or relevance of the Olympics." While there are obviously many different ways to respond to this statement, it seems that the relevance of the London 2012 Olympics can at least be seen through the lenses of women's rights and equality.  Only 16 years ago at the Atlanta Games, 26 countries failed to send any women athletes. Today, in part because of the world showcase, the dream of equality is becoming at least a bit closer to being a reality.

    Above: United States' Marti Malloy (blue) competes with Italy's Giulia Quintavalle during their women's -57kg judo contest bronze medal match of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 30, 2012 ExCel arena in London (photo: Franck Getty Images).

    In his opening remarks, Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said: "For the first time in Olympic history, all the participating teams will have female athletes. This is a major boost for gender equality." In the London 2012 Games, women make up a record 45% of all athletes.

    While this is all good news, the fight for true and full equality is far from being won. Women athletes continue to face frustrations, sexism, and inequality.

    Japanese soccer star, Homare Sawa, the current FIFA women's World Player of the Year reacted angrily when her team was assigned economy seats on the same plane in which their male counterparts traveled in first class. Whilst the men's team enjoyed the comforts of an upgrade on their flight to London, the women had to make do in economy seats. Sawa said, 'it should have been the other way around' for their flight to the Olympics (click here for more).

    Saudi Arabia has for the first time sent two female athletes to the Olympics. This leap forward however was framed in symbolic inequality, as these athletes - who participated in the opening ceremony - were required to walk behind the men, not with them.

    One Saudi female athlete may be forced to withdraw from her event. Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani, is scheduled to compete in Judo on Friday, but Saudi officials have stated that its female athletes would must obey Islamic dress code. Her father told Saudi Arabia's al-Watan newspaper that his daughter "will not compete in the Judo Games on 3 August if the committee insists that she removes her hijab." International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer has publicly stated that the athlete would have to fight without the headscarf (click here for more).

    Above: Sarah Attar of Saudi Arabia during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. The two female Saudi competitors were forced to walk behind the men in the opening ceremony and yet their smiling faces were beamed on to billions of TV screens around the world (photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images).

    Cyclist Lizzie Armitstead (below left) has used her Olympic silver medal platform to let all know that "women athletes face overwhelming sexism."

    Armistead said, "It can get overwhelming and frustrating, the sexism I've experienced in my career. It's a big issue in women's sport. It's the obvious things: the salary, media coverage, and the general things you have to cope with. If you focus on it too much you get very disheartened" (click here for more on Armistead).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you agree or disagree that the Olympics can serve to promote positive change in women's rights and equality?

    2.     Are women placed in a subordinate position in countries where girls sport participation is forbidden?

  • World Bank President Jim Yong Kim: "I want to eradicate poverty!"

    The new president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, has established some very lofty goals for the World Bank (click here for more about President Obama's nomination).

    In an interview with the Guardian, Kim stated that he is determined to eradicate global poverty (click here for the complete interview).

    "I want to eradicate poverty," said Kim. "I think that there's a tremendous passion for that inside the World Bank." President Kim plans to use his new position at the World Bank to establish goals, targets and measure success in the same way that he masterminded an Aids drugs campaign for poor people with the World Health Organization and the NGO Partners In Health.

    Kim, who co-founded Partners In Health (click here for more) with Paul Farmer (click here for more on Farmer), pioneered sustainable, high-quality healthcare for poor people, first in Haiti and later in Africa, he is passionately committed to ending absolute poverty, which threatens survival and makes progress impossible for the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day.

    The Millennium Development Goals (click here for more on the MDGs) expire in 2015, midway through Dr. Kim's initial term with the World Bank. Since their establishment as targets in 2000, the MDGs have been the world's central reference point for fighting extreme poverty. Now Dr. Kim and the World Bank will be focusing on poverty.

    A physician and anthropologist, Dr. Kim sees the World Bank's role in development of "systems" of long lasting impact for care and delivery.

    "Progress is possible for everyone. Nothing is pre-determined." With transparent self-assessment and a deliberate focus on global poverty goals, Dr. Kim expects the World Bank to translate its vast talent into real change for billions of poor people.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Why do some policymakers, economists, and global health leaders reject Dr. Kim's goals and claim that progress is just not possible within real budget constraints?

    2.     Do you agree with Dr. Kim that the direction and mission of the World Bank should be focused on eradicating poverty?



  • Walmart's Worldwide Workforce: Unions, Power, Prices, and Costs to Society

    With 1.4 million employees in the United States and 2.2 million worldwide, Walmart is the largest private employer in world.  In the company's history, not one single union drive has been successful.

    A common complaint of Walmart employees is that the company does not allow them to work full time to qualify for benefits. US Walmart employees claim that they are told to stop working at 39 hours - just short of the 40-hour regulation for full time work. Not having healthcare benefits can be devastating to an employee and extremely costly for the rest of society.  The low prices paid for Walmart products do not reflect the true cost of those items to society.

    An Aurora shooting victim, Caleb Medley, will be facing about $2 million in medical costs if he survives (click here for the complete story).  Medley is currently in an induced coma after he was shot in the eye during last Friday's movie theater tragedy. Caleb, a Walmart employee, doesn't have health insurance (friends of Medley have set up a website to raise money to help pay for his medical care).

    This week, Walmart is facing fresh accusations that the company is engaged in a bold and illegal campaign to stamp out union activity. The Guardian reports (click here for the complete report) the recent firing five Walmart employees who were involved in a group seeking to organize the company's workers (click here for more about the group).

    How does Walmart avoid union organizers?

    Singling out and firing an employee that has participated in - or even just talked about - organizing workers puts the real fear of job loss in other employees, so that any interest in union discussion and activity is chilled. MNCs like Walmart chill union activity within the company and also in the larger workforce around the world.  Fear of losing one's job is a powerful motivation to keep quiet and work for little pay and no healthcare benefits.

    The Guardian reports that Walmart also closely examines a prospective employee's likeliness to participate in organized labor, shows employees an anti-union video during new worker orientation, and closely monitors and conditions employees it hires to snub out any organizing activity well before it starts.  The company even has a private jet to carry its mobile union avoidance team anywhere in the world upon detecting the whisper of organizing efforts.

    The Guardian reports that a Walmart spokesperson, Dan Fogleman said, "Unions for years have tried to unionize Walmart associates, and time and time again our associates have rejected those overtures."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Why do you think Walmart management might be working so diligently to stop all union activity?

    2.     In what ways do the "always low prices" of Walmart products not reflect the true costs of those items to society?


  • Developing States, Olympic Dreams, and Borrowed Shoes

    The inequalities and disparities evident in people's standards of living and life opportunities cannot help but evoke sympathy for those who face difficult conditions - especially for those in the less developed Global South.

    According to the World Bank, about 1.4 billion people (about a quarter of the world) live in extreme poverty and another 2.6 billion (about 40 percent of the world's population) try to survive on two dollars a day - or less.

    The United Nations Development Program has constructed the Human Development Index to measure a states' comparative ability to provide for their citizens' well being.

    What difference does development make in opportunity?

    Imagine the lives of two very different London 2012 Olympic hopefuls - Gladys Tejeda (Peru) and Paula Radcliffe (UK).

    Nate Silver (The New York Times) has written an interesting analysis of medal winners in the Olympics from Global North (rich) and Global South countries (click here for the report). According to Silver, the average Olympic medal winner comes from a country with per capita G.D.P. of $27,000 in today's dollars, which is well above the worldwide average of around $11,000. 

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What do these Olympic stories and measures of development tell us about opportunities and life chances of people in poor states?

    2.     What are the policy implications both for Olympic development programs and world leaders?

  • Food Aid Tied to Three American MNCs: ADM, Cargill, and Bunge

    Americans are generous people.  When a disaster occurs Americans will send money and help - to places like Haiti, Japan, Somalia - all over the globe. However, when asked about foreign aid - allocating tax dollars to help developing nations - many American's think that the US government spends too much.

    According to the OECD, in 2011, the largest aid donors were the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Japan.

    As a percentage of gross national income the United States lags significantly behind the rest of the Global North.

    The United States (like other donors) engages in a policy called "tied aid." Aid is "tied" when it is allocated in such a way as to benefit the donor - such as requiring purchases from the donor with the aid dollars. In short the "aid" also supports the donor.

    The Guardian has recently completed an in-depth analysis of US food aid and revealed the details of the hundreds of food aid contracts awarded by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2010-11 to show where the money goes (click here for the report). It is important to note that the USDA is a different department from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

    According to The Guardian, two-thirds of the food for the billion-dollar US food aid program last year was purchased from three US-based multinational corporations - ADM, Cargill, and Bunge (click here for a look at the methods used in this analysis).

    ADM, incorporated in the tax haven state of Delaware, won nearly half by volume of all the contracts to supply food for aid and was paid nearly $300 million by the US government for it. Cargill, in most years the world's largest private company and still majority owned by the Cargill family, was paid $96 million for food aid and was the second-largest supplier, with 16% of the contracted volume. Bunge, the US-headquartered global grain trader incorporated in the tax haven of Bermuda, comes third in the list by volume, and was paid $75 million to supply food aid.

    The Guardian reports that Rob Bailey, fellow of the UK think-tank Chatham House, said: "We know only 40 cents of every taxpayer dollar goes on food itself, the rest goes into the pockets of agribusiness and the cost of freighting."

    While food aid certainly does help in an immediate crisis (like currently in the Horn of Africa) it has historically done little to support long-term development in the Global South.

    Each year millions of US tax dollars are spent to buy American-grown food from ADM, Cargill, and Bunge and that food is then shipped across oceans to the Global South. While American food aid is clearly helping to support these three American corporations, this policy is also flooding the Global South with American food, which puts Global South local farmers and vendors out of business and hinders economic development.

    Critics of the US aid food program have argued that the tied aid program is as much about corporate welfare for American multinational corporations as helping hungry people in developing nations.

    Above: Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.

    Raj Shah, head of the US Agency for International development (USAID), said that USAID "is no longer satisfied with writing big checks to big contractors and calling it development. We've already accelerated our funding to local NGOs and local entrepreneurs, change agents who have the cultural knowledge and in-country expertise to ensure assistance leads to real local institutions and lasting, durable growth" (click here for Shah's full speech).

    Earlier this year, USAID revised its purchasing rules to allow the agency to buy most goods and services from developing countries. But the bulk of US food aid, which falls under the Agriculture Department rather than the USAID budget, was not covered by these changes.

    Discussion starters:

    1. With the winners of US Agriculture Department contracts largely concentrated on just three American MNCs (as the Guardian analysis reveals) do expect that the American taxpayers might be overpaying for these services?

    2. Do you think that the tied food aid decreases efficiency and violates the free market principles that many in the Global North promote?



  • Comparative Advantage: Burn China-Made American Olympic Uniforms‎?

    One of the central tenants of American foreign policy has long been the concept of comparative advantage. Comparative advantage in international trade theory that holds that a country should specialize in making and exporting goods and services that it can produce relatively more efficiently than others.

    It turns out that the Chinese can produce clothing at lower relative production costs than Americans. Thus the beautiful new uniforms for U.S. Olympic athletes are American red, white and blue - and made in China.

    Members of both American political parties railed late last week about the U.S. Olympic Committee's decision to dress the U.S. team in Chinese manufactured berets, blazers and pants while the American textile industry struggles economically with many U.S. workers desperate for jobs.

    House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference that she's proud of the nation's Olympic athletes, but "they should be wearing uniforms that are made in America."

    USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said, "We're proud of our partnership with Ralph Lauren, an iconic American company, and excited to watch America's finest athletes compete at the upcoming Games in London."

    "It is not just a label, it's an economic solution," said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y. "Today there are 600,000 vacant manufacturing jobs in this country and the Olympic committee is outsourcing the manufacturing of uniforms to China? That is not just outrageous, it's just plain dumb. It is self-defeating."

    Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) struck back hardest.

    "I am so upset. I think the Olympic committee should be ashamed of themselves. I think they should be embarrassed," he said. "I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should the United State get rid of America's Olympic uniforms because they were made in China?

    2.     Is it somehow improper for American athletes to wear Olympic uniforms made in China?


  • Equality and Empowerment: Presumptions about Femininity and Masculinity

    In "The Light in Her Eyes," filmmakers Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix profile Houda al-Habash and her Koran school for women and girls in Damascus, Syria.

    Empowerment can be found in many different places. From a nod of approval to the breaking of the bonds of traditions even seemingly small actions can make a significant difference. Since the World Conference on International Women's Year in Mexico City in 1975, many have worked to highlight the role of women and women's rights. A global consensus has emerged about the need to improve the status of women if human rights and economic development are to progress.

    The United Nations regularly gathers data that indicate two measures of human development that highlight the status of women.

    The first, Gender-related Development Index (GDI), highlights inequality in achievement between women and men. The methodology used imposes a penalty for inequality, such that the GDI falls when the achievement levels of both women and men in a country go down or when the disparity between their achievements increases.

    The second measure, Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM), is a measure of agency. It evaluates progress in advancing women's standing in political and economic forums.  The GEM examines the extent to which women and men are able to actively participate in economic and political life and take part in decision-making. The GEM is concerned with the use of those capabilities to take advantage of the opportunities of life. These two measures are used as advocacy and monitoring tools for gender-related human development analysis and policy discussions.

    Discussion starters:

    1. After viewing "The Light in Her Eyes" do you think that political and economic structures for women in Syria have been built of presumptions about what is feminine and masculine? Do you think that similar presumptions limit women in the United States?

    2. Do you agree with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she said, "there cannot be true democracy unless women's voices are heard? There cannot be true democracy unless women are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their own lives?"

  • Complex Interdependence: Should Humanitarian Aid be used to Influence A Recipient State's Foreign Policy?

    Rebels (called the M23 mutineers - named after a peace deal they now criticize) in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) want Congolese president Joseph Kabila to listen to their demands (click here for a full report). These rebels have substantial external weapons and support.

    Conflicts are almost never simple and clear situations of right and wrong. Issues and concerns often include complex and deep-rooted problems of racism, self-determination, gender, economy, security and even climate change.

    Above: DRC army soldiers stand guard during a military operation to strike M23 positions close to Rutshuru in eastern North Kivu province. Photo: IRIN/Siegfried Modol

    The M23 rebel's fighting marks the latest chapter in the central African country's wars that have cost millions of lives.  Eastern Congo is rich in minerals, home to a number of ethnic militia groups and, according to a recent UN report, being supported by money and weapons from its neighbor, Rwanda (click here for the UN report).

    It is important to recognize that a peaceful society is only possible by working to understand grievances and concerns at high as well as the ground levels - and linking the two together. A full understanding of the roots of a problem is often critical to finding a lasting resolution.

    The above map indicates the area seized by the M23 rebels.

    The M23 rebels, led by a renegade general who is wanted by the international criminal court, have marched unchecked through swaths of the DRC's east, almost to Goma, the capital of North Kivu province and headquarters of the UN mission.

    The UN report claims that the M23 rebels have substantial external and direct support from senior levels of Rwanda's government, including the defense minister, General James Kabarebe. The United States and the UK are the Rwanda's two largest aid donors. Foreign aid funds constitute a huge 26% of Rwanda's 2012-15 state budget (click here for a full discussion).

    Discussion starters:

    1. Should or could the United States and the UK use aid allocated to Rwanda to influence/stop Rwandan support for the M23 rebels?

    2. Would you advise President Obama to reach out to other states in the region to call upon the Rwandan authorities to stop supporting the M23 rebels?

  • Liberalism, Idealism, and the London Olympics 2012

    In just 15 days athletes from all around the world will gather in London - in fact, many have already begun to arrive. These athletes will compete with body, mind, and with fierce patriot pride from countries as different as Botswana and Japan and the United States. The Olympic athleteswill come from states that are big and small - rich and poor - developed and underdeveloped and that operate under widely different ideologies.

    Liberals and Neoliberals in international relations theory argue that progress in international relations is achieved through international cooperation. Through working together and focusing on our understanding the dynamic differences and our web of interconnection we caneffectively promote peace and cooperation.

    While The London Olympic games will generate strong emotional responses of nationalism, they will also bring us all together in a peaceful international gathering. We will have an opportunity to see each other and learn that even in fierce competition we are able to have peaceful expressions of national pride and acceptance of others.


    The Olympics can be seen as a great demonstration of human ability and as a powerful political forum for the global community and cooperation.  Within the London Olympic games we expect to see the best of the idealistic Olympic spirit.  The Games will encompass the fierce pride of nationalism and political compassion and caring for the welfare of others.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you see the philosophy of neoliberalism is in the spirit of the Olympic games?

    2.     Do you expect that the Games in London next month to show that human nature is basically altruistic and that altruism will enable us to cooperate across state borders?

  • The "will of the people, not the whim of the dictator?"

    To date, violence in Syria has claimed about 15,000 lives as rebels seek to topple the repressive hardline Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad regime.

    The United States and its allies are calling for new, global sanctions against Assad's regime, stepping up the pressure after the defection of a top general dealt a major blow to the Syrian leader.

    Above: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a plenary session of an international conference on Afghan civilian assistance at a hotel in Tokyo Sunday, July 8, 2012 (Brendan Smialowski, pool / AP photo).

    Speaking in Tokyo yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that opposition attacks in Syria are stepping up pressure on the government and that it is time his government realizes "the sand is running out of the hourglass."

    The Assad government says it is fighting foreign-backed terrorists and continues to enjoy the support of Russia, China and Iran.

    Secretary Clinton says it is "intolerable" that permanent U.N. Security Council members Russia and China are hampering efforts to end the Syrian conflict.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     How do perceptions (or misperceptions) play a role in determining military interventions?

    2.     Do you agree with Secretary of State Clinton who says it must be the "will of the people, not the whim of the dictator?"

  • NGOs, Global Problems, and the Power to Force Change

    As much as 70 percent of China's rivers, lakes and reservoirs are affected by toxic water pollution. The NGO Greenpeace has identified links between a number of major clothing brands - including the sportswear giants Nike and Adidas and the fast-fashion retailer H&M - and the textile factories in China that are releasing hazardous chemicals into China's rivers.

    Students often say, "what in the world can I do about these global problems, I am just a poor college student!"

    Above: Participants show their "Detox" tattoos. 33 people whipped off their clothes in Chatuchak market, Bangkok, to join more than 600 people worldwide to strip outside Adidas and Nike stores in 29 cities in 10 countries surprising shoppers, setting the record for the world’s largest striptease and challenging the global sportswear giants to eliminate hazardous chemical releases from their supply chain and products and become champions for a toxic-free future. 

    It turns out that students (ordinary consumers) can and have already made a huge difference in this area. The Guardian (click here for more) is reporting that firms such as Nike have made major and significant changes after the boycott campaigns of the 1990s.

    In the 1990s, campaigns scored direct hit on Nike's bottom line, leading the corporation to operate today with an openness and transparency that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.

    Last summer Greenpeace launched its Detox Challenge (click here for more) in which they targeted global brands including Nike and Adidas with the aim of stopping their suppliers from dumping toxic chemical waste in China's waterways and around the world. Nike now has a plan to go toxics-free free by 2020 with similar plans.


    Discussion starters:

    1. Do you think that NGOs will be able to make significant and important changes in other major global and international problems?

    2. What problem would you like to see NGOs focus on? Can you find an NGO that is already working on that issue or concern?


  • Warming with Air Conditioning: A Growing Global Concern

    It's been hot - very hot - in Texas and elsewhere in the United States over the last month. As you well know, we Americans turn to air conditioning when the temperatures rise - in our homes, shopping centers, movie theaters, restaurants, and even entire major league baseball parks - to make life more comfortable.  I even know some Texans who air condition their patios - blowing cool air out onto the patio so that they can grill in cool comfort.

    Above: Air-conditioners dominate the facade of this building in Mumbai, India. Photo by Kuni Takahashi The New York Times.

    While an air-conditioner is seen a fact-of-life for Texans and most Americans they are rapidly becoming a sign of middle-class status in developing nations. The New York Times is reporting that air-conditioning sales are growing by more than 20 percent a year in China and India. 

    The cooling demands of upwardly mobile Mumbai, India, alone have been estimated to be a quarter of those of the United States.

    While an air-conditioner makes life significantly more comfortable for all, scientists are becoming increasingly alarmed about the impact of the gases on which they run.  The gases used in most of today's air-conditioning units are potent agents of global warming.

    Air-conditioning gases are regulated primarily though a now dated 1987 treaty called the Montreal Protocol, created to protect the ozone layer. The 25-year-old Montreal Protocol has successfully reduced damage to our ozone layer by reducing the oldest CFC coolants. However, the gases used in the newest air-conditioning units in industrialized and developing nations are having an impact the ozone that the Montreal treaty ignores.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you think it is right or fair that the developed North states are essentially telling the developing nations to do what they have not: leapfrog the current generation of coolants in favor of gases that are more environmentally friendly?

    2.     The Montreal Protocol is widely regarded as one of the most successful environmental treaties ever as it essentially eliminating the use of CFC coolants, which are highly damaging to our ozone layer. Do you think global leaders can recreate that success and move countries away from these new harmful gases?

  • 4 Foreign Aid Workers Rescued in Somalia

    Imagine that you are working in a refugee camp in Kenya. On your way home from work on afternoon your vehicle is stopped and you suddenly find yourself unjustly imprisoned. You are innocent and angry, as your basic civil liberties have been violated. To make matters worse, you find that the group that has imprisoned you claims the sovereign right to treat all prisoners any way they want. What can you do? What power do you have?

    Above: One of the vehicles in which the aid workers were traveling before they were kidnapped. A Kenyan driver was shot dead during the ambush (photograph: AP)

    Last Friday, four aid workers from Canada, Norway, Pakistan and the Philippines found themselves in just this situation - held hostage inside Somalia, after they were seized from a refugee camp in neighboring Kenya.

    Should the governments of Canada, Norway, Pakistan and or the Philippines intervene in such humanitarian missions when the workers are taken hostage? Weak states, like Somali, often vigorously resist humanitarian interference within their borders.

    Thankfully, Somali government troops were able to rescue the four foreign aid workers.

    "We are thankful to know that our four colleagues have been found and safely returned to Kenya. This is a day of relief for us and for the families of the abducted," says Elisabeth Rasmusson, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (click here for the full statement from NRC).

    Somali military commander Colonel Abduallahi Moalim said government soldiers stopped a vehicle on Sunday carrying supplies for the attackers. They seized three of the occupants who directed them to the hostages, he said.  "Our forces have rescued the four aid workers kidnapped from Kenya in an overnight rescue operation," Moalim told Reuters (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What role might NGOs, like the Norwegian Refugee Council, play in reconciling the contradiction between state security and human security?

    2.     Should national security be a priority over that of humanitarian assistance and human rights?