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
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
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).
Do you agree or disagree that the Olympics can
serve to promote positive change in women's rights and equality?
Are women placed in a subordinate position in countries
where girls sport participation is forbidden?
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
interview with the Guardian, Kim stated that he is determined to eradicate
global poverty (click here for the complete interview).
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.
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.
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.
physician and anthropologist, Dr. Kim sees the World Bank's role in development
of "systems" of long lasting impact for care and delivery.
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
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
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).
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).
does Walmart avoid union organizers?
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
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.
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."
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?
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
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
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
What do these Olympic stories and measures of
development tell us about opportunities and life chances of people in poor
What are the policy implications both for
Olympic development programs and world leaders?
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
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
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
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.
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?
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
"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.
Should the United State get rid of America's
Olympic uniforms because they were made in China?
Is it somehow improper for American athletes to
wear Olympic uniforms made in China?
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.
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?"
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
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
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).
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?
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.
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?
To date, violence in Syria has claimed about 15,000 lives as
rebels seek to topple the repressive hardline Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad
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.
How do perceptions (or misperceptions) play a
role in determining military interventions?
Do you agree with Secretary of State Clinton who
says it must be the "will of the people, not the whim of the dictator?"
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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
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).
What role might NGOs, like the Norwegian Refugee
Council, play in reconciling the contradiction between state security and human
Should national security be a priority over that
of humanitarian assistance and human rights?