• World Economic Forum 2012 Gender Gap Report: Including Women in International Politics

    Women hold up "half the sky" in our global village (click here for more). While half of the world's human potential is made up of women, significant gender inequalities remain. Women and girls are being excluded from participation.

    In most states gender inequalities (the differences in education, occupations, leadership inclusion, and living standards between men and women) remain widespread.  Gender inequalities are the differences between men and women in opportunity and reward. These inequalities are determined by the values and policies of those in power in each state.

    Fortunately, a global consensus seems to have now emerged about the need to include women in politics and policy making. Empowering and educating girls and women, engaging their talents, and their leadership fully in politics and international relations is increasingly being seen as fundamental to our success.

    The World Economic Forum has since 2006 annually captured the magnitude and scope of gender-based disparities data in its Global Gender Gap Index (click here for more).

    The WEF Index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education and health criteria, and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups, and over time (click here for the complete report).

    The report includes the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Might including significant numbers of women at the highest level of political decision-making - in minister-level positions and parliamentary positions - produce a different world of global relations?

    2.     What might be some of the new or different considerations that women would bring to the national security debate?

     

  • Economic Sanctions, Trade, Human Rights, and Democracy in Burma 2012

    Trade plays a central role in our global village. Of course, it is a central facet in globalization and is often a diplomatic tool in political relations among nations. Trade can be used as a "carrot" and or a "stick" in interstate relations. Economic sanctions are deliberate and punitive actions against a target country to deprive it of the benefits of trade.

    Yesterday, (November 19, 2012) journalist Nicholas Kristof updated his Facebook status writing, "With Burma changing and Obama there today, I'm reminded of the times I've written that economic sanctions on Burma were a mistake, harming ordinary Burmese but not likely to change government policy. In retrospect, I was just wrong."

    Economic sanctions have been increasing used in coercive diplomacy since the end of the Cold War. Scholars, pointing to notable failures such as the US sanctions against Cuba, have noted that sanctions are often less than successful.  Conventional wisdom is that economic sanctions often have little effect on autocratic regimes. As Kristof noted, the sanctions often hurt only the ordinary citizens of the targeted states while not having any significant impact on the state's leaders.

    From the 1962 to 2011 a brutal military junta ruled the state of Burma. In response, the United States placed economic sanctions on Burma - following the Burmese military's violent suppression of popular protests in 1988. US sanctions have continued as the US sought to curtail major human rights violations in Burma.

    Over the past year and a half, reform has begun to take root in Burma and President Obama has eased many of the of longstanding U.S. economic sanctions against Burma.

    Yesterday, Mr. Obama made a short trip to Burma and praised Burma's move toward democracy, while calling for more changes, which he said would lead to more U.S. economic investment.

    "A civilian now leads the government, and a parliament is asserting itself," President Obama said in a speech at the University of Yangon. "The once-outlawed National League for Democracy stood in an election, and Aung San Suu Kyi is a Member of Parliament. Hundreds of prisoners of conscience have been released, and forced labor has been banned. Preliminary cease-fires have been reached with ethnic armies, and new laws allow for a more open economy."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Are the changes in Burma a victory - at least in part - for the policy of economic sanctions?

    2.     Might economic sanctions allow governments to at least symbolically demonstrate to the citizens of our global village that they are punishing unacceptable behavior?

     

  • China Takes Note of President Obama's Historic Visit to Myanmar

    In the span of less than two years the state of Myanmar has gone from harsh military dictatorship to a much more open society and seems to be on the road to democratic rule with a respect for human rights (click here for more).

    Tomorrow, when President Barack Obama lands in Yangon, he will be making a historic visit as the first sitting American president to ever visit Myanmar (click here for more).

    President Obama has stated that his trip to Myanmar is not an "endorsement" of the country's reformist government but rather acknowledgement of steps the Myanmar leadership has made towards democracy (click here for more). President Obama said he would "congratulate them on having opened the door" but stress that "the country has a long way to go."

    Current conflict between majority Buddhist Rakhine and minority Muslim Rohingya populations in Myanmar has forced many Rohingya people to flee their homes. Tens of thousands of refugees are now in displacement camps along Burma's west coast.

    The Chinese leadership is said to be closely watching the Obama Myanmar visit as they see the trip as part of a continuing challenge to China's economic and political rise.

    Discussion starters:

    1.    During the third Presidential debate, Mr. Obama said he is working to expanded trade with other Asian nations "so that China starts feeling more pressure" to play by the rules. Is the President opening markets while ignoring the human rights violations of the Myanmar government?

    2.   What might be the effects of an American focus and attention on Myanmar and the region, including the deployment of more troops, battleships, and the effort to encircle China economically and politically?

     

  • Promoting a Trans-Pacific Partnership President Obama visits Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia

    Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of Thailand and President Barack Obama met today at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand.  The two leaders highlighted the Thailand-United States Creative Partnership, which connects universities, businesses, and other innovation sectors in both countries as a prime example of forward-looking cooperation between the two nations and a forum to expand new areas of cooperation.

    President Barack Obama is currently on a four-day trip to Thailand, Burma and Cambodia. Where he is working to promote negotiations on deeper trade ties between the United States and these countries under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

    Above: President Barack Obama and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand.

    The TPP is a NAFTA-like trade pact being led by the Obama administration and negotiated between the United States and Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and even including Canada and Mexico. The TPP would be the largest international commercial agreement since the 1995 World Trade Organization agreement creating a "free trade" zone similar to that of NAFTA.

    The TPP aims to tear down trade barriers - going further than existing bilateral and other pacts.

    In hard economic times states are very tempted to build barriers against foreign competitors. Even in strong economically competitive states, like the United States, protectionist pressures arise with calls to "bring jobs back home." For example, the Obama administration has proposed a tax credit to benefit domestic manufacturers.

    "Buy American" preferences in the market for United States federal contracts is also a protectionist plan promoted by the Obama administration and would seem to be at odd with the TPP efforts.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Some argue that the TPP will have a serious impact on US manufacturing dependence on China. Might this agreement counter China's burgeoning power in the region?

    2.     Do you expect opposition to the TPP from those in the United States with concerns that the TPP deal will offshore US manufacturing jobs?

     

  • Human Rights for the Stateless?

    If human rights truly exist, does it not seem that those rights would be available to everyone without conditions?

    Refugees are often at the center of conflict, concern, and debate. In Myanmar today the Rohingya - who have been described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities - are stateless - not recognized by Burma's government and not able to go anywhere else.

    Imagine you are a 17-year-old living in war torn Libya in 2009. Worried about your safety and the military violence in the country your mother pays an acquaintance in London to look after you.  After a few months the person you were to stay with abandons you on the streets of London. You are now alone, undocumented, and stateless.

    Today, many such children are officially stateless. The BBC has uncovered stories of hundreds of children living in London who have no official records (click here for more).  These stateless children cannot access education or apply for social housing and some are forced into sex work to eat and have some shelter.

    It is those people - like the Rohingya and the stateless children in the streets of London - whose legal status is marginal or nonexistent, that we see the contradictions and perhaps the failures of inalienable and universal human rights.

    Click here for the BBC video on stateless children.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does a seventeen-year-old stateless person only hold human rights if she is a documented citizen?

    2.     Are human rights exclusive and conditional since they only apply to those who legally belong to a state?

     

  • Climate Change: Bamboo, Coffee, Chocolate, and Pentagon Planning

    Climate change is the average weather condition measured over the long-term: months, years, decades, or even longer. The phrase "climate change" most often refers to the climate change caused by humans. The climate on our pale blue dot is changing and yet many deny it is real. Why in the face of real change and global threats cannot the people in our global village agree to work toward a common solution to global warming?

    In the last few days three stories/reports related to climate change have received attention all across our village.  Climate change is threatening the giant panda bears, our chocolate supply, and even the United States military. The changes taking place in our environment because of climate change are forcing humans to plan for how to handle our new and changing environment.

    We are starting to see the effects of climate change first-hand specifically in global agriculture. This week both bamboo and chocolate are threatened - not too long ago Starbucks noted a shift in its long-term business plan because of the projected limited availability of coffee beans. Yes, both chocolate and coffee supplies are being threatened.

    A new study (click here) predicts that climate change is set to wipe out much of the bamboo on which our beloved giant pandas rely on for food. Panda habitats in China could be completely lost by the end of the century, say the researchers if we humans do not change the trajectory of global warming (click here for more).

    West Africa is getting too hot to support the cocoa crop. Yes, chocolate lovers this means less chocolate. By 2060, more than half of the cocoa-producing countries in the West African region are expected be too hot to grow the crop, according to a report released by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (click here).

    Indeed, even the United States military is planning for global climate change. The Pentagon is planning to guard against "climate surprises" which will threaten the United States in the years ahead. Military planners are thinking about natural disasters, sea level rise, drought, epidemics, and the other consequences of climate change (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     With the effects of climate change being seen on panda bears, Starbucks, chocolate, and even the US military do the most staunch deniers now have to admit that it is happening?

    2.     If global warming threats are now being discussed in the Pentagon why doesn't the global community and the United States' government take serious action?

  • Nov 10, 2012 World Unites for Education on Malala Day: Many Urge Noble Peace Prize for Malala

    Many people from all corners of our global village are backing a Change.org petition to nominate Malala Yousafzai for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Malala was shot by the Taliban while campaigning for girls' education in Pakistan (click here for more).

    Above: Malala Yousufzai, the 15-year-old girl who was shot in the head at close range by a Taliban gunman in Pakistan, continues her recovery in hospital in Birmingham, England (photo: AP Source: AP).

    Alfred Nobel stipulated, in his 1895 will, that the peace prize should go "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses."

    Shahida Choudhary, who is campaigning for world leaders and prominent politicians to recommend Malala to the Nobel committee, said: "Malala doesn't just represent one young woman, she speaks out for all those who are denied an education purely on the basis of their gender. There are girls like Malala in the UK and across the world" (click here for more)

    Is the Nobel Peace Prize used to support a cause or an idea? The short answer might be to look back at the 2009 award to President Barack Obama.  What had President Obama actually accomplished in 2009?  The announcement from the Nobel committee that year surprised many while others said it was too much, too soon.

    The Nobel Peace Prize committee decided that the President's words and his promises of disarmament and diplomacy were in-and-of-themselves worthy of the award.  A five-member committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament awards the peace prize (click here for more).

    President Obama, while clearly grateful for the award said, "Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."

    "To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize."

    Awarding President Obama the peace prize in 2009 has been understood to be a symbolic award. The committee's recognition intended to help build global support for the policies of the new Obama administration. The Peace Prize was given for the new President's calls for peace and cooperation. Obama's pledges to ease U.S. conflicts with Muslim nations were thought to important enough to merit the prestigious award.

    Similarly, Malala has bravely spoken out for human rights, girl's education, and equality all in the overwhelming face of power and evil. The 15-year-old champion of girl's education courageously stood and called for the affirmation and aspirations of girls and women worldwide.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     In your opinion, should the annual international peace award be given to support ideas?

    2.     Did the 2009 Award achieve its aim? Is President Obama's withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan enough to merit the peace award or do you expect him to earn the award in his second term with the crafting of a policy on nuclear Iran or being wise with Sino-US relations?

     

     

  • 'Innocence Of Muslims' Video maker Sentenced to Prison – But Not for Video

    Mark Basseley Youssef, an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen, was sentenced yesterday to one year in prison for lying about his identity. Youssef was sentenced in a California court after he admitted to four of the eight alleged violations, including obtaining a fraudulent California driving license, which violated his probation stemming from a 2010 bank fraud conviction (click here for more).

    Above: Mark Bassely Youssef is escorted by Los Angeles County Sheriff's officers (photo by Bret Hartman Reuters).

    The 55 year old Youssef found his fifteen minutes of Youtube fame following protests throughout the Muslim world against his amateurish "Innocence of Muslims" film. His video purposely portrays the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, buffoon, ruthless killer and child molester. Islam categorically forbids any depictions of Mohammed, and blasphemy is an incendiary taboo in the Muslim world. Youssef's short video prompted protests in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Iran, and in Iraq (click here for more).

    Many Muslims called for severe punishment for Youssef, one Pakistani cabinet minister offered $100,000 to anyone who killed him (click here for more).

    It is important to note that Youssef's convictions and sentencing are not in any way related to the content of his inflammatory Youtube video.

    After his sentencing yesterday, Youssef asked his attorney, Steven Seiden, to relay this message to the media: "The one thing he wanted me to tell all of you is President Obama may have gotten Osama bin Laden, but he didn't kill the ideology."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What do you think Youssef intended to say with this message?

    2.     How do we best manage and interact with each other in this new global village that has no digital borders where anyone can spread hate? 

     

  • South Korean Whaling and Environmental Interdependence

    Last summer South Korea shocked the international community by announcing it would start "scientific" whaling. Why would it shock the international community if the South Koreans study whales? Well, it turns out that the South Koreans want to kill the whales to study them. Do you have to kill whales to study them? Greenpeace and other NGOs say no. The international community has put enormous pressure on the South Koreans to scrap their plans to kill whales under a "scientific" research program and the program was put on hold (click here for more).

    Above a beautiful minke whale, photo by Greenpeace.

    South Korea said it would announce later how many whales it would kill and when. Korean officials insist that they do not need international approval. The government will make its decision on December 3, 2012 - less than a month from now (click here for more).

    Environmental issues may seem like local issues in some instances. But the impact of decisions made in one corner of our planet, however, are usually global. Air pollution, nuclear waste, oil spills, deforestation, and even the killing of whales have become part of our common concern - not matter where you call home.

    While the conflict over what to preserve and how to protect our planet very often involves economic growth - profit - it can also include the preferences of a particular population. For example, the people of China very much enjoy Scottish salmon and this food demand is leading to problems with over fishing and crowded unsustainable fish farms (click here for more).

    The southeast coast of South Korea was (and still is only to a lessor extent) the heart of that country's whaling industry until the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial hunting in 1987. Today, annual whale festivals are held in that region in which hunting expeditions are re-enacted and visitors are encouraged to sample whale meat at local restaurants.

    The appetite for whale meat is still very much part of the local culture.  Whales continue to be consumed because of a loophole in the 1987 agreement that allows the meat to be sold if the animal was accidentally killed or accidentally caught in fishing nets.  Apparently, there are lots of whales "accidently" caught, as whale meat is an important part of the local diet and economy. In specific, the Koreans want to harvest the minke whales.

    Those who hunt and kill the whales are seeking to meet consumer demand. The agricultural sector of the South Korean economy, which includes commercial whaling, is a powerful and active voting group in Korean politics. Politicians, who hope to remain in or obtain office, are reacting to industry and consumer demands in trying to appeal to allow for the "scientific study" of the minke whales.

     Discussion starters:

    1.     Why does is matter if the South Koreans are allowed to hunt and kill the minke whales?

    2.     Should the local economic demands override the global environmental and conservation concerns? Do the whales themselves have a right to life?

     

  • Bolivian Officials Seek to Regulate Facebook and Twitter: Is Freedom of Expression a Human Right?

    CNN last week reported (click here) that a Bolivian official has issued a stern warning to those who would criticize President Evo Morales on social networks. He's taking names.

    Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said in remarks widely reported in Bolivian media this week, "I am always going online, and I am writing down the first and last names of the people who insult him on Facebook and Twitter."

    Last month, Twitter tweeted that it's blocking a neo-Nazi group's account in Germany - at the request of German authorities (click here for more).  The Filipino online community, journalists and free speech activists are also protesting the Philippine Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 went into effect on October 3 (click here for more). 

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should a government seek to limit speech when the tone of discourse had gotten out of hand?

    2.     Do you agree with the United Nations Human Right Council resolution that declaration that freedom of expression is a human right?

     

  • Industrial Fishing Firms Engaged in "Ocean-Grabbing"

    Our global village fisheries provide food for millions of people. Our oceans and inland waterways supply us with a vital source of high-quality protein and support the livelihoods of many people.

    But this vital source of food is rapidly declining, primarily because of unsustainable and destructive fishing practices, distorting government subsidies, and climate change (click here for more).

    This week, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, issued a stern new warning: industrial fishing MNCs are engaged in "ocean-grabbing," the plundering our oceans fish stocks while scoffing at the environment and local fishing interests (click here for more).

    "'Ocean-grabbing' - in the shape of shady access agreements that harm small-scale fishers, unreported catch, incursions into protected waters, and the diversion of resources away from local populations - is a very serious a threat" Mr. De Schutter said (click here for more).

    De Schutter urged world governments and international bodies to halt the depletion of fish stocks, and take urgent steps to protect, sustain, and share the benefits of fisheries and marine environments.

    "Without rapid action to claw back waters from unsustainable practices, fisheries will no longer be able to play a critical role in securing the right to food of millions," he said, noting that "with agricultural systems under increasing pressure, many people are now looking to rivers, lakes and oceans to provide an increasing share of our dietary protein."

    "Industrial fishing in far-flung waters may seem like the economic option, but only because fleets are able to pocket major subsidies while externalizing the costs of over-fishing and resource degradation. Future generations will pay the price when the oceans run dry," De Schutter said.

    Olivier De Schutter was appointed the Special Rapporteur on the right to food in May 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. He is independent from any government or organization (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     How might Walmart's "always low prices" at the fish counter not necessarily be a good thing for our planet?

    2.     How might we ensure coexistence between industrial multinational fishing firms and the rights of small-scale fishers and coastal communities?