• President Obama has decided to take military action against Assad but will seek Congressional approval first

    Today President Obama decided that he will be seeking the formal backing of the US Congress before taking military action against Syria over the chemical weapons attack last week (click here for more).

    President Obama said, "after careful deliberation I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets." However, his military advisers have told him that the operation was not "time sensitive." Obama said his military advisors had told him an air strike would be "as effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now."

    "This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. But I am confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior and degrade their capacity to carry it out."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     The decision to wait took Washington insiders by surprise. Why do you think the President is willing to wait for the approval of Congress?

    2.     Should the President launch a military strike if the US Congress votes against that plan of action?


  • Open Governments vs Closed Governments: Microsoft and Google sue for data release

    Does open data does mean 'all data'? Or do governments get to decide what data we see and what data they mine? Do we have right to know what data our government is using and how and when it is being collected?

    We live in a digital age of data-driven decision-making and we are facing many challenges of transparency. The sharing and or the collection of digital data can have an important impact every aspect of our lives.  It can open our governments and give us greater involvement in decision making and at the same time can give our governments greater power over us.

    Above: Microsoft General Counsel and Executive Vice President Brad Smith testifies before a Senate Committee (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin).

    From the NSA reviewing data about our security, to your professor tracking your online class performance, to your family members checking your Facebook check-ins, data is plentiful and quite telling. Since the early days of the Internet we have seen more and more data becoming available.  We now have greater and greater access to information about governments and our governments have ever-greater information about us.

    In June, Microsoft and Google filed lawsuits against the United States government to win the right to reveal more information about official requests for user data (click here for more).

    The legal battle is over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the mechanism used by the National Security Agency and other US government agencies to gather data about foreign internet users.

    Google and Microsoft believe "it is vital to publish information that clearly shows the number of national security demands for user content, such as the text of an email (click here for more)." 

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should the US government be forthcoming with this type of information?

    2.     If the NSA is making a data-driven decision about our security do we have a right to know their sources and how often they are requesting content?


  • UN Secretary General request that Obama and Cameron delay military intervention in Syria

    As an advisor to the president, you have been closely monitoring the civil war in Syria. On 24 August you received a report from the very respected NGO - Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The NGO has long been serving the medical needs of the worn-torn state in three major hospitals and several makeshift clinics. The medical staff report states that they received approximately 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms in less than three hours on the morning of 21 August. Of those patients, 355 reportedly died.

    The president listens to the horror the Syria state has inflicted on its own people and want to know, "what are our options, and responsibilities?"

    Leaders in London and Washington have been suggesting that a limited attack should take place very soon - some even advise the West to strike before the end of the week.

    The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, is calling for more time before a military strike to allow for UN inspections. Ban said the inspectors, who are investigating the chemical weapons attack last week, would need a total of four days to carry out their site visits and then further time to analyze their findings.

    The US and UK militaries are poised in position to strike.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron strike now and ignore the UN's timetable?

    2.     Are Obama and Cameron correct in pushing the United Nations to hold Syrian officials responsible for the chemical attack and authorize "all necessary measures" to protect civilians?


  • Buddhists and Muslims once again clash in Myanmar

    Further violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims have threatened to undermine political and economic reforms in Myanmar (click here for more).

    A Buddhist mob of around 1000 people set fire to nearly two dozen Muslim-owned buildings in Myanmar's northern Sagaing region last Saturday.  The Buddhists, some carrying sticks and swords, attacked Muslim villagers late on Saturday, destroying homes and shops, according to a Reuters report (click here for more).

    Police and soldiers arrived later and fired into the air to disperse the crowd.

    Above: Muslims children eat meals at their temporary refugee camp in Htan Gone village, Kantbalu township, Sagaing division, Myanmar, on Monday (photo by Khin Maung Win/AP).

    The violence shows how far anti-Muslim anger has spread in the Buddhist-dominated country following spasms of unrest in Rakhine State last year. More than 200 people have been killed since June last year and 140,000 displaced. The vast majority of victims have been Muslim.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Might this conflict prevent the transition to democracy that was initiated by the government two years ago (after half a century of military rule)?

    2.     What prescription(s) would you write for the government and people of Myanmar to help resolve this conflict?  


  • Interdependence: From your fingertips to Foxconn in China

    It is the first week of class of Fall 2013. The old laptop you used in high school has all but stopped working, so you start looking for a sleek new laptop to make college life manageable. How do you shop? Price? Features? Brands?

    Do you ever think about the worker who snapped the components together to make that shiny new device? Many of the electronic devices sold in the West are made in Foxconn's vast factories in China.  Foxconn's workers produce electronics for Apple, Microsoft and others.

    Meet Tian Yu.

    Yu tried to kill herself  (as did 17 of her Foxconn coworkers) in 2010. Why you ask? In short, her working conditions and life was misery. In her first month of employment at Foxconn, Yu had to work two seven-day weeks back to back. 

    She lived in a cramped and overcrowded dorm, sleeping in a metal bunk, and sharing bathroom facilities with many others (housing with cost Yu around $30 a month). She worked day and night shifts, and was bussed in and out of the factory en masse.

    Many months Yu worked more than 12 hours each day, six days a week. She was compelled to attend early work meetings for no pay, and to skip meals to do overtime.

    Suicides of Foxconn employees have placed the manufacturing giant under intense international pressure to raise wages, cut hours, increase safety and improve life for its young workers.

    Will you think of Yu when making your laptop purchase?

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Why doesn't Apple and or other firms agree to pay everyone who assembles an Apple device double? 

    2.     What prevent you from making a "far trade" choice when buying your new laptop? 


  • Syria: Should the West Intervene?

    Today Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama made remarks that seem to indicate a move toward military intervention in Syria. The leaders of both states agreed that last week's alleged chemical weapon attacks by the Assad regime had taken the crisis into a new phase that merited a "serious response," according to the Guardian (click here for more).

    Above: An Italian ship flanks an overcrowded boat with more than 120 refugees believed to be from Syria (photo by Valentino Cilmi/EPA). Italian authorities report rescues, pickups, and landings have been occurring almost every day over recent weeks.

    The dramatic change in tone from David Cameron and Barack Obama has come after a report from Médecins sans Frontières stated that three hospitals in Damascus had received approximately 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms in less than three hours on the morning of Wednesday, 21 August. Of those patients, 355 are reported to have died (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     At what point should the United States and or other states step into the Syrian crises?

    2.     Under what conditions would you advise the president to send troops into a civil war?


  • Israel apologizes to Japan over offensive Facebook comments

    Israeli senior government official Daniel Seaman posted on his personal Facebook page a string of disparaging comments about the Japanese commemorations for the victims of the 1945 atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Facebook comments about Japan were part of a long string of ugly and strongly-worded postings by Seaman on his personal page over recent months (click here for more).

    Israeli officials were forced to issue a formal apology to Japan over offensive comments posted by its head of online public diplomacy (click here for more).

    "I am sick of the Japanese, 'Human Rights' and 'Peace' groups the world over holding their annual self-righteous commemorations for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims," Seaman wrote on his Facebook page. "Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the consequence of Japanese aggression. You reap what you sow ..."

    Above: Daniel Seaman (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

    The official apology was issued by Ya'akov Amidror, national security advisor to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. An Israeli government official said the incident was "one of the least comfortable moments for Israel in Japan."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does social media bring a new dimension to international relations?

    2.     Should states seek to control (limit) offensive expressions (art, film, FB) that may damage state to state relationships?


  • UK and US at odds over destruction of Snowden's documents from The Guardian's hard drives

    The Obama Administration does not agree with the UK's handling of Snowden's leaked NSA documents (click here for more).

    US authorities disagree with the Whitehall demand to destroy the of media hard drives that hold the compromised documents. The White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, said: "That's very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate."

    Discussion starters:

    1.  Do you agree with President Obama's decision that it is inappropriate for officials to enter a US media company and destroy media hard drives - even to protect national security?

    2.  Can you imagine a scenario in which such action would be appropriate? 

  • Document 9 Reflects China's President Xi fears: Constitutional Democracy

    China's President Xi Jinping has issued a memo, referred to as Document No. 9, that enumerates seven perils facing his government. The first peril listed is "Western constitutional democracy." It seems that Mr. Xi is concerned about the erosion of power. In a liberal democracy the power shifts away from a concentrated elite to the people more generally (click here for more).

    President Xi is concerned that the promotion of "universal values" of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and, civic participation, "have stirred up trouble about disclosing officials' assets, using the Internet to fight corruption, media controls and other sensitive topics, to provoke discontent with the party and government."

    According to the New York Times, Mr. Xi's memo was given the title "Document No. 9" by the central party office that issued it in April.

    Internal warnings show that President Xi Jinping fears that the Communist Party is vulnerable to challenges from liberals impatient for political change (photo by Jason Lee/Reuters).

    "Western forces hostile to China and dissidents within the country are still constantly infiltrating the ideological sphere," says Document No. 9.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     How might Document No. 9 impact liberal economic policy in China?

    2.     Will Mr. Xi be able to suppress his people? 


  • No compensation yet for the Bangladeshi victims and dependents as Walmart and other firms refuse

    The clothing firms, Benetton Group, Mango and Wal-Mart have yet to agree to any payment for pain and suffering for the victims and dependents of those killed or injured in the collapse some four months ago of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. The building collapse killed more than 1,100 factory workers (click here for more).

    Wal-Mart has declined any compensation for the victims and says it will not join a fire and building safety pact (click here for more).

    So far, only the British retailer Primark, has provided any compensation (click here for more).

    Economist Robert Reich recently posted this test:
    "Here's a simple test: 

    1. Are you concerned about the loss of our main streets, including family-owned retailers and book stores? But do you nonetheless buy online, and order books and other goods from Amazon? 

    2. Are you upset about the poverty-level wages paid by big-box retailers like Walmart? But do you nonetheless buy from big-box retailers? 

    3. Are you concerned about the sharp decline in the wages of middle-class workers such as flight attendants, pilots, mechanics? But do you seek and get the lowest-cost discount flights? 

    4. Are you upset at the loss of good paying unionized factory jobs? But do you buy the cheapest goods you can find, even if not made by unionized workers in America?

    5. How much more would you be willing to pay for a garment made abroad but which you knew was made by workers who worked in a safe factory, were paid a decent wage, and were over the age of 14? 

    I could go on, but you get my point. For many of us there's a disconnect between our values and our actual behavior in the market. Are we simply hypocritical? Maybe. But it could also be because we assume that any sacrifice we might make in terms of paying more would be useless if others don't make the same sacrifice. Under these circumstances, markets can only reflect the values we share if laws ban certain trades that violate those values."

    Discussion starters:

    1.   Should the Bangladeshi government compensate the victims' families of the collapse of Rana Plaza even though it would greatly strain the resources of such poor country?

    2.   Should American and European companies (like Walmart) be required to help the workers and their families after factory fires and collapses?


  • JPMorgan Chase is being investigated under U.S. anti-bribery laws for hiring Chinese official's children

    The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 was enacted for the purpose of making it unlawful to bribe foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business (click here for more). 

    The New York Times, citing a confidential U.S. government document, reported on Saturday that U.S. government officials are looking into the practices of JPMorgan hiring the children of the rich and powerful Chinese government officials. While hiring the children of these officials regardless of country of origin isn't necessarily illegal - companies may be breaking the US law if anti-bribery watchdogs can prove the hiring was made in exchange for business opportunities.

    The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention establishes legally binding standards to criminalize bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions. The 34 OECD member countries and four non-member countries (Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, and South Africa) have adopted this international Convention. The United States has adopted this Convention (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you think that US corporate executives should face fines or prison time for bribery when such is all too common practice in some states?

    2.     How might JPMorgan's hiring of Chinese government officials hurt others in China and around the world?





  • Women who fear forced marriages abroad told to hide spoon in underwear

    Karma Nirvana, a UK-based charity that supports victims of forced marriage, advises women who call its helpline to hide a spoon in their underwear in order to set off metal detectors at British airports (click here for more).

    Forced marriage is an appalling and indefensible practice and is internationally recognized in the as a form of violence against women and men (click here for more). Obviously, forced marriage deprives women and young girls of their basic human rights. Forced and early marriages are serious human rights violations (click here for more) that are recognized in numerous legal instruments at international - and yet for states have specifically criminalized the practice.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What local and national efforts must be made in order to have action taken at the international level?

    2.     Why is it that only a few countries have specifically criminalized the practice of forced marriages?


  • US refuses to use massive aid leverage over Egypt

    Should the United States cut off the massive amounts of aid to Egypt? The US allocates approximately $1.5bn worth of annual aid to the war torn state. The United States has been reluctance to use its massive aid leverage over Cairo's generals. President Obama has cancelled military exercises in the region but does not mention foreign aid.

    Above: National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice briefs President Barack Obama during his Presidential Daily Briefing in Chilmark, Mass., Aug. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Yesterday, the people of Egypt endured the country's third mass killing in six weeks - secuitry forces killed 525 people - Government officials said more than 500 had been killed while the Muslim Brotherhood put the figure at more than 2,000. 

    Egypt's interim government remains defiant amid the rising death toll and widespread international condemnation of Wednesday's massacre of Islamist supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

    The prime minister, Hazem Beblawi, said the crackdown was essential to create stability, and praised his security forces for what he characterized as maximum restraint.

    The United Nations high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay, said, "I deplore the loss of life and call on all in Egypt to seek a way out of the violence. I urge the Egyptian authorities and security forces to act with the utmost restraint."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     How might the concept of "tied aid" impact the reluctance of the US government to withhold aid from Egypt?

    2.     Do you think that the withholding of aid would help move Egypt toward democracy?