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By Marshall Kirby.

Marshall is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Marshall below or take a look at the Student Issue Analysts.

The author with John Perkins

On Thursday October 14th, 2010 I had the honor of attending a speech given by John Perkins in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Perkins is the author of the bestselling books: Confessions of an Economic Hitman, The Secret History of the American Empire, and Hoodwinked. As you might expect, the talk was very interesting and inspiring at the same time.

Perkins’ main points of discussion were about the history of the economic collapse, what brought us there, and where we can go from here to build a more sustainable and just global economic system. All of these I will discuss below.

How did we get here?

Perkins gives us his take on a much longer journey back through history. Prior to the rise of modern states, global power derived out of religious empires. With the rise of modern nation states, the religious structure in which global power was concentrated was displaced. Then, he said, something changed – power started shifting from sovereign states towards global corporations. Through lobbying, the power of money, and corruption, some corporations have been able to thwart democratic practices in certain thriving democracies. This has produced the economic system of today and the current crisis. Perkins’ explains that this was no fluke – it was inevitable.

Read the rest of this entry »

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By Rachel Stanley
Rachel is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Rachel below or take a look at the Student Issue Analysts.

I’m a student at Elon University, and former President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan just spoke at fall convocation. His lecture was titled “Insights into the Islamic World”, and he used the opportunity to point out some troubling historical facts that the West likes to forget about. As an International Studies major, his historical references were not new to me, but I thought that they were very important to say. He pointed out that extremists have been able to use the examples like the US leaving Afghanistan after expelling the Soviets without helping to rebuild as a recruitment technique. As he says, even though he is a military man himself, he understands that arms and soldiers cannot be the sole guard against extremism in a society; yes, there may be a need for military, but there should also be a build up of civil society.

The recent natural disasters in Haiti and Pakistan are a perfect example of the (perceived?) discrimination in U.S. and Western aid distribution that helps fuels extremists. Did Haiti get more aid than Pakistan for disaster relief? It may be difficult to get an accurate dollar- to-dollar comparison, but perhaps perceptions are more significant than reality here. Even if the amount of humanitarian assistance given to different nations was exactly equal, because of historical events, there is a perception in many poorer countries, particularly non-Western countries, that the U.S. is only truly willing to expend time and money to achieve its own political means through military action with no consequences.

Whether or not we believe this or to what extent should not be a primary concern. The U.S. can utilize its vast resources in a more effective way. Instead of spending billions of dollars on war, what if Western nations and inter-governmental organizations spend some more money on the development of civil society? Yes, this would be a daunting task, an I don’t mean to oversimplify, but we can start somewhere. What if we took, let’s say, 1% of the current cost of the war in Afghanistan and put that money towards schools that would educate boys and girls? That would be approximately $3 billion, give or take. Can you imagine how many schools could be erected in Afghanistan with $3 billion dollars? Greg Mortenson did a great job of popularizing this idea in his books Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time and Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It would be fascinating to see how the support for extremist groups in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan might change if foreign assistance from Western governments was directed to programs that worked on increasing education and employment opportunities, instead of bombs.

By Sara Hooker

Sporting events have traditionally been a source of catharsis for the nation-state. The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing was like prom for the girl who had finally removed her braces, as China showed off the eclectic economic mix which had taken it to dizzying new heights of wealth. The World Cup this year in South Africa showed a host nation with a truly hopeless soccer team but a more valid story; a country emerging from the after effects of apartheid as a blossoming economic power.

Of course, the role of the debutante nation-state is not always easy. Greece struggled to organize the 2004 Summer Olympics in time, running massively over budget and saved only by the formidable Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. The games themselves were a success but the fundamental issues within the Olympic committee; corruption, logistical delays and incoherence in government seemed to indicate greater underlying issues which rippled the economic system.

Looking at the latest example of international games, the 2010 Commonwealth Games currently underway in Delhi, India, we may again question what these games say about the economy of the host nation. So far the verdict is discouraging. The games themselves have been ill attended with empty stadiums dominating the landscape and heavy criticism about the state of facilities, particularly the Athletes’ village. This is all against an estimated sunk cost of $2.8 billion, making it the most expensive Commonwealth Games in history.

What does this say about India’s future as an emerging economic power? Read the rest of this entry »

About two weeks ago Julia and I attended the US Global Leadership Council’s annual conference. The day was filled with brilliant speakers, but in the end we both agreed that one of our favorites was Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Working shop. He discussed “Muppet Diplomacy”, the idea that through educational television we can develop nations and encourage a more positive relationship between the U.S. and other nations. As Julia mentioned in an earlier post, this was a refreshing viewpoint on a panel that mostly focused on the direct impact of development on business’ pockets (not so surprising since it was a panel on development’s economic impacts).

Sesame Workshop was founded thirty-eight years ago to help low income children in the U.S. prepare for school. The concept was simple: use television to address the developmental needs of children. Since then, the Sesame Street model has gone global. Sesame Workshop works with 18 countries (Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt ,France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kosovo, Mexico, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Russia, South Africa ) on locally produced media following the Sesame model. Each production team involves the top educators, researchers, psychologists, child development experts, artists, writers and musicians in their respective countries. Today Sesame Street if the most researched show in history.

What is most interesting about this process is how local productions are using the Sesame model to talk about regionally relevant issues. Rechov Sumsum, the production in Israel features Arab-Israeli and Jewish- Israeli muppets living together in harmony. Alam Simsim, Egypt’s production features a bright young female muppet, Khokha, to promote the empowerment and education of young girls.

South Africa’s Takalani Sesame embodies the spirit of the “rainbow nation” and features muppets that speak with accents that reflect the diversity of the nation. Most notable is Kami, a young female muppet who is HIV positive. As South Africa continues to be devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the show is attempting to dispel the culture of silence and stigma surrounding the issue.

The name “Kami” comes from the Setswana word “Kamodelo” which means “acceptance.” Kami is a Read the rest of this entry »

A post by one of our student MDG champions and Issue Analysts- Elizabeth Con, College of Charleston.

StandUp NYC, held in Lincoln Center on September 19th, spread awareness of the Millenium Development Goals and the organizations that have been working to achieve them.  The event was especially relevant because it held on the eve of the UN MDG Summit 2010, which brought together world leaders to discuss the MDG goals.

I thought StandUp NYC was a great event because it had various things for people to engage in: music, speakers, and information tables for organizations who support the MDGs.  I personally enjoyed walking around to the various tables (and getting some great freebies like pins and pens!) and speaking with representatives from the organizations.  I had never heard of some of the organizations out there and it was such a great opportunity to learn more and to see how I could get involved. One of the groups that got my attention was one advocating for road safety.  I never thought of road safety as being a human right, or as something that we would actually have to work to improve, but in many parts of the world, people are killed each day because their roads are not safe and laws are not enforced.

I enjoyed listening to the speakers, especially because each one spoke for only about 15 minutes each.  This was great for me because out there in the sun, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my attention on one speaker for too long.  Each speaker had such an interesting take on the MDGs and their backgrounds were so different that it was great to hear each of their perspectives.

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One last thing about StandUp NYC is that by the time I left Lincoln Center (with two tote bags full of pamphlets and brochures), I felt inspired and ready to plan events and get students on my campus excited and willing to work together to achieve the MDGs.  The representatives from organizations were all so friendly and eager to help that I have even e-mailed a few of them to learn how we can work together towards progress on the MDGs.

Thursday morning I attended Stories of Courage and Success: Surviving and Ending Violence Against Women Internationally, an event that was organized to bolster efforts to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA, H.R. 4594/ S. 2982). There I was– my first day as an official AIDemocracy intern– sitting before an impressive panel of women’s rights advocates. The excitement I felt being in a room with these dedicated individuals, couldn’t prepare me for what I was about to hear.

After opening remarks from Maria Alexandra Arriaga (Senior Campaign Strategist for the Family Violence Prevention Fund) and Paula Kerger (president and CEO of PBS) a woman took the podium and began to sing to the crowd. Although I couldn’t understand the lyrics, the pain in her song didn’t need a translation.

This woman was Rose Mapendo, a Tutsi woman born in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. When the Rwandan army invaded the Congo in 1998 and president Kabila declared Tutsis were the enemy, pregnant Rose, her husband, and seven of her eight children were arrested and sent to a death camp. In the camp Rose witnessed the execution of her husband. According to the commanders at the camp, “women were not worth the bullet” so they were killed in other ways. Rose witnessed her family and friends slowly killed through systematic rape, beatings and starvation. After eight months in captivity Rose gave birth to twin boys on concrete prison floor. She had to beg guards for a piece of bamboo to cut the umbilical cord.

Rose never thought that there was a chance her family would survive the squalor, malnutrition, violence and rape at that camp. Yet through some miracle Rose made it to a refugee camp in Cameroon and eventually resettled to Pheonix, Arizona. She founded Mapendo International in 2003, and “works to fill the critical and unmet needs of people affected by war and conflict who have fallen through the net of humanitarian assistance”. In 2009 Rose was honored with the Humanitarian of the Year Award by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees.

This year PBS will be airing Pushing the Elephant, a film that documents Rose’s reunification with her daughter Nangabire. The documentary follows them for a year as they make up for the decade they were separated. The film airs March 2011 as part of PBS’ Independent Lens Series. When Rose finished sharing her story there was not a dry eye in the house. I couldn’t help but wonder how in the 21st century violence against women can still be used as a weapon of war.

The presentation continued with Ambassador George Ward (Senior VP for International Programs, World Vision) and Samantha Mathis (Actor & Human Rights Activist) explaining the on-the-ground reality of gender based violence. Ritu Sharma (President and Co-Founder, Women Thrive Worldwide) bravely shared her own story as a survivor of rape, and highlighted the necessity to act now on International Violence Against Women’s Act (IVAWA).

When 1 in 3 women worldwide experience violence in their lifetime, measures like IVAWA are not only needed but necessary. I encourage all of you to contact your representatives today to request they support this common sense legislation. You can also visit www.PassIVAWA.org for more information on the legislation and how you can take action.

Read another one of our blogs about IVAWA here.

We are living history. The youth generation of today has witnessed some of the nation’s most momentous events, all of which will undoubtedly be discussed in history classes for years to come. However, not only have we witnessed many, we have participated in and caused for one in particular. In 2008, young voters turned out in record-breaking numbers to the polls to elect President Barack Obama, giving him the win with the largest youth vote for a single candidate ever in history. This election was also the third highest in voter turnout among young people since the voting age was lowered to 18.

In 2008, 51% of voters between 18-29 years old came out to vote—a jump of 11 points since 2000 when 40% voted—constituting the largest spike of any age group. Total turnout of the voting-age population has consistently been on the rise in presidential elections since 1996, when national turnout was 49.1% while in 2008 it was 56.8%. However, while presidential election turnout has been climbing upwards, midterm election turnout has consistently been around 37% since 1978.

Lowered news coverage and overall less “hype” surrounding midterm elections in comparison to presidential races can partially be faulted for minimal turnout during off-years; however, ultimately voters’ mindsets are the heart of the problem. Congressional elections arguably have as much influence over the government’s actions and the overall political scene for the nation as presidential ones. The president’s desires and platform largely, if not entirely, depend on the rulings of Congress to be progressed or denied–making every person’s vote and opinion valuable whether they support the president of the time or not.

This November, the 2010 off-year election ballots will be cast to determine who will sit in 37 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate for many years to come. With such momentous feats amid our freshly blazed trail, we as youth cannot let up now. As the 2010 elections quickly approach, we must keep in mind that our votes are needed as much as ever and that youth hold immense power in politics. Remember, regardless which candidate your vote is cast for, every vote counts in contributing to the workings of democracy upon which our nation was founded. While we as youth are hailed for breaking records in 2008, we can continue to break records with the Senatorial elections of 2010.

Sources:
http://www.civicyouth.org/?page_id=241#3
http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2008G.html
http://www.civicyouth.org/PopUps/FactSheets/FS_youth_Voting_2008_updated_6.22.pdf

I was recently forwarded this article by Peggy Noonan about how youth has outlived its usefulness in American politics.   I was absolutely stunned by her allegations that we are in need of wise old men to guide our futures.  I want to respond to her points thoroughly, so please forgive me if this is long.

First, Ms. Noonan asserts that there is something missing in Washington and that ‘we’ (whom she is including in this we is unconfirmed. Though I suspect it is older, upperclass, white persons…) want something else — and that something is wise old men in advisory positions.  She says:

“They miss old and august. They miss wise and weathered. They miss the presence of bruised and battered veterans of life who’ve absorbed its facts and lived to tell the tale. This is a nation—a world—badly in need of adult supervision”

That presence, she goes on to say, is a father figure, one not unlike the character of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In these opening statements, Ms. Noonan has rejected feminism and all that feminism has done for her. Why is the ‘father figure’ the necessary metaphor? Does Ms. Noonan imagine this council of wise old men as being protectors, as someone to whisper comforting statements that reassert how much better the US is than other nations, how the US should continue unflinching down its path of racism, xenophobia, sexism etc? What about wise old women? Did they not also live through these experiences that Ms. Noonan claims are so useful in guiding politics today?  Or is her implication that their wisdom is restricted to the home, housework and raising children?  Lest she forget that she is a woman who has her job because women stood up and resisted the saturation of old white men in power.

Read the rest of this entry »

Now I don’t usually look to Foreign Policy magazine for my advice on revolution, but this article just seemed too relevant not to share.  Not only have I long struggled against this country’s over-enthusiasm for online organizing (seemingly at the sacrifice of actually rolling up sleeves and getting out in the streets talking to people), but as some of you know, my college classmate Adnan Hajizada was jailed last July for his politicized video blogging as a part of his effort to organize Azeri youth for democracy in Azerbaiajan.

Food for thought to share.

“Twitter Will Undermine Dictators.”
Excerpt from “Think Again: The Internet”, Foreign Policy May/June 2010

#Wrong. Tweets don’t overthrow governments; people do. And what we’ve learned so far is that social networking sites can be both helpful and harmful to activists operating from inside authoritarian regimes. Cheerleaders of today’s rapidly proliferating virtual protests point out that online services such as Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube have made it much easier to circulate information that in the past had been strictly controlled by the state — especially gruesome photos and videos and evidence of abuses by police and the courts. Think of the Burmese dissidents who distributed cell-phone photos documenting how police suppressed protests, or opposition bloggers in Russia who launched Shpik.info as a Wikipedia-like site that allows anyone to upload photos, names, and contact details of purported “enemies of democracy” — judges, police officers, even some politicians — who are complicit in muzzling free speech. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown famously declared last year that the Rwandan genocide would have been impossible in the age of Twitter.

But does more information really translate into more power to right wrongs?

Read the rest of this entry »

In the Friday, April 16th edition of The New York Times, Trip Gabriel and Damien Cave reported on the recent actions of Florida governor Charlie Crist.  In a move that split with the Republican majority of the Florida State Legislature, Governor Crist vetoed a bill that would have linked teachers’ pay to student performance on new end-of-term assessments.

The NYT article calls attention to two different implications related to the Governor’s veto:

  1. It runs contrary to the intentions of the Race to the Top program, created by Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education.
  2. It will significantly affect Governor Crist’s chances in his upcoming Florida Senatorial campaign.

Both of these items are important when looking at the scope of the vetoing of the bill.  The Republican majority was in favor of the bill, which actually championed some of the objectives of the Race to the Top Program.  Whenever Republicans do something that seems to side with the Obama administration, it deserves attention.  Though the Race to the Top incentive does not specifically outline intentions of creating merit-based pay incentives for education programs, it does offer financial awards to states “that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive education reform.” When a Republican goes against his party by opposing any pro-Obama policy while simultaneously moving to the left (or at least, moving away from the right – Governor Crist is considering slipping off his Republic mantle and running for Senator as an Independent), this warrants significant attention.

The opinion of educators across Florida seems to be that Governor Crist has helped saved thousands of jobs by vetoing the bill. Though this “merit pay bill” was partially intended to raise the chances of the state to receive $700 million in federal grants, teachers feared that it would base the likelihood of renewal of job contracts and the setting of teacher wages on factors that were ultimately outside of their realms of influence – i.e. making students care about what they’re learning, or even forcing them to actually attend school. Though he recognized that the idea of merit-based pay is a potentially positive initiative to help improve education, Governor Crist vetoed the bill, citing the fact that there was not a clear enough measuring mechanism by which such a meritocracy would be judged.

What the article fails to highlight is the what should be done in place of the now squashed bill.  At first glance, the principle of merit-based pay seems appropriate for teachers. Read the rest of this entry »

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