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Questions from Nepal: Debating the Merits of Voluntourism

On April 25th, a devastating earthquake hit Kathmandu, Nepal, killing over 4,000 people. As many around the world respond to the immediate aftermath, others look toward the future: how will Nepal rebuild? Financial aid is obviously needed; India is leading a massive aid effort along with other countries, while the US has already pledged $10 million. But the country will also need physical support. Who should provide it?

In the aftermath of the earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, the country was flooded with untrained volunteers working with various NGOs. But while their hearts were in the right place, many of these good Samaritans did more harm than good. As Claire Bennett notes:

Ragtag brigades of well-intentioned do-gooders flooded the country…all clambering over one another looking for a way to make their mark and do good, but lacking either the skills or coordination to have an impact…. There were even reports of teams of doctors who arrived to help but were unable to feed themselves. This wave of unsolicited and poorly planned shipments of untrained people and donated goods was dubbed by some humanitarians “the second disaster." 

The Iran Negotiations, the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, the TPP, and your Congress

Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and the Iranian delegation at nuclear talks in Switzerland

The drama over a nuclear control deal with Iran displays the United States as a global visionary. We seek to bring a proud, powerful, and estranged nation back into the wider global community. At the same time, we would reduce the risks of nuclear war by imposing tight controls on bomb-making technologies.

Some allies are horrified. Many conservative legislators are rebellious. Some intelligent commentators seem so mired in regional rivalry issues that they miss the broader (and even the regional) benefits of opening up the region to more peaceful trade and political interaction.

The initial American opposition to the Chinese-sponsored Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and our exclusion of China from our proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would put us in the position of acting as a conservative empire protector. That role would have us so concerned with maintaining Western internationalist-oriented global political and economic structures that we risk failing to accommodate the rise of governments having over two billion citizens (including China and India, as well as other BRIC countries). 

Fortunately, President Obama has reportedly backed off opposition to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The architecture of TPP remains the same.

General Assembly members demand UNSG selection reform

Current UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

The United Nations General Assembly convened this week to discuss specific proposals in selecting the organization’s top officer.  

The Charter provides a rather uncomplicated process for electing the Secretary-General: appointment by the General Assembly upon nomination of the Security Council. There is no mention of the veto, term of office, or other criteria that have received criticism in recent years. Those provisions arise mostly from a 1946 General Assembly resolution. In recent years, members of the General Assembly have come to view that resolution as a restriction on their ability to select from among several qualified candidates.

During the discussion, India called for multiple nominees to be presented by the Security Council, with the Assembly appointing one as the new Secretary-General by a two-thirds majority vote. This would revise two core provisions of the 1946 rules. Indonesia proposed another significant reform by suggesting that the nominees from the Security Council not be subject to the veto.

Common Oceans: The Vision of Elisabeth Mann Borgese

The people of the earth [have] agreed that the advancement of man in spiritual excellence and physical welfare is the common goal of mankind...that therefore the age of nations must end, and the era of humanity begin.

           —Preamble to the Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution

 Elisabeth Mann Borgese (24 April 1918 – 8 February 2002) was a strong-willed woman. She had to come out from under the shadow of both her father, the German writer and Nobel laureate Thomas Mann, and her husband, Italian literary critic and political analyst Giuseppe Antonio Borgese.

 Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain was a monument of world literature between the two World Wars, and Mann felt that he represented the best of German culture against the uncultured hordes of the Nazis.  He took himself and his role very seriously, believing that his family existed basically to facilitate his thinking and writing.

G.A. Borgese regularly lectured at various universities on the evils of Mussolini. A leading literary critic and professor in Milan, he left Italy for the United States in 1931 when Mussolini announced that an oath of allegiance to the Fascist State would be required of all Italian professors. For Borgese, with a vast culture including the classic Greeks, the Renaissance Italians, and the 19th-century nationalist writers, Mussolini was an evil caricature which too few Americans recognized as a destructive force in his own right, and not just as the fifth wheel of Hitler's armed car.

The Dangerous Disintegration of Yemen

Taking a page from the Soviet script of 1968 Czechoslovakia, Saudi Arabia has come to the fraternal aid of Yemeni President Rabbo Mansour Hadi by starting to bomb Sana and massing 150,000 troops on the frontier and war ships off the coast. 

On the eve of what should be called Saudi aggression, a letter of President Hadi asking for the brotherly help of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council and others was written. The ink was hardly dry on the message calling to defend the security and stability of the region and to counter the threat to world peace that fighter jets posed in the air. Messages of support came from Turkey and Pakistan. The US promised intelligence and logistic support.

One might think that there had been some military planning prior to receiving President Hadi's letter, unless one believes that the Saudi army is always on ready alert and can plan and stage a major offensive in a few hours. President Hadi is now living safely in Saudi Arabia, so we may never know the exact timing of the appeal and action.

President Hadi, although weakened by revolts, has a detailed knowledge of both internal and regional politics, having been Vice President during the last segment of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 30-year rule. Saleh had officially left power after riots in 2011 but stayed in the country and kept in touch with his supporters. Part of the current struggle can be seen as a conflict between the supporters of the two men.  However, that would give too much importance to internal political life, overlooking the regional political dimensions as well as the highly fragmented nature of Yemeni society.

Social Media in China and Suppression Thereof

Internet Cafe in Beijing (Courtesy of the Guardian (US)/Photo by How Hwee Young/EPA)

Citizens’ voicing dissent through social media as well as the Communist Party’s efforts to quell speech it deems a threat to its rule is nothing new in China.

In the late 1970s, at a wall near Tiananmen Square in Beijing—which would become known as the Xidan Democracy Wall or simply Democracy Wall—people would voice their grievances and yearnings for change (See Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China).

It was used like a bulletin board where people posted banners, essays, poems, and other writings on various subjects, including but not limited to issues on economics and politics.

Deng Xiaoping even tolerated it for a while, as he didn’t want to become as rigid as Mao Zedong was and let innovative thinking and economic growth stagnate as it did during the Cultural Revolution (1965-1968). He also believed that people had the right to vent. But as the messages posted on the Wall became more and more anti-Party, especially after Wei Jingshing posted an essay calling for democracy as the Fifth Modernization,* Deng and the Party started clamping down. The postings were moved elsewhere, and people had to pay or get permission from their employer to post something on the wall.

One Country. One Constitution. One Destiny.

​Today, April 15, 2015, is the 150th anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln. He was shot shortly after 10 PM on the night of April 14th, 1865, inside Ford's Theatre, then was carried across the street: 10th Street, between E and F, NW, to the Petersen boarding house, where he expired at 7:22 AM the next morning.

Since I live in Washington, DC, and since I am usually a bit of a night owl, I spent some time there last night and into this morning. The solemnity of the candlelight vigil in the middle of 10th Street in the middle of the night, commemorating the hours when the president lay dying, was quite moving to me -- and, it seemed, to virtually all the participants.

Tad Daley inside Ford's Theatre at 11:15 pm EDT on the night of April 14th, 2015, directly across from the box where U. S. President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated exactly 150 years earlierI spent some time touring the museum in the Ford's Theatre basement, and the recently-opened "Center for Education and Leadership" immediately adjacent to the Petersen House. I have done this before and will undoubtedly do it again.

But this time, I noticed something new.

50% Women, 100% Equal

A few weeks ago, my professor did something I’m not used to witnessing in liberal Berkeley, California: he made a sexist comment. Discussing Chinese military expansion at length, and feeling the lack of energy in the room, he tried (and failed) to lighten the mood with a joke: “I’m sure the women are bored by this, they’d rather I go back to talking about Hello Kitty.”

My jaw dropped only slightly further than yours. 

Its that not that I am so naïve as to think sexism is dead, I had just never witnessed it so blatantly and so close to home (my very progressive, liberal home). Growing up, I was blessed to be surrounded by the image of equality: all my class rooms were more or less 50% girls, I’ve always had female state senators representing me, and both my parents have the same graduate degree. In my eyes, my corner of the world appeared to be equal.

But numbers can be deceiving. After all, the room to which my professor made his “joke” was over 50% women; and yet, sexism was still 100% there.

This is exactly the point being made by Andrea Cornwall, a professor of anthropology and development at the University of Sussex: a focus on improving the numbers often overlooks and inhibits reducing the stereotypes and institutional standards that created gender inequality in the first place. As she eloquently argues:

while the push to fulfill the numerical targets set by the MDGs gets billions of dollars, the transformational work of women’s organisations is often absent from decision-making tables and starved of funds…the development industry has entrenched tired and limiting stereotypes and left untouched the deep structures of privilege and power. 

Letters to Jake Series, Letter #7

Dear Jake,

I am proud to say that words my Cincinnati team wrote to share at the 2014 Greater Cincinnati World Peace Festival have been posted on the website. The title is Embracing a United Federation of Nations and you can find it here.

The text begins with our vision of a world at peace, where all people have the Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Many great thinkers, including Socrates, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King have pointed the way. The web-pages that unfold when you follow the red prompts explain why this is a good idea, what it includes (and excludes), and what are the benefits. They also provide answers to frequently asked questions.

At our World Peace Festival which took place at the World Peace Bell in Northern Kentucky, I gave a brief speech entitled "We are citizens of the world." I also introduced Father Ben Urmston, SJ, who had his 89th birthday on the day of the festival. It was so fitting to be able to honor Father Ben at the peace festival. He is a World War II veteran who has been working for peace ever since. He is the one who introduced me to the concept of a democratic federation of nations and the need for global citizenship. Ben firmly believes that war would not be needed if we establish world laws in a democratic manner and used them to protect universal human rights. We could use world courts to solve disagreements instead of bombs and guns. The laws would apply to every individual on the planet, and the leaders who made the decision to go to war are the ones who would be brought to court. That certainly would be a better way to govern the world.

Europe’s Proactive Efforts to Reach Out to Youth at Risk of Joining Jihadist Movements

Courtesy of AP/Archives and Mitteldeutsche Zeitung

 In my previous blog, I mentioned examples of interfaith and intercultural dialogue going on in Europe and emphasized the need for expansion of such efforts and the need for the world public to be more informed about them. In this blog, I will focus on intervention for youth considered to be greatly at risk of going to the religious extreme.

Bishop Michel Dubost (Head of French Bishops Council for Interfaith Relations), says that lots of immigrants, especially teenagers, don’t feel connected with society in France. This is partly because they don’t have roots in French society and don’t have an elder to talk to about their heritage, and this makes them easily influenced by extremists. This is true in Germany as well, where many people (both Muslim and non-Muslim alike) believe that one can’t be German and Muslim at the same time. Environments like these create the conditions for extremist yearning among youth to fester in a cycle of hostility between those who perceive other groups as being different.

The place where disaffected youth tend to become influenced by extremists is usually over the internet via social media sites, not in a mosque. In Europe, certain nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) seek to intervene when they notice young people accessing extremist websites.