Monday, January 31, 2011

What Makes for a Middle Eastern Revolution? Answer--Highly Educated Young People with Cell Phones and Few Opportunities

Why did Egypt and before that Tunisia suddenly explode? One theory is that the proliferation of cell phones--as Salman Shaikh, Director, Brookings Doha Center reports in the blog:

"To glimpse the nature of what can emerge, we should understand the rapidly changing social structure of Arab societies. Those societies are more educated, urban and connected than ever before. Due to the phenomenal growth of secondary and university-level education, literacy rates among the region's youths have skyrocketed in the past 40 years. The percentage of people living in Arab cities has risen by 50% in the same period.

The number of mobile phone users and internet users has proliferated to hundreds of thousands since the technology was introduced to the region 10 or 15 years ago. No wonder, then, that the people have finally snapped at the lack of opportunity and representation and the high levels of corruption and control that characterize their lives."

As Shaikh adds:

"Most tellingly, more has united the protesting people than divided them. Notable has been the absence of a clear, emerging leader of the protests, particularly from Islamist party leadership.

All of these changes have been fueled ironically enough by other US made inventions --namely the internet, Twitter and Facebook--that Shakih notes "has sustained the spread of the Arab revolution."

So we have a demand for a more pluralistic and open society that the old top down leaders used to one way broadcast technology (TV and radio) are finding increasingly harder to resist. The medium is in this case very much the message. Where it ends no one knows but other repressive regimes may now be seeing some writing not on their real and their Facebook walls.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Take a look at Google's NGrams and See if you Can Use it In Your Classroom

Ngrams are a wonderful new invention by Google. I would encourage you to play with
this way to use Google's formidable bank of digitalized books from the 1800 to the present. In the above ngram you can see how the word "global" comes into vogue during the post war period and after a long term decline in use, love justice and empathy are all on a very slight upswing. What to make of these trends is anyone's guess but it could provide a fascinating challenge for students to find out how these words' changing fortunes reflect our changing times. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Empathy at the Core of Our Work as Global Educators?

The development of empathy I would like to think is at the core of our work as global educators. As best selling author and polymath Jeremy Rifkin makes clear it is part of what makes us human and has led us to develop the kind of civilization we now inhabit. The big question he asks in this very entertaining animated lecture (a nice change of pace by the way from the TED lecture which should be renamed Talk, Emote and Dumbfound) is can we move beyond our ties to family, then community and to country to embrace and empathize with the world community. The answer we give to that one could determine whether we can survive as a species or not. Take a look and decide:

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Military Industrial Complex--Fifty Years On

It is 50 years since President Eisenhower gave his great farewell speech in which he warned of a military industrial complex. The import of the warning in the nationally televised speech that aired on January 17th 1961 was largely ignored, particularly the theme that as Andrew Bacevich points out in this month’s Atlantic magazine was woven into the text that spending on arms was akin to “misappropriation of scarce resources” a kind of theft. “Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold are not clothed.” Any nation that spends to purchase arms is “spending more than mere money.. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” Eisenhower made the first effort any President has done before or since to quantify the cost for ordinary people “The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities..We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed 8,000 people.”

But the US continued to ignore the warnings. In the 1950s with economic prosperity booming the politicians and the public saw no need to trade off between guns and butter. We seemed to have sleepwalked our way into what Bacevich terms as the “national security state”
That state has such power over us so that despite the need for harsh choices, we are no closer to taking any kind of close look at $700 billion (doubling in the past decade)defense budget and no closer examining the underlying assumptions that dictate that we still need a huge defense build up after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of asymmetrical war fare. In addition we exceed $80 billion in intelligence spending. Our military outlays are almost the same as all other nations combined. We continue with “threat inflation” as some have termed it to order new bombers and new battleships despite the chronic needs of America’s poorest citizens, the deteriorating infrastructure and the palpable needs to grow a 21st century green economy. Eisenhower wanted the people, the citizens to exercise common sense oversight over the expanding military budget—“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” We know that military spending does not very much for the economy—investments in schools and hospitals would yield far more in jobs than missile production but 50 years later our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq costing one trillion (at least) with the final cost coming closer to three trillion while the military industrial complex expands we are at a cross roads. Can we develop a debate about the size of the military and cultivate a sense of what our global and American citizenship demands?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Plutocrats Need to Decide the Future they Want for Themselves and the World in the 21st century

The lead article in this month's Atlantic by Chrystia Freeland of the Financial Times "The Rise of the New Ruling Class: How the Global Elite is Leaving You Behind" does not offer much in the way of new information about our increasingly isolated and entitled plutocratic class. We have known for a while that the economic meltdown was in part caused by a group of very well educated would be masters of the universe who newly equipped with turbo charged technology tools with money and access to the world's most powerful politicians, journalists and academics. That is why the global meltdown took everyone so much by surprise --I mean everyone! You knew that right? And why the deal that was arranged between the White House, the Congress, the Fed and Wall Street that bailed out the wrong doers was so quickly worked out away from the media spotlight.

What is new and interesting are the details--the quotes from the entitled that reconfirm that they feel victimized by having to pay a few percentage points more for their already grandiose lifestyles and their belief that it was the greed and ignorance of those who got locked into sub-prime mortgages and credit card debt that caused the meltdown. What is disturbing is that some of those most out of touch have working class origins--for example Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein is the son of a Brooklyn post office worker and Tony Hayward the disgraced Shell CEO has also blue collar roots. They all share along with their Russian plutocratic cousins a barely concealed sense of entitlement to not just modest rewards for a job well done but gargantuan ones. One of Freeland's informants comments about the change since the 1980s and 90s when “where there were men in their 30s and 40s making $2 and $3 million a year, and that was disgusting. But then you had the Internet age, and then globalization, and you had people in their 30s, through hedge funds and Goldman Sachs partner jobs, who were making $20, $30, $40 million a year. And there were a lot of them doing it. I think people making $5 million to $10 million definitely don’t think they are making enough money.” The executives featured in the article know the streets of Davos and Aspen where the rich and the famous gather with the rest of the global elite for their annual conferences better than their own neighborhoods. Many of them are as one CEO describes himself-"global nomads open to many perspectives." One of the perspectives is that the US is overpriced and that US businesses if they are going to be successful must "internationalize aggressively"--meaning they have to locate their businesses closer to their customers and that relatively high priced US workers must either take a pay cut
or demonstrate their superior value. One of the CEOs believe that if the price of three or four people in India or China to be lifted out of poverty is for a member of the US middle class to drop their living standards (read unemployed) then the price can be justified. It would be nice to believe they were saying these things because they genuinely wanted to help relieve poverty in Asia but it is doubtful. The real intention seems to be to want to bring the price of labor down everywhere so that profits can be more easily extracted. This maybe what Lloyd Blankfein was referring in his arrogant way to "doing God's work" when he tried to placate public outrage about his role and the role of brokerages like Goldman Sachs during the recent financial meltdown. If they truly believe that the world is better off with their version of global capitalism it would be great to subject these ideas to public debate, but as is so often the case these issues are never properly discussed except among their elite politician friends for whom they raise tremendous amounts of money for. Could we at least expect the media to ask the hard questions of our policymakers now that the public is beginning to discover the unfairness issue. Perhaps they could begin with the simple proposition that if we are to become in the US ten times more productive to successfully compete overseas and justify our more than subsistence level compensation--can the plutocrats give a little more back in taxes to create the kind educational and training opportunities for those most vulnerable to unemployment?

The problem in all this is even in a supercharged competitive global environment the oligarchs who bebenefited so richly from globalization seem blissfully unaware of the need to engage around these political and moral issues. Instead they seem to want more and more rewards for their efforts. It would not be so bad if the Wall Street world they inhabit bore any real relationship to the rest of the economy but like the Tulip crazes of a time ago the derivative markets in particular more closely resemble the casino hall as numerous other commentators have pointed out than they do a stock market. As Freeland remarks, "This plutocratic fantasy is, of course, just that: no matter how smart and innovative and industrious the super-elite may be, they can’t exist without the wider community. Even setting aside the financial bailouts recently supplied by the governments of the world, the rich need the rest of us as workers, clients, and consumers." Politicians and the media have sometimes indulged these fantasies and pretended otherwise glamorizing their outsized life styles and party-going in return for favors large and small. Freeland well the consequences of a world where the media and political elite mingle with plutocrats in meetings like Davos and a score of prestigious think tank events. How these gatherings tend to reinforce each others sense of huge privilege and entitlement. No wonder so many of them are prone to foot in the mouth "let them eat cake" type statements that will eventually in this new age of austerity force a political backlash that will begin a new round of protectionism. As Freeland points out that while "plutocrats’ opposition to increases in their taxes and tighter regulation of their economic activities is understandable, it is also a mistake. The real threat facing the super-elite, at home and abroad, isn’t modestly higher taxes, but rather the possibility that inchoate public rage could cohere into a more concrete populist agenda—that, for instance, middle-class Americans could conclude that the world economy isn’t working for them and decide that protectionism or truly punitive taxation is preferable to incremental measures such as the eventual repeal of the upper-bracket Bush tax cuts." It will be interesting to watch as the next decade unfolds how far this new global class are prepared to push the extremes. Do they really want to live lives ensconced within high security skyscrapers with their own helipads overlooking the slums where their fellow men and women eke out their daily living--is this what they regard as success in the 21st century? In case you don't believe this type of behavior is possible --take a closer look at the photograph at the top of this blog--it is the 27 storey "home" that Indian Billionaire Mukesh Ambani, that according to one report is "believed to be the most expensive home in the world" ….Located in Mumbai it overlooks the sprawling slums, and as well as a Cinema, Swimming Pools it has you guessed it a helicopter pad...maybe for a quick escape?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Uncomfortable Truths--The Price of Our Electronic Gadgets Just Got Higher

Increasingly, it is apparent in our ecologically sensitive age that there are two prices for everything we buy--the price we pay in the store and the price we pay for the damage to the planet that is caused in the production of the product. There is a teachable opportunity here that could reinforce some hard to take lessons about the cruelty that sometimes provides the bedrock for the comfort and convenience our products provide us. Take the humble cell phone--most of us have no idea how they work and much less about what the materials are needed to manufacture them. Did you know the product includes the mineral, tantalum, which allows the phone to preserve its memory even when the battery dies. So here is what you need to know about tantalum--it is mined in the Congo under cruel conditions that finance rebel groups. According to Elizabeth Flock in the Washington Post"Over the past decade, more than 5 million people have died, and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in the struggle for power, according to the Raise Hope for Congo campaign. While the Congolese government has expressed interest in tackling the multimillion-dollar trade in minerals, the involvement of its own troops has led critics to question their efforts."

The Enough Campaign in the US has successfully lobbied for some actions--now the US has required in the recent Wall Street Reform bill for companies to disclose the origins of the minerals used in their products. 'The plan is that just naming and shaming will ratchet up the pressure, and in turn these companies will lean on the smelting operations that supply the minerals they use.' The state is too weak to control the outright criminality but we as consumers have a duty to find out what companies are doing about the problem. Only consumer awareness and threats of boycotts of those companies that are not moving fast enough to seek alternatives will be effective. The Raise Hope for Congo Campaign is a good start to get started. Consumers have the power to make the changes here as Margaret Bunting points out in her excellent column on the topic in The Guardian, the Congo situation is an instance "of how globalisation generates ungovernable spaces. Where there is a collision of desperate poverty, plentiful guns and a world greedy for natural resources, a brutal chaos results. To combat that, it takes a very tenacious sort of global campaigning – bringing to attention each element of the system and the part it can play in leveraging change – and mercifully, that is what is now finally starting to happen."

Lets hope but it all begins by becoming more globally aware of our lifestyle and its costs.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

More Effort Needed to Understand the Struggle of Young People for Cultural and National Identity and Acceptance

with WINGS and ROOTS - Trailer from Christina Antonakos-Wallace on Vimeo.

Reviewing this trailer soon to be documentary( with WINGS and ROOTS by Christina Antonakos-Wallace)--reminded me of the way we still remain largely ignorant of the issues confronting young people who are faced with the confusing messages societies in Europe and the US provide on issue of cultural and national identity. In the US through the mechanism of the "Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act" DREAM Act we seemed to have come near to recognizing our ethical responsibility to at least grant the children of illegal immigrants who graduate from US high schools, a pathway to citizenship. The legislation would allow such a pathway if such students served either two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning." That limited pathway to citizenship was rejected by the US Senate on December 18 2009.

We all need to understand not just the plight of the children of illegal immigrants but also the mixed messages that various nations sends to immigrants. Viewing documentaries such as With Roots and Wings can help to see that most countries have struggled with the need to separate a country's identity from an ethnic one and to assist more people to view their allegiance to country in non racial terms.