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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Et tu Brute?

In Culture, Democracy, Economics, The United States on September 6, 2009 at 8:52 am

Accountability, transparency and change. Such were the promises of Obama during his campaign and during the first few months of his presidency. Change would be transparent, and those who committed past transgressions would be held accountable. The biggest flaw? He relied too much on the general public, and sincerely believed that as they wanted change (hence them electing him into office) they would also agree with pretty much everything he proposed.

I was thrilled that within a few days of his officially taking up office, he denounced Guantanamo and stated that it must be closed and quickly proposed a brand new stimulus package to jump start the economy. He cautioned that decisions must be made quickly and a stimulus package must not be developed within the “politics as usual” mentality. Shortly thereafter, he proposed an examination of U.S. practices regarding the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as water-boarding, and again asserted that it would now be U.S. policy to follow the Geneva conventions. Such times for Obama were grand and he was riding on enormous public support, unprecedented by a newly arrived President almost reaching the 70% approval mark while coasting nicely above 60% in the Gallup Polls. Then the tide began to turn.

It started with photos that Obama decided to release regarding the victims of water-boarding techniques, and peaked with information regarding large bonuses being paid to banks and large financial institutions that received bailout money. Obama was wise in ceasing the release of additional photos, as it would undermine the U.S. intelligence gathering machine, forcing such individuals to constantly analyze an order based upon whether or not it might become illegal in the future. The bonuses, however, are another story. Indeed, he was quick to use very explicit language regarding the giving of such bonuses, but the damage was done and the government was in a bind based upon the legality of being able to actually stop the bonuses form being paid. However, popular support was still rather high for Obama, holding a higher than 60% approval rating. Regardless, much political capital was already paid out and many proposals, such as the stimulus package, were largely uni-partisanly based and it finally caught up with him. Nevertheless, feeling confident and seeing his approval rating still above 60% through the month of July, the Obama administration believed they had the ability to initiate one of the most ambitious changes in the first few months of Obama’s presidency. Health care reform.

Oh how those three little words have proven to dramatically change Obama’s position in the political spectrum. Though it may take a student of brain surgery to actually understand the bill, grouped together with dramatic accusations of what the bill will do to private insurance companies on both sides of the center, the compromise of getting rid of the public option all together threatens to undermine the Obama presidency less than a year he is in office.

If only he would have thrown a little bit of a bone to the Republicans.

Everything that he set out to do along with the energy in which he did it, has climaxed to this point. Though touting the need for bipartisanship and the need to stay away from “politics as usual”, it sadly has turned out to be quite the opposite. The Democrats for once took advantage of a reeling Republican party who did not know its own identity, as well as having a majority in Congress, to state loudly that the tables have turned and refused to give the Republicans any concessions regarding the stimulus package and crammed in any provisions in bills that the Republicans might have blocked in the years before. Unfortunately they picked the wrong time to do it.

True enough, America’s health care is in a dire state. This has been established. What is lacking is an honest dialogue by both parties, as well as a clear, sophisticated debate on the issue. The general public has reared its ugly head and accused Obama of Nazism, a criticism that is highly unintelligent and unwarranted. Nevertheless, the inability to work with the other party, despite it collapsing internally, has finally came around. The public option, which is a critical component of the bill, is in danger, not because of it necessarily being bad or even “evil” as many of its critics will jump at the bit to explain, but because the Obama administration and the Democrats failed to sell it and woo private insurance companies and the Republicans that it is actually a good thing. Instead, reliance upon a majority in Congress as well as a large public support base gave false hopes to the Obama administration that it could get away with seamlessly passing health care reform based solely upon the Democrat’s vision of what it should look like. To put it simply, they became lazy and the rooster has finally come home to roost.

American government was not built to be fast moving, in order to implement any type of reform or law instantaneously, especially when it is a controversial one. Instead, America’s government institutions were built to move slowly, check what the other is doing, and provide a forum of sophisticated debate on proposed legislature. What has been lacking is the latter, and the American population is in the process of doing a 180ยบ turn and populist movements are jumping on the opportunity.

The greatest mistake was that Obama did not take to heart the Shakespearean concept of what a general public is. They may love you in the present, but it does not take much, nor a lot of time, for their mood to change, and the politicians that represent them to obligingly turn around, and reveal their hidden daggers.


Nepotism at its ugliest

In Civil Society, Culture, International Organizations, United Nations on August 23, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Ask any recent graduate and they will tell you that the job market is not what you would call alive and well, especially employment in the international relations sector. Governments are forced to cut back aid and focus tax-payer money on domestic stimulus projects. This not only means less money for international organizations, but also a restructuring on how these organizations employ recent graduates.

Sadly, these practices are strengthening the ineptitude of multilateral institutions, and are promoting nepotism at its ugliest.

Look for any “entry level” position and you will find that the minimum requirement is 3 or 5 years of experience, in a very specific region of study, mainly in terms of actual field work. This high barrier of entry is making it very difficult for individuals without any actual experience, recent graduates for example, to get their foot in the door, despite how passionate one may be about a certain issue. So how do recent graduates get into the world of tax-free salaries? Simple. Unpaid internships are widely available that are full time, and last anywhere from 3 months to a year. Unpaid internships are common, especially for institutions that do not have a lot of funding, such as those that are doing business without a thought for profit, (supposedly NGOs) or those who find themselves in industries that are seeing their profit margins drastically decreasing. (American newspapers).

Despite this rather ugly trend of paying educated people little to nothing, it is actually not a very good practice for one simple reason. It is nepotism at its worst, and nepotism just breeds more inefficiency, something that IOs are notorious for having.

Many qualified individuals coming out of universities had to work full time in order to finance their studies. Let’s not forget to mention that many had to take out large amounts of student loans in order to keep up with the slight increases of tuition that universities installed each year, and they have 6 months to find meaningful employment before the governments calls the loans in. Also, these individuals cannot afford to do unpaid internships, for the simple argument that many of these organizations, such as the United Nations, have offices in cities with extremely large costs of living. New York City, Geneva, Brussels, Luxembourg, Paris, London, Tokyo etc, make it nearly impossible for most recent graduates to not only work without a salary, but to even find a place to live and eat three solid meals a day. You thought student life was rough with ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches, wait till you work for free.

Instead, the trend seems to be that the large number of those unpaid internships are being filled by those individuals whose families were more than willing to pay for their education, and who are also willing to fit the bill to have their children work for free. This is slamming the door shut in the faces of many qualified, highly educated individuals with a fierce passion for wanting to better the world in some way. They do not want the status quo, they want to change it. They’ve sat through the NGO classes, and those dealing with the United Nations. They know about their inefficiencies, as well as their good traits, the same or perhaps even better than their fellow colleagues who had patrons. Instead, the door remains open for a distinct group of people, despite their qualifications, their grades received, or the quality of the thesis they wrote, who can simply afford to work for free.

Therefore it is puzzling to me why this system exists the way it does. The obvious reason is simply there just is not enough funding. But this is a cop out. Unless every person in a given office in a given institution does not partake in any training activity whatsoever, then yes, there is not enough funding to employ someone without any experience. The other reason is that maybe international organizations merely like the current system the way it is. Perhaps it is a form of keeping the old guard in place, no matter how inefficient they seem to be. If they can continue to draw their current salary and fly first class to impoverished areas, stay in Hiltons and eat at fancy restaurants while reporting on the state of the country’s economy they are studying at that time, than why should it change?

Nepotism exists to keep a certain group in and a certain group out. Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule, and it is a general statement to make regarding international organizations, as some do pay their interns and there does exist opportunities for recent graduates outside of unpaid internships. Nevertheless, this is quite common and if people who have the means and are willing to work for free, why change it? Why pay educated people to work 8 hours a day doing the same job that someone else did a few years ago who drew a yearly salary? Nepotism like this does not provide a way for innovation or for improving the efficiency of an organization, it just keeps a distinct type of class in and another type of class out.

Sadly, this argument is assuming that there exists a civil society who can make a difference. This has been debated from both sides. The core argument is whether or not the world is better or worse off with international organizations. I believe that it is better off. However, if one is in this world to make a positive difference to civil society, I would ask all these individuals to look at your government first and if the options are not available, do something independently second. All this talk of reforming the Security Council, or needing something better than the UN is very redundant, if these organizations do not first employ individuals based on their merits and accomplishments, rather than whether or not they can afford to work for free.