Got the internship!

It’s official. This summer I’ll be working at the US Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark as an intern with the US Commercial Service. The USCS is the trade promotion wing of the Department of Commerce, and I’ll be assisting American businesses as they look to export or open up operations in Scandinavia.

I’ve never been to Copenhagen, my Danish is at Level Zero (although most people speak English anyway), and I still need to buy a plane ticket, but I can’t wait until June now.

Comparative Political Pregnancy

Today, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) turns 20. My brother and his wife are expecting their first child (and it’ll be the first baby in the immediate family), so I was interested to read more about what pregnancy and childbirth mean for working parents and their careers. As you may know, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation not to mandate paid maternity leave, and one of a few without any true paternity benefits. FMLA was and remains the only attempt at addressing this gap, although it is still far behind other advanced democracies’ efforts.

The Atlantic just posted an article discussing the shortcomings of FMLA and what it sees as a lack in legislation designed to help balance the twin obligations of family and career.

More eye-opening is this graphic from Upworthy’s Rollie Williams, which compares the various international approaches to the question of paid leave. Sweden takes the cake, to nobody’s surprise, but our neighbors in Canada and our friends in the UK get handsome benefits as well. Williams unfortunately leaves out most of Asia. Since East Asia especially is stepping onto the world stage as the world’s most competitive economic region, I was interested to see if their citizens’ benefits might be influenced by the drive to compete globally. I did some searching and I’m betting that there’s little support for the argument that paid leave would hamper a nation’s productivity in the long run…

  • CHINA: 90 days, but moving to 98 days paid maternity leave. Women with miscarriages (including abortions) also get paid leave, which is interesting, although I doubt that abortion clause would ever even be attempted in the States.
  • SINGAPORE: 16 weeks paid maternity leave. If you’re Singaporean, the government also now pays you a bonus, gives dads a week of paid paternity leave, gives parents paid leave every year while their children are young, and offers four weeks government-paid adoption leave.
  • JAPAN: 14 weeks with 67% of wages paid.
  • TAIWAN: Up to 6 months at 60% of wages paid. Interestingly, most Taiwanese mothers don’t apply for the benefit–they’re afraid it will have a negative effect on their careers. Still, they have the option.

The Korbel frisbee squad

frisbee_korbel

Every Saturday, anywhere between 10 and 25 Korbel students (and a few alumni living in the area) get together at Observatory Park to play some ultimate frisbee. After a nonstop week of reading, debating, writing and perhaps some sleeping, it’s nice to run around in the Denver sun.

And yes, this picture was taken in early February.

Intelligence Analyst – a top job?

NBCnews.com ran an article featuring the best and worst jobs in America. There wasn’t much to be surprised about – physicians, IT specialists, accountants, actuaries, anybody with an M.D. One pleasant surprise, however, was the inclusion of ‘Intelligence Analyst.’ Seeing as half my class is interested in a career in intel for the federal government, that caught my eye.

Government Intelligence Analyst
Median salary: $85,000
Top salary: $115,000

The Nordic Model

Today, The Economist printed a feature article on the successes of the so-called Nordic Model of governance. Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland are at or near the top of the various comparative indices measuring quality of life and good governance: HDICorruptions Percentage IndexDemocracy IndexFailed States IndexProperty Rights. I suppose one could throw Iceland (and maybe even Estonia) into the mix as well.

I feel compelled to share this article because it suggests the benefits of balancing what each American political party could do best if they stuck to their principles; that is, if they chose to focus on results over gamesmanship, pandering and whining about the opponent.

Also, I’d love to visit Scandinavia.

Speakers, speakers, speakers

Korbel has a nice policy regarding scheduling: no classes between 11:50am and 2:00pm during the week. That two-hour block then serves as an opportunity to host speakers, career talks and so forth, knowing that (theoretically) all students can attend. In the past week, I’ve caught two of the speakers of note who have taken time out of their busy lives at the State Department to visit our school.

Bill Burns, Deputy Secretary of State
Admittedly, I was excited to see Bill Burns because of a cable he had written some time ago that had been revealed to the press by WikiLeaks. The cable, called “A Caucasus Wedding,” recounts Burns’ experience at a wedding celebration for the teenaged son of Russian lawmaker and Dagestan Oil Company chief Gadzhi Makhachev. Among the highlights: lumps of gold, hordes of drunken guests and tons of caviar. Of course, Burns had slightly more important things to discuss. He laid out his vision for medium-term American foreign policy and then took questions from the audience. I’ll rehash just a few of the points he made:

1. Domestic renewal is badly needed. Increasingly challenged by rising powers, cliffhanger politics in Washington only serve to undermine our credibility abroad. The debt problems further compound our woes. Our economic competitiveness is of paramount concern.

2. What the Asia Pivot means. Since late 2011, Obama’s stated shift in policy priorities to the Pacific has drawn a wide range of reactions, especially regarding China. None were, in my opinion, more telling than those coming from the 2012 presidential candidates. Although nobody called the Chinese government “butchers of Beijing” this time around, the campaign hardly left the Chinese feeling optimistic. Burns asserted that the pivot represents a focus on dialogue and partnership with the ascendant Asia-Pacific nations rather than any sort of contain-China policy. It’s tough to avoid being cynical about his interpretation, though. I also was hoping to hear more about efforts to encourage the continued democratic transition in Myanmar, but he limited his remarks.

3. The changing face of the State Department. Increasingly, Foggy Bottom looks more like the nation it represents. More women, more minorities, more “credibility,” to use Burns’ word.

Glyn Davies, the State Department’s North Korea guy
Glyn Davies visited Korbel as well. Davies shed light upon his attempts to convince the DPRK leadership to refrain from their tendency to prioritize rocket launches over the basic needs of everyday North Koreans. Frustrating job, it seems.

Ambassador Davies also sat down with a small group of students and simply fielded questions. Most of my classmates talked about nuclear weapons, but I asked him about Kaesong (pic. below from the southern DMZ border), a quirky arrangement between the two Korean governments wherein North Koreans work in Hyundai-owned factories along the northern side of the DMZ. It is an exceptionally rare example of cooperation between the two adversaries. My question was specifically about whether or not Davies saw a possible expansion of economic interaction between North and South Korea. He seemed optimistic that the new South Korean President Park Geun-hye would attempt to move toward more engagement than was sought by the outgoing Lee administration. Let’s hope so.

Image
(I took this picture–feel free to reuse it for anything non-commercial.)

Boycotts over bullets

Korbel’s very own Dr. Erica Chenoweth was featured on Inside Higher Ed’s Academic Minute series last week, discussing her research into civil resistance movements. She’ll be teaching a course I’m taking next quarter on current issues in security studies. She’s also the director of the Program on Terrorism and Insurgency Research, where I work.

Take a minute and listen to her here. If the topic of civil resistance interests you, I’d suggest checking out her book, Why Civil Resistance Worksas well. As it turns out, pickets and boycotts are often stronger than bombs and bullets.

Syrian activists. Image: anticapitalistes.net

Election day is tomorrow

A few tools to help you prepare…

  • Register: Most states have closed registration at this point, but registertovote.org is a an excellent resource if you’re voting in one of the 10 or so states that allow it by Election Day.
  • Understand: Don’t show up at the box tomorrow only to find that the only names you recognize are “Obama,” “Romney” and perhaps those belonging to a few Senate or House candidates. Chances are, there will be at least another 3-10 races and several ballot initiatives ranging from the legalization of marijuana to amendments regarding same-sex marriage. The site, onyourballot.vote411.org, asks you to input your address and out pops a list of all of the things on your particular ballot.
  • Find your polling place: Vote411 also has an excellent search engine to help locate your polling place.

c. Jeff Parker, Florida Today

 

-BPS

I ♥ CO

Last week was a treat. After six weeks of hanging out primarily on and around campus, I got to be a tourist again. A few of my friends living out east, desperate to explore the Great West, came for a visit. We rented a car and tried to tackle as many great spots in Colorado that were basically a day’s drive or less from DU. Instead of a wordy recap of everything, I’ll let photos do the heavy lifting…

1. Three Sisters Park, near Evergreen

Atop one of the boulders, overlooking a foggy Alderfer Ranch

 

2. Loveland Pass and Mount Sniktau

The view on the way up Mount Sniktau, at this point about 12,800ft above sea level

Loveland Pass, the Continental Divide at 12,000ft

 

3. Arapaho National Forest and Chief Mountain

At the summit of Chief Mountain in the Arapaho National Forest – about 11,800ft up

We met this handsome dude near Indian Hills, on our way back into Denver

 

4. Echo Lake   (we actually went twice – once in the snow, once in the sunshine – but only a few days apart)

Water was freezing on one side of the evergreens as the wind blew across Echo Lake.

A few days later and 20 degrees warmer

 

5. Bicycling along the Bear Creek Trail in Denver, Littleton and Lakewood

We picked up a series of trails only a few blocks from DU and rode up a few sizable hills. Our reward was a great view of Red Rocks.

 

6. Great Sand Dunes National Park

Tallest sand dunes in the Western Hemisphere – 4 hours from Denver! My favorite of our stops.

We rented sandboards and sandsleds near the park entrance and spent the day sliding down the dunes.

The dunes are hundreds of feet tall. Exhausting but amazing.

 

-BPS