Trip to Washington, D.C.

Sorry, I can’t today

“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse” —Jim Rohn

 

Creativity and Productivity

“If you know what you will do in advance, then you won’t do it. Your creativity starts whether you’re curious or not.” -Frank Gehry

Happiness relies on the other

Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end[…].Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so. The only chance is to treat, not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life.” -John Stuart Mill

Interconnection

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe” -John Muir

Volunteering at the United Nations for a day

The United Nations was created in the aftermath of a World War fueled by a regime built on the notion of a superior race. International organizations and governments across the world have advanced those rights since then, but it is up to ordinary people to secure them.

Last Friday, I volunteered as a logistics staff at the United Nations Headquarters in New York for a conference titled “Refugees, the 21st Century Challenge”.  The organizer, the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations (CTAUN), is a branch of the United Nations’ own Department of Public Information. CTAUN is dedicated to providing teachers worldwide a platform and resources to educate the next generations on matters related to human rights, environmental protection, immigration, and refugees. Teachers would then incorporate global awareness into the school activities and the curricula itself across all levels of education. Among the speakers was Ninette Kelley, the Director of UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Bill Frelick, Refugee Policy Director of Human Rights Watch, students from Iraq, Sudan, and Syria attending U.S. universities, among many other panelists and speakers involved in refugee programs based in the US.

While I spent most of the time helping out with service and logistical tasks, such as handing out information packages and collecting surveys, I did have the opportunity to hear from the speakers. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • There are more than 65 million people around the world who have been forced from their homes. Among them are 21 million refugees -over half of these are under the age of 18. They suffer persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, social group, and political opinion.
  • In 2016, the U.S. government invited 85,000 women, children and men to become Americans. They are selected, screened and interviewed before entering the country.
  • Refugees take out loans to pay their airfare, they are fully documented and with many skills, but often do not speak English.
  • There are nearly 10 million people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, employment, healthcare, and freedom of movement.
  • Refugee programs in the U.S. have not only provided asylum but have propelled them to educate themselves and make a difference in their communities.
  • English is not the official language of the US. The U.S. Founders were aware of the xenophobic attitude that could flourish by establishing an official language. This is also the reason why there is no official religion in the US.
  • The conditions at the Immigration detention centers at the border between the U.S. and Mexico present serious problems: the facilities are secluded from the public eye, detainees are often victim of abuse and violence by authorities, mothers with children do not receive medical or sanitation services, facilities lack proper HVAC to protect detainees from extreme temperatures (up to 170F during the summer).
  • Detention centers are often privatized, and there are little to no incentives to improve them. The stocks of private prisons surged after Donald Trump’s victory.
  • The Trump Administration is proposing to cut at least 40% of the financial support that the United Nations receives from the U.S. It is in the words of Bill Frelick, “a draconian impact”.
  • Georgia State University is one of the leading Universities in the U.S. to actively engage on projects that deal with immigration issues.
  • Refugees often value education more than anyone. One of the refugees who shared his story at the conference did not know how to speak English when he arrived at the U.S., he is now a teacher at Harvard and MIT.


If you’re interested in volunteering with the United Nations, here are some links to start:

#AtThisAge Exhibition at the United Nations

#AtThisAge is an exhibition organized by Street Art for Mankind whose purpose is to call out from street artists to stop child slavery.

Power is never conceded, it is snatched.

I am reading an article on the roles of private, public and non-profit organizations in shaping the urban environment for a class in Urban Design. I particularly liked this passage:

In most cases, where power has come to be shared, it was taken by the citizens, not given by the city. […] Those who have power normally want to hang onto it, historically it has had to be wrested by the powerless rather than proffered by the powerful.”

-“A Ladder of Citizen Participation” by Sherry Arnstein

In his farewell speech, Obama urged citizens to organize and get involved. Maybe he understood this feature of power quite right, and he understood that the new Administration would never concede or share a smattering of power. It is up to the citizens to snatch it.

Book review: “The American Presidency: A Very Short Introduction”

An excellent introduction to the historical development of the Executive branch in the American government. Among the many things I learned, a few resonate:

  • The Presidency initially began as a very narrow and simple branch that has evolved into a very complex system of offices and boards.
  • The Founding Fathers wanted to create a government that could self-regulate through a system of checks and balances. Congress and the Judiciary branch (the Supreme Court) are meant to counterbalance the power of the president.
  • The success of a president relies heavily on the work of predecessors.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to serve more than 2 terms (he served four!). As a consequence, the Twenty-second Amendment was passed by Congress to limit any future presidents to serve a maximum of two terms.
  • The length of the Presidential term was heavily disputed in the following years after the Founding of the Republic.
  • Washington DC was initially known as The Federal City. L’Enfant’s plan was to place Congress and the White House as separate as possible, so as to avoid any possible power centralization. They are now the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
  • The Founders were experimenting with a new way of governing. Innovation often comes through trial and error, and they allowed enough flexibility so as to reform and shape the Presidency according to the needs of the time.
  • Last, but not least, several statements about this book will become wrong and outdated, given the unprecedented nature of the incoming Administration.

Questions that I have:

  • Who were the Federalists and why did they disappear? What caused the Democratic-Republican Party to separate into independent parties?
  • To what extent is it true that the President of the United States is the leader of the free world? How did the President become so relevant in the global landscape?

Untitled

We also know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether illusion is not more consoling.” -Henri Poincaré