Bart Pogue, US Department of State Foreign Service Officer for USAID, discusses his posting in Guatemala.
Blog Post by Barb Katz
According to Dr. Hadi Esfahani, a U of I Professor of Political Science and Economics for the past 35years, the answer is probably no! He immigrated to the US from a small town in the NE of Iran in 1978 and visits his home twice a year. On these visits he certainly talks with family but also with members of his greater community and various campus communities to get a feel for their thoughts and feelings about various matters that he shared with PAWAC on August 15, 2019.
Dr. Esfahani started out with probably the most “known” issue: that most Americans believe there are only adversarial feelings between the Iranians and the Americans. US news coverage often highlights Iranian chants of “Death to America,” but does that mean what we think it means? Apparently not! Dr. Esfahani believes that only a tiny minority of Iranians say this AND, more importantly, what they mean is they do not like the US government, not the American people. Furthermore, he believes that the chant has become far more of a ritual than something people actually believe, other than targeting the current occupant of the White House and his top national security advisor John Bolton. Secondly, Dr. Esfahani believes that many Iranians actually believe that America is the best place in the world to come to and that every survey of Iranian people shows that most Iranians care most about how to make relations between our two countries better. He and a PAWAC audience member who traveled to Iran both shared anecdotes supporting their contention that even Iranian Revolutionary Guards and others on the street, post-chant, after finding out that he and others are American, ask questions about how to come to the US and how to get green cards.
Another myth dispelled by Dr. Esfahani was about how free Iranian society is. Most Americans probably feel that Iranians are living in a completely closed society. Again we would be wrong. Dr. Esfahani grew up under the Shah of Iran when there was real daily threat from the secret police. Today, he believes that there is much more freedom. He assured us that while Iranians are monitored by the government, they are allowed to talk and have opinions. “One can even talk to taxi drivers!” And Dr. Esfahai noted that he often gives talks about politics while he is visiting Iran. Iranians do not feel too restrained to ask hard questions. Egyptians, in comparison, Dr. Esfahani believes, are currently scared to death to say what is on their minds. This is not true in Iran. The Iranian government is looking for groups who might want to bring down the regime, not those who have accepted the regime; and acceptance of the regime is now much greater than in the past.
Finally, another interesting point that undermines most typical American beliefs is that the current ‘get tough’ US policy is not helping to reform the Iranian regime. In fact, current US actions have helped to strengthen new feelings of legitimacy among Iranians for their government! The Iranians are now rallying around their government in the wake of US sanctions, instead of moving to “civilize” their government, a movement that Dr. Esfahani believes the Iranian people have engaged in on and off during the past 1000 years. In the past Iranians were ruled by outsiders who were not Persian and little by little the ruled reformed the ruler. Dr. Esfahani was hopeful this would happen again, but it is put off by the current heightened tensions.
However, the situation in Iran is certainly not all sweetness and light. The non-elected religious parts of the Iranian government do pay people to beat up demonstrators. There is “rent and pork” to those who support the regime and who silence opposition. This is “an unfortunate problem” that the Iranian people are aware of and know is wrong. A hopeful sign is that this same non-elected parts of the government seem to want popularity too. They don’t want to be hated. So they are engaging in a “charm offensive” and they are going after those who are corrupt, responding to popular demand—something that most Americans probably would not have known if they had not attended Dr. Hadi Esfahani’s excellent PAWAC talk on August 15, 2019.
In spite of the title, it is still difficult to make sense of what is happening in Venezuela. Dr. Canache explained the history of the democracy in the country and its progression to an authoritarian state. However, she pointed out that there is a solid portion of the population that clings to the hope of restoring democratic practices. Since she has family who still reside in Venezuela, she knows first-hand that there are many elements within Venezuelan society that are willing to fight to restore the fragile democracy of its not-so-distant past.
However, Dr. Canache also pointed out that the path to the restoration of democracy is rife with economic roadblocks. Once a thriving economy that enjoyed growth from its vast oil reserves, the leadership of Hugo Chavez and his successor, the current president Nicholas Maduro, led to corruption along with nationalization of the major industries in the country, including the energy resources. With several figures in the upper levels of the military among this privileged group of leaders, it is not surprising that socialism has not produced the egalitarian state it once professed, but rather an authoritarian state where the political power and economic wealth rest in the hands of a few who are supported by the military.
With ten million percent (!) inflation projected for this year, it is not surprising that a growing number of people have fled to neighboring states. The chronic lack of food and medicines and extended electricity outages have raised the rate of infant and child mortality and reduced life expectancy. In addition, the level of political unrest continues to mount. Juan Guaido, leader of the National Assembly, has attempted to use a clause in the Venezuelan constitution to assume the post of president, but he has not yet been successful. The potential for full civil war is unmistakable, and the potential regional unrest caused by mass migration bears watching.
Dr. Canache addressed questions about the influence of Cuba and Russia. She noted that while relations with Cuba are long and deep, Cuba is not in a position today to offer the kind of support they did in the past. Russia’s connection is more nebulous as it is difficult to say whether they have real interests in assisting Maduro or whether they merely want to deter US involvement. While a US invasion would be welcomed by a large portion of the population in her country, she commented that financial assistance would likely be better received by the broader region.
Dr. Canache remembered the way Venezuela used to be in the 1970s and 1980s. She concluded that a great deal of work and time will have to pass before the country of her birth will be able to restore its political and economic footing, but that it is not impossible.
Wunderbar Together! The State of Transatlantic Ties with Her Excellency Helga Barth, Minister of Political Affairs at the Embassy of the Republic of Germany, DC
The Wunderbar Together program, sponsored by the Goethe Institute and the government of Germany, was a terrific format for recognizing the breadth and depth of ties between Central Illinois and Germany. Her Excellency Helga Barth had a full schedule meeting with the Friends of Friedrichshafen Sister City Organization, the German American Central Society, along with business and agricultural leaders with German heritage.
Madam Barth stressed the unique nature of relations between the United States and Germany. She expressed deep gratitude to the US for “liberating” Germany in 1945 after WWII. She also stressed the significance of the development of democratic political systems and market economics with the support of the US. In addition, mutual security agreements, including the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have allowed Germany to thrive without causing fears about their renewed military strength. The growth of common values and interests have made the partnership between Germany and the United States truly valuable to our mutual benefit.
She did point out a few areas of contention between our states. First, Germany prefers a more aggressive approach to climate change than the United States. Second, Germany argues for greater engagement with Iran to reduce fears of nuclear proliferation rather than isolation, as the US prefers. Finally, while tariffs are a tool employed by all states to accomplish trade objectives, Germany finds the use of tariffs against allies and trading partners to be ineffective, and even counterproductive.
Madam Barth answered questions about immigration by noting that the nearly million immigrants to Germany are good for the workforce and are being integrated quickly through educational programs. She acknowledged that there is resentment for this immigration in some parts of Germany, but that the majority of Germans welcome the immigrants and recognize their value for the workforce. She discussed Brexit and the challenges posed by the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union. She noted that, instead of posing a threat to the EU itself by encouraging other states to leave, there has been a rise in popular views of the EU and the benefits of belonging to the “family of European states.” She was also asked about UK residents who may wish to apply for German citizenship by noting that they are welcome if they have followed all of the rules for citizenship in her state.
Traditional German food, including schnitzel, red cabbage and spaetzle, German beers and wines, and music provided by accordion and Alp horn players created a delightful evening appealing to the senses and the mind. Although Madam Barth will move onto her next posting at the end of July, we hope we will see her again, either here in Central Illinois or in Berllin.
While the conclusion of the United Kingdom’s goal to leave the European Union is still very much up in the air, the history of the decision and the politics of the arguments are worth learning. Dr. Cleeton enlightened us all at this program at Barrack’s Cater Inn on May 16.
With slides that showed the course of the decision, including the influence of outside voices inserting their influence, Dr. Cleeton sorted out the confusion surrounding the original vote. However, he was clear in pointing out that, once the referendum was held and the Leave campaign won, the deep confusion over what that actually meant and what would follow was as clear as mud to the people of the UK and the rest of us!
Largely as a reaction to the immigration crisis caused by the large number of people from the conflicts in Syria fleeing the warzone, the Leave campaign promised Brits the opportunity to reclaim the right to make all decisions for themselves concerning their borders, their monetary policies, and their lives in general. But the reintroduction of hard borders and customs are not to their liking. In particular, the so-called “soft border” with Ireland is a major hurdle for the hardliners in the UK to cross, and it’s not negotiable from the EU side.
Dr. Cleeton pointed out that the on-going battle to define how the UK will eventually leave the EU is a battle happening within British politics. It is the various political entities within the UK that are keeping them from finding consensus on how they want to leave, in particular because the majority of people and their politician want to dictate the terms of the withdrawal, keeping all the benefits of the common market without any of the responsibilities. That position is unrealistic in light of the need to negotiate with all of the other members, the other 27 states, who also want to protect their union.
The European Union has negotiated with Prime Minister Teresa May, and the terms of Britain’s departure have been set. As far as they are concerned, it is up to the British parliament to ratify the deal, not to renegotiate it. The deadline for that to happen has been extended to October 31, and as a result, the UK is obligated to fulfill their commitments to the EU until then.
But will the UK crash out of the EU on October 31, or will they be able to iron out the way they will leave by compromising on policies within the British parliament? The EU has said they will be out on October 31. The Brexiteers have said they want to leave, no later than October 31. But it remains to be seen HOW they will leave. Or will another referendum to undo it all be held? Cleeton says that is unlikely.
Thursday, April 18, 2019
Blog by Angela Weck
With a crowd of hometown friends, co-workers from his days at Caterpillar, and the usual PAWAC members, Michael Maibach regaled the audience with true stories from his days as a corporate lobbyist. He focused largely on his days at the Intel Corp, a microprocessor company that has grown into a world-wide leader in the industry.
Maibach outlined the style of practice that he and his team employed at Intel, a philosophy that came down directly from the founders of the company, whom Maibach described as humble and honest. Maibach listed ethics, a results- oriented approach, and a constant focus on the company, the industry and the host communities when dealing with politicians. He noted the importance of staying on focus and not straying to the social or cultural politics of the day.
He also listed a few of “Maibach’s Laws of Lobbying.” These “laws” include: be respectful and gracious; always tell the truth; always tell both sides as it builds credibility; never threaten but stick to what is at stake; lobby with competitors as one company is a special interest but three companies is an industry; and remember that “people die for their country, not for their company.”
Maibach served the company for 18 years as the VP for Corporate Global Affairs at Intel from 1983-2001 and at Caterpillar from 1976-1983. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the American Opportunity Foundation, and an outspoken advocate for strong TransAtlantic trade and cooperation.
Illinois Central College Peoria, Dogwood Hall
Blog by Angela Weck
For the third year, the Culinary Arts Program at ICC North has impressed us with their interpretation of food from around the world. The dishes were delicious and mild enough for every palate. They were so beautifully presented that it was a shame to eat them!
The evening was more of a “happening” than just a nice dinner out. Upon entering Dogwood Hall, guests were treated to the gentle scents of incense. A delightful cup of chai was offered, with honey and sugar for sweetening, if desired. Samosas (contributed by our friends at Swagat on North University) and a special selection of spices with rice for tasting started off the culinary adventure. Naan with tamarind sauce, mint chutney, and tomato “pickle” were served at each table. The multi-course meal started with tofu kofta curry, followed by sweet corn masala, palak paneer, and lemon rice. It was topped off with pisla kulfi, gulab jamun, and kheer. A special mango lassi complimented the meal.
The room was lined with various instruments from India, examples of men’s and women’s clothing, jewelry, and a Natarajar were on display. A video of music and sights from India played throughout the evening. Several guests came in their own attire, and clothing items were available if guests wanted to take a photo of themselves.
Chef Charles Robertson and Chef Keith Shank introduced the students from around the country and around the world, clearly demonstrating that this program has grown and its students are exceptional. The Taste of India was a terrific event – can’t wait to see what we cook up for next year!!
January 31st, 2019
Bradley Student Center Ballroom
Blog by Angela Weck
The Leadership Crisis in Illinois, America, and the World
John Shaw, Executive Director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University
Author of the PAWAC Reads! Book Club selection: Rising Star, Setting Sun: Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and the Presidential Transition that Changed America
Mr. Shaw led off with several fascinating stories from his time as a journalist and political analyst in Washington, DC. Comparing the leadership styles of members of Congress, from both parties and from both houses, and those of other political figures, such as diplomats, he noted that all true leaders share the common trait of being able to truly listening and form thoughtful responses. He also noted that bipartisanship should be the primary choice of policy-making, rather than supporting one's party at the expense of the people.
For the people in the audience, especially the students, he offered a few pointed criticisms of the media to consider. While he did not venture into the unwinnable debate about "fake news," he did discuss the current practice of some people in the media who seek to grow their audience by chasing the more sensational aspects of a story. He cautioned the audience to be critical of what they read and hear, and to use multiple sources for their news to achieve the most balanced news.
February 24, 2019
Peoria Riverfront Museum
Blog By Nikki Eckland
We began the night off with a viewing of several short films documenting the trials of being a journalist in areas of conflict. One film detailed the importance of “fixers”, who are often unnamed despite their status of being key contributors to international journalism. We then transitioned into discussion with Kristin McHugh and Jenni Monet, both experienced journalists in their own respects. The video linked below contains the whole conversation, for those who’d like to see it. Jenni Monet spoke about her experience with Native American journalism, and Kristin McHugh shared her knowledge about traveling internationally to follow a story. Chris Kaergard moderated, asking thought provoking questions that catered to each journalists’ individual experiences.
Discussion with Jenni Monet and Kristin McHugh:
Al-Jazeera Film “Journalists on the Frontline”:
Al-Jazeera Film “Fixers: The Unsung Heroes of Journalism”:
by Nikki Eckland
Saturday October 6th PAWAC and The Itoo Society partnered in hosting ‘Why Lebanon Matters’, with discussion lead by Ambassador of Lebanon to the United states Gabriel Issa, Advisor to President Michel Aoun Elias Bou Sabb, and Representative of the US Congress Darin LaHood. Walking into the Itoo Hall was nothing short of beautiful, postcards from Lebanon on each table and white gauze fabric draping the ceiling. There was plenty of time to meet the speakers and make introductions before the discussion began, and a deliciously authentic buffet to welcome listeners into Lebanese culture (not to mention some pretty killer desserts). The panel was enthusiastic and moved across topics with ease, keeping the audience engaged for the duration of the night.
The conversation started by detailing Education in Lebanon, and Elias Bou Sabb as the former Minister of Education and Higher Education was the perfect speaker for this topic. He introduced to the audience the problem of Syrian refugees, and how Lebanon had become burdened with the responsibility of educating refugee children. There are 4 million Lebanese people in Lebanon, and 2 million Syrian refugees, so Syrian children are substantial in their numbers. This is problematic because of the strain it’s putting onto Lebanese educational institutions, who have been forced to divide the school day into two shifts. Even more concerning is the necessity of education, because not adapting the school day to accommodate these children would leave them out on the streets, easy targets for terrorist group recruiters.
The panel moved on to discuss the issue of UN standards of safety for refugees. Lebanon is responsible for providing refugees with important resources and funding. Because of the current state of Syria, Lebanon is required by the UN to cut off these benefits to refugees who have returned to their home country. However, as His excellency Gabriel Issa argues, these UN sanctions are unfairly strict, and require conditions in Syria to be even better than they were before its collapse.
Rep. Darin LaHood returned this sentiment by stating his hopes that these standards might change through participation in future UN summits, agreeing that they should be re-evaluated.
The floor opened for comments near the end of the discussion, allowing the audience to voice concerns and questions. The war between Israel and Lebanon was brought up, and Ambassador Gabriel Issa remarked that Lebanon has not and never will initiate an attack on its neighbors. They do have the right to defend themselves, but want peace between Middle Eastern nations.
Another point that emerged during audience participation was that of Lebanon’s lack of environmental standards, to which the panel responded by explaining Lebanon’s wish to improve.
Overall the night was a combination of great food, beautiful setting, and interesting discussion. We hope to see you at the next event, and thank everyone who attended on Saturday!
Why NAFTA is important to Central Illinois was the focus of the panel discussion on August 30 at Bradley University, and the discourse was lively and thought-provoking. Led by moderator Don Samford of PAWAC, the panel looked at the ongoing negotiations and their impact on agricultural products, manufacturing, and services. Although the voice of labor was unable to participate due to conflicts with weekend events, the moderator made a specific effort to raise the issues of wages, benefits, and environmental impacts.
Trade specialist Jim Ryan emphasized the benefits of having rules laid out for those businesses in Central Illinois who are interested in cross-border trade. However the negotiations turn out, the rules need to be clear and long-term. As Ryan pointed out, short-term deals or agreements that might be easily undone are very destabilizing for local businesses and decrease their likelihood of venturing into imports/exports, which might have a chilling effect on their growth or expansion.
That view was reiterated by Maggie Shelley of the U.S. Chambers of Commerce, Great Lakes Region. She reminded the audience that Illinois is the third or fourth largest trading state of the US with both Canada and Mexico, depending on what goods are being considered. From agriculture to manufacturing, NAFTA has been very beneficial to Illinois business growth.
Mark Albertson noted that Mexico is a huge market for Illinois soybeans. As head of the Illinois Soybean Association, his job is find good markets for Illinois beans, and the biggest markets are in Mexico and China. Since some of those markets use the US beans as food for livestock, Illinois sends feeder stock to Mexico and Canada to feed lots there, or sells beans and other ag products to the feedlots there. Illinois pork is another big winner for Central Illinois because of NAFTA. Although President Trump has offered financial aid to support farmers hardest hit by recent tariffs, Albertson stressed that Illinois farmers would much prefer trade to aid. He stressed the importance of a trilateral agreement that will be in place for decades, not years, in order for the agricultural community to plan for success.
Don Samford reminded the panel that labor has been most critical of the North American Free Trade Agreement. During his presidential run at the time of its original signing, Ross Perot predicted a “giant sucking sound” as the good-paying jobs of the U.S. middle class would move south of the border. No one on the panel disputed that some jobs have been lost to the lower cost of labor, but all of the panelists claimed net gains in new parts of the economy related to the increase in imported goods and assembly of goods made of individual parts imported from the three countries. Shelley also noted that improvements in technology and automation have been the cause of the loss of most of the jobs, not the transfer across the border. Ryan noted that provisions in the proposed re-negotiations include protections for higher pay.
One area the panel only touched on was environmental concerns. Albertson noted that rules and regulations in the U.S. protect our environment, but add cost. Mexico in particular makes less of an effort to protect their environment, and that is a concern for all three signatory countries, not just the people who live next to the offending farm or factory. All three panelists hoped that better rules for environmental protections are part of the new agreement.
At the close of the session, it was announced that it appeared the United States and Mexico may have reached a bi-lateral agreement, but that Canada was not being considered in the same way. All three panelists agreed that it would be a mistake to replace NAFTA with a US-Mexico agreement alone, especially when so much trade and investment heads north as well. All were hopeful that wisdom would prevail over short-term political grandstanding.
Where you can find summaries of our past events and interviews with members. We have more to come in the future, so stay tuned!
Peoria Area World Affairs Council | 1501 W. Bradley Avenue, Peoria, IL 61625
(309) 677-2454 (phone) | (309) 677-3256 (fax)
Photos copyright Joe Couri/Kristin McHugh/Kristin McHugh for The Stanley Foundation
(309) 677-2454 (phone) | (309) 677-3256 (fax)
Photos copyright Joe Couri/Kristin McHugh/Kristin McHugh for The Stanley Foundation
In affiliation with the World Affairs Councils of America