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Eva Christensen – Washington DC | Week 2

Eva Christensen, 16 December 2016

Another action packed week is almost over. I have been mostly out of the office, attending so many different events all over the city. On Monday I went to a discussion on North Korea, organised by Kang Cheol-Hwan, the author of Aquariums of Pyongyang (an account of Kang and his family’s imprisonment in the Yodok concentration camp). The audience was reminded of the staggering death toll of communism; 100 million and counting.  The panel discussed the various initiatives that the North Korea Strategy Center is undertaking in order to bring about reform in the hermit kingdom. Part of what they do is ‘smuggling’ in USB sticks loaded with news, Wikipedia articles and even just TV material such as soap operas in order to target the younger generations.

On Tuesday I attended a panel discussion on freedom of speech on the Internet, hosted by Google at their seriously cool offices. The 4 panelists came from different backgrounds and voiced different opinions on what can and/or should be done to protect the right to freedom of expression whilst simultaneously protecting people’s safety and anonymity. The hero of the panel was Faisal Saeed al Mutar, a US refugee from Iraq who has been fighting bravely against religious fundamentalism. He has been on the receiving end of endless death threats, but continues to speak out on behalf of human rights and promoting secular humanism.

I’ve also been back to the Cato Institute for their annual conference on surveillance, and at the Heritage Foundation for a policy recommendation briefing to the president-elect about Cuba. I can’t say that I agreed with their firm belief in re-instating hard line embargoes on the island. Ultimately, we should let people trade freely, even if they live under tyrannical governments.

Tomorrow is the Atlas Christmas party! It’ll be time for people to let their hair down. I’m really looking forward to getting to know everyone better on a more casual basis. The cold weather has helped me get into more of a Christmas-y mood, so I am sure it will be a super fun evening.

Eva Christensen – Washington DC | Week 1

Eva Christensen, 9 December 2016

Wow. Where do I even begin? This week has gone by so fast I can hardly believe it.

I arrived at Dulles airport after a long flight from Perth (with a short stop-over in Doha) last Friday afternoon. The flight itself was pleasant enough, but it did take it out of me to travel so far. The change of time zone and climate had a big effect on me, although it was to be expected. I was happy to arrive late afternoon as it meant I would only have to stay up for a couple of hours and not have to fight the jet lag for too long. I was also pleased to have the weekend to explore before my first day at my Atlas internship.

I spent Saturday downtown shopping for winter clothes – let’s face it, the Perth winter wardrobe is not equipped to handle the chilly winds here in DC. As it happened, as I was out buying a winter coat, I received a call from Dan Press (last year’s Mannkal-Atlas scholar), now interning at the esteemed Cato Institute, who invited me along to their Sunday brunch for all the interns. I happily accepted, and I got to meet like-minded people from all over the world on my very first day in the US.

My first week has been incredible. Monday saw me meeting everyone at the Atlas Network; permanent staff as well as interns. Kristina Crane, my supervisor, showed me around the office and showed me the plethora of learning opportunities I have available here: conferences, seminars, webinars, programmes and much more.

DC is full of opportunities to learn every aspect of every political issue. So far, I have attended events at the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Foundation and Reason Magazine. The topics have ranged from freedom of speech to climate change and energy policy. This is the centre of US policy and, thankfully, the libertarian movement is alive and well.

I feel like I am only just getting over my jet lag. It is a long way to travel from Perth. Tomorrow I am meeting with some of the key organisers of Students for Liberty. One of the projects I will be working on will be how to grow SFL’s presence in Australia.

That is all for now… Stay tuned for much more information next week!

Chad Bensky – Week 5

Chad, 3 August 2016

My last week at the Atlas Network really flew by. It became a desperate rush to see and do and eat as much as possible. Instead of three seminars a day, as had been the norm, I went to four. Instead of going to bed at a reasonable hour I used the night to see landmarks I would otherwise miss. The Washington National Cathedral may be grand in the day but at 2 am, it loses some of its vast lustre. Finally, I think I did my best to eat as much of Washington as humanly possible, if the Lincoln Memorial had been made from cheddar and not marble, disappointed tourists would come to that monument shocked to find an empty throne.

On my last day Atlas organized for all the interns to go to Newseum, an incredible museum dedicated to the first amendment and the challenges and successes of journalism. It was an incredible experience to see exhibit after exhibit honouring the sacrifices of journalists and condemning the forces of authoritarianism that seek to silence them. Heartbreakingly, in the heart of the museum is a monument to all the journalist who had been murdered in the line of duty. It is a shocking reality that more journalists are being killed today than at any time in the last one hundred years before. As freedom of speech comes under more and more pressure, by dictatorial regimes, anti-speech arbitration laws and some university campuses, those who embody it are naturally also becoming increasing targeted. Washington is filled with monuments and many of them, dedicated to senators, generals and even presidents long forgotten, lack any great sense of historical urgency. That cannot be said about the Newseum photo wall, highlighting and mourning the lives of truth seekers, taken too soon.

I also had the pleasure of hearing a discussion on military heroism on the grounds of Arlington Cemetery. Truly no place in America makes clearer the statement ‘Freedom is not Free’. Surely if the cost is this great it should be unapologetically protected and expanded.

I would like to take a moment to thank a few people. To the Atlas Network interns who warmly embraced me and ensured I had a good time. To Kristina Crane for running the internship program, opening her home and being an amazing guide. To the Atlas Network and it’s inspiring work to bring the light of liberty to every corner of the world. To Paul and Kate back at Mannkal for organizing this amazing life changing program. Finally to Ron Manners because without his generosity and vision this experience and the experiences of so many others would not have been possible.

I leave Washington with a different perspective, a much greater understanding of public policy and the world and a continuing desire to learn. These last five weeks have been genuinely life changing and the lessons gained will not be soon be lost.

A photo of the Atlas Network Interns, on the balcony of the Newseum.

A photo of me in front of the U.S. Congress.

A photo of the military cemetery Arlington.

Chad Bensky – Week four

Chad, 25 July 2016

For a nation blessed with countless scenes of stunning and raw natural landscapes it takes a special class of beauty to rise to the level of a designated national park. It was an incredible experience when I stood where Theodore Roosevelt once stood, as he declared that the Colorado River which had broken and shaped these western mountains, was the natural embodiment of the never give up ferocity of American individualism.

Returning to the Atlas Network offices the next day, I was surprised with how much I had missed my workplace, colleagues and adopted city. The Atlas Network’s mission is setting up think tanks that advocate for the rule of law, property rights, representative plurality and civil liberties, in parts of the world where advocating for those beliefs can be very dangerous. A point of pride at the office is that the Atlas Network and the Cato Institute were the first external bodies to set up the first free market conferences in Communist China after the death of Mao. Some who might wander into the office might be surprised to see a large portrait of the Communist despot Joseph Stalin in the central room of the building. However it signifies as a reminder that it is not enough to espouse good ideas where they are accepted and familiar but also that those ideas must be pushed where they are rare and so needed.

As always my week consisted of a series of seminars and educational policy talks organised through the Atlas network. The highlights included a Bipartisan Policy Institute’s talk on the ‘Crony Capitalism’ within the U.S. federal government. Recent Supreme Court cases (Citizens United v FEC & Mccutcheon v FEC) have expanded the role of private contributions in U.S. elections. This has been criticized as a ‘pay for play’ system, where private companies, unions and individuals buy access or pay to implement regulations that cement their standing while diminishing their competitors. The main speaker of the event presented a slideshow showing the major government buildings and their corporate neighbours within Washington. Next to the U.S. Treasury Building is Bank of America, next to the Labour Building is the AFL-CIO and Teachers and Educators of America and of course a stone’s throw from the Pentagon is Lockheed Martin and Boeing. It was a startling visual reminder of Washington’s infamous revolving door and the ‘lips and teeth’ relationship between the federal government and major incorporated organizations.

This week also included a great series of lectures on Middle Eastern policy. As the many lectures originated from several different organizations, there were naturally conflicting narratives, but the clash of perspectives made the experience all the more interesting. There was the Arab-American Institute examining Saudi Arabia’s role in the in the region in a largely positive stabilizing perspective (almost all seminars in DC are catered and the food at this one stands out as the best so far), The Wilson Centre presenting parts of the Arab Gulf aristocracy as the international financiers and ideological incubators of Jihadist Terrorism. Senator Joe Lieberman speaking at AIPAC condemned the Iranian Agreement as sanctions relief in the absence of nuclear disarmament. While The Brookings Institute argues Iran had indeed ended all its nuclear weapon’s programs.

My week began with one of America’s great natural wonders and It will end with one of it’s man-made ones, the Manhattan Skyline. This is a country rich in ideas, sights and catered seminars.

Chad Bensky – Week 3

Chad, 20 July 2016

My third week as a Mannkal Scholar was my most adventurous so far. My week began at Kristina Crane in rural Virginia. She is the amazing Atlas intern ‘mother’, who instructs, helps and educates the Atlas interns, on the political economy and all things Washington. Her beautiful home on the edge of the Virginian woodlands has photos of her and her husband shaking hands with a truly diverse range of political and thought leaders of the world: from Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan to Vladimir Putin. The Crane home was a testament to a lifetime spent (through the Cato Institute and the Atlas Network) of advocating for the rule of law, free market ideas and social tolerance at the highest echelons of power (Kristina also makes an amazing mozzarella pasta salad.

The week continued with seminars, including but not limited to, Social Reform in Saudi Arabia (by the Middle Eastern Studies Institute), A Different Perspective on the War on Poverty (by the American Enterprise Institute) and The Iranian Accord and Israel: One Year On ( by AIPAC). As always I was the youngest person in the room, scribbling down notes trying to ensure I absorbed every intellectual point.  After work on the Tuesday I got in such much-needed exercise and cycled to the Theodore Roosevelt Island and enjoyed the preservation of green amongst the red bricks of Georgetown.

On Wednesday I was surprised with a guided tour of The Congress, The Rayburn Federal Offices, The Supreme Court and The Library of Congress. It would be pointless for me to describe the extent of beauty these buildings enjoy.  The Library of Congress, the largest repository of the written word on Earth, with its great marble pillars, intricate mosaics and biblically inspired windows is unbelievable. It holds one of the last copies of Thomas Payne’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that is widely considered to have inspired the intellectual impetus for the American Revolution.

After observing a seminar on Maryland’s new Governor’s conservative reform agenda, I flew to Las Vegas to meet up with the other five north American Mannkal Scholars for FreedomFest, the world’s largest gathering of likeminded classical liberals. It was the first political conference I have ever been to and it was an incredible experience. I would like to take a moment to thank Ron Manners the founder and patron without whom Mannkal and the opportunities it provides would never be realised.  I have learnt so much, so quickly and I have him and the Mannkal team to thank totally and passionately.

The conference was an incredible collection of intellectuals, characters and institutions.  To briefly cover the highlights: Rand Paul gave a private speech on the need to alter conservative/libertarian messaging to appeal outside of the white middle class base of voters. He pointed to Incarceration reform and ending the war on drugs as a ways to maintain the principles of limited government and open it’s message to new previously resistant demographics. Jeffrey Tucker of Foundation of Economic Education provided a radical defence of open borders and a stinging attack on racial stereotyping as a fundamental attack on the rule of law and Steve Forbes of Forbes magazine gave the keynote address defending the morality of seeking financial profit.

Chad Bensky – Week 2

Chad, 13 July 2016

This week began with the most American of holidays, the Fourth of July. It was an amazing spectacle to be in Washington D.C. on the day commemorating the start of the American Revolution. It’s a testament to the uncompromising patriotism of most Americans, that the parade, fireworks and concert were undeterred by the unseasonable rain and chill. That the clouds consumed the lights of the fireworks did nothing to silence the chants of ‘U-S-A’.

This week consisted of me attending a range of lectures and seminars. D.C. is a hub of American and international public policy think tanks. The prestige and power of the city brings some of the most notable politicians, experts and organizations to compete for intellectual space. However this is not a purely theoretical exercise, as it is back at university. Many of the speakers and audience members are high-level government employees, journalists or office seekers. The purpose of these meetings is to educate and convince and each institution pushes a sometimes niche, sometimes broad agenda that may very will be implemented to great effect.

When John McCain the Senator from Arizona and Leon Panetta the former Director of the CIA, speak at the Bipartisanship Policy Institute, about reforming the American Military civilian operations, they are speaking to the Generals, Pentagon correspondents and Capitol Hill staffers assembled before them. There proposed reforms to the Goldwater-Nichols Defence Reorganization Act of 1986 are not espoused in a vacuum but are a clear agenda presented to the men and women who may yet enact it.

The same is true of Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts when she spoke on corporate monopoly policy at the Congressional Seminar Program. Certainly there were interns and members of the public in the audience (such as myself) but the atrium was filled with journalists recording her speech for the national stage and leagues of Capitol Hill staffers and organizers scribbling her words down as gospel.
From libertarian deconstructions of the Declaration of Independence at the Cato institute, to high ranking Brazilian politicians condemning “a big money coup d’état” at the Wilson International Centre or Supreme Court litigators explaining the nuisance of their constitutional arguments at the Heritage foundation. D.C. is the embodiment of the concept of the arena of ideas. Each policy prescription seeking acceptance and implementation, as these think tanks and speakers fight to change their government, society and world.

It should be noted that this week was punctured by an organized tour of the Holocaust Museum. The Museum is a brilliant, tragic and a thorough display categorizing the timeline and implementation of that genocide and the wider reaches and consequences of human evil. Our self-appointed libertarian tour guide remarked as we left a room filled with piles of victim’s stolen shoes that “not all big governments are tyrannical but all tyrannical governments are big”.

This fantastic week in DC will end with me standing at the top of the Washington Monument. Admiring this great and dynamic city and the battle of ideas raging within and the consequence those contests have.

Chad Bensky – Week 1

Chad, 4 July 2016

For the first ninety years of The District of Columbia’s history, the city was a backwater; an empty town, with incomplete monuments. Beneath the Congress lay Washington’s forever empty marble tomb, a symbol for the lost promise of a city built to bind the North and South and to epitomise America’s potential. The great American capital, the city upon the hill, had in fact been built in a swamp. So great was the city’s economic malaise that it returned half of its landmass to the Commonwealth of Virginia, as it did not have the resources to administer the Port of Alexandria.

Perhaps that is how it would have stayed, had it not been for The American Civil, the great American tragedy that transformed the Republic irreversibly. One of many changes were the rapid militarisation and growth of the Federal Government, first under Abraham Lincoln and then his Republican successors. With the historically small government political force (white southern rural interests), stripped of their voting rights and under military occupation, the uncontested Republicans, passed massive expansions of government power, including three constitutional amendments, a massive new patronage network and a huge program of economic stimulus and reconstruction. The continued occupation of the South and need to enforce voting rights for African American Freedman, led to the creation of the first income tax. Washington D.C. for so long overlooked as an unpleasant, unrealised city, was thrust into the seat of total governing power.

The Washington Monument was finally completed with newly acquired funds; copious amounts of statues of legislators, generals and presidents were built within the city. Residential and commercial construction began in earnest as the population erupted. Just in the decade of the civil war, the city’s population increased by 75.4 percent.

This would be the pattern of Washington. With every expanse of the federal government: the Progressive reforms of the early 20th century, the Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society, the city would grow at the pace of its patron. Today the federal departments of Taxation, Commerce and Justice resemble palatial estates. The Federal Triangle, ostensibly government offices, are themselves a tourist attraction. Designed by the Hoover administration as the largest urban stimulus project of the 30’s, the buildings are an interlocking masterpiece of neoclassic structures. The National Art Gallery, home to Da Vinci, Raphael, Van Gogh, Rembrandt and so many more is but a small piece of the collection of treasures the United States has collected and displayed on it’s National Mall. The Hope Diamond, the Magna Carta, rocks collected off the surface of the moon, speak to the splendor, ideals and power of the government that collected them. The incredible and free Smithsonian museums are a great institution of egalitarian education and a statement of the Federal Government’s uncontested dominance.

After thirty years of economic and population decline, D.C. is growing again. Two new grand, national monuments are being planned and the Federal Triangle is being expanded once again. Bill Clinton who famously declared ‘the era of big government is over’, fights for the election of his wife, who assures her party’s base big government is the future once more. Regardless of this election’s outcome, once thing is clear. Washington D.C. is a city dedicated not to the man after whom it is named after but the government that it represents.

Final Week in Washington D.C. – Daniel Press

Daniel Press, 29 February 2016

My time living in the capitol of the free world is unfortunately coming to an end. Although the experience as a whole has been absolutely amazing, my last week was certainly the best. It was a great week meeting new friends as the other North American Mannkal Scholars arrived, with a few rooming in my apartment. The week began with a private tour of the Nation’s Capitol through a friend of John Hugo. We were lucky enough to see some very exclusive sections which are not typically available to the public, including the speakers balcony and floor of the House of Representatives! I struggled to comprehend the gravity of the situation, as everything seemed so surreal and familiar to a television show. The tour was nothing short of incredible, however the week was only to get better.

Having the week off to relax and become a tourist again in Washington was fantastic. With the other Mannkal scholars in town, I looked to assist their exploration of the city, going to many museums and monuments such as the Holocaust museum, National Gallery of Art and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. Although having seen them all before, the experience never seems to get old as I enjoyed them all over again!

Although the whole week was amazing, the highlight of the time had to be the International Students for Liberty conference. Even though I had high expectations for the weekend, they were completely blown out of the water. The energy and production value of the conference had me in awe the entire time. With speakers such as John Stossel, Tom Palmer and David Freidman, just to name a few, you could not help but be inspired. Lucky enough, as an Atlas Network intern, I was able to attend the ISFLC Awards Ceremony which made a wonderful night of congratulating young achievements in promoting liberty.

I can’t thank Ron Manners and the Mannkal foundation enough for this incredible opportunity. The program has been truly life changing, through not only the brilliant educational and networking opportunities, but making a great group of friends. I can not wait to visit D.C. again, however the next stop for me is Miami, Flordia, as I begin my travels through Southern U.S.A!

Week 10 – Daniel Press

Daniel Press, 29 February 2016

As my time in Washington DC comes to an end, I have made a particular effort to get out and see all that it had to offer. Luckily for me, my last week at Atlas was relatively easy going, as I continued to work on my health research paper. Having made connections to many of the Cato employees, I was lucky enough to discuss the implications of many government policies on the quality and availability of healthcare with them. I am still impressed at the breadth and depth of knowledge of both the Cato Institute and the Atlas Network, as the many scholars are always helpful with interesting insights.

During the week, our lovely boss Kristina Crane took the Atlas interns out to visit the Holocaust museum. Although sobering, the experience was nothing short of brilliant – a must do for anyone visiting the city. The museum, although not particularly graphic, was harrowing in its detail concerning the rise of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and the worlds descent into the Second World War. After visiting the killing fields museum in Cambodia, I have had a great interest in the brutal history of humanity, for which he Holocaust museum was a great insight.

Continuing her generosity, Kristina allowed me to browse the Atlas book shelves to take whatever we wanted. With enough Tom Palmer books in the office to build a house with, I took a bunch for myself and friends back home! It has been an incredible experience here and will be glad to continue my education back home.

Over the weekend I headed to Baltimore with a friend from Cato to see what the rest of Maryland had to offer. Although the city has a fairly poor reputation, with the riots a few years ago and continuing exodus of residents, Baltimore was a pleasant surprise. Although starting off our trip with an unofficial ‘The Wire’ tour, the harbor was surprisingly lovely. An added bonus to the trip was being able to see a friend of mine from high school who is now at Baltimore University’s law school! Although the trip was good, I can’t wait to make the most of my last week in D.C.!

Daniel Press – Week 8

Daniel Press, 15 February 2016

My week in D.C began with a historical trip to George Washington’s house in Mount Vernon, Virginia. Kristina crane, the atlas operations manager, was our tour guide for the day as we explored a significant piece of American history. The museum itself was incredible, fitted with rare artifacts and information about Washington’s role in the American Revolution. The self guided tour was followed by a professional kind, where we were taken through the same house George Washington lived in hundreds of years ago.

Towards the end of the week, I visited the library of congress to work on our Mannkal research papers. The library was incredible and expansive as it stretched over three separate buildings! However, possibly the most valuable experience of the trip was gaining a library card for the library of congress – a fitting souvenir from Washington D.C.

As the weekend followed, we headed out to experience all that U street had to offer. The bars were fantastic and It’s sad to think we only have a few weeks left! However, it will be an incredible experience to visit Baltimore next weekend with a newly found friend in the Cato media department. Having not headed out of D.C for a few weeks, I’m excited to see new sites and continue my American adventure.
Until next week…