Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Future of Global Poverty and Disease

-January 1st, 2008-
On this day of days, we have a whole year ahead of us, the future is bright...and it's also time to elect a new president. What kind of stake do you, if you are an American, have in the future of the United States and the world.

The ONE organization, engineered in part by U2's Bono, is a group dedicated to improving global health and ending poverty. ONE has launched a campaign called "On the Record" which asks America's presidential hopefuls about their past records and what each of them will do to alleviate poverty if they are elected president of the United States. In contemporary times, where globalization is one of the paradigms that defines our world, the president of the United States must be open to addressing not only our problems at home, but the issues that confront our foreign neighbors, particularly those issues related to economic, social and physical well-being.

Let's see how some of the candidates measure up. Skip down to watch the videos of the candidates that interest you. The Democrats are first, followed by the Republicans.


Joseph Biden (D)

Biden knows what he's talking about for the most part. He wants to change how we think of Africa while recognizing that it is a very diverse continent. He wants to help African help themselves and is committed to working directly with the African Union (AU). Biden knows AIDS is a transnational issue and has seen the studies that show abstinence programs are ineffective. He clearly knows more than to simply say AIDS is a problem. Biden brings up many other issues as well including debt relief, female empowerment, cuts to defense spending, lowering tariffs. Most importantly, he mentions that he will want to use mechanisms to measure the success of certain efforts like the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Malaria and TB. Without measuring success we will be throwing money down a bottomless pit. Overall I was impressed, though Biden's poll number are low hopefully he will use his experience and knowledge to bring more of these global issues to the table.

Hillary Clinton (D)

Hillary gets props for actually taking the time to submit her own video to the website and she knows the importance of the figures she cites. Unfortunately, since she had time to prepare her response, she sounds robotic and impersonal. Clinton wants to be known for her work to support the world's children. She goes on to say that maternal health is also important and emphasizes focusing efforts on girls, orphans and child laborers, without forgetting about the disabled. She brings up microfinance as a possible solution for economic empowerment, but does not elaborate. This also signifies that she will probably be against more radical bank reform designed to make the global financial system more equitable. She does want to increase the number of recipients of anti-retroviral medications for HIV/AIDS treatment, but does not highlight any of the issues associated with them, for instance stigma and food security. As with many of the candidates she wants to increase the resources used to fight global poverty, but places little emphasis on measuring the effectiveness of the various programs. Overall, seems knowledgeable, but makes financial promises without mentioning oversight.

Chris Dodd (D)

Another candidate with little support compared to the front runners, but with plenty of experience and understanding of the key issues. Dodd knows the numbers of annual child deaths and at what ages they occur. He recognizes that fighting global poverty and disease is a challenge that can not be met by the United States alone. Dodd gets bonus points for serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic in the 1960's and for knowing the work of Dr. Paul Farmer and Partners in Health, but he goes a bit too far in trying to seem like he's one of Bono's close friends. He want more accountability for the World Bank and the IMF in addition to more cooperation from multinational corporations in helping the countries in which they operate. Overall, he comes off as a personable leader that is actually dedicated to these causes. Like Biden, hopefully he'll help give some attention to global issues that might otherwise be ignored.

John Edwards (D)

It's difficult to take John Edwards too seriously when he's standing in front of a giant American flag, its just a bit much. His responses are mediocre though he seems committed to ending the conflicts in Darfur and northern Uganda. He wants to bring education to all of the world's children and mentions micro-lending as way for increasing incomes, but doesn't go into any detail. Edwards is one of the few candidates who mentioned improving sanitation as a way to prevent disease and he did briefly say that he would try to spend money effectively which is respectable. Overall, his responses seemed prepared even though it was an on-the-spot interview and I took offense when he said Africa was an issue he cared about - talk about generalizing. I have trouble connecting with Edwards because his candidate persona is very much a caricature of a politician.

Barack Obama (D)

When it comes to Obama, I want to like him, I really do, but his inexperience often shows. Maybe a fresh face would still be good for the Whitehouse, but we'll have to see. Obama's responses are solid, but not overwhelmingly moving. He knows issues of poverty and disease are truly global and wants to give Americans a stake in the future of the world. He places emphasis on funds for global schools and seems like he really understands the power of a good education. Obama is another candidate who mentions debt forgiveness for highly indebted African countries and makes an important link between climate change and poverty. He would like to encourage more sustainable agricultural practices and stresses building what he calls "human infrastructure world wide with skills training programs. A bonus for Obama, which he of course brings up, is that his father is from Kenya and so he has close ties to the developing world to this day. We'll see if he can mature as a politician in the coming months and an Obama administration would be a remarkable symbol of racial tolerance and upward social mobility.

Dennis Kucinich (D)

I like having Dennis Kucinich around, while he's a love-em-or-hate-em guy, he brings some seriously important issues to the table. His radical views about shaking up the domestic health care system and making the banking world more equitable are quite refreshing. He explicitly states that countries considered poor are actually very wealthy in terms of natural and human resources. And he too connects climate change to exacerbating the struggles of the worlds poor. Kucinich's idealism is something that, unfortunately, the country is probably not ready for, but his ideas and sense of humor will certainly liven the coming presidential debates.

Bill Richardson (D)

Richardson is one of the most genuine contenders for the presidency. As he often suggests, his resume is quite impressive and his experience in diplomacy all over the world would be very important. He mentions struggles in Zimbabwe, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and offers his plan for a "Marshall Plan of the 21st century." Richardson brings up concern associated with refugees and malnutrition, while suggesting microfinance as a possible solution to increase income generation in the developing world. He even congratulates Mohammed Yunus on his Nobel Peace Prize win for developing the concept of providing small loans to entrepreneurs to help expand there enterprises. On the other hand, in his plans for aid he doesn't mention attempts to use the money effectively and some of his statistics seem made up. Most of the world has never seen a cell phone? The view knows what he means, but the exaggeration doesn't help him much. Richardson should be considered seriously with the rest of the frontrunners.


Mike Huckabee (R)

Huckabee is a smooth talker, he has preaching in his blood and his oration skills are making him a rising star on the Republican side. In reality, he has little to no foreign policy experience and he may just be saying what he thinks people want to hear. Regardless, he vows to be a man of action and not meetings. He talks about how how clean water can prevent disease mentions the empowerment associated with microfinance. But honestly, who knows if he was briefed for the interview or if he is truly serious about addressing world issues.

John McCain (R)

I will always maintain some amount of respect for John McCain because he often non-partisanly co-authors legislation with democratic representatives. In addition, as a veteran, he is familiar with the hidden costs of war and what constitutes military torture, unlike some of his republican counterparts. He speaks about fighting corruption and the concept of America as a power dedicated to helping the less fortunate. He mentions clean the importance of clean water say he's committed to finding out which development strategies are effective. Overall, his brief talk wasn't particularly informative . While McCain's "straight talk" image separates him from his peers, for him that also means showing clear support for socially conservative legislation that would limit the freedoms of American and could lead to the overturing of Roe vs. Wade and a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Plus, as a military man, he somehow maintains support for the nowhere war in Iraq. At least he knows what waterboarding is.

Mitt Romney (R)

Romney is a character and a mormon, but is trying too hard to appeal to everyone. His words about addressing global poverty and disease were pathetic. He maintains that a strong America will lead to a healthy planet. In his own words he says to reach the goal of a strong America a Romney administration will basically ignore the outside world for at least a year until we alright. I wont go as far as Thomas Friedman and say the world is flat, but I do admit that it's pretty damn connected at this point. To cut off ties with the world simply isn't possible. I may be exaggerating his point, but it was a foolish thing to even come close to suggesting. He rambles on about planning summits aout this and that when it's common knowledge that summits mostly good for wasting resources and making empty promises as opposed to taking any real kind of action. Romney's words are empty and he is entirely fixated on two things that he repeats incessantly. (1) He will make no decisions until he is elected at which point he will consult his advisors and therefore in the meantime he will avoid almost all questions and (2) we're all gonna die because of attacks undertaken by violent radical Islamic jihadists unless he takes office. Somehow he works jihad into every response he gives and vows to put an end to Middle Eastern "madrahsas" (the arabic word for any kind of school). Of course he is referring to educational institutions that he believes train children to be terrorists from an early age, but his point is lost because of his cultural insensitivity. Romney has had to put on a facade of being extremely conservative to win the Republican nomination, despite having a fairly moderate record and so he may not be as bad as he seems. But damn, the guy says some scary things.

Fred Thomson (R), Tom Tancredo (R), Duncan Hunter (R), Ron Paul (R) and Rudy Giuliani (R) all did not find it important to comment about the future of American foreign policy with regard to poverty and disease. Sometimes not saying anything at all can also be quite powerful (and convey a lack of seriousness). Choose wisely and examine every aspect of the politicians you are considering. Not voting is one thing, but voting without any real knowledge of the candidates agendas is pretty irresponsible.

Global Fund
President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)
Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Photojournalism at Its Finest

I was browsing the New York Times Africa section in accordance with my daily mania and I came upon some remarkable images of the Democratic Republic of the Congo shot by a photographer named Lynsey Addario. The images found in the Africa section are often quite good when the Times actually find the time publish a worthwhile article, but I found Lynsey's photos particularly stunning.

As a photographer based in Istanbul, Ms. Addario captures documents political and social issues, especially those dealing with women, as they unfold in India, the Middle East and Africa. For the pair of articles that caught my eye, Ms. Addario teamed up with Lydia Polgreen, one of my favorite journalists who covers West and Central Africa. I often get the impression from Lydia's articles and video reports on the New York Times website that she is an incredibly hard working individual and the photos shot by Ms. Addario for the articles exude a similar combination of skill and work ethic. The result is an interesting, intriguing, informative piece of journalism.

Everyone should visit Lynsey Addario's website that includes photos from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Uganda and even Darfur in addition to the places already mentioned. Interestingly, Lynsey graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (my hometown) with a degree in international relations (same as me).

Whenever I view photographs that really set the scene for places and/or issues I envision those photographs as giant lightboxs or as the wallpaper for a whole room in my house, doors to another domain. Someday, I think, I'll visit those people.

Photos by Lynsey Addario

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


While I don't condone the mass hunting of whales, as shamefully desired by the Japanese government, I am in favor of small scale traditional community building events that involve hunting whales by native groups in Alaska, especially if there is an amazing photographic project involved. A website called The Whale Hunt is "A Storytelling Experiment" by photographer Johnathan Harris about just such an event. Harris details his trip to document an Alaskan Inupiat Eskimo village in an interesting manner ... he take a photo at least every 5 minutes for 7 days, ending up with over 3,700 photos.

The website is one of the most superbly designed sites of its kind and it very interactive, allowing viewers to choose photos from the entire trip as they are all displayed on the screen at the same time. You can also change the pace of the slideshow which corresponds to the rise and fall of a heart monitor. At times when there were many photos taken in a single minute, Harris says his own heartbeat increased as well. Every photo includes a time, date and title and an impressive number of them are quite good. What a way to ensure you never miss a moment, by never putting you camera away and setting it to shoot by itself at night.

This project is a testament of what can creatively be done with photography and I would like to see this technique be put to use with other subjects as well.