26 February 2007

Why losing Vilsack's candidacy is bad for America

I have no particular loyalty to Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who Friday dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. I had heard his name tossed around in 2004 as a potential running mate for John Kerry, and that's about all I knew of him. But as we know, the 2008 race is already shaping up to be the most expensive campaign in history. This reality killed the Vilsack campaign. It simply couldn't gain a foothold in a crowded field that includes several heavy hitters.

Admittedly, a lot of total loonies run for office at all levels each year. There's always some yokel from the middle of nowhere who gets his name added to the presidential ballot in some state, just because he got a lot of people to sign a petition. But Vilsack was at least someone who could claim to have bona fide political and administrative experience to offer. Again, I don't know much about his positions on this or that, but I would've liked the chance to learn. And it shouldn't cost him or me hundreds of millions of dollars to hear it.

What's most disturbing though is this quote from Vilsack's bowing out speech:
“I came up against something for the first time in my life that hard work and effort couldn’t overcome. I just couldn’t work harder, couldn’t give it enough.”
Should money really be the factor that determines a person's viability as a candidate, especially for the presidency? Of course not. Hard work and effort should matter, not cash on hand. Furthermore, the media should be better about giving equal attention to candidates, rather than brushing some off as unelectable before they can even get going, but that's a whole different issue.

Gasp and horror

Angelina Jolie has just been appointed to a term membership on the Council on Foreign Relations (aka that stodgy yet prestigious body of old farts who have blown up countries for fun). Yeah, I'm happy for her and shit, but seriously, is running around and smiling and refugees and AIDS patients really justification for being elected to America's international relations elite? I mean, yeah, if I was a bajillionaire, I would run off to Africa to volunteer to help people too. But I'm not. I'm working hard in school and hope for a professional opportunity that will allow me to do some good in the world. It's not that I don't respect what Jolie has done both in terms of working on refugee issues and raising awareness among a pretty dense American public, but there are lots of people who work hard for such causes, but maybe can't travel as much or can't get as much attention because they're not wealthy celebrities.

Anyway, I hope Jolie benefits from the experience and takes advantage of the honor. However I also hope that the Council hasn't somehow been cheapened by this. The organization is far from perfect and still dominated by old white guys, but it's also a much respected voice in world affairs, and its membership should contribute to that. Hopefully, Jolie will make such a positive contribution.

22 February 2007

Relatively smart person agrees with me!

David Broder, who is actually a fairly respected columnist, has endorsed my position that presidential campaigning is now a far too long and drawn out process. He even offers some decent suggestions to fix this problem, which may even be better than my own suggestion for us all to go live in caves for the next 18 months.

So there you have it folks, this little-read blog is inspiring greatness!

More on the recent but brief growth of Shrubbery in Tennessee

Sometimes the world is just a little bizarre. President Bush's main event yesterday, after scaring the elderly and infirm at a local hospital, was to engage in a roundtable discussion on health care with Governor Phil Bredeson, who is, at last check, a Democrat. However, Bredeson also notes that he's unconvinced about changing the tax code and is especially unenthusiastic about the potential cuts to federal reimbursements for charity care. Additionally, the Community Research Council in Chattanooga has reported that few local residents would actually benefit from the Bush plan.

Meanwhile, outside the convention center, there was a group of Bush supporters and a smaller group of protesters, as I mentioned previously. While the supporters were allowed to stand outside the convention center, the detractors were sent to another side of the building. Apparently free speech zones are now limited to particular types of free speech. Tennessee Guerrilla Women have a few other tidbits about the protest.

A full rundown of the day's events is here. Some slightly better coverage, including links to video and audio, are available via the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The video is especially funny. All photos of the visit, though, seem to be especially obsessed with Air Force One. Probably because most people are surprised that such a big plane could land at such a little airport without running over a few houses along the way.

21 February 2007

There's hope for my home town!

This afternoon, our beloved President visited Chattanooga to speechify about his plan to give poor people health care by cutting the taxes they're already too poor to have to pay. I don't know what all he said yet, but I do know that a daring gang of lefties in Chattavegas risked stoning and other forms of punishment that the city unleashes upon suspected liberals and protested across the street from the convention center where he was speaking.

As someone who spent a couple years peacefully counter-gay-bashing people on the Scenic City's streets by making out with men across from street preachers, I wholly condone today's act, and am really pleased to see greater left wing activism in that area.

The organizers of today's event claimed that they didn't expect their presence to change policy on health care or on the war in Iraq. Rather, they wanted to demonstrate that Tennessee can't be taken for granted as solid Bush territory. According to the Tennessee Independent Media Center, over 100 Tennesseans have died in the Iraq war. Additionally, there are over 800,000 uninsured residents in the sate.

For pictures, click here. Stay tuned for additional coverage of this incredibly pleasing event.

14 February 2007

From the office of unqualified hacks

Ladies and gentlemen, Rev. Franklin Graham is going to save Darfur.

Now isn't that nice?

Here's the deal. Billy Graham's significantly dumber son is going to get Omar Bashir to stop slaughtering people by encouraging policy types to be nice to the dictator. Then, to top it all off, Rev. Graham is going to build or rehabilitate hundreds of churches in Sudan, through his aid group, which is of course funded by USAID.

Not bad for a man who thinks Islam is a religion of hate, intolerance and violent proselytizing. Then again, Graham the Younger's doctrine of Christianity seems to meet those criteria pretty well. Perhaps these two have more in common than they first thought back in 2003.

What's the rationale for this bold and daring plan? Why, it's the fact that Bashir signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the SPLM/A in Southern Sudan back in 2005. That apparently means that he's a reasonable man who's willing to compromise (though not reasonable enough to meet with Bill Frist, Graham's travel companion). Never mind the fact that the civil war in Southern Sudan raged for some twenty years before it was ended, or that there is some evidence that Bashir is undermining the agreement.

Thanks for the hard work, Brother Franklin! The rest of us will change course right away, by sending Bashir some lovely Valentine's cards, complete with those little heart candies with the cute messages.

08 February 2007

In which I'm mildly worried about humanity

It's becoming increasingly obvious to me that the world simply cannot handle any new humanitarian crises at the moment. We're stretched thin. Response capacity is just about all used up. There are some 18 UN peacekeeping missions at present, with more on the way. Trouble is, there aren't enough troops to staff them. One more disaster and we're stuck wringing our hands in grief.

In class the other day, we were discussing what could be done about Darfur. Obviously, the U.S. is "otherwise engaged" and so can't do much. Someone suggested sending in Europeans. They're skilled and have money and stuff, right? I pointed out that Europe has pretty small military resources compared to the United States, and those resources are basically already committed in Afghanistan and Lebanon. With East Timor getting shaky too, and who knows what might go down in other parts of Southeast Asia, Australia is pretty tied up. China and Russia have big militaries, but are so non-interventionist that they'll be incredibly unlikely to use them. As Victoria Holt points out, there is a serious need to sit down and figure out just how much response capacity the world currently has.

But it's not just military forces that are stretched. The high volume of ongoing crises/rebuilding from crises stretches civilian capacities within governments, international organizations, and NGOs as well. Do we even have the first idea of how these organizations are currently holding up under the strain?

This wouldn't be quite so scary if there weren't already big problems festering and receiving inadequate attention from the international community, even in some cases where there isn't a lack of will, per se (Darfur is probably a decent example here), but the funds and personnel just don't seem to be available to do what needs to be done. Admittedly, Western nations continue to be guilty of grossly underfunding their aid targets, but even if funds were forthcoming, would there be enough people to make use of them? Even if Ban Ki-moon restructures the UN Secretariat to make managing peace operations more efficient, will the organization even have the capacity to meet increasing demands?

All told, this seems like a bad time for human security. I hate to be so pessimistic, and I'm sure that present circumstances are temporary and likely to improve over the long term, but what do we do until then?

04 February 2007

Mapping and Fighting Corruption in War Torn States

In an effort to demonstrate my academic mettle, I offer this bit of shameless self promotion. Click here to read to full report by the above title which I helped to write, or click here (and scroll to the bottom) for a synopsis of the project.