Today, December 31st, was supposed to be Marla Ruzicka's 30th birthday. Marla has founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) and convinced Congress to create an Iraqi War Victims Fund. Lawmakers realized that financial compensation for families of civilians accidentally injured or killed by the U.S. military is important for helping them cope financially. A compassionate response might convince the families that Americans feel sorry about their loss; therefore they might not hate Americans, i.e. Marla was advancing US interests. Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief wrote that "Marla was alienated from much of the human rights community because she chose to work with the military instead of always against it." As Peter Bergen wrote in the Washington Post:
Ruzicka initially came off like a blond surfer girl (she was much given to exclaiming "Dude!" and "You rock!"), but underneath the effervescent exterior was a tough-minded humanitarian advocate who had little tolerance for leftist anti-war demonstrators. Ruzicka understood that wars happen despite the demonstrations, and she wanted to do something concrete to alleviate the subsequent damage to human life.
• The Economist: The sad lack of reformers in Germany, even on the right: "The economy is in its best shape for several years, in part thanks to labour-market, tax and other reforms pushed through by the previous government and by the grand coalition of Christian and Social Democrats (CDU and SPD). Yet the reformers are on the defensive."
• The Economist: German inequality: "The country is no longer the equitable middle-class society of its dreams. Rising inequality has led to two debates: one about bourgeois values, the other about an underclass. The first has long simmered. The second is causing a stir reminiscent of last year's 'locust' debate over foreign investors."
Michael Naumann, one of the editors of the respected weekly Die Zeit, writes about American achievements in the past, what Germany owes the US, that Germans have been "Americanized" (in a good sense) and would be valuable partners to solve global issues. Naumann is optimistic that now -- after the midterm elections -- Europeans and Americans will continue a dialogue on those issues "George W. Bush did not give a damn: global environmental problems, disarmament, fighting hunger and the dying of millions of children in Africa.":
Der atlantische Alltag der frueheren Jahre koennte wiederkehren – ein hochmutfreier Dialog über all jene Themen, die George W. Bush von Herzen egal waren: globale Umweltprobleme, Abruestung, Kampf gegen Hunger und millionenfaches Kindersterben in Afrika. Nicht seine Wirtschafts- und Militaermacht, sondern sein angestammter Freiheitsbegriff könnte sich einmal mehr als das beste, waffenlose Exportgut Amerikas erweisen.
Davids Medienkritik has written a detailed critique and links to many interesting sources to debunk all of Naumann's anti-Bush claims and concludes:
Whether we like it or not, George W. Bush will be gone in two years, but the damage done by "journalists" like Naumann to transatlantic relations will endure for years to come, whether Democrats or Republicans are in power. Only when the German-American conversation begins to move beyond these extreme voices and the falsehoods they spew (still all too common in the German media) will we begin to see real improvement.
Naumann tries to avoid charges of Anti-Americanism by using the headline Amerikaner sind wir alle ("We are all Americans") and by expressing his appreciation of America's past policies, but his article could be considered Anti-American, because he misinforms his readers about present US policies by claiming that President Bush "could not give a damn" about "the dying of millions of children in Africa." While Naumann underestimates US contributions, many Americans overestimate them and believe that the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries, although it is less than 1 percent. Could the US government do more to fight hunger, climate change, and disarmament? Sure. Europe could do more as well. Nauman, however, does not write about the lack of European policies re Darfur etc. Foreign Policy Magazine measures how rich-country governments are helping or hurting poor countries; not just in terms of the amount of aid, but more broadly. The Netherlands won this year's competition, followed by Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Germany ranks at the 9th place and the United States at the 13th. Japan lost again.
• German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier suggests the establishment of an independent, shared enrichment plant under IAEA control on an "extraterritorial" plot with a status similar to U.N.'s in New York.
• Via: Kosmoblog: Joschka Fischer, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke at the Foreign Policy Association (FPA) in NYC about the state and challenges for the transatlantic relationship, Iran, terrorism etc. Transcript and video availabel at FPA.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006 to Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank for "their efforts to create economic and social development from below. Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means."
Muhammad Yunus was born in 1940 in Chittagong, the business centre of what was then Eastern Bengal and is now Bangladesh. He was the third of 14 children of whom five died in infancy. Educated in Chittagong, he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and received his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee. In 1972 he became head of the Economics Department at Chittagong University. He is the founder and managing director of the Grameen Bank. Prof. Yunus wrote the memoir Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty (Amazon.com, Amazon.de). According to the BBC, "Hillary Clinton, wife of former US President Bill Clinton, said in 2000 that Mr Yunus had helped the Clintons introduce micro-credit schemes to some of the poorest communities in Arkansas." Since Senator Fulbright was from Arkansas, one could conclude that the Fulbright program has made a full circle (in a positive sense) and America has benefited from awarding a Fulbright grant to Muhammad Yunus.
Due to pressure from Midwest farmers and agribusinesses, the United States has imposed a 54-cents-a-gallon tariff to prevent Americans from importing sugar ethanol from Brazil, writes Thomas Friedman in the NY Times (subscribers only):
Yes, you read all this right. We tax imported sugar ethanol, which could finance our poor friends, but we don't tax imported crude oil, which definitely finances our rich enemies. We'd rather power anti-Americans with our energy purchases than promote antipoverty.
However, he also mentions that the Brazilian government is considering the expansion of the ethanol industry, which "could destroy the cerrado, the Brazilian savannah, another incredibly species-rich area" like the Amazon. "No wonder environmental activists are holding a conference in Germany this fall about the impact of biofuels. I could see some groups one day calling for an ethanol boycott - a la genetically modified foods - if they feel biofuels are raping the environment." Friedman, however, thinks ethanol can be promoted and the environment protected at the same time, if all involved parties sit down early.
The Economist's columnist Lexington highly recommends a new book about an old problem: "The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges—and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates" by Daniel Golden (Amazon.com,Amazon.de):
Mr Golden shows that elite universities do everything in their power to admit the children of privilege. If they cannot get them in through the front door by relaxing their standards, then they smuggle them in through the back. No less than 60% of the places in elite universities are given to candidates who have some sort of extra “hook”, from rich or alumni parents to "sporting prowess". The number of whites who benefit from this affirmative action is far greater than the number of blacks. (...) Social inequality is rising at a time when the escalators of social mobility are slowing (America has lower levels of social mobility than most European countries). The returns on higher education are rising: the median earnings in 2000 of Americans with a bachelor's degree or higher were about double those of high-school leavers. But elite universities are becoming more socially exclusive. (...) Two groups of people overwhelmingly bear the burden of these policies -- Asian-Americans and poor whites.
The above quote -- including the comparison with Europe on social mobility in the brackets -- is from the review in the respected British The Economist. (HT: Don) Daniel Golden was awarded the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his "series of stories that exposed huge college admissions advantages enjoyed by some privileged white students", available for free at the Wall Street Journal. UPDATE: Check out the response from Mad Minerva, an Asian-American grad student.
Each year the Center for Global Development and FOREIGN POLICY look past the rhetoric to measure how rich-country governments are helping or hurting poor countries. How much aid are they giving? How high are their trade barriers against imports such as cotton from Mali or sugar from Brazil? Are they working to slow global warming? Are they making the world’s sea lanes safe for global trade?
The Netherlands wins this year's competition, followed by Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Germany ranks at the 9th place and the United States at the 13th. Japan lost again. The British Times two months ago, that little has improved since last year's G8 summit on Africa and the Make Poverty History campaign due to leadership failures and aid cuts:
Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, is to chair an international group set up by Tony Blair to monitor pledges made to help Africa at last year’s G8 summit, the Prime Minister will announce today. Bob Geldof, the Live8 organiser, and President Obasanjo of Nigeria will also be on the Africa Progress Panel, which will be funded by Bill Gates.
Around 29,000 under-fives die every day from causes that are easily prevented, such as diarrhoeal dehydration, acute respiratory infections, measles and malaria. According to a poll, most Americans believe that the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends well under a quarter of 1 percent.