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"Sweet Relief" - A New Book about Humanitarian Activist Marla Ruzicka

Various search engines continue to send many readers to the Atlantic Review's past posts about Marla Ruzicka, which indicates that there is fortunately still a lot of interest in this "youthful representative of a certain kind of not-yet-lost American idealism" (Rolling Stone Magazine).
Marla founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) and convinced Congress to create an Iraqi War Victims Fund, which was named in her honor after her tragic death in April 2005.
"Marla was alienated from much of the human rights community because she chose to work with the military instead of always against it" said Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief.

Her friend Jennifer Abrahamson has just published the book Sweet Relief: The Marla Ruzicka Story (Amazon.com | Amazon.de):
Marla Ruzicka was a free spirit, a savvy political operator, a wartime Erin Brockovich. Fiercely determined to improve the lives of the less fortunate, the twenty-something blonde was instrumental in convincing the U.S. government to pass historic legislation aiding civilian victims of war.
Sweet Relief recounts Marla's journey from an idyllic childhood in a small California town, through Latin America and Africa, and finally to the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. Whether she was Rollerblading the halls of Congress to secure funds for civilians in Iraq or throwing parties for journalists in Kabul to raise awareness of her cause, no one who came within a hundred yards of Marla missed her. Her friendly smile and indefatigable pose were ubiquitous in Afghanistan and Iraq where Marla managed a door-to-door effort to identify war victims. While Marla worked tirelessly to care for others, in many ways she neglected herself. A diagnosed manic-depressive, Marla battled extreme emotional lows and an eating disorder. And although she brought love into the homes of the aggrieved, she often struggled to find a love of her own. Marla gave the invisible victims of war a voice and, in the process, helped to win them millions of dollars in unprecedented aid. Tragically, Marla was killed by a suicide bomber on Airport Road in Iraq in April 2005. Weeks later, the U.S. government named the program she fought so hard to establish The Marla Ruzicka Fund. Her life and legacy are an inspiring reminder that love and determination can conquer all.

                          
A movie about Marla Ruzicka, starring Kirsten Dunst, is in the making. "The screenwriter is finishing up her script and has relied heavily on the book", writes Jen Abrahamson.
For more background on Marla's life, work and achievements, here are two of the Atlantic Review's previous posts: Marla Ruzicka, Civilian Victims and Reconciliation and Marla Ruzicka and the Iraqi War Victims Fund.

Germany's Fast Aid after Katrina and "Role Reversal"

[Update: Anne Richard, author of Role Reversal, has published an op-ed in the IHT (PDF file at SAIS Transatlantic Center) describing how useful some foreign aid was and that others was rejected and others wasn't needed and concludes that much more international emergency response cooperation is necessary. The Washington Post quotes her saying "I think most Americans have little understanding about the extent to which other countries were moved and concerned" and mentions also the amount of aid Kuwait and Saudi Arabia donated. IMHO: Political motivations play a significant role, since those countries donated little for Darfur, whose people need the money much more...]

One year ago, ninety experts from Germany's Technisches Hilfswerk or THW (Federal Agency for Technical Relief) were quickly deployed to pump floodwater out of New Orleans and nearby parishes. The American Quaker Economist was "truly surprised by the silence with which this help has been greeted in the American media":
President Bush and Ambassador Timken have officially thanked the German government for this timely and effective assistance. But has any trace of these official communications made it into print, or into our wall-to-wall television coverage? (...) The only significant mention of the German effort that I found anywhere in the US media was an eight-paragraph press release from US Northern Command. As far as I can tell, no actual news stories were written based on that press release.
The Washington Times wrote about Germany's contributions as well. Was Germany's contribution significant? The Quaker Economist:
Remember those estimates that it would take three to six months to pump the water out of New Orleans? Just ten days after those estimates were made, the city is more or less dry. There is a story behind this news. It has to do with a large contingent of German volunteers who came to play a major role in the rescue of New Orleans.
Continue reading "Germany's Fast Aid after Katrina and "Role Reversal""

Sudan Divestment Campaign Against Siemens and Others Gets Stronger

Nick Timiraos writes in the Wall Street Journal (free access) about the Sudan divestment campaign led by students at several U.S. universities. One of their main targets is Siemens of Germany:
The divestment campaigns aim at putting pressure on Sudan's Khartoum regime, which the United Nations says has sponsored militias in the Darfur region, where more than 200,000 have died. The U.S. has referred to the violence as genocide. Students hope that as companies' share prices drop in response to sales of their stock, those firms will either push Sudan's government to end violence or decide to leave the country altogether.
At least five states in the U.S., including Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon, have passed legislation requiring state pension funds to divest themselves of Sudan-related holdings. New Jersey sold $2.6 billion worth -- or 3.4% of its $75.3 billion in total assets -- in 17 companies.
The Atlantic Review wrote about Darfur: U.S. calls for more sanctions against Sudan, but Germany sees business opportunities and Rallies to help Darfur across the United States. And in Germany?

Learning from America: Philanthropy and Immigration

It is often claimed that the German media is biased and focuses on negative stories about the U.S. In recent months, however, there have been many articles in Germany praising the successful integration of immigrants in the United States, while pointing out that Germany and Europe in general have often failed to integrate the first, second and third generation of immigrants. Many newspapers argue that Germans should take Americans as role models not only regarding the integration of immigrants, but also in terms of philanthropy.
Bill Gates' decision to spend more time for his foundation, and Warren Buffett's decision to donate 30 billion dollars to the Gates Foundation have been big news in the German media. The weekly Die Zeit chose the headline "Philanthropische Republik Amerika", i.e. calling the United States "philanthropic Republic." This article wasn't buried deep inside the weekly, but highlighted next to a graphic on the front page: "Role Model America: To Endow - The Good Side of Capitalism."
Related posts in the Atlantic Review: Americans donate and volunteer a lot for good causes abroad and Immigration and Naturalization Reform in the U.S. and Germany.

Endnote: Some German papers have even praised President Bush's new environmental policy, like Der Tagesspiegel's feature about the biggest maritime national park and the plans for emission free power stations.
Some German media outlet will probably write about the latest Newsweek cover story as well: "Going Green: With windmills, low-energy homes, new forms of recycling and fuel-efficient cars, Americans are taking conservation into their own hands." The Atlantic Review likes to recommend to our German readers articles about the U.S. that help to reduce stereotypes about Americans and improve the US image. The Atlantic Review also points out to our American readers that the German press coverage of the United States is not as negative as many Americans believe it is.

Importing the American Spirit of Civic Responsibility to Germany

Koerber Foundation: Adopt an IdeaOver the last two years, I have ran a marathon, enjoyed Bumbershoot, Folklife and the Seattle International Film Festival, gone to museums founded by local billionaires and salvaged some really cheap stuff from the salvation army store. I have bought school fundraising chocolates from my poker buddy's daughter and delicious girl's scouts cookies in the store. I have hiked dozens of National Park trails, went to parties that asked for donations to the local food bank instead of presents, and volunteered for the Seattle Public Library.
None of the most exciting community events and many social services in this city would be possible without the help of thousands of volunteers donating their time, creativity and money year-in, year-out. And that's not unusual in a country more famous for its hardcore capitalism, coarse meshed social net and sink-or-swim mentality.
 

Defying traditional European prejudices, American society is not based purely on the survival of the fittest. Quite on the contrary: public engagement here is much more common, volunteer services for the underprivileged are diverse and creative, and public-private partnerships usually work more smoothly than in my home country. The Körber Foundation in Hamburg has set their minds on importing this spirit of civic responsibility to Germany with their competition called USable. Every round, overall prize money of $180,000 is awarded to good ideas and best practices people have picked up in the U.S. to be realized in Germany, too. There is also a special text competition.

Since 1998, the Körber Foundation has thereby transplanted hundreds of "usable" ideas from the States to Europe, like "beginning with books" from Philadelphia. All over Berlin, volunteers now read regularly to kids in public libraries, helping especially non-native speakers to learn how to read and to enjoy books. Due to the support of celebrities like former congressman Cem Özdemir and former first lady Doris Schröder-Köpf, the idea has spread to many other German cities already.

Last year's competition carried the motto "Living Together. Integration and Diversity." One of the winners is a bilingual musical project in Berlin, initiated by the African-American musician Todd Fletcher, who out of personal experience stresses that "language is the key to integration." Other prize-worthy ideas include art projects for more mutual understanding between different cultures and religions, initiatives to get universities, corporations and citizens involved in their community, and programs to empower minorities. The winners of last year's competition will be announced on June 26, 2006.
This article was originally published in European Weekly

The German language book Adopt an Idea presents 200 ideas from the USable competition and can be ordered for 12 Euros at the Körber Stiftung Shop and at Amazon.de.

Projects and Blogs by Fulbrighters

We have updated the directory of Fulbrighters making the world a better place through various projects as well as our list of blogs maintained by Fulbrighters.

Besides, the Fulbright Academy is collecting and publishing experiences and stories by Fulbrighters in order to document the impact of the Fulbright program on individuals and institutions.

Rallies to help Darfur across the United States. And in Germany?

Scroll down for several updates!
Save Darfur, an alliance of more than 155 faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organizations, is holding rallies across the United States on April 30, 2006. The demonstrations are part of the Million Voices for Darfur campaign to
generate one million postcards for delivery to President Bush, who recently pledged to push for additional UN and NATO help to protect the people of Darfur. We applaud the President's leadership, but the work is far from done. We are urging President Bush to take steps necessary to end the genocide and build a lasting peace.
Since there are not any rallies concerning Darfur in Germany, we have joined the German Bloggers Liberale Stimme and Extrablog to demonstrate online and call for the German government and the EU to do more to help Darfur. You can demonstrate virtually by commenting at Liberale Stimme or sending a trackback from your blog. WordofBlog provides the HTML-code for the badge.
You could also send an email to the Austrian Foreign Minister, who currently is president of the Council of the European Union via the Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker (Society for Threatened Peoples).

Comparing civil society activism in the United States and Germany: While the U.S. has such vocal NGOs like Save Darfur, Darfur Genocide, and a strong Disvestment Campaign, the only German NGO focusing on Darfur that I know is Darfur-Hilfe e.V. The German media does not seem to have a columnist like the NY Times' Nicholas Kristof, who regularly travels to Darfur and writes widely read columns calling for more action. Crooks and Liars has a CNN video interview with Nicholas D. Kristof, who was awarded this year's Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. The NYT offers some of his many op-eds for free now. Apparently there are not any top celebrities in Germany, who try to use their celebrity status to give this humanitarian disaster a higher profile than it has now. This is what George Clooney and his dad and Cincinnati Post columnist Nick Clooney are doing now after their recent return from Darfur. Nick is writing special reports and George is attending one of the rallies on Sunday.
The rally in Washington D.C. on April 30, 2006 is also the final stop of the "Tour for Darfur: Eyewitness to Genocide," featuring the photos taken by former Marine Captain Brian Steidle. We mentioned his work in our post  Why is Abu Ghraib a cover story again, but not Darfur? Another Atlantic Review post was about German Business with Sudan.

UPDATE:
Supporters of this online demonstration include the German bloggers  Fingerzeig, Oliver Luksic, Rückenwind, FPI, Statler & Waldorf, Al Sharq, Libertas Cara, Antibuerokratieteam, NBFSSubspace, Pursuit of Serenity, M.HagenExternspeicher and and the Americans Anovelista, MyNewz'nIdeas, Hardy in Berlin, and Democratic Underground. We also appreciate Tel Chai Nation from Israel, Greg and Freie Gedanken from Switzerland and Wilson from Australia. If you can read German, definitely check out the posts by the supporters Too much cookies and Bissige Liberale.

UPPERDATE:  Emily Wax writes in the Washington Post about A Loss of Hope Inside Darfur Refugee Camps
Currently, Hollywood celebrities, college students, religious leaders and experts champion the plight of the Darfur victims. But despite the attention, the United Nations has been unable to raise enough money to support its operations in Sudan. On Friday, the U.N. World Food Program announced that it had received only 32 percent of its appeal for $746 million for its operations in Sudan, and that food rations to the camps would be cut in half.
The International Crisis Group provides good and trustworthy analysis and advice. The Holocaust Museum covers Darfur extensively.

Five members of Congress (incl. Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos) were arrested in handcuffs on Friday at a demonstration held at the Sudan embassy. More at Reuters.

UPPESTDATE: Live From The FDNF started a series on Darfur. The introduction is online.
Anovelista got some pictures from
yesterday's rally. The Washington Post writes about the rally:
They wore skullcaps, turbans, headscarves, yarmulkes, baseball hats and bandanas. There were pastors, rabbis, imams, youths from churches and youths from synagogues. They cried out phrases in Arabic and held signs in Hebrew. But on this day, they said, they didn't come out as Jews or Muslims, Christians or Sikhs, Republicans or Democrats. They came out as one, they said, to demand that the Bush administration place additional sanctions on Sudan and push harder for a multinational peacekeeping force to be sent to Darfur.
By Washington standards, where protests often draw more than 100,000 people, yesterday's rally -- estimated by organizers at between 10,000 and 15,000 -- was not huge. Yet the Rally to Stop Genocide appeared to be distinctive for being one of the more diverse rallies the capital has seen in years.
The article gives some background on the conflict, refers to divestment campaigns and then describes the current situation and quotes several speakers making historical comparisons:
The rally comes as the humanitarian situation is worsening, the United Nations and human rights groups say. At least 200,000 have died and 2.5 million, most of them non-Arabs, have fled to refugee camps inside Darfur or to neighboring Chad, including 60,000 in the last month, according to the United Nations. U.S. and international diplomatic and political efforts have so far failed to stop the violence.
President Bush, who met with Darfur advocates at the White House on Friday, praised the protesters and said the United States is serious about solving the problem. But protesters said he needs to do more. The urgency, as well as a sense of the past, was not lost on many of the speakers yesterday. The speakers' podium was thick with the sweep of history, as survivors of the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and the ethnic conflict in Bosnia drew parallels to Darfur. As the rally's first speaker, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel drew a direct comparison to his own suffering in Nazi concentration camps.

Americans donate and volunteer a lot for good causes abroad (Update)

While it is well known that past and present U.S. governments spend much less on foreign aid as a percentage of GDP than most other rich countries do, the enormous amount of private aid is less well known outside the U.S. The State Department  summarizes a new study:
The U.S. private sector donates to international causes at a level nearly four times the amount spent by the U.S. government on official development assistance (ODA), according to a report about to be published by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Prosperity. Called the Index on Global Philanthropy, the report tallies $71 billion in international donations by U.S. private charities, religious organizations, universities, corporations, foundations, and immigrants sending money home for the year of 2004 (the latest year available). That compares to $20 billion in government foreign aid for the same year.  (...)
According to the Hudson Institute, "the tradition of private giving is considerably less developed in Europe than in the U.S."  (...) Close to half of all American adults do volunteer work, according to Independent Sector, a forum for charitable organizations.  The index estimates volunteering for international projects totals 135,000 full-time work hours per year -- worth more than $4 billion.  Web sites like www.volunteerabroad.com encourage the trend. (...) For information on how U.S. foreign assistance is affecting lives, see Partnership for a Better Life and Global Development and Foreign Aid.

Steven Radelet, who was deputy assistant secretary of the treasury from 2000 to 2002, takes issue with exaggerations of U.S. aid. Writing for Foreign Policy, he argues that several beliefs held by many Americans are wrong, for example the assumption that "America is the most generous country in the world if you include private donations to charities" or that "Americans provide generous economic aid through the remittances foreign workers send home to support their families."
Our related post on US Foreign Aid.
UPDATE: European countries inflate their foreign aid figures as well, opines Oxfam:
Ahead of vital talks next week of EU Foreign Ministers on whether the EU will meet its aid targets, NGOs criticized key EU member states including the UK, France and Germany for inflating their aid figures. NGOs provide evidence that a total of €12.5 billion of headline EU aid in 2005 did not result in additional money for poverty reduction but was spent on debt cancellation, housing refugees and educating foreign students in European universities. (...) While technically permitted under OECD rules, European Union governments' insistence on accounting for this debt cancellation in their ODA figures contravenes the United Nation's 2002 agreement in Monterrey. The agreement calls for debt cancellation to be funded additionally to Official Development Assistance (ODA). [Hat tip: Kosmoblog]