I saw this image on Twitter tonight and it kind of summarized how I feel about the news this summer which has been awful. I've been reading posts from thoughtful commentators like Steve Walt, Micah Zenko, and Jay Ulfelder who remind us that it's not all bad or at least it's not as bad as has been in the past (anybody remember World War II? [anyone] or perhaps even the early post-Cold War was as bad as it right now).
Still, from Ukraine to Ferguson to ISIS in Iraq/Syria to Gaza to Ebola, this has been one shitty summer for news and also nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing. I think the current security threats are making many IR security folks feel as uneasy as the IPE folks felt during the 2008 recession. Since I kind of straddle different worlds, I worried then and I worry now.
In the midst of all this, we've at least had a ray of lightness and kindness which is the viral "IceBucket Challenge." I know some have scoffed at this act of slacktivism, but awareness and fundraising for ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) has gone way up. So, I say go out and dump ice on your head and donate money to a good cause. Relax, hug and kiss your kids, and let's hope cooler heads around the world prevail. F--k bad news. Some links below that capture some of the rough news.
The death total of the Ebola viral outbreak in West Africa now exceeds 900, leading the World Health Organization to declare it a "global health emergency." Urbanization and weak states in the region, coupled with rural practices of bush meat consumption, appear to be some of the problematic drivers of the epidemic. Local populations skepticism of health workers and attachment to traditional practices of care and burial are making the situation worse. The army is being deployed in Liberia to contain the spread and be able to enforce quarantine policies. The potential spread to Nigeria by a Liberia American official is especially worrisome.
Ebola spreads only through bodily fluids (i.e. saliva, urine, blood) and appears to have a low transmission rate (1 to 1.5 people per infected person on average) but high lethality (killing about 70% of those it infects). At present, there is no vaccine or treatment, other than palliative care, though there are some promising possible therapies. Two American aid workers who were infected received an experimental treatment and appear to be on the mend. They are now back in the United States for continued care, which has spurred a spate of public and media interest and irrational fear. In the midst of this crisis, the weakness of the international community, the World Health Organization in particular, loom large. It's unclear if the topic will be added to the margins of the agenda of the on-going African leaders summit in Washington. Links below.
What with Gaza, Ukraine, Syria, and other events, this has been an awful few weeks/months for international news and is a profound challenge to the world community, such as it is, and, if you are care about this sort of thing, U.S. foreign policy. While similar screeds from John McCain and Dick Cheney are likely to be dismissed as partisan hyperbole, Fred Hiatt in today's Washington Post lambastes the Obama Administration for its failures and may be harder to waive off summarily. He compares Obama's foreign policy to a natural experiment in disengagement and suggests the results have been a disaster, as the U.S. missed the occasion to cement a democratic transition in the Middle East and rivals have taken advantage of the U.S. retreat:
Obama’s determination to gear down in Europe and the Middle East, regardless of circumstances, guaranteed that the United States would not respond strategically to new opportunities (the Arab Spring) or dangers (Putin’s determination to redraw the map of Europe).
[As an aside, Hiatt's blast echoes the critique from the left by Peter Beinart on Obama's Iraq policy, which he describes as having allowed Maliki to run roughshod over Sunni Muslims, with administration policy driven by a desire to have Iraq off the front pages in time for the 2012 election.]
I think both Hiatt and Beinart raise fundamental questions about U.S. agency to shape the world in its image.
Earlier this spring, I had a chance to talk to Mark Dybul, the head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria and former administrator of PEPFAR, the U.S. bilateral AIDS program. At the time, he expressed optimism about using geo-referenced data on HIV/AIDS prevalence to better to target AIDS foreign assistance. In advance of the recent AIDS conference in Australia, researchers (which include Dybul) released a new study in The Lancet ($) that modeled that potential in Kenya by focusing on the hot spots of high HIV/AIDS prevalence (see above East Africa map, purple represent high prevalence levels). Dybul's comments were music to my ears. For the past year, I've been part of the AidData Research Consortium's project (ARC) to develop sub-national foreign assistance data. Already that project has worked to help geo-reference World Bank, African Development Bank and Asian Development Bank projects as well as foreign assistance from all donors in a number of countries. As many of you know, I've been part of climate vulnerability mapping for the better part of five years through my work on Africa through the Minerva Initiative and the CCAPS program at the Strauss Center. This fall we will embark on a new Minerva project to look at disaster vulnerability and complex emergencies in South and Southeast Asia. In this post, let me say a few more words on the importance of data granularity and aid targeting.
This might be might last football related post, what with the World Cup coming to a close and host country Brazil departing ignominiously from the competition by a margin of 7 to 1 in the semifinal against Germany. I've got a few football/Brazil related links for this week. I'm sitting on a goodly number of climate change and conservation related themes that I'll come back to in coming weeks.
I'm also aiming to write about restive criticism of President Obama's foreign policy, both by the usual suspects as well as some more unlikely folks like Peter Beinart. I'll leave that to a later post. In the meantime, what does Brazil's loss mean for Dilma Rousseff's re-election prospects? Why is that almost all the Brazil fans at the games appear to be white? Brazil's got a ton of water but Sao Paulo doesn't, what gives? At the end of the day, this is just a game, and with the deterioration of the situation in Israel, among other calamities, there are certainly some bigger issues looming.
Over the July 4th weekend, UT System Chancellor Cigarroa demanded that UT President Bill Powers resign or be fired by July 10th. Bill Powers refused but offered a timetable to step-down. Supporters of the embattled president have launched a petition drive that now has nearly 8500 signatures. At stake is the future of higher education in the state of Texas and whether or not Texas values tier 1 research institutions.
I'm back from Brazil and resurfacing with many story ideas from my recent adventures. In the meantime, if you are like me, you have soccer on the brain and are getting your head around yesterday's winning loss to Germany by the U.S. team.
I'll make a tangential attempt to make a linkage to international politics, which is rather easy when you see the scope of money involved in building the stadiums in Brazil, the threats of player work stoppages, particularly by African teams, for failure to pay appearance fees, and the outlandish price of Neymar's new shoes for Nike. Here is what I've been reading that connects soccer to international politics:
Two weeks ago as part of our class, we visited Brasilia's landfill site, known as Lixão, which again underscored some of the incredible contradictions in the country. It is a vast site, with six open dumping sites, this is one of the largest landfills in all of Latin America. Controversy surrounds this landfill, as it is slated to be closed and moved some 45km away. The government is shutting down landfills like this one in favor of lined landfills with water protection systems. They have already closed Rio's massive dump in 2012. Brasilia's landfill harkens back to an earlier age, when unlined landfills with no specially designed containment ponds existed. However, this landfill won't shut quietly.
So, at this point, I've been all over Brazil, though that's like saying I've toured the United States in five weeks. That said, I've been in five or six cities all over the country (I'll load a better map soon), and the internet speed has invariably been crap, even in pretty expensive hotels. I'm not sure what that tells you about the country's fortunes in the 21st century, but it does mean access to information and commerce in Brazil is limited, let alone the ability for people to watch streaming video of Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black or local soccer. It also makes it so much harder for Brazilian voices to get their stories heard outside of official media.
Here are some stories we've been reading about Brazil:
- Street artist captures iconic image of impending World Cup (see mural above)
- Rio residents ambivalent about the World Cup
Datafolha poll of people in Sao Paulo: 76% of people say Brazil is not prepared to host the World Cup. 22% say ready or partially ready.
— Gabriel Elizondo (@elizondogabriel) May 22, 2014
A long overdue post from Brazil. I've been here about two weeks, first in Rio and have just concluded the second week in the Amazonian city of Belém. I hope to come back with more substantive thoughts about the country's direction, but here are some preliminary thoughts. The Brazilians we met were somewhat ambivalent about the World Cup. Many of them expressed the concern that this was a lot of money that the country could have used to address its myriad social needs.
When I think about whether Brazil can be a major player internationally, even more important than it is now, I've generally been struck by the contrasts, between the rich cosmopolitan parts of Rio and the rougher, grittier favelas that intersperse the city. Similar contrasts abound between the Rio's relatively nice beach neighborhoods (like Ipanema) and Belém. Belém looks like it has seen better days since the time when it was a major port city exporter of rubber. The agencies and individuals we met with here have treated us with great kindness and generosity, but the city itself has aging infrastructure, cracked sidewalks, inadequate sewerage, and a fair amount of garbage.
Johannes gave a spirited and optimistic take on Earth Day, which was Tuesday April 22nd. I think as an advocacy strategy that an optimistic call to arms strikes the right tone. One of the core findings from some framing studies carried out in the early 2000s suggested that overwhelmingly negative messages on issues like climate change leave people feeling fatalistic. This fatalism was on display this week when I advertised a yearlong MA class I'm teaching next year on global wildlife conservation. I only had 3 students sign up in an open registration where my class was up head to head with four others. One of my colleagues asked one of the students with an environmental bent why she didn't sign up, and her response was that it was hopeless, that saving rhinos or elephants was like the war on drugs. I can't tell you how disappointing and dispiriting that is, all the more odd because she identified climate change and water scarcity her preferred issue (talk about a hard issue to solve!).
Don't Give in to Fatalism
In terms of the global wildlife crisis, my answer is that we can't afford to give in to fatalism. I refuse to admit that allowing poachers to kill the remaining rhinos and elephants is inevitable. There have been major poaching crises before, and though, as Elizabeth Kolbert's new book argues, we are in the midst of an era of human-induced mass extinction, political activity and study of the issues we care about is pointless if the world cannot be changed. I'm not blind to the challenges, but I wouldn't be in this business if positive change weren't possible. So, to that student, I say take my class and do one better, get involved. The environment is due for a mass movement again. Here are my set of links of stories that ought to get us off the couch. The news isn't good, but it's no time to throw in the towel.
The IPCC released the Working Group III summary report for policymakers on Sunday. I wrote about the Working Group II report on impacts on The Monkey Cage. Working Group III covers climate mitigation, that is the challenges of reducing greenhouse gases. Tonight, I read through the report and tweeted my sense of the main findings in an 11 part series that I embed below. My short take: there is not nearly enough in the 33 page document on barriers to implementation and international cooperation. I'm really looking forward to the release of the longer chapters. In the meantime, I encourage interested readers to take a look at five sectoral reports from my research group on the Major Economies and Climate Change.