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Ken Bacon, We Will Miss You

Refugees International President Ken Bacon passed away yesterday from an aggressive form of melanoma.  He was 64 years old.   

Ken was part of the extended UN Dispatch family.  He cut an On Day One video for us last year.  And in May, Ken contributed a guest post to UN Dispatch on the little known and deadly nexus between malaria and refugees.

Ken was someone who dedicated his life to helping the world's most vulnerable populations.  Even in his final days, Ken remained focused on how to prevent and mitigate the pain experienced by those that will inevitably suffer from displacement caused by climate change.  Just last week, Refugees International announced plans to establish the Ken and Darcy Bacon Center for the Study of Climate Displacement

I know many UN Dispatch readers admired Ken.  I certainly did.  You can share your thoughts and memories of Ken and his work on a memorial page on Refugees International.   And if you are so moved, you can keep Ken's legacy alive by contributing to the new Ken and Darcy Bacon Center for the Study of Climate Displacement.   Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. 

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Live Blogging the Netroots Nation UN Dispatch Panel

From Chris Scott

Hi there. Mark is up on stage moderating. I'm Chris Scott, from ONE, in the audience at the Netroots Nation panel.   I'll be live blogging the session, which is set to begin momentarily.

Ray Offenheiser kicks off the panel with the premise that "poverty is not news."  All of us who work on these issues day in and day out have to confront the fact that poverty is rarely news until terrorism strikes.  Unfortunately, inequality is the status quo.

He goes on to explain that poverty is not about a lack of things-- we live in a world of plenty.  It's about access and exclusion.  For instance, in the US obesity is epidemic while millions of others go hungry around the world.  "Poverty is about powerlessness."

Ray goes on to discuss the successes in fighting global poverty, arguing against thinking of confronting this challenge as "charity."  He uses Ghana as an example of a country at a crossroads.  Will Ghana use funds from oil production for health, education?

Says the greatest challenge facing our generation is climate change.  The poorest people in the world are being hit first and hit hardest.  Every year millions are one bad crop away from famine.  He explains that whatever is decided at Copenhagen in December, the world's poorest need to be taken into account.

We have the tools to fight global poverty-- it's up to us to use them.  Organizations like Oxfam seek to provide that.  Ray ends by asking the audience to join all of the panel's campaigns.


Anita Sharma speaks next and begins by really reiterating Ray's point that ending extreme poverty is an attainable goal.  She goes on to describe the Millennium Development Goals as a framework, underscoring the eighth goal: the promise of developed countries to increase development assistance and deliver more effective aid.  In return, poor countries promise to implement aid effectively, increase transparency and accountability.  All of this serves to create a real partnership.

Anita moves on to what is happening in the US politically and policy-wise.  Cites Obama's assurance that the Millennium Development Goals should become America's goals.  Anita describes Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice as "torch bearers" for the MDG's.  However, trade and investment are drying up.

Tells audience there are concrete ways to get in touch with our elected officials around important legislation that supports the MDG's.  Lists current and upcoming fights: climate change, food security initiative, economic crisis.  All of which will be addressed at upcoming G20 Summit in Pittsburgh.

Ends with a push for Stand Up Against Poverty now entering it's 4th year.  This year's Stand Up event will take place on October 16-18.  It's extremely important that we create a movement.


Ginny Simmons from ONE is up next.  She runs through specifically ONE's online efforts around fighting extreme poverty and global disease.

Among ONE's online accomplishments, she names the On the Record campaign during the 2008 US presidential race in which ONE actively sought "on the record" commitments from nearly all presidentail candidates about what they would do to combat global poverty as president.  She also discusses ONE's organizing around the August congressional recess as a very successful example of online/offline mobilizing.

For ONE, the internet is a key organizing and mobilizing tool.


Matt Yglesias takes the podium and begins by speaking about the genesis and evolution of progressive netroots.  Primarily, what are progressives' idea of the United States' role in the world?  In the future, looking back at America's legacy, wouldn't it be great to say one of our key accomplishments was eliminating global poverty?

Climate change is obviously a hot button topic in America, but lost in the mix is the immense impact climate change takes on the world's poor.  But the netroots can play a big role in shifting this kind of conversation.  Echoes Ray's earlier point that global poverty doesn't get a ton of attention in the US, but again, netroots is important in shifting the focus from viewing the topic in a purely military lens.


Question & Answer session begins.

Ray fields a question about nonprofit microfinance's role in uplifting people in poverty.  Ray cites Grameen Bank as an innovative example of some of the work being done right now around microfinance.  He also makes a case for the role that microfinancing can play in combatting some of the threats of climate change.

Anita discusses some bills supporting MDG's including the Global Poverty Act introduced by Representative Adam Smith.  Suggests audience go to Oxfam's and ONE's site to learn about and track this legislation, but also stresses the importance around contacting and meeting with our elected officials.

Ray ends the discussion by stressing the need for building up civilian personnel to deliver development assistance in poor countries.  He says that the State Department needs funding that, if not equal to, should at least be proportionate to that of the Defense Department, and passionately calls on the netroots to push for legislation that can legitimately end global poverty.

And that's a wrap.  Many thanks to Mark for allowing me to hijack his blog and write about this excellent panel.

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US State Department’s Africa Bureau Takes Some Heat

The US State Department’s Africa Bureau (known in US government lingo as AF) took quite a beating in a recent report from State’s Office of the Inspector General. Elizabeth Dickenson on Foreign Policy's Cable blog has a review, and the full report can be found on the State Department website. On the whole, I think the OIG report is disturbingly accurate, and I am impressed that State actually published it.

I also strongly suspect that the troubles aren’t limited to Africa Bureau – they’re just the ones who were looked at. Sure, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Fraser took a lot of criticism for her handling of AF, but this report was focused on April-June 2009. They’d had five months to recover at that point.

 A few highlights from the report:

 1) Apparently it’s difficult to staff Africa postings, because of “perceptions about the poor quality of living abroad and insufficient hardship or danger pay.” That’s just depressing.

 2) “Embassy platforms are collapsing under the weight of new programs and staffing without corresponding resources to provide the services required.” That is true not just of Africa embassies, but across the globe. It’s what happens when you underfund the State Department.

 3) There is a lack of focus on long-term strategies, and the focus is on putting out fires and scoring quick victories, not broader thinking. Once again, a problem that afflicts the whole department, not just AF.

 4) Lastly, apparently Africa Bureau’s not getting along with AFRICOM. And the reasons, while depressing, make perfect sense. AFRICOM’s got all the money, State is ambivalent about the military’s role in development, and no one has received any training on how to work together.

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Refusing to recognize Ahmadinejad’s government will get us nowhere

Following Ban Ki-moon's "congratulating" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election, 200-plus "intellectuals, activists and defenders of rights," including a number of Nobel Prize winners, have signed an open letter to the Secretary-General contesting the Iranian elections and urging him to take a number to steps to withhold support for the Iranian regime and protect the rights of Iranian protestors. Another Nobel laureate, Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, has also stressed that Ban should send a truth-finding commission to Iran and push for a re-election.

There's nothing wrong with -- and in fact much reason to support -- sending a truth-finding commission to Iran (though try telling that to Ahmadinejad), and even more reason to speak out against the human rights abuses of Iranian protestors. In fact, Ban has spoken out against the violence curtailing of press and assembly rights that followed the election, and a UN report on the country is due at the end of the year. But what's harder to responsibly call for is the group letter's final recommendation -- essentially, that the UN Secretary-General denounce Iran's government.

Refuse to recognise Ahmadinejad's illegitimate government that has staged an electoral coup, and curtailing any and all forms of co-operation with it from all nations and international organisations

This is similar to the implicit position in the negative reactions -- fewer, I admit, than I'd expected -- to Ban' perfunctory "congratulation" of Ahmadinejad, and to critics of President Obama's unwillingness to denounce the Iranian regime outright. This sort of criticism is entirely myopic, though, even for skeptics of strategies of engagement and cooperation. No matter how farcical Iran's election was, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is currently the leader of Iran, and no support that the international community bestows or withholds will change that -- in fact, the latter would likely only exacerbate tensions.

Ban Ki-moon is the Secretary-General of 192 United Nations, and Barack Obama the president of the most powerful country in the world. They both have to deal with Iran. Cooperation is much easier than confrontation, and the goals -- ensuring that Iran does not build a nuclear weapon, for instance -- are far more important than the unproductive act of denouncing Iran's leaders.