Monday, December 24, 2012

Taliban Takes Stand In Favor Of Polio

According to news reports out of Pakistan, groups affiliated with the Taliban have killed several medical professionals working in remote villages on a vaccination program designed to eradicate polio. The Taliban countered that the vaccination program was actually a Western-designed plot to make their children sick, rather than to prevent illness, and that the whole medical effort was really a cover for covert military operations in these remote areas.

These are the exact same arguments made by the Taliban a few years earlier when they murdered other Pakistani medical professionals to halt an earlier polio eradication effort in 2006, an event outlined in Dominic Streatfeild’s book A History of the World Since 9/11.  In justifying their earlier attacks, the Taliban said that if a few children got ill or died from polio, it was “God's will” and a small price to pay to keep their region free of evil Western influences like, apparently, modern medical procedures.

But there is something more sinister at play here than merely the Taliban's religious-inspired paranoia, the vaccination efforts in these remote mountain villages are the last links in a chain of efforts to end polio, not just in Pakistan, but everywhere on the globe, forever. As explained in A History of the World Since 9/11, diseases can be wiped out if everyone carries an immunity to them – without new hosts, the diseases die. But for an eradication effort to work, everyone must get the vaccine.  Diseases have a stubborn tendency to hide out in remote corners of the world and humans have an annoying habit of not staying put. So, remote corners of the globe, like the AfPak border can be just the right place for a disease like polio to wait out a global eradication effort.

The Taliban's murder of the first group of medical professionals in 2006 meant that the first attempt to end polio failed; if these Taliban villages can't be vaccinated now, this latest effort will fail as well.

Of course the United States hasn't helped matters by using an earlier vaccination program as cover for an intelligence gathering operation around Abbottabad, the hiding place of Osama bin Laden, thus somewhat validating the Taliban's paranoia, and casting a pall over efforts like the current polio eradication program.
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What The United States Could Learn From Ghana About Elections

In case you missed it, we had a presidential election in the US last month. After a seemingly endless campaign, President Barack Obama defeated his challenger Mitt Romney in a race that wasn't all that close – Obama won just over 50% of the vote to Romney's 47.3%. Of course this didn't stop the opposition from alleging that Obama “stole” the election: Romney himself claimed that Obama only won by promising lower-income voters undefined “free stuff”. Meanwhile, groups of Americans across the country (but primarily in the South) responded by starting petitions encouraging their respective states to secede from the Union, with the Texas petition gathering more than 100,000 signatures.

Perhaps that's why with piece on the BBC last week about reactions to another hard-fought presidential election, this time in the African nation of Ghana, stuck with me.  In Ghana, incumbent President John Mahama of the NDC party defeated opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo of the NPP.  Even though Ghana is one of Africa's most stable democracies, the election was marked by technical glitches which caused long delays at some polling places.  This, in turn, led the NPP to allege that the election was “stolen” from them.

That's where the BBC piece comes in.  The BBC interviewed five Ghanaians, including supporters of the NPP. What's noteworthy is that rather than join in their party's call to contest the election, the NPP supporters seemed rather embarrassed by the party's stance, with both saying that the party should just accept the results of the election and one voter questioning whether he made a mistake voting for the NPP if this was the way they were going to react.  Another voter explained that the reason the NPP lost was not due to fraud, but because of the party's inability to realize their message wasn't resonating in several of the country's key swing states (and doesn't that sound like an explanation that could apply to the US Republicans as well?)

It was refreshing to see voters not blame their political party's loss on some poorly-defined notions of fraud, or call for unrest, but to accept the results of the election and to blame the loss on the shortcomings of the losing party.  Perhaps the United States could learn a thing or two from the way that Ghanaians practice democracy.
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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Back to Blogging

As you may have noticed – or at least hopefully noticed – it has been awhile since there was an update to the site. Apologies for that. It's not that the world has become a less interesting place, but rather that life got much more complex – work, family, SuperStorm Sandy, etc. But regular updates to the site should resume now, thanks for your patience and continued support.
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