Sunday, July 10, 2011

Midterm, McConnell, much much more

It's a shame the other topics don't have any relevant words starting with m. Maybe more alliteration Monday.
As it turns out, midterms hysteria in Norway is the same as midterm hysteria in the U.S. Those who have midterms here are noisily chattering in the common room tonight preparing drafts of papers and study guides. I, on the other hand, am without a midterm this week and am content to research, read, and blog (while putting off reading!). A combination of recent experiences, reading, and news have me thinking tonight...

This flattering image of Mitch McConnell is straight from today's HuffingtonPost Headline. Everything we have been learning in the classroom and from our international friends, as well as my own philosophy, indicates that lines in the sand have never been the tools of good dialogue and compromise. So it seems ironic at best, and down right embarrassing at worst that the US and the world watch as one side in particular refuses to budge on a compromise to raise the debt ceiling. The BBC headline earlier this week was "Who will default first: Greece or the United States?"

I bring up this example for a variety of reasons. The first reason returns to my thoughts following our week in Lillehammer when we talked about dialogue with those whom we disagree. The second loosely connects with one of the main messages in Jan Egeland's A Billion Lives: industrialized nations could be doing much more to provide financial support to humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. When these measures are restorative and protective, innocent people are given the chance they deserve. When these measures are preventative, we save lives and costs of more aggressive options down the road. The constant struggle of these causes, like most, is funding. Egeland cites a poll conducted in 2004 that surveyed Americans on how much of the federal budget they thought went to foreign aid (this excludes Department of Defense spending). The average amongst the respondents was 24%; the actual figure was less than 0.25%. The United States continues to lead amongst developed countries in its contributions to the United Nations and a variety of peacekeeping (NATO) and humanitarian efforts. But we can do better. I think this also illustrates how seriously out of touch people are with how their money is being spent.

Jan Egeland's career exemplifies the word extraordinary. Formerly the UN Envoy to Colombia, Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross, and State Secretary of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry--just to name a few--he most recently served the UN as Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. The book is his account of missions he was part of in Sudan, Colombia, Ivory Coast, the aftermath of the Indian Ocean hurricanes, and helping to broker the Israeli/Palestinian Oslo Accords. The title of the book, A Billion Lives, addresses his claim that "a billion lives are still at stake in humanity's front lines." While he says that on the whole humanitarian efforts are working, and the world is a more peaceful and better educated place, we can do better. At various times I have read and heard the words of UN critics; Egeland lays those claims to rest, and despite his bias, presents a very straightforward case for why peace and humanitarian missions work. Results are not immediate. As Nansen says, "the difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer."
Suffice it to say, I would be satisfied with having any of Egeland's jobs...or any job in that field :)

This week will be a whirlwind of bliss. After catching a few of the Harry Potter movies at a local sci-fi convention on campus over the weekend (yes, all in attendance were card-carrying nerds) several of us will see the last installment on Wednesday night at the Colosseum Kino theater: the world's largest IMAX theater. Tuesday our group visits the Holocaust Museum and Wednesday we visit the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights and its founder, Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Prime Minister of Norway. Early Thursday morning, before most of you have gone to sleep in the U.S., four of my colleagues and I will travel to France and arrive amid chaos on Bastille Day! It will be a great four day break!
More discussion forthcoming on the welfare state...

1 comment:

  1. Excellent reflection, Thad. Thanks for sharing. Sitting here, listening to the banter in Washington, one does have to wonder.........maybe we could ship a few of our leaders over to Oslo for a few weeks....?