Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Very Different Thanksgiving

Yesterday, a reader commented about the article I posted about HIV prevention and the failure of abstinence only education. Since I rarely get comments, and this one asked a pertinent question, I felt I should respond.

The issue is, if women aren't in position to say "no" to sex, then how can they force their husbands to use condoms? It's a good question, but one that I think has several answers.

First, women empowerment is measured in degrees, not absolutes. While it might be difficult or impossible for African women to say "no" to sex, significant evidence demonstrates that, when combined with HIV awareness programs, condom promotion does work. (See the reduction in birth rates across Africa as evidence of this.) While men were unlikely to stop having sex, there was acceptance and usage of condoms and that helped reduce the rate of transmission. Essentially, the empirical evidence supports my position.

Another point in favor of condom promotion is that a large percentage of HIV infection is through matrimonial sex. Husbands have sex with prostitutes (a common occurence) and then transfer the disease to their (often pregnant ) wives (meaning that they infect not just their wives, but also the next generation as well). It's just not reasonable to suggest that married couples should resort to abstinence and I believe that there are about 5,000 years of history to back up that point. While the idea of abstinence my have been culturally or politically palatable 50 years ago, all available evidence demonstrates the fallacy of that approach.

Moreover, I feel that it is nonsensical to put all the eggs in the proverbial basket, especially when their is scant evidence that abstinence only education actually works. We have to remember that we're talking about life and death issues here. This isn't just about a puritanical appeal to sexual morality. It's about whether people live or die or, more pointedly, whether disadvantaged African women will continue to be infected with HIV against their will by their unfaithful husbands or whether they will receive a minimum amount of protection. Condom promotion gives them a chance; it saves lives. Abstinence only doesn't; it kills.

That being said, the study reported in The Guardian revealed that HIV prevention, generally, isn't doing that well at the moment. In the US, for example, education and awareness has halted the increase of HIV, but not reduced those rates. The same was true in the UK, but not infection rates are increasing. In Africa, where the situation is the worst in the world, infection rates continue to climb, although not as rapidly as before.

The gains of the 1990's appear to be eroding. While no definitive conclusion is available, one possible explanation is "message fatigue". After hearing the same story, again and again, people do become numb to the significance of the message. Marketers and politicians fight this problem by changing their approaches, varying their campaigns, and highlighting issues. It is surprising that this same phenomena could be occuring with HIV prevention given the severity of the issue. But, when one remembers the significant number of uneducated in Africa and the rest of the world, it becomes somewhat understandable. To the relatively unsophisticated, HIV is just a name. Much like the Surgeon General's warning about smoking, it appears that people are ignoring the dangers in favor of a few moments of gratification.

This dynamic is likely compounded by better treatment for HIV/AIDs as well. It's now possible to live a relatively normal and healthy life when you have the disease. While treatment is a good thing, it appears at least possible that the sexually active public is less concerned about the risks as it is now less scary and something that can be "dealt with". The newest generation of sexually active adults, by the way, grew up with HIV/AIDs. They aren't scared of it like my generation was.

It is also possible that the average African is not overly concerned with HIV prevention because their average life expectancy doesn't go much beyond 50 years. Angolans, for example, can expect to live between 44 (men) and 48 (women) years. Even if they don't contract HIV, the average African is still not likely to enjoy a long life. One has to wonder if that reality instills a sense of listlessness or apathy in response to AIDs education and prevention programs.

My conclusion is that HIV prevention needs to be smarter. We need to combine a mixed message that explains the risks of unprotected sex along with the benefits of fidelity. We need to educate generations about effective prevention methods and we need to acknowledge that, as much as some wish, there is not only no stopping sex before marraige, the only room for morality in HIV prevention is in fullfilling our moral obligation to save lives.

Finally, we need to tailor these programs more specifically to the countries with the greatest need. A blanket "one size fits all" approach clearly won't work. Instead we need to find the appropriate mix of packages for each country. If we do this, I believe we can halt this terrible disease. But, if we continue "as is", I believe it likely that HIV infection rates will continue to rise.


Things I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving:

1. My married life
2. My opportunity to live and grow in Colombia
3. My Spanish
4. The general health and well being of my friends and family
5. The absence of mayonnaise in my refrigerator

I hope everyone in the States enjoyed their Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A very nice day indeed

Well, the sun is shining, it's hot, and there are very few clouds in the sky. Nicest day that we've had here in probably 2 weeks. Let's hope the Londonesque weather has been banished for a spell now.

Of course, today was a very nice day as well because I got all the paperwork finished for my new job. Now I have to wait while it is bounced around a few offices, to the government, back to the company, and final authorization is issued. That's government for you.

But, the good news is, I got the job.

I spoke with the man I interviewed with yesterday and, as I suspected, I'm "the guy". They want me to start as soon as possible, so hopefully the administrative process will proceed smoothly and quickly. My future boss said he would push it at every step as he desperately needs me in there. Very cool.

At any rate, now that it looks like I'm going to actually be working in my field, I'm pretty excited about the opportunity. It's a huge stress relief for Diana and I because had I failed to find a job in the field, well, that would have forced us out of Colombia prematurely. One can only teach english for so long.

But more than the stress relief, it's great that I'm actually going to get me feet wet in a practical way. I loved my grad program and the learning and development that I had there, but this will be a different sort of educational process.

In the immediate term, I have to educate myself on sustainable development generally, and sustainable forestry specifically. These are not subjects I really studied at all in grad school. There will also be an adjustment period once I start the job as I'll have to learn all about my new company, the policies and procedures, and the day to day requirements of the work. I'm a bit nervous about that as I have high expectations about what I want to do and I have a very long and bad memory of working for a government contractor.

Of course, this is not Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) work and this is not my old company, so I definitely can't look at it with the same lens. That job was, frankly, terrible for me personally and professionally, not only because I had a boss that frequently blamed me for her errors, but also because I was an immature professional who was completely wrong for the subject material. I look at environmental protection like I do with cakes under glass cases in the average diner: best admired from afar and not tasted.

So, while I'm sure there will be administrative details that I find unfavorable (it IS government work), I expect that the subject material and my future co-workers will be completely different from what I experienced in my passionless EPA contracting position. Instead, I expect to discover how sustainable development operates, to see successes and failures, and to really get involved in evaluating and justifying this type of assistance.

I have some real ideas already, but the questions that I think must be answered are:

Does foreign aid (sustainable development) actually contribute to the economic development of a given country?, and;

To what extent can development assistance remedy the root causes of crime, violence, and illicit crop production?

These, to me, are the big questions. I'm always in favor of development for poor nations as I don't want people to subsist in poverty. But, the bigger question, the more selfish question I should say, is can poverty reduction inhibit (or remove causal variables of) conflict?

The 2006 Nobel Prize winner said just the other night that "poverty is the root of terrorism" and I think I agree with him on that. But now I get to see first hand evidence of this hypothesis, as they say in spanish, "en vivo".

Should be interesting.


A long time ago in this space, I had a "discussion" about the Bush administration's Abstention program as a response to the AIDs crisis in Africa. For quite some time, the Cowboy President has touted Uganda as a model of how abstinence can reduce pregnancy and HIV infections. The rabid Religious Right and it's various mouthpeices had seized the Bush Admin talking points and reproduced article after article to demonstrate that it works (and, implicitly, is more "moral).

Well, sadly, the Rabid Right and the Cowboy President have used tough talk and a tenous hypothesis to doom thousands, if not millions more to death. From today's Guardian:

The spread of the HIV/Aids pandemic continues unabated, with the number of people infected rising once more in some countries which had been thought to be beating the disease, according to the UN.

There are now 39.5 million living with HIV infection, according to the annual UNAIDS report, released ahead of World Aids Day on December 1, and 4.3 million of those were infected in 2006. That is 400,000 more than were infected in 2004.

Most alarming is the increased prevalence in Uganda, long held up as a showcase to the world of what could be achieved in Africa with campaigning, education and widespread condom use. The report shows a rise from a low of 5.6% infection among men and 6.9% among women in 2000 to 6.5% in men and 8.8% in women in 2004.

The reasons for the increase are not clear, but there has been a shift in the message from Uganda's leadership. Between the early 1990s and early 2000s, HIV prevalence fell sharply in major cities among pregnant women - the group most commonly monitored because they have contact with health services - as President Yoweri Museveni worked to raise awareness of the dangers of HIV and put the authority of his office behind condom use.

But in recent years the message on condoms has been diluted in favour of greater emphasis on sexual abstinence until marriage - in line with the thinking of the Bush administration, which is spending millions of dollars on HIV prevention and treatment. Critics say many women are not in a position to abstain from sex and that many are infected by their husbands.

(Italics mine)

The article says that more research is needed to fully understand why AIDS prevention is failing, so this is isn't a definitive answer.

But here's the point:

We know that condom use prevents HIV and we know that condom promotion programs work. We don't know that abstinence education works and every indication seems to demonstrate that it's a failed venture that endangers the lives of millions.

'Nuff said.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

An interesting week

Well, it was a very busy week, but not without good news. First and foremost, however, I must talk about a movie that we saw last monday (it was a holiday).

Everyone knows that movie reviewers are basically a miserable bunch that make their living off of saying mostly negative things about each and every film they see. They fancy themselves as "critics" but are little more than theater junkies fortunate enough to have someone pay them to watch every new film that hits the big screen. Really, they're no more qualified than anyone else in the world except that perhaps they know how to spin a phrase (with, "Yabba dabba don't bother" being my personal favorite of all time - in reference to the Flinstones movie).

Therefore, I take it with a grain of salt when I see the following comments about a movie:

"Pic insists on a depth of human emotion that isn't developed -- protags emerge as one-dimensional, despite the efforts of two of our best leading actors -- amid increasingly elaborate, uninvolving plot mechanizations."

[What's the matter, Variety can't spring for enough space for you to actually spell Picture or Protagonists? Jackass.]


"Audiences might enjoy this cinematic sleight of hand, but the key characters are such single-minded, calculating individuals that the real magic would be to find any heart in this tale."

[That's the whole point, dumbass. The characters are supposed to be calculating, cold individuals.]

Or, most egregiously, this utter fool who claims to have "figured out" the huge plot twist in the movie. Well, if that's really the case (which it clearly isn't) then you need to immediately quit your profession and get involved in financial prognostication, because with your vast powers, you could make a lot more money.

"What The Prestige and filmmaker Nolan seem to have forgotten about magic is the very important element of misdirection. Without misdirection, an audience is bound to discover the trick and not be impressed."

At any rate, the movie I'm referring to is called The Prestige and it is a fantastically dark and woven tale. Which is exactly the point. The complaints about this movie fall into two categories:

1. It's dark
2. There isn't enough magic

Both of those complaints fall into the range of imminent stupidity because:

2. Magic doesn't exist, jackasses.

For me (and Diana) we both loved the film. It was tense, full of twists and turns, superbly acted and directed and causes much consternation and conversation after you leave the theater. It's great.

Of course, if you don't like dark films, then this is probably not the film for you (cough, cough, movie reviewers). And it's definitely not a film for children. But there's no denying it's greatness. Anyone who pans the film is just noting for the record their own inability to develop anything remotely resembling artistic taste. For them, I say, "Off with your head!" or, more diplomatically, "Go watch some animated penguins or something."

So, in conclusion, my hearty recommendations go out to The Prestige, but not for all. If you don't like generally dark films that describe the human condition in its most raw and primordial base, then this isn't the film for you. Instead, take your rose colored glasses and have a peek at this film.

[As an aside, the previews for the new Bond film, Casino Royal, looked fantastic. By far better than anything that Brosnan ever did. Now, the plot looked pretty stupid, but there hasn't been a good Bond plot since Timothy Dalton went ape-sh*t on the Colombian cartel, so there's nothing new about a silly plot. However, the action sequences and the rougher than usual Bond look really grabbed my attention. I'm excited about the new turn in the franchise...for the first time in this millenium.]


Ok, the good news of the week was that I had a job interview at a company that does USAID work. The job is in the sustainable development area (Forestry) which is interesting. But, I have to say, this is pretty much all I know about "forestry":

Forests exist and they're pretty nice to go walking in when the weather is good.

That being said, I do not really need to know anything more than that because the position is an analytical position that evaluates and measures program performance, recommends improvements or changes, and presents those findings to the Big Dogs at USAID here in Bogota. So, it's a pretty damn good start on my burgeoning IR career, even though my ultimate goal/focus is in conflict resolution and responses to genocide or ethnic cleansing (I think I've made that decision as well).

The interview I had was one of the strangest I've ever seen. It started with a basic question which was essentially, "Why shouldn't we hire you?" Now, they didn't ask that, but what they were asking really was, "Are you some sort of freak, incompetent, loser, moron, etc?" Because, it was very apparent from the start, that this job was mine to lose. They were obviously enamored with my resume.

I ended up interviewing with three people all told. The others came a bit late, but that didn't inhibit the process. At the end, I believe they offered me the job, contingent on the verification of my salary history. This is a US government requirement (Office of Management and Budget) and will slot my salary accordingly. Of course, this is a problem since I'm living in Colombia and I need to contact people in both the US and London about this. As well as the fact that I never really had a set salary as I worked on a contract basis, but I have emailed my contacts and I'm trying to pin down an accurate number to put on the form.

At any rate, I feel pretty good about this job. I think that, while not in an area that I'm totally excited about, it's going to provide a good look at the internal USAID/contracting environment, develop my analytical skills in terms of measuring results, allow me to get experience presenting in front of high level officials, and generally get an insider view on development as a means to inhibit coca production (something I think it doomed to failure at current funding levels, but something I also have an open mind about).

So, I think that they offered me the job and I think that I accepted (hard to tell between the mix of Spanish and English). Now I'm eager to get the form turned back into them, but I'm waiting on hearing from my contacts. This is somewhat annoying as I absolutely must have an accurate salary history. To have anything incorrect could mean an immediate disqualification from consideration. Therefore, if I don't hear anything by Monday, I'm going to call my (hopefully) future boss and explain the situation to him and ask for guidance.

Oh yeah, the other thing is, I don't need to speak Spanish in this position. At least not for the substantive work. There will be situations where I will need to speak with other employees in Spanish, so that's good for my practice, but all of the people I would be working with speak English.

There is much rejoicing.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Medellin and other bits

Well, Medillin is a pretty awesome place. It's known as "La cuidad de eterno primavera" or the City of Eternal Spring for a reason. The weather is just about perfect. Never too hot, certainly not too cold, and plenty of sun.

Whereas Bogota is located in a wide, flat, and vast valley, Medellin is smack in the middle of a narrow, canoe shaped valley. This makes for a much greener and less polluted environment as, I'm imagining, the pollution gets blown out into the atmosphere much quicker.

In fact, there are lots of hills within the main valley, as well, which reminded me a bit of Rome. Of course, it's not Rome, but it does share a certain environmental similarity in that there is a street energy, a vibrant pulse, that is clearly not present in Bogota, for example, as well as having a number of sizable hills that make excellent vantage points to see the city.

When I speak of the street energy, I'm really referring to the downtown area. We were there last Saturday night and let me tell you, the place is an incredibly hot mix of salsa and people. Every step brings a new and often blaring type of salsa music from clubs or bars with open, inviting doors. The auditory assault is so strong that it becomes difficult to determine which types of music you're hearing from which bar and is generally disorienting. I found that aspect to be most unpleasant. Don't get me wrong, I like dancing as much as the next person, I just like to be able to hear the next day, especially if I didn't go dancing, but only went walking in the city center.

The airport, however, is located about 45 minutes outside of the city. In fact, it's on the other side of the mountain entirely. This is somewhat of a disadvantage as it costs $42,000 CP just to get a ride to town in a taxi. But, the advantage is that you get some incredible views of the city when you crest the mountain top and head down into Medellin proper. The road twists and turns, back and forth the mountain like lines on paper, as you make your ever so gradual descent into the valley. It's a quite spectacular mix of green slopes, concrete and steel views of the city, and a generally mountainous valley.

At any rate, we spent a good bit of time outside the city as well. We went to a small town called Santa Fe de Antioquia. It was the original capital of the province, although now Medellin is, obviously, the capital city. Santa Fe is a lovely little town in a beautiful section of the mountainous region. There we did some shopping, at some goodies, and saw the sights. The trip there was equally spectacular as we drove through green mountains on windy roads that twisted back and forth around each and every bend of road.

We also went to another small town (Rio Negro, I think) that is notable mostly because it's very close to an absolutely enormous asteroid that landed there eons ago. It's huge. Plus, the whole area is just spectacular. It's in a valley that is dominated by a ribbon of a river that creates marvelous little lakes bordered with tiny hamlets serving up fresh caught trout, delightfully grilled with a lovely garlic sauce called Ajillo that will alternately enliven your palate and leave you with a taste of heartburn. It's a true paradise.

Another thing to do in Medellin is ride the metro. The city is quite proud of the metro system (the only one in Colombia) but for me the attraction is not the rail. Frankly, when you've seen one metro system, you've seen them all. The question is more about utility than anything else. But, as a tourist, you can take the metro to a cable car station and take that up the mountain. You probably don't want to get out at the top, but the real benefit is that you can see a very poor neighborhood known as "Los Comunes" or The Commons. This is a very interesting trip because you can see the types of "houses" that they live in and get a glimse of just how poverty looks, even if it is from a safe distance.

Another place we saw is the barrio where Pablo Escobar hid out from the cops and ultimately died in. It's crazy, really, because the neighborhood is built on top of a mountain of trash (think Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach, except bigger) and it doesn't exactly have roads. Instead, it's more of a mad warren of dark alleyways, connected houses, and who knows what else. It's quite obvious that had the US government not tracked Escobar via his cell phone, he could have hid out there for years.

The only real complaint I have from Medellin is that the food is without a doubt, worse than that of Bogota. The reason is that the "specialty dish" of the region is "bandeja paisa" which is a huge platter of food that includes: steak, morcilla (blood sausage), chicharron (fried pig fat, mostly), chorizo (spicy argentinian sausage), beans, rice, avocado, and, to top it all off, a fried egg. I'm really not likely to enjoy much more of this platter than the steak, chorizo, and rice, but it's not like I have to order it. Of course, that's not the problem. The problem is the variety of food is much, much less. Restaurants seem to offer varieties of bandeja paisa instead of other plates. For example, you can choose your "main" meat to be chicken or pork instead of steak.

Really, the point is that in Bogota I eat out a lot and I pretty much never have any complaints. Even a simple grilled chicken breast has a unique seasoning or flavor that makes it a tasty opportunity. But I didn't have that type of success in Medellin. We did eat at a really great steak restaurant, but that's nothing new in Colombia. If you pay a good bit for your meal, it's pretty much going to be fantastic. No, it was the average restaurant that disappointed me. Maybe I'll have better luck next time.

Anyway, I'll be going back to Medellin someday I'm sure. There's a lot that I didn't get a chance to see. Escobar's old house, for example. It's supposed to be spectacular. Plus, we didn't go into any museums or anything like that, so there's plenty to do. Overall, I give Medellin a solid grade. It's behind Cartegena, but I'd say it's on par with La Zona Cafetera, depending on what one would want to do.


We went back to Andres Carne de Res last night. My Brazilian friends have some people in town and wanted to take them there. It was great fun. People really do dance on the tables. Plus, the food was fantastic. We had "Lomo en Trapo" which is actually a really simple dish to cook and something I'd like to prepare when I go to the US for a visit because it vastly outpaces the tasty, delicious, and succulent tests. I won't describe it any further as I'll only get hungry again.

Of course, Andres is a really expensive place really. Not by US standards, that is, but by Bogota standards it's a bit ridiculous. Usually you can pay about $60,000 CP for a bottle of Rum, Vodka, or Whisky (the big ones, the table shares it), but at Andres it's $98,000 CP. That's a pretty steep markup. Plus, the mixers come at a premium. But, you're paying for the experience more than anything, so I guess it's worth it every once and awhile. Generally, however, if I go out dancing, there are a couple places in Bogota proper that I think are great and are more reasonably priced as well.


I have my first job interview this week. It's for a company that does USAID work. They have a sustainable development contract that is designed to shift the economy away from illicit activities (coca production) to legitimate forms of business. It's quite interesting really and it does coincide with some of the things I wrote about on this site before (think Regional Development Plans), so I'm very curious to see what the position is and what it will entail. Of course, like most USAID programs in Colombia, this one is radically underfunded. But, it's possible that this is a pilot program, so if the results are positive, maybe that will make a difference in the next funding cycle.

At any rate, I'm excited to actually have an interview.


Last, I've been thinking a lot about this blog lately and I've come to the conclusion that it's become too politically minded. Part of that is because of just how repugnant I percieve the Bush administration to be and another part is because of the election cycle. But, this blog was never intended to be a political blog. There are tons of those out there and most of them do a better job than my often spotty coverage can manage.

No, the real goal of this blog was to write about my life, my thoughts, and my experiences, hopefully in marginally witty or entertaining ways. I do enjoy making social commentary and it doesn't always have to be couched in the rhetoric of one of the least honorable professions in history (as politics more often than not becomes).

I think one of the reasons I moved away from my older style is because I met my wife. A lot of the relationship angst, a frequent subject in this space, dissappated rapidly and that changed my point of view. But also, I clammed up a bit about my personal life because not only did I have someone to share my inner thoughts and concerns with, but I want to be respectful of our private life together. It's easy to go on about my personal troubles when it's only me, but when you involve someone else, well, let's just say you don't have the blank check anymore.

However, the point is, I didn't have to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are a lot of things I want to write about and I shouldn't feel constrained from describing the world according to me. Sure the personal stuff is going to remain closer to the vest, but I want to go back and refocus my writing on topics generally more enjoyable and less frustrating. Reading some of my old posts was all that I needed to do to convince myself that this is the right move to make.

So, while readers can expect some political and social commentary to continue, I pledge that it will not be the focus of my efforts. Instead, I'm going back in time and start cooking up some real juicy pieces about my life here in Colombia. After all, that's the interesting part, isn't it?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

An Overdue Victory

I will comment more extensively about Medellin in a later post (in short: totally awesome), but since there was an awfully important election the other day, my immediate reaction takes precedence.

Well, it goes without saying that I'm pleased with the Democrat victory. I'm also particularly pleased that George Allen lost. In my mind, he's one of the most typical politicians - willing to say or do anything to win, completely dishonest, and just not very nice. Hopefully, his loss will forever slay his presidential aspirations as I don't want to risk a demagogue like him ever getting their hands on the national seat of power.

Some people will try to spin this as a clear mandate for the Democratic Party. I'm not in agreement with that statement. Instead I see two trends:

1. This was a national repudiation of Iraq and GOP corruption. Face it, the general public doesn't know much or care much about the finer details of policy. Instead, they see broad strokes. And one thing is clear - the public is extremely disatisfied with a party that has more scandals than your average Hollywood star. It's tough to stomach a party that has multiple members indicted or resigning in disgrace. Couple that sentiment with a general feeling that Iraq is going badly (never mind that we were all lied to about WMDs) and change is in the offing. Exit polls confirm that these two issues were extremely significant in voter decisions. Therefore, to suggest that this was an endorsement of a Democratic platform is to ignore the larger national trends that trumped all other concerns.

2. Evidence of this can be found in the closeness of the races. While the Dems won big, they didn't win big in the vote. Many races have come down to a few hundred or thousand votes. This was an extremely close election, much like previous elections, but this time the Dems won out. If the Dem Agenda was so exceedingly popular, then this should have been a landslide, not a nail biter.

Further, there is a sentiment in some democratic/liberal corners that the Dems can now "change" the course of the Iraq war. Adrianna Huffington (who alternates between intelligent and a bit hysterical), in particular, pointedly criticized Howard Dean for an interview that he gave on CNN on Tuesday night. She labeled the interview "shocking". I disagree.

I happened to see the whole interview and the only "shocking" thing was that Dean actually spoke the truth (a rarity from political figures). Huffington was bent out of shape because Dean said, essentially, that a Dem win doesn't mean that they can change Iraq. She felt that this was not only incorrect, but also would discourage West Coast voters from going to the polls.

She was wrong on both counts. Not only did the West Coast vote at the national turnout average (about 40%), but the idea that the Dems can now "control" Iraq (policy) is a joke.

Let's face it. Iraq is a total disaster and no US governing body is likely to ever be in "control" of it. The idea that the Dems should have an Iraq plan (a common Republican talking point) strikes me as fundamentally ignorant of the nature of the US system of government, as well as irritating me to no end since they didn't get us into this mess.

Anyone who has taken a high school civics course should be aware that the Congress doesn't make or shape foreign policy. The idea that a new Congress could fundamentally alter US foreign policy in Iraq ignores that Bush has the wheel and the Congress will always be the backseat driver.

Now, that doesn't mean that the Congress can't use the "power of the purse" to challenge the Cowboy President. They certainly can. But at best, this will shape policy at the margins. Of course, funding or not funding the War on Terror will now be decided on its merits, not on knee jerk partisanship, but it's not likely that we're going to see fundamental changes in Iraq. The Dems don't want to be known as the "cut and run" party, so I can't imagine them defunding the war.

That being said, there can also be (and should be) investigations into a number of scandals, including the contract process leading up to the war in Iraq, the Vice President's Energy Policy, warrentless government spying, and Guantanamo Bay. There will also be some changes in the Congress, a new minimum wage is likely, along with various other domestic policy changes.

These are all good things. Also a good thing is that the Cowboy President is going to be frustrated when he tries to appoint conservative judges to the bench. The Dems now have the power to stymie those efforts.

One thing that will not occur is the rollback of the tax cut. This was a frequent GOP talking point before the election and it continues to smack of stupidity. Those tax cuts were already locked in until 2010 meaning the next president will make that decision.

Overall, I think the new Congress is going to be good for America. I hope that they actually act on their priorities. I hope that they start a new election reform process (we need to scrap those electronic voting machines once and for all, as well as institute some sort of "truth in advertising" law for political advertisements).

But at the end of the day, I don't expect a ton of things to go through. You still have the possibility of a presidential veto for hotly contested items and the Big Game of 2008 is already rearing its head. Instead, I expect the Dems to do things at the margin (many good things, I might add) and not rock the boat too much. Politically, there's too much risk in radical change, especially when they can watch the Cowboy President's International Doctrine continue to go down in flames.

Finally, even though I wasn't in the US for this election, it looks like this was the dirtiest election in recent history. American Democracy is being shoved into the gutter by the "Rove School of Politics" and it's disgusting. The fact that a candidate in Maryland "imported" homeless people from Philly to hand out misleading fliers outside of polling places is incredible. Also unbelievable is the number of "robo-calls" from GOP candidates doling out misinformation about their opponents and breaking the law to do so. And that doesn't even begin to breach the subject of dishonest ads and outright lies offered by both parties (although the majority this cycle seemed to stem from GOP candidates).

If there ever was a crisis in democracy, this is it. The United States can't credibly argue that it's the world's strongest democracy is every election is contested by investigations, corruption, dirty tricks, and outright illegal behavior by either party. We've got to fix this and it's up to the Dems to get the process going.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A very brief update

More terror in Colombia this week. Smaller car bombs went off south of Bogota and in Villavicencio. Some people were killed, others injured. Also happening this week, the FARC launched a major offensive against a police station in the Northwest province of Cordoba. Seventeen police officers were killed.

The upswing in violence has led Uribe to call for a return to peace talks. He's flip-flopping like a GOP incumbent right now. After the massive car bomb in Bogota, he said essentially that all talks were off. Now, after 2 weeks of violence, he's saying that if FARC agrees to a cease fire, he will return to talks and possibly do a prisoner exchange.

Gotta love it when the government essentially has no coherent policy toward the gravest threat to a nation (ahem, Mr. War on Terror Cowboy President).

At any rate, I have not the time to detail my analysis of these developments as I must leave for the airport immediately. I'm off to Medellin for the weekend (a 3-day weekend here in Colombia). Diana is already there as she has a pharmaceutical congress of sorts that finishes tomorrow morning.

Political Favorites
Guilty Pleasures
My Global Position