Women Also Know, International Relations Edition

Layna Mosley is Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research investigates the politics of sovereign debt, and the effects of global supply chains on worker rights. She joined the WAKS Editorial Board in November 2017. Website: laynamosley.web.unc.edu/ or find her on Twitter at @thwillow.

Duck of Minerva readers may have noticed Max Fisher’s recent New York Times Interpreter piece, addressing Taliban attacks against Afghan civilians. On Twitter, Fischer reported that he “made an effort to quote only women in this.” Six of the seven experts quoted were women; Fischer’s conclusion was that this “made the piece stronger.” He encouraged other writers to make similar efforts.

A couple weeks later, Fisher and Amanda Taub noted, in a piece on the Times’ op-ed page, that quoting women was only the tip of the iceberg: that the challenge of locating women experts in the fields of international politics, national security and foreign policy reflected deeper structural biases, ones that required much more than journalists diversifying their sources.

Fisher and Taub mentioned several studies that have become familiar to those involved in conversations about implicit bias in academic settings – for instance, that women’s research is cited less often than that of their male counterparts; and that women are asked to assume greater service responsibilities in their departments and in the profession. To these, they might add that women are often underrepresented in course syllabi, at the graduate as well as undergraduate level, and that women receive less professional credit for co-authored work.

These problems are not limited to women in international relations (or, more broadly, to women in political science). Indeed, we might comfort ourselves in the knowledge that things may be worse in other disciplines.  And problems of bias, implicit or otherwise, affect not only women, but also persons of color and LGBTQ-identified individuals.  Indeed, in this current moment, it is hard not to be discouraged by problems that numerous, deeply rooted and very difficult to rectify.

But here’s one thing all of us in international relations can do: promote and publicize the research and expertise of women-identified scholars. This is the mission of Women Also Know Stuff: the initiative, launched in February 2016, seeks to promote women’s work, both in the academy and in the media (for links to news coverage of WAKS, see https://womenalsoknowstuff.com/news).

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The Myth of the Sacred Truce

Katie Couric, in a tweet last month about the Olympics , wrote: “I do think the Olympics is unique in that it transcends politics.” This view is pervasive in Couric’s formulation, but takes on a subtler tone in the argument that the Olympics is political only in circumstances of the “exceptional.” For example, writing for the Atlantic in 2012, Armin Rosen constructs a narrative of Olympic politics within the context of Cold War rivalries. For Rosen, the Olympics was not always apolitical: “the Olympics were once a particularly bright flashpoint in one of the Cold War era’s tensest geopolitical dramas.” This drama was the boycott of the games by twenty-eight African countries in protest of the New Zealand rugby team’s violation of the international athletic embargo on apartheid South Africa.

These takes on the Olympics are misguided on two fronts. First, it obscures the long political history of the Olympics. The idea of the “sacred truce”—a putting aside of politics during Olympic games for the purposes of friendly and fair athletic competition—is a myth. Second, this misunderstanding of the Olympic games is hazardous. It is more proof of what Carl Schmitt criticized as the death of the political: the increasing depoliticization of inherently political processes.

I suggest that a consideration of the Olympics as a political event, with political aims, cannot only help us understand the way that the Olympics functions as a site of international relations, but should also—from a normative angle—allow us to more broadly rethink exercise, fitness, and sport as a public activity. Following Arendt, this lack of understanding of things like sport-as-politics is indicative of a world where society has failed people; it “has lost its power to gather them together.”

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NATO and the Classic Problem of Measuring Inputs vs. Outcomes

I tend to complain a lot about the NATO 2% expectation–that members are supposed to spend 2% of their GDP on defense stuff, which probably makes more more Canadian than anything else I do (I don’t skate or watch hockey much).  This is aspirational and countries are supposed to reach it by 2024.  I have written much about why this is problematic (it tends to make Greece look good, which is a clue; doing is more important than spending, etc), but today I want to focus on the heart of the matter: 2% is a measure of input and nothing else.

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What, Me Worry? The Trump Administration and Pandemic Preparedness

Imagine if your town had been especially fire prone with fires that threatened to spread to the rest of the city. City officials created a fire prevention fund for nearly 40 parts of town prone  to fire.  While work remained to be done, the funds ran out. Elected political leaders decided that since the town had not experienced a significant fire for two years, there was no need to spend any more money.

That strategy make little sense, but it appears to be the one the Trump administration is adopting by failing to renew funding for CDC and USAID disease prevention efforts in about 40 countries around the world. Those funds will run out in 2019.

Unlike climate change, global health made it into the Trump Administration’s new National Security Strategy:

We will work with other countries to detect and mitigate outbreaks early to prevent the spread of disease.

It appears that the Trump Administration is not taking the threat seriously. This underscores what Tom Wright recently observed in The Atlantic that the Trump Administration is undermining its own national security strategy by failing to act to address threats such as the rise of revisionist powers. The same goes for pandemic preparedness.

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Donald Trump is trying to refute my new book before it’s even come out.

The past week has not been a good one for global health. What gives? I can only come up with one explanation: the Trump Administration is doing its darnedest to disprove the argument in my new book.

In Global Health Governance and International Society (out on the 8th! Perfect for Valentine’s Day!), I argue that the emergence, growth, and ‘stickiness’ of global health politics reflects a shift in an international consensus about our collective obligations to address health concerns in other countries. We’re moving from a largely state-based system that only sporadically considers health matters to one that embraces a wider range of actors in addressing health issues even in the absence of security threats. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s getting better—and it’s increasingly taking root within international society.

And then the Trump Administration has another one of its terrible, horrible, no good, very bad weeks on the global health front.

First, we have the resignation of Brenda Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, taking office in July 2017. This is perhaps the most prominent public health position in the United States government and has been filled by such luminaries as Tom Frieden, Julie Gerberding, David Satcher, and William H. Foege. If they ever make Public Health Hero trading cards, these folks would be in that pack. (Side note: I’d totally buy Public Health Hero trading cards.) Fitzgerald is unlikely to join that illustrious list. Why? Because Politico reported that Fitzgerald bought thousands of dollars in stocks from tobacco and health insurance companies—while she was the CDC director. Continue reading

The legacy of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: Why ‘great inspiration’ is not quite enough

A co-authored post by Dr Leena Vastapuu and Dr Maria Martin de Almagro.

The first elected woman head of state in Africa, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has just stepped down from her office in Liberia. Her successor George Weah assumed the position on 22 January 2018.

In a recent interview with CNN entitled “Why Africa owes a debt of gratitude to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf”, President Sirleaf and journalist Chude Jideonwo had the following exchange.

Chude Jideonwo (CJ): You are in your final days as the first female president of an African country. When you step down, there won’t be any more. What does that say to you?  

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (EJS): It tells me that we haven’t worked hard enough for parity, particularly in political participation. It saddens me, to a certain extent, because I represented the breaking of the glass ceiling in Africa. And I think that there are lots of women out there who haven’t quite reach there, but the queue is forming.

CJ: You’ve been a president for 12 years. […] What do you think your gender, your femininity, brought to this particular position, if anything?

EJS: It brought great aspirations. To women, and to girls, in Liberia, in Africa. And going beyond, in my travels in the United States, in Europe and in other places, inevitably there is someone who comes up to me and says: “You’ve inspired me”. Continue reading

Has Sunshine Returned to the Korean Peninsula?

Ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics, the media has become fascinated with a common narrative that the erstwhile “bitter enemies,” North and South Korea, will march under one flag. The identity and political relations of the Koreas are more complicated than the “enemy” rhetoric conveys. Emblematic of this complexity are the families that are separated by the border, with living siblings that pre-date the division of the peninsula. The current thaw in inter-Korean relations is rooted in the late 1990’s “Sunshine Policy” of the former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. Yet, the question remains as to whether direct engagement between North and South Korea has the possibility to fundamentally alter the political situation on the Korean Peninsula.

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“Steel in America’s Spine”: The State of the Union, Security, Discourse

Umberto Eco, writing about an “Ur-Fascism” in the New York Review of Books in 1995, quoted Eugène Ionesco, who said “only words count; the rest is mere chattering.” Donald Trump was certainly not at a loss for words in Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech. He gave us plenty of words. Beautiful words. The best words. Words that would have likely worried Eco.

This is not a post about Trump-as-fascist. We have read plenty of those takes, many of which tend to fear-monger as much as the administration does. However, Eco’s understanding of the idea of an “Ur-Fascism” gives us a means of understanding the way the Trump administration talks about security politics—it can contextualize the contours of the discourse. While Trump is not a Mussolini or a Hitler, there is a commonality in the functions of language in how Trump talks about security.

Because of space, I cannot offer a full discourse analysis of the speech, but I will highlight the connection between the rhetoric and Eco’s understanding of an “Eternal Fascism” using text from the speech, in order to point to commonalities—especially in the way Trump constructs security issues in the speech. I will focus on six of Eco’s 14 defining features for the sake of space.

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You Can Leave Your Hat On

With an avalanche of news about the government shutdown, DACA, CHIP and Stormy Daniels, the American news media did not have too much time to cover Putin’s nipples (this time around), even though it was a great opportunity to update the famous horse riding photograph. On the Russian Orthodox Epiphany night Putin was photographed bathing in ice cold water in the Seliger Lake, displaying both his Orthodox Christian devoutness and manly sass.  Why does he do that? While for some in the West these displays of machismo can seem gay, in Russia they are gobbled up as the ultimate display of virility and strong leadership. Moreover, they have a deeper political meaning for the population that sees Putin as a spiritual leader, a pastor that would guide Russia to a brighter tomorrow.

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On Writing the IR Dissertation

Partly in response to Steve Saideman’s post today with advice on dissertation topics, and partly also in response to a pretty enthusiastic discussion of advice to graduate students on Twitter yesterday, I thought I’d write a few things about getting started on the path of researching a dissertation in a field as unwieldy (and a job market as uncertain) as IR.

Here is where my perspective comes from. I finished my dissertation in 2016 and got a job. I am preparing to have a publishable version of the book emerging from the dissertation ready to market to publishers in the next few months. I teach in a department that has a bachelor’s degree in political science, so I do not have graduate students of my own. So—my perspective comes as someone for whom the job market and dissertation process is fresh and who is still working with the research question I started with in 2013 (oh dear—time flies!).

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Beware of Irrelevant Topic? Advising Phd Students to Surf the Wave

In the past couple of days, an academic issue has played out on twitter: are advisers doing a disservice to students and to the creation of knowledge by warning them off of topics that are deemed less relevant, less in the moment?  Damned if I know.

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The Return of Geopolitics

Geopolitics has returned with a vengeance. The end of the Cold War wrought a moment in which there was no credible alternative to liberal democratic capitalism. Russia was seemingly fatally weakened, and China was not yet the economic powerhouse it would become.

By the late 2000’s, Russia, with power and resources concentrated  in the hands of Vladimir Putin, was newly assertive in its near abroad and attempted to restore its authority over Georgia and Ukraine. It would seek influence over events further afield by supporting the Assad regime in Syria and through vigorous efforts to destabilize elections in the United States and elsewhere.

For its part, China finally asserted suspected regional ambitions and began robust efforts to build physical infrastructure on contested islands in the South China Sea. Together,these moves suggested a return of great power politics and that the play for global convergence to liberal democratic capitalism had not succeeded. With China, there was now a plausible competitor in authoritarian capitalism.

This is the scene captured in Tom Wright’s important 2017 bookAll Measures Short of War. Wright, now of the Brookings Institution, attempts to explain why American policymakers embraced and failed with convergence and what to do about it.

In a reviews exchange in the journal International Politics Reviews, Kori Schake, Chris Preble, and Nuno Monteiro weigh in on Wright’s book. Wright responds in turn. It’s a terrific exchange. Here are the key take-aways, but give them a read yourself. (BTW, I’m an associate editor at IPR so if you have a book and would like to be part of an exchange, let me know). Continue reading

Turning the Lights Out on American Leadership

What a time to be alive. By some accounts, we are witnessing a power transition between the United States and China, with the United States voluntarily relinquishing its claim of global leadership despite having a sizable advantage in hard power over all of its rivals.

Evan Osnos, who spent many years in China writing for the New Yorker, has a provocative piece that sums up his view of Trump’s foreign policy one year in, “Making China Great Again.”

The Chinese, he writes, have a clear-eyed assessment of what the Trump administration has become:

After the summit, the Pangoal Institution, a Beijing think tank, published an analysis of the Trump Administration, describing it as a den of warring “cliques,” the most influential of which was the “Trump family clan.” The Trump clan appears to “directly influence final decisions” on business and diplomacy in a way that “has rarely been seen in the political history of the United States,” the analyst wrote. He summed it up using an obscure phrase from feudal China: jiatianxia—“to treat the state as your possession.”

The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership gives China an opportunity to define trade rules in the Asia Pacific. The intended withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement allows China to reap diplomatic kudos by staying in. These moves among others are gifting China an opening to exercise greater influence than ever before. Continue reading

Size Doesn’t Matter

Any woman would tell you that. What matters is what you do with it and whether you know how to use it. Whatever Brobdingnagian thing you’ve got going on there, it’s way more important to have a game plan and understand the sweet spots you need to target. Otherwise, both parties may come away less than satisfied from the encounter.

I am talking, of course, about the nuclear arsenal size and the ever-lasting dick-measuring contest that is international politics. After the ridiculous Trump tweet that Kim John Un’s nuclear button is smaller and less powerful than that of #45, IR Twitter was quick to point out Carol Cohn’s seminal “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals” article that discussed exactly that. That the world of arms race is essentially a world of phallic worship and missile envy, replete with “penetration aids”, “thrust capabilities” and “vertical erector launchers”.  Who knew that a presidential candidate who mentions the size of his penis during a primary debate would actually bring it up during an international nuclear stand-off?!

Another piece that comes to (my) mind is the book by Stephen Ducat “The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity”. As he observed, the ‘wimp factor’, i.e., the possibility of coming off as too feminine in politics is a major fear in many cultures, spanning from ancient Greece to modern United States. In a culture with a generalized ethos that equates penetration with domination, political hierarchy is often built along the same lines that glorifies ‘real men’ ‘with balls’ hence denigrating femininity and non-cis-gendered males and females. The wimp factor is especially relevant for global politics built on notions of hierarchy, and is often expressed in terms of gender, which favors the male, dominant position.

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The top 5 issues in International Politics for 2018

2017 was not a great year for international politics. The sentence I heard the most during conferences and other academic gatherings was that “the global order is in crisis.” Granted. It all started in 2016 with the victory of Trump, Brexit and the No to the Peace Agreement in Colombia. Nationalist ideologies have nothing but grown in 2017, when the victories of Marine Le Pen in France and of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands all of a sudden seemed plausible. Luckily, they did not materialise. We also had auto-proclaimed nations that demanded independence, such as Catalonia or Kurdistan. To top it all, the far right did win elections in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. This nationalist move is having consequences across the world. In the Libyan costs migrants are being sold as slaves by smugglers or are locked up in hangars with no access to the most basic needs, after the European Union’s enactment of its policy of helping Libyan authorities intercept people trying to cross the Mediterranean and return them to prison. Continue reading

Happy New Year

If anybody is planning to collude with some Russians for New Year’s (but not in order to swing an election), I compiled a brief checklist. Originally, I wanted to take apart an article from a prestigious newspaper that described “a Christmas encounter with a Russian soul”, but then I decided against it. After all, if you don’t buy “the case for colonialism”, then you probably also won’t think that “Russians do not share the ethical heritage of the West, but moral intuition exists everywhere, and is able to be inspired”. But enough with the narcissistic white bigotry, let’s learn about Russia!
  • In good ol’ orientalist tradition let’s start with drinking. No self-respecting Russian ever says “na zdorovie” while toasting. Ever. You drink for something – “za”.  Want to impress some Russians, say either “vashe zdorovie” or “budem!” – both are correct equivalents to “Cheers”.
  • Another important thing, New Year is THE winter holiday in Russia. Not Christmas. You prepare for it in advance, buy presents, decorate a tree, have a massive meal and get together with the family. Atheist Soviet traditions have stuck pretty well and the reflex of cutting an Olivier salad on December 31st is hard to suppress.
  • What the hell is an Olivier salad I anticipate you’d ask. It’s a Russian New Year staple food that originally included hazel grouse, crayfish, and a bunch of other expensive ingredients concocted by a French chef in mid 19th century, but gradually became a potato, pea and mayonnaise based delight that you enjoy by the ton.
  • So what about Christmas (you might wonder)? Most Russians celebrate Christmas (if they do) on January 7th thanks to the power squabbles with the Catholic Church back in the Middle Ages. While after the Revolution Russia moved almost two weeks ahead (hence the Great October Revolution celebration on November 7th), the Russian Orthodox Church stayed behind and insists on celebrating all Christian holidays based on the Julian calendar. Some even celebrate Old New Year on January 13th!
  • Also, Christmas trees. Again, in a post-Soviet mind – a fir tree is a totally secular New Year tradition that has nothing to do with Christmas. To be fair, they have much more to do with Saturnalia than with Christmas anyway. You know how in America people make fun of those who take down their Christmas lights in February? Try keeping your tree until March!  
  • Last but not least. Russians also have a type of Santa – his name is Father Frost (Ded Moroz), he brings presents, rides a sleigh and he is assisted by his granddaughter Snowmaiden (Snegurochka). Despite his somewhat dubious origin story and unclear family tree (where is his wife? Or Children?!), his is still a far cry from the controversy caused every year by Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands.

I am off to cut the Oliver and obsessively check the statuses of submitted manuscripts. Remember, despite the condescending orientalist horse crap that you might read in the Wall Street Journal, Russians are like everybody else. They just want acceptance with minor revisions.

Happy New Year!

UFOs and the Hyperreal

On Saturday, the New York Times ran an investigative story that revealed a few significant facts about the US’s programs to study UFOs. There were some interesting findings in the article (and citations/paraphrases below are from the article, which can be found here):

  • A 22 million dollar program called “Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification” was operated at DoD from 2007 to 2012—and, in fact, the program continues today without an official budget.
  • The program produced documentary evidence of spacecraft hovering with no sign of propulsion.
  • A contracted company, Bigelow Aerospace, was given large sums of money to help operate this program, which included the maintenance of a storage facility in Las Vegas for unidentified metal alloys related to UFO events.
  • A Pentagon briefing summary from 2009 stated that “what was once considered science fiction is now scientific fact,” and argued that the US government would have great difficulty in securing itself against some of the technology the program had discovered.

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Us Too


We knew it was coming and here it is. An open source spreadsheet designed by The Professor Is In blog’s Karen L. Kelsky for the purpose of collecting up stories of sexual harassment, abuse,  and plain old taking advantage from within the Academy in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

“I am not surprised at the number. I am surprised at the severity of many of the stories. I expected more quid pro quo or handsy passes made after drinking at an open bar at a conference. I didn’t expect as many stories of rape and stalking and abuse.” (Kelsky)

Unlimited to the discipline of International Relations (IR), we know that stories shared here – and countless like them – derive from inside our Departments, Schools, and conferences. As an extremely male dominated and masculinised discipline, feminist and queer IR have been telling us for years about the profound effects such a gender imbalance has. On not only how women and femininity are treated and so often marginalised but on how such patriarchy has detrimentally produced IR’s traditional and  primary units of analysis  – man, the state, and war – in the very image of their very particular (male, white, cis etc) authors.

Speaking to the extent of the ‘scourge‘ (as Kelsky puts it), as a recently graduated, female, IR PhD working (happily) in the discipline, I count myself lucky for making it this far without having accumulated much to add to the spreadsheet’s 1,600 (and counting) entries. However, if I’m honest there are probably things that I could/should say. The women coming forward to share their stories – even anonymously – are braver than I.

Of course, in Higher Education, the lines between work/personal life and teacher/student become blurred (and these blurrings are some of what make academia and University life good). Of course, there is a difference between rape and mis-judged flirting or an extra-marital affair. However, consent is complicated and the extreme power imbalance between parties involved make the stakes high and skew the consequences in favour of the most often older, most often senior, most often male participant in even seemingly ‘harmless’ interactions.  Just read the spreadsheet to see for yourself. After doing so I’m thinking now is surely the time for us to re-draw the lines and bring to account the ones so far un-named who went too far (we/you know who you are).

President Trump, You’re No George Carlin

The Trump Administration has decided it’s finally time for it to whip out its best George Carlin impression. It’s announced its own list of seven words you can never say—at least not if you are working for the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention.

In 1972, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” was the last track on his stand-up album, Class Clown. In an interview with Terry Gross in 2004, Carlin explained that the routine was all about calling out hypocrisy and double-standards. There is nothing inherently bad about these words, and keeping them off of the airwaves ignores the context in which they may be used. A later version of this routine even led to a1978 Supreme Court case, Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation.

Fast forward 45 years, and the Department of Health and Human Services has apparently announced its own Seven Words You Can Not Include in Documents Prepared for Next Year’s Budget. It doesn’t quite roll of the tongue, and it feels a bit Peppy Bismilk, but its potential effects on science and health policy could be dramatic.

First things first, let’s get the words themselves out in the open. According to Trump’s HHS, the following words are now verboten in CDC budget documents:

  • Vulnerable
  • Entitlement
  • Diversity
  • Transgender
  • Fetus
  • Evidence-based
  • Science-based

Yeah. For real.

According to attendees at the meeting where this policy was announced, the presenter said she was merely relaying information and could not speak to why these words were banned. This appears, though, to be in line with other efforts by the administration to remove certain words and phrases from official documents, such as efforts to scrub information about global warming from the EPA’s website.

Why would the Trump Administration want to keep these words out of official budget documents? From scientific and research perspectives, there is absolutely no reason to do so.

Instead, we have to think about the various purposes that budgets serve. At the most concrete level, budgets tell us how we are going to spend money. The administration is expected to release its budget in February. While no president’s budget is automatically adopted, it can serve as a blueprint for guiding Congress’ efforts to craft a spending plan.

Go a bit deeper, though, and we can start to get a sense of what is driving the Trump Administration. More than just a spending plan, budgets are reflections of our values. This applies if we are talking about households or about national governments. By keeping these words out of budget documents, the administration is not only signalling its research priorities, but also who and what it values.

What does this decision say about the Trump Administration’s health and research values? First, it says that this administration has little interest in understanding or addressing the social determinants of health. When we take the social determinants of health seriously, we recognize that social, economic, and political systems don’t treat everyone equally—and that that inequality has very real consequences for whether a person can lead a healthy life. If you look at the CDC’s current website (quick, hurry before it’s taken down!), there is a section devoted to looking at how and why transgender people have higher rates of HIV infection. It’s not about a trans person’s biology; it’s about issues of stigma, discrimination, and lack of access to care. It’s about social vulnerabilities—oops, there’s a word we can no longer use.

Second, it suggests the administration may be pulling back from the US’ historical global health commitments. The US government supplies roughly one-third of all development assistance for health. It has been a leader in shaping the norms around the importance of supporting global health as a sign of good international citizenship (and if you’re looking for more on that, have I got a book for you! Makes a great Valentine’s Day present!). Part of what that funding has done, though, is support the scientific research to produce the evidence necessary for us to know how to address thorny and difficult global health issues. If we don’t base our policies on evidence and science, we end up with polices that reflect individual biases—things like wasting $1.4 billion on abstinence education programs in Africa even though there is no evidence that they reduce the risk of contracting HIV (and may actually increase it). This is already a problem for US-supported global health programs. Banning science-based and evidence-based will only make the problem that much worse.

Third, it could be another arena in which conservative domestic (and international) politics are taking precedence over improving people’s health. The CDC and other agencies within the United States government have mobilized in an effort to understand the connection between the Zika outbreak in South America and the increase in rates of microcephaly. Scientists don’t understand how or why this connection exists, especially since it hasn’t appeared in other areas where Zika has spread. To understand that, we need to do research on the effects of the Zika virus on pregnant women and their fetuses. The CDC found a definitive link between Zika and microcephaly in 2016, but it will apparently no longer be able to conduct that research. We don’t know why, but it’s possible that it could have something to do with issues surrounding access to birth control and abortion services in Latin America. In many of the countries where microcephaly rates have skyrocketed due to Zika, birth control and abortion are incredibly difficult to obtain. Perhaps this is an effort to appease conservative values—if there’s no research on Zika’s effects on fetuses, there will be fewer calls for changing reproductive laws in the region.

George Carlin used his seven words as part of an effort to encourage free expression and think about the problems arbitrarily limiting speech. The Trump Administration’s seven words will do the opposite. If these are the choices, I’ll take a few curse words any day.

 

Nothing Compares to You

For Russia watchers Christmas always comes early (or Hanukkah comes right on time!) when Putin gives his annual presser in mid-December to the journalists from Russia and around the world. This year was no exception, and Putin provided an almost 4-hour spectacle of economic indicator juggling, question evading and what looked like battling the flu. Even devoted supporters noticed that Putin was not on top of his game that day. He had to constantly clear the throat and looked like he had fever.

There was something for everyone. Putin came out against abortion ban and spun a conspiracy theory about the Olympic doping scandal. Accused the US of North Korean missile program development and encouraged rotation of governmental cadres. Explained the rationale behind a possible retirement age increase and advised the head of Rosneft Sechin to show up to court when he is subpoenaed. Many bloggers and mass media outlets have devised several versions of Putin Presser bingo, because every year there seems to be the same number of shticks that come up. These include drinking from a cup with a lid, making a joke – this year a particularly crass one, – providing reassuring mumbo-jumbo about Russian economic growth and an expected tough question from a Ukrainian journalist.

Let’s start with the last one. Questions from UNIAN journalist Tsymbayuk are a rare aberration from the mainstream discourse on the Ukraine crisis in Russia (this time they were met with boos and “provocation” outcries). He asked whether Putin was planning to exchange prisoners of war and reminded that Russia and Ukraine were not one country. Putin had a long comeback arguing that the accent-free Russian of the journalist was already a sign that the countries occupied the same mental space. After that followed quite a long history lesson riddled some historical inaccuracies and an emphasis on the same Christian foundation of the two countries that make up one nation. Later, Putin also quipped about the scandal provoked by the former Georgian President and ex Odessa governor Saakashvili, who is allegedly “spitting in the faces of Ukrainians and Georgians”. Putin even wondered whether there were “real Ukrainians” available in the country. Oh, snap. A lot of Russians don’t believe Ukraine deserves to be a state in the first place…

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