Thursday, January 27, 2005

Writings and Struggles

Writings and Struggles

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)

January 27, 2005

I.

Writing is powerful. From the history immemorial writings of various kinds by writers of prominence and now forgotten names had and have influenced major and minor policy decisions around the globe, especially so in nations where freedom of speech is considered as the cornerstone of their progress and pride. In places where dictatorship, monarchies and also the theatrical “democracy” remained unshakable, writers with unblemished pens are more often considered threat to the interests of the rulers and powerful, and hence most often than not they are put into the darken corners of prisons; sometimes even harsher treatments befallen them, in the form of facing the deadly firing squads or other gruesome life ending scenario, like being stabbed or beaten up by hired thugs and hooligans.

It is not to say that all the writers take up the pens to fight against injustices. It is also not to deny the facts that writers and scribes were and are being employed by the governments, corporate, business and other special interests promoting their ideas, even in the face of mounting evidences pointing toward the facts that may be contradictory to a nation’s pursued interests. Iraq’s now thoroughly discredited WMD claim by the U.S. government and promulgated by “in-bedded” media comes to mind as a contemporary reference.

Writing is powerful. Poets, novelists and journalists have that tremendous power shaping the minds of people through their diligently crafted arts. Each words and sentences are placed in synchronized concerto to maximize the effects of expressing the ideas, of justice and fairness, liberalism and conservatism, or simply the pure observations of nature or the human innuendoes in possible minutest details.

The readers read with intensity, believing the words, neatly placed in sentence after sentence, their faces contort reading the oppressions in Darfur, never-ending wars and violence in Iraq and Middle-East, the stories of deaths and survivals from the devastating tsunami in South Asia sink and lift their hearts, they cry with the words, they smile with the words.

From the thousands of years old religious scriptures to modern slim to voluminous books, articles in newspapers and magazines and now the increasingly immense power of Internet, provide a staggering choice for readers, and shuffling through all these choices, it has become increasingly difficult differentiating between writings that may be melancholic but truthful and writings that may be uplifting but based on deceits.

One has always the option setting aside the pen. Alas! Truthful writings may bring harm, even violent death tiptoes the writers, succeeding prior threats in not so disguised speeches. Writing against the popular sentiments of the day may bring shame and one may even be labeled as a traitor to his community or a nation. Unlike other distinguished professions, earning the livelihood from writings alone is quite difficult unless one crosses that overreaching barrier of popularity, or being employed by a news media, or by government or corporate entity, lying low or high in secret or jovial atmosphere.

Our world is going through a peculiar stage. The battle between the true democratic force and the fascists are being waged in various forms around the world. The world of writings is no different from this unbroken saga.

[To Be Continued in Part 2]

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Fighting Global Poverty

There are some good points that this Washington Post editorial illuminates, and the first and foremost is that the developed world must raise their aid effort for the poorer nations, coordinating with the international organizations such as U.N. and others, but must do so in effective manner so that these aids can maximize benefits to larger number of poor people in the developing world rather than filling the corrupted government officials' ballooning fiefdom.
Scholarly reasearches on this very issue already established this fact that "aid does boost growth and reduce poverty in countries with reasonably good institutions and policies."

Even with effective government structure in place, how the aid money is spent determines whether poverty for a nation is reduced or not, " because bad aid can actually entrench poverty." Here is one example: "When aid flows into a country, it can drive the exchange rate up, harming the producers who are the only hope of long-term, self-sustaining development."

In contrast, "If the aid is spent on imports such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets or AIDS medicines, the inflow of foreign capital is neutralized and the exchange rate will not budge. Similarly, if aid is spent on projects that boost productivity, this gain can outweigh the handicap of a stronger currency. In Uganda, for example, poor roads push up farmers' costs by as much as 40 percent, so aid for road-building could deliver an enormous boost to cotton and coffee exporters."

Also, too much foreign aid may bring more harm than good, since "aid needs to be focused on countries that use it well, with the caveat that even effective governments can't absorb too much external assistance. Cross-country analysis suggests that once aid accounts for more than 20 to 25 percent of gross domestic product, it often ceases to do good, possibly because flows above that level encourage officials to focus on their relationships with foreign patrons rather than feeling accountable to the poor of their own countries."

The final conclusion of this editorial rightly says that "Aid should be targeted at a long list of obstacles to growth; there is no silver bullet."

No silver bullet exists in combating global poverty, but with genuine concerted global efforts, this seemingly monumental vision can be reduced into manageable and achievable mission that can certainly impact positively on the lives of millions and millions of distressed human beings around our world.

Regards,
Sohel





Fighting Global Poverty

Thursday, January 20, 2005; Page A24

THE UNITED NATIONS has a history of proclaiming utopian goals, and the U.N. report delivered Monday under the leadership of Columbia University's Jeffrey D. Sachs could be viewed as part of this pattern. It is subtitled "A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals." But many of these goals, adopted at a summit of heads of state in 2000, are themselves not practicable, despite significant recent progress. Between 1990 and 2002, the number of people in extreme poverty declined by 130 million; child mortality rates fell from 88 to 70 deaths per 1,000 live births; an additional 14 percent of the developing world's people acquired access to sanitation. But the U.N. goals include reducing the child mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015 and halving the proportion of people without access to sanitation. This is unrealistic, and the United Nations should stop setting itself up for failure.

That said, the report rightly calls for a big increase in development assistance. It says that donors should give at least 0.5 percent of their gross national product, then scale that up to 0.7 percent by 2015. For donors taken as a whole, this would imply an immediate doubling in official development assistance; for the United States, it would mean a bigger jump, since President Bush's expansion of the U.S. aid budget has lifted it from 0.1 percent to 0.15 percent of GNP. The report advertises the quick wins that could be purchased with extra assistance, such as free distribution of malaria bed nets, the elimination of fees at schools and health clinics, and a drive to fertilize exhausted soils in hungry parts of Africa.

In practice, money cannot magically achieve these things; it has to be managed by the people of developing countries and often by their governments. It's fair to ask whether extra aid would actually accomplish its goals or whether it would merely stoke corruption. The large and inevitably contested economics literature on this question provides a reassuring answer; the prevailing evidence is that aid does boost growth and reduce poverty in countries with reasonably good institutions and policies. A new addition to this literature, by Michael Clemens, Steven Radelet and Rikhil Bhavnani of the Center for Global Development in Washington, makes an even stronger claim. The authors take out categories of aid that should not be expected to boost growth in the short term (disaster relief on the one hand; funding for long-term efforts such as environmental protection, education and health on the other) and then analyze the growth effects of the residual categories (aid for roads, ports, agriculture and so on). They find that the sort of aid that might be expected to boost growth actually did so quite a bit, and not just in countries with strong institutions and good policies.

So the case for extra aid is solid. It matters a lot, however, how the money is spent, because bad aid can actually entrench poverty. When aid flows into a country, it can drive the exchange rate up, harming the producers who are the only hope of long-term, self-sustaining development. This risk -- akin to the "Dutch disease" suffered by oil exporters -- needs to be managed. If the aid is spent on imports such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets or AIDS medicines, the inflow of foreign capital is neutralized and the exchange rate will not budge. Similarly, if aid is spent on projects that boost productivity, this gain can outweigh the handicap of a stronger currency. In Uganda, for example, poor roads push up farmers' costs by as much as 40 percent, so aid for road-building could deliver an enormous boost to cotton and coffee exporters.

In short, the Dutch-disease trap is only a trap if the aid is spent badly. That means aid needs to be focused on countries that use it well, with the caveat that even effective governments can't absorb too much external assistance. Cross-country analysis suggests that once aid accounts for more than 20 to 25 percent of gross domestic product, it often ceases to do good, possibly because flows above that level encourage officials to focus on their relationships with foreign patrons rather than feeling accountable to the poor of their own countries. Some "donor darlings" in Africa are already at or above this danger threshold. Aid to Ethiopia, Malawi and Rwanda represents about 20 percent of each economy, while the ratio for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole stands at around 6 percent.

In the past decade or so, much has been learned about how to deliver aid effectively. Donors should not dictate development programs from afar; they should support plans that enjoy political legitimacy in each developing country. Aid should be targeted at a long list of obstacles to growth; there is no silver bullet. The new U.N. report wisely endorses this conventional wisdom, while reminding the world that millions of people can be rescued from hunger and poverty if aid budgets are boosted. Despite its unfortunate utopian premise, it pushes in the right direction.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The New Heart Disease Threat

It seems promising. I have known friends and relatives who had repeatedly said that their cholesterol level was normal but still they had suffered heart attacks and some even died from that deadly disease. Hopefully, the new discovery and the eventual treatments related to C-reactive protein would alleviate sufferings of millions of people world wide every year, soon.

Regards,

Sohel

The New Heart Disease Threat


The evidence has gotten much stronger that a substance known as C-reactive protein may be every bit as important as cholesterol in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. Back in 2002, a thought-provoking study found that a blood test for C-reactive protein, called CRP, was actually better than the standard cholesterol test at predicting the risk of a heart attack or a stroke. Now two studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine have shown that drugs that reduce the levels of that protein in patients with severe heart disease can slow the progression of atherosclerosis and prevent heart attacks and cardiac-related deaths.

Although the studies came laced with caveats, their cumulative impact suggests that cardiology is in the midst of a revolutionary shift in understanding the causes of heart disease. After years of focusing on the role of cholesterol in clogging arteries, researchers now recognize C-reactive protein, a measure of inflammation in artery walls and elsewhere, as a prime risk factor in its own right.

The key study published last week found that heart disease patients who were given high doses of a cholesterol-lowering statin drug also experienced a drop in CRP levels and in heart attacks. Thus the high-dose statin packed a double wallop.

These findings apply only to patients already suffering from severe heart disease. A separate clinical trial will seek to determine whether lowering C-reactive protein can reduce heart attacks in healthy patients with normal cholesterol levels but above-average levels of C-reactive protein. Nearly half of all people who suffer heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels, so it is critical to devise tests and treatments to reduce their risk.

Even before the final clinical results are in, it would seem prudent for all overweight couch potatoes who think they are safe because their cholesterol levels are low to get their C-reactive protein levels tested. If their CRP levels are high, they may be spurred to lose weight, exercise and stop smoking to bring down those protein levels. High doses of statins, with their risk of side effects, would presumably be a last resort.