Thursday, December 30, 2004

And a few things that actually will warm you the good way

Updated - One step at a time. Yes, it's only one step, but it is a step. From the BBC:
A final peace deal between the Sudanese government and southern rebels should be signed next month, officials say.

Talks between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) are set to continue into the new year to resolve outstanding differences.

But a government spokesman said a signing ceremony would be held in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on 10 January. ...

It is hoped that an end to Africa's longest-running civil war - in which the Muslim north has been pitted against Christians and animists in the south - may also help to resolve the conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region, where separate rebel groups challenge the government.
Other sources say no date has been set for the signing ceremony but significantly, apparently do not dispute that a deal is close.

- Three years ago, Argentina's economy collapsed and it declared a debt default of more the $100 billion, the largest in history. As the New York Times tells it,
doomsday predictions abounded. Unless it adopted orthodox economic policies and quickly cut a deal with its foreign creditors, hyperinflation would surely follow, the peso would become worthless, investment and foreign reserves would vanish and any prospect of growth would be strangled.

But three years [later], the apocalypse has not arrived. Instead, the economy has grown by 8 percent for two consecutive years, exports have zoomed, the currency is stable, investors are gradually returning and unemployment has eased from record highs - all without a debt settlement or the standard measures required by the International Monetary Fund for its approval.

Argentina's recovery has been undeniable, and it has been achieved at least in part by ignoring and even defying economic and political orthodoxy. Rather than moving to immediately satisfy bondholders, private banks and the I.M.F., as other developing countries have done in less severe crises, the Peronist-led government chose to stimulate internal consumption first and told creditors to get in line with everyone else.

"This is a remarkable historical event, one that challenges 25 years of failed policies," said Mark Weisbrot, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal research group in Washington. "While other countries are just limping along, Argentina is experiencing very healthy growth with no sign that it is unsustainable, and they've done it without having to make any concessions to get foreign capital inflows."
The banks, investment houses, speculators, and the rest of the vultures are hovering around, looking for any signs of slippage or slowing that they can use to justify renewed demands for Argentina to surrender to the embrace of the IMF and its cookie-cutter "slash social spending, open markets to transnationals, screw the people to serve the banks" solution to developing nations' economic troubles. So far, they've failed and instead attribute Argentina's success to luck or, bizarrely, the claim that Argentina is actually doing what the IMF recommends, even though a centerpiece of its recovery has been levies on exports and financial transactions, exactly the sort of programs which IMF types insist have to be repealed lest disaster strike.

- CNN reported on Monday that
[o]pponents of gay marriage concede victory will not be swift in their attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution, even after prevailing in all 11 states where the issue was on the ballot last month.

While the Nov. 2 election also increased the ranks of amendment supporters in both houses of Congress, the gains were relatively small.

"We're going to have to see additional court cases come down" supporting gay marriage before congressional sentiment shifts dramatically, predicted Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who supports the amendment that failed in both houses of Congress this year.
Catch that? Despite all their bluster and fuming, they actually want "activist judges" of the kind they claim to despise - because they want to lose more times in court (as they just did in Montana, in a case involving access to health insurance rather than marriage) in order to panic people into supporting a Constitutional amendment. Hypocrites. Meanwhile, in another sign that this is not the big winner issue the GOPpies like to claim it is,
White House political adviser Karl Rove said after the election that President Bush intends to continue seeking a constitutional amendment that says marriage must consist of a man and a woman.

At the same time, GOP congressional aides who attended a series of closed-door meetings recently said Rove did not mention the amendment when he outlined the administration's key legislative goals for the year ahead. Nor did the issue figure prominently in strategy sessions held by GOP congressional leaders, added these officials, who declined to be identified by name because the proceedings were closed to the press.
- On a somewhat different but still upbeat note,
[t]he Food and Drug Administration has approved a pilot study looking at whether the recreational hallucinogen [known as Ecstasy] can help terminally ill patients lessen their fears, quell thoughts of suicide and make it easier for them to deal with loved ones. ...

The small, four-month study is expected to begin early next spring. It will test the drug's effects on 12 cancer patients from the Lahey Clinic Medical Center in the Boston area. The research is being sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit group that plans to raise $250,000 to fund it. ...

The FDA would not comment, but this will be the second FDA-approved study using Ecstasy this year. South Carolina researchers are studying the effects of Ecstasy on 20 patients suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
- One more for the road. And this is a good one.
Across the developing world, [the Christian Science Monitor for December 30 says,] some 700 million people have gained a household connection to drinking water since 1990 - and helped the world reach a crucial tipping point. Now for the first time, more than half the globe's people have drinking water piped into their homes, according to an August report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

Such progress, along with the spread of sanitation systems, has reduced hygiene-related illnesses, pushed more students into schoolrooms, and begun to break the cycle of urban poverty by making water much less expensive.

Yet for millions of women ... the most immediate and surprising benefit of the new water systems is the gift of time.

"When we ask women how water projects have changed their lives, their first answer is always, 'We have more time with our kids,'" says Marla Smith-Nilson, cofounder of WaterPartners International, which has projects in Central America, Africa, and Asia. "We're focused on sanitation and health, but we're always hearing stories of how lifestyle has improved." ...

Among the forces driving progress has been an approximate $3 billion in annual investment from among the 189 nations whose heads of state in 2000 signed onto a common goal: to cut in half by 2015 the proportion of people worldwide who lack sustainable drinking water and basic sanitation. Progress is measured against benchmark data from 1990.

The effort so far has produced mixed results. The world is on track for its drinking water target, with South Asia leading the way in terms of rapid progress, according to the WHO/UNICEF report. But sanitation tells a different story, as Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania are falling behind the timetable.
There are still many problems from tight money to engineering problems to politics to war. And it may be that the projects completed so far are the easy ones and the hard ones still lay ahead. It is still a disgrace before humanity how many of our brothers and sisters have no clean water and no proper sanitation available to them. But still, we should take a moment to celebrate that
in locales where running water has arrived, health is measurably improving, according to studies conducted by the Center for Global Safe Water at Emory University. Rural Honduran communities with water projects demonstrated fewer incidents of diarrhea and less growth stunting than in unimproved areas, according to the center's 2003 studies. In such areas, where intestinal diseases kill more infants than does any other cause, family life is apparently being transformed.
And for the first time, more than half the people of the world have water in their homes. It's way too few, but dammit, it's still more than there used to be. And that's worth a smile.

Updated to include the reference to the Montana court decision and a bunch of links: Ecstasy, the SPLA, IMF (and its programs), WHO, UNICEF, the water report (which is also available in .pdf format here), and the Center for Global Safe Water.

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