As much as I hate to say it, my time in South Africa has now come and gone. Calandra Miller and I safely arrived back on American soil at 7:30 AM on August 6, 2009. At the time, I could not say the same for our luggage, which remained (safely) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The last couple of weeks spent in South Africa were bittersweet, to say the least. I was looking forward to coming home and seeing my family and friends once again, but at the same time I was having to say goodbye to many good friends and, what I consider to be, family back in South Africa. The volunteer girls, Betty, Eva, and Engelinah treated us to some milkshakes as a going away present. This was a distinct honor to me, because what we might take for granted in the United States, they had to budget for weeks in advance. We also spent some time celebrating with Stefan and his family, the Wiids (the family who hosted me in their cottage during my stay in SA), and Pastor Dave Garton and his wife Gail (who run the rehab program that Project HOPE is partnering with). In the midst of our imminent departure, I took some time to reflect on what I was doing and had done since arriving in South Africa.
August 24, 2009

Today, after meeting all day with health reformers in China, it is clear that partnerships with U.S. academic institutions are important to build capacity and institutional support here.

At Peking University, Dr. Ke Yang, Executive Vice President of Peking University (PKU), enthusiastically described the great results of a Duke-Peking University two-week global health diploma program with the School of Public Health.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

9 pm, Beijing

In 2003, representing the U.S. Senate I met with President Hu Jintao, CMC Chairman Jiang Zemin, Premier Wen Jiabao, and the Foreign Minister and Health Minister. One evening there was a majestic dinner in our delegation's honor, similar to our State dinners, hosted by the NPC Chairman Wu Bangguo (who I understand is coming to DC in a couple of weeks). It was the height of the SARS crisis and China had been shut down. I remember so vividly the discussion we had in the Ambassador's residence in Japan (the country visited just prior to our planed trip to China) when I gathered all the Senators around to make a final decision of whether to enter China at a time of some risk. We decided to go ... to demonstrate our support of the Chinese government in those difficult times as it did its best to fight the new, frightening and deadly SARS virus.

I am reminded of all this as I enter China today and read the China Daily headlines in the airport, "H1N1 will endanger more lives," with a subtitle "Up to 2 Billion may be infected; China will see rise in cases this winter." The article goes on in the first few paragraphs to say that the number of H1N1 cases will double every three or four days until they reach the peak transmission period.

The world is a small place. SARS tore out of China and invaded Canada. The affected economies grounded to a halt. Similarly HINI will be a worldwide pandemic. There are no borders to these cagey and fatal viruses. We are all in this together and our response must be mutually dependent. We are one. There is no separation of global health from domestic health when it comes to these emerging diseases.

August 22, 2009

Frist Update and Expectations: Written on the plane to Shanghai

Just getting used to the new Prius. I am taking a lot of heat from my family who see me more the Tahoe or Suburban type. It was tough trading my 1992 Suburban (my only car) because of the family memories that centered on that car. I had saved some money back in ‘92 by getting a two wheel drive (though I regretted it later when in DC I kept getting stuck in the snow - sometimes doesn't pay to be too cheap); it was the car the boys learned to drive in the narrow streets of Georgetown (side mirrors a little scratched). I resisted this clunker deal initially because I thought it wrong that the taxpayer was buying my new car for me, but after a few days I broke down on the moral argument of mileage, pollution, etc (and the gift of the average taxpayer!!). I always buy my cars from Lee Beaman; his dad and mine were best friends. Christi, who works with me, picked out a great Yukon for me. But I opted for the Prius - why? Because it gets 4 times the gas mileage and I want to reduce gas consumption since so much of the proceeds goes to those who feed terrorism. And it is cheap - we actually ended buying two Pri(i) - one for me and one for my brother Tommy - for the price equal to one Yukon. Still hate to see the Suburban go - and it sounds like they poison it to kill it. Ugh.
August 22, 2009

This morning, we awoke early to catch a 5:00am flight out of Nashville, through Atlanta to Shanghai, China. Karyn, youngest son Bryan (21), brother Tommy, his wife Trish, and his son-in-law Chuck Elcan and I are all traveling to China to explore the Chinese delivery of health care. During my time in the Senate, at the height of the SARS crisis, I led a Senate delegation to China. They were honored we would come during this period, exhibiting the United States’ trust in the Chinese government to handle this unknown crisis.

Big & Rich Find Way Back Together

Kenny Alphin cites work with HTHH

Aug 21 2009

Big & Rich find way back together

Offstage, duo ‘like night and day,’ but their partnership remains strong

For the AJC

9:03 p.m. Thursday, August 20, 2009

 

Throughout the history of country music, duet acts have proved to be a mainstay in the ever-widening scope of the genre.

In family acts such as the Louvin Brothers and the Judds, intergender pairings including Sugarland, and George Jones and Tammy Wynette, or partnerships like Flatt and Scruggs or Montgomery Gentry, the symbiosis often produces something bigger than the sum of the parts.

In 2004, a pair of Nashville singer-songwriters joined forces in a manner that retained the traditional "duet" mentality, yet pushed the boundaries of country music. Big Kenny Alphin and John Rich, calling themselves Big & Rich, took the music world by storm with their eclectic conglomeration of rock, country, hip-hop and humor.

Alphin, an eighth-generation farm boy from Virginia, is as country as the day is long, but with a very obvious "hippie mentality" that shines through in his conversation. He speaks as enthusiastically about supply delivery trips to refugees in Darfur as he does the 50 new songs he has recorded in his home studio.

In a recent telephone interview, Alphin reflected on the history of Big & Rich, his solo music and the big issues that matter the most to him.

"The MuzikMafia grew out of a 70-week run where a bunch of friends who were all struggling in the music business here in Nashville would get together one night a week to share our songs and just do what we wanted to. Rappers, dancers, horns, whatever. It was 'music without prejudice,' and people just started showing up."

A regular attendee was the daughter of Warner Bros. Records' Paul Worley, and she convinced her father to give them a listen.

"John and I thought we were just going to pitch songs, so we played a few things for Paul," Alphin recalled. "He stopped us and said, 'OK, I want this.' He signed us on the spot as a duet act, and that's what got Big & Rich started."

The loosely organized MuzikMafia and its members, including Big & Rich, "Redneck Woman" Gretchen Wilson and "hick-hop" rapper Cowboy Troy, rapidly climbed into the country radio playlists and charts.

The duet's breakthrough single was met with mixed response from radio listeners.

"When we got some feedback on 'Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,' the radio people said it had a lot of 'polarity,' " Alphin said.

"Fifty percent liked it, and 50 percent hated it, and they said that is a good thing," he said. "It is not really a rap song, it is spoken word. We were trying to do something along the lines of the old country songs where the singer would talk instead of sing. The rap part is the added rhythm, which adds flavor to the rhyme. Rap is here, and this was our way to embrace it. We were having fun."

The success of the single propelled Big & Rich to concert headline status fairly quickly, and with Wilson, Cowboy Troy and their close friend Two Foot Fred along for fun, the duo seemed unstoppable.

The ride took a slow nosedive as the "fad" aspect wore off, and professional and personal issues became more prominent. Following an initial surge, sales eventually slowed, some hangers-on were dropped from the labels, and unfortunate offstage events began to get more press than the music.

Big & Rich recently took a one-year break during which both artists recorded solo albums. They are regrouping and touring. The question is, has the damaging negative publicity and absence from the public eye killed the spark?

The contemporary country music business is fickle, and it seemed that Big & Rich may have been a flash in the pan.

"That doesn't concern me at all," Alphin said. "The Big & Rich brand is established, and I feel stronger and more confident than ever. In Nashville, there are so many parts that make up the process, including publicists, promotion, and the artist pays for it all. It's very stressful, and the artist is ultimately responsible for their own career. I'm destined to make music, and I like to do multiple things."

While Alphin recovered from neck surgery, he channeled his energy into solo projects and numerous charity and social causes. The fruits of his labor are on the way, with a new single already out, and a full country album with more to follow.

His charity work includes Hope Through Healing Hands, which helps get doctors into underserved areas.

He organizes the successful "Nashville4Africa" fund-raising concert, supports disabled veterans' groups such as Building Lives and arranges for cargo planes to take supplies to Darfur.

"When I found out how bad it was there, it was more than I could handle," he said. "So far, we have delivered survival kits to refugees, helped build a school for girls called My Sister's Keeper, a clinic and an airstrip."

Rich has often found himself on the receiving end of bad publicity.

An active participant in the Nashville music industry since his days as a member of Lonestar, Rich is a talented songwriter with a strong producer's ear for what works in a song, resulting in numerous hits for other artists. He has hosted and participated in several CMT reality shows.

Outside of music, he is very open and public with regard to his conservative political beliefs and support of Republican candidates. His song "Raisin' McCain" was heard during John McCain's failed 2008 presidential bid.

Politics aside, Rich has a tendency to get into conflicts that often end up in the gossip columns. He was involved in a neighborhood dispute when he bought some prime Nashville real estate and started construction on a giant house that irked the neighbors.

A recent feud with former "Nashville Star" contestant Jared Ashley lingers. (Rich was not available for an interview for this article.)

While distancing himself from his musical partner's recent tribulations, Alphin acknowledges the differences and the connection to Rich.

"He's out there doing crazy stuff, but I still love him," Alphin said. "We are like night and day. He's political, and I just like to get things done. Right now, we meet onstage, that's it. Once he gets his other stuff straight, we will sit down and write some songs."

 

Concert preview

Kicks 101.5 FM Country Jam 2 with Big & Rich, Craig Morgan, Love & Theft? and Bombshel

7 p.m. Sunday. $19-$49. Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park, 2200 Encore Parkway, Alpharetta. 404-733-5010; www.vzwamp.com,? www.kicks1015.com.

Reform the right should embrace

For the U.S. to save more lives, build self-sufficiency abroad

By Mark Green | Thursday, August 20, 2009

Remarkably, a reform effort is under way in Washington that has yet to devolve into a partisan shouting match. The reform involves our foreign-aid apparatus, which is in dire need of an overhaul. It matters because amid this tough economy, every taxpayer dollar is especially precious and because of the great good foreign aid can do.

The legislation that authorizes our overseas development programs is more than 45 years old, without updates or improvements in more than 20 years. At a time when our national-security and foreign-policy priorities have become increasingly dependent on effective development, our political leaders must act swiftly and put partisan politics aside in order to enact reforms that will make our foreign-aid programs more efficient, more effective and therefore more capable of supporting and advancing our national interests around the globe.

Despite some initial positive steps by the Obama administration and Congress, a critical constituency is missing from the discussion: congressional conservatives. As a proud fiscal hawk and a true believer in the power of U.S. foreign assistance to lift lives and enhance alliances, I urge conservatives to get more engaged and embrace the opportunity this debate presents.

I served in Congress from 1999 to 2007, when an unprecedented bipartisan coalition came together and increased U.S. foreign assistance aimed at easing the suffering of people in developing countries. Without the participation and leadership of conservatives in Congress and the George W. Bush administration, none of this would have been possible.

The vital role played by conservatives was perhaps best exemplified by the transformation of the late Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, who went from being Congress' most strident anti-foreign-aid voice to a co-sponsor of a bill providing $200 million to help fight HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Mr. Helms and other conservatives, including President Bush and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, were key players in passing landmark programs such as African debt relief, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the President's Malaria Initiative and the Millennium Challenge Act (which created the Millennium Challenge Corp.).

Without these initiatives, millions of lives would have been lost, the conditions of despair that terrorists and dictators all too effectively exploit would have deepened, and fewer developing countries would be on paths toward self-sufficiency.

Despite this important progress, U.S. foreign assistance is not as effective and supportive of our diplomacy and security efforts as it should be. Right now, foreign-assistance programs are overseen by more than 60 government offices that frequently are competitive and uncoordinated. Foreign-aid budgeting has become a mess of earmarks because the Cold War-era Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA) is decades out of date.

I saw firsthand how inefficient this system can be at times when I was U.S. ambassador to Tanzania in 2007-08. Early on, I would attend ribbon-cuttings for U.S.-funded health clinics and other programs only to see banners with countless logos and acronyms from organizations -- including different U.S. government agencies -- all taking credit for the American people's generosity. The maze of obscure names not only was unsightly, but it also confused our Tanzanian audience and diminished the diplomatic value of our work.

After sitting through a few of these events, I issued a directive creating a unified logo -- an American flag with the phrase "From the American People" in Kiswahilii -- and requiring that it be on every press statement and event banner.

Thankfully, we see some progress. The Foreign Relations committees in both the House and Senate have introduced reform bills that have gained some Republican support, but there is still a long way to go. The same leadership from conservatives that helped deliver millions of people in the developing world from poverty and disease over the last decade is needed to keep the foreign-aid reform effort focused on increasing accountability, eliminating waste and maximizing results.

I call upon my conservative former colleagues in Congress to rise to this challenge and join the debate. I urge the Democratic majority to run the reform process in an open and bipartisan way and keep it from becoming a debate over money and divisive social issues.

Given that foreign-assistance reform is fundamentally about making the United States better at saving lives, helping more countries like Tanzania get on the road to true self-sufficiency and highlighting our leadership and compassion abroad, we have to get it right -- and we have to do it quickly.

Mark Green is a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Wisconsin and ambassador to Tanzania. He is the director of the Malaria No More Policy Center.

Overcoming Obstacles to Keep Girls in School: Sustainable, Environmental, and Economic Practices

by Anita Henderlight

August 18, 2009

Shortly after NESEI opened our first girls' boarding secondary school in South Sudan, we observed that many of the girls skipped classes routinely each month. Why? Because they did not have necessary supplies for comfort or cleanliness during menstruation. Most were using leaves or old rags to absorb their flow.

We began to supply the students with "comfort kits" - disposable sanitary products imported from more industrialized countries. They met our primary goal - keeping our girls in school.
Loni and I have continued our work on the Munsieville Survey and rapid needs assessment data collection. We can now officially say that our Munsieville Survey is fine-tuned and ready for implementation. Each survey takes about 45 minutes to an hour. I mentioned in an earlier update that Project HOPE had planned to get 1000 surveys. Well, thanks to some mathematical wizardry on my and Loni's part, we discovered that we would only need about 400 surveys to get the same statistical power (something that SIGNIFICANTLY cut on costs for this project). So, with 10 hired surveyors it would take a little less than 2 weeks to complete data collection.

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