Aug 24 2009
August 23, 2009
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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.
By James Kelly
For the AJC
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."
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.
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.
Dr.Frist published an op-ed in the Boston Globe titled "Global
Healthcare Takes More Than A Pill." In the op-ed, Dr. Frist talks
about the work of the Millenium Challenge Corporation. He writes "The
US government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation takes an innovative
approach to strengthening the policy environment for global health.
From the outset, the corporation evaluates a country’s immunization
rates, total public expenditure on health, and commitment to combating
corruption to determine where to invest its development grants. This
smart approach ensures that US dollars are spent wisely in countries
already taking steps to do their part to strengthen the health of their
Read the complete op-ed here.