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Week of July 23, 2002, Program 0230

Wall Street Woes Transcript MP3 Related Link
Columbia's Refugees Transcript MP3 Related Link
Sports Migrants Transcript MP3 Related Link
Charitable Celebrities Transcript MP3 Related Link
Global Ageing Transcript MP3 Related Link
Islamic Art Transcript MP3 Related Link

 


July 23, 2002
Program 0230

(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

CHARLES RUBBLE: It's one thing to look the other way when you are making money, but it's impossible to look the other way when everybody's lost 80-90% of what you had.

PORTER: This week on Common Ground, corporate scandals rock the global stock markets.

MCHUGH: And Colombia's war spills over into Ecuador.

SALAZAR: [via a translator] It's been difficult since the breakdown in the dialogue between the government and guerrillas. A lot of Colombians have killed each other here in Ecuador. It's a continuation of the war in Colombia.

MCHUGH: Plus, athletes play far from home for fame and fortune.

TOM USHER: Unfortunately, for countries like South Africa that doesn't tend to be a territory where there is a lot of money for players and therefore assuming they can move, they are moving to countries like the UK to play football and rugby.

PORTER: More after this.

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Wall Street Woes

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MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio's weekly program on world affairs. I'm Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I'm Keith Porter. Wall Street sleaze hit American stock markets at just the wrong time. Struggling to recover from the dot-com bust, and September 11, the markets have been rocked by revelations from Enron, Arthur Andersen, Worldcom, and the list goes on.

MCHUGH: And foreign investment that fueled previous bull markets has all but dried up. But, shares from Beijing to Botswana have seen strong gains. Americans fed up with losses at home are dipping their toes into foreign waters. Nathan King has more.

A US SENATOR OR REPRESENTATIVE QUESTIONING EXECUTIVES FROM ENRON: Mr. Duncan, Enron Robbed the Bank, Arthur Andersen provided the getaway car, and they say you were at the wheel!

NATHAN KING: The Enron hearings on Capitol Hill have opened the flood gates, As well as the failed energy trading giant, Wall Street Sleaze has engulfed companies as diverse as Worldcom and Tyco, Dynergy and Imclone, and there are more revelations seemingly everyday. And that's not helping the stock market.

[The sounds of Times Square]

KING: Here in the heart of Times Square stands the NASDAQ markets site tower. Rising 120 feet into the air, its state of the art graphics are a symbol of a bold and brash economy we are no longer comfortable with. During the boom years investors flocked here to watch their stocks soar; now grim faces peer at the electronic screens, and one of those faces belongs to Charles Ruble, who having lost heavily as the tech bubble burst, is now angry at the level of corporate greed.

CHARLES RUBBLE: It's one thing to look the other way when you are making money, but it's impossible to look the other way when everybody's lost 80-90% of what you had, which is what I did have, which I don't have anymore. So you know, I do look around and these guys a little bit harsher and say, "If you are going to save your $100 million what about my measly 10 grand or my 401K?" You know, you are not talking about luxury yachts; here you are talking about people being able to afford basic things.

[The sound of a phone being answered at a busy brokerage house.]

KING: But on the other side of Manhattan, there's a different feeling. Despair with American stock markets has led to a surge in interest in emerging markets. Nolan Menachemson sells South African securities for brokerage house Barnard, Jacobs and Mellet.

NOLAN MENACHEMSON: The interest in emerging market in South Africa specifically, I think, has grown and is at a higher level, and that is really due to the fact that the US markets are very weak. The quality of earnings and the corporate governance issues in the US are questionable. And people are starting to look at other markets, which seem to be attractive from a valuation perspective, cheaper than some of the US markets. I think its just a question of a little less confidence in the US, not necessarily more confidence in non-US markets.

KING: The truth is, while the US markets have been going down emerging markets like South Africa have been having their best few months in years. The Johannesburg stock market was up 30% in the first 5 months of the year; Mexico jumped 17% in the first quarter; and even Japan showed gains.

[The sound of brokers speaking with each other and clients.]

KING: And from the small South African broker to the large trading floors at BNP Paribas, a European-based trading house; here too, confidence in the US markets have been shaken to the core. During the boom years the Europeans were the largest international investors in American stocks. Now the EU is sitting on the sidelines.

BRIAN FABBRI: In 2001, in early 2002, those investment flows began to dwindle as, of course, returns dwindled and prospects got even worse. And then of course when the scandals began to hit about Enron and Andersen and Tyco and others it probably dried up almost completely.

KING: Brian Fabbri, Chief Economist North America at BNP Paribas, says so far this year European investment in the US markets is showing a net decline and Europe is in little rush to get back across the Atlantic.

FABBRI: It'll take time—in fact, you may, and indeed you may need a very splashy trial of Enron to put some of those people in jail before people really believe that the government means business and that they can start to trust accounting again.

KING: In the end though, analysts the sheer size of the American markets will mean international investment will come back. The big question is when. Nolan Menachemson sees accounting worries receding and profits increasing before the end of this year.

MENACHEMSON: Certainly our view is that six months out you'll probably see the money coming back into the US, the dollar recovering somewhat. Earnings growth in Europe for example, is not that much better than the growth numbers that the US companies are showing.

[The sounds of Times Square.]

KING: But for Wall Street to be able to really put its woes behind it and start attracting investors again, it needs to win back the faith of the domestic investors and like, Charles Ruble who have lost so much.

RUBBLE: I have been probably the most consistent optimist of any of my friends and I keep hanging on to the bitter end. And even though it goes down and it goes down and it goes down, I keep telling my friends that it will turn around and that I'm gonna hang on.

KING: Wall Street will be hoping that Mr. Rubble won't have to wait too long. For Common Ground I'm Nathan King in Times Square, New York.

MCHUGH: So what do you think? Are you concerned about the rising number of corporate scandals and their impact on the global economy? Send us your thoughts and we may use your comments on the air. Our e-mail address is commonground@commongroundradio.org.

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Columbia's Refugees

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PORTER: Colombia is one of the world's forgotten hot spots. Peace talks have failed to end years of conflict between government troops and rebel factions.

MCHUGH: As a result, thousands of refugees are stuck in Ecuador. In this week's "Spotlight on South America," Reese Erlich reports the fighting doesn't stop at the Colombian border.

[The sound of a car door opening and car driving away]

ERLICH: Nueva Loja is only a few miles down a two-lane road from Colombia, and refugees from that war-torn country arrive most every day. The Catholic Church puts them up at a hostel in the center of Nueva Loja.

[The sound of refugees talking]

ERLICH: Colombian refugees here say the right-wing paramilitaries control the countryside where they used to live. The paramilitaries are allied with local landlords and sectors of the Colombian military. Raul and Marta, a married couple who asked that their real names not be used, described what happened in their small Colombian village just three miles from the Ecuadoran border.

RAUL: [via a translator] For 15 days before we left there was fighting between the guerrillas and the paramilitaries. The paramilitaries had heavier weapons. Some heavily armed men showed up in our village. They brought us all together. They came to my house where my wife and children were. They terrorized us. At about 9 in the morning they took us. By 11:45 a.m. we were in a local soccer field. There were about 45 of us at this forced meeting. They told us that because we lived in this area, we were supporters of the guerrillas. But now, they said, this zone was controlled by the paramilitaries and the government's self defense forces.

[Latin American guitar music]

RAUL: [via a translator] We didn't have any choice because the paramilitaries had guns. They would kill civilians. They took 6 of the 45 people gathered and shot them, just 20 yards away. Of course we feared for our lives. They are waging war against civilians. They're the ones responsible for the violence. We decided to emigrate to another country. The closest country was here in Ecuador. We left our homeland on two hours notice.

MARTA: [via a translator] Now there's no one at our farm. No one. We lost everything: the animals, the furniture, everything. We only came over the border with our two children.

[Latin American guitar music]

ERLICH: I spoke with another refugee who also asked that her real name not be used. We'll call her Carmen. She lived in a different small village close to the Ecuadoran border. Under the US-backed Plan Colombia, thousands of acres of land are sprayed in an attempt to wipe out cocaine producing coca crops. US authorities claim the spraying doesn't harm people. But Colombian farmers such as Carmen tell a very different story.

CARMEN: [via a translator] We grew yucca and various other agricultural products. The aerial spraying killed a lot of plants. There was nothing to eat. We didn't have anything. The earth didn't produce. Animals died. A friend of mine's son even died. When the planes came overhead spraying, he was hit directly by the liquid. He died from it.

[Latin American guitar music]

CARMEN: [via a translator] I lived in a small village. There was a man who sold meat. The paramilitaries accused him of supporting the guerrillas. It wasn't true. But those who have the guns rule. We told the paramilitaries that he was innocent. But they killed him anyway. He had four small children. It's sad, very sad.

[Latin American guitar music]

CARMEN: [via a translator] I left at 5 a.m. one morning. We had only one hour to get out. We didn't want to be called guerrilla collaborators. I came with my two children. One of them was only two months old.

[Latin American guitar music]

[The sound of a child shouting and digging.]

ERLICH: The Catholic Church in Nueva Loja is doing a lot of work to deal with the influx of thousands of refugees all along the border. The church's Pastoral Assistance Service Office is often the first stop for recent refugees.

[The sound of a church office, with people talking.]

ERLICH: Sister Carmen Rosa Perez oversees a bustling office, full of staff and volunteers.

CARMEN ROSA PEREZ: [via a translator] Refugees come to the church office and we assist them. They are victims of the violence resulting from Plan Colombia. We give them food and basic health services. They can see doctors and go to the hospital. If necessary, we send them to a hospital in Quito. We also give them what we call "productive packets." These are kits that help people become street vendors, raise animals, or do other kinds of self-employed work. We don't want people to rely on the Church assistance programs permanently. We also help with psychological counseling, particularly for women.

ERLICH: Sister Carmen says the refugees have a hard time because they are competing for jobs with Ecuadorans, who are also very poor here in Sucumbios province.

SISTER CARMEN: [via a translator] This province is mostly ignored by the central government. The Amazonian provinces are forgotten. We are rich in oil resources, but ironically, we are abandoned by the government. For example, we don't really have a hospital. Our hospital is more like a big clinic. Residents don't have access to decent health care because it's not provided by the provincial government. The private clinics are expensive and it's even more expensive to leave for treatment in Quito. So we make due with what we have.

ERLICH: Sucumbios, and neighboring Orellana province, are the poorest in Ecuador, despite being the heart of the country's oil drilling industry. In February, unions, indigenous groups, and local politicians organized an 11-day work stoppage to protest lack of basic government services and construction of a new oil pipeline, which will hurt the environment. During the general strike—by coincidence—the peace process also broke down in Colombia. The Colombian military invaded rebel held areas and widespread fighting broke out. So the border has been hit by a double whammy; economic instability in Ecuador plus civil war next door. Maximo Abad is mayor of Nueva Loja, the capital of Sucumbios Province. I asked him what's been the impact of the war on his province.

MAXIMO ABAD: [via a translator] [Latin American guitar music] Very grave. Tourism from Ecuadorans and foreigners has dropped off to nothing. It's practically a 100 percent drop. The foreigners and Ecuadorans are afraid because the war is so close by. Colombians' demand for our agricultural supplies has diminished. They used to buy all kinds of products. Because we now use the US dollar as our currency, all of our goods are much more expensive relative to the Colombian currency. So they can't afford to buy. Businessmen here really feel it, and tourism has really gone down.

[The sound of people walking around an office.]

ERLICH: The renewed war in Colombia has also hit the indigenous communities hard. About one-quarter of all Ecuadoran are Indians. The Kichwas are the largest single indigenous group, and among the poorest. Anselmo Salazar is a leader of the Kichwas in Nueva Loja. He says refugees are coming across the border. But so are guerrillas and paramilitaries. Sometimes the fighting spreads as each side murders the other in the streets of Nueva Loja.

SALAZAR: [via a translator] It's been difficult since the breakdown in the dialogue between the government and guerrillas. A lot of Colombians have killed each other here in Ecuador. It's a continuation of the war in Colombia. The Ecuadoran commander of the armed forces says everything is under control. It's a lie. We live along the border. There's no control. The Colombians can do whatever they want and the Ecuadoran army has no impact. We have no security.

ERLICH: Marta says she and her fellow refugees try to stay out of the fighting. But everyone knows it's going on.

MARTA: [via a translator] In reality, those armed groups operate here; the paramilitaries and the guerrillas. As a refugee, I'm not affiliated with either side. More than 200 people have died this year. People are murdered all the time by the groups, but no one knows why. Sometimes it's one group; sometimes another. But it's the same problem.

[The sound of cocks crowing, and street sounds.]

ERLICH: Out on the streets of Nueva Loja, the Colombian refugees try to survive as best they can. Many have been able to rent small homes. And the Catholic Church has helped them become street vendors, selling candies, or cigarettes. Raul, the refugee we met earlier, now works as a street vendor.

RAUL: [via a translator] In my first days working as a vendor, working in the streets, the Ecuadorans asked what are you doing here? They didn't want me. They thought I would do bad things. I told them no, I'm a peaceful man. I have official government permission to work. But they didn't like me because I was Colombian.

[The sound of cocks crowing, and street sounds.]

RAUL: [via a translator] It's very hard to get work. First of all we had no money. We have no family support network. There are some people who are kind. But others don't want the Colombians here. If they know you're Colombian, they close their doors. They call us all kinds of names: guerrillas, paramilitaries, murderers, terrorists, rapists.

ERLICH: Carmen agrees.

CARMEN: [via a translator] All they have to do is see our faces or listen to our accents and they know we're Colombian. My country is known for its violence. Unfortunately, we're all known for that. They all see us as the same.

ERLICH: Carmen says Colombian refugees are caught in a strange contradiction. In the days before the dollarization of the Ecuadoran economy and before the Colombian civil war stepped up, some Colombians came across the border and spent freely. For them, Ecuador was full of bargains. The refugees don't have any money, but the Ecuadorans haven't adjusted to the new reality, says Carmen.

CARMEN: [via a translator] People here still think we have money. So they charge Colombians double for everything. Before, Colombians used to come here when the economy was better and buy a lot of things. They would pay higher prices. So they charge us a lot more. But the situation is different for us. We don't have any money.

[Erlich questions Raul in Spanish]

ERLICH: I asked Raul if the situation was better or worse since last February when the Colombian peace process broke down.

RAUL: [via a translator] Worse. The guerrillas say Colombia will be a second Vietnam, don't they? As small farmers we don't have opportunities for anything. If you knew certain people who are suspected by the paramilitaries, you are in danger. We need help. Some people can't gain official refugee status. You have to prove you face political persecution. But it's hard to prove repression by the militaries or the guerrillas. A lot of refugees are here, but the Ecuadoran government says they're not refugees. They need documents showing they are refugees in order to get legal work. I hope international agencies will help us.

[The sounds of a busy office]

ERLICH: Back at the office of Kichwa leader Anselmo Salazar, he says the international community needs to pay a lot more attention to Ecuador. It's not just the war that is coming across the border.

SALAZAR: [via a translator] There are some Ecuadoran farmers who accept deals from Colombian drug dealers to plant coca. The dealers agree to buy up the coca later at very high prices because they make a lot of profits from selling the cocaine. It's not on a big scale yet. The army has been able to control it. Small farmers in Colombia have been doing this for years. Now it's starting in Ecuador.

ERLICH: Years ago when Peruvian authorities cracked down on the drug cartels in their country, the drug dealers simply crossed the border and encouraged farmers in neighboring Bolivia to grow coca. That was the beginning of the drug trade in Bolivia, which continues as a major problem today. Ecuadorans worry that the same process will develop in their country as a result of Plan Colombia.

[The sound of Latin American music.]

ERLICH: For Common Ground, I'm Reese Erlich in Nueva Loja, along the Ecuador/Colombia border.

[The sound of Latin American music.]

PORTER: The sports migration phenomenon, next on Common Ground.

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Sports Migrants

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MCHUGH: Professional sports are big business. In the US alone, sports sponsorships total nearly $35 billion every year. And revenues from hosting the World Cup soccer tournament this year are expected, by one prediction, to increase Japan's economic growth by a tenth of a percent.

PORTER: In an age when sports stars can earn millions, it's not surprising third world athletes are often tempted to leave their homeland in search of higher salaries in the West. This is especially true in England. Alastair Wanklyn reports many of that nation's rugby, soccer, and cricket players are hires from Africa and Asia.

[The sounds of a large sporting event.]

ALISTAIR WANKLYN: These soccer fans are following their national side in the World Cup tournament: English, Italians, Turks are cheering English, Italian, Turk players. But back home, teams sometimes hardly reflect the locals. Chinese nationals play for a women's soccer team in Washington, DC; in Russia, basketball teams hire players from eastern Africa; and a soccer franchise in the English city of Leeds employs the captain of South Africa's national soccer team. When players in, say, Africa, are offered a move to England and a pay rise, they take it.

[The sounds of shouting on an athletic field.]

WANKLYN: On the practice field in London, this rugby team is called London Irish. So named because it used to comprise Irish players living in London.

[The sounds of shouting on an athletic field.]

WANKLYN: Not so now. A majority of players here are South African, where a professional's annual salary is small, about $8,000 a year. London Irish pays the players ten times that amount.

Brendan Venter: I think, you know, it's a different lifestyle. There's a lot of good things. Initially that was what brought me across.

WANKLYN: This is Brendan Venter. To South Africans, he's the Michael Jordan of South African rugby. He says weak finances in his home country forced him and other players to seek a foreign salary. The South African rand is slowly devaluing, so any British pounds or dollars Venter saves are every day worth that much more back home.

Venter: To be honest, you know, it is a monetary issue because the pound is so strong when you look at the rand, the currency, it does make a difference. You know, young players are making good money here. It does make a difference.

WANKLYN: It made a difference to more than a dozen of the other players in this London team, all non-European, most of them South African. Some, like Michael Horan, are embarrassed to talk about the money.

Michael Horan: Initially it probably is a factor. I mean, but to be brutally honest with you, the cost of living in London is like ten times more than it is in South Africa so you've got to take that into consideration, too.

[The sound of a sports agency answering a phone at a busy office.]

SECRETARY: Good morning, SJ Berwin.

WANKLYN: This law firm in London handles sports contracts and competition in marketing. Lawyer Tom Usher says the hiring of foreign nationals is essentially an element of free trade.

Tom Usher: It's only ever going to be increasing. It's big already and it's getting bigger because we've got an increased polarization of revenues and wealth as a result of TV broadcasting rights payments into the major markets. And unfortunately, for countries like South Africa that doesn't tend to be a territory where there is a lot of money for players and therefore assuming they can move, they are moving to countries like the UK to play football and rugby.

WANKLYN: Until now, perhaps the only limitations on the hire of foreign players are the immigration rules that may apply to that country of origin. Sports players are bound by the same visa regulations as other professionals, so a player with no family ties to country of migration may be barred from extending, say, a year's contract into a lifetime's employment. And, there's a new wrinkle to consider. Recently, the European sports economy was rattled when, within a few weeks of each other, two major pay-per-view television companies collapsed under the weight of their sponsorship obligations. In Britain, ITV Digital found it couldn't pay revenues to hundreds of small soccer clubs whose matches it planned to televise. And in Germany, the Kirch media empire met a similar fate. Lawyer Tom Usher says sports franchises throughout Europe are now examining their sponsors for signs of trouble.

USHER: It's quite possible that something will happen in one or two other European territories. Which means that competition for broadcasting rights will be reduced, there will ultimately be less money available, and clubs will not be quite as rich. And that may to some extent stem a little bit the flow of talent. But then you have to look then at the moneys that are available in countries like South Africa and compare those to countries like the UK. And even though the revenues may be reduced in the UK they're always going to be poles apart from, say, South Africa.

[The sounds of shouting on an athletic field.]

WANKLYN: Back at the rugby training ground in south London, the London Irish continues to bank on its capacity to draw the best players from South Africa. While this player poaching robs South Africa's rugby teams, it's clearly a major gain for teams like the London Irish. Once near the bottom of their division, the London Irish are now the team everyone else is trying to catch. For Common Ground, I'm Alastair Wanklyn in London.

PORTER: If you have questions or comments about today's program, visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org or e-mail us at commonground@commongroundradio.org.

[Musical interlude]

ANNOUNCER: Common Ground is a Stanley Foundation production—on the Web at stanleyfoundation.org.

MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio's weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

PORTER: I'm Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I'm Kristin McHugh. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, celebrities and their charitable causes.

BONO: I think the secretary will be able to send one message back to the President. This is an emergency isn't it? This is an emergency.

PORTER: Plus, helping the world grow old gracefully. And Islamic art treasures.

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Charitable Celebrities

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MCHUGH: For Princess Diana, it was land mines. For Elizabeth Taylor, AIDS. And for Geri Haliwell of the Spice Girls, it's safe sex.

PORTER: Many celebrities choose to focus their efforts on charitable causes. But as Simon Marks reports from Washington, some can make a much bigger difference than others.

[The song Feed the World plays.]

MARKS: It's been nearly 20 years since this music inspired a generation in the West to give. Nearly twenty years since rock star Bob Geldof, moved by scenes of famine in Ethiopia, invited a group of his musical friends to record Feed the World, a charity record that ended up raising more than $50 million for global famine relief.

[The song Feed the World plays.]

MARKS: The release of the record, and the Live Aid concerts it inspired, marked a turning point not only for the starving of Ethiopia, but for the celebrities of the West. The rich and famous have often allied themselves to good causes, but rarely had they immersed themselves so completely in an issue. And what one rock star did 20 years ago, another one is doing today.

BONO: When malaria is the biggest killer in this country, when children are dying of diarrhea, and because of the water supply, how much more effective aid can there be than just investing in water or roads? That's, I don't think there's an argument there.

MARKS: Bono is best known as the lead singer of U2, but when it comes time to write his obituary, that may well be the second quality for which he's remembered. A tireless campaigner for third-world poverty relief, this past May he led the US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill on an exhausting and unprecedented 12-day fact finding tour of Africa.

BONO: I'm dumbfounded. One, by the courage of these women who have come out in their communities. She knows that her baby has been saved by neviropene, by the drugs which she can't afford. The dollar and a half a day to save her own life.

MARKS: The rock star and the Treasury Secretary cast themselves as the Odd Couple. In country after country, town after town, community after community, Bono urged the US government to grant Africa debt relief, give the continent more aid, and improve its access to the capital markets of the developing world.

BONO: I think the secretary will be able to send one message back to the President. This is an emergency isn't it? This is an emergency.

MARKS: The Treasury Secretary described his trip to Africa has the most intense 12 days of his life. He didn't always agree with his rock star companion, and at many stops questioned community activists about why Western aid dollars weren't being spent to better effect. But he says he did return to Washington with poverty relief very much on his agenda.

PAUL O'NEILL: The impoverished people of Africa, and in poor nations everywhere, require a new kind of help that goes beyond the well-intentioned but disappointing results of the last 50 years. If our assistance is not making a difference, or if we cannot measure our results to know what difference we have made, then we have to change our approach. We owe that to the people of Africa.

MARKS: Secretary O'Neill says it's too soon to announce specific policy recommendations as a result of his 12 days with Bono. The rock star would like him to embrace complete debt forgiveness as the cornerstone of a new US policy toward Africa. But Secretary O'Neill is already indicating that he won't be taking that route alone.

O'NEILL: Many extol debt forgiveness as the path to African development. I would agree that debt forgiveness may help, but it alone, it's not the solution. Debt forgiveness solves nothing if we allow new debt to create the next generation of heavily-indebted poor countries a decade from now.

MARKS: Whatever the outcome of the policy deliberations that are underway, it is clear that Secretary O'Neill's attention has been focused on Africa, largely because of the efforts of Bono.

PHIL O'KEEFE: I think celebrities have a very critical role to play, particularly when they don't put their own personality forward as the most important thing.

MARKS: Professor Phil O'Keefe of the University of Northumbria in England studies the politics of international aid. He argues that when celebrities quietly use their influence and are well-versed in their subject-matter, they can make an enormous difference.

O'KEEFE: Bono is one of these people who is quite retiring, but quite vehement in his arguments, and he's helped generate, he's helped focus a whole series of groups around a movement for justice in developing countries. If celebrity helps to pressure change, then it's all for the good as far as I'm concerned.

MARKS: Professor O'Keefe argues that conversely, celebrities who seek to exploit their relationships with charitable causes are less likely to do good. But as one rock star found out 20 years ago, and another is learning today, there are no end of causes that celebrities can be celebrated for embracing. For Common Ground, I'm Simon Marks in Washington.

[The song Feed the World plays.]

PORTER: Do celebrities make a difference in world affairs? What's your opinion? Send us your thoughts and we may use your comments on the air. Our e-mail address is commonground@commongroundradio.org.

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Global Ageing

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PORTER: The world is graying more rapidly than ever. Within the next 50 years, the number of people over the age of 60 will triple.

MCHUGH: Aging has emerged as a priority in developed nations. But, now it's an issue for developing countries as well. Common Ground's Cliff Brockman recently discussed the phenomena with two global aging experts.

O'DILE FRANK: We have undergone worldwide a decline in fertility, which is like water receding away from an iceberg. It leaves the older population as a larger proportion of the global population. That's probably the most important factor in the terms of the aging of the global population.

CLIFF BROCKMAN: O'Dile Frank is a Branch Chief in the Division for Social Policy and Development at the United Nations.

FRANK: You add to that two other characteristics and one is that in a number of countries there was a post-war baby boom. There were very large generations of people who are now entering older age groups. And this is what marks in particular the North American aging process, but also to a certain extent the Western European aging process. The third thing is that at all ages—at all ages—from birth to the very oldest ages, everybody is living longer. So that the average age of every population is increasing. So older people are living to be even older persons.

SASHA SIDORENKO: The oldest country in the world is now Italy, with almost 22 percent of the population at the age above 60.

BOYD: Sasha Sidorenko is the Chief of the UN's Programme on Aging.

SIDORENKO: The second oldest country is Spain, which is a bit less than 22 percent, but Spain is going to be older than Italy in a few years. That's as far as the proportion is concerned. And actually in 150 years the whole population of the world will be in the progression of one in three at the age of 60-plus. And that's going to happen in the Western world in 50 years. Perhaps most significant, that in 50 years is the number of older persons, those who are 60-plus, will be bigger than the population of children at this point, which is between zero and 14 years old. And the developing world has been leading the humanity with more than 70 percent of all older people living in developing countries. And this number is going to grow and what is most significant, much faster than it happened with the developed world.

BROCKMAN: That's really a very important point here, I think, isn't it, that usually when we think of aging we think of the developed countries. But it's, as you say, it's happening in the developing countries.

SIDORENKO: And in those developing countries which are progressing very quickly, among those countries are China and India, where the majority of the older persons of the world now live.

BROCKMAN: As you mentioned, the birth rate is going down and people are living longer. I mean, it would seem obvious but why don't you explain why people are living longer, especially in the developing countries.

FRANK: People are living longer at all ages. Which means that a large proportion of increased survival is actually due to the decline in deaths in children. And that has contributed tremendously to the increase in longevity in developing countries. Having said that, what we're noticing is that in spite of the fact that there has been a tremendous setback, an immeasurable setback—we haven't seen the end of it—due to HIV/AIDS—that generally speaking, conditions of life in developing countries have been improving systematically since 50 years at least. And we have documentation on also the decline of mortality before that. But certainly since the middle of the last century.

BROCKMAN: The Second International UN Assembly on Aging was held in April in Spain. There were three main priorities. And I wondered if I could just get some thoughts from each of you on those priorities in general. The first one was older persons and development. Would you like to go first, Mr. Sidorenko.

SIDORENKO: The major message here is that aging is a society-wide phenomenon and should be understood and addressed in this sense. As a developmental issue, the global society and the national society simply aren't prepared first of all to realize, to recognize this as an opportunity for further development. We are going to face in any case the society which is going to be completely different from the demographic point of view. So the task, the challenge, is to adjust all the societal structures and functions.

BROCKMAN: Should we go on to the second point, which was advancing health and well being into old age?

FRANK: There is the notion that not only older persons should have access to the health services that they should require, whether those should be with respect to full-time care or particular medical services. And then the other notion is that people should reach old age having prepared for as healthly an old age as possible throughout their life. In other words that there should be promotion of health education and best health lifestyles throughout life.

BROCKMAN: Lastly, ensuring, enabling, and supportive environments.

SIDORENKO: It's the environment in which you live. And which includes first of all, family and community. The key issue here is once again an adjustment to new realities. And the adjustment has to be done at different levels again. As individual progresses through life cycles, life course, so does the family. In turn, this progression and this adjustment have to be done in completely new realities of the aging and globalizing world. So it's a double, triple challenge. And it's not a very simple solution—do this, do that. It has to be society specific, it has to perhaps be community specific.

BROCKMAN: How do you suggest that the countries finance these programs?

SIDORENKO: What is most important and what is innovative in the plan is the notion that older persons themselves and aging as the phenomenon, offers an opportunity which society has never clearly understood, recognized, and attended to. The thinking is away from the well-established knowledge of old age crisis, when the alarmist articles appeared a few years ago talking about the collapse of social welfare system, social protection system, because the increasing cohorts of older persons. Baby boomers are coming to retire and they will, they will consume all the resources of the society. The parallel approach is that these cohorts which are coming to retire are going to live much longer; that does not necessarily mean that they will be only consumers. They can also be producers. And should be recognized as the generation which can and should be willing to contribute to the prosperity of the society and its development.

FRANK: I think the message in the plan is twofold. It's very much a society for all ages. In other words, aging isn't something you would arrive at without preparation. And secondly, is that we do away with the "us and them" concept. That it is certain persons in society who are providing resources for others to live. The notion that people can prepare for their own old age. And that they may have choices in this area that they would like and in fact to make themselves is very important. So we have to imagine that it's a combination—to answer the question about financing, it's a combination of existing patterns of financing that are extended and made more creative. That it's a far greater participation of each person in their own preparation for old age. And that it is all sorts of new forms of financing that have not been imagined yet.

BROCKMAN: That's O'Dile Frank, a Branch Chief in the Division for Social Policy and Development at the United Nations. I also spoke with Sasha Sidorenko, who is the Chief of the UN's Program on Aging. For Common Ground, I'm Cliff Brockman.

[Musical interlude]

MCHUGH: Coming up, tour the Smithsonian's Islamic art exhibition.

PORTER: You're listening to Common Ground, radio's weekly program on world affairs.

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MCHUGH: In the months since September eleventh, the Islamic world has been under a microscope in Washington, as politicians and pundits scramble to figure out what might have caused the terrorist attacks. But just a few blocks from the Capitol, visitors are studying Islamic culture in a very different way at the Smithsonian Institution's Freer Gallery of Art. Judith Smelser paid a visit to what some say is one of the most important collections of Islamic art in the United States.

[The sounds of a busy art gallery.]

JUDITH SMELSER: Tourists gaze at exquisite glass bowls and vases, crafted and painted with enamels over 700 years ago. A group of Middle Eastern men discuss handwritten pages from Koran manuscripts, copied as long ago as the ninth century. The Islamic galleries take up only two rooms in the Freer Gallery, but the objects on display are impressive.

MASAMEH FARHAD: [giving a gallery tour] What you see in this case are three examples of enameled glass from Syria and Egypt from the mid 14th century. Now the three objects here are probably three of the finest in any collection.

SMELSER: Dr. Masameh Farhad is the Curator of Islamic Art at the Freer Gallery. She says interest in the collection skyrocketed after September 11 as people struggled to understand the Islamic culture.

FARHAD: You know, when you talk about, it's the jihad, or you know, the Koran in abstract ways it's sort of difficult to comprehend. But when you're actually standing in front of a folio of the Koran and talk about it, in a way it's easier.

SMELSER: The museum organized a series of lunch time meetings in the Islamic galleries a few weeks after the attacks, and Farhad says hundreds of people turned out with all kinds of questions.

FARHAD: They responded to each other, they heard each other. I mean, there were debates going on, and people disagreed with each other. And I think, more than anything else, it was the need to talk, the need to find out. I mean, it was sort of this communal sense of trying to figure out what happened, why it happened. And in a way, this seemed to provide a setting that sort of encouraged dialogue.

[The sounds of a busy art gallery.]

FARHAD: [giving a gallery tour] And what is interesting, is actually the basin was acquired from France.

SMELSER: The Freer Gallery is a lesser known part of the Smithsonian. It's on the National Mall, the park between the Capitol building and the Washington Monument that's best known for institutions like the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum with its lunar modules and moon rocks; the Natural History Museum with its dinosaur skeletons and massive precious stones; and the Museum of American History, housing George Washington's tent from the Revolutionary War and the flag that inspired "The Star Spangled Banner." But Tom Lentz, the Director of the Smithsonian's International Art Museums division, says the institution has some of the world's greatest works of art as well.

TOM LENTZ: We all know that the Smithsonian is a place where people come to understand America's historical and cultural and scientific heritage. They come here to see icons like Old Glory or the Hope Diamond. But what we want to try to do is let people know in a much more effective way that some of the great works of art in the world are here at the Smithsonian.

SMELSER: The Freer Gallery was the Smithsonian's first art museum. It opened its doors in 1923 and is dedicated primarily to the artistic heritage of Asia, from China and Japan to India and the Islamic world. Islamic Art curator Masameh Farhad says some of the intense interest in her collection has died down as the wounds of September 11 have begun to heal. But she says many things can still be learned about current Islamic culture from the creations of the Islamic artisans in centuries past. As an example, she points out an exquisitely decorated canteen and bowl that were probably made in Syria in the 13th century.

FARHAD: [giving a gallery tour] If you again look very carefully, especially, it's obvious on the canteen, in the very center of the canteen, you see an image of the Virgin and Child. Just below the rim of the basin you see there is the Annunciation, there is a Nativity scene—scenes from the Bible. So, what is going on here?

[The tour group laughs.]

FARHAD: [continuing with the gallery tour] The most likely scenario is that it was probably made for a Crusader who came to Syria during the Crusades. And we know that there were communities, all the Christian communities all over Syria at that time. And as a souvenir, he commissioned an object that was typical in shape and in technique to the objects that he found, they found in Syria. So in many ways these objects do show the contact between East and West that really go back many centuries and it wasn't all negative.

SMELSER: That's a lesson that might speak to some of the politicians who are working just a few blocks away to protect America from the symptoms of anti-Western sentiment in the Islamic world. But Ms. Farhad says she hasn't seen any of those lawmakers darken her gallery doors yet.

FARHAD: No, actually we're really hoping to lure them down, just, especially all they have to do is just come down the hill. That would actually be really wonderful. We haven't. We haven't.

SMELSER: So for now, it will be the tourists and museum-goers who will get this glimpse of life in the Islamic world through the eyes of its ancient artisans. And while the museum staff might like to get a visit from their neighbors up the hill, the Freer Gallery is happy to welcome anyone who's interested, hoping people will go away better informed and with greater understanding. For Common Ground, I'm Judith Smelser in Washington.

PORTER: That's our show for this week. If you have questions or comments about today's program, visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org or e-mail us at commonground@commongroundradio.org. Please drop us a line; we'd love to hear from you.

MCHUGH: Transcripts and information on how to order copies of this and other Common Ground programs are also available on our Web site: commongroundradio.org. I'm Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I'm Keith Porter. Cliff Brockman is our Associate Producer. B.J. Leiderman created our theme music. Additional compositions by Wink Music.

ANNOUNCER: Common Ground is a Stanley Foundation production. The Stanley Foundation: promoting public understanding, constructive dialogue, and cooperative action on critical international issues. On the Web at stanleyfoundation.org.

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