The List

Celebretarian Intervention

When did Hollywood become Washington for good-looking people?

 

Between the Bieber and Gaga-fueled spread of the Kony 2012 campaign and George Clooney's arrest in Washington, celebrity activism seems to be the trending topic of the moment. Activists tend to grumble at celebrity do-gooders, but cable networks and politicians tend to focus on the world's undercovered hotspots more easily when there's a famous face to go along with a worthy cause. Here's a look at 10 stars who, for better or worse, are shaping the debate on global poverty and conflict.

GEORGE CLOONEY

Cause: Sudan

Activities: In 2010, the actor helped found the Satellite Sentinel project to monitor human rights abuses in South Sudan. More recently, he traveled to Sudan to document violence in the Nuba mountains, where the Sudanese government is accused of blocking humanitarian assistance as part of an effort to crack down on separatists. Upon his return, he testified before the U.S. Congress, debriefed President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on his trip, and sat next to First Lady Michelle Obama at David Cameron's State Dinner. On March 16, he was arrested along with his father at a protest outside the Sudanese embassy in Washington.

 

DON CHEADLE

Cause: Sudan, specifically Darfur

The Hotel Rwanda star has, for years, been associated with the Enough Project, which works to raise awarenesss of crimes against humanity, particularly in Sudan's Darfur region. Cheadle toured Darfur with the group in 2005 and said the experience made it impossible to return to "my comfortable life and take stock in all the privileges ... and do nothing." In 2007, Cheadle co-wrote the book Not On Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond with Enough founder John Prendergast. Along with Clooney, Cheadle was an outspoken advocate for South Sudanese independence.

 

BEN AFFLECK

Cause: Eastern Congo

The Town star has traveled repeatedly to the restive Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 2007 to raise money to help alleviate poverty in the region and raise awareness of its ongoing violence. He has brought along traveling companions including Cindy McCain and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen in 2011. In 2010, he founded his own NGO, the Eastern Congo Initiative to raise funds for civil society-building projects in the region. He has testified before Congress on the issue of child soldiers and sexual assault in the region and urged the Obama administration to appoint a special envoy to the DRC. Affleck recently praised the Kony 2012 campaign for raising international awareness about the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which has been active in Eastern Congo, but cautioned that "Westerners are not and will never be the 'saviors' of Africa."

 

ANGELINA JOLIE

Cause: Children and war

Jolie says her interest in humanitarian work was first piqued in 2000, when she traveled to Cambodia to film Tomb Raider. The following year, she was appointed a goodwill ambassador by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. Jolie is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a perch she's used to raise awareness of women in war. But Jolie's advocacy has mostly focused on the impact of war on children. With her husband Brad Pitt, Jolie has also adopted children from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Ethiopia, and may be partly responsible for an uptick in international adoptions.

 

OPRAH WINFREY

Cause: Education in Africa

The talk-show queen may have thought she had found a fairly controversy-free way to do good by funding a $40 million leadership academy for young women in South Africa, but the project has been dogged by controversy from the start. First, there were some who questioned whether Winfrey's money could have helped more children if she hadn't insisted on amenities like a yoga studio, beauty salon, and 200-thread-count sheets at the facility. Other scandals at the academy include sexual-assault allegations against one of the school matrons and the discovery of a dead newborn baby in the bag of one of the students. Winfrey has also been a high-profile supporter of Invisible Children's Stop Kony campaign and has had the group's founders on her show.

 

BONO

Cause: Debt relief, foreign aid

The one-named Irish rocker has become a virtual shorthand for showbusiness activism and was named the most politically effective celebrity of all time in 2011 by National Journal. He's been particularly outspoken on the topic of Third World debt relief and foreign aid in Africa. He was at George W. Bush's side in 2002 when the then president announced a $5 billion increase in aid to Africa. In 2006, he helped organized the Product Red campaign, in which companies like Apple and the Gap sold "Red"-branded goods to raise money for AIDS charities. Bono has also made a point of partnering with Christian evangelical groups on his humanitarian projects and was a speaker at one of Bush's national prayer breakfasts.

 

NATALIE PORTMAN

The Israeli-American starlet first took an interest in microfinance -- the practice of giving small loans to developing world entrepreneurs, generally women -- in her senior year at Harvard. Porman has become an evangelist for the concept, serving as a goodwill ambassador for the microfinance organization FINCA and co-chair of its Village Banking campaign, along with Jordan's Queen Rania. She has also toured U.S. college campuses to promote microfinance.

 

KRISTEN BELL AND RYAN GOSLING

Cause: Uganda, LRA

Bell and Gosling can rightfully claim to have been on the Stop Kony bandwagon before Invisible Children's incredibly successful Kony 2012 viral video campaign made the African warlord a household name last week. Bell has been the controversial group's most dedicated celebrity spokesperson and has lobbied Congress on its behalf and recorded videos promoting its message. A visualization of how the Kony 2012 meme spread throughout Twitter shows the Forgetting Sarah Marshall star has a surprising level of social media clout.

For his part, Gosling has traveled to Uganda, Congo, and Darfur and spoken out on behalf of Invisible Children and the Enough Project. But his efforts at advocacy filmmaking, including a scripted film on child soldiers and a documentary about a Darfuri refugee camp, have been less successful than his soaring Hollywood career. "They both failed. I've not done very well," he told the Guardian last year.

 

DANNY GLOVER

The actor and activist has served as a Goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Program and as UNICEF ambassador, and is chairman of the advocacy group TransAfrica Forum. Glover has courted controversy in the United States by meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and with his fierce criticism of the World Bank and IMF. "I think the World Bank either has to be abolished or it has to change," he said in an interview promoting the anti-globalization film Bamako. In 2011, Glover stepped into a statesman's role when he traveled to South Africa to accompany exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide back to his home country.

 

MADONNA

Cause: Children in Malawi

The Material Girl may have made a career out of courting controversy, but the kind attracted by her charity in Malawi hasn't exactly been the welcome variety. In 2006, she founded Raising Malawi, a charity aimed at providing education and aid to Malawi's children. The foundation has been criticized for squandering millions of dollars in donations on a school that was never built and attempting to evict people from their homes to build a school. The country's government has declined to work with the singer on her foundation's latest construction plan, with a spokeswoman saying "We now feel like this is all about propping up her global image and not in our interest." Then of course, there was her protracted legal battle with the father of a child she wanted to adopt.

Of course, Madonna may have something to prove. Her ex-husband Sean Penn has earned international attention for his relief work in Haiti.

The List

Six International Newspaper Columnists Who Actually Like Mitt Romney

The Republican candidate has boosters in unlikely places -- from Canada to the Congo.

It's become one of the most unassailable truisms of the 2012 campaign season: Mitt Romney is likely to be the least-favorite favorite -- the most forlorn frontunner -- to win the Republican nomination for president (or, as the National Review's Rich Lowry put it this week, the candidate of "Eh, I guess"). The foreign press has picked up on the theme as well. "Romney: The Candidate That No One Loves," Austria's Die Presse proclaimed in a stinging post-Super Tuesday headline. Congratulations on the wins, Mitt!

Yes, as we've chronicled before, news outlets in countries as diverse as China, France, Germany, Iran, Mexico, and Russia have lashed out at Romney for his hawkish stances on Russian aggression, European socialism, Iranian nuclear ambitions, Chinese economic policy, and illegal immigration. And there's certainly more venom out there to survey. In recent months, Mexican columnist María Antonieta Collins has declared that Romney's "arrogance" about the poor makes her "sick," South Korean political science professor Moon Chung-in has warned that a President Romney could escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula, and Russian commentator Dmitry Babich has argued that Romney's perception of the recent Russian presidential election "is no more realistic than Santorum's vision of Dutch pensioners in the hands of euthanasia's enthusiasts" -- to name just a few examples.

But is any of the overseas coverage positive? It turns out there are columnists -- some in unlikely places -- who have expressed varying degrees of support for Romney. Here's a look at six of the most interesting cases.

AYESHA HAROON

News outlet: The News International (Pakistan)

Where she stands: Haroon, a former editor of the News who is now based in New York, seems to admire the old northeastern moderate, not the conservative firebrand of the Republican primary season. In a column last month, she expressed support for something Romney has been distancing himself from on the campaign trail: the health-care reform legislation he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts. Romney shouldn't be apologizing for trying to cover the uninsured, she argued, but he is, in an effort to placate the Republican base. In an op-ed for the News a week earlier, Haroon scolded Romney for saying he was "not concerned about the very poor." His "electoral focus is the middle class," she conceded, "but how can a presidential candidate dismiss an entire block of vulnerable citizens as being not important enough for his concern?"

Money quote: "Republicans build their campaign in the U.S. on the framework that government should not be in politics. We hear the same argument in Pakistan -- especially by technocrats in Islamabad. But the fact remains, as Mr. Romney realized during his governorship, that social-welfare programs are essential for a government to remain relevant for the vulnerable and the poor. If a government cannot improve the lives of its masses, then what good is it?"


JONATHAN KAY

News outlet: National Post (Canada)

Where he stands: In a column last month, Kay asked why Americans haven't warmed to Romney and ventured a guess: The former CEO of Bain Capital is a capitalist through and through, and Republican voters, despite their veneration of capitalism, are weary of creative destruction at a time of economic crisis, and receptive to "big-talking dreamers" such as "Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Sarah Palin." Kay added that he personally doesn't think Romney is "some sort of monster." In 1996, "when the 14-year-old daughter of a Bain colleague went missing, Romney moved heaven and earth to get Bain people out on the street to look for the child," he noted with admiration. An op-ed around the same time in India's the Hindu echoed Kay's sentiments. "Now we have a candidate who wants to be president of a capitalist country and who is trying to explain to the public that he had to fire workers as a businessman, he cleverly pays lower taxes, and parks his money offshore," C. Gopinath, a U.S.-based professor, marveled.

Money quote: "Maybe Romney's flat appeal has nothing to do with his personality, or speaking style, or ‘flip flops,' or even his hair. Maybe Republicans are just leery about nominating a successful capitalist as their presidential candidate."

HA TAE-WON

News outlet: Dong-a-Ilbo (South Korea)

Where he stands: Ha, an editorial writer, pointed out in February that the "U.S. political arena is considering [Romney] an acceptable Republican presidential candidate" and that Romney boasts a "Harvard MBA degree, has served as Massachusetts governor, headed the Salt Lake Winter Olympics Committee, and worked as CEO of Bain and Company." But his Mormonism, Ha added, could stand in the way of his bid for the presidency.

Money quote: "Romney lost to McCain in the 2008 Republican candidate race. Despite his stellar professional background, he could not overcome questions over his religion. Mormonism officially bans bigamy but certain fundamentalists still practice polygamy, causing negative views. Former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who is also Mormon, withdrew from the race for the Republican presidential nomination and backed Romney. Are the American people ready to embrace a Mormon president? If they do, he could write a new chapter in American history."

THE EDITORS

News outlet: Direct!cd (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Where they stand: In a critique this month that's more about Obama than Romney, the editors of a Congolese news website criticized the U.S. president for not raising concerns about the Congo's elections in November, which were tainted by violence and allegations of electoral fraud and voter intimidation (the Obama administration did call on authorities to exercise "maximum openness and transparency"). The editors quoted Romney as exposing Obama's silence and hypocrisy by asking the president why he didn't defend democracy, though it's unclear from the quote whether Romney was referring to the Congo specifically, and we can't find the remarks in question. We're surprised Congolese news outlets aren't focusing more on Newt Gingrich, who, after all, wrote his 1971 doctoral thesis on Belgian education policy in the Congo.

Money quote: "Expressing the view held by a significant segment of his countrymen, Mitt Romney thinks that the current occupant of the White House must demonstrate that he remains connected to the roots of democracy and that he is ready to defend it anywhere and in all circumstances."

MATT FREI

News outlet: Channel 4 News (Britain)

Where he stands: Frei is a reporter and analyst, not a commentator, but he tends to highlight Romney's strengths more than other foreign correspondents covering the Republican race. This week, he urged Romney to tell voters more about his "compelling ‘journey'" even if it means talking more about his Mormon faith. He's argued that Romney fought a "much better campaign" than "the combustible Newt Gingrich, the swashbuckling and hapless Rick Perry, or the prim extremist Rick Santorum," and ridiculed Gingrich for caricaturing Romney as a "job-cutting greedy venture capitalist" who speaks French. Still, he's conceded that "Romney combines the looks of an award winning plastic surgeon with the bedside manner of an award-winning dental surgeon." We gather Frei hasn't had good experiences with dental surgeons.

Money quote: "Romney may have been born to money and made lorry loads more. But despite his $250 million in the bank Mitt is the Mormon descendant of settlers who rolled their wagons from one bit of parched American earth to the next, who were prevailed on by their profits to move on as soon as they had began to feel prosperous and comfortable. Dogged determination is part of his DNA. After all, part of his apprenticeship as a Mormon priest was to spend two years in France trying to convert Frenchmen to the teachings of the Latter Day Saints. That can't have been easy."

RON JAGER

News outlet: Arutz Sheva (Israel)

Where he stands: In a column in January for the pro-settler news outlet, Jager, an Israeli military veteran, argued that it's time the Republicans rally behind Romney -- in his eyes, the candidate who has the best chance of beating Obama and creating jobs. Other Arutz Sheva op-eds have praised Romney for his stances on Iran and Israel, though the former mayor of the West Bank town of Shiloh endorsed Gingrich's approach to Israel over Romney's.

Money quote: "This may sound cynical, but there is no perfect or ideal candidate. Center stage does not mean that Mitt Romney has no principles; it means that to run [America] you cannot be to the very left or to the very right. Obama has been trying to run [America] to the ground from the very left. Mitt Romney will run his presidency from center stage. Mitt Romney will be the president of all Americans and not just those who belong to the Republican Party. This is the essence of having the broadest appeal and being electable on Election Day."

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