What is Ashley Judd’s foreign policy?

After several months of will-she-won't-she, today brought a fresh wave of speculation that actress Ashley Judd will challenge Mitch McConnell for his Kentucky Senate seat in 2014. It's still unclear whether Judd, a Democrat, could pose a serious challenge to the Senate minority leader, and, given that Kentucky's unemployment rate continues to hover around 8 percent, it's unlikely either candidate would run a foreign-policy focused campaign. Still, just what would the foreign policy of a Senator Ashley Judd look like?

Judd doesn't appear to have staked out positions on U.S. drone policy, defense spending, or Iran just yet. But where Judd has spoken out publicly is on women's issues in the developing world like family planning, public health, and in particular rape -- perhaps as a result of being a rape victim herself. She's given a speech before the U.N. General Assembly on human trafficking and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She's on the board of the D.C.-based Population Services International, and her role as global ambassador for their YouthAIDS program has taken her to countries such as Cambodia, Kenya, and Rwanda (the picture above shows her in Thailand). In 2010, she made a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo to highlight how valuable minerals like tin and tungsten fuel violence against women. She's also chronicled her travels on her blog,, where she at times gets intensely personal in her reflections:

Here's what she wrote about traveling to Congo and using Apple products made with minerals potentially mined in Congo:

Apple is known for the clean lines of their products, the alluring simplicity of their designs. Dare I....go so to suggest...this signature cleanness is stained by the shit and urine of raped women's leaking fistulas?

On interviewing a women whose mother was raped three times:

I am still holding her child. I have been crying some. She tells me I am not like other white women. I confide in her, telling her I have chosen not to have children because I believe the children who are already her [sic] are really mine, too. I do not need to go making "my own" baby when so many of my babies are already here who need love, attention, time, care.

Judd has made this last point before, and Republicans have sought to highlight a 2006 statement Judd made in which she called it "unconscionable to breed, with the number of children who are starving to death in impoverished countries."

While Judd may not have a fully fleshed out foreign policy platform yet, it is clear she's passionate about some issues. But whether advocacy on rape in Congo will win her traction in Kentucky remains to be seen.



Actually, food riots might not be the 'new normal'

This week, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed warned in the Guardian that food riots, spurred on by increasing prices and volatility, are going to make social unrest like the Arab Spring the "new normal." 

We now know that the fundamental triggers for the Arab spring were unprecedented food price rises. The first sign things were unraveling hit in 2008, when a global rice shortage coincided with dramatic increases in staple food prices, triggering food riots across the middle east, north Africa and south Asia. A month before the fall of the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported record high food prices for dairy, meat, sugar and cereals.

Since 2008, global food prices have been consistently higher than in preceding decades, despite wild fluctuations. This year, even with prices stabilizing, the food price index remains at 210 - which some experts believe is the threshold beyond which civil unrest becomes probable. The FAO warns that 2013 could see prices increase later owing to tight grain stocks from last year's adverse crop weather.   

Citing a Royal Society Paper, Ahmed claims that "we may face the prospect of civilisational collapse within this century." 

Or not, says Marc Bellemare, a Duke University agricultural economist who is currently studying the effects of price volatility on social unrest. The main problem, he points out, is that food prices are actually going back down. According to Bellemare, Ahmed's analysis falls short by not taking inflation -- how much food you can buy today with your money versus what you could have gotten before for the same amount -- into account.

As Bellemare told FP

The analysis on which this claim rests is one that looks purely at the correlation between food prices and food riots, and thus does not disentangle the causal relationship from that correlation. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the FAO's food price index is indeed equal to 210, but that is nominal price measure. In other words, because that number is not adjusted for inflation, comparing an index of 210 today with an index of 210 just a few years ago is like comparing apples and oranges. To truly speak of price thresholds, one should instead look at real prices. That is, at prices that are adjusted for inflation. Real prices tell a different story; one which shows that food prices today are not much higher than they were in September 2007, well before the food price crisis of 2008.   

Yesterday, in fact, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization stated that the current food price index is stable, and that wheat harvests are expected to yield increased production.

Ahmed, in other words, is right that "inequality, debt, climate change, fossil fuel dependency and the global food crisis" are major issues that will lead to many long-term problems -- some of which we're already seeing. But it's not so clear that fights over food will play the cataclysmic role he expects. 

Photo by MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images