Category Archives: Personal

A note to my readers


After nearly five years of daily writing (sometime more often), I’ve reached the decision to move on from daily analysis.

When I came to the blogging genre in February 2012, it was relatively late in the game. The golden era, so to speak, was already over. Initially, it was an intellectual allergic reaction to years and years of practicing law at a big firm and, probably, some amount of burnout. Here, with Suffragio, was the possibility to engage intellectually with the world in a much different way, on a topic about which I’ve always been fascinated.

It was the summer of 1996 when our family first got an Internet connection. Like any red-blooded American teenager, I promptly began furtive trips to the computer to look up… information about Russia’s election that summer. (And if you’re not familiar, it was an amazing one). It’s been a constant fascination, even through years as a college news editor, a law student and now (for a decade) an investment funds attorney.

There’s no doubt that I’ll continue carrying that passion forward.

But it will not be through Suffragio.

Your fearless author and bishop Christopher Senyonjo in Kampala.

In the most Schumpeterian sense, the only way to create the kind of creative runway for ‘what comes next’ is to bring down the curtain on what, in so many ways, has been a successful one-man publication. It’s been a platform to cover elections in Honduras and Venezuela, to meet dissidents in Havana, to interview brave folks like Christopher Senyonjo, an Anglican priest fighting for LGBT rights in Uganda, to travel to El Paso and Juarez to explore just why a Trumpista wall makes no intellectual sense, to explain just how much of a global outlier it is that the District of Columbia has no representation in the US Congress.

Protesters marching after Venezuela's 2013 presidential election.
Protesters marching after Venezuela’s 2013 presidential election.

I’m so proud that Suffragio, at its best, has been a driving force to tell these stories on a subject (i.e. world politics) that is too often reduced to fables and bogeymen, wrapped up in the confirmation bias that we all now suffer in our dis-aggregated, social media-driven news diets.

But since I started writing in 2012, the media landscape has changed incredibly — Vox has now been experimenting for years with ‘news explainers’ (some of which engage international politics deeply and thoughtfully) and Politico now has an entire branch devoted to European politics. In September 2013, I noted incredulously that Politico could run hourly stories about Mitch McConnell’s mood ring (the Senate was locked in a high-stake budget shutdown with the Obama administration), but didn’t devote one story to the impact of German election looming that weekend.

I still believe the internal dynamics of the politics (and cultures and policies) of other countries are under-reported by our mainstream media, ignored by the American public and still too often misunderstood by American policymakers.

Suffragio attempted to fill that role — ‘To make world politics less foreign.’ But really, to make American politics less dumb when it comes to world affairs. The rise of a post-truth presidential candidate in Donald Trump shows just how Sisyphean was Suffragio‘s task. In a Clickhole world, I’ve spent five years doubling down on analysis more PBS or Wilson Center than Buzzfeed.

What the information era giveth, the information era taketh away. It’s impossible to imagine Suffragio as a project 20 years ago, given the need to access global news sources in real time, with the kind of instantaneous translation necessary to understand what’s going on at the heart of a campaign halfway across the world. But that access also made it even more difficult for Suffragio to gain any kind of true critical mass. Hits aren’t everything, and what will sound familiar to most writers in an era of digital metrics, some of Suffragio‘s most viral posts haven’t been what I consider to be my best analysis.

Above all, Suffragio has taken so much of what is the most precious resource all of us have — time — and it’s a project that I’ve tried to carve out from the trimmings of a full-time job as an attorney, my own personal life with a great boyfriend. I have a pile of dozens of half-finished books I’d like to complete, and a couple of ideas for books I would like to write. But you can only burn both ends of the candle for so long.

I’m thankful, naturally, to my regular readers and to all of those editors and friends who helped amplify my voice through Suffragio. In particular, the editors at Real Clear World and The National Interest have always been incredibly encouraging. Their willingness to promote my analysis, through Suffragio and other pieces, has always been motivation to push forward, hopefully smarter and sharper than ever.

When Andrew Sullivan shocked the world in January 2015 by announcing the end to his long-running blog, every word of his post resonated, but none so much as these:

When I write again, it will be for you, I hope – just in a different form. I need to decompress and get healthy for a while; but I won’t disappear as a writer.

Sullivan (who also so kindly linked to Suffragio from time to time) lasted 15 years as a daily blogger. I lasted nearly five.

Some thoughts on Japan

Tokyo's Shinjuku neighborhood at nighttime.
Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood at nighttime.

Readers will note Suffragio‘s sparse publication schedule over the Memorial Day holiday and the following week. Japan

That’s because I’ve been traveling in Japan (for the first time, though not the first time in Asia), and though I had been planning to scale down my writing on world politics, I hadn’t expected to spend quite so much time walking, talking, eating, drinking and exploring in a culture in which I’ve tried to immerse myself, at least as time has allowed, in the three months leading to the trip. I hope to spend much of the rest of the summer continuing to learn more about the country’s history, food and, above all, its cinema. (And, of course, its politics — senatorial elections are coming quickly in August).

A bamboo grove on the outskirts of Kyoto.

In any event, everyone needs a break from world politics, especially in an American presidential election year that’s atypically unpredictable. There’s only so much one can write about Brexit.

If interesting, here are some of my thoughts about 11 days in Japan.

The train rolls up before 6:30 am in rural Mie peninsula.
The train rolls up before 6:30 am in rural Mie peninsula.

The best infrastructure in the world. I am tempted to say that the United States could benefit from Japan’s counter-occupation for a few years. I understand why Japan, which has a smaller area and a denser population (especially on Honshu, the most populous island), has a more plausible rationale for a high-speed rail network than the United States. But to come from Washington, D.C., where the Metro system is experiencing dangerous fires and unimaginable levels of dysfunction, the sophistication of Japan’s infrastructure is staggering by contrast. Japan’s 1990s-era bullet trains were faster than today’s Acela Express, the so-called ‘high speed’ train that runs from Boston to Washington. Continue reading Some thoughts on Japan

Suffragio takes a break — until next week


Suffragio is on hiatus for the next week — I’ll have extremely minimal access to the Internet, and I’ll be busy meeting new friends in a new place.

In the meanwhile, there’s going to be quite a bit of electoral politics to watch:

  • Ireland Ireland Iconvotes on May 22 in a referendum to permit same-sex marriage. If polls are correct, it would mark the first time an entire country chooses by direct vote to legalize marriage equality. Ireland, however, remains a socially conservative country where the Catholic church’s influence is strong. Abortion was essentially legalized only in 2013, and there’s every possibility that anti-marriage forces could win an upset. Polls may not be accurately capturing ‘shy’ anti-LGBT voters and, although there’s a majority of Irish voters in favor of marriage equality, it might not be as motivated as anti-marriage voters.
    RELATED: Scotland passes same-sex marriage,
    joining England and Wales
  • Ethiopia votes oethiopia_640n May 24 in what it calls an election. But there’s no indication that the vote will be free and fair, especially in a government climate that disrespects press freedom and has suppressed Oromo and other ethnic groups. Prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, a southerner, is the nominal successor to the late Meles Zenawi, but there’s no real indication he is anything more than a figurehead. Meles’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF, or የኢትዮጵያ ሕዝቦች አብዮታዊ ዲሞክራሲያዊ ግንባር) and, in particular, Tigray figures within its leadership, continue to call the shots.
    RELATED: Can Hailemariam retain power in Ethiopia?
  • Poland vPoland_Flag_Iconotes on May 24 in a runoff to determine the chiefly ceremonial president. Polish president Bronisław Komorowski narrowly trailed his conservative rival Andrzej Duda in the first round on May 10, with over 20% of voters choosing neither candidate and instead supporting former rock musician Paweł Kukiz. The two contenders are now facing a too-close-to-call runoff. If Komorowski loses (and even if he narrowly wins reelection), it could mean trouble for the ruling Platforma Obywatelska (PO, Civic Platform), which has held power since 2007.
    RELATED: Komorowski trails in shock Polish presidential vote result
    RELATEDKopacz puts imprint on Poland’s new government
  • Spain holds regSpain_Flag_Iconional elections on May 24, a harbinger of December’s general election, in 13 of its 17 autonomous communities. The most populous include Madrid, Valencia and Castile and León. The elections will be a test for the two traditional Spanish parties, prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Partido Popular (PP, People’s Party) and the center-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party), which have both presided over difficult economic conditions and budget contractions in the past six years. It’s also a test for two newer groups that hope to displace them, the anti-austerity, leftist Podemos and the centrist  Ciudadanos (C’s, Citizens).
    RELATED: Socialists thrive in Andalusian regional elections

Upon return, on May 26, I’ll have some brief thoughts on each election and, in particular, Ethiopia, which is one of the most fascinating and dynamic countries in sub-Saharan Africa today, even if its political system remains essentially authoritarian.

On May 31, Italy holds regional elections in several parts of the country, including some of the largest Italian regions like Puglia, Campania, Tuscany and Veneto.

The most important elections of the summer come on one day — June 7. That’s when Mexico holds midterm congressional elections and Turkey holds parliamentary elections.

It’s still a quiet spring and summer for electoral politics after the blitz of 2014’s elections. But there’s still much to look forward to later this autumn — from Guatemala to Canada, from Burma/Myanmar to  Denmark and from Portugal to Argentina. And the lull in electoral politics will provide a chance to delve into the fascinating political dynamics of China and the Middle East — just because a country doesn’t have elections doesn’t mean it doesn’t have politics. Suffragio will be there for all of it.

In the meanwhile…

Andrew Patner (1959-2015)


Suffragio would not be Suffragio without the kind encouragement of Andrew Patner, who was taken from us far too soon on Tuesday morning at age 55.

To me, he was an encouraging voice, a mentor, a friend, a champion.

To the rest of the world, he was very much more: a baron of the Chicago media, a patron and defender of the arts and of all variety of music, a lion of the LGBT community. So many communities will miss him.

UPDATE, February 6. For those of you who are interested, here are some great links that celebrate and remember Andrew, his life and the curiosity, passion, love and pluckiness that animated it. I spoke to him just last Thursday, when he took the time to hear my itinerary for Scandinavia and offer tips (and a little gossip) just hours before my flight left from Dulles. We’d talked about meeting up somewhere in Chicago, Washington or in between. This remains such a shock for those of us (and it’s a very large group) whose lives he touched.

Benjamin Ivry’s piece in the Jewish Daily Forward.

Lawrence A. Johnson in the Chicago Classical Review.

Here’s Chicagoan Robert Feder’s take.

The definitive take from Andrew’s own newspaper, the Chicago Sun Times.

Suffragio goes to Scandinavia


Andrew Sullivan isn’t the only one who wants a break from the blogging grind!norwaydenmark flag

I am leaving this afternoon for Denmark and Norway, meeting with friends and breathing in a (very cold) week and a  half of Nordic sensibility.

That means posting will be particularly light and quite possibly oriented toward Scandinavia and its policies and politics, but also its culture, history, music and food.

I’ll still be writing about matters — the Arabian peninsula is still sorting out from the fallout of last week’s royal succession in Saudi Arabia and ongoing tumult in Yemen, the showdown between Greece’s new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, and the rest of Europe, and Italy’s presidential election will dominate headlines tomorrow and Friday. Slovenia holds a referendum on February 7 on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.

Next week, Delhi holds its legislative election, a real political test for both Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP and Narendra Modi’s BJP.

Of course, the big target for February will be Nigeria’s election, where former 1980s military leader and repeated presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari has a real shot at dislodging the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan.

But through next week, Suffragio bids all of its reader God reise!

In the meanwhile, Suffragio has been nominated for Best Blog in the Online Achievement in International Studies awards. If you’re so inclined (and voting ends tomorrow), please email duckofminerva2015 at for a ballot. There are a ton of great writers out there, and the ‘Duckies’ are a great introduction to them all!

Suffragio’s weekend break


WILKESBORO, N.C. — With apologies, Suffragio has been somewhat amiss over the past few days. That’s because I’ve been in the depths of western North Carolina exploring American and bluegrass music at the Merlefest festival in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains that commemorates Doc Watson and his son, Merle Watson and exploring, in part, the Irish roots of bluegrass music from Kentucky. Wireless access, to say nothing of electricity, has been spotty. But I have some definite thoughts to share about the state of old-time mountain music, bluegrass and Piedmont blues. Ted Gioia, eat your heart out. NC

Not to worry, I’ll have some thoughts soon about the Macedonian election results, the race for South Korea’s new prime minister, the latest on Afghanistan’s election and Serbia’s new government.

I’ll also have some thoughts on South Africa, Iraq, Panama and, as usual, more on India and upcoming European parliamentary elections. If there’s been a Suffragio lull over the weekend, rest assured that the best is coming as I am tanned, rested and ready for the crescendo of May’s world elections — India, EU, and beyond.

An enjoyable panel at the Wilson Center on US-Canada relations

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 12.13.14 PM

I had the pleasure of joining a panel discussion earlier today at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on Diane Francis’s new book, Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country.Canada Flag IconUSflag

I’ve already written about the book, which has made quite a splash on both sides of the border.  It was a pleasure to meet Francis, an American-Canadian who’s been writing and thinking about Canadian policy for years.  With a Canadian federal election approaching in 2015, the US presidential election in 2016, and ongoing negotiations between the United States and the European Union over a free-trade agreement, it’s a particularly opportune time for both Canadian and US policymakers to be thinking about many of the policy ideas for greater bilateral cooperation that the book outlines.

You can watch the entire panel below the jump:

Continue reading An enjoyable panel at the Wilson Center on US-Canada relations

Initial thoughts on Nairobi and Kenya



After a weekend off-grid at Amboseli National Park hanging out with giraffes and elephants, I’m back in Nairobi.kenya

I’ll have some thoughts soon on Bosnian protests, the latest turn with Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill and Lebanon’s new government — and I’m watching closely to see how Italy’s new prime minister-designate Matteo Renzi will roll out his new government.

In the meanwhile, what to make of Kenya?

In December, Kenya celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence from the United Kingdom.  There’s a distinctly British imprint to just about everything here — more so than in other former British colonies I’ve visited.  Kenya feels more ‘British’ than English-speaking Canada in some ways.  There’s a slavishness to form-over-substance rules here that unintentionally facilitates bribery and corruption.

The best food isn’t in the ‘best’ restaurants, which prioritize ambience over food quality.  Seek out Indian food — in small stalls on the street or in shopping centers, not in restaurants.  The best traditions of Kenyan food involve fusion with Indian or Arab influences along the Swahili coast.  In Nairobi, it’s easy to find food like chapati (thin, doughy flatbreads), and all sorts of other Indian-influence treats, like masala chips, samosas and spiced chai.  Ugali, a blanched cornmeal paste that often serves as the main carbohydrate/starch component in Kenyan meals, makes Caribbean food staples seem flavorful by contrast.

There’s not a lot of investment in public goods, and much of Nairobi is hidden away behind walls and barbed wire — more so than in places like Caracas and Tegucigalpa in Latin America.  Public parks do exist, but the high incidence of petty crime means that virtually no one goes there.  Nonetheless, there’s more vibrancy in the city’s center than I expected, and the city isn’t without its charms — its year-round spring-like climate is one of the world’s most pleasant.

In the meanwhile, I’ve been reading One Day I Will Write About This Place, which has taught me as much about post-independence Kenya as any non-fiction books I’ve read about the county (Daniel Branch’s 2011 book is a great place to start, though).  That Binyavanga Wainaina, its author, recently came out as an openly gay man adds a new level of depth to his work.  But One Day is less an LGBT memoir than a period look at Daniel arap Moi’s increasingly authoritarian Kenya of the 1970s and 1980s.  There’s something interesting on just about every page — for instance, the decrepit state of Kenya’s once-strong railways, is explained through ethnic politics.  Kikuyu businessmen close to former president Jomo Kenyatta won preferential treatment for trucking contracts; railways, where the competing Luo ethnic group controlled access to jobs, were left to languish. Continue reading Initial thoughts on Nairobi and Kenya

Off to Africa

I depart tonight for Nairobi for two weeks in east Africa visiting friends and other colleagues — I hope to see quite a bit of Kenya (including Nairobi and Lamu, on the Swahili coast), as well as Kampla, Entebbe and parts of Uganda.kenyauganda

Accordingly, posts will be a little sparse or perhaps uneven through the end of February, depending on Internet access.

Despite the impending change in the Italian government, there are no elections on the horizon through the rest of February, so it’s a good time to be out-of-pocket — especially as we gear up for elections through the spring and early summer in India, Indonesia, South Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, three countries in Central America, Colombia, Paris, Serbia, Hungary and the European parliamentary vote.

In the meanwhile, to the extent any of you have tips for Kenya and/or Uganda — in terms of restaurants, sites, or contacts, by all means shoot me a message at klees81 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Personal blogging note: Israel and the West Bank


It feels like I’ve only just returned from Honduras and I’m once again off — this time to Israel and to the West Bank.ISrel Flag Iconpalestine

While I hope to talk to officials on both sides about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (which certainly seems less likely now than it did just months ago — before the US-Iran cooperation, before the Obama administration’s perceived dithering on Syria’s chemical weapons, and before the return of Israel’s nationalist foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman), it will be as much an opportunity to visit a place I’ve never seen and to catch up with an old friend or two.

I’ll be gone a week (over the US Thanksgiving holiday), and I’ll mostly be confined to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramallah, with day trips as time allows to various other cities in the West Bank and in Israel.

Accordingly, posting might be a little lighter than normal, or a little more oriented toward personal observations about Israel and the West Bank.   Tips for food, drink, nightlife, history, reading, museums are all welcomed.

Nov. 24 Elections — Honduras and Switzerland

But I’ll still have some post-election thoughts about Honduras (though it’s difficult to know when we’ll have results and whether those results will be accepted by each of the three main parties), which will elect a new president and a new legislature on Sunday.

Switzerland also holds an election on Sunday, where voters will determine whether to cap company salaries at a factor of 12 times the lowest salary.

Indian Regional Elections

India keeps pushing through a series of regional elections next week — Chhattisgarh finished the second of two rounds of elections earlier this week on November 19, the state of Madhya Pradesh votes on November 25, and Rajasthan goes to the polls on December 1.  The National Capital Territory of Delhi and Mizoram vote on December 4 before the results from all of the five states/territories are announced on December 8.

The regional elections, which sweep across a broad segment of central India, are fairly vanilla contests between the ruling center-left  Indian National Congress (Congress, or भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) and the Hindu nationalist, center-right Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, or भारतीय जनता पार्टी).  With national elections to be held before May 2014, and a close race expected between the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Congress’s Rahul Gandhi, the five regional elections will be seen as tests for each party’s strength.

The contests cover states/territories with a cumulative population of 185 million — Madhya Pradesh alone has 73 million residents and Rajasthan has another 70 million.  I’ll have a deeper preview in the next week or so.

Don’t Forget Italy, Croatia and Germany

It’s also worth keeping an eye on Italy, where the scheduled November 27 vote to eject former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi from the Italian senate has already fractured the broad center-right between Berlusconi and his one-time protégé, Angelino Alfano, the current deputy prime minister in the ‘grand coalition’ government of prime minister Enrico Letta.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on Germany, where chancellor Angela Merkel hopes to conclude negotiations over her own ‘grand coalition’ next week, though talks haven’t necessarily been going as smoothly as expected.

Croatia, finally, will hold a referendum on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage on December 1.  More on that shortly as well.

Photo credit to Jonathan Hill.

Aftermath: Veteran’s Day/Remembrance Day on the eve of the 100th anniversary of WWI


It’s Veteran’s Day here in the United States, it’s Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, and accordingly, that means it’s also Armistice Day marking the end of hostilities between Germany and the Allied forces during World War I — it’s a day for remembering the sacrifices of soldiers in eras past as well as the ugly sacrifices that all war necessarily entails.poppyUK

Carl von Clausewitz wrote in his classic tract On War that politics is war by other means, and one of the motivating elements of Suffragio comes from understanding how different countries use politics (in both democratic and non-democratic states) to solve policy problems and how a country’s unique culture, economics, language and history all play a role in understanding how countries solve problems.  What’s remarkable about the world today isn’t that so many of its countries are still engaged in bloody wars, but that so many regions and countries now use politics, and not war, to solve their differences.

Next July marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Austro-Hungarian archduke Franz Ferdinand, the singular event that set into motion a series of domino effects that launched Europe, and then much of the rest of the world, into the ‘war to end all wars.’  Siegfried Sassoon (pictured above), a British soldier who served on the Western Front in World War I and survived the slaughter to live to age 81, became the most well-known of several WWI-era poets who came to profound disillusion over the war.

As such, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to mark the day than with his poem, ‘Aftermath.’

Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same–and War’s a bloody game…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads–those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

Mois d’été, que la vie est douce…

(111) View of Paris from Centre Pompidou

With the approaching holiday, and with a nice stretch before the autumn election season kicks off in September (capped by Germany’s long-awaited federal elections) Suffragio is taking a little bit of a summer breather.brittany_breton_region_flag-1France Flag Icon

I’m headed to France for a few days in Paris and thereafter a wedding in Bretagne.

So posting will be a little lighter than normal, and it may include a few more cultural and political thoughts on French and Breton life rather than the cut-and-thrust of Iranian politics or Pakistani economics.

À bientôt!

Photo credit to Kevin Lees — view of Eiffel Tower from Centre Pompidou, January 2006.

Back from Caracas

Back stateside after American Airlines and their computer glitch kept me at the Caracas airport for over eight hours and which also kept me overnight at the Miami airport.


But that doesn’t mean world politics has slowed down while I’ve been covering the Venezuelan elections.

The Italian electoral college begins to choose a new president tomorrow to succeed Giorgio Napolitano, and presumably, the person who will call new elections later this summer or perhaps this autumn.  I hope to have some more thoughts on that later today.

Paraguay will likely return the Colorados to power this Sunday in both the presidential and parliamentary elections. I hope to have a lot more on that in the coming days as well.

There’s also the not insignificant Icelandic elections later this month, early May snap elections in Malaysia (occasional guest contributor Andrew Novak is currently there now and may have some on-the-ground impressions soon).

Then there’s a barrage of mid-May elections in Pakistan (Pervez Musharraf has been barred from running), in Bulgaria, in the Philippines and in British Columbia.

So it’s going to be a busy month ahead — all while we keep an eye on how the Venezuelan election fallout shapes up.  So stay tuned — and thanks as usual for reading!