Monday, June 30, 2008

Development as Dumb

There's some buzz about the new Growth Report: Strategies for Sustained Growth and Inclusive Development (or Spence Report) replacing the age-old "Washington Consensus." The report, however, prompts a no-duh kind of response. Dani Rodrik summarizes the report's general view:
...The traditional policy framework, which the new thinking is gradually replacing, is presumptive rather than diagnostic.

It starts with strong preconceptions about the nature of the problem: too much (or too little) government regulation, too poor governance, too little public spending on health and education, and so on. Moreover, its recommendations take the form of the proverbial “laundry list” of reforms, and emphasize their complementary nature – the imperative to undertake them all simultaneously – rather than their sequencing and prioritization. And it is biased toward universal recipes – “model” institutional arrangements, “best practices,” rules of thumb, and so forth.

By contrast, the new policy mindset starts with relative agnosticism about what works. Its hypothesis is that there is a great deal of “slack” in poor countries, so simple changes can make a big difference. As a result, it is explicitly diagnostic and focuses on the most significant economic bottlenecks and constraints. Rather than comprehensive reform, it emphasizes policy experimentation and relatively narrowly targeted initiatives in order to discover local solutions, and it calls for monitoring and evaluation in order to learn which experiments work.

The new approach is suspicious of universal remedies. Instead, it searches for policy innovations that provide a shortcut around local economic or political complications.
But much of the most intelligent thinking in development work came to such conclusions a couple of decades ago by challenging the very notion of "development." The development industry - a monopoly of monstrous international agencies, elites on massive salaries, and smaller firms doing whatever it takes for money-flow - is fundamentally conservative intellectually. The best work has almost always come from the margins once again - at time from within places like the World Bank, but most often from without - making small dents here and there in the industry. But now it appears that the industry itself is shifting its general perspective. William Easterly responds pretty much how I would,
...the experts’ answer to the question of how to attain high growth was roughly: we do not know, but trust experts to figure it out.

This conclusion is fleshed out with statements such as: “It is hard to know how the economy will respond to a policy, and the right answer in the present moment may not apply in the future.” Growth should be directed by markets, except when it should be directed by governments.

My students at New York University would have been happy to supply statements like these to the World Bank for a lot less than $4m.

Why should we care about the debacle of a World Bank report? Because this report represents the final collapse of the “development expert” paradigm that has governed the west’s approach to poor countries since the second world war. All this time, we have hoped a small group of elite thinkers can figure out how to raise the growth rate of a whole economy. If there was something for “development experts” to say about attaining high growth, this talented group would have said it.

What went wrong? Experts help as long as there are useful general principles, such as could be established by comparing low-growth and high-growth countries. The Growth Commission correctly pointed out that such an attempt to find secrets to growth has failed. The Growth Commission concluded that “answers” had to be country specific and even period specific. But if each moment in each country is unique, then experts cannot learn from any other experience – so on what basis do they become an “expert”?

That's partially because "growth" is now and always has been the wrong marker for the good life. It's a dumb, meaningless marker.

Peruvian Apple Cactus

First-Class Passengers of the Anthropocene

Another essay you must read is Mike Davis' piece in TomDispatch, "Living on the Ice Shelf." We've mentioned this before too, but the problem of climate change is not simply the hydrometeorological phenomena themselves. It is the coming problem of intensifying inequalities in terms of the distribution of responsibility and of effects. Davis is spot on:

Kyoto-type climate diplomacy assumes that all the major actors, once they have accepted the science in the IPCC reports, will recognize an overriding common interest in gaining control over the runaway greenhouse effect. But global warming is not War of the Worlds, where invading Martians are dedicated to annihilating all of humanity without distinction. Climate change, instead, will initially produce dramatically unequal impacts across regions and social classes. It will reinforce, not diminish, geopolitical inequality and conflict.

As the United Nations Development Program emphasized in its report last year, global warming is above all a threat to the poor and the unborn, the "two constituencies with little or no political voice." Coordinated global action on their behalf thus presupposes either their revolutionary empowerment (a scenario not considered by the IPCC) or the transmutation of the self-interest of rich countries and classes into an enlightened "solidarity" without precedent in history. From a rational-actor perspective, the latter outcome only seems realistic if it can be shown that privileged groups possess no preferential "exit" option, that internationalist public opinion drives policymaking in key countries, and that greenhouse gas mitigation could be achieved without major sacrifices in upscale Northern Hemispheric standards of living -- none of which seems highly likely.

And what if growing environmental and social turbulence, instead of galvanizing heroic innovation and international cooperation, simply drive elite publics into even more frenzied attempts to wall themselves off from the rest of humanity? Global mitigation, in this unexplored but not improbable scenario, would be tacitly abandoned (as, to some extent, it already has been) in favor of accelerated investment in selective adaptation for Earth's first-class passengers. We're talking here of the prospect of creating green and gated oases of permanent affluence on an otherwise stricken planet.

This isn't some hysterical prediction. It already exists as the big secret of climate change, while the public, benighted by its own ignorance and by intentional sideshows designed to maintain that ignorance, debates whether climate change actually exists. Now, it's going to be a matter of degrees with little real hope of "development" for poor countries, only a few bread crumbs at the margins. Again, the problem isn't one of the existence of the hydrometeorological phenomena that constitute climate change. The real problem - and it is profound, worthy of its own geohistorical designation - is political and moral. But, for now, only a handful of people even care to view it as such.

A New Black Narrative

Here's Charles Johnson's essay, in the American Prospect, on the dawn of a new black narrative in the US. It's a provocative essay, which, in its general theme, gets to the heart of something that applies to everyone. In publications elsewhere, I've called this the "traveling self."
No matter which angle we use to view black people in America today, we find them to be a complex and multifaceted people who defy easy categorization. We challenge, culturally and politically, an old group narrative that fails at the beginning of this new century to capture even a fraction of our rich diversity and heterogeneity. My point is not that black Americans don’t have social and cultural problems in 2008. We have several nagging problems, among them poor schools and far too many black men in prison and too few in college. But these are problems based more on the inequities of class, and they appear in other groups as well. It simply is no longer the case that the essence of black American life is racial victimization and disenfranchisement, a curse and a condemnation, a destiny based on color in which the meaning of one’s life is thinghood, created even before one is born. This is not something we can assume...

What I am saying is that “official” stories and explanations and endlessly repeated interpretations of black American life over decades can short-circuit direct perception of the specific phenomenon before us. The idea of something—an intellectual construct—is often more appealing and perfect (in a Platonic sense) than the thing itself, which always remains mysterious and ambiguous and messy, by which I mean that its sense is open-ended, never fixed. It is always wise, I believe, to see all our propositions (and stories) as provisional, partial, incomplete, and subject to revision on the basis of new evidence, which we can be sure is just around the corner.
And that is a basic pragmatist view of the sort I often espouse so clunkily. Johnson's answer to the new black narrative is Rortyan in tone:
...if the old black American narrative has outlived its usefulness as a tool of interpretation, then what should we do? The answer, I think, is obvious. In the 21st century, we need new and better stories, new concepts, and new vocabularies and grammar based not on the past but on the dangerous, exciting, and unexplored present, with the understanding that each is, at best, a provisional reading of reality, a single phenomenological profile that one day is likely to be revised, if not completely overturned. These will be narratives that do not claim to be absolute truth, but instead more humbly present themselves as a very tentative thesis that must be tested every day in the depths of our own experience and by all the reliable evidence we have available, as limited as that might be. For as Bertrand Russell told us, what we know is always “vanishingly small.” These will be narratives of individuals, not groups. And is this not exactly what Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of when he hoped a day would come when men and women were judged not by the color of their skin, but instead by their individual deeds and actions, and the content of their character?


Friday, June 27, 2008

Photo of the Day

From this excellent photo blog (discovered via All Intensive Purposes).

Illegal Anti-Gays

The Federal Marriage Amendment is reintroduced. And with perfect symbolism, its sponsors are Larry Craig, whose own marriage is based on a lie, and prostitute-client and foe of HIV-positive tourists, David Vitter. But it's committed gay couples who threaten marriage! And people wonder why some of us are sick of the Republican party.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

War Crimes

More of the guilty.
The trial.

In a post on the bizarre and, frankly, nonsensical statements of Antonin Scalia regarding detainment, Marty Lederman points out a pattern in Bush administration detainment policies that is connected to what I've been saying about torture. (And Scalia himself unwittingly hints at it). Lederman writes,
In this conflict, by contrast, the U.S. has detained thousands of persons without very reliable assurances that they are, in fact, dangerous. Its detention practices, in other words, have been much more indiscriminate and uncertain -- and motivated principally by a design to interrogate as many persons as possible who might conceivably be able to offer some actionable intelligence, rather than (primarily) for the traditional purposes of incapacitating and weakening the enemy. When you're looking for a needle in a haystack, you tend to collect a lot of hay. That is exactly why the military itself has released such a high percent of the GTMO detainees: because its criteria for detention in the first instance were so permissive.
Recall that torture as information-gathering can work but entails a much broader institutionalization of torture and widespread torturing of innocents than that of the slippery-slope narrative frame the administration and its surrogates present to the public (that is, the one evil terrorist vs. the lives of hundreds or thousands). As I said in congressional testimony last year,
A principal incentive raised by the argument for torture as a means of gathering information... is ultimately to seek patterns of information rather than attempt to verify or falsify individual bits of data, especially under time and resource constraints. Comprehensive sets of data-points yield more complex patterns. The more extensive the practice and institution, the more successful torture will be. If torture is used indiscriminately and broadly, more complex patterns and a better understanding of what is meaningful in the information will be obtained. Patterns of information by themselves are meaningless, but they serve to corroborate and verify partial bits of information and infer other patterns. They also serve to eliminate or falsify outlying bits of information, the information gained from those innocent of any perceived wrongdoing. A descriptive narrative may be interpreted and assembled from the resulting patterns and regularities.
Note the common pattern between detainment and torture.

Blackberry Jam Fruit

Googled Values

This is great.

Judges and jurors who must decide whether sexually explicit material is obscene are asked to use a local yardstick: does the material violate community standards?

That is often a tricky question because there is no simple, concrete way to gauge a community’s tastes and values.

The Internet may be changing that. In a novel approach, the defense in an obscenity trial in Florida plans to use publicly accessible Google search data to try to persuade jurors that their neighbors have broader interests than they might have thought.

In the trial of a pornographic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like “orgy” than for “apple pie” or “watermelon.” The publicly accessible data is vague in that it does not specify how many people are searching for the terms, just their relative popularity over time. But the defense lawyer, Lawrence Walters, is arguing that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm...

“Time and time again you’ll have jurors sitting on a jury panel who will condemn material that they routinely consume in private,” said Mr. Walters, the defense lawyer. Using the Internet data, “we can show how people really think and feel and act in their own homes, which, parenthetically, is where this material was intended to be viewed,” he added...

“We tried to come up with comparison search terms that would embody typical American values,” Mr. Walters said. “What is more American than apple pie?” But according to the search service, he said, “people are at least as interested in group sex and orgies as they are in apple pie.”

It goes to the heart of American puritan "values." The US may be a country founded on principles of individualism, but the authoritarian puritanical streak running through American culture has always entailed an ongoing conflict between what the individual does and what that same individual says others ought to do. The ought is based on a largely unreflexive set of vague, protestant values - a mythology - against which one judges others. It sublimates desires so that the mythology serves to build individual and communal resentments against those who don't believe the mythology and may do quite well outside of its system without suffering the misfortunes of God's wrath. "Communal values" may have some roughly identifiable qualities, but they are always fundamentally vague and diverse in a pluralistic society (after all, who belongs to the community?). In other words, "communal values" are generally what the keepers of the unreflexive mythology say they are. Nothing individualistic about that.

But then we do love when the keepers are exposed as what we call "hypocrites." We do love to cast stones. The angry, anti-gay pastor who is discovered in an alley on his knees in front of a male prostitute. The critic of money in politics who takes reelection funds from the most flagrant lobbyists. But also smaller instances most of us see in our own families - the family members who consider themselves upstanding Christians, who harm or hurt others, but claim it was not their intent to harm (thus, there's no problem! Or the hurt person is overly sensitive). They are hypocrites because they earnestly preach one thing and cynically do the other. But there's nothing unusual about this for the puritanical society because the values of the community are always used to hold others in check, not one's own individualistic self. Besides, in Protestantism you can then save yourself through rebirth. That's a pretty neat method for getting away with whatever you want. Nevertheless, the charge of "hypocrite!" also allows the rest of us to make our own personal reference to the "communal values" mythology and lay claim to being one of the keepers.

The google method of discerning the values of the community isn't any worse than any other method we have, which are generally, subtly authoritarian. The google method might not work, and there are probably serious methodological problems with it, but workability isn't the issue here. What the case exposes is the deficit between genuine-because-practiced values and genuine-because-preached values. That's much more interesting territory for thinking about the nature of communal values than the lazy reliance on that mythology which leads to such unreflective - and seemingly individualistic! - statements as "I know it when I see it."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Environmental Reading Assignment

Photo: Rio Cachoeira, coastal Atlantic forest, Paraná, Brazil by John Maier

India's Growth Outstrips Crops. A similar dynamic to elsewhere in the world: basic ecpnomic rapaciousness.

In the UK, lots of doubters about the cause of climate change.

Freeman Dyson, in the New York Review of Books, discusses William Nordhaus' recent book on climate change policy.

A new report at Policy Exchange on carbon capture.

Ocean heat content revisions. The NY Times also reports.

More on the trashing of the oceans.

Fighting for wild apple forests in Kazakhstan.

Kudzu as biofuel?

My own thinking and teaching on environmental issues links poverty, development, and economic "growth," and questions of justice to environmental harms. At Dissent, the philosopher Thomas Pogge discusses the avoidable nature of global poverty and the legerdemain of much of economic thinking, arguing that,
The analysis shows that the problem of world poverty is both amazingly small and amazingly large. It is amazingly small in economic terms: The aggregate shortfall from the World Bank’s $2/day poverty line of all those 40 percent of human beings who now live below this line is barely $300 billion annually, much less than what the United States spends on its military. This amounts to only 0.7 percent of the global product or less than 1 percent of the combined GNIs of the high-income countries. On the other hand, the problem of world poverty is amazingly large in human terms, accounting for a third of all human deaths and the majority of human deprivation, morbidity, and suffering worldwide.

Most of the massive severe poverty persisting in the world today is avoidable through more equitable institutions that would entail minuscule opportunity costs for the affluent. It is for the sake of trivial economic gains that national and global elites are keeping billions of human beings in life-threatening poverty with all its attendant evils such as hunger and communicable diseases, child labor and prostitution, trafficking, and premature death. Considering this situation from a moral standpoint, we must now assess growth—both globally and within most countries—in terms of its effect on the economic position of the poor.
And, finally, from Pruned, "a new Kiribati."

"I Am Fuck... Fuck of the Mountain!"

That he was. George Carlin, 1937-2008.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

All About Oil

No other reason for the Iraq War has ever stood up to a little dash of reasoned reflection. It's all the orthodox geopolitics of military bases and oil, apparently worth hundreds of thousands of human lives and trillions of dollars. We've already seen one horn of the end game. Now the other...
Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.

Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production.

By the way, Tom Engelhardt has been on the ball on the permanent bases since early on in the war. See, for example, here, here, and here.

(Photo above from here. September 1932. "Iraq oil fields. Man with fires in desert." American Colony Photo Department, Matson Photo Collection).

Telecom Capitulation

Cowards. Laura Rozen:
Reports of the newest FISA compromise indicate that, on telecom immunity, a federal court would be compelled to grant the telecoms immunity if there was substantial evidence that the Bush administration assured them that the warrantless surveillance program was legal. Doesn't that actually endorse and extend to private actors the Nixonian view that if the president says it's legal, it's legal, regardless of what the law says and the Constitution says? Wouldn't that set an awful precedent that an administration could get private actors to do whatever they wanted including breaking the law?


Torture, Torture, Torture

If you haven't already, you must read McClatchy's series this week on American torture and suspension of morality and legality in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, all orchestrated by the Bush administration itself. The McClatchy series is a crucial document. It shows what I've said over the past few years: that all torture institutions involve innocents.

As I've suggested repeatedly (see, for example, this Helsinki Commission testimony), a system of information-gathering operates necessarily in a state of ignorance and uncertainty. The actual degree of ignorance within the US system from top to bottom, as we learn more about the US gulag archipelago, is simply stunning. But any such system will operate with limited information. More information comes through more interrogation, the US having chosen the way of torture. But limited information means limited certainty about the guilt of prisoners and torture victims. The Bush administration has waved off such concerns, repeating the mantra "9-11." In a morbid way, they are right since any torture system will torture innocents. Always.

We can run through the arguments once again for why torture is never justified, if you like. Torture is not morally justifiable. Nor is it useful for its stated purpose of information-gathering. At this point, with the number of posts I've done on torture over the past couple of years, you'll have to buy the book.

When reading pieces like the McClatchy articles, however, remember that if torture is never justified, the "guilt" of the torture victim is a moot point. That's the core of the smokescreen that the Bush administration and other defenders of torture would have you face. They want you to think of their torture victims as "bad" or "evil," a judgment only they the administration may make (in advance of evidence). The innocence of some of the prisoners is, on the other hand, important because it gives the lie to those who have no time for habeas corpus because, they say, these are bad people.

Meanwhile, Americans are apparently largely okay with torture, according to this new Pew Research poll. 43% say torture is justifiable at least sometimes. But note also that an additional 25% say torture is rarely justified. Since the entire discourse on torture in the US is one of extraordinary circumstances (which is an excuse always used by torturing states), this may amount to 68% of Americans being pro-torture.

Torture isn't some grave policy choice made by moral realists; it's a moral sickness. The Bush administration's torture policies are war crimes. And you folks who hold the pro-torture views in the Pew survey are complicit.

Monday, June 16, 2008


* The Boston Review does a forum on development in Africa, "Is It Africa's Turn?" It's worth your while to explore the essays. Note the absence of mention of external predation as an obstacle to development. UNEP geographers, however, have sounded a further note of alarm about increased ecological degradation (also here). See their recently published atlas on Africa's environment (with downloadable docs and images here and here).

* The US Congress, apparently, is making a bit of an effort to preserve wilderness areas. Huh...
A confluence of factors is driving this wilderness renaissance: the shift in Congress from Republican to Democratic control; environmentalists' decision to take a more pragmatic approach in which they enlist local support for their proposals by making concessions to opposing interests; and some communities' recognition that intact ecosystems can often offer a greater economic payoff than extractive industries.
* Argentine farmers clashing with police over a new tariff scheme on exports.

* David Luban on Hannah Arendt and 1968.

* BLDGBLOG on a mega-mall in China that never really happened.

Photo: South China Mall by Philip Gostelow for The National

And BLDGBLOG also finds some stunning long exposure photographs by Alexey Titarenko of crowds in Russia.

* Tom Engelhardt on the "Greatest Story Never Told": the story of the US "mega-bases in Iraq.
...these giant bases, rising from the smashed birthplace of Western civilization, were not only built on (and sometimes out of bits of) the ancient ruins of that land, but are functionally modern ziggurats. They are the cherished monuments of the Bush administration. Even though its spokespeople have regularly refused to use the word "permanent" in relation to them -- in fact, in relation to any U.S. base on the planet -- they have been built to long outlast the Bush administration itself. They were, in fact, clearly meant to be key garrisons of a Pax Americana in the Middle East for generations to come. And, not surprisingly, they reek of permanency. They are the unavoidable essence -- unless, like most Americans, you don't know they're there -- of Bush administration planning in Iraq.
* Plus, more on abuses of detainees at Guantanamo - this time known innocents.

* Al Giordano's invaluable blog, The Field, has been censored and apparently wiped clean from its previous place at Rural Votes. Narcosphere is now hosting Al here. My blogroll is changing accordingly.

*And, finally, the "9 most devastating insults from around the world."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"A Little, Blippy Scene"

Photo: Julia Gorton
Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth) and Byron Coley have published a book of photos and text on the late-1970s no wave scene, No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976-1980. The NY Times reviews it here.

Apart from the music, no wave was basically the beginning of the end of the Lower East Side where "the end" means gentrification.

Little Powers

Lawrence of Cyberia has found a nice little line by the brilliant and relatively unsung G.K. Chesterton. I'm borrowing the whole thing, but please give LC a visit.
"It may be said with rough accuracy that there are three stages in the life of a strong people. First, it is a small power, and fights small powers. Then it is a great power, and fights great powers. Then it is a great power, and fights small powers, but pretends that they are great powers, in order to rekindle the ashes of its ancient emotion and vanity. After that, the next step is to become a small power itself."

- G. K. Chesterton, Heretics, chapter 18 ("The Fallacy of the Young Nation"), 1906

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Abandoned Embassies

This little oddity of an article in the Washington Post harps on mainly a couple of run-down African embassies in DC. Conspicuous in its absence is the old Iraq Embassy on R Street near Sheridan Circle. When this little Iraq invasion started, the Iraqi Embassy was abandoned and is now overgrown with weeds. Why not mention that one? Apparently because Iraq is doing a multi-million dollar makeover and move to a different location... right across the street from Dick Cheney's VP mansion.

Crimes Are Committed by Other People

Crestwood, N.Y.: So the Senate report--supported by two Republicans-- supports the conclusion that we all reached several years ago, that Bush and Cheney used propaganda and ginned up intelligence to trick the country into war. If this is not an impeachable offense, what do you define as one? And if an impeachable offense is committed, isn't it the height of irresponsibility for the Democrats to put possible harm to their electoral chances (negligible, in my opinion) ahead of their oaths to the Constitution? How will history look back at this disgraceful chapter in both the executive and legislative branches?

That sort of hothead talk isn't welcome in Broder's barbershop. His Olympian response:

You'll have to forgive me, but I am reluctant to see every big policy dispute turned into a criminal or impeachable affair. There needs to be accountability but there also needs to be proportionality. This country is engaged in two wars and has serious, serious domestic problems. To stop everything and attempt to impeach and remove a president who has less than a year to serve would not strike me as the best use of our energy. And for what? So Dick Cheney can be president?

No, no, David, you don't understand. Let me wipe the windshield for you. Dick Cheney wouldn't assume the presidency because under this dream scenario we'd impeach his flubberducking ass too.

It's not as if he wasn't in on it, after all.

Then with those two unindicted war racketeers removed from office, we'd turn our keen sense of justice on The Washington Post and demand that they shitcan your sorry, energy-dependent ass too, along the equally flagrant tails belonging to Fred Hiatt, Richard Cohen, and Charles Krauthammer.

Friday, June 06, 2008


Not a bad idea: Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer as Obama VP pick.

Obama gives Lieberman a talking-to.

Obama and McCain working together on a "good governance" bill.

The Senate Intel committee's report Phase II essentially calls the Bush administration liars on pre-war Iraq. Meanwhile, Iranian agents led the administration into war.

Crucial read: Patrick Cockburn on the secret plan to keep Iraq under US control. James Wolcott comments on the Cockburn article:
A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November.

The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to this reporter, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which U.S. troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law [my emphasis], will destabilize Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.

But the accord also threatens to provoke a political crisis in the U.S. President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated.

It's all about him, him and that imaginary friend known as his "legacy." In his mind, he liberated Iraq, but true liberation requires submission to the guarantors of that liberation, who don't plan on leaving anytime soon; like, ever. And a little gratitude wouldn't be amiss either from those fortunate enough not to have been killed during the last five years. For all the talk of democracy, such a deal would reduce Iraq to a client state subject to the long reach of the Unitary Executive and its gun barrel. Cockburn: "Washington also wants control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000 feet and the right to pursue its 'war on terror' in Iraq, giving it the authority to arrest anybody it wants and to launch military campaigns without consultation."

Let's call it something else: the Iraq War as murder. And "Shock and Awe" as state-sponsored and citizen-accepted terrorism. Jonathan Schwarz calls out the criminality of US leverage over the Iraqis.

Billions wasted in carbon offset fund. And CDM corruption.

Elsewhere, Croatia riles Czech tourists with food ban.

BLDGBLOG on the architecture of disaster.

[Image: Shuhei Endo's "tennis dome/emergency center" (left), photographed by Kenichi Amano,
next to the New Orleans Superdome, post-Katrina].

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"It's like I'm just the excuse"

Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times
It's slowly sinking in, what this means, who this man is, even though our support here has been unwavering. I'd like to write something more, feel the need to understand it better through trying to write something. Soon (still recovering from surgery)....

Can Change Congress Change Congress?

From The Nation: Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons, has moved to Washington to found what the nation identifies as a 'procedural reform' organization, Change Congress. The Nation doesn't seem to have decided whether Lessig is Quijote or Mr. Smith (despite the title they use). He'll get something done, one way or another, but it's hard to guess, now, what that might be.

What gives Lessig a unique credibility as he embarks on his new career as process reformer is his former life pursuing substantive reform. Before there was Lawrence Lessig, corruption crusader, there was Lawrence Lessig, copyright crusader. In the 1990s, when he started writing about the dangers of a sclerotic, overly restrictive intellectual property regime, few besides industry groups like the RIAA and MPAA and a tiny circle of academics paid much attention. So it was easy, in 1998, for Congress to pass overwhelmingly the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which President Clinton signed into law, extending copyright protections for twenty additional years, bringing the total guaranteed copyright term to seventy years after a creator's death (Since Disney had lobbied strongly for the bill, critics dubbed it the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.)

In the absence of high-profile voices countering the industry groups that dominated the issue, Lessig became an evangelist for the cause of what he calls "free culture." He and his allies argue that cultural vibrance, scientific progress and business innovation all rely on the diffusion of knowledge, a diffusion threatened by an intellectual property regime that attempts to keep that knowledge trapped in a proprietary vault. What they see happening is a modern-day rerun of the eighteenth-century enclosure movement, in which the British commons were brought under private control. But here, instead of using fences to capture land, the private interests are manipulating the law to keep cultural production and the knowledge needed for technological innovation out of the public domain.

[ . . . ]

Lessig's years rolling the copyright boulder up the hill served as the narrative inspiration for his talk at the Press Club. For Lessig, copyright is just one example of the ways money corrupts the Congressional process by preventing Congress from getting what he calls the "easy cases" right. Nearly every expert who's studied copyright term has concluded that it shouldn't be extended retroactively: Milton Friedman once referred to this position as a "no-brainer." But that hasn't stopped big corporations like Disney, which stands to lose a considerable amount of money when Mickey Mouse becomes public property, from pushing through legislation that extends copyright protections for old works.

It's the same dynamic with a host of issues, from the farm bill to the role of contractors in Iraq to an issue Lessig calls "the most profound" we face: global warming. There, the scientific consensus is absolute, the stakes dire and yet action has been routinely thwarted by a coterie of corporations that have a monumental monetary interest in the status quo. "Really, who cares about Mickey Mouse," Lessig told me over dinner the night before his talk. "But if we can't get global warming right? An easy question as fundamental as global warming? Then we're really fucked."

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Photo: Yolanda


From our dear, irascible friend TMiss:

I found this rather irritating:

Kremlin Rules? Gosh, I wonder if this means that all the TV news and political talk shows in Russia are wall to wall with retired generals spouting the Kremlin line? And if so, does this mean only the NYTimes will tell us about this, or will the other American-based news organizations actually have the chutzpah to report on this when they still haven’t told us about our retired generals getting paid to shovel the Pentagon’s propaganda?

Yes, there’s still a slight difference between the USA and Russia, but style-wise it’s too close to call. I think we’ve moved towards them more than they’ve moved towards us. And no, none of this will stop our media from flogging Hugo Chávez for being half the tinpot dictator Bush is.

Please, Make It Stop

Apparently, okay, maybe, tonight.

Apparently, not, tonight.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Hey, Bo Diddley

If I get to heaven,
Before you do,
I'll try to make a hole,
And pull you thru.
Thanks. A tune.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Gates on Moral Obligation

Helmut said it here a bit more clearly (and more than two weeks ago): "The junta's intransigence has risen to the level of genocidal intransigence. The junta's paranoia amounts to deliberate starvation of Burma's people."

But Helmut is not yet a ranking official, so it's nice to see that Robert Gates has given the issue some thought:
BANGKOK — In the strongest remarks yet by a high-ranking American official, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Sunday that Myanmar was guilty of “criminal neglect” for blocking large-scale international aid to cyclone victims and that more Burmese civilians would perish unless the military regime reverses its policy.
He's certainly on the right track. (I mean "on the right track" here in the way that teachers have always used that cliche -- we really mean, "thanks for saying something, but what you said is kind of stupid.")
When asked whether the Myanmar government’s actions were tantamount to genocide, Mr. Gates stopped short of that accusation. “This is more akin, in my view, to criminal neglect,” he said.
Considering the situation, Gates concluded that “We have really exercised our moral obligation above and beyond the call." Do we have a greater moral obligation to changing regimes where it most benefits us? More likely, we have a greater rhetorical obligation to talk about being driven to action by moral obligations (in, say, Iraq) when we might be perceived as being motivated above all by material interests. When we're not at all motivated by material interests, we have a rhetorical obligation to avoid language (like "genocidal intransigence") that we use to express our moral obligations to action.

Can we get Gates to read Singer?