Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Silicon Standard for Human Rights

The Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference put forth a statement of 15 principles this past October for guiding the behavior of ICT companies in relation to human rights. According to the organizers at Access, "The document is designed to complement other existing frameworks and uses the international human rights framework as its foundation." There's a lot to chew on here. I'll let the principles speak for themselves:
1. Technology and Revolutions: Technology companies play an increasingly important role in enabling and supporting the end user's capacity to exercise his or her rights to freedom of speech, access to information, and freedom of association. ICT companies should respect those rights in their operations and also encourage governments to protect human rights through appropriate policies, practices, legal protections, and judicial oversight.

2. On Human Rights: In both policy and practice, technology companies should apply human rights frameworks in developing best practices and standard operating procedures. This includes adhering to John Ruggie's Protect, Respect, and Remedy framework outlined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

3. Frontline Lessons from Other Sectors: Technology companies should look to the innovative examples and incorporate important lessons from other sectors, such as the apparel and extractive industries. The experiences of these sectors can and should guide them as they develop their human rights policies. These must be reflected in their operating practices in a transparent and accountable manner.

4. On Internet Regulation: To ensure innovation and the protection of human rights, internet regulation should only take place where it facilitates the ongoing openness, quality, and integrity of the internet and/or where it enables or protects users' ability to freely, fully, and safely participate in society. To achieve this end, it is critical that ICT corporations engage in multistakeholder dialogue.

5. Human Rights by Design: During the research, development, and design stages, technology companies should anticipate how and by whom their products and services will be used. Developing a human rights policy and engaging in due diligence at the earliest stages helps companies prevent crises, limit risk, and enable evidence-based assessment of company activities and reporting.

6. Encryption of Web Activity: Effective internet security is essential to ensuring freedom of speech, privacy, and the right to communicate. Technology companies must provide a basic level of security (e.g., HTTPS and its improvements) to their users by default and resist bans and curtailments of the use of encryption.

7. Getting Practical: Technology companies should implement human rights-respecting policies and practices in their day-to-day operations. These companies should utilize multi-stakeholder and cross-sector dialogues to review challenges faced within their markets with a view to improve their best practices.

8. Coding for Human Rights: Recognizing the human rights implications in code, engineers, developers, and programmers should ensure that technology is used in the exercise of fundamental freedoms, and not for the facilitation of human rights abuses. Technology companies should facilitate regular dialogue between engineers, executive leadership, and civil society to ensure that all parties are informed of the potential uses and abuses of their technologies.

9. Social Networking: Social networking platforms are both increasingly important to their users' capacity to communicate and associate online and are most used when customers trust the service's providers. When companies prioritize the rights of their customers, it is good for the long-term sustainability of their business, their brand, and their bottom line.

10. Intermediary Liability: In an era of computer-mediated communications, freedom of speech, association, and commerce increasingly depend on internet intermediaries (e.g., broadband service providers, web hosting companies). These intermediaries should not be required to determine the legality of, or held liable for, the content they host.

11. Legal Jurisdiction in a Borderless Virtual World: To foster the continued growth of an open and interconnected internet, technology companies should work alongside governments and civil society to ensure that users' rights are protected to the fullest extent possible. Governmental mandates that infringe upon freedom of expression and other human rights should be interpreted so as to minimize the negative impacts of these rules and regulations.

12. Visual Media and Human Rights: Technology companies should pay special attention to the unique human rights challenges of visual media technologies and content—especially on issues such as privacy, anonymity, consent, and access.

13. Social Media in Times of Crisis: Technology companies should resist efforts to shut down services and block access to their products, especially during times of crisis when open communications are critical. Blanket government surveillance of corporate networks should be resisted. Moreover, the burden of proof for privacy-invasive requests should lie with law enforcement authorities, who should formally, through court processes based on probable cause and rule of law, request a warrant for each individual whose information they would like to access.

14. Privacy: Technology companies should incorporate adequate privacy protections for users by default. Furthermore, technology companies should resist over-board requests from governments to reveal users' information, disclose no more information about their users than is legally required, and inform their users so that they can choose to legally respond to these requests. Furthermore, technology companies should be transparent about how user data is collected, processed, and protected—including disclosures of unauthorized access to user data.

15. Mobile and Telcos: Telecommunications companies must protect their users' fundamental human rights, including support for the protection of human rights in their operating licenses, and ensure that the free flow of communication is not curtailed or interfered with, even in times of crisis.

The big thing missing here is the subtext: While it's incredibly important to ensure that human rights are fulfilled in the use of information and communication technologies, it does us no good to simultaneously ignore abuses in their manufacture. My hope going forward is that this framework can be deepened to explicitly include the supply chains and labor rights problems associated with the ICT sector. The freedoms these magical gadgets enable must extend all the way down to the minerals.

Monday, November 7, 2011

What Does Accountability Mean to You?

There was plenty of finger pointing last Tuesday morning as WNYC's talk show host Brian Lehrer led a spirited discussion with a live audience on the subject of "Occupy New York." The most contentious topics were accountability for U.S. income disparity, and the causes of our financial crisis. Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer accused the Federal Reserve of lack of oversight; New York Federal Reserve Deputy Chairwoman Kathryn Wylde blamed international economic pressures; and Occupy Wall Street protester Jesse LaGreca blamed a non-representative democracy.

Yet despite their bickering, the panelists agreed that the income disparity in America is unacceptable; that the economy needs to improve; and that accountability is lacking. Amid the rapid-fire disagreements, there was a common struggle to grapple with the complex, systemic causes of our country's wobbly moment.

In an effort to poke a hole in LaGreca's arguments, business columnist Greg David asked, "What does accountability mean to you?" It's a fair question. Accountability is often vaunted as the unimpeachable principle missing from our country's response to recurring recessions and the widening income gap. And when we look at past bailouts of "black swan" level crashes and the moral hazard inherent in having institutions that are "too big to fail," it's clear that our system of accountability needs to be reconfigured. But how? In the heat of the debate, LaGreca defined accountability as investigations of bankers and corporate leaders, rather than a more global approach.

When Lehrer drew out LaGreca on the decision-making process underway at Occupy Wall Street, it became clear that LaGreca envisions the movement as a testing ground for a new form of accountable government. LaGreca is looking for a unicameral legislature (similar to Occupy Wall Street's General Assembly) where a 51 percent majority would be enough to pass a bill, thus ending the filibuster. He wants to eliminate political parties entirely and convert our system into a direct democracy.

With such a system, LaGreca contends, we would cut out the problems of campaign finance, party platforms, and special interests that stand in the way of true democratic consensus. Without party platforms or corporate interests to consider, he says, leaders would be accountable to their voters. With this new idea on the table, the meaning of accountability and its place in society has shifted.

LaGreca's plan is idealistic, and maybe impractical. Still, while parsing blame is a necessary step towards injecting accountability into the political-economic climate of the United States, it is clearly insufficient. We need more of the big-picture discussion that Lehrer was able to spark on Tuesday in order to truly confront and deal with the systemic lack of accountability.

[PHOTO CREDIT: Timothy Krause (CC).]

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Uncertainty is the Strength of Occupy Wall Street

Now seems as good a time as any to start reading The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He writes in a passage on negative empiricism that "you know what is wrong with a lot more confidence than you know what is right." This statement resonates with me as the ethical backbone of the "occupation" style protests that have swept the world this year.

What do they want? is the common refrain in the media. It's OK that nobody knows yet. In fact, it would be sheer arrogance to assume that a small cadre has all the answers. The point is that when even in rich societies like the United States tens of millions of people are living in poverty, new processes are needed for people to debate the actions, rules, and directions of our societies.

The protesters in lower Manhattan have opted for a process of collaborative consensus. We shouldn't expect them all to be policy wonks (though even a Nobel laureate economist has stopped by). They are instead what Paul Hawken calls our social immune system. Here is their first statement:

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.

They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.

They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one's skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.

They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.

They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.

They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.

They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers' healthcare and pay.

They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.

They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.

They have sold our privacy as a commodity.

They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.

They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.

They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.

They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.

They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people's lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.

They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.

They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.

They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.

They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.

They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.*

To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.

[PHOTO CREDIT: David Shankbone (CC).]

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Speaking Values with Confidence

This is a guest post by Diana Santana and Alberto Turlon from the Carnegie New Leaders program.

Consider a time in your career when you were asked to do something that went against your values. First, recall an instance when you acted in favor of your values. How did you do this? How did you communicate in ways that created change? Now, consider a time when faced with a similar challenge that you failed to voice your values. Why didn't you voice your concerns? Jot down these two stories.

Mary Gentile, educator, author of Giving Voice to Values (GVV), and creator of the GVV curriculum, opened a discussion of her work at a recent Carnegie New Leaders event by asking participants to call on their experiences and consider "A Tale of Two Stories." Adding to this exercise, Gentile recounted the Harvard Business School welcome speech that instructs incoming students to "look to the left of you, look to the right;" know that these are the people that you will call on for the rest of your life when faced with a values conflict. Drawing on one's network and reflecting on previous experiences are just two GVV tools that empower the individual to voice values in the workplace.

The GVV curriculum was born of observations and experiences that led to what Gentile referred to as a "crisis of faith." After Gentile's 10-year tenure at Harvard she began consulting with other top business schools on their business ethics curriculum. Scandals of the late 1990s and early 2000s involving MBAs were reminders that something in the classroom wasn't working. Despite attempts to change business school structure or course offerings, MBAs still exhibited unethical business behaviors. Survey studies released at the time also demonstrated that students were less ethical after completing business ethics courses.

Gentile keenly observed that relying on one's professional network and studying different models of ethical reasoning was not enough to ensure ethical behavior in the future. Something was lacking in the way students were being taught business ethics.

Gentile went on to become a consultant for a project at Columbia Business School. The project invited incoming MBA candidates to write an essay describing their experience with a situation where they were asked to act in a manner that conflicted with their values. The result of perusing some 1,000 essays, in light of earlier research conducted by Douglas Huneke and Perry London on altruism, created the foundation of Giving Voice to Values.

Gentile discovered that individuals who succeeded in communicating their values had at some point communicated their ideal response to another person they admired—a friend, a family member, a mentor, a work ally, a spouse, etc. She determined that this opportunity to pre-script the communication was essential to speaking up for their values in difficult situations.

Giving Voice to Values provides such an opportunity. It is a post–decision-making curriculum that enables individuals to hold strong to their principles and communicate their thoughts in a manner that best suits each individual's personality and communication style. The curriculum does not instruct students on what is right. Rather, it assumes that a values decision has already been determined and instead focuses on equipping people with the confidence to communicate their values.

Gentile recognized in her research that individuals in a professional setting tend to develop "preemptive rationalizations" that serve as excuses when faced with a values conflict. "Maybe I don't have all the information," one might claim. Another might think "this is just the way the industry works." Such excuses, coupled with the individual's sensitivity to their position in the hierarchy, stifle the individual from thinking through other possible scenarios and outcomes. The individual succumbs to the conflicting request despite uneasiness. GVV provides students the opportunity to observe others that have ignored these excuses and have found ways to express their values.

The curriculum encourages students to self-assess how personal goals align with organizational goals, provides exercises that ask the student to communicate their values in challenging situations, and gives students the chance to practice their communication with feedback. Armed with confidence, scripts, and values awareness, individuals are more likely to act on their values and enact positive change within an organization.

Gentile's presentation on GVV development and curriculum was convincing. She demonstrated the need for such a practical curriculum and showed its worth to students and society. It is no wonder the GVV curriculum is employed in organizations and universities all over the world. GVV provides the tools necessary to communicate personally while potentially making positive organizational and systemic change.

The exercises and examples Gentile mentioned were developed primarily for those in business and lacked specific application for those working in government, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations, the primary audience members at the Carnegie New Leaders event. Positive examples of non-business professionals communicating their values in challenging situations would have augmented the already powerful presentation.

Nonetheless, audience members understood that many of the values conflicts that arise in professional situations transcend industry. Each participant understood Gentile's broader message: Every values conflict has a remedy that varies on the individual's professional position, sensitivity, personality, and communication style.

GVV is an innovative approach that explores self-awareness of personal values and communication style. It provides the opportunity to construct and practice responses for a variety of situations. Giving Voice to Values gives values-driven individuals confidence to speak up for what's right, no matter the circumstance.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

How the Disaster May Help Japan's Brand

The March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and resulting nuclear accident have led some to question the health of Japan's "brand." Japanese products, services, and business partnerships in recent years have enjoyed a halo effect emanating from Japan's reputation as a land of safety, efficiency, and trustworthiness. As renowned Japanese columnist Yoichi Funabashi put it this week, "Instead of viewing Japan as a haven of immunity from danger and inconvenience, many around the world now perceive the country as fraught with peril and discomfort." The impact of the recent disasters on Japan's reputation or brand has been one of the focal points of experts who worry that the disaster would damage the prospects of Japan's strategic growth industries such as cuisine, tourism, and services. But this is not the whole story.

Rather it is the perseverance and calm that Japanese society demonstrated during the crisis that remains the enduring image of Japan in the minds of many people. This positive story was featured widely in the U.S. media immediately after the earthquake and remains relevant today. A case in point today is in Vietnam, a country I visited last month to conduct research on attitudes toward Japan and the United States. Every Vietnamese expert I spoke with told me that their impression of Japan had been further enhanced since the March 11 earthquake. In Vietnam, Japan's reputation was already positive in part due to Japan's vital role in Vietnamese economic development, for example as the largest contributor of foreign aid after the World Bank.

But more interestingly, many Vietnamese admired Japanese discipline, order, and perseverance during the recent crisis. Some Vietnamese want their society to resemble that of Japan as a leading Asian Confucian society, described in T.R. Reid's classic book Confucius Lives Next Door.

Vietnam is no outlier on this view. According to a survey conducted May 9-18 by the AIP-Hakuhodo Earthquake Recovery Project on the "Image of Japanese Products Internationally," positive attitudes of those surveyed toward Japan and Japanese products outnumbered negative ones. A total of 2,700 people were surveyed in China, Korea, Thailand, India, Indonesia, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Brazil. Most people were aware of the earthquake and nuclear accident but wanted to see Japan recover quickly (62.8 percent) and felt sympathy for Japanese people (56.8 percent). As for products, more people responded that their desire to purchase Japanese goods had increased compared with one year ago than those who said it had decreased.

These positive attitudes stand in stark contrast to those in Vietnam toward China. Vietnam's relationship with China reached a "critical mass" in 2008 and has deteriorated since then, reverting to the previous unfriendly relationship that prevailed for the past millennium. Vietnam's brief friendship with China in the 1990s was seen as naive by many of the experts I spoke with. I was in Hanoi during which China's maritime aggression was on display in the South China Sea, when one of its ships cut the underwater cables of a Vietnamese gas survey ship. These episodes have pushed Vietnam closer to the United States and Japan.

China's approach in other areas also has resulted in bringing Vietnam closer to Japan and the United States. Delays in the construction of power plants by Chinese contractors and Vietnam's reliance in its territorially-sensitive northern provinces on China for hydroelectric power have also had this effect. Meanwhile, the appetite for nuclear power and cooperation with Japan in this area remains strong in Vietnam despite the Fukushima crisis. The immediate need in Vietnam is for reliable, affordable electricity, and nuclear power will be a major source in providing that electricity.

Another area is the export of rare earth supplies, which China has restricted, sending prices skyrocketing recently. These strategic metals are used in the production of batteries and high-tech electronics. Demand for rare earths in Japan will increase as its economy recovers in the short-term and as it explores alternatives to nuclear power in the longer-term. China began restricting exports of rare earths to Japan in September 2010 in response to the detainment of a Chinese fishing boat captain by the Japanese coast guard.

Chinese manipulation of the rare earths market again has pushed Japan closer to its neighbors. It has led the Japanese government and companies to promote exploration of rare earths projects in Vietnam and other countries. But one Vietnamese expert told me that he believes that China will begin dumping rare earths on the global market once other countries attain the capacity to produce the metals. This perception that China plays a zero-sum game is common in Southeast Asia and has convinced many that Japan represents a more trustworthy partner that values a positive-sum business ethic.

Many Japan watchers have called the March 11 earthquake a pivot point for Japan's future trajectory. Japan could very well seize this moment to promote innovation, for example in the areas of clean energy and efficiency, and build stronger relationships with its neighbors. But it is a step too far to say that if Japan fails to take advantage of this situation fully, the other path is ruin. It is rather more likely that Japan will face more of the same, with its long-term problems persisting. As one of the most coherent nation-states on Earth, Japan isn't going anywhere. Even if its government fails to come up with a winning strategy, Japan will remain one of the world's most influential economies for years to come.

It is certain, though, that the disaster and the country's response have humanized Japan and shattered stereotypes, making it a country that is more accessible and closer to the rest of the world.

Also published in the Huffington Post.

Photo by Marc Veraart.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Iceland Writes an Information Age Constitution

Few things are as exciting and periodically necessary for a democracy as writing a new constitution. Iceland is in the process of doing just that, and they are doing it with a social media twist.

The Icelandic Stjórnlagaráð or Constitutional Council has solicited public feedback from citizens and is adjusting its drafts accordingly. The Council explains its method and rationale as follows:
The Constitutional Council is eager to make sure the public can be up to date while the work is in progress. It's possible to see the developments in the text of a prospective proposition and make comments. Furthermore, the Constitutional Council has made it possible for the public to send messages and already numerous messages have been sent to the Council. All messages are published on the Council's website under the sender’s name (anonymous messages are not accepted) and the public can read and comment on each of them which has already created a lively discussion on the website.

In this way the Constitutional Council emphasises an open communication with the Icelandic nation and has given the people an opportunity to participate in the formation of a new Constitution of the Republic of Iceland. The Council's work can also be seen on the major communicative media such as Facebook, YouTube and Flickr. Every day short interviews with delegates are put on YouTube and Facebook. On Thursdays at 13:00 there is live broadcast from the Constitutional Council meetings on the webpage and on Facebook. There are also schedules for all meetings, all minutes from meetings of groups, the Board and the Council as well as the Council's work procedures. The webpage also has regular news from the Council's work as well as a weekly newsletter. Advertisements are published in the media encouraging the public to keep track of what is going on and to make comments.

That Iceland chose the digital route should come as no suprise—the country has one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world, and its voter participation rates are roughly double what is common in the United States. Still, it's an impressive maneuver for a country whose legislature, the Althingi, dates back to 930, making it the oldest existing parliament.

Should we expect any substantive surprises from this process? Perhaps it is too soon to tell, with the drafts still shifting wiki-style, but already some interesting ideas have emerged. (The current official English version is machine translated, so some of the following quotations may be awkward.)


The statement on transparency couldn't be clearer: "Governance must be transparent." The new constitution also requires that all "matters and documents held by government … be publicly accessible," which includes complaints made to the government as well as procedures for their redress. That Iceland would uphold press freedom and freedom of information—"anyone is free to gather and disseminate information"—is in keeping with the strong laws they passed last year to protect journalists and anonymous sources, with implications for WikiLeaks and other whistleblowers.


Education is a high priority, and the opening section has a passage on academic freedom: "It should be ensured by law the freedom of science, education, arts and education." There is also a guarantee that everyone will receive a public education, free of charge at the primary level. The spirit animating the education section falls in line with the tradition of civic humanism: "Education shall aim at the full development of each individual, critical thinking and awareness of rights and duties."


By far the most interesting language so far comes in the sections on ownership and natural resources. The overall sense of property rights is that "ownership is inviolable," while "exercise of ownership should not go against the public interest." At the same time, the "natural resources of Iceland are common and perpetual property of the nation. They should be utilized in a sustainable manner for the benefit of all citizens. No one can get them for permanent ownership or use." These clauses are driven by a belief that "Icelandic nature is inviolable. Each person must respect and protect. The utilization of common resources of the nation must act so that they are not diminished in the long term and the right of future generations is observed."

It would definitely be nice to see the "right to healthy environment, fresh water and unspoiled natural land, air and sea" enshrined in a new U.S. Constitution. As it stands, the current crop of Republican candidates has staked out a bizarre stance against environmental protection, despite the fact that the American public consistently supports clean air, clean water, and more renewable energy.

So the new Icelandic constitution may not be as radical as Bolivia granting rights to Mother Earth, but with its procedural innovations and a focus on sustainability and civic humanism, Iceland is certainly showing the world what twenty-first century democracy looks like:

[PHOTO CREDITS: Althingi by vovchychko (CC); Stjórnlagaráð by Stjórnlagaráð (CC).]

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

WindMade Public Comment Period Opens

I recently biked 300 miles over five days from New York City to Washington, D.C. as part of the Climate Ride, a semiannual charity event that raises money for bicycle and environmental organizations. My primary motivation in riding all the way to Capitol Hill (with 120 bright people from the sustainability sector) was the opportunity to meet with legislators to discuss climate change, clean energy, and transportation policy.

Vested interests in the coal, oil, and gas industry would likely characterize such a voyage as quixotic, and they would be correct in one sense: I saw some windmills along the way, each one representing a different phase in America's energy history—Past, Future, and Present.

Windmill 1: The first type of windmill I encountered was actually a windpump. The old beast was motionless and looked something like this:

Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic has a great chapter in his book, Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology, on how innovative businesses and American DIY culture combined to dot the Great Plains with these pumps, making settlement and agriculture possible in arid regions. The technology is still incredibly useful, but it symbolizes the Past.

Windmill 2: The second creature I spied was perched on an Amish rooftop, spinning madly, and looked a bit like this sleek species:

As Kevin Kelly notes in his tome What Technology Wants, the Amish are not adverse to technology as long as it doesn't distort their cultural ethics. They even have social procedures for testing and evaluating new devices, and abandoning them if they are deemed inappropriate. Small modern wind turbines thus symbolize a possible energy Future where innovation is encouraged.

Windmill 3: Finally, I encountered this monster in Morgantown, PA:

I didn't go rooting through the restaurant's trash to find its electricity bill, but the probability is high that this decorative windmill is powered mostly by dirty coal, as Pennsylvania represents 5.3 percent of America's annual coal consumption. This windmill symbolizes the profligate Present.

I bring this up because a consortium of partners has just launched an innovative initiative to label organizations and products as "WindMade." It is a new chapter in what my colleague Michael Conroy calls the certification revolution, one of the primary forces driving branded companies to improve their environmental, social, and governance indicators. It also builds on the legacy of other "trustmarks" such as Fair Trade, Organic, Forest Stewardship, and Marine Stewardship.

In order to qualify for WindMade certification an organization will have to prove that it is getting at least 25 percent of its electricity from wind power. This can be accomplished via on-site turbines, long-term power purchase agreements, and renewable energy credits. The WindMade standard will roll out later this year, starting with certification of whole organizations and specific locations such as factories, while phase two will expand the process to include product certification.

In an innovative crowd-sourcing move, WindMade has opened up its technical standard for a 60-day public comment period to solicit feedback and advice on how it can be improved.

The primary sponsor of this project is the Danish wind company Vestas, the world's leading turbine manufacturer. Vestas has agreed to fund WindMade as an independent nonprofit for its first three years, and going forward support is expected from all partners as well as the participating companies. When asked at a press briefing whether compliance costs would discourage adoption, Vestas representative Bragi Fjalldal indicated that the expense would be "negligible," especially for carbon-conscious companies that are already monitoring emissions.

Bloomberg is the data partner in this endeavor, providing market research, and Curtis Ravenel of their sustainability group estimated that some 100 companies would already qualify at the 25 percent level.

Clearly Vestas has a business interest in promoting wind power through a labeling system, but they also recognize that wind will never provide all of the world's energy needs. For this reason an alternate WindMade label will be available to companies that want to express the mix of energy they receive from wind, hydro, solar, and geothermal sources.

Another key stakeholder and participant in the WindMade process is WWF. According to Stephan Singer of their global energy policy division, climate change is the single gravest threat to species worldwide, which is why WWF has made the case that it is possible and necessary to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

Another positive aspect of the WindMade project is that it intends to aid renewable energy deployment in the developing world. The exact details have yet to be determined, but Angelika Pullen of the Global Wind Energy Council said the following:
WindMade is a global initiative and will reach out to companies in other significant markets such as India, China, and Brazil in the public consultation process to determine how emerging markets and developing countries can best be included in the program. Overall, WindMade strives to make an impact beyond countries where wind energy is well established. It is our intention to raise funds to catalyze wind power projects in countries with less developed renewable energy infrastructure. This is a longer-term goal, however, so the details of how this will be operationalized are still under development.

Complaints about wind being an intermittent power source always strike me as odd, as if that's somehow a fundamentally worse problem than global warming or gyrations in the oil market. The greatest inconsistency I see has been in U.S. policy, which periodically allows wind investment incentives to lapse.

Whether climate change is to blame or not, the world is getting windier, and perhaps this will accelerate construction of offshore installations, which should be competitive with natural gas within the decade. Solar, too, is approaching or has reached grid parity in the sunniest locations.

With its potential to incentivize the growth of renewable energy—which is far from certain at this early stage, given the somewhat "mythical" nature of the ethical consumer—the WindMade label is an innovation that deserves the old "Amish" test run, and early adopters will likely reap a reputational benefit. The success of the program depends upon a strong and transparent technical standard immune from greenwash, which is what makes the public comment period so important. If you have your two cents, now is the time to deposit them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Solar Policy Innovation in New York

The New York solar industry could soon get a big boost if the state legislature passes the Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act (they must be very excited about it, as the bill is typed in ALL CAPS). The video above explains the basic financing and Solar Renewable Energy Credit mechanism quite clearly.

The bill's goal is 5 GW of solar capacity by 2025, with participation from residential, commercial, and utility producers. The incentives and requirements would ramp up and be adjusted over the years to match a growing market and falling costs. Advocates predict that the bill will add some 22,000 new jobs and $20 billion of economic activity to the state, with the primary benefits being cleaner power, long-term reduction of peak power costs, grid reliability, and local generation to supplant the importation of fossil fuels.

This bill is a step in the right direction, but it's hard not to scratch one's head at the lack of ambition here. The target of 2.5 percent by 2025 looks paltry when compared to peer nations like Germany, which installed 7 GW in 2010 alone due to its feed-in tariff system, and that was a slow year! Energy and environment writer David Roberts notes that "German electrical ratepayers fund the program through a small fee that amounts to about 15 percent of their electrical bills," whereas one of the selling points of the New York bill is that it will add only $0.39
to the average residential electric bill. You get what you pay for.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rise of the Rest: Japan and the World

I just got back from giving a talk on a panel titled "The Rise of the Rest IV: Critical Regions in Crisis" at Carnegie Council as part of the rise of the rest series we launched with Nikolas Gvosdev five years ago. The panel included Nikolas Gvosdev, Dov Waxman, David Speedie, and me. It is amazing how relevant this series remains after five years. My remarks were based on a lecture I give at New York University and from a forthcoming book I contributed to on the recent earthquake in Japan.

Here are my remarks from today's talk:

Today, I will touch on some ideas on "the rise of the rest" since our first panel in 2007 at the Nixon Center, then offer my own theory (of convergence), and speak about how it relates to the crisis in Japan.

First, a tour of the horizon on the idea of "the rise of the rest."

The cliche has it that we went from a bipolar world during the Cold War to a unipolar world in the 1990s to a multipolar world today with the rise of the rest. Joseph Nye has added nuance by imagining the world as a three-leveled chess board with the traditional hard-power game on top where U.S. military power still dominates. The second level is the interdependent, complex world of economic globalization, which might be described as multipolar. The third level is the world of transnational issues where no one is in charge, necessitating cooperation between states, companies, organizations, and individuals. The importance of this bottom level has grown with the advance of economic globalization and the information revolution, and it raises the importance of moral power. The power of information in the world of globalization has appeared recently in places like Libya and Egypt as well as in the connectedness the world felt with Japan and the world's response since the recent disasters there.

Kishore Mahbubani and others have expressed dismay in the unfairness of today's international institutions. Although there is a huge shift of power toward Asia, 3 billion Asians do not qualify to run the World Bank or IMF, he noted. This story has certainly come to the fore with the arrest and jailing this week of IMF head Dominique Strauss-Khan.

The original 2007 National Interest article by Barma, Ratner, and Weber pointed to the growing economies of Russia, India, and China as well as the pace in which these so-called non-Western countries were engaging with one another. And the article argued that rather than a simple hub-and-spoke model of international relations, a new choice emerged: countries could route around the United States, as Nick Gvosdev put it. This argument was similar to Parag Khanna's idea that the rise of other states means that relative U.S. influence might decline. This argument also set up the notion that there might be a competing system out there, outside of the U.S.-dominated system.

Harry Harding went on to describe these two systems as two political parties: One was an elitist reform party (which promotes democracy and individual freedom and self-determination, conditional aid, universal norms over sovereignty, skepticism over universal membership organizations, and selective FTAs) and the other was the populist conservative party (which values stability, harmony, and order for domestic systems; strong sovereignty and order internally; cultural diversity over universal norms; looser FTAs, and universal membership organizations). The U.S. wants order internationally while promoting democracy in nations; China opposes hegemony but likes democracy internationally, between nations.

But what about the global public goods such as freedom of movement and safe trading routes? In The Case for Goliath, Michael Mandelbaum demonstrates that the world needs governance and the U.S. is the only country that has been able and willing to assume this role.

For years, U.S. troops have abroad acted as a "public health service" forestalling outbreaks of war and nuclear proliferation, and as a "pest control service" against rogue regimes." Mandelbaum's three famous closing predictions about the world’s attitude toward America’s de facto role as the world’s government: "They will not pay for it; they will continue to criticize it; and they will miss it when it is gone."

Is cooperation and conflict more or less likely? Richard Haass calls the current world one of nonpolarity--power is becoming harder to organize.

This view recalls Parag Khanna's mega-diplomacy in his new book How to Run the World and Ian Bremmer's concept of a g-zero world where there is no "go-to forum."

Harry Harding was more sanguine on this point of cooperation, saying that if the transnational problems of today are so grave, then cooperation will become more likely. Climate change and energy security compel countries to cooperate.

Fareed Zakaria and John Ikenberry seem positive on the American-led system despite shortcomings. Zakaria says we need to integrate the rest, which rose on account of American system.

Similarly, Ikenberry said the United States has set up inclusive institutions that will prolong a Western order. Three aspects of the Western order make it difficult to overthrow:

-Through non-discrimination and an open market, the barriers to economic participation are low and the benefits high, allowing for states to expand their economic and political goals within the order.

-Coalition based leadership allows for shifts in the balance of power between states without affecting the overall order.

-And deeply rooted rules and institutions lay the basis for cooperation.

Moreover, Ikenberry says the security trap that the United States faces--the use of its power creates a backlash--makes institutions more important.

John Mearsheimer, Robert Gilpin, and other realists see times of transition as dangerous because new powers will want to reorganize the rules for their own interests. In Mearscheimer's words, "Given the difficulty of determining how much power is enough for today and tomorrow, great powers recognize that the best way to ensure their security is to achieve hegemony now." Mearscheimer believes trading with China is helping China gain power, which it will use to challenge the U.S.

Finally, some, including George Friedman and Minxin Pei, simply believe China’s power is hyped and focus on the internal problems that "the rest" faces.

Second, my view of convergence in international affairs.

Like the economic theory of factor price equalization, which observes that prices of factors converge as countries trade with one another, I would suggest that as China’s economy becomes richer and its international stake in the global system increases, China's overarching interests will resemble more closely those of the United States and offer less of a “competing model.” That means both more competition--for markets, allies, and resources--but the interaction between China and the U.S. will go both ways.

China's interests and principles in international affairs will change U.S. perceived interests and vice versa, pushing America to keep up in areas in which China excels, such as its advance in Africa and ASEAN, as well as education, innovation, and infrastructure domestically--the key words of President Obama's recent state of union in January 2011. Meanwhile China is racing to challenge American naval power and technology. In the long run, China will be compelled to adopt more freedoms and openness if it wants to continue to advance, I think.

The "West" must keep up with China's tools of statecraft; Japan has been considering launching a sovereign wealth fund and the U.S. has been pushing for more FTAs in Asia. While the U.S. didn't socialize its financial system after the 2008 financial crisis, the importance of regulation and the state was apparent as it is in Japan’s ongoing nuclear crisis today.

It won't be a competition of competing ethics because in a practical sense the right moral principles generally prevail in history, and America's moral principles of universal liberalism have proven right over and over.

Some convergence is being witnessed already. China hand Evan Feigenbaum writes:

"Chinese employment practices [in Africa for example] have produced a backlash in many countries. And that makes me wonder whether Chinese commercial engagement might not produce greater convergence with the US and others in rough, tough investment environments."

But China faces a big dilemma. For China to leap from a manufacturing economy to an innovation economy--which will be necessary for the Chinese Communist Party to generate jobs to stay in power--it will require China to adopt openness and freedoms that threaten its very stability.

Maybe what we will end up seeing is what Henry Kissinger calls a Pacific Community, in which China and the U.S. "co-evolve."

Finally, on this point, where was Japan when we thought it was a threat to the U.S. economy? It had identifiable brands, a strong navy, an unbeatable corporate model, a stellar education system, and a society that prided itself on low crime, high literacy, and social coherence--as, for example, lauded by journalist T.R. Reid. We should put Chinese power in perspective.

Third, what about Japan's recent crisis?

As for Japan after the March 11 earthquake and its relations with the world, we don't know its future but there has been disruption and internationalization stemming from the country's needs since the quake.

Themes showcased during the earthquake and tsunami crisis include: Japan's interdependence with the world, need for leadership, a desire for further transparency in the economy and politics, stoicism and perseverance, and solidarity between the world and Japan.

It also may have dispelled some stereotypes.

Stereotypes about Japan have gone through many phases in the American imagination. During World War II, Japan was a foreign enemy and afterward it was the occupied. In the 1950s and 1960s, Japan was seen as a mystical place offering "exotic" traditions such as tea ceremony, karate, geisha, and Zen Buddhism. Whereas in the past to study Japan was something specialized, learning about Japan is now considered part of becoming a globally minded person. In that sense, the recent disaster may have helped extend the trend of Japan becoming a place people relate to.

A new door to the world also has opened for Japan. One potential impact on how Japan views itself in the world may come from the effect of Japan's experience with and participation in Operation Tomodachi, the deployment of 18,000 U.S. personnel who helped with disaster relief and the delivery of emergency supplies.

Other international connections are being made through the introduction of foreign companies helping with the reconstruction and the surge of good will from nonprofits, charities, and foundations helping from abroad and in Japan. In the months following the disasters, many Japanese companies will consider pushing more of their operations abroad--to the United States, China, or Southeast Asia--to hedge against risk, further internationalizing corporate Japan.

On the other side of the coin, interest in Japan has reached new heights with searches for and mentions of Japan on Google and Twitter reaching records since those data have been collected. A Pew poll said during the March 14-18 period, 64% of blog links, 32% of Twitter news links, and the top 20 YouTube videos were about the disasters in Japan.

But these social networks are only a tool or a process. They don't constitute a galvanizing issue to change Japan.

One possible galvanizing issue could be the need for more green technologies and alternative energy in Japan. The nation went through a dramatic shift in energy policy after the oil shocks in the 1970s, and perhaps the nuclear crisis could push the country into another revolutionary shift. At a press conference last week, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said his government will conduct a fundamental review of the nation's basic energy policy.

A second issue that the nuclear crisis has highlighted is the need for transparency broadly speaking. Japanese have looked abroad for foreign sources of information in frustration with their country’s press and the current dissatisfaction in the government's handling of the crisis has a lot to do with a sense that officials, politicians, and companies were holding back information.

Transparency could become a rallying cry that weaves all of the issues in Japan. Whether Japan takes this chance for change is uncertain. But most people agree that this is probably Japan's last chance in our lifetime to shift its course away from comfortable decline.

Photo: Japanese Woman with Mirrors from George Eastman House

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Deceptively Simple: The Political Art of Francis Alÿs

"Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception" opened recently at the Museum of Modern Art here in New York and visitors will find that the show delivers poetics and politics in equal doses. Alÿs is a globalized artist with sensibilities to match. Hailing from Belgium he set up shop in Mexico City in 1986 and his work reflects the development divide between those two nations.

The piece that strikes you upon entering the exhibition is Cuentos Patrióticos (Patriotic Tales). It is a black and white video of a man (Alÿs) walking in a circle around a flagpole or monument in a public square. He is accompanied in his circulation by sheep that trace his same path. The video is hypnotic and repetitive. As the sheep enter and leave one by one the viewer finds that sometimes the sheep are following the man, sometimes the opposite. The plaza depicted is the Zócalo in Mexico City, and while this knowledge adds a layer of meaning, the video is rich as a timeless meditation on the cycles and rituals of leadership.

Another captivating video is Paradox of Praxis I (Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing), where Alÿs starts pushing a large block of ice around town in the morning, only to have it dissipate into nothing by early evening. While the piece echoes the myth of Sisyphus, as many have noted, I see in it one fundamental difference: the element of choice. The labor of Sisyphus was a punishment whereas Alÿs has chosen to demonstrate a work ethic of focus and endurance, and this theme unites him with On Kawara's Today series and the performances of Marina Abramović. Another crucial difference is that the Sisyphus story gains its potency and absurdity from the infinite, whereas Alÿs connects us to the post-mythical hubris and heuristic of praxis: Yes, you will dissipate like an ice cube one day, so throw your back into what you're doing now.

By far the most complex and provocative work in the show is Politics of Rehearsal. In it an exotic dancer rehearses on a stage with an incongruously operatic musical accompaniment. Mixed with this is footage from Harry S. Truman's 1949 inaugural speech where he sets forth the capitalist case for development aid and democratization. Alÿs describes the piece as "a metaphor of Latin America's ambiguous affair with Modernity, forever arousing, and yet, always delaying the moment it will happen." A narrative voice-over is added in Spanish to flesh out some of the political ideas behind Latin America's constant flirtation with development policies. Central to this text is the sense that a history without victories is dispiriting, and that in such a situation productive work is reduced to mere labor.

We thus start to see a chain of concepts running throughout Alÿs: Rehearsal, Effort (maximal), Result (minimal), Repetition, Reenactment. They lead us not to absurd despair, but rather to a way of life and a means to reflect on it: art as a political science.

The most charming aspect is that while remaining high concept Alÿs exhibits a democratic minimalism. The materials he employs are available to most: shoes, walking, coins, the city, shovels, the natural elements. Friday nights are free admission at MoMA—perhaps the perfect time to see his show. Make sure to catch Tornado.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Who Lost the WikiLeaks Information War?

Reporters need a new ethical framework in order to deploy technologies that can expose business and government misconduct, without creating unintended victims. This was the lesson from a Columbia Journalism School debate last week on "Life after WikiLeaks: Who won the information war?"

The event, a collaboration with the British organization Index on Censorship, brought together a wide spectrum of commentators to hash out the benefits and drawbacks of Julian Assange's decision to share more than 200,000 classified State Department cables with the media.

Sparks flew in a respectful blame game between Mark Stephens, the free expression attorney who represents Julian Assange, and P. J. Crowley, the U.S. Department of State spokesperson who was recently dismissed for criticizing the treatment of accused leaker Bradley Manning.

Crowley asserted that the true casualties of the WikiLeaks release were the informants who were named in the State Department documents—many of them journalists and activists of the stripe Assange seeks to empower. Most headlines about the issue have focused on Afghan informants, but both Crowley and Stephens acknowledged that the names of informants living under a variety of authoritarian regimes appeared in the documents released to news outlets.

Another panelist, Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatav, confirmed that some of the writers identified in the documents have lost access to key sources because those sources now fear exposure in State Department communications. He shared the suspicion that other writers have been imprisoned as a result of their cooperation with the State Department.

The State Department is far from blameless here. Officials had the opportunity to redact the documents before they were published. Moreover, the documents were accessible to the 3 million federal employees with a security clearance—a fairly loose standard for protecting the names of confidential informants in authoritarian countries.

Great responsibility now falls to Assange and the news media to delineate ethical obligations going forward. WikiLeaks walks a blurry line as an intermediary between whistleblowers and reporters. In this case, such diffusion may have hampered the rigorous exercise of news judgment. WikiLeaks also has an organizational problem: Assange and his skeleton crew are not equipped to handle the intricacies of 200,000 diplomatic documents or the ripple effects of their release.

Finally, the media bears responsibility to evolve. Until the New York Times and other outlets construct high-security servers, the sensitive documents of investigative journalism are vulnerable to intrusion by outside sources.

In journalism school, budding reporters are indoctrinated with standards for the ethical treatment of whistleblowers who directly provide documents and interviews. With the mythical days of Deep Throat fading in the rear-view mirror, the industry must catch up with the reality of contemporary information transfer without losing respect for confidentiality.

PHOTO CREDIT: a.powers-fudyma (CC).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Climate Challenge, or How I Learned to Start Pandering and Love the Pork

I played the Climate Challenge game recently after discovering it on the Games for Change website and found it to be a provocative look at the politics and policy solutions related to global warming. While the gameplay has a few blind spots (mainly the lack of good feedback on economic performance) and gets a bit repetitive, Climate Challenge communicates and encourages reflection on some important and perennial political lessons.

The gist is that you "play as the President of Europe from 2000 to 2100 [!?], and attempt to reduce your carbon emissions while maintaining vital national services and remaining popular with the electorate." This is tougher than it seems. There are five variables you must monitor—finances, energy, food, water, and emissions—and five policy areas with which to affect these variables—national, trade, agriculture & industry, local, and household. You are evaluated at the end of your public service on indicators of environment, wealth, and popularity.

For my first attempt I figured why not go for broke with an aggressive Green platform: I ended up getting booted out of office after four rounds. My approval rating fell through the floor when I neglected the food supply and the water infrastructure in favor of fuel taxes and rapid expansion of renewable energy, and my administration was punished by climate-induced floods and heat waves that further compounded my popularity problems. Game Over. Chalk it up to the game's learning curve.

Periodically during Climate Challenge, Europe must engage in environmental diplomacy with the other blocs: North America, South America, Africa, South Asia, Pacifica, and North Asia. The negotiation stage is minimal and it's not clear what's at stake, but you have the option to subsidize green development in each region. Presumably these gestures rally the negotiators to your side. But what is your side? While emissions targets give you something to aim for, they also make your job harder.

On my second pass I tried to be a more sensitive leader while still negotiating in good faith for emissions reductions on the international stage. Fortunately the game is loaded with great policy choices with which to meet these goals—energy innovation and efficiency, transportation and green building regulations, and investments in basic research.

I found that one way to keep my rating high was to focus on subsidizing things people wanted, like home solar, and to steer clear of things they didn't, such as carbon taxes—promote, don't restrict—which seems to adhere to what Roger Pielke calls his "iron law" of climate politics.

Climate Challenge also offers some tempting public programs of uncertain value (within the game environment): launch a space program, host the Olympics, send foreign aid. These tend to hemorrhage money, energy, and emissions, but the voters like them.

I played a final round with an exaggerated pro-business approach, funding things like nuclear projects and carbon capture, yet even then I somehow managed to throw the economy into hyperinflation by 2100 and allow criminals to stalk the streets. Clearly the game needs better feedback on the socioeconomic front, as my approval rating ran high throughout.

While the gameplay is just a bunch of clicking, the real action happens on the conceptual level, and there are some nice contextual touches that teach the reality of nimbyism, resource limitations, and political trade-offs. For example, after each election you get a newspaper report on how your policies have been received. My favorite one said: "The most popular policy was 'Spin your policies.'" A few dollars spent on savvy PR can go a long way.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Music is a Positive Force

I had the pleasure of catching afrobeat star Femi Kuti in concert this week at the Highline Ballroom in New York. He's on tour with his Positive Force band to promote their new album Africa for Africa.

Femi is the son of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the legendary musical pioneer and political activist who stirred up Nigeria in the 1970s and 80s. Fela's music embodies the universal struggle for rights, recognition, and an end to corruption. His lyrics are fiery even when his grooves remain mellow, blending psychedelic rock with James Brown, jazz, and West African high life.

Fela's songs confront the ills he observed in Nigerian society under repressive regimes: Political conformity is ridiculed in "Zombie" and "Mister Follow Follow," peace and resources run through "Water No Get Enemy," and the spirit of resistance animates "No Agreement."

Femi upholds a lot of his father's legacy—he leads the band from behind a Hammond organ and he solos on sax and trumpet when he isn't roaming with the microphone, delivering sweet songs as well as political lectures. What really sets Femi apart from his father is the more muscular, aggressive sound he has cultivated. His compositions blare with tight, punchy horns, and crisp drumming. The tempos are mostly up, breaking only rarely into an island lilt. Femi's body vibrates with the extra energy he couldn't cram into his songs, and even his audience banter hits like a confident staccato hammer of pidgin and English.

Femi also picks up his father's political messages, which continue to resonate in Nigeria some 14 years since Fela died from AIDS complications. The demands in "E No Good" are simple: electricity, drinkable water, housing, good health care, and good pay for doctors, teachers, and police. The afflictions are laid out in equally clear terms: corruption, lies, and inequality.

"Dem Bobo" [They Misinform]

So we struggle suffer dey [here]
For this new democratic change
But the truth of the matter be say
Dem disguise another way
To continue their crooked ways
Oh yes, dem bobo
"It Don't Mean"

When you are walking down the street
Or feeling cool in your brand new Lexus jeep
Because you got money, you feeling rich
Don't mean that the poverty does not exist

As a musician who has toured, Femi sees the pattern across Africa, the same problems and same pains in different countries, as well as the luxuries like social security considered common in rich countries. Generals oscillate with presidents yet the suffering and mago mago [illegal deals] remain. Goons are interchangeable.

"Africa for Africa"

Brothers and sisters
Our countries are colonial structures
Borderlines to keep us forever separated
We must love Africa
We must care for Africa
War and conflicts will only bring suffering and hunger
African leaders must bring us together

All these songs lean more to the descriptive than the prescriptive, which is often where the artist must pass the baton. So what are the good solutions? Can countries shed "Bad Government" without shedding blood as in Northern Africa?

Femi drew a diverse crowd here in New York, with the peoples of no particular continent dominating the mix. This testifies both to the universal power of music and to the potential of cities and democracies to help people live in harmony.

Neuroscientists have discovered that brain cells fire at the exact frequencies our ears hear. What better evidence could exist that reason will eventually prevail over the petty rivalries that divide us? The vibrations outside our bodies are matched in abstract purity inside our minds, and thus shared alike from mind to mind. Pair this with an inspiring message and the people become an unstoppable positive force.

Musicians have a serious responsibility when choosing the tones and stories with which to fill their listeners. Femi Kuti honors this sacred duty, and the legacy of his father, by building a musical shrine for free spirits.

Friday, April 22, 2011

NYU Students: U.S. Should Support An Inclusive Global Community

Last week, I facilitated a class debate on U.S. policy toward East Asia for a class I teach at NYU called the "Rise of East Asia." (Click here to read the summary of the class from spring 2010 and here to read the summary from the class from summer 2009.) This semester's class was smaller than previous semesters but the debate was nonetheless fascinating. Perhaps one of the most striking elements of the debate was a widely shared view that the United States cannot lead the world alone. Rather the United States must lead in cooperation with other countries--a strategy of cooperative security if you will. In that light, the students stressed the need for relations between countries to be on equal footing and therefore they questioned the tradition of looking at U.S. foreign relations in hierarchical order.

Below are the impressions of Elizabeth Matsumoto, who participated in the debate:

"Rise of East Asia" Class Debate on March 30 2011

On March 30 2011, President Obama's 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS) provided the backdrop for a carefully worded but intense debate among six NYU SCPS students in Professor Devin Stewart's "Rise of East Asia" class. There were varied opinions but also overwhelming agreement on U.S. priorities in national security, a concern that preoccupied the better part of the debate, followed by recommendations for American policy in East Asia, a region defined as ASEAN, China, Japan, the Koreas, and Australia.

The goal of the debate was to prepare an in-class National Security Strategy by consolidating excerpts from the Obama document with newly derived conclusions. The class began by focusing on grand strategy, or the all-encompassing mission statement that could best be classified as a philosophical approach to national security. Obama's grand strategy focuses on "renewing American leadership," a reaction to the military emphasis of the Bush era. Evidence that this renewal involves the dual process of being strong at home, by rebuilding the economy, education system, while being influential abroad became readily apparent in a preliminary study of the document.

Class reaction was overwhelmingly positive to the Obama Administration's grand strategy, characterizing it as "a step in the right direction." The group also called for a policy of engagement that would "create more international organizations, and cooperation," that prioritized American leadership and "enlightened self-interest." The best means of pursuing leadership was also briefly debated, with an emphasis on collaboration, or co-leadership as the optimal means of engagement.

Class also argued that co-leadership on important global matters should be initiated while cautiously balancing security and openness, given that "safety and prosperity are bound by events beyond our borders." The Grand Strategy was subsequently revised to the following statement: "The United States should cooperate in redefining the international order, to support an inclusive community of nations with global responsibility." Class also stressed the grand strategy remain compatible with the general aim of engagement abroad: to give incentives to nations to act responsibly, while conveying they may face consequences if they do not.

With the grand strategy established, the class then began the task of defining the Interests of National Security. First came the security of the United States, its citizens and the "human rights of all people," an important clause directly correlated to the grand strategy’s notion of an "inclusive community." Next was international prosperity, an aim intertwined with rebuilding a strong economy, powered by "fiscal responsibility, education, and innovation" at home. Debate on whether to retain values, or ethical policy followed. Given the overarching ethical aim of the grand strategy, the class concluded this section redundant. An international order promoted by a participatory American leadership was also listed under the interests section of the document.

With a comprehensive security policy finalized, a discussion of U.S. allies in Asia followed. Talks began with a ranking. Japan's strategic importance placed it in the number one slot, followed by traditional allies South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand. In light of recent events, the class also noted the Great Tohoku Earthquake in Japan has strengthened the U.S.-Japan alliance, but emphasis on fostering more equal partnerships with not only America's allies but other willing nations was of growing importance.

This last policy suggestion tied well with subsequent discussions. Class recognized the significance of engagement with China, Asia's largest emerging power. Involvement in regional institutions ASEAN, APEC, the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP), and EAS (East Asia Summit) was also highlighted as a key step towards multilateralism. Furthermore, in alignment with Obama’s call for a more "positive, constructive, and comprehensive relationship with China," and to "encourage continued reduction in tension between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan" U.S. bilateral relations with Taipei was ranked below other policy priorities.

As discussion continued, the term "allies" also came under debate. If the chief aim of national security was to foster inclusiveness, some questioned the need to classify a few select nations as allies. The possibility the U.S. military presence in Japan and South Korea was polarizing, and could potentially undermine claims to inclusive cooperativeness was also briefly deliberated. As the debate drew to a close, emphasis was repeatedly placed on greater involvement in regional institutions, both existing ones such as the Six Party Talks, APEC, ASEAN, EAS, and TPP. There was also agreement a Northeast Asian Alliance analogous to ASEAN would be an impactful starting point.

- Elizabeth Matsumoto

Photo "Woolworth Building" by laverrue.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fukushima and the Fragility of Modern Civilization

As a companion piece to an on-the-ground account of the Japanese earthquake we published last week, I am posting here some thoughts from our colleague Peter David Pedersen of the Tokyo sustainability consultancy E-Square Inc. He reflects on the longer-term consequences of how Japan (and the rest of the world) will change behaviors related to potentially dangerous energy sources such as nuclear power. Peter has had personal experience with censorship in the Japanese media when it comes to criticizing TEPCO specifically and nuclear power in general.

Ogoto-onsen, near Kyoto, March 18, 2011

I am writing to you from a hotel along the shore of Biwa-ko, Japan's largest lake, some 528 km west (and slightly south) of the Fukushima nuclear power station. Fresh snow is covering the landscape in what would normally be a very idyllic setting.

Right now it feels absolutely surreal, as if all the earthquake destruction in eastern Japan combined with the man-made specter of nuclear destruction were scenes out a Hollywood movie entitled "Twin Disasters." But this is no movie, and whether there will be any form of "happy" ending to the nuclear malaise remains entirely unpredictable.

The Japanese government "cannot" talk openly and honestly to the Japanese public about the potential dangers in a worst-case scenario at Fukushima, primarily because of fears of panic among the 30 million people in the world's largest metropolitan area, Tokyo and Yokohama.

Over the last 10 years or so, I have repeatedly experienced the attempts of TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co.) to control information on nuclear power in this country. For eighteen months, from 2000–2001, I anchored the main news program at MX TV, Tokyo's local TV station, and was told by the producer that "since TEPCO is a sponsor of our program, I would prefer if you do not openly criticize nuclear power."

On another occasion, I was writing a piece for a well-known publication for 5th and 6th grade school kids on the environment. That time the chief editor told me, "TEPCO is one of the sponsors of our magazine. While I would like you to write on the environment, please don't be critical of nuclear power."

On a third occasion, not directly related to TEPCO, I was interviewed by the Yomiuri newspaper, one of Japan's top two newspapers in terms of circulation, about the 1978 demonstrations throughout Denmark against the possible introduction of nuclear power, in which I participated as a child. When the interview appeared in the newspaper, my phrase "demonstrations against nuclear power" had been altered to "demonstrations for renewable energy." This was not what I had said, and when I called the journalist in charge, he sheepishly apologized, saying, "I did not dare to write anything negative about nuclear power lest I should invite the wrath of my editor (boss)."

I feel so very sorry for the people who are, right now, sacrificing their future health, and some of them their immediate lives, working to stop the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. They may be described as "heroes"—and surely their efforts as such are heroic—but in a wider perspective they are victims of an industry in which the brainwashing of contractors and workers to believe that what they work with is safe has been pervasive.

In its entirety, the present situation in eastern Japan and the Tokyo metropolitan area has revealed the amazing fragility of modern civilization. All lifelines—water, transport, electricity, food supplies—have been severed or disrupted in eastern Japan, and Tokyo, one of the world's largest cities, was in danger of a large-scale, sudden blackout yesterday afternoon (March 17) as a cold spell of weather drove up electricity consumption close to the limit of maximum supply.

A good friend of mine, working at Tohoku University not far from the epicenter of the earthquake, called to tell how he finally, after six days, managed to leave Sendai (a city of more than 1 million on Honshu's east coast), driving to Tokyo in a 16-hour ordeal. No gasoline being available anywhere on the route, he barely managed to reach Tokyo, his gas tank drying up. More frightening than the drive, though, was how food and water were virtually impossible to obtain in the city center of Sendai.

"Emergency supplies have been distributed to the schools where tens of thousands of people take refuge, but nothing seemed to reach the city of Sendai and shelves in supermarkets were almost completely empty. For the first time, I had the feeling of a threat to my life because of an inability to buy food," he told me.

My friend made it, but older and weaker people are dying—or will die—as the crucial lifelines of a hypermodern society have been devastated.

The question, obviously, is what we can learn from this experience, not only in Japan but also in modern society as a whole. It remains to be seen whether we will truly learn anything at all. To me, there seem to be at least three major lessons. The first is the question of how or if lifestyles and values will change. The thing that the Japanese have been praised for throughout the first week of this terrible disaster has not been "technology" or "financial strength"—it has been the strong spirit, the patience, and the human qualities of the people here that have touched many around the world.

Money and shiny goods in temples of consumption have carried absolutely no value for the people here in the last week. Is there a chance that we may, now, see and act on the emptiness of useless consumerism? I hope there is a chance, although I do at the same time fear that once things settle down, Japan and the world will go on as if nothing had happened.

The second lesson is the danger of concentration of population into huge metropolises. Although the epicenter of the M9.0 earthquake was hundreds of kilometers northeast of Tokyo, the city was paralyzed, streets were clogged, subways inoperative, and phone lines dead. The staff at my office could not get home or get in touch with their family.

What if—and this could happen any day—the earthquake had hit Tokyo straight on? I have not the courage to think of the scale of disaster or the number of human lives that would have been lost. As urbanization continues at great speed in the world's population centers, the utter fragility of the 21st century megacity poses serious questions. Is there a way to answer this question in a more humane and sustainable manner than we are experiencing today? There must be.

The third lesson is the folly of making ourselves dependent on energy production from large-scale and extremely dangerous power stations, where no workable plans exist to control worst-case scenarios. Huge costs will be incurred in Japan over the next several decades to clean up Fukushima. Huge costs were incurred to build the plant in the first place. Surely this money could have been used more wisely. Hopefully, the lesson taken from Fukushima will, finally, make the idea of nonviolent, nontoxic, decentralized energy sources the mainstream policy and business choice around the world.

If we can learn the lessons, there is hope for the future.

Peter David Pedersen
Chief Executive
E-Square Inc.
Tokyo, JAPAN

[PHOTO CREDIT: Globovisión. Damaged reactor at Fukushima (CC).]

Monday, March 7, 2011

Drops Not Drones, Vaccines Not Marines

You are likely to be judged by the company you keep. In Osama bin Laden's case, the isolated mountains of tribal Afghanistan and Pakistan provide a perfect safe haven for him and for polio. Thirty years of conflict and low economic development have resulted in security and health infrastructure that is inadequate for deploying an effective regional eradication program. Thus the Af-Pak borderlands remain one of only a handful of places (including India and Nigeria) where polio is endemic, though flare-ups also occur across Africa and Central Asia due to importation.

As the Afghan war moves into its tenth year and intensifies to ten airstrikes per day, the time is beyond ripe to question whether we're packing the right payload. The United States spends more than $100 billion per year executing the war in Afghanistan, while Afghan GDP is around $15 billion. Clearly this is unsustainable.

Compare this to the figures required for global health and development. Bill Gates said recently that $2 billion is needed for polio eradication over the next two years, while the campaign is currently experiencing a $700 million shortfall. In a speech at the former Roosevelt home in New York, Gates delivered his annual foundation letter in which he outlines his strategy for charitable giving. Polio eradication is the key focus this year, and his rationale centers on four points:

1. We are close to eradication: There are only about 1,000 cases left per year globally;
2. Eradication will permanently free up resources for other vaccination and health campaigns;
3. The affected regions will benefit in terms of economic productivity; and
4. Eradication will provide a motivational victory for the health industry, driving further hope and investment.

As polio is just one affliction of poverty among many, it's important to consider the opportunity costs. Critics such as D. A. Henderson, the leader of the team who eradicated smallpox, feel that dumping billions into polio eradication is a misallocation of funds. Polio is difficult to kill because of a number of combined factors: the variety of strains, asymptomatic carriers, a vaccine that is not 100 percent effective, parental refusal, a lack of infrastructure, and management problems in organizing all the national campaigns. It is very much a door-to-door endeavor, but so was smallpox eradication.


A point in favor of financing polio eradication is that the vaccine can be viewed as a gateway process leading to routine immunization services for more common diseases. One-fifth of children today don't have such access. Beyond the obvious health consequences, lack of access also presents an organizational problem in the fight against polio because it leads to underreporting and thus keeps the virus elusive.

There is also the issue of innovative and appropriate technologies: Something as simple as camel-portable refrigerators could go a long way toward keeping vaccine doses fresh. If the U.S. military is deploying innovative solar modules to replace the generators that power air conditioning at its forward operating bases in Afghanistan, then clearly some of these technologies can be repurposed for more benign operations.


At the Bill Gates event, David Oshinsky, author of Polio: An American Story, said we need to motivate a new March of Dollars to "get kids interested in the moral dimension" of helping other kids around the world. The original March of Dimes organized by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was able to finance research for the polio vaccine through a flood of small private contributions.

But it was much easier to motivate Americans to donate when their classmates were leaving behind empty school desks. Gates attributes the moral gap today to this physical proximity problem. Even with his computer software stitching the world together, polio mostly kills and maims people outside the eye of the rich world's collective consciousness. Few things illuminate the power and puzzle of globalization more than the world's richest man reaching out to help some of the poorest. His ethical sense drives him to do it.


Gates has collected allies along the way. The British government has pledged to double its funding to $60 million from $30 million as a matching grant conditional on contributions from other donor governments. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi recently contributed $50 million, and the government of Pakistan announced an emergency response to the increase of cases in its territory.

So whose side are we on? In one corner we have Robert Gates and the U.S. Department of Defense dropping bombs from drones. In the other corner we have Bill Gates asking the world to spend more to save the most vulnerable. Send in the vaccines, or send in the Marines. It's a pretty stark simple choice.

[PHOTO CREDIT: Gates Foundation (CC).]