Monday, January 30, 2006

Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him - New York Times

Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him - New York Times

This article, by the NY Times'Andrew Revkin, describes NASA's attempt to stifle the dissemination of scientific information that does not concur with the mythology of the Bush administration. I am not surprised, but I am still horrified. This is probably going on in many fields. The scientist in question is a climate expert, and has spoken and written often over the past 30-odd years on climate change. He is highly respected in the scientific community, and presents his views as his alone, not official statements from NASA. Yet, NASA is trying to prevent him from speaking to the press because his messages do not make the Bush administration look good. I'm not kidding:
"In one call, George Deutsch, a recently appointed public affairs officer at NASA headquarters, rejected a request from a producer at National Public Radio to interview Dr. Hansen, said Leslie McCarthy, a public affairs officer responsible for the Goddard Institute.

Citing handwritten notes taken during the conversation, Ms. McCarthy said Mr. Deutsch called N.P.R. "the most liberal" media outlet in the country. She said that in that call and others, Mr. Deutsch said his job was "to make the president look good" and that as a White House appointee that might be Mr. Deutsch's priority. "

Where does it end? It isn't just at NASA. Apparently this happened at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, too. Who knows where else.

It is absolutely inappropriate and unproductive for politicians to gag or message-manage scientists. The Bush administration has created an alternative to reality, a mythology in which scientists are crazy and religious nuts are credible scientists (ID). They are trying to create a situation in which the only available information is information that supports their version of reality. If this doesn't remind you of The Matrix, it should at least remind you of China and other dictatorships.

I keep saying it, and I will say it again: it will not surprise me if Bush tries to get a third term. It will not surprise me if the elections are rigged. Everywhere else I have seen the symptoms of tyranny, that is what has happened.

A False Balance - New York Times

A False Balance - New York Times

Just read this.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Foreign Aid Shell Game

In many ways, government use of foreign aid to further foreign and even domestic policy agendas makes sense. If we accept the human construct of the nation (for, what else is it?), then on some level we must accept that those who are members of the nation have shared interests at stake, both domestically and internationally, that must be protected. As I’ve stated before, I’m still not convinced that there are many good arguments for caring about people in other nations that aren’t implicitly or explicitly moral. If we assume that the nation is not a moral actor, then using foreign aid to support national agendas makes perfect sense. Why else would a nation do it? The biggest problems with this approach are 1) “national interest” is often full of contradictions; 2) members of the nation do not always have an agreed-upon image of what the “national interest” is; and 3) the inherent short-term nature of democratic government makes “national interest” a politically moving target.

So, in response to eninnej’s question, is it a bad thing that NGOs that receive government funding are complicit in furthering government aims, I would say that it depends. It depends on the purpose and the moral stance of the NGO. If the moral stance of the NGO happens to be in line with the national interest stance of the government, then as far as the NGO is concerned, who cares? Take the money and run. On the other hand, if the moral stance of the NGO is at odds with the government, as it often is, then I would say that NGOs in this position that take government funding lack integrity. We can’t expect all NGOs to agree with us as individuals, and these institutions have no representative role vis-à-vis the larger national population. However, an institution that supports and actively implements what are, essentially, a government’s foreign policy objectives has no business portraying itself as neutral.

NGOs that implement the US government’s foreign policy will never rock the boat enough to create meaningful social change (more another time on how, if at all, they might do this; see also Saul Alinsky). If development NGOs do make positive change in the lives of people as individuals, through microfinance, agriculture, or education programs or what have you, great. But saying that there is an improvement is still making a value judgment: this is better than that. Sure, I believe that individuals are capable of making that judgment for themselves on the basis of their unique situation. I like living in a house better than living in an apartment; that statement is culturally bound, but it is individually arrived at by me in my unique circumstance. However, I can’t extrapolate from that and say that living in a house is better for everyone.

NGO workers will certainly be more at risk the closer the ties are between their funding source and the Department of State. In many of the places where these hard-working and well-meaning folk strive (like Sisyphus) to bring justice and progress, they will be targeted because their employers receive funding from the US government. Eventually, all NGO workers, funded or not by the US government, will be targeted, because the terrorist’s weapon is blunt. Their work will surely be negatively affected.

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Cash meant for Iraqis 'misused'

BBC NEWS Middle East Cash meant for Iraqis 'misused' This news of US government corruption related to reconstruction in Iraq is likely to be overlooked by most, but the truth is, it is the tip of a disgusting iceberg of corruption and deception related to Iraq. Just the thought of all that money wasted by this administration's incompetence makes my stomach turn. This corruption has hurt everyone who has been concerned about Iraq in good faith, from Liberal to Conservative.

How dare they think that they have any right to use taxpayer money in such an irresponsible way? Taxpaying Americans, especially those who pay honestly, do so with the implicit assumption that their money will be used to pay for the operations of government that benefit Americans and serve our interests as a nation. This fraud, which of course is not beyond my imagining of what this current administration is capable of, has betrayed that trust. I'm not naive enough to think that this is the only black mark on the US government, or that this administration is the only one to sink to this level of depravity. What really gets my goat in this case is that the honest taxpayers across the political spectrum who expected our country to commit in a serious way to reconstruction in Iraq, which convinced some of them to vote for Bush in the last election, were lied to and deceived. Yet I am well aware that the likelihood of them getting angry enough to kick him out is slim at best -- they are still starry-eyed over his religion.

The Iraqis have suffered a double indignity at our hands. I'm not talking about the insurgents or the terrorists. I'm talking about the regular people of Iraq. They never asked for us to destroy their country in the name of their freedom, yet we deigned it our responsibility to do so. And this is how we pay them back for letting us put on the anti-terrorist show: we steal money meant to help them recover and rebuild a functioning country. What a lie. What more proof does the world need that the US, as currently led by the Bush administration, is in itself a danger to humanity. That money could never have been meant to actually rebuild anything for the Iraqis. Look to other post-disaster and war programs the US has funded: the Tsunami, the Balkans. While the progress in those cases has been painfully slow and faced many bureaucratic hurdles, work was being done in good faith. For the most part, the contracts and grants dispersed and managed by USAID and cooperating NGOs were implemented to the benefit of the people who survived. There have been many problems, of course, but nothing like this.

Why, then, did the US government choose not to follow normal, proven procedures for reconstruction programming? This article postulates that it is because of the desire for secrecy before the war. However, that isn't enough. Once we began hostilities, they should have begun to plan for recovery openly, taking advantage of experts in the field. They did not, proving once again that this administration has no interest in the sustainability of change in Iraq. That was never the point.

When we start to take a hard look at the Iraq crisis, I think that we'll be able to see the outlines of the truth about the Bush administration. Nothing they have done to date makes sense within normal American logic or reasoning if we assume that the goal was a stable and democratic Iraq and the end of terrorism, but it must be the result of some coordinated thought process. So what is the motivation? What is the goal? I shudder to think that the entire point of all this death and destruction was only meant to enhance Bush's political standing and take attention away from the crimes his administration is committing against the American people on the domestic front.

Someone will have to tell me what part of this doesn't look exactly like any typical Latin American or African dictatorship. Spying on civilians, limitation or elimination of judicial procedures on executive order, punishment for straying from the party line, senseless war (see the Falklands Islands conflict for another, albeit less drastic, example), propaganda...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

BBC NEWS | Africa | Cattle raids 'kill 38' in Kenya

BBC NEWS Africa Cattle raids 'kill 38' in Kenya This article talks about recent cattle raids in the north of Keny, which folks there attribute to the on-going drought and famine in the region. When I read articles like this or hear about these events at work, it really drives home the point for me that this world is not one, but many. I have been to northern Kenya and southern Sudan, and I have seen cattle herders and talked to them about conflict over grazing pastures and water holes, yet still I have trouble getting my Western mind around it. Cattle herders living in the Horn of Africa region are on the edge of survival every day, and they sing love songs to their cows because those cows mean life and hope to them.

I have heard people in the States call these cultures 'primitive', but they have been around a lot longer than our culture has, and yet they have not had the motive or opportunity to 'modernize'. They aren't more noble than we, as many would like to imagine. They aren't necessarily more spiritual or closer to nature. They, like all humans, make rational decisions, and act within what they perceive, given their cultural, geographic, political, and religious perspective, to be their best interests, just as we do.

The most interesting question to me is, "What are the conditions within which is it rational to kill other human beings over cattle?", which leads to the questions, "If it is decided that this is negative, how can the conditions under which is it no longer rational be brought about?" and "Who is in the appropriate position to decide whether a behavior is negative or positive?"

I know that I sound abnormally relativist here, and I can actually feel some of my friends and colleagues cringing as I write this even before they read it, but "development" and "justice" and "peace" depend largely on those questions. When we engage in "development", we implicitly decide, either with or for the targets of our development, that the status quo is inherently worse than the ideal to which we attempt to move them. Either we accept the value judgment of the target beneficiaries, which might be flawed by proximity to the issue, or we impose our own value judgment, which is flawed by distance from the issue.

Furthermore, much "development" work does not aim to create conditions under which rational action conforms to the ideal. Rather, much of it is aimed at treating the symptoms (getting people to dialogue instead of fight, rather than asking why there is conflict in the first place), or trying to encourage people to change their behavior without changing the conditions that made that behavior rational. This approach is absolutely not sustainable. If the conditions do not change, the rational response to them will also not change.

Therefore, if we decide that somehow we can figure out what the ideal world looks like and we commit to bringing that world into being, then we must change the fundamental cultural and social infrastructure of the world. This means activism against the status quo, which is dangerous and can have myriad negative outcomes as it is unpredictable and in conflict with the power structure.

Since I have yet to meet a development worker who is a committed activist for sea changes in culture and society (myself included), my conclusion is that we are lying to ourselves and others, feeding on a pleasant, ego-fulfilling fantasy that somehow we are making a difference. We might have a finger in the dyke, and it might be the right dyke. It might not be a dyke at all.