The Nation

The World Bank’s Waste of Energy

Cambodian villager

A woman in rural Cambodia uses a wood burning stove to cook. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

The World Bank’s job is to fight poverty. Key to lifting people out of poverty is access to reliable modern energy. It makes sense. Kids do better in school when they can study at night. Microbusiness owners earn more if they can keep their shops open after sundown. And when women and children don’t have to gather wood for cooking they’re healthier and have more time for other activities.

What doesn’t make sense is using a failed scheme—like carbon trading—to pay for it.

Carbon trading was developed as a way for industry to comply with laws limiting greenhouse gas emissions more cheaply. Companies that can’t or won’t meet carbon caps can purchase surplus allowances from others that have kept pollution below legal limits.

The UN established an international system called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to make it even cheaper for businesses in rich countries to meet carbon regulations by paying for clean energy projects in developing nations. Purchasing these offsets through the CDM was promoted as a new way to provide financing to poorer countries.

But the poorest countries most in need of climate and development money generally don’t benefit from the CDM. First, they often don’t have large industrial or fossil fuel-based energy sectors that generate significant volumes of carbon pollution. Also, it takes enormous time and effort to verify project plans, register with the CDM and validate that emissions have been cut, making it impractical for investors to finance small projects that only generate a low number of carbon credits.

That was the case even before the CDM “essentially collapsed,” in the words of a UN-commissioned report on its future. Weak emissions targets and the economic downturn in wealthy nations had resulted in a 99-percent decline in the price paid for offsets between 2008 and 2013. There was also evidence that the scheme’s largest projects actually increased greenhouse gas emissions. Add on the tax scandals, fraud, Interpol investigations and human rights violations, and the scheme had fallen into disarray.

Ci-Dev to the Rescue?

Given this record of failure, it’s odd that the World Bank is spending scarce donor resources to convince the world’s poorest countries to buy into the CDM. But that’s exactly what the bank’s Carbon Initiative for Development (Ci-Dev) proposes to do.

Ci-Dev was launched in 2013 to increase energy access in African and “least developed” countries (LDCs) by funding projects that use clean and efficient technologies through “emission reduction-based performance payments”—in other words, by purchasing carbon credits from them.

But the program seems to be more about erecting scaffolding around the crumbling CDM than about getting renewable energy to impoverished families. The bank lists the following as the initiative’s goals: extending the scope of the CDM in poor countries; demonstrating that carbon credit sales are part of a successful business model; developing “suppressed demand” accounting for LDCs to inflate their emissions baselines to earn more credits and influencing future carbon market mechanisms so that LDCs get a greater share of the financing.

The Ci-Dev has one program—the readiness fund—to build countries’ capacities to engage with the carbon market and to experiment with new methods for fast-tracking small-scale CDM projects. It channels millions of dollars into helping create offsets for which there are few buyers. The initiative has a second program—the carbon fund—to pay for carbon credits that are eventually produced but don’t sell on the market.

The bank says it is prioritizing support for community and household-level technologies like biogas, rooftop solar and micro-hydro power. But it will also fund projects in “underrepresented” sectors such as waste management. Because there’s no clear definition of what types of technologies it can and can’t fund, the Ci-Dev could end up financing electricity from natural gas and other controversial sources of “lower carbon” power.

A Better Approach

Regardless of technology, it’s irresponsible of the World Bank to spend development dollars on building carbon trading infrastructure in low-income countries for offset projects that have diminishing demand, and whose financial success is linked to a failing international market.

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A better approach would be to directly build governance, operational and financing capacity in the least developed countries for renewable energy infrastructure, alongside providing grant and concessional financing for distributed solar, wind and small-scale hydropower projects. The private sector can play a critical role, but the most important businesses to engage are small and medium-sized enterprises that provide mini- and off-grid services to the rural poor.

The paltry climate finance and development assistance being provided by wealthy countries should be spent on what people actually need. Women, children and small business owners desperately need reliable energy that’s affordable and clean. It’s a shame that the World Bank is wasting so much time, money and energy on constructing a market that has little worth and attracts few investors.

Read Next: Alec Luhn writes about whether the IMF bailout will turn Ukraine into another Greece.

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 4/11/2014?

Vanishing ice caps

A NASA satellite image shows the state of Arctic sea ice. (Reuters/NASA)

—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration and literature.

The Problem with Counting,” by Jennifer Pan. Dissent, April 3, 2014.

Jennifer Pan’s take on the VIDA count—which lists, annually, the ratio of male-to-female bylines at major publications (e.g., The Nation’s overall 2013 VIDA count was 478:179… smh)—simultaneously indicts the literary old guard (and much of the new guard) for their perennially dude-heavy mastheads, while also explaining why such inventories are an inadequate, even counterproductive, means of measuring equality in journalism. The problem with the “numbers game,” i.e., judging the media establishment’s inclusivity on the basis of the number of female or black or queer writers who have bylines, is that it tends to “transform media inequality from a structural problem to an individual one.” So long as the very lowest rungs of the publishing world—where un- or under-paid internships still reign—are only available to people with economic privilege, prestigious college degrees and access to the networks of literary power, writers with those advantages will be overrepresented in the pool of candidates for jobs, and writing opportunities, at the top. Counting bylines, Pan suggests, addresses only the symptoms of a deeply embedded institutional disease—substituting “a politics of shaming for a politics of redistribution.” Of course we should hold editors accountable for hiring a diversity of writers—just as we should hold colleges accountable for admitting a diversity of students—but we must never mistake achieving parity at the top for the real work of building fundamentally egalitarian institutions, from the ground up.

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

“How Children’s Books Fuel Mascot Stereotypes,” by Aura Bogado. Colorlines, April 7, 2014.

Growing up as a sports fan outside of Atlanta, Georgia, I encountered racist images of Native Americans every summer when I would go see the Atlanta Braves play baseball: the tomahawk chop, Chief Noc-A-Homa, the war chant. These encounters informed my ideas of Native Americans and their culture just as much as the brief asides in school dedicated to versions of “American” and “European” history that were far more concerned with the accomplishments of powerful white men than with the indigenous people. However, after reading Aura Bogado’s recent piece for Colorlines, I realized that I probably encountered these images at a far younger age, while learning to read as a child. In the piece, Bogado interviews Debbie Reese, an academic, blogger and tribally enrolled Pueblo Indian from Nambe Pueblo who studies children’s literature. Reese mentions images in popular children’s fiction as fueling the same stereotypes manifested in racist mascots and sports teams. Some of my favorite childhood series were guilty: The Berenstain Bears and Clifford the Big Red Dog, among others.

—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.

The Tipping System Is a Scam—And Here are Six Ways to Game It,” by Alice Robb. The New Republic, April 2, 2013.

This article has an unfortunate title: it lays out six studies that have revealed the cruelly arbitrary factors that tipped workers’ income depends on. Among the things that will reliably and significantly increase the tips workers receive are: having blond hair, wearing red and drawing smiley faces on customers’ receipts. The idea that servers’ pay depends primarily on how competent their service is is a joke. Unless, of course, we consider the emotional labor and “beauty labor” they do to be part of their job, which, of course, it ends up being: as in many feminized occupations, much of the work that is required of the workers goes unrecognized. We should read this article in the context of the recent movement to end the “tip credit” (which allows tipped workers to be paid far below minimum wage) and also in the context of other recent work on women’s labor—I thought this article about egg donation and this one about women in the media were particularly interesting, this week. But mostly, we should focus on the first half of the title, and take inspiration from the nascent anti-tipping movement the article identifies, rather than resign ourselves to trying to game it with dye-jobs and the simulation of happiness.

—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.

How Politics Makes Us Stupid,” by Ezra Klein. Vox, April 6, 2014.

It’s important to read things you disagree with, but also to engage with initially unpalatable ideas on a non-superficial level: this is both the thesis of Klein’s article and my reason for reading it. Data-driven news, the idea behind Klein’s Vox Media and this piece, operates under the assumption that there’s some objective truth accessible through a few uncontroversial basic axioms of thought—namely, a strong faith in the natural and social sciences. Klein’s piece is both a plug for data journalism and an attempt at explaining why people don’t use “facts” to get the right answer, but to get the answer that they want to be right. (Surprise!) For example, he cites a study that asked people whether a certain scientist was indeed an expert on an issue; and it turned out that people’s actual definition of “expert” is “a credentialed person who agrees with me.” Sure, pathos often triumphs over logos when it comes to politics and ideology. But Klein’s article is an epistemological failure—can you really prove the objectivity of data journalism by, um, using data journalism?

—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.

Contesting the U.S. Constitution through State Amendments: The 2011 and 2012 Elections,” by Sean Beienburg. Political Science Quarterly, Spring 2014.

In this thorough look at recent state-level challenges to federal constitutional law, Beienburg evokes archetypal questions about US federalism. The thirty-page article features sections on abortion, race and voting, eminent domain, guns, gay marriage, healthcare, religion, campaign funding and marijuana.

Should citizens be able to vote on laws if they directly challenge federal constitutional law? Can states expand positive rights? What’s a positive right? Should federal power be based primarily in commerce? (Remember, the federal government’s power to desegregate lunch counters and enforce the Clean Water Act derives from the Commerce Clause.) Will we define federal floor protections on which states can build? How will we determine if states violate those floors? When should federal law be a ceiling? What’s the difference between nullifying federal marijuana law and nullifying the Voting Rights Act?

Regarding eminent domain, it’s interesting that Beienburg labels folks who challenge the Supreme Court’s Kelo v. New London decision as conservative. Progressives too are skeptical of granting private property to developers, miners or pipe layers who profess merely to increase tax revenue. Do liberals shy away from these fights because they think challenging federal power is a slippery slope?

Surprisingly, I appreciate Representative Mike Coffman’s (R-CO) approach to legalizing marijuana in his home state. Beienburg says, “Coffman…opposed Colorado’s amendment but backed his constituents’ right to do so.”

—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups’ relationship with technology and development.

What the IRS’s Taxation Ruling Means for Bitcoin and Other Digital Currencies,” by Kyle Chayka. Pacific Standard, April 9, 2014.

Some people hope that digital currencies eventually will help promote greater global equality, encouraging sustainable habits and increasing access for the poor in countries lacking stable banking and currency systems. That dream is pretty far away from realization, and certainly not all Bitcoin users have that apparently altruistic focus. But in the meantime, the US government has moved to bring Bitcoin into a more (in theory) steady system of wealth sharing: taxation. The government’s decision to treat bitcoins as a commodity rather than a currency and tax them as capital gains rather than income is not the most redistributive option. And the system also allows capital loss deductions for Bitcoin, raising the question, Chayka notes, “What happens when deductible capital losses in digital currencies start functioning as a form of money laundering?” So Bitcoin’s ultimate effect on inequality is still unclear, but it will be interesting to see what happens.

—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.

Letter from the Archive: The Genocide in Rwanda,” by Philip Gourevitch. The New Yorker, April 4, 2014.

Genocides, Remembered and Forgotten,” by George Packer. The New Yorker, April 8, 2014.

Genocide’s aftermath draws out the extremes of idealism and cynicism: idealism in the hope that the freshest incarnation of systemic mass murder will finally give the world its “never again” moment, cynicism because I know it doesn’t work that way. The mechanics of genocide—the approval, overt or tacit, from someone, something, higher up—allow morality to be cast aside without even preliminary thought. The horrors of the past cannot sway a mind freed from considering right and wrong.

This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. To commemorate the event, The New Yorker asked Philip Gourevitch to select and comment on some of the pieces he wrote for the magazine immediately following the genocide and in the decade or so that followed. The act of remembering is important. But not every genocide has made the same imprint on the public consciousness, George Packer reminds us as he writes about the trials of former Khmer Rouge officials who participated in Cambodia’s genocide.

Those that engage in the act of remembering are not always those that need it most. But we all need the reminder—even if only to balance our own moral centers—monsters often aren’t monsters, but people who give away their moral agency.

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

Call climate change what it is: violence,” by Rebecca Solnit. The Guardian, April 7 2014.

My take on the most recent IPCC report on climate change is a pessimistic one, albeit also probably fairly accurate: in short, we’re f*#@ed. The projections of how global warming will impact global health offer some insight into my sentiment. The World Health Organization estimates that health costs stemming from climate change will amount to $2-4 billion a year by 2030. This graphic artfully displays some other harrowing figures: 20-25 million more children will be undernourished by 2050, already 40,000 annual deaths can be attributed to climate change and one in eight deaths worldwide is linked to air pollution. Climate change is killing people, notably the poorest among us.

The IPCC report, and climate change generally, has not experienced a dearth of media attention, but no one conveys my sentiment better than Solnit. She calls climate change what it is: an egregious and sustained violence committed by the wealthy on the poor. She is angry, as we all should be: climate change and its effects are a function of inequality and corporate greed. That anger needs to be harnessed if there is going to be any movement on climate change, be it by forcing our government and industry to adopt greener technologies or pay reparations to poor countries who bear the brunt of the burden.

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

How Nigeria Became Africa’s Largest Economy Overnight,” by Uri Friedman. The Atlantic, April 7, 2013.

Nigeria’s economy nearly doubled in size on Sunday, outpacing South Africa’s and catching up to Belgium. “As days go, it was a good one,” writes The Atlantic’s global editor Uri Friedman. But, as he explains, the overnight miracle has less to do with spontaneous, hyper-rapid economic development as it does with correcting for a longstanding measurement error. After twenty-four years, the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics updated its metrics for calculating gross domestic product (GDP)—a process known as “rebasing,” which in wealthier countries happens every few years. With thriving sectors like the country’s film industry, Nollywood, and the explosion of cell phone use taken into account, Nigeria’s economy is worth $510 billion, making it the twenty-sixth largest in the world. This numerical shift on paper has real world implications: a higher GDP means Nigeria is no longer eligible for certain kinds of development aid; it also makes the country more attractive to foreign investors. On the global stage, Nigeria can now contend for membership to political groupings like the G-20, the BRICS and the UN Security Council. It’s important to note that GDP only tells us so much and is far from a perfect gauge of societal wellbeing; the cheery statistical revelation about Nigeria’s overall economic health does little for the growing number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty. As the Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano cuttingly put it, “In our countries, numbers live better than people.”

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

Chicago decriminalized marijuana possession—but not for everyone,” by Mick Dumke. The Chicago Reader, April 7, 2014.

In this piece for The Chicago Reader, Mick Dumke shows the failures of Chicago’s attempt to reform its marijuana laws, replacing possible prison time for possession of under fifteen grams with a ticketing system. The article makes good use of statistics and data to show how racial profiling has not diminished under these policies and has in some areas become even more severe. He also extends a sympathetic ear to the policemen and women who work these beats and who express their discomfort with the policies that they are expected to enforce. While the piece may seem like old news to some, Dumke’s mix of dogged reporting and statistics research proves a powerful indictment of superficial approaches to drug reform.

Read Next: Intern Sam Adler-Bell on workers and students who fought back against exploitative hotel management, and won.

Stephen Colbert Gets Letterman’s Job—and Right-Wingers Freak Out

Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert at the &lquo;Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear&rquo; on the National Mall in Washington, DC (Reuters/Jim Bourg)

Yes, many wanted a woman to break the old- and older-boy network late night line-up, but the news from CBS that Stephen Colbert, as rumored, would take David Letterman’s seat next year brought general applause or at least acceptance—except from many conservatives he had long parodied or mocked on his current show.

They got a true “Colbert” bump—and didn’t like it. Apparently his satire has hit too close to the bone. On Letterman’s ex-show, however, he has vowed to just be himself, not a right-wing blowhard.

Meanwhile, reacting to the Letterman news late last night: Jon Stewart opened The Daily Show with the Colbert news, a clip (the famous gay-banana crack-up), and other exclamations about this “wild” day. He recalled the difficulty in not cracking up on air when Stephen was doing his bits on Jon’s show. “The exciting news,” he concluded, “is I no longer need a cable subscription to enjoy Stephen Colbert.” (This was generous, as Stewart helped create and has a financial stake in the outgoing Colbert Report.)

Then he paid tribute to Letterman as the “best” TV host there ever was but claimed Stephen is “up to the challenge… There’s no greater joy than to see a genuinely good man get the success he deserves.” He added that he looks forward to seeing Colbert’s name on marquee of the Ed Sullivan theater.

Then Colbert opened his show by deadpanning that he’ll miss Letterman on the air now. He has watched him since college and “he influenced every host who came after him, and some who came before. And I tell you, I do not envy anyone they try to put in that chair. Those are some big shoes to fill—and some really big pants.”

Meanwhile, on the right, as Salon reported:

While many people responded to the news with pleasure and excitement, right-wing talk-radio king Rush Limbaugh was quick to offer his two cents, saying that Colbert’s hiring was a declaration of war on the American “heartland” by CBS.

And as a perusal of the right-wing Twitter community shows, Limbaugh was hardly the only conservative to greet Colbert’s promotion with anger and dismay. Indeed, the sentiment on the right in response to the news can be summarized like so: Stephen Colbert’s being chosen to succeed David Letterman shows that liberal media bias is real. And, also too, Colbert’s not funny, anyway.

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Ben Shapiro offered a typical view from those quarters: “Colbert? Really? Why not just wait until President Obama is out of office and hire him to replace Letterman directly?”

And just because it never gets old: here’s that classic Colbert putdown of the media and President Bush (to his face) at the White House Correspondents dinner:

Read Next: Stephen Colbert points out the absurdities of lethal injection secrecy laws.

Sam Who?

In a recent post we discussed using names in clues. Of course, names may also appear in the diagram, which raises more delicate concerns. Solver Alwyn Eades writes:

I concede that setting a cryptic crossword is very hard, especially when it is for a weekly, rather than one which is to be solved in a day. So I am in admiration of Kosman and Picciotto. Nonetheless, I feel that they have got steadily further off track. Too many of their clues now are not verbal games but tests of general knowledge. That is not what I want from a puzzle; I could play Trivial Pursuit for that. I am particularly concerned that the knowledge required (I would imagine, not being young myself) is unlikely to be within the memories of young people (Sam Spade, Satchmo—to give examples from the last two weeks). Surely the last thing the Nation needs is to discourage young readers.

In theory, we certainly agree with Mr. Eades that the point of cryptic crosswords is wordplay, and not tests of general knowledge. What makes this difficult to carry out in practice is that words have meanings, and not all solvers share the same cultural lexicon.

As solvers, we encountered this all the time in Frank Lewis’s puzzles. Here is one example: h expected his solvers to know that “ties pay the dealer” is a coherent phrase. We were able to solve the corresponding clue because the wordplay told us to anagram “leader.” We would have been completely in the dark about why that was correct, if it weren’t for a friend who is a Gilbert and Sullivan expert. (The phrase appears in Iolanthe.) A subsequent Web search revealed that this is the standard phrasing of a blackjack rule. Certainly gamblers would know this, but how many Nation solvers are gamblers? Still, we were not bitter about it: we appreciated the opportunity to learn something new.

Satchmo and Sam Spade are easy to confirm by asking a friend or a search engine. The key for us as constructors of the Nation puzzle is that if an entry may be unfamiliar to many, the wordplay for it should be straightforward. We can’t guarantee we’ll always get that balance right, of course, but we try. And we hope that a youngster who has never heard of Louis Armstrong but has to enter an anagram of STOMACH in a diagram given S_T_H_O will be able to sort it out by trying to get the A, C, and M into the word in a way that makes it pronounceable.

Mr. Eades is not the first to complain about our choice of cultural references. People have objected to mentions of pop music, sports and mathematics, to name three areas of human knowledge we have drawn from. All we can do is vary the references, so that we expand everyone’s horizons equally. (Or offend everyone equally!) What we cannot do is limit ourselves to a lowest-common-denominator vocabulary, as that would make the puzzle boring for The Nation’s highly literate readership.

This week’s cluing challenge: Can you to come up with a cryptic clue for HORIZONS? Please share here. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.

And here are four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle.

DOJ Blasts Albuquerque Police Department’s ‘Culture of Unjustifiable Aggression’

Albuquerque Police

This screenshot shows the scene at Albuquerque foothills, just moments before officers fatally shot James Boyd, a homeless veteran.

Albuquerque police officers have engaged in a pattern of excessive force, too often using firearms and tasers against people who pose little to no danger, many of whom are mentally ill, according to a scathing review by the US Justice Department released Thursday.

On top of the troubling rate of excessive force incidents, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) officers involved rarely face any sort of accountability for their actions, the report finds.

A review of deadly use of force incidents found that the majority of the twenty fatal shootings involving officers from 2009 to 2012 were unconstitutional. APD officers have shot thirty-seven people since 2010, a higher rate than NYPD officers, who cover a city sixteen times larger.

Albuquerque police officers also often use less-lethal force, such as tasers and takedown procedures, in ways that are unconstitutional. The review highlights a 2009 case where officers tased a man after he had poured gasoline on himself, setting him on fire.

The report blames “systemic deficiencies” for the high rate of excessive force incidents, chiefly the Albuquerque Police Department’s “failure to implement an objective and rigorous internal accountability system.”

In reviewing 200 police reports, federal investigators found that about one-third of the reports involved unreasonable uses of force. In contrast, APD only identified one percent from the same sample as unreasonable uses of force.

Inadequate training, poor leadership and a “culture of unjustifiable aggression” also contributed to the department’s excessive force problems, the report’s authors write.

“We are very concerned by the results of our investigation and look forward to working with the city of Albuquerque to develop a set of robust and durable reforms,” said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, in a statement. “Public trust has been broken in Albuquerque, but it can be repaired through this process.”

The report comes amid mounting frustration over the Albuquerque Police Department’s aggressive tactics, erupting last month in heated protests in the city streets. Demonstrators were reacting to a video showing APD officers fatally shooting a mentally ill, homeless man who had his back turned to the officers when shots were fired.

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“The city breathes a sigh of relief this morning that the DOJ review justified a lot of community concerns,” said Patrick Davis, a former police officer who serves as executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico. “The community needs assurance that officers are trained and experienced and can demonstrate an appropriate use of force.”

Other city police departments, including those in Detroit and Seattle, have been subjected to federal oversight after Justice Department reviews. Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry has already asked the city for $1 million to comply with any potential reforms resulting from the federal investigation.


Read Next: How a receipt helped free a wrongfully convicted man after more than twenty-four years in prison.

How Likely Is War Between NATO and Russia?

Russian soldier

Armed servicemen wait outside Russian army vehicles in the Crimean town of Balaclava March 1, 2014. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

Could next week’s meeting with leaders from the US, EU, Russia and Ukraine de-escalate regional tensions and reduce the likelihood of war? Nation contributing editor Stephen Cohen appears on the John Batchelor Show to weigh in on the implications of diplomatic talks, Western media coverage of the crisis and Ukraine’s identity issues. “If in fact you have an ultranationalist movement taking over Western Ukraine, a pro-Russian movement taking over Eastern Ukraine, that is a kind of de facto partition of the country already,” which means, says Cohen, “the government in Kiev doesn’t control anything, neither west nor east.”
—Corinne Grinapol

Harvard Fossil Fuel Divestment Smackdown: The Faculty vs. President Faust

Drew Faust

Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

This morning, a large and distinguished group of faculty at Harvard University released an open letter to President Drew Gilpin Faust and the Harvard Corporation. It calls, in striking terms, for divestment of the university’s endowment—the largest university endowment in the world—from fossil-fuel corporations. Perhaps most striking, it responds forcefully, and at times bluntly, to Faust’s public statements opposing divestment. The letter begins:

Our University invests in the fossil fuel industry: this is for us the central issue. We now know that fossil fuels cause climate change of unprecedented destructive potential. We also know that many in this industry spend large sums of money to mislead the public, deny climate science, control legislation and regulation, and suppress alternative energy sources.

We are therefore disappointed in the statements on divestment made by President Faust on October 3, 2013 and April 7, 2014. They appear to misconstrue the purposes and effectiveness of divestment. We believe that the Corporation is making a decision that in the long run will not serve the University well. [Read the rest of the letter.]

The faculty’s challenge comes hard on the heels of Faust’s latest pronouncement on the subject of climate change, in which she appeared to move ever so slightly in the direction of moral seriousness, yet reaffirmed her opposition to divestment and doubled down on the unserious path of action she has advocated in the past, which is restricted to research, campus greening and investor engagement with fossil-fuel companies.

The faculty letter also comes after many months of organizing, campaigning and writing by students and supportive alumni. (See, for example, these posts by undergraduates Chloe Maxmin and Hannah Borowsky, grad students Tim DeChristopher, Ben Franta and Ted Hamilton and alums Todd Gitlin of Columbia University and former SEC Commissioner Bevis Longstreth. How often does a Reagan appointee join forces with a ’60s-era president of SDS?) I even had a few words to say on the subject myself.

So it’s good to see Harvard faculty stepping up. And it’s good to see them making clear statements like this one:

Divestment is an act of ethical responsibility, a protest against current practices that cannot be altered as quickly or effectively by other means. The University either invests in fossil fuel corporations, or it divests. If the Corporation regards divestment as “political,” then its continued investment is a similarly political act, one that finances present corporate activities and calculates profit from them.

The only way to remain “neutral” in such circumstances is to bracket ethical principles even while being deeply concerned about consequences. Slavery was once an investment issue, as were apartheid and the harm caused by smoking.

And this:

As the statements of October 3, 2013 and April 7, 2014 indicate, the Harvard Corporation wishes to influence corporate behaviors in the fossil fuel and energy sectors. We therefore ask:

How, exactly, will the University “encourage” fossil fuel corporations in “addressing pressing environmental imperatives”? Will Harvard initiate or support shareholder resolutions? Will it divest from coal companies? Will it ask questions at shareholder meetings? Will it set standards analogous to the Sullivan Principles? Will it conduct private meetings?

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In short, how long will Business As Usual continue?

The questions in this section are not rhetorical. They require answers.

Yes, they do. And this campaign isn’t going away—it’s just getting started. Harvard can expect students, alumni, and now faculty, to keep increasing the pressure until we receive answers that can be taken seriously, both intellectually and morally, in the face of what we know about the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. (I have reached out to Faust’s office and will update with any comment I receive.) As Ben Franta wrote here last month:

At the end of the day, we are acting for our children and grandchildren and for the generations beyond that. When we choose convenience over truth, we ultimately slow progress, and future generations pay the price. They will not care about who won an argument on a particular day, and they will not care about the clever excuses we come up with for doing nothing. They will care about what was actually true and what we actually did on their behalf.

Maybe today Harvard came a step closer to actually doing something commensurate with this crisis.


Read Next: A student’s open letter to Harvard President Drew Faust

On Day 100, de Blasio Defines What His Mayoralty Is About

Bill de Blasio

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at Cooper Union on his 100th day in office. April 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

It says something about our politics that today—more than a year after he announced his run for mayor, almost seven months since he won the Democratic primary and 100 days into his term as mayor—Bill de Blasio gave a speech laying out his philosophy of government.

He’s spoken often about inequality, of course, but that’s an issue, not an ideal. He talked much about universal pre-kindergarten, but that’s a policy, not a way of thinking. Today, in a speech to a friendly audience of pols and advocates at the Great Hall at Cooper Union, de Blasio talked about what it really means to run a progressive government.

The speech was retrospective in content, reviewing the many accomplishments of his first three months in office (stop-and-frisk, vision zero, snowstorms, UPK, a dance-free budget, paid sick-leave and so on), and some will spin it as an attempt to hit the reset button after the “stumbles” of the mayor’s “rocky” run so far.

Clearly, however, there was more to it than that. “We have to think about what animates us to keep this work moving forward,” de Blasio said at one point.

Indeed, the speech was meant to establish a superstructure on which the administration will layer the stuff it does from Day 101 to Day 1,460 and maybe even Day 2,920.

The need for the framework was obvious. “We’re getting beyond the immediate campaign promises now,” as one progressive political operator recently said when I asked him what de Blasio’s agenda would look like from here on out.

During the campaign de Blasio talked a great deal about a small number of big ideas—policing reform and UPK chief among them—and those policies are now in place. So the administration will shift to smaller targets, pursuing each policy with an eye toward reducing inequality. Zoning changes and workforce development and post-Sandy rebuilding might not have the simple appeal of, say, a tax hike on the rich, but they can have a powerful cumulative effect on inequality. And many of them don’t require Albany’s approval.

But in order to harness the political power of the progressive movement behind those smaller-bore changes, they need to be cast as part of a broader movement. As the mayor put it, “This administration is a product of movement politics. It is a movement of people who share a vision, people …who believe in our city’s progressive traditions.”

That product, the mayor said, is a government run efficiently that “respects everyone’s dignity” and aims to maximize inclusion. “We believe we are at our best when everyone gets a shot,” the mayor added, noting further, “We believe in grassroots, people-powered government.”

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Teacher retention, community hospitals, faster repairs to public housing and municipal ID cards were among the policy ideas the mayor touched on. Those seeking details—and many are—will have to wait for another day. (The mayor did provide new clarity on affordable housing, saying that it ought to reach “across the income spectrum” to include the “middle class,” which, depending on how that gets defined, could rehash one of the arguments of the Bloomberg era, when some advocates protested that scarce affordable housing dollars were subsidizing apartments for families with six-figure incomes.)

A year ago, I wrote a story for The Nation about the tentative hope that the city would elect a progressive mayor. A thread in that piece was the very question of what it meant to be progressive, a question de Blasio was trying to answer today, and will continue to try to answer over the next four or eight years. This blog said early on that de Blasio’s mayoralty would be a test of whether progressive values work—but it will also define, in nitty-gritty policy terms, what those values look like, at least as interpreted by the mayor of America’s global city.

On the hardwood floor of the stage in the Great Hall today, just next to de Blasio’s feet, an arrow had been marked in white masking tape, presumably indicating which way he was to exit the stage. It led left, pointing him down the stairs and out the door toward the sun-bathed sidewalk where his gleaming black SUV waited. The rest of his journey he’ll chart himself.

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Can We Trust What Israeli Leaders Say on Iran?

Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Reuters/Gali Tibbon)

Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Vienna ahead of the latest round of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers there this week. Peres stopped by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And he brought a warning. "The implementation of the agreement between the agency and Iran is proceeding, unfortunately, at a slow pace. Iran is buying time, but not answering the call," he said in remarks made available to the press. "Iran does not uphold its commitment to cooperate with the Agency's investigation and does not provide full transparency."

If true, the revelations could be momentous. Iran and world powers, including the United States, known collectively as the P5+1, signed an interim nuclear accord in November that laid the groundwork for the ongoing talks toward a comprehensive agreement. As part of the November deal, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities and acceded to tougher inspections. The task of monitoring implementation fell to the IAEA. With Iran backsliding, as Peres claimed, months of negotiations—not to mention prospects for a final deal—could all be for naught.

But how much stock to put in "if true"? Peres, since assuming the presidency in 2007, has played the elder statesman, often working to smooth the rough edges of Israel's notoriously brash diplomacy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet, in contrast, have raised issues about Iran in more stark, bellicose terms. And those terms are often wanting when it comes to getting the facts right.

Peres's allegations spurred me to call the IAEA to ask if the agency agreed. A representative declined to comment beyond pointing to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano's remarks at the joint press conference. But Amano had only issued vague pleasantries, without ever addressing the substance of Peres's claims.

On Wednesday, however, Amano spoke up. Asked about implementing the deal by reporters, he replied, "We are working on it and they are cooperative." Was the deal with Iran going forward "at a slow pace," as Peres had alleged? "I can tell you, these measures are being implemented as planned," Amano said.

Those descriptions of progress—not Peres's allegations about its absence—reflect the on-the-record views of the agency up until now: the latest quarterly report on Iran's nuclear program, released in February, indicated that the Iranians were holding up their end of the bargain.

"Iranian implementation of the November 24 agreement is on track," said Kelsey Davenport, an analyst with the Arms Control Association who closely follows Iran's nuclear program. Davenport noted that one of the steps expected to be completed in May even includes Iran providing information about what the IAEA calls "possible military dimensions" of its program: access to details about alleged work on nuclear detonators.

So according to the IAEA itself and leading experts, Iran is on schedule, and even tackling difficult issues. That tracks with the buzz leaking from negotiation tables in Vienna this week, too: after the latest round of talks ended on Wednesday, Iran and the P5+1 released a joint statement noting that big differences remained, but that the talks were proceeding smoothly. "Substantive and detailed discussions covering all the issues" had been held, the statement said. A US official at the negotiations told reporters the sides would begin drafting a final agreement next month.

It's still, of course, possible that Israel has intelligence contradicting the apparent views of the IAEA and the experts. If that's so, Israeli officials should either pass it to those responsible for doing diplomacy, the IAEA, the United States or other P5+1 countries or make the public case themselves. For the moment, the once respected words of Shimon Peres appear to be little more than the sort of nay-saying on diplomacy we've come to expect from less reliable Israelis, those who seem most bent attacking Iran.

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On these matters, Peres ought to tread lightly, not only because his carefully maintained reputation is at stake but also because of his own history. In another press conference, Peres once said, "This is a campaign to stop one of the greatest dangers of our time—a combination of nuclear bombs and cruel dictators that no one can trust, and no one can believe a word that they are saying." At the time, in 2002, Peres was foreign minister. The comments were about Iraq.


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