Greenspan’s mea culpa

Alan Greenspan reflects on how his ideological belief in the ability of markets to self-regulate has been shaken. Henry Waxman, Chairman of the Oversight [pun?] and Government Reform Committee is on a bit of a self-righteous crusade and is obviously looking for a sound bite from Greenspan (which he gets). But it’s an effective approach, and they’re questions that need to be strenuously pursued. And then followed by formal censure.


Ontario launches anti-poverty plan amidst economic turmoil

The Ontario government has launched a comprehensive anti-poverty plan that is receing warm reception from advocates like the 25in5 Network for Poverty Reduction. The fact that this has taken place during particularly bad times for Ontario’s economy is all the more impressive, and makes me proud to be an Ontarian–not something that happens every day. As is recognized today by nearly everyone, from economists to G20 leaders, now is actually a fairly auspicious time for large-scale government investment, not just in physical infrastructure but also in “social infrastructure,” of which poverty reduction is a key componenent.

In related news that makes this development even more timely, a study from UC Berkeley has found that the negative effects of poverty on children’s brains can in some cases be so severe that they resemble the impact of a stroke.

A first step towards “justice after Bush”?

In a surprising and almost (but not quite) faith-restoring move, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzalez, and others have been indicted by Texas DA on charges related to prisoner abuse in a privately run prison in which Cheney had personal investments.

For actual justice to be done, of course, much more is demanded. In “Justice after Bush: Prosecuting an outlaw administration,” in the December 2008 issue of Harper’s, Scott Horton argues persuasively for an official, commission-led inquest into the Bush administration’s role in sanctioning and promoting torture, in contravention of both international and domestic statutes.

It will take the world a long time to recover from the damage done by Bush et al., confirming in a sad sort of way Margaret Mead’s words:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Some worthwhile reading on the economic meltdown and what comes next

Christopher Hitchens for Vanity Faire: “American the Banana Republic“:

Now ask yourself another question. Has anybody resigned, from either the public or the private sectors (overlapping so lavishly as they now do)? Has anybody even offered to resign? Have you heard anybody in authority apologize, as in: “So very sorry about your savings and pensions and homes and college funds, and I feel personally rotten about it”? Have you even heard the question being posed? O.K., then, has anybody been fired? Any regulator, any supervisor, any runaway would-be golden-parachute artist? Anyone responsible for smugly putting the word “derivative” like a virus into the system? To ask the question is to answer it.

Harper’s Magazine‘s October issue carries a collection of essays from the likes of Joseph Stiglitz, James K. Galbraith, Bill McKibben and others. The Galbraith piece is available online in its entirety; the rest, for subscribers only.

In “Amid the rubble of global finance, a blueprint for Bretton Woods II,” Jeffrey Sachs advocates

  • a Tobin tax that would go to the IMF
  • an international carbon tax, instead of the “enormously cumbersome emission-trading system concocted and championed by the same financial engineers who brought us our current banking crisis”
  • the World Bank focus entirely on helping the world’s poorest countries meet the Millennium Development Goals
  • A new global trade agreement that would help the poorest countries be more productive, and promote environmental sustainability

Environmental politics over the long term

According to George Monbiot,

While prime ministers in Italy and eastern Europe are demanding a bonfire of environmental measures in order to save the economy, in the UK politicians from all the major parties have made the connection between environmental destruction and economic meltdown.

At any rate, both the UK and Europe are thinking longer-term than the disgracefully dawdling North America. The most disappointing result of the recent Canadian election was the public’s apparent distaste for the Liberals’ Green Shift, which would have introduced some policy foresight into the perennially myopic Canadian politics scene.

Monbiot proposes an interesting solution for overcoming the inherent tendency of politics to focus on problems that, however, trivial in the long term, affect the current electorate.

What can be done about political short-termism? With the environmental thinker Matthew Prescott, I’ve hatched what might be a partial solution. We propose a new parliamentary body – the 100-year committee – whose purpose would be to assess the likely impacts of current policy in 10, 20, 50 and 100 years’ time. Like any other select committee, it would gather evidence, publish reports and make recommendations to the government. It would differ only in that it had no interest in the current political cycle. Its maximum timeframe would be roughly the residence time of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Not a bad role for a senate-like body which, in Hannah Arendt’s analysis, has the role of maintaining the origins or foundations of a body politic. As a group that is at least formally outside the traditional, short-term political cycle, such a body would be suited to providing a longer-term vision that is increasingly necessary as societies broaden and deepen the extent to which they act on the environment.

Bot-mediated reality

Having just spent upwards of 25 hours in a car driving between Peterborough, Toronto, and Pukaskwa National Park, one of the ways we passed the time was listening to a variety of podcasts, including Philosophy Bites, CBC Ideas, and the Long Now Foundation’s Seminars About Long Term Thinking (SALT).

While SALT has hosted a bevy of fascinating and influential guests, including Craig Venter, Jimmy Wales, Francis Fukuyama, and Ray Kurzweil, Daemon: Bot-Mediated Reality by author and software engineer Daniel Suarez was one of the most interesting and thought-provoking (mp3 here).

Continue reading “Bot-mediated reality”

Trademarking our everyday lives

From the “wrong on so many levels” department, the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee has trademarked “with glowing hearts,” a line from the Canadian national anthem, and threatens to sue those who use the line in Canada. From the CBC article:

The committee is so serious about protecting the Olympic brand it managed to get a landmark piece of legislation passed in the House of Commons last year that made using certain phrases related to the Games a violation of law.

The list includes the number 2010 and the word “winter,” phrases that normally couldn’t be trademarked because they are so general.

Vancouver organizers have already taken small businesses in the Vancouver area to court for using the word Olympic in their names — even ones in existence long before the Games were awarded to Vancouver — and have launched lawsuits against people who’ve tried to register Olympic-related domain names on the internet.

In related pieces, CTV reports that Apple (a company for which I am increasingly losing respect) is threatening a lawsuite against a small Vancouver computer school that has an apple for a logo, and Starbucks is suing HaidaBucks, a small cafe in Haida Gwaii territory.