Monthly Archives: February 2002

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The way presidents once spoke

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” All credit to The Guardian for reprinting these wise, thoroughly relevant words.

It’s remarkable that the last true warrior president, Eisenhower, has proved to be the most prescient voice on — the term he invented — the military industrial complex.

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Different strokes

Two different approaches to energy were unveiled yesterday. President Bush announced his plan to slow the rate of increase of US emissions. In the UK, the findings of a long-awaited (and much leaked) energy review were released (disclosure: I worked on the UK review).

There were Panglosses who thought Bush would yesterday provide an adequate environmental response despite his rejection of the Kyoto protocol on climate change. But his set of voluntary measures merely seeks to slow the increase in US emissions, when the rest of the world is working hard (and in many places successfully) to reduce emissions. Bush made the false implication that the environmentally conscious seek to slow economic growth (there are some green extremists who do think growth is bad, but that’s not the broad, international consensus). The Bush proposals were widely and rightly pilloried by environmental groups.

The UK review, in contrast, has as its aim a shift from a carbon-based energy culture to a hydrogen one. It proposes a goal of 20% of energy requirements provided by renewables by 2020, and an increase in energy efficiency over the same period of 40%. The review has attracted criticism for leaving open the option of nuclear power, provided all of the costs are borne by the private sector. As many financially savvy commentators have pointed out, there is no appetite in global capital markets for financing nuclear stations.

The exciting part of the plan for Britain is the potential for renewables. All of the most-mocked aspects of British weather come good: this wet and windy island means Britain has greater wind, wave and tidal energy potential than anywhere else in Europe.

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European sense on patents

The running sore over so-called business methods patents for software will be added to the US-Europe divide, if the European Commission approves a new set of recommendations. For once, great sense has been shown. It looks like Europe will not allow business process patents, such as the “one-click” process.

American lobbyists claim this will stifle innovation in Europe. But everyone I’ve encountered who actually develops software believes the business process patents are a nonsense, and have a hugely negative effect on the industry’s innovative capacity.

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Distorted vision

I’m often sympathetic with Tom Friedman’s column in The New York Times (although I thought his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, was a simplistic paean to the Washington consensus). But today Tom seems to have been swept up into a reality distortion field.

He sees Bush’s rhetoric about the “axis of evil” as serving as a useful deterrent to America’s enemies. “There is a lot about the Bush team’s foreign policy I don’t like, but their willingness to restore our deterrence, and to be as crazy as some of our enemies, is one thing they have right.” I thought part of the point of being a shining city on the hill is to be an exemplar. Tom is advocating a modern version of MAD — mutually assured destruction — only this time there’s nothing mutual about it.

It may, emphasis on the may, engender fear of what the US might do (which Tom thinks is a good idea), but it is also likely to diminish respect.  

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The alternatives

Naomi Klein’s report from the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre shows to me some of the distasteful aspects of the so-called antiglobalisation movement (I think it should more accurately be termed anti-capitalist). What is served by her denigration of Kofi Annan, a man who has dedicated his life to achieving what Klein and her cohorts shout about? Annan is struggling with immense determination and dignity within the imperfect confines of the UN to deliver for the world’s poor.

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Privacy and the press

“If you are going to voluntarily enter Hannibal Lecter’s cage, then eventually you are going to get nibbled round the back of the neck.” Piers Morgan, editor of The Mirror, explains why celebrities who use the media when it suits them shouldn’t complain when they get bitten.

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Encore le defi Americain

“For half a century, western Europe did a wonderful job of dealing with what Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, the French author, called le defi Americain. But the challenge has been renewed. Can Europe respond?” Martin Wolf analyses the US productivity surge, and wonders whether it marks a historic shift.

I’ll defer to his analysis, but I think he misses (or chooses to disregard) an important point. A large number of Europeans, I’d reckon a majority, would choose their societies in preference to the US even at the cost of living standards. This may well alter over time, particularly if disparities widen. And I don’t think everything about the European attitude is admirable: the stance is taken at the cost of accepting that too many fellow citizens are unemployed (even if they are cushioned by comparatively generous social safety nets). On the other hand, no European country incarcerates 0.7% of its population.


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You couldn’t make it up

The Guardian has choice snippets from the phone taps of Slobodan Milosevic. At one level it’s amusing, but it’s also an insight into how a country became in effect a mafia-run state. Fortunately, some good things are now happening in Serbia, while Milosevic’s trial opens today in The Hague.

Bill Keller has pointed out that we’re not hearing much from the Bush administration about the success in bringing Milosevic to trial. That’s because the administration remains implacably opposed to the notion of an international criminal court. Yugoslavia also shows how positive western assistance in nation building can be.

Davos Newbies Home

There’s an odd hiatus at the World Economic Forum. Davos is over (but we are still both generating and reading post-Davos thank you letters). The spring regional meetings of the Forum are just beginning to pick up steam (China, which opens on 16 April in Beijing, is the first). So it’s a time for more long-range, strategic thinking and, for many, some holiday time.

Among the issues I’m wrestling with is how soon is realistic to begin filling in the blanks for Davos 2001. We hold our Davos Global Issues Group brainstorming every spring, usually in April. We may need to move it ahead a few weeks this year to late March. Have useful ideas started to coalesce at that point? Or are another few weeks necessary for the right seeds to begin germinating?

I’ll keep you informed of the ideas we begin to sniff out as the process for 2001 gathers speed.

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The axis

There would have been crowds in the streets of Tehran to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of their revolution without George Bush’s reference to the axis of evil. But the forces in Iran who wish to vilify the US have certainly been strengthened by his rhetoric.

There’s a wide rift of perception between most Europeans and the Bush administration on the nature of Iran. Attempts so far to engage Iran constructively may have been disappointing, but now the hand of the conservative clerics against the generally reformist government has been significantly strengthened.