April 30, 2010
April 30, 2010
Goldman Sachs has a public relations problem; of that there is no doubt. Even to those of us who found some of the questions in Monday’s Senate hearings as baffling as Goldman’s own executives did — and felt bizarre sympathy at their struggles to answer a number of questions that seemed remarkably off point and ill-worded — it’s nevertheless difficult to miss the whiff of moral bankruptcy hanging about the place.
Lost in the sound and fury of Washington’s ritualistic hearings was the other Goldman (GS, Fortune 500) news reported by the Wall Street Journal in mid-April: the fact that investigators are looking into whether a member of Goldman’s board of directors might have given an illegal tip to disgraced hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam, he of The Galleon Group. It is no small tip, either, but news of Warren Buffett’s $5 billion investment in Goldman in late September 2008.
Selling your clients a package of loans you think is “shi**y” is one thing. Insider trading is another. The first is unethical. The second, illegal.
The import of the allegations does not seem to have been lost on Goldman’s leadership. In March, the firm announced that the board member under suspicion — Rajat Gupta, the former managing partner of consulting powerhouse McKinsey & Company — would not stand for reelection at the company’s annual meeting next week. (They didn’t exactly say why at the time, but the Journal would do that for them soon enough.) In what might be their only smart public relations move in recent memory, Goldman announced that H. Lee Scott, Jr., the president and CEO of Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) from 2000 to 2009, would stand as Gupta’s replacement at its May 7 meeting.
Goldman executives surely feel they are under siege from critics. Mr. Scott knows all about that. Pick your corporate poison — bad press, employee lawsuits, community anger, finding yourself a political piñata — and Wal-Mart and Mr. Scott have been there, done that.
When Lee Scott took over the helm of Wal-Mart, the firm had what could be charitably described as an “us-versus-them” mentality, in which “us” was Wal-Mart and “them” was everybody else, from critics to the competition, the government, and yes, sometimes even its own employees. The company’s public image as a rapacious behemoth reflected that.
When he stepped down from the CEO role a decade later, the image was undoubtedly that of a softer, gentler giant, if still a fierce one. “Under Lee Scott’s guidance and direction, Wal-Mart experienced a transformation of its public image into that of a responsible corporate citizen,” says analyst Jaison Blair of Rochdale Securities. “He led a sustainability-green effort, he greatly improved the benefits of its employees, and he approached the new administration as a partner rather than an adversary.”
April 30, 2010
Labour shortages caused by the onslaught of baby-boomer retirements will be “the dominant economic trend” in Canada between 2015 and 2030, due to the limits it will place on the country’s economic growth, says a Conference Board of Canada report released Wednesday.
Defining the boomer generation as those born between 1947 and 1966, the report says the oldest members of this cohort are turning 63 this year. With an average retirement age of 61, the Conference Board concludes that “the wave of baby-boomer retirements has now begun.”
Because the biggest part of this generation is at the younger end, the pace of retirements will accelerate in future years, the think-tank says.
The implications of the shrinking labour pool will be less economic growth, said Pedro Antunes, the Conference Board’s director of national and provincial outlooks and author of the report.
He said Canada can expect relatively strong economic growth of more than three per cent, on average, between now and 2015. That’s anticipated to slow to about two per cent between 2015 and 2020, and dip below two per cent beyond that until around 2030.
“Why is that important? Why growth for the sake of growth?” Antunes asked rhetorically. “What’s really important are two things.
“One is, are we growing richer? Is the average household getting more real income per capita?
“The other factor is … we need to be able to grow the economy enough so that we can afford to pay for health care, education and other programs.”
April 30, 2010
April 29, 2010
On October 19 of last year, the op-ed page of The New York Times contained a bombshell: a piece by Robert Bernstein, the founder and former chairman of Human Rights Watch (HRW), attacking his own organization. HRW, Bernstein wrote, was “helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.” The allegation was certainly not new: HRW had been under assault for years by American Jews and other supporters of Israel, who argued that it was biased against the Jewish state. And these attacks had intensified in recent months, with a number of unflattering revelations about the organization. In July, HRW found itself under fire when a Wall Street Journal op-ed noted that the organization had solicited donations in Saudi Arabia by trumpeting the criticism it faces from “pro-Israel pressure groups.” In August, the blogosphere leapt on one of the organization’s top Middle East officials for having once been part of a team that edited a radical anti-Israel journal. And, in September, HRW suspended one of the primary contributors to its reports on the wars in Gaza and Lebanon after his private hobby—collecting Nazi memorabilia—became public…
In September 2000, HRW’s board of directors took a vote that still, a decade later, infuriates Sid Sheinberg, a legendary Hollywood mogul (he discovered Steven Spielberg) and current vice-chairman of the board. At the time, Bill Clinton was trying desperately to broker a peace agreement between Yasir Arafat and Ehud Barak, but one of the major sticking points was the right of return. It was an issue that even the most left-wing Israelis did not feel they could compromise on: If Palestinians were permitted to return to Israel en masse, it would imperil the country’s future as both a Jewish state and a democracy.
Sheinberg believed strongly that HRW had no business endorsing the right of return. “My view is that the most essential human right is the right to life,” he says. “And anybody who sees a deal about to be made where there’s been war for fifty or sixty years should think hard about shutting up.” The board, however, did not agree. “The vote was something like twenty-seven to one,” Sheinberg recalls. “Bob voted against me, for which he’s apologized on a number of occasions.” That December, Ken Roth, HRW’s executive director, would send letters to Clinton, Arafat, and Barak urging them to accept the organization’s position. The right of return, he wrote, “is a right that persists even when sovereignty over the territory is contested or has changed hands.”
But something telling had happened to Sheinberg immediately following the meeting in September. “I go to my apartment—I have an apartment in New York—and, when I get to my apartment, the phone starts to ring,” he recalls. “And I get a number of phone calls from a variety of board members who tell me, ‘Sid, we really agree with you … but we didn’t want to go against management.’” Another board member, David Brown, confirms that he and others shared Sheinberg’s reservations, if quietly. “Sid is very vocal, but he wasn’t the only one,” he says. “There were a number of people upset.”
These tensions would fester within HRW in the years to come. “There are more people that have a concern about this on the board than the people who don’t have a concern about this think there are,” Sheinberg says. “I’m not the only one who’s concerned about this. And, by the way, it also includes certain staff members. I’ve had staff members come to me and tell me off the record that they’re not happy with the way this particular thing is being done, but they’re not going to say anything.”
Human Rights Watch was a product of the cold war. During the 1970s, Bernstein—who was president and chairman of Random House—had become interested in the plight of Soviet dissidents like Andrei Sakharov and Natan Sharansky. In 1978, three years after the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Helsinki Accords (which included language on human rights), Bernstein established Helsinki Watch, a group dedicated to monitoring human rights violations behind the Iron Curtain. In 1981, Helsinki Watch was joined by Americas Watch, which sought to expose the abuses of Latin American dictators, many of them quietly supported by the Reagan administration. “We were raising money from the right for Helsinki Watch and from the left for Americas Watch,” Bernstein remembers. Helsinki Watch and Americas Watch would become just two stars in a constellation of regional “watch committees,” all of which were brought under the Human Rights Watch umbrella in 1988. By the time Bernstein stepped down as chairman a decade later—he is now founding chairman emeritus—HRW had become a major force in international politics. Today, the group has a budget of $44 million, conducts research on about 90 countries, and churns out dozens of reports per year. It dispatches staffers to monitor human rights abuses around the globe, putting pressure on dictatorships like China, Sudan, and Cuba, as well as on democracies like the United States. To take just one example, it was frequently cited for its work exposing the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s regime. It is widely considered the gold standard in human rights reporting—an organization whose conclusions nobody can afford to ignore.
Bernstein—now a gregarious octogenarian—had always considered himself a friend of Israel; but, for a long time, he didn’t follow events there particularly closely. Any Zionism on his part manifested itself mostly in regular contributions to the New Israel Fund—a left-wing NGO that finances Israeli human rights groups. But, as the Second Intifada erupted, following the failure of the Oslo process, Bernstein began paying closer attention to HRW’s work on Israel. And he didn’t like what he was seeing.
With Palestinian suicide bombings reaching a crescendo in early 2002, precipitating a full-scale Israeli counterterrorist campaign across the West Bank, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division (MENA) issued two reports (and myriad press releases) on Israeli misconduct—including one on the Israel Defense Forces’ assault on terrorist safe havens in the Jenin refugee camp. That report—which, to HRW’s credit, debunked the widespread myth that Israel had carried out a massacre—nevertheless said there was “strong prima facie evidence” that Israel had “committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions,” irking the country’s supporters, who argued that the IDF had in fact gone to great lengths to spare Palestinian civilians. (The decision not to launch an aerial bombardment of the densely populated area, and to dispatch ground troops into labyrinthine warrens instead, cost 23 Israeli soldiers their lives—crucial context that HRW ignored.) It would take another five months for HRW to release a report on Palestinian suicide bombings—and another five years for it to publish a report addressing the firing of rockets and mortars from Gaza, despite the fact that, by 2003, hundreds had been launched from the territory into Israel. (HRW did issue earlier press releases on both subjects.)
In the years to come, critics would accuse HRW of giving disproportionate attention to Israeli misdeeds. According to HRW’s own count, since 2000, MENA has devoted more reports to abuses by Israel than to abuses by all but two other countries, Iraq and Egypt. That’s more reports than those on Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, Algeria, and other regional dictatorships. (When HRW includes press releases in its count, Israel ranks fourth on the list.) And, if you count only full reports—as opposed to “briefing papers,” “backgrounders,” and other documents that tend to be shorter, less authoritative, and therefore less influential—the focus on the Jewish state only increases, with Israel either leading or close to leading the tally. There are roughly as many reports on Israel as on Iran, Syria, and Libya combined.
HRW officials acknowledge that a number of factors beyond the enormity of human rights abuses go into deciding how to divide up the organization’s attentions: access to a given country, possibility for redress, and general interest in the topic. “I think we tend to go where there’s action and where we’re going to get reaction,” rues one board member. “We seek the limelight—that’s part of what we do. And so, Israel’s sort of like low-hanging fruit.”
Bernstein, however, had started HRW primarily to reach for the high-hanging fruit—closed societies where human rights reporting was lacking. He was not opposed to HRW criticizing Israel. But, with the country already host to dozens of well-staffed human rights organizations—not to mention a vibrant free press and an activist Supreme Court that frequently restrained government and military policies—he questioned the wisdom of devoting more attention to the Jewish state than to countries with far worse human rights records and many fewer self-correcting mechanisms. And so, he reached out to someone who could help him look at HRW’s work with fresh eyes. In 2005, he introduced Roth to Steve Apkon, the founder of a nonprofit film center that had hosted the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in recent years. Apkon—a mild-mannered 48-year-old who formerly worked on Wall Street and was an active supporter of Seeds of Peace, a program that seeks to foster friendships between Israeli and Palestinian youth—was invited to serve on MENA’s advisory committee, which met every few months. As Apkon understood it, the committee had a variety of functions, one of which was to provide input on MENA’s work. While Apkon had no problem with—indeed, supported—the idea of ferreting out Israeli human rights abuses, he quickly sensed a palpable hostility toward Israel among the HRW brass. He also began to feel that advisory committee meetings were not taken seriously by HRW staff. They were “dog-and-pony shows” with “no room for dialogue,” he recalls. “It was quite exasperating to a number of people there…”
April 29, 2010
At the World Economic Forum in Davos this January, Chinese vice premier, Li Keqiang, gave an entirely unremarkable speech. Steering clear of subjects that make headlines, he instead sung the praises of China’s stability and technological progress. Yet the moment was made extraordinary by Li’s entourage: a group of about 75 subordinates who laughed, cheered and applauded on cue—and all with apparently genuine gusto. This scene brought to my mind Deng Xiaoping’s famous dictum that his country must “keep a low profile and never take the lead.” There was plenty of Chinese exuberance in the room, and the rest of us were meant to notice. Has the need to lie low subsided, I wondered? Does China believe that its time has come?
That was the message many people took from the triumphalist pageantry of Beijing’s 2008 Olympics. But the real game-changer was economic. The financial crisis, global recession, and China’s remarkable recovery have produced a big shift in the world’s most important state-to-state relationship. Chinese officials argue that their country’s resilience in the face of America’s meltdown has vindicated a Chinese model of development, one that rejects US-style free markets in favour of a “state capitalist” system. A relationship until recently shaped mainly by shared interests must now adapt to accommodate the two sides’ increasingly divergent views of capitalism—and a large shift in the balance of confidence.
The list of irritants in US-Chinese relations is growing. Google threatens to quit China over censorship and cyber-attacks. Washington and Beijing are at cross purposes over Iran’s nuclear programme. US lawmakers have again criticised China’s unwillingness to allow the value of its currency to rise and its failure to protect the intellectual property of foreign companies. There are trade disputes over tyres and steel pipes. Yet these problems are merely symptoms of an illness that has progressed further than some observers realise.
Put bluntly, the Chinese leadership no longer believes that American power is as indispensable as it once was for either China’s economic expansion or the Communist party’s political survival. Nor does it accept that access to US capital or commercial know-how is quite so important for the next stage of China’s development—or that its growth depends on the spending habits of American consumers.
China has embarked on a process of economic “decoupling.” The western financial meltdown put millions of Chinese out of work in early 2009, as factories that produced goods for export closed their doors. Over the past 18 months, Beijing has seen how dependence on western markets can produce unacceptably high levels of risk at home. The solution is to shift its model to rely more on China’s growing consumer base. This plan, however, must be undertaken with great care to ensure minimum industrial disruption.
Meanwhile, China’s political decoupling from the west is also in full swing. We saw it at December’s climate change summit in Copenhagen, as China spearheaded resistance from developing states to western-proposed targets on carbon emissions. We saw it in the strong reaction to an announcement in February of US arms sales to Taiwan and to Barack Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama days later. We will see more public Chinese pushback against what Beijing considers “interference” from Washington in months to come.
There is still considerable mutual dependence between the US and China, grounded mainly in commercial ties. But the unfolding conflict is in many ways more dangerous than the cold war. Economic decision-making in Moscow had little impact on western power or standards of living. But globalisation means there is no equivalent to the Berlin wall, insulating China and America from turmoil inside the other.
The rivalry may take on a life of its own, growing beyond the governments’ ability to contain it. American policymakers must ensure that US power remains indispensable to China’s rise. This will not be a popular undertaking in Washington. Facing voters this November, US politicians will want to shift the blame for the country’s woes onto someone else. Cultural conservatives of the right and labour champions of the left will tell voters that their problems are made in China. Even more sober figures are beginning to raise the alarm, as when economist Paul Krugman warned in March 2010 that China’s economic policy “seriously damages the rest of the world.”
Soon, more Americans will be asking why a country with 10 per cent unemployment can’t persuade a country with 10 per cent growth to respect trade rules and play a responsible role on the global stage. And Beijing’s new assertiveness is feeding a growing insecurity in the US. In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre in 2009, 44 per cent of Americans named China as “the world’s leading economic power.” Just 27 per cent chose the US. Reasonable or not, this is a sea change in attitudes—2008 was the last presidential election in which average voters didn’t know or care where the candidates stood on China.
How did we get here? For the past 30 years, China’s rise and America’s power have been complementary. In the late 1970s, the Chinese leadership began to tinker with capitalism and to cautiously open the country to foreign trade and investment. Less hawkish officials in Washington and Beijing hoped that a relationship could be built, but fallout from the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 put their plans on hold. As the Warsaw pact governments fell later that year and the Soviet empire followed in 1991, China’s hardliners applied the brakes on capitalist experimentation. But in 1992, 88-year-old Deng Xiaoping breathed new life into market reform. Deng’s successor, Jiang Zemin, beat back old guard resistance to liberalisation, and stepped up the pace of reform in the early 1990s.
The collapse of European communism taught China’s leadership that to hold onto power, it must succeed where other socialist states had failed by offering people a rising standard of living. Building China’s economy meant establishing the country as an export powerhouse, a plan that required access to consumers in the US, EU and Japan—still China’s three largest trading partners. That meant opening the economy to ever-higher levels of foreign trade and investment—effectively“coupling” China’s growth to the west’s.
US companies were happy to oblige. Wal-Mart became the world’s largest retailer because its founder, Sam Walton, recognised the possibilities of low-cost Chinese labour. In the years since, a growing number of American companies have begun banking on huge profits based on sales to China’s potentially enormous middle class. In turn, Chinese companies looking to move up the value chain have benefited from exposure to the management, advanced technologies and marketing techniques of US, European and Japanese companies.
Beijing’s relationship with the US reached a crucial moment in January 1993, when Bill Clinton entered the White House. As a candidate Clinton had denounced China’s leaders as “butchers,” and promised to end the “most favoured nation” trade status that China had enjoyed since 1980. As president, Clinton proved more circumspect, pursuing a policy of “constructive engagement.” US consumers benefited as cheap Chinese products helped to keep inflation in check during the 1990s. Before leaving office, Clinton signed into law “permanent normal trade relations” between the two countries. The relationship had become too big to fail.
At the time, Beijing had good reason to value American power and Washington’s willingness to use it. Developing trade and investment relationships with potentially volatile emerging states in Africa, the middle east, southeast Asia and Latin America exposed China to risks it had little experience in managing. America’s willingness to play the global policeman helped open and maintain trade routes and sea lanes for Chinese companies. Expanded access to US consumers helped China’s economy create millions of jobs. Washington proved willing (for the most part) to respect Chinese sensitivities on Taiwan, Tibet and Tiananmen Square.
In 2001, China joined the World Trade Organisation: a landmark moment in its embrace of the global status quo. In the years since, the creative destruction that comes with decades of double-digit growth has created big problems inside China: the disparities of wealth between coastal cities and the rest of the country, serious environmental damage and social unrest. To ensure a more “harmonious” rise, a new generation of leaders led by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao has taken a direct hand in managing expansion. The government already relied heavily on state-owned companies to secure access to resources. It now began to use privately owned companies to dominate certain sectors: Yingli and Suntech have taken over the solar-power industry; BYD dominates batteries and cars. Beijing relies on both public and private sectors to manage the pace of growth and the distribution of its benefits. And sovereign wealth funds, created from the country’s enormous reserves of foreign currency—the People’s Bank of China valued the country’s holdings at $2.399 trillion (£1.580 trillion) in December 2009—are used to direct huge flows of investment.
In sum, the Communist party is using markets to create wealth that can be directed as officials see fit. The ultimate motive is not economic but political: to maximise the state’s control of development and the leadership’s chance of survival. It is a model that has so far been strikingly successful—to the extent that China no longer needs to keep a low profile and let the US take the lead. But it is not a system that offers a level-playing field to foreign companies and investors.
April 29, 2010
April 29, 2010
April 28, 2010
April 28, 2010
April 28, 2010
SOME 300 journalists and other staff at IslamOnline, a popular website on Muslim affairs, have been staging a three-week sit-in that has captivated Arab media. Broadcasting it live over the internet, they have been getting support from prominent intellectuals and ordinary fans alike. Every turn of the affair is assiduously shared on Twitter. Their ordeal has been described as a battle for the soul of Islam.
That is an exaggeration. At a less spiritual level, IslamOnline’s mostly Egyptian staff has been wrestling for control of the website with its Qatari owner, the al-Balagh Cultural Society, which is based in Doha, Qatar’s capital, and wants to cut jobs in Cairo and move some of its editorial offices back home. The Cairo staff claim that this is a ploy to take the website in a more conservative direction. The managers in Doha counter that IslamOnline has become too parochially Egyptian and has been straying from its mission to reach out to all Muslims.
But this labour dispute also reflects an Arab cold war that pits Egypt against more radical states. Qatari-owned media such as al-Jazeera and IslamOnline have relentlessly criticised Egypt in recent years, notably for its complicity in Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Some suspect that toning down IslamOnline’s news coverage by reining in its staff, some of whom are close to the Muslim Brothers, who in turn are close to the Islamist Hamas movement that controls Gaza, is a Qatari gesture to Egypt’s government. Others point to longstanding rivalry between Saudis and Qataris, who, it is mooted, may be eager to reduce the influence of a Saudi company that has been helping to run the Cairo website.
IslamOnline began in 1997 as a student project at the University of Qatar with cash from Sheikha Mozah, an enterprising wife of Qatar’s emir, and with an endorsement from the prominent and sometimes controversial Egyptian-born scholar, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. At IslamOnline’s launch, speaking on his extremely popular al-Jazeera religious talk-show, “Sharia and Life”, Mr Qaradawi said its mission to guide Muslims is “the jihad of our era.”
April 28, 2010
AL-QAEDA in Iraq is struggling to recruit volunteers for suicide bombings and other attacks, the US Army said yesterday, hours after the jihadist network confirmed the deaths of its top commanders. Brigadier General Ralph Baker, a senior US officer in Baghdad, said no one could deny the killing of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri, who had direct links with Osama bin Laden, was a “decapitation” for its leadership.
The SITE Intelligence Group said the Islamic State of Iraq, the al-Qaeda front in the country, had announced for the first time the deaths of the two men.
But the insurgents also vowed in the internet message that other insurgents would take their place, under plans put in place ahead of the Iraqi-US military strike that killed them in a house north of Baghdad on April 18.
General Baker cautioned that the killing of AQI’s previous military leader, the well-known Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who died in a US airstrike in 2006, had shown the insurgents were capable of rebuilding. But he said AQI was weaker now, and it would be harder for it to regenerate after hundreds of arrests recently…
April 28, 2010
April 28, 2010
April 27, 2010
Below are this year’s winners of the Husband of the Year Award.
This years Third Place Winner:
The Second Place Award Winner:
Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for: This year’s Grand Prize winner of the Husband of the Year Award goes to man not afraid of PDA’s (public displays of affection)…
The Honorable Mentions up included a man who would rather sleep with bicycle…
And the guy for whom stability means everything…
April 27, 2010
April 27, 2010
It is not clear what French President Nicolas Sarkozy had in mind when he invited a contingent of 400 Indian troops to march down the Champs-Élysées for the Bastille Day parade in 2009. But Paris might be on to something that Washington has missed, in spite of its more intensive military engagement with India in recent years. Although Paris does not have the power to engineer international structural changes in New Delhi’s favor, it has often been ahead of Washington in strategizing about India. In its effort to build a partnership with India, ongoing since the mid-1990s, France has helped India renegotiate its position in the global nuclear order: It provided diplomatic cover
when India defied the world with nuclear tests in May 1998, promoted the idea of changing the global non-proliferation rules to facilitate civilian nuclear cooperation with India, and worked with the Bush Administration to get the international community to endorse India’s nuclear exceptionalism.
Of course, Sarkozy’s motives might have been merely tactical: a move to butter up Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was among the honored guests at the parade, or to raise its share of India’s rapidly expanding market for advanced arms. But Paris is capable of more than tactics: It may sense the prospects of a fundamental change in India’s defense orientation and its potential to contribute significantly to international security politics in the 21st century. It may see that a rising India, which runs one of the world’s major economies and fields a large armed force, will eventually bear some of the military burdens of maintaining the global order.
If so, it would not be the first time that India has done so. Western analysts, some British excepted, seem not to appreciate two historical facts: that the Indian armed forces contributed significantly to Allied efforts in the 20th century’s two world wars; and that India’s British Raj was the main peacekeeper in the Indian Ocean littoral and beyond. And it is not just the West that is ignorant of the security legacy of the British Raj; India’s own post-colonial political class deliberately induced a collective national amnesia about the country’s rich pre-independence military traditions. Its foreign policy establishment still pretends that India’s engagement with the world began on August 15, 1947.
The image of Indian troops marching in Paris should remind the world that India’s military past could be a useful guide to its strategic future. If the United States and India can together rediscover and revive the Indian military’s expeditionary tradition, they will have a solid basis for strategic cooperation not only between themselves but also with the rest of the world’s democracies. The Bush Administration showed an instinctive sense of this possibility when it committed itself to assisting India’s rise and boosting its defense capabilities. President Barack Obama does seem to have a fund of goodwill toward India, which was reflected in his decision to receive Prime Minister Singh in November 2009 as the first state guest at the White House. But it is not clear if the Obama Administration has a larger strategic conception of the prospects for military and security cooperation with India.
In general, the Democratic administrations of recent times have tended to define engagement with India in terms of global issues and multilateralism rather than converging bilateral interests. Rather than frame the relationship with India using such ambitious but unrealizable multilateral goals, or drag Delhi further than it wishes to go into the Af-Pak mess, the Obama Administration needs to elevate the bilateral military engagement with India to a strategic level. While the U.S. debate on military burden-sharing has traditionally taken place in the context of Washington’s alliances with Western Europe and Japan, a rising India may well be a more credible and sustainable partner than these two in coping with new international security challenges. If both sides can shake off the remaining historical baggage that has kept them at arm’s length for most of the past sixty years, we may see something remotely like the return of the Raj.
A good deal of that old baggage has already been discarded. More Americans than ever now see beyond India’s third-worldish rhetoric and appreciate its quiet affection for power and realpolitik. Ever more Indians appreciate the genuine opportunities for strategic, economic and political partnership with the United States and the West in general. This appreciation accelerated dramatically during the tenure of the Bush Administration, having just come off a stretch of poor relations during the Clinton years.
Although Indian opposition to the “liberal wars” of the 1990s was couched in terms of sovereignty and non-intervention, the real problem for India was the potential threat of American meddling on the Kashmir question. India faced an intense insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir supported from across the border beginning in the late 1980s, a serious effort by Pakistan to “internationalize” the dispute, and the Clinton Administration’s constant hectoring on India’s nuclear efforts and human rights. Unsurprisingly, India resolved to resist these new “Wilsonians” in the security debates following the Cold War.
Eventually, Washington figured this out. The Clinton Administration in its final year, and the Bush Administration throughout its tenure, sought to make amends and develop a new level of political understanding between the two nations. Clinton stepped back from linking improved ties to progress on Kashmir and non-proliferation. The Bush Administration fell almost completely silent on Kashmir and put an end to nearly four decades of Indo-U.S. quarreling over nuclear issues. It also exerted itself to prevent an Indo-Pak war in the winter of 2001–02. Taken together, all of this opened the way for constructing a new security partnership.
Having initially raised fears that it might undo the good work of the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration has since signaled that it will avoid destabilizing activism on the Kashmir question, will not let the deepening U.S. engagement with Pakistan undermine possibilities with India, and will elevate the relationship with Delhi to what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called “India-U.S. 3.0.”1 But although Secretary Clinton has spoken of cooperation on global security as one of the pillars of the U.S.-India relationship envisaged under the Obama Administration, she has been hesitant thus far to construct a case for a defense partnership.
April 27, 2010
New York’s original Pennsylvania Railroad Station opened its doors in November 1910, with its towering Doric columns and a 150-foot-high waiting room based on the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. “As the crowd passed through the doors into the vast concourse,” the New York Times reported, “on every hand were heard exclamations of wonder, for none had any idea of the architectural beauty of the new structure.” But in the mid-1960s, the Pennsylvania Railroad tried to make up for falling revenues by razing the Beaux Arts structure—over the protests of architects and editorial boards—and replacing it with today’s drab station, the new Madison Square Garden, and rent-bearing office towers.
The beloved old station became a martyr for the preservationist cause. In 1965, Mayor Robert Wagner signed the law establishing the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Initially, the move seemed like a harmless sop to the activist architects. But the commission’s power soon grew, partly because it was charged not only with protecting beautiful old structures but also with establishing large historic districts. Today, New York City contains just 1,200 individually landmarked buildings, far fewer than the 25,000 buildings within its 100 historic districts. And in these districts—1,300 acres’ worth in Manhattan alone—almost every action that affects a building’s exterior must pass muster with the commission, from installing air conditioners in windows to mounting intercom boxes next to front doors. A tree can grow in Brooklyn, but not in SoHo, unless the commission decides that its leaves are no affront to that neighborhood.
It is wise and good to protect the most cherished parts of a city’s architectural history. But New York’s vast historic districts, which include thousands of utterly undistinguished structures, don’t accomplish that goal. Worse, they impede new construction, keeping real estate in New York City enormously expensive (despite a housing crash), especially in its most desirable, historically protected areas. It’s time to ask whether New York’s big historic districts make sense.
According to a law passed in 1965, to bestow historic-district status on a neighborhood, the Landmarks Preservation Commission must hold public hearings, vote, and then submit its proposal to the city council, which must approve the designation. Once that happens, the commission has enormous powers over the new district: it may “specify the nature of any construction, reconstruction, alteration or demolition of any landscape feature which may be performed” within that district. The commission began landmarking speedily after the law was passed. From 1966 to 1981, it created 20 historic districts in southern Manhattan, at a rate of about 38 acres per year. (By “southern Manhattan,” I mean the island below 96th Street—the most expensive land in the city and some of the most expensive in the world.)
In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed governments to landmark commercial areas without compensating the owners, giving the Landmarks Preservation Commission a green light to expand farther into areas that had many nonresidential properties. The largest of these was the Upper East Side. Once again, effective organizers, like New Yorker drama critic Brendan Gill, rallied a sophisticated community behind the districting plan. Opponents of the Upper East Side Historic District mounted a spirited defense, challenging the notion that this large swath of Manhattan had any kind of architectural unity, but they were overwhelmed. Paul Goldberger, writing in the Times, noted that the decision put the Koch administration “squarely on the side of preservation, rather than development, of some of the city’s most expensive real estate…”
Nevertheless, the damage has been done. Not counting parks, southern Manhattan contains about 7,700 acres of potentially buildable area. Today, nearly 16 percent of that land is in historic districts and therefore subject to the commission’s authority. This preservation is freezing large tracts of land, rendering them unable to accommodate the thousands of people who would like to live in Manhattan but can’t afford to.
To get an idea of the way that historic districts can freeze a city, consider two recent episodes. In 1999, Citibank sold a one-story branch bank on the corner of 91st and Madison Avenue to a developer who planned a 17-story tower for the site. But the corner was within the prestigious Carnegie Hill Historic District, whose distinguished residents didn’t like the idea of another tower in their neighborhood. Woody Allen made a short video protesting the plan. Kevin Kline recited Richard II: “How sour sweet music is, / When time is broke and no proportion kept!” No New Yorker who grew up hearing Kline play Henry V in Central Park can fault the commission for being swayed by his eloquence. It told the developer to limit the building to nine stories—even though one of the few limits to the commission’s power, explicitly stated in the New York City Administrative Code, is that “nothing contained in this chapter shall be construed as authorizing the commission, in acting with respect to any historic district or improvement therein, . . . to regulate or limit the height and bulk of buildings.”