25,000 Pen Pals for Cuba

As long as Fidel Castro (age 84, his brother Raul is 79) is alive, U.S.-Cuban relations will be largely frozen in their present form, as will many internal aspects of Cuban society. Sometimes individual leaders become their foreign and domestic policies, and when they finally join the choir invisible, massive pent-up changes are suddenly unleashed. Examples include Gorbachev’s dramatic domestic and international reforms after the last cold war-era Soviet Chairmen bought the state-controlled farm in rapid succession in the early 1980s, and, Spain’s rapid transformation after Generalissimo Franco went for a Burton in 1975.

When the Castros hop the twig, we will have the best chance in over half a century to transform U.S.-Cuban relations. The Cubans will have an equally golden opportunity to transform their own culture and political institutions. In both endeavors, strong pre-existing bonds of friendship across the U.S.-Cuba divide will be of great value. I am not talking of friendships between heads of state, but between teachers, preachers, mayors, artists, artisans, shopkeepers, parents, senior citizens and others who might travel back and forth between the two countries and be the socio-cultural capital upon which great things are built.

We could start, as the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland are doing, by promoting interaction among our children before they have a chance to absorb their parents’ biases and old grudges. A simple way to do this is to expand the many existing pen pal programs in U.S. schools to include children in Cuban schools. Both governments would have to agree to allow unencumbered mail flow and help match children by language skills but that would be the needed and desired extent of their involvement. If we started with 25,000 pen pals, we should end up in the post-Castro era with some long-standing friendships between adults that could help both societies begin a new, better era together.

Fairly boring Brazilian election (contd.)

Dilma Rousseff heads for an easy win.

Dilma Rousseff is keeping her large lead over José Serra and will surely win the second round on October 31 and the Brazilian Presidency. Since influence-peddling scandals are already in the mix, there´s little room for last-minute upsets.

You have to be sorry for Serra. The long CV that qualifies him to govern is his Achilles´ heel. Dilma (I´m not being patronising by using her first name: they are running as ¨Dilma¨ and ¨Serra¨) doesn´t attack him on his stint as Health Minister when Brazil adopted its very successful, and nationalist, policy on generic drugs, but as an executor under Cardoso of the unpopular privatisation policy. The ¨Washington consensus¨, remember, never extended very far outside Washington. So the charge that Serra will privatise Petrobras may be baseless but plays well.

The campaign promises are more or less the same, and so is the imagery on the lengthy free TV slots – hospitals, roadworks, trains (Serra´s are artificially speeded-up!), dams, refineries: no hummingbirds, unspoilt beaches, or pristine forests. Marina Silva or her party failed to make a deal with either of the leading candidates – a big mistake IMHO on Serra´s part as it was his only hope, and bad news for the Amazon and the rest of us. Neither vice-presidential candidate is visible; Brazilians should worry more about the health risks, as Serra is 68 and Dilma has had a run-in with cancer. Lula is not very prominent in the Dilma campaign. Like her or not, Dilma Rousseff has a strong and confident personality and Lula´s hopes of an ¨éminence grise¨ role must be fading. UN ambassador?

It´s a safe bet that a Dilma administration will have more social spending and higher inflation than a Serra one, as well as more nationalist (and anti-American) theatre. Foggy Bottom reflexively sees lefty populists like Dilma as a threat and would be much happier with conservative, US-educated technocrats like Serra. But just now, what the world economy – and hence the US one – needs is more big-spending, inflationary governments like Brazil´s, not hair-shirt S/M fashionistas like Britain´s. The diplomats´ pet theory of an objective national interest that transcends ordinary political differences is attributed to Lord Palmerston. It´s really just enslavement to Palmerston´s politics.

Two elections in Latin America

Brazilian and Venezuelan electors behaving rationally, unlike American.

Results of the Brazilian Presidential election, first round on October 3:
Dilma Rousseff ……46.91% (goes to run-off)
José Serra …………32.61% (goes to run-off)
Marina Silva……….19.33% (no endorsement yet for the runoff)
Others……………..1.15% (includes vanishing sentimental hard-left voters)
Total valid votes 101,590,153

This is all much as expected. Dilma´s vote was 2% or so down on the last polls of voting intentions , and Marina as much up. The gap was bigger on pure preferences; but Dilms already faced a 2% enthusiasm gap betwen these and voting intentions. It looks as if this gap widened. A lot of voters were undecided up to the very end: 6% according to Datafolha´s last national poll on September 28/29. Marina Silva actually beat Serra into third place in Rio de Janeiro state. The pólls were spot on (within 1%) for the Rio state governorship.

It´s a quite good result IMHO. Brazil´s main problems – inequality, lousy infrastructure, deforestation, poor education compared to other BRICs – require more government rather than less. Dilma has had a warning rather than a plebiscite, and cannot ignore the greening of the electorate. Sustainability is the new soundbite. Also it´s not a result that lends comfort to conspiracy theories of massive ballot-rigging by le pouvoir, which the paperless system encourages.

Without Silva´s dignified presence, the tone of the runoff election has deteriorated sharply into soundbites to show who is more personally against abortion, and mudslinging over sleaze. I can´t figure out what Serra, far the more experienced campaigner, thinks he is up to. To have a fighting chance, he has to (a) convince all of Silva´s electors that he´s serious about the Amazon and climate change, (b) convince some of Dilma´s electors that he won´t touch their bolsa familia and will direct a lot of the prospective oil wealth their way through infrastructure in the poor regions. He doesn´t appear to be trying and merely getting out the conservative base will not give him a chance.

Mind you, the sleaze charges against Dilma are pretty convincing. Erenice Guerra, her previous right-hand woman and successor as Lula´s chief of staff, had to resign last month in an influence-peddling scandal. Dilma and Lula are shocked, shocked. The structural incentives – the party of the poor always has a harder time financing itself than the party of the rich, its leaders are personally less wealthy – don´t help: I guess the money corruption of the left tends to take more illegal forms than that of the right (see Blair, Mitterand). Dilma´s attitude and recent career as a machine politician mean that we can expect lots more of the same during her mandate.

The Venezuelan parliamentary elections on 26 September were more interesting really. Against the odds and a barrage by Chavez´ tame media, the opposition to Chavez almost tied the popular vote (47.17% to Chavez´48.20%). International observers weren´t allowed in, so the opposition may have got a majority in fact. Chavez´party still has a large working majority in parliament, but not the two-thirds needed for constitutional amendments. The revolution has stalled, though the opposition will have a very hard time of it.

The opposition is interesting as well as brave. It´s a coalition of opposition parties of all shades, from left-of-Chavez to old-style conservatives. The language of the name – Mesa de la Unidad Democrática – comes straight from the Polish Solidarność of the 1980s. Solidarity was legally a trade union, but the broad umbrella approach is similar. As its leaders expected, after 1989 Solidarity disintegrated as a national movement into normal parties, though it survives as a trades union. MUD even held primaries to select candidates from any party with a winning chance.

Both Brazilian and Venezuelan electors are acting entirely rationally. Brazilians are voting for continuity, as things are going pretty well, Venezuelans for change, as they are going very badly. Even Caracas favelas are no longer safe fiefs for Chavez. Is only the American electorate incapable of understanding its own self-interest, and identifying those responsible for its condition?

Statistic

A child dies in Rio in a storm: your and my responsibility.

On Sunday morning an unusually strong tropical cyclone hit Rio de Janeiro. Six people died when their houses (shacks really) collapsed under mudslides.

O Dia, Rio, 7/03/2010

In this one, Gabriela de Souza Freitas, 3 years old, was sleeping with her grandmother. (The Brazilian poor have names like grandees with 10,000 acres). They both died, buried alive. O Dia´s paper edition carried her smiling photo; it¨s not on the website, perhaps from a belated concern for the family´s privacy. Still, I was irresistibly reminded of her contemporaries, my granddaughter Cassie and Lu´s nephew Gabriel.

Am I responsible for Gabriela´s death? Are you? If we are, to any extent, what should we do about it?

It´s difficult to think straight about this sort of thing. We are scared to admit an impossible burden that would overwhelm us with pain and guilt, so we shut our minds and pass by on the other side.

We are obviously talking here about a small share of responsibility – but a small share in something very large, the death of an innocent child. But let us at least try.

1. One of the probable effects of global warming is to increase the intensity of tropical storms. IPCC 4 in 2007 gave the odds for this link at better than evens for the past and better than than 2 to 1 for the future. This is common sense: heat is energy, so there is more energy in the atmosphere all the time, and we would expect all the processes to run that bit more actively. The unusually intense storm in Rio was, within normal standards of prudence, a foreseeable consequence of carbon emissions. These have come historically mainly in the rich North, and are now split between the North and fast-growing middle-income countries including China and Brazil.

2. The Rio storm was only just strong enough to cause casualties. A little bit weaker, and no-one would have died; a little bit stronger, and many more would have done. Gabriela´s death was at the margin, the tipping point of risk. It is therefore probable (around evens) that global warming was sufficient to take the storm past that tipping point and therefore caused her death.

3. The tragedy had other causes besides the storm: the shack built in a dangerous place (but the Rio poor don´t have much choice), lax or nil enforcement of building codes, general inequality and poverty, bad individual luck. Any one of these factors can also be fairly described as the critical one at the margin, although the social factors have been getting better in Brazil and only the climate change one has clearly been getting worse.

4. Moral responsibility isn´t additive but distributive. The law has this one right: if a Mafia don orders a hitman to take out a rival, they are both fully guilty of murder, not half each. Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Addington, Goss, two CIA staffers, and a guy in a cellar conspire to waterboard Abu Zubaydah: the responsibility for the war crime of torture is not â…› + â…› + â…› + …. but 1 + 1 + 1 +… (All right, we´ll knock down Bush and Yoo to ½ on rounds of mental incapacity, but the point holds.) So the fact that the Rio City Hall is also responsible by negligence for Gabriela´s death does not let you and me off the hook in any way.

5. So we can´t get round the fact that your and my past carbon emissions very probably contributed to Gabriela´s death. But, you say, there are a billion high-emission Northerners: our individual shares are a billionth each. Unfortunately there are at least a billion poor Southerners like Gabriela whose lives we have put at similar degrees of risk. Stern points out that a month before Hurricane Katrina, 1,000 people died from flooding in Bombay, and two years later Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh killed 3,000 and displaced 7 million. The scaling up on either side balances out roughly. To a first approximation, you and I, and Gabriela and her granny, are representative of our respective societies.

6. We are therefore at fault, even if we only personally contributed a few drops of water to the mud shrouding her little body, and should be ashamed.

What should we do about it? You could send some money to one of the many charities that work with Rio´s street children. The main deal is however stopping further harm to other Gabrielas from climate change.

As a citizen, I think I´m doing okay. My countries of citizenship (UK) and residence (Spain) both have decent mitigation policies, pushed along by the strong EU commitment. I blog here regularly (see the RBC climate change archive) and I hope constructively.

I´m not doing so well in my personal behaviour. On the plus side, I live in a warm country in a reasonably insulated and compact house without central heating or air conditioning, and my hot water is solar. On the down side, I drive 15,000 km a year (though in an efficient diesel that does 7litres/100km), and fly about as much. I can´t afford to change the car yet, and am waiting for plug-in hybrids to come on to the market. I offset carbon on flights when the airline offers it (Easyjet) but not when they don´t (Ryanair).

So my practical post-Gabriela resolution is to find a reputable carbon offset charity and pay for my flights in future. Stern uses this one, which is good enough for me. Let´s see, Rio to Seoul makes 3 tons, costing £27. OK.

That wasn´t too difficult. Is it enough in the circumstances? I don´t know. Is it something? Yes.

How about you?

Unilateral carbon mitigation: my proposal for Brazil

Waiting for the US to act on climate change is the wrong policy for developing countries.

Brazil, where I´m currently living, has greatly improved its environmental policies recently under President Lula. His government took on and defeated the Amazonian rancher lobby, and deforestation has slowed. Lula does not seem to have paid a political price for this – most Brazilians live on the coast or in the south, and don´t care that much about the remote Amazon (they quite like having it, but not to the point of taking to the streets). The indifference allowed the lobby to get away with it for so long, but is now working in favour of good policy. 85% of Brazilian electricity is renewable: mainly from hydroelectricity (not environmentally pure I know, but carbon is the overriding problem), now joined by a rapidly growing wind sector. So the high-profile role that Brazilian diplomats played in Copenhagen was not hypocritical.

However, Brazil´s position there was not very different from the general one of the developing countries: the atmospheric carbon legacy is the fault of the rich countries (true), we need to grow fast to end poverty (true), even though you bastards have used up the cheap oil (true). So the rich countries must go first. Show you are serious, and give us lots of guilt money, then we will join in.

This argument sounds moral but it´s bad policy by the old, cynical standard of the national interest. Consider a policy game with two players, a rich country, ¨USA¨, and a fast-growing poorer one, ¨Brazil¨. There is a rest of the world, which looks like the one we have except that its carbon emissions are not significant. The policy options are a national cap-and-trade regime, open to international trade and deals if they are going, and business as usual. The payoff matrix for ¨Brazil¨ looks I think like this:

Some of this needs a little explanation. Absent a global cap-&-trade deal, it´s likely that there will still be some voluntary flows of funding driven by consumers like airline passengers or by local/regional/state governments like California´s. These would very probably be higher in the NE cell than the SW one, with more serious mitigation efforts by ¨Brazil¨. Anyway the transfers are not the key.

The central tradeoff for ¨Brazil¨ lies between the slightly higher growth offered by BAU and its much greater riskiness. A reasonably safe world requires caps by both rich and poor countries. Without both, the world is going to become a very nasty place, with high probabilities of mass deaths, revenge ecoterrorism, revolutions, and wars over oil and water. The only question is how fast. So outside the NW cell, disaster is inevitable. When it comes, the least bad place to be is with a low-carbon economy based on diversified local renewable energy sources, rather than a somewhat bigger but very vulnerable economy dependent on imported hydrocarbons.

As Nicholas Stern points out, the overall costs of a serious mitigation strategy – <2% of GDP – are less than those that countries routinely face from exchange rate movements, to which I would add, for developing countries, swings in commodities prices. A level playing field is desirable for both efficiency and morality, but you should still play on the bumpy pitch you´ve got. US industry (well, most of it) has not collapsed from its exceptional health costs, nor European industry from the burden of pension liabilities. If Vietnam and Morocco imposed carbon taxes, their textile factories would not migrate back to Lancashire and New England. The fear of loss of competitiveness from unilateral or incomplete cap-and-trade is not entirely groundless, but it´s a small and manageable problem.

In this ultra-simplified 2-player game, the right strategy for Brazil, and any typical developing country,  is clearly cap-and–trade, regardless of the actions of rich countries.

Does this change if we make the game more realistic? First, divide the rich team into two, with an unwilling USA and a participating Europe and Japan. This increases transfers to the South, and reinforces the argument.

Second, we add in Índia and China, very populous countries with large domestic reserves of coal, and therefore the option of a fairly secure BAU strategy. I would not claim my model offers them a convincing argument for unilateral mitigation. But suppose we just add them to the USA in the BAU camp. World disaster is now coming sooner rather than later, and the model´s argument for other developing countries is even stronger.

To come back to real Brazil. Going ahead unilaterally to set national carbon limits, and taking the lead for a partial cap-and trade regime, – a coalition of the sane – , would have the considerable further payoff of demonstrating the final emancipation of the brown poor from rich white men. Self-respect is not a trivial prize.

The strong objection to this strategy is moral hazard: it lets the USA off the hook and lowers the political incentive for Congress to act. This was a good argument last year and at Copenhagen, when Waxman-Markey looked doable. But the Washington combination of know-nothing, objectively pro-genocide Republicans and wet Democrats has made a serious climate bill very unlikely for a while. My guess would be that the negative political impact (an apparent free ride) would be outweighed by the effect of example, the fear of losing business opportunities, and the patent loss of soft power. In any case, the free ride is only apparent; it´s impossible to stabilise the climate without both China and the USA. The USA will come round some day. I just pray it won´t be too late for my granddaughters.

On the correctness of the Rio carnival

A personal report on the 2010 Rio Carnival.

Before I was allowed to emplane for Rio I promised to file a report for the Committee of Concerned Elderly Gentlemen on the moral hazards of the Rio Carnival. Here it is.

Considerable efforts are being made to raise the tone of the event and make it acceptable to the most progressive Cultural Studies department. For instance, the Escola de Samba Imperatriz Leopoldinense chose as its theme the religious multiculturalism of Brazil. Here’s the school’s float on Judaism:

Somehow I think that’s not entirely accurate. Surely it was a golden calf not a giant cow? And I must have missed the text “I the Lord thy God am a laid-back-God, let a hundred flowers bloom and all that, hang cool and go with the flow.”
The dancing inside the mosque here  is also, I fear, unsound.

They should surely be whirling dervishes, not samba stompers. I missed Christianity during a pizza break, and I don’t know enough about Buddhism and Hinduism to tell you what they got wrong.

Imperatriz didn’t have a chance of winning. They had the sense to realize that their chosen theme made it impossible to adorn the floats with the expected number of half-clad beauties. (A float for Baal-worship would have opened up interesting possibilities.) But overall their real problems were a dull samba tune and little wit in the design. To become champions, the schools don’t compete on pretty girls: the supply in Rio of attractive, extrovert and very fit young women willing to dance 80 minutes on a float in showgirl gear for zero pay is perfectly elastic at the margin and exceeds the number of destaque slots available. Nor are the schools allowed to compete on the degree of nudity; the authorities are determined to keep this a family attraction. The total number of paraders is limited – to 4,000 per school! as is the number of floats.

So the real competition is about design and invention, visual and musical. Sometimes they just try too hard: one ala of Viradouro’s on foot represented “the decline of the Maya from over-exploitation of the forest”. This level of narrative abstraction cannot work outside a theatre. But at it best, the results are extraordinary. the commissão de frente – leading dance group – of the eventual champions Unidos da Tijuca (Hooray! My bairro!) on the theme of “Secrets”, had a top-hatted magician leading the dancers, and covering them with a huge cloth – whisking it away to reveal the women in different coloured dresses. Simple but brilliantly effective.

I’m unsure quite how the Hanging Gardens of Babylon fitted into Tijuca’s theme, but the float had real water cascading down real plants.

The criticism you hear that the Rio carnival has become too commercialised is unfounded. There’s little sponsorship in evidence. The steep ticket prices are recycled to the samba schools, Some of these, notably Beija-Flor, also benefit from the patronage of rich men, and it shows, but the carnival is still far from the crazed billionaires’ potlatch of the America’s Cup. What the carnival has become is stylised by competition. The format of the parade is heavily regulated and far too uniform for my taste: every school has its couple of flag-bearers, an “old guard” of veterans, a group of middle-aged whirling dancers called bahianas, a rainha da bateria, and so on, with almost as many side-competitions as the Oscars. The divide between spectators and participants is clear. You are either one or the other. (I’m talking here about the main carnival parade in the delightfully named Sambodrome, not the informal bloco parties and street parades by bandas.) The atmosphere is that of a very amiable big sporting ocasion; a cricket rather than a football match.

Still, even in this rigid and channelled format, the Rio carnival must be the greatest show of popular theatre on earth. Each of the twelve samba schools in the first division can parade up to 4,000 on the night, and most do. There is also a second division, with somewhat smaller parades, and annual promotions and relegations. The schools start work in May on the next year’s parade. They have their own workshops, float-builders  and dressmakers for the critical costumes, though most of the costume-making is farmed out, and the typical parader on foot pays for his or her own outfit. Somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 cariocas therefore put in work at some time during the year, and a good number full-time,  to make the show what it is.

The CCEG can only be partially reassured, however.


(Unidos da Tijuca’s celebrity rainha de bateria, Adriane Galisteu – actually in last year’s outfit, I just like it better than this year’s.)

As they say, more in-depth fieldwork is clearly called for. My funding application to the CCEG is in the mail.

Norm Coleman Provides a Lesson for the Legal Profession

When the law is on your side, pound on the law.
When the facts are on your side, pound on the facts.
When neither the law nor the facts are on your side, pound on the table.

Norm Coleman will officially contest Franken’s election to the US Senate, despite virtually no evidence supporting any of his claims. That’s his right, of course: while Franken should be provisionally seated now, as a Democrat I believe that all wrongfully excluded ballots should be counted.

And as a law professor, I welcome the opportunity to treat my students to an interesting case study in professional responsibility. As the old lawyer’s saying goes:

When the law is on your side, pound on the law.

When the facts are on your side, pound on the facts.

When neither the law nor the facts are on your side, pound on the table.

Looks like that table will get a serious workout over the next few months