A tragic sexual assault becomes pretext to insult both women and Muslims

Update Sunday 2/20/2010: good stories in NYT today: Reporting While Female and Why We Need Women in War Zones One of my favorite blogs, the awesome Wronging Rights, does the definitive take on the Lara Logan story, a CBS reporter who was sexually assaulted on one of the violent days during the Egypt uprising:

The internet, it appeared, was largely in agreement: what happened to Logan was terrible, but hardly surprising - what else could possibly be the result when a girl with "model good looks" is "sent" to a public place full of unrestrained Muslims?

....to say that Lara Logan was in Tahrir Square largely because of her "model good looks" is pretty much just textbook misogyny. Her looks do not cancel out any, much less all, of the myriad other relevant facts. Such as her four years of reporting from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq; her job title, which, last time I checked, was "Chief Foreign Correspondent for CBS News;" or that she had bravely returned to report on the story despite being arrested earlier in the month, and expelled from the country. To discard all of her hard work, and deny her accomplishments, merely because she is an attractive woman, is damn sexist.

....{If she was less attractive} would she be safe from the mob of 200 people who apparently decided to subject her to a prolonged beating and repeated sexual assaults because her delicate beauty stirred their romantic longings? Give me a break. Rape is about power, not how cute the victim is.

So seriously, internets, pull yourselves together. Lara Logan is a professional who suffered a horrific attack in the course of doing a dangerous job. Women all over the world take similar risks every day. We do so because we don't see "vulnerability to rape" as our most salient characteristic. It's about time everyone else picked up on that too.

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Dictators v. Democracy: our Autocrat Unintentional Self-Parody Index (AUSPI)

Update 2pm Saturday Feb 19: more reports of protests today in Benghazi, and more killings by Qaddafi forces. Qaddafi strategy of cutting Libya off from intl media and Net seems to be working, as these heroic protesters are not getting much world attention. UPDATE 4pm: Shaky reports of more protests and massacres out of Libya. This eloquent statement in the Guardian by a noted Libyan author:

I appeal to Colonel Gaddafi and his security forces: for the sake of the mothers, for the sake of those who died, for the sake of Libya, please don't shoot and torture your people.

Hisham Matar

As reported in the Guardian, this video posted on Youtube shows protesters in Tobruk knocking over a statue of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's Green Book:

We took a first step towards this rigorous index in an earlier post.  Reacting to news that even Libya is having protest demonstrations, we think that the outlook for democracy in Libya could be affected by the comically extreme AUSPI shown below.

As the latest tragic news comes in of protester deaths, the people of Libya are not laughing...

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Abraham Lincoln in Egypt

Today the doubts begin on whether there will be a happy democratic outcome in Egypt. There are no guarantees. Today is Abraham Lincoln's birthday. His most famous words also addressed doubts about democracy. Could American democracy survive a civil war? Could it make a transition from half slave and half free to emancipation?

our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us ... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The Americans of Lincoln's generation proved the doubters wrong.

Now it is up to the Egyptians to be dedicated to the unfinished work, to be dedicated to the great task remaining before them, that their nation shall have a new birth of freedom.

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Liberated Egyptians: you're welcome!

Clive Crook's blog notes the following story from Politico:

the Obama administration finally notched a foreign policy victory with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's decision to resign and turn over power to top military officials...

"Great news for the administration/president," said one senior Democratic official who asked not to be named. "People will remember, despite some fumbles yesterday, that the President played an excellent hand, walked the right line and that his statement last night was potentially decisive in bringing this issue to a close. The situation remains complicated and delicate going forward, but this is a huge affirmation of the President's leadership on the international stage."

Clive hilariously suggests each of us substitute our own name for "the President" to have more fun with the absurdity of this statement: "Aid Watch played an excellent hand, and its blog Thursday night was potentially decisive in bringing this issue to a close."

What's more, we could use the classic aid evaluation technique of before and after analysis to demonstrate the huge effect of Aid Watch blogs on events in Egypt. The following is only a sample:

Jan 31: our blog Double Standards Brigade Goes to Egypt signals that a major American player is on the protesters' side. Mubarak then announces he will not run for re-election.

February 9: our blog Ignorance Dooms Autocracy announces that some development economists think autocracy is bad for long run development. Protests explode further.

Friday, February 11: The critical moment: our blog posted at 3:30am Egyptian time ridicules Mubarak's speech from Thursday night. Mubarak then resigns.

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Egypt is Free!

That is what the people in the streets are chanting as the seismic news of Hosni Mubarak's resignation spreads.

I have goosebumps. Regardless of what the future holds, this is a historic moment. This is a moment to celebrate the remarkable achievement of ordinary multitudes of Egyptians who wanted their inalienable rights, that all individuals are born free and equal.

To close with the words of the Arab poet Abul-Qasim al-Shabi (1909-1934) (previously quoted on this blog).

If, one day, a people desires to live, then fate will answer their call.

And their night will then begin to fade, and their chains break and fall.

ADDED PARA 12:40PM: "No democracy please, you're Muslim": could all those self-appointed pundits on the American media worrying about whether Muslims can handle democracy kindly be quiet for a while, and just celebrate this day?

For great slideshows of pictures from today, see NYT and WSJ

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The art of saying nothing: Mubarak speech mashup

UPDATE 12 noon, February 11: so wordy emptiness wasn't such a good move. Now if we could just overthrow the aid bureaucrats who produce documents as bad as the Mubarak speech. In the Isaac Asimov sci-fi classic Foundation, an envoy from the Empire arrives for 5 days of talks to promise a small planet Imperial protection against attack. Scientists at the Foundation then use symbolic logic to analyze the Imperial envoy's transcript, and reach this conclusion -- real guarantees of protection: zero; content of 5 days of talk: zero.

Veterans of aid bureaucracy are used to long wordy documents full of buzzword-heavy promises, which actually say nothing. So perhaps we aid veterans are qualified to analyze another group skilled at promises while saying nothing: autocrats trying to defuse protests against their rule.

I took a transcript of Mubarak's speech on Thursday night and mashed it up and compressed it. The results are certainly unfair to Hosni Mubarak, as first the transcription was done by computer, and second I was no doubt biased assembling the words below (they are in order, but leaving out other words in between to compress the transcript).

But hey who better to treat unfairly than a clueless bureaucratic oppressor?! all of the words below are  from the transcript:

committed strongly to implement without hesitation all of that without hesitation. This commitment stems from a severe commitment, a strong commitment. commitment to this And express a similar pledge And commitment to carry on -- to protect the Constitution, the interests of The people, Will be guaranteed with Transparency and freedom. to Implement the demands of people Within the constitution's Legitimacy and in a way that Will achieve stability and also at the same time put Forward a framework agreed Through a responsible dialogue Amongst all the forces of Society and with all -- with Most degree of frankness and Transparency.  put it forward to implement it.And these plans would be implemented within reason. in fact, started a very constructive national dialogue that includes Egypt's youth, which have led, for a call for Change and all the political Forces. This dialogue has resulted in The principled agreement in Opinions and stances which has Put  in the path, on the right Path And should carry on this Dialogue so that to get it from The framework into a real plan, A clear road plan, and within a Precise and fixed timetable. This national dialogue has made over the formation of a Constitutional commission to look into the required Constitutional amendments and ad Hoc legislative amendments. It has also agreed for the Formation of a commission which Will follow up a sincere Follow-up. The formation Have both commissions should be made from who have experience And trust Composed of leaders and experts. Yesterday the first Report regarding the Constitutional priority, Constitutional amendments, as Proposed by the commission composed of the Judiciary and the legal experts To study legal and Constitutional amendments as Required. And in response to the outcome Of the commission's report This is stressing at the same Time that other amendments will be implemented according to Necessity and as needed. These amendments to facilitate ...in accordance To the right circumstances and The prevalence of stability so That we can do that. we should Continue our national dialogue That have already started.

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Mubarak attempts to placate Democratic Revolution with a Committee

What a heartbreaking disappointment with the Mubarak speech... The language is remarkably paternalistic. And he repeatedly uses jargon like "framework" and "transition". He promised to implement some recommendations of some Committee.

This guy has obviously spent way too much time in Aid Donor Consultative Group Meetings. This speech disqualifies him as someone able to lead Egypt, but he would be a perfect fit for UN Undersecretary for Sustainable Social Empowerment Agenda Mainstreaming Transition Framework.

The jokes are out of pain....sincere condolences to the courageous activists for democracy in Egypt, may you realize your dream of freedom.

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Breaking news: US government to replace head of Egypt Province?

Many news outlets reporting that Mubarak is about to resign. Too soon to tell whether this is definite, who the replacement will be, and what it means for the pro-democracy movement in Egypt. I do know already I would have wished that the news was not broken to the world by the director of the CIA:

C.I.A. Director Leon E. Panetta said that there was a “strong likelihood” that Mr. Mubarak would step down by the end of the day.

Could Aid Watch respectfully suggest that US government officials, at this incredibly sensitive moment, follow the advice of two different Aid Watch posts reflecting the consensus of wise people everywhere: (1) First one: shut up. (2) Second one: shut up.

Today's additional recommendation: first follow steps (1) and (2).

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Can US politicians please shut up and do nothing on Egypt?

Clive Crook in the Financial Times on Monday:

The US need to come to terms with its impotence at times such as this, and so does everybody else....

In Egypt and throughout the Middle East, the west is seen (not without reason) as a cultural and political oppressor....The US would most likely discredit whatever pro-democracy factions it moved to support. Again, give timidity its due.

The Obama administration {wants} to steer Egypt to stability, prosperity, democracy, peace with Israel...Wishing does not make it so, and the people who think it does should grow up.

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Where the money goes, Egypt edition

UPDATE 12:24 PM: US Aid here refers to Official Development Assistance, not military aid. See US military vs economic assistance  and US aid by sector in Egypt here.

This chart comes to us from the people at AidData, a data portal that provides detailed information down to the individual project level for aid funds spent by traditional and non-traditional donors.

The categories used are from research by Simone Dietrich, who explained: "Public sector captures US aid flows to Egypt that directly involve the Egyptian government in the implementation, ranging between budget support and technical assistance. Bypass aid, on the other hand, captures aid that flows 'around' the Egyptian government and is implemented by multilateral organizations, NGOs, or private contractors. "

So, has US aid been better at supporting the Egyptian government, or the Egyptian people?

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Double Standards Brigade Goes to Egypt

UPDATE 8:45am 2/2/11: NYT: US policy is stuck one step behind popular movement for democracy Update 5pm: Joe Biden, oops I mean Hosni Mubarak, says he will not run for re-election in Egypt

UPDATE 8:45AM: much heavier heavyweights with similar criticisms of Double Standards (see end of post)

I want to thank all the major world leaders who have worked so hard during the past few days to confirm my own personal thesis that the Development/Foreign Policy Establishment has a Double Standard on Democracy for rich and poor nations.

I never would have thought that a cringingly catchy slogan like "Democracy is for Rich People, Not for Egypt People" would have so many takers.

UN News has helpfully posted where Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stands:

Asked directly what concrete steps he thinks President Hosni Mubarak should take to show that he is listening to the voices of the people of Egypt and if he thinks the appointment of a new Government is sufficient, Mr. Ban replied: “I would leave it to the Egyptian leaders.”

This blog already gave Secretary of State Clinton grief over the weekend for using the well-known “transition” rhetorical maneuver to avoid taking any position.

At least Vice President Joe Biden took a position.  On the PBS News Hour, Jim Lehrer asked Biden:

Has the time come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go?

Biden said no. Lehrer pressed further:

Should Mubarak be seen as a dictator?

Biden helpfully explained:

Look, Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he's been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interests in the region: Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.

Rich nations need to respect the rights of their citizens to avoid the “dictator” label, but in poor nations all you need is to be a US ally.

This is perfectly consistent with US policy in the previous administration, when (at-the-time) Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, according to a recent opinion on English Al Jazeera,

rebuffed attempts by local journalists to get him to admit to a double standard in calling for human rights without actually supporting them in countries like Tunisia and Egypt.

One has to feel sorry for Mr. Zoellick, who may someday win recognition for being stuck on the wrong side of democratic history twice. Now as World Bank President, Mr. Zoellick presides over an institution whose Egypt page on the Internet today has a helpful summary on “10 Things you may not know about the World Bank in Egypt.” This includes this affirmation of democracy in Egypt:

Through consultations processes, participation and community driven development projects, the Bank engages in active dialogue with and promotes initiative among various stakeholder groups to enhance the quality of its work and acquire a sharper focus on its mission to alleviate poverty.

OK, frankly, this post doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry about the Double Standards on shameful display for Egypt, for the Arab World, for the developing countries in general.

Couldn’t we find somebody to draw upon the words from our own democratic history to say something like:

let’s speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Christians and Muslims, rich and poor, will be able to join hands and say “Free at last! Free at last!”

UPDATE 8:45am  Great columns in this morning's papers by Nick Kristof, David Brooks, and Gideon Rachman making related and far more eloquent criticisms .

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Please let the World Bank know that something might be happening in Arab countries

UPDATE: heard from @worldbank, see below On the Bank web site:

The Development News is a summary of current news collected by the World Bank and published each business day.

The Development News on Friday January 28, 2011 mentions violence or political conflict in the following countries: Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Haiti

Number of references to any news happening in any Arab country:


The lead story yesterday:

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is shifting his focus away from involvement in international climate change talks and towards new areas in the fight against global warming.

UPDATE 3PM: Just got this, addressed to me from World Bank twitter account:

We're monitoring #Egypt closely. The story is everywhere. Thx for feedback, watch Dev News for the development angle.

Asked them why Egypt did not already make Development News, waiting for reply.

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Don't forget the Congolese who helped tell the Congo story

When Western  journalists report from the front lines in Africa, the reader may not be aware how much these reporters depend on Africans as sources, guides, translators, fixers, and intermediaries. The curtain has just parted a bit to see one of these locals, a Congolese hero who helped get the story of the Congo out to the rest of the world (quoting CPJ):

Pastor Marrion P'Udongo has been called the "Oskar Schindler" of Congo...In 2003, as militia sacked the town of Bunia in northeastern Congo and executed hundreds of their ethnic rivals in the streets, the pastor sheltered scores of people in his home and miraculously guided them to safety. ...In order to finance {his} mission and support his family, Pastor Marrion has worked as a translator and fixer for the world's leading news agencies who cover the conflict... If you've read a story about Congo in recent years, or seen one on television, the pastor probably helped produce it.

The reason for the belated recognition of Pastor Marrion is that he is now dying, and journalists who have worked with him have started a fund to finance a kidney transplant to save his life.

In a dizzying role reversal, Nick Kristof kindly agreed to ME interviewing HIM on this topic. He did not know Pastor Marrion, but he said:

local interpreters are unbelievably important absolutely everywhere in the world, from Afghanistan to Congo. The Western reporter gets the credit and the prizes, but the hardest work and greatest risk is typically undertaken by the local interpreter. And then we have some protection because we’re foreign, and in any case we bounce out, while the locals stay behind and must deal with disgruntled warlords and governments when documentaries/articles come out. Local interpreters truly are the heroes of international reporting, especially in more dangerous places like Congo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Ivory Coast.  So I hope the upshot is not only a new kidney for Paster Marrion but also a greater appreciation for the courage and contribution of people like him.

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Will the first Charter City be in Honduras?

A reader pointed us to the news that the Honduras is deliberating whether to pass legislation this month that would pave the way for the first “Charter City” to be created on Honduran soil by 2012. The radical brainchild of Stanford economist Paul Romer, the Charter Cities concept is based on the idea that good rules make good societies. Accordingly, poor countries should be able to galvanize their own development by building foreign-financed and foreign-run cities governed by a new, better set of rules.  It has been lauded as a bold, innovative idea (so crazy it just might work) and criticized as historically inaccurate or representing a new strain of colonialism (just plain crazy).

That debate just got a lot less theoretical in Honduras, as President Porfirio Lobo announced that 1000 square kilometers* currently “doing nothing” could become a “Honduran Dream” if only Congress and the Honduran people would take a risk in the name of progress.

The substitution of the new “Honduran Dream” for the old American one represents Lobo’s solution to the immigration problem too. Hondurans in search of a better life could choose the new Charter City, where they would find jobs created by new export industries, with no crime, first-class education and health care, clear property rights, and a fair courts system, instead of the US “where they suffer all sorts of situations at odds with human dignity,” said the President.

Opponents say the plan will undermine Honduran sovereignty and destroy natural resources in uninhabited areas. One backwards-looking editorial, entitled Another enclave or another utopia, argues that large-scale foreign investments and interventions in Honduras have historically tended to turn out badly for Hondurans.

*UPDATE 12:15 pm: Professor Romer wrote to say that the Honduran press misunderstood President Lobos when they reported that the Charter City would be 33 square kilometers. The proposed territory would actually be 33 kilometers on each side, or 1000 square kilometers. The third paragraph was edited to reflect this.

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No coups please, Professor Collier

UPDATE 10:30AM 1/15: Chris Blattman has a thoughtful response to my blog. The Complexity tribe is still upset that I didn't do their sacred idea of Complexity justice. On the Guardian Global Development blog, I tell Paul Collier that he's crazy to recommend a coup in Cote d'Ivoire. But the use of complexity theory allows me to be very nice about it.

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Killing microfinance to say they saved the poor

Vivek Nemana is an NYU graduate student and a student worker at DRI. It’s official: Indian politicians have agreed to regulate the private microfinance sector…by choking it in a tangle of bureaucracy and corruption.

As everyone from David Roodman (on this blog) to the Cambridge randomistas (in the FT) has been saying, Indian microfinance needs reform, not a roundhouse kick to the face. But now the state of Andhra Pradesh has passed an overbearing law which makes it illegal for MFIs to lend to people with multiple loans (which is 70% of rural households), or to lend to members of Self Help Groups without permission. State regulators may also shut down MFIs at any time for vaguely defined “sufficient reasons,” and lenders can only collect payments at government centers – an open corridor for corruption.

The head of Microfinance Institutions Network said: "The bill will make it impossible for microlenders to operate in the state and effectively put us out of business there."

Private microlending in Andhra Pradesh was successful because there was excess demand for credit that government-backed programs and non-profits were not satisfying. But with the for-profits squeezed out, their six million clients will be forced to return to more informal lenders such as village loan sharks.

In 2009 a similar incident happened in Nicaragua with uncanny parallels to Andhra, right down to the multiple lending and political involvement. The “No Pago,” or No Payment, movement resulted in the judge-ordered liquidation of a top microlender and a dragged-out microcredit crisis.

India was like a Petri dish for microfinance experiments, which meant that initiatives like self-help groups, mobile banking, and MFIs played off each other’s shortfalls. Eventually, the competition between the agents – if mixed with a healthy dose of regulation – might’ve fostered better, more effective systems of microcredit.

But this legislation is a discouraging blow to would-be microfinance entrepreneurs, who’ve been basically told that at any time the government might decide to shut down their businesses – and their ideas.

Investors in for-profit ventures might also be frightened away by the idea of losing money when politicians decide to tighten their grip around microfinance’s throat. In a worst case scenario, the new law could legitimize similar actions by politicians in other countries who are pandering for votes or have their own personal beef with microfinance. Some countries, like Peru, already have stable, well-organized regulation in place, but they’re exceptions.

On the other hand, what happened in India could be a wake-up call, as Tim Ogden argues, about the unrealistic expectations that donors, supporters and governments maintain about microfinance. If that’s the case, then clear-headed thinking about its flaws and benefits could pave the way for better regulation, better financial literacy programs and more effective, more diverse microfinance products.

Next week, Indian politicians plan to ban all Bollywood movies for “sucking the blood from the poor” because they charge for movie tickets.


Photo credit: flickr

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Census 2010: Voters more Republican, more Texan, Fatter

The exciting Census headlines:  Texas is the big winner in gaining Congressional seats, Texans vote Republican, Republicans win! Except -- the additional Texans are Hispanics, Hispanics vote Democratic, Democrats win! What a nice illustration of a serious problem in development empirics, known by the lusty, sensuous name of "heterogeneous effects."  If  you find handing out free bed nets lowers malaria, that still only applies ON AVERAGE to the group covered by the study. Within this group, the effects are likely heterogeneous behind the average positive effect, and there could be some sub-group for which the effect is zero.  This is analogous to the Texas effect on voting-- on average, being Texan makes you vote Republican, but this is an average of heterogeneous groups, some of whom -- like the burgeoning Hispanics -- vote Democratic.

You could solve this problem by analyzing all the possible sub-groups. Unfortunately, both in politics and in development, this is unlimited, while research budgets and data are limited.

To illustrate imaginative sub-group possibles, my own pathbreaking insight is that one reliable group of Republican voters  is, well, how to be polite about this(!?), are persons with somewhat larger belt sizes. Notice how many of the most brownest, reddest states are Red States, while the Blue State strongholds are in the relatively thinner Northeast.  

Also some sub-group effects could be spurious correlations. During my own struggles against middle-aged spread, I have not noticed any more inclination to vote Republican when my jeans size increases.

If this is all too methodological and obscure for you, then, congratualtions, you are normal.   On the off chance that you are willing to work hard on this stuff, you can get many unexpected lessons. For example, if you want a roly-poly Santa for the office party, ask a Republican.

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Why even homophobes should celebrate gay rights victories

One of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes:

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.

If I claim the right to deny you rights, that sets the precedent that someone (maybe you, or maybe someone  else) might deny MY rights.

So a victory for the rights of any minority, no matter how much or how little you may identify with that minority, is a victory for us all.

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