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Dealing with eminent domain for private development

Today in the NYTimes, there is a story on the Ohio Supreme Court's rejection of the taking of homes through eminent domain for private development.

While this is one way to approach the issue, another way would be to make former homeowners share holders in the private development, thus not just entitled to fair compensation from their homes but also a share of the profit. Why does this make sense to me?

If the three pillars of economic assets are land, labor, and capital, by providing their land for use, the homeowners are investing in the success in the development scheme in the same way a bank would be. Like a bank that lends capital to the development, they would expect interest as well as a stake in future profit.

A home is just not judged by its market value, if government can take away one's home, as distinct from you giving it away or just selling it, then the government should view you as an investor in the development like anyone else. It just needs to make sure that you are not responsible if the development fails.

Poland's legal ostracization of former spies

As reported By Adam Easton on the BBC News website Poland has passed a law in which former communist collaborators will be barred from working in business, government, or media. Priest are exempt from this law although it is said that one in ten priest collaborated.

The prosecution of former communist spies presents a serious issue of what defines "collaboration" and how it is proven. When we visited the National Center for Memory at Bratislava, one of the ethical issues that came up was that three categories of people one the list:
1. People whom the communists wanted to recruit,
2. People who were recruited but never reported anything or misreporting things so as not to harm anyone,
3. People who were true spies and provided information that resulting in harming people.

Will the Polish law only prosecute the "true spies" whose information resulted in the harming of other people or everyone on the list? If it is only the "true spies" then it seems this law is about justice, but if it goes for everyone on the list, then it opens the process to political and business corruption.

The article talks about how many of the "secret police files are missing and have been tampered with." Will the law make provisions for the burden of proof of collaboration, before prosecuting individuals?

These are questions that need to be answered.

Voting Rights Act: Forty years of American Freedom

Onemanonevote This morning I watched President Bush's presentation to the NAACP. Now it is not an exaggeration to say that Bush's policies in the last 5.5 years has exacerbated many of the "problems" that affect the African American community, which stem from the lack of economic justice in the US.

Bush's writer took him through the 500 years or so of oppression of black people, starting with the Founding Fathers not being the only one who built America, but also the slaves. It is harrowing to hear your history being told by someone you know does not empathize with that history. Its like he was saying all the right things you are supposed to say about African American history, mentioning Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King Jr, but leaving out Malcolm X or Marcus Garvey, but it had no meaning.

What was fascinating to hear is the audience response to Bush's messages. While his claims about the persistent existence of racism received lots of applause and a couple of "amens," his outlining of his policies for No Child Left Behind, AIDS in the Africana community, and unemployment met with few polite claps to dead silence. He was being heckled during the last 5 minutes of his speech. He even seemed to be given a nudge to return to the discussion of the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Mohammed, my husband, said that one of the things he loves about African Americans is they are the only group in America who could tell the President to hurry up. This is because we have heard it all before, only the Native Americans have a longer string of broken promises.

What I love about African Americans is that we are the one people who, given a history of soul-crushing oppression, survived with our humanity in tact, and more importantly we took that history and hope to advocate for a better world for all regardless of race, ethnicity religion, gender, creed, and national origin.

I always say that I am one of the first generations of African Americans to really be born free. It is a constant vigil to maintain that freedom, in which the extention of the Voting Rights Act is a fine step.

Expanding the war on terror to Iran and Syria

Anyone who has spent 10 minutes watching Fox News in the US will come to realize that we, the US, are preparing to go, preferrably multilaterally, after Iran and Syria as the next front on the War on Terror.

Fox's framing of the conflict seems to focus on the fact that the rockets that Hezbollah are using were from Iran and Syria. The interpretation of this fact is that Iran and Syria are the ones "pulling the strings" in the conflict. Whether Hezbollah is fighting on behalf of Iran and Syria, I do not know, but it seems faulty logic to draw connections between those who provide the weapontry and those who use it. In that case, the US, with its $16.4 Billlion in military sales in 2004, would be "pulling the strings" of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Japan, Israel, Taiwan, Afghanistan, Australia, UK, Jordan, and South Korea as the top ten purchasers of US weapontry.
Download CRS report for Congress.pdf  Wow, this looks like the coalition of the willing for the war in Iraq.

The Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora appeared on Fox and was asked about the role of Iran and Syria.  Fox just having shown the bodies of injured Lebanese children critiqued the focus on Iran and Syria. Not allowing himself to be interrupted by the anchor, he passionately decried the "overkill" of over 50 children and women in Beirut. When they wanted to allow their field reporter to ask a question, the Prime Minister hung up on Fox News. The void was filled by two pundits who ignored what the Prime Minister said about Isreali killings to focus on his lack of criticism about Hezbollah.

The whole thing made me very sad because as a people, the US seems easily misled by how issues are framed by the media. I think about how many people still believed that Saddam Hussein had some relationship Al Queda after the President finally said that there was no connection.

So the war machine continues, I hope this time We the People will not accept war with Iran and Syria under false pretenses.

Home Redesign: Gender equality and elite men

Ironing An article called Homeward Bound, by Linda Hirshman, as well as one in Thursday's New York Times on how women are leaving men in the dust when it comes to college education confirms a discussion I had with a German/Greek doctor and a fellow AMMF colleague about how the next phase of feminism is liberating men so that they are comfortable and feel as rewarded by sharing equally in domestic and child caretaking.

The discussion

The discussion took place in our Brussel's homestay. I was discussing how the Bilbao parliament had instituted a policy in which 50% of all government positions were to be filled by women and that the challenge of enforcing that policy had to do with the fact that housework and childcare were still done by women.

The first thing that was brought up in the discussion was the idea of how the "quota" should make sure that it's not unfair against qualified men. Proudly a product of affirmative action, this point always makes me laugh.

The fact is that in many professional fields (for example, law and medicine) in Europe and the US, women are nearly 50% of graduates. Yet that  doesn't lead to the logic that there are underqualified men taking the place of more qualified women in the professions, where the proportions are not maintained. For example, if US law schools are graduating/have been graduating, for at least that last 25 years, 40% women, and yet only 26% of the members of the US Congress, which is predominantly made up of lawyers, are women, does that mean that 14% of the men in Congress are taking the place of more qualified women?

The heart of the discussion was the notion of women's choice which is addressed in Hirshman's article. According to Hirshman:

Great as liberal feminism was, once it retreated to choice the movement had no language to use on the gendered ideology of the family. Feminists could not say, “Housekeeping and child-rearing in the nuclear family is not interesting and not socially validated. Justice requires that it not be assigned to women on the basis of their gender and at the sacrifice of their access to money, power, and honor.”

As a 34 year old, professional woman, with career ambitions and the difficult decision as to whether to have a child (note: only the possibility of one) or not, I wonder about "elite" women's choices. The first waves of the feminist movement were allowing "elite" mostly white women access to public work. Of course, black women in the US always worked as slaves, laudresses, and maids, thus the critique of some mainstream feminism. But black women still lacked the public recognition of our work as valuable because it was in the "domestic" sphere and of course because of racism, so there was some common struggle. I have chosen to have a career. I have chosen to get married, which for a graduate of Bryn Mawr College is always a difficult choice. But will I get to choose to maintain a career and raise children.

Our hostess, the German/Greek doctor, summed up what is a stake very nicely. For elite women, like she and myself, it has been mostly proven that we can be equal breadwinners to our male partners. In fact, we are one of the first generations of elite women who can claim that. Again, from my working class, African-American background, I had always assumed that men and women were equal breadwinners because they had to be. But now, we need to help prove that our male partners can be equal caregivers as us. I am lucky that my husband and I make the same amount of money and careers a quite equal, so that when it comes time to decide on having a child, we can make it as equal partners, at least in breadwinning. But what about in caregiving?

The redesign of gender roles - phase two

Hirshman recommends elite women to perhaps marry men beneath their age and class (poor artist types) or older men who are more B-types or retiring into more B-type personalities. But that only switches the sex of the gender role and does not address the need for equality.

I am married to a man who is sensitive and caring, and I always thought would make a much better "mother" and caregiver than I would. I know lots of men who are sensitive and caring, yet it is their wives who are the primary caregivers, although they do try to help out.  And even I struggle with convincing him that he should be the primary caretaker of  our child, which now is substituted by the dog for whom I am the primary caretaker.

But there is also my desire to have him be a co-partner in ambition and success. I don't want some poor artist type. Nothing personal against poor artist types, I just have a thing about both parties being financially independent.  Yet, now that he has a job in which he makes lots of money, can do good things for Africa, yet travels all the time; I wonder if I can ever convince him to be an equal caregiver. We now disagree on who will care for the dog when we both have to travel. For the record, we sent the dog to be boarded.

So how do we redesign gender relations...

The Scandinavian countries seemed to have figured it out partially: access to childcare, equal pay for equal work, flexible work schedules for men and women. More radical gestures could be making caregiving a paid occupation at its market rate, which is something like $100,000.00 per year. A male quota for home economics courses in high school and college, which becomes more akin to physics and chemistry that it really is. Ending the quest for manhood or womanhood to focus on humanhood. A guess its returning to the feminist fight against gender stereotypes, but with the objective of liberating men from their oppression and incompletion due to male stereotypes that keep them from being the best caregivers they can be.

What design can't fix

Butterfly_postersletter_page_1 The recent narrow victory of Felipe Calderon in the Mexican presidential elections remind me of the American 2000 Presidential elections. Although I've heard no cries of poor ballot design in the Mexico election, it does remind me of the aspects of the election experience that design cannot fix, at least not directly: the current spate of narrow margins in election results.

Is it due to more centralist tendencies in political parties, where the distinctions between candidate positions are sometimes extremly narrow?

That may often seem to the case pre-Election 2000 in the US, when people used to say that there is no difference between the Republican and Democratic parties. Yet in spite of the current controversy on Senator Lieberman and Hillary Clinton's pro-war positioning, no one claims that the Republican and Democratic parties are the same. And this was clearly not the case in the Mexican election, in which the positions of Calderon (pro-business and close to US) and Obrador (leftist and closer to Latin America) were not similar at all but represented quite different platforms.

Thus at least for Mexico, the issue seems to be the ideological and political desires of the voting public and perhaps the inablity of political officials to create a platform that "speaks" to people's interests, which admittingly can be quite contradictory themselves.

I am reading an article by Adam Berinsky of MIT that says that electoral reforms that have been done to lower the barriers to participation in voting (vote-by-mail, voter registration, relaxing absentee ballot reqs, and internet voting) have not addressed the actual barriers to political participation, especially for those of lower socio-economic classes, which are political information and interests.

His idea hinges on the need to study the "cost of political engagement" and an understanding of the mechanisms by which interest in politics is created. In the DforD Election experience model, we came up with a typology of voter types:

  • Avid voters, who vote all the time and are the ones who are most engaged in the entire election process
  • Civic voters, who vote as a civic duty and are engaged in the idea of voting, but may not be engaged in specific issues or candidates
  • Issue voters, who are engaged with specific issues (education, the environment, abortion, gay-marriage) and will come out to vote when those issues are on the platform
  • Excluded voters, people who could be or may want to be engaged in the election process but are disenfranchised for structual reasons. This is the group that most electoral reforms who to address.
  • Apathetic voters, those who are completely disengaged from the election process.

This model of voter types could be a first step in analyzing the dynamics of political engagement and its costs, on a cross-cultural basis if possible. If we understand the dynamics of the Issue and Apathtic voters we could have a picture of political engagement and perhaps develop actionable communication and experiential design solutions to address them.

So I recant, there are things that Design (uppercase D when combined with strong ethnographic research) can fix if we shift the discussion from participation to engagement.

Download Berinsky article.pdf

Ben Franklin and the transatlantic relationship

Benbench Yesterday on PBS, there was a very well done documentary on Benjamin Franklin. One of the most important points of the show was the rationale for why when Franklin died he was revered more in France, than in the United States. The historians argued that by choosing George Washington as the hero of the Revolutionary War, the US was able to put forth the myth that it was the country's valor, bravery, and the rightness of the cause of liberty that secured its independence from Britain. If the country had chosen Franklin as its hero, it would have to admit the importance of the role of France, as America's #1 ally, for the fledgling nation's independence.

So in the spirit of the TransAtlantic relationship, I wish to appreciate Ben Franklin's diplomacy with both France and Britain as the prevailing reality (not mythology) of American independence. It is important to recognize that "independence" is never gained alone, but through the help of one's friends.

It is interesting to note that the bankruptcy of the French Court due to its financing of American independence was a chief cause of the French Revolution.

Yet the depth and history of the transatlantic relationship opens a significant question for America's contemporary foreign diplomacy with the establishment of the EU. The history of American diplomacy in the US has often been based on exploiting the national rivalries within Europe.  If Europe becomes more unifed in its foreign policy, which was the goal of the Constitution, then how does the US obtain its foreign policy goals, at least those which are not to the benefit of Europe?

Too deep a question for such a pre-holiday event, but remember to raise a glass to America's allies (even the ones in Britain) and Ben Franklin's diplomacy which won the US its independence.

After effects of the GMF experience 1

Before the trip, I diligently followed European news, but now it means something different to me. My interest is no longer just intellectual but personal. For example, the recent news of Catalonia of Spain's vote for autonomy and the opening of talks with the ETA now are very important to me because It effects people like Paul Ortega, our GMF host in Bilbao, and Aitor Esteban Bravo, one the Basque representatives in the Spanish Parliament.  The sharpness of the debate about opening talks with the ETA is clear because I can still feel the animosity of the Popular Party toward's ETA and Batasura as passionate expressed by Angel Rodriguez during the panel discussion with representatives of the Basque Political Parties.

What strikes me is how complex my feelings are about this events because of the different perspectives to which I was exposed, especially when compared to the experiences of the group that went to Madrid.

So effect number 1 of my GMF experience is that Europe is no longer an abstraction for me, but a place in which I am somewhat personally entangled in the events that shape the lives of the people I met. For that I am grateful because the "path to true enlightenment" is the dissolution of the boundaries we place between self and others (Americans and Europeans). I hope that for all participants in the GMF it is not just about TransAtlantic dialogue but hopefully the dissolution of TransAtlantic boundaries.