The WikiLeaks Document Flood – What Do You Think?

Professor John Gershman writes:

The recent WikiLeaks document dump and the associated reporting by several prominent newspapers has made many researchers enthusiastic and has fanned the flames of hyperbole both on the part of WikiLeaks and its detractors. Both sides exaggerate the significance of the leaks, and the hyperbole obscures more significant issues.

The documents cover a period from 1966 to February 2010 from a range of embassies and personnel. The ones involving Iran and the Middle East garner the greatest attention, although most are unsurprising to anyone who follows the region. One less widely reported view is that of former National Security Council staffer Gary Sick, who argues that the documents indicate that the Obama administration has yet to seriously try an engagement strategy with Iran and that Washington has largely resisted the drumbeat for attacking Iran from its allies in the region.

Long-Term Effects

The broader question is whether these kind of leaks lead to longer-term difficulties for the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy. To the extent those policies include the routine use of diplomats as spies, it will be a good thing if the leaks reduce those efforts.

But some ask: Will foreign leaders will be less willing to be forthright in their views and opinions if they think they will appear soon on the internet?

Short answer: probably not. CNN tweets that while calling another government to talk about the leaks, Secretary Clinton was told, “Don’t worry about it, you should see what we say about you.”

Others have asked: Will U.S. diplomatic personnel be less forthright about their own opinions or expressing the views of others in diplomatic cables.

Again: probably not. Perhaps the language will be less colorful.

Will the now ramped-up security measures for these and presumably other types of documents inhibit the kind of information sharing that was pointed to as missing prior to the 9/11 attacks. Short Answer: Possibly — but getting the balance right takes time.

Finally, will the leaks will make some countries whose cooperation with the U.S. is unpopular at home retreat from their collaboration. Short Answer: Possibly in the short-term.

Don’t Buy the Hype

But those may not be the most important dimensions of WikiLeaks’ impact.
“Cablegate” – as the document dump has been dubbed — is in some ways a form of celebrity shock journalism, the equivalent of a s speech by Bono on African poverty monopolizing press attention while the people who have been working in the trenches on these issues for decades get overlooked. Outfits like the National Security Archive, Open the Government, and freedominfo – among many others — slog away on a daily basis, working to hold officials accountable and do the nitty-gritty work required to make the Freedom of Information Act meaningful and governments around the world more open and accountable.

Cablegate has, in fact, sparked a valuable debate on the benefits and limits that transparency can and should play in foreign policy. This kind of debate will only strengthen our democratic institutions as we publicly debate and identify the benefits and risks associated with secrecy. For example, even Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame suggested that some things should remain secret, at least for a period of time. Recent experiences suggest that such a debate is an important and valuable one — and that this is potentially a benefit that far outweighs the short-term risks to the conduct of foreign policy.

What’s your opinion? Comment below.

I.M. Pei Scuttles Plans for NYU Tower – What do you think?

This story originally appeared in New York Magazine.

New York University has withdrawn its application to build a 400-foot-tall hotel and residential complex alongside the I.M Pei-designed Silver Towers after the architect
came out against the new building.

The news was a stunning defeat for NYU and a major setback in its bid to build 3 million square feet of new developments in Greenwich Village over the next twenty years. 

As reported by New York this week, NYU has conducted its development strategy with the discipline of a political campaign, trying to overcome opposition from those in the community who felt the university had steamrolled complaints in years past.

The contentious political atmosphere gave Pei, the world-famous architect who built the towers in the sixties, considerable sway as the Landmarks Commission weighed the university’s proposal. In February 2008, NYU’s architects sought a meeting with Pei to present their plans. The hope then was that he would support the bid, or at a minimum, stay quiet and not inject himself in the process. The plan would be “shattered” if Pei spoke out, said David Rubin, one of NYU’s outside architects.

For a while, Pei remained quiet. But in a letter to Robert Tierney, chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, written on November 10 and released on Thursday by NYU, Pei’s longtime business partner Henry Cobb described the fourth tower as “highly destructive” to Pei’s original vision. Cobb serves as the public representative of the 93-year-old architect.

“We felt we had an obligation,” Cobb said in an interview on Thursday. “We thought about it very seriously, and we didn’t react immediately, but we didn’t want to respond before the whole matter got close to some kind of public hearing.”

Now that NYU has killed plans for a fourth tower, the university is pressing ahead with a rezoning proposal so it can build on the site currently housing the Morton Williams supermarket.

Lynne Brown, NYU’s senior VP for university relations and public affairs, said in a statement: “Mr. Pei has now had a change of heart. The clarity Mr. Pei has now provided — that the Morton Williams site is ‘preferable’ — is helpful to us in understanding how to proceed.”

Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, was delighted by NYU’s reversal but said he has no plans to let up in the fight against its plans for expansion. “This is one down, and there’s many, many more to go,” he said.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Open Society President Aryeh Neier engages students with reflections on his life’s work

An audience of 30 students was captivated on Thursday, November 11, during an intimate talk with Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Institute, as part of the Executive Programs lecture series. Wagner student Daniel Shershen, the associate director in OSI’s Office of International Operations, introduced the former executive director of the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, who was interviewed by Professor David Elcott.

Neier spoke of his “mostly happy” childhood as a refugee in England, having fled Nazi Germany, and the influence this experience later had on his career of fighting for justice. Neier attributed his passion for working for the rights of the institutionalized to his intense dislike of a hostel for refugee children, in which he stayed during this time.

He reflected on the challenges still facing the developmentally challenged when asked which initiative of his long career he might like to “do over.” While at the NYCLU, Neier worked to close Willowbrook, a large institution for the mentally disabled on Staten Island, and to replace it with smaller community residences. He notes, however, that many mentally handicapped fell through the cracks and ended up living on the streets. Nevertheless, Neier remembered a man he knew from Willowbrook who was unable to dress and clean himself at the time. Years later, living in a supervised apartment, the man was able to take care of himself and even had a job.

The challenge inherent in achieving civil justice was a recurring theme during the evening’s talk. Neier, who has also been instrumental in advancing the rights of women, the gay community, and juveniles, agreed with Professor Elcott that his work had often been controversial. A particular example was the ACLU’s position in the case of the National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie. Neier assured the audience that, though many ACLU members threatened resignation over the case, the ACLU never wavered in its position of supporting the right to free expression.

In response to audience members’ questions, Neier made the distinction between civil rights versus economic and social rights, noting that intervention on behalf of the latter in developing countries is not always appropriate. He also described worldwide variation in laws that protect freedom of information. Upon concluding the interview, Professor Elcott invited students to chat informally with Neier, noting that the future president of Human Rights Watch or OSI could be in the very room.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Conversations in Public Service with Carol Thompson Cole, president and CEO of Venture Philanthropy Partners

Monday, November 8, NYU Wagner hosted a breakfast with Carol Thompson Cole,
president and CEO of Venture Philanthropy Partners
(VPP). The event was part of the Conversations in Public Service series,
which, as Dean Ellen Schall explained, aims to give Wagner students a smaller,
more direct way to engage with leaders in the public sector.

breakfast was attended by about a dozen students, as well as Dean Schall and
Rogan Kersh, associate dean for academic affairs. Ms. Thompson Cole talked
about the work that VPP does in promoting effective leadership of nonprofits. Unlike
many other philanthropic organizations, VPP does not give money to improve
nonprofits’ programs; rather, they choose organizations that have achieved a
certain level of success and work to build up their capacity and
efficiency. Ms. Thompson Cole also discussed some of the challenges VPP faces in
taking this approach, including resistance from founding executives and a lack
of understanding of political environments among organizational leaders.

equally interesting to the students in attendance was hearing about Ms.
Thompson Cole’s remarkable career, which has included national policy making, city
management in Washington, D.C., private sector work with RJR Nabisco and, now,
philanthropic investment. She discussed some of the challenges that she has
faced in establishing herself in new positions and also gave insights into
marketing the work done in one environment in order to shift to another. Dean
Schall described some of the situations in Ms. Thompson Cole’s career as
excellent examples of “managing up.”

the question period of the breakfast, many students were interested in learning
more about the work that VPP does. Ms. Thompson Cole talked about some of their
upcoming projects and the issues that they face, including a $5.5 million
investment in the Knowledge
is Power Program
(KIPP) in Washington,
D.C. and VPP’s involvement with
the national Social
Innovation Fund

Click here for more information about the Conversations in Public Service breakfast series.

Enhanced by Zemanta

What’s the impact of microfinance? Read highlights from the Microfinance and Innovation Conference

The Microfinance Impact and
Innovation Conference
was held October 21-23 in New
York City
, and was sponsored by the Financial
Access Initiative
, Innovations
for Poverty Action
, Abdul
Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab
, Moody’s Investors Service,
Deutsche Bank and CGAP.
The opening remarks were given by Linda Huber, Executive Vice President and CFO
of Moody’s Investors Service. This was followed by  Jonathan
, managing director of FAI and professor of public policy and
economics at NYU Wagner. He stressed the
importance of changing the way we think about poverty by using innovative
strategies and measuring real impacts. “Donors,” he noted, “are busy trying to
build institutions and they have missed the opportunity to understand the poor.”

Jody Rasch of Moody’s Investors Service then explained the
new initiative at Moody’s to establish a social performance rating system of microfinance
. With knowledge not only about their financial returns, but
also about such items as customer service and protection among other various
measures of success, Moody’s social ratings will enable investors to look
critically at the MFIs before making an investment.

Abhijit Banerjee of MIT and the Jameel Poverty Action Lab
was a speaker on the panel and commented that in 50 years we may look back on
microfinance and think that its greatest contribution was not poverty
alleviation but rather getting businesses and corporations interested in the
lives of the poor.

Jonathan Bauchet, a PhD candidate at NYU Wagner, presented
his findings from his research of the program “Targeting the Ultra Poor,” an
asset transfer program implemented in India. Up to date information of
these projects can be found here:
He, as well as most of the other researchers, found mixed results in the short
run. Working with an NGO on the ground, he found that after the asset transfer
(usually a cow or goat), households shifted away from agricultural daily labor
and towards income from livestock. While this had the positive effect of making
households less affected by fluctuations in other sources of income, social
measures like children’s schooling did not significantly increase. The NGO
implementing the program did, however, make the participants aware of social
services available to them by the local government and informed them of who
they should contact with various problems. Bauchet’s paper will soon be
available on the FAI Web site.

Dean Ellen Schall opened the second day of the conference by
recognizing the work of Professor Jonathan Morduch and Caitlin Weaver Lowder,
FAI’s deputy managing director.

The second day of the conference focused on the question: What don’t we
know about microfinance? Christopher Dunford of Freedom from Hunger
pointed out that recent trials have cast doubt on the impact of microfinance.
At the same time, research demonstrates that “lots of people are getting in
over their heads” and struggling with over-indebtedness, which can cause them
to make great sacrifices in order to repay loans.

Abhijit Banerjee pointed out that even successful borrowers
do not show great business growth, as they continue to hire few people and take
out the same size loan. In response to these issues, David Roodman of the
Center for Global Development suggested that microfinance interventions should
not be limited to simply financial tools, but should incorporate non-financial
services to protect consumers and help them make the most of opportunities.

Watch a video of Professor Jonathan Morduch’s closing statements, and let us know what you think about the future of microfinance.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tunnel from New Jersey halted by Gov. Christie

This article appeared in the Washington Square News on October 28, 2010. 

Stern freshman Jack Guo commutes to class every day from Cranford, N.J. But most of the time, it’s not a pleasant process.


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

“The trains are terribly slow,” Guo said. “If [New Jersey Transit] cancels one train, you’re done because the wait can be another hour.”

And it doesn’t look like it’s going to get much better. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced yesterday that he was canceling the proposed Hudson River rail tunnel, which would have provided room for 70,000 more New Jersey residents to travel to Manhattan every day.

Christie explained his decision to cancel the so-called Access to the Region’s Core tunnel, which would have been the nation’s largest public transit project, citing the project’s increased costs.

Although the original budget was $8.7 billion, Christie said costs could have increased to $14 billion. The Federal Transit Administration and the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York each pledged $3 billion to the project; New Jersey taxpayers would have had to supply the remaining funds.

However, Zoe Baldwin, an advocate from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the governor’s office is too focused on the budget.

“Historically, infrastructure has done a good deal to boost economic development,” Baldwin said. “They are looking at this project as a pot of money and not as a needed infrastructure project.”

The Access to the Region’s Core would allow 25 additional trains per hour to enter midtown Manhattan from New Jersey. According to the Regional Plan Association, average commuter time would decrease by about 15 to 30 minutes.

“The tunnel now is at limited capacity, insufficient and over 100 years old,” said Mitchell Moss, professor of urban policy and planning at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. “Having more rails allows you to bring more workers.”

The Regional Plan Association said New Jersey home prices would increase by an accumulated $18 billion if the tunnel was built.

“The residential communities will benefit from the tunnel because it will add to the property value in northern New Jersey,” Moss said.

Additionally, the new tunnel would affect traffic and the environment by taking a projected 22,000 cars off the road every day and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 67,000 tons.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said in a statement that Christie’s decision was “irresponsible.”

“Unfortunately he took the easy way out, citing cost overruns,” he stated. “But the hard and daunting task facing elected officials is to complete crucial infrastructure projects, not kill them off.”

Enhanced by Zemanta