President Obama wants to eradicate extreme poverty

Obama sotu 2013

This was the development bit in President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night:

We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all.  In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day.  So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation

Two things struck me – first, this is a shift from the ‘we can end poverty’ rhetoric that Owen Barder  recently pointed out has been around for decades – it’s a ‘we will’ with a time frame, not a ‘we can’ with a vague aspiration.  This could – let’s hope – be an important difference from those earlier statements.  Secondly, this is of course more or less the time frame that a new post-2015 agreement on development would cover - twenty years from now, or just over fifteen years from 2015.  If this is Obama committing to throw the US’s weight behind getting an effective post-2015 agreement, well, that’s very exciting indeed….

Quote of the week: “While I’m not comparing the Rebel Alliance to Al Qaeda or the Galactic Empire to the United States…”

Finding myself watching Empire Strikes Back last night, I found myself reflecting once again on the general crappiness of the rebels’ defenses – for instance, the gun that looks like a radar dish and appears to fail to inflict any damage on anything whatsoever during the battle.

So it’s especially pleasing that Wired’s national security correspondent Spencer Ackerman has decided to employ his knowledge of counter-insurgency doctrine to a setting out a detailed tactical analysis of the Battle of Hoth. Sample:

From a military perspective, Hoth should have been a total debacle for the Rebel Alliance. Overconfident that they can evade Imperial surveillance, they hole up on unforgiving frigid terrain at the far end of the cosmos. Huddled into the lone Echo Base are all their major players: politically crucial Princess Leia; ace pilot Han Solo; and their game-changer, Luke Skywalker, who isn’t even a Jedi yet.

The defenses the Alliance constructed on Hoth could not be more favorable to Vader if the villain constructed them himself. The single Rebel base (!) is defended by a few artillery pieces on its north slope, protecting its main power generator. An ion cannon is its main anti-aircraft/spacecraft defense. Its outermost perimeter defense is an energy shield that can deflect Imperial laser bombardment. But the shield has two huge flaws: It can’t stop an Imperial landing force from entering the atmosphere, and it can only open in a discrete place for a limited time so the Rebels’ Ion Cannon can protect an evacuation. In essence, the Rebels built a shield that can’t keep an invader out and complicates their own escape.

Later comes this gem, which will doubtless have caught a few of his readers by surprise:

Nor does [the Imperial] “blockade” trap Luke, who flies to Dagobah without a single Imperial ship harassing him. That’s the worst possible news for the Empire: Luke is about to rekindle the Jedi order that poses the biggest danger to the preservation of everything Vader and Emperor Palpatine have built. While I’m not comparing the Rebel Alliance to al-Qaida or the Galactic Empire to the United States, in strategic terms, this is like Osama bin Laden’s escape from the December 2001 battle at Tora Bora, Afghanistan — a disaster masquerading as a tactical success.

I did wonder about that reference to “freedom fighters” in the scrolling plot summary at the start of the film…

Let’s measure everything!

Here’s that nice Bill Gates extolling the gospel of measuring what we do in development:

YouTube Preview Image

And here, via former USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, is the Duke of Wellington:


Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by His Majesty’s ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch to our headquarters.

We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit and spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been accounted for with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.

Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstance, since we are at war with France, a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.

This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue either with the best of my ability, but I cannot do both:
1.) To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or, perchance…
2.) To see to it the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.
Your most obedient servant,

What do people want a post-2015 agenda to do for them?

my worldHere, my post-2015 friends, is the very beginnings of an answer.  The ‘MY World’ survey, available through the internet, by mobile phone, and in the old-fashioned way with clipboards and pens, has now been completed by tens of thousands of people in 188 countries.  It’s very global – the top five countries with most votes are Brazil, the USA, the UK, Liberia and Mexico.

In particular, the focus is on making sure that people who can’t access the survey online or by mobile phone are well represented.  We had a first go at that in Liberia last month, surveying a representative sample of 2000 people before the meeting of the UN’s High Level Panel on the post-2015 agenda met there last week.

Pleasingly, and not by design, the results in Liberia echoed very strongly what the panel talked about.  The need to keep working on the current MDG agenda was clear, with education and health high on the list of people’s priorities.  Infrastructure also featured highly – with transport and roads the third most important priority in the sample, and jobs were, unsurprisingly also very important.

Some fascinating details emerged which need closer examaination – the most unexpected one for me was that while women consistently ranked gender equality as more important than men, both men and women in urban areas ranked it about twice as highly as men and women in rural areas.  Does urbanisation make people more in favour of women’s rights?  And if so, why?

There’s lots more data to gather over the next few years, and the votes should rise quickly into the millions.  The first mobile phone MY World survey will be launched in India very soon. Civil society organisations are ready to take the survey offline to hundreds of thousands of people.  Global advertising for the online survey is being developed.  And working with global polling company IPSOS Mori we’ll be able to work out what all of this is really telling us about the global and country ranking of different priorities among different groups.

There’s a lot of talk in post-2015-land about finding out what people want from a new agreement.  MY World is just one of the ways that people are finding out.  I’ve written before about how translating the results of different opinion-getting excercises into a language that policy makers can understand and act on can be a challenge.  With numbers and clear priorities MY World can help to provide useful and useable answers to the question ‘what do people want’ for the politicians constructing the post-2015 agenda.  We had a first go at that this week in Monrovia, and there’ll be a lot more to come…..

The continuing Wall Street crisis

The ever-reliable Michael Lewis, reviewing a new book by a repentant Goldman Sachs employee, nails the (continuing) financial/political crisis:

Stop and think once more about what has just happened on Wall Street: its most admired firm conspired to flood the financial system with worthless securities, then set itself up to profit from betting against those very same securities, and in the bargain helped to precipitate a world historic financial crisis that cost millions of people their jobs and convulsed our political system. In other places, or at other times, the firm would be put out of business, and its leaders shamed and jailed and strung from lampposts. (I am not advocating the latter.) Instead Goldman Sachs, like the other too-big-to-fail firms, has been handed tens of billions in government subsidies, on the theory that we cannot live without them. They were then permitted to pay politicians to prevent laws being passed to change their business, and bribe public officials (with the implicit promise of future employment) to neuter the laws that were passed—so that they might continue to behave in more or less the same way that brought ruin on us all.

What the OECD Does Not Understand About Fragile States

OECD fragile states

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and its International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF) do an admirable job bringing together policymakers, collecting and synthesizing information, and helping set the agenda for donors.

But, as exemplified by Emmanuel Letouzé’s (lead author) and Juana de Catheu (co-author)’s recent report Fragile States 2013: Resource Flows and Trends in a Shifting World, its analysis of fragile states is flawed in a couple of important ways. Continue reading

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