Last Monday I had lunch with my old friend and former EDF colleague Bruce Rich. He gave me a copy of his impressive new book “To Uphold the World: The Message of Ashoka and Kautilya for the 21st Century,” which been published by Penguin-India. The book discusses how the modern world should respond to the forces of globalization drawing on the work of the ancient Indian leaders Ashoka and Kautilya. To promote the release of the book, Bruce went on a book tour of India last May, as shown in the photo above. Bruce discusses the book in an interview available online at: http://www.verveonline.com/62/people/edgefull.shtml. While the book is only available in India right now, Beacon Press has just signed Bruce to publish a U.S. version and to update his classic book “Mortgaging the Earth” on environmental mismanagement by the World Bank.
Bruce also gave me a copy of the column he wrote for the January issue of the Environmental Forum (“A Test Case for Export Finance”) sharply criticizing the involvement of export credit agencies (ECAs) in the financing of the Ilisu Dam project. This dam, which would be built on the Tigris River in southeastern Turkey, would forcibly displace nearly 65,000 ethnic Kurds while flooding archeological treasures in Anatolia. An effort by a consortium of companies in Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom to obtain financing for the project fell apart in 2002 after an international outcry. However, the project recently was revived when ECAs from Austria. Germany, and Switzerland approved nearly $600 million in loan guarantees for the project. Bruce argues that this represents an important test of the OECD’s “Common Approaches on Environment” for export credit agencies. Bruce notes that the three ECAs involved in the project required the Turkish government to meet 153 conditions dealing with the environment, resettlement and cultural heritage. After independent monitoring committees determined in March and August 2008 that the Turkish government had failed to meet these conditions, the ECAs in October sent an official Environmental Failure Notice. This notice gave the Turkish government 60 days to remedy these deficiencies or face withdrawal of ECA support. On December 23, the three ECAs ordered work on the project suspended for 180 days due to the failure to live up to the environmental conditions.
While happy about the imminent departure of the Bush administration, Bruce expressed some skepticism about the new administration in light of the appointment of Larry Summers to be director of the National Economic Council. Few remember that while an economist at the World Bank in December 1991 Summers authored the infamous memo suggesting that because earnings and life expectancy are lower in developing countries, the Bank should encourage more dumping of toxic waste there and the shifting of polluting industries to such countries. A copy of the memo is available online at: http://www.whirledbank.org/ourwords/summers.html.
After ringing in the New Year in Philadelphia, I flew with my son to California on New Year’s day. While staying in Los Angeles for the weekend, I noticed several street signs with directions to the nearest “electric vehicle charging station.” Drivers on the freeways were reminded by electronic bulletin boards that on January 1 a new law went into effect banning the sending of text messages while driving. On Friday night my son and I went to the Staples Center in downtown LA to see the Los Angeles Lakers play the Utah Jazz. Jack Nicholson was sitting at courtside and graciously signed some autographs for children during the halftime break. After the Lakers secured their 15th straight home victory by a score of 113-100, Laker Coach Phil Jackson told the press that his only regret was that “we didn’t get the free tacos for the fans.” A taco chain had offered two free tacos for each ticket stub if the Lakers won while holding their opponent to less than 100 points, but a successful 3-point basket in the final seconds gave the Jazz 100 points. On Saturday night we sampled the tapas at The Bazaar in Beverly Hills, a new restaurant in the SLS Hotel where we stayed. The restaurant is run by Jose Andres, who founded Jaleo in Washington, D.C. and it features new versions of some of Jaleo’s signature dishes. On Sunday night my son and I flew to San Francisco. He caught the red eye to return to D.C. for school on Monday morning while I am staying in SF for the annual Macworld Conference. Photos of my trip to California are available online at: http://gallery.me.com/rperci/100396.