Pyjama diplomacy

So… I was not mistaken with what I thought about the news, which until President Obama’s recent joke about the event dwelt on cute Prince George in pyjamas and dressing gown who stayed up past his bedtime so he could be part of the welcoming party, details of his monogrammed bathrobe said to be surely copied again by the rest of the world, and details inside the Kensington Palace’ apartment said to lack the opulence expected of royals which meant less maintenance expense to English taxpayers.

What I noticed were the underlying themes in the otherwise well-meaning greeting between Prince George and President Obama:

(1) Power. An outgoing President of a republican nation, the most powerful on earth today, making an official visit to a long-time ally, a Prince, third in line to the throne, who greets him in his bedclothes, the monogram on it could’ve read oh, bother! calling on me at this hour eh?— for this meeting’s many significances the Prince’ dress code really does feel “like a (royal) slap on the (commoner’s) face”.

(2) Manners. History and biography books say that English kings and queens take care to dress for the occasion. Was the young Prince’ dressing gown moment a lapse in English manners? Or, a sampling of British humor? Hmmm…

(3) Race/Color. The impact’s more so when one’s black. Prince George’ parents purportedly hid the word ‘negro’ from a painting in their apartment, and while successful, somebody forgot to efface the pun in the white bathrobe. “Black enough” for you, Mr. Balack, sir? Sir?

These made me think about our own dealings with China over the South China Sea / West Philippine Sea. What is that brilliant move which would soften China to us on that matter? Ha! As if?


Imagine the daily horrors, intentional or not, the politico’s wife has to witness and endure although on the positive side these things school one in the art of maintaining dignity in all things which soon inevitably develops into a happy steeliness. That or collapse at the slightest of remarks. In any case, one can always laugh the whole thing off, or attend to that carrot patch.


Highlight of Obama’s last State of The Union Address

Possibly for the first time, “development workers” made it into a State of the Union address.

United States President Barack Obama’s annual speech, his last as commander-in-chief, dedicated roughly 10 percent of its nearly 5,500 words to global development issues and attempted to link those issues to U.S. leadership and national security.

Considering the U.S. federal budget devotes only about one percent of its total to U.S. foreign assistance, the amount of time Obama spent on development issues could be more to inspire a future generation rather than promote or institute actual changes in the little time he has left in office.

Indeed, with one year remaining in his presidency, Obama has limited time to cement a global development legacy. Funding malaria eradication, leading by example on climate change, and advancing opportunities for migrants fleeing crisis would be major achievements. But to be successful, as Obama readily acknowledged, none of them will belong to the U.S. president alone.

In Obama’s final SOTU, global dev gets unexpected airtime, Devex

Significantly, also, the US President mentioned that the attitude, knowledge, and tools the USA needs to sustain it’s greatness are already present among it’s people and institutions; that envisioned change will happen only when these work together.  The take-away message there is that in planning for progress, nations need to look inward first and start the change from there.

In the President’s closing words, I was struck by these meaningful statements:

“I believe in change because I believe in you.”

“(that’s why) I stand here as confident as I’ve ever been because the state of our Union is strong.”

Truly, any head of nation accounting before citizens the state of the nation can confidently speak of the progress and strength of the nation to the extent that ‘you’ (i.e. citizens, individually and collectively) have done his or her part.  In other words, in a democracy and republic, the nation’s ‘failure’ or ‘success’ cannot be accorded to just one individual.

APEC Summit 2015: Obama hosts panel with Jack Ma and Aisa Mijeno

Such a successful publicity feat this!  The US, China, and Philippines in dialogue!  It shows that these three nations can actually have easy discussions (outside political differences) with each other!  Plus, I’m sure this has greatly increased Obama’s, China’s, and Philippines’ image everywhere.

OBAMA:  Aisa is a perfect example of what we’re seeing in a lot of countries—young  entrepreneurs coming up with leapfrog  technologies.

It does raise the issue,  though, of how we can do more to support young  entrepreneurs like Aisa, and Jack. You’ve had the benefit of having been on both sides of the  equation—early entrepreneur scratching and  climbing and getting things done, and then now,  obviously a very successful businessman. How can both government and larger companies be assisting  in creating a climate for innovation that  encourages young entrepreneurs like Aisa?

MA: Government is simple: Just reduce the tax, or  no tax, for these guys.

OBAMA: There you go!

You got a lot of cheers from your fellow CEOs.

MA:  we just had a discussion at the back office—is that nobody  can help you. We can only help ourselves.  Investors, government, partners: they are all  uncles and aunties. You are the father, you are  the mother of the kid. Don’t give up the kid.  Because when we startup, we talk about our kid,  our passion, it all sounds crazy. But you are the  guy taking care of the kids.

OBAMA:  what have  been the biggest challenges and how could both  the public sector and the private sector be more  helpful in term of encouraging young  entrepreneurs like you?

MIJENO: Based on our experience, I guess what we  need here is like a support system… So, we have the passion. So what we need is a  support system from both the private sector and  the government to, like, mentor us and guide us  how we can scale up the product, the project…  And yes, we also need a lot of support in terms  of funding. That’s our main challenge right now.  We’re at a critical phase; we’re trying to mass produce the lamp, so we’re just looking for  someone to fund to get the project moving.

(Obama points at Ma at the end of Mejino’s reply.  The audience laughs. Ma points back at Obama, then at Mejino. More laughter and applause.)

OBAMA:  But a couple of things…. I know we’re running  out of time, but I wanna comment on…. I do think  there’s a role for the government to provide tax  incentives for the production of clean energy.

Second area that I think the government has an important role to play—and I think you  wouldn’t disagree on this—is, I think, research and development… Where governments can do is hard for  companies to do a front-end, basic research, that  doesn’t necessarily have an immediate pay-off,  but will then serve as the laboratory for young  people like Aisa to discover—based on that  basic research —’I’ve got a new idea and I can  do something.’

But the thing that I wanna ask you, Jack, sort of  in closing, is whether you think other businesses  you’re interacting with and dealing with,  particularly in the APEC countries, feel the same  urgency that you do, or do you think you’re still  an early evangelist on this to persuade others a  little bit more?

MA:  It’s too late to complain whose fault—whether  your fault or my fault, let’s solve the problem  together. It’s the combination… Combine the  work of the government, private sector,  scientists, and sociologists. We have to work  together.

The thing is how we can work together  efficiently. I believe always you have to keep  the heart inside, but out of the business’ way,  because you have to get things done. That’s why  scientists can tell us how to do it properly.  Business should tell us how to get things done  efficiently. And the government should have the  good environment and foundation of researching.  And also we need the media’s guide to tell the  people how we do it.

I think this area—Asia-Pacific, especially  China—we are taking good actions, but we need  to do it in a way that’s really workable.

OBAMA: Excellent… Excellent…

And Aisa, the  closing comments. You’re about to scale up and  I’m confident you’ll be successful. But one of  the most important things you’ve said, in my  mind, at least, that this starts from the  bottom-up. That whether it’s in the Philippines  or in Tanzania, or anywhere in the world, that people who are trying to improve their lives,  that they can’t be asked to just stay poor to  solve this problem. They need electricity, they  want transportation, they want the same things  that exist in developed nations.

But what that means is that if we’re working at  the grassroots level, seeing what folks need, and  figuring out in an efficient way how to deliver  improved quality of life while being  environmentally sustainable, that’s an enormous  opportunity but it starts at looking at  aspirations and hopes of ordinary people. Is that a fair thing to say?

MIJENO:  Yes. It’s mainly a collaborative effort.  You should not just, like, rely on the  government. Of course, you should also do your  part, both as a citizen of the nation, to help  your people. So like what we’re doing — I’m  focusing on what I’m good at, of course R-and-D,  research and development.

Toward the closing, there were interesting statements on climate change as well.

Capitalism’s latest electroshock patient

Access original at Foreign Policy in Focus:

…if recently released Wikileaks documents are accurate, (it) provides a textbook case of disaster capitalism. The embassy documents, obtained by Haïti Liberté and The Nation, paint a disturbing if not unexpected picture of American coercion of the struggling Caribbean nation between 2004 and the month following the 2010 earthquake that flattened Port-au-Prince.

Among other important revelations that emerged over the past six weeks or so, the cables reveal that the Barack Obama administration aggressively lobbied the Haitian government to resist calls to raise the national minimum wage from 24 to 61 cents an hour. The Atlantic notes that

The bump 37¢ bump seems small by American standards, but considering it would raise wages by 150 percent…the new rule stood to dramatically affect the lives of poor Haitians. However, it would also dramatically affect the bottom line of American companies, like Hanes and Levi Strauss who contracted labor in Haiti to sew their clothes. The companies insisted on capping the wage increase at 7¢ an hour, and the U.S. ambassador pressured Préval into a $3 per day wage for textile workers, $2 less than the original $5 a day that Préval had wanted.

More shocking still—to my mind at least—was a cable dated just weeks after the 2010 earthquake. Written by US Ambassador Kenneth Merton, the cable doesn’t mince words about the opportunity available to investors willing to capitalize on suffering. “THE GOLD RUSH IS ON!” Merton announces.

As Haiti digs out from the earthquake, different companies are moving in to sell their concepts, products and services. President Preval met with Gen Wesley Clark Saturday and received a sales presentation on a hurricane/earthquake resistant foam core house designed for low income residents. AshBritt has been talking to various institutions about a national plan for rebuilding all government buildings. Other companies are proposing their housing solutions or their land use planning ideas, or other construction concepts. Each is vying for the ear of President in a veritable free-for-all. Presidential advisor Leslie Voltaire and Minister of Tourism Patrick Delatour, working with the NGO and the UN shelter “cluster” have a systematic approach, but the attention of the President is on impressive new (expensive) designs.

And this is only the beginning of the story. As Haiti Liberte reports:

One man who had the ear of President Préval, perhaps more than anyone else, was Lewis Lucke, Washington’s “Unified Relief and Response Coordinator,” heading up the entire U.S. earthquake relief effort in Haiti. He met with Préval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive two weeks after the quake, and at least one more time after that, according to the cables. Lucke, a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Agency for International Development, had overseen multi-billion contracts for Bechtel and other companies as USAID Mission Director in post-invasion Iraq.

Lucke didn’t stick around very long, however, abandoning his post after just a few months of work only to be hired in a private capacity by AshBritt to lobby the Haitian government on their behalf. The relationship soured, it seems, as Lucke sued the multinational later that year for not paying “him enough for consulting services that included hooking the contractor up with powerful people and helping to navigate government bureaucracy.” Lucke reportedly earned $30,000 a month for his services. And he was effective: the Associated Press reports that AshBritt was awarded $20 million in reconstruction contracts in Haiti.

You might think that Lucke would be reticent about discussing the situation in public. But then you’d be wrong. In fact, the former USAID officer has vomited up a number of statements tailor made for a sequel to Shock Doctrine should Klein ever endeavor to write it. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake’s destruction, for example, Lucke told the Austin-American Statesman that

It became clear to us that if it was handled correctly, the earthquake represented as much an opportunity as it did a calamity… So much of the china was broken that it gives the chance to put it together hopefully in a better and different way.

And just recently, Lucke continued to spell out his perspective even more clearly for Haiti Liberte. “It’s kind of the American way,” he told a reporter for the paper. “Just because you’re trying to do business doesn’t mean you’re trying to be rapacious. There’s nothing insidious about that… It wasn’t worse than Iraq.”