Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Jane Jacobs Soldiers ON.

June 29, 2004
War? Terrorists? No, Here's What's Really Scary


FOUR decades after she fought to save Washington Square Park and wrote "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," a seminal book that has reshaped urban planning to this day, Jane Jacobs sits on her weather-beaten front porch here, contemplating the untended meadow that is her front yard and waving to neighbors as they walk by.

At 88, she has trouble taking even a few steps without her walker to dump junk mail into a recycling bin she keeps handy on the veranda.

"I used to bicycle to work," she recalled with a nostalgic grin and widening eyes that still twinkle through her big eyeglasses. "There are compensations, though. The older you get, the more loose ends that you've observed through life get tied up. And that's interesting."

Ms. Jacobs's tying up of loose ends has produced a quirky, somewhat scattered but typically iconoclastic new book, "Dark Age Ahead" (Random House), her eighth. As its title so bleakly suggests, it sounds a litany of warnings about Western society, which she sees as tilting toward a steep decline, or at least a critical reckoning.

"The purpose of this book is to help our culture avoid sliding into a dead end," she writes at the start of the compact, 241-page work. At the end, she concludes, "Formerly vigorous cultures typically fall prey to the arrogant self-deception for which the Greeks had a word, 'hubris.' "

In reaching her gloomy conclusions, Ms. Jacobs barely skims over such possibilities of calamity as terrorism, nuclear war and environmental degradation. Rather, she calls those mere symptoms of what she views as more fundamental, less obvious ailments: the breakdown of the family, the decline of higher education, lapses of modern science, tax systems that do not distribute money fairly and the inadequate self-regulation of professions. These, for her, are signs that the very pillars that support society are rotting.

She says it is natural for societies to "make mistakes and get off balance," but then they correct themselves. "What seems different about this situation is the stabilizers themselves are in trouble," she said one recent afternoon. "If the stabilizers go, what do we depend on?"

Ms. Jacobs also sees dark clouds looming over some staples of contemporary life. She predicts that the current explosion in housing prices will prove to be a bubble, though she cannot say whether it will pop before or during "the coming demographic bulge in retirements."

She also says the sprawling suburbs of North America are not sustainable. "One of the most destabilizing things about the suburbs and a symptom of their destabilization is the kind of transportation they need," she said, referring to gas-guzzling cars and sport utility vehicles. "Society is shaping something that is dysfunctional."

IN her book, she writes that once the housing bubble bursts, many owners of suburban lots will "no doubt sell their land and buildings to developers who plan to put them to more intensive use by building apartment houses, low-cost condominiums and spaces for small businesses." And, "resourceful owners will convert their rec rooms to low-cost rental suites."

Diatribes against suburbia and the automobile come naturally to Ms. Jacobs, a committed city dweller - stronger on life experience than academic credentials - who led the community movement in the 1950's and 60's against a freeway that would have gone through the West Village and Washington Square. Her 1961 classic, "Great American Cities," challenged the urban redevelopment that was transforming American cities; in it, she contended that vital communities depended on the varied street life and small-scale virtues of densely settled neighborhoods.

After 30 years in New York City, she and her husband, Robert Jacobs, left for Canada in the late 60's in protest of the Vietnam War. In Toronto, she led fights to save neighborhoods and gracious landmarks like Union Station. Ms. Jacobs, now a widow, still visits New York from time to time. Here, she remains a force in urban-planning debates and still resides in the Annex, a multiethnic, multiclass neighborhood in downtown Toronto that fits her prescription for healthy urban life. Her street has plenty of trees for shade and porches for neighborly conversation and is only a block from busy Bloor Street with its wide variety of stores, restaurants and robust street life.

Her sensibilities may seem a throwback to the 60's, but she takes a view in her writings and conversations that dates back long before Bob Dylan. About her unkempt front yard, for instance, she says those are not wild, overgrown weeds but "native plants" that are far more appropriate there than some immaculately cut, dandelion-free yard of grass.

"It's not wholesome to the environment to constantly put pesticides on lawns," she said. "Such lawns came from England. It was part of the plantation age. People with large estates and lots of animals had old money. That was prestige, which was a kind of fashion."

For Jane Jacobs, breaking that kind of fashion is the way to avert the next dark age.

"We human beings are not going to get stuck indefinitely on bad mistakes," she said with hope in her voice. "We're not helpless."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Op Ed...Supreme Court decision yesterday on Hamdi

Krugman's column today

June 29, 2004
Who Lost Iraq?

The formal occupation of Iraq came to an ignominious end yesterday with a furtive ceremony, held two days early to foil insurgent attacks, and a swift airborne exit for the chief administrator. In reality, the occupation will continue under another name, most likely until a hostile Iraqi populace demands that we leave. But it's already worth asking why things went so wrong.

The Iraq venture may have been doomed from the start — but we'll never know for sure because the Bush administration made such a mess of the occupation. Future historians will view it as a case study of how not to run a country.

Up to a point, the numbers in the Brookings Institution's invaluable Iraq Index tell the tale. Figures on the electricity supply and oil production show a pattern of fitful recovery and frequent reversals; figures on insurgent attacks and civilian casualties show a security situation that got progressively worse, not better; public opinion polls show an occupation that squandered the initial good will.

What the figures don't describe is the toxic mix of ideological obsession and cronyism that lie behind that dismal performance.

The insurgency took root during the occupation's first few months, when the Coalition Provisional Authority seemed oddly disengaged from the problems of postwar anarchy. But what was Paul Bremer III, the head of the C.P.A., focused on? According to a Washington Post reporter who shared a flight with him last June, "Bremer discussed the need to privatize government-run factories with such fervor that his voice cut through the din of the cargo hold."

Plans for privatization were eventually put on hold. But as he prepared to leave Iraq, Mr. Bremer listed reduced tax rates, reduced tariffs and the liberalization of foreign-investment laws as among his major accomplishments. Insurgents are blowing up pipelines and police stations, geysers of sewage are erupting from the streets, and the electricity is off most of the time — but we've given Iraq the gift of supply-side economics.

If the occupiers often seemed oblivious to reality, one reason was that many jobs at the C.P.A. went to people whose qualifications seemed to lie mainly in their personal and political connections — people like Simone Ledeen, whose father, Michael Ledeen, a prominent neoconservative, told a forum that "the level of casualties is secondary" because "we are a warlike people" and "we love war."

Still, given Mr. Bremer's economic focus, you might at least have expected his top aide for private-sector development to be an expert on privatization and liberalization in such countries as Russia or Argentina. But the job initially went to Thomas Foley, a Connecticut businessman and Republican fund-raiser with no obviously relevant expertise. In March, Michael Fleischer, a New Jersey businessman, took over. Yes, he's Ari Fleischer's brother. Mr. Fleischer told The Chicago Tribune that part of his job was educating Iraqi businessmen: "The only paradigm they know is cronyism. We are teaching them that there is an alternative system with built-in checks and built-in review."

Checks and review? Yesterday a leading British charity, Christian Aid, released a scathing report, "Fueling Suspicion," on the use of Iraqi oil revenue. It points out that the May 2003 U.N. resolution giving the C.P.A. the right to spend that revenue required the creation of an international oversight board, which would appoint an auditor to ensure that the funds were spent to benefit the Iraqi people.

Instead, the U.S. stalled, and the auditor didn't begin work until April 2004. Even then, according to an interim report, it faced "resistance from C.P.A. staff." And now, with the audit still unpublished, the C.P.A. has been dissolved.

Defenders of the administration will no doubt say that Christian Aid and other critics have no proof that the unaccounted-for billions were ill spent. But think of it this way: given the Arab world's suspicion that we came to steal Iraq's oil, the occupation authorities had every incentive to expedite an independent audit that would clear Halliburton and other U.S. corporations of charges that they were profiteering at Iraq's expense. Unless, that is, the charges are true.

Let's say the obvious. By making Iraq a playground for right-wing economic theorists, an employment agency for friends and family, and a source of lucrative contracts for corporate donors, the administration did terrorist recruiters a very big favor.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Mourning After: How They Screwed It Up - Kenneth Pollack

New Republic Article