Category Archives: CONGRESS WATCH

Towards The Disappearance Of Politics?

BOOK REVIEW

The Human Condition, Author: Hannah Arendt.

By Valerio Alfonso Bruno – Today, erosion of the public sphere is once more a harsh reality, as is particularly evident in the current weakness of “Western Democracies.”

The substantial risk of leaving democratic institutions only formally alive, but significantly lacking any content, is encouraging a deep reflexion on the reasons behind this erosion of the space for public debate and active political action.

However, some frequent arguments are employed by different people (belonging to political parties, policy-makers, academia, analysts, media) to justify the impossibility of developing a comprehensive political debate within contemporary democracies. At least four main orders of arguments can be identified that are used to justify the shrinking of the Vita Activa:

  1. technical complexity,
  2. global issues,
  3. trivialization of politics and
  4. ideological taboo.

Open, pluralistic, debate within democratic societies is unfortunately the first victim of the current political environment, as seen recently in the US and Italy.

The limitation of the public debate by reason of technical complexity and growingly global issues, or trivial generalization and ideological taboos, is dangerously forcing democracies’ citizens into political passivity, narrowing de facto the window of alternatives to an extreme degree, and resulting is an increased polarization. more>

The Globalization Backlash: It’s Both Culture and the Economy, Stupid

BOOK REVIEW

Euroscepticism and the Future of European Integration, Author: Catherine De Vries.
Globalization represents a “trilemma” for societies, Author: Dani Rodrik.

By Catherine De Vries – While many thought the process of greater cross-border cooperation to be irreversible, in part because it was expected to lead to a universal acceptance of liberal and capitalist values, isolationism, nationalism and protectionism are back on the political scene with a vengeance.

While Donald Trump’s slogan to “Make America Great Again” is at the heart of his campaign and current administration, Nigel Farage’s mantra of taking back control (“we will win this war and take our country back”) dominated the Brexit campaign.

A fierce debate has developed about the origins of these developments. Are they the result of economic grievances of those who feel threatened by globalization (a term for increasing international cooperation and increasing interdependence), or do current developments represent a cultural backlash based on immigration fears and prejudice.

Opposition to globalization is gaining such a foothold in the political and public domain in advanced industrial democracies, precisely because processes of economic interdependence have coincided with increasing migration flows.

Although current societal and academic debates are mostly framed in either economic or cultural terms, it is important to realize that these types of explanations are not mutually exclusive. We should focus more of our efforts on trying to understand how cultural and economic fears interact and fuel the recent popular backlash against globalization. more>

Six Lessons That Society Must Learn About Agile

By Steve Denning – The article isn’t suggesting that firms embracing Agile are either angels or devils. I have yet to see a firm espousing Agile that has no flaws: those flaws must be seen for what they are and they need to be addressed.

If not addressed, they will cause serious financial, economic or social problems. Some of the flaws need to be addressed by the firms themselves and will be reinforced by the marketplace. Others may require government intervention.

Among the flaws for which the marketplace will by itself tend to generate corrective action are:

  1. Failure to continue innovating
  2. Sweat-shop workplaces
  3. Short-termism
  4. Share buybacks
  5. Rethink “maximizing shareholder value”
  6. Abuse of monopoly power and privacy

We need to see Agile by the clear light of day, neither through rose-colored spectacles in which everything is kumbaya, nor through a glass darkly in which everything is evil.

The saying “you can’t have it both ways” doesn’t mean that we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. more>

The Western Crack-Up

By Javier Solana – After the recent G7 summit in Quebec, there can no longer be any doubt that the West is in crisis.

Yes, “Western” countries have often pursued divergent foreign policies (as illustrated by the Iraq War), and “the West” is itself a vague concept. But it is one that rests on a set of common ideological pillars, which are now crumbling under the weight of US President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda.

Trump and his co-religionists’ incessant slandering of allies – “we cannot let our friends take advantage of us” – is leaving its mark.

Just a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for the US to refuse to sign a joint G7 communiqué. Nor would anyone have thought that an American administration could attack a Canadian leader using the language that Trump and his trade adviser, Peter Navarro, recently directed at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

If bad manners were the only issue with the Trump administration, we could all rest easier. But that administration is also pursuing concrete policies that are undercutting America’s most important alliances. more>

Why the Red Hen incident so troubles us as Americans

By Mark Penn – The United States of America is creeping toward creating a more imperfect union, one dominated by the power of the online mob that is threatening to disassemble more than 200 years of learning.

It was in “Federalist 10” that James Madison, the father of the Constitution, discussed the human tendency to divide into factions, which he defined as groups of people “who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens” and to the community. He warned how the zeal for certain government policies, for passionate leaders and for different religions could lead us to a society inflamed “with mutual animosities.”

Welcome to America 2018. Madison’s solution then was to tame the forces of the moment through a republic as opposed to a pure democracy.

This is done by electing the people’s representatives from across the country who would be more sensible and objective. They would face periodic elections, but were to be freed from the easily inflamed mobs that would be quick to trample the rights of others.

But in the modern age, as I document in “Microtrends Squared,” people are increasingly divided into factions, and whether it is through their news channels or their Twitter feeds, the ability to whip up crowds quickly and with slanted information has never been easier, or more dangerous. Forget about the Russians dividing us, we have to worry about us Americans doing the job of tearing the nation apart. more>

American power at stake in great innovation race


By Peter Engelke – Americans like to think of themselves as the most innovative people in the world. At least since 1945, they have had good reason to believe so. During the Cold War, the United States built the most formidable technology-producing innovation system the world has ever seen.

Coordinated action by the U.S. government, the private sector and academia, combined with America’s unique postwar culture, crafted this system.

But the American system has seen better days. America’s leaders, at federal and state levels, have failed to maintain this system much less upgrade it.

As a result, America’s long list of difficulties includes falling public investment in research and development (R&D, a critical and under-appreciated factor in national innovativeness), an under-skilled workforce, flagging support for public higher education, decaying infrastructure and much more.

The global tech-innovation economy therefore is more than a just crowded place. It is also crowded where it counts: at the very top, where it no longer can be said that the U.S. stands alone. Several of the countries listed here, plus others, routinely score higher than the United States in global innovation rankings.

The U.S. will not long remain the global leader in innovation unless it takes decisive action across several fronts. more>

To stop endless war, raise taxes

BOOK REVIEW

Taxing Wars: The American Way of War Finance and the Decline of Democracy, Author: Sarah Kreps.

By Sarah Kreps – What explains the American tolerance for such open-ended, seemingly never-ending wars?

One view is that the light footprint of modern warfare — drones, small numbers of special forces, and cyber, as opposed to large deployments of troops — is a chief culprit. This approach to conflict removes a barrier to war because it does not inflict casualties on American troops that would draw attention to and drain support for the enterprise.

This is surely a contributing factor. But I argue that the most crucial difference between these wars and those of the past is how they have been financed.

Contemporary wars are all put on the nation’s credit card, and that eliminates a critical accountability link between the populace and the conduct of war.

But without war taxes, the country is left with mounting debt — and left, too, with wars without accountability. If the public fails to experience the “inconvenience” of taxes, paraphrasing Adam Smith, there is no incentive for voters to push for a course correction.

When no citizen feels a financial pinch during wartime, open-ended wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq are likely to become the norm, not the exception. more>

Source: To stop endless war, raise taxes – Vox

Colliding Worlds: Donald Trump And The European Union

By Michael Cottakis – US President Donald Trump is not naturally inclined towards the EU. The EU represents the antithesis of what Trump aspires for in himself, or of the value he sees in others. For the President, the EU is an essentially effete project – a civilian power that likes to see itself as human rights based and collegiate, but with no hard power of its own. It is not a real force in the world because it cannot project military power, or speak with a single, unified voice, putting its interests first.

A defensive Brussels, reeling from recent crises and keen to assert itself as an important international actor may, with provocation, respond.

The European Commission tends to respond to Trump’s provocations with smugness and belittlement. Other European leaders are cannier and understand better the risks of such an approach. Emmanuel Macron has adopted the guise of the EU’s chief diplomat to the US, speaking regularly with Trump. Climate change, Iran, trade policy and Syria have all been on the French President’s agenda. While discussions remain relatively cordial, little impact is being made in policy terms.

The international system is greatly changed. A battle of new world views, political and socio-economic models is at play in which new authoritarian values gain ground at the expense of traditional ‘western’ values. The international influence of the US is determined not only by the number of its weapons, or the power of its commerce. Traditionally, it is a consequence also of its power of attraction, the emancipatory quality of its core values – democracy, human rights, economic openness. These values, and their adoption by third countries, have helped drive the world to levels of prosperity never before experienced.

These achievements ought not to be squandered. more>

Why The Only Answer Is To Break Up The Biggest Wall Street Banks

By Robert Reich – Glass-Steagall’s key principle was to keep risky assets away from insured deposits. It worked well for more than half century. Then Wall Street saw opportunities to make lots of money by betting on stocks, bonds, and derivatives (bets on bets) – and in 1999 persuaded Bill Clinton and a Republican congress to repeal it.

Nine years later, Wall Street had to be bailed out, and millions of Americans lost their savings, their jobs, and their homes.

Why didn’t America simply reinstate Glass-Steagall after the last financial crisis? Because too much money was at stake. Wall Street was intent on keeping the door open to making bets with commercial deposits. So instead of Glass-Steagall, we got the Volcker Rule – almost 300 pages of regulatory mumbo-jumbo, riddled with exemptions and loopholes.

Now those loopholes and exemptions are about to get even bigger, until they swallow up the Volcker Rule altogether. If the latest proposal goes through, we’ll be nearly back to where we were before the crash of 2008. more>

Declining Majority of Online Adults Say the Internet Has Been Good for Society

By Aaron Smith and Kenneth Olmstead – Americans tend to view the impact of the internet and other digital technologies on their own lives in largely positive ways, Pew Research Center surveys have shown over the years. A survey of U.S. adults conducted in January 2018 finds continuing evidence of this trend, with the vast majority of internet users (88%) saying the internet has, on balance, been a mostly good thing for them personally.

But even as they view the internet’s personal impact in a positive light, Americans have grown somewhat more ambivalent about the impact of digital connectivity on society as a whole. A sizable majority of online adults (70%) continue to believe the internet has been a good thing for society. Yet the share of online adults saying this has declined by a modest but still significant 6 percentage points since early 2014, when the Center first asked the question. more>

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