Category Archives: CONGRESS WATCH

Crisis of capitalism? Perhaps, but don’t blame it on globalization

By Simon Tilford – Donald Trump, Brexit, serious populist pressures in other EU countries: are we entering a full-blown crisis of international liberal capitalism? There is no doubt that globalization poses policy challenges for governments.

But globalization by itself did not force governments to adopt policies that have divided their countries, exacerbated inequality and hit social mobility. Many of them did those things by choice.

The problem is not that we have allowed an increased role for markets, as many on the left (and increasingly on the populist right) argue. Open markets remain the best way of generating wealth and opportunities, of challenging vested interests and of expanding people’s freedom. We are in this mess because we’ve forgotten the lessons of the post-war period. Basically, we have a crisis of distribution and opportunity.

Globalization is a net positive, and has played a huge role in reducing poverty globally over the last 30 years. But there are winners and losers from increased trade and movements of capital, as there are from rapid technological change, and many countries, notably the US and the UK, have failed to take the necessary corrective action. more> https://goo.gl/ei52Zk

Proper fiber broadband is not a waste, but you need a little socialism to do it properly

By Chris Duckett – To overcome the lust of corporations to hit the next quarterly target by squeezing the very last dollar from aging assets and instead roll out more future-proof technologies, a little government encouragement is needed in the form of monetary incentives or legislation.

There is no point in running down the path of smart infrastructure and digital interactions with authorities if the rural section of the community is stuck on outmoded systems, and governments can also enforce another important aspect to dealing with broadband on a societal level: Universality.

Broadband is a paradoxical beast once baseline speeds in double digits are attained as the benefits it can provide to society become proportional to the difficulty in reaching them, and this inversely impacts profitability.

Consequently, users end up in a situation where those who need it most often have to go without, or live with poor connections because it doesn’t make economic sense to service them. Private companies will not willingly enter regional areas, because even if there is a very slim profit margin, it could take decades before the investment paid for itself. more> https://goo.gl/wZTkjB

Why Europe Is Warning of Pax Americana’s End

By Leonid Bershidsky – In 2016, the Munich Security report noted almost in passing that the absence of the U.S. from discussions about the eastern Ukraine conflict would have been unthinkable before, and that the U.S. didn’t appear to be particularly interested in resolving the Syria crisis on its terms, either.

In 2017, all bets are off on what the U.S. will ultimately do: Donald Trump and members of his team have made so many conflicting statements on foreign policy (and some of them are quoted in the report, side by side) that nothing is clear except that they intend to keep their cards close to the chest as they “put America first.” more> https://goo.gl/he7BeX

Backing into World War III

By Robert Kagan – Think of two significant trend lines in the world today. One is the increasing ambition and activism of the two great revisionist powers, Russia and China.

The other is the declining confidence, capacity, and will of the democratic world, and especially of the United States, to maintain the dominant position it has held in the international system since 1945. As those two lines move closer, as the declining will and capacity of the United States and its allies to maintain the present world order meet the increasing desire and capacity of the revisionist powers to change it, we will reach the moment at which the existing order collapses and the world descends into a phase of brutal anarchy, as it has three times in the past two centuries.

The cost of that descent, in lives and treasure, in lost freedoms and lost hope, will be staggering. History shows that world orders do collapse, however, and when they do it is often unexpected, rapid, and violent.

The late 18th century was the high point of the Enlightenment in Europe, before the continent fell suddenly into the abyss of the Napoleonic Wars. In the first decade of the 20th century, the world’s smartest minds predicted an end to great-power conflict as revolutions in communication and transportation knit economies and people closer together. The most devastating war in history came four years later. The apparent calm of the postwar 1920s became the crisis-ridden 1930s and then another world war.

Where exactly we are in this classic scenario today, how close the trend lines are to that intersection point is, as always, impossible to know. Are we three years away from a global crisis, or 15?

That we are somewhere on that path, however, is unmistakable.

And while it is too soon to know what effect Donald Trump’s presidency will have on these trends, early signs suggest that the new administration is more likely to hasten us toward crisis than slow or reverse these trends.

It will be more than a shame if Americans were to destroy what they created—and not because it was no longer possible to sustain but simply because they chose to stop trying. more> https://goo.gl/cGZ3En

Europe Must Defend Itself Against A Dangerous President

By Klaus Brinkbäumer – There are times in life that really do count. Times when a person’s character is revealed, when the important is separated from the unimportant. Soon decisions are taken that will determine the further path a person takes.

Germany must stand up in opposition to the 45th president of the United States and his government. That’s difficult enough already for two reasons: Because it is from the Americans that we obtained our liberal democracy in the first place; and because it is unclear how the brute and choleric man on the other side will react to diplomatic pressure. The fact that opposition to the American government can only succeed when mounted together with Asian and African partners — and no doubt with our partners in Europe, with the EU — doesn’t make the situation any easier.

Under President Trump, both the justified and the contemptible will be melded. Injustice is a major issue of our times, as are fears of digitalization and globalization — and rightfully so given that the division of society and the speed of modern life is, in fact, extreme. Trump fuses these worries of his voters with nationalism and xenophobia. That’s how demagogues work and it is how they become effective.

The fact that the United States, a nuclear superpower that has dominated the world economically, militarily and culturally for decades, is now presenting itself as the victim, calling in all seriousness for “America first” and trying to force the rest of the world into humiliating concessions is absurd. But precisely because this nonsense is coming from the world’s most powerful man, it is getting trapped by him. more> https://goo.gl/PwClWJ

Your Cybersecurity Self-Defense Cheat Sheet

By Jacob Brogan – Corporate complicity: Many of us rely on Google, Apple, and their ilk to protect our accounts and information. Can we be sure that these companies have our best interests in mind when it comes to security and privacy?

Government involvement: As international, politicized hacking grows more common, governments may become more involved in private cybersecurity, potentially threatening individual privacy in the process. How much should we rely on political authorities as we work to reinforce our digital borders?

Human fallibility: Some security experts argue that humans are the “weakest link” in cybersecurity practices, but others counter that technology itself may be making things more difficult for them. Can we develop systems that won’t trip up reasonable, well-meaning people?

Inconvenience: Many of the most robust cybersecurity technologies also make it harder to use the internet. Can we guarantee our safety without sacrificing the things that make the internet fun to use? more> https://goo.gl/gLOn1s

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Liberals Will Not Like How This Revenge Plot Ends

By Megan McArdle – I thought Republicans should have confirmed Garland, and I’ve written before that the arms race to procedurally hack the U.S. government — via controlling the Supreme Court, or dreaming up ever-more-arcane uses of the parliamentary rules — is bad for the country and needs to stop. That doesn’t mean I think it’s going to.

The escalating tit-for-tat game over the Supreme Court has been going on at least since the 1980s, and arguably long before that, in the post-New-Deal era when courts began tilting noticeably leftwards.

Under Reagan, conservatives sought to reverse that by grooming conservative justices for all levels of the courts. Democrats tried to keep them from doing so, culminating in the disgraceful treatment of Robert Bork. Ever since, we’ve been locked in a spiraling cycle of payback.

Everyone understands that this is destructive; everyone wishes it to stop. The catch is, they also believe that it needs to stop after they themselves get last licks in. And so it continues. more> https://goo.gl/ZY6FYW

How to Build an Autocracy

By David Frum – No society, not even one as rich and fortunate as the United States has been, is guaranteed a successful future. When early Americans wrote things like “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” they did not do so to provide bromides for future bumper stickers. They lived in a world in which authoritarian rule was the norm, in which rulers habitually claimed the powers and assets of the state as their own personal property.

The exercise of political power is different today than it was then—but perhaps not so different as we might imagine. Larry Diamond, a sociologist at Stanford, has described the past decade as a period of “democratic recession.” Worldwide, the number of democratic states has diminished. Within many of the remaining democracies, the quality of governance has deteriorated.

Yet the American system is also perforated by vulnerabilities no less dangerous for being so familiar. Supreme among those vulnerabilities is reliance on the personal qualities of the man or woman who wields the awesome powers of the presidency.

A British prime minister can lose power in minutes if he or she forfeits the confidence of the majority in Parliament. The president of the United States, on the other hand, is restrained first and foremost by his own ethics and public spirit.

What happens if somebody comes to the high office lacking those qualities? more> https://goo.gl/IjMqiK

The atheist paradox

BOOK REVIEW

Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea, Author: Adam Roberts.
Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, Author: Alain de Botton.
The Book of Atheist Spirituality, Author: André Comte-Sponville.
The Satanic Verses, Author: Salman Rushdie.
Gravity and Grace, Author: Simone Weil.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Author: Gabriel García Márquez.
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Author: John Bunyan.

By Adam Roberts – The Islam described in the Qur’an is a religion consonant with the structures of social power. Crucial to it is the idea that submission to the law (since the law comes from God) is equally required for good social order and good spiritual health.

Christianity is different. In part, that’s because of its bivalve holy book, which sets up, in the Old Testament, a set of social codes, restrictions and laws and then, in its New Testament, specifically overturns them.

Moses brought 10 commandments; Jesus replaces them with two — to love God, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. And those two commandments aren’t articulated like legal codes. Some of the New Testament attempts to work out the social and legal consequences of its new creed, but much of it gives up on that, and instead gives eloquent voice to the irrelevance of society and law in the face of the imminent end-times.

The Old Testament is, in the largest sense, about the building of a temple. In the New Testament, the temple is redefined as Christ’s body, built precisely to be torn down, tortured to death and radically reconfigured. Instructions to give up all one’s money, to leave one’s family and job, not to marry (though St Paul concedes that it is better to marry than burn with lust), to live as spontaneously as the birds and the flowers — all these things are iterations of a powerful sense that the old ways have been overturned.

Of course, as generation followed generation and the world stubbornly did not end, Christians had to find ways of getting on with life. more> https://goo.gl/vJs3n8

A Blunt and Counterproductive Travel Ban

By Mohamed A. El-Erian – As designed and implemented, there are genuine doubts about the order’s effectiveness in meeting its stated objective of preventing terrorism. It also risks a lot of collateral damage and unintended consequences that ultimately could prove counterproductive and harmful to national security, the economy, and America’s moral authority, values and standing in the world. Even the order’s merits as a domestic signal are in doubt, and it risks damaging the credibility and effectiveness of future policy initiatives from the White House.

This is an extremely blunt approach to an important issue. Early reports on its application suggest that even long-time holders of multiyear visas for the U.S., together with green card holders and dual nationals, are being refused entry at airports or being prevented from boarding planes destined for America. This includes people who have been living in the U.S. legally for many years, have been vetted, and are productive and integrated members of their local communities. more> https://goo.gl/sljXfS

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