Category Archives: Leadership

Nuclear Weapons Are Getting Less Predictable, and More Dangerous

By Patrick Tucker – On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, to discuss, among many things, the prospect of a new, comprehensive nuclear-weapons treaty with Russia and China.

At the same time, the Pentagon is developing a new generation of nuclear weapons to keep up with cutting-edge missiles and warheads coming out of Moscow. If the administration fails in its ambitious renegotiation, the world is headed toward a new era of heightened nuclear tension not seen in decades.

That’s because these new weapons are eroding the idea of nuclear predictability.

Since the dawn of the nuclear era, the concept of the nuclear triad — bombers, submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles — created a shared set of expectations around what the start of a nuclear war would look like.

If you were in NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado and you saw ICBMs headed toward the United States, you knew that a nuclear first strike was underway. The Soviets had a similar set of expectations, and this shared understanding created the delicate balance of deterrence — a balance that is becoming unsettled.

Start with Russia’s plans for new, more-maneuverable ICBMs. Such weapons have loosely been dubbed “hypersonic weapons” — something of a misnomer because all intercontinental ballistic missiles travel at hypersonic speeds of five or more times the speed of sound — and they create new problems for America’s defenders.

“As I stand here today, I don’t know what that solution set looks like,” Gen. Paul Selva, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at an Air Force Association event in April. “If you’re going Mach 13 at the very northern edge of Hudson Bay, you have enough residual velocity to hit all 48 of the continential United States and all of Alaska. You can choose [to] point it left or right, and hit Maine or Alaska, or you can hit San Diego or Key West. That’s a monstrous problem.”

This makes it harder for U.S. leaders, in the crucial minutes before a potentially civilization-ending nuclear strike, to understand just what kind of weapon is inbound. more>

Socialism: A short primer

By E.J. Dionne, Jr. and William A. Galston – Something new is happening in American politics.

Although most Americans continue to oppose socialism, it has reentered electoral politics and is enjoying an upsurge in public support unseen since the days of Eugene V. Debs.

The three questions we will be focusing on are: Why has this happened? What does today’s “democratic socialism” mean in contrast with past versions? And what are the political implications?

It’s worth recalling how important socialism once was at the ballot box to understand that this tradition has deeper roots in our history than many imagine. In the 1912 presidential election, Debs secured six percent of the popular vote, and Socialists held 1,200 offices in 340 cities, their ranks including 79 mayors.

The crash of 2008, rising inequality, and an intensifying critique of how contemporary capitalism works has brought socialism back into the mainstream—in some ways even more powerfully than in Debs’ time, since those who use the label have become an influential force in the Democratic Party.

Running as a democratic socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders received 45 percent of the Democratic primary vote in 2016, and in the 2018 mid-term elections, members of Democratic Socialists of America were among the prominent Democratic victors. Their ranks included Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who quickly became one of the country’s best-known politicians.

The economic and financial collapse of 2008-2009 undermined the claim that the economy had entered a new era of stability and moderation. Experts who had preached the virtues of self-regulation were forced to recant. The slow recovery from the Great Recession left many Americans wondering whether they would ever regain the income and wealth they had lost. more>

What’s Great Power Competition? No One Really Knows

By Katie Bo Williams – More than a year since the new National Defense Strategy refocused the U.S. military away from counterinsurgency and back towards the country’s greatest strategic competitors, some policy and strategy experts say the Pentagon hasn’t yet figured out how to “compete” with Russia and China.

In fact, it hasn’t even settled on a definition for the “competition” in “great power competition.”

The uncertainty has left former officials scratching their heads about how, specifically, the Defense Department plans to counter China and Russia beneath the threshold of armed conflict. It also appears to be pulling the Pentagon’s policy planners beyond their traditional purview of fighting and winning wars.

“The NDS has two pieces to it: it says you have to compete with China and Russia and prepare for conflict with China and Russia,” said Mara Karlin, a former deputy assistant defense secretary for strategy and force development. “Those are different. The way you would manage and develop your force is different depending on which one you are biasing towards.” more>

How to Avoid a Fascist Future

BOOK REVIEW

Being Numerous: Essays on Non-Fascist Life, Author: Natasha Lennard.

By Bradley Babendir – This idea runs through Being Numerous, a collection of essays that seek to demonstrate and enact a means of non-fascist thinking. Lennard approaches a range of subjects as part of this project, from the controversy over someone punching Richard Spencer, to representations of dead bodies in media, to suicide. Each essay is rooted in Lennard’s foundational argument that “liberal, capitalist ideology … fails to address its own potential accidents and limitations.”

The first essay, “We, Anti-Fascists,” is a forceful piece in favor of anti-fascist organizing and thinking. Lennard opens the essay with an endorsement of the on-the-ground counter-violence of Antifa, and makes a convincing case for the necessity of such violence when traditional institutions cannot be trusted to protect counter-protesters. She also argues against the overreaction to Antifa by mainstream American media after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, after which, Lennard says, newspapers spent more page-space condemning anti-fascists than they did the white nationalists who had murdered the civil-rights activist Heather Heyer.

This defense of Antifa is perhaps the part of the essay that will grab most readers’ attention, but Lennard’s subsequent exploration of what she calls “fascistic habit” is its liveliest and most engaging section. more>

Technology ethics campaigners offer plan to fight ‘human downgrading’

By Joseph Menn – Technology firms should do more to connect people in positive ways and steer away from trends that have tended to exploit human weaknesses, ethicists told a meeting of Silicon Valley leaders on Tuesday.

Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin are the co-founders of the nonprofit Center for Humane Technology and the ones who prompted Apple and Google to nudge phone users toward reducing their screen time.

Now they want companies and regulators to focus on reversing what they called “human downgrading,” which they see as at the root of a dozen worsening problems, by reconsidering the design and financial incentives of their systems.

Before a hand-picked crowd of about 300 technologists, philanthropists and others concerned with issues such as internet addiction, political polarization, and the spread of misinformation on the web, Harris said Silicon Valley was too focused on making computers surpass human strengths, rather than worrying about how they already exploit human weaknesses.

If that is not reversed, he said, “that could be the end of human agency,” or free will.

The big companies, Harris said, “can change the incentives.” more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Public disclosures help hold politicians accountable
By Rebecca Stropoli – A common problem in democracies is that, once elected, politicians may fail to address the needs of their constituents, especially the poorer ones. But is there a way to empower the electorate by holding officials accountable for their actions?

MIT’s Abhijit Banerjee and Harvard’s Nils Enevoldsen, Rohini Pande, and Michael Walton examined the effect that publicizing politicians’ records had on electoral results in the 2012 municipal elections in Delhi, India. They find that being issued public report cards caused politicians to shift their spending priorities.

With more than 18 million people, Delhi is the world’s second-largest city, behind Tokyo. Poor people living in slums form a significant share of the Delhi population. Slum dwellers, in fact, account for an electoral majority in many of the city’s 272 single-member wards, each of which elects a councilor to the municipal government every five years.

The anticipation of media reports did influence the policies of politicians representing poorer areas, the findings suggest. Councilors in high-slum wards whose report cards were published shifted their spending priorities to better match the needs of their constituents.

The “effective spending” on the needs of the poor by these councilors over two years increased by about $5,000 on average, or more than 13 percent, Enevoldsen says. more>

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Hate Speech on Social Media: Global Comparisons

Violence attributed to online hate speech has increased worldwide. Societies confronting the trend must deal with questions of free speech and censorship on widely used tech platforms.
By Zachary Laub – A mounting number of attacks on immigrants and other minorities has raised new concerns about the connection between inflammatory speech online and violent acts, as well as the role of corporations and the state in policing speech. Analysts say trends in hate crimes around the world echo changes in the political climate, and that social media can magnify discord. At their most extreme, rumors and invective disseminated online have contributed to violence ranging from lynchings to ethnic cleansing.

The same technology that allows social media to galvanize democracy activists can be used by hate groups seeking to organize and recruit. It also allows fringe sites, including peddlers of conspiracies, to reach audiences far broader than their core readership. Online platforms’ business models depend on maximizing reading or viewing times.

Since Facebook and similar platforms make their money by enabling advertisers to target audiences with extreme precision, it is in their interests to let people find the communities where they will spend the most time.

Users’ experiences online are mediated by algorithms designed to maximize their engagement, which often inadvertently promote extreme content.

Some web watchdog groups say YouTube’s autoplay function, in which the player, at the end of one video, tees up a related one, can be especially pernicious. The algorithm drives people to videos that promote conspiracy theories or are otherwise “divisive, misleading or false,” according to a Wall Street Journal investigative report.

“YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century,” writes sociologist Zeynep Tufekci. more>

China’s Belt and Road: The new geopolitics of global infrastructure development

By Amar Bhattacharya, David Dollar, Rush Doshi, Ryan Hass, Bruce Jones, Homi Kharas, Jennifer Mason, Mireya Solís, and Jonathan Stromseth – The growing strategic rivalry between the United States and China is driven by shifting power dynamics and competing visions of the future of the international order. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a leading indicator of the scale of China’s global ambitions.

Originally conceptualized as a “going out” strategy to develop productive outlets for domestic overcapacity and to diversify China’s foreign asset holdings, Beijing later branded the effort as its “Belt and Road Initiative.” While the initiative began with a predominantly economic focus, it has taken on a greater security profile over time.

China’s initiative has attracted interest from over 150 countries and international organizations in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. This is due, in part, to the fact that the initiative is meeting a need and filling a void left by international financial institutions (IFI) as they shifted away from hard infrastructure development. But there is a real possibility that the BRI will follow in the footsteps of the IFIs, encounter the same problems, and falter.

BRI shouldn’t be seen as a traditional aid program because the Chinese themselves do not see it that way and it certainly does not operate that way. It is a money-making investment and an opportunity for China to increase its connectivity.

The initiative has a blend of economic, political, and strategic agendas that play out differently in different countries, which is illustrated by China’s approach to resolving debt, accepting payment in cash, commodities, or the lease of assets. The strategic objectives are particularly apparent when it comes to countries where the investment aligns with China’s strategy of developing its access to ports that abut key waterways. more>

How the market is betraying advanced economies

The idea that ‘the market’ must be the organizing principle for collective decision-making should be abandoned.
By Diane Coyle – Despite ever-improving conditions for millions of people around the world—documented by entities like the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data and highlighted by scholars like Steven Pinker—popular discontent is on the rise in many places.

The reason is simple: whereas the first trend is being driven by low- and middle-income countries, the second is concentrated in high-income countries.

Throughout the developed world, conditions for many workers are deteriorating, with no recovery in sight. Income inequality is near historic highs, wealth inequality is even higher and economic insecurity is widespread.

As the United Kingdom tears itself apart politically and constitutionally over Brexit, many of its citizens struggle with low-quality jobs, inadequate housing and poverty so severe that they rely on food banks.

France’s yellow-vest protests have been hijacked by violent extremists, but they reflect real grievances about the growing challenge of maintaining living standards.

In the United States, the Economic Report of the President touts the supposed elimination of poverty, but life expectancy does not decline in a prosperous country.

In short, the post-World War II social contract in many of today’s developed economies is breaking down. And even more uncertainty and insecurity are on the way, as new technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics take root.

Given the depth of the transformation ahead, however, it is not just the policies themselves that must change, but the very framework on which they are based. This means abandoning the idea—which has shaped public policy for more than a generation—that the ‘market’ must be the organizing principle for collective decision-making. more>

How digital technology is destroying our freedom

“We’re being steamrolled by our devices” —Douglas Rushkoff
By Sean Illing – There’s a whole genre of literature called “technological utopianism.” It’s an old idea, but it reemerged in the early days of the internet. The core belief is that the world will become happier and freer as science and technology develops.

The role of the internet and social media in everything from the spread of terrorist propaganda to the rise of authoritarianism has dampened much of the enthusiasm about technology, but the spirit of techno-utopianism lives on, especially in places like Silicon Valley.

Douglas Rushkoff, a media theorist at Queens College in New York, is the latest to push back against the notion that technology is driving social progress. His new book, Team Human, argues that digital technology in particular is eroding human freedom and destroying communities.

We’re social creatures, Rushkoff writes in his book, yet we live in a consumer democracy that restricts human connection and stokes “whatever appetites guarantee the greatest profit.” If we want to reestablish a sense of community in this digital world, he argues, we’ll have to become conscious users of our technology — not “passive objects” as we are now.

But what does that mean in practical terms? Technology is everywhere, and we’re all more or less dependent upon it — so how do we escape the pitfalls? more>