Category Archives: Leadership

In 1939, I didn’t hear war coming. Now its thundering approach can’t be ignored

BOOK REVIEW

Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future, Author: Harry Leslie Smith.

By Harry Leslie Smith – Because I am old, now 94, I recognize these omens of doom.

Chilling signs are everywhere, perhaps the biggest being that the US allows itself to be led by Donald Trump, a man deficient in honour, wisdom and just simple human kindness. It is as foolish for Americans to believe that their generals will save them from Trump as it was for liberal Germans to believe the military would protect the nation from Hitler’s excesses.

Britain also has nothing to be proud of. Since the Iraq war our country has been on a downward decline, as successive governments have eroded democracy and social justice, and savaged the welfare state with austerity, leading us into the cul de sac of Brexit. Like Trump, Brexit cannot be undone by liberal sanctimony – it can only be altered if the neoliberal economic model is smashed, as if it were a statue of a dictator, by a liberated people. more> https://goo.gl/HaqHQ7

Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War?

By Robin Wright – The more relevant question after Charlottesville—and other deadly episodes in Ferguson, Charleston, Dallas, St. Paul, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria—is where the United States is headed. How fragile is the Union, our republic, and a country that has long been considered the world’s most stable democracy?

The dangers are now bigger than the collective episodes of violence. America’s stability is increasingly an undercurrent in political discourse.

Based on his experience in civil wars on three continents, Keith Mines cited five conditions that support his prediction: entrenched national polarization, with no obvious meeting place for resolution; increasingly divisive press coverage and information flows; weakened institutions, notably Congress and the judiciary; a sellout or abandonment of responsibility by political leadership; and the legitimization of violence as the “in” way to either conduct discourse or solve disputes. more> https://goo.gl/W6awUm

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How Trump v Kim can wreck the world economy without a shot being fired

By Larry Elliott – The assumption underlying the muted response is that there will be no war between the US and North Korea, nuclear or otherwise, and that the smart investment play is to buy into any dips.

The markets are part right. It still looks unlikely that Trump will sanction a pre-emptive strike. Kim knows that, which is why he would be dumb to up the ante by aiming some missiles into the sea off Guam first.

But the financial markets – and the broader global economy – could still turn nasty in an repeat of what happened 10 years ago even without a shooting war.

For a start, the world has never really recovered from the last crisis. Growth rates have been weak and have only been possible because years of low interest rates and quantitative easing have encouraged consumers and businesses to rack up large amounts of debt. As the economist Steve Keen notes in his new book Can we avoid another financial crisis (Polity), many countries have become what he calls debt junkies.

“They face the junkie’s dilemma, a choice between going ‘cold turkey’ now, or continuing to shoot up on credit and experience a bigger bust later.”

Keen says the countries to watch out for have two characteristics: they already have high levels of personal debt and have relied substantially on credit as a source of demand in the past five years. Australia, Canada, South Korea, Sweden and Norway are all on his list of candidates to be future debt zombies. But so is China. more> https://goo.gl/f7WBnq

These 5 Countries Are Killing It in the Battle Against Climate Change

By Raya Bidshahri – When it comes to climate change, government leaders and politicians must begin to think beyond their term limits and lifetimes. They must ask themselves not how they can serve their voters, but rather how they can contribute to our species’ progress. They must think beyond the short term economic benefits of fossil fuels, and consider the long term costs to our planet.

Climate change is considered one of the greatest threats to our species. If current trends continue, we can expect an increase in frequency of extreme weather events like floods, droughts and heat waves. All of these pose a threat to crops, biodiversity, freshwater supplies and above all, human life.

Here are examples of a few countries leading the way.

Denmark: Considered the most climate-friendly country in the world, Denmark is on the path to be completely independent of fossil fuels by 2050.

China: Home to the world’s biggest solar farm, China is the world’s biggest investor in domestic solar energy and is also expanding its investments in renewable energies overseas.

France: Thanks to the production of nuclear energy, representing 80 percent of nationwide energy production, France has already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions.

India: The nation is on the path to becoming the third-largest solar market in the world. Solar power has become cheaper than coal in India.

Sweden: Sweden has passed a law that obliges the government to cut all greenhouse emissions by 2045. With more than half of its energy coming from renewable sources and a very successful recycling program, the country leads many initiatives on climate change. more> https://goo.gl/PPrn3b

The Psychology of a Nuclear Standoff

By Tom Jacobs – The “nuclear taboo” has held for 70 years for two reasons, according to Jacques Hymans: “the enormity of the decision of use nuclear weapons,” and the unpredictability of the consequences of doing so. Nevertheless, he warns, these are dangerous times.

New nuclear states have always been highly interested in trying to use their weapons as means of compellence, i.e. threats to get some benefit. New leaders have also had such tendencies. This is understandable, because it takes time and experience to accept the counterintuitive reality that the biggest bomb in the world is mostly useless as a military weapon, and therefore also useless as a means of compellence. So, history teaches us that both the U.S. and North Korea at present are liable to try to push their nuclear luck. That makes for a dangerous situation.

The chances are higher that the U.S. will launch first. But this would be a terrible humanitarian catastrophe and the U.S. would lose Asia politically for a hundred years. more> https://goo.gl/CtHxCU

A decade after the crisis’ first tremor, are we ready for another?

By David Wessel – It was 10 years ago, on Aug. 9, 2007, that France’s BNP Paribas suspended withdrawals from three funds that held U.S. mortgages, a move seen in hindsight as the first tremor of the global financial crisis that shook the world economy.

So this seems a good moment to ask if we are ready for the next financial crisis. The short answer is: No.

Dodd-Frank created a way to “resolve” (that is, wipe out the shareholders, convert some debt to equity and sell off the pieces) of any future Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers or AIG so that the Federal Reserve and other agencies don’t have to improvise the way it did in 2008 and we don’t suffer the aftershocks of a Lehman-style bankruptcy. This “orderly liquidation authority” is under assault from Republicans in Congress. My bet is that it will survive, but we really won’t know how well this new mechanism works until it has been tested.

The politics of responding to an economy-shaking financial crisis are never easy: What’s needed to protect the economy from another Great Depression will never be popular politically because it looks like bailing out the very folks who created the problem in the first place. more> https://goo.gl/btZKrd

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Remaking the Presidency

By Joseph P. Williams – The willingness to buck convention, smash important precedents and use Twitter like a shotgun has historians and analysts considering whether the impulsive CEO president, unbound by political customs and arguably unaware of limits to his authority, has redefined the office for his successor while tailoring it for himself.

“Trump was elected to blow up the office,” says Jeremi Suri, a historian and scholar at The University of Texas-Austin. Mission accomplished, Suri says – but at a price, for the Republican Party, the president’s own legacy and perhaps American democracy.

“You’re going to see something about presidential reforms coming out of this horrible period we’re in right now,” Suri says. Trump, he says, has destroyed “the myth of a true government outsider” running the country, and likely has paved the way for an experienced outsider, like a governor or low-profile congress member, to take his place.

In the next election cycle, “we’re likely to see a full sweep – a new Congress intent on curbing presidential power and recalibrating the checks and balances.”

“The Trump style of the presidency has only resonated with about 30 to 35 percent of the public,” says Jonathan Turley, who notes that a president’s public-approval rating is directly proportional to his or her leverage with Congress. That means Trump is operating at a power deficit, he adds, and therefore “I’m not sure that future presidents would view this administration as a model to replicate.” more> https://goo.gl/Dv7Dwn

The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power, And Status In The Twenty-first Century

BOOK REVIEW

The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power, and Status in the Twenty-first Century, Author: Ryan Avent.

By Ryan Avent – The digital revolution actually is probably going to be as transformative as the industrial revolution and the big technologies like electricity and steam that we saw then were. I think this transformation has already begun, and ironically, the evidence of that is in the struggles that we’re seeing across lots of countries that workers are facing in terms of limited growth in wages, in terms of rising inequality.

What my book tries to point out though is that in fact the biggest effect is not going to be mass unemployment. The biggest effect of the digital revolution is not going to be massive numbers of workers who just can’t find any work; it’ll be that the work they find ends up being very low-paying, because the displacement effect of these new technologies is so great, and the economy is asked to absorb so many new workers, that that’s just going to put an incredible amount of downward pressure on wages. That’s the real short-run challenge, I think.

.. The difficulty I think, again, comes in deciding who is entitled to a share of that ownership. If you’re socialising the gains, is that limited to citizens of the country, and then are any immigrant workers second-class citizens? If you don’t limit it, then suddenly you probably have social pressure to shut out immigrants, and then that leaves people on the outside of the country all the poorer. more> https://goo.gl/1iz2EU

Why a Consumption Tax May not Make any Sense at All

By Steve Roth – You often hear calls out there — mostly from Right economists but also from some on the Left — for a consumption tax in the U.S. As presented, it’s a super-simple idea: tally your income, subtract your saving, and what’s left is your consumption. You pay taxes on that.

We want to encourage thrifty saving and discourage profligate consumption, so what’s not to like?

Start with a simple pared-down household. The only accounting complication is that they own a house.

How much did this household “save”? Should the interest payments count as consumption? The principal payments almost certainly should not. But what about home maintenance? A new paint job increases your home’s asset value. Should you depreciate that asset value over some years? Or say you buy new appliances for your kitchen: You’re cash out of pocket, but your home is worth more. Are those purchases “consumption”?

This notion of some simple tally of your “saving” starts to look more complicated.

The tuition line raises a particularly vexing question, and brings us back to the second question: what economic effects would we see from a consumption tax, under various accounting and taxation rules? Clearly, if you tax tuition, you discourage education.

And consider more-prosperous families paying for private school. Are those families “consuming” more education than public-school families? Those households would be especially hard hit if tuition counts as taxable consumption — as would those private schools. Is that A Good Thing? more> https://goo.gl/LZSRZd

Why Is Donald Trump Still So Horribly Witless About the World?

By Robin Wright – “The President has little understanding of the context”—of what’s happening in the world—“and even less interest in hearing the people who want to deliver it,” Michael Hayden, a retired four-star general and former director of both the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency, told me.

“He’s impatient, decision-oriented, and prone to action. It’s all about the present tense. When he asks, ‘What the hell’s going on in Iraq?’ people around him have learned not to say, ‘Well, in 632 . . . ’ ” (That was the year when the Prophet Muhammad died, prompting the beginning of the Sunni-Shiite split.)

Trump’s policy mistakes, large and small, are taking a toll. “American leadership in the world—how do I phrase this, it’s so obvious, but apparently not to him—is critical to our success, and it depends eighty per cent on the credibility of the President’s word,” John McLaughlin, who worked at the C.I.A. under seven Presidents, from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, and ended up as the intelligence agency’s acting director, told me.

“Trump thinks having a piece of chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago bought him a relationship with Xi Jinping. He came in as the least prepared President we’ve had on foreign policy,” McLaughlin added. “Our leadership in the world is slipping away. It’s slipping through our hands.” more> https://goo.gl/Nza7eC