Category Archives: Leadership

The Fraying of the Trump Brand

Experts say President Trump is damaging his party and its candidates’ election prospects
By Susan Milligan – Trump is regarded as a master brander in the commercial arena, building real estate and entertainment businesses heavily attached to his name. More like a Martha Stewart than, say, a Kraft Foods, Trump personifies the product he is selling. And when Trump – now suffering from historically low approval ratings in the low-to-mid 30s – struggles, so does the GOP brand he effectively took over when he became the party’s presidential nominee and then commander-in-chief, political and branding specialists say.

“When you’ve got a brand that is tied to a personality, it can be incredibly strong and incredibly vulnerable. It is tied to a human being, and that human being’s actions and people’s feelings about it, as opposed to the performance of a standardized product or service,” says Jason Karpf, a marketing and public relations consultant based in Minnesota. What Trump is attempting now, Karpf says, is what I known in the marketing world as a “brand extension,” this one, into the political world. But the effort has been sloppy at best and offensive at worst, experts say, threatening to do serious damage to the GOP brand as a whole.

And perhaps most troubling for the GOP, there have been ominous signs that suburban voters are moving away from Trump’s party.

Those are ominous signs for Republicans, whose party is being branded by an outsider president who prefers provocative remarks about sexual harassment complainants, protesting NFL players and white supremacist demonstrators to the blue-chip GOP agenda of smaller government and lower taxes. more>

Our enemies are human: that’s why we want to kill them

BOOK REVIEW

Virtuous Violence, Authors: Alan Fiske and Tage Rai.
Out of Character, Authors: David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdesolo.

By Tage Rai, Piercarlo Valdesolo and Jesse Graham – Ever since Rohingya militants attacked Myanmar police outposts, resulting in a dozen deaths in August 2017, Myanmar security forces have begun a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

This process of dehumanisation has been invoked to explain acts of violence ranging from the Holocaust and the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib to the ethnic violence against the Rohingya people. However, our recent research suggests that this explanation is mistaken.

To understand the active desire to cause pain and suffering in another person, we have to look to a counter-intuitive source: human morality.

We show in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2017, dehumanization allows us to commit instrumental violence, wherein people do not desire to harm victims, but knowingly harm them anyway in order to achieve some other objective. However, dehumanization does not cause us to commit moral violence, where people actively desire to harm victims who deserve it. We find that moral violence emerges only when perpetrators see victims as capable of thinking, experiencing sensations and having moral emotions. In other words, when perpetrators perceive their victims as human.

What we found was that dehumanizing victims predicts support for instrumental violence, but not for moral violence. For example, Americans who saw Iraqi civilians as less human were more likely to support drone strikes in Iraq. In this case, no one wants to kill innocent civilians, but if they die as collateral damage in the pursuit of killing ISIS terrorists, dehumanizing them eases our guilt. Dehumanization might not cause a white supremacist to kill, but it does enable the rest of us to stand aside and do nothing. more>

A Nobel laureate explains why we get the bad economic policies we deserve

BOOK REVIEW

Economics for the Common Good, Author: Jean Tirole.

By Eshe Nelson – The relationship between economics and politics is starting to unravel. Over the past year, many have sought to explain Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and the rise of far-right and far-left politics in Europe using economic arguments. But it’s becoming clear that economics alone does not explain the situation. If the questions at the root of public life are no longer answered by the famous political dictum, “It’s the economy, stupid,” where does that leave economists?

First we have to make sure people respect intellectuals. For that, the intellectuals have to do the right thing. Then, you have to limit frustrations. People who voted for Trump, or Brexit, or Le Pen and Mélenchon in France are by and large very concerned about their future with robots, with rising debts, with inequality and unemployment. We have neglected some people, the losers of globalization, and we have a society that’s more and more unequal. It might get worse, unfortunately, with new technology.

When people are afraid or upset, they also tend to dismiss their current governments and the experts. They want a big change, which is often supplied by populists who offer fairytales and the wrong policies. People are trying to grab something that will give them hope.

.. No, we are not moving in the right direction. more>

Fake news and botnets: how Russia weaponized the web

By Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus – Estonia boasts the most technologically advanced system of government in the world.

Every citizen possesses a digital identity – an identification number and login code for access to completely digitized interactions with the state. Estonians can vote online, file their taxes, check medical records, access the national health care system, and receive notifications of most government attempts to access their personal records. About 97% of the country uses digital banking. The Estonian national ethic is built on the idea that every citizen is transparent and the state is too. This makes Estonia extremely efficient – and extremely vulnerable.

“We live in the future. Online banking, online news, text messages, online shopping – total digitization has made everything quicker and easier,” Jaan Priisalu said. “But it also creates the possibility that we can be thrown back centuries in a couple of seconds.”

The question is how the west can maintain its core values of freedom of speech and the free flow of information while protecting itself from malevolent geopolitical actors? For centuries, eastern European countries such as Estonia relied on walls, watchtowers, and fortresses to keep out invaders. The US became the world’s most powerful country in part because it was insulated from foreign threats by vast oceans on two sides. In the internet age, traditional borders are less effective.

To survive in the era of information warfare, every society will have to create ways of withstanding cyber-attacks. more>

Humanity’s fight against climate change is failing. One technology can change that.

By Akshat Rathi – The optimism surrounding renewable energy masks some harsh realities. Despite decades of progress, about 80% of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels—the same as in the 1970s. Since then, we’ve kept adding renewable capacity, but it hasn’t outpaced the growth of the world’s population and its demand for energy.

Today, about 30% of total world energy (and 40% of the world’s electricity) is supplied by coal, which emits more carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced than nearly any other fuel source.

The hugely valuable oil and gas industries, accounting for 33% and 24% of total world energy use, respectively, are also entrenched. “Based on what we know now, we would need major technological breakthroughs or weak world growth, including for large emerging and developing economies, for oil demand to peak in the next 20 years,” says Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti of the International Monetary Fund. Despite the growth in electric vehicles, most oil companies agree that peak oil is “not in sight.”

If you’re still not convinced, consider this: there are a handful of industries essential to the modern way of life that generate large amounts of carbon dioxide as a side product of the chemistry of their manufacturing process. These carbon-intensive industries—including cement, steel, and ethanol—produce about 20% of all global emissions.

If we want to keep using these products and reach zero emissions, the only option is to have these industries deploy carbon capture. more>

Don’t be fooled by China’s grand plan to rule the world

By Gwynn Guilford – The “China is taking over the world” meme is a perennial one.

As usual, this argument overlooks what’s happening within China’s borders. That includes: a credit-driven growth model that has left debt growing faster than the economy, the continued dominance of inefficient state-owned enterprises (SOEs) at the expense of dynamic private firms, and a fiscal system that depends on a housing bubble to sustain it.

David Ignatius bemoans the rail line buildout connecting China to Europe and Eurasia while bypassing US-controlled sea lanes, but by exporting its short-term growth formula for wasteful investments abroad, Xi Jinping is compounding the already huge risk that befouls China’s financial system.

Thanks to China’s size, running even a slight surplus means foisting massive deficits on its trade partners, as well as the debt and unemployment that accompany those, as we’ve argued before. And as Xi’s goal of self-sufficiency and manufacturing-export dominance—articulated in the Made in China 2025 plan, which focuses on Chinese dominance of artificial intelligence, robotics, and other high-tech sectors—makes clear, it’s not just BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) countries that will be on the receiving end of Chinese mercantilism.

The core problem for China is: Power doesn’t guarantee competence. And Xi’s handling of the domestic economy in the past half-decade suggests a dearth of the latter. more>

The Missing Role Models

Public officials used to be worthy of being looked up to – not anymore.
By Kenneth T. Walsh – Where have all the role models gone?

They certainly are vanishing from politics and government, at least based on the seemingly endless series of accusations and admissions involving famous politicians and public officials who have been engulfed in the swamp of alleged sexual misbehavior.

Now the media are investigating public figures more thoroughly than ever, and are more willing than ever to expose the flaws they find. And people with grievances against public figures are increasingly willing to go public.

Trump, at the top of the political pyramid, has been widely condemned for failing to live up to the standards of civility, decency and honesty that have been expected of presidents for many years. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told CNN recently: “The president has great difficulty with the truth on many issues….I don’t know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard and debases our country in the way that he does, but he does.”

Questioning Trump’s “stability,” Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump is not a “role model” for the world and for America’s children, and added: “I think at the end of the day when his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth-telling, just the name calling, I think the debasement of our nation will be what he’ll be remembered most for, and that’s regretful.” more>

How to rig an election in three not-so-easy steps

BOOK REVIEW

Primary Politics, Author: Elaine Kamarck.

By Elaine Kamarck – The first and most straightforward way to “rig” an election is to arrange to steal votes.

One popular tactic of the big-city political machines was to vote the graveyards. They would get a group of people who went from precinct to precinct voting in the name of people who had died and were still on the rolls. This was pretty easy to do in the days before computer technology could update voter rolls.

The list of other ways you can commit electoral fraud is lengthy. Voter intimidation, vote buying, disinformation, confusing or misleading ballots, ballot stuffing, mis-recording of votes, destruction of ballots, tampering with voting machines, and voter impersonation are just a few. more>

The new geopolitics

By Bruce Jones – America’s politics are mired in dysfunction and division. Much of the focus is on economic questions, and much of the heat is generated by the culture wars; but real wars—and America’s role in them—are part of the debate too.

While this debate preoccupies America, the world is changing, and rapidly. We have entered a new phase in international affairs, leaving behind us the brief moment characterized by untrammeled American dominance. Many of the changes underway are beyond America’s control. However, some dynamics could still be shaped by concerted and disciplined American policy—and might. Whether we are capable of that in the current moment remains to be seen, as does the price Americans are willing to pay to do so.

To paraphrase Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, America is entitled to decide what role we want to play in the world, but we are not entitled to pretend the world is not changing around us.

We are operating in a changing system that has an asymmetric bipolarity at its core, and a fluid, economic multipolarity orbiting around it. It has the following additional features.

First, we are in an undeclared arms race between the United States and China.

Several major countries are debating whether they can rely on the United States to maintain inter-state security in their region (to balance China’s rise in Asia; to contain Iran in the Middle East; to curtail Russian aggression in Europe), at which point those powers seek continued or deeper alignment with Washington.

The tools of renewed geopolitical competition differ depending on the type of state in play. Advanced economies are playing an insidious game of “confront and conceal,” with cyber intrusions, discreet or disguised financial influence, and disinformation to influence or disrupt an opponent’s internal politics.

In less advanced economies, large-scale infrastructure spending combined with political pressure and corruption has emerged as the technique of choice by the great powers, while counter-corruption campaigns are the vehicle for domestic purges. more>

Democratizing the digital

BOOK REVIEW

The Egyptians: A Radical History of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution, Author: Jack Shenker.
Hope in the Dark, Author: Rebecca Solnit.
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Author: Cathy O’Neil.

By Jack Shenker – Digital technologies are changing politics as we know it, but not because of some inherent or immutable characteristic that stands apart from the world in which they were created. Instead, these technologies have helped an underlying condition, namely growing discontent at marketization – the privatizing of ever more goods, services and social interactions, and the ideologies that justify that process – to find meaningful expression in the formal political arena. The result has been successive electoral shockwaves that have shattered long-held certainties and splintered the political spectrum.

Ironically, digital technologies are capable of playing this role precisely because in reality their own development and logic owes so much to market forces. Behind the advertising copy, Apple, Amazon and the other tech giants share far more with the Enclosure Acts of the Tudor period than they do with the common land those acts so violently eroded. Facebook, Twitter and co are simultaneously creatures of a neoliberal orthodoxy and engines of its crisis.

But contained within this irony is a kernel of hope: not only that such technologies are not necessarily antithetical to the sort of politics we should be fighting for – a sort that places the ideals of Tahrir above those of the Egypt it stood against – but also that they could yet play a vital role in rejuvenating them.

Our struggle must be to find new ways to harness digital technologies to a stronger, more robust and inclusionary democracy: one that relies neither on thin forms of representation nor the false comforts of rule-by-plebiscite. more>