Category Archives: Media

Why Corporations Can No Longer Avoid Politics

By Alana Semuels – For decades, most companies went to great lengths to avoid opining on social issues. No longer.

What’s changed? Frustrated with political gridlock, consumers have turned to business for leadership. “I think business has to pick up the mantle when governments fail you,” Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario told TIME earlier this year. Young consumers are also more likely to patronize brands whose business models claim to include social change.

Nine in 10 members of Generation Z, who account for as much as $150 billion in spending power globally, believe that companies have a responsibility to social and environmental issues, according to McKinsey. In an age when companies have detailed information on customers’ ages, incomes and political persuasions, they’re calculating that these socially aware consumers are more lucrative than those who might be put off by social-justice campaigns.

“In a politically polarized world that is saturated in social media, you’re not going to escape politics,” says Jerry Davis, a professor of management and sociology at the University of Michigan. “This is a sea change–in the past, companies kept their heads down and did their best to never be seen.” more>

Europe Wants ‘Strategic Autonomy,’ but That’s Much Easier Said Than Done

By Stewart M. Patrick – Strategic autonomy has obvious appeal to Europeans at a time of fraying trans-Atlantic bonds and deepening great-power competition. Aspiring to self-reliance is one thing, however. Achieving it will require much more from the European Union. The heterogeneous bloc will have to develop a coherent strategic culture and come to some agreement on a shared assessment of threats—and on how the EU should pursue its interests and promote its values internationally.

Europeans must also reassure the United States that any new EU military capabilities will complement rather than undermine NATO.

Europe’s strategic reappraisal is largely, though not entirely, a function of President Donald Trump. While his predecessors in Washington often pressed the Europeans to ramp up defense spending, Trump has upended the trans-Atlantic alliance in several ways. He has depicted it as obsolete, questioned America’s commitments to NATO’s mutual defense as outlined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, and taken precipitous actions without consulting allies in Europe—such as his recent unilateral withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria. Confronting such uncertainty, Europeans naturally want to hedge their bets. One way to do so is by developing autonomous military capabilities that permit them to act outside NATO, including with a post-Brexit United Kingdom.

Washington’s own identification of China as America’s primary economic, technological and strategic adversary reinforces these instincts. Few Europeans share such a zero-sum assessment, seeking instead to pursue what Beijing terms “win-win” relations. While Americans seem bent on a new Cold War with China, Europeans must confront a more immediate military and political threat: an aggressive Russia under Vladimir Putin, right on their doorstep.

Beyond defense matters, Trump’s disruption of U.S. foreign policy has persuaded a growing number of Europeans that they need to pursue strategic autonomy across the board. America’s abdication of global leadership has thrust the EU into an unaccustomed role—that of chief defender of the rules-based, liberal international order. As Trump has embraced unilateralism and protectionism, cozied up to dictators and ignored climate change, the EU has become the primary champion of collective security, multilateralism, human rights and the preservation of the global commons. more>

The planet is burning

By Stephen J Pyne – From the Arctic to the Amazon, from California to Gran Canaria, from Borneo to India to Angola to Australia – the fires seem everywhere. Their smoke obscures subcontinents by day; their lights dapple continents at night, like a Milky Way of flame-stars. Rather than catalogue what is burning, one might more aptly ask: what isn’t? Where flames are not visible, the lights of cities and of gas flares are: combustion via the transubstantiation of coal and oil into electricity. To many observers, they appear as the pilot flames of an advancing apocalypse. Even Greenland is burning.

But the fires we see are only part of our disturbed pyrogeography. Of perhaps equal magnitude is a parallel world of lost, missing and sublimated fires. The landscapes that should have fire and don’t. The marinating of the atmosphere by greenhouse gases. The sites where traditional flame has been replaced by combustion in machines. The Earth’s biota is disintegrating as much by tame fire’s absence as by feral fire’s outbreaks. The scene is not just about the bad burns that trash countrysides and crash into towns; it’s equally about the good fires that have vanished because they are suppressed or no longer lit. Looming over it all is a planetary warming from fossil-fuel combustion that acts as a performance enhancer on all aspects of fire on Earth.

So dire is the picture that some observers argue that the past is irrelevant. We are headed into a no-narrative, no-analogue future. So immense and unimaginable are the coming upheavals that the arc of inherited knowledge that joins us to the past has broken. There is no precedent for what we are about to experience, no means by which to triangulate from accumulated human wisdom into a future unlike anything we have known before. more>

War once helped build nations, now it destroys them

By Mark Kukis – Organized violence – the term war boils down to – has long been a unifier of peoples. Archaeological evidence shows that nearly half those who lived during the last part of the Stone Age in Nubia, an area along the southern reaches of the Nile River, died violent deaths. Many other tribal societies through the ages have shared this mortality pattern, which suggests large-scale mobilization for killing rather than widespread random violence.

Cooperation, mutual dependence, trust – even in killing others – are building blocks of political order, the foundational elements of states.

The advent of agriculture was a prerequisite to long-term human settlements – cities – of any significant size. It gave rise to larger societies, capable of bigger and more elaborate wars. For the dynasties of ancient China, the empires of Mesopotamia and, centuries later, the kingdoms of Europe, waging war was one of their reasons for being.

Frederick William founded and built Prussia to wage war against its many hostile neighbors. Prussia’s clashes with regional rivals during the 17th and 18th centuries made the nation we know today as Germany.

Across this long history from the Stone Age to the modern era, the basic political formula remained the same. Disparate elements of a society learned to cooperate outside familial structures in order to arm themselves for plunder, defense – or both. They formed hierarchies, bureaucracies and institutions that endured and evolved. For emerging nations, the aftermath of the wars imparted important shared experiences too. Defeat could be even more unifying than victory.

The last major nation-building war came in 1980, when Iraq under Saddam Hussein attacked Iran following the Iranian Revolution. When Hussein launched a ferocious assault reminiscent of fighting from the First World War, Iran was woefully unprepared. The Iranian revolutionaries drew on religious commitments to help galvanize legions of fighters. Iranian men young and old flung themselves against Iraqi tank attacks, again and again, until Iraq’s advance ground to a halt.

For Iran, it is difficult to overstate the legitimacy this achievement gave the new regime, and the cohesion the war imparted to Iran. Iranian society cohered around grief, fear and a renewed sense of Persian identity in response to Arab invaders, both Sunni and Shiite.

Since the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), wars have tended to be mainly destructive forces for nations. more>

Preventing digital feudalism

By Mariana Mazzucato – The use and abuse of data by Facebook and other tech companies are finally garnering the official attention they deserve. With personal data becoming the world’s most valuable commodity, will users be the platform economy’s masters or its slaves?

Prospects for democratizing the platform economy remain dim.

Algorithms are developing in ways that allow companies to profit from our past, present, and future behavior – or what Shoshana Zuboff of Harvard Business School describes as our “behavioral surplus.” In many cases, digital platforms already know our preferences better than we do, and can nudge us to behave in ways that produce still more value. Do we really want to live in a society where our innermost desires and manifestations of personal agency are up for sale?

Capitalism has always excelled at creating new desires and cravings. But with big data and algorithms, tech companies have both accelerated and inverted this process. Rather than just creating new goods and services in anticipation of what people might want, they already know what we will want, and are selling our future selves. Worse, the algorithmic processes being used often perpetuate gender and racial biases, and can be manipulated for profit or political gain. While we all benefit immensely from digital services such as Google search, we didn’t sign up to have our behavior cataloged, shaped, and sold.

To change this will require focusing directly on the prevailing business model, and specifically on the source of economic rents. Just as landowners in the seventeenth century extracted rents from land-price inflation, and just as robber barons profited from the scarcity of oil, today’s platform firms are extracting value through the monopolization of search and e-commerce services. more>

Too Much Democracy Is Bad for Democracy

The major American parties have ceded unprecedented power to primary voters. It’s a radical experiment—and it’s failing.
By Jonathan Rauch and Ray La Raja – Americans who tuned in to the first Democratic presidential debates this summer beheld a spectacle that would have struck earlier generations as ludicrous. A self-help guru and a tech executive, both of them unqualified and implausible as national candidates, shared the platform with governors, senators, and a former vice president. Excluded from the proceedings, meanwhile, were the popular Democratic governor of a reliably Republican state and a congressman who is also a decorated former marine.

If the range of participants seemed odd, it was because the party had decided to let small donors and opinion polls determine who deserved the precious national exposure of the debate stage. Those were peculiar metrics by which to make such an important decision, especially given recent history.

Had the Democrats seen something they liked in the 2016 Republican primary? The GOP’s nominating process was a 17-candidate circus in which the party stood by helplessly as it was hijacked by an unstable reality-TV star who was not, by any meaningful standard, a Republican.

Americans rarely pause to consider just how bizarre the presidential nominating process has become. No other major democracy routinely uses primaries to choose its political candidates, nor did the Founders of this country intend for primaries to play a role in the republican system they devised.

Abraham Lincoln did not win his party’s nomination because he ran a good ground game in New Hampshire; rather, Republican elders saw in him a candidate who could unite rival factions within the party and defeat the Democratic nominee in the general election.

Today’s system amounts to a radical experiment in direct democracy, one without precedent even in America’s own political history.

The two major parties made primaries decisive as recently as the early 1970s. Until then, primaries had been more like political beauty contests, which the parties’ grandees could choose to ignore. But after Hubert Humphrey became the Democrats’ 1968 nominee without entering a single primary, outrage in the ranks led the party to put primary voters in charge. Republicans soon followed suit. more>

New Microeconomics: How Evolution Explains Resource Distribution

By Blair Fix – Through years of schooling, mainstream economists are trained to ignore the obvious facts about human nature. The theories that economists learn make it impossible for them to understand human sociality.

Economists are trained that humans are asocial ‘globules of desire’. This is Thorstein Veblen’s satirical term for ‘homo economicus’, the economic model of man.

As Veblen makes clear, economists’ model of human behavior is bizarre. Indeed, the assumptions are so far-fetched that one wonders how this ‘theory’ ever gained acceptance. I’ve spent years trying to make sense of homo economicus as a scientific theory. I’ve concluded that this is a waste of time. Economists’ selfish model of humanity is best treated not as science, but as ideology.

Unlike scientific theories, ideologies are not about the search for ‘truth’. Instead, they are about rationalizing a certain worldview — usually the worldview of the powerful. Economists’ selfish model of humanity is a textbook example.

The discipline of economics emerged during the transition from feudalism to capitalism. During this period of social upheaval, business owners battled to wrench power from the landed aristocracy. To supplant the aristocracy, business owners needed to frame their power as legitimate (and the power of aristocrats as illegitimate). Their solution was devilishly clever. The new business class appealed to autonomy — the mirror opposite of the ideals of feudalism.

Feudalism was based on ideals of servitude and obligation. Serfs were obligated to perform free work for feudal lords. And these lords, in return, were obligated to protect serfs from outside attackers. This web of obligation was rationalized by religion — it was a natural order ordained by God.

To upend this order, business owners championed the ideals of autonomy and freedom. Business owners claimed to want nothing but to be left alone — to pursue profit unfettered by government or aristocratic power. From this world view, the autonomous model of man was born. It had nothing to do with how humans actually behaved. It was about rationalizing the goals of business owners. They wanted power, but they framed it as the pursuit of freedom and autonomy. “Power in the name of freedom” is how Jonathan Nitzan puts it. more>

The Crisis of Social Media

By Adrian Shahbaz and Allie Funk – Internet freedom is increasingly imperiled by the tools and tactics of digital authoritarianism, which have spread rapidly around the globe. Repressive regimes, elected incumbents with authoritarian ambitions, and unscrupulous partisan operatives have exploited the unregulated spaces of social media platforms, converting them into instruments for political distortion and societal control.

While social media have at times served as a level playing field for civic discussion, they are now tilting dangerously toward illiberalism, exposing citizens to an unprecedented crackdown on their fundamental freedoms. Moreover, a startling variety of governments are deploying advanced tools to identify and monitor users on an immense scale.

As a result of these trends, global internet freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2019.

Social media allow ordinary people, civic groups, and journalists to reach a vast audience at little or no cost, but they have also provided an extremely useful and inexpensive platform for malign influence operations by foreign and domestic actors alike.

Political leaders employed individuals to surreptitiously shape online opinions in 38 of the 65 countries covered in this report—a new high.

In many countries, the rise of populism and far-right extremism has coincided with the growth of hyperpartisan online mobs that include both authentic users and fraudulent or automated accounts. They build large audiences around similar interests, lace their political messaging with false or inflammatory content, and coordinate its dissemination across multiple platforms.

Cross-border influence operations, which first drew widespread attention as a result of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential contest, are also an increasingly common problem.

Authorities in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and a growing list of other countries have expanded their efforts to manipulate the online environment and influence foreign political outcomes over the past year. Malicious actors are no doubt emboldened by the failure of democratic states to update transparency and financing rules that are vital to free and fair elections, and apply them effectively to the online sphere. more>

Updates from Adobe

The Courage to Follow a Dream
By Jenny Carless – Changing professions takes courage, hard work, and a little bit of luck, as Lisbon-based illustrator Tiago Galo knows very well: a few years ago, he took a leap of faith and turned a hobby into a successful career.

Working as an architect but still harboring a life-long dream to be an illustrator or comic book artist, Galo entered a major comic book competition in Portugal—and won.

“I took that as a sign that I should embrace my dream once and for all,” he says.

The decision seems to have been a good one, if measured by the clients he has attracted in the past four years—including Google, National Geographic Travel, GQ, Time Out, and the Financial Times. Galo also sells his work as a premium contributor on Adobe Stock.

Galo is self-taught, because when he was starting out as a young artist, few options for studying illustration existed in Portugal.

“The only possibility was to attend some workshops here and there and start your own path,” he says. “That worked well for me, as I was pursuing my own style and techniques.”

Galo’s style is simple and colorful—featuring geometric shapes and exaggerated proportions. more>

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Obama’s Idealists

American Power in Theory and Practice
By Peter Beinart – In different ways, each book traces a narrative arc that begins with a vow, made in young adulthood, to use the United States’ might for good and ends with a sober realization about how hard fulfilling that vow actually is. For Rice, the arc begins with her failure, as a young NSC aide, to rouse the Clinton administration to halt the 1994 Rwandan genocide, after which she pledged “to go down fighting, if ever I saw another instance where I believed U.S. military intervention could . . . make a critical difference in saving large numbers of human lives.” For Power, it starts during her time as a war correspondent in Bosnia, where the besieged residents of Sarajevo asked her to “tell Clinton” about the horrors she had seen. For Rhodes, it begins with 9/11 and the Iraq war, which left him yearning to harness the idealism he felt the Bush administration had squandered.

In each book, three moments during the Obama administration play outsize roles in chastening this youthful idealism: the decision to bomb Libya in 2011, the decision not to bomb Syria in 2013, and the 2016 election.

The problem isn’t that Rice, Power, and Rhodes shade the truth to make themselves look good. To the contrary, all three are, at various points, admirably frank about their mistakes. The problem is that by refusing to reveal what happened behind closed doors, they fail to help readers understand what lessons to draw from the Libya debacle. Is the lesson that presidents who lack the stomach for nation building shouldn’t topple regimes? Is it that the United States needs greater diplomatic capacity? Is it that brutal dictatorships are better than failed states? By not explaining Libya’s lessons, liberal internationalists like Rice, Power, and Rhodes make it easier for nativist bigots like Trump to proffer a lesson of their own: that Washington should care less about people overseas, especially if they are not Christian or white.

In each, the saga of disillusionment reaches its nadir in 2016, with Russia’s electoral interference and Trump’s election. After witnessing the limits of the United States’ ability to defend democracy and human rights abroad, Rice, Power, and Rhodes realize to their horror the limits of its ability to defend those principles at home. When Obama asks Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, to issue a joint statement condemning Russian interference in the election, McConnell refuses, a move that Rhodes calls “staggeringly partisan and unpatriotic.”

Although none of the authors puts it this way, it’s possible to read their books not only as tales of tempered idealism but also as chronicles of America’s declining exceptionalism. In retrospect, the belief in democracy promotion and humanitarian intervention that Rice, Power, and Rhodes embraced early in their careers rested on a faith that democracy was stable at home. With that faith now eroded—and the United States battling its own rising tribalism, authoritarianism, and brutality—it is hard to imagine a book like Power’sA Problem From Hell,” a critique of the country’s repeated failure to stop genocide, becoming the sensation it did in 2002.

As Americans have grown more preoccupied with, and more pessimistic about, their own country’s moral condition, they have turned inward. As a young woman, Power helped expose concentration camps in Bosnia. Today’s young activists are exposing them in Texas. As of September, foreign policy has barely figured in the Democratic presidential debates. more>