Category Archives: Media

Věra Jourová’s love letter to platforms

By Kassandra – “Internet and the platforms can be very important player(s) in the countries where we will see increased power of the government, decreased power of the media, shrunk space of the civil society, and all these factors which we don’t think belong to healthy democratic system. So we should not only think about how to regulate and whether to regulate, and how to minimize the power of big tech – or tech in general; not only big. But we should think about how to enhance and support the positive role which we see necessary.”

It is not, dear Commissioner (European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová), the platforms who are the heroes in these societies where democracy has fragmented but the people who champion democratic values on these platforms. The people whose lives are in danger when they speak out. The journalist, activists, and citizens who, tired of the reality they face, take a stand. If you turn platforms into heroes, perhaps then you should consider them as noble publishers, and not just conduits of information.

It’s as if she has forgotten the ‘bad surprise’ of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica days, or that Google has been found to be functioning anticompetitively in a whole range of issues. This is not a matter of fine and collect. This anticompetitive behavior has been very damaging to European companies and citizens and that is why Jourová’s colleagues running the EU’s competition authorities intervened.

And if Jourová would like to pretend these ‘bad surprises’ are a thing of the past, we have only to look at the latest clashes with the platforms: The EU opening two competition cases with Apple and the awaited outcome of the EU’s probe on Amazon.

In the US – mounting pressure for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to testify in Congress eventually led to a nod from the company signalling this is going to happen.

Meanwhile, in Europe, instead of asking for accountability, and for Bezos to appear – much like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg – in the European Parliament to answer some questions, politicians like Jourová are happy to turn a blind eye. more>

How to Disguise Racism and Oligarchy: Use Economics

By Lynn Parramore – James McGill Buchanan is a name you will rarely hear unless you’ve taken several classes in economics. And if the Tennessee-born Nobel laureate were alive today, it would suit him just fine that most well-informed journalists, liberal politicians, and even many economics students have little understanding of his work.

The reason? Duke historian Nancy MacLean contends that his philosophy is so stark that even young libertarian acolytes are only introduced to it after they have accepted the relatively sunny perspective of Ayn Rand. (Yes, you read that correctly). If Americans really knew what Buchanan thought and promoted, and how destructively his vision is manifesting under their noses, it would dawn on them how close the country is to a transformation most would not even want to imagine, much less accept.

That is a dangerous blind spot, MacLean argues in a meticulously researched book, Democracy in Chains, a finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction. While Americans grapple with Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency, we may be missing the key to changes that are taking place far beyond the level of mere politics. Once these changes are locked into place, there may be no going back.

MacLean’s book reads like an intellectual detective story. In 2010, she moved to North Carolina, where a Tea Party-dominated Republican Party got control of both houses of the state legislature and began pushing through a radical program to suppress voter rights, decimate public services, and slash taxes on the wealthy that shocked a state long a beacon of southern moderation. Up to this point, the figure of James Buchanan flickered in her peripheral vision, but as she began to study his work closely, the events in North Carolina and also Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker was leading assaults on collective bargaining rights, shifted her focus.

Could it be that this relatively obscure economist’s distinctive thought was being put forcefully into action in real time?

MacLean could not gain access to Buchanan’s papers to test her hypothesis until after his death in January 2013. That year, just as the government was being shut down by Ted Cruz & Co., she traveled to George Mason University in Virginia, where the economist’s papers lay willy-nilly across the offices of a building now abandoned by the Koch-funded faculty to a new, fancier center in Arlington.

MacLean was stunned. The archive of the man who had sought to stay under the radar had been left totally unsorted and unguarded. The historian plunged in, and she read through boxes and drawers full of papers that included personal correspondence between Buchanan and billionaire industrialist Charles Koch. That’s when she had an amazing realization: here was the intellectual linchpin of a stealth revolution currently in progress.

Buchanan, a 1940 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University who later attended the University of Chicago for graduate study, started out as a conventional public finance economist. But he grew frustrated by the way in which economic theorists ignored the political process.

Buchanan began working on a description of power that started out as a critique of how institutions functioned in the relatively liberal 1950s and ‘60s, a time when economist John Maynard Keynes’s ideas about the need for government intervention in markets to protect people from flaws so clearly demonstrated in the Great Depression held sway. Buchanan, MacLean notes, was incensed at what he saw as a move toward socialism and deeply suspicious of any form of state action that channels resources to the public. Why should the increasingly powerful federal government be able to force the wealthy to pay for goods and programs that served ordinary citizens and the poor?

In thinking about how people make political decisions and choices, Buchanan concluded that you could only understand them as individuals seeking personal advantage. In an interview cited by MacLean, the economist observed that in the 1950s Americans commonly assumed that elected officials wanted to act in the public interest. Buchanan vehemently disagreed — that was a belief he wanted, as he put it, to “tear down.” His ideas developed into a theory that came to be known as “public choice.”

Buchanan’s view of human nature was distinctly dismal. more>

Related>

The Chinese way

By Lena Deros – The Chinese as people have proven to be very creative and have given the world many things that we use today, including silk, gunpowder, porcelain, and other more specialized items were initially produced in China.

There is also a rumor in some theoretical historical and political analyses that the Chinese have never tried to conquer or take over other nations as other countries have done in the past.

But how true is that theory?

Our research, based on a comprehensive new data set, shows that China has extended many more loans to developing countries than previously known. This systematic underreporting of Chinese loans has created a “hidden debt” problem – meaning that debtor countries and international institutions alike have an incomplete picture on how much countries around the world owe to China and under which conditions.

In total, the Chinese state and its subsidiaries have lent about $1.5 trillion in direct loans and trade credits to more than 150 countries around the globe. This has turned China into the world’s largest official creditor — surpassing traditional, official lenders such as the World Bank, the IMF, or all OECD creditor governments combined.

Despite the large size of China’s overseas lending boom, no official data exists on the resulting debt flows and stocks. China does not report on its international lending and Chinese loans literally fall through the cracks of traditional data-gathering institutions.

Credit rating agencies, such as Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s, or data providers, such as Bloomberg, focus on private creditors, but China’s lending is sponsored by the Communist Party, and therefore off their radar. Debtor countries themselves often do not collect data on debt owed by state-owned companies, which are the main recipients of Chinese loans. In addition, China is not a member of the Paris Club (an informal group of creditor nations) or the OECD, both of which collect data on lending by official creditors. more>

Updates from Adobe

The Future Is Now
By Laura Staugaitis – Dramatic, intriguing, thoughtful, and beautiful: Seoul-based creative Giseok Cho crafts powerful images, but he says he doesn’t consider his photographs to be art. “I think I’m doing it to express beauty from my perspective,” he says. The photographer builds careful compositions filled with rich colors and luxurious textures that surround solitary figures. His mysterious portraits blur boundaries of time, culture, and gender, leaving the viewer to wonder about the worlds his ephemeral characters come from—what moments have just passed, or are about to arrive.

When asked about how he wants viewers to relate to the characters in his photographs, Cho counters that he doesn’t necessarily have goals like that in mind. “I just want to do what I want, and want people to think that person does his thing.” Rather than making individual statements about his subjects, Cho prefers to keep his imagery more conceptually high-level, reflecting the complexities of Korean culture, the fickleness of fashion, and the ambiguity of beauty.

The photographer’s carefully staged portraits draw on his background in the fashion industry. Cho has worked as a graphic designer, set designer, and art director, crafting imagined worlds to bring Korean fashion to life. He continues to use fashion as a powerful means of expression, taking advantage of the ever-changing aesthetics. “Fashion has so much to offer to express beauty, and it’s dynamic, so there’s a lot of variety. It’s fun for me.” more>

Related>

Updates from Chicago Booth

The notorious failure contains valuable lessons for investors
By James E. Schrager – Amid the many stories of business turmoil this spring has produced, the legal drama surrounding WeWork and its lead investor, SoftBank Group, stands out for its roots not in disease and social distancing, but old-fashioned bad decision-making.

In early April, WeWork announced it had filed a lawsuit against SoftBank for backing out of a tender offer to purchase about $3 billion of WeWork stock, an offer made as part of a bailout package from SoftBank after WeWork’s planned initial public offering fell through last fall. About a month later, WeWork cofounder and former CEO Adam Neumann, who could have sold up to nearly $1 billion of stock as part of the tender offer, filed his own suit against SoftBank.

To the uninitiated, the saga of WeWork’s journey toward an IPO—which was abandoned after a precipitous decline in the company’s valuation, from $47 billion to $8 billion—must have raised a number of questions.

Is it typical for failed founders to demand nearly a billion dollars for their efforts, as Neumann has done, no matter how badly things turn out?

Is an entrepreneur’s compensation package directly and positively proportional to the amount of money he loses for investors?

Are startup funds so abundant, borrowing costs so low, and big risks so encouraged that giant paydays are the rule even for losing CEOs? more>

Related>

We are Hong Kong

By Chris Patten – In my final speech as Hong Kong’s governor on June 30, 1997, a few hours before I left the city on Britain’s royal yacht, I remarked that “Now, Hong Kong people are to run Hong Kong. That is the promise. And that is the unshakable destiny.”

That promise was contained in the 1984 Joint Declaration, a treaty signed by China and the United Kingdom and lodged at the United Nations. The deal was clear, and the guarantee to Hong Kong’s citizens was absolute: the return of the city from British to Chinese sovereignty would be governed by the principle of “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong would have a high degree of autonomy for 50 years, until 2047, and would continue to enjoy all the freedoms associated with an open society under the rule of law.

But with his recent decision to impose a draconian new security law on Hong Kong, Chinese President Xi Jinping has ridden roughshod over the Joint Declaration and directly threatened the city’s freedom. Defenders of liberal democracy must not stand idly by.

For over a decade after the 1997 handover, China largely kept its promise regarding “one country, two systems.” True, not everything was perfect. China retreated from its promise that Hong Kong could determine its own democratic government in the Legislative Council, and the Chinese government periodically interfered in the life of the city. In 2003, for example, it abandoned an attempt to introduce legislation on issues such as sedition – an odd priority in a peaceful and moderate community – in the face of mass public protests.

Overall, however, even skeptics conceded that things had gone pretty well. But China-Hong Kong relations started to deteriorate after Xi became president in 2013 and dusted off the playbook of aggressive and brutal Leninism. Xi reversed many of his immediate predecessors’ policy changes, and the Communist Party of China reasserted control over every aspect of Chinese society, including economic management.

Xi toughened the party’s grip on civil society and universities, and cracked down on any sign of dissident activity. He demonstrated that his regime’s word could not be trusted internationally, for example by reneging on promises he had made to US President Barack Obama that China would not militarize the atolls and islands it was seizing illegally in the South China Sea. more>

Updates from McKinsey

A transformative moment for philanthropy
Here’s how the positive changes in individual and institutional philanthropy sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic can take root and grow.
By Tracy Nowski, Maisie O’Flanagan, and Lynn Taliento – The philanthropic response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the sector at its best. From the launch of community-based rapid-response funds to the development of diagnostics and vaccines, philanthropy is showing up both to help flatten the curve in the short term and to address the inequities the crisis will exacerbate over the long term.

What’s striking is not only the scale of capital being committed by major philanthropists (at least $10.3 billion globally in May 2020, according to Candid, which is tracking major grants) but also how it is being given: at record speed, with fewer conditions, and in greater collaboration with others. According to the Council on Foundations, almost 750 foundations have signed a public pledge to streamline grant-making processes, and individual donors are partnering with their peers to make sizable grants with less paperwork.

Confronted with the global pandemic, individual and institutional philanthropy has been responsive, engaged, and nimble. The challenge—and opportunity—for the sector will be to make those features stick. The gravitational pull toward old ways of working will be strong, especially as philanthropies grapple with the impact of an economic downturn on their own endowments. But many of the practices that have emerged during this pandemic, including the five that we highlight in this article, should be expanded and formalized as the world heads into the long process of recovery.

Over the past 20 years, the philanthropic sector has adopted a more data-driven and rigorous approach. While those developments have strengthened the field in many ways, they have made the process of seeking and managing grants more cumbersome, especially for small, community-based organizations. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated moves to reduce those hurdles, prompting many foundations to relax grant requirements, speed up decision making, and give recipients additional flexibility in how they use funds.

What would it take to simplify further the processes for grant approval and reporting? Looking to college admissions for inspiration, imagine a common application for grant seekers, similar to the Common App platform that enables students to apply to many colleges using a single application. more>

Related>

Updates from Adobe

Ryan Brown Is on the Move
By Terri Stone – Ryan Brown isn’t one for sitting still. Whether he’s running a brand’s creative strategy or running marathons, the art director is always on the move. “It just feels good to learn and grow,” he says.

Brown’s diverse client roster includes everything from Chelsea Football Club to an underwriting company. He’s even been his own customer as the head of brand and creative for the Aaron Lewis Foundation. (Brown founded the charity to honor a friend killed in action in Afghanistan.)

The Londoner is well-versed in brand strategy. “It’s an area I’ve always loved,” Brown says. “If you create a brand that has purpose and is authentic, then you create a believable, trustworthy brand, and there’s something so rewarding about that.” While at Chelsea Football Club, his role expanded from senior designer to being involved in the club’s repositioning worldwide. “It gave me a front row seat on how to create and implement a strategic positioning of a brand on a global scale.”

But Brown takes care not to lose touch with the hands-on work. “One of my skills is that I can support my team by jumping in at any phase of a project if need be, from ideation through artwork,” he says. “I think it helps keep the lines of communications open with the team.” more>

Related>

The rule of law is under duress everywhere

By Ted Piccone – Anyone paying attention to major events of the day in the United States and around the world would know that the basic social fabric is fraying from a toxic mix of ills — inequality, dislocation, polarization, environmental distress, scarce resources, and more. Signs abound that after decades of uneven but steady human progress, we are digging a deeper and muddier hole for ourselves. The principal reason for this pessimism is not the material facts of decline — we have lived through worse times before — but the crumbling consensus around how to overcome such crises. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is fast becoming the latest stress test for whether the social contract can hold.

The roadmap for climbing out of the trough should begin with the understanding that the rule of law is the sine qua non of more successful societies. Societies with strong rule of law have built-in mechanisms for mediating conflicts through open and inclusive debate, in which all voices are treated equally, and outcomes are perceived as fair and reasonable.

Unfortunately, as documented by the latest findings of the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index, the rule of law is declining around the world for the third year in a row. The trends are widespread and persistent: The majority of countries that declined in the 2020 rule of law scores also deteriorated in the previous year, and weaker or stagnating performance occurred in the majority of countries in every region and across every income group.

Of particular concern is that countries experienced the biggest declines over the past year in the areas of fundamental rights (54 countries declined, 29 improved), constraints on government powers (52 declined, 28 improved), and absence of corruption (51 declined, 26 improved). These three factors of the World Justice Project (WJP) Index saw the worst performance globally over a five-year time period as well.

In short, the key rule of law elements that undergird accountable governance, and relatedly, citizens’ trust in their leaders, are in retreat, in both established democracies like the United States, and in entrenched autocracies, from Russia to China to Venezuela. In this context, the rise of populist anger and social protests should come as little surprise. more>

Updates from Adobe

Jimmie Robinson & the Teenage Heroes of East Oakland
By Jane Selle Morgan – Jimmie started this cover-to-cover practice as a kid, drawing what he saw on television. “I would create one scene,” he remembers, “and then I would create another scene, and I didn’t even know it, but I was creating sequential artwork at the time. I would staple them all together to make my own books.”

Jimmie is a California native who grew up in Oakland, so it tugged his hometown heart strings to learn that advocacy group ​Oakland Kids First was looking to produce an original comic book as part of a statewide initiative. Oakland Kids First wanted a​ fun and visually engaging community resource to communicate complicated issues that continue to oppress and challenge the everyday lives of the people of East Oakland—and the group needed an artist to bring it to life. ​Jimmie applied and was quickly chosen to illustrate the book.

In this ​mini-documentary​, you’ll meet Jimmie and hear about his process, while getting to know more about the perspective of Jimmie, Oakland Kids First, and the four high school kids sharing their experiences while collaborating on the Town Force One Comic Book. more>

Related>