2.16.2017

POPULISM TRUMP-STYLE: A THREAT TO DEMOCRACY ?

My latest article, just out on Impakter Magazine

TRUMP POPULISM: A THREAT TO DEMOCRACY ?




BOOK REVIEW: WHAT IS POPULISM? BY JAN-WERNER MÜLLER 

UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA PRESS, AUGUST 22, 2016. 136 PAGES. 

From Brexit, the referendum that kicked the UK out of the EU, to Trump’s election predicated on “draining the swamp” in Washington and making “America Great Again”, the sudden rise of populist nationalism shook the US and Europe in 2016. With Trump in the driving seat, what will 2017 hold? Should we worry?


A new book “What is Populism?” by Jan-Werner Müller, a noted German political scientist, brings much needed answers. It provides an elegant explanation of a phenomenon of our times, populism, that threatens to upend the post-World War II global order as we know it.

WHO IS THE AUTHOR AND WHY SHOULD WE PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT HE SAYS?

Professor Jan-Werner Müller, born in 1970, comes with impressive credentials:  he studied at the Berlin Free University; London University College; Oxford St. Antony’s College and Princeton University. He was a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford (1996-2003) and a Fellow in Modern European Thought at the European Studies Centre, St. Antony’s College (2003-2005). Since then he has been teaching in the Politics Department, Princeton University where he currently directs the Project in the History of Political Thought at the University Center for Human Values.

“What is Populism?” was first published in Germany in April 2016 (by Surhkamp) and brought out in English (by University of Pennsylvania Press) last August with some modifications to adapt it to an American audience; but the interesting analysis of Hungary’s dramatic slide into autocracy under populist strongman Viktor Orban has remained intact. Considering Orban’s style of government (for example, in his recent “State of Hungary” speech on 10 February, he violently attacked the billionaire philanthropist George Soros, see Fox News report here) and his plan to run for re-election in 2018, that section of Muller’s book is highly relevant.

The book is short, some 130 pages, consisting of just three chapters, an easy read, made all the easier that the conclusion consists of “Seven Theses on Populism” that neatly summarize the whole book. It has drawn attention in academic circles and sells well on Amazon (ranked #11 in the category “comparative politics” at the time of writing).

WHAT EXACTLY IS “POPULISM” AND WHY SHOULD WE WORRY?

As Müller notes in his introduction, “no US election in living memory has seen as many invocations of ‘populism’ as the one unfolding in 2015-16”. And the same can be said now of the coming elections in Europe, in some key EU member countries: France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy (though elections in the latter may be postponed to next year).

In all these countries, populist parties are on the rise and all uniformly promise to bring down the “established order”: down with the Euro and the European Union, up with borders, each country onto itself. Just listen to the front-running candidate for the French Presidency, Marine Le Pen of the Front National, it’s an eye-opener. Here is what she said on February 5 when she launched her campaign in Lyon, unveiling a 144-point program calling for leaving the euro-zone, holding a referendum on European Union membership, and limiting immigration:
 Globalization is my enemy, one in the name of global finance and one in the name of radical Islam […] They will lead to the disappearance of this France, as we remember it and as we love it. One advances under the guise of liberal economics, the other under the guise of religious liberty.

Perhaps what is most bizarre about populism is that it can arise on the right as well as on the left. The label applies equally to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. And, as Müller writes, it is “primarily associated with particular moods and emotions: populists are ‘angry’; their voters are ‘frustrated’ or suffer from ‘resentment.’”


IN THE PHOTO: ANGER AT A TRUMP RALLY IN CHICAGO 22 OCTOBER 2016 PHOTO CREDIT: JUSTICE VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Beyond that, Müller notes, we haven’t had a convincing “theory of populism”, there is no “coherent criteria” for deciding when politicians turn populists. And this is where his definition comes in, setting out exactly what makes for a populist and how he (or she) is different from the run-of-the-mill politician in a democracy.

After all, any politician in the opposition will attack the establishment. It is in the DNA of the opposition. And all politicians try to appeal to their voters and do this in emotional terms (if they can). They know emotions will move voters.

Could populism be “the authentic voice of democracy” as the American cultural historian Christopher Lasch maintained?

Müller begs to disagree.  He puts forward deceptively simple and strikingly logical criteria that set a populist apart from a regular politician:

Curious about Müller's "strikingly logical criteria"? Click here to read the rest.


2.09.2017

THE TRUMP EFFECT: THE TRUTH ABOUT THE POPE AND THE ORDER OF MALTA

Here's another of my articles, just published on Impakter:




The media has recently reported some eye-popping news about the Pope and the Order of Malta allegedly engaged in a power struggle, with the Grand Master of the Order losing the battle and “forced” to resign.

What we have here is the kind of spectacle the media relishes: On one side, the Pope is depicted as the “anti-Trump Pope” for example, see the New Yorker’s article written by James Carroll, an American Catholic reformer and author of eleven novels and eight works of non-fiction, clearly in search of his next plot. On the other side, the Order of Malta, a millenarian Catholic institution with a global, humanitarian mandate, is presented as helplessly in the grips of Cardinal Edmund Burke, a well-known hardliner. An American, Cardinal Burke is adamant about fighting Islam and he is a darling of the populists. So what do you get? A juicy alt-right picture of a clash between a supposedly rigidly conservative Order and a progressive Pope.


IN THE PHOTO: POPE RECEIVES GRAND MASTER IN AUDIENCE, IN EARLIER BETTER DAYS (JUNE 2016) PHOTO CREDIT: ORDER OF MALTA WEBSITE

To make it more credible, the Order is reported by some as an out-of-step relic of the Catholic Church, with its members parading around in “nutcracker” red uniforms.  Instead, it is, historically, the oldest existing humanitarian organization. It started out nine hundred years ago to assist pilgrims in Jerusalem. Today, its mandate has broadened to cover children, the homeless, handicapped, refugees, elders, terminally ill and lepers around the world without distinction of ethnicity or religion.


IN THE PHOTO: UPHOLDING HUMAN DIGNITY AND CARING FOR PEOPLE IN NEED. PHOTO CREDIT: ORDER OF MALTA WEBSITE

The Order deploys 120,000 people, some 13,500 Knights, Dames and auxiliary members, 25,000 paid medical personnel and 80,000 volunteers. With its world-wide relief agency, Malteser International, it provides emergency aid in natural disasters, epidemics and war.

The Order is not just another charitable organization: it maintains diplomatic relations with 106 countries, the European Union and the United Nations (the latter as permanent observer), thus effectively linking diplomacy with aid. In short, it has a status similar to that of a government-in-exile, having surrendered its territory – the island of Malta – to Napoleon in 1798 and never recovered it, in spite of a resolution of the 1802 Amiens Treaty and the 1815 Congress of Vienna (it was never applied, the English refused to give it back).

In fact, in this complicated story which we can only glean through partial and even fake news (!), the American Cardinal seems to play a key role. And, as I show below, this is not, contrary to stories in the press, a clash between the Pope and the Order of Malta: They are, and never stopped being together on the same side of human values.

THE ORDER’S GOVERNMENT CRISIS, THE FIRST IN OUR TIME


On 6 December 2016, the unthinkable happened: The Prince and Grand Master, Frà Robert Matthew Festing, the third Englishman to serve as Grand Master, suspended the Grand Chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, a German national and moved to expel him from the Order. The Grand Chancellor, who had been faithfully serving the Order for 40 years (since 1976), immediately denied all allegations of wrong-doing, refused to resign or leave the Order and reportedly contacted Cardinal Parolin, close to the Pope, to obtain guidance.

Wonder how the story ends? To read the rest on Impakter, click here.

1.17.2017

SILICON VALLEY: WHAT IT TAKES TO DO STARTUPS - Book Review

Here's another one of my articles published today on Impakter:




SILICON VALLEY: WHAT IT TAKES TO DO STARTUPS

Book Review: Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley by Antonio Garcìa Martinez (HarperCollins, 2016, 528 pages)


Chaos Monkeys Book Cover

Silicon Valley continues to be hot news in the age of Trump and anti-globalization and it should come as no surprise that a clever book about it by someone in the know, loaded with revelatory insights on how it really works, was going to be a sure-fire hit. And that is exactly what happened when Antonio García Martinez's half memoir-half prescriptive tech guidebook came out last year on 28 June 2016, becoming an instant “New York Times bestseller”. Considered an “irreverent exposé of life inside the tech bubble”, all the major book reviewers rushed in with praise, from the New York Times’ Jonathan E. Knee (“an irresistible and indispensable 360-degree guide to the new technology establishment”) to Bloomberg’s Ellen Huet (“dives into the unburnished, day-to-day realities: the frantic pivots, the enthusiastic ass-kissing, the excruciating internal politics”).

In short, in just six months, "Chaos Monkeys" has become the most popular and widely read book about Silicon Valley. I was curious to find out whether it merited its sudden glory. I uploaded it to my Kindle (disclosure: living far from bookstores, I am a fan of e-books) and I spent a couple of pleasant days enjoying the read. And I soon discovered that the best passages, literally pearls in the text, had been highlighted hundreds of time by enthusiastic fans. In fact, Amazon in its “about the book” section informs you that (at the time of my reading) 3,769 passages had been highlighted 122,000 times (ah, the joys of Big Data).

It is a clever book with a clever title, and a great read. In case you’re wondering about the title, it comes from the name given to the software procedure used to test the stability and resilience of online services/websites – and this neatly expresses the main message of the book: That tech entrepreneurs are society’s chaos monkeys, out to disrupt the way we live, from photo-sharing (Instagram), dating (Tinder) and movie viewing (Netflix) to transport (Uber), lodging (AirBnB) and space travel (SpaceX).

Unquestionably, the author’s persona was as much part of the excitement as his bracing writing style. Described as an “industry provocateur” on his Amazon book description page, he has lived up to his reputation and become something of an industry guru: today, whenever big news or scandals roil Silicon Valley, journalists rush to ask him his opinion.



Garcìa Martinez started his working life as a strategist for Goldman Sachs, survived three years and surprised everyone by abandoning New York for the West Coast. After learning the ropes at an IT advertising outfit called Adchemy, he launched his own start-up AdGrok with a couple of engineering pals (called “the boys” in his book). Ten months later, after raising some venture capital and before even making AdGrok operational, he sold it to Twitter for $5 million. However, it was not an unmitigated success; his team broke up, “the boys” went to work for Twitter to develop AdGrok while he accepted a more lucrative position at Facebook as product manager. Tasked with leveraging Facebook’s user data to make its advertising more effective and fix its monetization problem, he was outcompeted by a colleague and fired – the circumstances of his firing make for fascinating reading.

The description of what Facebook is like, what happened there and why he eventually left and landed an advisory position at Twitter is certainly one of the more interesting parts of the book – anyone thinking of joining Facebook should read it very carefully, drawing lessons from it.

The rest on Impakter, to read it, click here.


12.31.2016

Why 2017 Could be Better Than You Think: Happy New Year!

I just had my latest piece published on Impakter magazine, the fast-growing magazine for millennials where I am Senior Editor – and this is also my way to wish you all a very Happy, Hyggelig New Year!
Here is the beginning of the article:

Why 2017 Could Be Better Than You Think

light-person-woman-fire-sweater

At the end of the year, the prediction game becomes a top sporting event in the publishing industry, with everyone throwing their predictions on the wall to see if they stick. I’ll throw mine too but I’ll do it in reverse. I shall bet against most other people’s predictions.
Let’s start with populism: that’s a basic trend everyone has identified in recent events, from Brexit to Trump – a new trend trumpeted as the end of neo-liberal democracy as we have known it since World War II. We are into another era, the new age of populism, nationalism, nativism, racism, identity politics, return-to-our-roots culture, anti-globalization, xenophobia, you name it. Dictionary.com has made xenophobia the word of the year. In short, everyone sees populism as a major feature that will govern what happens politically in 2017.
But what if everyone was wrong?
Read the rest on Impakter, click here.
All the best!
Claude
My new websitewww.claudeforthomme.com

11.27.2016

How Trump is Changing America and What Writers Have to Say

This is how one Italian blogger sees the President-Elect - once Trump moves into the White House, since his wife Melanie apparently has no desire to live there, expect this to happen:


Yes, the American Presidency, with Trump in the driving seat, has lost much of its dignity. Satirists around the world are waking up to the golden opportunity to make fun of him.

But is there really much to laugh about?

The first shocking thing are the numbers. Perhaps Americans, familiar with their bizarre Electoral Voting System are used to it and don't see the inequity in it. But people who are not American cannot understand that a man who has garnered fully 2 million votes less than his opponent still wins the Presidency.

What kind of democracy is that? Where is social justice?

We are bombarded with frightening news coming out of America, and people who normally write novels and short stories have suddenly turned political. That is very unusual for American writers: in my experience, and at least this was the case through the Obama years, most of them refused to "take sides". I couldn't quite figure out why but I imagined they were afraid of losing fans and book sales. Being a European writer myself, I find that astonishing. Over here, on this side of the pond, we are used to writers and artists taking sides - indeed, through most of the 20th century, most of them were Communists. Take the example of France, starting with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre   - very few were on the right, Céline being the historic exception, of course (he was pro-Nazi, anti-Jew and a collaborationist).

So what are American writers saying now about Trumpian America?

So far, not many have come out. I was able to only identify only two so far and, oddly enough, both of them with articles published in the UK Guardian: Barbara Kingsolver, the author of 14 books including climate fiction masterpiece "Flight Behavior" and Dave Eggers, a prolific author  spanning from non fiction, a best-selling memoir "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" to fiction, including "The What is What"an extraordinary novel about a Sudanese child immigrant in the US.  

How about the New York Times and Impakter magazine coming forward with similar pieces? As a Senior Editor of Impakter, I would welcome such articles...

Kingsolver strikingly summed up post-election America like this:

Losses are coming at us in these areas: freedom of speech and the press; women’s reproductive rights; affordable healthcare; security for immigrants and Muslims; racial and LGBTQ civil rights; environmental protection; scientific research and education; international cooperation on limiting climate change; international cooperation on anything; any restraints on who may possess firearms; restraint on the upper-class wealth accumulation that’s gutting our middle class; limits on corporate influence over our laws. That’s the opening volley. 
Quite a strong volley!

What's left standing? Not much, it would seem - and hits to international trade and the fight against climate change can affect the whole world, cause a word-wide recession, perhaps a repeat of the Big Depression and even threaten the planet's very survival as global warming proceeds unabated. We all need America on the front line of the climate change struggle, but with Trump in charge, can this happen?

Kingsolver minces no words, she calls on everyone to stand up and fight:
Many millions of horrified Americans are starting to grasp that we can’t politely stand by watching families, lands and liberties get slashed beyond repair. But it’s a stretch to identify ourselves as an angry opposition. We’re the types to write letters to Congress maybe, but can’t see how marching in the streets really changes anything. [...]
But politeness is no substitute for morality, and won’t save us in the end.[...] So many of us have stood up for the marginalized, but never expected to be here ourselves. It happened to us overnight, not for anything we did wrong but for what we know is right. Our first task is to stop shaming ourselves and claim our agenda. [...]
We keep our commitments to fairness in front of the legislators who oppose us, lock arms with the ones who are with us, and in the words of Congressman John Lewis, prepare to get ourselves in some good trouble. Every soul willing to do that is part of our team, starting with the massive crowd that shows up in DC in January to show the new president what we stand for, and what we won’t.
There’s safety in numbers, but only if we count ourselves out loud. 
Dave Eggers piece is in many ways the opposite of Barbara Kingsolver's: he manifests surprise, he is almost awed by the divided country he sees as he travels through it. It's a long, thoughtful piece, beautifully written, but his concluding comment is no less moving than Kingsolver's, he is deeply worried, he tells us, because:
We are entering an era where uniquely vindictive men will have uniquely awesome power. Dark forces have already been unleashed and terrible plans are being made. On 3 December, the Ku Klux Klan are holding their largest public rally in years, to celebrate Trump’s victory, which they claim as their own. [...]
You should be worried, too. George W Bush, a man of comparative calm and measured intellect, started two foreign wars and cratered the world economy. Trump is far more reckless.
We are speeding toward a dark corridor, my friends. Keep your eyes open, your hearts stout and be ready for the fight.
Are you ready?






10.11.2016

Death of the Euro: Thinking the Unthinkable

Impakter Magazine just published my latest article, here it is:

BOOK REVIEW “THE EURO: HOW A COMMON CURRENCY THREATENS THE FUTURE OF EUROPE” BY JOSEPH. E. STIGLITZ (PUBLISHED BY W.W. NORTON & CO, AUGUST 16, 2016)


Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz’s latest literary effort, a new book about the travails of the Euro and Europe, published in August with the apt title “The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe” couldn’t land in the muddy European political waters at a more appropriate time.
The summer of 2016 was a turning point for the so-called “European Project” – Europe’s long-run attempt to build a United States of Europe that began with the 1957 Treaty of Rome setting up the European Economic Community (EEC) with six founding members (Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg), and continued in 1993, with the Maastricht Treaty, the European Union (EU) with (up to now) 28 member countries.
Problems have piled up this summer, relentlessly.
The opening salvo came in June with the UK referendum that unexpectedly led to “Brexit”, the decision to leave the European Union with 17.4 million Brits voting in favor. For the first time since its foundation, the EU is expected not to expand but to contract, down to 27 members – probably by 2019, when UK exit negotiations will be completed.
The most recent problem came in October with another referendum, this time in Hungary, calling on the population to disregard EU policies on refugees and reject quota obligation to accommodate asylum seekers. The referendum did not break the 50% threshold and the result was therefore declared illegal, but it did demonstrate that once again, a hefty minority, 3.6 million Hungarians (43% of voters), supported their government’s continuing opposition to Brussels.
Against this background, Joseph Stiglitz’s book has special resonance.
As he convincingly argues, the Euro was supposed to bring the European project forward but it has done nothing of the kind – if anything, the European Project has suffered setbacks just as much outside as within the countries of the Eurozone, the 19 EU members who use the Euro as a common currency. Incidentally, this is not a minor currency: The 19 European countries together account for roughly 14 percent of world GNP, making it the third largest economy in the world, after the United States (20 percent) and China (18 percent).
Do not delude yourself into thinking this is not important for the rest of the world: should the Euro collapse, the shock would shake the whole world.
It could even start another Great Depression.

A SLOW DEATH

Stiglitz minces no words in roundly chastising European leaders for “muddling through” a succession of Euro crises, ever since the first Greek debt scandal broke out in 2010. The book is a convincing diagnosis of what went wrong and why successive “bailouts” of Greece (three so far) have failed miserably, leaving the country six years later with an inexorably rising debt and a Gross Domestic Product diminished by a quarter, while the exceptionally high unemployment (a mind-boggling 50% for the young) won’t budge – really as bad as a war. Stiglitz’ detailed description of the Greek case is harrowing. A must read for anyone who hasn’t followed the drama closely.
And he is equally convincing in arguing that Ireland, often promoted (mostly by Germans) as the “poster child” of the success of Europe’s monetary and austerity policies is no such thing. EU-imposed austerity measures “helped ensure that Ireland’s unemployment rate remained in double digits for five years, until the beginning of 2015, causing untold suffering for the Irish people and a world of lost opportunities that can never be regained.” Tough words that apply equally well to the other “crisis countries” of the Eurozone. For example, Portugal, also promoted by the IMF as a “success”, is far from that: The facts are that “the government might be borrowing with more ease, but the Portuguese people never experienced a real recovery.” Indeed, across Europe, excessive reliance on austerity and monetary policy “has resulted in even greater inequality: the big winners are the wealthy, who own stocks and other assets […]; the big losers are the elderly who put their money in government bonds, only to see the interest rates generated virtually disappear.”
The reason for such a deplorable state of affairs? First, a misplaced belief in what another famous economist, Paul Krugman, calls the “confidence fairy”: the idea that with austerity and a balanced budget, business confidence will be restored, which overlooks the simple fact that when consumer demand is depressed, business has no incentive to invest. In a recession, the confidence fairy, as Krugman says, becomes a zombie.


To read the rest, click here

NOTE TO MY READERS: Stiglitz's advice on how to fix the Euro is truly excellent, and I sincerely hope our political leaders will read this book and act on it. I've tried to focus on the policy measures that are really doable among the many ideas Stiglitz presents. Eminently practical, they would take VERY LITTLE EFFORT... if only Germany would stop focusing on stupid austerity policies that are destroying Europe!

Go over to Impakter to read about those policy measures and tell me what you think!


9.12.2016

Burkinis and the French Exception

I am stunned: How can France, the land of freedom of expression, wage a war against burkinis? What happened to tolerance? What happened to individual freedom and allowing people to dress as they please? Surely a woman wearing a burkini is no security threat, where would she hide the bombs?

In short, what's the problem with burkinis? They've been around a long, long time except nobody called them "burkinis"...

I painted one such woman wearing a "burkini" on the Gaza public beach back in April 2005:

Palestininan women going to the beach, Gaza (2005) -  
 oil on wood,  120cm x 70 cm

Yes, the woman on the left is in a home-made greenish burkini - that was fully ten years before it occurred to fashion designers to go into the business of making burkinis...

And you could say that our great-grandmothers, who covered themselves up when they went bathing, also wore a form of ante-litteram burkinis:

Vintage Bathing Suits | Bathing-Suit-Women-in-bathing-suits-on-Collaroy-Beach-1908 (source: Pinterest pin )

So what happened to the idea that France was the cradle of libertarian ideas, the leader of human rights? What happened to French exceptionalism? 

It's true that France is exceptional in one way: Unlike the rest of the world, France insists on "laicité", i.e. keeping religion out of the public space. But this is carrying it one step too far. A burkini is not a religious declaration nor an assault on Christianity. It's just a traditional way of dressing making Muslim women comfortable with their bodies, just as our grandmothers were when they went to the beach. Look at them in that photo, don't they look happy and proud of their swimsuits? Why not let Muslim women feel the same? 

Has France suddenly had a fit of Trump-like rejection of anything that is not "us"? Has she forgotten how early Victorian swimwear for women looked like? Here's a reminder - yes, fully covered, arms and legs and the head too:  

 Source: Fashion Era.com, Pauline Weston Thomas, the Early Seaside Fashion History



8.30.2016

Earthquake in Italy: Why the High Death Toll

Impakter Magazine just published an article I wrote about the earthquake in Italy, as I was moved by what I was hearing all around me and by what I read in the Italian newspapers:

Main street in Amatrice, before and after the 24 August earthquake

WHY THE DEATH TOLL IS SO HIGH

The tragedy is in the news every day as the death toll climbs relentlessly, the latest figure, as I write on the day of the State Funeral held for the victims, is 291.

No one talks about why this death toll is so high. But an uncomfortable truth is beginning to emerge in Italy, and an emotionally-charged debate around it has already started, with accusations of mistakes and wrong-doing flung around. This is a complex question, and while it’s still early days to assess the extent and nature of the devastation, it’s worth taking a closer look at it. 

 Part of the reason the death toll was so high is, alas, quite mundane: Because it happened at 3:30 am in the dead of night, everyone was in bed. And why so many of the victims were children is also easily explained. It happened in an area close to Rome, a little more than an hour drive, and many Romans have secondary homes in all those charming hilltop villages, the mountain air is good, the views magnificent; grandparents spend the summer here, looking after their grand-children. As a result, the earthquake primarily hit the elderly and children who never had a chance to escape a collapsing house in the middle of the night. 

 Then there is another, more structural reason that human ingenuity can do little against:  the devastation in Italy was due to the fact that the epicenter of the earthquake was fairly close to the surface, about 10 km deep, as compared to the one in Myanmar that happened on the same day. The two are not linked events, a mere coincidence, they are too far apart and not sitting on the same faults. But they serve to show the difference in impact: The 6.8 magnitude quake in Myanmar (as against 6.2 in Italy), while much stronger, also started much deeper, over 100 km down. Result: there was considerable damage to buildings, as may be expected from such a violent earthquake, but only 3 people were killed… 

 But there is yet one more reason and here humans are definitely at fault. It hasn’t yet fully come out in the international press but it’s fast emerging in Italian news (herehere and here):...

Read the rest on Impakter, click here 

8.29.2016

How One of the Internet's Founders Sees the Future

I just reviewed Steve Case's bestseller, “THE THIRD WAVE – AN ENTREPRENEUR’S VISION OF THE FUTURE”  for Impakter Magazine:




When Steve Case’s book came out on 5 April 2016 (publisher: Simon and Schuster), it was an immediate New York Times and Wall Street Journal sensation, hailed as the number one business book of the year.

Part memoir, part business manual, it’s a must read for at least two reasons:
  • one, because it is a unique memoir from someone who was on the leading edge of the Internet revolution: Steve Case was a co-founder of AOL in 1985, the first Internet company to go public (in 1991), the first to bring millions of Americans online; AOL was a corporate giant that arose a full decade before Google, Amazon and Facebook; Case oversaw the Time Warner-AOL merger in 2000 and became chairman of the combined business, the largest media and communications empire in the world at that time.
It is clear that any aspiring entrepreneur could learn from Case’s unique insights into the startup experience, ranging from near death to unexpected comebacks; and, cherry on the cake, the book comes with a mesmerizing series of photographs marking the main events in Case’s life and AOL’s rise.
  • twoit provides an eye-opening vision of the Internet’s future: if anyone has an idea where the Web is headed, surely Steve Case does. In the words of Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, he has drawn a “compelling roadmap for the future”. No entrepreneur or corporate manager who wishes to succeed in this first part of the 21st century can afford to ignore Case’s advice.
What is remarkable about Steve Case is that he is both an inspired investor and a dedicated philanthropist.
Steve Case
IN THE PHOTO: STEVE CASE PHOTO CREDIT: TWITTER 
Six years before leaving AOL-Time Warner in 2003, Steve Case had launched the Case Foundationwith his wife Jean and had made it his business to bet on upcoming innovative entrepreneurs, keeping himself abreast of all new developments in the IT world.
In 2005, he co-founded, along with Donn Davis and Tige Savage, an investment firm aptly called Revolution to finance digital startups, aiming, according to its website, to “support ideas that change the world.” Based in Washington D.C., the firm, of which he is chairman and CEO, also runs a $525 million fund to invest “outside of Silicon Valley” – in fact, as explained on its website, Revolution’s “mission is to establish itself as “the premier firm outside Silicon Valley.”
Revolution has helped build up many businesses including the car-sharing app Zipcar, the GPS fitness tracking app Runkeeper, the online learning platform BenchPrep, the daily deal websiteLivingSocial,  Sweetgreen, an American “simple, healthy food” restaurant chain and Revolution Money, an online financial services company (sold to American Express in 2009) .
In 2010, Steve and Jean Case took the further public step of signing The Giving Pledge, joining other major billionaires like Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet and Carl Icahn, in reaffirming their commitment to give away most of their wealth to philanthropy.
At the same time, Case is a rare believer in a bi-partisan approach to economic policies.
Though a Republican, he has worked to support President Obama’s job policies to create employment and spur entrepreneurship. He was a member of Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness  and founding chair of the Startup America Partnership – he is now chairman of UP Global, a non-profit to support entrepreneurial communities, created in 2013 from Startup America Partnership and Startup Weekend. Unlike many in the business community, he strongly believes that the government has a key role to play in jump starting innovation.
The foreword is written by Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute and author of several acclaimed biographies, most recently of Steve Jobs and of a remarkable history of innovation on the Web called The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.
IN THE PHOTO: WALTER ISAACSON
Walter Isaacson, in introducing Steve Case for us, evokes the moment when the idea of a Time Warner-AOL merger was first aired out, back in 1999. It happened improbably in Beijing, in the course of a twelve-course banquet for a thousand people at the Great Hall of the People to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Communist revolution in China. Time magazine, of which Isaacson was editor at the time, had brought to China the whole of the Time Warner Board and a few other American business leaders, notably Steve Case.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

7.31.2016

Why Referendums are Dangerous

Nobel laureate economist and best-selling author Joseph E. Stiglitz, who has just published a new terrific book, "The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe" (it's at the top of my TBR list!), told the New York Times, in response to a question about the aftermath of Brexit in Europe:

"The likelihood is there that in one country or another there will be enough support for another referendum, and an exit will occur that will begin the process of a real unraveling of the Eurozone." 

He was probably thinking of France or the Netherlands and there are others too. But just imagine the EU without France or the Netherlands, that's surely the beginning of the end...

So what he is telling us is that in Europe, we now run a very real risk of another devastating referendum, similar to Brexit.

I believe that comment certainly makes my just-published article on Impakter magazine particularly timely. In it, I argue that referendums are not a democratic panacea, on the contrary, they are highly dangerous and can be deeply destructive. I also propose a simple fix. Here is the beginning:


impakter essay: WHY A REFERENDUM IS A BAD IDEA ...And a Modest Proposal to Fix it


The first lesson from Brexit, the UK vote to leave the European Union, should have been this: that a referendum is a bad idea, it weakens democracy and leads to potentially hugely damaging political decisions.
In the economic area, bad news for Britain has already happened, the pound has plunged to its lowest historical level in thirty years and British commercial real estate is reeling, some 20 percent lower, a harbinger of a broader crisis in real estate.
Good news are few: Australia has announced it wants a free trade deal with the UK after Brexit (to replace what is now available with the EU) and you can expect other Commonwealth countries to follow suit; and there is Japanese SoftBank’s recent acquisition of ARM, the technologically advanced British chip designer, a $32 billion investment in the British economy, that, oddly enough, did not provoke cries of anguish from nationalists who (normally) do not like to see “British jewels” sold to foreigners (though it seems that investors in Japan have serious doubts about the deal). But then, the Brexiteers needed to exhibit some good business news in the face of the coming unavoidable recession as the UK slowly exits the EU (it will take at least two years).
Threats to Great Britain in the political arena are far greater: Britain risks losing Scotland and North Ireland. The Scots are already talking about a referendum for independence (that would allow them to join the EU) and Ireland is evoking the possibility of re-uniting with North Ireland, just as East and West Germany joined together. If all this comes to pass, Great Britain will be no more, in its place we’ll have “little England.” Hardly the result that even the most ardent Brexiteer could have wished for…
Yet, in spite of the obvious economic and political risks, the populist far-right parties on the European continent have all latched onto the Brexit example, eager to emulate UKIP’s success with its Leave campaign. They are all clamoring for referendums from Marine Le Pen (Front National) in France to Geert Wilders (Party for Freedom) in the Netherlands, not to mention Germany, Italy, Spain etc.
And matters are not helped by the continuing avalanche of ISIL-inspired attacks in Europe, from the massacre in Nice on Bastille Day to the Afghan teenager wielding a murdering axe in a German train. Such news is fodder to the populist/chauvinist mill.
Add to the mix the extraordinary passivity of our political leaders, with German Chancellor Merkel in the forefront who clearly likes to sit on her hands while her Finance Minister Schäuble shoots down any attempt to strengthen the Eurozone; his chief concern is to defend German banks and German interests and he does not see it as Germany’s duty to sustain the weaker partners in the EU in a collaborative union, even though Germany is Europe’s strongest economy: in fact, collaboration is not in his vocabulary. There is no question that he is the least “European” of all German politicians, and in fact, he would be in good company with Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders, all bent on shooting down the European Project. Meanwhile, the EU Commission in Brussels keeps mum, trying to stay out of the political melee, and in so doing, increasingly looking like the culprit.
This is why an exasperated population sees referendums as the solution, the only way to push politicians into action. Referendums are seen as “direct democracy” at work, giving voice to the people in a way that normal elections do not.
If only it were so.
IN THE PHOTO: ANGELA MERKEL SPEAKS AT THE EUROPEAN PEOPLE’S PARTY SUMMIT. PHOTO CREDIT:FLICKR/EPP 

1.    THE MANY WAYS REFERENDUMS CAN MISLEAD VOTERS

A close examination of how a referendum actually works shows something radically different: Far from being a democratic tool, a referendum is an extremely dangerous political exercise that is open to ugly demagogic manipulations, and thus leads to unexpected and unwanted results.
In our Internet-connected society, with Facebook, Twitter and tabloids sharing the voters’ attention like never before, the level of “information noise” is, as a result, higher than ever before, and the “noise,” unfortunately, tends to hide the “information.” In our current technological climate, with news valued by the number of “clicks” and “shares”, information is debased and a referendum is an increasingly dangerous tool, open to distortions.

HARD FACTS GIVE WAY TO NON-FACTS

Voters are not better informed when disinformation is as important as facts – as we saw in the case of Brexit. Consider what happened during the campaign. At first, it looked like it would turn into an interesting public debate, with the facts about staying in or out, brought out in the open.
Every major think tank in Britain and in the world, including the IMF and the OECD, pitched in with their complex economic analyses. But a month before the vote, something happened. The facts turned out to be annoying, even boring, there were too many of them, too much to read, too much to digest.
A large number of voters were turned off and preferred to follow their instinct. It was more emotionally satisfying to show dislike for your Polish or Italian neighbor (finally you could do it without incurring disapproval from your other neighbors). It was easier to believe in non-facts that promised satisfactory results.
Of all the false promises the most famous one was the idea that with Brexit the UK would get back the £350 million it pays to the EU every week and invest it in its National Health system – a patently impossible promise to maintain on two counts: the amount paid to the EU was half that claimed by the Leave Campaign, and once Brexit kicks in, all funds available to the government would need to be used to defend the economy – clearly nothing would be left for the Health system.
In the last three weeks running up to the referendum, far from having a sedate, informed and civil debate, we were treated to a Brexit vs. Remain brawl in the best (loud) American tradition. The Brexiteers were pumped up by a wave of phobia for foreigners and immigrants, and expressed heights of racism and nativism not seen before in public. All this, alas, culminated in the murder by a deranged nationalist of MP Jo Cox, a young mother of two whose only fault was her openly-expressed belief that the UK should remain in the EU.

To read the rest, click here.

7.04.2016

Rome has Become a Mess!

In the 40 years I have lived in Rome, I have never seen the city is such bad shape, graffiti vandalizing graceful, ancient buildings everywhere, piles of dirt and s--t on the sidewalks, potholes in the streets, large enough to trap a scooter's wheel and kill the driver.

A friend of mine, Giuseppe Bonanno, in desperation, put up this blog post that I reproduce here - if you read Italian, you'll find it a good, rousing read...though depressing: When will the newly elected Mayor of Rome, Ms. Raggi do something?

And she's so new to the political game (she comes from the 5 Star protest party) and young (just 37), can she defeat "Mafia Capitale" as it is known here, i.e. the incredible corruption that has been linking local politicians to the Mafia for decades and that has led Rome to this final, dramatic juncture?

So far, what she's done is meet with the Pope, here's the video:


Here's Giuseppe Bonanno's blog post, if you want to read this on his blog, click here:

DEGRADO A ROMA DENTRO LE MURA DI SAN GIOVANNI

Di fronte alla residenza dell'Ambasciata Inglese e nelle strade che la circondano sembra di stare a Beirut o al Cairo. Le Amministrazioni Capitoline passano ma il degrado rimane ed aumenta. 1^ Municipio-EXIT?

Adesso abbiamo i M5S. Faranno qualcosa? Sarà nel loro Raggi-o di azione?

Oggi 4 luglio 2016, su via Carlo Felice sul marciapiede di sinistra verso Piazza San Giovanni é comparso di nuovo il mercatino degli abusivi. La Polizia assente ingiustificato. idem per i Vigili Urbani.

Le strade intorno sono fatiscenti: i marciapiedi  su via Piatti, ormai in terra battuta confinano senza soluzione di continuità con l'asfalto e le buche della strada.

Il palazzo di proprietà della Banca d'Italia é sempre occupato e gli abitanti vivono a spese del Comune, locazione, servizi, di energia elettrica, gas, acqua, raccolta rifiuti?? etc. Non sappiamo se il Comune passa pure il telefonino? Ed il Cittadino paga.... 
 L'Ama non raccoglie le immondizie sui marciapiedi - troppo lavoro di gomito per gli spazzini che non esistono più. E se usassero i rifugiati dandogli uno stipendio? Lo fanno in Germania ed in Olanda?



Il Presidente   del "Comitato di quartiere Villa Wolkonsky - Roma Esquilino" denuncia l'assenza permanente delle autorità:

"invio la presente alla Questura di Roma, al Comune di Roma ed al 1 Municipio di Roma sollecitando il concreto riscontro alla richiesta - già da tempo formalizzata - di istituire una postazione fissa della Polizia di Roma Capitale  o dei Carabinieri  a via Carlo Felice vicino ai giardinetti, ove ogni mattina si radunano persone poco raccomandabili e zingari che vendono oggetti di dubbia provenienza.


Molte persone che si lamentano vengono aggredite e minacciate ed allorquando interviene una pattuglia della Polizia o dei Carabinieri; questi "signori" scappano e si vanno a nascondere nelle strade laterali, aspettando che i militi vanno via per poi continuare la loro attività illegittima.

La grave problematica si risolve predisponendo una postazione delle Forze di sicurezza in loco oppure una squadra di volontari in pensione dei Carabinieri e/o  delle Forze di Polizia ( N.B. in divisa) in modo tale che la zona venga sempre controllata al fine di inibire l'attività predetta. 

Molti abitanti della zona -da tempo- si adoperano per chiedere l'intervento delle competenti Autorità ma la situazione - ad oggi- non è cambiata ed il degrado incombe in modo palese ed obiettivo, nonostante qualcuno dica che siano stati effettuati dei lavori di rifacimento dei giardini per un importo di oltre 200 mila euro.

Ad oggi si è aggiunto il delicatissimo ed urgente problema della sicurezza stradale e della presenza di pericolosissime buche in via Ludovico di Savoia.

La strada risulta chiusa parzialmente proprio per la presenza di tali buche, che risultano essere un pericolo per l'incolumità di tutti coloro che si trovano a passare in zona.

Ciò precisato, 
                                                 chiedo espressamente 

alla Questura di Roma, al Comune di Roma ed al 1 Municipio di Roma di intervenire e di risolvere le problematiche indicate.
Ringraziando in anticipo e restando in attesa del richiesto riscontro, porgo distinti saluti.

                                 
Richiesta fatta dal Presidente del Comitato di quartiere Villa Wolkonsky- Roma Esquilino

MORE PICTURES OF ROMAN DECAY: