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“Oh What a Beautiful Morning, Oh What a Beautiful Day! I’ve Got a Wonderful Feeling, Everything’s Going My Way.”

Posted by on Jun 24, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

So sang Donald Trump this morning in, of all places, Scotland! In Scotland, where he just happens to be on this historic day, celebrating the refurbishing of one of his golf courses.

To Trump the outcome of the British referendum has to be heartening. For the dynamics there are similar in important ways to the dynamics here.  A divided country. An angry electorate. A strong sentiment against the leadership class.

In Britain virtually every leader in virtually every sector strongly urged the electorate to vote for the status quo – to vote for Britain to remain in the European Union. Still, voters rejected their entreaties, as if deliberately thumbing their nose at those higher and mightier than they.

Just the kind of thing on which Trump thrives. Just the kind of thing that can turn an election on its head.


Revolution in Britain

Posted by on Jun 24, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

This is an historic day. The stunning outcome of the British referendum was that in two years time Britain will be severed from the European Union.

I do not use the word “historic” lightly. Nor do I use the word “revolution” lightly. But this vote is an indicator of change that is revolutionary, not evolutionary. Which is why it is historic.   The old, existing order is dead, and in its place is something new.  Driven by impulses variously described as nationalist and populist, driven by sentiments strongly anti authority, the British electorate has made its preference clear. On the assumption that the future will somehow, in some undetermined way, be better than the present, what was goes.

  • This vote means that the United Kingdom will never be the same. Among other likelihoods is that in the not distant future the Scots will vote to exit.
  • This vote means that Europe will never be the same. Among other likelihoods is that referendums similar to Brexit will be in other countries in Europe.
  • This vote means that the global order will never be the same. Among other likelihoods is that Russia will create a wedge between Britain on the one hand, and the European Union on the other.
  • This vote means that the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States will never be the same. Among other likelihoods is that the US will discover it has no choice but to find another European partner.
  • This vote means that the present resident at 10 Downing Street will go.  We know for sure that in short order David Cameron will be replaced as prime minister.
  • This vote means that anger against people in positions of authority – both in Europe and in the United States – is unlikely anytime soon to dissipate.   Among other likelihoods is that just as Donald Trump’s candidacy was seeming seriously to weaken,, what’s happened in Britain will give him a shot in the arm.

I said before and will say again. As a result of Brexit the short term occupation is with markets. But as a result of Brexit the long term preoccupation will be with politics. As of today they have changed completely and irrevocably.




The End of Leadership

Posted by on Jun 23, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

So one could reasonably argue that just as the United States was in some ways in the vanguard in the last decades of the eighteenth century, it was in some ways in the vanguard in the last decades of the twentieth. Some two hundred years after the American Revolution, there was similar ferment – the powerless taking on the powerful, demanding, finally, greater equity.

What then can we conclude about the historical trajectory? We can say what we have seen: that over the course of human history power and influence generally have devolved from the top down. 

Barbara Kellerman, The End of Leadership

The unprecedented attempt last night by House Democrats to wrest control from House Republicans was no more than this:  an attempt to wrest power from the powers that be, in this case, specifically House Speaker Paul Ryan, to force a vote on gun control.

In the short term, on the most obvious level, Ryan responded by squeezing the Democrats. He simply turned off the lights and announced their demand would be denied. In the long term, this will be seen as an historic moment in which the relatively powerless wrested some power and, as importantly, some influence, from the relatively powerful. The story of gun control  in America has yet fully to be told.

Frustrated Followers – and American Foreign Policy

Posted by on Jun 18, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

In an unprecedented move, 51 followers made the seismic decision to take on their leader, in public. Their leader is the president of the United States.

Who are these followers? Most are mid-level State Department officials, career diplomats, who had the temerity to speak truth, their truth, to power. They had the temerity to take on the administration’s miserably failed policy in Syria, by attaching their names to an internal document that registers their strong opposition.

The dissenters urged a radical change. Basically they advocated a tougher approach to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, a more militant and military one, “which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”

There is such a thing in the State Department as a “dissent channel.” It’s a way of registering disagreement with official policy, which is why the Department has a modest history of dissent either by an individual, or by a few individuals banding together. Two years ago former ambassador to Syria, Richard S. Ford, resigned from the Foreign Service precisely because he was in such strong disagreement with the administration’s policy on Syria, which generally has been hands-off.

However, never before has dissent been so strong.  Never before have 51 State Department subordinates joined openly to challenge their superiors. It is not likely that as a result of their action President Obama will have a change of heart – or a change of policy.  However, the timing of their protest is no accident. Clearly it’s meant less to shape policy in this administration than to try to effect change in the next one.


People vs. Position

Posted by on Jun 17, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

In the old days a man like Judge Aaron Persky was virtually impervious to opposition. First, there would have been nearly none. Second, such opposition as there was, would have been muted. People simply did not take on a sitting judge – it just wasn’t done.

Now things are different.  Now Judge Persky of Santa Clara (CA) Superior Court has discovered that someone in his position is no longer immune to opposition.  No longer immune even to humiliation for a decision which many have found as offensive as objectionable.

Setting aside the question of whether or not the sentencing of Stanford student Brock Turner to what is effectively three-months in jail for a sexual assault was fair, what’s remarkable about this case is the widespread refusal to take the court’s decision sitting down. Here’s some of what happened since Judge Persky rendered his sentence:

  • The victim released a long, powerful statement to BuzzFeed, which since has been read online millions of times.
  • A petition was drafted to remove Judge Persky from the bench – which so far has almost a million and a half supporters.
  • At least twelve jurors have openly objected to serving in his courtroom.
  • Judge Persky was removed from presiding over a case involving a male nurse accused of inappropriately touching a sedated female patient.
  • A Stanford Law Professor, Michele Dauber, has organized a campaign to remove him from office.

Whatever his final fate, it’s clear that the judge was not even remotely prepared for what hit him. His failure to consider the consequence of context did him in.