It’s a Wonderful Life


My wife and I recently returned from a vacation in India, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Israel. My first memorable step in our convoluted trip was actually a movie I watched on the flight out: Frank Capra’s 1946 fantasy drama, It’s a Wonderful Life, in which an angel shows a kind-hearted but suicidal George Bailey (James Stewart) how bad his friends’ and family’s lives would have been had he never been born.

Bailey also learns that in this alternative reality his wholesome home town of Bedford Falls would have been renamed Pottersville, to honor the venal banker who would have dominated life there but for Bailey’s beneficent influence and call for people to help each other through hard times. Pottersville is a debauched place with no sense of community, where it’s all for none and none for all. Not that I mind some debauchery, but the town resembles what the United States of Trump could become: a small-minded, mean-spirited land that lauds selfishness. Read more of this post

Other Countries and Autocracy: It Can Happen Here

Image result for photo of trump as king

Not With a Bang…

Rather than blow up with a bang, American democracy may wither with a whimper. That insight lies at the heart of David Frum’s frightening but invaluable Atlantic essay, “How to Build an Autocracy.” It’s the best analysis I’ve read of the damage Donald Trump could do.

Frum is no innocent observer of presidential overreach. A former George W. Bush speechwriter, he coined the “axis of evil” line his boss employed to justify the Iraq invasion. Nevertheless, respect the messenger along with the message this time around. Frum flagged the threat from the outset last year. He warned of the then-candidate bucking the courts if elected, long before Trump started attacking judges. Read more of this post

Here’s an Import Trump Can Treasure

The Age of Trump could usher in troubling trends and practices we used to only associate with foreign kleptocracies.

That’s the core message of this perceptive blog post by Professor Bonnie Palifka, a corruption expert at a leading Mexican university. The problems start with the Trump Administration’s “possible conflicts of interest, nepotism, insider trading, and other types of grand corruption,” which could trigger a ripple effect of other harms. Drawing on both international research and her knowledge of Mexico (but one of many countries where high-level corruption is pervasive), Palifka warns us of what we might expect from a White House that houses a cornucopia of conflicts of interest. Read more of this post

The French Disconnection

Do you want to disconnect from some unpleasant realities these days? Move to France!

No, I’m not talking about escaping to or through the wine, the food, the lifestyle, the whatever.

Instead, as this article explains, France has a new law that allows employees limited rights to disconnect from work communications outside of office hours, without penalties from their employers. The emphasis here should be on “limited,” since it’s unclear whether or how the law will even be enforced.

What’s more, I can’t’ help but wonder whether there will be all sorts of informal pressure on employees to be available. Miss an email and maybe you’re seen as less committed to the company? Ignore a group text and you’re then outside the loop on a big project? Read more of this post

The Nordic Model: Sanders, Trump and Those Selfish Scandinavians


Say “Nordic model” to most Americans, and they’ll perhaps think of sexy Swedes. The more policy wonkish among us also will focus on how Scandinavia features superb social services, high taxes, affluence and five of the ten happiest countries in the world.

Two things Americans don’t associate with Scandinavia, though, are robust capitalism and selfishness. This recent Atlantic Monthly piece, by a Finnish expatriate residing in the United States, makes a convincing case for why Bernie Sanders has been correct in pushing that model – and for why Hillary Clinton is mistaken in dismissing it when she asserts that “We are not Denmark.” Read more of this post

Replacing Scalia: Welcome to the Real World


Justice Antonin Scalia’s death has me thinking about South Africa. (Doesn’t everyone think about South Africa when a Supreme Court justice dies?) More specifically, as someone who works on both legal and political issues in developing countries, I’m constantly exposed to the interface between the two. And one of the best studies of that interface is UCLA law professor Richard Abel’s book about using the courts to fight South African apartheid three decades ago.

Without doing full justice (so to speak) to his thesis, suffice to say that his book’s title encapsulates what Abel ably argues: law is Politics by Other Means. Law was used in South Africa as a tool of repression. Nevertheless, human rights lawyers’ somewhat successful litigation there was an element of the much larger battle to undermine the country’s racist government. Law was part of politics. Read more of this post

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