Llewellyn King

Llewellyn King: Trump grabs U.K. third rail, then lets go fast


American conservatives hate it. Even the most passionate British conservatives support it. It was conceived by Winston Churchill as far back as 1908, mentioned again in 1924, and laid out as a plank for British reconstruction in his forward-looking “Plan for Postwar Britain” in 1943.

This toxic issue, which turns red blue and blue red when you cross the Atlantic, is Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).

Introduced in 1948 by the Labor Government of Clement Atlee, it is often thought of in the United States as a socialist idea. Churchill was, in fact, influenced greatly by William Beveridge, a liberal economist who played a key role in the formation of what came to be known as the welfare state, which combined national insurance (social security) with national health insurance.

The Brits, I can attest as a former Brit, love the NHS. They also love to criticize it. It is up there with the weather.

Also, it should be noted, the NHS is not perfect; it is and always will be a work in progress.

So large a system has its failures. Whenever there is one, conservative American friends are quick to send me the bad news -- as though a surgical mess-up in Birmingham was a harbinger of the collapse of the entire system.

The NHS has been described as the third rail of British politics.

Clearly, President Trump had never heard that and had the temerity to suggest that the NHS should be part of trade negotiations between the United States and Britain. No, a thousand times no, was the instant reaction of the conservative ministers and former ministers now jostling for election as prime minister.

Any suggestion that the NHS -- Britain’s most popular government program -- would be in any way subject to commercial interference would doom a British candidate for public office.

How it was that Trump thought he could grab the third rail and get away with it is unknown, but he walked that one back, as they say nowadays, quickly the next day.

Over the years, I have been asked innumerable times about how the Brits do things from public transport to creative theater; from the financing of the BBC to the hobby of racing pigeons. When it comes to the NHS I am never asked; I am told. Liberals tell me it is what we need in the United States: a single-payer system. Conservatives tell me that it is communism and that the Brits get terrible health care.

I am not sure the former is desirable, and I know the latter to be poppycock fed by a fury that is based on misinformation willingly received and willingly disseminated.

I have received care as a young man under the NHS and members of my family have been recipients through the years. I have spent long hours examining various health systems and a good deal of time taking to British doctors and professionals. I have also done the unlikely in this debate: talked to patients.

A dear relative was gravely ill a few years ago. I spent a week at her bedside in a large hospital in Kingston, just outside London. As she was sedated at the time, I had a lot of time to study the place.

It was big with wings specializing in everything from heart failure to eye surgery. It seemed to work pretty well, although the public wards were crowded.

But there were these takeaways: No one was refused, nor would be sent home early, and no surprise bill would come in the mail. My relative had a private health plan on top of the NHS standard and got a private room and good food.

The biggest difference is in cost. Health care spending accounts for 17.9 percent of GDP in the United States, whereas it accounts for just 9.7 percent of GDP in the United Kingdom. Germany, France and Canada all have different systems which come out in the same place as the UK, with service delivered for money spent.

Structural costs bring our bill up. All those women in your doctor’s office, arguing with insurance companies on the phone over “codes,” are not practicing medicine. They are engaged in a kind of health care roulette: Will they or will they not pay? Is it in the plan?

I am not sure the NHS is right for the United States, but structural overhaul is necessary. Wasted efforts and greed pervade the system.

By the way, I do not have a dog in this fight: I am on Medicare -- and that costs the taxpayer too much because of weak controls.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com. He’s based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

Llewellyn King: Kazakhstan -- from the Silk Road to high-tech highway

Futuristic downtown Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan

Futuristic downtown Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan

NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan

Want a world-class legal system known for its integrity? Then go to London and get one, judges and all. That’s what Kazakhstan has done.

When businesses are looking to invest abroad, the availability and dependability of legal redress is a critical consideration. Should things go wrong, companies and hedge funds want to know that they can resolve matters in court, and that their cases will be heard in an impartial and timely fashion.

Kazakhstan, the vast country that straddles the boundary between Asia and Europe, decided it would put its commercial legal system above reproach. In 2015, it imported a whole legal system from England, along with English common law, to deal with commercial issues. It also imported some English judges to sit on the bench.

Presiding over this remarkable court system is Lord Woolf, one of England’s most revered justices and, before that, one of its most eminent barristers.

Kairat Kelimbetov, governor of the Astana International Finance Center (AIFC), described this to me as a move to establish the “rule of law.” He said it was decisive in improving the investment climate. It’s also symptomatic of a desire here to “do what it takes” to move Kazakhstan to the first row of nations — in this case, to import a legal system complete with eminent jurists.

This sets Kazakhstan, a country still growing out of its years as a Soviet republic, apart from other emerging countries that seek the indigenous over the imported. In Africa, the desire to indigenize has often cost countries heavily.

This philosophy of going out and bringing in what you prize to Kazakhstan, like so much else in the country, reflects the vision of Nursultan Nazarbayev, who upon the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, was elected president of the new country of Kazakhstan, which he led until his resignation this March.

Nazarbayev built this secular, economically thrusting and technologically ambitious country with an authoritative hand, but with a view to adopting and adapting. He was helped by plentiful oil revenues — Kazakhstan produces 1.9 million barrels a day.

The Kazakh managerial class reflects a diversity of elite education from Oxford to Cambridge, Harvard to Stanford, to Moscow, Singapore and Beijing universities. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the constitutional successor to Nazarbayev, has heavy ties to China, and AIFC’s Kelimbetov was educated at Moscow State University and Georgetown University. The effects of that educational spread have informed policymaking and the country’s can-do culture.

Kazakhs go to the polls on June 9, in a presidential election widely expected to endorse the policies of Nazarbayev and to elect Tokayev, a former prime minister and close political ally of Nazarbayev.

In an interview, Tokayev told me that he’d have an increased emphasis on the environment, especially the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest inland waterway, which has been detrimentally affected by oil drilling, and he’d create an environment ministry.

Although Tokayev is expected to get a huge majority at the polls, he’s facing opposition from six rivals, ranging from a communist to a woman who wants to speak for small business. In fact, gender equality is, to an observer, remarkably well-achieved in Kazakhstan, at least in the capital.

Kazakhstan is challenged by its sheer size and its location. It’s larger than Western Europe, but its population is just 18 million. It’s the world’s 9th-largest country by land mass, and it’s land-locked. It has five contiguous and, at times, contentious neighbors: China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Governing Kazakhstan requires diplomatic agility.

Although oil has financed the growth and the building of this architecturally creative new capital, Tokayev told me he’s going to push energy diversification. Already, the electric sector has embraced solar and wind — a great resource in the country — and is increasing its exports to neighbors.

In short, Tokayev wants future development to embrace the unique size and resources of the country. So, he hopes to make it a transportation hub, an agricultural powerhouse and a technology leader. He also wants Kazakhstan, which, he told me, already accounts for 60 percent of the Central Asian GDP, to be an international financial center.

The country’s premier institution of higher learning, Nazarbayev University, emphasizes STEM, its president, Shigeo Katsu, told me. At the university, too, there’s diverse expertise: the faculty includes 50 nationalities and instruction is in English.

On Twitter: @llewellynking2

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of
White House Chronicle, on PBS. He’s based in Rhode Island and Washington. D.C.

Llewellyn King: Monetizing your home via selling electricity to neighbors

— Photo by Andrew Glaser

— Photo by Andrew Glaser


Uber isn’t finished yet — or, to be precise, the technology that enabled ride sharing, Airbnb and bicycle and scooter sharing is on the march.

It’s a simple idea, yet fiendishly brilliant: central computer control of an archipelago of often personally owned objects. So it was that private cars were monetized, and spare rooms and vacant apartments started adding to the family income.

Next up may be your roof: It could work if you have a solar panel installed or plan to install one. Rather than, as at present, selling surplus power to the local utility, you may simply sell it to a neighbor or someone else in proximity. This is happening in Australia where electricity shortages have led to radicalization of old concepts of the generation and supply of electricity.

Uber roofs was one of many ideas about the future of electricity at the Digital 360 Summit here: a gathering of those hoping to have a role in the future of the urban and suburban space with transformative digital technologies. It all comes under the rubric of smart cities.

No one is quite sure how all this will work, but an awesome assembly of companies who gathered here on May 21 and 22, tells its own tale. They include AT&T, General Motors, Siemens, National Grid, Sempra Energy, Edison Energy, SAS, Cisco Systems and Oracle.

The event is the brainchild of Andres Carvallo, who heads the management consultants CMG, in collaboration with Texas State University, itself committed to incubating innovative technologies.

All in all, when the mighty gather, it’s reasonable to believe mighty things are afoot: American city infrastructure is in the early throes of change.

The key to it all is the electric supply and the future shape of utilities, and how they manage the changes coming at them. This even as they spend billions of dollars to upgrade their systems. Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, says the infrastructure investment by the investor-owned electric utilities was nearly $1 trillion over the past decade.

Yet that doesn’t mean that the ground isn’t shifting. It is.

In the urban space, we’re seeing an extraordinary assemblage of disparate interests bent on having a piece of the action. Even activists from the Green New Deal see things going their way.

They applaud the emergence of dispersed generation and micro-grids. These are the result of carbon-free generation with wind and solar. It’s these microgrids which could make the Uber roof a possibility. Also, it’s these microgrids that the utilities must accommodate to make sure that if they generate, they pay their share of the electric grid through a standby fee. The grid is like the highway system: It’s there for us whether we drive or fly.

But green enthusiasm doesn’t end with dispersed generation. The Green New Dealers are passionate about smart buildings and making more of the old stock “smart” while having high standards for new buildings. So are the technologists, armed with sensors and data.

Another mighty upheaval is the electrification of transport. Everyone agrees it’s coming, but the issue of charging is still open: Will companies, already up and running, like ChargePoint, inherit that business? Will the utilities, as some have, move into charging or will municipalities, again as some have, get involved? Fast charging, which can fuel an electric car in 30 minutes with direct current, is expensive. Slower charging can take hours and doing it at home from the household supply can take all day or all night.

I was struck by an entrepreneurial startup in San Francisco, ChargeWheel, which offers a truck-mounted charger that will come to you if you’re stuck, or just want to avoid the hassle of finding a station and waiting.

The utilities with smart meters command a lot of vital data which will shape the digitization of the cities. But no firm can think its space in the digital future is reserved for it, including utilities.

Meanwhile some people will want to turn their roofs into generating stations and, who knows, suburbanites might want to offer charging in their driveways. Uberization knows no frontiers.

The scramble is joined.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com

Llewellyn King: The treasure of urban walkability

Walkers on Gauchetière Street, in    Montreal

Walkers on Gauchetière Street, in Montreal

A new generation of urbanites and people who would like to the move from the cul de sac life in the suburbs to downtowns are seeking neighborhoods where they can walk to shops, theaters, restaurants and to see their friends.

Realtors across America are finding they can get a premium for neighborhoods where residents can walk to just about everything.

Studies show that retailers can expect much more business, sometimes as much as 80 percent more, if they have more, regular foot traffic.

Walking, to its proponents, means living lighter on the earth with less pollution, better health, a sense of close community and an air of enlightenment. Neighborhoods like Dupont Circle, in Washington D.C. and Brooklyn Heights, in New York City, are adding walkability to the list of their virtues. But it is a phenomenon being experienced across the country and the world.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan wants to make London the most walkable city in the world, which may be news to those who already think it is a pretty good place for a stroll. But his plans go far beyond tourists marching around the sights or trying to get to Buckingham Palace from their hotel.

Khan seeks an organic change that links walking, cycling and public transport together in a unified way of getting around without cars. He has appointed a commissioner for walking and cycling, Will Norman, to oversee the new London mobility.

American cities are responding to the walkability imperative with initiatives of their own, driven by changing values and concepts.

To me, it seems like a giant back-to-the-future movement where the virtues now claimed for walkability are really the virtues of village life.

So, whether it is in San Diego or Baltimore, a new desire to abandon the car for the street is changing the way we live and what we think is the good life.

It is a part of a large urban adjustment that is underway; although the purists might want to see it as having no technological component beyond the new soles on shoes.

You cannot, as London has found, simply push walking without regard to cycling. And you cannot, as cities from coast to coast have done, put in bike lanes and permit those pesky scooters without regard to their impact on pedestrians.

More: Bikes themselves are changing dramatically. The cost of electric-assist bikes has tumbled from many thousands of dollars to around $1,000. Around Seattle, there are bike paths that call for one to be extremely athletic, as I recall.

Walkability, as an urban concept, reflects not only a new sensibility to the environment, but also a desire to regain a sense of the cosmopolitan life. Increasingly, as the malls are failing, we are deprived of the collective living experience.

The growth of the suburbs increased dependence on cars and bifurcated social life into business friends (lunch friends) and neighborhood friends (cookout friends).

Going forward, as the walkability ethic takes hold and more entrepreneurs see its potential, we will see walking communities clustered around transport centers, like subway stops; and, most likely, more short-distance commuting options, such as the light rail operating in Baltimore and San Diego.

Over the decades, I have been watching efforts to have people live where they work with planned communities like Reston, Va., outside Washington D.C. I once lived in Reston and that part of the plan never quite worked for it. People still commute to work, sometimes great distances, but with walkability as an urban goal, this trend may finally reverse.

What we do not need, in my view, is too much social engineering, which may be about to engulf London under its socialist mayor.

Bernard Shaw, the playwright, said of H.G. Wells, the author and a fellow socialist, that Wells would cut down the trees to build metal sunshades. That is the danger if walkability gets politicized and mandated. Walkability needs gentle footfalls, not imperatives.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com.

Llewellyn King: The Internet of Things will let cities reimagine infrastructure

The new World Trade Center, in Lower Manhattan

The new World Trade Center, in Lower Manhattan

Why no jubilation?

You’d have thought the agreement between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and President Trump to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure would cause wild celebration.

Why, then, didn’t the church bells ring out, the fire boats send arcs of water into the air and the stock of the construction companies, steel producers, asphalt purveyors and paint makers soar? It’s because nobody believed that we have the political coordination -- sometimes expressed as political will -- to do the deed and find the money.

Some money will be found eventually -- after some disaster like the collapse of a bridge on an essential highway, or the failure of one of the critical tunnels under the Hudson River, which carry people and goods up and down the East Coast.

It’s the equivalent of “I’ll mind what I eat after my heart attack” kind of thinking.

The infrastructure from airports to ports, roads to bridges is in parlous shape. We are a first-world nation, with third-world ways of moving ourselves and our goods.

Even if Congress found the money through acceptable taxes (an oxymoron) or acceptable program cuts (another oxymoron), years of squabbling will ensue between the states, between their congressional sponsors, with every locality on bended knee with its begging bowl raised high.

Yet the national infrastructure is due to get a powerful boost not from Washington, but rather from the Internet of Things.

Forces are amassing remake cities, and in so doing to reimagine the infrastructure.

These forces are the companies, academics and visionaries who see a future city where drones will deliver packages, automobiles will connect with each other and eventually will be driverless, as they speed down highways that’ve been modified for them.

WiFi will be available everywhere and traffic will flow better not because of new highways, but because its management will be outsourced to computers which will adjust traffic flows, change lights and direct interconnected cars to take the least-congested route. Think GPS navigation that can control the journey automatically.

Vehicles might suggest a route for you, warn you that the car, two spaces ahead, is weaving or that there’s an impending thunderstorm. This ability of cars and other vehicles to “talk” to each other is known as connectivity. Many of the features of this future conversation between vehicles and their environment are already being built into new cars.

It isn’t in use yet: Your car has a brain waiting to be engaged.

Potholes won’t vanish, but they’ll be identified as soon as they appear and near-automated machines will be dispatched to fill them.

The future of infrastructure is that it’ll be digitally managed to make it more efficient and to predict failures accurately. It won’t build bridges, tunnels, seaports or clear blocked canals. What it may do is move the needle in subtle ways.

More important will be the political impact of the big-company lobbies that will be unleashed across the political spectrum from the White House, to Congress, to the state capitals and the city halls. Big lobbies tend to get their way -- and they will when companies like Amazon, Google, IBM, Verizon, AT&T, Cisco, Uber and Lime are demanding upgrades to the infrastructure to accommodate their digitized world.

At present, infrastructure rejuvenation is a political wish list. Soon it will get teeth, tech teeth.

Most important for the future of cities -- from better lights and first responder systems to automated buses and ride-share vehicles -- will be the sense that things are moving.

History shows us that the public is hungry for the new, less so for repairs. Look at the history of Apple and how product after product, from tablets to phones to watches, has been snatched up. Now think of that hunger applied to a smart city which will have exciting new technology, making them more livable and, hopefully, more lovable.

Think of the coming infrastructure surge as the technological gentrification of cities.

It’s the tech giants and their lobbyists, abetted by public demand, who’ll redirect White House and congressional thinking about infrastructure in a world in which the invisible highways of the Internet will be controlling the old visible and familiar ones.

The Internet controls the vertical and the horizontal, so to speak.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com.

Llewellyn King: The Green New Deal is political theater


Not since Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey and The Heritage Foundation cooked up the Contract with America in 1994, has there been such a clever piece of political stagecraft as the Green New Deal.

But whereas the Gingrich plan was able to make its way untrammeled through the congressional election and, in many of its goals, into law, the Green New Deal is by its nature more political theater than legislative agenda.

The Green New Deal is a crummy document, featuring many old and failed ideas from the past — stretching back to the 19th century. But as a banner, it is effective; as a call to arms, it works.

What its Republican critics have wrong is that in cleaving to the White House line on global warming, they underestimate the degree of real alarm which aberrant weather, more severe hurricanes, rising sea levels and daily reports of catastrophic ice melts in the Arctic and Antarctic will engender.

A television video of a starving polar bear, whose sea ice habitat is under threat from climate change, has an incalculable effect on public alarm. But that bear and the bad news of rising water in Miami, Norfolk, Va., and San Francisco cannot be denied and will be present at the balloting in 2020.

The Green New Deal document is too broad, too idealistic and too weakly drafted to be taken seriously as legislation. But as propaganda, it is brilliant.

As presented by the Democratic House-Senate duo of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, and Sen. Ed Markey, of Massachusetts, it is more than an environmental wish list. It is a far-left social and environmental game plan. It is a call to reorder, reengineer and convert our society from what we drive to what we eat. It delves into the crypt of failed socialist ideas and brings out the cadavers, like the one of a living, guaranteed wage.

Sadly, the Green New Deal will hang some of these old, failed ideas around the necks of many of the Democratic presidential hopefuls -- at least five have uncritically endorsed it.

Recently, I went to hear one of those contenders, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, of Hawaii. In a few words, she impressed me; then, in a few more, she appalled me.

As someone who has served two deployments in the Middle East, as an enlisted woman and as an officer, Gabbard has something to say about foreign policy: She says no more wasteful foreign wars. But as an environmental champion, she has swallowed whole the weary fictions of the left.

Gabbard determines all electricity should be generated by renewables, defined as solar and wind. For good measure she throws in a denunciation of nuclear power, concentrating on the abandoned San Onofre plant, between Los Angeles and San Diego. To make her point, she says that the waste would last for 500,000 years, which should get a sharp rebuke from scientists.

Nuclear, she should be told, is progressive. It is science at the beginning of its age of discovery with new products and ideas swirling around as they have not since the 1950s. Small, factory-built reactors with various new technologies are being readied for market. The Holy Grail of nuclear fusion is closer than ever.

The science of carbon capture and storage, she should also be told, is evolving.

The green world needs to know that wind and solar are limited in that they cannot produce more power than they reap. Solar is confined by the amount of sun that falls on a given collector, wind by the amount of ambient breeze blowing though one windmill. That is guaranteed by the second law of thermodynamics.

Nonetheless, the message of the framing-word green in the Green New Deal is a clear call to arms. The rest of it should be put down to Ocasio-Cortez’s youth and inexperience and Markey’s foggy hopes.

But that does not mean that the next election will not, to rephrase a Clinton slogan, hinge on “It’s the climate, stupid.” The Green New Deal makes a nifty bumper sticker.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com.

Llewellyn King: Information technology has been far from the civic boon hoped for

A 20-year-old fax machine

A 20-year-old fax machine

When the current age of communication started (pick your time, but I think it was when we started sending print by telephone in the form of a fax), it was thought that dictators would fall, and democracy would be reinvigorated.

The first big disappointment was Saudi Arabia. When the Saudis began to get uncensored news and information, it was believed that the grip of the royal family and its extreme religious allies would be loosened. It did not happen. Instead, Saudi Arabia was spurred to use its oil wealth to push conservative Islam around the globe, especially in places where it was present but could be radicalized, including Pakistan and Bangladesh. They poured their money into madrassas -- religious schools -- that preached the Wahhabism, a strict and puritanical interpretation of Sunni Islam.

When Iran, a majority Shia country, was under the dictatorial thumb of the Shah, it was thought that the Iranians, a sophisticated people with an ancient and proud history, would be liberalized by the flow of Western, secular ideas. These ideas came into the country through the presence of visitors and contractors, and a liking for movies and television.

Fax transmission was important in the spread of ideas in Iran. But the faxes that had the biggest effect were not those preaching democracy but those coming from an old Shia cleric living in exile in a village outside Paris, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He used the fax to push the Islamic Revolution, which turned out to be a much worse tyranny than the Shah’s

People ask me why, when the mainstream media daily points up President Trump’s failures and transgressions, his supporters are unmoved, disdaining what is being revealed in favor of what they want to believe. They believe in Trump and they believe in his courtiers at Fox News Channel and on talk radio.

People do not react to raw information but, rather, to information that sits well with them for other reasons: what they are predisposed to believe.

Rupert Murdoch, the boss of Fox News, has had a genius, a real genius, for corralling those who felt ignored by society. He did it in Britain with his hugely successful tabloid newspaper, The Sun, and he has done it here with Fox News. In Britain and in the United States, he found and exploited a nativism that both countries had forgotten they had.

Fox News did not invent Trump; instead, the shoe fit. In Britain, The Sun did not invent Brexit. But when it came along, The Sun was ready to lead the charge -- and it did.

How we react to the news depends on our involvement with it in tertiary ways. If you were already convinced of British exceptionalism, you would move toward the hostility to Europe expressed in The Sun. If you think immigrants take jobs, speak strange languages and are usurping our Americanism, you will be gung-ho for Trump’s southern border wall.

In the 1990s you could find, and I did, from Nicaragua to Zimbabwe, old-line Communists lamenting the fall of the Soviet Union. They argued that it had not been given a chance. These people really believed that all that was wanted was more of what did not work.

If you are a Trump supporter, you are genuinely amazed that the mainstream media cannot see that what he is doing is great. Democrats and renegade Republicans, such as columnist George Will, can find nothing, absolutely nothing, good in the Trump presidency.

People, including AOL founder Steve Case, talked idealistically about the Internet in the days when it was getting going as the great, new democratic tool; a boon to global democracy. Wrong. If anything, it stirred up a destructive nationalism.

Information, I have noticed as a journalist who has worked on three continents, does not necessarily shape political opinion.

Political opinion tends to find the media that agree with it, not the other way. But after the two have mated, media can inflame its public partner. Good for two-party rivalry, but not for elucidation.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com. He’s based in Rhode Island and Washington. D.C.

Llewellyn King: Don't let autonomous-transport developers rush to market

A    WestJet    Boeing 737 MAX 8 on final approach. The model is now grounded.

A WestJet Boeing 737 MAX 8 on final approach. The model is now grounded.

A shadow has fallen across the future of autonomous transportation, one of the key aspects of the city of the future and of the widespread use of artificial intelligence. It comes from Boeing in the form of the computer problem that has grounded the world’s fleet of 737 Max 8 aircraft.

No definitive cause of the crashes of Lion Air Flight 610, in the Java Sea, which killed 189 people, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, en route from Nairobi to Addis Ababa, which killed 157 people, has been established yet. But the everything points to the computerized stall-avoidance system.

In terms of computing in aircraft, this is no more than an embarrassment. In terms of loss of life, it is ghastly. In terms of the public confidence in the growing role of computing in everything, it is grave.

These crashes have stimulated public fear, and public fear hangs around. So does institutional fear -- even when the problem has been identified and remediated.

Consider these events, which have left a long-lasting residue of fear:

Thalidomide was a drug developed in Germany and first marketed there to pregnant women as an anti-depressant.. Use spread around the globe and the results were devastating: More than 10,000 babies were born without one or two major limbs, like arms and legs.

I am told, although it is never mentioned, thalidomide haunts the drug industry. It has affected both the development of new drugs and the regulation of drugs to this day. The long delays and exhausting trials new drugs go through are partly due to something that happened in the late 1950s.

The Three Mile Island nuclear-power plant accident, in Pennsylvania in 1979, has affected nuclear design and regulation of nuclear plants ever since, although no life was lost. There was a partial meltdown of the core and the result fed the anti-nuclear movement which, ironically, pushed utilities back to coal -- now under attack because of its environmental impact.

The Max 8 problem, in terms of computing in aircraft, is no more than a glitch, possibly the result of a rush to market. But the loss of life is terrible and the loss of confidence immeasurable.

A whole array of high-tech companies is hoping to bring autonomous transportation to the streets within a decade or not much longer. These include Uber, Lyft and Google. Tesla would like to see autonomous electric trucks handling intercity deliveries.

This push to the driverless has huge energy and resources behind it. It is a part of what has come to be known as the smart city revolution. It also is part of what has been described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Early autonomous cars have depended on sensors to guide them. The car in front slows and the car behind picks this up from its sensors. When autonomous vehicles are fully developed, these cars and all the others on the road will be in constant communication with each other. Car A will tell Car B, “I am breaking” and so on down through a line of traffic. It is coming.

The message from Boeing’s catastrophe is: Get it right or you will scare the public off, as happened with Three Mile Island. Some willing propagandists scared the public off nuclear — our best way of making a lot of electricity without carbon.

The technology in aircraft is very sophisticated. Almost all passenger airliners have been able to land themselves once they intercept a radio signal, called the glide slope, at an advanced airport. They are packed full of computers operating all sorts of wondrous systems.

If all the computers on the fatal Max 8s had been talking to each other, as traffic will have to in the coming era of autonomous vehicles, they might well have shut down the stall avoidance system that was mis-sensing an imminent stall.

The neo-Luddites will try to exploit the Boeing catastrophe into slowing smart city development. The challenge for autonomous technology is to get it right. Not rush to market.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com and he’s based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

Llewellyn King: America needs presidential press conferences

In August 2006, President    George W. Bush    hosted seven White House Press Secretaries before the    James S. Brady Press Briefing Room    underwent renovation. From left,    Joe Lockhart   ,    Dee Dee Myers   ,    Marlin Fitzwater   , Bush,    Tony Snow   ,    Ron Nessen    and    James Brady    (seated) with his wife,    Sarah Brady   .

In August 2006, President George W. Bush hosted seven White House Press Secretaries before the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room underwent renovation. From left, Joe Lockhart, Dee Dee Myers, Marlin Fitzwater, Bush, Tony Snow, Ron Nessen and James Brady (seated) with his wife, Sarah Brady.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders’s disinclination, with approval from President Trump, to hold daily press briefings represents a serious setback of the public’s right to know. The briefings aren’t enshrined in the Constitution and she isn’t violating it -- except in its broad regard for freedom of the press.

But press briefings have become part of the lore of our governance. It’s the opportunity where, through the media, the public can ask, “What is going on?” And, as important, “What’ve you got to hide?”

Like many things in a democracy, the system of questioning the administration at the daily briefings is imperfect, cantankerous, open to abuse, and unfair to smaller news organizations.

But the briefings are a small, frequently foggy, window into the White House and the administration of the day. The briefings are how the public, through the media, peers in. Presidents should be worried about what will be asked and how it will play. That’s in their long-term interest.

From time to time, some politician or commentator says we need something equivalent to the British House of Commons’ Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQ).

Actually, we did have it for quite a long time, and now we don’t: It was those daily briefings.

Some press secretaries haven’t been forthcoming, but there’s always the palliative effect of simply raising an issue. A small pebble unearthed, as with a small secret, can set in motion a landslide, revealing truths, identifying mendacities and adding to the hygiene of a democracy.

Much depends on the character of the press secretary and the relationship he or she has with the president. A good press secretary is one we, the media, trust and one who’s also trusted by the president -- not to lie for him, but to advance his interests while informing the press of the president’s thinking.

Most press secretaries aren’t asked to lie, but to work around awkward truths.

I recall, particularly, when I was in the press party which accompanied President Bill Clinton to China. Mike McCurry, the press secretary, a favorite of Clinton and the press, did his best to eschew the Monica Lewinsky scandal. For example, McCurry manipulated the exit press conference in Hong Kong. I heard him arrange for an Irish correspondent to get a question in because McCurry knew that correspondent wouldn’t ask about Lewinsky.

Another press secretary who was liked and admired by the president he served, George W. Bush, was Tony Snow. He’d been a member of the press corps and we trusted him through contentious times to brief fairly and answer questions to the best of his knowledge. There was plenty that was debatable, but the three-way trust between the media, Snow and the president, was preserved. The same could be said of his successor, Dana Perino, who is now a Fox News host.

A president tweeting isn’t a president being open. It’s a harangue. It’s a version of my way or the highway. Likewise, questions answered or avoided at the end of a photo opportunity in the Oval Office or on the South Lawn on the way to the helicopter aren’t a press conference. It’s a hit-and-run where the president drives off unscathed.

The Trump administration got off on a bad footing with the media not because of preexisting bias but because of initial preemptive lying. When Sean Spicer, Trump’s first press secretary, maintained, despite incontrovertible photographic evidence, that Trump had larger crowds at his inauguration than Barack Obama had had at his, the back story was that lying in defense of the president was okay, part of the job. It shouldn’t be; lying undermines the veracity of every factual answer to come.

On Sept. 8, 1974, Jerry terHorst, President Gerald Ford’s press secretary, resigned when he found that he’d been kept in the dark of Ford’s plan to pardon Richard Nixon and had, as a result, misled the press. The press corps revered Jerry for what he did; for what appeared to a be a blow for the truth. He got a long, standing ovation when he spoke at the National Press Club.

Despite what the Trump administration says, the facts are journalism’s bread and butter. Honest.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com and he’s based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

Llewellyn King: Electrifying news about airplanes

The electric    Pipistrel Taurus G4    taking off from the    Sonoma County Airport   , in California

The electric Pipistrel Taurus G4 taking off from the Sonoma County Airport, in California

The case for electric airplanes is overwhelming.

The problems of today’s aircraft are well-known: noise and pollution. Homeowners may hate the noise, but pollution is the bigger issue.

While jet aircraft account only for a small part of the greenhouse gas releases worldwide, it is where they release them that makes them especially damaging. Nasty at sea level; at 30,000 feet and above, they are potent contributors to the greenhouse problem.

The answer is to begin to electrify aviation.

The need has not escaped the big air frame makers. Boeing in the United States and Airbus in Europe both have electric airplane programs. Tech giants Uber, Google and Amazon all want to develop electric vehicles to use as ride-sharing cars, pilotless air taxis and delivery drones.

A raft of small companies worldwide is working on new electric airplanes, usually just two-seaters. Some are flying but batteries limit their airborne endurance to one to two hours.

Already, there is an experimental, pilotless air taxi system in Abu Dhabi. Frankfurt airport is about to announce a system as is Singapore.

Enter André Borschberg: a Swiss innovator, pilot, entrepreneur and passionate environmentalist. He may know more about electric propulsion than anyone else and is a great believer in the electric future of flying.

Borschberg, along with Swiss balloonist Bertrand Piccard, built and flew the solar-powered electric airplane, Solar Impulse 2, around the world, landing triumphantly in Abu Dhabi on July 26, 2016.

Flying the first aircraft they built, Solar Impulse 1, Borschberg eclipsed all records for endurance by staying aloft alone for 117 hours. He holds 14 world flying records.

Borschberg and Piccard created the Solar Impulse Foundation that is seeking to identify and assist 1,000 technologies that help the environment. Those listed so far range from a plastic recycling system to self-contained toilets to village-scale desalination plants.

“They have to be able to make a profit,” Borschberg told me in a telephone interview. He believes the dynamics of the free market must be put in play to solve the growing global environmental crisis.

In his latest undertaking, Borschberg has spun off a company, H55, to develop systems for electric aircraft and to help electric aircraft manufacturers with H55 know-how. The company has developed a single-seat, acrobatic aircraft with an hour’s endurance. They hope to make a two-seater which can stay aloft longer.

In February, Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Nanodimension signed on for a first round of financing. H55 has turned onto the runway and is beginning to accelerate.

Borschberg is a pilot for all seasons. He learned to fly in the Swiss Air Force and is rated in fighter jets and helicopters. For fun he does aerobatics, as does Piccard.

Borschberg graduated with a degree in engineering and aerodynamics from the Federal University of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, and with a management degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

It is not only the environmental aspects of electric flight that charm Borschberg, but also the incredible efficiency. He says electric-powered airplanes are 60 percent more efficient than those with fossil-fueled engines and can be very precisely tuned because of the immediate availability of torque when the current is flowing.

That same efficiency with appropriate software, extends to the control of the aircraft. “A simple electric drone, which you can buy in any store, is more stable in wind turbulence than a helicopter,” Borschberg says. These properties will make vertical takeoffs and landings a reality for many new aircraft, he says.

The airplane of the future will be at an airport near you soon -- and it may not need to use the runway.

John Gillespie Magee’s poem “High Flight,” loved by aviators, begins, “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth/And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.”

A new generation of engineers from Boeing to Borschberg to backyard tinkerers wants to slip the surly bonds of petroleum.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com. He’s based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

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Llewellyn King: Head's up! Delivery drones are on the way.

A delivery drone.

A delivery drone.

Here a drone, there a drone. Everywhere a drone. Drones, the light ones, not the big military ones that chase bad guys around the Middle East and elsewhere, are beginning to do heavy lifting.

Consider: Packages are already being delivered by drone in Canberra, Australia’s capital. In Rwanda — unsophisticated Rwanda, known more for its genocide in 1994 — drones are delivering life in the form of emergency blood supplies. I am told the blood is dropped where it is needed in the landlocked East African country by little parachutes. In Europe, soon drones will deliver packages between Helsinki, Finland’s capital, and Tallinn, the capital of neighboring Estonia.

If you need it quickly and cheaply, call a drone. They are the new frontier of delivery.

When the new age of unmanned civilian aircraft dawned (thanks to better batteries, cheaper computer chips and, most important, good, cheap gyroscopes), the sky became the limit. The sky is big, but not that big, and it is going to become a jungle of drones.

Enter AirMap, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based company. It is working with aviation authorities all over the world to design air traffic systems for drones, which allow them free range in the most crowded airspace.

The platform offered by AirMap, according to chairman and co-founder Ben Marcus, is the system that is being incorporated into drone control systems 85 percent of the time around the world. He tells me that Switzerland is a leader in the drone regulatory interface.

Marcus talks about drones passionately, as though they are a good cause. He wants to enable more drones to fly safely. Millions of them.

The drone control system, which is under development, is like the air traffic control system that allows small private airplanes to fly along with commercial jumbo jets. AirMap is a system that has been designed to welcome all flyers, according to Marcus.

AirMap works with air management agencies, like the Federal Aviation Administration and its equivalent in other countries, to make the drone future safe and effective for all the players who would like to enter the drone market, including recreational flyers; post offices; retailers like Amazon, an early air advocate; Google, a big proponent of the automated future; and Uber, which has big plans for its role in the cities of tomorrow. Can FedEx and UPS afford to be behind?

There is scarcely anyone who delivers anything, who does not dream of the time when drones will take it to the front door, and where you will retrieve the cargo by varying methods, including taking it from a string, as is happening in Australia, according to Marcus.

Early entrants into the commercial use of drones have been electric utilities for line inspections, broadcasters for remote photography, and police departments for a variety of their work.

“That is just beginning,” Marcus told me.

Another drone company seeking to make a place for itself in the drone space, San Francisco-based Starship Technologies, promotes how clean-and-green and quiet drones are. Certainly, as they run on electric batteries, they avoid all the noise and mess of internal combustion.

Last Christmas, the world was reminded of the need for systems of control of drones around airports when Gatwick, London’s second airport, was closed for more than a day on news of the sighting of a drone.

Marcus points out that, as practical matter, aircraft deal with birds all the time and they are not subject to the kind of control — control not limitation, advocates are keen to emphasize — take the randomness out of drone flying and the use of airspace for other things.

When you buy a drone in the United States, you must register it — and more than a million are registered. Control system technology will keep track of each drone and who is responsible without the “turn left, head 130 degrees” control that aircraft have. The control systems will keep drones at safe distances and altitudes from runways, other drones and physical objects. Delivery drones will use sensors to skip over power lines and stay away from other drones on the same mission.

You do not want your new shoes tangling with a pizza, as drones bearing both head for your door.

On Twitter: @llewellynking2
Llewellyn King, based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., is executive producer and host of
White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com.

Llewellyn King: Confusing empathy with policy

“La Cucana’’ (greasy pole), by Francisco Goya.

“La Cucana’’ (greasy pole), by Francisco Goya.


Mark Twain once observed that no one would try to play a fiddle in public without some prior instruction in the instrument, but no one had such hesitation when it came to writing.

Clearly, many candidates these days think you can run for president without any political experience or with precious little. The unqualified and the marginally equipped seem to believe they are uniquely gifted to be president of the United States.

At the moment a large school of Democrats feel that because they empathize with the working poor, the struggling middle class and are appalled by the excesses of the plutocrats, they can, when elected, put it all right. They confuse empathy with policy and achievability.

Then there are those who subscribe to the belief in business as the incubator of all skills. These are the people who believe — and they could well line up for former Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz — that if you can run a business, you can get a handle on Washington. It is a myth that just won’t die. If one can make a lot of money, it proves just one thing: One has made a lot of money. Running based on commercial success and Washington failure doesn’t work. The two worlds are not subject to the same laws of nature, as it were.

In business, you can walk away from failure; in politics, it follows you. If a franchise deal fails in business, you abandon it. You can’t abandon Russia or China because you can’t get a deal. And you can’t abandon the poor because you think you can’t afford them.

Politics is, above all, learned, and it is learned in political places — school boards, community associations, unions and state legislatures. Anywhere where offices are elective.

If you want to succeed in reshaping Washington, the first thing to do is to understand it and respect it. Yes, respect it.

We are so inured to people running against Washington that we forget that it is the product of all the others who ran against it. Washington, like all complex systems, is the sum of its parts, from the lobbyists to the agencies, and the laws which Congress has passed.

Washington is a seething, dynamic system, not too complex to be reformed but way too complex to be a candidate for simple solutions. Look at the supreme political amateur Donald Trump and see how his plan to upend Washington and “drain the swamp” has fared. In engineering and science, if you want to change something, first understand it — know its parts and their functions before you start.

Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, failed to reform the State Department because he didn’t feel he needed to understand it. He failed in his own right, even without the difficulties that Trump piled on him.

If politics is war by another means, then don’t show your hand. You don’t tell the enemy where you’ll dig in or what secret weapon you’ll bring to bear. To declare the rate of tax you favor (70 percent for the rich), how you are going to implement a national healthcare system (extend Medicare) and who you’ll not  listen to (lobbyists are a great source of information), and what limits you are going to put on yourself (to draw attention to your rectitude) is neither the way to get elected nor to do the peoples’ business. Caring isn’t a plan.

Many successful presidents, from Washington to Clinton, have been bad businessmen. The best qualification for the office isn’t how well you’ve done at something else, but to have run something big and political like a charity, an advocacy group, a school, a city or a state. That way you learn the art of give a little, take a lot. Those who haven’t had this administrative experience need to study it over and over.

As Lloyd George, the British prime minister during the last part of World War I, wrote, “There is no greater mistake than to try to leap an abyss in two jumps.” Every day, I read someone is setting out to prove him wrong and run for president without regard to the geography of the politics.

On Twitter: @llewellynking2
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of
White House Chronicle, on PBS. He is based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

Llewellyn King: The women who would be president


Good morning class, draw near and listen ever so closely.

So, you all want to be president of the United States, arguably the most difficult and demanding job in the world?

Clearly, you feel that you have unique talents which will promote peace and prosperity and block injustice, racism and men hitting on women.

You are sure that you will be able to curb, gently, the imperial instincts of China and its canny leader, Xi Jinping.

And you have a sure-fire plan to contain Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions in eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East and to persuade our shaken allies that it is worth standing firm with us.

You might want to know what to do about Africa’s soaring population and declining prospects.

You, also, I trust have given thought to the future as the so called Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds with huge consequences for the future of work (artificial intelligence taking away jobs); the future of transportation (autonomous vehicles, ships and airplanes); and remote farming (farms operated from city desks).

If you are all set on those things, we can get down to the ones which may decide the election: the social issues, including abortion, education, gender equity and gender equality, gun control, access to healthcare, immigration and income inequality.

You might want to tell people how you will turn back the tides and solve global warming. Rich people are starting to worry about their oceanfront homes; that means it will become a fashionable topic with those who have been indifferent screaming for action

Now, ladies, step forward for little individual tutelage.

Elizabeth Warren: You have the pole position as the racers line up, but already there are troubling things. Ms. Warren, you must stop taking President Trump’s bait. How the devil did you get into getting your DNA analyzed? Bad move. Lead the debate, do not join it.

Kamala Harris: A few good notices and you are off and running. Just wait until the opposition research pulls apart the cases you prosecuted when you were a district attorney in San Francisco -- and the things you said in court. Two former prosecutors, Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, have tarnished the brand.

Kirsten Gillibrand: The announcement on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was, well, weak. It looked like you were there because you had just published a children’s book called something like Snuggles the Rabbit.. Bold statesmanship was not to be heard. It is hard to look presidential on a comedy program. Looking presidential is worth a lot in the polls, especially at the beginning. Now to those giant flip-flops on guns and abortion. Were you not a darling of the NRA? What about your switching from pro-life to pro-getting-elected? Explain your double epiphany.

Tulsi Gabbard: Step forward and salute. Major, you are the only declared candidate with military service: the only candidate in sight who has worn your country’s uniform and seen active duty. Bravo! That is going to be a huge credential, but not quite enough to outweigh the fact that you are too exotic: born in American Samoa, raised in Hawaii and a Hindu. At 38, you have got time, lots and lots of it. Beware hopefuls. This lady may not be for turning.

To the whole class of four: Have you ever run a large organization? Have you a big scandal you think you can keep hidden (you cannot)? Do you know enough people to staff the cabinet? Do you know how you will find 1,200 people to fill the positions that must be confirmed by the Senate? How is your golf game?

Three of you are senators, Gillibrand, Harris and Warren, and Gabbard is a member of the House. Hard to run against Washington when you already have contracted Potomac Fever.

Suggestion: Get a big idea and run with that. Keep out of the granular social stuff, it will bring you down. Prepare to be vice president and bide your time.

House, Senate, White House, America’s women are on the move, and may the best woman win.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email isllewellynking1@gmail.com. He’s based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

Llewellyn King: The real crises facing America -- stubborn belly fat, cellulite, crepey skin


A review of television advertising turns up keys to what is really bothering Americans -- making them grouchy, despairing and causing them to vote in strange ways.

It is nothing short of a pandemic. There has been no word yet from the Republican or Democratic leadership on this debilitating national crisis that is causing more than half of us to act strangely and to seek to alleviate or conceal our affliction.

It is, of course, stubborn belly fat (SBF). We carry around, collectively, millions of pounds of it.

If you are gasping, it is because you know what I mean. You know the misery of that roll below the navel that will not go away despite extreme measures like jogging or eating African berries as recommended by Dr. Oz, who is one of the few men of his age who does not have SBF. Of course, he looks as though he has been in a Turkish prison all his life and has never had enough square meals to get the dreaded SBF.

My own research shows that SBF is followed on the Misery Index by cellulite and, growing in severity but still far behind SBF, crepey skin. Ugh! Happily, cellulite does not have to be shown: Avoid beaches and pools and if you are unsure, undress in the dark. There are myriad creams that offer to banish crepey skin. They may be mildly effective but the surefire fix, never patented, is long sleeves. Hide it.

Sadly you cannot hide that roll around the belly, just below the belly button and above the recreation area. It wobbles in your bathing suit, bulges in pants and dresses when you sit. There are various rubberized garments which will pull it in for as long as you can stand the constriction, but those only flatten: maximum discomfort for minimum concealment.

SBF is pernicious: It is like a tattoo, there for all time.

Now there are those who say that diet and exercise will banish it. Diet and exercise, those two imposters that are prescribed for everything from a broken heart to bankruptcy. The medical profession has an answer: diet and exercise. Lies! Americans have been running since the 1970s, have joined health clubs in the millions and have eschewed everything that tastes good. You know what? SBF is spreading.

Eat only lettuce and you will die of malnutrition, emaciated – except for that ring around the tummy, belly fat. Believe me, it will go with you to the grave, jiggling. The hips may shrink, the thighs contract, the chest disappear inside the rib cage but look down and – Oh, horror! -- it is there wobbling, mocking, and taunting, keeping you from love, happiness at the beach or pool, a job promotion and defying the best tailors and dressmakers to wall it in.

It is even a sore political subject.

Former President Obama did not seem to have any, which depressed his approval ratings. It made it hard for some to trust him. Another former president, Bill Clinton, who is a shadow of his former self and a vegan, knows all about it. I bet that skinny as he is now, compared with his time of serial hamburger intake, below his belt line, there is a strip of protruding fat that harkens back to days of indulgence: the irremovable scar of eating a lot.

As for President Trump, with that front-facing bay window, you know there is a sack of SBF. I know how that feels. Mine wants a doughnut right now.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com. He’s based in Washington, D.C., and Rhode Island.

Llewellyn King: Prepare for the convulsion of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

“The    Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse   , by Viktor Vasnetsov.

“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov.


It isn’t starting with a bang, but don’t be deceived: The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is underway, and companies and institutions that ignore it will be overwhelmed by it. Individuals will adapt to it as best we can, as we always have.

In short 4IR is the fusing of the digital, physical and biological spheres. It’s the interconnection of everything, bringing change in companies, jobs, schools and eventually government. Government won’t to be able to stand idly by when it sees traditional businesses upended and huge changes in how we work and study, and where.

As 4IR moves ahead one can reasonably contemplate a time when body parts will be printed, robots will prepare restaurant food and drone taxis will take us to the airport, where departures will be handled without human intervention -- because you were verified through facial recognition when you bought your ticket on your smartphone, you won’t need to do anything but walk through security and onto a plane, which has a cabin crew to look after you but no pilots.

Behind and driving the revolution is artificial intelligence, commanding everything from farms, where tractors will start themselves and plow or reap without a human in sight, to street lights that turn off when nothing is moving and back on as needed, to manufacturing that will be dominated by 3D printing, better referred to as additive manufacturing.

The troubadour of 4IR is Klaus Schwab who created the World Economic Forum back in 1971, the world’s most important ideas mart known as Davos, after Davos-Klosters the Swiss resort where the forum meets every year. This year Davos kicks off on Jan. 22 and will be devoted to what Schwab, 80, a German economist and engineer, has called “Globalization 4.0”.

The first forum to look at 4IR was in 2016. Schwab has written two books on the subject -- The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Shaping the Future of the Fourth Industrial Revolution -- and has been ceaseless in promoting the future while warning of it. He told Gerard Baker, the former executive editor of The Wall Street Journal, in a TV interview that enumerating the challenges wasn’t enough, there need to be solutions as well.

A note: Don’t think you can join the 3,000 participants this year. It’s by invitation only. And if you get one, Davos hotel rooms -- plain vanilla rooms – can cost $900 a night and suites can go for $5,000 a night. When I checked, there were few vacancies. The movers and shakers start early.

The three past industrial revolutions are listed by Schwab as the replacement of animal power by water and then steam power, the latter at the beginning of the 18th Century; the deployment of electricity, starting in the late 19th century; and the digital revolution of the last part of the 20th Century.

The Davos meeting will examine the upheaval besetting the world with 4IR and how it’ll be managed. It’s what Schwab calls Globalization 4.0. “We must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or greater peril,” he says.

Andre Kudelski, a Silicon Valley veteran, now head of the eponymous Swiss high-tech company that bears his name, says, “A skilled engineer can take control remotely of any connected ‘thing.’ Society has not yet realized the incredible scenarios this capability creates.”

Says Robert Shiller, a Yale University economics professor and 2013 Nobel Prize winner, “We cannot wait until there are massive dislocations in our society to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Others dream of a cleaner, safer and healthier world. Dileep George, an artificial intelligence and neuroscience researcher, quoted by the forum, says, “Imagine a robot capable of treating Ebola patients or cleaning up nuclear waste.”

Leon Trotsky, a veteran of the Russian Revolution, said, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” He might well be paraphrased to say, “We may not be interested in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but it is interested in us.”

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com. He’s based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

Llewellyn King: The 4IR and glittery Davos


Davos conference logo.

Davos conference logo.

On Jan. 22-25, 2019 in Davos-Klosters, a Swiss resort, the World Economic Forum meets. It is the glitteriest of conferences. The great and the good, the rich industrialists and the glamorous public intellectuals get together to sort out where humanity is headed.

Just to be invited is a kind of credential, a sort of honorary degree, a statement that you are world-class important.

There are politicians, CEOs, so-called thought leaders and the top non-governmental organizations, environmentalists and academics.

The world’s most important international conference it is, but does it work? At some level, yes. At others, no.

It stimulates thinking, but does it change anything? Reading the news coverage year after year you are inclined to think that a lot of the participants come to rehash things they have said before or ideas that have been with them for a long time. Others are stuck in ideological dogma and try to bend the facts to fit the dogma. Think socialist; think Republican.

Yet it has no competition. It is the place to float an idea. Probably no one floats more ideas than the man who founded the forum in 1971 and serves as its executive chairman, Klaus Schwab. He is a visionary German, who holds doctorates in economics and engineering from universities in Germany and Switzerland and a Master of Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

It was Schwab who, in 2016, launched the idea of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) by making it the subject of the forum that year and writing a book on it.

The 4IR is the concept that all of science and technology -- from biology to nanotechnology, from quantum computing to artificial intelligence -- are coming together with stunning and, at times, frightening visions of the future. A 3D printer may be making a body part while a robot is helping treat Ebola in Africa. New metals are being formulated for specific needs without human input and farms are operating with few farmers.

In that way, with all science melding and communicating, 4IR may have consequences far beyond the previous three: first, mechanical power from water and steam; then electrical power for manufacturing; and followed by computing power and communications. Now, in the age of the Internet of Things, unity of things from artificial intelligence (AI) to advanced medicine.

Enter governments. Schwab sounds a note of warning: Will they grasp and facilitate, or will they frustrate what is happening? Will they regulate when regulation is needed? In short, will the global political class comprehend that it is in the throes of something big -- bigger than it can imagine? Will it allow it to flourish while checking its Frankenstein tendencies (as with the social media companies), or will it try and subdue it or let it run to excess?

If the Davos forum has a structural weakness, it seems to me, it is that executives who are mostly middle-aged and older are dealing with ideas that have been generated by young scientists, researchers and thinkers. The average age of the people in the control room for the first manned moon launch, Apollo 11, was 28. By the time NASA had become more grown-up, the average age of the control-room operators for the first space shuttle launch was 47.

Call it the sclerosis problem. I have often wondered, as civilian, large airframe design is dominated by two companies, Boeing and Airbus, whether a young engineer with a better idea would get a hearing.

It takes new companies to pursue new ideas. Those that do not grasp the speed of change fall by the way, or are just reduced in size. Half the companies of the Dow in 2000 are not there now.

The 4IR is underway here and now -- it is not something in the out-years. A microcosm of 4IR is in the emergence of smart cities where telephones, computers, electricity and social welfare are fusing.

All of this raises the two great questions of our time: What is the future of work and can we save the environment in time? You will hear on these from Davos, no doubt.

A contradicting footnote to the idea that the young are the only big idea merchants: Klaus Schwab is 8o.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com.

Llewellyn King: A Christmas cake for the Bakers' Year



Christmas is coming. I know this because of indelible evidence in my own home. My wife, Linda Gasparello, has just baked a Christmas cake. If I doubt that this is the month of Christmas, I just have to look at it, cooling on the kitchen counter, declaring itself, in its way, the harbinger of the holidays.

The cake can’t be eaten yet. No, no. Linda, who’s a phenomenon at the range, explains when she sees me circling with a knife, the cake needs to “cure” for at least a week. Rum must infuse the cornucopia of fruit which has bonded with flour and eggs and whatever else makes a cake a cake. I don’t know all the fruits and nuts that go into The Great Christmas Cake, but I do know there are dried apricots. Linda gave me some as a bribe to get out of the kitchen while she was baking the cake.

All year we eat very little cake in our home. Desserts are avoided for the usual reason: keeping down the calorie count. But recently, for a party, Linda made a carrot cake. Not because she’s my wife, but because I adore carrot cake, I can say that hers is the best-ever.

How come I indulge in carrot cake when I eschew sponge, hide from German chocolate and, with a heavy heart, have even shaken my head at Sachertorte (chocolate cake covered with apricot jam and chocolate icing) in Vienna -- a crime against Austria, practically an act of war? (I must confess, though, that I once ate the cake in the Hotel Sacher in Vienna where it was invented.) The answer is carrots sound so healthy. “Good for you,” my mother used to say. She was a frightful cook and so raw carrots were better than anything she tried to do to them, which was mostly boil the life out of them until they were soft and spongy, most of the nutrients gone.

This year I read Hotel Sacher, a novel by Rodica Doehnert which traces the role of the great hotel at the end of the 19th Century -- how it was a kind of headquarters for the events that led to the end of Austro-Hungarian Empire and to World War I. If you want to research this in chilling detail, read Max Hastings’s book Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War.

Back to cakes and Christmas. Linda’s cake has so many things in it I wonder it doesn’t cause a criticality incident or spontaneously ignite.

There seems to be boom in cooking and baking in particular. It all goes back to Julia Child, “The French Chef” starting on television in the 1960s, who whet the nation’s palate for cooking. Julia showed that cooking could be fun (especially if you cook with wine and imbibe as you go) and challenging -- so much so that today we have an abundance of cooking shows.

The ones I hate are those which weaponize cooking — with contestant chefs who are sent home in tears because their sauce separated or, horror of horrors, their soufflé collapsed.

Anyway, it seems 2018 is the Bakers’ Year. Linda is an exception because she bakes and tames meat. She can make a delectable osso buco as easily the tiramisu which follows. Mostly, there’s a divide between the flour people and meat people. Pretty much in the same the way, when I worked at The Washington Post, there was a divide between the pot smokers and the drinkers. Me, the latter.

I can tell baking is in by the number of recipes I find people exchanging, and I put it all down to The Great British Baking Show, on PBS, which entertains and makes baking exciting. Here contestant chefs also are sent home, but with such teary reluctance that if you want a hug from the whole cast and the other amazing chefs, you deliberately add a cup of salt instead of sugar to the cake. Tears and hugs all round.

We’re planning a Great British Christmas Tea at our house with Devonshire clotted cream and jam on scones, little sandwiches and – play the drums and trumpets fortissimo -- the fruited cake, which is curing very nicely, thank you.

And for Christmas itself? We’re going out to a restaurant. Happy holidays!

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com. He is based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

Llewellyn King: Europe and democracy under dark clouds

Agrinio, Greece, in the Christmas season.

Agrinio, Greece, in the Christmas season.


]There is not a dark cloud hanging over Europe. There are a bunch of them. Taken together they account for a sense of foreboding, not quite despair, but a definite feeling that things are unraveling and, worse, that there is no leadership – second-raters at all the national helms. That was the near consensus at the annual Congress of the Association of European Journalists here in lovely Western Greece.

In a class by itself in worries in Europe is Russia. It is creating trouble all over Europe, but especially in the countries the comprised the former Soviet Union. It has a propaganda effort the likes of which has not been seen since the days of the Cold War -- except modern technology and its social media manifestation have made it more deadly, surreptitious and deniable. The problem is one which affects news organizations directly. Fake events vie with pernicious posting on social media and relentless cyber-undermining of systems and processes.

Disparaging democracy seems to be a primary Russian goal, making it appear unworkable.

When will Russia move from soft war to hard war? The current standoff over Crimea augers badly for vulnerable Russian neighbors particularly the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. They are battling massive Russian undermining of truth and wonder whether they will fall again to the Russian bear.

Add to this fear a new dynamic: What will America do if Russia moves? The fear is it will do nothing. President Trump’s haranguing of the other NATO allies is not reassuring to them.

After the existential worries about Russia, comes Brexit. It is here and now. It is, in the eyes of continentals, a ghastly mistake that is going to cost all of Europe dearly. And what for? The vague shibboleth of “sovereignty.” Euros remain sadly hopeful that somehow there will be a second referendum in Britain and that everything will be as it was: Britain being a stabilizer among the 28 nations that make up the European Union.

Since Britain’s entry in 1973, it has been a fundamental side of an iron triangle of the three big economies: Germany, France and Britain. Britain has been an older sibling, the sensible one. Now the odds are that it will be gone, headed for an uncertain future leaving behind the wreckage of a broken marriage and squandered hope for what Tony Blair, the former Labor prime minister, used to call the “European Project.”

Hungary and the ultra-right policies of Viktor Orban are a very great worry in Europe. Similarly, Poland’s shift to the right and the success of right-wing, near fascist parties across Europe, including Austria (heretofore a center of cautious reasonableness), add to the sense of disintegration.

Two other worries are France and Italy. Along with Hungary and Poland, Italy, with an amalgamated government of the ultra-right and ultra-left, looks as determined as the other two to thumb its nose at the European Union and its rules, maybe to withdraw even. Hungary does it over press freedom and human rights, Italy over fiscal probity and open hostility to the EU.

France is a different story. Emmanuel Macron, the young president was, briefly, the great hope of Europe, but his popularity at home has slid and he has had to turn back his ambitious reforms after street demonstrations, violence and fatalities.

Add to all this shifting sand the uncertain future in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is on her way out and, suddenly, she seems a more desirable leader than she was thought to be during her tenure.

Feeding the swing to the right and as far from resolution today as it was when it began, illegal immigration is an undermining pressure, un-addressed on the left and exploited on the right.

Meanwhile, across Europe press freedom is teetering: a big issue at this congress. As a Bulgarian delegate said to me, “When the press goes, so goes democracy.” Then she added, “We thought that, in some way, America would help, but not now. We are on our own.”

Europe will have a fine Christmas -- it does Christmas so well. Next year though, some of the stresses may reach breaking point and the carols will have given way to uglier, discordant notes.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com.

Llewellyn King: The Trumpian world of nonbelief vs. reality

Naval Station Newport, which the Navy fears is threatened by flooding caused by global warming.

Naval Station Newport, which the Navy fears is threatened by flooding caused by global warming.

I’d like to introduce you to the power of not believing. There is, as President Trump has pointed out, too much believing going on and it is time for a national re-evaluation.

Take, for example, all this erroneous believing about sea-level rise. Guru Trump doesn’t believe in that, so it’s not happening. Billions of dollars are being wasted in cities, from Boston to Miami, to harden against something that isn’t happening. All that’s needed is a little non-belief.

Some admirals in the U.S. Navy have failed to get the message and are alarming their commands about sea-level rise on the East Coast of the United States, endangering naval installations. Particularly they’re suggesting that Naval Station Norfolk, the huge base in Virginia, is in trouble. These admirals and their adherents in the ranks should be reassigned and given shore duty on mountains so they can see the sea level is actually down.

In some quarters, the doctrine of not believing is losing ground and believing is seeping in. Wall Street stands out. Something should be done, maybe another tax cut.

While it was bastion of the power of non-belief, Wall Street has been backsliding; heresy has shown its ugliness. Masters of the Universe, to use Tom Wolfe’s designation, applauded the tax cut, ran wild, overdosed on Chateau Haut-Brion, went crazy rebuilding their summer compounds in the Hamptons, winter cabins in Vail and pied-a-terres in Paris. President Trump smiled, his chief economic adviser of the day — a temporary job — beamed, and first lady Melania bought a new wardrobe. Everyone upgraded their private jets and joined a Trump golf club. Life was good for non-believers and there were bigger apartments in the skies over Manhattan.

Now some of those same worthies, those who believed that their guru had pointed the way to eternal and growing wealth, are muttering about huge deficits, rising interest rates and unsupportable debt service. Ingrates. They should be taken, along with the traitor former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, to a place of re-education to learn again Trumpanomics and how to con the Arabs into buying condo glitz.

Just turn on the television and see the happy faces, the fulfillment, the sense of purpose, the smug certainty of the precious individuals who are wholly invested in non-believing. Take the happiest of all, Kellyanne Conway. What confidence, what assurance, what sense of inspired mission; how exquisitely she extinguishes facts, lays waste to data and bullies the truth. Or her colleague, the redoubtable Sarah Sanders, a devoted non-believer, who goes against an army of rude fact-pushers whenever she steps into the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.

Non-belief defends Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. What a sweet, dear young man, famous in royal circles for his humanitarianism and his interest in cadaver surgery.

Or raise a glass to that leader of men, sower of harmony, supporter of due process and virtuous murder squads, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Non-believers can see the good in this man, so warmly embraced by Trump himself.

Non-belief gives you strength in all situations: Defeat is victory, failure success and troubles melt away. Take North Korea: non-belief has wrought its masterpiece there. Where there was war and fear, now there is love, two great minds declaring their verisimilitude. A little more non-believing and the nuclear weapons will melt away like the trillion-dollar infrastructure project or the Mexican payment for the wall, which will restore our national dignity and save us from a deadly invasion of those begging to work.

The U.S. Border Patrol, the army and militias are doing a great job. But in the interest of non-believing, the president should dispatch his crack non-believers to the border: Rudolph Giuliani, lawyer on television; Peter Navarro, trade fantasist, and Kellyanne and Sarah.

Facts wilt before them.

On Twitter: @llewellynking2
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of
White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com.

Llewellyn King: Let's hope that blockchain lets us keep our messy humanity

Depiction of a “smart cit   y’’    — an    urban area    that uses electronic    data-collection    sensors to supply information that is used to manage assets and resources efficiently.

Depiction of a “smart city’’ — an urban area that uses electronic data-collection sensors to supply information that is used to manage assets and resources efficiently.

Blockchain, the decentralized, open-ledger system that can record permanently multiple transactions, is about to come into its own as the world’s cities move towards digitalization. It portends the kind of urban revolution that cities haven’t seen since water-borne sewage enhanced city livability.

These “smart cities” of the future, big and small, will compete to be the most-wired, most-attractive places for high-tech talent and investment. From Orlando to San Antonio and from Boston to Seattle, the race is underway.

The big telephone companies such as AT&T and Verizon want to wire cities for their 5G and universal WiFi, involving new “short towers.”

Smart cities are cities that are getting ready for the future. The infrastructure that needs to be developed and deployed includes:

An electric grid that senses and manages demand instantly; that allows for two-way flows, as from a self-generator into the utility grid or a customer who wants green power only.

5G technology which will operate on any device and carry city communications to a new level, such as knowing the location of every ambulance and which traffic lights must change to speed one through without hitting a firetruck barreling toward the same destination.

Traffic lights that dim when there is no one on a street, or street lighting that dims when the moon is full or when there is no traffic.

Monitors linked to computers that can identify potential failures in old water or sewer pipes.

Holding it all together -- the sinew of smart cities -- will be blockchain. It’ll be the recording system that will tell whether electricity is flowing from a community generating facility (like a solar farm) and how it’s blending with the utility company’s own generators to the amount of power flowing to street lights.

Blockchain is set to become the ledger of everything, from the billing for your local taxes to keeping track of parking tickets. It will also be a data treasure trove for future planning.

Blockchain is associated with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. That’s because it’s not only the system on which those cryptocurrencies were based, but it’s also a powerful tool with multiple uses far beyond them. The original developer of bitcoin, believed to be Satoshi Nakamoto, used blockchain to guarantee the integrity of the new money.

Some blockchain enthusiasts, including many in the big tech companies like IBM, believe and have often said that it can be a bigger disrupter than the Internet. They’re passionate about the blockchain future, as are the big financial institutions where use will speed and verify transactions.

Others, working in the trenches of bringing about the blockchain revolution, are more cautious. Chris Peoples, founding and managing partner of the Baltimore-based innovation strategy firm PP&A, says that one must be wary of the hype. Blockchain, he says, “does promise to open new avenues of value for both organizations and the common good. However, with the technology still undergoing rapid development in the areas of speed, consensus and scalability, it will require the continued support from industry and government to reach its full potential.”

The smart city upside: Cities will become more livable, more manageable and the quality of life for all should improve. The downside: All the sensors and electronic surveillance could represent a new and very real threat to privacy.

There are also questions how much of the brave new urban world we want to have. Proponents of smart cities believe that a time will come when, with autonomous vehicles, the family car will disappear in favor of driverless, ride-sharing vehicles. An app on your phone will summon one and off you’ll go, probably reading your emails as you’re driven safely, thanks to artificial intelligence and blockchain, to your destination. Maybe. People haven’t abandoned their own cars for public transportation.

My view is people want their own stuff in a car -- the old newspapers, the box of peppermints and the fury dice hanging from the mirror. A blockchain-enabled future of smart cities is dandy if we can keep our inefficient humanness.

We aren’t all yearning to be efficient in everything. We treasure a bit of muddle. I hope we can teach that to the computers and put it into immutable blockchain.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS, and a veteran publisher, columnist and international business consultant. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com and he’s based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.