Llewellyn King

Llewellyn King: Carbon capture may be key to stopping climate catastrophe


Schematic showing both terrestrial and geological sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions from a    biomass    or    fossil fuel power station   .

Schematic showing both terrestrial and geological sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions from a biomass or fossil fuel power station.

In the ’70s and ’80s, black was gold. Coal was king.

Coal in tandem with nuclear were to be the white knights of the United States, as we struggled with the Arab oil embargo, price-gouging by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and declining oil production at home.

In 1977, the fledgling Department of Energy declared natural gas a “depleted” resource. Today, it battles with solar for cost advantage. The technology of fracking changed everything. Never forget technology’s possible revolutionary impact.

Solar and wind -- today’s energy darlings -- were struggling as the National Laboratories sought to make them workable. Solar was thought to have its future in mirrors concentrating heat on “power towers”. Wind was regarded with skepticism; even the shape of the towers and blades was in flux.

Everything that moved would be electrified. Nuclear would be used to make electricity. Coal would be burned as a utility and industrial fuel, and it would be gasified and liquified for transportation and other uses.

Environmentalists were pushing coal as an alternative to nuclear, which they were convinced was dangerous: In the United States it has cost no lives, but gas and oil in various ways have taken their toll.

Coal and nuclear were bright stars in a dark sky.

In 1974, at the White House, Donald Rice, who later ran the Rand Corporation, speculated in an interview with me on whether there might be oil and gas in the Southern Hemisphere, then considered unlikely and now, with production in South America and South Africa, a game-changer. Beware of the conventional wisdom.

All of this came flooding back at an extraordinary summit on global energy horizons convened in Washington recently by Dentons, the world’s largest law firm with offices in 79 countries. By pulling in lawyers from Uzbekistan to London, Dentons’ summit was able to fit America’s energy transformation into the global reality.

Richard Newell, president of Resources for the Future, laid out a picture that is sobering. He said that by 2040, the world would be pumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than today notwithstanding dramatic actions to curb burning fossil fuels in North America, Europe and China. The problem is the growth in demand for electricity in what is being called the “Global East,” where new coal plants are coming online in China, India and Indonesia among other countries. This despite all deploying solar and wind, and India and China having aggressive nuclear growth plans. The electricity need in the region is great and fuel solution is fossil, mostly coal.

Enter Ernest Moniz. The former secretary of energy who now heads his own think tank, Energy Futures Initiative, is a passionate backer of carbon capture use and storage. Moniz, also an adviser to Dentons, is laying out a whole scenario of “carbon capture from air” that is persuasive. It is part of his newly unveiled “Green Real Deal.”

Having chaired two carbon capture conferences, I have wondered why the technology, which gets more sophisticated all the time, has not been embraced by coal producers with vigor. They have been cooler than the utilities who somewhat favor the technology.

Clinton Vince, chair of Dentons’ U.S. energy practice and co-chair of the firm’s global energy sector, reminded the summit of the global importance of nuclear, now shunned in the United States for cost reasons. He sees nuclear as vital to climate goals around the world.

Unlike the ’70s and early ’80s, there is no shortage of energy. The challenges are in how clean it can get; how it can be stored, if it is electricity; and how fast technology can change the energy equation -- as it has over the past four decades -- to save the climate without restricting economic growth.

The commodity that is in truly short supply is time.

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 Rhode Island.

Llewellyn King: A reality check for some Dems on fixing America's awful health-care 'system'

surgeon.jpg

The Democrats on the left of the party, exemplified by Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, are running away with the health-care debate.

The problem for those who, like myself, want to see health care extended and rationalized is that the real goals of reform have been abandoned for “universal health care” as an ideological and political goal; add a political prejudice against corporations and the idea of the most health care for all of the people gets lost, as it did in the debates.

There should be only two goals in health-care reform: bring down the cost and see that everyone is covered.

We in the United States have the costliest medicine on earth. We also have the spottiest and most risible coverage. We spend over 18 percent of our gross domestic product on health care, nearly twice the cost of health care in other advanced countries like Britain, France, Germany and Holland. That is a huge cost, making us a less-competitive country. It comes not from medicine but rather from inefficient management.

We are a nation which venerates its business culture, but in health care, as it stands, we are protecting inefficiency as though it were a system. There are better ways, short of upending the whole structure, as Warren, Sanders and Harris would like to do, of fixing the system.

Serious reform is seriously needed.

Children’s National Hospital , in Washington, D.C., for example, I am told, employs 150 people just to deal with the insurance companies, negotiating payments, securing permission for procedures and protesting disallowances. Presumably, there are as many people in the insurance companies on the other side of these transactions. None of this huge personnel deployment is delivering health care or serving medicine. They are engaged in health care’s equivalent of a souk -- bargaining care for money. It should change because it is enormously wasteful, let alone because it fails in its mission: delivering care to the sick.

Remember the old military saw: We had to destroy the town to save it.

In full bay at the Democratic debates in Detroit, Warren, Sanders and Harris were in competition both to junk all private health insurance and to trash the companies that provide it.

I have spent three decades studying health-care delivery. While I am an unalloyed admirer of the National Health System (NHS) in the United Kingdom, it is not for the United States. Not now.

I know the NHS: It has treated my family well since its inception and, briefly, myself. But I do not think we can trash what we have here root and branch and install a duplicate NHS. We have too much that would have to be changed; too large a new bureaucracy would have to be created.

I am in favor, though, of the government as a payer of last resort for those who cannot get coverage and those for whom treatment is too expensive for the insurer.

We need to regulate medicine and to take the uncertainty out of it. That uncertainty extends from patients who never know when they will be sideswiped by an out-of-network procedure and routine providers, to the hospitals which need to know what they will be paid. Coverage should be guaranteed, not negotiated.

I used to own a newsletter publishing and conference company in Washington. I provided health insurance, which cost me in well-being as well as dollars. The costs went up relentlessly and coverage was problematic. My top aide came down with a rare cancer. The treatment was fine, all paid for, but the post- treatment painkillers were not allowed. I tried to persuade the insurer -- after all, we were a 20-strong group. They would not be moved. So my aide, who is French, had her sister send the medications from France, where she could get them for free as a citizen.

If we can get the horror of negotiation out of the system, care would be better, and costs would fall.

I am told that the future might be based on what already is working well with Kaiser Permanente, an integrated managed care consortium that insures, provides doctors and hospitals in the package.

It is worth a look -- before we start shelling the system to save it.

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.


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Llewellyn King: Those cries of 'racist' stultify needed debate

An early use of the word "racism" by    Richard Henry Pratt    in 1902:  " Association of races and classes is necessary to destroy racism and    classi   sm.

An early use of the word "racism" by Richard Henry Pratt in 1902: "Association of races and classes is necessary to destroy racism and classism.

I, a serial supporter of minority causes, am fed up with the race card. Calling someone a racist is sliming’s cheap shot. It is a banal accusation that cannot be justified and cannot be defended against. It implies the moral deficiency of those who are accused of it.

I am not abandoning my abhorrence of people held down, held back or shuffled through a justice mill because they are of a different race or ethnicity.

Believe me, I have seen it. I have seen a bartender in Baltimore refusing to serve a black man but telling him he could take a bottle home. I have worked at a newspaper where it was debated whether a black editor could manage white editors. I have covered courts where young black offenders are marched through trials that are no more than sentencing mills; where hire-by-the trial lawyers plead away young minority people who do not know what is happening to them besides that they are going to jail. I have seen segregated water fountains, park benches and restrooms.

Yes, I have seen it.

In South Africa during apartheid, I saw a policeman leading a prisoner with a wire tether around his neck, as you would walk a dog. In Zimbabwe, I saw then President Robert Mugabe become obsessed with demeaning and forcing out the white population.

I heard the language of apartheid on the West Bank, where there are struggles over land. I heard a Malaysian publisher say demeaning things about the Chinese. I know of the oppression of minorities from Vietnam to those of Korean descent who perforce live second-class lives in Japan.

I have seen how the Catholics were treated in Northern Ireland and how both sides killed each other randomly. It starts with insults and ends with bloodshed.

I have toured Auschwitz where racism was perfected into genocide and evil wrought its masterpiece.

Race-baiting, race oppression and race categorization are among the deep and pervasive threats to society and to a civil way of life.

But that does not justify the easy and destructive branding of almost anyone who disagrees with anyone else as a racist. That is cheap, shallow, damning and, as a negative, hard to disprove.

I have been there, too, and know the humiliation and impotence of being accused of something you cannot defend yourself against.

Years ago, I was going to be appointed to a vacancy on the board of the venerable National Press Club in Washington, when one board member received an anonymous phone call saying that I said racist things. I did not and I do not, but the board thought it better not to appoint me. It hurt then, decades ago, and it hurts now.

Who wants to say, “Some of my best friends are minorities” or signal their virtue to disprove the label “racist”? Like a wall poster, it is easy to put up and hard to take down.

It is time we took the race card, burned it and interred its ashes. The epithet “racist” -- which can be attached as easily as sticking on a Post-it -- is neither dialogue nor disputation. Worse, its careless use is turning people against people whose views they fundamentally support.

While it is in play, the race card can be produced from the political sleeve like a wild card to slime anyone who disagrees with its player.

I know House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has worked for decades for civil rights causes. Using the race card was woeful in its dishonesty.

By the same token, I believe President Donald T to be, in many things, a truly reprehensible man; a disgrace at many levels. But that is not a reason to use the race card. Calling someone a racist precludes bringing in the heavy artillery of facts to blow away real bigotry. In its way, it locks in prejudice.

The president standing toe to toe with four Democratic House novices of color -- the Squad -- shouting “racist” is not speech. It is a refuge for the verbally bankrupt. Sadly, by calling Trump a racist, the Squad fired the first fusillade.

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.


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Llewellyn King: The electric-plane era gains altitude

NASA    developed the    X-57 Maxwell    electric plane from a    Tecnam P2006T   .

NASA developed the X-57 Maxwell electric plane from a Tecnam P2006T.

The aviation industry — from the backyard inventors to the giants like Boeing and Airbus — are all feverishly working on electric airplanes. The sparks are flying. The new age of flight has taken off.

Erik Lindbergh, grandson of Charles Lindbergh, calculates that 200 firms of all sizes are working on electric aircraft, reminiscent of the early days of both flight and automobiles.

Lindbergh, an accomplished pilot, who replicated his ancestor’s 1927 Atlantic solo crossing in 2002, in a single engine plane, is an avid electric aircraft proponent and developer.

Across the Atlantic in Lausanne, Switzerland, another aviation giant, Andre Borschberg, famous for his around-the-world flight in the solar-powered Solar Impulse in 2016, has just demonstrated an electric flight trainer, the H55, that is operational and being offered to flight schools around the world. It was rolled out at a press event last month.

The destination is always the same, but the paths differ.

The goal is to say farewell to noisy, polluting planes and to usher in environmentally acceptable ones. Even The Economist, a pro-business, pro-personal choice magazine with a global readership, has recently railed against the pollution from airliners and criticized the use of private jets and first-class travel. Aviation is estimated to add up to 5 percent to the greenhouse gas being pushed into the atmosphere. The real problem is that jets lay it down where it does the most damage: at 30,000 feet and above.

To those who live near airports whether it is in Arlington, Va.,, San Diego or London, noise is a real and constant problem.

It will be decades before large jet liners are replaced with electric propulsion, but for light aircraft and for a new kind of flying, involving what Lindbergh calls “flying cars,” the future begins now.

Lindbergh tells me he is working with a major automobile company on what will be a vertical takeoff and landing, flying car, aka airplane. Enthusiasts have dreamed about such a vehicle since the Wright Brothers.

Borschberg, with an enormous amount of firsthand knowledge about using electricity in propulsion, acquired in his spectacular around-the-world flight with co-pilot Bertrand Piccard, is using the experience gained with Solar Impulse in the H55. It is the first generation of trainer: good today, better tomorrow. It also gives suppliers, like Siemens — which is developing electric aviation-specific motors — to evolve their products. The H55 buys its components.

Borschberg says the flight trainer market for a two-seater simple aircraft is large and expanding, particularly in Asia. “There is a pilot shortage all over the world,” he told me.

The limitation of the H55 and other light electric airplanes, including those made in Slovenia, is range. The H55 has only 90 minutes of endurance because of the limits of battery technology. You had better have landed or you will be out of juice; up, up and away having become down, down and dismay. OK for one-hour flight training, but not for those cross-country flights that trainee pilots must make, at least in the United States.

For that reason, Lindbergh is promoting, through his company VerdeGo Aero, a hybrid with a gasoline engine and electric motors. While not a pure electric play, this will perform bridging, much as hybrids have in the car market.

Elsewhere, there is huge excitement about all-electric air taxis and many companies, including Uber, are concentrating on these. In fact, Uber ties eventual financial success to driverless air taxis.

Lindbergh says money is pouring into the electric aircraft field with rich individuals, including Larry Page, co-founder of Google, leading the way. Pure electric drones (like the air taxis, but not designed to carry passengers) are the darling of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

The new airplanes are of various shapes and sizes. Electricity allows you to have many propulsion points, many propellers or one; propellers at the back or the front, and even to have jet equivalent with propellers forcing air into a tunnel to create thrust.

The sky’s the limit, you might say, if batteries catch up with soaring hopes.

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: An immigration fix that can be done now

I was once interested in buying a historic mansion in Virginia. It was a classic, but it needed a lot of work. It was being sold by a bank and, for a whole afternoon, my wife and I dreamed of owning it.

It was on the market because the previous owner, who had bought it to restore it, had gone broke. His mistake was that he had tried to do the whole job at once: the wiring, the plumbing, the plastering, the floors. Too much.

Had he done what other restorers would have done in similar situations, gone about restoration piece by piece, he would be the proprietor of a remarkable antebellum home today.

Some big jobs need to be done one thing at a time.

Immigration reform may be such a big job; so big it demands to be done in pieces, fixing what is fixable in the short term while the great issues -- who, from where and how many -- wait for another day and a calmer political climate.

To me, the most fixable is the plight of those who are already here: the 11 million illegal residents, predominantly from Central America.

They are here. They are people who succumbed to the basic human desire to better themselves and provide more for their families. They are illegal but they are not evil. They broke the law to find a better, safer life — the same motivation that brought people from Europe to these shores for five centuries.

Laws are made by people; human need and human aspiration are primal. We, American citizens (except those whose ancestors were transported in slavery), are the product of the same aspiration that has brought most illegal immigrants to live among us: to work hard, to raise families and to live in peace. Statistically, they are slightly more law-abiding than those who would have them gone by deportation. They are a vital new population of artisans -- skilled manual workers.

The Immigrant Tax Inquiry Group (ITIG) and its tireless founder, Mark Jason, a former IRS inspector and Reagan Republican, attracted my attention six years ago because it had a ready answer for those who are illegal but otherwise blameless.

Jason wants illegal immigrants to be given a 10-year, renewable work permit with a special tax provision: There would be a 5 percent tax levied on employers and a 5 percent tax paid by the worker – what Jason calls “five plus five.” The billions of dollars raised by the program would be earmarked for the neighborhoods where the illegals are concentrated to alleviate the burdens they impose on education, health care, policing and other social services.

Notably, his Malibu, Calif.-based group’s program has no amnesty in the usual sense; no path to citizenship, not even an entitlement to lifetime abode.

Jason has poured his personal fortune into a lobbying effort on behalf of the ITIG program, including congressional briefings and information sessions.

To me, the program would solve an immediate problem: It would end the massive deportations — so fundamentally un-American -- which have gone on through four administrations. It would allow families to come out from behind the curtain of fear -- fear in the knowledge that tonight might be their last night of hope, of a united a family and of a livable wage. In the morning (the favored time for arrests), the state could come down on hope and love with the dreaded knock on the door; paradise lost.

The Jason work-permit program is one room in the immigration edifice that could be renovated now, and with benefit rather than cost. The deportations cost in every way: They cost in lives shattered, ICE teams, deportation centers, court hearings, talented labor lost, and finally transportation to places now alien to most of those headed there as deportees – hapless and more or less stateless. There is a fix at hand.

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




Llewellyn King: Boisterous Boris likely the next PM

Boris Johnson, with his trademark mop of blond hair.

Boris Johnson, with his trademark mop of blond hair.

Johnson was one of the Brexiteers being made fun of in this anti-Brexit demonstration in Manchester, England.

Johnson was one of the Brexiteers being made fun of in this anti-Brexit demonstration in Manchester, England.

Barring the political equivalent of an act of God, Boris Johnson becomes leader of the British Conservative Party and prime minister on July 22.

Johnson is a man who fails upward. So much so that he has said, “As I have discovered myself, there are no disasters, just fresh opportunities. And, indeed, fresh opportunities for fresh disasters.”

Johnson has been sacked by an editor, a publisher and by his party leader. He sins, gets caught, wriggles out and comes back emboldened.

His first recorded transgression was when he got the heave-ho from The Times of London for fabricating quotes -- usually a career killer. Instead, he was hired by The Daily Telegraph and sent to Brussels to cover the European Union. He covered it by minting tales of bureaucratic excess. Later, some of Johnson’s suspect reporting entered the mythology that has powered Brexit.

One fib was that the European Commission was laying down requirements for the shape of bananas imported into Europe. Another was that there were plans for the Brussels bureaucrats to build themselves a luxurious skyscraper. He was accused of fake news long before that term was in wide use.

Johnson -- as journalists like to say among themselves – wasn’t one to let the facts stand in the way of a good story. His Brussels colleagues named him as the proprietor of the “mendacious smirk.” He had a way of looking to the side and down, sniggering away the evidence when his facts were challenged.

On the upside, Johnson is articulate and adept at turning disaster into, if not triumph, something that is funny or so outrageous that the blow is diverted. When, as mayor of London, he was stranded on a zipline and left hanging above the ground, he entertained film crews with hilarious commentary. Boris meets Lucille Ball.

It’s generally accepted that Johnson was an adequate mayor of London; although, like all politicians, he presented things already in train as his creations. He’s thought to have handled London’s hosting of the Olympic Games well. He opposed the expansion of Heathrow Airport and understood the importance of city branding, saving London’s iconic double decker buses.

For five years, Johnson was editor of The Spectator, a conservative political and literary magazine. His staff there accused him of being late, disorganized and not showing up at all, charges that have clung to him everywhere he’s worked. But he was a successful editor and presided over a rise in circulation, as well as moving the content towards his own brand of liberal conservatism.

Lazy or not, Johnson’s journalistic output over the years has been considerable and includes a workman-like biography of Churchill.

As a member of parliament, which overlapped with his editorship, Johnson never reached the heights in oratory that had been expected. He described his own parliamentary speeches as “crap.”

As an after-dinner speaker, he’s been brilliant: irreverent, self-deprecating and funny. Johnson has always played the clown -- and it has played well for him.

Born on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Johnson was educated in England and took the upper middle class route through private schools, including Eton, and on to Oxford where he studied Classics. These he loved and has since cloaked himself in his familiarity with antiquity as a way of signaling superiority and intellectual weight. An example is a longish article he wrote later comparing London to Athens and, by implication, himself to Pericles.

Fun and games also have, it might be said, pervaded Johnson’s private life. When he was married to his second wife, Johnson acknowledged a child out of wedlock. When he was editor of The Spectator, the magazine was rocked with scandal. Johnson was having an affair with the top columnist; the publisher, a woman, was involved with a member of the government; and an editor was involved with a secretary. Cupid was not a spectator at The Spectator.

The sins of the flesh would have brought down other politicians, but Johnson has moved on and up. Now he is set to marry a woman 25 years his junior.

He upended his old friend David Cameron when he threw in with the Brexiteers and became the public face of Brexit. Again, facts went out the window. Johnson saw a way to power, and he grabbed it.

Now the premiership is almost his and Britain, going through turbulent times, faces an unsteady, cartoonish hand at its helm.

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


340px-NHS-Logo.svg.png

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

SAN MARCOS, Texas

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


Diagram_of_natural_resource_flows.jpg

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.

WEST WARWICK, R.I.

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


White_House_north_and_south_sides.jpg

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

440px-Abdominal_obesity_in_men.jpg

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.