White House Chronicle

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


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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: 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: 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: Penn. school may be nurturing new kind of lawyer

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SAN ANTONIO

Disruption equals opportunity. That was the message that came across loud at a conference here organized by CPS Energy, the local gas and electric utility, on smart cities — a revolution that is underway and surging.

Simply, smart cities are convergence of digital technologies, from street lights to driverless vehicles. Cities — there are more than 19,000 of them in the world — represent a great new vista of business opportunity for new entrepreneurs.

Coincidentally, a small but distinguished law school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is, in its way, seeking to upend the traditional expectations of law students by teaching them law plus innovation and entrepreneurism.

Dickinson Law, founded in 1834 and is now part of The Pennsylvania State University, but operates autonomously, is seeking to turn out a new kind of lawyer: One who is interested in becoming an entrepreneur rather than simply practicing law.

The program is the concept of Samantha Prince, assistant professor of legal writing and entrepreneurship, who had been an entrepreneur as well as a lawyer. She told me that she wanted the Dickinson Law students to realize what a useful and versatile tool a law degree is, and how it can offer those who have one a wide range of opportunities beyond the traditional practice of law.

Prince, with the energetic support of dean Gary Gildin, told me many students have not come to Dickinson Law straight out of college but have had work experience, which makes them more open to a wider range of possibilities.

A partner at one of the large law firms in Washington told me that she wishes her education at one of the nation’s top law schools had been just a little less academic and broader. She said the curriculum was fascinating, but much of it was arcane and directed to the study of the history of law and its seminal turning points. No thought was given to the idea that she might want to use her legal knowledge in any other way than to practice law, probably in a big firm. That she has done.

Lawyers, of course, have always been entrepreneurial. But Prince says that has been in the confines of the profession.

Prince wants her students to think about — at least some of them — how they can use their legal knowledge to start a business, pulling together investors, creators and visionaries.

The faculty at Dickinson Law wants to see some students take their chances and test their mettle in the marketplace. One problem: The study of law is a study of what can go wrong, and new business is a belief in what might go right.

Prince’s students have something of an advantage as they tend to be older and to have had real-life experience. Already some of them are thinking of law differently: Zachary Gihorski wants to use his legal training to lead and shape the future of agriculture; Christian Wolgemuth wants to enter cybersecurity practice and eventually become an entrepreneur; and Ana Anvari wants to serve health care businesses by advising them on health care regulation and helping them to start up or expand their businesses.

Those who are thinking of self-employment may find the new vitality in cities a place of opportunity. The cities are going to be wide open to everything from better electric vehicle charging to automated garbage collection, to repair and maintenance of the automated systems, to restaurants delivering meals by drone. If you can think of it, it will probably be needed.

Although the big tech companies, from Google to Tesla, AT&T to Verizon and Amazon to IBM, are salivating over the new smart city opportunities. History teaches that great fortunes are made by new players when, so to speak, the ground shifts.

The ground is shifting in cities like San Antonio, Chula Vista, Calif., Boston and Houston.

Smart cities represent a huge entrepreneurial chance for smart people — lawyers and otherwise.

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

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


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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

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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: A Christmas cake for the Bakers' Year


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WEST WARWICK, R.I.

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: 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: Around the world, fearfully/hopefully walking toward a border

The start of the border fence in the state of New Mexico—just west of El Paso, Texas.

The start of the border fence in the state of New Mexico—just west of El Paso, Texas.

If you want to come to the United States illegally, the worst point of entry is along the southern border. If the U.S. Border Patrol doesn’t get you, the gangs that prey on the hapless might; if not, you have a good chance of dying of heat prostration and lack of food and water in the desert.

The smart ones, the conniving illegals, aren’t the destitute walking in blazing heat for a rendezvous with Border Patrol agents and then lord knows what, but those who fly in with student visas, tourist visas and other travel documents and disappear into the shadows.

The people in what is loosely called a “caravan” now walking toward the border have been failed by the societies that bore them. They live in fear of murder, fear of repeated rape and other violence and fear of starvation. They live in their own circle of hell.

But they aren’t alone. There are many millions more in the failed and failing states, war-ravaged and drought-plagued, in Africa and the Middle East, trying to find a new home. Their exodus is a trickle today but will be a torrent tomorrow and a flood later.

The hopeless are on the march and they threaten to engulf some nations, like tiny Malta, an island in the Mediterranean and a European Union member state.

Europe is struggling with a flood of desperate people who cross the Mediterranean from North Africa in overloaded rafts and boats, risking drowning to reach Malta, Greece or Italy: places where they hope for food, shelter and safety.

Illegal immigration is a global problem. No country has a solution and no country deals well with it.

There are wars and insurgencies in Africa and the Middle East: Consider just the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

Of Africa’s 54 countries, none has anything like enough jobs for its population –its growing population. Even rich South Africa has a growing population and shrinking economic activity. Add to the failed or under-performing economies drought and climate change and you can imagine new surges in migration -- surges so large they could overwhelm the target countries.

In the Middle East, new refugees are created daily. Eleven million are on the brink of famine in war-engulfed Yemen, and Syria continues to generate refugees at a stupendous rate.

Thirty-five years ago, I was at France’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, known colloquially as the Quai d’Orsay for its address. My briefer said, “If we don’t solve the problem of poverty, we’ll get three imports we don’t want: drugs, terrorism and people.”

The world hasn’t solved the poverty problem and it’s gotten the three things it doesn’t want.

There is no grand solution at hand, but there are small things that can be done. For us, the first might be to stop worsening conditions in the countries that are generating the flows of people toward the border. Two things would help: Don’t cut off foreign aid, exacerbating economic conditions, and don’t cut off the flow of expatriate earnings that is so important in those countries. In other words, stop the deportations.

People who are here illegally and hold jobs would hold better jobs if their status was legalized. One solution would be time-limited work permits: not citizenship, work permits.

This is advocated by the Immigrant Tax Inquiry Group, which adds an appealing twist. The Malibu, Calif.-based group recommends that illegals should pay a special tax on their wages with an equivalent tax paid by the employer. The purpose of the tax is to alleviate the local impact of immigrants on schools, policing, courts and health care.

Considering the global problem, we have a small, manageable one. The caravan of people walking through Mexico have a bigger problem: They’re inflaming Americans and endangering their own lives -- some deaths have been reported.

But if I were destitute and feared for my life in Central America, I’d likely be headed for the border, feeling I was doing something, even something hopeless.

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: Brexiteers have no clear road map so it's fear and chaos for business

Anti-Brexit demonstration in Birmingham, England.

Anti-Brexit demonstration in Birmingham, England.

WEST WARWICK, R.I.

Blimey! What a cock-up!

That is what you might say in British vernacular about the mess that Britain is dealing with as it struggles to leave the European Union by March 29, 2019.

With the deadline in clear line of sight, there is no exit plan and Britain is becoming -- depending on whom in the Great British Divide you ask – either critically alarmed or hysterically impatient.

British industry and the whole import-export infrastructure are in panic. Supply lines need to be adjusted and possibly new ones established. Manufacturers are wondering whether it will be possible to continue as Britain-based or whether they should up and move to Europe. The British motor industry, which is not owned in the United Kingdom any longer, is a case in point. Jaguar and Land Rover may be iconic marques, but they are Indian-owned, and will they always be made in Coventry, England? Can London remain the financial center of Europe when Paris, Dublin and Frankfurt are scrambling for the title?

On the impatient side, Brexiteers are screaming for an end to the European linkage no matter what.

In the middle, and in a muddle, is Prime Minister Teresa May, distrusted by the extreme Brexit supporters and considered incompetent by the “Remainers,” who still hope that there will be a miraculous reprieve from the referendum vote of June 29, 2016.

Collectively, the British media are not helpful. Most of the press (especially but not exclusively those newspapers controlled by Rupert Murdoch) is for leaving, often vociferously so. When it appeared, in the latest development, that more time may be granted for Britain to find solutions to the thorniest issues, such as the Irish border question, they howled in unison for faster action.

The newspapers, representing almost the entire readership of daily newspapers in Britain, have fought for Brexit and fight against reconsideration: The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Times and The Sun are adamantly and relentlessly for Britain getting out, mostly with little regard to the consequences.

You cannot consider these newspapers without understanding that they have played the same role as Fox News in the United States in inflaming nationalism and worries about sovereignty -- a word that has been taken out of history’s locker for the purpose of stirring up antagonism to Europe.

The newspapers I have cited have been aggressively antagonistic to Europe for decades and were, it could be argued, decisive in the “advisory” referendum in which the British public voted to leave Europe by 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent. The die was cast for the most extraordinary change of direction ever voted by a democracy.

The Brexiteers had the advantage of passion, a well-oiled disinformation campaign and the wild-card endorsement of Boris Johnson, the clownish but clever politician who wants to be prime minister beyond all else. David Cameron’s government, which called the referendum, misjudged the electorate through over-reliance on the polls.

Hopes that Parliament will finally assert itself, take charge of Brexit and call another referendum or nullify the first on the grounds that it was not constitutionally binding, are fading. There is wide acceptance in Britain that the nation is set to sail into waters uncharted -- stormy but somehow having the lure of the nation’s explorer past.

Economists are not so sure, and business is looking at decampment to the European mainland.

The Brexiteers see a glowing new era for Britain, which shed its empire with little pain at home, and they may feel this will happen again. British creativity has always been one of its great strengths; for example, creativity in technology which contributed to the success of the empire, including John Harrison’s chronometer and James Watts’s steam engine.

The British will continue to create, to be sure. But how will they sell their creations if they have exempted themselves from their largest market?

The United States, if we do not choke off all immigration, can look forward to a surge of British talent coming across the Atlantic.

Llewellyn King, based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. A native of Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia), he was a journalist in England before moving to America, where he has been a columnist, editor, publisher and international business consultant. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com.


Llewellyn King: Do you want an algorithm telling you what to read?

— Photo by Florian Plag

— Photo by Florian Plag

WEST WARWICK, R.I.

Old friends from The Washington Post in the 1970s write to me, agonizing over where journalism is headed.

There is no shortage of news or need for news, but there is a desperate need to find new platforms to carry it forward.

There are three existential crises facing the news trade:

· How to finance newspapers.

· How to deal with the power of the technological behemoths, such as Google.

· How to keep a flow of talent into the business while it sorts itself out.

Journalism has always been financed through a kind of subsidy provided by advertising. It has worked well enough, and sometimes enormously well. No one saw a day when the advertising would flee to a cheaper delivery system: the Internet. But it did.

There were intimations of the vulnerability of the setup. Originally, afternoon newspapers were dominant: Go off work, go home and read the paper before bed. H.L. Mencken warned that morning newspapers, such as his Baltimore Sun, would perish.

Instead of Mencken’s prophecy, the playing field tipped the other way. Morning newspapers survived and, one by one, the afternoons failed across the country and the world. Television was the culprit.

In magazines, the television slaughter was more terrible and more complete. Great institutions, keepers of the culture, were swept away: Life, Look, Collier’s and, saddest of all, The Saturday Evening Post. What had been citadels of power and wealth were toppled, not just in America but worldwide: Picture Post in Britain and Outspan in South Africa. All gone.

Newspapers and magazines are embracing the electronic future by becoming electronic platforms, old dogs doing new tricks. Also, the consumer is carrying much more of the cost of production. Newspapers selling for over $2? Unheard of a short while ago.

I was part of discussions in The Washington Post, where we turned down a cover price increase of a nickel, to 15 cents. “The public’s right to know,” it was reasoned, outplayed our financial gain. We were, so to speak, rich enough and could not see that changing.

Still there is no clear way ahead as to how to finance the new reality for newspapers. Some -- the big ones -- will prosper behind paywalls, but most are still looking for a solution. There is talk of subsidies, and there are pure Web platforms that seek contributions: journalism as charity case.

There are hints as to the future here with paywalls and reader contributions, but these alone do not suggest a robust new business model.

The second existential threat is the new delivery systems. If Facebook and Google are to censure content – say, hate speech -- they have moved the whole journalist enterprise to a new and dangerous place: The global behemoths deciding what should and should not be read.

Do you want a faceless algorithm deciding what you can read?

To me this is the greatest threat to journalism and the democracies it protects. Other ways exist, and new ones could be developed, such as libel laws and penalties for criminal mischief.

The great Internet companies should remain what they are in reality: common carriers. If they become censors, freedom of the media is at stake. Virtuous censorship is still censorship and that is, by definition, without virtue.

Finally wages in journalism, except for a few employed by the television networks (themselves seeing the beginning of the end of the monopolies), are at a low point. Freelancing is worse off.

If improvement do not occur, the best minds coming out of the colleges will not go into journalism, they will go elsewhere, often law. Going forward journalism will not solve its problems without a decent flow of talent, and public will not be served either.

I can speak to this. hreporting, and though they had studied it, they would go into law. They did not fancy a life of poverty. Their gain, our serious loss.

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: Develop a skilled trade to start a small business

Wayland Square, an neighborhood with many small businesses, in Providence.

Wayland Square, an neighborhood with many small businesses, in Providence.

WEST WARWICK, R.I.

I love little business. I say “little business” because “small business," like "family farm," has suffered politicization to a point of abstraction. Even the Small Business Administration doesn’t have a precise definition for small business. They define it either by revenue or by number of employees -- and that can range up to a whopping 1,500 in some industries. I begin at five or more.

Politicians love small business and applaud it, but do they care? They listen acutely to big business through its lobbyists, who crowd Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and every state capital.

If you’re stitching the cloth in a tailor’s shop and you have a problem with government, just stitch away because nobody is listening. Size does matter, alas.

Yet little business is the vital regenerator of the economy. It’s the fresh oxygen supply which keeps the economy fed with work and ideas.

For me, little businesses begin with moms-and-pops. They could be anything from a computer repair shop to a bowling alley, from a plumbing company to a bakery, from a convenience store to an optician, and from a service station to a painting contractor.

If the business is, say, a drycleaner which uses chemicals, or anything else that discharges into the air or water, government will be all over it. But Bryan Mason, owner of Apollo Consulting Group, based in Newport, R.I., says there are plenty of problems for small businesses that don’t involve government.

“One of the big issues for the small business with, say, 50 employees, is that the owner-operator doesn’t know how to price his or her product or how to market it. You can’t undercut the big chains, so you have to offer real value and real quality,” says Mason.

As to strategy, Mason cites a bowling alley he advised. The bowling alley sold time on the lanes in two-hour blocks. The result was that patrons were keen to get their money’s worth by bowling for the whole period and not stopping to chat and, vitally important, not spending money at the concession stand on drinks and food.

Mason had them remove the time limit on the lanes, and profitability went up. Like cinemas, the money was in the concessions.

Little business — I owned and operated a newsletter-publishing company with 20 employees for over 30 years — is usually in direct relationship to the skill of the founder. A woman who worked in a florist may start her own shop, or an auto mechanic might start a service station. A construction worker might start a house-renovation business, and a stone mason might set out to chisel and sell headstones.

Herein is a unique challenge for our society. It’s the artisans and people with skills who start businesses: a gardener, a landscaping service; a short-order cook, a food truck; and a hairdresser, a salon.

Left out of this progression are many liberal arts graduates who have skills that are suited to big organizations like schools, hospitals, government departments and giant corporations. You can’t start a sociology shop, a history wholesaler or a political science emporium.

If you have the itch to be self-employed, you might want to get a hands-on trade.

Some colleges are now sensitive to this need and are adding a practical course. I’ve been especially impressed with a little college in Charleston, S.C., the American College of the Building Arts, in which students take traditional liberal arts courses and spend two-and-a-half days each week in apprentice labs, learning one of six areas of craft specialization: architectural carpentry, architectural stone, forged architectural ironwork, masonry, plasterwork and timber framing.

The college aims to graduate “educated artisans,” but what they get is entrepreneurs: approximately one-third of their graduates have started businesses based on their artisanal training,

Owning a business is a fundamental part of the American Dream, and the quickest way to do it is to market a skill which you already have from dog walking to jewelry making, from furniture hauling to well drilling.

Steve Jobs, who grew his little business to enormousness, said, “Don’t be afraid, you can do it.”

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: The rush to become 'smart cities' is on around the world

View toward the waterfront of Boston, considered the second “smartest’’ city in America, after New York.

View toward the waterfront of Boston, considered the second “smartest’’ city in America, after New York.

Ireland was a country that thought, before the 1990s, that could not compete. Its rail system was primitive, its ports were outdated and small, and its roads were problematic — mostly you had to share them with sheep or tractors hauling peat wagons.

It looked as though Ireland was doomed to be one of the least competitive countries in Europe and would continue to have “structural” unemployment of 20 percent and higher.

Then a miracle: Ireland combined its greatest assets — literacy and superior education system — with the computer revolution, and it became a boom country. Ireland, rather than depending on exporting bacon, butter and linens, started exporting services by internet.

It became a computing center for Europe, and American and Asian companies flooded in. Galway, a university town, was ground zero for top computer companies.

Ireland went from nowhere to wearing the crown of “Celtic Tiger.” Businesses around computing, and those serving the foreign executives, boomed. Ireland shook off the dead weight of centuries.

There are lessons in the Irish experience for cities as they struggle to become “smart cities” and to compete as the smartest cities in livability and business friendliness. Can some ailing Midwest or city in Upstate New York burst the bonds of their Rust Belt past and find new futures as smart cities, attracting investment and technology-based business?

Largely unseen, cities from Rochester, N.Y., to San Antonio are seeking the title, even though the full dimensions of what makes a city smart are still being thrashed out.

A global study, undertaken by the Singapore-based Eden Strategy Institute, puts London at No. 1 and Singapore at No. 2 in the world. New York leads in the United States, closely followed by Boston; Rochester, N.Y., is on the list. Out of 50 world cities, just 12 U.S. cities make the list.

But many U.S. cities are in the race to be the super-smart, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to San Antonio. Smart cities are a place where the old world of bricks and mortar meets the new world of artificial intelligence.

The players, besides the cities themselves, are the telephone giants (especially AT&T and Verizon), the electric utilities, a wide variety of software vendors and consultants. They are vying with each other for business at the city and county level.

The telephone companies are hoping to use their emerging 5G technology as the way in which machines and systems will talk to each other. IBM is interested in all aspects of the city of the future, including the use of blockchain as the primary record-keeper. Amazon wants to begin smart deliveries, maybe by drone.

Even law firms — and Dentons, the world’s largest, is out front — will be needed to write the contracts and guide their clients. Clinton Vince, who heads the U.S. energy practice at Dentons, says the firm has taken the unusual step of establishing a “think tank” within the firm to work on smart cities.

Smart cities implementation needs local political approval and encouragement; the action is in the city councils and mayors’ offices, and county boards, not in Washington.

As with so many things, it is technology that may change our lives as much or more than policy. Already, the effect of computing in the way we live in cities can be seen everywhere — from those pesky scooters that are on the streets of many cities, and which rely on computer networks and GPS, to Uber and Lyft ride-sharing and Airbnb.

Down the road, smart technologies will have to decide how electric cars are to be charged and where; how autonomous vehicles will operate in cities and where they will park themselves between assignments.

The building blocks are electricity and telephony. They will also be the managers of the old infrastructure, surveilling pipelines, water systems, roads and even traffic lights. The idea is to slave the old infrastructure to the new infrastructure for efficiency and instant response to problems.

Some cities will lead, but none will be unaffected. Smart is coming fast and will be here to stay. Will those who do not catch the wave become “stupid cities”?

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

 

On Twitter: @llewellynking2




Llewellyn King: Are we surrendering Americanism to identity politics?

440px-U.S._flags_on_the_National_Mall,_2007.jpg

Francis Fukuyama earned his place in philosophical history by declaring “the end of history” on the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism.

Nowadays Fukuyama, an engaging traveler though the world of ideas, poses this great question: Where are we going?

In New York on Sept. 11, Fukuyama seemed to answer that question by telling an audience: nowhere very good.

The global crisis laid out in Fukuyama’s latest book, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, is that identity politics -- advanced tribalism, if you will -- is eroding democracy.

Fukuyama writes that the United States invaded the Middle East, during the Iraq War, to Americanize the Middle East, but the Middle East has Middle-Easternized the United States. Not only is there no national identity in Iraq now, he argues, but we are also losing our Americanism to identity politics, with its baggage of racism and division.

He points to two decidedly democratic events as harbingers of a less democratic future: Britain’s vote in June 2016 to leave the European Union and the election that same year of President Donald Trump, disaster following on disaster, identity triumphing over political union. In the case of Brexit, English nationalism upstaging the larger values of a unified Europe; and in the Trump election, the white working class voting against the other constituent parts of the nation.

Listening to Fukuyama answering questions at the New York event, organized by Philip Howard and his Common Good organization, one could be plunged into feeling that the famous American mixing bowl had become unmixed, breaking down, as Fukuyama gently suggested, into competing groups, supporting just those who belong to their group – all of this set off by white fear of the end of their hegemon in America. Hence, the hysteria over immigration.

The difference between the immigration alarm in Europe and in the United States, he said, is that Europe sees not just an invasion of different people with different customs, religions and languages, but also an assault on the cradle-to-grave welfare systems. Fukuyama said Europeans do not mind paying 60 percent of their incomes in tax because they believe they get a lot for it. That, he said, is what they see coming from immigration: People coming to live off the generous social structure for which they have not paid.

Immigrants from Africa going to Sweden -- in the news because of its electoral swing to the right -- must think they have entered nirvana: total freedom from want. Not quite the same as people coming across our southern border, seeking safety and work.

Fukuyama sees the United States in danger from identity grouping overwhelming our commonality as a nation.

I wonder about that. When I landed on these shores as a young (legal) immigrant in 1963, I wrote to a friend in England -- and I remember this clearly – saying: “This is no melting pot. This is a fruit salad.”

Well, that is still so, and it works until it is perverted by minority manipulators. For example, there has always been a racist element. It is just that President Trump and his allies have blown on these embers and brought forth flame. Race dividers feel emboldened under Trump, just as they seethed under President Obama.

It is worth pondering that before Trump, we twice elected an African-American president and that said something about us -- something quite different from what Fukuyama is saying about us in today’s race-heavy, fact-short political debate.

Some at the New York meeting suggested that the pendulum will swing back. Yes, it will but not to the status quo ante. It will be to a new place.

I believe the Trump success was fueled not so much by resentment as by a pervasive sense of irrelevance. It expresses itself politically, but its root may be with the isolation felt by those who have to deal with monopoly businesses from the cable company to the online retailer. Think the politicians ignore you, try those who have market dominance: banks, health insurers, online vendors and telecoms among others.

Fukuyama calls for dignity as a kind of antidote to identity politics. He might want to extend that excellent thought beyond just the political arena.

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

Llewellyn King: We must prepare for cyberattacks on our infrastructure

lap.jpg
"The Bridge'' (encaustic painting by Nancy Whitcomb.

"The Bridge'' (encaustic painting by Nancy Whitcomb.

WEST WARWICK, R.I.

War always goes for the infrastructure: Take out the bridges, cut off the electricity and water supplies. All that used to be done with artillery, tanks and bombs from above.

Going forward, it will be done by computers: cyberwar.

Every day the early skirmishes -- the tryout phase, if you will – are taking place. There are tens of thousands of probes of U.S. infrastructure by potential enemies, known and unknown, state and non-state. A few get through the defenses.

Jeremy Samide, chief executive officer of Stealthcare, a company which seeks to improve cyberdefenses for a diverse set of U.S. companies, sees the cyber battlefield starkly. He says the threat is very real; and he puts the threat of serious attack at 83 percent.

As Samide looks out across the United States from his base in Cleveland, he sees probes, the term of art for incoming cyberattacks, like an endless rain of arrows. Some, he says, will get through and the infrastructure is always at risk.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a warning in July that the alarms for our digital infrastructure are “blinking.” He compared the situation to that in the country before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The situation, he told the Hudson Institute in a speech, is “critical.” Coats singled out Russia as the most active of the probers of U.S. infrastructure.

Samide says probing can come from anywhere and Russia may be the most active of the cyber adventurers.

A common scenario, he says, is that the electric grid is target one. But considerable devastation could come from attacking banking, communications, transportation or water supply.

Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, a former director of the CIA and current chairman of KKR Global Institute, in an article coauthored with Kiran Sridhar and published in Politico on Sept. 5, urges the creation of a new government agency devoted to cybersecurity.

Samide and others endorse this and worry that the government has much vital material spread across many agencies and not coordinated. Behind Petraeus’s thinking is one of the lessons of 9/11: Government departments aren’t good at sharing information.

Conventional wisdom has it that the electric grid is super-vulnerable. But Politico’s cybersecurity reporter David Perera, who consulted experts on the feasibility of taking down the grid, somewhat demurs. In a Politico article, he concluded that the kind of national blackout often theorized isn’t possible because of the complexity of the engineering in the grid and its diversity.

The difficulty, according to Perera, is for the intruder to drill down into the computer-managed engineering systems of the grid and attack the programable controllers, also known as industrial control systems -- the devices  that run things,  such as by moving load, closing down a power plant or shutting off the fuel supply. They are automation’s brain.

Perera’s article has been read by some as getting the utilities off the hook. But it doesn’t do that: Perera’s piece is not only well-researched and argued but also warns against complacency and ignoring the threat.

John Savage, emeritus professor of computer science at Brown University, says, “I perceive that the risk to all business is not changing very much. But to utilities, it is rising because it appears to be a new front in [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s campaign to threaten Western interests. While I doubt that he would seek a direct conflict with us, he certainly is interested in making us uncomfortable. If he miscalculates, the consequences could be very serious.”

Samide warns against believing that all probes are equal in intent and purpose. He says there are various levels of probing from surveillance (checking on your operation) to reconnaissance (modeling your operation before a possible attack). Actual attacks, ranging from the political to the purely criminal, include ransomware attacks or the increasing cryptojacking in which a hacker hijacks a target’s processing power in order to mine cryptocurrency on the hacker’s behalf.

The threats are global and increasingly the attribution -- the source of the attack --concealed. Other tactics, according to Samide, include misdirection: a classic espionage technique for diverting attention from the real aim of the attack.

The existential question is if cyberwar goes from low-grade to high-intensity, can we cope? And how effective are our countermeasures?Today’s skirmishes are harbingers of the warfighting of the future.

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

 

 

Llewellyn King: And now for a nuclear engine

Nuclear engine.

Nuclear engine.

WEST WARWICK, RI

One of the frustrating and intriguing things about nuclear energy is that there is no standard design that is essential. For example, if you want to build a motorcar, you need to start with the idea that it will have four wheels; three is less effective, and two with gyroscopes is something else again.

But when it comes to nuclear reactors, there are seemingly no limits. There are literally hundreds of reactor designs and possibilities. The moderator, which acts like a shock absorber to the reaction, varies too. It is nearly always water, but it can be gas, salt or a liquid metal.

The end, though, is to use fission to produce power to turn a generator to make electricity or to propel a ship, like a submarine or aircraft carrier.

So far, so good. But the limit is that the reactor only produces heat which then must be converted, through steam or some other medium, into shaft horsepower to make electricity or to drive the submarine.

In my many years of writing about nuclear and chronicling its ups and downs, I have always been aware of the apparent weakness here: Huge, sophisticated power plants are only giant kettles; their purpose is to boil water, albeit very effectively.

Periodically, scientists have tried to tackle this issue with thoughts on a direct conversion of heat to useful work in turning a drive shaft for whatever end use. There have been theoretical attempts to make the leap to the direct use of nuclear heat for work without a transfer agent. The great nuclear theorist Leo Szilard, according to his biographer William Lanouette, toyed with an idea but abandoned it.

But there is a way, says Mark Adams, an MIT-educated physicist and former staff member at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in Livermore, Calif. He has designed an engine which he calls an “internal” rotary engine, rather like the kind of Wankel engine which has been around since the 1950s. Instead of pistons going up and down, the engine has a rotor that rotates around a crank shaft

The rotary engine that Adams envisions looks diagrammatically very like a schematic of the rotatory engine that Mazda introduced to varying degrees of success in its cars in the 1970s.

It works like this: A small amount of gasified “nanofuel,” which contains nuclear material mixed with hydrogen, is ignited by a neutron source to set up a controlled fission reaction, creating heat and propelling the rotor forward and driving the crank shaft. The fuel can be derived from the transuranic parts of spent conventional nuclear fuel or can be created separately.

A company dedicated to energy innovation, Global Energy Research Associates (GERA), is working on design and raising money. The Department of Energy has held back. 

Adams, 45, explains his engine this way, “Much like the way your car converts chemical energy into mechanical work, our engine converts nuclear energy directly and safely into useful mechanical work. This eliminates a lot of expensive reactor equipment and paves the way for low-cost nuclear power plants.”

He says his engine would produce 340 megawatts of electric power, if deployed in a combined-cycle configuration. The radioactive byproducts are only cesium and strontium with half-lives of about 30 years -- a great improvement on the nuclear waste from conventional reactors. It would be a high-level waste burner as well as an energy source. Tests to prototype engine components are underway at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls.

The nuclear engine would shut itself down automatically if things went wrong. A meltdown accident of the kind seen at Three Mile Island and Fukushima is not possible, according to GERA, which Adams formed to demonstrate and market the engine.

One must have, as one must with all futuristic, high-technology designs, a healthy skepticism and a lot of excitement.

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

 

Llewellyn King: With the Internet, cities are getting smarter

Bird electric scooters, being used in Providence and other cities.

Bird electric scooters, being used in Providence and other cities.

Cities are getting smarter. It’s happening right now, and it isn’t much short of a revolution.

Whole cities are incorporating the Internet of Things (IoT) into their daily life, changing the way the cities and towns live and breathe. The idea is to improve the quality of life for the billions who now live in cities or will as the relentless urbanization of the world continues.

Some are more advanced than others, but the revolution is afoot across the globe. Experts can’t explicitly say which communities are leading the pack but, expectedly, Singapore and Dubai are in the front row, and so are New York and San Antonio.

The goal is to make cities, as old as civilization, more citizen-friendly and more efficient and to ready them for further electrification in transportation — and, one day, for autonomous vehicles.

Clint Vince, chairman of the U.S. Energy Practice of the world’s largest law firm, Dentons, tells me that the firm is so involved with smart cities and communities that it has established a not-for-profit think tank to work on smart city issues within it. He said the think tank has determined 14 “pillars” of the smart city, from obvious ones like transportation, water, electricity and sewage to less obvious city functions like health and recreation.

Vince has represented New Orleans and San Antonio for many years, but he now sounds more like a city visionary than a lawyer. “Take the electric grid: It has to go from a single-direction flow, taking electricity from the point of generation to the point of consumption, to a two-way flow,” he said. “Eventually, it has to have multi-directional flows.”

Vince is talking about the effect of microgrids and dispersed electric generation, such as rooftop solar. One day, this grid flexibility may lead to innovations such as electric cars “lending” electricity to the grid when prices are favorable.

Electricity and smart meters, which are the key to what is known as the smart grid, began the revolution. Now the surge is joined by telephony in connecting, managing and directing the smart city infrastructure, and in trouble shooting it.

Tony Giroti, chairman of the Energy Blockchain Consortium, says smart installations aren’t just for monitoring and metering electricity and water consumption, but also play a prime role in bridging the divide between the old infrastructure and the new information-driven one. Smart city sensors will advise before there is a problem with an old pipe or compressor, so that proactive intervention can avert breakdowns.

Cities such as New York and Washington have underground pipes and wires that are past their prime, but they needn’t pose the threats they used to: The cities can cry out electronically when their physical plant is hurting. The New York Power Authority, a state agency, is credited with a leading role in smart cities, but the rush is on across the country and around the world.

As the information-driven city takes hold, so do questions ranging, for example, from where will autonomous ride-share cars loiter when not booked to where will they park?

I was leaving an interview about the future of cities when I fell over it. Literally. One of those scooters that are now part of the urban transportation mix had been left on the sidewalk. Because of the use of Internet technology and GPS, riders can leave them anywhere when they get to their destinations. The scooters are picked up and recharged at night, signaling to the company where they are via GPS.

Creating new, more livable cities is exciting; dealing with the unexpected consequences, as always, is challenging. When no one is looking, I’m going to try one of these scooters. I may be in traction when I write my next column, but don’t worry — it’ll be delivered electronically.

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

 

Llewellyn King: The triumph of ruthless uber-cynic Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch.

Rupert Murdoch.

 

Liberals get apoplectic at the mention of the Koch brothers and, by the same token, conservatives gag at the mention of George Soros.

Yet, it can be argued, another rich man might have had a much larger effect on the politics of this century: Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch is the uber publisher and broadcaster of our time, and manipulator of public opinion. In Britain, he is courted by prime ministers and in the United States by politicians, left and right. Since the emergence of Fox News as the champion of the angry white voter, he has been the comfort and the looking glass of one Donald Trump.

Murdoch is a phenomenon. He is courageous, opportunistic and blessed with an unparalleled ability to divine the often-hidden aspirations of his readers and viewers.

He also does not care what people think. That may be his greatest strength. He does what he damn well pleases and his success at doing that is played out on the world stage. He has gained the social and cultural recognition of media supremacy but has not sought them.

He loves making newspapers, making television, making money and making trouble.

His British newspapers — more than half the people who read a newspaper in Britain read one owned by a Murdoch company — backed Britain’s seemingly suicidal vote to leave the European Union.

The tone of his anti-European ravings was summed up on Nov. 1, 1990, when Britain turned its back on European monetary union with the now famous front-page headline “Up Yours Delors!” in The Sun, Britain’s largest circulation daily newspaper. At the time, Jacques Delors was president of the European Commission.

The Sun was not content just with its headline: It advised all its readers to turn toward Europe and make an obscene gesture. Not exactly sophisticated reasoning, but good at getting the nationalistic sap up.

The same thing you can get on Fox day after day from Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs and Laura Ingraham, and the thin gruel of reason served up by the breakfast team. Gruel, it must be noted, that is nourishment and justification for President Trump.

I still marvel at what amounted to Murdoch’s conquest of British newspaper publishing. It was genius: He identified a right-wing, jingoistic streak in the British working-class male and he went for it with chauvinistic fury — and naked female breasts on Page 3. Murdoch’s legendary conservatism did not extend to women in front of the camera. If raunchy sold, raunchy it would be.

It paid off and enabled Murdoch later to take over the legendary Sunday Times and daily Times and to finance his American adventure, where something of the same formula applied to cable television has been diabolically effective.

Murdoch’s newspapers in Britain played a key role in the Brexit vote. It is less clear whether Fox played a role in Trump’s election, but it did not hurt. The trick in publishing or broadcasting to an ideological base, a conservative strategist once told me, is to keep the faithful, not to change minds. More troubling is the effect Fox has as an enabler for Trump’s more egregious actions, and his banal but damaging attacks on the media.

Fox floats the idea the mainstream media is a kind of monolithic, left-wing conspiracy and Trump amplifies it. Between Fox and Trump, they toss the mendacities back and forth until the authorship is lost. It is awesome to think mainstream can be turned into a pejorative just through repetition.

Murdoch is a conservative, except in journalistic vulgarity and when it is advantageous to go left, as he did in Britain when he backed Tony Blair and Labor in 1997. In New York, he cultivated the Clintons — maybe as insurance, maybe just as the entitlement to know power that goes along with his own power, or he may just have liked them.

Having been curious about Murdoch and his ways — and at times lost in admiration — since he figuratively invaded Britain in 1969 and seen the good and the bad that followed, I think he toys with politicians and is amused by his ability to influence events. Not much more and not much less.

There is a British expression for stirring things up: putting a bit of stick about. No one has put more stick about than Murdoch and he is not done. Tune in to Fox tonight and just see.

On Twitter: @llewellynking2


Llewellyn King (llewellynking1@gmail.com) is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. He’s  also a long-time columnist and international business consultant, now focusing on the energy sector. For many years he published Washington-based newsletters about the defense and energy sectors. Before then, he was an editor at newspapers in Britain and the United States. He's now based in Rhode Island.

 

Llewellyn King: Even Sanders deserves privacy away from her job

Richard Burton  as Mark Antony with Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in the film epic  Cleopatra  (1963), the project in which they started their off-screen love affairs.

Richard Burton as Mark Antony with Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in the film epic Cleopatra (1963), the project in which they started their off-screen love affairs.

 

Public accommodations can be a thorny matter. Historically, Virginia has had its problems, as have other states and nations.

In Marshall, Va., a little greasy spoon became notorious and its owners served time in prison because they refused to serve people of color. Very soon, the only people who frequented the joint were journalists who hoped to catch the owners in the act of violating the state’s public accommodations law.

In a bar in Baltimore, I watched the owner lie to a black man who wanted service. “This is a private club, but I could sell you something to go,” the owner said. It wasn’t a club; it was racism at work.

At a roadside restaurant in South Africa, before the fall of Apartheid, my family and I and our black driver stopped for a bite. I was told that our driver couldn’t enter this humble establishment with me and my family and would have to eat in the car. We all ate in the car.

Obviously, there was no race dimension in the booting of White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders from the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., but there was the owner’s anger, fury and protest. It was a comment on actions of the administration Sanders defends daily. Lexington, in the Shenandoah Valley, is a thoroughly Trump town – home to the Virginia Military Institute, Washington and Lee University, flag-bedecked houses, pickup trucks with NRA decals, and Fox on the box.

The restaurant owner, Stephanie Wilkinson, said that Sanders didn’t meet the restaurant’s standards of kindness, compassion and cooperation and that’s why she kicked out Sanders. Clearly Wilkinson was vexed, as many are these days, with the profound national division over the treatment of immigrant children at the border and the constant defense of mendacity by Sanders.

While political speech deserves defense, I think one deserves to eat one’s vittles without victimization. Chowing down shouldn’t be an opportunity for others to speak up.

Customers who meet reasonable standards of behavior and dress shouldn’t be denied service or yelled at while exercising their right to patronize public places. I think it was wrong for protesters to attack Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at a Mexican restaurant in Washington. Some privacy in public is an entitlement, even if the president behaves in outrageous ways with ad hominem attacks on allied leaders, schoolyard abuse of his detractors and a rabid-dog approach to public life.

There isn’t much for which I can claim the moral high ground, but when it comes to restaurants, I have credentials -- top-drawer bona fides, as it were.

Back in 1962, I was employed by one of the London newspapers, notorious for intruding on people's privacy. My assignment was to follow a couple of lovebirds around London. They were Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and my job was to spend all day and much of the night at the famous Dorchester Hotel, where love was being committed.

Except that they never entered stage center.

Every day I made my way to the five-star hotel and sat around, had drinks (which the hotel provided free) and hoped to see them coming or leaving or, fond hope, kissing on the backstairs. No joy. Even hopes of asking the chambermaid about the bed were nobbled by hotel security.

Then one Sunday in Dulwich, a green and pleasant oasis in south London, my then-wife, a brilliant journalist, Doreen King, and I went for our Sunday lunch, an English tradition, at a very nice pub. And there they were, my prey: Taylor and Burton as large as life having lunch. Not just having lunch, but at the next table.

My wife whispered, “Are you going to call the office and get a photographer? What questions have you got ready?”

I looked at the lovers at the next table. Never have I seen two people so in love, so happy with each other. My wife and I agreed silently to leave them alone.

I’d like to be able to say that Burton winked, but he didn’t. He had eyes only for Taylor.

To my mind, the lovely (Taylor and Burton) and the less so (Nielsen and Sanders) should be able to enjoy a private meal in public. I missed a scoop on this belief.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle on PBS. His e-mail is llewellynking1@gmail.com