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10 Leaders in Business, Politics and Arts Share Their Favorite Books of 2019 – The Wall Street Journal

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Flea, Zadie Smith and Robert Iger

Each year we ask more than 50 leaders and luminaries from literature, business, politics and the arts to name the best books they’ve read during the year. You could spend all day reading the full list—and all year reading the books.

Robert Iger

Ta-Nehisi Coates has become one of my favorite authors—he also writes the “Black Panther” comics—and his searing debut novel, “The Water Dancer,” will stay with me forever. I’m fortunate to work with some supremely talented writers and I certainly appreciate the immense power their stories have to develop empathy and an appreciation for the human condition. Our world needs great storytellers to teach us, to enlighten us and to open our minds to our differences. “The Water Dancer” is such a story and solidifies Mr. Coates as one of our great storytellers. The historian Yuval Noah Harari’s profound books have allowed me to consider the state of our world through the prism of the past. But in “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” Mr. Harari uses history to explore what our future may hold—and makes the case that we should not be afraid of change or disruption, but should rather embrace its inevitability and use it to move us forward. In a business as dynamic as ours, this is a vital lesson.

— Mr. Iger is the CEO of the Walt Disney Co. and the author of “The Ride of a Lifetime.”

Téa Obreht

In preparation for 2019 I found it necessary to break my lifelong habit of reading at bedtime. (It had grown troublesome as I became someone who works way too late and doesn’t realize she’s drifted off, then half-dreams her way through intricate plots at the disastrous pace of one chapter a night.) The rewards have been glorious: My afternoons were spent with Kathleen Alcott’s daringly inventive “America Was Hard to Find” and Karen Russell’s wild and wonderful “Orange World” and Lauren Wilkinson’s genre-bending “American Spy.” I was blown away, too, by

Salvatore Scibona’s

“The Volunteer,” which might be the first book I’ve ever read whose beginning made me cry. It starts with a tiny, desperate boy found at the Hamburg airport speaking an unknown language, and leads us from Latvia to Vietnam, New Mexico and Cambodia, through lifetimes and family myths, memories, upheavals and betrayals of mind and body.

— Ms. Obreht is the author of “Inland.”

Marc Benioff

This year, three extraordinary leaders remind us that we can all be a platform for change. In “The Ride of a Lifetime,” Robert Iger chronicles his amazing career—including his 15 years leading Disney. I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes stories illustrating key moments that shaped Disney’s history and Bob’s 45-year career. His “Lessons to Lead By” will help everyone, from new hires to chief executives. My good friend David Rubenstein brings us “The American Story,” applying his incredible interviewing skills to draw out deep insights from our nation’s top presidential historians. David’s book shows us how the past informs our understanding of the present and can shape our future. Roger McNamee’s “Zucked” captures the disastrous consequences of one of our most powerful companies not making trust its No. 1 value. Every page is a reminder that businesses can do more than make a profit; it should be a corporate responsibility to serve stakeholders as well as shareholders and improve the state of the world.

— Mr. Benioff is chairman and co-CEO of Salesforce and co-author, with Monica Langley, of “Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change.”

Zadie Smith

I reread “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and reremembered it’s a masterpiece. I read “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” by

Shoshana Zuboff

and “Re-engineering Humanity” by Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger and wished everyone would read both before the re-engineering is total. I read “Potiki” by the Maori author Patricia Grace and thought she should get the Nobel. I read “Voices From Chernobyl” by Svetlana Alexievich and was glad she already has one. I read “Fleishman Is in Trouble” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner on a plane to Australia: I laughed and cried. The flight was so long I also read “A Month in Siena” by Hisham Matar. Everybody should get to spend a month with Mr. Matar, looking at paintings. I read “Black Lives: W.E.B. Du Bois at the Paris Exposition 1900,” edited by Julian Rothenstein, and felt thankful for Du Bois. I read “The Politics of Pain: Postwar England and the Rise of Nationalism” by Fintan O’Toole and wished I’d written it. I read “The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes”—that 16th-century servant who revealed the corruption of all masters—and marveled at how a long-departed consciousness could still feel present. I read “Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing” and wished that particular consciousness had not departed. I read “Out of Darkness, Shining Light” by Petina Gappah and “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang and felt delighted by fiction. I read “Feel Free” by Nick Laird and felt lucky to have a poet in the house.

— Ms. Smith is the author of “Grand Union.”

HR McMaster

It is difficult to overstate the threat from a nuclear-armed North Korea. Not only as a direct threat to humanity, but also because a nuclear-armed North Korea would lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. If

Kim Jong Un

gets them, who doesn’t? The Kim family has never built a weapon it did not try to sell. As North Korea’s third-generation dictator threatens a “Christmas present” if the U.S. doesn’t accede to his latest demands, we would do well to understand better the emotions, ideology and worldview that drive and constrain his behavior. A great starting point is Anna Fifield’s “The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un.” The book is impeccably researched. The prose is lively. Ms. Fifield writes with wit and dark humor about a murderous and increasingly dangerous dictator. Through first- and secondhand accounts, she fills in the gaps of Mr. Kim’s life to paint a less-unfinished portrait of the man. He is smarter and more calculating than anyone gives him credit for, securing power by ramping up the nuclear and missile programs started by his predecessors. This book provides a valuable perspective on this formidable adversary and one of our most vexing foreign-policy challenges.

— Mr. McMaster is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Susan Packard

As I turned the final pages of Patti Callahan’s novel “Becoming Mrs. Lewis,” I couldn’t believe the two main characters had only known each other for a decade. The victim of an abusive husband, Joy Davidman flees America with her two small sons and sets up life in England. She becomes a writer and takes the chance to correspond with

C.S. Lewis,

author of the “Chronicles of Narnia” novels. Davidman wants to know more about Lewis’s conversion to Christianity from atheism. She, too, is a convert, from Judaism. Lewis writes her back, and the two become friends. Over the decade of their fierce and growing love, Davidman’s spirit and self-worth grow: “It wasn’t until England I saw who I could be: a brilliant light, cherished for who I was.” Her love in turn transforms Lewis from a man living only in his intellect. “Logic takes no account for the heart,” she tells Lewis. “How can you tell a heart what to do?” She opens him up to the grace of living fully and vulnerably, and changes this brilliant writer forever.

— Ms. Packard is a co-founder of HGTV and the author of “Fully Human.”

Andrew Yang

Artificial intelligence and other new technologies have the potential to change our economy and society in unpredictable ways. Even techies don’t know what’s going to happen. Kai-Fu Lee’s “AI Superpowers” recognizes the power that will come from these technologies and the dangers of falling behind other countries, especially China. The book has shown itself to be particularly relevant and prescient. Few observers, even two or three years ago, could have predicted the current state of U.S.-China relations. The U.S. needs to invest in these areas to catch up, while also bringing the world together in an organization like the WTO for data.

— Mr. Yang is the founder of Venture for America and a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate

Flea

Despite my dismay around the dystopian takeover of science fiction and the loss of hope, optimism and fascination that buoyed my Ray Bradbury childhood, I set my petty whining aside to tell you that Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” is a stunner. It’s a terrifying vision of a dismal future brought on by the willful ignorance, racism and greed of human beings, and an eerily dangerous parallel to our present path. Ms. Butler gives us a satisfying protagonist in the hypersensitive teenager Lauren, whose courage and wits are an infinite source of inspiration. Paulette Jiles’s “News of the World” is the only book I’ve read that caused me to yell out loud in the solitude of my bedroom. Young Johanna, displaced by the wildly shifting world around her, shows courage and spiritual depth beyond her years and filled my heart with purpose. It’s a history book and the most profound love story between Johanna and an elderly man named Capt. Kidd. Toni Morrison’s “Sula,” the first book I read together with my then-fiancée in our two-person book club, is an absolute epic. Love and yearning, pathos and racism, a deep friendship connection forged in secret trauma, it was the last Morrison book I read before her passing and must be held in the highest esteem.

— Flea plays bass for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and is the author of “Acid for the Children.”

Twyla Tharp

Three books recently gave me hope that consensus can be reached in our radically divided culture, emphasizing the optimism and courage to be had when we debate our differences. John Sexton’s “Standing for Reason” demonstrates the commitment needed from adults to support the development of knowledgeable and inquisitive young thinkers. Mr. Sexton, a former president of New York University, insists on the power of logic in dialogue to weld the silos of a large urban university into one force. It can be done. In “A Month in Siena,” Hisham Matar’s study of paintings found in this Italian city help transform the brutal loss of his father into a rebirth of faith. The iconography of three Sienese painters gives Mr. Matar his metaphor. In the first half of the 14th century, Ambrogio Lorenzetti portrayed a democratic Siena ruled through individual civic responsibility. In the latter half of that century, following the Plague, Bartolo Battiloro showed Siena’s community spirit deteriorating; its collective guilt and terror made the city susceptible to a hegemonic ruler. Then a century after the plague, Giovanni di Paolo represented individuals once again capable of communicating directly, without intermediaries, in a work appropriately titled “Paradise.” Józef Czapski’s “Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp” is just that. Czapski, a Polish officer, was captured during World War II and taken to a Russian hard-labor camp. At the end of each harsh day, the prisoners maintained their sanity by giving one another lectures on the subjects they knew best. As there were no written documents allowed, these recitations were entirely from memory. Czapski’s almost literal recall of Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” is incredible in its detail; yet even more impressive is his insistence that we can maintain humanity through communication with one another. May we all so triumph in the New Year.

— Ms. Tharp is a choreographer and the author of “Keep It Moving.”

Will Hurd

In “American Carnage,” Tim Alberta explains why our political system is where it is. He illuminates how trends like a widening chasm in incomes, a shredded national identity and a dissipating sense of societal cohesiveness have blurred together into an expression of outrage and how politicians have responded to these changes. He details how “elections in modern America are won principally by mobilizing the base, not persuading the middle.” This is dangerous: The only way we have solved problems in this country is by working together. “American Carnage” helps us understand how and why we’ve forgotten the basic truth that way more unites us than divides us.

— Mr. Hurd is a congressman from Texas.

Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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Mitch McConnell is the apex predator of U.S. politics – The Washington Post

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Howard Fineman is an NBC News analyst and a RealClearPolitics contributing correspondent.

When Minnesota Democrat Al Franken was in the Senate, the only way he could even briefly befriend Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was to compliment the Republican leader on a speech. One day, after McConnell had given what passed for heartfelt remarks in praise of Senate spouses, Franken approached him to say it was a “lovely speech.” A comedian in an earlier life, Franken then proceeded to kid him on the square. “Mitch, I have to say, I really like your speeches better when they aren’t in the service of evil.”

“I like the evil ones better,” McConnell replied, with a thin smile.

No joke. At 78, after a half-century in politics, Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr. now stands at the precipice of what most Republicans only a generation or two ago would have said was impossible: conservative domination of the Supreme Court.

For McConnell, this is a personal triumph worthy of the history books. But history may record it differently. It seems probable that McConnell’s epitaph will note instead that no one since the Southern segregationists of the 1940s and 1950s did more to cripple the proper functioning of all three branches of government, not to mention faith in the very idea of one America.

Historian Rick Perlstein has long described this chapter in the American story as “Nixonland,” a jagged terrain of White racial fear and populist resentment of the federal authority that began in the mid-1960s. But while GOP presidents from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump have tilled that soil when it suited their purposes, McConnell has been, over the years, its most constant gardener, mixing arcane, cynically hypocritical legislative procedure and judicial appointments to turn emotion into lasting policy.

He has jammed hundreds of conservative judges onto the federal bench, making it younger, Whiter and more male — and far more partisan — in the process. In concert with the Federalist Society, McConnell is transforming the federal judiciary from sometimes-defenders of the poor, immigrants and people of color into the Praetorian Guard of corporations, the wealthy, and those whose cultural and racial privileges make them, at best, oblivious to their collective responsibility to all Americans. At the same time, McConnell is standing in the schoolhouse door of dozens if not hundreds of pieces of needed legislation, rendering the “world’s greatest deliberative body” an empty pantomime of itself.

And if he succeeds in forcing another pliable justice onto the Supreme Court, he may prove responsible for undercutting whatever legitimacy a possibly disputed presidential election might have if, as many suspect, it must be settled by that court. One reason to move fast and give the court a 6-3 conservative majority? To take the relatively independent (and therefore unreliable) Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. out of the equation.

McConnell has been around so long people think they know him. But they don’t, and that is by design. When you are the apex predator of U.S. politics, you don’t really care what anyone thinks. In Kentucky, where I worked for six years as McConnell was beginning his rise, he is not so much loved as endured. People talk about him like the rainy Ohio River Valley weather: It’s a pain, but it waters the crops. He retains an iron grip on state politics, has been elected statewide six times and is likely to win a seventh term in November. Democrats are pouring millions into defeating him. It’s not a great bet.

McConnell, reduced to his essence, is a state party chairman on steroids. His eye for detail, and his feral sense of approaching threats, is total. In the summer of 1968, working for a U.S. Senate candidate that year, he traveled the state from Pikeville to Paducah with another young Republican, Jon Yarmuth, now the Democratic member of the U.S. House representing Louisville. After work, as they hunkered down at yet another rural motel, Yarmuth would suggest that they go out for a drink. Mitch would have none of it. “What he wanted to do was sit in the room,” Yarmuth recalled, “and read every report and statistic about the county.”

His granular focus on local matters derives in part from the fact that McConnell isn’t Kentucky-bred. He was born in North Alabama and spent his childhood there and in Georgia before moving to Louisville as a teen. He and his family lived in the city’s South End, where newcomers from the Deep South settled in a city whose moneyed ruling class saw itself as tweed-clad country cousins of the Eastern elite. McConnell absorbed the middle-class resentments of his neighborhood.

From boyhood on, he pursued every title he could find: high school student council president; college student president, law school bar association president, state president of the Ripon Society and so on, up the ziggurat of perches and entitlements, all the way to Senate majority leader.

These days he pitches himself to historians as the heir to the godfather of distributed power, James Madison. McConnell has a point, in one sense. The contrapuntal effect of the federal courts is valuable, even indispensable; a piece of Newtonian balance that the founders knew was important. But McConnell is not interested in balance: He is interested only in total dominance, and in a bulwark against change, whatever the cost to the country.

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Why Supreme Court politics in 2020 look way different from 2016 or 2018 – CNN

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We don’t know what the ultimate effect of any Supreme Court battle will be on the 2020 election. Still, we can look at the playing board. It suggests the 2020 electoral calculus has fundamental differences with the electoral math of 2016 and 2018 when it comes to Supreme Court nominations.
Yesterday, I noted that more of former Vice President Joe Biden’s supporters have said the Supreme Court was important to their vote than Trump supporters. That’s very different from 2016, when Trump backers said the court was more important to their vote than Hillary Clinton backers.
The contrasts go deeper than that, however.
Trump often struggled with rallying the base in 2016. There were points in that cycle when he was receiving only about 75% of the Republican vote in polls. A Supreme Court nomination was the perfect way to get the base to support his cause.
Trump, though, has centered pretty much his entire presidency around appealing to his base. He’s done so, oftentimes, at the expense of bringing in more moderate voters to his cause. It’s paid off for Trump.
Republicans are backing Trump at very high numbers now. A NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College poll out on Friday put Trump’s support at 94% among likely Republican voters. Our last CNN/SSRS poll showed that 99% of very conservative Republicans were supporting Trump.
In other words, Trump already has the base behind him in a way he didn’t at many times in 2016. Any more gains he could make with them would be very limited.
There are distinctions between the 2018 and 2020 Supreme Court nomination showdown as well.
You may recall Republicans picked up four Senate seats and lost two for a net gain of 2 in 2018. This came after Kavanaugh was nominated in late summer and confirmed early that fall.
It does seem like the Kavanaugh nomination was a boon to a number of Republican Senate candidates. Republicans knocked out Democratic senators in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota. In all of those states, a majority of voters who said that Kavanaugh was a factor in their vote cast their ballots for the Republican Senate candidate. Those who said it wasn’t a factor either split their vote or a majority went for the Democratic nominee.
All of those seats were in states where Trump won by 19 points or more in 2016. That is, they were very red states.
The Kavanaugh hearing, if anything, rallied the Republican base in red states.
In the only purple state where Republicans defeated a Democratic senator (Bill Nelson in Florida), voters who said his vote against Kavanaugh was a factor in their decision were actually slightly more likely to back the Democratic nominee.
The 2018 House elections tell a similar story. Unlike in the Senate, where a limited number of seats is up every cycle, every House seat was up for election in 2018.
House Republicans were not helped by the Kavanaugh hearings.
Democrats’ advantage on the generic congressional ballot was in the high single digits before the Kavanaugh hearings and remained as such through the election. Democrats ended up with a net gain of 40 seats in the House.
The 2020 presidential race will be fought on, if anything, more favorable terrain than the 2018 House elections. Democrats don’t need to worry about winning a majority of congressional districts. They only need to win a majority of electoral votes.
Likewise, the 2020 Senate terrain is totally different. Only one of the seats Democrats are defending is in deep red territory. That Alabama seat was already in major danger of flipping prior to any Supreme Court battle.
Meanwhile, the Democrats’ easiest path to a Senate majority runs through purple states. Democrats’ easiest pickup opportunities are in Arizona (a state where the same Republican Senate candidate lost in 2018), Colorado and Maine. Biden is clearly ahead in the polls in all of these states.
The other two best pickup opportunities are in states where Trump is likely either up by a point or two (Iowa) or down by a point or two (North Carolina). In neither state is the Democratic Senate nominee running too far ahead of Biden.
The bottom line is that, while any estimates of what the upcoming Supreme Court fight means for the election are just guesses, 2016 and 2018 are not good road maps to understanding the dynamic in 2020. The situations are quite different.

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The wildly unpredictable politics of the SCOTUS opening – CNN

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* How Republicans see the politics: For President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans, anything that changes the national conversation from the chief executive’s mishandling of the coronavirus is a good thing.
A fight over whether he should try to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vacant seat before the 2016 election — and whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can muster 50 votes to confirm the pick — isn’t a sure winner for Republicans, but it’s better, in their minds, to the sure loser that is a referendum election on the pandemic (and Trump’s handling of it).
What we know a fight over a court seat will do is rally the Republican base behind Trump. The GOP’s hardcore conservatives have generally stuck with Trump almost solely because of the number of federal judges he has appointed and the Senate has confirmed. Many may have wandered a bit amid Trump’s demonstrably poor response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but a court fight may be just what the President and his campaign need to bring those lingerers back into the fold.
The argument to do that is (relatively) simple: You may not like how Trump tweets or acts, but look at what he has done — in particular a total overhaul of the federal judiciary that ensures a conservative bent in the judicial branch for decades to come. (I continue to believe the single strongest moment of Trump’s 2016 campaign was when he released a list of who he might choose as Supreme Court nominees.)
If Trump can change the conversation in the race into one focused on the battle for the judiciary, it will have a cascading effect in Republicans’ fight for the Senate majority too.
Only two Republican senators up for reelection this November — Maine’s Susan Collins and Colorado’s Cory Gardner — represent states where Trump lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016. 
Which means the 21 other Republican seats are in territory that Trump won.  Which, in theory, would mean that if they could simply turn out the GOP vote they would have a good chance at winning. (This is, of course, not true in all 21 of the states. Take Arizona, for example, where the partisanship of the state is clearly moving away from Republicans.)
The quick endorsement of a vote pre-election on Trump’s eventual nominee by the likes of Georgia’s Kelly Loeffler and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis — both of whom face serious challenges this fall — reflects that belief within the GOP strategist world.
* How Democrats see the politics: If Trump’s entire first term has been defined by norm-busting, then this attempt to confirm a justice less than two months before a presidential election is the final act of this trend.
Democrats will relentlessly point out all of the quotes from Republican senators during the attempted 2016 confirmation of Merrick Garland to the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia as proof-positive of GOP hypocrisy.
And there are LOTS of quotes. Perhaps the two best/worst:
* “It has been 80 years since a Supreme Court vacancy was nominated and confirmed in an election year. There is a long tradition that you don’t do this in an election year.” — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz
* “I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.” — South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham
Pretty bad, right?
Democrats will combine that hypocrisy attack with ramped-up pressure on senators in tough races like Gardner and Iowa’s Joni Ernst — as well as appeals to institutionalists like retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander  (Tennessee) and Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) to keep McConnell from the 50 votes he needs.
If Republicans do wind up confirming Trump’s pick — and, at the moment, they can only lose one more GOP senator after both Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski have said they oppose making the appointment before the election — then Democrats will be faced with whether they make good on a MASSIVE threat making the rounds this weekend: Adding seats to the Supreme Court if they retake the majority this fall.
Several prominent Democrats have floated the idea of expanding the court, including California Sen. Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s running mate. (Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said during his presidential campaign that he would go from 9 seats to 15 on the court.)
Biden, however, has been resistant to that idea. “I would not get into court packing,” he said at an October 2019 debate. “We add three justices; next time around, we lose control, they add three justices. We begin to lose any credibility the court has at all.”
The question for Democrats, then, is how much — if at all — they inject the idea of adding court seats into the fall campaign. On the one hand, it might excite their base. On the other, it could play into Trump’s hands by giving a preview of what Democratic control at all levels of government might look like.
The Point: This is a high-wire walk with no net for both parties. And how they navigate this unexpected development could well shape not just the 2020 election, but the future of two parties over the next decade.

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