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Best books of 2021: Politics – Financial Times

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There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century
by Fiona Hill, Mariner Books $30

As senior director for Russia in the Trump White House, the author worked closely with the president. Her memoir is full of startling and unsettling insights into how Trump dealt with foreign leaders and his “autocrat envy”. Hill’s book is also a compelling memoir about her journey from a working-class background in northern England to the corridors of power in Washington. Her background gives her particular insight into the social and economic forces driving the rise of populism in the US, UK and Russia.

Beef, Bible and Bullets: Brazil in the Age of Bolsonaro
by Richard Lapper, Manchester University Press £20

Jair Bolsonaro is the most controversial leader to come to power in Brazil since the end of military rule in the 1980s. With the Brazilian president up for re-election in 2022, Lapper, a former FT Latin America editor, provides a lively and comprehensive guide to the life and times of Bolsonaro — explaining his ideology and the social bases of his support: the beef, bible and bullets of the title. This book is an important guide to what may be one of the political stories of the coming year.

The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy To Displace American Order
by Rush Doshi, Oxford University Press £21.99

As the US and China slip towards a new cold war, Doshi argues that Beijing is pursuing a long-term plan to displace the US as the world’s most powerful nation. The verdict may sound sensationalist, but it is carefully argued and backed by deep research and primary sources. The fact that Doshi is now advising on China in the Biden White House means that this book is also valuable as a guide to current US thinking, about its growing rivalry with China.

Move: The Forces Uprooting Us
by Parag Khanna, Simon & Schuster $30/Weidenfeld & Nicolson £20

The crisis on America’s southern border and the flows of refugees into Europe underline the extent to which mass migration is now one of the most important forces, shaping global politics and economics. Despite the calls in parts of the west to halt the flows of people, Khanna sees mass migration as both inevitable and welcome. But his work also contains dark forecasts about how much migration will be driven by the changing climate.

Navalny: Putin’s Nemesis, Russia’s Future?
by Jan Matti Dollbaum, Morvan Lallouet and Ben Noble, Hurst £20

Alexei Navalny, who was imprisoned earlier this year, is the most dangerous political opponent to take on Vladimir Putin, during the Russian leader’s more than 20 years in power. Despite his extraordinary courage, Navalny has attracted his share of critics — from both the liberal left and the nationalist right. This book is a fair-minded and comprehensive guide to a man who may yet play a major role in the future of Russia.

Go Big: How To Fix Our World
by Ed Miliband, Bodley Head £18.99

The former Labour party leader has used his electoral defeat in 2015 to rethink his approach to politics, arguing that people are now hungry for “big” solutions to what look like overwhelming problems. In a successful series of podcasts — and now a book — he engages with thinkers, often working at a local level, who propose radical solutions to a range of problems, from climate change to affordable housing.

Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy
by Christophe Jaffrelot, Princeton University Press £30

The most comprehensive study of Modi’s India to date offers a bleak and unsparing view of the direction of the country. Jaffrelot, a professor at King’s College London, argues that India has turned into an “ethnic democracy” in which Muslims and Christians are effectively second-class citizens. Modi’s Hindu nationalist project has, in his view, effectively hollowed out institutions that might have checked the prime minister’s power — including the supreme court, the media and the election commission. The conclusion is that the world’s greatest democracy is sliding towards authoritarianism.

Eagle Down: The Last Special Forces Fighting the Forever War
by Jessica Donati, PublicAffairs £20

In the year in which the US finally and ignominiously pulled out of Afghanistan — allowing the Taliban to retake power — Donati’s book has a particular resonance. Her closely reported story of US special forces operations in Afghanistan captures much of the chaos and tragedy of the conflict and the human costs involved.

The War of Words: A Glossary of Globalization
by Harold James, Yale £21.95

In contemporary political debate, words like “neoliberalism”, “geopolitics” and “globalisation” are chucked around — but their actual meanings are often contested and obscure. James, a Princeton professor, delves into the often-surprising intellectual origins of key concepts in the arguments about globalisation — and illuminates the debate in the process.

Aftershocks: Pandemic Politics and the End of the Old International Order
by Colin Kahl and Thomas Wright, St Martin’s Press $29.99/£23.99

The Covid-19 pandemic has killed millions of people and been a huge shock to the global economy. This book, based on original reporting as well as analysis, convincingly argues that the pandemic has also reshaped global politics — accelerating the move towards confrontation between China and the US and highlighting the breakdown of international co-operation.

Red Roulette: An Insider’s Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption and Vengeance in Today’s China
by Desmond Shum, Simon & Schuster £20

The long economic boom in China has created many huge fortunes. But Chinese billionaires are also vulnerable to sudden changes in political fortune and abrupt falls from grace. The author tells the story of his rise to wealth and the sudden arrest of his ex-wife and business partner. In doing so, he pulls back a veil on the intersection between power and wealth in China. The book reads like a thriller and has become a bestseller.

Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain
by Sathnam Sanghera, Viking £18.99

At a time when Britain’s imperial legacy is once again a subject of public controversy, this immensely readable book is very timely. The account by Sanghera, a former FT writer, is simultaneously personal and scholarly. It addresses many of the questions that are now urgent subjects of public debate — such as Britain’s role in the slave trade and the connections between empire and multiculturalism.

Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad
by Michela Wrong, Fourth Estate £20/PublicAffairs $18.99

A deeply researched and highly critical biography of one of Africa’s most praised leaders — Paul Kagame of Rwanda. It accuses the Rwandan leader of orchestrating the assassination of exiled opponents — and questions his economic record and his role in the events that led to the Rwandan genocide. The FT praised the book as “remarkable, chilling and long overdue

Peril
by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Simon & Schuster £20/$30

The US and the wider world are still assimilating the extraordinary events of January 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol, in an effort to overturn the result of the US presidential election. This is a first draft of history, following the usual Woodward method of meticulously recreating events through the testimony of insiders. It makes for compulsive and disturbing reading.

Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War
by Howard W French, Liveright £25/$35

A recasting of the history of the modern world that places Africa and Africans at the centre of the story. French argues that the rise of the west to global dominance was made possible by the exploration and exploitation of Africa — and, above all, by the slave trade. He recounts the destruction of complex African societies and the scale and brutality of slavery. At the time of Black Lives Matter this is an intensely political message. But French’s book is no work of propaganda and has been hailed as a “masterpiece” by Peter Frankopan, professor of global history at Oxford.

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Abortion ruling pushes businesses to confront divisive politics – PBS NewsHour

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The Supreme Court’s decision to end the nation’s constitutional protections for abortion has catapulted businesses of all types into the most divisive corner of politics.

Some companies that stayed silent last month — when a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito was leaked to Politico — spoke up for the first time Friday, including The Walt Disney Company, which said it will reimburse employees who must travel out of state to get an abortion.

Facebook parent Meta, American Express, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs also said they would cover employee travel costs while others like Apple, Starbucks, Lyft and Yelp reiterated previous announcements taking similar action. Outdoor clothing maker Patagonia went so far as to post on LinkedIn Friday that it would provide “training and bail for those who peacefully protest for reproductive justice” and time off to vote.

But of the dozens of big businesses that The Associated Press reached out to Friday, many like McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Tyson and Marriott did not respond. Arkansas-based Walmart — the nation’s largest employer with a good portion of its stores in states that will immediately trigger abortion bans following the Friday’s Supreme Court ruling — also kept quiet.

Meanwhile, the Business Roundtable, an organization that represents some of the nation’s most powerful companies, said it “does not have a position on the merits of the case.”

READ MORE: The ‘air is thick with disbelief and grief’ at a Louisiana clinic as abortion ends

A lot is at stake for companies, many of which have publicly pledged to promote women’s equality and advancement in the workplace. For those in states with restrictive abortion laws, they could now face big challenges in attracting college-educated workers who can easily move around.

Luis von Ahn, the CEO of the language app Duolingo, sent a tweet Friday aimed at lawmakers in Pennsylvania, where the company is headquartered: “If PA makes abortion illegal, we won’t be able to attract talent and we’ll have to grow our offices elsewhere.”

The ruling and the coming patchwork of abortion bans also threatens the technology boom in places like Austin, Texas as companies like Dell — which was already becoming more flexible to remote work because of the tight labor market — struggle to recruit newly minted tech graduates to their corporate hubs, said Steven Pedigo, a professor who studies economic development at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Rather than stay in Austin, do you go to New York or Seattle or the Bay Area? I think that’s a real possibility,” Pedigo said. “It becomes much more challenging, particularly when you’re looking at a young, progressive workforce, which is what technology workers tend to be.”

Emily M. Dickens, chief of staff and head of government affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management, said in a statement that nearly a quarter of organizations in a recent poll agreed that offering a health savings account to cover travel for reproductive care in another state will enhance their ability to compete for talent.

“But how these policies interact with state laws is unclear, and employers should be aware of the legal risks involved,” she said.

Dickens noted that companies that use third-party administrator to process claims on their behalf — typically big employers — are subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act rather than state law. But companies that have to buy their own health insurance for their employees — typically small businesses — are subject to state regulations and have less flexibility in designing benefits.

READ MORE: Missouri’s last abortion clinic finds itself in center of Roe fallout

Offering to cover travel expenses could also make companies a target for anti-abortion lawmakers. In March, Texas State Representative Briscoe Cain, a Republican, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Citigroup, saying he would propose legislation barring localities in the state from doing business with any company that provides travel benefits for employees seeking abortions.

In his concurring opinion released Friday, Justice Brett Kavanaugh suggested it would be unconstitutional for a state to bar residents from traveling to another state to get an abortion.

“In my view, the answer is no based on the constitutional right to interstate travel,” Kavanaugh wrote.

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But a corporation’s right to fund what would be an illegal act in another state is still questionable, argues Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas.

“That’s not an interstate commerce question, per se,” she said. “So you’d need the right plaintiff.”

Meanwhile, tech companies are facing tough questions about what they’ll do if some of their millions of customers in the U.S. are prosecuted for having an abortion. Services like Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft routinely hand over digital data sought by law enforcement agencies pursuing criminal investigations. That’s raised concerns from privacy advocates about enforcers of abortion laws tapping into period apps, phone location data and other sensitive online health information.

A letter Friday from four Democrats in Congress called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the phone-tracking practices of Google and Apple, warning that location identifiers used for advertising could fall into the hands of prosecutors or bounty hunters looking “to hunt down women who have obtained or are seeking an abortion.”

The Supreme Court ruling comes at a time when companies have become increasingly reliant on women to fill jobs, and especially as they face a nationwide labor shortage. Women now account for nearly 50% of the U.S. workforce, up dramatically from 37.5% in 1970 — three years before the Supreme Court ruled abortions to be legal in Roe vs. Wade — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Denied access to abortion could hit low-income workers the hardest because they’re typically in jobs with fewer protections and that are also demanding, from loading groceries onto store shelves to working as a health aide.

“As a direct result of this ruling, more women will be forced to choose between paying their rent or traveling long distances to receive safe abortion care,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents nearly 2 million janitors, health care workers and teachers in the U.S. “Working women are already struggling in poverty-wage jobs without paid leave and many are also shouldering the caregiving responsibilities for their families, typically unpaid.”

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants told The Associated Press that the ruling was “devastating.”

“It cuts to the core of all the work that our union has done for 75 years,” she said. “This decision is not about whether or not someone supports abortion. That’s the distraction … This is about whether or not we respect the rights of women to determine their own future.”

Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, said the handful of companies are taking a stand on the court’s ruling because their customers and employees are expecting them to speak out.

“We’re in this moment in time where we’re expecting corporate leaders to also be leaders in the political sphere,” he said. “A lot of employees expect to work in companies that not only pay them well, but whose values are aligned with theirs.”

But the vast majority of executives will likely avoid the thorny topic and focus on things like inflation or supply chain disruptions, he said.
That, too, comes with risks.

“They can either support travel for out-of-state care and risk lawsuits and the ire of local politicians, or they can not include this coverage and risk the ire of employees,” Schweitzer said.
___
AP business writers Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island; Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit; Barbara Ortutay in San Francisco; David Koenig in Dallas and Ken Sweet in New York contributed to the story.

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Opinion: The vacuum at the centre of Canadian politics: an incompetent, unethical government faces an intemperate, unhinged opposition – The Globe and Mail

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Over the last few weeks and months it has become impossible to escape the feeling that Canadian politics has come loose from its moorings. There is a manic edge to it, as if the inmates had suddenly and collectively declared themselves absolved of any remaining obligations to common sense, or the ordinary routines of democratic politics, or the rule of law.

On the one hand, you have a Liberal government that is now embroiled in half a dozen crises of its own making, the fruit of a peculiar mix of cynicism, moral vanity, incompetence, doctrinaire ideology and apparently habitual abuse of power – a culture that originates with the leader, to be sure, but which appears to have spread throughout the party.

Thus you have, simultaneously, the airport mess, the passport mess, and the Russian embassy party mess; the abject retreat on vaccine mandates, in the face of a panicky Liberal backbench; the revelations that its centrepiece climate plan is in disarray, its 2030 carbon emissions reductions targets acknowledged, within government, to be a distant fantasy; all while it is engaged in the utter madness of attempting to regulate the internet, through no fewer than three separate bills.

That’s four or five ministers in trouble, and we haven’t even got to the matter of the Public Safety Minister, Marco Mendicino – and, let us not forget, the Prime Minister – apparently lying to Parliament about why they invoked the Emergencies Act, and on whose advice.

Or, worst yet, the jaw-dropping allegation that the Prime Minister’s Office, and the then Public Safety Minister, Bill Blair, prevailed upon the commissioner of the RCMP, Brenda Lucki, to interfere in the investigation of the murder of 22 people by a gunman in Nova Scotia two years ago, for the purpose of selling gun control legislation the government had planned.

The allegation, that Ms. Lucki demanded local RCMP officers reveal to the public, contrary to procedure and at the risk of compromising the investigation, the precise make and model of the guns the killer used, has been officially denied. Nevertheless it is hard to shake: the allegation is precise, detailed, and contained in a contemporaneous note by the officer involved.

More to the point, whether or not the allegation is true, it is easy to believe this government, and this Prime Minister, would be capable of it. Seize on a horrible crime to unveil showboating legislation, cooked up on the fly, to no apparent public benefit? Checks out. Lean on a law enforcement official to meddle in what is supposed to be an independent legal process, wholly off limits to politicians? What was SNC-Lavalin about?

So much for the government: tired, directionless, massively overcentralized, coasting on self-satisfaction and increasingly overwhelmed by the actual business of governing, including the tiresome necessity of respecting the rights of Parliament and the principle of the rule of law.

But what lurks across the aisle? What of the government-in-waiting, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the Conservative Party of Canada? How are they shaping up as an alternative?

Funny you should ask. The party is just now in the throes of a leadership race – the traditional opportunity for a party in opposition to define itself, and its core beliefs. What, by the lights of the current campaign, are the core beliefs of the Conservative Party? On matters of ordinary policy, things like deficits and taxes and foreign policy, we are not much further ahead than when we started.

But if it’s lunatic conspiracy theories you would like to know about, on these the Conservatives have plenty to say, ranging from unfounded fears about the health effects of vaccines, to paranoia about the baleful influence of the World Economic Forum, to the dystopian possibilities of central bank digital currencies, as a means of surveilling and controlling the population – or if you really want to know the “truth,” how all of these are bound up together.

On the day after the allegation surfaced, earlier this week, that the government had interfered in a murder investigation for political ends – a day that ought to have been reserved for asking the most searching questions of those involved – several Conservative MPs were feting the organizers of a new anti-vaccine, anti-government, anti-everything rally planned for Ottawa this summer, some of whom were involved in the one that paralyzed the capital for three weeks earlier this year. Just in case anyone had forgotten the party’s disgraceful cheerleading for that particular outbreak of lawlessness.

It isn’t only at the federal level that Conservatives seem to have abandoned their traditional belief in law and order. The Alberta Conservative leadership race has barely begun, yet has already featured proposals either to ignore the Constitution altogether – that is, to refuse to enforce federal laws the provincial government dislikes – or to dictate constitutional changes to the rest of the country that have no actual hope of passing.

There is precedent for this, of course, notably in the revolutionary fantasies of certain Quebec separatist leaders. But given how signally these have failed, and how much worse it would have been for the province if they had succeeded, it’s hard to imagine anyone citing them as an example to follow, rather than avoid. Yet that is where we have arrived, in both Quebec and Alberta – with political leaders pretending they can rewrite the Constitution unilaterally.

At the federal level we would seem to be left with something of a vacuum, with neither main party displaying much interest in governing responsibly. This is sometimes described as “polarization,” as if the problem could be solved by everyone agreeing to meet in the centre. Not so: this country has big, challenging issues confronting it, some of which may require radical changes in policy. Radicalism is not the same as extremism.

What’s needed is not centrism, if that is interpreted to mean blindly hugging the middle on every issue. Neither is pragmatism the answer, if that means governing without an ideological compass, but merely blowing this way and that according to the latest poll or interest group lobby.

What’s needed – what is sorely lacking – is judgment: political, moral, intellectual. Judgment is the foundation of leadership, and leadership is the only way we’re going to get back to something resembling functional politics.

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Are Politics A Problem For The Markets? – Forbes

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As an economist and market analyst, I try to shy away from politics and focus on the facts. Nonetheless, I often receive politically charged questions that are usually some variation of the following: “With X party in office, the country is doomed. How can you say otherwise?” I have heard this in every presidential election from George W. Bush to Joe Biden. But the truth of the matter is this: both the economy and the markets grew during all of those administrations. Of course, each one had its own challenges and problems, but as a country we continued to move forward. Companies found ways to grow and make money. Given this, are politics really a problem for the markets?

A Limited Effect

No matter which side, the administration actually has a very limited effect on the national economy and on the financial markets. In fact, if you look at a chart of the economy or of the markets, and cover up the dates, you really can’t pick out when your party was in charge. Similarly, when you look at economic and market performance under various permutations of which party is in charge, there are differences, but they are not consistent over time. For all of the headlines and the fearmongering, politics and governance don’t make a significant difference.

Who’s In Control?

How can that be? Simple. Every president and Congress would like to have control—but they don’t. States push back. The Supreme Court pushes back. Municipalities push back. It is rare that something significant actually gets through. And even when it does? The genius of the American system is that companies then set their collective minds on how to avoid it, if they don’t like it, and/or how to make money off it. For example, look at literally any tax bill ever passed.

Fundamentally, that is the strength of the American system. When you say that Washington will derail the economy or the markets, you are saying that it really controls all of the shoppers and the companies, which simply isn’t true. It is certainly in the interest of politicians to exaggerate their power (to motivate their supporters) and to exaggerate their opponents’ powers (again, to motivate their supporters). But the fact of the matter is that the U.S. economy is driven by millions of profit-motivated companies that will find ways to work around or profit from pretty much anything the politicians can do. Thank goodness for that.

Which doesn’t answer those who maintain that this time is different. That somehow today’s problems are worse than they have ever been before. There is always a constituency for panic. But if you really believe that, if you really believe that Washington—of one party or the other—can derail the country, then what you are saying is that Washington already has full control. That is not what I see when I look around.

This Too Will Pass

What I see is the same vivid debate on policy we have always had and the same back-and-forth that ultimately results in a reasonable solution. Perhaps it is louder now, but it is still the same process.

One of my favorite quotes, from Winston Churchill, notes that you can always count on Americans to do the right thing once they have tried all the alternatives. I would argue that is what is happening now and that despite the short-term damage, which can be real, ultimately we will move ahead again.

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