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Why America has great science but terrible politics – Brookings Institution

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Why does America have such great science but terrible politics? Only a couple of weeks ago, a United States spacecraft flew 293 million miles to Mars and safely landed an SUV-sized rover, all without damaging any of its onboard equipment, operating with an 11-minute communications lag, and navigating an atmosphere much thinner than Earth’s.

Yet despite our nation’s scientific prowess, our politics are terrible. Right now, America is plagued by political extremism, polarization, and hyper-partisanship. There is massive public cynicism and a lack of confidence in leading institutions. We have difficulty addressing basic problems, especially those involving the nation’s long-term needs. It is not clear that a closely divided House and 50-50 Senate is going to alter that reality.

How can we explain this seeming disparity between our scientific successes and political failures, and can we continue to be successful in the scientific realm if we leave our political problems unaddressed? As I outline below, there are fundamental differences between the sectors in terms of capacity for change, national investment, respect for expertise, and organizational culture. Fixing our clear dysfunctions must be a national priority. Otherwise we will end up with bad politics and science.

The case for our scientific successes

Even with the regular successes of NASA over the past several decades, it boggles the mind that we can land on another planet and have high quality images of the landscape almost instantaneously. Although NASA and university scientists make this look easy, we know that is not the case. Several countries, such as India, Great Britain, Japan, and Russia, have failed in their efforts to land on Mars.

The current landing is the fifth rover America has placed on Mars, and Perseverence is poised to make major scientific breakthroughs. It has equipment onboard that can test for the remnants of microbial life in the ancient lake bed where it landed. It is equipped with a helicopter that can provide an overview of the area to be explored. It can scoop up and store rocks that eventually will be brought back to Earth for more intensive analysis.

Our nation is also a leader in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, neuroscience, genetics, semiconductor development, and many other areas. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, our scientists worked with those from other countries to design new vaccines that reduce the disease and its associated fatalities. Indeed, our institutions of higher learning attract talented students from around the globe and are considered among the best in the world.

The contrast with our politics

In contrast, our political operations are crumbling. Our government was organized 230 years ago in a highly agrarian society, and the founders required two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of state legislatures to approve any major institutional changes. Though there have been 27 successful amendments to the Constitution, it is very difficult to update our institutional arrangements for an economy and society that have been transformed since 1789.

The challenge of making structural improvements means that as our country has urbanized, become more diverse, seen much of its economic activity migrate to the coasts, and been globalized, it is hard to update our institutions to reflect those changing realities.

In the post-World War II era, Congress and the president have scaffolded our scientific endeavors for success. They fund scientists, support higher education, train the next generation of experts, and insulate scientific enterprises as much as possible from political maneuvering. The scientific enterprise also features highly trained individuals who operate based on facts, cooperate internationally, and work together in a collegial manner. None of that is true for our politics.

The high level of political misinformation would never be tolerated in science. If Mars scientists launched Perseverance based on false theories or fake information, it would not have landed safely on Mars. Scientific principles would have laid bare the falsehoods for all to see. Yet there is no parallel corrective mechanism for truth or facts in the political world as leaders can spout lies without being held accountable for their inaccuracies. What’s more, political scientists have shown that correcting misinformation often sparks a “backfire effect” in which misperceptions become even more tightly held.

Our scientific culture explicitly encourages new thinking and innovative practices, and rewards successful innovators. Experts who develop new approaches receive Nobel prizes that glorify their creativity. The opposite is true in public affairs. Innovation is not rewarded and efforts to improve political performance are derided as misguided leadership.

Reforming political governance

The central challenge facing the United States is the rise of anti-majoritarian elements within many of our leading political institutions. For example, the Electoral College violates “one person, one vote” principles by overrepresenting small and medium-sized states and underrepresenting large states. A person’s vote in Wyoming and Idaho counts for more than someone’s in California, New York, or Texas. If one looks at presidential elections starting in 1992, Republicans have won the popular vote only once (in 2004) in eight elections, yet held the presidency for 12 of the 28 years from 1992 to 2020.

The Senate contains a related kind of inequitable representation. Courtesy of the 60-vote requirement to end filibusters in order to vote on non-budgetary matters, that chamber allows 41 percent of its members to block policy actions often desired by large majorities. There is a related problem in the House, although through a different mechanism. In that body, gerrymandered districts overrepresent Republican-dominated rural areas and underrepresent Democratic voters in urban ones. That can lead to issues favored by large numbers of voters being blocked by representatives sitting in safe albeit unrepresentative seats.

If you throw in a Supreme Court dominated by conservatives and voter suppression being practiced by Republicans at the state level, it becomes clear why our political institutions function poorly. Our political structures overweight the interests of a minority of the nation’s population. American politics is not representative of the entire country, and institutions have not been sufficiently updated to reflect how the country has changed since 1789. The contemporary system engenders extremism and hyper-partisanship that prevents us from addressing the roots causes such as income inequality and geographic disparities that disturb many voters.

If we are not careful, our political dysfunction could endanger our scientific and technological expertise. Unless we make meaningful changes that improve political representation and institutional performance, we risk a future where both our politics and science are terrible. That would be a catastrophic outcome for the United States and endanger our economy, society, and global leadership.

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Source:- BNN

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