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Archive for 28. September 2019

Labour contemplates life after Jeremy Corbyn

Posted by hkarner - 28. September 2019

Date: 26-09-2019
Source: The Economist: Bagehot

The party conference was overshadowed by the question of succession

The supreme court’s thunderclap of a ruling against the government on September 24th was a godsend for Jeremy Corbyn. It not only gave him an excuse to bring his Labour Party conference to a premature end by giving his speech a day early. It also allowed the party to dispense with a speech by Tom Watson, the deputy leader, that might have resulted in mass walkouts. There is nevertheless no doubt that this year’s conference, held in a rainy Brighton, was a miserable affair. An event that is designed to showcase the leader’s preparedness for power was overshadowed by the question of whether he should be preparing for retirement.

The first sign of trouble was a failed attempt to remove Mr Watson from his job by Jon Lansman, the head of Mr Corbyn’s praetorian guard, Momentum. It is no secret that the left covets Mr Watson’s head. But Mr Lansman’s timing was odd given that his plot was guaranteed to ignite an internal war and send the media into a blood-frenzy. The only explanation is panic about the succession. Under current rules the deputy leader takes over temporarily if the leader resigns and therefore plays a role in choosing the next one.

The second sign of trouble was a leaked memo by Andrew Fisher, a member of Mr Corbyn’s inner circle and an author of Labour’s 2017 manifesto. Mr Fisher lambasted Mr Corbyn’s office for its “blizzard of lies” and “lack of competence, professionalism and human decency”. The last two words were particularly cutting. He also warned that the party would not be able to win the next election with the current leadership.

The succession crisis is being driven by two numbers: 70 and 25. At 70, Mr Corbyn is on the old side for somebody who aspires to the most demanding job in British politics. And at 25, Labour’s average poll rating is much too low for a party that aspires to power. Labour should be well ahead of a government that blunders from crisis to crisis. Instead it is behind in every poll, sometimes by some distance. In this year’s European election Labour finished third, behind the Liberal Democrats. In two subsequent by-elections it has suffered double-digit declines in its vote share. Labour mps from the Midlands and the north report that voters constantly tell them they will not back Labour so long as it is led by Mr Corbyn. Den Rest des Beitrags lesen »

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WeWork shows why some venture capitalists are in a world of make-believe

Posted by hkarner - 28. September 2019

Date: 26-09-2019
Source: The Economist: Schumpeter

The entrepreneur’s new clothes

Until recently the image of an entrepreneur was of a thrifty workaholic toiling away in a garage. Then came the “founder”, as epitomised by the flowing-haired Adam Neumann of WeWork, an office-subleasing firm dressed up as a tech giant. More emperor than entrepreneur, he wanted not merely to start a business but “elevate the world’s consciousness”. He sought limitless funds. He broke norms. And he generated losses as fast as he raised revenues.

He was not unique. Like other charismatic founders, such as Travis Kalanick, co-creator of Uber, a ride-hailing service, he tripped over his own billion-dollar ego. On September 24th Mr Neumann was ousted as chief executive of WeWork’s parent company, by his board, including his backers at SoftBank, the Japanese group, and its $100bn Vision Fund, which together own 29% of its shares. Days earlier the company’s initial public offering (ipo) was postponed because of weak demand for its shares and the Wall Street Journal reported that he smoked pot on private jets. He will be replaced by two co-chief executives.

In such cases, attention invariably focuses on the founders’ hubris. Their rise and fall is the stuff of bestsellers. But it is the venture-capital industry that helps spin the invisible yarn that creates the legends. Some of its biggest names, such as SoftBank, have been peddling valuations of companies like WeWork that border on the absurd. In their competition to fund the biggest deals, they have been in thrall to founders’ excesses, rather than providing sober adult supervision. Good, then, that exposure to the dowdy stockmarket is at last knocking sense into Silicon Valley’s moneymen (for they are mostly male). Den Rest des Beitrags lesen »

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Africa’s farmers need better seeds

Posted by hkarner - 28. September 2019

Date: 26-09-2019
Source: The Economist

But governments are getting in their way

Acentury ago American crop scientists began experimenting with the plant known there as corn, and elsewhere as maize. They discovered that by crossing two inbred strains they could create seeds that would consistently grow better than either of the parent plants. It was the beginning of a seed revolution. By the 1940s American agricultural productivity was shooting up; by the 1960s Asia had joined the race, thanks to improved varieties of rice and wheat.

In most of the world, the green revolution continues. Open an American seed catalogue today and you will see dozens of varieties of each plant, many of them labelled “new” to show that they have been released or improved somehow just in the past year.

But on one continent, it never quite happened. African farmers still tend to use open-pollinated seeds held back from the previous year’s crop or commercial hybrids that were developed years ago. That’s one of the main reasons for the continent’s chronically low productivity. The average field planted with maize—Africa’s most important crop, which supplies 30% of people’s calories in some countries—yields a third as much as a Chinese maize field of the same size and just a fifth as much as an American one. Den Rest des Beitrags lesen »

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Robots’ abilities to recognise and manipulate things are improving

Posted by hkarner - 28. September 2019

Date: 26-09-2019
Source: The Economist

And they have an intuitive sense of physics

A tracked robot approaches a pile of brushwood blocking its path. This is RoMan, short for Robot Manipulator, and it is practising for what is, in effect, its graduation ceremony, on October 17th, when it will show off its skills to a group of American army top brass in a so-called capstone demo at Carnegie-Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. After a pause for thought, it reaches out an arm, takes hold of a branch, lifts it up and drags it clear. Though this is a trivial action for a human being, it is a breakthrough for robots, according to Stuart Young of the Army Research Laboratory (arl), in Adelphi, Maryland, who is in charge of the RoMan project. And it has implications for the future of robotics.

As anyone with a Roomba cleanerbot knows, robots easily become confused by something unexpected, like a piece of furniture in the wrong place. A barricade can be made of many objects, some unfamiliar, and none with convenient handles. Taking it apart is far beyond the capability of any industrial robot. Den Rest des Beitrags lesen »

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Emmanuel Macron’s long game

Posted by hkarner - 28. September 2019

Date: 26-09-2019
Source: The Economist: Charlemagne

The French president’s European strategy enters a new phase

On september 26th 2017 a freshly elected Emmanuel Macron gave a speech at the Sorbonne University in Paris. It lasted over one-and-a-half hours and argued for a hugely more ambitious eu. Amid poetic overtures about Europe’s common fate was a long list of proposals to integrate the continent more tightly, in order to toughen it up for a more demanding world. “European sovereignty requires constructing, and we must do it,” insisted the new leader. Yet now, on the speech’s second birthday and as Mr Macron nears the midpoint of his presidential term, his roster of European achievements is modest.

The timing was poor. Delivered just after Germany’s federal election, the speech was meant to inspire the incoming government there. Yet the coalition talks dragged on; then the young German government was plunged into a squabble about immigration; then the anti-establishment gilets jaunes (yellow jackets) protesters took to French streets and mired Mr Macron in domestic matters. His approval ratings have recovered in recent months and Macroniste minds are once more turning to the European picture.

But timing was not the only problem. Berlin works differently from Paris; speeches there are not battering-rams but ship’s tillers, gently adjusting a course. Some German leaders felt ambushed by the Sorbonne talk. Angela Merkel found it too ambitious (the chancellor and the president admire each other, but she finds him cocky and he finds her complacent). French and German officials can be pessimistic about each other’s countries. In Paris they mutter darkly about Germany’s export-dependent economic model; in Berlin they fret about the president’s fragile grip on his country. Den Rest des Beitrags lesen »

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Reckless Choices, Bad Deals, and Dangerous Provocations

Posted by hkarner - 28. September 2019

Date: 26-09-2019
Source: Foreign Affairs By Hal Brands

Trump’s Foreign Policy Is in a Downward Spiral Toward 2020

Superpowers have a lot of room for error. Unlike lesser nations, they can shrug off many of the consequences of failed policies. Their weight and influence can compensate for subpar statecraft. But bad policy eventually takes its toll on everyone. And right now, bad policy is taking its toll on the United States.

As U.S. President Donald Trump nears the fourth year of his presidency, he confronts the damage wrought by his own policies almost everywhere. The Trump administration has maneuvered itself into diplomatic cul-de-sacs with Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela. It has undermined its own efforts to end the war in Afghanistan. The economic damage from Trump’s trade war with China is mounting, and Beijing shows few signs of giving in. At the same time, the president’s laceration of alliances leaves the United States weaker and more isolated. Den Rest des Beitrags lesen »

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