Trump’s Global Democracy Retreat
Under the leadership of Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson, the State Department is considering a mission reform that includes the abandonment of democratic assistance and human rights. The current mission statement reads, “The department’s mission is to shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.”
Dropping the words “just” and “democratic” would be fully consistent with the transactional realism that has characterized Mr. Trump’s rhetoric.
And such a change might reflect a growing feeling that most of the programs to support democracy abroad and the importance of democratic ideals are wasteful, inefficient, unappreciated or even damaging. In America, the public (especially Republicans) has increasingly favored nationalism and isolationism, according to some polls, in which the United States focuses on its own problems, with many wary of global humanitarian engagement….
For more, read the article in the New York Times
The Unraveling of Roosevelt’s World
In the 1940s, after two world wars and a depression, Western policymakers decided enough was enough. Unless international politics changed in some fundamental way, humanity itself might not survive much longer.
A strain of liberal idealism had been integral to U.S. identity from the American founding onward, but now power could be put behind principle. Woodrow Wilson had fought “to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth ensure the observance of those principles.” Keeping his goals while noting his failures, the next generation tried again with a revised strategy, and this time they succeeded. The result became known as the postwar liberal international order….
Read more at Foreign Affairs!
What the Houston Floods Should Teach Us
What a horrific mess. At least 30 people are dead and 100,000 homes have been damaged by flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Aside from the humanitarian disaster, which will be intense and on-going for months, the damage to the environment is almost incalculable. Billions of gallons of water, mixed with practically every poison man can produce, is flushing its way across Houston and into the Gulf — so toxic, in fact, the authorities are advising people to throw away any clothes that have come in contact with the water. Then, when the floods recede, the polluted debris from 100,000 houses will probably be land-filled, and afterwards the immense carbon-cost of rebuilding.
Could this tragedy have been avoided? The answer is categorically yes, as much of the disastrous flood damage in Houston is man-made. Let’s start with the egregious fact that our 4th largest city has no zoning laws. Anyone can build anything anywhere, say for instance, a toxic chemical plant in the middle of a flood-prone residential zone. Worse, unbridled construction has caused former green areas that could have absorbed critical quantities of rainwater water to be paved over. According to a report at CNBC, between 1995 and 2011 Houston has increased its paved surface by 25%, meaning that any rain that falls on a city already built on clay soil will run off to increase flooding somewhere else, translating into roughly $4,000 of extra flood damage per square meter of pavement. Add to this a population that has been growing by 90,000 people a month, with an expected increase of 4 million in thirty years, and you have one huge and growing environmental nightmare.
Aside for the urgent need for zoning laws, there are other remedies that would help in future crises, but it would take foresight and forceful leadership on the federal level to bring them about, two qualities notably absent in Washington these days. In fact, just a few days before the arrival of Harvey, Bumpkin-in-Chief used an Executive Order to roll back the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard put in place by President Obama, which mandated that infrastructure in areas prone to flooding be designed to withstand the increased impact of climate change. Trump’s rationale for this seemingly irrational act was that flood rules “slow down” infrastructure creation, apparently believing that the federal government should simply rush projects to completion in order to create jobs, and if they wash away, all the better, because that translates to more jobs to put them back again. It’s a simpleton’s thinking, which risks lives and squanders our tax dollars.
Perhaps the most potent tool in the arsenal of change would be for Congress to get serious about fixing the National Flood Insurance Program. Currently 24 billion dollars in debt and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, this 50-year-old program dates from a time when few private insurers were interested in providing flood insurance, due to the actuarial uncertainties in predicting where and how often an area might flood. Since then however, owing to satellite imaging and other advanced technologies, the Federal Government has developed highly accurate flood maps that allow for precise predictions of risk, opening the market for private insurers. Yet despite being at the point of insolvency, the National Flood Insurance Program continues to provide flood coverage well below market rates, essentially encouraging building and development in known areas of flooding. Worse, the program allows for repeat rebuilding on a site. If a structure washes away, federal dollars rebuild it. If it washes away again, it is rebuilt again, with your tax dollars. Only after the fourth flood is some type of mitigation required, usually in the form of raising the structure, which is again re-insured by the federal government. Obviously, this is ludicrous, especially in an era of increasingly intense storms due to climate change. As the Flood Insurance Program is set to expire on September 30, now would be the ideal time for Congress to act in a bipartisan fashion and change the law, along the lines of the Biggert–Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which was unfortunately diluted in 2014 by subsequent legislation. First of all, premiums should rise to full market rates, with discount provisions for low income residents. Secondly, vacation homes should be entirely excluded from federal coverage, and most importantly, pay-outs should only be allowed once per property, and be made portable, meaning that the owner is not obligated to rebuild on the same site. If a home or business is flooded, the owner would receive a payout and be encouraged to build on higher ground. If the owner disregards this advice, then he or she will need to find insurance on the private market.
It’s high time the Federal Government got proactive about protecting its citizens from the ravages of flooding. In FDR’s era, the Flood Control Act of 1936 tried to build its way out of the problem with dikes, levees and spillways, which we know now isn’t the answer. Instead, it’s time for enlightened federal policy to promote ecologically sensitive rebuilding and buyout programs, programs that demand a change in human nature, not mother nature.
Because in the end, we know who always wins…
In Hurricane Harvey’s Wake, We Need a Green ‘New Deal’
For all of the uncertainties that await Houston and coastal Texas, we can be reasonably sure about one thing: Many of those flooded out by Hurricane Harvey will watch their investments and savings collapse into debt and bankruptcy. And the heaviest burdens, of course, will fall on the shoulders of low- and middle-income residents.
Preliminary estimates put losses from the storm at $30 billion to $40 billion. If past disasters are any indication, those numbers will only grow in the coming days and weeks. Whatever the ultimate figure, the losses will represent, in part, the aggregation of hundreds of thousands or more individual financial calamities. When the waters recede and Houstonians and others hit by this storm return home, with all their pluck and determination, to muck out and clear debris, many will learn too late that their homeowners’ insurance does not cover flood damage.
Even for the lucky 15 percent of homeowners in Houston and surrounding Harris County, who have a federal flood policy in place, collecting claims will most likely be a protracted and contentious process. (Hurricane Katrina and Sandy victims have stories to tell about fraudulent or erroneous claims adjustments, delayed payments and their homes being unlivable for years.) Many of the other 85 percent were not required to have a flood policy because they were not officially at “high risk” on the region’s flood maps — maps that President Trump no longer wants the government to pay for.
Read the rest of the article in the article in the New York Times
E3 Conference 9/20
Early in his first term of office, Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved to dismantle the disastrous Smoot-Hawley Act, a protectionist measure of 1930 which severely curtailed world trade and worsened the Great Depression. Almost throughout his presidency, FDR encouraged the reduction of trade barriers and the negotiation of a rules-based global economic system.
Unfortunately, the same protectionist urges that drove Smoot and Hawley have re-emerged on both the political Left and Right in 21st-century America. These trends, along with the revival of the anti-FDR, isolationist “America First” slogan, run contrary to – among other things – the interests of American business enterprises. The FDR Foundation is therefore pleased to co-sponsor the Boston E3 Conference on Harvard’s campus on September 20, 2017.
E3 conferences connect entrepreneurs and small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) with global markets. E3 events are designed to provide SMEs with an intimate, in-depth opportunity to gain insights needed to navigate global growth, and engage with US and foreign trade officials. Topics include new markets, international trade policy, legal and tax implications of international business, growth industries in specific regions, etc.
Details on E3 Boston can be found here. We are grateful to the E3 team for making conference internships available to current students from any Harvard school who wish to participate. Interested students should contact Adrienne Palmer. Current Harvard College students may also apply to attend the conference as official guests of E3. These undergraduate guest postings are extremely limited; interested students should contact Jed Willard.