Opinion

The Great Debate

Is nuclear power the answer on climate change?

James Hansen’s latest press conference was positively scary.

NASA’s former chief climate scientist (he recently left government to pursue a more activist role) met with environmental journalists last month at Columbia University to release a new study with the ominous title, “Assessing Dangerous Climate Change: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature.”

Hansen and his co-authors contend that the agreed-to goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Farenheit) above pre-Industrial levels prescribed in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is still too high to prevent “long-lasting, irreversible damage” to our planet — including raising sea levels, submerging coastal cities and turning vast tracts of the earth into virtual furnaces.

Hansen departs from environmental orthodoxy, however, in arguing that there is no way to cut greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently by relying solely on green alternatives like solar and wind power.

“Suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole” Hansen writes in an essay, “is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.”

Hansen’s controversial conclusion is that we need to build a new generation of nuclear power plants. Nuclear alone, in Hansen’s view, has the potential to produce “clean” (carbon-free) electricity in the prodigious amounts that we will need it in the decades ahead.

Seize this crisis to push South Sudan reform

Three years ago this week, outside a makeshift polling station in Bentiu, South Sudan, I interviewed Riek Machar, vice president of the then semi-autonomous region. Machar had just cast his vote for South Sudan’s independence; I asked him what he would say to those who doubted that South Sudan, desperately underdeveloped and with experience of ethnic strife, could be a viable nation. “We will show them” he said, with a confident gap-toothed smile.

Today, doubters must feel vindicated. A power struggle between Machar and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir became public when Kiir fired Machar from the vice presidency in July. That political dispute has since metastasized into a bloody conflict with ethnic overtones. In a land where unchecked weaponry is ubiquitous, youth unemployment overwhelming, and military discipline fractured, this crisis has the potential to tear the fledgling nation apart.

Machar denies Kiir’s allegation of an attempted coup on Dec. 15, but acknowledges leading rebels opposed to the government. The United Nations now estimates that at least 1,000 people have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced.

Don’t let data protection turn into protectionism

We live in a global, digitally networked world. Cloud, mobile and in-memory technologies are its engines. Our new world has no boundaries; there is a huge potential for growth, employment and new business models. But it also comes with challenges for policy and industry.

In response to leaks about the U.S. National Security Agency’s widespread surveillance, there have been lots of understandable concerns globally. Unfortunately, some parties have suggested building fortresses around national data.

I believe that the new technologies and the free flow of data are essential to spurring innovation and expanding international trade. This is only possible if consumers and citizens trust the digital economy and use it extensively. We in industry must work with policymakers in all markets to create clear and transparent rules that both protect the legitimate rights of citizens, consumers and companies and promote cross-border data flows.

Where does Britain stand in the global economic race?

Following the international financial crisis of the late 2000s, the world’s financial leaders have been working towards a standardized banking system that will strengthen banks at an individual level, and thus improve the banking sector’s ability to survive stress when it occurs.

In 2010 the Basel Committee produced a third accord outlining a set of regulations, with the goal of solving the banking system’s ongoing problems. Since then the conversation has yet to cease over whether enough has been done, since the peak of the crisis in 2008, to ensure a stable financial environment that supports growth on an international scale.

The importance of Basel III lies not only on an inter-continental scale, but for individual countries to maintain the required standard regulations to a point of sustainability. In Europe, the debate over the role Britain will play in Basel III has yet to be resolved. During early Basel III discussions in May 2012, Michel Barnier, the French European commissioner for financial regulation, clashed with British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne over the suggestion of higher leverage ratios in the UK, stating that a distortion of competition within the EU had the potential to cause a continental disadvantage.

What’s behind JPMorgan’s push for worker training?

Just a few weeks before federal prosecutors announced a nearly $2 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase over Bernie Madoff’s fraudulent accounts, chairman and chief executive officer Jamie Dimon sat alongside former Congressman and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel at an Aspen Institute forum in the biology lab of Malcolm X College to tout the embattled bank’s five-year, $250 million, multi-city investment in job training. The bank would commit $15 million for “workplace readiness and demand-driven training” in Chicago.

JPMorgan is not alone in its quest to change how it is seen. Goldman Sachs recently extended its 10,000 Small Businesses plan to Detroit, the latest of a number of cities to receive cash from the investment bank. There’s a reason beyond the corporate charity push for all the giving. The financial industry is facing a sea change in electoral politics. It is increasingly operating in a polarized political system that has placed a premium on accountability. Populist and ideologically extreme constituencies are needed for primaries and general elections in which fewer middle-of-the-road voters participate. Loyalties change quickly if pols don’t sway the way their bases want. Elected and would-be elected officials can rely on campaign cash from super PACs and independent expenditures involving wealthy contributors like Sheldon Adelson, George Soros and David Koch. Campaigners don’t have to rely as much on Wall Street as a unit.

Politicians, especially Democrats, benefit from denouncing financiers. As Ben White and Maggie Haberman reported in Politico, “at both ends of the political spectrum, the titans of American finance today find themselves alienated from politics to a surprising degree.” White and Haberman document an environment in which President Obama labels them “fat cats,” the left demonizes and the Tea Party Republicans just shun. So when someone like White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett mentioned Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses in an interview with White, it shows the benefits an outfit like JPMorgan get from courting charitable initiatives, even if they delve into murky policy terrain.

Twitter use on the rise in #statecapitals

Twitter’s November initial public offering has been a success for the company’s founders and early investors. This reflects the market’s optimistic view of the company’s profit-making potential. For Twitter has transformed much of daily life — including how we get our news, communicate with others and participate in public discourse. (In fact, many media outlets now factor in what is trending on Twitter when covering news stories.)

Many politicians are now using Twitter to raise their profile. Most notable is the newest senator, Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Despite the fact that he was mayor of Newark, a city known for its high unemployment and high school dropout rates rather than good governance and policy innovation, Booker’s effective use of Twitter (1,446,106 followers) played a key role in making him a national political figure.

Twitter has significantly changed the way politicians get their message out and gauge public opinion. There are staffers at the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee whose job it is to count tweets. (No, really.) In addition to national politics, however, Twitter has transformed the way business is done in state capitals across the country.

American business needs immigration reform

One thing the overwhelming majority of Americans agree on, regardless of political party, is the need for immigration reform.  Not only is it one of the keys necessary to create a healthier national economy and critical to America’s security, growth, and prosperity, it is also an integral component for the success of American business.

The current employment-based immigration system is broken to the point of disarray — but not to a point of disrepair. The facts speak for themselves:

1. In the European Union, work-related visas account for 40 percent of immigration (excluding intra-EU movement). In the United States, only six percent of foreign workers are granted permanent entry on work-related visas. Outdated institutional quotas are shutting talent and expertise out, when other countries are ushering them in.

Troubled Ties: The Clintons and populism

What’s behind the sudden outburst of populism in the Democratic Party?

Partly the weak economic recovery. Most economic indicators have turned positive — economic growth is up, unemployment down, the housing market is in recovery. But ordinary Americans are not feeling it. In last month’s CNN poll, two thirds of Americans said the nation’s economy was poor. More than half expect it to remain poor a year from now.

People at the top of the income ladder have been raking in the money while wage growth for working Americans has stagnated. That’s a recipe for a populist explosion.

Remember the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that started in 2011 and spread across the country? Most pundits don’t believe it had any impact, especially compared with the Tea Party. They’re wrong. In a stroke of marketing genius, the Occupy movement introduced the phrase “1 Percent” into the nation’s political vocabulary. That’s what defeated the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. Romney was Mr. 1 Percent.

Searching for a real populist

In the American political lexicon, few words are as prevalent — or as confusing — as “populism.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) gets described as a populist because she wants to curb the power of corporations and increase Social Security benefits. So does Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who thinks small businesses are crippled by “an explosion of regulation” and has called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” that should be replaced by individual savings accounts.

Journalists, meanwhile, routinely affix the P word to liberals who want to raise taxes on the rich and to conservatives who claim higher taxes just benefit liberal special interests.

Don’t belittle Congress’s attempts to enhance mineral production

As someone deeply familiar with Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s leadership on the “Critical Minerals Policy Act,” John Kemp’s recent Reuters column criticizing the bill struck me as a cynically misguided reaction to her important work. Sen. Murkowski introduced the legislation in order to, as she put it, “keep the United States competitive and begin the process of modernizing our federal mineral policies.” This is a laudable goal and an important process, particularly as our foreign reliance increases for materials needed to build semiconductors, skyscrapers, and everything in between.

In Kemp’s view, however, the bill “deserves to die” because it would authorize new federal funding that he views as a sop to “special interests.” With all due respect, he’s wrong.

Murkowski’s legislation is one of the few examples of real bipartisan cooperation amid the dysfunction of Washington, having attracted nine Republican and nine Democrat co-sponsors.

  •