Blog: Simply Nonsense

In a dangerous world, mine can no longer be bigger than yours

12 August 2017

Why do we have juveniles running the world, obsessed with demonstrating that "mine is bigger than yours"? The president of the country with the largest nuclear arsenal on earth insists that no other country will ever have a bigger one, as if 7000 warheads are insufficient. Why does this country give any single person—let alone this loose cannon—the power to launch that? The only answer I can imagine is that “getting them before they get us” has had higher priority than protecting life on earth from an inadvertent catastrophe.

For his part, Putin insists on making Russia bigger, if not better, at the expense of its neighbors. At the expense of its people too, who pay the price of these leadership ego trips. But more so the people of North Korea, and the American soldiers who fell in Vietnam and Iraq.

Why do we have juveniles running the world, obsessed with demonstrating that "mine is bigger than yours"? The president of the country with the largest nuclear arsenal on earth insists that no other country will ever have a bigger one, as if 7000 warheads are insufficient. Why does this country give any single person—let alone this loose cannon—the power to launch that? The only answer I can imagine is that “getting them before they get us” has had higher priority than protecting life on earth from an inadvertent catastrophe.

For his part, Putin insists on making Russia bigger, if not better, at the expense of its neighbors. At the expense of its people too, who pay the price of these leadership ego trips. But more so the people of North Korea, and the American soldiers who fell in Vietnam and Iraq.

Blame not just Putin, but NATO, because when the Cold War ended, it too decided to get bigger, by taking in nations on Russia’s flanks. With the Cold War gone, NATO had nothing to do. And so it found something to do, namely bring the Cold War back. Putin  was quiet then, not now.Talk about irresponsible posturing.

Meanwhile China sticks it to a weaker neighbor over some irrelevant hunk of rock in the sea This it does to claim--or is it to grow?—its territory. Boys may be boys, but we had better get the juveniles out of the schoolyard before they blow us all to bits.

Russia and China are ruled by power. America is ruled by reverence. Americans revere their president the way Catholics revere the Pope. Now CNN broadcasts its relentless disparagement of the incumbent alongside its mindless deference to the office, as if the two can be separated. Will American children be reciting the name Donald Trump alongside Thomas Jefferson?

Face it: the president of the United States of America is an unscrupulous ignoramus.  Yet almost half the voting population put him into office, and may well do something similar in the future. Accordingly, despite the many thoughtful and concerned people in the United States, can anyone outside the country ever trust it again? Now we have the incumbent facing off on behalf of the “free world” against the devious brute of North Korea. They deserve each other, but no-one else deserves either of them. Hold your breath.

The problem is built into the organization—really the disorganization—of our world. In a village with weak government and no police force, the thugs take over. This is the state of our global village. Three countries have taken over, and vie with each other for power: over who has more nuclear weapons, or greater control of its neighbors, or an additional hunk of rock in the sea. Thanks to “leaders” who never made it past the schoolyard, we may never make it past them.

What's the alternative? To wake up, not such leadership, but all of us who tolerate its nonsense. Thankfully, more and more people across the political spectrum, hitherto passive, are getting the message. Never before have so many concerned people been prepared to vote with their feet, their ballots, and their pocketbooks. They just need some way to channel that energy into constructive change. And that will take some new thinking. So how about this, for starters at least?

There are almost 200 countries in the world, some of whose governments are insufferable, but many others that are quietly democratic. Acting together, as a coalition of concerned democracies, the latter could exert their influence to challenge the bullies who put us at risk.

We need world government with teeth and legitimacy, not a Security Council whose five permanent members all have nuclear weapons, histories of bullying, and rank (with Germany) as the largest exporters of armaments in the world. This is an Insecurity Council, and judging from Syria, a War Council. We need a Peace Council.

Does such change sound utopian? Sure it does. Shall we therefore stick with what we have, and destroy ourselves sooner or later?

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. See Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.  

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Trumped both ways: ‘Snake Oil’ or ‘Business as Usual’

14 September 2016

This week’s TWOG is co-authored with John Breitner, after we realized that our discussions about the U.S. election led us from different political perspectives to the same conclusion.

One of us is American and the other Canadian, one conservative, the other liberal.  We live in Canada, a good vantage whence to watch the U.S. election.  Where, we wish to ask, are the good folks of America, in politics and in the population? In the population they appear to be marginalized by a choice between one politician who is selling snake oil, 21st century style, and another who epitomizes the establishment that many of them abhor—business as usual.

This week’s TWOG is co-authored with John Breitner, after we realized that our discussions about the U.S. election led us from different political perspectives to the same conclusion.

One of us is American and the other Canadian, one conservative, the other liberal.  We live in Canada, a good vantage whence to watch the U.S. election.  Where, we wish to ask, are the good folks of America, in politics and in the population? In the population they appear to be marginalized by a choice between one politician who is selling snake oil, 21st century style, and another who epitomizes the establishment that many of them abhor—business as usual.

Donald Trump gives voice to many Americans who know that they are getting bamboozled. Yet here is the ultimate hustler, the very type who does so much of the bamboozling. Trust me, he says. Hillary Clinton gives voice to many who appreciate how dangerous her opponent could be. Trust me, she too says, while offering a steady stream of reasons why people cannot.  Sure we all have our flaws, but among 320 million Americans, could two not be found with flaws that reveal an underlying integrity? 

How is anyone to believe that either candidate will deal with the deeply-rooted problems of America today: income disparities, the legal corruption of political donations, a warming globe that needs to be cooled, crony capitalism that has harmed so much of the American middle class? Add to this the ultimate problem: an uncanny tendency to deal with all these fires by repeatedly pouring oil on them.

How, exactly, will the hotshot with the checkered background, who promises to “make America great again”, do that?  How will the archetype of the American establishment challenge that establishment?  And how will either of these two, who used to socialize together as members of the 1%, improve the lot of the 99%?

Americans have been hearing the “trust me” line for centuries. Lincoln famously claimed that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.  Maybe so, but it appears that you can fool many of the people much of the time because, to quote P.T. Barnum, a sucker is born every minute.  So, evidently, is a shark.  Ask the contractors and workers of Atlantic City who sued the Donald for reneging on his contracts.

Trump, of course, also offers business as usual—in his case, quite literally.  I’m a businessman, he says. I can do it.  We’ve heard that before too.  Even if we leave aside that government is not business, even if we ignore the record of so much of today’s business as usual—all the lobbying, pay-to-play donations, corporate social irresponsibility, and the obscenity of executive compensation—we still have to ask what kind of a businessman is Donald Trump anyway?  Was he serious when he offered to renegotiate the U.S. federal debt to solve the deficit problem?  Or when he asked that an American-born judge of Mexican descent be recused from hearing complaints about his infamous “Trump University”?

What, then, are the good folks of America to do? When two people engage in a battle, both can look bad, even though one may have been worse. They drag each other down. No-one should be fooled by this. We believe that the calculus of the U.S. election is quite simple. The flaws of these two candidates hardly deserve the equal attention they are getting in some of the correct media. One is flawed, but the other could be fatally flawed. Business as usual may be intolerable, but snake oil for the ills of this world is downright hazardous. What Donald Trump would do as president is anyone’s guess; what Hillary Clinton would do is not.

So the American among us will hold his nose and vote Democratic. Then both of us will take a deep breath and contemplate the bigger issue: how can good folks save democracy from itself?  We urge you to do likewise.

© Henry Mintzberg and John Breitner 2016.  John is Director of the Center for Studies on Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease at the Douglas Hospital Research Center in Montreal, and a Professor of Psychiatry in the McGill University Faculty of Medicine. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

The lies lobbyists tell us

5 November 2015

1. That lobbying is about free speech. Then why does it take place behind closed doors?

2. That corporations as persons in the law have the right to this free speech. Someone in the United States has brought a suit to have chimpanzees recognized as persons in the law (in order to protect them). Surely chimpanzees, with a genetic difference from humans of only 1.2%, have a more legitimate claim to personhood than do corporations (with 100%).[1]

3. That lobbying is legal. In a manner of speaking, lobbying may be legal. So is bribing, under the label of political donations, which open those back room doors to lobbying. Corruption, you see, can be legal too.

1. That lobbying is about free speech. Then why does it take place behind closed doors?

2. That corporations as persons in the law have the right to this free speech. Someone in the United States has brought a suit to have chimpanzees recognized as persons in the law (in order to protect them). Surely chimpanzees, with a genetic difference from humans of only 1.2%, have a more legitimate claim to personhood than do corporations (with 100%).[1]

3. That lobbying is legal. In a manner of speaking, lobbying may be legal. So is bribing, under the label of political donations, which open those back room doors to lobbying. Corruption, you see, can be legal too.

4. That everyone has access to lobbying. In all manners of speaking, this is not true at all. Lobbying is lop-sided: the formula is one $, one vote. For example, while the vast majority of Americans supported recent legislation to expand background checks for gun buyers, the gun lobby stopped it in the Senate.[2]

5. That lobbying is fundamental to democracy. In fact, lobbying destroys democracy. The self-evident truth today is that only those people who don’t lobby are created equal. The rest are more than equal. Democracy is about more than voting. It is about how fair that voting is in the first place, and how open, accessible, and balanced the expression of interests are after that.


[1] In a column in The New York Times, Anand Giridharadas referred to “three interesting points” made by Sarah Palin in a speech:

First, that the United States is now governed by a “permanent political class” drawn from both parties, that is increasingly cut off from the concerns of regular people. Second that these Republicans and Democrats have allied with big business to mutual advantage to create what she called “corporate crony capitalism.” Third, that the real political divide in the United States may no longer be between friends and foes of Big Government, but between friends and foes of vast, remote, unaccountable institutions (both public and private). Palin went on to condemn corporate lobbyists, special interests, and “the collusion of big government and big business and big finance to the detriment of all the rest”, and to distinguish good from bad capitalists, meaning small ones that take risks from big ones that live off bailouts and dodge taxes, while not creating jobs.

[2] David Brooks commented in his New York Times column that “President Obama has certainly not shut corporate-types out of the regulatory process. According to data collected by the Center for Progressive Reforms, 62 percent of the people who met with the White House office in charge of reviewing regulations were representatives of industry, while only 16 percent represented activist groups. At these meetings, business representatives outnumbered activists by more than 4 to 1.” Brooks, a normally sensible columnist, looked favorably upon such business as usual.