Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Words of Wisdom for the 2009 Economy

Amity Shlaes, one of the nation's most respected economic commentators, has a great year end piece in today's Washington Post about what an Obama stimulus plan might look like and what we really should learn from FDR.  Her book The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression offers a striking reinterpretation of the Great Depression and offers lessons we should all be aware of as we begin the new year in search of an economic panacea.

My Conversation with Amity Shlaes:

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Concept for the new year: NUDGE

One of the things you will be hearing much more about in the new year is the concept of Nudge. It's an idea put forth by two former Obama colleagues at the University of Chicago; Professor Richard Thaler and Law Professor Cass Sunstein.

It's a new approach to public policy that takes into account the odd realities of human behavior and the new behavioral research to help people, as well as government agencies, companies and charities, make better decisions.

It's a new look at what they call Choice Architecture. Here's how they describe it:
Choice architecture is the context in which you make your choice. Suppose you go into a cafeteria. What do you see first, the salad bar or the burger and fries stand? Where's the chocolate cake? Where's the fruit? These features influence what you will choose to eat, so the person who decides how to display the food is the choice architect of the cafeteria. All of our choices are similarly influenced by choice architects. The architecture includes rules deciding what happens if you do nothing; what's said and what isn't said; what you see and what you don't. Doctors, employers, credit card companies, banks, and even parents are choice architects.
My Conversation with Richard Thaler:

How America lost its way - Book of the Year

It's that time of the year when we want to pick the best and worst of everything. I've previously mentioned that Time Magazine had picked Dexter Filkins' The Forever War as its non fiction book of the year.  The New York Times also picked Filkins, but it also selected a book that perhaps more than any other reflects what we so aggressively turned away from in this election. The hideous depths of the Bush administrations policies that gave us "rendition," "enhanced interrogation," "warrantless domestic surveillance" and all the rest.  

Jane Mayer's The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals is truly the story of how America lost its way.

My Conversation with Jane Mayer:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Middle East Options

A very smart post from Steve Clemon's  Washington Note on the latest misery in the Middle East and what the U.S. needs to do. Money quote:

The violence we are watching is just yet another installment in the blur of tit-for-tat violence from both sides of this chronic foreign affairs ulcer.

The US -- and the incoming Obama administration -- must move an agenda forward in Israel-Palestine negotiations that works at levels higher than the perpetrators of this violence. It's time to get this conflict out of the weeds, and time to stop allowing any actors in this drama to hijack the foreign policy machinery of governments trying to push forward a Palestinian state.

Monday, December 22, 2008

What it takes to be great

This is about the time of year where we all make those "lasting" new years resolutions.  Often they are about work, career or, in this economy, maybe looking for a new career.  Geoff Colvin, Fortune's senior editor at large, is one of America's most respected business journalists.  In his new book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, he explains what it takes to be great...and it's not just plain old hard work.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nothing more needs to be said

click on photo to enlarge

Friday, December 19, 2008

Andrew Sullivan on Rick Warren and the Inaugural

Andrew Sullivan has the most cogent argument and analysis as to why we should all support Obama's choice of Rich Warren to deliver the Inaugural invocation.  He argues, and I agree that we have to rethink how we do politics in this country

Taking Yes For An Answer

Dish readers will know my own conflicted feelings about the selection of Rick Warren for the Inaugural Invocation. But feelings must at some point cede to reason. And I sense an understandable but, the more I think about it, misjudged response on the part of my fellow gays and lesbians. In our hurt, we may be pushing away from a real opportunity to engage and win hearts and minds. Here's Glenn Greenwald:

Reasonable arguments can certainly be advanced in defense of the virtues of Obama's post-partisan theory of politics.  But it's simply unreasonable to depict any of it as new.  It's exactly what Democrats have been clinging to, desperately and mostly with futility, for two decades at least.

I disagree. I think Obama is different. I think the earnestness and sincerity of his campaign, and its generational force, have given us a chance for something new, and I fear that in responding too viscerally to the Warren choice, we may be throwing something very valuable away far too prematurely. There is no question that gays and lesbians have made enormous strides in explaining who we are in the last couple of decades. There is equally no question that Obama has substantively committed his administration to more gay inclusion and gay equality than any president in history. We absolutely do need to be vigilant on this. But we should also understand Obama's attempt to bridge some gaps in America that the Clintons, with their boomer baggage and Dick Morris cynicism, couldn't and didn't. This is what matters. Do gays and lesbians want to be a part of this - or sit fuming on the sidelines at symbolic slights?

I know the arguments against this, and if Obama delivers nothing on gay equality, the critics will have every reason to complain loudly, as they should. But I'm not going there yet. And the truth is: if we cannot engage a Rick Warren on the question of our equality, we may secure a narrow and bitter victory in some states (just as the Christianists won a narrow and bitter victory in California in November). But we will not win the bigger argument and our victories will lack the moral legitimacy they deserve.

The greatest distortion of our politics in this respect is the notion that gays are in some way opposed to faith and in some way that our cause is a function solely of the left. Neither is true.

Gay people contribute disproportionately to the religious and spiritual life of this country and we seek no attack on free religion freely expressed and celebrated. I find the idea of silencing my opponents abhorrent. Many gays voted for McCain. I believe in family, which is why I have tried my whole life to integrate my sexual orientation with my own family and finally two summers ago, to become a full part of it as a married man. I love my church, however much pain it still inflicts on itself and others. And I am not alone in this, as I have discovered these past two decades.

If I cannot pray with Rick Warren, I realize, then I am not worthy of being called a Christian. And if I cannot engage him, then I am not worthy of being called a writer. And if we cannot work with Obama to bridge these divides, none of us will be worthy of the great moral cause that this civil rights movement truly is.

The bitterness endures; the hurt doesn't go away; the pain is real. But that is when we need to engage the most, to overcome our feelings to engage in the larger project, to understand that not all our opponents are driven by hate, even though that may be how their words impact us. To turn away from such dialogue is to fail ourselves, to fail our gay brothers and sisters in red state America, and to miss the possibility of the Obama moment.

It can be hard to take yes for an answer. But yes is what Obama is saying. And we should not let our pride or our pain get in the way.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Our remembered past: Israel & The Holocaust

As with the events of 9/11 in the U.S., a key foreign and domestic policy task of the Obama administration will be to understand the consequences and realities of the war with terrorism, but not be paralyzed or consumed by them.

A couple of weeks ago it was interesting to hear Avraham Burg, the former speaker of Israel's Knesset and the author of The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From its Ashes make a heartfelt plea to his countrymen: remember the past, but do not be its slaves; pathology is neither patriotism nor statecraft. His story is a compelling and eloquent cri de coeur from a veteran of Israel's wars and politics and one we'd all to well to remember and learn from.

My conversation with Avraham Burg:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pragmatism over Ideology

A reader on Daniel Larison's Conservative blog talks about Obama and Pragmatism. It's perhaps the most important outcome of the election.  Call it the "Best and the Brightest,"  "competence over ideology," regardless, it WILL be the central guiding idea of the next eight years.

I don’t think you’re giving full credit to pragmatism as one of several possible natural dispositions of human beings. It isn’t just some facade that some ideologues put on to try to pretend they aren’t ideologues, which of course does happen. It’s an actual approach to life that is a natural path for some of us.

Take the scientific method, for example. It’s not natural to everyone, but it certainly reflects a basic human approach based on objective evidence, facts, observation, and trial and error. Pragmatists are people who simply aren’t inclined towards ideology and dogma, or even if they are to some degree, feel that such things need to be tested by real experience and reformed accordingly. They think it is more natural to proceed in this rather scientific, pragmatic way than it is to try to impose an ideology on nature.

Obviously not everyone is pragmatic, many are quite opposed to it. Some are opposed, but recognize that in politics pragmatism is valued by many, so they put on a pragmatic facade, in order to promote their ideology. So there’s always a question about someone who puts themselves forward as a pragmatist, as to whether they really are, or are just pretending to be.

Assuming the debate over Obama has inspired these remarks, I think its worth mentioning that a large part of the election campaign was fought over just this issue. Obama presented himself as a genuinely pragmatic politician who was not primarly concerned with ideology, but with what would work, and that he could appeal across ideological divides to come to agreements on what worked that would be good for the country.

McCain and many conservatives were accusing Obama of presenting a false facade, that he was actually a socialist, a communist, a terrorist, a leftist ideologue who was hiding his real ideological extremism behind this fake veneer of pragmatism, and that once elected he would show his true colors, and try to turn the country into a muslim, socialist paradise for Bill Ayers and al Qaeda terrorists.

The electorate rejected McCain’s version of Obama, and accepted Obama’s own self-description. Those who are surprised by Obama’s appointments thus far are those who for some reason mistakenly believed in McCain’s criticism. One of the best examples of Obama’s pragmatism is his appointment of Chu as energy secretary. Imagine that, and actual expert scientist in charge of energy research and development! Rather than a politician or military official or a “green” progressive environmentalist, Obama picked a guy who actually knows science. Is this being “centrist”, or is it being pragmatic in the real sense of the word.

I think the truth that is coming out, and which you have avoided seeing as best you can, is that Obama really is, by nature, a pragmatist, in the most basic sense of the word, and that ideology is not what makes him tick. That doesn’t mean he has no ideological biases, but that the forms and changes his ideology based on actual observation, analysis, and testing of those ideas, in what is loosely a scientific matter, and not even a purely political form of pragmatism.

Friday, December 12, 2008

TIME picks its non-fiction book of the year

We don't yet know the "person of the year," but TIME has picked its best non-fiction book of the year.  It's Dexter Filkin's The Forever War
Time said of the book:
"The gaping wounds of Iraq and Afghanistan have produced a torrent of words, but no single volume so far has the precision and power ofThe Forever War. Filkins has been covering the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan since 1998, and since then he has filled 561 notebooks with observations and interviews. Even under the direst of conditions Filkins is alive to novelistic detail: the popping sound of a 105 mm cannon, like 'a machine that served tennis balls'; a barber shaving the beards of Talibs so they can switch sides; a man whom Saddam forced to pay for the bullets that were used to execute his brother, and who received a receipt for his payment. Filkins' set pieces have the absolute clarity of lightning flashes that burn away the fog of war."
Here is my conversation with Dexter Filkins:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

When Worlds Collapse

Mark Ambinder nails the link between the weakness of the global economy and Obama's foreign policy options.  As far as economics are concerned the world really is flat and the prospects of contagion are freighting.    Money quote:
Where the discussion isn't going, at least in public,  (or the PR level), is the possibility that the first foreign policy crisis the administration will face will be the complete economic collapse of a large, unstable nation. To be sure, Pakistan is nearly broke, and U.S. policy makers seem to be aware of that; but a worldwide demand crisis could lead to social unrest in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, Singapore, the Ukraine, Japan, Turkey or Egypt (which is facing an internal political crisis of epic proportions already). The U.S. won't have the resources to, say, engineer the rescue of the peso again, or intervene in Asia as in 1997. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No Bailout of Detroit!

I can't say it enough times that bailing out Detroit is truly putting taxpayers money down a rat hole. There are so many reasons why. Michael Moore has several and today's column from Tom Friedman is yet another. Doesn't this country have better uses for $15 billion.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Obama and FDR "The Defining Moment"

As we've heard over and over, we face the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. As Obama takes office he faces conditions reminiscent of 1932.  He has said, that he will use FDR as a guide and that he has read Jonathan Alter's book The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope

Here is my conversation with Jonathan Alter:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Another Obama perfect pick

The general who had the most conspicuous premonition about Iraq, and who lost his job because of it, will now be overseeing the care of those maimed and wounded in the war.  The Obama people really are that smart. Read the comments of James Fallows, in explaining how Obama made a brilliant choice.  Money quote:
Whenever he talks about this selection, Obama (plus his lieutenants) can describe it completely, sufficiently, and strictly in the most bipartisan high-road terms. They have selected a wounded combat veteran; a proven military leader and manager; a model of personal dignity and nonpartisan probity: an unimpeachable choice. Symbolic elements? If people want them, they can work with Shinseki's status as (to my recollection at the moment) the first Asian-American in a military-related cabinet position, not to mention a Japanese-American honored for lifelong military service on Pearl Harbor Day

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Why Prop 8 really passed

For all of those that have tried to understand how Proposition 8 could have passed, when at one point the No on 8 side was 17 points ahead, this is a must read. Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone explains that it was not the blacks, the Mormons or Catholics. It was the people behind the No on 8 Campaign that simply ran a lousily campaign. I couldn't agree more.

Moreover, those now engaging in attempts at boycotts and publishing names of Prop 8 supporters are engaged in the same kind of sloppy, miscalculated, tone deaf tactics that got Prop 8 passed. For those that ran the No on 8 Campaign, the blame for its passage is, to paraphrase Shakespeare, not the Stars, but in yourselves.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Who is Michelle Obama?

Washington post writer Liza Munday reveals much about the future First Lady in her new book Michelle: A Biography

My conversation today with Liza:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Andrew Jackson & Jon Meacham

Besides gracing a $20 bill, Andrew Jackson, our seventh President, gave life to the idea of populism, founded the modern Democratic Party, preserved the union and defined modern political practices that are still with us today.

Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, and the author of the bestsellers American Gospel and Franklin and Winston, offers up American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.

My conversation with Meacham:

The economy and China's future

Much has been written lately about the Chinese economy slowing down.  What it means if millions of workers who came from the country to the cities are suddenly out of work.  Thailand may be the canary in the coal mine.  Gideon Rachman, the Financial Times chief foreign affairs columnist has what could be the must read of the day.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cyber Monday redux

Now that you've all spent Cyber Monday shopping instead of working, just how secure is that Internet?  It turns out that, for a while, it was not very secure at all!  Here's and fun and fascinating story from Wired detailing how one hacker almost took it all down.  

Speaking of the Internet, what is the future of copyright in the 21st Century?  I recently spoke with Lawrence Lessig, author of REMIX, Stanford Law Professor and the nations leading expert on copyright on the Internet.

Before you download more music, take a listen to our conversation:

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Limits of Power

With Obama's foreign policy team in place, they would all do well to head the words of Retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich who warns of the limits of American Excptionalism, our national sense of entitlement and how it is also tied to our current economic condition.
My Conversation with Bacevich based on his book The Limits of Power:

A team foretold

This clip from the snows of Iowa, way back in January, tells it all.