Friday, January 30, 2009

It's always the bankers....

If the Great Depression and the year 1929 are the benchmark for true financial mayhem, than understanding the confluence of events that lead to that crises might help us better understand where we are today.  Financial expert, Liaquat Ahamed in his new book LORDS OF FINANCE, gives us some penetrating insights in his new history of the world economic collapse of the late 20's and gives us, in detail, the men whose decisions were the primary cause of the economic meltdown.  

My conversation with Ahamed:

Brooks again

Crises sometimes bring out the best in certain people and certain columnists.   Think Lippman and Reston in the 50's and 60's.  Another spot on, must read from David Brooks in today's Times. Money quote:
This recession is scary and complicated. It’s insane to try to tackle it and dozens of other complicated problems, all in one piece of legislation. Leadership involves prioritizing. Those who try to do everything at once will end up with a sprawling, lobbyist-driven mess that does nothing well.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Journalism under siege

Newspapers are under siege.  All of the old economic paradigms of the newspaper business no longer hold.  How will this impact journalism, how will politicians and lobbyists learn to use these new Rules of the Game to either embrace or evade their public trust.  All of  these issues are part of Leonard Downie's freshman effort as a novelist.  As the Executive Editor of the Washington Post for 17 years, Downie is one of our nations premier journalists and editors. His career shapes the arc of the business from its golden age to its current perigee.

My conversation with Len Downie:

What is asked of us

Yesterday's must read column by David Brooks.  The true essence of those "old values" that Obama talked about last Tuesday.  Money quote:
We are defined by what life asks of us. As we go through life, we travel through institutions — first family and school, then the institutions of a profession or a craft.

Each of these institutions comes with certain rules and obligations that tell us how to do what we’re supposed to do. Journalism imposes habits that help reporters keep a mental distance from those they cover. Scientists have obligations to the community of researchers. In the process of absorbing the rules of the institutions we inhabit, we become who we are.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Water,water, not everywhere

We already know that for the 2008/2009 winter season, rainfall in Northern California  and in the Western States, is at least 40% below normal. Where will the water come from to sustain the great desert cities of the American West. In a provocative exploration of the past, present, and future of water in the West, James Lawrence Powell, author of Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West and Director of the National Physical Science Consortium at USC,  begins the story at Lake Powell, the vast reservoir that has become an emblem of this story and shows how the self-serving promoters of the Colorado River's dams have consistently ignored natural limits imposed by water supply, silt, and salt, creating a long-term crisis that may make ghost towns out of many of the overpopulated cities of the American West.

My conversation with James Lawrence Powell:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Journal for Jordan

Even those of us who have opposed to the war in Iraq have been sensitive and sympathetic to those who serve.  Often times however those of us disconnected from those who serve, do not really understand the toll on military families. Dana Canedy, a senior editor at the NY Times and a Pulitzer prize winner, has experienced first hand what it's like to lose a loved on in Iraq. In 2005, her husband First Sergeant Charles Monroe King began to write what would become a two-hundred-page journal for his son in case he did not make it home from the war in Iraq. Charles King, forty-eight, was killed on October 14, 2006, when an improvised explosive device detonated under his Humvee on an isolated road near Baghdad. His son, Jordan, was seven months old.

A Journal for Jordan is a mother’s letter to her son–fierce in its honesty–about the father he lost before he could even speak. It is also a father’s posthumous advice for the son he will never know.

My conversation with Dana Canedy:

Who's in charge here?

Today's must read on the Obama administration is this story on Rahm Emanuel in the N.Y. Times. Money quote:

"Mr. Emanuel is arguably the second most powerful man in the country and, just a few days into his tenure, already one of the highest-profile chiefs of staff in recent memory... In recent months, he has played a critical role in the selection and courtship of nearly every cabinet member and key White House staff member."

"He has exerted influence on countless decisions; in meetings, administration officials say, Mr. Obama often allows him to speak first and last."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama, Clinton and the Middle East

We saw yesterday, on day two, that the Middle East peace process is already a top priority for the new President. Obama and Clinton will need to take account of the important lessons from past attempts,which are described and analyzed in Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East.  A gripping new book by a renowned expert Martin Indyk who served twice as U.S. ambassador to Israel and as Middle East adviser to President Clinton. Ambassador Indyk was at the State Department yesterday as this new initiative began.

My conversation today with Ambassador Martin Indyk:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

No Geek Squad

                 The state of the White House computer systems?

Anne Kornblut's article in today's Washington Post is a rather scary picture of the state of White House technology.  Money quote:
Two years after launching the most technologically savvy presidential campaign in history, Obama officials ran smack into the constraints of the federal bureaucracy yesterday, encountering a jumble of disconnected phone lines, old computer software, and security regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts.

Obama's Foreign Policy Advice

Today we are starting to see the first outlines of the Obama foreign policy.  As we try and understand it, perhaps the foreign policy writings of Obama's new Deputy Chief of Staff, Mona Sutphen could be helpful.  About twelve months ago she published a book entitled The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise

In it, she lays out the case that the United States must get its own house in order, making sure that American children can compete, American workers can adjust, America's military remains cutting-edge, and American diplomacy entices rather than alienates. While America must be prepared for the possibility that a hostile superpower may one day emerge, it has to be careful not to turn a distant, uncertain threat into an immediate one. Washington should welcome the pivotal powers into a vigorous international order to share the burden of solving pressing global problems of peace, climate, health, and growth.

My conversation with Mona Sutphen:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The power of images / Images of Power

Grammer Police

Adverbial placement in the oath flub

Chief Justice John Roberts' administration of the presidential oath to Barack Obama was far from smooth. Early reports differ in saying who stumbled: NBC andABC say the flub was Roberts', while the AP says it was Obama's. I think both men were a bit nervous, and the error that emerged from their momentary disfluency came down to a problem of adverbial placement.

The Constitution gives the oath as:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Here is the transcript as given by NBC and ABC:

ROBERTS:  Are you prepared to take the oath, Senator?
OBAMA:  I am.
ROBERTS:  I, Barack Hussein Obama…
OBAMA:  I, Barack…
ROBERTS:  … do solemnly swear…
OBAMA:  I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear…
ROBERTS:  … that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully…
OBAMA:  … that I will execute…
ROBERTS:  … faithfully the office of president of the United States…
OBAMA:  … the office of president of the United States faithfully…
ROBERTS:  … and will to the best of my ability…
OBAMA:  … and will to the best of my ability…
ROBERTS:  … preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
OBAMA:  … preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
ROBERTS:  So help you God?
OBAMA:  So help me God.
ROBERTS:  Congratulations, Mr. President.

In the embedded clause of the oath, the adverb faithfully is properly positioned after the auxiliary will (1). If you miss the adverb as it is placed in the official wording, you have two more chances for inserting it in a coherent fashion: placingfaithfully after the verb execute (2) or placing it at the end of the clause (3):

that I will 1 execute 2 the office of President of the United States 3

Roberts does indeed miss his opportunity to put faithfully in position 1, perhaps thrown by Obama repeating the opening phrase of the oath earlier than he expected. In Roberts' first attempt, faithfully ends up in clause-final position 3. Obama seems to realize that the placement is wrong, but repeats the first part of the clause all the way through to the verb: that I will execute. There's no possibility of getting faithfully back to position 1 at this point, but Roberts gets as close as he can by placing it in position 2, immediately after the verb, in his second attempt. Obama ignores the self-repair, however, and ends up repeating the misplaced version that Roberts originally supplied, with faithfully in clause-final position 3.

From the perspective of speech act theory and performativity, we could go on to consider whether felicity conditions failed for this particular speech act, since the wording was not actually the official one. But the question is moot: the oath is not actually performative, since Barack Obama became president immediately after 12 noon (before Roberts had even started to administer the oath), as several network commentators observed. And Jan Crawford Greenberg of ABC provides a historical precedent:

It's worth pointing out that Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who had been President himself, also flubbed the oath when he was swearing in Herbert Hoover in 1929. When Taft administered the oath, he said, "preserve, maintain and defend the Constitution," instead of "preserve, PROTECT, and defend." So where Roberts flipped a couple of words, Taft substituted an entirely new one.

There was one other minor slip-up on Roberts' part: in his first run-through of the embedded clause, he got a preposition wrong, saying "I will execute the office of president to the United States," rather than of. A less noticeable speech error, but nonetheless the type of thing that happens when one speaks from memory without written prompts, as Roberts apparently did.

[Update, 9:30 pm: Obama was just asked about the oath flub on ABC in a brief backstage interview at the Neighborhood Ball.

Robin Roberts: During the taking the oath of office, Chief Justice Roberts inadvertently switched some words up. You were trying to help him out there a little bit, it seemed, with your look.

Pres. Obama: Oh, listen, I think we're, uh, we're up there, we've got a lot of stuff on our minds, and he actually I think helped me out on a couple of, uh, stanzas there. So overall I think it went relatively smoothly and I'm very grateful to him.

We've all had a first day

From today's New York Times

Reporting for Duty | 9:33 a.m. President Obama reported to work at 8:35 a.m. on Wednesday, walking into the Oval Office for the first time as the nation’s chief executive.

He read the note left behind by George W. Bush, which was sitting in a folder on top of the desk, with a note marked “44.” Mr. Obama was in the office alone for a brief time, aides said, starting his day after a late night celebrating and dancing at inaugural balls across Washington.

So the new White House is officially opened for business, but it feels more like a start-up than the seat of government.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is not holding a briefing on Wednesday, aides said, deciding to delay his first official briefing until Thursday. Why? Most members of his staff have been waiting outside to be allowed onto the White House grounds.

Mr. Obama, who is on his way to a prayer service at the National Cathedral, has a series of meetings coming up with this economic advisers and the Joint Chiefs. He also will preside over the Cabinet swearing-in ceremony for seven members of his Cabinet who were confirmed on Tuesday by the Senate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Improbable Journey


Monday, January 19, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Yes He Can

Tens of thousands of words have been written on what the Obama Presidency might mean and tens of thousands more will be written in the next one hundred days. However, I don't believe that any will be more powerful, more succinct and more prescient than Andrew Sullivan's article in Sunday's Time of London. Sullivan's cover story in The Atlantic, over fourteen months ago, laid out the predicate for the Obama campaign. This article is the predicate for the Obama Presidency. This today's must read.  A brief quote:

The baby-boomer generation, reared and suckled on post-Vietnam divides, staged their battles like bitter spouses after years of a failed marriage who never really planned on divorce. Now, with this first post-boomer politician, the children who witnessed their parents’ endless fighting have taken over. And it’s the children who seem like adults.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Finally a worthwhile question at a Senate Hearing

Voices of Hope

As we prepare for Obama's Inauguration, as viewed through the lens of our nations current problems, the hope that he represents can best be represented by both Lincoln and Martin Luther King.  Both of them, in their time, personified the hope we need now.

Last Sunday, when asked about his own Inaugural Address, Obama spoke almost in awe of Lincoln's second Inaugural, one of the greatest speeches in our nations history.  On Monday we also celebrate Martin Luther King, whose "I Have A Dream" speech paved the way for the history that will unfold on Tuesday.

Two new books capture the essence of both Lincoln and King and emphasise the power of their rhetoric.  Ronald White's A. Lincoln: A Biography and Eric Sundquist's King's Dream both vividly capture watershed moments in our nations history.

My conversation with Ronald White:

My conversation with Eric Sundquist:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A legacy of grass roots politics

The grass roots efforts of the Obama campaign did not spring anew. In fact, the chant "Yes We Can," ("Si Se Puede"), the efforts at voter outreach and so many other movement techniques were born of the efforts of Cesar Chevez and the United Farm Workers.  In fact, the UFW was the era's leading incubator of young activist talent, creating alumni who would play crucial roles in progressive campaigns.  All of this is laid out in a new book by Randy Shaw entitled Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.

My Conversation with Randy Shaw:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Middle East change we can believe in

Roger Cohen has a must read op-ed in today's New York Times. He proposes change we can really believe in for Obama's Middle East policy.  Money quote:
It seems that among liberal democracies, it is only in the U.S .Congress that a defense against terror that results in the slaying of hundreds of Palestinian children is not cause for agonized soul-searching. In my view, such Israeli “defense” has crossed the line.

A World of Trouble

As we watch the Obama Inauguration set against the international backdrop of the war in Gaza, it's important to remember that every administration since Eisenhower has been tested by events in the Middle East.  The 1956 seizure of the Suez Canal, the 1967 Six-Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, the 1987 Intifada, the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, the First Gulf War, the second Intifada and finally the invasion of Iraq, have all taken their toll on this country and its leaders.  Patrick Tyler, who has reported from both the Middle East and Washington for the New York Times and The Washington Post provides a panoramic history of this period in his new book A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East--from the Cold War to the War on Terror. It's a history we ignore at our own peril.

My conversation with Patrick Tyler:

Friday, January 9, 2009

Is Caroline being discriminated against?

Sarah Palin is questioning whether Caroline Kennedy is getting better treatment from the press in her bid for a Senate seat from New York. Palin told conservative radio host John Ziegler, "It's going to be interesting to see how that plays out and I think that as we watch that we will perhaps be able to prove that there is a class issue here also that was such a factor in the scrutiny of my candidacy versus, say, the scrutiny of what her candidacy may be."

It's not an issue of class, but of intelligence. Whether Caroline should be appointed to the Senate or not, she is a graduate of Harvard and Columbia Law and is an educated and accomplished woman.

Lisa Belkin, in her New York Times Magazine story last week, makes the case that it is Caroline who, as a mother going back into the workplace, that is being discriminated against.

My Conversation with Lisa Belkin:

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The future of Newspapers

We've all heard the horror stories about the state of the dead tree newspaper business.  Even the New York Times is vulnerable.  A must read from Michael Hirschorn in the Atlantic.

The thinking goes that the existing brands—The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal—will be the ones making that transition, challenged but still dominant as sources of original reporting.  But what if the old media dies much more quickly? What if a hurricane comes along and obliterates the dunes entirely? Specifically, what if TheNew York Times goes out of business—like, this May?

Senators in glass houses

Al Giordano explains exactly why Panetta is a great choice and why Feinstein is throwing stones from a glass house.  Money quote:
And if Feinstein et al really do try to head it off at the pass and deny Panetta's nomination, all the new president has to do is gather up some of the documents about illegal activities at the CIA - Drugs, anyone? Attempted coups? Illegal domestic surveillance? - in recent years that will be newly available to him on January 20, leak those documents to the press, cause a storm of controversy (and some Pulitzer Prizes to boot), have the new Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Senator Kerry, call for public hearings (reminiscent of his Iran-Contra and BCCI investigations), and, voila, place Feinstein and friends - and those who are behind them in this - in checkmate.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Paging Steve Jobs

The hot new product from Apple.  
Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

An inspired choice

I think the choice of Panetta at the CIA is brilliant. Obama needs someone their to watch his back.  (If only JFK had made such a choice.)   The fact that Feinstein and Rockefeller are skeptical only serves to reaffirm the brilliance of the choice. They both have blood on their hands for their lack of oversight of the Bush policies. Scott Horton in Harper's is spot on. Money quote:
I think the choices are not merely good, but inspired, and I see the friction with Feinstein and Rockefeller as a plus rather than a minus. The selection of Admiral Blair, a tough retired Naval intelligence professional, quite appropriately puts the key coordinating position for the intelligence community in the hands of a non-political figure who commands uniform respect among its rank-and-file. On the other hand, Panetta has no experience in the intelligence community—he would be a fresh face. He has gathered broad respect for his managerial competence and for his ability as a legislator. He acquitted himself ably as chief-of-staff to Bill Clinton, even in rough sailing.

What really went wrong

The best must read on our current financial crisis. The always insightful Michael Lewis of Liar's Poker fame, outdoes his Portfolio piece and goes one step further in his New York Times Op Ed.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The most stressful day of the year. You ought to have a tantrum.

London's Daily Mail reports that the end of the holidays, cold weather and economic gloom will make today one of the most stressful days of the year for returning to work. But experts have come up with an unlikely remedy - throwing a tantrum. Releasing tension through shouting and screaming is a really beneficial way to expel the negative energies caused by stress,' said body language expert Judi James.

Experts say throwing a tantrum can help people deal with stress 'When stress threatens to overwhelm you, try a short sustained burst of shouting, or alternatively, go somewhere quiet, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to help calm you down.'

The advice comes as a survey reveals that people are most likely to be irritated by colleagues eating noisily (28 per cent), sniffing (26 per cent), talking too loudly on the phone (21 per cent) and even singing (5 per cent). Researchers found only one in ten prefer to sit quietly to combat tension, while more than a third admitted to having tantrums.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Our blind loyalty to Israel

Glen Greenwald makes the point that Democratic AND Republican leaders are in sync with each other but hopelessly out of sync with voters on Israel. Money quote:
Is there any other significant issue in American political life, besides Israel, where (a) citizens split almost evenly in their views, yet (b) the leaders of both parties adopt identical lockstep positions which leave half of the citizenry with no real voice?  More notably still, is there any other position, besides Israel, where (a) a party's voters overwhelmingly embrace one position (Israel should not have attacked Gaza) but (b) that party's leadership unanimously embraces the exact opposite position (Israel was absolutely right to attack Gaza and the U.S. must support Israel unequivocally)? Does that happen with any other issue?

My conversation with Mearsheimer & Walt regarding their book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy