Friday, February 27, 2009

Everything Old is Newt Again

He's back. Three months after the election, the Republican Party is still in shock. Not only from its losses, but from the state of irrelevancy in which it seems to find itself. Politics, like nature abhors a vacuum, and into the breach steps Newt Gingrich. That the party has to go back to the 90's to find its voice and ideas says a lot about the current state of the GOP. Matt Bai, one of the best and smartest political journalists working today, takes up this phenomena in his Cover Story in this weekends N.Y. Times Magazine.

My conversation with Matt Bai:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Icing on the Cupcake

The Atlantic parses cupcakes.  Does this mean the craze is passe?

Geography really is Destiny

How will different parts of the county survive in the current economic crises?  Will cities and suburbs have to reinvent themselves and how has the physical character and geography of the country shaped consumption, production and innovation?  

Richard Florida, one of our nations leading urban theorists, and the author of Who's Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life,argues that to a surprising degree, the cause of the current crash is geographic in nature and that comming out of the recession will will require a "new kind of geography," what he calls a "spatial fix." He lays all of this out in the cover story in the March issue of the The Atlantic entitled  THE GREAT RESET: How the Crash will Reshape America.

My fascinating conversation with Richard Florida:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Teach the Children

The President has said that when kids, especially inner city kids, drop out of school they are not only letting themselves down, but they are letting down their country.  A noble thought, but what does it take to get these often poor children to to compete with their middle-class peers. Geoffrey Canada, asked himself that question, and proceed to found the Harlem Children's Zone, where he is testing ideas about eduction, poverty, parenting and trying to turn around the lives of Harlem's children. 

Paul Tough, a contributing editor to the New York Times Magazine, and one of America's foremost writers on poverty and education, has written WHATEVER IT TAKES, an inspiring portrait of Geoffry Canada and the children and families whose lives he's trying to save.  

My conversation with Paul Tough:

Jeffrey Sachs and the global challenge

Jeffrey Sachs believes that the global economic crises give us a unique windows of opportunity to take on economic development, poverty, and environmental sustainability throughout the world.

Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, is also the Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs and a Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia's School of Public Health. Additionally, he is Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and the founder and co-President of the Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty and hunger. From 2002 to 2006, he was the Director of the United Nations Millennium Project and today remains a leading advocate for the Millennium Development Goals, eight internationally endorsed objectives to reduce extreme poverty, hunger, and disease by the year 2015.

Originally one of the youngest economics professors in the history of Harvard University, Sachs became renowned for implementing economic shock therapy throughout the developing world, and subsequently for his work on the challenges of economic development, environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, debt cancellation, and globalization. He has authored numerous books and articles on these subjects, including The End of Poverty and Common Wealth both New York Times bestsellers. He has been named one of Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" several times.

My conversation with Jeffrey Sachs:

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Credit Crisis made simple!

A brilliant piece of work by Jonathan Jarvis with the "the goal of giving form to a complex situation like the credit crisis is to quickly supply the essence of the situation to those unfamiliar and uninitiated." This project was completed as part of Jarvis' thesis work in the Media Design Program, a graduate studio at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. For more information on Jarvis' broader thesis work exploring the use of new media to make sense of a increasingly complex world, visit

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Five to Ten more years in Iraq

The war in Iraq went on longer than WWII before we began to even understand how to fix it. Thomas Rick's books FIASCO details our invasion of Iraq and the incompetence that enveloped it. Now, in THE GAMBLE Ricks focuses on General David Patraeus, the Surge and what it did and did not accomplish.

Ricks, who is the Washington Post's special military corespondent, predicts that the war is likely to last at least another five to ten years.  My conversation with Thom Ricks:

Raw Politics

Obama Sushi

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dubai - Not so good

From Smashing Telly
Short of opening a Radio Shack in an Amish town, Dubai is the world’s worst business idea, and there isn’t even any oil. Imagine proposing to build Vegas in a place where sex and drugs and rock and roll are an anathema. This is effectively the proposition that created Dubai - it was a stupid idea before the crash, and now it is dangerous.

Dubai threatens to become an instant ruin, an emblematic hybrid of the worst of both the West and the Middle-East and a dangerous totem for those who would mistakenly interpret this as the de facto product of a secular driven culture.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Recession R & R

If people are eating out less, shopping less, and overall spending less, what are they doing for fun? Will Saletan in Slate maybe on to something.  Money quote: 
While car purchases plummeted and designer clothes mostly stayed on the racks, sales of condoms in the U.S. rose 5% in the fourth quarter of 2008, and 6% in January vs. the same time periods the previous year, The Nielsen Co. reports.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bankers as Celebrities

Listening to the bankers before congress yesterday was both impressive and instructive.  You realize these are very smart, well paid guy, doing a job.  Much smarter than say, the auto executives who came before.  Also much, much smarter than most of the Congress members they were be lectured from.  Maxine Waters vs. Jamie Dimond or Lloyd C. Blankfein...Come on.

It’s also a reminder that these bankers are, in a way, victims of our celebrity culture.  During the boom years we couldn't get enough of their jets, their parties their wives.  Steve Schwartzman and Henry Kravis were celebrated in glossy magazines. The pages of Vanity Fair and Portfolio were filled with business porn.  We built them up as Masters of the Universe.  Now that things have turned, we can’t wait to tear them down; just as we do with celebrities we build up.  The problem is, no one is hurt by the public turning on Brittany or Jessica, turning on our smartest, if often greedy, bankers with populist rhetoric trumping good judgment could hurt us all.  

Roosevelt had it right

Is it just our short attention span, our partisanship, or have we simply become less wise over 77 years?  Roosevelt had it right.  Can you imagine the GOP reaction if Obama said this today.  

The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something, - President Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 22, 1932

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Oh Canada

Fareed Zakaria has a great column in Newsweek about why Canada is the only industrialized nation in the world that is thriving. They may be boring, those Canadians, but they are smart. Money quote:
Canada has done more than survive this financial crisis. The country is positively thriving in it. Canadian banks are well capitalized and poised to take advantage of opportunities that American and European banks cannot seize. The Toronto Dominion Bank, for example, was the 15th-largest bank in North America one year ago. Now it is the fifth-largest. It hasn't grown in size; the others have all shrunk.

Architect of our dreams

Architecture is much more visible today than a generation ago. Celebrity architects have lead to buildings that get a lot more public attention. But is this good or bad? Is architecture about bling and ornamentation and the wow effect, or is about appreciating design and space and respecting human scale.

One of our best practitioners of this "human" architecture is Deborah Berke. She is among the best American architects practicing today. She has been in practice in New York since 1982 and is a professor of architecture at Yale.

My conversation with Deborah Berke about her work and the state of modern architecture.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

So Damn Much Money

Much of the breakdown of our political system can be laid at the foot of lobbyists.  It's an idea our founding father understood, but they had no idea what kind of money would be involved today. Neither did they envision "earmarks" and Senate campaigns that would cost upwards of five million dollars and Presidential campaigns that would approach a billion.

Robert G. Kaiser, an experienced reporter and former managing editor of The Washington Post, has written a fascinating book that explains why earmarks have become more common since the 1970s and raises the curtain on Washington to reveal a tragic drama in which money triumphs over principle. Here, in a single book, is the reason why our politics must be transformed.

My conversation with Robert Kaiser, author of So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Be Afraid

If this doesn't focus the mind on the need for a large stimulus package, I don't know what will. Krugman says that 800 Billion is not enough. It's beginning to look like he may be right.
According to the CBO’s estimates, we’re facing an output shortfall of almost 14% of GDP over the next two years, or around $2 trillion. Others, such as Goldman Sachs, are even more pessimistic. So the original $800 billion plan was too small, especially because a substantial share consisted of tax cuts that probably would have added little to demand. The plan should have been at least 50% larger.
From Time:
1) January's 0.44% drop in nonfarm payroll employment was the worst one-month drop since May 1980, when employment fell 0.47%. (There was also a 0.44% drop in November 2008, but that was rounded up from 0.438% while January's was rounded down from 0.442%.)
2) The three-month fall in employment of 1.30% was the worst since the 1.71% drop from Dec. 1974 to Feb. 1975.
3) The six-month fall in employment of 1.93% was the worst since the 2.09% drop from Dec. 1974 to April 1975.
4) The nine-month fall in employment of 2.23% was the worst since the 2.36% drop from Oct. 1974 to July 1975.
5) The twelve-month fall in employment of 2.53% was the worst since the 2.62% drop in the 12 months ending in November 1982
The lesson here: Maybe I should stop wasting my time playing with spreadsheets. As measured by the percentage drop in payroll employment over most of the time periods I looked at, this is the worst since 1974-1975. And barring a dramatic recovery in the next couple of months, the total job losses from this recession will likely come out even worse than those of 1974-1975.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Urban schools can work!

Fareed Zakaria notes in his terrific book, “The Post-American World,” the problem with American education is not the good schools. White suburban schools still offer an excellent education, comparable to those in Singapore, which may have the best education system in the world. Rather, the central problem is our bad schools. A great many kids being left behind and yet we know that investing in human capital is still a very good deal. Returns are very high.

Perhaps no one is doing this better than the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP.) Jay Mathews, long time education reporter for THE WASHINGTON POST, delves into the program and its two visionary founders both of whom believe that with proper mentors, student incentives and unrestrained enthusiasm on the part of the teachers, some of the country's poorest children could surpass the expectations of most inner-city public schools.

Like making sausage

Joe Klein, seems to be the only one who understands that creating legislation does not have the elegance of a campaign.  Since we now have a President who is more interested in governing than in just campaigning, we may be seeing why, in the era of the 24/7 news cycle it's harder to get things done.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

SNARK is spreading....

Sophomoric humor, bitterness, trash talk, and a weakening public discourse are all symbols of our culture today.  How did we get here and what does it say about our future.  Distinguished film critic David Denby refers to all of this as SNARK.  When Obama said it was time to put away "childish things," one of them may have been SNARK.  It now appears, more than ever, that our society and our celebrity culture operates like high school, with money.

My conversation with Denby:

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Newt Gingrich's picture of our future

Periods of gloom interrupted by moments of sheer disaster.

The future of war - This is very scary stuff

Right now in Afghanistan and Iraq there are over 12,000 unmanned systems. The number of flying drones continues to grow. Six year ago there were none! The technology now exists to make human soldiers and pilots obsolete. So what will the future of war look like?

P.W. Singer is one of the world's leading experts on changes in 21st century warfare. Singer's predictions, in his new book, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century are unnerving, from the moral implications of creating robots that can "think," to a world where wars, like jobs, can be outsourced to machines. Will the traditional psychological barriers to killing fall away, or will human lives be saved by our high tech gadgets?

My conversation with P.W. Singer:

Monday, February 2, 2009

This weekend's must read

This weekend's must read. David Leonhardt's cover story in the N.Y. Times Magazine looks at the future of the US economy. As Washington comes running with smelling salts – a bailout bill, a stimulus package – to revive the fallen economy, a larger question emerges: What to do when the patient awakes? In THE BIG FIX, Leonhardt explains how the greatest challenge facing the Obama administration is creating a new engine of growth for the American economy – when historical drivers of expansion, such as Wall Street and Silicon Valley, seem tapped out.

How our cultural icons may have aided the Obama victory

While the economy and the state of the world throws us immediately  into the policy implications for the Obama election, we still must wonder about the broad social and cultural meaning inside the Obama victory.  Jabari Asim, in his new book What Obama Means: ...for Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Future argues that Obama's victory is the culmination of decades of black political struggle, social advancement and cultural achievement. He shows how performers and athletes, such as Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan, laid the groundwork for Obama every bit as much, if not more so, than leaders such as Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, and Martin Luther King Jr. He examines the impact of Sidney Poitier (whose Guess Who's Coming to Dinner could have been the story of the president's parents) and how the actor's navigation of Hollywood was a forerunner for Obama's own path in wooing America's white voters.

My conversation with Jibari Asim: