Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Imagining Africa

Just as we debated for years moving our inner cities from welfare to work, so to a similar debate now rages about Africa. Africa has received over a trillion dollars in aid over the past 60 years. Yet, its economics have worsened, its standard of living has deteriorated and the level of government corruption has multiplied. Now Dambisa Moyo has come forward with a new approach. An approach based on education, entrepreneurship, and the elimination of aid, both government and celebrity alike.

My conversation with Dambisa Moyo, author of DEAD AID.

Monday, March 30, 2009

We are all urbanites now

Our future is urban. McKinsey and company reports. Money quote:
By the end of 2008, slightly less than 50 percent of the global population lived in cities. If economic development proceeds at today’s pace, over the next century or so it is highly likely that 8 billion people will live in urban centers, up from today’s roughly 3.3 billion.

Imagining India

India's leading entrepreneur looks at his countries future. From debates over outsourcing at Indian call centers to constant headlines covering the nation's incredible economic growth, Nandan Nilekani is perhaps the most astute observer and thinker about India's future.

Part businessman, party philosopher, Nilekani gives us a market overview of ideas for India's future economic and social policy.

My conversation with Nandan Nilekani, founder and Co-Chairman of Infosys Technologies Limited and author of Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation.

The last tycoons

Richard Florida takes on the end of Hollywood as we know it.  Money quote:
The world will always need entertainment, and Southern California is the odds-on favorite to produce it. It has the history, the people, the infrastructure and the creative energy. But as Detroit automakers and New York’s financiers have learned, these natural advantages can disappear when an arrogant and insular industry comes to view its dominance as inevitable and its outsized compensation as an entitlement.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Facebook is us

Great article from today's NY Times on the future of Facebook.  200 million users!  Will it change the way we communicate with each other, will we ever have privacy again? What might be the pushback?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Microsoft wakes up...maybe

Microsoft strikes back with a new ad campaign "I'm not cool enough to be a Mac Person."  Pretty good ad and much better then Gates and Sienfeld.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

American woman writers...

Richard Yates is getting a new following since the movie Revolutionary Road. Cheever is the subject of a new biography and Updike has had a revival since his death. Yet, the women who wrote some great work during this same period, seemingly have been overlooked. Elaine Showalter believes it is high time to fully integrate the contributions of women into our American literary heritage, and she undertakes the task with brilliance and flair, making the case for the unfairly overlooked and putting the overrated firmly in their place. She has written A Jury of Her Peers:  A book that will greatly enrich our understanding of American literary history and culture. 

My conversation with Elaine Showalter:

Oh Canada

The United States imports the majority of its oil, not from the Middle East, but from Canada? Canada has one third of the world’s oil resources; it comes from the bitumen in the oil sands of Alberta. It burns more carbon than conventional oil. It destroys forests and displaces wildlife. It poisons the water supply of communities downstream and drains the Athabasca, the river that feeds Canada’s largest watershed. It’s one of the largest energy projects in the world.

Andrew Nikiforuk, a respected Canadian journalist has written Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent the definitive guide to the true costs of Alberta's tar sands.

My conversation with Andrew Nikiforuk:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pittsburgh vs. Detroit, by way of Cleveland

Just returned from Cleveland and saw a city totally mired in what Richard Florida calls "the great reset."  A city of downtown urban promise surrounded by the decay, unemployment and foreclosers of the current economic crisis.  It's interesting to wonder if Cleveland will go the way of Pittsburgh and continue to re energize, or will it go the way of Detroit.  

John Craig, a former editor of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette nails it in his recent Washington Post article.  Money quote:

Particularly challenging is the state of affairs in the urban core, where population stood at slightly more than 900,000 in 2006, down from a 1950 high of 1.6 million. There’s a critical difference here between the two cities. Even though it has only a third of Detroit’s population, Pittsburgh has more people working in it every day — 298,429 to 241,627. It also has a 1 percent county sales tax that serves as a user fee for regional entertainment and cultural institutions. Thus it’s able to offer area residents more urban amenities and job opportunities than Detroit.

For all its traumas, Pittsburgh retains an urban/suburban/rural coherence. That, coupled with striking architecture and a beautiful natural setting, goes a long way toward explaining why it consistently gets better press than it might deserve, and why, after you examine the region’s economic, demographic, environmental, health and local government measures, you refrain from blurting out, “Why, they’ve been treading water for years!” Which is, in any case, better than sinking.

Faux outrage, the new fashion statement

All of the AIG outrage is so tiresome and mostly so phony.  The members of Congress questioning Geithner and Bernanke today made it crystal clear that democracy doesn't always produce the best outcomes.  Tom Friedman in yesterday's NY Times and Joe Klein in Time get to the heart of the matter.  A sample from Klein:
But most of the anger we see and hear comes from people who are paid to be angry, on cue, on cable television--as opposed to people with actual grievacnes. Suddenly, the White House press corps goes barking mad over the AIG Bonuses. It is said that the bonuses are an aspect of the bust that the "public" can understand; in truth, the bonuses are an aspect of the bust that reporters can understand. Suddenly, the Obama Administration has a "crisis." The President has to go on television and act as if he's angry, even though he knows these bonuses are the tiniest outcropping of outrageousness.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Off to Cleveland for a few days. Blogging will resume on Tuesday. Will try and keep a few things up to date on Twitter.


Buzz.  What is it, how does it get started and can it be manipulated. Whether it's the Obama campaign or the latest hot book or movie, marketing today is dictated by a whole new set a rules that stand the old ideas about advertising, public relations and traditional marking upside down.  One of the top practitioners of this new "art" is David Scott.  He written a new book World Wide Rave.

My conversation with David Scott:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

AIG channeling John Galt

There has been an annoying trend of late analogizing the current economic situation to Atlas Shrugged.  Matt Yglesias delivers the final blow:
Atlas Shrugged is a stupid book, Ayn Rand is a stupid woman, and John Galt’s ideas are stupid. That said, none of them are nearly this stupid. Rand’s novel isn’t about a world in which executives who build companies based on a lot of incorrect decisions, then pay themselves millions of dollars while bankrupting their firms, then come to the government hat-in-hand asking for bailouts, then find that the bailers-out want to attach some strings to their hundreds of billions of dollars in public funds and then go to hide out in Galt’s Gulch. That doesn’t make any sense at all.

If the folks running Citigroup and Bank of America and AIG were good at their jobs, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. That’s the point. But they weren’t good. They lost staggering sums of money. Their companies went broke. They had to beg for taxpayer dollars. You don’t get to do that and then turn around and “go Galt.”

The end of business porn

It's always been true that the rich are different.  Now, not in such a good way. Michael Hiltzig in today's LA Times, explains:
For decades, the wealthy have been held up as people to be admired, victors in the Darwinian economic struggle by virtue of their personal ingenuity and hard work. […] One factor fueling the public fury over the AIG bonuses, so inescapably in the news this week, is the recognition that so many huge fortunes landed in the hands of the undeserving rich. Some of them added little value to the economy but merely moved money around in novel, excessively clever and ultimately destructive ways; others are corporate executives who were ridiculously overpaid whether they succeeded or failed at their jobs. […] The shift in sentiment should surprise no one. As the management sage Peter Drucker once predicted, “In the next economic downturn there will be an outbreak of bitterness and contempt for the super-corporate chieftains who pay themselves millions. In every major economic downturn in U.S. history the ‘villains’ have been the ‘heroes’ during the preceding boom.” Drucker was speaking in 1997, two downturns ago.

It's the restructuring, stupid

The ever insightful Richard Florida explains why we have to be mindful of bailouts.  It's the dramatic restructuring our economy that needs attention. We need do be doing what Fallows says the Chinese are doing  Money quote from Florida:

On the other hand, there is the classic question: What better and more effective things might have been done with these trillions? That’s for historians to ponder and decide. But the combination of the massively misallocated resources produced by the bubble (plus the costs of military adventures) combined with humongous bailout spending puts the U.S. behind the economic eight-ball in a way it has not been in more than a century. Having hold on the reserve currency helps, but it cannot absolve all these compounded sins. Sooner or later the money will run out; bills will come due.

The Forever War

This years winner of the National Book Critics Circle award for Non-Fiction, announced earlier this week,  was Dexter Filkins for his book, The Forever War Finklins is one of the great war correspondences of our time.  He continues to do great work reporting from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan for the New York Times.  

Last October I had the chance to talk to Filkins about his award winning book:


Every day this month high school seniors are waiting for the envelope that may determine their fate. For the 15,000 that are graduating medical school this year, today March 19 is MATCH DAY.  A day that will also determine their fate, and maybe even the future of our health.  It's the day that all medical school graduates find out where they will do their residency.  It's  a complicated formula and a fascinating story.  

This morning, this MATCH DAY, I spoke with journalist Brian Eule about what's going on today:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Everywhere you turn today there is talk of Credit Default Swaps, Collateralized Debt Obligations, AIG, and how these derivatives brought down our financial system.  Do you clearly understand how this all worked?   A Credit Trader has the best explanation, by far of what happened.  Your head will hurt a little as you read this, but if you stick with it, you'll be both informed and appalled.  It makes you think the Bush Administration was running AIG.

Engaging the Muslim World

Many people think they know what's really going on in the Middle East. Most do not!  But every day, tens of thousands of people get their news on this region from Juan Cole's blog, Informed Comment.  Cole has stayed away from the knee-jerk politics of Islamophobia, and has been a voice of reason in a part of the world usually gone mad.  He is the author of a new book about the Middle East, entitled Engaging the Muslim World,just published by Palgrave.

My conversation this morning with Juan Cole:

Monday, March 16, 2009

Newspapers, the end or a new begining

As the daily newspaper fades off  into the sunset, two of best thinkers about all things digital opine on what may be ahead.

First, Clay Shirky.  A sample:
When someone demands to be told how we can replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won't break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren't in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

Next, Steven Johnson. A sample:
I think it’s much more instructive to anticipate the future of investigative journalism by looking at the past of technology journalism. When ecologists go into the field to research natural ecosystems, they seek out the old-growth forests, the places where nature has had the longest amount of time to evolve and diversify and interconnect. They don’t study the Brazilian rain forest by looking at a field that was clear cut two years ago.
That’s why the ecosystem of technology news is so crucial.
It is the old-growth forest of the web. It is the sub-genre of news that has had the longest time to evolve. The Web doesn’t have some kind intrinsic aptitude for covering technology better than other fields. It just has an intrinsic tendency to cover technology first, because the first people that used the web were far more interested in technology than they were in, say, school board meetings or the NFL. But that has changed, and is continuing to change. The transformation from the desert of Macworld to the rich diversity of today’s tech coverage is happening in all areas of news. Like William Gibson’s future, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.

Freeman vs. the Israel lobby

Charles Freeman defends himself from the character assassination of the Israel lobby:

Why we should be ashmed of Texas

I remember when I was in middle school, one of the first formal debates I engaged in was about the death penalty.  It's a debate that been with us for centuries and has been one of those hot button issues, like abortion and gay marriage that ignite peoples passions, but not always their intellect.

Today that seem to slowly be changing.  Perhaps science and DNA, perhaps just a greater sense of our shared humanity.  In any case, with the exception of Texas, we seem to be making progress as a civilized society.   Famed historian Thomas Cahill came face to face with the very human side of death row.  He tell is story in a powerful new book entitled A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green

My conversation with Cahill:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Skyscrapers are Green

We've always know the suburbs were bad. Now it's clear that urban life is not only culturally richer, but GREENER than the burbs. Harvard economist Edward Glaeser reports:
But cars represent only one-third of the gap in carbon emissions between New Yorkers and their suburbanites. The gap in electricity usage between New York City and its suburbs is also about two tons. The gap in emissions from home heating is almost three tons. All told, we estimate a seven-ton difference in carbon emissions between the residents of Manhattan’s urban aeries and the good burghers of Westchester County. Living surrounded by concrete is actually pretty green. Living surrounded by trees is not.

The policy prescription that follows from this is that environmentalists should be championing the growth of more and taller skyscrapers. Every new crane in New York City means less low-density development. The environmental ideal should be an apartment in downtown San Francisco, not a ranch in Marin County.

China 1 US 0

For years we've understood the symbiotic relationship between our economy and China.  As we have fallen to our knees, what impact has it had on China. In the past, in this space, we've talked about the dangers of a weak and unstable China.  

James Fallows, in the April issue of The Atlantic has a must read on how China will use these tough times to innovate and leapfrog over America.  Here is an example:
In Shenzhen, north of Hong Kong, I went to see Liam Casey, the Irish entrepreneur I described two years ago as “Mr. China” for his success in matching big, famous foreign companies with small, obscure Chinese factories that can produce brand-name products quickly and well. Casey said that of the top 100 Chinese companies he works with regularly, not one had gone out of business. While many were struggling, some viewed the recession as a chance to move into higher-value work and introduce their own advanced products rather than serving strictly as subcontractors. (Several such items, like new tablet computers and handheld GPS devices, were displayed at the latest Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Jon Stewart eviscerates Jim Cramer

With all the high-falutin journalists covering Wall Street and the US and Global financial crises, it's ironic that it took Jon Stewart to bring down Jim Cramer and CNBC.  Stewart eviscerated Cramer! It was ever bit as good as Edward R. Morrow taking on Joe McCarthy.  For that show alone, Stewart deserves a Pulitzer.

Here is the audio of the entire interview: Stewart vs. Cramer  

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Facebook and our past

Has the rise of Facebook, enabling everyone to keep in touch with everyone else from grade school on, taken away the chance to reinvent yourself that used to come with leaving home? Why, since October of 2008 has Facebook membership for those 35+ increased by 275%? In this Sunday's N.Y. Times Magazine (3/15) Contributing writer Peggy Orenstein asks how you forge your future self when you never leave the present.

My conversation with Peggy Orenstein:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

AIPAC body count

Joe Klien has a salient TIME story on the unjustified political assassination  of Chas Freeman.  I guess free speech is not a principle of the Israeli lobby.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What's the matter with kids today?

The two most important influences in the lives of children are, without a doubt, parents and peers. Which is more powerful, which has more influence?  I've recently had a series of conversations about both approaches.

On Monday I spoke to Allison Pugh, professor at the University of Virgina, about the influence of peers on why kids buy stuff, why they want the wii or Nintendo, or Nike, even if they don't watch TV.

On Tuesday I spoke with Richard Weissbourd at Harvard's Kennedy School, about the power of parents and why baby boomer parents seem to be to quick to substitute self esteem and their own agenda for their kids, for moral clarity.  

Together these two conversations a powerful look at our kids today.  

Monday, March 9, 2009

Trading newsprint for curruption

In the words of the song, "you don't know what you've got till it's gone." So it may be with Newspapers. As the "dead tree" news business crashes under its own weight and mistakes, we do have to think about what we are loosing. Paul Starr, a Professor of Communications at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson school, has taken the best look at the end of the age of newspapers and what it may be ushering in.  It's in the current issue of The New Republic. For anyone who ever cared about their newspapers it's a must read. Money quote:
News coverage is not all that newspapers have given us. They have lent the public a powerful means of leverage over the state, and this leverage is now at risk. If we take seriously the notion of newspapers as a fourth estate or a fourth branch of government, the end of the age of newspapers implies a change in our political system itself. Newspapers have helped to control corrupt tendencies in both government and business. If we are to avoid a new era of corruption, we are going to have to summon that power in other ways. Our new technologies do not retire our old responsibilities.

The Future of Banking

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Frum Rush without Love

David Frum, a real genuine conservative, former Bush speechwriter and one of those trying to keep real Conservatism alive has the must read of the weekend in Newsweek. Money quote:

Rush knows what he is doing. The worse conservatives do, the more important Rush becomes as leader of the ardent remnant. The better conservatives succeed, the more we become a broad national governing coalition, the more Rush will be sidelined.

But do the rest of us understand what we are doing to ourselves by accepting this leadership? Rush is to the Republicanism of the 2000s what Jesse Jackson was to the Democratic party in the 1980s. He plays an important role in our coalition, and of course he and his supporters have to be treated with respect. But he cannot be allowed to be the public face of the enterprise—and we have to find ways of assuring the public that he is just one Republican voice among many, and very far from the most important.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


How bad are things when Citigroup shares are selling for less then their ATM fees?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

N.Y. Times Roger Cohen stands up for truth

Roger Cohen, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, has recently been under fire from the Jewish lobby for two very prescient columns about Iran, the Jews, and the context of the middle east. I think he's spot on.

His NY Times Column from last week. Money quote:
The Middle East is an uncomfortable neighborhood for minorities, people whose very existence rebukes warring labels of religious and national identity. Yet perhaps 25,000 Jews live on in Iran, the largest such community, along with Turkey’s, in the Muslim Middle East. There are more than a dozen synagogues in Tehran; here in Esfahan a handful caters to about 1,200 Jews, descendants of an almost 3,000-year-old community

Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran — its sophistication and culture — than all the inflammatory rhetoric.

His Column from March 1st. Money quote again:
But the equating of Iran with terror today is simplistic. Hamas and Hezbollah have evolved into broad political movements widely seen as resisting an Israel over-ready to use crushing force. It is essential to think again about them, just as it is essential to toss out Iran caricatures.

I return to this subject because behind the Jewish issue in Iran lies a critical one — the U.S. propensity to fixate on and demonize a country through a one-dimensional lens, with a sometimes disastrous chain of results.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Motown vanishes

Just as it's too late for a bailout to help the auto industry, it's too late to help Detroit. It's the first major American city that could go bankrupt. The Chicago Tribune lays out the basket case. Money Quote:
The median price of a home sold in Detroit in December was $7,500, according to Realcomp, a listing service.

Not $75,000. Remove a zero—it's seven thousand five hundred dollars, substantially less than the lowest-price car on the new-car market.

But as the domestic auto industry, the city's principal private-sector employer and founding corporate father, seeks a financial bailout from Washington, formerly whispered remarks about the prospect of the nation's 11th-largest city being the first major American city to go bankrupt are now publicly discussed.

China and India still matter

Aside from the US, there are only two other places to turn for companies seeking growth during today's global financial crisis: China and India which, despite the recent slowdown, are still the world's fastest growing economies. But while many companies are expanding to China and India, few are getting it right. Anil Gupta in his book Getting China and India Right: Strategies for Leveraging the World's Fastest Growing Economies for Global Advantage tells of the rare global companies that have gotten it right and why we all need to understand what's going on.

My conversation with Anil Gupta: