Thursday, April 30, 2009

Conservatism...not so much

With the Republican brand all but destroyed; with fewer than twenty-five percent of Americans self identifying as Republicans, as conservatism become synonyms with fundamentalism, ignorance of science and the acceptance of torture, it seems natural that some would  try hard to redefine and re brand the once proud tradition of conservatism.   Kim Phillips-Fein, a historian at New York University, tries to do it by arguing that its historic, post New Deal strength was as the party of big business.  I'm not sure it's a goal conservatives should aspire to today, but it's an interesting theory.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

100 Days and Accountability

As we mark the first 100 days of the Obama administration, many will obviously view it in different ways.  But perhaps first among the many ways involves responsibility and accountability. Stephanie Robinson, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and former chief Counsel Senator Ted Kennedy argues that accountability is the essential maker for good public policy.  

My conversation with Stephanie Robinson, author of Accountable: Making America as Good as Its Promise:

The First 100 days

Will Bolivia be the new Saudi Arabia?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Housing prices falling down

House prices continue to plunge.  Check out this Case-Shiller chart.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Flu Map

Google maps the Swine Flue outbreak

Newspaper circulation continues to crumble

The Audit Bureau of Circulations said Monday that average daily newspaper circulation declined 7.1 percent in the October-March period from the same six-month span in 2007-2008. The latest figure represents data from 395 daily U.S. newspapers that reported in both the current and year-ago periods.

The most recent drop was faster than the 4.6 percent fall recorded in the April-September period of 2008, and the 3.6 percent fall recorded in the October 2007-March 2008 span.

The biggest drops came in San Francisco, New York and Atlanta.

USA TODAY -- 2,113,725 – (-7.46%)
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL -- 2,082,189 -- 0.61%
THE NEW YORK TIMES -- 1,039,031 -- (-3.55%)
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- 723,181 -- (-6.55%)
THE WASHINGTON POST -- 665,383 -- (-1.16%)

DAILY NEWS (NEW YORK) -- 602,857 -- (-14.26%)
NEW YORK POST -- 558,140 -- (-20.55%)
CHICAGO TRIBUNE -- 501,202 -- (-7.47%)
HOUSTON CHRONICLE -- 425,138 -- (-13.96%)
THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC -- 389,701 -- (-5.72%)

THE DENVER POST (02/28/2009 to 03/31/2009) -- 371,728 -- N/A
NEWSDAY -- 368,194 -- (-3.01%)
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS -- 331,907 -- (-9.88%)
STAR-TRIBUNE, MINNEAPOLIS -- 320,076 -- (-0.71%)
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES -- 312,141 -- (-0.04%)

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE -- 312,118 -- (-15.72%)
THE BOSTON GLOBE -- 302,638 -- (-13.68%)
THE PLAIN DEALER, CLEVELAND -- 291,630 -- (-11.70%)
DETROIT FREE PRESS -- 290,730 -- (-5.90%)
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER -- 288,298 -- (-13.72%)

THE STAR-LEDGER, NEWARK, N.J. -- 287,082 -- (-16.82%)
ST. PETERSBURG (FLA.) TIMES -- 283,093 -- (-10.42%)
THE OREGONIAN, PORTLAND -- 268,512 -- (-11.76%)
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE -- 261,253 -- (-9.53%)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Obamanomics and Nudge

Two interesting pieces trying to figure out Obama's economic policy though the idea of "Nudge." The first article by Franklin Foer, in The New Republic  entitled Nudge-ocracy and the second by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. Both miss the point that all of these ideas were spelled out over a year ago by Obama's University of Chicago colleagues, Cass Sustein and  Richard Thaler in their book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

Take a look at both articles and here is my conversation with Richard Thaler:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Marriage Go Round

Andrew Cherlin argues that marriage in America is totally unique, as compared to the rest of the world.  We value marriage and commitment, yet the American strain of independence and freedom is equally powerful.  This dichotomy has helped to define marriage in America and may even help explain some of the debate our same sex marriage.  In his new book, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today, Cherlin deconstructs marriage in a way that even Woody Allen would have found helpful.  

My conversation with Andrew Cherlin:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shop till you drop

This is really the end of consumerism!  (hat tip Andrew)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

South Africa's unfulfilled hope

Award-winning journalist Alec Russell was in South Africa to witness the fall of apartheid and the remarkable reconciliation of Nelson Mandela’s rule; and returned in 2007-2008 to see Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, risk the country’s reputation. South Africa is now perched on a precipice, as it prepares to elect Jacob Zuma as president on April 21st—signaling a potential slide back to the bad old days of post-colonial African leadership, and disaster for a country that was once the beacon of hope for the continent. Drawing on his long relationships with all the key senior figures including Mandela, Mbeki, Desmond Tutu, and Zuma, and a host of South Africans he has known over the years, Alec Russell’s Bring Me My Machine Gun: The Battle for the Soul of South Africa, from Mandela to Zuma is an expertly observed and reported account of South Africa’s great tragedies and unfulfilled promise.

My conversation with Alec Russell:

Paling around with terrorists - again

The recent presidential campaign and the controversy surrounding Bill Ayers reignited the debate about anti war protesters in the 60's.  What value did they have and how did the violent ways of some of them help or hurt the movement?  Mark Rudd has spent the last forty years evaluating the choices he made as a member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the more violent Weather Underground. In his new memoir, Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen,Mark Rudd reveals the first hand drama as well as the naivete of one of the most controversial periods in U.S. history.

My conversation with Mark Rudd:

Friday, April 17, 2009

By all appearances...

George Will in today's Washington Post on what he sees as a serious plague on the world.  So glad he has his priorities straight.
Money quote: 
Denim is the carefully calculated costume of people eager to communicate indifference to appearances. But the appearances that people choose to present in public are cues from which we make inferences about their maturity and respect for those to whom they are presenting themselves.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sex, Power & the Future of the World

If there is a single touchstone to the culture wars around the world, it is the issue of reproductive choice.  More than just a domestic rallying point for the far right, reproductive choice has become an issue of global importance.  An issue impacting on American foreign policy, feminism, the war on terror and dealing with global poverty.  

Michelle Goldberg, has spent years researching this issue.  In her new book, The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World she argues that in nations where reproductive choice has been an issue of population control, there has been less controversy. Where the rights of woman have been directly tied to reproductive choice controversy and militant fundamentalism abound.

My conversation with journalist Michelle Goldberg:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Shiller, Geanakoplos & Levin explain it all

One of the best discussions to date about the current financial crisis, courtesy of Yale's President, Richard Levin and two of its most distinguished economists, Robert Shiller & John Geanakoplos.  It's well worth the hour.

What do these two events have in common?

Phil Bronstein in the SF Chronicle pulls together two desperate events of yesterday. The conviction of Phil Spector and the death of Marilyn Chambers. They seemed somehow symbiotic yesterday. Bronstein gets to the heart of the matter:  

The two tragedies and their main characters represented an era that's passed us by and exists mainly as a nostalgic shadow for baby boomers. But we'd be somewhere very different today if neither of these people had existed.

We may never shop this way again

The Economist has a look at why we may never shop the same way again.  Money quote:

Both the shift towards greater thrift and greater scepticism about brands will influence other consumer trends, too. Interest in things such as green products and healthy foods will continue to grow in a post-crisis world, but customers will be less willing to pay a premium for them, and will demand more value for money when they do.

The downturn will also accelerate the use of social media, such as blogs and social-networking sites, by consumers looking for intelligence on firms and their products. As trust in brands is eroded, people will place more value on recommendations from friends. Social media make it harder for brands to pull the wool over consumers’ eyes, but they also offer canny companies a powerful new channel through which to promote their wares and test new products and pricing strategies.

Monday, April 13, 2009

COLUMBINE - Ten years after

Exactly ten years ago next week, on April 20, 1999, the nation suffered one of the great tragedies of the 20th Century.  That day Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School and opened fire on their classmates.  When it was over they killed 11 students and 1 teacher, before killing themselves.  This was more than just a school shooting.  It was meant to be bombing. It was meant to be a made for TV event.  Much of the reporting immediately after the shooting was wrong. It is only now that we have a clearer picture of what happened, why Eric and Dylan did it, how the community reacted and how these two boys, from such different places, would come to the same place at the same tragic time.  

Our understanding is only now clear because of the work of Dave Cullen, a journalist who has covered the story from hours after it happened and has devoted the past ten years to trying to fully understand it.  His new book COLUMBINE is the definitive account of the incident.

My conversation with Dave Cullen:

This is your brain...

The idea that consciousness is confined to the brain, like software in a computer, has dominated our science and philosophy for over two centuries. Alva Noe, Berkeley philosophy professor and author of OUT OF OUR HEADS says that the analogy is deeply flawed.  He makes the case that mind and awareness are processes that arise during a link with our surroundings.  

My conversation with Alva Noe:

David Frum, the thinking conservative

In a time when Republicans have become nothing more than a regional party, devoid of ideas and vision, there seems to be only two conservatives engaged in original thought and who truly understand what conservative rather than theocratic principles are all about.  One is Andrew Sullivan and the other is David Frum.  Frum's interview in The Economist is instructive.  I can't agree with much of what he says, but it's nice to know there is a thinking opposition and that we can still debate ideas and not religion.  Money quote:

Today's Republican party is too beholden to factions generally. No social conservative has ever done the party as much harm as those Republicans who kept insisting against the facts that the Bush economy was "the greatest story never told". The greatest problem Republicans faced in 2006 and 2008 was not Iraq but the stagnation in personal incomes since 2000—and yet we refused even to acknowledge the fact, never mind rethink policy to deal with it.

At the same time, we have evidence (like this Muhlenberg College survey of the half-million plus Pennsylvania Republicans who reaffiliated as Democrats between 2004 and 2008) that a perception of our party as excessively religious and sectarian is doing us tremendous harm.

Friday, April 10, 2009


For those that still don't understand how good Obama is, how he got elected and how is long view is far more conservative than radical, check out today's must reads: Mark Ambinder in the Atlantic and George Packer writing in the New Yorker.   Money quote from Packer:

Well short of Obama’s first hundred days, the dominant characteristic of his Presidency is clear: activist government, on every front. It’s harder to make out the contours of the philosophy at the core of this dazzling blur of action. Given the early and ample track record, there’s surprisingly little agreement over the nature of Obamaism. Obama’s signature projects defy grouping under a single heading, and, as a result, he has been criticized for inconsistency. To take one example, he forced the chief executive of General Motors, Rick Wagoner, into early retirement, and yet he has not called for the removal of any of the failed leaders of America’s financial institutions, like Bank of America’s Kenneth Lewis. He promised a federal guarantee of warranties for owners of G.M. and Chrysler cars, but he won’t put the government in temporary control of the banks, which are at the heart of the economic crisis. He is willing to spend $275 billion for homeowners’ relief, but he won’t let the government enter into the business of making direct loans. He has made health-care reform the ultimate test of his first year, but seems prepared to compromise on significant aspects of the legislation.

What underlies so many of Obama’s decisions is an attachment to the institutions that hold up American society, a desire to make them function better rather than remake them altogether. Allowing the auto industry to die would create social havoc in communities around the country, and anything less than de-facto government control seems inadequate. So the President has risked a good deal of his political capital on the largest federal intervention in a sector of the economy since at least 1952, when President Truman seized the steel industry to avert a strike during wartime. Obama, announcing his plan last week, said, “We cannot, and we must not, and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish. This industry is like no other—it’s an emblem of the American spirit. . . . It’s what helped build the middle class and sustained it throughout the twentieth century.” Obama may not see a similar need to put the government in charge of the big banks, but he has also shown that he has no taste for such a disruption of the system—even if it were politically possible, and perhaps even if it were the most direct route back to financial health.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Pico Iyer & the Dalai Lama

About a year ago I had a conversation with journalist Pico Iyer about his friend the Dalai Lama. Iyer has a long history with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader living in exile in India. Earlier this week Iyer joined me once again to discuss how the fourteenth Dalai Lama is responding to the current reality of the Tibetan crises virtually disappearing from public discussion.

This was my first conversation with Iyer in April of last year.
This is my conversation with Iyer on Wednesday.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Jeff Jarvis at Buzz Machine writes the speech that Eric Schmidt of Google should have given to the Newspaper Association of America this week.  Money quote:

You blew it!

You’ve had 20 years since the start of the web, 15 years since the creation of the commercial browser and craigslist, a decade since the birth of blogs and Google to understand the changes in the media economy and the new behaviors of the next generation of - as you call them, Mr. Murdoch - net natives. You’ve had all that time to reinvent your products, services, and organizations for this new world, to take advantage of new opportunities and efficiencies, to retrain not only your staff but your readers and advertisers, to use the power of your megaphones while you still had it to build what would come next. But you didn’t.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Surprise. Big Oil is not green

We all know that the Obama administration wants a greener energy future and that the world demands it.   It would seem that everybody but George Will is on board.... and of course the oil companies.  Hard to believe, but big oil is still resisting the obvious. The New York Times details on page one today.   

Earlier today, I spoke to Mariam Horn, journalist and a member of the Environmental Defense Fund about some of the unique efforts in alternative energy and about what the oil companies are up to:

Monday, April 6, 2009

Newspaper follow-up

The always prescient Michael Kinsley piles on to Jack Shafer's story below.  Let's stop all the hand wringing about newspapers.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Why Newspapers are irrelevant to Democracy

Todays must read.  Jack Shafer, in Slate, lays out the case for letting newspapers, even local ones, be allowed to die. It's a pretty compelling case.  Money quote:

Think I'm exaggerating? If you're a big proponent of democracy, you'll be interested to know that a majority of Americans don't care whether their local newspaper lives or dies. A Pew Research Center poll released earlier this month shows that fewer than half of Americans "say that losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community 'a lot.' " Hell, I'll bet that if you put the abolishment of newspapers on the ballot in a lot of cities, it just might pass.

Far from being yahoos, the Americans who thumbed their noses at newspapers in the Pew poll have a point. Even an excellent newspaper carries only a few articles each day that could honestly be said to nurture the democratic way. Car bomb in Pakistan? Drug war in Mexico? Flood in North Dakota? Murder in the suburbs? Great places to get Thai food after midnight? A review of the Britney Spears concert? New ideas on how to serve leftover turkey? The sports scores? The stock report? Few of these stories are likely to supercharge the democratic impulse.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Poverty and the brain

Growing up poor isn't merely hard on kids. It might also be bad for their brains. A long-term study of cognitive development in lower- and middle-class students found strong links between childhood poverty, physiological stress and adult memory. A fascinating article in WIRED
Money quote:
The income-achievement gap is a formidable societal problem, but little is known about either neurocognitive or biological mechanisms that might account for income-related deficits in academic achievement. We show that childhood poverty is inversely related to working memory in young adults. Furthermore, this prospective relationship is mediated by elevated chronic stress during childhood.

You've got text

NY Times story yesterday on the end of voice mail.  It is so true!  Voice mail is now like the floppy disk, the Beta Tape, and the walkman.   

Friday, April 3, 2009

College Newspapers go online only

Not surprising College newspapers are now moving into the online only world.  Syracuse, is one of the first.  Surprising really that this hasn't happened sooner.  Maybe the colleges will find the right model.

What the new unemployment numbers tell us

Richard Florida has a great piece on the connection between unemployment, education and class. Today's must read.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Joshua Ramo explains the future

Today the very ideas that made America great imperil its future. Our plans go awry and policies fail. History's grandest war against terrorism creates more terrorists. Global capitalism, intended to improve lives, increases the gap between rich and poor. Decisions made to stem a financial crisis guarantee its worsening. Environmental strategies to protect species lead to their extinction.

The traditional physics of power has been replaced by something radically different. In The Age of the Unthinkable Joshua Cooper Ramo puts forth a revelatory new model for understanding our dangerously unpredictable world. 

My conversation with Joshua Ramo

Green Pittsburgh?

Who who have thought of Pittsburgh as one of the greenest cities in America.  There may still be hope for the rustbelt. Check out the N.Y. Times story.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Imagining Darfur

The crises in Darfur has become one of the most notable causes of our time.  We talk of genocide, the death of 400,000 people and impact of the war on terror.    The reality of Darfur and the Sudan may in fact be entirely different.  What if everything we know about Darfur is either wrong or misjudged.  This is the topic of a new book by Mahmood Mamdani of Columbia University, entitled

My conversation with Mahmood Mamdani

Imagining Iraq

How will history ultimately judge the colossal failures in Iraq? Those failures, compound by arrogance and politics have cost us a trillion dollars and thousands of American lives. Arguably none of it was necessary to achieve our stated objectives.

Charles Duelfer, who served as the deputy chairman of the United Nations weapons inspection organization from 1993 to 2000 and was also the leader of the Iraq Survey Group, which was the CIA-led team charged with the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq details the folly in his new book Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq

My conversation with Charles Duelfer: