The Commonwealth Blog
The story of whether or not Russian leader Vladimir Putin stole the Super Bowl ring of New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft has generated cross-continental political controversy. The Russian prime minister, for his part, has denied he stole the ring.
But the story is not a new one. In January 2011, New York Times columnist David Brooks talked about it during a visit to San Francisco's Commonwealth Club of California. He told the story as part of a discussion about, well, how weird people can be:
But the story I tell to illustrate [how odd people can be] was told to me by Bob Kraft, who owns the New England Patriots. He was in a business delegation to Russia and he had a meeting with Putin with his other business leaders. Kraft's team is a great team, and they've won the Super Bowl, and he had on his finger his first Super Bowl ring. Vladimir Putin saw this ring and said in the middle of the meeting, "Can I see that ring?" Kraft handed it to him, and Putin put it on his finger.
Then during the meeting Putin was gesturing with the ring on his finger and at the end of the meeting Kraft says, "You know, Mr. President, I'd be happy to make you a copy of that ring, but that particular ring has great sentimental value to me; it's our first Super Bowl ring." Putin pretends he doesn't hear him, and he puts the ring in his pocket.
Kraft goes back to the State Department and says, "I don't want to make a big international incident, but I'd really like that ring back; I'll make him a copy, I'd be happy to." So the State Department people, the embassy, send their feelers out to the Kremlin. They come back to [Kraft] the next day and say, "You know, we think we're gonna issue a press release that you've decided to donate that ring to the Russian people." And that's exactly what happened.
Read more about weird people and other topics from Brook's program at The Commonwealth Club in The Commonwealth.
PHOTO: Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. Photo by Bryan Hewitt.
On Monday, the San Francisco political roundtable Week to Week included a spirited discussion about the cascading revelations about U.S. government monitoring of phone and internet communications. What limits should there be? Who should control information? At what price do we buy security?
Less than a week earlier, The Commonwealth Club's Climate One host Greg Dalton conducted a wide-ranging conversation with Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, and Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas. Schmidt and Cohen were discussing their new book, The New Digital Age, which naturally gets into all kinds of issues of technology, privacy, and security.
The discussion took place before the recent revelations about PRISM, the program that allegedly gives the U.S. government direct access to user information on central databases of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and other tech giants. However, Dalton asked the duo about government information gathering, personal privacy, and the Utah Data Center, all of which would be central to the controversies that arose just a few days after their conversation. Here, in their own words, is the discussion of these issues.
GREG DALTON: The [data] collection ability has given some people concern about big data or the privacy. I'd like to ask about the Utah Data Center, which is being built by the National Security Agency in the United States, [and which] reportedly collects 60 billion iPhones worth of data. That's five zettabytes? You know what those are; I don't. It's a lot of data. It's going to be online later this year.
How should the U.S. approach that? Reportedly, Thomas Drake is an NSA whistleblower who says they will collect information on Americans. Should we be concerned about that much data in the hands of the government, given the power of the tools you've been talking about?
ERIC SCHMIDT: In the industry, we've gone through a series of these proposals, and they're often somewhat over-hyped, which is what they can actually do. Let me suggest what can be done; I don't know if this proposal could be done. And then we can debate whether this is a good idea.
As I understand it, the NSA's job is essentially foreign communications; they're not allowed to operate in the United States, but I could be wrong there.
DALTON: That's the law, but there's question whether they're actually following that.
SCHMIDT: You can't ask a theoretical question [and] then assume that the people are sufficiently incompetent, they're not going to follow the law. So I think we have to assume that any activity is legally appointed. If it's not legal, then people should not do it. Certainly in America. So assuming that this is a legal activity, presumably what they would be doing — and again I'm speculating — is they'd be assembling some of this information and doing data-mining. The way you would do data-mining is you would look for patterns.
A simple example is that they're looking for people who are racketeering. You know, you'd look for the signals there. Computers are quite good at tracing this. So far, I've got everybody here in the audience quite upset; you're worried about this, you're worried about your civil liberties.
On the other hand, there's some evidence that the surveillance world is actually losing because of the amount of data that's going on. That, in fact, the amount of communication has so overwhelmed the very legitimate and proper functions of the police and the FBI and so [we] are in fact less safe as a result.
I'm not going to take a position on the specifics, but I would suggest that when you think about it, think of it in a more nuanced way. Our government does need a certain amount of ability to watch — again, legally and correctly, again [within the] law and [in] a democracy in a country like the United States. The question is, the proliferation of devices has made it very difficult for them to do it.
DALTON: Jared, your response to people concerned about their civil liberties with all these tools and tracking?
JARED COHEN: You talk about specific government-level, and then just for us as individuals, I think getting nervous about this assumes that different bureaucratic arms of the government are willing and able to work together. I'm quite serious. You have different agencies that have different authorities to collect different types of data; they're not so good at working together. So there's a level of confidence and cohesion that just isn't there.
And this is a democracy.
Eric and I went to Mexico to look at how the Mexican government was dealing with the drug cartels; it's killed more than 60,000 people in the last five to six years. We went to see this sort of underground bunker that's called Platform Mexico, where they have unbelievable -- I mean you want to talk about real government cohesion around data related to their citizens, it is here in Mexico. And this is democracy. We walk out of this thing thinking, we really hope that no autocracy ever gets their hands on that —
SCHMIDT: There was more than that, because you can imagine that for legitimate reasons. There's a terrible drug war, terrible infiltration of the police, you have to go back in Mexico. So let's assume that they get the problems fixed and five or ten years from now, [despite] of the civil liberties or protections that the Mexican citizens have, once their systems are built, they're not turned off.
This caused us to say, and we say this in the book, that you need to fight for your privacy or you're going to lose it. We were in Britain last week; there was a terrible terrorist act — one soldier was killed by one apparently lone Muslim extremist in the entire country. And the whole country's excited about this, it's obviously a terrible thing, one person's dead. The home secretary calls for broad regulations and surveillance of the Internet. Not a good thing.
So it's easy for governments to overreact and take away your privacy, your security, and so forth in the name of the security. We would say that the open principles, the way in which we work today, is a much, much better way. You'll be ultimately safer with our approach.
DALTON: There's a proposal in California, the Right to Know [Act]. It would allow citizens in California to request data from organizations so they could know what companies know about them, and that's similar to what exists in Europe. But Silicon Valley industry has opposed that. Can you tell us about your position on the right to know from consumers, how much information companies have about them?
SCHMIDT: I don't know the specific legislations so I couldn't comment.
DALTON: It was quite broad and it was …
SCHMIDT: In general, Google answers this by agreeing with the principle. For example, in Google there's a panel you can get to where not only will it show what Google knows about you but you can delete it. That I think is the correct standard. The general view we have is the information that we collect through our normal course of business with you is really for you to control. And there are some laws that cover that. So for example, you can't just delete all your searches, though we will allow you to do it yourself manually.
But generally, we keep your searches for 12-18 months, and that's largely governed by some other laws. And then we anonymize and get rid of it.
DALTON: Let's quickly ask the audience. How many of you knew that you could really find out and then delete the information Google knows about you? Maybe a third of the audience. A lot of people don't see —
SCHMIDT: One-third is pretty good. So two-thirds have now been educated by the one-third.
DALTON: Jared Cohen, should people be able to have more access to information that companies hold about them?
COHEN: We have a whole chapter in the book where we look at the future of privacy and security. There's sort of a broader point that we try to make: When you look at the existing debate around privacy, it really does center around issues related to this first 2 billion that are already online. When we traveled around to some of these other environments, you bring up privacy to people and they just sort of look at you like a deer in headlights, like, "who gets privacy?" when you're living in North Korea or Libya or Myanmar.
So we came back with a sense that when you're going to talk about privacy, you need to also talk about security. The two concepts are deeply intertwined. One observation we make is that every generation seems more willing to share than the previous generation. It seems more comfortable with it. Maybe that trend will change. In the book, we make a small argument around the role that parents will play. In the future and on the book tour, we've sort of become champions for the idea that the good old-fashioned methodology of parents intervening and talking to their kids is actually still going to be relevant.
Listen to the audio of the complete program with Schmidt and Cohen.
By Mehroz Baig, Butler Koshland Fellow, Commonwealth Club
In a world of Silicon Valley technology where tourists take photos using iPads and Google Glass can practically read your mind, it may sound surprising that there remains a sector of our population that is only now beginning to learn about the Internet. Yet that is true of older Americans. According to a 2012 Pew Research study (link opens a PDF), 53 percent of Americans aged 65 or older use the Internet or at least email. But once they get online, 70 percent use it on any given day. It is likely that more and more older adults will begin to use the Internet and use it more extensively as our demographics shift toward an older population.
Between 2000 and 2010, the number of people aged 65 or above rose by 15.3 percent in the U.S. and 18.3 percent in California, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (link opens a PDF). A United Nations Population Fund report (link opens a PDF) reports that “around the world, two persons celebrate their 60th birthday every second.” And over the next 20 years, the Stanford Center on Longevity projects that California’s older adult population will double, from 4.3 million in 2010 to 8.4 million in 2030.
As prevalence of Internet use increases among older adults, so does the possibility of scams and frauds, many of which lead to financial abuse of the elderly. “It’s surprising how many elders are on their computers and on their iPhones,” said Talitha Guinn, director of the Elder Abuse Prevention program at the Institute on Aging. “It opens them up to a whole level of exploitation.” The losses from and the impacts of financial elder abuse are increasing. According to a MetLife Mature Institute report (link opens a PDF), the estimated loss due to elder financial abuse in 2011 was $2.9 billion, a 12 percent increase from 2008.
Martha Deevy, director of the Financial Security Division at Stanford’s Center on Longevity agrees. “Fifteen years ago, email didn’t exist, so the fact that almost 45 percent of these incidents are originating from the Internet is pretty profound.” A study (link opens a PDF) by the Center on Longevity found that “the means by which fraudsters contact targets and obtain money mirror trends in everyday transactions, with the Internet outpacing all other mechanisms.” However, Deevy is quick to point out that there is no profile for victims; different people can be defrauded under different circumstances. “There’s a myth that older people are more susceptible to being victims of financial fraud, but we find that older people are more targeted.”
During the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the San Francisco Police Department received and assessed 445 cases of elder and dependent adult financial abuse, according to a report by the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women. This was the third year in which the percentage of cases increased. However, crimes like these are difficult to prosecute: Of the 100 elder abuse cases received by the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, only 35 were filed. Of those, 29 led to convictions by guilty pleas, two were brought to trial and one conviction resulted from those trials. This data includes all cases of elder abuse, not just financial abuse cases.
Elder financial abuse as a category is highly complicated, with abuse taking place in many forms and through many people. Guinn notes that family members perpetrate 90 percent of all abuse, but financial abuse provides more avenues for stranger involvement. Though email is one way through which scams advance and are perpetrated, social networking sites also offer another outlet, especially as increasing numbers of older adults use sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. According to Pew, one in three seniors uses Facebook and LinkedIn and for adults over 50, the main reason for using social networking sites is to stay in touch with family members. That opens the gates for scams such as the “grandson scam,” where a perpetrator pretends to be a grandson or granddaughter in an emergency and asks for money, targeting potential victims through spam emails or through viruses that hack into social media accounts.
Experts simply suggest being extra vigilant and realizing that your information may not be as private as you might imagine. “We believe that self awareness is really the best prevention,” Deevy said. Additionally, there are a myriad of resources available for older adults to learn more about online safety as well as to report any incidents of abuse. Guinn encourages people to be familiar with Adult Protective Services and other resources such as those available through the Institute on Aging. Additionally, Facebook has information on security measures — however, their advice is targeted to a general audience and is not specific to older adults.
Guinn adds that in addition to being aware of resources, preventing isolation can also prevent elder abuse. She notes that isolation is the greatest risk factor for abuse. Ironically, for many older adults, it is perhaps that isolation that pushes them to learn and use the Internet in the first place.
Recent news on elder abuse in the Bay Area:
- 2 charged in Berkeley elder abuse embezzlement case
- East Bay banker charged with stealing $2 million from elderly clients
- Millbrae caretaker to stand trial on assault, elder abuse charges
- “Blessing scam” suspects convicted of swindling Chinese seniors in San Francisco
- Woman sentenced to jail for ‘sweetheart scam’ that targeted Campbell man
- To report abuse or neglect in San Francisco: (415) 355-6700 or (800) 814-0009 (24 hours)
- San Francisco Department of Adult & Aging Services
- California Department of Aging Resources Section
- California Area Agencies on Aging by County
- Institute on Aging
- Institute on Aging’s Resources for Elder Abuse Prevention
- Stanford’s Center on Longevity
- National Center on Elder Abuse
By Mehroz Baig
“Syria is a dangerous neglect by the United States,” cautioned Vali Nasr during his talk at the Club on May 1. “It’s a country that will impact the entire region.” Nasr said that the United States has other options in Syria besides a military presence. For example, the United States can also arm the opposition and take the lead in addressing the growing humanitarian crisis in and around Syria.
Syria’s ongoing conflict began more than two years ago in March 2011, and according to the UN, it has now claimed more than 70,000 lives, internally displaced 4.25 million people, and sent 1.3 million people into neighboring countries as refugees. The UNHCR — the UN’s refugee agency — notes that the Middle East and North Africa already face a slew of destabilizing circumstances, including civil conflicts and natural disasters. The escalating violence in Syria has added to the strain in the region.
In a statement to the UN Security Council in April, Valerie Amos, under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs at the UN, expressed concern for Syria’s neighbors, particularly Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Earlier in March, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, noted that Lebanon saw a 10 percent increase in its population due to refugee influx from Syria, which is putting a strain on Lebanon’s resources. He also said that the crisis in Syria is a “threat to international peace and security.”
“I think it would be terrific if the U.S. made an explicit push for China, Russia, Iran and the U.S. to jointly focus on the suffering of the Syrian people,” said Fred Lawson, a professor of government at Mills College and author of Global Security Watch – Syria. However, he cautioned that Syria is currently in a civil war and added, “What we learned in Somalia was that it’s impossible to carry out a humanitarian mission while there is a civil war going on.”
The UN and a host of NGOs have been consistently appealing for more funding to direct toward Syria. In a report published in April, Oxfam called out the international community, saying, “Today, the aid effort is shamefully inadequate.” The UN’s appeal of $1.5 billion has only been met halfway and UNHCR has had to revise its 2012 budget to accommodate the growing need in Syria. In 2012, it spent 18.75 percent of its entire MENA (Middle East North Africa) budget on Syria. The agency anticipates revising its 2013 budget, too.
This is precisely where Nasr thinks the U.S. can contribute. “Everyone’s operating on the assumption that we don’t care,” Nasr said. But he argues that the U.S. can lead a global initiative to address the humanitarian crisis in Syria. And as many agencies including the UN argue, that leadership is not only about donations and funding. Much of the humanitarian work is hampered by lack of authorization to enter Syria’s government-controlled territories, the inability to provide cross-border assistance, and a precarious security situation faced by humanitarian aid workers. On this front, diplomatic negotiations with the Assad government and rebel factions are needed.
Lawson agrees, adding, “It’s starting to look like humanitarian aid is not enough.” He suggested that any diplomatic efforts should be focused on giving Assad’s regime and its supporters an absolute guarantee of their safety; otherwise there is nothing to negotiate.
The United States’ reluctance on Syria might also stem from multiple calculations, which include following Turkey’s lead and considering the fragmentation within the opposition, added Lawson. Overturning the Assad regime would leave a leadership vacuum within Syria, which might be filled by anti-American parties. Additionally, the lack of organization within the opposition suggests that any one of those factions taking charge in Syria may not ultimately lead to a stabilized Syria.
“No one wants that,” Lawson said, citing interests from the U.S., Israel, Jordan, Turkey and Iran. “Washington is paralyzed.” The United States must take into its calculus additional factors, such as recent allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, Israeli airstrikes near Damascus and an Internet blackout in Syria.
The political calculation aside, humanitarian aid is still necessary, and Lawson suggests that the United States form an opinion about how to proceed: “I think the United States should first decide whether it will work through the UN or directly.” Direct aid requires forming an infrastructure of delivery, which takes time, Lawson added. However, Lawson cautioned that the “U.S. should not send food directly with U.S. personnel or aircraft,” but rather channel it through other aid entities such as the Arab Red Crescent. Doing so keeps aid workers politically neutral and out of harm’s way, especially from anti-American factions.
In testimony to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Human Rights Watch’s Tom Malinowski addressed the double-edged sword of labeled aid. While explicit labels allow people on the ground to see where support is coming from — and support carries more weight if coming from the United States — labeling can lead to politicization. Malinowski stressed that aid must be disbursed impartially and for that, “it is better to rely on organizations that have the experience and logistical capacity on both sides of the border and that will ensure that aid is not politicized.” However, hesitancy to send aid through third-party organizations exists because the United States doesn’t come out as a prominent actor in relief efforts.
Ultimately, it may be a combination of factors — increased non-politicized aid, diplomatic unity on the Security Council, increased efforts at negotiations, strengthening and increasing cohesion among the opposition, and a political will to undertake leadership on these fronts — that might result in movement on Syria. Yet with few answers to resolving the long-term factors that will bring stability to Syria, and continued need for more humanitarian aid, it is difficult to determine how Washington will hedge its bets. Nonetheless, the announcement on Tuesday by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to host an international conference on Syria and push the Assad government and the Syrian opposition to attend is a step in intensifying the diplomatic efforts to bring some resolution to this conflict.
Mehroz Baig is a Butler Koshland Fellow at The Commonwealth Club, apprenticing with the Club's CEO in non-profit leadership, and working with the Club's editorial and development teams. Mehroz comes to the Club from CNN's "Fareed Zakaria Global Public Square." She has a special interest in human rights, international affairs, and the experiences of Pakistani-Americans — much of her written work concerns these topics. Previously, Mehroz worked at the County of Sonoma's Economic Development Board and Human Services Department, conducting research and managing programs. Mehroz has a dual master's degree from Columbia University in journalism and international affairs.
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey touched off controversy with his recent comments on health-care reform.
Here are a collection of reports on Mackey's comments on this and other issues, including his own article on corporate behavior; and don't forget to come see him 1.22 in SF or 1.23 in Silicon Valley (links below).
• CLUB EVENT IN SAN FRANCISCO 1/22: http://www.commonwealthclub.org/events/2013-01-22/john-mackey-whole-isti...
• CLUB EVENT IN SILICON VALLEY 1/23: http://www.commonwealthclub.org/events/2013-01-23/john-mackey-whole-isti...
Many momentous things have happened at The Commonwealth Club. FDR gave his New Deal speech here. Teddy Roosevelt first laid out his rationale for public lands here. Dan Quayle gave his controversial "Murphy Brown Speech" on our stage. And thousands of other scientists, authors, presidents, activists, business leaders, chefs, historians, clergy, journalists, inventors, futurists, comedians, and more have entertained, informed, and even provoked our audiences in our 110 years.
But in that first century or so of existence, the one thing that didn't happen has just been rectified: We've purchased our own, permanent home, and we think you're all going to love it when we've finished remodeling and moving in.
For an excellent overview of the project, read John Wildermuth's article in today's San Francisco Chronicle.
Read the entire article here.
By Amelia Cass
Mitt Romney has called his disparaging remarks concerning 47 percent of Americans, at an exclusive fundraiser this spring "not elegantly stated" and “off the cuff.” He went as far as to say, “I’m sure I can state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that.” For a politician, this comes very close to admitting that he was embarrassed when, due to a leaked video, an unintended audience heard the comments he had made in a room full of financial supporters. In 2008, President Obama found himself in a similar situation after he made some generalizations about another (perhaps even overlapping) group of Americans, also not intended for the general public, at an exclusive fundraiser of his own.
According to Washington Post opinion blogger Erik Wemple, these “off the cuff” comments are one big reason donors pay “outlandish sums” to attend these types of fundraisers, held by both presidential candidates. Because of their large donations, attendees feel entitled to “a piece of the candidate, not the same sound bites they get on the Internet and television.” One of Wemple’s sources, Ari Shapiro, an NPR correspondent who has attended the parts of these fundraisers open to the press, points out that, “part of the appeal is not having a camera there.”
Though most of the recent criticism has focused on Romney's perceived cynicism about his fellow citizens, members of the media have been complaining for some time about their limited access to political fundraisers for both presidential candidates. Just under two months ago at the Club’s Week to Week discussion series, panelist Carla Marinucci, a senior political writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, said of President Obama’s many private fundraisers in the Bay Area, “There’s no press at any of these events. We don’t get to see what they discuss, and you should all be concerned about that. What does the $40,000 voter say to the president? He’s our public servant; we should know that. Romney, too, is not great about opening up his events…. This stuff should be open so all of you can hear what goes on in these fundraisers.” Wemple, too, urges both campaigns to open up their fundraisers to the press, or at least to hold their discourse to the same standards of “elegance” that they would in any public forum.
A report of Romney’s response to the leaked video on the Fox News website on Tuesday September 18, contains, without specific context, this somewhat vague paragraph): “The Romney campaign was opening up its fundraisers to cameras on Tuesday.” So perhaps Romney's unintentional exposure will lead to more transparency in at least some aspects of the fundraising for both campaigns.
By Alex Wolinsky
In the wee hours of the morning on Aug. 5, after a voyage of more than eight months and “seven minutes of terror,” NASA’s rover Curiosity touched down on the surface of Mars. The mission will be the first to the planet since 1976 whose primary purpose is to search for life or, more likely, the bases for its existence.
Why the excitement surrounding this particular mission? After all, if the United States launched its first successful Mars mission in 1964 and has since discovered no conclusive evidence of life, why might Curiosity return more favorable results?
First, NASA has in the past decade found a series of indications that the planet might in fact be capable of supporting life forms: The Gale Crater, a vast indentation in Mars’ surface and Curiosity’s landing site, contains minerals only present in conjunction with water; methane gas, which is almost always a byproduct of life, has been found erupting from various points on the planet; organic matter was discovered on a Martian meteorite that recently fell to Earth. With these findings, in addition to other discoveries, scientists remain optimistic despite the failures of the past.
Additionally, Curiosity’s ability to gather relevant data immensely surpasses that of any mission of the past. The rover, which weighs about one ton, is comparable in size to a large automobile, and its scientific instruments are much larger — and more advanced — than those included in any previous vehicle, which will allow Curiosity to collect more material as well as analyze it more thoroughly. Furthermore, Curiosity made a flawless soft landing, meaning all of its equipment is perfectly intact, so — at least at the moment — its potential for novel discovery is highly promising.
Curiosity’s mission will primarily consist of taking geological samples of the Gale Crater and analyzing them for the one-time presence of water or other compounds conducive to the existence of life. Like previous missions, the rover will also capture photographs of the planet and perhaps even take video footage.
The exploration of the Gale Crater and the three-mile-high mountain it surrounds is currently scheduled to last two years, but if the previous two Mars rovers — each of which was to gather data for 13 weeks but continued (or continues, in the case of Opportunity) to do so for several years — are any indication, the mission could continue long after its projected termination date. Admittedly, the mysteries of Mars remain myriad, but Curiosity presents the greatest opportunity thus far to initiate a paradigm shift in our understanding of the enigmatic planet.
- On Sunday, August 26: William J. Clancey, chief scientist of the Human-Centered Computing Intelligent Systems Division for NASA Ames Research Center, will discuss "Working on Mars: Voyages of Scientific Discovery," in a Commonwealth Club program at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose. Details
- PHOTO ABOVE: NASA
By Alex Wolinsky
On May 24, the Times-Picayune, which received two Pulitzers in 2006 for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina, confirmed that it would eliminate staff and drop down to three days of print publication per week, rendering New Orleans the largest city in the country without a daily newspaper.
Such a decision piqued outrage among much of the citizenry and drew significant coverage from major news outlets, but it is merely symptomatic of the oft-mentioned difficulties currently facing the print journalism industry, which suffers from declining advertising revenue and a host of other issues resulting from the paradigm shift induced by the rise of the Internet. Print, however, is not the only journalistic media finding itself facing challenges: In the case of television news especially, objectivity — arguably journalism’s most integral tenet — seems to be losing its prominence.
“[W]hat engagement has turned into … is partisanship, and so you have right and you have left,” David Westin, former president of ABC News, said in a speech before the Club on May 30. “That in itself is not necessarily evil: We’ve always had opinion in newspapers; there’s an editorial page; there’s an op-ed page. What is the problem … is the blurring of the line.”
The warping of this distinction is deeply problematic, because this age of mass media has made news — and especially the manner in which it’s reported — among the most powerful forces shaping public opinion. Indeed, even the struggle for the nation’s highest office has been characterized as primarily an effort to manipulate the media. More troubling still is that pursuing such control has resulted in the appropriation of objective news sound bites in campaign advertisements, which has been the case in the current election cycle.
In a July 19 column for The New York Times, CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood described how a three-second sound bite in which he called — in an objective and factual statement — the year’s second quarter “the worst job-adding quarter in two years” became part of an ad criticizing President Obama. Crossroads GPS, the super PAC co-founded by former Republican strategist Karl Rove that paid for the ad, never acquired Harwood or CNBC’s permission to use the news broadcast footage. Other victims of such tactics include journalists as prominent as former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw and New York Times columnist David Brooks. In taking footage for political purposes, advertisers may hope to gain — or, by extension, compromise — the credibility and objectivity of the mainstream media.
As journalism faces the challenges of the 21st century and the changing nature of the media, one cannot help but wonder how the distant future will look for the reporting industry. According to another New York Times columnist, David Carr, “great journalism … is the one sure hedge against irrelevancy.” Great journalism, at least by its current definition, entails objectivity and genuine integrity; so as the industry evolves, one can only hope Carr’s analysis is correct.
• On Monday, September 10, 2012, see NBC Bay Area News Anchor Diane Dwyer and media strategist Tom Sinkovitz discuss "The Media and Presidential Politics" at The Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco
By Alex Wolinsky
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Great Recession came to an end in June 2009. National output figures support this assertion, as GDP has surpassed its 2008 prerecession peak and continues to rise.
Despite this, much of the economy appears to remain depressed, and we currently approach the end of a fourth year of abysmal employment numbers. Unemployment currently stands at 8.2 percent of the labor force, well above the approximately 5 percent jobless rate prior to the recession, and its decline is excruciatingly sluggish. As a result, jobs and the labor market remain decisively at the forefront of political discussion.
A traditional recovery — one achieved through expansion of America’s conventionally strong industries, namely manufacturing and construction — might not, however, be effective or even desirable. This is because the economy has in the last decade undergone a revolution, of sorts, in which the driving force is no longer the production of physical goods but the conception and implementation of ideas. Indeed, as noted by UC Berkeley Economics Professor Enrico Moretti in his recent book The New Geography of Jobs, the most depressed areas of the country are those that have historically relied on manufacturing as an economic engine, and their situation has only worsened since 2008’s meltdown.
One might wonder why a recovery with its roots in traditional sectors is not an ideal target — after all, shouldn’t an economic rebound driven by any industry be appealing? There are reasons to believe that such a recovery might be short-lived and could even compromise the long-run economic well-being of the country. The United States is no longer the world’s dominant manufacturer, and it’s unlikely that it will ever regain that role. The reason for this is that other nations — especially China — possess larger pools of unskilled labor and thus far cheaper production overall. American workers produce far more goods per hour of labor, but attempting to compete with China’s sheer manpower is essentially hopeless and even counterproductive, because doing so would consume labor resources better allocated elsewhere.
So if not through an expansion of manufacturing and a proliferation of blue-collar jobs, how can America's leaders take action to combat unemployment?
One answer being proffered is as simple as it is clichéd: support greater access to higher education, and encourage youth to pursue advanced degrees. According to the 2009 American Community Survey, only 27.9 percent of Americans aged 25 or older have a bachelor’s degree, and a mere 10.3 percent possess advanced degrees. Given the level of expertise required for jobs in ideas-based fields, these numbers, especially the latter, are wholly inadequate.
At its peak, manufacturing directly employed nearly one-fifth of the labor force. The nation’s emerging economic engine cannot hope to approach this figure unless a larger proportion of the population acquires the necessary skills. An expansion of education might thus be in order to secure the nation’s economic future.
• For a list of programs examining the employment problems of today and tomorrow from a variety of angles, see The Commonwealth Club's August series The Future of Work