Monday. September 28, 2015.
First meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative I attended was 2008’s. This is my fourth trip back since then. Each time I’ve arrived full of curiosity and hope. From each of my past trips I returned impressed and excited by at least one thing I learned about at one of the sessions. No doubt I’ll leave here to catch the bus home impressed and excited again. And probably pleasantly but bemusedly surprised because, if things go as they’ve gone in the past, the thing that will impress and excite me will be a seemingly little thing and, on the face of it, a mundane thing.
It’s heartening to learn that great good is being done in the world and that the good is ongoing---that it’s not always the headline-capturing case of someone swooping in to save the day and swooping out, leaving the next day to be saved by someone else or to save itself. But it’s not been the large scale projects and programs that have most impressed me or, at any rate, most riveted my attention got me thinking. It’s been small-scale projects that struck me as practical, useful, workable right away, immediately helpful, and...obvious. Obvious in hindsight. Things of the “Of course! Why didn’t somebody think of that before” sort. And I get the most kick out of hearing about inventions and the introductions of new technologies and the inspired application of old ones. One of my favorites is the self-adjustable eyeglasses I learned about on my first trip down. You put on a pair, give yourself an eye examine, then adjust the malleable lenses to fit your prescription.
Imagine what that means to people living in remote villages a hundred miles along nearly impassable roads from the nearest optician, if there’s one even that close by.
And last year, a corporation announced it was donating 5000 of the solar-powered lanterns it manufactures to field hospitals and clinics in rural areas in countries hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak . Patients who needed round-the-clock care would be cared for round-the-clock because nightfall wouldn’t mean being plunged into total darkness anymore.
But another program that grabbed me, one I also heard about my first time here, was a very simple exercise in ordinary capitalism that arranged loans for women looking to set up their own small businesses.
What was exciting about that, beside the individual opportunities it would provide, was the potentially liberating and democratizing effect it could have on tradition-bound, patriarchal societies that would suddenly have to deal with women who weren’t dependent on men for their money and had developed the habit of making decisions about their own lives and livelihoods for themselves according to their own judgments of their needs and interests. People who are bosses themselves aren’t easily bossed around.
A connecting theme of all the annual meetings of the Clinton Global Initiative I’ve attended, because it’s an important part of the work the Clinton Foundations fosters and towards which it directs money, is the empowerment of women around the world but especially in the developing world where economic and educational opportunities for women and girls are severely limited not just by their nations’ general poverty and lack of resources but also by war, natural disasters, disease, and, of course, cultures and traditions established and perpetuated by men protecting their power, status, privilege, dominance, and control.
So it struck me as fitting that on the cab ride over here this morning, the driver had the radio tuned to President Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly.
Mostly, the President spoke about the arms deal with Iran and the terrible troubles in Syria. But he said this:
I recognize that democracy is going to take different forms in different parts of the world. The very idea of a people governing themselves depends upon government giving expression to their unique culture, their unique history, their unique experiences. But some universal truths are self-evident. No person wants to be imprisoned for peaceful worship. No woman should ever be abused with impunity, or a girl barred from going to school.
And a little bit later he added:
It's not simply a matter of principle; it's not an abstraction. Democracy -- inclusive democracy -- makes countries stronger. When opposition parties can seek power peacefully through the ballot, a country draws upon new ideas. When a free media can inform the public, corruption and abuse are exposed and can be rooted out. When civil society thrives, communities can solve problems that governments cannot necessarily solve alone. When immigrants are welcomed, countries are more productive and more vibrant. When girls can go to school, and get a job, and pursue unlimited opportunity, that’s when a country realizes its full potential.
I’m not here alone. My students are with me. Or they will be. Or they have been here already and will be back.
They’re “attending” the meeting virtually.
Their assignment for the week is to explore the website, watch the webcasts, do some background research on the speakers and commitments that grab their attention, and then write about it on their blogs. Should be interesting to see what they found interesting. I did the same thing last fall and that worked out pretty well, giving me good posts to read about astronauts, elephants, efforts to contain the Ebola outbreaks in Africa---there was an excellent post from a biology major warning Americans about the outbreak of panic here. (She was one of the three best bloggers in the class. All three were science majors. No surprise there. Scientists are the best bloggers. That’s a fact.) But the post I’m thinking about now is one that was critical or, at any rate, skeptical about efforts to increase economic and educational opportunities for women and girls in developing nations.
For one thing, my student doubted claims made by several speakers and Hillary Clinton herself that sending girls to school and setting women up in businesses improved the economies of the places that did that.
Did it really happen, she asked in her post, and if it did how did it work to make that happen?
Her other concern was with the endeavor itself.
What gives us the right, she wanted to know---and by us she meant us Americans---to interfere in local cultures and tell people to abandon their traditions and beliefs and adopt ours?
Why, she went on, should we be able to make people do what they don’t want to do?
I dealt with her first questions by pointing out, amiably, that while there might be some mixing up of cause and effect in some cases, there was plenty of research that showed that it did happen and explained how and I suggested, kindly, she should have done a little Googling before writing her post. To her credit, she did the Googling right then and there and her reaction to what turned up on her laptop screen was, “Oh.”
But it was other students in the class, other young women, who responded, amiably, kindly, but a touch indignantly, to her second set of questions.
How can we know what “people” want, they asked her, when half the people have no say in deciding what the people want?
We’re talking about places where men oppress women as a matter of course, insisting that it’s their right. Places where women and girls aren’t just treated like second-class citizens but where they’re practically property. Places where they’re worth less than livestock and valued accordingly.
Are we to assume the people in those places who happen to be female want it that way?
It’s true, as my student worried, that in many places, educating girls beyond a certain level, even educating them at all, is an assault on local customs and traditions. It does go against what some people there want. It’s also, despite the larger benefits to a country, a threat to the economies of many villages within that country.
The American physicist Francis Slakey tells a story in his memoir of his quest to climb the tallest mountain on every continent, To The Last Breath. When he was in Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro, he visited a Masai village and while there he met and became friendly with a schoolteacher named Johnson who explained the “trouble” caused in some people’s by sending girls to school.
In Tanzania, primary school is free. The primary schools in this part of the country put sixty children into a classroom. The next four years of education make up secondary school---roughly equivalent to our high school---and it must be paid for by the family. The quality of education is much higher, the benefits seem clear, and yet very few Masai children attend secondary school. It’s the father’s decision and, for many, education comes at too high a cost.
“At $120 a year, it would mean selling a cow to get a child through secondary school,” Johnson explains. But the Masai seem to have plenty of cows to spare, I observe.
Johnson shakes his head. “You don’t understand the problem.”
The vast majority of Masai men consider education “trouble,” he says. “When a girl completes secondary school, she realizes she is more valuable than a cow.” That’s trouble. Warriors start to define their place in society when they marry and receive a dowry of cattle. They take three wives, get three dowries, start amassing a herd. So educating girls threatens the cattle business; it threatens the Masai way of life.. To Masai warriors, education is a raw deal.
As far as I know, all the organizations and operations facilitated by the Clinton Foundation are at work where they are at the invitation of the local governments or at least with their approval and in many cases, the projects and programs have their support and encouragement if not their cooperation. Often the local governments are running the projects. So, in that sense---that governments are supposed to represent the people---what’s being done is what the people want done.
But in many cases, it is in fact the people doing it. The people who’ll be most affected by the changes are the ones effecting the change.
At this afternoon’s plenary session, which just wrapped up, one of the scheduled speakers was Fereshteh Forough, a young Afghan computer scientist and entrepreneur who’s looking to fund her start-up company, Code to Inspire:
How do you create jobs for women in a place where their travel and employment is restricted, prevailing views about their abilities severely limited, a banking system is lacking, and getting paid in cash can jeopardize their lives?
The answer: Code to Inspire, the latest effort of an Afghan entrepreneur to empower women in her country — setting up computer labs that teach them to write software, providing a safe woman-only space to accommodate conservative attitudes, and finding them jobs cloaked by the anonymity of the internet. To address the limitations of Afghanistan’s banking system, as well as safety issues, the jobs also pay in digital currency that the women can spend online.
Needless to say, there are some Afghan people who don’t want other Afghan people to have the opportunities Code to Inspire is offering. As Forough told Neil deGrasse Tyson, who was moderating the session, “There are very high cultural limitations for women,” in Afghanistan who want careers. “A lot of families are very conservative about women’s education and job employment.”
“Is ‘conservative’ code,” Dyson asked, “for not giving them education and not giving them employment?”
“Both!” said Forough.
But a family’s cultural conservatism isn’t the whole basis of parents’ reluctance to send their girls to school or let their daughters pursue jobs away from home. Afghanistan is a war zone, after all, and even in areas not controlled by the Taliban there are enough fundamentalists that girls and women who want an education and a career are putting themselves at great physical risk. What parents, no matter how well-meaning and progressive, “want” to send their child out the door to school only to have acid thrown in her face? And where that’s the case, can it really be said that those parents don’t want girls to go school?
Monday. September 28, 2015.
Tyson, after Pepper rolled off stage: “You can unplug them.”
Monday. September 28, 2015.
Eighty-three percent of Africa’s rhino population live in South Africa.
Last year 1200 South African rhinos were killed by poachers.
There are only 22,000 rhinos left in South Africa.
Efforts are being made to protect them. That’s what we’re hearing about now here at this afternoon’s plenary session of the Clinton Global Initiative.
Marike Van Schaik, Managing Director of Dutch Postcode Lottery, is reporting on a twenty million dollar commitment the United Postcode Lotteries made last year in a partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature Netherlands and the Peace Parks Foundation to put an end to rhino poaching in South Africa. Three hundred rangers have been trained, with an elite group equipped with night vision goggles. Individual rhinos are being tracked. Drones are in the air day and night. We had a live demonstration of a helicopter drone. A newly-established Wildlife Justice Commission has set out “to disrupt organized wildlife crime networks.” According to the Commission’s website, “From 2007 to 2014 rhino poaching in South Africa has increased by almost 10,000%”. In the first quarter of this year, poaching was already up eighteen percent over last year.
Reason I chose to attend this session is that it’s going to be moderated by Neil deGrasse Tyson and he’s going to interview Pepper the Social Robot. But a couple of things about the rhino program have me almost wishing they’d leave Tyson and Pepper waiting in the wings while we’re told more about those things.
I would like to hear more about those organized wildlife crime networks.
Who’s in them? How are they organized? Exactly what to they do?
Something else I would like to hear more about.
“Ninety percent of poached rhino horns end up in Vietnam.”
Why do the Vietnamese want rhino horns?
What are they used for?
No details or explanations. There was mention of a program, however, that brought twenty-two high school-age students from Vietnam to South Africa to show them rhinos in the wild in the hopes the students would go home to spread the word that the rhinos must be saved.
That was something else there isn’t time to get into at this session, what those students saw and learned.
But that’s why there’s an internet.
New York City. Monday. September 28, 2015.
So say you're a member in good standing of the national political press corps. This means you accept as givens certain premises and let them shape all your reporting and "analysis". First among these premises is that the coverage of a political story in no way affects the course and outcome of that story. You are there but not there and just because you say look at this you aren't actually directing your readers and viewers to look at this and not at that or that looking at one thing instead of another changes anyone's thinking about what's happening.
Another important premise is that your reporting and analysis must be balanced. Balanced is used as if it's a synonym for objective, unbiased, and neutral (all of which are assumed to be virtues of good journalism) and it's achieved by an actual intellectual balancing act. You treat every argument and story as if there are two sides of equal weight and never give one side without giving the other. If after doing that it still sounds as if the scale is tipping in one direction you quickly add weight to the other to make it tip back to "level" just as you did back in junior high science and math class with actual scales and brass weights.
But almost as high up on the list is the dead certainty that Both Sides Do It.
But what do you do when no matter how you try to balance things or what direction you tell people to look, it's the fact that one side is relentlessly, ruthlessly, and unapologetically lying with every breath and committed to an agenda of wantonly and maliciously undoing every social and economic good that's been achieved over the last hundred years?
What if the facts are that one side is wrong? Not simply wrong as in error but wrong on purpose? Willfully wrong. And not just now and then. Not even just routinely. But all the time because being wrong serves their economic and political purposes?
How do you balance that?
What do you do if you want to maintain your membership in good-standing in the club of politically savvy pundits and reporters?
You thank the ghost of David Broder for the Clintons about whom it was decided long ago by the sachems of your guild it's safe to assume any scandal and impropriety and depth of sleaze that takes your fancy. You don't even have to specify what you think they're doing wrong. You just point out that they're doing something in a way that makes it sound like a wrong thing to do.
Bill Clinton was just up on the screens here in the press room at the Clinton Global Initiative. He was doing an interview with CNBC’s Becky Quick. These days Hillary’s email is the Clinton story that won’t go away. The political press won’t let it. They won’t admit they have anything to do with it. Like I said, they won’t admit they have anything to do with shaping the news at all. News just happens, and it is what it is. All they do, according to them, is open their notebooks or point their cameras, as if, again, what they choose to write down or what they decide to point their cameras at doesn't determine what they report. They won’t let the email story go. They can’t let it go. They need it.
They need it for balance.
Whenever one of the Republican candidates says something that’s stupid, hateful, factually in error, or an out and out lie; whenever one promises to do something impossible, irresponsible, and destructive “on Day One” of his or her Presidency; whenever one of them shows that he or she isn’t fit to hold any public office in a 21st Century democratic-republic, never mind the Presidency---which all do every day and twice on Sunday---and reporting it would show that voting Republican is voting to do actual harm to the nation and the world (They’re all promising to start World War III in the Middle East, after all.), then the rules require that all reporting must be balanced, and, conviently, Hillary's emails are within easy reach to plunk on the scales and tip them back.
Whenever the news is that the Republicans are wrong, dangerously wrong, politically, economically, morally wrong, you can run another critical story about the email for balance.
See, you can say, she’s just as bad if not worse.
But before Hillary’s less than careful management of every single one of the tens and tens of thousands of emails she sent and received over the course of four years when she was Secretary of State---and apparently she shouldn’t have had any other priority but keeping track of her email---before that became the worst thing any Clinton ever did which makes it the worst thing any politician has ever done, this was becoming that story.
This being this, the Clinton Global Initiative.
The “scandal” being ginned up---with no complicity on the part of the political press, of course. News just happens, remember.---had to do with the fact that some of the millions and millions and millions of dollars the Clinton Foundation had raised over the past ten years had come from people, nations, and corporations with unsavory reputations and something other than charity on their minds. Some of that money was probably intended not to do good for others but to do the givers themselves a service--it was intended to buy influence with the influential Clintons who were expected to use their influence to influence various agencies and entities and persons in government to do things beneficial to the givers.
Additionally, the Clintons themselves have made a lot of money from various sources since Bill left the White House. They’re rich and they got rich mainly by taking advantage of Bill’s having been President. That the advantages they took and the ways they took them were legal and have worked not just to their own benefit but to the good of multitudes of struggling, oppressed, sick, hungry, and desperate people around the world doesn’t make them immune from question or criticism. Bill doesn’t mind the questions. Hillary is a little touchier.
You can’t blame the political press corps for being cynical and suspicious when large sums of money are being thrown around. They work out of a city where you can’t throw a brick in any direction without beaning a lobbyist.
But the question is does money intended to buy influence buy that influence?
And considering what the Clinton Foundation was set up to do, there are other, more important questions, specifically is the money donated by well-intentioned people who gave it not to buy influence with the Clintons but for the Foundation to use to do real, material good going where it’s meant to go and being put towards doing the good it’s meant to do and once it’s there is it actually doing good?
But there are...implications.
Appearances to consider.
It’s not clear-cut what the Clintons were expected to have done about this, except to make sure the Foundation was careful about where the money came from and that it was spent wisely and to effect, which seems to have been the case.
Should Hillary not have taken the job of Secretary of State? Should the Clinton Foundation have shut up shop while she was Secretary of State? Should it shut up shop now that she’s running for President? Should she not be running for President?
(There’s a school of thought that says that within the political press corps there’s a not insignificant number of journalists and pundits who think the answer to that last question is an emphatic no and they’re out to make her wish she hadn’t.)
Quick asked about this in the interview and Bill came readily to the Foundation’s defense.
“I’m proud of the fact we have all these people here and we never ask anybody what their politics [are]. We have tried to disclose our donors and we have tried to do reasonable vetting. If there’s some reason we shouldn’t take money---and there have been several occasions over the last ten years when, for one reason or another, we haven’t been able to accept contributions, and we just politely turned them down. We didn’t try to embarrass anybody. We just said no.
But just think of it. If ten years ago, I’d said to you, “Ten years from now, we will have raised or secured more than ten billion dollars worth of money to help 430 million people in one hundred and eighty countries, and ninety percent of these commitments were made by the private sector, philanthropy, non-governmental groups, and governments working together, changing the face of the way philanthropy is done, you would have thought that was a pretty good deal. I think you have to strain pretty hard to make something bad out of that.
He went on:
I try to be very transparent, so anybody who wants to look at it and find something to criticize is welcome to do so.
I should also say, last year...we commissioned [the data analysis company Palantir Technologies] to analyze all our commitments and they said that more than forty percent had been fully completed, that another forty percent seemed certain to be completed in the way that had been promised, that six percent had failed and we should examine them because they tried to succeed, and we didn’t have enough data on fifteen percent. Over ten years, that’s pretty good.
So it’s not just that people make these commitments, they actually try to do what they say. Most people do that. And the commitments that involve multiple partners actually exceeded their stated goal.
There are things the Clintons and the Foundation should have done differently. Bill acknowledged that in the interview. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what they could have done, because whatever they’d done would have been, according to the Clinton Rules the political press operates by, wrong just because the Clintons were doing it. Bill acknowledged that too.
One guy said to me, who happened to be a Republican, who called me when all this was going on, he said, “Let me get this straight. If I put my money in the Cayman Islands to avoid taxes, I’m fine. If I put it in one of these [black box political action committees] so my name will never appear, I’m fine. If I give you money to help poor people, there’s something wrong with me?”
Well, yes there was. What was wrong with him was that he’d involved himself with the Clintons. He didn’t understand that since everything the Clintons do is suspect, anybody who has anything to do with them, even if it’s to do a good deed, is suspect.
He’d run afoul of the Clinton Rules.
It doesn’t matter that the Clinton Foundation has done things in the right ways. It only matters that they didn’t do things in a way that avoided opening up an opportunity for the political press to enforce the Clinton Rules---as if that was possible.
Back in June, when the story was gaining traction as the story, Bill defended the Foundation in pretty much the same terms as he did today, making the case that there was no case. No one had shown that the Foundation had done anything wrong. And Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post wrote on the political horseracing tip sheet he’s chief tout for,The Fix:
Then there is the fact that Clinton's answer on the foundation seems to be based on the idea that he and his wife are operating in a legal sphere for the next two years. They're not. They're living in the world of politics -- and the rules of that world are far different than those of a court of law.
You have to love this. A middler like Cillizza explaining how politics works to Bill Clinton.
This a perfect illustration of why Moist von Lipwig, the reformed con artist hero of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, thinks the editorial page is the funniest section of a newspaper: it’s premised on the idea that the world would be a much better place if it was run by journalists.
What are these rules?
Are they written down? Can you look them up online?
Who made them?
Was there a commission?
Well, Cillizza and his fellow touts make the rules. Are making the rules. They make them up daily as they go along as they need them to do the job they’ve given themselves of deciding what’s important (while pretending, of course, that they’re not doing any deciding. They’re just reporting on what is).
You might think it's more important to know what real good the money the Clinton Foundation takes in actually does than to speculate cynically on the possibility that some of the billionaires donating that money didn't do it solely out of the goodness of their hearts.
You might think it’s more important that Ebola and malaria patients and children with pediatric AIDS have been treated and cured, that women and girls in developing nations have been given economic and educational opportunities, that solar power and clean water have been brought to out-of-the-way villages in Africa, that schools have been built and teachers have been trained, that elephants and rhinos have been protected from poachers, that small island nations have been getting help dealing with the devastation to their coasts by rising oceans brought on by climate change, that all of that and more has been done and is being done than that Bill Clinton isn’t sufficiently cognizant that he’s living in the world of politics according to the likes of Chris Cillizza and his pals.
You might think it's more important that thanks to all the speeches Bill Clinton gives and all the traveling he's done and all his gladhanding, thousands upon thousands of lives have been saved than that he was paid a lot of money, much of which he put back into the Foundation, to make those speeches and do that gladhanding.
You might that it's more important that as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worked tirelessly to improve the lot and lives of women and girls all over the world than that she used the "wrong" email server and then failed to personally keep track of every single email she sent and now, years later, can't remember what went where, and can't understand why it matters or rather she understands all too well and can barely contain her anger and contempt.
You might think it matters more what a candidate for President plans to do if she's elected than that she be at the beck and call of lazy, self-important journalists demanding answers to trivial and irrelevant questions about perception problems and campaign strategies and why she's not answering questions she's been answering all along.
You might think it's more important what she says than that she won't be saying it as often in states she won't win no matter what or how often she says it and instead says it more often in states she needs to carry to win the election.
You might think any of that or all of it. But what do you know? You're thinking as if the rules of real life and normal human behavior apply. You're thinking as if the world is as it is and not as fatuous political journalists say it is. You aren't thinking of the rules of the world of politics.
And you don't make those rules.
Monday. September 28, 2015.
Streaming on the two classroom movie screen-sized television monitors on the front wall as I arrived in the CGI press room far below decks in the Sheraton Towers, was a panel discussion taking place somewhere far above me in the hotel. On screen as I unpacked my briefcase and set up a workspace for myself at one of the long tables serving as shared desks for us media types a square-headed, white-haired somewhat belligerent looking fellow in his sixties was talking in what I took as a brogue but was likely more a burr but could have been a mixture of both, his having been, as I Googled up a bit later, born and raised in Scotland but employed for a good time in Ireland. He looked like what he was, a bank executive with bad money on his mind---though people often look like what you know them to be, don’t they? If I’d found out later, he was a Catholic bishop who’d just been told parish priests in his diocese were blowing the Bingo money at the racetrack, that’s what he’d have looked like, exactly. What caught my attention though, was that this guy who looked like a banker seemed to be speaking with less than affection for banks.
In fact, it sounded like he was apologizing for their existence.
Everywhere he’s been, the people there have hated the banks, he was saying. In Hong Kong, they hated the banks. In Australia, they hated the banks. Now he’s back in he UK and people there hate the banks. His tone suggested he couldn’t blame them.
“I’ve never got to a place where the banks are loved.”
I couldn’t get my notebook out fast enough to scribble down what he said as he said it---some journalist wannabe I am.---so I don’t have it word for word, but the gist was that he thinks the Great Recession, at least as it was brought on in Europe, was the banks’ fault.
Too much incentivized risk-taking with no consequences for the risk-takers. Players too focused on short-term profits.
Anyway...he called the Recession itself or the behavior that caused it a “North Atlantic” disease---and he might have said Northern European. Like I said I was digging for my notebook and didn’t get his words down exactly before the discussion move on to something else, which it quickly did---that infected the whole world.
He was almost audibly sighing as he wrapped, regretting that his job in life seemed to be being the guy who comes in and cleans up the messes made by banks.
“I’d really like to build something,” he said wishfully.
That was refreshing, I thought, a banker mad at the banks. Who is this guy?
This guy turned out to be this guy, John McFarlane, the new executive chairman of Barclays. Barclays is described in a news story as “one of Britain’s biggest banks.” That’s an understatement, I think. Isn’t it one of the world’s biggest banks? Maybe the reporter was infected with the old colonialist habit of thinking the Great Britain is the world, the sun never setting et cetera. The empire’s financial now.
Always was, I suppose.
McFarlane’s became chairman back in the summer. Officially, he’s acting as chairman, only there until Barclays finds a permanent replacement for the previous chairman. McFarlane came out of retirement to take the job and I guess he plans to go back into retirement when his work cleaning up the mess at Barclays is done.
Cleaning up the mess, as it turns out, means cleaning house.
McFarlane’s nickname is Mack the Knife.
His specialty has been firing people.
The headline on a story in the Guardian about his arrival at Barcalys has him bringing “his chainsaw” with him.
First thing he did when he was brought in was fire the guy he was there to replace.
This panel discussion is billed on the CGI agenda as Making the Economy Work for People. I guess a good way to get started on that is to make it not work anymore for bankers who made it work against people.
The pesky question here, though, is who is meant by “people”?
As we all know too well, from the corporatist point of view, the only people who count as people are shareholders.
Everybody else, employees and customers included, are either assets or costs.
And the thing is, Barclays’ previous chairman, the one McFarlane fired, Antony Jenkins, had himself been brought in to clean up a mess. Barclays was reeling from a scandal. Jenkins blamed it on a twisted corporate culture that put short-term profit ahead of everything and he saw it as his mission to reform that culture:
Barclays Plc's reputation was hammered after it was fined 290 million pounds ($464 million) in June  for rigging Libor interest rates, which unearthed long-standing concerns by Britain's financial regulator about its culture.
It and other UK banks were also tarnished by scandals involving the mis-selling of financial products.
Jenkins, who took over after Bob Diamond stepped down in the wake of the Libor scandal, said he was putting five values at the heart of his plan: respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship.
He will unveil his strategic plans on February 12 - which he said would "excite" staff on what the future holds - but he added that setting new standards was equally important to the bank's long-term success.
"The behavior which made those headlines in 2012 took place in the past. But it helped underline how banking as a whole had lost its way, and had lost touch with the values on which reputation and trust were built," he said in the memo.
"Over a period of almost 20 years, banking became too aggressive, too focused on the short-term, too disconnected from the needs of our customers and clients, and wider society. We were not immune at Barclays from these mistakes."
He said bankers pursued short-term profits at the expense of the values and reputation of the organization, and in the coming weeks more than 1,000 staff would be trained to spread the new values and embed them throughout the bank.
That’s from a Reuters story with the headline:
Barclays boss tells staff: adopt new values or leave
But it doesn’t appear that Jenkins lost his job because he failed to get employees to adopt new values. It appears it was because he didn’t tell enough of them to leave, whatever their old or new values were. In other words, he didn’t fire enough people fast enough.
He also didn’t cut costs to the degree the Barclays powers-that-be wanted them cut or do what they felt he should have done to increase stock prices as much as they thought they could have and should have increased.
Besides to fire people, McFarlane was brought in to cut costs in other ways too by closing branches and making the company “more efficient”. In corporatespeak, efficiency generally means laying people off in droves and making those lucky enough to keep their jobs work harder for less money and offering customers poorer service and shoddier products while making more money off them.
None of that was discussed during the remainder of the session. I’m not sure if any of it came up before I arrived, although it might have---before they finished up, the panelists shared there was some concern about how companies could continue their philanthropic commitments during hard times requiring budget cuts.
What I’m pretty sure didn’t come up was McFarlane’s other reputation.
He’s known---and not necessarily with affection or amusement---for his devotion to the principles of feng shui.
When he comes into a place to clean house, he also likes to redecorate and rearrange the furniture.
The influence of feng shui in Mr McFarlane's decision-making is well-known, with one disgruntled former executive at ANZ in Australia remarking on his enthusiasm for it.
"He loved that sort of stuff. I guess I am a different person. It worked for him but it wasn't for me," Steve Targett told The Australian newspaper in 2009.
"I didn't need to see the feng shui consultant come around and put little elephants in the corner of my office and tell me to give money to 10 beggars in 10 days and the like, otherwise I would have bad luck. I'm not that sort of person."
One of the first moves McFarlane made when he took over at Barclays, after firing Jenkins, was to order a new fleet of company cars:
Sky News understands that John McFarlane, who took the helm in April, has ditched Barclays' fleet of black executive cars and ordered a set of silver limousines in their place in order to indulge his predilection for the ancient Chinese system of feng shui.
Mr McFarlane is said to have requested that the bank change the colour of the cars it reserves for top executives because of his belief that silver or grey vehicles bring greater harmony to their users.
Took the bus into the city for the Clinton Global Initiative and was welcomed to town by New York’s most famous bus driver and Big City dreamer.
Statue of Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners. Outside Port Authority Bus Terminal. Eighth Avenue. Manhattan. Around ten o’clock Monday morning. September 28, 2015.
I'd really like to know how they made this...
Inside Impact: East Africa
We invite you to take the first look at a forthcoming virtual reality film, "Inside Impact: East Africa." Join President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton on their trip to East Africa in spring 2015, and see first-hand how Commitments to Action made by CGI members are changing lives and empowering communities. The “Inside Impact: East Africa” virtual reality film was produced and directed by Félix & Paul Studios in association with M ss ng P eces, for Matter Unlimited's “Inside Impact” social impact project and virtual reality film series. The full virtual reality film will debut on Sunday, September 27 at the CGI 2015 Annual Meeting and be available exclusively on the Oculus Store for Gear VR Innovator Edition, powered by Oculus.Posted by Clinton Global Initiative on Friday, September 25, 2015
Heading down to New York City this morning to attend this year's meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative where I hope to meet Neil deGrasse Tyson and Pepper the Robot. I've already met Bill. But if I bump into him in the halls, after the Secret Service wrestles me to the ground, I'll say hi for you.
Continuing my report from Wednesday’s (September 24th) closing plenary session of the Clinton Global Initiative.
With all the big dreaming going on at the Clinton Global Initiative and all the great schemes for tackling so many of the world’s most pressing problems, this one almost slipped by me.
Wednesday, Chelsea Clinton announced that Zimbabwe-based Econet Wireless International is donating 5,000 solar-powered lanterns “to support relief teams working to treat, contain and prevent the Ebola outbreaks in some of the most affected areas, particularly the rural areas which currently have limited access to ongoing consistent clinical care.”
It seemed like such a small, simple, and banal next thing to everything else---airlifts of 500 tons of medical supplies to West Africa, training programs for 250,000 new teachers in the developing world who will improve the lives of over ten million students, a million dollar prize for a plan to “combat non-communicable diseases in urban slums around the globe,” talk of vertical farming in big cities, robots on Mars and aboard the space station, protecting the rights and health of women and children everywhere---I barely registered it.
But when I went back over my notes, it struck me that this was one of the most practical and most likely to be immediately effective plans I heard laid out.
Patients need to be cared for around the clock. The lanterns are needed where they’re headed right away so that the doctors and nurses and other caregivers treating patients at night can see what they’re doing.
That sounds too obvious to need to be said. But look at this map. (Click to enlarge.)
That’s what the world would look like from space if it was night everywhere all at once.
You probably noticed something about Africa right away.
According to Scientific American, in 2009, nearly a quarter of the world’s population, one and half billion people, have no access to electricity, nearly eighty percent of them living in the world’s fifty poorest nations.
The problem is most acute in sub-Saharan Africa, with several entire nations there effectively nonelectrified. In 11 countries, all in Africa, more than 90 percent of people go without electricity. In six of these -- Burundi, Chad, Central African Republic, Liberia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone -- 3 to 5 percent of people can readily obtain electric power.
Liberia and Sierra Leone are two of the nations where the latest outbreak of ebola is most virulent and spreading fastest, with new cases doubling in Sierra Leone every thirty to forty days, every fifteen to twenty in Liberia, and that’s where, along with Guinea, the lanterns are going.
And they’ll be providing more than light. You can charge cell phones off of one.
They even come with FM radios.
Actually, I kind of want one myself.
Note: The Scientific American article I linked to above was written in 2009. In an article from 2013 at the Atlantic’s CityLab, Emily Badger puts the number of people living without electricity at 1.2 billion.
Map courtesy of NASA via CityLab at the Atlantic.
Still working my notes from last week’s trip to the Clinton Global Initiative up into posts. When I’m finished I’ll go back and rearrange things chronologically, but for today, here’s my report from Tuesday’s, September 23rd, afternoon plenary session.
Yes, I know. I remember! NAFTA. Welfare “reformed” out of existence. Triangulation. Goodbye Glass-Steagall. “The era of big government is over.” Bill Clinton did not have the Presidency we wanted. He did not have the Presidency he wanted. And for the same reason Barack Obama isn’t having the Presidency he wanted and for the same reason Franklin Roosevelt didn’t have the Presidency he wanted, especially after 1938, and for the same reason Theodore Roosevelt didn’t have the Presidency he wanted! Congresses considerably more conservative than they were and are.
That’s not making excuses. That’s simply doing a head count and noting what’s going on inside the heads you’re counting. If you are still making the argument that Obama could get all the things you want him to get done if he really wanted to, then, well, among other things, you didn’t watch The Roosevelts.
There is and has been for well over a hundred years a powerful political alliance between Southern racists and Northeastern corporatists united by the belief that “The Federal Government doesn’t get to tell us what to do especially when what we want to do is treat other people as things to be used for our own material advantage!”
They have a large base made of suckers and toadies who vote in ways that allow themselves to be used as things because they have been duped or have duped themselves into believing that the only people who are going to get used as things are those Others.
At any rate, there was more to Clinton’s Presidency than disappointing us liberals and surviving the Impeachment Crisis. By the way, remind me that sometime I should write about how surviving impeachment was a liberal political achievement and something he can count as more than a personal victory. But short version, that was the Right’s first out and out attempt to declare the United States their country and theirs alone. Still, there’s much for him and us to regret and wish he’d handled differently or not handled at all.
But however disappointing his Presidency might have been, there’s no denying he’s having a great post-Presidency. And he seems to be having a wonderful time. That’s always obvious but it’s even more so at meetings of the Clinton Global Initiative. Clearly, he’s proud of the success the Clinton Foundation has had parting billionaires and corporations from their money and the good work being done around the world with that money. But he’s just as clearly having fun, both as an instigator of the parting and as host of the party where the parting’s being done.
One of the fun things about the Clinton Global Initiative is watching Bill having fun being Bill.
And this isn’t a trivial thing.
It’s a big part of his success.
His sense of fun is infectious.
People want to join in on the fun of Bill being Bill and that means joining in on the work the Clinton Foundation is doing.
If you watched The Roosevelts, you probably noticed how often the movie cameras caught Franklin Roosevelt having fun being Franklin Roosevelt.
He’d deliver a line in a speech, making a quite serious point, but then, almost the second he’d finished, he’d break out in a smile that mixed great self-satisfaction with a tinge of embarrassment, even apology, as if he was the first to recognize and applaud the political and rhetorical effectiveness of what he’d just said but also that he knew he shouldn’t be so pleased with himself or that he shouldn’t show how pleased he was. He was like a good little kid, mother’s little angel, teacher’s favorite, who’d been taught never to show off but then couldn’t help himself, it was just so much fun to be so smart and right.
And there was a mischief in it.
He knew he was not only going to get away with it, he was going to be praised for it and by the very people who told him he shouldn’t do it.
Even when he was at his prematurely oldest and sickest, it would still happen. His face would light up, fifty and more years would fall away, and you could see the little boy who knew he was delighting the grownups with his precocity and charm and good nature.
FDR got a kick out of being FDR.
Bill gets a kick out of being Bill.
This is a quality shared by many charismatic people. It’s a key to their charisma.
It’s also a quality that incites jealousy, envy, anger, and resentment---especially in vain, self-important, and decidedly less charismatic people (cf. The National Political Press Corps), but also in many decent, normally good-natured and not usually or unusually prone to jealousy, envy, anger, and resentment, particularly if they suspect it’s being used as a trick to get out of trouble or to avoid doing something difficult that needs to be done. Millions of regular folks adored FDR and got a kick out of his getting a kick out of being himself, but they didn’t have to work with him.
And they weren’t married to him.
At Tuesday’s plenary session, after Greek Ambassador at Large Gianna Angelopoulos took the podium to announce that next June Greece will be hosting the first European meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, Clinton had a few words to add about the economic problems in Greece and other Mediterranean countries.
For those of you who don’t keep up with the events in Greece as closely as some of us, I think it’s important to point out that the quality of their government and their budgeting process has dramatically improved. They did have to make some painful adjustments. The problem is if you live in a currency union like the E.U. without control of your own destiny, even when interest rates are lower than inflation, you can’t float bonds to build infrastructure, which is what you would normally do, but you can’t because you don’t have your own currency. So we all have to be really creative in thinking about how to do something.
I’d like to think he was taking a shot at the austerity scolds, deficit fetishists, and other members of the Pain Caucus in Europe and the United States with that line about how when interest rates are lower than inflation the thing for governments to do during economic hard times is spend, a point Paul Krugman has been battering at for going on six years. Maybe he was. But maybe he was just acknowledging what he regards as a hard truth: this is why what was done, the apparent punishment of Greece by the German banks for the sin of not being able to afford to pay its debts, had to be done. He was speaking to a ballroom full of rich people, many of them Wall Street types, but polls have shown that the rich here in the United States aren’t all members of the Pain Caucus. Plenty of them know that the best way to deal with our own hard times is for the government to spend and build and they’re willing to have their taxes raised if that’s what it takes. The whole point of the Clinton Global Initiative is find creative ways to spend and build everywhere. But whatever Clinton was thinking when he said that, it was what he said next that gave the game away. Bill was having fun being Bill.
But I’ll just give you a little factoid that should make you think this is worth doing.
The average Greek citizen works twenty-five percent more hours a week than the average German.
It tickled him to know that about the Greeks versus their economic overseers, the Germans. It tickled him to be able to pass it along. It tickled him to be the one passing it along. It tickled him that it mattered that he was the one passing it along.
It tickled him to be…him.
Of course an important part of the fun is that the work is serious and therefore so is the point of passing along that factoid.
Do not presume you know what caused all these problems in Greece.
Fun doesn’t go away when things get serious though.
Former Prime Minister Papandreou is there nodding his head. He has the battle scars to prove it.
Tickled him to get off that line too.
Bill Clinton’s Skype session with the astronauts was one of the most fun parts of this year’s Clinton Global Initiative, but what followed was one of the most engrossing and moving, Hillary Cinton’s conversation with Graça Machel because it was my first real glimpse of Machel apart from her place in the biography of her late husband, Nelson Mandela. I’m just posting the video without commentary so I don’t get in your way. It’s 16 minutes long but worth the time.
Here’s the link to the page devoted to Machal at The Elders.
After Peter Diamandis left the stage Wednesday, Bill Clinton welcomed his next guests---the two plenary sessions I covered this year felt even more like television talk shows than past sessions. This is not a bad thing. I remember those other sessions as being a little too speachy and preachy. I liked it better this way, more relaxed, less guilt-tripping, although it would explain why after talking so earnestly and with such urgency about the problems his organization, water.org, was working to solve in order to increase the world’s supply of clean water, Matt Damon eased without signs of any mental lurch into a self-deprecating anecdote about a time he guest hosted the Jimmy Kimmel Show and lost track of the time to the point he suddenly found himself running a half hour behind schedule. Damon does an excellent Bill Clinton impression, by the way. Clinton, meanwhile, is a natural in the role of talk show host, so is Hillary Clinton. They have their own individual styles but…
Where was I?
After Peter Diamandis left the stage Wednesday, Bill Clinton’s welcome to his next guests included an apology.
“We finished the space station when I was President. I spent a lot of your tax money on it if you’re an American. I hope you’ll forgive me.”
I’m not sure he’s really all that sorry.
May not have been his greatest achievement as President but as it became clear his administrations contributions to space exploration is something he remembers with great fondness and excitement and it tickled him to be talking to the astronauts who were his guests onstage and “onstage.”
United States astronaut Cady Coleman was onstage. Astronaut Reid Wiseman was “onstage” on the big screens around the Sheraton ballroom, Skyping in from the space station as it was passing over New York.
This was the most fun moments of this year’s CGI. It wasn’t one of the most profound or enlightening. Clinton and the astronauts didn’t have the chance to get into a deep discussion before the station moved out of range and the signal cut out about ten minutes later. (Just after Coleman asked Wiseman a question I really wanted to know the answer to, “What was your favorite and least favorite experiment?” and just before Wiseman could begin to reply.) Clinton prompted Coleman and Wiseman to talk generally about the work being done aboard the station by asking “What good is it? What are you doing up there we should care about and be grateful for?” and the short answer, because there wasn’t time for a long answer, was SCIENCE!
“We’ve spent the last few days just going crazy with the science that’s on board,” Wiseman said with a kid on Christmas morning grin and Coleman went into a little detail about how the astronauts have been contributing to the study of osteoporosis---astronauts up in space lose bone mass “ten times faster than it happens to a seventy year old woman down on the ground who has osteoporosis.” Which led to Clinton reminiscing about how when he was President he signed permission for NASA to send up its oldest astronaut, a seventy-seven year old actually making his second space flight, over thirty years after his first. John Glenn. Clinton recalled sending Glenn an email while he was up and this inspired Coleman to take a selfie of her and Clinton and email it to Wiseman right then and there. She was careful to get Wiseman in the shot too.
Not on its way to getting as many Retweets as the selfie Ellen took at the Oscars, is it? That’s a shame. RT it yourself if you can.
But the point Coleman and Wiseman wanted to make, and which they were there to make, was about the international-ness of the International Space Station. Looking down at the earth from space and seeing the whole planet, Coleman said, “It’s almost hard to feel you’re from any particular country.” Wiseman enthused about the friendships he’s made aboard the station with colleagues from around the world going around the world with him. He introduced German astronaut Alex Gerst and lamented he couldn’t bring on camera the mission commander, Russian cosmonaut Max Suraev, who was busy below sciencing and preparing for the arrival of some replacement crew members (launching from Kazakhstan). There are fifteen countries that took part in the building of the space station and contributing to its maintenance and crewing, ninety nations conducting experiments on board.
This “One Earth” camaraderie gave Clinton an idea.
“You’ve convinced me that the answer to the political gridlock we have here in America is to send the Congress to meet in the space station.”
Coleman reminded him the trips are usually round trips. “You want it that way or do you want the one–way?”
Clinton said he was happy for it to be a two-way trip because obviously being up there has a positive influence.
And that was about it. The station continued on its path and the signal cut out.
Coleman wrapped up with a call to space. Bill Clinton added a few final words about how we humans have always needed to know what’s out there “wherever there is” and how the world’s great searchers have not been territorialists, forgetting for the moment, I guess, Christopher Columbus or making a distinction between explorers and treasure hunters, then then he turned the show over to Hillary Clinton who began her portion of the session by something that confused me for a second.
“That was very exciting, especially for someone who wanted to be an astronaut.”
And who was that? I asked her in my head.
Then I remembered.
It was Hillary Clinton.
When she was a young teenager in the early 1960s, Hillary Rodham wanted to become an astronaut and she wrote to NASA asking how she could go about it. Someone from the space agency wrote her back to tell her girls didn’t get to be astronauts.
That one still gets to me.
Gets to Hillary too, I’m sure.
Every kid wanted to be an astronaut back then and I can’t imagine what would possess an adult to tell any of them, Give it up, kid, find another dream.
And Hillary Rodham wasn’t the only young woman who wanted to be an astronaut and got a letter like that telling her to give up her dream. Apparently someone made a policy of sending out letters like that.
At the time, all American astronauts were male. They were all something else too. Pilots. Test pilots and former fighter pilots. But it wasn’t the plan for that always to be the case. The plan was that in the not too distant future we’d be sending scientists and engineers into space. Sexist as the times were, women scientists and engineers weren’t uncommon. There weren’t many. (Still aren’t, relatively.) But their numbers were growing. And space stations and lunar and Martian colonies were going to include women and children. This was featured in the concept art used to sell taxpayers on the space program.
Whoever wrote those letters was denying a future NASA itself envisioned.
All the astronauts had something else in common. They were not that young. The seven Mercury astronauts were in their mid- to late thirties. And that was not likely to change with future astronauts. The time to get the education, build the resume, and undergo the training required to become an astronaut would (and still does) take would-be astronauts into their thirties. So whoever wrote Hillary was assuming that nothing would have changed for women and girls twenty to twenty-five years from then.
But the change was underway and in fact twenty years would be about how long it would take. (In the United States. Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to go into space in 1962.) Sally Ride went up on the space shuttle in 1983. She was thirty-two at the time. Four years younger than Hillary Clinton.
I don’t know what the writer of that letter to Hillary Rodham thought he was doing besides being mean. Maybe he thought he was just being honest. But some people like being honest because it lets them be mean. He might just have been obtuse and unable to imagine a future different from the present, a strange quality in someone working to put human beings on the moon. Maybe he saw the future coming and it scared him, again something you wouldn’t expect in someone engaged, even if only bureaucratically, in the exploration of outer space. But human is human. Some people are afraid of the future because it’s a great unknown. We can see it coming but only in glimpses. Some people, though, many people, in fact, are afraid of the future because they can see what’s coming and they don’t like what they see. What they see are things taken from them that make their place in the present agreeable: Their authority, their status, their money, their youth. They see the future as a thief and a marauder and they want to stop it.
That’s William F. Buckley’s definition of conservative, isn’t it? Someone who stands athwart history yelling stop!
The future can only be seen in glimpses but it’s coming at us and the best way to see more of it is to head out to meet it. And it was very exciting for someone who wanted to be an astronaut---and I mean me, not Hillary Clinton, although I don’t remember writing my own letter to NASA. If I had I probably would have gotten a response very different from the one she got and that I’m sure I’d have kept. I did write a twenty page research paper in sixth grade that included my own hand-drawn illustrations on what it took to become an astronaut. One thing it took, I disappointed myself in finding out, was better than 20-20 vision. Astronauts couldn’t need glasses and I had just gotten my first pair.---to see some people on their way out to meet it on behalf of all of us back down here on our one earth.
The guy here is Stewart Brand, “a Stanford-trained biologist, ex-army paratrooper, turned Ken Kesey cohort and fellow Merry Prankster who was about to become the voice of one of the most potent forces for abundance the world had yet seen: the Do-It-Yourself…innovator”:
The story goes like this: a few months after [Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test] was published, in March 1968, Brand was reading a copy of Barbara Ward’s Spaceship Earth and trying to ask a pair of questions: How can I help all my friends who are currently moving back to the land? And, more importantly, how can I save the planet?
His solution was pretty straightforward. Brand would publish a catalog in the vein of L.L. Bean, blending liberal social values, ideas about appropriate technology, ecological notions of whole systems thinking, and---perhaps most importantly---a DYI work ethic. This ethic has a long history, dating back at least as far as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1841 essay “Self-Reliance,” resurfacing again in the Arts and Crafts renaissance of the early twentieth century, then gaining even more steam with the hot-rodding and home improvement movements of the 1950s. But the late 1960s marked the largest communal uprising in American history, with conservative estimates putting the number at ten million Americans moving back to the land. All these transplants soon learned the same lesson: agrarian success depended on one’s DYI capabilities, and those capabilities, as Brand so clearly realized, depended on one’s access to tools---and here tools meant anything from information about windmills to ideas about how to start a small business. “I was in thrall to Buckminster Fuller,” Brand recalls. “Fuller had put out this idea that there’s no use trying to change human nature. It’s been the same for a very long time. Instead, go after the tools. New tools make new practices. Better tools make better practices.”
Out of all this was born the Whole Earth Catalog…
---from Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler.
Come on, admit it. We just do.
We can’t help ourselves.
It’s because we spend so much time and energy arguing that things need to be better and that requires making the case that things are bad. Things are bad. But we can get so caught up in talking about what’s bad and how bad and why it’s bad and whose fault it is that it’s bad we forget there’s anything else including that there’s a hopeful point to talking about what’s bad.
Trouble is few of us have the power or the resources do much on our own about what’s wrong, and talking about what’s wrong without doing anything to fix it is just complaining and constant complaining turns into whining and whining turns into a habit.
Two of our favorite whines go like this.
Why isn’t anybody listening to us?
Why aren’t politicians doing what we want them to do?
Conservatives whine too.
This is new for them. That’s why they’re doing so much of it. It’s a novelty. A new sensation that excites them. Like little kids who’ve figured out how to make themselves burp, they have to hear themselves do it over and over again. They used to grump and harumph. That’s when they were focused on making the case that things are just fine the way they are and liberals should quit their whining. They still do this. A current variant is the You call yourselves poor? You have a refrigerator what more do you want nonsense.
Doesn’t occur to them that the answer might be, Food to put in it, would be nice. A way to pay the electric bill, like a job, would also help.
No, as far as they care to know, things are fine, and if they’re not fine, they could be worse. In fact, they were worse and not all that long ago, so go away and leave me alone and stop asking me to care about your problems, I have enough of my own.
But lately or what seems lately to me, they’ve taken up whining. I blame Nixon. It probably started before him, but he made whining his political idiom and infected the entire Republican party. Reagan didn’t change that. He indulged it and the chuckled at the effect. People still mistake his geniality for good humor and a cheerful nature. It was the cheerfulness of a salesman who knew he had the suckers on the hook. But he’s long gone and even his supposed heirs whine worse than Nixon.
They whine between shouts, screams, growls, and moans, but they whine.
It’s somewhat the same for them as it’s been for liberals. They’re spending their time and energy making the case that things are bad---of course, they mean bad for them---and get so caught up in talking about what’s bad and how bad and why it’s bad and whose fault it is it’s bad they forget there’s anything else.
They don’t have much else, as it turns out. Certainly not real solutions. God will provide or he will punish, that’s about it. Still, as it has with us liberals, constant complaining turns into whining and whining becomes a habit.
One of the things I really enjoy about the Clinton Global Initiative---and I’ve now been to four of the seven meetings in New York City since 2008---is that the discussions take place outside typical notions of liberal and conservative politics.
That is, there’s no whining.
Obviously, this isn’t because no one is making the case that things are bad or talking about what’s bad or how bad or why it’s bad or whose fault it is it’s bad. The news on ebola is getting scarier. In Sierra Leone, new cases are doubling every thirty to forty days. Every twenty seconds a child under five will die from a water-borne disease. More people on earth have access to a cell phone than to a clean glass of water. One point three billion people have no access to electricity. Throughout the world the situations for women and girls continues to be miserable, their rights denied, their opportunities for education and self-improvement non-existent, their health and lives under constant threat.
But the people doing most of the talking are problem-solvers actively at work solving problems or trying to solve them and naturally they prefer to talk about that work and talking about work they love tends to make people sound confident, grounded, practical-minded, grown up, and happy.
Doesn’t mean they get giddy.
The problem-solvers at CGI speak with urgency, concern, anxiety, anger, even fear, although usually on behalf of others. The get frustrated, exasperated, and discouraged. They try to be pragmatic and realistic and not let their hopes carry them away. But they’re all still hopeful and optimistic, some enthusiastically, excitedly, energetically, infectiously so. A few come across as professional optimists.
One of the most optimistic I heard speak at this year’s meeting was Peter Diamandis.
Diamandis is an MIT-trained engineer, a Harvard-trained MD. He’s the chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation which sponsors competitions for funding for the design and development of new technologies, software, systems, and methods to put to work solving problems “believed to be unsolvable, or that have no clear path toward a solution.” A current one of these competitions is called, with a direct and respectful nod to Star Trek, the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize, “a $10 million global competition to stimulate innovation and integration of precision diagnostic technologies, helping consumers make their own reliable health diagnoses anywhere, anytime.” He’s co-founded two schools of higher education. Singularity University and the International Space University. He’s started and helped start several business and research ventures inspired by his lifelong interest in space exploration. When he was in eighth grade he won a first prize in a design competition sponsored by Estes Model Rockets for his design for a multiple platform launcher. Kid after my own heart. Another venture not apparently directly related to space travel is Human Longevity, Inc.
Human Longevity Inc. (HLI) is a genomics and cell therapy-based diagnostic and therapeutic company. Using advances in genomic sequencing, the human microbiome, proteomics, informatics, computing, and cell therapy technologies, HLI is building the world’s most comprehensive database on human genotypes and phenotypes to tackle the diseases associated with aging-related human biological decline. HLI is also leading the development of cell-based therapeutics to address age-related decline in endogenous stem cell function. HLI is concentrating on cancer, diabetes and obesity, heart and liver diseases, and dementia.
Probably should have mentioned Diamandis also has a degree from MIT in molecular genetics.
He’s working with a team of billionaires and movie director James Cameron on a plan to mine asteroids. He does not appear to be crazy.
He is a big dreamer. But he has a record of turning his dreams into realities and the realities into money and the money into financing for other dreamers trying to turn their dreams into realities.
Much of his big dreaming sounds like pie in the sky and building castles in the air. He calls it “moonshot thinking.” I’d sum it up as 3D Printing in the Cloud.
Apparently, this is a thing.
I don’t know how it works.
I don’t know how 3D printing anywhere works.
Diamandis does, and it’s one of the many things that make him such an optimist.
Diamandis is inclined to say things like “The world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest opportunities” and “The best way for an entrepreneur to become a billionaire is to help a billion people.”
Referencing Stephen Pinker he’ll tell you we’re living during the most peaceful period in recorded human history.
The bottom line is you think we can handle nine billion people without burning up the planet, and you think we can feed children well-enough so that they can learn, and you believe that through technology widely disseminated we can not only educate people but empower them to create enough income generating activity themselves that we can essentially have a very low structural unemployment level in every country.
Diamandis agreed that that about sums it up.
New technologies succeed by taking what once was scarce and making it abundant, and he’s looking forward to the 21st Century as a time when that will happen on an astounding and unprecedented scale, increasing prosperity around the world.
The big questions are, he says, “How can we do that with literacy? How can we do that with health? How can we use technology to create a scale that allows every child to have the best possible education, the best possible health care, independent of where they live or where they were born?”
He’s co-written a book with Steven Kotler that not only makes the case that will happen but shows where and how it is already happening, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think and he and Clinton sat down together to talk about abundance and Abundance, the prospect and the book. Clinton had his copy with him. “I love flacking other people’s books,” he said, holding it up. He loves this book, which he’s clearly read and taken to heart. He read from it as he interviewed Diamandis, but I got the feeling the reading was for show and he could have recited from it from memory.
Clinton started off by asking, “Why are you so optimistic about the future? Don’t you read the papers.”
Diamandis’ offhand answer to the second question was that he tries not to, said in a tone that implied he recommends others try to not too. Too much negativity. Too much focusing on problems and not enough on problem-solving. Too much---he didn’t use the word but I suspect he’d nod knowingly if you did---whining.
The short version of his answer to the first question is: Information, education, technology.
The short version of the short version is: the internet.
A lot of the basis for Diamandis’ optimism is his faith in the increasing utility of the internet as a development tool and delivery system for new technologies, e.g. 3D printing in the cloud.
It’s more than taken for granted by now that the internet is a revolutionary system for delivering information. More people have access to more information than ever before. As Diamandis pointed out to Clinton, “A Maasai warrior in the middle of Kenya today on a smart phone has more access to knowledge and information than you when you were the President twenty years ago.” (Clinton’s self-deprecating response: “That’s a frigtening thought.”) We use it and rely on it, celebrate it and addict ourselves to it, chiefly as a very efficient medium for mass communication.
Well, that, and a convenient way to shop and pay bills without the dirty business of having to deal with real people.
It’s taken for granted that the delivering of information and the communication and virtual social contact that requires and creates are a good in and of themselves.
My own whine is that that’s pretty much all the internet does these days, deliver information that consumers of it can’t use except to entertain ourselves. That’s what makes time online so frustrating and, especially in the cloud banks I tend to hang out in, maddening. (And I mean maddening as in making angry and making crazy.) There’s no material world effect.
Diamandis sees the internet a little differently. Communication, information, and interconnectivity are important but they’re more like fuel. Hearing him talk about it, the birth of the internet sounds more like the invention of the steam engine, the ur-machine whose powering of other machines led to the invention and building of more machines. The internet is a knowledge and technology generator.
Diamandis went on to discuss some areas in which he is most optimistic. Food, energy, and education.
He’s looking forward to the day when, through aquaculture---hydroponics on a grand scale---and vertical farming, cities will be able to feed themselves, growing enough food for all the people living in them at a great savings in energy, manhours, waste, and money, much of that savings due to a marked decrease in transportation costs. As things are, when people in New York go out for a nice dinner, items on the menu travel an average of 1600 miles before landing on their plates. “Los Angeles would starve in I think it’s about three days,” he said, “if you shut down transportation.”
We’re talking about having an XPrize in vertical farming. The notion that we can in fact, in a downtown New York or downtown Dallas or L.A., have a building that is able to capture the sun, is able to finely tune the pH of the water, is able to grow twenty-four hours a day and provide the ideal growing economy.
Meanwhile, the earth is pulsating with abundant but so far untapped energy. He didn’t mean shale oil and wasn’t boosting fracking. He meant geo-thermal and solar. He’s particularly keen on solar.
The earth gets five thousand times more energy from the sun than we use as a species in a year. If you talk to folks like Elon Musk and Ray Kurzweil, [they] believe we’ll reach fifty to a hundred percent energy from the sun in the United States in the [next] twenty years. And the poorest parts of the world are the sunniest parts of the world. So I think we’re headed towards a solar revolution. And if you have abundant energy, you also have abundant clean water. And as you know well, sir, half the disease burden on earth is due to unclean drinking water.
As for education, well, hold on a second.
It was a nice change to be taking part, even if only vicariously, in some problem-solving instead of being a voice in the collective whine. But then Diamandis grew excited about the prospect of Artificially Intelligent “teachers” who would, over the internet, give “personalized” educations to students living far from any schools. Students will be able to attend classes in the cloud with teachers who “know” them and understand their needs and their individual learning styles as well as the best teachers in the best schools in here in the non-virtual world.
“I’m very proud,” Diamandis said, “It was this week, at the United Nations, at the Social Mid-Summit, we announced a fifteen million dollar prize called the Global Learning XPrize.”
We are challenging teams around the world to build a piece of software---not a hardware prize. The cost of hardware’s plummeting.---a piece of software that can take a child anywhere, who’s illiterate, to basic reading, writing, and numeracy in eighteen months. There’s nearly a billion [illiterate] people, two-thirds of those are women, a quarter of a billion are kids, and the notion is that technology is progressing at such a rate that we have the ability, the same way Google democratized access to information, to democratize access to the best teachers.
This sounds great. So does what he went on to say in a minute.
We expect to have hundreds or thousands of teams compete and take the the top five pieces of software and deploy it to five thousand kids throughout Africa and test and see what the best one is, and then open-source the software, with the vision that any Android tablet or phone made in the future will have this software will have this software on it from the start.
It was what he said in between I didn’t like the sound of. Brought out my inner Blade Runner.
Imagine an A.I., or imagine a piece of software that knows a child’s favorite color, sports, actors, presidents and can literally give them a personalized education.
More to the realistic point, I don’t think people want their most intimate relationships to be with software. We need the comfort and sense of companionship that can only come from physical contact with other human beings. We want the tricorder held by Dr McCoy who when he says, “Dammit, I’m a doctor not a bricklayer” is taking our pulse, feeling if we have a fever, and probing for our pain, with hands that can actually lay bricks and do the doctoring. We want Mrs McLean (my fourth grade teacher, the teacher who knew me and understood me best) hovering over our desk, smiling as we figure it out for ourselves that 10 x 12 – 7 = 113. And even more realistically, I doubt that if and when such software is developed it will be only used to staff virtual schoolrooms in the remotest villages in the more undeveloped nations of the developing world.
And here’s where I get skeptical.
New technologies have a history of putting human beings out of work.
The new jobs they employ many fewer people than the ones they replace.
Clinton asked Diamandis about this. He spoke with sincere concern about the continuing scourge of mass joblessness---unfortunately but tellingly using the dreaded phrase: “structural unemployment”---and noted how throughout most of history “except for farmers, most everybody who’s worked has worked for somebody else.” Diamandis believes that in the future the economy will grow and thrive in ways that will encourage and support and even depend on individual enterprise and entrepreneurship---There’s a chapter in Abundance Clinton summed up as being about “the Do It Yourself Economy”---and Clinton wondered how this was going to happen.
The internet, again. Thanks to it, according to Diamandis, by 2020, we will have around five billion people connected online---in 2010 it was 1.8 billion---all of them with access to the newest technologies that,with the help of crowd sourcing, they will be able to teach themselves how to use and put to work in building their own businesses, and then, again, through crowd sourcing, they will be able to find customers and clients they couldn’t imagine reaching before.
That’s three billion new minds entering the global economy, three billion new creators, contributors, trillions of dollars flowing into the economy no one’s speaking about, and these individuals, no matter where they are on the planet, now have access to Google, they have access to A.I., 3D printing on a cloud, they have access to extraordinary technologies. They also have access to crowd funding. There’ll be fifteen billion dollars in crowd funding by 2015, a hundred billion by 2020, so they have access to capital, crowd funding, and we’re now empowered to become entrepreneurs. And I teach this, that the world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest opportunities. The best way for an entrepreneur to become a billionaire is to help a billion people. This kind of beautiful parity exists right now. And a lot of young people in the developing world are entrepreneurs to exist. We’re giving them the tools to up their game.
Ok, never mind 3D printing in the cloud. This does sound like pie in the sky. It also sounds suspiciously like a global and virtual version of the entrepreneurial economy getter known as the service economy which a friend of mine prophetically defined back in the 1980s as a nation of minimum wage workers delivering pizzas to each other and which we Americans have been trying to sell to ourselves for three and a half decades.
Diamandis would almost certainly say that the reason it hasn’t taken off yet is the technology has only just begun to become available. But it is becoming available, more and more of it at a more and more rapid rate.
But I just don’t buy that we’re going to build a vital and expansive economy or a particularly civil or companionable society by having people delivering virtual pizzas to one another in the cloud.
That was a whine.
Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, published by the Free Press, is available in paperback and hardcover at Amazon but you’ll probably want to read it on your kindle. Since, as Diamandis sees it, in the future we’re all going to be living in the cloud, we might as well start getting used to it.
Not going to be systematic about turning my notes from the Clinton Global Initiative into posts so they won’t be appearing chronologically. Blog might read like one of those novels full of flashbacks and flashforwards for the next few days. Probably when I’m done I’ll go back and rearrange things. Right now I’m starting out near the end of the day Tuesday with this from President Obama’s remarks closing the plenary session.
Here’s the set up. Chelsea Clinton’s baby is due soon. Very soon. Like any day now. And the the New York meetings of the Clinton Global Initiative always coincide with the opening of the United Nations General Assembly’s High-level Meetings and General Debate and the two events together flood the streets with convoys of limos and armored Chevy Suburbans. Traffic lanes and whole streets get blocked for blocks. Makes getting around by car not fun. So…
President Obama walks onstage Tuesday afternoon, pauses on his way to the rostrum to have a few words with Bill Clinton, and when he steps up to the mic opens by letting us know what he said to Bill.
I was just discussing with President that if Chelsea goes into delivery while I’m speaking, she has my motorcade and will be able to navigate traffic. Cause actually it’s pretty smooth for me during the week. I don’t know what the problem is. Everybody hypes the traffic, but I haven’t noticed.
Maybe you had to be there. They say it’s all in the delivery. Cracked Matt Damon up anyway.
Photo by Paul Morse, courtesy Clinton Global Initiative.
Leo and his big beard aren’t here today. He’s been hanging out at the United Nations for the Climate Summit. But I’m here, if it’s any consolation. I’ll be here all day, tweeting over at Twitterville and blogging here. I’ll be back tomorrow too. So please check in from time to time. Matt Damon’s here, President Clinton’s here, Secretary Clinton’s here, and, I’m told, there’s somebody important going to be dropping in.
Posts from this year’s CGI are going to be filed in the archives along with my posts from CGI meetings I attended in 2008, 2009, and 2011 in the category called with brilliant simplicity Clinton Global Initiative.
Tuesday morning. on my way to the Clinton Global Initiative.
Driver of the cab I took from Grand Central to the Sheraton Towers couldn’t pull up to the curb along the stretch of Sixth Avenue closest to the corner of 52nd where I asked him to drop me off because of the long line of other cabs parked bumper to bumper that reached halfway to 51st. He got as close as he could, essentially double-parking gunwale to gunwale with another cab. Left me about six inches in which to maneuver myself and my effects---briefcase, cane, a couple of books, a bottle of water---out the door.
I suppose I should have gotten out on the far side but traffic was heavy and I’m not as nimble as I once was. I didn’t think I could make it out before an onrushing car sheared off the open door, taking me with it.
I eased myself out as carefully as I could but I bumped the door as I hoisted myself to my feet and the door bumped the rear door of one of parked cabs.
Bumped is overstating it.
What’s between a bump and a kiss?
Whatever it was it didn’t leave a mark. I checked. Not a dent. Not a ding. Not a nick. Not a scratch. Not any damage at all I could see.
I’m not sure what I’d have done if there had been. Probably shrugged it off. It was a cab in New York City after all. A New York City taxi cab without dents or dings must be as rare as a pirate without an eye patch.
Apparently I found that pirate.
The driver jumped out.
“You bumped my cab!” he shouted.
I didn’t point out it was more of a nudge.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“You bumped my cab!” he shouted again. He was middle-aged. Neatly dressed in slacks and a zippered cardigan. Distinguished looking. Middle Eastern with closely trimmed snow white hair and a meticulously groomed silver and gray mustache.
“I’m sorry,” I said again. I’d have thought a simple but sincere apology would have covered it. There was no damage, I hadn’t done it intentionally, it’s something that happens all the time to everybody. Everybody’s been a door bumpee or door bumper at some point. Multiple points. I elaborated on my apology. “I’m very sorry,” I said.
“You’re sorry? You’re sorry?” he said. “You bump my cab and that’s all you say? You’re sorry?”
I didn’t know what else to say. Of course it occurred to me that what he wanted me to say was something along the lines of “Here’s ten bucks? Is that sorry enough for you?” But there was something theatrical about his anger. It was like he was playing the part of an irate Middle Eastern cabbie in a movie, one who’d somehow gotten in the way of the hero during a chase. And I wondered if he wanted me to play a part in that movie in his head too, if he wanted me to argue with him, say something more like, “Yeah, I bumped your fucking cab, what about it?” and the drama would take off from there.
I wanted to just walk away. My cab had driven away and I was standing in the street unprotected from oncoming traffic. that might swerve. Drivers might spot a parked cab in time to swerve but might not notice a pedestrian until I rolled off their hood. But I couldn’t decide where to walk to. My driver had left me off a long, painful hobble from the corner and much longer hobble to the front end of the line of parked cabs. The cabs weren’t the only things blocking me from sidewalk. All along Sixth and up 52nd as far as I could see were metal barricades to keep the sidewalks clear around the Sheraton.
A former President was inside. A former Secretary of State too. And their daughter. And dozens of foreign heads of state and foreign and domestic dignitaries. Along with more than a handful of movie stars and other celebrities. The Secret Service was out in force and making their presence felt. In a few minutes, I’d be having a polite but all business encounter with a short,young, squarely built agent with a dark ponytail and SECRET SERVICE stenciled on her kevlar vest who, probably wondering how I’d gotten inside the barricades to begin with let me know with a glare and a wave as swift, strong, compact, and unmistakable in meaning as a karate chop that I was on what she regarded as the wrong side of her street and, cane or no cane, I’d better cross to the other side now.
She would be the second agent I’d have dealings with in a space of five minutes.
The cabbie seemed to take my hesitation as a sign I’d gone up in my lines and, determined to continue the drama and get our big scene restarted, prompted me with my cue again.
“You’re sorry? You go around bumping people’s cars and say you’re sorry. That makes it all right? You’re sorry?”
Suddenly I knew what my next line should be. I wasn’t intentionally playing along. It was just reflex.
“What, you’ve never done it yourself?”
He was ready.
“No! Never! I have never done that!”
“In all your years behind the wheel? Not once?”
“Not once! I know how to be careful.”
“That’s amazing,” I said. “You’re amazing. You should write a manual. Tell people your secret.”
I thought that was pretty good. Worth a chuckle from the audience. If we had an audience. Which, it turned out, we did.
Three tall, square-shouldered, square-jawed guys with the names of their agencies on their body armor had ambled up to the barricades.
The third guy actually looked the most intimidating.
They were laughing.
I tried to think of a topper.
The cabbie was quiet but probably not because he was waiting for my comeback so he could top it. I suspect was thinking it might be a good time to cut the scene short. He wasn’t sure he wanted this type of an audience.
Didn’t matter. The guys had decided the show was over. The city cop lowered the curtain, so to speak, by swinging open a section of the barricades. That’s when I saw they hadn’t chosen any old spot from which to watch the comedy play out. They were standing where there was just enough space between the bumpers of two of the parked cabs for me to limp through. They’d come over to help me out.
I made my exit without bowing to take a bow and the cabbie did the same, getting back into his cab to wait for a fare or another, better opportunity to relieve his boredom with some impromptu street theater.
The three guys were grinning merrily as I made my way between the cabs and through the gateway they’d made for me.
“Welcome to New York,” I said and I hope they caught that I wasn’t being sarcastic.
I was grateful to them. I was grateful to the cabbie. They’d made my day by reminding me.
I love New York.
Off to the big city for the presentations of the 2014 Hillman Prizes for Journalism. I’ll be tweeting from my seat in the front row at the New York Times Center, maybe even doing a little live-blogging starting around 6 PM. You can follow along on Twitter by checking in at #hillman2014 or jumping into my feed or you just sit right here and watch the action unfold in the Twitter widget over in the left-hand sidebar.
The winners are, as usual, a diverse and impressive bunch, starting with the great digby, Heather Parton, who is being given this year’s prize for Opinion & Analysis.
You can sample the work of the other winners online too:
For Book Journalism: Ira Katznelson. Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time.
For Broadcast Journalism: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Bud Bultman, Roni Selig, Melissa Dunst Lipman, Carl Graf, Saundra Young. “Weed: Dr Sanjay Gupta Reports” CNN.
For Magazine Journalism: Jonathan Cohn. “The Hell of American Daycare.” New Republic.
For Newspaper Journalism: Pat Beall. “Private Prisons: Profit, Politics, Pain”. The Palm Beach Post.
For Web Journalism: Craig Welch and Steve Ringman. “Sea Change: The Pacific’s Perilous Turn” The Seattle Times and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. (Great video with this one.)
The city of Wuhu, Anhui Province, People’s Republic of China, population 2,263,123 and counting. One of 120 cities in China with more than a million people living in them. Photo courtesy of Cultural China.
Tuesday night at CGI. The panel Gavin Newsom was part of, Megacities, Mega challenges included Yang Jiechi, China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Naturally, Yang had a lot to add to a point that Newsom raised in passing, that China has 120 cities with populations of more than one million, and those cities are growing and other, at the moment smaller cities are also growing.
All those people have to come from somewhere.
Many somewheres. Somewheres on their way to becoming nowheres.
The farther I drove across northern China, the more I wondered what would become of all the villages. The cities were easy to predict, at least in terms of growth---their trajectory was already laid out in tracks of cement and steel. In the countryside, though, it was impossible to imagine who would be living here in a generation. Often I stopped in a village and saw only the very old, the disabled,and the very young, because migrants left their children behind to be raised by grandparents. Workers still didn’t feel settled in the cities, although inevitably that was bound to change; it seemed likely that in the future they’d find some way to have their families closer to work. for many of the northern villages this might be the last generation where a significant number of children were still growing up in the countryside.
An hour west of Jingbian, I stopped to visit the Great Wall near the village on Ansi. This region had been a major defense point for the Ming, and people told me that that there were particularly impressive ruins near Ansi. The name means “Temple of Peace,” and when I pulled over in the village I saw only one adult. He was disabled, with a pair of rough-hewn wooden crutches, and he was minding a flock of children. In rural China, that’s become an archetypal scene: little kids dancing around somebody who can hardly walk.
That’s from Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip by Peter Hessler, a travel book about Hessler’s explorations of the Chinese countryside north and west of Beijing. He travels mainly by car, following the Great Wall as much of the way as he can. That’s the frame. Country Driving is really about this accelerated urbanization of China as seen from the parts of the country emptying out as young people flock to the cities and about its effects on individuals left behind or who’ve chosen not to follow.
As you can imagine, it’s a sad, wistful book. Sadder because it’s a reminder that the same thing is happening here. Not as quickly, and people aren’t leaving their children behind. [Editor’s note: But see the update below.] When we talk about immigration here, we usually talk about how immigrants take jobs most Americans don’t want to do. We should also talk about how a lot of those jobs are in places where Americans no longer want to live.
But while it’s sad to think about what happens when these places empty out, how poverty increases, how communities shatter, how people grow lonely and lost, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing that more and more people are moving into cities. I’m a fan of cities, as long their growth can be planned for and controlled and as long as there are actually jobs and decent places to live for people moving in.
Planning and controlling the growth was the subject of the panel, of course, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that Newsom and Yang and the others didn’t talk about cities as places to live so much as engineering projects to be managed.
Just about everybody on the panel sees this urbanization as a good thing but they seem to it from a purely technocratic point of view. As they put it, one after the other, cities are good because they are useful for delivering goods and services efficiently. As far as I could tell from what they all said, the point of a city is mechanical--- a city is a machine for producing a well-fed, well-clothed, healthy population of workers who need to know where to park their cars. Hardly any of them talked about how cities might be fun and exciting places to live.
They all tended to sound like Newsom or like New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who said:
We have eight point four million people [in New York City]. We’re going to have a million more by Twenty-thirty. What are we going to do so that when we open the door in Twenty-thirty we’re going to like what we see. So [Mayor Bloomberg’s] strategy was to look at what that meant, and that meant reducing the environmental impact on the City of New York and it meat improving the quality of life, which had some really profound implications for transportation . So we worked really, really hard to prioritize people* in our transportation network, and so building out more places to walk, which is really important for business, building out more effective ways of getting around by buses, which can be done at low cost very quickly, rather than very expensive rail and commuter rail projects which can take decades and generations to build; engineering new mobility onto our streets with bike lanes, which are great also for pedestrians, because injuries to all users go down every time we put down these lanes….We closed Broadway, made it much better for people to walk around and that turned out to be much better for business. Times Square, for the first time in history, is one of the top retail locations on the planet.
*Note to bureaucrats and politicians: If you use the phrase “prioritize people" you probably aren’t really thinking about people and their priorities.
At any rate, in talking about managing the project in China, Yang got into something in broad, technocratic terms something that Hessler reports on in Country Driving at a more human level. The Chinese government is working hard to slow the migration to the cities, particularly to the fast developing and increasingly prosperous coastal cities. One of the things its doing is making the smaller cities outside the megacities more attractive to people. Yang talked about the thousands of kilometers of roads and rail lines being built to make them easier to reach and commute in and out of. Hessler describes how the seeding of these less than mega-cities with industries that don’t yet exist has resulted in scenes like this:
Wuhu is located on the banks of the Yangtze River, about five hours from Shanghai, and it’s one of the new frontiers of the southern economic boom. When we drove through the city’s industrial zone, it was still in the early stages: roads had curbs, sidewalks, and even street signs, but few people were outside. Most factories were still half-built shells behind high walls and impressive gates, all of them waiting for the machinery to be installed. In an odd way, it reminded me of the villages I’d driven through in northern China In places like Smash the Hu and Slaughter the Hu, everything had been surrounded by massive fortifications, but most residents had already left. Here in the development zone, it felt similar: big walls and gates, lots of structures, few people. If you were transported directly from a northern village to a fledgling factory strip, you’d wonder, Where is everybody? But that’s the nature of a country in transition: something is always being abandoned while something else is always being built. The people are in constant motion---on trains, in buses, on boats. They stand beside rural roads […] looking for a ride south. In half a year this Wuhu factory strip would be finished, and after that the young people would arrive in droves.
That scene from Wuhu struck me as ghastly and nightmarish when I read it the first time. But then I thought, where are there scenes like that here and how can we create more of them.
Tomorrow, President Obama is coming here to speak. Word is he’ll have something to say about that.
Sadik-Khan was able to break the techno-speak habit from time to time and translate herself into plain English. Making the case that cities can be environmentally friendly she said:
New Yorkers have one third the carbon footprint of the average American, so, really, if you want to save the planet you should just move to New York.
Update. Me: “…people aren’t leaving their children behind.”
Rebecca Clayton in the comments:
Here in Pocahontas County WV, there quite a few children being raised by grandparents or other relatives. Some of the kids are "left behind" by parents who can't find stable work, while others are sent "back home" because the urban workplace communities are unsavory. This is the case in the farming community where I grew up (southwestern Iowa) as well.
It's not as obvious as what Hessler describes, but it means that children are being raised on Social Security income, disability benefits, and pensions. They're growing up in an environment where they don't see many people working for a living, and the school system finds the grandparents under-engaged in the education process. In a way, it's a ghetto with fresh air and trees.
A hundred years ago, this was a boom town full of loggers. 60 years ago, people left for Detroit on the Hillbilly Highway hoping for good union jobs. These days, the destination is unclear.