Solving the impossible

May 31st, 2011

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used to say that the best solution to an intractable problem, was to create a bigger problem. That didn't work out very well for him, or the Country. In fact, fully 5 percent of all conflicts end in a stalemate - not just the big ones that we read about every day, but also disputes and arguments in our everyday lives. How do we get beyond this, or do we? Dr. Peter Coleman of Columbia University, in his new work The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts argues that there are very real ways to break through even some of the most heated and critical issues of the day. My conversation with Dr. Peter T. Coleman:

Khan Academy transforms Education

May 17th, 2011

Since John Dewey laid out the predicate for broad scale societal education, at the turn of the last century, things have remained pretty much the same. Sure we’ve tinkered around the edges, scaled up and done some experimentation. But today it truly does seem we are simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

In a world where the collected wisdom of mankind is a mouse click away, where the disparity in leaning ability and style is wider than ever and where the need for education has never been clearer, we really do need a whole to paradigm.

Sal Khan, a Harvard and MIT graduate and for Hedge Fund analyst may very well be the man who is the progenitor of that paradigm shift. Sal Khan is the founder, administrator and the faculty of the Khan Academy. An online resource that is educating over 2 million students a month. My conversation with Sal Khan:

Our search for safety, our loss of liberty.

May 16th, 2011

Benjamin Franklin said that "those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." In the war on drugs and war on terror we seem to have forgotten this. Like the frog in boiling water, we seem to have become desensitized as free speech, privacy and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures have been eroded. The Patriot Act not withstanding, we can do something about. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Shipler in his new work, The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties makes a clarion call for our attention. My conversation with David Shipler:

The Accidental Sportswriter

May 13th, 2011

The legendary Howard Cosell once said of sports, that it was "the toy department of human life."  In fact, it is perhaps our most powerful metaphor for life. A world of courage, pain, competition, sometimes meritocracy, celebrity and yes...often corruption and disrepute. What better way to understand the world, than to have spent the past six decades covering the ever changing and evolving wide world of sports?  That is exactly what Robert Lipsye has done. By virtue of his perch at the New York Times, Robert Lipsyte has had a front row seat at the smorgasbord of heroes and contenders that have entertained, amazed and disappointed us for the past 50 years. His expansive and time transforming memoir Accidental Sportswriter is just out. My conversation with Robert Lipsyte:

Rethinking Global Poverty

May 12th, 2011

Scott Fitzgerald said that the rich are different. But what about the poor?  Beyond the common denominator of poverty, are there aspects of a life of poverty that we just don’t understand? Does poverty itself create a different world view that accounts for the fundamental failure of so many well meaning anti- poverty programs? Moreover, even after our experience tells us otherwise, why do we continue to look for a magic bullet that will suddenly eradicate poverty and transform the developing world? The bottom line, is that we need to carefully and honestly measure results and realize that success it is a process that is often a slow and painful. No one working in the international development field today is as wise on these issues as Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee.

Esther Duflo is a leading development economist known for her work in applying impact evaluation, and controlled trials and other field experiments to identify which development interventions actually work. She is the Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at the MIT and co-founder of the Poverty Action Lab. She is a MacArther fellow and recognized by The Economist, Fortune and Foreign Policy magazine as one of most influential young leaders of our time.  

Abhijit Banerjee is the Ford Foundation international professor of economics at MIT, also a co-founder of the Poverty Action Lab.   Duflo and Banerjee's research has led them to identify wholly new aspects of the behavior of poor people, their needs, and the way that aid or financial investment can affect their lives. They are co-authors of Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty. My conversation with Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee:

Wal-Mart’s Green Revolution…really1

May 11th, 2011

Imagine if the world's largest retailer, a company long reviled by many, became the poster child for sustainability and a trailblazer in the field of green business? That is exactly what Wal-Mart has done. It's a little bit shocking, but for the last five years, Wal-Mart has evolved into a model in the green revolution and in fact, could set the stage for the transformation of business in the 21st century. How did this happen? It is real or just a PR stunt and can it continue? These and many other questions are answered by Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Humes in his new work Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart's Green Revolution My conversation with Edward Humes:

The Wizard of Lies

May 10th, 2011

Much has been made of all the greed that led to the crash of 2008/2009. Much anger has been directed at bankers and investment bankers. Clearly many did engage in highly speculative behavior and skirted grey areas of the investment business. But one man redefined greed.and manipulation on Wall Street. If it was a time of cutting corners, then Bernie Madoff went off the road.

Madoff may have been a crook, but he didn't exist in a vacuum. His behavior reflected the extreme temper of the times on a Wall Street - a place he helped shape and that he intimately understood. He was not, as  financial journalist Diana Henriques has said, not inhumanly monstrous, but rather monstrously human.

My conversation with New York Times senior financial writer Diana Henriques about her book The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the death of Trust.

The World As It Is

May 6th, 2011

I think we can all agree that the the American experiment is in decline. Our politics and our public institutions are broken and we have no idea how to fix them. Corporations have eviscerated most of the traditional liberal institutions that have served us.

In there place we've established a kind of oligarchic system which has intensified class divide in America. As a result, a proliferation of fear, ignorance and anger have become the primary symptoms. It has given rise to a new breed of pseudo patriotic rhetoric that, not unlike celebrity culture, leads to the very destruction of that which it reveres. In Yeats’s words, "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

In spite of it all, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, thinks there is some cause for hope, if that hope is coupled with new forms of resistance and civil disobedience. Hedgers one of our great "moral voices" and the author of   Death of the Liberal Class now offers a gut punching critique of our world as it is, in his new work The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress My conversation with Chris Hedges:

A Singular Woman

May 4th, 2011

In yesterdays NY Times, David Brooks had an insightful column about how individuals matter. He reminded us that while we have a tendency to see history as driven by deep historical forces,  sometimes it is just driven by completely inexplicable individuals, who combine qualities you would think could never go together. In some ways we could make this case about Barack Obama, but perhaps more importantly we can make it about his mother, Ann Dunham.  A woman truly ahead of her time. She defined and defied the boundaries of single motherhood and she made her own decisions. She had great success, yet no plan. She made lists of what she wanted to accomplish, yet seemed to improvise every step of  her life.. She had her own ideas of what it meant to be a good mother and it certainly gave her a good son.  She was in the title of Janny Scott's brilliant new biography of her, A Singular Woman. My conversation with for New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Janny Scott:


May 3rd, 2011

Google is something we use everyday. Yet it's inner workings, both as a corporation and its products are often shrouded in more mystery then Osama Bin Laden's previous whereabouts. Yet the company and its products have become not only ubiquitous, but the catalyst that really allowed the Internet to explode and in so doing, changed the world. At the apogee of the industrial age it was said that "what's good for General Motors was good for the country." Now, well into the information age, is it safe to say that what’s good for Google is good for the country? Well, that depends....What it depends on, is the subject of Steven Levy's up close and personal look  In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. My conversation with Steven Levy:

Bin Laden: Lost and Found

May 3rd, 2011

Back in February, I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden unit. At that time Scheuer made the case that Bin Laden was still relevant and that the US and its allies needed to continue to stay focused on pursing Bin Laden. Now that effort has been successful. Bin Laden is gone. Yet a story in today's New York Times states that Al Qaeda is unlikely to be handicapped by the killing of Bin Laden who, the Times says, has been long removed from managing terrorist operations and whose popularity in the Muslim world has plummeted. So is this effort, no matter how successful, only symbolic and how will it impact a Middle East in revolutionary transition?

To try and address all of this I once again spoke to Michael Scheuer. He was the chief of the CIA's Bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999 and remained a counter-terrorism analyst until 2004. Most recently he wrote Osama Bin Laden My conversation with Michael Scheuer:

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