A look at what – and who – is pushing the future in new directions

Policy

Economic Development, in Word and Deed

I’d been familiar with his work for some time, so I was excited to hear Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto speak at the University of Minnesota’s Great Conversations program on Tuesday.  I’m in love.

de Soto asserts that the rule of law is what allows rich countries to prosper, and that the lack of it keeps poverty entrenched in the developing world. For de Soto, the rule of law begins with a fundamental distinction: property rights. Give people a deed for land and you have documentation of their right to it. If you have documentation, you can keep records, and with records, an accounting can be made, and with accounting comes accountability, the exercise – and protection – of one’s rights.

Implicit in accountability is a value for truth-telling, since a written record of transactions (and contracts) allows verification of an agreement. Further, it allows verification of value, the central construction for a functioning economy which must, necessarily, be rule-based.  That’s the only way to ensure that the value of something is real and can be compared to other similar products/services (else-wise known as transparency), the very basis of a market economy.

Feudal landlords kept records; they collected rents and taxes. When the time came to overturn that system (in the case of post WWII Japan) or start from scratch (as was done in the U.S.), it was relatively easy to turn around and issue deeds for land (to former serfs and peasants). Land is a basic form of capital, deeds ensure rights to it, and so capital formation can grow and be leveraged by the individual landowner.

It’s a very compelling argument, which de Soto makes with great passion and charisma. His point: it’s futile to address economic development without establishing property rights first. Without it, there is no way to curtail corruption and the shadow economies that flourish alongside it.

de Soto has long held the U.S. as a model of how property rights done right, and their benefits. Americans like to think that their prosperity springs from a Protestant work ethic, status as a chosen people, an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, and the good fortune of abundant land and resources. “Fooey!” says de Soto (my expression, not his). Many countries share land and resource wealth, and the ingenuity of their people; what they lack, relative to the U.S., are property rights.

Yet, the recession of 2007-present that hit the U.S., he attributes to the same fancy financial instruments that created such huge cash flow — derivatives and the like — which became ‘toxic’ precisely because record-keeping failed. The paper trail that typically tracks mortgages > second mortgages > rating schenanigans (i.e. you call those assets?!) > derivatives, etc. failed, and no one knows the real value of what they hold. This exposes us to unimaginable vulnerability because if you can’t account for what is/isn’t there, you can’t fix it. Worse, says de Soto, the derivatives effectively made confetti of the paper and now it’s scattered all over the world. The result: you don’t know whose hand is in whose pocket, nor do you know that when they remove their hand, what they actually hold. A crisis is just a pocket-full of confetti away (Exhibit A: Greece).

The good news, says de Soto, is that it’s fixable. Return to what you/we already know: accounting. Put everything on the table again, determine what’s toxic, what’s not, and take the bad stuff out of circulation. The TARP program was supposed to have done this, but it instead made us all shareholders in the banks that hold the debt which means that we now own shares of their debt. The problem: if the bank collapses, it hurts a whole lot of people. Rather than face it head on, the answer has been to print more money under the naive and dangerous rationale that if people have more money, they’ll spend more money, confidence goes up, allowing consumption to kick-start the economy again. Not only is this like putting a bandage over a pothole (structural failure), it’s what’s called inflation.

Doing the right thing, as always, requires courage. This could be handled within the efforts on financial reform but, unfortunately, accountability is what everyone (legislators and regulators, politicians, Wall Street execs, and voters) is trying to avoid.

de Soto is a great story-teller, and he makes his case with terrific clarity.  He’s a must-see/read/listen to thinker. Start with the video above and, if you want to hear the presentation he gave this week, you’ll find it in its entirety here: http://www.cce.umn.edu/media/greatconversations/atwood_desoto/player.html


The Good Kind of Global Warming

“People around the world today view the United States more positively than at any time since the second Iraq war,”

Doug Miller, chairman of international polling firm GlobeScan

Views of the US around the world have improved sharply over the past year, according to a worldwide poll conducted by the BBC world service. For the first time since the poll was conducted in 2005, America’s influence and position in the world is regarded as positive rather than negative. Surveying thirty thousand people in twenty eight countries, the BBC world service claimed that forty percent of respondents saw the US in a positive light, a figure that is up from 38% in 2005 and 28% in 2007. In particular, positive views of the US increased by 21% in Germany, 18% in Russia and 14% in Portugal from 2009. Additionally, negative opinions of the US declined by 23% in Spain, 14% in France and 10% in the UK. Out of the 28 nations surveyed, only two countries, those of Turkey and Pakistan, have populations in which more than 50% of respondents have a negative view of the United States.

Although the United States still polls below countries like Germany, the UK and Canada, the poll results indicate that the international reputation of the US is slowly improving. According to Steven Kull, director of PIPA, this shift is caused by the, ‘Obama effect:

“Its influence on people’s views worldwide, though, is to soften the negative aspects of the United States’ image, while positive aspects are not yet coming into strong focus.”

Adding to that, Kull claimed, “While China’s image is stuck in neutral, America has motored past it in the global soft-power competition.”

Evidence for the Obama effect is plentiful outside the realm of statistics. In 2009, Egyptian merchants named their top quality dates after President Obama in appreciation of the Presidents appeal to the global Muslim community. Obama’s election to the White House in 2008 was celebrated as an international victory, with slogans of hope and change appealing and applying to a vast range of peoples and places.


Making Art Not War: Jihad Therapy

How much would you pay for a painting made by a terrorist?

Imagine this: you find yourself in the dusty dry heat of Saudi Arabia, surrounded by some of the most radical and threatening criminals the world has ever seen. Sure, their resumes might be dotted with bomb making expertise and foiled suicide missions, but they tell you that they have out grown that part of their lives. Instead, they complain about the way oil paint gets lodged underneath their fingers when they paint their feelings onto white canvases, and indulge you with a joke that begins something like, ‘So an Arab Sheikh an oil broker and an American walk into a shisha bar…’ and oddly enough, you find yourself laughing along with some of the most feared people in the world against your better judgment.

Sounds crazy?

Not so much. Allow me to introduce ‘jihad rehab’, a fresh take on combating the ever pressing problems of global terrorism and ideologically driven conflict. A pilot program initiated by Saudi Arabia, jihad rehab provides an alternative mode of prisoner reform that attempts to cater to the ‘hearts and minds’ of Saudi citizens who have been found guilty of committing (or attempting to commit) acts of terror. Instead of prisoners, participants are called ‘beneficiaries’ who are enrolled in programs in plush and comfortable ‘centers’ in the Saudi city of Riyadh. Instead of barbed wire, you will see ping pong tables and play station consoles. Instead of cramped and confined spaces, you will find pristine football fields and lush gardens.

The main components of such programs include:

1) Religious reeducation: Participants are enrolled in classes taught by local community leaders and activists, in the religious sect of their choosing. Such programs attempt to redirect religious activism away from violence and towards more democratic and effective methods of expressing ones beliefs.

2) Reintegration: In addition to reconnecting participants with their families and friends, such programs offer ways for participants to begin a socially integrated life from scratch. Some examples of social reintegration techniques include finding participants a wife, an apartment, a job, and in one case funding fertility treatments in order for participants to start their own family.

3) Therapy: Participants are pushed to find healthy ways to express themselves and their feelings. In addition to group and individual therapy sessions, participants are enrolled in art classes and play team sports.

So, is it possible that paint brushes are society’s best modes of crime prevention? Saudi Arabia claims that their method has had a ninety five percent success rate, though that statement comes with a long list of caveats:

1) Change comes from within: students must prove that they are ready to better their lives and sincerely change their ways and viewpoints.

2) Expense: the state must be willing to bear the costs of such programs, which might be easy for Saudi Arabia, but has been difficult for other nations to maintain. As programs that are very resource-heavy, this factor has been pivotal in determining the success or failure of such programs in other countries.

3) Cultural specificity: There can be no reintegration without cultural context; change has to come from within a state in order to be viable and considered as legitimate by participants.

As a program, terrorist rehab is still in its primary stages of conception and execution, but it points to some interesting changes in the way the world is addressing the wider issue of terrorism. Competing with the sense of brotherhood and belonging that terrorist networks provide to their followers, jihad rehab tries to instill alternative sources of value and self esteem for participants in their program. By attempting to reintegrate once marginalized parts of their populations, nations are presenting viable alternatives to the mental and emotional aspects of what makes being a jihadi an emotionally fulfilling experience. If the Saudi model continues to be successful, other nations, if funded appropriately, could implement similar programs that would cater to their specific needs and capabilities. The next step would then be to make funds and infrastructure available to nations that are less rehab ready than Saudi Arabia.


Towards A New Global Consensus? Maybe.

In response to a variety of system failures in all directions, this year’s World Economic Forum focused on the themes of: Rethink, Redesign and Rebuild. World leaders and business titans had explored new options to ensure a brighter future for global communities.

Commenting on the happenings at the World Economic Forum, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman noted there was a significant shift in tone, particularly regarding the United States as a role model in how we think, design and build. With the United States at the center of the global economic crisis and eight years and counting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of getting things done seem less seductive than it once was.

In recent years, nations such as China, India and Brazil have proved themselves as able competitors in the free market system, which has resulted in a more diverse trading environment. In addition to that, the world has become more pluralistic in its consumption of the arts; movies like Slumdog Millionaire and musicians like Juanez and Jay Sean have made the world pay attention to nations that until recently were only known for their booming birth rates and low standards of living. For the first time, the world is looking beyond Western Europe and North America for new ideas and innovations, and perhaps most strikingly, for solutions.

This remarkable shift in the way the world works has stimulated a debate regarding strategies for third world development. For the last 20 years, development policy has been dominated by the Washington Consensus; a post cold war doctrine that stresses the principles of macroeconomic discipline, a market economy, and free trade. However, there has been growing concern about the efficacy and prescriptive nature of this model. Such criticism has resulted in the development of an alternative model by China: the Beijing Consensus.

Washington Consensus Beijing Consensus
Fiscal Discipline Innovation
Prioritizing Public Expenditure towards basic health and education. Long term sustainable development
Tax Reform. Self determinism
Liberalizing interest rates.
Trade liberalization.
Privatization
Deregulation

When compared, some striking contrasts become apparent:

  • Accused of being too specific, the Washington consensus is more prescriptive and comprehensive in its policy recommendations. In comparison, the Beijing consensus is deliberately brief and vague; its proponents claim that it leaves more room for innovation and creativity.
  • The Beijing consensus claims to tailor make development policies to the needs of a country, so that all the resources of a state are maximized with considerations for potential hurdles taken into account. In contrast, the Washington consensus does not offer the same room for tweaking policies to fit the particularities of a specific nation and shifting conditions.
  • One of the guiding principles of the Beijing consensus is that of self determinism, in which a state is empowered to solve its own problems in order to ensure long-term sustainability of policies and programs. Such a policy challenges the notion of super power hegemony with an aim to make development an expression of self determination.

The cracks in the Washington consensus reflect a worldview that is dated. The nature of this document doesn’t support a world that is far more fluid and volatile than such policies allow for. In contrast, the Beijing consensus seems to capture some of the mercurial conditions and demands of economic development, and offers a customized set of policy recommendations in response.

Given the simmering challenges presented by climate change, political instability, resource shortages and conflict it is clear that every path taken needs to be facile and tailored to the needs of a people, culture and region. For now, the international community will have to wait to test out the first batch of Beijing inspired development in order to really get a taste of what is in store for development policy in 2010!


It’s the Underlying Assumptions, Stupid

Multiple perspectives - illustration by John S. DykesDesign thinking – Designers solve problems and create new possibilities by asking questions. On a new project, designers will invariably ask what designer Bruce Mau calls “stupid questions,” … “the kinds of queries that challenge assumptions in such a fundamental way they can make the questioner seem naïve.”

As in a medical examination or a structural audit on a construction site, the function of the stupid question is to thump around in the context of a product or issue to uncover, understand and test underlying assumptions.  Designer Paula Scher talks to Mau about the value of approaching a problem from the perspective of an outsider,

“When I’m totally unqualified for a job, that’s when I do my best work … If you have too much expertise—if you think you know the answers already—you won’t be as open to offbeat possibilities. But if you’re a neophyte, you’ll ask what would seem to be obvious … From ignorance, you can come up with something that is so out of left field that it has been ignored or was never considered a possibility.”

Mau points out that, “The fear for so many people is that, in asking these kinds of questions, they will seem naïve. But naïve is a valuable commodity in this context. Naïve is what allows you to try to do what the experts say can’t be done.”

Outside of the realm of design (which I believe is a debatable distinction, since most problem solving activities can legitimately stake claim in the category of “design”), this approach can facilitate reconsideration of the foundations of a situation, provide a different perspective on the world, and help us “regain focus and retackle old, entrenched problems.”

Cut to the White House Situation Room – In what has been described as a “head-snapping” moment, high ranking members of President Obama’s Afghanistan review team realized that his approach to emerging military issues in the region was not simply a matter of “updating” his previous strategy, but essentially “starting over from scratch.”

Over a three month period, President Obama engaged U.S. military experts in an “intense, methodical, rigorous, earnest and at times deeply frustrating process for nearly all involved.”  The decision-making exercise became a “virtual seminar” driven by the President’s “insatiable demand for information.” Not only did he invite new perspectives and challenge competing view points to debate, he also listened and asked probing questions a la “college professor/cross-examiner.”

Taking a page from Gordon M. Goldstein’s book on the Vietnam War, “Lessons in Disaster,” President Obama concluded that “both President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson failed to question the underlying assumption about monolithic Communism and the domino theory – clearly driving the Obama advisors to rethink the nature of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

Over the course of the analysis, Obama challenged the veracity of long-held assumptions about nearly every aspect of the Middle East scenario. By adopting the open, imaginative mind-set of the naive outsider/learner, President Obama engaged the U.S. military advisors in a rigorous design thinking exercise.

National security advisor, General James L. Jones spoke to the exhaustive inquiry, “From the very first meeting, everyone started with set opinions. And no opinion was the same by the end of the process.”


When's the Last Time You "Carded" Yourself?

At one point in our lives, we’ve all been forewarned that collecting credit cards is a bad habit to get into, but what about collecting ID cards? No, I’m not talking about fake IDs, but rather your real, government issued ID. It’s a proposal that doesn’t seem so uncanny when we live in a world where people live and work so transiently, yet its complications are many.

Take this example:

Earlier this month, Britain unveiled their new take on the national ID card to much public dissatisfaction. Their decision to respect the identity rights of Irish Nationalists living in Northern Ireland (as decreed by the Belfast Agreement) was done in a way that inflamed the rest of the UK population: there will be no union flag featured on the card design. Instead, a shamrock, daffodil, thistle, and rose will represent the four countries of the UK.

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Although I don’t doubt that the intention of the British government was well-aimed in allaying the concerns of the Irish Nationalists (specifically those who remain armed), but they have forgotten that the Unionists of Northern Ireland are also armed and expect adequate representation from their government. As reported by the UK’s Daily Mail, DUP Northern Ireland Assembly member Iain Paisley Junior remarked, “I can’t imagine anyone would want a so-called national identity card if it expunges the symbol of our national unity, which is the union flag.”

Further complicating matters, those living in Northern Ireland who identify themselves as Irish will only be able to use the UK national ID card as a “personal ID.” If they wish to travel outside of the country, the must be issued an ID from the Irish Government. In essence, British, Irish, and those claiming dual citizenship are able to reside in Northern Ireland; you may carry both forms of identification, but you can only use certain ones in specific circumstances. If it sounds like an identity crisis, that’s because it is.

Most of us have dealt with this dilemma in some small form, like when you’ve finally lived in a new place long enough to start telling people you’re from “Colorado” instead of wherever your parent’s house is – confusing at first, but not inexplicable. However, for those who live in disputed places, it may be that the land they identify with is altered or no longer even exists. When I studied in Northern Ireland, for example, whether my hometown was called “Derry” or “Londonderry” was an ongoing battle. To get by, I soon learned to spit it out quickly enough so that no one could determine which one it was that I said.

A way of getting around this is to identify yourself in hyphenations. This is a choice that is most common to the United States and is frequently interpreted as a “cultural-national” identity, i.e.) “Mexican-American.” “Jewish-American.” “Hispanic-American.” If you travel elsewhere, you will find a whole new set of examples to describe identity such as “negro, mulatto, mestizo, indigenous” – primarily associated with race.  The case of Northern Ireland is an anomaly in that where a person’s identity is generally viewed as compilation of both cultural, national, and racial elements, Northern Ireland’s dispute does not fit this stereotype. Everyone is Anglo-Saxon, their cultural histories run relatively parallel, but the dilemma of what they should call themselves still remains.

What’s in a name? Apparently everything. It is fascinating to dig into the connotations behind identity because they invite questions that we should all be asking about ourselves. It is important to address the different meanings and associations your identity holds for you as well as the varying perspectives it might to convey to others. It will help you to stamp-out short-sightedness in any venture  that you choose to pursue. Here are a few appetizers to get your started:

What is your identity?

National, ethnic, cultural?

How important is it to you?

Is it fixed or fluid?

Is it government ordained or a personal choice?

How does your identity influence your decision-making?

How does your identity shape your relationship with others?

If you’re still stumped, don’t worry – it’s a complex issue. Take it from Dr. Seuss:

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You!”



Richard Branson Goes Hungry for Darfur

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Richard Branson explains in a video blog why he has chosen to take up Mia Farrow’s fast for Darfur:

“We fast in solidarity with the people of Darfur because they do not have a choice. We fast as a personal expression of outrage at a world that has allowed the suffering of millions of innocent people. We fast because as we simply watched, Darfur’s defenceless people were forced into wretched camps where today they are facing starvation and disease. We fast because those in positions of authority who know what is right and just, could and should do more to alleviate their suffering and bring peace, protection, and justice to the people of Sudan.

We fast for Darfur’s courageous people —because we yearn for a world where human rights are respected and a life of dignity is the legacy for every man, woman and child.

Please join us and get involved in supporting the people of Darfur by going to www.fastdarfur.org and taking action.”

Branson told Entertainment Weekly that his decision to take up a three day fast for Darfur in the aftermath of the Sudanese government’s decision to expel 16 international aid organizations is “the first time I’ve deprived my stomach to get political change.” I commend his efforts and view his support of Darfur as a powerful move. I recently wrote an article on the sway of the hunger strike in response to Evo Morales’ six-day hunger strike for election reform. People often brush aside the efforts of famous people in working for social action – like its some kind of sideshow to their otherwise luxurious lifestyle, but I will not condemn anyone who cares in any capacity that they can. Branson’s three-day hunger strike is a commitment that encourages so many others because his influence is so widespread.

[Sidenote: Shame on you, journalists, for introducing Mia Farrow as "the former wife of Frank Sinatra and the ex-girlfriend of Woody Allen" in nearly every article written on Farrow's handing over of the hunger strike to Richard Branson. Aside from her former career as an actress, singer, and model, she should be recognized first and foremost by her status as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and her tireless work in the conflict-stricken regions of Sudan and Chad. If I find it annoying that she's still being introduced by her former love life, I can't imagine how she feels. Give the woman some due credit!]


Wisecracks from the White House

The annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner could have been another platform for Obama to stay somber and serious about our current state of affairs, but instead, he chose to take a lighter note and unexpectedly crack a lot of jokes.  If anyone is going to abuse a position of power, this is how it should be done – with humor! Thank you, President Obama for some much needed comic relief!


Girl Power in Government

superwomansbThis week is almost too good to be true in the estrogen kingdom!

* Iceland officially chooses Johanna Sigurdardottir as the world’s first openly lesbian woman prime minister – you go girl!

* The wife of Kenyan Prime Minister Odinga has announced her official participation in a “sex boycott” ordered to end the political feud that is currently paralyzing the Kenyan government. I imagine it was something along the lines of : “Sorry hubby, if you won’t put out for Kenya, I won’t put out for you.”

* Last but not least, the resignation of Justice David Souter from the Supreme Court has sent rumors flying that a female replacement is in the works. Finally, order in the court!

In Iceland, Johanna Sigurdardottir’s left-wing coalition is taking power from the conservative, independent party.  The 18-year leadership of the latter, male-dominated party is widely regarded as being responsible for the country’s current economic collapse. Under Sigurdardottir, women are returning in high numbers to parliamentary positions. The Icelandic media has even identified their new government as the fourth strongest female power house in the world.

While Iceland is showing females that there’s  strength in numbers, Ida Odinga, wife of the Kenyan PM proved today that there’s also strength in…um, well, you know…down there. Kenya’s Federation of Women Lawyers has been urging the wives of top ranking politicians involved in both sides of the stand-off to abstain from having sex with their husbands until a resolution is reached. “Women wanted to drive the issue home…they did it with a light touch,” Odinga spoke out on her decision to join the protest. Her response is fitting as she is well-known for being a woman of few words, but full of calculated action. In September of last year, she turned down the traditional $70,000 paycheck given to all wives of state for their “social responsibilities”, an act of grace that the Kenyan media praised very highly.

In the United States, all eyes are on the next Supreme Court candidate. The Daily Beast has laid out its list of top picks, not even bothering to insist on gender neutrality. Convinced that a democratic female has the highest bid, they have profiled Diane P. Wood, Sonia Sotomayor, Kim Mclane Wardlaw, Leah Ward Sears, and a few more to give you a peek at who may be in store. One look at their extensive qualifications and us women of the world can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Miss California, Rest In Peace.


A Preview of A Global Dinner Party

This Monday, I had the opportunity to attend a test dinner of the Push Institute’s much-anticipated Global Dinner Party (now in its pilot phase) at the home of Sam and Sylvia Kaplan. The guest list included four lawyers (from corporate to entertainment to constitutional/security-torture-rendition, our mayor, a singer, a serial entrepreneur, a college student in need of a free meal/younger blogger (me), and others. The three-course dinner featured matzoh ball soup and salad, a Middle Eastern main dish, and chocolate meringue for dessert, but the conversation undoubtedly proved to be the main affair – so much that, I confess, I rather slacked off on taking notes. Like a good meal after a long day (when you don’t stop to wipe your face until you’ve cleaned your plate), I became so engrossed in the conversation that I did not pause to take notes for fear of missing the debate.

In our review of the evening, Cecily explained that “The aim of A Global Dinner Party is to bring people together over food and ideas, to share and challenge thinking about where we’re headed. We’re creating a 3-course menu of questions on topics such as energy, immigration, life expectancy, worldviews, exploration of space and ocean, morality, and other such juicy stuff.  If the conversation broadens and inspires people’s thinking, all while having fun, then the dinner is a success.  Ultimately, these are the kinds of experiences that ultimately impact how decisions are made — which is how change is made — and that’s what we’re after!  Share a dinner, create community, and change the world — what could be better?”

Discussion for the evening focused on (which) factors that create a stable and robust society. I’m not sure that we arrived at any answers, though there was agreement that a malleable framework (ability to identify and adapt to change) was indeed a key aspect. Some thought that framework depends on the soft stuff of trust and community, while others leaned toward the hard stuff of social institutions, i.e. government, constitution, laws, banks, schools, health care, philanthropy, etc.  It’s a chicken-egg/nature-nurture dialogue, but consensus wasn’t the goal, rather this group preferred to describe how a stable and robust society feels, looks, behaves. Terms used included safety, diversity, education, resilience, identity, production of goods and services, access to opportunity, common good, and leadership. Tom Wiese, my partner in the one-on-one discussion even argued that lazy people were an important aspect of society because the ambitious are motivated by others lack of action. – Interesting take!

The conversation then moved to encompass the benefits of our increasingly open-source government. With the introduction of interactive internet tools, more people are able to weigh in and hold sway. Nate Garvis of Target Corporations argued, “We have been suffering from a failure of creativity. We tend to throw the government and military at every problem. We use old tools for the new age when what we really need is more social innovation. The internet tools we now have allowed us to expand greatly in the world of social innovation.”

I could continue, but it doesn’t merit much for me to give you a play-by-play. It is our hope that every global dinner party will have its own unique face, but all will offer the opportunity to engage.

“The dinners are by design,” Cecily says. “It’s a way of humanizing ourselves.”

“I think we are surrounded by messages that drive us apart,” Nate adds. “We need to focus more on what we have in common and what better place to bring us all together than over the dinner table?”


"Twitter" Riots take Moldova

I officially just got goosebumps over Twitter! :D If you’ve read my previous playful stabs on how I just can’t seem to stomach this particular social networking site, you’ll know that this – for me – is a BIG deal. So why the sudden change of heart? Because today, Moldova erupted in protest over their recent, reportedly rigged, elections and the majority of 10,000 +  students in attendance were gathered by none other than Facebook and Twitter.

Regardless of the politics behind this event – the fact the president of Moldova has accused Romania as an active (icognito) agent in the unrest or that the appointed election observers declared the process to be valid – the ability for a large group of people to assemble for social action so fast that they were able to take their government by total surprise is truly awesome. This is coming from a self-proclaimed social activist who has spent countless hours stapling posters to university billboards and passing out fliers in the freezing Minnesota winter to advertise for events days in advance, knowing full well that the majority of people will have forgotten about the cause by the time the date of action rolls around. It is a frustrating game, but as Twitter showed us today, it has just gotten much easier.

Previously, Cecily and I laid out our three suggestions for successful social change and information via technology was number one. So here’s to you, Twitter. In helping Moldova citizens decisively summon the fail whale on their government, you demonstrated the awesome potential powers of social media in action. Or to put that in tweet, here’s the one that I’ve been watching:

Well, Twitter = Freedom for sure. So hopefully soon we can say also: Moldavia = Freedom!”


Lula attends World Social Forum

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva made a powerful statement this past week when he was notably absent from the World Economic Forum. Instead, he remained home, where he attended the ninth annual World Social Forum. The World Social Forum was founded in 2001 as a response to the World Economic Forum.   From its start, Lula gave overwhelming support to the World Social Forum and it helped to launch him into the presidential sphere.

The World Social Forum takes place every year in conjunction with the World Economic Forum, but the discussions revolve around social issues, rather than strictly economic concerns. Globalization, sustainability, indigenous rights, and environmental protection are just a few of the topics involved in the lively conferences, interviews, and discussion panels that occur. This years World Social Forum was held in Belem, Brazil – the capital of the Amazon. This was done to bring focus to the endangered homes and lifestyles of the indigenous communities within the Amazon and across the world.

Lula da Silva explained his absence at the World Economic Forum as logical. The economic crisis is clear, capitalism is faultering. If the current system is not working, it seems impractical to consult and look for solutions with the very bankers who created the problem in the first place. Instead, he stood firmly under the World Social Forum banner: “Another World is Possible.”


An Awkward Beginning to the WE Forum

The World Economic Forum has been in full swing since this past Wednesday, with leaders and influentials from all over the world convening in Davos, Switzerland to talk strategy. Given the current economic situation, it is anticipated to bring some very somber discussions. Luckily, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown inadvertently broke the tension and gained a few laughs with his cell phone snafu that occurred in the middle of his opening remarks…


We Shall Overcome

Goodwill flowed through the blocks-long crowd, united in a march for peace. I was in grade school and well remember holding a candle and singing “We Shall Overcome” over and over. I loved the flickering lights, the music, and an overwhelming feeling of belonging.

We went on several peace marches as a family, my father went to Selma to be a part of the final march to Montgomery, and our house filled with shock and grief with news of MLK’s assassination.  My younger brother, adopted as a 3-month old baby, is black. My classes in grade school and junior high were well integrated and my social life reflected it: my best friend’s mother made a chitterling dinner in my honor; my romantic crushes never obeyed race lines; and I’m sure that my friends and I, who loved to dance, were responsible for a huge portion of sales of Jackson 5 records.

I count these experiences among the many privileges my background (white, educated, social-activist family culture) has afforded me. And I count myself among the many, many people for whom the election of such an impressively smart, rational, strategic thinker as Barack Obama, our first black president, has personal meaning.

The setting for these experiences was the public school system in Evanston, IL. Evanston lies on Chicago’s northern boundary, along Lake Michigan’s shore. It is home to Northwestern University, huge homes, leafy streets, high taxes, and a black population that has shrunk in proportion to the increase in home values, which grew steeper after the city’s legalization of liquor sales in the mid-1970s (attracting more restaurants, retail, and business as a result).

Many years later, there are few issues that get my blood boiling as the inequities in public education. That the local tax base, determined by local property values, is what funds public schools is a form of apartheid I find utterly reprehensible. Families with means either move to a community with “good schools” (i.e. higher tax base) or send their children to private school. Come on people: this is how and where children are left behind!

Worse than tolerating it, unequal funding of public schools is an issue that barely makes it to the discussions on educational reform much less to candidates’ platforms. It’s invisible.  The default remedy is to leave it to community organizations, such as churches and committed non-profits, to step into the breach, often with funds that start out as tax dollars.

Such a system is not only perverse, but overwhelmingly inefficient. It costs more on the front end and the back end. American ingenuity is one thing, but without decent education to keep stoking opportunity, production, and innovation, getting out of our economic hole is going to be hard to do.

My friend and colleague, Clyde Prestowitz (listen to his comments on reversing the “Asia Makes, U.S. Takes” trend, Marketplace,1/16/09) recently conducted a study comparing the economic success of similarly sized countries. Among them were Ireland, Singapore, Taiwan, and Norway; because they differ in political and economic systems, he looked for other success-related factors shared by these countries. Clyde’s study yielded a significant finding: social cohesion accounts for a country’s economic and political stability more than any other factor.

Some countries come by this naturally, a result of a relatively homogenous ethnic population. This is especially true for Taiwan and Norway, and Ireland to a lesser degree (due to religious, not ethnic, conflicts). Singapore doesn’t fall in this category, however: with a population that’s 60% Chinese, 30% Malay, and 10% Indian, Singapore had the most to overcome.

With such a diverse population, social cohesion in Singapore was, instead, achieved through its education policy. Mandates for education in Singapore include an equal distribution of resources and quality of education among schools, courses are conducted in English and that, to discourage the formation of ethnic ghettos, each school’s demographic profile must reflect that of the general population (i.e. 60-30-10).

Given that Singapore is governed by dictatorship, and that every country faces a unique set of economic, political, geographic, and demographic conditions, Singapore’s policy is equally unique to its circumstances.

That said, America would be wise to borrow from the most important principle accounting for Singapore’s economic success: that social cohesion in an ethnically diverse country can be accomplished through equality in education.

Does social cohesion necessarily translate into socialism? It does only if you care what it’s called. The truth is that we have long lived in an economy that has both private and social investment in the mix, the proportions of which fluctuate according to conditions (increased private in good times, increased public in crisis, aka “Capitalism on the way up, Socialism on the way down”).

I don’t know how we can ensure private freedoms without ensuring structural integrity of the systems on which they depend. The most vital of these structures are the constructs of democracy, justice, and human rights, for which Americans are generally agreed.  It’s the more tangible aspects of public welfare, such as education, health care, housing, training, that stir ideological debate (who’s responsible, private, public, individual?) and have strangled both progress and access as a result.

Roads and bridges aren’t the only parts of our country’s infrastructure that need repair. The financial, health care, and educational crises are due to a lack of structural, as well as moral, integrity. Crises often call our better selves to lead; I wish President Obama every success in rebuilding these failed systems, and hope that we’ll be able to face and overcome inequities in public funding of public education as a part of those efforts.


Speculation: what makes oil markets so crude

A segment on 60 minutes this week explored the “dark markets” of oil trading (investment in commodity futures) that functions out of sight of the U.S. regulators. Fascinating and scary, it explained that oil prices are not driven by supply and demand, but by speculators.

More about the future of oil in article in the International Herald Tribune, and – check it out – Hugo Chavez has reopened supplies to the West!


Soft, Hard, Economic Power All Affected in a Recession

Economic realities trump ideology asserts Roger C. Altman,  Deputy Treasury Secretary, 1993-94, in his article, The Great Crash, 2008: A Geopolitical Setback for the West

Summary:  The financial crisis has called into serious question the credibility of western governments and may precipitate an eastward shift of power.

This damage has put the American model of free-market capitalism under a cloud. The financial system is seen as having collapsed; and the regulatory framework, as having spectacularly failed to curb widespread abuses and corruption. Now, searching for stability, the U.S. government and some European governments have nationalized their financial sectors to a degree that contradicts the tenets of modern capitalism. Much of the world is turning a historic corner and heading into a period in which the role of the state will be larger and that of the private sector will be smaller. As it does, the United States’ global power, as well as the appeal of U.S.-style democracy, is eroding. Although the United States is fortunate that this crisis coincides with the promise inherent in the election of Barack Obama as president, historical forces — and the crash of 2008 — will carry the world away from a unipolar system regardless.

Read full article in Foreign Affairs


"I'll see you at the debates, Bitches!"

McCain didn’t know who he was dissin’ when he accused Obama of being more celebrity than pol. Nor did he know that when you poke at popular culture these days, it can poke back at you. Ouch!

Clearly, McCain’s computer-age illiteracy is a serious liability. I’m guessing he’s not only embarrassed by this, but jealous too: the viral explosion of this video – in just one day – gives Paris a larger audience (and world-wide play and commentary on ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CNN…) for her energy plan than either McCain or Obama. That’s hot.

Watch video.


Stolen Gas: A Sign of the Times

Last night we received a notice that one of the tenants in our office building had gas stolen out of their car in the parking lot.

Wow.

If gas is now more valuable than the CDs, loose change and various easy-access items found in most parked cars—not to mention the more-commitment-required sound systems and docking stations that can be hawked for good money—it’s a sure sign that commodities are trumping goods on back-streets as well as Wall Street.

We’re all very aware of our economic woes: the soaring price of oil, war, and a crisis in the financial sector, depicted by the crumbling of Countrywide Financial, Citigroup, and now Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We’re feeling it in decreasing income against mounting expenses and debt in both business (layoffs==>unemployment) and at home (foreclosures==>homeless), not to mention stolen gas. Roll it all up with a shrinking dollar, and we’ve got ourselves a stinking, bad mess.

The worst of it is that all of it—energy costs, war, and financial crisis—was preventable. U.S. imports of oil started to eclipse domestic production in the 1970s and, along with demand, has been growing ever since. Those facts alone, projected out over time (say 40 years or so), should have been enough incentive to invest in alternative energy sources then. Instead, we literally pumped money (oil is valued in dollars, after all) into our economy and enjoyed the short-term rewards of a spending spree. To the auto and energy industries, Congress, regulatory agencies and American public: What were we thinking?!

The same jaw-dropping lack of foresight and planning brought us into war.
Again, no surprises. Only a lack of outrage.

The bailout housing bill goes to the President today.
The limited-government, deregulation, no-taxes, free market idealogues (hello Mr. Greenspan) cheered as our economy moved from production of real goods to a gambler’s den of financial innovation (e.g. risky mortgages) and trading, all based on the accumulation of debt (2nd mortgages). You don’t have to be an economist or policy expert to see that our economy was being restructured as a house of cards, that the game was rigged, and that it could only bear disasterous consequences down the road. Again, What were they thinking?!

That road has stumbled upon a dead-end, one in which the only quick-fix is one that deepens national debt in order to prop up the very institutions whose greed and bad judgment created the mess, which is exactly what the Housing Bill will do. Looks like the invisible hand of the market made an awfully bad play here.

In the meantime, all the campaign rhetoric of whether to raise or cut taxes masks what’s really going on. Even worse, it intentionally subtracts the consequences of either choice from the equation, driving voters to choose ideology over strategy.

Given the Push Institute’s mission to “Stamp-Out Shortsightedness”, we believe thinking things all the way through is the greatest hedge against future challenges, as well as a charge of What were they thinking?! All of our programs and consulting are focused on cultivating change literacy (understanding and anticipating the forces that govern change and their implications) and strategic foresight. It looks like we have a lot of work to do…


Clyde Prestowitz: Leaders in Reverse

Clyde Prestowitz, author of Trading Places, Three Billion New Capitalists: The Great Shift of Wealth and Power to the East, and current member of both the Intel Policy Advisory Board and the U.S. Export-Import Bank Advisory Board closed Monday’s round of speakers. He asked that listeners first focus on the issues that are demanding and will demand change, then problem-solve and decide what needs to be done about changing those issues.

Prestowitz translated his ideas into reality through a colorful story of a recent trip to Mexico City and then to Shanghai, destinations that face significant challenges that are relevant both internally and externally. The crippled Mexican police represent just one example of the failing state that lies just across our border. And with the Gobi Desert growing at a rate of 2km per year and coal power plants popping up weekly, China faces impending environmental devastation that will not remain confined within one country’s borders. In both destinations, the short-term need for basic security and energy, respectively, are pitted against the long-term potential consequences of a failed state and an unlivable natural environment. Accompanying each issue is the potential to do harm at home in the U.S., yet the redeeming possibility of pragmatic decision-making still exists.

Moreover, Thomas Friedman has popularized the notion that globalization will make everyone rich, democratic and thus peaceful. Prestowitz argued that globalization does not make democracy strong; rather, it makes autocracy strong (see the Middle East and China versus relatively weak Western democracies). Rapid economic growth does not commonly occur under democracy; democracy comes about later. We are experiencing globalization in which developing countries question the validity and superiority of democracy. This concept obviously demands our consideration.

And considering democracy, Prestowitz was one of the many speakers today to mention the upcoming election. His view is that the three most important issues facing the next president will be 1) the collapse of the dollar 2) energy and 3) the nature of our democracy in regard to the system of checks and balances that make the system difficult to challenge, especially in relation to global warming legislation. So, how do we use change-agents to make our systems work better and address our problems? 

Posting by Anna Wool


Nate Garvis: Consumers leading Institutions

Nate Garvis at PUSH 2008

Nate Garvis, Vice President of Government Affairs for Target Corporation, spoke in the political section of PUSH 2008 about leadership in reverse.

He is responsible for political, legislative and regulatory affairs at the international, federal, state and local levels of government. He is recognized as a thought leader in the areas of integrated public engagement strategies and emerging trends in the interrelationships between multi-national corporations, non-governmental advocacy groups and governmental institutions.

Garvis started by asking an unanswerable question, “What is the meaning of life?” No one knows the answer, but finding the meaning of life is the path of humanity, it’s what public policy has always been about.

Public policy is measured in outcomes. Too often things are discussed by inputs, but at the end of the day we experience outcomes.

Our dilemma is mobility- the mobility of information. Right now, we live in an age of storytelling. It has never been easier to get your story out there, and that is what is needed in the consumer world – consumer input to get the outcomes you want.

Garvis gave the example of a toolbox: it isn’t about one tool, it’s important to have the entire box. These tools are how people get what they want. The first tool in the box is being literate, not how well you read, but how you know the authentic qualities of that technology or institution – institutions such as government, business or NGOs/ non-profits.

The next tool in the box is the “how” not the “what.” It is important to know how institutions or technologies do what they do, not what they do. Institutions, such as the Target Corporation, need to listen to the consumer and know what they want, everything they want.

The consumer is in command. Be literate. As the consumer, express what you want and be a conspicuous consumer.

“It used to be, I’m rich and famous and I drive a Ferrari, you can’t,” said Garvis. “Now it is I’m rich and famous and I drive a Hybrid, why don’t you? No one said boycott the Ferrari, it’s that more people want the Hybrid.”

We need to practice a reward culture. Institutions are playing not to lose. We need to live in a world where we want to win, and where as many people as possible win. We need to enable these institutions, be clearer about what we want and reward good behavior.

We should look at the whole tool box of institutional energy that is capable of doing so much good, but also capable of many screw ups.

“As a consumer we owe it to these folks to tell them exactly what we want. Our job [as the institution] is to be better listeners than ever, to provide as much value as possible,” said Garvis.

Doing this is “leadership in reverse.” The consumer is leading the institution to get the right outcome.

Posted by Melissa Turtinen


Mark Seddon: Thoughts on Democracy

Heading up the political segment of PUSH 2008, “Leaders in Reverse: Playing Short-Term Gains against Long-Term Needs,” U.N. correspondent for Al Jazeera English Mark Seddon spoke from the platform of personal experience to help elucidate a bigger, hopeful political picture.

Seddon’s off-putting experience with Britain’s Labour Party led him to drop out of politics and into Al Jazeera, a network created to help educate people by closing North-South news divides and erasing existing geo-political and cultural stereotypes. Seddon’s intention today resembled the network’s philosophy as he challenged individual political complacency and asked for proactive thought and action.

Unfortunately, the special, symbiotic relationship between Britain and the United States allows for minimal, diversifying cross pollination of new ideas and therefore an unchanging, unchallenged, and dumbed-down political process in which people believe in the inherent superiority of the Western system of political organization. For example, people seem to think that free market economics is the best and most effective system, since that’s what we’ve been told and are most accustomed to. The decline of representative democracy and of political accountability is something that needs to be challenged and is not specific to government. A place to start would be the media: Al Jazeera is minimally available in the United States, largely as a result of the self-imposed (or ordained) censorship that large media corporations practice.

Seddon’s general advice stems from the belief that change can be seen in both a constructive and a destructive light; it has been a Western luxury to believe that change is stagnant. The current decline in activism must be answered, not necessarily by an involvement in politics. Seddon rallied the audience to take it all on, to get organized and involved again. Today’s climate portends change, especially with the presidential election looming, and we have to start to think again. With the return of the idea and the power to think, so too will return the real power of democracy.

Posted by Anna Wool


Katherine Marshall: "Flatness: Realities and Myths"

Katherine Marshall at PUSH 2008After a half-hour break, Katherine Marshall closed the section on economics at PUSH 2008.

Marshall, a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs and a senior advisor for the World Bank, has worked for over three decades on international development with a focus on issues facing the world’s poorest countries.

Marshall began her presentation, “Flatness: Realities and Myths,” by asking several questions that are important for the future.

· What kind of world are we seeking?

· Why do the choices matter?

· How do we navigate fierce debates?

· Why should you (personally) care?

· What can we do?

“It is ideas that really matter. It is ideas that change. It’s ideas that come out of this type of event,” Marshall explained.

There are many different ways to look at the changing issues in the world, but Marshall believes that looking at it as a kaleidoscope is important because, “what we are looking at is constantly changing and is a diverse picture that is always on the move.”

There are seven basic lessons/ issues that are important to the future of our world:

· Global poverty

· Keeping poverty on the agenda

· The role of the United States and changing its image to the rest of the world

· Working with wisdom and humility is important

· Pay attention to the “minefields” – have respect for how others might view the situation

· Human development is key

· Ethics and values matter

“With a plea for dialogue, intense support for mobilization efforts, that we all [Chandran Nair and Jonathan Greenblatt] are talking about, combined with individual action, and all it needs is a little PUSH!” concluded Marshall on what we can do to help the world for the future.

Posted by Melissa Turtinen


Chandran Nair: Behind the Scenes: A Peak at Reality

Internationalist Chandran Nair opened the economics section of PUSH 2008.

He is the founder and chief executive of the think tank, Global Institute for Tomorrow (GIFT), based in Hong Kong. His work is defined by the questions he asks himself and others. Known for being challenging,

thought-provoking, constructive and sometimes uncomfortable, Nair advocates a sustainable approach to growth in Asia, and the rest of the world, seeing it as part of how nations deal with each other.

Chandran Nair at PUSH 2008

“Behind the Scenes: a Peak at reality” is the title of his presentation about the challenges the world is going to face in the future because of growing populations and the needs of Asia and other low-income regions.

Nair explained that we live in an unfair world – 20 percent of the world population accounts for 85 percent of the world’s consumption.

Asia is changing and expanding rapidly. 800 million Chinese people live on two dollars a day, but they are starting to become wealthier. What do they do when they get wealthier?

“They want to buy seafood. If they do the oceans will be empty, but who can say that they can’t have what you and I take for granted?” said Nair.

That is just one example is the growing number of countries wanting what countries like the United States have. But if these growing nations start using these resources there will be less for the big consumers, like the U.S.

There is unprecedented economic growth that is going to occur. People have to be aware of the new reality – by 2050, 3 billion people will be added to the world, mostly in low income countries. This means that fossil fuel consumption, and other non-renewable resource consumption, is only going to go up.

The challenge of our times is to alleviate poverty, increase economic prosperity for all, halt the destruction of the natural world, manage and conserve natural resources for human well being. We need to be aware of the threat of climate change, decrease the destruction of the natural world, increase cultural and religious tolerance and create a new business leadership.

“The giants have awakened. How will they sustain themselves?”

Posted by Melissa Turtinen


Discussing 'change' on All Things Considered

How much ‘change’ can we expect from the candidates?

by Tom Crann, Minnesota Public Radio
February 13, 2008

There’s been plenty of talk about “change” so far in the 2008 presidential election. Each candidate is pledging to bring some degree of change to government in Washington, D.C. But Americans may have their hearts broken once the winner takes office.

Futurist Cecily Sommers, president of the Push institute in Minneapolis, says Presidents and governments are better equipped to react to changes in society than to actually bring about those changes.

She talked to MPR’s host Tom Crann about why democracy and capitalism don’t necessarily make it easy to create change and why the leaders who do so don’t emerge from government.