Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Plastic Diet


In August 2007, when famed oceanographer Sylvia Earle addressed The Commonwealth Club about "A Celebration of the Oceans," her speech was less a celebration and more an overview of dire news about the planet's deep waters. "About 90 percent of the big fish that we love to consume are gone," she said. She talked about aquatic "dead zones," areas of the seas in which everything is dying. The earth's wildlife support network, she continued, was diminishing. Mercury poisoning was a growing problem with big, deep-sea fish on our plates.

But Earle, who served as chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the first Bush administration, also argued that there were things people could do to reverse things, by expanding marine sanctuaries, for example.

Today, some people are wondering about another threat to our oceans.

About 20 years ago, predictive reports began filtering in concerning a small-scale ecological disturbance in the making – if one took “small-scale” to mean Texas-sized, and “ecological disturbance” somehow implied raft of poisonous plastic particulates. But seeing as this isn’t the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, perhaps we can dispense with the euphemisms.

The raft was quickly dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and it has become a very real problem. Created by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre, which circle slowly inward like an incredibly anticlimactic Charybdis, it has been gathering floating debris for quite some time. Prior to plastic, that debris was mostly plant matter, usually decomposing quickly and then sinking to the depths in the constant, organic snow that sustains ecosystems straight to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Over the past several decades, however, an influx of non-biodegradable, manmade material has created a floating layer of trash, trapped in the middle of the Pacific.

Runoff is a large source of the trash. Pollution (bottle caps, toys, plastic bags, tape dispensers, you name it) is washed from storm drains and shores into the ocean, where it is caught by the currents and deposited in the Garbage Patch. Cruise ships and freighters are also notorious contributors, dumping waste directly into the sea.

It is wreaking havoc on wildlife. Hundreds of thousands of seabirds, mammals and sea turtles are killed by the garbage every year; the damage to fish populations is far greater. More worrying still, the plastic that constitutes the majority of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch never, ever goes away. Even as it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, plastic polymers remain intact, resulting eventually in a toxic layer of poisonous contaminants that have already begun accumulating in our own food chain.

Mercury poisoning is no longer the only reason to moderate our intake of large game fish.

What can we do to alleviate the situation? Some people donate to missions such as Project Kaisei, sign a congressional petition, or volunteer for a little time at sea themselves to help the cleanup. There's also a little something called the Plastic Diet, and it’s about what you’d imagine: a drastic reduction in the amount of plastic we use on a daily basis.

Soda bottles, shopping bags, disposable razors, mechanical pencils, almost everything sold in a convenience store. If it can’t be avoided – as with a majority of kids’ toys, computer hardware and medical products – advocates of the plastic diet say it’s often possible to ensure responsible disposal. Though efforts to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have so far proven costly, difficult and even environmentally unsound, an ounce of prevention may truly be the best approach.
Johan Wolfgang von Goethe years ago said, "It's simply not enough to undestand, but to act." So with knowing comes caring, and with caring there is hope that we will find an enduring place for ourselves within the natural systems that sustain us, that keep us alive. As never again, perhaps, we have a chance to get it right.
--Sylvia Earle, August 1, 2007
-- By Andrew Harrison

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Today Copenhagen, Tomorrow ...?


The Commonwealth Club has been bringing together thought leaders from around the world for more than a century -- it'll be 107 years this February -- but it has now expanded its reach. For the first time ever, The Club held an event outside of the United States this past Tuesday when it presented a high-level program in Copenhagen, Denmark, featuring California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (pictured, center), Himin Solar Founder and CEO Huang Ming (photo left), Nobel laureate and IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri. The event was moderated by Climate One Founder and Commonwealth Club Vice President Greg Dalton (photo right).

KQED Radio broadcast the event as a special program the following night. If you missed that broadcast, it will also be aired on KRCB FM on Dec. 17, 2009, at 7:00 p.m. Excerpts will air on KRCB TV in January. The program will also be podcast. 

For more on The Club's visit to Copenhagen, see our photo reports.

Climate One's Greg Dalton to Discuss Copenhagen on CBS5 on Dec. 20


Get a behind-the-scenes look at the high-stakes issues being negotiated at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen this Sunday, December 20. Greg Dalton, Commonwealth Club vice president and founder of its Climate One initiative, will appear on the CBS5 morning news with Phil Matier between 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.

Bay Area residents who don't get up that early on the weekends: Set your DVR!

For some visuals of the Copenhagen summit, see our report.

The Views from Copenhagen, Part III

The United Nations' climate summit in Copenhagen this month is winding up to a finish, but it is still unknown whether it will be a big finish with a binding agreement signed by the 192 nations represented there or it will end with only a face-saving agreement or less. One source who has been attending the event and observing the back-and-forth tells us that we shouldn't believe the predictions that the summit will end without an agreement; instead, our source says, we are seeing lots of grandstanding and posturing in attempts to get the most favorable deal by each of the participants.

Is that correct? We will know soon. In the meantime, we wanted to share with you these photos from Copenhagen. 

Photos top-to-bottom: 1) Huang Ming (founder and CEO, Himin Solar), Arnold Schwarzenegger (California governor), and Greg Dalton (Commonwealth Club vice president and founder of its Climate One initiative) discuss the climate summit. 2) Protestors have been pushed further back from the location of the summit's meetings, leading to a police ring around the meeting center, and the police are surrounded by a ring of protestors. 3) A protestor taunts a police officer. 4) It's going to be a white Christmas in Copenhagen, as is visible in this rooftop shot of bikes. 5) Not everyone's protesting; some, such as this mother and her child on a sled, are out enjoying the winter wonderland.

(All photos by Dr. Kerry P. Curtis.)

For more views from The Commonwealth Club's contingent in Copenhagen, see Part I and Part II.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Upcoming Commonwealth Club Programs on Comcast HD

Here's a quick update of the schedule for Commonwealth Club programs to airing on Comcast Channel 715 in the Bay Area. The programs air Sundays at 9 am:

Zeke Emanuel, "American Health Care System," January 3, January 17

Barbara Rose Brooker, "The Viagra Diaries," January 10

Dr. Gloria Duffy on KLIV's "The CEO Show" Tonight at 7 pm


Get an inside look at the importance of leadership in today's world when Commonwealth Club President and CEO Dr. Gloria Duffy joins KLIV tonight starting at 7:00 p.m. She will be a guest on KLIV's "The CEO Show," hosted by Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

You can hear the program live tonight on KLIV 1590AM from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m., during which Guardino will be taking listener calls at 408-575-1600. Afterward, the program will be available in KLIV's online archives.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Views from Copenhagen, Part II

The Commonwealth Club's staff and volunteers who trekked to Copenhagen, Denmark, for the United Nations climate summit practically had front-row seats to the debates and controversies at the event.

Top photo: The "Hopenhagen" site in downtown Copenhagen. Middle photo: This group of young people held a protest of a Canadian tar sands project. Bottom photo: What would a climate summit be without at least one protester -- and American, in this case -- dressed as a polar bear?

(All photos courtesy Dr. Kerry P. Curtis.)

For more, see Part I and Part III of this report. Also see the Club's Climate One blog.

The Views from Copenhagen, Part I

As 192 nations meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, to debate and debate and debate about what to do about climate change, The Commonwealth Club is there to report what's happening, plan upcoming climate programs for Club events, and even hold a program featuring California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nobel laureate Rajendra Pachauri, and others.

In the top photo below, you get a sense of why Copenhagen might have been chosen to host this event: bikes. Dr. Kerry Curtis, chair of The Club's Environment & Natural Resources Member-Led Forum, reports that there are many more bikes than cars around the apartment building where The Club's contingent is staying. Middle photo: The big meeting room, generally reserved for official delegates to the UN climate summit. Bottom photo: The Commonwealth Club team poses at the entrance to the conference.

(All photos courtesy Dr. Kerry P. Curtis.)

See Part II and Part III of this report.
For further reports from Copenhagen, also see the blog of Climate One, the Club's climate initiative.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Copenhagen Summit Site of Climate One Event with Gov. Schwarzenegger, Nobel Laureate Pachauri, & More

The Commonwealth Club's Climate One project will host a radio and television conversation with key players in Copenhagen during the UN Climate Change Summit on December 16th. The two-part event will feature California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband, Himin Solar founder & CEO Huang Ming, and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chair Rajendra Pachauri. Greg Dalton, Commonwealth Club vice president and director of Climate One, will moderate the event that will take place on the sidelines of the UN climate summit currently going on in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Even if you couldn't make the trek to Denmark, you can follow the Club's reports from the summit -- and you can tweet your questions for the participants -- at:
The deadline to tweet your questions is Tuesday at noon -- so prepare your questions now for our expert panelists and send them in!

The two-part Climate One program, which was underwritten by The ClimateWorks Foundation, will be broadcast on KQED FM, Dec. 16, 2009, at 8:00 p.m. and on KRCB FM Dec. 17, 2009, at 7:00 p.m. Excerpts will also be broadcast on KRCB TV in January. Also, the program will be podcast, and brief video clips will be posted to the blogs of The Club and Climate One

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Who Do YOU Think Should Play Capt. Sullenberger in the Movie?


Last night, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger told The Commonwealth Club about his experience piloting US Airways Flight 1549 and making the emergency landing in the Hudson. He told the sold-out crowd about leadership, discipline, and training.

Moderating the event was ABC7 News anchor Dan Ashley, who concluded the evening by asking Sullenberger who should play him in a movie of his life. Sullenberger quipped that it should probably be someone better looking than him.

But a Club staffer has nominated Keith Carradine as a good film Sully. Go ahead, take a look -- he's a pretty good likeness, isn't he?

Who would you nominate as a film version of the heroic Hudson captain? Let us know!

(photo by William F. Adams)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

KGO TV's Schedule of HD Telecasts of Commonwealth Club Events

Did you know Bay Area residents can watch high-definition video of Commonwealth Club events? Here's the latest schedule of KGO HD's Commonwealth Club programming:

KGO HD Commonwealth Club Programs on Comcast Channel 715.
Sundays at 9am until January 17th.  Then on January 17, the time period moves to 10pm.

1. Zeke Emanuel, "American Health Care System"
Next Air: 1/3, 1/17

2. George Weyerhauser, " Climate Countdown, Can the World Cut a Deal?"
Next Air: 12/13 & 12/27

3. Robert Baer (former CIA operative), "Inside Iran"
Next Air: 12/6 & 12/20

4. Barbara Rose Brooker, "The Viagra Diaries"
Next Air: 11/29, 1/10

For radio schedules and other broadcast and internet multimedia from The Commonwealth Club of California, see our broadcast pages online.

Bill George: Crisis of Confidence: Restoring Trust in Our Leaders


By Bill George
This is a special guest article by Bill George (see bio at bottom). Any opinions are those of the authors and not necessarily those of The Commonwealth Club. Mr. George will be speaking at The Commonwealth Club December 2 in San Francisco.

The stock market has recovered from the financial crisis, but a deep scar from the recession remains. Americans lack confidence in the nation’s leadership to address the challenges the nation currently faces.

The Harvard Center for Public Leadership's 2009 National Leadership Index reveals that 69 percent of Americans think we have a leadership crisis in the country. Another 67 percent believe that “unless we get better leaders, the United States will decline as a nation.”

At the bottom of the index’s ranking of confidence in leadership are Wall Street leaders, closely followed by news media, Congressional, and business leaders. It is tempting for leaders to view these dismal results as a public relations issue emanating from the economic downturn. But this is not a PR problem: it’s a leadership problem.

We opened this decade with a wave of appalling leadership failures. Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling of Enron, Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom, Joseph Nacchio of Qwest, and Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco blatantly disregarded the ethical and legal responsibilities entrusted to them by their shareholders.

We are closing the decade with another wave of leadership failures. Dick Fuld of Lehman, Alan Schwartz of Bear Stearns, Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide Financial, and Chuck Prince of Citigroup sacrificed financial prudence for the possibility of extraordinary short-term gains. Their decisions obliterated billions of dollars of economic wealth and almost destroyed the nation’s financial system.

This crisis won’t be over until a new generation of leaders emerges that understands that long-term institutional stewardship and maintaining public trust are the two imperatives of 21st-century leadership.

Far too many leaders fell into the trap of believing that the purpose of business is to maximize shareholder value and reap personal rewards, rather than serve customers and the society they operate in. In my experience, those that focus primarily on maximizing shareholder value, usually with a short-term focus, are more likely to destroy the value they created.

A recent study of S&P 700 international stocks from 1998 to 2009 shows that only three of the top fifteen winners are American – Apple, Amazon, and Oracle – all of which are headed by leaders with long-term focus. The five worst U.S. stocks – AIG, Kodak, Citigroup, Ford and Bristol-Myers – had leaders with a short-term focus. This list excludes GM, K-Mart, Enron, WorldCom, and Lehman since they declared bankruptcy.

Long-term leaders recognize they cannot rely upon cost-cutting, acquisitions, and other short-term moves to create sustainable value. By focusing clearly on their long-term mission, values, and strategies, they earn and keep the trust of their customers, their employees and the society they serve.

The key to creating sustainable shareholder value is to provide superior value to your customers. Companies like Johnson & Johnson, Target, Google, Medtronic, and Wells Fargo focus on their mission and values, which is what motivates their employees. When a company does these things well, revenues and profits expand and sustainable shareholder value follows.

A number of progressive corporate leaders are emerging that recognize the need for long-term focus to create sustainable value. For example, IBM’s Sam Palmisano embarked upon a seven-year “leading by values” initiative to reposition the firm globally and emphasize its service businesses. Indra Nooyi committed PepsiCo to a long-term focus on expanding healthy food and beverage offerings. Dan Vasella of Novartis invested heavily in drug and vaccines research to prevent and treat intractable diseases. John Chambers is making acquisitions during the downturn to prepare Cisco to lead a new productivity expansion. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos keeps introducing product innovations like the Kindle—even though they take five to seven years to payoff.

In an earlier era, Walter Wriston of Citigroup and John Whitehead of Goldman Sachs capably steered the financial markets with honesty, intelligence, and dignity. As many firms failed in 2008, three Wall Street leaders emerged. J.P. Morgan’s Jamie Dimon created a culture of candor enabling his bank to successfully navigate through the financial crisis. Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein (on whose board I serve) built effective risk management into the bank’s DNA. John Stumpf emphasized Wells Fargo’s core strengths and focused on commercial banking to use the crisis to strengthen its franchise.

The path to restoring the public’s confidence and trust in business leaders is clear. We need leaders who are committed to sustainable growth over short-term gains and serving society by creating long-term value.

Bill George is professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and author of 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis,True North, and Authentic Leadership. The former chair and CEO of Medtronic, he currently serves on the boards of ExxonMobil and Goldman Sachs. Read more at www.BillGeorge.org, or follow him on Twitter @Bill_George.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Obama Visits Beijing: Yuan, Human Rights, Climate on Docket

Obama’s upcoming visit to China next week is generating global interest amid the release of an inflammatory Human Rights Watch report, repeated calls for climate change discourse and China’s giant holdings of U.S. foreign reserves.

The visit, Obama’s first to China, is already marked by a decidedly different tone than that of administrations past. U.S. concerns for human rights interests remain on the foreground, especially with regard to supporters of an independent Tibet. And an international cry has gone up over “An Alleyway in Hell,” the 53-page report by New York-based Human Rights Watch describing China’s use of unlawful jails and detention centers to quell political dissent – especially on the lead-up to visits by foreign leaders.

However, this time around the U.S. will be approaching China on an altogether more deferential note, owing entirely to two huge factors: the immense power now abiding within an artificially undervalued yuan, and the looming nuclearization of North Korea.

China’s status as the single largest holder of U.S. foreign debt places it in predictable position at the center of the post-recession economy. Any significant divestitures would ratchet up U.S. interest rates, reducing consumption at home and severely impacting foreign exporters. Complications arise as China’s expanding middle class increasingly seek their own avenues for consumption.

China is also a major player in the Obama administration’s strategy to persuade Pyongyang to discontinue pursuit of nuclear arms, the acquisition of which would certainly lend considerable instability to an already rocky relationship with North Korea. For more on the latter, watch video of Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher's recent Commonwealth Club speech and discussion.

With the approach of December’s Copenhagen climate conference, climate change won’t exactly be written off the agenda – especially given China and America’s shared title as the world’s largest CO2 producers. Whether China will be open to any pot-vs-kettle name calling or shrugs off any urging from the Obama administration remains of keen interest to many, given China’s burgeoning market for green technology.

--By Andrew Harrison

Monday, November 9, 2009

What's Your Opinion? National Debt and National Security


In his recent speech to The Commonwealth Club, CIA Director Leon Panetta made a sobering case for redressing our country's long-standing practice of living beyond its means and driving up the national debt. As the San Diego Union Tribune wrote:

By far the most insightful speech we’ve heard of late from an Obama administration official came recently when CIA Director Leon Panetta addressed the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Panetta warned that if the federal government continued to run $1 trillion annual deficits – a very real possibilitygiven the blitheness of President Barack Obama and Congress about red ink –the national debt would become a threat to national security. The CIA boss makes a crucial point: An America that has to spend a quarter of its revenue just for interest on the debt is likely to be an America so weakened that it cannot protect itself from its enemies. Panetta said it was foolish to think “that we can remain a powerful nation” unless the United States lives within its means. He’s exactly right –and we hope he makes this argument to the president at the next Cabinet meeting.

 What do you think? Is our national debt a threat to national security? Why? What can be done about it? How should the country change that? Give us your opinion -- leave a comment below!

20 Years After the "Mauerfall" -- Fall of the Berlin Wall

In the former eastern sector of Berlin, there is a memorial known as the Mauerpark -- Mauer is the German word for wall. Though almost all of the communist-built wall that separated this city for 28 years has disappeared, this park serves as a reminder of several things: the wall itself, the communist regime that ran the former GDR, and the lasting scars of the horrible war started and lost in that capital city.

On August 4, 1961, just days before the Berlin Wall's construction would begin, UPI President Frank Bartholomew spoke to The Commonwealth Club about the dilemma Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev faced with his post-war empire in Eastern Europe.

In Berlin this July, I was able to understand Khrushchev's attitude toward Berlin and why he created the crisis. From his viewpoint, it is completely logical. ... Berlin is cracking the Iron Curtain. It's a showplace of Western prosperity 124 miles inside the Communist zone, and it has become absolutely intolerable to him. ... The billboards in East Berlin extol the benefits of Communism as against the slavery of the West, but 40,000 East Berliners go West each day for their employment. ... The defections are depleting the population of East Germany. Three weeks ago, defections were 4,000 a week. Now reports say they have stepped up to 1,500 daily. ... Khrushchev faces 100 million enemies in the Iron Curtain countries and is making no progress at persuading them to the Russian way of thinking.

Today, Germany is hosting celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. Leaders from across the European Union -- nations that were locked in a fight to the death 65 years ago, and that were divided by a lethal iron curtain for about 45 years after that -- gathered to commemorate the event that, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted, was part of the continental struggle to lift off the repression of a number of communist regimes. Those leaders have been joined by some other significant leaders, including Russian President Medvedev, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former Polish President Lech Walesa, who arguably established the first crack in the Iron Curtain when he led the shipyard strikes against Poland's communist government almost a decade before the Wall fell. In her comments right before a re-enactment of the crossing of the border, Merkel noted the "incredible encouragement" East Germans got from Poland's Solidarity movement.

When Walesa spoke at The Commonwealth Club in 2004, after receiving The Club's Medallion award, he downplayed the role played by Gorbachev and suggested that it was the late Russian President Boris Yeltsin who really made the changes of 1989 stick:
The process could have been reversed, and at this point we were lucky to have Yeltsin - not Gorbachev, but Yeltsin. Because Gorbachev, when he realized what was happening, made this attempt to reform communism. Perestroika and glasnost are nothing but a reform of communism. .... This is precisely what he admitted in the presence of President George Bush Sr., [German] Chancellor Kohl, [Czech] President Havel and others. But that was a time when Yeltsin was antagonistic with Gorbachev. As you may remember, the majority of you supported Gorbachev at that time; however, this antagonism allowed Yeltsin to prepare Russia and then withdraw her from the Soviet Union, which he actually did. I'm not sure whether he did it when sober or when drunk, but he did it. Had he not done it, I am sure that I myself, and Chancellor Kohl, would be rebuilding the Berlin Wall even faster than we had pulled it down sometime before, with strong encouragement from the United States. [Listen to complete Walesa audio.]
Yeltsin, of course, is unable to attend today's festivities, but Walesa's views do not seem to have moderated in the last five years. He recently told German newsweekly Der Spiegel that "the first wall to fall was pushed over in 1980 in the Polish shipyards. Later, other symbolic walls came down, and the Germans, of course, tore down the literal wall in Berlin. The fall of the Berlin Wall makes for nice pictures. But it all started in the shipyards."

In his own speech to The Commonwealth Club on the 15th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Czech President Vaclav Klaus noted that the revolutionary events of the end of communism in eastern Europe had given way to a changed landscape that required continued -- but not revolutionary -- change: "The Czech Republic has become already -- structurally -- a standard, which means normal, European country, and as a result of this it has typical European problems, if not to say European diseases. They cannot be solved by means of another revolution, because we are already in the middle of the process of a spontaneous evolution of basic social structures. This evolutionary era, of course, is less radical, less dramatic, less headlines-creating, but -- paradoxically -- more controversial and even more ideological." [Listen to Klaus event audio.]

Tear Down This Wall
Another important figure who was not able to make it to this year's celebrations is the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who famously sparred with the Soviets during his first term in office, only to forge a partnership with Gorbachev. Reagan is often quoted for his challenge to Gorbachev, delivered at the Brandenburg Gate along the Wall, to "tear down this wall."

The writer of that speech, Peter Robinson, told The Club in 2004 that he had a conversation with President Reagan before the speech, in which Robinson tried to get feedback from the president that would help him formulate a strong speech.

I said, "Mr. President, I learned when I was in Berlin that they'll be able to hear the speech on the other side of the Wall, by radio – and if the weather conditions are just right, I was told, they'll be able to pick up the speech as far east as Moscow itself. Is there anything in particular that you'd like to say to people on the other side of the Wall?" And Ronald Reagan thought for a moment and then said, "Well, there's that passage [in the draft of the speech] about tearing down the Wall – that's what I'd like to say to them: that wall has to come down." [Listen to complete Robinson audio.]

Today, "Berlin Wall" is a "trending topic" on Twitter, which means that it's one of the phrases used most often on that social media service. Thousands of "tweets" are noting the anniversary, sharing memories, and pointing to news stories on the celebrations in Berlin. One person tweeted the question, "What would it have been like if Twitter had existed when the Berlin Wall fell?" Probably not much different would have happened, but it might have given an answer to the other person -- a teenager, judging from his profile photo -- who tweeted, "Who cares about the Berlin Wall?"

The crowds who accompanied Merkel, Walesa, and Gorbachev across the bridge in their re-enactment of the first East German crowds to surge across the border in 1989 care, that's who. And they are making another point about how what people on the ground can do to make history, or at least to push their leaders in the direction they want to go. The New York Times reports that, as Merkel noted the large crowd that turned out for the crossing today, despite rainfall, she appreciated the milieu:

“It’s perhaps as chaotic as it was in 1989,” Mrs. Merkel said of the crowd thronging around the leaders so that it was sometimes barely possible to distinguish the politicians from the people. “I’m very happy that so many people turned up. ... Everyone who is present here today has a story to tell,” she said. “They are part of freedom.”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

SuperFreakonomics Sparks Ire, E-Mails over Last Chapter

SuperFreakonomics, the long-awaited sequel to 2005’s Freakonomics, has ignited a bit of controversy since its release on Oct. 20. The last chapter, which delves into climate change, has prominent environmentalists, critics and fans locking horns in a furor that has resulted in at least one public relations black eye and more than a few private emails posted on very widely read blogs.

Both SuperFreakonomics and Freakonomics embark, largely, upon an explanation of what its authors say are the invisible incentives that give shape to the world we see around us. From the economics of drug dealers to why suicide bombers should buy life insurance, readers can expect intriguing insights from both books.

Readers can also expect, in SuperFreakonomics’ controversial last chapter, a radical, rationalized take on why all of our climate problems can be solved by equipping pigeons and field mice with laser-guided— Hey, we’re not here to give away the ending!

The argument really kicked into gear when ClimateProgress.org editor Joseph Romm decried the book as pushing “global cooling myths, sheer illogic, and ‘patent nonsense.’”  He and many others have been upset by certain ideas explored in the offending chapter, titled “What Do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo Have in Common?” (To add color to the debate: Romm glows over Al Gore’s new book in a recent ClimateProgress post.)

If you have a spare lunch break, SuperFreakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner’s rebuttal makes for interesting reading, as does co-author Steve Levitt’s lively conversation with economist Yoram Bauman – who, like Romm, takes issue with Levitt and Dubner’s final chapter.

If you missed this event, which was moderated by The Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray (on the right, in the bottom photo), keep watching The Commonwealth Club's YouTube page -- we'll post the video soon so you have something to talk about at that next cocktail party.

--By Andrew Harrison
(Photos by Camille Koue)

Funding California's Massive Transportation Needs in the Future

Nearly 300,000 cars cross the Bay Bridge every day. So, when some of its support rods failed and 5,000 pounds of steel and concrete came crashing down during rush-hour traffic last week, serious concern was in order. The six-day closure of the span for emergency repairs not only inconvenienced commuters and stressed the rail and bus system, it called into order close scrutiny of our aging infrastructure.

Transportation issues in California are as expansive as the state itself. Structural safety, unstable terrain, environmental laws and an ever-growing population have stretched our current system thin. Compounding all of these issues is, of course, funding, and furthermore, deciding where to spend it in the nation’s third-largest state.

At an October 29 Commonwealth Club panel discussion about California transportation, the overarching theme was the need for involvement at all levels (see photo of panelists). “This issue is not one to speculate on capriciously at cocktail parties,” said Therese McMillan, deputy administrator for the Federal Transit Authority. “It’s serious.”

The population of California is expected to double by 2050, meaning upgrades, along with maintenance on structures like the 73-year-old Bay Bridge, are crucial. Revenues have decreased, meaning that more public money is needed, something that is not a popular message during an economic crisis.

How to secure funding has brought up some questions. More fuel-efficient automobiles have helped drivers save at the pump and keep smog levels at bay, but revenues derived from fuel taxes have decreased. “We’re not advocating that everyone go back to gas-guzzlers,” said Norma Ortega, Interim Chief Financial Officer of Caltrans. “But this reduced funding means less for maintenance.”

The option of public and private partnerships (PPPs) is a popular method to bring in revenue, but it will still come with a hefty price tag to taxpayers. Steve Heminger, executive director of MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission), said that such partnerships can only address part of the problem.

“PPPs will play a small role. Many advocates try to use it as a replacement, but it’s a tool; a small wrench compared to the big hammer we need,” he said. “There’s no one from Goldman Sachs who wants to pay for this. It’s going to have to come from public [sources].”

No matter which way the issue is viewed, it involves the attention of public and private sectors on a very pragmatic level. An increased population leads to the need for improved management of demand, rather than simple expansion of the existing system.

“We have to prioritize with limited money,” said Ortega. “The funding picture for California is such that decisions must be made on a regional level.… The challenge with the legislature is that funds don’t get spent quickly; they get tied up for years.”

And when we need money to fix things, we need it immediately, as illustrated with the emergency repairs on the Bay Bridge. February’s federal stimulus bill gave the state about $2.5 billion to spend on transportation and the opportunity to apply for funding for projects such as high-speed rail, but it was a one-time grant, which doesn’t augment the loss of transportation funding.

“Here in the Bay Area, we anticipated the stimulus bill and acted to allocate the money two weeks after we got it,” said Heminger. “But we had to just pick the meat-and-potatoes projects – pave some roads, get new signs, buy some buses, that sort of thing.”

As the economy rights itself, some transportation experts believe the attention of the public and leaders is crucial to ensuring the proper allocation of funds and oversight of our transportation authority.

“The challenge with infrastructure investment is that it’s something we’re in for decades,” said McMillan. “We’re not able to respond as quickly or nimbly as we need to be. The question now is whether we can build flexibility into a system.”

--By Heather Mack

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Commonwealth Oscars


Okay, we might be stretching this a bit. But nonetheless, former Commonwealth Club speaker Alec Baldwin is being announced as one of two co-presenters of the next Academy Awards.

The "30 Rock" will be co-hosting with Steve Martin, who, as far as we can tell from our research, has never spoken at The Commonwealth Club of California. It's about time, don't you think?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dr. Gloria C. Duffy's Latest on Huffington Post: Nuclear Treaties

You can read the latest InSight column by Commonwealth Club President and CEO Dr. Gloria Duffy over on Huffington Post:

Eyes on the Real Prize

It certainly was an "October surprise" when the Norwegian Nobel committee awarded President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize. The immediate reaction was to wonder what this would mean -- for the President's agenda at home and abroad, and for the American people. The U.S. is entering a season of key international negotiations, during which two arms control treaties that have been languishing for years will hopefully be completed.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Modeling the Latest Commonwealth Club Fashions

Commonwealth Club Membership Specialist Katie Kadas (left) and Development Manager Mary Beth Cerjan model the brand-new "in the know" t-shirts and "I'm in the know" tote bags.
The shirts and tote bags are part of The Club's newly launched public awareness campaign, which focuses on the need to gain information about the world, the challenges and solutions facing us as individuals, families, businesses, communities and nations -- in short, the need to be in the know.

You can view the 60-second television commercial, produced by our excellent partners at Grey Advertising, on our blog.

Be in the know at The Commonwealth Club #theknow


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

News Alert: Financial Literacy Especially Critical in Current Economic Climate

Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, President, Charles Schwab Foundation
Pam Erwin, Senior Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility Group, Wells Fargo
Michelle Greene, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Financial Education, U.S. Department of the Treas
Susan Keating, President and CEO, National Foundation for Credit Counseling - Moderator

On October 27, 2009, this panel of experts will discuss how to raise the profile of financial literacy in our nation, while offering a few personal, practical money tips. Personal budgeting and careful financial planning are becoming increasingly important for every American, but many people still lack basic money management know-how.

Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz is president of the Charles Schwab Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Charles Schwab Corporation, which focuses on financial education and philanthropy to create positive social change. She also serves as an expert on the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, and is a recognized authority on personal finance issues. Pam Erwin is senior vice president of the corporate social responsibility group at Wells Fargo, where she also manages the company’s “Hands-On Banking” financial literacy program. Additionally, she writes for Wells Fargo’s blog on college financing and debt management, “The Student LoanDown.”

Michelle Greene is deputy assistant secretary for financial education at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, appointed in 2009. Previously, she served as an independent legal consultant and as a senior policy advisor at the Treasury, where she was a part of the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets. Susan Keating is president and CEO of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit credit counseling organization. She has also served as banking chair for the U.S. Savings Bond National Volunteer Committee and co-chair of the Governor's Economic Development Policy Committee in Maryland.

This event is sponsored by Visa, Inc., and is open to all. For details on the event and to buy tickets, visit our main web site.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Intelligent Americans


Next week, CIA Director Leon Panetta will discuss the future of national security in what will be one of the three safest talks at The Commonwealth Club in 2009 – the other two having already been given by FBI Director Robert Mueller earlier this month and by Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis Blair this past September. All events have more than your usual attention paid to on-site security. (At such events, one is tempted to advise attendees against making any sudden moves.)

The talks come at the end of a decade that has, for the American intelligence community, been tumultuous to say the least. Drastic changes following the events of 9/11, the challenges of pursuing Bin Laden and the host of problems presented by the Iraq war have given rise to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, human rights violations, wire-tapping issues and, dare we mention it, a hunt for weapons of mass destruction whose existence was hotly contested.

The decade has also seen unprecedented cooperation between the CIA and the FBI – agencies whose odd-couple mismatch of culture and purpose appears to be rapidly dissolving in the face of threats both at home and abroad.

In one of the stranger developments in American counter-terrorism, there has been unheard-of outsourcing of erstwhile domestic operations (information gathering, law enforcement and cyber-crime prevention, etc.) to independent contractors. Though this has allowed for rapid, flexible responses to agencies' logistical problems, it is also responsible for the scandal surrounding Xe (the contractor formerly known as Blackwater).

During Panetta’s visit on October 23, we look forward to learning what the famously clandestine CIA sees as its biggest challenges going forward, and what it must do in order to meet them. More information on the upcoming talk is available at The Commonwealth Club's web site.

--By Andrew Harrison

California's Solar Power Leadership Role -- An Economic Strength?

Things are shaping up to look a lot brighter in the Golden State. Going against a downward national trend, clean energy leader California is on a streak to more than double installation of solar energy systems during 2009, far more than any other state in the nation.

Even during the worst phases of the economic downturn, installations in California have risen. Taking full advantage of federal stimulus money and the Solar Investment Tax Credit, California holds the majority of solar patents and has proven to be committed to clean up its act and lead the country on sustainable energy. Installations are projected to jump 120 percent this year, compared with a 27-percent global decline.

Technology research house iSuppli expects 350 megawatts worth of solar systems will be installed in California during 2009, while the rest of the country is expected to install only 132 MW in that same time. The trend is expected to continue to 2010, when California photovoltaic installations, in terms of megawatts of power generated, would increase another 68 percent, while solar panel installations around the world grow 54 percent.

In a late September visit to the Club, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed his support for solar energy and outlined key strategies that are keeping California ahead on energy issues, touting the state as a national and global leader on environmental politics. The governor’s visit marked the third anniversary of AB32, legislation that catapulted California to worldwide leadership in green economics.

"Leaders from around the world are coming to California to see all the innovation and excitement that is going on in our state," Schwarzenegger told the audience during his speech at the Fairmont hotel. "A wave of green innovation is washing over our state now."

The governor also recently signed an executive order to direct the California Air Resource Board to adopt regulations increasing California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 33 percent by 2020. The order upholds the state’s leadership in environmental policies and builds on AB32 goals by ensuring California will have the ability to use renewable energy sources.

And all that clean technology could be helping to pull California out of its economic slump as well. "Fighting climate change is not just about the environment; it’s also about seizing an incredible economic opportunity," said Schwarzenegger. "Since 2005, green jobs in California have grown 10 times more than any other jobs.”

President Obama has expressed the desire to pass a climate bill that not only creates new American jobs but also continues offering incentives that spur innovation, so California can serve as an example of how such goals are implemented.

"One hundred fifty years ago, it was the industrial revolution that changed the world and ushered in a new era of prosperity," said the governor. "But now, today the green revolution will do exactly the same."

--By Heather Mack

(Photo courtesy NASA.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Helen Thomas: White House Watchdog Tells All


"If elected [U.S. President in 2012], I will serve.” Giggle.

So said legendary White House reporter Helen Thomas to a sold-out crowd yesterday afternoon at The Commonwealth Club. In conversation with San Francisco Chronicle Vice President Phil Bronstein, Thomas regaled the audience with stories of her interactions with past presidents, who, in her opinion, have been everything from fascinating to woefully fallible. In her 60-year career, Thomas – an ardent JFK fan – has covered 10 presidents and spared none.

"I don't waste my sympathy on them," she explained. "[But] They ask for it."

The White House Press Corps veteran made the switch from straight news to opinion in 2000, and has embraced her new assignment with the same journalistic zeal. "Now I wake up every morning and ask, 'Who do I hate today?'" Thomas shared. "That's how you write a column!"

Still, as a reporter, Thomas acknowledged that her words hold a considerable degree of power. “My biggest fear? Making a big mistake. Hurting a lot of people. You have a big weapon in your hand when you're a reporter.”

Despite that fear and despite the potential consequences of giving tough questions to presidents, Thomas maintains that reporters have a duty to hold presidents accountable for their actions. “We were afraid of being called unpatriotic, un-American for asking the tough questions,” Thomas recalled, referring to earlier in this decade. “I don’t think any of us ever entered journalism expecting to be loved…[And] I don’t think we’re superior – I think we’re dedicated to truth.”

Thomas charged that truth was conspicuously absent from the information put forth by the former Bush administration. Bush "hung the albatross of torture around our necks,” she lamented. “I felt deception was a terrible thing. The American people can take the truth, but they can't take lies."

But Thomas also had some tough words for the new Obama administration, including the accusation that Obama “lacks courage … to do the right thing,” a charge that drew a gasp from some members of the audience. Thomas, author of the just-released Listen Up, Mr. President, had a few partisan words of advice: “There is no such thing as bipartisanship.... Stop catering to the Republicans, because they're not going to help you!” she insisted.

To Helen Thomas, the goal of journalism has always been clear. “Seek the truth, and let the chips fall where they may.”

--By Commonwealth Club Media & Public Relations Department

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Books in Our eBay Store: From Helen Thomas, Neil Sheehan, Taylor Branch, & More

If you haven't checked out The Commonwealth Club's online store, now might be a good time. We've just added more books, including the one everybody in Washington's talking about: Taylor Branch's The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President.

Other recent additions include Rosabeth Moss Kanter's SuperCorp: How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good, Helen Thomas' Listen Up, Mr. President; Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do, and Neil Sheehan's A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon.

All four of those authors are upcoming Commonwealth Club speakers (see our schedule online). They and other upcoming speakers have books that can be ordered on our online eBay store; if you order more than five business days before the event, the book will be sent to your address; if you order fewer than five days before the event, the book will be waiting for you at The Commonwealth Club on the day of the event.

But that's not all. We also have books from recent past speakers, including David Wessel's In Fed We Trust, Firoozeh Dumas' Laughing Without an Accent, Reza Aslan's How to Win a Cosmic War, Chris Anderson's Free, and many others.

For the complete catalog of available books, visit our store.

FBI Director Robert Mueller: Combatting Invisible Crimes

FBI Director Robert Mueller talks tough on cyber-crime. (Commonwealth Club photo by John Zipperer.)

FBI Director Robert Mueller addressed an afternoon crowd at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco onWednesday to discuss the threat of cyber terrorism and the ways in which his department is combating the rapidly growing epidemic. Mueller, who was appointed by President Bush just days before the September 11 attacks, emphasized that in this technological age, everyone must be aware of the cyber threats that face them as individuals, and also as citizens of the United States. “Our lives are impacted by the Internet all of the time, whether we can see it or not,” he said.

On the heels of the FBI’s arrest of more than 100 Eyptian and American “phishing” scammers, Mueller noted that many U.S. citizens are unaware of the threats against their privacy and national security. He admitted that even he, himself, had almost fallen prey to a phishing scam, in which hackers imitate official organizations such as banks and ask unsuspecting recipients for confidential information. “We all must take ownership of cyber security,” Mueller continued, stressing that perpetrators and victims can come from anywhere across the globe. “We are all citizens of the Internet,” he said. “We all must invest in cyber security.”

Though many of the cyber attacks aimed at the United States come from Eastern Europe, Mueller stated that the partnerships that the FBI has with European counterparts has helped combat these threats tremendously. He cited the relationship with Romania as particularly beneficial, and added that in just the past year joint forces have arrested over 100 people both in Romania and at home. He also said that FBI agents are “embedded” within some Eastern European police forces to help them find cyber criminals.

However, Mueller also indicated that because of the anonymity of the Internet, it is often “difficult to attribute the origin of the attack.” He stressed that certain countries, such as Somalia and Algeria, work closely with U.S. intelligence to combat these threats, but because of their unstable political and social situations, it is sometimes difficult. He also underlined the significance of employing native Arabic speakers to contribute to the counter-cyber-terrorism efforts, though he stated that the numbers are not where he would like them to be. “We are a nation of immigrants, and we need to reflect that,” he said.

When an audience member questioned why we should worry about our e-mail being read by the teenage hacker and not by the FBI, he responded, “You should be worried about the teenage hacker.” He noted that it was a teenage hacker who had created one of the biggest online disruptions.

In closing, an elementary school teacher asked Mueller what advice he would give to students who are now using the Internet, in particular social networking sites like Facebook, in unprecedented numbers. He responded with words of caution, emphasizing the permanence of information put into cyberspace. “Anything and everything you put on the Internet will be seen by persons down the road,” he said. “It may well come back to haunt you. Be very careful what you put on the Internet.”

Perhaps having learned his lesson from his online banking victimhood, Mueller noted, “I do not have a Facebook page.”

--Commonwealth Club Media and Public Relations Department

Monday, October 5, 2009

Club Speaker Loses Magazine: Gourmet Closes

Condé Nast is one of the big powerhouse magazine publishers in the world, home to GQ, Vogue, Architectural Digest, Glamour, The New Yorker, and many others. As of today, Conde Nast publishes several fewer titles, having given the axe to Cookie, Modern Bride, Elegant Bride, and -- in a move that shocked the publishing and the foodie worlds -- Gourmet magazines. The move followed a review of the company by an outside consultant firm, McKinsey.

Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet since 1999, spoke at The Commonwealth Club in Silicon Valley just last week, where she talked about some of the major trends in American cooking, such as healthier food and increased international influences.

But Reichl couldn't beat out a different trend in America, that of a precipitous drop in advertising revenue. Not all magazines are primarily supported by ads; some get more of their revenue from newsstand and subscription revenue. But advertising remains the lifeblood of most of the big glossies, and that's Condé Nast's field of play. It publishes magazines filled with high-priced ads from luxury goods and services companies around the world. And until recently, Condé Nast was famous (or infamous among its peers) for never deigning to discount ad space; if you wanted to advertise in its magazines, you paid full price. In return, the magazines were known for their high quality photography, printing, journalism -- and perks, such as limousines for editors. (If you have seen The September Issue, the new documentary about Vogue Editor Anna Wintour and her top staff, you get the idea.)

An informal survey by this writer suggests that advertising pages have begun to rebound from their lows of late spring and summer, but it will be some time before publishers are back in the black.

As for Ms. Reichl's future, it's not yet known, though it's still possible her fans will find her within the surviving Gourmet family. According to Advertising Age:

Conde Nast didn't have an answer Monday for the number of jobs that would be lost as a result of the moves, but the titles' mastheads suggest massive cuts are likely. Gourmet alone lists some 100 staffers, although the company will presumably keep some to help run Gourmet's books, TV and recipes activities, which will continue. It wasn't immediately clear whether Ms. Reichl or VP-publisher Nancy Berger Cardone will stay in some capacity or leave the company. Cookie's masthead numbers closer to 75.

-By John Zipperer
VP of Media & Editorial, Commonwealth Club of California

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dr. Gloria Duffy to Discuss Nuclear Iran tomorrow on KCBS Radio (Bay Area)

Commonwealth Club President and CEO Dr. Gloria Duffy will discuss the situation with Iran's nuclear actions and policies tomorrow, October 1, on KCBS Radio, at 2:20 pm (Pacific Time). You can tune into 740 AM at that time or listen live on the KCBS news site.

Video of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Big Speech at The Commonwealth Club


Last week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke to Climate One at The Commonwealth Club. The occasion was the third anniversary of the signing of AB32, California's historic climate law.

The governor covered a great deal of ground in his discussions about green public policy in his speech and in his Q&A with Climate One director Greg Dalton. True, his comments about making sure his children didn't waste hot water in the shower got a lot of attention -- but even that served to illustrate his views that environmental policy touches all parts of our lives. Might not make his kids happy, but that's for him to worry about.

Watch the video to see it all.

China at the Crossroads

A panel of experts convened at The Commonwealth Club last night for a look at the pivotal role China will play in the development of a post-downturn, 21st century global economy.

Recent studies from economic and environmental agencies alike point to the heavy influence China exerts on our daily lives, driving up fossil fuel prices and contributing to the quality (or lack thereof) of the very air we breathe.

According to a two-year study by U.S.-based Energy Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund, if China continues to grow at its current pace, its annual greenhouse gas emissions would reach 17 billion tons by 2050 - accounting for 60 percent of all emissions worldwide and easily supplanting the U.S. as the world's biggest "greenhouse gas gorilla." The fast-approaching U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen has identified discourse between China and the U.S. as a turning point in the fight against global warming.

Addressing these and other issues were Felicia Marcus, Barbara Finamore and Gao Jie of the National Resources Defense Council, which works in the U.S. and Beijing to preserve and protect the environment. Joining them were Peter Liu, founder and vice chairman of New Resource Bank, an FDIC-member community bank with expertise in funding green and sustainable businesses.

For more information on upcoming events, check us out at www.commonwealthclub.org. A China-related event of note is Lynne Joiner speaking about "Honorable Survivor: Mao's China, McCarthy's America and the Persecution of John S. Service" on October 7. For a list of upcoming climate and environmental programs, see our Climate One series of events and our Environment & Natural Resources Member-Led Forum events.

--By Andrew Harrison

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Commonwealth Club Names Pioneering Businesswoman Dr. Ruth Shapiro First "Social Entrepreneur in Residence"

SAN FRANCISCO (September 28, 2009) --- Following the momentum generated by The Commonwealth Club’s annual dinner earlier this year honoring three Bay Area social entrepreneurs, the Club has officially named Dr. Ruth Shapiro its first Social Entrepreneur in Residence. After having successfully launched several socially responsible businesses herself, including the Hong Kong-based Asia Business Council, Dr. Shapiro will now contribute to the Club’s ongoing mission of creating and developing positive social change at home and abroad.

“Venture capital firms often have entrepreneurs in residence, who work on their own ideas and help foster entrepreneurship within the firm. We believe that model also applies to the non-profit world and social entrepreneurship. We are delighted that Dr. Ruth Shapiro, herself a seasoned social entrepreneur who has started several programs and organizations, will take on this role,” said Club President and CEO Dr. Gloria Duffy.

“The term social entrepreneurship is used widely today but few would define it in the same way," added Shapiro. "The Commonwealth Club applauds social innovation. This year, the annual dinner celebrated the work of three funders -- Bill Draper, the Skoll Foundation and Google.org -- for their landmark efforts to promote social entrepreneurship and innovation. The Club realizes, however, that more public awareness of social innovation models and approaches would go far to increase public support and, ideally, increase funding and activity in this area.”

As the social entrepreneur in residence, Dr. Shapiro will focus on three tasks. First, she will orchestrate a year-long series of programs, including talks by social entrepreneurs, funders, academics, and corporations, focusing on social entrepreneurship. As in the venture capital model, Dr. Shapiro will also work on the business plan for her own non-profit start-up, which will focus on the relationship between business and society. She will also help The Club find new and entrepreneurial ways to promote its goal of educating the public on a wide-ranging set of issues and subjects.

Dr. Ruth Shapiro has built several successful businesses around social missions. Her latest and largest achievement was to create and run the Asia Business Council, a Hong Kong-based membership organization of top CEOs in Asia, committed to sustainable economic development. As its founder, Dr. Shapiro raised the startup capital from private foundations and individuals, recruited key chief executives to develop the initiative, and built the council into the organization it is today. On a day to day basis, Dr. Shapiro oversaw the council’s strategy, management, membership, program and finances. Through this work, Dr. Shapiro gained expertise on issues such as corporate social responsibility, scenario planning, education, training and innovation, corporate governance, energy efficiency, trade policy and regional economic growth.

Before creating the Asia Business Council, Dr. Shapiro worked in the field of international development. In this capacity, she held various management positions and established new program areas at the Academy for Educational Development, and the Harvard Institute of International Development and Global Outlook.

Dr. Shapiro, a Palo Alto resident, recently relocated back to the United States after living in Hong Kong and London for the last six years. She holds a doctorate from Stanford University and Masters degrees from Harvard University and George Washington University. She completed her undergraduate work at the University of Michigan.

For more information or to schedule an interview with Dr. Shapiro, contact Riki Rafner, director of media and public relations, at 415-597-6712.

Dr. Gloria Duffy: A Moment of Weakness for Ahmadinejad


Dr. Gloria Duffy, the Commonwealth Club's president and CEO, appeared on a television news report last night about experts' reactions to the Iranian nuclear and missile activity.

Duffy noted that the Obama administration might be sensing a period of weakness on the part of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following the tumultuous post-election protests in that country. Others disagreed; former CIA agent (and former Commonwealth Club speaker) Robert Baer argued that the U.S., UK and France took a bad pre-negotiation step by embarrassing Iran when they revealed the country's previously little-known nuclear facility near the religious city of Qom.

View the KGO TV video for these and other views on the situation.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dr. Gloria Duffy Discusses Iran's Nuclear Situation on KGO TV tonight at 6 p.m.

Commonwealth Club President and CEO Dr. Gloria Duffy will appear on KGO TV, Channel 7 in San Francisco, tonight at 6:00 p.m. (Pacific time). She will be discussing the nuclear situation in Iran.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Schwarzenegger Tells Commonwealth Club California Must Lead on Energy, Never Follow


In his third appearance at The Commonwealth Club of California in 13 months, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger told a room of nearly 500 attendees that the state must always be a leader on fighting climate change and on generating economic growth from environmentally friendly activity.

Though his appearance focused on the third anniversary of AB32 -- legislation that set California on a path of being a national and global leader in green economics -- Schwarzenegger also touched on a wide array of topics, particularly during his question-and-answer session with Greg Dalton, director of The Commonwealth Club's Climate One program. When he was asked by a member of a fourth-grade class that was in attendance what advice he gives to his own children regarding the environment, the governor related his own upbringing in postwar Europe, where his family lived in a home without running water. As a result, he closely monitors the length of his children's showers and threatens to cut off the hot water after five minutes. He also makes his children make their own beds and do their own laundry.

From Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's recent comments about rescinding some of his green policies, to discussing his desire to do anything possible to make the Obama administration (and future administrations of either party) successful, the governor shied away from no topic. He gave an impassioned explanation about the necessity of painful across-the-board budget cuts when an audience member questioned reductions in higher education funding.

To end the program, he was asked if, after he leaves the governor's office, he would consider holding a post in the Obama administration, being an international ambassador for green issues, or starring in a TV series about a California governor ("...like West Wing, only better..."). Schwarzenegger said he was open to all three.

We'll post the full video of the program here when it's available.
(Photos by John Zipperer)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Video of Michael Moore at The Commonwealth Club


We always love it when a program here at The Commonwealth Club of California sells out and has a standing-room-only audience. But we also know that means that many people who wanted to attend the event were unable to.

Thank goodness for radio, podcasts, and internet video, then, right? Courtesy of our online video partners, Fora.tv, we have the above video of controversial political documentarian Michael Moore's appearance at The Club on September 17. For an overview of his conversation at The Club, see yesterday's blog post.

David Letterman and the Commonwealth Club

(Image from CBS TV online video.)

Last night, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to appear as a guest on The Late Show with David Letterman. (Obama had previously appeared numerous times while a senator and presidential candidate.) The appearance was part of the president's campaign to make his argument for his policies, chiefly health-care reform.

The appearance is getting a great deal of press attention, as you'd expect. But one throw-away line from the night was of particular interest to us here at The Commonwealth Club, and it made us wonder if Letterman and his staff are Club aficionados.

During the Top Ten List, the host read out the top 10 "reasons President Obama agreed to appear on The Late Show." The reasons ranged from the odd ("Heard the lady with the heart-shaped potato was going to be here" -- long story) to the political. But one of them resonated with us: Reason Number Seven: "Every president since Teddy Roosevelt has been here."

Well, we all know that the place that has hosted every president since Teddy Roosevelt is The Commonwealth Club of California, don't we? Roosevelt kicked it off by making the case in his Club speech for federal involvement in protection of common lands. Republican and Democrat, they've made their appearance here before our Bay Area audiences and -- through our national radio and internet arms -- before the whole country. So naturally we're looking forward to hosting a speech by President Barack Obama, and he's welcome to bring the jokes.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Director Michael Moore Discusses His "Love Story" at The Commonwealth Club

Michael Moore addresses a Commonwealth Club InForum crowd Thursday, September 17, 2009. (Photo by Camille Koue.)

In a surprise event that nevertheless managed to draw standing-room-only crowds, media attention and a flurry of Flickr activity, film director Michael Moore appeared at the Commonwealth Club for an InForum interview with Live from the Left Coast's Angie Coiro on Thursday evening.

The interview followed an advance screening of Moore's new documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story, at San Francisco's Metreon cineplex. Without divulging too much here (find out more on Moore's web site), the film is every inch the provocative, fractious and ofttimes humorous work that audiences have come to expect from the filmmaker-- or are we reading too much into this? As Moore shared with a full house at the Commonwealth Club following the screening, "It is a love story. It's about the wealthy who love their money. Except, the movie has a twist -- they not only love their money, they love our money, too. And they want all of it."

Over the next hour, Moore and Corio's discussion ranged over his more bloodthirsty critics, why he's calling on Barack Obama to fill FDR's shoes, what it really means to be called "liberal-minded," and how we're putting our own newspapers out of business.

The full discussion will soon be available on The Commonwealth Club's YouTube page, where you can find all of The Club's past speakers and future events online. Meanwhile, Capitalism: A Love Story hits theaters on October 2.

--By Andrew Harrison

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Late-Breaking Event: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at Commonwealth Club This Week

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will be appearing at The Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco this Thursday. He will be talking about what California is doing to bring together states and countries together to cooperate on addressing climate change.

For additional details and to reserve tickets, click here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Admiral Blair Makes Waves with Commonwealth Club Speech

The Huffington Post offers a brief rundown of the news made by last night's Commonwealth Club of California speaker, Admiral Dennis Blair, who is President Obama's director of national security. Blair spoke to The Club on the day of the release of an unclassified national security strategy report. Chief among the headlines made by Blair yesterday were numbers-related: The U.S> spends $75 billion on its intelligence services, and employs 200,000 people in the effort.

See also reports from the Associated Press, the Washington Independent, Fox News, the Federal News Service, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

CIA Director Leon Panetta and FBI Director Robert Mueller will be making separate appearances at The Commonwealth Club this fall. For dates, details, and to register, go to The Commonwealth Club's web site.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Late-Breaking Event: Michael Moore to Address Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Thursday

Here's an event you'll want to sign up for quickly; the tickets are sure to go fast.

The Commonwealth Club's InForum division has just scheduled filmmaker Michael Moore for a discussion at The Club's downtown San Francisco headquarters immediately following a free screening of Moore's new film, Capitalism: A Love Story.

To get more information and to make your reservation, visit the event page.