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