Monday, February 22, 2010

Cooling the Earth? SuperFreakonomics Authors Levitt and Dubner Say, Give It a Try


In November 2009, SuperFreakonomics authors and pop-economists Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner spoke at The Commonwealth Club's Inforum division, and they were asked about some controversial cliamte change sections in their book.

During the conversation on stage with Alan Murray, deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, Levitt and Dubner talked at length about their relationship with scientist Ken Caldeira and the question of whether attempts should be made to artificially cool the earth if attempts to reduce warming aren't working. Levitt says, "What if we really were in a jam, and we wanted to really cool the earth in a hurry, and we didn't want to wait 40 or 50 years -- is there another option?"

The complete video of their program is above.

And Caldeira will have his say when he comes to The Commonwealth Club's Climate One program on March 23 in San Francisco.

Friday, February 19, 2010

John Yoo vs. Garry Wills: The Debate over Presidential Authority

One of the most heated debates in recent years has been over the expansion of presidential authority -- to interpret laws as he or she thinks best, to make and prosecute wars, to establish rules for treatment of foreign terrorists in custody. Commonwealth Club members recently got a close-up look at this debate when two well-known constitutional experts visited the Club, separately, within two weeks of each other.

John Yoo, a law professor at UC Berkeley, came to discuss the evolution of presidential authority and to respond to audience questions about his controversial role in formulating policies toward the use of torture during the Bush administration. Then, historian and journalist Garry Wills visited to talk about how presidential authority has expanded over the years, beyond the intent of the writers of the Constitution. Asked about Yoo's theories, Wills gave a withering response.

Watch the two programs in high-definition video from the Commonwealth Club's YouTube channel, and post your responses below.

John Yoo:

Garry Wills:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Climate Countdown" and "Inside Iran" to air on Comcast in Bay Area

For those of you in the Bay Area who are subscribers to Comcast, here's a heads-up about two upcoming Commonwealth Club programs that will be broadcast on Comcast cable channel 715:

  • “Climate Countdown” with George Weyerhauser is scheduled to run Sunday, February 21, at 10p.m.
  • “Inside Iran” with Robert Baer (the ex-CIA agent on whom George Clooney's character was based in the film Syriana) is scheduled to run Sunday, February 28 at 10 p.m. on Comcast cable channel 715.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rosalynn Carter Confirms Commonwealth Club Talk

There’s no doubt that you grow in the White House. The things that come to the White House are the problems. You learn about how many people have mental afflictions, how many people are poor, how many people are hungry. And the actions of our country affect the world. For me it was a place of great responsibility. I felt that I ought to do everything I could.
- Rosalynn Carter, The Commonwealth Club, September 27, 1985
 Mental health advocate and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. (Photo by Wayne Perkins/The Carter Center)

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter recently confirmed her plans to speak at The Commonwealth Club this August, marking the politically active campaigner, public figure and mental health advocate’s first visit to The Club since her speech at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel, almost 25 years ago.

It’s more than a little exciting for us. When she first spoke with a Club audience on September 27, 1985, she and Former President Jimmy Carter were only four years out of the White House, having recently established the Carter Center of Emory University and the Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta, GA. She’d already penned the autobiographical First Lady from Plains and established a commitment to public health issues ranging from smoking-related diseases to the prevention and treatment of mental illness.

Carter has been an honorary fellow of the American Psychiatric Association since 1984, and her Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism has played a major role in fighting incorrect, negative stereotypes of mental disorders in the media. In 2008, Congress passed legislation requiring the availability of mental illness treatments under health insurance plans, thanks in large part to Carter’s active campaigning the year before.

During her White House years, the former first lady saw the Middle East peace discussions that resulted in the Camp David Accords, the Iran Hostage Crisis, and 1980’s Chrysler Corporation bailout (all topics that sound familiar today, too). She regularly represented the president in discussing foreign affairs with world leaders and dignitaries, and she is the first First Lady to keep abreast of the nation’s pressing issues by regularly sitting in on Cabinet meetings.

It’s our honor to welcome Mrs. Carter to The Club again. We’ll post more information regarding her upcoming talk online as the date approaches – in the meantime, check out our web site at to find out more about Club talks, speakers and special events.

--By Andrew Harrison

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Public Broadcasting Leader Mary Bitterman Named Commonwealth Club Board Chair

Nation’s Premier Public Affairs Forum Appoints Former KQED Chief to Lead Club

Dr. Mary Bitterman, president of The Bernard Osher Foundation and former president and CEO of KQED, has been named the 2010-2011 chair of the Board of Governors for The Commonwealth Club of California, the nation's oldest and largest public affairs forum. Dr. Bitterman succeeds Mary Cranston, leading attorney and senior partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, to become the ninth woman to head the Board of Governors of The Commonwealth Club since its inception in 1903.

"It is a privilege and challenge to lead such an important public service organization at this critical juncture in the history of our state and nation," said Bitterman. “Now more than ever, our democracy depends on an informed public -- knowledgeable of the affairs of our society and of the world in which we live.”

Dr. Gloria Duffy, president and CEO of The Club, noted, “Mary Bitterman’s rich leadership experience in public broadcasting, philanthropy, higher education, and corporate governance will prove invaluable to The Club. Our board and staff look forward to working closely with her.”

Born in San José and daughter and sister of Santa Clara County Superior Court judges, Dr. Bitterman is a fourth-generation Californian who has demonstrated unwavering dedication to the public good in her native state. She recently was commended by the California Community Colleges Board of Governors for her work with the Osher Foundation on its $50 million pledge to the California Community Colleges Scholarship Endowment, the largest single gift to a community college system in the nation’s history. During her tenure as president of KQED from 1993 to 2002, she was credited with restoring fiscal integrity, rebuilding board and staff morale, and undertaking KQED’s Campaign for the Future which raised funds for conversion to digital systems and for a Program Venture Fund to support local production. She significantly expanded the stations' local programming, beginning with KQED Public Radio’s “Pacific Time” and “The California Report,” now in its 15th year of broadcast. KQED Public Television produced such programs as “The Neighborhoods of San Francisco,” with “The Castro” earning the Peabody Award, and started the arts magazine, “Spark.” She has also produced several documentaries for public television and has written about the role of media and telecommunications in developing societies.

Before coming to KQED, Dr. Bitterman headed the Hawaii Public Broadcasting Authority, the Voice of America, the Hawaii State Department of Commerce, and the East-West Center’s Institute of Culture and Communication. Her board service has included chairing the boards of PBS and the East-West Center and membership on the Board of Trustees of Barclays Global Investors, purchased recently by BlackRock.

Currently, as president of The Bernard Osher Foundation, Dr. Bitterman focuses on the foundation’s national priorities (postsecondary scholarships; lifelong learning institutes for seasoned adults; and integrative medicine programs) and on its local arts and humanities grant-making that benefits organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area and the State of Maine. A trustee of the foundation, she serves also as lead independent director of Bank of Hawaii and board chair of the PBS Foundation. Additionally, she is a member of the advisory councils for the Bay Area Council Economic Forum, Pacific Forum/CSIS, the Public Policy Institute of California, and the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

Dr. Bitterman is an honorary member of the National Presswomen's Federation, a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, and a recipient of the Ralph Lowell Award for national leadership in public broadcasting. She received her B.A. from Santa Clara University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern European History from Bryn Mawr College. She is the recipient of honorary doctoral degrees from Dominican University of California, Santa Clara University, and the University of Richmond.

--By the Commonwealth Club Media & Public Relations Staff

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Toyota's Acceleration Problems: It's not just the Floormats ...


As Toyota reels from problems with some of its cars' unintended acceleration (and resulting accidents), and institutes an expensive worldwide recall of autos, it's worth recalling how this matter was handled in a recent appearance at The Commonwealth Club of California by James Lentz, the president and COO of Toyota Motors Sales USA.

He spoke to The Club's Climate One division on November 17, 2009, when the accelerator issue was becoming known but hadn't yet blown up in the company's face. Following his main speech, Lentz took questions from the audience, including one about the accelerators. Lentz said the company tests everything for safety. He blamed the problem on floor mats, which supposedly were being trapped by the accelerator pedal, and after a follow-up question, he says the same problem is occurring with other car companies.

Today, the acceleration problem is being blamed on everything from faulty brakes to the cars' computer systems, and Toyota is facing a public relations nightmare. The head of the company, the descendent of the company's founder, has apologized and promised to improve safety quality.

You can watch the entire video above and make up your own mind.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Travel Guru Peter Greenberg and Health Care Guru Zeke Emanuel on Comcast in Bay Area This Month

For those of you in the Bay Area who are subscribers to Comcast, here's a heads-up about two upcoming Commonwealth Club programs that will be broadcast on Comcast cable channel 715:
Travel expert Peter Greenberg will air this Sunday, February 7, at 10 p.m.

Health care expert (and brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel) Zeke Emanuel will air Sunday, February 14, at 10 p.m.

David Walker Takes on America's Fiscal Spree


Former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker has been warning for years about America's out-of-control spending. He currently serves as president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and recently authored Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility.

Can we save Social Security? How does health-care reform get helped or hurt by reforming our fiscal foundation? As he notes in a recent speech to The Commonwealth Club, the country was facing huge levels of national debt even before the financial crisis of this past year and a half; with the record deficits of the past year and the new year, Walker's topic of fiscal responsibility is certainly not going out of style. Alas.

Watch the video above from his January 25, 2010, speech to The Club, or listen to the audio here.

(Quick note: The video above is the entire hour-long Commonwealth Club program, so to avoid having the video stop and start, you might want to pause it after a few seconds, let more of it download, then continue.)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Frank Luntz Seeks to Frame Debate About Financial Re-Regulation

GOP pollster Frank Luntz speaks to The Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco. November 6, 2009. Photo by John Zipperer.

Republican strategist Frank Luntz told a Commonwealth Club audience in November 2009 that Californian supporters of gay marriage had made a mistake by choosing the word marriage in their fight against the anti-gay-marriage referendum Proposition 8. "If you want to resolve this issue in a way that some of you want to resolve it, take out the word marriage," he explained. "If I were advising those on the Left who want equality in marriage as they define it, then don't say the word marriage, and you will get it, because the American people believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and that's what they think. But: They are hostile, openly hostile to discrimination."

Luntz, who makes his living dissecting what Americans tell him they believe and suggesting ways for political groups to get their message across to the public, said that the way an argument is framed can be all the difference in whether Americans accept it. "My issue with those on the far Right and those on the far Left is that, You don't want to win, you just want to shout, and you never get anything through as a result."

In other words, words matter.

Now, Luntz is weighing in on the efforts to re-regulate Wall Street, an effort championed by another recent Commonwealth Club speaker, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. But Luntz is advising folks who worry that the effort to impose more regulation on the financial services industry will hobble private business.

Over at Huffington Post, Sam Stein writes that Luntz has authored a memo telling opponents of reform to frame the reform effort as being chock-full of all those bad words that make Americans recoil: bank bailouts, lobbyists, loopholes, and bureaucracy. "Washington's incompetence is the common ground on which you can build support," Stein quotes Luntz's memo.

At the bottom of Stein's article is a window for reading the entire Luntz memo, so you can read it and make up your own mind if it will be useful in the policy debate.

Commonwealth Club members will be able to read an excerpt of Luntz's speech in the February/March issue of The Commonwealth magazine, out this week.