Monday, February 28, 2011

President Obama Announces Support for Changes to the 2010 Health Care Law

President Barack Obama told the attendees of the National Governor’s Conference in Washington, D.C., today that he supports amending the historic health-care bill passed by Congress last year to allow individual states to opt out of some of the law’s requirements three years earlier than they are currently allowed to do so.

Under the proposed legislation, states can request federal permission to bypass the health-care law’s mandates if they can prove that they can find alternative ways to cover as many people as the original law would at the same expense.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have praised President Obama’s announcement, because it will allow the states to enact health-care reform in an individualized manner, though states must do several things to obtain a waiver to opt out of the health care law’s requirements.

The Commonwealth Club has featured numerous programs related to health-care and health-care reform, which you can find on our special health-care resources page

–By Ella Arnold

Charles Ferguson's Post-Oscars Appearance this Wednesday in San Francisco

“Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail — and that’s wrong,” said Charles Ferguson, the documentary filmmaker who opened his Academy Awards acceptance speech last night with a declaration that encapsulated his Oscar-winning film's thesis.

That film, Inside Job, presents the case that the finance industry took advantage of a deregulated atmosphere and tried to get rich at the expense of others. In conversations with industry insiders and government officials, Ferguson's film calls the meltdown a preventable disaster that was created by greedy and deceptive men. And on a night dedicated to glitz and glam in Hollywood, it was his cry for accountability that left many in the crowd captivated.

Political speeches are nothing new to the Oscars, and they are often controversial. At an event where LA stars shine the brightest, it was a documentary filmmaker who stood out. Inside Job received Hollywood’s highest honor, and its director made the most of the moment, despite the decidedly uncontroversial nature of this year's program. Ferguson was greeted with cheers from the movie-making elite at Sunday's Oscars and was credited by some with breathing fire into the otherwise tame telecast.

With his film's stock on the rise, the filmmaker continues to spread his message to fans by coming to The Commonwealth Club this Wednesday.

He will be taking part in a Q&A with Fortune magazine Senior Editor Adam Lashinsky; the documentarian will talk more about his film and personal views. Ferguson will be heard by a sold-out crowd in The Commonwealth Club's San Francisco club office; but for those unable to attend in person, please join us for our live stream at BeNowTV. The program begins at 6 p.m. Pacific time.
–By James Dohnert

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Debate Over Public Workers’ Rights Comes to California

Over the past couple of days, the debate over the rights of public workers in America to collectively bargain has spread from Wisconsin, where GOP Gov. Scott Walker proposed tough union legislation last week, to Indiana and now California, where Republican state assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) introduced a bill on Tuesday that would eliminate collective bargaining rights for California’s public school teachers, nurses and every other public worker in the state.

The bill proposed in California likely faces an early death, because the state’s legislature leans heavily Democratic, and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has already vowed not to target public workers to help solve the state’s monumental budget woes. Many of California’s Republican lawmakers, however, are calling for dramatic public pension reform as a component of the state’s budget negotiations. Despite the numerical advantage enjoyed by state Democrats in the legislature, Brown still needs a handful of Republicans to cross the aisle before his budget can pass, notes Reuters.

The Commonwealth Club of California has often examined the role of unions in California and across the country, and below are some examples of related material:

–By Ella Arnold

The Middle East in Turmoil

What started in Tunisia and blazed through Egypt is now showing itself in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen. Civil unrest against oppressive regimes is seeing a surge in North Africa and the Mideast. With citizens in the region taking steps toward over throwing leaders they view as unfit to lead. The poverty of their lands, the cruelty of their dictators and the ability to connect to others through social media have all played a part in getting oppressed people to pursue building the kind of government they want. To give you more background on the situation in the Mideast, please take a look at some Commonwealth Club materials on the issue.

Egypt & the Middle East: Revolutions 2.0

Inspired by the Tunisian people, Egyptians took to the streets in protest of Hosni Mubarak and eventually toppled his 30-year rule. Through Google and Twitter, they began peaceful protests that led to a mostly nonviolent revolution. But just how big was the role of social media in the revolution? And how will the power of Facebook affect world governments going forward? Join The Commonwealth Club's Inforum division on March 10th for a panel discussion of journalists who covered the revolution as they try to answer those questions and others.

Reza Aslan: Bridging the Middle East and America Through Culture

The Arab world is bogged down with the stigma of being an angry society. But the non-violent protests in Tunisia and Egypt paint a different picture. As countries of the Arab world show themselves in a different light – trying to achieve their goals for more representative and responsive governments peacefully – the American media is beginning to see a different side of the region. With the Middle East demonstrating itself as something other than a stereotype, now is the perfect time to learn more about its culture. Listen to Reza Aslan and a panel of artists as they discuss some of the cultural luminaries of the Muslim world.

Middle East Discussion Group

Finally, take your chance to join the discussion. The civil unrest in the Middle East is at the forefront of global news, and now is your chance to take part in a conversation examining what it all means. Come to the Middle East discussion group at the Commonwealth Club on February the 28th.

–By James Dohnert

Friday, February 11, 2011

Charlotte Shultz Reappointed San Francisco Chief of Protocol

(Left to right) Charlotte Mailliard Shultz, Maria Shriver, and Maryles Casto at The Commonwealth Club's 2010 annual dinner. Photo by Lyra Frederick.
Charlotte Mailliard Shultz, a leading light of the Bay Area's and California's political and diplomatic circles, has been reappointed by San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee to the post of the city's chief of protocol, a position she has held under eight different mayors.

Shultz, who is married to former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, is a longtime member of The Commonwealth Club's Board of Governors.

For details, here is the announcement from the mayor's office.
Friday, February 11, 2011


San Francisco, CA—Mayor Edwin M. Lee today appointed Charlotte Mailliard Shultz as Chief of Protocol. Shultz remains the head the Mayor’s Office of Protocol, which works in conjunction with the City to host foreign dignitaries, attract commerce and tourism, and promote diversity and cultural understanding. The Chief of Protocol also advises the Mayor on diplomatic and consular matters and works closely with the international business community to raise the profile of the City.

“Charlotte brings years of experience, tremendous stewardship, and an unparalleled commitment to public service,” said Mayor Lee. “She is a legend in our City Hall and a tremendous asset to San Francisco, showcasing our world class city around the world. I am proud to reappoint her to the position and grateful for her willingness to serve the people of our City.”

Through her work in the Mayor’s Office of Protocol, Shultz has served in eight mayoral administrations, helped to present San Francisco to distinguished and notable guests from around the world, arranged for its largest civic celebrations, and facilitated diplomatic relations with the San Francisco Consular Corps. Shultz has also served as the Chief of Protocol for the State of California from 2004-2010 appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Shultz is the Chair of the San Francisco Host Committee and the San Francisco Special Events Committee, both of which work to lessen the burdens of the government of the City and County of San Francisco by providing financial support to the activities and efforts of the Mayor’s Office of Protocol.

Shultz currently serves as the President of the San Francisco War Memorial Board of Trustees, which governs the San Francisco War Memorial & Performing Arts Center. She also has the honor of serving on the San Francisco Opera Board of Directors, the San Francisco Symphony Board of Governors, the San Francisco Ballet Board of Trustees, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Board of Trustees, the Commonwealth Club of California Board of Governors and the World Affairs Council of Northern California Board of Trustees. Shultz was Chair of the building committee of the new San Francisco Public Library and Co-Chair of the Committee to Restore the San Francisco Opera House and San Francisco City Hall.

Shultz has received numerous awards, including the State of California Woman of the Year Award in 1996 and 2000, the United Nations Association of San Francisco’s Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Commonwealth Club’s Distinguished Citizen Award, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Citizen Award and the Woodrow Wilson Award.

In 2007, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed on Shultz the title of Commander of the Royal Victorian Order for her long record of service in assisting royal visitors. In 2008, she received a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from the University of San Francisco. Shultz is married to former United States Secretary of State George P. Shultz.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mark Zuckerburg Tells Inforum in 2006 How He Created Facebook

Back in 2006, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was on a panel discussing "Online Personas" at Inforum, the Commonwealth Club programming aimed at young professionals. Considering the tremendous growth of the site in recent years and the sometimes controversial role of Zuckerberg, we thought it was timely to share with you this video clip from the event, in which Zuckerberg recalls the early (and fast) creation of Facebook.

You can listen to the entire program from our audio archives.

Monday, February 7, 2011

South Sudan Votes to Become the World’s Newest Country

By Ella Arnold

The people of South Sudan, who have faced persecution from the north for more than twenty years, have voted in a landslide election to secede from northern Sudan, resulting in the creation of the world’s newest country later this summer.

The major source of the civil wars that have plagued the country of Sudan for more than two decades stems from the religious differences between Sudan’s mostly Arab northern region and its primarily animist and Christian southern region. More than 2 million people were killed in Sudan before a peace agreement was adopted in 2005. The president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity committed against the people of the Darfur region of Sudan.

Today officials announced the election’s final vote count from Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Of the more than 3.8 million southern Sudanese, 98.83 percent voted to secede from the north to form their own country.

Official independence will be declared on July 9, 2011. Plans for a new capital building in South Sudan’s capital city, Juba, have already been proposed. Last month, the government announced that South Sudan has been suggested as the official name for the new country.

Issues such as citizenship and oil-revenue rights, however, still are significant hurdles that the people of South Sudan must overcome if they truly want to gain total independence from the north. Furthermore, South Sudan is one of the poorest regions in the world due to extreme poverty and the longstanding civil war with northern Sudan.

The United States has said that recognizing southern independence may eventually lead to the lifting of the economic sanctions previously placed on the north. And U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised today’s developments in South Sudan as “a historic step” toward the implementation of Sudan’s comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

For some related programs at The Commonwealth Club, see:
Land Grab in Africa: The Case of Ethiopia: 2/1/11
The Last Jews of Yemen: 3/14/11
Jesse Jackson's 2004 speech, in which he discusses the humanitarian crisis in Sudan
David Kay's 2004 speech, in which he includes Sudan in his discussion of failed states

Researching the Innovation Economy

By James Dohnert

In recent weeks President Obama has set his focus on economic growth and American innovation. Having put an emphasis on renewing the country’s infrastructure, the president is hoping the country can take the lead in the international business landscape. Speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the president recently said, "We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build our competitors." But just how far has the U.S. fallen in the business innovation race? Has American innovation and entrepreneurship died? And what does the push for alternative energy mean for our countries economy? The Commonwealth Club has highlighted February lectures that may offer answers to those questions and others.

Environment and Natural Resources Planning Meeting

Consumer demand for viable fuel alternatives has never been higher. Business now must put an emphasis in understanding the future of energy. To innovate in the growing industry entrepreneurs must gain insight into what exactly is viable going forward. Keep that in mind when The Commonwealth Club holds an environment and natural resources planning meeting on Thursday the 17th.

Successful Strategies for Products That Win

With a new focus on homegrown business and American innovation, now is the time of an entrepreneurial boom. Facebook, MySpace, and many other American businesses have started out with just a singular idea and grown into multimillion-dollar businesses. To learn more about how you can take your idea and turn it into a viable business, come to our Successful Strategies for Products that Win seminar. Listen to author and entrepreneur Steve Blank as he discusses his strategies for creating a successful business on Tuesday the 8th.

Has China Surpassed the U.S. in Supercomputing?

Some members of the media have recently declared China the global leader in high-performance computing. As another major industry on the world's businesses front (and a point of global bragging rights), supercomputing is an industry that must remain viable. With China's continued growth in the market, now is the time to get educated to what business are doing both home and abroad in the field. It's even more important for those of us here in Silicon Valley. Coming up at the Commonwealth Club, the associate director of computation at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Dona Crawford, will discuss how far we are lagging in the supercomputing race. With more than 30 years of industry experience, Crawford hopes to shed light on the global industry when she speaks on Wednesday the 23rd.

Club Space

Huffington Post Purchased by AOL, Reinforces Importance of Content

In the era of digital media, people frequently say that "content counts," but the reality is often different from the rhetoric. Online news in many cases is repurposed content from print or other "old" media, and original online content is increasingly produced by unpaid and heavily opinionated writers.

So news people might well be heartened by the report today that AOL has purchased The Huffington Post for $315 million. Namesake and co-founder Arianna Huffington will remain as editor-in-chief of the site. The liberal blog-and-news service has grown quickly in popularity in recent years, adding more paid staff, localized editions, original content, and special sections. Its acquisition is the latest sign that AOL sees its future in quality content, not in providing access to the internet itself, which was its former reason for being. The company made headlines last year with the purchase of TechCrunch, and it has been steadily building out its network of "hyper-local" news sites, AOL Patch.

For some background: Huffington has made numerous appearances at The Commonwealth Club of California. Below is video of Arianna Huffington addressing the Club in 2008, when she discussed her take on American politics and the old/new media divide.

Here is audio from her 2003 appearance at The Club. She returned in 2004 to discuss that year's political campaigns; you can read a transcript of her 2004 speech and audience question-and-answer session. And, finally, she spoke to a sold-out Inforum crowd just this past November, when she and moderator Raj Patel talked about everything from the Huffington Post's news choices to The Daily Show's John Stewart; you can read an extended excerpt from that event in the digital edition of The Commonwealth magazine.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Abbas Milani: The Shah, the Ayatollah and Iran's Nuclear Program

Below is video from the January 19, 2011, program at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club. Dr. Abbas Milani is the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University and a visiting professor of political science.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Lessons of Tucson: Gloria Duffy's Latest Huffington Post Article

Mental illness and access to guns were more at the heart of the tragedy in Tucson than was the tone of political debate, Commonwealth Club President and CEO Dr. Gloria Duffy writes on the Huffington Post.

She notes that "guns and mental illness have a pretty high chance of colliding in our society to predictably produce the killing sprees and assassinations we are experiencing."

Read more.