Archive for September, 2010

Apocalypse 37: AOL buys TechCrunch

By , 30 September, 2010, 1 Comment

a.o.l. has moved to acquire technology and business blog TechCrunch, as part of new CEO Tim Armstrong’s strategy to turn the company from an internet service provider into a stable of content sites, a digital version of a magazine holding company. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington on his reasons for selling:

They run the largest blogging network in the world and if we sold to them we’d never have to worry about tech issues again. We could focus our engineering resources on higher end things and I, for one, could spend more of my day writing and a lot less time dealing with other stuff.

They already own many of the top technology blogs. They already have a huge sales team in place (although our own sales team kicks ass and is staying on). And they have an internal events group that we will be able to leverage.

From a product and business standpoint, it’s a perfect fit.

…AOL was very aggressive about one last important issue that really sealed the deal – editorial.

Tim told me that he doesn’t want whatever makes TechCrunch special to go away. He also said it was important that we feel free to criticize AOL when we think they deserve it. And the agreement we signed with AOL fully reflects this. In particular, we used the Twitter document scandal as a test. If the same thing happens with AOL in the future, we should feel comfortable posting those documents. And in that unlikely event, we will.

More information on the deal here.

I’ve been saying for some time that the future model is a kind of aggregation of niche sites under big name banners, including a.o.l.’s. And TechCrunch is one of the best niche sites out there. I disagree with much of what they write, because they get over-excited about each and every startup they cover. But the fact is, they also break more big tech stories than anyone, and I find that the site is pretty indispensible as a result. All in all, Armstrong has made a smart acquisition.

Europe and the Summit

By , 29 September, 2010, No Comment

On Foreign Exchange yesterday, I posted a recap of some of my impressions of the summit, as well as from the mass of literature I took away with me. Towards the end of the post, I made the following point:

“I would add something to this: to the extent that every one of these big summits is a test case for the whole idea of global institutions and global governance, a large part of the success will depend on the success of smaller international governance bodies from the African Union to the EU to the G20 to build consensus among their members first and then project that consensus in big global negotiations. At this summit, the Europeans seemed to understand that best. The point on which they rallied–the Tobin Tax–is problematic in that the subject of the tax seems arbitrary and not intrinsically linked to what it’s designed to fund, and that the implementation is still fuzzy, but it was also one of the more interesting ideas on the table and it would be JUST sufficient to raise the capital [about $25-30 billion] needed to reach our anti-poverty targets. But leaving aside the policy, it’s notable that the proposal was supported by a host of countries who don’t always agree with one another and in remarkably consistent language. In other words, we saw a brief glimpse of what long-awaited unified European foreign policy is meant to look like.”

The whole post wasn’t about Europe, so I didn’t go further. But I want to add some more to this: it’s worth noting that several of the top bodies involved with this work (the WTO and the IMF most significantly) have European heads and that a European government had the chairmanship of the whole Summit. To the extent that there were new financial commitments this year, they came from the Europeans–both from national governments and from the European Commission, and pointedly not from other first world nations. The U.S. announced that it was going to commit, essentially to a strategic review, which is a classic diplomatic fudge. Add this to the fact that the Europeans were saying, for better or worse, the most interesting and substantive things on stage–and that a relatively low level of drama was forthcoming from the UN’s usual extreme characters–and it really did feel to me like it was Europe’s week. Which is strange, as I was one of those people predicting total diplomatic collapse after Greece. But it is also wonderful, because I was one of those people gleefully cheering the Europe project on for years before that.

For the rest of my take on the summit, and some great stats on success stories across the developing world, read the whole post.

Chat with Andris Piebalgs

By , 24 September, 2010, No Comment

My post at Foreign Exchange today is an interview with Andris Piebalgs, the European Commissioner for Development. An excerpt:

Some of your member states have expressed support for a financial transactions tax as a source of funding. What is the Commission’s view of that?

It’s very clear that official aid will need money beyond .7, and then on top of that aid we will need to raise funds for a climate change pledge. We need to start thinking as though at the end of the day somebody will count the money and if you haven’t delivered, you will be responsible for the misery in the world.

Yes, the tax is logical. Why? We tax everything else. All activities are suffering from taxation. Technically, though, it should be difficult to administer. It needs global governance, and in that, it is a test case for the G20. If they can’t do this, it is on them to propose an alternative. We could tax air tickets, say. Much simpler, but much less popular.”

I really enjoyed the whole chat, and encourage you to go read it.

Fresh Thoughts on Aid

By , 23 September, 2010, No Comment

I’ve got two posts up today on ‘out of the box’ thoughts about aid. Namely, the push for a more political/human rights approach, the push for a financial transactions tax, and the push for more reliance on public pressure and social media awareness campaigns. Me, I’m in favor of the first two. I’m also pretty seriously impressed by the two pols who made those arguments, Angela Merkel and Bernard Kouchner. Merkel for her ability to take what is actually a left-wing idea and fit it into a center-right argument. Kouchner for his astounding rhetorical gifts–I’ve never seen anyone own a press pool that way. I particular enjoyed when he told one reporter that she was asking a ‘non question.’ You can enjoy his witticisms here.

As for the third, everyone here will already know that I’m a skeptic about digital democracy. So I won’t repeat myself, just refer you to the interview.

Questions for Andrew Mitchell

By , 22 September, 2010, No Comment

Another hit from Foreign Exchange:

“Britain took the financial crisis harder than most, and the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition that took office in May ran on a promise to right the ship. Their solution: a dramatic austerity program that is making heavy cuts to a host of the country’s cherished public services. Opinion in Britain is pretty split about that, but recent polls show opinion is dead set against the decision to exempt overseas aid from any cuts, and, per an announcement from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg this morning, to triple aid spending on maternal and child health.

I sat down with Andrew Mitchell, Britain’s Secretary of State for Development…”

Learn what he said here, or listen to an excerpt of my chat here.

Good News from the WTO

By , 21 September, 2010, No Comment

New post over at Foreign Exchange on the WTO’s new trade stats and WTO chief Pascal Lamy’s discussion with the press. Some highlights:

“contrary to the original 9.5% stat released by the agency, international trade is going to be up 13.5% this year. That’s quite a change from the 15 point plunge global trade took last year. In fact, it’s a new record for annual trade expansion.”

“You may recall that it was not so long ago that Lamy’s agency was getting pilloried by liberal reporters and harassed by protesters on the ground that its free-trade agenda is a form of economic imperialism that lets the rich countries benefit at the expense of the poor. That critique has always been flawed, but in case the critics need more evidence, here’s the relevant stat: this year’s 13.5% increase is comprised of an 11 point expansion in the developed world and a 17 point expansion in the developing world. When trade grows, it grows MUCH faster for the poor. Moreover, Lamy notes, “a large part of this growth is south-south trade.” Rich countries can’t be ripping off the poor if it’s the poor countries who are trading with one another.”

There’s much more info, so go read the whole thing.

Blogging the UN MDG Summit

By , 20 September, 2010, No Comment

I’m covering the UN MDG summit this week, because it’s right in my wheelhouse of politics and economics. And I’m blogging it for Forbes, because I just got a blog over there. It’s called Foreign Exchange and it’s going to focus on my foreign policy/international political economy coverage. Other things–culture, domestic politics and policy, technology, media–will stay here at Cappuccino. And I will always let you know when something’s happening at Foreign Exchange that you need to be reading.

A snippet of today’s post: “One reason for the lack of agreed mechanisms is the continued schism in the international aid community over the role that markets are supposed to play in development, and the way that discussions of development often become discussions on the merits of globalization.” Go check out the rest, and stay tuned for more updates.

Feisal Rauf & I: A (Very Long) New York Story

By , 12 September, 2010, 11 Comments

On Friday morning, my family and I celebrated Eid by attending a brief service in Westchester. The service was not in a mosque, but rather in a hotel. Men and women were sitting in the same room, side by side, though in two groups. Plain white sheets covered the floor and everyone was reading off crib sheets with phonetic transliterations of Arabic words. Many were glancing at their neighbors to figure out exactly when to sit, stand or bow. Though Eid marks the end of a month of fasting, several of us–all of my family, for sure–do not keep all the fasts. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen any of the women in a hijab.

Welcome to a Feisal Rauf congregation.

Rauf has been our family’s imam for many years, so many that we couldn’t agree on the car ride home just how long it has been. However many years ago it was, he decided to start performing holiday services outside his main Tribeca mosque for New York’s large population of liberal and essentially secular Muslims. People like myself, whose families had perhaps set foot in a real mosque less than five times in ten years. His goal, to be sure, was to bring us back into the fold, and for some of us, he succeeded. I went through a phase in high school and into college, for example, where I prayed frequently and kept all the Ramadan fasts, and Rauf’s super-liberal version of Islam had much to do with that.

But what is more interesting is that when I gave up my religious practice five years ago, Rauf’s teachings did not lose their appeal, or their spiritual value. I still attend and I am still, consistently, moved by what he has to say. That is because he is a true pluralist. He is not someone who sees the differences between various faith traditions and says, “We disagree, but I tolerate your views,” but a someone who says “I find my own spiritual gratification IN the richness of our differences.”

The way he put it on Friday was particularly striking. Like many moderate theologians, he began by putting forward the argument that the real conflict is not between Islam and the West, or indeed between moderates and extremists inside Islam. But he took this premise in a direction that I’ve never seen another leader of an organized faith go.

Why BlackBerry Got Banned

By , 10 September, 2010, 2 Comments

A few weeks ago, I had a fascinating conversation with a journo friend about the moves by several governments–first the UAE, then Saudi Arabia, then India–to ban BlackBerry because its maker (Canadian company Research in Motion) would not grant these states unencrypted access to users’ correspondence. Citing the locations of BlackBerry servers (in Canada and the UK) they alleged that Western powers could use the technology to spy on the East. Both privacy hawks and businesspeople cried foul, even more so when RIM agreed to open one server center Saudi Arabia and prepared to negotiate a deal with India to keep its business alive.

My friend wanted to know what the story was really ‘about.’ Was it–as the bans’ promoters insisted–about how much data our governments in the West already have? Was it about the fact that BlackBerry IS encrypted in the first place when so much other data is not (something many consumers seemed not to know)? Was it about the fact that democratic India was following the pattern set by more draconian regimes? Or, he was asking me, was it about something else entirely? Here’s what I told him:

“To my mind, these bans represent a kind of clash between the technology community’s perception of itself as being essentially above governments and the reality that all international business is subject to and inextricable from international politics. What is especially remarkable about this is the degree to which tech firms–which are still heavily consolidated in the U.S.–gladly do business with the U.S. government, while maintaining the idea of being essentially above regulation. In particular, there is a cozy symbiosis between the Valley and the defense establishment, and it leads some in the developing world to think of all tech firms as proxies for the U.S. government. Given that, it is also a story about developing country governments demonstrating the regulatory muscle not to be talked down to by the West, about showing–mostly to their own public–that globalization does not mean colonization. It’s also important to keep in mind that while BlackBerry messaging IS encrypted, it’s not that governments elsewhere in the world are necessarily more comfortable with that than the countries issuing these bans. Rather is is that here in the West, governments can often subpoena for access to specific correspondence if it is necessary for a court case. In countries where that kind of subpoena power doesn’t exist, governments might try to hack systems extrajudicially, and then if that fails, proceed to shut down what they cannot penetrate.”

One thing this story is NOT about, however, as the above should indicate, is privacy: we lost that a long time ago.

Apocalypse 36: Status Report

By , 4 September, 2010, 2 Comments

For over two years, I have been writing a series of posts on the media industry called the Apocalypse. I am often asked whether that’s overly pessimistic. My answer: ‘apocalypse’ is a term we use for the end of the world, sure, but it’s also, to those who take the term seriously, supposed to herald the revelation of something new and extraordinary. That is what I believe is coming to media, whenever the chaotic collapse of the model we know is over.

Occasionally, the Apocalypse Series has attempted to read the tea leaves and make predictions about the new model. I don’t believe–as other media prophets seem to–that there will be no more Big Media. Human history suggests that power tends to consolidate, break down and then consolidate again. I believe that the new consolidators of power will be organizations who can mix and match. It will be the people who can take the nichification that the web brings and use it to deepen rather than to flatten what we know.