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.

A Manifesto of Sorts

By , 26 August, 2010, No Comment

Welcome to the new Cappuccino! Like the the old Cappuccino, this is a virtual coffeehouse focused on the relationship between business and the rest of our lives.

When I first started blogging, my focus was mostly on the way that technological and cultural changes are at the core of that relationship. That’s still a dominant theme, but over time, I’ve also come to pay more attention to the role of institutionalized factors like international relations and economic policy. On the new Cappuccino, you should expect to see a healthy dose of all of the above.

The more I’ve worked as a journalist, the closer to the ground, to the granular, this blog has gotten. It’s more of a news blog now, a reaction to specific events with out-takes of my reporting, than the more philosophical project it used to be. I’m ambivalent about that: it feels more appropriate as a reporter-blogger to focus on the news, but at the same time, I have misgivings about getting sucked into the horse race and the he-said-she-said of the newsosphere, and I tend to react to events a few days after they occur, which isn’t really suited to that kind of blogging.

In this new incarnation, I’m going to try to sort out my ambivalence by blogging more frequently. That means there will be more timely news coverage with brief comments (instead of the stream of links I’d been dumping in the old sidebar), at least one more in depth analysis of an issue a week, and at least one more idea-oriented piece a week. I’ll be rolling out a fourth (as yet undisclosed) content category in September.

I’m putting that in writing as much for you as for myself, and I’m hoping that if I start to get lazy on those commitments, one of you takes me to task in the comments.

Apocalypse 35: Full Circle at Forbes

By , 24 August, 2010, 11 Comments

As you probably know by now, Forbes has bought and decided to shutter blogging portal True/Slant, and to bring its erstwhile chief Lew Dvorkin in as its new chief. What you may not know is that Dvorkin–whom I wrote about last year–was an ex-Forbesian, who left the magazine for a start-up, and then for AOL, specifically because he wanted to get deep into the web and digital marketing, and left AOL, he told me, because it didn’t have “the DNA for content-creation.” At thetime, he was trying to explain True/Slant to me as pure content informed by branding savvy, but the combination will be just as relevant at Forbes. Former co-workers there tell me the change is all about helping Forbes play digital catch-up, and the test is maintaining its reporting DNA in the process.

Some Thoughts on the Wikileaks

By , 18 August, 2010, 5 Comments

When the massive data dump that was the Wikileaks Afghan War Logs showed up on my screen three weeks ago, I did what–apparently–no one else had yet done: read the whole thing. At the time, this seemed like Journalism 101. But by the time I finished [at the end of the week], I was more bored and overwhelmed than stimulated or enlightened. Because, as others had concluded by then, there really isn’t that much that’s earth-shattering in the logs. And I’ve been pondering what to say ever since .

Sex and the City, revisited

By , 14 July, 2010, 6 Comments

I recently came across some poll data about gender. Gender equality, in the abstract, is a widely supported goal, especially in the developed world and among women, but nearly half the respondents “believed men had more right than women to obtain jobs in a down economy.”

Unpack that. Firstly, it suggests that men are supporting families while women are working for kicks. Secondly, it suggests that because women are working for kicks, they will be the ones taking time to worry about raising families. If you’re an employer, the argument goes, a woman who wants to make her kids’ doctors appointments is a less reliable employee. And when you have limited funds, you want the reliable bang for your buck.

The first point is false: the majority of women, like the majority of men, work because they have to. If they are lucky, they will enjoy it, but that’s not why they do it. But women do take the lion’s share of responsibility for the house and the kids. The answer to that should be a reorganization of family life that makes it easier to achieve equality in the workplace. But the truth is that the notion of workplace equality is, on its own, fairly appealing to people, while the notion of shared domestic responsibilities still scares us.