McCain on Guantanamo, global warming, immigration, Iraq, Iran, creationism, gay marriage, and flag burning
John McCain's arrival at Brainstorm at first went largely unnoticed -- coming as it did just as Germany and Argentina began overtime penalty kicks in their quarterfinal World Cup match. But it didn't take long after Germany's narrow victory for the Arizona Senator and presumed 2008 Presidential candidate to make his way to center stage.
McCain (who no doubt gets his way when it comes to speaking format) kicked off the scheduled "Q&A" by speaking from the podium regarding two hot political issues, namely the Supreme Court's just-announced decision regarding the rights of detainees in Guantamo Bay (he pronounced himself "not surprised" and glad the ruling had "unstuck" the process), and the unfortunate state of carbon emissions legislation he had co-sponsored with Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman (the media should have "paid more attention to it.")
The Senator then fielded questions from Aspen Institute chief Walter Isaacson and Fortune's Eric Pooley, earning enthusiastic applause for his positions on global warming, immigration, and the need for a more bi-partisan spirit in congress -- and even on the U.S. military situation in Iraq. Audience reaction appeared somewhat less cheery, however, when McCain explained his support for a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning and his artful dodge on the subject of teaching creationism in schools ("I don't see what the issue is," and "I'd leave it to the school board.")
Click here for a somewhat rough transcript of Senator McCain's remarks.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Lesley Stahl
I'd read about the former Dutch parliamentarian Ali before, but seeing her in person was electric. This young, charasmatic woman is a star. I'll make a note (here!) to put up some links to some good articles about her if people want to catch up on her incredible story.
Equally inspirational was seeing Lesley Stahl in person. She was the same on stage as she is on 60 Minutes: tough, intelligent, penetrating. Stahl has this incredible style where she firmly and respectfully directs the conversation, condoning no BSing and eliciting interesting responses, even when she's interviewing someone she so clearly admires, like Ali.
I'd love to be half the interviewer Lesley Stahl is.
Digital Life On Steroids
We had a robust chat during our breakfast panel Friday morning that pursued several strands, among them whether our lives have become too chaotic as a result of the Internet.
What was pretty cool, and this was a Brainstorm moment, actually, was the amount of Internet history we had in the room. Stewart Brand, founder of the first online "community" the Well; Yossi Vardi, founder of instant-messaging pioneer ICQ; and paid-search inventor Bill Gross were among the luminaries who showed up for our early-morning chat.
We certainly didn't solve anything - another Brainstorm moment - but at the same time we aired some interesting divisions. Some of us, myself included, wondered if the "steroids" of our digital life doesn't get a bit much from time to time. (Venture capitalist John Fisher talked about the "tyranny of email," for example.)
Others, like Microsoft's Gary Flake and Brand himself, waxed eloquent about how our lives are only going to keep getting better and better as a result of digital steroids.
The entertaining Vardi informed us why we like instant messaging so much. The collaboration entailed in IM actually releases dopamine, the pleasure chemical, he said. Amazing. Smart people, interesting ideas.
Brainstorm Revealed - A trip to the Eisner's
Germany vs. Argentina II
As the game progressed and went into extra time, the crowd watching grew to more than 100 -among them Sen. John McCain - causing Brainstorm organizer David Kirkpatrick to briefly consider rejiggering the schedule.
He didn't, and a lot of the crowd (including me) went back to Brainstorm business when the game went to PKs.
Brainstormers do their bit for global warming
There is a certain irony in 300 people traveling from around the world on CO2 (that's "cee oh two") spewing jets and cars to attend a conference in Aspen where one of the main topics is how to solve the global warming problem.
But this year's attendees need not fret because Bill Gross, the CEO of the Pasadena, CA start-up, Energy Innovations, has made the Brainstorm conference carbon neutral.
Gross estimates that the attendees would add some 750,000 pounds of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gas to the environment from their travel and from the energy they burn up staying in hotels and airconditioning the meeting rooms.
To conteract the effect of this greenhouse gas, Gross paid to have trees planted and alternative energy generated. On the panel, Green Is The New Bottom Line, he urged every individual to calculate their own carbon footprint (the amount each of us generate each year in greenhouse gas) to buy renewable energy certificates through carbonfund.com, a website that helps reduce the cost of clean energy.
Gross also added that his new solar device, the Sunflower, is now on the market and will help make alternative energy more affordable. The device, a panel of mirrors, concentrates sunlight and makes solar panels more efficient. Gross hopes the Sunflower, coupled with other breakthroughs in photovoltaics, the science of turning sunlight directly into electricity without the release of any greenhouse gases, will soon become competitive in price with fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal. Posted by Brian Dumaine
Drive for an AIDS vaccine
Let's get real about AIDS, Dr. Seth Berkeley said at a Brainstorm tutorial. Changing behavior may be a 100% certain way of preventing the disease but only one thing will bring the epidemic to an end - and it's not abstinence, not condom use, and not a still-undeveloped microbicide for women, as important as all those approaches are. The only long-term solution is an AIDS vaccine.
As founder and head of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), a global public-private partnership, Dr. Berkeley explained why developing a vaccine is an incredibly complex, difficult and time-consuming task.
Think about it - you need to persuade many thousands of healthy people to take medicine that may or may not work, and may or may not have side effects. The legal and moral issues are daunting, and it's no surprise that very few drug companies are interested.
The good news is that 30 potential vaccines are in the early stages of testing, and a couple of large human trials have begun. The Gates Foundation has been a big supporter of Dr. Berkeley, and Warren Buffett's money will help, too.
And hey - we developed vaccines to all but eliminate polio, smallpox and measles. We ought to be able to do the same for AIDS, the most lethal human plague since the 14th century. Posted by Marc Gunther
Rwanda a model for Africa?
Africa's economy looks better than it has in many years - overall GDP is growing 5%, inflation generally is below 10% and tourism is up 10% this year vs. 5% globally.
Paulo Gomes, the World Bank's executive director in charge of 25 Sub-Saharan countries, laid out the reasons and the lessons in his tutorial, "Africa: The Rising Economy." Of course, high oil prices are spurring economies in some countries (Angola, Chad), and high mineral prices are a windfall for others such as Mozambique, South Africa, and Zambia. But even countries not dependent on such commodities are growing.
Peace, quite simply, has a lot to do with Africa's brighter outlook. "Ten years ago there were 16 active conflicts, and now we have four," Gomes says.
Is Africa's rise sustainable?
Of course, African countries tend to be powderkegs, and a global recession, Gomes says, "would be very very painful for Africa."
Direct foreign investment, not foreign aid, is the key to sustainability. The best model may be Rwanda.
John Gage, Sun Microsystems' chief researcher, talked passionately in the session about his quest to determine which African country Sun should put its money into.
"I went around the country and kept asking people, "Have you been asked for bribes?'"
Rwanda emerged as the least corrupt country, at least by Gage's on-the-street survey. Gage and Sun are now helping to get Rwanda wired for cell phones. They're working with a Boston investor who bought Rwandatel. The goal: Get cell service across Rwanda and reduce calls to 10 cents a minute, vs. 45 cents in the rest of Africa.
Connectivity - the theme of Fortune Brianstorm - is a big step toward sustaining growth. Posted by Patricia Sellers
Sandra Day is watching, too
Just got a report from Jaime Florcruz, CNN's Beijing bureau chief. He's at the Aspen airport and says he's watching the game with Sandra Day O'Connor. She's a big fan, apparently. Is there nothing this woman cannot/doesn't do?
Germany vs. Argentina
While most of the Brainstorm crowd is in the main tent discussing "Capitalism Under Fire," about 40 of us are sitting under another tent nearby watching "Germany under fire," as one of my neighbors just said. We are, however, still getting audio of Bob Nardelli et. al. talking about the difficulties of doing one's job while getting paid millions of dollars. Which is marginally better than the game commentary you get from ESPN.
Net Neutrality: The debate continues
The "Net Neutrality" issue -- whether or not companies like Google and Yahoo should have to pay the big telecom carriers to ensure that their services are delivered in a timely fashion to consumers -- continued to dominate chatter at Brainstorm.
Stephanie Mehta already has posted about how a conversation on Thursday about the cell phone revolution turned into a debate about Net Neutrality. Christopher Sacca of Google said he feared what would happen if "the people who own the networks can make choices on what customers can or can't see" and added that even though Google does not always see eye-to-eye with its online rivals, Net Neutrality is something that Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, eBay, Amazon and IAC (which owns Ask.com and many other online properties) all agree on.
But former Motorola CEO Christopher Galvin, who at first said he was unaware of the term Net Neutrality (a confession that was met with some snickers in the audience), argued that network providers should get paid back for their investments in broadband infrastructure.
This debate spilled over to Friday morning's breakfast panel discussion about where VCs were putting their money. Morgan Stanley Internet analyst Mary Meeker sided with the Internet giants, a stance that did not please the woman sitting next to her, Citizens Communications CEO Maggie Wilderotter.
Citizens, one of the nation's largest telecom carriers focusing on rural markets, obviously has a stake in how the Net Neutrality debate pans out. Wilderotter conceded that AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre is probably taking too antagonistic a stance against companies like Google. But she, like Galvin, said that phone companies have every right to "monetize their networks."
Stay tuned to see how this all pans out. But based on the conversations at Brainstorm, expect this to be a highly contentious battle between Internet behemoths and the telecom titans for months to come.
Inside the Fed
The Fed did exactly what everybody thought it would on Thursday and the market rejoiced. But Alan Blinder, a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve and now an influential economist with Princeton University, thinks that Wall Street's euphoric reaction was a bit overdone.
The two of us talked about the Fed over glasses of merlot during dinner at the Eisner's insanely large ranch Thursday night. (Tough life, eh?) Blinder said that he thought the market often makes the wrong call about the Fed at first. And he said that he read Thursday's statement and was not convinced that the Fed would pause just yet. He said that the Fed, by commenting on slowing economic activity, is clearly signaling that it may pause soon but that the market should never assume things with the Fed.
Blinder joked that he always found it amusing to see how the market would react to interest rate announcements when he was at the Fed. He said he would often guess how the market would respond following the announcement and found that it was often difficult to accurately predict what the stock and currency markets would do. The bond market was usually easier to figure out.
As for his former boss, Blinder said that Alan Greenspan pretty much spoke in private the same way he did in public. In other words, he was just as incomprehensible behind closed doors. Blinder thinks that it's a good thing that new Fed chair Ben Bernanke is more plain-spoken but that it will take a few months for Wall Street to get used to the fact that Bernanke, unlike the Maestro, doesn't speak in riddles.
Revenge of the dot-com bubble?
I had an interesting one-on-one chat with Reid Hoffman, the co-founder and CEO of professional networking service LinkedIn. Hoffman, who is also on the board of several other private Net firms such as Mozilla and SixApart and is an investor in Facebook, Friendster and Digg, is a little worried that too many venture capitalists are chasing companies with bad business models.
"The consumer Internet landscape is between a bubble and frothy," he said. Hoffman said that he still believes in consumer Internet companies but that thanks to the success of sites like MySpace, YouTube and Wikipedia, there is a rush to fund "me-too" projects.
"The thing is that with so much money being thrown at the Internet, so many half-baked ideas are being funded," he said. "Look at the profusion of photo-sharing sites. Only a small percentage of them can become really meaningful."
Hoffman said he also doesn’t think that podcasting is a legitimate business model and that companies that are just getting into blogging now are probably too late. With that in mind, he said he’s become a lot more selective and cautious when it comes to looking for new companies to invest in.
Our conversation came to an end as MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe approached us to introduce himself to Reid. Strangely enough, the two had never met. DeWolfe was very curious to hear about how much money LinkedIn was generating from ad sales and whether the company had a significant presence beyond Silicon Valley and Wall Street.
DeWolfe and Hoffman promised to meet up at another time. And it makes you wonder ... as all those MySpace teens start to grow up and get jobs, maybe they will need a professional networking service like LinkedIn. Hmmmm.
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