At the Front Lines of the Global Transition

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LeBron James’ Letter Is Celebration of Superb Writing

LeBron James, one of the eminent figures of his generation, announced his return to Cleveland in an eloquent piece of writing.

LeBron James, one of the eminent figures of his generation, announced his return to Cleveland in an eloquent piece of writing.

Four years ago, when he violated the self-effacing values of his Midwestern roots, LeBron James announced his departure from Cleveland in a torturous and ego-driven nationally televised broadcast. On Friday James explained his return to Northeast Ohio, his intent to finish his surpassing career as a Cleveland Cavalier, in a beautifully constructed and elegantly crafted letter.

Long live the written word. All writers should honor LeBron’s choice of platforms, the energy of a narrative that covers two decades of his young life, and revere the respect and gravity of his prose. From the first to the last of 11 paragraphs, in every one of the letter’s 952 words, LeBron masters the essential elements of a great piece of communications.

He anchors his story with time elements that carry the piece — “I was a kid from Northeast Ohio.” — and characters that drive his sense of loyalty — “D-Wade and CB. We made sacrifices to keep UD. I loved becoming a big bro to Rio.” LeBron forgives a lingering grudge — “I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man.” — and acknowledges his own mistakes — “Who am I to hold a grudge?”
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Narendra Modi, India’s New Prime Minister, Can’t Overlook Faltering Energy Production

Near Rishikesh, in Uttarakhand, India, a passenger train makes its way south toward New Delhi. India's new prime minister raised fares 14 percent n June 2014, one of his first acts in office. Photo/Keith Schneider

Near Rishikesh, in Uttarakhand, India, a passenger train makes its way south toward New Delhi. India’s new prime minister raised fares 14 percent n June 2014, one of his first acts in office. Photo/Keith Schneider

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept into office in May on a message of aspiration, and a reputation for action.

During the nearly 13 years that Modi served as chief minister of Gujarat, before arriving in New Delhi, his successes included drastically curtailing the number of hours that manufacturers in India’s premier industrial state went without electricity. The state’s transmission grid was strengthened and Modi promoted the development of 900 megawatts of solar generating capacity. That’s equivalent to the power generated by a large nuclear plant.

These steps and many others fit Modi’s mantra of “less government and more governance,” as well as the prime minister’s deep understanding of the influence of adequate energy production in reviving a flagging economy.

Perhaps the most useful and telling national economic trend that greets Modi as the new prime minister, the one that clearly attracted interest in his candidacy, is the country’s candid assessment of its deteriorated condition. A decade after India’s economy regularly exceeded eight percent annual growth, and the nation was seen globally as the next economic juggernaut, India is slipping badly.

Endemic corruption, impenetrable bureaucracy, suffocating air pollution, vile freshwater supplies, and off the hook population growth make doing business in India a test of courage. Foreign companies have fled by the hundreds.

Just as significant is how India manages its natural resources as a social welfare program that produces startling outcomes. One of the most damaging examples is gifting to grain farmers free water, free electricity to pump water from overtaxed aquifers, and subsidized diesel fuel to run generators that power the pumps when the electricity cuts off. The result is a dangerous and expensive cycle of risk, built into the country’s political infrastructure, that simultaneously produces huge food surpluses that rot in Punjab grain depots, dire electricity shortages that hurt businesses and homeowners, and rising fossil fuel trade deficits.

Indians in every region of the nation, in every trade and profession, at every level of society understand that the social, economic, and ecological chaos that is modern India could hardly get much worse. Prime Minister Modi has a decent chance to fix some of this because he starts his work at the place where the reality of India’s troubled prospects meets the earnest hopes of its talented and determined people, what Modi during the campaign called “Achche Din Aane Wale Hain,” the good times that are ahead.

But Modi needs to help India define what he means by “the good times.” And he’ll need to target a handful of priorities to work on immediately, priorities sorted from the extravagant number of problems that require solutions. One of those priorities should be fixing India’s faltering energy production.

In plain words, India is not producing enough energy to supply its citizens, businesses, and communities. The biggest challenge is in the electricity supply.
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Peru’s Recession and Insurgency Revives Its Democracy; Example For the U.S.?

More than 5,000 campesinos from the Andes march in a show of unity in Cajamarca, Peru. Photo/Keith Schneider

More than 5,000 campesinos from the Andes march in a show of unity in Cajamarca, Peru. Photo/Keith Schneider

CAJAMARCA, Peru – North of Lima, 350 miles, this regional capital is spread across a high mountain valley near the northern terminus of the Andes Mountains. Spanish conquistadors began their conquest of Latin America here in the early 16th century when they murdered the last Incan emperor. The room where the Incan chief is said to have spent his last days is a half-block from Cajamarca’s central square. Roman Catholic cathedrals flank the southern and northern boundaries of the square, which is alive with strollers and skateboarders and people warming themselves in a bright winter sun.

The scene of order that greets visitors, the clean streets and the shops that stay open well past sunset, is a display of order that while not new isn’t all that old either. In the 1980s this city, which today numbers 250,000 residents, was one-third as large and engulfed by the same national economic depression that produced rampant joblessness, and inflation that essentially rendered the currency worthless. In the 1990s, Cajamarca and the villages in the surrounding Andes became a place where leaders and soldiers of the Shining Path, the leftist insurgency, came to heal during the nearly decade-long civil war that killed 70,000 people, according to government estimates.

Members of the Shining Path were a murderous bunch. With death threats, coercion, and targeted killing they sowed fear and disorder. Those who could leave the country, did. Peru’s president, Alberto Fujimori, responded by forming death squads that attacked the insurgents and also murdered a good number of innocent citizens. Fujimori was prosecuted for crimes against humanity, convicted, and in 2009 sentenced to a 25-year prison term.

Earlier this month a social scientist from Australia, Martin Scurrah, who’s spent much of his adult life in Peru, explored the history of Peru’s dark era with me. As his narrative neared its end I remarked that in its basic details — severe economic pain, political insurgency, social disorder, rampant death — it resembled what the United States is now experiencing. Peru’s recent story also produced a contemporary chapter that could hold lessons for the United States.

The matchless alpine meadows of the Peruvian Andes. Photo/Keith Schneider

The matchless alpine meadows of the Peruvian Andes. Photo/Keith Schneider

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Growth in Lima, Peru’s Capital, Served Without Water

Lima, Peru's capital of 9 million residents, grows 200,000 people annually. Most new residents live in sections of the city not served by running water or sanitation. Photo/Keith Schneider

Lima, Peru’s capital of 9 million residents, grows 200,000 people annually. Most new residents live in sections of the city not served by running water or sanitation. Photo/Keith Schneider

LIMA, Peru — Villa El Salvador is a section of this capital city of 9 million residents that lies between the Pacific Ocean and the coastal highlands. The community climbs up and rolls down steep slopes in a seemingly endless expanse of densely packed rooftops made of plastic, sheet metal, and wood. The unpaved streets, lined by the one-story walls of two-room homes, have no names.

Still there is order and tidiness to Villa El Salvador, which numbers tens of thousands of residents. Bodegas offer snacks and boxed milk at many of the street corners. The crosses and monuments of a cemetery occupy a space as large as two soccer fields. Laundry dries in the breeze. Children dressed in black and gold school uniforms wait for school buses. And dawn breaks every morning with the muted light of the sun behind winter’s thick clouds and the sound of the honking horns of the city’s blue water trucks.

For a time in the 20th century, a good number of American families regularly received morning deliveries of milk and eggs at their back doors. The service defined two aspects of American life that are gone. The nation that emptied its cities to celebrate the new values of privacy and isolation in low density suburbs found in home delivery a fresh form of convenience. And homeowners in a nation that once developed sufficient wealth to enable one parent to stay home could afford such a luxury.

The 21st century hasn’t been as kind. Home delivery in America now largely encompasses a mercantile space dominated by pizza and cable TV, which says more than we may want to know about the United States at this point.

Lima’s water trucks also provide guides to understanding the circumstances affecting 21st century Peru, and to a larger extent the other fast-growing cities of Latin America. Municipal governments and taxpayers are not anxious to invest in water infrastructure to supply running water or sanitation services. As a result entire sections of the world’s cities do without. Water trucks dispense, at nominal or no charge, the essential resource that makes it possible for the world’s biggest cities — nearly all of them now in Latin America, Africa, and Asia — to keep expanding.

The Villa El Salvador section of Lima climbs the hills south of Lima's central core. Residents are not served by water or sewer services. Photo/Keith Schneider

The Villa El Salvador section of Lima climbs the hills south of Lima’s central core. Residents are not served by water or sewer services. Photo/Keith Schneider

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Henderson, Kentucky’s Riverwalk Along the Ohio River Shows Value of Public Investment

Henderson's three-mile long Riverwalk spans the southern bank of the Ohio River three hours downriver from Louisville.

Henderson’s three-mile long Riverwalk spans the southern bank of the Ohio River three hours downriver from Louisville. Photo/Gabrielle Gray

HENDERSON, KY — The 981-mile Ohio River Valley, which extends from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Ill. is full of surprises these days. Pittsburgh shed its sooty industrial coat of the 20th century to emerge as a center of engineering and biomedical innovation. Cincinnati, battered by race riots and disinvestment, is building a $1 billion riverfront neighborhood and a streetcar line.

Louisville’s days as a meatpacking hub are long gone. Now it’s the growing capital of the American bourbon industry, home to one of the country’s fine urban universities, and experiencing a boom in hotel construction to accommodate all the interest in its new stature as a hub of exceptional restaurants supplied with fresh locally grown food.

Further downriver, Owensboro, KY. passed a local tax increase to invest in downtown redevelopment that yielded a new convention center, rebuilt streets, two hotels, an office building, dozens of new residential units, restaurants, and a riverfront park complete with jet fountains designed and built by the same guys who shower Las Vegas in thrilling curtains of water.

Then comes Henderson, an Ohio River city of such grace and idealized mid-continent whimsy that you almost expect to see riverboats docked along the banks and trolleys at the center of the 100-foot wide Main Street. Tall trees shade the city’s residential streets. Beautifully maintained Victorian homes keep a vigil on the river and Henderson’s business district. In the early 1990s, film director Penny Marshall arrived with Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, and Rosie O’Donell to use the three-story brick mansion with the lovely porch at 612 North Main as the set for “A League of Their Own.”

The newest piece of Henderson’s small town landscape is its three-mile Riverwalk, which spans the rolling bluffs of the Ohio River’s southern bank. The Riverwalk, in early evening, is bathed in the pink and purple of Kentucky’s characteristically beautiful setting sun. During the day the rumble of coal trains, and the vibrating bass of the big engines of river towboats form an attractive soundtrack for a city of 29,000 that was founded in the Kentucky wilderness in 1797. The city’s Riverwalk affords such views of the Ohio, the flat fields beyond, and the thick forests on the Indiana banks that it’s possible to imagine the stunning display of flora and fauna that drew John James Aububon here in 1810 to spend nine years studying and painting.

Henderson, KY., founded in 1797, offers an amazing collection of beautiful Victorian era homes. Photo/Keith Schneider

Henderson, KY., founded in 1797, offers an amazing collection of beautiful Victorian era homes. Photo/Keith Schneider


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