May 24th, 2011, by

When Tom Selleck came to the set recently, he brought a gift in honor of Tavis’ new book, FAIL UP: 20 Lessons On Building Success From Failure.

The gift was a quote from Calvin Coolidge about persistence.

Tavis read the quote during the conversation, and a couple of viewers asked that we share the quote with them again online (h/t Tondra and Melany A.).

So here it is. It certainly is powerful.


Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ~Calvin Coolidge

May 15th, 2011, by

Erik Prince, the embattled founder of Blackwater — the American private military contractor accused of various shady dealings in the Iraq war — has a new army. After selling Blackwater (since renamed Xe Services), he’s continued his work as a private military consultant, assembling mercenaries for whomever has the cash.

Most recently, according to a lengthy report by The New York Times, Prince has been tasked with assembling an 800-member battalion of a private army for the leaders of Abu Dhabi, whose main function would be counter-terrorism and putting down internal revolts. To this end, Prince and a group of advisers composed of American and British retired combat officers, recently assembled a group of Colombian mercenaries at a desert compound in the Emirate.

According to the Times, while the Colombian soldiers were expected to be ready for deployment within a few weeks of their arrival, it soon became clear that they were far from prepared, some of them having never fired weapons before. Notable, however, was the reason for assembling an army of Spanish-speaking mercenaries (as well as South Africans, British and Americans) in an Arab country. Says the Times, “Former employees said that in recruiting the Colombians and others from halfway around the world, Mr. Prince’s subordinates were following his strict rule: hire no Muslims. Muslim soldiers, Mr. Prince warned, could not be counted on to kill fellow Muslims.”

Of course, mercenary armies are nothing new–from medieval times to the most recent war in Iraq–but this latest revelation sets a disturbing precedent for the area. Like prisons and schools, outsourcing military tasks to the private sector raises a lot of issues of whose best interests are at stake. In Abu Dhabi, the mercenaries would be commanded by that emirate’s ruler, but they would be motivated strictly by a paycheck (and a modest one, according to the Times). No one should be allowed to profit from war, least of all those, like Erik Prince, whose ethics have been repeatedly cast into doubt.



April 24th, 2011, by

Last week, two photojournalists, Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, were killed while covering the popular uprising in Libya. For most of us, who see the images captured by journalists like these in the news every day, it’s easy to forget the real danger that goes into reporting from conflict zones.

Hetherington was known recently for his work on the Academy Award-nominated documentary Restrepo, which he co-directed with author Sebastian Junger. He was also winner of the World Press Photo of the Year award for his shot of an exhausted soldier in Afghanistan. Hondros, too, was an accomplished photographer, who had also worked in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo and had been awarded the Robert Capa Gold Medal, an esteemed war photography commendation.

Here’s an interview with Hetherington on PBS’ NewsHour, in which he discusses his work, as well as his new book of photos from Afghanistan, Infidel. And here’s a gallery of some of Hondros’ work put together by the Guardian.

Of course, for Hetherington and Hondros, they would likely have been the first to tell you that it’s not their own stories that matter, but rather the ones they are trying to capture and send out to the world.

April 22nd, 2011, by

How do you write about the sex lives of past presidents without being salacious? If you’re controversial publisher Larry Flynt, you co-write a book with history professor David Eisenbach and call it One Nation Under Sex.

“I knew nobody would want to read a history book written by a pornographer, so I was just covering myself there,” says Flynt in the Web-exclusive video below.

Flynt’s book has been well received, with Publishers Weekly writing, “Flynt and Eisenbach favor analysis over sensationalism, providing a new perspective of the men and women who have shaped our nation.”

In this Web-exclusive video, Flynt explains what he feels we can learn from the sexual transgressions of past presidents and answers the tough question of why Americans seem to be so obsessed with sex.

“People, I think now, want more information, and no book has ever been written like this. Publishers of history books are conservative; they tend to only want politics and policy. They don’t want to know about sex,” Flynt says, adding, “Well, I know that there’s a market out there that does want to know about the sex lives of politicians.”

Be sure to watch the Web-exclusive video below, tune in to the full conversation tonight and share your thoughts. Do the private lives of presidents and elected officials matter? Should we care? Why do we?


April 10th, 2011, by
Image via US Dept. of Justice
Image via US Dept. of Justice

Since being sentenced in 2009 to 150 years in prison, we haven’t heard all that much from Bernard Madoff, the man behind the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.

Recently, a couple of Financial Times staffers, David Gelles and Gillian Tett, went down to visit him in prison. They spoke with Madoff for two hours — or rather, Madoff told them his story — in probably the most candid interview he has ever given.

The article, from this week’s FT Magazine, chronicles Madoff’s rise from upstart outsider financier, to one of the most revered men on Wall Street, to one of the biggest villains in the economic crash. He tells his story with a surprising even-handedness, even talking candidly about what he’s been doing in prison (seeing a therapist, reading Danielle Steele novels).

For someone who was the subject of so much media attention, it’s fascinating to hear him tell his story from his own perspective and get a little more insight into how the mind of such a man might work. 

April 6th, 2011, by

Most know award-winning veteran talk show host Larry King from his signature CNN program. He’s also a very funny guy. Even though King turns the tables on Tavis by asking the questions in a two-part conversation airing this week, Tavis couldn’t resist moving back into his usual role, if only for a moment.

Watch this preview clip of King describing his upcoming comedy tour, and tune in this Thursday and Friday as the two talkers reflect on their combined 70+ years of broadcasting experience.



April 1st, 2011, by JANE ISAACS LOWE

This post was previously published on March 21, 2011 at Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity.

Marist College recently conducted a survey to determine what superpower Americans would most like to have. More than a quarter of Americans said they would want the power to travel through time, which tied with mind-reading as the most popular choice.

At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we often wish we had the power to travel through time. We wish we could anticipate and adequately prepare for the challenges that lie ahead, especially to improve the health and well-being of the most vulnerable among us.

Fortunately, we got a taste of that superpower with the expertise of the Institute for Alternative Futures. While time travel may be the stuff of fantasy, we can look into the future — or rather, many possible futures — with the aid of scenario planning. This approach is helping us to understand how our society and the vulnerable populations within it could change over the next two decades.

Being healthy has as much, if not more, to do with our social circumstances — where we live, learn, work, and play — than our access to medical care. And if you’re vulnerable, it often means you don’t have the same kinds of opportunities to make healthy decisions as others. What opportunities you do have may be undermined by poor education, inadequate housing, low income, stress, or violence.

Recognizing the importance of such social influences on health, the scenarios we analyzed looked at a range of factors ranging from education and technology to food, cultural shifts, and crime.

Not surprisingly, two drivers of vulnerability loomed larger than the others: what happens to the economy and jobs, and how the government responds. Even a strong economy does not guarantee a drop in the ranks of the vulnerable. Likewise, there are ways we can respond to economic hardship that would ultimately improve their prospects.

The following is a quick overview of the four scenarios we considered:

The economy rebounds after the Great Recession. Education improves and benefits most families. But automation and offshoring prevent many jobs from ever coming back. Governments are constrained by their debts. Despite some improvements, the ranks of the vulnerable expand.

The double‐dip recession is followed by peak oil in 2016. Prices for energy and food rise rapidly while low‐ and middle‐income jobs continue to disappear. Government services and payments are cut severely, while vulnerability rises significantly.

A depression follows the Great Recession. Massive unemployment and hardship prompt a shift in values that leads to an economy that is fair and works for all. Governments are forced to be effective and education advances opportunity across populations. Vulnerability is reduced.

The economy recovers. High debt levels limit what federal and state governments can do. Families and communities become more self‐reliant and entrepreneurial. Technology yields low‐cost energy and food. Communities develop local currencies, barter services, and support innovation. Vulnerability is reduced.

These scenarios allow us to anticipate what might be, to imagine, to check assumptions, to leave less to chance, and to act in smarter ways to enhance the impact of our efforts and resources. The optimal response is to develop strategies that will work across a range of different conditions. For example, finding cost-effective solutions to vulnerability that can be deployed locally, but also scaled nationally, makes sense in any of the scenarios. All the more so if those solutions address interconnected factors — such as health, education, employment, and housing — at the same time.

This is a particularly challenging time for vulnerable populations and for the country as a whole. We still face high unemployment and deep, long-term deficits with budget cuts that imperil safety net programs, education, and health care. And signs that policy leaders will reach consensus on effective solutions to entrenched challenges continue to be elusive.

But just as Americans are largely in agreement about what superpowers they wish they had, we are confident that there are many innovative and practical strategies that could improve the health and well-being of our most vulnerable populations and that the majority of Americans could embrace.

The time to start identifying those solutions is now, guided by thoughtful, provocative tools that help us take that leap forward in time.

Jane Isaacs Lowe is Team Director and Senior Program Officer for the Vulnerable Populations Portfolio of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

March 29th, 2011, by

Former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, sits down with Tavis tonight to discuss the state of education in the country and to respond to a USA Today investigation that questions the integrity of standardized test scores at D.C. schools under her watch.

“We followed all of the right protocols,” Rhee says via satellite from
D.C. “If you look at the story overall, I think it absolutely lacks

Specifically, USA Today investigated test scores at D.C.’s Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus and found the following:

…for the past three school years most of Noyes’ classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.

Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008. That’s more than half of D.C. schools.

In the video below and on the show tonight, Rhee refutes the claims made by the USA Today investigation.

“The really unfortunate piece,” the education reformer goes on to say, “is that oftentimes when the academic achievement rates of a district like D.C. go up people assume that it can’t be because the kids are actually attaining higher gains in student achievement, but that it’s because of something like cheating, which in this case was absolutely not the case.”

Watch the video below, and tune in tonight for the full conversation.


March 27th, 2011, by

I was on a transatlantic flight recently, taking advantage of the downtime to catch up on the movies I’d missed in theaters, when I caught Waiting for Superman, a documentary about American public schools, and without a doubt the most frightening movie I saw last year. It was also the most heartbreaking, and, in the interest of full disclosure, I was in tears by the film’s end, no doubt attracting my share of strange looks from my fellow passengers.

Waiting for Superman, directed by Davis Guggenheim (who also directed An Inconvenient Truth) tells the story of America’s public schools as seen through the experiences of a handful of kids from different backgrounds and economic circumstances. It reveals an education system that is not just broken, but that actively threatens the future of our nation by under-educating many thousands of children every year.

It’s a highly troubling story to say the least, and reveals American public school students to be  some of the worst-educated in the developed world. It’s a systemic problem rooted in dysfunctional policy and corrupt teachers’ unions, and, if the film’s message is to be believed, may soon lead to America’s decline among the world’s great powers.

The film is not without hope, however, revealing people who are actively working to turn the system around. One of them is Geoffrey Canada, the extraordinary leader of The Harlem Children’s Zone (and a past guest on the show). Another is this week’s guest, Michelle Rhee. One of the most striking sections of the film focuses on Rhee’s turbulent battle to reform the DC public school system as its embattled chancellor, a tenure which ended late last year.

Rhee is one of the few rays of hope in an otherwise incredibly bleak picture of what kids in U.S. public schools face every day. Now, she continues her work as the leader of StudentsFirst, a national nonprofit aimed at education reform. If there is a hope for America’s kids (at least those without the option of private education), it’s in people like Rhee and Canada and their undying commitment to fixing our schools.

March 25th, 2011, by SHERRYN DANIEL
S.C. Gov. Nikki Randhawa Haley is the first Indian American woman to hold this office. Photo by: Albert N. Milliron, Wikimedia Commons.
S.C. Gov. Nikki Randhawa Haley is the first Indian American woman to hold this office. Photo by: Albert N. Milliron, Wikimedia Commons.

Women’s history month is a celebration of what American women have contributed to U.S. culture. When most people think of American women and their contributions to women’s history, they may switch between African American or Caucasian role models like Rosa Parks, Hillary Rodham Clinton, or Susan B. Anthony.

Though these and several other African American and Caucasian women have contributed a multitude to American culture — they are not the only ones.

The United States is full of successful Asian American, Hispanic and Indian American women who have enhanced the fabric of American culture with bright hues. From politics to entertainment, these women have cracked the glass ceiling.

It’s quite shocking, really, that they haven’t been as widely recognized. This is especially true for Indian American women, who have augmented opportunities for other Indian American women to advance in entertainment, politics, business, and sciences.


Aruna Miller (pictured left) is the first Indian American woman to win as delegate in the state of Maryland. Her win creates a path for other Indian American women in politics. And Nikki Haley (pictured above with caption) is not only the first woman governor of South Carolina, but the first Indian American woman in the United States to hold the position.


It is safe to say that Indra Nooyi,  Forbes third most powerful
woman in 2009
, created an air hole for women to breathe new life in the business
world. Nooyi is the CEO of Pepsi and has focused on revamping the
company. She incorporated healthier ingredients and has debuted new
product lines that have enriched the company’s brand nation-wide.


Women’s history should also be inclusive of achievements made in the entertainment industry by women writers, producers and actresses. Actress Mindy Kaling, who plays Kelly Kapoor in “The Office,” is a triple threat. She stars in, writes and has produced episodes for the show. Interestingly, some of the episodes she has written have been nominated for Emmy Awards.

Indian American author Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for her debut collection of stories — Interpreter of Maladies. Her second work — The Namesake — was turned into a film, and the British-born, Rhode Island-raised writer’s third book, Unaccustomed Earth, debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list.


And finally, we must not forget about Padma Lakshmi — the Indian American supermodel turned TV show host for Bravo TV’s “Top Chef.” In addition to being a bona fide food expert with best-selling cookbooks under her belt, Lakshmi opened up opportunities for Indian American women to be stars.

There has been no shortage of examples of why Indian American women need to be recognized during Women’s History Month. Only time will tell if they ever will be.

Sherryn Daniel is a blogger, business school graduate student and New Media Manager for the National Women’s History Project. In her spare time, she writes self-help articles as a D.C. Examiner Self-Help writer for

Photo credits are as follows: Mindy Kaling by Kristin Dos Santos; Indra Nooyi by World Economic Forum; Padma Lakshmi by David Shankbone.

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