Thursday, January 18, 2018

Does Political Organizing Still Matter?

For those that are politically engaged, and are horrified by the current policy decisions being made and enacted by the current administration, it sometimes seems as if the challenge is overwhelming. Can any amount of the traditional forms of protest, and organizing make a dent. Or has technology, the speed of communications and our ever shortening attention spans put us in a post organizing environment?

In a world in which facts are suspect, life is lived online, only with people that we agree with, and the no ones mind ever seems to change, does protest even matter? Longtime activist and organizer Gordon Whitman  thinks it does.  His new book is Stand Up!: How to Get Involved, Speak Out, and Win in a World on Fire.

My conversation with Gordon Whitman:



Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Not Your Father's Non-Profit

Poll after poll tell us that people have lost faith in government and in big institutions to solve the nation’s or even the world's problems. As that disconnect grows, and it will likely continue to, we are looking more and more to local centric, often non-profit institutions to do the heavy lifting.

But what will those non profits look like? As donors today want rapid and measurable results, metrics, and an entrepreneurial spirit and business approach, that will certainly not resemble your father's non-profit.

To help us understand this transition and what may very well be the future of non-profits, as a growing instrument of public policy, I’m joined by Kathleen Kelly Janus, the author of Social Startup Success: How the Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale Up, and Make a Difference.

My conversation with Kathleen Kelly Janus:



Monday, January 15, 2018

The Daniel Ellsberg Story You Won't See In THE POST


Somebody asked me recently if I thought that this time that we are living through will be as significant and as profoundly influential as the ‘60’s. I don't’ know the answer to that. What I do know is that there are recurring themes from that period that we seem to be relitigating and reliving.

Race is certainly one. Renewed discussion about Vietnam, press freedom and the threat of nuclear war, are some of the others.

Daniel Ellsberg, was once at the center of these issues and he is still here to provide his wisdom and insights into the way that history maybe repeating itself.

The Ken Burns documentary about Vietnam, which conspicuously did not include a conversation with Ellsberg, and the Steven Spielberg film, The Post, have once again catapulted Ellsberg to the front of our national dialogue.

Most of us know Daniel Ellsberg for the Pentagon Paper which he copied and leaked in 1971. What we don’t know is that Ellsberg was a war planner and nuclear strategist at RAND, and one of the leading thinkers about the role and actual use of nuclear weapons.

Now, after all of these years, he’s written about it in The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Daniel Ellsberg: 




Friday, January 12, 2018

What Would Bill Buckley Think of His Party Today?

The founders of modern conservatism would not recognize it today. The infusion of libertarian selfishness, social issues and populism are a far cry from Burke and Oakeshott.

Yet if we look at the individual that many consider the father of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley Jr., we see the accumulation and formation of all of today's social issues. We see the influence of religion in politics, homophobia, racism and even populism. Because while Buckley was often seen as part of the NY elite, it was Buckley who said, “I would rather be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston telephone directory, than by the faculty of Harvard.” Buckley said that in 1963 and 54 years later he seems to have gotten his wish.

What Buckley did understand, far ahead of almost anyone else, is the media and how to use its many parts. I’m sure if he was still with us, he’d be tweeting today.

Alvin Felzenberg, who served in two presidential administrations and was the principal spokesman for the 9/11 commission, looks at Buckley in A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr.

My conversation with Alvin Felzenberg:




** Mr. Felzenberg did this conversation from a crowded and noisy resturant, and we apologize for the background noise, particularly between 8 and 10 minutes in. Thanks for understanding. 


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Jeff Sessions Wants It To Be 1930

Even with respect to drugs, everything old is new again. Jeff Sessions is not just trying to take drug policy back to the 1960s, his ideas take us all the way back to a time around 1930.

It we did a survey, most people think that the modern day war on drugs started with Richard Nixon, continued with Nancy Reagan's “just way no,” and reached some kind of crescendo of absurdity with Bill Clinton’s “I didn't’ inhale”

The fact is, that the drug war really began in the 1930’s. That all of the antecedents of the modern day drug war have deep roots in race and politics.  It’s why it has been so difficult to pull them out. The attitude is ingrained in our national culture, and as business guru Peter Drucker once said, “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Alexandra Chasin, is an associate professor of literary studies at Eugene Lang College, the New School.  She looks at the origins of this war in Assassin of Youth: A Kaleidoscopic History of Harry J. Anslinger’s War on Drugs.

My conversation with Alexandra Chasin:



"Things Won't Work Out By Themselves"

In today’s world it’s not just technology that changes quickly. Just twenty-five years ago, some thought we had reached the end of history. That the end of the Cold War would bring about protracted peace, that the ending of the great power struggle between the US and the Soviet Union would mark a new era
. In many ways it did, but not necessarily the one that was anticipated.

Just as we’ve seen deconstruction in almost every area of society, so too in foreign policy. The gravitational pull of great powers that held the world together, just as that same force held major industries together, fragmented. Independence, democratization, real time instant communications and commerce, let loose global and destabilizing forces that we are trying hard to sort through. While in business it might mean the end of a company or an industry, in foreign affairs this disarray just might mean the end of the world.

Dr. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations has served in several administrations and is also the author or editor of twelve books on foreign policy and international relations. His latest is A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.

My conversation with Richard Haass:



Monday, January 8, 2018

Trump/Russia from 30,000 Feet

There is an old expression that’s long been part of the training of medical students. It says that if you hear hooves, look for horses, not zebras. The idea is simple. Look first in the most obvious places. Often times the solution is in pain sight and doesn't require some deep, expensive digging.

The same might very well be said of Donald Trump and Russia. Sure we all hear about the complex web, but really there is a kind of elemental simplicity to the story.

Trump came to the attention of Russians as far back as 1987. The Russians, seeking contacts or assets in the US, dangled in front of Trump the prospect of doing business in Russia. They paraded before him oligarchs who he admired, and who he was jealous of.

They keep their eyes on on him for years. He even married two wives from the former soviet bloc. Two wives who grew up behind the Iron Curtain.

He went back to Russia in 2013, by which time planet Trump was surrounded by people like Michael Cohen, Felix Sater, the Agalaroffs, Paul Manafort and dozens and duzens of Russians that had bought property in Trump Tower, or one of his other real estate interests.

When he fell on financial hard times, Russians and particularly Deutsche Bank in Moscow, were there to help with laundered money

In 2016, when he finally ran for president, something he’d been talking about for decades, we know the Russians intervened to help. Paul Manafort, with deep Russian and Ukrainian ties, would, for a time, manage the campaign.

When he won, so many that were circling the mothership Trump would lie about their contacts with Russia. His cabinet would be filled with people like Wilbur Russ, Rex Tillerson and the sister of Eric Prince, all with deep ties to Russia.

All the while he would continue to praise Vladimir Putin.  This is the story that Luke Harding brings forth in Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Luke Harding:




Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Where Is Your Money Sleeping?

As the new year begins, we often think about what to do with our money. In a world in which we are more socially and politically divided than ever, in which change is happening at an exponential pace, in which technology may lead us to a worse or a better place, how we invest, how we spend money, and where that money goes, takes on more urgency than ever.

Both spending and investing is now more than just part of our economic dialogue. It is a part of our social fabric. How it comes together, and what it accomplishes has profound consequences.

Morgan Simon is a leader in impact investment who builds bridges between finance and social justice. Over the past seventeen years, she has influenced over $150 billion in capital and she recently authored Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change.

My conversation with Morgan Simon:



Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The World Will Never Be The Same After AI


One of the criticisms of Silicon Valley is often that so much talent and engineering is going toward the creation of minor advancements. A new dating app, new forms of banking, or even games.

But all of this belies what’s really going on beneath the surface, in the world of Artificial Intelligence. A world that conjures up a whole host of fears and confusion. Perhaps it comes from too many science fiction movies, or maybe it’s just the fear of the ultimate change and loss of control. Either way, it is coming in every aspect of our lives. We can choose to have the conversation now, or complain, protest and get angry later.

One of the people leading the way in this arena is Amir Husain. He is a serial entrepreneur and inventor, and the author of The Sentient Machine: The Coming Age of Artificial Intelligence.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Amir Husain:


Friday, December 29, 2017

A Look At What A Real President Was Like

I’m not sure when politics became a dirty word. But there was a time when it was a noble profession. When the best the the brightest sought to serve, and when differences of opinion were about how to better the lives of all people, not just those at the top, or those at the margins, or those in power.

To successfully engage in politics tooks a very special skill set, that was about understanding people and what they wanted, and forming coalitions to compromise and get things done. How far we have fallen from that ideal.

It was Bismarck who said that “politics was the art of the possible.” Few understood this better than the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt. Presidential historian Robert Dallek takes a deep dive into the political Roosevelt, in  Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life

My conversation with Robert Dallek:



Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Our Collective Search for Meaning And What Happens If We Can't Find It

From the time we first enter the world, to the moment we read or listen to the morning news, we are trying to make sense of the world. We are trying to discern patterns, to create a narrative, to fit the puzzle pieces together in ways that make sense. All the while creating the minimum amount of cognitive dissonance, so that we can move forward each day without having a complete nervous breakdown.

And so it is that societies and cultures do exactly the same things as part of a kind of collective effort to finding meaning. Be it in art, as we try to find metaphorical meaning in the equivalent of a grain of sand, or in the worship of religion, money, success or hierarchical achievement. The problem often comes when these patterns we internalize, run headlong into reality.

That’s a part of what I explore with Jeremy Lent as we look at The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning.

My conversation with Jeremy Lent:



Saturday, December 23, 2017

Lawyers, Guns and Money: Understanding the Panama Papers

In the current debate over taxes we here a lot about offshore funds, the repatriation of corporate dollars, and how lowering marginal tax rates will stimulate the economy and bring all this money pouring back into America. Unlikely! Particularly because what we don’t hear about is the almost hundred trillion dollars that is hidden from view, in a complex web of offshore accounts, tax havens, laundered money, corrupt banks and nations that have created a kind of alternative world financial system.

Back in April of 2016 the leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm, that became known as the Panama Papers, began to shed light on this universal flow of this tainted money. More recently the
Paradise Papers, brought this corruption to the doorstep of the White House.

Covering every step of this, has been distinguished journalist and two time Pulitzer winner Jake Bernstein. He details it all, and a lot more in Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite.

My conversation with Jake Bernstein:




Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sleep...It's Not Just For Wimps Anymore

Tune in to the news any day, and there is lots to lose sleep over. Not the least of which is the worry that if we are not sleeping correctly, we will age faster, increase our risk of Alzheimer's and be susceptible to a host of other illnesses.

It’s hard to imagine, that with all of the other crisis going on, how much time and conversation gets devoted to the subject of sleep. It must mean that it’s pretty important. At least Matthew Walker thinks so. He is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, the Director of its Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, and a former professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, and the author of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams.

My conversation with Matthew Walker:



Saturday, December 16, 2017

This Man Could Have Prevented 9/11

Bill Binney was an NSA analyst whose work was so effective it was shut down. It threatened to derail the gravy train fueled by the kinds of problems he might have solved — including preventing potential terrorist attacks. The contractors and executives riding that train had a motto: “keep the problem going, so the money keep flowing.”


My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Bill Binney:




Monday, December 11, 2017

The Joys of Refugees

In our hyper partisan and over politicized culture, we’re always quick and anxious to talk about DACA, Dreamers, immigration, deportation, etc. Too often even the most well meaning stories are often lost in the weeds of policy and politics.

What we often forget, or can’t personally understand, is that all of this is about real people. About kids who are caught up in events they can’t control while getting impressions of how they are accepted or not as refugees. The result will shape how they grow up, what they will always believe about this country.
Even in the best of environment refugee resettlement is hard work. Although as my guest Helen Thorpe show us, in her book The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom, it should be filled with joy.

My conversation with Helen Thorpe:




Thursday, December 7, 2017

Espionage 101: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America's Universities

Once upon a time, at the apogee of the cold war, the CIA recruited the best and the brightest from our most elite universities. The likes of George HW Bush, James Jesus Angleton, William Bundy, Porter Goss, and Cord Meyer, all owed their allegiance to God Country and Yale. And Harvard also had its share. These universities were, as someone once referred them, “a nursery of spooks.”

Today, like everything else, espionage has gone through its own creative destruction. Colleges and universities are still at the epicenter of espionage, but it’s all been impacted by globalization, technology, the free flow of international students and professors and information, and yes, 9/11. It’s as if the military industrial-complex that Eisenhower warned us about, is now the military, industrial, intelligence and university complex.

Bringing this all into bold relief is Pulitzer Prize winning author Daniel Golden, in his book Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America's Universities.

My conversation with Dan Golden:



Tuesday, December 5, 2017

How Was It Ever Possible To Be Spiritual in Washington, D.C?

There was a time when faith was a very private matter. Of course there was also a time when we didn't live our lives in social media, and in the spotlight of a 24/7 always on culture.

But even as that has changed, faith and how we personally process it, or think about it, still often remains deep inside each of us. As a result we learn, if we live long enough, we come to be understanding and respectful of how people exercise their faith. Just as we do with how they deal with illness or grief, as these are the most personal of endeavors.

So it’s both rare and brave when a public figure choses to share that with us. In so doing it certainly gives us a deeper insight into them, and at its best, it should make us stop and think about ourselves in new and often insightful ways.

That what Sally Quinn has done in her new memoir Finding Magic: A Spiritual Memoir.

My conversation with Sally Quinn:




Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Life and Times of Jann Wenner & Rolling Stone Magazine

The online world has given us whole new ways of reading news and of staying informed. Not just about the day's events, but about social and cultural shifts and the zeitgeist of our time. This was once a job that was filled by Magazines. Magazines that became the totems of a particular time and place. Time Magazine ushered in the American Century after WWII. LIFE magazine provided the bonding of iconography in the 50’s. And certainly Playboy and Hugh Hefner reshaped a sexual coming of age from the mid 50’s and beyond.

Add to this pantheon, Rolling Stone. Founded by Jann Wenner in 1967, Wenner and his writers would come to define the culture, ethos and ambitions of the 1960’s, as well as the ways in which those ideas would be kept alive in succeeding decades.

The story of Rolling stone has never been fully told until now, by Joe Hagan in his new book Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine.

My conversation with Joe Hagan:




Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Is Identity Politics Just Coalition Building or Something More Sinister

Back in 1964, a full fifty-three years ago, a novel came out entitled The 480. It was about the social and political effects of slicing and dicing society into 480 specific groups; by socioeconomic status, location, origin, etc. Creating computer simulations to manipulate public consciousness and win elections.

Today, such ideas are fully backed into our system. Big Data companies like Cambridge Analytica, make what was once a futuristic novel, a political fact of life. It’s the ultimate form of identity politics. Since the 1960’s, this has been the underpinnings of Democratic politics.

But does it work anymore? Does the focus on dividing the electorate run counter to what the Democratic party needs to win both local and national elections?

Columbia University Professor Mark Lilla looks at exactly this in The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics.

My conversation with Mark Lilla:



Monday, November 27, 2017

Why We Do What We Do...Even When We Know Better

Perhaps never before in history has it been harder for people to understand each other. It seems that the mix of social media, technology and our siloed political and cultural attitudes has led us to only seek refuge in people just like us.

Yet at the same time, modern science and psychology has given us greater insight into who we are, and why we do what we do. Science has added to our knowledge about our attempts at reasoning our way out of problems, and almost every aspect of our behavior.

So why then is it so hard for us to do the right thing. Yale Professor Dr. John Bargh takes a look at all of this in Before You Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do.

My conversation with Dr. John Bargh:




Monday, November 20, 2017

Now More Than Ever We Need Courageous Leadership

It was Winston Churchill who said, that we “should never let a crisis go to waste.” When the Chinese write the word crisis, the combine two symbols. One stands for danger, the other opportunity.

So it is that crises have the potential to break us, or to strengthen us. This is even more true for our leaders, who are in short supply these days. But at their best, they should have the ability to define the crisis, and while not necessarily leading us to the promised land, they should show us all that we have the ability, the strength, and the reason to walk through the fire to the other side. This is true of leaders on a grand global scale, or for leaders within a family or community. The skill set is similar.

That's the skill set that Nancy Koehn explore in in her book Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times.

My conversation with Nancy Koehn:




Sunday, November 19, 2017

How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between.


It’s easy to see how both Hannibal Lecter on the one hand and Mother Theresa on the other, represent opposite sides of a continuum of human behavior. What’s hard to understand is that the ultimate altruist and the ultimate psychopath have anything in common.

Yet, what they have in common is that they both have an inverse reaction to fear in others. And if we can understand what makes one tick, maybe we can better understand the other. In so doing, perhaps we can embrace, encourage, and even refine the better angels of our nature.

This is underlying the work that is being done by Abigail Marsh, the author of The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between.

My conversation with Abigail Marsh:



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Silicon Valley Origin Story

Every company, especially the ones that go public, or are active within the public consciousness, have their origin story. While sometime apocryphal, they capture the essence of both the founders and their mission.

So it is with Silicon Valley itself. It’s only fair that the ground zero of the 21st century economy, should have it’s own origin story. One made up of the both the individual and collective energies of many smart, sometime eccentric, often driven, and always forward facing individuals.

What was it in the Silicon Valley water in the 70’s and 80’s, that gave birth to the world we take for granted today? Perhaps equally important, is that water still there, or was it just the product of that perfect time and place?

Silicon Valley historian Leslie Berlin has spent years looking at all of this, and she details it in Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age.

My conversation with Leslie Berlin:




The Impossible Presidency

Think about the job of the modern day corporate CEO. He or she has a board and often difficult shareholders to answer to. Usually his or her company is global, with far flung interests and operations. The company has thousands of needy employees. And all of it exists in a swirl of 24/7, always on communications; in multiple time zones with always changing tastes, values and economic conditions. Sounds difficult right?

Now imagine those same issues on steroids. Multiply by ten or even a hundredfold and you just begin to understand the modern Presidency of the United States.

While the current occupant may find endless time to watch Fox news, tweet, and play golf. The reality is that the modern president...particularly since Roosevelt, has become an office almost beyond the functional or intellectual capacity of any one human being.

The speed, the creative destruction, the siloed and specific constituencies, 24/7 media, are just the beginning. After all, those are the things we are all dealing with. All of those things times 325 million plus the world, is the equation of modern and in fact impossible presidency. It's all described by Jeremi Suri in The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America's Highest Office