Friday, February 16, 2018

TRUTH DECAY: The Diminishing Role of Facts in Public Life

Amidst the cacophony of 24/7 news and information that pours in at us every day, we seem to have lost sight of what constitutes truth, facts and actual information. The signal to noise ratio has shifted overwhelming towards noise.

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that we got our information from local papers and three television networks. The original Cronkite nightly news was only 15 minutes long. It was a big and controversial deal when it was expanded to a full half hour.

In many ways it feels like we are in a chicken and egg cycle. Technology has helped provide us with endless sources of “information,” and we are also more polarized than ever. Is it the abundance of options that creates the polarization, or is it the polarization that cause us to see or hear only information to support our cognitive bias? All of this is part of what a recent report by the RAND calls Truth Decay

RAND recently released a 300+ page report on the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life. I recently spoke with one of the authors of that report Jennifer Kavanaugh.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Jennifer Kavanaugh:




Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Because Capitalism Works

Think about what we value today. What we give rewards for as a society? Now imagine, if you can, a business tycoon who is modest and filled with generosity. Who could gamble a million dollars on one roll of the dice, but whose story is a true Horatio Alger, rags to riches story. A man whose word is his bond. Who eschews self promotion, yet operated in Las Vegas and Hollywood. A man who saw the importance ot the larger world, and helping others in it, while still appreciating all that is American. A man who knew how to fly, but never flew too close to the sun

This is, in part, the story of Kirk Kerkorian. It's a story told by William Rempel, in The Gambler: How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History.

My conversation with William Rempel:



Friday, February 9, 2018

The Internet Needs To Grow Up: A Conversation with Andrew Keen


At the time of the invention of writing, Socrates worried that it would destroy memory, and undermine the oral tradition. The invention of the printing press worried many. For those old enough you remember, the fear of television was once pervasive. It was the “boob tube,” “the vast wasteland.” We fragmented over other great changes, including the great migration and the move from a rural agrarian culture to an urban industrial revolution.

All of these changes came with great promise and predictive as well as unintended consequences. Why should we think that the Internet, that the digital revolution, would be any different? As someone once said, “history may repeat itself exactly, but it certainly rhymes.”

Andrew Keen has, with an objective eye, been following this history since the dawn of the information age. He wrote about the democratization of information in his book THE CULT OF THE AMATEUR, and he warned us how social media would, rather than brings us together, fragment us and feed into our narcissism.

Now in HOW TO FIX THE FUTURE, he pulls together all of the consequences of tech. He shows us what Joan Didion once said of Southern California, is true of tech, that the dream was teaching the dreamers how to live.

My WhoWhatWhy Conversation with Andrew Keen




Thursday, February 8, 2018

Deutsche Bank: Where The Dots Of Russiagate Connect

If you’re following or trying to follow the Trump-Russia story, no doubt your head is filled with dozens of threads: the Trump Tower meetings; the dossier; the names of countless Russians, mobsters, and oligarchs, and bankers; banks in Germany, in Moscow, Cyprus, and Moldavia; money laundering; real estate deals; hedge funds; indictments; bankruptcies; and a cast of characters orbiting Trump that feels more like the bar scene in the original Star Wars.

How is it possible then to understand it all? Especially if, as Steve Bannon told Michael Wolff, it’s all about following the money. We could all imagine some kind of huge whiteboard or bulletin board in Mueller’s office with arrows, and pictures, and bank logos, and lines, and threads connecting them all together.

WhoWhatWhy.org has published a multi-part series entitled Deutsche Bank: A Global Bank for Oligarchs — Americans and Russians by Martin Sheil, a retired branch chief of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division.  His WhoWhatWhy series could easily be seen as part of a preamble or executive summary to the report that Mueller may ultimately deliver to Congress.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Martin Sheil:






Monday, February 5, 2018

A Model For The Power of Local Agriculture

It’s ironic that at a time when our air, water and food are under siege, more people than ever seem to care about the protection of all three. Organic grocery sales have never been higher and local agriculture is undergoing a kind of millennial renaissance.

Nonetheless, for best practices, we have to turn our gaze to a small town in the Italian alps. It is the first place on earth to fully ban pesticides via referendum, and it represents what may very well be the future of local agriculture everywhere.

Philip Ackerman-Leist tells this story in A Precautionary Tale: How One Small Town Banned Pesticides, Preserved Its Food Heritage, and Inspired a Movement.

My conversation with Philip Ackerman-Leist:



Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A President Who Really Got Things Done

Elections do have consequences and leaders really do matter. Grassroots voices and organizing can bring attention to a problem, but it’s the job of government, of our constitutional process, to put those policies in place.

As modern history tells us, it’s no easy task. This week we watched a State of the Union speech devoid of ideas, or programs or lofty goals to lift people up, or in the parlance of our times, to solve problems.

It was a far cry from Bill Clinton’s laundry list of small ball in his ‘95 SOTU and even further from the goals once set out by Lyndon Johnson.

So much of the legislative battle today is not about, as some commentators have said, undoing the New Deal, but undoing the remarkable achievements of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. It’s a remarkable list that includes medicare, medicai
d, public radio, public television, the voting right act, federal aid to education, consumer protections, creating the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the great 1964 Civil Rights Act. All done in five years, while struggling with the disaster that was Vietnam.

Johnson did it all not through executive orders, but through the simple Article One powers of the Constitution. That’s the story that Joshua Zeitz tells in Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson's White House

My conversation with Joshua Zeitz:



Thursday, January 25, 2018

Why Art and Artists Matter...Now More Than Ever

In the US. or anywhere else around the world, when freedom is threatened, when liberty is under siege, it is often the artist that comes to the rescue. Not necessarily in the realm of changing politics, but in reminding us why that freedom is important, inspiring us to remember what matters, amidst the fear and noise of repression.

In a new book entitled It Occurs to Me That I Am America: New Stories and Art, Jonathan Santlofer, has brought together some of the most profound artists and writers of our time, to do exactly that.

My conversation with Jonathan Santlofer:



Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Network vs. The Despot

Those that study history know that not only is it not static, but that it tends to go though seemingly recurring periods. We’ve seen times where freedom flourishes, times when despots seem to be the flavor du jour, times where great bursts of innovation happen and where darkness and stagnation cast a pall.

Even in our modern day we see the tension between, “I alone can fix it,” and the power of grassroots and social networks to try and bring people together in a common cause.

This idea, the individual vs. the network is, according to esteemed historical Niall Ferguson, one of the most recurring tensions throughout history. He takes us through this remarkable journey in his book The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.

My conversation with Niall Ferguson:




Friday, January 19, 2018

Timing is Everything!

Playing Clue, writing, quizzing our kids or friends, or analyzing data to make decisions, we are all familiar with those key question of who, what and why. And yet the question that goes to the heart of what we actually do and how it will turn out, is often WHEN.

We make dozens of when decisions everyday. Sometimes we jump into something to quickly, sometimes we procrastinate. We schedule the hard stuff in the morning when we are fresh, or some schedule the easy stuff in the morning, to get it out of the way.

We think that most of these decisions derive from habit or intuition. But in fact, modern science and research in psychology, biology, economics and even anthropology, all provide road maps for making our when decisions.

Now bestselling and influential author Daniel Pink takes us into the essence of those when decision in When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

My conversation with Daniel Pink:




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:



Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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 WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Jake Bernstein:




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:



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: