Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How Did Our Politics Get So Harsh? The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division

One of the great benefits of a long history is that when things get tough in America, we can look back to see how we as a people and as a nation survived other very trying experiences. The transformations of the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the last century put great strain on the country. McCarthyism in the ‘50s tried our political conscience and the upheavals and social and political transformations of the ‘60s’ shook the nations to its very roots

Riots, racism, political assassination and long seething anger all set the stage for the politics of 1968. A unique set of characters enlivened the political landscape, including Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Nelson Rockefeller. The question then, as I suppose it is today, is where the politicians shaped the issues or the issues shaped and tested the politicians? National political columnist, Michael A. Cohen in American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division, makes the case that the election of 1968 tested nation and maybe even laid the predicate for where we are 48 years later.

My conversation with Michael Cohen:

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"Stoking the Star-Maker Machinery"

Hollywood has always served a dual role, as both a reflection of the times is operates in and a projector sending out its light showing the broader changes taking place in society.

Just as the original Hollywood moguls, people like Warner and Selznick and Mayer, represented a generation that changed the “white shoe” world of business, people like the founders of CAA, men like Mike Ovitz and Ron Meyer, personified and were the apotheosis of the buttoned down world of Wall Street coming to Hollywood in the 70’s and 80’s.

Like every business, things would continue to change. A new generation would emerge. The old guard would be pushed out, or burn out and a group of so called young turks would emerge.

This ongoing story of the history of CAA is both Shakespearean in its drama and contemporary in subject. It’s that story that my guest James Andrew Miller tells in Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency.

My conversation with James Andrew Miller:

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Back to School

People used to joke that the one subject that everybody talked about was the weather. Today, it may very well be that the subject is education. Listen at school events, at the grocery store, at sporting events, everywhere there are parents and children, education is often topic one.

Along with that conversation are lots of buzzwords, opinions, traditional talk and the desire for change. Dr. Thom Markham is at the cutting edge of that change.

In the world of work, where people like futurist and Wired magazine founder Kevin Kelly say that today's employers have to “train for skills but hire for attitude,” clearly we have to rethink what education is all about. And few are doing that more than Dr. Thom Markham.

My conversation with Thom Markham:

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

An American Heiress in a Time Far More Violent Than Our Own

There are many defining markers of particular eras in American history. One of them is notorious crimes.

Think about it. Sacco and Vanzetti , the Lindbergh kidnapping, Jeff McDonald, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, O.J. Simpson and the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. All are indelibly etched into the American psyche and each represents a set of fears and cultural markers.

Today, when domestic terrorism is on all of our minds, the story of Patty Hearst, the Symbionese Liberation army and its rag tag affiliates were a time when literally thousand of bombing were taking place on US streets. It’s a time well worth looking at. That what Jeffrey Toobin does in American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst

My conversation with Jeffrey Toobin:

Friday, August 5, 2016

Why Streisand Still Matters

Pick up any celebrity magazine in any grocery store line and the people gracing the cover were almost certainly unknown five years ago and most likely will be forgotten in another five years. Such is the transitory nature of celebrity culture today.

Of course there are exceptions. Mostly these exceptions are celebrities that are famous not just for being famous, but because they have given the public something unique in terms of their art, their personality and the narrative of how they achieved their fame. Such is the case with Barbra Streisand. Biographer Neal Gabler gives us a the big picture in Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity, and Power.

My conversation with Neal Gabler:

Thursday, August 4, 2016

How the World is Getting Faster, Faster

We throw around words and ideas about technology, about disruption, about progress and the impact of technology in speeding up our lives.

The fact is, it’s more than just technology. As we move to cities at increasing rates, as the workplace demands greater productivity, as global competition abounds, as we experience the globalization of acceleration, the pressures to speed up are everywhere.

But how fast is fast? How fast exceeds our evolutionary and biological ability to cope? And what happens to the the anger of those left behind in the cloud of dust from creative destruction.

These are just a few of the issues taken up by Robert Colvile in The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Why the nuclear codes still really matter

In this time of asymmetrical warfare, terrorism, and the war images that have been projected into our living rooms since Vietnam, it's easy for those not alive fifty years ago to forget, or even not even consider, the fear, the horror and the specter of nuclear annihilation.

The President's recent trip to Hiroshima and the fear of Trump having nuclear codes are both reminders that the nuclear reality still lives among us.

That reality is what motivated three unlikely activists in the summer of 2012 to break into one of our nation's seemingly most secure nuclear facilities. In so doing they triggered political, legal and moral issues that had lied dormant for so long.

Telling this powerful story and what it says about the nuclear age is my guest Washington post reporter Dan Zak in Almighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age.

My conversation with Dan Zak:

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

From Kabul to the Oval Office

Daniel Patrick Moynihan is often quoted as saying that “you can have your own opinion, but not your own facts.” This is as true in looking at the world, as it is here at home. There are lots of opinions about the US role and US actions in the world, specifically the Middle East. However, facts come first. And part of those facts include an understanding of the people, the history and the nuance of the region. Our domestic politics has debates every day about who best understand the American people...why should we conduct our global affairs without a similar understanding of others?

When it comes to the Middle East in general, or to Afghanistan, to Iraq and even our international policy architecture in the post war era, few understand the people, the history and the nuance better than Zalmay Khalilzad. He’s served four Presidents and has traveled from a small village in Afghanistan to the pinacle of the Oval Office. He tells that story in The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House, My Journey Through a Turbulent World

My conversation with Zalmay Khalilzad:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Can We Really See Russia From Any Window?

In October of 1939, Winston Churchill said of Russia that “I cannot forecast to you the actions of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest."

Today, almost 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we could say exactly the same thing about Russia. The Russia that Gorbachev ushered in as the Cold War ended is seemingly a far cry from the Russia today of Vladimir Putin.

What happened? Did the country change, the people change, or were the current tendencies there all along? Arkady Ostrovsky, the Russian-born journalist who has spent fifteen years reporting from Moscow, first for the Financial Times and then as bureau chief for The Economist, digs deep in his book The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev's Freedom to Putin's War.

My conversation with Arkady Ostrovsky:

Monday, July 25, 2016

Could Star Wars Help Us Solve The World's Problems?

It’s no surprise that the influence of western popular culture is everywhere, even in our affairs of state. Remember when Ronald Reagan spoke the phrase “evil empire?” It was just five years after the release of the original Star Wars. The Empire was on all of our minds and the comparisons were immediate.

When was the last time your were pulled over and wished you could just wave your hand and call on the power of the the force?

When George Lucas created Star Wars he was fully aware of the primal power of narrative. He was a long time devotee of Joseph Campbell and knew that Star Wars would become a palette of archetypes that would burrow deep into our consciousness.

The only questions is how much Lucas and Star Wars reflected the culture of the time, or in fact, through its successes, helped to create and expand its own iconography.

Today, almost 40 after that premiere, legal critic and behavioral economist Cass Sunstein, deconstructs Star Wars in light of 21st century in The World According to Star Wars.

My conversation with Cass Sunstein:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The War at Home

Confucius may have said it first, but the oft quoted and repeated phrase, “wherever you go, there you are,” can certainly apply to families in the military.

Even in a culture as mobile and connected as ours, the reality of constantly moving, long separations, anxiety, stress, and danger are all realities that are not easily offset by Skype or Facetime.

We’ve seen and read a lot about military families. But what’s it like today in a mobile/global culture and with warfare, not cold but hot, as an almost permanent condition?

Rachel Starnes has lived this life and writes from the heart in The War at Home: A Wife's Search for Peace (and Other Missions Impossible): A Memoir

My conversation with Rachel Starnes:

Friday, July 15, 2016

Success and Luck

As a society, we’ve all been brought up to believe deeply in the idea of the self made man. The power of persistence and hard work. The Horatio Alger mythology of pulling oneself up by your own bootstraps. In modern political theology we hear about “makers” and “takers,” and Randian and libertarian ideas.

We embrace that quote by Jefferson that, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

What we leave out of the equation is the role of pure dumb luck. Being in the right place at the right time. The existential circumstances over which we often have no control and often account for good things happening. That the jumping for point for Robert H. Frank in his book Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy.

My conversation with Robert H. Frank:

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Bobby Kennedy

For those of us that old enough, when we think back to JFK and Camelot, we think of a time of innocence, of renewal and of possibility. And then the 60’s happened. There has been a lot of talk lately about the 60’s. About the fissures it opened up, and about the fact that we are still trying to heal them. Sydney Schanberg, the great reporter who died last week, once told me in an interview that he thought Vietnam represented the end of consensus politics in America.

Since then we have been seemingly searching for the politician or the leader that could bridge that divide. The irony has been that in a time of polarity it’s been impossible for that leader to emerge. So we look back to what might have been. And when we do, the image and mythology of Bobby Kennedy rises as almost an apparition from the body politic.

Why? What was it about Bobby that made us think he was different? It wasn’t his conviction, or his ideology or his morality or his intellect or his manners. Perhaps it was a unique ability to empathize, to see all sides, to shape-shift in ways that allowed him to find truth, or at least consensus where none had existed.

This is the Bobby Kennedy we get in Larry Tye new biography
Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon.

My conversation with Larry Tye:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

White Trash: A History

While politicians often talk of all those things that unite us as Americans, there are equally powerful forces that divide us. At the center of that divide is the often taboo subject of class.

Even more than race, the class divide lies at the base of the chasm that separates what John Edward once called “Two Americas.” The symbols are everywhere. Starbucks America vs. Dunkin' Donuts America. Educated vs. non educated. Walmart vs. Whole Foods, etc. But these symbols are but the latest manifestation of a 400 year history of class conflict in America.

That the story told by Nancy Isenberg in her new book White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America.

My conversation with Nancy Isenberg:

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Carl Douglas talks OJ: Made in America

If you've seen the ESPN Documentary OJ: Made in America, you know it's about a lot more than OJ Simpson, or the Brown Simpson-Goldman murders, or even the trial that captivated the nation. It’s a story about race, about identity and about self perception. All told in the context of one of the greatest legal thrillers of our times.

The story took place in 1994 and 1995, but the issues raised in Ezra Edelman's stunning documentary are just as relevant today.

Joining me to talk about it is one of the attorneys that was a part of Simpson’s so called Dream Team. Carl Douglas was the managing attorney in the law office of Jonnie Cochran and had a seat at the table for every aspect of this American tragedy.

My conversation with Carl Douglas:

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Campaign 1776 - The War That We Almost Lost

On this day, upon which we celebrate the birth of the “American Experiment,” it’s important to remember that it was not preordained.

In spite of today's overheated patriotic rhetoric, the revolution, the victory of the Continental Army, the success of Washington and the country that followed, could have easily gone another direction. There were many times when the revolution might have failed. (Given the state of our politics today, that may not have been such a bad idea)

Just as important and just as surprising are that there are still so many untold stories from that effort. Stories that, particularly on this day, prove instructive, informative and most of all inspirational.

Patrick O’Donnell is the master of telling the stories of our military heroes and as O’Donnell shows us in Washington's Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution, it was the revolutionary generation that was indeed our greatest.

My conversation with Patrick O'Donnell:

Monday, June 27, 2016

Love Wins

Oliver Brown, the lead plaintiff in Brown v. the Board of Education was a parent of a child denied access to a Topeka Kansas School. Clarence Gideon changed the way poor defendant are treated in court. Ernesto Miranda and Jane Roe both, in their own ways, were part of cases that expanded the rights of individual citizens.

The latest name added to that pantheon is that of Jim Obergefell. He was the named plaintiff in the Obergefell vs. Hodges which , just one year ago, enshrined the civil right of same sex marriage in all 50 states. Jim has recently written about his experience in Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality

My conversation with Him Obergefell:

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Who Started the War On Government?

In 1953 in his first Inaugural Address, Dwight Eisenhower talked about the positive impacts of government. Thirty years later Ronald Reagan castigated the role of government. Twelve years after that we heard this from Bill Clinton that “the era of big government is over.”

So what happened? What happened to the partnership between business, the government and citizen that resulted in so much success and prosperity in the post war years? What happened to the progressive agenda once embarrassed by Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt? And what is the price we are paying today for the absence of that partnership?

Author and Professor Paul Pierson talks to me about all of this in on discussion of American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper.

My conversation with Paul Pierson:

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Future is Inevitable

If there is one overriding meme today it’s about fear. Fear of change, fear of a shrinking world, fear of the impact of technology; in short fear of an unknown future. Regardless of that fear, the future is inevitable. It’s the place we are all going to be living.

Even for those that are afraid to embrace it, they should at least understand it. Few see the future more clearly and are better able to explain it than WIRED founder Kevin Kelly. He lays out the agenda for future in The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.

My conversation with Kevin Kelly:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Before the Play, There Was the Book

Before Lin-Manuel Miranda, before the Play there was the book.  Miranda has talked about how his inspiration was Ron Chernow's 2004 book about Hamilton.

Here is my May 2004 conversation with Ron Chernow about HAMILTON.

Monday, June 13, 2016


We are a nation that believes deeply in the Horatio Alger story of hard work and pulling oneself up by their bootstraps. In political terms this has translated into an ethos of individualism, which arguably has been corrosive to our body politic.

In part, it grew in response to the culture of monarchy and inheritance that America was founded in opposition to. It is certainly far more egalitarian to believe that we are the masters of our fate. In economic terms, the Right has taken this to the extremes. But what does it mean in terms of learning, education and personal success.

In this context, we see how the classic argument about nature and nurture has been extrapolated to talent vs. perseverance. Or, in the words of MacArthur Fellow and Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Angela Duckworth, into Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

My conversation with Angela Duckworth:

Friday, June 10, 2016

What Really Helps Children Succeed?

We know that children living in poverty generally tend to do worse academically than middle class kids. We also know that even some kids from wealthy backgrounds fail or breakdown. We’ve come to learn, in part through the writing of my guest Paul Tough, that it’s more than IQ or temperament. There is something else. Something that has to do with innate character, perseverance or just plain old fashioned grit.

But are these traits preordained? Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why.
Are children merely geographically and genetically predisposed to succeed or fail, or are these attributes of success something that can be multiplied, embedded and programmed into children in ways that increase the likelihood of success in school and in life? This is part of what Paul Tough now writes about in

My conversation with Paul Tough:

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Tribal Bonds of Soldiers

“We hear of of war and the rumor of war.” We thank our soldiers for their service and we think that we are welcoming them back into society. But what are actually welcoming back into? They return often with an experience we cannot really comprehend. An experience that often bonds them together into their own tribe. One that makes them different from us.

In fact as many of us work hard to breakdown the tribal bonds that divide us as a society, as globalization continues to homogenize us, both domestically and internationally, the experience of war often forms new, personal and deeper such bonds among the soldiers. In so doing, it makes it so much harder for them to be among us.

Sebastian Junger the bestselling author of The Perfect Storm, A Death in Belmont and Fire takes a look at this phenomenon in Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

My conversation with Sebastian Junger:

Monday, June 6, 2016

The end of humans

If anything represents the new new thing in our technological age, it's the arena of artificial intelligence. From the factory floor to the glittering glass office of law firms, smart machine are doing job, after job, after job.

The conversation about jobs going offshore is so yesterday. Today it’s robots and algorithms that are the threats.

Manufacturing is only the beginning. Service sector jobs, clerical jobs, accounting, paralegal, are all starting to be done by machines. Drones will soon do deliveries and driving, perhaps the largest bastion of blue collar jobs, will, within 10 years, be replaced by the autonomous vehicles.

So what’s left for humans? As machines start to program themselves, as we’ve seen with autonomous cars, as more and more higher level functions are done by machines, what’s a human to do?

That the subject of Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines, a new book by Julia Kirby.

My conversation with Julia Kirby:

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

How to deal with conflict all around us

Look around us. Conflict is everywhere. In our culture, certainly in our politics, in the broader world and in our interactions with institutions. Sometimes, to try and seek shelter from that sea of conflict, we look into our own personal relationships for solace. When we do, we place even more pressure on those relationships and often the seeds of more conflict are sown.

So with all of this conflict how do we negotiate our way out of it? How do we break the habits of pervasive conflict, prevent or dampen conflict with those we care about, and are those skills applicable to the large framework of conflict.

These are some of the issues that Daniel Shapiro, the founder of Harvard’s International Negotiation Program takes up in Negotiating the Nonnegotiable: How to Resolve Your Most Emotionally Charged Conflicts.

My conversation with Daniel Shapiro:

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Finance vs. American Business

Recently I had a conversation with a Professor at UC Berkeley about the subject of Power. In the course of the conversation he referred to what he saw as key centers of power. People who he saw as exercising real power. He referred to great generals, political leaders and Wall Street.

Wall Street was once a reflection of America's business. It was there to serve business. Today Wall Street and the business of finance is it’s own power center. It’s often greater than and in control of the whole of American and even global business.

Wall Street has become THE symbol of corporate greed. Railed against by politicians, analyzed 24/7 on several cable channels, the focus of it’s own newspapers and it’s stars, people like Stephen Schwarzman and Lloyd Blankfein, gracing the covers of magazines.

So how did this happen? How did Wall Street and the business of money become bigger, more powerful and more important than the business it was originally there to serve.

Rana Foroohar, the Assistant Managing Editor in charge of Economics and Business for Time magazine takes us through the history and future in Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business

My conversation with Rana Foroohar:

Thursday, May 26, 2016’s not what it used to be.

Whether we want to believe it or not, every relationship we have...with a friend, a spouse, a child or co-workers, has a power dynamic as a part of it. Power may shift and morph, but it’s a part of every relationship and often a force for good.

In understanding power at this most intimate level, we can better understand how it plays out, or should play out, on a more macro scale. It’s not something that comes from the barrel of a gun, or from bullying, but from empathy and social intelligence. As UC Berkeley professor Dacher Keltner points out, power is not something that’s won, but something that’s earned and given. The problem or paradox is that once we have that power, we act differently; often counter to the ways in which we earned it.

That what Dacher Keltner call the The Power Paradox

My conversation with Dacher Keltner:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation

We throw around the word globalization without really thinking about all of its impacts. The instant and free flow of goods around the corner and around the world comes with a cost. The iPhone delivered overnight from China, the speciality coffee from around the world, the stores filled with goods from hundreds of countries.

Rarely do we stop to think how all of this gets to us. Sure we see or even complain about all the trucks on the road. But that’s only the end of the journey, sometimes the last mile. Many of items of daily life travel hundreds of thousands of miles to reach us. Think about all those container ships at every major port in the world.

Beyond this, the story of traffic and of our cars, only compounds the problem. What successful community is not dealing with the scourge of traffic?

That’s the hidden story that Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ed Humes tells in his new book Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation.

My conversation with Ed Humes: