Monday, June 26, 2017

Why 1967 Still Matters

It is indeed a very tired cliche, with apologies to Kierkegaard, to say that “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” The problem is, it’s not always true. Fifty years ago, at the apogee of the summer love and the Vietnam war, those that were there all sensed that they were part of, or at least touching something, unique in the cultural history of America.

We know this today, not just because we remember the songs, or the clothes or where we were, but because the seismic shifts that took place then, are still producing aftershocks. It was a moment, as author Joel Selvin says “that
was a kind of big bang,” when art, politics, morality and culture would join together to create an expanding universe of creative imagination.

Danny Goldberg’s new book In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea almost makes us present at the creation.

My conversation with Danny Goldberg:



Friday, June 23, 2017

The 70% Of The Planet That We Overlook.

When most of us look at a globe or map of the world, our eyes are drawn to some combination of the 196 countries that make up that world. Even when we see earth as a giant blue marble from space, it’s those land masses, the light, or the topography, that attracts our attention.

Admiral James Stavridis sees it differently. He sees the 70% of the globe that most of us miss. That is the part covered by water. The part of our plant that has seen great maritime battles, the part of the plant that allows for 95% of the world's trade, the part of the plant upon which
history has been made and changed, and the part that just might very well be the flashpoints of the future.

I think it's fair to say that unless you’ve personally sailed the world's oceans, after you read James Stavridis’ book Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World's Oceans, you will never look at a world map the same way again.

My conversation with Adm. James Stavridis:



Thursday, June 22, 2017

Shouldn't We Have Objective Standards for Judging Movies?

It used to be said that everyone was in two business, their own and show business. As such, everyone wants to be a critic. It's not surprising then that some movie apps are now crowd sourcing criticism, right alongside Rotten Tomatoes.

So what are people actually seeing? What are they criticizing? Does the public really know good from bad, and is there truth to that old adage that if it’s popular, it can’t be any good?

After all, some movies that have failed at the box office have garnered critical praise, and some with great financial success have been panned.

All of this begs the question, are there objective standards? Are there a set of rules or facts that can define good and bad in filmed entertainment?

Ann Hornaday thinks so. She is the chief film critic for the Washington Post, and the author of Talking Pictures: How to Watch Movies.

My conversation with Ann Hornaday:



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How Did Republicans Get So Mean?

Think about how crazy our politics has become. Representatives from poor and lower middle class districts want to eliminate labor unions, lower the minimum wage, take away health care, privatize social security and eliminate the social safety net. Even public education is under siege.

The president admits that the GOP health care bill is mean and Karen Handel, the newest member of congress from Georgia’s 6th district says that “people have no right to a livable wage.”

This was not always the Republican party. So how did this transformation happen? Some argue that it’s all about the social issues issues. That it's things like abortion, race, LGBTQ rights and religion that has gotten people to vote counter to their economic self interests. That’s the What’s the Matter with Kansas construct. But it’s not entirely true.

There has been a very deliberate plan to undermine liberal democracy, the economy, the constitution and the very role of government. This is about more than just the one-percent wanting to pay less taxes. There is a more fundamental, much more sinister and deliberate aspect to all of this.  That is the story that Nancy MacLean tells in Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America.

My conversation on WhoWhatWhy.org with Nancy MacLean:





Monday, June 19, 2017

Can American Health Care Be Saved:

One thing the health care debate has taught us is that American medicine today is like snowflakes. No two are the same.

From the no wait privileges of concierge medicine, to the ERs and clinics in our poorest urban neighborhood, the medical experience is one of great diversity. Outcomes and wellness care are miles apart. This is unlike any other Western nation.

So what’s it like for a young compassionate doctor venturing into this world, and seeing the suffering, limitations and reality of medicine today?

That’s the story that Dr. Rachael Pearson tells in No Apparent Distress: A Doctor's Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine.

My conversation with Rachel Pearson:



Saturday, June 17, 2017

Video Games Matter

It always interesting how so many aspects of our society reflect the entertainment of the times. Just as the success of Roosevelt reflected the power of radio and the election of Kennedy, the cultural and political power of television, it may be that our current political dislocation reflects the onetime power of reality television.

Someday our broader culture, and maybe even our politics and policy will reflect the power, pervasiveness and art of video games. These games have gone mainstream, and today statistics show that the majority of American households play them. Andrew Ervin gives us a players eye view in Bit by Bit: How Video Games Transformed Our World.

My conversation with Andrew Ervin:



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Is It Time For an Autopsy on American Democracy?

Last week in a debate between the two candidates running in the special election in Georgia’s 6th district, Karen Handel, the Republican candidate, said quite proudly, “ I do not support a livable wage.” Also last week, the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVoss, said that the department of education has no obligation to protect LGBTQ rights in the classroom

In these comments lies a fundamental divide in American politics. A divide about the role of government, the supremacy of the individual, and role of corporations in the body politics.

It’s important to remember that there is nothing about American democracy that makes it sacrosanct or immortal. That like other democracies before us, our system, our American experiment, can simply vanish or morph into something entirely different.

It seems the fundamental question is, have we changed as a nation? Is the reality of what the founders gave us incompatible with modernity, and/or is there simply something in the DNA of America that makes us not exceptional, as some would have us believe, but the exception in the form of the non democratic democracy that we have today?

Professor Corey Dolgon wonders if it's already too late in Kill It to Save It: An Autopsy of Capitalism's Triumph over Democracy.

My conversation with Corey Dolgon:



Monday, June 12, 2017

UBER'S Wild Ride

There is an ongoing debate in the world of sports, as to whether marketing and success is about the team, or about the celebrity power of individual star athletes. Years ago the NFL made the decision it was about the team. The NBA very consciously made the opposite decision. That individual stars were the key to success.

Without collusion or even a formal meeting, it certainly appears that Silicon Valley, long ago, made the decision that companies often rise or fall on individual celebrities, and their power to sell, market and capture the public imagination.

Steve Jobs of course remains the penultimate example. So to is Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and the founder of Uber, Travis Kalanick. The problem is that in the case of Kalanick, that image is tarnished. This is the world we are going to look at with the executive editor of Fortune, Adam Lashinsky.  He's just written Wild Ride: Inside Uber's Quest for World Domination.

My conversation with Adam Lashinsky:




Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Our Complicated Relationship With Money

In the movie, Wall Street, Oliver Stone through his character Darien Taylor, played Daryl Hannah, reminds us that “when you've had money and lost it, it can be much worse than never having had it at all!” This fundamental principle is true, not just on a grand, Bernie Madoff style scale, but it plays itself out in the everyday lives of people whose financial fortunes are constantly subject to economic flux.

There are literally hundred of aphorisms about money and there is a simple reason why. Money, having it or not, and equally important, our relationship to it, is the principal driver of our personal relationships, our self esteem, and frankly how we see the world.

Lee Siegel, dives deep into these ideas as he draws from his own experiences in The Draw: A Memoir.

My conversation with Lee Siegel:




Thursday, June 1, 2017

Is Fascism Already Here?

We are living through complicated political times. It’s a time when ideas like “post truth,” and “alternative facts” are seriously debated on the nightly news. A time when a private bodyguard of the President is sent to fire a member of the government who was confirmed by the US Senate.

A time when the press, the courts and other institutions which support our separation of powers are under siege. But haven't we been here before?

From the earliest alien and sedition acts, through to the modern era and interment, Mccarthyism, and Nixon, we as individuals and our institutions have proven to be resilient.

Sinclair Lewis is reported to have said that “when fascism comes to America it will come wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.”

On Wall Street, four of the scariest words you can hear, are “this time it’s different.” We’re going to talk about how scary those four words can be, not on Wall Street, but in in Washington, with Yale history professor Timothy Snyder. He’s the author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Timothy Snyder:





Wednesday, May 31, 2017

We Are What We Read


Lately, in the world of journalism, we are seeing that we truly are the news that we consume. It probably defines our politics, our social strata and our economic place in the world.

But the same is true, in a much more profound way, with respect to the books we read. Many of us love books for just being books. But they also have the power to change us. On one level what we read reflects who we are. As we read more, it also constantly redefines or refines us, and maybe even shapes the future choice of books we seek out.

So imagine if you kept a record of everything you’ve read. If you could chart your life by seeing the books you’ve enjoyed.

This is what the editor of The New York Times Book Review, Pamela Paul has done with My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues.

My conversation with Pamela Paul:




Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Frank Deford was an American treasrue R.I.P.

As a writer, journalist and commentator Frank Deford was a national treasure. He helped us understand so much of what really makes America great.

I had a chance to speak with Deford back in 2002, upon the publication of his novel An American Summer. We talked America in the 50’s, polio, American optimism and the state of baseball at that time. In listening back on the conversation, it seems only baseball has improved.

Here is my conversation with Frank Deford from August of 2002.




Monday, May 29, 2017

"Happy Birthday, Mr. President"

Today we mark the 100th birthday of John F. Kennedy. When we do that, our first instinct is to look for the single achievement that defines the man

In the case of Kennedy, there are many to choose from. But arguably one of the most profound and lasting impacts of JFK is the way in which he changed the culture, structure, technology, and perception of our politics.

In our modern era, there are very few times in which both the candidate, the times and the campaign would come together in ways that resulted in a tectonic shift in the way we do politics.

The 2008 Obama campaign might be such a time. Certainly the 1964 GOP primary campaign, that give us Barry Goldwater, is one.  But first among the modern list is the 1960 campaign
of JFK.

Started as modern campaigns now do, almost five years before the election, is was the prime example and perhaps the pinnacle of what the “best and the brightest” could accomplish. In a way, it may have been that campaign that made us think that anything was possible, in Camelot.

Now Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and Washington columnist for The Boston Globe, Thomas Oliphant takes us back there in The Road to Camelot: Inside JFK's Five-Year Campaign.

My conversation with Thomas Oliphant:



Friday, May 26, 2017

Janesville: A Very Human Story

We are nine years out from the great recession and still the consequences are impacting cities and towns across America. In spite of all the talk about manufacturing jobs coming back, the industrial/rust belt of America is still hollowed out.

The recession may have begun the process, but the forces shaping these changes are powerful, global, technological and are now deeply integrated into the future economy of the country.

Most of these manufacturing jobs are permanently gone. So what happens on the human side of this equation? What happens to the millions, who are displaced in heartland America?

We see that one of the things that happens is susceptibility to political charlatans. But when that salve wears off, what next? What's happening today, almost twenty years into the 21st century, as places like Janesville Wisconsin try to come the grips with this new reality.

Amy Goldstein a Pulitzer Prize winner and longtime reporter for the The Washington Post gets us inside this reality in Janesville: An American Story.

My conversation with Amy Goldstein:




Thursday, May 25, 2017

Another False Aspect of the Roger Ailes Mythology

Last week, upon the death of Fox News founder Roger Ailes, tens of thousands of words were written about the impact that Ailes and Fox had on our politics. Much of it talked about giving voice to a particular kind of conservatism. To understanding the resentment and anger in the country, to mining the populism that has now emerged full blown. Journalists, pundits, professors and consultants all chimed in.

The problem is that very little of it is true. Sure Ailes understood television and politics. but at core what he did was to take the world of talk radio, combined it with a bit of blondification and transferred it to television.

To put it bluntly he simply exploited the rise and power of conservative talk radio. The Economist said many months ago that, “to understand the Republican politics, get in a car, turn on the radio and drive.”

Talk radio, is far more than the viewers that watch even the top rated Fox News shows each night. It's the lens through which millions and millions of it’s hard core listeners view the world.

No one understands this better than the go-to-guy for talk radio, the founder, editor and publisher of Talkers and Talkers.com, Michael Harrison:

My conversation with Michael Harrison:




Why Is American Health Care So Sick?

We’ve all heard the old adage that what can be done, can be undone. Well maybe we need to try that with our healthcare system.

In just fifty years we’ve gone from an affordable and human based system, to one that people hate at every level. They may like their individual doctors, but they generally hate the system.

Of course there has been change and disruptions everywhere in our society. But most of it has been to make our lives easier, better, more efficient and in many cases, to lower costs.

In healthcare, it’s become less efficient, costlier, less human centric, and the net result has not been to dramatically increase care or life expectancy. Instead it's enriched those at the top of the system while at the same time, being out of step with every system, in every other western nation. This is American exceptionalism of the very worst kind.

So how did we get here and is that knowledge useful in trying to fix it. Those are the issues that Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal takes up in An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back.

My conversation with Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal:



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Previous Golden Age of Journalsm

It’s hard to believe today, but there was time when magazines were an important source of news and images and information. LIFE and Time sat at the top of that pantheon of those once great publications.

Arguably, everything that has come after, from television to Instagram, is but a modern reflection of the predicate that Time and LIFE laid down.

Gerald Moore was a part of LIFE at a time when it helped shape the American experience. It was not only a reflection of it, but the decisions of reporters, photographers and editors at LIFE could shape the nation in new and dramatic ways.

Now Gerald Moore shares his experiences in his book, just out in paperback, LIFE Story: The Education of an American Journalist.


My conversation with Gerald Moore:



Saturday, May 20, 2017

"There Are No Nations, Only Corporations"

Back in 2010, with the Citizens United decision, we thought we were witnessing a new dominance of corporations and corporate power. But in fact even before Citizens United, there were powerful corporate currents in the body politics.

Forty years ago you might remember Ned Beatty’s brilliant speech to Peter Finch/Howard Beale, about corporate power, in Paddy Chayefsky's brilliant NETWORK.

Today, add to this, the way that this unlimited corporate money is being used in statehouses, globalization, technology, AI, and the power of lobbying, and it’s a pretty powerful stew.

Gordon Lafer takes us inside this world in The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Gordon Lafer:




Wednesday, May 17, 2017

How N.Y.'s Fiscal Crises of the '70s Has Shaped So Much Of Our Politics Today

Many of you may remember that back in the mid 70’s, the City of New York had fallen into a kind dystopian horror...crime and graffiti were rampant, social services and infrastructure were decayed and expectations of public services had come to be taken for granted.  It was more reminiscent of Batman’s Gotham than the shining city it is today.

Even as Gerald Ford told New York to “drop dead,” in October of 1975, the seeds were being planted for New York's gentrification. As Disney rose like the phoenix from Times Square, it was the early symbol that would ultimately and symbolically show the triumph of private enterprise shaping public good and public spaces.

In so doing, it set the stage for what would become the next forty years of American urban policy. The economic policies of the Reagan administration would come just a few years after New York's nadir, and would personify this new approach.  One that is still driving public policy today, and which in many ways has shaped some of the fundamental divides of class, wealth and power in this country.

Going back to ground zero in this battle is Kim Phillips Fein in her new book Fear City: New York's Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics.

My conversation with Kim Phillips-Fein:





Monday, May 15, 2017

Criminal Justice Reform and Crime in Black Communities

In spite of everything that Jeff Sessions is doing to stand in the way, reform of our criminal justice system is perhaps one of the most important issues of our time. It’s even one that sometimes gets bipartisan support. But reform is of very little value without a real understanding of how we got here and how the current system has ruined so many lives.

How did our policies, with respect to policing in black neighborhoods, evolve since the high crimes periods of the mid 70’s and 80’s? What role did public policy play, and what role did community demands and expectations play? How has the war on drugs played a part in this, and what is the real nexus with the civil rights movement of the 60’s?

Unless we understand this history we are not only condemned to repeat it, but we can never begin to address it.

Yale Law Professor James Forman, Jr. gives us one of the sharpest, most cleared and honest analysis of these issues in his new book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

My conversation with James Forman, Jr.



Friday, May 12, 2017

The Gatekeepers: Why the White House Chief of Staff Matters

I think that we can stipulate that experience and competence matters in most things. And while you may not like all of their decisions or products, we wouldn’t want a neophyte to run Goldman Sachs, or General Motors, or Boeing or Apple,

Yet in many cases that's exactly what we’ve done with the entirety of the executive branch of the US government. And no, I don't mean the men who have been elected President. But rather the White House Chiefs of Staff.  Traditionally their
job has been to focus the President, to execute policy, to engage in Washington diplomacy and to deal with both the minutia of who uses the White House tennis courts, and at the same time have a 30,000 foot view of how America is governed.

In the modern era there have been 17 White House Chiefs of Staff, and all of them participated in a new book The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, by esteemed journalist and documentary filmmaker Chris Whipple.

My conversation with Chris Whipple:




Friday, May 5, 2017

The Rise of A Woman In Hollywood

There was a time, not that long ago, in a galaxy not that far away, when Hollywood made movies that were both entertaining and substantive. You know, the kind we see now on Netflix, or Amazon, or HBO or Showtime.

They were movies like Fatal Attraction, Forrest Gump and Braveheart,

It was a time even when a woman would rise to the top of the Hollywood hierarchy even at 20th Century Fox…. in the pre Murdoch era.

So much of this history is embodied in the story that Stephen Galloway tells in his new biography of Hollywood executive and producer Sherry Lansing.

Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker is first a story about Hollywood. But it’s also a human story, about the confluence of who we really are, and what we choose to do with our lives.



Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Political Malfeasance Is Not Yet A Crime

We are reminded every day of that old political adage that elections have consequences. What we forget sometimes is the predicate of that statement. That campaigns have consequences.

In part it’s why we are alway so fascinated by campaigns, and why some of our seminal political texts have been written about campaigns and campaigning. These books are the ultimate political version of “How Things Work.”

In this unrivaled political campaign season, first out of the gate is Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign, by reporters Jonathan Allen and Amy Parnes.

My conversation with Jonathan Allen & Amy Parnes:



Monday, May 1, 2017

What Divides Americans from the World and From Each Other

There is an accepted rule of journalism that says that when trying to understand a story, “go there.” In fact with respect to some things, the opposite may be true. To understand America in the 21st Century, it might be best to look at it from afar. To have a cultural understanding that is anything but American.

To fully see America in the context of it’s place in the world, changes our perspective in ways that make America not exceptional but an exception to what’s become the accepted norms of Western Civilizations.

How did that happen? How did a nation that sees itself as exceptional became so out of step with the rest of the West. . According to Stanford Law Professor Mugambi Jouet, it is that very idea of exceptionalism that makes us the exception.

All of this is part of the very important Exceptional America: What Divides Americans from the World and from Each Other.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Mugambi Jouet: