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 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:



Friday, April 28, 2017

Behaving Badly: The New Morality in Politics, Sex, and Business

If you are listening to this, I suspect you’ve said to yourself, or aloud, many times over the past couple of years, how did we get here?

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in talking about the life of our cities, talked about how we were “defining deviancy downward.” Today we have defined downward almost every aspect of society and of the social order.

Our discourse is less civil, our moral underpinning are now transactional, and where once we relied on or at least trusted thinkers, leaders and even important institutions, today we’ve eschewed all of it in favor of a kind of siloed, self reinforcing smugness, in which we alone are the center of our own moral and intellectual universe. This cannot end well.

Eden Collinsworth takes a look at where we've been headed in Behaving Badly: The New Morality in Politics, Sex, and Business

My conversation with Eden Collinsworth:



Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Cellular Agriculture, Synthetic Biology, Genetic Editing, Deathless Meat and More. All Part of a Brave New World of Genetic Technology

It has been said that the only way to predict the future, is to invent it. And that is exactly what's happening in labs and companies around the world.

Artificial Intelligence may be getting all the attention right now, but far more profound, is the work being done in genetic engineering, cellular agriculture, synthetic biology and the editing of individual genes

But who’s looking beyond our borders to see some of the cutting edge, and yes sometimes controversial work that is being done.

One person who’s always looking is author and futurist Daniel Suarez. Daniel is the author of several NY Times best sellers that peer into the future. His latest is Change Agent.

My conversation with Daniel Suarez:



Monday, April 24, 2017

The Afgan war is far from over

It's been sixteen years since the beginning of the post 9/11 US war in Afghanistan. A nation that has often been referred to as the "graveyard of empires" has been no kinder to the might and prowess of the United States. Again an American Defense Secretary is visiting the country amid chaos and war.

While our initial efforts there were seen as “the good war,” we’ve paid the price of knowing so little about the culture, the history and politics of the area.  What we didn’t know would fill a book. Former Washington Post Kabul bureau chief, Joshua Partlow, has written that book Kingdom of Their Own: The Family Karzai and the Afghan Disaster

My conversation with Joshua Partlow:




Friday, April 21, 2017

Marcus du Sautoy and an Appreciation of Science

For all the talk today about science and technology, it seems that sometimes the frontiers of science are simply a new app, a new way to shop or play games. All of which somehow does a disservice to the real value of science to change the world.  It can make us forget the wonder of discovery, and how science has allowed us to know what we know, about the world around around us.

This appreciation for science is at the heart of today marches around the country, and in the work of Oxford Professor Marcus du Sautoy. His latest is The Great Unknown: Seven Journeys to the Frontiers of Science

My conversation with Marcus du Sautoy:




Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Story of a Deranged Narcissist

Imagine a paranoid narcissist who can read a crowd. One who would invent crises to create apprehension among his followers and immediately strike back at those who opposed him. One who made a pledge to his loyalists that ”they are going to make history.”

If all of that sounds frightening and very familiar, it should. It is the predicate for any deranged individual who thinks that he alone has the answers.

That was the underlying psychosis that drove Jim Jones, of Peoples Temple fame,  and that ultimately lead to his death and the deaths of nine-hundred men, women and children in Guyana, in November of 1978

A story of derangement, of politics and of a unique place and time, it is now brought back to life by award-winning investigative journalist and bestselling author Jeff Guinn in The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple.

My conversation with Jeff Guinn:




Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Cold War, Psychic Phenomena, Psychokinesis and ESP


It’s a little chilling that there is so much deja vu talk these days about the Cold War and even about Nazis and the Third Reich.

You may recall that the race for space grew out of this period. The German rocket scientists, people like Werner Von Braun, who were responsible for the German V2 rockets, were after the war divided up between the Russians and Americans.

But there was another war that grew out of this period. The war for inner space. It was for drugs and for psychic phenomena that could give one side or the other a competitive advantage in the battlefield of the mind. Whether it was LSD, or the quest for what was called “remote viewing,” it was a serious part of the military's Cold War efforts.  Best selling author Annie Jacobsen takes us back in time in Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government's Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis

My conversation with Annie Jacobson:



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

How History Has Shaped China's Push for Global Power

Just prior to Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, the then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, was asked how he thought the visit might turn out. He answered “for us, it is all right if the talks succeed, and it is all right if they fail.” A little inscrutable for sure. But also a reflection of a China that was very cautious about it’s place in the world. A nation focused on its own internal issues and that on the global stage, has seen it all.

It’s an almost unspoken sense of history. Of a nation that has seen its fortunes rise and fall. A sense of a scope of time, often unimagined in the West.

But today, that seems to be changing. China, now seems to want its rightful and earned place in the world.  Howard French helps us to understand this in Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Push for Global Power.

My conversation with Howard French:



Monday, April 17, 2017

Why the French Think Differently and Why It Matters?

Right now all eyes are on France. Can they rise above the electoral mistakes we’ve already made?

The French often get a bad rap in American popular and political culture. Even though we seldom realize it, appreciate it, or even acknowledge it, France is a nation and a culture that has given us the foundation of some of our central ideals of citizenship,  progress, social justice and of arts and culture.

It has respected rational thought and has even given us what’s now our obsession of left and right in politics.

Award-winning author and academic Sudhir Hazareesingh talks to me about How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People, and the ideas behind France's political and cultural history.  He tries to answer why this nation, which was once so globally influential, has lost that influence?

My conversation with Sudhir Hazareesingh:




Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Boston Marathon Bombing Cover Up: My WhoWhatWhy Conversation with Michele McPhee

Four years ago, on April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs detonated 12 seconds and 210 yards apart at 2:49 p.m., near the finish line of the annual Boston Marathon.  It killed three people and injured several hundred others, including 16 who lost limbs.

Beyond these facts, the story of the Tsarnaev brothers, and the complex web of events that lead to that day are very much an open question. The official narrative, long touted by authorities, of the the lone wolf Muslim extremists, has long since been discredited.

The story that is emerging of what really might have happened in Boston has some eerie parallels todays headlines. They involve Russia, the FBI, FBI informants, and counter terrorism agents not informing the FBI, etc..

A new book, Maximum Harm: The Tsarnaev Brothers, the FBI, and the Road to the Marathon Bombing, by long time Boston based investigative journalist Michele McPhee, brings new light to the story and reinforces what many have been trying to point out for years.


Click here to listen to my conversation with Michele McPhee on Radio WhoWhatWhy.org 



Friday, April 14, 2017

Imagine Looking Back fondly on Nixon?

44 men have served as President of the United States. Each came to office with unique ambitions, desires, and skills, or lack thereof. Few sought the office as passionately and as desperately and came so far to achieve it as Richard Nixon.

The real tragedy is that in that passion, that desire, that ambition ...coupled with his upbringing and his setbacks along the way, he sowed the seeds of his own destruction.

Perhaps if Nixon had been elected in 1960, both Vietnam and Richard Nixon might have evolved differently, and the world today just might be a different place. Such is the power of character, of the people we place in that office. As the late journalist Richard Ben Cramer explains, what it takes it win has not always given us Presidents we may want to govern us.

This is the story of Richard Nixon. So much has been written about Nixon. Much of it has come in waves. There was the period after his resignation, of the bad Nixon. Then after his death, the better Nixon. Now writers, journalists and historians are trying to tie all the threads together.

Perhaps Bill Clinton put it best in his eulogy for Nixon, when he said that “the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career must come to a close.”

John Farrell gives us that overview in Richard Nixon: The Life

My conversation with John Farrell:




Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Jonathan Lethem reminds us why books, literature and art still matter

I know it’s hard to believe in these times, but amidst the low IQ circus parading before us most days, books are still alive and well. Business considerations and disruption aside, great writers are writing, classic writers are being read and literature still seems to be alive.

Doing his part to keep all that in place is bestselling author Jonathan Lethem. His latest is More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers.

My conversation with Jonathan Lethem:



Friday, April 7, 2017

Are You Smarter Than An Algorithm?

Lately there has been lots of talk about artificial intelligence, about the implanting of microprocessors in humans and the essential human/machine interface. While not the stuff of science fiction, we are not quite there yet.

However where we are, is at point that we humans can begin learning from how machines think. More specifically, the programs or algorithms we use.

In the process, we ourselves can make better, faster and more efficient choices. Or so we hope. That’s the idea of Ali Almossawi, a data visualizer at Apple and the author of Bad Choices: How Algorithms Can Help You Think Smarter and Live Happier.

My conversation with Ali Almossawi:



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

There's No Place Like No Place

As nationalism sweeps much of the West, it brings into bold relief the question of what really constitutes a country. Some argue that it’s about borders, language and culture. Others argue that they have to be a defined or sanctioned by the United Nations or some other international authority.

The fact is that there are sovereign nations that don’t meet any of these criteria. Yet they still are countries, at least in the eyes of those that live there.

These unique places on the map are the focus of a new look by my guest Nick Middleton in An Atlas of Countries That Don't Exist: A Compendium of Fifty Unrecognized and Largely Unnoticed States

My conversation with Nick Middleton:




Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Play Ball....Laboratory Style

We are in the glorious first days of baseball season. And of course we hear the usual debates about tradition vs. the multiple efforts to bring young people into the game…. about the way it used to be, vs. the way it really is for 21st century baseball.

While few games cling to tradition more than baseball, the game IS changing. One of the ways is with respect to the cybermetrics we’ve all heard and read about. Some have embraced and others have pushed back on.

But imagine a living baseball laboratory in which numbers were the ONLY rule. Imagine if a whole team could be constructed not on a fantasy baseball program, but in real life and in real time. That what my guest Sam Miller got to do with a minor league time, the Sonoma Stompers.

He tells his story in The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team



Monday, April 3, 2017

Sometimes Tyrants can be Elected

As we are quickly finding out here in America, having leader who are democratically elected is not a bulwark against authoritarianism. The need for a sense of security, populist anger about dramatic change, and push back against the established order by those left behind, all contribute to an often popular desire for strong authoritarian leaders.

If what we are seeing here in America isn’t example enough, all we need do is look to Turkey and to India to see the impact.

The encouraging thing is that where this move to authoritarianism has been the case, citizens, journalists and political leader have pushed back. Often at great personal cost and sacrifice. This is the world that distinguished journalist Basharat Peer shows us in A Question of Order: India, Turkey, and the Return of Strongmen

My conversation on WhoWhatWhy.org with Basharat Peer:





Friday, March 31, 2017

The Battle over Gentrification and Future of Our Cities

Decades ago the young and the middle class abandoned cities for the soul deadening suburbs. The result was a long term weakening of the fabric of cities and of urban life.

Suddenly, as trends and attitudes changed, as the young, the hip, the affluent and empty nester boomers returned to cities, gentrification has come to these once troubled metropolitan centers. Cities like Oakland, San Francisco, New Orleans and even Detroit have come alive.

Today, the push back to gentrification from long time city residents, from those impacted by increasing rents and increasing prices, has become a crusade. Developers and city government, essentially responding to market demands, have become the villains.

But what impact is gentrification actually having on cities and who should decide what a city is and what’s best for it? That what Peter Moskowitz looks at in How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood.

My conversation with Peter Moskowitz:



Thursday, March 30, 2017

Will Your Child Be Selected?

Millions of you are checking the mail every day waiting for that envelope that you think will determine the fate of your child. In almost all cases the kids will be fine no matter which excellent college they go to.  In India however, the stakes are higher. Not for college, but for cricket.

Millions of words have been written about helicopter parenting, about tiger moms, and dads pushing their sons in sports. This is not a uniquely American phenomenon. Throughout the world, as parents aspire for their children, these behaviors, good and bad, sensible and extreme, are everywhere.

Today we go to India, to Mumbai, to see a father as determined for his son's success in cricket as we would see an inner city father in Chicago, drilling his son on the basketball court, as maybe the only way out.

Perhaps, by seeing this all filtered through another culture, we can see it’s value and it’s absurdity. Booker Prize winning author Aravind Adiga does this in Selection Day.

My conversation with Aravind Adiga:



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What We Can Learn From the Fall of an American Energy Oligarch

The price of oil, energy sources, and energy policy, always seem to be a part of our conversations.

In part because the energy world is changing. The US is becoming less dependent on international oil, even as Europe becomes more dependent on Russian oil. Alternative energy holds great promise, but that transition is difficult, to say the least. Even Saudi Arabia is trying to get off oil as the bedrock of its economy

Amidst all of this, it's worth looking back at what history tells us about changing energy sources. How the world shifted from coal to oil, how new monopolies emerged and great wealth was created and sometimes lost.

This is part of the story that my guest Peter Doran tell in Breaking Rockefeller: The Incredible Story of the Ambitious Rivals Who Toppled an Oil Empire.

My conversation with Peter Doran:



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Lab Girl's Lesson for Us All

Back in the 60’s there was that expression that “the personal is political.” Today, it’s also possible to say that the personal is professional.

Ideas like project based learning in our schools, and the celebration and encouragement of young people doing the work they love, combine these ideas as never before. And when this all happens in the service of science and discovery, it is even more magical.

All of this takes us into the world of author, geobiologist and renaissance woman Hope Jahren. She’s the recipient of three Fulbright Awards and has been named one of the “Brilliant 10” young scientist in the US and Lab Girl is her memoir of science and personal discovery.

My conversation with Hope Jahren: