Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Dissecting the Silicon Valley Bank Debacle: A conversation with Dean Baker and Brad DeLong

It has been a momentous week for banks and markets. What some have dubbed an “extinction-level event” was, at its core, the failure of a couple of banks.

To help us put all of this into proper perspective, we are joined on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast by two distinguished economists, J. Bradford DeLong and Dean Baker.

DeLong served as deputy undersecretary of the treasury in the Clinton administration and is currently a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also the author of the substack Grasping Reality and the recently published book Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century.

Baker co-founded the Center for Economic and Policy Research. His areas of research include housing and macroeconomics, intellectual property, Social Security, Medicare, and European labor markets. He has been credited as one of the first economists to have identified the 2007–08 United States housing bubble, and, in 2006, Baker predicted that “plunging housing investment will likely push the economy into recession.”

Together, they discuss the venture-capitalist libertarian overreaction to the event, as well as the way it has been massively misrepresented by all of the press, including the mainstream press.

They detail the differences between this event and the 2008–09 banking crisis, the power of contagion and rumor in the digital and social media age, and what actually transpired during the 36 hours the bank was shut down by the FDIC.

We discuss what this means for both small and regional banks, and for the “too big to fail” banks, which are now suddenly in favor.

While the whole story could be forgotten in a matter of weeks, the implications and downstream effects will be with us for quite some time. 

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Dean Baker and Brad DeLong:

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Spies in Hollywood: A conversation with Jonathan Gill

The hacking of Sony Pictures back in 2014, by North Korea, made us all wonder about spies in Hollywood. Today, our paranoia tells us that the Chinese have spies everywhere. If they are checking on TikTok, they must be in Hollywood?

Well, during the Cold War, it turns out the studios were infiltrated with spies. One of those was a producer/director turned double agent named Boris Morros, and Jonathan Gill tells his story in Hollywood Double Agent: The True Tale of Boris Morros, Film Producer Turned Cold War Spy.

My conversation with Jonathan Gill:

Friday, February 24, 2023

A Real Life "Succession" Drama: The Story of Sumner and Shari Redstone

The constantly changing landscape of business, finance, entertainment, and medicine is influenced by technological advancements and cultural shifts, but those in power often resist change, especially if family is involved. The #MeToo movement and the ongoing streaming wars have transformed the entertainment industry. 

The story of Sumner Redstone, a former movie theater magnate and owner of major media companies, his family, mistresses, and poor corporate governance, encapsulates these forces and is chronicled in James B. Stewart and Rachel Abrams' book "Unscripted: The Battle for a Media Empire and the Redstone Family Legacy."

My conversation with James B. Stewart & Rachel Abrams:

Monday, February 13, 2023

Joe Biden Fought To Get To The White House. Is He the President We Need Now?: My conversation with Chris Whipple

Joe Biden is the oldest President to take office in the past 234 years. He has a long public life, and has grown into the person and politician he is today. Biden was seen as the perfect antidote to Trump, but it is still uncertain if his preference for “normalcy” will enable him to be the 21st century President we need. Chris Whipple's new book, "The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden's White House," explores this and more.

My conversation with Chris Whipple:

Thursday, February 9, 2023

We Have No Democracy Without Good Citizens: My conversation with Richard Haass

A recent Gallup survey of American concerns showed that foreign policy is nearly at the bottom of the list, with inflation and prices near the top. Other high-ranking topics include the economy in general, immigration, crime and violence, race, the environment, and, topping the list, the proper role of government.

The fact is that none of these problems can be solved without a thriving, healthy democracy to address their root causes and work together to find bipartisan solutions.

That's why it becomes clear that our collective angst about all of these issues is really about whether we have a strong enough democracy, both locally and nationally, to solve anything.

Maybe that's why one of our most distinguished foreign policy experts has turned his attention inward, from understanding the world to trying to better understand the future of our place in it.

Richard Haass takes all this on in his new book, The Bill of Obligations: The ten habits of good citizens.

My conversation with Richard Haass:

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

We Each Have the Personal Answer to Our Larger Divisions: A Conversation with Pico Iyer

Division and conflict have been the default setting for civilization. It’s what wars, shifting alliances and even relational conflict is all about. So why, even after thousands of years of evolution, of death and recrimination and unhappiness, is this still true?

Perhaps the answer lies in our human desire to try and understand to make sense of the world. In science or mathematics, there is often one right answer.

In man's understanding of the world and of each other, that does not happen. So we strive, we seek and we hope to find peace. To come to terms with some answer that explains it all. But life, physical and spiritual and even social and political is not like physics. There is no one answer

This is where I begin my conversation with Pico Iyer.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Citizenship Is Just A Commodity: A Conversation with Atossa Abrahamian

Citizenship used to be a cherished status, taken seriously by those who held it. But in today’s globalized world, it has become a commodity that can be bought and sold.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, journalist Atossa Abrahamian, senior editor of The Nation and author of the 2015 book The Cosmopolites, delves into the world of “global citizens.”

She explains how multiple passports are becoming more popular as a status symbol, and a plan B for those who want to live in several countries. Some nations are turning citizenship into a business, selling economic citizenship (tax havens) as a product, and offering citizenship to the wealthy, while making it more difficult for the poor to obtain it.

Abrahamian warns that this commodification of citizenship may weaken its value and lead to criminal dangers.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Atossa Abrahamian

Friday, January 13, 2023

In Spite of Many Problem, Flying is Safer Than Ever...Why?: A conversation with John Nance

In spite of deregulation, airline and air traffic control systems in need of updates, pilot shortages, airport overcrowding and even a pandemic, flying has never been safer.

What’s the secret sauce that makes this the case? Why, when safety in other industries from hospitals to construction to automobiles, seems so difficult to achieve, how has the airline industry been so successful and what can we all learn from their efforts?

I explore this with John Nance. John has written about all of these issues in his non fiction work and incorporated much of it in his prolific fiction. He is also an aviation analyst for ABC News and a familiar face on Good Morning America.

My conversation with John Nance:

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Another New Year, and More Promises to Sweat: A conversation with Bill Hayes

Even if you didn’t know the full story, just judging by the number of gyms on every corner, and the number of retailers selling high priced exercise equipment and workout clothing, you’d see what an obsession exercise has become. But why? A form of activity that uses huge quantities of our time, it is neither playful, sports-like, or seemingly rewarding. So why is it so popular, so all consuming, Where is the fun in sweat?

This is the subject of the new work "Sweat," by Bill Hayes.

My conversation with Bill Hayes:

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Art vs. Cable News: My Conversation with Amy Herman

In 2023, let us resolve to look at more art than cable news. Perhaps it is art, more than news, that will help us see around corners, solve problems and enhance our ability to see the world in a better way.

This approach has been the work of Amy Herman. Amy is the author of Fixed: How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving and the founder of the Art of Perception, a program that uses works of art to help people observe more closely, think more creatively and communicate more effectively.

My conversation with Amy Herman:

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

How Much HBO Did You Watch This Holiday Break? A conversation with Felix Gillette

From the days of beat up motels offering HBO as a special amenity to the metaphorical "creative destruction" of today, HBO has been a revolutionary force in entertainment and media. From its inception 50 years ago, HBO has been a pioneer in the blending of show and business. Disrupting television and paving the way for streaming, nonlinear programming, and more.  HBO is the ultimate example of the power of entertainment and story telling. 

In his new book It's Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO, Felix Gillette takes us through the remarkable history.  

My conversation with Felix Gillette:

Thursday, December 22, 2022

How Governance Was Saved During the Trump Years: A Conversation with David Rothkopf

While January 6th and the attempted coup may have been the final trigger at the end of the Trump presidency that could have brought down democracy, it was the four years prior that may have been the end of governance in America. The unsung heroes deep inside government, the departments, the cabinet secretaries, and the national security apparatus, all of whom took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, may have been the ones who saved the Republic from its dismantling. All of this is laid out by David Rothkopf in his new book American Resistance.

My conversation with David Rothkopf:

Monday, December 19, 2022

The New Age of DNA Investigation: A Conversation with Edward Humes

Think of all the true crime stories you’ve watched or read. The image of a dogged or even sometimes fumbling detective usually lies at the center. But today, like almost everything else, technology has changed that.

Since the mid-80s, DNA technology has begun to transform the search for both guilt and innocence. Suddenly cold cases, like the Golden State Killer, are solvable, dozens and dozens of years later.

DNA databases are growing, as are privacy fears about their misuse. Dedicated cold case detectives, both professional and amateur, are evolving into a new profession.

The idea of no statutes of limitations on murder has always been a fundamental tenant of our criminal justice system. But now, with DNA’s ability to solve so many other types of crimes, will the system change?…Will the long arm of justice be forever.

That is what Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes examines in his new book THE FOREVER WITNESS.

My conversation with Ed Humes:

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Presidential Words Matter: My Conversation with Cody Keenan

Language has always been an important tool in American politics. It allows politicians to communicate their ideas and visions to their constituents and persuade them to support their policies. The power of words is so great that politicians often have teams of speechwriters to help craft their messages. These writers often work closely with the politicians to understand their vision and goals, and help express them in a way that resonates with the public.
In his book GRACE, Cody Keenan writes about his experiences as President Obama's chief speechwriter during a critical ten-day period in June 2015.

Through Keenan's perspective, we see the inner workings of the Obama administration and the challenges they faced in trying to pass legislation and shape the future of the country. His book offers a unique insight into the role of language in American politics and the way it can be used to shape history.

My conversation with Cody Keenan:

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Life and Death of Anthony Bourdain: A Conversation with Charles Leerhsen

Somewhere in the magic formula that makes great art is the internal potential for pain. Someone once said of artists that they were like the rest of us, except that their emotions were just always sitting closer to the surface…. more accessible, more sensitive, and more vulnerable to pain, despair, and even suicide.

The stories of people like Kurt Cobain, Van Gough, Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Hunter Thompson, while all different, reinforce the image and reality of the tortured artist.

Add to this list, Anthony Bourdain. A complicated artist in so many ways, he would suffer a similar fate. But we should also remember that while all these stories have the same ending, each artist and their journey tells us more and more about ourselves and about the human condition.

This is the story that Charles Leerhsen tells in Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain: 

My Conversation with Charles Leerhsen

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

When Legendary CEOs Can't Find a Successor: A Conversation with William Cohan

Herbert Hoover said that “the business of America is business.” And for decades no business better defined that than General Electric. An industrial titan, everything about it, from credit to jet engines, from x-ray machines to lighting the nation, to bringing entertainment to the masses, defined the broad shoulders of American business and American capitalism.

As might be expected, its executives also lived a good life. Like an episode of Succession, there were multiple private jets, cars always at the ready, and offices that make today's tech offices look provincial. There was the office staff waiting to fulfill every executive whim, and CEOs like Jack Welch and Jeffrey Immelt became household names and were seen on the covers of Fortune and BusinessWeek.

Today, after 130 years GE, like many companies of its time, has all but disappeared. Like so many corporate icons of that era, Polaroid, Kodak, Dow, and US Steel, we were led to believe that “creative destruction” took them down; that Clayton Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma had caught up with them.

But sometimes we discovered in hindsight that it was simply bad management, bad decisions, hubris, and the idle worship of what William James called the bitch goddess success that turned its ugly gaze on the company. This story, a cautionary tale about management men and money, is the story that best-selling author William Cohan tells in his latest book, Power Failure: The and Fall of An American Icon.

My conversation with William Cohan:

Thursday, November 17, 2022

War As A Nonviolent Struggle: A conversation with Thomas Ricks

Not just here in America, but throughout the world, the forces of liberty are battling the forces of authoritarianism. These forces are global as well as local.

Here in America such battles played out after George Floyd’s death, and on January 6th, and we still don’t know what might happen between now and 2024. These are moral battles for the soul and future of the country.

But hopeless as it may sometimes seem, these kinds of "against the odds" battles have been won before. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and even the anti Vietnam war movement were both, in their own way, successful. But why and how were they successful and what lessons do they provide us in today’s moral battles?

The Civil Rights movement was framed as a nonviolent struggle. Yet baked into that nonviolence were methods, tactics, training and communication from which we can all go to school.

Few understand the context of the battlefield and the military better than Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas Ricks. In his new book Waging a Good War: A Military History of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968 he details how the military tactics of the Civil Rights movement outshined even the US military.

My conversation with Tom Ricks:

Monday, November 7, 2022

Democracy Will Likely Be Voted Out on Tuesday: A Conversation With Robert Draper

On Tuesday we will have our first election since January 6. There is every reason to believe that things will get worse. That January 6 was merely an inflection point on the road to a government we may not recognize in a few years.

This according to my WhoWhatWhy podcast guest, New York Times Magazine reporter and author Robert Draper. In his new book, Weapons of Mass Delusion, Draper explains how January 6 was a signal moment for the Republican party, one that left the MAGA base as the core and future of the party.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Robert Draper

Monday, October 31, 2022

Of Boys and Men: A Conversation with Richard V. Reeves

Almost since the beginning of time, men have shaped society. From ancient times to Mad Men, patriarchy was the defining framework of our society. Men dominated in industry, as workers and leaders; in college graduation, in earnings, in national and local leadership, and in protecting our society. Women and girls were left behind

In the 70s and 80s, all of that began to change. Things like Title IX in1972, and the feminist movement were both achievements and symbols of success, and harbingers of important societal changes

But none of this happened in a vacuum. Other social, political, and sociological changes were taking place. In the nature of work, of communication, of education of character and economics.

Over time, and not just as a zero sum exercise, the world of boys and men changed. Some of the changes were obvious and frankly, more men should have seen them coming. Others happened in a more subtle way, not unlike the frog in boiling water.

Suffice it to say that today these changes have fully reshaped our society. The gender gap is reshaping our politics and feeding authoritarian populism. It impacts the raising of younger generations and adds to class, cultural, economic, and political divisions. And unfortunately, like almost everything else, it’s become a talisman of left / right polarization.

Trying to raise the conversation about that is my guest Richard V. Reeves in his new book Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do about It.

My conversation with Richard V. Reeves:

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Where Immigration and Education Come Together: A Conversation with Jessica Lander

Few subjects engender more reaction and discussion in our politics and our culture than immigration and education. When the two come together in our schools they sit at the precipice of both politics and our future.

We are not talking of the dreamers that have been here, but waves of new young people that are on the front lines of shaping the immigrant experience in the United States.

What’s really like for the students and the teaching that are, each and every day, helping to define and sometimes even reimagine what it means to be an American

As an award-winning teacher, this is Jessica Lander’s work in a Massachusetts public high school. She tells of her experience in her new book Making Americans : Stories of Historic Struggles, New Ideas, and Inspiration in Immigrant Education.

My conversation with Jessica Lander: