Monday, January 21, 2019

The Wives of the Vietnam Era: What We Learned and What's Different Today

The poet John Milton writing in the 17th century got it right when he said that “They also serve who only stand and wait.” No better description could be written to capture the essence of military families.

Today, as a nation, we have acknowledged that service. We have some, but still not enough understanding and services for those waiting at home. But back during the Vietnam war, when those serving did not represent a true cross-section of America, when the opportunities, especially for the wives back home were very limited, the price our soldiers, and we as a nation paid for that was high.

As we struggle to serve the soldiers and veterans of today's Iraq and Afghanistan era, it’s a history we best heed. A history captured eloquently and powerfully by Andrew Wiest in Charlie Company's Journey Home: The Forgotten Impact on the Wives of Vietnam Veterans.

My conversation with Andrew Wiest:



Thursday, January 17, 2019

Housing, Housing, Housing

Over the past two decades, we’ve seen a modern great migration as more and more Americans move from suburban and rural America to cities. This trend cuts across all demographic groups but has been especially true for millennials and aging boomers.

As a result, our great cities have experienced skyrocketing rents, displacement of the poor, gentrification and protracted conflict between NIMBY homeowners, landlords, and renters

What was once a local debate has become a national story. How it plays out, is a kind of petri dish of our collectives values and how we see our communities in this first quarter of the 21st century.

Randy Shaw, a longtime housing activist in San Francisco, has lived these issues. Now he delivers a broad view in Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America.

My conversation with Randy Shaw:



Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Disruption, Terrorism, Climate Change...Just Some of the Risk Today's Corporations Face

Every day we talk about disruption as if it's mostly positive within the business and consumer environment. But for companies today, both large and small, an array of challenges and potentially disruptive events can have a real negative impact on the company, its earnings, its employees and its customers.

Corporate executives today realize that the degree to which they can anticipate and prepare for that disruption will have a deep impact on how it all turns out on the other end. What's more, many of the approaches and techniques that today's companies can and should adhere to just might be applicable to the chaotic lives of all of us.

Studying this for years is Wharton professor Howard Kunreuther.  He's the James G Dinan Professor of Decision Science and Public Policy and co-director of the Center for Risk Management and Decision Processes at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and he’s the co-author of Mastering Catastrophic Risk: How Companies Are Coping with Disruption.

My conversation with Howard Kunreuther: 



Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Pentagon's $21 Trillion Con Game

Some of you may recall a few weeks ago, newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made a splash, talking about $21 trillion in misappropriated Pentagon money, which she claimed was enough to take care of Medicare for all. She based her conclusions on the misreading of an article in the Nation by investigative reporter, Dave Lindorff.

It’s too bad, because her misreading took the focus away from what the story did say about the Defense Department’s shady and possibly unconstitutional budgeting practices and the massive amount of fraud that has now been uncovered. What the story did detail is how the Pentagon badly failed its audit that it has resisted for decades, and that $21 trillion of financial transactions on both sides of the ledger between 1998 and 2015 could not be accounted for.  This is the story that award-winning investigative reporter Dave Lindorff writes in"The Pentagon's Massive Accounting Fraud Exposed," in a recent issue of The Nation.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Dave Lindorff:







Saturday, January 5, 2019

San Francisco, Silicon Valley and the Future of Cities

Social, cultural and technological change is all around us. We live in an era of upheaval, not unlike the movement from an agrarian to a manufacturing economy that took place 100+ years ago. At the time, many thought it was, to borrow a phrase, the end of history. Many spoke about the evils of cities. They thought that leaving the farm was anti-American, that it went against the Jeffersonian ideal of America.

It produced anger, sometimes violence, labor strife, and in the end a whole new economy that some long for today. The current shift that is far from done. As AI, crypto, virtual reality and whole new ways of looking at the world change the landscape of just about everything.

Arguably ground zero for this remarkable change is San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. Ground zero in a time of monumental change is never an easy or safe place to be. And certainly, it is having its impact on a City that once saw itself first as a bastion of manners and old wealth and then as the center of progressive cultural revolution. Today, it’s the center of another kind of inevitable and inexorable revolution that Cary McClelland details in Silicon City: San Francisco in the Long Shadow of the Valley.

My conversation with Cary McClelland:



Monday, December 31, 2018

We All Have A Role To Play In the Biggest Story of 2019

We think that politics might actually change the world for better or for worse. It probably won't. It's certainly more likely that climate change, weather, and rising sea levels will have a far more profound impact. The recent UN report on climate indicated that we could be facing existential risks within 20 years. So what is the world to do?

Jeff Goodell, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, takes us deep into not the debate but the story of the particle reality in The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Jeff Goodell:






Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Black Feminist Politics

The Blue Wave of the recent election would not have been possible without black women voters. The election of Doug Jones in Alabama would not have been possible without the turnout of black women.

The recent focus on Stacy Abrams, Kamala Harris, Maxine Waters, Oprah, and even Michelle Obama speak to the fact that Democratic and progressive politics today, as well as our cultural politics, is being defined and even redefined by black feminist politics.

When we look back at the history of black women and racial progress, women like Ida B. Wells, Fanny Lou Hammer, and even Rosa Parks, all of this should be no surprise. Today, coupled with the Me Too movement and the resistance to Trump,  this has the makings a lasting, permanent and far-reaching a change in our politics.

Few understand this better, both historically and contemporaneously than Professor Duchess Harris, the author of Black Feminist Politics from Kennedy to Trump.

My conversation with Duchess Harris:



With Each New Year, Do We Loose A Little of What Makes Us Human?

How much of your work day is about emails, texts, Slack, Basecamp or Shift? And how much is about phone calls or meetings or basic human contact? If you’re like most people today, a large portion is devoted to apps, to screens, and to technology. And less and less to human contact.

How many times have you sent a work text or email to someone yards or even feet away? How many Holiday texts or emails did you send, rather than make a phone call, or a date for coffee? All of this comes with a price. It disconnects us over and over again so that we begin to lose the basic skills of human contact and interaction.

According to Dan Schawbel, the price we pay is not just in the workplace but in the very act of being human. Schawbel writes about this in Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.

My conversation with Dan Schawbel:


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Business of Punishment

The U.S. imprisons a higher portion of its population than any country in the world. The so-called “prison industrial complex” is, for many towns in rural America, a driving force for its economy. At the same time, many of these prisons have been turned over to private companies, like Prison Corporation of America, to be run as cheaply and profitably as possible, regardless of the damage inflicted on inmates.

The result, in fact, the necessity, is the dehumanization of prisoners and subsequently the gradual dehumanization of those that work in these places.

Shane Bauer, a senior reporter for Mother Jones, went inside, as a $9 an hour guard, to see first hand what was happening inside the Winnfield, Louisiana prison. His magazine story gained national attention and has now become a new book American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Is it Possible to Believe in Nationalism and Think Globally at the Same Time?

It seems that every day, as Trump makes another seemingly horrible comment, we ask ourselves how did this happen? Millions of words have been spilled trying to answer that question. Fascism, bigotry, populism, social and cultural issues, have all been trotted out. But first and foremost is the jingoistic nationalism that seems to be rampant among Trump's base, as it is around the world. As dislocation, change, and creative destruction continues, people seek solace in their most fundamental national tribe.

But is the left making a mistake by rejecting nationalism out of hand, or is there a place for nationalism and national identity even as one believes in immigration, open borders, free trade, and globalization? That the questions that John Judis takes on in The Nationalist Revival: Trade, Immigration, and the Revolt Against Globalization

My conversation with John Judis:


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

What Gonzo Journalism Might Look Like Today? A Look At Hunter S. Thompson vs. Nixon

At a time when journalism is under siege when the attacks sometimes result in too much caution when the goal of politicians is to attack journalist like they are working the refs, it’s worth thinking about times when we’ve seen full-throated, muscular and sometimes participatory journalism. The kind practiced by the likes of Jimmy Breslin, or H.L. Menken, George Plimpton, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer or Hunter S. Thompson.

Thompson had the opportunity to be present for many world-changing moments. How he saw them, and how he reported them, may have shaped a generation of readers and it may still be in the very DNA of how we consume news today.

Timothy Denevi captures the zeitgeist of the Thompson moment in Freak Kingdom: Hunter S. Thompson's Manic Ten-Year Crusade Against American Fascism

My conversation with Tim Denevi:



Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Bribery, Kickbacks and Corruption: Why It Matters

When we hear the phrase follow the money, we’ve come to understand that it usually leads back to nefarious political activities, self-dealing and corrupt public servants or worse. But sometimes that money trail leads to something that’s become so commonplace we hardly notice it anymore. The business of corporate bribery, and kickbacks around the world

As the global economy becomes ever more interconnected, as the membrane between governments and transnational corporations become ever thinner, this kickbacks and bribes have a multiplier effect that often leads directly to conflict, repression, and violence around the globe.

Like the butterfly flapping its wings in Main, the impact can be felt in the caves of Afghanistan, or the boardrooms of China, or the corridors of power on Capitol
Hill.

David Montero cuts to the quick of this in Kickback: Exposing the Global Corporate Bribery Network.

My conversation with David Montero:


Monday, December 3, 2018

Democracies Are Not Forever...Are We Headed Down the Same Path As Rome?

Each day more of our national political and governmental norms fall away. Our national leadership is at best in a moral vacuum, at worst, a corrosive force, an autoimmune disease eating the very fabric of the nation.

The violence of the past months reminds us that it does no good to hold the Pollyannaish belief that everything will all be all right, that we’ve been through this before and that the democratic institutions that Madison and the founders designed, and that moral framework upon which it was built, can withstand what we face today.

We like to think, based on past crisis, that our systems are strong enduring, resilient. Maybe. But there is no guarantee that it will last forever. After all, the Roman Republic lasted for 500 years and then collapsed. It Collapsed for many reasons similar to the issues and choices we face today. Historian and Professor Edward Watts, in his new book Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny shines a light on the path we are headed down.

My conversation with Edward Watts:


Monday, November 26, 2018

The War Before the War: Then and Maybe Now

We study history not so that it can tell us what we should necessarily do, but to tell us what to avoid. For it is often the task of succeeding generations to escape history to escape its repetition, that is to remove from possibility the mistakes of other times. In so so one improves, and that improvement is necessary to growth and to civilization.

In the 1850s, not unlike today, America was two nations. Then it was half free and half slave. When we look to make the comparison to today, we often miss the point. It's not about the comparisons to the Civil War itself, but to the events, the efforts, the policies that actually led to the war. In fact, the war before the war.

That period is examined closely by Andrew Delbanco in The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America's Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War.

My conversation with Andrew Delbanco:



Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Week Politics Went Tabloid: A Conversation with Matt Bai about Gary Hart and THE FRONT RUNNER

For those that study and write about politics, the holy grail is to find those seminal moments in the nation's public and political life that change everything. And while the antecedents of those events may be years in the making, they usually create a perfect storm that results in an event that is a kind of tipping point; one that marks a permanent tectonic shift in the political landscape. Sometimes we have to let time pass, before we appreciate or even understand those moments.

The televised Nixon-Kennedy Debate, Watergate, the Nixon’s resignation and the Vietnam war piped into our living rooms, are such event. And, according to longtime political journalist Matt Bai, the implosion of Gary Heart's presidential campaign in 1987, was also such a moment. One that Bai captures in all its complexity,  in All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid The book has been turned into the recently released movie THE FRONT RUNNER, also co-written by Bai.

It's about a time when politics became a plot-line, when the personal became both political and public, and when Who, What, Where and When, became Gotcha. This conversation, while it originally took place in 2014, shows the blueprint of how Trump got elected and how we got to where we are today.

My conversation with Matt Bai:



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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

California is Burning - Here's Why

For those of you that are old enough, you may remember that one of the crazy ideas that came out of counterinsurgency during the Vietnam War was that we often had to destroy a village in order to save it. It was counterintuitive and maybe it was right or wrong, but it went to the heart of the broader argument that we see playing out over and over again in so many areas. In order to do better and really focus on long-term good, we have to go beyond the immediate emotional reactions and see the bigger picture.

Such is the case with California’s forests. Many are overgrown, populated with millions of dead trees, and the state has neither the resources nor the manpower to deal with this. More complicating is the relationship with California’s largest landowner, the federal government, and the interface with private property. Today, the cost in terms of life, property, and environmental damage is staggering.

Julie Cart, a long-time environmental reporter in California and a writer for CALmatters, has written extensively about the horrors California now faces, seemingly on an annual basis.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Julie Cart:








Jamal Khashoggi's Secret Interview

The world of journalism faces an existential crisis . Attacks on the press as "the enemy of the people" by the president of the United States and other authoritarian leaders is just the beginning. Bombs sent to CNN, reporters spat on at political rallies, and the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi make the prima facie case.

Award-winning international journalist and foreign policy analyst Rula Jebreal, comes to this discussion with a unique perspective. Having covered stories and worked in Italy, the US, and the Middle East, she sees the global dimensions of the issues. Perhaps most significantly, she secretly conducted one of the last interviews with Jamal Khashoggi. In that interview Khashoggi talks about what it might take for the US to actually look objectively at Saudi Arabia. But this would only happen, he believed, in the face of a serious crisis. Little did he know that his brutal murder would be that crisis.

My WhoWhatWhy.org interview with Rula Jebreal.









Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Why Capitalism Matters and Why We Need to Protect It

Bill Clinton got it almost right when he said, “it’s the economy stupid.” But it’s more than that. It might be more accurate to say, it's capitalism, stupid. The system that took thirteen disparate colonies, and in 400 years became the greatest economic engine on the planet.

How this happened, why it happened, is not an accident. But the results of some very specific events, decisions, and attitudes. Equality true is that if we are not careful, it may not be forever

In today's world, we either keep up, or we don't. Just as we stole our model from Great Britain, others are closing in on us. Today we have 5% of the world's population, 20% of the world's patents and 25% of the world economy. Going forward that may not always be the case.

To the extent that what is past is prologue, it’s worth taking a look at the history of capitalism in America, to see if we can indeed keep it going. Taking us on this historical journey is Economist journalist and columnist Adrian Wooldridge, the co-author, with Alan Greenspan, of Capitalism in America: A History.

My conversation with Adrian Wooldridge:


Monday, November 12, 2018

History in Plain Sight: WWI and the Unknown Soldiers

Someone wrote a national column last year suggesting that whoever we elect to office should at the very least be able to pass a basic high school test in American history. The fact is, we all should be able to. If only because the past is prologue. Because where we are as a nation today, and the problems and privileges we embrace is a direct result of all that history.

Few have done more to help us understand our military history than Patrick O'Donnell.

In his latest book, The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America’s Unknown Soldier and WWI’s Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home, Patrick takes us back 100 years to a story that, while unique to itself, represents the fundamental reverence we should have as a nation for those that gave their last full measure of devotion.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Notes On Hope from Anne Lamott

In looking at the world today, not just at our politics, but at our social and moral climate, it’s easy to conclude that there is no hope. Things fall apart, the center does not hold and it does seem in as if, in Yates’ words, “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

So what do we have to be hopeful about? The answer it seems lies deep within each of us, and not from some outside force. While we are feeling doomed and overwhelmed, Anne Lamott reminds us, that almost everything will work out “if you just unplug it for a few minutes.”

In her new work, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, she lays out some guideposts, some touchstones to hold on to in the midst of personal turmoil and global chaos.

My conversation with Anne Lamott:


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Greg Sargent looks at Thunderdome Politics in the Age of Trump

Just how fragile or resilient are our democratic institutions? For two years we’ve heard that the fundamental institutions, like the courts, the rule of law, and the so-called grown-ups and the permanent govt. would provide guardrails against the worst authoritarian impulses of this presidency.

We are told that we’ve been through bad times before. It may be, however, that, in the often scary words of wall street, “this time it's different.”  What we face now is less about ideology than about the exercise of raw power. Fed by fear of change and appealing to white nationalism, hate, and racism. All in an environment that is hyper-pressurized, piped in 24/7 and brilliantly fueled by the lowest appeals to human behavior. In that way, maybe this time is different.

Trying to pull all these strings together is Washington Post Plum Line columnist Greg Sargent, in his new book An Uncivil War: Taking Back Our Democracy in an Age of Trumpian Disinformation and Thunderdome Politics

My conversation with Greg Sargent:


Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Forgotten and The Angry: A Search for the Trump Voter

Every day, as a new Trump embarrassment emerges from the White House, people ask, how did this happen?

Millions of words have now been written about the current state of our politics, our country and of our civic discourse. About the anger that abounds. Every publication, every cable channels, every journalist who covers politics, and many that don’t, have opined on how we got here.

There are as many theories as there are journalists, pundits, professors, and consultants. How did eight million voters who voted for Obama twice become Trump vote
rs? How did the political class miss what was going on among the group that Hillary Clinton called a “basket of deplorables,” while Obama talked of how
“they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them.”

Ben Bradlee Jr. went looking for answers and looking for America in Luzerne County Pennsylvania. What he found was both sobering and frightening and proof positive of two Americas. He reports it all in The Forgotten: How the People of One Pennsylvania County Elected Donald Trump and Changed America.

My conversation with Ben Bradlee, Jr.:


Friday, November 2, 2018

Reagan Would Be Such An Improvement Today

Someone said recently that Donald Trump may not be our worst President ever, the jury is still out. But for sure, he is the worst person ever to be President.

 The point is that character, personal legacy, personal relationships and upbringing do matter. We place our trust as a people and has a nation in the sum total of the lives of the people we elect to lead us. Personal traits and politics are often separate, but equal. Over the past 240 years, we did a pretty decent job of combining the two. One such example was Ronald Reagan. Whether we agreed with him politically or not, he brought with him personal qualities that we long for today. Personal qualities that in so many ways shaped his politics and his policy and created his legacy.

Biographer Bob Spitz takes a look at this in Reagan: An American Journey

My conversation with Bob Spitz:


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Democracy, Rebellion and Revolution: Pick Two

Alan Greenspan has argued that the essence of American capitalism is creative destruction. That our tolerance for change, for the new, for being willing to replace incumbents, even when painful, is the essence of what has moved the US to become, in a mere 400 years, the most powerful economic engine on the planet.

However, With respect to our governance, we have not been as tolerant or as flexible. We have clung to ideas and systems that have changed only under the most dire circumstances. The civil war changed us, but not entirely...The great depression changed us, but again, not entirely...just listen to Mitch McConnell last week looking to shred the social safety net.

As for the present, Donald Trump did not deliver all the problems we face today. He merely exploited them….just as demagogues often do.

And so as we once again face a huge disconnect between the reality of the world...a world of global integration, social and economic dislocation and division, siloed and self-reinforcing news and information, and a governmental system unattuned and unresponsive. All of this can’t help but leaveBen Fountain has examined this world from the first volleys of the 2016 election, right up until today. His observations are in his new work Beautiful Country Burn Again: Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution
whole groups of people behind. Author and journalist

My conversation with Ben Fountain: