Friday, October 19, 2018

Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy

Winston Churchill said of Russia that it was “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” Today the same might be said of Russia's interference in the 2016 elections and the connection between that interference and the campaign of Donald Trump.

We know so much. Every day it seems new information is revealing itself. And yet we seem to be missing the rosetta stone that will enable us to explain it all. Perhaps Bob Mueller holds that. But until then, two time Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Greg Miller’s new book, The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy, may not quite be that rosetta stone, but it’s as important a piece of codebreaking as we have so far.

My conversation with Greg Miller:


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Is America Now A Fascist Country?

The word fascism gets thrown around a lot in the context of Donald Trump. As if he somehow were its progenitor. But the fact is Trump is merely the most contemporary and American exploiter. Right wing nationalist trends, fascist trends, are happening throughout the world. The underlying reasons are many and complex, but the response to those reasons and the way in which it portends towards fascism has been pretty consistent.

Fascism is not some abstract idea, but a clear definable set of attitudes that people like Trump or Le Pen or Nigel Farage know how to exploit and magnify. For all of us experiencing it, it’s like a disease. Only if we know and understand the warning signs can we prevent it. And to help us to understand this, I am joined by Yale Professor Jason Stanley, the author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Jason Stanley:








Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Marvin Kalb on The New McCarthyism and the Threat to Democracy

The founders understood that a free press was a bulwark against tyranny. In the system they set up, they understood that they created inherent tensions between leaders and the press. Historically, those tensions have served us well in that it has motivated both sides to do better.

Sometimes the tensions have burst forth into full-scale political warfare. Trust-busting, Teapot Dome, Watergate, and Joe McCarthy are a few examples. McCarthy knew, as despots all know, that if he could undermine the press, make them the enemy, you can get away with a whole lot.

In 1954 Ed Morrow, the most noted journalist of his time also knew and understood the importance of the free press as a load-bearing pillar of all of our democratic institutions. Morrow believed that if McCarthy had gone further in his vilification of the press, our very democracy could be at risk. He instilled that idea in one of his young proteges, Marvin Kalb. Kalb, concerned about the current state of affairs, has just written Enemy of the People: Trump's War on the Press, the New McCarthyism, and the Threat to American Democracy

My conversation with Marvin Kalb:


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.

We hear much loose talk these days about all the things that are supposed to unite us as Americans. But there are far more important and powerful forces that divide us.

At the center of that divide is the subject of class. Even more than race, the class divide lies at the base of the chasm that separates what John Edwards once called “two Americas.”

The symbols are everywhere: Starbucks America versus Dunkin’ Donuts America. Educated versus non-educated. Walmart versus Whole Foods. But these are just symbols for the manifestations of a long history of class conflict in America.

How they're playing out today is reflected in Sarah Smarsh's new memoir
Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.

My conversation with Sarah Smarsh:


Monday, October 1, 2018

Why Adam Smith Still Matters, And What We Have Not Understood

We are ten years out from the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the beginning of the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression. The shock waves of those events are still with us today and they take many forms

Not the least of which has been the loss of faith in the efficiency of markets, the underlying ideas of modern economics, the role of the state in intervening in those markets, and the moral and political consequences of capitalism itself.

However, any conversation about these ideas does not begin with the crisis ten years ago, but probably should begin with enlightenment thinkers and with Adam Smith. Considered by many to be the father of modern economics.

Jesse Norman, a highly regarded Member of British Parliament, takes a deep dive into Smith in his new book Adam Smith: Father of Economics.

My conversation with The Honorable Jesse Norman:


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Tight and Loose Explains the World

We spend hours and hours talking about the divides in America and the world today. Red and Blue divisions, class divisions, social sorting, urban vs. rural, left vs. right, progress vs. conservative and the ways we look for the world to make sense.

But what if there were an overlay to all of this? One that, while not exactly putting us in neat little boxes, does help explain a core reason for so much of contemporary division.

Michele Gelfand, a Professor of Psychology at the Univ. of Maryland,Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World
takes us inside this idea in

My conversation with Michele Gelfand:


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Myth We Still Tell About the Fall of Lehman Bros.

We are ten years out from the fall of Lehman Brothers, and the worst financial crises in the lifetime of most of us. But what are we actually marking, and more importantly, what have we really learned?

So much of the debate, to this very day, as to what caused the crash, and the bursting of the housing bubble is so caught up in political rhetoric, confirmation bias, and rear end covering, that it's still hard to tell.

But certainly after 10 years we know more than we did then, and perhaps it’s time to ask some real questions and to try and put it into some kind of better perspective. To do this, I’m helped by Sebastian Mallaby, the Paul A. Volcker senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations and a long time journalist, public speaker, and a contributing columnist for the Washington Post. His recent article in the Washington Post was “The Dangerous Myth We Still Believe About the Lehman Bros. Bust.

My conversation with Sebastian Mallaby:


Monday, September 17, 2018

The Global Elite's Effort to Change the World

It is an accepted axiom of modern life that disruptive change is all around us. Almost every aspect of our lives has felt some or all of this change. It’s equally true that what were once the traditional institutions of government and public policy, that moderated and even sometimes democratized that change, no longer exist. This too is part of the disruption. In this process, there have been winners and losers, just as there have been during every great social and scientific upheaval, the last, perhaps, being the industrial revolution over a century ago. This time, however, partly because of the nature of change, the speed of communication, the complexity of technology, globalism, and overall distrust, the consequences have been even more profound.

It’s all led to a large measure of social upheaval, anger, and fear that we see today. Perhaps the progenitors of change have been too young or too na├»ve to understand the consequences of their action, and those that did understand have been too blinded by greed. It’s a combination that has shaken the country to its very core, and which made Trump possible.  This is the one of the underlying ideas of Anand Giridharadas in his new book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Anand Giridharadas











Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Browns of California

Joan Didion referred to California as the “golden land.” “The place where the dream was teaching the dreamers how to live. That it was a metaphor for some larger, insidious process at work in American society. One that became a parable of the American penchant for reinvention and for discarding history and starting tabula rasa.”

That may have once been true for California. But today, when California is the the fifth largest economy in the world, what happens in California does not stay in California. The state’s actions, leadership and history often resonate around the globe.  One of the things that’s so critical to understanding that history, is The Browns of California: The Family Dynasty that Transformed a State and Shaped a NationThat's the subject of a new book by Miriam Pawel.

My conversation with Miriam Pawel:



Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Voter Suppression 101

Just a couple of weeks ago, I interviewed a distinguished and respected journalist and author, who said that voter suppression to him was like the Loch Ness Monster. A lot of people talked about it, but no one had ever really seen it. I tell this story because I’m afraid that his attitude is far too prevalent, and his confusion between voter fraud and voter suppression all too common.

While widespread voter fraud may be a fragment of Kris Kobach and Donald Trump’s imagination, it should never be conflated with voter suppression, which is very real, anti-democratic and infused with a degree of racism that particularly, since a 2003 Supreme Court decision, has become almost the regular order of things in multiple parts of the country. As we sit two months out from the midterm elections, the basic right of millions of Americans are under threat, at precisely the time when the future of the country is at stake as never before. This is particularly true in states with high profile races like Georgia and Florida, where voter suppression may truly affect the outcome.

I look at this with Carol Anderson who is the Charles Howard Candler professor and chair of African-American Studies at Emory University and the author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Carol Anderson:









17 Years in Afghanistan....What Have We Accomplished?

Next month we mark 17 years since the US invasion of Afghanistan, certainly the longest single military effort in US history.

Our original goal was to destroy Al-Qaeda and oust the Taliban that were protecting them. Since that time, a great deal has happened, and mostly the law of unintended consequences has been the victor. Security and political stability still seem elusive. US government understanding of the country and the region still seems sketchy at best, and corruption still seems rampant. And even with all of that, some think real peace is still possible. Where we are today and what’s really happening on the ground, and what the US can do, even if it had the will and competence to do it, are subjects that I talk about with RAND senior foreign policy expert Laurel Miller.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Laurel Miller:







Thursday, September 6, 2018

Make A Decision!

We make hundreds, sometimes thousand of decisions a day. What to wear, what to eat, what route to take to work, and what to put on our to-do list. But these are tactical decisions. They get us from point a to point b. But what about the big strategic decisions? The big ones that impact our lives and the lives of others, now and for many years to come.

The decisions about who we marry, were we want to live, what career we want to pursue. These are often irrevocable, or at the least profound, decisions that have long term consequences.

How then do we make these decisions? How
do leaders, CEOs, generals and even presidents make decisions? Is there a right or wrong way? Do algorithms help and has technology made it easier or harder? The fact is that often by the time all the facts are in, the time optimum or imaginative action may have long since disappeared. The disconnect between external events and our ability to process them, lies embedded in the decision making process.

From George Bush saying he is “the decider,” to battlefield commanders; from the halls of business schools, to the basement of the Pentagon, from leaders that operate only on instinct, devoid of facts, to those that suffer from analysis paralysis, our lives are shaped by decisions we and other make. But could we do it any better?

These are just some of the questions asked by best selling author and thinker Steven Johnson in Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most

My conversation with Steven Johnson:


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Why DNA Kits May Not Really Tell Us Who We Are

Perhaps more than at any other time in contemporary history, we have a deep need to understand who we are, what tribe to we belong to, and how, in a rapidly changing, interconnected and homogenized world, do we fit it. Who are we in relation to everyone else.

Just look at the advertising for home DNA testing and you’ll get the idea. Since it’s less clear everyday, where we are going, it feels most comfortable to look back at our ancestry and at least be clear about where we came from and how it defines who we are.

The problem is, that’s complicated to. Who we are is the result not just of our DNA or our heredity, but of an array of complex and shifting forces that we also have no control over. This is the reality that Carl Zimmer explains in She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

My conversation with Carl Zimmer:


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Parenthood in an Age of Fear

By every objective measure, unless you live on the Southside of Chicago, the world is a safer place today than it’s been for long time. As people like Steven Pinker have repeatedly pointed out, almost every form of violence is less today than it was 50 or even 100 years ago.

So why is everyone so afraid, especially parents? Sure we’re afraid that our kids won’t have opportunities greater than ours, and we’re afraid about being ready to pay for their education, and we’re afraid that they will fall in with the wrong crowd.

But we’re also afraid of them going out to play, of riding a bike, of them being alone, or just being on a playground that doesn't have the proverbial good housekeeping seal of approval.

We want our kids to succeed and ultimately to feel at home in the world. But does mean overprotecting them in ways driven only by fear? Those are some of the questions that Kim Brooks as in Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear, based on and motivated by her own awful experience.

My conversation with Kim Brooks:


Monday, August 27, 2018

A Conversation with John McCain

The last opportunity I had to interview JOHN McCAIN was back in September of 2000, in the thick of the Bush v. Gore campaign and after he had lost the Republican primary to George W. Bush.

We talked about his book, FAITH OF MY FATHERS, and even then talked about patriotism vs. nationalism, money in politics, the cynicism of  young voters, the consequences of deregulation during the Reagan years and about the opening up of Vietnam and Bill Clinton's upcoming trip there.

Here is a condensed version of that conversation:



Friday, August 24, 2018

Freedom and Chaos in Egypt and the Middle East

Often understanding global affairs, particularly in the Middle East, is like a game of three-card monte. What’s in view is never really a reflection of what’s going on underneath. What’s more, alliances, loyalties and truth is ever shifting and almost always hidden.

Such has long been the case in Egypt. As the Arab spring descended on Tahrir Square in February of 201, what once seemed like the hope for freedom and democracy gave way to ongoing authorianism. And like the three-card monte game, for a while it was impossible to tell who was with who, and who was on what side, including the United States.

David Kirkpatrick, an international correspondent for the NY Times, led the papers coverage of the Arab Spring, first in Tunisia and then in Egypt and Libya. He has reported from virtually everywhere in the region, but also brings the perspective of having coved Washington, two presidential elections, and the rise of the Christian right in the US.

In his new book Into the Hands of the Soldiers: Freedom and Chaos in Egypt and the Middle East he bring us a unique and sobering perspective on the Middle East, and the US, which always seems to get it wrong.

My conversation with David Kirkpatrick:



Are Americans Afraid of Optimism?

We live in an age of paradox. Crime and murders are down, yet we are more fearful than ever about gun violence. Technology has made life easier in so many ways, yet Silicon Valley is becoming the boogeyman and technology is and will be replacing jobs with greater and greater speed. Diseases that were once a death sentence are now manageable, but healthcare costs are escalating and the divide among those that can and cannot afford quality healthcare is growing. And we’re not living as long as we used to, and other nations have a better quality of life.

Millions and millions of people in the developing world are experiencing a standard of living never imagined possible, yet some would pull up the bridges and have us disconnect from that world, all while the doomsday clock moves closer to midnight. Tribalism divides us, social media, politics, and economics reinforces that divide, and the 24/7 always on culture makes it happen faster and faster. So, where is there any reason for optimism in all of this?  This is where Gregg Easterbrook takes us in It's Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Gregg Easterbrook:





Friday, August 17, 2018

The Kids Are All Right

Millions of words have been written about millennials and the Democratic Party. The debate about how left they are, how involved they are, how can, or will they be mobilized to participate in the midterms are all subjects of feature stories and cable news fodder. It all goes with the old adage, the origins of which are a bit murky, that if you're not a liberal when you're young you have no heart, and if you're not a conservative by middle age you have no head.

The fact is there are many young conservatives, be they Young Republicans, College Republicans, or members of many other groups. Some are traditional conservatives, some libertarian, some Trumpian, and some trying to define a new millennial approach to what it means to be a conservative or a Republican.


Clearly like the divisions on the left, the gap between Donald Trump and Edmond Burke is wide, but filled with opportunity and consequences for the GOP of tomorrow. Journalist Eliza Gray takes a look at this in her recent article in The Washington Post Magazine: “The Next Generation of Republicans: How Trumpian Are They."

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Eliza Gray:








Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump


Almost from the day he was elected, certainly from the day her took office, people have been talking about the impeachment of Donald Trump. His basic failure to divest his business holdings, his refusal to abide by ethical norms, nepotism, cronyism, his odd and still not fully known relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin, and his disregard for the intelligence community, have all stoked the fires.

But are there legitimate grounds for impeachment, as laid out by the constitution? What kind of constitutional crisis might be precipitated by such efforts, and how do we define, political vs. legal impeachment and would that even matter? After all, so much of what our founders did was designed as a bulwark against the corruption that we see playing out each and every day at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

To try and put all of this rhetoric in context is constitutional scholar Ron Fein, the co-author of The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump.

My conversation with Ron Fein:



Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Even Power Has Been Subject to Change. Here's How

Look at any book of quotations, and the subject of power is one of the most discussed topics. Sometimes it seems everyone has an opinion on it. And why not? It is at the heart of all of our relationships, at home, with family, kids and spouses and at work, with our bosses and our coworkers.

Certainly the Me Too movement and racial politics have both provided fertile ground for both the understanding of and the exercise of power. It’s one of the things we most desire, and at the same time we are afraid, or put off by it.

Our relationship to power begins when we are young. It’s imprinted from grade school, right on through high school, which is everyone's mosh pit of power dynamics.

Power and how we talk about it has changed since the days of Michael Korda, and Cyndi Suarez understands this. She is the author of The Power Manual: How to Master Complex Power Dynamics

My conversation with Cyndi Suarez:



Monday, August 13, 2018

When Does No Drama Make For A Better Show and a Better Government?

Deep inside our first reality TV presidency, one designed, whether you like the policy or not, to squeeze maximum drama from every encounter, it’s almost hard to remember that the Obama presidency was 180 degrees away. It was built on the idea of “no drama.”

In the current context, it may look almost dull. It was professional, competent and the apogee of the work of hundreds, who’s life's work was to serve their country, and leave it better than they found it.

That’s why perhaps now, more than ever, we need the bracing reminder of what competence, rational decision making, and hard work were really like in the exercise of government.

Brian Abrams does this in his comprehensive oral history of the Obama administration, Obama: An Oral History.

My conversation with Brian Abrams:




The Iran Nuclear Deal and The View from Tehran

For George Bush, it was once part of the Axis of Evil. For Donald Trump, Iran seems only to be part of an axis of firing up his base, placating Israel, and being supine to the Saudis. The Iran Nuclear Deal was far better and more enforceable than anything we will ever see with North Korea. Iran, according to those on the ground, the IAEA inspectors and other parties to the deal often referred to as the JCPOA, was a deal that Iran more or less was abiding by.

Now with the US having pulled out of the deal and imposing new sanctions, the Europeans, the Chinese, and the Russians, the other parties to the deal, are trying along with Iran to hold all the pieces together. The problem and complexity is that it’s about both proliferation and economics. And while the administration is filled with Iran hawks, many of whom still seek regime change in Iran, there’s no telling where all of this will wind up. In a global neighborhood it remains a tinderbox: what’s next for Iran, for Syria, and for the region.

To try and bring all of this together and provide an Iranian perspective, I’m joined by Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian, one of the foremost authorities on the subject of Iran.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Seyed Hossein Mousavian:






Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Mouth That Roared - How Rush Limbaugh Changed America

It began as a crazy idea. DJs would get bored with music and start talking to the audience. They would take calls, tell stories, and even talk a little politics, sports, and pop culture. Early on, it produced some enduring national personalities like Jean Shepherd, and Brad Crandall, Long John Nebel, and Larry King, and Barry Gray, and Joe Franklin. It was known first as Spoken Word Radio. Later, it would give way to an even more colorful and cantankerous cast of characters. People like Joe Pyne, Alan Berg and Morton Downey Jr..

Talk radio moved to the big cities with folks like Don Imus and Howard Stern. In New York, Bob Grant would redefine the formula beginning in the early 70s. In fact so much of Trump on race, comes directly out of the Bob Grant playbook. Grant was the soundtrack for the New York that Donald Trump came of political age in.

The Fairness Doctrine would be repealed in 1987 and suddenly radio would be set up to have political power. Then in 1988, a little known Sacramento newscaster and talk show host named Rush Limbaugh would be let loose nationally. He took the freedom of being untethered from the Fairness Doctrine, combined it with the formulas that had already proven successful in talk, added conservative politics in a sardonic and entertaining tone, and the rest is radio history. It began 30 years ago last week, and it certainly changed our entertainment, news, and the political landscape.

To bring this all into focus, I'm joined by Michael Harrison, the editor and publisher of Talkers Magazine, the "bible of the talk radio industry."

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Michael Harrison:







Sunday, August 5, 2018

Our Crises of Connection - Why We Need to Gather Now, More Than Even

How many gatherings do you really enjoy? Certainly not meetings. But what about social events? How many times have you felt awkward at a party, an event or even just a gathering of friends. How often have you had the feeling that everyone else was invited for dinner, and you were only invited for cocktails?

And if you were the host, you made sure that all the napkins and silverware was just right, but what about the inner workings of the gathering? How did you prepare?

In a world where networking and face to face gatherings are the rare exception to being transfixed to screens, shouldn't we pay more attention to those face to face encounters? Priya Parker look at our crises of connection in The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters

My conversation with Priya Parker: