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:

Monday, October 29, 2018

Men on the Sidelines of American Life

It is almost axiomatic to say that so many of the problems that plague men in our society today stem from changes in economics. That technology, globalization, education or lack thereof, are all at the core of the problem. Yet, regardless of who we give credit or blame too, unemployment is at the lowest it’s been in 50 years. American manufacturing is relatively strong.

Sure things have changed with respect to jobs and the economy, but clearly, other forces are at play for men. The result is not just the “me too” movement, but a redefinition of the very idea of masculinity.

Often times, pop culture gives us insight into the human condition. As we watch the rise, fall, and transformation of Don Draper, and Tony Soprano trying to get in touch with his feelings, perhaps we saw precursors of what’s happening in America today.

The problem is that the cost for the country and for our communities is high. Andrew L. Yarrow, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, has been a New York Times reporter, a Labor Department speechwriter, and a U.S. history professor at American University, and is the author of Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life.

My conversation with Andrew Yarrow:

When They Take Away Your Vote, Who Ya Gonna Call?

For several years now, we’ve been inundated with fake news about alleged voter fraud. Fraud that simply does not exist anywhere in the country. However, these stories have been used as the basis and justification of voter suppression efforts in several states today. Efforts that may directly and adversely impact the outcome of some close races. These efforts take several forms — untenable voter ID laws, exact match, purging voters from the registration rolls, and many more tactics, all very specifically directed at suppressing the votes of African Americans and minority voters.

There was a time when the federal government, in the form of the Department of Justice, would step in and try to right these wrongs. Not so today. As a result, we have to rely on independent legal groups and organizations of journalists like WhoWhatWhy to take up the challenge of these efforts, absorb the cost, and know how to redress the appropriate courts. Much of this legal work of late has been taken up by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and we’re going to spend some time today talking to my guest Ezra Rosenberg, who is the co-director of the organization’s Voting Rights Project.

Ezra Rosenberg has been consistently ranked among one of the top litigators in the country. He’s been involved aggressively in pro bono representation, was one of the lead counsels challenging Texas’s photo ID laws, and was named to the National Law Journal’s Pro Bono Hit List for his role in significant public interest cases of national importance.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Ezra Rosenberg:

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Last Time "Nationalism" Was Embraced...Hitler and his American Friends

Last night in Houston Trump declared himself a “nationalist, “with all the baggage that the label implies. That phrase, along with things like “America First,” almost instantly bring us back to another time and place. An America, not of 2018, but of 1940 and 1941, as Hitler’s tentacles reached through Europe, and as America contemplated entry into the war.

Even though we fantasize about it today as a gentler time, as a less divided time, in the run up to America's entry into the war, the country was profoundly divided. Hitler had friends in America, and they were people in high places who represented a powerful strain of American isolationism, antisemitism, and racism. Indeed history does repeat itself.  Bradley Hart brings all of these strains together in his new book Hitler's American Friends: The Third Reich's Supporters in the United States

My conversation with Bradley Hart:

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 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:

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Geopolitical Downsides of Fracking Are Downright Scary

I think it’s fair to say that when most of you hear about fracking, the first thing that comes to mind is the potential environmental damage. This has been a big story over the past several years. What you might not think about is how fracking is changing the geopolitics of the world. How it’s helping America towards energy independence, which in a counterfactual way, may not be a good thing. But at the same time, it’s also impacting Saudi Arabia and Russia in ways that affect power politics throughout the world.

It’s not only geopolitics. The fracking industry in Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and New Mexico is impacting politics right here at home. Just ask candidates running in those states. Add to this the importance of the industry’s deep, symbiotic ties to Wall Street, plus a cast of characters in the fracking business that could easily produce a modern day ‘Giant’ or ‘Dallas’. Bringing all of this together is my guest, Bethany McLean in here new book  Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It's Changing the World.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Bethany McLean:

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 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 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 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: