Monday, October 21, 2019

Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law: A conversation with James B. Stewart

The world is a complex place. The news comes at us at hyper-speed and 24/7.  All while we have to deal with family, work and life.

Therefore more than ever, it’s critical that there are those among us, journalists mostly, whose job it is to distill and explain events to us. Not to tell us how or what to think, but to present the big stories in-depth and in a narrative that allows us to be smarter about the world, and refine how we are to live in it.

Few do this better than James B. Stewart. He has been doing it for years with books such as Blood Sport, Den of Thieves, and Disney Wars. Now with his latest Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law, he  takes us deep inside what we’ve all lived through for the past three years. The investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails and of Trump, Russia, Comey and the Mueller Report.  All of which has lead us to where we are today.

My conversation with James B. Stewart:


Thursday, October 17, 2019

Harold Bloom 1930 - 2019

Harold Bloom, who died last week at the age of 89, was one of our great teachers and literary critics. Often out of sync with contemporary literary fashion, he defended the “Western canon” and fought against what he called “the School of Resentment,” multiculturalists and those whom he argued betrayed what he saw as literature’s essential purpose.

I had the opportunity to know Professor Bloom as a student, and later in life, I had the opportunity to interview him. Most recently in 2000 upon the publication of his book How to Read and Why

Here is that conversation with Professor Harold Bloom:


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A Conversation with the Recipients of This Year's Nobel Prize in economics: Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee

Beyond the common denominator of poverty what are aspects of the poor that we just don't understand?

We've learned that poverty itself creates a different life, a different view of the world. A view that arguably accounts for the fundamental failures of so many well-meaning programs. Why this is, what works and why has it been so hard to find the magic bullet. Trying to answer this has been the work of the winners of this year's Nobel Prize in economics, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee.

My conversation with Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee:



Monday, October 14, 2019

The End of America's Cultural Hegemony

A look at the news any day reminds us that America is no longer the singular dominant power in the world. This is true vis a vis soft power, moral persuasion, and now cultural power.

American movies, music, and art no longer are the single option for global entertainment. Perhaps not since the British invasion of the ‘60s have we seen so much art and entertainment coming from outside of the U.S. This time form India, South Korea, and even Turkey.  This is the world that Fatima Bhutto takes us into in New Kings of the World: Dispatches from Bollywood, Dizi, and K-Pop

My conversation with Fatima Bhutto:



Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Tyranny of Virtue: Political Correctness Run Amuck on Our Campuses

Once upon a time, we didn’t have to think about political correctness. And we survived as a culture! We self-corrected, we became more sensitive to others, we learned to accept and appreciate diversity. It was sometimes difficult, even painful. But a lot of it was organic. Often we slipped up. We fell backward, and sometimes it even took appropriate legislation to provide better guardrails for our behavior. Such was the forward march of mankind.

But today, the bludgeon of political correctness hangs over all of us. And nowhere worse than on our college campuses. The fear of free speech, the absurdity of safe spaces, the desire to silence unpopular ideas and the seeking out of problems and conflicts that don’t really exist, are all hallmarks of where we are today.

But how did we get here, and is there any path out that does not divides us still further, polarize us even more and further enhance the sanctimony of those who consider their ideas singularly virtuous.

Skidmore professor Robert Boyers, the subject of a story in this week’s New Yorker takes us into the belly of the beast of political correctness in his new book The Tyranny of Virtue: Identity, the Academy, and the Hunt for Political Heresies.

My conversation with Robert Boyers:


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Just Who is Brett Kavanaugh?

Most of us remember being transfixed, just one year ago, to the hearings from now Supreme Court Justice Brent Kavanaugh. This week, as the court begins its new term, Justice Kavanaugh will be part of a court deciding on some of the most fundamental cases that affect our politics, our culture, and our freedoms. All in an atmosphere that, if even possible, is even more polarized than it was a year ago.

So who is Brett Kavanaugh? Certainly the one week FBI investigation and the televised circus that was his hearing may not have told the whole story. For that, we must rely on the reporting of Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly in their new book The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation.

My conversation with Robin Pogrebin:


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Why Understanding Silicon Valley History is Necessary To Deal With Today's Tech Issues

So much of what passes for history today is one dimensional. We see the events, the names, the places the timeline and the heroes and the villains. But there is often another dimension. Not so much a secret history, but almost like the moon, it has a dark side, hidden from us. It’s there, we just don’t see it and therefore we don't’ appreciate it and its broader impact.

So it is with Silicon Valley. Literally, millions of words have been written about it. In fact, with the exception of politics and Washington, no place gets more coverage and attention. No accident given their long symbiotic relationship.

Therefore you would think that by now we know it all. But we don't. This is why people still write books and surprise us about our origin story as a nation and about our wars past. And it’s why, particularly at this time when tech is under such scrutiny, we should understand everything we can about its history. That’s what Margaret O’Mara has tried to do in The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America.

My conversation with Margaret O'Mara:


Monday, September 30, 2019

Trump's War on the FBI

Today Trump's war is against Congress and the intelligence community. Previously he went to war with the FBI with the same mob boss approach that resulted in the firing of Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe and the repeated attacks on the integrity of the FBI

What can that recent history tell us about where we are now? About the strength and/or fragility of our fundamental law enforcement and intelligence institutions and the long term consequences to individuals and to the country?

To put it all in some kind of up-close perspective is CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell, in Crossfire Hurricane: Inside Donald Trump's War on the FBI.

My conversation with Josh Campbell:


Thursday, September 26, 2019

We are All Cult Members Now!

As a nation we’ve certainly gone through difficult times, times that as Thomas Paine said, try men’s souls. We’ve been divided as during the Cold War and the Civil War. But rarely have we been as tribal as we are today. Rarely have we been as willing to throw off facts, science, and reality, in the service of a cause. It’s almost like we’ve all joined cults. Little by little we’ve been encouraged to issue our faith in institutions and believe in nothing, which makes us more vulnerable to be made to believe anything.

As we throw off critical thinking, as we look for order out of the chaos of creative destruction, as we deal with the consequences of a rapidly changing and technological world, we exhibit so many of the signs of those that fall into cults. That’s our focus  with Dr. Janja Lalich. She’s a researcher, author and educator specializing in cults and extremist groups with a particular focus on charismatic relationships and political and other social movements.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Dr. Janja Lalich:





Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Is Clothing the New Plastic?

No matter who we are, we are touched by food, shelter, and clothing. Of the three perhaps clothing is one we most take for granted. Unlike our food, we don’t usually think about where it comes from, unlike shelter, it’s in abundance and unlike these other necessities, the price keeps falling while style keeps improving.

It’s almost too good to be true. And maybe it is. Maybe there is a darker side, a steeper price for this proliferation of fashion. Dana Thomas explains this in Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes.

My conversation of Dana Thomas:


Sunday, September 22, 2019

The CIA in the Post 9/11 World

Our attention span grows shorter while the events creating a whirlwind around the world, increase. N. Korea, Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, plus domestic turmoil is everywhere. In all of this, it’s easy to forget, just 18 short years after 9/11.

I often wonder how we’ll see this period that we are living through from the perspective of 50 years. But with respect to 9/11, the rearview mirror is starting to come into focus, as the objects are closer than they appear.

How the world and the US intelligence has transformed as a result of those events impacts everything we do today and is worth examining with this renewed hindsight.

In that sense, my guest Philip Mudd was present at the creation. He was in the White House as events of 9/11 unfolded and now he’s writing about them in ways that may inform or future. His recent book is Black Site: The CIA in the Post-9/11 World.

My conversation with Philip Mudd:



Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Cokie Roberts

Over the many years of doing this program, I'm sorry to say I only had one opportunity to talk with Cokie Roberts. We talked back in 1998 upon the publication of her book We Are Our Mothers' Daughters  and about the changing role of women. It was a long time before Me Too, but she was prescient about so many of the issues that would evolve over the next 20 years.

I share that 1998 conversation.


She Said

In All the President's Men, as reported by Woodward and Bernstein, Deep Throat says to Woodward, in the bowls of a garage, “it leads everywhere, get your notebook, there’s more.”

And so there was. Just as there was with the story of Harvey Weinstein. But on a larger canvas, it was the story of men behaving badly for a long time and getting away with it.

Fortunately, journalism is more than the first draft of history. Sometimes, facts, especially if they are an agreed-upon set of facts that are exposed, can change the course of history. Woodward and Bernstein are certainly an example. But so is Sy Hersh for reporting on Mai Li, Neil Sheehan on the Pentagon Papers, and Bart Gellman and the Edward Snowden revelations Now.add to this pantheon Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey for their reporting on sexual harassment in the workplace, and ultimately on Harvey Weinstein and the explosion of the “Me-Too” movement.


Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey are investigative reporters at the New York Times and the authors of She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement.

My conversation with Megan Twohey:


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Charles and David Koch Are Not Who You Think They Are!

Silent Cal Coolidge is reported to have said “that the business of America is business.” Correct or not, it’s fair to say that by looking at only American business over the past 60 years, we can see the full arc of our contemporary history.

Think of all of the things that have been front and center in our politics and our culture that have sprung from business, going all the way back to the 60’s. Conglomerates, the free movement of money around the world, manufacturing changes, management and blue-collar workers, government control and union membership. Private equity, derivatives, lobbyists, corporate political contributions, climate change, think tanks and branding.

Each and every one of these things have been a part of the empire that is Koch Industries and has been touched and shaped by Charles and David Koch.

Whether you like their particular brand of politics or not, the company and the empire they built have to be respected. Whether Balzac was correct when he said that “behind every great fortune is a great crime,” is a question worth examining in the context the Koch industry.

That’s part of the deep dive into Koch that business journalist Christopher Leonard has given us in his new book Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America.

My conversation with Christopher Leonard:


Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Other Scandal: The College Dropout Scandal

In most places around the country, school is beginning. This includes the nation's colleges and universities where about 2 million high school graduates will soon start college.

Yet 40% of those incoming freshmen will drop out before graduating. Many with debt, limited job prospects, and shattered confidence.

Why is this number so high? Why are some colleges succeeding in keeping kids engaged and others failing so miserably? Are there best practices? Is this simply another reflection of the economic divide in America? Is it happening at elite universities? Can we test for it, and what are the consequences if the problem goes ignored?

All of these questions are part of the new book The College Dropout Scandal by my David Kirp

My conversation with David Kirp:



Tuesday, September 3, 2019

How Women are Changing American Politics

Our founders devised a political system that was inherently difficult to change. They saw almost every aspect of the desire for change as needing to be cooled before even the most white-hot desire for progress could be codified. With respect to race and gender, it’s been even more difficult. Those were the prejudices and stereotypes baked into the founding documents themselves.

This is certainly one of the reasons it has taken so long for people of color and for women to be a full part of the political process.

Hillary Clinton talked about those tens of millions of cracks in the glass ceiling. But the safety glass that is history, made those cracks very hard to break. In fact, perhaps it was only with the elections of 2018 that we have seen some of those cracks become full-blown breaks. Even though women have made political progress, the terms of the debate and the campaigns have been based on the historical precedents set by white men.

All of this is changing as is documented by Caitlin Moscatello in her new book See Jane Win: The Inspiring Story of the Women Changing American Politics.

My conversation with Caitlin Moscatello:



Tuesday, August 13, 2019

To Live and Work In Hollywood

Hollywood is a place where the assets go home each night. Not just the Stars, but the hard-working men and women who make magic happen. Who each play a singular and unique role in telling cinematic stories. Each is a piece of a large puzzle and without each individual piece, the picture never comes together.

Sure Hollywood is a business and billions are dollars are always at stake. But without the experience, the craft and the talents of those behind the camera, none of it happens.

These are the “gig workers” that writer-producer Bruce Ferber gets to open up in The Way We Work: On The Job in Hollywood.

My conversation with Bruce Ferber:



Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The GOP's Strategy To Embrace Racism

Once upon a time the South was a solid Democratic block of votes. Many of those segregationist senators that Joe Biden recently talked about were in fact Democrats. Republicans just didn't get elected from there. And then things changed. The civil rights movement, the voting rights Act, the trailing impact of demographic change from the great migration, and broader cultural changes, including the rise of feminism, all provided an opportunity for Republicans in the South to exploit racial, social and cultural divides.

Today we are living with arguably the apogee that effort.

These divisions have been part of every national election since LBJ vs. Goldwater in 1964 and with each cycle, the divide grows larger. This long effort is the subject of a new work by Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields,  The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics.

My conversation with Angie Maxwell & Todd Shields:


Monday, July 29, 2019

The Most Heinous Serial Killer You've Never Heard Of

I know someone who is absolutely fascinated by true crime stories. She says that Silence of the Lambs is her Star Wars. And why not? Crime stories, especially true crime stories about the likes of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, or Jeffrey Dalmer, fascinate us, as it takes our thinking to the edges of human behavior. Understanding what makes these people tick stretches the human imagination.

That is exactly what investigative journalist Maureen Callahan does for us in her new book American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century In it, she introduces us to a little know serial killer who may very well be one of the most chilling.

My conversation with Maureen Callahan:


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

A 2019 Way To Look At and Talk To Kids About Race


It’s clear that like it or not, race will once again be the issue of our time. You’d think by now, we would at least the the language right. But maybe that’s the very problem. We’re still talking about it precisely because we’re having the wrong discussion.

Almost as long as anyone can remember, we’ve sincerely directed our efforts to eradicate racism by talking about a color-blind society. The goal has been to make race and difference disappear essentially to homogenize the culture. When that hasn’t worked, we perceive that we have failed.

The response to that has been a kind of bifurcated multiculturalism and identity politics, that has moved everyone into their own corner. None of that has helped our understanding

An important new work, by Professor Jennifer Harvey,  Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust Americagives us a new way to view race, justice, and culture.

My conversation with Jennifer Harvey:




Tuesday, July 16, 2019

20 Years Ago Today, the Death of JFK, Jr., Extinguished the Last Flames of Camelot

From the moment that Jackie Kennedy branded the Kennedy presidency as Camelot, in an interview with author and historian Theodore White, royalty was suddenly bestowed upon the survivors.

The recoil effect from that simple phrase on Ted and Bobby and the rest of the family was impactful. But at least they were able to understand and process it. For John F. Kennedy Jr. he would immediately become a prince without any say in the matter

As he came of age emotionally, physically and politically, he was permanently marked by the mythology. It shaped every aspect of his public and private life, right up until his untimely death.

Some men and women choose to live in the public eye. Others like royalty, like William and Harry, for example, are just born there and have to come to grips with it.

JFK Jr. was as close as we have gotten to royalty. He was to become an American Prince. How well it served him and his country is still an open question. One explored by Steve Gillon, a historian and long-time friend in his new book America's Reluctant Prince: The Life of John F. Kennedy Jr.

My conversation with Steven Gillon:



Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Welfare Queen and Political Mythology

We all remember that Al Capone was ultimately busted on tax fraud, even though he had a long, violent and ugly criminal career. We see it play out in politics where someone is charged with one crime that the government is able to prove, while it is really reflective of a career of many crimes.

So it is with the mythology of Linda Taylor. Busted in 1974 for welfare fraud, Taylor had a long history of criminal behavior and is even potentially linked to three suspicious deaths in the 70’s and 80’s

But is was ultimately her conviction on welfare fraud, which made her the infamous “welfare queen,” whose myth would shape our policies from her arrest in 1974, her trope elevated by Ronald Reagan and arguably right up to the political debate today. This is the story that Josh Levin tells in The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth.

My conversation with Josh Levin:



Monday, July 1, 2019

The False Mythology of Roger Ailes

Many of you may have started watching the Showtime series, THE LOUDEST VOICE IN THE ROOM, about Fox News founder Roger Ailes. The problem with it is, that with respect to what Ailes did, what he is credited with accomplishing at Fox, very little of it is true.

Sure Ailes understood television and politics. But at core what he did was to take the world of talk radio, combined it with a bit of “blondification” and transferred it to television. When Fox new went on the air in 1996, Limbaugh had already been on the air for almost ten years.

Ailes simply exploited the rise and power of conservative talk radio. The Economist said many months ago that, “to understand the Republican politics, get in a car, turn on the radio and drive.”

Talk radio, is far more than the viewers that watch even the top rated Fox News shows each night. It's the lens through which millions and millions of its hard core listeners view the world.

No one understands this better than the go-to-guy for talk radio, the founder, editor and publisher of Talkers and Talkers.com, Michael Harrison.

Back in July of 2017, upon the death of Ailes, Harrison and I spoke about this mythology.

My conversation with Michael Harrison:




Thursday, June 20, 2019

War Today: We Pay and They Serve

Once upon a time war had structure. There was a kind of narrative arc to war. A beginning, a middle and clear end. In the modern era, certainly since Vietnam, they have become what Clausewitz called “protracted conflict.” Even the efforts to find resolution are nothing more than wars by other means.

Most have heard the biblical quote, that “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but be not alarmed. These things must happen, but the end is still to come.”

With respect to America's efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan the end has still not come. Few understand this better than the men and women who served. And few articulate it better than Elliot Ackerman in his new work Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning.

My conversation with Elliot Ackerman:




Monday, June 17, 2019

Cities Represent the Ultimate Achievement of Mankind

Today, more than one-half of the world's population lives in cities. In every corner of the world, people are moving to cities at a rapid and geometric pace. The urban migration taking place today is both historic and inevitable. Our cities represent the ultimate triumph and organizing principle of humanity. They are more than either the concrete jungle portrayed by Billy Wilder in the Lost Weekend, or the human zoo, that Desmond Morris claimed.


The great San Francisco columnist, Herb Caen, one said of cities, “that they should not be judged just by their length and width, but by the broadness of their vision and the height of their dreams.” They are, in some ways, the ultimate achievements of mankind.

Few understand them better than Monica L. Smith, a professor of anthropology and professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the UCLA where she holds a chair in Indian Studies and serves as the director of the South Asian Archeology Laboratory in the Cotsen Institute of Archeology. She is the author, most recently of Cities: The First 6,000 Years

My conversation with Monica Smith:



Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Saving Capitalism

Never before in human history has so much change been so rapidly foisted on human beings. Not during the Renaissance, the Enlightenment or the Industrial Revolution.

Today, technology in all of its forms; from smart machines to robotics, from AI to VR to 3D manufacturing, to genetic and biomedical engineering, will make sure we are never the same

It's estimated by some that almost eighty million jobs could be gone in our lifetime. Certainly, the psychological and political consequences of this change, as we are already seeing, could be devastating. But so will the economic impact. It’s in this context that we need to reimagine capitalism. Just listen to some of the current candidates for president, and you’ll see that the very capitalist system that has produced this unprecedented change and wealth, is under siege. All of which raises the question, can capitalism itself keep up?  This is the question that author and business professor Ed Hess in a new White Paper in our recent conversation.

My conversation with Ed Hess:




Monday, May 27, 2019

Imagine If We All Could Have Esther Wojcicki As A Parent

The evidence is overwhelming that in our schools today, the successful curriculums are those that are directed toward deeper learning, project-based learning, and social and emotional learning.

Learners that feel empowered and hands-on, that collaborate and learn empathy are the ones who excel academically.

So why shouldn't the same be true of parenting? The recent cheating scandal certainly shows the other extreme. What happens amidst helicopter parenting run amuck, of parents not having faith in the innate abilities and independence of their kids.

Maybe you don’t have to let your 11 or 12-year-old fly off to France and change planes by themselves as my guest did, but giving them responsibly at home from a young age is essential.

Few people understand this better than Esther Wojcicki. Esther understands not in some abstract white paper kind of way, but by having raised three incredibly successful daughters;  Ann, the co-founder of 23 and me, Susan is the CEO of YouTube and Janet is a distinguished doctor and professor of pediatrics.

Esther is in her own right an amazing success story. A formidable voice on behalf of journalism and media literacy, Esther Wojcicki is the founder of the Media Arts programs at Palo Alto High School and serves as vice chair of Creative Commons and was instrumental in the launch of the Google Teacher Academy.  Her new book is How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results.

My conversation with Esther Wojcicki: