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:


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 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:


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: