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: