Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Why we always fall for the con

Paper Moon, The Sting, American Hustle, The Grifters, House of Games, The Matchstick Men; just a few of the movies we love about con men and hustlers. Yet in real life, we don’t love the likes of Bernie Madoff, or Barry Minkow, or Steven Kunes or Charles Ponzi.

So why the disconnect? Why do we feel joy in being taken in by movie con men, but not so much by the real thing?  The answer may very well lie in what a con man does and what he or she is. How they appear and how they try and manipulate us. Unfortunately the line between con men and salesmen and politicians is fine one. Maria Konnikova shows us the tricks in The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It . . . Every Time.

My conversation with Maria Konnikova:



Monday, February 8, 2016

The Future We Want

Think about how much the world has changed in just the past 25 years and then think about how little our politics has changed. Not just that we’re still talking about Clinton and Bush, but that the issues, the ideas and the ways in which they are discussed has not changed. One does not have to throw out the principles of our Founders to retool the political process. In fact, it is precisely those tools that should be used to reshape everything about our politics.

The good news is that this effort is being midwifed by young people with new values, who believe in transparency and honesty as opposed to duplicity. Who believe in fairness not obfuscation. Who see that the future is not about fixing the old car, but blowing it up and taking Tesla or Uber.

We are at what some have called the millennial moment. When power shifts from parents to children. When adults brought up in a different era realize they've lost touch with what's going on.

Clearly, "there's something happening here" and few understand it better than journalists Sarah Leonard (The Nation) and Bhaskar Sunkara (Jacobin,) author of The Future We Want: Radical Ideas for the New Century.

My conversation with Sarah Leonard and Bhaskar Sunkara:


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The GOP end game

This year's GOP primary race, perhaps more than others, does not exist in a vacuum. When Barry Goldwater accepted the GOP nomination in the SF Cow Palace in 1964, he spoke of extremism in the defense liberty and eschewed moderation. Ever since that moment, so called conservatives have been falling all over themselves trying to live up to those words. Words that had very little to do with the true conservatism of Edmund Burke or Michael Oakeshott and words that were later called into question by Goldwater himself.

But the attempt to elevate their mythology, as Ted Cruz is trying to do, particularly in a rapidly evolving world, may be the final nail in the Republican coffin

This is the context of E.J. Dionne’s insightful new book Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond.

My conversation with E.J. Dionne:


Monday, February 1, 2016

Why Congress needs creative destruction

There must be a dozen books out right now talking about the disfunction in our politics. Every day pundits, commentators and journalists analyze why our political system doesn’t work.

Most all of them don’t see the forest from the trees. What they miss, and what Harvard Professor and onetime Presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig understands, is that the central institution, at the core of our democracy is broken.

Not broken in a way that’s easily fixable by a single election or by a new Speaker of the House. But that the institution itself has been so infected by things like big money, gerrymandering and our modern day methods of campaigning, that just maybe the whole things has to be pulled up by its roots and reimagined and rebuilt.

In fact, that’s why Lawrence Lessig briefly ran for President of the United States and wrote about his ideas in Republic, Lost: Version 2.0

Listen to my conversation for Radio WhoWhatWhy with Professor Lawrence Lessig:



Sunday, January 31, 2016

Why the GOP is only a local party now!

This is a political year like few others. The traditional laws of political gravity have so far, not seemed to apply. Part of it is due to the collection of candidates, the public mood, and the long simmering divisions within the Republican party.

It’s also a result of the changing demographics of America, congressional gerrymandering and the ways in which the idea that “all politics is local,” helps one party and not the other.

These ideas are at the heart of University of Maryland Professor Thomas Schaller's new book The Stronghold: How Republicans Captured Congress but Surrendered the White House

My conversation with Thomas Schaller:


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Caught Between Two Worlds

Two of the most powerful threads in American history are the immigrant experience and America at war and the impact that those wars have had on the nation and it's people

The impact of WWII, the Japanese American experience and the relationship with Japan that evolved out of the ashes of that war, are the penultimate manifestation of that uniquely American story.

Pamela Rotner Sakamoto has, in her new book Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds  captured its true essence.

My conversation with Pamela Rotner Sakamoto:



Monday, January 25, 2016

The Woman Who Are Transforming the Arab World

Last month Saudi woman cast their votes for the first time in municipal elections in Riyadh. And while this is an incredibly positive development in the region, it also, by its very nature points out how limited many of these woman are and how the deeply conservative and gender segregated world of the Middle East has changed so little.

When we look around the world at developing nations, we see that where there has been real progress, in Africa, in Latin America and in parts of Asia, women have played a vital, often central role in advocating and bringing about that progress.

In the Middle East, where that ability has been so limited, we see the consequences on a daily basis. Katherine Zoepf in Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Young Women Who Are Transforming the Arab World gives us an inside view of how these woman are doing.

My conversation with Katherine Zoepf:




Thursday, January 21, 2016

What does the GOP do now?

After its loss in the Presidential election of 2012 the Republican Party felt it needed to do its own after action report. In the end, it was determined that all was basically ok and that the party only needed to broaden its tent and do a little better with Hispanic voters. Enter Jeb Bush.

How did that work out?  Not so well!   What we are seeing today is a total repudiation of a Republican establishment that for 40 years has held onto many of its voters with cultural, racial and religious issues, while delivering nothing of economic value.  For the GOP, today the chickens have come home to roost and we understand exactly "what’s the matter with Kansas."

Covering all of this and telling the story from those first days after the 2012 election is BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins in his new book The Wilderness: Deep Inside the Republican Party's Combative, Contentious, Chaotic Quest to Take Back the White House.

My conversation with McKay Coppins:




Monday, January 18, 2016

Why Political Marriages Matter

What goes on inside of a marriage is always a mystery. With a political marriage, even more so. We all know the stories of the neighbors who have the apparently idyllic marriage, that ends in divorce. Or the couple that battles incessantly, that have been together for 40 years. These dynamics, and the psychological mechanism behind them are truly a riddle wrapped in an enigma.

However, with political marriages, and with public figures, we get a better glimpse. After the fact, we often have letters, tapes, diaries and tell-alls that become a part of the public record. In analyzing them, we learn a lot about how the marriage worked, how it shaped the individuals and in turn how it shaped history.

This is what we learn about LBJ and Lady Bird in Betty Boyd Caroli’s Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President.

My conversation with Betty Boyd Caroli:


With Each Fill-Up we Support Repression, Tyrants, War and Terrorism -- The Link Between Natural Resources and Violence

How many times have we heard the phrase, “Big Oil,” when sometimes what we really mean is authoritarian oil. There seems to be a direct and long standing historical nexus between those nations that have much in demand natural resources and countries which have corrupt, brutal and inept economies.

Our increasing demand for these resources, including oil and all the new resources needed by high technology, are helping to support tyrants around the world. Think about just today’s crisis in , ISIS, Syria, Darfur, the Ukraine; many have at their roots in oil and natural resources.

Listen to my conversation, for Radio WhoWhatWhy, with King's College Philosophy Professor and "Clean Trade" advocate, Leif Wenar.



Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Why Place Matters

We live today in a world of instant communications. Our computers coupled with services like Skype, allow us to travel to anyplace on earth at the speed of light. We have seen the surface of the Moon and of Mars and have been in meetings with participants all over the world.

So should this tell us that anyplace is everyplace? That things like geography, place, and indigenous cultures don’t matter in the 21st century?

Eric Weiner, the author of The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valleyargues that that it matters a lot. In fact, more than ever.

After all, why is it that places like Athens, Florence, Virginia & Philadelphia in 1776 and Silicon Valley today have produced some of the crowning achievements of mankind?

Maybe it’s because, as Eric Weiner says, place matters.

My conversation with Eric Weiner:



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Brave New World of Health - It's not your father's healthcare

There is almost nothing that we do the way we might have done it just ten years ago. The way we book travel, get a car, find places to stay, take photographs, date, communicate with your friends, or consume the news. Creative destruction is everywhere. However a few of the places where such change have been very late to the party, has been with respect to education, government and healthcare.

In the world of healthcare that’s all beginning to change. The sheer force of science and discovery has pushed the otherwise staid walls of the medical profession to change.

And like everything other change, it’s no longer one size fits tall. The new long tail of medicine is about the customization of treatment and along with it, a required need for individual empowerment. Some might call it squeaky wheel medicine, other might just call it the future. One of those is my guest Dr. David Agus who tells us about these ideas in The Lucky Years: How to Thrive in the Brave New World of Health

My conversation with Dr. David Agus:


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Greed is not always good...The Big Short


It takes a long time to get a movie made. Back in May of 2010 I first spoke to Michael Lewis about The Big Short. Here is that 2010 conversation: 

It was John Adams who said "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." What Adams missed is that facts can be interpreted differently by different people. Bias, fed by money, greed, delusion and even by too much information, can cloud and shape those facts. In many ways that's what happened in the recent collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market and of Wall Street itself.

Twenty one years ago Michael Lewis wrote about the wreckage of Wall Street in his memoir Liar's Poker. Little did he know then, that he was writing about the beginning of an era that may now finally be ending. In his new look at Wall Street and the recent financial crisis The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, he paints a powerful narrative of smart and fearless men, some of whom see things as they are and ask why, and others who never ask why not.

My conversation with Michael Lewis:



Monday, January 4, 2016

The Art of Memoir

We live in a culture that is about sharing. First we shared music, then we shared our likes on Facebook, our photos on Instagram, our dating preferences on Tinder and now we share our cars, our houses, essentially our life.

Amidst all of this, has been our ongoing and growing appreciation of memoir and of personal stories. Where once fiction provided a place to explore our inner lives and our moral and social choices, today memoir fills that void.

One of the people who brought us to this point, is the bestselling author of The Liars' Club, Lit, Cherry and now The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr.

My conversation with Mary Karr:


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why Forty States Don't Matter

When Richard Nixon ran for President in 1960, he vowed to visit and campaign in all 50 States. The strain of that effort, particularly in an era of slower air travel, exhausted Nixon and even was in part responsible for his tiredness and poor health in the first debate with JFK.

The reality is today, with our nation so divided and with red and blue States pretty much settled, that the purple States, those in play, those that make a difference, are only a handful.

Today, if all a candidate did was campaign in just ten purple States, that would be all that would be required, even in a close Presidential race.

So how healthy is this for our democracy and who might be the first to want to try and overturn this system. These are just some of the key issues posited by elections expert, Professor David Schultz in Presidential Swing States: Why Only Ten Matter.

My conversation with David Schultz:


Saturday, December 26, 2015

A spotlight on child abuse at the Horace Mann School

No matter how many times we hear the stories of pedophile priests in the Catholic Church, it’s hard to grasp that such things could go on, that they could go on for so long and that so many could be involved as both perpetrators and in the cover up.

Perhaps it's that people didn't want to believe. Like the story told by a victim in the new movie SPOTLIGHT. It the story of a mother, who, even after her son tells her of his abuse, still, out of respect, puts out cookies for the priest when he visits.

In business, or in any institution, it's hard to change culture. As Peter Drucker, has said of business, “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

What we’ve seen in the Catholic Church is a layering of cultures. The culture of the perpetrators, and the culture of secrecy of those that covered it up, combined with the broader culture that encouraged a respect for authority. Together they were a toxic combination

They certainly were at the Horace Mann school in New York, back in the 60’s and 70’s.   The story of Horace Mann was revealed by Amos Kamil in a scorching New York times Magazine story in June of 2012. Now he tell the full measure of that story in Great Is the Truth: Secrecy, Scandal, and the Quest for Justice at the Horace Mann School.

My conversation with Amos Kamil:


Monday, December 21, 2015

Have we Mainstreamed Islamaphobia?

The world has changed in many ways since 9/11. One of those clearly has been the way we look upon Muslims, South Asians and Sikhs. Arguably these attitudes and prejudices and the degree to which they have become embedded in the fabric of our national DNA has had a corrosive effect on all of our relationships with people of color and people that might be different than ourselves.

Today, since Paris and San Bernadino and the heated political rhetoric that has accompanied it, the depth of those divisions seems to be growing to dangerous proportions.

Deepa Iyer has studied this, written about it and works every day to counteract it. A task made much harder each days since she wrote her book,  We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future.

My conversation with Deepa Iyer:




Monday, December 14, 2015

Why is the technology to simplify our lives, so complicated?

We’ve been told for years that one of the key goals of technology was to simplify our life. In fact, for many people the opposite has happened. The combination of complexity, feature creep, and the ever updating world of new technology has made the complexity of the process sometimes not worth the effort.

Enter David Pogue. He spent thirteen years writing about personal technology for the NY Times. He launched Yahoo Tech. He writes a monthly column for Scientific America and created the Missing Manual computer book series. He’s won two Emmys, two Webby awards, and a Loeb award for journalism.

But most of all he is the undisputed master of how to harness the best of technology to serve us and not the other way around. He does it in a way that is both useful and humorous in his new book Pogue's Basics: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) for Simplifying the Technology in Your Life.

My conversation with David Pogue:


Friday, December 11, 2015

A great many children left behind

There is a school of thought in crisis management that says, if you have a completely intractable problem, sometimes the only solution is to create a larger problem. In fact, to blow things up to the point where you get to start over. Sometimes that’s a strategy that happens not just by design, but by outcome.

When then Newark Mayor Cory Booker, N.J. Governor Chris Christie and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg put together a plan that they thought would completely reform and transform Newark schools back in 2010, they thought they were doing the right thing. However what they did was reminiscent of what Ronald Reagan declared as the most terrifying phrases in the English language…”I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

What they did, what they failed at and even what they succeeded at, shows how incredibly hard it is to be transformative in public education. This is the story told by Dale Russakoff in The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?

My conversation with Dale Russakoff:



Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What did he know that his sons did not?

When Oliver Wendell Holmes talked about Roosevelt's first class temperament, he never explained why that was important.

It didn’t explain how, for a future President presiding over victory in two wars in just one term, without braggadocio, might matter,
or respecting those with disabilities and allowing it to become a civil rights issues mattered, or how respecting manners in the conduct of both public and private affairs might shape the destiny of a great nation.

Yet it is precisely that temperament, that George Herbert Walker Bush brought to the Presidency. Imagine any of today’s candidates exercising similar temperament, or restraint or manners. It would be a little like looking for the cool of Sinatra or Jesse Owens, in today’s music or sports celebrities.

All of this just might be an amusing dinner table conversation about days and behaviors gone by, if Jon Meacham, in his new biography show us so profoundly how these qualities matter in the conduct and outcome of public and international diplomacy Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.

My conversation with Jon Meacham:


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Sinatra at 100

To say that music and pop stars today are transitory is an understatement. Very few performers today are building careers for the ages, as did entertainers like Frank Sinatra. Now on the 100th anniversary of Sinatra'x birth we’re joined by poet David Lehman for a look at Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World.

My conversation with David Lehman:



Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How's Your Faith?

In these highly polarized times, we all hear the admonition, especially around holidays and family get-togethers, to make sure you never discuss politics or religion.

So what is it about both of these subjects that are so personal, so internal so potentially inflammatory that we’re admonished not to discuss them?

Long time NBC journalist and former host of Meet The Press, David Gregory has, for years, been immersed in both of these arenas. Lately he has put discussion of politics on the side burner to talk about religion, and more specifically the journey he has taken in going deeper into his own faith.

He shares that journey in his new book  How's Your Faith?: An Unlikely Spiritual Journey

My conversation with David Gregory:



Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Out of Africa

Even long before the current extreme stratification of America, we heard about two Americas. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Michael Harrington and than John Edwards all talked about two nations living side by side. One of relative middle class ease on the cutting edge of technology and education and another mired in poverty, resistant to or fearing change.

Today, the same can said about Africa. For in spite of much popular imaginary parts of Africa are at the cutting edge of technology and economic development.

The rise of the African consumer economy is one of the biggest, and most under-covered, stories. In fact,
by 2020, seven of the world’s top 10 fastest growing economies will be in sub-Saharan Africa.
The continent already has more mobile subscribers than the US or the EU. Alex Perry has covered Africa for years for TIME and NEWSWEEK. Now he gives us The Rift: A New Africa Breaks Free.

My Radio WhyWhatWhy.org conversation with Alex Perry:


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dispatches from the Front Lines of Climate Justice

We have seen that in almost any area of public endeavor, changing the status quo is almost impossible. The combination of entrenched special interests, coupled with the basic human resistance to change, in an era where change is a constant, creates a level of cognitive dissonance and fear that makes changing public policy almost impossible.

So what do we do when the only alternative to change is catastrophic for our health, for our planet, for our economy and for the peoples of the world?

Such is the case with Climate Change. While the science may be clear. The road ahead is anything but. In this we face an unprecedented situation as the world’s leaders gather in Paris this week

That’s why people like Wen Stephenson (What we're Fighting for Now Is Each Other: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Climate Justice,) are so passionate about the cause and see it not just from the point of view of science, but as a moral and social imperative.

My conversation with Wen Stephenson:


Friday, November 27, 2015

China's Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World's Wines

One of the guiding beliefs in foreign affairs is that no two countries that were actively engaged as successful trading partners, ever went to war with each other.

But what happens when two countries, two trading partners do not have parity on the production of a particular product, but have interlocking and conflicting needs, jealously, interests and misunderstandings? The results, can create a crisis on a global level..even if the product is wine.

That’s the story my guest Suzanne Mustacich tells in Thirsty Dragon: China's Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World's Best Wines.  It’s the story of China's quest to become a global wine power, France's Bordeaux region seeking to hang on to past glory and China expanding its tentacles into places like the Napa Valley.

My conversation with Suzanne Mustacich:


Friday, November 20, 2015

Why Lincoln would be appalled by today's income inequality

How many of the candidates that are running for President today, have the depth of character and ideas that, if they were to be elected, we still might be talking about them, studying them and being surprised by them, 150 years after their death? The answer is probably none.

That is certainly not the case with Abraham Lincoln. 150 years after his death, people like esteemed Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer are still plowing the depths of Lincoln's convictions and portraying what he accomplished.

Convictions and ideas that are, in spite of the best efforts of Lincoln’s own party today, still part of the fabric of America. Holzer displays these ideas in A Just and Generous Nation: Abraham Lincoln and the Fight for American Opportunity

My conversation with Harold Holzer: