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Now displaying: 2018

Welcome to the WhoWhatWhy Podcast.

Dec 17, 2018

Two weeks ago Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) made a splash when tweeting about what she thought to be $21 trillion in misappropriated Pentagon money that she claimed was enough to pay for Medicare for all. She based her conclusions on misreading a complex article in the Nation, “The Pentagon’s Massive Accounting Fraud Exposed,” by investigative journalist Dave Lindorff. It’s too bad since her misreading took the focus away from the real story, which revealed the Department of Defense’s (DOD) hugely corrupt budgeting practices.

The author of that article, Dave Lindorff, is Jeff Schechtman’s guest in this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast. According to Lindorff, more than 25 years ago, Congress ordered DOD to submit to an independent audit. After decades of stalling, the department finally failed its first ever audit this month. Lindorf shows how they are not just cooking the books, but literally making numbers up and, in so doing, are perpetuating a massive accounting fraud on the American people.

Lindorff's investigation reveals not only why the Pentagon failed the audit, but why it resisted for so long. He explains how $21 trillion of Pentagon financial transactions, on both sides of the ledger, between 1998 and 2015 could not be traced, documented, or explained.

In this conversation, Lindorff details how the fraud worked to inflate an already huge budget, the accounting tricks being used to fund secret programs, and how clueless Congress and the American people have been about the biggest single line item in the US federal budget.

While Ocasio-Cortez got it wrong about the $21 trillion, there is no question that the Pentagon’s accounting fraud diverts many billions of dollars that could be devoted to other national needs.

Dec 12, 2018

President Ronald Reagan introduced a range of myths about America’s social safety net, led by his images of “welfare queens” and the implication that most recipients of public aid were African American. President Bill Clinton pledged to “end welfare as we know it,” and over the objections of many progressives, he signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act in 1996.

Our guests in this WhoWhatWhy podcast were centrally involved in the policy debates and political battles that signaled the end of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and reduced the Democratic Party’s focus on America’s poor. Former Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a one-time welfare mother elected to the House in 1992, shares insights and anecdotes, and laments that Clinton’s framing of the issues continues to this day with little change. While she has great affection for President Barack Obama, Woolsey says he never focused much on the poor and the social safety net.

Felicia Kornbluh has studied the issues for decades, and offers informed criticism from a feminist perspective. She reveals the collaboration between Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose “Contract with America” allowed Republicans to take control of the House in 1994. She makes a strong case that Clinton’s vision of the “New Democrats” was driven by a desire to attract wealthy and corporate donors to fund his center/right makeover of the party.  

Woolsey, who represented a northern California district for 20 years starting in 1993, speaks candidly about raising three children as a single mom and relying on welfare for several years. Kornbluh is associate professor of History and of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at the University of Vermont and co-author of the new book Ensuring Poverty: Welfare Reform in Feminist Perspective. Her co-author is Gwendolyn Mink, who served as an adviser to her mother, Rep. Patsy Mink, who was a forceful opponent of Clinton’s reforms.

Dec 7, 2018

While President Donald Trump has used truculence, bluster, populism, and manufactured division to hide the true nature of his agenda, George Herbert Walker Bush used manners, civility, and grace to hide the truth of his and his family’s agenda.

Both are very similar in their objectives. Both have enabled the continued transfer of wealth to the upper echelons of society. Both have sought to protect the interests of corporations and rich friends. But as we witnessed this week, Bush and the Bush family were far more effective with honey than with vinegar.

To wrap up this week of seemingly non-stop hagiographic coverage of George H.W. Bush, Jeff Schechtman talks with Russ Baker about the Bush family and Baker’s blockbuster book Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America's Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years.

Baker notes that the job of journalism is to ask questions and present facts — NOT to be co-opted by the fawning of sycophants that today turn funerals into a form of entertainment.  

Amid the pomp and pageantry of a state funeral, Baker tells us of little-known and little-publicized aspects of Bush’s life and career: how he got a covert early start as an intelligence operative decades before becoming CIA director; how his father, on behalf of Wall Street, chose an unknown Richard Nixon to run for Congress; how he couldn’t remember where he was when John F. Kennedy was shot (Baker knows); and how he played a deep role in the illegal Iran-Contra affair while keeping his fingerprints off the official record.

Baker shows us that from the most elite prep schools to the secret sanctum of Skull and Bones to the reinvention of this well-connected New England clan as Texas oilmen for over a hundred years the Bush family has been about the protection, extension, and cohesion of America’s ruling class.

Dec 5, 2018

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has made lots of money peddling slanted news as “fair and balanced” on his Fox News Channel. The man who built it, Roger Ailes, retired in disgrace in 2016 and died a year later. He changed American media in many ways, and used fear as a driving force at Fox — and earlier in campaigns for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.

Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes is a new documentary that debuts on December 7 in theaters and online. We talk with producer/director Alexis Bloom about Ailes’s early work as producer of The Mike Douglas Show, where he met Richard Nixon. When he worked for George H.W. Bush’s campaign in 1988, Ailes deployed the infamous Willie Horton ad in one of his early assaults on the liberals he saw as the enemies of his cause.

Bloom shares several interesting anecdotes, including how Ailes started Fox News to spite his former employers at NBC, how he gave fishing lessons to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for a TV ad, and his exploitation of women on screen and off.

Alexis Bloom is producer and director of Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes. Bloom also produced Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds and We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.

Nov 30, 2018

With the news cycle of late nearly engulfed by the questions — and spy games — swirling around “Russiagate,” taking a fresh look at Watergate could be an especially worthwhile endeavor. Luckily, revisiting the rise and fall of President Richard Nixon is exactly what Shane O'Sullivan does for us in his new book, Dirty Tricks: Nixon, Watergate and the CIA.

O’Sullivan — Jeff Schechtman’s guest in this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, and an author/filmmaker whose previous work has dug into the Kennedy assassinations — takes us beyond the popular Woodward-and-Bernstein Hollywood scenario, revealing instead the deepest workings of Nixon’s cronies. From the Anna Chennault affair and the Ellsberg break-in to Watergate and the CIA, the author provides new information in a number of areas.

O’Sullivan examines what President Lyndon B. Johnson and the CIA knew about then-GOP nominee Nixon’s back channel to Chennault — allegedly used in order to scuttle the Paris peace talks and thereby gain an advantage in the final days before the 1968 election — and why they did nothing about it.

 He examines the distinction between what the CIA as an agency may have known, and what individual CIA operatives knew. He probes the deep relationship between Howard Hunt and CIA Director Richard Helms. And he seeks to further understand the role — and the missteps — of James McCord, and his possible role in a possible hidden CIA agenda.

Nov 22, 2018

An author argues that, love it or hate it, capitalism is making planetary crises worse.

Nov 21, 2018

Fifty-five years ago President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas. The widely accepted narrative for all these many decades is that he was murdered by lone-wolf gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Yet the evidence is overwhelming that there was at least one other shooter present in Dealey Plaza. Skeptical? There’s really only one piece of evidence you need to see in order to overcome your doubts.

Do yourself a favor: watch the Zapruder film. This was taken by a bystander, Abraham Zapruder, who captured the assassination on his handheld 8mm camera. See that horrific headshot, with the president being thrown backwards and to the left? Where do you surmise that shot came from?

If you guessed somewhere to the front-right of the president (where numerous eyewitnesses said they heard a shot or shots coming from), congratulations — you’re using your common sense and the reasonable presumption that Newtonian mechanics are still applicable.

But the defenders of the lone-gunman narrative would have us believe that in this case we need to suspend our common-sense notions, to press “pause” on the basic laws of motion. They tell us that all the shots actually came from behind the president — fired by Oswald alone.

Of course, you can dig further — not only into the voluminous evidence from Dealey Plaza, but about Oswald himself. What was he doing in Dallas? What about his connections to US intelligence? Was he pro-Castro? Anti-Castro? Who was he connected with in New Orleans? What about Oswald’s murderer, Jack Ruby, and his connections to the mob? You can work your way outward from Dallas until you find yourself knocking on the door of the halls of power.

A much easier approach — almost as easy as watching the Zapruder film — is to examine the well-documented, unambiguous evidence of government deception in this case — simple evidence that does not depend on the words of eyewitnesses, or interpretation. A few of our own brief reports on this are herehere, and here. And please go here to see exposed some amazing tricks performed by scientists to support the government narrative.

In order to really take on the JFK assassination, you have to be willing to face the fact that powerful interests in high places have no qualms about overturning the will of the people for their own benefit.

And they’re confident enough to do it in broad daylight.

Which brings us to the conversation below, hosted by The Ripple Effect Podcast. It features a lively back-and-forth with WhoWhatWhy’s Editor-in-Chief Russ Baker, and researchers Jeff Morley and James DiEugenio, each a well-respected JFK assassination expert.

Want to hear what actually happened to change the course of world history on November 22, 1963? Click below.

Nov 16, 2018

California forests have long been a disaster waiting to happen. Forest density, antiquated forest practices, stressed and dead trees as a result of bug infestation, conflicts between state and federal government, and private property owners wanting to live close to the “wildland-urban interface” are just a few of the problems.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, we talk with longtime California environmental reporter, Julie Cart, about just how bad the problem is and what is being done to prevent more death and destruction.

She explains that a full 30 percent of California is forested. Of this total, 60 percent is owned by the federal government, 2 percent by the state of California, and the rest is owned either privately or by local governments. Each has a different approach to dealing with the problem.

California has an estimated 129 million dead trees, an acknowledged factor in spreading wildfires, Cart says. The cost for removing a single dead tree is approximately $1,000, and the optics of cutting down trees, even dead ones, in a state with strong environmental rules make remediation even more difficult.

The impact of climate change on forest fires involves a deadly feedback loop. So many of the fires are a direct result of extended drought related to climate change. But in torching so many dead trees, a severe fire season of one or two months can release enormous amounts of carbon into the air more than that emitted by all the cars in California each year which significantly adds to the buildup of greenhouse gases fueling climate change.

Last year’s fires cost over $9 billion; this year the toll will be even higher. In both dollars and lives lost. Cart points out that while Cal Fire and the US Forest Service have vast resources, so much of those resources are diverted to firefighting, leaving little time or money to do the necessary work of prevention.

Cart suggests that perhaps the real solution is simply to tell people, as they do in Australia, that if they choose to live in certain areas, they cannot expect a fire truck to roll up the driveway during the next disaster. They will have to learn how to fend for themselves.

Nov 9, 2018

Every election cycle brings with it one state that comes to represent the zeitgeist of that election. We all remember Florida during the 2000 election. In years past, as Nixon used to say, it was all about Ohio. In 2016, Pennsylvania was the tipping point.

This midterm, all eyes were on the Peachtree state, as Georgia came to define not only Democratic energy but the issues of election integrity and voter suppression that were infused with so much political concern in 2018.

This is, in part, why WhoWhatWhy made election integrity and Georgia the centerpiece of its coverage of this election. With reporters and videographers on the ground with more resources deployed than many news organizations two and three times its size WhoWhatWhy “owned” this issue.

But as Russ Baker and Klaus Marre point out in this week’s podcast, it was about more than the candidates and the partisan politics. The focus was on how voter suppression impacted real people: citizens who wanted to vote, who took their obligation seriously, who cared and thought deeply about the issues, but were thwarted or unconscionably delayed in the exercise of their franchise.

Unlike Russia or Facebook or hacking, these problems were homegrown in Georgia, and only by being there — on the front lines — could WhoWhatWhy do the kind of reporting that our readers and listeners have come to expect.

Listen to WhoWhatWhy founder and editor-in-chief Russ Baker and senior editor Klaus Marre talk about what this all means, why voter suppression anywhere matters to all of us, and what WhoWhatWhy’s ongoing coverage will look like.

Nov 2, 2018

As a regular reader of WhoWhyWhy, you know that we have focused like a laser on election integrity and uncovered story after story about voter suppression in Georgia, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and elsewhere. But important as all of this is, it’s only part of the bigger story.  

It was Joseph Stalin who said that “it's not the people who vote that count, it's the people who count the votes.” The 2000 presidential election was a fantastic example of why that matters.

You all remember chads, hanging chads, punch cards, Votomatic machines, and how 540 votes and five Supreme Court justices changed America. What if those hanging chads had not been an accident? What if it wasn’t the fault as was claimed at the time of incompetent voters who didn’t know how to completely punch out a chad? What if the cards themselves had been engineered to fail?

In a never-before-told story that reads like a detective novel, investigative journalist Stephen Singular finds himself on the floor of the factory that made the infamous punch cards, in negotiations with 60 Minutes trying to get their help, and being given hundreds of unused punch cards to test as he tries to unravel the first great electoral mystery of the 21st century.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Singular talks to Jeff Schechtman about his just-published ebook Stolen Future: The Untold Story of the 2000 Election.

Singular takes us inside the machines that manufacture the perforated cards, whose precision, down to 1/5,000th of an inch, shaped the fate of the republic. Imagine that the war in Iraq could have been caused by a dull blade in one high-speed perforating machine in one factory, or maybe engendered by foul play.

Singular examines how the failure of punch cards not only impacted the 2000 election, but became the reason for states to place orders for hundreds of millions of dollars in new electronic voting systems — made by the very same private companies responsible for the 2000 mishap.

He tells Schechtman about ES&S, an Omaha-based company with close Republican ties and far-right roots, that manufactures most of the systems to which we entrust our vote.

Singular takes us inside 60 Minutes and their failure to pursue a story that may have been too hot for them to handle.

In the best tradition of investigative journalism, Singular’s journey goes from working with an old friend to test an idea, to having door after door slammed in his face. It’s a story that should add a sober new dimension to the efforts to preserve our democracy next week.

Oct 26, 2018

This week feels like the culmination of two years of attacks on journalism — including President Donald Trump’s ongoing denunciations of the press as “the enemy of the people,” the bombs sent to CNN along with other targets of Trump’s verbal venom, and more revelations about the horrifying murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, who feared for his life in the months leading up to his killing, spoke about much of this with international journalist Rula Jebreal in one of his last interviews. She is Jeff Schechtman’s guest on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast.

Jebreal talks about Khashoggi’s views on the Saudi regime of Mohammed bin Salman views that were, by any objective standard, nuanced and measured. He told Jebreal, in that last interview, that he was not seeking the overthrow of the bin Salman regime, but its reform. Jebreal explains how mournful Khashoggi was that he had tried, in vain, to foster the reformist impulses of the young crown prince.  

Khashoggi saw the crown prince as a deeply divided figure: While bin Salman sought to win accolades as a reformer, he also wanted to rule as his grandfather and great-grandfather had as a tribal leader of unquestioned authority.

It was Khashoggi’s exposure of bin Salman as a ruler trying to have it both ways that Jebreal thinks most angered him. She says that Khashoggi was murdered “for the crime of having an opinion.”  

Jebreal shares with Schechtman what else she learned from Khashoggi, who was her friend. She talks passionately of Khashoggi’s views on the Saudi-led, US-supported war in Yemen; the role of journalism in how Americans view the Saudis; and how shocking it is that defense of the Saudi regime is still permissible in polite society.  

She tells Schechtman that Khashoggi thought it would probably take a major crisis to change US policy toward Saudi Arabia. What he didn’t know was that his murder might be the trigger for that crisis.  

Oct 22, 2018

While the congressional midterm elections and some statewide races dominate mainstream media coverage, there’s a lot of action at the local, grassroots level. As minority communities grow and the dominance of the white majority wanes, immigrants and first generation Americans are running for office — and winning.

Sayu Bhojwani served as Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs in New York City, and eight years ago she founded the nonprofit New American Leaders. Her new book is People Like Us: The New Wave of Candidates Knocking on Democracy’s Door. She profiles a new generation of candidates of color across the country, and their paths to election. Bhojwani explains that the ACLU has sued local governments to enforce a portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to establish district elections. Compared to running “at large” in an entire jurisdiction, district elections lower the barrier to entry for new candidates, allowing community-based campaigns with smaller budgets and more personal contact with voters.

Bhojwani also notes that, in states like Arizona, public campaign financing has empowered people with limited resources to challenge powerful incumbents, and win. We also touch on Michigan’s ballot initiative 18-2, which would establish a citizens’ redistricting commission to draw the district lines following the 2020 Census. And Bhojwani closes with some advice for listeners who are considering running for local office.

Oct 19, 2018

WhoWhatWhy continues to expose voter suppression across the country. With reporters on the ground in Georgia and Florida, and ongoing reports from North Carolina, North Dakota, and other places, readers are getting to witness first hand the impact on minority voters of rejection of absentee ballots, the extremes of “exact match,” the consolidation of polling places, photo ID laws, poor voting machine security, and other methods, all designed to devalue the vote.

Our stories, however, are only a first step. We can point out the problems but others have to take the next step and do something about them. That is why groups like the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law are so important. They are fighting the legal battles in court on behalf of disenfranchised voters. Where once the US Justice Department might have stepped in to enforce the right of American citizens to cast their vote, now it has been left to outside lawyers — many working pro bono — to fend off ever more sophisticated voter suppression efforts.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jeff Schechtman talks to Ezra Rosenberg, co-director of the Voting Rights project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. In many cases, after courts have intervened in favor of voters’ rights, legislatures have come back to tweak their suppression laws in an attempt to place further obstacles in the path of minority voters trying to exercise their franchise.  

Still, there have been numerous successes — many of them based on reporters exposing suppression problems and groups like the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights fighting in court for fair elections.

Oct 12, 2018

It’s always scary to hear a Wall Streeter utter the hackneyed phrase, “this time it’s different.” And yet today it really is. Especially the economic conditions that make up the operating system for today’s world.

As markets ride a roller coaster this week, as the political environment is heavily focused on international trade and tariffs on manufactured objects like cars and jeans, the reality is that all of this is yesterday's way of looking at the economy. This, according to Jonathan Haskel, who is a member of the Bank of England’s rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee (the equivalent of the US Federal Reserve), a professor of economics at Imperial College London, and the director of the school’s doctoral program. He has also taught economics at the London Business School, the Tuck School at Dartmouth, and the Stern School of Business at New York University.

Haskel explains in this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast that, while people once invested in things that grow (in the agrarian age) or in things that could be made with steel and sweat (in the manufacturing age), today, no matter how hard politicians try and take us back, the investments are made in human capital, in ideas, in imagination, and in zeros and ones. The problem for economists, according to Haskel, is that things like R&D, marketing, design, and software are much harder to measure and value.  

The idea, Haskel tells Jeff Schechtman, is that intangible assets are created, distributed, and often valued differently than traditionally manufactured items. “Products you can’t touch have a very different set of dynamics in terms of competition and risk and how you value the companies that make them.”

Trying to determine the impact of all of this on the economy — when much of what is produced is abstract, symbolic, and speculative — has been difficult, Haskel explains, because so much has eluded traditional description, measurement, and accounting.

For example, he laments that we lack the ability to measure a company, even one as big as Microsoft, whose market value a decade ago was $250 billion, while its physical basis — the value of its properties and equipment — was only about one percent of that.

Finally, Haskel explains that the “shift to intangible investment” has widespread consequences that affect long-term inequality, infrastructure development, taxation, and other areas. It also leads to what Haskel calls “secular stagnation,” by allowing firms to scale quickly after they emerge, then engulf and overpower competitors, as opposed to enhancing an economy based on the rising tide that lifts all boats. It’s clear that we can’t watch the current daily gyrations in the stock market without understanding this evolving dynamic.

Jonathan Haskel is the author of Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy (Princeton University Press, November 18, 2017).

Oct 8, 2018

When we talk about fracking, thoughts usually turn to the environment. But that’s only a small part of the story. Fracking is changing the geopolitics of the world. It’s creating the illusion of moving America towards energy independence. This is impacting Saudi Arabia and Russia; influencing politics in Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; and, counterintuitively, it may be making the US a loser nation.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, bestselling financial journalist Bethany McLean, the author of The Smartest Guys in the Room (a book about the Enron scandal) talks to Jeff Schechtman about the real consequences of fracking.

The discovery of fracking, a way to extract oil and natural gas from shale rock, has turned America into the world's top producer of both. This may upend global politics, destabilize Saudi Arabia, and loosen Russia’s stranglehold over Europe. Surprisingly, the outcome may not be so good for America.

McLean tells Jeff Schechtman that the fragility of the economics of fracking, along with the disregard for renewables, is what may turn a temporary boom into a long-term bust.

She reminds us that while Texas alone may be poised to become the #3 oil producer in the world, the future of oil has more to do with Wall Street than with geology. Because fracking rests on a flimsy financial foundation, its future is far less secure than people realize.

The most important ingredient in fracking isn’t chemicals, McLean says, but capital. She explains how the financial crash of 10 years ago actually made fracking viable in the first place. However, many on Wall Street are now dialing down their investment in gas and oil in favor of renewables. It appears that a collision is fast approaching between Wall Street and the White House over energy policy.

Oct 1, 2018

Is California ready for a “Bear Flag” party? Former Congressman Tom Campbell wants Californians to have more choice in statewide elections, and is pushing a plan to create a third party for the state.

In this conversation with Peter B. Collins, who has known Campbell for more than 25 years, the former lawmaker talks about the need for a new party and the benefits it would offer to voters and candidates.

The creation of a viable third party in California might also inspire a national movement to shake up the two-party system that now dominates US politics.

In recent years, California voters approved initiatives to end gerrymandering and limit the role of political parties in primary elections: An independent redistricting commission draws the lines for legislative and congressional districts, and the nonpartisan blanket primary also known as the “jungle primary” or “top two primary” has reduced the control of party leaders in selecting primary candidates.

Campbell served five terms in the House of Representatives, and was the last Republican elected from Silicon Valley since 1998. He twice ran for the US Senate, served in the state senate and was finance director to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is also a well-known academic who taught law at Stanford, served as dean of the business school at UC Berkeley, and presently teaches law and economics at Chapman University.

As a moderate Republican, Campbell lost to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) in the general election of 2000; in 2010 he lost the GOP Senate primary to Carly Fiorina. In 2016, he resigned from the Republican Party after it nominated Donald Trump. These combined experiences have led him to call for a new, third party in California.

Registered voters in California include about 8 million Democrats, 5.2 million Republicans, and 4.9 million who are tagged “No Party Preference” or NPP. Campbell wants to create a new party from the last group as well as the dominant two parties, and says the law allows a new party to be recognized if about 60,000 people statewide register for it. Campbell thinks he can achieve that number with a budget of about $100,000 to educate voters.

Sep 28, 2018

Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing gave the world a glimpse at the lives of privileged American boys in high school and college in the 1980s. The culture of parties, drinking, and sexual abuse is to this day very much a part of fraternity life on colleges and university campuses across America. And while many successful businessmen, lawyers, and politicians consider the day they joined their fraternity to be one of the most important days of their lives, fraternities are often just safe spaces for excessive drinking, class privilege, and sometimes criminal behavior.

That’s the view of journalist John Hechinger. In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, he talks with Jeff Schechtman about what goes on inside today’s fraternities. He exposes the sexism, rape, and general sadism among young men happy to pay annual dues of $7,000 or more to be part of these exclusive groups.

Hechinger takes a deep dive into the fraternity SAE, which some have said stands for “Sexual Assault Expected.” He recounts stories of women having been raped at SAE parties in Georgia — and explains why such behavior has been tolerated by both administrators and alumni. All in all, he says, the dehumanizing hazing rituals enforced at some fraternities place them among the most anachronistic institutions operating in America.

Hechinger is the author of True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities(PublicAffairs, September 26, 2017).

Sep 24, 2018

“We don’t have an immigration crisis,” contends Harvard professor Jacqueline Bhabha: We have a “hospitality crisis.”

Under President Donald Trump, the United States’ limit for refugee admissions has reached a record low. Last week, the administration proposed to again sharply reduce the limit for refugee admissions — from an already anemic 45,000 in 2018 to 30,000 in 2019. Under this year’s cap, the US is on track to admit only 22,000 refugees, less than half of the projected maximum.

Bhabha joins Peter B. Collins for this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast. Bhabha is professor of health and human rights at the School of Public Health, research director at the FXB Center, and lectures at Harvard Law and the Kennedy School. She is an expert on the global refugee crisis.

Natural and man-made disasters, such as wars, ethnic cleansing, and famines have displaced millions of people throughout the world, but Bhabha maintains that the international community has the resources to handle the “challenges” that these migrations cause. She points out that migration is “200,000 years old,” a fact of life as long as humans have populated the Earth.

The problem, she adds, is not that there are too few resources and too little space to handle migrants; it’s that world leaders, including the president of the United States, perceive immigrants as “evils” to be driven back, rather than a new, young potential workforce to be assimilated.

The administration’s stated goal is to reduce immigration — both illegal and legal — in order to keep out undesirables whom it sees as a threat to national security. The president frequently has cited the violent acts of the infamous MS-13 gang, and isolated incidents of illegal Mexican immigrants committing violent crimes, as grounds for building a wall on the US-Mexico border.

At the same time, the president has faced push-back for his “Muslim ban,” an executive order which restricts travel from several Muslim majority countries. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court recently delivered his administration a victory by upholding the ban’s constitutionality.

The irony is that the migration crisis facing both the US and Europe — exemplified most recently by the Syrian and Libyan refugees — has its origins in policy decisions made by these same Western countries.

 As the author of Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age, Bhabha deplores the “barbarity” of family separation under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. She notes that the US has never signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that its bad record regarding treatment of migrant children precedes the current administration. While also critical of some of President Barack Obama’s immigration policies, she says that Trump has further polarized discourse on immigration while criminalizing it in many ways.

But the migration crisis is not confined to the Western world, nor is it always just about crossing international borders.

Bhabha describes the brutal displacement of Rohingya Muslims by the Buddhist majority in Myanmar. The UN report released on September 18 strongly rebukes Myanmar and its military leaders for acts amounting to ethnic cleansing.

Bhabha notes that the UN will be addressing the “final draft[s]” of two global compacts on migration and refugees at the upcoming General Assembly. Both documents attempt to spell out the “universal human rights and fundamental freedoms” that should be accorded to migrants of all kinds.

Bhabha’s latest book is Can We Solve the Migration Crisis? (Global Futures, May 3, 2018).

Sep 21, 2018

A country does not have to be fascist or have a fascist government in order to be riddled with fascist politics. This is the scary premise Jason Stanley argues in his recent book How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale University, is Jeff Schechtman’s guest on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast.

Stanley reminds us that while 63 million Americans voted for President Donald Trump, a man who taps into America’s worst impulses, historically there is nothing new about the kind of politics he exploits. The attacks on immigrants, the media, cities, elites, and minorities, and the promise to weed out corruption, are all straight out of the fascist playbook.  

Stanley talks to Schechtman about what he believes are the ten pillars of fascist politics: the mythic past, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, unreality, hierarchy, victimhood, law and order, sexual anxiety, and appeals to the heartland. He explains how fascists have consistently used these elements to sow division and gain power.

We are reminded in this conversation that the US is just as susceptible to fascist politics as Europe or anywhere else. Fascism, Stanley explains, is rooted in the struggle for “the national state” — a struggle fueled by a sense of loss for an idyllic past, which all but demands scapegoating of those “responsible” for that loss. It’s about, as Stanley puts it, weaponizing nostalgia.

Another key to fascism, as detailed by Stanley, is that it almost always wins by means of democratic elections. He points out that Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels observed that the great joke on democracy is that its very freedoms lead to the victory of its worst enemy.

As Stanley speculates on the future, his greatest fear is that the US is evolving into a one-party state through a perversion of democracy. He singles out candidates like Brian Kemp in Georgia and Kris Kobach in Kansas, who are stoking fear of “others” to create an anti-democratic backlash and who are masters of voter suppression of non-white voters. He then explains the path that runs from voter suppression to the public's feeling of hopelessness for democracy, and eventually to the collapse of democracy itself.

Stanley’s is a cautionary tale, taken straight from today’s headlines.

Sep 14, 2018

The holy grail of physics is a unified field theory that somehow explains both the micro and macro aspects of how the world works. The same holds true for what Thomas Carlyle called the “dismal science” of economics, as we seek to understand the causes and consequences of the 2008 financial meltdown.

 In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jeff Schechtman talks with economic historian Adam Tooze, professor of history at Columbia University and award-winning author, about a reinterpretation of the 2008 financial crisis through the lens of what came before and what followed in its wake.

On this tenth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Tooze explains how, contrary to popular mythology, this was not just a problem that started in the US and rippled outward, but a global problem: the first real crisis of the global age.

 He explains how decades of not fully understanding financial entanglement helped set in motion the shock waves that were felt around the world and that are still reverberating today in the economics of Europe and the developing world and in politics in the US.  

In his conversation with Schechtman, Tooze shows how financial globalization engaged the entire world, how China ended up owning America’s public debt, and how Europe’s megabanks helped funnel trillions of dollars into the riskiest American mortgages.

 Tooze points out that the threat of financial instability in European and American banking is still with us, although invisible. And how the 2008 crisis not only changed the financial landscape, but gave rise to a new regime of global governance in response. He reminds us that China is, without question, the most important factor in the world economy: 30 percent of all global economic growth now comes from China. That's more than the US and Europe combined. GM today sells more cars in China than in the US.  

 While we may not have realized it, at the height of crisis the Federal Reserve stuffed Europe’s banks with trillions of dollars of liquidity and outsourced $4.5 trillion in credit to European and Asian central banks.

 Tooze also talks about the near-miss economic crisis in China in 2015-2016, and why this is a harbinger of just how dangerous things might become in the near future.

Adam Tooze is the author of Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (Viking, August 7, 2018).

Sep 12, 2018

It is an accepted axiom of modern life that disruptive change is all around us. Almost every aspect of our lives has been altered irrevocably in recent years.

 In this process there have been winners and losers, just as in every other great social upheaval. This time, however, the consequences have been even more profound, leading in large measure to the social dislocation, anger, and fear we see today.

Part of the reason is that the disrupters, who created so much of the change, and got rich doing it, now claim to be the only ones able to solve the problems they created. This, says Anand Giridharadas in his attention-grabbing new book, Winners Take All, is a little like the arsonist insisting on heading the fire brigade.

In this WhoWhatWhy podcast, Giridharadas explains to Jeff Schechtman the damage that has been caused over the past 30 to 40 years of citizens construing government as their enemy. In so doing, they have unwittingly undermined the very public institutions that have traditionally moderated and sometimes even democratized change.

What that means in practical terms, Giridharadas says, is that innovators are doing things in private that publicly we don't know how to police.

Using cryptocurrency as an example, Giridharadas says, “We have no idea how to tax that stuff, we have no idea how to find that stuff. Look at all the ways in which wealthy people use tax havens and tax shelters…”

Giridharadas maintains that, for most of US history, democratic government and capitalism have worked together relatively successfully to create a thriving mixed economy built on a foundation of a strong democracy.

That collaboration has gone off the rails over the last few decades, he says. Now, in his words, we need to pivot from an age of “fake change” to an age of genuine reform, in which we rebuild our vital public institutions to be able to keep step with a changing world.

Sep 7, 2018

While widespread voter fraud may be a figment of President Donald Trump’s imagination, it should never be confused with voter suppression, which is very real. Two months out from the midterm elections, the basic rights of millions of Americans are under threat.  

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jeff Schechtman is joined by Carol Anderson, the Chair of African American studies at Emory University and an authority on voter suppression — especially of the efforts to disenfranchise African American voters in the South.

She talks about how individuals within state governments are relentlessly fighting to deprive citizens of their fundamental rights. She explains how this is part of the long legacy of structural racism, which has become even more pernicious since the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder. That ruling eviscerated, in her opinion, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, by allowing states and communities with a demonstrated history of racial discrimination to change voting requirements without approval from the Department of Justice.

Anderson shares with Schechtman several case histories about states that have adopted voter suppression tactics, including photo ID requirements, poll closures, and voter-roll purging. She explains how they all work and how they can be combated.

Citing the recent victory of Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), she details how dedicated organizations and individuals were able to overcome almost every tactic of voter suppression and she talks about how this could be a template for the 2018 midterms.  

This conversation with Carol Anderson — in which she draws from her book One Person, No Vote — is Voter Suppression 101: a fundamental primer on its reasons, its techniques, and the ways that it can and should be fought.

Aug 31, 2018

For the US, Afghanistan is a little like Alice in Wonderland: it takes all the running we can do, just to stay in the same place.

In a little over a month, it will be 17 years since the US led an invasion of Afghanistan. It’s the country's longest war, but only one phase in the 40 years of war that have been a part of contemporary Afghanistan.

Many Americans, especially with the amount of news being generated lately, have forgotten why their country went there, what role the US still might have there, and what has been the cost, in terms of both lives and treasure.

In this week's WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jeff Schechtman speaks with Laurel E. Miller, a senior foreign policy expert at RAND and former acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the State Department.

Miller talks first about the impact that war fatigue might have on any attempt to find a diplomatic solution, and how the US and Afghanistan still see almost everything through very different sets of lenses.

One result is that, according to Miller, the conflict has been essentially stalemated for a decade and there is no indication on the ground or behind the scenes that the impasse is going to be broken.

Miller explains the ways in which the US has been both a stabilizing and a destructive force. Despite the grim history of military intervention, she believes Washington still has a role to play in Afghanistan, although not on the battlefield.  

She brings some clarity to the discussion of how the Taliban might be brought into the political mainstream, and how ISIS as the common enemy of the Taliban, the Afghan government, and the US just might provide the impetus for a broad diplomatic solution.

Miller explains that while Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan may not be able to play a significant role in diplomacy, Pakistani buy-in is an absolute prerequisite to any peace in the region.

While acknowledging the difficulty of trying to make peace in one of the most corrupt countries in the world, she offers a fresh look at possible ways out of the 17-years-and-counting conflict.

Aug 28, 2018

In July, California’s legislature and governor faced an elegant — and legal — extortion threat. The American Beverage Association, funded by Coke and Pepsi, demanded immediate passage of legislation that preempts any soda taxes imposed by county or local governments for the next 12 years. If Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and the Democratic-controlled legislature refused, Big Soda would go forward with a ballot initiative this November that would severely limit any future tax increases at local and county levels. Brown blinked and signed the preemption law, averting what he saw as a larger, long-term danger.

But the governor’s action opened the door to other extortion schemes cooked up by well-funded corporate interests; Silicon Valley tech firms successfully used similar tactics to press for the removal of an initiative to protect online privacy rights.

Our guest, Mark Pertschuk, is the founder and executive director of Grassrootschange.net, which advocates for healthier communities through grassroots action. He also manages Preemption Watch, which tracks legislation that prevents or invalidates local measures aimed at improving civil rights, health and safety. As president and executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, he was instrumental in the passage of many laws regulating tobacco use.

Pertschuk explains how preemption works, and details the California soda tax case. We also discuss the 13 states that ban most or all regulation of factory farms and agribusiness, and a similar number of states that undermine smoking bans in public places.

And we talk about “good preemption” that sets a floor for regulations, compared to “bad preemption” that puts a ceiling on local laws and regulations.

Aug 24, 2018

The financial insecurity facing so many Americans in today’s gig economy is not the result of startups and their new apps, or even of technology in general. Temp work is the result of four decades of deliberate decisions by executives in corporate America decisions that changed the nature of work and of capitalism itself. So explains Louis Hyman a professor of economic history at Cornell, and Jeff Schechtman’s guest on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast.  

Hyman takes us back to the 1960s and 70s, when the rise of conglomerates and management consultants brought about a reorganization of the American corporation and a profound change in the relationship of employees to their workplace.  

Hyman shows how corporate America traded stability for short-term profits. At the same time, he challenges the myth of the idyllic post–World War II workplace, arguing that it was only “idyllic” for successful white men and basically repressive for everyone else.  

He reminds Schechtman that the office and factory of that time offered stable paychecks, but not much self-determination. Today's economy may be volatile, but it offers the possibility of a new kind of individual freedom and a new kind of individualized capitalism. In fact, Hyman says, the corporation may no longer even be necessary to capitalism.

According to Hyman, over the last ten years, 94 percent of net new jobs have appeared outside of traditional employment, and approximately one-third of the workforce now depends on this alternative world of work, either as a primary or supplementary source of income.  

He also points out that today’s corporations, like Starbucks and Walmart, are really the drivers of the gig economy, as a direct result of their failure to meet employees’ need for a “living wage.”

He refers to Uber and other gig economy players as the “waste product of the service economy,” because people drive for ride-hailing services or take temp jobs to provide the income that their full-time jobs don’t.

Despite the downside of the gig economy, Hyman argues that the burgeoning expansion of temporary work holds the promise of a complete reinvention of capitalism and economic freedom. If we can get it right, he says, it can be an exciting new world.

Louis Hyman is the author of Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary (Viking, August 21, 2018).

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