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Now displaying: March, 2018

Welcome to the WhoWhatWhy Podcast.

Mar 30, 2018

Be it privatizing the Veterans Administration, railing against “socialized medicine,” gutting the Environmental Protection Agency, or trying to starve public education, the proponents of these ideas all seem to be beholden to the work of Ayn Rand.

Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead, was published 75 years ago this month, after being turned down by 12 publishers. Yet for people like Paul Ryan, Stephen Miller, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Peter Thiel, it might as well have been a briefing paper published this morning.

Even though Bill Buckley kicked Rand out of the conservative movement in the late 1950s, at a 2005 gathering to honor her memory, Paul Ryan declared, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”

Yaron Brook, the president and executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, and Jeff Schechtman’s guest on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, thinks that The Fountainhead is the classic American novel and that Rand’s ideas are at the core of American and Western civilization.

Opposition to her is just as contemporary, as people like Robert Reich and Paul Krugman devote significant efforts to trying to discredit her.

In his conversation with Schechtman, Brook talks about Silicon Valley and how, in his view, it’s wrong for leaders and inventors to share credit. He argues that they need not apologize or share their success, but instead bask shamelessly in their accomplishments.

He criticizes Bill Gates for focusing on philanthropy and giving his money away, when he could still be doing more to achieve greater success and make more money.

Originally published in 1943, The Fountainhead, Brook claims, was intended not as a political manifesto, but to put forward a way of seeing the world devoid of what he says is today’s tribalism and groupthink.

Mar 26, 2018

Author and intelligence expert James Bamford says the reports of Russian interference in the 2016 US election, which is being treated as one of the biggest stories out there right now, are overblown.

So far, Bamford argues, no evidence has been presented that this is anything other than the type of intelligence gathering or operation that countries are engaged in all the time.

Bamford is critical of the hyped, 24/7 coverage of Russiagate. Indeed, he sees widespread hacking by Russia, the United States, and other online spies as old news. He has special criticism for his colleagues in the media, who have “squandered their objectivity and precious resources on a single story.”

He points out that the best known use of cyberweapons is America’s insertion of the Stuxnet virus into the automated centrifuges at the heart of Iran’s nuclear program. Despite this, he notes, many American leaders present the US only as a victim of cyberattacks.

In this Radio WhoWhatWhy interview, Bamford also talks about the recent failures of the intelligence community, including the theft of NSA hacking tools and the CIA’s bungled efforts to retrieve them.

He calls the operatives of both agencies “Keystone spies,” and criticizes the extreme public responses that have compared hacking to Pearl Harbor.

James Bamford has written a number of books and articles about America’s intelligence community, with special focus on the National Security Agency. He has also produced Frontline documentaries for PBS on these subjects. His recent article in the New Republic offers his overview of Russiagate.

Bamford is the author of The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization (Penguin Books, September 1983); Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency (Anchor Books, April 2002); The Shadow Factory: The NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America (Anchor Books, July 2009); A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies (Anchor Books, May 2005).

Mar 23, 2018

The Dow Jones plummeted Thursday over concerns that President Donald Trump is plunging the US in a trade war with China. Such a conflict is widely expected to harm US consumers. But what about the Asian superpower?

What if the Chinese Emperor has no clothes? Remember back in the 1970s when Americans were afraid of the Japanese economy taking over? When they bought great American assets and real estate? In fact, all that fear and anxiety were misplaced. The same may be true today with respect to China.

We hear breathtaking economic numbers coming out of Beijing. The consistent low unemployment rate and high GDP are often the envy of the world. But are those numbers real? And if not, does the Chinese government even know what the real numbers are?

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jeff Schechtman talks to Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones News Service journalist Dinny McMahon, who has spent more than a decade inside China, and who understands much about the mythology and challenges of the Chinese economy.

Many of these economic statistics from China are manufactured from the bottom up, as city and regional leaders puff up the numbers they send to Beijing to make themselves look good. All of this, according to McMahon creates an artificial impression of growth.

It’s the Chinese version of fake news.

These statistics encourage more borrowing by state-owned companies and local governments to build more factories, housing and public works, much of which are not needed. The overcapacity creates so-called investments that may never pay off.

McMahon also explains how China's continued emphasis on infrastructure and heavy industry could be a disaster. And that China has to make the turn to a more consumer- driven economy if it is to join the modern world economy.

Its once endless supply of cheap labor is drying up, the move from rural areas to the cities has slowed, the population is aging, manufacturing costs are increasing and it’s very possible that China might grow old, before it grows rich. If that happens, McMahon explains, the repercussions for the world economy could be substantial.

 Dinny McMahon is the author of China’s Great Wall of Debt: Shadow Banks, Ghost Cities, Massive Loans, and the End of the Chinese Miracle (Little, Brown Book Group, March 13, 2018).

Mar 19, 2018

The recent revisionist history about Gina Haspel, Trump's nominee for CIA director, should make very little difference in examining the totality of her record on torture and its cover up.

According to John Kiriakou, a 15-year CIA veteran, and the whistleblower on the CIA covert torture operation, Gina Haspel is the “godmother of the torture program.”

Regarding ProPublica's correction of the record of her involvement, Kiriakou says that while she may not have actually overseen the torture of Abu Zubaydah, she did arrive at the secret CIA black-op site in Thailand in time for the waterboarding and torture of at least one other detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

Kiriakou explains to WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman how Haspel was also a key link in the destruction of the 92 tapes that contained the evidence of torture. She ordered the tapes destroyed, even though they had become federal records. They were shredded counter to the advice of White House and CIA counsel. Kiriakou reminds us that her defense of “just following orders” is far too reminiscent of Nazi apologia circa 1945.

On the basis of her “dark history,” Kiriakou argues that Haspel is clearly a poor choice for leadership of the CIA.

Mar 16, 2018

“Israel as a country should be appreciated and celebrated,” Avraham Burg says, but it should no longer be looked upon as the land of “oranges and equality.”

You might think those comments come from an anti-Israel professor at an elite US university. Instead, Avraham Burg is part of Israel’s history. His father was a member of the founding generation. Burg served as Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and in the Labor government of Shimon Peres before retiring from politics in 2004.  

This personal history is why it’s so surprising to hear him declare that the Israel of 1948 is not there anymore.

Burg argues in his conversation with WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman, that the only guarantor of today motivations of sovereignty and security is a call for what he sees as a one-state solution. One central government and some kind of confederation of two regimes. He suggests that, in his view of the world, the Israeli-Palestinian issues are no longer at the center of global consciousness. Much of the world has moved on.

Further, he thinks that the Zionist experiment may have passed its sell-by date, and that Israeli politics is “hollowed out.” Zionism was a necessary “scaffolding” for building Israel's sovereignty, Burg says, but is it’s no longer relevant. The future may require a secular state that maintains a close, fruitful relationship with the Jewish and Israeli diaspora.

Mar 12, 2018

Reporter A.C. Thompson details his investigation of Atomwaffen, a growing neo-Nazi and murderous white supremacist group with heavily armed members in about 20 American cities.

Founded and run by young, white males, the group has expanded in the wake of the protests last year in Charlottesville, VA. One member, Samuel Woodward, is charged in Orange County, CA, with the January 2018 murder of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein a gay, Jewish college student.  

Related: What Five ‘Domestic Terrorism’ Cases Tell Us About FBI Tactics

Related: Spotlight on the FBI: The Bureau’s Checkered Past and Present

Thompson’s team at the website ProPublica obtained and reviewed some 250,000 chat messages exchanged by Atomwaffen (German for “nuclear weapons”) supporters, including hateful, anti-Semitic comments about Bernstein’s murder. Thompson notes that Atomwaffen is not aligned with Trump. The group’s guru is James Mason who joined the American Nazi Party in the 1960s and wrote Siege, which is considered Atomwaffen’s manifesto.

In the space of a few months, people associated with the group have been charged in five murders; another member pleaded guilty to possession of explosives in a possible plot to blow up a nuclear facility near Miami.

Despite this and threats by a Las Vegas member to target the power grid in the West Thompson says the FBI shows little interest in Atomwaffen, and there’s no indication that the FBI is deploying undercover agents or using the techniques that have become commonplace in domestic terrorism investigations that target Muslim Americans.

You can read the ProPublica report here.

Mar 7, 2018

The media and the public focus on the school shootings that resulted in fatalities and casualties. However, many potential massacres are headed off by savvy interventions. What can we learn from those?

Mar 2, 2018

In this wide-ranging podcast, Barrett Brown and actor and documentary filmmaker Alex Winter talk about the complacency that ails so much of American society.

They also discuss how, instead of fixing the systemic problems that plague the US, people across the political spectrum are focusing on the sideshow that President Donald Trump provides. In the meantime, however, all the institutions that are in dire need of reform are neglected — making the job of fixing them in the future even more difficult.

Yet because we are now relying on some of those same institutions — like the FBI and the national security apparatus — to protect us, we might easily forget some of the institutional excesses and missteps that got us here. What we have, according to Brown and Winter, is a massive lack of appreciation for nuance, which may come to haunt us later.

Brown also takes a look at the role of the internet. It was supposed to be the great liberator of individual actions, yet it has become, at least for now, the most centralized institution in the world.

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