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Now displaying: April, 2018

Welcome to the WhoWhatWhy Podcast.

Apr 27, 2018

During the Cold War, our elite universities were a breeding ground for future spies. Schools like Yale and Harvard provided some of the “best and the brightest” to America's intelligence agencies.

Today, the CIA and FBI are using college campuses once again to gain new recruits in the global war for clandestine information and technology. These government agencies, in many instances, are working with the full support and blessing of professors and often top university administrators, who rely on both government contracts and the maximum revenue that comes from over one million international students in US universities.    

According to Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Daniel Golden, the efforts range from small colleges to large state universities to Ivy League institutions. In fact, Golden tells Jeff Schechtman in this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast that Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government is one of the places where spies are most actively recruited.

In addition, foreign governments see US universities as an almost unlimited reservoir for obtaining intelligence and for recruiting vulnerable students who are in need of money, filled with innocence, and/or ideologically confused.   

Today, creative destruction has moved campus recruitment from just US efforts in the binary conflict of the Cold War to a world of high technology and spycraft that involves multiple global players, millions of foreign students and professors, and is drawing from the world’s most prestigious classrooms and research centers.

Daniel Golden is the author of Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America's Universities (Henry Colt and Co., October 10, 2017) and The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates (Broadway Books, September 25, 2007).

Apr 23, 2018

It may very well be that Donald Trump is president because, in the last few years, four million jobs were automated out of existence in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. In Michigan alone, 40 percent of workers who lost manufacturing jobs ended up on disability.

According to tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, labor force participation remains low and the glowing unemployment statistics we hear are woefully out of line with what’s really going on. Every day more and more repetitive jobs, both cognitive and physical, are being eliminated. Everywhere from the factory floor to truck fleets, from radiology labs to some parts of the legal profession, human beings are being replaced by automation and AI.  

According to Yang, all the talk about technology creating new jobs is misleading, as only a few new jobs are created for the thousands that are eliminated. In his opinion, this is a conversation that we have been unwilling to have.

Yang tells Jeff Schechtman, in this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, that the answer to the jobs crisis is a Universal Basic Income (UBI). He explains how it can work and be paid for. He argues that it is both a capitalist and a humanistic idea, which was once supported by both Richard Nixon and Martin Luther King.

Yang argues that UBI — despite some recent setbacks — will create a huge spike in entrepreneurship, eliminate significant psychological and medical problems plaguing the country, and allow citizens to embrace, rather than fear, all that technology has to offer.

Andrew Yang is the author of The War on Normal People: The Truth About America's Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future (Hachette Books,  April 3, 2018); and Smart People Should Build Things: How to Restore Our Culture of Achievement, Build a Path for Entrepreneurs, and Create New Jobs in America (HarperBusiness, April 2, 2004).

Apr 20, 2018

Charles Swift is director of the Dallas-based Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America. He led the defense team in the month-long Orlando trial of Noor Salman, the widow of Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen.

Swift has an enviable record of success in securing justice for unpopular clients. As a Navy judge advocate general, Swift was a member of the defense bar at Guantánamo Bay, where his advocacy won freedom for a Yemeni detainee in a precedent-setting Supreme Court ruling.

Following the Pulse shooting, Salman was charged with aiding and abetting, and obstruction of justice. In his conversation about the trial with Peter B. Collins, Swift details major misconduct by the FBI and prosecutors, who introduced into the record Salman’s “confession” which they knew was riddled with falsehoods.

Swift says that the prosecution strategy was to put Mateen on trial posthumously, in the effort to prove that his wife helped him scope out targets for his deadly intentions. But this led to major revisions in the “official” narrative: contrary to reports published immediately after the shooting, Mateen was never a patron of Pulse; in fact, he had never been to that location until the night of June 12, 2016.

Swift explains how Salman’s cell phone data cast doubt on the government’s claim that she was at the club; this was one of many false claims included in the “confession” produced after hours of interrogation that the prosecution submitted at trial. Swift was able to disprove almost half of the statements in the prosecution document.

Just as the defense was about to rest, prosecutors notified the Swift team that Seddique Khan, father of the shooter, had been a paid FBI informant for over 11 years. Swift says that his investigation and trial tactics would’ve been different if the government had properly shared this information, and that it’s a likely “Brady” violation. (From Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland: “suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to a defendant who has requested it violates due process.”)

Swift deplores the obvious double standard: no penalties for egregious government misconduct, but when the defense was delayed in delivering a psychological evaluation of Salman, it faced sanctions from the court.

Apr 13, 2018

We have seen endless stories about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. We have endured two days of Mark Zuckerberg explaining the Facebook business model. Social media and its role in politics is on everyone's mind. However, none of the current clamor speaks to the broader impact of the internet, or of big tech in general.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jamie Bartlett, director of the Center for Analysis of Social Media, reminds Jeff Schechtman that the internet was supposed to be a democratizing force. The widespread availability of digital technology was to allow freedom of information and communication on a scale never thought possible before.

The reality, Bartlett argues, is that every aspect of the internet and its culture is feeding the worst of humanity’s tribal instincts.

It’s becoming clear, says Bartlett, that internet technology is simply antithetical to democracy. Perhaps it's no coincidence that, as the internet grows, authoritarian regimes proliferate. As tech companies get bigger, the institutions of democracy come under greater pressure.  

Bartlett talks about how monopolistic practices are built into the DNA of tech companies, and reveals the intended and unintended consequences of maintaining those monopolies. How hyper-targeted internet advertising is merely the most recent iteration in a long history of efforts to manipulate our decision-making. As those efforts advance in sophistication, the ability of a small minority to distract and ultimately control a technically naive majority poses a grave threat to the fundamental exercise of free choice.

This week’s podcast is a sobering look behind the headlines and noise about tech. 

Jamie Bartlett is the author of The People Vs Tech: How the Internet Is Killing Democracy (And How We Save It) (Ebury Digital, April 5, 2018).

Apr 9, 2018

We are facing planet-wide extinction, a climate emergency and our current course is suicidal.

That is the underlying belief of author and scientist Richard Smith, who is Jeff Schechtman’s guest on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast.

Smith believes that our current model of capitalism, with virtually unlimited growth and consumption, cannot sustain a planetary population of nine billion people. He tells Schechtman that we do not need most of what we consume, and that our current behavior must stop. But Smith’s Jeremiad goes even further.

He talks about the need to stop building planes and cars, to ration air travel and fishing, to nationalize and take public control of the fossil fuel industry, to close down oil companies and many manufacturers of disposable consumer goods, and to make less stuff. He understands that this may mean putting whole industries out of business and people out of work, but he thinks it’s the only way to keep the planet habitable for humans.

As just one solution, Smith talks about the need for global agreements on everything. That nation-states should no longer make many of the decisions they do now. That we need global plebiscites, a contraction or elimination of capitalism, and more global equality. Anything short of this, he argues, will bring the collapse of civilization.

It’s a radical set of views, but powerful food for thought.

Smith is the author of Green Capitalism: The God That Failed (College Publications, 2016).

Apr 4, 2018

The evidence that James Earl Ray did not kill Martin Luther King is overwhelming. As the Washington Post recently pointed out, famed attorney William Pepper stands astride all of the information and work that has uncovered the truth.

Pepper was a friend of King in the last years of his life. Some years after King's death, Pepper went on to represent James Earl Ray in his guilty plea and subsequent conviction. But Pepper believes that Ray was framed by the FBI, the CIA, the military, the Memphis police, and organized crime figures from New Orleans and Memphis.

In this WhoWhatWhy podcast, William Pepper talks to Jeff Schechtman about the totality of the case. He tells of his initial interview with Ray, 40 years ago, and why it became clear to him right away that Ray was innocent. Pepper explains that Ray had no motive for the shooting, that he acted at the direction of his handler, a man named “Raoul,” with clear ties to Hoover and the FBI.

Pepper explains how, over the years, the evidence has mounted about Hoover’s hatred of King, which lay behind the FBI’s unending surveillance of King and the entire civil rights movement, and why Hoover sent his number two man, Clyde Tolson, to Memphis to help oversee the assassination of King and to help set up Ray as the patsy.

It’s a story that actually begins a half century ago today, in a hospital emergency room in Memphis. Pepper thinks it's possible that King did not die from the gunshot wound — but that he was actually murdered in that emergency room.

William F. Pepper is the author of The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Skyhorse Publishing,  January 16, 2018).

RELATED: Classic Who: Martin Luther King Also Had a Nightmare

Apr 4, 2018

Longtime Memphis journalist Marc Perrusquia spent years investigating the story of how a famous African American photographer, with remarkable access, played a key role in the civil rights movement, all while being an informant for the FBI.

Ernest Withers’s photography captured some of the most stunning moments of the civil rights era: including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. riding one of the first integrated buses in Montgomery, AL, and the blood flowing into King’s room from the balcony at the Lorraine Motel, where he was assassinated. Withers had a front row seat to history, as a man trusted and beloved by the movement’s inner circle. All the while he was reporting back to the FBI.

On this 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, Perrusquia talks to WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman about Withers and the impact that his information had on both the civil rights movement and the Bureau.

Perrusquia speculates that Withers, who was also a disgraced cop, may have actually been a double agent, informing both the FBI and some of the people he trusted in the movement about what he believed was a noble effort that had gone too far. Withers’s conservative views made him critical of King’s anti-war stance and of the dangers that he saw posed by radicals inside the movement.

In addition to the story of Withers, the FBI, and the civil rights struggle, Perrusquia tells Schechtman about his own battles to get all of this information from the FBI, and how hard the Bureau fought to protect its informant.

Marc Perrusquia is the author of A Spy in Canaan: How the FBI Used a Famous Photographer to Infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement (Melville House, March 27, 2018).

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