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Now displaying: September, 2018

Welcome to the WhoWhatWhy Podcast.

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.

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