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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.