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Now displaying: 2018

Welcome to the WhoWhatWhy Podcast.

May 4, 2018

The Middle East has been a seething cauldron of conflict since 1918. Twice in the 20th century, in 1967 and 1973, it almost became a flashpoint for nuclear war. The region has always been a chessboard where great powers play out their strategies.

In today’s Syria, it’s the US vs. Russia vs. Jihadists plus Saudi Arabia vs. Israel plus Turkey vs. the Kurds, not to mention Iran and Syria vs. the rebels. No wonder the country has been devastated, leaving behind an almost unimaginable humanitarian crisis.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jeff Schechtman talks to longtime Middle East journalist Charles Glass, who has traveled extensively in the region covering conflict after conflict, and once spent 62 days as a prisoner of Shi’a militants during the Lebanon war.

He explains how the Syrian economy is shattered: agriculture barely functions, the medical system is nonexistent, and education is spotty at best. The rebuilding effort will be long and costly, and it’s not clear how many of the five million refugees who have left the country will ever come back.

For those that have returned, says Glass, the situation is often bleak. In some areas of Aleppo, returnees have pitched tents in the rubble, just to avoid losing their property rights.

As for chemical weapons, Glass is unsure whether the recent missile attack by the US, France, and Great Britain was justified. Since the action was launched without waiting for an on-site report from weapons inspectors, it was “like having an execution before a trial,” Glass tells Schechtman.  

Another topic of concern is the current role of the 2,000 US troops in the area, now that ISIS is no longer the main objective. As Glass tells it, the US focus is now on containing Iran: US troops have become part of Washington’s long game against Iran, particularly since President Bashar al-Assad has grown increasingly dependent on Iranian troops.

Glass emphasizes that the solution to the ongoing disaster does not lie with the Syrian groups that started the civil war, but rather with the US and Russia, which control the money and weapons that alone can determine the outcome.

Charles Glass is the author of Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe (Verso March 22, 2016); The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II (Penguin Press, June 13, 2013); Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation (Penguin Press, February 22, 2011).

May 1, 2018

Some people may know where bodies are buried; Rex Bradford knows where all the papers are buried. The leading archivist and historian of the records of the JFK assassination has a lot to say in his talk with WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman.

According to Bradford, the recently released 19,000+ pages are interesting, but in no way dispositive. What they reveal, more than anything else, is further evidence of how so many cover-ups for so many reasons, by so many groups, agencies, and individuals have hopelessly muddied the waters.

Bradford believes that from President Lyndon Johnson’s recruitment of Earl Warren to President Donald Trump’s holding back the release of still more documents, layer upon layer of self-serving lies have made the truth now impossible to uncover. Moreover, he argues that kicking the can down the road really does work as a way to hide what Peter Dale Scott once called “the bleak path to the truth.”

Bradford points out how ironic it is that there are now over five million pages of documents of a story in which the popular narrative was once that one man acted alone.

He talks about who’s been making the decisions about what is and isn’t redacted, missing transcripts from the Church commission, some new documents on Oswald’s alleged trip to Mexico seven weeks before the assassination ... but also about how no new document is a smoking gun.

Much like our politics today or maybe because of those politics Bradford doesn't think we will ever agree on a common set of facts about the assassination.

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).

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.

Feb 26, 2018

The US government is currently holding about 400,000 men and women in a patchwork of immigration prisons. Some are kept in corporate facilities that are guaranteed a minimum number of prisoners daily; others are in cells leased from county jails and other lockups.

 Carlos Hidalgo has spent two stretches at California’s Adelanto Detention Facility, where he witnessed food with maggots, guards having sex with inmates, easy access to drugs, and difficult access to legal counsel and family members. It’s an eye-opening look at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prisons in America today.

 In this WhoWhatWhy podcast, Hidalgo also reports that ICE guards have little training, and says they are more like mall cops than professional prison guards. With a population ranging from serious felons to undocumented people with a DUI or minor violation, the guards are outnumbered and unable to break up fights between prisoners.

 And he tells of the time he spent in solitary confinement for helping others with legal papers and organizing a hunger strike over food and other issues.

Related:The Hidden Truth About Mass Incarceration

Related:Youth Jailed at Age 16 for Years With No Trial, Kills Self — Who’s Responsible

Related: Radio Who: Many Prisoners Say They are Innocent. Some Truly Are

Related: TVWhoWhatWhy: Russ Baker Talks Private Prisons and Their Real Toll

Feb 23, 2018

The traditional American notion of almost absolute freedom of speech may have run its course.

Journalist and academic Damon Linker says some Americans may be having second thoughts about what we’ve come to accept as free speech. In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, he talks to Jeff Schechtman about his recent analysis that found free speech is under siege from all sides.

Linker notes what’s happening on college campuses, where arguments over diversity are polarizing students and faculty, and, on the political right, where state power is being marshaled to suppress “unpatriotic” speech. The result, according to Linker, is a potential constriction of public dialogue and a clear decline in democratic values.

Civics classes once taught that untrammeled freedom of speech would allow the truth to triumph. But does this work when propaganda, multiplied many fold by social media, drowns out other voices in a blare of noise?

In his conversation with Schechtman, Linker digs deep into the many complexities of the issue and what the current situation portends for the future of democracy.

Feb 21, 2018

Coleen Rowley is a former FBI special agent whose bravery as a whistleblower exposed many of the FBI’s pre-9/11 failures. She was named one of Time magazine’s “Persons of the Year” in 2002. This week she talks with Jeff Schechtman about the recent shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

 Rowley accentuates two problems with the FBI. One, that local threats — even in high schools — are not the province of the FBI. It would, however, have been the bureau’s job to make sure that local law enforcement was aware of the tips it received.

 The second problem she identifies is that too much information is coming into the bureau. Ever since 9/11, and particularly since the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden, we know that giant sweeps of “national security data” are producing more information than the government can process, no matter how many analysts are employed. She claims that, at this moment, there may be over one hundred million names on a government watch list.

 Rowley’s biggest concern, though, is what she sees as the US culture of violence. More than 17 years of perpetual war has left Americans psychologically bruised, and this is putting their safety at risk.

 In this week’s podcast she points out that military service is emerging as something that is significantly correlated with — if not a cause of — America’s dramatic increase in mass shootings. Nikolas Cruz’s ROTC experience may be related to this very idea.

Feb 16, 2018

To understand the plundering of Iraq’s oil wealth, we have to look first at the original sin of the invasion itself. Blueprints showing how oil could help rebuild the country were drawn up post Desert Storm in the 1990s and resurrected in 2003. It never happened.  

 

Journalist Erin Banco explains why, as she talks to Jeff Schechtman in this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast. She laments the dashed hopes of the Kurds and the Iraqi people. She explains the hapless actions of the Bush and Obama administrations, the real role of big oil and the damage done by tribal rivalries in Iraq.

 

She tells the story of the Talibani and the Barzani families, and how they got rich along with oil company executives, government staffers and political parties. Meanwhile, the Iraqi people, who knew very little about what was happening, ended up with virtually nothing.

 

Banco says that for years Iraqi journalists have been killed in Iraq for even trying to report this story. Today, with entirely different players, the corruption and mismanagement goes on, and may be the keys to the Iraq elections scheduled for May.

 

Erin Banco is the author of Pipe Dreams:The Plundering of Iraq’s Oil Wealth (Columbia Global Reports, January 2018).

Feb 9, 2018

Andrew Keen is the Anthony Bourdain of technology. The author, entrepreneur and futurist has traveled the far corners of the world to see what works and what doesn't. He has seen the internet reflecting both the best and the worst of us, and concluded that we and our technology need to grow up.

 

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Keen talks to Jeff Schechtman about the next chapters in the digital revolution.

 

Keen reminds us that we’ve been here before. The digital revolution is not that dissimilar from revolutions and changes that preceded it. But “history is not an algorithm.”

 

To shape technology before it shapes us will take human agency to make the kind of changes that will allow us to define ourselves in contrast to our machines.

 

Keen outlines five tools to fix our digital future. Among them, we need to address inequality, jobs and education, he says, and we need to bring humanity back into the sciences. He admonishes us that, while our technological future may be global, Silicon Valley is not the center of the world. Important trends are happening elsewhere.

 

He also talks extensively about how consumers have been turned into a digital product, in what he calls “Surveillance Capitalism.” He argues that this business model cannot continue to work: we need to stop thinking of the digital world as free, and start paying for everything from the internet itself just as we pay for food, clothing and cars. We need to take responsibility for our digital future and not leave it to others. Finally, we’re left with the reminder that, as far as technology goes, the really important stuff is yet to come.


Andrew Keen is the author of How To Fix the Future (Atlantic Monthly Press, February 2018), The Internet Is Not the Answer (Grove Press, January 2016), and The Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values (Doubleday, August 2008).

Feb 2, 2018

The shrinking role of facts and evidence-based analysis in American public life poses a threat to democracy, to policy making, and to the very notion of civic discourse.

 

This is the alarming conclusion spelled out in the RAND Corporation’s recently released 300+ page report provocatively titled “Truth Decay.” The co-author of this report, RAND political scientist Jennifer Kavanagh, is Jeff Schechtman’s guest on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast.

 

The report’s authors compare what’s happening now in the public arena to four other historical periods when truth was under siege: the era of “yellow journalism,” the rise of tabloids and talk radio, the impact of television on news media, and even the advent of so-called New Journalism.

What the authors found, Kavanaugh says, is that disagreements over objective facts have never been so wide and so deep.

 

The RAND report examines the growing lack of trust in institutions, the erosion of civil discourse, the ever-worsening political paralysis and lack of policy discussion, and the disengagement of citizens from the political process.

 

While “Truth Decay”makes many recommendations about how we might unwind all of this, the report also constitutes a warning about the possible end of democracy as we know it.

Jan 31, 2018

Are undercover FBI agents responsible for pushing some of the terrorism suspects it arrests toward acts of violence?

That is the question Peter B. Collins tackles in his brand new WhoWhatWhy podcast. In this premiere episode he talks with investigative journalist Darwin BondGraham of the East Bay Express in Oakland, CA, about his recent report “Terror or Entrapment?” (https://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/terror-or-entrapment/Content?oid=12242075)

BondGraham looked into five recent cases of “domestic terrorism” in the San Francisco Bay Area that seem to follow a predictable script, involving social media surveillance, paid FBI informants and the “pre-crime” strategy used by the Bureau.

Collins says these five cases are among hundreds that represent a national trend. The investigations often seem to be tainted by undercover agents posing as terrorists, and by “recruitment” methods that verge on entrapment.

All of these cases appear driven by a deep-seated Islamophobia, and arguably siphon off FBI resources that might better be used for more worthwhile counterterrorism investigations.

At a time when the FBI is under the microscope, it’s a must-listen.

 

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