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Now displaying: February, 2019

Welcome to the WhoWhatWhy Podcast.

Feb 27, 2019

A great deal remains to be discovered about the disgraced lawyer’s Russia ties and the nature of his nearly two-decade dalliance with Trump. Will Congress ask?

Feb 22, 2019

Spoiler Alert! This podcast features a detailed discussion of the story portrayed in the film Green Book. If you haven’t seen it yet, and plan to, please save this podcast for later.

The movie Green Book has earned accolades and attacks since it was released in December. The controversies are sure to be rekindled by 91st Academy Awards Sunday, Feb. 24   Green Book received five Oscar nominations, including “best picture.”  Earlier it garnered three Golden Globe awards, including “best supporting actor” for Mahershala Ali for his portrayal of acclaimed classical and jazz pianist Dr. Donald Shirley. And as a Hollywood biopic that’s “based on a true story,” it has drawn sharp criticism from Shirley’s family members, who say the film distorts and fabricates key elements of the musician’s “true story,” while ignoring powerful parts of his real story.

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III is an author and national radio host who interviewed Shirley’s brother, sister-in-law, and niece before the film was released. They say they were not contacted or consulted by producer/director Peter Farrelly or his screenplay co-writer, Nick Vallelonga.

The story, fictionalized but inspired by actual characters, is based on the perspective of Vallelonga’s father, also known as “Tony Lip,” portrayed as a racist, Italian-American nightclub bouncer who was Shirley’s driver on a 1962 concert tour that took them deep into the Jim Crow south.

In this podcast interview, Leon details a long list of what he thinks are inaccuracies in the film, from Shirley’s early life to his family relationships to the film’s insinuations that he was gay, a boozer, and a black man who’d never had fried chicken or listened to the music of Little Richard.

While we don’t expect Hollywood versions of people’s lives to be accurate or literal portrayals, Leon feels that the wholesale changes to Shirley’s story while purporting to tell his story using his name are remarkable.

Leon and, he argues, other African American observers see this as part of an all-too-familiar Hollywood pattern: using racial stereotypes to entertain white audiences with feel-good stories at the expense of black narratives. As Leon puts it, “There are all these tropes and stereotypes that they play to in the film, which make their story so much more plausible and acceptable to an audience, but just go against some of the fundamental elements and premises of who the guy really was.”

Wilmer Leon is the host of Inside the Issues with Leon on Sirius/XM channel 126. You can read his commentary on Green Book here. The detailed critique we refer to, written by Brooke C. Obie, is here.  

Feb 18, 2019

The number of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination next year could smash all records. But such a large field also means that most voters will likely end up disappointed because their preferred candidate is eliminated. Is an election where most people’s preferred candidate loses a good thing?

Ranked choice voting (RCV) could help fix that problem.

San Francisco has used RCV — also known as instant runoff voting — in local elections since 2006, and the system decided a 2018 congressional election in Maine. Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig’s group, Equal Citizens, is proposing the use of RCV in presidential primaries in 2020.

Adam Eichen, a self-described democracy wonk, is a communications strategist for Equal Citizens. In this podcast, Eichen and Peter B. Collins discuss the strengths and weaknesses of RCV, and the steps required to implement it starting in New Hampshire, traditionally the first primary state.  

With a roster featuring as many as 20 candidates, voters whose first-choice candidate is eliminated would still influence the outcome with their second and third selections.

One benefit of RCV is that it encourages candidates  aware that they might need second- and third-choice votes to refrain from using negative ads or personal attacks against their opponents.

Deciding the winner of an RCV election can take weeks, a reality that might frustrate TV watchers, online influencers, and media executives eager for conclusive results on election night. Eichen and Collins also discuss the pros and cons of eliminating one-on-one runoffs, which usually attract lower voter turnout.

Adam Eichen is co-author, with Frances Moore Lappé, of Daring Democracy. You can read the opinion piece about RCV that he co-wrote here. A crowded 2020 presidential primary field calls for ranked choice voting.

Feb 15, 2019

The recent charges of “anti-Semitism” leveled against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) have reignited the debate about the power and influence of AIPAC and the Israel lobby.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, we talk with Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and John Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. They have been looking at this issue for years and co-authored the book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.  

In this week’s conversation, Mearsheimer and Walt examine the efforts of AIPAC, one of the most powerful political lobbies in the United States, and those of other Israeli interest groups. The duo note that even though these groups claim their advocacy is based not on religion but rather on what they characterize as a shared “strategic interest,” any disagreement with them is immediately met with accusations of anti-Semitism.

Mearsheimer and Walt talk about the difference between US interests and those promoted by right-wing Israeli elements and their backers.

It’s an unfiltered look into one of today’s most controversial issues.


Feb 13, 2019

By scouring the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report and some declassified CIA documents, reporter Jeff Kaye has confirmed that there were two separate rendition, detention and interrogation programs run by separate branches of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center.

The first, which we refer to as “Program A” in this podcast, is already known. Consultants James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were paid over $80 million , we are told, to reverse-engineer torture techniques from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program  designed to train troops and spies to resist torture.

Kaye builds a strong case that this effort amounted to human experimentation — for the purpose of designed to  identifying the most effective torture techniques.

“Program B” relied on “standard” interrogation tactics that included some forms of coercive interrogation, and it was not subject to the management and monitoring systems of the first one.

Kaye says the separate programs were “stovepiped” so that front-line personnel assigned to one program didn’t know about the other. But top CIA management, —including current director Gina Haspel, former director George Tenet, and top lieutenants Cofer Black and Jose Rodriguez  —, had to have known about both programs., Kaye argues.

 

Dr. Jeff Kaye is a retired psychologist who has been practicing journalism for 15 years. His report on the two programs is here, and the article on Gina Haspel’s role at three CIA“black” sites is here.

Feb 8, 2019

This week, the House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing in over eight years on any kind of gun legislation. In that intervening period, names like Newtown, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, and Parkland have been seared into our collective consciousness.

However, the hearings this week focused only on HR 8, a piece of legislation that would institute universal background checks. We learn in this week's WhoWhatWhy podcast with Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), the chairman of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, that while this particular legislation may have a chance of becoming law, it seems to be the beginning and the end of what’s possible.

In response to questions about legislation banning assault weapons and bump stocks, the congressman feels the chances for passage are slight, at best. Although a lot of gun-control bills may be proposed in the coming year, and there may be public support for many of them, this week’s podcast makes clear that very little beyond background checks can be expected to become law.  

Related: What Gun Background Checks Can’t Detect: Stupidity

Feb 1, 2019

No matter how unseasonably cold or hot it gets or how powerful the storms are, there will be those who still don’t accept the urgency of climate change. For the rest of us, who believe we humans are destroying life as know it on earth, the group Extinction Rebellion (XR) has a message: We must change our behavior now, or die.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Rory Varrato, a US spokesperson for the group, explains that XR was formed last fall amid one of the the biggest acts of peaceful civil disobedience in the UK in decades. He notes that, unlike other climate-change activist groups, XR seeks not just to bring attention to the issue but to force action on several non-negotiable demands.

At the top of the list, according to Varrato, are: 1) getting government, corporations, and the media to address the emergency of global climate change head-on; 2) bringing about nothing short of net-zero carbon output by 2025; and 3) reorganizing society to include direct democracy, citizen assemblies, and “climate justice.”

Varrato takes direct aim at global capitalism as we know it. He lays out a radical agenda that includes a slower, more sustainable way of life for all and a more local approach to even the most complex issues.

While acknowledging that there is not always a straight line between policy reform and civil disobedience, he and his colleagues see the latter as a starting point.

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