The Curse of the US/Britain Special Relationship

September 15th, 2020

download%2B%25281%2529.jpegBack on the 4th of July I saw a hat that said, "Make America Great Britain Again."  A good laugh, even more so when superimposed on the current relationship between the two countries.

Certainly there is that much vaunted “special relationship''. Not just between the countries, in an abstract geopolitical way, but between leaders that have been shaping and reacting to the world at similar times and in similar ways for the past seventy-five years.

While Great Britain may have lost its empire, its connection to the US in contemporary times, has kept it relevant and dynamic. But after seventy-five years is that relationship due for a refresh? If so, perhaps it will require a degree of honesty about the relationship that has been heretofore lacking on both sides.

Ian Buruma looks at the contemporary history of that relationship in The Churchill Complex: The Curse of Being Special, from Winston and FDR to Trump and Brexit.

My conversation with Ian Buruma: 

A Conversation with Brian Stelter

September 14th, 2020

Donald_Trump_Sean_Hannity_1088x725-700x470.jpgCNN's chief media correspondent Brian Stelter takes a deep look at Fox News, its power, and its stars in his new book Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth.

My conversation with Brian Stelter.

A Spouse Also Runs: A Conversation with Chasten Buttigieg

September 8th, 2020

Screen%2BShot%2B2020-09-08%2Bat%2B2.48.39%2BPM.pngAs the late Richard Ben Cramer so brilliantly detailed in his seminal book “What it Takes.” running for president, as a serious candidate, is one of the hardest, most grueling and challenging things one can do. Cramer wrote about the 1988 campaign, before the internet, before 24/7 news and yet he said even then that politics had become a kind of a public utility, with hot-and cold-running politics any time of the day or night.

Today in our hyper politicized non stop news environment it’s even worse.

Now imagine breaking barriers and taboos along the way, as Pete Buttigieg did as the first LGBTQ candidate.

Just as challenging, again as Cramer wrote about, is being the spouse of the candidate. For Chasten Buttigieg, a 31 year old gay man with not political experience, he had only his own personal experience and history from which to draw upon.

He shares that journey in his new memoir I Have Something to Tell You: A Memoir.

My conversation with Chasten Buttigieg: 

Remember When Diplomacy and the Arts Once Mattered?

September 1st, 2020

Screen%2BShot%2B2020-09-01%2Bat%2B9.31.59%2BPM.pngImagine a time when diplomacy mattered.  When the arts mattered. And when they could actually work together to project America at its best. Oh how we might long for the days of the Cold War.

Clausewitz said that diplomacy was simply war by other means. During the Cold War, that diplomacy took many forms. From Richard Nixon showing Khrushchev around an American Kitchen, to Ping Pong diplomacy with the Chinese

A little known form of diplomacy was the role that the arts played in the Cold War. Uniquely in the realm of dance in the hands of one of its great practitioners, and leaders, Martha Graham. Although Graham claimed she was not political, her company and her work were a real part of America’s Cold War propaganda apparatus.

Victoria Phillips tells the story in Martha Graham's Cold War: The Dance of American Diplomacy

My conversation with Victoria Phillips:

McCarthy to Cohn to Trump: A conversation with Larry Tye

August 27th, 2020

Roy_Cohn_Joeseph_McCarthy_Hearings_Huddle_1088x725-700x470.jpgMost of you know or have lived in cities with long streets or boulevards and you know that some of the same stores repeat themselves over and over again. Starbucks, CVS, etc. The neighborhoods change, but some of the retail landmarks remain the same.

In a way, history is like that. It goes on and on. And while the neighborhoods often change, there are things along the way that repeat themselves over and over again. In American history, one of them is certainly racism and discrimination, but also our ongoing flirtation with authoritarianism. Our fascination with bullies, the appeal of strength that sometimes proves to be more than just meanness.... it’s really evil.

Whether it was Father Coughlin on radio, Joe Pyne on television, Huey Long in politics, or in the contemporary era, Joe McCarthy and Donald Trump.

The added reality is that each episode pushes the envelope of what’s acceptable. The predicate for new norms is laid out and the next would-be talk show host or political demagogue has to go further.

Perhaps no one pushed the envelope further than Joe McCarthy. So much so that the idea of McCarthyism became baked into our lexicon. Needless to say, now in the midst of one of those flirtations, it seems the perfect time to go back and look at Joe McCarthy with journalist and author Larry Tye, whose new book is Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy.

My conversation with Larry Tye:

Gail Sheehy: In Memoriam

August 25th, 2020

Screen%2BShot%2B2020-08-25%2Bat%2B10.36.19%2BAM.pngI guess it’s just that we are all getting older, but these In Memoriam programs are coming much too frequently lately…...Over the years I had the opportunity to do five interviews with Gail Sheehy. Beginning in May of 1998 we talked about everything from Men's Passages, to older women, Hillary Clinton, and the changes in middle America.  Our last conversation was in the fall of 2014 upon the publication of her memoir Daring: My Passages: A Memoir.

My conversation with Gail Sheehy from October of 2014:

Only The Best People: Why The Best and The Brightest Sometimes Aren’t

August 23rd, 2020

draperbook3000.jpgDonald Trump came to power on a wave of distrust. Americans had lost faith in government, it’s institutions, and the ability of their government to be honest with them.

It’s a through-line that begins perhaps with the assassination of John Kennedy, runs through the endless lies Americans endured about the Vietnam war, and continues through to the Iraq war; the lies about weapons of mass destruction.

And while Americans often want simple answers, the reality of policy, particularly foreign policy is far more nuanced and complex.

I have said over and over again of late, that I wish I could get into the time machine to read, 50 years from now, what historians will say about this period we are living through.

So it’s equally important that now, almost 20 years after 9/11 and 17 years after the start of the Iraq war that we can look with some perspective at the distrust that got us where we are today.

Again, the reality is nuanced, complicated and shaped by the foibles of human beings. Robert Draper tells that story in his new book To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq

My conversation with Robert Draper:

Why Are Millennials Feeling Left Behind?

August 17th, 2020

73444-v1-600x.jpegEvery generation faces the challenges thrust upon it by the generation that came before. Today the millennials face the challenge of how they pick up the baton and carry it forward Their contribution, their imprimatur is still being written. Will, it simply be too scold those that came before, or as we see millennials doing in silicon valley redefining the very nature of society.

This is what Jill Filipovic bring to the fore in OK Boomer, Let's Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.

My conversation with Jill Filipovic:

Nixon and The Dawn of the White Working-Class Revolution

August 12th, 2020

9780190064716.jpgOver the 200 plus year history of political parties in the US, something our founders advised against, the same parties have, at different times, stood for different sets of ideas. The Federalists, the Whigs, the national Republican Party, the Democrats and others all have been made up of different coalitions at different times

We all know for example that Lincoln and his Republicans were once the anti-slavery party. Oh how that’s changed.

The modern Democratic party really emerged with the New Deal coalition beginning with FDR in 1933. It was an amalgam that was considered the core of American liberalism. It was anchored in ethno-religious constituencies (Catholics, Jews, African Americans,) white Southerners, well-organized labor unions, urban machines, progressive intellectuals, and populist farm groups.

However, like all previous party coalitions, it would begin to splinter. Elements of the once liberal base of the new deal coalition would become part of the Republican party of Nixon and Reagan and Trump.

The story of how this happened is really the story of our modern politics that begins in 1970 and it’s the story that David Paul Kuhn tells in The Hardhat Riot: Nixon, New York City, and the Dawn of the White Working-Class Revolution.

My conversation with David Paul Kuhn: 

Pete Hamill in His Own Words…and Voice

August 8th, 2020

Pete_Hamill_Brooklyn_2007_1088x725-700x470.jpgI had the distinct pleasure of speaking with and interviewing Pete Hamill six times since 1997. There was no subject that he could not hold forth on. Our discussions involved subjects ranging from immigration to tabloids, the lexicon of news to urban America, and even Frank Sinatra.  

This podcast includes some lengthy excerpts from three of those conversations. First, in a conversation from June 2011, we talked about tabloids, the state of news today, and the way in which tabloids stitched communities together.

Our next conversation is great fun as Hamill talks about his book Why Sinatra Matters. Hamill argued that it’s not possible to understand the country without fully understanding the music and personality of Sinatra. He explains how he transformed the image of Italians and was the first example of American pop culture transported to the world. It was also a powerful way to learn more about both Prohibition and the Depression.

Last but not least, is my first conversation with Hamill from May 1997, just after the publication of his book Snow in August. It’s a look at immigration, the misguided power of television, and the story of a boy growing up in New York in the late 1940s. Because of the age of this conversation, the audiotape had not held up as well as I might have hoped, and I ask that you bear with a little 23-year decay of audio quality. However, I think it’s worth it.  

Enjoy this reminiscence of the life and words of Pete Hamill. 

Marilyn

August 5th, 2020

Screen%2BShot%2B2020-08-05%2Bat%2B7.22.19%2BAM.png58 years ago today, the world awoke to the death of Marilyn Monroe. At her death, she was already one of the most well known Americans of the twentieth century. In death she would become even more famous, steeped in mythology and contradiction, she would become a symbol of her times. The lens of her own dysfunction gave her a unique ken on post-war American. Today, looking at her life gives each of us a unique perspective on how far we’ve traveled in those 58 years.

This is the story that Charles Casillo tells in Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon

My conversation with Charles Casillo:

Why Are White Evangelicals Primed For Trump’s Fear-Mongering?

August 4th, 2020

Trump-Christianity-Masculinity-and-the-1950s-1088x725-1-700x470.jpgWhy do self-described evangelicals overwhelmingly support an irreligious commander-in-chief?  Why do megachurches demand to stay open in a pandemic, and why is the pro-life act of wearing a mask seen as antithetical to masculinity? 

In this WhoWhatWhy podcast I talk with Calvin University scholar Kristin Du Mez, who sheds light on how white evangelicals gave America Donald Trump (81 percent voted for him in 2016).  

Du Mez, the author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, argues that it is not the intellectual forebearers of Christianity who mobilize the faith today, but muscular, mythical artificial heroes like Mel Gibson or John Wayne, idealized cowboys or soldiers. The toughness and swagger they embody conjures up a nostalgia for a simpler time, a nation unencumbered by activism for racial equality, women’s rights, and same-sex marriage. 

An in-depth look at why evangelicals are Trump’s most unwavering supporters, and their plans for making Christianity great again.

My conversation with Kristin Du Mez: 

Can Local Journalism Rewire Democracy?

July 30th, 2020

Screen%2BShot%2B2020-07-30%2Bat%2B10.22.11%2BPM.pngFor journalism, it may be the best of times and the worst of times. The national media seems more vibrant than ever. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, as well as the cable news networks are thriving For these outlets the transition to digital was painful, but somewhat successful.

For local news, the story of what happing in your neighborhood, your school board, your city council, is a very different story. Thousands of local newspapers and local radio stations have shut down. The economics of the enterprise has proven to be unsustainable, and even large regional papers in places like L.A., Chicago, and Miami, have proven to be problematic at best and striped by hedge funds at worst.

All of this begs the question of whether our political, cultural, and social divide stems from the top, as is assumed, or whether the hollowing out of the news in our communities, something that should be bringing us together, is at the heart of what’s wrong.

It was the great NY Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia who said that there is no Republican or Democratic way to clean the streets. His comments remind us that locally, there is only the common community interest. Take that away and what’s left is all the bad stuff.

This is with Washington Post media columnist and former NY Times public editor Margaret Sullivan examines in her new book Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy

My conversation with Margaret Sullivan: 

Do We Have The Strength and Wisdom to BEGIN AGAIN?

July 26th, 2020

Screen%2BShot%2B2020-07-26%2Bat%2B10.47.21%2BAM.pngIt’s rare that the laws of physics and our ideas of race and politics find common ground.Newton’s third law of motion says that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The American story of the struggle for racial equality seems to be subject to that law.

As the Founding gave way to the Civil War, and reconstruction to Jim Crow and segregation, and the civil rights struggle of the ’60s gave way to law and order and Richard Nixon, the election of our first black president would give us Donald Trump and where we are today.

One wonders what it is, particularly around the subject of race and the desire to establish a truly multiracial democracy that drives these contradictory reactions.

Equally, what toll does this whipsawing back and forth take on our democratic experiment, it’s people and those left behind when the moral weather changes. It’s no wonder we are anxious, angry, and exhausted

That just the surface of Professor Eddie Glaude’s new book Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own

My conversation with Eddie Glaude Jr.

The High Cost of Free Speech

July 24th, 2020

free_speech_zone_rose_bowl_1088x725-700x470.jpgWe seem to be facing a time when the speech police are everywhere, a time when even the majority of progressive people simply seem to be losing faith in the value of free speech, all the while seeming to want to narrow the words that we can use.

“Don’t you see,” George Orwell wrote in 1984, “the whole of newspeak is to narrow the range of thought. In the end,” he says, “We shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it.” Just what does free speech mean? Is it under threat today from the left and/or the right? Why is it also about safety and why are our colleges and universities front and center in this debate?

To talk about this I am joined by one of the intellectual guiding lights of the discussion of free speech, Professor Stanley Fish.

My conversation with Professor Stanley Fish: 

Christopher Dickey: A Remembrance

July 20th, 2020

233_1094114_hr.jpgChristopher Dickey reported from war zones and published many books, including a powerful memoir about growing up with his father, the poet, and author James Dickey.

I had the opportunity to speak with Dickey several times over the years, usually about geopolitical hotspots around the world. Places where his unique reporting skills enabled him to see not only the politics but the cultural heart of what he was reporting on. His reports and books were more than just words and analyses.

However, our most memorable conversation and one I share here was about his memoir Summer of Deliverance. Memoirs, have over recent years, become a genre onto themselves. What Dickey uniquely does is to turn the tables and actually report on himself.

My conversation from September of 1998 with Christopher Dickey.

The Unexpected Role of Feminism in Mass Incarceration

July 15th, 2020

gruberhomepage.jpgWe regularly go through paroxysms of demanding law and order. It's a form of political rhetoric that while it has roots all the way back in the 16th century, is with us once again today.

In our contemporary history we watched Nixon in 1968, New York in the 70s and then were was 1994. A time when the law and order obsession seemed to reach some kind of peak

Rudy Giuliani had become Mayor of New York, the Simpson case shined an arc-light on domestic violence, California passed “three strikes,” and Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act.

It was a kind of perfect storm of both enforcing law, protecting women, and injecting steroids into the business of mass incarceration.

How this ultimately worked out for women, and the broad impact of these efforts on the criminal justice system is a subject that University of Colorado law professor Aya Gruber tackles in her new book The Feminist War on Crime: The Unexpected Role of Women's Liberation in Mass Incarceration.

My conversation with Aya Gruber:

Without Newt there is no Trump: How we Got Here.

July 11th, 2020

0bd7a4c3-7442-4e30-8751-7c5dff359eb4-truDonald Trump’s presidency was not an immaculate conception. Rather, the result of 30 years of increased hyper-partisanship, the reshaping of the Republican party, the rise of Rush Limbaugh and talk radio, Robert Ailes and Fox Television, and Newt Gingrich. They all contributed to the pugilistic style of American politics. But perhaps Gingrich did the most damage.

It’s arguable that if Gingrich hadn’t come along, others would have picked up the mantle of this style that lead us directly to where we are today. But Gingrich was uniquely suited to the moment.Julian Zelizer tries to answer in his new book Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party

Understanding him, maybe a big part of that question that gets asked every day, amidst death, unemployment, and anger, how did we get there. That’s what historian and professor

My conversation with Julian Zelizer:

Is It 1968 All Over Again?

July 10th, 2020

Kerner_Report_67_Riots_1088x725-700x470.Then, as now, there was pent-up frustration, which boiled over, particularly in many poor black neighborhoods setting off riots that rampaged out of control. At the time, many Americans blamed the riots on what they saw as misplaced black rage and often vague outside agitators.

But in March 1968, the Kerner Commission Report turned those assumptions on their head. It declared that white racism, not black anger, was at the root of American turmoil. It talked about bad policing practices, a flawed justice system, unscrupulous consumer credit practices, poor or inadequate housing, high unemployment, voter suppression and other culturally embedded forms of racial discrimination that all combined to ignite the fuse on the streets of African American neighborhoods.

 “White society,” the presidentially-appointed panel reported, “is deeply implicated in the creation of the ghetto.” “The nation,” the Kerner Commission warned, “was so divided that the United States was poised to fracture into two radically unequal societies, one black and one white.”

Today, there is only one living member of that commission, and he also happens to be the oldest living current or former United States senator. He was once a candidate for president to the United States. He served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He served for two terms as a senator from Oklahoma. He is Senator Fred Harris.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Senator Fred Harris:

 

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The Microbiome is Revolutionizing Medicine and Yes, Probiotics Matter

June 30th, 2020

the-human-superorganism-300x200.jpgBeyond the virus we fear most, we are also surrounded by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. But wait, no need to reach for the Purell every time. In fact, these things represent what is called our microbiome. It accounts for as much as 90% of our cells, and its positive impact on our health is immeasurable.

However, as a result of antibiotics, the food we eat, urbanization and other wonders of modern world, we have done things in the name of “do no harm,” which just might be making us sicker.

Today, it’s as if this long-suffering field of research has suddenly been rediscovered. Back in 2016, when we had a White House that still believed in science, the office of science and technology announced a One Hundred and Twenty-One million dollar initiative for research into the microbiome.

Professor Rodney Dietert, has been doing this research and talking about this for a long time. He details it in The Human Superorganism: How The Microbiome is Revolutionizing The Pursuit of a Healthy Life.

My Conversation with Rodney Dietert:

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