Monthly Archives: June 2020

EP 355 The Death Penalty in America

You didn’t know we still had one?  Without court injunctions delaying it, the Trump Department of Justice has been interested in reviving the practice using lethal injection.  In fact, President Trump has talked about extending its use to drug dealers in certain cases.  With about 70 people on death row in America for federal crimes, most of the executions still carried out in America are in the remaining states that have not abolished the ultimate penalty.  The practice is becoming rarer by the year, as the objections to it grow here and around the world.  I was focused on the federal death penalty when I began the conversation with Brooks Emmanuel, a legal counsel for The Justice Collaborative, but given his expertise and where the action is on this subject we moved to a broader conversation on the states’ use of it and regional disparities involved in its application.  It’s hard to address the topic without recognizing the racial implications over our history as well as the matter of wrongful convictions.  I was stunned to learn that this number is about ten percent.  You’ll appreciate his analogy pointing to how quickly this practice would be shut down, on that basis alone, if various historical factors were not at play.  This update will provide you with the information you need to consider your own sentiments as to whether this practice should be stricken from the books in America altogether and what the chances are that it will and how that might come about.  

Special Edition #8 A Spin Around the Globe with One of America’s Best Foreign Affairs Observers

David Ignatius borrows from the real world of international affairs to inform his wonderful spy novels and his fictional imaginings have even been used to train those in the espionage field. We are honored to close out our week of podcasts on international relations with him as we circle the globe exploring America’s changing role in it. His twice weekly column in the Washington Post is a must read for policy makers. His analysis is crisp, sharp and on point. We discuss the inspiration for his new book, ‘The Paladin’, as well as the threats to reporting on the world scene given the impact of social media and technological chicanery. Be ready to take in his views on a range of challenges for America in a world adrift.

EP 354 The Twilight of America’s Way of Empire

This is the second episode devoted to the dominant position America has played across the globe for nearly a century.  The truth of the matter it it is coming to an end.  Issues at home and abroad, as well as recent health and financial shocks, have made America attend to other matters and question whether its globalist ambitions, so much on display at the end of The Cold War, are sustainable.  The short answer is they are not.  In his book, ‘The American Way of Empire’, James Kurth says it’s time to recognize that elites in the country had a set of objectives calling for further involvement in an ideological, economic and military sense all around the world, that are no longer attainable.  Our domination of international organizations, our hegemonic system and spheres of influence in western Europe, Asia and other places is coming apart.  If history is a guide, great powers do not realize their re-positioning as one of, not the major power in the world until its upon them.  This, according to Kurth, is our moment.  It is in this period, however, where re-emerging powers, like China, Russia and, even, Iran will challenge our weakened position.  This could result in peaceful competition, arms races, dangerous crises and/or hot local hot wars or perhaps something we have yet to imagine.  A cyber attack of some enormity?  Let’s explore this important topic.

EP 353 America’s Soft Empire and Its Impact on the Developing World

Empires of the past were pretty clear in their intent. They actually controlled the politics and the economy of the nations they colonized and put down their flag so there be no misunderstanding about their interests. In the modern era, following the Spanish Empire, the best example of that, of course, was the British Empire. Many may deny that America has picked up the mantle from Britain as a ‘soft empire’ but evidence of it certainly exists. The military and economic reach of America in the 20th century has all the trappings of it as we fanned out all across the globe. In another vernacular, we have been called’ the world’s policeman’. The debate about our role might best be framed in the context of whether the purposes for which we tried to dominate the world order were noble or for self interest, primarily economic. Atul Kohli, a professor of international affairs at Princeton University and author of ‘Imperialism and the Developing World’ focuses on the impact that we and Britain have had on countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. We will make this projection of American influence the subject of this episode and our next one, as well.

EP 352 Traffic Gridlock Choking America

Let’s be honest, it seems to be getting harder and harder to get around in this country.  So much so that the skies above major metropolises like Los Angeles are filled with commuters in helicopters, like the one that went down recently killing Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gigi, and eight other persons.  The situation is bad and there’s no silver bullet answer.  And yet the long awaited infrastructure bill is another hostage of a divided nation.  So our most congested cities, like Boston, New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles, work to find their own blend of tolling, congestion pricing, mass transit and highway and street improvements to patch a surface transportation network which America’s Civil Engineers awarded a grade of D-.  What we are doing, or not doing, is costly, frustrating and inefficient.  And while changes are measured in years and decades, you wonder how long bubble gum and band-aids can keep our daily commutes from sinking our economic fortunes…and ruining our lives.  Nicole Gelinas, of the Manhattan Institute, has been thinking and writing about this issue and joins us on this podcast.

EP 351 Today’s Politics May Be Bad for Your Health

Tens of millions of us believe that politics is exacting a toll on our social, psychological, emotional and, even, physical health. A study done in late 2019 shows, for example, that over thirty eight percent of the 800 people surveyed nationally said that politics is the root of their stress and that they have become depressed when a preferred candidate loses. Those who’ve lost sleep over it comes in at over 18 percent and over 11 percent attribute failing physical health to their angst over politics. To be clear, the survey explored people’s perceptions of their health, not actual diagnoses. Kevin Smith, lead author of the study and chair of the political science department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, joins us to break down the findings and what he believes underpins some rather dramatic impacts. The findings were published in the journal PLOS One and are corroborated by the American Psychological Association in their annual report titled ‘Stress in America’. As a society consumed by the daily back and forth among national leaders, we explore the impacts on politics downstream. Are we paying enough attention to issues closer to home on the state and local level? And is the national vitriol permeating those politics as well? It’s a revealing conversation and forces each of us to ask what we can do to react to things that disturb us in a more healthy manner. Some might argue getting off the sidelines and involving yourself in the true work of politics might be one answer. The other might be to shut off the TV set and go for a walk.

EP 350 Can the First Amendment Withstand Many Pressures in Today’s America?

The answer to the question is ‘yes’ as long as you understand the limitations of the doctrine of free speech and how its elasticity applies in the case of issues like campus speech, hate speech and fake news. Our guest, Stanley Fish, one of the great public thinkers on the American stage today was dis invited to speak at Seton Hall University. You might think that he would take umbrage at that and consider it an assault on free speech. In fact, he said ‘I have no right to speak at Seton Hall and I have not been silenced because I was dis invited’. In our podcast, the author of many books, including his latest, ‘The First’ goes on to explain his position. While the First Amendment deals with a number of our liberties his primary focus is on free speech which permeates and informs the other First Amendment touchstones. Fish believes that this fundamental right eludes certainty, as it shape shifts to serve the purposes of its advocates. Have you ever heard a First Amendment scholar say that too much speech is not necessarily a good thing or that it relies on censorship as a precondition to its existence? It’s a provocative, thoughtful and reasoned discussion, which, no matter the era, remains the best end result of the protections afforded us by the First Amendment.

EP 349 America’s Emerging Energy Future

Who better than a forty year veteran of the oil business to guide us through a discussion that ends with a new reliance and confidence that renewable energy sources are viable and poised to fuel our country? That’s what we develop in detail and nuance in a wide-ranging discussion with Jack Kerfoot, author of ‘Fueling America: An Insider’s Journey’. The transition that is going on starts with the diminishing role of coal as a source of energy and leads us off shore to explore new wind technology, on top of our homes to look at the emergence of solar alternatives and under our hoods to explore the electrification of vehicle technology and the enhanced battery capability that makes it feasible. Makings of that future are clear in the numbers. Presently, 23 percent of America’s power is generated from renewable energy, passing coal for the first time ever. We extrapolate from that where we will be in the decades ahead. And while natural gas is the transitional fuel of the moment, solar, wind, hydroelectric, along with a beleaguered nuclear sector, are all playing more of a role as the years go on. if you have 40 minutes to understand what these changes will mean to your life–and your planet–join us.

EP 348 A Superhighway of Viruses?

While this podcast focuses on the likelihood of the continuing trend of viruses circling the globe, it was recorded just as the impacts of the novel coronavirus were coming into view in the United States. Just in the recent past, we have seen the swine flu, Zika, SARS, Ebola and, most recently, coronavirus. With each new virus and contagion come comparisions with past outbreaks that have devastated mankind. However, in this modern age we have imagined that our sophistication and medical advances would make us able to respond quickly to the danger. While that may be true when public health protocols are quickly put in place, in the recent decades we have developed economies around the world that center on megacities, mass transit and supply chains that wrap us all together. And public health emerges as a priority often only when these situations are close upon us. The question is ‘are we tempting fate believing inordinately in our own ability to quickly respond to any possible pandemic’? Clearly while we are treating the physical contagion we are also having to address the psychological ones that grip societies at warp speed on the other superhighway–that of social media. Yale University, in response to international threats, has recently established an Institute for Global Health. We discuss all these issues with its director, Saad Omer, Ph.D. on this podcast.

Guest movement throughout the course of the interview, due to his demand at the time, affected the audio quality of the podcast in limited spots. Please accept our apologies.

EP 347 The Impact of Peer Pressure on American Society

If you’re a person of a certain age, it’s likely that the house you grew up in was much smaller than the one you have today. And the car your family drove then–generally one per household–was a third the size of the one you drive today. How do social mores and expectations change over time? Psychologists for a long time have understood that we influence one another much more strongly than most people realize. Economist Robert H. Frank, of Cornell University, and author of ‘Under the Influence’ seizes on this concept to suggest that behavioral contagion can be harnessed to affect positive societal change. If you think about recent successful movements, whether it’s The Tea Party or #MeToo, can you name a leader in either case? With social media and the rapid transmission of new ideas, things that seemed implausible moments earlier can happen rapidly. Two other momentous examples, in recent history, were the fall of the Berlin Wall ending the Cold War and the rapid adoption of same sex marriage as the law of the land. The concept of behavorial contagion is a powerful one. The effect our friends and neighbors have on our own behavior places social influence in a whole new light. Just consider the example of solar panels going up in your neighborhood. Listen in to find out what we mean.