Monthly Archives: July 2020

EP 364 How Did Coal Country Become America’s Opioid Epicenter?

Just as New York City has been the epicenter of the coronavirus scourge, West Virginia and to be more precise, the little town of Kermit, in many ways, has been the epicenter of the opioid crisis. We can’t forget that this has been the primary public health concern in the United States prior to COVID-19. How did 12 million pills end up in a town with a population of 382 people over a three year period? A hint is that it could not have happened if a lot of people hadn’t looked the other way and if others hadn’t been profiteering from it all. Thankfully while there are many villains in this story, including the state’s Attorney General, the drug companies, the suppliers and the doctors and pharmacists who knew the damage being done, there were some conspicuous heroes, too. One of them is Eric Eyre, a reporter for the Charleston Gazette-Mail at the time and the author of ‘Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies that Delivered the Opioid Epidemic’. For his newspaper, Eric won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting., making the paper the smallest ever to win the prize in that category. We trace the roots of the opioid crisis, get updates on where it is today and discuss the state of the local newspaper industry, much beleaguered before the COVID-19 crisis and almost decimated since.

EP 363 Can Baseball’s New School and Old School Co-Exist?

Today’s Major League Baseball lives and dies by its ‘new school’ numbers.  Over the last few decades, newly established statistics and on-field measurable have become so influential that they have infiltrated front offices, baseball operations departments, player development and scouting and have significantly changed the game’s landscape.  These measures now rely less and less on baseball experience and wisdom established riding the minor league buses from Altoona to Harrisburg.  The power dynamic has changed.  Stats and algorithms are now king.  And Bill Ripken, former major league infielder and Emmy Award winning MLB Network analyst is none too happy about it.  He’s also a member of the legendary baseball family, with his father Cal Ripken, Sr. the designer of the Ripken Way of baseball and his brother, Cal Ripken, Jr. the Hall of Fame player for the Baltimore Orioles.  Ripken discusses with Rifkin how saber metrics and moneyball got a foothold in the big leagues and what’s worth understanding about it and what has little value from an old school standpoint.  He reminds us that it’s still the same old game with some measures and approaches that are timeless and needed to be honored and preserved.

Special Edition 10 Godfather of Vaccines Discusses Race to Protect Against Covid-19

Dr. Stanley Plotkin developed the rubella vaccine for what was commonly called the German measles at the Wistar Institute back in the 1960’s.  It helped to eradicate the disease in the United States and has become the R in what is known as the MMR vaccine.  He also worked on vaccines for anthrax, polio, rabies and rotavirus.  At the age of 87, he is still trying to save lives as he consults with pharmaceutical companies working to stem the scourge of COVID-19.  He is very succinct and precise in explaining the differences in technologies then and now and how the process is unfolding.  He is hopeful that this effort will bear fruit, but believes we will need more than one vaccine to do the job.  He also has a word for the boisterous anti-vax movement in America today.

EP 362 Why the Great CEO Exodus in America?

At the end of 2019 and the early part of 2020, the record number of CEO’s of major companies in America leaving their posts clearly represented a trend. In fact, one business journal described it as a ‘great exodus’ of newsworthy proportions. Did they know something we didn’t know about what was ahead? Or after 10 years of a growing economy and stock values, upon which much of their compensation is based, did they decide why tempt fate and decide take the the money and run? There’s no one answer to the question. In fact, there were cases in which the #MeToo movement and their continuing spotlight on misbehavior was a key element. It is just an amazing story when you see the companies on the list, from Disney to Boeing(another issue there, perhaps) to Alphabet, Wells Fargo and United Airlines. James Guilkey, PhD, and author of ‘M-Pact learning: The New Competitive Advantage-What All Executives Need to Know’ joins us to discuss the implications of these departures and how their successors’ skill sets may be very different as they take the helm of major companies at a time of great dislocation economically in America.

EP 361 Can America’s Electoral Process be Unrigged?

Author Signing | Avid Bookshop

By any measure, politicians throughout our history have played fast and loose with the electoral process, trying to make it easier for some and harder for others to vote.  It took the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution to unrig practices put in place to deny the vote to African Americans.  Yet, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was still necessary to further reinforce those protections.  In truth, there’s never been a golden era of voting rights in this country.  One step forward is often met with new forms of resistance to the advancement of one group or another.  Need we be reminded that barely one hundred years ago, women were not allowed the franchise in this country.  So where are we today?  Poll taxes and literacy tests are gone, for sure, but new approaches, facilitated by new technologies and put forward by old fears of new groups of voters amassing power are afoot across the country.  In his previous book, David Daley, of, documented the clever, but mischievous, approach to gerrymandering in 2010 Operation RedMap which was meant to insure that a minority of voters could amass a majority of Congressional seats in many states throughout the decade.  Republican strategists  drew up districts in a majority of states designed to insure outcomes at variance with how the majority in those states voted.  In his new book, ‘Unrigged’, Daley describes the push back by ordinary Americans to make the vote fairer throughout the land.  It is important to understand how we got here and how greater access and fairness are being pushed forward against continuing resistance.  This episode is a great primer.

Special Edition #9 Is Nonviolent Protest Effective in Pursuing Political Ends?

In the recent period, we have seen people taking to the streets in large numbers to protest police brutality and racial injustice. As a nation born in rebellion against unjust authority, and having codified the right to same in our First Amendment, there is a long history of such protest. Some of it is the stuff of legend as we recall the 1963 March on Washington, highlighted by Martin Luther King, Jr’s,. ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. What followed was new civil rights legislation and the biggest push toward racial equality in a century. Not all nonviolent protest is that successful. Depending up the leadership, messaging and objectives, such passion and desire can result in concrete actions or can be symbolic and yield few results. In the compendium of thought that Michael Long edited on the subject of nonviolent protest in the United States, ‘We the Resistance’, we learn much about the ways so many have used this approach to social action and change. The writings are powerful and revealing, as is this conversation with a man who can look at these movements and see if they have the makings of a special moment or a true movement.

EP 360 The Divided States of America

Some might argue that James Madison was one of the most original thinkers among the founders. From his fertile mind came concepts like separation of powers, the encouragement of a marketplace of religious ideas and federalism. And while many focus on the contentious relationship of the executive and legislative branches of our government as one of his innovations most deserving of attention, our guest, Donald Kettl, says look again. Madison’s concept of federalism is the real flashpoint for our nation. Look no further than the recent coronavirus crisis to see the built in tensions between the federal government and the states. Is the federal government doing too much or too late? Are the states supposed to compete among themselves for resources or cooperate in pressing for a more aggressive federal response? In his book, ‘The Divided States of America: Why Federalism Doesn’t Work’, Professor Kettl says that Madison’s tactical construct in the moment, designed to avert the original 13 colonies from becoming a patchwork of discreet political enclaves, is not up for the job any longer. And to whom does he turn for strategic thinking that might be more appropriate for these times? None other than the newly re-emergent founder, Alexander Hamilton. His case is a clear and compelling one.

EP 359 Can We Do Diversity Without Inflaming the Culture Wars?

Get ready to hear something that strays from convention in so many ways. There’s a reason that Irshad Manji was the recipient of Oprah Winfrey’s first Chutzpah Award for boldness. She guides us in how to do the right thing in the face of fear and to retain our principles in the face of contentious disagreements in a diverse society. Call it taking the high road or leaning in to a more respectful approach to differences. Yet given that in the United States, discord has hit red alert levels, we have to find constructive approaches to our diverse beliefs and attitudes to keep this noble experiment in self governance going. In her book, ‘Don’t Label Me’, she offers so many thought provoking ways to consider what moral indigence does to our debates to weaken the hand of those who espouse the benefits of diversity. For example, she says that some who oppose diversity are bigots but some are skeptical of it because of how the champions of it practice it. Or she encourages patience because many aren’t opposed to the change they see in society, but rather by the pace of it. Further, lowering yourself to labeling and name calling gives your opponent the moral authority to do it to others. As I indicate in the early part of our conversation, I am white, male, heterosexual and older, so by the labels we tend to apply you might draw an impression of me that is at total variance with the way I think. Want to avoid that danger? Irshad gives you practical approaches in how to avoid labeling and create dialogue. Her thinking is original and urgent. You must hear her and read the book.

EP 358 Why is Daycare So Expensive–and Important?

A demographer we recently did a podcast with reminded us that every child born from 1985 on is more valuable than those born before, due to the declining birth rate in America. When we stare into the eyes of a beautiful newborn baby in America, we are gazing upon nothing less than our future as a society. As young women today have many things to consider in their 20’s–starting a career, getting out of debt, finding a partner, buying the first home–and having a baby, perhaps, the baby piece is often the one that gets left to last or never done at all. And while many suggest that free public college tuition is an idea whose time has come, perhaps the true need is on the front end for government support of daycare. The less that stands in the way of a couple both working and having a family will grow in importance to society in the coming years. For that reason we have a freewheeling discussion with Florence Ann Romano, the Windy City Nanny, about this crucial subject. This presidential campaign is the first, I recall, where a First Five Years’ policy was seriously brought up for discussion. As the commodity, known as childcare, increases, along with its cost, you are destined to hear much more about it as an emerging issue in our society. That discussion starts here.

EP 357 Is America Prepared for a Presidential Election Crises

If history is a guide, the answer is no.  Even as far back as 1796, and a number of very close elections subsequently, we have seen where the perspicacious Founders of our country left us without a fruitful mechanism for deciding disputed presidential elections.  Just take the case of the 2000 election, with a time deadline looming, the U.S. Supreme Court was brought into the ‘chad’ fiasco, invoked the equal protection clause of the Constitution, but cautioned that its ruling in Bush v Gore should never be followed in the future.  Constitutional scholar, Alan Hirsch, addresses the history and offers solutions to it in his concise, yet dense, book, ‘A Short History of Presidential Crises(and how to prevent the next one’)’.  If 2016 is a guide, computer technology adds an additional dimension to this problem and more means for mayhem.  In his view, the Electoral College is an idea whose time has long since past and is a major contributor to the potential disruption in this process. The potential changes that may have to be instituted in the 2020 election owing to the recent pandemic are also discussed.  It’s a history of crises and a ringing of the alarm bell about what we continue to do which exacerbates the Founders initial flaw–and that is nothing.